Category Archives: Travel

Eight Years of Adventure

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As we approach our eighth year anniversary of living in Germany, I can’t help but think of all the traveling we’ve been able to do. Because we thought we would only be here three years (ha) we did as much traveling as possible at first. Once we hit the majority of destinations on our ‘list,’ we could relax a little, and enjoy exploring new places within driving distance.

Keep in mind–a road trip that begins in central Germany can end in half a dozen different countries. Of course, the autobahn helps speed things along, but still–Europe is the perfect place for family road trips.

Occasionally I would find a great deal on airfare, and so we could jet off together as a family. But usually, we drove or took the train (which was preferred). Regardless of how we arrived, exploring Europe has been eye-opening for the entire family. It’s helped shaped our view of the world and has allowed us to fully realize just how small this planet is.

We’ve had our share of trials–motion sickness; spilled drinks; having EVERY restaurant & grocery store CLOSED when we were desperately hungry; getting lost or rather, re-directed; unusual pit-stops; freezing in winter; sweltering in summer; and lodging that ranged from Thrift Shop Chic to Business Class Posh. Yet, we never once lost a wallet or a child, and even the worst times were something we could laugh about later (sometimes, much later).

So, in honor of 8 years of Germany…here are some of my favorite snapshots from our travels.

Enjoy! And Gute Reise!

Holland

Holland

Prague

Prague

Rome

Rome

Tuscany

Tuscany

Paris

Paris

London

London

Austria

Austria

Petra Jordan

Petra, Jordan

Jerusalem

Jerusalem

Germany

Germany

Joyous

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Today is my fourth child’s tenth birthday, so there are a lot of emotions bubbling up this morning.

Birthday Morning Our House, Germany

Birthday Morning
Our House, Germany

Joy–because she truly is one of the joys of my life.

The Residence Garden Wurzburg, Germany

The Residence Garden
Wurzburg, Germany

If you have three kids and are ‘debating’ whether or not to have a fourth, let me give you some advice–go for it! The fourth child is the one that you can relax with and enjoy the most because by this time, you have the system down. And things always go better when you have some idea of what you’re doing.

Petra, Jordan

Petra, Jordan

Sadness–because we no longer have any single-digit kids, which means our family has ‘graduated’ to a new level.

The Red Sea Israel

The Red Sea
Israel

Happiness–because we no longer have any single-digit kids, which means our family can do cool things we haven’t done before (Example: we can cross the border from Israel to Jordan on foot without taking a stroller).

Lake Garda Sirmione, Italy

Lake Garda
Sirmione, Italy

Nostalgia–I can’t help but think of the day she was born. Our friends came over to watch our then 1 year-old, our 4 year-old and our 6 year-old, while my husband, mom-in-law and I went to the hospital. It seems like I had JUST gotten the epidural when Libby came along.

The Louvre Paris

The Louvre
Paris

She was a go-getter from the start, having only 3 hours of labor. But as soon as she was born, they rushed her away because she was a meconium baby. I realize from the hundreds of birth stories I’ve heard over the years that this is NOT a big issue–that some women have their babies taken away for weeks due to serious medical issues, but for me, it was terrible.

The Colosseum Rome

The Colosseum
Rome

She was born, and they just swooped her away and put her little pink head in a bubble. It was three long hours before they could give her back to me.

St Vitts Cathedral Prague

St Vitts Cathedral
Prague

During that time, I was worried we had missed the most crucial bonding time ever. I didn’t have the chance to burn her little face into my memory. I didn’t have that initial feeling of satisfaction that comes when your newborn snuggles on your chest. The labor and delivery was over and done and eventually they handed me this little ‘stranger.’

Near Neuschwansteing Fussen, Germany

Near Neuschwanstein
Fussen, Germany

With my history of depression, the doctors were worried about me. I had them put a no-visitor sign on my door, and I even stayed an extra night (the Air Force hospital was GREAT). I wasn’t depressed though, I was simply trying to relish every quiet moment I could. And I wanted to get to know this new little person.

Navarre Beach Florida

Navarre Beach
Florida

We did bond, though it still worried me for a long time afterwards. Would I love her the same?

Mud Puddle Our Backyard Anchorage, Alaska

Mud Puddle
Our Backyard
Anchorage, Alaska

It seems silly now. She is the sparkle in my step, the joy of my life. She makes everything happy and shiny and fun. Even on her ‘worst’ day, she is a treasure.

Libby, Katie & Mama Anchorage, Alaska

Libby, Katie & Mama
December, 2003 Anchorage, Alaska

If you are reading this and you happen to be one of my other three children, don’t think that Libby is the ‘favorite.’ I love EACH of you more than words can describe–it’s just her birthday, so she gets her own post:)

This Morning Germany

November 2013
Germany

Libby is ten. And with my older two making plans for their futures, it makes me incredibly happy we had four. At least, as Libby tells me, she’ll be around the ‘longest.’ And someday, when the other kids leave the house, we can trade the minivan for a sports car, and we can zip around together. Mother & daughter. Our hearts bound together forever.

Happy Birthday Libby!

Happy Birthday Libby!

Souk du Jour

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Libby leads the way through the souk in Jerusalem.

Libby leads the way through the souk in Jerusalem.

If you, like me, were born and reared in Midwestern America then a “bargain” is something you find in the back of a store, somewhere between the rack of leopard print leggings and the bin of plastic poppies. Even in a used-car lot, a “bargain” describes a vehicle-shaped object and is by no means a word that implies action.

In the Middle East, however, “bargain” is a verb not a noun. And this takes some getting used to.

Jewelry shop.

Jewelry shop.

Despite my unassuming Midwestern upbringing, on my recent trip to Jerusalem, I was a force to be reckoned with in the souks. I’d like to say it was because I was savvy to the tricks of the trade, but in reality, it was my inability to quickly convert shekels into dollars.

So basically, when the shopkeeper would state his price in shekels, I would usually laugh at the ridiculously high sum.

350 shekels for 3 scarves? Who cares if they are wool or silk? Preposterous!

Inevitably, I would retort with a number closer to an average resting heart rate than a high blood pressure reading, to which the shopkeeper would reply with a grimace.

I wasn’t big on the ‘give and take’ nature of the proceedings, and so I would normally cut to the rock bottom price, and every time I did this and refused to budge, the shopkeeper would ask, “Where are you from?” And every time I answered, “I live in Germany,” he would give me the price I asked.

Libby always got the price she asked. Who could resist her?

Libby always got her price. Who could resist?

Maybe it is the perception that Americans are rich (which we are) or maybe it is the perception that the Germans are thrifty (which, for the most part, they are), but whatever the reason, saying I was from Germany sealed the deal in more than one case.

The funnest part of bargaining was when my friend made an offer for a chess board. During negotiations, I tried to be as German as possible, which primarily meant NOT smiling, and finally I whispered something to her, and then we ended up walking out of the store. The guy chased us down saying, “I want to be happy; you want to be happy; we all want to be happy!” and he accepted her offer, asking, “Where are you from?”

Even though I drove a hard bargain in Jerusalem, I was a little more generous in Petra. The people there didn’t have fine shops, and most of the merchandise was covered with sand. Plus the Jordanian dinar was about the same as the euro, so it made quick calculating much easier. I deliberately paid a bit more for my four fake Nabatean coins, but then the woman added a fifth, “For the Mom.”

And I thought I was the generous one.

La Shukran: Your Free Pass Through Petra

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William approaches the Khazneh

William approaches the Khazneh

Paris, London, Rome, every city has people willing to sell postcards and keychains to tourists–and I’ve purchased my fair share of trinkets. But what I learned a while ago (the humiliating way) in Bolesławiec, Poland is not every person who approaches you to sell something is merely trying to see where you keep your wallet–in fact, most are simply trying to scrape themselves above the poverty line.

In my research on Petra, there were ‘complaints’ about the Bedouins who seem to run the park. It is debated whether they are, in fact, true Bedouins, or simply locals trying to make a buck. Honestly, it doesn’t matter to me.

On the drive from Aqaba to Wadi Musa, I caught a brief glimpse into the lives of average people–living in dwellings most of us wouldn’t take camping. So, if they set up their stands in Petra, take care of their horses to drive weary tourists to and fro, I’m not going to throw rocks at them–at least they’re working.

The real ‘complaint’ most people have about the Bedouins in Petra is that they are so persistent when it comes to selling their wares, they won’t take “no” for an answer.

Guess what? They DON’T take “No!” for an answer!

If you tell them “no” as they trot their horses alongside you, they will keep asking, in a variety of ways.

Air conditioned ride

Air conditioned ride

They will talk about their “air-conditioned” ride they have for you. Or the Lamborghinis of the desert, as they pat their donkeys. If you smile, then you are guaranteed an escort down the wadi, until the dust makes your eyes water.

You can say “no” until you are practically at the Khazneh, where the guy with the horses turns back, and a guy with a camel will ask if you want a ride.

Our time at Petra, however, was delightful because of two simple, magical words: “La Shukran.”

You may know this phrase as “No thank you.” But in Arabic, it is a magical pass down the wadi, free from bargaining and banter. It worked like a charm on the most grizzled horseman to the smallest child with her postcards (not that we COULD say ‘no’ to the toothless little Bedouin girl, no older than Libby–I only wish now that I’d bought more from her).

Little girl selling postcards

Little girl selling postcards

It is simple; it is polite; and it is the right way to respond in any country.

The fact that we could walk unaccosted through Petra simply by saying “La Shukran” reinforces my notion that in any country you visit, you should at least learn to say the following:

Yes

No

Please

Thank you

Hello

Goodbye

and “Where’s the WC?”

And if you can learn water, wine, coffee and police, you’ll be fine in nearly any situation.

When my daughter used “la shukran,” the man was so excited, he began rattling off in Arabic, leaving her somewhat bewildered, and leaving me with a desire to learn more languages.

Luxury and comfort rob you of motivation for many things. It is a lesson I am just beginning to fully understand.

The little Bedouin kids run up and down the wadi, selling postcards and things, and even if you don’t buy from them, they might ask for food, which just breaks my heart.

Maybe you think I am a fool, or that they are deceiving me somehow. But I don’t care. If I am being scammed out of a granola bar and a bottle of water, does it matter? I only wish I would have brought more food with me (and this is yet another debate on trip advisor).

If the food I give the little Bedouin girl is immediately turned over to some Jordanian Fagin, it doesn’t bother me, because the only reason I can see for someone asking for food is because he or she is hungry–and that is one scenario in which I will never say “la!”

A boy plays in the dirt while my camel passes by

A boy plays in the dirt while my camel passes by

Traveling is a privilege, and if my presence in a foreign land can somehow bless other people, then it is my duty to look at others as real, living breathing human beings, upon whom I should view as innocent until proven guilty. Don’t most people have the same wants? Peace, respect, a harmonious family, the ability to feed their children–aren’t these things universal desires? If not, they should be.

When traveling, we should be smart and avoid scams, particularly ones that can lead you down some dangerous roads. I am not ignorant, nor do I romanticize the grim realities of this world. However, not everyone is out to get you.

That is the mindset I took with me into Petra, and that is the reason I could chat with the woman selling the fake Nabatean coins, who admired my family, and watch her beam with pride when she spoke of her six sons and four daughters.This is why my heart broke when the Bedouin girl smaller than Libby sold me a stack of postcards for a dinar. These are real people in circumstances that would bring Westerners to their knees.

On the drive to Wadi Musa, I saw a boy standing on top a tin hut, releasing a bird from his outstretched hands. It rose into the air and flew off, and I wondered how hard his life was, and if this was his only play time of the day. Releasing a bird into the air.

How vastly different this is from my world.

How humbled and spoiled and rich I feel.

Now, the only thing to do about it, is to give generously, to view others with respect, and to find ways that I can be a blessing to others.

There are no adjectives adequate enough to describe our trip to Petra–it opened my eyes and my heart, and went so well, that all I can say is al hamdullilah.

*Thanks to Uncle Ghanim and Aunt Carolyn for the Arabic lessons!

Ruined for Hummus: Perilous Dining in the Middle East

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Falafel Shop

Jaffa Gate Falafel, Jerusalem

“I miss the hummus,” lamented my eldest daughter.

“Can you learn to make flat bread?” asked the youngest. For a woman with a gluten allergy, flat bread might be stretching my capabilities.

Our first morning in Israel, expecting a German-style buffet of cheese, bologna, and a few pickles, I was astonished to find not one but two salad bars–for breakfast!!! This was a revelation to me.

Chicen Schnitzel on the menu, YMCA, Jerusalem

Chicken Schnitzel on the menu, YMCA, Jerusalem

The hotel also had the typical fare for the gluten-eaters: crepe thingys, phylo stuffed thingys, and other goodies I can not adequately describe, since I averted my eyes when the kids ate them. But from the “yums!” it sounded tasty.

All kinds of pretty, yummy deserts, Movenpick, Jordan

All kinds of pretty, yummy deserts, Movenpick, Jordan

Eggs were also on the menu, basically in any form you could want, since each of the 4 hotels had an egg cook ready to make your custom order.

But my favorite place to graze was the salad bar. The tomatoes always tasted as if it were the height of summer. The eggplant was never bitter. The roasted red peppers melted in my mouth. And the salad tasted as if it had been plucked directly from the garden. And the olives! Wow. Truly incredible, if you like that sort of thing at 8:00am.

Eggplant with rosemary, cherry tomatoes and olives for breakfast.

Eggplant with rosemary, cherry tomatoes and olives for breakfast.

Katie having salmon, and in the background, spaghetti and more schnitzel (you can take the kids out of Germany…)

Katie having salmon, and in the background, spaghetti and more schnitzel (you can take the kids out of Germany…)

At the Movenpick in Jordan, we had the buffet for dinner as well, and they did not disappoint. There were different types of cooked fish, one night with a creamy white sauce, one night with a sweet and sour. They also had different variations of potatoes, and rice was a staple as well. My favorite rice had almonds, green onion, and cinnamon. I’m sure I will spend the next decade trying to re-create it.

Ice cream for lunch, at the Movenpick, Jordan

Ice cream for lunch, at the Movenpick, Jordan

I also took a gamble and had falafel, which I knew could be made with flour. If it was, it didn’t affect me at all. We also tried schwarma, which is basically the same as doner kebabs, (lamb slow-roasted and shaved from a spit), which is the fast-food of Germany.

At the U Coral Beach Club, there was fresh fruit in the morning, freshly squeezed orange juice, eggs, plenty of potatoes, and the full salad bar. Many mornings I would have a dish of cucumbers and tomatoes, finely chopped with cilantro and tossed with lemon juice–Arabic salad, it was called, and it sometimes had avocado.

One night, the hotel did not have my favorite veggie stir fry, and as I stood there, I saw a chef tossing thin slices of beef onto the grill. He took a piece off the grill and put it on the hotplate, where it was snatched up by a greedy little boy. The chef went to put a second slice there, and as the boy reached out to nab it, the cook placed it on my plate. Smugly, I walked away with it, leaving the child to gnaw on the one he already had. 

I haven’t had a steak in over a year, and this was certainly the place to have one. It was thin and tender as a stick of butter. Fresh off the grill, it was just perfect.

Shop on our hike to the monastery, Petra, Jordan, offering coffee, snickers and Bavarian beer.

Shop on our hike to the monastery, Petra, Jordan, offering coffee, snickers and Bavarian beer.

Other meats were frequently available for dinner–beef, chicken and lamb. Libby loved having a chicken nugget again (since we had long ago banned them) and hers was shaped like a heart.

My favorite dish was hummus. And it wasn’t even the gourmet stuff from any of the resorts–it was the hummus my husband had picked up at a nearby convince store. There were different varieties, one with a green type of pesto, another with plain chickpeas, and our favorite, the kind with the red pesto, complete with a little kick.

And now it’s back to ‘real’ life, whatever that actually means.

I’ve cooked my chickpeas this afternoon, and am scavenging together a red pesto to try and emulate what I had in Israel, but I’m afraid no matter what I do, I will fall short.

My traveling friends and I have discussed this notion before–travel ruins you for certain foods. When you actually have hummus in the place where the ingredients grow naturally in your garden, it’s hard to recreate it in your cold German kitchen. And likewise, gelato just isn’t the same anywhere outside of Italy–even ‘Italian’ gelato in Germany lacks something. As for yogurt, I can’t even taste the stuff if it doesn’t come from Deutschland. Holland has the best cheese in the world (which I know since I sampled plenty of it before my plant-based conversion), and now hummus will never be the same again.

In the Middle East, things grow on TREES in December! Amazing!

In the Middle East, things grow on TREES in December! Amazing!

It is a bittersweet thing, to be ruined for a food forever. But if I am lucky, I will catch hints of the real stuff from time to time, and it will bring back the memories and the stories that begin with, “Do you remember sitting on the balcony overlooking the Red Sea, when we had hummus for dinner?”

Ruined. 

Completely, happily ruined. 

A Culturally Confusing Christmas

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The Middle East seemed like a perfect place to get away from fake pine trees, creepy santas and even creepier elves during the holidays. I did realize that Bethlehem was where Jesus was born, and that because of all the churches in the holy land, there might be some Christmassy stuff laying around for tourists to pick up.

But I honestly felt by visiting one country that was 75% Jewish, 16% Muslim and 2% Christian (the rest of the people being ambiguous) and another country 90% Sunni, 2% Shia and 8% Christian-ish, the odds were in my favor that I could evade santa and his eight tiny reindeer. Certainly there wouldn’t be any pine trees, tinsel or fake snow!

[insert laugh track here].

Though I sought to escape Christmas, Christmas found me nonetheless–and came back with a vengeance.

Christmas Assault #1: Jerusalem YMCA

During our visit to Jerusalem, we lodged at the YMCA, which having “Christian” in the acronym, is a likely bet for Christmas decor. While the pine tree was no big surprise, I was bemused to see the dining room windows adorned with fake snow.

Fake snow. Note the oranges in the tree outside.

Fake snow. Note the oranges in the tree outside.

YMCA Christmas Tree

YMCA Christmas Tree

Christmas Assault #2: Jaffa Gate Christmas ‘Market’

Perhaps it is unfair to compare any Christmas market in the world with those in Germany, but the market outside the Jaffa Gate blind-sided me with its cheesiness. Blue tarps strung on metal poles, people wearing santa hats, an eight-foot tall inflatable santa, an illuminated ‘tree’ AND to completely bombard our senses, American Christmas music. (I haven’t heard Silent Night by Annie Lennox in a LONG time!)

Jaffa Gate Market

Jaffa Gate Market

 Christmas Assault #3: Movenpick Hotel, Petra, Jordan

Becoming emotionally stable again after my traumatic experience at the Jaffa Gate market, I sought refuge in the least likely of places to honor Christmas with a fake pine tree: the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

While sipping my hibiscus juice during check-in at the Movenpick hotel at Petra, I noticed in the foyer, amongst the potted palms, a huge Christmas tree. At first I thought our journey along the winding desert road had parched my brain and I was hallucinating. But alas, it was a real, fake tree. Thus realizing Christmas was out to get me, I forced the kids to pose for another picture.

Oh! Christmas tree! In the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

Oh! Christmas tree! In the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

The Final Christmas Assault: U Coral Beach Club, Eilat

Not only did Christmas follow me from Wadi Musa to Eilat, but it twisted my arm behind my back until I fell to my knees, crying ‘Shalom!’ and wishing for the peace and harmony of a Christmas Eve sale at Wal-Mart.

Since my teenage son alone can eat his weight in falafel, staying at an all-inclusive resort seemed like a good idea for the nine of us. Little did I know that all-inclusive meant ‘family-friendly,’ which translated means ‘frenetic activities for kids and an open bar for parents.’

We were bombarded with fake trees, stuffed santas poking their creepy faces out from everywhere, a steady stream of Christmas music, tinsel, and we saw hotel staffers dressed as sleeping children and flanking the hall on our way into the breakfast room, a guy in plaid boxers with suspenders and a santa hat, inviting our kids to a trivia game, dance parties every night and, the coup d’état, Israeli children having milk and cookies while waiting for a Brazilian santa, who would be driving up on a Harley.

The stage is set for santa at the U Coral Beach Club.

The stage is set for santa at the U Coral Beach Club.

It was cheesy. It was gaudy. As my friend said, it was ‘garish.’ And yet, this is where we spent our ‘Silent Night.’ Despite it all, I DID manage it with a laugh, and a little Irish Cream added to my coffee.

*Editor’s note: In all fairness, the staffers were genuinely concerned with having fun and involving kids in activities. They were wonderful in their sincerity and very helpful and welcoming.

The Real Christmas

On Christmas Eve, the few items we had purchased for the kids were tucked away, and we decided to place them inside the kids’ adventure hats. We didn’t tell them, and I don’t think the kids expected to get anything at all, since we had told them the trip was the present. Honestly, my friend and I felt excited, figuring out how to sneak the presents into the hats, and when and where to place them around the hotel room. It was the most regret-free fun I’ve ever had on Christmas Eve.

Opening presents

Opening presents

Christmas morning, the girls and I awoke (the boys were in another room with their dad), and I gave each of them a ‘Christmas’ can of Coke, which is a special treat (especially at 6:00 am). I also had forgotten that I had some fake Nabatean coins in my purse that I’d picked up in Petra, and so, I handed those out to the girls as their Christmas presents. I got out my bible, and we read some and talked about Christmas and what it has to do (or does not have to do) with the birth of Jesus Christ.

Before we knew it, it was time for our ‘real’ Christmas to begin. My friend and I set up the adventure hats in her room and then had the kids go in, find their hats, and uncover their gifts. They were SO happy that they weren’t just getting fake Nabatean coins! Even though the presents they got could fit into their carry-ons, the kids were just as happy as any other Christmas. As Katie put it, “The best Christmas is the one you’re having right now!”

Christmas Surprise!

Christmas Surprise!

I don’t know if we will embark on another Christmas adventure (the words Scuba Diving and Indian Ocean keep coming to mind), but I do know that despite West meeting East in a big, loud way this year, it was the most memorable Christmas the Wellman family has had thus far. 

Shalom!

May God bless you with peace in the new year!

Travels of a Gluten-Free, Vegan(ish) Gypsy Mama

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It is possible to be gluten-free, and it is possible to be vegan; but it is nearly impossible to be both in certain situations, for example, on an 8 hour flight.

And yes, I brought my own food with me. And no, the tepid, ten-hour old slices of cucumber in the baggie in my purse did not seem savory when presented a steaming plate of chicken and polenta (the BEST gf meal ever), courtesy of the kind chefs at Lufthansa.

As for me, the vegan thing is by choice, not politically or morally motivated, and therefore it can be neatly packed in my carry-on at will.

While I am beyond craving meat, I would eat that particular airline meal again and again, until it gave me coronary artery disease, in which case I would have to limit myself to dreaming about it post-op.

I admit it: I ate meat during my travels. But a lot of people who love me bent over backwards to make me gluten-free meals, vegan meals, or  both, and I don’t want to be that annoyingly neurotic sort of person who disdains food presented–especially when I’m lodging (free) with very generous people.

My husband and I have a saying, “Fifi only drinks champagne.”

I’m not sure where it came from, but at some point, we started saying it whenever one of the kids vocalized a food aversion, and then we would laugh.

Thus, not to be a Fifi, the only neurosis I allow myself is the gluten paranoia, only because I don’t want people to feel bad for inadvertently poisoning me.

*Editor’s note: if the author is glutened, it is ENTIRELY her own responsibility! The host is NEVER at fault. NEVER.

Before my trip to the US, I specifically requested my Grandma O. create a gluten-free version of her famous ham balls.

If you are vegetarian, I apologize for the image that may be in your mind at the moment, and I can only say, if you commit vegetarian impropriety just once in your long, untainted life, it should be with Grandma O’s ham balls.

While the kids and I did eat out a few times, we purposely boycotted fast-food (though Tasty Tacos, Chilie’s & Applebee’s blur the distinction).

And the rumor is true: with my consent, Grandpa took the children to IHOP–a place that could now kill me.

*Editor’s note: after the author returned home, she found a ‘Frequent Customer’ card from IHOP in an old purse. The author wants to make it clear that her life has changed drastically from six years ago!

But if the kids eat IHOP once every six years, I think they will survive (with large doses of veggies in the middle).

I also had lattes & cappuccino while I was traveling. Because seriously, if I’m going to have milk with my espresso, I’m going for whole milk. Milk gleaned from rice, soy or almonds just isn’t the same.

Before my vegan and/or vegetarian readers begin posting angry and/or disparaging comments to my blog, let me change the subject by asking: Is true veganism something you can turn off and on by choice?

Was I a convert to begin with? Am I just a backslider? Maybe I’m not a vegan at all. I already find myself fantasizing about the steak I’m going to consume after my marathon this summer.

I’m most likely someone Dr. Joel Fuhrman, in his book Eat to Live, calls a Nutritarian, which simply means someone who, for the most part, eats a veggie-based diet.

While not recommended, the occasional fling with meat & dairy is permissible.

And occasionally really means ‘on occasion,’ as in ‘special’ occasion; not as in It’s three o’clock again–bacon cheeseburger time! 

You might be wondering how I felt with all this fat and cholesterol floating around in my bloodstream, trying to attach itself to places it shouldn’t.

By the end of my binge, I felt bloated, fat, tired, and quite ready for my lean green.

The surprising thing is that I didn’t gain any weight. However, I’m quite sure daily bingeing would put me back into elastic-waisted jeans in no time–an endeavor I do NOT wish to put to the test.

After getting through the jet-lag, my husband and I began a detox. He had lost nearly 20 pounds while I was gone (making a total of 80 pounds since this year began), and I think he joined the Reboot simply to humor me.

But regardless, this week’s juice fast has been tough. I even cheated by eating a fresh fig, a strawberry, and a handful (okay, an entire can) of garbanzo beans. Oh, and there was the mushroom soup I had to sample, since I was cooking for the kids; but that was purely a quality control issue.

But my husband was supportive of my deviation by remarking, “At least you weren’t sucking down hunks of chicken!”

He meant it as a compliment.

And he’s right. In just four days, my cravings for sweets and dairy went away.  Now I fantasize about fruits, veggies, and legumes.

A juice fast will do that to a person.

I don’t want to sound like I don’t enjoy my juice–because I do. I have missed the tangy flavor of my Lean Green.

And knowing that my body is receiving an entire bag of spinach’s worth of nutrients in one drink is satisfying on both mental and molecular levels. If someone were to see my cells under a microscope, I’m sure they would be cheering.

With no trips in my immediate future, I can better control my eating environment; and my cells can slap on their shades, sit back, and take in the liquid sunlight.

Home sweet home.

Recipe of the Week: Don’t Make Fun of Me Cashew “Cheese”

Friday night is pizza night around the Wellman ranch, and since becoming vegan (or mostly vegan), I’ve struggled to find something to replace cheese on my pizza. Well, I found this recipe in the Forks Over Knives cookbook–and it does the trick.

Not only is it scrumptious on pizza, but it’s awesome on gluten-free crackers too. It bears little (if any) resemblance to real cheese, but the flavor is delicious! Don’t make fun of me! Try it!

The Raw Materials

1 cup organic cashews

1/2 lemon (I used one whole lemon, but it was small)

1 tsp fresh basil, chopped

1 clove garlic, pressed

1/4 cup water

The Method 

Toss ‘cheese’ ingredients in the food processor. Puree, adding water slowly until it reaches a thick, cream-cheese-like consistency. You should be able to form little ‘cheese’ balls, so don’t add too much water. Add seasonings (salt if you want it) to taste.

You can form this into ‘cheese’ patties (similar to mozzarella, Italian style) and place it on your pizza. Or, you can crumble it over the top. Or, you can spread it on crackers. Or, you can lick the spatula.

Whatever your method of delivery, it will be good (and filling).

Sweet Sorrow

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I was sad hugging my husband goodbye at the train station that early, dark morning in Germany. It seems like years ago, though it has only been two weeks.

When we jetted away from our good friends after a perfect day in Boston, I heard the words (from more than one Wellman), “I wish we didn’t have to leave already.”

It would become a common refrain.

Pulling away in my rental car, and seeing my grandmother close her front door made me wish for just a little more of that precious commodity we call “time.”

I can hardly stand to recall the tears of my mother as she hugged the kids, not knowing when she will see them again.

And there was the moment frozen in my memory, of my grandparents, standing on their front porch in the fading light, their hands raised at our parting. I couldn’t look very long–not with the tears blurring my vision.

When we originally left the states for Germany, we didn’t know how long our goodbyes would have to last. It ended up being six years–a lifetime in kid years.

There will be more partings before the final week of our trip is over, and I do not look forward to those.

But I have to remember, for every goodbye, there was an equally enthusiastic hello. For every tear drop, there were hours of laughter. For every parting hug, there were multiple good night hugs, good morning hugs, or the very best, hugs for no reason.
I have lingered over coffee, laughed over knitting, and have relished the simple joy of walking next to people who held me as a baby.

There have been a thousand conversations and stories and dreams shared.

There are hopes and wishes and prayers and kisses exchanged, and tender little hands held by ones rough with time and wear.

Whether our goodbyes will echo in our hearts four years or four months, and despite the sorrow we feel at parting, we will hold close the sweetness of being with those we love.

Baggage Drop

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The one bag rule is the brainchild of my friend and writing buddy, Jenn Miller, in whose cozy Cape Cod cottage we are currently crashing.

Because we so highly recommend the notion of one family, one suitcase in our book [enter shameless promotion here] there was no way this Gypsy Mama could show her face in the US while dragging more than one bag.

So how do five people share one suitcase?

Space saver bags.

Each person on the trip has one space saver bag, into which goes 2 outfits, 2 pairs of socks, and 1 pair of pajamas and some undies.

That’s it, except maybe a toothbrush.

If we need something, it is easy enough to pick it up once we arrive.

For the airplane, each person carries a small pack, strictly for items needed during the flight.

The only exception to this was my pink roll-around hard-case a friend of mine had dubbed the “Barbie Suitcase,” which I found I needed in order to bring the kids school books, when the beer and chocolates pushed our one large bag over the weight limit.

So, I brought on board a purse and the Barbie Suitcase, which is still small enough to fit easily in the overhead compartment.

I knew that having less baggage would make train-to-plane transit much easier, but I didn’t know the joy it would bring other people.

The five of us were standing at the Lufthansa baggage drop at Frankfurt International, when the clerk asked how many bags to check.

“One,” I replied.

She raised her eyebrows.

“Just one?” she suggested, as if I’d mistranslated her perfect English.

“Yes.”

She counted heads again.

I smiled cheerfully.

The look on her face was as if I’d just brought her a gift, which I guess it was for a person who tags and hefts suitcases all day.

Then she gave me an unexpected gift by slapping a “Priority” tag on our lonely Samsonite.

I was extremely pleased that at the end of the eight hour flight, we were wheeling our single priority bag towards the exit, while most of the other passengers were staring longingly at the four bags circulating on the luggage carousel.

As we approached the exit, we were stopped by a security guard.

“Here we go,” I thought, “He’s going to confiscate the beer and chocolate.”

“You are TOO good,” he said.

“Pardon?” I asked, feeling I’d missed something in translation, though we were now in America, and the guy was speaking English.

“You only have one bag!” he exclaimed, “Where’s the rest of your stuff?”

“We have everything we need,” I replied.

He chuckled and shook his head.

Minutes later we were through all the checkpoints, and ready to toss our suitcase in my friend’s van.

I have to say, that despite my initial skepticism to the one bag rule, it worked out better than I could have imagined. Not only did it make the trip easier for me, but it spread a little joy, which should be one thing the traveling family always brings along.

There’s no extra charge for joy, and it pays off in ways that matter.

Now, I just need to go buy a toothbrush.

Ready…Set…

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The clothes have been hanging on the hallway bannister since Wednesday, though the packing process began a week ago with laundry and clothes organizing.

We used to choose a color scheme for the kids–and even matching outfits, but this time, the color scheme chose itself. With the exception of the subtle browns of our oldest young adult, the rest of us will be a vibrant mix of ocean blue and coral.

We’re bound to stand out in the Frankfurt International Airport anyway, so we might as well wear things we like.

In twelve hours our very long day will begin, but the thought of the fun and joy at the other end of the journey makes it all worth it. The kids’ moods have been swinging from happy/excited to devastated/nitpicky–I’d forgotten what nerves can do.

But since we are all buttoned up and ready to head out the door, I forced the kids outside for some exercise. Even though we’ve been in a literal fog all day, the two hours they spent on the trampoline seems to have done wonders for them. They are relaxed, happy, and eager for the hugs they’ll get when they land in the US for the first time in six years.

I finished my chores by lunchtime and went out for a run through the mud. It was so quiet and peaceful–I even saw deer! It was a great way to begin a journey.

I am nervous about how the kids will react to America. Will they have panic attacks in Super Wal-Mart? Meltdowns at Target? I already plan on taking pictures of the rows and rows of milk jugs–GALLON sized, no less! For me, (a person accustomed to 1 liter cartons for my tiny fridge) it’s a novelty. And I am sure to be in AWE of American washing machines–I might be able to fit more than 3 towels in one!

I will miss my husband, my dog, and even my juicer (yes, it’s become that important to me), but I can’t wait to hold a cup of hot tea or coffee in my hand and chat face-to-face with the people I love so dearly.

My co-author has forced me to stick to the “one-bag rule” outlined in our book, The Gypsy Mama’s Guide to Real Travel with Children–and I’ve found it a little difficult, to be honest. But then I think about the fact that we are going to the land of plenty, and even if we arrive at midnight, there will be a store open somewhere. We won’t starve, or stink, or have frizzy hair–all the necessities can be found.

I find it ironic that for all the years I lived in Alaska, there was never a Target or a Starbucks, and Olive Garden was a fantastic dream.

And now I have lived for six years in a place where targets are shot at with arrows; where olive gardens are a seven hour drive and include ancient ruins; and Starbucks is an hour and a half away.

Despite the Toy Ban of 2012, the kids want to visit Toys-R-Us. They claim they don’t want to buy any toys, but merely to view it in a museum-like way.

I’m not sure they’ve convinced me.

Though I know we will pick up a few things we need, the best part of this trip will be spending time with friends and family.

We’re ready.

We’re set.

And now, it’s almost time to go!

See you on the flip side!