Monday, November 29, 2010

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

For those of you reading this from a screen in the Thousand Islands, were you one of the many spectators lining Washington Street in Watertown today for the annual Christmas Parade? If you were, did you spot Kaili & I riding in Sue & Gary's awesome convertible PT cruiser? It was so great to see the parade from our perspective - in the middle of it all - seeing the excited children, ready for the holidays and of course, Santa. Personally, I think that we were ALMOST as exciting as Santa. As we rode down Washington Street, children, young and old, shouted, "it's Miss Thousand Islands" and "look at the princesses!". I have to say, the most difficult part of this (I know, what can be difficult about riding in a parade?) was the candy throwing. It seems pretty easy, but there is a lot to think about - don't hit the people, look graceful, get it close to the sidewalk, etc.

With Mayor Graham before the parade started!

With Sheriff John Burns - a little closer to moving!

More pictures to come!

Now, it's back to the grind. I just arrived at my apartment in Ithaca after a two and a half hour drive from Chaumont. I have to admit, I'm really not ready to go back to classes tomorrow after a 10 day vacation. But, I guess I really don't have much of a choice. Luckily, most of my big projects are almost completed, and there isn't much left to do. I'm already so excited for Winter Break, even though I have to take two classes! Even though the holiday season has officially begun, it always feels more holiday-ish at home, than it does at school. Anyway, on my way down to Ithaca tonight, I noticed so many houses decorated with lights, Santa Claus statues, and reindeer. There is one house in particular that was not only decked out for Christmas, but is ALWAYS showing holiday spirit, for EVERY holiday, covering their front lawn with hundreds of decorations. Tonight, I noticed flashing Christmas lights, of every color, and several Santas and reindeer and snowmen. That said, we obviously all have our own ways of celebrating and getting in the holiday spirit - whatever your holiday may be - but I got to thinking, what is it that inspired the most common Christmas traditions like putting up lights, a tree, buying presents, etc.? Some may be more obvious than others, but I decided to do some research and I want to share it with you.

Origin of Christmas Traditions:

I couldn't find much about where the tradition of hanging Christmas lights began, but I like to believe that they represent the bright North star that led the shepherds and Three Kings to the manger on the night when Jesus Christ was born.

The Wreath, now a common decoration that is hung on doors, comes from the belief that the crown of thorns placed on Jesus Christ's head was made of holly, and that the berries, originally white, turned red from the blood. Also, evergreen is said to represent eternal life because it does not die or go brown in the winter.

Mistletoe comes from a pagan tradition during the celebration of winter solstice.

Christmas Trees have been said to also be a pagan tradition, however there is some Christian reasoning behind why we put up a fir tree. Whether your tree is freshly cut, purchased from the local tree farm, or assembled from three pieces, creating the illusion of a perfect tree, it is said that the triangular shape of the fir tree, and probably the belief that evergreen represents eternal life, inspired the tradition of Christmas trees. According to an online article, "In Germany during the 7th century, a dedicated monk went to spread God’s word. In order to simplify the Holy Trinity, a fundamental tenet of Christian faith, for new converts he compared it to a Fir tree and its triangular shape. New converts he encountered began to associate the tree with God. This association gained popularity, and five-hundred years later, the custom of displaying trees during the Christmas season became widespread."

What are your Christmas traditions?

In my house, probably the biggest Christmas tradition is something that my mom does. A top-secret recipe for homemade caramels, passed down from my mom's grandmother, is brought to life each Christmas season. Throughout the month of December, several square sheets of caramels are cut into hundreds of bite-size buttery drops of goodness, and wrapped individually in squares of wax paper. When we were little, my mom was able to make the caramel wrapping into a game, but as we have gotten older we have realized that it is a chore. Nonetheless, somehow the majority of caramels get wrapped and given to friends and family - something that is now anticipated. It's a busy season for our family this year, so I offered to help make the caramels, knowing that I will someday have the privilege of making them myself.

So, as we approach this holiday season, whether you are celebrating the first night of Hanukkah this week, or bringing out your advent calendar, remember the reasons behind the things we do to celebrate.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving ABCs

A little late on this, but I want to wish everyone a belated Happy Thanksgiving and an on-time Happy Black Friday! Last night, after a HUGE and delicious dinner of the Turkey day works, I was thinking about everything that I have to be thankful for. I am so blessed with an amazing and supportive family, boyfriend, and friends (who are like my family), I have also been given this wonderful opportunity to be Miss Thousand Islands - a journey that I have only partially traveled thus far, but one that I am SO thankful to have. I thought I would jazz up my thanks a little bit with some Thanksgiving ABCs!

A - Aspen (my GIANT Alaskan Malamute & German Shepherd "puppy")
B - Being Miss Thousand Islands
C- Church & Spirituality
D - Dad
E - Eating
F - Friends
G - Grandparents (Bee, Bud, & Nan)
H - House
I - Ithaca College
J - Jobs
K- Knowledge
L - Lyme Community Foundation/Theatre, for helping to make my ideas and dreams reality
M - Mom
N- Nature
O - Opportunities that I have been afforded
P - Pageant Family (Shelby, Sue, Gary, and everyone else!)
Q - Q is hard, but if you flip the letter upside down, it looks kind of like an Apple - so, my Macbook Pro
R - Roommates
S - Skyler, my little brother
T - Tony, my boyfriend
U - Uggs
V- Voice (Singing)
W - Water - that we drink AND play in
X - Xcellence
Y - You all - my readers & supporters

For the above and so much more, I am thankful. Remember to think about thanks, and that not everyone can say they are thankful for the things we sometimes take for granted like food, water, shelter, and clothing.

Enjoy your Black Friday and the beginning of the Holiday season! :-)

Good Ol' LCS

In June 2008, I graduated from what I thought was the smallest and most drama-filled, yet BEST school, Lyme Central School. When I tell people that I graduated with a class of 40, one of the largest in Lyme history, and attended a school that is Pre-K - 12 with less than 500 students total, their jaws fall to the floor. It's not often that students know most everyone in their school, including at least 50% of the elementary - because they are either relatives, relatives of relatives, or your best friend's younger sibling. It's even more rare for faculty and staff to greet each student by name in the halls, whether they've had you in class or not. Even though I sometimes wished that I went to a bigger school with more opportunities to foster my passion for theatre and music, I look back at my years at LCS and could not ask for a better educational AND social experience.

Now, I lay here on my couch, blogging about the two days earlier this week spent with Pre-K - 5, 6 - 8, and a small group of seniors at Lyme. So much has changed at the school and navigating the small school, now undergoing construction, with classroom swaps was very surreal. I suppose you could say it was a bit nostalgic to be back in the halls of my alma mater, especially the elementary wing, and almost strange to see how much is different. Nonetheless, I am elated for the current students, especially the young ones who have many years to come at Lyme, who, as a result of the physical changes, will benefit greatly educationally.

When I was asked to visit Lyme as Miss Thousand Islands, I was so flattered and excited. I always enjoy going back to Lyme for visits with many of my influential teachers, some who I can now call friends. It means a lot to me to know that I am seen as someone who is both credible and inspiring, and so much so that I would be asked to speak to students.

Starting with an 8th grade English class Monday morning, I kicked off my visit to Lyme by talking to middle schoolers about bullying. Although this is not my platform, the school asked me to address this topic due to the recent tragedies caused by bullying. Thanks to Claire Buffie (Miss NY '10) for giving me some ideas for these presentations! We talked about bullying and the different types, and realized that at one point in time we had all been bullied or been the bully. So many insightful and thoughtful comments were made by the students and even I learned a great deal about what bullying means to the students, especially in middle school. Fortunately, because Lyme is so small and so is its hometown, Chaumont, the students said they hadn't experienced any serious acts of bullying. It was interesting however, that during an activity that required the students to split into groups, the teacher and I witness something that could probably be called quiet bullying. As their teacher split the 8th graders into cooperative learning groups, we noticed that certain students would complain that they did not want to work with a certain other student. Because many of the students were saying things under their breath about having to work with someone who they do not like, it was not immediately evident to me that anything was wrong. However, the teacher and I discussed this with the class and I think even they were stunned that this is a kind of bullying. Luckily, the activity was flexible, and I was able to alter the way that it would work, ceasing to split the remaining classes into groups, and rather working as a united group to brainstorm and complete the activity. Overall, I think that my presentation was very effective with most of the students, and I hope that discussing this topic openly will have a positive impact on their interactions between one another and on the school as a whole.

After lunch on Monday, I was scheduled to speak to a very small group of seniors - 8 to be exact, only 5 showed up. Having been warned that the group would probably be smaller than normal, and also because I am familiar with many of the seniors, I decided to make my talk with them very informal, focused on what is important to them, while sticking to the topic that the school had requested - civic responsibilities ( as Miss Thousand Islands). I was hoping to get some of the girls pumped up about getting involved with pageantry, but their turned out to be only one female student, and the boys certainly weren't interested in hearing about pageantry. Regardless of the size of the class and the lack of interest in the topic, I think it was nice to just have a conversation with them, and I think that even though most of the students seemed to lack enthusiasm, they really enjoyed telling me what was important to them and their ideas to implement their interests and passions into their community.

Tuesday was my day to visit all of the elementary classrooms. I knew that the younger students would be more responsive, with more questions or stories to share with me. I have to admit, I was a little nervous but also excited to meet the kids! Anyway, with my mom's help (she is a teacher), we prepared two character education 'lessons', one for the younger grades, and another for the older. I had a crazy schedule - visiting an entire grade each period, with the exception of two. I started out in kindergarten where I read "Rainbow Fish", answered many questions, and mostly listened to what the young students had to say. Things like, "my cousin is in college", when the teacher told the students that I am in college, or "I have a dinosaur toy." At the end of the visit, I put on my crown and took a picture with the whole kindergarten and left autographs for each class, something I did for every grade. I visited 5th grade next, and as we ended a little early, the entire class wanted to try on the crown. The rest of the day was very fun, with unique students, questions, and happenings in each grade. In the 2nd grade, I joined the class in song while they practiced their holiday concert songs, "Let there be Peace on Earth" and "All I Want for Christmas is my Two Front Teeth." I remember singing the latter when I was in elementary school, but I was a little rusty on the words. They sounded great though! My second to last stop for the day was Pre-K, who was in the middle of nap time when I arrived. As they all circled up on The Rug, I was astonished at their tiny size. So cute! Some of them must have only been 3 - still just babies! Nonetheless, when I asked them what they learned in school, without prompt they sang the Alphabet Song in unison - wish I had that on tape!

All in all, it was a really fun two days during which I actually learned a lot. As some of you may know, I am currently a 3rd year senior at Ithaca College, majoring in communications. I decided recently to pursue a Masters degree in Childhood Education, beginning the program next fall. Although I am already a substitute teacher and swim instructor, I realized some of the challenges AND rewards that come from not just teaching, but spending time with students. A big thanks to Lyme Central and all of their students and teachers for inviting me to come!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A2O Environmental

Thanks to my cousin Juan, I am now aware of this great cause and non profit organization - A2O Environmental. I recommend that you check out their Facebook page at and their website According to their Facebook,

"A2O Environmental is a non-profit organization that utilizes local community resources to educate residents of our fragile coral reef ecosystems. Providing a hands-on approach to lowering community emissions is another one of our goals coupled with reducing the nation's carbon footprint as a whole. Along with rainforests, coral reefs are the most diverse ecosystems in the world. They make up the foundation of the food chains in our oceans. Just as trees in our forest's and jungles, coral produces oxygen and are crucial for the survival of fauna in our oceans. Our plan is to procreate change in the way we handle these natural gold mines by raising awareness amongst boaters, divers, and others in close contact with coral reefs. If we can save our reefs, maybe we can save our planet too."

I remember when I vacationed in St. Croix, it was my parent's second time visiting, and we were going snorkeling. They had snorkeled when they were in St. Croix 25 years earlier and my dad was excited to do it again. He described the coral reef to be brightly colored - red, purple, green, blue, yellow. His expectations were not met, and the realization that in less than three decades a reef can die was so disheartening. The message and purpose of this organization is one to keep in mind no matter where you live.

Nice work, Juan! :-)

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Just a quick update to congratulate two new members of the Miss New York Class of 2011 - MIss Staten Island 2011, Maria DeSantis, and Miss Richmond County 2011, Amanda Lee Alicea! Also, I somehow missed the Miss Brooklyn 2011 pageant - so I would also like to congratulate Christina Moore, Miss Brooklyn 2011 and also Carmen Mendoza, Miss Kings County 2011! It's a good thing for Facebook!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Appearances, appearances, appearances!

One of several fantastic and exciting things about being Miss Thousand Islands is being able to make appearances. As many of my pageant sisters know, a great deal of these appearances include parades and community events. Additionally, the other portion of appearances are platform based and fundraisers for either Children's Miracle Network or the scholarship fund, in my case the Miss Thousand Islands Scholarship Fund.

I try very hard to update my blog about all appearances, and keep you all posted about upcoming events. While 'appearances' could be construed as titleholders walking around with their crown and sash, just being seen, signing autographs and taking pictures, there is really more to it than that.

If you have ever looked at a Miss America style tiara closely, you know that there are four distinct points, making the crown very different than those of the other pageant systems. The Four Points of the Crown each stand for a character trait that is to be emulated by the woman wearing the crown. They are: Scholarship, Service, Style, Success. While knowing these four points is really great for an interview, the importance truly lies in the meaning and implementation of each word. Thanks to our crown sponsor, Waterbury Jewelers, I have a beautiful crown to wear and represent the four points.

Appearances happen to fall under Service. All Miss America titleholders, local, state, and Miss America herself, participate in, as I said, several appearances through her year of service. Although there is usually lots of photo ops and signing autographs, the title holder is usually present at an event as a way of showing dedication to her community.

So far this year, my service has included having a pink streak in my hair to support breast cancer research at the Ritz Spa & Salon in Watertown, an event that benefitted the American Cancer Society, helping out at the Lyme Community Foundation's Chaumont Harvest Festival at the Copley House, and last Saturday I was the Keynote Speaker at the North Country Arts Council Art Show.

Today, we helped to raise money for the Miss Thousand Islands scholarship fund at the Bon Ton Community Days at the Salmon Run Mall in Watertown. The Community Days in a one-day event at the Bon Ton during which local organizations are placed throughout the store and sell coupon books, $5 each, with all the proceeds going to their particular organization. Sue, Kaili, and I got a table right in the front of the store, and trying our hardest to be strategic salespeople, we ventured outside of the store front, catching the shoppers' eyes with our crowns. We were only there for an hour, but surpassed our goal, and raised even more than last year. I'm not sure of our final total, but nonetheless our sometimes intimidating and awkward efforts asking each passerby to purchase a coupon book, some of them trying to take one without paying, worth well worth it. Our very first sale was to an individual who was obviously a well-seasoned shopper. Before purchasing a booklet, she looked through the store to make sure she was going to get a deal - I thought this was smart, and something I would probably do myself. Anyway, she came back to purchase a booklet, and went on her way...or so we thought. After she had left, my kindergarden teacher, one of the nicest people on this planet, came to say hello and although she had already purchased a coupon book, she spent another $5 and gave the coupon book to me. I had set it down on the table while I was talking to her and as she walked away I noticed our smart shopper was back, looking through a coupon book trying to make sure she was getting the best deal. Noticing that mine was gone, I assumed hers was buried deep in her purse and she was just using my for reference. Anyway, I went to greet another customer and when I cam back, the booklet was gone and so was the woman! I couldn't believe it! Well, it is what it is, and I probably wouldn't have used it anyway, but it saddened me to know that after such a giving person had spent extra money to support our organization, that someone else would take extra coupons for herself. Personally, I just give her the benefit of the doubt that she truly needed the booklet, and she would use it anyway, or maybe that she accidentally took it with her. But with all of the holiday spirit among the shoppers in the mall and the decorations, this was an experience that reminded me of what truly matters in life. Today, I saw that importance of service as something that actually matters.

As I approach these next few weeks, I am faced with a busy schedule, but the scents of Thanksgiving and knowing that soon, I will be home for five weeks for Winter Break - which also mean Christmas, my stress is eased a bit. Aside from my busy schedule at school, my Miss Thousand Islands schedule is equally as busy, but much more exciting!

November 22 & 23 - Speaking to grades 1- 5, 6 - 8, and 12, at Lyme Central School on various topics including my platform, the four points of the crown, service in particular, and anti-bullying/building confidence
November 28 - Christmas Parade in Watertown, NY
December 4 - Christmas Parade in Clayton, NY
December 18 - Holiday House Tour in Chaumont, NY to benefit the Lyme Community Foundation
December 24 - Wrapping Gifts at Borders in the Salmon Run Mall, Watertown, NY

If your organization would like to schedule an appearance, you should contact Sue Pilon, my executive director!

Lastly, I wanted to let you know about an ongoing fundraiser for Children's Miracle Network, which is an official partner with the Miss American Organization. In order to compete in Miss America pageants at the local, state, and national level, contestants must raise a minimum dollar amount, based on the level of competition, for CMN. In the past, I held a basketball tournament to raise money for this amazing cause. This year, I am planning another great fundraiser, but in the meantime, I will be using an online profile to collect donations. To visit my profile, to learn more, and to make a donation, please visit:

I'll keep you updated about my progress and when I have more details about a physical fundraiser.

Thanks for reading! Now I'm off to a birthday dinner for my little brother Sky, who just turned 16, at Texas Roadhouse - a family favorite!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Happy & Healthy Holiday Eating

I just received an e-mail from the American Heart Association with information on how to avoid gaining weight and staying healthy over the holidays and I wanted to share some of the advice, and add some of my own. In preparing for Miss New York, I knew it was necessary to really pay close attention to everything that I intake in order to get in shape and maintain a healthy weight, in addition to exercise.

I know I look forward to Thanksgiving dinner, and special appetizers served at parties throughout the holiday season all year long, and I'm sure most of you do, too. It's not a matter of self-control, but I believe this desire for delicious food is something that is engrained in us, and if it's just me, (Big Hungry) Shelby knows what I mean. But as I learn to fight these temptations and prepare for cravings for crescent rolls, ham & cheese pastry, homemade mashed potatoes, Christmas cookies, and my favorite, Pumpernickel dill dip...yum. I'll be the last person to tell you to avoid these and other delicacies of similar deliciousness, but I do know it is important to our health and physicality, to know how to enjoy these as a treat, in lesser portions.

So, I have developed a list of guidelines that I challenge you all to follow, based on tips and information from the American Heart Association and the South Beach Diet (eating lifestyle).

1) From the AHA, eat healthy and filling snacks before you leave your house. When you get to the party, don't head straight for the food table, but get a drink, non-alcoholic, and that will help you to feel full, and less inclined to mingle with the snacks rather than the people. But of course, it would be impolite to completely avoid the food, which someone probably slaved over by your host for hours, so remember to sample a little of what looks to be more satisfying.

2) Exercise. If you live in Northern New York, or any part of the Northeast, you know that the snow is a common excuse to hunker down with a blanket and relax on the couch, essentially hibernating. As we learned in elementary school, when bears hibernate that sleep all of winter, they get fat so that they can live without food for the length of winter. Anyway, we don't want that. Here are some exercise ideas to warm you up and burn calories and Christmas cookies:

- I'm a ZUMBA instructor, so I'm biased, but it's an awesome workout! As they say, "lose the workout, join the party!" It's so much fun you forget you are working out. Check with your local gym or in community centers to find classes in your area. Or visit! If you live near Chaumont, check out my winter classes in Three Mile Bay! :-)

- Get a gym membership! A month at the YMCA is usually less than $50, and totally worth it. A wide variety of machines and workout classes to choose from. Tip: Get a gym buddy to keep you motivated and dedicated to your regime.

- If you prefer working out alone, not in public, try workout tapes. They can be very effective if you stick to them. Personally, I do best with motivation from others.

- When you do indulge, because that is OK once in a while, especially if you are working out daily, you should remember some tips:

1) Whole wheat is better than white. Anything starchy, especially baked goods and other treats made with flour, are loaded with carbs. Try to eat whole wheat, and use whole wheat flour, when possible. (South Beach)

2) Sugars - you know the rule. Not too much! Things like sugar free jell-o or treats made with Splenda have less calories, carbs, and sugars. (South Beach)

3) Be a label reader! If you have access to the labels of what you are about to eat, check them out. When looking at ingredients, I always look for words that are hard to read or pronounce. My roommate told me the other day, "If your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize it, don't eat it!" Obviously it is hard to avoid these things all the time, and I like the saying, "everything in moderation."

4) For those of you who are 21 and older, keep in mind that not only are there many empty calories in alcohol (remember to avoid ALL empty calories, in food, too!), but it can also make you hungrier and more likely to make poor eating decisions. (Also from AHA)

- Lastly, if you want to lose a few pounds for the holiday season, I personally recommend the South Beach Diet (not really a DIET). Read the book! It's easy, written by a doctor and approved by other doctors, healthy, and effective! And of course, ZUMBA is a great workout! :-)

I hope this advice is useful and helpful and I strongly encourage you all to think about eating, while still enjoying those special treats!

Before I go, I would like to extend an HUGE thank you to our troops, and our veterans. My grandfather is a veteran of WWII and my cousins and I have been lucky enough to hear lots of war stories from him. He has accomplished so much in addition to his success as a performer. Watch the video below to see him!

Also, I want to wish my little brother Sky, a very HAPPY 16th BIRTHDAY! :-)

Alright, that's all for now!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

What a weekend!

I admit it - I am watching the pageant DVD for the second time today. Ok - I didn't actually watch the entire thing yet, but I am a little obsessed. Thanks to Juliann Schindler for an awesome memoir and a great resource! As I watch, I am looking for my strengths and weaknesses as a contestant, while enjoying the pageant like an audience member, something I rarely get to do. If you would like to order your own copy, check out the Miss Thousand Islands website for more information! It's definitely worth it, and the proceeds of course benefit the scholarship fund. Ok, enough about the DVD - onto my weekend!

Well, my weekend started prematurely when I had to be picked up and taken home from school by my dad, due to a case of what Jess Renzi might call the 'plague'. After four days of sleep, I was up bright and early on Saturday morning for a full day of Miss TI happenings and pageant family reunions. The day started out with a breakfast meeting at the Clubhouse, during which I guzzled hot tea for my sore throat, while we discussed the Alphabet of Pageant Prep - something Shelby, Sue, and Corri invented to efficiently run our meeting, without forgetting anything. It was really helpful to me because I was able to take each pointer and bit of advice, process it, and then prepare for the next. Afterwards, we headed back to Sue's for a quick pit stop before meeting up with April McClintock to see proofs from my photo shoot! So exciting! I have been looking forward to this for weeks, especially after seeing the two teasers on April's Facebook page, but I have to say, I think Shelby and my mom were even more excited. The pictures all turned out wonderful, and I just want to thank April again for her creative eye and for working with us! The photos are truly fabulous. Sorry to say, you'll have to wait to see them! :-) Once we were done looking at the pictures, we visited with Kathy Lettiere at A Touch of Grace, our gown sponsor, for some preliminary dress shopping! Even though I was feeling a little tired and under the weather, I was more than happy to try on every dress that we laid eyes on. I will say that we found at least two dresses/styles/colors that are on our list of potential evening gowns! Wooo! Now, I could probably dress shop all day long, but Saturday night was my first big speaking event, and I still needed preparation, so we headed home. I have to add here, that when we left the shop, it was SNOWING! :-)

Alright, on to the big event! Because my platform deals with the importance of the arts, Jess Renzi, former Miss New York State, and resident of Watertown, had contacted me soon after I was crowned with an awesome opportunity to team up with the North Country Arts Council. I was elated when I was asked to speak at their Fall Art Show on the importance of arts in community. For me, this is a topic very close to my heart. We were invited to attend the reception prior to the awards ceremony, which is when I would speak. I was lucky enough to be able to check out all of the artwork on display in the State Office Building and meet and greet with some of the other guests before going on stage to speak. The speech went very well, and it was a great learning experience overall. I was really happy to have the opportunity to demonstrate my public speaking skills while talking about something that is so important to me. Thank you to Jessica Renzi, Kari Robertson, and the North Country Arts Council.

Before I go, I would like to give a quick shout out to all of my pageant sisters who just appeared on the DVD - yes I am still, watching. The famous Irish Step Dancing Walck's are doing their thing, so until next time!