Why, hello fall!

Welcome to the best four months of the year.  Seriously, I’m not kidding.  Let me explain…

September: As this week proved, September is when the air starts to get a little cooler in the mornings, and night time walks with the pups require a hoodie or a fleece.  Absolute best feeling ever.  Football season has officially begun, including tailgating.  You have an excuse to do back-to-school shopping, and Hound Ears is less than a month away.

October: Now fall is in full swing, pumpkin flavored lattes, cakes, muffins, ice cream and even pancakes.  It’s everywhere, and you will never find this girl complaining about that.  You get to start brainstorming Halloween costume ideas, scouring thrift stores, and hosting pumpkin carving parties. Add in a corn maze and the North Carolina State Fair, and you’re as close to a 10 as a month can get.  Plus, it’s now officially okay to start listening to Christmas music.  Don’t even bother commenting on that one.  No one will ever convince me otherwise.

November: Halloween may be over, but the pumpkin foods are not.  Now we’re getting excited for a much needed Thanksgiving break, and a trip to the mountains.  It’s officially cold and I can start wearing my favorite hats and scarves.  Christmas music is now popping up on the radio and in malls…

December: Rejuvenated from Thanksgiving break, you’re now ready to attack the holiday season full force.  Christmas shopping, apartment decorating, holiday parties and visits with Santa at the mall.  Pumpkin is still available most places, in addition to some delicious gingerbread options.  Add in a nice 1-2 week break, and I’m loving life.  A lot.

So when it got cool this week and I got to really think about the season we were approaching I realized it was time to share a little of this joy with others.  Thankfully Jill was in town from DC, so we got a chance to start the celebrating.  Including our first high school football game of the season…


Despite the sky spitting on us all day, and throughout the night, I’m pretty grateful KIPP was playing locally.  Gave me an excuse to throw on a hoodie, brave the rain, see some of my favorite students, and witness a huge win for the Panthers!  -3 for the rain (meaning we couldn’t sit down, my toes got pretty wet, and my body took about 2 hours to get rid of my goosebumps).


HIGHLY entertaining.  Not always the friendliest of comments (hence the -1), but I loved how disproportionate our vocal presence was to our physical presence 🙂


Yup, after diving in on Thursday I’m worried the seasonal addiction has begun again.  Loved every second of this guy.

Still not over the price 😦

After some afternoon shopping at Southpoint, Jill and I headed to Cheesecake Factory for lunch.


20 minutes later she was ready to order.


I’m loving several of their vegan menu items, and decided to go with their Mushroom Lettuce Wrap.  Sauteed mushrooms with crunchy rice-like noodle guys, and giant pieces of lettuce to wrap it up in.  Seriously delicious!  And only $5.95.  Meaning I left Cheesecake Factory paying a total of $8.  Unheard of.  Even at the food court.

Was hungry a couple hours later, so not the most filling meal, but still worth it 🙂

After some serious Felicity marathon watching, and a visit to City Bev with great people, we headed out to the mountains.


I’ve heard a lot about Hanging Rock, and since visiting Blacksburg more recently I drive by the sign on the way there and the way back.  So this weekend was the time to check it out.

2 hours later we arrived.  A bit deceiving, as it was easily 30 minutes off of the highway where I thought it was going to be.  -1.

When we arrived we were presented with several options for hikes.  We went with the classic ‘Hanging Rock’ hike, a total of 3 miles round trip.  Rated ‘Moderate’, I would say that was a bit of an overstatement.  ‘Light Moderate’ would be more accurate.  There were some steep portions, but it was pretty short and not very rigorous.

This is great for an afternoon stroll, but I like to earn my views.  I also like to avoid loud children.  Especially when there are a lot.  And the more strenuous the hike, the less loud children.  And people in general.  -1.

That said, boy were the views amazing.  For an hour hike up, we were definitely rewarded with some of the best views I’ve seen since Maine last month.

Now I know you’re wondering about the last point.  See the ledge we’re sitting on right there?  Yeah, it’s a straight drop down.  Which not only makes me nervous for myself (which it does), but also for all those people I mentioned earlier.  Especially the kids.  NERVOUS. WRECK.   -1.


I love how much Murph likes to hike.  I love how tired he is after a long day of hiking (as I type, he’s sleeping next to me quietly).  And one of the reasons I wanted a dog in the first place was to take him hiking.

However, what I didn’t have in mind was him dragging me up mountains.  And then down again.

I swear I use twice as much muscle on every hike just pulling the opposite direction of him so I don’t tip over.  Case in point:

Don’t worry.  We made up once we got to the top.

Until we started hiking down, that is.

Once we finished we still had plenty of day in front of us, so we drove home (and by ‘we’ I mean ‘I’, while Jill slept like a baby in the passenger seat and Murph napped peacefully in his bed in the back of the car) and headed to the Tobacco Trail.  My new apartment complex offers free bike rentals and I’ve been meaning to try them out.  After handing over a check for $350 (which I got back as soon as the bike did) we were on the road again.


I love biking.  And you can’t beat a nice paved road with minimal hills, and good company.  I love biking with music, but I like biking with conversation even more.  Plus the temperature was PERFECT.  Long-sleeved shirt, no sweat, a nice fall breeze, and occasional whiffs of burning wood.

What a great way to end the day 🙂

Until next time, just living for the tens!


MHT: Students are the Stars

When I worked at the LA Institute two years ago the motto we always used was “The Students are the Stars”.  Seems like an appropriate title for this post, rating Episode 5 of the Magical History Tour!

The first four tours were hosted by yours truly, as I tended to record them when already traveling, making it difficult to bring along students.  However, one of the prizes in my incentive bag this year was earning a guest-host spot on the next episode of the Magical History Tour.  Thanks to Reuben for his lucky draw, off we went to Washington DC this February, along with Paris, Faiz and Evander.  Before we even left Gaston I knew that combo was going to make for a pretty fabulous show.

Overall I rate the episode a 9, with many of the reasons coming from students this week as we watched a Magical History Tour marathon in preparation for their final exam, where they will be designing their own episode.

  • Students are significantly more entertaining as hosts then I will ever be.
  • Evander’s ridiculous antics and facial expressions.
  • Transitions between events and slides.
  • Editing of the FDR Memorial tour guide- past episodes involved a lot of talking, but this one cuts them down into easy to digest segments.
  • Music variety and choices.  Especially “Over There” which never grows old.
  • The amazing dance moves at the end.  Although today they informed me I should never, ever do them again in public.  It’s okay if I choose to do it in the privacy of my own home.  Thanks guys…

-1 because I’m confident it can get better than this.  The challenge on their final is to create the best plan, and the winner will earn the trip and filming this summer.  The opportunity to top this one is exciting 🙂  Until then, enjoy Episode 5…

The Magical History Tour

At the start of this year I began discovering how much cool historical stuff there was around, both in North Carolina and nearby in places like Washington DC and Gettysburg, PA.  While these things clearly all existed before, I was now viewing the world through a history teacher lens… all of these became amazing places that I would LOVE to be able take all my students.  As a matter of money and logistics, that was obviously not possible.

SO, The Magical History Tour was born.  The name was brilliantly created by my dad, after the famous Beatles song ‘Magical Mystery Tour’, which has also become the show theme song.  Inevitably every time I play an episode, students comment on the fact that I created a song to go along with it, as it sounds so much like ‘Magical History Tour’.  I obviously let them believe it.

Now on to the ratings for my favorite Magical History Tour moments…


It was A.MA.ZING to be in Gettysburg on the anniversary of the event, and to get it on film.  However the speech was longer than anticipated, less historical and more about his life as a re-enactor, AND my camera battery died right before the end of the speech.  Plus, trying to get a picture with him was a TRIP, and it didn’t even come out that well 😦


I had NO IDEA how much more fun parades were when dressed up in full Civil War gear.  So inspired that I even got my very own shortly afterwards…

Check out Episode 3: Gettysburg.


Her whining is almost funny.  Most of the time.  -1 for the rest of the time.

Leads to some good footage though 🙂

Check out Episode 2: Abraham Lincoln.  And there will be more to come in Episode 6: World War II.  That’s right, I somehow talked her into TWO days of city filming.


Some of my very best footage has come from sneaky shots.  Including park rangers at the Lincoln Memorial and Independence Hall, the cheesteak guy at Geno’s in Philly, and the old man working the customer service desk at the Air and Space Museum.  Plus a couple open interviews with Confederate Soldiers and a WWII vet.  All in all, interviewing rocks.

Check out Episode 4: Philadelphia for some of the secret footage.

Now this Saturday I’m headed back to DC with four students for the first ever Magical History Tour starring 11th graders.  I CAN NOT WAIT.

Stay tuned for Episode 5 🙂

The Lost Girls

While I mentioned eBooks in the last post, I have yet to actually rate the book I was reading ON my iPad.  So here we are.  No better time than a snow day to catch up on the blog 🙂

The Lost Girls was recommended to me by a friend who has always dreamed of spending a year traveling the world, and this book is about three girls who did just that.

A true story, these three twenty-something women were living in New York City, and ended up giving up everything to pack a bag and take off.  Of course when you take off on an adventure like that, it only makes sense to write a book for all those left behind who can only live vicariously through you.

And live through them I did.  I’ll admit my perspective probably added to the experience, as I’m 26 and love to travel.  While I’ve never seriously flirted with the idea of an around-the-world trip before this read, I always have an ever-growing and changing list of ‘Must Go To’ places, as well as ‘Must Return To’ locales.  Therefore I could easily relate to all three of the girls, and LOVED that the book was told by each, switching off every chapter.  While similar jobs and places in life, they are all very different, with different stories to tell.

They traveled around South America, Africa, India, Australia, Asia and some islands in between.  They mixed up pleasure with a month-long service trip in Africa (possibly my favorite part of the book).  The stories range from self-reflection, crazy adventures, relationship struggles back home, potentially new relationships on the road, and the consistent story of one really strong friendship.

I made notes throughout the book about places I wanted to go, things to think about before leaving, and what I would need to make it happen.  On top of that, they’ve also now created a website with a ton of resources to answer many of the questions I generated while reading.  Check it out at

It’s a rather long book, but oddly I didn’t know this until after I finished, due to the fact I read it on my iPad.  The page numbers change frequently, depending on what size text you choose, so I had no concept of real book length.  And based on how long it took me to read it, I would never have guessed it was over 500 pages long.  Good sign about what an easy read it is 🙂  Not to mention, if you spend a year traveling the globe, I’d like to see how well people do editing down their photo albums, let alone the stories to go along with them.


Loved the book, but points off for the following:

-1- They never touched Europe.  Everyone’s trip has a different purpose, but when I travel the world Europe will be a part of it.  So while in many cases I used this book as a travel guide of where I should go, I received zero insight on Europe.

-1- Length could be a deterrent for someone who isn’t a teacher and doesn’t have a solid 2 weeks off for Christmas to read through it.

However, I’m adding a point back for the following:

After reading the book I went onto facebook because the friend who recommended the book happens to know Holly Corbett (one of the authors).  I friend requested all three girls, hoping to check in about some travel advice as I begin thinking about planning my own trip around the world.  Not only did all three accept, but two responded with sweet messages and offered to chat at any point.

Considering how much I love great people, you can’t help but love a book even more when you know the people who wrote it are genuinely good people.

Trust that I will be taking them up on their offer.


Turkey Day 2010


If there were two, and they were Murphy and Dakota, or even Maggie and Dakota, this rating would be several points higher.  However, when you’ve got these three all together in one house, it’s CRAZY.

First, you’ve got Murphy and Maggie chasing each other around, with Maggie’s high pitched puppy yelping, literally one yelp per step (so imagine her sprinting, taking about 3 steps a second).

Then, add food in the mix and you’ve got two puggles, with killer instincts when it comes to food, about to draw blood.

Luckily Maggie and Dakota continue their love affair, which is both adorable and convenient.  Except when Maggie insists on following Dakota around everywhere and humping his legs.  Nice one Maggie.

However, the rating is still above a five, as I love dogs, I love my dogs even more, and I LOVE the motivator to walk 6 miles every day (yes, my parents are insane- one 3 mile walk, or even 2 1.5 mile walks are just not enough.  We took TWO 3 mile walks every day I was home).



Another reason I love holidays is the free time to actually read a book or two.  While I headed home with Manhunt in tow, a recommendation of a student as it follows the entire story of John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln assassination, I ended up reading a new book I recently discovered called Scratch Beginnings.  The concept is interesting, and I must admit I went into the read with mixed feelings, yet open minded to what I would find.

The author, Adam Shepard, decides to take off from Raleigh NC and head to Charleston SC with $25, a train ticket and a sleeping bag.  His goal is to prove that the American dream is still alive and well by making $2,500, furnishing an apartment and buying a car by the end of a year.

The book is mostly spent telling the stories of those he encounters along the way, and how he ended up making it happen within 8 months.  The epilogue talks a bit about the bigger issues of poverty in America, and what this social experiment means for the American dream and how we begin to address the problems that are preventing some from getting there and causing others to stand still where they are.

While I’m not sure I agree (yet) with all issues and opinions presented, it was a pretty great instigator for Thanksgiving conversation among my family, and has given me a much needed reason to reflect on my own thoughts.  I find I spend so much time thinking about day-to-day survival in the world of teaching that I forget about the things that brought me here (and back) in the first place.  I’m going back to reread Nickel and Dimed now, which was part of the inspiration for Scratch Beginnings, and I think I’ll have a more solid grasp of my thoughts at the end.  In the meantime, it comes as a highly recommended read 🙂


I’m pretty lucky to have a mom who supports whatever my eating habits are (as they’ve grown progressively more restrictive over time).  This year she had the added challenge of creating a vegan Thanksgiving dinner.  I will note that this is a challenge created by her, as I insisted that PB & J was good enough for this vegan.

Despite that, I must admit I’m grateful for the effort as I enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner as much as everyone else 🙂  Mashed potatoes (with fake butter and soy milk), corn, pumpkin rolls and stuffing not actually stuffed inside the turkey… A. MA. ZING.

You probably won’t be surprised to hear that a point must be subtracted for the sickness I caused by eating too much.  Not unusual, not unfamiliar, but nonetheless pretty miserable.

This year was a small Thanksgiving, as it was just the immediate family and Ned, a blind man my mom met through the Blind Association and has now become a family friend over the past 7 (?) years.


Posing with 3 dogs is not easy.  Why we insist on including all three, I’m not quite sure.  It does, however, provide some entertainment.

So considering the fact that we had to get all three dogs to look at the camera, while also catching all of us with our eyes open, I’d say we did pretty good 🙂

-2 for my decision (or lack of awareness really) to wear a shirt with reflective tape on it.  Oops… turns out it’s nothing a little iPhoto editing can’t fix 🙂


While a 5 hour drive is definitely not bad, and I actually really appreciate the alone time to listen to incredible music, sing along, and brainstorm brilliant ideas for the classroom (or atleast ideas I think are brilliant :)), it’s also nice to use the time to catch up with people I don’t talk to nearly enough.  And people I already spend too much time talking to.  Either way, the “company” is great, and without a headset I’d be way more of a hazard on the road.

-1 for the difficulty it can sometimes cause hearing, or making me sound like I’m in a wind tunnel.

-1 for the hazard of attempting to plug in the headset, and get each ear piece in the right ear, during the 15 seconds I have while my phone is ringing.  Why don’t I just leave it plugged in, you wonder?  Sadly my phone doesn’t actually ring if I leave it in, meaning I have to unplug and replug each time.  Not cool…


This rating is not an indication of my love of my kids, or my love for teaching, but instead my extroverted self sad at leaving people again.  Sometimes I love living alone, don’t get me wrong, but it’s always an adjustment for me to leave a house full of people and animals for my house in Gaston where it’s just me and the pups.  Thank goodness for the pups 🙂

The GREAT news is that these next three weeks may possibly be my favorite three weeks of the year.  I love holiday season more than anything, and tonight I’m planning to put on Elf and put up the tree… followed by three weeks of good friends, great holiday parties (including the first ever hosted at my Gaston house!) and Secret Santa wonderfulness at school.  I CANNOT WAIT!  I’m even thinking of attempting Christmas lights on my house (and/or fence) this year…

Until next time, just living for the tens 🙂

Bringing it WAY Back…

One advantage (among many) of working long hours at a charter school is the much needed week-long Thanksgiving break.  It began Friday afternoon at 2 for most, but for me it began slightly earlier…

You see on Wednesday I discovered that Friday was the 147th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, an event even more exciting for a history teacher who has spent the last month thinking, reading, planning and teaching about the Civil War.  This was clearly a ‘not-to-be-missed’ event, especially considering my kids are due for another episode of The Magical History Tour (a travel show I’ve created where we visit cool historical places).

Perfect timing considering I was headed up that direction anyways to spend the holiday in Harrisburg.  I arrived just in time to see Jim Getty (a famous Lincoln reenactory) speak at the Gettysburg Presbyterian Church…


Of course it was cool to see a famous Lincoln reenactor, get my picture with him and hear him deliver the Gettysburg Address, in the very city where it was originally delivered.  That being said, I definitely went in with high expectations.  First, I thought the speech would be given at the National Cemetery where Lincoln originally delivered it.  -2 for the fact that it wasn’t.

Secondly, I expected the reenactor to be taller.  If you’re going to play Lincoln, you should at least come close to his height. -.5

Thirdly, where was the top hat?  Maybe that’s super cliche, but it was s bit disappointing to meet Lincoln with no top hate.  Especially if you’ve got a couple inches to make up for anyways. -.5

Lastly, his voice and delivery of the speech were underwhelming.  To be fair I have no idea what Lincoln actually sounded like delivering the speech, but for all these years that I’ve learned it, heard about it and now taught it, this was NOT what I heard in my head.

All that being said, I’m still super glad to have been there, caught some footage for the next Magical History Tour, and got my own picture with Lincoln 🙂


The purpose of the parade was to remember and celebrate everyone who played a role in the Civil War.  It combined soldiers (both Union and Confederate), women, musicians, Abe Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee and even Frederick Douglass.  It was awesome to see so many reenactors in one place, and even those filling the streets to watch were dressed in costume which made it even more authentic.  It’s rare to find yourself somewhere out of place wearing jeans as opposed to Civil War dress… rare, but wonderfully fun 🙂


Lucky for me, a colleague of mine used to do Civil War reenacting, and just happened to have a spare dress on hand 🙂  I borrowed it thinking I could use it for some of the day’s filming, but ended up wearing it for the entire parade.  While at first I was a bit hesitant, by the end of the day I was completely embracing my new Civil War identity.  So much so, we picked up a pattern and my mom’s making me my own for Christmas. I’ve begun researching  events coming up, and now I’m on the hunt for folks interested in joining… could it be you???


I still remember taking field trips in elementary school to Gettysuburg and touring the battle fields.  I remember nothing but large open fields and grass.  I found it incredibly boring and had more fun in the gift shops and taking pictures with my friends than I ever did figuring out who the hell Robert E. Lee was.

Now that I’m a history teacher I find it SO much more fascinating.  And somehow think that if I bring back pictures and videos of big open fields my students will find it more interesting than I ever did…

Either way, I enjoyed at least stopping by a couple battlefields while there to catch some video and pictures.  Just so happened we got to them right around sunset, which was INCREDIBLE.  I swear there are statues for every soldier who stepped foot on the ground, but it’s cool how they’ve kept certain areas protected and undeveloped so it looks relatively similar to what it did 150 years ago (minus all the power lines and roads).

To top it all off, that night was the Illumination Ceremony at the National Cemetery, where each grave had a flag and a lit candle to remember those buried there.  While the pictures didn’t come out too well, it was definitely a unique time to be there.  Every 30 minutes they read off names of those who died there, and they had a band playing Taps continuously.  Wish it was possible to video in the darkness, but sadly this is all I left with…

Overall a pretty great start to Thanksgiving Break…  until the next reenactment, just living for the tens 🙂

The final result?  Check it out here…

Castle in the Sky

Last year for Laura’s birthday we rented a log cabin at Black Mountain, a framily favorite, and competed in our second Company Climbing Team competition.  We enjoyed the Snuggie, first met Maggie, and walked the streets of downtown Asheville.  You may recall…

This year?  We decided to rent a castle in the sky.

Think I’m exaggerating?  Check it out…


There is absolutely no way to rate this anything less than a 10.  Here’s why:

  • 8 bedrooms (one with 13 twin beds)
  • GIANT kitchen (see pictures below) that could practically fit everyone in it at once
  • Billiard room
  • Movie theatre with 12 recliners and Rock Band
  • Zip line
  • Room full of children’s toys and books
  • Indoor endless swimming pool
  • Hot tub
  • Olympic sized trampoline
  • iMac
  • iPads
  • Flat screen TVs EVERYWHERE
  • On top of a mountain
  • House intercom system

What am I missing?  Pretty sure this is every child’s dream come true.  Add in 25 of the most amazing people in the world and it’s the closest I’ve ever come to rating something above a 10.  Out of respect for the system, I’ll stick with the 10 🙂


There are all kinds of possible views from the top of a mountain, but as far as I’m concerned if you’ve got a 360 and it’s beautiful it’s a 10.  The view that was a 10 minute hike from the castle met all criteria, and led to some awesome walks in the morning, afternoon and at sunset.  My heart is smiling 🙂


If past framily gatherings have shown you anything, you probably could have guessed the spread would have been pretty incredible.

This doesn’t even begin to describe it.  Vegan breakfast, a chili cookoff, every snack known to man, a castle birthday cake, the most addicting oyster crackers of all time, bread bowls, vegan waffles, pineapple bread pudding, birthday coffee and much, MUCH more made this weekend cause for a week full of trips to Crowley’s (my local gym).

-1 for the amount of food that inevitably went to waste…


I’ll let Laura rate this one.  But if I had to guess, Katie’s brainchild was a WILD success.  With a house this big, how can you not arrange a scavenger hunt?  Complete with beautiful poetry, and trips from trampoline to pool bottom, Laura definitely had to work for her gifts this year.  Plus it was fun for all of us to watch 🙂

(Can you see the zipline???)


I’m pretty sure at first glance I thought they were about to head over Niagara Falls.  At second glance I couldn’t help but burst out laughing.  The hot tub outside was not your classic hot tub, and I’d be willing to bet was not meant to fit 5 full grown men… but they made it look good 🙂

-2 for how many failed attempts at pictures happened before this (finally) blog friendly photo.


For dinner Saturday night we had many chefs in the kitchen, all competing for the best chili.  While I can’t award a winner since the only one I ate was the vegan version, they all looked AMAZING.  Throw in some Persian rice from Mazzi, and it made quite the meal.

-1 for the food jealousy that occurred… especially the white chili that looked, and smelled, AMAZING.


What a creative solution to the problem of which chili to choose… a carefully carved bread bowl with two slots- one for each kind 🙂  -2 because breadbowls never fit as much soup as you want, they soak up all the liquid, and often leave you so full you can’t have seconds.

But the idea was brilliant.


Not much more to say about this one.  Life is good 🙂


I love these people so freaking much.  I am the luckiest person ever to have somehow stumbled upon them 2 years ago, and am thankful to be able to still find time to see everyone despite living 2 hours away now.  I can’t wait for the day when my dream street becomes a reality, and I can somehow convince everyone I love in my life to move onto the same street as me.  Oh how good life would be 🙂


I love my students, and I’m actually excited to return to the classroom on Mondays, but it’s so hard to adjust back to the real world after a weekend like this.  It’s also hard to return to a house where you live alone when you’ve spent all weekend surrounded by people.  Saying goodbye all the time is hard.

Until next time, just living for weekends like this 🙂