Looking back, moving forward

Dear Sam,


Well, what a tonic it was to spend time with good friends! Oxford was looking glorious, with the college gardens and parks at their most colourful, and I loved seeing the profusion of roses everywhere. As well as reminiscing about our student days, it was wonderful to look ahead and make some plans for our blog here at Staircase 9 17, too.  It was lucky that we came across the Turl Street Kitchen when we arrived, as it was the perfect place to start our discussions, with its combination of great food and coffee and its mission to support the local community.

The blog’s Home page has a new look

I’m glad we’ve made a few changes to the format of the blog and, as this year progresses, I’m looking forward to exploring our theme of wellbeing and ways of helping ourselves by helping others. Next month, we’ll start our new Friday Food for Thought series, where we’ll post an inspiring snippet to ponder. With that in mind, I’ll leave you with some wise words from Dr Johnson, once, of course, a student at Pembroke himself,

“Life has no pleasure higher or nobler than that of friendship.”

Well said!

Much love,




A helping hand

Dear Sam,

How are you?  I’ve been a bit under the weather with a cold this week and I wanted to thank you for telling me about the TED talks. Being poorly has given me the perfect opportunity to put my feet up and make myself feel better by listening to the inspirational speakers.

In TED’s spirit of sharing, G and I have just joined Helpful Peeps, an online community where you can offer time, skills and knowledge to help other people out. I think their motto strikes a chord for us here at Staircase 917, Life is better when we help each other.  Where we live, people are looking for all sorts of help, from learning a language to advice about handicrafts, so there’s scope to offer support whatever your strengths may be! Apparently, there are members in more than 80 countries – do you know if they’ve reached the US?

And, thinking of the power of words to move and inspire, I’m sure you’ll want to join me today in wishing a happy 103rd birthday to Dylan Thomas. Here he is reading his Poem in October, written in 1944.

Much love,







Ideas to change the world

Dear Claire.

I’m glad you had a happy trip to Italy, and thanks so much for the link to Librivox. What a nice volunteer opportunity. I think it’s a fantastic goal to make all public domain literature free and accessible to everyone.

It’s interesting that you should ask what’s on my Fall reading or listening list, because I’ve made a promise to myself to listen to more TED talks. And TED is also committed to universal accessibility.

I love TED’s mission: To spread ideas. That is, ideas worth spreading. TED’s core belief is that ‘ideas have the power to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world’ 😊

There are now over 2500 talks on ted.com, from experts in creativity, education, science, technology and design. And they are all available for free.

I thought you might like this little sampling, covering everything from using paper towels more efficiently, to how money can buy happiness (depending on how you spend it), to completely rethinking the nature of stress and the importance of connecting with others:

TED’s How-To Guide to Everyday Life

Here’s to us sharing more ideas with each other!

Much love,

Free Rice

Dear Claire,

We had an amazing time in Italy, thanks! And believe it or not Duolingo was the app we used to learn a little Italian before we went. I thought it was very well designed, and definitely made the learning fun. I can’t say I took it to the gym, but putting it to use while walking around Rome in 40-degree-plus heat was perhaps as much of a workout!

I discovered something I didn’t know about Rome, too: it’s the headquarters of the United Nations World Food Programme. And since we’re on the topic of online learning, have you heard of their game called Free Rice? Their mission is two-fold:

  1. To provide education to everyone for free; and
  2. To help end world hunger by providing rice to hungry people for free

It’s essentially a general knowledge quiz, and for every question you get right, an advert pops up – and that advert generates 10 grains of rice for the world food programme, which goes to feed the hungry.

So: an online game that helps improve your learning and benefits a good cause all at the same time. Such a clever idea.

Safe travels. I hope you have a lovely vacation!


Language lessons

Dear Sam,


Welcome home! I hope you had a fantastic time in Italy?

I know you’d been learning some Italian before your holiday – did you get a chance to try it out? Following your good example, we’ve also just booked a short trip to Italy later this year, so I’ve been brushing up my Italian, too. I find that Duolingo  is a fun way to practise – have you come across it? It’s a game-based language learning system that offers a huge choice of different languages –  as well as Italian, French and German you can try out Welsh or Norwegian,  to name just a few.  Amazingly, since it was launched about 5 years ago, more than  1.2 billion people worldwide are now using it to improve their language skills. I’m also a fan because of the ethos behind Duolingo –  the belief that learning another language can open up opportunity and mutual understanding and the pledge that the lessons will always be free of charge, so that everyone has equal access to the opportunity to learn.

If, as in my case, a little pre-holiday exercise is needed, it’s good to know that according to a recent study, learning a language while you are at the gym can help you retain the new information more easily.  An incentive to  give more that just the grey matter a workout, perhaps!

Much love,