The Best of Nicholas Sparks

Author Nicholas Sparks once said, “Over time, quality work will lead to an audience for your work.” This quote is an accurate representation of the fan base Sparks has created throughout the years with his timeless novels. From The Longest Ride toDear John, Nicholas Sparks is one of my all-time favorite authors and the books below are ones that I could read over and over again. Plus, most of his stories have a connection to North Carolina, as the author lives in the Tarheel state himself.

The Longest Ride

Speaking of North Carolina connections, The Longest Ride has the closest setting to Forsyth County. Two stories interconnect in this novel and feature the locations of King, Winston-Salem, and Black Mountain College near Asheville. The first is about widower Ira Levinson, who reminisces about life with his wife, Ruth. The second story is about a college student attending Wake Forest University, Sophia Danko, and young rodeo star Luke Collins. While out with her friends, Danko meets Collins and the two fall in love. On the way home from a date, they notice a car that had drifted off the road and crashed in an embankment. Inside was Ira Levinson. Throughout time, the trio develop a friendship and share stories about life, love, and heartache.

True Believer

Published in 2005, True Believer focuses on the story of New Yorker Jeremy Marsh and small-town librarian Lexie Darnell. Marsh is known for debunking supernatural claims in his magazine column. After hearing about a phenomenon where ghostly lights appear in a cemetery in Boone Creek, North Carolina, he decided to travel down south and investigate for himself. There, he meets Darnell and a future for the couple starts to unfold. In the end, Marsh has to make the difficult decision of going back to New York or following his heart. If you are a fan of True Believer, I would definitely recommend reading the book’s sequel, At First Sight.

Safe Haven

Just like The Longest Ride, Safe Haven was made into a movie in 2013. The movie was good, but in my opinion, the book is better. Newcomer Erin comes to Southport, North Carolina and takes on a new identity, changes her name to Katie, and puts life with her abusive husband behind her. While there, she meets her new neighbor, Jo, and the town’s store owner, Alex, a widower with two children. However, upon discovering his wife has left, her husband, Kevin, becomes furious and learns that Erin is now Katie living in a small North Carolina town. Quickly, he takes off to find her. Meanwhile, Jo encourages Katie to develop a romantic relationship with Alex and create a family with his children. Through twists and turns…I’m stopping here, because the book has a big surprise ending that I don’t want to ruin for anyone. However, I can tell you that Safe Haven is a book you can’t put down and one you’ll quickly fall in love with.

Other popular Nicholas Sparks books include The Notebook, A Walk to Remember, Nights in Rodanthe, The Last Song, and Message in a Bottle. As an avid reader of this author, trust me, once you pick up a Nicholas Sparks book, you’ll want to read all the novels in his collection.

xoxo,

Megan

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To Travel Is To Explore

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This past weekend, my sister and brother-in-law moved to Kentucky. While I am missing them tremendously, I’m also excited for this new adventure for many reasons. You see, with them living in another state, I get to travel more often and see more places – one of my favorite things to do!

Growing up, I remember watching Travel Channel’s Samantha Brown and her shows, Great Hotels and Passport to Europe. For each episode, I kept thinking “Samantha has the best job in the world and I would love to have it.” As I watched the shows, I quickly realized I had a passion for traveling.

The reason why I travel is simple-to see the world and gain experiences. There is so much learning to be had outside of your comfort zone. My travel philosophy is to travel as much as possible, while learning about the history of an area and the people who live there. It also includes being adventurous and making memories. This philosophy plays into my five step travel list.

For every trip I take, I must:

  1. Take tons of pictures. I always come home with about 1,000+ photos.
  2. Meet and talk with the locals. You’ll get the best information about where to eat, what to do, and learn more about the area from a person who lives there.
  3. Research the location’s history and plan out my must-sees. However, I am careful to not plan too much and allow time for adventures.
  4. Get lost—on purpose. Take a back road, walk down a different street, just get out and explore.
  5. Go back to that same destination. It might not be the next year, or the year after that, but sometime in my life, I will make the time to go back.

If you want to get out of your comfort zone and see the world, you must travel. It doesn’t have to be a three week excursion. It can be a day trip to a nearby city or even a stay-cation in your own town. Just travel!

Trust me-adventure is out there. You just have to make up your mind and go!

xoxo,

Megan

Cheerwine Cupcakes

This is a favorite recipe for many and a popular one, so I’d thought I would post it again! Plus, is there anything better a cup of ice cold Cheerwine? Don’t know what Cheerwine is?  The beverage is a cherry soft-drink, founded in North Carolina. Trust me, it is a must-try!

This soft-drink has multiple uses, including being made into quick and easy cupcakes!

Ingredients:

Cupcakes:

  • 1 box white cake mix
  • 12 ounces Cheerwine
  • 1/8 teaspoon cherry flavor
  • Maraschino cherries
Frosting: 
  • 4 cups Cheerwine
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2-3 cups of powdered confectioner sugar

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line cupcake pans with liners and set aside
  2. Whisk together cake mix, Cheerwine, and cherry flavor. Pour into prepared pans and bake according to package instructions. Cool completely.
  3. In a saucepan, boil down the Cheerwine until it has reduced to 1/2 cup.
  4. In a mixer, cream butter and 2 cups of powdered sugar on medium speed. Slow speed to low and add Cheerwine reduction. Increase speed to high and beat until light and fluffy, adding additional sugar if needed.
  5. Pipe frosting onto cupcakes and top with maraschino cherries.

Enjoy!

xoxo,

Megan

North Carolina BBQ 101

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Some people like Eastern, while other people prefer Lexington. Wondering what I’m talking about? North Carolina barbecue. This tasty food has had a longstanding history in the Tarheel State that dates back to colonial times.

According to historians, barbecue, in general, was first introduced in the Caribbean. During the 1500s, there would be island barbecues with meat, such as lizard and alligator. Shortly after, the Spanish brought hogs to the Caribbean and southeastern United States. This is when pork became the favorite meat for barbecue. As for North Carolina, influences came from the original settlers and African-Americans on plantations. Today, many people associate barbecue with their favorite style and you can’t have barbecue without a sauce.

Main Types of Barbecue:

It is said that Eastern-style barbecue (vinegar-based) was the first style in the state. It wasn’t until Heinz created ketchup and introduced it to the public at the Centennial International Exhibition of 1876, that we began seeing a difference in barbecue styles. During World War I, Lexington-style barbecue was created in Lexington, North Carolina.

Eastern-stylebarbecue is a vinegar and pepper based style with no tomato. All parts of the hog are used. There is a common saying associated with this style, which is that “every part of the hog except the squeal is used.” Originally, lemon juice was used in the base. However, since this juice was hard to find in many southern states when barbecue started gaining popularity, vinegar was substituted. Eastern-style barbecue has more of a spicy-tartness and focuses more on the actual meat than the sauce. As for Eastern-style slaw, it matches the tangy taste of the barbecue and includes vinegar. This style is mostly famous along the east coast of North Carolina.

Lexington-style barbecue (my favorite) is all about the tomato. This style is commonly referred to as Piedmont or Western style. It uses a red sauce, made up of ketchup, vinegar, and pepper and has a smokier taste compared to Eastern. The slaw mimics the tomato sauce, as well, and is called “red slaw” or “barbecue slaw.” Lexington-style barbecue is more well-known in the Piedmont and western parts of the state.

Other Styles: 

Most people are only familiar with North Carolina barbecue as being Eastern or Lexington. However, another, lesser known style involves pork ribs. The Baby Back Ribs, also called top loin ribs, are cut from the center section of the loin and are a favorite among many. Another type of pork ribs is spareribs. This style is a larger and longer rib and more flavorful than Baby Back Ribs. This style of barbecue can be found at many festivals and competitions throughout the year, including the Twin City RibFest.

Lastly, throughout North Carolina, pork meat isn’t the only type of barbecue a person can find. Chicken and beef are also favorites to serve up. In addition, there are influences from Texas, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Jamaica.

Cooking Barbecue  

The most traditional way to cook barbecue is pit style. According to historians, this technique has been used for thousands of years. A pit barbecue is an enclosed, above-ground “pit” that cooks the meat slowly over different types of wood. Some popular varieties of wood are hickory, mesquite, and oak. The smells and smoke of the wood drift up into the meat and flavor it. Also, pit style is known for producing very tender meat. An example of pit style cooking is smoking barbecue or using a smoker. There are many various ways on how to use this style, as well as types of equipment needed. The most common types are cold smoking and hot smoking. Cold smoking is used to flavor the meat and hot smoking can be defined as the meat’s cooking time.

Barbecuing versus Grilling 

Yes, there is a different between barbecuing and grilling. Barbecuing can be defined as a slower process that uses lower heat than grilling, and the food is cooked by the heat of the smoke. In grilling, dry heat is used and is applied to the food being cooked.

Barbecue has been a longstanding staple in North Carolina. Most people, from a young age, find their favorite style and it stays with them for the rest of their lives. Summer has just begun and what better time is there to have a barbecue with your family and friends?

xoxo,

Megan

Originally written for Forsyth Woman Magazine, June 2018. 

What’s in a Carolina Name? A Look Inside the Names of Famous North Carolina Cities

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We know their names by heart and everything about them, but we don’t truly know their meanings. Wonder what I’m talking about? The names of famous North Carolina cities. Have you ever thought about why Raleigh is named Raleigh? Or why Wilmington is called just that? Well, sit back and read below for the history behind the names of famous North Carolina cities.

Winston-Salem: 

Let’s start with our hometown – Winston-Salem. Originally, the Camel City was two towns: Winston and Salem. The name Winston comes from local Revolutionary War hero, Joseph Winston. Until 1851, the area was known as “the county town” for being the county seat for the town of Salem in the newly formed Forsyth County. As for Salem, it bears its name from “Shalom” meaning peace. It was chosen by Count Zinzendorf, a patron of the Moravian town.

Raleigh: 

North Carolina’s capital city, Raleigh, is the second largest city in the state. The City of Oaks is named after Sir Walter Raleigh, who established the lost Roanoke Colony in current Dare County. In 1584, Queen Elizabeth gave Raleigh a royal charter to explore and colonize land in the New World. His first attempt at establishing a settlement was known as the Roanoke Colony (the Lost Colony). Three years later, he returned and tried again to reestablish a settlement on Roanoke Island.

Greensboro: 

Formerly spelled Greensborough, Greensboro is the 3rdlargest city in the state. The city gained its current name after the Revolutionary War. Major General Nathanael Greene was an American commander at the Battle of Guilford Court House on March 15, 1781. The battle was a British win, but Greene’s troops inflicted many casualties on British General Cornwallis’ army. Before 1781, the residents of Greensboro were Quakers from Pennsylvania. In 1750, they arrived in Capefair, the area now known as Greensboro. Quickly, more people came to the settlement, making it the most important Quaker community in North Carolina during that time.

Wilmington:

An important port city for various periods in history, Wilmington is currently known for being the Hollywood of the East Coast, its one-mile-long Riverwalk, and the coastal arena it provides people. The city was settled by English colonists and named after Spencer Compton, the 1stEarl of Wilmington. Compton was a British Whig statesman and is considered to be Britain’s second Prime Minister from 1742 to 1743. As for the area, the settlement was built in September 1732 on land owned by John Watson, and was founded by the first royal governor, George Burrington. Before deciding on the name Wilmington, the city was called “New Carthage,” “New Liverpool,” and then “New Town (Newton).” In 1739 – 1740, the town was incorporated under the new name, “Wilmington.”

Boone: 

A quick drive up US-421 North will take you to the beautiful city of Boone, North Carolina. The area is famous for the Blue Ridge Mountains, skiing and snow sports, bluegrass music, and of course, Appalachian State University. One can easily guess Boone got its name from American pioneer and explorer, Daniel Boone. According to historians, Boone spent time camping at locations within the present city limits. His nephews, Jesse and Jonathan, were members of Three Forks Baptist Church, the town’s first church, which still stands today.

Charlotte: 

The biggest city in North Carolina, the Queen City, and home of the Carolina Panthers, everyone knows the city of Charlotte, but few know the name’s meaning. It was first settled by Scotch-Irish and Scotch-Irish Presbyterians and German immigrants before the Revolutionary War. Charlotte is named in honor of German princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. In 1761, she became the Queen Consort of Great Britain and Ireland. Seven years later, the town of Charlotte was incorporated. Along with its nickname, the Queen City, the city was often called The Hornet’s Nest, due to British General Cornwallis’ troops occupying the city during the Revolutionary War. Eventually, residents were driven out and Cornwallis wrote that Charlotte was “a hornet’s nest of rebellion.”

Next time you’re in one of these cities, you can show off your skills by testing your travel companions on their knowledge of the meaning of the city’s name.

xoxo,

Megan

The Last Crusade

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Today, Dr. Billy Graham was laid to rest in Charlotte, NC. Beforehand, thousands of people gathered and participated in his “last crusade.” Dr. Graham is world-famous for his tent revivals and crusades that led many people to a life of faith. As I’m writing this post, I’m listening to one of his sermons on YouTube.

Watching and reading the news coverage this past week on Dr. Graham’s passing has made me think about the importance and meaning he gave to the world. Also, it has made me think about the message I want to give to the world. Is it a message of kindness? Acceptance? Gratefulness?

As we head into another weekend, take time and think about what will be your message to the world. Let it be one that reflects you and your good character.

Happy Friday!

xoxo,

Megan

2017 Top Book Reviews

I’m always up for a good book and I’m always on the lookout for my next read. Each year, I keep a list of all the novels I’ve read and whether or not I liked them. However, I request the assistance of reviews to help me pick out a book. These reviews are helpful and give me insight into what the story is about. So, I decided to do the same with the top three books that I read in 2017.

Kid Carolina: R.J. Reynolds Jr., a Tobacco Fortune, and the Mysterious Death of a Souther Icon by Heidi Schnakenberg 

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My hometown, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, is greatly influenced by the legacy of R.J. Reynolds and his family. Reynolds helped build the town back in the early 20th century. I have a deep fascination for this family and the events that occurred in their lives. After reading The Gilded Leaf in 2016, I became interested in learning more about the life of R.J. Reynolds Jr.

The book Kid Carolina is a detailed biography of Dick Reynolds’ personal relationships and demons, careers in politics and business and his love for the sea and sky. Schnakenberg goes above and beyond in covering all aspects, from his childhood to his death, which still remains a mystery, and how he earned the nickname “Kid Carolina” as a teenager. If you are a historical nonfiction lover, you’ll definitely enjoy this read.

4.5 stars out of 5

Anxious for Nothing: Finding Calm in a Chaotic World by Max Lucado 

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This book came into my life at just the right time. As many of you know, I have depression and anxiety. New York Times bestselling author Max Lucado put the words of God that I needed to hear into writing and has helped me create a better balance in my life. Lucado provides readers with a map of trusting in God to ease worries and promote a sense of thankfulness. If you are struggling with the stress of daily life or could use some calm in a chaotic world, this book is perfect for you. Plus, Proverbs 31 Ministries has a great Bible study to go along with your reading – I’m looking forward to completing it again!

5 stars out of 5

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

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As I’m currently studying for my graduate certificate in middle grades education, I’m learning more about the lives and developmental needs of young adolescents. After seeing the trailers for the movie, I thought it would be a good decision to read the book, Wonder, to compliment my studies. This novel is centered around August Pullman, a boy with facial birth defects. August, also known as Auggie, is entering the fifth grade and a public school for the first time. Palacio gives an excellent description of Auggie’s life, his family and their challenges, and how Auggie teaches his fellow classmates respect and empathy for others. In addition, Wonder started the #ChooseKind campaign and has taught others to spread kindness to everyone around them (you know I’m all about spreading kindness in the world). Let’s just say I’ll definitely be teaching this book in my classroom.

4 stars out of 5

xoxo,

Megan

 

Nana’s Homemade Mac and Cheese

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The last week before Christmas can be stressful and busy. There is last-minute shopping, baking treats for loved ones, and finalizing Christmas Eve and Day plans. While this time is enjoyable, you might not be thinking about your daily life practices, such as eating regular meals. Never fear, I have the perfect to-go dish for any pre-Christmas dinner – my Nana’s homemade mac and cheese (my favorite meal ever!)

Nana’s Homemade Mac and Cheese: 

Ingredients:

  • 8 ounces elbow macaroni
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Directions:

  1. Cook macaroni for 9 minutes. Drain, cover, and set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In medium saucepan, melt butter. Blend in flour, mustard, salt, and pepper.
  3. Cook until mixture is smooth and bubbly; gradually add in milk.
  4. Cook and stir over medium heat until mixture boils; simmer 1 minute, stirring constantly.
  5. Gradually mix in cheese. Stir over low heat until cheese is melted.
  6. Add pasta; mix together lightly and pour into 2-quart casserole.
  7. Bake 25 minutes.

Enjoy!

xoxo,

Megan

 

Cheerwine Cupcakes

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Happy Tuesday! There is nothing more southerner than a cup of ice cold Cheerwine. Don’t know what Cheerwine is?  The beverage is a cherry soft-drink, founded in North Carolina. Trust me, it is a must-try!This soft-drink has multiple uses, including being made into quick and easy cupcakes!

Ingredients:

Cupcakes:

  • 1 box white cake mix
  • 12 ounces Cheerwine
  • 1/8 teaspoon cherry flavor
  • Maraschino cherries
Frosting: 
  • 4 cups Cheerwine
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2-3 cups of powdered confectioner sugar

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line cupcake pans with liners and set aside
  2. Whisk together cake mix, Cheerwine, and cherry flavor. Pour into prepared pans and bake according to package instructions. Cool completely.
  3. In a saucepan, boil down the Cheerwine until it has reduced to 1/2 cup.
  4. In a mixer, cream butter and 2 cups of powdered sugar on medium speed. Slow speed to low and add Cheerwine reduction. Increase speed to high and beat until light and fluffy, adding additional sugar if needed.
  5. Pipe frosting onto cupcakes and top with maraschino cherries.

Enjoy!

xoxo,

Megan

My Fall Bucket List

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Fall- my favorite season of them all! Every year, there are several things I MUST do before it ends, so here is my fall bucket list:

  • Tailgate at a football game.
  • Go apple picking.
  • Buy school supplies.
  • Watch Halloween movies.
  • Decorate with tons of pumpkins and DIY fall crafts.
  • Travel through the mountains to see the leaves.
  • Visit the county fair.
  • Carve a pumpkin.
  • Make an apple pie, apple butter, apple pie, and homemade apple sauce. (Can you tell I like apples…alot?)
  • Stuff myself during the holidays.
  • Go on a hayride.
  • Eat s’mores at a bonfire.
  • Wear a hoodie, while snuggling up with a cup of hot chocolate.

It’s fall, y’all!

xoxo,

Megan