‘That day when she had had tea with Mrs Heather and realised that it was in cottages like this one that the idea of home would be kept safe. The Castles would be destroyed but the little homes hidden like Peter Rabbit’s among the tree trunks would tend the flame. - The Castle On The Hill
Hello dear friends,
A belated happy Thanksgiving to the American camp in the Beagle community. I was invited to attend a thanksgiving meal here last week by a dear friend. As a Brit who's not grown up with the tradition I take great delight in the feasting and gathering and marvel at some of the strange-to-me recipes. Whoever thought to put marshmallows on potato! Genius or madman? I anticipated the opportunity to gather with intention, to offer oneself to a set apart space for the giving of thanks and the enjoyment of loved ones is life and God. To snooze with a full tummy and enjoy a bracing autumnal/wintery walk is tradition!
I'm definitely going to do this with my pumpkin pie next time, brilliant!
It's been a busy but fruitful month. I've finally launched The Gallery Gift Shop and was planning a big announcement but ah, life. I named my online shop The Gallery Gift Shop as one of my favourite things to do after visiting a gallery or museum is to visit the gift shop on the way out. I love to browse the postcards, prints, choccies and mugs, tote bags and journals, and I especially love to bring a little something home. Maybe you'd like to bring a little something home from my work too. The fine art prints are stunning. Printed on Giclee Hahnemühle PhotoRag (museum quality) paper, exquisite, I couldn't be happier. I ship internationally from the UK. Every order is hand wrapped in 100% eco-friendly packaging.
Here I am unboxing The Peace of Wild Things fresh from the printers.
My first order and sending off international goodies in my Jan van Huysum bag.
Images are available in either an 8x10", 16x12" or 24x18".
Still Life: Isabella
Poetry: Wendell Berry, Rowan Williams & Elizabeth Jennings
Watching: King Richard, Finch, The Most Reluctant Convert, The Electrical Life of Louis Wain, California Typewriter.
Reading: Haphazard by Starlight, The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, Cafe Theology, Dune.
Listening: BFB 'Adventmas' Playlist and December playlist
Recipe: Guinness/Coke cake
Craft: Easy table centre piece
London Lights at Christmas
Snaps From Home
Did you know I link every book, film, recipe etc in the Beagle? Where you see words highlighted, simply click the link.
Do you enjoy Advent? I don't have a traditional or denominational background but have come to treasure this practice in recent years. Advent has a way of quieting my soul and preparing my heart in the approach to Christmas. I've particularly enjoyed Dr Jane William's book The Art of Advent for 2019/20 and last year bought myself Haphazard by Starlight by Janet Morely to enjoy this year.
I've come to appreciate the opportunity to sharpen my spiritual focus as putting on the macro lens of faith, to see afresh the coming Saviour and the coming again King. When so much around us aches and groans the words of God bring comfort and hope, not just for the future but in the here-and-now. God with us in the trenches. We live in this tension; Here we are home and not yet. Here we keep the home fires burning while looking for the light in the midst of a shadow draped world. Here we are tucked away in obscurity behind our four walls, undertaking ordinary tasks, yet we're seen by heaven itself and the labour we offer is a sweet offering on dining table altars.
And where was home? Somewhere beyond time and space but yet here permeating time and space like air and lungs? How did one get there? Let there be light, O God, let there be light!
I resonate with that heartfelt cry in The Castle On The Hill, "Let there be light, O God, let there be light!". Aren't we all crying for answers, to have some light shed on what seems an obscured path? Maybe today you're wondering how to walk beside a troubled teen, a husband who is distant, possibly you face financial difficulty, health issues, job insecurity, loneliness. These sadnesses can make us feel thrown out of the pattern of things, home and a sense of an anchored self are like a dream hard to remember. We dwell in darkness. In these troubles I'm reminded of how God himself broke into this very same darkness, born in obscurity, in difficulty, on the verge of an infanticide, the very place the light was needed.
The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned. Isaiah 9:2
"Let there be light, O God, let there be light! But before the light we must start in darkness, there is no need for light in a sunlit room.
Elizabeth Goudge also writes 'And where was home . . . .how did one get there? It took me many years to stop looking over the garden fence, I was like the character in Wendell Berry's poem below. Then one day, looking into the face of one of my dear and ever-so needy children, that gentle voice said, "This, this is the work". I grew into owning my life, into understanding I had agency and the ability to cultivate light and life no matter where I found myself, or with whom. Home was where I tended the flame and the power of home grew tucked quietly in the roots and soil of obscurity.
For now we yearn, we long, we ache, but our longing is not futile, but substance, a hope of God with us. I believe as we sit with our deepest needs this Advent a gentle in-breaking of light will begin to peek it's way through the chinks in our daily armour and draw us forward into a refreshing we so need.
I composed my first Christmas still life last year when all I had was a wooden apple crate to shoot inside of. You can read about it and see it in the link above. I was quite happy with it but am glad to see how I've progressed over the year. Clementines always remind me of Christmas. Back in the day it was the only time we ate them, we weren't very well off and these were a sweet treat in the calendar. Even now when I take a bite of that soft, juicy, tangy flesh, I'm transported back to the feeling of sheer indulgence and the expectation of Christmas. You'll see Isabella Sparrow making her debut today, and I have a funny, not-funny, both odd and sweet story to share about her! If you're squeamish you might want to scroll past.
When I got my first bird, a Great Tit, I invited people to submit name ideas for him. I went with Brad, after Brad Bird the film maker, we are a bit of a movie-buff family so it was a good fit. A few months later, this same friend who had named Brad wrote me an email - "It seems at some point Brad should have a female friend, so I looked up celebrities with the surname Bird and Wikipedia gave me a list of 91 names. Interestingly, many are British, and only 14 of them are females. If/When you ever find and add said friend, here are some Bird names that stood out:
Billie – American actress and comedian (1908-2002)
Isabella – English writer and historian (1831-1904)
Sue – US basketball player (1980) AND UK acoustic engineer (??)
English? Writer? Historian? I had to go with Isabella! Isabella is Italian and also funnily enough, my dog is called Alba which is again of Italian origin and means Sunrise. I had no idea when I'd be able to save my pennies and get another bird, I also knew that Elle who had provided Brad for me, didn't have a natural toned bird which was what I was looking for this time. Two months later I was taking Zoe out for the day. As we drove a little flutter came towards my windscreen, then a bump! I pulled over and we rushed back to see what we'd hit or had hit us, and there she was, this dear darling girl. We were heartbroken. We gave her a gentle little rub in the hopes she was just stunned but alas, she began to fade in my hand. Now here's the crazy part. I couldn't bear just leaving her on the side of the road for a fox to eat or to put her in the bin, I wanted to do something to mark her short little life with honour. It then occurred to me to ask Elle if she could possibly preserve her. We exchanged messages and I dashed home to put her on ice where she stayed for a few months. I saved my pennies and a couple of weeks ago finally had her home with a newness of life ready for her. Now the funny, odd part. This eventful turn to our day trip meant that we had to postpone our time out until the next day, and where were we headed? The Isabella Plantation! Isn't that weird! So, well, how do I reconcile all this in my mind, thank you Lord for Isabella, not one sparrow falls to the ground without your knowledge.
I couldn't limit myself to just one and both entries warrant celebration I think. One speaks of home the other of the coming King, both of which I felt on my heart this month.
Taken from A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems (1979-1997) by Wendell Berry. For many years, each Sunday, Wendell Berry would write a poem. This is taken from that collection.
1994, V Wendell Berry.
Raking hay on a rough slope, when I was about sixteen, I drove to the ridgetop and saw
in a neighbour's field on the other side
a pond in a swale, and around it
the whole field filled
with chicory in bloom, blue
as the sky reflected in the pond –
bluer even, and somehow lighter,
though they belonged to gravity.
They were the morning's
blossoms and would not last.
But I go back now in my mind
to when I drew the long windrow
to the top of the rise, and I see
the blue–flowered field, holding
in its centre the sky–reflecting pond.
It seems, as then, another world
in this world, such as a pilgrim
might travel days and years
to find, and find at last
on the morning of his return
by his mere being at home
awake – a moment seen, forever known.
Advent Calendar Rowan Williams
He will come like last leaf’s fall. One night when the November wind has flayed the trees to the bone, and earth wakes choking on the mould, the soft shroud’s folding.
He will come like frost. One morning when the shrinking earth opens on mist, to find itself arrested in the net of alien, sword-set beauty.
He will come like dark. One evening when the bursting red December sun draws up the sheet and penny-masks its eye to yield the star-snowed fields of sky.
He will come, will come, will come like crying in the night, like blood, like breaking, as the earth writhes to toss him free. He will come like child.
"It gets darker and darker and then Jesus is born" Wendell Berry
I made this table centrepiece inspired by the wonderful Claus Dalby on his Instagram page. Claus' is so much cleverer and well put together whereas I simply used dirt from the garden and some moss. I found the pots for £1 each in the charity shop and the candles were 25p. This was so cheap and looks lovely I think, and the best part is that you can add your own interpretation and make something unique to your personality and budget.
The Electrical Life Of Louis Wain was beautiful, heart breaking and an education. Benedict Cumberbatch and Claire Foy were stunning. A wonderful film about the jounrey to faith of C.S.Lewis, The Most Reluctant Convert. Finch starring Tom Hanks. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, the desire for friendship and love never changes. This was sweet and funny. More Tom hanks with the inspirational documentary California Typewriter. I've wanted a typewriter for a while now and watching this resonated with me deeply. The desire to have the tactile feel of the machine, that sense that there's a magic in the keyboard which can conjure forth great words. For anyone desiring to live a more digitally minimalistic life you'll love this. A new film for Christmas from the Aardman Studios who brought us Wallace & Grommit, Robin, Robin. A bird who grew up with mice. Charming and whimsical. King Richard is a must see! Will Smith was spectacular as Richard, he just gets better with age I think. To see into their upbringing and the mindset behind the father (and mother) who made them was truly inspirational. If you want to know what Venus and Serena think of the film you can watch a short interview with the cast HERE.
[Occasionally my recommendations may not be for everyone. My choice of films, books etc are based on my particular tastes and tolerances. Just a note for my G-rated friends]
What I'm calling my 'Adventmas' playlist. I've added pieces which I think foster stillness, waiting and peace through Advent but there may be a couple of Christmassy types that've snuck their way in. I also have a BFB December playlist but it seems a tad on the short side this month probably because I was focused on Advent. I'll add to it throughout the month though so keep listening.
Not strictly reading but Sarah Clarkson has hosted an Advent Retreat called Expecting The Light which friends, I can highly recommend. You can still sign up and enjoy the replays. This is beautiful rich soul food which will draw you closer to Christ and quieten any busy soul in the lead up to Christmas. Four talks, approx 30 mins each with full notes, covering:
Yearning: allowing ourselves to hunger
Annunciation: trust and tension
Preparation: homemaking of the soul
Welcome: the holy work of celebration
You can also catch Sarah's Advent poetry readings on Instagram each night throughout December.
Guinness Cake: I was first introduced to this in 2017 by my Scottish friend who's hubby made it for us. I have an easy recipe HERE. This will be a sure hit over the holidays and a talking point to boot. If you don't have or want to use Guinness you can use Coke. If you do use Guinness don't worry about the flavour dominating as it's pretty mild if not undetectable, which makes you wonder why bother :D
London Lights at Christmas
Snaps From Home
Zoe and I met up with a couple of friends and enjoyed the Advent service held at St.Paul's Cathedral each year. Cameras are an obvious no-no during the service but I snuck this little soundbite, glory, I thought the roof was going to lift!
My mum and I visited the delightfully crammed bric-a-brac and antique shop called Chesapeake Mill in Hampshire. It has a fascinating history and is built around a working water mill. We enjoyed a 'mistical' morning walk in the woodlands and at the local garden centre (which is huge) indulged in the biggest lemon meringue pie I've ever seen!
We had our very own nature walk and discovered some fantastic Polypore fungi which is unique to the Silver Birch tree as well as some super fun puffball fungi. I've put a little video below.
The morning light was stunning and so soft.
A dear friend who's daughter had faced a battle with cancer last year, gathered a few of us together for a celebration tea time. Thankfully her daughter is now over the other side and flourishing in her studies and life again. What a treat it was to feel spoiled, to sit together for hours, sharing, laughing, crying, eating. We unburdened ourselves in each other's safe space and left with full hearts.
I still have a backlog of glorious English stately houses to show you but they will have to wait for another time, maybe January when we all might need some post-Christmas cheer. I feel tired at this end of the year, especially after the season it has been, I think we might all be feeling it. So I will leave you with an Advent and Christmas blessing, a third poem and some wonderful scripture.
Father, be with us I pray. Let there be light! And hope and love to encompass us, that the sense of your closeness would be made tangible in all the small ways we see goodness each day. Help us to know we are deeply loved through the love letters of your word and the love given to us in the form of a baby, a new hope for us all. I pray we'd feel seen, that you'll help us tend the flame of home, to resist the darkness by cultivating joy in the hard places. Help us to help ourselves and those around us by taking on the death-defying work of gathering and feasting. I pray you would meet lack with abundance, drive out bitterness with words of peace, bring down dividing walls of difference and animosity and instead let new love flourish. May this be a season of accepting our shadows and struggles and coming to you in a fresh and childlike way, that we'd follow you into the light. In Jesus' name, Amen.
November Sonnet Elizabeth jennings
Spirit of place. Spirit of time. Re–form
The rugged oaks and chestnuts. Now they stand
Naked and pallid giants out of storm
And out of sorts. It is the Autumn’s end
And this is Winter brought in by All Saints
Fast followed by All Souls to keep us in
Touch with chill and death. Each re-acquaints
Us with the years end. Yet we now begin
A life of realism, watching out
For a red sunset, grateful for a dawn
Of rich light now. Tall shadows step and strut
Facing the big wind daily coming on
Faster. This is the season of right doubt
While that elected child waits to be born.
Isaiah 25: 6-9 On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,
of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.
And he will swallow up on this mountain
the covering that is cast over all peoples,
the veil that is spread over all nations.
He will swallow up death forever;
and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces,
and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.
It will be said on that day,
“Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us.
This is the Lord; we have waited for him;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”
Friends, have a lovely month I pray. I'll see you on the other side.