3. Settling In

2018.07.20  Today my mission was to learn my way around Central Oxford and to enjoy this lovely hotel. I have two more days here before moving to the austerity of a college dorm.  First up was breakfast in the hotel dining room. The phrase “Full English Breakfast” on the menu caught my eye and I thought perhaps I should try it – for the experience.  Then I read the description:  pork sausage, cured back bacon, black pudding, grilled plum tomatoes, flat cap mushrooms, potato fritter, baked beans, and free range eggs.

I found an image of a Full English Breakfast that matches this description.  Looks a bit heavy to me.

Full English Breakfast

So I opted for the sausage roll instead.

Sausage Roll


It was quite good.  You Baylor and Waco people may notice that it is quite similar to my usual order at Vitek’s.  Except it came with Grey Poupon instead of BBQ sauce and cost three times more.  Sweet tea?  Nope!

Next task was to slay the geography dragon.  New plan.  Download step by step directions instead of trying to follow the interactive map, and use a compass app.  BINGO!

I found Exeter College easily. It’s across the street from Jesus College and next door to Lincoln College. All Souls College is around the corner while The Queen’s College is a couple of blocks away.  These are thirty-three more, and all of them comprise The University of Oxford.  Each one I have seen so far consists of a green completely enclosed by walls and buildings with several points of entry through very large and in some cases unmarked gates.  Exeter College is built around such a green.  Sadly it’s not very green.  I’m including a stock internet image alongside one I took yesterday.

Exeter College                    Exeter College Live

Internet stock photo.                                                      Actual photo today

I repeat.  Hottest, driest summer in 100 years.  Hmmmmmmm.

Across the street from Exeter is Blackwell’s Bookstore.  It’s imposing, beautiful, and must have most of the books in the world worth reading.  It’s most impressive feature, though, is its staff.  I showed one of them my reading list, from which I wanted to select three books. He knew them all and had read all but one.  (Sara Howard, one of them was The Periodic Table!)


Blackwell’s Booksellers

After the bookstore adventure I enjoyed some time at the hotel spa.  I rarely indulge in spa treatments.  However, after the physical and emotional strain of packing up the house my family has lived in for the last eighteen years and moving to a new one (which immediately preceded my departure for England) I decided some pampering was in order.  Then it was time for tea.  I opted for the celebration menu.





2. Getting to Oxford

2018.07.19   The flight across the pond was uneventful and comfortable.  The only problem was that it was too short.  I emptied my frequent flyer account for a First Class ticket — but got just six hours of pampering!  I noticed that the flight tracker showed a tail wind of 85 miles per hour.  Maybe a head wind of similar force on the trip home will allow me, and more importantly, Annie (who will be with me and loves her luxury) an extra hour or two to marinate in Delta One.

We deplaned onto a tarmac and were directed under very watchful eyes to a waiting “coach” (there are no busses here) for transport to the border checkpoint.  The immigration hall was massive and the queues (there are no lines here) seemed endless. But thanks to my “fast pass”, compliments of Delta, I was soon able to present my passport, landing declaration, and a letter from Oxford requesting that I be granted a short term student visa.

The officer asked what I would be studying and I replied, “creative writing”.

“So you are a writer then?”

“I hope to be.”

He frowned. “But you state here that you are a financial manager.” I gulped, picturing a long afternoon at a small wooden table in a room without windows. (JK – I just really wanted to write that.)

I looked up and his eyes were kind and twinkling.  “I believe you meant to say you are a writer.”  He edited my landing declaration accordingly, stamped it and my passport with one of those satisfying THUNKS, and sent me on my way.  Officer Harris, you made my day!

The toughest part of the trip was managing my luggage the rest of the way to Oxford.  I knew I was overpacking but I did it anyway.  Can anyone out there say Amen? I struggled at first but finally managed to find a configuration that, while difficult and awkward, at least kept me from making a complete spectacle of myself.

Bus to Oxford

Finding the right bus was easy and the ride was pleasant.  The one sad surprise was how parched the ground is.  The rolling green meadows I anticipated were yellow and brown.  The hottest, driest summer in 100 years.  Hmmmmmmm.

When the bus arrived at the Gloucester Green Station, my GPS said the Randolph Hotel was just 600 feet away.  Well it took me nearly an hour (with my luggage challenge now exacerbated by crowded sidewalks and cobblestone streets) to find it.  The streets run in all directions, their names change every couple of blocks and signs are scarce.  Then. Finally. The promised land!
Randolph Hotel

The Randolph Hotel

The rest of the day was easy.  Long nap.  A walk, plate of Asian noodles with a beer, a Benadryl and ten hours of sleep.  Cheerio!









1. The Journey Begins



 2018.07.19  I’m on my way to England. England!  The England of Arthur, Merlin, Chaucer and Shakespeare.  And Austen, Dickens, Eliot, Orwell, Tolkien, and C.S. Lewis.  And the woman I first admired when I read her biography in third grade, Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II.  And corgis.


My beloved corgi, Charlie.

I’m going to England to study creative writing at Exeter College, Oxford University.  Oxford! But a word of disclosure is in order. I won’t be wearing a robe to class. The smart people at Oxford know their brand is stellar. And stellar sells. So, without compromising their impeccable standards for degree-seeking students they extend a warm welcome each summer to lovers of learning from all over the world — those who can meet their somewhat relaxed standards for lesser beings and are willing to pay a handsome fee to take classes at the mother of all Ivy League schools.  Having said that, and humility aside, we are  told that these standards are actually quite high and although summer school students cannot earn Oxford credit, many participants are earning credit at their home institutions. The rest of us will earn a Certificate of Completion, get priceless commentary on our work, and enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime- experience.  I, for one, will also bring home a Oxford sweatshirt. I’m thinking it would be totally uncool to wear it here but I will wear it with great pride, even if it’s just around the house, when I get home.

Another disclosure is in order.  This trip came out of an unwanted and deeply painful rerouting of my life journey. For the first time in 32 years, I am not wearing my wedding ring. The last ten months have felt like a walk through the valley of the shadow of death. But this terrible time has not been without blessings.  I have felt the peace of Christ as never before.  My family and friends have gifted me with prayer, compassion, and love in a way that brings me to my knees with humility and thanks. My children have shown courage, faith, honesty, and fairness in a way that makes me so proud. And I should give Jay some measure of thanks for his efforts to try to ease this difficult transition.

So what’s next? For the first thirty-two years of my life, I was single, driven and ambitious.  I enjoyed academic and professional success, along with a good bit of recognition, but always hungered for more.  The second thirty-two years brought marriage and my precious daughters – and the strong conviction that my calling in life was to be an all-in wife and mother, friend and volunteer. I grew in my faith, learned to love generously and give sacrificially, and almost always placed the needs of others ahead of my own.

In the next chapter, I hope to apply the lessons learned from my mistakes in the first two, and to build on so much that was right and good. I have come to the realization that peace and happiness have far less to do with circumstances than on the lens through which we see the world. I believe they can be found in the words of Micah 6:8. Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.

I pray that the best is yet to come.  Chapter Three.  Let the journey begin!

Exeter College

Exeter College, The University of Oxford