London and Paris in 6 Days

It’s crazy to think that just last week I was wandering around London, and now I’m back home in a weird space between awake and asleep- jet lag has been rough! My friend Valerie and I signed up for the EF College Break London and Paris trip on a whim. I have traveled with this company before and it’s really the way to go if you don’t have the time (or the money) to plan a trip yourself. You pay a relatively low cost and EF  books all of the hotels, most activities, like museum visits and bus tours, and provides money for transportation-even metro cards!  With EF you travel with a large group of people, usually around 30, which definitely has its pros and cons. It’s great to meet new people, but a group that big can also slow you down, which isn’t great when you’re trying to see so much in so little time. Valerie and I went back and forth between hanging out with the group and exploring on our own – it was really the perfect balance!

Day 1: Operation Stay Awake

We arrived in London bright and early…but check in wasn’t until 2PM, so we had to keep ourselves awake and occupied until then. While eating at a coffee shop near the hotel with a few of the other early arrivals, Operation Stay Awake was born. One girl suggested that we should all go to Covent Garden, a semi-outdoor market in the center of London (<– a “pro” to group travel, Valerie and I would have never thought of this place on our own!). We all agreed and then somehow made our way to the tube station, despite being half asleep.

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Covent Garden was a lot of fun and something I hadn’t seen on my last trip to London. We each bought a few souvenirs, and then found some place to eat real food – at an English pub of course! Later, we checked in to the hotel, met everyone else in the group at a Welcome Mixer in the lobby (food and drinks paid for by EF!), and then went for a bit of sightseeing with the group director. Operation Stay Awake was a success!

Day 2: Shopping and Side Streets

In the morning we went on a sightseeing tour of London with the group. The tour guide was really entertaining and very knowledgeable. The tour ended at Buckingham Palace, where we got to watch the changing of the guards – very cool.

Before the tour and on the tour, people kept suggesting that Valerie and I go to Harrod’s. I didn’t understand this. I kept thinking, it’s a department store how cool can it be? However, with all of the suggestions, we decided it was time to check it out, and upon walking in we immediately understood why it was so much more than just a department store. It really can’t be put into words, so all I will say is: if you’re ever in London go to Harrod’s.

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Besides Harrod’s and going to King’s Cross Station, one of my favorite parts of the day was all of the walking we did. A bus tour is great for getting an idea about where to go and seeing everything at once, but absolutely nothing beats just walking around a city. It’s so much fun to walk through side streets and find yourself in places you have never planned on going, or even knew of.

Day 3: Off to the Country! 

Valerie and I have both been to London before, so although there was still tons of stuff we could see and do in the center of London, we wanted to do something different this time. We had signed up for the excursion to Oxford that EF College Break offered, but it was cancelled a few days before the trip, so we decided to go on our own. After sleeping in just a bit (much-needed!) we took a train from London to Oxford, which only takes about 54 minutes! Oxford is one of the most picturesque places I have ever seen. It’s a quiet town filled with beautiful architecture, cobblestone streets, and bikes at every corner – it is exactly what I picture when someone mentions England. I couldn’t believe that people actually went to school there,  it just didn’t seem real!

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Day 4: Goodbye, London! Bonjour, Paris!  

Valerie and I both have not-so-fond memories of Paris, but we wanted to give the city of lights a second try. Unfortunately, the bus ride to the hotel from the Gare du Nord train station almost solidified our first impression (the area around the train station is not somewhere you would want to find yourself at night). Thankfully, the rest of our stay in Paris would prove that it’s not so bad after all.

Before I get into the day itself, I want to mention where we stayed. In London we stayed at a hotel, which seemed to be mostly filled with people on business trips, but in Paris, we stayed at a hostel. For most people the word “hostel” might bring up an idea of someplace dirty and maybe even unsafe, but this place was anything but. It was the first hostel I have ever stayed at and it really made for an entirely different experience (in a good way). Rather than being surrounded by middle age men and women in business attire, we were now surrounded by people our own age, here for the same purpose that we were – to have fun in a new city. Not only was the hostel clean and safe (security right at the door), but it also had its own club, cafe, and rooftop bar! It was so much fun, and very convenient! If you’re ever looking into a trip abroad and need somewhere nice, but inexpensive, definitely look into Generator Hostels.

On our first day in Paris we took a cruise along the Siene. It’s my second time doing this, and in my opinion it is the best way to see the Eiffel Tower. After the cruise we went out to dinner with a few of the girls and then went up to the hostel’s rooftop bar!

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Day 5: Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame

Today was filled with tourist destinations! We started the day off with a group trip to the Eiffel Tower, but we couldn’t get close to it as it was being blocked off due to a suspicious package. Despite feeling a bit shaken from all of the commotion at the tower, we made our way to the Louvre. Museums are my second favorite place to be (bookstores are first); I love the quiet and the feeling of being surrounded by knowledge and history. Before walking around, we had a bite to eat at Starbucks. I know it’s silly that it’s a chain “restaurant”, but Starbucks abroad is so different – I had pancakes with my coffee! We took in the peacefulness of the Louvre (note: it’s the opposite of peaceful if you make your way towards Mona Lisa), attempted to read the labels next to the art pieces (they’re all in French), and took a lot of pictures!

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After the Louvre, we went on a bus tour of Paris, and again the tour guide was amazing! We were able to see so much in a short amount of time and even got to stop at a small cafe for an espresso! The bus tour dropped us off right near Notre Dame so we were able to check another must-see destination off of our list before heading back to the hostel! Once we were back we went out to eat at a nearby restaurant. Paris was filled with going out to eat- I loved it!

Day 6: Act Like a Local 

We started the day by heading to Shakespeare and Company bookstore, a must on my list (remember bookstores are my number one favorite place)! It was great to get away from the city for a bit and wander around the bookstore. I ended up buying a book about Ernest Hemingway, one of my favorite authors. Then we found a cafe and had lunch while sitting facing the street (Parisians often do this so that they can talk about the people who pass by). It was a beautiful day and the lunch was delicious!

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At around three we went to the outskirts of Paris to meet up with Valerie’s cousin, Gina, who has lived in Paris for the past eleven years. She took us to several different restaurants around the canal, one of which looked like a house, but was actually a bar (we walked upstairs and people were having a drink in a bathtub!). We then went to pick up Gina’s daughter from the nearby daycare. It was really interesting to see a Parisian daycare! We walked in and all of the kids were sitting quietly, eating a piece of baguette (can’t make this up). Then we all headed back to Gina’s apartment and had our own baguette with cheese and radishes with butter (so French!).  It was so, so nice to see things in a new perspective (a local one) and to just sit and talk with Valerie and Gina over good food in a home setting!

The last event of any EF trip is always a farewell dinner, and ours happened to be at Montmartre, another place we really wanted to see! We met the group at the restaurant, had a delicious meal, and then walked the 270 steps to Basilica de Sacre-Coeur (after meal workout?). The steps were worth it, because the view was amazing! Definitely put it on your list of things to go and see if you are ever in Paris!

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Overall the whole trip was unforgettable! It was my second time in both places, but a completely different experience. Despite all of the fun Valerie and I had, it was really nice to come home. I have been feeling sort of disheartened with the state America is in right now, but going away really put things into perspective. Every place has its own set of problems, the grass isn’t greener on the other side. There may be a lot that needs to be fixed, but I’m still proud to say that America is my home.

 

Note: The EF College Break trip is actually called “London and Paris in 8 Days“, however the two extra days were complete travel days due to the time difference.

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Three Things I Love This Week

I have been wanting to write about book clubs, but being that it’s the last week of school, book clubs are the last thing on my mind. Instead, here’s a “light” post (written in the middle of the day because school is over *happy dance*!).

1.  BOOKSTAGRAM!  I found this sub community of instagrammers a month or two ago, and I have been hooked ever since. By simply searching the hashtag #bookstagram, you step into a world of book lovers (who take the prettiest pictures). It’s fun to browse, but it’s also great for finding your next read! The picture below is from @bookishjourney.

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2.Vegucated. Documentaries always have a big effect on me. I watched Food Inc. six years ago and became vegetarian, I watched Tapped and became passionate about getting rid of plastic water bottles, and a few months ago I watched Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead and started to research juicers. So, Vegucated, a documentary about being vegan, was no exception. For the six plus years that I have been vegetarian, I  frequently wondered what it would be like to take the next step and become vegan, and I always felt a bit guilty that I was still benefiting from the harmful treatment of animals. However, being that pizza and ice cream are some of my favorite foods, I tried to ignore these guilty feelings…but I can’t anymore. What they do to these animals for meat, for milk, for cheese, is not okay. The animals on factory farms, which make up about 99% of all farms, live awful, dark lives and when it’s their turn to go they do not get the liberty of a peaceful death. We torture and kill thousands of animals everyday for what? A burger? A piece of pizza? Is it worth it? I don’t want to be a part of that anymore, so I’m going to try to cut all animal products out of my diet. I’m not ready to say I’m fully vegan just yet, but it’s a step in the right direction.

3. The Bucket List Family (#goals?) This family sold all of their belongings (and a million dollar app) and is now travelling the world as a family. They’ve been to places like Thailand, Australia, Singapore, and Bahamas – all while taking care of their two kids, keeping a blog/vlog, and working out! I can’t even find time for the gym on a normal day!

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What’s on your favorites list this week?

xx

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Update!

I am finally back…and quite ashamed that I haven’t written since October. I could make a millions of excuses about why I haven’t updated, but if I’m being completely honest, I was discouraged. I started to feel like it wasn’t worth the time- why keep up with a blog that no one is reading (especially when there’s so many other things I need to be doing)?

I didn’t tell myself that though, of course not. I told myself I was too busy to write and I ignored the tiny voice in the back of my head that would, every so often, remind me about this space that I created. Then came College Prepster’s recent post, “Why Writing is Good for Your Soul, and I realized just how much I missed writing, and how much I missed this blog. It doesn’t matter if nobody reads it – it’s mine. I scrolled through old posts and I got to read about how my first week  in my own classroom went, and how much I loved the food in Key West, and the music in New Orleans. I can read about old lessons, relive my trip to California, and remember exactly how I was feeling on a particular day. Sure, I can go on Facebook or Timehop – but nothing beats your own space with your own writing. So with all of that being said, I’m glad to be back!

Here’s a few notable events to bring this blog up to date!

1. I became an aunt! I love him so much – more than words can explain.

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2. My dad came to visit from Florida! We went to Storm King Art Center (an awesome day trip!), spent hours in the 9/11 Memorial Museum (if you haven’t been, go!), and saw a Yankees game (they won!).

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 3. I booked a trip to Europe (through EF College Break again!). I’ll be going to London and Paris for eight days with one of my best friends!

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 4. I went to Boston to visit a college friend I hadn’t seen in two years! I didn’t take many pictures, so this average one of the Charles River will have to do.

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 5. I started an instagram (@postgradprep) – I mostly post books (I’m a little obsessed with  #bookstagram), but I also post teaching stuff. image1

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Making Inferences

I really enjoy teaching inferences. I love how most of the kids start off thinking that making an inference is abstract and difficult, but then later realize it’s something we do everyday. I recently came across Chrissy’s (FREE!) Making Inferences MiniPack – and Wow! What a find! In an attempt to get the kids ready for the Instagram project they will be doing later in the week, I decided to kick off an inference boot camp! We started today with Chrissy’s MiniPack, then later in the week I plan to introduce the mystery Quick Solves. I used the Quick Solves last year during my nonfiction unit, but it works out SO much better now because of Halloween (yay for good timing!).

So, back to the MiniPack. Chrissy suggests handing groups of studens different pictures and asking them where they think they’re going. Each group has a picture that’s relative to camping (sleeping bag, marshmallows, backpack, fishing pole, etc.), but when one pictures stands alone it becomes a bit more vague. The point is to model the idea that the more clues you have, the stronger your inference will be. I loved the idea of this concrete model, but I felt it would be too easy considering the kids and I just got back from a school camping trip. So, instead I put a few pictures on the Smartboard and only spent about three minutes on it.

We then moved on to read a short story about a guy named Frank who saves people in a fire. The story, which I believe Chrissy wrote, is so well thought out – it’s the perfect tool for making inferences. As a reader, you start out being not so sure why Frank is so dirty (Did he get in a fight? Is he poor?), but as the story progresses you pick up more clues and eventually it all fits together. It made for the perfect “Aha!” moment.

For “we do”, I placed the inference task cards around the room and had students, with a partner of their choice, move from card to card at their own pace. Since the cards were laminated, I created a simple answer sheet that prompted students to use the same “I can tell…” format as the cards, though I did add a “because…” to practice citing text evidence. I was originally planning on use the cards for independent practice, but I’m so glad I changed my mind. By having students work in pairs, I was able to hear their discussions as they attempted to solve each card; it was the perfect way to check for understanding as I walked around the room!

To wrap everything up I will be using Chrissy’s independent practice worksheet tomorrow, which asks students to make an inference using their independent reading books. I’m confident the kids will make strong inferences – and it’s only Monday!

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Google Classroom

I’m head of the school newspaper this year (very exciting!), but after the first meeting I felt completely overwhelmed. The kids had a lot of ideas and they couldn’t wait to get the first paper out. I loved their enthusiasm, but I was worried about how I would make it all happen. I knew that with my busy schedule it would be nearly impossible to hold meetings every week and I also knew I didn’t want to be tracking down rough drafts from students in three different grades (I was already doing enough of that in my own class!). So, I began the search for an easier way. My first thought was Google Docs, but then I stumbled upon something even better: Google Classroom.

A relatively new platform, Google Classroom allows me to post announcements, create assignments, set due dates, comment on student work, and keep track of who has been an active participant. It’s everything that’s great about Google in one spot.

So, how does it work?

After you create a class, Google Classroom generates a code which allows students to join using their gmail account. Once it’s all set up, you are able to communicate with students, both publicly and privately (similar to writing on someone’s Facebook Wall versus messaging them), post assignments, and create announcements. For Newspaper club, I created documents using Google Docs for each column (debate, sports, advice, etc.) and then linked them to an assignment in Classroom. From the student point of view, they simply click the link and are taken to the document. At first I felt all this linking was an unnecessary middle step, but now I see the benefits. For instance, there are only about four students working on the debate column, but many others offer input, compliments, and constructive criticism in the comments section of the assignment. This way, the document is solely for the team itself, while the comment section is open to the entire “staff”.

Why do I love it?

As I previously mentioned, I was a bit cautious about Google Classroom, but now I couldn’t be happier. It has been so nice to see students discussing ideas with one another and to monitor their work and give my own feedback – without waiting for a face to face meeting (there’s even a mobile app!). It allows students to work on their own time (with a deadline in mind, of course), to hear from peers, and to connect with me. In a matter of days, Google Classroom was able to create a strong sense of teamwork in my newspaper club – which I don’t believe would have been possible with any other platform.

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What’s New in My Classroom 

 After purchasing a First Days of Middle School product from Teachers Pay Teachers, I simplified my classroom expectations to match the ones in the product. I love that it sums up everything important in three short phrases!IMG_4774I’ve placed a whiteboard and markers on top of my bookshelves so that students can recommend books that they like. I started this at the end of last year and the students loved it! The best part is it adds a pop of color to the walls when it’s all filled up!    I got this DIY idea from the Scholastic newsletter. It’s such a fun way to put students into groups. I used the Divergent popsicles on the first week and the students loved it – they were so excited to see which faction they would be in. I will definitely be making more of these throughout the school year.

IMG_4775I have a homeroom this year, so recess rules are a must! I also created a “‘What should I do when I’m finished?’ sign” (classroom journal post coming soon!) for when students ask that all too familiar question. I have become kind of font obsessed ever since I downloaded a pack from KGFonts. A good font makes a boring poster look so much better!  Just as important as the classroom decorations – my planner (aka my best friend for the school year)! I purchased a monogram decal from etsy to add some fun to the solid front. I love the way the navy blue looks against the bright pink!

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It’s Almost Time!

The funny thing about being a teacher is that every year you hit the reset button and start your job fresh again. It’s a great thing, but it’s also a bit nerve-wracking. While the teacher in me is excited to get back to school again, the worrier in me can’t stop stressing about the year ahead. So, to satisfy my Type-A personality, I have begun planning here and there. Here’s how I’m doing it.

1. Review and Reflect: The first year of teaching is a roller coaster. Some weekends you feel ready and knowledgable to take on the week, while others you sit with a bowl of ice cream thinking “What am I going to do this week and how am I going to do it?” To prevent this from happening in Year Two, I have been taking the time to review Screen Shot 2015-08-03 at 1.11.19 PMmy old plans and put them into a unit plan format. I made a chart with the approximate time the unit takes, key
points of the subject, and some of the specific resources I used. This year, I’ll be able to know right away what I should be teaching (and how to teach it) month by month.

41O2Td0V5iL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_2. Refresh: One of the biggest things in middle school is classroom management. While I think I did a pretty good job managing my classroom as a first year teacher, there is definitely room for improvement. I really like the small tips from Smart Classroom Management’s website (a lot of “Aha!” moments), so I purchased the book. Much like the website, the book is easy to skim and it gives clear directions on how to go about each procedure. I also purchased See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers, but I haven’t had the chance to start reading it yet.

3. Shopping! I probably spend way too much money on Teacher’s Pay Teachers, but I never feel guilty about it because 1) It’s beneficial to my classroom instruction and 2) I love that the money goes to real teachers, rather than large textbook companies. My most Screen Shot 2015-08-03 at 12.57.26 PMrecent purchase has me really excited for the first days of school; it’s filled with first week activities that will encourage a positive classroom community as well as enforce classroom procedures and rules. Click the picture to buy your own pack and to see more from Literary-Sherri (she has a ton of great products!).

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California Road Trip Day 4 & 5: Monterey to Cayucos

We were having coffee Friday morning in Mill Valley (innocent enough) when the worst happened- my mom spilled coffee all over my iPhone. I wish I could say that I took it lightly, that I realized immediately that it’s ‘just a phone’, that I didn’t worry about not having it. But that would be a lie. I stuck my phone in a bag of rice and wallowed about it for the rest of the day. I felt lost. What if someone is texting me? How many likes did I get on my Facebook post? What is the weather like in Monterey? How do I get to Monterey?

IMG_3805.JPGAll jokes aside, it was a bad way to start the day, but we did manage to turn things around with a stop at the Golden Gate Lookout. How can anyone be upset while looking at a view like that? It’s impossible. After a long drive and a trip to the Apple Store we didn’t spend too much time getting to know Monterey, but we did get to see a few seals in the bay while enjoying coffee at a cafe on the dock. Pretty cool.

Day 4 was perfect. On our way to Cayucos we stopped in the town of Carmel, which is basically dog paradise. The dog to person ration was probably about 2:1 and every dog looked like they were smiling as they walked along the beach. Before leaving this picturesque town we did the 17-mile drive, a scenic route along the Pacific coastline. I won’t even try to put into words how beautiful this was. We stopped the car at nearly every vista point.
IMG_3835.JPGOur final destination brought more beautiful sights, but of a different kind. We stayed at an Airbnb located on a 1200 acre cattle ranch in the hills of Cayucos, yet only a fifteen minute from the beach and town. We drove up to the ranch on a dirt road and were greeted by three energetic dogs and two horses. Staying on a ranch was one of the best experiences I have ever had and it was exactly what my mom and I needed after The iPhone Tragedy (just kidding…sort of). I took advantage of being in nature and went on a short hike. I stopped midway, took in the rolling hills, and remembered just how small I am compared to the world (it’s good to be reminded sometimes). Later, my mom and I watched the sunset from the comfort of our small cabin and we woke the next morning to the fog sitting in the hills and the dogs wagging their tails, genuinely happy to see us. Out of all the places we stayed so far – we were the saddest to leave here.

   

  

Thank you, Airbnb, for an unforgettable stay. 

Xx

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California Road Trip Day 2 & 3: San Francisco

Okay, so maybe love at first sight isn’t the kind of love that lasts forever. While I’m still completely enamored with the outskirts of San Francisco, the city itself didn’t “wow” me (New York City wins again!). At the start of Day 2 we made our way to Fisherman’s Warf and immediately thought to ourselves: “Why did everyone tell us to come here?” There are people everywhere (Think: The Garden State Plaza Mall on a Saturday before Christmas) and it looks like any other boardwalk; i.e. nothing to get excited about.

We instead made a stop at Gihardelli Square, which was quieter and very New England-esque with it’s brick buildings. We grabbed some Gihardelli ice cream and enjoyed the view.gihardelli

The rest of our day consisted (mostly) of looking for parking and figuring out how to park. We were used to the looking part, but what is the deal with the parking meters in San Francisco? So confusing! Besides driving around for hours, we also stopped at Alamo Park to see The Painted Ladies (Full House!!!), wandered around City Lights Bookstore, and made sure to drive up a really steep hill- just to say that we did.

On Day 3 we got up early and made our way to Muir Woods, little did we know what was ahead. The roads to get there were winding, steep, and scary so we made ourselves feel better by resolving to find a different way back. The woods themselves were amazing. Standing among the ancient redwoods gives you an indescribable feeling of peacefulness. We were lucky to get there early when there were only a few visitors and the park was quiet. By the time we left at around 9:30 AM the parking lots were full and the pathways in the forest were crowded. I don’t think I would have enjoyed the forest as much had I been admiring it as someone next to me discussed what they wanted for lunch.

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The drive down is when things went…uh..downhill (excuse the pun). We asked one of the park rangers for a less scary route back and she gave us directions confidently, explaining that this way was much better. We were relieved. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before we realized that “less scary” to someone that has lived here all their lives means winding roads along the cliffs with guard rails, rather than without. It took us awhile to get back down to civilization because I may or may not have had to pull over a few times to take deep breaths.

We were happy to make it back to our Airbnb on ground level. Rather than staying right in San Francisco we stayed in Mill Valley (about 15 minutes from SF), and I’m so glad we did! I would never know this charming little town existed. After recuperating from The Muir Woods Meltdown (Starbucks and junk food works like a charm) we ventured back into the city, but this time we made sure to leave the car behind. Hello, San Francisco Bay Ferry!

We wandered the city free of parking meter worries and found the infamous Lombard Street! It was definitely nice to walk and get a better feel for San Francisco, but to my disappointment I still didn’t understand what all the hype was about. Why wasn’t I loving San Francisco like everyone said I would? I guess I will need to come back someday and stay longer!
See you later, San Francisco

xx

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