Monthly Archives: June 2014

Have Kids, Will…Backpack Through Germany (Alone!)


You might be wondering how, exactly, a mother of four young children can pick up and travel solo to Europe.  All I can say is I owe my husband–big time!  As much as I romanticized the notion of backpacking through Europe when I was younger, I never had the chance to do it.  I love to travel, but the “backpacking” part of it got old pretty fast and is much better suited to the younger set.   That part was purely accidental anyway since the airline lost my luggage, and my backpack was literally all I had in addition to the clothes on my back.  Given my propensity for mishaps, this isn’t surprising.

Going to Germany all alone wan’t the least bit intimidating.  I knew I could figure things out, like train schedules and restaurant menus.  I got really good at asking “Sprechen sie English?” as soon as I needed help with something.  Most Germans seem to know at least a little English.  When they don’t, a few hand gestures work just fine.  Of course, I had a few hiccups along the way.  Aside from my lack of luggage, which was remedied with a shopping trip after twice having washed my underwear out in the bathroom sink, I did misinterpret my train schedule one evening.  Without realizing that all trains to Aachen stopped at 11:20 p.m., I had a late night rendez-vous with the station master in Belgium.  He was kind enough to call a taxi for me once we established, with cave man talk and hand gestures, that I had missed the last train and was stranded.  Alone.  It was an expensive mistake, as I ended up paying 55 euros for the taxi back to Germany.


I really enjoyed my day in Belgium and would love to go back soon.  Brussels and Antwerp were both amazing cities to visit.  The beer, the chocolates, the waffles–all delicious! Brussels, especially, will hold a special place in my heart since this is where a handsome, young waiter generously gave me an ego boost which, at this stage of the game, is a gift.   At 38, with four children, I’m pretty sure my sex appeal has fallen away like the leaves on my ficus tree that never gets watered.  After chatting with this fellow for a short amount of time, relying on his suggestions for food and beer, he asked what hotel I was staying in and would I like to have some company!  As creepy as that might seem, I was flattered and will be eternally grateful to him, even though I did decline…I swear!

Antwerp is an energetic and eclectic city, where I talked to a Hassidic Jew, a Texan expat, an Irishman, and had lunch in a pub owned by Russians who served Croque Monsieurs.  There are really great jazz clubs and museums, breweries and restaurants, and many, many bicyclists.  I loved how the city center has bike lanes that were more crowded than the actual streets.  Even ladies in dresses and heels were commuting to work on bikes.  No wonder they’re so thin!

The whole reason for this trip, which took me from Washington, D.C. to Aachen, Germany and Antwerp, Belgium, was to conduct research for a book I’m writing.  It will be loosely based on my great-grandmother’s experience emigrating from Germany to the U.S. in 1904, as a 16-year-old girl.  Her story has always intrigued me, so I’m taking bits and pieces of it, adding my own imaginings, and turning it into a historic fiction novel.  Stay tuned!






Have Kids, Will…BodyPump

Have you heard of this exercise class, BodyPump?  It’s a weight lifting class that incorporates a lot of repetitions with a barbell that is loaded and unloaded with the appropriate amount of weight for each part of the body, and it’s all done to pop music that ranges from totally obnoxious to mildly palatable.   Apparently, it’s based out of Australia, where everyone is fit and relaxed, so it must work, right?  The class is offered in hour-long segments pretty frequently at my local YMCA.  While I’ve tried going to all the different sessions (not in one day), each of them is always crowded–Monday evenings: crowded, Tuesday mornings: crowded, Saturday mornings: you guessed it.  The classes are especially well-attended now that kids are home from college and it’s swimsuit season.  I guess they have all that beer and pizza to burn off over the summer.  Anyway, it’s a great workout and can be tailored to suit one’s personal abilities.  I like that about any kind of exercise–where the new mom can work out next to the marathoner, whose next to the retiree.  We’re all in it together.  Or are we?

Like I said, the classes are becoming more and more crowded, with rows of people and all their equipment dotted throughout the room.  What’s funny to observe now, with the college students, retirees, and people like me–moms who are desperate to maintain some sense of fitness and mental stability–is everyone eyeing each other up before the doors swing open.  We’re like a pack of half-mad dogs sniffing each other out before going in for the kill–we know there’s fresh meat on the other side of the door, but only enough space for some of us to tear away at it.  Whose getting in first?  Whose the weakest of the pack?The doors open, and whoosh, we all pour in, halting polite conversations that were previously taking place in the hallway, teeth bared.

There is a frenzy at the weight wall.  We can’t gamble with our preferred weight sizes, so we grab them all and stack them in our arms, risking broken toes and strained backs, to quickly throw them on the floor where we think we’ll squeeze in.  We’re supposed to start with a warm up, but getting our weight plates all at once is more important…”Back off, old lady, I have a pool party to go to tonight!”

The instructor is already using her Madonna headset microphone to tell people to “Move up!  Squeeze in!”  We look from side to side.  There’s no more room.  But wait!  Two more people are coming in.  They get stuck with the worst spot in the room–right in front of the instructor.  Serves them right.

We perform our hour of intense physical purgatory, do some obligatory stretching, and put our equipment away at a much slower pace, with the hair on the backs of our necks once again smoothed and relaxed.  As we’re doing so, the next wave of eager exercisers enter the room, eyes wild and elbows out.  They’re in it to win it.  I’m ready for a shower and a beer.  I earned it.



Have Kids, Will…Donate Blood

Did you know that every two seconds someone in the United States will require a blood transfusion?  According to statistics provided by the American Red Cross, 38% of the U.S. population is eligible to donate blood, but only about 10% do each year.  I came across this information when I had taken a new job a couple of years ago and promptly signed up to become a regular donor.  I immediately felt great pride thinking about the prospect that my blood could help to save someone’s life.  But, as with most of my well-intentioned activities, there was a slight glitch.

The first time I was called for a donation, I eagerly made an appointment through my local Red Cross center.  There was a Blood Mobile set up in a church parking lot not far from the school where I was working.  I made arrangements to have my husband pick up our two younger boys from school that afternoon while, after estimating the amount of time it would take for me to donate, I concluded I would be available to pick up the older two boys after their soccer practices.  So, I rushed from work straight to the Blood Mobile, trying to maximize my time by ignoring my slightly full bladder.  Still excited about the usefulness of my body to others, I’m sure I was quite chipper and friendly when I was filling out my paperwork and answering basic health questions provided by the middle-aged nurse who smelled a little like stale cigarettes.  Then I waited…and waited…and started to get concerned that too much time was passing before my arm saw even the tip of a needle.  Oh yeah, and I still had to use the bathroom.

Blood Mobiles are like mobile homes, only they’re outfitted with reclining chairs and lots of cabinets for equipment.  I thought I’d see a bathroom, but didn’t want to go wandering around while nurses were moving about and donors had needles sticking out of their arms. I could wait, I thought.  It can’t be too much longer.  Just then, another nurse came to get me from my waiting chair and settled me into a donation chair.  Now, for the record, I’ve given birth to four children so I’m not adverse to pain, blood, or needles.  I wasn’t nervous about the process, just the fact that it was close to the time that I had to pick my kids up from soccer.

The nurse that was prepping my arm was very sweet and tried to quell any anxiety she thought I might have.  I let her know I was only worried about getting out in time to get my kids, and she assured me it wouldn’t be too long.  Then she tried to pierce my vein.  Apparently, I have very narrow veins in my arm and they move away when prodded.  She tried again.  Okay, she said, let’s try the other arm.  Bingo!  She got the needle in and the blood started visibly flowing through the clear tubing and into the receptacle.  But then it stopped.  Oh, that’s odd, the nurse mumbled as she adjusted the needle and held up the bag.  There was a slight pinching sensation in my arm but nothing that was too uncomfortable.  For whatever reason, she couldn’t change the angle of the needle or the bag without the flow of my blood coming to a halt, so she resigned herself to sit and make small talk while we waited for my uncooperative red sludge to make its way to the top of the collection bag.

I was surprised when I suddenly felt woozy and short of breath.  Not being one to complain about physical discomfort, or wishing to inconvenience anyone, I almost kept it to myself but the feeling was overwhelming.  I remember saying, “I’m starting to feel really bad,” before everything went black.  When I opened my eyes again, I had three worried nurses staring into my face: one with a fan, one with a Ginger Ale, and the smoker, who might have used her breath as smelling salts.  I felt hot and cold at once.  The needle was out of my arm and a straw was being pushed toward my lips.  “Drink this,” nurse Ginger Ale demanded.  I obeyed and began to feel normal sensations return to my body.  I was clammy and shaking slightly.  What the hell just happened?  It completely stunned me to hear that I passed out before I could even finish my blood donation.  The nurses wouldn’t let me get up until my blood pressure returned to normal and the color returned to my face.  About the time that it did, however, I realized with tremendous embarrassment that I still felt damp and clammy…but only where I was sitting.  Why the fuck don’t they have bathrooms on Blood Mobiles?

It was the walk of shame for me to leave that goddamn trailer with the knowledge that everyone was staring at me…not only because I had passed out and caused a scene in very tight quarters, but because I was leaving with a big, wet ring on the back of my stupid, fucking slacks.  They wanted to escort me into the church hall so I could continue to “rest” and eat some cookies, but I refused.  The mortification that comes from publicly wetting your pants at 38 years old was more than I could bear.  I got into my car, wishing I had a towel to sit on, and practically in tears, called on my husband to pick up the boys from soccer.  There was a tap on my car window; I rolled it down.  Nurse Black Lung handed me a piece of paper and said, “You’re probably not a good candidate for blood donations.”  Yeah, no shit.