Posts tagged ‘Orlando’

May 5, 2013

You Say Goodbye, and I Say Hello

Now that most people in my life know, I can finally share this news:  I have accepted a job offer at KIPP Tulsa as a 6th grade social studies teacher for next year!


If you had asked me last year what I was thinking of doing when my TFA time was up, I would have told you that I would be staying at my current school and teaching my second graders again (moving from 2nd to 4th grade had them looping back to me).  Many things have happened this year, though, that made me consider other options.  In January, I was recommended for a position to teach in a new charter school in Tulsa.  I figured I’d go for it and completed two phone interviews and a sample lesson at the end of February.  When my interview was done, though, it became clear that they weren’t sure of what open spots they would have for months.  I was discouraged that there might not be any spots open, and I wasn’t sure if the school was a good fit after the interview.  I started to think that staying at my current school another year might be better than switching to the unknown, but then KIPP came my way.

The principal (or school leader) of KIPP e-mailed me personally inviting me out to chat about teaching opportunities at KIPP.  Apparently, the same person who had recommended me to the last charter school had also mentioned my name to KIPP.  Even though I was starting to sway back to my own school, I decided there was nothing to lose by meeting up with the principal.  Business school taught me that if the head of any organization is going to take time out of their schedule to spend one on one time with you, take advantage of the opportunity and learn all you can.  So I did.

We were probably out for about an hour and a half, and by the end of our meeting I was sold.  Here was a school leader who had a strong vision for the next decade that I wanted to be a part of.  I filled out an application that night, and had a sample teaching lesson scheduled for the week after spring break.  Now I am not one to make decisions lightly- anyone who really knows me is aware of this.  I talked to several teachers at KIPP to get a good, well-rounded perspective of what it is like to work there.  I feel like different teachers have different experiences, and it’s good to hear what they all have to say to get a good feel for the school environment.  I also tried to be observant as possible at my interview and drop by as many classrooms as I could during my free time to tour the school.  One class was dissecting frogs, another was dissecting a novel, and a third was receiving a stern talk from their teacher about not quitting in the final days before testing (I can’t count how many times I’ve given that speech).

Overall I loved the atmosphere, and I really enjoyed teaching a group of their 5th graders for an hour.  I saw a bit of my students in the class (ex. the one who ALWAYS has the right answer), which made me miss and wonder about my 4th graders that morning.  I came back to hugs and smiles from my whole current class, and it was hard to even think about leaving.  The truth is, though, they won’t be my kids next year.  They are moving on to two very strong 5th grade teachers at my school who will take just as good care of them as I could.  I know I will love my class wherever I am- it’s just time to take another leap of faith with my career and hope it works out for the best.

I signed my job offer at KIPP on April 3rd.  This means I will spend the next two weeks at my current school finishing up the year, and then take a two week vacation home to Orlando.  I have to be back by June 5th to start summer school as a faculty adviser (I will FINALLY be on the other side of the TFA process), and will work in that position through mid-July.  I’m hoping some of my family will come up to visit then before I leave for the annual KIPP Summit in Las Vegas (last year it was in Orlando- that would have been so convenient!).  I am so excited to meet with KIPP teachers across the nation and learn as much as possible before I start there the following week.  KIPP starts in August with professional development and then a couple weeks of summer school for their kids.

Thank you to all those who have been really supportive of the move.  It is not easy to leave the school that has been my home the past two years, and I did think about all aspects of the decision before making it.  Yes, I know the hours are longer.  Yes, I know I’m on call for the kids.  Yes, I know that it is not a contract position.  I promise I’ve thought of these things, but I do appreciate you looking out for me, too.  I’ll keep you posted on the transition.  Until then, you can see a little about KIPP’s story here:

January 23, 2013

Winter Break Haul: Forever 21

When I was younger, I NEVER shopped at Forever 21. I remember going there once a really long time ago and getting a pair of gray pants. I wore those things until one day (not because of how they fit), the zipper and clasp just fell off. I was like…uhhhhh. This didn’t even happen while they were on! I had been warned about Forever 21 clothes’ early expiration date, but this was pretty crazy. It wasn’t until I started watching a bunch of YouTube beauty gurus and their Forever 21 hauls that I even thought about going into one again. My friend Erin got me a gift card for my birthday last year, and when I went home to Orlando for the summer I stopped by and bought a few things. They didn’t disintegrate (I guess I should say “yet” right about now), so over Winter Break I went back for more. Here’s what I got:

Note: Forever 21 regular sizes are very small for me, so I shop on the lowest end of their Plus Size collection. Unfortunately, they don’t have Plus Sizes at every Forever 21, but the outlet mall store in Orlando does. That’s the only one I’ve ever shopped at. All the items below are from their Plus Size collection in case you are looking for them.

Forever 21 Black Top

I was afraid this shirt would be too tight when I got it, but it actually worked out well. It’s nicely fitted at the top, and then looser around my midsection which is perfect. I am not big into studs on clothing, but I liked the small use of it to add detail to the shoulders. It goes great with dark skinny jeans (I grabbed a pair during this trip- they fit great but I figured since they look like all other dark skinny jeans, they weren’t worth photographing).

Forever 21 Cocktail Dress

I don’t have a lot of occasions to wear cocktail dresses, but I am really going to try to make an effort to put some more fancy events on my social calendar after finding this dress. It has a nice champagne shimmer to it, but its subdued enough that it doesn’t look too metallic. The black band at the waist is stretchy, so I feel like I could gain a couple pounds or lose a couple pounds and the waistband would still stay snug to create a nice a-line at the bottom. I also love the thicker straps so I can wear a bra. I hate spaghetti straps or strapless dresses because if you have a bigger than average chest size, you’re kind of screwed. I think this dress will be great for weddings, and I hope to wear it to a colleague’s one in March (Dear Tulsa weather- please warm up by then!).

Forever 21 Peplum Jacket

This jacket/top was a last minute decision. I have really liked the peplum trend, but haven’t found anything to buy that incorporates it. I saw this jacket on my way to check out and tried it on in the middle of the store. It fits REALLY well. It creates a nice shape for my torso, and can be worn with or without a shirt under it. The white piping and zipper add nice detailing to it. I bought it, but have yet to decide what to wear it with. It was pictured on a model with dark skinny jeans, but Erin also said it looked good with my bright blue jeans, too. It’s also a sporty material, so that’s been a bit of a conundrum to match with other fabrics. I’ll have to think about it some more and try to find looks that incorporate a similar top to get some ideas. I would say this might be the edgiest thing I own, in that it is more trendy than a basic that I can wear with anything.

Forever 21 Owl Necklace

The last thing I got was this owl necklace. I always look through Forever 21’s jewelry because it is so cheap. I went straight to the earrings because they are my go-to jewelry choice, but this owl necklace caught my eye. I really liked that it wasn’t very big or long (I haven’t mastered the whole statement necklace trend yet). I could easily wear this to work with one of the many black tops I have (or with the first top on this page). It’s very cute, and helps me incorporate more gold into my primarily silver jewelry collection.

I spent around $90 total on all five of these things (remember, I didn’t show a picture of my skinny jeans). That sounds like a lot, but cocktail dresses alone could be half that, and jeans usually are $30 or more (I think mine were around $16). Main thing is- I’m happy with my purchases. Let’s just hope they last at least a little longer than those gray pants ; )

August 2, 2012

Should I Stay or Should I Go Now?

Coming back to Tulsa has come with a few unexpected surprises (of the bad kind), but let me give you some quick background.  I’m the type of person that makes a certain amount of friends, feels good about that group, and then doesn’t bother to really work on making more close friends.  Yes, I have people I see at big events and work meetings, but once I have my core support system, I’m pretty content.  It takes a lot for me to really work at widening my circle.  This past year I would say I was even more content than usual with just a few close friends.  I had to move to a whole new place, start a whole new career, and become physically and financially independent from my parents for the first time in my life.  That’s a lot to deal with- so making good friends had to come after taking care of my sanity.  Alright, that should be enough background- let’s move back to the present.

In the past month, two teachers at my school have left because they were offered better jobs, I was assigned a new manager for TFA (this is the 3rd time in a year…), one of my closest friends here was on the verge of moving out of the state (thank god she is staying!), I was getting into arguments with my co-workers constantly over how furniture should be arranged, and my small prospect of a boyfriend was gone before we even got started.  Now most people have families and their best friends they’ve known for years to get through these challenges.  I, unfortunately, don’t have either of those here.  Phone calls help- but we all know that’s not the same as coming home to those who love you.

I realized people I could count on last year are not permanent.  Things will change this year.  I’m teaching a whole new grade (a testing grade- which adds pressure), I may or may not create that same wise owl family with my students that I leaned on so much last year, and my teaching partner for my grade is not confirmed until a few weeks into school based on enrollment (so I don’t have anyone to collaborate with that I know will definitely be with me all year).  Having people who can support you through these unknowns is crucial.  I really wish people could appreciate how great it is to have a spouse, parents, children, grandparents, siblings, cousins, nieces and nephews within a short drive (if not in your home).  Most days I’m okay being on my own, but others can be really difficult.

I have one year left as a Tulsa TFA corps member.  After that, it will likely be my choice to stay here and continue teaching at my school, move to a new school in a new city, or move back and teach in my hometown.  I’m lucky to have my career choice nailed down, but the place where I work long term?  That’s definitely a big question mark come May.

I’ve thought about this a lot over the past month.  Yes, I had a lot of bad things happen those first few weeks back, but I’m not one to just stay depressed about something for long.  I like to find ways to make my life better.  So while I type out my big goals for my students, I am mentally drafting some for myself.  My biggest goal?  I want to really give Tulsa a shot this year.  I want to experience the annual festivals.  I want to check out this annual fair I hear so much about from my kids.  I want to find ways outside of teaching to help the community.  And most of all, I want to get to know more people.

I’ve already started on my goal a bit.  A big reason I don’t get out as much is having to take care of my dog on my own.  Well, I found a great dog park only a couple miles away that attracts a lot of people.  It’s been fun to go out and chit chat with random Tulsans for an hour while AJ gets to know the canine community.  I also joined a dog walking group on Meetup, and hopefully will get to know more dog lovers through their monthly group walks.

I also *finally* joined Tulsa Young Professionals last week.  The more I learn about this organization, the more fantastic I think it is.  It has a bunch of different work crews to get involved in that get you plugged in to your interests and helping the community.  They also have a lot of events including seminars, happy hours, volunteer jobs, and a running groups.  I volunteered with them at a music festival last week, and today I went to their little intro session for new members.  I can’t wait to start working with them, and they have a social event next week I plan on attending with some friends : )

Do I want to live in Tulsa past this school year?  I really don’t know yet.  I know I belong in the classroom as a teacher, but figuring out if I belong in Tulsa as me is going to take some time.

“Just know you’re not alone, cause I’m going to make this place your home.” Phillip Phillips, Home

July 29, 2012

My First Drive-In Theater Experience

Growing up in Orlando did not offer me a lot of authentic, small town experiences.  For example, when someone mentioned “drive-in movies,” my mind went straight to the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  It’s a restaurant where you sit in fake old cars while watching cartoons and movie clips play on the screen:

Sci Fi Dine In Theater at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Of course this is not a legit drive-in theater, but I don’t remember ever hearing of an actual drive-in theater to go to in or near Orlando.  I gave up that the concept was probably outdated and that I would never get to go to a real one.

WELL, Tulsa does have its perks- one of which is that it *just* re-opened the Admiral Twin Drive-In.  The theater has two sides that each play one double feature starting when it gets dark.  My friend Briana and I ventured out on Saturday night to finally see The Dark Knight Rises.  Both of us were eager to see how this whole “drive-in” thing works (she grew up in New York- also not a big drive-in place).

Admiral Twin Drive-In

Based on what I had read, some people had complained of long lines getting in, so I played it uber-safe and got there around 7:15 (gates open at 7).  I wasn’t surprised to see the lot pretty empty, but we got a good spot in the second row back (there’s space right up to the screen, but the poles that mark the spaces for cars probably start about 50+ feet away).  After we got there, cars kept steadily coming in.  I would recommend aiming to get there at 8 if you plan on getting food.  You will still get a good spot, won’t face much (if any) of a line at the front, and you’ll have time to get food and settle in.

Now, I had no idea what the food prices would be or how strict they were about not bringing in outside food.  I decided to being some water bottles and a few snacks in my purse, but planned on eating some type of dinner at the theater.  They definitely don’t check any bags or your car for food, and there were a LOT of people who brought whole coolers of stuff.  I also saw a kid with a bunch of Subway subs, so yeah.  Don’t be afraid to make yourself a gourmet meal and bring it over.  Just maybe put it in the trunk until you park in front of the screen.

Admiral Twin Concessions Menu

If you do want to eat there, I posted their menu above with prices.  Their concessions and bathrooms (which Briana said were clean and decent) are located right under the back to back screens in the center of the drive-in.  I think the dinner options- cheeseburger, chicken fingers, etc. are VERY reasonably priced.  I got the chicken fingers with ranch and it was great.  They give you a good-sized portion that is not too much or too little, and it was nice and hot when I got it (few things are worse than cold fries).  I also opted to get their souvenir cup (see below)- and I NEVER get souvenir cups.  However, this one was only $5, and whenever you bring it back-for the rest of your life or however long this drive-in is open- you get $1 refills!  I plan on coming back- even being able to use it once more would get my money’s worth.  Plus, you know, I get to have another cup for home : D

Souvenir Cup for $5- Refills only $1

On the side we were on, you had to turn your car radio station to 88.3 FM to hear the movie’s audio.  You can turn this station on early because they play music before the film like regular theaters.  I was a little worried about my car battery dying with just the radio on, but I felt pretty assured that it wouldn’t- otherwise why would they broadcast sound that way? HOWEVER, it was really hard in this heat to not have the air conditioning on.  We kept the car off with the windows down for probably the first hour or so and I could feel my clothes slowly getting soaked with sweat (when we left at 11:45 pm, it was only down to 95 degrees!).  After the first hour, I turned the car on for about 5 minutes every 10-15 minutes just to circulate some air.  This worked well, and I was lucky to have a pretty quiet car as to not disturb nearby people.  Keep in mind that for a second, your radio will turn off to turn on the car, so don’t do this during key scenes.  Loud, action sequences would probably be best if your movie has them.  Many people sat out in chairs on the ground or in the back of their pick-up truck, so that’s also definitely an option.  I liked the sound quality of being in my car (the radio had absolutely no static- it was crystal clear), and the fact that I could avoid bugs- but then again, I’ve always been an indoor girl ; )

Amberjack in the backseat at Admiral Twin

Lastly, I really enjoyed that Admiral Twin allows you to bring pets as long as they stay on a leash.  Amberjack still has some issues barking and getting anxious when I leave, and she’s at her worst at night.  Because of this, I always try to get home before dark to appease her and my neighbors.  The drive-in, though, gives me a way to see movies at night without having to worry about AJ.  I just put together the dog-equivalent of a diaper bag, set up a little bed for her in the back, and she’s was all set.  Note: If you bring a pet, they have to remain on a leash at all times.

As for the actual movie, I thought The Dark Knight Rises was only okay.  I’m just not a huge fan of this Batman franchise.  I find them a little hard to follow and get confused a lot about why people are doing things.  I liked the last 5 minutes a lot though : D  And getting to see the Man of Steel and Hobbit trailers beforehand was a big plus.  I can’t recommend The Dark Knight Rises movie, but I will recommend the Admiral Twin Drive-In.  The good food, new movie at a cheap price ($7!!), fun atmosphere, and great sound quality made for a fabulous first drive-in theater experience.

June 20, 2012

Navigating Theme Parks Like a Pro: A Guide to Being a Better Tourist

This summer I had the pleasure of taking my friend from Tulsa around the Orlando theme parks. This tour guiding is some what of a specialty for me seeing as how I was raised in theme park central from age 5. I have accumulated a lot of knowledge which has allowed me to put together some tips and tricks for navigating the parks successfully. Keep in mind- I am big on getting on as many good rides as possible, so I don’t hit a lot of shows (except absolute must-sees). Show lovers- you have been warned.

Look for signs like this to remind you where you parked.

1. Don’t forget where you park! A lot of first timers are so excited to get to the park that they don’t look at the colorful character signs and 3 foot long numbers painted on the ground identifying your car location. You may have a general idea of where your car is, but the more exact you can be, the better. Take a cell phone picture of the parking row if you have to. Believe me, at the end of your day, you will be grateful for any seconds you can shave off between you and the prospect of sitting down in air conditioning.

2. Parking Trams are not always worth it. If you are like me and get to the park early, you usually park close enough to walk to the park entrance. If you can see where the parking lot ends and other roads or entry ways begin, you ARE close enough to walk. It is likely you will even get to the gate faster because the trams wait for all the slow pokes in the parking lot who mosey along up to the vehicle (don’t be that person- I beg you).

3. Get to the park before it opens. This is crucial. A lot of parks end up letting you in 10-15 minutes early so you can walk around and shop at their stores up front. You can use this time to walk to the rides you want and get fast passes if needed. I usually aim to be parking my car 30 minutes before opening time (add 15-20 minutes to that if you have to buy tickets at the gate). Any extra time you can squeeze in before 11 am is great anyway because that is when lines are the shortest and you are not squeezed in a mob of people as you move around the park.

This is what happens when you come later than 9 am.

4. Go to popular rides first- no matter how long the wait currently is. Yes I see that a ride no one cares about has no wait while a popular ride already has a 20 minute wait, but trust me- it is worth it to go now! Those lines will likely be 1.5-2 hours long when you try to visit them later. At the very least you can grab free fast passes (offered at Disney, not Universal) for a good time slot. Fast passes for really popular rides run out early, and even if you get them after an hour of being open, you might be given a time slot for 6:30 pm (when you plan on already having left the park by then). Here is a quick list of where you should go first at each park:

Magic Kingdom- Splash Mountain

Disney’s Hollywood Studios- Toy Story Mania

Epcot- Soarin’

Animal Kingdom- Expedition Everest or Kilimanjaro Safari

Universal Studios- Rock It Roller Coaster (even though I hate it…)

Islands of Adventure- Harry Potter: The Forbidden Journey or The Hulk

Sea World (does anyone still go here…?)- Manta

5. Choose lines wisely. A lot of rides have long lines- that’s a given. However, some are MUCH easier to wait in. Rides like Space Mountain and Soarin’ at Disney usually have hour plus waits, but their entire lines are indoors (and have mini games along the way!). This makes a huge difference in how you feel while you wait. Any line can bore you, but I’d prefer a line that doesn’t leave me sunburned and dehydrated, too. Note: The Harry Potter: Forbidden Journey has a big portion of its wait outside, however, it has a lot of fun things to look at throughout its line that makes it worth it.

6. Eat lunch at a show. I tried this strategy with Maggie this year and loved how well it worked out. If you are just getting a quick, counter service lunch, consider eating it while you watch a parade or an outdoor theater show (ex. Beauty and the Beast at Hollywood Studios) to save time. You get to fit in one extra attraction and get a food fix : )

7. Unless you are trying Tip 6, don’t go to parades or big shows. These shows grab so many people’s attention and keep them rooted somewhere away from any ride line. Use this brief window to get in line for something that will likely have a huge wait again once the performance is over. Parade times are really great for using this strategy.

8. Eat lunch early or late- even if you use Tip 6. Counter service lines can take up to an hour at peak times (I’m not kidding- I did wait an hour once). If you go before 12 or after 2, you are very likely to wait no more than 15 minutes before food is placed in your hand. You also won’t have to worry about finding a table amongst a huge mass of people, which can be really annoying and force you to share 2 chairs between 3 people or sit at the gross table in the corner with ketchup spilled on it (or if you’re really unlucky, having to deal with the lack of chairs AND gross table).

God bless the single rider line option (see right sign).

9. Single rider lines are your friend- especially at the Universal parks. Think about it- how much do you really talk with your friends or family while on a ride? Not much I’m guessing. You’re too busy listening, screaming, or laughing to chit chat. Because of this, you should be getting in as many single rider lines as possible. These lines are usually 10 minutes max, and in many cases, don’t even have a wait time. You probably have a good chance of being on the same vehicle as your companion, just likely in separate rows. And more times than you would think- you end up sitting right next to your friend anyway (bless those odd-numbered parties who waited in the real line). Single rider lines are also great for repeat rides if you want to go on something a few times, but the regular wait is daunting. My best picks for single rider lines would have to be Men in Black (Universal) and Revenge of the Mummy (Universal). Other ones can be slow, so if you feel like it isn’t moving, get out and try it later.

10. Bring as little as possible. Bags WILL slow you down. At Universal and Islands of Adventure you will constantly be putting them in lockers because they aren’t allowed on rides. While these lockers are free, they can have long lines to put your stuff in AND get your stuff out. You also will have to go through security check points at the gate, which can use up those precious minutes in the morning. My go-to park items are an individual car key and a snack size ziploc with cash, ID, ticket, and a debit card. No more, no less. Anything bigger will get you sent to the lockers for rides because the workers are trained to look for phone shapes in your pockets. Disney is much more lenient on what you can take bags on (I can’t think of anything you can’t bring a bag on at the moment…), so choose to bring more then.

11. If you do bring a bag, bring everything. If you are going to bring a bag despite the locker rules, get one that can double as a backpack (hands free is always better for navigating around the park). Stuff it with a lot of items to help keep your day cheap- sandwich lunches, snacks, water bottles, ponchos if it rains (or for water rides), camera, batteries in case your camera dies, medicine for headaches or stomach issues, etc. All of these things you can get in the park but the price will be hiked up like crazy. It’s really either bring nothing or bring everything when you make the bag or no bag decision.

The most reliable ride…ever.

12. Take advantage of sissy rides when you are tired. You know what I’m talking about- those rides that never have a long wait because they aren’t shiny, fast, or related to a specific film or character. These are GREAT for when it gets really crowded after lunch and you just want to escape people and sit for awhile. The ultimate example of this is the PeopleMover at Magic Kingdom. This automated tram type ride guides you through Tomorrowland about 3 stories in the air. I’ve never NOT walked on this ride, and its 10 minute length is a decent amount of time to relax and regroup. While nothing compares to the magic of the PeopleMover, other rides to consider would be the train around Magic Kingdom, The Haunted Mansion (depending on the time of day), boat ride in the Mexico pavilion (Epcot), Carousels (at any park), and 3D shows like Shrek (Universal) or Phillharmagic (Magic Kingdom).

13. Do your research before you go. You should look up parks you plan on going to and look for these two things: ride closures and “extra” hours. Ride closures help you avoid walking out of your way to get to a ride just to find out its closed, and it also helps you gauge how other lines will be. Right now, Test Track is closed at Epcot. That’s always been a big draw for the park as its main thrill ride. With that closed, other lines can and will be a lot worse. The “extra” hours is good to know because the morning ones are only offered to guests staying at the theme parks’ resorts. You probably want to go to the park that doesn’t have these so that when you are let in, there isn’t an hour’s worth of people ahead of you (note: if the extra hours are tacked on to the end of the day, then this might be a great park to go to because lines die down considerably after dinner no matter how late a park is open).

Don’t do it!!!

14. Don’t wait longer than an hour for anything. If it isn’t a thrill ride, you probably shouldn’t even be waiting an hour. When lines get really long after lunch, take advantage of easy rides (Tip 12) or see a show. So many people still get in line for Peter Pan when it is 75 minutes long. The ride is over in about a split second and its just Peter Pan!!! It’s not like it’s based on a Disney Princess or something. Dumbo-type rides (the ones that load, spin you in a circle in the air for a bit, and then end) are HUGE time wasters. Avoid them at all costs. Once you’ve been on one, you’ve been on them all. Trust me.

15. Push the red button as soon as you see the giant alien. You’ll know it when you see it- and you’ll thank me when you do.

If you are an Orlando native and have your own tips, please feel free to comment below and add them. Or if you are still lost and want more specific park advice and recommendations, let me know. Park knowledge isn’t always the most useful skill, but nonetheless, I’ve accumulated a lot of it.