All posts by Red Dirt Kelly

Day 29: The Shared Territory of a Christian and a Hedonist, or, “Inside Ben’s Head.”


Democritus seems to be the earliest philosopher on record to have categorically embraced a hedonistic philosophy; he called the supreme goal of life “contentment” or “cheerfulness”, claiming that “joy and sorrow are the distinguishing mark of things beneficial and harmful” (DK 68 B 188)

The first time I recall interacting with Ben, we were sitting at dinner. Someone around us was helping along introductions among the group. “How would you describe yourself?” was the question. Some responded in terms of their goals. Some related their places of origin or where they attended school before entering the law program.

“Brown. I’m brown, with curly hair, ” Ben responded. His face conveyed someone who was fairly comfortable with himself, and as he looked around the group those who heard his retort laughed readily. He laughed too, and the conversation moved on to other things.

The second time I spoke with Ben, I was walking across campus through one quod to the next. I greeted him with a congratulatory comment: “Hey – I really appreciate your questions in EU class. They’re helpful and they make me think.” Ben’s smile broke out showing grand rows of straight white teeth, and with a twinkle in his eye, he raised his hand for a high five.

So, I responded by giving him a rather resounding high five. We exchanged a couple more sentences then went our separate ways.

The third time I spoke with Ben was based upon the prompting of his peers. I strolled into the dining hall toward the end of last night’s diner, approached the first group I saw and asked, “If I were going to interview someone in the program for my blog, who would you suggest?”

“Ben,” they immediately responded. “Definitely Ben.”

“Well, that was pretty easy,” I thought.

I located Ben at the next table, proposed the idea, and he agreed. “Right now?” he asked. “Sure,” I replied. “Now is as good as any other time.”

We walked to our lecture room. Ben filled his glass from the plastic bottle of Cabernet Savignon he had purchased for dinner, kicked his feet up and said, “All right. What do you want to know?”

After I had covered the, “Do you want your name in the post? Is it okay to identify you?,” business I then began a comfortable volley of questions, responses, follow ups, and insights. Twenty minutes later a few friends wandered in. “What are you doing?” they asked with curiosity. They joined the group, filled in a bit of the conversation on their own, drained the glasses they had in tow, and headed to the pub to refill them.

Fifteen minutes later I was done. I took Ben’s picture, and we then headed down to the pub for “Quiz Night.”

Why did I want to interview someone for the program for my travel journal? I think I wanted to get another perspective. I’m a minority demographic. I’m a 46 year-old doctoral student. The majority demographic is a 25-30ish student between their first and second years in the program. I wanted to see what “they” thought. I’m usually pretty clear on what “I” think.

Here are a few things I learned about Ben:

He’s a self-described Hedonist, raised by his mother who is a medical doctor. Much of his family is in the D.C. area, so when Obama was sworn in last year, “all he needed was the gas money to get there.” He ‘wasn’t going to miss that for the world.’

He and I talked quite a bit about the “drinking culture” of the law community. Our professor had mentioned, during a discussion about equal rights, how it might be difficult for a working mother picking up her child from an early learning center to be included in the “deals and decisions” made in the pub after she left. I asked Ben if he agreed with the opinion I had heard from one student about feeling occasional pressure to participate in the drinking so as to be included in the networking and the camaraderie seemingly endorsed and even encouraged by the faculty. He said he could definitely understand their opinion, and then told me that lawyers have the “highest suicide rate, the highest alcoholism rate, and the highest divorce rate,” of any other profession. We broke that comment down for a while, then moved on.

I asked Ben if he was glad he decided to come to this particular summer conference. He said yes, talked about his rationale for financing the trip, and then we talked about student loans and Graduate Plus loans for a bit. It seems that most of the students tried to get a loan of approximately 8-10,000 for this particular trip…and when it gets down to it, some of their thinking might be, “Well – it’s 80,000 for law school, OR 89,000 for law school plus the Oxford trip. In the broad scope of things, that doesn’t seem to make a lot of difference.”

Initially Ben responded to the question, “Why are you in law?” by answering, “For the money.” But a bit later, I could see an activist brewing under his law student fascade. He wonders about statutes that don’t seem fair and wishes that there were opportunities to rally a group and go lobby the legislative branch to change things. And, although the standard form of instruction in a typical law school is the Socratic method, our EU class has raised his interest a bit because the majority of class isn’t spent on the readings, per se, but on a discussion that enhances or exemplifies the readings.

Ben seems to be empathetic to his group. He’s encouraged his classmates to speak out in class, and muses about the, “What if people other than the eight that always comment starting opening up and adding to the discussions?” idea. This thought process is inherently democratic and shows he feels for the group, and wants them all to benefit from the experience. And…it may show that he wants the professor to hear as many different voices as possible…in essence, showcasing the group’s acumen.

Finally, when I asked him how he would describe his program, he produced these three comments: 1) It’s a fairly socially conservative program; 2) They focus on getting you a job; and 3) the community is fairly tight-knit…there are 600 in law school and by the time you finish your three years, you basically know most all who are there.

When I reflected back to him that it seems that he was describing the State of Oklahoma as much as anything, he agreed….community, stability and socially right of center. I think at that point, we had sort of a “meeting of the minds” that you get what you ask for, and you take from it what you can.

Although Ben emphatically stated that he’s not all that great of a writer, he also mentioned with a certain sense of pride that his Moot Court team came out 7th place of the 200 students who entered the competition. He wants to be a litigator; he wants to convince someone of his case by oral argument.

I would say that if Ben stays positive like he is right now, if he keeps his optimism and smile, and if he gives the jurists or the judge an occasional resounding “high five,” he’ll have all the money he wants…and he’ll make quite a statement in the courts of the future on behalf of his clients.

I’m kidding, of course, about the high fives. But I’m not kidding about his ability to persuade.

After all, last night during our interview, Ben persuaded me to appreciate who he is and what he stands for, and when I think about it – there’s not a whole lot that we really have in common at all.

Except, for the fact, that maybe we like to raise questions of the professor in class.

Day 28: It Was So Loud, I Couldn’t Hear Myself Praying

My brother travels outside of the continental U.S. quite a bit, and every once in a while he mentions something along the lines of, “It might be good if you go see that place soon, before the tourism footprint destroys what’s there – or they close it to keep the place preserved.”  These conversations were regarding various places in South America, India and few other destinations.  Based upon my experience here, however, I would say they hold true for areas within the UK as well.

As I’ve walked around Oxford on my daily strolls, I sometimes hesitate as I begin to take a stair case or a step into a building.  When I look down to place my foot in a solid position, I consistently notice that there is a sagging dip in the stone or concrete.  This isn’t a design flaw and the steps aren’t sinking…they’re worn down from millions of other footsteps walking in the same place, day after day.

The sidewalks of High Street in Oxford are so crowded that it seems like you are occasionally swimming upstream to go somewhere when all others you meet are headed in the opposite direction.  It was this way in London as well.  And in Bristol.  And in Bath.  And at Stonehenge.

I think there are a combination of factors in play: it’s summer, it’s “backpacking season,” it’s sporting event season (World Cup, Tour de France, Wimbledon), etc.  However, the locals say that it’s like this most all the time.  Everywhere you turn, individuals, couples, families, groups of students…are all weilding their cameras, taking the same pictures of the same places.  They get the shot ready…wait for one, two, ten or twenty people to walk by, and then…”click!”  They get it, right before a tour bus drives in front of their view….or not.  I’m sure there are many a shot that end up looking sometime like this (the side of a tour bus):

Here is a little movie of a street entertainer who was in a public square in Bath.  I don’t know if you can tell, but there’s quite a crowd.  That crowd was there before the entertainer started, and remained after he was done….

This particular day in Bath, I had just about had it with crowds as it was the day after I was kept up until 3:30 a.m. with the noise on the street below my window in Oxford.  I went into the Abbey there in search of a bit of peace and quiet.  The line to see the Roman Baths was going to require a one hour and forty-five minute wait, so I thought, “Hang the baths – we’ve got two hours so I’m going to try and find some peace.”  As I walked into the Abbey, I was met with a full choir of local women singing a concert.  Normally, I would have enjoyed this little surprise.  At that point, however, I was thinking, “Quiet!  Everyone just go home, already!”  Here’s a peak at the choir and the inside of the Abbey:

I watched them perform one song and then looked around for the exit.  As I was headed out of the Abbey, I noticed a small chapel area.  These are common in the Abbeys around here – the one in York had a chapel, a prayer area, a reading area…several places to have quiet time.  A sign on the entrance to the chapel said, “Quiet please.  We ask that you respect those who have stopped to pray.”

Ha!  I thought, “Okay – I’ll go in the chapel, pray, and enjoy the quiet.”  This is what my face looked like with two hours of sleep after a long day while attempting to pray in the chapel…

I was sitting there in the corner, with my head leaning back against the wall, eyes closed and hands folded in prayer.  The women were singing pretty loudly.  I concentrated harder.  The next thing I hear is:

“Oh, here’s the chapel!”

“Shh – we’re supposed to be quiet in case people are praying.”

“I don’t think she’s praying, I think she’s resting.”

“Do you think we should ask her?  You know…whether she’s praying so we can know if it’s okay to take a picture of the chapel?”

I got up, left the chapel and tried my best to take in the beauty of Bath and the interesting architecture, Masonic mysteries, the beautiful bridges, etc.  Flash forward two days…

Tonight I was sitting at dinner with other students and I heard them complaining about the mounds of people in Oxford, and how they were having to give directions to “the tourists” all the time.  I thought it was funny because we’re students, but we’re also tourists.  I’ve felt the same way, and I wrestled for a bit with conflicting emotions thinking, “People here are thinking the same thing I’m complaining about others.”

My brother is right.  We “tourists” have to do the Earth right and try to avoid impressing upon her face footprints that are irreparable.  So, what have I done to find a peaceful place where I CAN hear my prayers in my mind as I send them to God?  I decided to go on a search tonight for that elusive prize.

I walked out of the college stopping at our Brasenose Chapel.  I peeked in, but the large brass birds of prey looking down on those entering gave me the creeps.  I walked outside the college and for a moment saw a beautiful light in the sky just over St. Mary’s Cathedral.

It disappeared quickly, however, and the noises of those on the street at night took over.

As I went back inside and headed toward my dorm room, I saw two students whom I’ve befriended on the trip.  One was having a discussion about being a ‘big believer in meritocracy…if people are nice to him, he’s nice to people…’  Another had broken her toe and was going to the doctor’s office tomorrow.  I traded one a ten pound note for ten pounds in change, went to get a bottle of water out of the machine and returned to my room.

I think for me, I’m going to find my quiet when I get back home.  However, I noticed that in the short time the two students and I had our short discussion, I had relaxed.

I guess, sometimes, it takes interacting with people to find “a point of stillness in the heart of the city.”

Day 27: An “Advert” Equally Cool as Toy Story? Perhaps. See for Yourself.

My first week here, I took a train to Bristol and noticed something not unlike the Willy Wonka Factory (circa – Gene Wilder) across a field as I neared my destination.  I inquired about the factory while in a meeting, and was told it was an older Cadbury Chocolate Factory.  I love it when things look like what they are.  It was recently purchased by Kraft, and the locals wonder what will become of the outdated factory and previous ways the employees were treated.

I wasn’t aware until I began speaking with friends before I left that there are Cadbury treats galore simply unavailable to us in the states.  One of these requested was the Crunchie bar.  Another mentioned was the Cadbury Flake bar. Flash forward two weeks…

I ventured to the local cinema today and watched Toy Story 3.  Prior to the show, the audience was graced with a bunch of commercials and the standard previews, suitable for children ages 4 and older.  One of the commercials, or “adverts” as they call them here, was so artistic it still has my attention in spite of the wonderful movie.  And…it was for a Cadbury Flake Bar.  Go figure…

See for yourself by clicking here.

“Sweet” dreams…Kelly

Day 26: Know When to Hold ‘Em, and Know When to Fold ‘Em + “The Wall”

I feel like I’m beginning to find a rhythm.

Monday through Thursday, I study with a purpose.  Fridays, I catch up on personal chores; things that didn’t get accomplished during school days.  Then Saturday or Sunday I explore.

Today I visited the “Cotswold,” a geographic region of southeast central England known for it’s 400+ year old stone cottages, serene farmland views and a few other little dittys like Bath and Stonehenge. 

The entire area is absolutely endearing and while I was looking for a way to do justice to this national treasure, I happened upon this excellent video.  It tells the story better than I ever could, thus the “know when to fold ’em” title.


In case you’re looking around one day and I seem to have disappeared, it may be that I’m here.  I’ve decided to buy this one.  Hope you like it, and please come to visit me when you’re in the area.

Okay, I’m buying this cottage just about as much as I’m buying my favorite ski chalet in Crested Butte and my favorite adobe beauty in Taos.  But at least dreamers keep themselves entertained, right?

There was something else I learned about while driving down miles and miles of winding roads today.  I learned that “back in the day,” when farmers had live-in help, they had these peasants build scads of the stone fences we now see everywhere there are farms in England.  However, over the last 50-75 years or so, they’ve fallen more and more into a state of disrepair.  Simply put, it’s an economy issue.

To properly build the traditional stone walls, or fences, they are dry stacked with local stone.  They’re wider on the base (two stones wide) , laid on a bed of stone chat, and are gradually moved to a density of one stone wide (or two much smaller stones) toward the top of the wall.  Then, stones are laid on top narrow-wise, so that “if someone were to crawl over them, which they SHOUDN’T be doing, they’d knock off the top-stones and theoretically it would then hit them in the shin on the way down the other side.  Local courtesy is to put it back the way you found it.”

There is a certain length of wall that IS being rebuilt, in spite of the cost.  We drove by it today.  The wall is approximately 3/4ths of a mile long and will take the team of masons approximately two years to rebuild the entire thing.  It will cost an estimated 500K GBP, or $750,000 US dollars.

One man works an entire day and gets approximately three meters finished.  The reason for this is because: a) it’s hard work and takes a long time, but also; b) they’re deconstructing the old wall for materials at the same time.

What level of love and commitment does it take to endorse a project like this? How about fund it?  How about BUILD it?

It this comparable at all to the love or commitment it took to work over a period of more than three hundred (by some estimations) to build Stonehenge?  How about the 250 years to build the Abbey in York?

I guess my question for you, and for myself tonight is this:  Do you plan and commit to projects or to life missions knowing full well that they’ll never be finalized in your lifetime?  If so – – why, or why not?

Have a great Saturday night…Love, Kelly

Day 25: Song Time! + Inspiration for Aslan

On Day 12 I wrote a song as my entry to provide something different than the usual photos, links, videos and commentary. 

Thirteen days have passed since I posted that masterpiece, so I’ve decided to grace the internet with yet another installation of  my Red Dirt Kelly Compositions.  If you would, please, sing this idyllic poetry set to the tune of “Oh Mah Darlin’, Clementine.”

*clears throat*…Okay, here we go:

In a cabinet,
In a dorm room,
Crumpled iiin a wrinkled mess –
Lies my laundry,
Dirty laundry,
Much in need
Of wash n’ press.

Bagged it nicely,
Grabbed the soap flakes,
Got my key and headed out
Down the staircase
‘Cross the campus
Wishing for
A can of Shout

Got it started,
Then I parted,
Lookin’ for a bit of lunch.
Watched the street cart
Lady make a
Perfect crepe’-uh
Munch, MUNCH!

ATM, then
Bought a notebook,
Back to ca-a-am-pus in a rush,
Didn’t want my
Washer emptied
By a stran-ger,
I would blush.

If you didn’t
Get the former
Verse I’ll spe-e-ll it out just now
Bra and panties in the laundry
Not for public
Holy Cow!

Then I had a
Facial at a
‘Roma-theeera-py boutique
Now my face looks
Like I may cook
At an oil

Yes it’s greasy,
Really shiny
Think I’m blinding those I see
On the sidewalk
I make idle talk
As I wait
To cross the stree (t)

Hope I never see
Them I did see
While the talking did commence
Probably think I
Slicked my face down
Lacking any common sense.

Now I’m typing,
Fingers sliding,
Cross the key–board
As I work
Guess this facial’s
Become glacial
Hands are greasy!
Don’t you smirk…

(Wrap it up now! – – 1/2 time) Guess this facial’s, become glacial, Hands are greeaaazzy – don’t you

** ** **
P.S.  The photograph is of the door that inspired C.S. Lewis’ “Aslan.”  I had to throw in something credible after that ridiculous song.


Day 24: It Rained in Oxford and in my Soul ~ Eulogy for Joe E. Skimo

Determined to find the yet elusive cows in Christ Church Meadows, I headed out after class to go “farming.”  Farming is a word we used to use for what my Grandpa Frank did when driving while paying more attention to the pastures, farms and associated scenery than to the road.  When the large white Lincoln’s right tires would catch the edge of the road he would usually pop out of his farming-mode and correct the car quickly enough to avoid danger.  I guess it was up to those in the car with him to heed the warning should he be looking at the crops on the LEFT side of the road.

As I left out on my journey, I noticed the clouds were extremely dark and heavy.  However, after hearing the locals complaining about the lack of rain for three weeks I quickly thought, “Oh – it won’t be that bad.  A few sprinkles won’t hurt me.”  I then set out for the Meadows.

I believe I wrote at one point about choosing a running path so that I would have the chance to spot the cows.  I didn’t see them that day.  All I found were big, round, fresh bales of hay in the Meadows.  My  motivating thought was, “I refuse to leave Oxford without seeing the cattle!”  However, after two tries now under my belt I may have to change my tune to, “I TRIED to find the cattle in Oxford and those sneaky bovine eluded me!”

The walk down to the Meadows and along the fenced off area was beautiful.  The weather was cool, there were very few tourists, and the further along the path I got the more people disappeared.  When you walk down the road alongside the Meadows, it is lined with enormous trees that must be several hundred years old.  They go on for about five city blocks, so I had quite a nice little daydreaming stroll.

To my left the whole time was the Meadows, sans the cattle.  I could smell an occasional manure whiff and saw several farm vehicles.  One large truck rolled by with a sign on the side reading:  “Oxford Area Estate Maintenance Company.”  The back was loaded down with fencing.  I wanted to chase the truck and beg, “Please, sir!  Wherefore art the COWS?!”

Have I mentioned that by this time it had begun to sprinkle?  By the time I reached the Thames it was raining.  And, by the time I took a couple pictures of the ducks and the boats, it was raining fairly heavily.  I ran toward the nearest pub, squeezed through a wrought iron gate, went up the back way and almost fell into the door as the thunder started pounding away.

For the first time since I’ve been here I had one thought in my head: “Hot tea.  I need hot tea.”  I was fairly soaked, as were the other groups falling into the door in sets of twos, threes and fours.  They all had a “I need hot tea” look on their faces, and most of them ordered that very thing.

As the rain began to come down in droves so loudly no one could hear each other talk, I began to take stock of what I was doing there.  Every person who visits a place and has “free” agency gets to choose their path.  The only limits are the choices afforded them by their time, the area, their money and their physical ability to move around at will.  Twice now, I have chosen to seek out the cows.  It’s because they are familiar to me.  I wanted to see something here in Oxford like I have there at home.

By the time I had tea, my lunch, and had people-watched for a while in the pub the rain began to break up and the sun finally came out.  Little did I know that as I headed back to my dorm I would soon be experiencing a different rain; one self-inflicted of sorts.  That is, the rain of my tears as I spoke with my husband later that day and found out that our family dog passed away.

Joe E. Skimo was a really sweet Alaskan Malamute who had been showing signs of age, heart failure or some other doggy malady for a few months now.  Joe E. was very loyal.  So loyal that he would kill anything that came into our backyard that wasn’t human – included three cats that belonged to our young female neighbors (cripes).  His physical ailments were exacerbated, I’m sure, by the extreme heat Oklahoma has been experiencing of late, and my husband had been detailing his efforts to keep Joe E. cool with water in various ways.  One method was to create a “doggie mister” by hanging up the garden hose under the patio roof and setting the nozzle on a light spray.

I wish the cool rains of Oxford could have kept Joe E. cool, but I doubt they would have been healing rains.  He was sick and I’m glad he’s not struggling anymore.

As I searched for something comfortingly familiar in Oxford, I have to believe that Joe E. did found some physical comfort as he passed.  However, the personal rain down my cheeks for our sweet dog may come and go a bit more than what spews from the Oxford sky around here during my visit.

I’ll miss Joe E….miles and miles more than I’ll ever miss having not seen the cows in Christ Church Meadows.

Rest in peace, Joe E. Skimo.  You were an extraordinary family doggie.

Day 23: Harry Potter Served Me Soup

It’s midnight in the UK and I’m completely worn out.  However, I wanted to share a 2:30 minute video with you showing highlights of our Harry Potter Theme Night here in Brasenose College.

By the way – the owl you see in the video is something I made at the last minute to enhance my costume.  We wrote “mail” at the table and sent it, via the owl, down the row until it reached its destination.  The owl was quite good in accomplishing its job.

In the past, there has evidently been a James Bond Theme Night but it seems the lightening bolt-scarred character has taken over.  The staff did a great job preparing the grounds, the menu, dressing up in character and helping us have a nice break from all the studying.

Hope you are having a very good day, wherever you are and with whatever tasks you may be undertaking at the moment.

**CLICK HERE FOR HARRY POTTER THEME NIGHT VIDEO (Tune is The Potter Waltz from the HP Soundtrack)**

“Splendus Daius!” ~ Love, Kelly

Day 22: If I Go Missing, Just Check the Line at the Post Office + The Man Who Tucks His Pants in His Socks

As I began to write tonight, the first thought I had was for you to “close your eyes, and imagine that you’re in a line that never ends…”

Well, that doesn’t work in written post, now does it?

So my SECOND thought was to begin with, “Imagine, if you will, that you’re standing in a line that never ends….”  Are you with me now?  Standing in that line that never ends?  Perhaps – – oh, let just say for the fun of it – – that you’re in a Post Office line in the United Kingdom.

You begin to get very sleepy…lulled to the point of your eyes going in and out of focus, fighting the urge to doze off as you hear a very British, very proper and very robotic voice say, “Cashier number Two, pleezzz.”

Pause.  Head begins to nod again.  Pause.  Look around and begin to take note of what everyone is wearing, what everyone is holding to take to the window and mail, and what everyone else is doing to manage their own dozing-off behaviors.

More time lapses.  More time.  “Cashier number Four, pleezzz.”

Fifteen minutes later your head jerks up from nodding off to sleep.  You look around sheepishly and think, “Oh well, I may have made a fool of myself but at least it’s probably my turn,” only to focus again on those standing in line with you and realizing that you haven’t moved an inch.

The story I have begun to set before you is not imagined.  Only the characters have changed.  Okay, no they haven’t.  It’s me – and thirty or forty other people in the Post Office line.  Waiting.

I’m not exactly feeling like Dorothy.  I mean, I’m not standing there in the Post Office, clicking my little New Balance beige tennis shoes together saying, “There’s no place like home…there’s no place like home….”  Rather, I think that each time I go to the Post Office my head is more filled with thoughts such as these:

1.  Why is the “AVAILABLE 24 HOURS FOR YOUR CONVENIENCE!! Automatic teller machine always broken?”

2.  Why is it that people who don’t place importance on personal hygiene are the ones that seem to populate the Post Office lines?

3.  Why is it that we’re (the US) the country who came up with the phrase “going postal” and they’re (the UK) the ones with bullet proof glass between the service providers and the public?

4.  Why is it that when I have a package I’m sending to the US that weighs more than two kilos, that the service provider looks at me while shaking their head up and down (as if to make me nod in sync) say, “Well, you KNOW, if this package contained BOOKS (looks at me with wider eyes), then your PRICE would be GREATLY re-DUCED!”  Do they THINK I’m going to lie to the Post Office of the United Kingdom and risk the souvenir that I searched for over a three week period be confiscated?  Really?

These and other thoughts are what occupy my head whilst (Don’t you love that word? Whilst?) visiting the Post Office.

But here’s a new thought I had today.  The UK Post Office literally forced me to just stop, look around, wait, and think.  And, for that – I was actually grateful.

And, when I turned and finally strolled out of the Post Office, I had given up my struggle to make the line move.  I had laid my stress of reading assignments aside for the moment.  And because I wasn’t preoccupied with these thoughts as I had previously been before entering the Post Office, I spied a man pushing his bicycle with his pants tucked into his dress socks.

Then – I giggled and smiled at the postal employee just past the exit because he was taking his SWEET TIME unloading the letters from the deposit box outside.

As I walked back to the college, the very proper British robotic voice played over in my head, this time talking (in my head – not out loud!) to those I walked by on the sidewalk: “Step aside and move out of the Way, pleez.”  “Guess it’s time for some Lunch, pleez.”  “How about Panini, pleez…”

And, to all my friends in the U.S.  “Have a very good Evening, pleez…”

** ** ** Here’s a treat for you.  If you look through the middle of the crowd in this last picture, you’ll see the man with the balding spot.  Look down, and then see his pants tucked into his socks.  Hee hee hee!  Practical (for cycling) AND funny to look at! A two-fer!

Day 21: Crop Circles, Stretch Pants (Eew!) & Getting “Knocked Up” is a Good Thing? Oh, and Hen Parties.

I thought today I would just write a short blurb about some of the things I see noted as cliches about the Brits in the U.S., some of the cultural observations I’ve made while here, and how sometimes phrases in the UK can mean something completely different in the States.

First, this past Friday I spied my first actual “Crop Circle.” It was a small one, but definitely in England nevertheless…the typical “sighting grounds.”:

And, as cool as I thought the crop circle was, I have formed a very strong opinion about something completely uncool: I HATE stretch pants.  And, unfortunately here in Oxford, they are prolific.  I see several pair on women of all sizes and shapes each time I leave the college and go into town.


To further enhance my point, I did a quick internet search and found that Lindsay Lohan started wearing them again (I say again, because we-who-are-40plus all KNOW this is a fashion faux pas repeat) in fall of 2007.


I would share pictures of those I’ve seen around here, but trust me…you don’t really want to see them.

However, if you must go against my emphatic fashion advice, then you can order your new stretch pants here, in a rainbow of colors, for only 4.58GBPs!!

Alright, enough poking fun at stretch pants and the unfortunate people who wear them.  I’ll just close with two brand new pieces of Great Britain information I’ve recently heard.

Evidently, if someone says to you that they’ll “knock you up at 6:30 a.m.” it means they’ll wake you.

Here’s an example of someone announcing that they’re going to take a nap: “I’m going to have a lie-in, knock me up when you’re ready to go.”

Finally, I don’t know if it is England in general, or just perhaps because I tend to wax philosophically about gender equality and respect whenever I have the chance, but something really surprised me this past weekend. While in York, we spied approximately four or five groups of women on Saturday evening making their way down the street. What was interesting was that they were dressed up in brightly colored, conspicuous costumes or matching t-shirts with over-the-top make-up.

My distant cousin told me that they were “Hen Parties.” Well, immediately I think I got my own “feathers ruffled (smile)” because to me, “hen” or “cackling hen” is a derogatory term for women. He told me that they were like our bachelorette parties.

So – I guess that’s fine. But I just didn’t like the term “Hen” party. Here’s a picture borrowed from the internet to let you know how they look:

I don’t know.

I just don’t know if I could swallow the notion of one of my daughters having a Hen Party – – it feels sort of 1950s-cliche-women-are-ridiculous-and-the-weaker-sex-ish…

I guess I like to think of women as women, and not Hens. I will say, however, that when I found out about the custom I wanted to squawk. But then that’s the sound a hawk makes, not a hen, right?

Good night. I’ll WAKE myself up in the morning.

Days 18, 19 & 20: Fight as Though You Were Defending the Very Gates of Paradise

Potatoes 20 different ways.
Mushy peas.
Yorkshire pudding.

And…the pub.  These are the food and drink of the local yokels in England.  But more than any other meal, my friends kept asking, “Have you had the fish and chips?”

Well, I can finally answer “yes” to that question.  And it really was quite good.

Friday, Saturday and Sunday of this week were spent with distant relatives in Wakefield, England.  We climbed some castle ruins, spent time in “a pit” (a coal mine) at the National Coal Mining Museum, took a “War of the Roses” grand tour of York and the surrounding areas, and spent time in the pubs getting to know each other.

AND…we had fish and chips.  Yes, I love haddock.  Yes, I’ll eat them again.  And no, I can’t eat all the chips!

But should I ever have a friend come to England, one of the first things I’m sure I’ll ask them is…”Make sure and eat the fish and chips!”

And, with that comment I’m signing off.  I’ll fill in the gaps of the weekend, post a video I put to Celtic music and talk about the idiosyncracies of speaking two languages while both English in my next post.  For right now, however, it’s time to get back to the books.


P.S.  I had a pretend battle with some children on the Castle wall ruins in Wakefield.  They were Roman Soldiers and challenged me, and I couldn’t just back down now…could I?  I hurled a stone at their wall and took them down a notch, but in the end they killed me with a spear.  Below is a picture of me and the young soldiers atop the wall.

I saw a War of the Roses quote this weekend that really hit me.  It was, “Fight as though you were defending the very gates of Paradise.”  I think those girls were pretty darn close…touche’, young ladies, touche’! (See P.P.S. – late addendum, next day – after the jump)


Here is a video of my time in a coal mining museum, Wakefield and York (as well as surrounding areas).  I realize this is Celtic music which is more suitable for areas northwest of this region, but I just liked it.  Enjoy!


Day 17: Jonathan L. Black-Branch – European Union Law & My True Confession

Okay.  It’s time for a true (and embarrassing) confession.  When I first looked at the choices for a second class at this Law Conference I’m attending and saw, “European Union Law,” well…yes.  I thought the class was over organized union and labor laws in Europe.

And, yes…I immediately began thinking of Billy Elliot’s father and brother in the coal mines.

Then I thought, “Okay – rule that one out.  There is no way I could really ever take anything from that class and apply it to what I do in any given shape or form.” (Unless I wanted to go back and watch Billy Elliot for the fourth time and have a greater appreciation for the strike they were going through….nah).

So, then something in the back of my brain started wrestling with this thought and FINALLY a light bulb turned on.  OOOHHH, yeeeeahhh….European Union (EU).  The EURO…The “Community of now 27 members who recognized each country within the group as sovereign.”  And, today I also learned that “Europe” actually has it’s own flag.

And, the EU provides four freedoms to its members:
1) Free movement of people;
2) Free trade of goods;
3) Free trade of services; and,
4) Monetary (capital) trade, free of restrictions.

I also learned today that Denmark has a tax rate of about 69%, and their tax rate on new cars is 219%.  They also, however, send all their children to school free, including college, and while their students are in college they are provided a monthly stipend of about $1,000 dollars.  And, they recently gave all their citizens $35,000 dollars to start a retirement account.  And, the CEOs of large companies are taxed at approximately 90%.  And, they don’t really want anyone to move into their country, but they have made allowances of approximately 40 apartments at a very high price.  And, if you visit there and can’t speak their language, they all speak English quite fluently.

My point to all this random information is this…I came here to learn, and LEARNING I AM.

I’m immersed in Oklahoma Family Law right now and feel privileged to have such a good professor.  OU really has an asset in Professor Spector.

And, I’m loving my EU Law class.  Professor Jonathan L. Black-Branch has so many positions and teaches for so many colleges (he has six university degrees), that just sitting in the room is like listening to NPR on steroids every minute of the lecture.

CLICK HERE TO SEE WHAT Professor Black-Branch looks like.

(The vitae is about 2 years out of date, but you’ll get the idea just by review it…since this publication he’s been appointed Dean of the AVT Business School in Copenhagen).

I hope I get permission to take pictures or video of my professors.  But if not, just avoid me when I get home because I’ll probably be babbling about what I learned for a long, long time.

Day 16: Bicycles Rule, Cars Slobber Just a Little Bit….(For Bicycle Lovers Everywhere!)

When taking a walking tour this past Sunday, the guide stopped us twice as we approached some alleyways.  She wasn’t looking for cars.  She was concerned that we might be clobbered by a high speed bicycle screeching around the corner.

Photo credit – click here.

If you love bicycles and “bicycle culture,” then you might need to take a pilgrimage to Oxford.  I say pilgrimage because there really is a “home base” feel when it comes to the two-wheeled transportation in this city.

Bicycle polo, bicycle bell orchestras, biker mechanic competitions.  This video gives you a quick idea of the culture…it was made from the 2009 Bicycle Festival:

Click here for an idea about how bikes ARE Oxford…

It’s not just Oxford, however.  When I was in London, a bicycle whizzed in front of a cab that was taking me to a meeting.  The cab honked, and the cyclist slowed down, pointed her finger into the open cab window and yelled, “Are you beeping at ME?”

(Cab driver doesn’t respond).

“HEY – I SAID…are you beeping at ME?”

Cab driver, “Yeah…you cut in front of me now..”

And…THEN came the rant about how cycles are environmentally clean, how they had to use the same road, and on and on.  She clearly felt she was an advocate for cyclists against cab drivers everywhere.  I tried so hard not to laugh.

There are probably 2-3,000 bicycles parked within a square city block of where I’m staying.  A couple of them I walk past every day have been there for a long, long time.  Their tires are sort of folded over and bent, as if they “gave out.” One is being recycled (recycled – get it?) for a sign:

The rumors here are that there is “literally NO crime in Oxford.”  The rumors here are also that “you have to buy the oldest, worst looking bicycle that’s actually in the best shape you can find because if you bring a nice one in, it will just get stolen.”

Somehow the locals are at peace with both of these statements being true.

All I know is that I’ve learned how to look twice when walking past alleyways, and I’m getting a real keen sense for hearing those little bike bells.

Days 13-15: My Brain has Rewired…I Can Only Hear in “British.”

Day 15: How Oxford Got it’s Name…It’s Kind of Like the “Poteau” Urban Legend

So, if you’ve been in Oklahoma for a few years at some point you’ll hear the joke about Poteau and how the town was named. Not from Oklahoma? Well, it had something to do with someone tripping over the town hall steps and yelling, “Oh – my po’ toe!” (Groan away…please).

If you follow that logic, then you can guess how Oxford got it’s name, right? Evidently, the locals used to drive their oxen across the ford. True story.

Where was that body of water?

Well, it’s still there, and is a feeder river to the Thames, in south central Oxford.

How do I know this? Because I stood on Folly Bridge and read a sign.

Where did Folly Bridge get it’s name? I don’t know, and neither does Wikipedia.

I can tell you that it’s nice…standing on the bridge and looking over the river. The boats floating there now don’t really give you a mental image of peasants driving oxen across the way, but this is the 21st century, eh?

I can also tell you that there’s something about Oxford that we won’t have in the US for a long, long time. A sense of permanency about the place. When they build a building, it’s there for ages. The building becomes an institution in and of itself. From my view, it seems that when we build a building in America, there’s a predisposition about the fact that in 50 or 100 years, it must just get torn down and a new one built in its place.

The US has contributed great things in the name of Progress. On the other hand, I think that Oxford and its accompanying history have contributed great things in the name of Institution.

Day 14: Are you a Narnia Fan?  If so, this post is for you…

I mentioned in Day 13’s posting that I would share a bit more of the Literary tour information with you. This particular information is fun. Downright dandy fun.

If you are a Chronicles of Narnia fan, then you might recall that when Lucy goes through the Wardrobe to enter Narnia, she passes by a Lamp post and a tree. She then meets Mr. Tumnus.

This particular part of the story was influenced by St. Mary’s Passage, adjacent to St. Mary’s Church where C.S. Lewis attended quite frequently and delivered his famous “Weight of Glory” sermon there from the cathedral floor to the parishioners.

Well, little did I know that every day at least twice I pass by the lamp post and the beautiful tree that provided inspiration for Lucy’s passageway to Narnia in the Chronicles of Narnia children’s book series.

This first picture shows St. Mary’s passage with the lovely tree.

The second picture shows the enchanted lamp post.

And the third picture shows a carving on Brasenose College that provided the inspiration for Mr. Tumnus.

Finally, I’ve attached a fun little video to remind you of the tree, the lamp post and Mr. Tumnus from the movie set to the tune: “Leaning on a Lamp Post.”  What fun!

Above – here’s the lamp post.  You can see the tree and Mr. Tunmus in the background.

And…there’s our dear Mr. Tumnus.  He was just waiting around for someone like Lewis to create a character on his behalf.

And…HERE’s your video!  Enjoy!!

Day 13:  J.R.R.Tolkien & C.S. Lewis by the Skin of My Teeth

There are so many community events going on within Oxford on a daily basis, I have had to monitor their tourism website at least every other day.  And while I can’t possibly DO all the things I would like, I MUST DO some of the things I’ve marked most dear to my heart.  One of these “most dear” choices was the Tolkien & Lewis Literary walking tour.

It only takes place once a month.  You purchase tickets for the tour at the visitors center on Broad Street.

And…it just so happened that the gentleman from Australia just in front of me in line bought the last one.  The tour was full.

I had encouraged him get in front of me just prior to this knowledge because he couldn’t seem to find where the line actually began and ended.  I did my best to keep the disappointment from my face, and thought to myself: “Karma…All good things…It was the right thing to do – – he looks 75+ in age and I’m sure he wanted to be here just as badly as I…”

Perhaps this is where growing up on a farm and getting the job done in “way #2, #3 or #4 if necessary” was helpful?  When I had verified that they would indeed not sell any more tickets for this tour, I decided to purchase one for August the 7th…a Saturday.  My last day in Oxford.  It would be taking place immediately after my last course final and I knew I would be physically zapped.  But I also knew that there was perhaps a fleeting chance someone might not show up today.

I said a tiny prayer and bought the ticket.

I stood around outside and watched those who had the correct tickets for the tour begin to gather.  I started counting warm bodies as they showed up and wondered what the cap on the group might be.  Every once in a while I made eye contact with the man from Australia.  I didn’t see any particular emotion register on his face, and he frequently looked away.  I wonder if HE wondered why I was standing around?

Pictured above – “The Randolf Inn,” where royalty and many historical figures have stayed.  The scene in “The Shadowlands” where C.S. Lewis met his future wife was filmed here, in the dining room.

When the tour guide arrived, I walked up to her straight away and said, “Hello there.  I’ve purchased a ticket for the August 7th tour, but that is my last day in Oxford.  May I please wait around and see if perhaps someone doesn’t show up so that I might take their place?”  She seemed to take the request in stride and answered, “Yes, yes…of course…that often happens, doesn’t it? Someone neglects to show?  Just wait here and perhaps you’ll get in.  We’ll see now.”

Pictured above – “The Eastgate Hotel,” where C.S. Lewis ACTUALLY met his future wife in the dining room.  Evidently, the makers of the film thought it wasn’t glorious enough for the big screen.

Okay, hurdle number one cleared.  Time for hurdle number two: body count.  They were only allowed to take 20 on each tour.  20 per month in a town where C.S. Lewis & J.R.R. Tolkien spent the majority of their lives.  Go figure.  16 currently stood in the group and had their tickets checked (including me).

It seemed that the time between 1:28 and 1:30 passed excruciatingly slowly.

Two people showed up at 1:31:30…they said, “Hey there, we’re not too late are we?”

“No, no.  Of course not!” the guide responded.  She then began to provide orientation information to the group about how we had to pay fifty-pence when we got to Merton College, but if we weren’t on the tour we would have had to pay two pounds.

One more person showed up.  “What have I missed?” they asked.  My stress level increased just a bit.  We were at 19 including me now.

As the tour guide began repeating everything she just said, I began talking to her in my head:  “Go!  Just go…it’s 1:34…go now!”  The lady next to me leaned over, and with a kind smile she looked at me and said, “It’s sort of like waiting to get on a plane using the stand-by method, eh?”  I smiled back.  Yes.  That’s exactly what it was.  Exactly.

Pictured to the right – the town home where J.R.R. Tolkien lived after his wife passed away.  He admitted to being very lonely after her death, but still made time to spend with the students in tutorial, and still taught classes for quite some time.  The students seemed to help take his mind off his wife, he admitted, but at this point in time most of his literary friends from the club had died as well.

The tour began.  Halelujah!  We got indoctrinated into more history about the Eagle and the Child, the Lion and the Cross and a few other pubs the “Inklings” club used over the course of twenty or so years between the 40s and 60s.  We saw the hotel where C.S. Lewis met his future wife for the first time as mentioned in “The Shadowlands.”  I found out that the Church of St. Mary Magdalene (prounounced Moglin) right by Brasenose College is where Lewis delivered his, “Weight of Glory” sermon…one of my favorite essays by him.

And then the guide’s cell phone rang.  Evidently the last two people who had purchased tickets had been waiting at the Eagle and Child Pub for 1.5 hours for the tour to begin.  They had printed material from the internet showing that this was indeed the place where they were supposed to be.  She hung up the phone.  As she told the group that we would be waiting on them for five minutes to join us the man from Australia looked at me.  I looked away and bit my lip.

The two tourists arrived in good spirits, waving their “proof” around for everyone to see.  I leaned over to the tour guide and asked, “Do I need to go back now?”

“No,”  she replied.  “I told them that we would have one extra and they called ahead to Merton College.  It’s all just fine.”  Yea, yea, yea!  I know my face lit up.  The man from Australia turned to me when we began to walk again and said, “You got lucky, now, didn’t ya?”

“Yes,” I replied.  “Very lucky.”  Then he smiled and began walking beside me for the rest of the tour.

Perhaps he was relieved as well.

*****  ***** *****
See below for a few photos of today’s tour…

The five windows and door on the bottom two floors pictured here are where Tolkien taught.  There was a bedroom there where the door was, as academics would travel great distances for tutorials.  The accommodations were so that they could spend the night while studying there, or a few days if needed.

This is one of the oldest buildings in the Oxford colleges.  It was built in the mid-13th century.  It is the Merton College Library.  Each College has a Church, a Dining Hall and a Library.  The books were all kept in the upstairs floors due to danger of flooding and mold, and the shelves were built at right angles to the windows in order for any breeze possible to blow through and keep them dry and in good shape.

This is the Lamb and Flag pub.  The “Inkling” club moved here after the Eagle and the Child (nicknamed the Bird & the Babe by the locals) enforced a no-smoking policy.  The Literaries could not see giving up their pipes as inspiration for their discussions.

I have more pictures, but I’ll save them for another time…suffice it to say, I saw where the idea for Mr. Tumness originated, the Lamp Post and Tree whereby Lucy entered into Narnia, and all sorts of other sights to see.  Nite.

Day 12: Housekeeping – Literally & Figuratively

Rather than my usual entry style, this time I wrote a song about my day for you since it was rather boring and basically consisted of chores, homework and exercise.  Please sing it to the tune of “America the Beautiful” in your head.  I chose that particular tune since we’re still in the Independence Day general area on the calendar.

Oh, and if you have a webcam or a microphone and want to sing it – then send me a recording, I’ll bring you a souvenir.  And if there’s more than one submission, I’ll pick the winner and double what I would have normally spent. AND – if you’re REALLY good, I’ll put it on my blog with a spiffy little write up.

Otherwise, instead of singing “Oh beautiful for spacious skies…,” give this a whirl….

V 1.
Oh, help me now
It’s morning time
My mattress is a rock

I try and move
Then pop my back
And grapple for my clock

It’s ten a.m.
How did I sleep
So late when it’s so hot?

I guess it’s due
To such a great
Relaxing, quiet dorm – NOT!

V 2.
First laundry time
Then breakfast time
Then dryer takes my pounds

There’s no one here
To hear complaints
I know, I’ve searched the grounds…

I then decide
to a-ir dry
The entire wet load

But just as I
Walk out the door
The drier changes modes.

V 3.
I turn around
and glare at it
And wonder if it lives

I think I heard
It chuck-el-ling
I scream at it: “What gives?”

It silently
relented to
My loading all the stuff

And then it nicely
Dried my clothes
And acted normal ’nuff.

I then bought plastic hangers and
a desk fan
for my room.

I donned my reading
glasses and
read stacks and stacks past noon.

I stood and stretched
I donned my shorts
And ran into the Park

I then ate soup
And strolled a bit
And now it’s nearly Dark.

– G’Nite, then.

Day ‘Leven: Legal Tour of London…Lovely Learning

Today’s entry is short. There are no classes in this program on Friday. Therefore, in the spirit of taking a breather I’ll let this movie speak for itself.

Our group took a walking tour of the legal educational and practicing district today. For more information about this particular tour, please visit:

Featured in this video is a memorial to the Knights Templar, sections of Old London before the fire, buildings after it was bombed in WWII during the London Blitz, The Royal Courts of Justice, the four Inns of Court and many more historical sites – each with their own stories.

If you see something you’d like to know more about, just send me a message and I’ll do my best. And, to those of you in Oklahoma…enjoy your “Friday Night in the Big Town!”

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40 Days in the UK (Days 7-10): Getting Down to Business

Day 7:  “The Height of Rudeness,” and Kelly tries to manage her new video camera..HA!

Today I’m going to share a two videos of my travels.

The first one is a special treat for you.  Pictured here is Sir David Yardley who is an Oxford emeritus fellow and ambassador/representative in the UK to several political or national bodies.  He welcomed our group to the college and then gave a little talk on cultural differences between the US and the UK.

Here he talks about his hay fever.  I wish I had the entire talk for you…after he gave a small note to us on the Obama comment about “Kicking BP’s a**” and what that comment means in the UK, I decided to capture a short clip of the moment.  More on that comment in my upcoming “British phrases, etc” entry.  Here’s Sir David:

(you might need to turn up the volume or use headphones)

The next two videos are from this afternoon.  I was walking across campus just now and I heard pipe organ music coming from the college chapel.  I didn’t even see the pipes the first time I visited at night.  I walked in, stood there for a good ten minutes listening, took two short videos and left.  The gentleman was practicing and with the echo in the chapel, the moment was simply divine.

I hope you enjoyed the videos.  I’m going to try and capture some special moments and continue to upload short clips on YouTube then post the clips here.  I was having trouble uploading directly into my blog today – I’ll try again, because the quality will be better.  Below are two pictures to close out today’s entry.  The first is of the lecture hall where our classes are held.  The second was taken off High Street today.  I don’t see many hat shops so I thought you might enjoy the shot as well.  Take care…KR

Day 8: A Brush with C.S. Lewis, “Kelly’s Turf” and The PUB is UNDER the CLASSROOM!

After class this morning I decided that I had waited long enough for my body to catch up on the time change and that the crowded sidewalks were really no excuse to avoid running.  There HAD to be some open area somewhere!  I heard at breakfast that there are two large parks in town – one that is more open (and has cows grazing, supposedly) and the other that has manicured flowers and shrubs.  Well, I opted for the cows, of course!

While leaving the more congested market district I walked by “The Eagle and the Child” pub where the famed “Inklings” group (consisting of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkein, and others) sat in the “Rabbit Room” and conspired to create all sorts of fiction. [oh – and by the way – – they DO sell rabbit quite commonly here at the meat market].  My other C25K entry covers a bit more of this adventure.  This picture is of the outside sign – – my heart melted knowing that the walls within this place heard the conversations of those great masters.

Later when I got back, I realized that I haven’t shared any video of by dorm room.  The style includes very late 60s/early 70s dorm room furniture, but the building is much, much older.

Here is “Kelly’s narrated video tour” of my “turf” for the next few weeks:

click here for a quickie-tour of Kelly’s living quarters at Oxford

This evening we were granted a special one-hour lecture by Sir David over the differences between the U.S. Constitution and the non-existent British constitution.  I am enamored by this delightful gentleman.  I found out today that he is in his eighties, and has visited the OU Summer Program at Oxford for each of the 36 years it has existed.  This picture shows him lecturing…but there’s a funny thing you can’t see.  The World Cup finals were going on at the same time as the lecture, and the pub managed by Brasenose College is just downstairs from our lecture hall.  Two points were scored during the lecture and ROARS erupted from the basement.
The students are encouraged to “do research” after classes each day in the pub.  I’ve not yet conducted any research, but I did conduct a short perusal so I could see the place.  It’s very nicely designed.  Here are a few pictures of our basement pub.  Cheers~!

Day 9:  Flowers, Candy and Romance…why Oxford works for young lovers and old romantics

Last night I was talking to my husband and for the first time since I’ve been gone I think we had a “I really miss you” moment.  So, with that in mind I thought I would put together some of my day in a mid-summer Valentine message to my hubby.  So – Mickey (and girls!), if you were here we could enjoy the following…and since you’re not, I’m writing the best tribute letter I can in order to share my day with you.  And readers, if you need a Valentine today as well – here you go!:

The FLOWERS – Wow, in a temperate climate like the UK, the flowers get lots of rain and chances to thrive.  Here are a few shots of the neatly trimmed botanical garden I ran by today, the flower market (with English flowers not generally sold in our mid-US area), and someone’s yard that had a lovely little perennial garden:

CANDY: Evidently, TOFFEE is quite the treat.  Remember something in C.S. Lewis’ books about Treacle?  Well, it’s a type of toffee…and it’s all delicious. And fattening. And delicious.

There is a little store at the end of the street named “Mr. Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe – Purveyor of Finest Confectionery.” I picked up a “Crunchy Bar” for a friend of mine at church, then I spied the chocolate covered currants, then I spied the Raspberry Chocolate Log, then I had to snap out of my sugar-addictive fit and get out of there.  FAST!

Romance…or, “Punting” as it were…

If you remember the brat pack movie “Oxford Blues” from the 80s, you might recall that Rob Lowe’s character took the Ralph Lauren model (Amanda Pays) who played the princess out on a boat.  It was long and flat, and she sat in one end while he talked and pushed it along with a pole on the other end.  “Punting” has a long standing tradition in this part of the country. I think it’s funny that those in Oxford stand on one end of the boat with their poles, and those in Cambridge stand on the other end.  Ha!  Here’s a picture I took through the sculpted rails on a bridge looking down at the boats on my run.

And here is a borrowed photograph of an Oxford couple punting.  The photoblogger is named “fantompoet” and here’s their link:

So…today was a lot of learning and working, and MUCH reading.  I only ventured out to run, and am now back reading statutes.  But, I just want Mick and the girls (and my readers) to know that right before I came back inside the quad to begin my homework, I stopped in St. Mary’s church, said a prayer for a family I’ve been lifting up for quite some time, and said a prayer for my own family.

I miss you too!  Love always to Pappy, Rass and RyeDye – – Sincerely, Mams

Day 10:  At Christ’s Church College, God and the Humility of Seeing All Those who Died Before Us Trump Harry Potter.  And then, Harry is Way Cool Too. PLUS…The Bear!

After class this morning, I took a nap. We’ve finished learning what it takes to get a marriage in Oklahoma, and will be spending much time over the next week or two learning what a mess getting a divorce can be.  Of course, I’ve seen this in my therapy room, but seeing the cases, jurisdictions, precedents, etc. will be altogether confusing to a greater level, I’m sure.

I’m STILL not sure if my body is completely adjusted to the new time schedule although I would think by now it should be. Right?  Perhaps I get extra credit days because I’m middle aged?

See photo of walk upon entering Christ Church College: “My sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage.”

When I woke up I knew my mission for my short walk today would be in the direction of Christ Church College. My children love Harry Potter and I’m not sure I could travel back home if I didn’t witness – IN PERSON – the dining hall after which the Harry Potter series was conceptualized and filmed.  Here are a few pictures paying deference to the dining hall scenes of the famous books and movies as well as a photographic tour of the grounds, the Church and the memorials.  I can’t really describe the feelings I experienced while looking at the WWI memorial, the breathtaking church, the knights and saints memorialized there with their dogs or a lion at their feet (representing Christ), and pane after pane of stained glass.  It was humbling and awe inspiring.

I also happened upon the right alley way and found “The Bear.” I’ve been saving my first pint for The Bear in honor of my friend Ellen who graduated from Oxford.  So – Ellen, I found it!  I had a pint of cider and it was delicious.

Here are a few pictures of the pub and the historical decor (ties from young students who graduated and ceremoniously gave their school ties to the pub – – labeled and signed, they cover the walls and ceilings in glass plated frames…”1939, St. John’s College, Cricket Team….or, 1968, Agricultural College…”).  I want to go back there – it’s quiet, historical and quintessentially Oxford.  Cheers!

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.

*** ***
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!

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).


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! 😀

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.


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.

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.