When spicy just don’t cut it

After a seven month hiatus spent working on my mystery novel, the time has come to return to the world of blogging. Admittedly, some final editing remains to be done on my book, but I could wait no longer to return. I’ve missed sharing our travel adventures, my “I’m newly married and loving it” cooking creations, and the random funniness that life brings.

And so here I am, and there you are – united again.

When spicy just don’t cut it

Our meal on the fourteen hour train ride from Bangkok to Chiang Mai

Our meal on the fourteen hour train ride from Bangkok to Chiang Mai

Thailand = spicy food, right? Not if you’re Dale and Heather Harshman, the apparent heat experts of Escondido, California.

When we arrived in Thailand this past May for two weeks of eating pleasure and a few aggressive Thai massages, our taste buds were prepared to be smokin’ hot during most meals. Within the first twenty-four hours in Bangkok, we realized our journey to hot heaven would be more challenging than we envisioned. The food at most places we ate at throughout the country ranked a three on the heat factor, maybe a four at times.

We were devastated.

And so we got strategic. “Let’s eat in the non-touristy areas,” Dale suggested. “Find a hole in the wall and tell them we want it hot.”

It didn’t work.

“We need to find restaurants that have big pots of food out front from which everyone gets served so we know the locals are eating the same thing,” Dale said.

It didn’t work.

“We need to become Thai,” I suggested.

It didn’t work for a number of reasons.

And so we settled in to a low heat Thai vacation during which we looked forward to having smokin’ hot taste buds again when we returned home. Next time we go to Thailand, we’re taking a bottle of Tabasco.

Failed heat seeking mission #2

Failed heat seeking mission #2


Keep to the right. No, I mean left. Yes, left.

Dale and I chose New Zealand and the Cook Islands as our “babymoon” destination last May. Being five months pregnant at the time, I wanted to have a few reliable things that I had previously been willing to fudge on: flushing toilets; toilet paper; comfortable beds; clean water; safe food. And so we trekked around the world to investigate the many treasures of New Zealand.

DSC03113Waiheke Island is one such special place. It is about 40 minutes from Auckland by ferry. We arrived first thing one cool autumn morning (their seasons are opposite ours) and rented mountain bikes. I thought it was humorous that our handle bars both had a “keep left” sticker with an arrow pointing in that direction. Wondering how many people needed that reminder, we set off on our ride around the island, using the left side of the road, of course.

We climbed hills, rode by pastures, caught terrific views of the ocean,

Waiheke Island, New Zealand by Heather Zuber-Harshman

Waiheke Island, New Zealand by Heather Zuber-Harshman

and got some good laughs. Our first good chuckle was worth stopping to snap a picture of. I wanted to buy some of the convenient roadside manure just to say I had, but then what would I do with it?  Good question.

The next giggle came from the “Oh, I get it” we experienced when we biked past a number of wineries that offered wine and beer tasting. When we checked out the handy map we were given, we counted twelve vineyards spread across the island. At that point, the “keep left” reminder started to make sense since a biking wine tasting adventure is the best way to experience the island.

The final hee, hee of the day came when we watched some people trying to play an almost life size game of chess – imagine the game Harry Potter style, but the board and pieces were 1/4 the size as in the movie, and they didn’t move themselves, which appeared to be rather burdensome for the players. Based on our observations, chess moves are harder to visualize when you are one with the pieces rather than staring down at them.

And so ended our one-day adventure by bicycle on Waiheke Island. We’re looking forward to returning on our next trip to New Zealand. I’m thinking a second babymoon is in store before our second child is born . . .

My transportation for the day

My transportation for the day

Some like it hot, whereas others like it hhhooottt

A romance with roots in hot sauce. That’s how I would classify one aspect of my relationship with my husband Dale. Being from Louisiana, he is used to having hot sauce as a “side” with almost every food, oatmeal excluded, of course. I, on the other hand, was raised in Iowa, where hot sauce is imported for people from Louisiana.  When Dale first learned that this Midwest, corn fed girl was obsessed with hot sauce to almost the same degree as he was, his love for me instantly grew brighter.


Dale by the ferry to Belize

Since we’ve been together, our general attitude about hot sauce has been the hotter, the better. Or so we thought until we stepped off the ferry in Punta Gorda, Belize. We were spending one night there before traveling north for some island time.

That evening we wandered across town to a family restaurant where they served food buffet style. The decor was nothing to boast about, but the food was tasty and diverse. The best part, though, was that they made their own hot sauce. Score!


Luckily we were able to find a place nicer than this for our one night stay

We sampled the mild sauce. It was flavorful but didn’t satisfy our thirst for heat. Next, we both put a couple drops of their yellow “hot” hot sauce on a bite of food. The instant it touched the inside of our mouths we both gasped for breath and flapped our hands in front of our lips, like the breeze we were creating could really calm the inferno roaring inside.

Pain is the best way to describe our existence for the next five or so minutes. We couldn’t eat, think, talk – nothing functioned. It was as though the heat from the sauce had melted our brains.

Once the fire abated, we both said something we never thought possible: “I’m never going to try a hot sauce that hot again!” And so began our vacation in Belize.

When the term “plumbing” takes on a whole new meaning

Dale during our hike to the peak of a 14,200 foot mountain where he proposed to me.

Dale during our hike to the peak of a 14,200 foot mountain in Quito, Ecuador where he proposed to me.

Dale and I went on our first developing country vacation when we had been dating for six months and had known each other as long. We loaded up our backpacks and trekked around Ecuador for eighteen days. Jungle, mountains, volcanoes, and rain forest were all terrains we ventured into. We never knew what was in store for us, especially when it came to toilets, readily available water, and quality of food. Even though we were still in the beginning stages of our relationship, we had to take it to an entirely new level because of these unknowns: we were no longer bashful about internal plumbing discussions.

Something you learn quickly when you travel in developing countries is that any problem with your internal plumbing system is a very bad thing, so you consistently have discussions about how things are going. This is quite a drastic change from the modest life we lead in the States where you take for granted that your water and food is safe to ingest, and internal plumbing is a topic you skirt around at any given moment, even to the point of being embarrassed to admit you have to use the restroom.

We recently discovered that having a baby is a sure way to bring these discussions State

Playing with my new friend in the Amazon.

Playing with my new friend in the Amazon.

side. How our ten-week-old son does from one diaper change to the next has already been the source of many a tense, silly, and memorable moment. At times, it’s as though his very well-being and our ability as parents is completed linked to his internal plumbing. Too little, too much, too light, too dark, too thin, too thick . . . there are so many opportunities to analyze his health based on output alone, they can keep us in active discussions for hours each day. Luckily, our little guy is oblivious as to how frequently his plumbing is referenced in our house.

What funny stories do you have from international travel or being a parent?

Something to be excited about

A female never knows what she will encounter when she decides to use a toilet in a developing country.  She’s lucky if there is a toilet instead of a squat pot (and I don’t mean a “little” pot – I mean it’s in the floor and there’s nothing to sit on).  She’s extra lucky if the toilet has a seat.  She hits the jackpot when the toilet actually flushes.  She has reached the pinnacle of her trip when there’s toilet paper.

Toilet seats seem like such a basic thing, don't you think? Not in Guatemala.

When Dale and I backpacked through Ecuador for eighteen days in December 2010, I found that flushing toilets and toilet paper were a rarity.  At one bus station I was perplexed as to what I was supposed to do about the situation.  Not only was there no water in the toilet tank, there was a cage over the tank so I couldn’t take off the lid and pour in water.  I guess water is a hot commodity in some parts of Ecuador.

Last December when we backpacked through Belize and Guatemala, I found that toilet seats must be a big item on the black market.  I can’t even remember how many times I walked into a bathroom and said, “Again?”  The most memorable, or should I say, worst time was the morning after Dale and I both had food poisoning.  We had to board a shuttle for a four-hour drive up windy mountain roads with an insufferable amount of hairpin turns.  When we finally reached the top, I was ready for a break.  I headed to a bathroom at a rest area only to find that, although there was toilet paper and water in the tank, it was lacking a seat.  Super.

On a happy note, I came across an unexpected pleasantry when we were in Livingston,

One of the highlights (for me) of our Central America adventure

Guatemala preparing to take a few ferry rides to Belize.  The backpacker inn we were staying at not only had toilet paper, each piece of the paper had an imprint of a dog sitting next to a stop sign.  I figured this was a creative way to remind me that I needed to place the paper in the trash can rather than flush it.  How cute.

What memorable toilet travel stories do you have?

Signs That You Need to Call a Handyman

Have you ever known someone who would rather eat liver canned cat food that do home repairs and maintenance, yet doesn’t want to pay someone to do them?  Such the conundrum:  effort versus money.  And so what happens?  Nothing.  Actually, I miswrote – nothing gets fixed or maintained, but things do happen.  Things like these:

  • Your carbon monoxide detector is taped to the wall but finds itself on the floor every few months;
  • You have to brush your teeth at the kitchen sink because your bathroom sink is clogged with water standing in it and has been in that state for days;
  • You have to use a flashlight to find anything in your bedroom closet because the bulb in your ceiling light is burned out;
  • You accidentally tear a hole  in your bathroom drywall when removing an old towel bar so you hang a picture there instead;
  • You can’t get your bathroom outlets to work because they are GFCI and you don’t know which other outlet in the house triggered them;
  • You have stopped opening the cupboard doors over your stove because you have been surprised by a rat one too many times;
  • Your front door knob stopped working so you enter and exit your house through the backyard, which involves climbing over your fence since the gate broke a few months ago.

I’ll admit that I’m guilty of two of these.  Can you guess which ones?  Are you into home maintenance and repairs or would you rather eat liver canned cat food?

It was confirmed that I was a natural blonde . . .

when I colored my hair dark brown in law school.  I don’t recall my thought process when making this decision.  Maybe I wanted to see what I looked like as a brunette.  Maybe I wanted to shock people with my new hairdo.  Or maybe I wanted to see if the color really would wash out in 30-days, like the box said.  Whatever my rationale, it was not my most brilliant moment.

I colored my hair shortly before my school’s Barrister’s Ball.  I also purchased a gown and shoes which I proudly wore as I applied the appropriate make-up on the big night.  I  even curled my dark locks, which was a poor use of time because my hair holds curls about as well as a sieve holds water.  But, for the five minutes that I had a nice hairdo, I felt like a transformed woman – I was a true Californian rather than the Iowan I had been for the previous 22 years.

A couple of weeks after the ball I wondered when the color would start to fade.  I kept pondering this for another 30, 40,  and then 50 days when there was still no hint of blonde.  Hmm . . . it seemed that the 30-day wash out representation had been a bit understated.

And so my life became consumed with bleaching, split ends, and having reduced cash flow since I was spending so much on hair products.  What was the result?  I got to watch a line of brown hair grow out for nearly two years until I was completely back to my original hair color.  Bravo, eh?  Needless to say, I haven’t colored my hair on my own since, and don’t plan to.

Have you or someone you know had an unfortunate and/or unanticipated result from hair coloring?

Here are some other “blonde moments” you may enjoy:  cell phone, tricycle, step aerobics class