Bursting with England’s Muse


Dear Readers,

I am not really sure where to start there are so many stories from my trip to the UK.  I went to England recently for a summer study abroad course through North Carolina State University and University of Surrey in Guildford, England.  I was selected from a competitive pool of applicants as a Borchardt fellow.  You can read more about the Borchardt fellowship and my academic studies here at this link (GoFundMe website) and this link (online portfolio).

The Original Journal (UK Journal) was very busy getting signatures on this trip.

The UK Journal (Original Journal Series)

The UK Journal (Original Journal Series)

I am working on a post for The Original Journal website about meeting a group of lovely young Chinese ladies at the Shard Building in London and they all signed the journal.

UK Journal Signers at the Shard Building in the Shangrai-la Hotel lobby

UK Journal Signers at the Shard Building in the Shangrai-la Hotel lobby

My friend, Deb and I snuck into the 35th floor of the Shard Building. Well, we didn’t sneak in as much as charmed our way in via Paul, the head security guard.  My dad was a night security guard at the Northern Trust Bank in Chicago (worked 2nd shift) so perhaps that is why we had such luck. Paul was a darling and sent us up to the 35th floor to sneak a peek from the Shangrai-La Hotel lobby. He told us from the get-g0, in that charming English way — that is both polite and direct without being offensive — that we were indeed not dressed for the occasion to either have dinner at the Shard or have cocktails at the Sky Bar on the 51st floor. Nonetheless, he sent us up with directions to tell the hostess that Paul sent us. He even radioed up on his walkie-talkie to let them know we were coming. The locals of London say the Shard is where you go to get the best view of London, as it goes higher than the London Eye.

London Eye at night

London Eye at night

So there we were, all dressed down as London tourists with t-shirts, shorts, and sneakers.

This is what I was wearing. We had stopped in Camden to watch the World Cup finals. We watched the first half at the "End of the World" Pub.

This is what I was wearing. We had stopped in Camden to watch the World Cup finals. We watched the first half at the “End of the World” Pub. I love Camden as it was home to many artists, musicians, eccentrics, and creatives.

We were going to shell out the 21 pounds to ride up to the top floor of the Shard, but the viewing gallery was closed.  My Meg energy was in full force in England. For those of you who do not know, I was traveling in the UK with a group of American teachers from the Research Triangle Area of North Carolina.  You can read about what I was doing there as a student here. I was able to study abroad for three glorious weeks (and my awesome husband took care of our four year old by himself, along with the help of my awesome in-laws who live nearby).

So, I think for all sense and purposes, I will focus on one vignette per post as to not get carried away.  There are so many slices to the delicious whole of my England experience!

Well, there we were on top of the world it seemed — or at least at the 35th floor of the Shard Building.

View from 35th floor of the Shard Building in London (from the Shangrai-la Hotel lobby).

View from 35th floor of the Shard Building in London (from the Shangrai-la Hotel lobby).

My friend, Deb carried the burden of trying to get us into the fancy restaurant (that you need to make reservations for, first of all).  They were booked solid and we certainly didn’t meet the dress code.  Then we went to the Sky Bar on the 51st floor and I didn’t even want to talk because I was suddenly shy and embarrassed.  I felt naked because I was dressed so obviously like someone that didn’t belong there. I can honestly say that it costs at least 500 pounds per night to stay at the hotel as a guest.

View of the Shard from across the Thames River with Tower Bridge in view.

View of the Shard from across the Thames River with Tower Bridge in view. The Shard is the tall triangular building. This photo is from hotel website.

Even though we were turned down by a beautiful French speaking young lady (who even bothered to consult with the manager about our attire), we still enjoyed that tiny slice of luxury and hung out in the lobby of the hotel.  I am of the camp that you must go into a place like you own it.  My mom told me a story once about a guy that came into a Jaguar dealership in jeans and a t-shirt and paid cash for his car (although that seems kind of shady buying a car of that amount with cash…wish I could consult with her and get the facts of the story.)  I guess my point is that if you feel like you don’t belong somewhere, then you won’t.  If you do feel like you belong, then you will.

I feel most confident talking to blue collar workers.  I am a people’s person.  I can do fancy and all that, but I am most comfortable speaking to everyday people like Paul and the bell boys at Shangrai-la Hotel.

Bell boys at the Shangrai-la Hotel

Bell boys at the Shangrai-la Hotel

I think I talked to Larry David, American director and creator of Seinfeld at Highclere Castle (Downton Abbey). I didn’t know it was him nor do get caught up in all that.  I suppose that is part of my charm. Watch the video below and see if you recognize him in the video. He is wearing a white shirt.  It’s hard to tell if it is him. And honestly, I am not sure it was even him. I do know the man I talked to was from Southern California.  He was stand-offish like he was waiting for me to figure out who he was. Come to think of it, he really did seem like he didn’t want to found out — as if he was truly on vacation…or as they say in the UK — on holiday.

On our walk around that area, after we left the Shard giddy and proud, (we were looking for a view of the Thames at night) Deb and me passed The Miller Pub.  We both realized our maiden names were Miller. There was much rejoicing. (I should tell you that Deb is a huge Monty Python fan.)

Deb and I in front of a castle

Deb and I in front of a castle from the 14th century in England.

Anyway, there is so much to tell you I am afraid I have to end this post here or otherwise fear be lost in an endless abyss of words and stories. I will have to post one story at a time.  I also have to write some essays because this trip was so meaningful.  You can view my videos from my trip on my YouTube channel.  They are unedited so please be gentle in your judging — authenticity has a price (and I am not that tech savvy).

Coming soon — post about Highclere Castle and meeting Peter and Evelyn. You can see them on this video: 

 

Meg Goes to Downton Abbey


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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

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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.

 

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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.

 

Memomuse Update: July Joy and Sorrow


Hello friends.  I am sorry I have not been keeping you in the loop of what is going on. Although I have been active on Facebook and Twitter, I have been somewhat dormant.  I am working on learning how to use Photoshop so I can upload photos with watermarks and protect my work.  But really all I want to do is share and tell.  I have so many images I want to share but since I have had to deal with photo piracy and I have the tools to watermark them, I feel I should use the tools to watermark images. Except the whole watermarking process puts out my fire and it always feels laborious.

open the door

I am not the most technical person and struggle with left brain waves. I prefer the open ended ocean of the right brain world.

Ocean photo by Megan Oteri Copyright 2011

Ocean photo by Megan Oteri Copyright 2011

I am working on some new posts for all three of my blogs: The Original Journal, The Community Kitchen, and Memomuse.  I have compartmentalized to try to target potential readers better.  I am a bit exhausted from social media though.  I am putting my energy into writing (in Microsoft Word). I get very distracted when I am on the internet.

But here is the 411 for July. We went to Washington D.C. to inurn my mother at Arlington National Cemetery.  She was placed in the same shelf like box (for lack of a better description) in the Columbarium (where people are placed when they are cremated).

My mother and I on my wedding day.

My mother and I on my wedding day.

I will post a detailed post about that as Arlington was very moving.

Columbarium

Columbarium: My parents’ grave

I climbed the ladder and placed my mother’s ashes in the box like shelf, or think of as an ash cubby in a way. I know morbid, but I am just writing, or rather blogging so I am not going to struggle with finding the perfect word/description. The marine who was the pall bearer or ash box holder, was very serious and he marched in typical Arlington fashion. He was very serious.  I guess I am dismissing the seriousness of death, but my mom died Christmas Eve and her inurnment was scheduled in July.  It was a serious affair and very moving, so I am not being flip — just trying to be funny.

The Pastor and Marine who were at my mom's funeral

The Pastor and Marine who were at my mom’s funeral

The marine had the most beautiful blue eyes.  They sparkled even.  As he handed me the urn box with my mom’s heart and ashes in it, I said “Semper Fi.” It was awkward.  I sometimes can be so strange even to myself.

Well, anyway, he handed off Betty and I placed her urn box in with my father’s, making sure they were back to back and their boxes touched.  I dusted off my father’s ten-year old death dust from the top of his box.  That was intense.  Dust to dust.  Anyway, it was moving.  I wrote a descriptive piece about this experience for the SAMLA conference.  I am the chair of the creative nonfiction panel this year. SAMLA will be held in Atlanta this November.

This was taken walking back from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which we went to after my mom's funeral

This was taken walking back from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which we went to after my mom’s funeral

See, even when I try to write a little update, it turns into a whole lot of words. 

I went to Evanston, Illinois at the end of July for a research trip on a book I am working on: The Community Kitchen. That was amazing.

Another view of this beautiful house.  You can go on tours of the Dawes House.  The Dawes House is the home of the Evanston History Center, where I conducted my research primarily.

Another view of this beautiful house. You can go on tours of the Dawes House. The Dawes House is the home of the Evanston History Center, where I conducted my research primarily.

My mom grew up in New York City, but moved back to Evanston in 1947 with her mom after her parents divorced. I went to Evanston a lot as a child with my parents. Mom took us to visit our grandma and great-aunt often.   A post will be coming soon about my trip to Evanston, either on The Community Kitchen blog or here.  The compartmentalizing is taking its toll on me.  Managing three blogs is a lot of work.  And I take my blog posts serious.  Probably too serious.

The Original Journal had several signings in Evanston. One was a man I met on the airplane.  He likes redheads.  Another signing was a Northwestern chemistry student taking a break in the Shakespeare Garden at Northwestern.  That is the signing I am going to feature on The Original Journal blog.  She wrote a great journal signing.  A couple more journal signatures were done on Northwestern campus.  So, there will be some posts on that blog.

Got to run. I am writing a book after all, so chop chop to it I go.

I will leave you with my mother’s favorite poem by Kahlil Gibran — “On Joy and Sorrow”

On Joy and Sorrow
 Kahlil Gibran

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

Some of you say, “Joy is greater thar sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits, alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.

Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.
When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.

Source: http://www.katsandogz.com/onjoy.html