Meg Goes to Downton Abbey


We went to Highclere Castle today with the class. The fellowship paid for our admission price as well as coach to and from the University of Surrey.  Pictures can’t quite capture the beauty and detail of this castle.  I am smitten with Britain!

Group photo of our fellowship class. We are teachers from North Carolina studying abroad,. Our class title is "Writing and Technology Integration." We are actually working really hard on some cutting edge technology and current pedagogy on how to engage students of all levels of writing.  Fascinating class.

Group photo of our fellowship class. We are teachers from North Carolina studying abroad,. Our class title is “Writing and Technology Integration.” We are actually working really hard on some cutting edge technology and current pedagogy on how to engage students of all levels of writing. Fascinating class.

So here are some photos. I will be blogging in more detail about this trip later. For now, I am soaking up each moment.

Standing next to a lovely tree on the Highclere Castle Estate (Downton Abbey)

Standing next to a lovely tree on the Highclere Castle Estate (Downton Abbey)


This is the countryside to the castle

This is the countryside to the castle

That's me standing in front of Highclere Castle. But let's be honest, we know it as Downton Abbey.

That’s me standing in front of Highclere Castle. But let’s be honest, we know it as Downton Abbey.SONY DSCIn front of the castle


I met this lovely couple on the tour in the castle and we hit it off. We serendipitously ran into each other in the garden. Their names are Evelyn and Peter.

View from the bottom path of the wild flower field.

View from the bottom path of the wild flower field.

My castle

My castle


Sheep grazing on fields surrounding Downton...I mean Highclere.

Sheep grazing on fields surrounding Downton…I mean Highclere.



In the gardens at Highclere. I asked Peter and Evelyn who the statue was and Peter replied, “King Kinut.”  And I said, “Who is that?” He said,, “The chap that held the sea back.”  I laughed and said, “I’ll never hear that description of in America.”  But another teacher in the group said it was actually a statue of something else. For the record, I believe my Brits!  What I really loved about going around the castle tour (inside) with Peter and Evelyn was how they annedocted their own culture’s history. I watched as they stood facing two uncaptioned photos in the great hall upstairs at Downton (I mean Highclere) and bantered back and forth about the Countess who owned the property, hypothesizing that the photo was in fact of Diana. Or they mentioned how they saw Charles’ nose in the photo of the young girl.  It was lost on me, but I gather they thought that it was a picture of the Countess. I really liked watching the Brits walk around inside the castle.  Sure, there were plenty of Americans on the tour but there were so many people from England.  I wish I had more time to talk to more people.  But I have very good luck meeting the people I am supposed to meet and I was supposed to meet Evelyn and Peter.


Mr. Roger’s “Garden of Your Mind”

Did you you ever grow anything in the garden of your mind?  You can grow ideas in the garden of your mind.  It’s good to be curious about many things.  You can think about things and make-believe, all you have to do is think and they’ll grow.

Imagine every person that you see is somewhat different from every other person in the world.  Some can do somethings, some can do others.  Did you ever think about the many things you learned to do?  Did you ever grow anything in the garden of your mind.  You can grow ideas in the garden of your mind.  It’s good to be curios about many things. 

Mr. Rogers fostered creativity, imagination, tolerance, and acceptance.  He truly was magical.

His advice:  All you have to do is think about things and they’ll grow.  That’s true.  The mind grows when it is curious and open.

I love this video.  It makes me think about the make-believe world my sister and I invented when we were kids.  As kids growing up in the late 70’s and 80’s, we were brought up on Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street.  I remember watching Saturday morning cartoons, but I can’t tell you what cartoons I watched.  In regards to cereal, they were like fruit loops, no mental nutrition, but I remember vividly watching Mr. Rogers tie his shoes, check the mail, talk with neighbors, and look me directly in the eyes and tell me to be curious.

His calm demeanor was comforting and watching him check his closet for his sweater was always a treat.  I enjoyed the train and puppet shows, but what Mr. Rogers did for me, was teach me to grow things in the garden of my mind.  I have a rain forest of thoughts, ideas, and creativity.

I think the biggest problem with education is the multiple choice standardized tests that are sending children a direct message: there are only four possible answers.  I have always thought that choice e should be available — for explore the possibilities.  I get the whole standardized testing thing; I was a teacher for 15 years (teaching public school across the spectrum — special education with students with emotional, physical, and learning disabilities; teaching at a residential treatment center for ages 10 – 17 ; elementary age students; middle school Language Arts and two years substitute teaching).

The most beautiful thing  a teacher gets to experience is when a child lights up from their own curiosity and seeks the answers.  I believe it is in seeking the answer where we find the truth and it is never something that can be broken down to a, b, c, or d.

e for explore…

My son, Benjamin — exploring in the garden of his growing mind.

“The world needs a sense of worth, and it will achieve it only by its people feeling that they are worthwhile.”
Fred Rogers

The most important thing we can teach young growing minds is they be should curious.  I am not saying that teachers are not doing this, but the focus in on the test.  And that is a shame, because real learning happens outside a classroom, when a child wonders and is so curious about something — they ask, seek, find more information about it.  It grows.

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So, I choose e. for explore.  The children of the next generation are inheriting a great many problems that will need imagination, creativity, and innovation to solve these problems.  The one subject that builds critical thinking, imagination, and creativity is Art;  it is getting cut from many public education budgets.  Contact your representatives, local superintendent, and political leaders and write letters demanding it be kept.  Did you know the brain uses 80% of its capabilities when it is involved in the creative process (like creating art)?  Don’t ask Art be kept — demand it.

We want a future of children seeking choice e for explore.

A great book that looks at this is Daniel Pink’s, A Whole New Mind.  The subtitle of the book is Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future.  Check it out.

I’ll end this post with some quotes from Mr. Roger’s book, You Are Special.

Often the creative urge, once we express it, brings real relief in whatever form it takes. We have an inner sense that we can make what is into what we feel could and should be.

Imagining something may be the first step in making it happen, but it takes real time and real efforts of real people to learn things, make things, turn thoughts into deeds or visions into inventions.

“Imagination and creativity is the caterpillar and innovation is the butterfly.” – memomuse

Visit the Fred Rogers Center to find out more about this remarkable man and how his message and innovation work is still being used to change the world.

How did Mr. Roger’s inspire you?

Beautiful Buzzing Bees

"Bee on a Tree" seems like something Dr. Seuss would say.
(c) Megan Oteri

Your Beauty is like the Bee — Buzzing into Spring

I will repeat this (I am talking to you).  Your beauty is like the bee, buzzing into spring.

I pass this tree everyday as I turn right on this street almost everyday.   I only notice it during this brief period in March.  It blossoms into a magical white puffy explosion of color.  I think it is a Bradford Pear.  I am not sure.  Up close when you look at it, you will notice swarms of bees buzzing around it, sucking out pollen and nectar.  Does it have nectar? I don’t know.  This isn’t a scientific post of pollination and tree species names (although what would it hurt to really find out what the name of the tree is? If you know, post in comments please).

quite cheerful

Photo by Megan Oteri (c) - "White Burst"

I think spring is a magical time.  People become quite cheerful and hopeful.  I live in North Carolina so there isn’t a drastic temperature change, but it certainly warms up.  People start tilling their land, turning over soil that has sat for the long winter.  The earthworms squiggle and wiggle in while little boys and girls giggle with them in their hands.  Spring means renewal.  Spring means hope.  Spring means science.

I ignore this tree all year-long, not even giving it a second glance.  I just couldn’t resist stopping to take a picture.  So I made a quick left, where I usually continue straight and pulled into the church parking lot it stands on.  My son, was happy eating his oatmeal raisin cookies (I did not bake) and I leapt at the opportunity to snap some quick photos.  My feet literally skipped over.  I’m not usually the Mary Poppins type, although I have been known to make squealy sounds of delight when I am happy.  My husband calls it “Dolphin Girl” sounds.

Photo by Megan Oteri (c) - All Rights Reserved - "Dolphin Blue"

So there I am skipping over to the tree — its sudden and immediate beauty moved me.  I am not being over dramatic because the rest of the day I felt sorry for myself that I haven’t finished my memoir and that I don’t have the time to write and that I wasn’t invited to a birthday party of a kid of a mom I know, you name it, I was feeling it.  But this moment, everything stopped and I was in a prism of beauty.  I was in it to win it.  I was taking pictures from all kinds of angles and really seeing the beauty of nature at work, as hundreds of bees buzzed all over the place.  I tried to get a close up of a bumble bee, but wasn’t able to really capture it.  But that goes without saying, nature is discreet like that.

Bzzz...bees are magic! (c) Megan Oteri

I read this blog post about bees from The Jaded Lens and it really resonated with me.  I am going to try to keep my opinion about the decline of the honey bee population out of this post, but you probably know where I stand. Screw it, I will tell you.  I stand tall with Mother Nature.  I think we need to make decisions for the Earth.  We are her tribe.  She doesn’t work for us; we work for her. Damn it!  I know it isn’t that simple, but can we get to a more simple place.  Without the bees, we are goners.  I am not going to go all end of the world on your ass, but I just want to speak up and shout about how beautiful nature is.  The way nature is, not how we want nature to be. There are things we can do now to help the honey bees.  Click on this link to find out about something you can do that is simple.

(c) Megan Oteri ~ "B"
Be active for bees
be bold, be brave, be beautiful

Here are some links to websites and articles about honey bees (please add a link in the comments and I will add):

I will finish my post with some photos from my moment with the bees in the trees.  Sometimes it’s the angle we choose to look at something that makes the difference.

 (c) Megan Oteri 

The Elegance of Spring

I don’t have worthy words to describe my feelings for nature.  But I will tell you this: it moves me and it is where I am closest to my higher power.  I want my son, who is almost two years old, to leap from his car when he is old enough to drive (preferably while driving the speed limit, sober, not texting, and driving safely with his hands on the steering wheel at ten and two) to celebrate spring and nature the same way I did yesterday — in total awe and wonder.


(C) Megan Oteri - My Boy Wonder eating his oatmeal raisin cookies

I only have this simple statement to describe what I feel about nature and her beauty: The elegance of spring

(c) Megan Oteri "Star Flower"

(c) Megan Oteri "White Blue"

(c) Megan Oteri "Blue Sky Bold"

This is a video from PBS about the honey bees.

“In the winter of 2006, a strange phenomenon fell upon honeybee hives across the country. Without a trace, millions of bees vanished from their hives, leaving billions of dollars of crops at risk and potentially threatening our food supply. The epidemic set researchers scrambling to discover why honeybees were dying in record numbers — and to stop the epidemic in its tracks before it spread further. Buy the DVD. This film premiered October 28, 2007.” – PBS Video

Go outside and find one thing today that moves you, makes you notice and come back and write a comment here or just enjoy the beauty.  Hope. Wish. Dream. Bee!

Don’t forget to take the National Day of Unplugging pledge today and unplug March 23 (at sundown) to March 24 (sundown).  Here is a great post by genius film maker, Tiffany Shlain in the Huffington Post.