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


Sunday, 31 January 2016

The Winter Garden

"Half the interest of a garden is the
 constant exercise of the imagination."
 ~Mrs. C.W. Earle, 
'Pot-Pourri from a Surrey Garden', 1897


One of the best things about keeping chickens (other than gathering beautiful, fresh eggs) is that it gets me outside and into our garden every day--even on the worst winter day. Our Burford Brown hens love company and they love their time roaming free in the garden. Miss Havisham and Lady Catherine de Bourgh free-range in a large pen that takes up a good third of our garden--but of course they prefer the other side of the fence to their own. That grass is much, much greener and tastes so much nicer.



"My garden is full of friends."
~Elizabeth von Arnim
'Elizabeth and Her German Garden'

Our garden in the height of summer, 2015.
If I let the girls out into the rest of the garden without keeping an eye on them, my beds and flowers become a mixed salad in no time, so I've taken to spending at least an hour out with them every day. They like the company and I love the solitude, the time with our "Lewis Tree", the time dreaming about our spring and summer garden.

is a hundreds-year-old black walnut tree that has
protected status and stands watch over our garden
and everything around it. I started calling it the
Lewis tree because when C.S. Lewis first came to
Oxford, he lived at No. 1 Mansfield Rd. just on the
other side of the tree. He looked out onto Oxford
and the tree from his little garrett room and 
remarked in a letter to a friend about the
 magnificence of it all. Like Lewis, I look out and up
 into this tree and find a comforting peace, 
watching it's web of branches sway against the sky.

The Lewis Tree several days ago, 
as the sun set over Oxford.

“We need time to dream, time to remember, 
and time to reach the infinite. Time to be.”
~Gladys Taber


Sometimes I just sit and dream, imagining how my lavender will smell in July or wondering which rose will bloom first. Other times I read and sometimes I garden, since even in January a garden needs tending. As I dream or read or prune, the girls are always close by doing their own bit of winter clean-up.

There are days that Jack joins me in our garden as well, which also coincides with the days I don't get to sit and dream--he's too busy and too puppy-ish still for that nonsense. With Jack, it's play or go home!

With his fresh haircut, Jack still needs to wear his
little Barbour coat when we go out. The
winter garden is full of good things to chew on.

"I know I left it somewhere around here last October!"


After playtime and a bit of digging, it's time to 
buckle down and start helping mummy.


“Perhaps, after all, our best thoughts come
 when we are alone. It is good to listen, not
 to voices but to the wind blowing, to the
 brook running cool over polished stones,
 to bees drowsy with the weight of pollen.
 If we attend to the music of the earth, 
we reach serenity. And then, in some 
unexplained way, we share it with others.”
~Gladys Taber

Harris Manchester College from our garden.
So much of my day and my time is not my own--waiting for guests to arrive, as well as the myriad of things I do caring for guests in our home. But my garden-time is the time where I can "attend to the music of the earth" ................as well as to the needs of two chickens and a puppy, some roses and some lavender, and me. The more beauty we can breathe in, the more graceful paths we can walk, the more serenity we can touch--then perhaps the more grace and beauty and serenity can spread in the world around us. Hopefully spread like a catching force in a world that sorely needs it.              
                                                             
With the Lewis Tree bare of it's leaves, I can see
straight through to the clock tower of 
Harris Manchester College. It tolls the hour and
lets me know when it's time to go in for tea.



New College as the sun sets.
It's time to take the two little brown eggs
on the table and go in for tea--
Earl Grey of course.


"In the garden I tend to drop my
 thoughts here and there.
 To the flowers I whisper the secrets
 I keep and the hopes I breathe.
 I know they are there to eavesdrop
 for the angels."
~Dodinsky

                                                                             
   
                                                                                                                                                         




Thursday, 21 January 2016

Jack's Day at the Beauty Parlour

Unless you leave room for serendipity,
 how can the divine enter in?
~Joseph Campbell



Yesterday was a very big day for wee Jack, who isn't quite so 'wee' at ten months old. It was his first trip to be professionally groomed--and it broke his mother's heart.

Between Stuart and I being away for a month over Christmas and New Year, and Jack going too long between good brush-outs, we came home to what resembled more of a dust mop than our little, fluffy puppy. And we came home to a shock........a good one mind you, but still a surpirse.



A Bichon Frise', like Jack's momma.

The classic Lhasa Apso,
originally bred in Tibet.
Before we left in mid-December, we had thought Jack's coat was at it's full length and although he was a roving ball of fur and fluff, it was still manageable. We were confident it would stay that way because when we adopted Jack last May, we were told his momma was Bichon Frise' and his papa was a Jack Russell. Imagine our surprise when we walked in the front door, after not seeing him for four weeks, and saw that his coat had grown another two inches or more! The thought that he was half Jack Russell went straight out the window and I knew we were most likely looking at a Llasa Apso coat on our wee Jack, or maybe even a Tibetan Terrier.

Jack at six weeks on the left, a Lhasa Apso pup on the right.


"Mama always said life was like
 a box of chocolates. You never 
know what you're gonna get."
~Forrest Gump


Once the surprise wore off that our Jack wasn't half Jack Russell, Stuart and I had a good laugh, said 'oh well!'--and immediately booked him in to spend a morning at the local doggie beauty parlour to be groomed. I also knew in my heart that ten months of puppy fluff was going to have to come off, if we were ever going to get rid of the knots in his fur that had appeared while we were away. And that broke my heart. I've spent the past eight months or so burying my face in that fluff, and I knew he'd come home looking like a mature teenager rather than a puppy.


I'm happy to say that Jack was a brave, little soldier and did beautifully with the groomer. Max was also getting a beauty treatment, so he shored up Jack's confidence too. I also was right--he didn't look like the same dog when he was finished. How many of us have chopped our hair off in a fit of "needing something different", only to keep telling ourselves "it will grow out"......over and over again. That's what I've been repeating to myself since yesterday afternoon when we picked them up--it will grow out and my ball of fluff will return.

Post-grooming Jack's little face and big
 brown eyes still look almost the same......


..........the rest of his body not so much.
Jack checking out Max's haircut......,
"Hey! Why do you still get to have fur?!"

Jack and Max resting after their
 morning of beauty treatments.


Without his fluff to fill it out,
Jack swims in his little puffy jacket now
but he seemed happy and warm,
 running about after his haircut.


Jack is still a blur running through Holywell Cemetery.


The true adventurer goes forth aimless and 
uncalculating to meet and greet unknown fate. 
~O. Henry

I tend to listen to my intuition and follow my heart in all things, so I've never been one to over-think my life. Also, being the middle of five children, I was blessed with the "resiliency gene". No matter what's thrown at me, I'm always able to readjust my stance--and can usually find something to laugh about in almost any situation. Just over a year ago Stuart and I decided to look for a puppy in the spring and I had my heart set on a Jack Russell mix. I searched and searched online.....and then saw Jack's face and that was it. Heart stolen. And now a year on, I still don't have my Jack Russell but even better, we do have our Jack. Maybe our next dog will finally be my little Jack Russell, but following my heart meant finding Jack. 

So, fluff or no fluff, he's still 'wee Jack'. We chose his name not only because we thought he was a Jack Russell, but more importantly after our (second) favourite 'Jack', C.S. Lewis--Oxford's most famous Jack. With his little, pink tongue, (our Jack not C.S. Lewis), his happy ways, and his funny spirit, Jack ended up being just the right dog for us. His fluff will grow back and in a few months time I'll be able to bury my face in it again.

So to reintroduce our wee Jack........
he's Bichon Frise' and (maybe??) Lhasa Apso
or Tibetan Terrier.......and still perfect.


Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Settling Into Winter




There is a privacy about it which
 no other season gives you....
 In spring, summer and fall
 people sort of have an open season
 on each other; only in the winter...
.....can you have longer, 
quiet stretches when you
can savor belonging to yourself. 
~Ruth Stout





Yesterday most of the British newspapers reported that January 18th was the most depressing day of the year for us, and the 'bleak midwinter' that we heralded in December, seems to turn against us. Even the BBC commented on the depression of the day. If the BBC says it's so then it must be true, so I quickly took my emotional pulse just to make sure, and low and behold.....nope, not depressed. Not even close. I have battled my share of winter demons and depression before though, and I know first hand the pain and darkness it can bring, especially in the darkest days of the year. But I've also learned how to make peace with winter. Not every space needs to be filled, not every moment needs to be busy, not every silence is empty.

Don't underestimate the value of
 Doing Nothing, 
of just going along, listening to all the 
things you can't hear, and not bothering.
~A.A. Milne

I love the quote above by Ruth Stout, that winter gives you "quiet stretches when you can savor belonging to yourself". This is exactly what Stuart and I savour when winter rolls into to town and Oxford is at it's most quiet. We spend so much of the year working all hours God sends that when winter comes, it's finally a blessed time to ourselves. By mid January we start to settle into winter with a quiet contentment, knowing that March and the Easter crowds will be here soon enough.

I love to mark the seasons in our garden 
and our winter garden makes me almost
 as happy as our summer one, sometimes 
I just have to look a little deeper.



Oxford becomes even more beautiful with 
blanket of snow, like icing on a cake.



There's nothing like a cup of tea and a
 slice of cake or a scone on a winter 
afternoon. Sometimes it's in our 
kitchen and sometimes in a tearoom--
but it's always Earl Grey.


 And we walk......and walk some more.
The wellies live at the back door--
which is winterized for maximum coziness.
A curtain to close against the night and
 a draught excluder to keep out the cold.


Snowdrops mark the passage of winter
and I watch to see how the daffodils grow.

How many lessons of faith and
 beauty we should lose, if there were
 no winter in our year.
~Thomas Wentworth Higginson, 
"April Days," 1861


By February, bright daffodils
 and narcissus are the
 first spring flowers to 
arrive in our bike basket.


Winter afternoon field trips into the Cotswolds,
watching for lambs and stopping in pubs.





In the evenings, Oxford's streets are quiet 
and lamplit, always otherworldly.

Never are voices so beautiful as on a winter’s 
evening, when dusk almost hides the body,
 and they seem to issue from nothingness
 with a note of intimacy seldom heard by day.
 ~Virginia Woolf, 'Night and Day'

A wintry scene on Holywell Street, Oxford.


The winter evening settles in to find us
 in our cozy sitting room, watching telly,
 or reading, or both, or neither. The night
 is quiet and the evening is ours -- 
and this is where we gather and regenerate
 for those bright spring mornings
 and the busy Oxford summer days. 
Thank you winter for your many gifts
and we're so glad you're here.


I watch the springs, the summers, the autumns;
 And when comes the winter snow monotonous,
 I shut all the doors and shutters
 To build in the night my fairy palace. 
~Charles Baudelaire, "Paysage,"

Late winter afternoon light over Harris Manchester College, Oxford.




Saturday, 16 January 2016

As 2016 Begins




"I have a fine lot of hopes
 here in my basket," 
remarked the New Year. 
"They are a sweet
smelling flower—
a species of rose."
~Nathaniel Hawthorne





Our first guests of 2016 are due to arrive any minute now and even though Stuart and I have been greeting guests into our home for 7 years, I still feel a little nervous. Is everything done, everything ship-shape and 'tickety-boo'? (One of my favourite English sayings.)


The front door greets guests with bright cyclamen,
and the much-photographed butcher's bike out
in front is a landmark and a bright spot on Holywell Street.


The windows are clean, a month's worth of cob-webs swept
 away from the front of the house, and the Queen
waves to passers-by from her perch in the breakfast room window.


Inside everything has been dusted, wiped, polished,
 Hoovered, swept and brushed within an
 inch of it's life. Fresh flowers
 grace the tables in the breakfast room and the
 refrigerator is groaning with breakfast supplies.


Keys and menus are at the ready, the doorbell rings
and here we go, 2016 begins for Holywell Bed and Breakfast.


Every house where love abides 
And friendship is a guest, 
Is surely home, and home sweet home 
For there the heart can rest. 
~Henry Van Dyke

None of this preparedness has come easy and now that we're ready, there's a giant sigh of relief. Stuart and I both returned home from our Christmas holiday two sick little pups, and it felt like we had to rise from our death-beds in order to get the B&B back in shape after a month off. But those are the lessons of running a bed and breakfast, the lessons of hospitality. Running through hospitality are veins of grace and kindness, and it means we can set our own needs aside for awhile for the sake of someone else, for the sake of a perfect stranger. 

Those are the lessons I'm most grateful for after greeting guests for seven years. Our luggage, hidden from view, is an explosion of clothes and boots and Christmas gifts, and we both feel wobbly and shakey, but that will all be resolved in due time. For now our guests are happy to be in our home and excited to be in Oxford, and Stuart and I are looking forward to 2016 being a year of happiness, joy and prosperity, meeting new friends and greeting old friends. Welcome 2016.

Take care to keep open house: 
Because in this way some have had
 angels as their guests, 
without being conscious of it.
 ~Hebrews 13:2.”

Happy New Year and we wish you
many blessings and much joy in
2016.........
from Stuart, Jack, Max, and Me.


Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Oxford Walking Tours

TOURS ARE DAILY -- NO MATTER THE WEATHER, AT 12, 2, AND 4PM, IN FRONT OF THE BLUE GATES OF TRINITY COLLEGE, BROAD STREET, OXFORD
 

Stuart may start his day as an attentive host at breakfast, but by 11am he hangs up his apron and is off down the street, giving his walking tours of Oxford.  For 30 years he's been guiding tourists through the rabbit warren of streets and colleges that make up Oxford's city centre.  Stuart grew up in Oxford, his father a bursar at Linacre College, and attended Christ Church and Magdalen College Schools, so there isn't much about Oxford that Stuart doesn't know or hasn't experienced.

There are other walking tours of Oxford of course, but none come close to Stuart's tours (if I do say so myself).  There are the "Official" tours from the Information Centre (prepare to be bored to tears), and there are "Free Tours" (prepare to definitely have to pay for your tour at the end).  Because none of these other tours come close to what Stuart offers, tourists on the official and free tours leave Oxford without experiencing the very best thing the city has to offer -- which is experiencing the colleges on the inside.

Stuart prides himself on the fact that every tour of his will visit at least two to three colleges, going inside to actually experience the college and it's atmosphere.  Joining one of Stuart's tours means walking through a college dining hall, much like the one Harry Potter ate in, sitting in college chapel, or walking through one of the stunning college gardens.  Throughout the tour Stuart mixes Oxford's long history with college anecdotes, a few jokes here and there, architecture, and a Who's Who of the famous and not so famous who attended Oxford University.

Stuart's tours depart from Broad St., in front of the big, blue gates of Trinity College, and you can join his tours every day at 12, 2, and 4pm.  For groups large or small, you can also book a private tour with him. Stuart has a great love for this city, it's colleges, and it's history, and he loves nothing better than to share this with everyone who joins his tours.  If you do join his tour, tell him I sent you and have a great time seeing where Malfoy was turned into a ferret, where Morse drank when he was on the case, and the colleges of David Cameron and Boris Johnson.  Most of all enjoy all that this beautiful city and it's colleges have to offer.         
The tour begins in front of the blue gates
of Trinity College, Broad Street.
Exeter College Garden with
the Radcliffe Camera in the background.

New College gardens.

New College Lane

All Souls Quad