Banana Pancakes & the Olympic Torch

Sun is streaming through my window, I’ve changed back into my pajamas and have a hot cup of tea and orange slices beside me (the pancakes are already in my tummy). No complaints on this side of the Atlantic. It’s a beautiful morning–one too good to sleep away even after only getting a few hours sleep. Earlier this morning I met Caro and Jennifer in Clifton Village to watch the Olympic torch pass over the Suspension Bridge and it was just–fun. Groups of school children were there waving their ‘Union Jacks’ while BBC Bristol filmed the excitement of this ‘historic’ moment. With the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee less than two weeks away, the Village shops had changed their window displays to picnic baskets complete with tea things, streams of more British flags hung in the doorways, and pictures of the Queen (on plates, books, postcards, shirts) were readily available.  As Caro would say, “I quite like British culture.”

The Olympic torch crosses the Clifton Suspension Bridge.

Yesterday was the ‘dissertation symposium’ where I, along with the other English MAs, presented my dissertation proposal to several of my professors to get an idea of the validity and strength of my topic (the consensus: I have a ‘rich’ topic, but no argument (yet)). And with that, the academic year was officially over. My routine of reading and ‘learning’ won’t really change all that much as this dissertation needs to get done somehow, but it was odd to finally arrive at the last official date on my calendar. The year is winding to a close and though I’m here for another month, I keep wondering how it suddenly passed so quickly. Some months didn’t pass by quickly at all. Strings of days were punctuated only with trips to the library and cups of coffee, but time is sneaky. I’m convinced that the more I’m enjoying myself, that faster it goes.  I visited Cambridge last Saturday (gorgeous city–photos to follow), and among the ancient, particularly by American standards, colleges and chapels the new clock Corpus Christi Clock seemed evocatively out of place. On our tour we learned the clock was installed in 2008 with the purpose of emphasizing the relativity of time. And I’m beginning to see the point. How can the same measurement of hours and minutes pass with aching slowness in the grey walls of my former cubicle, and here, melt away without even eyeing the clock? The universal question.

I, for one, need to use the hours of this next week to read four unfamiliar Hardy novels and develop my dissertation topic into an argument. But please, reader, don’t hold your breath in edge-of-your-seat suspense (as I know you all are). It will get done.




Exploring Gloucester

Three days ago, on a rainy Monday morning, I left Bristol by train to explore the south-west city of Gloucester. Stepping off the platform, I was greeted by my cousin and dear friend, Leah, and her darling goddaughter, Lily. Leah graduated from Redcliffe College in Gloucester four years ago, and inevitably, this city holds a special place in her heart and, fortunately for me, it meant being shown around  by someone who knew the city inside and out.

After a solid twelve-days of nonstop essay-writing, getting out of Bristol and my flat for a full day of wandering seemed just the thing, and the city exceeded my expectations. Gloucester was charming–picturesque and very English. Bristol isn’t really a big city (at least by American standards), but escaping to smaller, slower-paced cities is always a treat.

The Beatrix Potter Shop

We began the day exploring the small and pretty campus of Redcliffe College, and after hearing so much about this place so pivotal in Leah’s life,  I could understand firsthand why she loves it dearly. We then wandered to the little Beatrix Potter shop–made famous as being the setting and inspiration for the Beatrix Potter story “The Tailor of Gloucester”–which, I learned, was Potter’s favorite of her stories. It’s always a delicious feeling to literally stand in the footsteps of writers I’ve so long admired.

Just beyond the shop was the stunning Gloucester Cathedral dating back to 681!  I’ve been blessed to see many awe-inspiring cathedrals, but I’d never seen cloisters and corridors as stunning as these (no wonder three of the Harry Potter movies were filmed here). Growing up in Minnesota culture where what is ‘basic and functional’ rules over extravagance and detail, the beauty of the Cathedral was overwhelming.  For the first time, I could understand the motivation behind these painstakingly-ornate Cathedrals as surrounded by inspiring-beauty, God felt closer.

The cloisters

The history and age of England still hasn’t lost its allure for me, and I’m realizing yet again that even nearly a year here is not enough time to take in all the wonder–the castles, the cathedrals, the tea shoppes, the cliffs of Cornwall, the green hills of Devon, the beauty of the Lake District, the charm of the Cotswolds–and I still haven’t been up North!

Today was my last day of class and to celebrate, our professor, Ralph, brought white wine and cloudy lemonade to class, and we leisurely discussed British poetry for an hour. My final essays were turned in six days ago and now, all that stands between getting my degree, is a little dissertation. Time has moved fast and slow here, but lately, it’s swept by much too quickly…the thought of leaving is a bittersweet one, but lo! no need to think of that yet.

It’s so much easier to put Mary Oliver’s words into practice, for some reason, away from home:

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



The Engagement

I have truly terrible about updates this past month, but for have good reason! First of all, my final MA essays were due  this past Friday, and miraculously, I got them done: all 12,000 words of ’em. Needless to say, I never want to read anything to do with Ann Radcliffe again. Thomas Hardy, however, is quite another story, and from studying Hardy and Impressionism, I believe I’ve found my dissertation topic. O, the relief!

But for my favorite news of all: there is a yellow-gold solitaire on my ring finger and on October 27th of this year, I will be marrying my best friend. In between the rush of essay-writing and lectures, Brady flew into London and after meeting him at Heathrow, we took the train back into Bristol. That night after a relaxed dinner at The Lido, Brady took my hand and we began strolling through Clifton Village. After sheets of rain all day, the sky had suddenly stopped crying  and the moon had just come up and in the dusky twilight, we reached the Clifton Suspension Bridge. There wasn’t a place in the world I’d rather have been at that moment, and when Brady got down on one knee and said, “Will you marry me?” I could only nod and say, “Yeah.”

A couple days later, Brady was on a plane back to Minnesota and I was left with two essays to finish,  but it’s hard to complain about essay-writing when it gave me an excuse to admire the ring as my fingers tapped the keyboard.

Brady et moi

This being engaged feels wonderfully surreal, but now back to dissertation research: more soon.


The Orchard on Fire

Just finished Shena Mackay’s “The Orchard on Fire,” a bittersweet and beautifully-writ account of two little girls growing up in 1950s England. Had I not been living in England myself, I wouldn’t have understood half of the English references, but I did, and it’s somehow a funny sensation. Almost as though I know too much now, and there’s no going back. After finishing my MA, I’ll return to the States and Minnesota culture and will no longer be surrounded by West Country accents, Georgian architecture, tea shoppes and pubs. Thankfully, I’ll have pictures and memories and maybe a couple future visits to look forward to, but this experience will have largely stopped. For all my trying I can’t recreate it and that will be that. Hmmm…Mackay has me feeling all melancholy! I guess the only remedy is to make the most of the remaining months. Press it all into memory like a bouquet of pressed flowers.

Yesterday I attended the day-long “Penguin Poetry & The 1960s” conference at the stunning Wills Memorial. Can’t say I knew much of modern poetry before going, or that I suddenly understand poetry after shaking the hand of A. Alvarez (such a lovely man!), but it has me interested and honestly excited to try and “get it.” Listening to Alvarez, a poetry giant for those of you unfamiliar, talk of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath by their first names and relating stories of his friendship with the couple was, for lack of a better word, surreal.  Even someone who has never read a poem by Plath knows who she is. Plath has become a part of our cultural psyche, and it’s easy to forget she was a breathing, living person.

Alvarez said the difference between prose and poetry is that “a poem has to be perfect.” If it’s not, you know it. You can’t stop rearranging, crossing out and crumbling words till it’s right. Whole. Exact. And I think he is absolutely right. Finding the exact words in a world of speed and convenience and finite time takes a discipline most of us don’t have. Or don’t try to have.  Hmmm…just something I’ve been thinking about.

I’ve also been feeling a bit guilty about leaving Bristol for three weeks on Thursday for a bit of traveling (Paris-Nice-Monaco-Venice-Florence-Pisa-Goteborg). Surely this should be someone else’s life! I don’t know why God has been so good to me.

Alright! Back to studying up on T. Hardy.



Springtime in Bristol

The grass is somehow greener, the cherry blossoms are out, and the days are becoming deliciously longer; an English spring has arrived and I couldn’t be more ready. As you might tell from my lapse of posts, this term has been a manic one, but the end is in sight.  ‘Spring break’ begins in less than two weeks, and with it, two weeks of travel (Paris-Nice-Monaco-Venice-Florence-Goteborg-Finland(?)). Though 12,000 words are due at the end of the break, surely two weeks of new sights, tastes and sounds will invigorate my lately tired mind.  At least I’m hoping!

I sometimes wonder where all my time goes here in Bristol, and then look up at my bookshelf and quickly remember. The past month has slipped away reading: Mansfield Park, The Woodlanders, Rural Rides, Frankenstein, The Confessions, The Italian, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Jude the Obscure, Silas Marner, Cousin Phillis, Wuthering Heights, Thomas Hardy: The Guarded Life (written by none other than my professor Ralph Pite!), and a smattering of Coleridge, Byron, Wordsworth, Dickens, Eliot, and James. I still derive some small sense of accomplishment from reading that blessed last page, but somehow, that feeling diminishes when I think of how many first pages I’ve still yet to open…

The idyllic cottage of Anne Hathaway

And really, that has been my life these last few weeks–save a day trip to Stratford-on-Avon which promptly caused me to fall in love with England all over again. That places like Anne Hathaway’s cottage really exist is enough to keep going I suppose. And fortunately, several of the above mentioned books I’ve read before. And it’s been funny to realize that as much as my tastes have changed in other areas, my taste in books has remained about the same. Rediscovering my love of Hardy has been the biggest treat, and when I’m not reading for class, I’ve started researching Impressionism for an upcoming essay…

I have much to be grateful for indeed.

Cheers, Em


Espresso and Dickens

I was woken up early this morning to the sound of drilling mixed with mumbled British accents outside my window and have just said goodnight to a pair of British maintenance men who came to repair my broken fire alarm. I can’t decide if this counts as an unusual or a very typical day.

Unable to read amidst the cacophony of drills, harsh mutters and a beeping fire alarm, I threw on clothes and crossed the street to Rosemarino’s, a little Italian café I’ve been wanting to try since moving next door.  A good looking British-Italian boy took my order for an espresso and eggs royale, and it proved more than worth leaving my cozy bed for. Sometimes I feel my days revolve largely around finding new study corners.

The problem becomes footing my coffee bill. Starbucks is only a fifteen minute walk from mine and for £1.50 I can have actual filter coffee in a grande (if I bring in my own tumbler). I if I choose a café in Clifton Village, they’re almost always quieter, but the coffee is more expensive and usually comes only in pretty, but tiny cups (why I do need so much coffee to get through the day?). So, lots of time I make my own French press and head to the graduate school to study, but it’s cold there and people are always shushing you. But then, if I opt to stay in my room I inevitably get distracted and the books stay on the shelf. This marks the current struggle of my life. As difficult as it is, I somehow cope.

Today it was a rota of Rosemarino’s, the Manor Hall library and my flat. Tomorrow I have class all day and Friday’s study locations are yet unknown. Thus follows the excitement of completing my MA.

No more traveling for me for quite some time now as I finish my last two months of classes, and with them, final essays and my dissertation. I’m so thankful to have met such amazing women in my program. It hit me this week especially that I could not do this alone. When the reading lists are literally endless and the course so unstructured, it makes all the difference crying and laughing over it all with kindred spirits.

And now to finish Wilkie Collin’s ‘John Jago’s Ghost,’



Two Minutes Before Midnight

It’s two minutes before midnight, and Maddy and I have just returned from The Clifton, a cosy pub just down the hill and around the corner from my flat. Molly, my Chinese flatmate whose dream is to marry an Australian and live on the Brisbane beach, joined us and over a few pints, we enjoyed the evening.

It’s probably only because I’m in a new country that my eyes notice people and details in ways I wouldn’t at home. Like the thin man sitting at the table opposite ours, reading the newspaper, sipping a pint of dark ale, and eating a bag of crisps as though it was eight am in the morning, the ale a coffee and the crisps a croissant. The noise of conversations and music filled the room, but he just sat quiet, reading the newspaper as though you could hear a pin drop.

I like the energy of Bristol. I like that from the moment I wake up and cross Queen’s on my way to the library to the moment I hit the pillow, something is happening. Cyclists are breezing down the street, girls in boots are busybusy with someplace to be, and lights are always on in the pubs. The other morning, Maddy and I went to Wetherspoon’s for a stack of pancakes and sausages (all for only £ 2.20), and men were crowded round the bar sipping pints as though it was eleven o’clock at night. Rule #1 about Bristol: it’s never too early or too late for a cider. Rule #2 about Bristol: Don’t order anything other than a cider.

Another thing about Bristol is that grocery stores, be it Tesco’s, Sainsbury’s, or Waitrose, are always busy. To the point of queues (lines!) being a normal feature. Dairy products, bread–almost everything–have fewer preservatives, and thus shorter expiration dates, but the more frequent trips to Sainsbury’s are worth it. The little 49p baguettes are almost always warm, and the milk and yogurt taste fresher. I certainly spend more time preparing meals here, and though I’ve always enjoyed cooking, I enjoy it especially here. When I’m not traveling, my days revolve around reading lists and finding necessary books, and sometimes deciding what to have for dinner feels more exciting than it should. A point of variety. And it’s rewarding, that no matter how many chapters I have left, I can at least do something from start to finish. That’s probably why baking and cooking have always been fun for me; every other detail of my life can be messy and incomplete, but in following a recipe you commit to completion. Otherwise you can’t have your cake. And I, at least, can’t enjoy my cake unless the mixing bowls and spoons are cleaned and put away. Hmmm. I have a feeling I might be baking quite a bit this term. Let’s just hope I’m not the only one eating everything…

To sleep!


Leaving my heart in Cornwall

It’s the start of a new month–a brand spanking new month–and I haven’t missed it yet. Haven’t yet sped ahead to next week, or my (hopefully) upcoming week in Paris.  Being back in Bristol has, in some ways, been harder than I expected. In my month home in Minnesota, I became a little too comfortable. Fell back too easily into the routine of having a car, having my currency back (“what! everything seems free in America”), my family near and boyfriend close. And every night when I fall asleep, be it on the extra mattress in Maria’s room or the couch (upstairs or downstairs tonight?) or retreating to the quiet of Brady’s parents, I had a small puppy sleeping at my feet. I had a different sort of variety at home than I have in Bristol, and I’m coming to appreciate the chaos of eight siblings (Maria, Luke, Joey, Gina, Drew, Jackson, Natalie and Brigette), one adorable niece and even James and Avery (my mom’s daycare charges) more than I thought possible. I guess a bout of homesickness is one way to keep me in the present, whether good or bad. I constantly had people around me at home, and leaving a house of twelve to return to my room of one has been a process.  I shouldn’t even be complaining because my close friend, Maddy, is here visiting from Minnesota and in these last almost two weeks, we’ve had more adventure than some people might experience in a year.

I met Maddy in London to kick off our English ramblings, and it was my third time there. In my past couple visits, London seemed as huge and unfamiliar as ever, but this last time, I knew where I was going. I remembered which tube stops to take. I had a sense of direction, which is rare to me (!), and I enjoyed London so much more because of it.

Cream Tea in Devon

After a couple days in Bristol, we took a day trip to Exeter, Devon, and were quickly enchanted by the beauty of the rolling green hills and charm of the place. Maddy had her first proper cream tea, and I felt I had somehow ‘done my job’ as  Iwatched her love for England grow. Something that never fails to interest me about England is that each place I visit is steeped in history.  In Exeter, we took in the world’s oldest medieval cathedral and accidentally stumbled on the execution site of the ‘Devon Witches,’ the last women executed for witchcraft in England. The manager of the café even left his post once we finished tea to show us Exeter’s vaults–underground passageways built by the Romans. America does start feeling like a baby in comparison to England’s wrinkle lines.

We spent the next day in Bath in the unrelenting rain, and the city seemed a bit smaller than how I remembered it from October–not in a bad way at all, but in a cosy, familiar way.  I still couldn’t get over the romance of people who live in this city today alive with the architectural feats of the eighteenth century.

We left bright and early the next morning for Plymouth. After hearing mixed reviews about this town on coast, the immense beauty of the place took me by surprise. The previous post was my time to swoon about this! Also wanting to show Maddy Cornwall (and wanting to see it for myself), we left from Plymouth on Saturday to spend the day in Falmouth, Cornwall, a little sea village I hoped would be worthwhile.

Again, my expectations seemed impossibly small as we walked from the train station to the long stretch of cliffs down to the  stunning coastline. The sun was at last out (it’s normal to go days and days without sunshine) glittering over the water so strongly I had to look away. Feeling tired and stiff from constant traveling, the view made any crustiness on my part entirely out of place and obsolete. A young couple was chasing their daughter and black Labrador puppy across the beach, and a couple of old men (no doubt the best Grandpas) stood talking it over while their dogs, a standard poodle and this scrappy little mix, wrestled in the sand. To be part of this scene, so alive with beauty and energy, hit me again of how blessed I am to be  experiencing this dream.

Falmouth Beach

Across the road from the beach was Falmouth’s harbor and a string of pubs, cafés, and a disproportionate number of pasty shops. We chose a corner table by the window in one of the cafés, and I ordered a Cornish heavy cake (as bad for me as it sounds) and an espresso. Maddy ate a panini, and we looked out the window at the people walking by and needed to pinch ourselves. We then walked across the little road to take in the harbor. Often, pictures can’t capture a scene, but this one did.

The Harbor

The colors–the contrasting blues, the yellows and reds of the sailboats, seemed deliciously out of  place for the end of January, and as different from white and grey Minnesota winters as could be. I love how much diversity of climate and sights are contained in this relatively small island.

It’s a dream of mine to live by the water someday, even if it’s a lake or river, but if I can’t, pictures of Falmouth will tide me over.



We go to Devon

There’s many things I’d like to write about–experiencing the Eucharist at St. Paul’s Cathedral underneath the golden domes, laughing till I cried at “The 39 Steps” on West End (surely laughter can cure all), stealing away with Madison and Genevieve to explore Exeter–but writing, like any passion, takes time and commitment, and lately, I haven’t had much of either. With classes starting up on Monday, intimidating new reading lists, phone calls to make,  and a string of golden day trips to introduce my friend, Maddy, to England, hours slip out of grasp and I begin feeling uprooted from Bristol and far from home.

Perhaps that is why I was struck deeply by the view of Plymouth’s Sound tonight. Maddy and I left Bristol bright and early to spend the weekend along England’s coastline in Devon, and after checking into our room, we didn’t feel like doing much of anything. But we decided to stroll down to The Hoe. We didn’t speak at all as we drank in the view. The beauty of England was in full glory as the sun slowly fell into the sea and the vivid green hills turned dark. The clouds stretched over the water and hills, ever morphing into intangible outlines.  If a view can be sublime, this certainly was.

We walked closer to the shoreline, rain soaking our hair and dripping down our skin, till we walked into a little restaurant not even a stone throw from the water. After a glass of wine and pint of cider, we began to feel warm and turned our attention again to the view. After hearing mixed reviews of Plymouth from my British friends, I stepped off the train with lowered expectations, but the view of the water, rocky cliffs, and rising green hills, quickly changed this city into the most beautiful place in England. At least for me. I felt as if I’d suddenly fallen down a rabbit hole of some sort. Could this be so close to Bristol and yet feel so utterly removed? The night didn’t need to get better, but it did. Maddy and I visited with a friendly ‘Plymouthian’ woman who insisted who go out on the town tomorrow, ‘You pair go out and have a right laugh down at The Barbican.’ I needed to pinch myself when she left the restaurant and her Scottish boyfriend walked over to say goodbye to us and said, ‘I love the sea and I love her very much.’

It made me miss Brady more than words, but at that moment, I wouldn’t be anywhere else.

Exploring Cornwall in the morning.

More soon,


Back in Bristol

After over twenty hours of travel time (Minneapolis-Newark-Brussels-BRISTOL!) and zero winks of sleep, I’m back in the lands of pounds and pence, rolling green hills, driving on the wrong side of the road, battered sausages and endless walking. I’m home in Bristol feeling slightly exhausted and lightheaded, but nestled safely in Clifton  nonetheless.

The journey back easily counts as one of the most interesting. Brady, needing to get his Subaru repainted after it was egged by bored fifteen-year-olds, had me follow him to the body shop in his roommate’s car. I followed him to the shop in Bloomington, and I hopped into the passenger seat and he took over the wheel. So far so good. We were on our merry way when less than a mile from the airport, Roller’s car began stalling.

“Brady! What’s wrong?” I was flying Lufthansa for the first time and needed some extra time at the airport.

“We’re out of gas.”

Fortunately, God allowed us to be right next to the Radission  Hotel, and just as we walked into the lobby, an airport shuttle was approaching. Needless to say, it was the most romantic send-off of my young life (do you catch my use of irony?).

Best bit of being home::this guy

Though I felt ready to return to Bristol and into the usual rhythm of my life here, leaving home is never easy. Especially when a girl has a little Scottie named Audrey and a handsome boyfriend who cooks her dinner and organizes her suitcase. I’m very thankful I was able to spend almost a month in Minnesota, and even though it wasn’t a white Christmas (there’s a first time for everything), I loved being home around the tree with Maria, Luke, Joey, Gina, Drewby, Jackson, Nani, Gigi and baby Sophie all the same.

Big Joe asleep with the little girls

A scattered and incomplete list of highlights from being home include: making gingerbread houses with my girls (“Hope, why does yours look like a cardboard box?”), squeezing in a few dates with Mr. Johnson, TJMAXX (need I say more?  Yes, I did have my share of Becky Bloomwood moments), the luxury of driving on the rightside of the road and not walking absolutely everywhere, long walks with Audrey around Fargo and Minneapolis (goodness, I miss that one), Moxie Java coffee compliments of my girl Amee, conversations with Bridgette and Natalie (‘Emwee, what you do-do?’), study dates at the cosy Hilton (thank you, Momo), the Johnson residence, and Ikea; baking in a proper kitchen (with ingredients already stocked!), a New Year’s Eve kiss…I’m very grateful.

And now, to excite myself about returning to Bristol, a list of reasons why it’s good to be ‘home:’

-Cream Tea (this alone actually does it!)

-Bright green grass to mess up my new Puma running shoes

-My sweet fellow MA friends

-Returning to my favorite coffee shops

-A new term with new classes and new reading lists

-Ralph Pite (my Johnny Depp-esque professor for Victorian fiction)

-Chips and cider

-Upcoming trips around the UK and Europe with Maddy, Jess, Brady, Lisi Bumba and Maria

-My baby French press missed me.

-Cabot Circus (even if it’s just to window shop)

-Beginning a new year in a different country

-Handing in the essays which consumed most of my time at home!

And now to hibernate like a baby polar bear (at least until eight am when I must get to the library or die!).



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