Friday, August 31, 2007

Simple, As It Should Be

It is always the simple
that produces the marvelous.

-Amelia Barr

The basil is going leggy and spindly-looking. Of course, it is almost September. I suppose it's time for it to. No matter. The simplest basil always makes the best pesto.

Yes, I was snipping basil yesterday - whole stalks of it - when the phone rang. It was a lady named Pam who represented a company that handles blog advertising for an ad firm. I'd never heard of such. "Oh, yes," she said, "advertisers are realizing they can get excellent product placement ads directly in front of target audiences through blogs. We've heard of you," she said, in one breath. "And we have some clients... Kraft, Macy's... who may be interested in running banner ads on your blog."


She emailed over documents, which I read two pages of and promptly deleted. When she called back to ask if they'd come through, I told her yes... and no thanks. "But you don't have to do anything differently than what you're doing," she argued. "It's easy money. For instance, you talk about food three days a week and we'll run a food product ad. When you mention clothes or shopping, we'll post a clothing retailer ad. It's a win-win."

I declined. "I talk about butlers and caves and fall and ... myself. This is my life," I said. Silence. "Besides," I continued, "we're all tired of being bombarded with advertisements. My blog is simple: I write, they read. I'm content or excited or inspired or convicted, and hopefully they are, too. This is our place, not a place for Kraft and their flashy, animated vegetable cracker ads. No thank you, but my blog is fairly straightforward and simple and will stay that way."

Basil snipping resumed.

Maybe I'm too backward-thinking. Or maybe I'm business stupid. The money would have been nice. It's just that life is about so much more than the game and getting caught up in the game, isn't it?

So here we are, you and me. Just you and me and the basil. No flashy ads or catchy tunes compelling us to buy, buy, buy and spend, spend, spend. Nope, it's just us.

I rather like it that way, don't you?

Here's to us. Here's to us and a holiday weekend and the coming of September. Simple September, as it will be known around Freeman House. I hope you'll join me for a month of simple recipes, simple fall decorations, a simple firepit celebration, and, of course, simple days. I wouldn't have it any other way. See you in September! -Brin

(By the way, there's an excellent and simple recipe for herb oils and dressings on the Country Living website. Besides making and freezing pesto, it's a great use for all these end-of-the-season herbs.)

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Butler's Tray

I have decided that when I am older I will probably require the services of a butler. A real butler. I've given it some thought, and he can have a room upstairs, under the eaves, unless the stairs would be too much for him. I'd be awfully nice, of course, and leave him some money when I die.


Seriously, though, I've given a considerable deal of thought to how in the world I'll manage this place when I'm old(er). There's a lot going on here, you see, and the women in my family tend to live a very long time. Since I'm not married, my solution to staying in Freeman House when I'm old and crotchety... the only plausible one, anyway... is hiring a butler. A real one. One that carries a tray.

So imagine my delight yesterday when I ran across this old tray. During my lunch break, I wandered into a local antiques shop - the one that sells ancient pie safes alongside "lucky bamboo" and dream catchers - and there it was. I eased it off the shelf. It was heavy. It had both its handles and all its feet, and upon examining the underside I found an engraving that reads: Sheridan, TAUNTON SILVERSMITHS, LIMITED, with a picture of a lion.

I also found a price tag. $2.00, it read. "No way," I said aloud. I marched the tray to the counter. "How much is this?" I asked. "It must be priced wrong. The tag says two dollars."

"It's two dollars," the man said dryly.

And now it's mine. I imagine that when I'm older I'll have my butler bring this tray - loaded with fresh flowers and coffee and the paper - every morning at precisely eight o'clock. And then the mail and tea (or, honestly, a Diet Coke) at three o'clock. And dinner and coffee and the remote at half-past seven. O'clock. Until I'm old(er), however, I guess I'll be pouring my own coffee and getting my own paper and carrying my own tray. For guests, too.

Ah, the beauty of youth. Someone asked me yesterday how old I am. I'm 28. Thirty-two years shy of justifying hiring a butler. A real one.

(UPDATE: I found a "Sheridan Taunton Silversmiths" tea tray on eBay just now for $89 and it's smaller and in worse shape than mine. I love it when that happens, don't you? Oh! And I found the perfect butler. His name is Ron.)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Fall Fancy, Part One

By all these lovely tokens
[Fall] days are here,
With summer's best of weather
And autumn's best of cheer.
-Helen Hunt Jackson

Yes, I realize it isn't fall yet. Not yet. But today, as the sky turned charcoal and rain splatted down, the world around Freeman House seemed to acknowledge the eventual decline of summer and stirring of autumn. Even the thunder seemed to consent that a change is coming as it grumbled and rumbled around Freeman House, shaking the old wavy-paned windows and frightening the cat.

I opened the mailbox this evening to an assortment of fall catalogues. They got me itching for a red pea coat and pumpkins and knitted scarves. They also reminded me that somewhere I had several little cross stitch scenes that I'd done... oh, five years ago... and never had framed. I found them, miracle of miracles, and smoothed one out to read: Pumpkin, pumpkin, pumpkin bright / Autumn lantern in the night. Cute. I think I'll keep it.

I was surprised to find (on our most recent poll here) that seven of ten people who read this blog prefer fall to any other season. That's significant, don't you think? Of course, we'd never snub the silent glistening of winter or the lush beauty of spring or the happy abundance of summer. Never. It's just that fall suits us, doesn't it? The chilly air that nips noses and the leaves that skip past and the apple cider in mugs. It's romantic in a quiet sort of way. I like it. But I guess you've already surmised that... what with me rambling on about autumn in August.

I'm just saying is all. I'm just saying that change is on its way. Change is on its way, and seven out of ten of us are leaving the porch light on.

Welcome, autumn. Don't forget to stop here.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Meeting Myself

It seems to me we can
never give up longing and wishing
while we are thoroughly alive.
- George Eliot

When I was a girl, I always imagined myself growing up to be somewhat like this: I'd have long, wavy chestnut hair. I'd wear jeans with fraying back pockets and soft shirts - checked shirts -with buttons. I'd always have, I thought, a picnic table under an umber-colored oak. Whenever anyone came by my house - a cottage with extra chimneys - I'd have a book in one hand and a sweet apple in the other while my faithful pony, dog, and chickens stood alongside. The pony would be called Helen (after the old lady at church that looked like a horse), the dog Clever Trevor, and the chickens would simply be known as the minions of Cluckingham Palace. I would also, I imagined, have very white teeth and cranberry-painted fingernails and would sing and laugh a lot. Children would clamour around like me like I was the Pied Piper come to life.

And last, but certainly never least, I'd have a rusty old blue truck... or Jeep... with a static-filled radio that played Patsy Cline and the Beach Boys.

I'd forgotten all about it - all about who I was supposed to grow up to be - until I rounded a corner in Mexico this month and was met with this. This scene. It wasn't exactly deja vu... not really. It was more like a surge of wishes that flooded my brain and heart, simultaneously, with all the sparkly, staticky imaginings I'd had as a girl. My breath caught up within me and my heart began pounding as suddenly - all so suddenly - I thought of Helen the horse and white teeth and Patsy Cline.

I looked down. I had on frayed jeans. Red fingernails. Long brown hair. In my pocket was a small green apple and on my lips was a hymn I've sung since forever.

My gosh. I am one pony, dog, chicken, picnic table, blue truck and crowd of children away from being the girl I always thought I would be.

It seems to me, too, that we never can give up longing and wishing while we are thoroughly alive. George was right. Not as long as enough days pass to realize that we are, in fact, pieces of who we once thought we'd be. Even if only in a frayed jeans type of way.

Of all my moments on the lam this month, this was my favorite: the moment I rounded the corner and saw that blue Chevy. I met myself in Mexico. I remembered myself again. For that - and for so many other things - I will always be thankful. Thank you, Lord.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Monday Moment: Cave Dwelling

Rescue me... O Lord,
for I hide myself in You.
-Psalm 143:9

While in Mexico last week, our adventures took us to the Grutas de Garcia - the caves of Garcia, Nuevo Leon - outside Monterrey. I couldn't wait to explore. Eagerly, we boarded a jerky, elevator-looking suspended cable car and inched our way to the top of the mountain. I was never so glad to be at the top of a mountain in my entire life. Besides, there, upon the mountain's side, was the entrance to the most cavernous underground world I'd ever laid eyes on.

I've since forgotten all the statistics of the cave - who discovered it, how long they've known about it, how tall and wide it is. I may have forgotten all that, but I haven't forgotten the feeling I had there. I felt so utterly hidden away. Protected. Secure beneath and between layers of rock and fossilized sea. I felt like David, hiding from King Saul. Like Obadiah, hiding away prophets. Like Lot, hiding from destruction. I felt biblical, almost. It seemed the perfect place to turn a corner and stumble upon a waiting God... to round a corner and find God standing there, saying "What doest thou here?" (1 Kings 19:9).

It made me think, as I wandered through, about how all those biblical folks hid themselves away. When they were scared, threatened, angry or running, they ducked into caves. Always caves. Lucky them. Most of us don't have that luxury.

But we still hide, don't we? When we're scared, threatened, angry or running, we hide, too. We hide in work. In shopping. In food. In alcohol. In family. In hobbies. In sex. In movies. In life. When heartbreaks or setbacks or challenges or difficulties arise, there we go, ducking into our sedations and distractions of choice. Even as Christians - as people who fear and serve a living God - we run for cover and hide. We seek out the nearest cave and wait, dreading the day God finds us there and calls us out.

We all go through tough times. We're all cave dwellers. Cave hiders. I am, too. This week I'm coming upon my wedding anniversary. The anniversary of the most disastrous, terrifying, and heartbreaking day of my life. Just thinking of it makes me shake... then makes me sick. If ever there was a time to hide, this is it. And believe me, I will.

Only not in a cave. No sir. There's nothing for me in a cave. I've learned a lot this past year about hiding. I've learned there's a difference between losing yourself in life and losing yourself in the giver of life. I've learned there's a difference in waiting out your fear and sorrow in things and waiting out your fears and sorrows in trust. I've seen, firsthand, the futility of depending on others... on stuff... and the freedom in depending upon our Savior. I've come to recognize - in the midst of my hiding - that heart-saving, soul-renewing, hope-building salvation can only be found in the arms of Christ Jesus our Lord. Not in the bottom of a shopping bag. Or the end of a trip. Or hours at work. Or time with children. Or at the bank. Salvation - and safe hiding - can only be found in Jesus Christ. None other.

You don't need to travel, as I did, to the bottom of a cave to realize it's no place to spend your life. Literally or figuratively. You might have made your way in, but God can make your way out. Heck, even in the middle of a cave in Mexico I found light leading the way out. And not just any old light, either. Glorious light.

So allow me to ask you the same question I've asked myself: where do you hide? What cave have you been dwelling in? And isn't time to hide yourself in God?

Monday Moment is a little devotional to help kick-start your week. See you again next Monday!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Ramblings on Home

There is nothing like staying
at home for real comfort.
-Jane Austen

I'm busy. Too busy, I think. Staggering into the house today after an out-of-town conference, I collapsed on the library couch and didn't move for an hour. I didn't sleep - I just stared at the room - at my books and the fireplace and the pictures and the piano. Lovely piano. I'm home, I told myself. Home has to be the most comforting word there is.

I'm such a homebody. Terribly so, I'm afraid. I think I get it from my Dad. His idea of the perfect night is eating my mother's homemade soup before retiring to his recliner to listen to us kids talk and laugh and make fun of each other until bedtime. Like father, like daughter. Give me slippers and sweet tea and let me roam Freeman House all day and I'm happy as a lark.

Today I dusted and brought out fall decorations and folded socks and made my Mediterranean Pot Roast. I piled onto the bed with my steaming plate and watched episodes of To the Manor Born. It was heaven. Being among my pots and music and garden and books and pet allows me to breathe again, somehow. What sort of crime do you have to commit to be placed on house arrest? I might consider it. For me, house arrest would be perfection, not punishment.

So I suppose it's all starting up again, isn't it: school, work, sports. Obligations, obligations, obligations. I welcome the passing of summer vacation but vow to spend as much time as possible at home. Until then, I'll count the hours until the weekends, when my time is filled with songs at the piano and homemade dinner and twinkling stars and pecans falling like raindrops around Freeman House.

Oh home, I've missed you so. It's been too long. It's so good to be back.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

You Ask, I Answer

I never learn anything talking.
I only learn things when I ask questions.
-Lou Holtz

Pull up a chair. I've lit some candles, made some sweet tea, and am opening the mail this afternoon.

I was shocked to get home from Mexico Saturday and find 17 packages and letters from you all. Seventeen! Questions, comments, presents... they're increasingly filling my mailboxes- both actual and online. How fun! So how about we take some time today and go through the mail, shall we? Today you ask and I answer.

Q: I was wondering if you could share the paint color in your entry?
-Jen, The Cottage Nest

A: In short, it's called Dune (#8134), and it's a Martha Stewart Signature color. I bought this paint - along with most of the paint for Freeman House - at Sherwin Williams. I stubbornly refuse to paint with anything aside from Martha's colors in Sherwin Williams' SuperPaint Interior. It's durable, washable, goes on beautifully and stays that way. Besides, as the light shifts throughout the day, it's mesmerizing. I love it.

I'm sad to say, however, that Martha's colors are no longer as available at Sherwin Williams as they were a year ago. My local store continues to mix the paint for me as long as I provide them with the paint card number. Yours might, too. Try your local store, or visit Lowe's to check out Martha's new paint line. (I'll warn you, however... the colors seem very dark, odd, and ... of course... you won't get the same depth of color or sheen as you would using her colors in Sherwin Williams' paint. But that's just my two cents.)

(By the way, if you're struggling to match a ceiling color with your wall color, have the paint guys mix up a gallon of paint that's a 25% or 50% formula match to your wall color. The paint will effortlessly coordinate with your wall and save you hours of agony. I've done this in all my rooms, including the entry.)

Q: Where did you learn to sew?
-Cherie, Salt Lake City

A: My mother. She taught me to sew by hand, cross stitch, and craft. She also gave me my first sewing machine and showed me how to thread it and spin the bobbin. The rest I've picked up along the way through much trial and error. If you're new to sewing, let me recommend two current books, with patterns, that will quickly and easily guide you through sewing basics and cute beginner projects. They are: Sew Fast, Sew Easy and Bend the Rules Sewing. You can find new and gently used copies at the Freeman House Book Shop for a fraction of the cover price.

Q: I love your Freeman House garden posts. Was the garden already there or did you plant? Where do your plants come from? What's your favorite garden tip?
-Terrie, Demopolis, Alabama

A: Hoo boy! The garden. When I bought this place in 2005, it came with the following: fig tree, magnolia tree, pecan trees, hydrangeas, hostas, roses, and lamb's ear. I started building on what I had by taking cuttings of the hydrangeas and roses and dividing the hostas. The rest I've added, including all my herbs. I buy my herbs from Pinetree Garden Seeds and start them from seed. It's a snap, really - starting things from seed - and grants you the flexibility of direct seeding, starting things indoors, or transplanting to containers, etc. The herbs I have purchased in pots come from Central Market. Always had great luck with them.

I think gardeners are some of the most generous people around. Dig around and ask people about sharing seeds or cuttings. Jolene shared her thyme, gardenia, and ginger. Sue shared hollyhocks and a host of other breathtaking flowers. Kim shared tomatoes. My mom shared basil. Lori shared dill. It's fun, and makes me pause to realize that this is how the world once worked - seed and plant and harvest sharing. It's wonderful, don't you think?

Favorite garden tip? Yogurt, baby. I smear leftover and soured yogurt (even the vanilla kind!)over everything in my garden: terracotta pots, rocks, bricks, even dirt! In the shade, spread an even coat of yogurt on anything you'd like to age or grow "moss" on. Sprinkle with water occasionally and let the bacteria in the yogurt go to work. In a matter or weeks (or months, depending on weather conditions) you'll have aged pots, moss underfoot, or a brick path that looks as if it's been there forever.

Q: Do you teach a Bible study or class somewhere?
-James (via comment)

A: Uh, no... don't teach Bible studies. I am, however, taking on the third and fourth grade girls' Sunday School class at my church. You're more than welcome to join us... I just hope you like monkey-flavored markers, rollerskating and little plastic chairs. :)

Q: Freeman House looks like a big project and I read you’re single?
Why did you decide to take all this on?

-Lane, Quebec (via email)

A: It never occurred to me that I couldn't. I love this house and love this life.

Q: Where are you?
-Robolady (via comment)

A: In Texas. The piney woods of east Texas. I really hesitate to be any more specific than that. I try, if y'all have noticed, to leave direct references to my full name and hometown out of my blog. I also rarely post pictures of people. My professional background, you may know, is in reporting. I got my share of threats, creepy people at my door, and sperm-filled, vulgar, inappropriate mail. It's nice to feel safe and anonymous again.

Q: When’s your cookbook coming out?
-Susan, Texas (letter)

A: In a few words, I'm not sure. I'm racing to have it completed in December. (Sooner if I can get the tree up and the holiday photographs taken that I need.) To say I'm excited about this book is a huge understatement. I'm convinced the pictures alone will be worth the price... the recipes and straight-forward, honest directions will just be bonus! There's so much I want to show and share with you all that I lose sleep at night over the building excitement.

Okay, so I know I haven't covered them all. But that was a small start, right? We'll try to do this again next week. If you think I've skipped your question or you have a new one, feel free to comment or drop me an email at: As always, I appreciate your feedback, insights, and comments.

Love to you all -Brin

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Designing a Design

An image is not simply a trademark,
a design... or an easily remembered picture.
It is a studiously crafted personality profile
of an individual... product or service.
Daniel J. Boorstin

Worked today, but had to get up from the papers and files and phone calls and flow charts to get my hair cut and tinker with new literature designs for Freeman House. I've put this off for... well, two years... thinking that by now I'd be confident in my vision and perception of this wild and wonderful place. Ha. I'm working with a staggeringly talented woman who owns a highly recommended design studio. I think the regard is one-sided, however, because I'm sure I nearly drove this poor lady mad today.

Card #1 (above): Too whimsical, I wrote. Think hydrangeas and historic home and columns on the front porch, I told her. Envision traditional but updated. Pretty but not cutesy.

Poor designer.

Card #2: Ahh! Closer. It's actually the one I wanted, really, with some tweakings and, of course, my name and contact information below. I twirled around the study here thinking, finally... a design! And in only two tries!

Apparently not. Someone else beat me to the fantastic design, and I couldn't be a copy cat and steal someone's logo now, could I? Drats.

Back to the drawing board.

Card #3: Could it be? Is it she? Lose the plume-ended line, I wrote. Throws it off for me, somehow. I really liked this design because it will easily translate into a sign by the street, don't you think? Of course, my name is noticeably missing, and I'm agonizing... honestly agonizing... over which other contact information should be included. Blog? Etsy site? Address? Phone? Email? Mother's maiden name? Trash day schedule?

Sigh. Nothing's sitting quite right. Am I over-thinking this?

More tweaking to come.

What do you think? Have you ever designed a logo for your... home? Your home-based business? Did you lose a little hair and sleep over it as I have?

Busy, busy. Busy and ... oh darn... late for church. This is getting ridiculous. Must go.

Have a pretty evening. -B

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The City of the Mountains

Ah, Monterrey, the "City of the Mountains", you have captured my heart.

I've just returned from a week-long excursion to central Mexico. What an adventure! What an adventure and what a blessing! I have a million things to show you: chandeliers in caves... the sunset in Saltillo... a volcanic mountain hike... and so forth. But for now, let me drag out my pictures and show you my favorite part of the trip: Monterrey, Mexico. The City of the Mountains. Here she is, the way I saw her.

The Catedral Metropolitana de Nuestra Señora de Monterrey. Began in 1770, this cathedral serves as the seat for the local archdiocese. As I laced my fingers through its ornate iron gate and gazed up to the tip-top, I realized I was hardly breathing. It's that spectacular in person.

Even from across the street.

On now to La Macroplaza, one of the world's largest plazas and the seat of cultural (and shopping!) goings-on in Monterrey.

Monterrey is second in size only to Mexico City. It's a capital city... the capital of Nuevo Leon. The city bustles, but in a siesta/it's-too-humid-to-move kind of way.

(Don't be fooled by the mountains in the distance. This place was not cool. And don't be fooled -as I was - by claims of "air conditioning". Two things, I learned, mean very different things in our separate cultures: "tacos" and "air conditioning". In Mexico, "air conditioning" is a one-bladed, wobbly ceiling fan or a rolled-down car window. And don't even get me started on the tacos.)

The shops and vendors along the plaza, however, are wonderful... lively and colorful and unlike anything I've seen this side of the Rio Grande. I browsed the market an entire morning, stopping finally at the candy booth for coffee-flavored nuggets. The atmosphere here tickled me... the candy booths look nothing like those in our malls. No plastic-filled bins of neon-colored balls or blobs here. In La Macroplaza, sweets seemed to revolve around sugar, nuts, grains and chocolate... although the chocolate isn't as tooth-bending sweet as we're accustomed to. But hey, chocolate is chocolate. I bought a piece, wandered out into the sun and squinted up at this - the Fuente de La Vida.

You don't see this in your town square every day.

By now it's early afternoon and we're tired and hot... too tired and hot to walk anymore. We descended to the depths of Monterrey and found ourselves in a cavernous monorail station. It was unbelievably well kept. I was shocked, to tell you the truth, having ridden the trains in New York City, Boston, and Dallas, to find a subway system this clean in Mexico. This clean and deserted.

Silly Americans. As it turned out, our destination was only two blocks from where we were. No matter the rail was deserted. Our guide laughed at us as we boarded the empty train and asked why no one was aboard. "Because," he grinned, "no one in Mexico would pay 460 pesos (about 45 cents) to ride two blocks."

Of course they wouldn't.

Back on the street, I took my time taking in the sights and sounds of Monterrey. After tasting some authentic Monterrey cheese from a sidewalk cart, my wanderings took me by this man, whom I've since affectionately come to call the Monterrey Man. Locals say he sits against this tree every day, feeding the pigeons.

Whenever I close my eyes and think of Monterrey, I'll always remember him... sitting there tossing out pieces of tortillas to flocks of strutting, multi-speckled birds. I'll remember him and I'll remember the mountains. Always the mountains....

Ah, Monterrey... you and your people have stolen my heart.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Monday Moment: Cleft of the Rock

When my glory passes by,
I will put you in a cleft in the rock
and cover you with my hand
until I have passed by.
-Exodus 33:22

If you had asked me, prior to last week, what it took to climb a mountain, I would have shrugged. I guess getting up a mountain is no different than getting through a grocery store, I would have said. You do it one step at a time.

Ha. True, but ha.

Let me tell you what I learned this week: there are so many factors that go into hiking a mountain. First of all, tennis shoes hardly cut it. I know this because the second day on the mountain I chucked my hiking boots in favor of tennis shoes because my feet were killing me. Stupid, stupid, stupid. My inner thighs ache because of the splits I did when one foot (usually my left), would suddenly and violently slip away from the rest of my body. As the rocks and sand I disturbed would slide, slide, slide away, my heart would pound as I pulled my wayward left foot back to me, like closing a pair of scissors. Yikes.

Secondly, water. Even if you don't drink enough of it in your daily life, you will on a mountain. And it's amazing. You drink four bottles of it, one after the other, and never have to use the restroom. Which, as it turns out, is a good thing.

And, of course, there's the sheer elevation of the whole endeavor. Two steps and your head is swimming. Ten steps and you're panting and gasping. Twenty steps and you want to throw up. I mean, no kidding, we had a hard time getting sparks to spark up there, there's so little oxygen.

Yep, mountains aren't like grocery stores. On a mountain, even the most elementary of tasks become a monumental challenge. You find yourself praying for level terrain. For a cleft in the rock.

My point today, although I'm really too exhausted to have one, is this: there are days ... times ... in our life when we're doing well just to put one foot in front of the other. Right? There are moments we're battling to breathe. Fighting for footing. Struggling to stay where we are. Even as Christians, we can spend days... months... years, even... simply clinging to the Rock... not advancing, not retreating, but just hanging on.

And if... like me on that mountain outside Saltillo... you're just hanging on today, that's okay. Our God is faithful and mindful of your place. Of your location. And as He passes by - just as He did for Moses - He can put you in a cleft in your rock and cover you there with His hand.

So hold tight to the Rock. But at the same time, let the same God who covered Moses provide a shelter for you in your time of need, too. He will be faithful to cover and hide you as everything passes over. And when it has... when it's all blown by... He can set your feet upon the rock once more.

You can learn a lot on a mountain. But you can learn even more in a cleft.

Praise God.

A wonderful Savior is Jesus my Lord,
A wonderful Savior to me;
He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock,
Where rivers of pleasure I see.
He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock
That shadows a dry, thirsty land;
He hideth my life with the depths of His love,
And covers me there with His hand,
And covers me there with His hand.
-Fanny Crosby, 1890

Monday Moment is a little devotional to help kick-start your week. Hope to see you again next Monday!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Home From the Volcanic Rock

The interior of Mexico
consists of a mass of volcanic rocks,
thrust up to a great height above the sea-level.
-Edward Burnett Tylor

Oh but they are beautiful volcanic rocks- those crumbly heaps of stone that rush up into the sky. I spent my week among mountains dotted with trees and dusted with clouds.

Can't wait to show you all about it.

But for now, I'll rest. Glad to be home. So glad.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Monday Moment: Beginning To Live

Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Every boy that is born you must throw into the Nile.” Now a man of the house of Levi married a Levite woman, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him. Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe. She saw the basket among the reeds… she opened it and saw the baby … and she felt sorry for him. Then his sister asked Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby?” “Yes, go,” she answered. And the girl went and got the baby’s mother. So the woman took the baby. When the child grew older, she took him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. She named him Moses, saying, “I drew him out of the water.”
-Exodus 1 and 2 (excerpts)

It grabs me -the story of Moses’ birth. The story of the child among the reeds, placed there as he's just beginning to live.

The biblical account of Moses’ childhood has always fascinated me. As a child, I delighted in imagining a floating basket cradling a crying baby. As a girl, I thrilled with the mention of a sister monitoring baby Moses (what with being the older sister of three brothers myself). And as a teenager, I was intrigued by the irony of the story: how Moses was spared Pharaoh’s death sentence – by Pharaoh’s own daughter, no less – and grew to become the man at the head of the parade during the Hebrew nation’s exodus out of Egypt.

But now, as a young woman, when I read this story, I’m struck with this thought and this thought alone: our God… yours, mine, and even Moses’… is a hope cradler. A dream knower. A heart saver.

I can only imagine what she must have felt, Moses’ mother. I can only imagine her short-lived joy at realizing she was pregnant. Please, please, child, she must have whispered as her baby grew and kicked inside her, please don’t be a boy. What a bittersweet day then, the day she birthed her son. What she must have felt… cried… prayed… as she held her baby. How she must have anguished when, in the dark, she held his small, soft self close and tried to come up with a plan to save him. How terrified she must have been those three months… hurrying to silence his cries and hide him away.

Did she give up then, finally? After 90 long, sleepless, worrisome days, did she make her plan and abandon her hope? The utter heartbreak that woman must have endured as she tucked her son… her precious son… into her basket and released him to the Nile. Did she watch, do you think, as he floated away? When she turned her back on the water’s edge, did she hear his cries? When she closed her eyes, did she see his face? Did she smell his hair? Did she feel his weight against her?

As a piece of her sailed away that day, what did she do with her hope? Her dreams? Her prayers? Did she blame God? Question Him? Believe Him?

I’m yet to be a mother, but I know a little of longing. Of love. Of loss. And I wonder: as we stand at the water’s edge and release pieces of ourselves to a changing tide, does God have a bigger plan for us - just as he had for her?

I think so. I think just maybe He does.

Did you read Moses’ story? The story of his birth? Did you read about how his mother was forced to abandon a piece of herself and walk away, only to have it returned to her by the very one who threatened to destroy it? Did you notice how God… in His infinite loving kindness… not only spared her hopes but saved her son… and therefore her heart? Did you see that… even as her family, her faith, and her feelings floated away… God was watching? And not only was He watching, He was guarding. Sustaining. God's plan included the reeds, but it didn't end there.

I don’t know where your hopes lie. I don’t know if you’re waiting to birth them, trying to hold onto them, or have abandoned them altogether. I don’t know what you’re doing as you wait for your dreams to come in. But this… this I do know: just as you have plans, so does God. Just as you make your next move, so does He. And although you can’t see His purpose, He can see your pain. And as you near the Nile… as you come to the place where dreams die… He’s watching. He's protecting. He's in those reeds. He’s guarding your basket.

I love Moses’ story. But even more, I love that of his mother’s. I read in awe of the depth of God’s compassion during the depths of one person’s heartbreak. I read and I’m strengthened by the realization that sometimes the height of our tragedy is just the first chapter of God's great story. That sometimes, as we kneel at the Nile, we are, in fact, just beginning to live.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Come, Saltillo Sunrise

Bits and pieces of part of my little life are falling about me today. Not in a necessarily bad way... no, they're coming together, it seems... those tangents and fragments of my heart that I've held close to my chest except for the times I've unclenched my fists to show them to my heavenly Father and cry, "But what about this? What about this?" I'm blessed, but I'm among pieces this morning. Emotional day.

Looking forward to a week of climbing around the Zapalinamé mountains and breathing in the Saltillo sunrise. Just look at it. There are no words. I think I'm holding my breath until the moment I can plant my feet alongside one of those rocks and lift my face to that burning-away night sky.

Thanks for all the tenderhearted comments and blogging support as of late. You're the best, really. So I'm sure you'll understand why I'm signing off, except for a Monday Moment, for the next week or so. Sorry to leave you like this, but know you're in the knapsack of prayers I'm hoisting along with me into those mountains. And I'll be back, Lord willing, with some amazing things to show and share.

Until then, my love. -B

(Saltillo Sunrise courtesy of Weather Underground)

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Under the Texan Sun

The air was fragrant with a thousand
trodden aromatic herbs, with fields of lavender,
and with the brightest roses blushing in tufts....
-William Cullen Bryant

I decided early yesterday morning to begin drying some of the herbs I'm harvesting hand-over-fist around Freeman House. It was a lovely way to occupy a few minutes... walking through the dew, quietly snipping herbs, dropping them in the basket, listening to the birds and the breeze. If I squinted hard enough I could almost imagine I was a young Diane Lane in Tuscany. Almost. [Sigh]

Anyway, I brought in some Greek Oregano, regular Oregano, Sage, Thyme, Rosemary, Parsley, Basil and Lavender and went to work filling the kitchen sink with water. Then I played, pretty much, sloshing and swishing the green stems through the water, letting the dirt whirl away and settle at the bottom of the sink.

For those gardener/cooks out there: how do you dry your herbs? I know there are several ways folks swear by, but I usually hang mine upside down in a paper bag and let them dry that way. I decided yesterday, though, upon the advice of a friend, to try sun-drying the sage and oregano. Does it make much difference? I'm not sure. All I know is that while visitors had to step over rack after rack of cheesecloth-covered herbs to get to the kitchen door, the herbs were dry and crunchy by the end of the day. Texas' fierce August sun wouldn't have it any other way.

Uh-hum. Point being, I figure clipping and drying herbs now will yield plenty of spice blends to hand out as holiday gifts. (Consider this your fair Christmas warning.) While in Dallas recently I loaded up on these glass spice bottles, and plan to fill some of them with these mixtures:

Freeman House Chicken/Fish Blend

2 T. dried basil
2 T. dried oregano
1 T. dried thyme
½ t. dried, grated lemon peel
1 t. celery seed
2 T. onion powder
1 t. black pepper

And, of course, this one, for all things pasta and tomato-y that come out of the kitchen, including Italian herb bread...

Freeman House Italian Blend

2 T. dried basil
2 T. dried oregano
2 T. dried thyme
1 T. dried sage
1 T. garlic powder
1 t. black pepper

I'm also putting together some bath herbs... you know... tying them up in little bags so when guests come they can take their glass of wine or hot tea to the clawfoot tub, settle in, and soak in the smells of homegrown lavender and chamomile and mint....

Hmm. Never, in a million years, would I have guessed that at 28 years old I'd be drying herbs and putting spice blend recipes on a blog like a little old lady. (And teaching knitting classes? I'm halfway to becoming Miss Marple already!) But just so you know, I'm taking off for a mountain adventure in Mexico on Sunday and will be out all next week. So before I go, these herbs really need to get dried.

Besides, it's actually kind of fun to watch your hard work sitting all labeled and dried in shiny spice bottles and sweet bath bags. Just goes to show, I guess, how life really can be terrific under the Texan sun.

Serendipity and Frozen Hot Chocolate

In reality, serendipity accounts for
one percent of the blessings we receive
in life, work and love.
-Peter McWilliams

Yesterday was the last of the summer knitting classes at Freeman House. Bittersweet evening, it was. I stood at the door as the new needles-and-yarn prodigies shuffled out under a summer night sky, bidding "see you soons" and sweet goodbyes.

It was such a good time for me, and I was surprised how, really, the knitting took a backseat to the conversations and connections going on around the table each week. We laughed and joked and learned and left, I think, feeling as though we were among a camaraderie of women. It was just a bonus that we had knitted yarn wrapped around needles.

For the last class I wanted to make something special. Although I'd planned all day long to make Ina's brownies, the August heat slipped in through every crack in the house and there was no way I was turning on the oven. There was no way I was even turning on the stove top to make pudding. I piddled around the kitchen, humming and thinking and poking in bags and boxes. And there, long forgotten, it was: the Frozen Hot Chocolate. Serendipity.

Perhaps you've seen the movie Serendipity. The one with John Cusac? I bought it after seeing it in the theatre, and have watched it seventy-four-ish times. (At least.) Anyway, the movie was a small boon to the already famous New York City shop named Serendipity and its most revered treat, the Frozen Hot Chocolate. After seeing the movie, I had to try this stuff. So I called them and ordered their mix. They kindly sent it here, to my crooked house, and I promptly stored it away and forgot about it.

Until yesterday. There it was, all chocolaty and yummy and staring at me. I plugged in the smoothie machine, grabbed the milk, and began to whirl. Oh gosh. Oh GOSH. Omgosh. Omgosh, omgosh, omgosh. This stuff isn't good. It's heaven. No. Above heaven. Quick... where's the big bar of chocolate I've been saving? It needs to be shaved and curled and sprinkled atop mounds of sweetened whipped cream!

And so it was. The perfect topping to the Frozen Hot Chocolate in the sparkly dishes on the hot summer evening.

I've always wished, I think, for nights like that. Nights where newly-found friends come together and sip frozen chocolate and knit and relax and ... be. I'd always prayed that God - in His serendipitous goodness - would grant me such a life. And... He did. There it was. Here it is. Complete with frozen hot chocolate.

Don't get me wrong: I don't really believe in serendipity. Not since... well... not anymore. But it's okay. I believe, just like Peter McWilliams, that serendipity accounts for very little of the blessings we receive in life. The rest have - and will - come from God.

And until they do, He knows where to find me. I'm here. With my frozen hot chocolate. With my friends. Knitting. And waiting.

Sipping, knitting, and waiting...

(If you are too, and need some of this Frozen Hot Chocolate, I'll make it easy on you. To order it... for the cheapest I've ever been able to find!... give a quick click here.)