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.

Your mind is your best camera. . .

Go out and take some

beautiful pictures.

~Daryl Ryman

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Real Fairy Tale Swans Pt. Two

Never lose an opportunity of seeing
anything that is beautiful, 
for beauty is God's handwriting -- 
a wayside sacrament. 
 Welcome it in every fair face, 
in every fair sky, in every flower, 
and thank God for it as 
a cup of blessing.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

As the formerly known as Fawlty Spires languished in suspended animation all late spring and throughout the summer, the rest of the story of the Fairy Tale Swans remained untold. But I can't leave fellow swan-lovers in suspense any longer, so it's time for the rest of the fairy tale . . .

One cannot but be in awe when
one contemplates the mysteries 
of eternity, of life, of the marvellous
structure of reality. 
 It is enough if one tries merely to 
comprehend a little of this mystery 
each day. Never lose a holy curiosity.
~Albert Einstein

After week upon week patiently sitting on their nest, the swan parents finally hatched their brood at the very end of May. The day they hatched was also gift to Stuart and I.

The night before the cygnets hatched, we had spent the day and long into the night with Stuart's father who was dying. He had a gentle passing just after midnight and hours later we went home feeling un-tethered, tired, and sad. We tried to sleep a bit but Jack woke us, right on schedule at 7am, ready to get up and anxious for his walk. Getting out of bed and going for a walk was about the last thing we wanted to do after several sleepless nights. But, walking is how I ground myself, and I knew we needed to re-tether ourselves to earth, to beauty, to all the meaning that lives on after death.

After all the weeks of waiting and watching the nest, every day fervently hoping to see healthy cygnets, our patience was rewarded that very morning. Little did we know that, as we sat with Stuart's father, the cygnets were hatching.

Once in a while, right in the middle of 
an ordinary life, love gives us a fairy tale.

We walked down the familiar path that circles
around the pond at the University Parks,
craning our necks as usual, and there they were!!
Seven little miracles!!
Triple "!!!" .
In an instant our sadness was lifted and
we could smile, our hearts gladdened.

The seven perfect cygnets were swimming near
their nest, flanked by a watchful mum and dad
on either side. Even at a few hours old they
were graceful in their movements and their
soft, downy feathers shimmered in the sunlight.
They were bonded and attached to one another,
a cohesive little family for life.

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul, 
And sings the tune without the words, 
and never stops at all.
~Emily Dickenson

Stuart kept Jack away from the edge of the pond
but I stood quietly at the water's edge . . . hoping.
Hoping that the two swans felt safe enough with
me to bring their cygnets close; they did
and it felt like a blessing.

We stood and marvelled & wondered, oohed & ahhhed,
counted & recounted the seven cygnets, praying &
hoping that all seven would see their way through 
the summer and mature into graceful swans.

Once mum decided her cygnets had had enough
excitement on their birthday morning, she
began to gather them in close and lead them
to the nest. Their instincts were immediate,
they just knew exactly how to fall into
a fluffy, soft-grey queue.

She swam them past me one last time.
They blessed me with their sheer beauty
and wonder, and I gave them a blessing
of thanks and a prayer for safe passage
throughout the months to come.

As they swam toward the nest, one cygnet,
the smallest of the seven, climbed up on his
mum's back for a piggy-back ride back home.
All so natural, all without words, all through
deep instinct; God's code embedded in their DNA.

Mum and the little peanut of a cygnet led
 the way the nest, everyone fell in line and made
their way back into the safety of the rushes.

I looked long and hard at them, trying to memorise
each one, trying to embed the memory in the 
forever part of my brain, knowing it was probably
the last we would see of them for awhile. And I
was right. The next morning they were gone, 
the nest was empty, and the pond seemed
lifeless without them. I knew we wouldn't see them
for a good while, and the chances of seeing all
seven of the brave soldiers was pretty slim . . .
but then . . . hope is the thing with feathers . . .

The swan,
Like the soul of a poet,
By the dull world
Is ill understood.
~Heinrich Heine

That morning in early June was the last we saw the cygnets for several months, but wait, there is Part 3 of the Real Fairy Tale Swans, a happy ending . . . stay tuned.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

A Change of Seasons

It's been awhile since I've sat down to write, not just a blog post, but write anything more than a grocery list. It shocked me when I realised I hadn't updated anything since May or written a full post since April.

That's time for you; a strange experience. It speeds up, slows down, seems to stop, then races ahead. It's even worse now that I'm not a nurse on a tight military schedule. Now I can barely keep track of the day, much less the time of day.

Today I decided it's past time to dust off Fawlty Spires, time to breathe some life into it, especially since it's September. Autumn brings a change in seasons and changes in the wind, and it always feels like starting over for me ever since I sent my first five-year old to school. A new school year always feels like a start to a new year.

What then is time?
 If no one asks me, 
I know what it is. 
 If I wish to explain it to 
him who asks, 
I do not know.
~Saint Augustine

Walking through the park yesterday I thought, there's no other time of year where the changes are so drastic as they are between August and September. Just over a week ago, it looked and felt like summer and now, just ten days later, there is autumn swirling all around the streets and sidewalks.

The last week of August
in the University Parks.
Nothing says summer, 
like a swing over a river,
swaying in the breeze.

Deep summer is when 
laziness finds respectability.
~Sam Keen

When summer opens, 
I see how fast it matures, 
and fear it will be short; 
but after the heats of
 July and August, 
I am reconciled, like one
who has had his swing, 
to the cool of autumn.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

And then almost overnight,
Autumn colour appeared.

October's poplars are flaming 
torches lighting the way to winter.
~Nova Bair

So much has happened since I wrote last spring--happy things, followed by hard things. One sad world event followed by another and another. The list is too long to write here, and we all know what they are. We also had personal grief when my mom passed away in April, followed only weeks later by the passing of Stuart's dad. We were hit hard, just as the world is being hit hard right now.

My mom on the left; photo taken last winter.
With her sister on the right (she's the one on the left.)

Stuart's dad with Jack.
The photo was taken exactly
a year ago on his birthday.

If nothing ever changed,
there'd be no butterflies.

The world is changing before our eyes, and we must change with it. Changes are on the wind for me personally too. I can smell it and feel it, like smelling far-off rain on a hot and dusty day. But I have a feeling the changes will unfold slowly, mostly because I have to live into them, step by step. This kind of change doesn't happen overnight. As Sam Cooke wrote. . .

It's been a long, a long time coming 
But I know a change gonna come, 
oh yes it will...

There is one change that is immediate, and that's the name of this blog. It's been Fawlty Spires since we first opened Holywell B&B almost ten years ago. But lately I hear a far-off call, very faint but persistent, a call to something new, something different, and away from running a bed and breakfast. So now this blog is Carrie in Oxford until it evolves into Carrie in 'Someplace Else'.

Don't be satisfied with stories,
how things have gone with others.
Unfold your own myth.

In the months ahead, Stuart and I will be creating a different kind of life, and for the first time in my 61 years, it will be a life of my own design. It will be another challenge for our marriage, but the past ten years has proven that Stu and I can do hard things. Any couple who can cook and serve breakfast together morning after morning, and not have killed one another, can definitely survive change and growth.

I've given my entire life over to husbands and their careers, children, patients and now guests. All the wonderful years of raising children and taking care of people are precious memories and I wouldn't change a thing, but along the way little bits of me were put in a shoe box in the back of the closet, up on the highest shelf. It's time to get the shoe box down, dust it off, open the lid, and see what magic lies inside. I don't know what exactly is in the shoe box, but I know it's going to be good. Better than good. It's going to be great; an adventure.

I hope you will go out and let stories
happen to you, and that you will
work them, water them with your
blood and tears and your laughter 
till they bloom, till you yourself
 burst into bloom. 
~Clarissa Pinkola Estes

In the midst of all the changes in the world,
Oxford is moving into its golden days,
 and is as beautiful and glimmering
 as it ever is. It's one of those places on earth
 that, in the midst of great upheavals,
the deeper magic of it remains untouched.

The University Parks looking as
 though it's lit from within.

The War Memorial Garden,
Christ Church College

Be sure to bookmark the new web address for the old Fawlty Spires:

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Courage Dear Heart

May 22, 2017
As we pray for Manchester, UK

I wish we didn't have to continue to
Take Courage, but we do. Every day
events unfold that call us to be the
better angels of ourselves, being
and offering strength and succour
to ourselves & our world.

First posted, January, 2017
Some believe it is only great power
that can hold evil in check, but that is
not what I have found. It is the small
everyday deeds of ordinary folk that
 keep the darkness at bay.
Small acts of kindness and love.
Why Bilbo Baggins?
Perhaps because I am afraid,
and he gives me courage.
~JRR Tolkien, The Hobbit

Over Christmas this year, we had our 5th annual marathon viewing of all three Lord of the Rings, extended versions naturally. Add in three extended versions of The Hobbit, and it made for 24 hours of PJ-wearing, popcorn-munching, viewing pleasure. We did stop to sleep, shower, eat turkey and go to London, but we spent a lot of our holiday traversing Middle Earth.

At the end of the final movie in the Lord of the Rings series, The Return of the King, the elves set sail on the last ship out of Middle Earth, toward the west, where all 'turns to silver glass'. After all of the events in 2016, I wanted to run after them and shout, take me with you!!, but I live on this earth, not middle earth, and there's no escaping with the elves.

Over Christmas and all through the autumn, the pictures coming out of Aleppo, the plight of the refugees in Europe and the political rhetoric back home in the U.S. were all chilling. As strong as the impulse is to put our heads in the sand and ignore it all, I believe we cannot. We can't put love and prayers and support, and especially action, into what we don't even know about. But it's overwhelming all the same.

Until he extends the circle of his
compassion to all living things,
man will not himself find peace.
~Albert Schwietzer

Everywhere we look in our world it seems there's discord, disunity, disharmony. The prefix 'dis' is Latin for apart, or asunder, a reversing force; and it's a force that is feeding wars, hunger, and whole movements of populations. As 2016 dissolves into 2017 and even more discord, there are people who think the coming months will make a superpower great again, and then there are those who think we're being ushered into a dystopian age the likes of which we've not seen before. The truth of those two belief systems might lie somewhere in the middle, but wherever the truth lies, these beliefs are crashing into one another, creating the rockiest ride our planet has seen in a long while.

Courage is the first of all
human qualities because
it guarantees all others.
~Winston Churchill

The bed where Winston Churchill
was born, at Blenheim Palace,

When Winston Churchill was
asked to cut arts funding in
favour of the war effort,
he simply asked,
Then what are we fighting for?

Apparently this quote has been widely
attributed to Winston Churchill but
it isn't something he actually ever
said or wrote. He did write something
though, which echoes this ideal.....

The arts are essential to any complete
national life. The State owes it to
itself to sustain and encourage them….
Ill fares the race which fails to
salute the arts with the reverence
and delight which are their due.

What I do know for sure is that we've been here before. So many times before. And that's what I try to remember every day. What helps me keep the present in perspective is to widen the lens of time, like looking through a camera and taking in the entire scene, rather than one small piece of it. When looking at the present world, if you also look at history/herstory/ourstory, the lens widens instantly. Once you widen the lens of time, it photographs a larger picture beyond wars, disunity, and the follies of man. Seeing a wide canvas you can also see the good that survived, the hope that propelled people onward, and all the learning and love and artistry that never, ever stopped.

Oxford, a city reaching back to the
9th C,  is steeped in history. It
paints a canvas a thousand years wide.

Oxford (or oxen-ford) was a Saxon
and then a Norman town until 1167,
when students first arrived and it
became a centre of learning.

*The Saxon period in England was
from 410AD to 1066AD, when the
Normans conquered Saxon England.

Even though I've always looked at the world via a larger canvas, I'm grateful for the gift of living in Oxford and Great Britain; its history helps give me perspective on the world. Living in Britain, we're surrounded by a millennia, and more, of history; we can breathe it in and revel in it--and I do, every day.

Instead of keeping a focus on just the present, widening the lens to 200, 500, or 1,000 years ago, gives depth and meaning to events taking place right now, in 2017. It also gives hope, because it shows that people made it through the discord of their age, they survived institutions and systems being pulled asunder. They survived tyrants and plagues, wars and unrest. And more than that, people thrived! All of us alive today are a testament to that.

We make our lives out
of chaos and hope. 
And love. 
(Nathan, Hanson, Reichs, Hawley)

Below, the Divinity School,
completed in 1488.
From the 15th C, while wars
waged and disease decimated
outside of the University walls,
Oxford students studied logic,
reason, science, philosophy
and rhetoric here.
They kept the candle of knowledge
burning brightly for all of us to inherit.

When I widen the lens of how I perceive the world to include a broader history, I don't have to go very far. All I have to do is something as simple as looking down at our bedroom floor. Sometimes I curse it because it not only slopes, it also waves up and down. Every piece of furniture is propped up on one or two of the legs, just to keep it from toppling over. But it's made from an ancient oak tree and is 500 years old--the same age as the floor in Shakespeare's birthplace in Stratford. If our bedroom floor can survive 500 years of this crazy planet, and it's even crazier people, surely we can.

The floor on the left is in the bedroom where
Shakespeare was born, and on the right our
bedroom floor. Every time I see Will's floor
I feel very, very lucky to be able to walk on
our own floor (as crooked as it is)
and all that history--in my bare feet.

in Stratford, Warwickshire.
Visiting it is a wonder, not only
because of its great age, but because
it brings home the fact that a man,
born in its simple surroundings
nearly 500 years ago, wrote plays
and sonnets that are just as
meaningful today, if not more so.
That someone from 1595 can
reach out to us in 2017, is the kind
of hope I feed on every day.

Our house has survived the 16th and 17th centuries, when civil war plagued England, religion became a weapon, and both Catholics and Protestants were martyred for their faith. Five bishops were burned at the stake at the east end of our street. We also have something called a "priest hole" in our house, where a Catholic priest would hide from soldiers during the Reformation and the upheaval of Catholicism in England. When it became illegal to practice the Catholic faith, household priests were regularly rounded up and jailed, or worse. When you look back into history and see religion being used as a weapon, just like it is today, you see that it's nothing new.

Not only were the Catholic bishops martyred
at the end of our street, it was also on my
birthday. Even my birthday helps put
the present into focus.

Our house has hidden people
in fear for their lives--
and even one who lost his life. 
That gives me daily perspective.

When our kitchen was built in the mid-1800's, the story on the street is that they found a skeleton hidden behind a wall. It was thought to be a member of the Royalist army during England's Civil War (17th C.), when Oxford University was a Royalist stronghold. The townspeople were mostly Parliamentarians supporting Oliver Cromwell and it appears one of them stuck a sword in our cavalier and then walled him up for good measure. That's history for you--and it helps make things today seem not quite so bad (not always, but sometimes).

The brick, Victorian addition to our
16th century house, and hopefully there
aren't any more skeletons hiding 
in the walls.

Supposedly our cavalier is now ensconced in a box in the Natural History museum a few blocks from us. I'd be lying if I said I've never seen shadows and heard strange things where he was walled up, but not for awhile, so hopefully he's at peace. That's the kind of upheaval and discord that has gone on where we live, on the streets where we walk, in the house we call home. But people from that time carried on. They went on to love, marry, have children, celebrate birthdays, enjoy a warm fire and a meal together, create music, create art, create life. War has never stopped those things. As much as they've tried, tyrants cannot touch the eternal things that make us human.

Do not be daunted by the enormity
of the world's grief. Do justly now.
Love mercy now. Walk humbly now.
You are not obligated to complete the
work, but neither are you free to
abandon it.
~The Talmud

I have another way to reach back (much nicer than skeletons), and link the past with the present. The author of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien, once lived on our street with his wife and children at No. 99 Holywell Street. When we first moved into our house, our neighbour told us a wonderful little story that I've never forgotten. Tolkien used to give hand-made birthday cards to the neighbourhood children. He'd compose little verses and fill the cards with the elves and hobbits and wizards he loved to draw. Ever since then, I've had daydreams of finding a shoe-box full of those cards, and have even looked under a floorboard or two, but no luck. I do feel lucky though to have such a strong Tolkien connection where we live. Every day I see some of the things that inspired him and his writing is a part of our landscape.

The University Parks, Oxford......

.....perhaps home to Tolkien's Ents. In
Middle Earth, Ents were a race of
beings resembling trees. Their name
comes from the Saxon word for giant.

Below, the Ents of
the University Parks.

Tolkien wasn't just inspired in Oxford, he was also changed by war. He survived the horrors of the WWI trenches and was able to return to Oxford to raise a family, to teach, and to write books. The books telling his tales of Middle Earth have transfixed millions of people over the years, and they sure have made our own Christmas holiday even better. With a widened lens, it's easy to see that the horrific lessons Tolkien learned in the trenches were transformed into a great wisdom, into words like, "There is some good in this world, and it's worth fighting for." And, "The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater." 

War is a horrific teacher but it has produced some legendary human beings......or as Elizabeth Gilbert says, "Without Voldemort, Harry Potter is a very ordinary little boy.

No. 99 Holywell Street,
where JRR Tolkien lived
for a time with his family.

In the days after the American election in November, when name-calling, side-taking, and people refusing to simply and quietly discuss things became the norm, my head (like so many others) was spinning. It was a cacophony of snowflakes, libs, conservatives, witch-hunts, blame-shifting, and emotional rants. Emotion had replaced logic, diatribe and rhetoric replaced reason, and feelings replaced facts. It felt like another even darker Dark Ages was descending. To still my mind and calm the dizzying nerves, I would walk through the Bodleian Library's Old Schools Quad every day.

The Old Schools Quad 
and Bodleian Library
in late November, when
Oxford was preparing
for it's thousandth

I'd stand in front of the doors of learning,
one by one, while picturing the students from
centuries ago, going into their lectures,
their discussions spoken in Latin or French,
like shining crows in their long, black
academic gowns--and it gave me hope.

We seem to have an eternal pull toward
knowledge and the expansion of our minds,
and no place represents that better than
Oxford. That pull we have toward greatness
has never been permanently broken. No
matter what has transpired in history, we still
spiral upward, toward greater understanding.

The ink of the scholar is more
sacred than the blood of the martyr.

Education is the movement
from darkness to light. 
~Allan Bloom

Education is the
transmission of civilization. 
~Ariel and Will Durant

Even with all of the sweeping history and movement of mankind through time, there is more we have to do to keep perspective beyond widening the lens, or looking at the 'macro-world'. We also need to narrow the lens down to our micro-world, down into the daily lives of the very real and very human people we share our individual world with. 

Gaining perspective becomes about having the ability to toggle back and forth between the macro and the micro, the wide and the narrow lens, because it's in the middle where we run into trouble. This is where all of our modern world gets jumbled into one big basket--popular culture, social media, ongoing wars, babies being born and babies being bombed, animals being loved and cared for, along with animals becoming extinct. What a cacophony the middle is.

Nothing represents the middle world
(not to be confused with Tolkien's
Middle Earth) more than Black Friday,
which tragically migrated to the UK.

I only spend as much time as I absolutely have to in the middle world. Just enough to take a pulse, get some vital signs, do a quick assessment (once a nurse, always a nurse). Then I slowly back out the door, go out to our garden, talk to our chickens, go for a walk, or make our home beautiful for our guests.

If I'm not trying to keep a wider vision of the world, I'm focusing on the immediate world around me--but always toggling back and forth. I find meaning and wisdom in the wider lens, but in the narrow/micro view, I find peace, grace, sustenance, happiness and laughter. It's where the little acts of kindness live, where Gandalf's "small, everyday deeds" are, where the tender mercies are found, and where our hearts connect to other hearts and souls. It's where hope, faith and love live.

Nature gives succour and
sustenance like nothing else.

"Hope" is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all....
~Emily Dickinson, c.1861

Peace I leave with you;
my peace I give you.
I do not give to you as
the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be
troubled and do not be afraid.
~John 14:27

They will have no fear of bad news;
their hearts are steadfast,
trusting in the Lord.
~Psalm 112:7

O, money can't buy the delights of the glen,
Nor Poetry sing all its charms:
There's a solace and calm ne'er
described by the pen
When we're folded within Nature's arms! 
~James Rigg, "Nutting Time," 
Wild Flower Lyrics and Other Poems, 1897

I believe that living happily, peacefully, and joyfully in our world today takes a deep maturity and a strong sense of self as we relate to others. It also takes the ability to adjust our stance as though we're on a rocking ship, as events and history unfold around us at an alarmingly fast rate. It takes courage to toggle back and forth from the different perspectives. Courage to really see and face the world as it is, courage to learn the lessons of history, and mostly courage to reach out a hand to someone else so that no one is left behind. I also believe that if there's one thing humans have in spades, it's courage. We are living, breathing, laughing, singing, creating proof of that. As we move deeper into 2017, I'll quote my/our beloved lion Aslan, Courage dear heart.

My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth's lamentation,
I hear the sweet tho' far-off hymn
That hails a new creation;

Thro' all the tumult and the strife

I hear the music ringing;
It finds an echo in my soul
How can I keep from singing?

No matter what side you're on of any of 
the issues that are gripping the world right
now, to stay engaged, involved and caring 
can be fatiguing. Self-care becomes even
more important as we care for others.

Never be afraid to sit awhile and think.
~Lorraine Hansberry, 
A Raisin in the Sun

Read something every day, take time to 
breathe, ground into our gleaming, 
blue planet, take in something beautiful. 
and above all, give thanks.

Inside myself is a place where
I live all alone, and that’s where
I renew my springs that never dry up.
~Pearl Buck

Hope is faith holding
out its hand in the dark.
~George Iles

And if all else fails, just look at a picture
of a puppy and know that in the end,
it's all going to be OK. It really is.