Home or Away – Where Are You Going?

Cornish Beach - Image by Elizabeth Harper

When I first met my husband on a UK dating site, my contact name, ‘ Reaching for Skye’ was something John thought was funny since he was living 800 miles away in Cornwall, England. With his second email came this question, ‘ You do know Cornwall is a long way from the Isle of Skye, right? ‘

Living in the US, I had no idea where Cornwall was on a map. I’d loved my past trips to Scotland, but most of what I knew about the UK was limited to London or parts of Scotland. The only beaches I’d seen were those in Scotland and I had never considered there might be coastal paths where you could walk right out to the sea or the fishing ports and villages that make the coast of Cornwall so picturesque.

My lack of geographic direction is still something we laugh about because even after six years of living in southwest England and regular trips that include Scotland and Wales, I get lost. Most of those who follow me at GOTJ know that I take loads of photos of the places we go, but you’d be surprised to know how long it has taken for me to be able to identify a place by sight or how often I confuse them.

I put it down to being lost in the beauty of the location, but John jokes that I’m directionally challenged, a statement that is not new to me nor is he the only person to have suggested it.

That said, a few days ago I received a quiz as part of a marketing campaign for Parkdean Holidays designed to see how well I could identify scenic locations based on photographs of holiday destinations taken in the UK or abroad. I took the short interactive quiz four times getting progressively better each time going from a score of just over 200 to a final score of 522. I know multiple attempts smacks of a high score obsessed perfectionist, but it was actually fun.

The quiz is designed to increase interest in Parkdean Holidays and I’ll admit that I had a look around their website to see where they have sites in the UK.

John handles our camping accommodation reservations so I forwarded it on to him to have a look, but what I really want to know is how well did he do on the ‘Home or Away’ quiz.

Catching Your Death

Angel Gravestone, St Willow  Cornwall, Photo Credit, Elizabeth HarperDuring my teen years I was always being told to put on a coat because like most young people, I almost never wore one when I was going out. No amount of wheedling or the many times I heard, ” You’ll catch your death,”  had any impact and my coatless habit continued into adulthood until six years ago when I moved to England.

Living in a place where the weather can change in minutes and we walk more most days than we drive, I quickly learned that a good coat particularly one that is waterproof is as necessary as a decent pair of wellies when you live in a place where you may get your feet wet even on a dry day.

I know that one doesn’t catch cold from getting caught in the rain, but after our day out with friends I woke up with a sore throat that turned into a nasty head and chest cold. I’d intended to post some photos from our Monday walk on Tuesday, but today is the first day I’ve felt up to it.

The funny thing about getting sick after getting a good drenching is that I was actually wearing a coat.

Even with the rain we had a great time out on our first coast path walk with Cathy and John who live within walking distance of our house. We’ve known them since we met in the village pub on quiz night about five years ago and we finally made a date to do a long walk. Monday was actually a second date as our first choice was rained out. The weather was supposed to be iffy, but having changed the date once we decided to risk it.

After a hearty lunch in Polruan, we felt sufficiently full of carbs to combat the grey sky and the rain that was beginning to sprinkle so we headed briskly out of the village.

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Here’s one of ‘my John’ with Cathy. Notice how John has only the beginnings of a beard … he shaved it off for the bare-faced selfie drive a few weeks ago to raise money for Breast Cancer research.

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Once we walked into Polruan for lunch there was nothing we could do but walk back in the rain. We made the best of it laughing and  joking that Cathy and John would never come back out with us if this was our idea of a good time.

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I asked Cathy’s permission before posting these two photos of her. I thought they were too cute not to so I’m glad she was a good sport. She was not expecting to be slip sliding up and down the coast so her boots were not the best on the muddy path and she had to do a balancing act to get up the hill near Lantic Bay. I like her technique.

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Here we are at the top of a steep and slippery, long hill. Once we reached this point we were only a few fields away from the place where left the car and the relief is showing on our wet faces. John and I don’t usually do long walks in the wind and rain especially along the coast so this was really a first for us. (John said to speak for myself regarding this being a first, but it was a first for us together on the coast path)

The next time we go back with Cathy and John we’ll aim for a sunny day, but only after I shake off this cold and consider a better coat.

How about you … have you done any weather be damned activities lately?

Going Bare To Raise Money For Breast Cancer Awareness & Research

Makeup Free E For Cancer Awareness

When I noticed some of my friends were raising money and awareness for breast cancer research on Facebook this morning by posting makeup free selfies, I had a little moan to my husband about how much I dislike things like this because I feel obligated to participate. Friends link to other friends suggesting they post a selfie too and off it goes spreading faster than a forest fire in a California drought.

Sure enough, it didn’t take long for a link to show up in my inbox with my name on it and you can see the result. I only deliberated about a half second  before snapping my makeup free face and posting it. Grumbling aside, my uncle died from breast cancer and I know some women who were left motherless and who lost sisters and aunts due to breast cancer, so if I can help spread the word and raise a little money with 15 minutes of my time and an easy online donation, I’m going to do it.

I still think it’s kind of silly, but it was fun too and it is for a good cause so if a ‘go bare’ request pops up on your Facebook page, I hope you’ll consider it even if you, like me, have to have a little moan about it first.

It must be working because according to this article over 800,000 donations have been received in the last 24 hours.

I know we are all thinking and talking about the big picture with these little selfies we’re posting, but don’t forget to check your own breasts regularly and talk about breast health with your friends and family.

That goes for the men in your life too.

It’s Alive … Honoring The Gardener

Horse on Village Green In EnglandI have never been much of a gardener although I’ve purchased more than few books over the years on designing, building, and maintaining  an outdoor space, and I can certainly perform the routine maintenance tasks that go with a typical American yards such as grass cutting, hedge trimming, and weed pulling, but living in Cornwall I’ve had a chance to slow down and appreciate the green-thumbed efforts of others like never before.

Not long after I married my husband and moved to his home in England, I met a very interesting man who at the time was in his late 80s. On my way back from a run one day, I noticed him walking slowly at the edge of the village green carrying several small bags looking as if he’d just come from the local shop. I realized as I got closer that he lived in one of the houses on a road nearby and I stopped to chat and to offer a hand with his shopping.

Walking back to his house, he told me how he use to bike around Cornwall in his 40s and his travels took him through our village. It was our good fortune that he moved here after retiring from a career in forestry service because when Dutch elm disease took most of the trees on the green in the 70s, he was part of a group of folks who replanted the trees we now enjoy.

Not long ago his house was sold after his health deteriorated and he could no longer live on his own. His house went to someone who lived locally on the edge of the village who wanted to downsize and be closer to its center. Mr. Thomas had a lovely garden although there was so much there that it was easy to over look much of what made it special. I always loved his huge hydrangea bush and an unusual pine tree that I’ll say more about in another post.

I was never much a fan of the hydrangea until I saw some of the gorgeous full ones that grow here. I think my experience in the US made me think of them as being chronically spindly with big heads.

When I saw that the lady who bought Mr. T’s house was making major changes to the front and back garden, I meant to ask about snagging the hydrangea bush if she didn’t want it. I assumed she might not after seeing it cut back to the ground, but I almost waited to late to ask.

John and I were on our way out one day and saw a truck at the house filled with roots and bits that had been in the front garden. John stopped the car when I shouted and I went around the back of the house where I could see some men using a mini digger to pull up more of the tougher roots.

After explaining my sentimental connection to our former neighbor and his hydrangea bush, I asked if I might go through the roots in the truck bed to see if I could find any parts of the hydrangea and they not only said yes, but they stopped to help me sort through it. After a bit of digging, we found a couple of limbless chunks of root and we took them home hoping we had managed to find some parts of the hydrangea.

John does the gardening and said he’d plant them the next day as he was on his way out, but I got worried and dug a couple of holes while he was away because I too impatient to wait.

I’ve been keeping watch over two root bits in particular of the four I planted a few months ago, and I was over the moon to see new shoots popping out of the two I thought were part of the hydrangea.

Purple Hydrangea Bush, UKIt may not bloom this year, but I hope it won’t be too long before it looks like it did when it was nurtured by Mr Thomas.

Purple Hydrangea Bush, UK

I wonder if any of you, like me, are developing a inclination towards gardening due to sentimentality.

When The Rocky Road Brings You Laughter

Colorado Outward Bound 2003

When my daughter was fifteen we took a mother-daughter trip to Colorado to take part in an Outward Bound wilderness experience with some other parent/child combinations. We quickly made new friends and became part of an impromptu group of cheerleaders as we encouraged each other to take on a variety new experiences such as rock climbing and white water rafting. While I found rock climbing a bit scary, (I hate heights) but now love climbing, the most memorable for me was the camping part of our week together.

By the time we had hiked up the mountain and slept in the woods for a few nights, I was ready for a shower and a real meal. We had some hot food while we were camping, but back then even I didn’t care much for my own cooking so I had to get creative.

Elizabeth Harper, Outward Bound, Camp Cooking

Eleven years later, I can still remember what I tried to put together from memory over an open flame. Those who’ve been reading GOTJ for a while know that I love peanut butter and have a terrible sweet tooth so it should be no surprise that the glob of stuff in the pan in front of me contained most of the ingredients needed for a big peanut butter cookie.

Elizabeth Harper, Backpacking in Colorado with Outward BoundNow here’s where the story gets rocky and no jokes about my camping hair, please!

As we were hiking down the mountain, I may have done a bit of moaning about how heavy my pack was and how it was killing my back, but I remember that backpack feeling like it weighed a ton. Even with a couple of rest stops for wilderness potty breaks and  snacks, I was glad when we finally reached the cabins where we’d started our journey a few days earlier.

I quickly plopped down and began pulling out the contents of my pack so I could give back what had been provided by the Outward Bound crew and set aside what was mine. Imagine the confusion on my face when I discovered a large rock mixed in with my belongings. After seeing my daughter exchange a look with another camper who clearly was in cahoots with my little prankster, I burst out laughing realizing I had been tricked into hauling a big rock down the mountain.

The next day, Miranda and I boarded a plane and headed for home. I snagged our bags at airport and began unpacking my duffel almost as soon as I made it through the door not wanting to wait too long to tackle a week’s worth of dirty clothes. I unzipped the bag and began pulling out my stuff only to find that same rock. I still don’t know how she managed it, but my sneaky teen was able to get the rock into my duffel bag without me noticing and I carried it home to Georgia.

I put it on a bookshelf to save because it made me smile to think of the trouble she’d gone to surprise me and to make me laugh. So when I was shipping my things to the UK, it seemed only right that such a well-traveled chunk of Colorado should make one more journey, this time to Cornwall.

Colorado Rock In UKI know it just looks like a rock to you, but it’s memory of a time when everything seemed a struggle and I’d forgotten how to have fun. That trip marked the beginning of several life changes for me and it was when I began to get my laugh back.

It’s funny how a bit of silliness can do that for you … if you are willing let it.

Things To Know Before You Go – Expat Tips From American In England

The Return

About a week ago I was approached by HiFX who asked me to submit a tip to their new expat tip page. Submitting my tip made me realize that I have loads of quality advice for those thinking about a life abroad, so I thought I would share with you some tips I think everyone should know before living an expat life.

As many of you already know, I met my husband through a UK dating site six years ago and left my country for his. I will admit that despite the sweetness of my life with him, there have been a few challenges over the years most of which have involved money.

So let’s start with a few expat money-saving  ‘ Know before you go ‘ tips.

1) The high and hidden costs of shipping your household goods.

Any move is costly and when your move is one that takes you and the accumulated contents of your home to a distant shore, you already know that it is going to be considerably more expensive than renting a van for an across town move where you pay your friends for their labor with cold pizza and warm beer.

It can be difficult to know what to believe when searching for a shipper to safeguard your household goods. I shipped two, 200 cubic ft containers several years apart after my initial move to the UK and both taught me expensive lessons in what to avoid. My advice is pay close attention to what people are saying in online forums and dig deep to find both the good and bad experiences of others.

Be sure you completely understand certain details such as shipping timelines after your arrival date in your new country because your costs can double if you overlook areas that are easy to miss in online sites particularly, as in my case, with the UK Customs website.

Once found, some sections may be difficult to interpret if you’ve never shipped anything to another country and despite having two container moves with the same shipper, the company I chose never mentioned several issues that were very costly for me.

2) Do not put off your getting a driver’s license in your new country.

I did, and it is a decision that has cost hundreds of pounds and I still don’t have a UK license yet. When I moved here, I was allowed by law to drive for a year on my US license and I did, but I put off getting one in the UK for a variety of reasons most of which had to do with money. I remember being more than a bit shocked by the multiple fees and high cost and because I had so many other expenses that first year, such as multiple visas, shipping fees and a laundry list of other items, I just put it off.

My delay of five years made it necessary to hire a driving instructor to gain time and experience behind the wheel again. I wrote about this a few years ago when my husband discovered the cost of insuring me as a new driver under a provisional license. You can read my tale of woe by clicking on  ‘ What Do You Mean I Can’t Drive Your Car! ‘

3) Staying sane despite banking drama and a loss of financial identity.

When you move to another country you can kiss your financial history goodbye. You have no credit, no work history, and no easily verified qualifications such as your high school diploma or university degree. If you move for love as I did versus being brought over on a work contract, you may struggle to find employment that suits your skills and work experience.

Even volunteering can be difficult due to the expense and time factor in getting the almost aways required police background check. When an organization has a group of people to choose from, even an education degree won’t make you more desirable if your background checks involve contacts in another country.

As for banking and new accounts, go back in your mind to your earliest banking experiences and double the stress involved in setting up even the most basic of checking accounts like those they generally reserve for people too young to have needed one before applying.

All of the above can be disheartening when you are trying to build a new life, but sometimes you find a business that is all help and no hassle and those are the ones who help make the transition easier.

My ‘Know Before You Go’ list has increased during my time as an expat and I am always interested in the experiences and advice of others who’ve left home to create one in another country.

Please share an expat tip you wish you’d known before you made your big move or if you are considering a move abroad, feel free to ask me a question and I will try to help.

A Romantic Story For Valentine’s Day

The Owl And The Pussy Cat (In French)

Written by Edward Lear and translated by Francis Steegmuller

In 1975 my great-aunt, Wylly Folk St John sent me this book in a birthday gift box for my fifteenth birthday. She always sent the best presents, and packages from her were special even when I was uncertain as to why she gave me certain things.

I collected owls or owl themed items when I was growing up and since I did not speak French, this may have been what led her to choose The Owl and the Pussycat translated into French as a gift for me, or perhaps she imagined I might consider taking French in high school. Having a terrible facility for foreign language, I went with Spanish which was said to be easier than French and saved this book  for sentimental reasons even though I could not read it.

When I moved to Cornwall I had loads of books that had to find a new home. This one made the cut because Aunt Wylly had given it to me and it found a home on a bookshelf that my husband John built for me after we married. I displayed it in a way that made the cover visible and it sat there looking pretty next to a little owl that had been a gift from her as well.

A few weeks ago, just before our fifth wedding anniversary, I looked up from my desk and saw it on the shelf and it occurred to me that while I still did not speak enough French to read it, my British born husband did.

John seemed a bit surprised when I brought it in as we were getting ready for bed and asked him to read it to me. I think his exact response was,  “Now ?”

Even though the poem was not new to me it sounded pretty sweet to hear him read it in French, 39 years after opening it on my birthday.

I know most would argue that it was just a bit of coincidence, but I can’t help but wonder what my aunt would think about our love story and how the romantic in me never gave up on finding lasting love.

The Owl And The Pussy Cat (In French)

Today is the sixth anniversary of our meeting face to face having met almost “by accident” online six weeks earlier. I flew to Cornwall in 2008 on Valentine’s Day and when my visit was over two weeks later, we both knew our future was set.

Despite an 18 year age difference that created loads of initial objections from my family and friends, I think we both would agree that the ocean between us, a five-hour time difference, and the limitations imposed on the amount of time immigration would allow me to stay were some of the bigger issues in our early relationship.

Being wooed from across the sea was full of surprises and I can still remember when John quoted these lyrics not long after I had returned to the US from my two-week long Valentine’s Day visit.

How could I not fall madly and deeply in love with a man who said such reassuringly sweet words.

At 17 he falls in love quite madly
with eyes of azure blue,
At 24 he gets it rather badly
with eyes of a different hue.
At 36 you’ll find him flirting sadly
with two or three or more;
When he fancies he is past love,
It is then he meets his last love,
And he loves her as he’s never loved before.

~ Peter Dawson

Please feel free to share your own stories  in a comment or links to a blog post you have a special one for today.

I have told our story in different places on my blog, but I will include a few links for those who might be here for the first time. The highlighted words above will take you to other earlier posts if you wish to know more.

The Gift You Keep

Will You Stay With Me Will You Be My Love

Remembering The Day We Met – Valentine’s Day 2008

Buttercup Madness and Mid – May Diversions