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

Thursday, 29 January 2015

What's It Like?

When we were back home for the holidays in the U.S. last month and doing some last minute Christmas shopping, the young man who was our check-out clerk heard Stuart's accent and his interest was immediately piqued.  He started asking questions--or more accurately bombarding us with, "where are you from", "what's it like over there", and "do you like it"? He was sweet and genuinely curious though, a small-town by with big-city dreams.

His main line of questioning centred around what the difference is between living in the U.S. and living in Europe. Technically speaking, most British people don't consider themselves European and think of Europe as the mainland--but I knew what he meant. Living in Britain and Europe is very different than living in the U.S., but how to explain all of the nuances of those differences to an eager young man in the check-out line at Target?  I did my best but it got me to thinking--what are the differences for me?  Here's just a few I came up with:


SCARVES~  This is subtle difference, not immediately apparent, and in the larger sense of the world isn't a big deal -- but it's there.  I began my own scarf wardrobe when I visited my daughter living in Paris, and coveting the beautiful, creamy scarves the French women wore so effortlessly.  In the past 20 years since then, my array of scarves has grown to a number I'd rather not repeat.  Let's just say I have scarves for every mood, every outfit, every time of year.

The biggest difference with scarves though is that in Europe and Britain men wear them too--and not just as winter mufflers to keep out the chill.  I realize men on the east coast of the U.S. often wear scarves, but in the heartland and the west coast it's rarely seen, unless the wind chill gets below freezing.  Which is a pity.  Trade a baseball cap for a scarf and a man is on the road to George Clooney with one simple knot.

THE FOOD~  Wonderful and fresh food does exist in the U.S. of course, but I've found it much easier to find real food living in Britain or travelling in Europe.  America has regions or towns that are food wastelands and people must actively seek out real, clean, fresh, organic, non-GMO food.  It doesn't matter where we are in Britain, vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options are on every pub or restaurant menu, and the most beautiful, organic, whole-food store I've ever been in was up in the Lake District, miles from any big city--Booths.  I'd commute there to shop if I could, but unfortunately it's a four hour drive from Oxford.



CARS AND WALKING~ When you live in a large city in Britain or Europe you don't necessarily need a car.  That's something unimaginable to many Americans, but it's true and I know many people here in Britain who don't drive much less own a car.  We have a trusty, old Land Rover for our forays to the Cotswolds, trips to garden centres and antique shops, drives to Heathrow, and our get-aways to the Lake District or the hinterlands of Wales.  But most of the time it just stays parked.

On a daily basis Stuart and I walk everywhere, which we both love.  It's not easy lugging home, on my narrow shoulders, everything we're going to eat for the next 3 or 4 days, especially on days like today when it's 35F and a brisk north wind, with some sleet thrown in for good measure.  But even so, walking everywhere is one of the things I like most about our life, and also one of the things I find most different than life in America.  Between Max's walks and walking to the shops, I walk 3-5 miles a day.  I would't trade that for the world or a shiny car, and as Dominique Browing said, "In Britain there is a disposition toward walking."




THE SMALL THINGS~There are many, many small differences, enough to write a book about actually.  For instance British eggs aren't refrigerated--that took me awhile to get used to. And then there are the language differences and having to get used to calling a washcloth a flannel or a facecloth, a trunk is the boot, and we queue up instead of line up for the cinema, rather than a movie. Here we clean our teeth, ring someone on the telephone, and watch the footy (soccer) on the telly. There's a whole lot of please, and thank-you, and sorry going on too; a cashier at the store will thank you for the money, and well for everything actually, before you've even handed them the money.  Another book could be written about driving on the left, traffic, and just driving in general.  I do drive here but I let Stuart do most of the driving, much better for the blood pressure that way.

THE HISTORY~  This is an obvious difference, but as a lover of history, archaeology, and all things Neolithic to Victorian, I never tire of being surrounded by it.  There's hardly a stone circle I haven't visited or a cathedral I haven't walked through, but the endless supply of history to absorb and experience never ceases to excite me.
Our house was occupied and a hub of commerce before Jamestown was even established in what would become Virginia.  New College across the street was 'new' in 1379.  Evidence of Neolithic (4,000-3,500BCE) structures have been found in areas surrounding Oxford--the Rollright Stones near Chipping Norton, causewayed enclosures at Abingdon, houses near Yarnton, and long barrows in the Cotswolds and Berkshire.  When Stuart and I have a break in March we'll be visiting Portsmouth and the Mary Rose, HenryVIII's warship that was raised and restored, and Dorset's Jurassic Coast.  I'll take a stone circle, a castle, or a cathedral over a sunny beach and Disney World any old day.


There are so many more differences and I see new ones every day. It isn't always easy living in a country that isn't my own, but it makes me feel like a perpetual traveller, always experiencing things as if for the first time, able to look at the world with new eyes.

"Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by 
demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, 
worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if
we try and understand each other, 
we may even become friends."
Maya Angelou

"Only own what you can always carry with you;
know languages, know countries, know people.
Let your memory be your travel bag."
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Thursday, 22 January 2015

The Merton College Library

"After nourishment, shelter and companionship, 
stories are the thing we need most in the world."
~Philip Pullman, Graduate of Exeter College Oxford
And author of 'Northern Lights', also known as
'The Golden Compass' in the U.S.

Our Perfect Day in Oxford



The 18th century diarist Samuel Johnson (who went to Pembroke College, Oxford) wrote, "When one tires of London, one tires of life," and sometimes I think you could say the same of Oxford. For a city that in some ways changes very little over the centuries, Oxford is still always so vibrant with life and things to do.

Stuart, Max, and I each have our own idea of what the perfect day in Oxford is. Stuart's is in the summer, mine is a day in December, and Max's is any day that involves bacon, squirrels, long walks, and his bed tucked into a corner of our kitchen.

We begin with Stuarts favorite day:
*The day begins with coffee at the Vaults Cafe tucked into the University Church of St. Mary's.
*Climb up the church tower of St. Mary's to take in the dreaming spires.
*Walk east down the High St. and turn right onto Rose Lane, past the Botanical Gardens toward the Cherwell, and walk around Christ Church Meadow.
*Come out to Merton St. through Grove Lane .
*Stop into Merton College to see the
library and Mob Quad.

 (Merton opens to the public at 2pm.)
*From Merton College it's back up to the High Street, through the Radcliffe Square, cut through the Turf Tavern to Holywell and home to pick up the car for our next stop...........
*A quick drive to the Cherwell Boathouse to rent a punt for the rest of the afternoon.

Stuart's an expert punter.

*Punt the Cherwell River down to the Victoria Arms (Vicky Arms) pub, tie up and have a pint and grab a bottle of bubbly for the lazy ride back to the boathouse.



*The day finishes in one of the college gardens and a Shakespeare play, with a picnic dinner before the play and a glass of Pimm's during the intermission. The gardens provide a beautiful and natural backdrop for plays from As You Like It to Macbeth.

*The day ends with a walk around Holywell Cemetery with Max in the last of the day's light, as it finally gets dark around 10pm.

The clock tower of Harris Manchester
Summer 2014, still light at 10pm.
Stay tuned for Max and Carrie's favorite day....................



Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Taking in the View


The last couple of times Max and I have walked around Christ Church Meadow, a very nice and dapper Mr. Teddy has been sitting along the path, taking in the views.  As we walked along the Cherwell and turned the corner toward the Thames, there he was sitting on a tree stump, looking back over the meadow toward Christ Church and Merton.


The next day we circled the meadow he had made his way
across the path, nearer to the river.  He was sitting under a
tree, greeting all the passers-by--students as they jogged,
dogs as they were walked, tourists walking to the Thames.


The following afternoon Teddy had sought safety in the 
branches of the tree, probably knowing that snow was 
in the forecast and he'd better seek some shelter.


You can see the rain-swollen and muddy Cherwell behind him, so with all the cold and wet, it's not a very hospitable place at times for a small bear.  But he appears to be a brave bear, and thinks the views of Oxford are well worth the discomfort.  Plus I think he's waiting for spring, for the daffodils to bloom along the river--something very worth waiting for.



One of young Teddy's views-Merton Tower flanked
by St. Mary's and the Radcliffe Camera.

Merton College Tower
from his tree vantage point.

The daffodils are only up 4 or 5 inches at the moment,
so hopefully he can stick out the winter and see the full
bloom.  It will be so worth the wait--for all of us.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

SomeThings You Might Not Know About Oxford's Bodleian Library


"I took to the Bodleian Library as to a 
lover and would sit long hours in Bodley's 
arms to emerge blinking and dazed with 
the smell and feel of all those books."
~Laurie King, The Beekeeper's Apprentice



Locals, and Oxford faculty & students call it The Bod.


The iconic round building is called The Radcliffe Camera and is a 
reading room for those holding a Bod Card.  Tourists and 
the general public are not allowed inside the Camera.


When you receive a Bod card you must swear an oath.  
This includes of course swearing to not kindle a fire.  
Only students,faculty, visiting academics & readers,
or researchers are issued a Bodleian card.


There are underground bookstacks beneath the library and 
streets around the Bodleian, and a tunnel under Broad Street 
conveys books back and forth between the old and the new 
Bodleian.  If you stand over certain manhole covers in the 
Radcliffe Square, you can smell that lovely smell of 
old books wafting up to thestreet level. 
 More Oxford magic.


The Bodleian is a copyright library and must have a copy of every 
book  copywritten in Britain.  It now holds over eleven million items.


The hospital scene in Harry Potter was filmed in the 
Bodleian's Divinity School.  


It's one of the oldest libraries in Europe and the world's first 
copyright library.  The first Oxford University library was 
in the University Church, established in 1327.







The Bodleian Library Shop is located at the southeast corner of the Old Schools Quad.


The Bodleian Curator's Chair,
as seen in the shop.



It was Thomas Bodley's innovation to store books on their 
ends rather than on their sides.

There was no artificial light in the library until 1929.  During the 
winter months then, the library was only open 5 hours a day.



The library is not a lending library and all books must be read 
on the premises. Even Charles II and Oliver Cromwell were 
refused permission to borrow a book.




You can buy tickets to tour parts of the library in the Old Schools 
Quad or online.  Other than Stuart's walking tours,  the Bodleian's 
Standard Tour and Extended Tours are the best tours in Oxford.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Not So Common Language

"England and America are two countries 
separated by a common language."
~George Bernard Shaw


Within a few months of meeting Stuart I began to learn a new language--or more precisely a different version of my language, American English.  It didn't take long for words like 'punters', 'hillmans', or 'quid' to become familiar, or phrases like 'Bob's your uncle' or my son's favorite 'bloody nora', to start appearing in my own vocabulary.  And speaking of 'bloody' and to make things clear from the start here, the slang word 'bloody' is not bandied around like Americans imagine it to be.  It's a swear word and not normally uttered in polite company. However Stuart and his mates are not polite company, so I hear it a lot.

Stuart and his 'hillmans' or 'punters'.

To list just a few:
*Punters ~ People who bet/gamble or customers.  Stuart will say 'I had 12 punters on the two o'clock tour.'  He also uses the word 'Hillmans' for punters, from the Cockney Rhyming Slang 'Hillman Hunter'.  A Hillman Hunter was a car in the 60's and since 'Hunter' rhymes with 'punter', Hillman Hunter or 'Hillmans' became slang for a punter, which is slang for a customer.  Confused yet?  This one took me a few years to get straight.

*Bob's your uncle.  ~ This means everything's going to be OK or go well--"you do this and Bob's your uncle."

*The bee's knee's (or the rude version, 'the dog's bollocks') ~ This means something or someone is great, fabulous, fantastic , for instance "Gerard Butler is the bee's knees".



*Cheerio ~ Stuart says 'cheerio' 'instead of goodbye after a phone conversation. He also does the thing some British people do when they hang up the phone, or 'ring off'.  If Stuart says goodbye he'll say it 6 or 7 times, as in "goodbye, bye, bye, bye, bye, bye, bye" and fading away into another last "bye".

* A Do ~ A party like the 'Christmas do', or a 'works do', which is a party at work.  I still haven't gotten used to adding an 's' onto some words, as in the 'works do', or other words Americans don't normally add an 's' to. The main switch for something is called 'the mains', math is called 'maths', and people up north go to the 'baths'.  

*Gutted ~ This is when you're truly disappointed or sad about something, like Stuart is 'gutted' if no one shows up for a tour.

*Knackered ~ Feeling very tired, as in Stuart is 'knackered' after doing five tours.

*Skew-whiff ~ Meaning crooked or off, as in if Stuart hung a shelf it might be a bit 'skew-whiff'.



*Tickety-boo ~ This is if something is going well, up to snuff, or there aren't any problems.  We hung some curtains and they were 'tickety boo' but hopefully not 'naff', which means uncool, or stupid, or 'twee' which means too cutesy.

*Sorted ~ To be decided or something put right like, "well that's dinner sorted" or "let's get you sorted with a nice cup of tea".  I've discovered that to Brits 'a nice cup of tea' will solve or fix almost anything--"You broke your arm?  Well, let's get you a nice cup of tea." (Not really, but almost.)
*A chin wag ~ When I get together with my girlfriends and we have a long talk, gossip and catch-up it's called a 'good old chin-wag'.




*Donkey's years ~ This means a long time, as in "it's been donkey's years since I was there."  It can also be shortened to 'yonks', like I haven't done that in 'yonks'.

*Lovely-jubbly ~ Means great, excellent, pleased, or having good luck. I just signed for a package at the front door and the delivery man said 'lovely-jubbly' when I had finished.  A 'pudding' (any dessert like, "What's for pudding?") can be 'lovely-jubbly' too.

*Oh my giddy aunt! I left my brolly at home and now it's bucketing! means, "Oh my goodness!  I left my umbrella at home and it's pouring rain!"

*Chock-a-block ~ When things are crowded, packed, or in traffic jams you would say that it's 'chock-a-block'.  It's also shortened to 'chockers', as in "The M25 was chockers this morning."

*Chuffed ~ Happy about something or yourself, like when Stuart is 'chuffed that he had 20 punters on his tour.", or you can be 'chuffed to bits'.


*Swimming costume ~ This is what Americans call a swimsuit and in everyday usage a 'cossie'.  Other words are shortened too--pictures into 'piccies', breakfast into 'breakie', brilliant into 'brill' (as in "that just brill!") and television, so don't forget to check what's on 'telly' tonight.  Inexplicably Christmas is shortened to 'Crimbo'.

I also had to learn to say tap instead of faucet, pants or knickers instead of underwear, trousers instead of pants, mobile instead of cell phone, boot instead of trunk, bonnet instead of hood, post instead of mail, motorway instead of interstate, sat-nav instead of GPS, articulated lorry instead of semi-truck, jumper instead of sweater, gilet instead of vest, and flannel or facecloth instead of washcloth.  All this and learning to drive on the left side of the road.  It's no wonder I sometimes get thoroughly confused when I go home to the U.S. and start things mixing up.

I could go on and on and on there are so many, and I'm learning new words and phrases all the time.  I don't use most of them myself, except for the swear words. As an American I find them so handy since it doesn't feel like swearing at all. Most of the time I think it sounds 'naff' when American's use them, but a few words and phrases have started to filter into my vocabulary.

Now when I'm done with something, or finished and going to move on the the next thing, I say 'right' or 'right then', and 'sorted' has started to sneak into my sentences. Like my accent though, which will always be midwest American, I'll probably never use most of these and it will be 'yonks' before my vocabulary is 'chockers' with what makes British English (or 'proper' English as they would say) so unique.  And by the way, hopefully when I dropped the eggs this morning none of our 'hillmans' heard me exclaim, "bloody Nora!"