A Romanian Turtle

I haven’t shared this story with many people, but I’m excited to be on the RCE blog today, recounting the unexpected and comforting impact of meeting a special young artist in Romania in the aftermath of my brother’s death. If you aren’t familiar with RCE or Romanian Christian Enterprises, please take a moment to check out their website. They are an amazing organization reaching the special needs community and beyond in Romania!

Europe 2017: Than Longen Folk to Goon on Pilgrimages

It’s been just about a month since I returned from Europe so it’s a good opportunity to post a little bit more about the trip.  I traveled to England and France on a grant from my amazing school, and Mama Jones decided to come along for the larks.


That’s us in the pub. Bless.

The primary purpose of the trip was curriculum development, so this post will focus primarily on the academic side of things, though I will probably follow this post with an addendum or two.

The essential question guiding this trip was: how do visual components integrate with narrative in the early medieval era? I was particularly looking at the Anglo-Saxon era as I teach Beowulf and other Anglo-Saxon texts, and visual elements from this era are sparse. I sought to look at manuscripts, artifacts and art, and examine how the visual narrative of the Middle Ages emerged. Ultimately the goal of this study was to enrich the medieval portion of my curriculum through the integration of visual elements and artistic expression.



London provided a wealth of resources and set the tone for a rich two weeks of study. The primary stops in this leg of the trip were the British Library and the British museum. At the British library, I was able to see the original Beowulf Manuscript, Lindesfarne Gospels, as well as numerous illuminated medieval manuscript. In addition to being on display, many of the manuscripts were digitized and therefore able to be examined on a closer and more interactive level.



The British museum contains one of the most prevalent collections of art and artifacts from the Anglo-Saxon era in the world, found in a burial mound at a site called Sutton Hoo, which we would visit later in the trip.

Time spent in London helped provide a helpful framework for the rest of the trip, in that I began to look for the categories of artistic expression. Much of the early Medieval artistic expression was functional (jewelry, armor, etc) or religious (reliquary caskets, sacred memorials, croziers), until the emergence of illuminated manuscripts and the integration of text and image.




Oxford was a return to my academic roots and felt like a homecoming of sorts. One of the most helpful aspects of this stop was being able to meet with one of my former professors. I explained to her the objectives of this trip, the itinerary, and the curriculum. We discussed some of the ideas surrounding the art and texts, and she gave some very helpful recommendations and guiding ideas


Oxford also held the Ashmolean Museum, which contains another extensive Anglo-Saxon exhibit, drawn from sites around Oxfordshire. Sutton Courtenay and Asthall Barrow are two of the most notable of these examples.




The town of York has retained much of its medieval aesthetic, from the city wall that still wraps around most of city centre, to its turreted medieval gates, to the architecture of many storefronts.

Two highlights from this particular visit were time spent in the stunning York Minster Cathedral, and a visit to the Jorvik Viking museum.

The York Minster has been beautifully preserved, and I paid particular attention to the use of stained glass as visual narrative.

The Jorvik Viking museum was a tremendously helpful supplement, as the Norse influence on Anglo-Saxon literature is significant to a reading of Beowulf in particular. The museum was built on an actual excavation of a Viking village that once existed on that site, but even that village was believed to have been Christianized and included Anglo-Saxon settlers as well. At one point the museum featured a ride around a recreated village where the wax figures were speaking Old Norse, Welsh, and Old English.



Jarrow, located on the River Tyne just outside Newcastle is home to a museum called Jarrow Hall. This museum is devoted primarily to the life of the Venerable Bede, one of the most influential Anglo-Saxon historians. I’m a little bit obsessed with his telling of the tale of Caedmon’s Hymn, and I am currently reading his Ecclesiastical History of the English People.

His writings, artifacts, and biographical highlights were on display in one part of the museum, while the other part held a recreation of an Anglo-Saxon farm.

It also hosts a stone cross, commissioned in the early 2000s, which replicates and ties in elements of the Ruthwell Cross and others.



Woodbridge and Sutton Hoo


As mentioned earlier, Sutton Hoo is one of the most significant burial sites to Anglo-Saxon scholarship. It’s a bit off the beaten path, so we  stayed in a little village called Woodbridge, an adorable little harbor town.


The site itself has many components. There is a museum that tells the story of Anglo-Saxon King Raedwold, believed to have been buried there. He was a Christian King, but buried in a pagan style, a fact very pertinent to the conflicting values discussed in Beowulf as well. The museum offered many resources on the site, including a lecture and video, as well as recreations of the burial ship and artifacts found, as they might have appeared in their day.


That site also featured the preserved home of the landowner, Edith Pretty, who commissioned the opening of the burial mounds. The story of the events leading up to the excavation of the site is a fascinating one that I hope to incorporate into the curriculum next year, at least in brief. Lastly the property, which is extensive, still features the burial mounds, and I was able to spend some time touring those as well.




Canterbury Cathedral is tremendously important to a study of medieval literature, as it is not only the destination of the pilgrims in the Canterbury Tales, but it is also the site of Thomas Becket’s martyrdom.


In addition to the historical preservation of the Cathedral’s significance, the museum has a tremendous amount to offer that was relevant to my specific interest in visual narrative. There was much to see in terms of stained glass, tapestry, and relics, the latter of which is an important facet of studying the Canterbury Tales. Like York, the city is proudly medieval and has retained much of its medieval charm.




Given the time required to travel, the time spent in Paris was relatively brief, but very helpful. And also just magical and Parisian. The biggest resource relating to curriculumwas the CLUNY Medieval Art Museum, which houses a rich collection of medieval art and artifacts.


From relics and functional art of the early years to the more fanciful tapestries like the Lady and Unicorn series, this museum represents thoroughly the  development and evolution of European Medieval art.





Bayeux has been a dream destination of mine for many years as it houses the Bayeux Tapestries.

The event depicted, the medium of depiction and the narrative itself have been a critical component of the curriculum, and a reference point that connects to many other events and ideas. Seeing the tapestry up close, along with listening to a detailed narrative was tremendously valuable.


I came back from the trip not only equipped with many fun little posters and classroom things, but also with many ideas for integrating art and visual expression into the curriculum. Aside from being helpful, this is an era particularly close to my heart, and traveling with this specific focus meant my medieval field trips wish list coming true! (Because that’s definitely a thing)

That time that I realized Drunk Mozart was my spirit animal

Image result for drunk mozart amadeus


It was past midnight, and I sat at the kitchen table, stack of papers before me, hair a mess. I had been at some point listening on repeat to our upcoming choir anthem on YouTube, except that at some point I had neglected to it repeat and it had continue to auto play some choral pieces. At some point I paused in recognition that Mozart’s Requiem was playing. In that moment I had an out of body experience, and recalled to mind the scene in Amedeus when Mozart, worn out, and dogged by Saliere composes feverishly through duress, exhaustion and a wine-induced stupor.The very requiem mass he was composing in the scene plays dramatically throughout the montage. The requiem mass playing, the stack of papers, the duress, the hot mess, feverishly clutching a pen; all familiar, all of which applicable to both me and Mozart. In the moment of realization, I had a good laugh at my own expense and called it a night.

I don’t ever start out in this state. When the fall brings a new school year, I sharpen a bouquet of pencils, claim sweater-weather way too early, and actively try to channel some mixture of Mary Poppins and Doris Day. Somehow Doris as morphed into this. And yet, returning to the Amadeus analogy, Mozart created beautiful music from these messy and ragged moments. Surely the analogy extends to pre-spring break teachers deep in the bleak mid-winter. And over time spring becomes summer and after a flurry of exams and grading and heartfelt good-byes, and thank you notes and handshakes and “have a good summers”, the perspective transforms into thankfulness. My heart is full.

This summer brings a particular excitement, as I will be returning to Europe on a research grant to study medieval art, architecture and artifacts. This project will help me integrate more visual components into my humanities curriculum next year. Medieval language and literature was the focus of both undergrad and grad school and now I look forward to expanding my understanding of the visual elements and cultural context. Stay tuned for updates and pics!


Why the End of LaLaLand is so Important

Warning: See Title. Do I even need a spoiler alert?

Very rarely will I see a movie three times while it is still in theaters. It is also rare that I will play the soundtrack of that same movie with Hamilton-level frequency, and rarer still when that movie has record-tying Oscar nominations. And yet here we are and that movie is LaLaLand.  Aside from being clever, original, and a fun watch, LaLaLand demonstrates a belief I have long held: that music is a tangible form of magic. A world where music and dancing can appear spontaneously in life is just another day in my brain.



Clearly the movie has hit some kind of nerve, not just in my world but in our national psyche. And yet, there is a segment of the population who left the theater disappointed and let down. A repeated motif in conversations with these people  is the matter of the ending. The pleasant parting of ways, wistful dancing montage of what might have been, and a long last look across a crowded Jazz club, leaving Ryan Gosling alone on stage seems to have hit a sour chord. I’ve heard repeatedly:

“The ending was so sad!”
“She married the wrong guy!”
“They had a beautiful story, but  they didn’t end up together!”

I would offer an adjustment on that last complaint. They had a beautiful story AND they didn’t end up together. That simple twist is what adds potency to the musical’s otherwise idealized world. Part of the movie’s beauty is its validating depiction of a love story that does not end up at the altar and still deserves to be told.

From the time we are little we expect love stories to end either with a wedding or with an implied wedding.  This conditioning stays around when we grow up and navigate the world of relationships. When a relationship ends, or a “might-be” turns into a “not-to-be”, suddenly all of the beauty and the story and the possibility seems to be invalid. Once-treasured relics of the relationship, are now tinged with regret; null and void because it didn’t work out.

One of my favorite moments of the movie, and actually the movement that made me cry, was just before they go their separate ways when she says “I’m always going to love you.” LaLaLand rejects the premise that a story and memories and magical moments should be thrown out simply because it doesn’t end at the altar.  I find this message particularly comforting and even empowering as someone who at the age of 31 has had a life full of meaning and memories, none of which have ended in marriage so far. Perhaps that’s why the ending of this movie, while not expected, resonated with me so much. A movie like LaLaLand give me and others like me permission to find the beauty in my current life, relationships, dreams and adventures. Regardless of when and how and with whom marriage enters the picture.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love a good happily-ever-after story, and haven’t given up on my own one day, but I also love a good story that values, honors, and affirms all of the other stories that can be told just as beautifully.

We Cannot Measure How you Heal


I was flipping through the Book of Common Praise just before Evensong the other night and read the lyrics to this  hymn I had never heard before. I thought the lyrics were so beautiful considering  all of the hurt that seems to be present all around the world these days.  I looked up the lyrics and copied them below for any who would be encouraged by them. I also found a recording of the hymn that I pasted below.

We cannot measure how you heal

or answer every sufferer’s prayer,

yet we believe your grace responds

where faith and doubt unite to care.

Your hands, though bloodied on the cross

survive to hold and heal and warn,

to carry all through death to life

and cradle children yet unborn.


The pain that will not go away,

the guilt that clings from things long past,

the fear of what the future holds

are present as if meant to last.

But present too is love which tends

the hurt we never hoped to find,

the private agonies inside

the memories that haunt the mind.


So some have come who need your help,

and some have come to make amends,

as hands which shaped and saved the world

are present in the touch of friends.

Lord, let your Spirit meet us here

to mend the body, mind and soul,

to disentangle peace from pain

and make your broken people whole


Reunited at Last

Geoffrey Chaucer was my gateway drug in undergrad to a love of medieval literature. I took the class on a whim, and found myself sitting under the instruction of a professor who would go on to have one of the most profound influences on my academic development. I was entranced by the beauty of Middle English, and I fell in love with the wit, depth, and thoughtfulness of the Canterbury Tales. I went on to study Old English as a language course, study the history of the  linguistic development of the English language, and do an independent study translating Beowulf. Here in Oxford over the years, I have studied Anglo-Saxon literature, Medieval and Renaissance Romance, and this year decided to take the final term of my master’s degree back with Chaucer where it all began. Not only do I appreciate the poetic bookends of that choice, but after many years focusing on Old English and Anglo-Saxon literature, it’s just good to be spending time with my ole’ buddy Chaucer in Middle English. I even remember calling my time spent studying or reading for my undergrad class “dates with Chaucer”, and so now after all this time it’s nice to be picking up where we left off.


Classes in Oxford follow the tutorial structure. I have tutorials with only a few other students, and we only meet with our professor twice a week. We sit in a circle in couches in her office and talk about the reading. Each of these tutorials feels so short because there is always so much to talk about. Between classes we have the primary text to read, as well as a list of supplemental reading our professor sends out. The end result is a lot of library time.

Each of the colleges that comprise Oxford University has its own library attached to it, from which we can borrow books.

This is ours:


And he hangs out by the check-out desk: IMG_0359Then of course there is the Bodleian Library, which is truly a treasure. These books cannot be taken out, which means a lot of time spent there. However, who can complain when it looks like this?


This is the Radcliffe Camera, definitely one of the more famous fixtures of Oxford and one of the main library buildings.  (Of which there are many)IMG_0204IMG_0203There’s even a creepy underground part called the Gladstone Link. I’m always afraid of getting squished in the wheely bookshelves, so I like to stay in the Radcliffe Camera. Pictures aren’t allowed in the reading rooms, but I took this picture of the dazzling staircase between floors.IMG_0377.jpg

The days are getting busier now as I am working on a 25-page paper, in addition to reading for class. Truly this is a labor of love, though, and I wish the time were not rushing by quite so fast. IMG_0410

One other special Chaucer moment of this summer was getting to see his tomb at Westminster Abbey. There were some tears involved, and I could (and should) write about that visit in a whole other post at some point. But I am glad at least that I got to take a little pilgrimage of my own to visit the Bard of my heart and the author that changed it all for me.

O For a Muse of Fire

While Facetiming my family the other night, my dad asked me if I am doing any actually classwork. Of course the answer is yes, cheeky man, and one day I will write about my studies. In the meantime, there is much to report in the way of field trips and excursions. (And full disclosure this is what Facetiming my family often ends up looking like:

The boys are thrilled as you can see)

So embarrassing. Anyway….


Last Wednesday I won a ticket lottery to see Romeo and Juliet directed by Kenneth Branagh (!) and starring Lily James and Derek Jakobi. Lily James was a lovely Juliet, and Derek Jakobi (much like Branagh) is Shakespeare performing royalty. I love him best as the chorus in Henry V.

Hearing that voice in person was thrilling as you might imagine.

That evening was the Three-Penny Opera (of Mack the Knife fame) with the whole school, and so between plays my friend Alé and I took an exploratory trip where we found plenty of treasures, both of people and places. IMG_0164

This little alley is mostly used book shops and antique stores. Among our discoveries:

  1. A house once inhabited by Mozart!

2. A rare book shop peopled by wine-drinking sages who had the best stories to tell and let us hold 500-year-old books.

3. This antique shop bursting full of personality, both of inventory and shopkeeper


After a quick coffee stop, we hustled over to to the theatre to meet the rest of our crew, but not before this shameless display of tourism:IMG_0188We got another peek at Big Ben on the bus returning to Oxford:


Two days later we returned to London, this time to St. Martin-in-the-Fields. IMG_0178

I was a little bit freaking out because hearing a concert at St. Martin-in-the-Fields was a dream of mine and did not disappoint.

Saturday night, 6 or 7 of us saw the Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra playing some Bach concertos and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. The performance was truncated for me (long story), but what I did see was lovely, especially inside the stunning Sheldonian Theatre. IMG_0247So that wraps up the excursions of the last week. I will write about class and life and all that, but for this afternoon we are heading to Stratford-Upon-Avon to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I wish I could beam all of my students over to see it too, since they did such a splendid performance of this play in the spring.

Note to my students should they encounter this post:  “Not to worry, Darlings, even the Royal Shakespeare Company could not possibly dethrone your favorite-Midsummer-production status in my heart. Love, Ms. Jones”

Music at Oxford

Music has always held a particular healing quality for me, which I believe is true of most people. I am grateful therefore, to be in a place where beautiful music is both abundant and accessible after experiencing loss this past week.

I mentioned Evensong, earlier, which I have attended once more since then. Evensong is held at Christchurch Cathedral, featuring a lovely liturgy of hymns and songs, sung prayers, and choral anthems. The service is reverent, sacred and majestic, not only focusing the soul heavenward, but on a personal reminder serves as a comforting reminder of my church and choir back home. Here is the exterior of Christchurch:IMG_0097IMG_0136

Then on Saturday, a fellow student and I went to the University Church to see the Oxford Chamber Orchestra play pieces by Beethoven, Schumann, and Dvorak. I am pretty sure I saw the words “New World Symphony” walking from the airport bus to the college the first day, and immediately decided to go. That symphony live is transcendent, but particularly so seeing it in this venue:


I was a little bit obsessed with this starry, starry ceiling. IMG_0129

There are many more concerts on the books for the next few weeks, and certainly more Evensongs, but this week I am thankful for the strengthening and encouraging power that music has to offer.

PS. This is a Stradivarius!IMG_0080 I stumbled upon it at the Ashmolean, and gave up thinking of a proper segue in this post.

Good-night, Grandpa.

I woke up at 4 am Thursday to a text from my sister letting me know that Grandpa had passed away. He’d had a stroke two weeks ago, and much like his grandson Reid had done many years before, continued to fight on far beyond his initial prognosis, amazing doctors with his strength. It’s difficult to wrap my head around what’s happened being so far away, and yet I have experienced so much peace these last few days.

Wednesday was the most difficult day, waiting by the phone, texting with my family throughout the night before. Overwhelmed and restless, I attended a beautiful evensong service at Christchurch Cathedral, which was a tremendous comfort. Then, just as the sun was setting the rain clouds broke and a breathtaking rainbow descended on the city. IMG_0058IMG_0064

Then the next morning after he passed, I was out walking and spotted a high school student on a college visit, wearing a sweatshirt from Grandpa’s high school. Encountering that child from a private school in New Jersey in the streets of Oxford, hours after he had passed was nothing short of miraculous and comforting beyond words. As difficult as it is to be so far from family and trying to fathom what has taken place, I feel carried by the nearness and love of “the God of all comfort and the father of compassion. ” (2 Cor 1:3) I have also found great encouragement in the idea that he is reunited with my brother Reid, who died 7 years ago next week.

These last few days, I have cherished recounting simple snippets of memories from years past: tractor rides around the mountain when we were young, the rope swing he built for us grandkids, chopping wood, the Archie Bunker chair, family dinners at Sirloin Saloon, stories of family lore, his vast history library, seeing him greeting and taking the offering when we visited their church, calling my grandma by the simple and tender nickname “Sweet”, his love of football, devotion to Rotary, his hugs, and so much more.

I particularly treasure last summer. Studying an hour away, I got up to their house most weekends for a quick visit, and I treasure these times. I managed to record him telling a few stories, which I can’t bring myself to listen to just yet, but I am extremely thankful to have. Every time I left, he would still tell me to drive safely and want me to let them know when I got back to campus. And now, as unthinkable as his absence is right now, he has arrived safely to his eternal home. He leaves behind an immeasurable legacy, the ripple effect of which we will probably still be discovering in years to come.

IMG_5335Good-night Grandpa. I love you.

“Would you like an adventure now? Or would you like to have your tea first?”

His courage was almost appalling. “Would you like an adventure now,” [Peter] said casually to John, “or would you like to have your tea first?”

-J.M Barrie, Peter Pan

I write this to you now from Oxford, where I am on the cusp of beginning my final term of my master’s degree. Classes begin tomorrow! My course of study this term is Chaucer, a beautiful bookend to my undergraduate Chaucer class, which essentially changed the course of my academic life.

I flew out from DC Sunday night on a red-eye. The flight was record breaking in several regards:

1.) The only time I have ever heard flight attendants refer to turbulence as “extremely dangerous.”

2.) The most number of strangers (or people in general) I have ever heard vomit at one time. (I was not one of them, for the record, but it was pretty miserable)

Needless to say I did not sleep, but I also did not crash into the ocean, so there’s that. And I woke up at one point to a beautiful sunset over the horizon.


I arrived in London, read about half of the Catcher in the Rye while waiting in the line at the customs to cross the border, and then staggered onto the bus for Oxford. My third time around, pulling into Oxford felt like coming home. Aside from the city, which I adore, catching up with old friends and meeting new ones always adds an extra special element to these early days of term.


An added surprise this time around was the beautiful window seat and view from my room; a dream come true for my senior year.


Followed by this sunset:

IMG_0025This morning I took an early morning walk around the city, a time of refreshing stillness before the crowds roll in, and snapped a few pictures along the way. IMG_0036IMG_0027IMG_0031IMG_0030

Later that morning, I did some shopping to pick up supplies, and finalize everything for classes. One of the items on my shopping list was thumb tacks for the bulletin, board and I found these darling little turtle pins which make me think of my brother, Reid. IMG_0038

Having turtles hung all around the room now is a comforting sight.


This afternoon we had orientation for the both the our college library and the Bodleian library, the latter of which involved swearing an oath that we will not deface, remove, materials etc. AND (I’m not kidding on this one) “bring into the library or kindle any flame therein.” Which makes sense considering that this oath was written at a time when candles were the light source of choice. I still promise not to kindle any flames though. IMG_0041Incidentally this room was apparently used to film the infirmary in the Harry Potter movies. And doubtless  many other more historically significant things than that.

IMG_0043Above is the view from one of the Bodleian orientation rooms, and below is the view from another orientation hall; a rather Hobbity view I think.


Tonight was the High Table Dinner, and the official opening to the term. The event is so named because the professors all sit at the High Table at the front.  The evening holds much ceremony and etiquette, starting off with a prayer led in Latin.


IMG_0045These pictures aren’t great since I was trying to be discreet, but you get the idea.


So after all of that, our term officially has begun. Tomorrow we have our first class, as well as our first meeting as seniors. It’s hard to believe that my graduate studies are all about to come to an end, but I prefer to focus on the beginnings for the time being.