In Oxford



Tolkien used to spend time in the Blackfriar’s chapel, and many think his inspiration for the orcs were Christ’s persecutors in the stations of the cross.


My Pilgrimage to 20 Northmoor Rd — Tolkien’s Cottage





Managing the Grey

When we visited Dunnottar Castle on the day the haar rolled in (thick fog off the North Sea), we participated in a true definition of ‘grey.’ I had read about ‘grey’ in books set in Great Britain — the characters stayed indoors and played in attics or drank tea in rooms with low ceilings. As I sat in a stone window seat of Dunnottar’s keep, I knew this was that grey: its sound was the waves beating their spray upon the cliffs, its look was the mangled light left by the haar, and its feeling was what seeped through the woven flaws in my coat and pinched my skin. Scotland.


There’s a northernness to Scotland grey. It smells of steel and centuries and strength. But then there’s the fact that you live with it day to day, so when you’re tired or when you’ve sat still for too long it’s the grey of moldy bread forgotten in a castle — unnourishing, stale, and depressing.


(On the left: a picture of the sun at noon in the southern sky.)

I’ve learned to recognize when I’m seeing the moldy grey instead of the steely grey. It happens mostly on the days of 6 hours of daylight, daylight that’s held at bay by thick clouds and cold. Here are some of my tricks to thawing the moment:


Have a cuppa.
A cup of tea is comforting. This is my go-to remedy for grey. While the tea is fresh and too hot to drink, I cuddle it to my chest and refer to it as ‘my heater.’

Keep green things in the house.
I house stalks of grass and cut flowers in glass vases and jars, and I place them in important rooms (usually the kitchen, because I spend the most time in there). They alter the atmosphere in a room, somehow. God put his humans in a garden, so I put some garden in my home.

Use the oven and stove.
I’ll bake things when I’m cold, or start cooking dinner early. The anticipation of a warm, nourished gut gets my blood excited. That combined with the heat from the oven or stove lifts the grey mood in the house.  (Though I’m sure to close the kitchen door and vent the room somehow, or my typical UK mold problem will double.)

Do pushups.
I’m serious. When the cold seems incurable, I drop and give 10. It gets my heart rate up and puts a flush in my cheeks; it’s an immediate remedy! My practice is usually to bundle up first so the generated heat stays in my possession.

Play music.
Music rouses my soul. It colors the air. It makes lamp light feel more hearty and grey sunlight less damp. And at times dancing ensues — good for the heart and entertainment for the baby.

String up fairylights.
They’re magical. I have them in the kitchen. In my opinion, the best thing to wake up to is a sunrise over the Scottish hills, but in the winter this isn’t possible as the sun doesn’t rise until 8:30 and I am the mother of a toddler. Fairylights’ (US “twinklelights”), with their diffused light and warming wink, are the next best thing. Who says Christmas has the monopoly on the use of these things anyway?

I get that thing out and with all my might I rid the floor of dust. By the end, I’ve usually shed most of my layers, plus made room in my calorie count for those scones in the oven. And the house is a nicer space to occupy — being indoors in the dark at 3:45pm is suddenly more bearable.

Put on a scarf.
This traps in the heat like nothing else. I am bold and wear them indoors.

Have a cuddle (especially with a wee bairn).
Heat shared warms the heart as well (caption for a Kinkade painting?).
(Cuddle = US ‘hug/snuggle’; wee bairn = US ‘child’)

Turn on the hair dyer.
And stick it under your sweater.

Read poetry.
That’s a cure for any emotional malady. Turn that soggy perspective upside down. Grey is still grey… but now it’s located it in the difference between moldy and steely.

Eat haggis.
It will heat you up and make you a man. According to Robbie Burns.
Honestly though, the suet and spices  and lamb in haggis were engineered for eaters in desolate, stone towers, and it’s obvious from the first bite.  I love haggis. It makes me want to slay something in the highlands. With my bare hands.


And if none of these options works, getting in bed with the covers over my head in the middle of the day while wearing all my layers is also a viable option. Though for some reason it feels akin to surrender.

Carpe that grey!


I’m curious — how do you turn back the grey?

The Flower Shop

On the grey street there is a flower shop.

Tall buildings line the street. Granite face after granite face marches neatly down, until there, in unabashed simplicity, stands a white building front, freshly painted, with flowers set out before it. I pass it on every walk to the local grocery, a memory of fair fields planted right in the middle of a bustling street. I always pause in front of it. The groceries are heavy in my stroller.

Sometimes I’ll buy flowers, £1 for a bundle nearing the end of their bloom, and I’ll take them home with me to my granite flat and scatter them in bottles throughout the rooms.

Thank God that flowers can be picked.



Today I walked north down King Street.

It was apparent that the city had been scrubbed. The sky had taken snow and burnished all the grey streets and grey walls and grey windows. I hadn’t known the city was made of white and gold. There was not a spot of grey left; the blue sky must be well practiced when it comes to polishing her grey city Aberdeen since North Sea has a bad habit of decorating it in fog. Everything crunched and sparkled.

And every surface was wet and gold. The street was like a blinding river of light, it rushed into your face and down your eyes until your head was filled to the brim with bright. The bright was so loud in your head the rest of the world was muffled and dim, like it was too far away to really touch, even though you were practically drowning in it. The busyness of King Street became a quiet bustle, like a dream of clean, whirring machines — cars and buses and skinny university students, all going, going in the bright of the street.

Even the stone cemetery on the right was brisk and shining, each headstone laid with a fresh line of snow on its top and the bare trees hung with tidy tinsel and ice.

It was very clear to me that I was in a snow globe that someone had gently (so as not to ruffle the snow) set on a windowsill in full sunlight.

Bright and loud. Brisk and bright. Everything clean and everything gold. And all of it rushing.

But my baby in the stroller knew only the bit of dusk that filtered through his eyelids. His world was dark and soft, tucked up as it was under the stroller shade. He sailed forward, swathed in a sea of blue blanket, with the peace of a starry night. Never was rest so oblivious to roaring light. He was my baby bear, hibernated and quiet, waiting for mother to wake him once we arrived home.


A Bit of Grey Paint

This morning I was a bit of a Grump. A Grump is a disheveled, hairy, and hunched-over creature, a creature on the pathetic side: self-pitying and mostly harmless. It also has a stuffy nose, a puffy eye, and a sleep deficiency.

I wasn’t able to send my husband off to his studies with a smile. I barely had enough energy to engage him with eye contact.

I’m not perfect. I get frustrated with everything when I’m sleepy. I worry that my baby’s not sleeping right or that I should be doing something different. I’m manipulative, instead of asking my husband for support when I need it, I make myself difficult to be around in order to get attention.

Sometimes I paint the grey canvas with grey paint.

And in a way, I should be okay with that. That is, instead of getting upset that I’m not the sunshiny-perfect wife and mother. “It’s okay to need God’s grace” — I have to tell myself that. I should always need God’s grace…. I’m not even perfect at that.

So my prayer is that I will get better at asking for grace and that my domain as wife and mother would be characterized by good things. Not be perfect. Just characterized.

May my home be . . .
Characterized by cheerfulness.
Characterized by love and grace and forgiveness.
Characterized by order and cleanliness.
Characterized by selflessness.
Characterized by wisdom.

And every now and then everyone in it is allowed to be a Grump and splash grey paint about.