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.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Leaving Home to Go Home

A day like today is always bittersweet for me. I spend the day looking extra long and hard at everything (and everyone) around me, because tomorrow 'I'm leavin' on a jet plane' to go home. I'm very, very lucky because I have two places I call home. When I fly back to the U.S. I say I'm going 'home', and then when I leave to fly back to the UK, I'm going 'home' again. So two homes, the best of both worlds.

Wild heart, child heart,
all of the world your home.
Glad heart, mad heart,
what can you do but roam? 
~Robert W. Service,
"The Wanderlust,"
Rhymes of a Rolling Stone, 1912

Jack and I had our final walk through Holywell Cemetery this morning before I get back home to Oxford in the middle of May. It was one of those mornings that sparkle and shine, as though fairies had gone through at sunrise and touched each leaf, blade and petal with fairy dust. I felt like I was floating rather than walking and everything glittered in the light.

The smell of magnolia was the first thing to say
hello on our morning walk through the cemetery.

Golden dappled light
bounced off the stone.
The crabapple tree hangs
heavy with blossoms.
Bluebells are everywhere.

Wildflowers are starting to appear.

Lingering daffodils mingling
with the bluebells.

Jack always leads the way
through the dappled sunlight.

St. Cross church in the morning sun.

After weeks waiting for spring, it's
finally appeared in tender green leaves.

Today is St. George's Day in England and
flags are flying over all the colleges. As I
walked up to our front door, I looked up.
There was the Union Jack waving overhead
and a regal hawk flying over it all--
this 'scepter'd isle'.

There are so many things to do before I leave in the
morning--like planting flowers so they'll be blooming
and beautiful when I get home in May. As always, 
I have my little shadow and helper tagging along.

So Jack and I are signing off for a few weeks. He and Stuart will still be in Oxford, keeping the homefires burning, but I'll be on the east coast and the west coast of the U.S.,and a few points in between. 'Home' with my five children and five grandchildren, seeing old friends and soaking up the mountains of the Pacific Northwest. Then in mid May I'll be 'home' again. Home to Oxford and Stuart and Jack, and then soon after I get back, the English summer! Like I said, the best of both worlds.  See you in May...........

Don't you know you've got a chance of seeing the
world? You're one of the lucky people that can have
touch of the wanderlust without being made
useless by it. You may wander in thought as well
as on freight-trains, and discover something of the
world. Mostly, young Americans get tied up to
something before they see what a big world there
is to hike in. Son, son, for God's sake, live in life.
~Sinclair Lewis, 
The Trail of the Hawk: 
A Comedy of the Seriousness of Life, 1915

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

Thursday, 14 April 2016

A Week of Special Birthdays

We just celebrated a special birthday several weeks ago, when it was Jack's first birthday on March 29th. This week marks a few more birthdays for people dear to my heart. They're all people very much a part of who I am today, but several of them I've never actually met.

Susan Branch (her calendar minus
her own birthday on the 12th),
who shares a birthday with her
 'Anam Cara', Gladys Taber.

Tuesday, April 12th, was the birthday of two favourite writers, Gladys Taber and artist & writer Susan Branch. The stars must align in a very special way on April 12th, because the way these two women express the world around them is magical and unique. They both landed in New England as adults; Gladys Taber lived in Connecticut at her farmhouse 'Stillmeadow', and Susan Branch writes and paints from Martha's Vineyard, just off the coast of Massachusetts.

The ordinary arts we practice every day
at home are of more importance to the
soul than their simplicity might suggest.
~Thomas Moore

This quote by Thomas Moore on another of Susan Branch's calendars (which hangs in our sitting room), sums up perfectly what I learned from these two women. I was a young mother and homemaker in the late 70's, and throughout the 1980's, when that was not the thing to do. Eighties women went out and worked and being a stay-at-home-mom felt like being an artifact from the 1950's. It simply wasn't done, at least not in my social circle. I even had several women announce they simply couldn't be friends with me because I was "too into home and family." It was difficult at times, but I marched to the beat of my own drum and theirs wasn't the voice I listened to. Thank the lucky stars of April 12th that I had the alternative voices of Gladys and Susan in my head (along with Tasha Tudor too, but that's a different story for another time). They are the voices of the art of homeliness, the 'ordinary arts' as Thomas Moore described them, and championed by artists like William Morris.

It takes hands to build a house, 
but only hearts can build a home. 
~Author Unknown

I was first introduced to Gladys Taber completely unwittingly by my Aunt Bea in northern Michigan. I used to love cutting out the paper dolls that came in ladies magazines, like Betsy McCall in McCall's, or magazines like Good Housekeeping and Family Circle. My aunt had years of these magazines saved down in her basement and I would diligently pour through stacks of them during our summer visits. I was born a reader too, and naturally read snippets as I leafed through the pages in search of paper dolls. Even though I didn't completely understand it, I was mesmerized by the world Gladys shared in her monthly columns--a world of everything I loved. Dogs, flowers, cats, trees, wild things, seasons, more dogs and cats, home cooking, and still more dogs. I soaked it up like a sponge but tucked it away for later--for when the days of paper dolls would be done and they'd lie forgotten in old, dusty shoeboxes.

The happy days with my children
on a little farm of our own, called
Maplewood Farm.
Gladys and my paper dolls were forgotten for a time, through high school and then college, until a friend reintroduced me to her with a copy of the 'Book of Stillmeadow'. The gentle arts and the homeliness from Gladys' writing that I had gleaned from pouring through the magazines in my aunt's basement came flooding back to me. Almost like remembering who I was, like coming home. Except this time rather than paper dolls, I had real babies--and a home, and dogs, and cats, and flowers of my own. I gloried in it and yes, I was completely and utterly into 'home and family'. 'Stillmeadow' was the voice I loved and listened to.

Then in the mid-1980's I discovered Susan Branch and 'The Heart of the Home'. Like my idol Tasha Tudor and like Gladys Taber, Susan was another voice of everthing I adored about creating a home for my children on our little farm in northcentral Washington, Maplewood Farm. Her cookbooks, hand-drawn, painted and written at her own little kitchen table were a beacon of another way, another path--a path less-travelled in the 1980's.

Susan Branch's books still have a place of high
honour in my now-English kitchen. Her latest
books, 'A Fine Romance', 'The Fairy Tale Girl',
and the just released, 'Martha's Vineyard-
Isle of Dreams' show just how much her
artistry and creativity have flourished. 
She is ever-inspiring.
The Heart of the Home cookbook,
first published in 1986. Like Susan,
breakfast is my favourite meal of day.
Good thing too, since I cook breakfast
for our guests nearly every day.

One of my many flower
gardens over the years.
The 80's were a time of consumption and slickness, of harsh angles, shoulder pads and neon colours. Susan Branch's books, painted in soft, country colours, were full of the homey scenes I loved. Old kitchen tables covered in soft tablecloths, simple flowers on a windowsill, a well-worn yet beloved teacup, and picnics laid out on vintage quilts. Her books glory in the art of, and the heart of, making a home with a simple grace. They also helped me respond proudly when people asked, "and what do you do?" "I raise children, and chickens, and goats, and flowers," said I to the 80's gals.

Our Christmas pageants were in our barn, costumes courtesy
of my fabric/dress-up box. They were complete with a real
manger and hay, horses, goats, chickens, and a
cockapoo playing the role of first sheep.

I really did raise chickens, for meat and for eggs. Raised
them by hand from chicks. This is butchering day--
not much fun but those were some delicious chickens.

On Maplewood Farm with my beloved Welsh pony
Sundance. Of course my down jacket was mauve--
it was the 80's after all.

So Happy, Happy Birthday Susan Branch
and Gladys Taber (1899-1980).
Thank you for the inspiration to
march to the beat of my own heart.

My sweet mom at 90, this week on April 13th.
The third birthday this week belongs to my dear, sweet mom Audrey, who like the Queen (whose birthday is on the 21st), turned 90 this week on April 13th. My mom created a home for the seven of us that I still miss, and so much of her echoes in my life still. Mom had a difficult start to her life losing her own mother to mental illness by the time she was three years old, her mother in and out of hospitals and institutions. Her father raised her and my aunt, doing the best he could, but when it came to homemaking, mom never had the role model of her own mother to look to. Luckily when mom and dad lived in Minneapolis while dad attended Luther Seminary, she was taken under the wing of several lovely, little Norwegian ladies who could make a home out of a cardboard box and bake a cake out of practically nothing. Mom took all those lessons to heart and they were the best of teachers.

Mom also had 1950's Betty Crocker, a formidable force in the home during her
heydey, and she took Betty's lessons very seriously. So much of what we ate or how we celebrated came from that bright red, 1950's Betty Crocker Picture Cook Book. Christmas was the Swedish Tea Ring on Page 101, the first cake I ever made was the yellow cake on Page 126, and my dad's yearly birthday cake was the Old Kentucky Nut Cake on Page 142. It wasn't until 40 years later we found out dad actually hated that cake--but he was too kind-hearted to burst the Kentucky Nut Cake bubble. Oh how we laughed when the truth was finally revealed.

Mom, my two brothers,
and me, New Year's 2016
We lost my dad ten years ago and mom has never been quite the same since, but we all carry on many of the traditions she created in our home--her granddaughters baking Betty Crocker cinnamon rolls and swedish tea rings for their families. So Happy Birthday mom, and thank you for all you made our home to be, and for all you've taught me.

And the last birthday this week isn't a lovely lady at all, it's my strapping son. He's the person who taught me the depth and the heart of motherhood, the person who made our home complete, the person who is heart of my heart. Jordan Thomas, who turns 26 on April 17th.

Jordan with my mom at age 5, celebrating both
of their birthdays on a warm April day in 1995.

Jordan and I, Christmas 2015.
Jordan came to us at just two weeks old and made our family complete, made my life complete. I nursed him as I had his older brother and sister, had long, sleepless nights with him, and took so much joy in his smile that can light up a room. Now Jordan is still 'home' to me. He lives in a darling apartment that is also my American home. It's where I can still feel like a mom--cooking him french toast in the morning and sloppy joes for his supper. It's a little home we share that's a continuation of the home we've always had--many of our family treasures still scattered around the apartment. So even though I live in England full time, an important part of me remains in Jordan's little apartment, waiting for me when I return several times a year. Happy Birthday Jordan, thank you just for being you, and thank you for the gift of being your mom.

Home is a name, a word, it is a strong one; 
stronger than magician ever spoke, 
or spirit ever answered to, 
in the strongest conjuration. 
~Charles Dickens

Creating 'home' and practising the 'ordinary arts' is what I love to do best in life and it's been a gift to be able to do it full-time, first for my children and now for our guests. Happy Birthday to the people born this week who inspired and taught me how to create home, but not just that, taught me how to be home to those around me.