Book Chat. Two newlyweds, a pet alligator, a rooster, 1000 miles, oh, and kismet.

This is not a book review. This is a book chat. What’s the difference? I am not a critic of anyone’s writing unless I am admiring it. Improving my own craft is a big enough job I can tell you. But a book chat? Well, that’s a whole other matter. I love those. So let’s chat about books. Books about travel with a difference.

I have just finished a library book. Bringing Albert Home. I almost never read it. After taking it out on a whim, it sat on my table untouched. Each time I took it back to the library to hand it back, a little voice in my head said “read it first”. I learned to never ignore that voice especially when it comes to books. It has led me down some unlikely choices yet totally spot on for where I was in my life journey at the time.

So, I would renew the book and it would sit on my table until the next renewal date. Some months later I decided to read a few pages before returning it back for the last time. I was hooked and finished it within 3 days. Not one to like alligators, I fell in love with Albert the alligator who ‘smiled’ at those he liked, turned over for belly tickles and made a ‘yeah yeah yeah’ sound when happy. But it wasn’t Albert who kept me reading, or the random rooster that turned up uninvited and accompanied the couple on their adventure.

It was Elsie the young wife of Homer Hickam senior, the father of the author. Elsie is feisty, matter-of-fact, a dreamer. “I always wanted to be a …. insert whatever comes to mind”.

Set in 1930’s America, during the Great Depression, we relish in this story of a most incredible journey. And it starts with an argument between two newlyweds, in a West Virginia coal mining town.

Elsie is made to choose between her husband and her pet alligator since the two of them don’t get on very well. Albert the alligator has just eaten Homer’s trousers, while he was trying to do his business on the toilet. Homer can’t take it anymore, the jealousy between him and Albert has reached crisis point. Albert is coming between Homer and his beautiful new wife.

After three days of pondering her dilemma, much to Homer’s relief, Elsie chooses to keep her husband but on the condition that Albert is returned home to Orlando where he originally came from.

Thus begins the 2 week impeccably planned journey, that turns into a one year adventure filled with robberies, criminals, pirates, ghosts, hurricanes, fighting bad ju-ju, and two young people who are searching for the purpose of life.

In the first chapters, I wondered about the future in their marriage. This couple were so ill matched – Homer , a serious, honest, hard working man, happy with his lot and Elsie a feisty, adventurous romantic daydreamer – trying to do life in a coal mining town, with it’s relentless black dust everywhere, the noise of the coal train and the constant danger of losing a loved one in the mines. As I read on, I started to understand something quite profound. Through the unlikely happenings, Elsie and Homer, began to see that true love and adventure existed within them. They already had everything they needed right there in a small, smelly, dusty coal mining town. They may have disagreed about almost everything but eventually they saw that those differences where what made it work in its own quirky way. They also acknowledged inwardly (according to my own opinion), that they shared the same values. And I believe this is a key aspect for all relationships. Not our differences, not our disagreeing viewpoints, but sharing the same values and principles by which we live.

Photo by Min An from Pexels

Some of my favourite quotes / extracts from the book.

Elsie: “It’s hard to fight a dream.” Homer answered, “and maybe harder to lose one.”

“Elsie always felt her life was like a jigsaw puzzle with no picture on the box to show her how the puzzle pieces should fit together.”

“They also didn’t have any food. There was even the possibility that they were being hunted by the police for being (a) witnesses to a bank robbery (during which he’d stolen a penny, (b) accomplices to the destruction of a sock mill, (c) knowledgeable of the possible murders of more than several unknown persons on a poet’s farm and (d) transporting illegal liquor along the thunder road. The end of his thoughtful sequence arrived at a singular conclusion:they were in a bad fix.”

Photo by Mat Brown from Pexels

For me an even deeper message hit home. Adventure awaits at every turn. We fantasize about crossing great oceans, wrestling pirates (or maybe not), tasting ethnic street food in exotic locations, experiencing thrills in high places and rafting down raging rivers. We can spend a lifetime looking for true love and be discontent with our ‘boring’ lives at home. Multi million pound businesses have been sustained on making peoples’ dreams come true whether through vision board workshops or life coaching sessions. We can seek and search for the thrills, the excitement, the adrenaline rush, the spiritual revelation, the meaning of life when all along it could be right there back where we started, in the place we least expected to find it. In the mundane, the daily grind, the emotional peaks and troughs. Adventure can become a form of escapism. The tougher deal is to find contentment in the small, ordinary things. Those we miss if we blink.

Photo credit Pexels

Our ‘perfect’ life can be staring us in the face right there at home. What we think will make us happy, can be the opposite of where we find contentment. Elsie set off to carry Albert home, but really she was finding herself. Determined that once in Florida she would never return to Coalville, she discovered that her happiness was in the person she was, and that she had a good man by her side even if he wasn’t the Hollywood movie star she daydreamed after. The things that vexed her about him, became the things she appreciated. This incredible, amazing journey, was to be the journey of finding themselves, what they wanted out of life and where that would be. Carrying Albert Home was in fact the journey of finding love in the unlikely places and contentment where they never expected.

Photo by Brigitte Tohm from Pexels

There is one more notable point that struck me. As I reached the end of the book, I started to really wonder if any of the stories were true. Indeed, the author hints that even he can’t be certain. He began to write the book after his parents passed away and during their lives, they never admitted or denied the validity of the stories.

photo credit Pexels

And yet it didn’t matter. In fact, I marveled while chuckling at their genius way of guiding their children through life. Each of the stories in the book, came out during challenging times for the author. Each time, during a conversation with one of his parents, he would hear “did I tell you when we….while carrying Albert home?” Each story would give him courage, hope, determination whether to push through a competitive sports game in school or while on his way to fight in the Vietnam war.

Did Homer and Elsie devise a plan to use throughout their child rearing years while having a lot of fun along the way? Was this their ingenious idea of making their ordinary life a little more extraordinary, exciting, mysterious? I guess we’ll never know but I know that I am exceedingly glad I have read this book. It has certainly brought to focus some of my own meanderings, conviction of my fault finding tendencies and appreciation of all that i have in my every day at times tiresome days. I absolutely recommend it.

Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

Caergwrle. New beginnings living in Hope…

If you told me in 2001, when I moved to the U.K with my Cypriot husband, that one day I would be living in a small Welsh village with a name I can’t pronounce, I wouldn’t have believed it.

And yet, here I am, 18 years later, living in Caergwrle.

There are two sights that warm my heart in a way that nothing else does. The ocean and mountains. Living on the Wirral peninsula for the last 18 years was hugely comforting to me because it meant being near the sea thousands of miles away from my beloved Mediterranean ocean yet somewhat comforting that I was nonetheless near the sea.

But 11 months ago, we found ourselves homeless and living on a friend’s alpaca farm in North Wales. Only us!

This meant living within sight of Moel Famau mountain with views to the valleys and the Welsh sheep grazing below. Wow. I didn’t realise then but it was to begin my new love affair with Wales and to condition me away from my beloved Wirral, preparing me to embrace a new season our lives were about to enter.

Moel Famau view from the moor behind the alpaca farm

My children now aged 16, 11 and 7 didn’t want to leave Wirral.

“We’ll be too far from our friends!” they lamented even though we were just 30 minutes drive away. But to a child it may as well be hours away. The mere frustration of not being able to pop round to their friends, was enough to make them feel we were moving to the other side of the world.

My husband was working as a waiter at a Greek taverna in Birkenhead, Wirral, from 4pm until late and did some self employed coffee barista training work in between. While on the farm and sharing the one car, it meant I had to organise our daily home educating schedules and outings to be back by 3 so that husband could have the car. Then of course we had an old car that guzzled petrol and the long drives were damaging to the bank account.

Living in someone else’s home comes with its own challenges and I learned that smallholding wasn’t my thing despite how much I adore the alpacas, especially little Nugget, the cutest thing I have ever seen. I have highly sensitive hearing so the crowing rooster at the crack of dawn and all through the day, coupled with the quacking ducks was challenging to my (selfish) need for quiet.

The four beauties on the farm. Jasper, Sol, Ozzie and little Nugget at the front.
My 11 year-old son taking Nugget for a walk

The months were rolling by and we couldn’t find a home within our budget. Until one day, a friend asked if we would be interested in her parents’ house as they were moving into a bungalow and would be renting their home. The catch was that the house was in North Wales.

We jumped at the chance though and visited the house as soon as we could. Being the end of Autumn when trees were bare, brown sticks dangling off faded tree trunks and the village looking a bit sad and grey, we didn’t fail to notice that it was also nestled under a mountain which sprawled behind the house, rising high as if thousands of tree soldiers were standing guard over it. I was immediately drawn.

When the owner told me the mountain was called Hope, I knew this was the house for us. I instantly remembered months before, driving to an appointment and passing a road sign pointing to Hope. “I’d love to live in a place called Hope” I thought to myself.

Fate. Meant to be. God’s will…

It led me to an online search to find what Caergwrle means.

Fortress. Wow. A fortress at the foot of Hope mountain. It is meant to be, this is our home. But the children?

The house, last but one at the top of the hill, meant no passing traffic, safety for the children, quiet for me, and with spectacular views. Wonderful.

Our street. Our house is at the top on the right.

We entered in. 4 bedrooms. One for each of the children at last. They had never been able to have their own bedrooms. For them, that was the clincher that overlooked the 30 minutes drive to their friends.

For me the confirmation that this was our home came in a different form. While looking around and eagerly announcing we wanted to rent this house, the owner casually mentioned that he was planning to get rid of a desk that they didn’t need. “You don’t happen to have any use for it?”

I glanced at this ‘desk’ and was instantly moved to tears. The most magnificent old fashioned writing desk stood before me. What the owner didn’t know was that, firstly, I love to write, secondly I had never owned my own desk and thirdly, I had always wanted my own vintage writing desk JUST LIKE THAT ONE.

My writing desk, a gift from the owners of the house, a sign that this was indeed the home for us.

Done deal. But was it?

We agreed to rent this house. Weeks turned to months and frustrations grew as solicitors and red tape kept us longingly dreaming of our new home yet increasingly looking like it was not going to happen.

But just then, at the last minute, in the last week of the deadlines for things to fall into place, just as I was begrudgingly about to apply for another house – in the Wirral – I received that desperately awaited for message.

“The house is yours, we are moving out on Friday, you can move in at the weekend”

Delight doesn’t express how we felt. Within days we were in. It was end of March and by then, Caergwrle was wearing its new season clothes.

Trees covered in fresh caterpillar green foliage, longer days, blue skies with amazing candy-floss cloud formations.

When I open my windows in the morning, I hear birds singing and my lungs draw in the fresh misty dew. I take every opportunity to drink my coffee outside and look at the mountain.

Sitting among the weeds, gazing at my mountain of Hope.

I stand at my bedroom window admiring the castle ruins, imagining life as it would have been hundreds of years ago, the sounds of the blacksmith hammering the iron, the smell in the air from burning wood or coal and all that castle life entails.

Our dog Poppy, adores her walks up to the castle, or Hope mountain and all the others in between.

Castle ruins

My little girl enjoys the local playgrounds, three within walking distance from the house. My middle child, confidently rides his scooter to the local skate park, stopping at the corner shop to buy sweets and chat to the friendly ladies behind the till.

Playground and dog exercise field on the A550, opposite Hope school.
Hope School, on the A550 opposite the park and playground.
The main Mold road, running through the centre of Caergwrle.

On the same row of shops, you’ll find a vet, beautician, optician, carpet shop, sandwich shop, grocer, fish and chips, Chinese take away and more I haven’t discovered yet. The shops are small, with friendly owners and staff smiling as you pass by.

My favourite walk is to Honey’s cafe, a gem I discovered quite by chance on my return from Hope GP practice. Just before the train station, right next to the river, is this little cafe with homemade cakes, scones, food and beverages.

The afternoon tea overlooking the river is a treat to delight in. One day I went with the children and had forgotten they have a limit of £12 in order to use a credit card. I asked the lady if she would like me to leave my kids there while I run to the local shop to get cash out to pay my £5 bill.

“Don’t worry about it, pay me next time” she replied clearly not knowing if I would ever return having never seen me there before!

Afternoon tea at Honey’s cafe

We have been in our new home for a few weeks. Boxes are still stacked hidden behind the sofa. The garden needs weeding. We are not the most green fingered people. We need to buy recycling bins to separate the rubbish.

I make coffee. My favourite Mexican blend that my husband brings home freshly ground from his new job, a coffee roastery and supplier.

Propped up on the stone steps in my garden – we need garden furniture too- I reflect and one by one I count my blessings.

I could look at the last year with ingratitude and pain at the stress of nine months of homelessness, uncertainty, doubts, the feelings of failing our family, the extreme testing of our marriage and subsequent crisis.

View from the bridge on the A550, just before the railway bridge by Caergwrle train station

Or, I could look at this last year as the path that led to our new home and new season in life. In these last months, we have known generosity like never before. What person offers you her home for your family of five while she lives in her caravan so as to accommodate you? What kind of friend sees your need and puts herself out of her own home in order to fill your need not once complaining, not pressurising, not making you feel awkward?

I have known that kind of friend. My family and I have been privileged to know a friend that loves us and cares for us as if we were her own family. I have known the meaning of true unconditional love and friendship. The laying down of one’s life for her friends. Priceless.

The smaller things? Those too.

We were able to buy a newer more comfortable and more economical car. Wow!

My husband got a new job as sales and training manager for an amazing small coffee roastery and it comes with a work car! No more car sharing and he does what he loves. Boom.

We are in a home we love, we have peace. We are safe and happy. Invaluable.

Our home is the one on the left with the brown walls and windows, nestled at the foot of Hope mountain

The railway station minutes form our home takes the boys all the way to Wirral direct so even if I can’t take them, they can go see their friends. Joy.

I can sit in my bed and look at the mountain outside of my window while I write, listening to bird song. A dream.

My daughter has made a new friend and she is the best friend she has ever had. They have become so close they are like sisters. I know these friendships. They are those that last the ages, these two will grow old together, tell stories, reminisce of the endless hours they spent in each other’s homes playing. Bliss. Double bonus, her mum has become a treasured friend to me too. Amazing.

I keep on listing, each blessing, each thing I am grateful for, my heart swelling with content pleasure.

But I am also reminded that none of it would have happened, if I were not willing to step out of the old and into the uncertain new. Change can be a frightening prospect. The what if’s can be debilitating so we stay where we know and feel safe. But we miss the new. We miss all the what if’s and more. We miss the learning and growth that comes in the dark moments.

Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

The testing of my marriage taught me perseverance, forced me to examine myself, my heart, my faults and unrealistic expectations. It taught him that I am strong but fragile at the same time. The crisis took us to places we hadn’t explored before and showed us how much we mean to each other. How we are willing to sacrifice for each other. And that we needed boundaries as much as needed to let go of things that were holding us back.

It took nine months to move into our new home. It takes nine months for a new life to form inside a woman. The end of the pregnancy, uncomfortable, irritating, exhausting, desperate to just get that baby out.

Then the birth, excruciating before the drunken joy of delivery, relief, exaltation, deliriously ecstatic.

Change can be like pregnancy and childbirth. Change brings it all, tests you on all counts and brings out the best and the worse in you. But change brings also transformation.

The last nine months was not a bed of roses but then again a caterpillar does not become a butterfly unless it goes through the pain of transformation into the new.

photo credit – Pexels

About Caergwrle.

Caergwrle is in the county of Flintshire, North Wales. Most famous for it’s castle ruin and stunning country walks. There is plenty to do around Flintshire, from beaches, country parks, castles, manor homes and estates, leisure centres, shopping and even an indoor ice skating rink in Deeside. For more information and to build your itinerary visit the following sites.

https://www.flintshire.gov.uk/en/LeisureAndTourism/Tourism/Home.aspx

http://www.flintshire.org/

https://www.google.com/maps/place/Caergwrle,+Wrexham/@53.1100473,-3.0507153,14z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x487ac434ad3f70e5:0x29430f6ecca3b3!8m2!3d53.110854!4d-3.042487

http://www.parkinthepast.org.uk to learn about an amazing Roman themed park being built on an old quarry.

Photo credit Mihalis Constantinou – except for the photos of Honey’s cafe & where stated otherwise.

Not just any lighthouse. Faros. Pervolia, Larnaca.

Faros lighthouse, near Pervolia, Larnaca.

1998 or thereabouts. I’m sitting on the bench in front of the lighthouse, my legs dangling just above the cliff. My trusted German shepherd dog Leo is sitting by my side. Gazing at the vast ocean in front of me, I wonder at many things. The silent tears betray my broken heart, my searching gaze echoes the questions on my mind, the comfort I feel in this place mirrors the state of my soul.

The view of the ocean from the wooden bench, in front of Faros lighthouse

This time, I am here following a row with my boyfriend. It is one that will lead us to question if it is all over, as he puts it “if the glass is cracked beyond repair”. I ask myself this as I gaze.

I come here every time my heart breaks. It is the place I escape to where I know I can be alone, my solitude allowing for reflection, focus, thoughts to process, emotions to flow through tears.

2019…still gazing…

My relationship with the ocean is one of love, hate, fear and reverence. I fear it because of its might, the power within it, the vastness of undiscovered wonders beneath the untamed fierceness. I hate it because it claimed the life of my father all those years ago when I was just 4. Because of it, I lost my mother as well and then my life took such a sudden turn towards years of inexpressible pain, torment, emptiness, aloneness. Before that, the three of us sojourned the seas in search of adventure.

And yet, I can’t live far from it. Whenever I am hurting I run to it. I crave after Its salty smell and the sting of its wind on my face, the sound of the waves crashing on the shore, seagulls cawing, children laughing as they play.

I don’t know it now, here in my sorrow and confusion, in my bitterness and anger but one day, years from now, I will be back here. 21 years later, I will be back, the boyfriend has become my husband and our three children are the ones playing and laughing on this beach. My trusted dog has long gone and instead, a small rescue poodle – cross, (ironically rescued from a Greek beach some years back), waits for us patiently in England.

Me with my husband and our two younger children while our oldest takes the photo.

And in between? Sigh. I smile. In between…

While this once derelict secluded spot has been undergoing major development, stunning villas with swimming pools being built where I once walked through the wild daisies, a hip cafe perched on the corner waiting for thirsty customers, the land of Pervolia behind me growing into a holiday village complete with a beautiful hotel, I have been undergoing my own development and growing my own little tribe. In between, there has been the aching of land being dug up and formed into holiday lets, while I ached through my own challenges, and rejoiced at my incredible moments.

Fully accessible walkway along the top of Faros beach
villas lining the walkway at the top of Faros beach

Each time I am in Cyprus, I visit Faros, the lighthouse. We age side by side, together. In silence, we gaze at the expanding azure watching as it blends fluid with the lighter blue sky and marvel in awe at the magnificence of it all.

The famous Faros (Lighthouse) Beach of the Larnaka village of Pervolia is a 500-metre strip of fine sands of varying shades of beige, calm, shallow seawaters and ample trees and greenery. It is located just south of Pervolia at Cape Kiti. Facilities on the beach include toilets, showers, changing rooms, sun beds, umbrellas, dustbins, recycling bins and a children’s playground. Lifeguards with lifesaving equipment and first aid services are stationed at the beach from June 15 – September 30, 10:00-18:00. The beach offers disabled access. Various forms of marine life are visible in the deeper waters, including sea bass, sea bream, parrotfish, grey mullet, crabs and octopus. The beach also incorporates a protected seaweed area. There are also various water sports available along the coast and a small volleyball court, as well as food and drink options, making it a good choice for both families and younger crowds. The lighthouse itself is picturesque, and a famous monument of the area. Access is easy by foot, bike, bus or car, with car parking facilities, cycling trails and walking trails. The beach also offers disabled access.   http://larnakaregion.com/page/beaches

Photographs by Mihalis Constantinou.

New beginnings

Every new beginning must start with an action.

This may seem obvious but truly how often have we come up with an idea, made a decision to start something new only to sit on it for months or even years.

Procrastination and false starts have been part of my story.

Today, however, I turn the page and take a step towards another start. This blog. What’s different this time? This time I am being myself. This time, I am taking an even bolder step to write as I do from the heart through stories.

I love stories. And I love to travel. In the last 22 years, I have moved 18 times.

Life is a journey, that is true and my journey has taken place mostly between two places. The Wirral Peninsula in England and Southern Cyprus. Two oceans separate my two homes, a piece of my heart in each, so here, I begin a new way of navigating this journey by inviting you into my world to meet the people and experience the places that hold such a special place in my soul.