I Love Paris in the Summer

It had been too long since I’d last visited Paris. I lived in Caen and later Paris after I’d graduated from high school to study French for nearly a year, and it was dumbfounding to travel through time to present day, with my three kiddos in tow!

We were an exhausted bunch, thanks to the cute toddler who cried and then jabbered the entire overnight flight! I gave up and watched a few movies. Katerina at least managed five hours of sleep.

Once we landed and grabbed our luggage, I immediately had to practice my rusty French to find the train station and ticket machine. While at the metro ticket machine, I discovered that my bank card didn’t work. I was forced to exchange my US dollars at the airport exchange booth and was ripped off. For those of you mystical people with the gift of planning, make sure you’ve contacted your bank to allow your debit card to work overseas. I bought our RER and ten-pack of metro tickets and we wheeled our way on the train, which was no easy feat. It was crowded, hot, and I was utterly exhausted, also feeling overwhelmed that my trio of youngins’ fully depended on me. Nikos will meet us later, by the way, in a month.

Up and down the stairs we lugged our suitcases as we switched metro stations a few times. A few kind young men offered to carry my suitcase up flights of stairs, and I was grateful. Nikolas said it was because I was an old woman. Great, I’ll take it!

We made it to our hotel near the Montparnasse station, and walked smack into my brother and my little niece in our hotel lobby! We’re a loud obnoxious bunch, straight out of Wildwood Lane when we reunite.

Eric and Sophia had arrived the night before I believe, and their hotel by chance was just around the corner.

The plan was to stay two nights in Paris, and then take a train up to Bretagne to stay with our other brother and family who lives there.

When I lived in Paris, I visited the Louvre four times, so that I could see it in its entirety. I would suggest that you instead visit the Musée d’Orsay.

Katerina had learned quite a bit from her art teacher about Monet, and there is an extensive collection at this museum. And I’ll go ahead and confess that I was feigning interest during our walk-throughs of some of the rooms while others gasped at the masterpeices. I felt pretty clueless, and started craving coffee and a pastry. Yet, the museum itself is a masterpiece, with its ornate architecture and dramatic sweeping halls. In the past, the Musée d’Orsay had been a train station.

It’s a good idea to try and blend in with your surroundings, appearing to not be a tourist. As you can see, I did a great job in this area!

I’d like to share my favorite places in Paris before I post too many pictures, and write a bit-yes,it is possible for me not to be wordy, it’s happened once or twice. Additionally, without trying to be bossy (so glad Nikos cannot interrupt on here) wear your Tevas or sneakers, because you will walk marathon miles. Jardin du Luxembourg, already mentioned  Musée d’Orsay, any shiny pretty place selling macarons-pistachio are the yummiest, La Basilique du Sacré Cœur de Montmartre, don’t even bother with the Eiffel Tower, just take a few pics around it, cross many bridges, stroll along the Seine, and go to many, many cafes. Coffee just tastes better in Paris. Oh, and don’t be on some low-carb diet, your vacation will suck! Pain au chocolat must be ingested and macarons and quiche and…You don’t necessarily need to speak French but do your best with what you know, out of courtesy. I found that people were very encouraging to comprehend my patched up French and many even gave me compliments. French people are generally kind and courteous except when it comes to driving. But what do I know, I’m an American tourist who is scared of driving in Minneapolis, and I’m certain there are far more wonderful places to discover in this beloved city.

So the six of us walked to the timeless marvel, Jardin du Luxembourg, and had a sweet picnic. Eric and I shared a quiche, the kids had various items, and folks, that’s how you need to eat in Paris if you’re on a limited budget. Go to a bakery, order up some tasty choices and have a picnic.

We went to all of the places I listed and Eric-turned personal traineron little sister in France-had me jogging along the Seine each morning, like 4 or 5 miles!! One morning, I wore my St. Olaf t-shirt while jogging, and some guy yelled out while passing me, “Hey Minnesota!” I was too breathless to reply, but I thought it was pretty cool! Leave it to Eric to find the very best deal for our morning petit-déjeuner, a wonderful cafe, our favorite. It made huffing and puffing during my jog all worthwhile.

We walked around, laughed out loud, and I simply marvelled at how nothing and everything had changed, Paris and me. The architecture, sirens, scent of diesel, annoying second-hand smoke, delectable wafts billowing from boulangeries, dodging dog doody on sidewalks, manicured rectangles of summer flowers, stinky metro with germ-laden poles, muffled French conversations, old and new, peddlers playing a melancholic echoey tune. Paris drips with nostalgia and my heart cherishes every drop with love.

Journey to Sweet Sound

The results of Katerina’s hearing tests always ended with a question mark her first three years of life. She was a squirrely toddler, and the nurses waved the test results off, said she was fine.   Katerina was indeed fine, her heart patched up and healthy, she was simply happy and filled with sunshine.

Katerina’s speech development was severely delayed.  I knew it before her first birthday, but again, my concerns of a delay were dismissed, all chalked up to Katerina’s rough beginning.

Upon moving to Minnesota, Katerina had begun nursery school. Her teachers recognized a delay within the first week and requested that she be evaluated.  The speech pathologist explained that Katerina had the most significant delay of any child he’d witnessed in his long career, who hadn’t any cognitive disabilities or other issues.

I always accompanied Katerina to her speech therapy sessions so that I could help her at home, and felt it was a team effort. Additionally, I could understand Katerina better than anyone.

It was a blue-skied crisp October afternoon, as Katerina and I walked to her speech lesson, enjoying the sunshine. Katerina was wearing a pink hat that her Yaya in Greece had lovingly knitted for her. We were chattering amidst the birds who must have been preparing for their autumn journey to warmer places.

Holding my daughter’s hand, I mentioned something about Dolly, our grumpy cat, always a subject that ignited giggles. Katerina didn’t respond, just continued walking.  I repeated my words-nothing.  I let go of Katerina’s hand and casually walked to the other side of her.  Again, I repeated what I’d said, and she laughed and added more to the story. The rest of the half-mile walk, I switched from side to side, my suspicion growing with each step.

When we arrived for Katerina’s lesson, I mentioned to her speech pathologist what I’d observed, suspecting that she was hearing-impaired. John said that it made sense considering her speech delay, and would request a hearing test for Katerina’s next session.

The following week, Katerina was given a full hearing examination. The most memorable was when Katerina wore headphones, and each time she heard a beeping sound, she was instructed to drop a colored chip in the container. I stood on the far corner of the room and watched her tiny fingers drop each chip diligently-such a good little student!

The ears were then isolated, and my warm grin swiftly fell. The beeps traveled to where I stood, yet Katerina held the chip waiting to hear the sound. With each beep, my heart thudded almost as loudly. I silently and emphatically willed Katerina, Drop the chip, honey!  Drop that chip! She didn’t drop another chip until the beeping sound was very loud. By that time she was a blurry figure as I tried to hide any evidence of tears.

Katerina went to a pediatric audiologist soon after, and it was confirmed that she was hearing-impaired in her right ear. I asked the audiologist at what point would Katerina need a hearing aid, and the doctor replied, “Oh, she would have needed one years ago with this hearing loss.”  The doctor explained that Katerina had a rare ability to produce sounds she was unable to hear, and thus, far more advantageous, cognitively speaking, than an aid would be.

It wasn’t until this year, now in second grade, that Katerina expressed that she couldn’t hear, and how she wished she could sit with her friends in the back during carpet time. Katerina was exhausted, trying her best to follow instruction and second-grade chatter of friends, but she simply could not hear. Additionally, Katerina’s stuttering had grown incessant, as she struggled to get through even short sentences.

Katerina’s Deaf and Hard of Hearing teacher called and explained the dire need of a hearing aid for Katerina, listed the negative ramifications if she continued without.

The following week we sat in the “tree house”,  Katerina’s reference to the small brown room of the audiologist. It was determined that Katerina was now hearing-impaired in both ears.  I don’t know why I was so affected by this unexpected news. I just felt defeated. No one is exempt from struggles in life, tough hurdles to jump. I just wish I could jump some of those hurdles for my little girl.  I fixed a smile on my face and voice, until I could finally cry after Katerina had gone to bed that evening.

The cause of the left ear’s impairment was entirely unrelated to the the right, and therefore, only the right ear would receive an aid at present.

Katerina and I went to Children’s Hospital in St.Paul, to meet with her new audiologist, a wonderful and patient doctor who looked as young as my niece, Julia. Katerina was fitted for and custom-designed her hearing aid, metallic aqua blue and a swirled blue for the inner piece. When the doctor asked Katerina if she’d like to add glitter, Katerina declined, said she wasn’t much of a girly girl, as she sat with her legs crossed and a hair bow bobbing on top of her head!

Katerina was very excited for her aid, even shared with her class at school all about it. She told me she was most excited to hear a watch tick, said her whole life she’d always wanted to hear that sound.

The big day arrived! Nikos, Katerina and I listened closely to the doctor’s instruction and care of Katerina’s aid.  It was beautiful, perfect for our honey! It was also quite emotional after the doctor turned the aid on, as Katerina’s eyes widened and announced that she heard footsteps outside! A shiny new door of life just opened for our young Katerina!

Katerina named her hearing aid Thank You.  When we returned to the house, we gave Katerina a few gifts, one of them being a vintage pocket watch. She heard the ticking clearly. I also baked a pan brownies.

It was like a holiday, so exciting and fun! Katerina now had super hearing, secret agent-style. She made us all go and whisper various phrases in the next room and she’d try to hear what was said. Nikolas and Elizabeth were very supportive and encouraging as they have always been of their little sister.

On the other end, I worried how Katerina would deal with potentially thoughtless comments and questions regarding her hearing aid, so I tried to prepare her. Katerina is well accustomed to providing explanation already with her shoe lift, and she expressed that she would rather someone ask than silently stare.

Katerina goes to a very special elementary school, filled with nurture and care.  Her class was beautifully accepting and kind. In fact, the entire school seemed to play a positive role. Somehow, the children of Katerina’s school have learned a most profound, intuitive element-empathy. I will forever appreciate the response and warmth that Katerina’s school has shown her. Incredible!

Katerina became more exhausted, crying more often, sleeping before her eight o’clock bedtime. The honeymoon had grounded and Katerina expressed that the sounds were too strong and loud. Her DHH teacher explained that a new hearing aid is very intense for a few weeks, as Katerina’s brain adjusted to sounds she’d never heard before.

One day Katerina said that she didn’t like Thank You any longer, said it looked babyish.  Carefully, I explained that I wore my reading classes so I could read, that I drank coffee so I could speak in the morning, that she wore a hearing aid to hear. All of these needs were related.  Katerina’s sudden distaste for her aid receded as she grew more accustomed to it.

Katerina’s stuttering issue had nearly disappeared. She has grown far more reliant on Thank You, and enjoys cleaning it on her own, and adds tiny stickers to it, based on her activities of the day. Katerina mentioned some of her favorite sounds were leaves rusting in the wind, and the swish of tires in the rain.

One lazy Sunday morning before church, Nikos and I were lounging on the couch, sipping coffee. Katerina was gazing out the window with her lips puckered and making a wacky sound, trying to whistle I guess. Katerina turned with her lovely smile and announced breathlessly, “Mama, I can hear a bird sing! It’s the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard!”






Bonnie’s Komfort Kardz

Dear readers,

Back when Katerina was suffering from congenital heart disease, all of my being, every thought and emotion was consumed by my baby girl. My memory of those dark days is characterized by an ever-flowing volcanic eruption, which eventually solidified into glorious shiny obsidian. The reflection reveals darkness yet lustrous shine to keep with me always. During that time, we received many cards, caring words of encouragement with uplifting messages inside. I cannot recall if I replied or thanked those thoughtful senders, but I will forever remember my heart being touched by their loving words.

Bonnie Humke experienced a life-threatening disease when she was 18-years-old, which haunted her for twenty years. Bonnie recalls the comfort and encouragement she felt by receiving the many cards by friends and family during her illness, cards that provided her with a loving connection during a lonely and frightening journey in her life.

Bonnie is a gifted photogragher and artist, having published a collection of books and an e-card line entirely and skillfully designed using her original work, Komfort Kardz.

The intention behind Bonnie’s uniquely artistic cards is to reach out to those who are suffering, creating a powerful connection to those who may not necessarily have the voice or ability to express such a need. Communication, care, love, hope and relationships are fundamental needs shared by all people. Bonnie’s cards provide fulfillment when one or all of these characteristics are not met.

I remember the dread I felt when the phone would ring during Katerina’s illness. I always cried and couldn’t finish a sentence. Receiving cards helped alleviate the awkwardness, helped me maintain composure, and preserve a private connection with the sender.

My friend Lillie from church told me a while back that the artists will change the world. Bonnie is one of those artists, sharing her heart and gift of artistry to touch many hearts. Thank you Bonnie for Komfort Kardz, you never know when a card can make all the difference.

Visit Bonnie’s website, www.komfortkardz.com

Katerina Can Read!


My stomach in a knot, tears on hold till alone stung my eyes, shoulders slumped in defeat as I regarded the alarming Reading Benchmark score during Katerina’s first grade parent/teacher conference.  The kind teacher quickly pointed to Katerina’s impressive score in Math,  more than quadruple the points compared to Reading.  I nodded my head throughout the conference, half-smiled at Katerina’s cute antics and comments her teacher shared, disguising my despair.  I felt I’d failed my daughter.

We’d always been a family of readers, the library one of our favorite places.  I’d taken all three kids to library storytime, read big piles of books often daily to each of them, perhaps not as often to Katerina, and I’d also taught my older two how to read before they entered kindergarten.  Parent/teacher conferences were entirely different for Katerina’s siblings, always “off the chart” scores. I’d taken their progress for granted. As a parent, I was suddenly placed in a new territory, an uncomfortable place where my child wasn’t thriving in school.  In fact, she was flailing in Reading.

Reflecting on my third baby, I remembered how all too often I’d chosen the easiest and shortest book, to speed up the bedtime rigmarole.  In fact the night before, Katerina had requested a longer book, so I intentionally skipped pages hoping she wouldn’t notice.  I realized in that uncomfortable chair that my expectations were lower with Katerina, I was far more relaxed, and had left academics for school.  I suddenly remembered how often Katerina would mention that so and so was smart and reading chapter books already.  I promised that she would get there in due time, when she was ready.

I discussed the issue with my friend Sandy, a retired kindergarten teacher, now substitute teacher, because she loves kids that much.  She’d handed me a cookie, had an of course look on her face and said, “Well naturally Katerina has a few hangups.  She was simply struggling to survive when she was little!”  Katerina was born with congenital heart disease, holes comprising 70% of her heart.  Our Spartan warrior has had to deal with a number of obstacles due to some other health issues as well. Chagrined, I muttered to Sandy that she spoke the truth.

Cuddled on the couch, Katerina would labor through her daily assigned reading of three books by her teacher.  She admitted to hoping that she’d be taken out for Speech class during Stamina Reading at school. Katerina stumbled often, made up words so she wouldn’t have to remember the sounds that “silent e” and “ough” made, and often threw her head back in exasperation and discouragement.  Honestly, I often dreaded the daily assignment, just as much as Katerina.   She’d cry and her tiny face bled frustration.  Just about any book seemed overwhelming to her, and I clung to every ounce of patience to hide my own frustration. It broke my heart that she had a disdain for reading, she truly seemed afraid of it.  But she trudged through the drudgery, because she was a good little student, and I knew deep down that she wanted to succeed.

I had to help my daughter. Ultimately, the whole reading gig had nothing to do with competition or test scores, but everything to do with her success in school and her future.  My husband has often remarked that I was the most determined and stubborn woman in the world, so I thought I’d put that claim to good use.  I also knew that Katerina was quite stubborn in her own right.  The two of us would get there, one sentence at a time.

Katerina and I constructed a chart using a poster board, with 50 squares.  At the bottom, Katerina drew a cake, presents, and a book.  We would have a Katerina Can Read party, once she’d read all fifty books.  I promised her that once she completed the chart, which meant reading 50 challenging books (above her reading level), she would know how to read.  We started with a My Little Pony book, one that she found to be quite challenging.  I reminded her that once she reached her goal, the early books would seem very easy.

Meanwhile, Katerina was placed in her school’s Title 1 reading program. Mrs. T, the Title 1 teacher, explained how positive the group was and that they called it the Fun Reading Club.  It was wonderful for Katerina to be in a group that was on her reading level.

Katerina was very fortunate to have incredibly gifted teachers, Mrs. Z, a master teacher, transformed my little first grader into a number-crunching, culture- and language-learning, journal-writing smarty pants. Katerina’s Title 1 and Speech teachers were also amazing and nurturing and according to Katerina, always looked pretty and sparkly.

Truthfully, I used to smirk at the almost corny cliche, It takes a village to raise a child.  I’d always been determined that I didn’t need to rely or receive help from anyone, I could handle everything.  I learned during Katerina’s reading journey, to step outside my closed door and embrace that village.

There were weeks when Katerina’s school books, after-school activities, and family time caused the reading chart to be neglected.  But it was stuck on the fridge with plenty of magnets, and occasionally, Katerina would announce that she wanted to read a book.

Early March, I plunked down in the kid’s chair at the second parent/teacher conference, and regarded the second round of test scores.  Katerina’s math was impressive-I knew that already.  Mrs. Z then directed my eyes to Katerina’s reading score, which had risen to slightly above average.  I grinned as wide as an open book and whispered with tear-filled eyes, “Really?”  Mrs. Z answered smiling, “Really!”  I stared at the paper until my eyes dried back up, thanked Katerina’s teacher with pure sincerity, and told her that was the best news I’d heard since Katerina’s last ECHO, revealing that her heart was healthy.  I also thought how “off the charts” was annoying and how much more exhilarating it was that Katerina was progressing.

Katerina graduated from the Title 1 program after a mere two months, thanks to Mrs. T, who teaches with her heart and believes in every single child.  Katerina loves homework, and her Speech teacher worked with the other teachers to create assignments that correlated with reading and writing, and somehow managed to make Speech fun.  How does one thank people who’ve helped to open the entire world up to a little girl?

We’d a busy spring, but eventually Katerina filled her chart with fifty well-earned stickers.  Katerina has gained fluency and her favorite books involve puppies or dolphins, usually non-fiction.  She still doesn’t construct a makeshift fort and curl up with a challenging book, but progress continues to be made.

Somewhere along the way, Katerina had begun to enjoy reading. One evening, my heart sang after listening to her laugh along with a book she was reading. I whispered to her,  “Katerina, I am very proud of what a fine reader you’ve become!”

You better believe we made a big whoop-dee-doo for the Katerina Can Read party!  I decorated with balloons and other fun shiny things, concocted a trophy of little playthings and whatnots, glued them together and Nikos spray-painted it gold.  Elizabeth made homemade cinnamon sticks, I made one pitiful-looking cake but Katerina thought it was perfect, homemade pizzas, and a big bowl of cantaloupe. I’d wrapped a gift for both Nikolas and Elizabeth because they’d helped their little sister along her reading journey as well.  Of course Katerina received mostly books as gifts, one came with a nifty dolphin pen!  She picked out a book and we all gathered around and she read it to her family.  That afternoon was truly golden, as shiny as her trophy.

13874580_279910262376282_1552479316_n (1) 13467283_258776184489690_1691332543_o 13883805_279910272376281_1227220587_n

The last day of school was June 8. It happened to also be Katerina’s Happy Heart Day, my very favorite day of the year, marking when Katerina’s risky open-heart surgery was a success.  During the school assembly, Katerina was recognized for her perseverance, both with reading as well as gaining the strength to pump her arms on the swing.  Yes, her amazing teacher taught on the playground too!

Occasionally, while prodding along on a well worn path, I catch my breath and reflect, thanking God for each and every crag and stumble.  Katerina sure does navigate with far more grit than I’ll ever possess, but her shining love has held my hand so I can skip alongside her.



“My parents took us to a bar and rode the bull!”

The kindest and most proper secretary was stifling a laugh with huge shocked eyes when I picked up Katerina from her cozy elementary school.  Katerina seemed to be basking in the glow of her attention.

As we approached the car outside, Katerina announced that she’d told her Speech teacher as well as the secretary all about our Spring Break trip.

“Oh that’s great honey! Did you tell them about our museum visits and camping?”

“Not really, I forgot. But I did tell them about how we went to a bar and that my whole family rode the bull. Oh, and that Daddy left us stranded all alone at the campground because he got lost!”

I nearly doubled over and almost had gone back in to explain my daughter’s generous account of our trip, but just nodded my head and cringed. What could I say?

We were somewhere in the West Virginian hills and had pulled up to a campground.  The kiddos took off like dogs itching to be let out to chase squirrels.  Nikos put up the tent, I set out the camping chairs and was simply exuberant to be camping for the first time of the season.

Nikos suggested supper at the park’s lodge, but I protested, “No way sweetie, we’re going to cook over the campfire!  I’ve waited all winter to do this again!”  We decided we’d drive to the next town until we found a grocery store.  Katerina begged to stay at the campground, so I sent Nikos and the the older kids with a grocery list four items long.

The swift wind picked up and carried gray storm clouds over our heads.  Katerina began shivering, even with her fleece jacket, so I found an old lighter in my kitchen bin to build a fire.  The other lighter was naturally in the truck, because that would have been convenient.  I kept Katerina busy by finding twigs and small fallen branches, hoping the activity would warm her.  I had to go out in the woods and drag huge fallen logs to break apart and Katerina loved the adventure of it all.

The cold rain began.  My lighter was just sparking rather than maintaining a steady flame, but I jerked the dial till I’d worn a callous on my thumb. I began tearing strips from a paper grocery bag, rolling and tucking them underneath the kindling.  I glanced over at Katerina, sitting very still with a forlorn look on her tiny solemn face.  She frowned and whispered, “Mama, I don’t think I like camping anymore.  It’s lonely out here all by ourselves.  Where is everybody?”  The last thing I wanted was for my nature girl to dislike camping.  I explained that people didn’t typically camp in March.

The rain never ceased and neither did my silent prayer that I could get a campfire going with my faulty lighter.  Finally, a tiny flame took off and we had us a campfire!  I praised Katerina for being the one responsible for our fire, due to her hard work collecting all of the twigs.

The campfire warmed and cheered Katerina up, while she snacked on graham crackers.  Eventually however, lightening penetrated the sky and a full-fledged storm erupted.  We ran to the tent and Katerina began crying that she was scared and cold.  I wrapped her up in a blanket, rocked her and taught her how to sing Boom De Yadah.  We sang that song 553 times until at long last, 2.5 hours later, Nikos and the kids returned.

Nikos had gotten lost, he hadn’t a cell phone signal, and the ding dong spent $38 on steaks, even though it was pouring the rain.

It was 9:10, lodge was closed, and the fire was reduced to final embers and smoke.

I instructed everyone to get in the truck, and promised that we’d find a place to eat.  It didn’t take long till we pulled up to some rinky dink place, looked more like a garage, but it had the word “grill” on its sign-well, and “bar.”  I sent Nikos in to ask if it was really a restaurant and if kids were allowed inside.  That was when a big burly dude with a black leather vest stepped out, waved at us and yelled, “Y’all get outta that rain, and come on in!  We’ve got some real good burgers here!”

Elizabeth whispered, “Mama, are you sure we should eat here?”  I shushed her and walked inside to a dimly lit place the size of a roller rink, with lazer lights and zippity light dots dancing everywhere.  Katerina gasped, “Daddy is this a real bar?”  Then Nikolas pointed toward the back and yelled, “What’s that, a bull or something?”  I began to wonder if I’d sheltered my kiddos too much.

The 6’5″ or so-how would I know from way down at 5’2″?-guy sauntered over, wrapped his arm around me and repeated, “Folks, we’ve got some real good burgers here, the best on this side of the Mississippi.  Y’all just have a seat and we’ll feed you good.”  I told him I needed to borrow a flashlight to see the menu, and then I couldn’t read the writing, so he handed me his reading glasses that were on a chain necklace.  I took the kindly man’s suggestion, ordered some burgers, bottled water and cheese fries directly to the cook.  He explained that they made the burgers fresh, so to give him a few extra minutes.  I apologized that we were ordering so late, and he waved me off with “No problem at all mam, that’s what we’re here for.”  I swear these were the kindest most hospitable people I’d encountered in ten years of my life.

The kids were wide-eyed and hyper-stimulated by the fog machine and laser lights darting everywhere.  And that was when the DJ played Footloose.  I yelled out over the music, “Come on guys, let’s go dance!”  Not a soul was on the dance floor, but I got my big rear out there, and Nikos followed right behind. In fact, the bar was just about empty, besides a few playing pool, and some at the main bar hunched over minding their business.

Elizabeth was nearly under the table, mortified by her dreadfully embarrassing parents.  Nikolas was doubled over laughing at our dance moves, and Katerina was running around chasing the laser dots.  Minute by minute, all three kids made it out to the dance floor and our family of five jammed to Tone Loc, Kenny Chesney  and everything in-between.

Once the cook brought out our din, we chowed like little monsters.  Let me just say, those folks weren’t lying about their burgers!  The fries were typical, but I didn’t need to be eating them anyway.

We headed over to the mechanical bull, and competed who could stay on the longest.  Yes, I took my kiddos into a honkeytonk bar, and Nikos and I embarrassed them silly by our dancing,  but no, Katerina did not ride the bull-I do have limits!  I’d say Elizabeth won the competition, and that’s because she’d hold on till her hair turned gray just to show up her brother.

13396716_10154169288739286_1818814801_o13340380_10154169287889286_262664397_o (1)13351165_10154169288134286_1542718152_o

While exiting the dance floor, a few onlookers at the bar applauded us, still not sure if they were glad to see us nuts leave or what.  I waved a goodbye to my buddy, and he responded, “Y’all be careful and stop on back again soon!”

As we neared our truck, Nikolas pointed sorrowfully to a used syringe discarded on the gravel lot.  The needle represented a stark contrast between the kind people who reside in these parts with the disease of addiction. Drug addiction has spread its sinister claws, a menacing presence that preys upon the innocent, often hopeless, and fully blind-sided people, who are also some of the warmest and sincerest families I’ve ever known.  Yet, as the ancient New River flows and shapes its environment, the solid and towering oaks provide shade, 19th century cabins stand erect up in beloved hollers, grandparents boast of their treasured grandbabies, frogs croak on a chilled autumn morn, and the whispered secrets of the hills are carried by soft breezes, the resilient nature of the Appalachian people will prevail, that I am certain.

It was late, nearly 11 when we made our way back to the campground.  We were hoarse from laughter or perhaps the fog machine,  and all slept soundly.  We’d a great time, based on silly mishaps and our perpetual lack of planning.

Now you have what I never managed to explain to Katerina’s Speech teacher or the lovely secretary at school.  Yes, Daddy got lost and left us at a campground, and we took our kids to a bar, and in fact, rode a bull.  But hey, we did indeed eat the best burgers east of the Mississippi, and you know what?  I’d say they were the best on the other side too!