the closest grocery store within walking distance is in downtown cambridge.  the walk takes about 20 minutes (a few more with children).  the walk home provides a better sequence of pictures, so here it is:


leaving Sainsbury’s in downtown Cambridge (notice all the bikes…), you head down a few “lanes” or narrow passageways behind and between buildings where only one car can fit:


past the game shop, where hidden among the traditional toys is a more 21st century-esque item  i don’t believe is for sale in the states:


the lane becomes completely deserted from storefronts and only a few very stalwart plants punctuate life into the old brick and stone:



today will have been one week since i first noticed this apple core on my first walk into town on my first day here.   i look for it every time now.  there is truly nothing else alive (or once-living) on this whole stretch- just beautiful stone and mortar.  i wonder how long it will last on the old stained-glass windowsill.  i also wonder who put it there and if they are also smiling at it each time they walk past as they wonder if a little mouse nibbles on it each night.


next, a few quick turns towards the river.  my first day, these convenient chalk signs were my directional clues back home.  in charlotte, when in doubt, i head towards the big buildings.  when in cambridge, i head towards the river…


the beautiful river:




kings college is in the background.  in case you were wondering what “punting” is, there are the boats and one person riding down the river.  i’ll delve into full detail once i take a trip of my own.

then it’s past the duck family in the creek off the river:


about a half-mile on a foot/bike path through the woods, many a bicycle with basket and bell zipping beside you, and alongside some colleges until our main road.  then the cambridge university rugby stadium (i’m excited for these matches to begin!):


another few hundred yards, past two more colleges, and a turn onto our gravel lane to our home… which i’ll post pictures of soon.

for me, the mundane task is always enjoyable in a new place and even more so in a town like this, where my mind can stop to wander and sigh…


This edition of UK firsts details my first visit to a pub and my first pint of true British Ale.  Mike kindly stayed home with the kids while he ushered Melissa and I out the door on a walk to our neighborhood pub, The Horse and Feather.

gkipaSave for the bartender, whom we interrupted from reading the paper and drinking his own glass of ale, we were the only ones in the pub.  It is summer holiday here so most locals and students are away.  I chose Greene King IPA because it was the lighter of the two ales whose taps stared me in the face.  The taps are different, I guess this is what hand-pulled means?  Whatever happened, it was quite delicious.  Luke warm (just how I like it back home and people think I’m strange) and very, very smooth for an IPA.

We sat in the back near the window to the street and at some point a dog wandered up to us, checked around for some crumbs and trotted away.  The perfect hint of quirkiness to top off a quaint British night.

Tillman enjoyed his first taste of McDonald’s (sigh).  The horror!

Tillman at Mom and Dads 001

Dad split his egg mcmuffin with him on the ride to Georgia.  The feast continues as mom feeds him the highest quality dry food mixed with cooked hamburger meat and cottage cheese.  I feed Tillman first thing every morning but mom waits a few hours.  Apparently the second or third morning he paid no attention to the bowls of dried food he passed, met her in the kitchen and sat there staring at her…..drooling…..waiting for the good stuff.

Beyond delicacies, he swims the lap of luxury enjoying his own private swimming pool.  Dad plays fetch (my mom’s prissy dogs do not jump in the pool after him).  Tillman plays lifeguard with uncle Jackson, apparently he worries any human in the pool needs rescuing.

I like to think he misses me…but I’m not so sure.  He is pretty much in doggie heaven.

“Two things cannot be in one place.  Where you tend a rose, my lad, a thistle cannot grow.”

The Secret Garden

Sometime in my late elementary school days we read The Secret Garden.  I was enamored with the story.  I remember I poured over garden magazines and made a very detailed plan of my own secret garden on grid paper.  I even picked out a place in the yard for it.

Looking out at the garden of my home these next few months I am instantly transported to childlike wonder.  It really is magical.  It’s quite warm here right now (or, it was when I first wrote this.  Now it’s 68 and windy and raining.  See, only here a few days and already talking about the weather); at least a half dozen different types of bees hum and hover over the entirety.  They are so numerous their flight patterns and buzz give the garden, already alive, a visible and tangible pulse.

There are so many plants I am unable to identify and I’m taking it on as a learning project to figure out what they are and what I can do with them.  Thanks to our neighbor Stephanie, I do know there is a plum tree, a bay tree, a daisy patch… and lavender.  In Stephanie’s yard they have apple and pear trees, lettuce, basil, pole beans, rosemary, poppies, and ten times more lavender.  She is very clever in the garden and has already made jams and plans to harvest the poppy seeds!  I am excited to learn.

English gardens are quite different than American gardens.  They plants are stacked closely together and overall are a bit unruly and definitely asymmetrical.  A twenty foot tall tree/shrub on one side and a squared off 8ft hedge on the other.  Scattered throughout are small grassy spots, short walls, half-barrels filled with herbs and even a child’s “throne” seat out of cement.  These things bring life to children.  They stoke imagination and creativity.  I’ve never seen kids so excited and enthralled by a garden.  It’s beautiful, but it is meant to be lived in and run through.  It’s perfect for hide and seek, chase, stealing away to read, drinking tea, and listening for the church bells to chime the hour.

For all its wily goodness, the garden is a bit unkempt.   This garden did not just appear one day.  It was thoughtfully created.  At some time, someone loved this garden very much.  Right now, it needs a bit of care and weeding and cleaning up to tidy it up a bit.  No motorized weedeater needed, these are gentle plants in small places, gentle hands and small pruning shears will do fine.  The tiniest of changes someone would not specifically detect except in an overall assessment the garden looks healthier, more vibrant.  Clearing out the weeds so the flowers can show more glory.

It reminds me of our hearts a bit.  Like these plants, we were created to thrive in a perfectly wild garden.  However we spend much of our time, money and energy grooming and working and conforming to some sort of ideal or standard which simply is not attainable nor necessary for joy on Earth or in eternity.  In the name of growing up we prune ourselves harshly, not allowing God-given traits or joys to come and remain alive.  We even prune others harshly.

What does it look like for us to tend ours and others hearts in a way that lets the lavender grow lopsided to one side of the barrel, if that’s the way it wants to grow, and let the moss and mildew creep on the bricks in the back as a sign of character and age, rather than whitewashing it with harsh chemicals…  but still reach gently down and pull the choking thistle from the rose bush when it needs it?

I am hoping this garden will teach me much of this over these next few months.

ready or not, here i come!IMG_5772IMG_5732

IMG_5740IMG_5714IMG_5738photo by kate


IMG_5726photo by kate

the kruger family is keeping track of our journey too!

see and read of more adventures here:

first taxi ride

the cab driver stopped at 15f, “you’re looking for 15A?”
“yes, please.”
“well, this is 15f, it must be right round ere somewhere. let’s pop out and see.”
between a small brick wall and more stately brick column he notices a gravel drive between #s 15f and 19.
“well, it’s most certainly down there a bit,” he said as he pointed down the gravel path.
pseudo-confidently and sleep deprived i replied, “ok, yes, it probably is.”
he unloaded my things and i realized i had no idea what to tip.
“sir, you’re my first cab in england, how much is a proper tip?”
“ah, well miss, anything you wish. some people a pence, some a pound, i’d just say it’s your first day, so anything you like, no worries at all.”
i gave him a pound.
“thank you much, tell you what, let me check one more time…” as he ran down the gravel path and called back, “yes, next is 15e, 15a must be just down a bit further.”
we unloaded my two fifty pound rolling bags and i put on my backpack and started clumsily navigating. rolling duffels and suitcases are not made for gravel paths.

“can you manage?”  he called out from the street.

i stopped in my tracks, paused and thought for a moment.

my newly acquainted surroundings dropped away and for the next five seconds a sandstorm filled my mind:  images and words.  the flurry of highs and lows of the past two years.  the swirling hopes and fears for the next few months.

i smiled.  jessica, he’s just referring to your luggage.

“yes, i can manage.”



when i arrived to the greenville airport, i had one goal in mind:  spend my starbucks giftcard.  no such thing as starbucks exists in the greenville airport.  the terminal was deathly quiet so i finished up some work once i finally found a seat not directly under a frigid airvent.  one “gourmet” pizza (note the laughably gratuitous use of the word gourmet- someone sue them for false advertising please) later and i was on a flight to atlanta.

the atlanta international terminal is phenomenal.  complete with a grand piano being played, interfaith chapel, MLK exhibit, bright lights and even some sort of muppet museum display, sensory overload commenced quickly and the thought of being on a confined coach seat for 7 hours seemed relaxing.  i wonder if this is purpuseful?

i hoped to eat chick-fil-a but apparently they aren’t “international” enough for terminal E at hartsfield-jackson.  qudoba is though, and he was the winner.  there isn’t much good mexican in europe, so i figured i’d indulge one last time. though i wished it was chipotle, i was thrilled it wasn’t moe’s.

i flew delta/nwa and had a pleasant experience.  i walked onboard to one of rhett miller’s new ones and settled into my window seat to regina spektor.  i know i visibly smiled with approval and wonder if my muzak friend meg made this mix?!   i checked the set list in the magazine and sure enough, it was all quality.  good move, delta!

the girl in front of me was about 7 and traveling with her grandmother.  she was chock-full of questions from boarding until takeoff:

“when are we going to move?”

“we are moving. we are going  backwards.  why are we going so slow?  we are never going to get off the ground this slow.  when are they going to go faster?”

as we were sitting next in cue to takeoff:  “what happens if the plane doesn’t go fast enough and we crash into the trees?  what happens if we crash into the ocean?  what happens if the pilot stops steering?  isn’t it true that sometimes planes crash right when they take off?  if our plane crashes, how will they know why we crashed?”

she was completely logical about everything and purely information gathering.  luckily for her grandma, she passed out after dinner.

i awaited the sight of my travel buddy for the next 7 hours.  turns out, he was a young lad in school at washington and lee but from england and headed home for summer.  i thought, this is great!  i’ll get all the scoop on england.  as i tried to make conversation, i got the distinct impression he wanted to crawl under his seat.  his face kept a hue ranging from pinkish to rouge, depending on the length of the sentences, and he spoke very quietly and never asked questions back.  i thought, the headphones cannot come soon enough for this chap.  being an introvert, i can respect that vibe so we both rode in quiet.  he watched strange comic-book movies and i watched sunshine cleaning and gran torino and an episode of how i met your mother. i recommend all.

about 5 hours in (waiting until he was between movies), i asked for a potty break, strategising it to be my only one for the flight.  then i noticed him talk to the older couple behind me… turns out they were his parents!  no wonder poor chap wasn’t willing to strike up conversation.  his mum and dad had just picked him up from school and could hear every word.  poor guy!

sleep did not come easy, or at all, really.  as i watched the little plane graphic scoot futher east across the atlantic and over ireland, i put on the decemberists’ newest album (again, point for delta) and peeked out the window for the sunrise.  beautiful.

as we began our decent, i hear:  “oh my, we’re going into the clouds.  clouds are just cotton, aren’t they grandma, right?  or wait, they are just white air.  yes, white air.  uh oh, here we go.  wait, how does the pilot see when we’re in the clouds- he can’t see where we are going?!  are we going to see big ben?” our curious little friend woke up right where she left off.

i wiggled my way from the plane to the customs counter.  the customs agent was none too pleased to see i was staying for 4.5 months.  she had “trouble believing” i wasn’t going to work while i was here.  see, “many people do come and work, and that is the problem”.  sassy jessica was thinking “aren’t there a lot of worse things i could do besides work while i’m here?”  sassy jessica was overpowered by cool and calm jesssica who just kept reiterating i was only here for fun, once in a lifetime chance, saved my money,  live with friends, helping around the house…yada yada…. who never ever used the “w” word:  work or the “n” word:  nanny.

bottom line:  over the 15 minutes, the agent took lots and lots of notes and gave me a “coded” entry.  she was very clear she could and should have taken me to the back room for further interrogation where i would be photographed and fingerprinted.  so, why didn’t she?  she explained:  “well, you’re lucky.  i’m in a very good mood today.  and besides that, i just belive you.  i do.  i believe you.  but you better leave here by december 9th.  we expect you to be gone by december 9th.  and you must get the US agent to stamp your passport when you return.  do you understand?”

so, i need to keep all my docs up to date any time i leave the UK.  each time i return, they will need to see my latest bank statement, emails from hawthorne house and the k. family, etc.  they will pull up a digital image of the notes she took and i “better have the same story”.  i think that will be easy because i told the truth.

i couldn’t help but think of the show lie to me.  i watched it several times.  i kept thinking of all the clues that tell people you’re lying and trying not to do them, which is madly confusing!  especially when you’re telling the truth.  my nose itched, i thought, “don’t rub it or they’ll think you’re lying”.

passport stamped and adrenaline rushing, i rather ungracefully with my two rolling suitcases, bought a bottle of water,  a bus ticket to cambridge, popped a motion sickness pill and hopped on board.  sad (glad?) to say i slept the entire bus ride.  the alternative would’ve been pukey-monster. the british countryside will be there next time.

the bus dropped me downtown cambridge at a big green field which reminded me of clemson’s bowman field- people sunbathing, playing frisbee, eating.  it was about 70 degrees and sunny at noon…

i grabbed my bag and went towards the cabs.  then i realised i left my other rolling suitcase on the ground by the bus, so i ran back to get it.  then i caught a cab to Hawthorne House….

leaving charlotte was an unrushed, sweet  goodbye see you later.

i enjoyed many of my favorites (zada janes, white water center, amelie’s, sam quinn and the japan ten, the crepe cellar, backyard cookouts, slow summer dinners and walk to thomas street) with friends and family.

there aren’t any pictures, but when my mom and sister and i went kayaking on the catawba, i led us through an island/wooded creek.  there was a log looking up that seriously looked like an aligator.  i scared myself enough until i realised it was just a log, that i naturally called back to scare them.  “watch out for that gator right there”.  mandy put on the brakes so fast.  then, of course, did the same thing to mom.

melissa and sam drove me to greenville.  sam is quite vebal right now and i finally got to hear his commentary full-on.  it really comes out in the car.  for example, a semi honks.  about 5 seconds later, sam says “that was loud, loud, loud!” and “that was loud again!”   his correct usage of adverbs blew me away.  i had no idea 2 year olds used adverbs!

in greenville, i spent some time with my college friends.  i cannot believe we’ve known each other for over 8 years!  they took me to a hippie restaurant in town and then we had gelato- my favorite! and walked by the river.  downtown greenville is hopping these days, very fun, relaxed atmosphere.

over the past few weeks, charlotte gave me lots of reasons to be sad about leaving.  but i just had to remind myself i would be back before i even knew it.  so, goodbyes turned to “see you soons”.  much easier.

here is some of the fun.  you can click on the pictures to make them bigger.

the next time you hear from me, i’ll be in england!

to-do lists


my life is a flurry of post-it notes right now.  most are stress inducing, but one is heavenly:

my to-do list as of thursday, july 23rd:

1.  drink tea.

2.  find jane austen’s home and retrace some of her steps.

3.  find james herriot’s home and retrace some of his steps.

4.  wander through lavender and poppy fields.

5.  swim with seals.

6.  spend a few weeks at l’abri.

7.  figure out when and how to get to:  ireland, france, italy, spain, the czech republic, and south africa.

8.  kayak these scottish isles.

9.  walk coast to coast.

10.  see josh ritter & ray lamontagne in oxford.

11.  eat fish and chips.

12.  read.  read.  read.

as a subset, i’ve been collecting your book recommendations for sometime now.  here’s the list so far.  i welcome more!

1.  Some Anne Lamott

2.  Paradise by Toni Morrison

3. On the Edge of the Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson

4.  East of Eden by Steinbeck

5.  The Road to Wellville by Noble

6.  Life of Pi

7.  Three Cups of Tea

8.  Marley and Me (just kidding!)

9.  The obvious (Cambridge/Oxford writers):  C.S. Lewis, Sylvia Plath, Percy Shelley, Tom Sharpe (Porterhouse Blue)

Seriously, add to the list.  Would love some recommendations!

tillman and me


“When he falls asleep next to his dog, he thinks to himself that heaven is probably holding hands with your gal by a beautiful lake and laying in the grass with your dog; dreaming of the sky, clouds and the smell of grass and rain.”

Ryan Adams –

as i’m packing up my life here readying for my british adventure (i’m moving to cambridge, england for 4ish months if you haven’t heard…), overwhelmingly the most common question i get asked is:

what about tillman?

tillman has no idea, but he’s headed to sleepaway camp at the place i grew up: the farm/zoo also known as my parent’s house.  there he will have 8 acres to explore, a pool to swim, an endless supply of horse apples to eat and squirrels to chase and about 10-12 other dogs to keep him company. which means 10-12 food bowls to lick clean.

heavenly, right?

i claim he has no idea, but i think he’s getting suspicious.  sunday evening i started packing up things i’m not taking with me, which meant suitcases came down from the attic so i could stow away clothes i won’t be taking with me.IMG_0068

dogs are difficult to lie to.  he knows the difference between no socks, casual socks and running socks.  the first two means i’m going to work or play, so he barely glances my way from his choice resting spot on the cool marble fireplace.  the latter mean a chance at a walk, so he gets giddy and paces the floor.  suitcases are a dead giveaway i’m about to disappear.  case in point:  last night he jumped in bed with me.  he hasn’t done so in months because it’s summertime and way too hot for both of us.  he knows something is up.  i sweated it out because i couldn’t bear to kick him off the bed.

we go on lots of walks these days and i have a few hikes to complete before i leave.  i spent a lot of time deciding the best “transition” for us… and, for now,  have opted for dad to come pick him up a few days before i leave. i don’t think i can drive away, so i’m going to let someone else be the bad guy.  considering every time i leave him at my parents house, even just to head to town to the walmart, he looks at me with his deeply concerned muppety eyes that say “please, please, please you cannot leave me here and i am coming with youuuuuu!”  as he chases my car down the driveway…

one visit home i went to grab my ipod out of my car and he jumped into the backseat and refused to come out.  he slept there for about 3 hours.  i kept checking on him and he kept refusing to get out of the car.

i like to think he’s introverted, like me.

i’m not worried he’ll forget me.  i’m worried he’ll run away to find me or come back home.  but my parents ease my concern by reminding me he’ll have one of those great invisible fence shock collars.  great!  the dog who is terrified of a balloon tied to his collar or a paper bag rustling over his head will love shock collar training.  poor guy.  at first my parents wanted me to train him by walking through the border and getting him to follow me so he would be zapped.  yeah right.

the first 30 seconds i ever pictured myself in england, i imagined running through the countryside over hill and dale, getting caught in the occasional rainstorm, climbing over the intermittent rock wall, trapseing through a lavender field… all with tillman by my side.  then i realised tillman would not be with me.  then i cried.

for a while, i’ve had this idea for some pics with tillman and one morning a few weeks ago, danielle played impromptu photographer.  i love the results.





for some perplexing reason, multiple dear friends have put me under strict orders not to watch or read marley and me until i get back from england.  even then, they have reserved the right to forbid me from it.

i can’t imagine why, but i’m going to go ahead self-impose old yeller restriction also.