Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Planning, Scheming, Dreaming

Such is the life of the Globetrekker family...reminds me of an episode of My So-Called Life in which the young girl, swooning after her first makeout session with Jordan Catalano, says in a voice over "suddenly, my whole life was separated into two main activities: Kissing, and Not Kissing."

And so we, who have fallen ill with Ye Olde Travel Bug, are either Traveling or Not Traveling.

But when we are Not Traveling, we are Planning. And that's nearly as fun. Right now we have several potential trips in the works.

The BIG ONE is a possible family trip to China about a year from now--still waiting to get the estimate on that one from Lotus Travel.

I also contacted a dear high school friend, R, to see whether she might be up for a 40th birthday trip next summer, just a crazy long weekend either just the two of us, or perhaps with a few other mischief-loving old friends. Vegas...London...the Bahamas...Mohonk Mountain House...who knows??

Then there's New York City in May for the big publishing / audio book conference...John wants to catch a Mark Knopfler concert in Red Bank, NJ in May as well, so we may be tag-teaming so one of us can be home with JieJie and MeiMei.

There are other ways to travel vicariously, of course...I am following a JMU student's Semester in Antwerp blog, reliving some of the places we visited, and enjoying her impressions of those places. She's having a good time and is also truly appreciating the sights, sounds, and tastes of Europe, so it's nice to read. They went to Strasbourg and had tarte flambe...sigh.

Last Monday I missed Antwerp so much (must've been the chilly, rainy weather, ha ha) that I declared a personal Belgium Day. I e-mailed Ie in Antwerp, listened to radio2.be and refreshed my Dutch, went to Google Maps and looked at satellite views of all my favorite places, went to immoweb.be and picked out a great house for us to live in down by the great art museum (Ie says she'd be happy to check it out for us, but alas, it's just a pipe dream for now)--the style of house is actually called a MANSION which made me laugh, since it's in our price range so you know it's not the same meaning we ascribe to that word, eh? And finally, I looked up a recipe for tomatensoep met balletjes (tomato meatball soup) and whipped up a batch. It was YUMMY and the girls recognized it, so I didn't make too much mess of the thing...interestingly, the key ingredients that make it different from just plain tomato soup, as far as I could tell, were some beef bouillon cubes that gave it a darker, richer flavor; and a couple of potatoes, which cut the acidity of the tomatoes when they were pureed into the broth. The balletjes were so easy to make, I used up a whole bunch of meat and froze dozens of them to pop into soups down the road.

Meanwhile, Ie says that her favorite British cooking show host Jamie Oliver has just come out with an American cookbook and she wants to get it and try some recipes. Grass is always greener, eh?

Which is why, to bring things full circle, we travel. To see new shades of green on someone else's grass, and to restore our appreciation of the green, green grass of home. Awwww.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Oh My, Is This A Big Trip Coming?

You'll have to pardon me if this post turns out to be a dead end, but I think we are onto something here. We had always planned to return to China on a Heritage Tour (through Lotus Travel) in 2012. After all, we just finished adding onto our house, we've had some amazing travel adventures, far more than we think we even deserve, and were going to just stay put for a while.

Inevitably, conversation with John turns to "where do you think we'll take the next big trip?" and at first it was summer 2010 we were talking about...15th anniversary trip to Mackinac Island perhaps?

All of a sudden, though, there we were at dinner, over yummy stir-fry, talking about our 2012 trip to China, where we would go (Beijing/Chongqing/Hainan Island/Shanghai) and John suddenly says "you know, we could go next year over Christmas."

And you know, it feels right. JieJie will be 8, MeiMei 7. Old enough to start to understand, young enough to listen to Mom and Dad a bit longer. We would leave at the end of our university's exams, the girls would miss some school but not much, we would celebrate Christmas in Beijing ("would Santa be able to bring the gifts there?" is JieJie's main concern), go to Chongqing long enough to see the city and each girl's orphanage, then have some downtime on Hainan Island, which is supposed to be just beautiful, and finish up in the excitement of Shanghai before returning home to the spring semester. Yeah, it means we give up that between-semester recuperation time, but this is something we have known we would do for a long time.

So...I think it's time to start looking into ways to raise funds for each girl's orphanage so that when we visit we can bring a proper gift...believe it or not, there are still children's homes that lack proper water filtration systems for the water they use to make formula. Can you imagine the difference between boiling all kinds of water to make all of those bottles, vs. simply turning on a faucet? We simply can't show up empty-handed, but the first thing to do is ask what the most pressing needs are at Fuling and Liangping so that we are truly able to do some good.

But is it possible that a year from now we could be looking at applying for visas for a heritage tour to China? I'm quite excited at that proposition. Oddly enough, was just reading an article in The Atlantic about air pollution in China, the gist of which was yes, it's bad; you'll get over it ; worry about something more important. Just need to lay in a stock of Throaties for Beijing--that was some of the worst air I've ever breathed!

I'll keep you updated..

Sunday, September 20, 2009

We're Grounded

Why no posts?

Simply put, no travel.

Our home, in a city often described as "a great place to raise kids" (which it is), is our home base. A great place to come home to after a long trip. A sanctuary. All of that. But after so much traveling, we looked around one day and realized that home base was getting a bit crowded. We are nearing the end of a renovation process that began in mid-May, and believe me, it's getting OOOOOOOOOOOLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLllDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDdd.

A few years ago I took the girls' playroom to make a home office, which reduced us to two bedrooms. Over this past summer, I had moved my home office off-site. My freelance work (voice over recordings) can only be done with a reasonable amount of quiet, so working during construction was pretty much a no-go.

We are so close to the end now, but the disruption of a major renovation is not unlike our semester in Antwerp, only without the nice sightseeing to distract us. We have lived in a kitchen-less house for a month now, doing dishes in the tub, coughing from dust, and greeting various and sundry workmen in our jammies each morning at 7:30.

When is our next trip? Who knows! For now we are just hanging in there during the finishing touches, and corresponding with our Belgian friends, who are talking about coming here again next summer--no objections from here!

JieJie and MeiMei are doing well by the way. JieJie talks about wanting to do a job where she can travel someday, so it seems she already has the travel bug. MeiMei is much more of the moment, though she certainly doesn't object when we start talking about that next trip.

For the time being, we are content to make lists. Here's my list--places I think would make a good trip with the family:

Walking tour in the UK (John says the Hadrian's Wall trip would be on his list)
Sweden - homeland tour for me
Prague - we have friends from there
Greece - my high school friend's husband is from Piraeus
Caribbean...thinking of a 40th birthday moms only trip in 2010, but we'll see...I can't very well go if budget precludes a family trip, eh?!


Friday, August 07, 2009

A visit from Antwerpen

We Globetrekkers have stayed close to home this summer, to supervise a home addition that is nearly complete. While the plaster dust flies, we've set up temporary domicile just up the street at the home of friends T & K. They spend the summer in Canada, and were as happy to have house-sitters as we were to borrow their house! What a stroke of luck - we are thankful indeed.

For most of the summer, JieJie and MeiMei have been SO amazingly go-with-the-flow about all the displacement. We are amazed at how different they are at age 7 and 6, how much more able to understand the need for short-term sacrifice for the sake of long-term gain (in their case, their own bedrooms).

And it isn't as though we've done nothing this summer, either. In fact, our friends S & I from Antwerp brought daughters H & E with them for a visit in July, their first trip ever to the US. What a great time we all had! And as we thought, it was just as much fun to see your own backyard through someone else's eyes as it is to visit someone else's backyard!

They marveled at the amount of space our kids have to run and play, and the way one backyard leads to another in our neighborhood, melding into one giant Kiddie Game Preserve. They saw hummingbirds and lightning bugs for the first time. Each night as the lightning bugs rose from the lawn, we marveled at their beauty. S actually lost concentration on our conversation one night, apologizing "I'm sorry, I'm just completely gobsmacked at these fireflies." And his wife said "they look like sparks going the opposite direction."

They visited Shenandoah National Park and actually saw a bear (which we've never even seen!) as well as their first chipmunk and many beautiful birds (their first cardinal too). We toured Luray Caverns together and the kids went crazy for the awesome audio tour tailored just to their age group. In fact, the kids' tour was so much fun, the adults started using that track instead of the one for grownups!

And of course, one majorly fun part of any trip is trying new foods. Our Belgian friends tried many new dishes, including meatloaf, crab cakes, corn fritters, cheesecake, pork barbeque sandwiches, a couple of different cuts of steak, and (by request) a trip to an ice cream parlor, Coldstone Creamery in this case. They thought it was too sweet--I have to agree.

If you read my posts from Antwerp in 2007, you will remember that I was overwhelmed by the yogurt selection in the supermarkets there - you could get all different sizes, blends, flavors...yogurt to eat, drink, mix with other stuff...a whole aisle in the supermarket--BOTH SIDES. The flip side was that when my friend "I" wanted yogurt for her kids, we walked past the selection "blink and you miss it" style...she was looking for more choices and I said "this is pretty much it"--though she recognized Danone (Dannon) from home. Her daughters thought our yogurt was too sweet, our cereal was too sweet ("lightly sweetened? it's like cookies!") and I started to notice all over again our American obsession with sweet tastes. Her daughter H discovered Kix, though, and had several bowls a day of Kix cereal - we'll have to send her a box now that they're back home.

4th of July arrived and we did the farmer's market, which was doing its best Norman Rockwell impression that morning. Steve Parks was playing with a pickup ensemble of Old Time musicians from the area. Mennonite farmers and their bonneted wives and daughters were selling gorgeous produce and homemade goodies. Back at home, we presented H & E with red white and blue-beribboned hair barrettes (the kind we used to wear in the 80's with the braided ribbon...if you are a Gen-X'er, you know what I'm talking about!). S was a bit uncomfortable with the patriotic display but permitted his daughters to get into the spirit. When in Rome...

Sad to say, our 4th of July parade was beyond lame this year - in fact S missed it completely just by leaving the house 10 minutes later than the girls and I did! But the fireworks that night made up for it - nice job there, and the jet-lagged little girls sat with us on the Ott Street wall overlooking downtown, a nice view of the festivities.

We felt honored that they entrusted their jet-lagged selves to us, and in fact it worked out so well, they moved out of their nice room at The Village Inn and into our guest rooms! We look forward to our next trip to Antwerp to see them again, and talked several times about our hopes that the girls grow up to continue our friendship on into the future, as we have enjoyed with our Dutch friends M, R, S & V.

By the way, can you believe that our friends came from Belgium, the land of amazing beer, and went right for the Corona, Sol, and Modelo cases? Apparently Mexican beers are hard to get over there!

Next post will take us to the land of my childhood memories..."Up North" Minnesota.


Tuesday, June 30, 2009

FTJ welcomes your comments

Just a quick note to say I would love to know what your thoughts are as you read current and archived posts - comments have now been enabled. Every time I see the map of who's reading the blog, I wonder how you found it, what you're looking for, what you think - please introduce yourself!


The Belgians are Coming!

So excited - we will be reversing things on Thursday as our Belgian friends S&I and daughters H&E arrive in little old Harrisonburg, Virginia! We've got them staying at a sweet little place, a local favorite that is a bit off the beaten track. Since they will be getting over their jet lag while here (the 2-7 of July), we have some general ideas for short and full-day trips and will play things by ear. Really looking forward to the 4th, because in the morning we have the farmer's market, and then there are fun things happening all day including the parade and of course fireworks to top it all off.

We have put together a bag of fun stuff for them, including new beach towels (they didn't want to bring them), coloring books that I made from free printables online, snacks to have at the hotel, and some brochures about the area.

Hoping that the fertilizer smell out at East Rockingham dissipates before we take them there for a swim because it was FOUL today (or should I say fowl? I think it's chicken poo).

Will let you know what they thought of our little town. I have a feeling their visit will FLY.


Saturday, June 20, 2009

Summer 2009 Plans

So...I deleted the home renovation blog. I just didn't feel compelled to write about footers, framing, choosing windows, negotiating the price of carpeting...kind of funny, because I assumed when I started that sub-blog that I would of course keep up with it because I like to write. WRONG. I like to write about traveling!

A year ago today we were still adjusting to the time in Antwerpen on our Antwerpen II excursion. This summer, our home renovation project has zeroed out the travel budget, though we have friends from Antwerpen coming here instead, which is almost as fun. I love seeing my home town through others' eyes (and it's pretty here in the summer). And we will be seeing the grandparents later this summer as well, so we won't be completely Valley-bound all summer.

Yesterday I needed a cheap lunch on the run, but my aversion to franchise fast food led me to a local option that you have to have lived here for a while to know about. Readers of the blog will recognize that sentiment...I love being a local at home, and when I travel I like to find the markets, restaurants and events that have a local feel. So anyway, 'burgers know about the Red Front Hot Dog Stand, which Red Front Supermarket insists upon calling the West End Cafe...c'mon people, it's a hot dog stand. You go to Red Front on Chicago Avenue, grab a buck fifty, plop it on the counter, and you get a hot dog and a drink. That's it! You can have chili on the dog, and all the standard condiments are there, but if you're looking for selection, keep driving. If you want a really good hot dog, a nice cold drink, and a little neighborly conversation though, you've found your spot. I ate my hot dog and chatted with an 82-year-old gentleman who was seated comfortably on a pile of bags of mlch, enjoying his hot dog. He said he grew up on a farm on the east side of the county ("What did you farm?" "Everything"), was a WW2 veteran ("got in just before the war ended") and feels lucky to be alive after a brain aneurysm sent him into a 2-week coma not long ago. My own grandfather, WW2 veteran, aortal aneurysm, grew up farming "everything"...not that this other man reminded me in appearance or personality of my grandfather, but...

let's just say this kind of interaction is well-nigh impossible at the Chik-Fil-A drive thru...and, for that matter, at the sober, pharmacy-like eatery tucked in the back of Kate's Natural Products (though I enjoyed my celeberry smoothie the other day, don't get me wrong).

Wanna eat a quick lunch like a Harrisonburg local? Scratch together six quarters and head for the hot dog stand.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009


So I went to L.A. last week - I have some stories to tell, but this is just a teaser. Once I have all my grading done (it's spring break) my reward to myself is to write to you about my few days in L.A.

If you're yearning for news of Antwerp though, I just happened to find a new blog from a JMU student who JUST found out she was accepted to the semester in Antwerp program for fall of this year. I've signed up to follow her blog (she called it Antwerpp) and am looking forward to following the whole semester abroad experience from a student's point of view.

Wish we were going back there this summer, but it's just impossible with the remodeling we're doing to the house. Another time.


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Jean is my hero!

Click on the title of this blog to get to an exciting travel blog from my hero, Jean. Jean and I were nuns together in Nunsense years ago, and she went from accountant to actress to director and theatre board member. After her husband passed away suddenly several years ago, did Jean sit around at home saying oh me oh my? NO. She went back to school and got her college degree and is heading to Rwanda to help set up a school being built there. She will live in Rwanda for all of 2009, and is posting to her blog at http://secondwindnewpaths.blogspot.com/ if you would like to follow her story. Of course, donations to the Rwanda School Project are more than welcome as well.

Jean is such a great example of living life to the fullest. I can't wait to read what it's like to adjust to life in her new home. And I have to say, on this snow day with ice on the way, it's not a bad time to head for warmer climes!


Thursday, January 08, 2009

New Blog from Me

You might have noticed that my posts have been few and far between on FTJ recently. That's because 2009's travel budget will be reduced, if not eliminated, by a different kind of adventure: we're adding onto the house! So I started a blog (natch) to document that process.

I'm calling it 37 Pieces, after a piece of advice my aunt K shared. I had told her about all of the wonderful things we would gain after the dust clears, and she said "just remember that when they have your house in 37 pieces and there's nowhere to take a shower."

Hope you'll visit and follow along...I have NO idea what the next 6-9 months (more?) will bring, but it will definitely be an experience. We're just picking a contractor now, so you'll be in on the ground floor, so to speak.

LG, aka LH

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Trips and Visitors on the Horizon

OK...lots on the horizon, though different than the usual Family Travel Journal fare.

late January brings a trip to the Maryland Theatre Festival for work, and a stay in Bethesda not far from my old stomping grounds (used to work at 7200 Wisconsin, a large office building there). I'll give you a hotel review after I get back. I'll be interested to see what the immediate aftermath of Obama's inauguration is like, and was really surprised to see that there are still rooms available for the inauguration...perhaps we've all heard so much about people renting private homes on Craigslist that people have just stopped looking at hotels, but there seem to be rooms out there. We'll be at home on Tuesday at a local celebration...can't imagine what it will be like up in DC but for the sake of the spectators and the honorees, I do hope for a sudden warm spell!

March takes me to Los Angeles for my freelance work in voice over. Thanks to Expedia for a fantastic deal, too: roundtrip airfare + 3 nights at a budget-level but still nice hotel for $640! I usually look at the map and do the booking online but there were so many hotels, and I was trying to find a good deal in a specific neighborhood, so I called the 800 number and was certainly not disappointed. I don't have tons of appointments during the days there, so I may try to get up to the Getty Museum if time allows. Attending the taping of a tv show would be fun too, but I don't want to get too adjusted to LA time if I can help it.

This summer, we may be the visitEEs, rather than the visitORs. S & Ie, H & E (the boat trip friends) are considering taking their first trip to the US and will include a stop in the Shenandoah Valley to see us and the mountains, the cows and the disgusting commercial strip area along 33...wish I could just put blinders on for that part, but oh well.

So there will be a bit of traveling after all...despite the economy, so far so good and we'll be able to get out of town here and there.

JieJie and MeiMei had a great Christmas by the way - their favorite gifts were these stuffed animals called Webkins, that have online avatars. The girls have to do extra chores to earn internet time though...we're just not ready for unfettered access to the internet yet!


You can search FTJ for past posts, e.g. China info...