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…

Skulls and femurs and bones, oh my! Our last day in Paris 2017

Skulls and femurs and bones, oh my! Our last day in Paris 2017

Some folks like to begin their day sipping slowly from a cup of coffee… we, however, preferred to wake up amidst the femurs and skulls of 6 million dead Parisians. 

We opted to skip my original plan, which was to ride the elevator to the top of Monparnasse- the tallest skyscraper in Paris, in order to catch up on some sleep. (The view from the top might have been redundant since we already took photos atop the Eiffel Tower)! We did not, however, intend to sleep until 10:45am! The hotel’s electricity had been out all night, and not only did we not get our wake up call, but none of our alarms went off- again! Our tickets for the Catacombs, pre purchased online, were from 11:00am-1:30pm. We didn’t have any idea if that meant we had to be there at 11:00am or if that was just a range. My optimism began to sing my favorite raegae tune… “every little thing… is gonna be alright…” a tune I tend to sing to myself in times of worry.

Once again we found ourselves flying out of the hotel toward our metro station.

When we arrived at the Catacombs, the Denfert-Rochereau stop on the metro- we saw that the line to get in was wrapped around the next block. With a sinking spirit I took our tickets to the man at the door to inquire about whether or not we should get in line or if we were too late. He looked at our tickets, unlatched the canvas barrier, and motioned for us to enter! Perhaps the curse of our comedy of errors was nearing a finish! The fates were on our side!

We entered, put on the headsets provided with the self guided audio tour, and descended the winding stairs- hundreds of them, spiraling down, down, down! We ended up what seemed like like miles below the bustling Paris streets, where we began to follow the winding passages leading to the ossuary. As we approached the halls of the dead, a sign warned, “Arrete! C’est ici l’empire de la mort!” (Stop! This here is the empire of the dead!) But how could we stop now? Isn’t morbid curiosity inherit in all humans? We had to press on and witness the bones of over 6 million dead Parisians.

The tunnels were used, from 1786-88, as a nightly depository for the dead. The cemeteries of Paris were filled beyond their rims, so the tunnels below served as a convenient final resting place for these poor souls. Years following the body build-up, the bones became a tangled mess- falling all over visitors and even occasionally blocking an entrance.

Finally, in the early 1800s, the Paris Authorities decided to organize the underground mausoleum. Workers spent months sorting and organizing the bones. They stacked them in patterns and rows- sometimes even making heart shapes with the skulls. According to the informative “audio tour”, they have to realign the bones here and there as some settle and fall out of the walls. I was thankful I wasn’t knocked out by a falling femur.

The walk back up the winding stairs was brutal, but, after what we’d seen, we were happy to be granted another day of life on earth!

After finding the “sortie”, we wandered down the street, where I happened upon a tailor who was willing to fix the strap on my backpack for two euros. He spoke no English, and it was rewarding to use my years of French classes to speak with him! His shop was a tiny place- not much bigger than a closet, and he put my bag’s strap into his sewing machine and had it secured and good as new in minutes!

At this point, we hopped back on the metro and headed for the Arc de Triomphe, at the top of the Champs Elysees! We got a family photo, then began to wander down to the Rue de la Paris, just outside the Tuillery Gardens. As we meandered the famous Champs Elysees, we watched a gypsy play her game on a poor gal. The clipboard-toting gypsy approached the unsuspecting gal whilst her partner in crime reached in the victim’s bag, grabbed a wallet, and ran! It happened as quick as a wink! I was glad I had taken the extra precaution of using a luggage lock on my little day back pack!

After wandering in and out of a few places, we stopped at a crepe stand in the Place de la Concord to enjoy crepes and a drink and watch the people pass us by. Once we were refueled, we headed past Le Grand Palais and over the bridge toward Les Invalides. Inside the gates, we passed oozie- toting guards and purchased our tickets to visit the Musee de l’Armee, home to over 500,000 artifacts dating from the the 12th century up to World War II. I was thrilled to see- close-up- the chainmail armor worn by the Anglo saxons- described in such detail in Beowulf. I also enjoyed the weapons, armor for even tiny kids, and paintings of ages and ages of historical battles.

The exhibits were amazing and ended in the famous gold-domed Invalides- which is home to the tomb of Napoleon. The tomb is massive and symbolizes the enormity of this tiny man’s place in French history. Visitors can look down to it from the main level or walk below for a closer look.

 After leaving Les Invalides, we made our way back to the Champs Elysees, and continued to the giant Paris ferris wheel. (While nowhere near the enormity and height of the London Eye, I prefer its more intimate feel) There was no line, and we enjoyed pointing out all of the easily recognized Paris landmarks.

Behind the Rue de la Paris were a few little trinket shops and a macaroon stand. I insisted that everyone try a Paris macaroon. We bought six- raspberry, caramel, mint, mint chocolate chip, and two Nutella. I could not BELIEVE that I was the only one who enjoyed them!?

We wandered through the Tuillery Gardens and back up to the Louvre, enjoying the beautiful daffodils and tulips lining the walkways. Ahhhh… Paris in April.

We caught the train to Bastille- where I thought we would be able to see some sort of rebuilt fortress!? All we saw, however, was the monument marking the famous “Storming” that the French celebrate each year! I was glad I had not made this a bigger deal in our day!

Our final supper in Paris was quite memorable. We all enjoyed wine and fromage… and watched as Jim ate an entire plate of “Steak Tartar”… which is pretty much a raw hamburger topped with a raw egg and raw onions. Wow. Gross.

We took the train back to our hotel, walking past the Gallery de Lafayette which was a block down, and tucked in for the last night in France.

A British Comedy of Errors, Indeed

A British Comedy of Errors, Indeed

I suppose it’s appropriate that our day in London, home of the Bard himself, should begin with a complete comedy of errors! Our alarm for 5:45am did not go off. We awoke at 6:20am to the kids banging on our door! The irony of my sleep-crazed teenagers waking us up was not lost on me!   

This was the day we took the Eurostar train over to London for the day. In order to save money on the train tickets, we found we saved over $500 by going with a Viator one-day tour package, which included the 5 round trip train tickets, 5 “hop on hop off” bus passes, 5 one hour walking tour tickets (which we didn’t use), and and 5 tickets for a river cruise down the Thames river. 

We skipped breakfast and arrived at the Gare de Nord train station, where we were told to meet our local guide at the base of the escalator near a meeting area. When we got to the station we quickly realized that there were at least four escalators… so we got a bit nervous. (When you book a tour online, and you can’t find your guide right away, there is a little voice in your head that starts clicking its tongue and admonishing you with reminders of the Internet scammers who are always scamming people over!)

Fortunately, I asked an official looking employee where we needed to be and she directed us to the right place! Viator (who was bought out by trip advisor several years back) uses local tour groups to provide the local services, and our guide was wearing a red vest and holding up a sign: Paris Vision Tours. She handed over all of our tickets, and bid us adieu!

We found our way through security and onto the Eurostar train. The train took off at 8:30am and arrived in London at 10:00am- after dashing under the English Chanel at 187 miles per hour! The Eurostar train is an awesome way to travel, particularly with families. The seats are comfortable and there are tables with the seats facing each other so it is easy to play cards during the trip! Train car #9 had the snack bar, where we purchased Croque-monsiers and Caesar wraps, drinks, and chips. The ride was only two hours and twenty minutes, and it was exciting to realize we were speeding along at 187 mph as we plunged under the English Channel! 

We arrived at the St. Pancreas station in London, cleared customs, and were greeted by our “CityView Tour” rep. He was a nice enough fellow. He provided us with a map of bus stops and told us which blue, open top busses were included on our tour. We thanked him and hopped on the first blue double decker we saw, climbing immediately to the open-air top floor.  

We got off what would be our only bus for the day about one block from Trafalgar Square. We began walking toward the “Floating Yoda” who was performing when I’d been here in June of 2016. We wandered through the square, where passionate activists were yelling into loudspeakers in front of the National Art Museum. We made our way toward the 169 foot Nelson Column guarded by four giant lions, where we got some good photos. The photos continued as we passed the iconic red phone booths on our way to Piccadilly Circus! The kids were truly able to enjoy the British pride that flew on flags and was marked on every bit of merchandise imaginable! We enjoyed the shops and general heartbeat of the area before making our next move which would be to St. Paul’s Cathedral.

After realizing we would have to back track to wait for the next bus, and believing it would take up too much of our precious day, we opted to travel like the Americans we are-we “Ubered” to our next stop- a mere £9 for all five of us! (A small price to pay to ensure we got to see all the stops on my list!) We ordered an Uber to take us to St. Paul’s Cathedral! The Uber driver, adding to our comedic theme, missed us in the Piccadilly madness, then was stopped by the police trying to pull a fast turn!

He finally connected with us and dropped us off at the foot of the stairs at the breathtaking St. Paul’s cathedral. The kids didn’t care about going in, so we told them to sit on the steps and watch the pigeons for a bit- we were going in! I was thrilled to have a look inside St. Paul’s, as I didn’t get to go in when I was last in London. As a teacher of British Literature- with a particular soft spot for the Romantic poets who often reference this church- I was thrilled to take a self guided tour complete with headsets. The dome ceiling gave way to a breathtaking ceiling of artwork. I can now imagine the entrance of the poor children of London who were paraded in to the church each Easter- the flowers of London as William Blake liked to refer to them… I enjoyed going below the church to see Blake’s memorial, as well as the crypt of Horacio Nelson.

Once we left St. Paul’s, we set out on foot to the Thames River- passing the London School for Boys and crossing the Millennium Bridge. This is the bridge that Simon- my EF Tourguide from June of 2016- said was famous for the “gum art”! My kids got a kick out of that! Halfway across the bridge we stopped and bought some hot, caramelized almonds from a street vendor…. they were to die for! They were gobbled up before we made it to the other side of the Thames!

On the other side of the bridge we made our way to the Globe theater! We took the museum tour and enjoyed seeing the history of Shakespeare’s theater, as well as costumes, props, and instruments!

After leaving the Globe, we walked all the way down past London Bridge to Tower Bridge. I was tempted along the way by a spooky theatrical opportunity to learn “the history of London Bridge”, but opted to continue on our days journey! We crossed the beautiful Tower bridge and stopped for lunch at a place right next to the walls of the Tower of London! We enjoyed a local beer and traditional fish and chips!

After lunch, we made our way down to the Tower pier- where we got on our Thames river cruise down to the London Eye. I hardly call this thing a cruise- it is really a water taxi! Unless you sat outside you couldn’t’ see anything out of the completely fogged windows! As we cruised down the Thames, however, we got great views of Big Ben and Parliament.

We departed the river boat at the London Eye. We made our way to the ticket center, got tickets, and got in line. The line moved pretty quick- we were in our little capsule within twenty minutes. The views were really quite spectacular! You could see Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the Shard, the Thames, Whitehall Court and so much more! The ride lasted about thirty minutes- really pushing our time limit in the city.

After departing the Eye, we opted to Uber our way back to the train station- where we were an hour later than they recommended.

When we got dropped off at St Pancras, we walked in- and my priority was to find the WC! Hannah insisted that I look at the tickets and tell her the train number. It was 9054. We all looked up at the screen and it said- “Final boarding!” What!!?? The comedy ensued!

The five of us took off running through the station. Noah, my youngest, was behind me yelling, “Mom! I’ve never seen you run like that! I’m going to video tape you!!” And he did. I’m sure that embarrassing bit of footage will rear its head somewhere soon…

Luckily, we made it three minutes before they closed the gate. Phew! We would make it back to Paris after all!

When we got back to our hotel, we found the final act of our comedy of errors was in full production… our hotel has no electricity until 7am. So- I am typing this blog on my cell phone, with the hope that my battery will see it to its finish! And it has. The sounds of the city will now lull me to sleep until tomorrow! 

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!


Uncovering Hawaii, Maui edition (with special attention to the Road to Hana)

Let me just start by saying that Maui is now one of my favorite places on earth. We arrived, picked up our rental jeep, and hit the road. Once we turned on Homoapiilani Highway, (aka Hwy 30) we were blown away with the landscape! The road followed the bluest ocean and we could see the islands of  Kaho’olawe, Lan’ai, and Moloka’i across the sea. 

We checked into our hotel, the Marriott Ocean Club, which is on Ka’anapoli  Beach. This particular area, which stretches from the Hyatt down to Black Rock beach, is connected by a gorgeous boardwalk. This boardwalk is peppered with scenic views of the beach, tropical plants, and tiki torches to light the way in the evenings. Restaurants await at the Whalers Village, and we opted for a place called Leilani’s, where we enjoyed fresh fish and a piece of their acclaimed Hula pie.

Our first full day was high adventure, as we opted to drive the infamous “Road to Hana“. We downloaded the app called “The Gypsy Guide” which would prove to be an awesome guide through the Mauian rain forest. Although we had no cell service for 95% of our long day, this “guide” took us step by step and told us all the best places to stop along the way! No clue how it worked without service- and managed to track our every turn?!

Our first stop was in the town of Paia, which is just a few miles before the Road to Hana begins. This town was home to some amazing local art, including carvings that the local artists tap out with a chisel and a wooden block, and amazing oil paintings.

The next time we stopped we were on the famous road, with its more than 650 turns and over 50 one way bridges! It took us close to 5 hours to get to Hana between the stops, the turns, and the rainy conditions of the rainforest!  We stopped at the first spot discussed by our Gypsy Guide- at the Twin Falls. This stop had us walk through a pretty muddy trail, in parts rocky and steep, to witness a beautiful sight: two waterfalls running parallel with each other! Worth the mud! We also picked up a bag of fresh pineapple at the roadside stand- it was pure ambrosia.

The next stop was the Keanae Arboretum. This is pretty much an outdoor tree museum! There was a gorgeous walk through the groves of all of the native trees of Maui. By far my favorite were the Rainbow Eucaliptus trees. I had seen photographers capture these trees in several of the art galleries, and seeing them up close, I completely understood their mystique! The Banyan trees deserve some mention as well! 

We were nearly halfway to Hana and the guide told us about a great stop for food. When we stopped, we were greeted by friendly locals who offered samples of the most delicious baked coconut I’ve ever had- sweetened with cane sugar grown on the island. We ate fish tacos for lunch before heading back out on the crazy curvy road to Hana! It was also a great place to use the facilities- porta-potties nestled in the palms!

Our next “must see” stop, according to the app, was the Ke’anae Peninsula. The scenery here was, for lack of a better word, breathtaking. The lava rock literally jutts out of the ocean, and waves create white bursts of surf that remind viewers of the power of that sea. 

The next stop was the Wai’anapanapa black sand beach, which was also home to several caves which are steeped in legend! One of the caves was the hideout for the wife of an ancient King. He found her because he saw her reflection in the water, and killed her. Jeez! This stop was amazing. There were little brown mongooses frolicking all over the place; Rikitikitavi came to life!! (They sort of resembled a hybrid mole rat if I’m being honest). We were able to scoop up some black sand and smooth, weathered lava rocks to take home, and the views of some of the lava rock formations were stunning. 

We made it to Hana– considered Hawaii’s most authentic town. The town was, quite honestly, small and seemingly uninhabited! It was raining, so we snapped some soggy photos and hit the road back to our hotel- hoping to avoid sunset on the winding roads! It took us a mere 3 hours to get back to Paia. We ended up back at the hotel by 8:30pm! A long, muddy, fulfilling day, for sure!

The next two days were deemed days of relaxation. We hit Kapalua beach for the first R &R day. Public parking was nearly impossible to find, but we did luck into a spot on the street- the jeep was at such an angle I feared it might flip! We headed to the beach, avec rental chairs, and enjoyed the day. I saw turtle heads pop up all over the place, and enjoyed the refreshing Pacific. Jim went snorkeling and saw at least 8 turtles.  We ate dinner in Lahaina, at a place called Captain Jack’s. They had the best calamari I’ve ever had! (The Pirates Tonic was quite tasty as well!)

The last day of as paradise was spent tooling around Lahaina while waiting for Jim’s scuba trip to dock at the Mala boat ramp.  He had a beautiful scuba experience, and I was awed by some of the photos, so I decided to share them here for any scuba divers that may want a glimpse! (I am not, nor will I ever be a scuba diver!)

I ate at a delicious crepery (not surprising that I might be drawn to such a place!) called the Maui Swiss Cafe. The crepes were French style, caked with butter and sugar; no, not very diabetic friendly but you can’t ALWAYS obey the rules!? Until noon I wandered around the town, particularly fascinated by the numerous local art and photography shops! The Banyan Tree grove was neat as well.

We made our way back to Kaanapali beach, got the beach junk, and headed to the famous Black Rock beach. I enjoyed watching the cliff divers, and swimming in the waves. The waters were definitely a bit more wild at this beach, but it was beautiful! Jim snorkeled and met up with an octopus! ​

I will miss the sweet sound of “Aloha” and the  beauty of waves crashing into lava rock. I will surely return to this beautiful land again someday… Mahalo!!


Uncovering Hawaii: Oahu, part two (with special attention to Pearl Harbor and the North End)

Uncovering Hawaii: Oahu, part two (with special attention to Pearl Harbor and the North End)

We purchased tickets online to see Pearl Harbor and got there with a little under two hours to explore before taking the boat out to the memorial honoring the USS Arizona. The memorial park had some amazing exhibits and I was glad to have the individual audio-headphone tour to truly understand all that I was seeing. 

I was surprised at how small the torpedoes were considering the damage they inflicted. I found the film they showed us fascinating and powerful in its timeline retelling of the events of Dec 7, 1941, the day that FDR said, “would live in infamy.” The film footage taken from the actual day brought us as close as possible to the destruction that sunk four US battleships and damaged eight more, destroyed 188 US airplanes, injured over 1,100 men and women and killed over 2400 Americans.

The history of the surprise attack waged by the Japanese was interesting and well documented, and my heart went out to the radar operator who saw the Japanese planes approaching, but assumed (with urging from his superior) that the planes were US test planes coming in from California. The Japanese plan of attack was so perfectly executed- the US didn’t stand a chance.

The boat ride out to the memorial was a gorgeous ride, as Pearl Harbor is lined by dormant volcanos that seem to continuously boast rainbows. If you go- try to get on the starboard side going out to truly have the most uninhibited view. Once we stepped onto the memorial we were able to see parts of the USS Arizona that jut out of  the water. We also paid tribute to the wall of names of those who lost their lives.

Our next adventure was to find “Bailey’s” Hawaiian shirt shop. One of my co-workers, Dave, a fellow Oglethorpe alum, told me I had to check the place out. He must have a good sense of who I am- because it was my favorite shop in Oahu! It was home to 15,000 different Hawaiian Aloha shirts- the largest selection in the world! There were used, new, and vintage shirts- definitely something for EVERYONE- even sports fans and card sharks! The tops of each rack had all sorts of vintage Hawaiian stuff- lamps, hats, jewelry, old toys, and hula girl statues. Signed photos of Tom Seleck were hanging all around. I could have spent hours in this place, but we only arrived 40 minutes before closing… We left with some souvenir shirts we can wear back home, when enjoying Mai Tais in Hotlanta!

Our last Oahu adventure was to spend a self-paced jeep day touring the North End of the island.  What a totally different vibe from the hustle and bustle of Honolulu! We started out driving up the center of the island and past the Dole pineapple plantation. We could see the gardens and the train that takes visitors on a tour, but we opted not to stop. We had to return to Waikiki for a 6:00pm luau!

Our first stop was lunch at a renowned “food truck” area off of Haleiwa Beach. These food trucks were visited by “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives” on the Food Network , and included the Big Wave Shrimp, the Surf Salsa, and a Korean BBQ. We ate outside at picnic tables and enjoyed shrimp burritos and salsa that was CRAZY hot. After lunch we wandered down the street and enjoyed a tasting opportunity at a local place specializing in Hawaiian spreads. Had to bring home a jar of the chocolate peanut butter with macadamian nuts… Wow!

The next stop was to the public area of Haleiwa Beach, where we got to watch surfers take on the north shore waves, and put our feet in the sand. Lots of local teenagers were here, watching the surfers- who ignored the “No Swimming” signs. Perhaps surfing and swimming are  two distinct  activities? All I know, is that if I were the mother of these young surfers, I’d be freaking out!


We continued to drive around the tip of the North End, stopping frequently to ooh and ahh at the scenery. The final stop before returning for the Luau was a place called Laie Point State Wayside Park. This park is literally at the dead end of a residential neighborhood. Surprisingly, the park was sparsely populated with tourists, and when we stepped out of the car to look at the view we couldn’t believe it! The rock formations, actually called islands to the locals, were incredibly beautiful. The largest of the rocks is called Lizard Island, and it’s beautiful arc had a hole ripped through from a 1946 tsunami. 

Legend has it, according to inscriptions at the park, that this area of the sea was protected by a giant lizard named Laniloa. One day, the lizard had to fight the great warrior Hana. The lizard lost the battle and Hana chopped the lizard into five pieces. Those lizard parts now make up the five islands that we could see from the park. 

Between the waves crashing against the cliffs of lava rock, and the awe-inspiring views of the rock formations, this stop was one of my favorites.

Our last evening in Oahu ended with a traditional Luau and Hawaiian show tracing the history of the Polynesain culture. The show was atop the roof of the Hilton! The selection of traditional dishes was amazing- my favorites were the noodle salad, the Mahimahi, and the shrimp and scallop salad. The entertainment was great- the host had a voice like Frank Sinatra, and the dancers were high energy! The finale fire throwing was fantastic!

​While our time in Oahu is up, I cannot wait to see what adventure and beauty Maui holds! 

Uncovering Hawaii: Oahu, part 1

Uncovering Hawaii: Oahu, part 1

Aloha! That word always seemed like one of those words I only heard in Elvis movies, yet from the moment I stepped off the plane, it is the word that begins and ends every sentence in this beautiful state. I was reading an article about Duke Kahanamoka, considered the father of surfing, and he said, “Aloha means ‘with love’. People meet you with it and send you off with it. I believe in it and it is my creed. Aloha to you!”I like that.

We rented a Jeep at the airport and headed to our hotel- the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort in the Tapas Tower. This place is considered a resort, but I call it a city! There must be 20 restaurants, over 100 stores, and five pools- it is massive and sprawling!

Since we were caught up in the time-change funk, we rose at around  4:30am. After the ultimate parking challenge, we went for Saturday breakfast at the Hula Grill, a chain popular throughout the Hawaiian Islands. The view was fantastic, and the breakfast fare was all Hawaiian- and delicious! I ordered eggs Benedict with Hau’ula tomatoes and spinach on a toasted bao bun, and fresh papaya & pineapple. This was a far cry from my normal nutri grain bar! Delicious.

The next stop was the Diamond Head Crater. We got there by 8:30am, but the lots were already full! Realizing I left my nitroglycerin tabs at home, (I have a slight heart condition that does not appreciate strenuous hikes) I opted to drop off Jim & the folks we were with and go find something solo to do in lieu of a mega hike up. The ancient volcanic crater, however, was beautiful even from the ground!  Here are a couple photos from the top taken by my husband Jim. Breathtaking comes to mind!?

While they hiked, I tooled around and happened upon the local KCC Farmer’s Market, which was organized by the Hawaiian Farm Bureau on the campus of Kapiolani Community College. The campus was beautiful and I wandered through their cactus gardens before hitting the market.

The market was both entertaining and delicious. People drank fresh pineapple juice right out of the fruit.  I listened to a local musician play his original songs, I talked to a local farmer, and I sampled some amazing local honey! My favorite samples had to come from the macadamia nut table where I sampled over 15 different flavors! I bought the onion garlic flavor- but I could have gone NUTS! The market is open every Saturday. Brandi-Ann Uyemura reviewed the market for Hawaii.comand said, “this market is like a shopping mall for the foodie and a hotspot for Saturday brunch.” Totally agree, Ms. Uyemura!

Once I picked up the Diamond Point hikers, we headed to Tantalus Road to make the Round Top drive. We took the top off the jeep for the ride- not the least bit easy- and set out on the steep, curvy jaunt to the top. We stopped at a beautiful lookout spot to take in the views on the way up. We had a great view of Diamond Head, the Punchbowl Crater, and downtown Honolulu. We continued up, and the open jeep was amazing… until the rains came! Without any more pull offs, and crazy, cliff- hanging cottages lining one side, all we could do was embrace the rain until we got to the top!

After making our way back down, we drove to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, also known as the Punchbowl Cemetery, because the site sits in the crater of surrounding volcanoes. In Hawaiian, the term “punchbowl” is “Puowaina” which means “Hill of Sacrifice”. This is a befitting name for this beautiful, solemn resting place of over 13,000 soldiers and sailors who died in WWII. There are also 70 generic “unknown” markers for the graves of soldiers who died at Pearl Harbor.

As we approached Lolani Palace, my attention was momentarily interrupted by a drunk guy who was dancing and waving to me on the palace lawn. This palace was once the original residence of the King Kalakaua and Queen Lili’uokalani, who were the last monarchs of Hawaii. Also on the grounds is the famous gazebo, which was built for inaugurations, and is now used for local concerts and weddings.

Down the street from the palace sits Kawaiahao Church, which is the first Christian church built on Oahu in 1842.  The church is sometimes referred to as the “Westminster Abbey of the Pacific”. The coolest part of the church is that it was built by missionaries using 14,000 pounds of coral slabs from ocean reefs. There was a bride and groom getting photos taken when we arrived. The groom looked about 65 and the bride in her twenties. We thought it might be a father daughter until they kissed. Nope. Definitely a couple!

We ate lunch at a place called Hank’s Haute Dogs, which was featured on the Food Network’s Diners Drive-in and Dives. This place is not exactly a vegetarian dream. Their menu consists of mostly “haute” dogs and hamburgers. When I asked the guy what the best vegetarian option was, he looked at me like I was from Venus, and suggested the Truffle Macaroni & Cheese. Now truffles are interesting to me. I once watched a documentary on the underground, highly sought after truffles and remember that they are often hunted by trained dogs and pigs, especially in France, where they are considered a delicacy. Looking closer at the menu, I asked the order taker about the “Lobster Haute Dog” which listed sausage as one of it’s ingredients.  The order taker said that the seafood was wrapped in a pork casing. Then he asked if I wanted that with some beef fat fries. Smart assery was evidentially his schtick… The truffle Mack and cheese was pretty good, though…

Our day ended with the conferment ceremony for the 2016 CPCU designees- the reason we were flown to Hawaii! The Hawaii Conference Center was the biggest my eyes have ever witnessed; 15,000 people awaited the start of the event. The keynote speaker was journalist  John Quinones, the host of “What would You Do?” and numerous other award-winning pieces. His message was powerful: we must model integrity and kindness. He was at once inspiring, funny, and heartfelt, and his own story was one of struggle and hard work.  I videotaped several tidbits to share with my newspaper students when I get home.

After the ceremony, Jim’s CEO put the Crawford & Company people on a shuttle to Duke’s Restaurant, where we were escorted out past the pool to a private dining area directly on the Pacific. Tiki torches lined the walls, and a gorgeous Laie was placed around each of our necks. We had cheeses and shrimp appetizers, all the Mai Tais we could drink, and a beautiful buffet of Hawaiian fare including fresh caught Mahimahi.  And to think… this was just our first full day… more adventure awaits!

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.


Heidi Campbell



Life without drive-thru windows may just be Nirvana.

It is nearly New Year’s Resolution season, and, if I may put it in baseball terms, my resolution is on deck. This year, I’m straying from the typical resolutions. There will be no weight loss, no organizing, no watching my language. My resolution will be unique and long overdue. 2016 is the year I quit the convenience of drive-thru windows. These windows have had more than three strikes in my life, and they are OUT. I resolve to go in or go home.

I can’t remember the last time I went through a drive-thru and left with peace and harmony in my soul.  There is always something that bludgeons peace… a missing burrito, a spilled soup, or a botched “special order”. There are, of late, quite a few gripes that have gotten my proverbial goat, but the top offenders have so jaded my spirit that I must purge them before they permanently corrupt my ability to chill.

Here are the top 3 reasons I am giving up drive-thru convenience for 2016:

  1. They often use improper bag sizes for packing the order. Perhaps the boss issues a challenge for the employees: if you can fit that massive order into that teeny bag, you get a free hot fudge sundae. I get the bag. The bag bulges; it cannot close. I place the bag on the seat. The bagged contents shift with discomfort, and the items on top shiver. The bag stands tall, like a tower of blocks- one wrong move and it topples. And it always topples. Even in the most seemingly secure stance, it topples. And, on the rare occasions that it doesn’t flop, the bag reaches its limit and rips. I may practice a BYOB (bring your own bag) routine for future visits to the tiny-bag mecca.
  2. 95% of the time, my order has a mistake. Something is missing. Even the times when I’ve counted items to make sure it matches the receipt, there is a mistake. There’s beef in the vegetarian burrito, there’s no side salad- instead I find some sort of raisin carrot atrocity- or there is mayo on the plain burger.  I am on to these mistakes, and have since tried to quickly check the contents. The window worker at one establishment recently quipped, “We can’t be waiting for you to check the order, ma’am. Please pull forward.” Oy.
  3. “Please pull forward.” They push me into the dreaded “pull ahead” spot nearly every time. This occurs even when there is no one behind me…This spot requires that I wait an eternity for someone to rush out, hand off the bag, and dart back in. They rush back because they know. They know the order is wrong. This happened last week. They left out a a side salad. At this point, I’m forced to drive back through the window lane because I’m likely in my pajama pants.  As TomPetty aptly croons, “…and the waiting, is the hardest part…”

I look forward to peace and harmony in 2016! I will purge these oxymoronic drive-thru windows from my life.  Designed for convenience, they are plagued with torment. I will enter these establishments on two feet, armed with my own bags, and be ready to ensure accuracy. I shall enjoy the non-cooking nights of 2016 with my joie de vivre intact.