Winding Down


This week has been quite full and eventful. My final paper, a 20-pager, was due last night, so this week I was working on that. First this happened:


Then this happened:


But now all is well and mended and turned in, and the bit I’m probably most excited about is that last Thursday (probably a product of me being forced to stay lay low for a few days) is that early Friday morning at 3 am, I finished the novel I’ve been working on. The project has been in development for the past two years, and the first words hit the page this November during National Novel Writing Month. This project represents a huge milestone and personal victory, but that is a story for its own post. All that to say, I have spent a lot of time with this cast of characters over the last year, and I’m excited to share them with whoever will take time to make their acquaintance one day. For now they are in hibernation, and I will probably start the editing process when a little time has passed. There is much work to be done, but in the meantime I have one more week at Oxford to celebrate and enjoy.

I can’t believe this summer is almost over. I’ll be going back to an autumn unlike any before it, with many new variables (also probably a post for the future), but in the meantime here is a sampling of Oxford in the light of the setting sun:








An Ode to London

Because things have been pretty quiet, I’m going to take a brief interlude between papers to present an Ode to London.

When I was here two years ago, the Olympics were going on, which was fantastic because I had the amazing opportunity to go to the see Olympic beach volleyball one of the days.

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However, the presence of the Olympics limiting the accessibility of seeing the rest of the city. One of my goals of this trip was to spent more time seeing London, which is very accessible by bus from Oxford. I’ve gone in a few times with various combinations of people, and once with our whole program to see a play.

Here’s a few highlights:

From the Victoria and Albert Museum



Buckingham Palace



The Thames and all its accoutrements



The Prince Henry House


The National Portrait Gallery (and accompanying rooster)



One of my favorite London memories was earlier this month getting to see on of my favorite actors, Richard Armitage at the Old Vic Theatre, where he played John Proctor in the Crucible. I’ve taught this play for several years, and even aside from the incredible thrill of getting to see an actor in person whose work I have admired for years, the entire company put on a spectacular performance.



So that’s all for now, and I’d best pop to work. I have a 20-25 page paper due Monday, and health hasn’t been the best so it’s definitely rally time. Hopefully I will have lots to update on the other side. Or sooner if I procrastinate….cheers!


Oxford Snippets

The one-week lapse in postings was not intentional, but probably exposes the fact that life has been incredibly full and busy. Many many pages of reading to stay on top of, one paper turned in already and another in the works. On top of that, there is much to see, lectures, concerts and theater to take in, and much conversation to be had. Regarding the people I have the privilege to spend the summer with, the majority of us are English teacher, and I am blown away every year to consider the impact that these folks have collectively throughout the school year. We can talk about shared experiences, common struggles, passion and most of all heart. When I consider the caliber of each one of them that are deployed to the classroom, and the sheer volume of students collectively represented in Oxford this summer by their teachers, I am so excited to imagine the learning taking place.

Anyways, here are a few highlights of what has transpired in the last week or so.

High Table:


This takes the of a guest lecture, a reception, and then the illustrious High Table Dinner, a formal, multi-course meal. The professors all sit at the appropriately-named high table at the front. Yes, I’ll say it, much like Harry Potter, and the whole evening is built on tradition and ceremony.

Natural history museum:




A quick walk from the college, a few of us checked this out on a quiet Saturday. There’s definitely much to see there.

Hillsong Concert:


Hillsong came to Oxford Town Hall. Beautiful venue and a really strong turnout.

The World Cup


And of course there’s just Oxford being Oxford.






Probably the highlight of the last week was a day (and a very late night) spent in London.  Since I have a prospectus to write and I’m about to go back into London, I’ll make that a part two “homage to London” post in the next today or so. But here’s a preview:


The Day I Swore Off Academic Arson

Yesterday was our library orientation, which involves a surprising amount of ceremony. While studying at Oxford we have access to the Bodleian Library, one of the oldest and most comprehensive research libraries in Europe. The structure is vast, including many buildings both above and underground. Also it looks like this:



(And the underground part is super creepy and makes me fear for my life, but that’s besides the point)



In order to get a library card we have to take a pledge (both verbal and written) that we will behave with proper decorum which includes explicitly that we will not “bring into the library or kindle therein any fire or flame.”

I hadn’t planned on kindling any fires to begin with, but taking the pledge certainly instills a sense of tradition. The library closes early, and used to close as soon as the sun set because scholars being up at all hours studying by candle light was a tremendous fire hazard. Taking a pledge that dates back to the candle-lit studying time period serves as a sobering reminder of the great value of the texts around us, and the academic giants who have gone before us. Also fire safety.



The End of the Journey and Back to School

Our last few days in the lakes were lovely. We were able to take a boat ride around the lake which gave a superb and even overwhelming view.




The area reminded me a lot of the Swallows and Amazons series, which we grew up reading and is set in the Lake District. We were also able to enjoy the little town of Keswick, which is absolutely charming.





Here’s the view from the little tea shop where we had our last afternoon tea:


Saturday we took many many trains and other forms of public transport back to London, and said good-bye at Heathrow Airport Sunday morning. I’m so very thankful for the chance to take a 10-day adventure with this lady:


So now I’m back in Oxford, settling in. After living out of a carry-on for nine days, returning to the luggage I had stored at the college and finding new outfits and *cough* [indiscernible number] shoes that I brought is marvelous. Other students have begun trickling in the last few days and our program officially starts today. I love seeing old friends and making new ones. The vast majority of us are English teachers during the year so we have a lot of shared experiences and similar interests.

I imagine the 50 or more students each of us represent would probably feel a sense of vindication if they could see us hard at work, preparing for classes with high page-counts of assigned reading and high word-counts of papers to write.  Here is my summer to-do list:


It’s a hefty workload for six weeks, but such a labor of love. It’s great to be back in school

North to the Lakes

Yesterday morning we bid farewell to our little cottage in Stratford-Upon-Avon.




After returning the rental car, we boarded a train North. The first leg was in a local train and required a quick sprint from one station in Birmingham to the next, but we caught the next train. The train ride north was beautiful as the scenery changed from urban and industrial  to hills and eventually mountains. We’re staying quite a ways north–almost by Scotland in the Lake District.

We have absolutely fallen in love with this little town. The town itself is quaint and European looking, but has the same kind of nature-loving chic as Burlington Vermont. Around every corner is some stately mountain peeking through, and we only need to walk a few minutes to be on a lake with a stunning view of the mountains.

These pictures nowhere near capture the beauty, but will hopefully give some sense of the place.







After yesterday’s little mishap, I had to rally a good courage to get back behind the wheel, but in the words of king Henry V: “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more!” We made it into Stratford-Upon-Avon, which for two English teachers and Graduate students is a bit like a pilgrimage. I had been there twice before, but going back with my mother who is the utmost of Shakespearean scholars and the teacher of all teachers was pure magic.

Some pictures from Stratford:



So many names around the town are little winks to Shakespeare’s works and characters.


Here is the Holy Trinity Church where he is buried:




I cant help but think that when he was alive and writing he never could have imagined that tourists from around the world would flock to his hometown, and the street names and shops would be sprinkled with his character’s names, or that his face would be an image recognizable world wide, or that his name would be come synonymous with literary brilliance. Or that his birthday would one day be celebrated in an American classroom in 2014 with this edible portrait of his face made by a frazzled and artistically deficient English teacher:


He simply did the best with what he had.



Shakespearean [mis]Adventures

Yesterday was, appropriately, much ado. We left Oxford in the morning and took three different trains to Stratford-Upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s hometown. At the Stratford train station we rented a car, which thankfully had automatic transmission. Most rentals are manual, so getting an automatic car was nothing short of miraculous, and I’ll be honest, is something I may or may not have prayed about specifically.

When we arrived at our little bed and breakfast in the countryside outskirts of town, I was beyond excited to have successfully driven a UK car on the other side of the road. However, when we set out again to drive to a local pub, disaster struck. The roads are extremely narrow and winding. These really shouldn’t be two-lane roads, but somehow they manage to race around blind curves and make way for each other with no problem. Unfortunately in one of these instances when I pulled over to make room, we hit a sharp rock that was in the road and the tire blew out. Rim completely to the ground. Image

We drove on it a few more feet, because there is nowhere to pull over and happened to come upon the driveway of a gated manor house/hotel, and there we saw the tire had been punctured completely. We managed to call the rental car company who had an emergency assistance line, but then once the call was made there was nothing to do but wait. For three hours. We had many reasons to be thankful: international cell coverage, an emergency number with the rental and a nice place to pull off to name a few. On top of that, the people at the hotel were lovely. We kept expecting someone to come out and yell at us for being lowlifes on their posh grounds, but instead every person that came out was only concerned for us, and even offered to bring us drinks. Chivalry is not dead in England and cheers to the multiple British men who came to our rescue! The weather was also perfect, and the view was lovely with a pasture full of sheep to keep us entertained.




When we got word that help was still another hour away, I remembered I had a miniature copy of Henry V with me that I had bought my last visit to Stratford two years ago and kept randomly in my purse. So we set about reading it, and passing the tiny book back and fourth. All things considered, passing the time with the Bard’s own words in his hometown is rather poetic.


At last help came; our knight in shining auto-repairman clothes. He replaced the tire very quickly, and as it was nearly 9:00 by this point one of the hotel workers told us on his way home to mention his name at the door and we could probably get dinner at the hotel without a reservation.

Throughout the whole ordeal I had been praying for strength, and trying to find ways to be thankful. It’s certainly scary to be stranded on the side of a road in another country with a dying cell phone battery. It would be easy to be stressed, anxious and despair, but when those emotions came I kept returning to the fact that God is still on his throne, and asked Him for grace. We certainly wouldn’t have wished to be stranded on the road for several hours, but at the end of it was a nicer meal than we ever could have imagined. The Manor house was picturesque like something out of Jeeves and Wooster or some turn of the century period movie: Mahogany panels, fireplaces, cathedral windows and gourmet food. The car gazing was good outside, even saw my favorite Aston Martin! People were so kind, and there were two details as well, that struck a particular note with us. First, we entered the reception area and they had a statue of a dog that looked just like Charlie, (much beloved poodle-doodle from back home), and second there was a unicorn tapestry hanging, which my mother has studied at length. These and many other things were reminders of the One who never leaves us nor forsakes us, who takes difficult situations and redeems, bringing beauty where there are setbacks and adventure to a change of plans.