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 webstaurantstore.com 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?

A Baroness, a Lord, and Marjorie

The Fulbright organization in London arranged for us to tour Parliament and go into the House of Lords meeting room. parliament

It wasn’t until we arrived I saw the tour was actually conducted by  Victor Akinbile, one of the members of the House of Lords. From Parliamentary
news site:  “That this House applauds the Serjeant at Arms on his appointment of Victor Akinbile, the first ethnic minority representative from the office of the Serjeant at Arms to sit in the House of Commons chamber in parliamentary history; and supports further measures to increase diversity in House of Commons staff, whilst continuing to hire on merit, to reflect the multiculturalism of the UK.” 


Lord Victor Akinbile

He told us about his appointment, which was primarily due to his community service and activism. In addition, he explained how he takes his position very seriously and works diligently to read up on all of the matters before the House of Commons, whom they advise. The House of Commons representatives are elected and make legal and financial decisions. The House of Lords advices and counsels the others, but does not enact laws. For more information, read here. The Prime Minister has great power, much more than the U.S. President, which was under consideration when the Founding Fathers first drafted the Constitution and government of the United States. While we were walking Lord Akinbile asked me what I was researching whilst in England. When I told him I was looking into how the U.K. educates traditionally underserved populations in the U.S., such as children of poverty and underrepresented minorities, he said, “Oh, I can answer that for you.” I waited. He asked, “Are you ready?” I told him I was and poised my pen on my paper. “They don’t!” His laugh boomed and bounced off the marble walls and steps. “Did you get that?” Later, he added, “And it’s about to get worse.”

The photos below: A stained glass window in the entry hall of Parliament (top left) and one of the many marble statues (bottom left). The ceiling in the great entry hall needed to be able to hold much weight and breadth. Since the U.K. was know for its great naval fleet, they designed the ceiling like an upside down ship hull. (middle) The long hallway leading to the House of Lords meeting room. As the government grows, they are outgrowing this historical building and will someday need to relocate.

Another one of the highlights of the day was meeting The Baroness Andrews OBE (Elizabeth Kay Andrews), who is the Deputy Chairman of Committees and part of the Labour party. She explained how the House of Lords reads up on all of the materials in order to advise the House of Commons. Fortunately, I was able to sit next to her in the meeting room. In front of her was an extremely thick booklet: How to Exit from the EU

When she learned of my research topic, she told me, “Wait until you see what Theresa May is announcing later today about grammar schools. You’ve definitely come at the right time.” (Later that evening, I discovered Prime Minister May had made a quite controversial stand regarding the implementation of new grammar schools, which critics claim will set the country back to the 1950s and lead to greater segregation. This article, from The Guardian, uses educational studies to disprove Theresa May’s claims.

Oh, this picture? Just me hanging out with the Baroness and David Pinto-Duschinsky.


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David Pinto-Duschinsky, Marjorie Light, and Baroness Andrews

Mr. David Pinto-Duschinsky is an advisor to the House of Lords and a trustee for St. Giles trust. According to his Linkedin profile, he is a  “Member of top leadership of SCB’s Africa business, reporting directly to Africa CEO and sitting on bank’s Africa Management Committee. SCB is one of Africa’s largest banks…”  Mr. Pinto-Duschinsky gave an amazing talk to the Fulbright recipients (Scholars, Distinguished Teachers, and Visiting Professors), which will be featured in a future blog post.

Marjorie Goes Mudlarking

One of my first memories of the word “mudlark” was from an Anne Perry novel. In these British mysteries showing the underbelly of the Victorian era, a mudlark is murdered near the Thames in the Thomas & Charlotte Pitt series. Later, in her Inspector William Monk series, Hester, his force-of-nature wife, brings home a mudlark boy.


The banks are strewn with bits of pottery, shells, and glass. The red color is from brick fragments and pieces.

So, what’s a mudlark? A person who made their living by searching for anything of value in the mud along the river banks at low tide. In London, the Thames. The Blackfriars Bridge is featured in a number of Perry’s novels, so when I saw the bridge sign and a set of stairs leading down to the bank, I had to go.

The stairs were steep and intimidating, so I didn’t take a photo until after I went back up again, so keep reading. I was surprised at how dry the banks were and how red.




When I first arrived, there was a mother and daughter searching for pieces of pottery, which they piled onto a flat chunk of concrete and left behind. An Italian couple were sunbathing. It was peaceful at the river level. Below you can catch a quick video I uploaded of the Thames at river level to get an idea of what I mean.


The steep stairs  (no railing!) leads to the bank. As I left, a few more people joined in the hunt.


Some of my treasures: crockery, pottery, shells, brick fragments, pieces of clay pipes, and one small bit of blue glass, for luck.











Curious for more information?

Here’s an article about a kayaker’s finds: http://www.mby.com/news/pipes-witches-jars-and-ww2-shells-12768

What to do if you find something of great historical value, such as a Roman coin: https://camguthrieblog.wordpress.com/2013/10/02/epilogue-river-thames-archeology/


The Carved-out Caves of Nottingham

The other day, I went off on a wandering. I stroll around the city, looking at the sights and then try to find my way back home – a way to test my inner compass while I discover a new city. I’d walked for blocks and blocks and came to a dead end at a mall entrance. I decided to walk through the Broadmarsh Mall to see what was on the other side. Little did I know I’d soon be UNDER the mall!

cave-signNear one of the exits was a sign “City of Caves” and I thought it was possibly a kiosk for tickets, so I went to investigate. Surprisingly, it was the entrance to a tour! Back when they built the mall, the locals fought to save the caverns below.

According to the brochure from the tour, before it was Nottingham, back in 868, this area was called Tigguacobauc, which means “City of Caves” – all hand dug over the centuries. By the 1600s, the guides said the caves were damp homes to people who were poor. Some caverns under taverns were used for casks and one still had a safe hidden in the wall from the basement of a solicitor’s office.


As we toured, I was thankful for clean water sources. The well for the town was located a scant distance from the sewage pit. Seepage contributed to the high rate of cholera. Children’s jobs here included climbing down to pull junk out of the well. AND going into the pit to lower the levels of waste. Fortunately, they are all clean now and no smell or danger remains.




Soon, the caves were used as tanneries. This is where the tour made the kids squeal, as the costumed interpreter asked if any of them wanted a job. A few brave ones raised their hands. The job for kids? Fetching the poo (waste from animals, such as horses) and pee (human urine, often from tavern buckets).  One of the few perks of tannery work? No plague in the caves. Apparently the smell was too much even for rats.





cave-warAs we wound our way through the tunnels, we were transported to World War II, where another interpreter regaled us with tales of how the caves were turned into bomb shelters. A new cave was dug under a factory and could hold 8,000 people! Although not a primary target for the Germans, Nottingham was bombed during the war. With all of the bomb shelters, most were spared. (Approximately 120 deaths)

While we exited and climbed toward street level, I thought of the pub a third of a mile away – Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem – which is built into the hills and caverns under the castle grounds. You can still walk to the back of the pub and see the sandstone walls there since the 1100s. While many of the caves in Nottingham have been filled in or bricked over throughout the years, there are still some prime examples of how the city used the rock beneath them to carve out space for work, storage, and safety.cave-poster

I can’t wait to see what else I stumbled upon in my wanderings!

Sorry, Mom!

When my brothers and I were young and following our parents around from Air Force Base to AFB, we were absolutely mortified by my mother’s…how should I say….friendliness. It wasn’t enough for her to go to the commissary, buy us some food, and come home and cook. NO. Instead, she would accost perfect strangers wearing WVU sweatshirts or sidle up next to people with that distinctive accent from those West Virginia hills. Worse yet, at the BX, she’d leave notes with her phone number under the windshield wipers of cars with WV license plates. “Hi! I’m from WV, too!” We would hide behind our wood-paneled station wagon and cringe. Our house was filled with people hankering for a taste of pinto beans and cornbread. Sunday dinners could see a WV family chowing down on our fried chicken. Thanksgivings were peppered with lonely airmen, just kids really, who were far from home, but welcomed in ours. Just mortifying. 😉

Here’s a favorite photo of her being shy in Montreal:

mom montreal

Well, time for me to apologize.

While I don’t leave my house number under windshield wipers, I have the modern day equivalent: the business card.

business card

Yesterday I woke up without any prospects for a place to live during my Fulbright experience. I’d emailed and called leasing agents to no avail. Finally, ONE person gave me an inkling of help, so I popped into their storefront and found two possibilities. (And made an appointment to view the next day.) I returned from the hotel, happy, and went to the executive lounge to work. This is when I turned into my mother.

A lovely English lady made the mistake of asking me if I happened to know what time canapes were served in the evening. From this mundane encounter, I formed a friendship. I asked where she was from (London, btw, not West Virginia), what brought her to Nottingham, etc. Just like mom, I shared my contact information. I whipped out my business card. After she left, I hoped I’d see her again, as she was interesting and engaging. Soon, she did – husband in tow – to give me her card!new friends

The next thing I knew, they’d invited me out to see the oldest pub in England, Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem and to join them for dinner! Mom was right – you never know who you’ll meet and friends you’ll
make if you reach out. Thanks to Cath and Les for befriending me and giving me such a memorable evening!


me statuenight castle


What I Did This Summer

In solidarity with back-to-school students around the US., here’s my obligatory piece on what I did this summer and one thing I learned from each experience. (In bullet form, so I won’t bore you with too much detail!)

  1. Visited Family: We flew to Florida to see brother Matt and lovely wife Lori. I loved walking on Madeira Beach. We also drove to Vermont from NC to see the kids, their significant others, and THE grandson before I left for the UK (please be sure to read #6, whicmilo leprechaunh made that trip moot – FUN, but moot.) I also drove to WV after my summer job ended to say goodbye to my mom, who introduced me to everyone we met in the entire state as a Fulbright recipient. (Which led to a speaking invitation upon my return, so…YAY!) What I learned: From my grandson- he said, “Good job, Pépé!” Cheering people on when trying new things makes hearts feel warm. There was even more driving and flying, some of which was a surprise. (Again, see #6 )
  2. Kenan Fellowship: I was chosen, fortunately, as a Kenan Fellow Award recipient by NC State University’s Kenan Institute and Ply Gem. This Program for Teacher Leadership choses educators from around the state to work with local industries and bring their learning into the classroom. What I Learned:  Interviewing CAN be fun when you are relaxed, prepared, and qualified. With the award came an excellent professional development experience…see next point.
  3. Kenan Fellow Professional Development at Cullowhee: Held at NCCAT Cullowhee, a week of workshops and meetings, polishing teaching skills. The North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching is truly one of the best things about the state. If you care about education, this is a great place to donate! They show teachers respect. The mountains of NC are beautiful and offers whitewater rafting, which we tried. I made it to the last rapid without falling out – and only didn’t then because a light-webquick thinking teacher grabbed my lifejacket and saved me from the watery depths. What I learned:  Great teachers love sharing their amazing ideas and do it well. After learning about project based learning, connected with tech, and understanding learning styles, it was time to dive into my corporate work. On to PLY GEM at #4…
  4. Ply Gem – My Kenan Fellow internship at Ply Gem, a leader in external building material products was an amazing experience. First of all a big thanks to Lee Clark-Sellers and her team who included me from the start, assigning me two interesting projects at their Insight Center – the R&D portion of their company.  What I learned: Combining a team of engineers from different disciplines in product innovation takes cooperation for the project to succeed, which helps inform they way I structure project learning in my classroom. ALSO; The projects I worked on with the impact of humidity, along with reflectivity in roofing will become learning units for students.
  5. Extreme Weather – Another professional development NCCAT workshop, this time at the Ocracoke campus was provided to the Beulah P. Whichard scholarship. She was a respected educator and her son created this funding in her honor and memory. My father, a meteorologist, would be so proud of this connection to weather, as well as the honor of the award. What I learned: Creating interdisciplinary units weaving science and English with historical weather events can be a challenge, but its an enjoyable one. I’m excited to share my ideas for student learning in a future post, as I like the complexity of it, as well as the practicality. It was while I was at Ocracoke a life-changing event occurred….see #6
  6. The BIG Move – While I was in Ocracoke, my husband was flown for an interview with an international chocolate company, Barry Callebaut, with a branch in Vermont. He was quickly offered the job of plant controller and a week later we were flying to find a home there. The day after we returned from VT to NC, the movers arrived! WHEW! That was the quickest move I’ve seen. They were eager to have him start right away and he was so fortunate in getting an offer from such an amazing corporation. And anyone who knows me KNOWS I adore chocolate. Now we are in the same state as our children, their partners, and my favorite (only) grandson.
  7. Fulbright Distinguished Teacher Award – This  particular adventure will continue throughout the fall term into January as I research education at the University of Nottingham in England. As I sit 3,000 miles across the sea from my family, friends, and students, I am still in disbelief I was chosen. phone nottsIt’s real, though. I hear it in the church bells ringing across the square, in the lilt of the voices, in the clicking of my heels on the cobblestones. These sounds remind me of what I’ve learned: Dreams do come true.

















“Where Are You From?”

It used to be easier answering this question, I’d say, “Here” or “I just moved from New York” (or wherever the last state was previously). But my addresses changed often recently. Today, in a little shop in Nottingham, the clerk asked me a simple question when hearing my American accent. “Do you mind me asking, where are you from?” I opened my mouth to answer, but didn’t know what to say.

Now I do.

Where Are You From?

A simple question
with a twisted answer.
I’m from everywhere.
And nowhere.
Bookending my life:
A little village in England
and a vibrant city in New England

The forward is short, like me
A few years under a flag,
not my parents’ –
not the one I’d pledge
allegiance to in primary school.

The chapters of my life are marked
by stories set in varied lands.
Sitting on wooden steps of a trailer,
heat rising in the distance,
blowing out a few candles on a cake,
baked by my mother.
My father, comforting me with lengthy explanations
of lighting and thunder.

As you thumb through the pages,
you'll see the usurpers, two characters who
claimed laps and arms, who forged a bond
only broken by miles and adulthood.
I thought of them as twins – “the boys”
They etched my story with their laughter,
binding themselves tightly into the stories
I share with my students.

One lost year without my father:
A short chapter told in letters, tape recordings,
blurred photographs from a war far away
Held together by the glue of extended family
Kept from fading by the protective cover of cousins,
this is the home of my heart

Swept away to the plains, flat and endless
Middle grade years transitions trees to a first crush,
then skipped ahead to tall peaks,
my rising action, but not my denoument
Punctuated by short setting changes,
growing, learning, finding my calling

Closer to the end,
change increases its pace.
In four years, five moves,
skipping across the land,
even across the pond,
like a shiny, smooth stone
a mere footnote in a lifetime 

I stand in the shoppe,
her eyes inquisitive, awaiting
my reply.
“Where am I from?” I repeat. 
I blink.
“That’s hard to say.
And nowhere.
But for right now, I’m here.”

~Marjorie Light
August 27, 2016


ngham map

Feeling Pensive


Usually tonight the jitters would have hit by now. Normally, I’d check and recheck my first day lesson plan. I would have come home late from work tonight after staying to ensure everything was “just so” – but no.

Not this year.

For the first time in nineteen years, I’m not going to school tomorrow. I won’t be surrounded by students. I won’t be learning new names. I won’t have former students squeal and hug me.

Instead, I’m spending the night before school reading articles about education in another country. I’m searching online for a place to call home for five months in Nottingham, England. I’m dreaming of learning in schools far from home.

While I’m *beyond* excited for this opportunity, tonight I’m pensive. Basically my entire identity revolves around teaching, serving my students, and working toward making the future better for the teens in my care. It is an uneasy feeling not getting ready for work in the morning.

Since I was a child, one of my aspirations was to spend an extended period of time in England. In twenty-one days, I’ll board a plane and fly to begin my Fulbright Distinguished Teacher Fellowship in the U.K. There, I’ll meet college students who are teachers-in-training at a university considered one of the top one-percent in the world. When I go into schools, I will observe educators, lead lessons, and interview students.

This is how I can get through the night and the next few days: My research topic, Connecting and Competing in a Global Economy: Educating First-Generation College and Minority Students, is one close to my heart and life’s mission. I’ve seen on a three-week trip to Germany how that country is working together making education a national priority. This extended trip should give me more ideas moving the United States toward equality in education, along with methods of implementation.

The next few months will surely be exciting and life changing for me, and more importantly, I hope when I return I can work for changes here for our students. ALL children in the United States deserve an education that will prepare them for the future. We can do better.

So while I am pensive, the prevailing feeling is one of hopefulness. Stepping away from the classroom this semester was a difficult decision, but I am sure it is the right one.

3-d printer kids

My students after winning a 3-D Printer for the Summer Reading Challenge with the Durham Public Library. These are my kids. This is why I do what I do.