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.

May my life be like a great

hospitable tree, and may

weary wanderers find in

me a rest.

~John Henry Jowett

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Of Queens and Cowboys--Happy 90th Birthday to the Queen

I cannot lead you into battle.  
I do not give you laws
 or administer justice but 
I can do something else -- 
I can give my heart and 
my devotion to these old islands
and to all the peoples of
our brotherhood of nations.
~Queen Elizabeth II

Have I ever told you about the time I saw the Queen? Oh yes, that's right, I have--nearly every year on April 21st. Like all good Anglophiles, I've adored the British royal family ever since I knew there was such a thing as a royal family. My mom was born on April 13th in the same year as the Queen, 1926, and has always been so proud of that. Every year she would repeat, "you know, the Queen and I are only a week apart.

As a little girl, I thought that was very impressive--but not only that. Ever since I first heard mom talk about their birthdays, they've been connected in my mind. My mom and the Queen ended up sharing the same neural pathway formed in 1960 in my four year old brain, so she's always been a motherly figure to me and so close to my heart. 

So, since today is the Queen's 90th birthday, it's time to tell the story again--of how I saw the queen in Oxford.

The Union Jack is flying over all of the Oxford
colleges today, in honour of the Queen.
This is the view of Harris Manchester College
from our back garden.

The Oxford Castle mound.
I've only seen Her Majesty once, but it was something I'll never forget. It was worth every second of the three hour wait to see her. She came to Oxford on May 5th, 2006, to open the new Malmaison Hotel and the Oxford Castle complex, and also to visit Christ Church College where she is 'The Royal Visitor'.

It was a perfect May day, bright with sunshine and warm. A cracking good day. I walked to the Oxford castle around 9:30am, determined to see the Queen no matter how long I had to wait, even if I had to wait all day. Luckily I had beat the crowds and claimed a spot right in front of the metal barriers that lined the drive down to the hotel.  Just before 12:30pm, as the crowd grew, a beautiful burgundy Bentley appeared and turned into the hotel drive--and there she was in the back seat with her lady in waiting.

As she drove past, she waved her queenly wave -- which when she does it, seems perfectly natural and normal; she was smiling, beautiful, regal. The Bentley glided past and deposited the Queen right at the front door of the hotel. She stepped out of the car, her pink suit and hat so beautiful in the spring sunshine, and disappeared inside the Hotel with the great and the good of Oxford.

We all craned our necks watching, waiting, cameras at the ready for when she would reappear. As we waited, I had to fight off a small group of women who were doing their best to wrest my front row spot from me, but I was taller ("and had more insurance"). In full 'Towanda!' mode, I successfully held my ground as she who would not be moved.

I was so nervous and excited that I took far too
many pictures before the Queen had even
reappeared from the hotel--and my camera died
just as she was a few feet from me. I nearly cried.

Photo from The Oxford Mail
After about thirty minutes of restless waiting, the Queen finally walked out though the big glass doors and then did what we were all hoping she'd do--she went on a little royal 'walk-about' to greet the crowd.  To quote a 13 year old girl, "I thought I would DIE!". She picked the crowd on the right hand side where I was standing and started walking up toward us.

She slowly made her way up the drive, shaking a few hands along the way, accepting flowers which were then handed to her lady in waiting. She looked people in the eye as she smiled and her face was calm and gentle. Her skin was a marvel, the perfect English rose complexion, which looked even more stunning in her very Chanel pink and black suit. She was simply beautiful. She also seemed completely genuine and so happy to see all of us.

This is as close as I got until the batteries on my camera
gave out. By the time Her Majesty was standing
in front of me, my camera was dead to the world.

Photo from The Oxford Mail
When she was finally directly in front of me, she nodded, smiled, and shook the hand of the person next to me--but it's all a bit of a blur. It seemed so surreal and I was dazzled and completely moved by the sight of her, valiantly trying to hold back tears. The few moments I stood just two feet from the Queen are a bright, pink blur in my mind, but it's such a warm memory embedded in my heart.

It seemed like only a nanosecond before she moved on, leaving us all basking in a residual pink glow. She reached the top of the drive, waved a queenly goodbye, and then was whisked away in the Bentley to her next stop, Christ Church College, where she is what's known as the 'Royal Visitor.'  She lunched there with more of the great and the good of Oxford before reappearing again as she was whisked down the High Street and back toward London.

The Queen is also know as the 'Royal Visitor'
of Christ Church College, Oxford.
This is another of Her Majesty's visits to
Oxford, walking with the former Dean
of Christ Church and the Bishop of Oxford.

Photo from the Oxford Mail

It took a very long time for my feet to touch the ground again after the excitement of seeing the Queen just two steps away.  Before that moment I had always loved her, but actually seeing her, how she responded to all of us in the crowd, seeing her beauty and genuine spirit close up, from that moment on I adored her.  Like we say in America, "she is the real deal". I saw that in her on that sunny afternoon in May, but I can also say that from a tiny, tidbit of inside information about the Queen. It comes from about as far away from the royal family as you can get, from an American cowboy.

Shared from Pinterest,
a recent and very beautiful
portrait of the Queen by
artist Jemma Phipps.

My brother Bobbie, a cowboy and rancher, is close friends with Buck Brannaman, the Horse Whisperer. Every year during branding season, Buck comes to stay with Bobbie on their ranch in the Sandhills of Nebraska. They aren't big talkers, these cowboys, but Buck has spoken to my brother about the Queen. Bobbie described to me how Buck and the Queen's friendship is a true kinship over their love of not just horses, but of animals. She's taken his advice on many, many things and he visits her at least once a year. Through my brother, I know Buck to be one of the most genuine and true human beings on earth, and the fact that he has such a close bond with the Queen speaks volumes about her. It's how I know she is 'the real deal'. That she relies on and completely trusts a true American cowboy endears her to me even more.

My cowboy brother, Bobbie (right) with
his posse, ranches in the Sandhills of Nebraska.

Since her 'annus horribilis' in 1992, when Her Majesty faced one disaster and misfortune after another, she did what Americans call "cowboying up". She stood back up, got back on her horse, dug deep, gathered the courage and strength that she probably didn't even know she had, and moved forward to create a better future. The fact that she's recovered from that horrible year to the point that at 90, she's as beloved and as popular as ever, speaks to her indomitable strength, poise, and wisdom. She is the best of what Britain is. So today, on her 90th birthday, I cannot express enough how much I admire this majestic woman, this mighty monarch, our Queen.

Happy Birthday Ma'am. God save our gracious Queen! Long live our noble Queen! God save the Queen! Send her victorious, Happy and glorious, Long to reign over us, God save the Queen.

The upward course of a nation's history
is due in the long run to the soundness 
of heart of its average men and women.  
~Queen Elizabeth II

To celebrate this wonderful day, we have two special commemorative bags to give away. Leave a comment and let us know what the Queen means to you--or just to say hello--and Jack will choose two friends to receive a bag. Watch for the names of the winners here or on Facebook.

UPDATE April 22nd: Something I've learned living in the UK, is that when you live in a small country, events and occasions permeate the air with a special kind of excitement. Yesterday on the day of the Queen's 90th birthday, the air felt different, charged somehow with a wonderful energy. A Christmas-y, good will to all men kind of feeling wherever I went. When I was paying for our lunch, when I said 'thank you' I nearly also said the the woman, "and Happy Birthday to the Queen!!". I didn't, but it wouldn't have been weird--she would've most likely responded in kind. I walked away wishing I had said it.

I never felt that kind of national surge of energy until moving here--mostly I suppose because the U.S. is so gargantuan, so diverse in it's regions and people. I've never felt the kind of unifying spirit wafting in the very air itself until moving to Britain. So yesterday was a wonderful day, a very feel-good kind of day and I'm so grateful for having experienced it.

We shared the love and excitement for the Queen here, and on Facebook, and Jack chose six Holywell friends to receive special tokens to remember not just him by, but this week of celebration. Our final two friends to receive the commemorative bags are long-time Holywell friends, Karen and Kristen. Kristen actually met Jack last summer when she and her husband stayed before their 'Oxford Experience' week at Christ Church. Karen is a friend we haven't met, yet, who made sure Jack had a special birthday card last month for his first birthday.

All Jack's gifts are being posted today and we thank you for being a part of the birthday celebrations and for being here--and mostly we hope to meet EVERYONE in Oxford one day.   ~Carrie & Stuart and of course, Jack


  1. Carrie, thank you so much for sharing your lovely memories with us. I have been to England twice, but never had the fabulous opportunity to get a glimpse of the Queen or any of the royal family. Have a blessed day. Happy birthday to Queen Elizabeth! xx

    1. You're welcome Pam--it's a memory I'll always cherish. Have a wonderful day on this wonderful day. xxxCarrieooo

  2. My mother grew up hearing about the resiliency of Londoners during WWII and passed that admiration and love on to me. I can't recall a time in my life when I did not admire the Royal family and, by extension, everything British. I seem to have passed that love down to my daughter who chose the UK as her graduation trip in 2012. Unbeknownst to us at first, our week in London was Jubilee Week. What a time to be there! So, while I did not get as close as you did, I have had the privilege (and thrill!) of seeing the Queen twice in one week. To me, with her steadfastness and quiet strength, she represents that indomitable spirit that I have always admired. And in this changing world I find that comforting. During that visit I saw a sign that read "In 1952 a woman knew her place. Sixty years later she is still there." Love that. Happy birthday, Your Majesty. Long may you reign.


    1. What a wonder week that was in London--you were so lucky to be there!It was so dressed up and jubilant with flags and bunting everywhere. I love the quote from the sign you saw--and have never seen it so thanks for sharing that. I'll have to look it up and share it. Thanks for sharing your story and have a wonderful day. xxxCarrieooo

    2. Yes, London was dressed rather spectacularly! And the people were so kind. We have such wonderful memories just chatting with those around us while we waited. reason for posting was because I finally tracked down the picture I just knew I had taken of the above-mentioned sign. It was sponsored by The Spectator. And the sign actually read "In 1952 a woman knew her place. In 2012 she is still there." I believe it was taken on the Tube on our way to Heathrow. Have a great day and thank you for always being so gracious in your responses.


    3. That's perfect--thank you so much for finding that and I should be able to find in somewhere online now. Have a great rest of your week and take care. xo

  3. Hi Carrie: What a wonderful tribute. I couldn't agree more with everything you've said. The Queen stands out to "us" Anglophiles (especially Ann and me!) as the epitome of everything that is meant by the words grace and wisdom; her appropriate behaviour, and genuine kindness and love for all she meets are such an example of how we all should live; and her loyalty to her calling as Monarch is matchless. I have never had the good fortune to be anywhere near her, but feel as if I could sit down for a cup of tea and a chat, and it would all be in good humor. I, too, admire and love her from afar. At this time in history, and our topsy turvy world, she is surely an anchor and someone to look up to; and such an inspiration of how to live the elder years with optimism, style, and again . . . that word, grace!! Thank you for sharing this wonderful story! Jane xoxo

    1. So true Jane and thank you for sharing your thoughts and what she means to you and Ann. What I marvel at is how she's grown in strength as she's gotten older, which is so often not the case. She's a role model in how I hope to live my next 30 years until I reach the golden age of 90. The best is yet to come! Long live our beloved Queen. Have a lovely day. xxxCarrieooo

  4. As a young girl, I always thought thought the Queen would be my mother in law! As Bonny Prince Charles is a bit older than I am, I thought we would be perfect for each other. I am tall, he is tall. I am intelligent, he was going to important schools. I loved the Queen, he MUST love the Queen because she's his mother! But then I learned that Princes are only supposed to marry other royal beings and I could find no royalty in our family tree. I resigned myself to a life as a proud American commoner.
    Imagine my heartbreak all these years laters when the Prince married his own commoner. Sometimes life is just not fair. I imagine the Queen would have been a great mother-law!

    1. That makes me smile yet it's bittersweet. So many girls had their hopes pinned on Charlie all to be dashed by Diana and then Camilla. My sister spent months walking around speaking in an English accent in hopes that would promote her cause, becoming the Princess of Wales. Alas, not to be. Maybe you were all luckier in the end as it turns out--and he and Camilla seem quite suited and happy together. It does carry on to the next generation though because now my young granddaughter has dreams of marrying Prince 'Georgie' (as she calls him). Who knows??? Thank you for sharing your story and so sorry you never got your prince! Take care! xxCarrieoo

  5. What a sweet story! You're so lucky to have seen the Queen so close! And you got nice pics - before your battery died ;-) I can only imagine how thrilled you must have been seeing her, I'm sure she's very carismatic person. We foreigners can only dream of ever seeing the royals. I consider myself very lucky to have been able to visit the royal residencies (Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and Sandringham). Absolutely gorgeous places! I can say that I've been in the room as she - only not just at the same time! Hahaa...
    Take care! Minna