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.
~Rumi

Friday, 15 July 2016

A Walk in the Parks--The University Parks

The cricket pavillion and pitch at the 
University Parks,
perfect for a game of frisbee with Jack.

"Now shall I walk or shall I ride?" 
"Ride," Pleasure said: 
"Walk," Joy replied. 
~W.H. Davies

Am I glad I live in Oxford because I have wonderful places to walk my dog? Or am I glad to have a dog because he gets me out into the wonderful places to walk in Oxford? The answer must be both, because I can't imagine not spending my day walking Oxford--or living without a dog. 

Jack normally gets three walks a day, in every
season and in any weather, and one of his and our
favourite places to walk is the University Parks.

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

'The Parks' as it's known in Oxford, is a 74 acre park that is part arboretum, part cricket pitch, part botanical genetic lab, and part playground, with the River Cherwell marking it's eastern edge. The first trees were planted 1865 and perfect specimen trees dot the landscape and line the pathways.

In the warmer months, punts flow up
and down the River Cherwell, sometimes
with a traffic jam, Oxford style. 


The parks has a perfect cricket pitch and pavilion
where world-class cricket is played, open fields
for soccer and rugby, and grass tennis courts.
People are outdoors enjoying sports and being
together just about any time of the year-even in winter.



Dogs are more than welcome......


....and there are lots of wide-open spaces
for tossing sticks, toys, and frisbees.


Jack meets new friends
with every walk. 


These two beautiful corgis have come
all the way from New York to spend a year
living in Oxford. Aren't they lucky dogs?!

The invitation to play.



Summer is for punting on the river.
Punts are the classic Oxford & Cambridge
boat, steered from the back, just right for
a leisurely trip down the river.


The Parks are also a great venue for outdoor
Shakespeare.  'Hamlet' is being performed there
from now until August 13th. Jack wasn't too
sure about the ghost of Hamlet's father as they
rehearsed, so he didn't want to stick around for
long, but Stuart and I will be going back on 
Tuesday night. That's one of the best things  
about Oxford in the summer months--
outdoor Shakespeare.


After a day's walk everything
has twice its usual value.
 ~George Macauley Trevelyan

And then there's the best part--ice cream!
What's a summer walk without an ice
cream cone? Jack has a tiny vanilla
one and Stuart & I each have a mix 
of blackcurrent & clotted cream plus
lemon. Pure heaven. I have three scoops
because two simply isn't enough.



Someone is pretty happy at the
prospect of their ice cream cone.



Here comes mum's 
towering cone. Can
she eat it all?
(Yes!!)

Just the ticket after playing and 
chasing after the frisbee. 

One of the things the British do best is preserve their open spaces and countryside. To still have open spaces, on what is essentially a very small island loaded with people, is a bit of a miracle. It shows the supreme foresight of people like Beatrix Potter, who bought up huge swathes of land in the Lake District to preserve it, and Octavia Hill, Sir Robert Hunter, and Hardwicke Rawnsley (a close friend of Beatrix Potter's), who founded the National Trust in 1895.

Because of that same spirit of conservation, which runs likes a deep well through the people and the country of Britain, Oxford too has acres and acres set aside for parks and open spaces, right within minutes of the city centre. The largest is the University Parks, which was first formed between 1855 & 1860, after the land was purchased from Merton College.

 Many of the trees date back to the
original plantings in 1865,
just after the purchase of the land.


Enter the parks via gates along South Parks Rd, Norham Gardens, or a main gate on Parks Rd. It's a walking park, so no bicycles are allowed, whether ridden or walked. For ice cream, in our opinion a necessity for summertime walks, find JimBobs at the Pavilion right next to the cricket pavilion in the centre of the parks. And be sure to look for Jack!


Springtime in the Parks.


Watching the cricket--just a little bit like
American baseball where I'm from, only
they stop for tea breaks.

Oxford v Cambridge Cricket


What's better than a walk
in the park with your Nana.

Autumn in the Parks






If you are seeking creative ideas,
go out walking. Angels whisper to
a man when he goes for a walk. 
~Raymond Inmon

Narnian lamplight at 
'Mesopotamia',
near 'Parson's Pleasure',
in the University Parks.


To book tickets for 'Hamlet' in the Parks go to: https://www.creationtheatre.co.uk/show-one/


Sunday, 10 July 2016

Sanctuary

Where is the wisdom we 
have lost in knowledge? 
Where is the knowledge we 
have lost in information?
 ~T.S. Eliot, (Merton College Oxford)
'Choruses from The Rock'

I don't know if you've noticed it or not, but the world out there is a little bit crazy. Ok, a lot crazy--and very scary. I know I'm not alone in saying there are days that I feel shell-shocked. The events that have been taking place in the two countries I love best, Britain and the U.S., have left us all feeling wobbly and confused. Relentless news, videos, and verbal analysis of it, as it unfolds second by second, leaves our nervous systems shattered. The impulse to escape the din of information is a strong one, and the never-ending noise makes you want to run for the hills and never come out again.

The hills of mid-Wales always beckon,
a tempting escape from the world.

Our big, old, Lutheran church in
Beloit, Wisconsin. Us 4 PKs
had the run of it. One time I
even discovered our Sunday
School choir director kissing
someone they shouldn't have.
Oh, the 1950s!!
It's also where I first felt the
feeling of sanctuary.
Escapism is a very attractive option--escaping to malls, movies, shopping, eating, drinking, but they aren't healing things. They just drown out the noise for awhile, so you can forget. What I'm looking for these days is sanctuary.

Growing up I knew of only one sanctuary, the church sanctuary, the place people retreated to on Sunday morning. Because we were the 'PKs' (pastor's kids), we had access to the church sanctuary at other times too. Times when it was empty, quiet, still and cool. That's the sanctuary that became embedded in my heart with a cool, stillness--like an unruffled pond in the evening. And that's the kind of sanctuary I still seek out.

*Sanctuary has its roots in the word
sanctuarium--or a place to keep
holy things, like relics. Through
time it's also come to mean a place
of safety and of refuge.

.....for behold, the kingdom of
God is in the midst of you.
~Luke 17:21


If we only had eyes to see and ears to
hear and wits to understand, we
would know that the Kingdom of God 
in the sense of holiness, goodness,
beauty, is as close as breathing.....
~Frederick Buechner

Through the years, as I've learned to seek the Kingdom within, I've also discovered the larger sense of sanctuary. It's a place that's deeper than an escape, more holy than a retreat. It's not hide-out, but a place to recover and renew. A place for your soul and the world to come to grips with one another. A place to hear the quiet and listen for the peace that surpasses all understanding.

.....have a mind so quiet, that you
can hear doves whispering as
they rest their wings in the rafters
of your silent sanctuary.
~Kate Mullane Robertson


In fact sanctuary is so important to me, a committed introvert, that I established my Oxford sanctuary months before we even occupied our home. We moved over from the U.S. to Oxford (which is Stuart's hometown), in June of 2008. Unfortunately we couldn't take over the B&B until late October of that year, which meant I had four full months at loose ends. I didn't have access to the house, but luckily we were given keys to the garden and the little summerhouse.  While we waited on hold to begin our new life, I began work on our garden and turning the summerhouse into my little sanctuary.


The garden I inherited in 2008.


During those four months, as Stuart did his walking tours during the day, I walked Oxford, dug out the garden, and transformed the empty, little summerhouse into a place of respite and calm in the middle of a very busy city.


Our garden has always been our private place,
just for Stuart, the dogs, the chickens and I,
which makes it feel like a place set apart.
Through the gate, up the stairs,
and into the heart of my heart.

We should seek not so much to
pray as to become a prayer.
~St. Francis of Assisi


St. Francis found his place first of all,
having travelled the thousands of miles,
down the west coast of America, through
the Panama Canal and then across
the pond to Britain in a 40ft container.
My Francis, my intrepid voyageur.


A summerhouse is any little shed, building, structure tucked into
a British garden. It's used during the "warmer" months of
summer. A place to be outside, but out of the rain, or to enjoy
the long summer evenings.

The summerhouse is tucked into the back corner
 of our garden and when I sit in the chair, I look
out onto the dreaming spires of New College.

New College from the summerhouse.
Within you is a stillness
and sanctuary to which
you can retreat at any
time and be yourself.
~Hermann Hesse


Inside there's a comfy chair for reading,
dreaming, or sometimes just taking deep
breaths after an especially stressful morning
and breakfast. In the corner I have a little
 cupboard that was brought over with us,
full of gardening books and treasures.



My family nickname is 'Carrots', so my
sis always makes sure I have a bunny
with a carrot wherever I land.


Every time I dig in our garden I find buried
treasure and these are pieces of broken pottery
I've found over the last few years. There used
to be three little cottages that ran the length 
of our garden, torn down in the 1920's.
There isn't much that remains of them
except a stone wall, a flagstone floor (where
the chicken coop sits), and best of all, buried
treasure. I dig up pieces of slate roof, door hinges,
buttons, and little pieces of pottery, most
of it lovely transferware. I've saved every small 
shard and may do something with them one day.
For now though, it's just a beautiful little
collection, each piece with a hidden story.

Digging for buried treasure, laying just
beneath the surface of our garden.

Many of the little treasures may not seem like
much, but they're things I brought when we
moved over, all lovingly packed up and shipped.
They've graced my gardens and sunrooms in
Washington state through the years and are
all intrepid travellers, making the journey
across the ocean. Each one has been like an
old friend and helped ease the homesickness
as I adjusted to my new life.







It is in our idleness,
our dreams,
that the submerged truth 
sometimes comes to the top.
~Virginia Woolf


I collect vintage flower and herb books--some just for fun and some to inspire me. I also keep stacks of magazines by my chair, so I always have something to read during those unplanned moments of quiet that come along. 


'Green Thoughts' by Eleanor Perenyi is one of my favourite books about gardening and a writer's life. It's one I can pick up and read over and over again.



Outside the windows my garden
grows with patience and love.
It's my heart, in flower form.


Life is too deep for words,
so don't try to describe it.
~C.S. Lewis


Birds stop by for a little tea party.....



....and the girls scratch & peck out in the sunshine.



 Dream.
Believe.
Do.
Repeat.


I do not understand how anyone
can live without one small place
of enchantment to turn to.
~Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

So that is my little sanctuary, tucked inside a secret garden, tucked inside the city of Oxford, tucked inside the heart of England, tucked inside Britain. But please know this. A sanctuary doesn't have to be anything more than a tiny corner of a home or garden. I've had sanctuaries in a small, two bedroom duplex, as well as in the middle of a 5 acre farm. Wherever we create a little piece of our heart to retreat to becomes holy ground, a safe haven; a place to keep our soul's treasures and the holy relics of our lives safe.

The world is a topsy-turvy place right now, swiftly shifting and changing underfoot, so it's easy to lose our balance. Seeking sanctuary for ourselves is like putting our own oxygen masks on first--giving ourselves deep, long breaths of restorative air so we can turn to the person next to us and say, how can I help? How may I serve?


It's also a way to seek joy for ourselves, sitting in sanctuary. So often I think we all suffer from survivor's guilt. With all the sadness in the world, what right do we have to be happy? To seek out joy? Well, we have every right and all the best people say so......

The beating heart of the
universe is holy joy.
~Martin Buber (Philosopher)

The gloom of the world is but a shadow;

behind it, yet within our reach, is Joy.
~Fra Giovanni
(Italian friar, architect, antiquary,
archaeologist, and classical scholar.)

Joy is the infallible sign

of the Presence of God.
~Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
(Jesuit priest, philosopher &
palaeontologist.) 

A joyful heart

is good medicine.
~Proverbs 17:22a
(Principally written by King
Solomon, the standard
bearer of wisdom.)

Give yourself permission to seek sanctuary; breathe deeply, unpack your burdens for a bit, look for peace poking in a window here or there, let your heart rest for a moment, and most of all, take joy. Always take joy....and then pass it on.



So we'll live, and
pray and sing,
and tell old tales,
and laugh
At gilded butterflies ...
And take upon us the
mystery of things,
As if we were God's spies.
Shakespeare, King Lear, V 3