Surprise!


Hello beautiful people,

Yes here I am. There are a few surprises unfolding in this transitional time, ones I hadn't anticipated, good surprises thankfully, not the burst water pipe in the basement sort. I'll tell you more in the coming months. For now, it's so good to be here in this space, connecting with you once more and in awe at the gift of it.


I've been feeding my long dormant desire to write the past month, reading inspirational writers such as Anne Lamott, Frederick Buechner, Blake Snyder. I write of course here in the Beagle and more spontaneously on Instagram when the spirit comes upon me by way of divine breath or enragement. I try to keep my enragements to the minimum or at least tame them a little. But to write seriously, as one who sits and ponders deeply the mysteries of the world; life, death, everything in between, why good customer service is so hard to come by and why people clean before the cleaner comes. Someone needs to think these things through, to grapple with them over a latte which needs to last at least a couple of hours so as to justify one's occupation of the best cafe seat. Ever since I can remember I've felt that compulsion, or as my mum says, "You'd never shut up".


Thoughts on Writing

Conversations with myself

Survivor's Guilt:

Life is unfair. Death is indiscriminate. There are incredible writers in my time who are no longer here. They still speak but only from printed pages, while I'm here fumbling at words they would surely say better and with ease, like shelling peas. My friend's mum used to tell me this when I was first pregnant, 'It's like shelling peas, you'll just pop it out". No, no it wasn't, it was like birthing a chair. A very wide chair which took for-ev-er. So shelling peas is a myth and so is ease and so is saying it better. Dead writers can’t say things better, they’re dead. I however am here, still alive by some random miracle. So i'll say it as well as I can because the dead people are watching and hopefully I'll birth something.

 

Did you know I link every book, film, recipe etc in the Beagle? Where you see words highlighted and underlined simply click the link.

 

Still Life

Then The Rains Came


Like many of you we’ve experienced unprecedented heat this summer and are finally waking to morning dew and closing out the evenings in moist autumnal air. How refreshing and promising. I’ve experimented at times with adding droplets to my arrangements, there are many little tricks. I used a small spray for this occasion but you have to make sure you don’t get over zealous and drench the entire setting or you have to mop up the surrounding area. It’s fun trying to get it in isolation. A syringe is also helpful for individual drops and a glycerine mix can prove more stable (but sticky) if the angle is precarious.

 

Celebrating 25 years of 'becoming'

I shared some thoughts over on Instagram:


We’re marking and celebrating 25 years today. Anyone who’s invested this far understands the cost and commitment it takes. You also understand the depth of the deposit you’ve both made, an anchored core that holds you when all else sways or is battered, and both those things come in spades at times.


It is a mysterious grace, this binding together of two whole persons, one flesh. The binding shapes, it impresses itself slowly over time not with a sharp edge all at once but with an imperceptible grip as a band of gold around the finger.


Two things have shaped my faith more than anything else in life - motherhood and marriage. I’m always trying to see the gold rather than the binding. God help me ✨


We had a lovely day and a half away which I planned for us. One thing I arranged was a sketching session at the V&A Museum, a beautiful place I don't visit enough. A portrait artist we found via Airbnb Experiences guided us for a couple of hours, it was so much fun.

The added bonus was being able to take in some of the other collections while there. Can you believe this replica of David, I never knew it was this big!


 

Reading


My 10yo son once said, "How can you write without reading, that's like speaking without listening". My jaw dropped, my little lego builder suddenly became the Dalai Lama.


Before you write you need to prime the engine. My petrol lawnmower (like old cars) has a small rubber button which I need to pump a few times before the engine can fire up. This little primer injects a little fuel ahead of time in order to ready the machine for full use. When writing it’s helpful to prime yourself, to pump a few preliminary deposits of fuel so the engine can get running. Go for a walk, go to a cafe, read an inspirational book, talk to a friend or even better a stranger, people watch, but prime the engine. To mix my metaphors, you need some kindling if you want to start a fire.


I am a self-confessed kindling hoarder. My trouble has always been in finishing books. Starting is easy, getting to the end the tricky part. One issue I don't struggle with is quitting on a book that can't hold my attention. I have many discarded books with only the first few pages touched.


I once had a job for half a day. I was temping (code for dog's body) and was stuck in a port-a-cabin with a pile of filing that exceeded my height and left to file it away, all day, no other people contact, no radio. I was in temp hell. So I did what a rational extrovert would do (yes I'm now identifying as part extrovert, another story for another day). . . I did what was only reasonable, I went to lunch and never went back. It was such a shame as I left my good umbrella there. I wonder what they thought had happened to me? Possibly they all felt sad that I might have been hit by a car.


I've tried many tools and tricks to help me finish books in the past but at this moment, the wonder that is working is an app called StoryGraph. I can add my books, mark if I've read them, plan to or am currently reading, and I can track my progress. It's a fun little tool of visual progress. The paid version uses an algorithm to suggest reads based on your library.


The good news this month, I am 74% through with Dune!


I'm throughly enjoying Philip Yancey's books, Disappointment With God and What's So Amazing About Grace. Disappointment With God gently and surgically leads the reader on a journey to rediscover reasons to love and trust God, basically his aim is to undo bad theology. Philip's writing is grace filled, deeply insightful and comes at things from a fresh angle which is spiritually refreshing for those under the burden of religion or as the title suggests, disappointed with God.


Anne Lamott is the writer's writer. I am devouring Bird By Bird right now and find myself highlighting every few lines with frequent pauses to meditate on the truths she shares. So far I feel this book has helped me find my own voice as a writer more than any other and empowers the reader to embrace to get to writing with confidence. Anne is very witty and I find her humour magical, so human.

 

Poetry


I finally got myself a copy of Joy: 100 poems by Christian Wiman. This came recommended by the ever lovely Sarah Clarkson. I'm still in the introduction section but it's my kind of vibe so far. The last three lines in the poem are with writing down and prayed out.


Tintern Abbey (an excerpt) William Wordsworth


These beauteous forms,

Through a long absence, have not been to me

As is a landscape to a blind man’s eye:

But oft, in lonely rooms, and ‘mid the din

Of towns and cities, I have owed to them,

In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,

Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;

And passing even into my purer mind

With tranquil restoration:—feelings too

Of unremembered pleasure: such, perhaps,

As have no slight or trivial influence

On that best portion of a good man’s life,

His little, nameless, unremembered, acts

Of kindness and of love. Nor less, I trust,

To them I may have owed another gift,

Of aspect more sublime; that blessed mood,

In which the burthen of the mystery,

In which the heavy and the weary weight

Of all this unintelligible world,

Is lightened:—that serene and blessed mood,

In which the affections gently lead us on,—

Until, the breath of this corporeal frame

And even the motion of our human blood

Almost suspended, we are laid asleep

In body, and become a living soul:

While with an eye made quiet by the power

Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,

We see into the life of things.

 

Art


Can you guess who created these?


A robot created these, A.I. to be exact. My son has been having fun feeding the machine prompts and seeing what it produces, Midjourney is it's name, you have to apply to use it apparently. This is what it gave me when I asked for Dutch Master's still life. It's fun, so fun I might throw my camera away and go rock in a corner.

 

Watching


Many Beautiful Things . A documentary about artist and missionary Lilias Trotter, mid 1800's.


Take the very hardest thing in your life, the place of difficulty outward or inward and expect God to triumph gloriously in the very spot. Just there He can bring your soul into blossom.” - Lilias Trotter


The Way Way Back . Sam Rockwell, Steve Carell, Toni Collette and Liam James who plays the teen son. I love this kind of film which wrestles with family dynamics, failings but draws on some powerful hidden beauty somewhere.


Come Sunday . The brilliant Chiwetel EJiofor plays pastor Carlton Pearson, a preacher with a crisis of faith.


[My recommendations may not be for everyone. My choice of films, books etc are based on my particular tastes, tolerances and interests. Just a note for my G-rated friends]

 

Listening


I have a lovely playlist this month, acoustic, mellow, songs for the season, life and love.


Don't forget I also have some larger ongoing playlists which I regularly update: Quiet & Focus

Pray & Groan

Bops & Drops

 

Recipe


Who likes Mexican? It’s so hard to find proper Mexican food in the UK but this is a fantastic recipe I picked up from Riverford last month. I just love unwrapping fresh corn off the cob and these Tomatillos were new to me as were finger limes which when squeezed produce something like little pearls, you'll see them in the last pic. This has a few elements to it but well worth it. You could serve this with some wraps, sour cream, guac if you liked.

The spice pot was their own mix but you could make up your particular recipe using spices such as Cumin, Coriander, Chilli powder, Smoked Paprika, All Spice, and sometimes even Anise, Cinnamon, Cloves, Cocoa and Nutmeg. You can tailor it to your tastes. I added 1/2 tsp of the Chipotle paste and that was quite enough for one of my kids who gets wild hiccups if too hot.

 

Snaps from home

Putting on the Ritz.


It was mum's 80th birthday this year and on her wish list was high tea at this incredible, historical hotel. What an experience. I wrote about an aspect of what I was processing internally on Instagram:


Poverty shapes you. Not just monetarily by dictating the limitations of your spending but also mentally and in your soul. My childhood was lean and with that came a sense of shame at times, felt more keenly in the queue for free school meals or wearing oversized, tatty hand-me-downs.


Poverty also had its own self-perpetuating life cycle: having no money, fear of having no money, gaining money, fear of losing money, therefore quickly spending the money, having no money. Repeat.


It’s taken five decades to undo the poverty mindset and I still catch myself in it. Someone may compliment me on my outfit and I automatically need to explain that I either got it on sale or in the charity shop.


Spending or having money became something to feel ashamed of also. It’s all part of the same beast. I would always have to justify in my mind the reason to spend.


Money can affect your sense of worth and worthiness. Ever walk into somewhere a bit posh and feel like you don’t belong?Imposter syndrome on steroids.


But of course we’re all created in the same image of God, valuable and precious beyond measure, worth far more than coins and notes. Knowing you’re loved makes you at ease in palaces and content when times are tough. The apostle Paul said he’d learned the secret of contentment whether abounding or in want. I think love anchors us in contentment.


I would often be jealous of wealthy people, unable to enjoy their abundance but rather feeling bitter or being critical. Another facet of the same ugly mindset.


But today I’ve come a long way. We saved up and took my mum to the Ritz yesterday for her 80th birthday and it was a feast for the eyes and all the senses! Such beauty, intricate designs, plush furnishings, exquisite food and specialised teas served in solid silver pots. What a joy it was to be able to fully enter into the experience. To know we were making forever memories and had the opportunity to be there in this time and to savour it together. Yes it cost a lot, and when you boil it down it is a gold gilded picnic of sorts but it was a vision lifting, soul filling decadent moment of beauty and it sounds cliche but, you can’t put a price on that!


Small is Beautiful exhibition.

I took my son to this and was enchanted and deeply inspired by the curation of work they had on display. Some of the pieces were mind blowing such as this camel literally in the eye of a needle!

This is Captain America's shield carved into a pencil tip!


This orangey cave exploration is inside a crisp packet placed outside the National Gallery.


The shadow art of Vincent Bal was so fascinating, I really enjoy seeing other people's creative process and how they see the world.


There is so much more I could show you but I really don't have the room or strength left in either my fingers or will. Please go if you're in the UK! A favourite of mine before I end. Artist Juho Könkkölä uses an ancient Japanese technique of origami to create incredibly deals pieces. No cutting, no tearing, just water and folds.


1. Tower Bridge golden hour. 2. St Paul's. 3. A book vending machine at Third Man Records.

4. My USA friend Misty came to tea. 5. St.Paul's at night. 6. Keeping strong. 7. Weekly meets in the garden. 8. To dunk or not to dunk? 9. Warm cake on a walk stop. 10. Writing with hubby. 11. Alba and mum's dog Tess. 12. Hotel foyer.


And so friends, maybe I can surprise you again next month. It will be the Beagle's 2 year anniversary, I think I need to have a giveaway?


I'm wishing you warm end-of-summer evenings to walk and share hearts.


With love and blessings,

Jacqui X