Let’s not become a card-free society…

Let’s not become a card-free society…

The art of sending out holiday cards may be in danger of extinction. More and more people each year opt to send out digital greetings. Digital greetings certainly send the cheer- there’s no denying it, but these e-tidings lack the intimacy of traditional cards. The digital sender, after all, is able to reach hundreds of people in the time it takes to press a couple of buttons. There is very little effort put into the process, which is certainly a huge selling point for the busy families of the modern world. I do not want the tradition of sending cards to meet the same fate as the lucky rabbit’s foot of my childhood.

I sent out some photo cards this year, but definitely not as many as I have in years past- mainly because of a lack of time. Although I addressed, stamped, and sealed these greetings, I still had a pang of self-imposed guilt because I no longer write a personal note in any of the cards. My tidings are falling into the de-personalization pit.

I see Christmas cards as one of the last hold outs of old-school Christmas traditions. After all, who sends cards anymore? According to my teenagers, email is totally antiquated- it wouldn’t be anywhere in their wheelhouses to send out hand written letters. Receiving letters in the mail is something that I will forever relish, and the process involved with sending cards is one that truly feels like a part of the holiday custom.

In order to understand my passion for letter writing, I need to go back to my early days. Getting mail has always been something special to me. Growing up on a small island in Maine, we had a tiny little post office- really only big enough for a couple people to enter at once. I used to look forward to going to get the mail every day- in fact, I had a special little mail bag just for collecting mail (see photo o. I would walk up the path and sit on the steps of the post office awaiting the arrival of the mail lady: Judy when I was little, then Ann when I got a little older.

Many summer days I walked back down the road with an empty mailbag. My aunt Nancy, however, had numerous people who corresponded with her in the summer, so many days I could deliver letters to her. I loved days when a letter or two filled my mailbag.

As I got older, I sent away for pen pals from the BIG BLUE MARBLE show that I watched on Saturday mornings. I had a pen pal named Jenny Jacobs from Wisconsin, another named Mimi Bedigee from Missouri, and Gianni Rondinelli from Italy. I would write long letters to these friends, and get so excited when I would receive letters back! The anticipation of receiving mail was a constant in my world. In the winter, when the cottage was closed up tight, I would write letters to my island friends- from North Carolina, Texas, and Massachusetts. My mailbox helped me connect with people, and brought me such delight- one which can’t be replicated by the efficiency of social media.

As an adult, I still look forward to receiving letters in the mail. At Christmas time, the excitement seems to reach its peak, as people sit down and reach out to their friends and family in the old fashioned, time honored tradition of Christmas cards. Nothing beats the feeling of holding an envelope in your hand, looking at the handwriting, noticing the sender’s name, and the excitement that comes with opening it up- not quite knowing what is packed inside.

One day, when I have more time, I’d actually like to go back to handwritten messages in cards- those are my favorite. The ones where I actually see the sender’s handwriting and think about them sitting down, taking the time to write the words in ink- creating a permanent keepsake to cherish for years to come.

In our busy lives it is so tempting to opt out of the hassle of the cards, but I can’t. I cannot bring myself to watch this tradition end. I think about my grandparents and great grandparents receiving cards and news of far away friends- it was their sole mode of communication aside from the corded telephone.

I cherish the cards that I receive in the mail. I hang them all on my door and stop to appreciate them each time I walk past. I then put all the photos in a scrapbook each year- and enjoy the progression of our friends and families as they have grown up through the years.

Your card is not lost on me. As Dylan Thomas once suggested, I will “Rage! Rage! Against the dying of the light!”

Happy New Year!


Finding Gram’s candy dish

Finding Gram’s candy dish

I can only smile when I think about the times I spent with Mildred- (“Millie” for short) my maternal grandmother.  To me, she was Grammy when I was little, and Gram when I got a little older. She had charcoal curls and the stereotypical old lady glasses with the bifocals and swirly plastic rims. She wore elastic band jeans, velour jogging suits, and toe-less sneakers. She adored Lawrence Welk, Jimmy Buffet, and Hee Haw. She loved to have us over for dinners, and I never told her that her homemade corn-beef hash made me cringe.

I remember the excitement I had when I’d spend the night at her house and she’d let me stay up late to watch not only Love Boat, but Fantasy Island, too! “The Plane! The Plane!” I loved watching Mr. Roarke and Tattoo greet the guests who arrived on the tiny airplane. I was glued to that show, although I never let on that Fantasy Island actually scared me more than a little. (I remember one episode about a possessed, evil ventriloquist’s puppet. That one traumatized me for years.)

Gram always made sure that she had all of my favorite things when I’d go to her house. She bought my favorite Vermont Extra Sharp White Cheddar Cheese, and she’d let me have as much as I wanted. We drank Tab and played Canasta and Chinese Checkers. She had rhymes for each of her color’s moves: “Yellow, yellow, kiss a fellow,” she’d recite as she made numerous jumps with her yellow marble. If she didn’t have a move, she’d have another tune- “White, white- what a sight!” Her painted fingernails sometimes bumped a marble off the board and she’d slap her own hand. I remember her hands and the rings she wore with the slender stones.

She took me shopping at a local store called Grand City. She loved to shop and had fun looking for good deals. She usually bought embroidery thread or tatting string; she was quite talented in the handmade arts. After shopping, we’d enjoy lunch at the little restaurant nestled inside the store. She knew the manager, Lucien, a Frenchman who greeted us with a very proper “Good afternoon, Mildred. Enjoying lunch with this lovely young lady?”

She’d let me order a grilled cheese sandwich with a side of mac & cheese. She would tell me stories of my mom when she was little, and stories of my grandfather, who died before I was born. I loved hearing about the house they all grew up in, and how spoiled my mother, the baby of the family, was. I especially loved the story of my mom’s visit to great aunt Helen’s house, and how she always hinted around for a snack. “You know what I really like?” my young mom ask the oldest aunt. “I really like those crackers that come in the bright yellow box…. those are so good, especially when your stomach is growling.” She told me stories of my mother that filled in background I could not get anywhere else.

Whenever Gram ate, she always spilled something down the front of her shirt. She would always use soda water to feverishly try to blot the spot. Every time I spill something down the front of my shirt, which is more often than I should admit, I believe it is Gram’s way of sending me a quick “hello”.

Gram had a lot of neat things in her house, but perhaps the most memorable was her covered glass candy dish, which she kept fully loaded with colorful candies. Sometimes it held those orange or spearmint jelly candies, while other times it held those round, pink chalky candies called “Canada Mints”. One year, her friend Lilian gave her “ribbon” candy, and it looked so bright and colorful in the glass dish, I thought was almost too pretty to eat. That candy dish beckoned all the kids who visited Gram, and she always knew who was getting in the candy dish because the glass lid always made a sound when it was removed and put back on the base.

With a steady hand, I would try over and over to lift the lid without making a sound. Sometimes, I’d take the cover off with the swiftest of movement- straight up in the air and squeal with glee at the silence of the act-. Putting it back on, however, was another story. I could rarely replace the glass topper without hearing it clink. There was no sneaking candy from that dish- and Gram had supersonic hearing in my childhood years.

When my Gram died, a quarter of a century ago, my Aunt Nancy moved into her house. It was soothing to the soul to know that the house that my mother grew up in would still be inhabited by Gram’s offspring- particularly her eldest. When I visited the house the summer after Gram’s passing, I noticed that there was a new, plastic version of the glass-topped candy dish. I inquired about the classic dish, but no one seemed to be able to tell me what happened to it. I remember feeling unsettled, like there was a disturbance in the universe.

This past summer I was wandering through a vintage thrift store- one of life’s small pleasures. On a shelf in the back, among a plethora of glass treasures, I spotted it: my grandmother’s candy dish. Goose bumps broke out up and down my arms. Gram was sending me another one of her quiet “hello’s”, but this one was more than stains on my shirt– this was her standing at the door, welcoming me in. She was waving and smiling.

I brought the candy dish home and filled it with candy. I challenged my three children to try to remove and return the lid in silence- and none of them succeeded. I told them of my grandmother’s candy dish, so that they understand the significance of this dish, which now sits proudly on my corner table, filled with candy.

Thanks, Gram…



Hope is still alive…

I was inspired by a local non-profit organization that I had the pleasure of visiting. In these times of uncertainty, disappointment, greed, and ego, it is nice to be reminded that so many people do great things for people every day.    Here is an article I wrote in the June/July 2017 issue of OUR TOWN magazine about a local organization called HOME OF HOPE. If you read this and feel compelled to donate- information is at the end of the article!

Home of Hope offers lasting hope to homeless mothers and their children

By Heidi Campbell

Homelessness is a sad reality for too many families in the Gwinnett County area, and there are not nearly enough programs to help all of the people impacted by rough times. According to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, Gwinnett County has the 3rd highest total homeless population in the state of Georgia. The Gwinnett County Public Schools reported that, in May of 2016, there were over 1,900 homeless students enrolled in their school system. One program, Home of Hope at Gwinnett Children’s Shelter, works to help young, homeless mothers in the Gwinnett area. “We transition homelessness into hope,” explains Executive Director Maureen Kornowa, “and turn hope into a home. This is a program that implements lasting change.”

The Home of Hope at Gwinnett Children’s Shelter is a transitional living program for homeless children and their moms between the ages of 18-25 years of age as well as young women who have aged out of the foster care system. By providing free room and board, the program is designed to keep the family unit together and end the cycle of homelessness two generations at a time. Since June of 2014, Home of Hope at Gwinnett Children’s Shelter has transitioned thirty-seven families out of homelessness by recognizing that just because a mother is homeless doesn’t mean she doesn’t love her children. The program provides love and life skills to mothers to help them live on their own. “We tell them when they come to live here that their past doesn’t define their future,” says Kornowa. “We let them know that they can do anything and be anything, and we are going to help them get there.”

The prospective families are interviewed carefully to ensure they are a fit for the program. The interview team looks for a spark of desire- someone who is willing to do hard work and be disciplined in working the program.  Kornowa explains that the plan is one of tough love, but it is also full of love. She says that while they “hold their feet to the fire”, the plan really works.  “One young woman came in and wanted to be a nurse,” recalls Kornowa. “She came in as a 21-year old with three children.  When she left here, she had graduated from a CNA program and was working in an assisted living community and transferred to stable housing.”

Once a family moves into the Home of Hope at Gwinnett Children’s Shelter, a stay typically lasting anywhere from three to twelve months, they are quickly set up with an apartment in one of the houses. Within 72 hours, the children are enrolled in school or daycare and the mom is set up with a life plan. Within the first thirty days, the mothers are required to secure employment, and they must save 30-50% of each paycheck, which represents their eventual rent. Case managers help the mothers with school related issues, and moms are required to attend classes on weeknights covering topics like resume building, HIV awareness, and Finance 101. While moms are learning life skills, their children attend Kids Club, where they enjoy supervised activities with volunteers from the community.

The program requires $987,000 to keep its doors open each year, which makes raising money a continuing effort. In March, they had one of their annual fundraisers, the Sip and Swine BBQ festival which is a Kansas City BBQ Society cookoff at Coolray Field. This event raised more than $50,000.00 for the charity.   The President of the board of directors, Mr. Brand Morgan, hosts an annual wine auction to raise funds, and, in the fall each year, they host the “Power of One” luncheon to honor someone who gives to the community. “I like to recognize good people from other non-profits,” shares Kornowa. “It costs a candle nothing to lite another candle.”

The Home of Hope at Gwinnett Children’s Shelter is always in need of monetary donations, and Kornowa hopes to raise enough money this year to begin filling an additional twelve rooms that were recently renovated. In addition to monetary donations, they also welcome summer camp scholarships for their children, food drives, household supplies, “bed in a bag” sets, and volunteers to help with Kids Club and weekend meal donations.

The week before they opened the new program on the campus of Home of Hope at Gwinnett Children’s Shelter, Kornowa found a nest outside the front door. This nest, which actually sits on a table in her office, has become their logo which appears on brochures and signs. “We use the nest,” she explains, “because although masterfully built, nests are a transitional place to live. They are where fledglings learn how to fly before they leave the nest. It is a perfect metaphor for what we do here.”

Visit www.homeofhopegcs.org to make a donation or to learn more about this worthy non-profit organization. Help them make a difference for another young family.

Everyone enjoys a good story…

Here is an article I wrote  called “Try a New Genre: Top 6 Memoirs Provide Excellent Summer Reading” The article appeared in OUR TOWN JUNE 2017 – Blue (edition.https://issuu.com/ourtownmag/docs/otm_june2017_blue_web)

Autobiographies are now passé; the telling of one’s story is now done in a relatively new genre- the  memoir. Over the last decade, there have been some truly amazing memoirs published- many which have the power to completely change the reader. As an English teacher of nearly 23 years, I am always seeking high interest literature for my social-media crazed students. Here is a list of what I consider to be the top six, high-interest memoirs on the market.

  1. My Lobotomy (Howard Dully) As humans, we have a natural morbid curiosity that compels us to read stories involving traumatic content. This memoir is the heartbreaking story of Howard Dully, who was the youngest victim of Dr. Walter Freeman- a doctor who performed ice pick lobotomies out of the back of his “medical” van.  The proverbial evil stepmother comes to life in this tale of dysfunction, disappointment, and abandonment. This is a story that will enrage every reader, and one that is absolutely unforgettable.
  2. Look Me In the Eye (John Elder Robinson) This New York Times Bestseller is told by a man who grew up with Asperger’s Syndrome but didn’t know it until he was an adult. He is at once socially awkward and gifted, but wholly misunderstood. He was seen as a social deviant- a kid with major behavioral problems. His story, which includes a dysfunctional family life, is one that truly helps the reader better understand the mind of a person with Asperger’s. He was, for instance,  always expected to “look people in the eye”, but this is not something that came to him naturally. These are the kind of normalcies that he had to learn throughout his life, often times learning them too late. His life and talents eventually lead him into business with the rock band Kiss, where he worked to create their legendary exploding guitars. This is an endearing, eye-opening memoir, which, as a teacher, truly helped me to better understand this syndrome.
  3. Proof of Heaven (Eben Alexander) This New York Times #1 Bestseller is a fascinating read for anyone who has ever pondered what happens to us after we die. Dr. Eben Alexander is a neurosurgeon who sees life slip away on a regular basis. In his scientific mind, he has always believed that life simply ends- there is no afterlife. This belief, however, changed when he had a near death experience. He describes what he recalls from this event in vivid detail. His descriptions of his tour of another universe is thought-provoking, and certainly solidifies the beliefs of those who believe in an afterlife.
  4. Same Kind of Different As Me (Ron Hall & Denver Moore). This memoir, also a New York Times Bestseller, is actually written by two men, offering their perspectives on a unique and unlikely friendship. Deborah Hall, the wife of Ron Hall, a wealthy Texas art dealer, runs a ministry for the homeless in Dallas, TX. She meets Denver Moore, a homeless man with a tormented past, and finds a way to bridge a lifelong relationship between this man and her family in a story that is poignant and uplifting. This is powerful, spiritual, and uplifting.
  5. Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust (Immaculee Ilibagiza) This is a memoir of one woman’s struggle to stay alive after her entire family was massacred. When I say massacred, I do not mince words. The mass murderers in Rwanda used machetes to kill close to one million Rwandans. As I read this story, about this modern day genocide occurring on our planet in 1994, I was embarrassed by the lack of media coverage this devastation received here in America. Ilibagiza’s bravery, as she hides in a tiny bathroom for over three months, will be a story I will never forget, particularly the tenacity of her human spirit. Parts of this story are very difficult to read, but it is a worthy, important read.
  6. Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness (Susannah Cahalan) This harrowing  New York Times Bestseller is a memoir about a journalist, in her mid-20s, who wakes up strapped to a hospital bed and labeled violent and psychotic. Cahalan recreates her story in journalistic fashion, relying almost solely on the medical staff and family members who witnessed her spiral into madness. She has no recollection of parts of the experience. She moves us through her horrifying tale with a perfect balance of science and compassion, and reminds all readers that we should never be satisfied with the opinion of one doctor.  This is a frightening and triumphant story.

Look for additional Top Book Recommendations in future issues of Our Town, including “Top Authors”, “Top Beach Reads”, “Top Humor” and more.

top 6 memoirs

Female heroines are the rage these days…

Here is a review I wrote about “Beauty & The Beast” for the OUR TOWN JUNE 2017 – Blue edition. (https://issuu.com/ourtownmag/docs/otm_june2017_blue_webbeauty and the beast review

Beauty and the Beast (2017) has it all: music, action, and a worthy heroine

By Heidi Campbell

Once in a while, a film comes along that crushes the barriers of critical reasoning and astounds audiences with heartwarming characters, hair raising action, beautiful music, magical sets, and epic romance.  Beauty and The Beast, released in March of 2017, was produced by Walt Disney Pictures and Mandeville Films. The film, which breathes new life into a timeworn fairy tale, raked in nearly half a billion dollars at the box office in its first month. The story incorporates all the elements that make fairy tales so engaging:  a heedless royal in need of moral overhaul, an enchantress who casts a spell, a virtuous hero, a host of personified inanimate objects, an evil villain, and a kind, single father who raises his daughter with unyielding love.  Transformations weave their way into nearly every ounce of the film, and beautiful music scores transition, adding magic and meaning to the scenes.

The film wastes no time in transforming a French Prince, played by Dan Stevens, into the Beast- a just dessert for a man who cruelly casts away an old woman seeking shelter.  The Beast, who struggles to adjust to his cursed, isolated castle life, becomes angry and withdrawn.  His previous subjects, who have all been transformed into household objects, are his only company: a talking candelabra named Lumiere, played by Ewan McGregor; Cogsworth the mantle clock, played by Ian McKellen; a motherly teapot, Mrs. Potts, played by Emma Thompson; and Mrs. Pott’s son Chip the teacup, played by Nathan Mack.  Like all good fairy tale curses, this one teaches a lesson, but thankfully doesn’t last forever.

The music in the film is at once beautiful, challenging, moving, and plot driven.  In a tiny French village, a girl named Belle, played by Emma Watson, lives with her father Maurice, played by Kevin Kline. The audience quickly learns of her reputation through the townspeople as they sing “Belle”, which highlights the fact that she’s a little different from the rest:  “But behind that fair façade/I’m afraid she’s rather odd/Very different from the rest of us/ She’s nothing like the rest of us/ Yes, different from the rest of us is Belle!”

Kudos to the producers of the film for creating a heroine in Belle; she is a self-proclaimed bibliophile and a fantastic role model for modern youth! She is a young woman who stands up for herself, loves her family, appreciates that beauty comes from within, and is proud of her intellect.  She is a strong-willed woman. When the evil Gunter, played by Luke Evans, tries to demand her hand in marriage, she’ll have none of it! “When we return to the village, you’ll marry me,” says Gaston. “Never!” she tells him boldly.

When Maurice returns from a delivery, he takes a wrong turn and ends up imprisoned by the Beast. Belle acts quickly to come to his aid, which is precisely how she finds herself in the castle of the Beast. The objects of the house quickly welcome her with excitement and humor. “Cogsworth, look! A beautiful girl!” says Lumiere. “Yes, I can see it’s a beautiful girl you fool! I’ve lost my hands, not my eyes!” responds Cogsworth. These two characters play off each other throughout the film with memorable wit.

Beauty befriends the castle’s characters and eventually the Beast as well. Belle begins to see a softer side of the Beast, and is overwhelmed by his enormous library and appreciation of Shakespeare. In her song “Something There”, Belle explores her emerging feelings singing, “There’s something sweet and almost kind/But he was mean and he was coarse and unrefined/And now he’s dear and so I’m sure/ I wonder why I didn’t see it there before?” She has the endearing ability to look beyond the physical monstrosity of the Beast.

Belle seems to naturally transition into the role of a princess, even before Madame Garderobe, played by Audra McDonald, whips her up a gown.  The Beast, who up to her arrival was harsh and angry, completely transitions into a softer character. Belle has the power to soften his entire demeanor, and he shares his feelings in “Evermore” singing, “Now I know she’ll never leave me/ Even as she runs away/ she will still torment me/ calm me, hurt me/ move me, come what may/ wasting in my lonely tower/ waiting by an open door/ I’ll fool myself, she’ll walk right in/ and be with me for evermore.”

The audience is completely enamored with the couple as their relationship develops. While the world knows how the age-old story ends, there are several surprises to this rendition that bring the action to a wild climax that will shock and excite even the most prepared viewer. Good battles evil, and lessons are learned. Even the anticipated happy ending is happier than one expects. Love wins. The Beast transitions back into the handsome Prince, the staff is reunited in human form, and Beauty is rewarded for her moral virtue with a life beyond her dreams.

Belle, earlier in the film, asked “How Does A Moment Last Forever?” In the end, the reprise of that song answers that question: “Sometimes our happiness is captured/ Somehow, our time and place stand still/Love lives on inside our hearts and always will/ Minutes turn to hours,/ days to years and gone/ But when all else has been forgotten/ Still our song lives on.” 

Teachers need a rebirth between school years

Last week, a friend said, “with the majority of women now in the work force, schools will probably move to a year round model, don’t you think?”

Year-round school. When I really let that sink in, it makes me queasy… the same queasy I get on one of  those spinning rides at a small-town pop-up carnival. It starts off as a little gurgle, then progresses into more of a dizzy, green, sweating, ear-ringing cry. Teachers do not get in to the profession because of summer, yet, once we are in, these precious eight weeks become our necessary rebirth each year.

I use the term rebirth with purpose. No matter how bad a school year is, the summer has a way of washing away the memories of the difficult days, weeks, and months spent with those out of control students, those hundreds of punctuation-less essays, and that annoying, self-promoting co-worker. A mother, for instance, can suffer for hours and hours in excruciating childbirth pain, but the smile of her offspring washes away most memory of the suffering. (If it didn’t, women would never have multiple children!) Summer does this for teachers. It allows us to forget the bad and focus on the hope of the future. We forget the perpetual eleven hour days, mandatory state testing, and stacks of essays. We sleep. We remember moments of laughter and inspiration. We are reborn and ready for the new year.

Teachers need summer. Yes, I said NEED. I say this not because I don’t enjoy my job- quite the contrary!  My students and co-workers are truly remarkable. I anticipate these breaks because teaching is, honestly, an exhausting profession. The only people who truly understand this need for the eight week respite are teachers themselves. Often times, a teacher is shunned when they refer to a “needed break”. Naysayers roll their eyes and utter “must be nice” comments about “getting the whole summer off.”  Make no mistake, we often do not “get the whole summer off”. We are asked to return to school for staff development, new teacher orientations, coaching responsibilities, summer school, and meetings to plan for the coming year, a year in which we inevitably teach something new. Most teachers bring home a bin of books and materials to read in preparing for the next year. These aren’t your average beach reads- these are books about content and curriculum.

If summer break was to become a mere memory, the teacher retention crisis would be elevated to the catastrophe level. I already see young teachers leaving the profession in droves because they don’t get enough time with their families. The workload doesn’t just end when the bell rings. In fact, I work longer hours in the current educational arena than I did 22 years ago, mostly because of the 3 D’s: documentation, differentiation, and disruptions. The 3 D’s require time, energy, and a constant ability to recreate the proverbial wheel, and I’m not sure any other professions require this kind of after-hours time. In essence, we get paid in the summer for all the extra hours we work during the school year. (Our summer pay is not some sort of additional bonus, by the way. Our contractual, yearly salary is simply divided by twelve months.)

As I look to the months of “unnecessary” laundry that never made it to the top of the priority basket, I realize that I do have some time now to complete these tasks. This is time I am owed, since I donated that time earlier in my year. I plan to spend a big chunk of my summer hours creating a new class, reading some potential literature that might encourage my students to enjoy something other than twitter, and looking at my pacing charts and calendars for the fall. Of course, I’ll also clean out the garage, a few closets, and the laundry room. I refuse, however, to feel guilty when I just sit and stare peacefully at the rising tide. Summer is the time to collect for hours already worked.

The idea of year-round school needs to go away. I understand that teachers would still get several weeks of vacation sprinkled throughout the year, but a couple weeks is not enough time for teachers to wash the previous year out of their hair. We need the time to plan, prepare, and forget.

Maybe another day I’ll write a part two to this titled: “Students need summer, too”.

Remember the time we lost our 12 year old in the Swiss Alps?

Remember the time we lost our 12 year old in the Swiss Alps?

Zermatt, Switzerland: the alps most famous, carless ski town

We left our Paris hotel early, and opted to utilize Uber, once again, to get us to the rental car company at Orly. While we had all eagerly wheeled our baggage on the train from the airport to the hotel, we were not as eager to do that first thing in the morning during rush hour!

I decided months ago that I’d rather take off in a car for the French countryside from the airport and not from the city center. We reserved a minivan for our seven hour journey to Zermatt, but, as our luck would have it, they were out of mini vans. They were apologetic, and assured us that all five of us and our five suitcases (filled with our normal clothes AND ski gear) and our carry-on bags would all fit in the Ford Mendeo station wagon… the modern, low riding, wood-panel-free version of the station wagons of the road tripping 1970s. It was touch and go and a lot of cramming, but the car rental people were right- everything fit. It was a tight fit, with no view out the back and only foot room for the feet of an imp, but it all fit! I explained to the kids how lucky they were to spend the next 7 hours snuggled up together in the backseat, we took the discount they offered us for our downgrade, and off we zoomed! We were bound for the Swiss Alps!

We stopped for a fabulous lunch in a town called Poligny. We ate in a wonderful historic restaurant, called La Sergenterie, which is built into a cave! We enjoyed dinner, and Noah, not to be outdone by his old man, ordered and finished his steak tartar. I enjoyed my first of three days of cheese fondue! After what proved to be our “big meal” for the day, we continued our journey to Zermatt, Switzerland.

It is important to realize that you cannot reach Zermatt by car- visitors must park in Tasche and take a train into Zermatt. After parking in the train station parking deck, we purchased round trip tickets on the Matterhorn Glacier Express. The ride up was little more than fifteen minutes and the train dropped us in the middle of a bustling Swiss alpine town.

We rolled our luggage down the car-less streets to our hotel- the Best Western Alpen resort, where we had reserved a family style room. We checked in and we’re thrilled with the accommodations. Our room had two twins and a pullout downstairs and a loft with two twins. The best part was the balcony, which offered us a view of the peak that makes Zermatt famous: the Matterhorn!

We awoke the next morning eager to hit the slopes! We opted for a shop next to the gondola, “Intersport Rent”and were impressed with the friendliness of the staff. With gear ready, and lift tickets in our pockets (the left tickets were magnetic cards that let you through the lifts by scanning them through your jacket pockets), we loaded into the “Matterhorn Express” gondola and rode up the mountain.

It took two gondolas and a five-person chair lift to reach the top. We skied off the lift and around the building before we truly beheld the snow capped Alps around us, all lapping the snowy sides of the iconic Matterhorn. It didn’t even look real, if I’m being honest- it looked like a backdrop painted by the most talented painter in the world. I tried to snap as many photos as I could, but none of the photos captured the absolute majesty of that scene. I could have sat and stared at that backdrop forever.

We spent the day skiing the Gorgenaut side of Zermatt- happily exploring the long, powdery runs. All the trails were clearly marked by level, and most were delightfully wide and uncrowded. In fact, many times I was alone on the run- as my family raced to the bottom!

We stopped for lunch at a buffet on the mountain called the buffet and bar Riffelberg, before realizing we lost Noah!  Jim and Hannah skied back to the chairlift, and I waited with Molly in case he might find his way to the restaurant. Hannah and Jim found Noah- he had no idea we were stoping for lunch so he had gone up to the top again- by himself- and come back down- not the least bit concerned. Boys!

The buffet offered plenty of hot and cold options, but they charge for everything- including ketchup packets and NAPKINS!? Use your sleeve, kids!

We skied until the 4:30pm closing forced us from the slopes! My forty-five year old muscles were burning and pulsating, and I cursed them for not being better sports! Given my aching body, and Molly’s overall lackluster feelings about skiing (she was an excellent sport about this adventure however), she and I decided we would spend the next day exploring Zermatt. We returned our equipment to the rental store and felt excited to take on the morrow!

The evening ended with a dip in the hotel hot tub and a visit to the sauna!

Molly and I slept in the next morning to a glorious 10:00am. The other three were out early- headed for their adventure- skiing down into Italy! As soon a I got out of bed, my muscles assured me that I’d made the right decision in not skiing another day…

We wandered the streets of Zermatt, exploring shops and eateries, and talking with local shopkeepers about everything from Swiss Army knives to cuckoo clocks. I quickly realized that my name is quite popular in the Swiss Alps- and lots of products bare my moniker!

By early evening, the rest of the family returned from their day on the slopes. They were eager to share the adventure stories of their days- their faces ruddy from the wind and sun of the Alps.

We shared experiences at a neat little restaurant in Zermatt called the Restaurant du Pont, where I enjoyed my final cheese fondue.

The next morning, Saturday, we were packed and headed to the train station by 7:00am. Our flight was leaving Orly at 7pm, so we traveled back to the city.

We flew from Orly to Heathrow, and checked into the Heathrow Marriott for one final evening. We ate a late dinner of fish and chips- maintaining the mantra of “when in Rome”… and hit the proverbial hay! The final morning, we opted to Uber to Hyde Park, where we wandered in and out, then walked up the side of Green Park all the way to Buckingham Palace, where we waited with the crowds to see the Changing of the Guards!  From there, we went to Westminster Abbey and Big Ben before heading back to the hotel to check out.

We made it back to Heathrow with time to spare. Our flight took off for Atlanta at 3:55pm. I will say, the flight back to reality never offers the same excitement as the flight that sweeps you off on an adventure…