Go big or go home

Dale and Heather

We were five months along with baby #2 in May 2014 during our trip to Peru

I’m the type of person who generally doesn’t shy away from a challenge. In fact, periodically I choose to make something more challenging because I like the philosophy of go big or go home. I did both (literally) when we had our son 21 months ago. He weighed in at 9 pounds 14 ounces (yes, you read that correctly), so I both went for the “oh my” big weight factor, and went home from the hospital happy he was no longer kicking around inside of me. Not that I had control of his weight – although I tried to by teaching cycle multiple times each week until I delivered – but it seemed appropriate that his weight fit with my life philosophy.

Now that we’re expecting package #2 in September, I thought I should make the most of my last few weeks of only caring for one child. So what am I up to?

Gee, I thought now would be a good time to start my own estate planning law firm since I am an attorney and all.

Then of course there’s preparing for the baby by doing everything around the house and yard that I couldn’t do while I had a broken foot for eight weeks this summer and won’t be able to do for awhile after the baby’s born.

Oh, and did I mention I’m submitting my mystery novel, Beguiling Deception, to literary agents so I can hopefully get a publisher to accept it sometime this year?

So yes, big, big, big.

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Here’s hoping baby #2 weighs in below 9 pounds. I’m thinking 8 pounds sounds splendid.

If you’re interested in joining me on this wild, summer ride, you can do a couple of things. First, you can follow me on my new website, www.HeatherHarshman.com. I’ll be posting teasers on my novel, short stories, travel tales, recipes, funny stories, and whatever else tickles my fancy. I’ll also update you on my journey, providing tips along the way on what I’ve learned in the process. This website you’re on now will be discontinued shortly.

Second, you can like my Heather Harshman Author/Speaker Facebook page. I’ll post additional updates on my writing on that page, such as information on the publication of my story, Winters of Solace, in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reboot Your Life in September 2014. I’ll also respond to your thoughts, questions, and whatever else you are nice enough to post.

Reboot your lifeTo get things rolling, I’m going to treat you to a sneak preview of Beguiling Deception since I know you’re wondering what kind of novel an attorney, writer, mother, fitness instructor type person like me would write. So buckle up and get ready for a sneak peak in the life of Candice Morgan, my main character.

Beguiling Deception

Candice Morgan enjoys practicing law until her life becomes a criminal case of its own. She finds a girl stabbed to death at her office. Then the killer sends a riddle, demanding she deliver what her deceased father failed to produce or people close to her will continue to suffer or, preferably, die.

Candice scours her attorney father’s criminal client files, searching for the killer and evidence to prove her father’s innocence while her friends solve the riddle. Their research reveals details about her father better left buried, but once uncovered, Candice has to deal with them in her quest to find the killer and the truth.

Hope becomes a pastime for Candice when she realizes the killer’s demands are based on a reality of his own making, yet his aggression accelerates, his grip on her life tightens. Death is Candice’s shadow as his relentless pursuit locks them in a battle that can be fought by no other, insisting she give him the impossible or die.

Chopstick Travels, Part I

Last May, we flew to southern Japan after spending some time in Tokyo. Our accommodation was a traditional Japanese house attached to a 100-year-old Zen Buddist Temple of which my husband Dale’s host father, Mr. Michihiro Takebayashi, is the retired priest. The instant his host mother, Mrs. Takiko Takebayashi, saw little six-month-old Christian, she whisked him into the house while we followed Mr. Takebayashi around the temple so he could light incense to celebrate our arrival. And so began our four days in a remote paradise called Amakusa.

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The temple where we stayed

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Christian after his first flight – Los Angeles to Tokyo. He wasn’t lucky enough to get his own seat, but he did get to sleep in a bassinet.

A lot of our time in Amakusa involved trying traditional Japanese foods, which, if you’ve ever been to Japan, you know can be an interesting adventure . The first morning, though, Mrs. Takebayashi served a Western breakfast of toast, eggs, ham, and other standard foods because she was concerned about my willingness to eat a traditional breakfast. Being uncertain about my proficiency with chopsticks, she also provided cutlery. By our third morning, Dale convinced her I was up for the challenge, so we enjoyed salted salmon, pickled ginger, salad, seaweed, and miso soup while dazzling her with our chopstick skills. This food combination sounds bizarre for first thing in the morning, but it actually works!

One evening Mr. and Mrs. Takebayashi treated us to dinner at a Japanese fish restaurant. These restaurants are rare because you don’t order from a menu; you receive what the chef chooses to prepare. For our experience, this included sashimi, a whole baked fish for each person with the head and tail still intact, sea urchin, and numerous other delicacies. It was initially a bit unnerving to see parts of my meal staring back at me, but I managed to pull through, eating everything placed in front of me. True, raw squid will never make it on my list of favorite foods, but the rest of the offerings were delicious and unique.

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Azaleas, azaleas, and more azaleas. Beautiful!

We also found a restaurant that served okonomiyaki, a savory “pancake” we cooked on a grill at our table. We selected tuna, cheese, bacon, and kimchi (Korean-style fermented vegetables) to be mixed with the batter, then topped the finished product with fish flakes and mayonnaise. It was a like a massive tuna patty with other things thrown in. I loved it and wished my stomach was large enough to eat the entire pancake.

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Savory pancakes for lunch? Dinner? Snack? Oh yeah!

IMG_0134On a non-food note, one day we dropped Christian off at the daycare operated by Dale’s host family so they could watch him while we went sightseeing. Our day outing involved taking the car on a ferry from Oniike to Kuchinotsu, then driving to Unzen, one of Japan’s most active and dangerous volcanoes. A short hike rewarded us with views of a new mountain created when the volcano erupted in 1991. We did not realize we would also be treated to a dazzling display of wild azaleas in bloom up the mountainside. The color was so astounding, it looked as though it was painted.

We purchased some fried octopus balls (“takoyaki”) to munch on during the hike, but should not have bothered. We were offered dried apples and Japanese chocolates by people along the trail who were thrilled to see Americans hiking beside them.

The egg. The pits.

The egg. The pits.

We ended our day by walking through sulfur pits where we purchased hard boiled eggs cooked in the pits, and relaxed in a traditional onsen, a hot spring with water naturally heated by local volcanic activity. There are specific steps you must follow to use the springs, as illustrated on a sign for visitors. This includes, among other things, sitting on short stools to clean yourself before entering the spring and rinsing off afterwards, not taking wet towels into the changing area, and not wearing clothes in the spring. I know I accidentally violated at least two of the rules, but lucky for me, I wasn’t tossed out.

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The volcano without its top since it was blown off

We’re hoping to return to Japan next spring to enjoy more time with Dale’s host parents who are eager to immerse Christian in the Japanese culture so he can speak the language with Dale. I’m not sure if I’m up for the challenge of tackling the language, but that’s okay. My boys can translate for me!

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With Dale’s host parents at the temple

It’s here. I smell it . . .

Kentucky and Belle Meade 183My favorite part of fall isn’t the changing leaves, the cooler weather, or that thing called Turkey Day. Don’t get me wrong. Those are all wonderful things to look forward to, but my senses veer towards a little something different.

Just call me Ms. Olfactory because it’s the smells of fall that get me a smiling.

Wet leaves

Rain on a crisp day

A pumpkin pie spice candle

Turkey sizzling on the grill

Damp soil

A casserole in the slow cooker

My husband, Dale, and I experienced nature’s version of fall this morning as we road 13 miles on our mountain bikes through a hidden valley of massive palm trees, California Oaks, and a trickling stream. The dank smell reminded me of hiking in New Zealand during their fall last year where everything was glowing green and wet from weeks of rain.

Kentucky and Belle Meade 151Then there was the 40 some degree temperature that engulfed us. It was as though it rose from the moist soil like a ghost seeking a human to haunt. It tickled our noses, leaving them cold to the touch.

The ride was lovely, unexpected, perfect.

The best way to start our holiday week during which we’ll embrace a host of fall scents and experiences that will leave us craving more.

What makes the fall and this holiday week memorable for you?

How to not fall flat on your face

The wise are glad to be instructed, but babbling fools fall flat on their faces.

Proverbs 10:8 NLT

Last month I attended the San Diego Christian Writer’s Conference. It was a chance to learn from seasoned writers, savor the creativity in the air, and partake in a Humility 101 class. It’s funny how we think we’re so great at something until we meet someone (or dozens of people) who are better.  When this happens, we may realize

we should take off our superhero cape until we’re able to fly rather than just skip. . .

there are many kind, generous people in this world who are willing to help us learn our trade . . .

and God thought of others besides us when he created the Earth. . .

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And then we wipe off our humble pie mustaches, pull back our shoulders, and wisely use resources at our disposal to grow and help others do so along the way.

Or we fall flat on our faces because we can’t see or accept these realities about our situation.

It’s never fun to fall, although one can get quite adept at it (just ask a baby learning to walk). But why fall when you can soar above your problems by seeking wisdom from God and accepting the instruction he provides through our experiences?

This isn’t to say we won’t trip a little before taking flight, or that we’ll immediately feel the wind under our wings. It can mean, though, that the next time we’re served a giant size portion of humble pie, we’ll soar faster than before, brush the dust off of our knees without worrying about the stains left on our pants, and thank God for the chance to grow in wisdom with his gentle guidance.

Have you been humbled lately? Were you glad for the lesson, or did you resist it?

Who needs cell phones anyway?

If someone asked you, what is something you’ve done that’s had a lasting impact on you, what would you say? Skydiving? Backpacking through Europe? Starting a non-profit organization?

For me, it was being pregnant. There were a lot of special moments I treasured, like knowing I was never alone, seeing his hair and big feet in the last ultrasound before his birth, and watching my husband say silly things in a very loud voice to get the baby to move (it didn’t work). I still savor these moments even though baby Christian turns one this month.

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Yes I had a massive belly. But at least the brain still worked.

And then, for most pregnant women, there are those parts of pregnancy that are memorable for not such fun reasons:

  • The realization that being able to bend at the waist is pretty dang convenient,
  • An appreciation for having a waist,
  • The acceptance that snoring is not just for men,
  • The shocking reality that you can’t turn from one side to the other in bed without shifting your weight ten times,
  • And pregnancy brain.

Lucky for me, I only had to experience the first four of these. I should be thrilled I was so lucky, right?

Not so.

I got the pleasure of experiencing post-pregnancy brain instead. For the first six months of Christian’s life, I trained myself to stop asking my husband Dale, “Where is my phone?” Instead, I started brainstorming with him to narrow down the universe of possible locations of my device. This exercise never included naming any “normal” places like on the kitchen counter, in my purse, or on the bed, because my brain was anything but normal during those sleep-deprived days.

“My phone isn’t in the refrigerator,” I’d say to him. “It’s not in the oven or the dryer. I didn’t leave it on top of the car this time.” Smile. “What about the dresser? Did you look in the drawers?” After a few weeks of this mega waste of time, I decided to just let it stay lost for awhile, unless Dale was around to call my phone so it could alert us of its location.

As if this wasn’t bad enough, things were elevated to the next level when I went to Costco with a girlfriend. I stocked up on all the usual things, and then tossed a gargantuan bag of chocolate chips into the cart because it was time to get back into my baking groove.

Two days later I opened my trunk and gasped. There was the bag of chips. I’d unloaded everything but them. When I picked it up it was a melted bag of gooeyness. Great. I’d committed chocolate abuse.

That bag still sits in my pantry as a painful memory of my mental incapacity. Now if I want to bake with chocolate, I have to slam the bag into the back patio concrete to break it into useable pieces. This is wrong on so many levels.

What bizarre or funny things have you done when mentally out of it?

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