Monday, December 28, 2009

The end of 2009

Well, another year has come and gone, and I figured it was only appropriate to do a recap. This year I accomplished many things but I also have worked hard to set myself up for a very successful 2010.


The best parts of the year, in my opinion:

1. Developing my own self-esteem program and presented it to over 1,000 area Girl Scouts. I met some of the most inspiring young ladies I have ever known and fine-tuned my public speaking.

2. Working harder than anything to get to Miss Virginia. It was truly my 100% best effort this year. I worked out at 5:30 in the morning with my trainer, drove 7 hours each week to practice my talent, and marketed myself to the best of my ability, raising over $600 for my state wardrobe. I stuck with it through many times I felt like I wasn't good enough. My proudest moment? Feeling relieved and not devastated when I didn't make the top ten. I was so proud that I was completely ME the whole week. I even said in my interview that whoever won should at least win being themselves because it would be hard to maintain a false persona for a year. So, if I wasn't the best for the job, I went away happy knowing that I'm confident in who I am, swimsuit body or not.

3. Somehow making the best of a terrible research project last Spring.

4. Meeting John, now my boyfriend, and all of the interesting experiences we've had over the last year exploring Virginia.

5. Making more of an effort to keep up with college friends.

6. Moving out of an apartment and into a beautiful house.

7. Eating much healthier, losing four dress sizes prior to June.



Things I'm looking forward to next year?

1. New car

2. PhD acceptance letters

3. Hopefully being chosen to travel to London to represent Girl Scouts at a national conference.

4. Presenting my own research at a conference in Roanoke in April.

5. Moving to Maryland with John.

6. Exercising for my own health and not some sick perceived version of an ideal woman. Not skipping meals.

Happy New Year, all!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Food Thing

In the spirit of it being near the end of the year, I've decided to admit something about myself in the hopes that maybe I'll do better next year and to see if there are any other crazies out there like me.

If you're curious about what my boyfriend and I fight about the most, you'd be surprised. Although we rarely fight, there has been one subject that has come up before: food.

Now, I admit: I'm the weird one here. I'm possessive about my food in a way that only Depression-era survivors should be. It's like in the back of my mind I'm terrified it's going to run out. And sometimes, I take that out on John.

I stick to a fierce budget in the grocery store. That means that things are always great later on- bills are paid, gas tanks are full, heat remains on. And I admit, there's always a little cushion each month left over, but inevitably there comes up things that you forgot about- oil changes, prescriptions, etc that suck up the extra money.

I am also a pro at the grocery store. my mom used to joke that you could ask the price of milk and I'd know the price at every store in town. That's fairly true. I keep an eye on prices everywhere. I shop at Kroger when we need to build up the gas prices and pick up produce, and stick to Food Lion when we're on a budget.

Now I should point out that there's never been a time in my life I went without food (surely, the negative nancies who always made fun of me for being "fat" in pageant land are laughing now). We always had plenty of food as kids. Maybe it stems from having three siblings and pets who were always stealing your stash. I remember in particular a bag of candy hearts I got as a gift. I returned to the house a few hours later to only find the empty bag.

So what is it about me that makes me act this way? I guess part of me looks forward to special treats like candy hearts and then feels devastated to discover my special treat isn't there.

This week, it was hot chocolate. I'll be spending a total of four hours watching other people take exams this week and I thought it would be nice to sit there with my mug of hot chocolate. I write to you two days after my purchase of a ten-packet box. It is now empty.

Now, this isn't something that's that expensive. but it's just irritating. I don't have time for another trip to the grocery. Plus, someone stole my identity last week and I don't have a debit card since the stolen number card has been canceled. So I only have a few dollars on hand. So, it's a huge pain to get back into the grocery!

Some might say that if this is my biggest issue, I don't have much to worry about. But in the spirit of a new year approaching, i'm acknowledging my weakness. What's yours?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

thanks

I wanted to say thank you to the people who left comments and emailed me about my decision not to compete any more. I appreciate it!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

An Important Update

An Update:

A long-needed update for my blog readers:

I have elected to not participate any longer in pageants through the Miss America Organization. At this time, I’m considering this my “retirement” from pageants.

When I was 16 years old, a friend dared me to enter a beauty pageant. What followed was a 7-year experience that truly developed me into the person I am today. When I started competing, I had no self-confidence, I was terrified of speaking in front of people, and I walked hunched over because I hated my height.

Only a few people even remember that Laura- close friends who were present those many years ago when I had no self-esteem. I write to you now a month before my 24th birthday as a teaching assistant, accomplished public speaker, and a confident future PhD.

There were many reasons that brought me to this decision, but at the root of my choice is the fact that I no longer have the desire to be Miss Virginia. My life will go on, and in a direction I look forward to, without that crown, sash, and experience. I truly made the most of both of my local titles, and my journey to the Miss Virginia pageant both times was full of challenges I overcame and hard work. I had a great time and grew so much from this program.

That said, I don’t believe that I have much more to gain from this program. I feel like it’s a curve that eventually hits diminishing marginal returns- while I gained self-confidence at the beginning, it started to fade away at the end. My body is a size ten. I’m 5’11 and 160 pounds- and that’s fine with me. I’m not going to work out three hours a day any more, not going to compromise my health by eating like a bird, and I’m not going to feel bad about the fact that I will never have the body type of many of the girls competing.

This is just no longer my dream. While I really believed in Miss Virginia and my ability to do a great job at it, I just don’t have the overwhelming desire inside me to put the time, work, and immense amount of money it takes to even get to Roanoke again. Last year, my directors and I put in hours and hours of preparation, work, shopping, and packing. I am immensely grateful that for both years, I had people behind me that helped me and believed I could do it. Having been a runner up myself many times, it’s not fair to potentially rob another girl of her dream just for the sake of competing one more time.

At the end of the day, it’s not Laura to be up on stage teetering around in heels trying to get the approval of seven random people about my body or my twenty years of tap dancing. I’m one semester away from getting my master’s, and I’ve just finished my PhD applications. I’m more excited about THAT even though it requires even more hard work. When I think about the potential of heading back to Roanoke, the overwhelming feeling is dread- waking up at 4 AM to hit the gym then a day full of classes, driving 7 hours each week to practice my dance, and battling my body, cutting out medications that help me deal with migraines because they make me gain ten pounds, and then questioning who I am if I get “rejected” for the position.

When I started pageants in 2002, I did them once a year with American Coed Pageants. I always enjoyed this pageant because they celebrated who each girl was and didn’t make anyone feel fat or ugly. I competed at their national pageant in 2006, and I wanted to end where I started- so I returned there this Thanksgiving to compete one more time, where I was named 1st runner up in talent and 4th runner up overall. If I ever do another pageant again, it would be this one. I had a great time, enjoyed seeing old friends, and felt like the old Laura.

I’ve met so many wonderful friends through this program and will always hold those relationships close to me.

So, I’m moving on positively and not taking for granted all the special experiences I had as a titleholder and will use that community service to continue working with young women and people interested in tap dancing.

With all this being said, I’m not sure what the future of this blog is. I may not continue writing, I may continue. I’m not sure. But for now, I’m going to take some much needed time off to focus on my research, school, and my life as “Laura” and not as any particular titleholder.

Best of luck to all the women planning to continue to compete.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Echoing an Important Post



I frequently check out Abby B's blog because it's chock full of pageant information and the latest Miss Ohio preliminary results. Her latest post, however, seems pertinent for not only contestants but fans, parents and friends. I think it's important to address this issue because I've known countless people who follow them and take what they say seriously.


The post is about pageant messageboards- otherwise known as places where contestants are trashed, directors are ripped apart, and even teen girls sometimes get made fun of. I remember the first time I ever found them- it was after my second preliminary pageant in Virginia and I had a google alert set to my name. I happened upon an anonymous website where numerous people wrote that I was overweight, untalented, stupid, etc. Here's what I believe- if someone has something to tell you to help you as a contestant, they will find your email or talk to your local director. These messageboards are NOT helpful places to improve and instead are just full of random garbage. My best advice is to just ignore them, particularly if you do win a local and are preparing for state. Focus on your preparation- not some anonymous person's opinion of what's wrong with you. This program is supposed to be about building women up, not ripping them apart. So just ignore them! Believe me you CAN do it :)

Check out Abby's post which talks about this issue.


Monday, November 2, 2009

Graduate Student of the Month

I write this very excited to have been selected as Virginia Tech's graduate student of the month for November, 2009. Feel free to check out the interview at the link below!

Click Here

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Your Guide to Grad School: Part 1

Considering graduate school? Now that I've survived an entire year and am well into the process of writing my thesis and applying to PhD programs, I thought it would be helpful to share my perspective.


1. When you're considering programs, make a list of what you're looking for: professors with certain interests, percentage of students who get funded, library size, etc.

2. Contact professors at every school you're applying to. If possible, visit every school. An in-person presence makes a big difference as far as seeing if you really like the place and could up your chances of getting money in the department.

3. Even if you did well in your field as an undergrad, consider reading the basic books of the field the summer before. That way it won't feel like a huge onslaught when you're dumped on with thirty thick theoretical books.

4. Talk to older grad students. My first year, I literally would have been clueless if I didn't follow the lead or ask questions of the second-year students. They were experts on what classes were good, getting summer positions, preparing a thesis committee, and choosing PhD programs.

5. Work as a TA. If you want to be in academia, you need to do this. Maybe working as a TA will clue you in that you DON'T want to teach, but if you're like me, it will confirm your career choice.




More grad school posts on the way...

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Virginia Gubernatorial Race

News articles across the country are looking to the Virginia governor’s race.


Why?

In a state where its own residents (including me) are sick of the non-stop ads cluttering up television between the two candidates, this race is about more than who will be governor come January.


Political pundits predict that the outcome of this election will demonstrate where Americans in general stand. Democrats are certainly more subdued this year as opposed to last fall, when they were energized to the point of helping elect Barack Obama. Now, the Republicans are building momentum and in many polls Republican Bob McDonnell is far outleading Creigh Deeds.


Even though many might think Virginia’s recent blue-state status is propelling the Commonwealth towards a more left-leaning political base, that’s not necessarily true. The fact is that Virginia often has a governor of a different party than who is in charge in Washington, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see McDonnell take this race.

Negative ads can have effects on either side of the party line. Negative ads can charge up party faithfuls by making them think that the race is close and they need to get out and vote, or they can irritate the opposite party and get those people out to vote. The fact is, though, it’s an off year. People just don’t come out to vote for governor (and many other offices) when it’s not a presidential year. Maybe people are worn out from last year.

Regardless of the outcome, it is possible that Virginia could be showing the greater thoughts of the rest of the country: concerned with where the administration is taking things, delaying things, or not focusing on and use this to push for change in their own state.

But please, candidates, stop pretending you’re going to be generous with taxes. Virginia’s going to face tremendous financial problems without taxes. Would you rather be honest about the state and try to get elected that way or would you rather promise no new taxes and then break your promise? Wouldn’t that then make it easier for the opposite party to get elected the next time around? Politics is a tricky game.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Congrats Miss Roanoke Valley!


Congratulations to a good friend, Madison Van Duyne, who won the title of Miss Roanoke Valley Saturday night!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Maryland Renaissance Festival





I can't believe how busy things have been! I'm excited to say that my master's thesis research is well under way and currently waiting for approval for the testing of human subjects. I think the result next spring will be something I'm very proud of.

I'm knee deep in PhD applications and GRE flashcards, which is less than fun, but an important stepping stone to my future.

This weekend I spent up in Maryland with my boyfriend and his family visiting a boat show and the Maryland Renaissance Festival. I have to say, the festival blew my mind! I was expecting a few tents and some food vendors; the buildings were instead long-standing and half the size of the world's best amusement park, Cedar Point, near where I grew up. They had incredible shows- sword swallowers, jousting, tightrope walkers. Great food!

John wanted my hair to be braided by the professionals there and it was fantastic! Lots of compliments on it and so nice to have my hair off my face and neck in such a pretty way!

The Festival is open for two more weekends in Crownsville, MD and I highly recommend checking it out!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Announcing an exciting community service project!

I'm happy to announce that a brainchild of mine is going forward as a community service project!

The VT Dress Drive will be collecting dresses from the Tech community, the local area around here, and girls across the state.

Do you have formalwear in your closet that you just can't use anymore? Want to donate it to a good cause?

Caitlin's Closet collects gently used gowns to donate them to girls who need them. The gowns give girls the opportunity to attend special formal events in high school. Everyone wants that chance to participate in these events without the high costs of purchasing expensive gowns!

While cleaning out my own pageant closet a few weeks ago, there were two gowns that just don't fit and I don't need anymore. I know I'm not the only one! If you are a titleholder in the Miss or Teen division in any pageant, please consider contributing to this great cause! I'll be happy to accept gowns though the mail if you contact me at vtdresses@gmail.com

This is a great opportunity to clean out your closet and help somebody else!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Exploring Virginia : Sinkland Farms


The finished products!

A small view of the pumpkin patch


This weekend I visited a very popular local attraction, Sinkland Farms. This farm has an ice cream parlor, petting zoo, pony rides, hay rides, local craft vendors, a corn maze, and a huge pumpkin patch! We were successful in finding two great pumpkins to carve and had a great afternoon. The weather could not have been better.

Sinkland Farms is just outside of Christiansburg, Virginia and well worth your visit. The pumpkin festival happens every weekend until November 8th!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Congrats Anna Reis, Miss Portsmouth!



This weekend in Ohio, my friend Anna Reis won the title of Miss Portsmouth! Anna will be headed to Miss Ohio next June. I've been helping Anna prepare for pageants for over a year, and she is truly a sweet girl! She had only competed in one other Miss Ohio local this year, so I'm really proud of her!


Great job to my favorite Minnie Driver lookalike!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Updates!


I have been extremely busy and have several updates! This last Saturday my boyfriend and I went to go visit Natural Bridge. Even though I lived nearby in Lynchburg for 4.5 years, I never went to go see it! It was absolutely beautiful, and interesting historically. George Washington himself actually surveyed the area and left his initials carved into the rocks. I highly recommend visiting this place. We got a military discount and it worked out to about $23 per person to see the bridge, Native American village, wax museum, caverns, and a toy museum! I suggested going because I didn't know how much longer the good weather would last.




On Tuesday we went up to Arlington for a military funeral of one of John's relatives. Even though it was very sad, it was neat to get to come through the cemetary from a different perspective. There were a fair amount of military funerals happening that day and it was sobering to see the official flag-draped coffins passing by on the walkways. It made me proud to see how many people have given their lives to service.

And Miss VA 08 shaved her head! I'm so proud of Tara for continuing her legacy and doing this. She has done amazing things for children her entire life and her year as Miss Virginia still remains sometime I will always recall with fondness. I was spoiled having her in Roanoke and I'm very proud to call her a friend!


And finally, on top of all my other responsibilities, I'm taking a sewing class! I thought it would be fun since I've only sewed a little in Home Ec in middle school. My grandmother was a wonderful seamstress and since she passed down the tap dancing genes, maybe I got these, too. After struggling to find something easy enough to make in six weeks, I settled on pajama pants. Guess how much length we had to add to the legs to make them fit me? 8 inches! Guess this is the upside to sewing my own pants- they will finally be long enough!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Research and Publishing

During my time in graduate school, one thing that I felt would have been really helpful to me is knowing exactly what to do. There are so many crazy paths and trying to sort out your life (or rather, even have one!) while doing research, teaching, and preparing for your own classes can make you crazy. And if someone doesn't teach you clearly how to do research or write good proposals, you can really get stuck!

So, my blog is going to take a slight turn while still including some pageant-related news. I've found very little general resources for graduate students about all these things that are a key part of our life. Over the next several months, I hope to use my passion for teaching politics to channel that into some posts as well as talking about the ins and outs of getting research done!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Quest for the Prius

In my two years of involvement in the Miss Virginia program, I put 40,000 miles on my car. Granted, it's an 1984 Cavalier that only had 20,000 to start with. My car became almost part of a joke- my directors were concerned about it's ability to make my frequent drive back and forth to Lynchburg, my boyfriend concerned the brakes were going to go at any moment. Whenever I have to run over to campus and take my car, he jokes "No, I don't mind riding in it, you get a free massage." Yes, the car idles at every stop.

When you drive a car like that, you just get used to it.

I haven't had air conditioning in my car since the summer of 2008. It has been brutal in the Virginia humidity. Last year, I accidentally locked my keys in my car running in the rain on my way to Miss Roanoke Valley. I had to wedge the back window down with my elbow to get in. It was terrible, and you can tell in all pictures that I had had quite a time. Any time it rains, I also have to make the decision of whether to get soaked or keep cool. Needless to say, I'm glad fall is here.

My car is so old it doesn't have any of the modern contraptions that help keep you on the road in winter, either. I slid off the road in an Ohio winter two years ago. Never again.


I've been dreaming of owning a Prius for some time. After spending so much time on the road and having to deal with fluctuating gas prices, it's important. Last semester I went to Richmond at least once a week. Yes, that's a 3.5 hour drive each way from here. Gas is important.

When my boss/advisor found out about this, he channeled his love for Subway into collecting the little Subway stamps for the Scrabble game to help me win a Prius, if possible. Honestly, if I don't get it now, I do plan to get it at the beginning of 2010. But it has turned into a great class-wide project. In one of the classes I TA, a student had taken her entire biology lab to Subway and she said "Laura, in my hand I hold 8 chances for a Prius." Will I likely win a Prius? Probably not.

But it's nice to know that other people support my quest for an eco-friendly, cute, blue Prius.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Congratulations, Shannon Beam!


Tonight in Hoopeston, Illinois, Shannon Beam was named the winner of the Sweetheart pageant. This pageant is for runners up from state Miss America pageants to have the chance to enjoy being "Miss State" for the week and compete against other women from all over the country.




Shannon was first runner up at the Miss Virginia pageant this past June as Miss Greater Richmond; she had previously been 2nd runner up as Miss Central Virginia. She is pictured here before her interview at the Hotel Roanoke in the 2009 Miss Virginia Pageant.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Deb Girl Model Search

Hi all! I entered a contest last month and would appreciate your vote :)



Vote Laura

Foodies Unite



If you've haven't seen the Julie/Julia movie yet, you need to. I was really impressed with this movie for a few reasons. Like several of the movies I've seen randomly and really fallen in love with, I didn't know that much about it before chancing upon it at the theater with my mom. I've since seen it again with my boyfriend and despite the economics of diminishing marginal utility, I loved it more!

It's no surprise I love food. Perhaps it's why I just could never starve myself to compete in a swimsuit! I love cooking when I have time. Even though this semester I have a great deal on my plate with thesis writing, helping teach two classes, writing a book (I know, exciting!), and applying to PHD programs, I decided to get back into cooking. Last year I lived in an apartment with a very tiny kitchen, but this is the year of upgrades in many ways and my new place has a great kitchen!

This year is a great opportunity to get back into cooking and enjoy the food. ( Fact: I haven't eaten a single wrap since Miss Virginia the end of June.) Watching Meryl Streep's new movie definitely inspired me to continue on with cooking even though I come home exhausted from school and work half the time! I've tried recipes from a variety of different sources, some easier than others, but all have worked! Yes! I'm not a total failure at making food.

My first foray into cooking came when I lived in England for a year. I lived with 8 other women and we visited the dining hall once. That was enough to know that it simply wasn't going to suffice for food. I began cooking using recipezaar.com (great for conversions and shifting to smaller portions, fyi) and recipes from my mom. Let me tell you, it's no fun cooking for one! I made that comment to a male co-worker once and he mistook it as a date invitation. Oops.

In any case, my housemates and I shifted cooking responsibility. It's much easier to cook for six or eight and have everyone chip in a small amount of money for groceries. I also cooked for my roommate a lot because we had similar taste and similar schedules. It was a great experience that pushed me into new territory and forced me to think ahead and eat healthier. England isn't really known for its food, but they have much less preservatives in anything (for example, milk only lasts four days or so) and once your stomach adjusts to that you feel much healthier.

I'm now moving on to breads and desserts in addition to just dinners. I've made some great ready-to-go lunches which are perfect for my schedule this year.

Sick of frozen Lean Cuisines and ordering pizza? Go see Julie/Julia and get some motivation. My new favorite are the betty crocker recipe books at the checkout with easy tear-out recipes. Check them out! We've had great fruit salad, pasta salad, parmesan chicken, and taco casserole from there!

Oh, and one more thing: God bless crock pots! If you don't have one, invest!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

A big thanks to two of my "sponsors"


One of my favorite pictures from Miss Virginia: Hair by Sarah Fitzpatrick, Makeup Kate Bixby
I wanted to give a shout-out to two people who really made the Miss Virginia experience all the better: Kate Bixby and Sarah Fitzpatrick. I met Sarah competing in Miss Virginia preliminaries last year and she's always funny and extremely helpful. Perhaps we developed a habit of her last-minute helping me: she made alterations to the evening gown I wore at Miss Hill City the week of the pageant. Both of these people helped me in very important ways: hair and makeup.

I wasn't born a "pageant girl" and I always joke with people that I just can't do my hair. I used to think it was certain lengths or styles, but no, I can't do my hair no matter what. It's also such a relief to have someone help you do your hair during pageant week because you already have so much on your mind. Sarah stepped in at the last minute to help because she's wonderful! She did a great job and I was incredibly blessed to have her help me out.

Now, on to Kate. Kate is a local Mary Kay consultant I met through my friend Erin. Erin, an office and classmate, has plugged me into so many local resources I will never be able to thank her. Not to mention that Erin, a graduate student with two small kids, a husband in a PHD program, and various volunteer positions, even DVRed the pageant to watch with said husband. Long story short, she's fantastic. I met Kate at a Blacksburg Newcomers Club meeting I went to several months ago to promote the Hope Project, which I've mentioned on this blog. I ended up meeting Kate, exchanging emails, and thus blossomed a great connection and friendship! If you've never tried Mary Kay products, I recommend it. I have extremely temperamental skin and their lotions especially are very gentle. The eye makeup remover is wonderful, and I've tried about every brand on the market. And pageant girl tip: you should never wear moisturizer with SPF in it the day you'll be on stage: it brings out the white in your skin under stage lights. You can always tell in pictures which times I forgot. Mary Kay makes two kinds of moisturizers, one with SPF and one without. They are both great and I can say this from personal experience!


I wanted to thank these two wonderful people for their help. I can promise any contestant that these people make a tremendous difference in your life and I know am so grateful for their help!






Friday, July 31, 2009

The summer so far

I thought that Miss Virginia would be the busiest part of my summer, but I was wrong!

I can't even believe it's been over a month since I was in Roanoke in "pageant mode" competing. I've pretty much taken the summer off to spend time with family and friends, and it has been a good chance to do that. I really committed 100% of myself to my title this last year and it was like a full time job on top of being a full time grad student and being a teaching assistant. Looking back, my schedule was jam packed!

Now it's a different kind of busy. I've spent the summer showing various parts of my corner of the world where I grew up (northwest Ohio) to different people. I grew up 30 minutes from the best amusement park in the world (and no, don't even try to tell me that any six flags can compete. I think Cedar Point has been voted the best something like 7 years in a row), going to a waterpark, showing my boyfriend the Demolition Derby at our county fair, and last night I spent at the front row of an Eddie Money concert with my little brother.

Lots of people know that my brother and I are classic rock fanatics. We both taught ourselves to play bass as teenagers and appreciate that some things are just better "old". The opening band last night was a great rock cover band that has been performing for 33 years. We were shocked to get seats right in the front and I spent the night at Eddie's feet making sure my brother didn't get crushed (which almost happened when Doug dove to retrieve something Eddie threw into the crowd, which Doug did catch). Afterwards we met Eddie and had him sign some things. By far, this was the best concert I've ever been to. Eddie Money puts on a show, and his daughter who now performs with him, is extremely talented! Well worth it!

God sometimes works things out in a funny way, and I've said all along that I trust "the plan" even if it's sometimes disappointing in the short term. I've come to realize the incredible blessings I have with family, friends and education, so you won't catch me complaining anytime soon!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The return to life

I can’t believe that I’m sitting here and it’s been well over a week since I got home from Miss Virginia. Another part of me can’t believe that something I spent 8 months pouring my blood, sweat and tears into is just… over.

During the last year, I have somehow balanced being a graduate student, a teaching assistant, and a beauty queen. I’ve spent Friday nights at Girl Scout meetings, woken up at 4:30 AM twice a week to meet my personal trainer, come to be known by first name by every employee at the gym, practiced interview on phone calls with friends across the country during my long drives, and worked the details down to a science.

In my interview at Miss Hill City, the judges asked me why I wanted this job. Aside from my personal connections to Lynchburg, I wanted to opportunity to increase the number of people who know about this program and how it can impact lives. I’ve reached out to nearly 1,000 Girl Scouts in this part of the state and my inbox and mailbox continue to be filled with scrapbooks, letters, and notes from girls I have met and touched. I’ve spoken to any community organization in central and southwest Virginia that would have me. Doing that, I’ve gotten to explore my new home here in the New River Valley and done my best to make Lynchburg proud. We sought all clothing and accessories from local Lynchburg businesses in an effort to keep things local and celebrate the great things about the “Hill City”.

And I’ve been overwhelmingly touched by the people who believe I can do this. People who went out of their way to run through downtown Lynchburg with me to get my evening gown altered at the last minute. People who made this affordable. My trainer who met me at the crack of dawn for hard workouts that frequently included her uttering “No whining!!”. My dance teacher, who spent countless hours working to make a song and dance that I love just right. A costumer who pulled together exactly what I wanted. My car, for somehow holding up driving to Richmond and back at least one day a week. My colleagues at school, who often told me “I have no idea how you’re pulling all this off.” For the support of my graduate community here at Tech, who I felt compelled to represent in an effort to prove that beauty queens are smart and that grad students are normal people, too. For my students- who watched their TA on TV or who came to watch the show in person. For all the friends who made decisions about where to eat based on my dietary needs.

But most of all, my motivation came from somewhere else and will continue to do so throughout my life. In December, I spoke to a Girl Scout troop about bullying and self-esteem. Part of my presentation involves the girls standing up and saying something they like about themselves. One girl said “nothing.” When my presentation was over, I had the opportunity to speak to her personally. I’ll call her Mary. Mary is extremely young- not even a preteen. She wears a bandanna on her head every day because of her cancer treatments. She wanted to know how to get kids to stop making fun of her, calling her a boy, and trying to pull the bandanna off her head. She owns her own business, this little girl, and had raised over $1,000 which she wanted to give away. When I asked her what she wanted for Christmas, there was only one answer: her hair. This little girl jumped up when her mom got there to pick her up, asked for pictures with me, and told her mom that I “was the coolest.” I have spent the months following in an effort to make her proud- that one little girl- and to prove to all the little girls I met that you can do ANYTHING you want no matter what your background. Who you are inside is the most important. I said to many that come Saturday night at Miss Virginia, it wasn’t about me, my directors, my family, my friends. It came down to making that one little girl feel proud and believe in herself. And when my name wasn’t called into the top 11, I wasn’t devastated. Sure, disappointment hurts. But I’m also a master at seeing the good and bad in every situation. I watched my two “mirror-mates” Stephanie and Erica, advance into the 11. I helped zip them into every outfit, plug in curlers, and make sure they were ready to go. When Erica was called into the top 5, I was probably more excited than she was. Because that is what this experience is about.

It’s getting to spend more time with people you know a little or don’t know at all. It’s finding a new friend in a fantastic baton twirler and laughing endlessly backstage with a piano player you’ve been volunteering with at VT for months. It’s joking with Farahn and Erika Thomas that we’re always banished to the back row for pictures so all the “tall freaks” are kept together. It’s getting to meet a Miss Lonesome Pine who shares the same love of “The Office” as you quote back and forth to each other all week. It’s spending time with people who live all the way across the state.

It’s about watching one of your closest friends get 2nd runner up to Miss Virginia and feeling so proud because you know the person she is inside and out.

It’s about pushing yourself and challenging yourself to achieve new things.

When I couldn’t afford a swimsuit this year (let’s be honest, being a TA is a job of love, not of money…) I sent an email to everyone I knew, asking for $5. I raised $500 in one day. Alums from my college chipped in, my former employers, and a rotary club in southwest Virginia that believed in me. THAT is what this is about.

Many people wouldn’t believe it, but to see the Laura from 6 or 7 years ago would mean seeing a very shy, unconfident girl. Someone terrified to speak in front of others. Here I am today, having taught a college course and been rated “excellent” by my own students my first try out of the gate. I’ve survived two years at Miss Virginia and turned my local titleholder status into an opportunity to speak to everyone about the Miss America Organization. That is what this program is about.

It’s about being valued for your work ethic and brain only in one avenue (school) and also having the guts to put on four inch heels and a bikini.

Sure, I wanted to be Miss Virginia. Like you wouldn’t believe. But I also know that God has a plan for everyone, and if this wasn’t the right time for me, I trust that. I’m returning to a great job, a graduate school program I love, colleagues I like working with, and family and friends who back me 100%. This fall I’m applying to PHD programs! As a senior in high school, it was questionable whether I would even be able to attend college because my family couldn’t afford it. My experiences at a woman’s college combined with the Miss America Organization have given me the confidence and skills I needed in every aspect of life.

Someone I owe a great deal to is Tara Wheeler, Miss Virginia 2008. It was such a blessing to have you living in Roanoke for the last year. I got to spend time with Tara doing all kinds of interesting things this year- from bullriding to watching ice hockey to cleaning up a leaky refrigerator to helping her move out. What a wonderful example of someone who gets what this program is all about and someone who is a great friend.

For me, this program was never about beautiful gowns, sparkling crowns, rhinestones, or makeup. This was about the opportunity to help other people believe in themselves. To show kids that anyone can and will go to college and be able to afford it. To show all my Girl Scouts that women are not one-dimensional (it is indeed possible to drive from a glamourous headshot photo session to your three hour presentation on ethics in international relations). I wanted people to see that tap dance can be modern and fun. Sure, the glamour of the week is fun, but ultimately, this is about a job. A chance to touch people’s lives. And it always will be. As nice as the trophies, crowns and sashes are, I know twenty years from now I’d rather look at my community service book and remember all the fun I had doing that.

This year I was 100% Laura. If nothing else, this proved to me that I am extremely proud and confident in who I am as a person.

As for now, I’m determined to enjoy my summer, relax, and not worry about competing again. I know the answer will come to me. You all know that I am not a person who gives up easily. I am headed home to help my mother move and spend time with friends and family. I promise to keep you updated J

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The last post

How can I hope to write about how I feel being about 7 days away from my departure? After over 8 months of hard work since my win as Miss Hill City, part of me doesn’t even want to believe it’s finally here! But sure enough, I’m surrounded by various “to pack” piles in my apartment, worrying about last minute details, and getting excited! It’s almost here!

I can truly say that I have no regrets. I have worked as hard as I possibly could. Has it been challenging to be a full time graduate student with teaching responsibilities and preparing for this? Absolutely. But I know the experience has only prepared me with the best time management skills that will certainly come in handy if I should be blessed with the job of Miss Virginia. Over the course of the year, I have met some incredible people. I’ve tried to keep everyone updated through my blog here, but it’s good for me to reflect back and remember all the great experiences I have had with this program.

During my time as Miss Hill City, I have spoken with nearly 1,000 Girl Scouts about scholarships, self-esteem, bullying, red flags for abusive relationships, fashion, my time as a girl scout, and community service. I’ve reached out to dozens of active community members through organizations like Kiwanis, Lion’s Club, Rotary, and the Optimist Club. I’ve seen bullriding live from the arena floor, been the celebrity bowler at the Lynchburg Bowl for Kids Sake, been recognized in CVS, department stores, and Wal-Mart, tap danced with my crown on in bitter December weather, been part of the sole car driving with the top down in the Lynchburg Christmas Parade, and made the drive back and forth to Lynchburg so many times I really do think I could do it in my sleep.

I’ve been blessed with incredible sponsors and people who have always taken a moment to help me out. Jen, Kate, Esther, Amanda, Terry, Carolyn, Garry, Erin, Anna, Shirley, Lori and all of Smithfield, Mary, Kelly and all at Glade Church, and EVERYBODY who has made this possible- thank you for believing in me! You’ve given me confidence on days when I might be a little weary or stressed out.

No matter how things fall out on the 27th, I am so proud of everything I’ve accomplished. I feel like I have achieved almost every goal I wanted to as Miss Hill City and I hope I make everyone proud. At this point I just have faith that I have done the hard work and the rest is in God’s hands.

I believe in this program and in my ability to do a great job if chosen as Miss Virginia. I’m excited, the adrenaline is pumping, and I’m READY!

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Miss Virginia Final Info

Hi everyone! I'm writing to include information about tickets for Miss Virginia if you're interested, when/where it will be shown on TV, and finally, how you can vote for me. This year they are again having a "people's choice" award and this girl will also receive a special scholarship for getting public support. This year's Miss America was the people's choice and the judges choice and I'd like to follow in that trend.

You can vote online at http://www.formspring.com/forms/?611002-nEC7dFGEJc


It's .99 per vote like American Idol, but I'd love your support, even if it's just one vote!


Ticket information can be found at
http://calendar.roanokeciviccenter.com/iebms/coe/coe_p2_details.aspx?eventid=13294&cc=COE&oc=10&orderby1=OB001&orderby1dir=A&orderby2=OB002&orderby2dir=A



The final show on Saturday, June 27th will be broadcast on the following stations:


TV stations:

WSET ABC 13 Roanoke/Lynchburg

WVIR NBC 29 Charlottesville

WJAL IND ch 68 Hagerstown, MD

WCYB CW 4 DT 28.3 Bristol/Tri-Cities, TN

WSKY IND ch 4 Norfolk/Hampton Roads/VA Beach

WRIC ABC 8 Richmond

WHSV MY VALLEY (NETWORK) TV WHSV-DT 49.4 Comcast ch 2, Direct TV 50 Harrisonburg


As we near the time I get ready to leave, I want to thank everyone for their continued support, words of encouragement, and belief in me!


Wish me luck,


Laura
Miss Hill City 2009

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A few updates

I cannot believe that in just one month, a new woman will be crowned Miss Virginia. I am so proud of all of my hard work over the last year and a half, and also so happy to see everything that Tara has done with this title. She is such an inspiration and truly lives every day to make the most of it. If I'm blessed come June 27th, I hope to carry on the wonderful work she has done in this last year.

I've had so many meetings, appearances, and connections with sponsors over the last few weeks that I've hardly had time to keep up with the everyday life I've got! School is finally finished but I'm still working on research, so spare minutes are spent going through books and starting to develop my thesis proposal. I am also finding it hard to believe that I am finished with half of my masters degree! Whew! I've also enjoyed catching up with friends when I can.

I have a few sponsor events coming up. I'll be participating in a fashion show on June 7th and I feel like I've been all over Virginia being fitted and getting ready! Only a few more meetings related to that and then we should be ready!

I'm starting to "pack" in my head just by thinking about the things I have left to acquire. This is the final stretch. It's something I've been trying to prepare myself for mentally for a while. No matter how well you plan, how hard you work, and how far in advance you start getting ready, the last few weeks are pure insanity. If you can survive it with a level head, Miss Virginia will be much easier!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Wow- time flies!

I cannot believe how busy things have been even though the school year has been winding down! My schedule has been absolutely packed and I've had a lot to do, so I haven't been able to update my blog that much. I'm getting ready for several events in June to help out some of my sponsors and spent yesterday driving all over trying to get errands done!

Things are full steam ahead for Miss Virginia. I am very excited about what's coming and looking forward to the week in Roanoke.

Last weekend I helped my college friend pack up her dorm room and move out. It gave me so many memories from last year when I went through the same process. Unfortunately it rained through the entire weekend so the graduation was inside, but we still had a good time and it was great to see some good friends from the class of 2009 move on to the next step in their lives.


I have also successfully completed my first year of graduate school! My last official responsibility was a research presentation that went very well; after weeks of hard work and frustration many lessons were learned about research and I was glad to be done.


So, it's now summer, but it hasn't really hit me yet. It's "Miss Virginia season" around here!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Reality Show Dropped from Miss America

There will be no reality show this year like in years past for Miss America. Instead, a one hour special will include more information about the contestants.


Check out Abby's Blog for more info.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Special Olympics



On Monday I was really excited to be the emcee for the CVTC Special Olympics opening ceremony! It was really wonderful to get to meet some of the amazing athletes who were participating. I had never been to the CVTC grounds before and was really impressed by the size of everything! What a great facility helping so many people. I am so glad that I got to participate in this program, because it was truly rewarding, uplifting, and enjoyable. I also got to spend some time with Mati, the Hill City Outstanding Teen, which is always great!

Thank you for the opportunity to help out and best of luck to all the athletes!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

AWARE




The AWARE program puts VT students into the local middle schools to talk about issues affecting young women. I've been a part of this program since moving here last fall. Last semester I worked with the 6th graders and this semester I was part of the 7th grade program. After a successful semester, we celebrated this last Monday by making t-shirts for everyone and enjoying food and games!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Sharing a sponsor

The last few weeks have been busy finalizing ad pages, sending in information, and trying to keep up with schoolwork! In the process, I've really gotten to know some of my sponsors even better and wanted to share more about some of them.

One of my sponsors is Smithfield Plantation. I've had a few people ask me "where is that?!" Well, it's right in Blacksburg, on the Virginia Tech campus! Home of patriot William Preston, the plantation is set back on the far part of the VT campus beyond the Duck Pond. Smithfield is open for special events, school visits, and general visitors. It's a great way to experience some Virginia history right here in Blacksburg! As someone who is now proud to call the New River Valley my home, I'm happy to share one of the many interesting things to do in this area!


If you'd like to come out and see Smithfield for the first time, there's a great opportunity on June 7th. I'll be modeling in a the Strawberry Social and Fashion Show. A new event for this year! We will be partnering with Ponnie from Ponnie’s Boutique to model modern as well as vintage fashions. There will be refreshments (strawberry-themed) and a silent auction featuring work from local artists. Admission will be $15.

Smithfield's Website

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Remembering


This week was a very special and sad time for Virginia Tech. We are nearing the end of the semester here and students are getting excited about graduation, spring weather, and summer opportunities. Some of the students in the class I TA have accepted wonderful job offers and have been driving to go sign contracts and leases, which in this economy is a great accomplishment. In general- people are uplifted.

That changed this Thursday, April 16. I cannot even imagine how the campus atmosphere was altered two years ago as 32 innocent people were killed on the campus on an otherwise average day at school. The outpouring of support and sense of community here has been incredible since I arrived here last fall, and this Thursday was no exception.


As I woke up in the morning, I was blown away by the hundreds of people covering the front of campus, participating in a walk/run to remember the victims. I spent the noon hour with a friend who was on campus when it happened. One of my students had told me on Wednesday that at the time, he lived on the floor above where the killing began. It was a horrible reminder of just how many people were touched by what happened. During the noon ceremony, the families of the victims as well as the injured students were escorted to special seating. Administrators read short biographies of the people who lost their lives two years ago. It was impossible to hold back emotion as you heard about each person- a Holocaust survivor, brilliant civil engineering graduate students, a skilled horsewoman, dedicated teachers. I was filled with frustration and anger at the senseless nature of it all. These people happened to attend class on April 16 and experienced something that no one else will understand. Imagine listening to the stories of 32 people and hearing the wonderful things they had done and planned to do. It is in some sad way a great example of the opportunities VT offers to its students and the close ties students and alumni have with this school.

Even though people have healed, they will never forget.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Girl Scout Meeting


The girls put together hygiene kits for local children




Last Thursday I visited Lynchburg to speak to this adorable Brownie troop! I helped them earn the "Her Story" try-it and I spoke about community service, self-esteem, and what things I did and learned from being in Girl Scouts.

Little Black Dress Party





Last Thursday, I went to the Little Black Dress Party in Roanoke to raise money for Children's Miracle Network. It was held at Metro in Roanoke and was a great atmosphere!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Miss Virginia in the News

Click here to read a story about Tara at the Salem Red Sox game, including a clip of her singing and speaking!


Thursday, April 9, 2009

Passing on the crown






While last weekend was the Miss Virginia workshop, it was also the Miss Commonwealth/Miss Virginia Dogwood pageant, the pageant held for runners up to local titles this year. On Friday night, we all packed into a ballroom at the Hotel Roanoke to watch ten women who worked extremely hard over the year compete. The entire night was full of great talent- and I had no idea who would walk away with the titles. Every girl brought something different to the table and they each have a lot to be proud of.

At the end of the night, I felt like I was reliving winning last year when Emily Hall's name was called as Miss Virginia Dogwood. She has worked tireless all year in this program and represents exactly what the runners up pageant is all about. I almost started crying when they called her name!


A few people asked me if I'd be willing to post my farewell up here, both for those who could come and those who couldn't. I've posted it below.




As you have all seen tonight, there are so many deserving women that would make wonderful representatives on the Miss Virginia stage and would make great additions to the Miss Virginia family in Roanoke. I know firsthand because I was in their shoes last year. After competing at ten different pageants and coming close but not close enough, I became discouraged and worn down. I had poured my heart and soul into this program and stood on stage time and time again hoping to hear my name called and I refused to give up.

As many of you saw last year, the tears and emotion I felt finally accomplishing my goal when winning Miss Commonwealth were entirely genuine. I embarked on a journey of just over 10 weeks to prepare for Miss Virginia. When I tell you that I could not have done it without the army of volunteers on “Team Laura”, I am not kidding. I am so thankful to every person who helped us do everything from choosing photos, raising money, offering words of encouragement to finishing paperwork in a record amount of time. You are all wonderful people and I am so thankful for all of your help.


Team Commonwealth fought through many challenges to make it to Roanoke including driving through two tornados, being locked in the National D-Day Memorial, having to change my talent song and dance four weeks before Miss Virginia, and trying on 71 evening gowns trying to find something long enough for a contestant almost six feet tall. The week before Miss Virginia, I became sick with laryngitis and a sinus infection, completely lost my voice, and experienced my fingers swelling up after getting my nails done until my college ring got stuck on my finger. I spent the Saturday before arrival in Roanoke driving around with my hand right hand stuck in a giant cup of McDonalds Sweet Tea until a jeweler in Lynchburg cut the ring off my finger so that I could maintain circulation. To be honest, I told Jimmy that if we just made it to Roanoke that would be an accomplishment in itself, so you imagine how ominous it seemed to arrive in a hailstorm that Sunday. It was not an easy road, but the hard work all paid off.

I could never have anticipated how much fun the experience at Miss Virginia would be and I was truly honored to get to know all of the girls and watch a truly deserving woman emerge as the winner.

The week at Miss Virginia would not have been the same without two people I now consider extremely close friends on and off the pageant stage, also known as my roommate and car partner, Shannon Oliver and Katie Uze. Both of these women share with me the ability to laugh at ourselves, encourage one another, and to enjoy the week win or lose. Katie and I even had some near-death experiences together- even though our car driver might have looked like a sweet grandmother, I think she was moonlighting as a race car driver because she may or may not have run a few red lights in downtown Roanoke taking us to the Civic Center.

Thank you to the staff at Randolph Macon and my wonderful second boss Esther, for your constant support and understanding. Thank you to Barbara and Carolyn for your constant support of me!

There is no way I could ever hope to thank my directors, Jimmy and Chris, for the job they did preparing me for Miss Virginia. These two men went above and beyond the call of duty numerous times and put all of their time and energy into making me feel like I could do it. Your constant support throughout the week in Roanoke meant so much to me, and I firmly believe that if I could get ready for Miss Virginia in ten weeks while working two full time jobs, I can do just about anything. Jimmy spent hours ironing my clothes, patiently waiting as dress after dress was too short, scouring shoe stores for the perfect bronze heels for evening gown, and refusing to let me give up even when the obstacles seemed like they were mounting in front of us. When Jimmy found out that I had loaded my moving truck in Lynchburg by myself in August, he insisted on driving my truck to Blacksburg and unloaded all of my belongings and furniture into my new apartment with me. I was incredibly lucky to work with both of you as directors and I am so grateful for everything you have done for me. You are both wonderful examples of what this program is all about.

Finally, thank you to my mom and brother Doug for all of your support and for refusing to let me give up. I don’t know any other 13 year old guy who would sport a tux for three nights patiently at Miss Virginia and sneak gummy bears into his tux pocket the night I was finished with swimsuit. My brother is about to be confirmed in our church so unfortunately neither of them could be here tonight but I appreciate everything that you do for me and I am so grateful to have you as my family.

Finally, thank you to everyone involved in putting together this pageant both this year and last. To the ladies competing, please do not give up even if the crown isn’t placed on your head tonight. The 11th time was the charm for me and I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for this program. Have patience and keep working hard, because you will get there and the victory will be sweet and well-deserved.

These women have worked extremely hard all year and truly deserve another chance at competing in Roanoke, and I can’t wait to spend the week with whoever wins tonight!




Monday, April 6, 2009

Workshop Pictures





This was a very successful weekend and I'll be blogging soon about Miss Commonwealth/Miss Virginia Dogwood. In the short term, with a lot of schoolwork over my head, here are a few pictures from this year's Miss Virginia workshop! I am contestant number 15, the last in group A. I'll be performing my talent on Thursday night and the the other areas of competition on Friday.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Giles County Rotary Club

The AEP plant, which you can't miss on a drive out of VA into WV

The control room in the plant
With 2 of the CCGC at the ash dump site

Inside the plant



Today I had the pleasure of speaking with the Giles County Rotary club. My first trip out to Giles County came last year with the American Culture Program at RMWC; we spent an afternoon talking with the Concerned Citizens of Giles County about the AEP plant plan to store fly ash on the New River on a campground and then toured the Appalachian Power plant. (We were studying "consumption" in America and that particular week was "energy"- that same trip we also visited a coal mining site in West Virginia and visited farmers in Abingdon, VA who are keeping things local and organic).

Imagine my surprise today when the AEP plant manager for the Glen Lyn plant was there for the Rotary meeting. I am coming to the realization that Virginia (and the world!) are smaller than I thought. Thanks to the Rotary Club for being so welcoming! I've also included pictures from my last visit to Giles County, when it was much sunnier.