January Dawn

On Tuesday morning, I forgot my book, so gazed out the window of the 7:30 bus winding down from Dartmoor into Exeter.  I took the images I saw into the darkroom of my Soul and melded them with words. I borrowed a pen from the lady at the cafe and painted a picture of the morning.

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January Dawn

A smudge of sun rises through the mist
to bathe the morning in pearlescence.

Proud winter trees stand over spiky frosted fields,
holding white twigged branches aloft.
They soften and undulate into the brumous distance.
Blackbirds quarrel in the hedgerows.

High above
an azure sky holds a waning sickle,
poised to reap another day.

– Melinda Schwakhofer, 2017

In spirit

What a weekend this was.

Friday was an important anniversary, which I always mark.  January 20, 1980 is the date that my mother, Nell Rose Schwakhofer née Martin died from cancer. The easiness or difficulty of this day depends on where I am in my inner world and can be impacted by the Zeitgeist.

This year, I found myself wondering what her response would be to the US presidential election and today’s inauguration. I didn’t have the privilege of continuing my relationship with her into my late teens and into adulthood, but I have many memories of her response to the world.

When I was about 5 and carelessly repeated derogatory slang words to describe African American and Hispanic kids, she gently and firmly corrected me.

When my big sister, at age 17, became a feminist, wore jeans to her high school graduation and started calling herself ‘Ms’, my mom supported her.

My mother Nell was opposed to California Governor Ronald Reagan for his violent crackdown on student protesters at UC, Berkeley, for his ‘welfare reforms’ which punished the poorest people, for his anti-environmental policies, ‘Once you’ve seen one redwood tree, you’ve seen ’em all’. and for his contradictory ‘pro-life’ and ‘pro-capital punishment’ stance.

In 1973, when she had gone back to college (at the age of 50) she came home wearing a black armband in support of the fledgling American Indian Rights Movement.

She was a supporter of NPR and public television.

When she became too unwell to work, our family had to rely on Medicare (which the incoming administration wants to slash) to pay for her end of life care.

I am so proud of who she was and the values that she carried out into the world,and instilled in me.

As I do every year on this date, I went out and bought some roses to arrange next to a photograph I have of my Mom.

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I also planted some narcissi bulbs into some Victorian terracotta pots I have in a pretty French wire basket.  I felt good to put some living things into some earth, in anticipation of their growing and blossoming.

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Saturday January 21st was a day filled with women and men, across the world, marching for equality, diversity, social justice, inclusion and many other things dear to many hearts.

My husband and I had intended to drive up to Bristol and join in, but that morning, I awoke needing the comfort and security of Home.  I was really torn, but in the end, I paid attention to what I needed.  I made a donation to Planned Parenthood because women’s reproductive rights is one of the things that I would march for.

I was there in Spirit, along with the millions of women and men worldwide who are standing up for a positive way forward.  I felt my mother’s spirit too, very close by.

Hope

I don’t set resolutions at the New Year, but acknowledge the turning of the great wheel, from dark to light, and the portending of springtime, a time of growth and renewal.

I do choose a word for the year.  My word for 2017 is ‘hope’.

Along with most of us, many of the big events on the world stage in 2016 certainly knocked me for a loop.  I heard and read a lot about people falling into despair and the losing of hope.  Some people seem to believe that it is naive to be hopeful in the face of bad news and calamitous events.  But I’ve always been a ‘glass half full’ kind of gal.  Let’s see what we’ve got here, where can we go from here and how can we make it better than it is now.  That’s me.  I look at the world as a realist, acknowledging the darkness when it is there and I am so grateful that I always, always come back to the brighter side of a situation.

As I did some final shopping for New Year’s Eve in my town yesterday, some unblossomed daffodils at the greengrocers tugged at my awareness each time I walked past.  There was a box containing a few dozen bunches, rubber-banded together.   Some had opened and were braving the grey and chilly day.  On my way back home I chose three bunches that hadn’t opened yet.  These about to open buds embody what hope means to me.

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Hope is the expectation of a space for something to happen.  Not necessarily a specific outcome, but something new that might just defy all expectations.  Rather than a passive stasis of wishful thinking, hope feels active to me.  A brave place of flux and tension, where something new and better can arise.

I believe that we can shape things for the better.  I do not believe that we’re doomed to follow a downhill slope into a dystopian world.  We can vision a brave new world and have a hand in making our place in it as kind and positive and good as we possibly can.  How we each interact in our own small world of family, friends, environment, home and with all whom we meet, both human and critter, contributes to the shape of the big world and this is a very power full thing indeed.

 

Coming home

It’s been a very long time since I’ve written.   It has been a hectic several weeks preparing for my UK driving test (passed!), our trip to California and my workplace is uprooting to new premises, so I packed up my desk on my final day at work last week.

I hadn’t realized that this trip to California, my first planned one since I moved to the UK 18 years ago, would be so emotional.  Well, I did and I didn’t, but when we were about to board the plane to Los Angeles at Schipol Airport on Wednesday, it suddenly hit home what a monumental journey this is.

I’m well prepared with maps and I made this one from a broken plate that I collaged with maps.

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A map of the San Gabriel Valley, where I grew up is in the center.  To the left, are maps of Conway, NC where my mother was from and Muscogee, OK where my dad was from.  We three kids wound up in Moretonhampstead (me), Napa (my brother) and 29 Palms (my sister).  We never really gelled as a family, and after my Mom died when I was 16, we all caromed and ricocheted away from each other.  My family is like a plate which smashed into many different pieces.

Kintsugi is Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold.    The pottery piece  becomes more beautiful for having been broken. The true life of the pottery  ”  .  .  .  begins the moment it is dropped  .  .  .  .  .  .  So it is not simply any mended object  that increases in its appreciation but it is the gap between the vanity of pristine appearance and the fractured manifestation of mortal fate which deepens its appeal.”

In other words, the brokeness is proof of its fragility and its resilience is what makes it beautiful.

Swallows are my favourite winged being.  To me, they represent arrival home.  I found a beautiful mosaic piece online made by Lizzie Tucker which was perfect.  I printed this onto hand-made paper and collaged it onto the back.

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I am planning to see my brother for the first time in nearly 30 years and hope to meet up with my sister on this trip.  Even though Home is inside of me, and with my husband Steve, wherever we are, California is my first home.  This journey to California is about coming home to where I am from and a mending of what has been broken inside of me for a very long time.  I hope also, that my family will be mended in some way, as well.

It isn’t all serious, heavy inner work.  We’re going to have an epic road trip around the most beautiful place on earth and are really enjoying and relaxing into the Golden State.

Silver service

I have a cool Facebook friend who recently shared a beautiful silver vintage dress and described it as a  “fine china and heavy silverware kind of dinner dress”.

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I have a non-vintage silver dress which is very similar and her words just stuck in my mind and captured my imagination.  I stopped at the Exeter Farmer’s Market last week with the intention of buying some fish.  I bought a couple of beautifully filleted pieces of Dover sole from the Gibsons Plaice Fishmonger stall.  We decided to make a  fine china and heavy silverware kind of dinner.

Just in case you’ve arrived looking for the recipe, here it is up front.  I find it irritating when I’m searching out a recipe and have to read through a bunch of superfluous stuff to get to it.

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Baked Fish Filets with Mushroom Stuffing

  • 4 large Dover sole fillets, skinned
  • 5 fl oz (150 ml) milk
  • lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon double cream
  • salt and freshly milled black pepper
  • 8 oz (225 g) dark-gilled mushrooms, finely chopped
  • 1 oz (25 g) butter
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 level tablespoon finely chopped parsley
  • 5 fl oz (150 ml) dry white wine or cider
  • 2 level tablespoons plain flour

First of all melt half the butter and all the oil together in a pan and fry the onion gently until soft and golden.

Add the mushrooms and cook until all the juices have evaporated and the remaining mixture is a dryish, spreadable paste – this will probably take about 20 minutes.

Remove from the heat, season with salt, pepper and nutmeg, then transfer all but 2 tablespoons of the mixture to a basin and mix with the parsley.

Next cut the fish fillets in half lengthways and spread an equal quantity of the mushroom mixture on the skinned side of each piece. Roll up the fillets from the head to the tail end and place closely together in a baking dish.

Pour in the wine or cider, place a piece of buttered silicone paper (parchment) directly on top of the fish and bake in the oven for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt the remaining butter in a saucepan, blend in the flour and cook for 2 minutes, stirring continuously. When the fish is ready, transfer it to a warmed serving dish, using a draining spoon; cover and keep warm.

Now add the cooking liquid to the butter and flour mixture, beating all the time to get a smooth sauce, and also blend in the milk.

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Then bring to boiling point, stirring all the time, add the remaining mushroom mixture, season with salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice and stir in the cream.

To accompany the fish, we made mashed potatoes w/ double cream and butter and buttered, steamed spinach with fresh nutmeg.  Ladle the sauce over the fish filets and et voila!

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Now back to the superfluous stuff.

We’ve been buying silver plated Old English and Dubarry flatware here and there over the past few years.  It mixes and matches very well.  We recently inventoried it to see what the gaps are and if any of it needed to be replated.  Steve wore his special anti tarnish gloves.  He is natural born butler at heart!

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We have the capability to host an elegant dinner party for twelve at any given moment.    However, this little dinner party was exclusively for a party of two.

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We used Dubarry flatware which combines Baroque and Asiatic influences to strike a beautiful balance between intricate detail and straight lines.  First appearing in the early 18th century, its inspiration lies in the elegant furniture of Thomas Chippendale.
Blue twill place mats, cream scallop edged dinner plates, white flax napkins and silver napkin rings completed the elegant table settings.

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We opened a bottle of 2014 Sancerre from our most recent Fortnum & Mason Christmas hamper that we’ve been saving for such an occasion.  Here Steve’s sommelier duties came to the fore.

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And here is the dress.  I bought it a few years back for my 50th birthday party from Jigsaw, one of my favourite places to shop.  It is elegant, very comfortable and makes me feel like a Greek goddess.  It isn’t really ombre, but looks it when it catches the light.

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I’d also picked up a bouquet from In Bloom Devon which sells flowers grown in a Devon field, entirely without the use of pesticides and artificial fertilizers.  There are no air miles except for the ones traveled by the and bees and other pollinating insects who love visiting the flowers.

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For dessert, we stayed local.  Homemade meringues from West Country Meringues, organic double cream from Ashclyst Farm Dairy and strawberries grown at Balls Farm, Exeter.

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Eton Mess

We didn’t really have a proper silver service but it would be really fun to do one day.  Silver service (in British English) is a method of foodservice. This usually includes serving food at the table. It is a technique of transferring food from a service dish to the guest’s plate from the left. It is performed by a waiter using service forks and spoons from the diner’s left. In France, this kind of service is known as service à l’anglaise (“English service”).  There’s a guide here.

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