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Chasing Christmas

December 20, 2017 • By

It’s Christmas time. The streets are crowded with bumper to bumper traffic and stores swarm with frantic people, Starbucks offers eggnog and gingerbread lattes and red and green bows and decorations adorn entryways as fir trees fill homes and plazas everywhere. As Andy Williams says, “it’s the most wonderful time of the year. It’s the hap-happiest season of all…” but sometimes it seems like a busy and lonely time for people and we forget the significance of the season.

Fantasy Aisle, Nuremberg Gingerbread, only place where it can be called "real"

Nuremberg Gingerbread, only place where it can be called “real”

I discovered the Hallmark Channel’s Countdown to Christmas movies last fall when I was going through a difficult time personally and professionally. The movies deliver hope, promise, love and happy endings without violence, swearing, sex or drugs although the characters indulge in their share of wine. As I binge watched movie after movie for hours on end, my deepest desires came to the forefront and I was reminded of all the things missing from my life — no kids, no spouse, no cute little home with garland and the perfect Christmas tree shining through the front windows. I cried through the Christmas Blessing and Christmas with Holly and fantasized about the possibilities with a Princess for Christmas but realized I had my shot at moving to Buffalo years ago and much preferred the Palace at Castlebury. I sat on the edge of my seat with Christmas Incorporated only to roll my eyes through a Boyfriend for Christmas. Why couldn’t Douglas Firwood tell the truth?

Determined to work for the Hallmark Channel, I researched the company’s history and went so far as to Google every actor’s biography blurring the lines between reality and make believe. Most of Hallmark’s storylines revolve around a widow or career dominating women who must make an important decision during Christmastime. The characters are named Holly and Nick and scenes take place in New York or Chicago and quaint imaginary villages like Cookie Jar or in the mountains at Snow Valley Lodge. By a stroke of luck, a local do-gooder handsome man interacts with the desperate but dazzling attractive woman, steals her heart and the entire town rejoices in the Miracle of Christmas. The movies always end with a special kiss. What’s not to enjoy?

Fantasy Aisle, Friends at the Rockefeller Center Tree Lighting in NYC

Friends at the Rockefeller Center Tree Lighting in NYC

I wanted my own Christmas Miracle and I believed if I forced myself out into the world I could find it. The movie—my movie, Chasing Christmas would feature me as the lead actress, the successful career oriented woman who finds happiness and joy through Christmas. I kicked off my journey at the Rockefeller Center tree lighting ceremony in New York City with friends and then jumped on a plane to Germany where people celebrate the weeks leading up to Christmas with markets in the center of town or in front of iconic churches and museums.

Fantasy Aisle, The Medieval city of Rothenburg ob der Tauber

The medieval city of Rothenburg ob der Tauber

The Christkindlmarkts in Germany offer visitors handmade arts and crafts like glass ornaments or winter gloves and hats, Advent wreaths, gingerbread and other local delicacies like sauerkraut and glühwein (hot mulled wine). Each market embodies its personal story filling colorful wooden decorative stalls with food and gifts representing its history and traditions. I braved the winter elements and wandered my way around medieval towns, large cities and Hallmark worthy villages. The warm glühwein served in keepsake mugs warmed my heart and soul, the schneebälle, a snowball-shaped ball of chocolate filled my belly but the sounds of carolers and people laughing embraced me in a tender hug. I wanted hugs.

Fantasy Aisle, My first Glühwein in Rothenburg

My first Glühwein in Rothenburg

People venture to the markets to spend time with family and friends and the entire community comes together to observe annual rituals, enjoy food and drink specialties and to buy gifts. Couples hold hands and kiss, generations of families gather around hot chocolate and punch stands to talk and share stories. Tourists delight in trying Spätzle, a cheese and egg noodle dish for the first time and Eierpunsch, a thick spiked eggnog liquor. It is a time to believe in magic.

Fantasy Aisle, Checking our my families Christmas Market in Karlsruhe

Checking out my families Christmas Market in Karlsruhe

After visiting several markets, I joined my German cousins in Karlsruhe. My family proudly and lovingly showed me around their town square and we toasted the season with glühwein and Nutella crepes. We modeled Santa hats and took pictures smiling and laughing before the cold chased us away. There were fun conversations of politics and catching up on the children’s school and music activities. In Mannheim, I joined forces with my German-American friend Frank who showed me around his hometown forcing me to indulge in Kartoffelpuffer, a type of potato latke with applesauce. Frank provided all the translations I had missed and explained the significance of spices and sugar cookies. He also informed me that gingerbread is more for decoration than eating, which could have spared my teeth in Nuremberg. We also conquered the six markets in the Old Town of Heidelberg and hiked breathlessly to the castle gate before ending the night posing with several Santa impersonators. I met up with my dear friend Annette in her hometown of Flensburg, a picture perfect village on the Baltic Sea near the Danish border. They served hot Bailey’s and Grünkohl, a stewed kale and sausage dish unique to Flensburg. Annette and I celebrated our upcoming birthdays with a special dinner and vowed to make a habit of seeing each other somewhere in the world yearly. Lastly, I reunited with my adorable friend Corinna in Hamburg who ushered me from the train station to her apartment. We visited several of the city’s markets clinking glasses and spilling glühwein onto our gloves and coats while taking selfies and talking about life, love and travel. The City of Hamburg is bold and bright and buzzing with an electric energy.

Fantasy Aisle, Toasting the season in Flensburg, Germany

Toasting the season in Flensburg, Germany

The people of Germany are affectionate, spirited and disciplined. That is how I describe myself.   As I talked with Annette and Corinna about why I wanted to see the Christmas markets and why I had this urge to live a Hallmark movie they empathized with my mission. But the more I talked, the more I realized I don’t actually want to compare myself to “Holly and Nick” on television because I never wanted children. Most spouses cause grief at some time or another and if I really wanted a Christmas tree in my house I could pick one up on any street corner and cover its branches with a lifetime of collected ornaments. What I wanted and what I found in Germany was love—not the romantic kind but the fill my heart bring a smile to my face love. The early morning snowfall on the cobblestone streets of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, the surprise serenade by a musician in the Old City of Nuremberg, the rock hard gingerbread treat I nearly lost my tooth biting, the bond between Frank and his mother, the generosity and welcome hugs from my cousins, the conversations and shared experiences between friends who keep in contact despite time changes and long plane rides. This is the magic of Christmas. This is what allows people to be present in life. It’s the connection to people –contact with friends and family.

Fantasy Aisle, Celebrating Christmas with my friend Corinna in Hamburg

Celebrating Christmas with my friend Corinna in Hamburg

I still adore the Hallmark Channel and I am thankful for a Countdown to Christmas to remind me of the meaning of Christmas. It’s about coming to together, delivering hope and determination, experiencing love from the heart, family, tradition and even cookies, and angels.  It’s not about the shopping malls and gifts under the tree.


General travel, North America, soul searching

Redefining Sexy by Brooke Edwards, Wild World Wanderings

September 15, 2017 • By

This is the first post as part of a new series featuring strong and determined women travelers and guides. Today’s guest author is Brooke Edwards of Wild World Wanderings on “redefining sexy”.

Fantasy aisle, Brooke Edwards in deep snow redefining sexy

Redefining Sexy

Alaska Girls Kick Ass reads the hot pink bumper sticker donning many a vehicle in the 49th State and beyond.  And it’s actually true, Alaska girls DO kick ass.  I truly feel honored to be a woman amongst some of the strongest, most athletic, interesting, hard-core, sexy, feminine, beautiful, talented Renaissance women of Alaska.

Being sexy here is not the curve of your breasts, nor is it what ridiculous amount of money you spent on designer jeans. Alaska Sexy is how a woman skis a more jaw-dropping line than most dudes. It’s how she rows the rapid and pulls over to catch, fillet and cook her salmon over a fire.  It’s how she owns the dance floor with wild confidence, secure in her own skin and extra tufts.  Alaska Sexy is a goggle tan and sunburned lips.

Alaskan women are wilderness guides, hunters, fisherwomen, carpenters, adventurers, endurance athletes and more. They build their own homes, catch their own fish, chainsaw their own firewood and fix their own trucks.

Fantasy Aisle, redefining sexy by Brooke Edwards, Brooke with skis on a mountainside

Photo Courtesy of Heather Thamm. Brooke

In 1998, life presented me a quandary: move to Montana to chase a boy, or embrace the wild unknown of my lifelong dream to go to Alaska and guide.  I chose the wild unknown, and, with what little savings I had, managed to purchase my first home: a small hippie shack dry cabin in a bog on railroad ties with the address Toadstool Turnpike, Girdwood.  Hearing that I would have to heat my cabin with wood and haul my own water, my dad gifted me his 25-year-old Stihl chainsaw with a big red bow on it as an early Christmas that year.  He wanted to provide me with the gift that heats you twice: gathering your own wood and burning it later.

Fantasy Aisle, redefining sexy, The Girls Gone Girwood logo on a t shirt

The Logo as part of Girls Gone Girwood

When I first moved to Girdwood, Alaska, I was expecting to find a bunch of dudes who fit the state saying “The odds are good, but the goods are odd.”  I steeled my resolve to keep my independent status while I survived being the fresh meat in town.  Instead, I found an incredible group of inspiring women, from boat captains to bush pilots, heli-ski guides to firefighters.  They took me in, taught me real skills that in 20 years of wilderness guiding in Alaska have proved invaluable.  Namely, skills that are hard to define, such as perseverance, tolerance for adversity and following your passion over money.

Fantasy Aisle, redefining sexy, girls of Girls Gone Girwood in skis on a mountainside, photo courtesy of Ralph Kristopher

Photo courtesy of Ralph Kristopher. Girls Gone Girwood

I am grateful for my Girls Gone Girdwood, the funny name we called ourselves back in the day.  Without the GGG, and other phenomenal women getting after it, I would still be struggling to redefine sexy from what society has stuffed down our throats–the airbrushed, manufactured, far-too-skinny magazine model female–to the different vision I embrace today; of strength, power and inner beauty shining from inside out.

To get a sense of what I’m talking about, check out this short 9 minute film highlighting two of my favorite girlfriends and mentors: Leighan Falley and Kirsten Kremer.

The last two summers, I was lucky enough to guide Colton Smith and Jack Steward with the TV show Rock The Park on ABC Saturday mornings.  One year, I took them on a remote river trip on the Aniakchak River where you fly into a lake in the crater of a volcano and raft it out to the ocean.  The next year, they asked me [to join them] for another adventure and this time we ventured on foot deep into the heart of the brutally rugged Arrigetch Peaks in Gates of The Arctic.

Their show is an educational TV show aimed at families with the mission of inspiring more folks to get out and enjoy our National Parks.  Their motto is “If we can do it, so can you!”  To me, this couldn’t have rung more true as I pondered the impact on little girls nationwide watching me, a woman, guide these young fit men in some of the wildest corners of our planet.  I thought to myself, “pay attention, girls: If I can do it, so can you.”

Here’s to redefining sexy and owning our power in the wilderness and at home, ladies.  Let’s Do This!


Brooke Edwards of Wild World Wanderings hails from the Great Pacific Northwest, where her passion for all things outdoors was born. Alaska has been her home for the last 20 years. You can find her year-round exploring mountains and rivers in both the vast wilderness of Alaska and international wild locales.  Brooke has an M.S. in Environmental Education with a primary focus on Ecotourism from The Audubon Expedition Institute. She’s spent over 2 decades incorporating these principles in her guiding.  Brooke would love to share her passion for all things travel by custom designing the perfect itinerary for you.