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

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Jack's Excellent Adventure at Christ Church Meadow

 Mum loves to walk around Christ Church meadow
and she promised me that one day, when I'm more
grown-up, she'd take me with her--and that 
day was today! I must be almost all grown up now.

Here I am at the start of our walk.
I promised to be good and stay close.

You can see why Mummy loves walking here
so much--it has a beautiful path with lots of
trees on one side and a beautiful little river
on the other side. The trees hang over the
river like they're saying 'hello friend'.

The funny flat boat that went by is called a punt and
 I think the people on it loved the river and the trees.

There were so many things to look at and smell and 
taste, that I didn't know what to do first. I stopped and 
smelled the breeze and I liked how it felt on my fur.


This was the first time I had seen ducks and geese
up close. I wondered why they like the water so much 
because I sure don't--I hate my baths! It was fun to 
watch them swim and fly and honk and dive in the water.



Another boat went by with some school boys rowing,
I wonder if they'll be in the Olympics one day?


Of course Mum stopped to take lots of 
pictures--and I was very, very patient.

That's Christ Church College in the distance.


 I stopped to look back at Oxford--
those are called 'the dreaming spires'.


More dreaming spires.

After awhile I was very brave and walked
ahead of Mummy--I am very grown-up now.


It was fun to go off the path too, because there 
were squirrels everywhere. Mummy said that
they're getting ready for winter, storing nuts.


Mum took this picture of me talking to my Guardian Angel
 who helped keep me safe on my first grown-up walk.

We came to a little bridge where the small
river flows into a bigger river that goes
all the way to London--that's a long way.


The big river had boats on it and even 
more geese than the little river. There
 were swans too. Mummy said that all the 
swans on the big river belong to the Queen.



There were squirrels up in all of the big 
chestnut trees finding nuts to save for winter.


Then I saw them--cows! Big cows! With big horns!


I didn't know we had cows in Oxford--but there they were! 


I was a little bit scared of them, but mostly curious.
I barked to say hello but they just kept eating grass.


Then we were on another path and I could
tell it was the path that was the direction of 
home. By now I was feeling very, very brave.


This was the last path before we left the
meadow, so I made sure to stop and 
smell every single thing--everything.


That's Magdalen college in the background--
it's a 'dreaming spire'--and there's the field 
where Daddy played rugby and footie when 
he was a little boy at school in Oxford.


Mum took some more pictures of pretty flowers
growing out of a stone wall..............


...........and of Merton College.


Mummy said it was time to leave the meadow
 so we walked back home, past Merton College.
 We stopped to listen to someone playing
 the organ in the chapel, it sounded so pretty.


When we finally got back home to Holywell 
Street, I laid down in the kitchen and fell asleep--
I was so tired! But I hope Mummy takes me back
 to Christ Church meadow again soon because.......


............I  have a new coat for winter adventures.


I wonder if I'll get to play in snow this winter? 
I was born in the spring, so I sure hope so!

Snowy Merton playing fields and Christ Church Meadow.

*For anyone who isn't familiar with our little Jack, he's a Jack Russell and Bichon Frise' mix--a happy accident. He's named for Oxford's most beloved 'Jack', C.S. Lewis. He's 7 months old at the moment and you can read more about him, and his excellent adventures, here and here. Thanks for stopping by.  Carrie

Friday, 23 October 2015

Chicken-Keeping in Oxford

"The cock may crow but it's the hen who lays an egg!" 
~Quoted by Margaret Thatcher

In another lifetime, in another country, and about five hairstyles ago, I was a master chicken keeper. When my children were young I had a small farm, or what's called in Britain, a 'smallholding'. My dream farm was 5 acres with a large, airy barn, an old homestead house turned into a chicken coop, pasture for horses, cows and goats, a stream for ducks, a gigantic vegetable and herb garden, and even an outhouse. It was a perfect place to raise my children, especially back in the days when kids played outside.

"It is strange and wonderful what changes
 may be wrought by a few fleeting months, 
on the human frame, and the human heart."
 ~Elizabeth J. Eames, 
"An Autumn Reverie," October 1840

My pony Sundance and I,  back in
 another lifetime, on my dream farm.


At one point I kept as many as one hundred chickens (12-20 hens and 80 meat chickens), but then children grew up, life moved on, hairstyles and lifestyles changed, until here I am in Oxford, a country-girl-at-heart living in the heart of a city. I've missed keeping chickens and always knew that if the opportunity ever arose again, I'd be back in the chicken business in a heartbeat.




Luckily there's a resurgence in chicken-keeping in Britain and backyard chickens are popular, even in urban areas. Even so, I wasn't sure if chickens would work in Oxford, especially right in the very centre of the city where we live. So I thought through my chicken plan for about a year, took a few months to gather all my supplies, and decided on the type of hens I wanted. Then this past July I took the leap, when our two Burford Brown hens, Miss Havisham and Lady Catherine de Bourgh, moved into their coop on July 6th.


I chose Burford Browns because they're prolific
 layers and lay very beautiful, brown eggs.


Lady Catherine and Miss Havisham adjusted to their life amidst
 the dreaming spires very well. Burford Browns are very
 people-chickens--they love human contact--so I spent a lot
 of time sitting with them during the first few weeks
chatting about the weather and clucking about this and that.

When the sun was high and warm this summer,
the girls enjoyed sitting under their lavender topiary.

Jack wasn't too sure about them at first, but since they
 weren't interested in playing, he soon moved on to 
more promising interests in the garden.


The chickens adored their new garden home........


........and it didn't take long for them to act like they owned the place.


They love going out to lunch together, seeing what's new, gossiping, discussing the pigeons.
It also didn't take long to get to know their personalities.
Lady Catherine de Bourgh is just as her name and 
ample bosom suggest--always leading the way, 
her head held high and with a regal air. She makes
 sure she get more than her share of food and treats.

"I subscribe to the theory that Mankind never 
domesticated any animal. They came in from 
the cold and looked cute until they were fed." 
~David Beard,


Miss Havisham is much more shy and retiring. She's very
 happy to follow behind Lady Catherine, but since she's
 the more observant one, she's also the first to learn new things.
The one thing she'll overcome her shyness for is blueberries, so
I can coax her onto my lap now for the price of a blueberry or two.


As the summer wore on, it felt like the girls would
 never actually lay eggs and that we'd be subsidizing
 them forever, but finally in late August the
 first eggs started appearing. Lady Catherine
 and Miss Havisham are so close and connected
 that they started laying on the same day.

It was an exciting day when I went out and
 found the first two eggs. I felt like the 
girls and I had worked so hard to produce
 the first eggs that I didn't even want to eat them.


We went through the normal problems in the early days of egg laying--soft shells, wonky shells, days with no eggs and then days with huge, double yolked eggs. It takes awhile for a chicken's hormones to stabilize when they begin laying, but now the girls have settled into a routine of laying a beautiful egg each, every morning--although sometimes we're still blessed with an XXXL egg with a double yolk--ouch!!




Double yolked eggs have always had folklore
and superstitious meanings attached to them--

it's said they bring good luck or heaven forbid, 
foretelling that you're about to have twins. 
 There is a good reason for a double yolked
egg though, and it has more to do with hormones 
and the age of the chicken rather than twins or luck.

Once I knew that our great Oxford Chicken Experiment was going to work-- they survived the summer and were laying like champions, it was time for the girls to leave their summer-coop and move into a deluxe chicken abode. We have plenty of foxes in the thickets and copses of Oxford parks and the girls need extra protection during the long winter nights, when hungry foxes are on the prowl. It was a good thing too, because the very next morning after the girls' first night in their new coop, I went out to the garden and found a calling card that Mr. Fox had left me--the first time in seven years that's ever happened. I think he was telling me that he knew, that I knew, that he knew--that I knew. What he doesn't know is that I've never lost a chicken to a fox, or a weasel, or even a dog--and don't ever intend to.

The girls live in about one third of our garden (about 15ft x 25ft), with plenty of room to roam, scratch, take dust baths, and perch. Their new coop is raised up off the ground so Mr. Fox can't dig underneath, it has an extra long run in case they need to stay inside their pen for awhile, and an ultra cozy nest box and place to sleep, complete with a little, paned window. I love watching them climb up the ladder to tuck themselves into bed at night.

I let Miss Havisham and Lady Catherine de Bourgh out to free-range in the rest of the garden only if I'm out working in it; if I were to let them free-range throughout it all day, our garden would look like a colourful tossed salad by nightfall. But, now that the weather is cooling off and the rains have begun, they're sad and I'm sad that I'm not in the garden with them as much. I make a point of getting out there several times a day though--just for a bit of gossip, they can roam for a few minutes, and I can collect eggs and clean out their coop. We have a nice little routine.


"Animals are such agreeable friends --
they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms." 
~George Eliot


Now that the days are starting to shorten, the lack of daylight can affect the girls' egg production. To make sure they stay active as long as possible, and get every ounce of sunlight out of the day, I go out with them about an hour before sunset. 

It gives me a chance to rake leaves, trim back roses and lavender, put the garden to bed for winter, while they get some extra daylight and activity at the end of the day. Then just as it's getting to be dusk, I sit on the bench and have some quiet time while Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Miss Havisham scratch around at my feet, my feathered companions never wandering very far from me.

"Until one has loved an animal, a part 
of one's soul remains unawakened."
~Anatole France

Our evening communion in the autumn garden.
I'm so glad I took the leap and reclaimed my chicken-keeping skills. I gave up a lot of things when I moved to Oxford (of course I gained many things too), so it's wonderful to be able to have the part of me that is firmly planted in my South Dakota-born, country-loving soul, living in the dreaming spires of Oxford. I always wonder what academics rushing by our house, lost in their own thoughts, think when they hear Miss Havisham clucking and squawking away, as she lays her lovely egg. I wonder and it makes me smile.


*Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Miss Havisham are named for characters in two of my favourite books & movies--since it seems to me that chickens in Oxford require a refined, literary name to suit their surroundings.

Lady Catherine de Bourgh in the 
1940 version of 'Pride and Prejudice'.


The tragic Miss Havisham, from
Charles' Dickens 'Great Expectations'.