Sunday, October 26, 2014

Salem &The Hawthorne Hotel Halloween Ball

Halloween is Indy's favorite holiday.  If you ask him, it's the only "real" holiday.  Forget Thanksgiving, forget Christmas, you could even forget his own birthday- he would give all of them up for Halloween.

Six years ago, back before we were even living together, Indy and I took a weekend trip up to Salem, Massachusetts.  But it wasn't just any weekend, it was the weekend of Halloween!  We explored all the narrow, cobble stone roads, visited the many Witch and Wax museums, went on walking tours, even shopped a bit in stores owned by modern-day practicing witches!  On Halloween night the streets filled with all sorts of crazy characters- costumed and non-costumed alike.  I've never been to Mardi Gras, but from what I've heard, this was pretty close.  We didn't partake in much of the partying, but just observing was crazy enough.  The streets were overflowing (as were the glasses) and the music was played loud and long into the night. Salem was one of our favorite local trips, and ever since we left, we've been looking for a reason to go back.

In what has become a year of celebration of Indy getting his teaching job, we decided that Salem had to happen this year!

As Halloween is on a week day (this coming Friday), and Salem is a good 4 and a half hour drive from where we live and, we opted to visit Salem the weekend before Halloween.  When we visited six years ago on Halloween, the place was pretty crowded- so we figured the weekend before Halloween would be less hectic.

We were way wrong.

We left on Friday afternoon, a bit later than anticipated due to some cat drama (not ours, our friends...don't worry, all the kitties are good now) and we decided to drive straight into Salem.  We found parking relatively easy and grabbed dinner no problem- but it was near 11PM.  Everyone was in bed.

The next day we slept in and planned to be in Salem to see the sights by 11.  We left at 10:30AM from our hotel and didn't find a parking spot until 1PM!  The traffic was killer, and parking was incredibly hard to find.  In a lot of was Salem is laid out much like Philly- small, one-way, cobbles stone roads with hundreds of pedestrians everywhere you turn.  We did totally luck out though!  All of the lots and parking garages near the center of town were jam-packed, but we drove just a tiny bit past the center of town (like, three blocks) and crossed the Congress Street bridge to pay $20 for all day parking at the Shetland Self Park Storage facility.  Even better, we planned on leaving town around 5 to go back to the hotel, rest up a bit, and get dressed for the party, then return to town and fight for another parking spot, we explained this to the ticket guy at Shetland, and he signed our ticket so that we could use the same space later in the day!  He totally could've been a total jerk about it and told us, "Too bad, no re-entry!" but he didn't!  Score for us! (And for you- use our trick and save yourself the money/frustration of finding a spot in the town center!)

Unfortunately we did't plan very well and due to the overwhelming crowds spent most of our afternoon in Salem milling around.  It was beautiful out, though so we were happy to just explore the town and talk about how great it was just to be there.  The energy was crazy!

We paid a quick visit to the Salem Wax Museum, because the friends we were with had never been there.  Honestly, it's just okay.  The Salem Witch Museum (also a wax museum) is much more informative/entertaining/worth the money, so if you find yourself having to chose between the two, the choice is pretty clear.

We walked around the Salem Witch Trials Memorial, which is quite small, but really well-done.  At night it's beautiful and much less crowded, and there is a beautiful 100's year old graveyard just behind it you're able to explore, respectfully of course.

At night there are tons of small haunted houses, which are relatively expensive and very short (about 15-20 minutes in length).  If you're into that kind of thing, you can check those out, but I never found them to be worth the money.  There are tons of mini plays/reenactments to check out too, and if you ever find yourself in the area around Halloween, there is a whole webpage dedicated to planning your stay!  Visit the Haunted Happenings site and plan away!  Just make sure you get there early and plan to stay for the majority of the day to get the most bang for your buck.

While Salem was fun, our main reason for the trip was to attend the annual Hawthorne Hotel Halloween Ball!  Indy and I have hosted our fair share of Halloween parties, but he always ends up feeling a little disappointed because most of our friends aren't as into it as he is- he's always saying, "I wish we could find a huge party to go to, even if we didn't know anyone!" And this year, we did!

I stumbled upon the Hawthorne Hotel Hallween Ball webpage by accident, and that's what solidified our plans to even go to Salem this year.  It was pricey- $90 ticket per person, but it's a 4-hour party with a live band, tons of food, cash bars, psychic readings and costume contest.  And since it's in Halloweentown, USA, the party-goers are SERIOUS about their costumes!  Each year there is a theme, and this year's was Mardi Gras Masquerade.  As an art teacher, I was completely floored with the attention to detail, effort and craziness of the costumes.  Indy and I thought we had pretty good costumes, but we quickly realized we were WAY out of our league.  Next year, we will definitely be in attendance, and we will be READY!

Enjoy some party pics and videos below, and maybe Indy and I will see you there next year!

Our Party Shot!  They had three photo stations upon entry, and they take your photo for their webstite.

A shot of the main room- there were three floors and three different rooms to dance in, but this was the main one with the live band.  We spent most of the night here.  Look how crowded it is!

A shot of the back of that same room- beautiful, right?!

The view from up on the second floor.

Indy catching me off-guard!

A little blurry, but Indy and someone dressed as Hobgoblin.

You can check out more awesome shots of the Hawthorne Hotel and the costumed party-goers taken by the staff at the hotel here.  If you're looking for something to do next Halloween season and find yourself on the North East coast, you will not be disappointed!  Next year is the 25th anniversary, so you can bet Indy and I will be there!  

Thursday, October 23, 2014

To Do: Be Grateful

If my lack of posts hasn't made it clear enough, this month has been a stressful one.

Indy is still getting used to his life as a first-year teacher, and we're both still getting used to a two-teacher household. (Let's just say, we've been eating out and ordering in way too much!)  There has been a lot of stress at my school over a new lesson planning system, S.G.O's, changes in attendance policies and observations.  During this last week all the work for the fall play is starting up, so I'll be putting in more and more hours as the performance dates rapidly approach.  Additionally, I haven't been able to run in nearly a MONTH due to some knee pain, which I'm taking a day off from work next week to see a specialist about.  It's so upsetting not being able to continue with my progress, and I'm realizing now how therapeutic it was to just go run it out!

I feel like I'm all over the place.  I want to do everything and nothing, all at once.  I want to cross off everything on my to-do list, but also crumple it up, light it on fire, and throw it out the window of a moving car.

But I was reminded this month that while there's always something to stress over, there's also always something to be grateful for.  In my case, so many things to be grateful for:

This month we were told that Indy's mom is officially in remission, which is just incredible.  She's been receiving regular chemotherapy treatments for over a year, and she beat cancer.  Again.

Indy's aunt has been suffering from a long time with vertigo and balance issues, and recently she hasn't been able to walk at all.  She kept saying that her legs felt like stone.  Turns out, she had "fluid on the brain" and it required major surgery to fix.  Just last week she had that surgery, and we were all scared.  She's in her 70's, and so frail that a gust of wind could knock her right over.  But the surgery went exceptionally well, and she's literally walking on air.  I've never seen anyone so free and happy.

Two days ago, Indy's best friend and his wife, who has become a very close friend of mine, welcomed their first child into the world.  A week and a half past her due date, they had a beautiful baby girl.  Lots of friends of mine are starting to have children, but we're so close to these two that I actually got emotional when I heard she was finally here!

I feel like this year, more than any other, I need to keep reminding myself to find the little bit in every day that I am grateful for.  I'm hoping this will help me keep everything in perspective.

In what might be the best timing ever, Indy and I will be headed up to Salem, Massachusetts this weekend to celebrate the Halloween season.  We're planning on visiting some museums, seeing the sites and we're going to a costumed masquerade ball!  I am so excited to get away from my to-do list for the weekend.  It will be here when I get back, and I'll deal with it then.

Monday, October 20, 2014

I Love Technologyyy...

I came across this article by NYT writer Judith Newman yesterday by chance, and got a little teary-eyed!

If you know any child who falls anywhere on the Autism spectrum, I think it'll tug at your heartstrings.

At times I wonder if we're getting ahead of ourselves with all the innovation that goes on in the technology world- we've got cars that practically drive themselves, for goodness sake!  But then I read about things like this, where the technology someone invented is helping people in ways the creator probably never even fathomed it could, and I get all warm and fuzzy inside.


Monday, October 13, 2014


If I were still a student in high school, this is the date I would write all over my paper-bag book cover in pink and red pen, with bubbly hearts all around it.

Today marks SEVEN YEARS that Indy and I have been together!

Seven years ago today was a Saturday.  Indy and I had begun speaking to one another via Facebook and on the phone after a friend of mine, and a friend of his, who were friends with each other, recommended we get in touch.  After about two weeks of communication, we went on our first date.

I remember, as I was still living at my mother's house, waiting in the dining room, looking out the window every five seconds, waiting for him to pull up.  The Inuits have a word for this: Iktsurarpok
Indy was running late.  My mom, ever the time-freak, started wondering out loud from the kitchen if maybe I had been stood-up, and just about the time I thought maybe she's right... he pulled up in his black Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, and we were on our way.

As he grew up in New York City, that's where we went- to Battery Park, specifically, where they were having some kind of food festival.  We got some tacos from a truck, and Indy was pretty surprised I'd never had tacos before. (This was back when my diet consisted of the same five things it did since I was a child: Pizza, Chicken, Pasta, Peanut Butter and Chocolate...)  I had also never been to Battery Park before.  During our time at the park, Indy had mentioned the Central Park Zoo.  I mentioned that I'd also never been there (literally, my life didn't start until I met the guy), and we jumped in the Jeep.

The zoo was amazing.  It was one of those wacky zoo trips where all the animals are going bananas.  The polar bears were swimming in the water, getting all up close to the glass so you could take pictures.  The seals in the main entry way were jumping and splashing all the bystanders.  All of the animals were hooting and hollering.  It was fantastic.

When we got in the car to leave for home, I gave Indy a CD I had burned for him- it was a Scottish rock band I liked at the time called Biffy Clyro.  Before we left on our date I had noticed they were playing in the smaller room at Madison Square Garden that night, and mentioned this to Indy when I gave him the CD.  "Tonight? They're playing tonight?!" He asked, excitedly. Then he said, "Let's go!"  And he drove us to Madison Square Garden, where he bought us two tickets to see the show!

I was not used to all this spontaneity!  At MSG I used the bathroom and called my mom to let her know that I was still alive and would be home later than I thought.

Before the show we got pizza at one of the zillions of places near MSG that sell pizza by the slice. The show itself was pretty great- Biffy Clyro was opening for Queens of the Stoneage, who I'd listened to before, but developed a new appreciation for having seen them live.  After the show, we walked to a small diner, called "The Victory Diner" and had some dessert and tea before heading home.

Our first date lasted approximately 12 hours.

We got married in July, but always refer to October 13th as our "anniversary."  He even had the date engraved on the inner band of my engagement ring.  Since our first date Indy has opened up my world to more than just the Central Park Zoo and tacos.  The man has taken me to places I'd never dreamed of going- all across the U.S. and to countries near and far.  He's expanded my extremely picky palette to reaches my parents are still surprised at- I've eaten fried rattle snake for Pete's sake!  Over the last seven years Indy has helped me grow and realize I'm capable of so much more than I ever knew I was.  He is absolutely the best friend I've ever had, and today will always be the best day, ever!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Because, Sharks.

In what might be the most unfortunate timing of events ever, Indy and I have booked a trip to Africa for this coming summer.

Before you go and get all crazy on me (much like my mother did) allow me to explain first that we are not going ANYWHERE NEAR West Africa.  We are flying through London into Johannesburg, then taking a 14-day Camping Safari trip through Botswana, which ends in Zambia- then we're flying back through Johannesburg down into Cape Town.  Because, ya know, it wasn't enough for Indy that we'll be on an actual safari with real, live, potentially life-threatening animals, we also have to cage dive with some Great White Sharks.

As I re-read that last sentence, I'm starting to understand why my mother doesn't understand me and the things I do.

For real though, a trip to Africa has been a dream for the both of us.  We're animal lovers, we adore traveling, and in celebration of Indy's graduation and hiring, we decided it was time to go to Africa.  Three very different and very good friends of ours have all gone to Africa and not one of them had a single negative thing to say about it.  Of course, Ebola wasn't a real threat during the times they went, but I'll comfort you the same way I comforted my mother when I finally worked up the nerve to tell her: The distance from Botswana to where the outbreak is occurring is just about the same as the distance from the outbreak to London- a good 3,500 miles.  Another point I made to her that makes us all feel a lot better: Ebola made its way to Texas, and New Jersey is only 1,500 miles away from the Lone Star State, so I think we'll be good.

Anyway, Indy and I have been working up a list of big-ticket items we need to acquire in order to make this trip the best, ever, and there has been much discussion over getting an additional DSLR camera.

I currently have a Nikon D60, which I got as a High School graduation gift back in 2004:


A few years later I picked up a 70-300mm lens, which is great- much better than the standard 18-55mm lens the camera comes with, but super huge and bulky:


And just two or three years ago, I finally got my middle-of-the-road, perfect-for-everything, most-favorite-lens-ever, my 18-200mm telephoto:


Our issue is, while on Safari, we have no idea how close or far the game will be, and I'll be damned if I'm switching lenses in the jeep and miss a shot, or worse, drop a lens.  The entire trip will be ruined! If we get a second camera body, even another D60, Indy and I could both be prepared to shoot at all times, regardless of our distance.

The jury is still out as far as that decision goes...

But then I started thinking about shooting during our cage dive.  We have a small, decent underwater camera we've used while snorkeling and scuba diving in Australia:


We enjoy this camera a lot- it works great! But, if you're trying to catch a fast-moving fish, it's not the best.

So imagine my excitement when I found this photo on the internet today:


At first I was all, "Oh man, that's an amazing professional photo."

Well, I read on to find that not only is it NOT a professional photo, it was taken with a GoPro by an Art Teacher from NEW JERSEY while she was on vacation in SOUTH AFRICA!

Seriously, when I saw this photo, all the stars aligned and I realized that Africa is most definitely in my future and we need to get ourselves a GoPro! Because, SHARKS!

My cousin is a working artist out in California and he shoots all of his surfing shots with his GoPro, so I plan on picking his brain for a lot of advice, but my question is- do any of you use a GoPro?  If so, which one do you have?  What accessories would you recommend?  I need to get my research on!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

On Taking a Time-Out

I addressed this in my first post, back in August, but I’ve returned from a year off from blogging.  I offered a brief explanation there about it, and I could go into more detail, but honestly thinking about last year gets me all crazy and I don’t want to feel all those feels right now.  Just know that things in all aspects of my personal, professional, academic and artistic life were all tossed up in the air and scrambled about.  In some ways it was great, in some ways it was awful.  In the end, everything did or currently still is working out (life has a funny way of doing that- getting you all crazy before being all, “I got this- it’s cool! Relax!”) and now I’m back.

For years I have been following Young House Love and I fully support their recent decision to take a (very well deserved) break from blogging.  If you’re unfamiliar, they’ve been hosting their DIY/Family inspired blog for the last 7 years and have seen so much growth and expansion over this time that for the last few years, they quit their jobs to blog full time.  They had very regularly scheduled posts and giveaways and found a system for them that really worked.  Around the birth of their second child, however, they openly expressed, in several posts, a desire to find more balance in their blogging life and their real life.  After a post where they asked for open reader feedback, things got a little nasty (as any request for open feedback on the internet tends to do) and they decided back in September they would be taking a break.  There was even a New York Times article about it!

I got a comment on my last post from Pat over at SharpieWoman and she mentioned that she, too, hadn’t blogged in a year.  Then I started to check around to some of my other “old haunts”- blogs I loved and checked in on often last year.  I found that a lot of them are no longer in working order.  Ms. Kristen-Crayon Can, for example, stopped blogging around the same time I did.  Some blogs I followed vanished all together- not just no more posts, but the entire site is gone- Kristen over at PopcornOnTheStove- poof! Done.

I feel that for most of us blogging started as a fun hobby.  For some of us, it even turns into a way to make money- but when real life demands your attention, hobbies and even jobs have to take a time-out so you can focus on what really matters: family, friends, peace of mind, your own happiness, the list goes on.

In the nearly 100 pages of supportive comments on the YHL post announcing their "break from blogging", there are what seems like only a handful of nasty reactions.  And I know, why should we take notice of the handful of nasties out there when there is so much abundant love?  But it's kind of unreal to even imagine that anyone could be angry about them taking a break.  They've spent the last 7 years allowing readers to follow and learn from their DIY adventures *for free* and people are angry they're taking a break to focus on their family?  That just seems insane to me.  Even if the blog is their main source of income, anyone will tell you that no matter what your job is- it is most certainly not your life.  And what they do with their lives is their business!

Anyway, when I started blogging again I was hoping to keep the same momentum I had when I quit, posting relevant and entertaining content every other day.  About a month back into posting I realized that momentum I was striving for, and posting that often, was part of why I stopped.  Keeping up with a steady posting schedule was too hard for me then, and it's too hard for me now.  I've got a lot of real life stuff going on and in order to keep this as fun as it used to be, I'm letting my real life schedule dictate my blogging schedule.

As much as I miss YHL's daily posts, I hope they take all the time they need to recuperate.  Even if it's in a much smaller way, I totally understand their need for a time-out.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Zentangles, My Favorite and Teacher Appreciation

Last year we began negotiations for a new contract.  We’re still negotiating.  Morale is rather low, but I’m confident (maybe more hopeful?) we will reach an agreement soon and all will be right with the world, even if its just temporarily.

At the end of last year there was an anonymous letter in my school mailbox.- all of our school mailboxes.  I’m assuming it was from a teacher who works at my school.  Basically the letter explained that as teachers, at times we all feel under appreciated, and how wonderful it would be if we each took a few minutes and wrote a letter of appreciation to a colleague- especially one we don’t know very well.  As someone who loves to write, I thought this was a great idea!  Unfortunately, I was so burnt out by the end of last year that I quickly forgot about my letter and carried on into summer.  But just a week ago, I was reminded about letting someone else know they’re appreciated, and I wrote that letter!

I have a boy in my Art Studio class who is my favorite.  I know we’re not supposed to have favorites, but he is mine, and I can’t help it.  He is the epitome of what every art teacher wants in a student: someone who is a thinker, who likes to be challenged, who is courteous and polite, who is talented and has no clue that he is- someone who thinks outside the box regularly and isn't afraid to take risks.  He can laugh at his mistakes, but also learn from them, and he is my favorite.

Anyway, our first unit in Art Studio is Line, and so our first project was to create an original Zentangle design.  I like this project because while it can be pretty simple for the less art-inclined, it can also be crazy complicated for the kids who want more.  My Favorite (this will be how I refer to him from now until forever) had the idea of sketching a dog, and filling it up with all kinds of tangles….but it was pretty awful.  He knew it wasn't great and when I comically pointed out all the problems, he laughed and agreed.  I asked him to try it again, focusing on a few small details and without hesitation he did- and it was GREAT!  Worlds better than his first go-round.  He saw it, he felt it, and he was so excited.

Then the tangles came.  Tangles can be hard to make up on their own, so I printed out a few pages of tangle samples so the kids could borrow and build upon already-made tangle designs.  The first day of tangling, My Favorite called me over and asked if he could do “reflections” in his tangles.  I wasn’t totally sure what he meant, so I asked him to elaborate.

“Reflections, like we’re learning in math.” He said with a smile.

“Math?” I asked, suddenly scared.  My inner child was curled up, shaking in a corner.

“Yes.  I’m in Pre-Calc.  I’m a sophomore, but I skipped a level in math.  We’re learning about reflections, let me show you…”

He whipped out his math notebook and showed me all these great graphs and charts and explained that the equations for that particular unit resulted in reflections- so the line pattern in one quadrant mirrored the one next to it.

I said, “If you want to give it a try, go for it!”

He did, and it came out AWESOME!

See that blurry patch?  He found a way to write his NAME inside the tangle! First and Last!  I blurred My Favorite’s name from you guys for obvious reasons, but seriously, how cool is that?!  Just try to imagine it.  It’s awesome.

I was so excited not only that his idea worked, but more that it was a unique idea that pulled directly from another subject- MATH of all subjects!

I asked My Favorite who his math teacher was, and quickly jotted down this letter:

Hi Math Teacher,

I don't think we've ever met- I teach in the Art Department, but I had to share the cutest story with you!

I have My Favorite in my Art Studio class.  He is totally adorable and is doing an amazing job on our first project, which is all about black and white patterns.  He's really taken his project to the "next level" in comparison to the other kids in his class.  Anyway, he and I were discussing what he would do with his background and he had this idea about creating a reflected pattern, and I didn't really understand what he meant, so he whipped out his math notebook and showed me all these notes and sketches for reflections he's learned in math, and I have to tell you, it was the first time I've ever really had a concrete concept to tie math and art together.  We often do projects with pattern and some measuring, but I've been looking for ways to really connect the "thinking" of math to what we do in class, and he showed it to me!

Anyway, I always think it's fun when art makes its way into other classes, so I figured I'd share that what you're doing in class made its way over here!  I love when everything the kids are learning come together!


And this is what she wrote back:

You just made my day!!

That is a great story :)  And a great connection!!!

I made her day, guys!  Look at all those exclamation marks!

It felt so good to see a student make such a well-developed seemingly far-reaching connection between the thinking he does in math to what he’s doing in art class.  It felt even better to tell his math teacher about it.  It felt the greatest to know it made her day, and that she knows what she does matters and she is appreciated!