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.

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.

Sweet Indulgence – A Key Lime Pie Birthday In Cornwall

Key Lime Pie In England - John Winchurch

I’ve always been a cake fan when it comes to birthdays, but after last week, I think some of the best birthdays may be those that begin and end with pie. Such was our day last Friday when we had a breakfast of coffee and homemade Key Lime pie for John’s birthday.

Later on we split a slice for a snack and then finished off the rest of the pie after a lovely dinner at the recently revamped St Mabyn Inn which is definitely going to be one of our new go to places in Cornwall.

In between our marathon pie moments we went out for a bit of exercise and managed to visit Trerice, one of our favorite local National Trust properties for a walk and a bite of lunch, (but no pie) as well as a seaside visit in the afternoon to the beach at Bedruthan Steps. 

We took loads of pictures if you want to have look through to see what a warm day in late September looks like in Cornwall.

Trerice, Cornwall UK - Elizabeth Harper

First stop as I mentioned was Trerice, a Elizabethan manor house near Newquay. It’s always gorgeous even in bad weather and I’m never surprised to see something new.

Well, almost never.

Gates at TrericeWhile backing up to get a shot of the house through the gate, I captured one of those unexpected finds I sometimes experience on outings with John. ( See photo below)

John Winchurch - Trerice - Elizabeth Harper

Yep! That’s the birthday boy jumping into my shot. It’s good to remember that playfulness doesn’t end at a certain age.

Trerice- Garden View of House - Elizabeth HarperI am not sure there is anything to say here other than oh, or maybe ah! Except that I think this was the prettiest Trerice has looked and it was a perfect place to begin our day out.

Trerice Front Garden - Elizabeth Harper

Thinking Spot - ELizabeth Harper

 There are benches all around the grounds that call out to you as you walk past … Come on over, rest a while and think about life.

Resting At Trerice - John Winchurch

After lunch I spent some time inside the manor house while John moved quickly through it and on to a bench in the garden to soak up some sunshine. If it’s sunny and I can’t find him this always the kind of place I look. He likes to pause for sunshine break and would tell you that he prefers to get his Vitamin D the natural way.

Bedruthan Steps -Elizabeth Harper

Not long after finding him in the garden we were walking down the path at Bedruthan Steps, a place that will always have special memories for us.

Bedruthan Steps - Elizabeth Harper

Beach at Bedruthan Steps - John Winchurch

P1040197

Elizabeth Harper

John Winchurch - Beach at Bedruthan Steps

Sorry this one is a bit in the shadows. I’m still learning to use my new camera and it was so bright outside I did not notice the image  was too dark. It’s a cute one of John though so I wanted to post it. This was where he was standing when he took the two pictures of me above.

We stepped through an opening in the rocks as the tide was going out to find this little private beach spot. The Cornish coast has loads of lovely places like this with few people.

Steps to Beach at Bedruthan StepsAfter swishing through the water a bit and drying our feet in the sun it was back up the long set of steps.

Bedruthan Steps - ELizabeth Harper

A last look back before heading home and dinner at the St Mabyn Inn.

Key Lime Pie

The ‘ before ‘ shot of pie that was gone in a day. I can’t believe we ate the whole thing.

What’s In The Bag?

Heathrow Airport Arrival 2013

Coming home is particularly sweet after an extended time away.

There’s the obvious happiness of seeing my husband John waiting for me, and the ahhh feeling I get when the plane lands safely and I make it through customs and immigration, but this time has been different and I have been trying to figure out why.

I recently returned from a ten-week stay in the US and have been a bit overwhelmed since my arrival a little over a week ago.

I hear you thinking, What do you mean overwhelmed … how long can it take to unpack your bags and settle back into your routine?

Sometimes, it’s not about the stuff in the bags.

As you can see I am pushing a very full luggage cart and it’s not the first time I have arrived from an international flight looking like a smiling beast of burden. This collection of suitcases is fairly light compared some of my past Heathrow and Gatwick arrivals. Due to decreasing weight allowances, but increasing checked baggage costs, I tend to travel lighter on my trips between what I think of as my two homes.

Except this time.

This time the extra bag I checked carried some favorite product brands I can’t get in the UK along with some new clothes and other things I have needed for a while.

Needed might be questionable, but …

I tend to be a big charity store shopper with Salvation Army, Goodwill, and second-hand shops being my ‘go to’ places. This does not mean I don’t buy new, but when I do I tend stick to the sale section. Thrifty shopping can be just as bad as spending too much on new, a lesson my normally bulging closet would illustrate had its contents not been recently whittled down.

Thursday, John and I took seven huge garbage bags filled with clothing to a local charity shop along with several bags of barely worn shoes and two big boxes of books. I think I struggled more deciding which books to give away than I did with clothes and now after looking at my bookshelves and wardrobe more critically, I have decided to go back through and do another purge.

Remember when I said it’s not always about the stuff earlier …

I have been working on multiple parts of the house since I got home, clearing away clutter and organizing what is left. I have even been in the attic going through boxes and throwing out or giving away things while doing a total overhaul of what is allowed to stay. I’ve emptied a wardrobe and a too-full dresser in the guest room and I’ve reorganized other parts of the house as well even giving away loads of my books that were cluttering John’s study, but what I haven’t done is finish tidying up my studio space.

Studio sounds a bit grand for what I do there, but it is my creative get-away space and where I do most of my writing and photography work. It also doubles as my dressing room and has an en suite bathroom attached to it both of which have been an absolute tip (trash site) since I arrived ten days ago. I left it very tidy when I flew to the US in early July, but with the big clear out over the last week things have fallen into a bit of state.

Looking at it feels overwhelming and I have been finding ways to avoid slogging through what’s left to finish it off.

I decided to take a look at how my need for perfection keeps me from getting more done creatively after reading this post by Nadia Eghbal titled  Why I Wore The Same Outfit Everyday For A Year.  As good writers and bloggers will often do, she got me thinking.

Sure I can clean like I’m still in the Army getting ready for an inspection, or make a time-consuming special something _________ insert what ever suits you here, but be sure it’s something that could use a bit more of this, or a touch of that because that’s what my rarely satisfied self would do with something I make.

I could say I’m only nesting with all this clearing and decluttering, making room for the birth of some semi-new blog or book idea, or even some business daydream that can travel with us when John and I pack up and go and some of that would be true, but I have to wonder if there’s not something bigger underlying my need to restrict and control disorder in my environment to the extent that it distracts me from other parts of my life needing attention.

I’m not going to spend any more time mulling that one over as I do better when I make a decision and move on. With that in mind, I am committing to tossing a few extra things into my partially full give-away bag.

I am willing to begin by dropping in my perfectionist tendencies along with a too tight sweater and a dress that’s really a little young for me. Then there’s that old comparison rag where I tend to judge my work against that of others. Yep, that’s going too.

That will do for me for now, but what about you?

If you’ve got something you want to get rid of, something that’s keeping you stuck or distracting you from your next best thing, feel free to leave it behind in a comment.

Go ahead, I’ll bag it up and dispose of it for you.

Because you know I do like a tidy work space, and I’m already going that way.

Remembering Major Bradley Gene Cuthbert

Captain Bradley Gene Cuthbert (Photo by Elizabeth Harper)

It can be frustrating when you spend several hours searching for someone online and can’t find them. We’re all so used to easy access to information, but what if you spent your whole life searching and wondering.

Major Bradley Gene Cuthbert went missing on November 23 1968 during a flight over North Vietnam. It was his 28th birthday.

When agreements were reached and the POWs came home, Major Cuthbert was not with the survivors. According to information I found online, it seems he was declared dead based on two teeth, a dog-tag, and differing tales from witnesses some as old as 21 years after his plane was shot down.

Two teeth were repatriated and his military file was closed.

His daughter, Shannon Cuthbert Sassen believes he may still be alive somewhere.

I’d like to think we wouldn’t leave a solider behind and that all efforts to find him were exhausted, but 45 years is a long time and it seems unlikely that her father will be returned to her now.

After reading his story and her comment with it, I tried to find her online to give her a copy of the image above. I took the photo of the POW bracelet with her father’s name on it during a trip to Washington D.C. when John and I visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

The long dark wall is a powerful memorial to loss and suffering and like many memorials, people sometimes leave mementos behind. Placed along the wall are personal touchstones left by people connected to someone whose name is etched on the reflective wall of war dead.

A lasting memory from my childhood, the POW bracelet caught my eye placed as it was in front of the wall next to an American flag.

I tried to find Major Cuthbert’s daughter through a variety of search routes before giving up. I hope this post finds its way to her so she will know that her father is not forgotten and that I too, will be thinking of him today.

I’ve written more than a few words about Memorial Day over the last few years and you may be interested in those stories as well.

Bridge Building & Invitations

Newquay

I tend to be pretty competitive, but not with everyone.

When it comes to those close to my heart … I let a lot slide.

In those relationships, love is always more important than winning.

That’s not to say I don’t feel disappointment, I just try not to linger there too long.

I can be a relentless bridge builder when a misunderstanding threatens a relationship.

But it doesn’t always work and it’s no good pushing too hard.

Sometimes all I can do is build a bridge and offer an invitation to the other side.

After that, I let go.

How do you handle disappointment in relationships.