29 April 2015

Journal Confession

I have a confession.
I cannot resist pretty journals.
Especially if they are affordable.

I might need to take more time each day to write so I can fill all these pages with words so as to begin the next journal. There I was at Target, minding my own business, and I just casually walked down the journal and pen aisle, when all the sudden two journals jumped into my cart. I was helpless. There was nothing I could do, except maybe buy more pens to be sure I had enough ink to fill these pages.

While I do love a classic black (or other tone) Moleskine journal (my staple journal), sometimes I see others with patterns and I simply must have them, just to shake up the collection.

It is a condition called 'journalitous'. 

Sadly, it is really difficult to cure, and there is little hope of a recovery. However, new developments in this modern age has been trying to detour the use of journals and replace it with electronic devices. The marketing for this of course emphasizes the ease of use, the lack of paper and pens necessary, and the almost unlimited capacity. It might have won over some people, but I will not be moved. That's another effect of journalitous; the absolute commitment to the handwritten pages.

My loyalty is with paper. The old-fashioned journal with lined pages for my thoughts to fill. Those various electronic devices simply do not have the right asthetic. But a book in hand, now, that is the right feeling. The scent of pages and binding. The weight of it. The pages to flip through. A battery operated machine cannot produce that.

Oh, the blank pages are full of so much potential!

28 April 2015

Letting Goodness Soak In

I know I have been sharing endlessly of my love for Oxford. I could write a book about how much I love Oxford. I have filled your screens with images and words that wax on and on about it. 

But being home is also sweet, and I do not want to take that for granted. As much as I do enjoy the travel and seeing places that are different from what I see each day, my life here, my job, my family, quiet weekends at home, being here among the familiar, is full of good things, and has potential to sprout more goodness.

I am learning that sometimes the grass is greenest right under my very feet.

The grass is green. The earth is hued. The sky is blue, and then the rains come and soak it all through. And when the sun shines again, it is vibrant.

Like the soil aching for rain, I am soaking it in. God's love, soak in. His grace that falls on me daily, soak in.

Summer is here. While I am not one who is excited about this hot weather, I do try to see the good things that are present in each season. Just as in life, we go through different seasons. We go through tough times and trials. We go through joyous times. We go through times of loss. We have to work on our hearts, and pray that God will help us. There are always things to learn. So here I am. Ready to learn and grow, like the jasmine in my yard that has intertwined on something stable and reaches out to stretch itself, and smells so delightful along the way.

27 April 2015

Illyria Pottery

About a month before I left sunny Florida for magical Oxford, I saw something on Andrew Peterson's (of The Rabbit Room) Instagram that caught my eye because he was in Oxford. He posted about playing a show at Illyria Pottery in a village north of Oxford called Jericho. I knew I was going to Oxford a month later, so I investigated because I wanted to know all about it. I learned that the pottery shop was run by Katie and her husband, Micah, who are from Greenville, SC, but live in Oxford while Micah pursues a doctorate in English Literature. While he studies in the Bodleian Libraries all day (seems like a dream to me), Katie runs her own shop in a foreign country, learning the process of running a business as she goes. She has created a most lovely gallery that is rustic, charming, creative, and full of beautiful pottery.

I thought it would be fun to connect with someone while in Oxford, and I made a challenge to myself to reach out to make a new acquaintance. Being the introvert that I am, this is always a challenge for me. But I emailed Katie a few weeks before I left for England, and told her I was coming to Oxford (I may have waxed on about how much I love Oxford), and she invited me to come visit her, perhaps wondering why this random Floridian was contacting her.

The shop is a special little spot. Katie makes all her pieces there on site. Each one is unique and beautiful. Downstairs she has a large, bright work space with a kiln ready to fire the pieces. Her whole shop is stocked with her work, only. That's very impressive!

I walked up to Jericho one morning on the second week of my stay in Oxford, and met Katie at her shop. She was working on some pieces that morning, and she brought me downstairs so I could see. She also explained her process. It takes several weeks to produce a finished piece, with several firings in the kiln, and the end result is not always predictable. The colours change and come out different each time. She was gracious in her time as we stood there and talked for awhile about life, Oxford, Greenville, and the churches in England. Also, as it turns out, we discovered that she was born in a town about twenty minutes south of where I live now.

I only bought a couple of small pieces, because of my limited space for traveling back to the States, but there were several others I wanted to buy. It was delightful to meet such a creative soul while I was in Oxford, and I hope we meet again sometime!

For more information, visit http://illyriapottery.co.uk/ 

24 April 2015

Oxford: Turl Street Kitchen

I know I have mentioned Turl Street Kitchen in many of my posts because it is one of my favourite spots in Oxford. So, I suppose I should tell a little more about it. I visited this spot every morning (and yes, sometimes in the afternoon as well), for a cappuccino and at least an hour of writing and reading (sometimes more). It is a place that is cosy, rustic, and friendly. It has the perfect creaky wooden floors, students reading and writing papers, visitors stopping in for coffee before adventures, vintage frames and pieces on the wall for sale, tasty baked goods, and the best cappuccino (in my opinion).

These are just some of my favourite scenes and memories of a delightfully relaxing time each day. I order a cappuccino and sit in the front room (unless it is packed, and then I go upstairs to enjoy my coffee on the sofas, which feels like a living room) which overlooks the corner of Turl Street and Ship Street. It has become my ritual that my day requires. When the coffee is made, they call it out at the bar, so I step up the fours stairs to the bar to collect my cappuccino, and return to the wooden table I was sitting at. Then, I dive into a good book I had purchased the day before. From there I set out on my day's adventures.

All the profits from the Turl Street Kitchen go to the student hub. Each morning the local produce is brought to their doors and the chefs create that day's lunch and dinner menus from whatever fresh produce is brought to them that morning. Everything I have eaten there has been wonderfully fresh and delicious. It's a great concept and this place is always busy with students, residents, and visitors alike. There always seem to be reservations booked for lunch and dinner, and I almost didn't get to eat dinner there one night because of that. Gladly, though, I was able to eat there by sitting at a large table that was reserved later that night, but allowed me enough time to enjoy the fresh bread, cauliflower soup, and salad with fresh greens and house made honey mustard dressing.

After several days of coming here each morning, the girls got to know me, and my drink of choice. It was always nice to come in and say hello to the two baristas that usually took my order and made my coffee. After a awhile they didn't even ask me what I wanted, they just called out my order as I came up. They were always friendly and had smiles to offer. And I was always happy to be at Turl Street Kitchen.

23 April 2015

Writing in Books

For it is much better to be tied to one wonderful thing than to allow a mere catalogue of wonderful things to deprive you of the capacity to wonder.
- G.K. Chesterton

Don't mind my scribbles.
I tend to underline in books.

Nowadays, I mostly use pencil. Pencils seems to be less bold and obtrusive to the text as a whole and then I don't feel like the page is soaked in modern scrawl and ink. I shudder to think back to my high school years when I would sometimes highlight sentences. To think! Bright yellow highlighter is not meant for books.  

Don't get me wrong, though. Books are meant to be read, re-read, used, carried, held open, flipped through. And with me, underlined, with the occasional scribble in the margins. I want to be able to find a favourite quote or section again.

Sometimes my fingers grip a pen and write in books as I read, but most of the time if words come to mind while I read, I write them onto blank pages in my journal so I can expand on those thoughts later on with several pages at my disposal. Since I do not plan to sell my books for profit, I do not need to keep them perfect, though. I'd rather see my niece reading them many years from now. Passed down to the next generation and so on. So, my books do not need to look untouched. In fact, I prefer to buy used, old books that have seen many readers already.

Books are never worse for wear.
No indeed.
Books are better with use.

They also smell better as they age. As the pages and binding breaks down it produces the best scent.

Neglect or abuse are not allowed, though. But lovingly and gently worn is what I am okay with. Respectfully read.
I don't turn away from books that have some additional notes written in. I like to study the handwriting, and wonder who read the book before me. So if I come across a lovely old book that interests me, with several names written in the front cover and notes throughout, I make a new home for it.

21 April 2015

Typical English Day

Just like a typical English day, the brighter sky that was emitting warmth has turned to a grey blanket, and it is chilly again. One could think of the weather as putting a wet blanket on the day once it grew overcast, but that is not what I think. In all seriousness, the weather changes frequently within a 24 hour period. All four seasons could be displayed in that time. But I do not mind it one bit.

After various morning adventures that included Christ Church College Cathedral service, coffee at Turl Street Kitchen, the Ashmolean Museum for a sandwich and a little bit of wandering around the art galleries, I left the museum craving some coffee and something sweet, but as I passed by Balliol College, the gate was open, so I went in and wandered around the lovely grounds. 

It is deceptive how large the college is when you just pass by the walls and gate each day on Broad Street. When you enter the college through the large, wooden doors, a whole world opens. Vast open green spaces bordered by residency halls fill your vision. A garden full of blooming daffodils and other flowers, and an Ent watching over them (surely Ents are real, even though they are the talking trees from The Lord of the Rings. I saw many Ents all around Oxford. They are big, beautiful trees that were most definitely around when Tolkien walked these paths). The chapel has a distinctive stripe pattern on the outside and is lovely inside. The dining hall is large and bright, with wood-paneled walls, wooden tables and benches, portraits all around the hall, and beautiful windows.

This was an unplanned stop in my day, but I could not resist it when the gate was open, and I will always stop to tour a college. The gates of the colleges are not always open. Some colleges never seem to open their gates (ahem- University College). But sometimes between 2-5 each day they are. A few colleges are good about being open (New College, Magdalen College). Some are not. There are several colleges I really want to visit, but I can never catch them at a time where their gates are open (Exeter College, Brasenose College).

Balliol College was a pleasant surprise. Just like every corner I turn in Oxford.

Then, as the drizzly rain started, I ducked into Turl Street Kitchen for a cappuccino and brownie. I will state unhesitatingly that it might have been the best brownie I've ever had.

20 April 2015

Strangers at the Table

Sometimes I sit in Turl Street Kitchen with a stranger, at my favourite big wooden plank table on a lovely, quiet morning, and the stranger today is a handsome guy drinking espresso and reading Brideshead Revisited (a really good book by Evelyn Waugh). And when I sit at this wooden table, I think of all the possibilities that life has. There are so many wonderful ways in which the world works. God places pieces of the puzzle all around in His beautiful places and I only imagine that He delights in us when we fit those lovely pieces together.

Sharing tables with strangers is a daily (twice daily at least) occasion for me in Oxford. These are the instances in which I have discovered some delightful people to talk with. These are the times that challenge me in several ways. Many times my eyes are fixed on pages of my book, but often I am observing others or even talking with strangers. Or simply sharing a table, a time, a space.

I would pull out my book to read (and I will in a few minutes), but my mind has all these romanticized notions of coffee shop meetings. People meeting friends, family, or colleagues. People coming alone. People here to read.  People here to revise essays. Visitors and tour groups walk by on Turl Street, armed with cameras and warm jackets for the outside walks around the various colleges.

I look out the window and if I lean a little toward the window, I can see the top of Exeter College Chapel, a tall, striking emblem of God's majestic beauty reaching toward the heavens.

My mind is awake this morning. This room in Turl Street Kitchen is one of my favourite spots in the city. There is something about the atmosphere, the songs they play, the quiet chatter, the sounds of coffee being made, and plenty of reading and writing vibes. The sunlight reaches in through the tall, large windows and the dark wood plank floors creak when you step.

Oxford is bursting with the beautiful possibilities of the everyday. I've met some kind people, who have made my stay even more pleasant than it already was. If you scanned my journal, you would see a log of repeated words: delight, lovely, beautiful. These are words that belong in Oxford.

16 April 2015

Love at the Centre

The love of the new life is in the centre; to it all parts of the circumference, all times, all experiences, have this equal relation.
- Charles Williams

Like the journey in Dante's Divine Comedy, love is a paradox. In order to go up, you must go down. At the centre is God and His love, and all things should encircle the centre, meaning all parts of our experiences should be the same distance from the centre that is God. While we stray, we grow apart from the new life we had embraced. To get back to the centre we must get back to God. 

At the foot of the cross we stand, then kneel, like the crowd did in the Good Friday service at St. Mary's University Church. We look up but cannot even stand to look too long, for it pains us to look onto that which wooden structure where our Saviour died. We pray- Lord forgive us. And see the image of His death so tall and piercing the air.

While a glimpse of that image can obnubilate our hearts and cast sorrowful shadows on us, the shadow is just leading us a light greater than we could even imagine.

Soon the image of darkness will be flattened, for death has been crushed. We have Easter, and it lives on inside of us, well after the Sunday of pastel coloured eggs and Alleluia songs. Every new day is a reminder that we live in a time that Easter occurred. We live in the New Creation.

(Photos taken in Merton College Chapel, Oxford)

15 April 2015

Oxford Musing


There is no weather so good as English weather. Nay, in a real sense there is no weather at all anywhere but in England.
- G. K. Chesterton

Sometimes I walk around or I gaze at the scene in front of me and I feel like I am in a dream. The floating kind of dream that sits gently for a moment, and then dissolves, except this is real. I walk around smiling softly a lot because it's that kind of dreaminess. The only reason I do not get slightly annoyed with the crowds at the busy intersections is because the rest of the city is so charming and beautiful, and I get out of the busy sections quickly. And whilst most students are away, these areas near my college are pretty quiet.

This is where a lot of thinking happens. Papers rigorously typed and revised. The hush of libraries. The cups of coffee essential to keeping minds awake. The click clack of oxford shoes striking the stone walkways as students hurry somewhere. Or maybe that is just me in my oxford shoes hurrying to get out of the drizzly rain.

Oxford is a place full of reminders of those achievements we all secretly wish we could accomplish, and we admire those who do. We respect the city, the history, and the culture of the air here.While it is a college town that could be viewed as just the norm of young people who study and then stay out late, this has the quality of the former that no other places can easily match. It is steeped in history and tradition. Every day I learn something new about it. It's amazing.

I do not have to really wonder what life is like here, anymore, for I am living here for a bit. I stop in the grocery store for a few items. I listen to the students talk at breakfast. I do my laundry in between breakfast and coffee. The Grove Quadrangle contains my home. Up the stairs and straight ahead is my room. It looks out toward the Lincoln College Library and has some views of the quaint brick chimney stacks. Quintessential England.