How ordinary

Just a typical home on a quiet residential street in Richmond, near London, July 2017

“You know that the eyes of love aren’t blind, they are wide open…you realize how ordinary it is to love the beautiful, and how beautiful it is to love the ordinary.” 
Marius Vieth

When I travel, I find that I enjoy the everyday neighborhoods and local groceries, libraries and post offices almost as much as I do the world famous tourist spots. It’s a habit I picked up from my parents; no matter where we would travel, we usually took the public transportation and avoided pricey tours. Jeff and I continued that tradition, because he too preferred independent exploring over group itineraries.

When I was planning my trip to Oxford, I scheduled a couple of extra days following the end of classes. I wanted to have plenty of time to get from Oxford to Heathrow, and had always wanted to see the Royal Botanic Gardens (also known as Kew Gardens) just outside London.  Feeling a bit adventurous, I booked an Airbnb lodging on a residential street within an easy walk of the Gardens and the Underground station. I was hoping I wouldn’t regret my first-ever experience with the intriguing service, which promised to offer something more than a typical hotel could sell at any price.

It was a lovely way to end my trip. I stayed at the home of a congenial Italian family who had been living in Britain for seven years or so, and built a cozy one-room studio near the back wall of their garden. It was a quiet neighborhood where I felt safe walking around in the evenings, enjoying the famed English gardening skills on full display at almost every home I passed.

I suppose that living so near to Kew Gardens might provide an extra incentive to indulge one’s love of flowers, but I saw such displays everywhere I went in England. I don’t know how much I might have noticed them if I were driving past in a car. There was nothing spectacular about the modest neighborhood where I stayed; it certainly didn’t compete with the charming cottages of the Cotswolds, or the stately buildings of Oxford, or the gorgeous mansions of Belgravia. But if someone asked me which I enjoyed most, my day at Kew Gardens or my quiet evening walks in the Richmond neighborhood just outside its gates, I would have to think about it for a long time to answer accurately. In fact, I thought about it before writing this post, and I’m still not sure of the answer. I think it must be “both.”

Things can be beautiful without being uniformly so, of course. I probably could have taken many photographs that made the area look ugly. Appreciating the beauty does not require being blind to the unsightliness that is usually present right alongside the beauty (though the camera is good at focusing in on what is best and cutting the rest).

No matter where you or I might live, if we were strolling through one of our neighborhoods together this evening during the last of the fading sunlight, I bet we could find many beautiful things to photograph. We could even take a few of those now-obligatory selfies to remember how much fun we had.

Isn’t it extraordinary to live in a world where the ordinary can be so beautiful?


  1. I haven’t been to Kew for years… it’s on my ‘to do’ list. Your accommodation sounds wonderful… I love the beauty that ordinary people create around themselves.

    • I so enjoyed my day at Kew Gardens. It’s large, as you know, and every “neighborhood” within seems to hold a mood of its own, all calming and delightful. The flowers were dazzling, as might be expected in early July. I think I’m hooked on AirBnb, though I don’t know when I’ll have another opportunity to try it.

  2. Good morning, Julia!
    I’m so glad that you had a good Air BnB experience. I’ve had several. Some were just ok, others were a wonderful opportunity to glimpse into new worlds.
    I think it was the night before I met you, that I stayed at an Air BnB where the husband and wife and I had a lot in common and conversation was easy. They pointed me to a great place for sunrise photos, at the boat launch next door to a yoga (private) client of the wife’s. Just as I finished up taking pictures that next morning, I heard shouts – the client, a gentleman from Russia had invited me to join their morning yoga on his deck.
    I was the first guest ever, at another Air BnB, in Wisconsin. The owner was so nervous, but she brought me to a local place to get soup for supper late that night, and had a marvelous breakfast waiting for me when I returned from shooting dairy cows the next morning. (Yes, Alan, photography 😉 )
    Welcome back, Julia! Are you inspired to try new experiments with your own gardens now?

    • Susan, thanks for this info. It always helps to have first-hand recommendations of a service, even if each experience is slightly different. I love the many ways the internet is bringing people together in positive connections. AirBnB is one example. These friendly encounters might not make the news, but they are absolutely critical with all the highly-publicized strife in the world. Yes, I am definitely inspired to experiment with new plants and new ways of planting. What the Brits manage to do with containers and trellises is amazing. I wonder if there is a light post in the entire kingdom that isn’t adorned with a hanging basket? I wish I knew the names of all the plants I saw. I had a a few impromptu conversations with people I saw who were out working in their yards. Gardening, like walking dogs, tends to spark friendly conversation.

  3. Cherie

    Julia, I am so happy to see your post full of beautiful words and pictures! May your day be filled with Joy Unspeakable! I love you, sweet southern sister!

    • Thank you Cherie! Love you too — keeping you and Ron in our prayers.

  4. Chris

    Yes, it is. However, I believe that it may be a gift to be able to see the beauty of the ordinary. Or, perhaps it just takes “practice”; or maybe to be spirit filled. Regardless, it would be wonderful if all of us would recognize the beauty, and merit, of the ordinary and the common.
    Great post! Are you home yet? What classes were you taking at Oxford?

    • Hi Chris, yes, I’m home now. This summer I took a semester-long course on C. S. Lewis that included 7 days in Oxford where we met as a class for assignments, presentations, outings and just all around fun. I thought I knew a lot about Lewis but I learned so much more, and nothing beats seeing the places where he lived, taught and visited with his friends. Oxford is a fun place to be even without such activities, but it was quite memorable to study there. My class wasn’t part of the Oxford University system, we just met there for part of our studies.

      Lewis had a gift of seeing the beauty in the ordinary. He counted all types of people among his friends, and some of the people he loved most were neither highly educated nor affluent. In his later writings, he frequently denounced his youthful self as a “prig” but he more than made up for it during his long years of acting as a caretaker for at least three different people (not all at the same time) and answering every letter from among the countless bags of them that arrived from his many fans of all ages and from all sorts of backgrounds, the majority of which (I believe) were from America, and many of whom sought his advice about their writing, of which they sent him samples.

      One of my favorite quotes from Lewis is “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.” So perhaps Lewis might tell us that the gift lies in seeing through the deceptively ordinary exterior to the astonishing wonders underneath.

  5. Carolyn

    Good morning Julia, I’m with you about off the road places. When we travel our instates keep us from seeing the small towns. So much to see in those smaller places. I love to go and just walk and see what they have. Jennifer lives in New Bern, N.C. And I enjoy going into town and checking out all the small little places. Well enough of that, you have a great week. Love and hugs always.

    • Carolyn, Jeff and I first discovered the joy of these little towns when we lived in California the first time (right after we left Bartlett). At first we supposed it was a California thing, but it was simply a matter of not having interstate highways that ran directly along the central coast. The Pacific Coast highway was like a little string of jewels, one cute town after another. In the years to come we found out these cute little towns everywhere if we were not driving along the interstate. Sadly, the big cities all seem to be so like one another anymore. I suppose there is a sameness to small towns too, but each has its unique antique shops, diners and parks. I have never been to New Bern but I remember lots of passengers heading that way back when I worked for Piedmont (later bought by USAir) and maybe one day I’ll be able to visit there myself. Hope you and Terry are having a lovely week. We’ve had rain but it’s turning hotter now. Still, I can tell autumn is on the way. Leaves are starting to fall. Love and hugs from Matt and me. ❤

  6. I loved the photo of the cottage door and the garden surround. I could be quite cozy there. Everywhere you go, for the most part, there is a mix of great beauty and the plain. It gives perspective. My neighborhood has that as well but I’ve seen nothing that compares to your photo. I can well imagine that as you go through your photos, you gain new insights as well. I’m thinking that trip was very good for you at that point in time. Hugs, Marlene

    • Marlene, yes, one of the fun things about this blog– and why it has been good for me– is that it gives me an excuse and a bit of time pressure to go through my photos. I’ve found that digital photography, as wonderful as it is, has ended up making photos seem less valuable to us. We click away and take thousands of photos and then never make the time to go through them. Curating my photography archives is one of those things on my “to do someday” list that now, due to my age, really needs to be re-named my “now or never” list. And you’re right, going through photos is more than an exercise in nostalgia. I see something new in them each time I go through them for a few minutes. The trip was definitely very good for me. In many ways, exactly what I needed at the time. Hope you are doing well. We keep you in our thoughts & prayers. Giant end-of-summer hugs!

      • Thanks for the hugs, Just got all my photos back from crash plan. I will do housekeeping on them very shortly and find a thumb drive to store them on. Planning on putting many in books to give each family member. I’m collecting my sister’s photos to go with a book of stories I’m writing about her growing up years for her to read and see while she still can. It will be a very fast and busy year for me. Hugs right back. The cool has come and I am ever so grateful. 🙂

        • Marlene, I am so happy you are cooling off and revving up at the same time, hee-hee. Referring to the weather and the photos, of course. Your plan sounds good and from what I have read, will be a huge boost to your sense of well-being. Photos are said to be therapeutic and they almost always are for me. It’s been hard looking at mine lately, for obvious reasons, but I hope that will get better with time. It’s hot and humid today so I’m enjoying your weather in my imagination. 🙂

          • The weather reprieve has been a blessing but more hot on it’s way. Trying to get as much done outside as possible while I don’t melt. I can handle anything but the humidity. It’s why I left the Midwest. Photos bring up all kinds of memories and I realized how few there were of my mother. I have more to go through. They do spark things to write about though. You will be very raw for quite a long while. It’s ok to feel every ache. Hugs.

            • Marlene, thanks so much for those words of encouragement. I keep thinking, it has been almost 11 months, why do feel more and more sad? It helps to know that “quite raw” is the typical state of things for someone in my situation, and to know that’s OK. I just tell myself to hold on and that’s enough for now. Thanks for being here.

  7. Harry Sims

    Stop on!
    Spot on!
    You go girl.

    • Thank you, Harry!

  8. Amy Hill

    Whenever I travel I try to take some time to see outside the tourist sites. Not always possible but when it has been we have really enjoyed getting to know the countries and places we have been. These days I am ususally looking to see where I can relocate since I find I am not so enamored of VA. I like to come home and imagine myself in a new place but I know I would miss much here. I haven’t yet found my utopia so this is home and travel I must. Lucky me. Looking forward to discovering a few hidden gems with you.

    • Amy, I’m so sorry you have been unhappy in Virginia, but when I read where you wrote “travel I must” I thought, “and travel you can, and do.” I wasn’t sure if you meant sarcasm when you wrote “Lucky me” but I hope not – many people would love to be able to say that. On the plus side, you do get to spend quite a few days of the year out of town (at least this year you have– including two long trips to HAWAII 🙂 to see your lovely daughter and her hubby), so hopefully that is some consolation. Also– I know this must get tiring to hear, but never forget to be grateful you have Stephen to travel with you and come home with, and W waiting faithfully for you when you get there. That right there is a lot to love, no matter where “there” happens to be. ❤ Meanwhile, I do know that things are tough all over, though from where I sit now, I sometimes wonder how I was ever unhappy 20 years ago– but I know I sometimes was. Imagining oneself elsewhere is often a good escape. I speak from experience, hee-hee.

      • Amy

        Oh no I meant how very blessed I am to get to travel so much. It is a great thing indeed. Yes, things are tough but I do not consider all lost. 😉 Hope to see you soon so I can hear more of your travels and see your photos. Love to Matt.

        • WOW, I already have way too much to tell you not even including the travels. It has been quite an eventful few weeks since you left for Hawaii. More later on that! This will call for an extra-large pot of tea! 😀

  9. raynard

    Julia, do you remember the final scene of Shawshank Redemption. Andy on the beach and Red coming up to him? His hat blew off, then they greeted one another as the camera shot pans up? Combine that with the last scene from the Tom Hanks movie where he came back from being stranded on that island. You know when he got back ” he was standing in the middle of a crossroad. Said all that” to say ” it reminds me of you and myself”. I’m practicing ” The speech ” Rocky gave his son.( you know when life hits you) Why? Cause I told a friend last night I’m having a ” coming out party”. I just came out” of making my last child support payment and” like my full blooded Bjourn dog” I got the papers to prove it”.I digress.. Happy Happy Joy Joy. I give my x credit for pushing my last two daughter to go to college like her mom did her who also went to college. But 21 years I had a part no matter the size contributed. So I’m feeling great today

    • Raynard, congratulations on this milestone AND for helping your kids go to college! I don’t remember that ending to Shawshank Redemption too clearly but I need to watch the movie again. Believe it or not I never did see the Tom Hanks movie. I know the one you mean but I can’t remember the title.

      • Raynard

        Julia the Tom Hanks movie I referred to was when he worked for FedEx and his plane crashed. He was stuck on a island talking to the socker ball named Wilson

        • Someday I hope to see that one. It sounds interesting.

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