Wednesday, 8 July 2009

View from the Other Side

It’s been just over two weeks since I crossed the pond back to the land of baseball and apple pie – and 90-degree days. I now have access to all the American beef and BBQ I could ask for, and my towels are warm and fluffy after coming out of the dryer. I can watch all the movies and TV shows I want without waiting an hour for them to load on the internet. I no longer have to walk over a mile to get to the grocery store, and when a price tag says $1.99 it means $1.99. No more multiplying by one and a half to figure out how much I’m really spending.
Yet despite all the American conveniences like a dishwasher or Velveeta, I find myself longing for England. Although I have my car back and can freely drive down the right side of the road, my daily commute no longer includes walking past a one thousand-year-old tower or smelling the aroma of Cornwall’s Pasty shop on Cornmarket Street. I can eat at Chipotle rather than Oxford’s meager attempt at Mexican fast food, The Mission; but I can’t bring my takeout to the Oxford Union just across St. Michaels Street. I can find places to get a good, fruity or chocolaty cocktail, but even the prettiest drink at the most upscale social house or lounge couldn’t replace a pint of cider with black currant at The Eagle and Child.
Now that I’m home, I find myself constantly referring to the way things operate in England. I’m sure it becomes annoying to my family and friends when I compare everything here to Oxford, and I’ve found they lose interest pretty quickly. They haven’t experienced punting down the Thames with a bottle of wine or watching the Magdalen College choir sing atop the college tower on May morning. They don’t know what the University Church looks like or what makes clotted cream so delicious. It’s all very fictitious and too far removed to really understand. I sometimes wonder myself if the past five and a half months actually happened. It tends to seem like an incredible, yet distant, dream. I slipped back into my routine here so easily that it’s hard to believe I spent nearly half a year in another country. I have to look through my pictures and old journal entries to remind myself that, yes, I really did go to England.
And I still have a few shortbread and jam biscuits left; they help jog my memory too.
During my time in England I learned very important lessons which I hope I will be able to keep with me. I understand more fully the importance of time spent relaxing with a cup of tea and acquiring knowledge for knowledge’s sake. I still have my white tea every day, and I’ve ordered some new books on Amazon to feed my reignited hunger for reading. I just started reading "Neverwhere," a fantasy about the London Underground. I can imagine myself walking down the street with the main character, Richard, and visualize Harrod's or the Marble Arch. (Perhaps my literature choice is only making my British withdrawal worse). And despite the fast-paced way of life here, I hope my European influence will allow me to dig me heels into American soil and slow me down when I become too caught up with dates and deadlines. As graduate school applications and test dates linger in the all-too-near future, I’m sure it will be quite the task. But I’m going to give it my best shot.
My European excursion also taught me a lot about myself. I know now that I can travel half-way around the world and figure out what to do and where to go on my own. I can book flights and hostels, catch a sleeper train, and read maps in French, Italian, and German. And I have the confidence and know-how to backpack across Europe again, hopefully sooner than later. I’m no longer a child being led by the hand of my mom or dad. I’m a woman; free to make my own decisions and responsible for the consequences of those decisions.
Finally, although I find myself pining for England – for cream tea and Indian food, Blackwell’s and Primark – my time away has made me aware of the blessings I have here in the U.S.: The girls on my hall at Jewell sent me cards for Valentine’s Day, my grandma sent me little notes throughout the semester, my mom and sister stayed up late or woke up early just to say hi to me online, and my dad sent me emails to encourage me or just to tell me about his day. And when I walked through the door at Tulsa airport, my step-mom literally jumped up and down…and then she cried. I was reminded that I have remarkable people surrounding me, encouraging me, and loving me - no matter where my life or my travels lead me.

Friday, 1 May 2009


After nearly four months, it is official. I am in love.

I know I promised to tell you all about my travels during break, and I will. But first I must convey to you my new found infatuation with the wonderful place that is Oxford.

I am taking a tutorial on C.S. Lewis this term, and so far I am absolutely loving it. Before now, I had never read anything by Lewis except for snipits of "Narnia." I had little knowledge of his work as a theologian and really didn't know what to expect from my tutorial. I just knew he was "kind of a big deal" here, so what better place to learn about him?
I started out with "The Four Loves," paired with Plato's "Symposium," which was a great introduction to Lewis. From the first few pages of his theology of love, I knew I was going to enjoy reading the profound thoughts this man put down. I was right. This week, I was assigned "The Problem of Pain," "A Grief Observed," and Sheldon Vanauken's "A Severe Mercy" as supplementary material. Both of Lewis's works were, again, profound and thought-provoking. However, it was Vanauken's writing which has ignited this new passion I have for this little city.
"A Severe Mercy" is an autobiography or memoir of sorts, telling the story of Sheldon and his wife Davy. The two find themselves in Oxford for a brief period of time, where they find Christianity and develop a friendship with C.S. Lewis. Letters between Lewis and Vanauken are included in the book. As I read Vanauken's account of their time in Oxford, I could imagine exactly where he was and what he must have been seeing. He wrote of the High Street, and how it is quite possibly the most beautiful street in the world. I walk down the High nearly every day, and sometimes I forget to appreciate the breathtaking beauty of Magdalen College, the botanical gardens or the Church of St. Mary the Virgin. But when I take a moment to really look, to take it all in...he is absolutely right.
This morning I participated in the May Morning celebration and watched the Magdalen College Choir welcome spring from atop the bell tower at 6 a.m. Afterward, my housemates and I went to the Oxford Union for a breakfast of sausage rolls, bacon baps, and pastries. Vanauken and Davy had done this as well. He wrote, "On May Morning, not long after the light appeared in the east, we had sat in a punt under Magdalen Tower with friends, hearing first a belated nightingale and then, from the top of the tall tower, the pure voices of little boys singing their Latin madrigal. When they had done, the tower bells rang out t welcome the Maytime in, and we, with the great bells still ringing astern, went off down the river to eat the breakfast we had brought." His words played through my head as we walked down High Street with the sound of bells and bagpipes in the distance.
Among the lovely memories of Oxford he recorded, he speaks most fondly of his time in the little village of Binsey and conversations had at The Perch,"that other country pub...with its pleasant garden." The man had been right about so much thus far, I had a feeling he could also recommend a good pub. So when we got back from celebrating May Day, instead of going back to bed, as the rest of my housemates did, I looked up directions to The Perch, grabbed my copy of "A Severe Mercy," and headed for Binsey.
Three miles later, passed the train station, across the Thames, and down a narrow road with fields and crops growing on either side, I saw the thatched roof of The Perch sticking out between the trees. I walked in, feeling a little underdressed in my shorts and T-shirt amid wine glasses and cloth napkins on the tables, but the bartender was still happy to serve me a white coffee. I took my delicate cup of coffee and pitcher of milk out to the "pleasant garden" and found an iron table set for one. I sat in the garden for what must have been more than an hour and a half, reading about the very place I was sitting in, and falling more and more in love with Oxford with every page.
I also did my fair share of eavesdropping on the British patrons while I was there. A nearby conversation caught my attention when I heard a woman say people who live in middle America have no culture. Little did she know there was a middle American sitting at the next table. Then again, perhaps I have no culture. I suppose it is all relative.
After I felt I had worn out my welcome, I said goodbye to The Perch, certain to return again. I wasn't quite ready to say goodbye to Binsey, though, so I meandered down a path which ran alongside the pub toward the river. There I found a little dock, on which I spent the rest of the afternoon reading and sunning my white, uncultured legs. Every once in a while a fishing or rowing boat would pass by, disturbing the otherwise calm waters. Also every once in a while a dog who had wandered from its owner came to say hello. Sometimes they had just come from a dip in the water. On these occasions I was happy to be wearing shorts and a T-shirt.
By the time I finished "A Severe Mercy," the wind had begun to pick up a little. I resisted the desire to take a nap right there on the dock (I've been awake since 4:30 a.m.) and headed back to city centre. I stopped at Blackwell's on the way home, where Vanauken bought his first works by Lewis, to look for my own copy of "A Severe Mercy," but I couldn't find it. I'll look again someday. I only had a couple of quid in my purse, so I probably couldn't have bought a copy today anyway.
I arrived at home excited to share my new little corner of Oxford with the rest of the house. I hope I next time I go, I can bring more middle Americans with me.
I came to Oxford nearly four months ago, and there are still so many places I haven't seen, food I haven't eaten, and experiences I haven't been a part of. Today I am thankful that not only have I fallen in love with Oxford, my eyes have been opened to appreciate her for what little time I have left with her.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Ashton and Will go to Europe

I am finally back in Oxford after five weeks of travelling all over Europe. I had limited internet access and no time to really sit down and write a blog, so I will proceed to tell you about the last five weeks of my life. Don't worry. I'll break it up into a few different posts, so you can take breaks. I'll start with my trip with Will to London, Amsterdam, Paris, and the Forest of Dean.

Will arrived in London on the 14th, and I was to meet him at Victoria Station. Little did I know just how big Victoria Station is! I couldn't find him at first and called him in a panic, afraid I would spend the day helplessly wandering the busy streets surrounding the station. Finally, I spotted him outside of Sainsbury's in the Victoria Shopping Center in his patched pants and travelling hat. It was so relieving to see him! We spent the day wandering around London. We went to Buckingham Palace, St. James Park, the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben - all the big city sites. It was beautiful, although I did expect Big Ben to be a little bigger. :)

That night the woman working at our hostel suggested an area with Indian cuisine. We found a small restaurant with some delicious food. Will was talking about his lamb dish from days after that. Then we went to the Covent Garden where we had a pint at Will's first English pub. It was really busy and loud, and we ended up next to an older couple who were either newlyweds or having an affair. The PDA was too much to take, so we headed back the hostel as soon as we could squeeze ourselves between them.

The next day we wandered around some more and came across a proper Irish St. Patrick's Day parade on Picadilly Street. It was quite the celebration, with everyone wearin green, Irish flags, and Guinness mad-hatter hats. We took a lot of pictures of an adorable little boy all decked out for the occassion. After stopping at the Primark on Oxford Street to get our own St. Paddy's attire, we went to the Tower Bridge and the Tower of London, where people were using catapults to launch enormous water balloons into the air!

That evening we rode the London Eye. We literally hopped on because it is in constant motion, and for the next half-hour we rode in a little bubble up, up, up over the city. It was spectacular! As we got off, it was startig to get dark. (The sun doesn't set here. It's up one minute, and then it's dark. There is no progression with the beautiful orange, red, blue, and purple hues we're used to in Missouri. The London Eye glowed red and the museum behind it was the background for a light show. Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament were also lit up at night. Gorgeous!

It wasn't all wonderful in London, however. Will made his first ATM transaction, and his debit card was promptly shut off. He called Bank of America several times throughout the trip...all in vain. It put a damper on things and could have been disastrous had he been travelling alone. He had me to borrow cash from, though, so it all ended up ok. Maybe he was planning it from the start to get me to pay for everything... :)

From London we flew to Amsterdam and arrived around 11 a.m. tired and hungry. We found our way to the Hemp Hotel (yes, hemp) with the help of some nice locals. The hotel only has five rooms, each with a different theme and decorated with hemp materials. Ours was the Afghan room. It wasn't the Ritz by any means, but it had a wonderful charm that we would not have found anywhere else.
Amsterdam is famous for its pancake houses, so that's where we headed for lunch (although we found that many restaurants and stores aren't open until nearly noon). We went to a pancake house called the Carousel, where I had a huge pancake with apples and bacon in it. Yum!

Bellies full, we were ready to go exploring. We went to the Van Gogh museum first - one of Amsterdam's most famous destinations. I ad no idea how diverse his painting styles were, as I was only familiar with his later works. After that, we went to Anne Frank's secret annex where she and her family hid from the Nazis. The rooms are all empty now, as Otto Frank wanted them left unfurnished, but the bookcase/door which guarded the entrance is still there. I held my hand on the little handle on the back of it for a longtime, imagining all the times they pulled it closed unsure if they would be discovered. Anne had decorated her small, narrow room with cutouts from magazines, which were still on the walls. It was hard to think about how a 13-year-old girl could spend two years of her life hiding in an attic with blacked-out windows...only to die in Bergen Belsen just weeks before the liberation. I am so glad I had the chance to see it; it makes me appreciate what I have.

That night we went to the place I was worried about the most - the Red Light District. We wandered around it aimlessly for a little while until we happened upon a tour led by a lively and entertaining British guide. We joined the group, and he led us through the streets that span four canals of the district. He showed us gay clubs (one of which called "The Cock Ring"), a condomerie with condoms in any design from the Statue of Liberty to Maggie Simpson, and of course the famous windows where women (and some men) offer 15 minutes of sex for about 50 euro. Will and I laughed for about 15 minutes after seeing one of the girls invite a boy who couldn't have been more than 17. His face was priceless - one of those "me?" faces, like a supermodel had just asked out the biggest geek at the party.

The next day we wandered through the canals and found a little market where we tried Amsterdam's famous fries for lunch. We ate them on the edge of the canal and took in the beauty of the city. This was also St. Patrick's Day, so in our green, we headed to the Heineken Brewery. I thought Will would like it, but it actually ended up being a great time for me too. Will bought a personalized bottle of Heineken, and we both discovered that Heineken actually tastes pretty good too, especially their extra cold taps! We ended the night back in the Red Light District, where we had delicious waffles with chocolate on top!

As we checked out of the Hemp Hotel to take a train to Paris the next day, the woman who managed the hotel told us not to let the Parisians get "too French" on us. After a 4-hour ride, we arrived at St. Christopher's Hostel. (Great, new place). The next day we took a four-hour walking tour through Paris. Our guide, an Aussie named James, was equally entertaining as he was informative. We saw Notre Dame Cathedral, the Louvre, the Champs Elysses, the Arch di Triumph, Napolean's Tomb...the list goes on and on. After the tour we wandered arond the city before going to the Eiffel Tower. It was cold and windy on the second level of the tower, but the view totally made it worth while!

Day two in Paris included a traditional French lunch and a trip to the Louvre. Will didn't like what he ordered, but when you can't read the menu, it is kind of luck of the draw. The Louvre is huge, of course, so we spent our time in the main gallery where the Mona Lisa is, the sculpture garden, and Napolean's apartments. Very cool.

After Paris, we spent a night back in Oxford before heading to the place we were most looking forward to - our Bed and Breakfast and the Forest of Dean in Blakeney. The proprietor, Marian Buckmaster, was there to greet us when we arrived at the Old Nibley Farmhouse and showed us all around her beautiful home. After we unloaded everything, Will grabbed his camera, and we set off for the forest via a little public footpath Marian showed us. It went right through the neighbor's field, which was full of sheep. We spent the rest of the afternoon in the woods, picking which way to go on a whim. We found a few mines and a couple of rope swings too. We had a wonderful time, and the weather was gorgeous! We stopped through to visit the sheep again on our way back, and when we did a little lamb came right up to us. It was really something.

The only problem we found was the (lack of) transportation in Blakeney. Nothing was open around our B&B, so we called a taxi to a little pub called the Bailey Inn. The pub was filled with friendly locals who served us great pizza (of all things), gave us information about renting a car the next day, and helped us get a taxi home.

The next morning we woke up excited about having our first English breakfast. We went downstairs to find tea, locally made juices, smoothies, homemade poached berries, yogurt, and homemade granola! Then the REAL breakfast came! Sausage, homemade toast, bacon, eggs, mushrooms, and homemade jams. We ate so much we could have died (happy). We had decided the previous night that we were going to rent a car so we could get around. We found our way to the rental place, but after about 2 hours of aimlessely driving down the wrong side of the road, we decided that the car wasn't a good idea. So we went back to the B&B and wandered the forest again - a much better way to spend the day.

That night we nibbled on the lunch Marian packed for us, since we didn't eat any of it after being so full from breakfast, and watched Indiana Jones. As we were leaving to go to a pub for a drink, I took a bite of the cake she had made. Mistake! My mouth started feeling funny, and Will raced downstairs to ask if there were peanuts in it. Sure enough, there was, and Will had to stab me with my Epipen. Within minutes I was fine, just couldn't sit still for a little bit with all the adrenaline running through me, and we went to the pub. Will had a glass of Ashton Press cider in my honor, although he didn't really like it, and I had some juice. The pub was full of locals with really thick accents. It was great to listen to them talk, even though I could barely understand them. We had another fantastic breakfast the next day before heading back to Oxford. Will hopped on a coach the day after that, and our Eurotrip was over...WHEW! End of part one! More to come soon!

Links to more pictures of our trip:

Friday, 13 March 2009

A good way to waste some time!

I have so much free time on my hands right now. I don't really know what to do with myself. I just got off the phone with Will. He's boarding a plane in Tulsa right now to come here! And I just got to see my Granddot, Abby Pratt, to exchange a hug. She and her parents are here visiting Lydia. It was great to see another familiar face, especially someone in my Gam Fam!

So what should I do with all this spare time I have accumulated? Well, I've been making a mental list of funny things I have seen as well as cultural difference between here and the States. I think now would be a good time to make use of them, so here it goes.

First, the one major difference I see between us and the Brits (besides the way we talk, of course) is the way we walk down a sidewalk. Traditionally, if you're in the U.S. and you see someone coming your way you will both make an effort to avoid one another, allowing enough space for both of you to pass by comfortably. Not so in merry ole England. I cannot begin to count the number of times I've had to walk on the street when I pass someone because they insist on walking right down the middle of the side walk. And if they're walking with someone else? Rather than one person stepping in front of the other for a moment, they just keep plowing down the sidewalk. Once again, I'm on the street. What have I done to remedy this problem? I do as the British do. I feel completely rude, but it's the only way to get where I'm going. So that's issue number one.

Next, girls in England do not have feeling in their legs, or the rest of their bodies for that matter. While us Americans have been bundled up with jeans, sweaters, coats, and hats, the natives prance around in leggings and cutsie tops with no jacket or coat to speak of. We don't know how they do it. Thankfully it's getting warmer now, so we'll be able to blend in with them a little more and trade our bulky coats and hats for a little more acceptable attire.

Moving on, let's discuss an average day on Cornmarket Street. Everything opens between 8 and 9 a.m., usually closer to 9 a.m. unless it's a cafe. You'll see a lot of people having their morning tea or coffee before heading to work. Then the street is a little quieter for a few hours until about 12:30 or 1 p.m. From then on, there are a ton of people all over the place eating and shopping. I always ask myself everyday, don't these people have jobs? I find it hard to believe they do when everyone is out and about at 3 p.m. on a Tuesday, but they have to get their money to do all their shopping from's a mystery. To return to an average day on Cornmarket, everything closes at 6 p.m. at the latest, and restaurants stop serving very early. What do you do? Go to the pub! But even they're only open until about 11 p.m. Bizarre, right? So where do you go at 3 in the morning for a study snack? Food vans! About 8 p.m. (when all the restaurants and pubs stop serving food) vendors set up vans all over the streets of Oxford where they sell burgers, kebabs, chips, pizza, and all other things fried and greasy. They all have fun names too, my favorite being Posh Nosh (Nosh is food). I've heard their cheesy chips are very yummy. I have yet to try them. We live pretty far away from town, so I'd rather not walk half an hour one way for some chips.

Which brings us to the subject of food. Although we speak the same language, Americans and the English definitely do NOT share the same food! We are called the melting pot for a reason; because we have the best of any kind of food from every part of the world. I can't say the same for England. Although they don't really eat beans for breakfast every day or fish and chips all the time, there is certainly plenty of traditional fare to be found. Cornish pasties, Sunday roasts, and crepe stands abundant on the streets of Oxford. And I do love the pastry shops and the open market at Gloucester Green every Wednesday. I will miss that when I'm back in the states. England also has delicious Indian cuisine. Some chicken tikka and garlic nan makes for a yummy dinner!

What you won't find in England, however, are all those wonderful staples of American comfort food. Want to make up some good ole Velveeta Shells and Cheese? Sorry, none to be found here. Having a party and want some rotel dip? Also no Velveeta. What about a BBQ sandwich or an enchilada? No such luck. Poptarts? Nope. You can find Oreos at Sainsbury's, but in my opinion, if it's not Double Stuf, it's not an they don't really have Oreos, if you get my drift. But I can't complain too much. We also have pancake parties and teas... It's not so bad. :)

Speaking of Sainsbury's (our grocery store), it's nothing like Price Chopper, Summer Fresh, Wal-Mart, etc. It's very small, about half the size of the first two stores I named. You won't find anything in bulk, and food expires very quickly. I think they must use fewer preservatives, which is probably a good thing. As a result, you can't go to the store once a week and stock up (partly because it will go bad by Wednesday and also because you can't carry that much back to your flat). Therefore, I end up going to the store about 3 or 4 times a week. And the lines...At times they reach all the way down the aisles! Of course they move much more quickly than those at Wal-Mart because rather than buying a month's worth of groceries, people are only buying 2 or 3 day's worth. It all evens out.

Okay, I think that's enough about the differences between here and there. Now for some funny things I've seen.

  • A woman pushing a stroller with no baby in it.
  • A woman carrying her dog in her purse (I thought only Paris Hilton did that).
  • A man carrying a purse.
  • A man wearing red velvet pants.
  • A man wearing purple velvet pants (what's the deal with velvet?).
  • A man who pulled a backpack out of a litter bin to see if it was worth making another man's trash his treasure.

I can't remember any more right now. I know there are more, but my favorite is a man Madison and I refer to as "the penguin." He is a short, squatty man (shaped much like a sphere from head to toe) and one of the about 7 obese people I have seen in the UK. Every weekend he makes his journey up and down Abingdon Road, which is really about 100 yards at most. He spends the entire day waddling down the street, much like a bloated penguin would. He also smokes (and I'm sure his pack has a great big "Smoking Kills" sticker on it). I have to admit I always smile to myself every weekend when I see him waddling down the street like a weeble (They wobble but they won't fall down!). It's one of those funny things I'll always remember. I'm glad Madison shares the inside joke with me. I hate when there are fun things that happen in a new place, and there is no one to laugh with about them later. ("Schwing!" comes to mind, a little joke I share with my Jordanian friend, Khaled.)

I've wasted a sufficient amount of time my time, and yours now too, so I think I will finish packing for my trip and prepare for tutorial. More to come after I travel!

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Taking a breath

Tonight has been the first night in a long time that I haven't been writing a paper or reading a book, and it feels wonderful. Tomorrow is my last tutorial for Hillary Term. I believe it's safe to say I've officially survived. The past eight weeks have been the most rigorous, enriching, and, at times, horrible weeks of my life. I have learned so much in two month's time, and not just about Political Philosophy and the Holocaust. I've learned to embrace another culture. I've learned to look right first rather than left when crossing the street. I've learned British people don't move out of the way when you're walking down the sidewalk, so you have to be just as aggressive if you want to get where you're going. I've learned that a hoodie and tennis shoes are not suitable attire for going to the grocery store. I've learned that HobNobs are quite possibly the best biscuits ever created, and Cadbury mini eggs are most delicious when eaten late at night after having drinks with friends at Cambridge.
I've also learned a lot about myself. After being in another country for two months, I know I CAN do it. I remember going back and forth about whether or not I REALLY wanted to do this. There were days I was completely against going to Oxford. I had spent far too much time away from home, and I did not want to miss out on making memories at Jewell. I would have missed out on even more had I not made the final decision to get on the plane and fly across the Atlantic. Of course there are days when I really want to go home and see my friends and family, but I know they're thinking of me and they're proud of me. That gives me enough strength to make it through one more day of reading, writing, walking a million miles, and everything else that comes with being here. And when I get back, I'll appreciate what I have all the more.
I've been doing a lot of self reflecting over the past few week, having realized that next year I'm going to be a senior and will have to start planning for the "real world." I've been considering the idea of applying for Teach for America for quite a while now, but I haven't convinced myself completely of being capable of taking on such a task. Today in tutorial, when I was in the middle of reading my paper, my tutor stopped me and asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. I was caught a little off-guard, as I was reading a paper about Nietzsche's political philosophy. I said I wanted to be a journalist. He replied, "I think you would make a very good teacher." He went on to say that I had a way of connecting with people, and that it came through in my writing. He said it was a special gift and he would hate to see it go to waste. I told him I was thinking of applying for TFA; he said he hoped the desire for teaching would stick. I could not have imagined receiving a better compliment. It really made me feel like, "Yes, I am making the right decisions about where my life should lead." It was the assurance I had been praying for, and I had an immense peace as I walked through the parks on my way home.
I'm sure you are all loving reading about my epiphanies, but you would much rather know about the fun things I've been up to, so I guess I'll move on to that now. Yesterday we went on an all-day excursion to Broughton Castle and Syon Park. It was wonderful to spend the day in the English countryside. The weather was perfect, and we all had a terrific time relaxing after working so hard all term. The pictures at the top are from the trip. I really don't know exactly what to say about the castle and park without sounding like a tour guide. Broughton Castle has been used many times by various film crews. Scenes from "Shakespeare in Love," "Three Men and a Little Lady," and "Made of Honor" were shot there. There was even a portion of the wall in one of the rooms that had been constructed for a movie set to cover up some pipes. The owners of the castle didn't like the pipes either and decided to leave the pretend stone after the film crew left. I never would have noticed the difference had he not pointed it out. Syon Park was absolutely gorgeous; I could have spent all day taking pictures there. It made me really excited to go to the Forest of Dean with Will. I can't wait to explore more of rural England.
...Which leads me to the best part about term being over. It's time to travel! Will arrives late tomorrow night, and I'm meeting him in London Saturday morning. I've been furiously booking trains, planes, buses, and hostels, as well as finding directions to and from everywhere. I have all of our confirmation and ticket information in a folder arranged chronologically. (That's for you, Ginia.) I can't wait to get on the bus to London and begin my first official Eurotrip. We're going to London for the first couple of days, then Amsterdam, then Paris, and finally Bream and the Forest of Dean. We'll be in Amsterdam of St. Patrick's day, so what better way to celebrate than taking a visit to the Heineken Brewery, right? Apparently we can "be the bottle" and see the step by step process of how beer is made. It will be an educational St. Patrick's Day. :) I am most looking forward to going to the Louvre while we're in Paris. Ever since I read the Da Vinci Code, I've wanted to see it. I had the special illustrated edition with pictures from the Louvre. I can't believe I'm actually going to be there in just a matter of days! And another thing we have to do is buy a big baguette, some cheese, and a bottle of wine and sit by the Eiffel Tower and people-watch and just take it all in.

So anyway, that's what I'll be doing the next couple of weeks. I'm going to cut myself off now, so I don't begin a novel. I apologize for the rambling. Hope you all like the pictures, at least. And so to bed.

Saturday, 28 February 2009

Loved ones

Thursday on the way home from the library, I prayed the whole way that God would give me strength to make it through the next two weeks. I'm happy to report that God is good.

Friday I was pleasantly surprised to receive a card from my mom and sister and a care package from my dad and Rebecca. Actually, pleasantly surprised doesn't begin to express how I felt. I was elated! My mom sent me a card for "Girls Day." I love cards for no reason. She is so thoughtful that way. She also threw in some money to splurge on a good meal. My care package was everything I could have wanted and more. I got my Girl Scout cookies! Two boxes of Thin Mints and two boxes of Thanks-A-Lots! They also sent me a huge bag of Ghrardelli dark chocolates, French Vanilla Biscotti coffee (my favorite), hot chocolate, gum, salted roasted almonds, Bath and Body Works goodies... The best thing was the card, though. Rebecca wrote me the sweetest note and made me start welling up on the spot. She and I have really become close over the past year or so, and I couldn't have asked for a better step-mother. She is such a special woman, and I admire her more than she will ever know.

As I said in my last blog, I went to Cambridge for my sanity. It was the best decision I could have made. It was so great to see Cody again, and we had a great time with his British buddies. They are fantastic people! We all went to dinner and pubbing. Yippie Noodle is yummy! Today Cody and I went to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. It was really cool. We explored the 16th century armory and Egyptian exhibits most extensively. And of course we had long talks about life and such. To trade Oxford, books, papers, and tutorials for a relaxing time with the best friend was exactly what I needed to center myself and push through to the end of the term.

Tomorrow I'm going to crack the books again and prepare for my seventh Political Philosophy tutorial. I have a new energy and optimism for the next two weeks, and thanks to God and to my loved ones, I know everything's going to be okay.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

One of those days...

From being in DC for a semester and now here, I've realized that there are good days and bad days. I've also realized that on the good days, everything seems a lot better than what it actually is because you're somewhere new and different. Likewise, when you have a bad day, being in a different place makes it that much worse.

Today was a bad day.

I've been struggling the past couple of days with homesickness and the stress of the end of term. Two weeks from tomorrow I will be completely done with everything and ready to go traveling, but the next fifteen days are filled with three papers, lots of reading, planning for travel, lectures, and trips. There is a lot to do, and not enough time to do it. For example, I had my Political Philosophy tutorial tonight, and I have another one Tuesday. So I have 4 days to work. I am also going to Cambridge tomorrow afternoon until Saturday, so cut that time down to tomorrow before about 3 p.m., Sunday and Monday to read and write a paper. Of course, because I'm a planner, I got my books ahead of time and already started looking through them to give myself a head start. But my proactive attitude got the better of me this time.

My tutor switched what I am going to be doing for next time, so instead of having all of my books and being ready to go...I had nothing at 6 p.m. tonight. Frustrated, stressed, and homesick, I called my dad and vented. It was nice to hear his voice, but I also felt bad for fuming when I know he has a lot going on right now too. I contemplated not going to Cambridge, but I decided I need to go for my sanity. I need to be with people I love more than I need to read. I've spent a lot of time cooped up lately, minus the Pancake Party (which was awesome, by the way. I'll write about that when I'm in a happier mood).

After I got off the phone with my dad, I went to the library in town to try to find the books I would need for Tuesday's tutorial. Not to my surprise, I couldn't find any of them. The library in town is no good. This left me with going home, getting my books I had checked out and going to Brookes and getting the right books. As much as I didn't want to do it, I knew that's what needed to be done. So at 7:15, after already walking about seven miles today, I packed up and headed for Headington Hill. I prayed the whole way that I would find what I needed. Thankfully, God answered my prayer, and they had the book my tutor suggested I find. Then I made the 2 1/2 mile hike back home. I am now completely exhausted for the second day in a row and really ready to throw in the towel. (You see why I need to go to Cambridge.)

Tomorrow I'll wake up and start reading about Karl Marx's political philosophy. It will be a new day, and I will be one day closer to the end of term and to five wonderful weeks of Europe. I know it will all be ok, but being so far from home seems to amplify unfortunate situations. Everything always seems worse when you're away from friends and family.

All of that to say today was one of those days. I ask that you keep me in your prayers this week. Pray that I get the boost I need to press on the next two weeks. I have faith everything will work out; it always does...but I'd appreciate the thoughts just the same. Love and miss you all.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Good News

I once again let time slip away, so I'm going to have to fit much more into this blog than I should. It's going to be a good one, though. Trust me.

I was looking forward to this week for a long time, as I mentioned in my last blog. Tuesday night, we all went on an excursion to see Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" in London. It was a terrific production! It never ceases to amaze me that after all this time, Shakespeare's writing is still just as entertaining and moving as it was when it was written. It was absolutely hilarious, and Derek Jacobi played a fantastic Malvolio. He definitely could have stolen the show with his yellow stockings!

Wednesday was another fun-filled day of theatre. Lydia and I bought tickets to "Spring Awakening" in London, so we hopped on a train that morning and headed off. It was the first time I had seen London in the day time, and I took my first ride on the Tube. Public transportation here is surprisingly nice. The train and the tube were both really clean, much nicer than anything I have experienced in the states. I'm glad Lydia was with me to show me the ropes because I would have been totally lost otherwise! The London Tube is much bigger than the DC metro!

Anyway, we arrived at the Lyric Theater and found our seats. She had a front row ticket, and I was in the second row. I was so excited about being so close to the stage. I've never had such great seats in a large production before. Usually I'm up in the nosebleed section because it's all I can afford, but here tickets to shows are incredibly inexpensive. It's fabulous! There were even seats on the stage for this production. Lydia mentioned she might come back and buy those seats if the show was really good. Anyway, so I was sitting in my seat waiting for the show to begin, and a woman who worked at the theater told those sitting in the front row that there were two seats on the stage available. Lydia turned and looked at me, I nodded, and five minutes later we had put our purses in lockers and were sitting on the stage! We were both so excited, we didn't know what to think. I was literally shaking as the opening song began.

We were literally a part of the show! The actors sat among us, and we could feel the energy on the stage. It felt so intimate. I have never been so connected to a show before. I didn't feel like I was watching a performance because I was immersed in it. And it was such a moving production. I didn't know much about "Spring Awakening" before Wednesday. I had just heard good things about it, and I knew it was about sexuality and coming of age. Apparently, it was written in the 1800s and was immediately banned upon its initial release. It tells the story of teenagers growing up in the early 1800s who are discovering sexuality for themselves because no one will explain it to them. They are sheltered, so they have no choice but to experiment in order to learn about life and love. Their individual stories are heartbreaking: abuse, failure, suicide, star-crossed love. I can see why the original story was banned upon its release. It was one of the most provocative shows I have ever seen.

So imagine all of that drama juxtaposed with music and dancing reminiscent of "High School Musical!" The actors were dressed for the time period, but instead of an orchestra there was a rock band. Neon and black lights decorated the stage, and the actors pulled out hand-held mics from their costumes when they sang. It was so creative and absolutely wonderful. I would definitely go see it again. I just might!

In my last blog, I also mentioned I was going to a debate entitled, "This House Believes that Promiscuity is a Virtue, not a Vice." It was definitely interesting, but the proposition did not present its case well at all, so most people (including myself) voted against the resolution. It was a really cool atmosphere though, and I plan to go back to more debates at the Oxford Union. We are very privileged to have membership to such an organization. And of course there are other perks, like the Pancake Party we will be attending next week. Unlimited pancakes, ice cream, and toppings. Yum!

The week ended on a good note today. I had tutorial for The Holocaust, my favorite of my two tutorials. When Christian arrived, we sat down and he said he didn't have much to say about my paper because it was "brilliant!" I was so excited! He said he only had one question for me, which kind of worried me. I always get nervous in my tutorials. I said, "Yes?" He responded, "Can I keep it?" I couldn't believe he actually wanted to keep my paper! Of course I said yes. I was so honored that he thought it was good enough to keep. It was a great reassurance that I'm not a terrible American student at Oxford (at least not in this tutorial; I'm not so sure about Political Philosophy). My paper was about the German resistance during the Holocaust, and it criticized the Goldhagen Theory that Germans are inherently predisposed to hate Jews. Interesting, right? It really is; I promise. Anyway, so he liked it, and I was super happy! Madison baked a cake this afternoon, so I'm about to treat myself to a big slice as a reward.

Tomorrow I have my Political Philosophy tutorial. I'm not very excited about it. I'm trying my hardest, but I'm just not a political philosopher. Well, I'm not a philosopher at all. I'm sure it will all work out though. This week I read Thomas Paine, and I really liked it because he was straight forward and had some great ideas. I hope I'll be able to perform well tomorrow, since I understood the reading a lot better this week. I'll let you know how it goes.

So that's what I've been up to. I miss everyone at Jewell and at home, but term is almost over! I can't believe there is only one more week left in February. It's a good feeling. I can't wait to go travel and see Oxford in the spring. It's already getting warmer and staying light later in the day. I even saw someone wearing shorts today (although I think it's a little premature for that). I'd love to hear from any and all of you. Shoot me an email! I'm going to hit the books now. Fun Friday night, right?

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Yummy Weekend

This weekend was all about the food!

Yesterday was Valentine's Day, and because none of us girls had anyone to celebrate with, we went out together for dinner. We went to Yo!Sushi, a fun little place where the sushi is served on a conveyor belt. If you see something yummy coming your way, you just pluck it off the belt and dig in! It was a great place to have a casual night of relaxation with the ladies. It reminded me of Genki Sushi, a similar sushi joint my mom and sister and I go to when I visit them in Hawaii. Everyone had a fun time just trying to figure out what they wanted and then scouting it out on the conveyor belt. We also got a kick out of watching the workers make sushi and a little machine that produced perfectly square rice patties for the nigri. Afterwards Madison, Joy, and I went to the Red Lion for a Valentine's Day drink. I ordered a pina colada, and handed the bar tender my ID. He looked at my driver's license, then at me and said, "Are you sure this is you?" I have straight hair and glasses in my picture, but it unmistakeably me. I answered "yes" of course, upon which he asked me when my date of birth was! I never thought I would be accused a fake ID, especially when I presented my real one! The people next to me at the bar got a kick out of it, and now that I think about it, it was pretty funny. Although it wouldn't have been so funny if he would have denied me my drink. All was well, however. Maybe I'll wear my glasses next time I go to the Red Lion. No hair straightener in England.

And today...OH TODAY! Penelope and Francis Warner (the lovely couple in charge of OOSC) hosted a traditional English Tea for us this afternoon. It was AMAZING! She baked all kinds of cakes and other goodies for us. There were blueberry muffins, brownies, coconut cake, lemon cake, chocolate cake, cucumber sandwiches, scones, and more! I tried clotted cream for the first time, described by one of my fellow OOSCers as "if butter and whipped cream had a baby." It was delicious mixed with some strawberry jam on a scone. Needless to say, everyone was stuffed and on a sugar high by the end of the afternoon. We also had a great time visiting with the Warners. They are such fascinating people! Francis was a speech writer for Robert and Edward Kennedy! He showed us a book Ted signed for him in which he wrote "to" rather than "too." Francis got a kick out of it. We also talked about Obama, the economy and how it is affecting students, "The Simpsons," and "Friends." He likes "Friends," made me happy.

I am so glad to have this week out of the way! I had two papers to write becaust the upcoming week is going to be really busy. Tuesday I'm going to London to see "Twelfth Night" and Wednesday I'm going back to see "Spring Awakening." I can't wait! Then Thursday, we're all going to the Oxford Union for a debate. The resolution is "This House Believes Promiscuity is a Virtue, not a Vice," so it should be interesting to say the least.

Madison and I are getting really excited about break. Dane and Will are coming in less than a month now, and we are comparing travel plans. February is already half way over, and we have a lot of fun things to look forward to in the next two weeks, so it makes the time go by more quickly. We both can't wait to go travel with the boyfriends. It's going to be so much fun. We're both going to Amsterdam and then taking a train to Paris. It would be funny if we ran into each other. It could happen, I suppose.

Tomorrow is lecture and more reading. This week in Political Philosophy is Thomas Paine's "Common Sense" and "The Rights of Man." I like him much better than Edmund Burke. He's short and to the point; the journalist in me appreciates that very much. And so to bed.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Road Trip, among other things

Today is February 8th and officially marks one month of my being overseas. I have to say some days it feels like I have been here for ages; other times I find it hard to believe how quickly the days and weeks have passed. There are still five more weeks left in the term, so I'm not quite half-way yet, but it will be here before I know it, I'm sure.

It feels good to know that time passes in England just as it does at home. I haven't starting marking days off my calendar, which is definitely a good sign. I've only cried twice in a month as well - another good sign.

This week has been quite eventful and really should be about three blogs rather than one, but it's been too eventful for me to have time to sit and record. (I actually wrote about half of this blog on the way back from Cambridge because I had nothing else to do). First, I woke up Thursday morning to snow - and lots of it! It came down in enormous flakes and had already accumulated a couple of inches by the time I rolled out of bed. I had to turn in an essay for my Holocaust tutorial, which meant I had to walk to town - in the snow.

Back at Jewell, we get big snows all the time, and the great facilities management team is up before the sun with their little snow plows clearing the side for us to have a hazard-free walk to class. Such was not the case in Oxford - or anywhere in England for that matter! Apparently, they have not seen so much snow in 20 years! As a result, my 1.2 mile walk into town was not one on grated and salted sidewalks. Rather, it was a bumpy, slushy trek that felt much like I was hiking in sand. Needless to say, I have a newfound appreciation for facilities management.

Friday I woke up to...more snow...making my walk to tutorial another slushy, messy journey. I was really not loving the snow at this point. However, my tutorial went very well, which put an extra spring in my step as I made the hike home. I also found out that Christian, my tutor, lhas a house in Bavaria that is 20 minutes away from the Pope's brother's house, and they have a lot of the same friends! Pretty awesome, right? He also assigned me to go to the movies before our next meeting. I have to see "Defiance" and "Valkyrie." Unfortunately, he forgot to give me the money to go see them...

Friday was also a day of waiting. I applied to be an RA at Jewell before I left and knew I was supposed to find out Friday. I checked my email over and over and over - hoping I would get good news but also trying not to get my hopes up too high. I felt I was at a disadvantage by being gone, but I just knew it had to work out because I wanted it SO bad. Thinking about it made me miss my "sheep" at Jewell, which made me miss everyone at Jewell, which made me want to go home, which is no bueno. I was talking to Caitlin on Facebook as the clock ticked toward 5 p.m. CT, and I was beginning to wonder if I was going to find out at all. Then she said, "Check your email. I hear girls screaming down the hall." (A pretty clear sign that I had some kind of news) So I click over to my Microsoft Outlook Web Access as fast as I can and read the message from Ernie Stufflebean...congratulating me on being part of the 2009-2010 Residence Life Staff!!! I was so excited! It was definitely the best thing that had happened all day, and I immediately wanted to come back to Jewell and start planning all my hall events for next year. I haven't stopped thinking about all the things I want to do; it's going to be so great! So Friday was a good day, despite the snow.

Saturday morning started with my Political Philosophy tutorial. I didn't sleep well the night before, partly because I was still excited about getting to be an RA and partly because I was nervous because this tutorial is scary! Anyway, I got up early and made the long hike to his house, thankfully, without snow. I was thrilled that it was probably my best tutorial yet, and I treated myself to a pastry for breakfast when I got back to City Centre. Then I hopped on a bus to go to Cambridge to see one of my favorite people in the whole world, Cody Johnson! It was SO great to see him, and Jessie Newman and Laurel Harrold came from Harlaxton to visit too - an added bonus. We spent the weekend wandering around Cambridge, meeting some real British people, and spending some quality time together. This morning we went to King's College for a traditional Anglican Church service. The chapel itself is beautiful! It has the highest vaulted ceilings in the world (according to tour guide Cody), and the service was really cool too. They had an all-boys choir, and we even go to take communion. It was quite the treat. I was sad to say goodbye at the end of the day, but I know I'll come back again soon. It was wonderful to spend time with him; we definitely needed hugs from best friends!

So that's what has been going on with me. More to come! I'll post some pictures tomorrow, but for now I'm spent. And so to bed!

Monday, 2 February 2009

Random thoughts

I woke up this morning and, as usual, threw open the curtains to see what the weather was going to hold for me. Normally, it's cloudy. Sometimes it's sunny. Not today. Today it was snowing! It was quite a pleasant surprise, even though I had to walk half an hour to lecture in the freezing cold, and then walk back home in the freezing cold. It was pretty to look at and brought some excitement to the day. There was only one downside to the powdery stuff. On my way home, I passed a funny looking guy who looked like quite the punk. Just as I was thinking this to myself, a snowball goes flying past my face! He must have been able to read my mind. I whipped around, looked at him, and then started walking again, only to see another one go by. He was a bad shot, but it still caught me off guard. People are certainly friendly in England...

I spent most of the day, with the exception of lecture, inside reading about Rousseau and the Social Contract Theory. Super fun, right? I am now ready to write a paper tomorrow, my fifth of twelve! That is exciting I have to say. I'm almost halfway finished with the paper-writing. :) And it's February! Things are moving right along.

I was disappointed I couldn't be at home for the Super Bowl this year. I would have loved to chow down on some chili and rotel dip. Will was in Mt. Vernon yesterday, so I got to talk to his 2-year-old nephew Adam on the web cam. He was carrying around an old football helmet and kept saying, "Football game. Football game." It was absolutetly the most adorable thing in the world. I didn't even get to see any of the game, as it didn't start here until midnight, but I did watch all of the ads today on USA TODAY's website. I have to say the Dorito's ad was stinkin' hilarious! I laughed outloud when I saw it. Three million dollars well-spent. I might actually go buy a bag tomorrow...okay, maybe not.

Something I have noticed since I have been here is that I am constantly craving food I know I can't have, and what's even more strange is that I'm craving food I never even eat when I'm home. Like today, for example, I really wanted Taco Bell. I NEVER eat Taco Bell and would never consider eating it if I were at home. And for about a week now, I've been dying to have some Girl Scout cookies. I dream of Thin Mints. So maybe I don't dream about them, but I definitely think about them a lot more than I should. It's a funny thing about the human body that makes us want what we can't have...even if it's as simple as an order of nachos or a box of Girls Scout cookies.

Saturday, 31 January 2009

Fun times

My stir craziness was starting to get the better of me this week, so I am very relieved that I had some outlets for which to release it.

Last night, I went with the girls from Regent's Park (Joy, Sabrina, Erin, and Robyn) to their formal hall dinner. For you Oxbridge majors, it's like high table. For everyone else, it's a fancy dinner where everyone dresses up. I was very excited about it because I haven't had much of a chance to socialize or have a lot of "fun" here so far. I guess they think school should come first at Oxford. I don't know where they got that idea, but if I don't go with it, I'll I choose conformity.

So anyway, we all got dressed up and went to formal hall. It was a masquerade theme, so most of the students had masks. I didn't, but it wasn't a big deal - all the better to eat my food with. And what delicious food it was! Salad with fig and goat cheese, followed by a lamb stew with parsnips (which taste just like potatoes), and a bowl of fruit and wonderful ice cream to end the meal. It was also Lena's birthday, and Erin picked out a terrific bottle of white wine for dinner. Lena was kind enough to share with us.

After dinner, we went to a fondue party where we all out our chocolate fixes and observed how "real" Oxford students are. I think it would be nice to be part of Regent's Park or an actual college, rather than the program I am in, but at the same time we get the Warners. They are wonderful, and I wouldn't trade them for all the fondue parties in the world. It was a great time, though. We ended the night at the Eagle and Child. It was nice to be able to wind down after a long week of reading and paper-writing and before beginning another long week of reading and paper-writing, which began again today.

Today I read Rousseau's "The Social Contract." Took me most of the day, well about four hours, but that was enough to completely drain me. I am now brain dead. I went to the grocery store to get out of the house and get some fresh air. I feel much better now. Tonight Madison and I are going to see a local student production in town called "Blind Date." It's a comedy and should be a good time. We had hoped to be able to go to London today and see "Wicked," but it didn't work out as we had planned, so we'll have to go another time. Anyway, I'll let you know how "Blind Date" turns out.

That's all for now. I miss you all and think of you often. To all of my Melrose ladies and Gams - get Skype, so we can talk! I had a great conversation with my girl Ally Hall the other day, as well as brief hellos with some of my other Melrose girls. It was great to talk to you all, and I hope to do more of it soon. It's so great to be able to see your beautiful shining faces; makes me feel like I'm with you all. Goodnight!

Saturday, 24 January 2009

"I Survived Week One at Oxford"

Today concludes week one of the Hilary Term. I am happy to report that I survived my first two tutorials. My Holocaust tutorial was Friday, and I was extremely nervous about what my tutor was going to say about my essay addressing whether or not Hitler was "an accident." He said that it was a very well-written paper, and that he couldn't really offer any suggestions on how to improve it. Whew! That made me feel much better, and the hour-long session went very smoothly.

This morning, I met with my Political Philosophy tutor, who I was even more nervous about seeing because he seemed a little intimidating when I met him last week. I woke up before my alarm and trudged the hour-plus route to his house (so as not to get lost again and miss my tutorial). It was a nice walk, and it woke me up before our meeting. He kind of quizzed me about what I had read (Hobbes' Leviathan): what the historical period was like, what he thought about the nature of man, what his political virtue was, etc. I felt pretty confident in my answers and even brought up some of my own thoughts about what Hobbes might think of our nation's Congress (He would absolutely hate it). We didn't even address my paper; I just left it for him on the way out. Once again, I thought I had a successful tutorial. AND I took the short cut on the way home and didn't get lost. Hooray for me!

Last night, some of us went to the Oxford Union for a forum on women in politics. There were women representing Pakistan, Wales, and the U.S. to share their thoughts on why and how women are marginalized in government, as well as how to overcome it. The 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling were mentioned on several occassions by our American friend, who worked for former President Clinton's administration and was probably hit on at some point (She was very pretty and started working for him when she was 20). My favorite moment of the night was when the woman from Wales ended her speech with something to the effect of, "You don't need a penis to succeed in politics, but you definitely need a lot of balls." Words to live by.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

21 Across the Pond

Today was my 21st birthday, and I have to say, I wasn't sure how happy it would be.

The past couple of days have been really hard on me. I spent them cooped up in my room writing papers and reading a lot of "Leviathan." I didn't spend much time outside and didn't do much exercising at all (which, if you know me, you know that's really bizarre). Homesickness started to set in, and I was beginning to wonder what I had gotten myself into. I had come here with the intention of seeing the world. Instead I was seeing the four walls of my room and my computer screen. Last night I was in tears, wishing more than anything that I could be back at Jewell with my girls, or at home with my family and friends, so I could celebrate my birthday with them. This is the second year in a row that I've been away from home on my special day, and birthdays have always been a really big deal to me. I didn't want my 21st to come and go like the past few days had.

But I was very pleasantly surprised...

As I wallowed in self pity, Will told me that I wouldn't be spending my birthday alone. I saw the smirk on his face through the web cam, and knew he had something up his sleeve. Turns out, he had taken the day off, so we could spend the day together via MSN video chat. Things were looking up.

This morning, I was determined to have a good day. I woke up when I felt like it, didn't even think about touching a book or paper, put on my most British outfit (a sweater left by Kristen, tights, and my boots), and went to town to buy something to make a wonderful birthday dinner.
I ran into Lena Endsley on my way there, who was heading to Blackwell's (Oxford's famous bookstore), so I decided to tag along. I brought my journal with me and decided to put down some scribbles while I was there. Blackwell's is incredible. They had books on every subject, and a TON of cookbooks. My Mecca. I sat in the bookstore for a while and jotted down some thoughts about the last few days, and then headed to the covered market to get some salmon for dinner. I picked out a beautiful filet, and I felt very much like a Top Chef contestant at Whole Foods carefully choosing my protein.

Anyway, so I picked up that along with some other salmon fixings and trotted back home. I spent the rest of the day on MSN with Will trip planning...or at least getting an idea of where we're going to go when he comes to visit. It took a while. He would be happy just showing up wherever and pitching a tent in the middle of a park. We definitely do not travel the same way. It was great to be able to talk to him, watch the inauguration together, and just be in each other's presence for the day. I was very proud of my salmon dinner, and it was much better than anything I could have ordered out. And I had a nice glass of White Zin to complement my meal in honor of my legality. :D

To officially celebrate my big day, all my friends and I went out to George and Danver's - Oxford's favorite ice cream shop. I had an ENORMOUS Brownie Sundae - huge brownie, two scoops of English custard ice cream, chocolate sauce, sprinkles, and whipped cream! AMAZING!

And I have to say, what made my birthday most special was the present sitting on my shelf for the past 12 days, wrapped in lime green paper with "DO NOT OPEN UNTIL JANUARY 20th" written across it. Lindsay gave it to me before I left, saying it had to come with me no matter what. Today I found out why. She and Caitlin had collaborated to have friends from home and Jewell write me birthday messages, and she put them together in a scrap book. It was the sweetest thing I have ever been given, and I was reminded once again of how blessed I am to have such wonderful people in my life.

So that was my 21st birthday. It's 11:37 p.m. in Oxford, so my day is coming to and end...and I have to say that it was very very happy indeed. And so to bed.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Wandering the streets

I haven't written in a few days because I've been reading reading reading. But a lot has happened. Let me see if I can manage to untangle my thoughts and put some of them in writing.

Well, first of all, I met with both of my tutors this week. The first meeting was quite an adventure. My tutor was very nice and offered us a short cut back to town from his house, which was over an hour walk from my house. We were very happy to have an alternate route back, but it was getting dark as we were heading out, and none of us are familiar enough with Oxford to know where exactly to go. (I've also noticed that British people tend not to give explicit directions..."It's just down and around the corner there." "If you go in this direction you will get there." No street names, landmarks, or blocks). Anyway, so we're going home, and we realize this is far from a short cut. Then by divine intervention, one of the girls here runs into a friend from high school who is in town for the week. He informs us we're going the wrong way and need to back track about two miles to get back to Oxford city centre. Tired and frustrated, but thankful for the interception, we hop on the first bus we can and head back. The driver felt sorry for us, I think. He could tell we didn't really know what we were doing. Although I'm sure he deals with that sort of thing a lot. It was a happy ending, except that I got my first blister, and I was exceptionally cranky when I got back to the flat.

I met with my other tutor the next day, at a much more convenient location. He first took us on a tour of Oriel College, Oxford's fifth oldest. It was beautiful, although he said it was about average as colleges here go. Each time we meet, he is going to take me to a different place. I kind of hope he takes me to where Harry Potter was filmed. (I know, I'm a loser, but I'm in Oxford!)

Since my meetings, I've done nothing but read about Hitler and Hobbes. Not the most entertaining subject matter, but it has been interesting. It is kind of nice to read about what I know nothing about. Everything is fresh and new, and I actually retain what I'm reading; I guess the tutorial method works. I hope to have my papers done in the next two days, so I can take a little break before I do it all over again next week.

My birthday is on Tuesday. The big 2-1. I don't have anything terribly special planned. It's not quite the same celebrating here as it would have been back home. Oh well. I think we're going to go to Oxford's famous ice cream shop, and I'm going to have a great big Bailey's Irish Creme ice cream cone with hotfudge mixed in...or something like that. It will be delicious, I'm sure. I'll let you know. :D


Tuesday, 13 January 2009

London, Lectures, Lewis

I'm already not doing as well as I'd like to on keeping up with this blog. I guess I'll start with today and work backwards. Tonight we went to London to see "The Woman in Black." It was a ghost story, and I have to say I never thought I would scream during a theatre performance. I had to hide myself behind my coat a couple of times. Bill Coberly even let out a yelp next to me. It was a wonderful show, though, and we all really enjoyed it. I can't wait to go back and see something else! Dirty Dancing is on my list of must-sees. I'm sure it's a great production! (And I want to here a British person say, "Nobody puts Baby in the corner.")

Lectures started this week, and I meet with my tutors on Thursday and Friday. Tomorrow I get to sleep in, which I'm extremely excited about because I haven't been able to get into the swing of things with this schedule yet. I am exhausted all day long, but can't seem to fall asleep at night, so the cycle continues. I need to get some rest before the work starts...and I can already tell I've got a lot of it coming my way in the next eight weeks. Political philosophy and the Holocaust. Even Francis felt a little sorry for my decision to take on such dreary subjects, but I really can't wait learn about this stuff. I'm a nerd; it's OK.

Among my host of new experiences this week have also been my two encounters with British pubs. We went to the Turf Tavern (where Bill Clinton "did not inhale") and the Eagle and Child (a favorite spot of C.S. Lewis and the first place the Chronicles of Narnia were actually read aloud). I drank my first beer (well, cider) and shared some great conversation with my wonderful friends from Jewell and the new people I've met in the past few days. I have to say I am so lucky to be with such a great group of people from Jewell. I really don't feel so far away from home with them to keep me company. I couldn't have asked for better traveling companions (of course, I wish Kristen were still here).

So that's the last couple of days in a nutshell. More to come after my meetings with my tutors. EEK!

Friday, 9 January 2009

Greetings from Oxford!

I'm going to try my hardest to keep this blog up; think of it as a New Year's resolution of sorts. So this is my first official day in England. I arrived in London last night around 11 p.m. (I will talk in England time, which is six hours ahead of CT). I couldn't come into Oxford that late, and my parents didn't want me traveling alone at that hour anyway, so I stayed the night in the airport in a Yotel room. ( I was a little nervous about the whole thing, but I have to say I was quite thrilled when I opened the door to my little room with a bed, shower, toilet, and flat screen tv - all in about a 6x6 space (so I guess it's not the place to stay if you are claustrophobic). It was just right for me to get a few hours of shut-eye before hopping on a bus and coming to Oxford.

Everyone was very nice and helpful on my way. I met a girl who lived in DC and had been in Nigeria for a month helping with unsuccessful schools. I met a guy who goes to Cambridge and had been in New York. He didn't know where Missouri was... And the best thing was that I saw someone who looked familiar in front of me on the way to the bus station. I thought I would take a chance and yelled "D-Rab" and what do you know? Aaron Drabenstott was on his way to the bus station to go to Harlaxton! Quite serendipitous to see a familiar face in this new world. It was reassuring, if only for the brief moment we saw each other.

Once I arrived in Oxford, I was greeted by the Warners, who have to be the nicest people I have ever met. Penelope took me to my house, and Kristen Walker had left me a box full of goodies!!! (THANKS, KRISTEN! I love you!) I was especially excited about the blow dryer and the house shoes. It's really cold in our house. I'm still getting my stuff moved in, putting pictures on the walls and whatnot.

I went to town to explore and go grocery shopping this afternoon. I found my way and wandered around for a while, bought some food, and came back all by myself. I didn't even have to look like the typical American tourist and use my little pocket map! I was quite proud of myself. I stopped at a little cafe for some bacon and lentil soup and to get out of the cold and snow. I really think I am going to love going to Oxford proper. Everyone is out and about doing something. I was amazed at how many people there were on a Friday mid-afternoon just walking around, shopping, and eating. And the buildings are so beautiful. It's not like anywhere in the U.S. Everything is so old and quaint! I love it!

So that was day one. More to come, I'm sure. I love and miss you all!