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.

 

 

 

 

 

Keeping Company With Poldark In America

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It’s the wee hours of cool morning in October as I write this and if the weather follows the direction of the last few days, I shall be peeling off the added layers rather quickly. Such variations in Georgia temperature are no surprise to me and I am looking forward to mild days well into November as is usually the case. I’ve been working and sleeping at my daughter’s house for the last few days. There are always projects to be done and I enjoy doing what I like to call my “gifts of service.”

Evenings are generally quiet when I sleep over at my daughter’s house. By choice she doesn’t have cable TV or internet service so I tend to read or watch something from her DVD library at the end the day. I’m usually knackered from a hard day of clawing back her backyard from the woods that try to reclaim it or picking up the castoffs from the “ Circle of Nine “ as I like to call the tall pine trees that guard the East end at front of her property. Never in my life would I imagine that so many pine cones could fall from a group of trees along with loads of pine straw and broken bit of tree limbs and sticks. This time of the year it’s a challenge to get the grass clear of debris long enough to cut the grass.

Lest you think this post all about gardening and projects, I wanted to talk about how I’ve been keeping company with Poldark in the evenings lately. I sent my daughter the first season for her birthday and had no idea I would be watching it while I was here. John and I are keen Poldark fans having watched the original series from the 70s before Aidan Turner made the character Ross Poldark, his forever, for a new generation of viewers. Based on the Poldark novels by Winston Graham, it follows the lives of the Poldark family and the miners who live in Cornwall during the 18th century.

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While there is much more to Poldark than just the male lead, according to the news media a great many women seem to be quite taken with Aidan Turner’s good looks and moody portrayal of Ross Poldark. While I can appreciate a smoldering look and nice set of abs myself, it is the coast of Cornwall and the wide open sky over Bodmin Moor in the first season of Poldark that has me longing for my Cornish home. Even I am surprised to find myself getting a bit teary watching some of the outdoors scenes set in places that look so familiar, and when I mentioned it to my daughter last night she said, “ You’ve only been away for six days! “

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I didn’t tell her first feeling of homesickness began when I was watching the series after she’d gone to bed on day two of having my feet back on Georgia soil.

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Two days!

While I may not be “ Proper Cornish “ as a native might say, I can see that I’ve put down roots that have grown deeper than I had realized.

Earlier this year, John and I put our home on the market after a trip to Tenby in Wales. John grew up there and has always loved it and wanted to move back. While I enjoy our visits to Tenby, I found it a bit busy for me with its normal population of 5,000 or so. The number rises during tourist season and one would think 5,000 a laughable amount for someone who once lived in the city of Atlanta with its millions of people rushing about. That said, it was on a visit in early March that I told John I thought we should consider a move after having seen a house for sale on a quiet street within walking distance to the harbor.

Tenby harbor is often photographed and is a lovely place to live, but in the end it is not Cornwall and after having our house on the market for three months with a lot of interest including a full price offer from a couple who after a second viewing thankfully decided the narrow lanes from the main highway to our village would be too intimidating, we mutually decided not to sell.

The house I’d admired in Tenby sold within two weeks of viewing it and after that we realized there was a shortage of available homes there that would meet our needs, we then shifted to villages near the sea and on the coast path in Cornwall. Again, the properties available were priced so high and required so much work along with a fair amount of isolation for daily travel that we decided to stay where we are.

Sometimes one only needs to move forward with an idea of “ what if we moved to … “ to realize that the best place is the one you already call home.

John and I both have been rolling stones when it comes to houses, with similar histories of never have lived one in place for long. Before moving to Cornwall, I had never lived in the same house for more than four years. Funny to think that at 47, four years was my max time in one house. John has been in our house for almost twelve years and is quickly reaching a new record himself.

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Deciding to stay where we are was an important decision for us both and represents in a way a next level of combined commitment. While our commitment to each other has only grown stronger since meeting in 2008, our love of different locations such mine for the Isle of Skye and John’s for Tenby has always held a whisper of possibility. Committing to a future solidly grounded in Cornwall and in the village where we live has sense of two trees with separate roots now growing together in the same direction.

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If you’ve not seen Poldark, I would encourage you to lay on your hands on the first season before seeing the second which is available in US as well as in the UK. My photos of Cornwall though they be a good representation cannot show you the wind off the sea or give you a proper sense of the weather changes that happen on Bodmin Moor that make it both welcoming and slightly hostile at the same time.

There is a rugged beauty to the moor and the sea and coast Cornwall that needs to be experienced to fully appreciate. If you cannot see it in person, the Poldark series can give you a better feel for the area we are so fortunate to call home.

Lastly, a note of thanks for all who have welcomed me back to blogging and your kind thoughts about the words and images found here. I’m a bit rusty, but I am sure I will find a pace that works even if it’s not the two postings a week I’d hoped for just yet.

To Normandy And Back – Sgt.Hugh Lee Stephens & Me

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Some blog posts are harder to write than others as my drafts folder would illustrate if you were able to poke around in my unfinished business, but this story is one I’ve wanted to share since last year and as it’s Memorial Day, today seems right.

In 1943 my great-uncle, Hugh Lee Stephens went off to war to fight and die like many others. Thanks to the letters he wrote home and the historical work of others I found online, tracking his journey from his basic training days to a field in France was not as difficult as it could have been.

Once I realized that I could follow his path from the USA to England and across the English Channel to France using the APO addresses on his letters home, I tracked him to a field near Saint-Germain-sur-Sèves where he died.

I am including a link should you wish to do a similar search. The list of APO’s used during 1942-1947 can be found by clicking here.  You can see an example of a different APO numbers in the return addresses on the letters below.

WWII Letters Home

After I found the APO guide, I began to search his letters for information that led me to his unit and confirmed I had the dates were correct that placed him at the battle at Saint-Germain-sur-Sèves .

July 19, 1944 - There are details in this letter about being given time off to get clean clothes and a hot meal that fit with notes I found online about his unit's activity just before the battle of Saint-Germain-sur-Sèves.

July 19, 1944 – There are details in this letter about being given time off to get clean clothes and a hot meal that fit with notes I found online about his unit’s activity just before the battle of Saint-Germain-sur-Sèves.

 

July 21, 1944 - Last letter home of Hugh Lee Stephens

July 21, 1944 – Last letter home of Hugh Lee Stephens

I could go on and on about the history lesson that came from my research and my excitement at learning more about my great-uncle Hugh’s last days, but none of it would be complete without sharing the physical journey that John and I made last fall when we crossed the English channel and made our way across France to Saint-Germain-sur-Sèves.

We knew we had found the right area when we saw this sign. I took a couple of photos of it because it shows what the field looked like when American troops tried to take it from the German soldiers.

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Even though we were very close, we had problems finding the field. it was not as well-marked as we thought it would be and we didn’t see any people at first in the hamlet near the field.

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John and I circled round the area on foot several times and then a man came out of a house to speak to us. We were clearly not the first visitors he had directed and the chance meeting was more special as he explained to John in French that he was there when the Americans lost what they called ” The Island ” because it was a marshy space that was almost surrounded by water due to weather conditions.

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I took the first two photos on the sly as I walked up on John speaking with him so they are a bit wonky.

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The more he talked the more emotional he became as he shared how as a boy he’d watched German soldiers hide under grasses in the fields, in ditches and behind the hedges. He said the Germans were mostly boys by then, a comment which made sense as German forces had been spread thin across the rest of Europe by 1944.

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 He pointed to us in a direction that led to the path to the field.

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There is a small memorial stone at the edge of the field and both an American and French flag.

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Looking out at the peaceful space dotted with hungry cattle and water lilies in a stream that in 1944 helped make the field a slippery mud hole, it was hard to imagine my great-uncle bleeding and dying along side other young men who’d  barely had a chance to live.

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I brought some flowers to leave at the memorial for the men from the 90th Infantry Division, ironic in a way because I had never placed a single flower on my great-uncle’s grave in Georgia.

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As I was taking a moment and thinking some very subdued thoughts about war and death, a cat named Felix sauntered  up to distract me. He was cuddly and playful and relentless in his antics which had me smiling despite the solemn reason for our visit.

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John walked across a bridge and Felix followed part way and sat down. I went past him and down the steps to the other side and he followed me although slowly and in his own time.

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Once Felix was on the other side, he went right to work digging in the dirt like he had something he wanted to show me.  I pushed the dirt around a bit, but didn’t see anything except dirt and rocks and picked up some stones to take back to Georgia when I went back a few weeks ago.

Just before I left, I went to the cemetary in Marietta where Hugh Lee is buried next to his parents, his sister, (my grandmother) my grandfather, and my dad. I carried those stones back so I could lay them on his grave and decided that his mother and my dad should have one too. They were the ones who talked most about him and would have appreciated the significance of our trip to acknowledge his sacrifice.

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 A rock for his grave stone.

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 And two more stones from France rest just above the cross.

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It took me months to get this far and it seems as if it is mostly photographs. I wrote another post about Hugh Lee Stephens that says more about the man and his family life. You can find it by clicking here if you’d like to know a little more.

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

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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

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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.