Sunday, November 22, 2015

Christmas Time is Here [Oxford Style]

I used to be a "Christmas-After-Thanksgiving-Purist." I would adamantly say that you could not listen to Christmas music, put Christmas decorations up, or bake Christmas goodies until after Thanksgiving.

Not anymore.

Not anymore at all. 

Don't get me wrong. I love Thanksgiving. I think we should all celebrate Thanksgiving and celebrate it well. But I am not a Christmas-after-Thanksgiving purist anymore. I think my mission cured that out of me, actually. Christmas isn't as big of a deal in Ukraine, so I got rather lonesome for all of the Christmas lights, decorations, and general cheer.

So now, I am all for Christmas whenever I feel in the mood for it.

But especially when it starts getting cold.

Oxford is on my side. They celebrate Christmas early here because all of the students go home around December 12th/13th. So all of the Christmas parties have to happen earlier.

Also, Thanksgiving really isn't a big deal here (strange, I know--you'd think it was an American holiday or something). So there isn't a holiday in between Halloween and Christmas. It's just Christmas. All the time. Everywhere.

This Friday was the Oxford's "Light Up the Night" celebration. (Or something like that--I called it the Twinkle Light Celebration, but I doubt that is it's official name. Just a guess.)

I was absolutely giddy. I felt like I was 7 again. There were Christmas lights and music and parades and markets and just a beautiful feeling of excitement and cheer in the air.

[Christmas on the streets.]

[Christmas in the Palace.]

[Christmas in the hall.]

[Christmas on her head.]

[Christmas on his head.]

[Christmas on the table.]

[Christmas hedgehog on the table.]

[Christmas in the library.]

[Christmas on my face.]

[Christmas in the courtyard.]

[Christmas in our hearts.]

Christmas is everywhere. On the streets of Oxford, at Blenheim Palace, and on my playlists.

Good tidings of comfort and joy.

Red Coats and Warm Jumpers [Michaelmas 6th Week]

Like I mentioned in the previous post, 6th week at Oxford is pretty busy. But it was also a really good week for me. I had some incredible opportunities and beautiful moments.

For example, on Tuesday I went down to London to attend an APPG Committee hearing with Zhanna Nemtsova. If you don't know who she is, she is the daughter of Boris Nemtsov, a Russian dissident journalist who was killed within a stone's throw of the Kremlin earlier this year. It was an amazing experience being able to sit in on a House of Lords Committee--and it inspired me to do something with these opportunities I've been given.

Also, I got to spend an afternoon in London with some great people:

[Chris, me, and Briana, with our friend Ben behind us.]

[At the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square.]


Also, please delight in this scene as much as I did: 

[There was a man blowing bubbles--big bubbles--outside of the National Gallery. And the children flocked to him, of course. And this little boy in the red cap is chasing one of the bubbles, with a trusted, caring adult watching on. Love.]

Also, one does not simply go to London without some sight-seeing. So that's what we did. 



[The Thames.]

[I spy a London Eye.]

[Buckingham at twilight.]

[It was windy.]

I also went to some really interesting lectures at Oxford this week and I have been doing readings and just enjoying the Oxford student life. 

I've also enjoyed having visitors! 

My friend Derek came to visit the Oxford/Cambridge Open Days this week, so I got to show him around and take him to a formal hall! Derek and I both went to BYU and worked on HSAC together--and now he's living in MOSCOW of all places, just, you know, doing cool things like studying at prestigious math programs. No big deal. 

[Yay! Derek came!]

[Derek also brought the delicious Super Kontik cookies all the way from Moscow. So of course we had a Kontik Slam and it was heavenly and basically, Derek is a saint.]

Like I said, we went to a formal hall and I wore my Hermione Granger yule ball dress. Folks, I know this is super vain of me, but this is important because this dress is actually perfection. So of course I took selfies of it and made Derek take pictures of me in the Great Hall because I have a need to feel pretty. 

[Shameless Selfie. Because I'm worth it.]

[I'm telling you. Hermione Granger dress.]

[In the fancy dress with fancy food.]

Speaking of fancy, over the weekend I also went to Blenheim Palace with some friends. And I'm going to have to do another post so I can post more pictures of that place, because it is absolutely gorgeous, AND it was all decked out for Christmas. So, I wanted to move there. Obviously. 

[Bluestockings at Blenheim. It was freezing and I was losing brain cells from the cold. But in other news, I started talking to a Russian couple and they thought I was from Russia. "We immediately recognized you as Russian," they said. So that made me forget the cold for about 2 minutes.]

[Pure beauty.]

[Can I move in? Please?]

[Christmas time is here.]

[And the library. I felt like Belle from Beauty and the Beast.]

Moral of the story: Even if 6th week blues are eating your soul, there is nothing good friends, Yule Ball dresses, and trips to palaces in the Oxfordshire countryside can't cure. Oh, and hot chocolate. That, too. 

6th week in a nutshell

. . . this message may or may not have been sent by me to a friend last night: 

I feel you would appreciate this: I have to do laundry tonight, but I have no clean trousers. So what do I do to go out? I put on my Bohemian skirt, wrap my red coat around my pajama shirt, put earmuffs on, and carry my laundry bag like a deranged Santa Claus.
Also, I am purposefully delaying getting my laundry out of the dryer because it is cold outside and I don't want someone to see me in my get-up.

Yup. Welcome to 6th/7th week, people. The end is near, but it's still too soon to tell. 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

all now mysterious shall be bright at last.

Just a thought which resonates with my soul:

"I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer."

--Rainer Maria Rilke, 1903 in Letters to a Young Poet

the point is to live everything. 

live the questions now. 

be still. 

and know. 

A day in the life

. . . hello, world.

I feel like it's been awhile since I've posted anything. The last couple weeks have been really busy as I have navigated schoolwork, social events, seminars . . . and just living. The gentle chaos that encompasses the hours between sunrise and sunset.

But in case you were wondering what a typical day is like for me at Oxford/what I'm doing when I don't post on social media, here is a brief run-down:

Most mornings I exercise. When it's warmer, I like to run in one of the many meadows or parks in Oxford.

On my way to the library, I pass buildings like these: 

And gates like these: 

I honestly cannot get over how beautiful it is here. And even though it is grey, damp, and rather miserable in November, the grey stones drenched in rainwater are rather poetic. Also, I have learned to appreciate sunshine even more. And blue skies. People, blue skies are some of the most wonderful things ever to have been created. 

A lot of my day is spent in the library (specifically the Vere Harmsworth Library in the Rothermere American Institute) reading, writing, attending lectures, seminars, etc. 

[Welcome to my life.]

["Basically, IT'S COMPLICATED." Yup. That it is. Welcome to grad school.]

On the days I study at college, I make sure to swing by the MCR to catch up with the other graduates studying/hanging out there. And of course I grab a biscuit. And say hi to Eve, our stuffed pelican mascot. 

[Oh haiiii, Eve.]

Part of being at Oxford means that there are many formal and informal social events. So I am usually doing something with old or new friends every day. Sometimes that means impromptu coffee shop runs (giving me opportunities to find the best hot chocolate in Oxford). Other times those social events are boat races, service projects, lunch dates, G&D ice cream runs, afternoon tea, or just deciding on a whim to climb a tower to see a view of Oxford. 

Oxford is certainly a crossroads which attracts people from all walks of life. And those interactions are what make my time here the sweetest and most fulfilling. 

[Afternoon tea with my lovely roommates, Mimi and Tianmin]

[Mariana and I look good in purple.]

[The climb is worth the view. And the awkward selfie--on my part, anyway. Dani looks great.]

[Just another late-night adventure with the ever-wonderful Miss Briana and Miss Dani. 
AKA Bluestockings take G&D's.]

Man, I'm feeling like the end of a Monty Python sketch. I can't figure out a good way to end this blog post. So maybe I'll just leave it with the assurance that life continues in Oxford, much how it always has. There is a lot of studying, playing, scheming, dreaming, wishing, praying, and history being made in this city of dreaming spires.

Pretty cool that Oxford's story gets to be part of mine.


In a place like Oxford, history is quite literally written on the walls.

"Here in 1653, Robert Hooke discovered cell structure."

"Novelist Thomas Hardy wrote Jude the Obscure in this pub."

"In this spot in 1556, Thomas Cranmer was burned at the stake for refusing to recant."

The proximity of the past is humbling.

Sometimes it is suffocating.

This Wednesday (November 11th) marked Armistice Day. I participated in remembrance ceremonies throughout the day, but none moved me so much as my college's simple Remembrance Day commemoration.

We stood in the quad as the chaplain read words of comfort, promise, and commitment:

". . . they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; 
nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; 
but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, 
and no one shall make them afraid." (Micah 4) 

"They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember them."

As the chaplain continued with her words, and as the two minutes of silence followed, I looked around the quad at the faces--young and old--who had come to pay respect. I was overwhelmed with the realization that one hundred years ago, the young man standing next to me as well as the ones across from me would have most likely been in a trench in France . . . and I would have been left behind. Perhaps I would have followed a brother, a lover, a husband into battle as a nurse. But all the same, someone I loved would have left me for the war.

And it is likely that he would not have come back. And if he had, neither of us would have been the same.

Corpus Christi suffered the highest proportion of casualties in the Great War out of all of the Oxford colleges. For such a small college, so many never came back. It is sobering. Lives and generations lost.

"The war to end all wars" did not lead to that at all. Quite the contrary. We still fight battles today. And we mourn with those who mourn. We--the ones left behind--weep. We grieve. And we strive for peace.

Neither shall they learn war any more. That is the hope, isn't it? That someday, there will be a generation that has no blood lust, no thirst for revenge. Where children can grow, live, and sleep in peace.

And on Wednesday, I felt my heart turn towards those whose stories ended short. For songs never sung. For discoveries never made. For children never born.

Every life has more reach than we can imagine.

Remembering does not glorify war. Instead, it reminds us of our duty to publish peace and to build: build bridges, understanding, and hope.

We remember those who gave their tomorrows so we can have our today . . . what are we doing with that today?

That is what I asked myself on Wednesday, wearing a poppy-red coat and my heart on my sleeve.

We will remember them.