European Vacation: First day in Paris…

European Vacation: First day in Paris…

We arrived in Paris last night after an overnight journey from Atlanta to Heathrow… British air was quite an impressive airline- feeding us dinner, free wine, and breakfast! 

Our hotel is beautiful, but the front desk seems a bit crabby. Monique looked at me like I was from Mars when I asked about the air conditioner in the room. “Madame, here we do not have air conditioning this time of year.”  What!? The French doors to the balcony are chained and  will only open an inch, so the fresh air only trickles in…

We have two rooms at the Marriott Ambassador Opera Hotel, which is in a fabulous location- with a metro station one to the right and another one block to the left. 

Our dinner last night was at a cafe down the street called the Cordial Cafe… the place had the perfect menu for our family of teenagers… burgers, crepes, pizza, French onion soup, and cheese! The family liked the Cantal cheese, but only I enjoyed the Camembert! Yummm! The waiter was full of good humor- for example,  when we asked him to take a photo for us, he took the iPhone and put it in his pocket and pretended to walk away! 

We rose early to enjoy a quick hotel breakfast of eggs, breakfast meats, fruit and coffee. With full bellies, we hit the metro and headed for 8:30am mass at the Notre Dame cathedral. There was no line to get in, and we even beat the gypsies! The pipe organs echoing through the cathedral during mass were majestic, and I’m sure the kids got a lot out of the priest’s sermon- all en francsaise! Haha

After exploring the cathedral we made our way to the toilets (WC), where they charge one euro per person to pee. The line was 50 yards long by the time we left! 

Next stop was the Eiffel Tower- the symbol of Paris since 1889. Jim and the three kids climbed the stairs to the first level- I went with the Chmielarskis on the elevator. After taking photos, we took the elevator to the summit which reaches 1063 feet! It was a clear day and we could see for 40 miles! We were able to see Montparnasse, Invalides, the Seine,  all the great Paris cathedrals, and so much more! The lines were long, but the views were worth it! I did manage to walk the stairs back down to avaoid the elevator lines. (Which was the start of my close relationship with stairs for the day!)

We walked from the Eiffel Tower to Trocadero- which is home to the Palais de Chaillot which was built in 1937. We stopped off at a local crepe stand to grab a quick lunch of French bread sandwiches and crepes, and sat down to eat on park benches outside of the Palais. 

We passed some local entrepreneurs who were “renting” opportunities to drive Lamborghini sports cars! Noah was chomping at the bit! We walked up and over the Musee de l’homme, (loads more stairs!) stopping to watch some street performers.  

The next stop was The Louvre- where we were eager to spend a few hours exploring the paintings, sculptures and exhibits! The kids got in free, so we only had to pay for two adults, which was a nice surprise! We were all blown away by the ancient art- particularly the Winged Victory and the Venus de Milo… Noah was ecstatic to have his picture taken with none other than the Mona Lisa! 


The Egyptian and Roman exhibits were fascinating-  some of the art dating back to 4,000 years before Christ! I was thrilled to wander the museum and its 30,000 works of art- as it was closed because of the floods when I was in Paris during the summer of 2016.  We walked a good percentage of the 200,000 square feet of the Louvre. The kids may even blushed at a few of the paintings which may have had rather “adult themes”! 

After closing down the Louvre, we made our way to Montmartre. Half took the stairs- half took the elevator up. At the top, we enjoyed more gorgeous city views and more street entertainment before heading in to tour the Sacre Coeur Basilica built in 1873 to atone for the lack of religious faith typical of the century. The ceiling fresco upon entering the church is truly breathtaking. It actually makes you catch your breath. 

After wandering through the church, we wandered over to Montmartre. Here we wandered the shops and the kids used their own money to buy MORE Eiffel Tower  trinkets… they just can’t get enough! 

We finally settled in to dinner at  a restaurant right in the middle of the artists area. What a romantic place with local artists carrying on the tradition of their craft that began with great artists like Degas!

We ordered dinner and decided that everyone in the family would try a French tradition: escargot! I had fun talking with the The flavor at first was delicious, and I was relieved that they were cooked. When the pesto gave way to the actual flavor of the snail, however, my pallet wasn’t pleased…a strong taste of mud invaded! I wish I could have filmed Molly’s reaction! Haha! Thank goodness the French love bread! 


Fear and loathing on the essay trail…

I’ve been teaching English for almost 23 years, and I’ve recently self-diagnosed myself with a serious case of EGADD. This is no joke- it is real, and it threatens to ruin me as an English teacher. Essay Grading Attention Deficit Disorder is something most teachers are ashamed to speak of, for fear of being chastised by their Shakespeare quoting peers! “Oh, some strange commotion is in his brain!” (Henry VIII).

My EGADD kicks in as soon as I gaze down at the stacks of papers in my school bag. I feel the more alarming side effects begin- increased heartbeat, sweating, and heightened anxiety. I think about the time will need to “create” in my spare time, and my head begins to spin. I start planning how and when I might squeeze these essays in to my very busy life outside of school. I try to start grading them the moment I get home from my regular 10- hour day, but EGADD strikes almost immediately.

I sit down at my home desk, at the front of the house, away from the family. It is nearly 5:00pm. I clear a space and try to figure out if I should begin with the “better writers” or those needing more “help”. I notice that I don’t have a drink of water, and I suddenly feel as parched as if I just scaled the side of a mountain in the middle of July. I tell myself to just grade one essay and then go get the water, but my thirst overcomes me. It drags me to the kitchen.

In the kitchen, I realize that my tumbler is upstairs by my bed. I am vigilant about reusing the same cup- rather than continually washing cups- so I dash upstairs to retrieve it. Unfortunately, it isn’t by my bed; it is in my bathroom. I pick it up and realize that it sat  atop a sticker I bought for my suitcase. My brain is at once in an EGADD turmoil: I should go back down to those essays, but I run the risk of misplacing the sticker before it ever makes it to my favorite suitcase. I pick up the sticker and put it in my back pocket while I pull down the attic stairs. I climb up  and attach the sticker in just the right spot. I smile, because the sticker reminds me of my last trip.

I go back to my bathroom, grab my tumbler, and head back downstairs. I glance at my essay-laden desk on my way to the kitchen, reminding myself of where my focus needs to be. I manage to put ice in my cup before scanning the counter for the day’s mail. I don’t see it and wonder if anyone got it. I also note that the dog food bowls have been licked clean. “EGADD,” I think.”I really need to get to those essays, but these poor pups have no food.” I swiftly move to fill the bowls, only to realize we are completely out of dog food. A trip to the local Kroger is imminent.

When I finally return home, after getting sustenance for my two four-legged babies, I note the time- 6:00pm… time to cook dinner. I run to my front desk to get a stack of essays, confident that I can grade a few whilst the water boils. Two of my three kids make their way down to the kitchen to inquire about dinner. I look at them, and think to myself, “Jeez, they are getting so big. I need to really cherish these days with them.” Forgetting the essays on the counter, I engage in family talk while I cook.

After dinner, I announce that I will not be joining the family for any TV time; I’ve got to grade papers… for at least a couple hours. I finally return to my desk, determined to get through half a class worth.I read through the first one, and it is pretty good. I note some comma errors and suggest smoother transitions. I comment that the “vignette” about the dog eating the turkey cracked me up. EGADD jabs me when I start thinking of the time I caught my own dog up on the table licking the spills.

It takes me 8 minutes to grade that one essay, and that is a good one. It received a 92. In typical EGADD style, I stop and think about those 8 minutes. A paper with more errors and more content issues might take me upwards of 13-15 minutes. I have 120 of them. If I average 12 minutes per essay, that’s 1440 minutes, which is 24 hours. EGADD has brought me to the edge: I’m practicing math computation. I feel my illness creeping into my throat. I open my calendar to look at what I have going for the week ahead. Each day has me booked with family responsibilities, which I enjoy to the max. I tell myself I just have to plug along. Take a deep breath. Practice relaxation breathing.

I look to the next essay. I know this writer; he practices the “anti-punctuation” religion. I force my eyes on the page, my pen armed and ready to make sense of unintentional stream of consciousness. I get through it, but it is torturous. A week passes and I’ve graded 23 essays. My ears ring with the chirp of students asking for these essays. Mine is the plight of English teachers across the map. Perhaps there’s a support group for fellow EGADD sufferers?

EGADD,” I think. “How will I finish before the next batch of essays come in?”

And then I start thinking of summer. And cool weather. And lobsters… EGADD!

-HC

MY “open” letter to Target…

Dear Target Decision Makers,

This letter is not akin to those you’ve recently received. I am not writing to condemn you. I am not writing to declare that you’ve lost my business. I am not writing to tell you that I am staging a boycott of your stores. On the contrary, I am writing to thank you.

I find it nearly impossible to put in to words the disappointment, the utter bewilderment I feel when I read the criticism that is flooding the media about your recent decision to allow “transgender team members and guests to use the restroom or fitting room facility that corresponds with their gender identity.”  I have read the protesters’ “open” letters, and I have become well-versed in two things from these reads: our country is inundated with discrimination and our communities are exploding with false judgement.  These “open” letters damn the honest and punish the innocent.

Thank you, Target, for standing up to the mass discrimination against transgender individuals. These individuals are being painted by your cruel protesters as miscreants of the worst kind: sexual predators. These transgender individuals have committed no crimes, yet they are being condemned as threatening, perverted, and dangerous. Thank you for realizing that these human beings are not criminals; they are law-abiding, honest, decent people just trying to figure out how to maneuver through this complicated world.

Thank you, Target, for standing up to the mass discrimination against transgender individuals. As a high school teacher, I have the opportunity and good fortune to work with transgender teenagers. These kids are struggling to find acceptance in a world that judges them with Draconian force. These kids want to have the same opportunities that other kids have- regardless of their gender identity. They are taunted, they are bullied, and they often feel completely alone. Thank you for being their advocate, their role model.

Thank you, Target, for standing up to the mass discrimination against transgender individuals. Thank you for realizing that it is a bathroom- a place to relieve bladders-and thus not destined to become some sort of  den of iniquity. Transgender people simply seek bladder relief just like every other human.

You said,”Everyone deserves to feel like they belong.” I can’t believe how many in our world disagree with this very simple, important statement. Thank you, Target, for your fair and positive treatment of your employees and customers. Thank you for refusing to cave to the masses who preach hatred. Thank you for paving the way for an end to discrimination. Thank you for standing up for a group of human beings who are being criminalized for choosing a gender that better fits them.

If you need me, look for me in the Target nearest my house. I’ll be there. And I’ll stop by the bathroom if I need to go.

Sincerely,

Heidi Campbell

 

 

Extinction on the dumpster horizon

“Sorry. No recycling today- no kids showed up.” That’s the email I read from the Environmental Club adviser just before I left school today. Those eight words alarmed me, and I’ve been mulling it over ever since. When this happens, the only way to truly clear it from my temporal lobe is to “write it out.”

These environmentally concerned students work tirelessly to spread the importance of recycling. They come in after school, on their own time and volition, and provide the service of recycling for the entire campus. Now, these kids are wearing down. The people in my building need to beware: we are in dire straits. These “green” kids are on the verge of giving up.

No one is showing up to the recycling club. And it is no wonder. It is truly a thankless job. These kids bundle up all of the paper in boxes around the building, load up their carts, and haul the bales out to the recycling dumpster. They then have to schlep these piles and piles of paper into the receptacle, which is physically exhausting. For many students, sadly, recycling bins are synonymous with trash cans, making the papers within lined with food residue, old chewing gum, or perhaps even a booger or two. The volunteers still sort through this swill, with nothing but the “reduce, reuse, recycle” mantra humming under their breath.

This is not a pleasant job. These volunteers don’t get paid, and they  get little to no recognition. Their only motivation is in the hope that they are making the world a better place. But this hope, this ideal, is waning. With every bottle filled with backwash, and every paper bin filled with snotty tissues, their motivation dwindles. Who can blame them?

People have come to rely on these volunteers. In fact, in a previous school, I’ve seen folks become enraged when no one came to collect their unwanted paper. If the kids don’t show up to empty the bins, the bins topple or the recycling simply stops.

What happens when the recycling volunteers become extinct? Will we all come around to the idea of lugging boxes of unwanted paper to the dumpsters? Will we sort through the bottle recycling bins to sort the recyclable from the trash?

That email said this to me: we need to thank these kids. We need to appreciate them for their thankless work. We need to do our part to make sure that our bins are “volunteer ready.”

Who’s with me??

Corded window blinds kill. Please read and share.

October is “Window Covering Safety Month”. Most people would never know this, because they have no personal connection to the dangers of corded blinds. I didn’t either, until I learned what happened to a high school friend’s son.  In January of 2010, during naptime, Andrea’s son Daniel, who was three years old, strangled in the cords of the window blinds in his bedroom. Reading her story, following her heartache, and seeing photos of this beautiful boy who lost his life has moved me to share her story whenever I can, in hopes of preventing this tragedy for other families.

On  April 16, 2015, journalist Rick Schmitt wrote an in-depth article for fairwarning.org titled “Years of Talking, Kids Still Dying”. He wrote, “According to data compiled by the CPSC, at least 332 children, most of them under the age of two, have been fatally strangled by window cords over the last 30 years.  Another 165 have been injured, including some who suffered permanent brain damage or quadriplegia requiring lifelong care and therapy, according to the nonprofit group Parents for Window Blind Safety.”

To say the stories of these devastated families are heartbreaking doesn’t even scratch the proverbial surface. These families, like most of us, had no idea that a silent killer lurked in the rooms of their innocent babies.  They didn’t realize that these cords can kill in less than one minute. In one article I read, a mom left her 5 and 3 year old children playing in the playroom just long enough to make a bag of microwave popcorn. When she returned, her three year old was dead: strangled with blind cords.

The more I’ve read, the more enraged I become at the big-time window blind companies who are turning a blind eye to the research they are fully aware of. Schmitt’s article discusses the fact that these companies make a fortune selling corded blinds. He writes, “Corded blinds account for an estimated 75% of the industry’s roughly $2 billion in annual U.S. sales.”

Schmitt’s article really pinpoints the issue with the companies who manufacture the blinds when he cites an attorney:

 “They are not going cordless because they want to protect their profit margins,” said James Onder, a St. Louis lawyer who has filed, and settled, more than 50 lawsuits against the industry in 23 states related to children killed or injured by window blinds. “The industry has made a conscious decision that it is cheaper to pay off a lawsuit than it is to save human lives” by eliminating corded blinds, he said. – See more at: http://www.fairwarning.org/2015/04/as-window-blind-cords-strangle-toddlers-reforms-are-left-dangling/#sthash.L0D5hjm0.dpuf

A few years ago, I became a follower of the Facebook page titled “Parents for Window Blind Safety”, a non-profit organization who not only educates consumers, but they also fight for safer industry standards and support families who have lost children to corded blinds. They advocate companies, (Ikea most recently) who have opted to ban sales of corded blinds in their stores. This group raises awareness, supports education, and works to support the removal of corded blinds from store shelves. Parents Magazine, Consumer Reports, Fox News, CNN, The Today Show, The Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, USA TODAY and many other newspapers have advocated this organization, and helped to spread the important message of the dangers of corded blinds.

While I don’t have young children now, I have many friends who do. Hopefully one day, I will have grandchildren. We must all work together to ensure the future safety of our children. I have shared the danger of these corded blinds with friends, and will continue to share. I remember another chilling thought that I heard from someone, perhaps it was my friend Andrea, Daniel’s mom; the danger may be at a friend’s house, a friend whose family is unaware of the dangers.  The only way to ensure that these corded blinds do not take the lives of any more children is to raise awareness.

My heart truly grieves for the 332 children who have been strangled by corded blinds. None of these families knew the dangers. I certainly didn’t. I am horrified to recall that we had these cords in our kids’ bedrooms when they were little- in fact their cribs were near the windows.  This tragedy could occur in any house that hangs corded blinds. And, as every case indicates, it happens fast and silently.

Please spread the word. Take down corded blinds, and ensure that any house your child visits does the same. Be a life saver.

-HC