“Today was a good day” or  “I wouldn’t start from here!”

In the woods with hubby and dog

There’s a well-known joke, which has been around since at least 1924 about a tourist in Ireland who asks one of the locals for directions. The Irishman replies: ‘Well, if I were you, I wouldn’t start from here’.

That’s the way I feel about today’s weekly photo prompt!

The prompt is “Today was a good day”.  But recently every day seems to present a challenge of almost unmanageable proportions so I am just going to imagine what ‘a good day’ would be for me.

I think my good day would start with a breakfast of fresh fruit with muesli and natural yoghurt.  I would eat this sitting in a Cotswold garden, by a stream with fish swimming lazily by.  To drink I would have fresh orange juice followed by the perfect cup of coffee.  I imagine it to be an autumn day, early September, when the trees are still laden with fruit, the harvest from field and hedgerow is in, and the birds are well-fed and singing happily.

I would be content for a while sitting with my husband and little dog reading a good book; I can recommend ‘The Snow Child’ by Eowyn Ivey; or doing the puzzles in my favourite daily newspaper.  But pretty soon I would want to meet up with my grandchildren for an adventure.

I would take them anywhere with trees and animals, a playground and a picnic area.  We are spoilt for choice in the Cotswolds with natural woods and ancient forests on our doorstep, as well as Burford Wildlife Park, Bourton on the Water Birdland, and Prinknash Bird Park, which are among my favourites.   Westonbirt Arboretum and Cotswold Wildlife Park are close behind.  There we would run free, or explore on cycles, skates and scooters with the youngest in her pushchair.  We would climb trees, collect berries, nuts and seeds, cross wobbly rope bridges, build dens, swing, slide, feed the animals, sing songs, take photos and make up stories.  Then we would have an enormous feast of a picnic washed down with ice cold spring water and followed by a soft whippy ice cream.

The children would have a nap on the journey back and wake refreshed to capture their memories of the day in collage, painting and drawing, or stories and poems illustrated with their photos.  Later we would bake yummy pies and crumbles with the fruits and berries they collected.  We would enjoy them with their parents before sending them home to sleep well and dream of their good day.

I would return to my seat in a Cotswold garden, by a stream with fish swimming lazily by.   My hubby would be there with our sisters and some special friends.  Someone would barbecue a perfect steak for me and serve it with a fresh salad from the garden.  I would have a large glass of beautiful red wine and watch the hot air balloons float overhead as the sun set.  No doubt one of them will be pig shaped!

Doors Painted by Fr Stephen Horton OSB of Prinknash Abbey

Today I took my grandson to Prinknash Abbey for a snack in the wonderful café, and to play in the beautiful grounds of the Monastery of Our Lady and St Peter. I have written about the abbey several times before as it is a very special place for me.  I was thrilled to meet Fr Stephen Horton again, who painted all the beautiful doors above.

The Abbey is set high in the Cotswold Hills near Cranham and Painswick so the views are spectacular.  There is ancient woodland behind, and to the front, a clear view towards Gloucester with its magnificent Cathedral.  On a clear day you can see May Hill with its crown-shaped clump of trees on the summit.  They were planted in celebration of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, and are visible for miles around.  Beyond that there are the Brecon Beacons and the Black Mountains.  Having observed that view on a daily basis, the monks are very good at forecasting the weather merely by looking at May Hill.  If the hill looks a misty blue they know there will be rain at Prinknash later.  If the crown of trees is lost in cloud, there will be a storm.

I discovered while working in the old ‘St Peter’s Grange’, which is now home to the monks again, that it was built in this position, sheltered by the hills and trees, as protection from the plague!  There is documentary evidence, as well as evidence inside, that some parts of the Grange were built in the 14th century.  In 1339 the Bishop of Worcester granted a licence “For the Abbot of Gloucester and his fellow monks to celebrate Mass or to have it celebrated by a suitable chaplain in an oratory within their manor of Princkenasch.”  So we know that there was a chapel on the site then.  By the time the Grange was built the Black Death had already swept through England and people thought it was carried on the wind.  Wealthy people therefore built their homes on the side of a hill sheltered from the wind in the hope that this would protect them.

One of my jobs at the Abbey was to polish the Parker room.  This room was named after William Parker who was Master of the Works in the Abbey before he was elected Abbot in 1515.  He was responsible for many improvements to the building.  In July 1535 Abbot Parker entertained King Henry V111 and Anne Boleyn for a week.  They used St Peter’s Grange as a hunting Lodge because there were many deer around – as there are today nearby.  One fascinating snippet that appeals to me is that Abbot Parker had windows put into positions from which he could watch the monks about their work.  He used to spy on them.  I believe, contrary to what Wikipedia states, that this is where the phrase “Nosey Parker” comes from.

At Prinknash the monks have long been known for their art and craft work.  Vestments and stained glass were early specialities. They also made beautiful pottery for many years from the local clay.  The monks still make Incense that is exported all over the world.  One of the monks. who sadly passed away. created a huge wonderful painting for the millennium which was displayed in the Abbey Church.  He also painted and created stained glass.  Many of his pictures were made into lovely cards which were sold in the Abbey Shop.  The abbey’s walled garden is still growing a variety of fruits.  Today there were ripe raspberries to pick.

As I said, we met Fr Stephen Horton OSB who is the Prior and Novice Master.  He is a prolific and very talented painter.   I was fortunate enough to buy some of his original water colour paintings while I worked at the Grange.  They are my pride and joy.  The one I love especially is a watercolour of the Vale of Gloucester as seen from the roof of the Abbey.   When inspiration struck him for this painting he had no suitably sized paper on which to paint the panorama.  Being a monk and used to making use of whatever is available, he used two pieces of A4 paper side by side.  This painting speaks to me of so much more than the view.  It is creativity at its most basic, I feel.  The painting had to be painted there and then using whatever was to hand.  The muse could not wait for a trip to the art suppliers!  It also speaks to me of the way of life of the monks.  They waste nothing and ask for nothing.  They live such a simple life yet produce beauty all around them from whatever is there to be used.

Apart from being a brilliant painter, Fr Stephen is also a great thinker who gives wonderful sermons.  He says that “the one journey that really matters is the journey inwards”.  On occasion I have asked him for copies of his notes as I want to study his words deeply.  He says monastic silence is, “an inner stillness like at the bottom of the ocean, where the force eight gale might be going on, but deep down you do come to a stability, an inner anchoring”.

One of the saddest things that happened at Prinknash was the theft of a statue of Our Lady of Prinknash in 2002.  There are many statues at Prinknash but this one was extremely beautiful and so special.  It was about 20 inches tall, carved of Flemish Oak, and had belonged to St Thomas More. After the Reformation, it was taken abroad but returned in 1925 when the Benedictine monks founded their new abbey at Prinknash.  Of course this means it was hundreds of years old and priceless in the truest sense.   The Abbey Church was always open for visitors and those who wished to pray, and the statue used to stand on a shelf to the left side of the church.  One day it just disappeared while the monks were at tea, stolen to order presumably as nothing else was taken.  It devastated the community in the abbey and the wider community, including myself, who attended Mass there.  I almost believe it took the heart out of some of the monks and the community itself.  I have a picture of that statue and I often think that one day it will return to its rightful home.  Maybe when the current ‘owner’ dies he will leave it in his will to be returned to Prinknash ~ after all he can’t take it with him!

This coming Saturday, 11th July is the Feast Day of St Benedict who lived in the 6th Century.  I have no doubt that the monks at Prinknash, who follow the rule of St Benedict, will be celebrating with a special meal and maybe a glass of wine.

Below I have added some of my photos of doors for the weekly photo challenge

Storm Haiku

On far distant hills

Dark storm clouds are gathering

Threatening thunder.

May Hill seen from Prinknash Abbey grounds today

May Hill seen from Prinknash Abbey grounds today

Today’s haiku prompt at haiku heights is ‘Storm’.  It brought to mind the time when I worked at St Peter’s Grange, Prinknash Abbey, which I have described in earlier posts.  The view from Prinknash is amazing as the Abbey is set high in the hills near Cranham and Painswick.  Although there are wonderful woods behind the Abbey, the front has a clear view over the vale towards Gloucester City with its beautiful Cathedral.  One day I will write about my time working at the King’s School in Gloucester (founded by Henry V111) while Harry Potter was being filmed in the Cathedral.  However, today I will stick to the point of my blog!  On a clear day there is a wonderful view from Prinknash, of May Hill, with its clump of trees on the summit.  They were planted in celebration of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 and are visible for miles around.  Beyond that there are the Brecon Beacons and the Black Mountains.

Having observed that view on a daily basis, the monks were very good at forecasting the weather merely from looking at May Hill.  If the hill looked a misty blue they knew there would be rain at Prinknash later.  If the crown of trees was lost in cloud there would be a storm.

Interestingly, I discovered while working at St Peter’s Grange that it was built in this position, sheltered by the hills and trees, as protection from the plague.  There is documentary evidence, as well as internal evidence in the Grange, that some parts were built in the 14th century.  In 1339 the Bishop of Worcester granted a licence “For the Abbot of Gloucester and his fellow monks to celebrate Mass or to have it celebrated by a suitable chaplain in an oratory within their manor of Princkenasch.”  So we know that there was a chapel on the site then.  By the time the Grange was built the Black Death had already swept through England and people thought it was carried on the wind.  Wealthy people therefore built their homes on the side of a hill sheltered from the wind in the hope that this would protect them.

St Peter's Grange at Prinknash Abbey on the side of the hill, sheltered by trees

St Peter’s Grange at Prinknash Abbey on the side of the hill, sheltered by trees

One of my jobs at the Abbey was to polish the Parker room.  This room was named after William Parker who was Master of the Works in the Abbey before he was elected Abbot in 1515.  He was responsible for many improvements to the building.  In July 1535 Abbot Parker entertained King Henry V111 and Anne Boleyn for a week.  They used St Peter’s Grange as a hunting Lodge as there were many deer around – as there are today nearby.  One fascinating snippet that appeals to me is that Abbot Parker had windows put in positions from which he could watch the monks about their work.  He used to spy on them.  I believe, contrary to what Wikipedia says, that this is where the phrase “Nosey Parker” comes from.

St. Peter's Grange, Prinknash

St. Peter’s Grange, Prinknash (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At Prinknash the monks have long been known for their art and craft work.  They made beautiful pottery for many years from the local clay.  They still make Incense that is exported all over the world.  One of the monks who has sadly passed away created a wonderful painting for the millennium which was displayed in the Abbey Church.  he also painted and created stained glass.  Many of his pictures were made into lovely cards which were sold in the Abbey Shop.  Today there is a gallery displaying the artwork of a prolific painter monk, Fr Stephen Horton.  I was fortunate enough to buy some of his original paintings while I worked at the Grange.  They are my pride and joy.  The one I love especially is a watercolour of the Vale of Gloucester as seen from the roof of the Abbey.   When inspiration struck him for this painting he had no suitably sized paper on which to paint the panorama.  Being a monk and used to making use of whatever is available, he used two pieces of A4 paper side by side.  This painting speaks to me of so much more than the view.  It is creativity at its most basic I feel.  The painting had to be painted there and then using whatever was to hand.  The muse could not wait for a trip to the art suppliers!  It also speaks to me of the way of life of the monks.  They waste nothing and ask for nothing.  They live such a simple life yet produce beauty all around them from whatever is there to be used.

Painting by Fr Stephen Horton OSB

Painting by Fr Stephen Horton OSB

One of the saddest things that happened at Prinknash was the theft of  a statue of Our Lady of Prinknash in 2002.  There are many statues at Prinknash but this one was extremely beautiful and so special.  It was about 20 inches tall, carved of Flemish Oak, and had belonged to St Thomas More. After the Reformation, it was taken abroad but returned in 1925 when the Benedictine monks founded their new abbey at Prinknash.  Of course this means it was hundreds of years old and priceless in the truest sense.   The Abbey Church was always open for visitors and those who wished to pray, and the statue used to stand on a shelf to the left side of the church.  One day it just disappeared while the monks were at tea, stolen to order presumably as nothing else was taken.  It devastated the community in the abbey and the wider community, including myself, who attended mass there.  I almost believe it took the heart out of some of the monks and the community itself.  I have a picture of that statue and I often think that one day it will return to its rightful home.  Maybe when the current unrightful owner dies he will leave it in his will to be returned to Prinknash ~ after all he can’t take it with him!

  • Prayer (heavenhappens.wordpress.com)

Prayer

This post is inspired by the Carpe Diem Haiku prompt for today, “Prayer”

When I first retired from my work in education, I went to work as a housekeeper at Prinknash Abbey This was a labour of love and I learned a great deal about the prayerful life from the Benedictine monks who live and work there.  I learned from Fr Alphedge that every single thing you do can be a prayer if it is done with reverence and joy.

Fr Alphedge at work and prayer

Peaceful and prayerful

monks, masters of mindfulness

sacramental lives

Fr Adhelm in the chapel at prinknash

Meaningful moments

Of quiet contemplation

simple and sincere.

Incense is made at Prinknash

Alone with your thoughts

humbly open your heart, and

Let healing begin

Stained glass window from Gloucester cathedral

Drowning in despair

from the core of your being

you cry to the Lord

Peace dove made of tiles

Simple and sincere

the sorrowful supplicant

speaks softly to God

Pieta from polish church in Torun

Fragile, the faithful

cry out in consternation.

Consolation comes.

sorrowful statue

Studying Icons

In silent contemplation

Wisdom is revealed

An icon from Russian Karelia

Field of Rapeseed

Field of Rapeseed

Rapeseed 18

For those of you who enjoyed the photos of the poppy fields in the Cotswolds I thought I would post a photo I took last month of a Rapeseed field.  There is something new every month in the Cotswolds.  Before the rapeseed there was blossom everywhere from the fruit trees and before that there were the magnolias, snowdrops and daffodils.  Maybe I should do a month by month pictorial journal of Cotswold Flora with a side order of lovely buildings and scenery!  So let’s start with January when we get Hellebores quickly followed by snowdrops, crocuses and aconites.  I took this photo of  wild snowdrops in the woods ………

In February I spotted daffodils at Lindors Country House which is a retreat centre and hotel in the Forest of Dean and at Prinknash Abbey which is my favourite place in the whole world …….

In March  the weather was good and the Magnolias were out early…….

In April the fruit trees were covered in blossom.  The apple blossom is in my garden where I have 2 apple trees and 2 pear trees, 1 quince tree and a cherry tree so I get a good variey of blossom! ………

  In May the rapeseed fields brightened up the fields high up in the Cotswolds………..

Of course the most beautiful time in the Cotswolds is lambing time.  Here are some very happy sheep at hailes Abbey …..

 

Finding the still point

Cast off by the sea,

Sandstone, beauty concealing,

Pure quartz lies entombed.

Just back from a holiday on the Jurassic coast of Dorset (www.jurassiccoast.com), I am reflecting on how much I enjoyed the break.  Being by the sea in lovely weather is such a joy,  and May in Dorset is especially magical.  The rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias are in full bloom; the young swans are hatching in their hundreds at Abbotsbury Swannery, and the national collection of water lilies at Chickerell is breathtakingly beautiful.

We stay in the simplest of log cabins in an area of total peace and quiet with awesome views.  It certainly raises the spirits and clears the mind when you have no network coverage on your phone, no TV, no internet and no computer to distract you!  I planned to do lots of writing but I didn’t.  Instead I read Thomas Hardy’s poetry, and, taking inspiration from the natural world around me, I did lots of drawings and zentangles – yoga for the brain!

Going on holiday gives us opportunities to open our hearts and minds to wonder and beauty.  We have time to notice the lamb sleeping by his mother; the blue tit helping itself to the crumbs from your picnic; the poppies growing by the roadside and the cygnet trying in vain to hide under the mother’s wing.

I realise that these small beautiful moments are happening all around me all the time, the difference is I take notice when I am on holiday.

“Two men looked out through prison bars,

One saw mud and the other saw stars”

I don’t know where or when I first found this quote, but it is so relevant.  Life is not on anyone’s side ~ it just goes on ~ and we make of it what we will.  Whatever happens to us we have choices about how we feel and what we focus on ~ is it the mud or the stars?

The Haiku is about a very ordinary stone I found on Chesil Beach.  It is a type of sandstone, roughly shaped by the sea over millennia.  But on turning it over I saw a deep hole, like a cave in the stone, filled with quartz crystals.  The beauty of it seemed to reveal the sacred hidden in a most unexpected place.

When I worked for a time at Prinknash Abbey I used to share the chores with a wonderful old monk.  He was always so happy, building up the fire, sweeping the floor, even scrubbing out enormous pots and pans.  His philosophy was to treat every task as a gift to God, not a sacrifice.  He fully immersed himself in each task, doing it with reverence and radiating peace and stillness.  I suppose today we would call this “mindfulness”, I called it the sacrament of the moment and I try hard to follow his example.

On holiday in Dorset I think I succeeded in seeing the good in everything I did as my photos below will show.  I hope you enjoy them.