20 things I love about Oxford

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

I have written about my first reaction to Oxford and how it's not all about the pretty pictures that we paint in anticipation.  I've also written about some initial observations of Oxford - from the funny, to shocking, to ridiculous.  As I've come to know this city better and really feel at home here, there are some things that I really, truly love.  There are so many things I have yet to discover about it, and I love that.  Here are twenty of the undeniable charms about this city:

1. I love the plethora of pubs.  So, this probably shouldn't be the first one, but it's relevant to the development of this post.  I'm writing this on a weekend where I have had a full Sunday to myself.  Luke is out golfing today and, wanting some variation and a change of scenery, I ventured out to a cafe to do some blog and business work.  I first went to Zippy's Bike Cafe, which is a fantastic place.  True to its namesake, the cafe is over a bike shop and is decorated in line with this - lots of vintage bikes, rustic wood, etc.  They also make a fantastic cappuccino and breakfast.  Go there if you're looking for a reasonably priced weekend plate of pancakes (with mayple syrup!).  Don't go there if you want to work on your computer for these primetime brunch hours.  I respect that they encourage people to close their computers and talk to each other over the main mealtimes.  It's just not always conducive.  No one asked me to leave or anything, but I arrived by about 11am and by the time I drank my cappuccino and devoured my pancakes (really didn't take long!) I felt guilty sitting on my computer, as there were a lot of people waiting for seats.  All this to say, after a few errands, I have found myself in a little pub where I feel totally comfortable setting up camp with a laptop.  This is something I never would have done at home, but it's totally acceptable here.  There are no shortage of really great pubs with warm atmospheres and wood-burning fires with great beer and delicious food to boot.

2. I love that no one goes to Starbucks.  Well, very few people.  Most everyone would rather go to one of the local coffee shops and drink their coffees inside.  There are so many good ones - my favourite are Turl Street Kitchen (a not for profit - also a great restaurant that gives all proceeds back to the homeless in Oxford), Zippy's Bike Cafe (now known as 'Handlebar'), Barefoot and lastly, Brew.  So delicous.

3. I love that so many people ride their bikes.  It's a big hassle to drive within Oxford both because of restricted roads and lack of parking.  People ride their bikes instead.  It feels active and collective.  (Most) cars know to look out for bikes, respect their space, and basically give them right of way.  I've loved biking everywhere.

4. I love the amount of green space.  So much of their prime property is reserved for meadows and parks.  What could be eaten up with extremely profitable apartments or office buildings is reserved for collective enjoyment.  Some of these spaces are reserved for college use (I recommend the Deer Park in Magdalen) but you can pay an entrance fee, grab a student, or just find one of the many meadows or parks that have open access (Port Meadow - complete with horses/cows, Christchurch Meadow, University Parks, etc.)

5. I love that grocery delivery is a common thing.  I never really had groceries delivered at home.  I never looked into it, but I imagine it would have been an expensive thing.  We tend to shop regularly - buying for the next meal instead of for the week ahead, but in the times that we want to stock up on some supplies or buy some of the heavier items (e.g. wine!), all grocers offer delivery services.  It's usually under £2 to have it delivered - and when that saves me a burdened, long walk home, it's a no-brainer.

6. I love that there are stories for everything.  Living in a place with such rich heritage and history, there are so many stories behind everything.  It's more than "so and so" drank here (refer to #1 with all of the pubs!) or this college has produced 'X' amount of nobel laureates, it's about the set of bricks in the town square where many people were burned at the stake because of their religious beliefs, the traditions within colleges, etc.

7. I love the beauty of the buildings.  I love that I feel the urge to take pictures on most of the walks I go on.  There is so much beauty in the architecture.

8. I love being in a place where academic rigour and learning is so highly valued and prioritized.  This can feel isolating at times when you are apart of the 'town' instead of the 'gown', but the opportunities are there when you look for them.  There are public lectures, continuing education courses, seminars, night-classes, etc. that you can take advantage of.  Having the window into the academic sphere through Luke is also a great opportunity to get the sense of student life and all that this city has to offer.

9. I love being surrounded by passionate people.  So many people here are incredibly passionate about their field or research.  It is really great to be around people who love what they do.

10. I love that there are so many museums and galleries - that are free!  Based on the size of the place, the amount and scale of museums and galleries is really incredible.  You can wander through the Ashmolean for hours, enjoy the dinosaur models in the Natural History Museum, or take in one of the (acclaimed) best anthropoligical and archaeological collections on earth.  All in cute little Oxford.

11.  I love that there is always something to do.  Yes, the main area of Oxford is relatively small, but that doesn't mean for a second that there aren't an abundance of talks, concerts, plays, restaurants to try.

12.  I love the great restaurants we've found.  It's not all garbage food or over-breaded fish.  We have found some French food here that rivals the best I've ever had.

13.  I love how close everything is.  I love that I can walk to a variety of restaurants, coffee shops, grocery stores, parks, etc.  Anything you want is likely within walking, and at most, biking distance.

14.  I love the feeling of "I get to live here."  We're living in a tourist destination - one that even those from within the UK flock to.  Yes, it's annoying to always have to walk around the tourist groups that have a disregard for sidewalk etiquette, but knowing that you can call this your homebase, it pretty great.

15. I love that there are different neighbourhoods to explore.  Yes, Oxford is a little city but there are still different neighbourhoods to get to know.  Jericho, Cowley, Summertown and more.

16.  I love the close proximity to other great areas of the UK.  It's a great jumping off point to the Cotswolds, Salisbury, Stonehenge, Wales, Bristol, etc. - there are so many weekend trips to enjoy.

17.  I love how inspiring the city it is.  Matthew Arnold described it as the 'city of dreaming spires', which encapsulates it perfectly.  People have felt this inspiration for centuries - it's where Lewis Carroll came up with the story for Alice and Wonderland, where famous stories by Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were first penned and so many other masterpieces.  There is something in the atmosphere here that makes you feel like you can and should be doing something wonderful.  This city makes you want to discover, consider and pursue a passion.

18.  I love (or at least can appreciate) the pomp and circumstance. There are still things that annoy me about it or can be awfully pretentious, but there are also charming sides to it.  My husband goes to Trinity, where they have formal hall six days a week (where the students must wear their gown for dinner and you stand while faculty enters and hear prayers recited in Latin).  There was recently a vote to see if students and faculty wanted to continue on with some of these traditions.  The vote to continue status quo was nearly unanimous.  These traditions can be ridiculous and weird, but sometimes they're also fun.  Don't bat an eye when students pass you on their bikes in full 'sub fusc' (tuxes or shirt/skirt with their gowns), or even if said sub fusc is covered in champagne and whipped cream (signal for the completion of their final exam!).  The beauty is in joining the tradition - doing the same as all those who came before you - irrelevant of the century.  This place is weird, crazy, and unique, but eventually, it's best just to go with it!  (while also knowing that you live in a bubble and this is not real life)

19.  I love being close to the river.  Ignore the fact that it's called the River Isis in Oxford, the river (Thames) has many offshoots running throughout the city and it makes for so many lovely trails and walks.

20.  I love being in a city that knows how to celebrate.  Whether it be the end of exams when students are doused in champagne, whipped cream and confetti (good riddance to the beautiful tuxes... or hello dry cleaners), 'May Day' when people get up at 4am or stay up all night to sing at Magdalen Tower, or at Christmas when one of the main streets gets overtaken with a Christmas market... celebrations are done well.  It's a town where you should always have a bottle of champagne in the fridge and mark your calendars for the events months in advance.  What's not to love?!

If you've bene here, let me know what your favourite things about Oxford are.  There are certainly things that I could 'whinge' about, but I'll leave that for now :) Oxford is a beautiful place and I'm so thankful that we get to do this phase of life here.

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Enjoying England: Cornwall

Thursday, 8 September 2016

I'll be playing catch up over the last few months for a little while.  There were some fun weekend trips and a long trip with my parents and aunt that I'll surely get to, but first... a wonderful long weekend spent in the southwestern tip of England: Cornwall.  What a delight.  Cornwall made me enjoy England in a brand new way.  It is so nice to feel like you can be so far away, in a few hours' drive.  The coastlines were absolutely gorgeous; the food impeccable; the pace, nice and slow.  It was a wonderful way to spend the weekend when my friend Leslie came.  We had such a great time!

It's a beautiful area to jump in the car and drive.  You'll come across town stop explores and views the you just have to stop at.  One of my favourite times is when Leslie felt compelled to take a picture, so we just stopped the car on a random trip of road and crossed a meadow to our right.  What greeted us around the bend were some of my favourites views of the weekend.  The coastline was absolutely stunning, and we just climbed rocks and explored the different crevices for at least an hour, soaking it all in. 

My main tips (other than rent a car - you'll need it) where to eat! It was a quick trip, so I have two must-visit eateries: 
  1. Seafood! And lots of it. We had an impeccable meal at Outlaw's Fish Kitchen in Port Isaac.  It's a tiny and very well decorated restaurant directly across from the port. As in, crab legs are in a direct trail from the sea to the kitchen.  Nathan Outlaw has a 2 michelin starred restaurant in the same town, but this is the more affordable and dare I say, charming pick of the two. They serve tapas-style dishes so you can taste a lot, and trust them on their wine recommendation.  The white they served was among my favourites, ever.  Make a recommendation and treat this as your special meal in Cornwall.  It's completely worth it.
  2. Strong Adolfos is the perfect place for a great coffee, brunch or lunch.  The first time we were there we had the best fish tacos I've had in ages.  The next day we came back for brunch.  The following (and final) day we came back for a cappuccino.  It was excellent and is right along the A39 (just past the Cornwall showgrounds) so it is often on route of the day's drive. 
  3. One other mention - it's prime picnic terrain everywhere, so pack some sandwiches, enjoy a bottle of wine (throw sticks at the seagulls) and enjoy the views.

We'll definitely be headed back to Cornwall.  Have you been there?  Any suggestions?

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New Skincare: Rodan & Fields

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

There was one weekend in this not-really-but-kind-of British summer where my forehead was a red flashing beacon in the night due to a wonderful and wild day in the sun. I didn't think the British sun could do this to me. I was downright cocky about it and was rightfully put in my place.  I am usually all about the sunscreen and hats, so I was kicking myself and seriously considering making an investment with my friend Heather who is a Consultant for Rodan & Fields. Not sure if you've seen them around your Facebook or any other social media channels, but they are a beautiful tribe of women who care about your skin in both its present and future form, and are all about teamwork, community and celebration.  The before and after photos are also ridiculous.  Heather was nice enough to send me a sample facial - a 'Get the Glow' mini facial.  It was fantastic.  One of the packets gave me three facials and it comes with night renewing serums, leaving your skin as soft as a baby's bum.  I was seriously impressed and intrigued with this company and I thought I'd share!  Here's Heather to give a recap of the line and her top skincare tips:


Hi y’all!  Thanks for tuning in and witnessing one of my (very nerve-racking) little dreams come true; to write a blog post #somebodyholdme.  I’m a huge fan of Emily’s blog and when I reached out to let her know how much I enjoy keeping up with her life she was generous enough to offer me the opportunity to write a post on my newest business venture; Rodan and Fields.  Thank you, Emily for having me & happy reading, ladies!

I joined Rodan and Fields in the Fall of 2015.  I was living in Vancouver at the time and kept seeing social medial posts from one of my girlfriends about Rodan and Fields.  At first I paid no attention to it, but then her posts kept coming, and they were intriguing.  Her skin was better than it had ever been in her life, she started growing a little team and she was so passionate about everything she was posting … I wanted to know more.  She then started posting that her side biz income had matched her full-time income in wealth management #canIgetanamen!?! I mean, how could this be true?!  I needed to know more and I wanted to be a part of her team, STAT.  I was still a little nervous to reach out about it … what would I say?  What if I decided it wasn’t for me?  So I did what any normal girl would do … I told one of my closest girlfriends, Jamie, who was newly pregnant and would soon be on mat leave all about this opportunity.  Once the thought was in her head that she could:
  1. Change her skin (pregnancy hormones had her skin going haywire!)
  2. Help others get their dream skin, and; 
  3. Possibly stay at home with her baby and not commute 2 hours per day to her usual 9-5 job ... 
She was sold.  She decided to sign up as a Consultant and hasn’t looked back.  After hearing about Jamie’s quick success, that girlfriends of hers were pouring in from all over that wanted to try the products, and seeing the quick turnaround of her bumpy skin back to a beautiful pregnancy glow… I thought to myself … this must be legit.  My goal was to love the skin I’m in.  Instead of just purchasing products, I decided to also join as a Consultant because:
1) I get discounts on my products; 2) I have the opportunity to help others get skin they love; and 3) I may be able to make a bit of extra cash while I’m at it.

I thought I’d share a few of my favourite skin care routines with you.  Every Sunday evening I treat myself to a mini micro-dermabrasion facial.  This is my way to cap off the weekend and to get myself prepared for Monday.

Simple steps to follow:
  1. Remove make-up and wash face;  
  2. Open micro-dermabrasion packet and use enough product to cover your face (one packet provides me with 3 uses).  Massage paste onto face for 30-60 seconds;
  3. Rinse face with warm water and pat dry;
  4. Open night renewing serum capsule and apply serum over entire face; and
  5. Apply usual night cream to face.  

And before I leave you, here are a few tips to remember, regardless of what products you’re using: always always always wash your face before bed, get a good night's rest, and drink lots of water!

Thanks for reading!


If you want to contact Heather, just send an email at h.mcculloch10@gmail.com or visit her Rodan & Fields site.  She's one of the the nicest people you'll ever meet. Promise.

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Life Update - 80+ days later?!

Monday, 29 August 2016

Hi! ..it has been a while.  Feels good to write here again.  Things have been quiet on this blog, I know.  I also know that I have started several other posts like that in the last year.  And while I have written about the sweet and bitter pieces of life, my pursuit of transparency and choosing my priorities , I could write them afresh and have them be just as relevant. We have also had some news that Luke's Dad has leukaemia, so needless to say, our worlds have been shaken.  The good things to note - the family is strong, we see God's timing and love in so many pieces of it and he (and we) are getting through it.  Grit and love are two things that you need in equal measure in these kinds of situations.

This has put me in a strange situation in relation to blogging, as much of this isn't my story.  I am absolutely effected and I could put my experiences out there and give light to some of the pain, joys and fears, but it effects many people who I dearly love - this is their story too.  With this being so primary in our worlds, I have often felt disingenuous about putting regular content up, whether it be travel, beauty, etc.,  related - all things I love, but things that don't take priority right now.  It's also about emotional energy.  I love this blog and want to do it well and not do it for the sake of it.

Yet, there are some things I'm so excited to share with you and they'll be coming up in the coming days/weeks.  I appreciate all of your patience - for any check-ins to see if anything is up, any perusal of archives, and any and all prayers, love and understanding.


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15 of my Top Tips for Planning a Wedding

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Wedding season is upon us again, and having gone through it just last year, I have some tips that I either wish I knew going into it, or learned fast once in the process!  It's a crazy time and every couple's experience is going to be different.. do what works for you, ignore what doesn't.  Here is what I found to be helpful and what I'd personally suggest:

In the pre-planning:
1.  Get off Pinterest.
At least at the very beginning, stay off Pinterest.  You may have had a "some day" board or something similar pre-engagement and that was great for dreaming and brainstorming, but at the very beginning of engagement, get off pinterest.  First, think about what you want.  Think about what is actually available to you.  Think about the venue (if you have one already) and think about what would work in that space.  Then, you have your playground that you can play in.  Pinterest can give you so many ideas that may not seamlessly work together.  They're fragments - good ones, definitely -but in order to make a wedding flow and feel 'together', start with your vision, your ideas, and what is important to you.  Not what Pinterest tells you you "CAN'T MISS".

2.  Delay announcing your engagement.
I remember people wondering when the heck I was going to change my status or post a picture.  We waited for a little bit to announce to 'the world' and I'm so glad that we did.  There were people I wanted to tell in person or at very least, over a phone call.  That was important to me.  There was also a really happy bubble that you're in then!  It's this limbo land where it feels so surreal and blissful.  The well-wishes only continue once you announce it, but it's fun to just keep it to the family and closest friends for just a little while!

3.  Don't cram the schedule in the last few days. 
This partially depends on the venue and the help that you have available to you.  If you have a wedding coordinator this may not apply!  We had our reception in my in-law's backyard.  It was amazing.  It was also a lot of work.  We were the ones setting everything up.  We had a lot of help and my Mum truly enabled me to be the bride and not the coordinator.  That said, there was still a lot of last minute work.  Originally, I had hoped that we could do a girls outing to get our nails done the day prior.  That Friday was the craziest day ever.  There was no chance of that happening!  If you're in a similar DIY situation, keep the few days prior as clear as possible.  You'll be busy.  I promise.

4.  Try to minimize the time in-between the ceremony and reception. 
I was big on the momentum of the day.  I had always envisioned a wedding where the ceremony and reception were at the same place.  As that wasn't our reality, I wanted to ensure that people went straight to the reception site and not divert to their own happy hour, home, or wherever else. Our guests got clear instructions right within the ceremony (and on the programs!).  Immediately upon their exit of the church we were having a big group picture.  Then, everyone was headed to the reception site for cocktail hour!  Even with a location change, it totally worked.  We didn't lose anyone.

5.  Ignore the "must-do" instructions.
This isn't the day you have to wear a huge face full of makeup.  You don't even have to have a traditional wedding.  You don't have to wear heels.  You don't have to do anything.  You have to sign a marriage certificate.  Beyond that, you do it in whatever way you feel comfortable.  It's completely up to you and your partner.

6.  Delegate.
This one is multi-faceted.  First, know your strengths.  Know what you can handle.  Many budgets limit what you can hire professional help for.  instead of taking it all on yourself, maybe some of those "extras" aren't really necessary.  Consider whether you can let some of them go.  The other side of this, is ask for help.  Often, people are genuinely happy to lend a hand.  My caveat to this is don't overdue it. Don't have set expectations and monopolize their time.  This is your wedding, not theirs.  You have this vision of what it looks like - it's not their vision.  They'll probably be happy to help but just don't overdue it.  You want them just as excited about the day, not waiting for it to be over so they'll be relinquished of their duties!

7.  Design a wedding you'd want to attend.
Think about your guests' experience of the day and what you hope for out of a wedding when you're attending someone else's.  This could apply to transportation between ceremony/reception or home, drink availability, etc. Think about their experience when planning your day.

On the day:
8.  Allot extra time for getting ready day-of.
Luke scoffed at this one:)  Sure, he got to golf the morning of (only 9 holes!) and just had to shower.  The biggest task was getting the bowtie straight.  (And let's be honest, he now blowdries his hair -#marriageproblems) But when talking through the timing day-of, one of my bridesmaids called the hairdresser and negotiated an earlier start time with her.  She's very persistent :)  Thank goodness she was!  I had been doing some of my bridesmaids' make-up and while very relaxed up to that point, I was the last one to get my hair done.  It took a little longer than she anticipated, and I was rushing to do my make-up as the photographer had already arrived.  It turned out totally fine, but I felt a little frenzied at the end.  Not the end of the world, but avoidable.

9.  Stay classic.
In my opinion, this applies to your dress style, hair, lipstick, bridesmaid dresses, etc.  These are memories and specifically, pictures that you will keep and reference forever.  You don't want to be shocked at the lipstick colour you picked in five years, let alone fifty!

10.  Make sure you feed the staff!
This could be a band, the photographer, videographer, etc.  They don't need or likely expect to have a table within the venue, but make sure you chat with your caterer beforehand and communicate the number of extra meals that you'll need day-of.  (This isn't usually the full cost per guest... depending on venue/caterer, this gets ballparked).

11.  Do your very best to say hi to everyone.
This isn't the day you can have wonderful, in-depth conversations with everyone there.  But it's so nice to feel like you have touched base with everyone who made the effort to celebrate with you on your day.  That was why I was so intent on being there for the entire cocktail hour and doing pictures beforehand.  That was valuable time to mingle and feel present on the day!

12.  Eat!
I had a family friend bring scones for breakfast.  My sister took care of the other breakfast extras.  (Mimosas included, of course!).  My father-in-law brought sandwiches to the pre-ceremony photos.  Thank goodness for that!  Then my lovely bridesmaids and family brought me food during the cocktail hour.  Bless them!  It's important.

13.  Consider the music volume for all guests.
This applies to the dinner and the dance (and something to discuss prior to - just be the bride on the day).  My father was particularly sensitive to this one.  There's nothing he hates more than having conversation sacrificed for music volume.  I also wanted to make sure that people would have some areas to sit and chat if they didn't want to dance.  Some people took advantage of this, but most everyone was out on the dance floor!  Right where they should be :)

14.  Be the bride.
Put other people in charge of the timetables, corralling the guests, coordinating the caterers/photographer/whoever else.  You have done so much work in the pre-planning and it's now time for you to enjoy.  Put people in charge who you can trust and then wash your hands of it!  (I also wanted to free up my Mum on the day, so we had some other wonderful family friends who took the helm for day-of.  I've also had friends who swear by their day-of coordinators.  Do what works for you!)

15.  Don't worry about it.
Even as you're 'being the bride' and mentally thanking all of the people that are handling the issues on the day, you may notice a thing here or there that was not in the plan.  Leg it go!  The caterers might not be able to open the kegs properly (our story.  It was definitely delayed!) but don't worry about it.  Have your signature cocktail instead and just move along.  It's not the day to get hung up on the little things.  At the end of the day, you're there to marry your partner and celebrate that love with those around you.  The little things can go!  They will just rob your joy and that's only unfair to yourself.

There you have it.  What would you add to the list?  Also, I had to devote an entire post to my recommendations for the invites/guest list that you can also check out.

Thank you for reading!

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