3600 Miles, 55 Hours & 3 Pets: From Florida to British Columbia

In 2005, my family spent six weeks living in Whistler, British Columbia. My dad and brother flew, but my mother and I drove an SUV full of everything we’d need including four suitcases, three computers (remote work, ftw!), three pets, and one litter box.

This is the story of Sherra and Ashley’s Cross Country Adventure.

Spoiler alert: things get REAL WEIRD in Colorado.

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Who are the Schwartaus?

“English, Irish, French, Dutch, Italian, Spanish, German.”

That was the mix of ethnicities that I could rattle off at a mile-a-minute whenever someone asked my heritage.

“And possibly some Cherokee and Mexican.” We added that later after learning that my mom’s side of the family might have included Native Americans, and my dad’s relatives lived in Mexico for a short while.

But we’ve never known specifics, percentages, or if any of what we’d been told about our family was true.

Take, for example, the story about how we got our last name. My dad’s parents told him that way back when, our German relatives were causing a ruckus in the tiny town of Bad Schwartau, all caught up in ‘bad things’ (What were these bad things? Gambling? Prostitution? Thieving?). The good people of Bad Schwartau told our relatives to get the heck out of town, they didn’t want such terrible people living in their city. Our relatives were pissed off, rightly so; they were kicked out of their home. So they said, “Fine! We’ll leave your stupid town! But we’re taking your name!”

I doubt very much that this story is based on any sort of fact, and even though it’s fun family lore, it doesn’t tell me anything about my ancestry or where I come from. Continue reading

Bad Schwartau

In elementary school, I used to tell people that Schwartau was the shortened version of my real last name, the Ellis Island version given to my ancestors when they immigrated to America. My real last name was Schwartauburgerhifinfiner. My friends believed me, for years. But it’s not true.

My real last name is Schwartau.

Growing up, I knew that it was

(a) German

(b) hard for people to say

(c) harder for people to spell

(d) the last name of very few people in America (according to this site, only 107 people in the US have this surname, and this site confirms)

and (e) also the name of a jam and jelly company in Europe

Every year for Christmas, my dad would order hundreds of jars of Schwartau jams, from the mini to full size, and we’d give them to everyone: teachers, neighbors, friends, the accountant, their lawyer. (Try the wildberry, so tasty!)

Never once, as a kid, did I think I’d get the opportunity to visit the town that birthed Schwartau jam and, maybe, my family: Bad Schwartau. But in 2009, my dad made that happen. Let me share with you our Bad Schwartau adventure, in pictures.

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#TBT: The Time My Dad Tricked Me Into Eating Squid

I’ve always been a less-than-adventurous eater; I ate PB&J sandwiches or peanut butter & crackers every day for lunch from Kindergarten through 5th grade. (Not kidding. Not even a little bit.) As an adult, I’ve definitely expanded my food horizons — mahi mahi tacos! bahn mi sandwiches! grilled octopus! — though my dad would still describe me as non-adventurous and picky. I don’t eat red meat, I can’t handle the texture or temperature of raw fish, I’m lactose intolerant, and I will gag if I even have to look at pieces of tomato. I’ve come a long way, though, from where I was when he first took my family to Europe.

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Janet and the Bikini

This post comes from my grandmother Mary Bell’s memoirs Squatter’s Rites: 101 Travel Stories for the Vicarious Traveler. She wrote them during the late 90s, her stories taking place as far back as the 40s. They were never published, but instead typewritten and saved in a 3-ring binder. As I go through her collection of travel stories, I’m sharing some of my favorites with you!

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International Women’s Day: Celebrating the Traveling Women Who Inspire Me

Today, as the world celebrates International Women’s Day (#IWC), I want to celebrate some of the awesome women I’ve traveled with, met while away from home, or who have inspired me to explore new places.

The worldly, womanly writers who have written inspiring memoirs. Sarah McDonald’s Holy Cow, Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriguez, Tales of Female Nomad by Rita Golden Gelman, and now Gloria Steinem’s My Life on the Road are some of my favorites. (What are some of yours? I’m always on the lookout for travel memoirs!)


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