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.

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.

Warning! Comfy Slippers Can Lead To Public Embarrassment

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I gave my husband a pair of slippers as one of his Christmas gifts. He’d needed a pair for a while and had been walking around in red wellie socks for several months looking like a movie extra in Dr. Zhivago, one of his favorite films.

Finding them was no easy task. He is particular about his feet and while they are not big, he prefers a looser fitting shoe with a bit of extra width. I found Clarks, King Switch slippers in a nearby town and they’ve been perfect.

Too perfect, in fact.

Before I say any more, I want to let you know that I have John’s permission to share this next part.

Lately, John’s been going on walk-about in his slippers. It began one night about a week ago when he set off on foot to meet me and some friends at the pub. He noted privately to me that he was running a bit late as he’d walked half-way there before realizing he was wearing his house slippers. We had a little laugh about it and went on with our evening.

A few days later, John dropped me at my evening spin class and went off to do some shopping. When we got home later that evening, I noticed he was carrying a bag of groceries in one hand and his slippers in the other. On his feet were hiking shoes that he keeps in the back of the car for impromptu coast path walks which confirmed what I knew before I asked, ‘Did you go out in your slippers again?’

He said yes with a slight bit of exasperation and after I had a laugh, I said, ‘You didn’t wear them into the store, did you?’ He said he went into Asda to pick up a few things and went up to their shoe area to see if they had a canvas shoe he’d bought in the past. He’s been looking for his size for some time and when he didn’t see it, he decided to try on a different style to see if it might be a good substitute.

Looking down to take off a shoe to try on one of the new ones, he realized he was still wearing his slippers and said, ‘Oh, bugger!’ Then he remembered that he had just done the grocery shopping at Morrison’s and said, ‘Double bugger’ before hurrying back to the car to change.

I asked him if he saw any of our neighbors while he was out as it’s unusual not to run into someone we know. He said no and that they’d probably gone the other way after seeing him coming down the aisle in his slippers. He said they’d probably thought, ‘Poor old chap’ if they had seen him, although as quickly as he likes to move through the store, I’d say it’s unlikely anyone had a chance to notice his feet.

We had a pretty big laugh over the visual he would have presented shopping in slippers. After that, I wondered what makes Clarks slippers feel so different than his previous ones … I gave them a good going over and after talking with John, decided it must be down to two areas.

It turns out that the solid no slip soles on Clarks slippers along with the firm bit across the top contribute to the solid shoe-like feel.

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Clarks King Switch Slippers – Internet Photo

I told him if they were as comfortable as he said they were, I was going back to the Clarks store to buy a few more to tuck back for when these wear out. He jokingly said he might try them on the TMB the next time we walk it.

That would be an interesting test … 105 miles through the Alps in his slippers. What would people say?

I never forget to exchange my slippers for shoes before leaving the house … I wonder why?

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Since we’re sharing funny stories … what’s your funniest ‘Oops’ moment?

The End Of The Tunnel – Health Care & Me

I thought I should check in to say I’m still here.

For over a week I have been really ill with a ferocious bug of some kind and yesterday, while the topic for many was the American presidential election, my communication with John was tight and short due to stomach pain so severe I actually suggested a trip to the hospital.

After John made a quick call to the doctor’s office, I was able to be seen within about an hour of his speaking with the receptionist. There is a nasty virus going around but my doctor is concerned this might be something more as it has gone on so long.

He’s doing some tests to rule out a few things and until the results come back I’ve been told to rest. Rest suits me and I’m content to not do anything more strenuous than a walk between the sofa, the bathroom, and bed.

Food causes a violent reaction so I’m eating little, but the medicine he prescribed yesterday helped ease my stomach pain.

Towards the end of the office visit, our conversation turned to the election and as you might think, American healthcare.

I think ‘appalling’ was the word he used to describe his thoughts as he talked about a country as large as the US with no basic health care available for all of its citizens and I have to agree.

I was grateful that insurance or money was not something I needed to consider while writhing in pain yesterday morning trying to decide if a trip to A&E (what the ER is called here) was in my future.

I wish that kind of peace of mind for all my friends and family in the US and I hope with President Obama’s re-election, our politicians in Washington can find a way to work together to ensure no one goes without health care.

It’s a scary thing to be ill and not have the resources to do anything about it.

Living in the UK, I’m fortunate that it is no longer a concern for me.

Kitchen Renovation x Three

When my husband John bought our home seven years ago, two years before meeting me, he chose it thinking he would do a bit of renovation and sell it as he had all the houses before. He enjoys remodeling homes and selling them on and has done quite a few since he finished working in television about fifteen years ago.

Built in 1997, it had spent its whole life as a rental before he saw its potential and made the local owner/builder/landlord an offer they both found acceptable. When you live in a house built by someone who still lives in the village who you see in the pub, you may find you are also surrounded by others who had a hand in the building process or who lived in the house before you. I won’t go into it now, but we’ve heard some interesting stories that could fill more than a few pages.

I’ve seen a lot of John’s before and after shots of his renovation work in earlier properties and I appreciate how he is able to see possibilities where someone else might walk away. The first three photographs will give you an idea of what the kitchen looked like when he first bought it. There was a great deal of reddish dark wood throughout the house like you see in the window of the first photo giving it a completely different look than it has now.  (All of the early photographs were taken by John)

I don’t know if this is the original kitchen from 1997, but having always been a rental before John bought it, I can’t imagine anyone investing money to leave behind. I know it’s done all the time in New York city apartments and I’ve known people who have spent $30,000 on a kitchen renovation in a place they did not actually own, but they’d lived in for twenty years or more.

While I never had to live with the linoleum tile pattern on the floor, until recently the brass switch plates that came with the house were still on the walls. I’m glad John agreed that it was time for them to go. The new lighter ones blend so much better and are easier to clean.

You can see the beginnings of the first of three big kitchen changes dating from when he bought it in 2005. Thank goodness he added more ceiling lights too. I can’t imagine working with only one or two lights in the kitchen as this one had.

Here you see the cabinets going in. John bought the cabinet doors from Ikea and built the rest of it from big sheets of furniture board because it was as he said, “less expensive than ready-made and more flexible.”  The countertops are the old ones from 1997 just before John tiled them black like you see in the photo below. He believes in reusing materials when possible.

The second kitchen redo was much smaller, taking place in 2009 when my things arrived from the US. John added more glass fronted cabinets for my china and other glassware along with another solid cabinet on the left side of the window over the sink.

The other side of the room where the table sits is shown during the first renovation in the third photo above. As you can see by the funny bit of wall sticking out in that picture and the one below it, our table placement choices were severely limited and it never felt as if the space was large enough to move comfortable in especially when family and friends joined us.

Here’s a last look before the wall came down. After John built the extension so I might have a room of my own to write, the configuration of the house changed making it unnecessary for the entry door you can see in the photo below. Before building what he jokingly refers to as the East Wing, that door opened into the master bedroom. After the addition of a hallway, my studio space, and two bathrooms, it became possible to take down the corner wall and open up the room a bit more.

The out-dated Artex ceiling went too, along with the door leading from the main hall into the East Wing hallway. Then he pulled up the small bit of dark wood that had been part of the hallway floor and took out the door you see on the right. He fixed the wall afterwards and then put a new door and partial wall in where the hallway begins. The ceiling is dark in this shot because the plaster was still drying.

Here’s how it looked yesterday when I tried to catch a bit of light on a rainy day. I could have used my blogging friend Kerstin’s property photography skills as my pictures don’t do as good a job of giving you an accurate feel for the space. Notice we still have the leather chairs along with four more in the attic. John is okay with them, but I have a different vision in mind and I’ll update you later when we make a change. That lamp in the corner needs a bit of work or replacing. John enjoys a softer evening light so we’re likely to keep something there.

This cool piece is one of two that came out of an old smithy that was attached to another much older home that John owned years before meeting me. Both were stored in the garage and I’d imagined them inside the house from the first time I saw them. Renovating the kitchen created a place for this larger one and the smaller one found a home in the living room.

The little potty was one I used as a child on overnight visits with my great-grandparents who did not have indoor plumbing. I can see a few cobwebs in the slot where it’s sitting. (Note to self: dust more!) This piece was missing a drawer and I put the potty there as a funny reminder of a time when grand houses would have a screen off to the side during dinner parties so guests might relieve themselves without straying far from the table. Given that we are fortunate to have three bathrooms, this will never be necessary if you come for dinner.

John suggested this one might look better painted the color green you see in the kitchen, but that’s not happening! I love the primitive look of it and like seeing the dings and peeling paint from its use in blacksmith’s work space.

John built the new cabinets in the photo above using old materials to create units that were more shallow than the ones there before. He replaced the laminate floors with hardwood and I found a smaller entry rug for the door in the things I brought over in 2009. We think it’s a good match. Everything had a fresh coat of paint and the cooker hood or range hood as I’d call it is one that John found online. It works so much better than the old one making me especially happy when John cooks fish.

You may notice that we have not settled on a decision for the backsplash. John likes it as it is, but we tend to be messy and I think we’ll need at least a sheet of glass or acrylic to cover the green part up to the molding he installed. He also turned an unused space into a cookie sheet storage area by hinging the small wooden strip below the oven and adding a pull.

The lights in these cabinets are actually pale blue, but they’ve turned deep purple in this photo. You can see the new countertops John installed. He did a lot of work on them to help make them less prone to staining.

See the two raised boards he made from leftover counter-top wood … this works well to keep wet products off the wood so it doesn’t stain. You must be more careful with these, but I love the look of them and have not had to work that hard to get used to working with dry ingredients in one part and wet in another.

I moved some of the art that I brought from the US. These pieces had been in other parts of the house and added one (on the left) that I bought during a trip we made to Wales. I think it all came together fairly well.

You may have noticed that the art work on the sides of the window near the sink is in the spot where cabinets used to be. We had considered open shelving there for dishes and stuff, but I’m glad we found another way. I prefer the art and like how the space feels bigger and less cluttered.

John is already on to his next project, working on plans to change to the interior stairs and the entrance to the house. He never stops.

My friend Jean commented the other day on how lucky I was after seeing pictures of some of the renovations we’ve been making and “by we, I mean John.” That little saying about what we are doing has become a bit of humorous phrasing for me, but one meant to playfully acknowledge all the effort he puts into making our home so comfortable and appealing. He does such a nice job and I do feel lucky, but it’s his gentle spirit and kind heart rather than his construction skills that make me feel fortunate to share a life and space with him.

How about you … any projects on your list this summer? Share a link if you have one or leave me a link to your favorite home remodeling blog. I’m more than a little addicted to bloggers who are known for their DIY skills.

Going Grey – Not A Black Or White Issue

Pony Wears Prada

When I got up this morning, I put some water on my face to help me wake up completely as I do each day and noted to myself that for the second day in a row, my hair looked really good. On my way to make the coffee, I mumbled out loud that I’d better call Lisa to get on her books for an appointment knowing that my hair looks its best two days before it begins to scream, “Cut me” to anyone within viewing distance.

Most people I know tend to plan better than I do when it comes to scheduling a haircut. I’ve always been more of a wait and see kind of person when it comes to personal grooming which can sometimes leave me with scraggly looking hair.

This is not to say I never book in advance. I had a stylist when I lived in Atlanta that I think the world of and evidently quite a few other folks do too because you must always book your next appointment when you pay if you want to be sure you can get in to see Pat when it suits you.

I dislike making appointments too far in advance and for about five or six years, I had my hair cut in a barber shop where I could walk in with no appointment and have a seat on the couch until the next chair became available. I’d wait for the one guy whose skills matched what I was looking for and grab his chair when it was my turn. In all the years I had my haircut there, I never saw another woman in the shop unless she was waiting for her son or husband and I used to smile when they looked surprised to see me pop into an open barber’s chair.

Gone are the days when my hair was easy. In my 20s, I had a hairdresser in California who described my natural hair color as soft-golden-brown with red highlights. I used to say that it was California speak for brown with a little red and blonde courtesy of too much time in the sun. My natural color was nice though, and I only played with it twice during my pre-color years both with disastrous results.

Except for those two lapses in judgement, I never colored my hair until my early 40s and only then because I thought my shade had become lacking in oomph. My natural California color had fizzled completely to brown by the time I began coloring my hair myself and I did okay with the color bottle for a while, but after eventually ending up with a shade of orange-red to rival Ronald McDonald’s clownish coiffure, I sought professional help.

By then it was less about brightening and more about covering as my once vibrant color began to turn grey. Some people prefer to say silver and I’d have to say that silver may be a good descriptive fit for many, but I think aside from some interesting silver streaks around my face, the rest of my head is quickly going a bit more salt and pepperish and it’s not a look I’m sure I like at least not yet. I may feel differently about it when I’m older, but I’m not sure I want to give up my fondness for the high/low light system of blending that my hairstylist, Lisa uses to camouflage my changing locks.

I find it amusing now and slightly ironic that after years of struggling to be someone who could see a little grey in what I’d normally think of as a black or white issue, grey is the first thing I see now.

Unable to decide what to do with my hair, I have not colored it since December and while I might still change my mind, I think when I slip into the chair for my next cut I may feel like I often do when it has been a while, indecisive and unsure, and a bit apologetic for the state it’s in … sort of like I imagine the confession booth in church.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying it’s really like church, I mean there’s no “Bless me father … ” involved, but I am aware that I do always say the same thing to my stylist when I first sit in her chair and it begins with the words “It’s been a long time since my last … ”

I know I’m not alone in the color dilemma and I would love to hear your thoughts and where you land on the color spectrum if you’d care to comment.

PS. I have to add that I soon as I saw the image I took the other day of a pony with wild hair, I knew it would be perfect for this post. I think it’s gorgeous and reflects the way I hope to come to see my two toned tresses one day.

 

Unusual Pets & A Pet Store Mixup

Mystic The Owl - Clovelly

Walking into Clovelly from the coast path last week, I was taken by how the woman’s hair in the photo matched the color of the owl’s eyes. When I politely squeezed my way into the conversation, I was moderately surprised to discover that the six-month old Bengal Eagle-Owl was a pet out for a stroll and not a money making opportunity for the woman you see holding it.

She told me she’d bought it from a breeder when it was only 10 days-old and had hand fed it so now it thought of her as its mother. I found it odd to see an owl out in the early afternoon and asked her about it’s sleeping habits. She said it stayed in the bathroom at home and was awake  so she had decided to bring it outside for a bit of air. I never got around to asking her what she fed it, but when I looked it up online, I found that while they eat rodents, instead of swallowing them whole as I’d imagined, they like to tear them up first. I’m pretty sure I would not want to clean up her bathroom after her owl had a meal.

Hearing that she kept it in the bathroom made me think of a pet that I’d when I was 23 because I kept it in the bathroom too when I went to work during the day. Delilah, or Dilly as I called her, was a skunk. I’d bought her at a pet store on impulse without doing any real research on skunks, a decision I quickly came to regret. Although she was cute and fuzzy like a kitten, she soon let me know that she was no pussy cat. Dilly had a wild animal’s temperament despite being fed and housed by me and she had a few habits I did not find amusing.

I’ll admit I thought it was kind of cute at first when she’d stamp her feet at me and back up with her tail in the air trying to use what nature gave her when she needed to run off a predator, but having been de-scented before I bought her, all she could do was a funny looking backward bounce step while looking over her shoulder to gauge the effect. It’s interesting looking back now at the way she knew what to do instinctually and I feel bad that I must have done something to cause her to respond in a protective mode.

Dilly was a terror at redecorating as I quickly discovered when I came home from work one day to discover that she’d torn up huge chunks of the bathroom floor while I was away. It seems she’d found a loose tile and pawed at it until it came up. Once she’d pulled out the first one, the others came up like dominos in reverse as whole rows of tiny ceramics tiles found their freedom. It was a mess!

I accepted this in much the way a new pet owner would the accidents that go with training a new puppy not to chew up the furniture or wee on the carpet, but when Dilly began to bite despite my attempts to discourage her, I decided I’d had enough.

In frustration I called the pet store and after having going back and forth with the owner, we agreed I could give her back so she might be re-homed. I told him that I didn’t want a refund, I just wanted him to take her back. He searched through his list of interested people and found someone who was willing to take her and I drove her back the the pet store where I thought they were expecting her.

Only they weren’t expecting her when I arrived, at least not at the pet store where I left Dilly. There was a teenage boy there who said he didn’t know what I was talking about, but I explained that I had spoken with someone there who said I could bring her in for her new owner to pick up. After a lot of back and forth, he took Dilly and I made a mad dash for the store exit, rushing back to my car in a hurry to get to work.

A few hours later, I received a phone call from the pet store owner asking about Dilly. I said I’d dropped her off like we’d agreed and explained about my interaction with the guy who’d  finally taken her from me.

As it turns out, I had taken her to the wrong pet store. It was an embarrassing mistake especially as the pet store owner had worked to find her a new home. It all got sorted and she finally made it to the right place, but I felt really stupid.

Mystic, the owl looked well cared for and unlike me at the time of my skunk experience, her owner looked mature enough to take on any issues that might come up. I did ask her about longevity and she admitted that with some owls living up to sixty years, you needed to have a backup guardian lined up in case the owner died first.

Sorry for the blurry state of this image, I was a long distance away when I shot it. If you look you can see the empty glove and leather straps used to hold the owl, while Mystic, is tucked under her owner’s arm like a small dog.

In the video link below, you can see two very cute baby Bengal Eagle-Owls. One is moving his head in the same way I saw Mystic move hers. Her owner said that was how they focused their eyes and hearing.

Baby Bengal Eagle-Owls

 What’s your most unusual pet story?