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

Monday, 20 April 2015

Turner and Oxford





Joseph Mallord William Turner, born this day in 1775, is an English Romanticist painter known for his landscapes and work in oil, but he was also a master of watercolours.  Some see him as a pioneer of Impressionism, his work prefacing the Impressionists to come later in the century.  John Ruskin described him as an artist who could "most stirringly and truthfully measure the moods of Nature."

If someone mentions the painter JMW Turner, 
chances are one painting comes to mind--
Tintern Abbey.

Turner is also know as 'The Painter of Light', beautifully seen here in 
'Keelman Heaving in Coal by Moonlight'.

A view of Christ Church from the Meadows and the Thames.

Turner's paintings of Oxford are less widely known, but they're some of my favourites. His softly stylized vision matches perfectly with the 'dreaming spires' of Oxford.  The college spires seem to meld with the sky, like a bridge between heaven and earth.
'The High Street',
on long-term loan to the 
Ashmolean Museum. 
Turner enlarged University College  (on the left) 
and straightened the High Street to lead the 
eye straight down to the Carfax Tower.

Christ Church and Tom Tower
from St. Aldate's.
Christ Church Cathedral from Merton Fields,
Corpus Christi College to the right.
Tom Tower from Pembroke Lane
Oriel College Quad

St. Mary's Church and the
Radcliffe Camera from Oriel Lane.

Turner captured perfectly in watercolour 
what Yeats later captured in poetry.

"I wonder anybody does anything at Oxford
 but dream and remember, the place is so
 beautiful.  One almost expects the 
people to sing instead of speaking.  
It's all like an opera."
~William Butler Yeats

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Get Well Soon Randolph Hotel

Yesterday afternoon, just after 4:30, I looked out my kitchen window and saw helicopters circling overhead, which meant something was up in central Oxford.  In the next second Stuart sent me a message saying The Randolph Hotel was on fire, and my heart lurched.  An old friend was in trouble and I felt sick at heart.  I met The Randolph even before I ever met Stuart, and it's been a part of my Oxford landscape for the past 21 years.

When I first visited Oxford during the
summer of 1994, The Randolph Hotel was high on my list of places to visit.  It was used in the movie 'Shadowlands' as the place C.S. Lewis first met Joy Davidman, when she walked in and said in a loud, brash voice, "Is there a Mr. Lewis here?" They actually met at the Eastgate Hotel, but The Randolph is where I wanted to have afternoon tea and experience the backdrop of that scene for myself.

So over 20 years ago, my sister, two nieces, and I walked into the drawing room, where afternoon tea is served, and I immediately felt like Joy and C.S.'s love story was alive.  We settled into the big chairs and ordered an enormous afternoon tea, complete with the three-tiered cake stand and copious amounts of Earl Grey tea.  I even kept my menu, stealthily tucking it into my bag (sorry Mr. Randolph) and still have it today as a keepsake.

My next visit to The Randolph's drawing room was when I took my mom, aunt, and daughter there on a Sunday afternoon in 1996. We were seated at a table by the window, overlooking the Ashmolean Museum, and ordered their 'Celebration' afternoon tea. This time it was served on a huge, free-standing, tiered cake stand, that stood on the floor next to the table.
My crazy red-haired auntie and my mom were always a bit loopy when they were together, but having a special afternoon tea had them flying an extra three feet off the ground. It was made worse by the quiet hush to the room. The only sounds were low conversations and the delicate tinkling of teacups--all very elegant and subdued.

All of a sudden, either my mom or my aunt, decided to get up to visit the ladies room and bumped into the cake stand sitting next to her chair.  The stand went flying, the scones became airborne, the plates crashed to the ground--and all eyes were upon us. Without even thinking I knew this was too important of a forever-memory for my mom and aunt to let a few posh British people make them feel embarrassed, so in that moment I decided to make Joy Davidman my role model.  I laughed and waved at the people staring, gaily helping the waitress clean up, completely ignoring the British heads shaking and despairing of Americans.  Let the eyes roll, the heads shake, I wasn't about to subdue the joy my mom and aunt were experiencing.  A few flying scones never hurt anyone.

My wonderfully fun auntie.
The chaos continued when the two of them became lost after visiting the ladies room and I finally found them on the third floor.  How or why they made their way up there is a mystery, but they were laughing like schoolgirls and having the time of their lives. Again I acted Joy-like and pretended it was no big deal to usher two women in their late 60's, who had a serious case of the giggles, through the corridors of an elegant hotel.  And I'm so glad I did, since all they've ever remembered of that afternoon was joy, and laughter, and companionship.  I'm doubly glad because my crazy red-haired auntie has passed away and my mom no longer knows who I am--but the joy of that afternoon lives on in the wonderful memory.

Now that we live in Oxford, The Randolph is where we take family and friends who are visiting.  I'll never forget the sight of my enormous 6'5" nephews, gently sipping from their teacups and thoroughly enjoying a very British afternoon tea.

A special afternoon tea last August, when one 
of my Bestie BFFs came from Sweden to visit .

From our 3-hour tea in March.
And then there's Stuart and I and The Randolph. We love afternoon tea and we have it often and in large amounts. In Oxford, The Randolph is where we go for tea and would never go anywhere else. We go at Christmas time, Easter, birthdays, and just-because. Our last afternoon tea in the drawing room was just at the end of March, when we sat by the window for almost three hours, finally leaving in a clotted cream and Earl Grey/champagne stupor.

So that's why my heart lurched and I felt like crying yesterday afternoon, seeing the pictures of Oxford's beloved Randolph on fire.  It's part of Oxford's landscape, and part of my own personal landscape, and I can't imagine it not being there. But I know it will come back better than ever.  Stuart and I can't wait for the next time we ease into the big, soft chairs, I sip my champagne, we fight over who gets the last little sandwich, we pile the clotted cream onto our scones, and drink Earl Grey to our heart's content.  We pray for a fast recovery and give thanks for all the happy memories made there.  Get well soon Randolph Hotel.

This was the scene yesterday afternoon, before fire fighters
had even entered the building.  The fire started in the kitchen
and quickly spread up to the roof, but no one was injured and
everyone was safely evacuated.  The scaffolding is already going
up today, the repairs and rebuilding will begin soon,
and I know it will come back, better than ever.

Today is also the birthday of Joy Davidman, 
born in 1915, and beloved wife of C.S. Lewis.



"A thing of beauty is a joy forever, 
its loveliness increases;
it will never pass into nothingness.
~John Keats

Thursday, 16 April 2015

An April Afternoon at Magdalen College


On a day like today, it feels like winter never happened.  The kitchen door is open, I can hear busy birds out in the garden, there's no other way to describe how the air smells other than 'green', and riotous blooms and colours are everywhere.  It was such a perfect spring day that Stuart and I took some time out this afternoon to walk around Addison's Walk, at Magdalen College.


Addison's Walk was C.S. Lewis' favourite walk in Oxford and you could find him there nearly every day--no matter the weather or the season.  It changes with the colours of the seasons and the light, but I think it's at it's most glorious in the springtime.



Magdalen College was established in 1458 and sits on the High Street, it's perfectly proportioned tower overlooking the River Cherwell and the city.


This is the entrance into Magdalen's beautiful cloisters.






The gardeners were mowing the lawns of the quads and the 
cloisters, so the air smelled of fresh mown grass--nothing better.



The exterior cloister walls.


The lawns of the cloisters and the quads are off limits, and absolutely no one is allowed to walk on them--except for one person in the entire United Kingdom (and of course the bloke who mows the lawn). One of Stuart's favourite "jokes" is:  What does the person who mows the college lawns have in common with the Queen?  They can both walk on the lawn.  It's a long-standing tradition in Oxford that wherever you see signs that say, Please Keep Off the Grass, that means everyone but the Queen.  She can prance all over the lawns of Oxford all she likes.




We came out of the shadowed cloisters into the bright sunshine, which was bouncing off the golden limestone of the Georgian 'New Building'.  Then a few steps over a little bridge to Addison's Walk, which was lined with bright blue, yellow, and white spring flowers.


Addison's Walk
Along the way there are seats carved out of old tree trunks. They seem to be transplanted from Narnia or the Shires, and I always half expect/hope to find a faun or a Hobbit resting on one. We will nod to one another and the faun will wink and say, "Aslan is on the move....", or the Hobbit will take a puff of his pipe and invite me to join him for tea.............but the seat was empty for today.  Maybe next time.


"Everything is blooming most recklessly;
if it were voices instead of colors,
there would be an unbelievable shrieking
into the heart of the night."
~Rainer Maria Rilke












Magdalen is well known for it's rare snake's head fritillaries, which were in full bloom.


At the end of the walk, there's a place to stop and have a cup of tea next to the river, at the Old Kitchens of Magdalen.  It looks out onto Magdalen Bridge, where punts can be rented. It's punting weather again, so lots of people were trying their hand at it--many with limited success, but everybody enjoying being on the river nonetheless.


"There is nothing--absolutely nothing--half so much worth
doing as simply messing about in boats."  ~Kenneth Grahame

We left Addison's Walk behind, promising to return soon--
for a leisurely stroll, a cup of tea,
and to see it all again in the light of summer.  

"We do not merely want to see beauty,
we want to become a part of it."  ~C.S. Lewis



Magdalen College is open to the public: 
April through June at 1pm until 6pm;
 July until late September from noon to 7pm.
Adults: £5; Senior/Students/Children: £4
Refreshments served in the Old Kitchens
Punts can be rented at the Magdalen Bridge Boathouse.

"I wonder anybody does anything at Oxford
but dream and remember, the place is so
beautiful.  One almost expects the people to 
sing instead of speaking.  It is all like an opera."
~William Butler Yeats


Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Max's Morning Walk ~ April


After breakfast Max The Dog, Stuart, and I are all chomping at the bit to get out of the kitchen, leave the bacon infused air behind, and get out into the fresh morning air for a walk.  With aprons put away and guests settled in for the day, the leash comes out, the jackets are put on, and the three of us head east down Holywell Street.




We stop to say hello to our neighbours and admire the pansies they've put out, beautiful against the backdrop of their stone cottage.


Max impatiently pulls us on down the street, past No. 99, JRR Tolkien's home in the 1940's and early '50's.








At the end of Holywell Street, we turn left onto Longwall Street, toward Holywell Manor.




Longwall Street ~ The brick garage on the right is the old Morris Garage,
where the first Morris car was built; the wall to the left encloses
the grounds of Magdalen College.


We follow St. Cross Road, down past Jowett Walk, and cross the street at St. Cross Church where the wedding of Dorothy L. Sayers' character, Lord Peter Wimsey, took place.
St. Cross Church now holds
archives for Balliol College.
As we walk into Holywell Cemetery, we see someone has left a little tribute to Kenneth Grahame--Wind in the Willows carefully wrapped in plastic and left on his gravestone.



The daffodils in the cemetery have made 
way for the primroses, like a pale yellow carpet.


After Max has had his fill of snuffling and sniffling through the undergrowth, we leave the cemetery and turn right, to see if the magnolia is in bloom at Holywell Manor, just around the corner from St. Cross Church.  It is in full and glorious bloom.


A peak through the gates shows the beautiful garden.  Breathtaking.



Holywell Manor on Manor Road, has been a part of Oxford's landscape for centuries and is recorded in the Domesday Book as having, "23 men living herein, each with a garden."  At one time there's been a holy well, a mill, farmlands, and even a women's penitentiary as part of Holywell Manor.  The original manor house most likely dates back the 11th century, but the manor is definitely mentioned during the reign of Edward I (1272-1307).  The manor house as it is today dates to the 16th century and is owned and used by Balliol College as their post-graduate site, also hosting seminars and conferences throughout the year.

.....but back to our walk.....

...and once we're thoroughly intoxicated by the magnolia blooms, coupled with the blue sky, Max leads us back the way we came. Down Jowett Walk and past Harris Manchester, checking the time on their beautiful clock tower.


We also walk by No. 1 Mansfield Road, C.S. Lewis' 
humble beginnings in Oxford, where he 
lodged when he first came to Oxford.


Then it's back to Holywell Street, taking a moment to check the progress of the tulips and pansies blooming at the front of the house, before starting the rest of our day.  We're relaxed and happy to smell of magnolia rather than bacon--well at least Stuart and I are. I'm pretty sure that Max The Dog much prefers to smell of bacon.


"Beauty surrounds us, but usually we
need to be walking in a garden to know it."
~Rumi