How precious are Your thoughts to me, O LORD ... how vast is the sum of them!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Days in England: Chawton and Oxford

Before I pick up where I left off, I just wanted to say something in honor of Elizabeth Gaskell, whose 204th birthday was September 29. This British Victorian lady is the author of two of my favorite books, Wives and Daughters and North and South, of two others I enjoyed very much, The Moorland Cottage and Mary Barton, and of many others that I hope to read one day. Four well-loved miniseries dramas were made from her stories. I am planning a special post about her one of these days—it’s too bad I wasn’t ready for her birthday!

wikimedia commons
As much as London stimulated me, I felt a peace when we left it for the country. As Laura and I drove on the highway to Chawton Friday afternoon with new friends whom we had met online, it felt much like the highways here, only smaller and busier and, of course, reversed. All those roundabouts were a new experience, too! Though surrounded by fields and trees, there were houses, farms, and small towns always in view. The sky was cloudy, and the rich greenery seemed to infuse the air with moisture and freshness.

The drive went quickly because we were busy getting to know one another (it was one of the sweetest hours of the whole trip!), so before I knew it, we had entered Chawton and a red-brick Georgian house slid by the corner of my eye. Wait! That’s it! That’s her house already! You see, Chawton is where Jane Austen’s last home still stands. It’s a large, square, homey building right on the corner in the center of town; you can’t miss it. Across the road is the car park, and just like some of the characters in my novel about England, I couldn’t wait to park and go explore what is now Jane Austen’s House Museum. This was the place Jane Austen loved for eight years and where her creativity flourished: here she prepared all six of her novels for publication.

To describe it further, let me use a passage from my novel England Adventure:
The bricks were mottled red, orange, and brown, the roof dark-brown shingles. It was three-storied, with only two little dormer windows in the garret story sticking out from the roof. There was a delicate wooden fence in front, a brick wall along the side, and a lawn. The flowers and shrubs around everything were too diminutive to do more than decorate; they didn’t creep up the walls and pull the house down into its natural environment. But it was picturesque nonetheless, even sagacious with its earthy coloring and without the flourishes of overgrown blooms.

Jane Austen's writing table

It’s a whole, small complex, with outbuildings and gardens. It’s wonderfully old and cozy inside, with creaky hardwood floors, little rooms, and furnishings much like it would have possessed when Jane Austen, her mother, her sister, and her friend lived there two hundred years ago. Some of the items actually belonged to the family and Jane herself, while others were only similar. If you love this author, you will love her house and her village. The coziness spreads to the yard and outward to all the surroundings. Walking down the road to St. Nicholas Church made me imagine all the Sundays the Chawton Cottage ladies trod the same path.

We left reluctantly; it was getting late. I will remember it as perhaps my favorite of all the days in England.

But Laura and I had almost the complete adventure to look forward to: eleven more days! We went to Oxford the next day and oh, what a beautiful place. It’s the ultimate university town, with classic architecture, tree-shaded avenues, and interesting things going on all the time. Oxford University’s thirty-eight colleges are scattered throughout; I probably walked by several without knowing what they were. Every building has its own character. We weren’t there for long, but we got to do several cool things. We ate at the seventeenth-century pub, The Eagle and Child (or the “Bird and Baby”), in the very room (“The Rabbit Room”) where C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien met with a group of friends called the Inklings, sharing conversation and their writings. I could easily imagine the creative energy coursing through that dark, pleasant room when those men gathered. We visited Blackwell’s Bookshop, a three-storied establishment right in the center of town. It was quite crowded when we were there! (It seemed to me that England has a bigger concentration of bookstores than here, and they were better frequented, too; Blackwell’s was the biggest of all that we visited.) On Sunday morning, I attended a service at Christ Church, Oxford’s cathedral, and that was the perfect way to say goodbye to this lovely city. 

One of the colleges, I believe

In the Rabbit Room with Tolkien's and Lewis's books

The Camera at the Bodleian Library
“The Bridge of Sighs," part of Hertford College, somewhat resembles the Bridge of Sighs in Venice
Christ Church Cathedral
It’s time to bring this section to a close, but next week I can wrap things up with tales about Hereford, Hay-on-Wye, Lacock, and Bath! Which is your favorite Oxford building of those pictured?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Days in England: London

I hope that everyone has been doing well! Even though I’ve only been a click away on the internet, physically I’ve been in England for two weeks, so I still feel rather absent … I didn’t keep up with much social media, and easing back into it now is like easing back into normal life. In a way, I left part of my heart in England. I’ve taken time to savor the memories, whether it’s communicate with people I met there, extensively journal and relive each day’s events, browse pictures, or tell stories to my family and friends. God really blessed my time there. As you know, I’ve been writing a novel about a modern-day girl’s visit to England, the sequel to Family Reunion. So this trip felt like somewhat of a research trip as well, and I learned valuable tidbits to add authenticity.

Are you hankering for some anecdotes? Goodness, I don’t know where to start. If I start at the beginning, you’ll be confronted with a boring story (though it was anything but boring at the time) about a knot of travel snags that were more or less untied within the first couple days. Instead, I can spread this into two or more blog posts and write a paragraph about interesting things we did, centered around our itinerary.

Laden with jetlag (which was just extreme weariness), my friend Laura and I walked to Westminster Abbey for Evensong at 5:00 pm Thursday, September 4, the day of our arrival. That part of London—Westminster—around the Parliament buildings and Buckingham Palace, is the most picturesque section we saw. Many of the buildings are very old but in excellent shape, and big trees, little gardens, and flowerpots add life and friendliness. The air, thanks to a breeze, was cool and fresh for London. Though we were in a flood of people, and the sidewalks (or “pavement”) never seemed wide enough for all of us to walk comfortably between the lovely buildings and the noisy, frantic street, it created an exciting and novel atmosphere that I enjoyed.

Westminster Abbey
You can get in free to Westminster Abbey if you’re going for the worship, and that’s exactly what Laura and I desired. We wanted peace and calm and to thank God for bringing us here in safety. Awe filled us as we walked in with the others, trying to absorb everything we saw while still moving; after all, we were in a magnificent 1,000-year-old royal church drenched in major history. The choir of men and boys was heavenly and the Scripture readings and prayers were steadying, but we did have trouble staying awake!

After Evensong, we had enough daylight to stride by the Parliament buildings and hear Big Ben dong above our heads, spot the London Eye, amble through St. James’s Park (a breath of coolness and green, natural perfection … we could have stayed there ages!) and past the rear side of Buckingham Palace (seeing some members of the royal guard), before finding our way back to our hotel. (Note: never go anywhere unfamiliar to you without a map, unless the only thing you have on your agenda is to be pleasantly lost. Maps were our best friends!)

Buckingham Palace
London, day two, was only a partial day because we went somewhere supremely special that afternoon (next blog post). Fairly early, we headed north to Kensington Gardens, where we passed perhaps twenty different kinds of dogs and their owners enjoying the wilderness. If not for the background city rumble, you could forget you were in the metropolis. We saw the statue of Peter Pan. Afterwards we went for a peek at Harrods (the palatial department store, still closed) and a little shopping at a souvenir store before going to the Victoria and Albert Museum when it opened at 10:00 am. Now that is a museum! Its size is legendary, so, of course, we weren’t capable of seeing all of it in two hours, but I can tell you they had the most amazing things there, things you never think about existing outside of history encyclopedias. (Such as a medieval door and spiral staircase, Renaissance tapestries, and fool-you reproductions of sculptures and monuments like Trajan’s Column.)


Sculptures at the V&A
The historical costumes on display made me eager for what we would see on our tour (the Sense and Sensibility historical costume tour). We left London Saturday morning, with our new friends who were also going on the tour, to enjoy Oxford for twenty-four hours before meeting the rest of the group in Manchester on Sunday.

After the tour, Laura and I and several other tour members returned to London. Our Sunday and Monday, September 14 and 15, consisted of taking photos for friends of the Tardis (the blue vintage police call box Dr. Who fans know), trekking to Harrods only to discover it was closed, stopping at the Sherlock Holmes Museum giftshop, wearing ourselves out walking around the City of London to see Leadenhall Market, the Gherkin, the Tower of London, the Thames, Tower Bridge, Southwark Cathedral, the Globe Theatre, the Millennium Footbridge, and St. Paul’s Cathedral, where we bookended our trip with Evensong at 5:00.

Leadenhall Market

Tower of London
Tower Bridge
St. Paul's Cathedral
 Except for one cab ride with our friends, Laura and I went everywhere in London either walking or riding the underground. London Underground is a great system, most of the time, and, with a bit of a learning curve, you manage easily if you’re good with directions. It was fun and convenient, and especially on the farther edges of the city, not always underground. That was how I got my first ground view of English neighborhoods: on the way in from Heathrow Airport.

Inside the Baker Street tube station
At the risk of going on too long, I should stop for now. Truthfully, I loved the trip so much I could write a book about my experiences, but hopefully these blog posts will be just the thing to give you a taste of what it was like! Do you have any questions or remarks about what I did in London?

Monday, September 15, 2014

Indie Christian Authors Blog Train: L. A. Ramsey

Today I'm excited to be a stop in the Indie Christian Authors Blog Train. Join me in welcoming Lori Ramsey, a dedicated novelist, who I am privileged to host! We both participate in the ICA Facebook page, which is a wonderful spot for advice and encouragement.

Tell us about the first book you published. (Brief Description, target audience, etc....)
My first novel I published is Sunny Beam. It is the first in the Holy Lion Series. Sunny Beam is a young lady who discovers a gift of God she possesses and is compelled to use. The gift leads her down a path that ends up being a Y in the road and she must choose which direction to go. This is a Christian romance novel with a little fantasy and speculative mixed in.

What are some of your writing quirks?
I'm an oddball when I come up with stories. People have told me how fascinated they are with my story developing process. I never sit down to a blank page and just start writing the story without first going over it in my mind at least 2 or 3 times. I think about the story as if I'm watching it on the movie screen in my head. By the time I sit down to write the novel it flows fast and I never struggle with writing it. That's why I do so well with the NANOWRIMO challenges.

Where do you want to be in your writing career five years from now?
My dream is for novel writing to be my main “work.” I see myself as being a full-time novelist in 5 years because of the passive income I'm putting into place right now. I have so many stories in my head that are screaming to be put into a book.

What one piece of advice do you have for other authors?
If you truly want to be a successful author you have to make the commitment. Authors write so that should be your top priority every single day. Choose the amount you want to write, be it to write a paragraph, a page, or a good word count (there are times I set my word count to 5,000 or more). And then just do it.

What book projects are you working on right now?
I'm about to publish Collide: Birth of a New Race. By the time this article is live the book will be in all the online stores such as Amazon, B&N, Smashwords, Kobo, Apple, etc. I'm currently finishing up on my fourth novel, which is actually the sequel to Sunny Beam. This novel is a bit long so I'm thinking of putting it into 2 books. Every November I start a new novel in the NANOWRIMO challenge; at the moment I have the one I started in November 2013 which is a 6-book sci fi series (I have 50K words written on it). I have the start of another sequel in the Holy Lion series started as well. Let's just say my novel plate is full and I'm not even admitting to the novels in my head. This November I plan to write on a “King Arthur” type of novel for NANOWRIMO. Did I say I have a lot of fun doing this?

LA Ramsey's Books: 
       Sunny Beam                                                                                      Priceless: Love's True Worth

Collide is a tale of hope and love, of betrayal and madness. Discover the truth about what became of the race of the centaurs.

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LA Ramsey Website: 

It was so good to have you, Lori! We look forward to seeing the Indie Christian Author you interview on September 18.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

My Interview by Margaret Weston

Hi from England! I just wanted to share about my interview through the blog train on Margaret Weston's blog. Here is the link: Stay tuned for my interview with Lori Ramsey!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

I'm Off

It’s rather hard for me to concentrate right now, but I just wanted to write a farewell post—well, maybe I won’t be absent from the blog too long (just two weeks instead of my customary one, plus answering comments), but it feels like I will be. I’m leaving for England tomorrow, so my internet presence will be spotty at best. : )

Here is a list of places I’ll be visiting, Lord willing:
1) London
2) Chawton (Jane Austen’s home)
3) Oxford
4) Manchester
5) Liverpool
6) Hereford (near Wales)
7) Hay-on-Wye (the “city of books” near the Welsh border)
8) Lacock (where they filmed the town scenes for P&P 1995 and Cranford)
9) Bath (for the Jane Austen festival)
10) London again

Something else that’s going on is the Indie Christian Authors blog train! The Indie Christian Authors Facebook group is a great place to connect and learn from each other. Several of us are making a train of interviews. It began last Tuesday on Elaine Baldwin’s blog, where she interviewed Elizabeth K. Writes (, and continued on to Elizabeth’s blog where she interviewed David Bergsland (, and then on to David’s where he interviewed Jansina Grossman ( It’s neat to be introduced to new authors, so do check it out, and find out where we’ll be going next! My interview will be posted next Tuesday (September 9) on Margaret Weston’s blog, and on September 16, I will be pleased to host Lori A. Ramsey.

Take care while I’m gone! : )