Healing of Bath

November is not my month. For some reason, I just don’t like it. I quite enjoy October with the golden light shining through the leaves as they make the change from green to yellow to red. I quite like December too. Christmas carols, the crisp air promising snow, and the expectation of school letting out for holiday. November is a bit like the Thursday of the year. It’s not yet winter  and it’s past the pretty time of autumn. It’s not yet holiday time and it’s not the fun part of the early semester. It is an awkward time when the sun, if not hidden by dense clouds, is always in your eyes and the weather never seems to know what it is doing. As I was watching the news this morning, the weatherman stood in front of a screen predicting the weather for the week, “rain likely, light fog, heavy clouds”—simply dreary. This pretty much sums up November to me. November is made even more awful by the fact that every single November I get ill.

            I remember the first November this pattern began. I was fourteen and I was in my school’s production of Amadeus, the rather intense play about Mozart’s life. A bit too intense for teenagers I think. The week before the show, the first week of November, I got a nasty head cold that slowly made it’s way painfully down my throat and into my lungs. Luckily, my role was the silent role of “maid #1” so I didn’t exactly need the use of my vocal chords. Nevertheless, this inconvenient illness made staying up til midnight or later every night on stage quite dreadful. What makes these illnesses worse is that they last. They don’t just come and go like a normal cold. These November colds remain the entire month. They just never seem to leave, completely ruining the joys of Thanksgiving, the one bright spot of the month. Not that this annoying cold is exactly the Black Death, but it certainly has plagued me. It happened when I lived in Colorado, stuck around in New York, perpetuated in San Francisco, and has now followed me across the pond to Oxford.

            I thought, hoped, and wished, that maybe as I now lead a much healthier life than my teenage years that I could end this pattern of illness. No such luck. November 1st arrived and almost immediately I felt a tickle in my throat and a slight throbbing behind my right eye. And so it began. After a week, once again the little monster had made its way into my lungs and no matter how many oranges I ate, how much tea I drank, or how many hours I slept, I just couldn’t kick it. So I resigned myself to the cold, bought a fresh pack of tissues, and put on a thick scarf and carried on with life, as I have done for the past six Novembers.

            It came to pass that some of my friends were taking a day trip to the city of Bath.  After a bit of convincing, and the promise of a free meal, I decided to leave my warm bed and join them on this venture.

            There is a certain magical quality about Bath. A certain mystery that draws people today just as it did 100 years ago, 400 years ago, and 2000 years ago. I wanted to see what it is about this city that makes it so special. This magic is not so much magic as it is a result of geological phenomenon. The hot springs that give this small city renown, allegedly curing severe illnesses and holding the power of wisdom, are the result of geothermal forces deep under ground—it sounds a bit like magic. When the rain pours down, as it often does, on the nearby Mendip Hills, it soaks into the ground and percolates down through limestone aquifers to about 10,000 feet below ground. Deep in the bowels of the earth, the “geothermal energy” raises the water temperature and under the immense pressure of being that far under ground, the heated water rises to the surface along fissures and faults in the limestone. The water emerges at ground level at around 46°C, perfect for bathing. In 863 BC this geological process was discovered by Prince Bladud, the supposed father of King Lear. After bathing in the muddy waters, being cured of leprosy, he founded the city proclaiming its magical powers and soon after became the ninth King of the Britons—that is if you believe such stories.

            Sitting in the window seat, fifth row back, of a rather rickety bus, I rest my head against the fogged up glass and attempt to nap. My head is aching and I am beginning to question why I thought waking up at 7 on a Saturday only to sit on a bus for two hours was a good idea. Next to me Arianna looks attentively ahead of her out of the front window of the bus. She is pretending to listen to the tour guide as we pass Prince Charles’s estate but I can hear the banjo of the Indie Rock music playing through her headphones hidden under a felt hat. Resigning myself to the fact that I won’t get a nap in this tin can of a vehicle and that I am not in bed, wrapped up in a fleece blanket, listening to the rain patter on my window, I watch the rolling hills pass us by. I’ve never been particularly good at directions, especially in a foreign land. Growing up in Colorado it was pretty easy, the mountains are always West. Unless of course you are in the mountains, then you just have to figure out where the bigger, snowier mountains are and that is West. San Francisco it wasn’t too bad either, the ocean was to the West. That is of course unless you are on the pier next to the bay, in which case the ocean is pretty much all around you except behind. Here however, on this foreign little island, I am in a perpetual state of lost. I am told that Bath is 97 miles West of London and 13 miles South East of Bristol. That doesn’t mean much to me. I do know that it is south of Oxford. And I know that as we drive I can see the rolling hills of the Cotswolds.

            It’s no wonder really that when the Romans, or Celts or who ever was here first, found this land they thought it was special. It is really. With the Cotswolds, homes to dragons, fairies, hobbits, and all manner of imagination, to the north, and the hot water bubbling up from below, Bath is situated in a kind of geographical sanctuary. The road dips down and we pass under a bridge, the windows, or my mind, are too foggy for me to be able to truly see what the surroundings look like. The bus pulls up in front of the Bath Abbey and we all clamber off, eager to move our legs. My head still hurts and Arianna pulls out her umbrella for us to stand under. It’s not raining too hard, just that drizzle that you don’t notice until you are completely drenched. The tour guide gives us directions to meet back in front of the Abbey at 4:30 on the dot or risk missing the bus back to Oxford. After standing around awkwardly, no one really knowing what to do or where to go, people begin to drift off in groups of twos and threes and fours. Arianna suggests that we get inside somewhere.

            Next to the Norman style abbey, complete with flying buttresses and a pointed parapet, stands the Roman Bath Museum—the site of the ancient baths. The Baths were treated as a shrine to the goddess Sulis by the Britons, according to some faintly carved stones found deep under the ground. When the Romans came, they adopted the site, as well as the name of the goddess, and created a sanctuary of rest and relaxation, which they named “Aquae Sulis”—the waters of Sulis. Being masters of adoption, the Romans equated Sulis to their goddess Minerva, who was a derivation of the Greek goddess Athena: goddess of wisdom and sponsor of arts, trade, and strategy. The Romans, who were a lot more inventive than I think I have ever given them credit for, created a complex system of baths in this sanctuary.

 

“Bright were the halls, many the baths,

High the gables, great the joyful noise,

Many the mead-hall full of pleasures-

Until fate the mighty overturned it all”

–“The Ruin”, Exeter Book

           

Arianna and I enter the museum and give the man our tokens, receive our audio tour guides, and begin the tour of the Roman baths. We walk around the upper balcony, from which you can look down into the main bath. Along the carved rail, looking over the waters, stand a collection of Roman statues: Ostorius Scapula, Julius Agricola, and, of course, Julius Caesar. They strike an imposing image, these statues: all important, all old, and all dead. They all look the same if you ask me. We walk down from the balcony, through some museum rooms full of artifacts and into the archeological site of the bath rooms.  

Despite the fact that the ruins of the Roman temple were hidden under the ground for hundreds of years, only to be discovered in the 1790s, the structure of those original rooms is still firmly in place. Hot rooms, baths, pools, and places of simultaneous worship and relaxation all flow one into the other, following the flow of the hot water. I often forget that there have been brilliant people around for a very long time. Intuition and invention are not unique to modern times. As I stand at the rail, looking into the hot room all I can think is, “whoever made this was absolutely brilliant”. The floor that we see today is not the floor on which those bathers of old would stand, disrobed and relaxed. The floor we see today is covered with apparently random stacks of bricks, and from above it looks a bit like a poorly laid out city viewed from atop a mountain. Chimney stacks of a toy town. On these stacks of bricks would have been laid another floor. The water from the springs would then run between these two levels of floor, around the brick stacks. This would heat up the floor and on which cold water would then be poured. The cold water would turn into steam, creating a Roman-style sauna.

There are then also the baths themselves. There is the extra hot bath, a swimming bath, a cool bath, and one that looks distinctly like a hot tub (minus the jet settings and cushioned seats). Looking into the water I can’t imagine wanting to submerge my body in it. The water is green and slimy. The last place I would want to relax. Especially if ill. And yet, according to the sign next to me, for centuries "from all over England sick people come to wash away their infirmities in the healing waters, and the healthy gaze at the remarkable bubbling up of the hot springs." Maybe the secret to good health is actually in toxic looking green water. Fortunately, or maybe unfortunately, I am not able to test this theory as we were told upon entering the museum not to touch the water under any circumstance what so ever. Either because it’s magical curing water that could grant me special powers, or more likely because of the years and layers of filth that have grown in the water. More likely, instead of being healed, I would come out with a third arm or a layer of scales.

From the baths, heat rooms, and Roman temple, we make our way to the pump room, stopping first in the gift shop. After purchasing some post cards and an overpriced block of soap in the gift shop, we make our ways up the marble stairs and enter into a large creamy yellow room. Hanging from the ceiling is an enormous crystal, or maybe glass, chandelier. Interspersed evenly along the walls are grand pillars with gold detailing drawing your eyes always upward. The general airiness and lightness of the room is marked with deep red curtains draped over the large windows looking out onto the square. A clatter of forks and knifes and rumble of voices proclaiming the deliciousness of the food permeates the air. When I close my eyes I can imagine ladies in sweeping pastel gowns and wide brimmed hats nodding politely at men in top hats and tails while whispering behind fans.

I walk through the maze of tables, trying not to knock into anyone, and come to the bar. I ask, trying not to cough, for a glass of the special bath water. I am handed a glass and ask for another for Arianna, I am not about to try this on my own. We both take a sip. It taste like liquid chalk. Or as Sam Weller says in The Pickwick Papers, it has a “very strong flavour o’ warm flat irons”. Surely something that tastes so disgusting must have healing properties.

Deciding we have seen enough of the baths and wanting to get away from the, in Arianna’s words, “distinct basement smell of Roman things”, we exit the pump room and museum. Like Catherine Morland, the young heroine of Austen’s Northanger Abbey, we hasten away “to breath the fresh air of better company”, as well as in search of food. I follow Arianna into the street, trying to keep my eye on her long red hair amongst the crowds of tourists—it is a Saturday after all. Once we are well away from the Roman Temple Museum and have thoroughly washed out the taste of chalk from our mouths with some peppermint gum, we turn to a street map. Where to? We have no itinerary to follow, we have no commitments before making the bus at 4:30 and we have no one else to dictate what we should and should not do. That is, in my opinion, the best way to travel. Have enough structure that you don’t wander around aimlessly but not too much to prohibit spontaneity.

It is still raining and the wind is picking up.

Huddled under the umbrella, we waddle down the cobbled stone road past some clothing stores, a coffee shop, a bar, candy shop, and tourist shop until we find a pub that has the proper atmosphere for lunch. I don’t remember now the name of the pub nor the name of the street. Perhaps this is due to my poor sense of direction or the fogginess in my head from a handful of cold medicine, or maybe because of the gnawing hunger in my belly. I seem to remember walking down an alley and turning left next to a giant sign of a horse. But of course this means nothing. We found lunch and we found pleasant company.

The plump woman behind the bar takes our orders, a jacket potato stuffed with cheese and bacon for me and bangers and mash for Arianna. As we sit, nestled in the booth next to the window, the door flies open with a burst of cold air and three more of our gang, Logan, Alisha, and Brandon, enter. After ordering their drinks and food they join us.

Maybe not the “better company” of Miss Catherine Morland or such acquaintances as the king of 18th century society Richard Nash, but for me there is no better society than those of good friends. We sit in the corner window laughing at the number of potato dishes among us—five, all of different variety—and discuss studies, life, the weather, home, and Romans.

Once we have had our fill of the comfort food and warmed up our noses and toes, Arianna and I say farewell to our friends and go our way. Out on the street, the fog is beginning to lift and my mind is feeling clearer. Perhaps it was the chalk water or the healing powers of Sulis Minerva. Maybe just the special touch of good company and delicious food, but I am quite certain I am beginning to feel better. After winding our way back to a street that looks somewhat familiar, although to be honest, most of the streets in small English cities look the same, Arianna pulls out the map she had been given by the disgruntled tour guide. It is a poorly printed black and white copy of the map on the “Visit Bath” website. Most of the print is too small or too smudged to read, but after a bit of guessing we figure out that we are on High Street. I do wonder at the creativity of British street naming. I think just about every street is named High, Broad, George, or the name of some other past Monarch. Nevertheless, we are aware enough to know that we are in Bath, not Oxford, and so this High Street is one yet to be explored by our wandering feet. We begin to stroll.

Like any city, the architecture of Bath serves as a skeleton. An underlying structure which gives form to function. Of course there are the Roman sites, but most of those are in the state of archaeology and about 20 feet below ground. Then there is the Norman influence in the domineering silhouette of the Bath Abbey. In contrast to the angular dark grey parapets of the Abbey, stand the honey-coloured façades of the Georgian style houses. When the city was “rediscovered” in the 18th century, it became the social center of English, and beyond, high society. To match with the large gowns and stylish lace of fine ladies and foppish gents, the architect John Wood was hired to create a city in which to enjoy the finer things in life. Although he died before his plan was completed, his son carried on his legacy to great effect. The building fronts originally used as specialty houses to rent, like personal hotels, made of the gold “bathstone” from the limestone Combe Down and Bathampton Down mines positively glows with luxury.

High street eventually turns into Broad street. If you turn left onto George St. from Broad and then right on Gay St. in front of you stands a veritable cake of Georgian architecture. Quite literally, it looks like a cake. “The Circus”, intended for such posh activities as out door theatre or games, is made of three long, curved terraces. Again we hearken to Roman times, imagining that the designer, John Wood, was attempting to recreate the Colosseum. Although, I can’t imagine the British high society watching gladiator fights, but perhaps some pantomime or a nice game of croquet.

We walk around The Circus a time or two, waving pretend fans and speaking in hushed voices about imaginary gentlemen callers, we then exit the circle via Brock street. From there we can see the Royal Crescent. Now I can see why maybe Jane Austen didn’t exactly enjoy living in Bath. The sheer magnitude, while beautiful, is garish in contrast to the hint of nature beyond in the Royal Victoria Park. The Royal Crescent, looking a bit like a giant golden croissant, was the creation of the younger John Wood. Mr. Wood however only designed the curved façade and the basic structure of the 30 houses making up this half-moon building. Each purchaser bought a house and then employed their own architect to build their dream home. The front is completely uniform, hiding an array of differences within. A bit like people I’d say.

Having had enough of looking at big old fancy buildings made by dead guys, Arianna and I turn on our heels and head back to High street. We now have about two hours before the bus is scheduled to leave. Perhaps spurred by the grandiosity of it all and the lingering ghosts of rich visitors, we stop in a few of the shops. Knowing full well that I am a college student living abroad and money is in short supply, I nevertheless can’t help but run my hands through the racks of cashmere jumpers and fur coats. From the flashy store fronts of High St. we turn down a small alley way. Here the store fronts sport hand made signs. After three consecutive hair salons we turn into a second-hand store. It smells of mothballs and old wool. It makes me sneeze. It is warm in here. I look through the rack next to the door, sporting a red sign that says “Sale: £5” and a wide array of gingham shirts, cotton jumpers, and leather skirts. I can’t imagine wearing anything on this rack. Arianna buys a hat that looks like an upside down tulip, the orange felt clashing terribly with her red hair, but it’s funny and she swears she is never taking it off.

We must have been in the shop for quite a while because when we walk out the door, the bell jingling merrily behind us, it has begun to rain again and the sky is distinctly darker. It is just about 3:45 but it looks like 7. I have yet to get used to the darkness of this small northern island. We are not far from the bus station and my head is beginning to pound again, although not quite as badly as before. At Arianna’s suggestion, we find a small café and order two hot chocolates, as well as some water, not the chalky, “warm flat iron” variety. The hot chocolate is dark and rich. It coats my throat, making it hard to talk and bringing on another coughing fit, but it is absolutely delicious so I soon set down my empty mug and look out the window. Arianna chats on and on about Jane Austen living here, imagining her daily life and what she must have done, who she must have seen. Occasionally I nod, but my mind wanders.

The rain is pouring down, far below us the rain is being heated and put under pressure, only to rise back up to the ground. I imagine the water flowing upwards through the fissures and faults in the limestone a bit like blood flowing in our veins. Water flowing, blood flowing, people flowing. This little city, on the southern edge of the Cotswolds, 97 miles west of London and 13 miles South East of Bristol, is charming. It is beautiful. The architecture is beautiful and the history is beautiful. I love the thought that as the water flows up through the ground and as blood flows in our veins so too do people flow. We are all caught in a current of some kind. I have now joined another current. The flow of visitors coming to Bath, seeking healing; healing from illness, from society, and from life.

Every November, I get ill. This also is a current, it is a flow. I can’t say that the trip to Bath healed me, as I sit here writing I am still coughing. That isn’t to say it didn’t do me any good.

At 4:30 we climb back on the bus. Arianna and I sit in the same seats as in the morning. My head still hurts, my throat is sore, and I can’t breath out of my nose, but something is different. I feel distinctly different than I had in the morning. I can’t say what exactly, but I can feel it. I don’t know why it is, certainly not the chalky water or the rainy weather, but something about Bath has healing powers and I feel different. I put on my headphones, turn on some music, and close my eyes. 

A Rural Scene

The account that follows is a true story about two young girls living in the lovely town of Oxford. 

There once were two girls named Justice and Claire, here after referred to simply as J and C. One was tall (in comparison) and blonde, the other short(er) and brunette. They both hailed from the exotic state of California, the blonde from the colorful land of San Francisco and the brunette from the southern area of LA. There came a time when they both decided they needed a little more adventure in their lives and thus ventured into the very intimidating and stressful realm of "Oxford University"–a land where everyone seems to be able to maintain perfect lives of dressing well, partying every night, engaging in intellectually conversation, rowing, playing rugby, watching rugby, breaking the rule of "keep off the lawn" by playing croquet, all while still keeping up with their classes at one of the top ranking universities in the world. After nearly six weeks of being in this foreign country, they found that the brits must drink magic juice every morning in order to maintain this life style because for normal people it simply IS NOT POSSIBLE. Yes my dear readers, the stress finally got to the pretty little heads of J and C and they almost exploded while sitting in their flat near the train station while trying to finish essays (while simultaneously working out rowing schedules, a cappella group practices, and the minds of the british men). So, in order to avoid the mess of exploded brains, J and C went for a run. What a wise decision that was for our two heroines. After running for 2.5 miles along the towpath besides the thames they came upon the ruins of a castle, long abandoned. After a quick yoga session, they turned around and began the 2.5 miles back home.

It was then that they encountered Stephen. An old man wearing a bright yellow vest in a little run down sail boat attempting to sort out his tangled ropes. C turned to J and said, "oh look sailing! that looks lovely", to which Stephen called out "would you like to try?!". Thinking that he was probably offering simply in jest, C replied "oh yes we would love to, when?", "How about now?". That took J and C a bit off guard, but after exchanging a few furtive glances, they agreed and hopped on board. After a quick lesson as to the names of the the different sails, what rope to pull and when, and a firm instruction to not fall out of the boat because he didn't have anymore life vests, Stephen cast us off and we began to sail down the Thames.

(A quick intersting note as to the setting of this tale, this particular section of the Thames is actually a man made section, diverting the river from it's original path. It is conjectured that it was dug during probably the age of the saxons. It runs through the "port meadow", an area of open land in Oxford that has remained an open field, no buildings, structures, roads etc, for over 1000 years. Every year they bring in a new team of horses to roam this land, wild and free. It is quite nice.)

Immediately the girls felt that Stephen was a kindred spirit. While on this cold and windy adventure he told them many a tale, often while imitating a pirate captain or viking leader. He told of a St. Bernard going on an adventure through Europe wearing a suit and tie (a story for "grown ups who never did a good job at growing up"), stories of his friend sea gull to whom he used to feed pork fat. He shows us how he had made his sail boat, which has a fascinating name that sadly this author has now forgotten, and pointed out how each sail is actually multiple found pieces of fabric stitched together. Twice on this venture a loud snap was heard, at which the girls turned around to find Stephen holding a broken rudder. And twice he fixed it using found pieces of broken oars. At one point J looked down at her feet, inch deep in water, to see a little coventry mouse, named Hubert, sticking its nose out of a hole in the stern. Once discerning whether it was safe to come out, he scampered to the back of the boat, ran around Stephen, who worned his little "passenger" not to fall in the water, and then ran back into his safe and, presumably, much warmer home. As they continued on, the odd trio surrounded by billowing sails passed a clump of trees. Upon looking upon the leafs falling to the ground Stephen began to recite these words:


My aspens dear, whose airy cages quelled,

  Quelled or quenched in leaves the leaping sun,

  All felled, felled, are all felled;

    Of a fresh and following folded rank

                Not spared, not one

                That dandled a sandalled

         Shadow that swam or sank

On meadow & river & wind-wandering weed-winding bank.

       

  O if we but knew what we do

         When we delve or hew —

     Hack and rack the growing green!

          Since country is so tender

     To touch, her being só slender,

     That, like this sleek and seeing ball

     But a prick will make no eye at all,

     Where we, even where we mean

                 To mend her we end her,

            When we hew or delve:

After-comers cannot guess the beauty been.

  Ten or twelve, only ten or twelve

     Strokes of havoc unselve

           The sweet especial scene,

     Rural scene, a rural scene,

     Sweet especial rural scene.


These beautiful lines were written by the catholic priest Gerard Manley Hopkins in the year 1879 whilst sitting under the trees the two girls were passing by in a funny little boat with a funny little man. At the sound of his voice, usually laughing a jovial, turned low and somber, an odd, almost religious feeling hit the girls. It was a moment that is to last in their memories forever, a moment of suspended time. A moment of living history and beauty incarnate.

However, all moments must come to an end and eventually the two girls had to bid their new companion farewell. Frozen to the bone but enlivened to the core they raced home (quite literally, they had a jog to finish after all) to wrap up in blankets and enjoy a nice cuppa.

xoxo

Justice

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Posh and Ponnies

As I mentioned in my latest post I recently spent a couple of days in Scotland. Despite the impression that Braveheart had given me, not everyone in the cold land to the north wears kilts all the time. In fact, I only saw two men in kilts and one of them was trying to sell me cheap Scottish tourist mementos like a little plastic figurine of Nessy. Actually, to my great surprise, most everyone in Scotland, and the whole British isles, dress a lot like Americans. It's like we all look at the same fashion magazines or something...

The only thing I have noticed that is quite different is that people here really know how to dress up. And not just for nice events or on Sunday morning, on average people here just look nice all the time. Particularly in the university cities. The males tend to wear a lot of bow ties, button up shirts, corduroy trousers, oxford shoes, and fancy socks. meanwhile their female counter parts are typically in nice trousers and or dresses with boots, blazers, jumpers, and perfectly done makeup. This style is referred to here as "posh". I love this term, and style. I believe that it originates from the age old tradition of polo–the "royal" sport. If you are unaware, polo is a sport played on horses. Usually 3-4 people per team, you ride the horse and use a mallet to hit a into the goal. Kind of like field hockey, just on horses, and very dangerous. Despite the danger of being hit by a mallet or getting pushed off your horse, this sport is the ultimate of posh activities. 

The funny thing about polo is that they still wear the costume that was worn in the 18th century when it became highly popular. Of course it has morphed a bit, but in general they still wear the trousers, boots, and jersey jackets of the old days. Which is exactly where the posh style originates. Just think Ralph Lauren, hunter boots, tweed blazers, and button up patterned shirts.

I had the opportunity to attend a polo match on the beach in St. Andrews on this past Saturday. I was surrounded by university students in riding boots and blazers and rich french tourists in their white trousers and sweaters wrapped around their shoulders. I like to consider myself a well dressed person, but I must admit that in my grey James Perse maxi dress and big chunky sweater I felt rather out of place. 

So now I have a mission, to fit in amongst the posh crowd. Not only will I start to shop at Jack Wills, Joules, and various tweed shops (budget permitting), I am determined to develop a british accent and learn how to ride horses.

xoxo

Justice

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Keeping Your Wits

I would like to start off by sincerely apologizing for the lack in writing lately. Between studying hard, exploring Oxford, drinking lots of tea, trying to find gluten free scones, and galavanting off to Scotland for a few days, it has been hard to find time to sit down with Pascal (my lovely MacBook Pro) and type. I now sit at my desk in our little flat across the street from the oxford train station, cup of coffee beside me, and half an hour of leisure until I must begin preparing for a day in London. Above my desk I have a little collection of sketches, postcard, and inspirational sayings–anything to brighten up the dreariness of our off white walls. One of these little scraps of paper says "Keep your wits about you". This is one of those sayings that I grew up hearing daily, along with "Make good choices", "cleanliness is next to godliness", and "remember to wash your brushes properly when you are done painting". It is one of those sayings that I have heard so often, that I rarely actually think about what it means. Apparently it is something that my Great Grandmother Nana said all the time, which is why my daddy says it every time we go somewhere. As I look at it now, I realize how even though I don't actually pay attention to the words anymore, that little saying has been deeply ingrained into me and has shaped me to become who I am today. It is a part of my character. It is something that informs my every decision, whether or not I am aware of it. Now I don't know what "keep your wits about you" derives from, whether Nana made it up or it is actually a real saying that people frequently say, nor do I know how you interpret it. I, though, interpret it as this: In life, there are distractions, there are things that will keep you from the path (literally and figuratively). If you have not your wits about you, you are likely to stray from that path. Wit (n.) is a word of Germanic origin, denoting the mind as the seat of consciousness. It means the ability for inventive thought and quick understanding. This isn't just, or really at all, knowing lots of big words and acing exams. It means being able to know what to do in a sticky situation, being aware of ones surroundings, knowing how to find your way through a strange city without going loco. It means having the ability to, when you miss your train from Edinburgh to Oxford, knowing instinctively to head straight to a train employee, smile on your face, to ask for help. 

Yesterday I came to realize exactly how much "keep your wits about you" has become a part of my character. For the apst few days I have been enjoying a nice little, solitary, trip up to the land of my forefathers, Scotland. I visited my high school friend in St. Andrews for two days and took a train back to Edinburgh Yesterday. I arrived in the Scottish capital at 12:45, knowing full well that my next train wouldn't leave for three hours. So I went on a walk about around town to find a picnic lunch. Somehow, despite having plenty of time, I got caught up in a conversation with a nice man about kilts and plaid and tartans and ended up missing my 3:55 train to Oxford (this would be an example of clearly NOT having my wits about me). Nevertheless, I kept my head. At the moment I ran up to the platform and saw my train leaving the station, the words my father repeated so often started going round and round in my head. Instead of panicking, as I wanted to do, I giggled to myself for my own stupidity and strolled up to a man in a yellow vest. Yellow vests are something so heinously loud and attention grabbing that they can only mean one thing: that person is there to help. This young man with crooked teeth and an almost incomprehensible accent saw immediately that I was out of breath and guessed that I had meant to be on the train he had just waved out of the station. He took my ticket from my hand and walked me to an office. He told me to wait outside while he sorted things out for me. About 15 minutes later, during which I ate 4 apples, he came back out with a wide grin on my face, "today is your lucky day young lady"

He had found a way to get me onto the very last train going to Oxford that day, due to leave in ten minutes. Free of charge. He walked me to the platform, introduced me to the conductor, and showed me where I ought to sleep. The amount of kindness was quite overwhelming. I love this country. 

I know of course that if I had truly had my wits about me I wouldn't have gotten into this pickle int he first place, but hey that is what learning opportunities are for! I still haven't quite refined my wit, but it is on its way. Today as I head to London I will be sure to be alert, attentive, punctual, keen, and always always always remember the words of my daddy "Eat your vegetables."

oh wait no, other words, "Keep your wits about you, lassy"


xoxo

Justice

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With A Smile and a Song?

Every morning I go on a run along the Thames at about 6:30 am. A beautiful run on a rocky bath alongside a green river. I pass narrow boats docked for the night, see ducks and geese floating along without a care in the world, and avoid hitting my fellow early risers. I do this every morning, the same as I did in Colorado and in San Francisco. Just a little bit of uniformity in my schedule to make me feel at home. While the action is the same, I listen to the same playlist, I wear the same spandex pants and nike tennis shoes with the hole in the toe, this morning run is distinctly different. There is no way that I could forget that I am in fact in another country while doing this rather mundane activity. It's not because of the cows or the river or the gypsy boats, no those things aren't odd. It's the fact that I am completely alone. Sure there are other runners, an old couple walking a dog, a young man biking to class, but given the attention I receive it would appear as if I am in complete solitude. There are no nods hello, no cheery "good mornings!", and certainly not a stop for a chat. Occasionally there are smiles, but without teeth, of recognition. It's not just on my early morning run that I encounter this kind of behavior, it's ubiquitous. This is weird to me. In the states I am used to being accosted from every which way as soon as I step out my front door (in San Francisco at least, not so much Colorado except by elks and cows). By American standards I have RBF–translation here– simply because I don't smile and greet everyone with a giant hug and over excited "Hello!". However here in England I am essentially a Disney princess, all giggles and grins like Giselle. At first I thought, "wow everyone here is so grumpy". But I don't think that is the case. I don't think that they are angry. I don't think they are indifferent to those around them. I think it is because they genuinely respect privacy and uphold modesty in behavior. You don't go around pushing your nose into other people's business here, you just don't. I think that this kind of decency is stitched throughout the quilt of English history. It is a part of their DNA because of the simple fact that they are an island. And not just an island, but a great nation on a relatively small island. There are a lot of people here, particularly in London. Everything is just a little closer together which makes finding privacy a little hard. So, how do you compensate for close quarters when you don't have an entire western section of the country to expand into? You learn how to find solitude in crowds. Having a stranger greet you on the street with an absurdly large smile would be comparable to having a giant storm into your living room at tea time. Rude. There are definitely some faults in this system. A smile on the street can brighten any day–particularly one marked with the characteristic English weather. On the other hand though, I think there are some benefits to this sense of public privacy. I have often found that it is hard to tell genuine kindness and openness in a culture that treats everyone as a BFF. Is that person really my friend or are they just that nice to everyone? Are they sincerely concerned about my wellbeing or are they simply asking because it is "the thing to do"? It's hard to create a real sense of community when every single person has a smile plastered on their faces 24/7. I know this might shock you, but just hear me out. We have all at least once in our lives gone through a photo session where you have to stand smiling at various cameras whilst trying not to giggle or cry and constantly shifting weight between feet trapped in uncomfortable shoes. I am, of course, referring to homecoming, prom, weddings, etc. After a while your smile, while at first genuine, begins to fade and your cheeks start to go numb. The best pictures are those ones caught in an instant of genuine happiness. Those rare captured moments of laughter at a joke, a hug of reunited friends, a great surprise. That's kind of what a smile in England like, it shows that someone actually has noticed you as an individual, not as simply another part of the mass of faces. Then if someone actually strikes up a conversation with you, wow, they actually want to be your acquaintance. They may even want to be your friend. I think this leads for a more honest society. It makes social-ness so much easier. 

I am not sure where I am going this and I am really really tired and my mind is slightly overflowing from class today...I just want to leave you with some thoughts. Is going around life like an advertisement for Yoplait really the best way to portray genuine kindness? Or does it lead to cheek numbness and a disdain for those you are "required" to smile at? Is that really the best way to make friends and create a community?

Sure there are pros and cons of every culture, but I just think it is important to take into consideration those of others than just our own. 

Picture courtesy of Judson Alphin

Then again, it would be pretty hard to be cheery and smily all the time when surrounded by such imposing buildings and beauty. Why smile when the surroundings can do it for you?

xoxo

Justice

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Pimm's and Punting

"If you believe me, my young friend, there is nothing - absolutely nothing, half so worth doing as - simply messing around in boats!"

As far as a can tell, a large part of being British is knowing how to make almost any activity seem charmingly dignified. Whilst sitting beneath a large weeping willow in the Christ Church meadow my mate and i observed a group of people, young and old, in hats, vests, dresses, and shiny shoes playing croquet. Not only were they playing croquet, but they also had champagne and were listening to a man play the accordion. Now this wouldn't be a particularly odd thing if it was Easter or if it was obviously someone's birthday. But it was neither. Apparently they just do this whenever they feel like it, as a fun outing on a Saturday morning. Instead of hanging out and watching cartoons or going to a movie, they get all "poshed" up and head to the park. What a lovely life. It was so enjoyable watching this group of strangers engage in such a dignified activity, that we (my new mates and I) have started our own tradition of classy outings. Our first was a day of punting and picnicking. "Punting" is essnetially the classy way to travel down a river. It involved a long, flat bottomed boat called a "punt". Someone, the "Punter", stands on the back (in the Oxford style, Cambridge does it differently) with a large pole. He/She shoves the boat along with the pole by pushing directly on the bed of the river. It is extremely difficult to maneuver which is why I chose to sit in the punt with a glass of orange juice and some cheese and bread while I left the work to the men. The lovely thing about such an activity is that it is a great way to engage in conversation with your fellow travelers without much distraction. I often find that when I am with my friends we rarely talk, simply talk. We are always doing other stuff, like studying or shopping, and occasionally throw in an odd comment or two. But when on a boat, floating slowly past gardens, trees, and 700 year old castles there isn't much you can do but be stimulated intellectually–which is bound to promote fascinating conversation. You can also choose to sit quietly and just take in the serenity of being on a river surrounded by beauty. We were only on the river Thames for an hour but it felt much longer. It was refreshing, invigorating, and inspiring. I felt as if I had this great treat of an afternoon, doing something that Queens and Kings enjoy, and yet it only cost me £7 (about 12$). Proof that a cultural, dignified, classy, enjoyable activity doesn't have to cost a fortune nor does it have to take an exorbitant amount of effort or planning. I suggest you try it. Even if you don't live next to the Thames and have access to a punt, you too can enjoy an activity like the Brits. Just find some friends, put on clothes other than sweats or jeans, preferably a dress or some trousers, find a nice park, bring a picnic and sit for at least an hour. Enjoy people, enjoy time, enjoy life.

xoxo

Justice

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From Oxford with love

Good morning world! If you are a regular reader of this here blog o' mine, you are likely aware of the fact that I have neglected to write anything for about two weeks now. That is not because I am giving of the blogging business nor because I have been dreadfully ill. It is because I have been caught in the throws of packing up my life and transferring my location across the pond. For the next three months or so I am deserting my beloved home land of America and getting in touch with my roots in the British Isles, while also expanding my mind and doing the learning thing. I have now been in Oxford for three days and already I feel right at home on this island. However, there are definitely many things that will take some getting used to. Despite the fact that they speak, kind of, the same language as us and for the most part they look like us, with the exception of teeth and hair styles, England is most certainly NOT America. 

1) Pants are not what you think they are. Trousers are pants. Pants go underneath your trousers and are not to be seen. 

2) Tummy button is not a kind of candy but rather a body part. 

3) Rubbish goes in a bin, is taken out to the skip and is picked up by a lorry

4) In the morning you may like to drink Orange Juice with "juicy bits"

5) Faffing around is extremely annoying and a common past time of teenage girls and tourists. Do not faff around.

6) The thing that provides you internet is pronounced "rooter" 

7) Brits don't smile as much as Americans. Maybe this is because they don't have the best dental care or maybe because they are more private. Who knows. 

I am sure I will learn many more such British-isms and I will be sure to share them with all of you. For now my mind is reeling from these few adjustments. Have a lovely day every one, pip pip cheerio!

xoxo

Justice

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You be Cinnamon and I'll be Cayenne

Sweet and salty, black and white, we know these combinations. These seemingly opposing forces oddly work together. Black never looks quite as dark and imposing as when next to a bright white, nor does salt ever taste quite so amazing as when it is sprinkled atop some caramel. These opposites work because they actually are quite similar. Sweetness and saltiness both are strong flavors that use to enhance other flavors. Black and white are both extremes of color, one being all colors and the other a complete lack of colors (this can go either way depending if we are talking about pigments or light). They would not work quite as well if they were 100% different. It is the duality within the similarity that makes opposing combinations so strong.

I like to think about this often when in the kitchen. If I am going to use a strong, spicy spice like cayenne, I often throw in a dash of cinnamon. The mixture of these two creates a swirl of exciting confusion when you lift the spoon to your awaiting tastebuds. This duality, this yin and yang you may say, is an important element in life. Especially in friendships. Sure you don't want to be friends with people completely opposite you in every way, but I think it is important to have differences that can be used to enhance each other.

I have this one friend, well more like cousin, who is pretty cool. Her name is Banjo. Yes, like the instrument. She is an amazing, talented, beautiful, strong, independent, hilarious young woman. Banjo and I have this habit of always being exactly the same but in completely different ways. We often show up to dinner or church wearing the same outfit but in completely different styles. I might be wearing a white lace dress, brown ankle boots, and flowers in my hair while she wears a black lace dress, doc martins, and a chain necklace. We are the same, but different. More than the way we dress, our personalities are very similar but very different. We both have similar strengths (ie. humor, talking, listening, leading) but we go about each one in very different manners. Example, we both enjoy theatre, but I am the backstage, writing in the corner type while she stands in the bright lights belting her heart out to loud applause. This allows us to lift each other up and, like spices, enhance each other. We are kind of like a clown fish and sea anemones with our symbiotic-ness. 

banjo5.jpg
mae2.jpg

Are there salts to your sweet in your life? Can you be someone's cayenne? Who can you lift up simply by being yourself?


xoxo

Justice

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Sending Your Thoughts

 
Letters are no matter of indifference; they are generally a very positive curse
— Jane Austen

No body writes letters anymore. I go to the mailbox and I don’t quite see the point. All that is in that black box with the red flag on the side are a bunch of bills, never-to-be-opened catalogues, and ads by politicians I know nothing about. I guess with email, Facebook, texting, phones, etc. nobody really has use for mail anymore. But oh to receive a letter, how divine! My sisters and I still send snail mail to each other on occasion, even though we talk on the phone daily and I even live with one of them for most of the year, but nevertheless it is so meaningful to receive a little envelope filled with greetings, encouragements, and tokens of love. To receive a letter is to receive permanent proof of someone’s thoughts. It’s like they sealed, stamped, and sent you their fleeting thoughts of you. As I am a word of affirmation kind of person,

I wish I could receive more letters. I have come to realize that in order to receive more, I must send more. Now I know that I am not the only one who likes to receive letters, so that follows that I am not the only one who should start sending more letters.

How to write a letter according to Miss. Toast and Roses:

Taken from tips by Miss. Manners

You must first select the proper paper. Whether you prefer thick, gold bordered letter paper with your initials monogrammed on the top or cute floral stationary from Papyrus, you must select the paper that works for you. Once you have selected your preferred paper/cards you must reserve it only for letter writing. NOT FOR NOTE TAKING. NOT FOR TODO LIST MAKING. ONLY LETTERS!

After your paper is selected you must decide whom to write to. Is there an old friend you haven’t heard from for a while? Or did someone give you a gift a while ago and you never thanked him or her? Or is your mother in need of some encouragement?

Once you have a recipient in mind, sit down with a nice cup of tea and begin to write. It is not required in the modern age to follow proper letter writing etiquette, but I think it is still preferred.

Start with the date on the upper right hand corner.

Then your salutation. Some suggestions from Miss. Manners are:

Dear
Dear Friends
Dear Madam
Dear Sir
Dear Sirs or Madam
Gentlemen
Madam my Sister
Mesdames
Sir my Brother

After the salutation you write a little introduction. This can be things like “alls been well with me”, “the cat is fatter than ever”, or “I do miss you ever so much and just had to write you a little note of love”. Just as in essay writing, you then write the meat of the letter. This could be essential information about your life or questions you have just been dying to ask of the recipient. Just remember to always keep it simple and inviting, that way you are more likely to get a response. After a short conclusion, such as “I’d love to hear from you soon” or “You really ought to stop by for tea sometime, just give me a ring”, write your salutation and signature.

Suggestions of salutations:
Affectionately
Love
Respectfully
Sincerely yours
Your friend
Your good friend
Yours sincerely
Yours truly
Your most obedient and humble servant
Xoxo

When it’s all done fold your letter up, slip it in the envelope, lick it, stamp it, address, and send!
Congratulations! You have just successfully made someone’s day.

Xoxo

Justice

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Stylin Back to School

The produce section of the grocery store is full of apples and peaches and pencils are on sale. Must be about time for a new school year to begin. Kids are frantically finishing (or starting) summer homework, getting new haircuts, and trying to convince their parents that their school supplies really do need replacing–because you simply you can't re-use a binder. I love this time of year. Partly because I love school and learning and can't wait to go back. Although I think I may be one of only a few with that opinion. I also love this time because it always feels like a time for new beginnings. Anything from the past year can be forgotten and we can all just move on. It is also a time to turn our wardrobes over; time for back to school shopping! Sure we all end up reverting to sweatpants by mid October until May, but at least for a little while we can pretend that we have a great school style. I often like to dream up what great things I could wear while sitting in a government lecture or while working in the chem lab (not that I go to either of those at Art school...).
Today, instead of preparing for my upcoming term at Oxford University, more on that later, I though about what amazing outfits I could wear while there–although frankly I plan on just wearing sweaters and leggings.

I hope you are all as excited for the new school year as I am, whether or not you are actually still in school, because it can mean a time of new beginnings for all of us.

xoxo

Justice

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Cause for Celebration

celebrate.jpg

I’m not one for big parties—too many people and far too much noise. I’ve never empathized much with those people that look forward to going out on Friday night. I don’t understand, nor do I like, popular music and I certainly don’t like “grinding” unless it is grinding my morning coffee. However, give me a tea party, cocktail party, or brunch and I will be the life of the party. I love dressing up, sipping tea, and eating small pastries that took too much time to make. Sitting around a small table chatting with my closest friends while listening to some classical music or jazz. Now that is what I call a celebration.

However, as I am not a New York socialite, European Princess, nor even a southern belle, I don’t get many invitations to such events. That doesn’t mean though that I can’t celebrate.  We all know that life is a gift—that is why today is called the present—so in my opinion that means that everyday is cause for celebration. It’s simple math: today=present=gift=party=celebration=happiness

It is for that reason that I believe we should find one way every day to celebrate a little bit. It can be an outward display of celebration or an inward one; which ever most suits your party style. As I am a tea party and lace dress kind of gal, I do things like sit down and drink a cup of tea while reading some Jane Austen. Or, after a long hard day of work, I put on a dress and some pearls and sing along to show tunes while making macarons.

Chai macarons, original recipe here. They are amazingly delicious and i have already eaten like all of them. 

Chai macarons, original recipe here. They are amazingly delicious and i have already eaten like all of them. 

Some days are more celebratory than others. There are some days where my only bit of celebration is sitting on the train in complete silence (yes that seems celebratory for me). Whereas other days I get to dress up, go out to coffee, and eat cake with friends.

These little acts of celebration are a constant reminder of the magnificence of life. By celebrating, or “personal partying” I like to call it, I remember to live in the present, because it is a gift. 

Life is celebration, for those who knows how to celebrate every moment.
— Bharat Zanvar

xoxo

Justice

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Hail the Mighty Kale

I've never been much of one to follow fads. When all my friends were obsessed with hoodies and "Livestrong" bracelets in third grade, I was still wearing my fairy wings to school. In middle school when every other person was playing M.A.S.H on the bus, I was doing crosswords. When High School rolled around and all the girls were wearing cheetah print, high-low dresses to prom I was extra rebellious and stayed home in my sweatpants and watched Breakfast at Tiffany's. Today though, it seems as though I have been sucked into our trend obsessed culture. Not necessarily fashion-wise (I still insist on wearing fairy wings sometimes) but food-wise. However, it is not only, or really at all, because I want to be cool and accepted. Rather because the "fad" foods today are delicious and really healthy. Quinoa, Kombucha, sweet potatoes, almond milk, gluten free products (although I don't actually have a choice on that one), and above all kale, are all things I consume daily. I can go on hour long rants about how great all of these foods are, just ask anyone I work with.

Every morning I put on my crocs, go out the vegetable garden, and cut myself a big ol' handful of kale. This is probably one of the happiest moments of my day. I either put the big green leaf in a smoothie, juice it, bake it into crisps, make a gigantic salad, steam it, or just eat it plain. I really love it and I am sure that to some people I sound insane. Nevertheless, I am happy. I get to eat delicious food, that I grew myself, and have the satisfaction that it is making me healthier. For some of the health benefits of kale, look here

To name just a few though:

  • lots of fiber
  • contains Cancer-Preventing Phytonutrients
  • supports detoxification
  • contains over 45 flavonoids (anti-inflammatory benefits)

One particularly delicious way to consume this leafy green is by mixing it in a big salad with other similarly hipster foods.

Kale-Quinoa-Sweet Potato Salad

Ingredients:

  • One Sweet Potato (diced)
  • Handful of dried cherries
  • 1 c. cooked Edamame
  • ½ c.  cooked quinoa (~1/4 c. uncooked)
  • One Apple (cut into bite-sized pieces)
  • ½ c. cooked corn

  • Kale

  • 1 Tbsp Olive Oil or Coconut Oil
  • 2 tsp vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp honey

Directions

Cut the sweet potato into small-ish cubes, about ½ inch squared, but you don’t have to be too precise.

In a large skillet, mix the sweet potato and oil of your choosing. Stir occasionally until the potato is cooked all the way through, it should be squishy and slightly browned. 

While the potato cooks, slice up the apple into bite sized pieces and prepare the other vegetables.

Cut up the kale into manageable pieces and make sure to cut off the hard, woody stock part. Pour a little bit of olive oil onto the kale and massage it. Yes, massage that kale. Set aside.

Once the potatoes are fully cooked, mix in the cooked quinoa, edamame, dried cherries, and cooked corn. Pour the vinegar, dijob mustard, and honey on top and stir. Cover the skillet for about four minutes to let the flavors mix deliciously. Finally add the apple and stir. 

Mix the quinoa/potato mixture with the kale and enjoy. To really epitomize the hipster-ness of it all, listen to the Spotify “Roots Revival” playlist. Or if you don’t have spotify, try these bands:

To really epitomize the hipster-ness of it all, listen to the Spotify “Roots Revival” playlist. Or if you don’t have spotify, try these bands:
Trampled By Turtles
Vaudeville Etiquette
The Show Ponies
The Head and The Heart
Mumford & Sons (of course)
Of Monsters and Men
First Aid Kit
The Hunts
The Avett Brothers
Punch Brothers

xoxo

Justice

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Mile High Style

On August 1st, 1876 the sky was blue, birds were singing, and President Ulysses S. Grant signed Colorado into the union as the 38th state. What a good choice on the part of America as a whole. Today, on the eve of Colorado's 138th birthday, we are still alive and thriving. Our economy is booming (due to the legalization of a particular plant), we are still the healthiest state in the country, we are on our way out of a perpetual drought, and our fashion industry is on the rise. Wait, Fashion industry? in Colorado? You must think me crazy, but no ladies and gentlemen, while I may live in the Mile High state, I am in 100% in my right mind. In fact, today marks the beginning of Colorado Fashion Week. Now we may not be New York or San Francisco or Milan, but we undeniably have a certain sense of style that is all our own. I am not sure what looks will be going down the runway of the CFW shows, however I am sure of what styles walk down the streets of the wild wild west. When walking into the closet of a New Yorker you are sure to find a plethora of black. When rifling through a techie of SF's wardrobe you will most likely find some plaid and corduroys. When entering any true Coloradan's home you are sure to find a few staples:

Cowboy Boots: We still share that wild west flare that the miners and ranchers of old brought here, so whether they were worn once for a barn dance wedding or are worn daily while mucking out the barn, cowboy boots are ubiquitous in this fair state. 

Sensible Jeans, most likely levi's: Most Coloradans, especially once you get farther west than Denver, still know how to work. Like go outside, dig in the dirt, get callused fingers kind of work. And this requires sensible jeans that won't rip as soon as you try to bend down to lift up a stack of fire wood.

Hiking Boots: If there is one thing all Coloradans share, it is a love of the outdoors. And why wouldn't we share this love? it's absolutely fantastically gorgeous here! Don't believe me? Go to google, type in "Colorado nature" and fall in love and move here. So, needless to say, we all like to hike and do it quite frequently, whether it's just a quick jaunt up the mesa above the coors factory or a month long treck through the Rockies.

BirkenstocksAs well as still being cowboys, we also tend to all have a bit of hippie blood running through our veins. It's why we make so much stuff out of hemp and were one of the first states to revolutionize Gluten Free baking. It's not our fault, we house the lovely city of Boulder, it's just in our geographical blood. So whether we admit to it or not, we love those goofy looking leather sandals. Especially when worn with smart wool socks.

A Life is Good T-Shirt: Life is good in Colorado. The sun shines like 96% of the year, we get to be outside all the time, we have amazing food, and everyone is super duper attractive here. That's why we like to flaunt the fact that we are happy and go camping and eat natural food by wearing semi-hideous, but ridiculously soft, t-shirts. 

A Really Really Good Winter Jacket: It is no surprise that every Colorado home will have at least one closet full to bursting with winter clothes. after all, we get snow for approximately 9 months of the year and it frequently reaches -20° in January and February. But that wont stop us from connecting with our beloved outdoors! We have North Face and Columbia jackets to protect us!

Colorado Swag: Even if someone wasn't born in Colorado, anyone who lives here for any amount of time has a great amount of pride for this amazing state. On any given day, of the people you pass I guarantee that about 32% of them will be wearing something branded with the Colorado flag. That's because it is an awesome flag and it's an awesome state and we are awesome people. The awesomeness is overwhelming. 

Happy Birthday Colorado, stay healthy, stylish, and awesome

XOXO 

Justice

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Keep Your Head Up


kayaking

Blue is a beautiful color. Blue with swirls of purple and red, it is a powerful, intense, magical color. Blue sky, blue ocean, blue dresses, blue is beautiful—unless it’s on your leg. I am sitting on the couch doing “owie inventory”, pointing out all of my many battle scars from a long, adventure filled day to my mother trying to receive a little sympathy. Not that I really need much sympathy, I am so filled with joy and pride to feel anything but elation. This elation can only be the result of a long fought battle ending in victory. Like King Arthur, Don Quixote, and Aragorn I fought a mighty monster and after being pushed down many times, a still ended on my feet. What was this monster? The Arkansas River. And my weapon of choice was a paddle. Protected by armor of a life vest and helmet I braved my way down this mighty river in a vessel called a “duckie”. I would just like to add that this was my first foray down a river in anything but a canoe. I really had no idea what I was doing. I went swimming mostthe time and flipped on 3 out of 4 of the man made drops. On the third flip, as I was under the water feeling the rocks hit against my back and trying to push the boat off of my head, I realized that I was experiencing a metaphor. A life metaphor. An Augustus Waters-type metaphor (for my TFIOS fans out there). While I was being pulled down the water, having lost my boat and paddle, trying to keep my head above the water, I realized that this is what life is. Life is going to keep pulling us forward, whether we want to go or not.  Things will nock us over, sometimes we will tumble head over toes, and things will continue to push us down. We can either succumb to the force and keep our head under the water, or we can swim to shore, catch our breath and keep going. Sure we might end with some bumps and bruises, but we continue to fight.

xoxo 

Justice

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Painting Smiles

 

I have the best job in the world. I would say my job title is "holder of the hot glue gun and molder of small minds" at the Denver Centre Theatre Academy. That means that I get to spend everyday creating art with children. Sometimes it can be frustrating and I frequently have a perpetual headache, but that does not mean that it is not one of the most rewarding things in the entire world. I love going home knowing that I made a difference in someone's life. I know that every day I am able to teach at least one kid something, even when it is simply how to hold a paint brush without getting paint on their faces, feet, and neighbors. I teach them, as I am paid to do, but they also teach me. I am amazed by how free children are. They know no bounds, know they can do anything, and see everything as an adventure. I ask them to paint a giant piece of cardboard and instead of saying "I can't paint", as I have heard countless adults say, they throw all of their pint sized energy into creating the best piece of art in the history of cardboard paintings. When they are finished I see in their cute little faces an expression of such incredible joy that can only come from the pride of creating something. I wish that more adults would be like this. One of the saddest things for me to hear is "I can't draw" or even worse "I am not an artist". Of course we aren't all Van Goghs, Beethovens, or Hugos, but we are all artists. We can all recognize beauty and in some way re-create it–whether that is on paper, in a speech, on a piano, in the way we dress, in words, or even simply in our heads. We simply need to approach life as children do, without inhibitions and with the strength of a never ending imagination. 

Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will.
— George Bernard Shaw

Last night I had a few friends over and we did just that. We turned on some fun music like the soundtrack to Pirates of the Caribbean and Final Countdown and became children. We danced, sang, and painted. We threw paint at giant canvases, at the ground, and at each other. We didn't care what our creations looked like, we didn't care what other people would think, and it was the most freeing feeling. The amount of joy exuding from the people around me was so encouraging. I can't help but smile even thinking about it now. I genuinely believe that if we could all take a moment to do as children do and shine, we could all create something beautiful–a smile. 

Xoxo

Justice

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The Tailored Short

Happy Sunday world! Sunday night is always a bit of a let down. It's still the weekend so we are often tempted to continue the party, but it is also the night before work/school, so we can't get too rowdy. While we may want to continue to ignore our responsibilities, that simply cannot happen. This is especially true, at least for me, in the summer. I feel like I shouldn't have to go back to the real world on a Monday morning in July, it just shouldn't be allowed. Something that makes it even more difficult is when it is approximately 176° and you are required to wear business clothes. Why we can't wear swimsuits to work in the summer will always be a mystery to me, maybe it has something to do with modesty and appropriateness. That is why tailored shorts are probably some of the best things ever created. They are fashionable, cute, cool (temperature wise as well as fabulousness), and professional! They can be paired with almost any kind of top and dressed up or down. If you have a relaxed work environment you can wear them with bare legs (as long as you have shaved of course). I suggest though wearing them with nylons or maybe some fun colored tights, that is just my preference.

Tailored shorts can also be worn all year long, like in winter with some knit tights, a button up shirt under a sweater, and some boots. 

Have a great week everyone!
xoxo

Justice 

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To A Poet

 

"I'd rather be broken than empty, shattered than hollow, and by your side"

"You can't plan on the heart"

"Time, Time is a fickle thing. Let's see what it can bring"

"Will you look at me? Take a good look at me and tell me who it is that I am."

"I was born to endure this kind of weather"

"No matter how many times I tell myself I have to be sincere, I have a hard time standing up and facing those fears"

"I am nobody's baby, I'm everybody's girl, I'm the queen of nothing, I'm the king of the world"

"You sit and stare out at the rain, or bury yourself in books. Don't look at no strangers no, don't give them any looks"

"And how apparent it all becomes that you're not close, not even near."

"Sometimes I wish I could find my Rosemary Hill. I'd sit there and look at the deserted lakes and I'd sing. And every once in a while I'd sing a song for you."

"Well I guess sometimes I wish you were a little more predictable; that I could read you just like a book."

"And I hope for a trace to lead me back home from this place, but there is no sound–only me and my disgrace"

"It always takes me by surprise how dark it gets this time of year"

 

All the quotes are from songs by The First Aid kit, listen here 

All the photographs are the property of Mary Justice McNeil, owner of this blog. However, if you would like to pin them, please do!

xoxo

Justice

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Drink Some Sunshine

Know that obnoxious little saying, "when life hands you lemons, make lemonade"? Well as annoying and cliché as it is, there is a reason we hear it so often. That's because it's true. It's really easy to get bogged down by the negative things in our lives. Bad and sad things happen. Bad and sad things happen a lot. This morning I burned my toast, that made me very sad. The thing is though, we can't let burnt toast burn our mood. We have to stand up, shake off the dust, and keep going. We gotta "turn that frown upside down". We just have turn those sour life lemons into delicious, sweet lemonade. The only way to do this is to stay positive. I do this little thing where at the end of every day I make a list (usually mental) of everything good that happened that day. Even when nothing good seems to have happened, I try to find some little sliver of happiness. Even when the only good thing that happened was that I didn't die. By doing this I am continuously keeping my attitude sweet and sunshine-y. In some metaphorical way it's like I make a giant glass of lemonade every night, and I LOOOOVE lemonade. It is my favorite beverage. 

In order to encourage you to drink a giant glass of lemonade, both figuratively and literally, here are some of my most delicious and amazing homemade lemonade recipes. All have been tested and approved and are guaranteed to bring a smile to your face. 

Plain Lemon-y Lemonade

lemon

1 3/4 c. sugar
8 c. water
2 c. fresh squeezed lemon juice 
(depending on lemon size, it's usually 9-10 lemons)

Combine all the ingredients in a large pitcher and stir until the sugar has completely dissolved. Refrigerate and serve in a glass, or mason jar, over ice. Place a lemon wedge in the glass to add a bit of class.

Lovely Lavender Lemonade

lavender.jpg

1/2 c. Dried Lavender buds
1 3/4 c. sugar
8 c. water
2 c. fresh squeezed lemon juice 
(depending on lemon size, it's usually 9-10 lemons)

Soak the dried lavender in the water for a couple of hours. Every hour or so taste the water to test the strength of the lavender, when it has reached the strength of your preference, pour the water through a strainer or cheese cloth. Another option would be to put the lavender into a reusable loose leaf tea bag. Once the water is done, mix the sugar and lemon juice into the water and stir until the sugar is fully dissolved. Refrigerate and serve over ice, this one is particularly nice when drunk from a wine glass. 

Rose Buds and Sunshine 

1/2 c. Dried rose buds
1 3/4 c. sugar
8 c. water
2 c. fresh squeezed lemon juice 
(depending on lemon size, it's usually 9-10 lemons)

Soak the rose buds in the water for a couple of hours. Every hour or so taste the water to test the strength of the rose, when it has reached the strength of your preference, pour the water through a strainer or cheese cloth.  Once the water is done, mix the sugar and lemon juice into the water and stir until the sugar is fully dissolved. Refrigerate and serve over ice. Smile and relax. It is best to be enjoyed while sitting in the garden reading a good book.

Strawberries, Lemons, and Happiness

strawberries

10 Large strawberries, halved
2 Tbsp sugar
8 c. water
1 c. sugar
2 c. freshly squeezed lemon juice

In a blender, blend the strawberries, 2 Tbsp of sugar, and 1 c. of water until completely puréed. In a pitcher, mix the 1 c. sugar, remaining water, and lemon juice. Then pour in the strawberry mixture, stir together. Refrigerate and serve over ice. For added freshness, put a few leaves of mint in the glass. This delicious strawberry lemonade is best when sitting next to pool, wearing over large sunglasses, and flipping through a magazine.

Next time you feel the sad blues or angry reds nocking on your door with a handful of lemons to throw at your face, just take those lemons, squeeze the sourness right out and mix with a healthy dosage of sugar and smiles. 

xoxo

Justice

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What makes a home?


Whenever I enter someone else’s house I immediately assess whether or not the house is a home a simply a shelter. One can live in just about any sort of shelter. However, not every shelter is a home. It takes a certain amount of love and care for a house to be transformed into a home. It needn’t be especially large or fancy; it may be anything from a tent in the woods to a castle on the beach.
I have been in many “houses”, but only a few get that honorary word “home”. 

After all,

Home is the nicest word there is
— Laura Ingalls Wilder

Home may mean different things to different people, as only it should. I am certain that houses where I feel one hundred percent comfortable to be myself would make others cringe. For example, I can’t possibly feel at home when a house has been perfectly gridded out, everything is perfectly displayed, and there is an excessive amount of white. At the same time though, I get a similar feeling of discomfort when a house is too messy and smells of cat urine. For a house to be transformed into a home takes a certain touch of magic I believe. It has to have a look of cleanliness and order that proves the owner cares about the appearance. However it must also have evidence of life. A little bit of wear and tear. Maybe some books on a table, a blanket thrown on the couch, shoes tossed unceremoniously next to the door. It requires a lot of care and work, as well as a sense of belonging. Where does that belonging come from? That I cannot tell you, only that some places possess it and others do now. There are no obvious symptoms for this feeling of “belonging” in a home, but when it is there, it is ubiquitous.

As I am now approaching the seventh month of being away from my own home, I have been longing to find that sense of belonging once again. It came as a great surprise when, after an eight-hour bus ride and two-hour car ride, I arrived at my friend’s house in the beautiful land of San Diego. Even though it was midnight and I was exhausted I could tell right away that her house was a home. As soon as I walked in I could breath a great sigh of relief, I felt accepted, comfortable, and like I belonged. It was as if the arms of the small one floor beach cottage were wrapping me in a warm embrace. 


Do you believe your house is a home? If you answered no to this question, oh you invisible reader, what do you think you could do to make it one?

Please don’t forget to follow, subscribe, check out my other pages, send me requests, comments, questions, etc. I love hearing from all you beautiful people

xoxo

Justice

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The Call of the Wild

 
It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.
— Bilbo (J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings)

You may have noticed, or maybe you didn't, but anyways, I have not written anything in about a month. This is not because I decided to give up my dream of being a writer and joined a circus, nor is it because I married a british lord and am now living in a castle, it isn't even because I got lazy and decided to spend a month sitting by the pool and eating marshmallows. Although those are all very appealing life choices, none of them apply to me, at the moment. No, for the past 25 days I have driven 4600 miles, been through five states, danced for 11 of those days, hiked numerous mountains, and swam in various lakes and streams. When finding ourselves in between leases my sister and I decided that it would be a better decision to be homeless in our Subaru and travel the pacific north west than to join the legion of San Francisco homeless. So we embarked on a transcendentalist adventure to find ourselves–one which I believe even Whitman and Thoreau would have been envious. 

5 June 2014: We awoke at 4 am and drove for thirteen hours, stopping once for food and a couple of times for gas, when necessary. Our favorite driving past times are reading out loud, memorizing poetry, making up stories about our fellow journeyers, and reading through the dictionary to find new and interesting words. Oh, and singing tonelessly at the top of our voices to musicals and disney music

6 June 2014: Awoke at 5 am (we got to sleep in!) and drove only ten hours in order to arrive right on time for the rehearsal dinner for Nan's friend from college. After staying the night at a KOA, we all awoke and helped prepare for a beautiful, home made, cowgirl wedding in the breathtaking Paradise valley (Montana).

paradise valley.jpg
Paradise valley

After the wedding in Paradise Valley we drove to the near by town of Livingston Montana. You know those old western movies where nothing is alive and there is like one shop/restaurant/bar where everyone hangs out? Well Livingston is kind of like that. We stopped at "Pinky's Coffee Shop" where everything was pink and had flamingos painted on it. There we got bottomless cups of coffee for 3 dollars in all. It was quite amazing.

livingston

Upon drinking approximately a gallon of coffee each, we drove a couple of ours farther east in Montana until we came to the "largest city in Montana", Billings. Now I don't know this for sure but I'm pretty positive that Billings is not much larger than the smallest city in California. They have about one tall building and a lot of vintage stores. Which was AMAZING, because it's Billings Montana and they don't realize that any where else they could sell these gorgeous antique dresses for a lot more than $20. They also have a great railroad museum and some good steak.

billings montana
Billings Montana

We spent two glorious days of rest in Billings and then drove west for Spokane, Washington. Near by Spokane is a state park called Bowl and Pitchers. Nan tried to tell me why it's called Bowl and Pitcher but it didn't really make sense to me. It had something to do with some big rocks and a river. Well anyways, we camped there and took a "bath" in the river and went for a hike and got wonderfully lost.

bowl and pitcher
bowl and pitcher

Our next stop was Seattle, that grey and rainy city to the north. If you drive about forty five minutes south of Seattle, you go through this very neighborhoodish neighborhood and then BAM! all of a sudden you're in a state park surrounded by trees and silence. It's amazing. We camped there for two nights and explored Seattle, where we saw a lot of fish, tourists, and coffee shops. 

seattle
seattle

On some date that I now do not remember we left Seattle and drove to Olympia. In the fine city of the gods we stayed with some old family friends for three days and drank a lot more coffee, had a bonfire, and got soaked by more rain. I decided I liked Olympia, they have a lot of gluten free food and a great book shop that my sis had to drag me out of kicking and screaming to prevent me spending all of our gas money. 

Olypmia
olypmia books

Because we missed the east side of Washington so much, we drove back over the Cascades (listening to the Hobbit soundtrack the whole time) and returned to Spokane. Spokane is another fabulous city in Washington, and not only because Nan went to college there. We visited the Davenport Hotel, where Bing Crosby often stayed, and got coffee at Atticus, where they have the entirety of To Kill a Mockingbird on a wall. We also went to the movie theatre there, joining the real world for a few short hours, and saw How to Train Your Dragon 2. Which is an amazing movie and Hiccup is an animated version of my perfect man. One day in Spokane we went to a diner in a train car (!) and had omelettes bigger than my head and then went to "Green Bluff". Green Bluff is a magical land of orchards and plant growing things where we got to pick our own strawberries. 

spokane.jpg
green bluff

On June 22 we picked up the rest of our family at the airport, along with the two mandolins, accordion, banjo, drums, and guitar. We piled into the car and drove to Coeur D'Alene Idaho for a week long Contra Dance camp. A week of delicious food, amazing music, heart racing music, hiking, lake swimming, canoeing, and good companionship. Essentially a week of pure heaven. 

lady of the lake

Sadly though, all good things, as well as all bad things, must come to an end and on Saturday (two days ago) it was time to head home. Nan and I packed up all our stuff, smells and all, and headed back south to California. We arrived in the bay area just in time for a dinner of BBQ Ribs and watermelon at Grandma's house. 

I'm gonna make this place your home

Taking a month off from life, from media, from technology, a sabbatical from stress and from responsibilities was probably the best thing I have ever done. On this trip Nan and I learned so much about ourselves, about each other, about people in general, and about the world. We had time to reflect on who we are and what we believe. We got to talk without fear of judgement and completely let go. Even if you can't take a month to explore the Pacific North West, I challenge you to take a step back from the world...who knows what you may discover. 

xoxo

Justice

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