Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Oprah Winfrey Mission

Some of you may have heard by now that Oprah Winfrey now has a copy of Sihpromatum. That is true. This is the story of what actually happened.
Oprah needs no introduction. She may not have her show anymore but through her media, massive fan base and respect from other celebrities and powerful figures she is still far from retired or irrelevant. It has been tossed around for a couple of years now that Oprah would love our story and we've been joking about showing up on her program. With the release of Savannah's book the idea shifted more to "she should read the book".
We have mailed out a few copies of the book to a few celebrity figures, without any real hope of it getting past their agents and other barriers that all fan mail must necessarily go through. Oprah doesn't even have a proper address and years ago stopped accepting gifts from fans. Thus we had not tried anything with regards to her.
Early last month we learned that Oprah would be coming to Vancouver as the last stop on her Canadian tour. We were actually told by Melanee (from Black Bond Books, who has been a total star there selling well over 100 books already from that location alone). Melanee managed to score tickets to go to the show on Jan 24th. It being in the stadium we couldn't imagine how going to the show would get us face to face with Oprah, but knowing she was in town we felt compelled to try something at least.
At about the same time, Jake (who has made numerous appearances on the blog) arrived in Vancouver as part of his new plans to stick around for a while. Before Jake became the monster traveller that he is, he was a professional autograph hunter, having chased various celebrities for 10 years before "retiring". We told him Oprah was coming and that we wanted to get to her. He replied that he hadn't ever gone after her before and the challenge sounded like fun. He was also 100% confident that he could do it. Despite what you may hear later this is the single most important factor in the entire operation: We had Jake. It could've been done without him, but it never would've because nobody really believed it possible or knew where to start with such things. So without Jake, all else fails.
As the date approached we had a few discussions about it and Jake decided that he didn't want to be the one to actually give Oprah the book but that it would be much better if Bre or mom did it. He then proceeded to give us the discouraging news that his contacts had failed to dig up any names or information that would give us a lead on where Oprah would be staying or going while in Vancouver. As with any other megastar, she would not be using her name anywhere, nor announcing when she would be arriving, etc. This wasn't necessarily the end of the world we were told, it just meant we'd have to do things "the amateur way".
The amateur way involves the classic stake-out and chase method, which has all sorts of hassle and risks to it and certainly far from a 100% success rate. We knew that Oprah had a show Tuesday night in Calgary and a show Thursday in Vancouver. Jake also knew the tail number of her private jet but the flight tracking websites block many of the celebrity planes including hers. It was decided in the end that we'd have to go the airport and physically look for her plane.
Wednesday morning Jake, Amanda and I drove over to the airport to check it out and were extremely fortunate in our timing. We came expecting a long wait and were prepared to stay all day but there were 2 black SUV's parked out front and drivers already waiting in the tiny lounge. We suspected that this was for Oprah but couldn't be sure and of course nobody would admit to it anyway. There was one other guy there with a serval (a mid-sized African wild cat) and it quickly became apparent that he was a celebrity chaser and was waiting for Oprah too.
As her plane arrived about 30min later and the SUV's drove onto the apron to collect her from the plane while we watched and Jake made friends and plans with the cat guy. Since there was no hope of getting to her at the airport the only choice was to follow her to her hotel in the car. Thus begins the chase part of the technique! While I drove, Jake was talking on the phone to the cat guy (who was in his car also following, but actually ended up driving ahead as we didn't want to act too creepy or threatening) and Amanda was on the phone with Donavin, trying to coordinate his picking up Bre and getting the 2 of them downtown to join in the hunt.

Oprah's jet.

Jake, the mastermind.

Ammon, hot on the chase.

We actually lost Oprah at one point. We followed the 2nd vehicle when they split up. That vehicle stopped at a hotel and the passengers got out but there was no Oprah. We'd guessed wrong! Dan, the cat guy, had gone ahead to a different hotel that we'd originally guessed as their destination. The missing vehicle never showed up there so using an educated guess (it's a good thing downtown is small and there aren't that many good hotels to choose from). We regrouped at our next best guess and put people into lookout positions when the missing SUV showed up, empty.
The driver was in waiting mode so we quickly deduced that Oprah was probably inside and would be coming back out shortly. Bre was put in position in the lobby while the rest of us were nearby or in the case of Donavin and myself were guarding our improperly-parked cars... I was actually in the middle of talking to Jake about our strategy and next step when Bre called to say the mission was accomplished. I think she was in a bit of shock or something. Most of us couldn't believe how quickly and easily it had all come together.
To summarize what Bre says happened, she said that she was the only person in the hotel lobby when the huge bodyguard came first. He said "No" a couple times and tried to intimidate her away so she just stood off and a distance and tried to look like sweet little Bre. A smile was all it took and suddenly Oprah veered off course and approached Bre. Bre politely welcomed her to Vancouver, did a quick introduction, reminded her of a peripheral connection through Ben and the Best Job in Australia and then told her that her sister wanted her to have a copy of her book. Oprah was nice, said "thanks", took the book and left. The whole thing was just a matter of seconds, but given the possibilities for such situations that we started with at the beginning of the day, it worked perfectly. Bre did a perfect job and it was the perfect scenario.
Who knows what she'll do with it or what would become of it, but for those of us that did this, it was just great to work as a team so well and actually accomplish another goal that people generally thought would be impossible. We did what we could and the whole thing is out of our hands now and in hers. In other news, Savannah's book has been getting tons of great reviews lately so things are still going well for her in other ways also.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

To Belgium and back

AUTHOR NOTE: Kees is pronounced CASE as in bookcase or the more suitable, nutcase!)

After suffering for months with a sore hip, Kees’ mom, Maria, went in to have her second hip-replacement operation on the 11th. Luckily for Maria, her lovely friend Esther, owner of the gorgeous Hotel Estherea in Amsterdam, also needed to have a hip operation. So together they went down to Belgium, which is apparently the best in the area, to have it done.
Last Monday night Kees got a call from Esther’s husband, Mark.“The weather’s supposed to be really bad tomorrow but if you’re still going, you better take my car.”
Baffled Kees gently says, “That’s really nice… but… I’m sorry, what am I doing tomorrow?”
“Going down to see your mother in Belgium….”
“Oh” After an awkward pause Kees says, “I didn’t know anything about it, but okay.”
I have a slight suspicion that Kees had a hard time turning down the opportunity to drive in a 100,000 euro Land Rover, WITH heated seats I might add.
We stopped by to pick up the car in Amsterdam. After a coffee and a nice chat with Mark, who we’d both only met a couple times, he gave us a quick briefing on his car and set us on our way. We were cruising, though I can honestly say I’ve never seen Kees drive quite so carefully in my life. To which Mark later insisted, “That car isn’t meant for careful, it’s meant to be pushed. You’ve got to test out its power!!” Having travelled extensively all over the world, I have seen so many acts of kindness, trust and hospitality, yet every time someone goes out on a limb for me and trusts with no hesitations, it really reminds me of the beauty of this world and the people in it.
We arrived at the Ghent Hospital a few hours later, with no real weather issues and the traffic had not been bad after Amsterdam’s morning rush.
The hospital is an impressive, old, brick building that looks like a palace. It’s just so different from the modern, glass buildings I am used to at home and I absolutely loved seeing it.

The hospital.

We caught the two ladies when they were out in the hall on an afternoon stroll, both with their crutches/walker. What a sight! I mean, why not make a date to have surgery and spend a week together in the hospital? It comes with free room service and all! It’s practically a five star vacation!
But honestly, we stayed a few hours with them and were in a constant fit of laughter. They managed to arrange a private room for the two of them and it looked more like a party room than a hospital.
They looked happier than any two people have the right to be especially in hospital beds with terrible food and an “evil night witch” as they named one of the nurses. They were making jokes and with all the fond memories they had made, I’m pretty sure they could fill a novel titled, “Our Date to the Hip Doctor”
It was funny to hear the Belgian-Dutch accent. Not only is their accent soft but apparently they are a lot more polite and softer than the Dutch who can be quite blunt and sometimes even crude. Esther was getting an absolute hoot out of Maria freaking everyone out with her ribald/bold remarks such as “Do I get a last wish? I want a last request in this life. I want one nice romp with the doctor before I go. He’s super sexy.” Reiterating the story had Esther in stitches, literally, especially trying to explain the nurse’s shocked expression! I tell you, that Maria girl is naughty!!!
Of course the whole experience was not pleasant but together they had a way to make it humorous and turn lemons into lemonade.
We bid the two crazies adieu and since we were only 50km away we decided to hit Brussels before heading back. I have had such itchy feet these days, especially seeing everyone’s travel photos on Facebook, so going to Brussels was a small release for me. Even though it is so similar to Holland, I was jumping out of my seat, taking terrible photos with my iphone. I was SO happy to be sightseeing. We literally drove onto the Grand Place square, which I know you are not allowed to do, but Kees just followed the GPS ignoring my,“Oh my gosh, we are NOT allowed to do this.” My remark was confirmed as soon as we stopped our car in the middle of the magnificent square. A passing local informed us, “You’re not allowed to drive here.” It did make for a good photo though.

Grand Place, Brussels.

After trying to steal a policeman’s parking spot outside the police station we drove around the corner and parked, one street down from the square. Normally, you can’t get such a good spot, but that’s because, again, it was illegal, only meant for taxi’s.
Nestled in the corner of a wooden tavern on Grand Place we ate rabbit stew accompanied by a nice drink. Snow was falling outside and we enjoyed the beautiful surrounding buildings, each covered in thousands of carvings built hundreds of years ago. The restaurant had an old atmosphere with puppets hanging from the ceiling, a big fire in the center, wooden tables, chairs and a big, stuffed horse.

Stuffed horse at the restaurant.

We left and arrived home at 1am. During the drive down and back, I was working on my second book. I most often do my writing while in the passenger seat. I have to admit, I truly love my office.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Savannah's 2012 Summary

My last goal in 2012 was to reach 500 sales before the New Year. Every year Bree and I write out what we accomplished in the year and also what we hope to achieve in the next. Also, since 2009 I have made a picture frame collage to sum-up Kees and my year together. This is the one I did for this year. This idea was inspired by Mom, who used to do this when our whole family lived at home. She would make a frame with the highlights from each year as a family.

Savannah 2012 Summary:
January: We went for an exciting two weeks to Suriname where we took tiny airplanes into the middle of the vast jungles. I swam with, ate and fished piranha, one thing off my bucket list.
February: Mom, Maria, Kees and I hopped in the car and went to Switzerland to ski. Maria’s first time ever seeing mountains.
March: Mom and I went back home to visit and brought Maria with us for a wonderful 10 days of sightseeing our beautiful hometown. PS I love Vancouver.
April: We went down to Belgium with Kees’ whole family to celebrate his sisters 12.5 year marriage. Apparently a big anniversary, halfway to 25. We rented out an old chateau in an almost non-existent village in French Belgium right next to a tiny railway station. We had the entire place all to ourselves, played games, took the quad in the forest and had a great time.
June: I completed the writing of Sihpromatum and sent it in to the editor just before my 22nd birthday.
July: Mom, Maria, Kees, Kees’ sister Anita’s family and I, went to a resort holiday in Dominican Republic to celebrate Maria’s 80th birthday. We zip-lined through the jungle, snorkelled, sun bathed, parasailed, flew in a flying boat and went Scuba diving.
August: I officially became an author when I published my very first eBook online at Amazon where I’m now having a 99 cent January special.
September: Mom and I flew home to Vancouver for my book release. Because of the editor delay, the printing was also late but luckily I was able to order in a small batch for my time there. October - December: Book promotion and marketing with the amazing help of my siblings and mother.
A big article in North Shore News and Hollands Newspaper, interviews, guest posts, magazine features, reviews, sales and Christmas markets!
I’m hoping to see much more of this in 2013 and maybe even Oprah? =) Let’s get the Jack Rabbits out and hopping, eh Bree!

2012 Sihpromatum Update:
Sihpromatum has been read in 22 countries:
(In no particular order)
1. Canada
2. U.S.A.
3. Germany
4. Holland
5. U.K.
6. Australia
7. Hong Kong
8. Philippines
9. Afghanistan
10. Mexico
11. Italy
12. India
13. South Africa
14. Nicaragua
15. Belgium
16. Cote d’Ivoire
17. Ecuador
18. Iran
19. Kosovo
20. Switzerland
21. Denmark
22. Haiti

People in 90 countries have viewed the website
In less than half a year we managed to sell a total of 570 books/ebooks in 2012!! Not only did I reach my 500 goal, the entire year has been more successful than I could’ve hoped for. As an unknown, self-published author, being in bookstores alone is an accomplishment so I remember to always be grateful.
Also, according to those in Vancouver, people have even started to recognize our story. That is fantastic because at this point my main focus is exposure!
So many authors have to face the likely reality that they will never even pay off their debt, let alone earn any profit from their project. I am so happy that I am already nearly halfway out of my debt, and if I continue at this pace, I’ll be able to start putting my profits towards book #2.
My whole life has been book book book, to the point where Kees is nearly fed up with my talking.
A typical day looks like this:
6:15 a.m. - “Sweet!! I sold a book” or “Sweet!!! I got another book photo.” Or “Sweet a 5-Star review!!!” -SV
“Sweet…. It’s waaay too early for book talk.” – K
Two hours later:
“Ok Savann, tell me.” –K
I promptly give him another 10-hour ear-full about my book sales, book #2 planning, self-publishing, Twitter comments, how many new followers I have etc. etc. etc. By 8:00pm.
“Sweet…. I know I’m not supposed to, but can I say one thing about that thing I’m not supposed to talk about.” “You know that thing I’m not allowed to talk about?....” With a smile on his face he opens his ears and endures another couple hours.
I don’t know what I would do without him… When he was gone for a 5-day ski trip last week, I think I spent the whole time talking to the wall…jumping up and down to release my excitement or exploding altogether.
I have learned so much already from this publishing journey and I am so glad that I chose this route in the end. I never thought I would say it but I am so thankful that I was rejected over 100 times by agents, thus forcing me to self-publishing. What a sihpromatum!!
I would say life is fantastic! And it’s so important to remember that every single day. Despite all this progress and excitement, I still manage to guilt trip myself, seemingly unable to reach my personal expectations.
BUT in the last few days I have really started to get the feel back and have put a lot of time into the second book. I am halfway through the outline/first draft. I’m just not exactly sure what defines a draft… but I am definitely back in the game! Thank you so much to everyone who has made this possible. I have met so many people through social media and I am so grateful to all the people who have stood by me and for those who have come into my life.

For those of you who haven’t yet seen, on my website I have started a collection of photos from my readers holding Sihpromatum – Around the World. If you have a copy of Sihpromatum and would like to contribute please send in your name and location to I appreciate and love every single photo that comes in!!! Though, my poor Kees might not, if I receive it at an early hour and spring out of my bed with joy and disturb his restful sleep….again! Thanks to everybody who have been here watching us! Wishing all of you the best in 2013 and don’t forget to follow your dreams!!!

PS. One of my goals for 2013 was to start up my journaling again. Ever since I stopped which was a shocking 2 years ago, I feel like I’ve lost a piece of my soul.
Feel free to add me if you’re on:
Twitter: @Sihpromatum
And to LIKE my FB if you want =)
My latest interviews and appearances:
An ostrich post on the Global Grazers site, one American family living in Cote d’Ivoire :
Andy at Backpacking Diplomacy :
Aylin “One Young Traveler” :
Real Family Travel Magazine for Ipad:

One of many interview articles I've done.

Robert Schrader at Leave Your Daily Hell :

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Settling down?

Happy new year! Believe it or not this was my first new years day in Vancouver in 8 years. I haven't written lately mostly because I haven't gone anywhere and I'm still waiting to see what the future will bring. It's starting to look more and more like “settling down” which is an evil phrase if I've ever heard one. I've helped out with Savannah's book sales through the fall and it has done better than any of us expected, much like the trip itself. In december we did several Christmas craft fairs and managed to sell many books and do lots of promoting. But I'll leave it to Savannah to talk about all that.

At one of the Christmas fairs in Vancouver.

My knee slowly improves but I won't be doing any snowboarding this winter or anything else terribly strenuous either. I managed to get an MRI faster than most people and the result showed the same as what was initially suspected. PFP but no other damage. So it can be fixed but takes time and rest. It makes me a little stir crazy and having such awesome friends still abroad travelling to all sorts of exotic destinations makes me horribly jealous.
The newest and most exciting thing for me is that back in August, acting on an idea I'd had kicking around in my head for a while, I applied to study air traffic control here in Canada. It's an online application initially and I finally got called in to do some aptitude testing in mid-November (which I passed) and then got through a phone interview in early December. It's an intense application process because you get hired by Nav Canada and trained so it's an all-in-one package application. Anyway, I'm currently waiting for a second, final, interview to see if I'll get put into the candidate pool and selected for any upcoming training courses. If I get in then I guess I'll be sticking around for a while and getting involved in my next major challenge.
In preparation for the medical requirements (actually I failed the eye exam for a truck license after getting my air brakes qualification with mom) I've decided to do Lasik eye surgery instead of getting glasses or contacts. I have never done anything with my eyes before, so figure it's just better overall to jump straight back to good vision “naturally” than to have to deal with eye wear. My surgery date is scheduled for Jan 11th so that is freaking me out. Sky and Savannah have both done it though so that is encouraging.
In November Sky invited the family to the Marine Corps birthday ball so we went out for a fancy dinner with him and the local marine community. They have presentations, honoured guests and fun with the whole thing though there are some very solemn, teary moments as well.

At the MC birthday ball.

In December Jake showed up in Vancouver. He's unofficially come to stay for a while. I hadn't seen him since our split in Singapore 3 years ago so it's great to have him around again too. This is our 4th continent hanging out together. Hopefully he'll be around for a while to ease me into the idea of being in one place longer than I still want to be.
So those are the newest things these days and I'll keep you updated on both the eyes and the atc application and any other interesting future plans or events. Bre and Donavin drove down to Disneyland for New Years Eve and are doing all the amusement parks for his first time. Fun fun...