Family and Heritage


Sharing Lap-Lap in Vanuatu

In Vanuatu, Lois and Günter watch a local knead dough for lap-lap.

One of our favorite things to do when traveling is to finagle an invitation to the home of a family who lives there. Or, when we were sailing around the world, we liked to invite locals on our boat.

My first experience receiving such an invitation was during a Cruising World charter. Heading back from a Polynesian church service in Yassawa, Fiji, a couple beckoned us from their thatched-roof dwelling. “Would you like to join us for dinner?” a man in a sulu (sarong) asked. My husband, Gunter, nodded and we walked over, took off our shoes, and went inside.

“We only have one fish, but we’d like to share,” his wife offered, while her young boy tugged at her muumuu-style dress. The meal had already been spread out on the floor on top of a tapa cloth. The small fish occupied center stage, surrounded by mashed sweet potatoes and what appeared to be back-eyed peas. We all gathered around on the floor and took part in the meager meal while answering questions about “those boats anchored in their bay.” They wanted to know about our cruising lifestyle and we wanted to learn about theirs. “Breaking bread,” although none was offered here, was a ritual we would repeat often during the nineteen years we’ve been retired, sailing and traveling the world.

Many years later, we were no longer sailing charter yachts; we had retired and purchased our own yacht, Pacific Bliss. While sailing to the Northern Banks Islands of Vanuatu during our world circumnavigation, we anchored in Vureas Bay. The villagers there had a problem, they needed to fish to provide for their families, but the propeller for their only boat was kaput. Would Günter take a look? The propeller was beyond repair, so Günter offered to give him the spare prop for our dinghy. It was brand new, but we planned to leave Vanuatu to sail to Bundaberg, Australia, where we would store Pacific Bliss for the cyclone season. We’d buy another one next year. The villagers were flabbergasted and threw us a “Thank You Prop Party.” They strung flowers over fishing line hung high to surround the feast area. On top of mats, they spread various dishes donated by the villagers. One lady brought four of her precious eggs in a homemade basket as a gift!

The locals in Vureas Bay, Vanuatu threw us a Prop Party.

The locals in Vureas Bay, Vanuatu threw us a Prop Party.

During the Waterfall Bay Festival we invited Chief Jimmy and his wife Lillian for afternoon tea. I recount this in my second book, Sailing the South Pacific. I’d put a double-sized load of cinnamon-raisin bread mix into the Breadmaker. The story continues:

“It is far too hot for tea…I served cold juice in cartons, and we talk in the cockpit. The Breadmaker beeps. Both visitors rush to see the machine. They had never seen a Breadmaker before! The chief makes that loud whistling sound, common to all Ni-Vanuatu when they’re impressed. We allow the bread to cool while we attempt to continue the conversation, but Jimmy is distracted. He just stares at the loaf on the breadboard. I slice half the loaf and place a slice on each of the small plates, along with knives to spread butter and jam. The jar of raspberry jam is labeled “Made in Port Vila, Vanuatu” but our guests have never tasted anything like it. It goes fast. I ask Jimmy whether he wants another slice. Of course, he does!

‘Go ahead, slice it yourself,’ Gunter says.

Jimmy cuts a thick slice. No tea-sized portions for him! As he slathers on the butter and jam, he says, ‘Very good. American lap-lap.’ He devours that slice and cuts even more. Before long, the entire loaf is gone!”

Lap-lap is the national dish of Vanuatu, similar to pizza, that’s baked in earth pits covered with hot rocks. The locals cover the crust with small fish, coconut paste, or smashed sweet potato (see my blog Why Travel.)

Ni-Vanuatan women demonstrate how to make lap-lap.

Ni-Vanuatan women demonstrate how to make lap-lap.

Our most recent “breaking bread with locals” occurred during our trip to Uzbekistan. To our delight, Zulya Rajabova, owner of Silk Road Treasure Tours, had arranged a surprise visit to her childhood home in Bukhara. We had the opportunity to meet her parents, sister, numerous relatives, as well as two other travelers and their guide. The home is typical of Uzbekistan family compounds, a one-level U-shaped structure surrounding an inner courtyard. So while Zulya was busy running her company in New York, we enjoyed having a marvelous lunch with her family! After multiple courses, nieces and nephews performed for us. Saying goodbyes was difficult, but despite the surprise visit, we still had a schedule to meet—including a stop in Nurata on the way to a Yurt Camp near Aydarkul Lake.

Lois and Günter with Zulya's parents.

Lois and Günter with Zulya’s parents.

Uzbekistan bride

Günter poses with a recently married family member.

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading this nautical adventure trilogy, now on sale.

Tashkent, Capital of Uzbekistan

Lois and Gunter in Tashkent, Uzbekistan

Those of us who have grown up in a country that has known democracy for centuries have no idea what a difficult road this is for fledgling democracies that have recently broken free of the yoke of communism. While touring Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, we came to understand the struggle Uzbeks have gone through since gaining independence in 1991. Visiting the structures, monuments, and museums allowed us to gain an understanding of this proud and independent Uzbeck people.

Uzbekistan, like it’s Central Asian neighbors, is not particularly well known to the outside world. For about seventy years, it was one of the 15 republics of the USSR. Few westerners knew much about the culture and ethnic differences within this huge country. In 1991, after gaining independence, The Republic of Uzbekistan joined the family of “stans” that lie beneath Russia on the globe and span most of central Asia. We’re more familiar with Pakistan and Afghanistan because they’ve been in the news. Yet, it is Uzbekistan that contains the exotic ancient cities of Samarkand and Bukhara—reminding us of the Great Silk Road and the stories of Arabian Nights. It is Uzbekistan that’s the crossroads of cultures from Persian to Turkic, from European to Russian, from Chinese to Mongolian. We could see this cultural melting pot for ourselves in the capital city of Tashkent. Arriving on a Turkish Airlines flight from Istanbul, we dipped into a vibrant, colorful, and exotic slice of Central Asian life. But this life is not the overwhelming chaos of New Delhi, or Cairo, or Saigon; it’s more constrained—with careful city planning, wide tree-lined streets, and well-kept architectural monuments and public spaces.

Having recently embraced tourism, Uzbekistan has yet to fall victim to globalization. Refreshingly, there are no ATMs, McDonalds, Starbucks or broadband outside the major hotels. But we did find remnants of Soviet-style restrictions and bureaucracy. And the people seem to like a certain order. That’s to be expected; change does not come overnight. We were reminded of this by our guide, Fak, now 33, who was only six years old when the country broke free of Russian domination. He represents this new generation—hopeful, ambitious, energetic and full of love for his country. It is the generation of his parents who remember how Russia had forced her satellite countries to furnish raw materials and products to fuel Russia’s empire; e.g., Uzbekistan was to provide natural gas, minerals (such as uranium) and cotton. Russia would, in turn, provide the food and products to keep the country dependent. So, when the country broke free, the people were starving; quickly, they had to grow and produce everything they needed to survive on their own. This was a tough time—becoming independent—but most saw it as a growth experience. They hated Russian domination as much as they loved Reagan’s “tear-down-that-wall” style of freedom.

Uzbekistan is a Presidential Republic. Elected for a five-year term, the president appoints ministers and selects provincial governors. The constitution was modeled after that of the U.S. and even the government buildings mirror the U.S. White House and congressional architecture. The current president, Šavkat Mirzijojev, took office on September 8, 2016. In his address to the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly on September 19, 2017, he stated, “We are deeply convinced: the people must not serve the government bodies, rather the government bodies must serve the people.” He promised to eradicate the child and forced labor the country had experienced in the past to pick the cotton crop for export to Russia and China. And, he abolished past policies, such as exit visas, and opened the country to tourism and other investment opportunities, hoping to grow other industries to replace cotton exports.

During our time in Tashkent, we wanted to understand the people and culture of Uzbekistan by viewing what was most important to them. And that desire led us to Independence Square.

Independence Square tells the story of Uzbekistan as a country. The old monuments of Karl Marx, Lenin, and Stalin were torn down. Three others dominate the square:

The Monument of Independence, raised during 1991, is a large golden globe that symbolizes the desire of a young, independent state to join the world community. The 6-meter Happy Mother monument, completed in 2006 and placed in front, depicts a simple Uzbek woman as the symbol of the homeland, life, and wisdom. Her eyes are fixed on her child, symbolizing the birth of the young, independent state. The child is an image of the future.

In the square, our guide walks us by a memorial to those who never returned from the fields of World War II. Near an eternal flame are tragic figures of bereaved mothers who await their children, sometimes called “The Crying Mother Monument.” More than one million Uzbek soldiers fell in battle. From all parts of Uzbekistan, people come here to see and remember the names of their fallen inscribed in gold.

Our next stop: Khiva, a town founded back when Shem, son of Noah, reportedly discovered a well there. Little did we know what we would find.

We booked our Independent Travel tour to Uzbekistan through Zulya Rajabova, founder and president of Silk Road Treasure Tours. Coincidentally, she was attending a travel conference in San Diego during our first weekend back home! She visited us to debrief and is bringing back my first two books to add to The Long Way Back she already has.

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

                                                                                                       ─William Shakespeare

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The name your parents chose to give you is powerful. Yet, many of us do not bother to ask why they gave us the name we have. My parents, uncles and aunts, and siblings called me “Lois Joy” as a child. I didn’t bother to ask why; I just accepted that name until I entered first grade. “Your first, middle, and last name?” the teacher asked as she filled in a line after each child’s seat number.

“Lois Joy,” I said.

“Is Joy part of your first name or your middle name?” she asked.

“My middle name.”

Later, my teacher came across another Lois and came back to me.  “From now on, you’ll be Lois G. and she will be Lois A.”

I continued to drop my middle name, even after my mother explained—years later—that she chose the middle names of all four of her girls—Joy, Faith, Grace, and Hope—for a reason. How thoughtful!  Yet I continued to use only my first and last name, with only a middle initial when required.

When I became an author, I initially chose Lois Joy as my pen name. But that was confusing, and besides, my husband, Gunter Hofmann plays a huge role as Captain of our catamaran Pacific Bliss in my sailing/travel series, In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss, so why would I drop his name?

Before we left on our circumnavigation, I opened a fortune cookie and read, “You are a heroine and will have big adventures.” Lois as the heroine? I thought my mother chose “Lois” as a Bible name. In II Timothy 1:5, the author tells Timothy, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice…” I researched further. The modern name “Lois” relates to an ancient Germanic word meaning warrior. Other translations say heroine. I learned that Timothy was Greek, but his mother was Jewish, which probably means that “Lois” was Jewish as well. In Hebrew, the name is “Laish,” meaning lion, typically a masculine name from the tribe of Benjamin.

During my recent birthday party, a comedian/entertainer sent by Loren Smith Productions crashed the party and asked for “Lois.”

In his skit, he claimed that, after relocating from Minnesota to California, I had changed my name from Lena to Lois so I’d fit in. No way. I was a heroine/lioness from birth! But I held my tongue and played along with his Ole and Lena skit. Today I researched the meaning of Lena. The fictional Norwegian name doesn’t mean anything. I love “Lois Joy,” the name my parents gave me.

What does your name mean?

Do you like your name?

Have you ever considered using your middle name as your first or last name?

Happy Hanukkah!

The eight-day Jewish celebration known as Hanukkah or Chanukah commemorates the rededication during the second century B.C. of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. Hanukkah means “dedication” in Hebrew. Often called the Festival of Lights, the holiday is celebrated with the lighting of the menorah, traditional foods, games and gifts.

My husband Gunter and I visited Jerusalem twice, once as a side trip during the 1990s as part of a business trip to Ein Gedi and Tel Aviv, and again during our world circumnavigation, when we docked our catamaran, Pacific Bliss, in Ashkelon.  Stories and photos of that second trip are included in my recently published book, The Long Way Back.

My favorite city in Israel—a country not much larger than New Jersey—is Jerusalem, her capital. To me, Jerusalem is the one place in the world where past, present, and future become one. I felt that portentous-yet-exhilarating sense of past and future both times.

These are some of my favorite pictures and places in that grand city:

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The Church of the Holy Sepulchre built with the ubiquitous Jerusalem stone

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These olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane may have been there in Jesus’s day

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The wall at the Temple Mount, sometimes called the “Wailing Wall”

Jerusalem had been called some 70 names: Some of the better-known ones are: Ariel (Lion of God), Kiryah Ne’emanah (Faithful City), Kiryat Hannah David (City where David camped), Betulah (virgin), Gilah (joy), Kir, Moriah, Shalem (peace), Neveh Zedek (righteous dwelling), Ir Ha’Elohim (City of God), Gai Hizayon (Valley of Vision), Oholivah (My tent is in her) and, more recently, International City.

Despite its problems, I know I will always love Jerusalem. And despite the danger, I’d very much like to go back again. Have you been in Jerusalem? Would you go back again? If you have not traveled there, is it on your Bucket List?

You’ve already taken your big summer vacation, but now, towards the end of summer, your family may be asking what’s next. Many small towns across the USA tend to hold special celebrations towards fall, just as the temperature begins to drop. These festivals feature a wide variety of themes and often include parades, entertainment, and lots of food. If you take the time to attend one of these events, you won’t be disappointed.

Here in Wisconsin, we are in the lull between the county and state fairs. State fairs tend to be huge events that span a week or more and sprawl over many acres. You end the day with aching feet, too tired to think about the long drive home. So why not attend a county fair instead? That’s what my husband, Gunter, and I did this year. A few weeks ago, we enjoyed the home-town flavor of the local Polk County Fair in St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin. This fair brought back thrilling high school memories of walking the midway hand-in-hand with my boyfriend’s ring around my neck. We were going steady and sat dangerously close on the Ferris Wheel and crushed tight on the Tilt-a-Whirl. Later my steady hit the jackpot and, with a flourish, he handed me the huge teddy-bear he won as his prize.

I pointed to the grandstand, “Wow, that looks so much smaller now!” I explained how, as a pre-teen, I’d modeled in front of those bleachers as a participant in 4-H, an organization country kids joined. I wore tight white slacks made of “white duck” and a red-and-white handkerchief blouse I’d sewn myself. The day Gunter and I went to the fair, the “demolition derby” was the main event; we sat on wooden bleachers cheering for drivers to destroy their opponents’ cars by crashing into each other until they could run no more.

DSC00458 Salvage Cars Being Delivered for the Demo Derby.JPG

On the trek back to the field where our car was parked, we stopped every so often along the livestock buildings to pet a calf, a llama, or a goat.  The top winners would go on to the State Fair.

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During the summer and fall seasons in Polk County, one can find a celebration of something almost every week-end. With a lake every four miles and many rivers between them, concerts at the overlook,” usually a village park, are common. You can search the local papers to find fishing tournaments; tractor and lawnmower pulling contests; soapbox derbies; car, truck, motorcycle and tractor shows; brew fests, wine tastings, rib fests, and fish fries; art exhibits; movies under the stars; Monarch festivals; quilting shows; and so much more.

My favorite celebrations are the annual town festivals, replete with marching bands, parades and coronations of all sorts from Cheese Queen to Pumpkin Queen. Amery has the Fall Festival; Centuria, the Orchard Festival; St. Croix and Taylors Falls, Wannigan Days; Osceola, the Pig Roast; Milltown, the Pumpkin Festival; Luck, Lucky Days; and Clayton, Cheese Days.

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Next year, consider celebrating America’s birthday in a small town, the kind of place where everyone knows each other as a neighbor, not just on social media. We celebrated in unincorporated Wanderoos, where the main street is only six blocks long. We stood to watch the parade until a resident offered us chairs he took from the village park! I’ll bet you that won’t happen in the city.

Layering a buffet table works well for many reasons. This technique makes the best use of limited space—ideal for a condo, apartment or yacht. It establishes an inviting “come-to” zone where guests can freely help themselves again and again. Besides, we all know that three-dimensional buffets are always a better way to display yummy foods, condiments and desserts!

For many years, I considered using this approach for our annual Parade of Lights holiday party; this year I finally took the plunge. First I researched the subject by surfing YouTube, where I found professional chefs and party-planners dispensing advice. Then I scaled it all down to suit my needs.

Here’s what I learned:

Take a good look at the table or surface you will use. Does the location allow for walking around or past it without guests bumping into each other? Can you move it to a better location? I decided that I didn’t have sufficient room in my condo for walking around the dining table, so I decided to push it near the wall, leaving a milling-around-and-line-up area for guests.

Buffet table with tablecloth and tree skirt over risers.

Determine a party theme and color scheme and for your venue. Because my party is held in mid-December, an obvious choice was a Christmas theme. I chose shades of red and green, with a little white for contrast. I love flower arranging! Using fresh flowers and greens purchased at Wholesale Flowers, I made six bouquets, all using the same basic scheme.

Search for items to use for layering; you probably have them in your home. I selected a riser from my linen closet and used stacks of books for the rest. This was a good solution for me—I always have to find somewhere to stash books during a party! Then I selected a large green tablecloth and used a burgundy-red tree skirt for contrast. 

Table set-up.

Place one table covering flat on your table, then add stacking materials.  Cover with the top cloth (or tree skirt in my case), bunching it up like the professionals do. I scattered a few evergreen branches to peek out of the “valleys” between the risers, added three matching small arrangements—short so they won’t obscure the view of the food—then placed a tall bouquet back by the wall. Voila! I was all set.

To eliminate last-minute chaos, place a note on each dish that describes what will go into it.  I placed another stack of serving dishes in the kitchen, for use by those bringing appetizers. I placed a three-tiered stand on the counter, to fill later and replenish the buffet after the parade of boats had gone past our balcony.

Buffet table set against wall.Lois with guest at buffet table.

The layering plan worked out well. I would use it again! Layering made good use of limited space and I thought it made the table more appealing. Of course, I did need some “muscle men” afterwards to put the table back in place!

Have you used buffet layering techniques? How did they work for you?

In continuing my “generations” blog theme, I wanted to share a personal story pertaining to “The Greatest Generation.”

Every year now, families mourn the passing of those who belonged to what Tom Brokaw coined “The Greatest Generation.” These were “the good warriors,” born from 1909 to 1928. The experiences that bound this generation together, however, did not begin with World War II. Before they fought, they grew up watching their parents lose jobs, scrimp and save during the Great Depression. And that frugal mentality stuck.

Last year, I mourned the passing of my Uncle James. Lester, my father, and the eldest of his siblings, had a warm spot in his heart for James, his only brother. He waited a long time for him to be born, because his four other siblings—Carol, Gertrude, Mildred and Agnes—were girls. James had a sunny, quiet disposition, and I could tell that he adored Lester.

Growing up on a Wisconsin farm, I didn’t see much of Uncle James, who lived far away “in the cities” and serviced organs for a living for Schmidt Music. I was surprised that such an occupation existed! James always drove his family to the farm to see ours during the holidays.

What I remember most about my uncle was how he and his wife Marion, along with my father and my mother Sigrid, took off on an adventure to far-away Florida during the cold Midwestern winter of 1955. I had just turned thirteen the month before.

My dad wanted to check out the new humped-back Brahma beef cattle newly introduced to Florida. He dreamed of moving south to warmer weather. He yearned for the freedom of not being tied down to dairy cows. My mother was bogged down with children to raise. She had never traveled beyond the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.  She looked forward to the first vacation she’d ever had.

In my family, tales begin and end with the year and make of a car. This one is no different.

1949 Nash. Photo Credit: Google Images

1949 Nash
Photo Credit: Google Images

My younger siblings and I watched Uncle James and Aunt Marion pull into the dirt driveway of our farm in a 1949 Nash. We all gathered around to take a look.  The front seats could lie flat, fitting into the rear seats to make a bed. Marion and James would sleep in there, and Sigrid and Lester would pitch a small pup tent each night. The Nash was stuffed to the hilt with all manner of food staples. The four planned to purchase fresh food and picnic along the way. They would cook outside on a small camp stove most nights.

My mother talked about how difficult it was to sleep in a pup tent alongside the road; one night, they climbed back into the car to take refuge from the cold. The next night, they checked into a motel, but that was the only time. They may have stopped at a restaurant once or twice.  Frugal to the max, the four drove for about 4,000 miles on $45.00. That Nash averaged 25 mpg. My mother bragged about buying tangerines for ten cents a dozen, grapefruit for seventy-five cents a bushel, and carrots for five cents a bunch. Wieners cost 29 cents a pound.

The four travelers were awestruck by images of the south: vibrant roses blooming in Georgia; gray moss choking shade trees; tobacco fields stretching as far as the eye could see; and finally, lush Florida farms full of winter vegetables, pineapples and peach trees. But what I remember them talking about the most was how they were shocked to see separate restrooms for the colored folks, even separate entrances at drive-in theaters. Living in the rural Midwest, they had never seen nor imagined such blatant discrimination!

That Nash was a real trouper! It limped home the last four miles with a second flat tire—and without a spare. After business hours, no service stations had been open. There was no way to repair the tire. The four tired passengers stumbled into our farmhouse at midnight. I heard a ruckus, but being a teenager, promptly fell back asleep. The next morning I found that, finding all the beds full of sleeping children, Aunt Marion and Uncle James had simply crashed on the floor.

My father never fulfilled that dream of heading south until he moved to Texas upon retiring! Living so far away, he wasn’t able to see much of Uncle James in his later years. Aunt Marion was always very sweet to my mother, who was trapped on that dairy farm and eventually raised nine children there. Sigrid didn’t get out much, but she often talked about that Florida escapade. Who knows? Perhaps those tales of adventure fueled my own lifelong dreams of traveling! 

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