“People say sometimes that it must’ve been hard, growing up without a father figure . . . No, by the time I was six years old, I had already witnessed what a man should be, how a man should act. I saw it in my own momma, who put on a man’s britches and worked in the field all day, then iron mountains of clothes at night, for pocket change.”
- Rick Bragg, All Over But The Shoutin’
When Jesus saw her, he called her over. “Woman, you’re free!” He laid hands on her and suddenly she was standing straight and tall, giving glory to God.
- Jesus, Luke 13 in The Message
Hello dear friends,
How are you today? I’m pondering your lives as I type, where you might be reading this, in a cafe, on the couch while the kids play outside, parked in the car filling a quiet moment, tucked away over a tasty treat? Maybe you’re carrying a deep sadness no one but God knows about? I’m so sorry, just know you're not alone. I pray blessings for you, comfort andsolace, friendship and a love that sees you. I pray for beauty, creativity, the discovery of new delights and the recovery of forgotten ones. I hope this issue brings some pleasure as you peruse my humble offerings.
My heart is heavy at the news headlines, especially today as I write. It is overwhelming. It can make what I do here seem so very insignificant and yet on the other side of the same coin, all the more important.
Here I am, creating, curating, writing. I don’t write because I have answers, I write because I have questions.
This week in my quiet time, I wrote a prayer to God.
That was enough.
I read a comment on Instagram this morning:
We are not alone in our sorrows. The very heart of Christ is sorrowing with us at what we see. Indeed, all creation groans. Even groans are prayers. As we embrace our sorrow, as we share and bear witness to the truth of the grief, we place an arm around each other. The brokenness of this world is screaming at us from every corner but if we can look for the beauty, the world we imagine, the world to come, hope will rise up and anchor our storm tossed souls.
”My deep belief is that beauty has a story to tell, one that was meant by God to speak to us of his character and reality, meant to grip our failing hands with hope. To believe the truth that beauty tells: this is a 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. Beauty and brokenness told me two different stories about the world. I believe that Beauty told true.” - Sarah Clarkson, This Beautiful Truth This is my death-defying work. Beauty is telling a story which my failing hands grip with hope.
Still Life: Liberty! The Peace of Wild Things and Self-Portrait
Book: All Over But The Shoutin’, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, Love Set You Going, Help, I’m Drowning!
Music: Yehezkel Raz + BFB monthly Spotify playlist
Recipe: Spaghetti Meatballs, Bruschetta
Film: Bright Star, Suffragette
Poem: The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry
Artist: Loré Pemberton
Podcast: Deep Questions with Cal Newport
Snaps from home: My candid monthly adventures
Did you know I link every book, film, recipe etc in the Beagle? Where you see words underlined, simply
click the link.
The Beagle is a living thing, it seems to evolve with each edition, forming within my hands like clay turning upon the potter’s wheel.
I’d love to hear your feedback. What do you enjoy most? What would you not miss? Is it too long, too full? Would you like more photography and behind the scenes? More literature and art focus and less of the other things such as recipes and snapshots? Please do drop me a line, I want to encourage you in the ways you need not with just the ideas I have, of which there are many!
It’s always fun seeing the Beagle take shape as I bring my month together. I shoot from instinct not always discerning ahead of time what it is I’m wanting to express, yet a thread begins to form, its theme gradually emerges like an island cloaked in fog as we approach by sail boat.
I’ve just enjoyed a lovely few days with my mum visiting. We had mostly fine weather thankfully, we pottered in the garden, sat at cafes over creamy flat whites and ordered spring bulbs from her magazine. We drove to Oxford and browsed the bric-a-brac at the local market, walked in nearby woodland and ate creamy soft-serve in waffle cones.
We talked about my childhood, her childhood, and realised how broken we all are.
For the moment we see in part. We only perceive our own story, our individual brokenness. But this is only a fraction of the picture. For the time being it’s as if we look through a dim glass, a disfigured image before us. We strain to see.
Some conversations are hard, but they help. They help us understand more of ourselves and more of others.
We sat around the fire the other night in the garden and talked for hours. We could have taken off our shoes in that place, it became hallowed as we put on each other’s shoes instead. Different shoe sizes are often awkward and uncomfortable but you can make them work.
Reading Rick Bragg’s book (see below) has given me a fresh perspective on my mum, the things she went through as a child and as a single parent. We didn’t have a lot growing up, life wasn’t throwing lemons, we were thrust into the orchard.
But I remember many moments of laughter and creative homemade fun. My sister and I used to watch a TV show called Horse In The House so it seemed only natural to try that with our pony. We didn’t have much to eat sometimes but that pony did, that little firecracker kept us from years of teen trouble. On our council estate we’d play '99 Not Out' until it was too dark to see and the rumble in our tummy sent us home.
At school I’d stand in the lunch queue, my secondhand over-sized jumper hanging past my fingers, waiting for my name to be ticked off the free meals list, I didn’t feel embarrassed at the time. It was there I met two dear friends who’d dream with me of escape and fame. We’d bunk off school and choreograph dances in my kitchen with the curtains closed so the school officers couldn’t see us. We didn’t realise they don’t go around peering in windows. It was habit to hide behind the couch and speak in hushed tones at the knock of the door, not just because of truancy officers but also debt collectors.
Some years, one week at a time, mum would pay off a Christmas hamper. A pound here, some pennies there, which the debt man didn’t get. Each December the glory of rarely touched treasure would arrive. My sister and I would tear into that box like frenzied hounds on a rabbit, while mum did her best to fend us off to little avail. That hamper would be gone within a couple of days, still weeks out from Christmas, until only pickles and canned meat remained. But oh the feast! For so many years I carried a chip on my shoulder. I grew, it grew. I’d feed that chip until it swelled to a mountain at my back, casting a shadow over much of the good. There was much good.
You do not have to sit outside in the dark. If, however, you want to look at the stars, you will find that darkness is required. The stars neither require it not demand it. — Anne Dillard
In a previous life I was a portrait photographer under the mentorship of industry leader and innovator Sue Bryce. It was Sue who taught me about posing and lighting, about the way a woman’s body can be captured beautifully without photoshopping, and about self-worth. What makes Sue different from everyone else is her attention to the smallest details such as hand posing. Hands and fingers make a significant impact on a composition, for better or worse. I used to tell clients, women, mums, “Be in the picture”. So often we shrink away and hide ourselves from view but one day your kids are going to look back on their life and want to see you in it. They won’t care what size you were, whether you were on trend, they’ll want to see your smile and face and have it among their memories.
After reading Cal Newport’s book So Good They Can’t Ignore You, I’m intentionally pushing myself beyond my comfort levels, hence the self portrait. This project was about learning more about my lighting capabilities, gear limitations and editing skills. It was fun but uncomfortable, just what you need in order to learn and grow.
Cal’s book is debunking the hypothesis that in order to be happy in your work you simply need to follow your passion. He argues that SKILLS TRUMP PASSION IN THE QUEST FOR WORK YOU LOVE and why “follow your passion” might just be terrible advice. I agree with him. Cal writes: ”Compelling careers often have complex origins that reject the simple idea that all you have to do is to follow your passion.” ”The more experience we have the more likely we’ll be to enjoy our work”. The myth of the secret hidden passion waiting dormantly to be discovered is just that, a myth. What we really seek is:
Autonomy - the feeling of being in control
Competence - the feeling of knowing what we’re doing, being good at it
Relatedness - connection with others
Where did this hypothesis of follow your passion originate? Cal traces it back to a book published in 1970 by Richard Bolles, What Color Is Your Parachute? Basically put, the author encourages readers to figure out what it is you like to do, then go find a place to do it. The optimism of the message caught on. Parachute, helped introduce the baby boom generation to this passion-centric take on career. This has led to a big downward trend in job satisfaction and life happiness according to the 2010 Conference Board survey. The more we focus on loving what we do, the less we end up loving it. From Cal’s extensive studies and interviews he suggests that what we need to focus on instead of seeking a magic bullet, is building career capital. Job satisfaction and therefore happiness in life can be achieved through deliberate practice. Investment into skills and building a tool box of rare and valuable knowledge, makes us more likely to achieve the 3 point desires we have - Autonomy, Competence and Relatedness. When we invest into ourselves, stretch and grow, we build career capital and our lives feel more like they mean something. We feel valued. Whether a butcher, baker, candlestick maker, we can feel deep worth within that role. I don’t know about you but I always found the pressure of finding that one right thing, being in your calling, terrifying and paralysing. There’s no joy to be found in feeling you’re always wasting yourself. Much better to simply have a go at things, try stuff out, make mistakes and learn.
Why does the caged bird sing? I once had that question lodged in my mind like an imperceptible splinter. The answer finally came to me after a year or so, because she knows she has wings.
Hers was a song of lament, of longing, of calling to the winds to carry her from that place. This was during a long period of time spent in a spiritually abusive environment. ‘Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty’, it didn’t occur to my naive heart that my soul was thirsting for true freedom.
The growth of the flowers cannot be halted, the bird sits perched triumphant atop its prison and the passage of time moves on.
Do you see the two little visitors who came in on the roses?
Have you ever felt a peace, a comfort, when you’re coming into yourself? Like when you get home from a formal event, and get to strip out of your uncomfortable dress clothes into something more ‘you’.
I felt more of a shift towards a what it means to be a mother when reading Rick Bragg’s book ‘All Over But The Shoutin’’. It is without exaggeration that I say no book has effected me so deeply in a very, very long time. Rick wrote this memoir as a witness to his mother’s love and sacrifice. He didn’t have a father’s example in his life but she was all the role model he needed. "Anyone could tell it, anyone who had a momma who went eighteen years without a new dress so that her sons could have school clothes, who picked cotton in other people’s fields and ironed other people’s clothes and cleaned the mess in other peoples houses, so that her children didn’t have to live on welfare alone, so that one of them could climb up her backbone and escape the poverty and hopelessness that rings them, free and clean”. Rick reminds us so beautifully and heart wrenchingly what families are all about. I am staggered at the silent resilience of his mother, the stoicism and bare bones grit. This is a woman unlikely to ask herself how satisfied she is with life, what passion she should be pursuing. Every breath she breathed was an effort to see her children stand on her shoulders and launch off to more spacious opportunities, while she was content to hold her ground. "Everybody loves their momma – there is nothing even remotely unique in that even in this dysfunctional world we live in. But not everybody owes their momma so much as us”. I cannot do justice to this book here, to attempt to would be like holding a candle to the sun. Rick’s story is haunting, harrowing and glorious. His writing honest, poetic and sharpened. You could cut yourself on the turn of each page. I’m greedy to read more of his crafted words, I don’t think there’s many that can turn a phrase like him. ”This story is important only to me and a few people who lived it, people with my last name. I tell it because there should be a record of my momma’s sacrifice even if it means unleashing ghosts, because it is one of the few ways I can think of – beyond financing her new false teeth and making sure the rest of her life is without the deprivations of her past – to repay her for all the suffering and indignity she absorbed for us, for me. And I tell it because I can, because it is how I earn my paycheck, now at the New York Times, before at so many other places, telling stories. It is easy to tell a stranger’s story; I didn’t know if I had the guts to tell my own.”
The Peace of Wild Things
The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Walking near my home takes me into the peace of wild things.
Deep Questions with Cal Newport. Discussions about focus, work habits, burnout, planning, writing. There’s much here to stimulate thinking and challenge personal growth. I’ve made a study of this conversation Is Writing Everyday Overrated? gleaning super helpful work practices on note taking to help with writing development.
Bright Star: The love and work of poet John Keats in the last few years of his life. ”The point of diving in the lake, is not immediately to swim to the shore, but to be in the lake, to luxuriate in the sensation of water. You do not work the lake out, it is an experience beyond thought. Poetry soothes and emboldens the soul to accept mystery.” Suffragette: Many familiar UK period actors in this one which made me very happy indeed. What could be more beautiful than women standing side-by-side, contending for equality, fairness and the freedoms for the generations after them. We owe so much to these brave soldiers, get your tissues out. ”Never surrender, never give up the fight”. [These 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 Christian friends]
Loré Pemberton. I’ve been following Loré for a while now over on her Instagram where she shares her art. I’m not sure what you’d class Loré’s style of illustration, maybe you can tell me, but I find her subject material tugs at a deep place within me which longs for simplicity, innocence and home. Her familial scenes are heartwarming, her characters diverse and inclusive, making her work accessible to a wide audience. A particular favourite is titled Hearth - simpler days around a glowing flame. Loré’s work can be found for sale here and her book Handle With Care here, or wherever books are sold.
© Loré Pemberton
So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport. All Over But The Shoutin’ by Rick Bragg. Love Set You Going: Poems Of The Heart by Janet Morely. I’m continuing to enjoy picking this up in a quiet moment and love the way Janet pulls thought provoking details and theology from each poem. This is a great bedside table book. Help, I’m Drowning! by Sally Clarkson. I’m on Sally’s launch team for her new book due Oct 19th in the UK (might come sooner, usually does). Friends, you do not want t o miss this book!
Yehezkel Raz. His beautiful, melodious and soothing piano composition has been a gentle backdrop in the studio and in the car this month. I was journalling in a cafe this week and was arrested by his piece Laniakea. There’s something so powerful, emotive, about sitting with headphones on in a busy public space, a soundtrack envelops you. Slowly Understanding which follows is also very moving. You can follow Yehezkel on Instagram. A smaller than usual but still the usual eclectic mix awaits on the BFB August Playlist.
Spaghetti Meatballs The gift that keeps on giving! A family favourite for many years and worth the little extra effort for a special dinner with plenty of left overs. These meatballs are tasty and tender, simple to make, with just a few steps that will go down as a memorable feast in your family. Unashamedly this recipe is once again taken from my much loved Lidia’s Italy in America cookbook, you can buy ‘used very good’ copies for as little at £6.50.
Ingredients: For The Meatballs
1 medium carrot, grated (parmesan cheese size)
2 celery sticks, grated (parmesan cheese size)
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped (I use pre-cut frozen onion)
400g-500g beef mince
400g-500g pork mince
400g-500g veal mince (the original recipe calls for veal but if you can’t eat that in good conscience you can substitute for turkey, might be drier)
2 large eggs, beaten
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 cups bread crumbs
1 tbsp good sea salt
Ingredients: For The Sauce
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 mediumonion (approx 1 1/2 cups, again I use frozen because I cry too much!)
2 tsp good sea salt or more as needed to taste
2 fresh bay leaves, or 3 dried bay leaves
4 x 400g cans peeled plum tomatoes, good quality ones preferably Cirio or Napolina
500g dried spaghetti
1 cup grated Grand Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano (Parmesan cheese)
Preheat the oven to 220°C / 450F
For The Meatballs,put everything in one big bowl - carrot, celery, onion, eggs etc and all the other ingredients. Mix with your hands to combine well.
Roll the meat into golf ball sized balls or slightly bigger if you want to make less, and place on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. (You should get about 30- 48 meatballs.) Bake the meatballs until browned all over, about 18 to 20 minutes. (They do not need to be entirely cooked through, because they will cook more in the sauce, if substituting veal for turkey cook for 18 mins.)
While the meatballs are baking, bring a large pot of salted water to boil for the pasta. Slip the spaghetti into the boiling water and cook until al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving half a cup of pasta water. I quickly rinse off my pasta in cold water to stop it over cooking and going too soft. Put it to one side.
Begin the sauce: heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Toss in the onion, and sauté until it turns transparent, about 2 to 3 minutes. Ladle in the reserved pasta water, and some of the onion to break it down, about 2 to 3 minutes.
Once the water has cooked away, sprinkle in 1 teaspoon of the salt, the bay leaves, and chilli flakes. Let the chilli flakes toast for a minute, then pour in the tomatoes. Slosh out the tomato cans and bowl with 4 cups of hot water, add to the pot, and stir. Stir in the remaining teaspoon of salt, and bring the sauce to a simmer while the meatballs finish baking; simmer the sauce about 10 minutes more.
When the meatballs have finished baking, gently add them to the sauce and return to a simmer. Simmer, shaking the pan periodically to move (but not break) the meatballs, until the sauce is thick and flavorful, about half hour.
Plop the spaghetti back into the empty pasta cooking pot. Add half of the sauce (with no meatballs) and toss. Set in a hot bowl, and top with meatballs and additional sauce if necessary. Serve, offering the remaining sauce and meatballs at the table with the grated cheese.
For a family of 4 adults here this serves two plentiful meals. You can freeze them or keep them in the fridge for up to a week.
Pronounced broo-sketa,so simple, so delicious. Enjoy as a light lunch, starter or on the side with a main.
4 ripe plum tomatoes, or 500g cherry/on the vine etc
Extra virgin olive oil, approx 1/4 cup
1 tsp good sea salt, preferably flaky
Handful of basil leaves, shredded
4 large slices sourdough bread
1 garlic clove, cut in half
Chop the tomatoes, drizzle with the oil, approx 1/4 cup or more to taste. Add the salt and basil leaves, stir through, put to one side.
Lightly toast the sourdough each side, don't over toast or it’s too crispy.
Rub one side of the bread with the cut side of the garlic clove. That smell!
Drizzle a little olive oil on the bread.
Top and stack with the tomatoes. Enjoy!
Snaps from home
Let me start by lavishing you with my local wildflowers!
Michael and I celebrated our 24th wedding anniversary with BBQ and cocktails followed by the West End production of The Prince of Egypt. We strolled around town beforehand and grabbed a coffee in Covent Garden. Below is China Town looking spectacular as always.
August was definitely a time of seeing friends. I celebrated my friend Sally Clarkson’s birthday before she left for the States and a hip surgery.
Oxford as beautiful as ever, like a painting.
Friends: Vicky, Theresa and Andreea. I was spoiled with baskets of goodies from friends’ allotments, and celebrated a dear friend’s belated birthday.
Nature provided a few little surprises, with frogs in my garden and a field mouse at the allotment.
Anne Frank once said, "I don't think of all the misery but of the beauty that still remains." It can be hard to find the beauty which is why I created the Beagle.I hope it’s brought a little light to your world today. Do drop me a comment or email, I love hearing from you each month. Until next time -