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.

Continue reading

#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.

Continue reading

The Last (and Worst) Time I was in London

As we’re planning our 2016 European adventure, we’re talking about all the places we are interested in visiting — for me, Paris is always a must see, but not so much for Justin. At the top of his list is London.

london wakefield york 048

London is a beautiful city, with a rich (and bloody!) history, full of people who speak English and a theatre scene that can’t be missed. Yet, every time I hear the name of the city, my heart starts to race in a panicky way and my mouth goes a little dry. I haven’t been to London in over a decade, but the last time I went was one of the worst travel experiences of my life.

Continue reading

Sleeping in Airports

My brother is in Ecuador right now, visiting a friend. Together, they are exploring the Galapagos Islands, making my dad and me supremely jealous — of what they’re getting to see, not how they got there.

Erich, my brother’s friend, is living in the mountains with a host family so in order to get down to the airport to meet my brother he had to take two buses and ride in the back of a milk truck for a couple hours. Not an ideal travel situation. And because my dad used points to book Adam’s travel, my brother had the not-so-fun experience of going north to get south and spending a night in an airport (which is not as uncommon as you may think).

When I heard this, I laughed… not because I thought it was funny but because I’ve been there and knew what he was in for.

Continue reading

Amy Borris & The Perilous Solvers: The Book I Wrote in 4th Grade

I’ve always wanted to be a writer. My dreams of being a published fiction author recently went through a reboot, allowing me to focus on non-fiction writing both for my job and in the form of this blog.

But fiction has always been my first love. Even as a 10 year old in Mrs. Greer’s 4th grade class, I wanted to write. At that age, my favorite books were the Boxcar Children and the abridged version of the Mysterious Island by Jules Verne; my favorite movies were Indiana Jones (and the Last Crusade, in particular), the Swiss Family Robinson and most Disney flicks; and my favorite show was Scooby Doo (just setting the scene here).

10-year-old Ashley craved Adventure (in the great wide somewhere….) I hadn’t yet been much of anywhere, save for the 12-hour roadtrips from 727 to 615 that we took a few times a year. I’d not yet been to Europe or the Caribbean. I didn’t remember being in Mexico. My only travel experiences were done through the pages of books, literary and much more affordable.

But 10-year-old Ashley was not satisfied to only READ these adventures. No. She wanted to WRITE these adventures. And so she set out to write a novel, at the wise and experienced age of 10 (or however old you are in the 4th grade).

That book was titled: Amy Borris and the Perilous Solvers. It told the story of a young Amy Borris, tomboy and entrepreneur (with, very auto-biographically, dirty blonde hair and two different colored eyes), and her adventurous group of friends who, like the Baby Sitter’s Club and Boxcar Kids before them, solved mysteries. Aside from the leader (Amy), there was the best friend (Samantha aka Sam); the prissy-pretty one (Missy), the smart, nerdy one (Whiz), the mystery-loving goofball (Sherlock), and the dog (Buster). They went on all sorts of mystery-solving adventures and this one, the one at the heart of my first-ever novel, was set in (of all places) AFRICA.

I never did finish this novel, though the climax is still fresh in my brain (and borrows liberally from The Last Crusade). I remember I had sequels planned. The Perilous Solvers were going to go to Europe and New York and Australia! But first they had to survive their perilous (and did I mention adventurous?) trip to Africa. As biased as I am, I think I understood structure pretty well at that age, and had a knack for cliffhangers; once the fire hits the village in part 8 the action is kind of non-stop.

What follows below is the UNEDITED beginning of this novel. 8800 words (quite a lot for a 10 year old!) and this was the early ’90s so the double space after a period was still in vogue. (Ug.)

I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I have in rediscovering it:)

Continue reading