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I often feel a bit sheepish and slightly embarrassed when I write a post on my blog after a lengthy silence. Chastened by certain other bloggers who apologize profusely for allowing a few days to go by between posts. It’s kind of like being too quiet for too long at a dinner party. Do I blurt out some witty bon mot, start an amusing anecdote or act as if I hadn’t paused at all?
Anyhow I have paused. We’ve been having a fantastic summer.
I celebrated my 50th birthday in August.
We spent a very long weekend in London and Kent to celebrate both of our birthdays.
Then we took a trip to the Cotswolds, one of the most beautiful places in the United Kingdom and where I go when I need my faith in England restored.
I went on my first taxidermy course (an ambition I’ve had since I was 13). This is my muse and protégé, Mortimer Souris, the Tailor of Moretonhampstead.
We bought an ice cream maker.
I made a blueberry pie.
We booked our Autumn voyage to Isola di Procida in the Bay of Naples.
The endless sun beamed benevolently upon us throughout the months of June, July, August and into September.
And I’ve been making artwork for Devon Open Studios which runs from 7th to 22nd September.
In fact this brings me to the crux of this post. As an artist, I become inspired and have a creative vision. Sometimes I carry this inside of me for weeks or months. I’ve been focusing on a new area of work for about the past year in which I sculpt and meld images and light. I call these works Illuminations.
I started working on a floor lamp based on a contra jour fern I’d seen and photographed a couple of months ago. The first piece of rice paper that I collaged onto the surface of the lamp ripped. Just on the corner, but it really bothered me. It was in a prominent place and looked like, well, a rip in the material. I couldn’t repair it. I tried to ignore it, but there it stayed. I showed the piece to a couple of people and they didn’t even notice it. But it still bugged me.
I decided to wrap the whole thing in sheer fabric, which would have looked beautiful. I got up early one morning to do this work and when I saw the piece in my studio, I was so blown away by it that I forgot all about the flaw. I quickly realised that if I wrapped the piece in fabric, that I would cover up the flaw, but I would lose the subtlety of the piece.
I decided to sit down and be with the piece and write about just what I was facing.
‘Loving the flaw.
It feels huge, this flaw and fills me with shame. It distracts me from the beauty. I hate this flaw and want it gone.
Who cares if I destroy the piece in the process? At least the flaw will no longer be there.
[But if I let it remain] at best, the piece will remain in all it’s glory, with the flaw. If I can love the flaw and let it be there,
I reach a state of grace. Humbled.’
Grace (n.) late 12c., “God’s favor or help,” from Old French grace “pardon, divine grace, mercy; favor, thanks; elegance, virtue”
I think of grace as elegance and poise, but the old meaning is Divine favour. In a state of grace, I am forgiven my mistakes and can forgive myself for my imperfection. I can live with the flaw and see the beauty in the flaw. In my artwork and in myself.
I find that when I make art, the process reflects my whole life, and how I feel about and respond to my creations can give me insight into my entire life. There’s really no big separation between being inside and outside of my studio and my creative process.
Creativity can be such a fertile, fecund place, just like summertime, but there is still that dark heart at the centre of it. It is good to be aware of and to live within it.
I wrote this haiku which I put onto the piece.
In the dark heart of summer,
illumined beauty shines,
a state of grace.
– Melinda Schwakhofer, 2013
And I left the flaw right where it was.
Today is the Summer Solstice. The longest day of the year. Not that we’ve seen much sun today or even recently. Today was a day for staring pensively out of the window at the endless rain.
I have to admit that the lack of warmth and sunlight have been getting to me. However, I’ve been staying cosy at home. Turning the heating on and dressing in my silk, wool and sheepskin loungewear. Steve came home tonight after a few days away. I made baked chicken and roasted vegetables for dinner.
We had Pimm’s for an aperitif to celebrate the solstice.
I went out especially to buy some flowers and found these gorgeous peonies. I’m looking forward to watching these open up over the next few days.
So summer’s not so bad after all. Just a bit greyer, colder and wetter than I’d like. Still, as long as I can bundle up, pour a glass of Cabernet, bask in the glow from the kitchen light and (guilty pleasure) read some chick-lit, it’s pretty darn good.
Here’s a beautiful thing to make and eat when you can get ahold of Sweet Eve strawberries grown in Somerset, England, or any locally grown, freshly picked strawberries. Of course, they’re great on their own. So sweet and juicy! It turned into a sunsplashed summer’s day today and our late afternoon kitchen is bathed in honeyed sunshine, which sets everything aglow. The blueberries are from Lustleigh, a village about 4 miles from home.
Tonight I made a summer supper of oven-BBQed chicken, stovetop grilled veggies with harissa marinade and corn on the cob
(during which time the kitchen got pretty smoky (maybe this is what cooking in Heaven is like!))
We also had a fantastic new wine with dinner: Navazos-Niepoort 2009.
It’s a fascinating white wine made as a recreation of how still white wines were made 150 years or so ago in Jerez. This wine was fermented in sherry barrels but is unfortified. There are floral and citrus notes on the nose with the tangy notes of fino sherry. The wine is quite buttery yellow with a reddish tinge. On the palate there is a lightness of body which is initially slightly surprising if you think you’re about to get a mouthful of sherry. Very good!
Steve has been really busy with his work this weekend and will be away most of next week, so I decided to make a special treat for dessert – strawberries with balsamic vinegar.
Here’s how do it:
- 500g (1 1/4 lb) fresh strawberries, hulled and halved
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 4 tablespoons caster sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
We had some new friends over for brunch this morning and I picked some luscious, fragrant roses from our front garden and set them afloat in a bowl we received for our wedding. They got this morning’s sunlight.
They have been subtly perfuming our living room all day long. Now the sun has journeyed West and gone behind the rooftops (it’s setting earlier with each passing day).
I think it’s time to join my husband in the living room, where he’s been working all afternoon, with a bowl full of succulent summer berries and share the rose-scented late summer evening.
- 1/2 lb (225 g) fresh raspberries
- 1/4 cup (4 Tbls) 50 g caster sugar (superfine granulated)
- 2/3 cup (150 ml) 1/4 pt fresh double cream (heavy cream)
- 3/4 cup (150 ml) 5 fl oz plain yoghurt
- a few fresh mint leaves
Crush the raspberries with a stainless steel or silver fork in a china or glass bowl. Mix them with the sugar and put them on one side for 10 minutes. The sugar on the raspberries will draw out juice and bright colour.
Beat the double cream until it is thick, then, tablespoon by tablespoon, beat the yoghurt into it. The yoghurt will not thin it down; if you beat it each time you put in a dollop of yoghurt, it will bulk back up again. It allows you to have twice the amount of cream, as it were, with only half the amount of fat.
Swirl the raspberry and sugar mixture into the cream and yoghurt – do not mix it so thoroughly that it looks like pink yoghurt, swirl it in so that it is marbled.
It looks beautiful and tastes heavenly. Pour it into glasses so you can see the marbled effect, decorate each one with a sprig of mint and put to set in the fridge for 1-2 hours.
I’ve been doing a lot of some things and not much of other things. Since the wedding and the advent of summer, Steve and I have been doing lots of socialising with friends old and new, completing the feathering of our nest, and I have been finishing two quilts to enter into the Festival of Quilts in Birmingham. For the past few weeks, I haven’t been moved to write on either of my blogs, or participate much in my online community. However, I have been practicing the gentle art of doing nothing. I’ve been relaxing at home, reading, visiting a certain feline friend of mine, running in the countryside surrounding my village, cooking summer foods, watching movies and not a whole lot else.
For now, here is one of my latest discoveries . . . . . . . . .
Nothing says summertime in England quite like cuckoo-spit.
The name cuckoo-spit is said to have derived from the arrival of the spittle on plants which coincided with the first call of the cuckoo in spring. There are also oblique references to superstitions about spitting, whenever a cuckoo is heard, to avoid bad luck. Cuckoo-spit is the white, frothy substance found on certain plants during the spring and early summer. It is produced by the froghopper, or ‘cuckoo-spit insect’ which is also sometimes called the ‘spittle-bug’.
The froghopper is an insect. A member of the order Homoptera, best known for the nymph stage, which produces a cover of frothed-up plant sap resembling spit. The froth serves a number of purposes. It hides the nymph from the view of predators and parasites, it insulates against heat and cold, thus providing thermal control and also moisture control. Without the froth the bug would quickly dry up. The nymphs pierce plants and suck sap. Much of the excess filtered fluids go into the production of the froth, which has an acrid taste, deterring predators.
Now that I know what the heck it is and the little buggers are probably beyond the larva stage, maybe I’ll see if I can find a froghopper under some cuckoo-spit.
Info source: Wikipedia