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.

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. 

‘All Things Bright And Beautiful’

I heard the church bells this morning, ringing like they do each Sunday.

There’s a group of dedicated folks who show up every Sunday and ring the bells for at least a quarter of an hour. They ring steadily, one after the other occasionally overlapping, tolling in a pattern of order that never seems to change.

At least three of the bell ringers live down the road from us and I know most of them never stay for the church services that follow. Asking why doesn’t seem appropriate even though I’d love to know why they ring the bells so consistently each week and then go home. I wonder if they’ve ever lingered to listen or maybe taken a seat on a pew.

In general, churches in England seem to barely have enough parishioners left to keep the lights on and all these lovely little village churches stand mostly empty during the week and not much better on Sundays. I’ve been to services in our village church a few times and I have to admit I don’t feel a big desire to hurry back.

I prefer to worship in another way.

Cornwall 2013 - Elizabeth Harper

Cornwall 2013 -Elizabeth Harper

Elizabeth Harper

Birdbox Cornwall - Elizabeth Harper

Selling A Dream – Where Are They Now?

Elizabeth Harper 1979

Elizabeth Harper – Woolco Department Store -1979

In 1979, I worked briefly in Woolco department store which was owned by a name you may more easily recognize as Woolworth’s. While my job title was ‘Camera Department Manager’ the only thing I had to manage beyond inventory and sales was the boredom I felt on the job everyday. (See goofing off image above)

Woolco was well into its decline when I landed there as most of its potential customers had moved on to the new malls that offered more excitement than our discounted merchandise and a long-term lay-away plans.

While I did my job well enough to receive an employment offer from a local station (religious broadcasting, as I remember it) for finding some dated equipment that they had not been able locate anywhere else, the biggest deal I closed was with two young men about my age who were passing by the camera counter during a slow day in March of 1979.

After realizing pretty quickly that they were not interested in camera gear, I remember talking about the future and what I wanted to do with my life. At that point, I was secretly considering joining the military. Having graduated early from high school and spent six months studying commercial photography by the time I’d turned 18, I was back at home with my parents while working and trying to decide what to do next.

I probably told them that I had three immediate goals which were,  to see more of the world, save money for school (University) and become independent. I can’t remember what they said or how I convinced them that three years in the army might give them opportunities they could not get by staying where they were, but by the end of our across the glass counter chat, I had talked two strangers into a life changing decision.

A few days later, they met me at the recruitment office and before anyone could say, ‘ I’ve changed my mind,’ we were all in the employ of  our Uncle Sam. I came in at a higher pay grade having earned one stripe for bringing two qualified candidates in with me which fit the requirements for the Buddy program in place at the time.

All this occurred 34 years ago this month and I can’t help but wonder how things turned out for the daring young men who joined the army after talking with me. I guess I was doing a bit of life coaching before it was trendy.

One of the things I like about Facebook and the internet is the ability to see what folks you haven’t heard from in years have done with themselves. I enjoy seeing who they’ve become, what dreams came true, and what new ones are in front of them. I wish I could remember the names of the two young men who enlisted with me so I could see if the leap they took on an afternoon in March was one that helped them live a bigger life than they had imagined possible in 1979.

I know it sounds crazy, but I thought with the internet being what is today and the way we can share information, if you could pass this along to your social network, then perhaps someone who has heard a similar story from a man, describing how a young woman with a dream talked him into a bold adventure at a camera counter on an afternoon in March … maybe I might find out how things turned out for them.

Thank you.