Green Eggs and Ham

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courtesy Green Eggs and Ham by Dr Seuss

After several days of massive Tokyo crowds, illegible city signage, non-stop neon lights and those high-tech multi-functional washlets with heated seats, we escaped to the countryside. As mentioned in my last post, Oh the places you’ll go my husband, The Original Obnoxious One, made all the travel and accommodations arrangements for this trip to Japan – or rather his people did. After speaking with friends and colleagues he decided we should stay at a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn. Ryokans are generally located in scenic areas, near mountains or water, and feature tatami-floored rooms with foldaway futons, communal and private baths, elaborate multi-course meals and multiple rules and regulations.

ryokan

Our first stop was the Aura-Tachibana in Hanoke, an easy two hour train ride from Tokyo. And the Japanese train system is amazing – clean, efficient and relatively affordable. But once we arrived in that tiny town and started to look for our ryokan, we couldn’t tell left from right or up from down. Yes, we had detailed instructions multi-coloured maps but…

jeg

courtesy iclipart.com

After bumbling around for an hour or more we dragged our bags and carry-on items up the steep hill, around a couple hair-pin twists to the Aura-Tachibana. By the way, our Japanese is almost non-existent despite what The Original Obnoxious One likes to believe, and the receptionist’s English was very, very rudimentary. After 30 minutes of trying to communicate, the most we could understand was that we could leave our bags at the front desk but couldn’t check in to our room for several hours. We even phoned our super-duper problem-solving incredible travel agent back in Vancouver. She yelled at the local ryokan rep in English with a heavy Mandarin accent  (we could hear her across the lobby) but was ultimately unable to convince them to let us stay.Why? We never did figure that part out.

What to do and where to go?!

We meandered back down the hill, through the town, to the river where we had a lovely view of a couple of homeless guys washing and urinating. 018b36c0ceaa3289a8d94304340fc9a61f4615205c

Of course it was Sunday so very few stores or restaurants were open. Apparently Hanoke’s claim to fame is its hot springs, natural beauty and view of Mount Fuji. We couldn’t find any vistas in or around town of Mount Fuji and the homeless folk  were not exactly naturally beautiful. Maybe our hotel accessed the hot springs for its communal baths?! But Hanoke is close to Tokyo so it provides a quick and easy get away for families and couples. Especially couples. 😉

Basic RGB

courtesy clipart.com

After walking around in circles for a few hours we climbed back up that mountain and were shown to our room. We were one of the lucky ones there, with our very own private hot tub and view of that same river we had now come to love.015389d32a64abb9823faea18f36cc8d0f4e615f8f

My husband was a little more adventurous and actually ventured out of our room in order to soak in the communal hot springs and baths.

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The Original Obnoxious One heading to the baths – doesn’t he look cute?!

Somehow the thought of parading around naked, with my (mostly) blond hair and mottled menopausal body towering over of a bunch of cute little Japanese ladies did not fill me with joy and pleasure. So I stayed in our room and studied the official instructions of how to behave and what to do and not do.

But the fun was just beginning. As the only non-Japanese folk at dinner and breakfast the following morning in the large dining room, we weren’t the least bit nervous or uncomfortable until we were presented with this and this.ryokan breakfast

Okay let me confess something right here, right now. I will generally try most any food most any time most any where except at breakfast. Yes, it’s true – I am a wimpy cowardly breakfast-eater! Give me cereal and milk or yogurt and fruit or eggs  but that’s it. Plus of course a latte. I will travel miles and miles for a latte in the morning – just ask my most patient parents.  A regular boring cup of coffee just doesn’t cut it. I know, I’m spoiled but I blame it on the never ending rains here on the wet coast, November through March.  The Original Obnoxious One is much more accommodating – if its edible he’ll eat it, regardless of colour, texture, etc. Imagine my unmitigated pleasure upon gazing at this adorable delicacy at 8am :

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Dried Horse Mackerel – even the name is “interesting”

Those eyes hypnotized me and not in a good way. But  I did take my chopsticks and attack  this fishy fish and made it look like I sampled the delights when in reality I tried to remain calm – I only screamed and gagged in my imagination! In fact, at that moment I sympathized greatly with this character:

i do not like

courtesy Green Eggs and Ham by Dr Seuss

Just exchange green eggs and ham for fishy fish and jam .

I survived only to relive much of the experience again in our ryokan in Kyoto, the Hiiragiya, minus the delayed check-in and homeless absolutions. At least in Kyoto breakfast and dinner were served in our room by our very own geisha-girl/butler,

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Ahhh…where to begin.

so no one else had to observe my attempts at poking, prodding and fumbling with chopsticks. There were a few more choices so I could avoid the fishy fish for breakfast. And I could find a latte close to our hotel without too much trouble. Plus our dinners were absolutely exquisite in appearance.

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and tasted pretty good.

i will try

courtesy Green Eggs and Ham by Dr Seuss

The Original Obnoxious One was in heaven – he loves this kind of stuff. But he was most proud because the staff congratulated us several times on having the best room in the ryokan –  the best because it had the largest private bath.

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There was also another large room with a long counter and double sink.

Of course the beautiful views of the private courtyard  and gardens didn’t hurt. In fact the Hiiragiy Ryokan was quite a special place – small and intimate, run by the same family for six generations, beautifully maintained and centrally located.  And it has even been updated with modern amenities like wifi. Once I got past the morning menu terrors, I really enjoyed wandering the street and lanes of Kyoto – lots to see, especially in the old part and even the most touristy sections were gorgeous and fascinating.

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But I will say that I was rather relieved to leave Japan for Hong Kong and then Thailand, where I could anything under the sun for breakfast, including eggs!

i like green eggs

courtesy Green Eggs and Ham by Dr Seuss

Really! 

 

 

 

 

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It happened

It happened and it’s kept me really busy.

  • my son, the Obnoxious One, survived third year university more or less in one piece, turned 21 and arrived home two weeks ago; one internship fell through but another better opportunity may just work out this summer…we hope397566_10201028718439486_4699414364402152008_n
  • my daughter, the Weird One, returned home in early April from her first year of university abroad, with a nose ring, numerous other new piercings ( 7 in one ear and 5 in the other), ombre hair, and a dread lock; amazingly enough she landed a job at a local coffee shop with a little help and turned 19 a few days ago1622392_10153969194690204_2067224220_o
  • My husband, the Original Obnoxious One, and I flitted down to Laguna Beach for several days, made a quick trip to New York and then visited Vegas for the first time  – this little tree-loving hermit is still reeling from the overwhelming sights and sounds of Vegas, and yes, the Original Obnoxious One is an amazing photographerIMG_0352
  • our cabin is for sale again
  • we took our house off the market for a month, then re-listed it last week with a different agent
  • we’ve had 6 showings plus an open house and unfortunately the 3 houses we really liked are all sold, but we’re still hopeful there’s something out there for us1
  • my parents turned 80 and I planned a cruise to Alaska next month for them, myself, and my sister – I can hardly wait!

    courtesy celebritycruises.com

    courtesy celebritycruises.com

  • I took on the role of Treasurer for a very interesting and creative charity and for the first time in decades found myself mired in journal entries, adjusting journal entries, year end procedures and an Annual General Meeting

    courtesy iclipart.com

    courtesy iclipart.com

  • I polished off the second season of House of Cards in short order – gotta love Kevin Spacey!10306475_708054889217280_2568578375498721271_n
  • I finally joined the ranks of thousands and became enthralled with Downton Abbey, I consumed all 4 seasons in short order,and yes, I do have a love/hate relationship with Netflxacfc64e0226d90026cc0d53d5067d11b

Of course life goes on whether I blog about it or not. And one day, one day soon, an agent or publisher will call me and  The Trouble With Queenie will be published. It will happen.

But in the meantime my dear darling children are behaving more like they’re 4 and 6,Top-15rather than 19 and 21, with lots of screaming, slamming doors and unflushed toilets.

Never mind. Spring has arrived in the Pacific Northwest and the mountains and Franklinstein are calling my name. With any luck, the Obnoxious One and the Weird One will either kill each other or learn to get along. Frankly right now I don’t care which option they pick, as long as there’s progress.

Really!

Repeat after me: I am a writer, I am a writer…

Lately I’ve been preoccupied with the business of writing, or rather the business of attempting to get published.

  • fine-tuning the manuscript for the umpteenth time
  • polishing and repolishing again the first three chapters
  • perfecting the cover letter

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    courtesy iclipart.com

  • tweeking the synopsis
  • researching which agents and publishers in Canada, the US and the UK are looking for contemporary, humorous middle grade novels
  • reviewing submission guidelines
  • personalizing queries for said agents &/or publishers
  • following up with queried agents &/or publishers after 2 or 3 or 4 months
  • and drinking lots and lots and LOTS of lattes while performing all of the above

    courtesy iclipart.com

    courtesy iclipart.com

Lately I feel like research has taken over my life. It’s so so SO easy to lose  days hours Googling this that and the other thing, examining and liking new Facebook pages, searching sites about the publishing industry such as Quill & Quire, and reviewing various writing blogs.

courtesy iclipart.com

courtesy iclipart.com

It’s essential to be aware of  what kind of middle grade books are selling, what kind are in demand, what kind are requested, so my analytical left brain takes over and asserts itself. After all, this is the side of the brain I have relied on for years in my finance and accounting career, as well as for my not-for-profit Board work. It’s also the side of the brain I’ve utilized for more than twenty years managing my creative and often hilarious, distracted and extremely unorganized family.

courtesy iclipart.com

courtesy iclipart.com

Somebody has to be in charge.

Somebody has to know what’s going on.

To date that somebody has always been me.

My kids say I’m nosy and bossy; they accuse my of creeping them and their friends on Facebook. Nonsense! I am simply curious and I seek knowledge about the world around me. Really! I’ve always been this way. When I was young, I used to ride my bike for hours all around my neighbourhood and beyond, examining the homes in our middle class suburb and imaging what kind of people lived there. I used to love canoeing around the lake where my parents’ cabin was, so I could check out the cottages and the shacks. (this was before the mansions arrived in Muskoka and beyond) Now in the summers I kayak up Indian Arm, close to shore, where the water is not so rough and of course, the cabins are easy to spy on observe.

courtesy iclipart.com

courtesy iclipart.com

And I have a healthy imagination. When my kids accuse me of misrepresenting their actions, of distorting the truth in my blog, I point out the obvious – this is MY blog. If they want to tell their story, they need to write their own blog. Besides, far too often the truth really is stranger than fiction. I mean, what child of mine would express his/her loud preference for a basic youth hostel over a luxury hotel, and for public transit (buses, subways) rather than drive his/her own car?! While all the Sexy Moms of West Vancouverwell the ones who talk to me that isbrag babble about their nightly Skype sessions with their precious daughters, I smile and say nothing. After all, my daughter has been too busy to skype with her Terrible Awful Mother since the beginning of January, but somehow she has found the time to demand  repeatedly ask for money and help with essays. So I have to envision her and what she’s up to based on my knowledge of her personality – her nicknames The Demon Child and The Weird One say it all – and the photos she and her friends post on Facebook. 1900116_10153777830790290_647385992_nIf I exaggerate a teeny tiny bit when blogging, well that’s my prerogative. Besides who needs to stretch the truth when there is such wonderful material at my fingertips!

When I sit back and take stock of my abilities and proclivities, I think it’s obvious that I was totally meant to be a writer. After all, writers should be meddlesome curious in their daily lives – curiosity may have killed the cat, but certainly not the author. Writers must be stubbornly inflexible determined in their efforts to dream up create the perfect world for their story. The ability to spy on friends and family carefully observe and listen to everyone all the time is a vital aspect of the writer’s process, as is the act of daydreaming carrying out relevant research.

Please excuse me as I send this blog to each and every member of my family in order to educate them about the noble sacrifices I make on a daily basis to hone my craft, and how suited I am to my chosen pastime career. Now if only a publisher would agree with me. Really!

I’m a survivor but… I’ve had a couple close calls lately

You may have noticed that I’ve been absent the past few weeks, but I really am still in one piece. Yes, I did take my daughter, the Weird One/Demon Child to the UK for some last minute mother/daughter bonding before delivering her to this university.IMG_2196In a timezone eight hours ahead of my own. And yes, it actually was rather traumatic for me.

Beforehand we did have a few grand adventures – walking and hiking and 1272404_10153182640500290_1963781292_oshopping and hanging out.1268644_10153182634665290_1346345177_oAnd glaring and fighting and huffing and puffing.IMG_2148

Yep, we had them all. After a wonderfully busy, entirely rewarding and absolutely infuriating week with her, I headed home to do laundry, clean the house, put it back up forsale once again and then…pack up. Again. For another trip to Europe.

Okay, confession time – this is where I almost, well kind of, feel like one of those decadent and spoiled housewives of Vancouver.  But here’s the thing – 10 months ago my husband, the adorable Captain Dumb Dumb, and I decided that after all the excitement and drama of the past year, we needed a real vacation together, desperately. And I didn’t want to be home alone with Franklinstein,crying my eyes out 1186787_10151796775032492_987179013_nafter turning into an empty nester overnight.

So five days after seeing my daughter off to university, my husband and I headed to Italy for almost three weeks. There, I’ve said it. So that’s why I’ve been rather remiss of late.

But I will tell you this. I did find myself in dire straits several times with the Demon Child and I did fear for my life. And for hers. The worst episode occurred on our very first morning together. After travelling for roughly twenty-four hours, through more time zones than either one of us could count, we finally dragged ourselves into a lovely hotel in Cornwall overlooking the ocean. IMG-20130830-00155Although we were both exhausted, sleep took awhile to claim me, whereas the Demon Child started snoring the moment her head hit the pillow (just like her dad – I really HATE people like that!). So the next morning, when I could have and should have slept until noon, or later, there was one minor glitch: the Demon Child woke me up at 6 am, after a measly 5 hour snooze,  screaming in my ear:

“MOM, you drank my contact lenses! How could you? You PROMISED me last night that you wouldn’t! I HATE you!!!”

courtesy iclipart.com

courtesy iclipart.com

Somewhere in the dim dark recesses of my foggy brain I recalled the fact that the Demon Child had forgotten to pack her contact lens case. She packed everything else – including the kitchen sink – but no contact lense case. SO she carefully placed each of her contacts in a glass of water, in the bathroom, on the sink. I must have gotten up at some point to use the toilet and drink some water.

Should I be blamed for her stupidity? 

But it was the very first morning of our trip together, and she was ultra-nervous about the whole univerity thing – the people, the profs, the school, her classes. So after some swearing and screeching, we made up; I apologized and she accepted  And our trip resumed. Oh,we had quite a few more tense moments – like when she accused me of expecting too much of hotels or of complaining too much or of snoring too much or of being too conservative or too lazy – but at the end of the day we had a great time together.

Sometimes keeping the peace is more important than being right – at least that’s what I tell myself! Really?! What do you think?

You are SO busted mister

As I have moaned about mentioned previously, I have been blessed with two good looking social children. (See The curse of the social teenaged kids.) Kids who rarely stop talking or texting or skyping or …you get the picture. I did think hope our family vacation would be different. I mean, after all, it’s called a FAMILY vacation, which means you leave town, leave your home, and leave your friends  behind. Somehow my son didn’t get the memo.

The first indication of this came when we were checking out of Dreams Los Cabos; after the initial disasters troubles we had checking in, we did start to enjoy ourselves, in between thunder storms, windstorms, and the inevitable melt downs by my daughter,  the Demon Child . And the sun did appear. Eventually. But when checking out we had another nasty surprise: a $350 phone bill for my son. Apparently the Obnoxious One had called his cell phone service provider from the phone in his room and tried to sort out his long distance package and internet. (The hotel was supposed to supply free internet but it was problematic.) He was placed on hold so many times that the phone call lasted 40 minutes. Can you imagine my dear darling husband’s reaction?

Irate

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Yeah, it wasn’t pretty. So instead of check-out taking 10 minutes, it took almost an hour. Of heated discussion. Numerous clerks  were brought in to sort things out, phone calls were made, fingers were pointed and finally the hotel manager was contacted. Words like fraud and poor customer service and nothing we can do were bandied about. The kids wisely skulked in another part of the lobby, far away from the front desk and their dad. I kept walking back and forth to ensure my hubby didn’t completely blow his top and that the kids or our luggage didn’t wander away. Actually we almost lost half of our luggage – the hotel staff loaded it onto the bus of passengers bound for New York. That would really have made our day!

courtesy iclipart.com

courtesy iclipart.com

Finally the manager approved a write-down. We still had to pay far too much, but decided to pursue the matter at home with Lily, our amazing travel agent. Enough was enough.

Except that it wasn’t. A week after we got home, while my husband was in China on business, I received the bill for the Obnoxious One’s cell phone. Care to guess how much??? Did you say…$900? Yeah – gives me a heart attack just looking at that! So this time I sent the bill to my son and said, you deal with it! Although he has no money (except what we give him – he doesn’t have a job at university) I figured he could call the cell phone company and moan and groan – after all, he’s so good at that! In the meantime I decided not to tell my husband – yet.

Somehow, the Obnoxious One must have the gift of the Irish or something (My father’s family did originate from Ireland long, long time ago) because he managed to get the company to reverse $550 from his bill. IMG_2002Apparently he spoke at length with a “very nice lady” – yeah right – and she  removed his texting charges. And you know who he was texting non-stop the entire week? – his girlfriend.

Except that he said she’s not his girlfriend – nope, she’s his “friend with benefits”. Right – I saw those movies  and I know how they ended. He doesn’t stand a chance.

courtesy iclipart.com

courtesy iclipart.com

Really!

Have you been faced with ginormous phone bills from either hotels or cell phone companies? What have you done about it?

A Little Look at my Book

Dawn at Tales from the Motherland  tagged me last week in a “game” called the Look Challenge. The game is for bloggers who are also writers, and is a way to let others sneak a peek at your work.

courtesy iclipart.com

Here’s how it works: Search your manuscript for the word “look” and copy the surrounding paragraphs into a post to let other bloggers read. Then you tag five blogger/writers to invite them to the challenge.

So here goes. This excerpt is from the first chapter of my middle grade manuscript, The Trouble With Queenie. On the first day of school after a scolding from the Headmistress, Queenie rushes to her grade 5 classroom.

Boy oh boy, this place was crammed full of rules. How was I going to remember them all when I couldn’t remember to take off my shoes at home, let alone my pill? I couldn’t even remember to flush the toilet half the time, but that’s another story. Anyway, I slid around the corner, past the first door on the left and straight into my classroom, lifting my hand to high five Miss Parfait. When I screeched to a stop in the doorway, nineteen pairs of eyes were glued to me. Miss Parfait frowned as I slowly lowered my hand.  She also did that thing where she lifted one eyebrow at me. Never could figure out what that means.

The silence was deadly. I glanced at the faces around the room. Crap! I did not have long silky hair, and I was not tall and slim. My brown hair was really thick and stuck out all over the place no matter how much I brushed it. My eyes were brown, my front teeth were crazy-crooked and I was super skinny and short. My white button-down shirt already had a big stain from breakfast (strawberry jam), my tie had wilted from the milk spilled on it and my knee socks were bunched around my ankles. My mother had wanted me to clean up before school, but I ignored her. I figured there was no way the cool kids would look perfect in their itchy grey sweaters, white shirt and ties. Wrong again!

“Please have a seat right over there beside Kenneth, Queenie,” Miss Parfait said with icicles hanging off her voice, as she pointed to a serious Asian boy with glasses and thick black hair. “I was just welcoming the girls and boys to 5P and outlining the class rules. The first one is to always be on time. Always! You are four minutes late, Queenie.”

“Sorry, Miss Parfait.  It won’t happen again, I promise,” I mumbled as I collapsed into my chair at the very front of the classroom beside the door. I stole a peek at Kenneth who smiled at me. 

So now my turn to pass the Look Game along. At the Surrey International Writers’ Conference I met a group of wonderful writers, each of whom is attempting to write a novel in five months and blog about it. Since then I’ve been following their blog, and I must say I’ve really enjoyed their comments and their stories. See for yourself at 5 Writers 5 Novels 5 Months.

Now let’s hope they’ll play. Really!