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red leaves blue sky autumn

Autumn was his favourite time of year, not simply for its changing colours but for the crispness in the air and the sharpness of the light. As the leaves fell the landscape revealed itself, like a painting being cleaned or a building being renewed. He could see the underlying shape of things. This was what he wanted, he decided: moments of clarity and silence.

—James Runcie, Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death

This is the time of crisp, cloud-edged mornings and golden afternoons, of apple cider at the farmers’ market and velvet twilights falling all too soon after work. Harvard Yard is a welter of green and gold, and the small, brave maple trees that always turn first have already flamed out in crimson and then lost most of their leaves.

Across the Yard, there’s a golden tree I love to sit under. For now, it’s still warm enough to bask in the dappled sunshine, wearing a coat but not shivering – yet.

golden tree harvard yard fall

Some still-green leaves, edged with brown, are made beautiful by a trick of the light: they glow gold when the afternoon sun shines through them.

green gold leaves light autumn

I love autumn even while I dread winter: I do not look forward to the too-short days, biting winds and heavy snow that turns into gray slush. But I love this ripening time, the spires of Cambridge standing out in sharp relief against the deep, deep, infinitely blue skies.

cambridge first parish blue sky autumn

As often as I can, I steal away from the computer, with its stacks of emails and insistent to-dos, and walk among the trees, turning my face up to the light.

harvard yellow leaves houghton library

As the leaves fall, I will watch, like Sidney Chambers above, for the slow revelation of the clean lines of buildings and bare branches. Late autumn has its own spare, muted beauty – though, for now, I am glorying in every vivid leaf and streak of golden light.

Oxford: favorite places

radcliffe camera st mary's tower oxford

In case you hadn’t figured it out by now, the entire city of Oxford is my favorite place – the place I want to get back to, all the time. But certain corners of it are particularly dear to me, and during my week in Oxford, I was able to visit several of them.

north parade avenue oxford

North Parade Avenue (above) is just a step from the house where I was staying. It contains a couple of pubs, a creperie, a small convenience store (run by two friendly Middle Eastern men), and On the Hoof – my favorite sandwich shop in the world.

 

on the hoof interior oxford

Debbie, the owner, has run the shop for 17 years, and she remembers hundreds of students who have passed through. The shop’s cheery camaraderie and its sandwiches (my favorites include the Sexy Brazilian, Tom’s Le Club and a bacon-and-egg baguette), are equally wonderful.

A couple of blocks away, University Parks offers walking trails, velvety green lawns (for playing cricket or football or tossing a Frisbee), a few ducks, and many beautiful trees.

university parks oxford

On my last morning in Oxford, I took a long walk in the Parks with Laura and her family, plus Jacque and baby Matilda. We strolled through the dappled sunshine and talked of “cabbages and kings.” It was delightful.

jacque laura ja uni parks

The center of Oxford is full of beautiful colleges, but Radcliffe Square is the heart of it all.

katie radcliffe camera oxford

Surrounded on all four sides by university buildings, this cobblestoned square is full of enchantment.

radcliffe square dusk oxford

I made it a point to pass through as often as possible.

cobblestones oxford silver flats

The University Church of St Mary the Virgin stands on the south side of Radcliffe Square, tall and proud. I’ve climbed its tower many times, but I always love to climb it again and take in the four views of the city, spread at my feet.

view st marys church oxford west side

Laura was my companion that day – it was her first climb.

laura st mary's tower oxford

I can’t visit Oxford without a browse in Blackwell’s, so Jacque and I popped in one afternoon.

blackwells bookshop oxford

I came away with three books: a delightful YA mystery, a grown-up mystery set in Cambridge, and a Tolkien Christmas book that I’m saving for December. I also found this gem:

oxford calling postcard phone box

It’s a wooden postcard and it is just perfect. I had to bring it home with me.

Down Queen’s Lane, just down from Radcliffe Square, sits Queen’s Lane Coffee House, which serves a delectable cream tea.

queens lane cream tea oxford

I came here on a Sunday afternoon for some tea and solitude, sitting at my favorite table in the front window, with its view down the High Street. I sipped tea and scribbled in my journal, and savored every last bite of my scones with jam and clotted cream.

For my last meal in Oxford (for now), we girls (Jacque, Laura and their daughters) headed to the Jericho Cafe. They serve yummy soups, sandwiches and heartier dishes, though eight-year-old Molly was content with a basket of French fries.

jericho cafe sign oxford

After lunch, Laura had to go teach a class, but Jacque and I took the girls to another favorite spot: G&D’s.

katie ice cream g&d's oxford

I couldn’t leave without a scoop of ice cream from this Oxford institution (I’d already had a bagel sandwich, earlier in the week). My Dime Bar Crunch was delectable. (Molly, who got the same flavor, agreed.)

girls ice cream g&d's

“When are you going to go back again?” a friend asked, soon after I got home. My answer?

bridge of sighs twilight oxford

“As soon as possible.”

one day hh balloons

On Wednesday I posted a total of 21 photos to Instagram.

That’s way more than I’d usually post in a single day, lest I alienate every one of the folks who see my photos – except perhaps my mother. (Though even she would probably tell me to give it a rest.) But I was participating in Laura’s annual #OneDayHH project.

Laura’s point is that we often share the pretty details of our days on Instagram – the new haircut, the fabulous shoes, the fun night out with friends. But we don’t often snap and share the mundane stuff: the commute, the sinkful of dirty dishes, the to-do list. These details are just as much a part of our lives as the exciting or lovely things. So #OneDayHH is a chance to share all of it – the good, the frustrating, the quotidian.

I confess I didn’t snap every detail of my day – the search for a missing FedEx package, the moment when my umbrella turned inside out (impossible to photograph, for several reasons), the mad dash to bring my patio plants inside as the wind and rain kicked up. But I did manage a fair number of shots, and I thought I’d share them here, as a snapshot (ha) of a fairly typical day.

The morning began, as nearly all my mornings do, with the snooze button, a hot shower and my red teakettle.

red teakettle stove

It whistled and I poured a cup of David’s pumpkin chai, to drink with a blueberry muffin and a little light breakfast reading. (The grey morning prompted me to turn on the twinkle lights, which you can see reflected in my old mug from the Ground Floor.)

muffins mug real simple magazine breakfast

My commute includes a two-block walk to the subway station, then waiting on the outdoor platform with a book. (Current read: Her Brilliant Career.)

book subway platform

Once I got off the T, in Harvard Square, this was the view on my (rainy, chilly) walk to work.

leaves fall cambridge ma

This is my desk view most mornings: a photo of my nephew, a postcard from PEI, cards from my sister and mom and a co-worker, assorted mugs and papers – some work-related, some not.

desk view work morning

As an antidote to the gray day, I wore a pink dress, a cozy striped scarf (a birthday present from my sister), and the black, slightly trapezoidal knit jacket that makes me feel like Mary Tyler Moore.

outfit selfie pink dress

I ate my lunch (butternut squash soup) at my desk, enjoying a few chapters of Jennifer Robson’s wonderful new novel, After the War is Over (out in January).

soup book lunch

After eating, I headed out to stretch my legs and try on a few sale items at Anthropologie. (I struck out, but it was fun to play dress-up.)

anthro clothes rack

Later, I visited Tealuxe for a hot, spicy cup of chaider (my first this season) and the first entry in a new journal.

chaider journal tea tealuxe

I snapped a photo of my red wellies to serve as a weather report.

red wellies leaf sidewalk

The afternoon called for lots of data entry, but I munched on a crisp Empire apple and listened to my favorite podcast.

desk podcast apple

I caught the Red Line home, as usual. Not glamorous, but convenient.

red line subway car boston mbta

Earlier that day, the hubs had tossed the ingredients for chicken tikka masala into the slow cooker. It was ready when I got home (soaked and miserable), and it was delicious.

jeremiah dinner curry

After dinner, J left for an evening meeting and I curled up on the sofa and talked to my parents for a while. (They live in Texas. I saw them in July, but I miss them.)

living room view twinkle lights

It was a raw, chilly night, which called for some baking.

mixing bowl cookies chocolate chips

And later, some serious dishwashing.

dishes sink kitchen

We ate the last of the cookie dough with spoons…

cookie dough milk bowl spoons

…while catching up on the New York Times crossword. (The hubs: “What’s this Instagram thing you’re doing?”)

jer crosswords computer

It was blowing a gale outside, so the TV reception was spotty, but we found Game 2 of the World Series online. The hubs dug out the Royals hat he bought while working in Kansas City in the summer of 2005.

jer kc royals hat

The day ended with a little bedtime reading. (Oh, Anne. How I love you.)

anne of windy poplars bedside table

Besides sharing my own posts, it was fun to peek at the hashtag stream during the day and see everyone else’s photos. There’s something both entertaining and life-giving about sharing the details of our ordinary days. It reminded me of Natalie Goldberg’s “holy yes” – the work of a writer, and of a human being.

Laura’s making this an annual tradition, and I can’t wait to do it again. It reminds me of what blogging used to be – a simple sharing of the dailiness of our lives. No matter where we live, we are all in this together. And it’s messy and rough-edged and beautiful.

books travel book house summertown oxford england

(Found at The Book House in Summertown, Oxford)

The Rosie Effect, Graeme Simsion
This sequel to The Rosie Project (which I loved) finds Don Tillman, ultra-logical genetics researcher, and his wife Rosie living in New York. When Rosie unexpectedly gets pregnant, chaos ensues as Don struggles to figure out how to support her. Hilarious, poignant and moving. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Dec. 30).

Emily Climbs, L.M. Montgomery
Emily Byrd Starr goes to high school in Shrewsbury, boarding with sniffy Aunt Ruth and working hard at her craft as a writer. I love watching Emily grow into herself, and I love the camaraderie with her three best friends. (And I wish I had a teacher-critic-friend like Mr. Carpenter.)

Emily’s Quest, L.M. Montgomery
Emily settles down to the serious work of writing – and nearly loses true love not once, but twice. Bittersweet and often solemn, but still lovely and haunting. (And she gets her double happy ending after all.)

Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death, James Runcie
A young priest at Grantchester (a village outside Cambridge) finds himself solving various mysteries alongside his police inspector friend. Leisurely, erudite and well plotted. First in a series. Found at Blackwells in Oxford.

Silas Marner, George Eliot
When the titular character, a solitary weaver, is robbed of his hoard of gold, he believes life isn’t worth living – until an abandoned child shows up on his doorstep. A sweet little story (and my first Eliot), but I didn’t love it.

One Evening in Paris, Nicolas Barreau
The owner of a Paris art house cinema falls in love with a mysterious woman – but she disappears after a Hollywood director begins filming his new movie at the cinema. Quirky and sweet, but predictable. Would be better as a movie.

Greenglass House, Kate Milford
Milo Pine is expecting a quiet Christmas at the titular house. But when you live in a smugglers’ hotel, unexpected guests have a habit of turning up. A smart, fun, mysterious middle-grade novel, with a great adventurer’s yarn related to the house. Found at McNally Jackson in NYC.

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

Oxford: long walks

Oxford is a walking city, its ancient narrow streets full of unexpected turns and quiet corners, the gates of the colleges offering a tempting peek into their vine-hung secret gardens.

lincoln college oxford quad vines

The honey-colored stone gives the whole city a quiet glow, and the “dreaming spires” of Matthew Arnold’s poem still dream.

catte street oxford

high street magdalen tower oxford

Both by necessity and by choice, I’ve spent a lot of time wandering the streets of Oxford. You could set me down in almost any intersection, and I’d know exactly where I was and how to get home. And after many rambles through the gardens of various colleges, I know every one of the dreaming spires by name.

lincoln college tower oxford

I spent hours walking the streets of Oxford on this visit – with my housemates, with Jacque, with Laura, with Megan, and alone. I stopped often to snap photos, poke into bookshops or other shops, or simply look around.

oxford wall blue sky

My feet were tired by the end of the week, but my heart was full. There’s nothing like a good long walk for pleasure and perspective, and I loved every one of my strolls down (and views of) these familiar streets.

dreaming spires oxford england

Oxford: long talks

As I noted recently, going back to Oxford always means reconnecting with a few dear friends who live there. I had a splendid afternoon with my housemates, but it was only one part of a week spent soaking in community.

After my rapturous walk home on the morning I arrived, I was greeted by my hostess – Jacque, a college friend who has lived in Oxford for years now. The first thing she said was, “Cup of tea?” Which is code for, “I’ll put the kettle on and we’ll have a long chat.”

katie jacque oxford

We had plenty of long chats that week – sitting at her kitchen table, relaxing in her spacious living room, walking to the park or the coffee shop, meandering around City Centre. Many of our chats involved, or were in the presence of, her sweet wee baby, Matilda.

matilda

Matilda isn’t much for talking yet, but she gurgles and coos with the best of them. And she didn’t seem to mind being hauled all around Oxford (and up to London and back), as Jacque and I took her everywhere with us.

On Friday, Megan, another college friend, came up to spend the weekend in Oxford.

katie megan house 9 oxford

Megan recently moved to the south coast of England, and after several exciting but overwhelming weeks of transition, she was thrilled to be back in Oxford among familiar faces. And we were thrilled to have her.

She and I shared a room for two nights and stayed up far too late talking of a hundred things – work and family and life abroad, transition and culture shock and faith. We walked downtown on Sunday morning, via our favorite sandwich shop, and we stood in the nave of the church we both call home, and sang our hearts out together.

That Monday, I walked back down the Cowley Road to a building just around the corner from my old house, to spend the evening with Lizzie in her charming fourth-floor flat.

lizzie living room oxford

When we were housemates, Lizzie and I would frequently stay up late talking. Long after Jo and Grace (those early risers) had gone to bed, and we’d given up studying for the evening, we could be found curled up on her bed or mine, putting the world to rights over cups of tea or cocoa. We laughed and cried and wrestled with matters of school and career and the heart; we told secrets, told jokes, and forged a deep bond in those late-night hours. And on this evening, Lizzie made a pot of hearty pasta and a nectarine crumble, and we ate and giggled and talked for hours. Just like old times.

lizzie river oxford

My last full day in Oxford was chock-full of community, beginning with the lovely Laura.

katie laura oxford

Laura teaches at my alma mater in West Texas, and she and her family are spending this fall in Oxford while she teaches in their study abroad program. They were away in Scotland when I arrived, but came back midway through my trip, and on Tuesday, she and I had a delightful day out together.

radcliffe camera st mary's tower oxford

We climbed St Mary’s church tower for some of my favorite views in the world (above), ate lunch at Pieminister in the Covered Market, and visited a few of my favorite shops, including Ben’s Cookies.

bens cookies oxford covered market

We also crammed in as much catching-up as we could – books, faith, travel, family, work, Oxford itself. We see one another rarely since I moved to Boston, and this bonus time together was a treat.

Later than afternoon, Jacque and I had tea in the back garden – she even broke out the posh tea from Paris.

jacque matilda

Laura’s younger daughter, Molly, joined us for tea – though after trying the fancy tea we were drinking, she informed us seriously that she really prefers Earl Grey. (And ran next door to fetch her own teabag.)

tea set hands garden

That evening, I took a walk along the canal, out past the train station, to an old stone house where I’m always welcome.

simon preaching st aldates

My friend Simon (pictured above), one of the ministers at my beloved St Aldates, and his wife Tiffany welcomed me with hugs. We sat around the table with their teenage sons, eating pasta carbonara and catching up on our lives. After dinner, Tiffany served raspberry crumble topped with crushed almonds, and Simon and I sat in the living room and talked for hours.

I always wish I could record these conversations, capture their essence as well as the actual words exchanged – so many wise, loving and profound remarks come out of these hours among friends. But I have to be content with scribbling down a few of the most memorable words in my journal, and basking in the afterglow – the warm, nourished feeling that comes from spending time with people I love.

More (more!) Oxford photos and stories to come.

katie lizzie rowing

I’ve said it before: there are always a hundred reasons I want to go back to Oxford. The city itself is an old friend: the winding streets, honey-colored stone and lush green parks are all dear and familiar. But I also have a half-dozen friends who live in Oxford, and I’d planned to spend an afternoon with my former housemate, Lizzie. (That’s her above.)

We met up on the colorful Cowley Road, near the little chocolate-box house we once shared with two other girls: a small, spare semi-detached with a blue door, tucked into a quiet close. Lizzie, knowing my penchant for nostalgia, suggested we go and say hello.

cowley house blue door

We stood in the middle of the close, marveling at how big the trees have grown and trying to guess who lives there now (we suspect another group of students). As I went to snap a photo, Lizzie said something and I turned around – to see Jo and Grace, our other housemates, standing behind me with identical grins on their faces.

housemates radcliffe square

I was flabbergasted. Stunned. Delighted. I hadn’t told Jo and Grace I was coming to the UK, knowing I wouldn’t be able to go see them while I was there – but Lizzie, clever girl, had secretly organized a surprise reunion. The three of them had been scheming for weeks. And we had the most wonderful afternoon.

We headed down to Magdalen Bridge, where you can go punting or rent a rowboat. (We opted for the latter, feeling more confident in our rowing skill than our punting prowess.)

rowboats river cherwell oxford

After a couple of failed attempts at synchronized rowing, Lizzie took charge and rowed us out onto the river.

lizzie rowing

The girls had packed a feast – sandwiches, fruit, chips and veggies with hummus, flapjacks and cookies. Lizzie even packed some prosecco and plastic flutes. (Later on, we traded some to a Scottish couple in another boat for some of their banoffee chocolate. Yum.)

Mostly, we just had the loveliest time being together.

grace jo rowboat river oxford

It is six years since we all lived together, crowded into our wee house, cooking slapdash dinners and writing essays and brewing endless cups of tea. We always knew our living arrangement was temporary: I was in the UK for a one-year master’s program, and the other girls were finishing their undergraduate degrees. Grace and I were both engaged to the men who are now our husbands, and Jo met her husband, Tim, during that year. (The last time we were all together was at their wedding, five years ago.)

katie grace river oxford

Since our little household broke up, we have scattered far and wide, gotten married, moved too many times to count. Grace has a little boy and another baby on the way. I have made a cross-country move that proved just as challenging as my moves to Oxford and back. Jo has returned to the Welsh city where she grew up, and Lizzie has remained in Oxford while earning a master’s degree and establishing a career.

We have kept in touch via Facebook, text message and Christmas cards, knowing the broad outlines of one another’s lives while missing the details we knew during our year together. But we still love one another deeply, and that afternoon, we talked and laughed as though we had never been apart.

grace jo rowing

After the rowing (which proved excellent exercise), we wandered through town, pausing in Radcliffe Square for more photos.

housemates radcliffe camera oxford

We wound up with a walk to University Parks, where we sprawled on the grass and talked some more – about work and marriage and grown-up life, about family and travel and our days together in Oxford. “Do you miss anything about the UK?” Grace asked me at one point. That question has a thousand answers, but I gave her the most important one: “Yes. I miss all of you.”

It may be another several years before we are all together again. But this afternoon of sunshine and good talk and laughter will last me for quite a while.

More Oxford photos and stories to come.

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