Category Archives: Oxford

How Am I Supposed To Pick Only 3 Books?!

What three books, besides the Bible, have had the greatest impact on your life? Why and how so? asks the essay prompt. Answer in 600 words.

You would think this would be the easiest prompt ever. I did when I first saw it. However, after several days of agonizing, I am no closer to narrowing down three books than I am to cleaning my room. (And both need to happen pronto.) 

But really, how do you approach something like greatest impact? Does that mean books you have read the most? Or books that blew your mind? And what timeline should we consider for the greatest impact? I read so many books each year that the ones that most impact my life change from year to year, and I feel like I could make a case for all of them. Even the one stars. 

For example, is it weird to put down John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government? I did not read it till my junior year of college, but I stayed up till 2 am to finish it because I liked it so much. The book influenced my political philosophy long before I read it. But then really, if I am tracing political influence maybe I should mention Basic American Government by Clarence B. Carson because that is where I first read snip-its of Locke and other political philosophers. Then again, who names books about foundational political philosophy when mentioning books that had the greatest impact? Isn’t that weird?

So I think, what book is foundational to my reading? Good Profit! I read all business books through the lens of Good Profit and my time at AFP. I read that one twice I liked it so much. But…isn’t it really AFP that had the impact on my life, not the book? So is it really one of the most impactful books I have read? 

Perhaps I ought to consider the books I re-read the most. Like…Georgette Heyer! I can see it now. “The Grand Sophy is a Regency romance novel full of wit and charm and it has had the greatest impact on my life.” Um, how ’bout no. 

The Witch of Blackbird Pond – my go-to favorite book of all time? I certainly could make an argument that it played a foundational role in my early reading. Then again, so did the Mandie series and Hardy Boys. That doesn’t mean they deserve a shout-out. 

C.S. Lewis! There is an author whose writings I love and don’t need to be ashamed of. But which writing? The only books of his I have re-read are the Narnia series and Till We Have Faces! But have those had The Most Impact on my life?! Surely Mere Christianity ranks higher. 

So there. I have one. Mere Christianity. When did I read that one again? 

Agghhhhh! In conclusion, I’ve been influenced by too much fiction and I do not know how to answer this essay prompt and blogging about this predicament has not clarified anything at all. 

Are Women Human? Astute and Witty Essays on the Role of Women in Society Quotes by Dorothy L. Sayers

I picked up Are Women Human? by Dorothy L. Sayers expecting a rather lengthy and involved discussion on feminism that I would need to re-read several times to fully grasp. Instead I got a volume of barely 75 pages composed of two essays and an introduction so full of common sense that it hardly took any time to read at all. Though groundbreaking as one of the first females to graduates from Oxford and well-known for her work as a writer of fiction and academia, Sayers did not have much to say about feminism. In fact, I would say this volume fulfills more our need (as readers) to have her say something than her need, or even desire, (as an author) to say anything about what it means to be a woman. 

The essays were originally published with several others by Sayers in 1947. While they are somewhat dated, they remain quite relevant today. Many of the issues women struggled with then apply to both men and women today. Sayers’s main point is primarily that men and women have more in common than not and that each should be allowed to find the role that suits them best. If a woman is good at business, she should do it because that is what she was made to do. However, if a woman desires to have a family and be a traditional housewife, that too should be regarded as good because that is what she is meant to do. The same standards apply to men and women equally. She gets a bit more snarky in the second essay, “The Human-Not-Quite-Human,” but her point remains the same. 

One of my favorite parts comes from her discussion of women wearing “trousers.” While this isn’t something controversial today, I think this passage illustrates her style, and humor, well: 

“Let me give one simple illustration of the difference between the right and the wrong kind of feminism. Let us take this terrible business…of the women who go about in trousers. We are asked: ‘Why do you want to go about in trousers? They are extremely unbecoming to most of you. You only do it to copy the men.’ To this we may very properly reply: ‘It is true that they are unbecoming. Even on men they are remarkably unattractive. But, as you men have discovered for yourselves, they are comfortable, they do not get in the way of one’s activities like skirts and they protect the wearer from draughts about the ankles. As a human being, I like comfort and dislike draughts. If the trousers do not attract you, so much the worse; for the moment I do not want to attract you. I want to enjoy myself as a human being, and why not?” 


3 am: Oxford Update 9

“I will NEVER forget this week. Every moment was so…” insert tears, “so special. Like, we cannot forget. We’ll need a reunion. And if Todd doesn’t text you, I’ll…I’lll….ohmygosh, this week. So incredible.” More tears.

The two girls on the bus from Oxford to Heathrow Airport in London were a tad emotional. I’m fairly sure their mascara is still all over the seats. They were Americans who had spent the last week in Oxford, mission work I think. And obviously, it had been:

“So incredible.”

I wasn’t trying to overhear their conversation, but when two girls are sobbing their eyes out in the seat in front of you…common decency demands some attention, right? Plus, they were really funny. It was the best week of their lives, nothing would ever compare, what would they do now? How could life ever be the same?

The 4 am bus is an interesting place. You don’t take it unless absolutely necessary. The silence was the strangest part of the walk from my flat to the bus stop. Oxford is a bustling city. Tourists jostle with students. Carolers, street performers, and tour guides strive to outdo one another for attention. Even late at night, lines of scantily clothed and fairly drunk pub and club-goers keep the place hopping.

But not at 4am.

At 4 am the train rumbling by does not offer background noise, but a strange interruption. At 4 am no friendly janitor cleans the local daycare and offers a sense of security despite the late night. At 4 am the shuffling shadows outside of the hostels offer no reassurance. It’s kind of creepy.

At 4 am the businessman climbs aboard the bus and settles down without a word. The tourists stress over ticket prices and double check that their bags are properly stowed. Some chatter nervously. Others immediately fall asleep. Families wave farewell and disappear into the darkness. Oxford slowly fades.

And that is goodbye. Not with tears or exclamations, but a quiet unrest in the early morning before dawn. I don’t feel the surge of emotion of my near neighbors. This is goodbye, but I have been whispering ‘adieu’ on every street for the past two days.

The bus makes good time; we’re at the airport by 5:30. Baggage check doesn’t open till 6 am. My passport doesn’t want to scan, but there are no attendants around to ask for help: a final testament to British customer service. When they do start trickling in, they glare at the line of waiting passengers balefully. The coffee has clearly not kicked in. Anyway, they get their revenge. Its 6:20 by the time they start checking suitcases.

4 hours until my flight.

Security is the next hurdle. I set off the metal detector. The invasive pat down following still fails to finds the watch I absentmindedly slipped in my pocket. Whoops.

However, the excitement has only begun. My carryon gets flagged. The TSA agent motions me over. Any reason why my backpack scanned for trace explosives? No? She starts removing items…a hairbrush. An i-pod…

My underlined, pocket size copy of The Koran.  The War Against Jihadism. Machiavelli’s The Prince. A whole semesters worth of ideological and political books from my tutorials and the Summit Oxford readings.

This puts a new angle on things. The agent waves over her boss. You can tell she is the boss because her heels are higher. And her badge says so. Did I understand what was happening? Every item needed to be scanned. Nothing registered for trace explosives. Eventually, they take down my passport information and send me through. I wonder if they’ll notify my plane, or better yet Chicago. Will I be on the record as a potential terrorist? That might make this flight more exciting.

My plane is on time but there is no boarding gate. I am still 3 hours early. The airport is beginning to fill up. I’ve brought books. First is Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson. Apparently it was made into a movie with Amy Adams in 2008. I have no idea if it is anything like the book. Written in 1938, the plot follows Miss Guinevere Pettigrew, a down and out governess suddenly swept up into a world of glamour, night clubs, and parties for a day when her application as a nursery worker gets mixed up with a request for a personal maid. A fun story, slightly ridiculous, and very fluffy but it passes the time quickly.

By the time I board my plane, I’ve started my second book, The Lost World by Sir Arthur Con Doyle. “Before Jurassic Park….dinosaurs existed in The Lost World.” A romping adventure story with danger, dinosaurs, and dreams of glory. Description got a little tedious at times, and the terminology a little old fashion, but overall worth it. Similar to something by Jules Verne.

My flight was relatively calm. The in-flight movies were Now You See Me which had a good twist but was otherwise so-so and Jack The Giant Slayer which was painful. There were some TV shows I forgot immediately. The girl sitting next to me was my age visiting the US from Switzerland. She had graduated from high school in Minnesota and mostly tried (and failed) to sleep during the flight. Every time she started dozing the flight attendants walked around and woke her up asking for her drink order. As the plane came down for a landing, America’s Top Chef started playing. By this point the volume was off so we bonded over trying to follow what was happening in the show based on the judges’ expressions. It wasn’t pretty for the filet mignon.  Someone got voted off, but as everyone was hugging and crying we couldn’t tell who. I think it was the chef who stayed a perpetual shade of deep red.

Our fellow passengers were slightly less noisy than the flight over, but a few made for some excellent people watching. The woman in front of me ordered a glass of wine every time the attendant came by for drinks. I’m amazed she could stand by the end. The man two seats behind me was a former US Army ranger involved in a noisy conversation with an American English teacher who worked in the Middle East. She liked making loud comments like, “Well, Jordan is SO beautiful but dangerous. Not that I was afraid…” Finally, my personal favorites were the two middle aged women with spray-on tans (no-one gets that tan in England…or that orange) who loudly complained when “Section A was seated before Section D.” They were both wearing ripped jean mini-skirts and t-shirts that weren’t designed to be one-shoulder, but had become so. Mainly because the poor shirts kept getting yanked down.

Customs was a breeze. Apparently, they missed the memo about me being a potential terrorist. Signe and my Mom met me outside of security.

Initially, the weirdest thing about coming home wasn’t the snow. I was prepared for snow. It wasn’t seeing my Mom again; I couldn’t wait to hug her. It was my cell phone. Or more precisely, the texts on it.

My texts.

When I came back from my first semester at college, I half expected everyone to be struck by how different I looked. Taller, maybe, or bolder. Something to show how much I had matured over the past months. I knew how much I’d changed, how could others miss it?

This time around, though, it was me who missed it. I knew I would change. Everyone told me what a fabulous experience it would be, how I would grow. And I knew I had…in some areas. Intellectually I was stronger, more confident in my ability to reason and debate. But the texts from three and a half months ago surprised me the most…they were nothing special. Goodbyes, mostly. Bored, nervous, jumpy texts.

Yet they revealed a whole different mindset.

In three and a half months, I tackled a new country. Toured London and Bath on my own. Bought my own groceries, cooked my own meals, made friends. I joined a church family. I showed “particular aptitude” for political theory. I stretched my reading ability and discovered it could go farther. I survived computer crashes, getting my debit card eaten, even sleeping on a mattress for several weeks (minus the bed frame). Not only did I gain confidence intellectually, but in everyday life experience. I learned to say ‘trousers’ and ‘chips’ and ‘term’. At 18, I moved to Tennessee knowing almost no one. Now, at 20, I tackled Oxford.

You don’t think in those terms when dealing with everyday life. Where to buy postcards? What bus to catch? Did I buy minutes for my phone this month? Then you’re home…and Mom is grocery shopping and cooking, there are enough blankets and none of them are moldy, the fire alarm doesn’t go off when you make toast. And there are the texts. Texts that can’t begin to understand what a few months will do.

I guess that’s why I didn’t – and don’t – feel the need to bawl about my “incredible” semester like the girls on the bus. For me, studying in Oxford wasn’t one passionate, emotional week of intense experiences. It was days of waking up and drinking coffee and hoping the hot water would last another day. Some moments were incredible, like seeing Les Mis in London or the unveiling of the C.S. Lewis memorial stone. Others were quieter and more repetitive. And, with all due respect to those same girls, I think my experience will last longer because it went deeper. I’ve been in their position, swearing eternal allegiance and perfect memory. Turns out, neither really last. But habits, emotions, day to day experiences change us. And that’s coming home for me. Different but better.  I love being home, I love seeing my family, but I’m looking forward to going back to school. I am looking forward to writing papers and reading books. I’ve seen what I can do…and I look forward to going farther.

Potential Terrorist  (Potential Terrorist And Mother)

My Library Card No Longer Works :( Oxford Update 8

There is a lovely walk from my flat to the main part of town. Thought I would share it today!

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Some of my favorite graffiti…


Graffiti 02 (“ha no”)

Graffiti 03 (“Have a good day”)

Graffiti 04 SOMEBODY painted over my favorite graffiti, quite rude. What it used to say was “Still no cows : ( .”

Thames Path

Thames Path

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Thames Path

House boats are a neat aspect of the Thames Path

Thames Path

Thames Path

Thames Path


Sleeping Duck Yes, people, you now know what a blinking duck looks like.

Thames Path

Went to Christmas dinner at New College hall…this is me in my “robe”


Today I returned to Blenheim Palace with friends for the Charles Dickens Christmas Festivities

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Only one more week left in Oxford. I will miss this place! Said goodbye to my friends at the Focus table on Thursday, they’ve been incredible this term. Our access to the Bodleian Library ended today 😦  My tutorials are over. One more week of Summit Intensive. One more week of going to Eynsham. It has been such an incredible past few months. Thank you to everyone who made this possible. I have been so blessed.

Aubergines, Clock Tower, and this guy named C.S. Lewis: Oxford Update 7

Three more essays to go.

It’s hard to believe the term is already in seventh week. Christmas lights have started brightening city streets, while protesting Americans try to stay true to the Thanksgiving spirit (apparently often confused with the 4th of July by Brits…Americans sort of have a thing for celebrating their separation from England) Life has been busy for me, though mostly filled with reading and essay-writing. It is pretty incredible to realize you are attending the same university as John Locke and Thomas Hobbes. Y’know, just some of the greatest political theorist in the English language….no big!

Speaking of incredible, guess who died fifty years ago? I got the opportunity to attend a C.S. Lewis symposium on Thursday in London, followed by a service at Westminster Abbey on Friday where a memorial stone was dedicated in Poet’s Corner to Lewis. An incredible, once in a lifetime opportunity! A lot of the foremost Lewis scholars were present (many of them familiar faces to us Summit students, they spoke at the C.S. Lewis Conference put on by Summit Oxford) as well as other notables like C.S. Lewis’s stepson who read from The Last Battle during the ceremony.  And, as I actually remembered to bring my camera and a memory card, my usual excuse for not updating this poor, neglected blog is no longer viable.

Thus! I present to you…

Proof that I am alive:

Image (Love the person in the background….work it!)

Proof that I have a flatmate (and she is incredible!):


Proof that your bad hair day can always get worse…


And finally, what you really want, the latest edition to Westminster Abbey…

Image (I think someone is Tebowing in the background…)

The conference, the ceremony, everything was was an incredible experience. London is beautiful. I love the city! Took a few more pictures…

ImageCannot say I understand this particular marketing choice…


Image(That right there, folks, is the face of smexy….)


I’m off to go write an essay on Benjamin Constant and Alexis de Tocqueville, enjoy your Thanksgiving everyone!

Tony Stark Got It Right: Oxford Update 6

The tutorial system in a nutshell:

Tony Stark

Hello everyone! What have I been up to lately? Well, mainly this:

Book 1

And this:

Book 2

And this…..

Book 3

Just a little bit of reading. I have studied Niccolo Machiavelli’s idealistic republican leanings, Edmund Burke’s vehement dislike of the French revolution, the debate in Spain over Native American property rights in the 1500s, and am currently on the Reformation/English Revolution’s influence on Thomas Hobbes’s writing, particularly of Leviathan. So lots of reading but also lots of writing, which is partially to blame for the lack of recent updates.

My Mom has requested more pictures, but as I am usually cloistered up in my room (ask any of my flatmates) or walking to the New College Library to borrow more books, I have taken any more pictures lately. However, I have discovered the Oxford University meme site on Facebook…. While some of them may not make 100% sense, I hope they give a taste of being an Oxford student! I’ve added some description for clarity (or something thereabouts)

Click on them to make them bigger and hit back on your computer to return to the post. Please enjoy!

Oxford Meme 6

Oxford Meme 2 Truth.

Oxford Meme 5 Tesco is the local grocery store

 Books in the “closed stack” have to be ordered up from the underworld. Like seriously. Can take dayssss. But that is the price for visiting a library with every book published in England since before the United States was founded.

Like any library, this is an extremely echo prone room with a ban on liquid.

 Reference only. Starting to form a love hate relationship with those two words!

Why Summit Oxford?

I planned on writing this post once I returned to the United States. With hindsight in my favor, I would somehow brilliantly sum up and analyze my experience studying with the Summit Oxford Study Centre and with a few swift strokes of my pen (er…keyboard), convince everyone of the ultimate truth of life: if you want to study for a term at Oxford, do it with Summit. Maybe I still will write such a masterpiece when I am home, but until then I have decided to set forth a much more modest goal.

Fellow students, yes I’m talking to you, whether you are on the fence about studying with Summit Oxford, or are seriously considering simply studying abroad in general, or even have no idea what I am talking about, I want to strongly encourage you to apply with the Summit Oxford Study Centre for a semester.

And speaking of semesters, how about next one?  There is still time to apply! (Trust me, it is going to be a really, really good semester. You should go.)

What is making you hesitate? Timing? Summit Oxford has a rolling deadline, and they are really willing to work with you. I should know, I sent in the last of my paperwork on July 21st and got on a plane a month later. It is worth pursuing because an opportunity like this is once in a lifetime and totally worth it. Finances? I can truly understand that one. There is no way on paper I should ever have been able to afford to study abroad, much less at Oxford. But God is good. He provides. Pray about it and ask those you around you to pray. It is worth it.

There were two other things for me that held me back from applying initially. The first was a really stupid misunderstanding that I could have cleared up way sooner if I had simply gone back and re-read the website. The second was an equally stupid misunderstanding about the best part of this program. Maybe they have occurred to you or maybe I can prevent them from occurring and becoming a stumbling block.

1. Transcript, say what? I was really confused where my transcript would come from if I studied with Summit Oxford. I misread this little section on the website… “If your home university requires a transcript from an accredited North American institution of higher education, this is available through the University of the Pacific (CA).” I assumed it meant that all transcripts came from the University of the Pacific, and I thought, how lame. I’m going to study at Oxford and I’m getting a transcript from some school in CA? However, if you actually noted what you read, it might be obvious there is this little part at the beginning that says “If your home university requires…” Your transcript comes through OSAP, a very well known Oxford study abroad program. Not a California program. That is only if your school won’t accept the transcript from Oxford/OSAP. Which was not the case with my school. A really stupid misunderstanding that totally could have been avoided yet made me hesitate for far longer than it should have. Don’t fall for it!

2. More worldview stuff?! This was a huge one for me. Maybe even THE thing. I assumed the worldview intensive would be redundant and boring. That sounds incredibly arrogant to me now, but at the time I had this picture that anything involving worldview must be a reiteration of ‘let’s talk about naturalism, transcendentalism, and theism!’ Someone bring out the upside-down map. I learned about worldview in high school. And I took Worldview class in college. And I go to BRYAN COLLEGE – THE SCHOOL OBSSESSED WTH WORLDVIEW. And community and social justice. The point is, and I think many Bryan College students might agree with me here, the word worldview becomes cliché when it is used every other sentence. And so I read there would be 3 weeks worldview intensive and I figured that meant a truncated Worldview 101, again. Ugh.

I could not have been more clueless. Rather than setting a foundation of vocabulary, the Summit Oxford intensive builds. Instead of spending a few hours staring at a slide show on Islam (with maybe a verse or two of the Qur’an thrown in for good measure), we actually read the Qur’an through. An Islamic Imam comes and speaks and answers questions. We read through books on Islam. Tricky questions are brought up and discussed. Students are not blatantly told “This is what a proper Christian worldview is on the subject”, but rather given the tools and environment to explore the topic. The topics vary, from homosexuality to abortion to the book of Romans. Authors are brought in. Books are read. Far from being my least favorite part, the worldview section is the best aspect of studying at Oxford. Do not be intimidated by the worldview!

Maybe you have another question I haven’t touched on. Leave a comment, I’ll happily respond. Don’t let something silly – or not so silly – hold you up from grasping this opportunity.

But I have answered a few questions about why you shouldn’t not go, what about why you should?

1. Gain confidence. Whether like me you have grown up surrounded by answers or you are new to the faith and have lots of questions, working through challenging and relevant topics with fellow students under Kevin Bywater is an incredible experience. Often I have found the problem with Christians “working through life’s big questions” is that we are afraid to actually express any doubt. It becomes ‘hypothetical’ instead of real and so true doubt becomes trite. But have you ever wondered how to really defend your pro-life stance? What about how to morally approach homosexuality? Is Islam a religion of peace or terror, and how can you find out amidst political correctness and convoluted rhetoric?  Can you stand your own ground without being a pushover or a bully? Questions like these are not only explored, but understood. And so we read books relevant to the topics and question authors and integrate it into our everyday lives. I have often had answers, but not the confidence or know-how to express myself. Summit has helped equip me with both.

2. Be challenged. This goes for Christians in every walk in life, but for a moment I’d like to address the students like me. Because I grew up in the church and received a strong foundation in the Bible, it is easy to glide by in gen ed Bible classes designed for students with no knowledge of the Scripture. The same often goes for bible studies, college groups…even some church services. It’s easy to build a foundation, sit on it, and go nowhere. I have found studying with Summit Oxford has met me at a dimension for spiritual growth and challenge I previously did not have. We take certain passages so much for granted that we fail to actually see the context. Kevin Bywater encourages contextual analysis and study without the need for handy answers at our finger tips. It has been healthy and, yes, sometimes hard but rewarding to put on a different perspective and study what the Bible says. It meets you at your level, whatever level that might be.

The same goes for any level of study here, though. The tutorial system is challenging. The libraries are challenging. Understanding what people are saying to you (British accents are not as clear as we often think!) can be challenging! It is worth it, though. It stretches your understanding and experiences. And speaking of experiences…

3. Broaden your horizons. There are a thousand and one good reasons for studying abroad, I’m sure you can Google them. There are a million and three good reasons for studying in England, and Oxford in particular, not the least of which is the prestige and education you get. It is immensely healthy to immerse yourself in another culture, even one where you theoretically speak the same language (Hint: never say ‘pants’ to a Brit. It is their word for underwear. Try ‘trousers’.) As a student, you are at a perfect time in your life to reach out and go places like England. In the future you will (hopefully) have a job, maybe a marriage, possibly a mortgage. Take this time you have free to study in another culture at a terrific and extremely old university and learn that (SHOCKER!) there is an entire world outside of the U.S. and it is really beautiful.

Finally, I just want to encourage you to apply now. Apply for next semester. It doesn’t matter what your major is, chances are Oxford has it somewhere. Work with your school. Part of what makes studying in Oxford so fun is that you aren’t taking only gen ed classes like the other programs (at least at my school) offer, but your actual major-specific work. Come as upperclassmen. Got senioritis? Lose it in England. The unique opportunity to study with tutors, to be independent, to meet other students makes for an incredible semester (or ‘term’, as it is here). You will return home refreshed, enlightened, and confident. I guarantee.

So check out the website.

^ That one.  Right there. Give it a shot. Look into how viable this would be, and start praying. This is an opportunity you don’t want to miss.

 oxford Dreaming spires await!

A Very Brief Update

Imagine telling your average 12-year-old that her only school assignment for the coming week is to research and write a brief paper on Justin Bieber. Furthermore, add that in the coming weeks the process will be repeated with One Direction, Selena Gomez, and any celebrity of her choice and that she will get to study them all in Hollywood. You have just caught a glimpse of how excited I am about my tutorials.  I am getting school credit to uber research a topic that fascinates me and write an essay analyzing it. How incredibly awesome is that?

This isn’t much of an update as much as me expressing my extreme enthusiasm for what I get to study. Today was our induction into New College (established in 1379…), yesterday was our induction into the Bodlian Library. I get to read The Prince and write a paper about Machiavelli for my primary tutor this week and one about Edmund Burke for my secondary. I am about to spend the next 8 weeks writing 12 essays dealing with various thoughts in political theory from Hobbes to Marx, from the Renaissance to modern politics. One very happy girl over here in England!

On a broader note, Oxford is coming alive. Lots of students moving in this week, initial meetings with tutors taking place. My primary tutor is Dr. Mark Almond and my secondary tutor is Dr. Tudor Jones. I look forward to studying under them this coming ‘semester’!

Please Note: ‘Tea With Mr. Darcy’ Does Not Include An Actual Mr. Darcy – Oxford Update 5

It is a truth universally acknowledged that any self-respecting Janite in possession of the good fortune to be in England must make her pilgrimage to Bath. Despite the majority of my planned British literary tour proving impractical, Bath remained a requirement. It was well worth the trip. Ironically, in the city most closely associated with her name, Jane Austen was quite unhappy. She was a country girl enclosed in a city. It was the place of her Father’s sudden death. The city sort of seems to know it too. The tour guide at the Jane Austen Centre sheepishly explained in her introduction that Jane Austen wrote very little, if not at all, during her stay in Bath. The contrast between her two novels set in Bath, Northanger Abbey written when she was a young woman only visiting and Persuasion after she’d lived there, are endlessly analyzed and politely blushed over. There is a general feeling that as pleased as Bath is to be associated with the famous authoress, it is rather embarrassed it couldn’t give her a better experience.

My decision to travel there, though long in the making, was still a last minute one. On Tuesday I went to the Ashmolean with Spencer, one of the girls in our Summit program, and saw the remains of a dodo bird. It was quite entertaining.

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After that I paid a visit to my absolute favorite bookstore, the famous Blackwell’s, and managed to leave without buying a single book. Quite the accomplishment. My third errand took me to the Oxford Public Library. Oxford is known for its libraries, but only through the colleges. The Oxford Public Library has made me immensely grateful for the Mukwonago library and even the Dayton Public Library, which I never thought I’d say. Besides having the smallest teen section I have ever seen (the entire ‘section’ fits on a shelf in the adult fiction section), The Oxford Public Library charges money to rent a DVD or audio book (that is to check it out, not including what late fees might be) and putting a hold on a book costs a  £1.20. If I had to pay money to the library every time I put a hold on a book back home, I’d owe the Mukwonago Community Library enough for them to build another building. On the plus side, the library card I got has quite a beautiful picture of Oxford on the back and the library contains a large collection of Georgette Heyer books, unfortunately I’ve read them all. Picked up two books in the Stravaganza series (City of Flowers and City of Secrets) but didn’t enjoy them as much as the first two.

That all said, I came back and decided on a whim to go to Bath the next day. I booked a bed at a hostel and double checked bus times. I would arrive at the bus station nice and early and hope to buy a ticket. Unfortunately, I arrived too early! Ended up sitting in the bus station for over an hour before the ticket office opened and another before the bus arrived, late. The bus ride itself was actually quite pleasant for a 2.5 hour drive. I bought a bag of candy for the trip on a whim, which seemed like a good idea at the time but the end result was that I felt more like an 11-year-old going to Hogwarts than a 20-year-old self-proclaimed Janite visiting Bath. Our bus driver apparently was new to his job, because there was an older gentleman with him giving directions. They mostly sounded like this, “Go right. I SAID RIGHT. What are you doing? Get in the right lane. You have the right-of-way! Keep going. Speed up!” They both wore an expression of long suffering.

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Bath is a city of Georgian architecture. Even the more modern buildings are built to mirror that fact. A city of Georgian architecture and scaffolding, actually. The scaffolding is everywhere, presumably to spruce up the architecture. The result is lovely. It is an easy city to get around, with maps conveniently placed at the more touristy spots (though clear street signs seem to still elude them. Is all Europe this way, or are the British particularly paranoid about letting you know where you are walking?) It is not very big, but comfortably laid out and there is always a bus if you don’t feel like walking. The city is great for relaxing. Even for visitors not interested in Jane Austen, there is plenty to see. There are Roman baths, townhouses from the late 1700s, pretty architecture, and shops. Lots and lots of shops! Though my experience is rather limited, it is one of the best places I have ever been for vacationing. Not to overuse the word, but is comfortable. Slowed down. Obligingly frozen in time to give visitors a chance to catch their breath and ‘take in the waters’ like their predecessors before them. It is a city of history, of Celtics and Romans and fashionable British aristocracy, of people coming to drink and bathe in the hot waters. It is well worth the visit.

Arriving in Bath around noon, I decided to make a bee-line for the Jane Austen Centre. Except it was more like a figure eight, several times over. If walking down the street right next to the one you wanted is a super power, I am a natural. However, I eventually did find it and quite happily entered the world of Regency Austen for a blissful few hours.

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The tour included….

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Set costumes and trivia, especially from Northanger Abbey and Persuasion

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Costumes and sets as might be seen during tea or at a ball

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(What a hat!)

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Jane Austen trivia…

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And a chance to try it all on!

Though the museum has very little unique to Jane Austen, with the exception perhaps of the building, it is well worth the visit. The immersion into her world is brief and fun, full of details and commentary about her life in Bath and her two novels set there. It was less pretentious than I expected. It gave a good glimpse into the woman she was and offered lots of little things, like the chance to write a note with a quill pen, that made the trip worth it. It indulges the Janite yet remains grounded as a pleasant museum trip. Highly recommended.

By the time I finished my visit it was nearing 3….and what better location could I ask for to take tea?

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The Regency Tea Room was surprisingly snug. It is in the upper floors of the house, in Jane and her sister’s old bedroom. The menu carries titles like “Lady Catherine’s Proper Tea” or “Tea With Mr. Darcy” (if you want to up the price, you can also get ‘Champagne With Mr. Darcy’.) Though “Mr. Darcy” does not make an appearance with the teapot, there is a portrait of Colin Firth’s Mr Darcy staring out over the room. It really makes you wonder what Jane Austen would think having a character from her novel hanging in her old bedroom.

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I ordered the Ladies Afternoon Tea, a filling combination of finger sandwiches and a scone with clotted cream at a fairly a fairly good price. The tea was lovely too. By that point, though, I was desperate for a cup of tea so I might have found anything lovely.

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I was the youngest person I saw visiting the Jane Austen Centre unaccompanied. There were a few teenage girls being dragged around by their Moms, and in the tea room were two ladies in their twenties taking tea together. Mostly, though, the clientele were older woman, in chattering groups comparing notes about Persuasion and the use of muslin, or a poor husband dragged around the Centre by his wife.  The most hilarious part of taking tea in the Regency Tea Room was watching those same poor husbands inform the waitress that they wanted “The Mr. Darcy Tea”, all the while casting baleful glances at their wives.

It started to drizzle not long after I left the Jane Austen Centre. A drizzle is a nasty business. It isn’t quite a rain, so you think to yourself ‘I can wade this out’. However, it’s damp and dreary and even the most cheery optimist must feel slightly daunted trying to tackle a new city when all there is to see is gray skies. The only bonus is that when it is rains I get to pull up the heavy hood on my raincoat, and I like to think at first glance it makes me look mysteriously like I belong in a Cassandra Claire novel. The reality is probably that I look exactly like I what I am – a wet, bedraggled, and lost tourist in a dark purple raincoat. After attempting in vain to find the Fashion Museum, I gave up and decided to take the first city tour bus I could find. It turned out to be a good idea. The driver was an older fellow, the kind of Brit who absentmindedly says ‘Everything alright, then, dear?’, and he apparently took a liking to me. At any rate he went out of his way to point out that I needed ear buds to properly enjoy the tour and that my ticket would get me on the skyline bus when this trip was done.  Unfortunately, the timing was off and though he insisted another bus would be around soon, ‘just wait here a bit where I am, it’ll come, dear’, the skyline bus had taken off on its last tour long before we arrived.

The city tour was well worth it. Shielded from the rain, I got to relax for an hour and enjoy information I’d never have picked up on from the ground. Like that awful park I kept running into while wandering aimlessly in my attempt to find the Jane Austen Centre was actually quite important and contained a monument to Crown Prince Frederick…who died after getting hit with a tennis ball. I also learned that the 11-year-old Princess Victoria made one of her first public appearances at the opening of the park that bears her name in Bath. However, as one journalist wrote the next day that her curls made her look dowdy, she never returned to Bath. In fact, she scorned the town so much that when her train went by 60 years later she had the curtains drawn so she wouldn’t have to see it. There was a woman who could hold a grudge.

The tour over, I decided my best bet would be to find the youth hostel where I had booked a room previously before it got dark. I started walking at 5:30.  I finally reached Bathwick Hill closer to 6:30, by this point footsore and weary of the drizzle. According to the directions, it was simply “YHA” on Bathwick Hill, no street address. And so I started up the steep hill. And I walked. And walked. And walked. Eventually I noticed a street sign that said ‘George Street’, so I figured I must have missed the place. I walked back down. Couldn’t find it. I went into a grocery store to ask for directions. The cashier hadn’t heard of the place, but his manager said there was a youth hostel, up the hill, on the left, I couldn’t miss it. So I started walking again. I don’t know how long I walked. It felt like much longer than it probably was. Passed the mysterious George Street for sure. At one point I decided that if I couldn’t find the place, I was just going to fall asleep in this person’s driveway….

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(I have a knack for the melodramatic when I’m overtired….)

And then I saw it. In neon green….the “obvious you can’t miss it” sign.

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However, my journey was not done. The sign indicated entering a dark, creepy drive with trees and bushes on either side. Though in the daylight it looks only mildly spooky, it was long passed dusk when I walked it. Little to no lighting. No people to be seen. Random driveways forking the road.

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Suddenly, the building itself:

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A most foreboding and intimidating place in the dark. I was only mildly reassured by the sight of The Big Bang Theory playing on a TV screen through the window. I half expected to see Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys as I walked around the corner to the main entrance. Three young people sat outside, smoking. They paid no attention to my arrival, eyes glazed as I passed them into the building (which really makes you wonder what they were smoking). The man behind the desk had bug eyes and wispy blond hair. He was trying to help the woman in front of me sign up for a membership card, but he wasn’t entirely sure what he was doing. At any rate, he got up and walked to the kitchen several times during their interview, coming back only to leave again with a burning question about wifi or booking online.

By the time it was my turn, I was unsure if I was glad or not that they had my reservations. I got my key and the instructions “Go up a flight of stairs, then another flight of stairs, and your room is the first door on the left.” So I walked up a flight of stairs, and another flight of stairs, and the first door on the left…was a bathroom. The door next to it said “3”. Not “10.” I retraced my steps. Sure enough, there was another random staircase in the opposite direction. I tried that staircase, went up a flight of stairs. The entire building was old and branched off in numerous directions, with doors leading to bedrooms and bathrooms. I gladly found room 10 and unlocked the door…

Only to be greeted by a widely smiling Asian. Her name was Pino and she was thrilled to have someone to practice her English on. She very generously offered me grapes and a candy bar and did I want to go to Bristol with her tomorrow? Her enthusiasm and obvious comfort in the group room seemed a strange comparison with the dark, creepy environment outside. Two older women, mid-fifties, also were in the room, they were visiting from Canada. Another older lady came in, she was showing her cousin around but lived further North in England. They wanted to know why Pino and I weren’t aren’t partying…and why had I walked up the hill when I could have just taken the bus? It was the oddest contrast. My first thought the next morning was to wonder who had been murdered in the night. The place was still sound asleep when I left at 9 the next morning.

Though I had intended to visit the Fashion Museum first thing the next morning, I decided there was another place that I really ought to visit…

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The Roman Baths were incredible, well worth the visit to Bath in their own right. There is so much history inlaid in the hot, bubbling water. Sometimes it was hard to tell what came from where. The statues surrounding the bath, for example, were created in late 1800s after the baths were discovered, though they look like they belong with the set.

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From the baths , the great Medieval church, once a monastery can be seen from the backdrop of the pool where the Romans would worship their goddess Minerva, and where the Celtics worshiped Sulis (the two later combined into one goddess, Sulis-Minerva).

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It is something, huh?

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The water from the springs was not that bad. That is, I expected something more distinctive. The water at Yellowstone National Park, for example, was nasty. This stuff left hardly an aftertaste, didn’t smell weird, was in fact…water! If anything it was just strange drinking it slightly warm. However, for years doctors prescribed drinking and bathing in this stuff as a cure for everything from gout to arthritis. It’s very mineral rich.  It was fun to give it a taste.

Following the Roman Baths, I peeked into the Pump Room (which has been turned into a very posh restaurant) and finally found my way to the Fashion Museum, which happens to be the building the Assembly Rooms were in! For those not in love with Jane Austen or Georgette Heyer, the Assembly rooms were where the public balls took place.

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It was a very fun museum, I loved all the dresses and watching fashion change. I learned more about bustles and hoop skirts and corsets. Hard to get good pictures, because everything is behind glass, but I did take a few….

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The court dress was very important. Though such wide skirts went out of fashion in England, it was still the proper dress for visiting the Royal Court.

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But I know what you are thinking! How on earth would they wear these things? Never fear, I have provided a demonstration.

1. Start with the corset. It is a necessity for giving a lady her hourglass figure

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2. Add the hoop skirt (even more challenging to get into than the corset)

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3. Add the dress

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4. Pick a bonnet

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4. One may now be seen in public.

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From a more Victorian look the museum moves on to recent fashions….which apparently includes this lovely combination from a 2013 Spring/Summer Fashion show

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Socks and…sandals?

Following the Fashion Museum I had a late lunch/early tea at this adorable and wonderful little place called “Bea’s Vintage Tea Rooms”. “High tea” included for me a sandwich, soup, cheese crumpets, cake, and lots of lovely tea for a great price. Decidedly one of my favorite places in Bath, it was a perfect cure for the decided downpour of rain outside. It’s cute and pleasant and the staff were very friendly. The other visitors included a sweet British couple who were out for the day to have ‘tea and toast’, a French couple (the man wearing a beret and the wife with hair past her waist), and two guys with faint accents who left soon after I arrived. There was a charm in it all.

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Following tea I decided I should figure out when the next bus was leaving to return to Oxford. I hadn’t planned on staying another night. I chose to make a quick detour, though, to visit:

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A famous house in the Royal Crescent kept up to look like it would in the Georgian period. Though quite interesting, and holding several beautiful pieces from that century, I did not think it was worth the admission price. I’m being a bit cheap saying, that, though. It was a neat experience, certainly gave a certain tone to what the famous inhabitants of two hundred years ago would have experienced.

Overall, my trip to Bath was lovely. The only thing I didn’t get a chance to do that I had wanted to was visit the Bath Spa. I guess I will just have to go back! 😉

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London-ed Out – Oxford Update 4

I had a plan all worked out for travel week. I truly did. It came to me in a moment of utter brilliance while I was boiling water for the bath (our hot water – or I should say heat in general – is not working, again). Instead of joining the other students headed to far off places like Spain and Scotland, I would spend my week combining travel with my favorite pastime…reading! A tour of England’s Writer Museums! One day in Bath visiting the Jane Austen Museum, the next spent up North at Bronte Parsonage. Maybe a trip to Portsmouth to see Charles Dickens’s birthplace and a more detailed Sir Arthur Con Doyle display. I would finish each day with a review of the museums I’d visited. A splendid goal.

Unfortunately, as I was noting specific routs and time tables on Sunday, I made a rather important discovery. What I had taken for bus stops on Google maps were actually train stops. And trains happen to be very expensive here. The cheapest trip I could find to Bronte Parsonage was 93 pounds….which is equivalent to roughly 150 dollars. Just to get up there. Other ventures proved to be equally expensive. Soooooo, in conclusion, my brilliant plan was scrapped and I suddenly have found myself with an entire week of free time. What to do?


Armed with an overly pricey tourist map, a camera around my neck in the quintessential tourist look, and a stock of granola bars….I set out to conquer London today. They claim it is a 100 minute bus ride but it feels way longer. It might have helped if I brought a better book along to read. A Brief History of Thought by Luc Ferry is many things…but entertaining it is not. I also strongly disagree with both of the author’s main foundational points, namely that Philosophy and Religion are mutually exclusive and both are trying to give answers to what happens after we die. Perhaps I’m simplifying it a bit, but he certainly simplifies and glides over way too much in making those assumptions. There was also a lady sitting behind me on the bus ride who spoke very loudly with a very thick Slavic accent (I know it was Slavic because she referenced it…many times). She proved her mastery of English vulgar language the entire trip. I did not know the f word could be used so often in one sentence. It made for quite a long, distracting ride.

However, despite the lengthy beginning, the bus arrived in London and I duly paid my respects to that most famous of addresses…


Which technically doesn’t exist. However, I suspended reality for the sake of enjoyment. The Sherlock Holmes museum is a bit of a tourist trap, complete with maids in costume to direct meandering visitors and a “period” uniformed police officer at the door to remind you tickets can be purchased in the bookstore. Narrow staircases lead up in a recreated bordering house with Sherlock Holmes’s bedroom, Dr. Watson’s practicing rooms, and Mrs. Hudson’s private quarter.  There is even a china toilet in the attic.




I was a little bummed that there were no red dressing slippers with tobacco tucked inside in the parlor. However, the true “treat” of the museum – and what I am beginning to sense is a very British sense of humor – are the wax-like figures recreating some of the more exciting moments in Holmes’s career.











It truly defies (or perhaps defiles) the vocabulary.

After meandering around the Sherlock Holmes Gift Shop for a while, and wondering why on earth I should pay 35 pounds for a pipe that isn’t even real, I decided my venture would be to the Victoria and Albert Museum. So I looked at my map. And I looked at the little bus guide map. And back at my map. And I thought ‘where the heck am I?’ And I looked back at the bus map. Eventually I realized the V & A museum was located on the other end of the city. Not going to happen. So I figured, why not pick whatever seems closest? Like….




And turns out….it would have been about the same distance to get to the V & A museum. That’s a lot of walking. I got especially confused somewhere around the University of London. HOWEVER…..I did arrive! And I got to see…


Bam! Statues of sitting Sakhmet. And…


And a bunch of Assyrian stuff, which I thoroughly enjoyed. The Rosetta Stone was cool, and all the Egyptian mummies were nice, but the Assyrian statues were my favorite because they were unique.


Plus, how can you not respect the ‘stash?


Always a bummer when a random, animal headed creature stabs you in the back


And you thought the ones in The Mummy were bad….


I call this one ‘Buddha after Thanksgiving Dinner’


Found the Muffin Man.

I emerged from the British Museum at 3 o’clock after a slideshow like experience of everything, completely exhausted. The next ten minutes were subsequently spent in staring at my map. And back at the bus map. And back at my map. And deciding to walk again. I initially played with the idea of trying to make it to Charles Dickens’s London house, but I wasn’t sure I would make it in time. And then I thought ‘wait….I have to catch my bus back to Oxford. And I don’t know if they pick up from Baker Street.’

In fact, the only place I knew for sure they picked up from was the Victoria Cross Station. At the bottom of my map. I was at the top of my map. So I started walking. I figured I could find a bus that would take me the rest of the way. I didn’t. I figured the subway would make sense. I walked instead. I saw a whole lot of London! Crossed Buckingham Palace and the Queen Victoria memorial. Walked down the Mall. Took a random side trip down Birdcage Walk before I realized that was in the opposite direction. I passed The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, and a random bagpiper. It was great…and absolutely exhausting. I arrived at the bus stop closer to 6. London is a lovely city…but you see, I’m rather London-ed out tonight!

Planning to spend tomorrow doing more local things, like visiting Oxford’s own free museum. Apparently it has a dodo bird! I’ll keep you all updated.

Here is a picture of me with our new flatmate….Chris!


And another random picture…. of teatime! I do rather like this tradition.