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 Home Swapping 
and why it didn't work for us.
It sounded like such a good idea. We find someone who wants to come to our area of the country and we trade houses for an agreed upon time. If the traders are willing cars may also be included in the trade. It sounded like the perfect way to get to really live in a country and not just visit while staying in American type motels. 

We searched the internet and found many sites which help you find someone to exchange with. Here are a few.
Home Exchange.com
Swap Now
Home for Exchange

It was fun to look through all the possibilities. We joined Home Exchange.com and paid the $50 which gave us a year to use the program. I started searching right away and loved the possibilities. Spain, Italy, Germany, Holland, Sweden, Norway and so on. But finding people who wanted to come to Arizona late in September (I figured it wouldn't be so hot then) was a little more challenging. On the web site at Home Exchange, I did a search for those who wanted to come to Arizona and found what appeared to be a perfect match. Brenda and Peter from England wanted to come to Arizona. We had been to England before, but what the heck. I had always wanted to try living there for a while. We emailed each other to get to know one another and talked about when and worked out the details agreeing on September 12 to October 17 for us. They wanted to come a day or two earlier so they could meet us and we agreed to that. We settled on them coming here on September 10 and leaving October 15. We were so excited but our plans were made so far ahead (almost a year) that it seemed the day would never come.

Meanwhile we met  Mary Ann and Jim, a couple who live here in MountainBrook, who had exchanged 12 times and never had a bad experience. They told of  many wonderful adventures and since she is very organized like me, she shared all that they did in preparation for the exchange. She had made maps of where all the stores are, and left details on how to operate everything in the house. Also in the big loose leaf book that she left for the host couple, she gave ideas on where to go and what to see.  In my mind, I figured the couple we were exchanging with would be doing the same. 

Just before exchange time, I cleaned our home thoroughly (even getting behind things that don't normally get moved) and made ready the big book for our guests. In preparing for our guests, I emptied several drawers in our chest of drawers and also emptied several in our bathroom area. 

We picked Brenda and Peter up on Saturday, September 10th and loved them from the moment we met. They are fun loving, and so very interesting. On Sunday afternoon/evening, we had a party in their honor and invited five couples. We wanted Brenda and Peter to know people here and have someone to call should they have a question. We left for England the next day. 

We were met at the airport in London by a taxi company that Brenda had hired. We were taken right to their house and felt quite at home inside their charming house. We spent a while exploring the home and unpacking. Brenda had left a casserole in the freezer with instructions on cooking it. She also had the neighbor fill up the refrigerator with such things as eggs, milk, bacon so we would have food for breakfast the next day. I went to plug in my computer and our converter plug didn't work. We had come prepared with a converter plug for Europe not the UK. There is a big difference. 

Brenda had left a small loose leaf folder with skimpy directions to the grocery store and town, but the directions were not clear to us. Maps would have helped since we had no idea where we were. Needing to try to find a grocery store and electrical store (for the right converter) we took off the next morning. We had no idea where we were going and we had not met another soul there so we figured we were on our own.

Trying to concentrate on driving on the left side of the road, in a car with the steering wheel on the right side and not knowing where to go was quite the adventure. We found a little shopping area and an electrical store, but they didn't have what we wanted. He did send us further down the road. And the next place sent us further away. Finally we gave up deciding to just go home, but we didn't know where home was because we had ventured off the straight and narrow. Somehow we came upon a sign that pointed to our town and we did make it home exhausted from the trying experience. I used Brenda's computer, went on line and ordered the proper converter plug and had it sent overnight express. That was much easier than shopping.

Brenda's house was tidy and free of dust, but there was old dirt everywhere. For example every pan in her kitchen had burnt on grease from years of cooking. I was uncomfortable using her pans. The floor was sticky and felt dirty from the moment we walked in so one of the first things I did was wash the floor. We settled in though and I made up my mind that I would cook prepared foods rather than try to cook from scratch and we also intended to eat out in the pubs a lot. 

We stayed there about five days before venturing any further than the store. We were gathering nerve to make the trip to Scotland. Finally Ron was comfortable driving and with the help of one neighbor with great map drawing skills we knew exactly how to get to the grocery store and to the little town nearby. We saw no one, talked to no one and felt very lonely. We realized that our first mistake was trading with someone who lived in such an urban area. We were only 25 miles from London and everyone in the community worked and had very busy lives. No one had time for neighbors. And that is the way it would have been in a community just outside of New York for example. I love people and really looked forward to meeting neighbors and feeling like I lived in the community; we should have picked a community in a rural area. 

Our trip to Scotland was fun and that week went by fast. We talked to the people in the B & Bs where we stayed and that filled a void. We saw interesting things and had fun shopping. To see the story and pictures from the first part of our stay in England go to Sept/05.

Back to the house we again kept looking for signs of neighbors to talk to. I waved every time I saw someone, but no one came over to greet us. We kept busy by taking drives here and there and the highlight of our stay was when our neighbors from Arizona came to spend a week with us. With them we went to Cambridge and Lavenham and had good conversations and pub meals. That was a fun week. 

We took walks, drives and really saw a lot of the countryside and that part was fun. When it was time to come home, I was ready. I was anxious to get back to seeing neighbors and friends regularly. We learned that our friends had really wined and dined our guests and showed them a good time. I was jealous and wished that our English couple had been thoughtful enough to do that for us, but again, I reasoned that they are not used to being neighborly so they wouldn't have thought of it. October05

The worst part of our trip was arriving home. My house was dirty. They had spilled a glass of red wine on the carpet and tried to clean it up, but didn't begin to get the stain out. They used the Resolve I had in the cupboard. When that didn't work, they could have called upon our friends to ask what to do. They felt horrible about it and told us of it right away, but I couldn't figure out why she didn't go to greater measures to figure out how to get rid of the stain instead of leaving it for us. Even though the stain was days old by the time I got home, I found a great stain removing recipe on the web (she could have done that, I thought) and the stain was gone in no time. The recipe is: equal parts of Dawn dishwashing liquid and hydrogen peroxide. Dab it on with a sponge, let set a few minutes, then rinse with clear water. My bathrooms were dirty as was my tile floor and the sink and some of my dishes. The oven took the cake though. I was shocked.

My dirty oven (left) and after I used the self cleaning oven (right).

I just had to ask her what she cooked in the oven and wasn't it smoky when she used it. She said that all she used the oven for was cooking "jacket potatoes" (baked potatoes). I find that hard to believe or she must have turned the oven up to 500 and let them explode. She also agreed that yes, she did notice the oven smoking once. So I knew my walls needed washing now too. Lesson learned: stoves and ovens are different in different countries. With her oven she always turned it to the highest setting which was not a good idea in our hot ovens. I should have left better oven baking instructions. That fact that it got dirty is one thing, leaving it for me to clean up was another. To Brenda's defense, she was a career gal and even now has cleaning people clean her house. 

We had a party in our house a few days after we returned home and Ron gave one of the guys a glass for his beer. I heard him say that he didn't need a glass and a little later I noticed the glass sitting on the counter. I was shocked. It looked it had dried Metamucil in it and yet Ron got it out of the cupboard. I know I didn't put it away that way. And just the other day, I got into a utensil drawer that I seldom use and found one of our steak knives in there and it had dried on grease and food on it. I hope that is the last of the dirty things I find. 

I don't know what I could have done differently except I could have changed my attitude. To be a successful home exchanger, I believe you have to be willing to let loose---let the chips fall etc. My friend who exchanged 12 times is picky housekeeper and yet all her experiences were good. When I told her what we found when we came home, she was shocked and immediately said, "You will never exchange again, will you?" 

I wish our experience had been more positive. I mean we had a wonderful time and it was an inexpensive way to visit a country, but my house is special to me and I just can't let someone live in my house now. Yes, it cleaned up okay and nothing was damaged, but I felt violated somehow.

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