Hello friends, I hope this finds you in fine fettle? Which is to say I hope you’re in ‘very fine health or condition’. My own fettle is quite fine, I’ve been loving the warmer weather, new flowers appearing, my tomatoes are showing lots of promise. Life continues on its steady course with grown kid’s study and work, photography, leisurely long talks in my little piece of heaven in the garden with friends, weekly trips to Oxford for bible study with Sally Clarkson, book club on Facebook with the Mum Heart UK ladies, slowly things are opening back up. I love my little drives to Oxford each week, I get in the car and set off, excited to meet with women familiar and new, Oxford is very international, it keeps me sharp and revived. If I’m ever tempted to feel guilty for going anywhere alone I simply think of Lottie’s words in the Enchanted April and how it would be quite selfish not to go as I always come back happier, the whole family benefits when we get a little time to ourselves.
The story behind what drives me on.
Still Life: not one but two!
Book: This Beautiful Truth, Sarah Clarkson
Poems: Christmas Beauty, Eugene Peterson. Isn’t That Something, Rumi
Poet and artist: Morgan Harper Nichols.
Inspiration: America’s Got Talent, Nightbirde.
Recipes: Ricotta Dumplings and Pavlova
Films: Minari and The Heights
Music: BFB Monthly playlist + highlights.
Artist: Kirsty Mitchell, creator of the Wonderland series.
Snaps from home: my candid monthly adventures.
Each month end as I begin writing and compiling the Beagle I’m not always aware of the direction it will take, what its theme will be. The Beagle is a visual journal of my inner travels. I sit here now, editing and considering the sum of it all, I see the threads forming a pattern.
Life as you know is not all sunshine and roses, usually it’s peppered with difficulty and challenges, sometimes too much pepper. We question whether the meal can be salvaged, can life still taste good?
”There had been many occasions in earlier days when he had been near to ending it but yet had always been held back by the strange hope that he had always had, the hope of the artist in pursuit of beauty, the hope that there was going to be something incredibly lovely round the corner. . . . a refuge in the wood . . . something . . . some sort of rest . . . some sort of abiding place.” - The Castle On The Hill, Elizabeth Goudge I adore these words, I adore this book. Set against the backdrop of WWII, The Castle On The Hill is a story about finding oneself in the pattern of things though it seems the very fabric has been blown to pieces. A peppered life indeed, can good be found amongst the rubble? Interestingly a flower quite profuse and known to spring up in the brick heaps of London during WWII is the Buddleia. This hardy purple plant flourished in the scars the Luftwaffe carved into the landscape. I think this is the quest I’ve been on for many years; to find good amongst the ruins. I have the hope of the artist in pursuit of beauty, not because life is perfect but because it is broken. Hope that there is going to be something incredibly lovely round the corner drives me on. Why is this? On the 14th Sept 1996 a close and very dear friend of mine, Vince, was overcome by hopelessness, he couldn’t believe that there was something incredibly lovely round the corner. He lost the battle. The news dropped like a heavy payload and tore a gaping wound in my heart. For many months a question played on repeat in my mind, ‘How, how could he not see any hope? Couldn’t see anything more attractive than stepping into the silent darkness. There must be more, there must be something to hope for’.
“When the student is ready the teacher will appear”
The next eleven months were traumatic, magical, unexplainable and utterly beautiful. I found a torn up bible strewn along a rained drenched street, dampened breadcrumbs scattered for my hungry heart to follow. As I began to read those precious rain wrinkled pages a light began to flicker in the hollow darkness of my sorrow. Here was hope, here was love and life eternal. I gave my life to Jesus almost a year after Vince’s passing. I set my heart to honour Vince, to make his life count for something. From death came life, from a wound sprung healing. My own life was quite confused at this point; An alcoholic, abusive father who’d left when I was two. Three subsequent step-fathers (in title only), an unstable home life with many changes of address which opened the door for exposure to traumatic experiences, anxiety disorder, a need for alcohol to escape myself, a failed short marriage. By the time I reached my 25th birthday I was exhausted and couldn’t see a way forward. What I saw in Vince’s final act was a storyline I refused to be written into and one which I despised on his behalf. He deserved more. He should have been loved and held, known and championed. He was worth so much more. Something beautiful needed to come from this, this couldn't be the final word.
“Something beautiful, something good All my confusion He understood All I had to offer Him was brokenness and strife But he made something beautiful of my life” - Bill Gaither
I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! Psalm 27:13-14 ESV
Some of you have asked where the name for the Beagle came from. It was inspired by a poem which itself was inspired by a book. I felt it perfectly encapsulated the heart of what I wanted to do in this space. Christmas Beauty By Eugene H Peterson From Brad Jersak’s book “Kissing the leper” “He had no form or comeliness that we should look at him and no beauty that we should desire him.” -Isaiah 53:2 A whiff. A beagle for beauty I sniffed Monet’s haystacks, Van Gogh’s sunflowers, Devoutly meditated Marilyn’s breasts, Watched kingfishers — lost the scent. Kiss the leper’s wound: taste honey. Touch the blind eye: learn Braille. Keep vigil at the cradle: change diapers. Drink tears from the chalice: live Eucharist. Happened on found things, found in gutters, Found on a cross, found under a stone, Heard in the whispering grass, heard in A tongue stammering sabacthani. Found when I wasn’t looking, heard When I wasn’t listening. Found beauty.
A beagle is a most tenacious breed, fiercely committed to hunting down its target, they’re also notoriously hard to train, once they get on a scent it’s as if they go deaf, getting them back can be nigh impossible. I understand why Eugene used this analogy. What captures me about his words are the contrasts in beauty’s sources; yes art, the human physique, the natural world, but even these can evade us. Where is the scent, where can I find goodness, life? He juxtaposes with scenes of suffering, pain and the mundane. Beauty shows itself in the everyday ordinary. Sometimes the least obvious places such as changing nappies; the cradle side, an altar of prayer upon which to lean. Sorrow and weeping; a shared cup with Christ’s own heart, his presence is there. Caring for the sick and experiencing the sweetness of love and mercy. Eugene begins with Isaiah 53:2, Jesus the undesirable, yet closes by arriving at the same Christ. Not that we looked there first or desired him, we were deaf to the recall of the Master, fixed on our own track of pursuits. Then we lose the scent, life holds no beauty or lustre, we get quiet and we hear a voice, in a whisper we are called, Beauty finds us. So we determine to look for his fingerprints in the ordinary stuff of life, to sniff his fragrance out, to expect he’ll show up in unexpected places, in the least likely ways, and when we’re not even looking we’ll discover the truth, that it’s we who are pursued. In the Beautiful One all things are made beautiful, even the gutter glimmers with glory. Even in dying, new life can spring. It’s my hope to draw you into an abiding place of rest through my work, to offer a moment of stillness and delight. A comment over on my Instagram this week encouraged me in this -
To make another a little happier or so,’ what a privilege. As Sarah Clarkson writes, 'this is our death-defying work.'
“To believe the truth that beauty tells: this is our great struggle from the depths of our grief. To trust the hope it teaches us to hunger toward: this is our fierce battle. To craft the world it helps us to imagine: this is our creative, death-defying work.” Sarah Clarkson, This Beautiful Truth
Ranunculus, Peony & Bee 2021
This month’s composition was my first with newly blossoming peonies, ranunculus and sweet peas. I broke the larger scale arrangement down into smaller ones in the days following and loved using my charity shop find jug, very Van Gogh don’t you think? These soft creamy pastels worked well in the morning light and that little pop of purple set it off just right. My trusty dried bee even made an appearance, I’m amazed he’s still intact as I’ve used him a lot. I sourced these cut flowers from London grower The Wild Society, Alarna there hand selected some wonderful blossoms.
I’ve always felt drawn to ‘dark light’ (low-key/low light) still life. I work with natural and available light which can make things a little unpredictable but I like this as it reminds me I’m not in control and develops my patience, something I need to constantly develop! The moody tones evoke emotion which really draw you in and also gives a painterly quality which harkens to the Dutch Masters who I strive to emulate. The presence of shadows accentuates the light, drawing further attention to that which is noteworthy, of beauty.
“And in those days I knew again and again that these are the shadowlands where the light is growing; this is the quiet space into which Beauty speaks its truth.” Sarah Clarkson, This Beautiful Truth
Reading/Read: You can probably already tell I’ve just finished This Beautiful Truth: How God’s Goodness Breaks into Our Darkness by Sarah Clarkson. This is the book my heart and theology needed. There aren’t many pages without an underlining somewhere. Sarah’s been writing this in her heart for many years through the lens of her personal struggles with clinical OCD and depression which led her onto her studies in Theology. Sarah, then in her thirties, discovered the term theodicy a few weeks into her Oxford residency. Theodicy, a word describing the way we defend God’s goodness and power in so evil and aching a world.
“What if, in the bent and twisted darkness of our broken world, beauty is God’s theodicy? What if God can speak in creation and song, story and vision the things words, in their frailty, cannot yet bear? What if God’s hand reaches out to us clothed in beauty, and by grasping and trusting it, we may learn to walk through the darkness in hope?”
I found myself moved to tears a few times, especially when Sarah recalls the story of sitting at a young person’s make-shift memorial out in the wilderness, a teen boy who’d lost his own battle there in that desolate place. I was taken back to Vince, that day, holding the blue airmail envelope containing his mother’s letter.
“One boy lost his battle there in the forest, but the other took up the fight in his honour, and, in the fierce pain of that memorial, I glimpsed the kind of beauty that is not so much the vision of something good as a defiance of the evil that is all you can see at the moment. There was holy tenacity in that little mound of toys, the sign of a few souls clinging hard to the possibility of some great goodness beyond the touch of darkness, a Beauty so radically opposite to death that it might even rescue those lost in the valley of the shadow of death itself.”
Holy tenacity. This is the kind of attitude Jacob might have possessed, the sort that wrestles with God and says, ‘I will not let you go until you bless me’, Gen 32:26.
I’ll always remember my friend Sally getting up to speak at a women’s breakfast in Coventry. She was dealing with a terrible eye injury having fallen face first onto the corner of a table. Her cornea was deeply damaged, she was in constant pain and needing to administer drops every couple of hours, even through the night. She stood there with her sunglasses on, about to give her talk, I was amazed she’d gone through with the engagement at all. She took the podium, “I might not look pretty, but I wrestle with God” she said. I‘ll never forget that. And she was still smiling.
So we pursue and are the pursued. Deep calls to deep. We are thirst, seeking water from an ever flowing stream.
“Through beauty, we are called from the shadow-sight of pain into the opened horizon of hope. Story and song, storm and image, this helps us to recognise a beauty beyond the touch of evil: something that lived before our pain, endures after it, and works to make us whole. In beauty, I believe we encounter Christ, whose incarnate loveliness restored the broken world and is at play even now in creation –– in art, music, and story, and in the presence of others as we are encountered by Christ in our neighbour, *“lovely in eyes, and lovely in limb is not his.” *…for Christ plays in ten thousand places, Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his To the Father through the features of men's faces. - Gerard Manley Hopkins, As Kingfishers Catch Fire Friends, I really hope you get this book. I think it’s a Classic. I agree with Sarah that Christian apologetics needs a whole new vision for theodicy and I am all-in for learning more. This Beautiful Truth book, I also spy an audiobook. Sarah’s website where you can sign up for her newsletter. Sarah on Instagram and Facebook.
Watching: Minari. This film gives me hope for storytelling in Hollywood. Based on director Lee Isaac Chung’s childhood memories, this is a true story about a Korean family moving to the States in search on the American dream. It delivered more than I expected and avoided many tropes I feared. A slow build, gentle, funny, this film is a love letter to family and the resilient journey of growing where roots are planted. Skye Jethani does a great review of this film on his podcast The Movie Proposal. In The Heights: Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creative genius behind Hamilton, brings us this new film based on his Broadway production by the same name. Oh friends, I wished I could have taken notes while watching this! “Paciencia y fe!” translated means ‘patience and faith’, the mantra for matriarch Abuela Claudia. This is an anchoring theme throughout but also so much more. “We assert our dignity in small ways”, she says as she fingers intricate hand embroidered napkins, family heirlooms. This film is colourful, energetic, funny, romantic, beautifully choreographed and superbly written with a stellar cast (many from Hamilton), but looking deeper it’s a timeless message about community, place and belonging. It’s about lighting a candle in the darkness, handing each other a torch in powerless situations, hope, togetherness. It’s about roots and identity. I came away being so grateful for my little community of friends locally but also dreaming of making more of a mark, to stitch and sew designs of beauty that will endure to be handed down. Go see it, tell me what you think. Bertram is back! 5 days bushcraft with Morten Hilmer and Don Von Gun. Wild camping, spoon carving, hot tent, oysters, birch sap, strong winds, long silences, beautiful scenery and cinematography. If you’re wondering who these chaps are I wrote about them previously.
Artist: I first came across Kirsty Mitchell a few years ago when I was a portrait photographer. Her absolutely stunning Wonderland series stretches the imagination and has to be seen in the context of the backstory behind it. “Escapism is common during grief, but not many of us view it with the beauty and lyricism that Kirsty Mitchell has” – MSN “Her work reminds us that the real world is not the only world if you allow your imagination to take hold…Beautiful and inspirational. “ – The Huffington Post
© Kirsty Mitchell Photography
© Morgan Harper Nichols
Recipe: I used to love making my own pasta, it’s so easy, inexpensive, fun to do with the kids, mess and all! We’d often have cardboard ‘tables’ of it drying in the sun. I revisited an old favourite this month which I picked up from the Two Greedy Italians show and cookbook. You can watch a demonstration and get the recipe at BBC Food. We ate it so quick I forgot to take a picture, if you see one below it’s because I made it again!
A bonus with this recipe is the left over egg whites which I use for Pavlova. Again, so easy to make and can be adapted to your own taste and personality. Unlike the BBC clip above I put all my ingredients in together at the start and it has the same result. I make one large meringue, then top with thick whipped cream in the middle, pile on my berries and sometimes chocolate shavings. This is the perfect summer dessert. I love the crisp outside and chewy middle, the balance of the tart raspberries with the sweet meringue. Have fun with it! Next month I’ll share with you my raspberry and white chocolate muffin recipe which was handed down to me by my half-Italian veteran baker friend, so good!
Inspiration: Jane Marczewski otherwise known as Nightbirde. I first came across Jane’s story on Ann Voskamp’s blog titled How To Meet God At Your Lowest Point. I skimmed the intro by Ann, but before reading further I hopped over to Youtube to watch her ACT audition. I soon found myself dabbing damp cheeks and finding it hard not to lose it altogether midday in my little studio. Host Terry Crews said after her performance, “You are the voice we all need to hear this year”. Apparently her song ‘It’s Okay’ is #1 on iTunes this week, I don’t wonder at that. I rewatched it before sending this, I’m crying again.
Bonus Art & Coming Soon-
Still Life Roses, Peonies & Bird 2021
I’m busy (confession: hubby is!), getting my new website and shop ready where this little beauty will be available to purchase. I’m also excited about for a giveaway I have coming up in a few months as well as using my art for fundraising. I had fun playing around with ornate frames that might suit this, what do you think?