There is an emanation from the heart

which cannot be described,

but is immediately felt and puts

the stranger at his ease.

~Washington Irving


Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.
It turns what we have into enough...

.........and more.

It turns denial into acceptance,
chaos to order, confusion to clarity.

It can turn a meal into a feast,

a house into a home,

a stranger into a friend.

~Melody Beattie


Don't be satisfied with stories,

how things have gone with others.

Unfold your own myth.
~Rumi


May my life be like a great

hospitable tree, and may

weary wanderers find in

me a rest.

~John Henry Jowett


Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Oxford looked like Narnia this morning, but sadly no Mr. Tumnus under the lamppost.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Santa's Workshop



Stuart and I leave in two days for Christmas in the U.S. with our children, grandchildren and family, so The Merton Room has been turned into Santa's Workshop and Packing Station.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

A Dusting of Advent Snow


We awoke this morning to a dusting of light snow--just enough to frost things over like icing on a Christmas cake.

Holywell Cemetary
and a path in the snow for deer,
fox, Max, and us.
Snow frosts Merton Street


Friday, 30 November 2012

Flooding Update

Max's squirrel run--he stood for
the longest time trying to figure out
what happened to his favorite spot
to chase squirrels.

Max and I braved the cold at sunset tonight to walk around Christ Church meadow.  Two days ago the path was completely covered and a lake ran from Christ Church down to the Thames.  We weren't sure what we'd find today, but the water has started to recede, all flowing away toward London, on it's way out to the sea.

The path leading down to the Thames and then back up to Christ Church was very soggy but we were able to make it all the way around.  All the while we walked, I marveled at what a beautiful winter scene it all was--and silently (yet ardently) prayed for even colder weather, so it would all freeze and we would be able to ice skate on it.



Ducks paddle where a week ago cattle and deer grazed together.
What a perfect spot to ice skate.


A serene lake at sunset.
It felt as though we should see canoes gliding by.

Magdalen College School Playing fields.
This is where Stuart played rugby as a student
and where muddy boys should be playing today.


Wednesday, 28 November 2012

A Meadow Now a Lake

The torrential rains during the Queen's
Jubilee celebration didn't dampen spirits at least.
After a summer with the highest rainfall on record for more than a hundred years, Britain has ended up soggy and water-logged.
Now that the winter rains are upon us, and the fact that Oxford lies in the Thames valley, it means severe flooding all around us.  Water has been pouring out of the Cotswold's swollen rivers and streams and making it's way to the Thames--and most of it has nowhere to go at the moment.

Christ Church Meadow -- Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012


Our normal walk around the meadow is completely flooded and impassable.


The meadow, which normally has cattle and deer
grazing, tonight looks like a calm lake in the distance.



The Cherwell bursting it's banks.
Normally it's quiet and calm except
for novice punters that often
criss cross the river.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

North Winds, Winter Flowers, and a Warm Fire


Turl Street, Oxford
Today is the first clear and sunny day we've had for awhile, so I've been desperately trying to get my winter flowers planted.  Unfortunately, there's a bone-chilling wind blowing right off the North Sea, down through Scotland and the Midlands, and right through the streets of Oxford, which act like wind tunnels.  If you've ever walked down Turl Street when the wind is blowing, especially at the High Street end, you'll know exactly what I mean.

Stuart's fire and my chair.


Packing window boxes with freezing cold soil is a chilly business.  I've managed to get most of the planting done though, in between running back into the house to get warm, drink something hot, and then back out into the wind again.  Luckily Stuart lit his first fire of the season this morning, so I can sit by his fire--and maybe my toes will finally warm up.



Tonight we turn our clocks back--no more British Summer Time.  I think we're ready for the dark, English winter.  There's a bunker full of coal out back, logs that Stuart chopped from his Nan's garden, winter pansies planted, chai tea in the cupboard, boots by the back door..........and lots and lots of light bulbs.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Beyond 'Downton Abbey'



After writing about 'Downton Abbey', my mind kept wandering back to a set of four books called Parade's End by Ford Maddox Ford, and wishing as many people were aware of these books as they are of 'Downton Abbey'.  The books are similar to 'Downton' in that they're set in the same period and historical background, but Parade's End has the weight and heft of the human soul carrying it much further into the human spirit than 'Downton Abbey'.

It's been called by some, the greatest novel of the 20th century, it's been included in The Observer's '100 Greatest Novels of All Time', and in the Guardian's list of '1000 Novels Everyone Must Read'.  Ford himself served as an officer on the Western Front during WWI as a member of the Welsh Regiment, and this is woven into his novels.  If you haven't the time to sit down and read a tetralogy, the BBC recently aired the mini-series 'Parade's End', starring Benedict Cumberbatch.  If you'd like to understand 'Downton Abbey' on a deeper level, beyond the soap opera of their lives, watching this series would be one of the best ways to do it.  It's a beautiful adaptation of Ford's books, which were originally published as, Some Do Not, No More Parades, A Man Could Stand Up, and Last Post.


My very favorite book set in the period surrounding WWI is The Edwardians, by Vita Sackville-West.  In this book, Vita draws on her own life at Knole House, which just as in Downton Abbey, she could never inherit because she was a woman.  Her own life reads like a novel--she was the lover of Virginia Woolfe and greatly influenced by her and the Bloomsbury set.  The Bloomsbury Set, or Group, was an informal association of writers, artists, and philosophers and their works influenced, not only the literature of the time, but economics and the social ideas of feminism, sexuality, and pacifism during the upheaval of society after WWI.

After reading everything that Vita Sackville-West wrote, we had to visit Sissinghurst Castle in Kent, where she lived, wrote, and famously gardened.  Stuart and I have been back 3 or 4 times, seeing her garden in almost every season.  The garden surrounding Sissinghurst is actually ten different gardens, separated by walls and hedges, giving the feeling of separate rooms much like Hidcote Gardens in Gloucestershire.

If I could have one Cinderella dream come true, it would be to have been married under her rose arbour in June.



As much as I love the gardens though, it's her study that draws me back every time.   It's in the tall tower, up the winding steps which half-way up, open into her private study.  Here she wrote, read and pondered.  It's fascinating to stand in the doorway and see the desk where she wrote, see the deep chairs where she sat, and take in the array of her collections scattered around the room.  I usually just stand in the doorway, peering through the bars for a good ten minutes, soaking in the spirit and the mind of this powerful and very human woman.

I'll enjoy every minute of the rest Downton's season 3, but I try to never forget for one minute the reality behind the stories.  A reality of servants working 16-18 hours a day and allowed only one day off every few months; servants having to stand with their face to the wall if a member of the aristocratic family happened to pass by them in the hallway; and members of aristocratic families living lives of indulgence and superficiality.  Just as the Black Death changed the face of feudal England in the 14th century, WWI changed the face of British society for good and any nostalgia for that time should probably be tempered once in awhile with a dose of reality--which Parade's End and The Edwardians do very well.


Friday, 19 October 2012

No. 35 Holywell St.

Sometimes it's easy to be so busy taking in the dreaming spires, that you can miss the quiet corners.
 
Every time I walk by this door I think that, if I just had the
key, I'd be able to see if Narnia lies behind it.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

  New College gate on a chilly October evening.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Goodbye Summer 2012

A few last looks at summer before the winter darkness really sets in.............










Thursday, 20 September 2012

I Only Went Out for a Walk


I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till 
sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.   ~John Muir

The path around Christ Church meadow,
which meanders along the River Cherwell.
August 16, 2012
Yesterday by four o'clock I felt very out of sorts, restless, and scattered.  The glow of the "happy and glorious" Olympics has been waning every time I've watched the BBC Six O'Clock news and real life has begun to creep back in.  

It's no secret that, having lived most of my life under the wide open (and blue) skies of the western United States, I find city life difficult and the Oxford spires, as beautiful as they are, can feel a bit claustrophobic at times.  This means that Christ Church meadow and I are old and very dear friends.

As I turn right off the High Street, and onto Rose Lane, it doesn't take long for my breathing to slow and my mind to still, so yesterday's restlessness dissolved the minute I hit the path, it's Cotswold limestone glowing gold in the late afternoon light.  

All this hurrying will soon be over.
Only when we tarry do we touch the holy.
~Rainer Maria Rilke

As I become more quiet, Max of course becomes more animated--chasing squirrels and ducks and geese.  He wasn't too happy as I stopped along the way to take pictures, but he begrudgingly gave me a few minutes here and there.  Max was also patient as I slowed our walk down to my heartbeat and by the time we were back on Holywell Street, surrounded by the spires again, we were both calm instead of restless and serene instead of scattered.

We have forgotten what rocks and plants still know -- 
we have forgotten how to be, to be still, to be ourselves, 
to be where life is here and now.
                                                  ~Eckhart Tolle 














Your days are short here; this is the last of your springs.  And now in the serenity and quiet of this lovely place, touch the depths of truth,  feel the hem of Heaven.  You will go away with old, good friends.  And don't forget when you leave, why you came.    ~Adlai E. Stevenson

            Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop.   ~Ovid

Monday, 30 July 2012

I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.... For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.  ~Wendell Berry, 
"The Peace of Wild Things"



Monday.......

It's 4pm and my kitchen still looks like this.  Usually I have breakfast cleared and the entire kitchen spic and span by about 10am, but not today.  I still have breakfast dishes stacked on the counter, groceries waiting to be put away, and flowers that need water and vases.

It all may look a  little artfully arranged, but this is
exactly how things have been
since 9:30 this morning, when we cleared the breakfast room.



It's not a case of the Monday Blues really--for some reason I've just spent the day doing anything but the big kitchen clean-up.  I keep finding better and far more enjoyable things to do.  Right after breakfast I was out in our back garden, doing a clean-up of my **summerhouse sanctuary.  It was so much more fun than cleaning the kitchen.

Then it was off for a walk in Holywell Cemetery with Max and Stuart, enjoying the summer roses and the **'Constable Clouds'.



After our walk, the Sainsbury's grocery order arrived at 11am sharp.  It's still scattered around the kitchen because it was time for my Monday afternoon walk to the bank and **Marks and Spencer for this week's flowers and tonight's dinner........and speaking of dinner, I better get started on it now.  I'm expecting a very hungry tour guide to come walking through the door at any minute.  




I'm sure he'll wonder (out loud) why the kitchen looks exactly the same as when he left this morning but, Stuart being  Stuart, he won't complain.  He'll roll up his sleeves and chip in.  As long as dinner's in the oven and the Olympics are on in the background, he's a happy man--and will be glad that I've had a happy day avoiding the Monday morning dishes.

7PM Update...............
Yes, the dishes are done, the groceries put away, fresh flowers on the breakfast tables, laundry moving along, and Stuart is well-fed--and of course watching the Olympics.  Dirty dishes sat all day long but the world kept spinning and the sun kept shining.  I don't often let things go all day like I did today, but sometimes you have to go with the flow of the day.......For a time I rested in the grace of the world, and was free.


Glossary ~ for my friends back in the United States and across the globe.

**Constable Clouds ~ John Constable was an English Romantic painter during the late 18th century & early 19th century.  He was from Suffolk and painted landscapes mostly of that area, feeling "I should paint my own places best."  He was one of Britain's best cloud painters, using the sky as the landscape as much as the land, believing that the sky was "the keynote......the chief organ of sentiment."


**Summerhouse ~ In Britain a summerhouse is any little shelter or small building for relaxing in warm weather or on rainy summer days.  It's usually prefabricated and simple, no electricity or plumbing--just a place to relax on a summer evening--or in my case reading in, Spring through the Autumn.


*Marks and Spencer (or M&S or Marks & Sparks) ~ One of Britain's oldest retailers and up until 2002 made a policy of selling only British goods.  At the moment they're fighting to remain relevant on the **High Street.  Their clothing lines were always dependable and good quality but recently have become a bit **naff (see below).  Their food however has become their strong point.  Much of it is pre-prepared meals that are fresh and excellent quality or desserts that are to die for.


Naff--M&S style
**Naff ~ It's origin is an acronym that is a bit crude so I won't repeat it but it's come to mean bad taste, lacking in style, or worthless.

**The High Street ~ Comparable to Main Street in the United States.  In Britain it's the generic name for the business or shopping street--Boots, M&S, Smith's, and Next are all typical High Street shops.