Monday, December 31, 2007

Another Year to Live...

Another fresh new year is here...
another year to live!
To banish worry, doubt, and fear;
to love and laugh and give!
-William Arthur Ward


Getting ready to celebrate New Year's tonight. I have a tradition: every year at the stroke of midnight I stare up at the twinkling sky and hold my breath and pray a minute of earnest prayers. This year I'll be standing in the snow, peering up toward heaven. I even have hats and silvery star wands, so there's no way can God miss me....

Wishing you the coziest and peaceful of new years, and hoping midnight ushers in a year of more happiness and hope than you can hold.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Winter Afternoon

Climb, then, into this paradise...
this pretty world of peace.
-Rose Macaulay


It's an afternoon of woolly warmth and Vanilla Spice Tea. I'm almost finished with my knitted/crocheted scarflette, which came together all delicate and lofty-like with this yarn from JoAnn. Even from the store shelf it seemed to promise a vanilla winter afternoon. And it has. It does. Pretty world of peace.

I got The Prairie Girl's Guide to Life for Christmas. It's charming, down to its recipe for homemade furniture polish. Definitely going to try that. The book stays in my knitting basket for now, so when I need a change in scenery I can flip it open and read about chopping wood. (Which, believe it or not, I need to know. I'm almost wrote another Girl's Guide To.... this fall, recounting my harrowing and hilarious attempt at chopping wood. Sheesh. If I can manage to chop off the edge of my finger with a knife, I'm terrified to think of what I could have lopped off with a sure-enough axe. But hey. At least now I know how to chop wood.)

But for now I think I'll stick with tea and knitting. Seems more in keeping with a winter paradise of peace, anyhow.

*Bonus: Who knew Jennifer Worick checked out this blog? Read her comment regarding her book by clicking below. (And thanks again, Jennifer, for teaching me to chop wood!)

Saturday, December 29, 2007

A Confetti Welcome

In three words I can sum up
everything I've learned about life:
it goes on.
-Robert Frost

Confetti meets snow. Party meets reality. I've carefully shut up my dear Freeman House, once more, and made my way north to the frozen tundra. It's back to work.

It was a wonderful Christmas. I hope yours was, too. The bustle stopped bustling long enough for me to take a nap one day (gasp!) and watch the rain another (sigh) and take in Christmas lights the next (smile). Perfect. Gifts were given and gotten, and I look forward to the gift card shopping spree coming soon to a mall near me. Oh, and to Cherie, Sue, Heather, LuLu, Karin and Alicia ... your Christmas packages were lined up at the door waiting for me. They made me cry. Precious y'all. Thanks so very much.

So a new year. That is the beauty of life, isn't it... that it goes on? I'm looking forward to this year more than I can say. What is it about 365 clean, tiny, numbered squares that give me such hope? I can just feel - the way you sense a storm coming or know the phone's about to ring - that this one will be peculiar and wonderful. I bought bags and bags of brightly colored confetti and plan to do it up right Monday night. Hats and horns and everything. Of course, I couldn't resist running out to entice the new year to hurry. I threw up handfuls of color and stood in the snow as the wispy, papery bits of rainbow rained down around me....

Welcome to our world, 2008. I'm so happy you're here.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

An Open Letter to 2007... Or, The Edge of My Map

The reinvention of daily life means
marching off the edge of our maps.
-Bob Black

2007, you and I need to talk.

As years go, you were undoubtedly my worst. I hated you. I truly did. You hunted me and taunted me. You spooked me and scared me. And although I managed your messes and thrived on your thrills... somehow... you nearly beat me. I'm so glad to see you go.

Not that we didn't have our moments. Through a divorce, a lay-off, a break in, a goodbye, a death, a tax bill, a leaky roof, and a bitter disappointment, I was able to see God's grace through it all. What you meant for evil, He meant for good. While you came at me, His hand held me. Held me safe. So you will go, but I will stay... stronger for it all. You, 2007, lost.

And your predecessor - the bright, shining 2008 - promises to out-do you. Once you're laid to rest, he'll move in with all his promise and newness. Lord willing, he'll bring about a book. He'll see the completion of the library. He'll deliver new flowers and friends... new projects and pets. And we'll be happy together, 2008 and I will. We'll share our laughs and quiet moments and mention you with a shrug and a roll of the eyes.

Yes, 2007, I'm through with you. Good riddance. I leave you now to revive and reinvent a precious life you tried to destroy. I leave you to march to the edge of my map and off onto a new one. And as I see new sights and chart new waters, I won't miss you at all.

Glad we had this talk....

Adelante.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Sending Wishes...

Simply having a wonderful Christmas time... as the moments at Freeman House fall in my lap like tree ornaments - golden and warm and twinkly.

A professional designer would have a heart attack/laughing-fit in my house. In Freeman House. Fancy ornaments share branches with wooden angels I bought for my very first Christmas tree. Those are still my favorite... the angels with stars over their heads. The other ornaments, while beautiful, don't hold as much meaning. But there they hang, next to golden netting...

...which actually isn't golden netting at all. It's plastic produce bags, cut in strips. You know, the kind of plastic mesh bags that hold onions at the grocery store. But that's me... and that's this house: trash and treasure sharing the same space. Even at Christmas. Those fancy pants designers can have their boring old decor and stuffy houses.

When I think of it, that's a little of how this year has shaped up: a lot of trash, a little bit of treasure. A lot of hard times, a little bit of magic. But as Christmas draws near and the year winds down, I'm left with a deep, tender appreciation for everything I do have... for everyone I hold so, so dear... and for the person God is patiently, daily creating anew in the midst of one messy, thrilling life.

And for the Christmas record: I'm thankful for you, too. I hope you know that. I hope you get up from your computer in a little while knowing that you're prayed for and counted on and loved up. Even if it's just by one girl with an angel-and-onion-bag Christmas tree in Texas...


Sending wishes of comfort and joy to you this Christmas.

Warmly,
Brin

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Cranberry Christmas Cookie

For somehow, not only at Christmas,
but all the long year through,
the joy you give to others is the joy
that comes back to you.
-John Greenleaf Whittier

If we can't give joy, perhaps we can give cookies. Or cookie makings. Hmm. Perhaps it's all the same.

As it turns out, there's no time for jam... not with all the hall decking and fa-la-la-la-la-ing going on around here. Oh well. We'll do Cranberry Christmas Cookie bowls instead. I spent part of the morning carefully (ha!) measuring and layering ingredients into these awesome kitchen workhorses, tossing in recipe cards and tying it all with ornaments and bows. They're for my two sweet Jo's... Jolene and JoAnne... neither of which I could (would) ever do without....

CRANBERRY CHRISTMAS COOKIES

Preheat oven to 375°F.
Stir together until combined:

½ c. granulated sugar
¾ c. sweetened dried cranberries
½ c. white or semi-sweet chocolate chips
¾ c. packed brown sugar
1½ c. flour
½ t. baking powder
½ t. baking soda
¼ t. salt
1 c. quick or old-fashioned oats
½ c. chopped pecans (or walnuts... macadamias... whatever)

In a separate bowl, mix together:

¾ c. (1½ sticks) butter, softened
2 eggs
1 t. vanilla

Add contents of cranberry bowl to the butter bowl. Stir until well mixed. Drop well-rounded spoonfuls onto parchment lined (or non-stick) baking sheet. Lightly flatten dough with the back of a spoon. Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until edges are golden brown.

(I toast the pecans or walnuts… whatever I have on hand… before mixing them into the batter. Do as you wish. If you plan, as I did, to give this as a gift mix, layer the first list of ingredients (in order listed) into a pretty jar or bowl and include instructions for adding the butter, eggs, and vanilla and baking. Recipe inspiration courtesy of Pampered Chef.)

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Pear Tree

Several years ago, my Mom and I went on the holiday Parade of Homes in Jefferson, Texas. One of the historic mansions put on The Twelve Days of Christmas... each room taking on one of the days. As long as I live I'll never forget it: seven perfect little pastry swans a'swimming in pools of chocolate atop gold-rimmed plates. And in the hall, an actual pear tree had bows... and a partridge, of course... and took up the entire width of the hallway. I was spellbound.

Since that year, I've wanted to do the same. Only I don't have the money... or the desire... to go buy a thousand crystal pears. So we'll make do. We'll hoard plastic pears throughout the year, and then make a quick trip to Michael's for glitter and glue from the Martha Stewart Crafts collection. And when the table is cleared after Thanksgiving, everyone will glue and glitter until memories and pears are made and beautiful....

I was giving myself severe arthritis trying to be-ribbon the pears and get them on the tree before Christmas, never mind the partridge. But since I've learned that the Twelve Days of Christmas don't actually begin until Christmas, I'm taking it a bit slower....


Besides, they're so pretty just sitting here. Hmm. Maybe I'll do a partridge on a pear table, instead...

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Oh No, Oh No, Oh No... Followed By 'Be Still and Know'

I'll never catch up. Even if I pull out a 24 hour ball-hanging, popcorn-stringing, jam-making, Christmas-wishing marathon, I'll still never get it all done.

Guess that's the trouble with traveling for a living and then having THREE DAYS to do Christmas. Merry and bright turns into messy and blurry....

Oh, hang it all. We girls can only do so much. Scoot those ornaments off on the floor. I'm going to the kitchen to make cocoa....

Let's just forget it all and settle in and be still and know....

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Dreaming of Jam Baskets...

Remember these? My homegrown bounty is in the deep freeze at Freeman House, and I'm thinking that these...

... plus these...

... and this...

... will make one swell batch of my Bumbleberry Jam. The plan is to fill several baskets with jam and biscuits and honey butter and deliver them Christmas Eve morning. Yum. Merry Christmas to us!

Until then, I'm on the road. Long drive home and all. See you at Freeman House! Can't wait to show you what's waiting there.... -Brin

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Tumbleweed Alley

Stopped yesterday and took a few more pictures for my cookbook, which will be wrapped up - finally! - after Christmas. I'm so excited. I wrote it in four parts - one for each season - and the recipes and stories and photographs follow along that line. Just looking at a few printed out pages makes me want to live in that cookbook world: it's so friendly and warm and comforting and homey. (Sigh)

Anyway, I loved these pictures. The barbed-wire fence, above, has a heart at the top. It made me smile....

And this I've come to know, these past two months, as Tumbleweed Alley. It's off a long-forgotten county road between Liberal, Kansas and Lipscomb, Texas. Where the tumbleweeds and snow come to hide. It's the craziest thing I've ever seen: you're driving along, listening to Sarah Mclachlan, and a spindly-branched tumbleweed comes sailing through the air straight for you. They bounce and blow along roads... down streets... across the prairie. I wondered where they all went until I noticed them forming clubs and hanging out alongside fence lines, where the wind can tumble them no further. And there they sit - dozens of them - taking in the sun and wind and snow in equal measure.

If I ever have a child, I'll put her in boots and a hat and bring her here. As the sunset streams pink and orange light across the plains, we'll count the tumbleweeds and chase and kick and stack them. Maybe we'll even take one home and name it Pete and keep it in a stall in the barn. And at night, when she's too excited to sleep, we'll lean back into her fluffy, rosy bed and shut our eyes tight and count the tumbleweeds sailing by....

Monday, December 17, 2007

Monday Moment: O Little Town of Bethlehem

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

For Christ is born of Mary, and gathered all above,
While mortals sleep, the angels keep
their watch of wondering love.
O morning stars together, proclaim the holy birth,
And praises sing to God the King, and peace to men on earth!

How silently, how silently, the wondrous Gift is giv’n;
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His Heav’n.
No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.

O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!

Phillips Brooks, 1867

(Had you ever just read the words to this old hymn? I did, today, after passing this snow-sprinkled, abandoned little cottage and stopping to snap its picture. It reminded me, somehow, of what I've always pictured when I heard the carol O Little Town of Bethlehem. Such a powerful, sweetly-worded carol, isn't it, and an apt prayer this Christmas advent.)

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Aliens in the Snow

A happy life is simply the sum
of many small, happy moments.
-Penny Krugman

The overnight forecast called for 3 inches of snow, and the view outside my bedroom window this morning did not disappoint. I layered clothes underneath the roomiest wind suit I have and dashed outdoors. One of my roommates followed. "Let's make snow angels!" I yelled, running for the snow-strewn yard.

"Um... why don't you?" she said.

So I did. I fell - buttocks first - into a couple of inches of snow and positioned myself to begin angel-ing. Visions of perfectly-skirted, halo-crowned snow angels danced in my head as I began twitching and flapping about like a recovering addict. Ouch. Ouch! The sensation was similar to that of scraping my bare hands and body over cold, crushed glass. "Ooowwwww!" I howled. "Owwwwwwwwww!..."

My roommate nearly dropped her camera in the snow she was laughing so hard. "Oh. Ha. Stinkin'. Ha," I retorted, trying to get up carefully so I didn't disturb my Best Ever Angel in the History of Snow Angels. As I dusted snow off my backside, the roommate took a few more pictures. And as I turned to survey my halo-crowned angel, she said:

"It looks like an alien."

It was the grass, I told her. I'll make one on the sidewalk and it'll be beautiful. You'll see....

...

"Nope," she said. "Still looks like an alien."

A bell bottom-wearing, small-headed alien, who was booted off the snow UFO and landed, buttocks first, in our backyard.

Oh how we laughed. I laughed until it hurt. I laughed until it was either laugh or drink my Peppermint Christmas coffee, and then I had to quit laughing to gulp my coffee. Which made me laugh even harder.

It's true. It's so totally, completely, assuredly, 100%-edly, guaranteed true: a happy life is the sum of many happy moments, lumped together and added up to equal a life that is, day by day, truly happy. I like that. That I can do....

...Even if I do make aliens in the snow.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Rejoicing...

In the depth of winter I finally learned
that there within me lay an invincible summer.
-Albert Camus





Strange how the bitterness of winter can fan flames of hope in the coldest of hearts. Rejoicing in the eternal summer I've found in the depth of my winter, and wishing the same for you....

Comfort and joy this December weekend,
Brin

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Thoughts On a Cold and Disagreeable Morning

The morning was cold and disagreeable...
- Meriwether Lewis

I've always wanted to keep a journal that featured sentences like that: "the morning was cold and disagreeable". It just sounds so raw and romantic - like something from Wuthering Heights or a Jane Austen film.

Anyway, still here, counting the days until I go home (8), and the days until Christmas (13). Can't wait. The mornings here, although beautiful in their own, frozen way, are cold and disagreeable. I miss Freeman House, and I miss that I'm missing Christmas. Everything is always a bit surreal when you're on the road.

But enough about me. How in the world are you? Really, we should all find a central meeting place and bring our recipes and our projects and our pets and sit and chat for a day. Or a weekend. Wouldn't that be lovely? Nothing cold or disagreeable about that at all....

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Debbie Sue's Christmas Crockpot Candy


For Christmas this year, I've bought myself the Pilates Powerhouse Collection. This is entirely due to my new friend Debbie Sue. Debbie Sue and her Christmas Crockpot Candy. After getting her permission, I'm printing her sweets-to-break-a-trucker's-heart, peanut butter candy recipe here. But I'm warning you: make this ONLY if you want to be the most popular person at work or home. Then, and only then, should you make:

Debbie Sue's Crockpot Candy

1 (16 oz.) jar unsalted peanuts
1 (16 oz.) jar salted peanuts
1 (12 oz.) bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 (12 oz.) bag milk chocolate chips
2 (12 oz.) bags peanut butter chips
2 (1 lb.) packages White Almond Bark, broken in pieces
(You'll sometimes find this called Vanilla Candy Coating)

Layer ingredients, in order listed, into (4 quart or larger) crockpot. Turn the pot on low, cover it with a lid, and walk away for two hours. After two hours, remove lid and stir to combine. Replace lid and walk away for another 30 minutes. Check to see if almond bark is melted, and if so, stir and spoon mixture onto wax paper. (Decorate, if you wish, with holiday sprinkles or additional chopped peanuts.) Allow to harden - 1 hour or so - before enjoying. Then hide it until ready to serve and go order yourself the Pilates Powerhouse Collection. You'll need it, trust me.

Thanks, Debbie Sue, for the recipe. It's my new favorite and it's keeping my thighs warm! :D

Y'all enjoy! -Brin

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Icicle Winter Wand

Christmas waves a magic wand over this world,
and behold, everything is... more beautiful.
-Norman Vincent Peale

As a girl, I imagined icicles were magic winter wands. So, too, were frozen, fallen tree twigs. I recall reading The Call of the Wild, which I hated, and deciding to change it up entirely: instead of being a beast dog, Buck would be transformed into Lovable Winter Dog King through the use of my magic icicle wand, and together we would travel the Yukon in a sleigh made of ice cubes.

I hadn't thought about lovable Buck or ice cube sleighs or icicle wands in forever. Until today, that is. (Fancying myself a winter fairy, I've been taking a lot of winter walks... snapping pictures, listening to the snow crunch... breathing in the frigid wind. It cleans one out, somehow... that wind. It sweeps away a lot of balled-up bitterness as it blows straight through.) Anyway, I felt it again yesterday as I walked, and as I ducked behind some trees, hoping for a wind break, I heard the icy cracks and scrapes of the trees' frozen fingers and looked up... up... up.....

I found my icicle winter wand today. Turns out, it's been there all along. I was just too grown-up to notice. And although my dreams for Buck and ice cube sleighs have melted away, one dream remains frozen in time....

Gosh, I love Christmas. I love winter.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Monday Moment: From Manger to Cross to Home


If you're a Christian, there's something powerfully sweet and deeply meaningful about this time of year. Sure, you can enjoy the Christmas lights... the sweet delights... the silent nights... but there's something about that manger - something about the Baby wrapped in swaddling clothes- that speaks to your heart and settles your soul and leaves you pining for home.

Ever noticed how Christmas - unlike any other holiday - seems to revolve around home? I mean, what do we sing? How about: I'll be home for Christmas. And: Oh, there's no place like home for the holidays. And not only do we sing about home, but we trim them, too. We invite people to them. We buy tickets and gas to get back to them. Home. Home....

It makes sense if you think about it. Christmas is a story that ultimately deals with home. It speaks of how a loving Father looked down on a lost and hopeless world and decided that He - through His precious Son - would leave His heavenly home and come here... here... to seek and to save us. And He did. After securing a stable and roping a star and calling a census, God put Mary and Joseph on a path leading away from home toward Bethlehem. A path that ultimately led baby Jesus from a manger to a ministry to a cross.

And He did it all... well, He did it all... so you and I could one day be at home with Him. And to think it all began at Christmas. The manger led to the cross, and the cross led home.

If you're a Christian, there's something powerfully sweet and deeply meaningful about home this time of year, wouldn't you say?

I must needs go home by the way of the cross,
There’s no other way but this;
I shall ne’er get sight of the gates of light,
If the way of the cross I miss.
The way of the cross leads home,
The way of the cross leads home,
It is sweet to know as I onward go,
The way of the cross leads home.
-Jessie B. Pounds, 1906

[You've probably heard about them already, but the crosses pictured in this post are the work of Texas artist Barbara Clopton and are available through her shop, Crossations. Barbara is still accepting custom orders for the holidays (I know because I just got a GORGEOUS one... and am about to order another). You can reach Barbara and view her creations by clicking here.]

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Winter Skin

We put on our winter skin... our winter skin... and walk....

... and we watch the snow fall.

You can come, too, on our Saturday winter walk. Turn up the volume... close your eyes... smell the snow and pine... put on your winter skin.... and walk....


Happy snowy Saturday! -Brin