We said ‘goodbye’ to Steve yesterday morning. He returned home after spending a week with us here in Oxford, and it didn’t feel nearly long enough. He’s an incredible friend. It was so nice having him here with us for that time. Lots of great memories.

We miss you, man.

The unfortunate part of his visit is that it just so happened to coincide with my busiest time so far here. I had a load of deadlines. Reading. Papers. Exams. But we had a great time, nonetheless.

Thursday – Clarity in what I’d like to do

I had Greek the morning after Steve arrived. We ended up meeting in Christ Church, because of some scheduling changes. Our professor lives there. Her husband’s the Dean. I honestly can’t imagine stepping out my front door and having this for a view.

Our class gathered outside the Deanery door. First just a couple of us. Then more. When most of us were gathered there, we knocked on the tall wooden door. Rhona opened it and met us with a smile.

“Helloooo,” she said in that warm, rich English accent. “Come in, come in.”

Her home was amazing. And it still feels weird to call it her home. It’s just an incredible place. Apparently King Charles I lived there at one point. So it has that going for it.

We made our way into the front room, with vaulted ceilings and a spiral staircase that seemed to climb up and up and up. Even the students in my class who are from Britain found their jaws on the floor.

Our class met in their formal dining room. A large room with tall glass windows that lined one wall. A long, oblong-shaped table sat in the center of the room, and a large portrait of Queen Elizabeth hung from one of the walls. Rhona told us how they had cleared out this room and used it for a dance after their daughter’s wedding. And how the Queen looked on with a look of distaste.

Shortly after our exam, the housekeeper (at least I’m assuming that’s who it was) brought in a couple trays for our class. A tray of tea and coffee and a tray of treats. Flapjacks. I had never had flapjacks before, but I had seen them at the Alternative Tuck Shop while waiting on my chicken panini. They were amazing. Like a homemade granola bar. A perfect accompaniment to our tea. I told Rhona it was the best I had ever had.

After class, Rhona let me know she had heard Walter Hooper would be joining us for our Tea at the Kilns on Monday. I hadn’t heard that, but I was so excited he was. This guy was Lewis’ secretary the summer before Lewis passed away, and he lived at the Kilns for a while, so I knew he’d have some amazing stories to share with us.

Another student was standing nearby as we spoke. Likely waiting to ask Rhona a Greek related question. Likely completely uninterested in our conversation. But she put on a good act anyway.

Rhona asked her if she had read Lewis at all. If she found Mere Christianity to be dated. She had. “Surprisingly so,” she said.

“Well then, you’ll just have to write the modern day Mere Christianity, won’t you?” she asked this girl with a large smile.

And it made me smile. Remembering the conversation I had with Steve the night before. On our way to pick up pizzas in Summertown.

I told Steve that, for some reason, being here had made me even more convicted about wanting to write. And how I felt like it was more clear than ever what that was supposed to look like.

“I feel like Lewis did a great job of talking about the Christian faith for the non-academic types. For the laymen. But I feel like there’s an opportunity to do that in a way that’s even more approachable. Using a tone that invites people in. Something like Don Miller’s writing. Something that anyone would want to pick up and read. I feel like if you were able to combine those two, it’d be incredibly effective. That’s what I want to do,” I told him as we walked.

Fast forward to Christ Church. Rhona has just told this girl perhaps she’d write the modern day Mere Christianity. And I felt like the kid in class who got a puppy over the weekend and the teacher asks if anyone has something to share. Hand shooting into the air. Squirming in his seat. But I didn’t say a word. I just smiled.

I met up with Steve after class. He had been working from the Grand Cafe. England’s oldest coffeehouse. We were making our way out of town. To meet up with Jen. Taking in the sights as we walked.

Steve likes sweets. And he had plenty to like in Oxford.

Feeling so inconsequential

We walked past a plaque I had just noticed for the first time the week before. It was on a building where Hooke & Boyle first discovered the living cell. Right here in Oxford. I pointed it out to Steve. I told him it was things like that that made me feel so out of place here.

“This place really has had some amazing minds come through over the years,” I said as we crossed the street. Minding the buses as they passed on the cobblestone road underfoot.

“Minds who have had incredible contributions in their field. Makes me feel so inconsequential.”

“Or, it could motivate you, wanting you to do something big as well,” Steve said, without missing a beat.

“That’s true, yeah. That’s a good way to look at it.” I love having this guy around. He’s the kind of guy who believes in your dreams even when you don’t believe in them yourself.

Andi’s Dream

Steve didn’t sleep the night before he left to come here. He had been helping a friend of his from back home setup her bakery. Andi. She was scheduled to open the next day, and he had been working non-stop to help her wrap everything up. For quite a while leading up to the opening. From baking cakes to design. It was quite the project, from the sounds of it.

Several years earlier, when Andi was living about an hour and a half south of where she now lives with her husband, she had gotten a hold of Steve. To tell him about her dream of one day opening up her own bakery.

“She was working as a real estate agent at the time,” he told me. “I think. Something like that. But her dream was to open a bakery.”

He ended up sending a bunch of business her way after she moved to town. So she could bake cakes and make desserts for weddings. Until she was finally able to open her bakery.

Her dream became a reality last week, when she opened up Pure Bliss Desserts in downtown Bellingham. In large part because of Steve. That’s just the kind of guy he is. And I’m honored to call him my best friend.

We met up with Jen back at the house. And the three of us walked together to The Alternative Tuck shop for lunch. To introduce Steve and Jen to the beauty that is the chicken pesto panini.

I’ve realized lately I no longer get hungry. I just find myself wanting a chicken pesto panini. That’s when I know I’m hungry.

I squeezed into the shop and made my way through the line. Jen & Steve waited outside. To avoid the sardine can space.

I made my way out of the shop, hot off the grill paninis in hand, and handed Jen and Steve theirs. I was happy they enjoyed them just as much as I do.

“That’s great, man,” Steve said after a big bite of his sandwich.

I showed Jen and Steve around Harris Manchester College. The library. The grounds. And they loved it. All of it. It was so great to finally share all of this with them. After living in it on my own for several weeks.

I pointed out a couple places I thought they’d like to visit while I wrapped up some studies, and then I made my way to the Radcliffe Camera.

Dinner at the Eagle & Child

After several hours of reading, it was great to wander outside into the cool night air and find them waiting for me. It was a gorgeous night in Oxford. And I was so happy to share it with them.

We decided on Eagle & Child for dinner. Steve’s first pub experience. The first time at Eagle & Child for either of them.

And we had a great time. Laughing. Enjoying some amazing food. After clearing our plates, we reached for the dessert menu and decided to stretch out the evening a bit more.

“We do have leftover birthday cake at home,” I mentioned, looking over the menu.

“Sounds like a good midnight snack,” Steve said.

“I like the way you think.”

Walking home, it felt so nice to enjoy all of this. To share all of this with them. And it made me smile.

Friday: Sue the impostor and Jen’s as tough as nails

I had my first cornish pasty for lunch last Friday. Finally. And I have to say, I was a little disappointed. Maybe I’ll give it another try. But I can’t help but feel like it’d be a missed opportunity when I know of a perfectly good place to get a chicken pesto panini…

I worked from the library most of the day on Friday. And I ran into Sue on my way back into the library at one point, hot cup of tea in-hand. She greeted me by name. With a smile. And she asked me how I was settling in.

She told me how when she first arrived here at Oxford. To take up her job. How overwhelmed this all seemed.

“I didn’t believe it,” she told me. “I kept feeling like at some point, someone was going to tell me they had made a terrible mistake, and that I was going to have to leave.”

Funny. I guess even the librarians feel like impostors. I’m in good company. Sue’s an angel.

Sue told me that’s why everyone here. All the faculty. That that’s why they go out of their way to do everything they can to make sure the students have a welcoming experience. That they know they’re cared for. And that if they ever need anything, that they only have to ask.

I told her that, as overwhelming as this all has been, that the people truly have been the bright spot.

She told me that after a while, you realize everyone here are just normal people. Normal people who are incredibly passionate about what they want to do. And that that is a real pleasure to be around. I still feel like everyone’s a couple hundred IQ points higher than I am. But it really is an amazing place to be. And I’m still in awe of it all.

I met up with Jen & Steve after a full day of reading. We grabbed pizza at a really cool woodfire place. Their menu was amazing. Split into different regions of the world. Asia. America. Europe. Africa. Each region featuring pizza toppings from their culture. It was great. And the environment was amazing. Lots of open-air space. Hanging lights. Large windows. Concrete floors and columns. Very modern feel in a very old city.

A woman and her son sat beside us. She was very English. Very proper. And the boy was, well, he was a boy. Messing around all night. Having a good time. She was trying to keep him under her thumb, so as not to make a scene. He was cracking us up all night.

At one point in the evening, he let out a loud burp. And he immediately erupted into laughter. You could see the blood drain from the boy’s mother as he did.

“Oh, I am so embarrassed,” she said, looking at us before hanging her face in her hands. “This truly isn’t representative.”

We all laughed. Along with the boy. I felt like she was apologizing for her entire country. Maybe she was. Either way, it was hilarious.

We caught a movie after dinner. RED. The new action movie with Bruce Willis and Morgan Freeman and some others. It was great. Lots of brainless action. A much-needed reprieve from all the studies.

Jen loves Bruce Willis movies. And I love that Jen loves Bruce Willis movies. Ever since we watched the latest Die Hard on our anniversary on Whidbey Island several summers ago, she’s been hooked.

I think it’s because they share a common respect for each other. Jen and Bruce. I think it’s because he’s the only one in the world tough enough for her to respect like that. I always tell Jen if she had a motto it’d be, “Jennifer Pemberton…Tough as nails.” I keep telling her I’m going to make her a t-shirt. I need to get on that.

Walking home under the light posts leaving town that night, I couldn’t help but think how perfect this all seemed. Now. Having them here. Even better than before.

Leaves piled up, crunching underfoot. Steve kicking them as we walked. Golden yellow and burnt orange shuffling as we walked. Talking. Sharing memories. Those are the times we’ll miss Steve most.

Saturday: Like Mallards & The Bagelry

We grabbed dessert at a place in Oxford city center Saturday night. The best ice cream in town, we were told.

It feels very much like a Mallards back home. Lots of crazy flavors. Stout. Bacon & Brie.

I placed my order and told Steve I felt like I was back in Bellingham. That if felt like Mallards.

“And the Bagelry, combined,” Steve added.

He was right. They served bagels, too.

I went to hand them my credit card to pay for the ice cream, and they told me they only took cash.

“Yep, just like Mallard’s and the Bagelry,” I said, turning to Steve and Jen with a smile.