Music, Memory, & “Joy To The World”

Growing up, my world view was severely limited by the life I had with my mother and step-father. In their house, anything normal was considered a privilege which could include everything but breathing, depending on their mood. Television and music fell directly in the privilege column and were both a tightly controlled experience that didn’t happen all that often.

Music was limited to their mostly country collection of artists like Charlie Rich, Tanya Tucker, and Glen Campbell and if I was lucky, they might mix in a little Elvis which fortunately was more vintage 50s than the music of the jumpsuit wearing 70s. It turns out that I like a fair amount of country music artists now, but back then I yearned for something more.

I didn’t know what more might be until I heard Three Dog Night’s “Joy To The World” blasting through a classmate’s transistor radio on the school bus ride home. I know some of you youngsters are likely thinking, “Transistor radio, what year is she even talking about?” I think I was about eleven so it would have been around 1971 and I was hooked from the moment I heard the words, “Jeremiah was a bullfrog.”

I remember some of the kids were practically dancing in their seats and the boy holding the radio was up on his knees encouraging those closest to him. In my mind he is eternally cute and definitely crush worthy, especially to someone who’d been living in what felt like musical wasteland while the rest of the world was listening to more variety.

By 1974, I’d moved to Georgia to live with my dad and step-mom. My father worked with someone who was taking his daughter and one of her friends to a concert and they invited me to join them. When my dad dropped me off at their house, the man he worked with said, ” They’ll be down in a minute, they’ve been listening ‘The White Album’ all afternoon.” I remember it was said in a way that assumed I knew what he was talking about which would have been a reasonable given the concert we going to.

Sadly, I had no idea what he was talking about and at 14, I didn’t even know who The Beatles were. It was November 28, 1974 and George Harrison, Ravi Shankar, and Billy Preston were playing the Omni in Atlanta, a venue that was torn down in 1997. A few things still stand out for me when I think about my first concert and it was the recent death of Ravi Shankar that made me remember George Harrison singing “My Sweet Lord,”and Billy Preston dancing as he sang “Will It Go Round In Circles”

I’ve been to loads of concerts since 1974 and worked backstage at a few of them over the years as well. When I read the news last week about Ravi Shankar’s death, I went back to my studio space and pulled out a box filled with notebooks that hold half-written stories and ideas for more that I might write one day. Tucked into the mix was a program from that first concert.

George Harrison 1974 Ravi Shankar

It’s kind of funny what I’ve held onto over the years and interesting that this souvenir made the cut when I shipped my 200 cubic feet  of remaining stuff to England.

I’d be curious to know the first song you remember and your first concert if you’d like to share it in a comment below.

The High Holiday Cost Of Being An Expat


Living Christmas Tree, Christmas In England, Cornish Christmas

Christmas In Cornwall 2009

Christmas, birthdays, and trips home … when you chose to live in another country, you need to be prepared to spend more money especially when gift giving. I love to shop and make or bake gifts for friends and family back home, but after this Christmas I may need to reconsider my regular way of doing things.

When the cost of mailing your packages adds another $45 to the overall gift cost, it may be time to let Amazon do the work. For instance, I shopped and wrapped the contents of three small packages to send home to the US  yesterday and while there was more value in the boxes than the cost of shipping, after spending so much to mail them I decided that gifts from the UK will need to fly with me from now on rather than traveling by Royal Mail.

Which brings me to flying … I really miss seeing my family especially during the holidays, but it’s a terrible time to fly and costs associated with a trip home include air travel, rental cars, and overnight stays in London. All of this makes a traveling to Atlanta comparable to a beach holiday in Spain. Thankfully, I stay with family and friends both of whom tend to feed me to extremes so I usually spend little for my eating and sleeping arrangements once I’m in Atlanta.

My travel budget also feels the strain of using my checked baggage as an opportunity to bring back my favorite foodstuffs that I can’t get in the UK. Things I’ve mentioned before such as peanut butter, cornmeal, grits, and Nestle’s Chocolate chips. It’s no wonder I need a trolley as they call them here to get my luggage through customs when I arrive.

Fuzzy Video Shot of Me Arriving At Gatwick Airport In 2009

(I never have this much anymore and usually limit myself to one checked bag and two carry on pieces)

Let me add that thanks to a part-time job, I feel very fortunate enjoy a relatively low stress life with the man I love while still having enough creative energy and time to write and a bit of money I can call my own to help with travel and bills related to my house in Atlanta.

So while this moan about money may seem like a real rant, I’m trying to see the mailing cost issues as just an opportunity to get a bit more creative with gift giving without giving it up.

Tips would be appreciated if you’d like to share how you give to family and friends who live far away.

More Than Just Turkey – An American Expat Explains Thanksgiving

Turkey & The Trimmings

Since moving to England, I’ve had to explain a few American holidays with Thanksgiving being one. There seems to be a lot of confusion here about why we celebrate it and what it is exactly.

Most people know about the turkey, but not much more than that.  A young woman asked me the other day if it’s like Christmas for Americans only without the gifts.

Suppressing a laugh, I said there were no presents at Thanksgiving and that like others who celebrate Christmas, we save our gifts for the tree, not the turkey.

I told her about the early settlers and how fortunate the Pilgrims were to be fed by the Native Americans when there wasn’t enough food to go around.

I talked about how it’s a celebration of family by most and a gathering of people who sit down to tables loaded with memories created from family recipes passed down through generations.

I forgot to mention how it’s football and alcohol and a chance to over-indulge in more than just food for some folks.

I didn’t say much about the thanks in Thanksgiving or how we talk about gratitude and blessings, generally sharing some of what we’re grateful for before the first fork is lifted.

I didn’t say how it feels to be so far from my other home on days like these or how we really do exchange gifts in a way although not the kind that can be purchased from a favorite store.

I should have talked about the gifts of memory that are mixed in with the pie and family favorites, and the stories of loved ones long gone who come alive for a moment when we remember them, especially when we join hands with those sitting next to us, bow our heads and give thanks.

Most Americans, with me included, tend to make a big to-do about the turkey and the trimmings, but in the end I think we just want a little more time with those we love and whether it’s in person, or in memory, Thanksgiving forces us to focus on what really matters.

Happy Thanksgiving to friends and family who celebrate this day.

If you have a gift of memory you’d like to share, I’d love to read about it. Please leave a link if you have one on your blog today or tell us a family favorite that comes up each year. 

When Things Are Exactly What They Seem

John and I skipped off to the picturesque village of Knowle for few days for a family celebration about 48 hours after I arrived home last week. I’ve been to Knowle before, but this was the first time I had a chance to explore it on foot with my camera in hand. This darling cottage caught my eye when we arrived the night before and the next morning I made a point to photograph it. I tried to find out more about it with an online search, but found nothing of interest. It looks as if it was one of several known as The Artillery Cottages.

What was most interesting to me was the milk and juice delivery looking as if it was waiting to be taken inside. I showed John my pictures when I got back to his brother’s house and asked if it was real or a prop designed to add to the look of the cottage. I think he found it funny that I could not decide whether if was really there for drinking or to enhance the image.

I remained slightly skeptical until later that morning when John and I went for a walk together and I took the image above. I couldn’t help thinking that in Atlanta this delivery would have likely been snatched for some stranger’s breakfast. As it was, it sat out there for more than a few hours and while it was cooler outside than the cottage cheese creating temperatures of Atlanta, it was warmer than I’d like my dairy products to linger in for long.

Thanks to all who added their thoughts on my post yesterday regarding the riots we’ve had here in the UK. My blogging friend Sarah at Texpatsabroad had a look at the situation from her London-based expat perspective that you might want to take a moment to read. I’m still thinking about what she had to say and the conversations John and I have had around the unrest.

John and I have distinctly different viewpoints being from two countries, but we disagree respectfully which more than I can say for many of the comments I’ve read in some online forums. 

In or Out – The Choice Is Mine

Internet Image - Woman On Spin Bike

I know I haven’t posted a photo of myself since the one I took on July 4, but before you get excited from a quick glance at the photo above, let remind you of what I actually look like because that one is not me. It’s one I pulled off the internet because the model is demonstrating one of the positions I’ve spent a lot of the summer in while on a spin bike at the gym.

The pictures below are me. I took them after my class today and shows you what I meant when I wrote about Spinning for England. They’re not pretty, but who needs pretty when you finish a class feeling strong and fit.

Out Of The Saddle - Where I Like To Stay When Spinning

Elizabeth Harper - Spinning For England (Notice My Shirt)

When I realized back in early June that I might be stuck in the US for a while and after I had eaten my way through three, that’s right, three pints of my favorite Hagen Daz ice cream flavors and three 1/2 gallons of Bryers, (ice cream sales seem to always be based on buying three) I decided that I was going to need an outlet other than sugar and salt combinations to survive my extended stay in Atlanta.

Finding a gym within walking/running distance to my downtown house was important as I didn’t have a car this summer except when my friends, Carla and David, loaned me their cars while away on trips. It’s been a long hot summer with temperatures staying in the mid to high 90s making indoor exercise necessary. I’ve been run/walking to the gym to spin most days (5 to 6 a week) since early June and while it’s only about 1.7 miles away, covering a distance of about 3.4 miles on foot in addition to spinning for an hour has begun to show some results.

I still weigh more than I did when I met John in early 2008 and most people here don’t seem to have noticed the change in my size. It’s not dramatic like someone who loses a noticeable amount, but I can see it and what’s more, I can feel it. I’m down 17 lbs as of this morning and trying to make it 20 before I fly home next week. I won’t be too bothered if I don’t get to 20 as I can tell I’ve lost inches from working out, but it would be nice to make it an even 20 lbs.

Earlier in the year I was moaning about wanting to get fit and how I wanted to wear my shirts tucked in again even though it was not in fashion. From what I can see it’s still not in fashion, but guess what I did last Friday … yep, I wore my shirt tucked in!  Since I’m short-waisted, tucked in has never my best look even when I was thinner, but it felt great to do it and the best part was knowing I had a choice.

Now if I can just remember that bit about choices when I head for home next week, particularly when there’s no spin class down the street and the sausage, egg, and chips, combo calls to me from the pub menu on quiz night.

In or out, fit or fat, yes or no … during my season away in what I alluded to as my ‘Summer of Lost and Found’, one thing I’ve discovered is that moderation in some areas of life makes me happier. I’ve still eaten the foods I enjoy without guilt, but I’ve paid more attention to why I want something and how much I really need to feel full. Combined with exercise this easy approach has been manageable and has not left me feeling deprived in any way.

And look at what has happened to my legs …

Getting Fit At 50

Run On Thoughts And Other Stuff

Since I mention run on thoughts in my title, I thought I might include a wild-eyed self-portrait taken in the wee hours on July 4th just before leaving to run what’s billed as ‘The largest 10K in the world.’ Truth told there has been a distinct lack of picture taking in my life over the last few months along with my barely here online presence so this photo is one of only a few recent ones I can share with you.

Both shortages are atypical behavior for me and as you might expect there are a series of reasons why I’ve neglected my normal routines. I’ve had to develop some new ones that have tested me in ways I would like to have avoided, but provided some unexpected lessons along the way. I guess I might have to begrudgingly add that some of these lessens have turned out to be ‘gifts’ in my continued journey.

I’ll be saying more over the next few days, but I’m short on time and long on errands today. My friend David has gone off to Italy and left me the kind use of his car while he’s away so I’m running around taking care of a list that seems to grow longer rather than shorter even as I cross things off as completed.

David, along with my well-traveled friend Carla, have both saved me from a no-car existence (another chapter in the story) while I’ve been here, graciously offering their cars for me to drive more than a few times while they been away this summer.

I also wanted to thank you for all of your kind comments and support on my last post. I am over the moon to have this long stay in my other ‘home’ coming to an end. It’s funny how a wait of few weeks can feel like it will take forever to get here, but also like it’s too short a time to get all the last-minute little things done before I go. I’ve been in the US since April 22 and will mark about 3.5 months away from John when I board the plane to return.

Before now, seven weeks had been our longest separation occurring in 2008 during our first year together. Thank goodness for the internet and Skype. At least we’ve been able to talk a few times a day and send each other things through email. I can’t imagine if we’d only had regular mail to depend on to stay connected. I wonder how couples do this over and over when forced to due to jobs and other circumstances. Thankfully mine will soon be at an end.

I’ll be back to share more later … I’ve got to run on now and cross a bit more off my list.

Buttercup Madness And Thoughts Of Cornwall

John In The Buttercup Field - Reunion Day May 2008

When my husband John and I began our long distance romance in early 2008, I was slightly obsessed with trying to get back to Cornwall in time to see what we refer to as the buttercup field. Standing in the field during my first trip to meet him that February, I couldn’t wait to see it again after hearing him describe how the green space would be a golden carpet of buttercups by May.

My imagination didn’t prepare me for the sight that greeted me when I made back three months later. As you can see by the photo above it was just as he said it would be, a beautiful field of gold.

Elizabeth Harper - Buttercup Field In Cornwall - May 2008

It pains me to know that I am missing the summer glory of buttercups and wildflowers that take Cornwall even higher on the beauty scale and I know that John is missing being able to share it with me.

He’s been sending me photographs which help a bit, but I feel quite desperate at times to get back to him and to our home life. It looks as if I will be in Atlanta for the summer and while my friends and family are doing much to make my stay more bearable, I find I cannot dwell too much on what’s happening at home in Cornwall when I am so far from it.

John sent me the photograph below that he took recently of the buttercup field and as pretty as it is it’s missing a little something and that something is me!

Photo Of Buttercup Field By John Winchurch - June 2011

John Winchurch & Elizabeth Harper - 2008