Be like a train; go in the rain,

go in the sun, go in the storm,

go in the dark tunnels!

Be like a train;

concentrate on your road

and go with no hesitation!
~Mehmet Murat ildan

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.***

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

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, 7 April 2016

Earthbound Sunshine

Earthbound sunshine,
the daffodils of Christ Church Meadow.
We walk three times a day,
rain (or snow, or sleet) or shine.

I always say that one of the best things about loving and caring for a dog is that they get you out of the house and walking every day, and in Jack's case, three times a day. Jack is half terrier and sorely needs to run, dig, jump, scamper and explore every day. Luckily Oxford is made for walking and we're spoiled for choice for our 'three-times-a-day' walks. My most favourite walk though, as it's always been long before I moved here permanently, is Christ Church meadow.

Make your feet your friend. 
~J.M. Barrie

The meadow is about a five minute
walk from Holywell Street. As always

Jack was anxious to get going, impatiently
waiting at the back door for me.
Once we finally made it out the door, we walked
east down Holywell Street to Longwall Street, where
we turned right and passed by the old Morris Garage.
From the High Street, we turned right onto Rose Lane.

After just a few minutes, we crossed
the High Street and were at Rose Lane
and the Botanic Garden, Magdalen
tower shining like a beacon over us.

Magdalen College tower will host the beautiful
May morning tradition coming up on May 1st.
We slipped through the big, black gates that open into
Christ Church meadow and saw these beautiful
cottages on our right. Soon their cottage gardens will
be in full bloom with lavender, hollyhocks and roses.
We walked alongside the Botanic Garden
and were immediately greeted by, as
Wordsworth described them, a "host of
golden daffodils.......dancing in the breeze".

Then we were at the River Cherwell,
which stretched out ahead of us.

Merton College playing fields were to our right, where
Stuart spent many happy hours as a schoolboy. More
swaying daffodils with Merton college as a backdrop.
It was hard to believe we were just a few minutes away
from the busy High Street once the meadow came into view.
At this point Jack was safe to be off his lead. He's
definitely not a water-dog and rarely ventures
toward the water's edge.
We had quite a bit of rain earlier in
the week and so we needed to dodge
a few big puddles--or most of them
in Jack's case.
Jack was fascinated by the swan but he learned
very quickly that she was not to be tangled with. 
We walked along in a wonderland of daffodils.

...Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance, 
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance....
~William Wordsworth
'I wandered lonely as a Cloud', 1807

Swaying sunshine that has it's
roots firmly planted in the ground.

Don't they just shine!
What a desolate place would be
a world without a flower!
It would be a face without a smile,
a feast without a welcome. 
Are not flowers the stars of the earth,
and are not our stars the
flowers of the heaven.
- A.J. Balfour

Jack decided to take a little detour over the
bridge and explore the path along the Thames.
I managed to get him turned around and back on his lead,
since ducks and geese are just too tempting not to chase.
We left the Thames behind and started back
up the path toward Christ Church,
dodging all the puddles as we went.

Just as we came up the path to Christ Church
it started to rain a bit, so we made a bee
line past Merton College to the High Street,
where the beautiful magnolia in front of
the University Church greeted us.

We stepped into the Radcliffe Square and saw
that Hollywood had come to call in Oxford.
Tom Cruise and Co. were in town filming a
reboot of 'The Mummy', so booms, equipment,
cranes, cameras and crew were everywhere.

Hertford College is playing the role of the
Royal Thames Hospital in a remake of 'The Mummy'.
Oxford makes a perfect backdrop for movies,
and when big-budget blockbusters come to
town, normal life suspends for awhile. We quickly
made our way through the mayhem though and were
so happy to find the peace of Holywell Street again.
The calming pastels of Harris Manchester
student accommodation on Holywell Street.
Back to the Queen waving hello..........
....and the earthbound sunshine at our own front door.
And just in time for an afternoon nap.
After a day's walk everything
has twice its usual value. 
~George Macauley Trevelyan