Collecting Flowers

“I want to think again of dangerous and noble things. I want to be light and frolicsome. I want to be improbable and beautiful and afraid of nothing as though I had wings.” — Mary Oliver”

Yesterday in lecture we discussed the creation of anthologies, and how terribly subjective their creation often is. Our tutor, a young man going prematurely grey, was a nervous genius. As he stuttered out his words and thoughts, their meaning struck me as relevant not just to literature, but life, unpredictable and sticky.

The Greek origin of the word “anthology” is anthologein, which means ‘to collect flowers.’ Anthologies of English poetry, for instance, are a collection of works individually distinct, but sometimes made more beautiful by their variety in comparison to other poems. Roses are lovely by themselves, but what about hydrangeas, lilies, asters, and honey-suckle? To me, the idea of creating anthology of life experience is more natural than the idea of writing a single life story.  I want to collect beauty wherever I go and create an arrangement of experience marked by color and depth. Under the metaphor of writing your own story, Bristol was the start of a new chapter, and for many reasons, it is. The idea of a book, though, suggests a central theme, but often, unity is fleeting and confusing.  My five weeks in Africa loving Ugandan babies feels as far removed from the clean lines and order of England as could be. My undergraduate years at Concordia, tucked comfortably in my hometown stands in vivid contrast to my first time abroad in the tiny ski-town of Lillehammer, Norway.  The common thread of new experience runs through them, but there is a stronger disconnect.

A purple hydrangea in November

But when flowers are cut, they wither and lose their beauty. The beauty of the most striking bouquet is temporary and fleeting. Maybe then, if we want tulips, we must go to Holland. If we admire east African lilies, why not go to Uganda? Maybe, like verses of an anthology, we must take ourselves of context to create meaning from chaos and beauty from ashes. Removed from our ordinary context, we use muscles not stretched since building tree forts and creating sand castles. With an anthology, life can take abrupt turns without ruining the plot. Characters can come and go without the story leaving with them. Mistakes are more easily forgiven. When I’m ninety-two and living with flowers and Scottish terriers, I’d rather read a collection of vibrant, divergent short stories than a novel weighed down by agreement.



Pretty Then and Now

I stumbled on this old poster the other day and wanted to share!

Burning the Turkey

It’s a bright Sunday afternoon in Bristol, and after a stretch of grey weather days, the sunshine makes such a wonderful difference in my mood. My essay due Friday feels less daunting, the opening night of ‘And Then There Were None’ this Thursday is more exciting, and Bristol simply becomes more beautiful.

This Thanksgiving, unusual though it was, struck me anew how richly I’ve been blessed. Part of this is God broadening my often narrow view to the thousands of blessings around me I never noticed or really took in before. It’s an ongoing endeavor of mine to keep record of these blessings and though I forget to mention half of them, a few are mentioned here. I’m so grateful for women like Ann Voskamp who have shown me even the bitter moments of life are gifts. Some days in Bristol are far from perfect.  Sometimes I feel completely inept in lecture discussions; I miss Brady to the point of contemplating a one-way ticket home, or slip on the wet pavement and skin both my knees and stain my jeans (an occurrence which has happened three times now, but why count?). God gives us one more day–He’s given me twenty-three years of days and  never once did the sun not rise. This attitude is a work in progress (like most aspects of life) and I fail and fail, but sometimes I remember and my day is turned around.

Thanksgiving is not recognized at all in England, and I suppose it’d be counter-intuitive for Brits to recognize it. After all, the pilgrims were celebrating their freedom from this country I love so well. Fortunately, I’m not the only American studying in Bris and so a couple American girls in my program hosted a “A Very British Thanksgiving Brunch” complete with cream tea, scones, omelettes, and mimosas. It was such a treat to share my corner of England with Leah and introduce her to my friends. Leah and I were both thrilled to be celebrating Thanksgiving with family and had planned out our whole day accordingly. Our hopes were quickly dashed, however, when I realized I had lecture all afternoon! Our Thursday lectures have always been only every other week, but of course, the schedule changed just in time for Thanksgiving. Sitting in lecture room one  discussing material I hadn’t read instead of moseying around Clifton Village with Leah felt a bit like burning the turkey. For a couple hours, the homesickness sunk in deep and being in England felt silly and difficult. Could I feel ungrateful on this day of all days? God knew I needed Leah near, though, and after a lovely Thanksgiving dinner of chicken (I did feel rebellious) and tiramisu, I loved Bristol again.

I gotta return to the books, but this is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.


The Holiday or Laughing Over the History of Courting

I do love Bristol, but an invitation to spend a long weekend in the Cotswolds with my cousin and dear friend, Leah, was enough to make me pack my bags. And a change of scenery works wonders when it comes to conquering my endless reading list.

Following my last lecture of the week, I jumped on Bus Nine to Temple Meads and after a brief train ride found myself anxiously waiting in Cheltenham Station for Leah. It didn’t take long to spot her yellow jacket so similar to mine, and before long we’d hugged, hello’ed and we’re en route to Winchombe, a cosy village in the western Cotswolds.

The wonder of England surprised me over and over as I experienced this rare part of the world deemed an “Area of Outstanding Beauty.” Considered by many to make up the heart of England, the Cotswolds are a range of sleepy villages just above Bristol known for their charm and simplicity. I pinched myself more than once as I strolled around the quiet streets and soft green hillsides of Winchcombe.

Lily and I en route to Sudley Castle

What really made the weekend golden, though, was meeting Leah’s lovely English friends, Lizzie and Neil, and ‘minding’ their darling two-year old daughter, Lily, so they could have a weekend away (and so might we!). Staying in Lizzie and Neil’s historic and cosy home located right next to St. Peter’s Parish (built in the 15th century!) was a welcome change from my tiny room in Sinclair House. I could get used to ‘playing house’ in the Cotswolds.

Lily soon captured my heart with her tiny “Hellos” and recitation of the colours: “Red, Orange, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet!” Definitely a British child. Being constantly around  young people  has really felt abnormal, and spending time with Lily was refreshing.

Lily and the Pony

On Saturday, Leah and I (with Lily in tow) hopped on a bus headed to another Cotswold village–Broadway. One of the Cotswold’s most famous villages, I felt like I’d stepped into a Charles Dickens novel. Honey-colored shops with thatched roofs lined the streets, and the trees were even lit with fairy lights. We spent most of the afternoon in a park tucked between Broadway’s hills. On our way out of the park we were met by a friendly stranger trying to steal Lily’s cracker.

I think the best part of cousins is suddenly feeling fourteen again. I don’t know if it was all the sugar or clotted cream or possibly a tad too much Rose, but Leah and I did laugh. When Lizzie and Neil returned from their getaway, the hysterics continued as Leah opened a book published in 1954 entitled “A History of Courting.” Our favorite quotes from ‘Courting’ so far include:

“In my opinion, nothing is more imprudent, nothing more offensive, than for lovers to appear lovers in company; it is both disagreeable and disgusting to society.”

“Ah, I never knew a woman come to good who was fond of reading!” (As qtd. from the 1763 play “Love in a Village by Isaac Bickerstaff)

“On the continent the reputation of Englishman as lovers was far from high!”

“The popularity of this seductive item of furniture (the sofa) was soon to distress the moralists. The sofa gave woman an admirable opportunity to look their best while languishing, and to show feet and ankles in the process.”

“They are numerous cases on record of men being fined for unauthorized wooing.”

“Many and various have been the thoughts inspired in men by the unexpected sight of a pretty ankle.”

“As for kissing and fondling, such practices stir the blood and invite the wrath of God!”

“Possibly the telephone, the motor-car, and the cinema have made love-making a shade too easy.”

And now, for the crème de la crème:

“Farmers fume at the damage to crops and haystacks caused by courting couples.”

So many giggles. And now to bed because it is late and tomorrow we go to the little village of Bradford-on-Avon.



Snapshots of Bristol

This might give you an idea of why I love it so much here.

The symbol of Bristol: the Clifton Suspension Bridge

My favorite part of my running routine is crossing the bridge.

I spotted this darling outside of Sainsbury's, patiently waiting for Momma. I love that people here simply leave their dogs outside the grocerystore so that I can admire them!

Many of the homes here are painted in pretty pastels.

The lime trees form an archway through St. Andrew's Churchyard.

I see this tabby nearly everyday on my walk to campus.

Park Street, a busy road here lined with cafes, shops and a Starbucks.




























And now to return to Keats. More soon.



Remember the 5th of November!

“Remember, remember the 5th of November; gunpowder, treason and plot. I see no reason why gunpowder, treason should ever be forgot!”

Saturday was a big day in Bristol and across England as celebrations took place in honor of Guy Fawkes. Last weekend while sitting in Linda’s cosy kitchen in Brighton, she explained a bit about the history of Bonfire Night. “Well, a few hundred years ago [November 5th, 1605], Guy Fawkes tried to blown up parliament, and so every fifth of November we celebrate! We have–”

“You celebrate because he blew up parliament?!”

“No! Because he didn’t! We have fireworks and everyone usually has a big bonfire, and when I was little we’d burn straw man in honor of Guy Fawkes.”

Can’t you just imagine little British children dancing around the fire burning effigies? I think violence is simply in their blood.

To give a bit more backstory, Guy Fawkes tried to blow up the House of Lords in attempt to assassinate King James I. Because Guy Fawkes was caught and King James I survived, people around London celebrated by having bonfires (and probably drinking ale!). Today, bonfires are still held around England, but the ‘holiday’ is primarily celebrated with firework displays and, of course, burning effigies.

I spent most of the day touring Windsor Castle, but returned in time to catch the fireworks at the Suspension Bridge in Clifton. A handful of us met there and despite the chill in the air, it was a crisp and beautiful night. The Bridge was also lit up, further adding to the magic of Guy Fawkes. Falling in love with England, hook, line and sinker…

Exploring the fairy-tale like Windsor Castle made me feel like I had slipped into Robin Hood or into a Jane Austen novel.

Note: I did not take this picture–wish I could say I did!

The largest and oldest inhabited castle in the world, Windsor is also the official residence of the Queen Mother. I wonder if Queen Elizabeth needs to pinch herself when she looks out her window in the morning. I suppose after nearly nine decades she’s quite used to it, but I don’t think I could ever be.

No photographs were allowed inside the castle, but I promise it was stunning Leonardo da Vincis and Rembrandts hung on the walls, and every room was more lovely than the last. I also saw Queen Mary’s Doll House, a doll house built in 1924 for, well, Queen Mary. It was certainly the most intricate and darling doll house I’ve ever seen. It was made to a scale of one inch to one foot, and every room in the little house was amazingly detailed–down to the tiny toilet paper and flush-able toilet!

A twenty minute walk from the Castle was Eton College, the most prestigious boys’ school in the worldfounded in the fifteenth century. Nineteen of Britain’s Prime Ministers have attended Eton as well as Prince William and Harry! Many movies have also been filmed in Eton, including Shakespeare in Love, The Secret Garden and Mansfield Park, to name a few.

England is a very lovable place and I’m beginning to think that leaving will be very hard (though, at this point, I only booked a one-way ticket back to Bristol after Christmas!).

Back to reading for me,



To the Library and the Sea

It’s a misty Tuesday morning in Bristol, but the sun is starting to peek out from the clouds with promise. How did November slip in so quietly? Surely, it should still be October and I should  be confusing Queen’s Road and Park Street and asking strangers on the street for directions. Have I really been here a month? I think time changes–picks up–when you’re happy and enjoying every hour in the day rather than eyeing the clock and  living in an endless stream of count downs; “Three days till Friday,” “One more week till the lake,” “Six more hours left of work.” My former habit of getting through many days and weeks, particularly when I spent most of the summer in a grey cubicle editing financial documents.

I’ve realized I enjoy the little details about life in Bristol as much as the grander things, like day trips to Wales and Oxford. I can take as much time as I like at the grocery store and get to choose whatever I like. I can go for runs in Clifton Downs without worrying about being late or having to skip my run to rush to work. I haven’t had to (as of yet!) stay up late cramming material for class the next day. I’ve never ever had this much time to myself and it’s an unfamiliar luxury.

For the next few weeks I do need to spend much more time in the Tyndall Avenue library and less time on the train, but I did enjoy a long weekend by the sea in Brighton in the company of Miss Linda Page. Linda and I met almost three years ago when both studying in Lillehammer, Norway and have kept quite close through postcards, Facebook messages and the occasional phone call. She met me on my first day here  to drop off a few kitchen utensils for me to use this year, but she had a train to catch and we had little time to catch up. A proper visit was in order. So, on Friday I left Temple Meads Station and headed south to the picturesque sea town of Brighton, the place Linda calls home when she’s not off traveling the world.

Linda was just as I remembered and it hardly seemed like three years had gone by since Norway. It’s a sweet and even exhilarating feeling to see someone who shared in on such a changing experience. We had loads to talk about, and as Linda and I walked back to the train station yesterday, we agreed that a long weekend still wasn’t enough time to cover everything.

Linda showed me her Brighton, and I was quickly charmed by the little streets peppered with cafes and all kinds of boutiques, but taking a windy Sunday afternoon walk along the chalky cliffs made me fall in love with this corner of the map.

I could hardly believe Linda grew up just across the street from this view–the idea of having the sea as a front yard couldn’t be more different than the flat farmland of Minnesota. As we walked along the cliffs, we passed a few people out walking their dogs as though it was any other day, and I wondered if I ever could get use to this sight. Linda told me the cliffs go on for nearly thirty miles, and countless travelers come to Brighton just to see them. The famous Seven Sisters, a series of cliffs, begin here and the White Cliffs of Dover were a couple hours away by car. Maybe I was so struck by the cliffs because their beauty was untamed and wild. They looked today as they did a hundred years ago.

My coffee cup is empty which means I need to get myself to the library to read some Coleridge before lecture.



Isaiah 40:12-13

“Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand,  or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket,  or weighed the mountains on the scales  and the hills in a balance? ”

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November 2011