What Happens When I Come Up For Air After Writing A Dissertation

A little over a week ago, I disappeared into an indoor hole called “I Must Finish My Dissertation”, and outside, it began to rain.

2015-08-26 12.41.30

It rained for most of the following week, but I didn’t care because I was one with my computer, attempting to craft a final product of 12000-15000 words that would allow me to pass my course and get the Master’s degree for which I moved to England.

I turned in the dissertation on Friday (hurray!!), and outside, the rain finally ended, the clouds cleared away, and the sun appeared again.  (I’m not making this up.  The weather was beautifully in sync with my schedule.)

2015-08-22 15.15.29

The sun has been shining ever since, and yesterday I looked around and realised that it is no longer summer.

Background Information (because I like to have – and provide – context):  Noelle has long believed that I am the Tree Whisperer because of an incident which happened years ago while we were flatmates in Minnesota.  She came home from work one sunny day early in September – around this time of year – and said something to the effect of: “Christine, aren’t you excited for fall?  The trees are going to change colour any day now!”

I glanced at the trees out the window and said, quite seriously, “Not yet.  I give them about three more weeks.”

She didn’t fully believe me . . . but three weeks later, almost to the day, she came home from work and said, “I saw a tree starting to turn colours today.  My first one of the season.  How did you do that??”

I still don’t know exactly how I knew, but I knew that I knew that the trees needed a few more weeks before they would start to turn those glorious shades of red and orange for the autumn.  They say that American government agents are trained to recognise counterfeit money by studying real money.  It may not be exactly the same thing, but I think that I have spent so much time watching the natural world around me that I can now recognise when a season is in counterfeit mode.  The calendar may still say summer, but the world around me doesn’t believe it anymore.

And the other day, I walked outside, looked up at the sky, and suddenly realised that sometime during that week of clouds and rain and dissertations, England switched from summer to autumn.  The weather is still warm(ish), and the trees are still green, and perhaps I’m the only one who feels the change, but my internal changing-of-the-seasons radar is whispering, “It won’t be long now.  Autumn is almost here…”


And this makes me happy, because for me, autumn is a season of new beginnings.  Maybe it’s because my life has revolved around school years and term times for so long, or maybe it’s because American football is an autumn sport (Go Big Red), or maybe it’s because for a few fabulous weeks, the world flares up in a glory of red, orange, yellow, and the bluest blue sky you’ve ever seen, enough to satisfy even a colour-lover like me.  Whatever the reason, autumn holds for me a world of possibilities.  And this year is no different.

Last year, I arrived in England wide-eyed with wonder and excitement and with absolutely no idea what the next year would bring.

Today, I’m a little older and (hopefully) a little wiser about the differences between life in America and life in the UK, but each time I go outside and feel the whispers of autumn in the air, I still smile with wonder and excitement.  And with absolutely no idea what the next year will bring.  But autumn is coming, and I am content.

(To all of my American friends celebrating Labor Day and the official final weekend of the American summer season today, sorrynotsorry for reminding you that it’s almost over!)

Almost Eight Months in England


(image via here)

Earlier this week, my friend Rosie and I met for a late dinner at an Italian restaurant halfway between our two homes.  Neither of us had eaten there before, even though we both live a short walk from it, and what was supposed to be a Girls’ Night dinner at Rosie’s house had shrunk down during the course of the day until it was just the two of us, so naturally we decided to have a night out.

We sat outside on the front terrace because it was still light enough to feel the warmth of the sun.  We split a pizza – which was almost New York-style in its artful floppiness – and a salad with avocados – which I must point out because avocados! – and we decided to splurge on cocktails.  And when the light finally faded out of the sky (which doesn’t happen until nearly 10pm these days), we moved into the warm restaurant and dawdled over coffee.

(I have to put in a quick plug for the restaurant because the food was divine, the servers were gracious and attentive without being too prominent, and they even hung little lanterns from the awning for us once twilight fell.  If you live in the Egham area and have a craving for Italian food, go to Caspari!)

When we were finally ready to leave, I walked the roughly half of a mile with Rosie to her flat so that she could then drive me back past the restaurant and about half of a mile in the opposite direction to my flat.  You see, to get to Rosie’s flat, we had to walk past the green.  (For my American readers, a green is essentially a park.  Or sometimes more like a town square.)  This particular green is lovely:  flat, wide and open enough to play cricket or host an autumn fayre with fireworks.

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In the daylight, neither of us would think twice about walking alone down the road past the green, and we would have gone our separate ways at the restaurant.  But after dark, the empty green becomes thick with shadows, surrounded on three sides by wooded patches just dense enough to hide the many houses in the area.  There are no streetlights on the green, and for a girl alone at night, the long walk from one end to the other can easily feel darker and darker with each step.  So – by mutual agreement – I walked home with Rosie and then let her drive me to mine.

At the far end of the green, a little roundabout – so small that an American driver might think it was just an oddly shaped speed bump and drive right over it without knowing what it really was – creates a hub for several roads under a solitary streetlight.  Most of them tunnel deeper into the trees, but one – the one we had just walked up – runs back along the green towards the friendly lights of the houses at the other end.  From that roundabout, you can see the entire green, as well as a good distance along each of the wooded roads.

And on that night, as we reached the little roundabout, we realized that we were completely alone.  There were no cars on any of the roads.  There were no sounds of cars coming up through the trees or muted hum of traffic on the not-too-distant motorway.  There were not even any planes soaring far overhead on their way to or from Heathrow.

It was just us.  And the trees.  And the green.  And the quietness of a world momentarily at rest.

We laughed and ran to stand on top of the hump in the road, turning circles to look down each branch and talking about the scene in The Notebook when Noah and Allie lie down in the middle of a deserted street in the middle of the night.


(image from film via unknown)

Technically, we stood on safe ground, as the cars were meant to go around the hump and not over it, but the daredevil feeling of stopping in the middle of a normally busy road was still there.  (And not everyone goes around these mini roundabouts.)

And from the top of that little bump in the road, looking out across the shadowy green from under the glow of the only streetlight on that side of the world and listening to the peace of the night around us, I felt my perspective shift a little.

Sometimes you have to stand on top of a desk if you want to see the world in a different way.  Sometimes you have to cry, “O captain my captain”, and walk out of step.  And other times all you need is dinner with a friend and a quiet moment “at the still point of the turning world” (to quote my old friend T.S. Eliot).  Because in that quiet moment, standing in the middle of a road in which I should not have been able to stand, listening to nothing at all but the sigh of the breeze in the trees above me, with my friend beside me, I realized all over again that God knew exactly what he was doing when he sent me to this place.

Because once upon a time, this city girl was a country girl.  And a soul raised in the wild winds and fields of the prairie sometimes needs a little more than the noise and bustle of the city.  Such a soul sometimes needs green spaces.  And quiet moments.  And roads lined with so many trees that they could be called wooded.  And stars – so many stars.

I will always love the city, but that moment in which the world seemed to stop while we laughed on top of the roundabout reminded me that it is okay to love the small towns and countryside, too.

And I may be halfway around the world from my family and friends of years, but I also have friends here in this new place who are sharing their lives with me and making me one of them.  Friends who laugh with me and challenge me and sometimes even see more in me than I see in myself.

This life I’ve chosen is sometimes quieter than what I’ve been accustomed to.  (Being a full time student and living in a rather sleepy town on the outskirts of London will do that.)  But this life is also so, so good.  As T.S. Eliot said, “at the still point, there the dance is.”  And on top of that roundabout, I found a quiet moment to take in the dance I’m currently living.  And it. is. good.

For Your Friday Entertainment: A Vacation Slideshow

It’s picture time, y’all.

I promised a post with photos from my Christmas and New Year’s adventures, and here it is!  I won’t be telling as many stories today because there are rather a lot of photos to share.  I also can’t speak for the quality of the photos that I took (considering that most of them were taken on a nearly five-year-old phone with a cracked screen), but some of these were taken by my friend Ceri, and those are much prettier.

This is a long post, with lots and lots of photos.  I just thought I should prepare you before you get started.

Before I jump in, let me give you a quick summary.  Just before Christmas, I spent a few days in Paris visiting a friend from California who now lives in France.  I spent Christmas, Boxing Day, and several days post-holiday with a friend and her family in the Southampton area of southern England.  And finally, that same friend and I spent a week playing tourist in London over the new year with two other friends who flew in from other countries.  And now that you know what we’re going to cover, let’s get to the pictures!

First, Paris.  Or more specifically, the areas in which Jeannette and I wandered.





If you have ever pictured Parisian suburbs as white buildings, narrow streets, and parks with perfectly straight rows of trees, then you know exactly what this part of the city was like.  It was gorgeous.  Parisian.  And posh – we only actually walked into one shop because we felt like we couldn’t even afford to step inside most of them.

I think my favourite part about my trip – besides seeing Jeannette, of course – was the feeling of freedom from the clock.  One night, we took the train into Paris after dinner and went wherever we wanted, with no agenda, until nearly midnight.  It had been several years since I last went on holiday and felt the same sense of freedom to forget about the time while we explored – usually because my companions and I are trying to fit many activities into a short amount of time.  (Also, that was the night we visited both the Eiffel Tower and Notre-Dame, which are always highlights of a holiday in Paris.)



We also visited Sacré-Cœur in the famous Montmartre area of Paris, where we listened to a busker entertain a large crowd of tourists by singing everything from French children’s songs to the Oasis classic “Wonderwall“.



And we walked down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées and browsed the largest Christmas Market I have ever seen.

On an unrelated note, all of my meals in France were made up solely of ham or bacon, cheese, egg, potato, and some form of bread . . . but they were all completely different.  And they each were the most amazing meal I have ever eaten.  French food, y’all.  Seriously.



Okay, so that was Paris in a nutshell.  Moving on, I have a few photos from my time in Southampton, mostly from the visits that Ceri and I made to various National Trust locations in the area.

But first, Christmas.  I don’t have any actual photos from Christmas with Ceri’s family, but they welcomed me into their home and made the effort to give me a proper British Christmas (according to an online list of the top ten elements of a proper British Christmas).  They shared their food (which was delicious) and their chocolate (which was also delicious) and their Christmas music (which was fun to hear), and I enjoyed my time with them so much that I had to mention it, even though this is supposed to be strictly a post about photographs!

Southampton is in the county of Hampshire, which is beautiful.  We drove through green fields and quaint stone villages, past pubs with brightly colored signs and groves of trees that hung over the narrow lanes in exactly the way that Americans imagine roads in England to look.

Unfortunately, I only took one photo while we were driving around in the lovely countryside, and it happened to be raining.  Why I chose to take a picture right then instead of waiting for the rain to stop, I’ll never know…

In spite of the rain and cold, we visited Jane Austen’s House Museum, where her great-great-great-great-nephew (or something like that) made a little lavender sachet for me.


We also used my new National Trust membership to visit Mottisfont, which was once a medieval priory before Henry VIII removed the Roman Catholic Church from England and forced the owners to turn it into a house.  I didn’t take any actual photos of the house, but I did snap this one of the Kitchen Cafe where we had tea – at guest tables, in an actual (non-working) kitchen:


We also braved the wet and mud to visit The Vyne, a Tudor palace where they now exhibit a ring said to be a potential inspiration for J.R.R. Tolkien’s fictional One Ring.  I didn’t take any photos from inside The Vyne, but I did capture the lovely Christmas garlands outside…


Still with me?  Good.

I wish I had taken a photo to commemorate the pantomime that we saw in Winchester, but as I didn’t, I’ll satisfy myself with simply mentioning it.

A few days before the end of the year, Ceri and I were joined in London by Carri and Sarah.  We had all spent time in London previously, so we bypassed the obvious tourist things – like the Tower of London and Buckingham Palace – and spent our week in slightly lesser-known pursuits.

…Such as visiting Postman’s Park in the City of London, which commemorates the courageous sacrifices made by ordinary people in the attempt to save others, often total strangers.



We also visited the Geffrye Museum, which is set in 18th century almshouses and tells the story of home decorating and the way that people lived in London from the 17th century on…


…and we found the exterior set for 221b Baker Street from the BBC show Sherlock

Ceri photo - Sherlock

(photo courtesy of Ceri Webb)

…and we took an early evening drive out to the extremely windy Box Hill, which we all knew about through the adventures of Jane Austen’s Emma

Ceri photo - Box Hill

(photo courtesy of Ceri Webb)

…And we toured Shakespeare’s Globe theatre, a reproduction of the way it would have looked in his day…

Ceri photo - Globe

(photo courtesy of Ceri Webb)

…And we wandered through part of Kensington Gardens to find the iconic Peter Pan statue, where we got to listen to Peter Pan invite us to join him in Neverland…

Ceri photo - Kensington

(photo courtesy of Ceri Webb)

…And we found the also iconic Abbey Road crossing (of Beatles fame), where Sarah graciously stood in the queue in the middle of the road to get a picture of the rest of us for a friend who couldn’t be there…

Ceri photo - Abbey Road

Ceri photo - Abbey Road 2

Ceri photo - train station

(all three photos courtesy of Ceri Webb)

(That last photo was mostly just for fun, but also to indicate the amount of time we spent waiting on platforms for trains or the Tube.)

We rode the London Eye twice – once during the day and once at night – and took many, many photos because it was a gorgeous, sunny day.  But you’re probably nearly photo-d out at this point, so I won’t share them all.

Ceri photo - London Eye

(photo courtesy of Ceri Webb)

On our final day, we drove to Oxford, where we wandered rainy streets, browsed in bookshops, toured the Bodleian Library, and ate at The Eagle and Child pub, famous for being a favored meeting place of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and their friends.

Ceri photo - Oxford pub

(photo courtesy of Ceri Webb)

Annnnnd . . . that’s all.  You have officially made it to the end of my pictorial description of my Christmas break.  Thanks for sticking to the end, and come back again soon!

Not Your Typical Advent Reading

It’s dark outside, and I can hear the wind brushing past the edges of my window, now whistling, now roaring, and now silent.  The streetlight around the corner casts tree-shaped shadows on the cottage opposite me, and each time the wind howls, those shadows shake and quiver and somehow look exactly the way winter should.  My strings of fairy lights reflect in golden drops against the glass, and George Winston’s Christmas album lulls me into a half-awake state.

I love the Christmas season.  I love it for so many reasons, but most of all, I love it because it reminds me of happy childhood years.  Years when Christmas meant skinny trees loaded with homemade ornaments and popcorn strings, and children’s concerts at school in my newest mother-made Christmas dress, and family craft nights in the church basement, and Christmas parties that filled our home with cookies and hot chocolate and practically the entire town.  And my dad coming home with a new Christmas album from one of his favourite singers, and snow and ice and cold that bit at our noses and fingers, and driving around town to look at how everyone strung lights around their houses, and wearing a white gown and holly crown and serving my family cookies and cocoa on St. Lucia’s Day…

Those years are gone, and that’s okay.  That’s life.  But whenever I hear the question, “What is your idea of a perfect day, a perfect moment?”, I think of Decembers when I was a child in a small town in Nebraska.  To me, they were perfect.  And they are the reason that I love Christmas so much as an adult.

The funny thing is that this Christmas season, here in a small town in England, thousands and thousands of miles from family and anything resembling the Christmases I knew as a child, I’ve found elements of the Christmas that I love – far more elements than I’d found in my home in California, as much as I loved it there, too.

Here, in my small space in England, I love listening to the wind at night, because although it is not nearly as cold as those childhood nights long ago, it sounds cold.  And sometimes there’s rain in it.  And one of these days, it will be cold enough that the rain turns to snow, if only for a brief time.

I love the golden glow from the streetlights, especially when it shines on the trees nearby.  Sometimes it makes me think that I’m in Narnia for just a flash of a moment, and other times it simply looks so un-Californian that it is a vivid reminder to me that I’m here, in England.  On the other side of the world.

I love the strings of lights festooning the high streets and shopping districts of every place I’ve visited in the last month.  There are even a few homes outlined in colored lights on my walk between campus and the high street here, and each one that I see is one more moment of good cheer.

I love that I have spent two evenings in the last week drinking hot mulled wine at church.  I love it not because of the wine itself, but because of the act of sharing a Christmas treat in community, while working on Christmas crafts with friends, or washing up the dishes after a Christmas concert.

I love walking into the Founders building on campus and seeing the Christmas tree there, draped with red and gold tinsel.  It is fake – so fake – but it looks happy somehow.  And it makes me smile every time I see it.

I love stopping for tea at Costa and sitting in the warm shop with darkness settling down outside.  My friend Sarah says that there is a word in The Netherlands that loosely translates as ‘being cozy with loved ones nearby on a cold winter night’, and although I am not always with loved ones nearby when I stop for tea, I often feel that special brand of coziness there, one that translates to me as Christmas.

Maybe what I really love is that we are moving into Christmas while simultaneously moving into winter.  Growing up in Nebraska gave me an idea that Christmas is more Christmas-y somehow when the world around me is gradually darkening and turning colder with each passing day.  There is nothing wrong with the Christmas season in southern California, but it never had that feel of darkness and waiting and hoping that I’ve experienced in colder climates.  This place in England has that feeling, that sense of something approaching, of the world rushing towards the turning point of the winter solstice and shortest day of the year and then on to the blaze of light that is Christmas.

I was going to write today about my experience with the Christmas season in England, and I suppose that I did in a way because my experience with Christmas will always be bound up with my memories of Christmases past and gone.  I don’t know if I will ever be able to separate the two.  So this is my December in England – one of watching in breathless wonder the world passing by and ignoring the differences in customs in favor of falling asleep to the melody of the cold winter wind, waiting expectantly for the coming light…

How Do I Love Thee?

Covent Garden

A block on and she found herself on Charing Cross Road, then in an enormous cobblestoned piazza. A small cafe was open on the corner, and she sat at a table and spread out her newspapers.

‘I’m lost,’ she said to the young woman who wiped the table down.

‘I wouldn’t think so,’ she drawled, pointing out the window. ‘That’s Covent Garden.’

‘Covent Garden,’ she thought to herself.  ‘I’m in Covent Garden.’ And she felt full and foolish, both at the same time.

Anna Quindlen’s book about her lifelong love for London and for the books that tell London’s story has been a favourite of mine since I received it as a birthday gift nearly seven years ago.  I have carried it with me from one home to the next and pulled it out to read excerpts whenever I was feeling particularly homesick for this great city in which I had never truly lived.


Now that I’m here – really here, living ordinary life in London (and surrounding areas) – I still have moments of delight.  Moments of wonder.  Moments of feeling full and foolish at the same time, just like Anna did on her first trip to London at the start of her book.

Sometimes going into London for the day feels commonplace.  “Oh, I’m just heading in to spend some time at Senate House Library.”  No big deal.  Just going into central London for the day to wander my favourite streets and visit places that are my own, mine because I have a reason to be there.  I’m not just a tourist.  A small part of this city now belongs to me.

Russell Square 2

This square, for example, is my base for visits to my library in central London.  It was also the base for my study abroad trip back in my undergraduate days.  And it has also been used as a filming location for Sherlock, one of my favourite British television shows.

Sometimes I walk down the street in London and simply watch the line of buildings.  Or the cobblestones beneath my feet (because there are many of them in this city).  I notice the little things that make this London.  The brightly-colored pubs, the red buses, the red and blue Underground signs around every corner…

And I turn down odd alleys, and follow signs, and stop to read the plaques at the base of each statue I pass.  Because sometimes you find a dragon that marks the boundary of the old City of London.


And sometimes you find a shop full of your favourite tea.  And sometimes you find quiet courtyards full of brick and age.

And other times I arrive in London and plant myself in the center of the tourism.  I sit and eat a sandwich in Trafalgar Square, listening to the music from the buskers in front of the National Gallery.

Dinner in Trafalgar Square

Or I find a way to be a part of the world premiere of the new – and final – Hobbit film, wandering Leicester Square for hours with my flatmate, watching the building of the barricades, blowing into our hands to warm them, and asking security guard after security guard where we can go to watch the fun.  (If you’re lucky, you’ll overhear a conversation that tells you exactly how to snag one of the last spots around for watching the stage.)


And sometimes I find a balance.  I spend an hour sitting by the window at Starbucks, chatting with a friend about life and love and learning.  And we browse table after table of used books under the Waterloo Bridge on the South Bank, and buy German paper stars from a young man behind a counter.  And we walk along the river for what feels like hours, watching the people and the water and admiring old churches and palaces and ships.

And on that same day, we pay to ride the London Eye all the way around, even though it rained that morning and our pictures won’t be perfect.  And we brave the crowds to cross the Tower Bridge over to the Tower of London so we can see the World War I poppies before they are taken down.


This is my London.  This mix of quiet delight and noisy tourism.  This winding path between everyday streets of ordinariness and lanes filled with wonder and magic and the glory of the London that I learned to love from books.  And after several months and many trips into the city, I agree with Samuel Johnson:

To be tired of London is to be tired of life, for there is in London all that life can afford.

Feel The Weight Of An Ordinary Day

Are you ready for a glimpse into my life in England?  I’m warning you:  Many pictures are ahead, so prepare to scroll…

For most of the summer, I told friends and family that I was off to London.  That wasn’t quite the truth; at least, not London the way most Americans think of it.

I am living in the Greater London Area, yes, but I live in Surrey.  Which is a county bordering London – a county full of old and quaint villages, some of which have existed in one state or another for more than three times as long as the United States of America. Think of the film The Holiday.  Remember how Kate Winslet’s character lives in Surrey and has to take an actual train home after work, not just the tube?  And how her advertisement for her house says that it’s about an hour from London?  And how Cameron Diaz has to go up and down country roads every time she goes to the cottage?  That is a more accurate depiction of where I live than this is.

With that in mind, I hope you understand why so many of these photos don’t look quite how you may have pictured London.  I’ve been trying to take photos of my ordinary, everyday life here, both for my own record keeping and to share with those back home, so that’s what I am going to share with all of you today.

(I’ve been trying to figure out how to categorize these, and the best I can come up with is to just do whatever makes sense in my head at this moment in time.  Best of luck…)

First, trees.  I love trees.  I love trees that have changed over to red and gold for October. I love trees that hover around buildings as though they are friends.  And I love trees that are tall enough to be tickled by the wind high overhead and send their whispers down to me on the ground.

one week later, just before the leaves all fluttered away in the rain
the view from my kitchen window, just before the leaves all fluttered away in the rain
the path to the other side of campus on a crisp Sunday morning
the path to the other side of campus on a crisp Sunday morning
Even in mid-October, the green seems to glow with a life of its own
Even in mid-October, the green seems to glow with a life of its own
i love autumn leaves. so much.
i love autumn leaves. so much.

My university is perched on the top of a hill, so every time we need to go anywhere – to the shops, to the train station, to church – we have to walk down the hill, and then hike back up again at the end of the trip.   We do have a tiny area of village shops around the corner, but it is mostly made up of restaurants, hairdressers, and real estate agents.

But no matter which shops I’m headed to, I enjoy taking snapshots of the things I notice on my jaunts.

the lane that leads me out to the main road
the lane that leads me out to the main road
holly is everywhere here.  it's like christmas all the time!
holly is everywhere here. it’s like christmas all the time!
each time i pass this, i wonder what 'the beeches' is...or what it used to be
each time i pass this, i wonder what ‘the beeches’ is…or what it used to be…
this anglican church is one of our local historic buildings, and is the church i am calling home
this anglican church is one of our local historic buildings, and is the church i am calling home
the shops around the corner - and proof that the sky is blue here, too
the shops around the corner – and proof that the sky is blue here, too

When I need more than just food or items from a charity shop (thrift store, for those of you in America), I take the bus into the neighboring town which has a proper town centre with lots of shopping.  But who wants to see pictures of chain stores?  Instead, I love to study this pub while I wait for the bus home:

Staines (Oct 2014)

The chapel on campus is absolutely gorgeous.  BBC Radio has even recorded from it.  I haven’t done much more than peek inside on a blustery afternoon, but I intend to go back:

RHUL chapel

Contrary to what you might think from this post, I do spend some time in London itself.  An easy 40 minute train ride drops me off at Waterloo station, near the London Eye in the center of the city.  I go into London at least once each week, and now that I have my University of London library card, I intend to study there at least that often.  The UoL library smells of old books and deep thoughts, and makes me feel quite at home.  And the Bloomsbury area has long been my home-away-from-home, so I use the excuse to wander through the streets and feel like I know where I am in the middle of London.

studying in the stacks with windows looking out across the city
studying in the stacks with windows looking out across the city
i've considered the bloomsbury area to be "home" for years, so even when i'm not at the library, i usually find my way to this shop for lunch
my current favorite place to grab a sandwich for lunch, both because of the umbrella shop across the street – so british! – and because of a nearby bookshop…
tea, chocolate, and a new (old) book = a perfect break from walking through london
…where i picked up a canadian first edition of one of my favorite books!  Add tea and chocolate, and it’s a perfect day in london!

Are you still with me?  Good.  We’re almost done…and I promise that there are a couple photos with me actually in them.  (Just in case anyone wants proof that I’m actually here…)

Last week, I took the bus to Windsor.  As a student of history, I thought that I should pay my respects to the Castle – the oldest castle in Europe that is still in use as a royal residence.  I also wanted to check out the shops there, since I’m still on the lookout for a few things to allow me to properly settle in.  And because I bought my admission ticket for the Castle directly from the Royal Collection Trust, I now have free admission for a year.  As the Governator said, “I’ll be back…”

the approach to the castle
the approach to the castle
since it was a weekday, the castle was not crowded
since it was a weekday, the castle was not crowded
you can see why this location was chosen - i could see for miles in every direction
you can see why this location was chosen – i could see for miles in every direction
my expression says, "why am i the only person here taking a selfie? i don't know how i feel about that..."
my expression says, “why am i the only person here taking a selfie? i don’t know how i feel about that…”
i wish they would let us into this garden
i wish they would let us into this garden…

I went for a walk in Windsor Great Park today with some friends from church, after a perfectly autumnal lunch of soup, bread, and cheese.  It’s late enough in the year now that the sun was turning the world to gold even though it was only the middle of the afternoon, and when we topped the hill, the wind nearly took my breath away – just like it used to on the Nebraska hills years ago.

Windsor Great Park is a giant park that includes the home of Prince Andrew (which we walked past), an enclosed deer park that you can walk through, several lakes, a polo field, several other things I’m forgetting about, and a hill that commands a breathtaking view of Windsor Castle nearby and sweeps all the way out to central London (on a clear day).  And when I say that this is a giant park, I mean it.  According to Google (which we all know is gospel truth…right?), Central Park in New York City is 778 acres.  Also according to Google, Windsor Great Park is . . . are you ready for this?  4,800 acres.  One of my companions today said that it used to be the hunting grounds for King Henry VIII.  (Americans and non-history lovers:  He’s the one who kept killing his wives.  And who created the Protestant church.)  And you can almost see him galloping across the fields as you hike through the grass toward the line of woods…

To get the sweeping view of the castle and Heathrow Airport and Wembley Stadium and central London, you have to climb a hill to what could possibly be the largest statue of George III in existence.

George III in Windsor Great Park

(I know it doesn’t look very big in the photo, but trust me.  That thing was massive.)

I’ve been using the camera on my phone since I got here because it’s too much trouble to carry around another camera and have to turn it on every time I want to grab a quick snapshot.  My phone gets me some lovely pictures, but it doesn’t allow me to zoom or choose which object to focus on, so I hope you can see that the bright building just left of the center is Windsor Castle.  And it was actually much closer to us than this photo makes it seem.  (You can’t see it, but central London is on the far right.)

Windor Castle from the park

And yes, that road leads directly from where we stood to the Castle itself.

I also took a photo with me in it to prove that I was actually there.  We tried to get it without the strangers included, but they kept moving to stay in the shot.


I hope you enjoyed this brief glimpse into my ordinary days, and I sincerely hope you’re still reading now, all the way to the end.  For those who made it this far, I’ll leave you with one last photo – sort of like the extra scene for the moviegoers who stay through the credits at a Marvel film: Because Narnia (on film) and colour-changing LED lights on the windowsill make an evening at home practically perfect in every way…

Lights 2

Title quoted from “Ordinary Day” by Griffin House

Some Enchanted Evening

From where I sit, the trees out my window look like they come straight out of Van Gogh’s Starry Night.  One tree after another, layered on top of each other, branches sweeping in all directions like wild swirls of green paint on the canvas of a master.  In this moment, these are not Bob Ross’s “happy little trees” . . . but they do dance under the cloudy sky.

I woke up this morning to a wet world and the coldest day we’ve had since I arrived.  It reminded me of a poem that we studied in my high school English class, a rough English translation of a Russian poem:  “But you’ve been breathing this thick foggy air too long; you wouldn’t believe in anything but the rain.”  I couldn’t help smiling as I walked to class because my sun-baked soul delights in the rain.

I had my first lectures today, and the last one was held in the dim, book-lined tutor’s office while the seven of us sat in a circle and took notes with our laps as the desks.  He wore brown tweed (or something similar to my untrained American eye) and thin-framed spectacles, and sounded exactly how I imagine an Oxford don of eighty years ago would have spoken.  For an hour, he talked to us about royal courts of the Middle Ages, and for that hour, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.

In one of my favorite essays, C.S. Lewis writes what has since become a somewhat famous quote:  “He [the reader] does not despise real woods because he has read of enchanted woods: this reading makes all real woods a little enchanted.”

So many of my favorite stories take place in England that I was a little worried that my expectations would be completely skewed and I would be disappointed by reality.  But days like today remind me that sometimes the stories help to make the pieces of ordinary life feel a little . . . well, extraordinary.

My First Week in England

I’ve been in England for a week now.

I have spent one fantastic day wandering around central London with my good friend Ceri.

I have trudged up the hill from the High Street to the university more times than I can count, usually weighed down with bags of goods, such as one plate, one bowl, and one cup (because space is limited, so my flatmates and I each own one of every necessary kitchen item and no more than that).

I have navigated the local bus system to and from the next town all by myself.

I have taken a taxi all by myself.

Speaking of that, the fantastic day in central London also involved me navigating the rail system all by myself.

I have somewhat put my room together so that it looks like I actually live here.  (Who knew there would be so many things I’d have to buy before I could actually put things away properly?)

I have spent several days sacked out on my bed, recovering from a cold.

I have met my fellow Medieval Studies students and a number of my future professors and officially enrolled for the year.

I have discovered why British people are said to have “read for” a degree.  (Hint:  A LOT of reading is involved…)

I have met a handful of fellow students outside of my program, both undergraduate and postgraduate, both British and international.  (And I liked them, which is even better than just meeting them…)

I have been told several times that the other person likes my accent.  I have also been told that I’m doing a good job of picking up British slang.  (What they don’t know is that after only a week, my thoughts are already starting to have a British accent…)

I have attended an Anglican church service – and enjoyed it – and met an honest-to-goodness English vicar.  (Yes, I know that he’s essentially the same thing as a pastor.  But he’s called a vicar!  My British-loving heart almost can’t handle the awesomeness of that.)

I have been invited to “pop round for tea.”  (My British-loving heart also can’t handle the awesomeness of that non-American phrase.)

It has been a good week for me – despite getting that silly cold.  But more than all of these things, I have been reminded over and over and in so many ways that this is where I am supposed to be.  I don’t know what this next year will look like, but I can’t wait to find out.

Now, for those of you who have been dying to see photos of London, here are a few from my day with Ceri:

Christine & Ceri’s Selfie Tour of London

Nelson's Column at Trafalgar Square
Nelson’s Column at Trafalgar Square
The clock tower and part of the Houses of Parliament
The clock tower and part of the Houses of Parliament
Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey
Piccadilly Circus
Piccadilly Circus
We met the Queen!  Okay, so she was made out of legos...
We met the Queen! Okay, so she was made out of legos…
We found Sherlock's headquarters
We found Sherlock’s headquarters!
The London Eye
The London Eye

P.S.  Looking at these photos reminds me of one more thing for my list:  I realized that I still remember my way around central London.  (Well, mostly.  We definitely used maps, but there were certain places where I knew exactly what surrounded us, and it was a good feeling.)

The First Day

I’ve been in London for nearly 36 hours, and…wow.

Some friends of a friend graciously picked me up at the airport yesterday and opened their home to me for the night, since I couldn’t move into my hall of residence on campus until today. They also took me for a 2.5 kilometer walk along the Thames (to get some exercise after the long flight), gave me my very first ride on the top deck of one of the famous red double-decker buses, gave me a loaner mobile phone and helped me to set up a basic phone plan, took me out for my first pub visit, introduced me to everyone at their church, and gave me a box of enough food to get me through the first 24 hours on campus so that I wouldn’t have to track down a store immediately. Oh, and they gave me a set of sheets, towels, and a quilt cover for my dorm room so that I wouldn’t have to spend money on those things if I don’t want to.

They also explained how to get to their house from my university and invited me to come back for weekends if I ever need to get away from campus.

I don’t think I could have planned a better introduction to this year in London if I had had all the time and money in the world. They even had my photo waiting in the entry of their home, above a framed welcome poem:


The best part of this first day, though – keeping in mind that I was constantly thinking about how I’m going to be living here for the next year – was the fact that I instantly felt at home, even while driving through the streets from the airport. Part of that was due to the Bells, part was due to the fact that some of my favorite memories are from London, and part was because I felt so sure that this is exactly where I’m supposed to be right now, and that God has been carefully putting pieces together to make it happen.

I moved into my dorm this afternoon and met several of my new flatmates, as well as a few other students. Everyone is on their best behavior, but they also seem to be nice people.

I’m off to central London tomorrow to play tourist for the day with a friend…

…If You’ve Got Enough Nerve

I’m sitting in the Minneapolis airport with an hour or so before my flight boards, and I can’t stop thinking about one of my favorite quotes from JK Rowling: “You can do anything if you’ve got enough nerve.”

I’m sitting in the airport waiting to board my flight to London, and I’m trying not to think about tomorrow. About setting foot in a foreign country and starting a new life on my own. “So don’t worry about tomorrow…”

I’m sitting at my gate for my London flight, and I’m trying to calm the excited-out-of-their-minds butterflies in my stomach. Butterflies that can’t believe they’re about to be on their way to London.

I don’t know if I mentioned that I’m sitting at the gate – in the airport – waiting to board my flight to London.

It’s go time, y’all.