Oh, Canada! Part1: Vancouver

We’re in Vancouver.

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People have been saying to me for a long time now that Canada is beautiful, that I’ll love it, that the scenery is spectacular, and that it’s like Hobart…Hobart, Tasmania, that is. I can’t comment on Hobart, Indianapolis.

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And guess what I’m going to tell you: it’s spectacularly beautiful, I love it, and yes, it’s like Hobart.
Actually, it’s like Hobart on steroids. Powerful steroids. Everything we love about Hobart is here, but there’s more of it! Bigger river, more quaint little streets, more shops, bigger mountains. High rises. High everything. Much, MUCH bigger mountains.

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Today we drove to Stanley Park (no don’t get confused. This is no park-down-the-road-with-a-swing-set, this is a massive multi-acre nature reserve, complete with Aquarium and nature trails. And totem poles. And beaches, where my kids paddled in the water and watched some even more enthusiastic tourists get their gear off and swim! (In their bathers). Tomorrow we’ll go back, and possibly the next day, and maybe the day after that as well.
Truth is, I think we could spend a month here and still not see everything Vancouver has to offer. That’s the trouble with it really. That’s the trouble with Canada really. It makes you fall in love with it, then gives you far too much to even know where to start. We’ve got four more days.

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Oh yes. We saw our first moose. Sorry. Mousse. Close enough, eh?

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The South, and who you are

Yesterday was a big day. We packed up the family and the luggage yet again and drove out of Indiana, down through Kentucky, to Tennessee.

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We watched as the landscape thickened and greeted into dense ivy covered forests, and as the sky thickened and drew close. The freeway was wide, the interruptions few, and four hour’s later Kenty was behind us.
I didn’t expect it to feel different, but it did. Indiana is the Midwest, but Kentucky, the next door neighbour down, is the South, and it felt it.
I think it was the ivy. It covered everything, the trees, the power poles, anything that sits on the ground for too long finds ivy growing up it. It felt lush, fertile, boundless in history and collective memory.

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I didn’t photograph them, and I don’t really know why they were there, but on two different spots on the side of the road there were large white crosses, a big one in the middle, maybe six foot, and a smaller one on either side. No flowers, no sign. The thought came to me in a flash that we were driving into territory where, not all that long ago, they killed people simply because they were black. That’s the sadness those crosses reminded me of. It saddens me deeply that there are people still here who think like that

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The Grand Ole Opry, Nashville TN

The crickets and cicadas here are so loud you’d need earplugs to sleep outside peacefully. It’s so humid it feels like you’re breathing under a blanket. All the women wear cowboy boots. Everyone you meet goes to some church or another. In short, this place is so different to anything we’ve ever experienced at home.

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My kids feel it too, the difference, but in a different way. I sat quietly for a while last night and thought about the South, the lynching, the civil war, the landscape, the history, the collective memory and the largeness of the day. And then I read my four year old son’s diary entry. He’d written (or dictated) this:
We got a new house…we got a new car because we drived there. The new car was blue. We had pancakes and I bought a fan…before we left the hotel we had breakfast and it was a help yourself breakfast and we had some of the help yourself breakfast. In the shop I got my fan from there was a tap that had a lever that I thought made the water come out but there wasn’t you just put your hands under to make the water come out and the water comes out.

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I’m sorry Kentucky. I’m sorry Tennessee, and sorry to all those who died in the civil war, and all who died tragically in these lush green surrounds. He’s four. I cared. He just cares about the motion sensor taps.
It just goes to show, what you perceive is all about who you are.

A funny thing happened on the way to a writer’s conference…

I’m at this writer’s conference, right? It’s called the ACFW, which stands for American Christian Fiction Writers. This year it’s in Indianapolis, and there are something like five hundred Christian writers, editors and literary agents all swanning around in a hotel together, with writing workshops, appointments to meet with people in the industry, dinners, networking opportunities, the works. It’s a big deal. I’m pretty tired.

I don’t want to talk about that though. There are enough people out there who write all about it and put up hundreds of photos. You can google them. I want to write about something that happened there.

I wrote this novel, right? I really like it. Some people who have read it really like it as well, which is a good thing, because really liking a book is kind of important if you want people to actually buy it. Part of the reason I came to Indianapolis is to check out some literary agents and see if they think people may want to buy my book as well. And part of me thought “nah”, because really, really and honestly, it’s not the kind of book that people who read Christian fiction would really want to buy. Not only that, it isn’t really the kind of book that people who read secular fiction really want to buy either. So I thought, “nah”. Yeah. nah. I’ve been wondering a fair bit lately whether I should ditch this novel and write something else. Write this one off as a “practice novel”. Write something that sells.

Yeah. Nah.

I tried not to think too much about it really. In a place that was already a little overwhelming it seemed the easiest option.

So this morning that was what I was trying not to think as I sat in my workshop. Give it up. Write something that sells. Do something useful.

The workshop was by a dude called James Scott Bell, who writes thrillers, and who writes how-to-write-novel type books, and one of the very first things he had us do was to write a letter to our novels. Yeah. That’s right.

We’re writers, right? We get this kind of thing.

We had to write to our novels, and we had to write what we loved about them. It wasn’t hard. Words come easily at times like that. This is what I wrote:

Dear novel,

I love you because you’re honest. You’re a real look at broken hearts and you don’t flinch at what you portray. I love the way you connect with readers, the way you jump out of the page at people and take their hand and lead them in. I love your voice. I love the way you’re not afraid to tackle the deep things, the things people keep hidden, the deep places of hurt and loss and rejection and humanity. I love your honesty, and I love you for your courage.

Forever,

Your author,

Megan.

 

I felt it. I felt the passion for the story that I’d forgotten, and I felt all the reasons I’d wanted to write it in the first place. I was there. And then suddenly, while I was “there”, Mr. James Scott Bell asked us to write another letter: a letter from our novels to us, starting with the line “I really wish you…” Here’s what I wrote.

Dear Megan,

I really wish you would finish me. Properly. Don’t leave me on the shelf or in the bottom drawer. Don’t forget about me and move on to something else. I wish you would remember the passion you had for me in the early days, when we were together every morning. Please keep going. Keep pushing, keep it up until I have a voice and a life and a place to breathe outside of your own little home. Send me Megan, send me.

Love,

your novel.

 

I didn’t know the answer was in me. I didn’t know the passion had been buried. I didn’t know the passion in me could be buried so deep that I would be tempted to put the story away and never finish it. I didn’t know I could forget why I cared. I’m very grateful to Mr. James Scott Bell. I didn’t finish the rest of the workshop. I had to leave soon after that to go to an appointment. I would have paid the cost of the conference for that alone, really.

I better go. I think I need to write.

It’s not WHAT you know

It’s been a fun week. In fact, today being Wednesday (for me, at least), it marks the end of our first full week in the USA, and a rich and full week it has been, too. In one week we’ve stayed in three different houses in three different locations, all wildly different, all of which with something unique to offer. I posted a lot of San Francisco pics last time, here are a couple of the places we visited afterwards:IMG_6309

Yes, those are real, wild DEER grazing on someone's front lawn

Yes, those are real, wild DEER grazing on someone’s front lawn

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Black Butte, Northern California

Black Butte, Northern California

 

Our hotel had a swimming pool!

Our hotel had a swimming pool!

We drove six hour’s north to visit Katy and George for the weekend. We picked up a rental car in downtown San Francisco – had to upgrade to an 8-seater just to fit all our luggage in – and then Tony had to do a super-quick crash-course on a) how to drive a car that looks totally different inside to any we’ve driven before, b) how to drive on the right, and c) how to drive in San Francisco. At the car rental office one of the staff told me that her mother is Indian, and she’ll drive anywhere in urban India, even with it’s crazy road rules (or lack thereof), but even she is scared to drive in San Francisco.

We did it though. Hats off to Tony, who drove well, and who took us North for one of the most beautiful sightseeing tours I’ve ever been on. We loved our time there. Katy and George live in a tiny historic gold-rush town. They fed us, and took us to Oregon to see the most beautiful little art galleries, and we oohed and aahed at the scenery again. We laughed and ate and dreamed and talked and came away feeling full and loved and happy.

And drove ANOTHER five hour down to Sacramento.

The cool thing? It’s so worth it.

We planted ourselves in Sacramento because I wanted to visit people. We figured we’d find something else to do to fill in all the extra time. We didn’t expect that it’d be filled in the way it was though.IMG_5709

We went to visit a little after-school program run by Debbie, who I’d met last year. Debbie had set up a pen-pal system between her after-school kids and my daughter’s class back home, and the two groups have been corresponding throughout the year. We weren’t sure what to expect, but they made us feel quite at home, and sat us down in a row and the kids took turns to ask questions about Tasmania, about their school, about the wildlife and the food, about what we thought of America. They showered us with gifts, and we chatted for a good hour or so while our kids made themselves at home with theirs.

Afterwards, the bit we didn’t expect and could never predict, the mother of the girl my daughter had been writing to asked whether we’d like to come back and see her daughter’s horse. She bought us all pizza for dinner, and drove us to a ranch about ten minutes out of town, where the kids climbed trees, patted miniature horses, rode a full-size one, played soccer, ate fresh figs and cooled off under the sprinklers.

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IMG_6528It’s getting late and I’m hungry and I have other things to do, and even if I had the time I don’t think I could fully express the joy of this last week, or my gratitude to the people I’ve met and the places they’ve taken us. It’s been wonderful. Truly wonderful.

I still can’t say I’ve done a lot of tourist things, and even at the end of the trip there’ll be a lot of big exciting tourist things we won’t have seen, the time we’ve had with our precious friends is priceless, and the experiences they’ve provided for us are worth more to us than any tourism brochure can offer. It just goes to show really, it’s not what you know, it’s who…

 

San Francisco Dreamin’

It’s late. I’ll try to make this short, although I’m not sure how well I’ll succeed. It’s 11.35pm, and the kids are up drawing in their hotel bedroom – their body clocks (and mine) are still on Australian time. Every night we try to make it a little earlier, but that’s the way of holidays too: late nights and sleep ins and precious little in the way of routine. It’s been lovely. I’m kinda tired now though. Here’s a brief rundown, mostly in pictures, of what we’ve been doing and where we’ve been.

Our house in San Francisco was a small piece of wonder. Located in the Mission District, which is apparently the oldest area of SF, it was an old house filled with art works, curios, books and collectibles enough to make me drool, and wish I could stay a month and simply dream and read.

Art and stuffed animals

Art in the toilet

IMG_5997Yes, that is an oil painting hanging in a toilet. Yes, that is a stuffed pheasant. There was a bison’s head and a deer’s head as well. And a five-foot crudely carved crucifix. I loved it.

And there were friends! The reason we came to San Francisco was to see Steve and Theresa and their girls, and we had such a wonderful time catching up with them. If people make a place, then they made San Francisco for us. We did the tourist thing as well though (of course!) and made our way down to Pier 39. I was shocked by the contrast between “regular” San Francisco and the tourist version (OMG so many TOURISTS!), and felt very privileged to be able to see both sides. Regular side is grottier, of course, and with  many, MANY less white people. It’s a fascinating city, and I found the architecture and layout quite unique. There are no suburbs, just masses and masses of city. No front gardens. All the houses joined up for block after block after block. Flat roofs. Dense, dense housing. And the hills!

San Francisco Mission District

 

You may notice the no parking sign. They were really common. We were told that parking is atrociously hard in SF, and it’s true! You are allowed to park in your garage, but not in your driveway (the part of the footpath/sidewalk leading up to your garage), or you could be up for a $350 ticket. You can park on the street, but not on Tuesday mornings (here, other days elsewhere) when they clean the streets. No idea where you have to put your car when they’re cleaning though…maybe you just have to drive around until it’s time to come home again.

Pier 39 sealsYes, those brown things are seals. Live, smelly, noisy, honking ones. The story goes that the city built a marina for the boats and the seals just took it over. No joke. It’s a tourist attraction in it’s own right. Off to the right (outside the frame of the photo) is the Golden Gate Bridge, and further around, in the bay, is Alcatraz. Pier 39 is full of shops, restaurants, tourist attractions, you name it, it’s there.

Bubba Gump Shrimp CoYes, even a fictional Shrimp company. Check out all those people! This was on a Thursday, and after peak season too.

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Aquarium

 

And an Aquarium! The boys spent their money in the gift shop, and we’ve now welcomed to our family a fluffy sting ray, and a fluffy octopus. An ugly creature, really, but highly intelligent. And, so it seems, a great companion when you’re 4.

So there you have it for San Francisco. A city well worth a visit, but when even the taxi drivers tell you not to drive there you realise you’ve got to take that seriously. We did…after we got our rental car. But it’s late, and that, my friends, is another story.

Good night!

 

 

 

 

 

The Great Adventure begins

For anyone not aware yet, my family and I are off on a Great Adventure. We’ve packed up our kids and our lives and we’re off to the USA, the nation that’s captured my heart and my imagination. Two months. For two months we’ll be learning what it us to be the five of us, thrown together in long car trips, hotel rooms, foreign cities with foreign rules and foreign food. Two months to connect again, to learn how to find personal space in your own head, to be grumpy without hurting feelings, to forgive one another, to love one another, to be a family of five, to be a team.
It’s good. Words cannot express how grateful I am for this experience, even as I sit tapping out this blog on my phone on the toilet, supervising a kid in a bath plugged up with a bar of hotel soap. We are blessed.

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We are blessed to have eaten Italian gelato (lychee and pistachio flavours) with some of our dearest friends. We are blessed to visit Luna Park,

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Yesterday was Fathers Day, the first one since my dad died. I’m acutely aware that we wouldn’t be able to do this if it wasn’t for his death. It’s a bittersweet thought. It’s been a bittersweet year, and much as we have been blessed I need to allow myself the sadness that comes with it.
This phone was my dad’s too. It’s still got links to the strange photos he used to take. My suitcase was Dad’s too, and, I’ve noticed recently, my chin and jaw line. I’m glad I’m taking him with me. And tomorrow morning I’m taking him with me to the International departure lounge of Sydney airport, and off to San Francisco.