40 Days in the UK (Days 4-6): So. Much. Information!.

Day 4: Trains & Rain, and “True Story” List of Observations.  OH, and Pasty rhymes with Nasty only it really is Tasty.

My day started out at 5:30 a.m.  My sleep patterns are completely screwed up right now – I couldn’t go to sleep until 3, and then to get up at 5:30 was tough.  So, I reset my alarm for 6, then RUSHED to get ready because my train to Bristol Park Meads station left at 7:00 and I had already paid for the ticket.  When the cab dropped me off at Paddington Station I had a slight panic.  The ticket machines weren’t reading anyone’s cards, and the ticket office was closed.  These machines work like they do at the movie theatre where you buy your ticket then swipe a debit card to get them at the gate.  The LAST machine read my card (whew), I got my tickets and RAN (literally – there were about 20 of us running) to get on the train.  I had two minutes to spare before it pulled out, but was breathing heavily when I finally got to my seat. Wowzers…I was awake then!!

Here’s a picture I took later that day on my return trip of a Paddington Bear kiosk in the station.

The train ride was interesting.  I had another “First Class Awareness” moment where I went into the wrong car at first and looked around.  “Wow,” I thought.  “What a nice train.”  Business men in designer suits were sitting around reading the paper and drinking coffee…it was very quiet.  There were only about four in the entire car.  THEN I realized the “First Class” sign was hanging right in front of my face so I made my way, car by car, down the row until I got to the coach section.  It was nice too – the chairs were just closer together.

The cab ride to the Benson’s home where I was going was absolutely nuts.  NUTS, I tell you!  The streets in Bristol are extremely narrow, and people are parked on both sides on most streets. It’s so bad that many of the streets up in the hills where the residences are have room for only one lane.  The cars are constantly backing up to allow a car who had traveled further down the block the right of way.  It was really funny, but crazy! In the US, I know people would freak if they drove that close and hit that many curbs and rocks.  I was holding onto the handles inside the cab for dear life, and bouncing so high the top of my head was hitting the headboard – it would have been funny but I was genuinely just holding on for life.  The cab driver got me to the general area of their home, then had to get out and point me down the street because he couldn’t drive up to their house…not enough room.

Here’s a picture of the signs in Bristol – they have “parking reports” and status updates because it’s such a problem.

The sign is showing that Temple has “spaces” but I swear I didn’t see while I was there.  All the other sections look like they were saying, “Sorry – not today.  We’re full.”

So I got to their house and met with Mr. Benson, Founder of the Bristol Community Family Trust (the largest marriage education services deliverer in the UK) for a few minutes before we walked down the hill.  I guess I should write “ran” – our clip was really fast and he rehearsed his responses to the prepared questions all the way there.  Then he would ask, “What about that answer?”  Then I would say something while were were still basically walk-running and he’d move on to the next one.  All this was taking place while we were dodging cars in the narrow streets.

We arrived at the BBC studio about 10 minutes before show time, checked in through their security, and made our way back.  Here’s a picture of Harry and I sitting in the studio waiting for the show to come on the air.  In no time, the show started.  Harry’s spot was to take place about 13 minutes into the hour.  Their first spot highlighted a speech by Sarah Palin and was followed by an in studio discussion over “Conservative Feminism,” and whether or not it could exist, how Palin’s message was different than Hillary Clinton’s, etc.  I was listening to the show because I was interested, while Harry and our hostess talked about her relationship issues with her teenagers.  I just wanted to hear what they were saying on the show so I ignored the relationship discussion.  I was glad that Harry was talking with her because normally I’m the one who gets engaged in those situations.

I liked the idea of the show, their take on it, and was glad I got to listen in on Harry’s complementary comments.  The host challenged him a bit, and we processed that on the walk back to the house, but I think it went pretty well.  Click this hyperlink to get to the show and then go to the July 2, top right if you want to listen. (The Sarah Palin/Part-Time Marriage show is the one from today).  I thought it was sweet that when we go back to the house, his wife said, “Jenny wasn’t very nice to you, was she?” (empathized with the challenging).

I’m going to write an entry at some point on British colloquialisms, metaphors, vernacular, etc.  But right now, I’m still soaking them in.  I will say that today when they were talking about “having a row (an argument) go down the potty” I giggled.

The Benson family were lovely hosts – they lived in a three story row house high on the hills of the older part of Bristol, and the walk back was slower so I got to look around.  Here are two pictures of that journey – the first was lavendar…growing everywhere. MMMmmmm.  Second was just a shot of how many stairs and upramps we traveled.  My legs are a bit sore right now.

Kate Benson was a cooking soul mate.  She has a cooking school and a lovely English kitchen.  While Harry and I talked about social policy, marriage education in the UK, the tax structure, etc. she prepared a divinely light and fresh meal.  Here are pictures of her kitchen and our meal.

BTW – it rained while I was on the train. My first English rain.  Evidently they feel they get way too much in Bristol, but in London they think it’s sort of average – not too much there.

To keep these blog entries manageable, I’m going to stop with thoughts here.  The train ride was lovely on the way home and I have some pictures below.  I’ll end with telling you about some genuine English cliche’s I’ve witnessed thus far – and then I’ll put captions on the pictures to end.

1.  There really are Lombardy Poplars everywhere.  They are used to line driveways, to divide property, and just in general…sometimes, it appears, to create windbreaks.

2.  There are really sheep on the English countryside. Tons of them.

3.  There are really children running everywhere in school uniforms, and quite frequently the little girls are wearing all sorts of hats, bows, pressed crisp cotton dresses with socks and Mary Janes.

4.  There are really groups of blokes standing together, drinking ale, and laughing their fool heads off at the end of a hard work day.  This is a sight to see….and they don’t care who hears them, or what they’re talking about. It’s kind of like a ritual.

5.  Pastys are sold everywhere, and I’ve had one.  They’re good.  Really good.  Mine had potatoes and corned beef in it.

6.  There really are Clydesdales in the pastures here.

7.  I saw TWO English riding horse farms today, one wherein someone was taking an English riding lesson.

Okay – that’s enough for the day.  Suffice it to say, not all we learned in the states is heresy.  I’m eternally grateful to Harry and Kate Benson and the beautiful and educational day in Bristol.  Nite.

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Here is a picture of a park in Bristol where you could, at one time, see a castle and four other cathedral towers.  It was beautiful.
Here is a picture taken off the train of Bath Spa, and then is followed by a picture of thousands of row houses in Bath Spa.  Row houses are everywhere – everywhere!
Here is a picture of British fashion (through a display window), and then a “One-Stop-Shop” handwashing machine – the soap, the water and the dryer are all together.
And finally, here was my “character of the day” – he was on his bike at the train station in Bristol and I thought you might enjoy seeing him.  I know I did.

Day 5 (7/3/10):  Vroom, Vroom! Ouch, Ouch! and Sigh, SIGH, and Siiiggghhh.

Vroom, Vroom! I have been taking pictures of cars since I got to London.  I’m so mesmerized by their automotive prowess and beauty that I feel like a teenager in my first romance – with a car! The first car grabbing my attention was a chocolate brown antique w/cream leather and polished wood interior.  The chrome shone in the sun and I heard angels singing in my head.  I was so dumbstruck I didn’t take a picture. Doh!

After that, I did.  Here are a few for your car show from London perusal.  I labeled all of them as best as I could.  If you’re not into cars, scroll down below them for the rest of the UK Daily Mail, Kelly version.

Mini Cooper with X-Ray Wrap
Bentley Azure with Gold Plates on the Matching Wheels

Peugeot 407 Coupe
Yellow Lamborghini (see note at bottom)
SmartforTwo City Coupe by Smart GmbH
Audi 4 Saloon
Mercedes R Class Grand Edition
BMW 635D Sport and Porche 911 Carerra Cabriolet
Range Rover Freelander
Alfa Romeo Brera
Note about cars: I chased a few with my camera that I just didn’t catch.  The picture of the Lamborghini is one of them.  I saw that thing three times, but it was going so fast I gave up.  The picture in my blog is from a search on Google images.  Sorry I couldn’t get the real one.

Ouch, Ouch: So, the bed at the hotel is hard as a rock, my suitcase is 56 pounds with my computer in it, and I frequently have bags over both shoulders. Between all that lugging the luggage, and the no-sleepie-on the plane, I decided to get a massage before I went to Oxford.  Usually I do this at the end of each semester – this time I was going to START my semester with one.  Let’s just say – I was sore before I went in, and I was sore when I came out…but in a better way. That chick left no muscle knot untied, and only said, “Um. You might be a little sore in the morning.”  One hour later – the pain came knocking.  But, I’m hurting in a good way now.  So – Ouch, OUCH, Ahh.

Sigh, SIGH, and SSiiiiggghh: Sigh #1: The Saturday morning market was lovely this morning.  See pictures below.

SIGH #2: It was HOT today, and after a cab, the underground, and two trains and a cab – I was worn out, hot, sweaty, and probably really, really stinky.  And, so were all the other people I encountered.  Elevators reeked!

SSiiiggghhh:  Got to Oxford, walked up to a huge wooden door with a knocker, entered Brasenose College and got a lump in the throat. Topiaries, flower boxes, sculpted shrubs…a large center lawn…St. Mary’s Church…my dorm is on the 4th floor looking down on High Street (I can hear groups of people laughing and a dog barking right now – and someone is singing in the background), 65 degree weather, special first night meal at the Beefeater ancient steakhouse, walking back to the College I opened the big door again and walked by a group of four students talking to each other about pronunciation of certain words in German, Italian, English and French and chuckling about nuances, and then….I heard violin music.  As I walked across the lawn to the entrance of my wing, I saw a student leaning against a tall rock wall playing the violin.  Another lump in my throat, another sigh.  Pure joy.

Below are pictures of the market today and then of the college tonight.

Nite, Nite.

Day 6: (7/4/10): God, Country and the 4th of July Oxford Baby

God: If you’ve watched “The Sound of Music” you might recall the sound of church bells ringing for a fairly long period of time when Maria and Capt. Von Trapp were married.  That’s the same sound I heard when I woke up this morning.  God is here in Oxford, and the High Church calls those within ear shot to come worship him on Sunday morning. Here’s a picture of the MASSIVE stained glass windows at St. Mary’s cathedral.  I get to walk by and look up at this masterpiece each time I go into town:

Country: On the train ride to Bristol a couple of days back, I looked across the way and spied a billboard basically shoving our US Independence Day back into our faces.  I smiled as I read: “4th of July – Independence Day for England.  Celebrating the Freedom to govern ourselves.”

4th of July: I was coming back from the square this morning and happened to think that my entire family is enjoying their Independence Day BBQ at the Roberts’ household.  I looked around and realized there wasn’t a flag in sight, no one was wearing red, white and blue clothing and there wasn’t an “Independence Day SALE” to be seen.  Just then I saw this little curly haired baby propped on top of his father’s shoulders.  He had a red and white striped shirt on, and a red, white and blue silk kerchief tied in a knot around his neck.  I asked if I could take his picture.  The parents pleasantly agreed and made a joke about retaining copyright privileges should it be sold.  So this little moment in time is my 4th of July this year, and I’m alright with that…Happy Independence Day!

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Forty Days in the UK (Day 1-3): Lifelong Okie Takes on Oxford

Day 1 – Wrestlers Rule, Kelly Drooled, and “Rosie” was Riveting

Mick and the girls dropped me off at the airport two hours before my flight departed.  It was a treat to have my original family all together, and fun to listen to the girls and their sister banter – same style, yet tempered, smarter and more endeared toward the other. I just really love them.

Once they dropped me off, I checked in quickly and then sat and waited on the plane to arrive for one hour and forty-five minutes. [crickets chirping].

The desk attendant pleaded for one solid hour for people with “flexible travel plans” to accept a later flight to Chicago, a free dinner and a $200.00 voucher.  Then she raised it to $250.  Then she raised to $300. The $200 takers were frowning at that point.

I boarded the smallest jet American Airlines makes along with 20 other wrestlers from a university in New Jersey who had just been to a match in Oklahoma.  They looked like babies, and as I glanced down the aisle of the tiny jet I saw ear after ear cauliflowered into unique shapes, worn like trophies among the greater wrestling community.  The group of wrestlers changed the entire temperament of the flight – it was “young,” joking and good-natured.  One of them was having a birthday and when the flight attendant announced it, the entire passenger group clapped for him.  He beamed.  He had red hair, a ruddy complexion and a million freckles just on his exposed arms and cheeks.  The flight to Chicago was over in the blink of an eye.

My “better than fiction” moment…..And speaking of “red”:  As I was standing in line to board the flight to London I saw a girl in front of me reading a book.  The jacket cover had a stylized font that I thought read something about Stratford-shire-something…very curly writing.  Then I finally figured out –  it read “Scarlet Passion.”  She was reading a romance novel.  I looked at her again and noticed she had red hair.  I laughed because I wondered if she liked red things and was drawn to that particular title.  Then I noticed she was wearing a red shirt.  THEN I noticed she was wearing red shoes and that she was clutching a passport with a wine-colored cover.  Everyone else I observed had the standard navy blue cover on their passport.

I christened the girl “Rosie” and wished her well.  Oh, and she was wearing glasses with pinkish-red frames.  Rose-colored glasses for a girl who clearly saw the world through them. In red.

Really.  See covert shot of “Rosie” in pic…don’t you just love cell-phone candids?

The only other note-worthy moment for day one was the fact that I bought a new release by Vince Flynn (A Mitch Rapp series) entitled “Executive Power” – a political thriller with a CIA operative-made-good as the hero.  I was so tired from preparing for the trip that while the proverbial crickets were chirping in the OKC airport, I laid down on the floor and took a 15 minute nap.  I jerked awake and noticed I had drooled on the “W” of the title.  No offense, former president, for that little faux pas.

Day 2 – Debarkation, Disorientation and Diesel-Snorting

A couple of weeks ago my friends and I watched the recent “Sex and the City (SATC)” movie while in Bricktown.  My personal rating for the movie is 1 out of 5 stars.  There were three good things about the movie that I can appreciate – the fashion, the honest and open support system (with fairly decent accountability messages to each other) among the ladies and a quote that I completely discounted…and now completely embrace.  The basic premise of the movie is that Samantha gets invited to the United Arab Emerits because of her business PR savvy, and gets sent home because she can’t respect the cultural guidelines for women.  When fleeing the country in order to avoid paying for the over-the-top lifestyle they were granted by their host, Samantha said something that I hard-core judged.  She screamed, “Girls – we HAVE to leave now!  If we DON’T, we’ll have to FLY CCOOOAACHHH!!”  That lit a fire under their NYC, Dolce & Gabbana clad backsides.

In my head I thought: “That’s it.  This movie was ridiculous in terms of money, self-indulgence and extravagance and that quote just put a lid on it for me.”

And then I flew to London from Chicago, had the best seat “coach” had to offer, and never slept a wink.  I wish I had a stop motion movie of how many ways 300 people try to sleep beside a stranger in an upright position within a constrained space.  I never thought I would be able to articulate a redeeming quality about Samantha’s character on SATC, but she was right.  About four hours into the flight I got up, walked up and down the aisles, stretched and peeked in on the first class group sleeping peacefully in their fully reclined chairs.  And I whispered a little message to Samantha: “You’re right.  I’m sorry.  And, I feel the pain you wanted to avoid.  I’m a little torn about it, but not a lot.  I get it.”

The Brits must be keenly aware of this challenge for travelers because at debarkation the airline employee was sympathetic.  All I did was say, “Well, I’m a bit tired but I’ll catch up soon enough.”  She responded with, “Oh you poor dear.  That jet lag is a bit of a bear, right?”  Her kind and empathic response was genuinely delivered – and genuinely received.  Thank you, debarkation attendant, for being so kind.

The ride from the airport was interesting.  I noticed lots and lots of lovely Tudor architecture and also noticed that most of it, with occasional exceptions, was black-smoke tinged.  The diesel smell wafts rampantly over every block and area I’ve visited.  In the US, I only smell this scent when I’m around buses or farm trucks – but it’s the rule, not the exception here.  It’s a shift that I’m adjusting to, but I noticed that the smell was so strong at times it pulled my attention from my travels.  Bad diesel smell – you give my attention back to me…right now!

The cars, however, are an absolute treat to observe.  I want to take them all home. They are the silver lining of the scent-sation of which I complain.  Oh, if only European auto maintenance weren’t so darn expensive!

I suppose the final wrap up for Day 2 would simply come with this message:  I’m confused.  I’m confused about “the Underground – or, The Tube,” I’m confused about the maps, I’m confused about the money and I’m confused about the three-dimensional different place in which I am residing now as opposed to two days prior.  I’ll get over it – but right now my brain is scrambled.

I thought I’d leave you with some pictures and a video to finish out.  The first is my hotel (Nh Harrington Hall) in the Gloucester Road, S.W. 7 region.  Next are shots from the grocery store – they sell fresh red currants here, and their pineapple is white.  And finally, my first meal in London.  It’s a video.  The food was lovely, the writing in the menu was mostly Arabic and I was so hungry I guess I decided it was “video-worthy?” (Late note – I’m having a horrible time with internet connections here.  The hotel connection is still not working, and I can’t seem to upload video.  Therefore…I’ll leave you with a picture of three really funny blue-collar blokes who seemed to have a penchant for bologna sandwiches and bananas.  I can’t really share their jokes here – way too PG-13, but I can share their photo…on lunch break, amid noise and construction and people stepping over them as they ate).

Cheerio.

Day 3 – Unagi intern moment, teaching & learning + EURO STYLE!

I’ve served as the internship coordinator for our Child & Family Services undergrads at OSU for six years.  A “no compromise” issue is that they must have internet access where they serve their pre-professional experience because they also participate in an online class.  Invariably, the internationally placed interns run into problems.  Do I always say, “Make sure – we’ve had internet issues in the past!”  Yes.  Do they always respond, “I did! Everything is A-OK!”  Yes.  You can see where I’m going with this, right?

One, two or three weeks down the road I’m usually getting a phone call from their parent – or a desperate plea for an expensive cell phone call appointment because their internet connection is: 1) 20 miles from where they thought it was; 2) spotty or intermittent service and it won’t stay connected long enough to submit their assignments; or, 3) utilized around the clock by others higher up on the food chain and they aren’t allowed the access previously granted.  Again, I’m sure you see where this is headed…

I’ve been in my hotel over 48 hours and their service is still on the fritz.  My PAYMENT went through, somehow, but the connection won’t hold.  There is an internet café’ down the road, but the service was down.  It is now working again, but for how long?

So,  in case any of them read this today, just know – my dear students – that I empathize greatly with your iternat’l brouhahas.  They’re not fun. And if you are a “Friends” fan, just know that today I experienced “Unagi (total awareness)” with you.

And finally, for something entirely different – I just want to say a word about the European fixtures and décor.  I’m loving the fact that I get to open doors with sleek, architectural style handles – flush the toilet with interesting shaped handles, flip light switches DOWN to turn them on and look RIGHT to cross the street, and …I could go on and on.

Everything fixture-y and sign-y is different here and it’s fun! My favorite of the day was a glass that was a perfect circle on the top, and an oval on the base.  It was so cool to hold and to drink out of – really weighted on the bottom.  I’ve included a picture of the glass, (front and side view – see below), and a picture of a door handle (to the right).

I’m up late because I’m prepping for my trip to Bristol tomorrow…it will be my first train ride, and Bristol is so close to Bath I’m hoping to have the energy to go over there for a bit before I head back for my last night in London. AHHH – I almost forgot to tell you! Today I saw a gate and a garden JUST like the scene in “Notting Hill” where they have the Woopsie Daisies back-and-forth.  I SO wanted to climb over that fence!

Woopsie Daisies to you! 😀

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Nemo, Normandy and the mind-NUMBING Magical Power of the Sistah + Bro-hood Wedding Planners

My clinical supervisor once gave me some advice that plays over in my thoughts from time to time.  She said, “You don’t really have to guess at what people are thinking.  Usually, whatever comes out of their mouth is what is at the top of their mind.  And context?  Wherever they live and whatever they’re surrounded by are clear determining factors of what they’ll be bringing with them into the therapy office.”

I was thinking about this message last week because I was wondering why weddings have been occupying so much of my thinking lately.  I didn’t have to wonder too long, however, because my supervisor was right.  I’ve been attending weddings because it’s the summer “wedding season” of 2010 and I work at a university populated with students.  These students are generally of the age to begin wedding hopes, dreams and plans…and also host or attend wedding ceremonies. Finally, my children are 18 and 23, which means THEIR friends are also thinking about and participating in weddings.

I’m immersed.  Immersed in “dreamy-hopeful-lovey-cool-fun-startingoutonournewjourney” land. The upside of this immersion is having the chance to observe magical moments at each and every ceremony.  This particular story is about magic.  The magical power of a network of friends – focused, purposed and amazing.

And speaking of being immersed…I’ll begin the story by considering Nemo.  “Finding Nemo” was a Disney masterpiece chock-full of important life lessons.  The illustration I’d like to highlight is the “SWIM DOWN – KEEP SWIMMING!!” scene.  Do you remember it?  Nemo and Dory were almost home from Sidney when Dory was scooped up along with a massive school of fish into a fisherman’s net.

As the net began an upward ascent, pulled by a hydralic lift aboard the boat, the fish began to panic. That’s when the magic happened.  Nemo and his father began spreading the message to all the fish to swim downward.  It would only work if they ALL swam together.  Here’s a visually rough clip of the scene.  I get goosebumps when watching it.  Take a look….

Amazing things were accomplished when all the fish focused toward one goal.  And ONLY because they planned together (Nemo and his father agreed on the plan) and worked together.

Another example?  Amazing things were accomplished when hundreds of thousands coallition troops stormed the beaches of Normandy and paratrooped from the sky to turn the tide during WWII. And ONLY because they planned together and worked together.

And, amazing things were accomplished by a powerfully cohesive and supportive group of friends at Ryan and Elissa’s wedding in Stillwater, OK – Fall of 2008.  And ONLY because they planned together worked together.  Here’s what I witnessed when attending this wedding of my nephew Ryan and his lovely bride, Elissa:

I walked into the church before it began and was met with a visual of thirty or so college aged attendees greeting each other, opening the doors for guests arriving, suggesting to those just arriving that they sign the guest book, walking through the sanctuary of the church and meeting and greeting those seated.

What I immediately noticed was a warm and inviting environment that seemed to be completely manged by the bride and groom’s peers.  “Interesting,” I thought.  “They all seem invested in this process, and genuinely engaged in helping the guests feel welcome.”  I found my seat, said hello to my family and made my second observation:

The bride and groom’s friends were basically running the ceremony.  Although they had the traditional pastor-types leading the ceremony, the fingerprints of the wedding party were everywhere.  They sang and accompanied several songs, the groomsmen pulled out matching sunglasses on a particular cue, the bridesmaids walked as if they knew each other and didn’t miss a beat whenever the bride’s dress needed arranging or the flowers needed to be held. Hmm.

This group was synchronized like a well oiled support machine.  My next observation?

After the ceremony, the entire wedding party had exited to music played by their group. As I stood up to leave the sanctuary something caught my eye.  In a flash, the bridesmaids came back into the emptying auditorium and began to spread out.  They had a purpose but I didn’t yet understand what they were doing.  I watched with intrigue as they began to quickly pick up all the wedding flower decorations, speak with the groomsmen who were tearing down the musical equipment authoritatively, talk with each other about “who cleaned out the dressings rooms and did they do a final check on all the lights,” and other efficient and responsible dialogue.

What was UP with this group??  At other weddings I had witnessed planners and/or bride or groom relatives do this same kind of task.  But THIS was entirely the wedding party.  Before I could really process this modern-day “Elves and the Shoemaker” magic, the auditorium was spotless.  The work was DONE.  And…we all headed to the reception.  What did I find there?  I’m sure you can guess…

The groom’s friends DJ’d the party.  The bride’s friends escorted her outside when she got hot, and responded to the groom’s request of a drink for his bride.  The group danced with the groom’s grandfather, they danced together, and they danced with each other.  And, every time I turned around, one of them was talking to another guest – engaged in a genuine conversation and getting to know someone they had only met that night.

HERE IS A SHOT OF THE BRIDE AND HER MOTHER GETTING THEIR HAIR AND MAKEUP DONE BY TWO OF “THE GROUP.” ELISSA’S MOTHER HAS RHOMBERG’S DISEASE AND GETTING A MAKEOVER WAS A SPECIAL TREAT. ELISSA SHARED WITH ME THAT THIS WAS ONE OF HER FAVORITE SHOTS OF THE WEDDING…SHE AND HER MOM TOGETHER, GETTING READY WITH THE SUPPORT OF HER FRIENDS.

This group dynamic was the most powerful I’ve witnessed at a wedding of that age group (22-28ish).  Later I found out the bride’s friends did the photography for the wedding, did the hair and make-up for the bride and her mother, and did the flower decorations and arrangments for the church and reception.  When I asked the bride about the role of the “group” she said: “I truly do have a great group of friends that allowed us to have a magnificent wedding on a small budget. My hair, set-up of everything, photography and flower and decor arrangement was done by tons of our little helpers.”

So what is to be gained from learning about this group?  Are groups important?  Do they provide a social safety net for young couple stress and for setting norms about the institution of marriage itself?  The short answer is yes. What a culture or society “agrees to” is extremely influential regarding how people think and feel about a particular issue.  So the answers as to what can be gained are these validating life lessons, taught by group instruction:

When you need support, we’re here.
When you need diversity and creativity, we’re here.
We were beside you when you were married, so we’re in this together.
You’re worth our time and attention.
We believe in you, your marriage and your future.

When a group “blesses” a wedding, it’s a powerful thing.  I would say it’s magic.  And in this particular case, it was the mind-numbing magical power of the “sistah and bro-hood” wedding planners extraordinaire.

They were there when it started and I have a sneaking suspicion that when Elissa and Ryan celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary, they will already know who to call to plan their party.

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A Lifetime Lesson Within a 45 Second Prayer

I’m not sure how many weddings I’ve attended in my lifetime.  When I was very young, I paid attention to how comfortable the seating was and how long the service “droned on.” As an adolescent I paid attention to the dresses, hair and makeup of the bride and her party.  In college I paid attention to the ideas of the service, cake, programs and invitations as I began to plan my own wedding.  And now, having been married 25 years and been a family therapist for almost ten, I pay attention to the system.
I am fascinated by the rhythm of certain weddings, the families involved and the styles or personalities of the combined group of “his and hers” parties and guests.  Simply sitting back and taking it all in is pure joy, especially when I notice the one thing that I want to take away as food for thought.  Two weeks ago, I enjoyed an especially flavorful bite…maybe dessert.  I didn’t attend the reception, but felt as though I already got my wedding cake.  Here’s the story:
The chapel was filling with people.  The daughter of my childhood church camp friend was getting married and we arrived only a few minutes before the service began.  We were seated near the back and I was later very grateful for that particular vantage point.  Normally I want to sit close so I can really soak in the action.  However a seat in the back gives wedding guests a different perspective; a bit removed, but also broadened.My husband watched his former college roommate, the father of the bride, walk his daughter down the aisle.  Next, I watched my dear friend light one of the family tapers for the unity candle ritual.  It was because of the bride’s mother and father that my husband and I had met.  They introduced us my sophomore year in college.  As I sat there, I began to think about being in their wedding, and then they participating in ours.  I broke out the Kleenex at least 15 minutes earlier than my normal crying point. I really love my friend and was excited for her daughter to experience this big day.

As the service began to get started with introductions and welcomes my mind turned to those getting married rather than those giving the bride away.  The pastors and the betrothed were smiling occasionally, and some of the narrative was interjected with talk of “wedding day jitters.”  At one point, one of the pastors made a comment about the groom feeling anxious and excited about their big day.  I noticed that both the bride and the groom’s body language matched the conversation.  My mind flashed back to my niece’s wedding last year where she bounced slightly and swayed from side to side during the wedding because of her sheer happiness and excitement.  Her body movements kept us entertained the entire service.

These particular wedding day jitters weren’t that overt, but they were definitely a part of the discussion.  I smiled again as the groom agreed about being excited for the wedding as the speaker noted his visibly heightened mood.

The message to the audience and the exchange of vows passed quickly and the unity candle ritual followed.  As the music for this portion began, the bride and groom lit the larger candle, took communion and then repositioned themselves in the middle of the stage.  While the music continued, they began to talk a bit and I saw the groom bouncing slightly.  As the seconds ticked by and they continued chatting with each other, you could see their energy or anxiety build a bit as they laughed and tried to wait through the song.  Just then, I saw the groom ask a question.  I could tell this by the slight tilting of his head.  I saw the bride respond by looking at him, smiling, and nodding in agreement.  They took each other’s hands, bowed their heads and he began to pray.  She was clearly in sync with him because you could see her head occasionally moving as he uttered a phrase, or she would smile and nod intermittently.

This shot shows the bride and and groom just as they began to pray together.  Her grip is tight, his face is flushed and they aren’t quite centered yet…still approaching God through their prayer.

I was grateful for the length of the song because I was witnessing something amazing.  As the prayer continued, his head bowed slightly more, the flushing on his face disappeared and his body got quiet.  Her shoulders relaxed, her elbows dropped a bit and a peaceful smile replaced the smile of excitement there only a minute before.  Their heads leaned in a bit closer and my sense was that the chapel full of people were disappearing in their minds.  It was just the bride, the groom and God.  There must have been an “amen” because they both took a deep breath and lifted their heads – more sure of themselves, relaxed and ready for whatever would meet them next.

This shot was taken close to the end of the song and their prayer.  Kiley’s face and arms are relaxed, Josh’s shoulders and neck are relaxed and even the maid of honor is quiet and focused.

Long after the introductions of the newly married couple and the recessional of the wedding party, the prayer scene played over in my mind.

As a therapist, I had witnessed a “symmetrical to complementary shift” take place…the individual and couple anxiety that had been rapidly cycling was released over to a higher power they trusted to manage their next steps.  As a Biblical scholar, I thought of the numerous examples I’ve read about in the scriptures of godly men or women wrestling with an issue, praying it through and then celebrating their relief as they are redirected with a renewed purpose or vision.  As a family scientist, I was glad they had spirituality as a core element and resource in their relationship – a strength that would get them through many times of anxiety or stress they would face down the road.  And as a friend, I was grateful (and emotional) about the thought that the children of our younger selves were growing up and prepared to begin their own lives.

What can we learn from Kiley and Josh, the praying newlyweds?  Well, I suppose that when we’re considering our own food for thought, prayer is certainly an excellent ingredient for a well balanced relationship.  After all, wouldn’t most of us appreciate a way to externalize our anxiety and place it on shoulders much bigger than our own?  Knowing God carries what they can’t is a sure-fire way new couples can walk with confidence through their newly-wedded life.

And for me, I suppose another thing I’ve learned is that when attending the weddings of my friend’s children, carry the super jumbo pack of tissues.  If this generation continues to teach me lessons such as I witnessed this time, I’ll be keeping Kimberly Clark in business for a good, long while.

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A Relational Foundation Constructed with Hard Work, Thought and 220,000+ “Floors”

This photo, retrieved from the OMI website, shows a couple using The Floor as a tool to assist them in their skills practice.  For more pictures or further information, visit:
http://www.okmarriage.org/


I worked as the Director of the Service Delivery System (SDS) for the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative (OMI) from 2002 through 2004.  This private/public partnership is managed by Public Strategies, Inc. (PSI) of Oklahoma City. Sometimes when I visit with the staff it still feels as if it’s only been a short time since I was there. And, I still joke that it feels like I put in three times that many years of productivity during my tenure with the program.


Kendy Cox, a member of their leadership team and Director of OMI Services, called me late last October with some good news to share.  The OMI was preparing to hold an impromptu celebration with their now burgeoning staff of over 100 as well as a few friends because they had reached a special milestone.  They were commemorating the delivery of their 200,000th marriage and/or relationship education (MRE) service. I was asked to stop in and discuss the earlier history of the OMI SDS as part of their event.  I had five minutes to summarize two years (times three!) and so I begin thinking back about how best to accomplish that mission.


Flash forward seven months.


I was cleaning out my e-mail box last week and came across the notes I sent myself that I had prepared for the staff meeting that day.  I “Facebooked” Kendy and asked where their current number of services delivered presently stood.  When she responded that they had added another 18-20,000 to that number since last fall and would most likely reach 30,000 by the end of their FY (end of June this year) I knew it was time to write a blog entry.  30,000 was the number I announced the OMI had reached right before I left…and it had taken, during the ramp up stage, 3.5 years to get there.  Now they were reaching that number in seven months.


So, with that as the context, I’m going to share with you what I discussed with the OMI staff in an updated version.  A note of warning –  I get emotional talking about this so if my writing is prone to hyperbole toward the end…well, I’m warning you now.  Researchers have feelings too.  Here we go:


When I began at PSI, there were eleven women and one male college student who was interning with us for a few months.  The OMI program had been up and running for 18 months and had trained 450 workshop leaders, but we only had data collected for 83 workshops that showed we had served 1184 citizens.  This was problematic because at least 375 of those workshop leaders had signed a contract to deliver four workshops over a twelve month period.


We then began large, in-depth qualitative interviewing project that kept us working nights and weekends for six weeks. We hired twelve college students to help us complete the project.  This resulted in data showing that in actuality, almost 10,000 people had been served. Many lessons were learned though that project that are still program changes today such as: workshop leader refresher courses, follow through with leaders to report their services delivered, recruitment support, special population niches and adaptation needs for the curriculum, etc.


After that point, we started rolling out large group weekend workshops, the high school family and consumer sciences program, the PREP Inside and Out program – or Prison PREP, and the First Time Offender Program.  By the time these programs were gaining traction, we had almost twenty people on staff and I had a full-blown service delivery team of eight full time and two part time employees.


Because we were still trying to find ways to balance the supply of workshop leaders and the demand from Oklahomans to attend them, we began an Oklahoma touring program where we began sending our own employees or contracting with our best workshop leaders to hold “Sweetheart Weekends” all over the state.  Oh, and somewhere very early on at this point a little project called “Building Strong Families (BSF)” began their planning work for what would later be a multi-phasic, multi-site marriage education research project and would include Oklahoma as one of their most prolific sources of data.


By the time I told the officers of the company that I wanted to go to OSU to teach, do research and begin my Ph.D. work, we had a little over 30 employees and were doing training and technical assistance work fairly frequently.  We had just been awarded the first three-year demonstration grant for the Adoptive Couple Retreats, Kendy was pregnant with her first child, PSI was waiting to hear the results from the first s
ubmission of the NHMRC proposal, BSF was evaluating sites, Supporting Healthy Marriages (SHM – another multi-site project) was just beginning to get started and the 200 million federal healthy marriage dollars had not yet become a reality because Welfare Reform (the personal responsibility and work opportunity act) had not been reauthorized.



Right before I left, I got an opportunity to speak with Scott Stanley, Mary Myrick and George Young at the 2004 Dallas Smart Marriages conference.  I had just run data for an updated overview of our service delivery impact and realized that we had hit the 30,000 number of those being served by one form or another of marriage education curriculum.  I will never forget talking to that room full of people because right before I shared those numbers I realized that that particular number represented almost 1% of the population of Oklahoma.  When I shared that data, I remember feeling joyful and the audience must have as well because they began clapping for our program in appreciation. The Smart Marriages attendees are one of the most supportive groups I’ve ever encountered.


So, OMI – you’ve come a long way.  You now have over 100 employees in several locations across the country.  I always used to prepare talking points data for Mary, Kendy or Director Hendrick to use when discussing the OMI so I’m going to give you a little gift and share a bit of research I did last night at midnight on the Census Bureau data for Oklahoma to end my comments.


The 2000 Census estimated that Oklahoma had roughly 3,451,000 citizens at the time of reporting.


If you calculated the reasonable age range of potential service delivery persons over these past ten years, that number would be approximately 2,750,993 persons.  Of that number, we need to subtract another 5% who would be unable to receive those services (this number includes those institutionalized or have other physical or emotional barriers to receive services).


After this we would need to calculate for attrition (some demographers calculate between 5-7% per year within a given geographic region).  Then we need to total cumulative services delivered.  To conceptualize a simple impact number, if we agreed to this statement: if “each person served in some way influenced at least one or two other persons by the effects of the marriage education intervention,” then the grand total of the “serviceable ten-year cohort” could be as high as 22% of the state’s population.  Even in simple numbers, the primary impact would be 8.3% of the serviceable ten-year cohort.


That seems significant.  And, I think it’s appropriate to now enter a picture of the wrapper they had replaced on a case of Hershey’s chocolate bars then passed out to celebrate the benchmark.  I have one hanging on my door at OSU…yummy!





Okay, so flash forward back to present day.  I’m going to safely assume the OMI hits that 230,000 mark by the end of June. So….

What do 230,000 people look like?  


Well, in Oklahoma we sometimes measure crowds by “football stadium standards.”  230,000 would almost be three Dallas Cowboy stadiums crammed with fans.

230,000 is about 27,000 more than the entire U.S. active duty Marine Corps.  

230,000 is just 20K less than the number who crowded the mall in Washington D.C. when Martin Luther King delivered his famous, “I Have a Dream” speech.

230,000 is how many gathered to hear Obama speak in Berlin – the largest crowd recorded during his 2008 campaign for President.  This next picture is just one small glimpse of that crowd, but might help you envision the number of people who have been through a MRE workshop in Oklahoma.

So how do I close this entry out?  Well, the next logical tho
ught would be: to what end?  What are the impacts of these services delivered and are they making a difference?  

To date, the OMI has experienced a process evaluation by Mathematica, several of their programs or funded grants have evaluation components within the model, and the report for the multi-site BSF study just came out.  Oklahoma was the only site that showed some effects, although there were intermittent groups and populations within the study that had effects as well.

There is still more to be done, however, in terms of evaluation.  Very soon we hope to see some calculations as to the effect – if any – on the divorce rate within the state.  Other measures in terms of strengthening families could be many and the OMI Research Advisory Group has articulated several ways to frame these types of assessments.  I’m personally looking forward to more outcome data sooner rather than later.  

Until then, however, I just want to congratulate the Public Strategies management team and staff.  AND the Oklahoma Department of Human Services who had the insightful forethought to begin funding this project upon the recommendation of our governor ten years ago.

I was thinking that most every one of those 220,000+ Oklahomans had utilized the Floor from the Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program® (PREP) curriculum during their MRE workshops.  I believe its safe to say that quite a foundation is being built in Oklahoma, and the materials for those strong families include 220,000+ small yellow and white tiles with the rules for communication written on them.  This doesn’t make a yellow brick road. Rather, it makes a foundation upon which many committed relationships and marriages are being built here in the Heartland.  

Hats off to you, OMI – and best wishes for the next ten years!


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Showcasing Red Dirt culture ~ authored and managed by contributors with connections to the great state of Oklahoma.