Category Archives: Ex-Pat Living

UPDATES on the Ad Lib Artisans website

Interesting how quickly time slides away — and we’re a bit shocked to realise that we are leaving the house that Mark has been working on since November in TWO WEEKS!

We’re headed over to the other side of Normandy for another reno — but it also looks like we’ll be leaving France in mid-June to have some adventures in other countries. Sooooo — it was time to update Mark’s online work portfolio with a LOT of pictures.

Gallery 1 has the images from here in Normandy over the last 5 months. And Gallery 2 is full of the pictures from that huge renovation he did on the Mid Century ranch house in Australia in 2014 through mid-2016.

Want a peek? Then go to Ad Lib Artisans to see what I’m talking about. DOZENS of photos showing the range of the work that Mark does.

Mark inside the Calvados house from the 1400s.

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Refresh — Regroup — Relaunch

You may have noticed a significant absence of posts for the last three months — and that’s because Mark has been working away like a busy little bee over in the 1400s house. And I’ve been carefully building a base of clients for my writing and editing business.

We took a much-needed weekend escape at the end of February — over to the far western side of Normandy in beachside Brehal. We didn’t do a lot — ate, slept, read, watched movies, and had a few outings in the icy cold weather. But it was a good break and we came back feeling refreshed.

Mark looking out to sea in Brehal, Normandy, France

Mark looking out to sea in Brehal, Normandy, France

A moules (mussels) farm at the seaside in Normandy, France.

A moules (mussels) farm at the seaside in Normandy, France.

On an afternoon drive along the seacoast, we stumbled upon this medieval chateau ruin from the 14th Century in Regneville sur Mer and had a quick walk around. It’s a tiny but very pretty village facing the sea.

The corner of a 14th Century chateau ruin in the seaside village of Regneville sur Mer, Normandy, France.

The corner of a 14th Century chateau ruin in the seaside village of Regneville sur Mer, Normandy, France.

What was meant to be a short hop back over to England for Mark’s parents’ 40th anniversary party ended up being a two week visit instead. It’s always wonderful to visit with them and see all of the other assorted family and friends, but everyone in the house ended up sick as could be with whatever lurghi was hanging around England at the time and I ended up in A&E getting meds for a chest infection when our local GP couldn’t see me. Aarrgghh!

Margaret & Brian Harmes at 40th Anniversary Party

Margaret & Brian Harmes at 40th Anniversary Party

We arrived back in France exactly 4 weeks after our icy cold visit to the seaside in Brehal — and everything here at the farmhouse in Notre Dame de Fresnay had burst into bloom!

View of the Normandy countryside through the bedroom window in Notre Dame de Fresnay.

View of the Normandy countryside through the bedroom window in Notre Dame de Fresnay.

Daffodils beside the old well.

Daffodils beside the old well.

Down by the duck pond.

Down by the duck pond.

We’re preparing to move on from here in three very compressed weeks. But we’re headed to the OTHER large house belonging to the owners of this house — and we’ll be there for 6 weeks whilst Mark does renovation work on it. I’ll send pictures of that project as it progresses.

The REGROUP and RELAUNCH part of the title refers to us regrouping, going over to England for several weeks at the end of June, and trying to decide if we want to settle down or continue to work and travel for awhile longer. That’s a longer stand-alone post about the turbulent social and political factors at play here in Europe right now, so we’ll save that for another time.

I have to be truthful, it’s one of those things that sneaks up on you a bit as you get older — the mental cushion of a home base. And right now our ‘home base’ is a huge storage unit full of our possessions in England — one we refer to far too often when we reach for something and then realise that it’s in the $%^&£@! storage unit!

In the next couple of months, we will be relaunching ourselves away from here. And I have ALSO just relaunched my personal website — but I’ll leave that for a follow-up post.

Back soonish!

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Sometimes You Stop — Simply Stop

When nothing is working, flowing, creating any joy or satisfaction in your life — sometimes it is necessary to stop — simply stop.

The past few years have been a bit like that and it reached a cymbal-crashing crescendo this year. We knew in our bones that we were never going to settle into Australia, our options seemed to be narrowing instead of expanding no matter how we tried to manifest change, and we finally gave in and realised that we needed to sell our JUST renovated Mid-Century house, downsize, and go back to Europe.

Mid-Century dining

Mid-Century dining

Amidst all of that, my darling husband Mark (and yes, he has given me permission to discuss this) began facing the facts about his chronic depression and anxiety and he began treatment. He hasn’t worked at all this past year and it’s been a real juggling act financially. But I don’t actually care about that because the charming sweetie that I met almost 23 years ago is back — well and truly back. Having the gift of time was a blessing and it brought a clarity that may not have arrived if he had been juggling work and 3+ hours per day of commuting. So hooray and then some!

The lovely house sold in 7 weeks, settled 8 weeks after that, and we had a lot of decisions to make about what to sell or donate or keep and ship overseas. None of that was easy, there were moments of frustration, but at the very last minute everything FLEW out the door — from cars to refrigerator to furniture. Hooray again!

On that last night before the movers arrived at 8 AM to put our now-reduced household items into a 20 foot shipping container, we each slept for 45 minutes at most. We stayed up all night long to make SURE that it was all packed and ready — and there was still an overlap in spite of our best plans.

Once the men had left and the house was clean and ready for the new owners, we took the train from Ballarat down to Melbourne and checked into a pre-booked apartment by the sea in our old neighbourhood — the beachside suburb of St. Kilda. Something told me that we would need a few days of decompression before we got onto a long-haul flight across the world — and that was more accurate than I could have imagined. I was shattered and on the verge of being seriously ill. But we slept and ate and walked in short bursts until I was just about back to normal after 5 days.

Sunday in St. Kilda

Sunday in St. Kilda

On Melbourne Cup Day, we headed for the airport HOURS ahead of time and eventually got onto our 25 hour flight towards London. By the time we arrived, we had been awake for over 40 hours!

Again, I knew that we would be two zombies when we arrived at Heathrow at lunch time on the 2nd of November, so I booked us a hotel nearby and we checked in and slept, slept, slept. The next day we headed to Mark’s parents’ house on the east coast of England. That’s where we are now — still resting, still recovering after 10 days, getting ready to leave here on Sunday.

We’ve slowly and carefully picked a new car, bought insurance, reopened accounts, sorted out the banking, purchased proper winter clothing, and done mundane things whilst being spoiled rotten by Mark’s darling family. We are feeling very blessed.

The new car...

The new car…

We’ve arrived about 5 weeks before Christmas and it is rather cheerful to shop for winter coats and shoes in gaily decorated malls — especially when the temperatures outside do actually feel Christmas-y!

christmasreindeeratroyals

These aren’t new ideas, but when life becomes overwhelming — sometimes you just HAVE to stop.

We HAD to stop fighting the fact that nothing was coming together in Australia and it was no longer a good fit for either of us. We had to stop avoiding the fact that Mark HAD to get himself back to a happy and healthy state with therapy. We HAD to have those necessary hotel breaks in Melbourne and London or these two over-50 (and then some in my own case!) folks would have been in a state of total collapse. We HAD to stop thinking we’d bounce back after 2-3 days here in England and be ‘right as rain’ in no time. Um — no — it’s taking a lot longer nowadays!

You’ll notice that I have hardly posted for the last 3 and 1/2 years compared to the stream of information and photography prior to that. Australia wasn’t our cup of tea on so many levels — and I’ll leave it at that.

I have a book to finish and it might be a few weeks until I get back into the groove of posting a few times a month — but keep watching this spot. There are NEW things on the horizon!

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Being Brave and Bouncing Back

Global turmoil and sudden economic instability are beginning to feel less like out-of-the-blue events and more like a set of ongoing challenges to deal with in perpetuity.

To look specifically at the UK and realise that the ‘architects of destruction’ — Cameron, Gove, Johnson, and Farage — have ALL resigned in the two weeks since they schemed and plotted to unravel the decades old alliance with Europe — who could have even imagined such a thing? No matter who ends up inheriting the reins of power as the successors to BREXIT, they will need to have carefully considered solutions ready to implement without delay.

Enough of politics for now…

After our ‘body-blow and mental angst’ reaction to BREXIT — my husband Mark thought he was prepared to just summon up a stiff upper lip and stay in Australia even if it wasn’t our first choice. But then, after two or three days of feeling shell-shocked by that decision, he told me that he hadn’t realised how badly he was going to feel if Europe was totally off the table as an option. That was an interesting admission from the sort of man who usually just gets on with things without whinging. I’m going to be honest — we were both wandering around in a fog and deeply depressed.

We’ve had a variety of ups and downs and rapid changes in our 22 and 1/2 years together, so it isn’t surprising that we were able to brush ourselves off, infuse ourselves with some bravery, and bounce back. It is clear now that whether or not BREXIT is ever actually enacted — there are going to be several years of transition. And during that transition period, we still have a chance to get back to Europe, get back ‘in the system’ in one country or another, and sink our roots into a part of the world that brings us joy.

I called our previously chosen real estate agent, he came over on Tuesday night and we signed our listing papers, and on Wednesday he brought the staff of his office through on a brief tour so that they knew what the house looked like and what the pertinent features were.

In the weeks ahead, I plan to keep you apprised of our progress as we hopefully sell quickly because the market is simply plummeting right now. Brexit didn’t just knock the stuffings out of the financial markets in the UK — it bounced half way around the world and punched us in the gut, too. The value of our tiny pensions have dipped, the banks are suddenly tightening up the money supply, and according to our real estate agent — the values of houses here in our town are a stunning 16% lower than they were a mere six months ago. The time to go is now — not a few years from now.

Wish us luck — seriously! Good vibes add to the energy of success and we need to summon up as much of that as possible. And where are we heading? First stop — back to our beloved France!

Watching the Tour de France on television in Australia.

Watching the Tour de France on television in Australia.

And perhaps Mark will be watching the Tour de France LIVE again next year instead of on television. He would love that.

Allons-y!

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Softly, Softly — (shhh!!!)

Softly, softly and oh-so-quietly — things are moving in our lives and it’s time to talk about that.

Yes — I am actually back — and hopefully I won’t be disappearing again!

We’ve been living in Ballarat, Victoria, Australia for just over a year and a half — and what a LONG slog that has been. We purchased a 1950 house in rather dire condition to renovate and now we’re almost done. At some point in the future I will do a full post (with pictures!) of just how totally grotty this house was — and what gorgeous work Mark has done to transform it.

So — good — time to relax and enjoy the finished house, eh?

Um — no!

NewTimberDoubleGlazedWindowsInstalled

We’re about to put the house on the market in about 2-ish weeks, hopefully sell rather quickly, and head back to Europe. Yes, we are both aware that Europe is in rather a lot of upheaval since we left — but we’ve come to the firm decision that Australia is just not where we want to spend the rest of our lives.

In preparation for a lot of new and exciting posts about planning the trip back, where we are going, who we are interacting with, how different life is on the other side of the world — all accompanied by gorgeous photography — I have changed the theme and the look of this website (do you like the Mid-Century vibe of the header?)

AND — I’ve made some new links that will lead you to all of the OTHER places where you can find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+, YouTube, and LinkedIn.

Things to accomplish in addition to (deep, DEEP sigh!) sorting, packing, selling furniture and cars, selling the house, donating a huge number of items to charity, booking all of the flights and hotels and making a travel schedule…
1. Finishing the book that I have been writing for the last year.
2. Creating some new e-books about the sort of non-traditional lifestyle that we lead.
3. Learning to make and edit small videos that will share our travels or be instructional.

Those are the plans — and that’s where I’ve been for such a l-o-n-g time away from this site.

Watch this spot — there may be even MORE changes ahead!

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©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life Please respect the words and images on this page.
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A Taxing Situation in France

We still ache for France — we cannot lie about that. And when people here ask us why in the world we returned to Australia, we tell them quite honestly that we were unwilling to throw away any chance of EVER retiring in 20 years simply because the French government wanted 53% of our income in taxes. And so we are back.

The situation is apparently even worse now and we’ve only been gone a few months! This article in The Local from France shares the latest tax rate being imposed on the population — a whopping 56.61%!!! But we had barely finished gasping at that number as I read it aloud to Mark when I added the information about the planned increase in 2014.

How in the name of all that is sensible and reasonable can people survive on less than 44% of their income??? The current French policies are ruining the future of their country. And reading this article today has simply reaffirmed to us that we have made the correct decision for our future.

Yes, we miss our former French life and yes, we might eventually purchase a small house back there for our retirement years, but no, we will most certainly NOT be paying such a huge whopping chunk of our income to President Hollande and his cronies. It’s a personal opinion, but I think the future of France is being washed away as more and more young people leave France as soon as their education is complete and more and more older expats choose to opt for France as their country of residency if and only if they are retired. These trends are sad, chilling, and quite counterproductive for a place that we love so dearly.

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Backlog Of Boxes and A Bit Of Backstory

Would you like to know WHY we moved into a new apartment in Melbourne 3 weeks ago and I am still unpacking? Here’s what I have been up against!

In addition to the delays in getting the internet turned on, we’ve discovered that just keeping this 1950 era house warm is a bit of a challenge. There is no central heating — not all that uncommon in Australia — and the entire first week was spent bundled in a lot of layers since the one and only heating unit had died. Many calls and emails to the agent later, we now have the same sort of flat panel Euro-style convection radiator in the main living area that we had in the last house that we built. Now if we just had double glazed windows and insulation!

We’re living in a very urban environment and it’s a lifestyle choice that we have consciously made. But it also means that we don’t have the luxury of just being able to nip out to the back garden to retrieve some stored item from the shed and we are having to rethink every single thing that we own.

When the movers arrived 3 weeks ago, I blithely told them to just put all of the boxes into the larger of the two bedrooms since that was going to be my office and studio. I planned to use that room as a ‘staging area’ to unpack. The garage was already full of Mark’s tools, so that was my one and only option. AND remember, we had shipped an entire shipping container over to Australia from France. Merde!

After the movers departed, I walked to the room that I had assigned as the ‘staging area’ and realised that I couldn’t even get into it. The boxes were stacked from wall to wall, they were stacked taller than I am in most places, and there was absolutely no place to begin. Here’s a picture that I took as they began filling it past any point of management! By the time they were done, I couldn’t even SEE those windows on the other side of the room.

 

A growing mountain of boxes on moving day when an entire shipping container arrived

A growing mountain of boxes on moving day when an entire shipping container arrived

 

I’ve managed to sort out the kitchen to the 80% organised stage and all of the furniture is in the livingroom and the master bedroom. We’ve even hung some pictures on the wall and I’ve filled the bookshelves. But I have also thinned down, down, down the amount of books we have and the local charities are getting a huge donation. Thank heavens we brought every single one of the Billy bookcases from France that we had purchased at IKEA in Toulouse. Who knew they’d come in so handy immediately to just wrangle the stacks of books into a manageable amount. You’ll note that even the smaller bookshelves were put to use as a kitchen overflow area to handle expresso cups from Rome, huge pottery bowls from Cley in Norfolk, UK, pictures of my two adult children, cookbooks, and our Wallace and Grommit clock looks down on us each day.

 

Bookcase chock full of books.

Bookcase chock full of books.

 

Even the small bookcases take the overflow.

Even the small bookcases take the overflow.

 

Part of our issue with sorting things out was that we hadn’t even SEEN some of the things that were in those boxes for many, MANY years. Before they were shipped to France, they were stored in a storage unit in Ballarat, prior to that they were sprinkled between the house and several buildings out on our rural property in Central Victoria Australia, and before that they were packed up in Melbourne as we prepared to move to the country and build a house. I had to do a bit of mental backtracking, but I discovered that some of those items had been completely unseen for between eight to nine years. If all of those things were not incorporated into our day to day lives, they were invisible. Frankly, we’d BOTH forgotten how much we actually owned and in spite of all of those pre-Europe garage sales and donations, we now find that we still have a LOT of stuff.

Here is my current thinking on the subject…

Do I still place elaborate book plates inside my books nowadays where I write my name??? No.
Do I still place wax seals on the envelope flap when I write a letter??? No.
Do I still need multiple sets of flatware or silver trays for ‘entertaining’ when I don’t live like that any more and am more likely to entertain in a restaurant than our own residence??? No.
Do I still need to keep dozens and dozens of books on the topics of religious studies and spiritual studies and contemporary social issues since I purchased them 20 years ago when I was doing my graduate work, they are no longer current, and they use up a lot of bookshelves??? No.

I’m exhausted by the need to open every single box and touch every single item. But it’s also liberating even when it is fatiguing. I am paring down, down, down, but there are some sentimental items from my late mother that will go back into storage. And since I’ve been a photographer and journalist on and off for all of my adult life, can you even BEGIN to imagine how many folders and binders full of slides and negatives I have from the pre-digital days! Then there are the decades of hand-written journals. All of that needs to be checked and then archived.

Being truly honest, I had a mini-meltdown today when I couldn’t even turn around in that office in spite of unpacking for all of these weeks. I was awash in empty boxes, wrapping paper, and heavy duty shipping bubble wrap. I needed all of that to disappear and I need the shelves to go UP in that room and the cabinets to be brought upstairs so that the stacks and stacks of STUFF on every single surface can be placed in some kind of organisational flow. Aarrgghh!

Here’s where I am this morning. And LOOK! There IS a large and lovely window back there!

 

An office PARTLY cleared of boxes and previously stored items

An office PARTLY cleared of boxes and previously stored items

 

It’s the ‘how do you eat an elephant’ theory I suppose. One small nibble at a time.

I haven’t disappeared (although it feels like it some days!), but I am very, very preoccupied with purging and nesting right now. (sigh!) I have so many stories and photos and adventures to share — but I’ll get to them when I get to them. I know you’ll understand that after all these years of semi-gypsy-and-never-really-settled lifestyle, this is a VERY necessary stage of sorting out.

Bye for now!

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©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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