Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Although I'm not a huge antique hunter, I'm always up for a car ride in the English countryside!  Earlier this month I joined a group from the Newcomer's Club on a day trip to Lechlade, a small town on the edge of the Cotswolds.  It was a super foggy English morning so we didn't see much past the hood of the car on the drive from Oxford.  Thankfully, the fog was gone just in time for our journey home.  The green rolling hills and meadows between the villages are absolutely beautiful!

Church steeple peaking through the fog.

I just love the bicycles....I'm thinking about hanging some on the side of our next home.  I'm sure that would make the neighbors happy.

Although most of the prices were way beyond our no income budget, I enjoyed browsing!  It is amazing to compare the things we label "antiques" in the States to what they call antiques here.  In their eyes, our "antiques" are brand new!

Mom, I was going to buy you this entire set for your birthday, but then realized I couldn't even afford a saucer.  So I hope you enjoy this picture!

Looking back at my pictures, it looks like I just focused my eyes on the small sparkly things.  Hmm, Jared might be onto something when he often reminds me that I'm distracted my shiny objects...oh well!

I guess this next shop heard I was dropping by that day because they made a display just for me.  Check it you see my sculpture and a sketch of Oliver?  What can I say, we're famous!

My sweet friend, Claire, and me

The shop's mascot...he was the only thing I really wanted to take home that day!

Monday, December 27, 2010

A Merry Little Christmas

As you know we had a pleasant change to our Christmas plans, as the weather problems forced my mom to extend her stay until the 26th. Although no one wants their travel plans to be disrupted, we were selfishly glad to have family here on Christmas day. Although we tried to prepare for it, I think it might have been a little depressing for Leah and I to spend Christmas alone in our tiny flat!

We attended the Christmas morning service at the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin. This church dates back to 1086 and, in the early days of Oxford, the church was adopted as the first building of the university. The church has had many uses over history, including serving as a lecture hall, the seat of university governance, and as the site of the 1555 trial of the Oxford Martyrs during the English Reformation.

University Church of St. Mary the Virgin

Me and Mom outside of the church on High Street

The inside of the church decorated for Christmas

After church, we had a fabulous lunch at Strada, a local restaurant. We originally considered having a traditional Christmas meal at a pub, but instead of spending £50 on duck liver pate and black pudding, we opted for Italian. We all agreed that it was a great choice!

Our table setting, complete with a Christmas cracker for each of us

After this appetizer of cheeses, meats, and olives, Italian food may be the new Harrell family Christmas tradition

We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Michaelmas Exams

I am beaten and battered, but I made it through my exams this term. I had two exams this term: (1) Financial Economics was a one-hour exam with 10 questions and (2) Finance I was an hour-and-a-half hour exam with 8 questions. I also had to write a take-home essay for Financial Economics. This may sound simple, but trust me, it was not! Other than the bar exam (which was a three-day test that determined my employment status), I have never studied so hard for anything in my life. Unlike undergrad and law school finals, there was no designated "study" week, so the exams were immediately after classes were finished.

All Oxford exams are taken at the Examination Schools, which is the centralized testing department of the University. It is an ancient building (and the setting of several Harry Potter scenes). Students are required to wear full sub fusc during exams (suit, gown, mortarboard, and bow tie). There is also a tradition that students wear a carnation to each exam--a white carnation for the first exam, a pink for those in the middle, and red for the final exam. According to legend, students originally wore a white carnation and kept it in a red inkpot between exams, so it gradually turned pink and by the last exam it was completely red.

Ready for my first exam (with my white carnation from Leah)

Thankfully, I had some great study partners. About 8 of us formed a group to study throughout the term, and my friend Jono and I spent countless hours in the Oxford Union preparing for the exams.

The view from our study base camp

Since the Masters in Law and Finance is a new degree, neither the students nor the lecturers had any idea of what to expect. Overall, I feel pretty good about the exams. One of them (Financial Economics) was ridiculously hard, and the other (Finance I) was exactly what I expected. The essay was challenging, but working with some great legal writers for the past five years provided some good training.

Outside of Exam Schools after our second (and last) exam, hence the red carnations

Of course, we celebrated at the King's Arms once our exams were finished...

...and again after our essays were turned in a couple of days later.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas in London

Although we have been to London several times during our time in England, we have never actually taken a tour of the city.  During our stay there with my "mum", we rode one of the double-decker tour buses and the views at night were spectacular!

A great view of Big Ben with the Houses of Parliament in the background

Churchill under the Union Jack

Late night shopping on Oxford Street

Debenham's on Oxford Street

Another view down Oxford Street

I was up for riding the London Eye, but Leah and Mom were having nothing of it!

The Apple Market at Covent Garden

The Christmas Tree at Covent Garden

The world-famous Harrod's

This Christmas tree is an annual gift from the City of Oslo as appreciation for Britain's support during World War II

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

We're alive!

Sorry for the lack of posts case there were any doubts, we are alive.  Over the past few weeks, we have survived exams (Jared), a stomach bug (Leah), and the great British snow storm of 2010.

My mother arrived on December 17th and was originally supposed to leave today.  Unless you have been in a cave for the last few days, you have probably heard that England has gotten a little bit of snow lately.  So much, in fact, that it has wreaked havoc on all modes of transportation throughout the country.  As a result, my mother's flight was canceled and she will not be able to fly back to Houston until December 26th.  A four-day delay!  I guess we will not be having Christmas by ourselves after all!

It was not snowing when mom's flight arrived, but this is what the ground looked like by the time we exited the London Tube

Our first visitor in Oxford

Outside of our flat on Saturday

Central Oxford on Saturday night

The Christ Church quad covered in snow

Even the fountains in London's Trafalgar Square were frozen

Regardless of the weather, London is still beautiful at night

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Electrical Engineering 101

So far we have adjusted pretty well to British life.  For the most part we have figured out how they do things over here...but every now and then we are reminded that there are still things to learn.  For example, we got a lesson in British electricity today at the expense of my mother's curling iron:

It went down in a blaze of glory!

U.S. electrics require an adapter and a voltage converter

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

She Works Hard for the Money!

OK, so maybe that title isn't exactly true but I am excited that I am once again employed!  I am very blessed to have been hired as a Teacher's Assistant at a small Christian school in Oxford.  I am working with mostly 5-year olds which is exactly what I was hoping for.  I only work on Monday and Thursday afternoons, which still gives me plenty of time to do all my fun stuff.  The school is extremely small, with only about 70 students ranging in age from 3 to 11.  The school's main building is in an old Victorian schoolhouse that dates back to 1838.  During my first few minutes of my initial visit to the school, several girls were quite concerned that I didn't talk like them.  Yes, my Texas drawl can even be detected by a busy 5-year old.
My new school
I've never taught in a Christian school before, so it has been quite an adjustment.  It is so different to pray openly during the day, to have every bulletin board centered around God, and to have the Nativity as the Christmas program.  As I was thinking about my "Christian experiences" in the classroom, I was reminded of a couple of my previous students that would fit right in at my new school.

My first year of teaching I had a little girl in my class that I absolutely loved.  She was a preacher's kid (PK) that always had a "Jesus answer" for any discussion we were having.  She would run into the cafeteria every Wednesday morning proclaiming that she had on her Jesus shirt because it was church night.  She was a true joy!  One morning all the children were doing their morning work as I roamed the classroom.  I came to PK's seat and she was coloring instead of doing her work.  I told her to finish her work and then she could color.  She agreed and starting working on her handwriting.  As I came around again, I noticed that she had quite cleverly used her work as a "cover" to continue coloring.  I asked what she was doing...."working," she said.  I told her that that was funny, because I saw her coloring again.  Again, I warned her (in my stern teacher voice) to "do your work first and then you can color".  She continued with her work and I continued my walk around the room.  When I came to her guessed it...she was coloring.  I asked if she had finished her work, she said she had, so I checked.  To my surprise, it was not finished.  PK had lied, again.  We had a chat about telling the truth and doing our work when we were supposed to.  PK was sent to time out to think about the good choices she was going to make.  She had just got into the time out chair when I heard her mumbling...I went closer to investigate and this is what I heard -  "Dear Jesus, I'm sorry I was coloring. I will do my work.  I'm so sorry Jesus."  So I leaned down and asked if everything was OK.  She said, "I was just telling Jesus I was sorry."  Priceless!

This past year I had a kindergartner that I referred to as the "Evangelist."  On a daily basis, he would bring his Bible to school (or another book about Jesus) and beg me to read it.  We sang a lot in my classroom and he was by far the loudest singer.  Quite often during seat work, the Evangelist would burst out in song...usually his daily praise would be 'What a Friend We Have in Jesus' or 'Amazing Grace.'  Pretty soon he would have the entire class singing.  I know anyone walking down the hall probably thought we were having a revival in Mrs. Harrell's room!

I can't wait to see what stories I will be telling after this year...stay tuned!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Fabulous Flowers

While Jared disappears into his "study hole",(that's what I like to call our second bedroom where Jared sets up shop) I've been keeping myself busy with totally non-academic, fun things!  I've always wanted to take a flower arranging class but like most things in life, I never seem to have time (or, more likely, take the time) to do the things I WANT to do.  So when the Newcomer's Club offered a flower arranging class, I jumped at the opportunity.  

I love fresh flower arrangements, but they are just so expensive!  In Fort Worth, I would often go to Costco and admire all the bunches of flowers (but I never bought them because I knew that as soon as I plopped them in a vase, they would never look quite right).  So I was so happy to learn some skills.  Maybe when we get back to the States, I'll open up a flower shop....just kidding, Jared!

Matthew Taylor, a local Oxford florist led the class.  He was so patient to answer every dumb question we had.

This is his super cute shop, exactly what you would expect from an English flower shop.  It is actually across the street from Jared's college, so I've admired it often.  I'm pretty sure this picture from his website was taken in June because all those lush green plants would be sad in the freezing temps we've had lately....brrr!!!

He did some techniques that I had never seen before!  On this arrangement, he started out with a three or four strands of grass and began wrapping it with wire, then he would gather another bunch and continue wrapping until he had created a frame for the cool!

 He then stuck some crystals in the middle of roses for a little touch of bling.

I loved the red, orange and purple together in this beautiful Fall arrangement.  I've never thought of Gerber daisies as a fall flower, but I do now!

Now the next arrangement was something completely out of the ordinary.  He took an amaryllis plant that was about to flower and made a Christmas tree out of it!  He simply wrapped the amaryllis stalk in wire and stuck evergreen branches into the wire to create a tree shape...brilliant!  This is the perfect Christmas tree for flats like ours that have NO extra room!

Fellow Texan, Lauren, doing her best Vanna impersonation!  Sorry for my horrible photography skills...maybe I'll take a photography class next!

There was a raffle at the end of the class for all the arrangements....of course I didn't win.  It was probably just as well since I didn't want to carry one all the way home, anyway.  But I did learn some great tips that I can hopefully hold in my head until I finally get my hands on some Costco flowers!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

When Home is too Far Away

I knew there would come a time in this year-long journey when I would want/need to jump in my car and get home quickly, but painfully realize that it just wasn’t an option.  That time has come.  This past Friday afternoon a very dear friend, Louie Strange, was killed in a train accident.  Louie was an extraordinary man, plain and simple.

I can’t remember when Louie was not a part of my life.  I remember Louie was the first one to greet us as we walked through the doors of First Baptist Church every Sunday morning, always offering a hardy “Good morning” and a warm hug.  Although I don’t recall the exact year, probably in the mid to late ‘80s, I can vividly remember Louie playing the part of “Grandpa” in our children’s Christmas program at church.  From that point on, I called Louie “Grandpa” and he called me his “granddaughter,” a title I was proud to behold.

Louie was a pillar of our community.  He was the biggest supporter of our youth, not just my generation but those before and after me.  He could be found at every sports game, stock show, fall festival and every other activity that small Texas towns are famous for.

I’m not the only one that thinks Louie was one of a kind.  The entire Kress community knew he was special.  I was told that over 400 people attended the celebration of his life on Monday.  Our small Baptist church could not even hold everyone.  Community spirit is prevalent in small West Texas towns, and a part of that spirit comes from the common bond that we all have with people like Louie Strange.  Of course I am deeply saddened by the fact that Louie is gone, but perhaps the even more painful part is that a piece of Kress has gone with him.

Louie has a wonderful family that will continue to honor his memory, his generosity, and his legacy of love.  I am thankful that his lovely wife, Mary, and his two sons, Dwain and Darrell, shared Louie with me, my family, and the entire community of Kress, Texas.

Despite my sorrow, I am comforted by the fact that Louie and I will be reunited in another community.  And when I get there, he will be there to greet me with a hardy “Good morning, granddaughter” and a warm hug.
To take a line from a song that my mom and pastor, Bill Fuller, used to sing, "I’ve got more to go to heaven for than I had yesterday."

Friday, November 26, 2010

The MLF Program

There are so many differences between my previous educational experiences and Oxford that I could not begin to explain them all in a single post. However, I will try to explain a couple of them.

Unlike US schools with two semesters per year, Oxford has three "terms" per year:  Michaelmas Term runs from October to December, Hilary Term runs from January to March, and Trinity Term runs from May to June.  Most Oxford students take the same classes all three terms and have a single exam at the end of Trinity Term.  However, the Masters in Law and Finance degree (MLF) is set up such that all students take two law "electives" and two "core" MLF classes over the course of the year.

We were able to choose from a variety of law electives, and each elective is taken with other post-graduate law students (BCL and MJur students).  Each student's two law electives run all three terms, and there is one exam for each elective at the end of Trinity Term.  My law electives are (1) Transnational Commercial Law and (2) Principles of Financial Regulation.

The "core" MLF courses are (1) Finance I (Michaelmas Term) which transitions into Finance II (Hilary and Trinity Terms) and (2) First Principles of Financial Economics (Michaelmas Term) which transitions into Law and Economics of Corporate Transactions (Hilary and Trinity Terms).  The core MLF courses are tested at the end of each term, and the thirty MLF students are the only students in these classes.

Tutorial system
Unlike the lectures typically given in US schools, Oxford classes are taught through a combination of lectures, tutorials, and seminars (known as the "tutorial system" which is unique to Oxford and Cambridge). In tutorials and seminars, students are taught by faculty fellows in groups of approximately three to five students. Students typically prepare an essay for each of these, and they receive direct feedback on their essays in a small discussion setting.  Tutorials are thought to be more academically challenging and rigorous than lectures, because during each session students are expected to orally communicate, defend, analyze, and critique the ideas of others as well as their own in conversations with the faculty and the other students.  I cannot speak to the full "Oxford experience" yet, since I do not have any tutorials during this term. I only have lectures in Michaelmas, but my tutorials and seminars will start in Hilary Term (after Christmas break).

However, the lectures are nothing short of fascinating. There is intense reading (mainly articles) to prepare for each class. The teaching style is not the Socratic method common to US law schools, but it is very theoretical.  The lectures present the theory and identify the important questions, but it is up to the students to make the effort to get the practical aspects through independent study.  It is not uncommon for other members of the faculty to attend the lectures, and for them to directly question and/or criticize the concepts presented in class. The lectures are also slanted towards the lecturers' own research and personal views.  Each lecture is three hours long, so we only have one lecture per class each week. Although this may sound like an easy load, I can assure you that it is not! The reading and independent study is much more part of the education than at US schools.

There are not any "required" readings (or textbooks) for any class.  The lecturer typically gives a list of "suggested" readings, but this is by no means a requirement or a limitation.  Although this can be frustrating and seem unstructured, it is also refreshing for a class not to be guided by a single casebook or textbook.  As opposed to my experience with US university libraries (where the library is mainly a place for students to socialize and access a computer), the Oxford libraries are constantly packed with students reading from multiple different sources for each class (which cannot be taken out of the library).

The most enjoyable part of the experience is definitely the other students. I have never met so many interesting and diverse people.  For example, I am part of a study group composed of guys from Ireland, Australia, Belgium, Kenya, and Norway. The MLF students are about evenly divided between those with legal experience and those directly out of law school (I am the second or third most experienced. lawyer of the group).  I am always surprised that everybody automatically assumes that I practiced at  a huge law firm. There are only three other lawyers from the US in the program, and all  of them will probably end up at huge New York law firms. They always look at me strangely when I tell them I practiced with grand total of nine other lawyers (but I always assure them that the boys from Pope Hardwicke can practice law with the best of them).

Teaching Lawyers Business and Math
I may have mentioned this before, but this is the first year that the MLF degree has been offered.  I do not know of any program like it that combines business and law.  It is exciting to be a part of the "inaugural class" and I can tell that Oxford is putting a major effort into integrating its outstanding  Law  School and Said Business School faculties through the MLF program.  It has been interesting to see the lecturers  adapt their styles to overcome the struggle of teaching advanced mathematical and concepts to a group of lawyers.  I am thankful everyday for my Agricultural Engineering degree from Texas A&M!

The MLF crew all dressed up
Of course, it is not all books and studying