The Keys to Friendship

Recently, I worked as a long-term substitute guidance teacher/counselor at a small, rural school in upstate Vermont. One of the main focal points of the term was kindness, which naturally blended into lessons on friendship. Here is a lesson I taught…

The Keys to Friendship

friend brown book

Book available here (photo from B&N) or an indie bookstore of your choosing!

This twenty-five minute lesson was used for a variety of grades, with modifications for age levels. Lessons for kindergarten through fourth grade used only some pages (12-15) from How to be a Friend by Laurie K. and Marc Brown, while fifth grade students did not read the book, but had a Socratic Seminar discussion on what friendship looks like. In all classes we talked about why they choose/keep friends and what are the best qualities of their friends. These conversations were very special, as students would talk about what kind qualities they saw in specific people.

After the reading and discussion, in second through fifth grades, the students received blank paper keys, which they used to record the attribute they most value in a friend (examples: kind, thoughtful, or helpful). In kindergarten and first grade, I had keys with the words already on them (since the lesson time was so short). Students were also challenged to exemplify the word in the coming week. (Later on in the week, whenever I’d see students in the halls, they’d share how they’d made a new friend or done something nice for a current friend.)

I put some of their creation on key rings, made a sign, and created a Keys to Friendship bulletin board in the library. The students stand near the bulletin board when lining up to enter or exit the library, as well as when they are waiting for the library restroom. Since my office was across the hallway, I witnessed many of them sorting through the key rings, reading about their classmates’ ideal friends. Each student in K-5 designed a key, so they would often search for their own or a friend’s key. Long after the lesson was over, the Key to Friendship bulletin board kept the ideas fresh in their minds.

key friendship board


If you’d like a preview of the book, check it out here. (While the video quality and speed would not work for projection display or read-alongs, it might hopefully encourage you to add it to your classroom library!) Here’s a screen capture:

Screen shot 2017-07-10 at 10.41.52 AM

Here is the Pinterest link for the bulletin board inspiration.

EVERYTHING is Horrible When You are Three

This past weekend, I helped out by keeping my grandson occupied.* The terrible twos have nothing on the disastrous, CATASTROPHIC threes. EVERYTHING is horrible. Here are five things that made my grandson cry:

  1. The graham cracker came out of the package broken. Twice in a row.
  2. His father opened the door when he came home, instead of letting said 3yo open it.
  3. We were chasing each other around the house and my “footsteps stopped walking”
  4. The velociraptor is a carnivore.
  5. In the fifty times we raced to the fence, I beat him one time. When he stopped running.

To be fair, these occurred over days of constant togetherness and he is normally a sweet, loving child – but it got me to thinking about times when my students’ felt upset over seemingly inconsequential (to adults) incidences. Since I always tell teens they need to sleep almost as much as a toddler, their frontal lobes are still developing, and new experiences are bound to happen, it shouldn’t come as a surprise if they seemingly overreact in any given situation.

In my early years of teaching, I had a student who had near-perfect penmanship. The students told him his drafting-look handwriting should be immortalized in font form. As a high school student, his ideas were were already as thoughtful as his printing. Early on in the year, however, I wrote on a paper, “Wow, that’s an interesting way of looking at the main char.- you’ve given me something to ponder!” He came up after class and told me he was upset. I could see the pain in his eyes. I read what I’d written and couldn’t understand what I had done wrong. I said I was sorry and asked him to explain. It turns out, he was concerned, not about WHAT I had written, but that I had written on the paper and “messed it up totally”.


Now I could have told him he needed to get used to it – to suck it up, as many people will write on his papers in the future, but I didn’t. We talked about what he would prefer. (I used sticky notes for quite a while.) Since I wasn’t dismissive of him, I formed a better relationship. By not mocking him and seeing WHY he was upset, I created a positive bond with him, which eventually led to helping him seek professional assistance for his crippling OCD.

As educators, we should pause when students are upset over something we find inconsequential and look at what is behind their frustration. (“I see you are frustrated, what’s going on?”) We can still help them learn though the experience the lesson that life has disappointments and obstructions, but our empathy and understanding offers us a teachable moment, instead of making them more exasperated.

For a student with anger issues, I had him keep a journal. He recorded what set him off, how he reacted, and what reaction he should have/could have had. In addition, he rated the inciting incident on the Problem Scale of 1 to 5, with five being a terrible problem (house on fire). After time, he saw his ratings and reactions reduce. So, instead of me telling him he was overreacting, he saw it for himself, then took steps to correct it.

Teaching a subject matter (in my case, English) often involves educating students on so much more. Have you had any “graham cracker moments” in your teaching career or with you own children? I’d love to hear about them here!

graham crackers

*My daughter was taking care of her newborn, my son-in-law was taking care of my daughter (and the baby), and my husband was building railings for their deck!

Teen Depression Resources

With concerns about teenage depression and knowing suicide as one of the leading causes of death for young people, here are resources to help you identify mental health issues and signs of risk. Depression is treatable and suicide is preventable. We need to ensure teens get help when they need it. 


Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255)

We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals. Check out the announcement of a new song by Logic, then click on the Youth link at the bottom left for more information.

VT Crisis Text Line: Text “VT” to 741741

Text VT to 741741 – Crisis Text Line is FREE – 24/7 support.

You get an automated text response first, and then a response from a trained crisis counselor. They work with you until you are cool and calm and have a positive plan for next steps. (For teens in other states, you can find help via texting at Crisis Text Line. )

Umatter® U Can Get Help:

Award winning website for youth who think they may need help or may be worried about someone else. Everybody needs help sometimes. Help comes from friends, family, people nearby and even from yourself. If you are having suicidal thoughts or are worried about someone else, don’t keep it to yourself. Don’t wait for a crisis to ask for help. You Matter. You can get help.

National Hopeline Network: 800-442-HOPE (4673)

Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Research has shown that more than 90% of people who commit suicide have depression or another diagnosable mental or substance abuse disorder. The number one cause of suicide is untreated depression.


Signs of teen depression and suicide warning signs, with suggestions on how to talk about it and ways to get help can be found at Help Guide

Another site with signs, but with additional ideas on facing the issue and seeking help on the Mental Health America website.


Is my child moody or more? An interesting article on the differences.

What can parents and guardians do when they think their teen is depressed? Read the WebMD article to discover paths of treatment and healing.

From the Mayo Clinic website: “When to get emergency help…Suicide is often associated with depression. If you think you may hurt yourself or attempt suicide, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately. Also consider these options if you’re having suicidal thoughts:

  • Call your mental health specialist
  • Call a suicide hotline number — in the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)
  • Seek help from your primary care doctor or other health care provider
  • Reach out to a close friend or loved one
  • Contact a minister, spiritual leader or someone else in your faith community

If a loved one or friend is in danger of attempting suicide or has made an attempt:

  • Make sure someone stays with that person
  • Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately
  • Or, if you can do so safely, take the person to the nearest hospital emergency room

Never ignore comments or concerns about suicide. Always take action to get help.”


Adolescent Health in Vermont and teen suicide prevention.

Vermont Suicide Prevention Center is working to eliminate teen suicide. “We want our young people to know that they matter in each Vermont community.”

New York City’s Councilor Connection Newsletter has excellent ideas and techniques that can help us all.

Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction has practical advice and lessons available on youth mental health issues for downloading on their education website.

A listing of lesson plans, with downloadable documents and handouts provided by West Virginia’s Department of Education.

Note: Currently I’m working as a Guidance Teacher in a small K-8 school in upstate Vermont. The first week I began substituting, a father from our state presented his story about his son’s death due to suicide from teen depression, which was exacerbated by bullying. In light of this, a teacher asked if I’d work with her students. In the meantime, knowing suicide linked with teen depression is the second leading cause of death in teens in Vermont (and other states), I created the above lists of resources.


While it may not have been from a happy chance, that first meeting, the serendipity that brought new friends into my life was certainly more than worth the angst I experienced!

They say bad things happen for a reason, if this is so, I had such a wonderful outcome from my initial woes here in the U.K. Now, I’m not one to complain on social media or write negatively. In fact, I always try to look on the bright side. For instance, if I suffer a setback, I prefer to focus on the positive side of my life, realizing not everything is going to go my way.

When I first arrived in Nottingham, I was quite lonely. Add to that, the fact I could not find anyone willing to do a “short let” for my stay. I was in a hotel and desperate to have a place to call home for the duration of my research. As the date to start work approached, I still had no place to live. Finally, after three weeks, I found a landlord willing to allow me to sign a lease for less than a year. I was so grateful. The small flat was within a thirty minute walk to campus (all downhill in the morning!) and was on a quiet little street. The landlord was out of the country, so the leasing (pronounced “lessing” over here) agency handled all the paperwork. After that, they were out of the picture, as they didn’t manage the property.front-of-lenton

This next part is not me complaining…just some information. When I moved in, I couldn’t lock the back door, the heat wasn’t on, the refrigerator didn’t work, the hot water tank wasn’t working, the shower kept cutting out (once with me in the middle of washing my hair!). The oddest thing, however, was the breaker would flip and the power would go off at least three times a day! I called the agency, but they could not help. I emailed my landlord, who sent an electrician over to the house. He was unable to fix the problem. Each night I’d have to feel my way out into the garage to get the breaker flipped back. I would lose the internet and have to reboot the modem repeatedly. I kept telling myself, “At least I have a roof over my head.” Or, “It could be worse.” And, “At least I’m not paying for a hotel anymore!”

My landlord finally contacted an acquaintance of hers to help sort out the issue. This is where my predicament led to friendship. Without the hassles of my housing, I would have never met Lin and Chung, who in turn introduced me to their family – daughter GarYein, husband Marjan, and their adorable son. They found another electrician, who not only fixed the tripping breaker, but every other problem on the list.

After I was sorted on the property, they began inviting me for dinner. Chung is an amazing chef. They’ve treated me to crispy duck, the most amazing pork EVER, chicken stewed in a sauce until oh-so-tender, Chinese hot pot, and curry dishes. Some of those were all in the same meal! It was a feast each time I went over.

After dinner, GarYein, who is a law professor here in Nottingham, would talk to me about education, both from her perspective as a mother and as an educator.

They made me feel like I belonged.


Tonight was our last meal together. As I sat in the living room, drinking some Chinese tea Lin made in the tea press, Chung came in to the room and began hunting around in the sideboard for something. GarYein and I kept chatting.
Then he handed me this:ceramic-cottage

I’d never mentioned I collected little English cottages to them, but I do. My mother and
father started buying them for me as a sentimental token of where I was born in the U.K. Chung gave me the gift and said something to his daughter. She translated, “He wants to give you more.” You see, they are moving house. When they leave their huge house in the city and move to a cottage in the country, there won’t be as much room. So, I’m getting their cottage collection to add to mine as a reminder of my special time here in Nottingham. They are mailing them to me when I get back to Vermont.

Tonight when I walked home, with a cottage for me in one hand and a jar of homemade chili sauce for Jim in the other, my eyes watered, even though I was smiling. I’d come to Nottingham to work, research, and study education. But I got so much more than that.

I made friends.





Where I’m From

Since I was a child, I always wondered about the saying, “You can’t go home again.” In my case, being born across the sea, I thought it explained perfectly the remoteness of the possibility of my return visit. Luckily, my Fulbright experience in Nottingham brought me within two and a half hours (by car) to my birthplace in the U.K. That good fortune, combined with my husband’s loving gift of renting a car and driving us to England’s eastern coast, made a lifelong yearning come true.

Although Bentwaters Air Force Base was closed in 1993, the area is now used as an industrial park and houses a Cold War museum. My father’s first assignment in the Air Force took him and my mother far from their West Virginia roots. They settled in a tiny town of Bromeswell, which is now has over 300 residents. Here’s the story of my day at “home”…

First, I booked a night in a thatched-roof cottage B&B. We drove in the night down two-lane roads that were big enough for one car! Jim should receive an award for navigating the rental (steering wheel on the right side), driving on the left side of the road, AND while avoiding the hedgerows. And pheasants. And oncoming vehicles. It didn’t help that the B&B doesn’t have a house number, so it can’t be pinpointed on GPS. We knew the place was down the road from the White Horse pub. Unfortunately, we didn’t know there was a White Horse Inn in the neighboring village. Needless to say, we were lost. Fortunately, the B&B host got us heading in the right direction! Here are some photos of the cottage.


After a bite at the pub, where we were welcomed by local families gathering for dinner and a pint before Christmas, Jim rested up for even more driving down impossibly thin and curvy lanes. The next morning was my big day!

We first drove to Ipswich, the town where my mother and father took me shopping in my pram. The town was a Roman settlement and has been “continuously occupied since the Saxon period”, making it the oldest town in England. We visited the art gallery, the historical museum, and walked along High Street and the shopping district. It was wonderful to hear the street musicians playing carols as we strolled along admiring the old architecture.

Next we drove into the countryside and found Bromeswell. img_0179It only has a couple of streets, so I used the town’s church of St. Edmond as my GPS beacon. Good fortune was with us, as we met a lovely woman walking to the church for one last check before the Christmas Eve service. I told her of my mission to see my past and she brought us inside the sanctuary. It was a beautiful old chapel, and you could see the love in the handmade holly and ivy decorations. She had me sign the guestbook, noting my parents’ names, so she could see if any of the older parishioners remembered them. I was given the gift of a sketch of the church for my mother, along with its history. Jim and I made a donation, thanked her profusely for making our trip so meaningful, and then strolled down the lanes to take photos of the homes to share back in the States.

The last leg of the journey was to the area where Bentwaters AFB had been located, which is now a gated industrial park. When Jim and I explained to the security guard about how my father had once worked on the base and it was also the site of my birthplace, he let us drive up next to the flight line and to the control tower, with the promise we wouldn’t go into any of the buildings. Although the Cold War museum was closed for the winter, I was thrilled to get so close to where my father had worked!

Thanks to the kindness of strangers and the intrepid driving of my husband, I was able to go home again. The day was filled with unexpected surprises, such as seeing the inside of the church and receiving the gift of the sketching, along with taking a drive down narrow lanes to discover the place where it all started for me at a former AFB in England.


All Kids Need Books!

An enormous THANK YOU to James Patterson and Scholastic Books on behalf of my students at J.D. Clement Early College High School. Since 2015, Patterson has donated $3.5 million of his own money to help underfunded school libraries nationwide!

            Dear Marjorie Light,
            On behalf of Scholastic Reading Club and James Patterson, thank you for the application                       you submitted on behalf of J.D. Clement Early College High School’s library.

           This year we received thousands of applications in response to James Patterson’s                                    $1.75 Million Pledge to School Libraries! The quality of this year’s applications speaks                            highly of the teachers, parents, and administrators working hard to instill a love of books                    and reading in students across this country. 

It is our pleasure to inform you that your school library has received a…grant. Congratulations!


Here are some of the students who inspire the teachers, parents, and administrators at J.D. Clement Early College High School.file-dec-02-8-35-49-pm




On the left are many of the members of the Library Club after our school won a 3-D printer (beating out schools with thousands of students!) in a Durham Public Libraries summer reading contest. They are passionate about books and love to encourage each other’s reading lives.

If you are interested, here’s an article for the Nerdy Book Club about how the school didn’t have a library, so I decided to build one and ALL of the wonderful people who helped make our dream of having books students could check out a reality. (My room is pictured left, and below.)

One of the main component of the $10,000 grant is funding to buy some seating for the students, a system for checking out books (currently using a cardboard box covered with construction paper), and more shelves to BUY. MORE. BOOKS! The library club is going to increase these sections: Classic Books, our sparse Non-Fiction, and World Literature (on the small bookcase above). In addition, they want to add some current YA literature.

Since I’m abroad in England as a U.S. Fulbright Distinguished teacher, I wasn’t going to have the opportunity to share my good news with the students back in North Carolina. My former ELA colleague and amazing friend, Alice Dominguez, arranged for me to Skype with the Library Club. So after visiting a school in the UK for my research, the IT dept put me in a conference room with a laptop and I got to break the incredible news to my lovely students. They beamed, clapped, and cheered. It was merriment all around! I can’t thank James Patterson and Scholastic Books for such an amazing gift. The little lending library in a classroom – one with no budget – one built from gifts, begging, and cajoling – now has some proper funding to make the space more inviting, functional, and enticing to readers of all genres. Libraries make a difference in students’ lives. Thank you, again, to James Patterson and the Scholastic Reading Club for making a difference. ♥

Sharing Educational Visions

Today I had an opportunity to present an afternoon talk at the University of Nottingham on Teacher Leadership in the USA. The attendees were impressed with the dedicated and passionate teacher-leaders I shared with them, like my friends Alice Dominguez (pictured below, in the middle) and Holly Jordan, who change the world through their activism and empowerment of students. Both teach in the Durham Public Schools district and work so hard at making our schools safe places for our kids, as well as helping to lift up other teachers through programs they facilitate.


My dear ECHS friends.

In my presentation, I talked about the different ways teachers can become leaders and the various roles they can play in their schools and communities. The climate of a school can fluctuate with administration change, so having strong leadership amongst the teachers is a way to create stability, as well as foster growth and change.

The audience seemed most interested in how different the educational systems were between New York and North Carolina (I was sharing the commonalities and differences of the teacher leadership roles I’d experienced in my career.) and they asked numerous questions during the Q&A at the end. Since the audience consisted of professors and international graduate students from many countries, we had a wealth of experiences to share. Many talked with me later about how national ministries of education in their home country have a strong role in the schools, creating a uniformity across the country.


I asked the audience for permission to photograph and share with you.

One of the surprises for me was the large turnout. The professor who organized it said they usually get only about five (5!) attendees, but a couple of dozen came to hear about teachers at the helm in the USA.


Many of my Chinese cohorts who share my office space came as a show of support!

The other surprise? It was a catered luncheon! I was too nervous to eat that morning, so seeing the delicious food helped bolster me. After I was done, I visited with a professor and had a proper bite – a cucumber and cream cheese sandwich on a grain bread with a nice cup of tea.

My next presentation this month is on cross-curricular instruction and the common core. I’m looking forward to meeting more of the students and professors here at Nottingham!


For good luck, I’m wearing the silk scarf my colleague Fangfang gave me from her province in China. It worked!

Everyday Inspiration

The University of Nottingham has several campuses in the area, as well as extensions in Malaysia and China. Park Campus is the main one, founded in 1798 as a Teacher’s Training College and is a mixture of the old and new.

Jubilee, my campus, is where education and research reside and was opened in 1999. The architecture is modern and the blue print is well-planned. You can tell it did not grow organically from its efficient flow, excellent sight lines, numerous green spaces, and juxtaposition of buildings.

There are other campuses in Nottingham, too, for medicine, business, vet school, and biosciences.

Here’s a map of some of the local Nottingham campuses:


Here is a photo overview of the Jubilee Campus:

The top photo is the pond, which runs along side my building. The swans (left) were right outside my office door on Saturday. I work in The Dearing Building (center) – housing both teaching and edu research. The fountain keeps the water moving and there are large carp swimming slowly around, seeking insects.

Notice how some of the building might be inspired by everyday objects.


screen-shot-2016-10-10-at-9-27-53-pmFor instance, the red centerpiece sculpture (above) reminds me of an ice cream holder (left). If you’d like to purchase one, go to for a variety of metal sculpture pieces for £4 to £8 (albeit, MUCH smaller than the one on my campus)




A building, currently under construction, reminds me of an item from the construction industry.


Now each day when I cross the canal onto the campus, I’m reminded of the lodge at my aunt’s summer home and I smile. Don’t you think the above building was inspired by this roofing ventilator from Classic Fibreglass Co. a roofing industry supplier….


The last building I have a couple of ideas, but I haven’t found the perfect one. What do you think was the inspiration for this building, which is built into the ground and is eco-friendly. Sadly, the first building burned to the ground, just before its slated opening. You can read about the devastating fire here, as well as see a great architectural rendering of the design. I love how it flows into the ground and the curves of the trusses.


The Front of the new Chemistry Lab.


I hope you’ve enjoyed a little tour of my new campus. While I love the original University of Nottingham campus (It’s main building graces my header), the quirky Jubilee campus has won my heart.


Money: Cash, Credit or Debit? Part Two – Cards

Banking: Since coming to England to live for four months, I’ve had some trials with banks and using a debit or credit card. If an American is living in the UK for a year or so, he or she may open a checking account in a British bank (and should!), which makes life much easier. For those here for a shorter time, it is much more difficult. There are also banks, such as HSBC, that will allow you (at the time of this post) to open an International Account that allows banking between the US and UK. Sadly, I did not know about that account prior, but did open an account with a bank on both continents. Since I moved to VT only ten days before my trip over here, I have accounts in local banks in VT, NC, and one national. The VT card is a debit only, while the other two are debit/credit. Almost all of my credit cards have chip technology, which is helpful when shopping in grocery and department stores. Every transaction I’ve made in person over here uses the chip.

According to my new friends here in Nottingham, as well as some clerks with whom I’ve talked, Brits rarely use credit cards and use debit cards or cash. This is a wise decision, as an overuse of credit cards can lead to financial issues that will plague you. That being said, I’m glad I’ve had my credit cards when my bank cards fail to authorize due to possible “fraudulent activity” and I need a back up to complete the transaction.

Real Estate: When securing my rental home, I had to try a few cards to get one to work, despite me contacting the institutions prior to the trip, as well as prior to that particular transaction. Since I knew it wasn’t a problem with my funds, I wasn’t embarrassed, but it did cause consternation to make the agent keep trying various payment methods. Although I had cash at the time, I could not use that, as the company doesn’t deal in those transactions. Neither can you use an American check from a bank. Here is where you need options. If, of course, I had a UK banking account, it would have been smoother. Also, if you have the luxury of time, you can do a wire transfer. As I had been in a hotel for almost a month, I needed to act swiftly.

Online Purchases: The other times I’ve had issues is making purchases online. For instance, two grocery stores in Nottingham deliver groceries to homes. This would be perfect for me – someone without a car, who doesn’t live on a bus line, and has a ways to walk to the nearest store (over a mile). Fortunately there is a small convenience store down the road for basic staples. I was thrilled at the possibility of having food appear at my doorstep. But no. After spending almost an hour filling up my virtual cart with the necessities, I prepared to check out of store #1. That’s when I found out they only take UK cards, not US ones. So I tried a different store, put one item in the cart, and discovered the same restrictions. They did however take store gift cards. So, the next day I walked an hour to a nearby mini-store of the same name, bought a gift card, and returned home. After I entered chose my food and all of the details into the site, I could not use the gift card without a UK credit card, even thought the gift card was for a higher amount than the cart total. Argh. Finally, I took a taxi to the lovely grocery store to get fresh fruit, vegetables, and other perishables. After being in the UK for forty days and nights, I fixed myself a proper dinner! (Fresh pasta with sauce, and a piece of English grain bread with Irish butter…in case you are wondering.)



If you want to buy a train ticket, have other credit cards on hand. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have tickets for the Eurostar!

Annoyances: I’ve had my card declined online for train tickets, tours, hotels, and goods either because the transaction was mistakenly flagged as fraudulent by the forewarned credit card companies or because my card was a US card and the billing address was not a UK one. Some sites will not accept a US card, so I’ve resorted to getting the tickets through an alternate site. The only way I can get around these issues is to have several cards at hand when trying to make a purchase, entering one after another until I get an approved transaction. A dual country card would solve this problem or a card with a UK bank. Students studying abroad for a year, along with visiting professors for two school terms have no trouble getting these. They say it takes six to eight weeks for the bank to mail the bank card, but after that, life is easier.


Utilities: Luckily for me, the landlord had the electricity and gas already turned on, so I merely had to call and get it switched to my name. They will send me bills periodically and I did not have to make a deposit. When I toured a high rise housing mostly college students, there was a pay-as-you-go system where you top off a card or flash drive with money, insert it in the meter, and top it off when you run out of credit. When we were there, the lights and gas were off. The agent told me of people forgetting to “top off” and coming home to a dark apartment. Here’s a video I found about it, if you are curious to know more.

Internet: One of my biggest needs was the internet, mostly so I could stay connected to my husband and family, but also because I often work from home when writing. When I walked out of the leasing agency (pronounced “lessing”), there to my great surprise was a Virgin Mobile Internet set up in a kiosk in the square to welcome back college students. They looked up my address and discovered the previous tenant had used them, so the house was prewired. I gave them a fifty pound deposit and left with a wireless router under my arm, went home, plugged it in and was up and running in about an hour. It was the easiest part of my entire housing experience! They send me a monthly bill.

Phone: Since my iPhone belongs to me (I bought it at the Apple store, not through Verizon), it is “unlocked” so I can pop out the SIM card. On the side of the phone is a little hole. When I stuck in a paperclip, it popped out and I replaced the US card with a UK SIM card. I now have a UK phone number, which helps me make appointments for research, call utility companies, make reservations, and touch base with family and friends back home who have an iPhone. For £30 a month I get 4 GB of data, 150 talking minutes, GPS usage, and unlimited UK texting. I can only text US people who have iPhones.  I am on a pay-as-you-go plan, which requires me to visit a store monthly to top off the card. You can only do it online if you have a UK bank or credit card. I’m thrilled about the low cost and have GPS in an unfamiliar country is vital for me. I’ve done the old-school way of navigation using maps in the past, and I can assure you, it is a lot less conspicuous to glance at my phone than unfolding a map in the middle of a busy London sidewalk!


Taxis: Cab drivers tell me they love Americans because we know how to tip! One of them told me he drove a client for a spell and the total was £24.75 – the guy gave him £25 and told him to keep the change (only 25p?). Pfft. I usually give them two or three pounds, depending on the length of the trip, and a little more if they help with luggage or groceries. My encounters with cabbies have all been so wonderful. They love to ask questions about America and share stories about my research. They all wait outside my home until I’m safely inside, without being asked.

Restaurants: A few times I’ve struck up conversations with waitstaff in restaurants when they were slow and discovered the tips left on the bill with the credit card do not always make it to their pockets, but stay with the corporation. Since then, I always make sure I have enough cash to tip when I go out to eat. If you are with a large party, the gratuity might already be on your bill (so I’m told), but it is customary to tip between 10 and 15%.

Pubs: Apparently, bartenders don’t expect to be tipped. I can’t get used to not tipping bartenders, so I do, but they are always surprised.

Bellhop: I tip them two or three pounds, depending on how many bags they carry.

Service People: When the landlord, who was out of town on business, had to get an electrician to come in, I tried to give him a tip. He sort of laughed at me. “You Americans always feel a need to tip,” he laughed. “We get paid enough over here to not need it!” Still, I offer a nominal amount in the hopes someone will take it, as my father said people who do the work in this world are the ones you should recognize. The second electrician, who had to come twice, did take my gratuity and was quite thankful and pleased.

If you are curious to know more, put it in the comment section and if I’m unsure, I’ll ask around for answers!



Money: Cash, Credit or Debit? Part One – Cash

Since arriving in the U.K. a month ago, I have some surprises and frustrations when it comes to dealing with money, not unexpectedly, of course. I knew I’d encounter some initial hiccups and was warned by previous Fulbright recipients of what I might run up against while trying to live and work in another country.

But first, here’s some of the cash – or, pound notes:

They are prettier than American dollar bills and remind me of Canadian money in the color, texture, and size. I would imagine the coloring helps it to be less likely a target for counterfeiting. The oval shape in the middle (see where someone wrote a secret code?) is a watermark, so when you hold it to the light you see the queen’s portrait. Other security features include a hologram and these features. The other people on the bills are Charles Darwin and Adam Smith (A Scottish philosopher and economist). Bills not shown: an old paper £5 note, features Elizabeth Fry (prison reformer), the new replacement polymer £5 showcasing Winston Churchill, and the £50, which has steam engine inventors Boulton and Watt. The paper five will go out of circulation on May 2017, so if you got them, use or deposit them! (The identity and type of current banknotes from the Bank of England website.) The other paper notes will be replaced in subsequent years.

Mostly, I carry around a bunch of pound coins.From a Bank of England’s currency standpoint, they last much, much longer than paper notes. The drawback? Soooo heavy.

Starting at about the two o’clock position, the coins are Pence (slightly larger than a US penny), Two Pence, Five Pence, Ten Pence (at the bottom), Twenty Pence (with angled cut), Fifty Pence, A Pound (smaller than a quarter), and Two Pounds. The pound coin is thicker than the others – and heavier – which is helpful when blindly digging into a pocket or purse to find tip money.


If you were around before 1971, you would have used a different monetary system in England, with a 240 based, instead of a 100. (Argh! The Maths!) Here’s a clear explanation of guineas, crowns, shillings, and bobs. Well, as clear as a money system based on 240 can be! Thankfully, I can use one similar to the U.S. system, which helps in conversions and factoring taxes or tips.

Cash is commonly used in England, much more so than the U.S., and tipping is not as common, as workers are paid a living wage (unlike US waitstaff, for instance). Those are topics for the next post!

I posted the math problem below on Facebook, leading to tears, gnashing of teeth, and general angst. My mathematically inclined friends, though, thought it was awesome! What do you think?

Here’s a little math problem for you…
The average price of gas in Burlington, Vermont, is $2.222 and is sold by the gallon.
The average price of petrol in Nottingham, UK, is 112.2p and sold by the liter.
One British pound is equivalent to 1.30 US dollars.
The US gallon is used in the United States and is equal to exactly 3.785411784 litres.
The number one selling car in the UK is the Ford Fiesta, which has a fuel capacity of 41 litres.
The fuel capacity of a Ford Fiesta in the US is 12.4 gallons.
1) Express how much Nigel in the UK will pay for a full tank in both dollars and pounds, as well as how much Jasmine in the US will pay for a full tank in both dollars and pounds.
2) What is the difference in prices of fuel between Notts & BTV?
3) What is the size difference of the Ford Fiesta tank in the UK vs the US?
4) What is your theory on the difference in tank sizes between a Ford Fiesta in the UK vs the US?