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.

Chopsticks Travels, Part II

IMG_0012Tokyo – such a small name for such a massive city. I wasn’t sure what to expect during our visit in the metropolis with a population of 30 million. Yes, you read that right.

Senso-ji Temple in Tokyo's Asakusa district

Senso-ji Temple in Tokyo’s Asakusa district

Tokyo has the world’s largest metropolitan population, which can be an intimidating thought for first-time visitors like me. That’s why I pondered a number of thoughts during our eleven hour flight from Los Angeles:

Would it be noisy, dirty, visually “scarred” as big cities can be?

Would there be anything soft, beautiful about it?

Would the people be friendly or keep to themselves, not wanting to be bothered by tourists?

I’m happy to report I was shocked at how unlike a big city Tokyo feels. There were indeed people everywhere, but the Japanese

Naomi and Christian hanging out

Naomi and Christian hanging out

are generally quiet, respectful people so it didn’t feel like we were surrounded by the masses. Plus it is super clean. Translation: it didn’t have that odeur de grande ville I’ve become familiar with on my travels to New York City. And the people were definitely friendly, especially Dale’s host sisters and brother-in-law, who were kind enough to let us stay at their apartment.

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The pond at Ueno Park, by the Ueno train station

His sister, Naomi, had a great time strapping our then six-month-old baby Christian to her with the Ergobaby carrier and toting him around the city. She got quite the looks and comments, I’m sure.

As for the softer side of Tokyo, we enjoyed some couple time in Ueno Park, which was originally part of the Kaneiji Temple. Although the park has museums, a zoo, and is one of Tokyo’s most popular spring cherry blossom spots (which we missed since we were there in May), we chose to relax on a bench by the large pond while watching birds frolic and eating tasty sweets from a nearby bakery.

We were also treated to blooming azaleas throughout the city. The vibrant pink and purple flowers surprised us most places we went, including at Senso-ji, Tokyo’s oldest temple. It was nice to know Mother Nature still went about business as usual despite the throngs of people passing by her creations each day.

Tokyo was a surprisingly lovely city we hope to visit again soon . . . maybe next spring. And it’s never too early to make plans for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, so start practicing with those chopsticks.

 

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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

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.

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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!

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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?