July 12, 2018
To all the lovely parents who let me and my co-leader lead your students through the north of Italy this summer, I thank you. Your kids have been some of the most wonderful additions to our lives. We have trekked the trails, climbed the mountains, eaten the food, and enjoyed the views. We have laughed, we have loved, and we have lived.
Since the last time we spoke, we had just emerged from the woods with your kids having but just a few days left in our Italian adventure. Though the days were short, I can assure you all that it has been some of the most impactful time we have spent together. Unfortunately, the small memories which have made this such a special time are so unique, so genuine, and so specific to each moment that I cannot possibly find the words to describe them, or capture the emotions we have all felt playing in the small mountain towns in the north of Italy, but I can try my best.
Here is a small list of a few of those moments:
Soaked in water but kept warm by our wet suit we trudged through the nitty gritty which lined the canyon floor and flowed in its river, the whole way through Shelby, Mikey, and Anna singing aloud ‘Goodbye Earl’
As we discovered more and more of the canyon’s geography, we came upon a cliff which towered just above a deep blue pool of water. None other than Mary Britton showed us all up with her front flip (in perfect form—I’d like to say that mine was better, but it wasn’t)
Two of the boys guided us in spirit through way of comic relief: Barret by making farty noises each time one of us complained or acted over dramatically (Quite few were directed towards me) and Charly by responding to complaints in the fashion of, “Hi cold, I’m Dad” (I’m starting to believe he really is)
The third boy, Will, guided us in body through the winding and twisting streets of Venice, cross cutting canals, and hopping street corners. His favorite stops? Captain candy, candy store and name any one of the fashion stores here in town, boasting the latest Venetian styles
At dinner we laughed and cried and swapped stories with one another. Cabell and Keely noticed that one thing was off however, so to correct it, we all stood up and marched to by the nearest Venetian masks di carnivale and continued the rest of our meal in good form, with even more to laugh about
Last night we sat in the corner of Plaza di San Marco, looking over the city lights in the square. This night though, they were doubled by their reflection in the ankle deep flood waters which came in with the high tide. We sat, looking and listening as Meg backdropped our final Moonup with her own rendition of country roads, one of our favored songs on the trip
Though this list is small and in no way exhaustive of our many memories, Mary-Mo and I feel that we have successfully touched on some of the wonderful moments we have shared with your kids, and we hope it offers you a small window into the magical world where have been living he past two weeks. We do not hesitate to say that this has been one of the best groups of kids we’ve encountered yet and that we feel blessed to have had them in our lives. Our eyes tear up as I write this, but I know that it is time to officially draw a close to a chapter in which we have all learned so much and from which we can all walk better people for it.
July 9, 2018
Buongiorno everybody!!! Dolomites 2B reporting live from the opposite side of the mountain- you guessed it, we have made it through our trekking section!
We are extremely happy to tell you that our group came so far in the four days we had together on the trails. Immense improvement in skill and ability to push oneself was showcased by all. Although the trekking portions were sometimes challenging, Anna constantly encouraged the group to push past the immediate obstacle and continue to challenge oneself. Her leadership and encouragement was paralleled with Cabell’s creative story telling of the numerous books she has read. This conversation starter had the whole group engaged and curious about who the true murderer was in the novel she was describing. Of course our trekking days would not be complete without Meg’s admiration of nature, especially the wild flowers, and daily reminder to live in the moment! Barrett added light-hearted humor to our breaks with hilarious sound effects. His relaxed and contagious ability to overcome life’s difficult times with laughter and love inspired so many to push beyond what they believed that could accomplish. It was evident that this positivity especially empowered Will, who took it upon himself to lead the pack. It was so refreshing to see a student take leadership over the group in the way that Will selflessly demonstrated. We are so proud! Oh! I almost forgot to update our switchback count by no other than Charly- folks we are up to 118 switchbacks. What! I know, that sounds like craziness. True craziness.
Amongst all of the beautiful views gained whilst trekking, the refugios are absolutely one of a kind. We have been feasting like kings and queens with decadent four course meals straight out of an Italian grandmother’s kitchen. It was so fun watching MB, Shelby, and Keely get so excited over the handmade pasta after a long day’s hike. Even though we all joke with Mikey about how she likes all things fried, she really has been loving the fresh, authentic Italian food. All in all there is not much to complain about- we are working hard and replenishing our supplies in mighty style.
Aaaaaaand now that you are all caught up on our past couple of days… it’s time for some SHOUTOUTS! Wahoo let’s see what the students themselves had to send back to the good ol’ US of A:
Meg: Hey Mom and Dad! I say hi to Josie for me. I miss her the most. Still love you guys though. See you soon! Don’t expect that I’ll do anything but sleep on the car ride home. PS- Will you put more money on my account? Love you guys and am having so much fun!
Mikey: Hey Mom and Dad! Love and miss y’all! Happy birthday dad. See y’all in a few days!
MB: Hey Mom and Dad! I love and miss y’all! I’m having so much fun see you in a few days!
Will: Hey! I’m going to buy stuff in Venice and some for the girls. The trips been really fun!
Barrett: Dear Mom and Dad, I am going to Venice and will buy cool gifts… with your money, thanks! (:
Charly: Hi Mom and Dad, I’m having the best time in Italy! (:
Anna: Hey awesome family! I am having an amazing time in the INCREDIBLE DOLOMITES! See you soon and am sending all my love from Italy!!
Cabell: Hi Mom and Dad! I’m having an awesome time in Italy! Miss you and see you in a couple of days! Much love from the Dolomites!
Keely: Hi Mom and Dad! I’m having a blast in the Dolomites. The food is incredible! The Italian mountains are supercalifragilisticexpialedocious! I appreciate you sending me here! See you soon!
Shelby: Hi Mom and Dad! Having lots of fun and miss you.
July 6, 2018
Hello all! Wow- how we have covered so much ground and activities in the past couple of days. From via ferratas and WWI tunnels to climbing the cinque torri, our group has overcome many outdoor giants while perfecting our skills and absorbing a wealth of knowledge. Let us tell you allllllllll about it starting from the very beginning!
We started off on our 10 mile trek feeling very excited and empowered. Anna, one of the chosen LODs (which means leader of the day), confidently led our group through the mountainous Dolomite terrain with her newly gained map and compass skills, and she even taught the rest of the students how to read and orient a map during our lunch break! This was an incredible show of natural leadership ability. We could not have been more proud. The trek overall was incredible: breath-taking views, great company, and we even found a shell fossil from when the Dolomite region was completely underwater! Oh! And speaking of being proud, we were blown away by Cabell’s athletic ability and willingness to inspire and encourage the others. It was no surprise that she was chosen to be the next LOD with Will, who also stood out by leading and motivating the pack. Once we arrived at our new humble abode for that evening, we all dropped our big packs and ran down the grassy hill to the lake. Barrett and Will were the first to sprint into the fresh alpine water, squealing at the refreshingly cold cool-down that marked the end of a long, exhilarating day in the mountains.
The next morning, we arose bright-eyed and gleaming, ready to tour the famous WWI tunnels. After a short trek to the base station, our crew hopped on a gondola and rode to the top of the mountain. The students were so surprised and thrilled to get to ride to the top and experience the incredible views. Before entering the tunnels, Charly, our very own history expert, gave the group a debrief on the events of WWI. We were all wowed by his knowledge, gaining an ultimate appreciation for what we were about to embark upon.
After the tunnel museum, we had a short trek (with about 35 switchbacks- although the switchback authority has not officially authenticated this count) to our next rifugio, one of our favorites due to its homey atmosphere and unparalleled location amongst the famous cinque torri towers. One of our favorite moments was the erupting, all-consuming joy in adversity. Even though it was storming outside during our trek, Keely and Shelby led the whole group in singing hilarious old pop hits at the top of their lungs, making a circumstance that would seem challenging to others, hilariously fun and wild to us. Within a matter of seconds, everybody in the group was screeching lyrics out with every breath and realized that this moment of unexpected celebration for life and nature would be a true highlight of the trip. Once reaching our final destination, we quickly settled in by removing our wet hiking clothes and rejoicing in some dry socks and hot chocolate with homemade whip cream. Although we were unable to explore the outside world of our new home, we used this afternoon to simply relax and learn more about one another. We happily ended our day bundled up in the cabins with full stomachs and sleepy eyes, giggling our way through the summer storm erupting around us.
Guess what the next day was: the Fourth of July!!!!!!! While we were sentimental for our beloved country and family back in the states, we thought it was pretty darn cool getting to climb a via ferrata in the middle of northern Italy on this very special day. Once reaching the very top, Meg led our group in singing the Star Spangled Banner, allowing all of the mountainous Italian towns below to celebrate with us. This was a truly incredible moment that we will all remember for forever! We even continued the celebration once we returned with some sliced watermelon and ice cream sandwiches from a town below us called Cortina. All in all, this was not a fourth any of us will soon forget.
Awaking the next morning eager to climb, we all set out on a short 5 minute walk to the majestic cinque torri. It was evident from the very beginning that a few of our students would stand out as exceptional climbers, amongst them were Mikey (student Mikey) and Mary B. Both of these girls really took the initiative to be the first to start each pitch and encourage others while they were climbing. It was great to see such interest and leadership in a challenging and sometimes intimidating outdoor sport!
Whoosh! So now you are all caught up- we told you we have covered a lot in our short time here! We currently have just completed our first day of trekking and are cozy and comfy in a new rifugio for the night. Amidst all of the challenging activities and beautiful sights, we are all growing together and bonding in an unforeseen, magical way. We are truly becoming a family, and we cannot wait to see what the future holds for our incredible group of little humans.
We will be in touch soon!
Mary Mo and Mikey
July 1, 2018
Wowzers! What an incredible first few days! Mary-Mo and I are settling in to our second night in Italy with your kids. As we pack for the adventure that tomorrow brings, we think on all that has passed and all that is yet to come and let me tell you that our time in Italy is nothing short of awesome, whether past, present, or future.
On the morning of June 30th, Mo and I set up base camp just outside Delta baggage claim, our eyes peeled for young and eager travelers who would be exhausted from a long day’s flight. Armed with a small, purple, portable speaker, we greeted each kid as they emerged from the ‘one way’ doors as Wesley Schultz’s (lead singer of the Lumineers) wonderful voice backdropped our hugging, jumping, and laughing for our first moments together! A few duffel-shuffles and razzle-dazzles later, we were prepped and headed on our way to the land of the white mountains!
We arrived in Selva di Val Gardena at around 2:30, immediately dropped our luggage and sprinted straight to a nearby restaurant for lunch. I must say. The prosciutto toasts, caprese salads, and cheese boards exceeded all first year students’ expectations for ‘expedition meals’. Being our first meal as a newly formed family, we needed some encouragement to get the juices flowin. Keely stepped up to the plate and got conversation started with a little game we like to call ‘Picnic’ aka ‘Green Glass Door’. Of course, once the flood gates were opened, we couldn’t contain it— we played so many games! We played the name game, whoosh ball, big booty, veggie-off, even moo-off. The theme of the games? Leave your coolness at the door! (TSA security door back in Atlanta to be specific) Because at Moondance, we are not cool! We don’t want cool anywhere near us! We are loud, and goofy! We are fun and energetic! We like to shout and scream and run around doing cart wheels and we don’t care who sees!
Of course all things, good and bad, must come to an end. Luckily for us, the end of playing and shouting meant the start to dinner— a time to relax and decompress as we stuffed our tummies full of macaroni and braised pork! Quite the combination! Don’t forget the nougat parfait bringing up the rear as our third course! YUM!!!
Following dinner came our Moonup which brings a wonderful and adequately serious balance to our overt silliness. During this nightly debrief we express our thankfulness, tell stories, and discuss highlights as well as low-lights to the day. At the very end of our first Moonup we select the leaders of the day (LOD’s) for the following day. Our first selected? Barrett- selected for his experience and promise for leadership- as well as Meg- chosen for her outgoing nature and her ability to make the air in the room much lighter.
The LOD’s kicked some butt this morning as we woke up and rallied for an early breakfast before heading to our first objective of the trip. Climbing Gran Cir via ferrata. For the unknowing parents, via ferrata is an Italian style of mountain climbing that started in the world wars. Meaning “Iron way” via ferrata employs steel cables and letters drilled into the mountain sides to provide safety for climbers looking to pass through these tricky routes. It was originally used by the Italian armies to move troops and supplies through the mountains quickly and safely. Cabell loved soaking up all this history! Helping the LOD’s organize and motivate the group, Charly also freakin ‘WOW’ed us with his knowledge of the Dolomites and his energy for the climb. It’s clear that Will too feels at home in the mountains. Spending time with his family in Vail has prepped him well for this rugged terrain. I can say with confidence that this climb is one of the coolest things any of these kids ever done thus far. But at the same time, it was also very tough, and we could count Mary Britton’s encouraging words to keep us charging.
Of course, as we were all still jet-lagged and worn in from a long climb, we busted one fat chill and enjoyed a little well-deserved R&R. We played cards (Thanks Anna for teaching us to play Presidents). We told stories (Shelby if you’re telling the truth about your friend’s haunted house, maybe y’all should find a new place to hang out). And at the end of it all, we met with Moondance’s beloved and legendary owner Hayes Hitchens who made a special trip to this part of the world to visit us as well the Croatia Trip, Chamonix Trip, and even the Spain Trip.
After some good conversation, we switched gears for dinner and Moonup. On tonight’s menu: spinach and ham gnocchi, pork wellington with creamy mashed potatoes and white truffle sauce, and then a raspberry topped cheesecake to end our three course meal! HA! And you thought your kids would be roughing it the ENTIRE time!!! Don’t worry parents, there will be plenty of roughing it to come. We’re not gonna spoil your kids…. too much. 🙂 Tonight’s topic at Moonup? Most embarrassing stories. Hahaha we’ll keep those hush hush for the most part, but must say that Mikey (not me, I’m leader Mikey— we’re talking about student Mikey) got some great laughs from the group about a few basketball mishaps. LOD’s for tomorrow: Anna and Charly, and I’m confident the butt-kicking shall continue in full force according to schedule.
All in all, it’s been a great past couple of days. Mo and I are stoked to be on this trip with these kids. A lot of potential for magic in the mountains here amongst the Dolomites. Thanks for sending your kids our way!
Leader Mikey and Leader Mo
June 30, 2018
Hello Dolomites Families!
Your students landed safely in Venice early this morning. We have been in touch with the group leaders, and the trip is off to a great start! We can’t wait to hear more about their adventures.