One sees great things from the valley,

only small things from the peak.

~G.K. Chesterton


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


I hope you will go out and let stories,

that is life, happen to you, and that

you will work with these stories . . .

water them with your blood &

tears & your laughter till they bloom,

till you yourself burst into bloom.

~Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Still Nothing Like a Snow Day

The cold was our pride, the snow was
our beauty. It fell and fell, lacing day 
and night together in a milky haze,
 making everything quieter as it fell, 
so that winter seemed to partake of 
religion in a way no other season did, 
hushed, solemn.
~Patricia Hampl

Even after six decades, for me there's nothing quite like getting up in the morning and discovering it's been snowing as you slept. This snowy scene on Holywell Street (below), was what greeted me when I pulled back the curtains a week ago, early on Sunday morning. The snow was coming down hard and fast, and I knew right away it was a snow day!.


A snow day literally & figuratively 
falls from the sky - unbidden - 
and seems like a thing of wonder. 
 ~Susan Orlean

Oxford lends itself to snow like no other place
I've lived. The turrets, castellations, dormers,
gargoyles, columns and trim all look as though
they've been masterfully covered in icing sugar.

New College & Holywell Street
dressed in December snow.
If we get snow in Oxford, it's usually in late winter, and white Christmases are rare in the south of England. Jack has never really experienced a heavy snowfall, so we had a good hour of barking at the snow, sniffling and snuffling around in it, and giving me the side-eye, as if I was to blame for the strange stuff falling from the sky. Maybe I was, since I'm always wishing for snow in December.


It was a busy Sunday morning, with a big breakfast to clean-up, and guests checking out, leaving mounds of laundry. But there was no one coming in that day so once our chores were done, the entire afternoon was going to be all ours. We rushed through them so we could get out into the snow as soon as possible. And a beautiful snow it was.


Winter came down to our home one night
Quietly pirouetting in on silvery-toed 
slippers of snow, 
And we, we were children once again. 
~Bill Morgan, Jr.

Holywell Street
Buildings that are beautiful become
impossibly beautiful in the snow.


The snow shrouded our world as
we walked; man and dog bundled up.


Oxford takes on an other-worldly beauty
in the snow, which explains a lot. Think of
the worlds created by the Oxford writers,
C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, 
and Philip Pullman, author of
The Book of Dust & The Golden Compass.

We feel cold, but we don’t mind it, 
because we will not come to harm. 
And if we wrapped up against 
the cold, we wouldn’t feel other 
things, like the bright tingle of the
stars, or the music of the Aurora, 
or best of all the silky feeling of 
moonlight on our skin.
 It’s worth being cold for that. 
~Philip Pullman, Northern Lights


The first fall of snow is not only an
event, it is a magical event. You go
to bed in one kind of a world and 
wake up in another quite different, 
and if this is not enchantment then 
where is it to be found?
~J. B. Priestley 


Once we were at Jack's Park, he decided that
he quite liked the snow and barked his delight.


Then comes Winter, with bluster and snow, 
That brings to our cheeks the ruddy glow...
 ~Gertrude Tooley Buckingham, 
"The Four Seasons" (1940s)

The first thing to greet us at the park were
many happy snowmen and women, 
each with their own personality and
wearing the foliage of winter.


A snowman is love and laughter all
rolled up into three balls, sticks for arms,
and a smile made from just about anything.


Life is more fun if you play games. 
{{And build snowforts.}}
~Roald Dahl


A recently born snowgirl,
keeping watch for her creators.


One snowman,
standing lonely as a cloud.


You can never get bored when you live
with changing seasons. So much change
in just under three months. Each season,
colours and shadows shift, winds blow
and sing a different tune, and sounds that
are sharp and clear in the summer, become
muffled and hidden as winter deepens.


The snow fell and fell last Sunday, but Monday
dawned bright and sunny; snow turning to slush,
icy ruts forming on the paths where we walk,
and the snow men & women didn't look quite
as chipper as just 24 hours before.


By the end of the week most traces of snow were
gone, the pathways clear, and walking along the
river path was much more sure-footed. It was
good to see green again, Britain's natural state,
green and pleasant.


Our snow friends are gone for now,
but they'll be back again one day ...

...don't cry, Karen, Frosty's not gone for good. 
You see, he was made out of Christmas snow 
and Christmas snow can never disappear 
completely. It sometimes goes away for 
almost a year at a time and takes the form 
of spring and summer rain. But you can 
bet your boots that when a good, 
jolly December wind kisses it, it will 
turn into Christmas snow all over again.
~Santa, Frosty the Snowman


The winter will move on and in only
two months, this little corner of the
park will be full of daffodils; something
hard to imagine right now. But that's 
the wonder of seasons, they always 
seem new and fresh to our senses.



Daffodils are months away though
at this nadir of the year. At the
winter solstice, even on the sunniest day
like yesterday, the shadows lie deep.

Trinity College, Oxford
December 18, 2017
This morning is cold and foggy. Every flower
I planted last spring & summer has finally 
given over to the winter frost, and time seems
to stand still in the winter hush.

As we walked along the river yesterday,
geese silently flowed upriver. They made
no sound, and there was barely any
 visible movement, other than their
slow progression upriver.


Nature is where we can go to slow time.
Sometimes it can seem otherworldly,
we're so trapped within time, but actually
it's the real world & the real magic.


And now the winter solstice is upon us. The 
deepest, darkest time of the year that points
back to the light. The Yuletide.

Deep peace of the running wave to you 
Deep peace of the flowing air to you 
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you 
Deep peace of the shining stars to you 
Deep peace of the gentle night to you 
Moon and stars pour their healing light on you 
Deep peace of Christ the light of the world to you 
Deep peace of Christ to you ...
~Gaelic Blessing

It's the time when all nature takes an inbreath,
a pause, a rooted silence before the great
outburst of spring. A time of deep, deep rest; 
very deep peace. Taking time to sink into that
 peace can be one of the best gifts of winter. 

One of my current pet theories is
that the winter is a kind of evangelist, 
more subtle than Billy Graham, 
of course, but of the same stuff.
~ Shirley Ann Grau

Happy Yule, Happy Winter 
to all,
and a deep peace 
come upon you.





Friday, 1 December 2017

Welcome December


 Stuart and I haven't had a good, old American
Thanksgiving in ten years, so this year we flew back
 to share turkey with the kids and grandchildren
(now 6 of them!) We spent an inordinate amount
of time in slippers & flannels on various couches,
catching up on movies and reading. It was happy
and turkey filled, two-week holiday.


It was a bit of a whirlwind trip, covering both
coasts of the U.S. in two weeks, because we
wanted to be home to celebrate Christmas in Oxford.

When we left, it felt autumnal and there were
still leaves on the trees. When we drove into
Oxford from the airport it immediately felt 
like Christmas had arrived while we were away,
and the leaves and autumn had departed.

At Christmas, all roads lead home. 
~Marjorie Holmes

The tree was up in front of Balliol College,
lighting up Broad Street.


Christmas was being celebrated in every college
before the students go home for the Christmas
holiday; trees inside and out of every college, 
feasting in the dining halls, carol services in
the chapels. We could feel the celebration in 
the air as we brought our 
heavily-laden-with-Christmas-treats bags inside.

A Christmas tree adorns the dining
 hall of Brasenose College.



Once our suitcases were unpacked, the first order of
business was bringing Christmas colour and cheer to
No. 14 Holywell Street. That meant a quick trip to the
garden centre for all things that grow red and green.


Of all the months of the year there is
not a month one-half so welcome to the
 young, or so full of happy associations,
as the last month of the year... 
~"All the Year Round: December," 
All the Year Round: 
A Weekly Journal Conducted by:
 Charles Dickens, 1887 December 10th

And then right on schedule, on December 1st,
Christmas knocked on our front door;
the happiest of times is here
beginning with the wreath on the door.


For centuries men have kept an appointment
with Christmas. Christmas means fellowship, 
feasting, giving and receiving, a time of 
good cheer, home. 
~W.J. Ronald Tucker


And now begins the joy of Christmas...

...scenes lifted from A Christmas Carol
in Oxford's Covered Market...



...enough mince pies and Christmas
puddings stockpiled to feed an army...


"On a silver dish the Christmas pudding reposed in its glory. A large football of a pudding, a piece of holly stuck in it like a triumphant flag and glorious flames of blue and red rising round it. There was a cheer and cries of 'Ooh-ah.'”  ~ 'The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding', by Agatha Christie


...magical shop windows...


It is good to be children sometimes, 
and never better than at Christmas when
its mighty Founder was a child Himself. 
~Charles Dickens


... pubs full of yuletide revelry...



A cup of ale, 
A merry tale 
Of days of olden time, 
And Christmas good cheer 
To wind up the year 
With glad frolic, and fun, and glee. 
~Henry James Slack (1818–1896), 
"Winter's Song," 
The Ministry of the Beautiful, 1850



...candles and carols and concerts
nearly every evening until Christmas...


...and soon every nook and cranny of our 
home will be twinkling, beribboned and
festooned with all of my Christmas treasures.



Perhaps the best Christmas decoration
of all is being wreathed in smiles.




We have Oxford's Christmas Market to look
forward to beginning on the 7th of December
 until December 17th on Broad Street.



Last year's Christmas market on a very chilly night.
Even Jack was dressed up as Santa to help keep warm.


It is the one season of the year when we 
can lay aside all gnawing worry, 
indulge in sentiment without censure, 
assume the carefree faith of childhood, 
and just plain "have fun." 
 Whether they call it Yuletide, Noel, 
Weinachten, or Christmas, people around 
the earth thirst for its refreshment
 as the desert traveller for the oasis.
 ~D.D. Monroe

There's lots to do with the coming of December 1st,
but I'm welcoming the oasis of Christmas this year as
in no other year, since it's been a year like no other.


We need this time to light up the world. A time to
spread joy in a season of hope, and have days that
will gladden our weary hearts. 
Welcome December.
Welcome Christmas.

We shall find peace. 
We shall hear angels, we shall see the 
sky sparkling with diamonds. 
~Anton Chekhov 







Sunday, 26 November 2017

A New Path

Life is change. 
~Heraclitus of Ephesus 


November is the month that marks the 
beginning of our path down Holywell Street 
& Holywell B&B nearly a decade ago.


We moved into No. 14 Holywell Street on a
Friday & by Monday afternoon we were
welcoming guests, jumping into the deep end
first. There was no gradual transition for us,
just unfamiliar & uncharted waters. The good
news is that Stuart & I are both good swimmers, 
and for 10 years have swum our little hearts out.

It's humbling to start fresh. 
It takes a lot of courage.... 
You just have to put your ego on a
 shelf and tell it to be quiet. 
~Jennifer Ritchie Payette

It was good to begin our Holywell life
in deep autumn, when there was a 
golden glow over everything. There's 
no more beautiful time in Oxford
than the Autumn.

Below: Jowett Walk &
Harris Manchester College
just around the corner from us.


Even with the world around us tinged gold,
those first days were rough going at times
but we knew it would be going in. We 
knew running a bed & breakfast is hard & 
relentless work, and I knew that I would 
suffer homesickness. But knowing and 
experiencing are two different
things. It was hard, but we soldiered on.

Every single thing changes and
is changing always in this world.
Yet with the same light the 
moon goes on shining.
 ~Saigyo

Coming to Oxford & England as I had for 
nearly 20 years, staying weeks or months at a
time, was different than moving
here lock, stock, 40 ft. container, and barrel.
This time I wasn't going home after a few
months. Oxford was now Home.

Sometimes there are no words to help one's
courage. Sometimes you just have to jump.
~Clarissa Pinkola Est├ęs

The funny thing about our brains is that
they like the familiar, the well-worn neural
pathways that crisscross the brain, much
like the old hollowed out tracks that 
crisscross Britain. So after a few months, 
I longed for the familiarity of our old
life; the old front porch swing, our
bed, our little cottage that was sold to 
finance the big move across the ocean.
By the winter I was desperately homesick,
but still we soldiered on.

Every single thing changes and is 
changing always in this world. 
Yet with the same light the 
moon goes on shining. 
~Saigyo


And now we've come to the end of November and
the start of our 10th year running a B&B in Oxford.
Ten years is a good, round number and it seems like
a good time to make a change. Beginning in March
we'll be handing over the B&B to a wonderful
couple who will carry on the tradition of hospitality
& hominess that we've created over the past decade.

Best of all though, I'll be retiring; retiring &
splitting my time between Wales & Oxford
(but probably mostly in Wales). Stuart will stay on 
running Oxford Walking Tours, going back and
forth between Oxford and Wales. We'll have some
time apart, but in the first ten years of our
 marriage we spent at least six months of the
year apart, so we're old hands at that. Plus it's
only a three hour train ride to our corner of 
Wales, much better than the eleven hour plane
ride between us before.
A few weeks apart will be a cinch.

As soon as you trust yourself, 
you will know how to live.
~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


To exist is to change, 
to change is to mature, 
to mature is to go on 
creating oneself endlessly. 
~Henri Bergson

As autumn comes to a close, so does my life running
a bed and breakfast, but thankfully not my life in
Oxford. I couldn't bear the thought of not seeing
Oxford's golden October light again, or shuffling
through the beech leaves along the river. My heart
is large enough to have two homes, so while Wales
becomes my new home, Oxford will remain as
always my English home.

There still will be walks with Jack
 through the University Parks.


We'll still watch our gnarled beech tree,
Old Twizzle Ears, change his clothing with
each season.


We'll always be in awe of the autumn light
 that continually stops us in our tracks.


And I can't imagine life without one of 
my best friends, the stately beech tree
that both towers over us in grace, and
lifts us up with the strength of its roots.


I frequently tramped eight or ten
miles through the deepest snow to
keep an appointment with a beech
tree, or a yellow birch, or an old 
acquaintance among the pines.
~Henry David Thoreau, 
 1817 - 1862

As our life changes, many things
 will remain just the same--just like
trees I suppose, as they change with
each season, but remaining at their
core, constant and steady.

Jack and I will always want to stop 
and watch the river flow by from the
Tolkien bench in the Parks. 


So 2018 will only deepen the life we choose to live.
A life that took a courageous leap ten years ago,
and is now melding into a life completely of our
own design. It's been made possible by soldiering
on through the difficult times, celebrating the
good times, and knowing we could get through
just about anything as long as Stuart & I are
together, along with Jack of course.

We hope you'll come along as we have one
foot firmly planted in Wales, while the
other one remains planted in Oxford.