Category Archives: Travel

Forty Days in the UK Flashback: An All-In-One Guide

This past summer I left my beloved state and visited a foreign land.  The primary purpose was to take courses with a group of students from the University of Oklahoma School of Law in Oxford.  However, I combined other parts of the trip with my regular marital policy work at OSU, and took a few days vacation to visit distant relatives I had never met.  The trip was one of the best experiences of my life and greatly nurtured the Explorer within me.  I’ve been working on cleaning up all the photograph links that somehow deteriorated during our move to the new site.  During this process, I decided to put this guidepost up so if anyone would ever like to revisit the journey through my “40 Days in the UK,” they could do it all from one location.


Continue reading Forty Days in the UK Flashback: An All-In-One Guide

Silent Sunday: 11/21/10

Photographer's one week old colt, taken April, 2010 - Fittstown, OK (south of Ada). To visit "Brown Photography" blog, click the photo.

Looks like this little girl's parents will be up for more face painting this year as the OSU Cowboy football team continues their winning streak. Click photo to visit the OSUPics site.

Continue reading Silent Sunday: 11/21/10

Forest, Trees. Clouds, Crystals. A Micro-Macro Meditation.

Monday afternoon I was sitting in the window seat of a plane flying toward Minneapolis.  During take off preparations, some of the shiny chrome trim on the tarmac equipment caught a reflective beam of sunlight and sent it directly into my eye; so, I had shut the window cover.   But now I was curious.  I wanted to see the view, to look around and say hello to the sky.


Ice crystals. Some of them looked like tiny caterpillars or stands of mitochondria.


When I lifted the plastic shade I was met with a view of tiny ice crystals that had been forming on the outside of my window.  I examined them and looked for purpose or replication in their pattern.  I thought about Minnesota and wondered if the quilted jacket I had with me was enough to keep the cold air at bay.  My thoughts turned toward the conference.  It had been a long day, so I reached up to once again close the shade and try to nap.  I had been up since 4 a.m. and had a long night of preparations still in front of me.

Just as my arm started the downward motion to close the shade, something caught my eye.  I stopped and took in the “skyscape” moment,  visually tracking the long blanket of cloud cover beneath the plane all the way to the horizon.  I’ve seen the clouds before, but I almost missed them this time.


Oh, HEY clouds. Good to see you!

I had allowed what was right in front of my eyes to be all that I considered.  I then wondered, who had I done that same thing to today? Yesterday? This week?  So my hope for you today is:


Remember to also step back, take in the whole person, and enjoy or consider their sum.  After all, their whole being is always so much more than the sum of their individual parts.

Happy skyscaping,

Red Dirt Kelly

Oversleep-y Silent Sunday: 10/24/10

Persimmon Time - Oklahoma is great place for finding edible treasures across the land. NOW is the time for Persimmon foraging. Have you seen any around? - Photo by Red Dirt Kelly
The "Zac" group did their best to help OSU win their homecoming contest against Nebraska, but it just wasn't meant to be. This photo and more from "America's Best Homecoming" celebration at
Proof positive that fall IS coming to Oklahoma...eventually. Photo by Kenny Bomgardner, taken of his tree.
While the weather is still good...make sure and plan a trip to the Wichita Wildlife refuge. You might find yourself sharing the road with this guy. Photo by the Oklahoma Tourism Department. Click to read more about the area.

Value Times Three: Check out Taylor’s Dining Room on the OSU Campus

For a little over six years now, I’ve walked the halls of the College of Human Environmental Sciences (CHES) at Oklahoma State University (OSU).  One of the things I’ve never worried about is where I might eat my lunch in case I’m in too much of a rush to pack myself a meal.  There are two restaurants in the adjoining building to ours, CHES-West.  One of them is a little “faster food” style cafe’ serving both breakfast and lunch.  The other is Taylor’s Dining Room, the “fine dining Lab for students in the School of Hotel and Restaurant Administration.”

I eat there about two or three times each semester.  Every time I go, these thoughts come to my head:  1) The food is a good value compared to other bistro-style restaurants in larger city areas; 2) I’m contributing to the students’ education by eating there and interacting with the staff; and, 3) I get more than a meal when I go.  I get a smile on my face; it’s a treat to be welcomed, seated, served and checked on by students in training within the 8th ranked hospitality and tourism programs in the world.

I visited Taylor’s about a week ago and was glad to see they continue to revamp the menu as are newly inspired from students, faculty and visiting chef’s from around the globe.  In the mood to welcome autumn, I ordered the Arugula, Pear & Manchego Salad ($9) and a glass of tea.

The salad was complimented by their bread basket.  They’ve changed their daily bread service since last year; the added bread sticks with caraway was a nice modification.

Like many salads I’ve had lately, I had to pick out two or three wilted leaves.  Other than that, the dish was excellent.  I especially liked their choice of the buttery Manchego cheese as a compliment to the sweeter poached pears.

If you have a chance to visit Stillwater and want a good meal for a good price, I suggest Taylor’s.  It’s a chance to give, get and eat.  Bon appetit!

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch: OKtober

We have a little gem of a bakery out here in the country.  Backerman’s Bakery and Cheese Shoppe is a small Mennonite Bakery owned and run by a local Mennonite family.  The bakery is a fairly popular stop on Highway 64 and is one of the ways I get my friends to come visit me…I promise to take them to the bakery for a fried pie.

A brief amount of research on Mennonites in Oklahoma revealed that this group played a role in the Land Run of 1889.  They were key to helping Oklahoma become a major wheat-producing state.  Currently there are three Mennonite churches in the tiny town of Corn (formerly Korn) which only has about 591 residents.  Corn is located on the western prairie range, about twenty miles or so south of Weatherford.

Our local Mennonite community raises funds the first weekend in October in order to support their Mennonite school.   The Mennonite Oktoberfest celebrates German heritage treats (without the beer) and the goodness of community.  Of course, anytime I see an “O” and a “K” together, I think of Oklahoma; nothing screams “goodness of community” like my home state.Mennonite Girl

See more pictures from the most recent Oktoberfest, 2010.

Everybody’s Crazy ‘Bout a Man Who Helps You Dress Sharp

HELM Handmade Boots were made for walkin’ and lookin’ good.

Josh Bingaman at Progress Coffee, Austin, TX

This Friday morning RDC shout-out goes to Josh Bingaman, an Okie who now lives in Austin.

Who has a passion for creating a line of nouveaux rustic, and downright dapper, hand-made men’s boots and shoes.

Who’s inspiration for his creations came from a venture he co-owned and managed with his brother called the Subterranean Shoe Room.

Who also owns Progress Coffee in Austin with his wife.

You can read the story and other press pieces on their website.  You can know that, depending upon your foot size, these men’s boots could fit women as well. And you can be certain that when wearing them, you’ll walk a little taller…how could you not?

Utilizing connections and relationships the world over, HELM boots are hand-made in Istanbul with soles from Italy, served up in several locations around the U.S. And they absolutely eke of style; an old-world return to a new future we have for fashion and footwear.

Based upon my research this morning, it appears that Josh and the boots have received a good bit of publicity in Oklahoma, including a feature in the Daily Oklahoman and a trunk show at the Shoe Gypsy. However, I’m just now finding out about them and frankly, have mentally started a “HELM boots savings account” to buy my favorite pair.

The culture of creativity runs deep in Red Dirt country and sometimes that story extends beyond the Red River.  And sometimes to the other side of the world.

Congratulations, Josh, for realizing one of your dreams.  I’m sure you’ll have more, based upon what you’ve done to this point.  I’m making a note to check on you in another year…and I’ll be sportin’ my HELM boots when I do.

The "Jarmon" canvas, christened after his mother's maiden name...I want these. If you missed the link in the first sentence, click this photo to visit their website.

A Kairos Moment at Culp’s Hill

by Josh Bottomly

Down through the centuries, theologians and mystics have spoken of divine experiences in human time as kairos moments.  By definition, a kairos moment is an event used by God to impact one’s life.  It involves an intersection of sorts between the horizontal and vertical, the humdrum and holy, where, for a fleeting moment, one experiences God’s nearness in his life and God’s hereness in his world.

Kairos moments have happened infrequently in my life.  But none was more pivotal and life changing than the karios moment on an obscure battlefield at Gettysburg.

The months leading up to this event had been colored by deep darkness.   It had been almost two years since my wife and I first visited the fertility clinic.  Now the “I” word was not some distant and remote diagnosis.  It was a sobering reality.  By this time, my prayer life had been reduced to a whimper of faith.  The silence of despair grew firm within my chest.  On the brink of a spiritual breakdown, I prayed as a desperate man for a break through.  Little did I know how God would answer my prayer.

Culp's Hill

While attending a leadership conference at Gettysburg, one night I was approached by Marty, a conference leader.  He asked me if I wanted a personal tour of Culp’s Hill, a famous battle during the Gettysburg campaign.  I grabbed my Mountain Gear fleece;  I was definitely up for it.

After snaking our way up through hills exploding with green April foliage, we stopped at a tiny knot of cedars surrounded by large boulders and scattered tree logs.  “This was the Union army’s extreme right position,” Marty exclaimed as he pointed to a breastwork of cobbled stone covered in moss and dirt.  “It was here that the fate of the Union army largely hung in the balance.”

As Marty began to lead me around the markers that jutted up around the hill, the whole scene suddenly transformed before my eyes into a dramatic amphitheatre of war.

The main battle commenced at dusk on July 2, 1864.

As darkness moved in amongst the thick trees at Culp’s Hill, the NY 137th disbanded in a thin line from the saddle down to the lower hill.  Below the hill, gathering in a swale, and quickly filling up many trenches was a Confederate brigade led by General Steuart.

About that time, General Meade of the Union Army sent orders to Colonel David Ireland, the twenty-five-year-old commander of the NY 137th.  General Meade’s orders were short and exacting.

“Colonel Ireland, hold the line at all costs.”

Soon Steuart’s men moved into position behind the low stonewall in rear of the 137th.
They quickly unleashed a staccato of gunfire.  Before they knew it, the 137th was taking heat from front, right flank, and rear.  Their position, as Marty described it, was “like a finger, surrounded on three sides.”

At about that time the 71st Pennsylvania regiment showed up.  They were backups sent by General Hancock to assist the 137th.  But seeing Ireland’s men taking heavy musket fire from all directions, the 71st fired off a volley or two at Steuart’s men and quickly withdrew from the line.  Their position was untenable.

Union fortifications built to ward off the Confederates.

With half his infantry dead, resources depleted, and reinforcements in retreat, Ireland decided to order one final defensive tactic:  commanding his regiment to stack up granite rocks to form a stone wall.  There, entrenched on the saddle back between the hills, Ireland waited with his men.

As Marty showed me where Ireland had burrowed in with his men, I tried to put myself in the young colonel’s shoes.  I got down on my knees behind the stonewall and peered out into the thick darkness with only the silhouette of the overhanging limbs visible.  I wondered how Ireland held his men together as trees splintered from canon fire, bullets pinged off granite rocks, and hot metal tore through sinewy flesh.  I suddenly felt like I could hear the shrieks of young men as they breathed their last breath and their souls slid out of their bodies.

Effects of Union shot and shell on Culp's Hill - photo by William H. Tipton.

Somehow through the long and unrelenting night, Ireland and his men found the strength and fortitude to stymie every Confederate charge up the hill.

At around three a.m., Steuart’s men suspended their attack due to complete lack of visibility and thus an inability to determine who was who.  They feared they were shooting and killing their own men.  As their attack subsided, the 137th found renewed strength and hope as the 14th Brooklyn and the 6th Wisconsin showed up with reinforcements.

Had the Confederates known the 137th was the end of the line, they could have advanced toward the Baltimore Pike and overrun the Union army, changing the outcome of the battle at Gettysburg, probably turning the tide of the whole Civil War.

But the line never broke.

After Marty finished telling the story, I stood in complete silence, as I suddenly felt like Culp’s Hill was becoming holy ground.  I didn’t see a burning bush or hear an audible voice.  But as the wind rustled through the Pennsylvania birch trees and I stood against the cobbled traverse, I sensed somehow that God was near.

A scripture came to mind, one that I had memorized early in my life.

Let him who walks in the dark,
who has no light,
trust in the name of the Lord
and rely on his God.

~Isaiah 50:10a

For two years I had endured what St. John of the Cross called the oscura noche, the dark night of the soul.  During that time, I felt like Job—confused, doubtful, and befuddled by God’s seeming absence and deafening silence.  My prayers were punctuated by sighs and groans.  I came closest to God in my questions.  I wondered not whether God existed but if God knew I existed.  Did he know my pain?  Did he see my suffering?  Would he respond to my cry?

As I walked the hallowed grounds at Culp’s Hill, I began to pray.  Specifically, I echoed Peter’s prayer: ‘I do believe, Jesus, help me overcome my unbelief!’ (Mark 9:24).  I confessed to him that I felt like I was living within a precarious space between two parenthetical opposites: one being faith, the other being doubt.  The bitterest pill I felt I had been forced to swallow involved watching Amy suffer and hurt and not knowing how to palliate her pain in any way.

In that moment, though, as the moon rose high into the starless sky and the leaves turned silver, I felt that God was near.  For so long, God had seemed distant and remote, like a satellite.  Sensing God’s closeness now, I cupped my ear and leaned into the silence.  What I heard filled me with a renewed trust that the night would give way to the day.  And somehow, in some way, against all odds, pressed in on all sides, he would hold the line.  Like Col. Ireland and the NY 137th, Amy and I would see the first gleam of dawn burst through the darkness.  We would feel the sun on our faces again.  We would hear a new word heralded through the clouds:  a new day had arrived!

~~Note:  Josh and his wife Amy documented their journey, struggles and resolution to travel to Africa and adopt a child in their book, “From Ashes to Africa.”  This post is a revised piece from that book.  For more information visit

Silent Sundays: Photos of the Week, 9/12/10

A tiny snapshot of the good done in Oklahoma for Oklahomans every day. Flatlander Car Club members, Roger Koehns and John Pugh, present a couple in need, Tia Hegwood and Alex Holguin, with a check for $500. The couple struggles with medical expenses due to Tia's diabetes. (Courtesy photo - provided to the Guymon Daily Herald.) Click photo to visit the newspaper for the article and link to the Car Club website.
Muslim men and boys pack the mosque of the Islamic Society of Tulsa during services Friday marking the end of Ramadan. MICHAEL WYKE/Tulsa World Read more from this Tulsa World article by clicking photo.
Oklahoma photographer Carl Zoch's self-documentary compilation of a recent trip he and his friends took to the mountains. Great shots & music. Click picture for the "Carl Was Here" slideshow.

Mrs. Tulsa America, Sasha Townsend and her partner Ryan McDaniel won "A Time to Dance", a local Dancing-With-The-Stars-style competition, to benefit the Hospitality House of Tulsa. Inserts on the photo are a shot of them rehearsing, and of their trophy. Click photo to visit the Hospitality House's website. Reprinted w/permission from Mrs. Townsend. Congratulations, Sasha!
Young girl led by her father on a miniature horse in the Sept. 4, 2010 Wilson Fall Festival Parade. Click picture to visit "The Ardmoreite" festival photos.
Oliver and Ina Stonecipher will be celebrating their 70th wedding anniversary in Stratford, OK on Sept. 19th. They were married in 1940 on the Pontatoc County line by Reverend Vard Wood. Click the picture to read the news announcement and see a photo of them on the day they were married in 1940 - linking you to the Ada Evening News.

Tylz and Rylz Go to Meers

How many people have visited Meers, Oklahoma to get a hamburger and wax nostalgic?  How about Eischen’s Fried Chicken in Okarche?  Wilson’s BBQ in Tulsa?  J&W Grill in Chickasha? The Italian restaurants in Krebs?

How many have visited these establishments for so long that they then take their children and eventually their grandchildren?  Of those grandchildren taken by their grandparents (who were waxing nostalgic as well as enjoying their precious cargo), how many decide to then take their teenage friends back and begin their own sentimental journeys?

I have no idea.  I do know that at least one has followed this hypothetical pattern. She took her boyfriend on August 18th, their two-year “dating anniversary.”  She took him to Meers, Oklahoma to get a hamburger because she had a nice time when she was a kid on a trip with her grandparents.

Tylz and Rylz (Tyler Garcia and Rylee Roberts) headed toward southwest Oklahoma at approximately 3:30 in the afternoon.  They had scheduled the afternoon and evening off work, dressed up slightly, printed out a map and set out to find the restaurant on their own.  It wasn’t their first road trip and it probably won’t be the last.

They arrived at the restaurant, ate dinner, talked to the cook, and said hello to the stray cats.  The cook said they could take one with them if they wanted.  “Well,” he hesitated.  “Not the fat one.  You can take one of the others.”  Evidently he had a soft spot for the “fat” cat.  I wonder how many hamburgers that cat has ingested?

Just prior to arriving at the restaurant, Rylee spied a sign on the road.  “That’s where I went on youth retreats! Camp Y’Shua…Let’s go back there after we eat.  I’ll show you where I camped!”

Where she camped.  Where she went with her grandparents.  Where she went to her youth retreats.  Tyler was getting the grand memory tour and Rylee was just fine with being the tour guide.

They said goodbye to the cats at the restaurant, explored the grounds at Camp Y’Shua, stopped by the lake to watch the sunset and headed home.

Tonight I was trying to decide what to put on the blog since we moved our Sports release to Friday, and another piece I had come in didn’t really fit our mission.  It was one of those “What do I do now?” times.  So I’m digging.  Digging for some angle.  I asked Rylee, “What is it about the 20-something crowd that makes them want to go back and explore the Oklahoma culture?  The grass roots of our state?  What is it that motivated you to choose Meers for your two-year anniversary trip?”

“It’s not my ‘group’ or my friends that are doing this, mom.  We were the only ones our age in the restaurant.  I just wanted to go back.”  She sounded slightly annoyed.

“Okay.  So, you just randomly decided to go?”

“No,” she replied.  “That’s not it.  I just wanted to go because I went there once with Granny and Papa when I was little and I liked it.  That’s all.”

She wasn’t waxing philosophical.  She just wanted to share a happy memory with her boyfriend.

Her reason was so much more than I had assumed before I heard her answer.  And, it was certainly deeper than my questions.

From a White-Skinned Father to a Black-Skinned Son

Josh and Silas, November 2009

I am a white-skinned father with a black-skinned son.

A little over a year ago, my wife, Amy, and I adopted our son, Silas, from Ethiopia.

Silas turned two in December.

Today our conversations tend to revolve around our favorite snacks – yogurt and lemon pound cake at Starbucks – and favorite TV characters and movies – Elmo and Ratatouille. We also squabble very little these days. Sometimes Silas will take a swing at me when I take away the Wii joystick. And other times he’ll treat the cheese sandwich I made him for dinner like a Frisbee.

One day, though, Silas will want to talk about other things.  Like the color of his skin. And my skin.   And his mother’s skin.   And pictures and events and people and dates he finds in his history textbook.

There are some historical dates I don’t want to broach with Silas then. August 12th, 1955, for example.  That’s the day Emmett Till, a 14 year old boy, was brutally lynched in Mississippi by white, southern, “Christian” men.

Then there is September 15th, 1963. That’s the day when four little girls were killed by a white supremacist bomb at 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.

Or April 4th, 1968. That’s the fateful day Dr. King had his hope-filled voice silenced by a sniper’s gun.

But then there are days in America’s history I can’t wait to explain to Silas.

Days like December 1st, 1955, for example.  The day when Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white man. That small, defiant “no” reverberated out into a large, defiant “no more.”

There are other days, too. Like August 28th, 1963. The day Dr. King delivered his famous message, “I Have a Dream.” It was a day unlike any other day. It was a day of dreaming of another kind of America.

And then there was November 4th, 2008.  Obama’s presidential victory.  And then there was January 20th, 2009.  Obama’s inauguration.

These are dates I look forward to telling Silas about – not as a student of history, but as a participator in making history.

Baby silas
Baby Silas

And I will tell Silas this: whether one voted for Obama or not, one could not argue that it was a significant symbolic moment.  And a storied moment with deep biblical resonances.  From hundreds of years wandering in the wilderness of prejudice and oppression.  To now the new days of exploring the “milk and honey” land of equality and opportunity.

Undoubtedly, MLK glimpsed the Promised Land from a distance.  Like Moses.  Like a dream just beyond his grasp.  But Silas, you, and others of your skin color will experience this land as a blessed reality.  Like Joshua.  And the nation of Israel.

I can only pray that this new land for you will shimmer with the topsoil of fresh possibility, and contain in its seedbed the promise of renewed dignity.  But, Silas, there are still weeds trying to choke out these verdant seeds.  For though the “color line” W.B. Dubois spoke of has been broken in America’s political establishment, it still exists in America’s religious establishment.  95% of the evangelical church, for example, still remains divided along the color line.  Unfortunately, Martin Luther King Jr.’s truism stills rings true today:  11 am on Sunday morning is still the most segregated hour in America.  Perhaps, though, Silas, by the time you come of age, that small, subversive 5% of the American church will have grown and spread through the body of Christ like a lush vine.

Voting though won’t bring this change.

Only Spirit-led repentance will.

I can only pray that you discover these seeds pods of repentance bursting within my heart.  And your mom’s heart.  And your grandparents’ hearts.  And in the hearts of all of those who you know that call themselves Christ followers.

I am reminded of observing MLK Day last year.  You, your mom, and I celebrated Dr. King’s legacy with our adoption community at the Queen of Sheba, a local Ethiopian restaurant.  On that special day, our dear friends, Eric and Tara, received their referral picture from Ethiopia of their soon-to-be-adopted baby boy, Malak. That night we laughed and cried over Malak’s picture, ooing and awing at his large black eyes and his luminous smile.

Later that night as I lay awake in bed and reflected on that festive evening, I couldn’t help but wonder if in fact Dr. King were alive today, would he approve of couples like us and the Silvestres adopting black children. I also thought about how far we have come, from an age of colonialism, where Africans were our slaves, to this new post colonial age, where Africans are now our sons. And I wondered if Dr. King could have even dreamed of such a day when such transformation was possible. Who knows really? But it makes me wonder if at the Queen of Sheba, if just for a fleeting moment, with our bellies full of freshly baked bread, and sweet Ethiopian wine on our tongues, and with you in our arms, and Malak’s picture in front of our faces, if we did not glimpse even if for a moment, the future community of God, the eschatological days when the old age of hatred and racial division will be truly over, and a new age of love and racial harmony will have begun.

As I closed my eyes to sleep, I suddenly recalled Dr. King’s words spoken days before he was assassinated.

“The end is reconciliation;

the end is redemption;

the end is the creation of the beloved community.”

And remembering these words, Silas, I thought to myself, Perhaps the end has already begun.

-Josh Bottomly

Editor’s Note – this article is reprinted from Relevant, an online magazine. It was published as a Martin Luther King Day feature dated Monday, January 19, 2009.  Josh is the Director of College Counseling at Casady High School in Oklahoma City.  He coaches basketball, is a husband and now a father of TWO children from Ethiopia. Silas has a little sister.  She joined the family in June of this year.

Day 40 in the UK Brings Me Home

Lower red arrow shows where I stayed in "Staircase 14" - Amsterdam Quod. Other labels were added because I mentioned them in my posts.

Day 40 was 30 hours long.  At least it felt as if there had been 24 hours + the 6 hours time difference between Oklahoma and England.  And that’s putting things mildly.

On Sunday morning I left a city 75 minutes northeast of London and by Sunday evening landed on a very familiar Will Rogers World airport tarmac, right in the heart of Oklahoma.  The time in-between those two events is a bit of a blur.  Here are a few things I remember…

As I sit and write this entry my shoulders tell me this:

1) Suitcase = 61 pounds.  The service person at the desk “…let it slide.  After all, it’s not THAT much over 50 pounds.”  [Really? Cool!]

2) Laptop = 6 pounds.  I know.  Please, no lectures.  I realize there are sleaker models.

3) New bag = 7 pounds, crammed full.  If the top had included a magnet clasp, the prospect of carrying that much clutter scooped in the last minute from my dorm room vanity would have been dismal.  A zipper top is a thing of beauty.

4) Casebook, statues and handbook = 9 pounds, stacked neatly in a paper bag with handles.  In the morning the bag had gleamed in its spotless, wrinkle free state.  In the evening, the bag was hardly recognizable.  Smudges, rips, one handle barely fastened.  However, I got my books back.  Good thing – they were 300 dollars.  Young parents attending college must weigh this decision frequently: “Books? Or that child we wanted to have?”

Total poundage drug through three airports? 83 pounds.  Sometimes at a dead run.  Other times as a slow crawl.  Never gracefully.

And as I wrote those words, “dead run” another thing came to mind.  The magical beauty of an Express Connection bright orange sticker.

Like a Golden Ticket from Willy Wonka, only it's an Orange Ticket from American!

This little adhesive label allows the bearer to bypass thousands of people standing in line to get through customs and check-in counters because you happen to have been on a plane that arrived dangerously near the departure time of your connecting flight.  Amazing – – leave one plane, go through customs, retrieve 61 pound suitcase, re-check it into another counter, ride the train to a different terminal, run like anything (with no regard for how you look to others at this point), and get to the connecting flight with 11 minutes to spare.  Never mind that it needed repairs and didn’t leave for another hour or more.  The magic of the orange badge had already been experienced.

My very special library card

When I got home and started emptying 83 pounds onto the middle of the living room floor, a small white card fluttered down from my laptop bag and underneath the coffee table.  I stooped to pick it up, flipped it over, and saw that it was Brasenose College Library Card.

I’m not a big “souvenir” person.  I don’t appreciate clutter for all the nostalgia it might contain, and I don’t do scrapbooks.  For those of you who know Kelsey Sweger, she can attest to the fact that after a four-hour tutelage (and she IS a scrapbooking master), I have given up the notion of ever embracing the hobby.  As I instinctively raised my arm to toss it into the trash pile, however, I hesitated.

I couldn’t do it.  Maybe I’ll keep it.  I guess I can have two souvenirs…my handbag AND my Library Card.  And my memories. And this travel journal I’ve been keeping for 40 days.

Yep, that should do it.  I completed my 40th day by sitting in the living room, way past my bedtime, talking to my husband, daughters and their boyfriends.  I passed out travel gifts, listened to their stories about “how to jailbreak the iPhone 4,” what the girls did in Ecuador, and how Mick managed three yards at once while two sets of neighbors and I were gone.  It was a perfect finish to my 40th day.

But as I composed this post one day past day 40, I didn’t have closure.  One more thing needed to be done.

I lifted the top of my flatbed scanner, took the Library Card, and walked across my office floor.  I looked around and decided it needed to be protected.  Lifting the glass front to my antique 4-stack barrister shelves, I put it on the top row in the center, leaning against the back of the shelf.

I closed the lid and I was done.  Tomorrow I return to work with my handbag in tow.

My fingers found the light switch as I continued to study the placement of the card on the shelf.  “Well Done,” I thought to myself.  And I turned off the light.

Day 39: Sniff, Swirl, Sip, Swish & Swallow. Breathe. Analyze.

I am, to this day, a “Frasier” fan.  The affected antics of two psychiatrist brothers raving about their less-than-stellar chocolate shavings atop their cappuccino cracks me up.  The show’s writers blended a well-developed group of characters and scripting with the perfect mix of snobbery, culture, uncomfortable situations and physical comedy.

Take, for example, the ongoing desires of Niles and Frasier to become “Corkmaster” of their wine-tasting club.  Watching their over-the-top “sniff, swirl, sip, swish and swallow” routine always sent me into helpless giggles (while wrestling with an uncomfortable anxiety – could they really be that ridiculous?).

So…I was watching a British couple decked out in their after-five attire walk down the sidewalk last night, her white feathered headband bobbing to and fro, and I thought of Frasier, Niles and their perpetual “dressing up” for occasions…and then the aforementioned wine-tasting episode as I noticed the couple was entering a posh hotel – a massive picture window view of diners eating and drinking inside. “Yes,” I thought.  “There is my Day 39 inspiration.  Perfect.”

Bag purchased on my last day in Oxford. One of my "final three" tasks to complete.

Sniff – When I arrived in England I was completely disoriented. I had to breathe in the culture and test the question of whether or not to embrace my new adventure.  The aroma of London was promising enough, so I raised the glass of my 40 Day Trek to chin level and pressed on.

Swirl – The nice thing about swirling your drink is that you are in control of the velocity, therefore having some influence of the blending process as you prepare for partaking.  I took my time, met with those who were important to me, my research and my energies, and agreed that this was a good thing.  Not too much, not too little; a manageable schedule with appropriate velocity.  I swirled, ramping up my culture intake, and went on to Oxford.

Sip – A gentle taste of things to come was helped immensely by the staff at Oxford.  “Here, my love, let me take your bags.”  “There you are now, dear, new fresh towels.”  “Oh no, you can’t find the bus in that direction.  You’d best turn ‘round and head the opposite way.  That’s right.  All better now.”  Sip too hard, your wine goes straight to your windpipe.  Sip too softly, and you annoy those around you with a horrible noise [aka – too many questions of too many people].  Read the Law Conference Manual, ask for directions occasionally, go to class, take advantage of what’s around you…and your drink is appropriately consumed.  Nice.  Very nice.

Swish – The purpose of swishing is so that you leave no cultural taste-bud unstimulated.  You fill every nook and cranny within your head, in this case, with aromatic information of the grape, vintage and year you’ve chosen to drink.  “Oxford, Summer, 2010,”she requested, “One bottle please.”  Included in this swishing were day trips, special lectures, events, studying, cramming and taking exams.  The final and most intense swish was accomplished through my Family Law final – a culmination of excellent lectures, incredible reading load, and an exhaustively complex three hour test that took us through marriage, divorce, child custody, international jurisdiction and the utilization of the Hague Treaty on child abduction.  Wait for it……[*gulp*].

Tea and freshly baked Scones. #2 of my final three tasks to complete. Yummmm.

Swallow – on the evening of Day 39 the wine trickled down my gullet as I walked the streets of Oxford one final time.  I had three things to accomplish on the journey.  1) Purchase a souvenir handbag for myself I have been eying the entire stay; 2) Pay a visit to an establishment rumored to serve the best baked-when-ordered scones and tea in town.  The spread did indeed live up to the recommendations; and, 3) say goodbye to Oxford.  As I walked down Queen’s Lane that last evening, the warm afterburn of my drink in my throat turned to emotion-filled pressure…the kind you feel before a cry begins. I was going to miss this place.  I’m glad I came.  And, I was glad to be going home.

Breathe – On the first breath taken after a drink, the “finish” is revealed.  Rustic flavors of ancient walls and scholars, berries from the bushes, cherries from the trees, and apples from the garden of knowledge filled my head and sinuses.  The finish was a good one; in the economy of payoffs vs. investment, I deemed my drink a winner.  I am the Corkmaster of my own journey, so the Frasiers can continue to argue all they wish.  I’ll be enjoying my wine for years to come.

Analyze – This category is still a work in progress.  As the information from my 40 days in the UK settles, gets categorized and utilized as needed, I may think about it differently than I do now.  Right now, my analysis is that I’m terribly grateful to my family and my place of employment for supporting my decision to come.

As I ended my evening walk, I metaphorically put the cork back into my bottle for safe keeping.  It was time to pack, time to rest, and time to think about returning home.

Oxford, Summer, 2010.

An excellent wine, a bountiful year, and if I were placing the value for the market listing, I would put “Sorry – unavailable.  Upon examination, owner renders a ‘priceless’ judgment and refuses to sell.”


Day 38: The Amsterdam Field Manual on “Effective Exam Preparation Avoidance”

Henry, our Red Coated Tour Guide, is out entertaining cute children right now, so I'll have to stand in his place. Sorry - he's really good.

[Cue the soothing tour guide voice.]

Welcome.  Thank you for your interest in the highly sought-after talent of Effective Exam Preparation Avoidance.  Are you a beginner?  Perhaps you’ve had some experience yourself?  Oh, are you an expert?  Well then I’m sure you will have helpful contributions during our discussion.  Come along now…this way please.

Stop 1: Breakfast

Be sure and seek out a place to eat your morning meal as far away from your domicile as humanly possible.  Make sure it’s raining, and forget your umbrella so you can have “just one more cup of coffee until the rain lets up.”  Consider whether or not you’ve absolutely exhausted all possible conversation with the restaurateur.  If so, you’ve started out on the right track!  Next…

Stop 2:  Essential housekeeping chores

Although you could do laundry tomorrow afternoon following your three-hour exam covering a boatload of material, it would be better if you did laundry now!  That way, the three trips back and forth to put the laundry in, switch it out to the drier, and take it back to your room will absorb precious studying minutes.  Need even more help?  That’s easy – forget your laundry detergent.  Bravo!  On to…

Task 3: Examine the interior of your dorm room while avoiding the open books on your desk

In case you don’t quite understand this advice, I’ll help you out with useful information to illustrate my point.  For example, did you know that my dorm room floor is so uneven that you can effectively measure the angle with an index card?  Well, now you do.  It’s easy…

Just look at your prefab bookshelves jutting out from around a corner in your room.  Measure the length at floor level.  See? It’s exactly the width of the “narrow” side of an index card!  Now, let’s measure the top.  Wow! It’s exactly the length of the “wide” side of an index card!  Now, just subtract the narrow from the wide in inches, then turn that into a right triangle spread over the area of one side of the floor to the other. Calculate, and voila!

Good job!  30 more minutes down the drain.  Excellent work.

What?  It’s only 11:30?  Well, that’s a mere 3.5 hours of avoidance.  Not nearly enough to be effective.  Perhaps an early lunch?  Definitely.  A nap because the lunch made you sleepy?  Perfect.  Now, we’re talking.  You’ve avoided your family law final exam for 5.25 hours now.  After all, what in the world would you have done with all that studying time?


Task 4:  Panic and freak out because you just wasted 5.25 hours of precious study time.

A good way to approach this point in the process would be to grab all the highlighters you can find, throw open your laptop, madly begin typing as fast as possible to complete the outline that is only half-way done, forget a good portion of week one and two course material therefore having to re-read several cases and a few hundred pages, look at your red eyes in the mirror, try to remedy your red eyes with saline solution, jump back on the bed and resume the “madly typing and reading” portion of your work, and keep this up for the next seven hours.  Make sure and skip your dinner so you’ll have a blood sugar level of less-than-optimum.  Good.  Very good.

I can see you’re going to be a pro at this.

Repeat the “freaking out and cramming cycle” until 2:00 a.m., sleep until 5:30 a.m., finish your notes at 7:00 a.m. Print them out, and seek out a healthy breakfast to get your metabolism back into some semblance of a chemical balance to hit right before the exam.

There.  You did it.  You have now completed the Amsterdam course on Effective Exam Preparation Avoidance!  If you feel you need to crash for a three-hour nap, then you will get extra points plus a bonus video.

Tune in tomorrow where I’ll demonstrate Effective Packing Your Suitcase Avoidance.

Have a nice day.

~~ ~~ ~~

Disclaimer:  1) Amsterdam is the name of the third quadrangle section of residential halls in Brasenose College completed in the late 1800s.  They have in no way endorsed this exam avoidance program, nor is this blog post to imply such assertion.

2) Rumor has it that if you do the opposite of the advice in this field manual, you will pass an upcoming exam with flying colors.

Day 37: Reckoning Day, and the Brasenose Library Book Kitty

Critically discuss that the European Union (EU) has evolved into a “U.S. of Europe.”  Critically discuss the free movement of people, goods, services and capital.  Are human rights adequately protected under EU Law? There is a democratic deficit in Europe: affirmative or negative?  Critically discuss the EU Parliament, the EU High Courts, the EU Commission…

Points, sub-points, counterpoints, caveats. Write, write, shake my hand from to relieve the pain of an ergonomically incorrect pen grip, and begin again.

For two days I had been preparing responses to these questions and now it was just a matter of cramming in every word possible within the allotted time.  For a brief moment while I was rubbing the joints in my hand I said a short prayer of thanks for the Brasenose library.  The venue exudes an air of getting down to business and prepping for exams.  My mind then flashed to the stuffed cat I saw curled on top of a stack of ancient volumes, and I diverted that thought as quickly as possible.

While I understand that stuffing a dearly beloved cat might be a positive thing, in remembrance of the feline soul and all that it gave the library over the years, all I could think was, “Icky!” (See 19th Century stuffed pets.)

Back to the exam.  I haven’t used a “blue book” since my undergraduate years.  I filled mine full save one page, stopped writing, leaned back in my chair and breathed in slowly.  Then out.  Done.  One down, one to go.

And in case you are now bandying about the answers to the questions in the first paragraph to entertain yourself, just let me know when I get home.  I’ll meet you at the pub and we’ll have ourselves a robust dialogue.

I’d love too, in fact.  Just let me know.

Day 36: My Favorite Stroll

Queen's Lane in Oxford - Image from Wikipedia

A brief post for Queen’s Lane, my favorite stroll in Oxford.

The gardens are nice.  University Park is a wonderful treat.  But walking along the curving way of Queen’s Lane in the evening on a cool night is the best.  The BEST walk, in my opinion, in all of Oxford.

No cars.  One or perhaps two rare bicycles.  Three or perhaps four people…no more.

High walls, ancient rock, carved gargoyles and mountings.  Long shadows, leaded glass, and cobblestones beneath your feet.

The Lane is fairly long for a street in the city, and walking around each corner reminds me of the feeling I first got when walking through a labyrinth made of turf and small shrubs.

Socrates described a labyrinth in this way:

“Then it seemed like falling into a labyrinth: we thought we were at the finish, but our way bent round and we found ourselves as it were back at the beginning, and just as far from that which we were seeking at first.”

However, at the end of my Queen’s Lane labyrinth, I usually find that which I was seeking…a quiet stroll in a foreign land, before I head back to my books then my bed.

Day 35: Mean Girls Guide to Oxford Tourist Identification (Pt. 2 of 2)

On “Day 34” I laid out my case for categorical identification of people I’ve spied on the sidewalks of Oxford.  It’s rather like bird watching, only with human beings.

Since then, I’ve become a local hero.  Well, actually I was just validated by the bartender at the college pub plus one other person…but it was a wholehearted validation, to be sure.

Well, they listened to my theory for about five minutes and then put in their own two cents for about 55 minutes.  But I think they agreed with me.  Yeah, I’m pretty sure they did.

I had just finished my EU Law final.  The professor says, “Hey lets go grab a drink before I go to Brussels.” So we go downstairs and start making small talk.  The entire rest of the class has had hours of pub time with this guy, but since I don’t frequent the pub I’m not exactly sure what to do.

The bartender chimed in with some banter and helped out a bit.  I asked the prof how many students he teaches each year.   And then – not knowing what else to talk about – I just sort of blurted out my tourist identification theory.  One hour later, the bartender and the professor were still talking about their own categories and having a jolly old time.

So, I suppose the moral of this little intro is that there is an audience for just about any type of writing.  And, I know at least two people now who have spent years of personal energy also fighting the mobs on the sidewalks.  Therefore, since I’ve now been personally fortified let’s finished this thing out, shall we?

We’re on category nine.  BTW – my brained is conditioned for life on the phrase “number 9.”  The Beatles and the 1970s backmasking scares have been imprinted my psyche for evermore.

9.  I threw this one in here because I’m still a “Friends” fan.  In honor of Joey’s famous not-so-manly man bag, here are the “Man Bag Dudes.” The big guys wear larger ones, the small guys wear smaller ones.  But most all the tourists, the male students and any dude with a Euro look falls into the “Man Bag Dude” category.

I actually think they are really practical, and can’t see how you would get around town much without them.  But I tell you true – there aren’t many back in Oklahoma.

Man-Bag Dudes
General tourist groups

10.  This next category earns the “Most Annoying Thing on the Sidewalk” award.  I’ve been a member myself, and I’ve struggled to get around them while NOT a member.  It’s the “General Tourist Group” category.  I could write an entire post on the behaviors indicative of this phenomenon.  But I won’t.  I want to stay in a happy mood today.

Women-wearing-hijabs group...

11.  Next on the list is the “Women-Wearing-Hijabs Group.”  I’m adding this category because it is a distinction I don’t see much in Oklahoma, even at our universities.  If you look at demographics from various geography websites, you’ll see that Oklahoma has such a negligible Muslim population it is listed as 0%.  In the UK, there are 2.4 million persons of the Muslim faith.  So, I thought my friends back home might be interested in seeing that pink must be the “in” color this year!

12.  This next category (see above) is another power group.  I call them a power group because they stick together so tightly that you just have to sort of flatten your back against the wall and let them walk on by.  These are the “female student groups.” Generally entrenched in a deep conversation, they represent a populous force in the sidewalk.  As genteel as the business crowd is, these are the opposite.  Spot them early, and look for exits in case of emergency.

13.  I’ve already written about the Oxford cyclists.  So I’ll just reiterate that they are many.  They are legion.  They are everywhere.

14.  We’re getting close to concluding.  However, there are two other groups I feel are noteworthy. In our EU class there has been a good deal of discussion about the still-ingrained class system within the UK.  My bartender conversation I mentioned earlier also included a discussion about what we in the U.S. call the “transitional year” – – or the first year at a university.  Like it or not, Oxford encompasses a student body who represent an enormous amount of wealth.  The joked that the students learn one thing during their transitional year: “Okay – you’re rich, but so is everyone else…so get over yourself!”  Along this line, I’ve noticed a sub-group around the streets that I’m classifying as the “Eurocratic Student Couples.”  It’s interesting in that those who seem the most richly dressed and stay to themselves are frequently “coupled up.”  I’m not sure why…but it is a distinction that I’m calling valid until proven incorrect.

15. I’m going to wrap up my groups with an outlier.  In research, an “outlier” is something that doesn’t fall within the larger groups of data.  There are a few around, but not many.  In general, they are the individual older male tourist, or perhaps professorial, sidewalk folks.  There is a female counterpart, but they are even more rare.  This last photo is of an outlier gentleman I first saw during the pouring rain on Day 24.

I have to tell you that he got my attention because he was so incredibly kind.  He smiled at every person in the room, tipped his hat as he did, opened doors for people, waved at people…he eked warmth.  I later saw him in the post office, and then again once walking into a clothing store.  If I see him again, I’ll just introduce myself and tell him he made it into my blog.  Who knows…maybe HE has his OWN categories of those he meets on the streets.  I can tell you one thing, though – I’ll bet he’s nicer to them than I.

As I end my Day 35 post, I am realizing I have a new goal.  Next time I walk out onto the busy sidewalks of Oxford, I’ll try and put my invisible touristy-professory hat on and be nicer to those I meet.

After all, I think being an outlier is a really good thing.

(Note: December 8, 2010 – when we transferred sites, several of our photograph links got broken.  I lost the photo of this man, unfortunately, so I don’t think I’ll replace it with something else.  I’ll just sit with the memory of him. RDK)

Day 34: The Mean Girls Guide to Oxford Tourist Identification (Pt. 1)

Tina Fey once said, “If you want to make an audience laugh, you dress a man up like an old lady and push her down the stairs. If you want to make comedy writers laugh, you push an actual old lady down the stairs. ”  She attributes that quote to Catherine the Great.

She also wrote, “In Washington, officials from the National Rifle Association met with a group of high school students. There were no survivors.”

Fey penned quite a bit about her experience as an adolescent girl in junior high and high school.  This subject matter helped inspire one of her greatest big screen successes entitled “Mean Girls.”

A classic scene from the movie basically demonstrates the “great humor rule” that if you just say out loud what everybody already thinks, all of the sudden it becomes funny.  I’m talking about the “Cafeteria Seating Chart” scene.  In it, two students explain to a new girl from Africa why she doesn’t want to sit in certain places in the cafeteria.  They go to great lengths and detail about the sub cultures of their high school population.

I was thinking about this seating chart as I was walking down High Street on Day 34.  I realized that in my head I had started labeling people I saw, based upon my four week experiences of covering the same territory on a daily basis.  I also realized that when I started mentioning these categories to my friends in the program, they then became “reality.”  Not all are Tina-Fey-Funny, but most all ring very true.

In lieu of an indiscernable map I might scribble out, I’ve posted and labeled my “Mean Girls Guide to Oxford Tourist (and locals) Identification.”  That way, if you ever come here, you don’t have to do this yourself.  You’ll thank me later.  So…you’re welcome.

Oxford local business population...

1.  The first group is the local business population.  The men wear suits, the women generally wear suits and low-heeled shoes.  They walk down the sidewalk as if nothing really bothers them and are a minority population among the tourists and students.  These sub group is harmless; you can walk past without fear.

Walking designer label ads

2.  The second group is the “Walking Designer Label Ads.” Great numbers of the young male students wear Tommy Hilfigar, Abercrombie & Fitch, etc. on a daily basis.  The female students generally show their designers by the pattern or label on their handbags, but sometimes their shirts or jeans as well.  The only danger with this group is tripping over a cobblestone if you focus too much on trying to read a designer logo unfamiliar to your brain.  Viva la Labels!

3.  Next is a power group.  These are the middle aged tourist couples. Judging from the bags they carry around after all the shopping they do, Oxford loves these people.  I’d like to know whether they, or the students, contribute the most to the economy.  I have noticed American gender-specific behaviors such as the males standing with their backs against a wall in the shop, while the female peruses store after store.  If you know me, you know it pains me to write that observation, but it’s true.

Middle aged tourist couples

The picture takers

4.  Ahh…the picture takers. Things get really comical during the day when thousands of people are trying to dodge, duck or dive or dip (yes, those are the four D’s of dodge ball) out of the way of thousands more picture takers.  This task is impossible, of course, so I would venture to say that photos people take home from Oxford include people jumping out of their way, and many, many shots include OTHER picture takers.

5.  Consider now, the young lovers. Honestly, it’s pretty hard NOT to consider them, as they are generally making out quite energetically in the alcoves, in the alley ways, next to their college entrances or right in the middle of the sidewalk.  Kisses are more public here, I suppose…lots of them.  The older people just smile, nod and walk on by.  There’s probably a day dream with an Italian accent in the heads of the passers by…”Ah, l’amore, l’amore….”  Notice the people grinning in the photo?  That’s because the couple had just stopped practicing their kissing, right in front of the group.

Young lovers
The fashionistas

6.  The fashionistas – towering along on 5 inch heels, checking their hair, adjusting their designer shades or posing by the street signs.  People in Europe generally dress a step or so up from “us Okies,” but the fashionistas know it.  And, they want YOU to know it too!

7.  The next type are “student tourist groups.” Pictured here are a group of female students who can’t speak English.  They are practicing giving a passer-by their “I’m lost, can you help me?” card.  The yellow backpacks are Cambridge student groups, and the other is a common scene as well…the sponsor is barking orders, “Meet back here in 2 hours!  Two hours, okay? Got that?”

"Can you help me?" - Student tourist groups...

8.  After the student groups come the “Local Blokes.” Blokes is a term not necessarily used for class or category, but I’m using it because when there is a group hanging out together after work, that word is one of the few that accurately describes the rowdy, rambunctious and infectious laughter.  The story telling really does get quite entertaining.  Pictured here are just a couple examples of the “Local Blokes,” or blue-collar locals I see every day.  The first towers over the heads of his peers and rides his bike to work.  The second is my height, talks very quietly (except during the after work fun) and looks tired all the time.

Tall, motorcyle-dude local bloke
Quiet, weathered local bloke

I’m going to wrap this entry here, because I am now halfway finished with my Mean Girl report on Oxford inhabitant typeologies.  Yes, there are seven more!  Day 35 will include the cyclists, the “Man Bag” dudes, the “Female Student Scarf Crew” and more.  Now can you see why I didn’t want to draw you a diagram??

Day 33: God Created my DNA and He Reminded Me of the Code in St. Mary’s Cathedral

As a young girl, my parents prepared my brother and I to seek an expansion of perspective beyond that which our own community had to offer.  Comprised within this family plan were experiences of art, travel and educational enrichment.  The mode of delivery usually meant we were loaded into the farm truck and driven to some event in Oklahoma City…despite any resistance on our part.

These “field trips” might have included a classical concert or perhaps a lecture from an archeologist who had discovered pitch clad shards of gopher wood on a limited time-window excursion in Turkey.  Sometimes, the evenings were capped off with an ice cream cone at Kaiser’s in the heart of downtown.  At the time, I’m sure the ice cream was my favorite part.  I do recall, however, feeling the hair on my arms lift as I touched the Lucite bound tiny pieces of what I thought might be Noah’s Ark.

My K-12 formal educational journey was also important in how I began to view the world.  I learned of fairness and the magic of discovery from the effective teachers, and of injustice and constriction from those less able.  The good must have outweighed the challenging, however, because every cell in my body seeks new understandings to this day.  It’s in my DNA, and God reminded me of this by giving me a gift on Day 33 that I’ll never forget.

This past Sunday I attended The University Church of St. Mary the Virgin. Expectations had already been set on my part simply knowing that C.S. Lewis had preached his “Weight of Glory” sermon in that very hall.  John Wesley spoke there on many occasions, and before the College system sprang up in Oxford, the church served as the location for the educational exercises such as group lectures or exams.  This was at a time in the 13th century when scholars actually lived with the professors to receive their education.  This church is central to how the entire educational context was set throughout Oxfordshire.

Eucharist began at 10:30 and I came in the door at 10:32.  I was handed a Hymn book and a guide to the service, was shown an available seat and sent on my way.  Being an evangelical, I’ve learned to watch the other attendees and the pastor carefully when participating in a service such as that offered at St. Mary’s.  There is standing, sitting, standing…and sitting.  And standing.  There is also a participatory portion that the audience reads by following the service guide.  All these machinations are unfamiliar to me, but easy to follow.  I’m glad, because it left much of my mental energy available to absorb everything else. Comments continued after the photograph…

I’ll not provide the entire sermon, nor all my thoughts during the service.  Indeed, some were too personal, too humbling, too set on the holiness of our Lord.  However I will share a bit of that for which I am grateful:

1.  I’m grateful for the chance to have heard the message delivered by the Reverend Canon Brian Mountford, Vicar of the University Church.  From the moment he began to speak, my rapt attention zeroed in on his outline and it was one of the best sermons I’ve heard in my life.  Scripture, poetry, philosophy, education, human suffering and regard – all these concepts and perhaps more were laid before those attending and asked to be considered on behalf of our Creator.

2.  I’m grateful for a greeting time wherein the only task was to reach out to those around us and utter this simple phrase, “Peace to you,” or respond, “And to you as well.”  This made me cry – the simplistic form of a gentle greeting and a gentle return. Wonderful.

3.  I’m grateful for a communion service where each person was reminded with one phrase, “The body of Christ,” that which they were taking as they were handed a piece of bread.  And I’m grateful to have been given the chance to drink from a community cup real wine, the edge of which was wiped with a cloth and given the person next in line.  I’ve never shared a cup with others, and it is a compelling experience.

4.  I’m grateful to have had the chance to sing all verses of the selected Hymns, generally written in Old English verse, accompanied by an organ whose song filled the highest corners of the cathedral.  I know the notes lifted up our voices and sent them to the Heavens.

5.  And, I’m grateful for the reminding affirmations for all who participated, each time we read along during the service. An example: “We are the body of Christ.  In the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.  Let us then pursue all that makes for peace and builds up our common life.”  Another: “Great is the Mystery of Faith – Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.  Blessing and honor and glory and power be yours for ever and ever. Amen.”

With every affirmation stated by the audience, my faith was affirmed and deemed a righteous pursuit.

I don’t know if I’ll get to attend a service at St. Mary’s again.  However, for me, it was as if my spirituality had attended an inspirational conference – – a conferring or communion with God.  A renewal was given to me and for that I am grateful as well.

I’ll leave you with a poem that was read during the sermon.  The discussion was about how one person might say a leaf is green due to the chlorophyll, another because the evolutionary sea life was purple – so green was refracted, and another – a poet – might say “because it means renewal.”

Peace to you.


The Trees

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too.
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

Philip Larkin

Day 32: “Well Done!” Day vs. “Congratulations!” (aka Oxford v OSU)

I was thinking this morning about translation.  If I have to spend this much energy translating American English to Britain English, what must international students be doing?  I say this because yesterday was the “big day” for many Oxford students; the day of graduation exercises.  For the most part, emotions expressed by the graduates and their families were the same as I witness at OSU every Spring and fall.  The words and the traditions with which they express those emotions, however, are slightly different.

For example, the academic regalia throughout all the colleges here is stepped up considerably.  There are strict regulations about what you wear underneath your gown, as well as what you wear on top of your regular  clothes (which are regulated by the previous regulations, on a regular basis).  This girl has done a nice job at following the required standards – dark skirt, white blouse, and her BA robe trimmed in white rabbit fur.

I won’t make this entire essay a comparative piece, but I will say that the variety of what our students at Oklahoma State University (OSU) wear under their robes covers a broader range of selections.  I know this because our students usually put their robe on right BEFORE graduation, and take it off right AFTER.  I’ve seen graduates traipsing around Oxford in theirs, now, for the last three days.

Family of the graduates in Oxford have to work a bit harder as well.  Because of the limited space for the grand halls used for commencement exercises, they have to order tickets for each person.  Oxford will “do its best to accommodate as many as possible on a first come, first served basis.”

Okay, this IS a comparative piece.  At OSU, our general attitude is, “Bring everyone!  It’s Gallagher-Iba Arena, for Pete’s sake! We hold several ceremonies just so everyone can attend..the more, the merrier!” (Was that too many exclamation points?!)

Many of the ceremonies at Oxford are conducted in Latin.  At OSU, we speak Cowboy.

In Oxford, the graduate celebrations and receptions include a full table of chilled champagne.  OSU is an alcohol-free campus.

And, in Oklahoma we usually greet a graduate with a hearty, “Congratulations!”  Here, the standard greeting is, “Well done!”

At OSU, the atmosphere inside Gallagher-Iba tends to be celebratory, and sometimes quite loud (drums and bagpipes, air horns, large group yells as a family hears their student’s name).  At Oxford, most of the ceremony is really very quiet.  Here is a video of the matriculation (entering the university for the first semester) ceremony.  You can see how quiet the proceedings are.

Matriculation at Oxford – running time, 1 minute, 29 seconds

And here is a 30 second video of part of the Latin graduation ceremony, illustrating the bowing in respect to the faculty tradition…(fondly referenced among the students as the “Sheldonian Wave,” – Sheldonian Hall being the place where the ceremony is held).

The Sheldonian Wave

I don’t have to tell any of my Okie friends how something like the Sheldonian Wave might be viewed by the student body at OSU.  I think you know.

We may simply not have the patience for this kind of pomp and circumstance in the U.S.  Certainly not in Oklahoma.  I recently served as a “name reader” during our commencement ceremony and the key concept was, “Keep them moving along.  Read loudly, articulate each syllable, and as quickly as is comfortable for you.”  One of my friends said in jest after the ceremony that “it’s sort of like listening to six game show hosts read a thousand names, where everybody won.”

The faster paced process in Oklahoma, however, has it’s advantages.  For example, here is an excerpt from Oxford’s policy on sending students their diplomas:

“Your award certificate will be sent to your home address (as recorded on the university’s student information system) within 4 months of the date that the award was conferred (ie the examination committee date).”

And…here is OSU’s:

“Diplomas are available to students approximately 6 weeks after their graduation date.”

Yeah, buddy!  I’ve also learned that students here received their grades for a regular examination approximately six weeks after they take it, due to the exams being sent through three reviewers.  The professors here exasperate over how wonderful it would be to teach in the U.S….for very reasons such as this.

So what is the same?  The sense of family.  The sense of accomplishment.  The look of pride on a parent’s face and the beaming jubilation that a goal was achieved on the part of the student.

Regardless of American English OR British English…or, I would venture to write, any language found, the emotions associated with graduation are by and large exactly the same around the world.

So…if you’ve ever experienced graduation as a student or a family member, and are asked some day if you speak another language, just tell ’em: “Yeah.  I speak Graduation.”  It will be true.

Above, a picture of a proud “mum” walking by her graduate son in case you have any doubt left.  You can’t tell it by looking, but she’s pointing out to the family of another graduate that, “…this was where my son lived for four years.  We’re here to celebrate his graduation!”  By the look on the son’s face, I think he’s just fine with that little bit ‘o mama pride.

I walked by them to my dorm room, ducked under a few cameras taking pictures, looked at the proud mama and whispered, “Well done!”

She beamed.

One more thing…You know OSU wins, right?  If I’m writing, OSU ALWAYS wins.  I wouldn’t trade the OSU Alma Mater, singing “Oklahoma!” and cheering like crazy for our students for anything in the WORLD.  The WHOLE world.