Category Archives: Travel

Have Kids, Will…Fall in Love

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On my recent Spring Break trip to Savannah, I fell madly in love with the Savannah Bee Company.  You can check them out at www.savannahbee.com.  Not only do they have an assortment of local Georgia honeys, they also bottle honey from other parts of the country, and allow you to try them all before making a purchase.  If your experience in tasting honey has been limited to the bottles of clover honey from the grocery store, I’d like to invite you to expand your honey palate.  Just like wine, honey has layers of flavors that are determined by the nectar source, the terroir, and the weather.  You’ll visually notice these differences when bottles from different regions are lined up next to each other and the colors vary from pale golden to very dark amber or brown.  Most people are pleasantly surprised to actually taste the differences.  It feels magical!

So, in addition to offering great varieties of honey, the Savannah Bee Company also makes (or has made under their label) some fabulous products like Royal Jelly Body Butter, lotions, lip balm and lip gloss, hair products, and very cool tee shirts–my favorite ones said, “She works hard for the honey” and “I got my mind on my honey and my honey on my mind”.  To say that I was like a kid in a candy store is an understatement.  I was able to totally nerd out, especially when Usher, one of the employees, gave me a tour of their on-site apiary.  I had my younger two boys with me, so it felt like a really fun Mr. Rogers field trip.  But that was only one of their locations!  We headed to their downtown store where I was able to sample (and buy, of course) some meads, melomels, and metheglins.  In case that sounds like jibberjabber, those are all alcoholic wine-like beverages made with fermented honey.

When the boys and I came home after a 13-hour car ride (hell), the first thing they wanted to do was cut into our block of comb honey.  I’m so glad they’re almost as enthusiastic about keeping bees as I am.  Ben even volunteered to be my beekeeping helper this year…but he also wanted to trade in our chickens and cat for a house in Georgia.

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Have Kids, Will…Go RVing

Where has the time gone?  Is it Groundhog’s Day already?  This past Christmas (2014), I took my family on an RV trip for the first time ever.  Despite having four boys and a fairly outdoors-oriented husband, we are not much of a camping family.  And let’s face it, staying in an RV is just camping on wheels.  I used to actually like camping and worked really hard to convince the hub to go along with it.  He called it “pretending to be homeless” and saw zero appeal.  Somewhere in our 19 years of marriage, he came around (sort of), just as I was giving it up.  Being perpetually sleep deprived is not conducive to sleeping on a hard ground. In a tent.  With a toddler (or two) and a snoring man.  But, I am cheap.  (I mean, frugal.)

When I was thinking about what to give my boys for Christmas, knowing they really don’t need anything and we are limited on space, I immediately thought of a trip.  The prospect of travel is always appealing to me, but paying for six plane tickets is not.  So, after some research, I decided it was high time we tried out an RV.

It turned out to be not so bad.  In fact, the traveling part was quite nice!  We were able to pop popcorn in the microwave, get cold drinks out of the refrigerator, take naps, and use the toilet…all without stopping.  It got to smell a little bit funky, but there was a TV with satellite channels, a card table, a bigger table for games of Scrabble, and plenty of space to stretch out and read.  Lots of distractions!  Of course, my intention was to split the driving as equally as possible, but I somehow managed to scrape a shrub, get stuck in a parking lot, nearly side swipe a guard rail, and generally make my husband nervous every time I drove.  So instead, I did a lot of reading and game playing with the boys.

We made our way from Maryland to Florida within a two-day time frame.  Santa delivered tickets to Universal Studios, where we spent two and a half days exploring Harry Potter’s world, riding roller coasters, and eating crappy, expensive food.  It was wonderful!  Then we went to Gatorland (the best, weirdest amusement/animal park EVER), and into St. Augustine.  During this time, we spent the nights in our rented RV at a few different RV parks.  I had looked into KOAs ahead of time and reserved spaces at a couple in Florida.  They were all clean–impressively so–and family friendly.  We found some great nearby restaurants, which saved me from having to buy groceries and cook on the RV stove (my Christmas gift).

As far as camping goes, this was definitely the way to do it.  We’ve stayed in tents, camping cabins, and deluxe cabins.  But for the distance we traveled, camping in the RV was a fun and fairly stress-free experience.  Can you really ever call family vacations stress-free?  I think we did okay.  It felt really good to come home and take a private shower, get some time away from the constant spell casting, courtesy of Olivander’s wands, and to sleep in my own bed.  But, we made some really good memories for a bunch of die-hard Harry Potter fans, and satisfied my itch to go RVing.  Being in 75 degree weather didn’t hurt, either.

Have Kids, Will…Climb Trees

Earlier last month, I felt the urge for a change of scenery and sought a place to take my family for the weekend.  Loving all things related to food,  I found a food truck festival that was taking place in the Poconos of Pennsylvania.  In fact, it was the inaugural Pocono Food Truck Festival at Shawnee Mountain Resort.  The idea of eating a variety of delicacies out in the crisp mountain air turned into a fun-filled weekend of so much more.

The festival offered about 15 different types of food that ranged from tacos to Pad Thai to authentic Belgian waffles (my favorite).  As far as festivals go, it was small, but a lot of fun for the afternoon.  They also hosted a motor cross show, which was something new to me.  With heavy metal music blaring, two young guys on dirt bikes launched themselves into the air from a huge, inflatable ramp, and defied gravity by doing tricks with their bodies, then landing on the other half of the ramp.  It was amazing!

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Naturally, my boys were in awe…especially when one of the performers announced he was going to do the “stripper pose” while in the air.  Imaginations were on fire, I’m sure.

Another activity offered was a monster truck ride along the slope side of the mountain.   I embraced my inner redneck as we climbed into the huge beast of a truck.   The ride was bumpy and bouncy, and included an insane number of  donuts.  It was a lot of fun, but I got out of it feeling a little like I had been on one of the time machine rides at a carnival…nauseous and giddy at the same time.

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When I had been online to purchase the tickets for this festival, I had also signed myself up for a little 5K that was being held at Shawnee Mountain.  Apparently, it’s an annual run that normally takes place in the small town of Barrett, PA, but because Eric Frein (the cop killing survivalist) was still on the loose, the race was moved to Shawnee.  I ran that on Sunday morning, hoping to burn off a small portion of the 50,000 calories I had ingested the day before.  It was an okay little race, despite the cold morning and double loop course through the parking lot.  What can I say, I’m a wimp about the weather and I like good scenery.  I did get a nice scarecrow shirt, though, and I do understand the situation was not ideal with a crazy man lurking in the woods nearby.

But, for the piece de resistance, we went to the Pocono TreeVentures ropes course and zip line headquarters.  This place was incredible!  For a family of six, whose children range in age from 7 to 17, it was the best!  There are very few places that can accommodate all of our ages and stages at one time, in one place.  This did.  We all enjoyed the whole process of harnessing and unharnessing to get ourselves across the canopy layer of trees, which were dressed in all their glorious fall colors.

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For the record, I am not a fan of heights and have an unreasonable fear of falling.  However, the security of the harnesses really helped to quell my fears and allowed me to enjoy the whole experience.  Even when my youngest, dubbed “a feather” by the staff, got stuck in the middle of a very long zip line (because he wasn’t heavy enough to maintain momentum), I was fully confident in his safety.

It was a really fun weekend and made me want to keep climbing trees.

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Have Kids, Will…Attend a French Bullfight

 

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It has been well documented that Ernest Hemingway was a fan of Spanish bullfighting.  His first experience as a spectator in 1923 in Pamplona sparked an obsession in him that lasted a lifetime and led to his writing Death in the Afternoon.  What Hemingway found so fascinating about bullfighting had everything to do with the blood and gore that now send animal rights’ activists charging the streets in protest.  He viewed the violent deaths of those massive beasts as something glorious, something humanity ultimately craved, whether on the battlefield during war or within an arena during a bullfight.  Whether or not we agree with Hemingway’s assessment, bullfighting continues today.  It is followed by both a passionate group of supporters and an equally passionate group of protesters.

While bullfighting originated in Spain, southern France also has a long history of the sport.  For over 150 years,  corrida has maintained its tradition as a cultural pastime, especially around Easter.  The highlight in the city of Arles, France during the festival Feria de Pentecote, is a bullfight held in the ancient Roman arena near the center of town.  This is where I was first introduced to French bullfighting.

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The day my husband and I were at the Arenes d’Arles (the semi-modernized coliseum) was a Thursday.  Unfortunately, there were no bullfights taking place that day.  But…my interest was piqued!  As we left Arles, I lamented the fact that I would miss seeing a real, live French bullfight inside an ancient coliseum–an event I hadn’t planned or even known about–but one that was now festering in my imagination.  We continued on our way to a small, seaside village that is known for its gypsies, horses, and cathedral,  Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer.  It’s an out-of-the-way place, enchanting in its own right, yet completely different from the medieval villages we had visited previously.  Every year its citizens honor Sarah, the patron saint of gypsies, with a parade carrying her statue from the cathedral.  According to legend, Sarah was the slave girl who accompanied Mary Magdalene, Mary Jacobi (sister of the Virgin), Mary Salome (mother of James & John), Lazarus (raised from the dead, remember?), and Martha (the Magdalene’s sister).  In order to escape persecution, they fled their homeland and floated in a boat without a sail across the sea, landing in the Camargue region of France that we were now visiting.

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Imagine my delight when I saw that a bullfight was taking place that very afternoon in Stes.-Maries-de-la-Mer!  People were filing into a much more colorful and newly built arena.  It looked like something you’d find at a circus.  For ten euros each, my husband and I found a seat in the upper most section.  The spectacle below was like nothing I’d ever experienced!  The bulls were huge, snorting and bellowing as they entered the arena.  Twelve svelt young men in snug, white outfits scattered around the bull, taunting and calling to him.  Ultimately, unlike traditional forms of bullfighting, the goal was for each bullfighter to pull ribbons off  the bulls’ horns.  They had to get close enough to the agitated animals to pull off a ribbon, but get out of the way fast enough to avoid injury.  Points were accumulated with each of these ribbons, so it was a competition between the men, and the bull got to live.  I found this to be a relief!

Apparently, there’s a word for French hillbillies who attend bullfights religiously.  I don’t remember what it is, but I was proud to be among them.  The gymnastic agility of the men, who had to leap out of the way to avoid being gored,  was remarkable! The enormity of the bulls, who pawed the ground, tossed their horns, and chased after the men was breathtaking.  The sheer energy of the event made for a very exciting afternoon and ten euros very well spent!  This form of bullfighting became one of my favorite things about visiting France.

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Have Kids, Will…Savor My Own Childhood Memories

While having dinner at The Aachener Brauhaus, a traditional tavern in Aachen, Germany–my great-grandmother’s hometown–I was suddenly reminded of my grandparents’ house in Pennsylvania.  Taking in my surroundings, my senses jolted with recognition.  The dark, grainy oak of the benches and moldings; the smell of sauerkraut, cigarettes, and beer; the sound of many voices, mostly the baritone of men blending together into a hypnotic hum, all became a blanket that wrapped warmly around me as I sat eating a plate of sauerbraten with red cabbage and potatoes. The jovial faces and sometimes boisterous conversations that surrounded me lent a feeling of comfort and familiarity.

My grandparents had 12 children, who in turn produced about 50 of my first cousins–no small feat.  Their home, when we visited, was always bustling with the activity of multiple family members visiting at once.  There was lively conversation, plenty of booze, massive, steaming bowls of either spaghetti or stuffed cabbage rolls–anything that could feed a large crowd, and an abundance of children running through the house playing hide-and-seek.  As the evenings wore on, someone would inevitably pull out a guitar or my grandmother would sit at the piano after being coaxed into playing Flight of the Bumblebee, an amazing song to hear and watch being played. The music would fill the living room and spill out onto the wraparound porch, where even more family members were catching up and swapping tales under the dim porch lights.  As a child, I didn’t often recognize the songs being played as my uncles would croon along to the guitar, but the sounds were soothing (and amusing as more imbibing took place).

The camaraderie of family and friends, coming together to visit, eat, drink, and entertain each other is universally appealing.  Nothing can replace the fundamental importance of generations coming together, whose shared heritage pulls history not from the pages of a book, but from the energy of the past.  The ghosts of those who have come before us, through life’s struggles and successes, live on in these moments–brought back to life through stories told and memories shared.  We carry our pasts with us no matter where in the world we go, and sometimes we find visiting other places helps to heighten our memories of past experiences as we are simultaneously creating new memories through new experiences.

As my children grow and I wonder who will need the most therapy for my sometimes inept parenting, I hope they are absorbing the best of what surrounds them.  Isn’t that what we always want for our children?  Knowing that both ordinary and extraordinary experiences will help to form them into the adults they will become, I hope they come to appreciate the ordinary love of family and the extraordinary effect it can have on them.

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

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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.

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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!

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Have Kids, Will…Road Trip!

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While many families I know recently took lovely spring break vacations to relaxing, tropical locations, this year I decided the best thing I could do for my family was to take a road trip.  We’ve been starving for some sunshine and time on the beach, but flying a family of six to Florida was not part of the equation.  And who doesn’t love a road trip?  As it turned out, the vacay included me, the only adult and driver, and my youngest three boys, so we drove as far as my nerves allowed, which was to Charleston, SC.  That’s a 10 hour drive without traffic.  Before you pat me on the back, let me tell you the rest of the story…

I made reservations at a county park that offers camping-style cabins, only much nicer and much bigger.  The park was beautiful and it was only four miles from my brother’s house–a definite bonus!  We stopped along the way to check out the South of the Border racist tourist trap and visit a really cool petting zoo and bee farm (you know I’m currently obsessed with bees).  We arrived at the cabin ready to kick back and relax.  That’s when the mosquitoes descended upon us like hyenas on a baby zebra.  Let me tell you, these things were the size of airplanes!  Of course I didn’t think to pack bug spray–we had left home in jeans and jackets!  After racing into the cabin with our luggage, dodging the insect kamikaze, my dear brother showed up with a cooler full of beer and all the food and supplies needed for a cookout.  God bless that man!

Since Max is still in an orthopedic walking boot/cast after breaking his leg in February (it feels like it’s been an eternity for both of us!), he stayed in the cabin the next morning when Ben and Fritz begged me to go bike riding…at 6:25 in the morning!  Of course, this is what families do at campgrounds, right?  Did I bring our bikes?  No.  So, instead we opted for an early morning walk along the same lovely paths we would have biked…with the same oversized mosquitoes that had feasted on us just seven short hours ago.  Now, I  will freely admit that I have the worst–WORST–sense of direction out of anyone I know, so when I’m someplace unfamiliar I rely heavily on signs and landmarks.  This beautifully maintained park did indeed have signs, but only indicating where you were at that given moment.  There were no signs saying “Go this way to the fishing pier” or “Take a left to find the camp store.”  There was nothing!  And when you’re in the woods, all the oak trees covered in Spanish moss look the same!  We didn’t find our way back until 11 fucking 30.

I called my brother to say we were going to head into town after lunch, and the brave soul decided to join us.  We went to Patriots Point and took a tour of the USS Yorkshire, a World War II era aircraft carrier.  It was really cool and very interesting to almost all of us. Unfortunately, indulging my girly ways, I had decided a skirt was in order when I changed after our really long morning walk.  Do you know how you get from one level of an aircraft carrier to another?  By steep ladders!  I’m pretty sure there were a few men and teenage boys who went home really excited about their USS Yorkshire tour.

Completely exhausted the next morning, I thought we needed to squeeze in some time at the beach before heading home.  I packed up the minivan, cleaned out the cabin’s refrigerator, and stripped all the beds.  We checked out at just the right time and drove to Folly Beach.  My brother joined us again (really, he’s a glutton for punishment) and we talked for a couple of hours while the kids played in the sand and water.  It was a great way to finish off our trip, but it was time to go.  Since we were getting a late start, my brother warned me about the traffic, but I waved him off knowing we would likely stop for the night somewhere halfway.  After a day on the beach, I was in no hurry.

About 20 minutes into our drive home, the kids and I were caught in Charleston’s commuter traffic and talking about our fun adventure.  That’s when it suddenly occurred to me that the three nights I had booked in our cabin were mysteriously reduced to two. How did that happen?

“Max, what day is today?” I asked my 14-year-old.

“It’s the 24th.”

“Please pull that reservation paper out of my purse and tell me what day we’re supposed to check out.”

“This says the 25th.”

Oh. My. God.  I’ve lost my mind.

If none of you have ever experienced anything like this, I am here to tell you it feels awful–like an elephant sitting on your chest while hot coals are being held to your eyes kind of awful.  I had checked out a full day early and thought nothing of it until we were actually talking about how many nights we had spent at the cabin.  Truly, I scared myself and was totally convinced that I must have a brain tumor.   Instead of checking into an institution for the mentally impaired, I pulled over and called the park office.  After explaining what had happened, but not knowing how it had happened, I hung up my phone with the sound of the ranger’s laugh ringing in my ears.  Then I called my brother.

Once again, like floundering refugees, we were provided a wonderful dinner and a fun evening, but there was definitely an air of concern hovering over me.  I also called my husband to let him know about my lapse in ability.  He just laughed and said, “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of you when you’re middle-aged and have totally lost your mind.”  Uh, excuse me, this is it.

So, now that I’ve been able to put this all into proper perspective, next year’s spring break will be in an all-inclusive resort that is truly south-of-the-border, with a kids’ club and a full-service bar.  There will be no history, no nature, no itinerary…just babysitters and bartenders.  Mexico, here we come!

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