On Imagination

This morning we walked through Christchurch Meadows, which was one of my two favorite running routes the last time I was here. What I did not know at that time is that Alice Liddell, after whom Lewis Carroll famously modeled Alice in Wonderland, grew up playing around those meadows as her father was the dean of Christchurch College. Walking through with that information gave me new eyes, and suddenly we could see whispers of Wonderland everywhere: the thatched roof cottage that traps Alice as she grows, the lazy river, meadows, and the rows of shrubberies with white and red roses. It’s clear to see what may have inspired certain elements of the story.

C.S. Lewis is another Oxford author whose inspiration is evident around the city. The paths and park behind Magdalen, the college where he was a professor, is where he used to go for walks and think of Narnia. One alleyway not too far from Magdalen, contains several elements that served as inspiration to him. Does this faun look familiar?



What about the lamppost just beyond the faun?Image

Or the lion on this doorway?


These are exciting to see as a C.S. Lewis fan, but I think there’s also a very important lesson in this. The imagination of these authors could not have been inspired if they had not walked through life with their eyes and minds open. They did not allow their surroundings merely to fade into the background, but they observed, took note, and allowed themselves to be fascinated. What would happen if each of us allowed ourselves to walk around with eyes and minds open? What if we allowed ourselves to dream just a little? The application for writers is obvious, but imagination and ingenuity applies to every profession. With open eye and open mind, you never know what ideas may form for a business presentation, marketing scheme, or an engineering solution. If nothing else, we we walk through life with an appreciation for the beauty, whimsey and the intrigue that lies all around.


A morning walk along The Thames


“Is it so nice as all that?” asked the Mole shyly, though he was quite prepared to believe it as he leant back in his seat and surveyed the cushions, the oars, the rowlocks, and all the fascinating fittings, and felt the boat sway lightly under him.

“Nice? It’s the only thing,” said the Water Rat solemnly as he leant forward for his stroke. “Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing—absolute nothing—half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing,” he went on dreamily: “messing—about—in—boats; messing—”

“Look ahead, Rat!” cried the Mole suddenly.

It was too late. The boat struck the bank full tilt. The dreamer, the joyous oarsman, lay on his back at the bottom of the boat, his heels in the air.

-Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows






We landed this morning after sleeping nary a minute on the plane, so today was a bit of a blur. Let’s be honest-right now is a bit of a blur. Navigating to Oxford out of the airport is so much simpler the second time, and we were able to easily catch the bus. The moment of crossing over into the county of Oxfordshire is so dramatic, because immediately after the sign the road rounds a bend and suddenly the London outskirts has suddenly faded into green pastures and rolling hills. Probably also ethereal choirs sing. (Too many cliches in a row, but work with me–I haven’t slept). We weren’t able to check into our lodgings until 2pm, so we were probably a bit of a shambles wandering around with luggage like the walking dead. However, being back in this city has made my heart so full all day. This city is magic. The entire heart of the city is focused around academia, and a rich history of learning and discovery has taken place here. This evening, while showing my mother around the city, we spotted a gentlemen riding his bicycle in a suit, bowtie and academic robes. That image embodies the city in many ways: whimsy, class and tradition.

I’m running out of coherent thoughts, and I probably shouldn’t flatter myself that the thoughts above are coherent anyway. Therefore I’ll end with two quick pictures and call it a night.



(I was a little bit obsessed with lamp posts this afternoon.)

An Ode to the Ashley House

Once upon a time, this was the street where we lived:IMG_1529

Over seven years, the Ashley House (so called in reference to a street name) had been peopled with various combinations of young career-aged ladies. As different ones got married or moved away, they passed the lease around. I came to the house just after returning from Oxford two years ago. In the transient area with changing jobs and living situations, the house population shifted and in the fall of this year, the final combination of roomies came together. We didn’t all know each other. Some of us had been friends since childhood, others met through chance meeting. Whatever the circumstances, when we came together in the final year of the Ashley house, something special happened.

Somehow in those nine months we forged a sisterhood. I say forged because it wasn’t all sunshine and lalalala like a music montage with the How I met Your Mother theme music playing in the background. We had difficult conversations, we cried together at the messes in life and maybe left the occasional passive aggressive good-humored and loving note.



We had our big nights out, and quiet nights in hosting friends. But sometimes the most special moments were the spontaneous ones living life together: being snowed in together, fighting off cookie dough thieves when one of us is baking, the dance parties that can erupt at anytime, handstand competitions so serious we moved the couch out of the way, singing “Let it Go” at the top of our lungs, finding someone who also couldn’t sleep at 3 am and watching Captain America on a school night, trying to find a Christmas tree and going shopping instead, late night chick-fil-a runs, watching sports, fighting over sports, and so, so many talks around the kitchen table. We allowed ourselves the scary “what-ifs” of futures, and we listened to each others’ dreams . Each of the five of us at some point in the year and in some capacity quit her job. One of us is running her own business. One of us is pursuing international missions. Many of us are traveling in the coming year, and whether by the transition to a new job, a different contract, or an extended time off all of us have made room in our lives to chase our dreams.

At the end of this year, our lease was up and because our future plans  had outgrown a one-year lease, we went our separate ways and ended the lease. We packed up and moved out the end of May.


We entered that house as renters, became friends, and left like family. I like to think of the time in the house as an airport terminal. We needed that time together before we all depart and take off in different directions. I know that I would not have as much courage, without the support system they provided. But the doors are opening now, and it’s time to fly.


City of Spires

City of Spires

Two years ago in August, I climbed Carfax Tower in Oxford at the end of the summer term to say good-bye to the magical city of Oxford. I wore sunglasses to try to hide my ugly-crying from the tourists as I surveyed the city, facing the reality of leaving. Embarrassing and unexpected? Quite. Oxford had been two months of beauty, discovery, and lasting friendships. Those spires meant so much more than architecture. Christ is the beauty in any place, but he used those two months in Oxford to bring healing and renewal after three of the most difficult years of my life leading up to the trip. And tomorrow I will get on a plane and return.

Reflection: Graduation

My freshman year of teaching, they were freshman in high school.  I watched them grow up in my periphery, and when we came face to face our collective senior year, I wasn’t prepared for the spark of light they would bring to each day. We were in the trenches together, that class and I. The grown up world is a struggle sometimes, but at the start of that bell, the gloom dissipated and the classroom door shut out any storm that raged outside. No day was so difficult that they couldn’t make me smile. But each changing season, each new work of literature, and each new idea, marked the passage of time that would not be slowed. And then they were gone. Empty halls, empty schedule, graded finals. Their brief absence was softened by the promise of looming graduation and their brief return.

Graduation rehearsal was a flurry of reunions, confusion, and laughter. Line them up one way. Reverse the order. Alphabetical order. Reverse alphabetical order. Keep them quiet in the line. Oops–I’m the one talking when we’re supposed to be listening. Final reminders, parting words, and don’t forget your caps and gowns!

The next morning, I waited with them in the library while the grown up world assembled outside and prepared for the big event. Straightening ties, tucking hair under the elastic cap, attaching and reattaching runaway tassels. And pictures. So many pictures: formal professional photographer poses and cellphone selfies.

Five minute warning. Collect the cell phones, last minute tassel check, alphabetical order check and they lined up. And suddenly the reality hit that this was the last moment I would have them all together. Trying keep my voice from breaking I told them: “I love you all. You’re going to make a beautiful tomorrow.”

The line departed. We waited behind the rest of the faculty, marched behind the flag bearers across the driveway outside, and filed into the sanctuary. I could hear the electronic keyboard playing Pomp and Circumstance as the rest of the faculty filed in. A few last minute tassel fixes, still one more picture, and one of the girls handed me her lip gloss to hold. I could feel time slipping away. The faculty disappeared, and the line of graduates followed the flag bearers to the chapel entrance.

I turned to the first student, gave a reassuring smile, a gentle tap of the arm to cue her it was her time, and she led the way. One by one they filed through; each quick good-bye like the curtain call of our year together. Suddenly, there is only when left.  “Last one!” I whispered with a with a quick grin, nodding for him to march and suddenly I stood alone, watching him walk down the aisle toward the rest of his class who stood waiting on the stage.

And that’s when I lost it. I had used the phrase “spread your wings” in various capacities with them leading up to graduation. I know…as their English teacher, I probably should have come up with something less cliche. However, standing alone in the back of the auditorium, I felt like the old lady in Mary Poppins who cries as the song says, “while overhead her birds fill the skies.” Their beautiful wings had spread, and they were soaring.

For a teacher, a graduation is a bittersweet epilogue. The ending of the chapter we shared is hard, but greater than that is the joy of scattering into dozens of new chapters and new journeys.


Commencement and Courage

The following quote by Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie was my parting words to my graduating seniors this year. For both my life and theirs, the close of that chapter also marked countless new beginnings. 

“There are glorious years lying ahead of you if you choose to make them glorious. God’s in His heaven still. So forward, brave hearts. To what adventures I cannot tell, but I know that your God is watching to see whether you are adventurous.” –J.M. Barrie

Snow Day Musings From January.

Below is a post I wrote in January, and neglected to publish. I suppose is very much in keeping with the sporadic nature of this blog, a quality which I am hoping to rectify soon…stay tuned.

I am writing this on snow day #2 and weekend day #6 (Professional day + Saturday+ Sunday+ MLK+ 2 snow days)

Isn’t it lovely?


This means a lot of tea and a lot of writing. I wish this meant accumulating vast word counts on my novel, but this has also meant writing letters of recommendation for my seniors. Also worth while.

This snow is one example of life imitating art. I faced the post-Christmas decoration slump in my classroom. Too early for spring decor, too even early for Valentines and Saint Patrick’s Day. So I decided to go all out to celebrate winter. I broke out the white Christmas lights and the fake snow. Here are some samples:



I wanted to make a winter wonderland, but use the lights to make it warm and magical so that even school days can feel like snow days. That’s the theory at least.