Traveling Solo & Dreams Renewed

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What fills the eyes fills the heart – Irish Proverb

Standing on the deck of the QM2 in the wee hours just before dawn, I struggled to hold my body and camera steady in the wind as we sailed past the Statue of Liberty close to completing our transatlantic crossing from Southampton.

I’d slept little the night before and dressed quickly at 3:30 so I might find a place on the deck to document the end of what began as a solo journey with a plan to spend time working on a partially written and carefully outlined book.

Having been only three chapters in for too long, I’d lost my way and hoped the time alone would make it easier to move forward. I was focused and writing not long after the crossing began, but soon got stuck. I’ve been trying to write the story as I originally conceived it or some variation of it for longer than I’d like to admit and little of what I wrote when I first began makes sense to me now.

It’s funny how long we can keep trying to rework an idea that is difficult to connect to because we’ve invested too much time or dreamed of seeing it completed while a project that inspires passion goes wanting. Slogging through something that’s a struggle doesn’t necessarily make for a better writer or it a better book and in my case it seems to have put a strangle hold on my creativity.

That said, I am shelving the fiction book for now and putting my energy into a non-fiction idea that I think has the potential to fill a need and more importantly, is one I am excited to write.

It’s easy to get stuck in a black or white, all or nothing way of thinking, closing doors to new possibilities in work and in the dreams we once had for our lives. Sometimes you don’t even know you’re stuck until you do something you’ve never done before.

My time on the QM2 was a first for me and for a few others at the table where we met each night for a meal. We were a varied group aside from gender as I was the only woman at a table of eight and with an age range from 31 to 92 we had a great deal of variety in both work history and life experience. The conversations we had as we shared parts of our personal stories each night and fun we shared as we crossed the Atlantic inspired me to shift my perspective and make a new plan.

Sailing towards Brooklyn I felt as if I’d been away from land much longer than a week and had a feeling that is difficult to describe as I looked toward the Statue of Liberty and thought about the people had sailed past her on their way to a new life. We had someone at our table who’d made the trip as a boy many years before and I was moved to tears thinking of how he, and all the others who made the journey must have felt.

I booked a cabin on the QM2 on impulse making a reservation as soon as I heard the dates available and with less research than I’d spend on something much more mundane. It was a departure for me as I tend to explore all options when traveling and a leap of faith worth making.

My time aboard the QM2 was an unforgettable trip for me and I loved every minute of it! I made new friends who encouraged me to sing bad karaoke and dance like I haven’t in years and who have now migrated from dinner table # 66 to my Friends section on Facebook.

My advice for those reading this and wondering if such an experience might be for them but who may also be afraid … open your eyes to possibility, you won’t regret 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

The Last Photographs Of My Life … Not Yet

Wales 2013

Multi-Car Accident on A40 in Slebech, Wales ( I took this from inside the ambulance. The blue van in the middle of the road is the one that hit us. She also hit the car to the left, near the sign.)

Four days ago my husband John and I were hit by a woman in a van. It was 2:20 in the afternoon on a Friday in Wales.

The driver was drunk … almost twice the legal limit.

She drove head-on into our lane and only John’s quick reactions saved us from something that could have been very ugly. I don’t know why she made the decision to drink and drive or why she felt it necessary to try to pass a delivery truck on a crowded two-lane road after having had the equivalent of four pints of beer, but she did.

None of the cars were moving slowly although 40 to 45 miles an hour may sound slow to those used to higher speeds on major roads. I imagine the drunk driver was also accelerating when she pulled out from behind the large truck that witnesses said she’d been trying to overtake for a while before reaching us. They said it almost looked as if she had someone else in the car jerking the wheel back several times before she drove into our lane.

I looked up from a book I was reading when I felt John shift suddenly and saw the van coming at us, his quick response moved us to the edge of the road or what they call ‘the verge’ here. She hit the side mirror before striking the back side car near the tire which caused our car to go into a spin. We left the road temporarily while spinning … moving through the grass and mud before going back into the road and coming to rest across both lanes.

Wales 2013

We were traveling in the opposite direction of how the car is facing in this photo.

Wales 2013

The blue van in the middle of the road in the distance is the one that caused the accident. She also hit the car near the sign to left in the photo. You can see the grass we brought with us after spinning through it. The white car was behind us and stopped to help. (That’s our tire jack on the right … it flew out during the spin. We lost a big suspension coil as well)

Knowing there were other cars traveling in both lanes, I expected to feel the impact of more cars even after we stopped moving, but all was still afterwards except for the sound of my own coughing. As the dust from four airbags cleared, I knew I was unharmed, but I had to force myself to look at John because I knew his side of the car had taken the hit.

I was afraid to look for fear of what I might see.

Seeing him unharmed except for a bit of blood on his lip was unbelievable given the wild ride we’d just experienced and before we could say more than, ‘Are you alright,’ we heard a man yelling, ‘ Get out of the car, get out of the car!’ It turns out having four airbags going off at once can give an impression of a car filling with smoke and as we jumped out I didn’t know whether the car was on fire or about to be hit by something larger.

Having my camera in my lap at the time of impact proved useful and I snapped a few photos before a mad adrenalin rush and uncontrollable shaking had me sitting in an ambulance being evaluated. I took a few more photos from a sitting position inside the boxy vehicle which is larger than most American ones.

Wales 2013

My window to the world from inside a Welsh ambulance (enlarge to see the Welsh writing on the wall.)

Wales 2013

After hitting us and the delivery truck she was trying to pass, she hit the wall to the right and scraped the road. Somewhere during her out of control ride, she also hit the white car on the left side of the road too.

My title would suggest these were the last photographs I was referring to, but at then end of our day after being released from the hospital and having arrived by taxi at our B&B for the night, I was going over my photos when I came to those I’d shot less than an hour before the crash occurred.

I told John as I flipped through them that had things not gone as they had, someone else might be looking at the last photographs of my life … my final view.

These are some of those images.

Wales 2013

Wales 2013

I don't usually take photos that include the car, but I liked the cloud's reflection in the hood.

I don’t usually take photos that include the car, but I liked the cloud’s reflection in the hood.

My Last Photo ... Not Yet

My Last Photo … Not Yet

The photo above of the rider-less horse … is the very last one I took before the crash occurred. The rider had dismounted just before I took this shot.

Big big thanks for all of the kind thoughts from our Facebook friends. You heard first about our encounter with the drunk driver and your supportive comments were very much appreciated.

Synchronicity, Dates … And My British Passport

Cornwall 2013

When a day begins with a sunrise this gorgeous it may be reasonable to assume that something special is going to happen.

Five years ago today I sent the email below.

On 2008-01-07 at 04:19:19, reaching4Skye wrote:

John,
I sent a real email to your other email address.
Sorry I dragged my feet a bit.
I hope to hear from you soon.
Best,
Elizabeth 

On January 7th 2008, he was a man I barely knew. We’d only exchanged one email after meeting on a UK dating site. He had a look that caught my eye, and I liked what he had to say in his Guardian Soulmates profile so when an accidental save to favorites action on my part sent him a message saying that I was a fan, he sent me an email that started a correspondence that led to marriage.

20051000- 017You may know this story if you’ve read GOTJ for long, but I want to point out a connection I found interesting in the date of the email above and something that occurred this morning.

After John and I married and I decided that I was going to apply for a British citizenship, I found myself hoping that I’d be approved in 2012 which was the shortest amount of time it could happen. Given that it can take up to six months for approval, I’d hoped my naturalization ceremony might occur around one of our anniversaries. We have a couple in January and February that are important to us. As if happened, I had my ceremony the day before Thanksgiving and after redoing my passport application four times, (don’t ask) I submitted the dreadful form and all the other documentation required for my British passport.

You can probably see where this going, right?

Today is the fifth anniversary of the day I contacted John after ‘dragging my feet’ as I said in my email. I was worried about things that as it turns out, have not mattered at all.

A black car pulled up in front of the house this morning. It looked like a black taxi you’d see in London only without the taxi sign on top and it was totally out of place in our little village. Seeing it through our kitchen window, I wondered for a moment if it might have something special for me.

Why something for me, you ask?

Because I had an identity interview last Thursday satisfying the last step needed to receive my British passport.

And today … look what showed up!  You can call it coincidence, synchronicity, or luck, but I think it’s pretty remarkable.

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That’s right … my British passport arrived exactly five years to the day that I sent John my ‘ foot dragging’ email.

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No laughing at my photo, please. You’re not allowed to smile in them anymore so it’s pretty awful.

Still, I’m pleased as I can be.

And I’m smiling now.

How about you … is there some bit of magic you can’t explain in your life?

Big or small, do share it with me in a comment below.

Safer In the UK – One American Mother’s Perspective On Gun Control

Mountain View Elementary School (Internet Photo)

Mountain View Elementary School (Internet Photo)

Few things were certain for me in my early years, but some things were absolute.

School was my safe place, home was not.

Watching the news yesterday as the reports came in of the murdered children and adults in a Connecticut school, I could not help but flash back to the shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007, where my daughter was a student at the time.

I wonder how the recent mass shootings affect her, but I don’t know because she doesn’t talk about it.

My husband, John and I spend a fair amount of time talking about gun laws in the US and the UK. Having lived in the UK since 2008, our conversations are different from when I first moved to Cornwall. While it’s based more on how I feel here than the statistics John has quoted, it’s difficult to argue with the facts.

John frequently cites the numbers of gun deaths in the US. It used to annoy me, but having lived in a place now where I feel safer because guns are so restricted, I wish I could have the same relaxed attitude when I’m in the US.

I kept a .22 revolver for years in my home in the US. It was an old family pistol that my dad gave me and it made me feel safer. Unlike some of my handgun owning friends, I had weapons training in the military firing M16 semi-automatic rifles, and a M60 machine gun. Additionally, I’d had some experience with handguns as well.

I always recognized how deadly guns could be, but felt the risk necessary to ensure my daughter and I were safe if someone tried to break into our home and cause us harm. My gun was meant for protection at home which is the argument most Americans make when people talk about new laws intent on restricting their ability to own handguns.

Statistics still show that most gun deaths occur in the home with family members killing those they once wished to protect, a reality that makes the protection at home reason more difficult to justify. While the right to bear arms may be protected by the constitution, it has long been one with frequently deadly effects.

Here’s something for gun enthusiasts in the US to consider. The most recent figures I’ve been able to find show 87 people die each day in the US from gun related injuries while in the UK, only 58 die each year. It’s difficult to argue with those kind of numbers.

87 Deaths A Day versus 58 Per YearI feel safer living in the UK. I never ever worry about being held up at gunpoint or shot while shopping at the mall. Church is still a place of sanctuary and while I might get a rude gesture by someone with road rage, I know I won’t get shot. I could go on listing … public transport, movie theaters, and University campuses, but I think you know where I’m going with this.

Britain didn’t wait for as many reasons to push for change … after the Dunblane massacre of sixteen elementary school children, they did what was needed to keep it from happening again.

The Brits I meet are always talking about the US and our need to have so many guns. They tend to make ‘Wild West’ jokes about it, but they’re not really trying to be funny. I think they’re shocked by how much Americans will sacrifice to carry guns, a question I’m beginning to consider now myself.

I’ve chosen to focus on change in this post because I can’t bear to think about any more sadness and loss. This year alone has had more mass shootings than I want to consider and the grief of the families who’ve lost those who were precious to them, breaks my heart.

UK Immigration & My British Citizenship Ceremony – One American’s Experience

Elizabeth Harper Receiving British Citizenship Certificate From Deputy Lord-Lieutenant, Peter Davies

Receiving My British Citizenship Certificate From Deputy Lord-Lieutenant, Peter Davies

A simple way to take measure of a country is to look at how many want in. And how many want out. ~ Tony Blair

Three days ago I joined a group of fifteen immigrants standing in a half circle as we pledged allegiance to our new country. Even though I was fairly giddy with excitement over the ceremony, I was aware of several things. It was obvious at a glance that we were a diverse group, but it was not until I heard each of them read some variation of the words below that I realized how different we all really were.

British Citizenship Ceremony - Elizabeth Harper, (Far Left)

Only six of the sixteen appeared to have English as a first language and it was almost painful to watch as four or five of those becoming British citizens struggled to read the Oath of  Allegiance.

Listening to a few of them mumble words that bore little resemblance to what they were supposed to be, I was astonished that they were there as I thought we’d all had to pass written tests to get to this final step. As I was writing this post I did a bit of research and it looks as if there are times when people may exempt from some parts of the testing process.

Elizabeth Harper, British Citizenship Ceremony

Cadare, is from Jamaica and we had an interesting chat about the misconceptions many folks have about people from both Jamaica and the US.

I wondered as I watched them about the difficulties they might have faced in the country of their birth and thought about the opportunities  they now have in the UK that they may not have had in their respective countries.

My desire to become a British citizen was not a difficult decision as I was allowed to keep my US citizenship, but after seeing the list of countries that do and don’t, I feel sure some of the people who took the oath with me were from countries that don’t allow them to retain their original citizenship when taking on a new one.

I think like many people I tend to take a lot for granted. Basic human rights for one, and a sureness that every American grows up with knowing that hard work and a bit a luck will carry them far. We are a nation of bold believers in our ability to overcome adversity, an idea made easier by the knowledge that there are laws in place to protect us from governments gone mad. I’m not sure the same is true for some of the people I was with on Wednesday.

British Citizenship Ceremony - Cornwall

Elizabeth Harper Receiving A Gift Badge/Pin Made Of Cornish Tin From Cornwall County Council Chairman, Mrs. Pat Harvey

Immigration for some requires closing a door behind them before stepping through the newly opened one of their adopted homeland. I’m grateful to have two doors that open at will for me and feel fortunate that unlike many brave immigrants, I can go home again.

British Citizenship Ceremony - Cornwall

My Interview With Cornwall Council Chairman, Mrs Pat Harvey, ‘ A Day In The Life Of Cornwall Council Chairman.’ Filmed by Cornwall Channel

I was interviewed by Cornwall Council Chairman, Mrs Pat Harvey, for ‘A Day In The Life Of Cornwall Council Chairman.’ It was filmed by Cornwall Channel and will be on FREESAT  found on channel, 401 or SKY on channel 212. It should air this Monday or the next at 9:00 PM.

Cornwall Council ChamberThe ceremony took place in the council chamber. You can see me talking with an American woman in a hat who also became a Brit and my friend,  Armella Jenkins who happened to be in the UK and came down from Devon to share the experience. She’s the woman to my right.

Me standing in the queue with Armella waiting for a coffee and scone after the ceremony. I’m happy and clapping, saying, ‘ Yay! ‘

Most of the photos are video screen grabs from a video John made. Thanks also to Armella Jenkins who took some additional images of the day. I may post an edited video version of the event later if any of you are interested in seeing it.

So ends a long journey that began more than four and a half years ago when I came back to the UK on a fiancé visa. I didn’t know then that I would apply for British citizenship and I’m happy that the only paperwork that remains now is that which is needed for my British passport.

This photo of a Celtic Knotwork lapel pin made from Cornish Tin is like one I received from Cornwall Council to mark the occasion. It’s made by Blue Hills Tin ,which is where I snagged the image.