Posts Tagged ‘Oxford’

My teatime ritual

queens lane

Strong black Yorkshire Gold with milk and a spoonful of sugar. Bergamot-tinged Earl Grey with a swirl of milk. Sachets of black tea flavored with orange peel, stone fruits or cinnamon, brewed strong and drunk unadorned. Paper bags of peppermint or lemon-ginger tea drunk plain, with a squeeze of honey added if I have a sore throat.

Teatime. It’s my morning-daytime-evening ritual.

I grew up in hot, dry West Texas, the land of endless summers and pitchers of dark, strong Lipton iced tea. I am still one of the only Texans I know who will turn down a glass of iced tea for a sweating glass of ice water. I like my tea hot, in a ceramic mug, and it had better not be Lipton.

I’m over at TRIAD magazine today, talking about my several-times-a-day tea habit. Click over there to read the rest of my essay.

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longfellow garden radcliffe yard

I have worked in Harvard Square for almost a year now, and in that time I have traversed what feels like every inch of it, most of those inches more than once. I spend most of my lunch breaks and other scattered pockets of time tramping down streets whose historic names are now familiar: Brattle, Dunster, Holyoke, Plympton. Oxford, JFK, Mount Auburn, Bow (which runs into Arrow, a tiny detail of a joke that always makes me smile). I am constantly filling in my mental map of the area with new detail. I had visited Harvard Square often before I took a job here, but now this is my neighborhood.

Sometimes I walk purposefully, like the local I am now, a denizen of this bustling metropolis filled with students and university employees and tourists. I go to the bank and the post office, head to the farmers’ market in warm weather, shop at the Harvard Book Store or the Curious George Store for birthday gifts or books. Sometimes I have errands to run, and I head out into the bitter cold on a mission, often rewarding myself with half an hour in a cafe and a cup of tea.

tealuxe interior cambridge ma

But sometimes I pull my camera out and gawk like any tourist. I snap photo after photo of the hidden and public angles of Harvard Square, such as snow-topped roofs on red brick buildings, some of them older than the state I call home.

snow harvard yard gate

The white spire of Memorial Church, tipped with a flying gold banner, beautiful against a sky of blue or gray or sunset pink.

memorial church harvard yard blue sky

Fresh tulips outside a florist’s shop, a musician busking in Brattle Square.

tulips harvard square

The sunken garden on Appian Way, adjacent to my building, and the larger expanse of Harvard Yard, the beating green heart of Harvard College.

harvard yard cambridge ma

I am learning to name the spires of Harvard as I learned to name the spires of Oxford: instead of Christ Church, Magdalen, Corpus Christi and St Aldates, there are Eliot, Adams, Dunster, Memorial Church.

The tallest one is also my favorite: Lowell House, bright blue and gold reaching into the endless sky. I love it because of the story of the Russian bells that fill its tower, and because I have actually been up inside it: my professor friend Ryan took me on a tour long ago.

lowell house tower

I walk around Cambridge the way I used to walk around Oxford: sometimes on an errand, but chiefly for the sheer pleasure of ambling, watching, enjoying, tasting, being.  It’s not always a postcard scene or a calendar photo. But it is bustling and vibrant, endlessly changing, endlessly fascinating. It’s beautiful and maddening and wonderfully interesting. And it’s mine.

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We put up our big, beautiful Christmas tree this past weekend, listening to Elvis, George Strait and Charlie Brown while we did so (it’s tradition).

christmas tree

My husband picked up takeout from our favorite Indian restaurant, while I unraveled and strung the lights.

lights christmas tree decorating

I am my mother’s daughter – I love small white lights, lots of them – and also my father’s daughter, because I love the mismatched, heirloom, handmade, funky ornaments on my tree.

Most of our ornaments have stories, and every year, I snap a few photos to share with you. Here are this year’s gems:

fenway ornament apple

I bought this ornament for J the first year we lived in Boston, from a handmade craft market downtown. It makes me smile, especially in light of this year’s World Series win. (Hanging above it is an apple that I think came from my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Drake.)

angel christmas tree ornament

This angel also came from a teacher – Mrs. Hicks, who directed a pull-out program called Project Challenge at the school I went to in first grade. My name and the year are on the back.

suitcase travel christmas ornament

My mom gave me this suitcase last year. Three of the four cities (Rome, Paris and New York) are places I’ve visited and love.

moose christmas ornament

During my year in Oxford as a graduate student, I had an American friend whose nickname was Moose. I found these silver moose ornaments at Northlight, a Scandinavian housewares shop on the High Street, and bought one for him and one for myself. (They’re difficult to photograph, because they reflect everything.)

telephone booth christmas ornament

This ornament came from a Christmas shop in my West Texas hometown, but it represents my love for the UK (and its red phone boxes).

Do your ornaments have stories? I’d love to hear them.

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all souls college oxford towers

There, eastward, within a stone’s throw, stood the twin towers of All Souls’, fantastic, unreal as a house of cards, clear-cut in the sunshine, the drenched oval in the quad beneath brilliant as an emerald in the bezel of a ring.

Behind them, black and grey, New College frowning like a fortress, with dark wings wheeling about her belfry louvres; and Queen’s with her dome of green copper; and, as the eye turned southward, Magdalen, yellow and slender, the tall lily of towers; the Schools and the battlemented front of University; Merton, square-pinnacled, half hidden behind the shadowed North side and mounting spire of St. Mary’s.

Westward again, Christ Church, vast between Cathedral spire and Tom Tower; Brasenose close at hand; St. Aldate’s and Carfax beyond; spire and tower and quadrangle, all Oxford springing underfoot in living leaf and enduring stone, ringed far off by her bulwark of blue hills.

Gaudy Night, Dorothy L. Sayers

oxford towers wisteria queens lane

I harbor a deep love for Oxford, this city of towers and walled gardens, of books and cafes and quiet afternoons and long, winding, often cobblestoned streets. It is a city of dreams and realities, often mixed together so thoroughly that it becomes difficult to tell where one leaves off and the other begins.

I read and loved Gaudy Night during my first semester in Oxford, as part of a class in which we discussed the architecture, history and literature of Oxford through the centuries. It proved just as brilliant and captivating on my recent reread. Nine years has only increased my love for Oxford and its denizens. I adore Sayers’ feisty writer-sleuth, Harriet Vane, and her love interest, the gentleman detective Peter Wimsey, but my favorite character in the novel remains Oxford itself.

Sayers was born in Oxford and later earned a degree from Somerville College; a wall on Brewer Street bears a round blue plaque with her name and dates. She knew Oxford’s streets, towers and libraries intimately, and wrote about them with deep respect and love.

Gaudy Night is set in a fictional Oxford college, but its surroundings are entirely real, and the scene quoted above, set atop the Radcliffe Camera, provides a panoramic view of the city’s heart. I know every one of the colleges Sayers names; I have walked in their gardens and snapped pictures of their towers, drinking in the interplay of green and gold, shadow and light, sky and stone.

I haven’t been back to Oxford in several years, but tramping through it again with Harriet Vane — through the Bodleian and down the Isis and across Magdalen Bridge — felt, as it always does, like going home.

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book culture shop interior nyc

(Photo of Book Culture in NYC)

The Last Word, Lisa Lutz
The Spellmans, a wacky family of PIs who love to spy on one another, are back for a sixth adventure. Isabel Spellman is struggling with her employees (read: parents) after her hostile takeover of the family business, while trying to solve a few cases and avoid her three-year-old tyrant of a niece. Fun to see the crew of familiar characters, but I didn’t love this book. Most of the characters were drifting, and I want Izzy to do some real growing up already.

Attachments, Rainbow Rowell
Beth and Jennifer email each other constantly at work – even though they know their company’s security officer is reading their email. Lincoln, the security officer, reads their flagged messages and then finds himself falling in love with Beth, who doesn’t know he exists. How can he ever hope to meet her for real? A sweet, funny love story and a fun twist on You’ve Got Mail, with plenty of late ’90s/Y2K cultural references.

A Brief History of Montmaray, Michelle Cooper
Sophia, princess of Montmaray (a fictional sovereign island in the Bay of Biscay), receives a diary for her 16th birthday in 1936. She chronicles daily life with her oddball family on their windswept island, which takes a dark turn when two Nazi officers land on their shores. Sophie is naive and sometimes wishy-washy, but I liked her and her family enough to be interested in the sequel.

How to Be Alone, Tanya Davis, illus. Andrea Dorfman
A lovely print evocation of Davis’ video poem – a paean to the pleasures of solitude and a call to pay attention not just to oneself, but to the world. Whimsical, colorful watercolor illustrations add to the charm. (I feel guilty calling it a real book since it’s one poem, but I am reviewing it for Shelf Awareness! Out Oct. 8.)

The View from Penthouse B, Elinor Lipman
Since her husband died, Gwen has lived with her divorced sister, Margot, in the titular NYC penthouse while both of them figure out how to move on. They take in a cupcake-baking roommate, Anthony, and things get wacky when Margot’s white-collar-criminal ex (on parole for good behavior) moves in downstairs. A warm, witty novel about sisterhood, unexpected joy, and opening oneself to love again. My first Lipman book, and now I want to read her others.

When We Were On Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love, and Starting Over, Addie Zierman
Addie is a blog-friend, a voice of wisdom and grace in my Internet life. And her memoir – about her experience growing up in a particular evangelical subculture – is lovely. She acquires a lot of baggage (much of it related to boys and her own self-worth), rebels passionately against it, spirals downward and eventually begins to heal. So many of her experiences were also mine; I laughed and grimaced and welled up in recognition. Beautiful. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 15).

Gaudy Night, Dorothy Sayers
A mystery set in Oxford, with a pair of detectives I love, equals perfection. When Harriet Vane, mystery writer and amateur sleuth, returns to her old Oxford college, a series of poison-pen letters and other pranks begin to disturb the community. She returns to track down the perpetrator, while working on a novel and trying to sort out her feelings for Lord Peter Wimsey, gentleman detective. Brilliantly plotted; full of erudite quotes, musings on love and the intellect, and descriptions of my favorite city. I read this nine years ago, during my first semester in Oxford, and returning to it (for my book club) was pure pleasure.

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It’s no secret that I love Oxford – city of dreaming spires, home to one of the world’s most ancient and beautiful universities, site of my starry-eyed study abroad semester in college and my blissful year in graduate school. I never tire of it, and I regularly read books set there. But I’ve recently been revisiting Oxford in cinematic form, via the Inspector Lewis TV series.

(Image from pbs.org)

Lewis is inspired by the Inspector Morse novels of Colin Dexter (whom I met long ago in Oxford), which follow Morse and his sergeant (Lewis) as they solve crimes in and around Oxford. I watched an episode or two of the Inspector Morse TV series during my first semester in Oxford, but I’d never watched Lewis until my friend Amy convinced me to give it a shot. She predicted I’d enjoy both the plotlines and the Oxford setting. She was right on both counts.

new college quad

When Lewis opens, Morse has died and Lewis has been promoted to inspector, and paired up with a new sergeant: James Hathaway (the tall blond bloke above), a former seminarian who left the ministry for a police career. Like every good pair of detectives, they are opposites in some ways. Lewis is an agnostic workingman who grows impatient with Oxford’s intellectual snobbery; Hathaway is brainy, Cambridge-educated, and harbors complicated feelings for the church he left. They make an excellent team, though, and their sly asides to one another are one of the show’s great pleasures. (Like Castle, which I also love, Lewis has a few other recurring characters: Dr. Laura Hobson, the sharp-tongued, kind medical inspector, and Jean Innocent, the keen-eyed superintendent and Lewis’ boss.)

My husband doesn’t always join me in my TV obsessions, particularly the British ones (see: Downton Abbey), though we do watch Castle together and we both adore Friends. But after listening in while I streamed my first episode of Lewis, he asked to watch the next episode with me. Two days later, we were checking out an earlier season on DVD from the library.

J has visited Oxford several times, though he doesn’t love it as I do. But we’re both enjoying the intricately plotted mysteries, though he does laugh at me when I squeal at the sight of a familiar Oxford spot (there are many) or point out a geographical error (there are very few).

radcliffe square radcliffe camera oxford england

The Radcliffe Camera

According to our usual TV-show pattern, we discovered Lewis just as it was ending, so we’re saving the series finale for some later date. (Since it usually takes me about a year to get through TV series – Friends, Gilmore Girls, Mary Tyler Moore – I’m assuming I’ll get around to the finale months from now, which means I’ll have to find it on DVD.)

For now, though, we’ve got a slew of episodes to work through, a few dozen cases to solve alongside our crack team of detectives, and many hours to spend in my favorite city.

Have you watched Lewis or Morse (or Endeavour, the new prequel to Morse)? Are you a fan?

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june books 2

Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World, Matthew Goodman
On Nov. 14, 1889, two young female journalists left New York City, headed in different directions. Nellie Bly (traveling east) and Elizabeth Bisland (traveling west) swung from train to ship to boat in their mad dash to circle the globe in under 80 days. Goodman captures the frenetic pace of their race, the dizzying array of countries they saw, the vagaries of shipboard life and the way the contest fired the public imagination. A fascinating glimpse of the Victorian era and a great real-life adventure tale. (Jaclyn read it at the same time and also loved it.)

I’ll Be Seeing You, Suzanne Hayes and Loretta Nyhan
In 1943, two soldiers’ wives strike up a pen-pal correspondence spanning the miles from Iowa to Massachusetts. Rita Vincenzo, middle-aged and sensible, and Glory Whitehall, young and impulsive, are unlikely friends – but their letters help them weather the storms raging both abroad and at home. Beautifully written, evocative and sometimes heartbreaking – with occasional flashes of joy. Lovely.

The Secrets of Mary Bowser, Lois Leveen
Born into slavery in Richmond, Va., Mary Bowser is freed by her owner and sent to Philadelphia to be educated. When war breaks out, she returns to her native city to pose as a slave and spy for the Union – even working as a maid for Jefferson Davis. An absorbing historical read, based on the real life of its brave heroine.

Stormbreaker, Anthony Horowitz
Alex Rider, age 14, is left alone in the world after his uncle Ian’s death – and he quickly discovers Ian’s life wasn’t what it seemed. Ian was a spy for MI6, and his bosses recruit Alex to help with a dangerous mission. Fast-paced, stuffed almost too full of shiny gadgets and death-defying moments, but fun. First in the nine-book Alex Rider series.

The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat, Edward Kelsey Moore
Odette, Clarice and Barbara Jean have been friends most of their lives, gathering every Sunday at the titular restaurant for gossip and good food. As they all face personal battles (illness, losing loved ones, a spouse’s infidelity) in middle age, they reflect on the long story of their friendship and how it has shaped their lives. A compelling story that swings from heartbreaking to hilarious, full of warm, wonderful characters (including the ghost of Eleanor Roosevelt!). I loved it.

Spy School, Stuart Gibbs
Ben Ripley, age 12, is a math whiz – but he’s shocked when he’s recruited for the CIA’s top-secret spy training school. Once he arrives, though, Ben realizes there’s something fishy going on. He joins forces with Erica, the school’s top student, to try and figure it out. Fast-paced and funny, though not as richly developed as Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls series.

Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
Anne convinced me to pick up this classic, set partly in my beloved Oxford. It’s the story of Charles Ryder and his entanglement with the Flyte family: charming Sebastian, beautiful Julia, quirky Cordelia, stodgy Brideshead. It’s also a portrait of a disappearing England, and encompasses several love stories and musings on faith. Gorgeously written, though also deeply sad.

Start Here: Read Your Way Into 25 Amazing Authors, ed. Jeff O’Neal & Rebecca Joines Schinsky
I backed this book on Kickstarter last summer. The book nerds at Book Riot have collected lots of advice about “reading your way into” 25 authors (see subtitle), ranging across many genres. Fun to dip into (the sections are short), utterly practical and (in typical fashion) quite opinionated.

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scone tea journal l'aroma cafe boston

Periodically, Alyssa (she of the lovely memoir Coming to My Senses and the occasional blog post about perfume and other stuff) tweets a bit of wisdom that sets my brain spinning. The most recent one read like this:

Again and again, it’s the thing that feels like a random extravagance that turns out to be the key to it all.

She was speaking about a trip to New York, taken ostensibly for research purposes, but mostly for the sheer joy of it. While most of my trips to NYC feel like splurges (I am still overawed by the city’s glamour, its variousness, its size and beauty), I realized this is true for me in other instances, large and small.

For instance, my life changed when I started using real, actual Parmesan cheese instead of the powdered stuff from a can. I know. But the powdered stuff in the green can was familiar, and until I started making my own pesto, I had no impetus to buy the real thing. It’s more expensive, but – I know now – infinitely more delicious. I am never going back. (Ditto on the homemade pesto. Beats the jarred stuff by a mile.)

I’ve taken similar leaps and splurged on good shoes, the perfect (natural) face wash (which has done wonders for my skin), and other small, well-made things which have had a tangible effect on my life. But this concept goes far beyond the material or the mundane.

For instance: I did not think I could afford to travel to NYC, by myself, to the Integrate Retreat in spring 2010. It felt like an extravagance to fly somewhere exotic, without my husband, to spend a weekend writing and talking and thinking about creativity. But I had a free plane ticket, and I took a deep breath and splurged on the retreat tuition. That weekend changed how I saw myself, and how I thought about my work. (And I met a handful of lovely women, some of whom I still see around the Internets from time to time.)

chocolate room group

Several years later, it also felt like a random extravagance to hop on a bus to NYC and spend a September weekend with Allison (whom I had not, at that time, met in person). But by the end of the weekend I was newly in love with the city, and Allison and I had gone from Internet pen pals to firm friends.

NYC Sept 2011 118

The biggest extravagance in my life to date (for which, five years later, I am nearly done paying) is the year I spent in Oxford, earning a master’s degree that turned out to be totally beside the point. I was – I am – in love with Oxford, with England, with window displays of bright patterned teacups and warm scones studded with dark currants or golden sultanas, savored at small round tables with steaming cups of tea.

queens lane tea journal table

Most of all, I was in love with the idea of returning to my favorite place in the world, by myself, for a whole year. Although there was no way I could afford it, I applied to graduate school and took out loans and found housemates via the Internet, and hopped on a plane. And it has enriched and informed every day of my life, ever since.

new college quad

There’s a place for frugality, of course, a place for budget spreadsheets and careful planning and bringing your lunch to work instead of eating out every single day. There’s a place for enjoying what you have, for practicing contentment and care-taking, instead of always grasping for the next thing.

But there is also a place, once in a while, for a dazzling splurge, a sparkling luxury that either elevates the dailiness or takes you far outside it. And sometimes, those reach-for-the-stars extravagances illuminate the dailiness in ways you could never imagine.

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may reading roundup 1 books

The Importance of Being Seven
, Alexander McCall Smith

The sixth Scotland Street novel finds Matthew and Elspeth expecting triplets (!), Angus and Domenica traveling to Italy on holiday, and Bertie struggling, as ever, with his overbearing mother, Irene (and longing to turn seven). Fun and philosophical and gently satirical, like all the other books in this amusing series.

The End of Night, Paul Bogard
Our night skies are disappearing, due to the increasing brightness and volume of man-made light. Bogard visits a wide range of bright and dark places – from the dazzling Las Vegas Strip to Acadia National Park in Maine – to explore the effects of light pollution on our health, our public spaces and our society. His deep love for the night is infectious, and his interviews with folks ranging from astronomers to night-shift workers are fascinating. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 9).

Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, Anna Quindlen
I loved this warm, witty book of essays, in which Quindlen touches on everything from the importance of girlfriends to the profound changes wrought by the women’s movement during her lifetime. She writes wisely and often humorously about marriage, motherhood, family and aging – it felt like I was sitting across the table, listening as she shared her wisdom. Wonderful.

Someday, Someday, Maybe, Lauren Graham
Aspiring actress Franny Banks came to NYC after college, determined to make it big in three years – and she’s got six months left. Graham (whom I loved on Gilmore Girls) has created a fun first novel, full of New York moments, sly humor and wonderful mid-90s details (answering services, high-top sneakers, pay phones). Franny is funny, smart and full of spunk, and I rooted for her the whole way. The ending was a bit abrupt, but this was a wonderful ride.

The Romeo and Juliet Code, Phoebe Stone
After leaving England, 11-year-old Felicity is dropped off at her grandmother’s house in Maine while her stylish, mysterious parents return to Europe to pursue their secret work. When Felicity’s uncle starts receiving top-secret letters from her father, Felicity and her new friend Derek investigate. I found Felicity naive and bratty at first, but I did enjoy the story, and I eventually warmed to her. Fun weekend reading.

Calling Me Home, Julie Kibler
African-American hairdresser Dorrie is surprised when her favorite (white) client, Miss Isabelle, asks a big favor: she wants Dorrie to drive her from Texas to Cincinnati for a funeral. As the women travel north, Isabelle shares her story of falling in love with a black boy as a teenager in 1930s Kentucky. Meanwhile, single mom Dorrie is dealing with her own problems, and wondering whether she can trust the new man in her life. I found 1930s Isabelle a bit naive and selfish, but I liked both Dorrie and present-day Isabelle, and several plot twists kept me turning the pages.

Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris, Paul Gallico
I loved this spunky, sweet tale of a British charwoman who saves her money for years so she can jaunt over to Paris and buy herself a Dior gown. The gown is exquisite, of course, but the people Mrs. Harris meets, and the connections they forge, are the best part of the story. (Also: the flowers.) Recommended by Jaclyn. Similar to Miss Pettigrew, shorter and simpler but just as charming.

The September Society, Charles Finch
Victorian gentleman detective Charles Lenox returns for a second case, investigating the death of a young man at Oxford (his alma mater). I loved the visits to 1860s Oxford, different from and yet so similar to the Oxford I know and adore. And I like Lenox, a thoughtful and principled detective, and his circle of friends. Great fun.

Ready for a Brand New Beat, Mark Kurlansky
Released at the beginning of the “Freedom Summer” of 1964, “Dancing in the Street” became the anthem of an unsettled generation. Kurlansky delves into the history of music in mid-century America, the origins of Motown, the civil rights movement and the continuing life of the song, which endures today. Fascinating and well-researched, with plenty of outsize personalities. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 11).

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It’s finally glorious spring here in Cambridge, and everything – from the azaleas to the tulip magnolias to the shrubs lining the sidewalks near my office – is blooming. The tiny sunken garden next to my building is filled with tulips and flowering trees; the planters outside the nearby Episcopal church are bursting with daffodils. And the other day, the Internet was blooming with people calling “Happy May Day!” to one another.

I didn’t celebrate, or know anyone who celebrated, May Day when I was growing up – I’d read about Maypoles, but they seemed mostly an historical concept. I don’t really celebrate it now. But like so many other things, May Day took on a new significance during the year I lived in Oxford.

magdalen tower oxford may day

Since time immemorial (or since 1509), a group of boy choristers from Magdalen College School have rung in the month of May at dawn, from the top of Magdalen College tower (which sits at one end of the bridge spanning the River Cherwell), with a few a cappella madrigal songs. This coincides with the end-of-term balls at many Oxford colleges, so much of the audience consists of bleary-eyed students wearing crumpled ball gowns and slightly askew tuxedos, the girls’ elaborate coiffures slipping out of their perfect arrangements. Crowds gather on either side of Magdalen Bridge in the chilly blue dawn; jackets are necessary (unless, I suppose, you’ve been out drinking all night).

May Day is also my friend (and Oxford housemate) Lizzie’s birthday, and that year, it was the day of the student end-of-term ball at my beloved church. Both Lizzie and I had planned to go (and bought new dresses for the occasion). Although we knew we were going to be up half the night, we dragged ourselves out of bed in the dark, threw on jeans, jackets and scarves, and walked with our other two housemates, Grace and Jo, down the length of the Cowley Road and over Magdalen Bridge.

As the sun crept upward over the horizon, we huddled among students, tourists, families with sleepy young children and more than a few bobbing balloons. We knew this day was a beginning – the first day of May, the dawn of summer – but we also knew it was the beginning of an ending. We’d spent eight months living together in our wee chocolate-box house in East Oxford, but in May, we would all finish our courses and at least two of us (Grace and I) would leave Oxford for good. But that day, we still had four weeks to revel in each other’s company.

may day girls

We waited, wrapped in pashminas, morning mist in our hair, to hear the first line ring out from the tower: “Now is the month of Maying.” The crowd was hardly silent, and it was difficult to make out all the words. But we stood and listened, then joined the masses streaming down the High Street in search of breakfast. We treated Lizzie, for her birthday, at a cafe down on George Street, and then we walked back home through the brightening morning, under blossoming tree branches. That night, Lizzie and I slipped on our new dresses and high heels, and danced under the vaulted ceiling at St Aldates, with dozens of our friends.

christ church meadows oxford may day

That last month in Oxford was bittersweet in a thousand ways. I was headed home to the West Texas college town I loved and missed, to be near my family and friends and marry the man I loved. But I was also loath to leave this quiet city of books and gardens, and the friends I’d made during my year there. I longed to freeze time during those last weeks, even as the days slipped away one by one, even as I filled them with long walks and afternoons in cafes and college garden tours and “last things.”

Since I couldn’t hold on to those days, I made every effort to savor them. Even if it meant waking up before dawn and taking a long, chilly walk to hear some old songs performed.

Every year, when the trees burst suddenly into bloom and the light turns golden after months of bare branches and grey skies, I remember that morning in Oxford, listening to that ancient, joyous song with those three girls so dear to me.

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