Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Tunnel Rumors

The night before we closed on this house, I dreamed about a tunnel. I dreamed I was in the little building behind the house and was moving a stack of doors someone had left behind. (There are several doors in the little building behind the house that someone left behind. They appear to be doors that once shut off the kitchen, the crooked hallway, the dining room, and various other rooms.)

Anyway, I dreamed that I found an opening in the floor, underneath those doors, that led to the house. There were nubs of candles and old match books and newspapers and glass littering the tunnel floor. It felt damp and endlessly dark. I awoke from the dream with a start, and recounted the dream in detail the next morning. He mmmm-hhhmm'd, as usual, half listening.

I'd all but forgotten about the dream later that day. We were sitting around a multi-legged conference table with 7 bankers, realtors and various people in ironed shirts and ties... people who kept checking their iPhones and talking about MLS listings and mortgage insurance. Suddenly, from the far end of the table, I picked up on discussion about items left in the attic. Ah. Yes, the attic. 

Typical old house attic, our realtor said. No telling what you might find.

I nodded politely.

And then of course there's the tunnels, he added, offhandedly. 

 I bashed my knee into one of those blasted table legs, I turned so quickly.

Here's the story: as I mentioned yesterday, the house was built minutes from downtown. During Prohibition, the realtor explained, bootleggers began using- and extending- the existing tunnels running underneath the theatre, the hotel, and surrounding establishments. They extended them, rumor has it, to many of the houses up and down these historic streets. Why? Because what better way to clear out of a place... or run liquor downtown... is there? Buy a house several blocks up, put in a tunnel that links to the main tunnel's arteries, and run your illicit goods without fear of meddling townsfolk or law men.

Those guys bought houses up and down your street, the realtor added. Or they had friends who did. Could have been yours.


He asked us to call if we found a tunnel. And so far, we haven't. What we have found, however, are several cut-outs in the floor that hold old furnace grates. Or used to. Although the hole above made me wonder: could one of those grates conceal an entrance to a tunnel? Or what about the floor boards in the closets? 

Call me Nancy Drew, but I'm curious now. In fact, I'm beyond curious. I have half a mind to get my pry bar and hammer and start trying to lift these grates and test out floors.

If we find a tunnel, you'll be the first to know. -Brin

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Mrs. Nell and the Cobblestone Street

The wide street that runs in front of our house used to be cobblestone. I learned this after noticing, while picking up limbs that had fallen over the curb, that there were older, smooth-looking stones where the pavement has worn away.

This tidbit was corroborated by Mrs. Nell, the older woman across the way. According to Mrs. Nell, our street used to be the street the trolley made a u-turn on back in the day. It was the thing, she said, to take the trolley down to the Grim Hotel to go dancing... or to the Saenger Theatre to see a show. Folks would parade out of these old houses in their finery, motor or trolley the short distance downtown, and see and be seen. It was the thing, she insisted, pointing a wrinkled hand in the direction of the hotel and theatre and studying my face.

I believe her.

Mrs. Nell's house is turned strangely on her small lot so that it's actually turned away from the cobblestone street and faces our house. This is my view (though it's farther away than pictured) from my south bedroom window. I adore it. Doesn't her house look like something out of a story? I think so. Even at night. Especially at night. Sometimes I see the light on in an upstairs window and want to sit down, right then, and begin writing a book. Her house is just as much a muse as my own. 

(She's never invited us in, and I'm curious if it fits the pictures in my imagination. Maybe after she gets to know us a little better, we'll see inside. I'll keep you posted.)

After having lived on this cobblestone street for almost 50 years, Mrs. Nell knows things. She told me she was in her mid-20s when she first saw her house and immediately dreamed of living there. Soon after, she married a widower with daughters and told him of her dream. They all drove by the house that evening. Mrs. Nell said they waited almost 5 years, and lo and behold, the house was put up for sale. Her husband made an offer but it was already spoken for. Mrs. Nell said she cried, even as her husband promised her that one day they'd have that house. Sure enough, a year or two later the new owner had to move. When she talks about the day they moved in, her voice gets clearer and lighter. It's the same voice she uses when talking about her dearly departed husband. Just off the cobblestone street, his car is still parked near the barn door-style detached garage. It has flat tires. I think he's been gone 22 years.

We yell across the way at each other nearly every morning now, usually while she waters her marigolds and I drown my herbs. This morning I skipped watering. All day I've wondered how she is- if she's staying cool enough. Maybe I should go check on her. It's over 100 degrees here today and she doesn't have central air.

I think I will go see about her.

Love from the cobblestone street today. -Brin

Friday, July 24, 2015

House Helper Giveaway!

It's Giveaway Day! Also known as Friday in parts of the world. I don't care what you call it, it's here and I'm excited!

First off, I want to thank you... yep, you... for showing up here. For reading. For sharing my messy home and heart. It's hard to say just what you all have meant to me... checking in, reading, commenting, encouraging. Some days it's been my lifeline. I know there are many of you out there who have never said hello, and that's okay, too. I know you're here, and we have a bond. That's all that matters. Thank you.

And now for the Giveaway from my shop, Balm and Honey! If the randomizer thingy didn't pick your name this time, don't lose heart. I will be giving House Helpers away regularly through the end of the year, so hang in and soon I bet you'll be the one finding a package from me on your doorstep.

So, without further ado, this time's House Helper Giveaway winner is Patricia, who said:

My favorite hand made item in my home... a 3ft by 6ft hand-crocheted rag rug. I made it about 25 years ago when my babies were still little. It has lasted and lasted. Machine washable and line has faded over time; but still it keeps my feet warm. It is versatile too- I've used it in the kitchen, the bathroom, the mudroom, near the hearth... 
I love that rug! 

Congrats, Patricia! As you may know, we dig handmade rugs around here, so I can completely understand rug lovin'. I hope you'll enjoy your new handknit cloth just as much!

If you want some knitted goodness of your own, don't forget that the 15% off coupon code SWEETSUMMER15 is good through midnight tonight. Head over to the shop now before they're temporarily sold out!

Again, thank you for being here. I appreciate you. Have a great weekend, okay? See you next week. -Brin

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Simple Human Gift

...What a rare and beautiful treasure
Is the simple human gift of joy.
-Giles Andreae

We can't lose it- this rare and simple human gift of joy. We can't. No matter what comes, no matter what we see, no matter what fills our newsfeeds or our sleepless nights, we can't lose joy.

I was thinking about this awhile ago while unpacking my dishes and stacking them in the built-in hutch in the dining room. (Some women loves shoes. Or lipsticks. Or purses. I'm a dishes girl. I have a mix of white dishes I use for every day, but I love my different sets. I think I have 7 different ones.) Setting a table, making dinner, inviting over friends... family... new faces... gives me joy. It's simple, but it's real. Joy. 

The news is beyond scary lately. It's only in the past few weeks that I've been thankful I'm not a reporter anymore. But the scarier the news gets, the more confident I become in a good God... an attentive God... and a God with purposes and promises that will all make sense in the end.

So I unpack my dishes and pray my prayers and keep on trusting. Trusting... and looking for moments of that simple human gift-- joy.

Don't forget about The House Helper Giveaway! -Brin

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

House Helper GiveAway!

If you've been around My Messy, Thrilling Life any time at all, you know: folks around here adore handmade. 

One of the things that's stayed consistent throughout the 10 years of this blog is the popularity of the handknit cloth. We can't get enough! (I'm secretly afraid that the one thing I'll be remembered for after I die is handknit dish cloths. Really. *sheepish grin*) No matter the color, shape, or style, we just can't seem to get our hands on enough of these handmade goodies.

That's one reason I'm excitedly happy to announce that my beloved shop, Balm and Honey, has reopened! I have many cloths already knitted... and piles of yarn ready to knit... into these special cloths that have made dish washing, bathing, and chores so much more pleasant.

If you haven't had the pleasure of using these beauties around the house, I want to give you a chance to see what the fan craze is about. On Friday, I'll give one lucky reader a cloth of their choice from my shop. Simply comment below and tell me your favorite handmade item in your house, and you'll be entered to win! Tweet, Pin, or Instagram this post, and comment again to have your name entered twice.

Don't want to wait, or see a cloth you want before it's gone? Bring home some of this happy knitting for yourself by clicking here and entering promo code SWEETSUMMER15 for 15% off your purchase through the end of the week.

 I appreciate your readership and presence here more than I can say. Thank you for meeting here, for sharing my life, and supporting this home renovation. 

Thanks, and happy shopping. Good luck! -Brin

Monday, July 20, 2015


The rewards for those who persevere 
far exceed the pain that must precede the victory.
-Ted Engstrom

So when I said that refinishing the floors in this lumbering, wooden house was bordering on in(sand)ity, I meant it. 

Look at that. Would you look at it? Y'all. I didn't think I would ever get all that grit and dust out of here! But slowly, it came out... and as it did, my sanity slowly returned. Ha. Yes. It returned, that is, until the day I realized that I had to hand stain each individual 9 inch piece of flooring. Thousands of squares. On all fours. With a sock. Why? Because the floor is actually a puzzle of 80+ year old red oak, hickory and pine, and it was laid as parquet in the front formal rooms of the house.

After the sanding and sweeping, this was my life for 2 1/2 days:

But I finished!

Just as I was wrapping up, my Dad came over to lend a helping hand. The first thing that caught his attention? The huge iron furnace grate installed right smack-dab in the center of the floor between the front room and the dining room. He pulled the grate, built in the resulting hole, and painstakingly patched the parquet flooring, one square at a time. The only (slight) problem was that the flooring available today is red oak, and it stained much differently than the 80+ year old mixed woods.

Ah well. I'm going to make it match if it's the last thing I do! You can see the patch, and an early stain attempt, here:

But oh! What a relief to get this floor nearly finished! Except for that patch- which I intend to complete this weekend- this place is looking better than she has in years.

My sister and I are headed to Dallas tomorrow, Lord willing, for drapes and kitchen countertops. That means the paper can come off the windows and the kitchen cabinets and sink can go in this weekend! There aren't enough exclamation points in the world for that!

Elsewhere around the place, the POD we parked out front to store all our furniture until the floors were done was hauled off today. I was so excited I jumped up and down. It's feeling more like a home (instead of a construction site) every day. 

I've decided that once we're up and running, I want to host classes here and open up a few rooms for overnight class guests. Knitting, bread baking, beginning beekeeping, herb gardening, and sewing are just a few of the classes I want to offer. Wouldn't that be fun? I think about it all throughout the day. It makes me smile.

So does having all the sand out of here!

Don't miss the House Helper giveaway tomorrow! See you back here then. -Brin

Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Hot, Honeyed Hive

My child, eat honey, for it is good, 
and the honeycomb is sweet to the taste.
-Proverbs 24:13

This is a hive inspection weekend. Time to check on these brilliant, never-resting girls.

It was a sweltering 100 degrees yesterday. Too hot and humid to be taking apart a hive of overheated bees, really. But it was past time to check the honey flow and install a feeder in my hive so the bees can make enough honey for winter. So I stuffed my sweaty self into my bee suit, a pair of thick cowhide gloves, and a veil, and went out to the hive. (My Dad came, too, and he took the next few pictures of me working my hive. Thanks, Dad.)

Before getting up to the hive I heard it: that strained- yet somehow contented- hum of thousands of bees. If you've never heard that sound, you need to. You need to. Your soul can feel it, and it's baffling how calming it is. In spite of the therapeutic hum, though, I found them "bearded" on the front of the hive, trying to cool down and regulate the temperature inside their hot, honeyed hive.

I feel you, girls. I feel you.

 Holding hundreds of bees. Don't sneeze!

As hot as we all were, I was eager to take a look inside. With the first frame removed, I had room to lift each heavy, buzzing frame and inspect both sides. In these frames, the bees are putting honey alongside sealed brood that will, in several days, be young worker bees.

Did you know that worker bees are all female, and these girls only live a few weeks during the summer? (They live longer in the winter when there's no honey flow.) They literally work themselves to death. Scientists say it takes around 1,152 of these brilliant beauties to make 16 ounces of honey.

And making honey they are! Take a look at this honey they've capped off below:


It was a great inspection and everything looked ideal: obvious signs of the queen staying busy, no pests, and lots of brood and honey in various stages. I mean, take a look at this golden gorgeousness!:

Keeping bees is such a dream come true. 

I am eagerly awaiting the days of selling honey and wax-based goods at my local farmer's market and online in my little shop, Balm and Honey. Cannot wait. Agh! For now, I'm stocking the shop with my favorite handknit cloths. I'll be listing some 20+ cloths in the next few days! For a little handknit sweetness in your house, too, enter SWEETSUMMER15 at checkout for 15% off your order. Just my little way of saying thank you for sticking around.

Check back Tuesday for a handknit House Helper give away and an update on the house. Until then, hope you have a sweet weekend, despite the heat. -Brin

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Insan(d)ity Of It All

I swore I would never do this again. Never, ever, I said. Do you remember it?

We discussed it, fleetingly, a dozen or so times: should we re-do the hardwood floors now, or wait? I'd settled firmly in the WAIT camp; others were for going ahead. You have no idea what a nightmare the process is, I told him. Nightmare.

He made the executive decision to go ahead, so we did. It is easier, after all, to get it done before the furniture crowds the place. So the sanding commenced.

First, we had to remove four layers of linoleum in the kitchen floor. And then, glue. Glue everywhere. We scraped and sanded and scraped and sanded. We used shovels and scrapers and fingernails and hammers and drum sanders and hand sanders...

On Sunday, I stood in the dining room, tears streaming down my dusty face, and yelled for 10 straight minutes that I hated every minute of it. Hated it. I think I said the word "hate" 200 times. I was so angry and dirty and tired. It wasn't pretty, you guys.

Two and a half days into the process, someone's stomach got upset and he retired to the air mattress for the day while I hand-stained, on hands and knees, the entire floor. The next day, when he returned to work, I began sealing it. And look! Look at that same kitchen floor now:

Unbelievable. I still look at these pictures in amazement. Hard to believe those original hardwoods were under there the entire time... and in such good condition!

I applied four coats of polyurethane to the three large rooms and prayed (Tuesday) that it would be enough. Now that the obligatory 24 hour dry time is up, it's obvious that four coats won't be enough for the parquet floors in the front and the dining room. Y'all. Instead of moving in these rooms this weekend, it looks as if we'll still be applying poly and waiting for it to dry. I'm disappointed, but determined to keep my chin up.

In light of the news, I feel such an urgency to get this place liveable. Such an urgency. But it will get done, and it will be worth it, the insan(d)ity of it all. Won't it? Please nod. Yes. Yes, it will.

We'll get through this, y'all. We will. We're all going to get through this.

Hang in, and happy July 4th. May God's mercy triumph over His judgment in America this Independence Day. -Brin