Monthly Archives: December 2011

Happy New Year Wherever You Are!

Drink from the Well of Life, the Well Of Pity, the Well Of Comfort, and two other wells that are no longer visible in the worn away engraving at the top. Drink Ye All Of It — grab onto life, embrace it, ingest it, and never forget to feel alive on each and every day that you are here.

Auld Lang Syne is the traditional song heard in many places around the world and reminds us to not forget old friends — no matter how far flung they might be. This tombstone in the Dean Cemetery in Edinburgh, Scotland goes hand in hand with the sentiments in the song and prompts us to immerse ourselves in life and good companionship.

Inscription "Drink Ye All Of It" on Tombstone in Edinburgh, Scotland

On this final day of 2011, may all of my readers have the happiest and safest of New Year celebrations.

See you in 2012!

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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Photo Of The Day: Former Russian Soldiers Making A Living

Peruvian pan pipe music wafting through an open air mall in Australia or Europe? Classical music being played by soloists in the subways, tubes, and metros worldwide? Flamenco guitarists or Celtic musicians at weekend markets? Jazz musicians in New Orleans or Chicago? We’ve seen them all in various places around the globe.

But we had not expected to see former soldiers from the USSR making a living by busking — singing for donations — and selling their self-recorded music cds of Russian military and folk music. That truly was a first!

The picture below is of those singers in the huge plaza in front of the Frauenkirche Cathedral in Dresden, Germany. It was interesting and yes, I tossed a few euro into their hat since I was taking photos. But I don’t think it was a set of music I would have wanted to take home.

Former Russian Military Singers Busking in Dresden, Germany


©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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WordPress and Bluehost Nightmares

Honestly, just when you think it’s fine to feel safe and comfortable about how well your website has been running, along comes a series of updates that causes utter chaos.

This post may or may not even show up online. I had a really long and thoughtful post that never appeared and has gone into cyberspace limbo. And the techie folks at both sites are less than helpful right now.

Fingers crossed that I might get an answer before they all go on holiday this weekend!

And might I just add —- aaarrrggghhh!!!

UPDATE (at 5 AM!)
Whatever wee ghostie-in-the-machine-thingies were at play tonight — all night — the posts have finally appeared after a SIX hour delay. Not sure how ‘grateful’ I am for those kinds of delays. (sigh!) Ah well — it’s resolved one way or the other.

The Gratitude List

We are a mere few days from the end of the year, and it feels like an appropriate time to revisit some life improvement ideas that I used to share with people on a much more regular basis. This is a departure from my normal travel writing, so I hope that my readers will bear with me as I digress a bit.

In a previous chapter of my life, I gave monthly talks that, amongst other things, embraced concepts of transformation and empowerment. I would say to my audience, “Why would the Universe want to grant you all of those wishes, dreams, and gifts that you have come to expect if you forget to do something as simple as remembering to say thank you for those things? If you aren’t displaying any gratitude for what you have already received, why should the Universe continue to provide? It’s a reciprocal process!”

I have recently been tweeting this very thing to my readers on Twitter at @deborahharmes — and my online friend in London, the astrologer Shelley Von Strunckel, has been spreading the word to her readers as well after I mentioned Gratitude Lists to her.

When I was a practicing therapist, list-writing was one of the many ‘focusing tools’ that I used to employ with my clients. I saw major transformations occur in people’s lives when they began to implement this tool. The act of writing down goals or dreams caused a shift in their consciousness which put the inactive gears of their ‘manifestation engine’ into a state of movement. And when those people were open-minded and open-hearted, an even faster transformation occurred.

I have long held a bit of wrinkle-nosed disregard for the tradition of writing down New Year’s resolutions. This is a personal opinion, but I believe that it sets you up for failure and disappointment because those lists are regarded as a ‘must do’ thing that is not necessarily created with the right set of motivational factors. In many cases, there is social, familial, or peer pressure to write down what someone ELSE wants you to be or do in the coming year.

A far more gentle method of transformation is a Gratitude List. The very act of saying thank you in written form sets up a dialogue with the Universe that is softer and more authentic. In an act of self-reflection that doesn’t necessarily need to take a very long period of time, you release the need to create an artificial set of expectations/resolutions. Instead, you quietly, softly, purposefully write down a list of the things that you are thankful for.

This may seem silly or simplistic to some people, but trust me, it does improve your life. It removes or reduces the competitive edginess of resolutions, moves you beyond the negativity of complaining, and allows you to open your heart and mind to even more goodness and more blessings. In a very personal choice, I create these gratitude lists more frequently and keep the spirit of joyfulness more alive and fresh by this method.

Every month on the New Moon, I quietly sit for a few minutes and make a short list of the things that I am grateful for which have happened during the last 30 or 31 days. My husband does the same thing and then we read them aloud to one another. We repeat this in a slightly longer version at the end of the year as we sum up the events of the previous 12 months. And what I have noticed is that these episodes of list-making help to keep our attention tuned to the many types of goodness that flow into our lives from all sorts of sources.

In my own life, I am grateful for more than 12 months of travel and the amazing variety of people we have met in various countries, wonderful new career opportunities, the excellent medical care that I have received in 3 different countries that allowed potentially scary medical problems to be diffused rather quickly, the blessing (scary though it may have been at the time!) of being on-the-spot not once but twice when a fire in someone’s home could have turned into a life-altering disaster, and many other events and items that are personal and private. Your own list will reflect your own ideas of what was important along the way.

As we prepare to close out the year 2011, perhaps Gratitude Lists are an idea that you can embrace — an idea which will assist you in your own personal transformation.

Many blessings to all of you in the year ahead!

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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Petite Post About Pretty Presentation

I only asked for a hamburger — a cheeseburger to be more specific. But then Mark swished me out of the kitchen and told me not to peek as I walked by about 15 minutes later.

The man loves to cook and thank heavens for that since I’m a bit ‘over it’ most of the time. And he really prides himself on presentation — making the food look as good as it tastes. And yes, it was SO yummy!

Gourmet Cheeseburger, Salad, and Chutney

What you are looking at is a rather deluxe cheeseburger with caramelized onion, spices, an egg, and small pieces of cheese inside the meat mixture and it was lovingly placed atop a potato birds nest — grated potato cooked quite crisply.

Alongside you see a tomato and cucumber salad and a dollop of the chutney that we made a few weeks ago.

Gourmet Cheeseburger, Salad, and Chutney

May I just add that it was completely mouth watering gourmet concoction. Yes, I am a very lucky woman!

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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Last Minute Christmas Groceries in France

Having recovered our equilibrium after the fire two days ago, we ventured out today to do some last minute grocery shopping in St. Lo. As we approached the InterMarche, I told Mark that the parking lot was completely full. But we managed to get a spot quite quickly and in we went.

Busy shoppers at supermarket two days before Christmas in St. Lo, Normandy, France


Last minute gift shopping two days before Christmas in St. Lo, Normandy, France

The large store was bustling with purposeful activity as people purchased last minute gifts and groceries. But everyone lined up cheerfully and there was no sense of anxiety or aggravation as everyone waited politely to be served in turn. The wine aisles, meat and seafood counters, and the cheese counters were the busiest areas followed closely behind by the fresh fruit and vegetables. Quietly and competently, the French staff waited on customers, filled orders, found specific gift items, and checked out the purchases.

Last minute food shopping 2 days before Christmas in St. Lo, Normandy, France

As we left the store and drove away into the icy-cold rain and darkness, we both remarked about how calm everyone had been inside the store. It was a marked and charming contrast to the frenzied atmosphere we had felt in Great Britain, Australia, and the USA when we both dreaded it if we ever had to do any last minute shopping. We used to cringe about the fact that people routinely shopped during the week before any holiday as if they were stocking up for an invasion and the stores might never be open again. It was simply mad!

Here’s hoping that all of my readers have a happy and healthy holiday season. Blessings to all of you!

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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Fire In The Night In France

Les Pompiers arrived before midnight — 3 large firetrucks and 2 smaller vans — with approximately 18-24 firemen and 2 gendarmes. Such a frightening event on the night of Solstice and it could have had an even more devastating results. Thank heavens for their prompt response.

Firemen on the job in Moyon, France

We are in Normandy right now staying in one of the two stone gites (cottages) that the owner Polly has created out of old stone barns on the property. Polly and her two young daughters are across the Channel in England and we have been looking after her 2 dogs, 3 cats, and the cluster of buildings.

Shortly after 11:30 PM last night, we went upstairs to bed and Mark was already deeply asleep as I slid under the duvet. But something was wrong. I had gone to bed feeling quite uneasy after thinking I heard someone crunching around on the gravel outside. I realise now that what I had heard was the crackling as the fire took hold. And I can just about pinpoint when the fire really gained momentum because a few minutes after 11 PM, the wifi went off here in our gite. The power stayed on in the gites and the barn next door because we are on a separate power box, but the wifi was being broadcast from the big house.

I was just about to put my earplugs in and go to sleep when something made me hesitate. I held my breath and listened intently and within a minute I heard several loud booms. I shook Mark again and again quite briskly to rouse him from that deep slumber and told him that I thought someone was breaking into the gite next door. He listened as we both heard another loud boom and his feet hit the floor, he quickly slipped into his clothes, and I told him to be very, very careful. I put my robe and slippers on and was part of the way down the stairs when he came storming back through the door screaming, “The big house is on fire!”

I raced out after him into the pitch black night and as soon as I came around the corner of the large stone house, I could see an eerie orange glow lighting up the night. I stood there in the dark sobbing angrily because my British-based mobile phone wouldn’t go through to the fire department as Mark ran across the field to the farmer’s house on the next property, pounded on the door, and somehow communicated to the couple that the house was on fire and they needed to call the fire department. The wife understood what he was saying because, blessedly, she spoke a tiny bit of English.

As Mark was cutting back across the fields between the properties, he stumbled into an electrical fence and got a strong jolt. So he is dreadfully sore and aching today. And I abruptly stopped crying, ran back into the gite and upstairs, threw on some clothes, and began packing our rather large quantity of cameras, electronics and clothing in case the fire jumped the roof and our gite became engulfed in flames. Then we both went outside and stood with the neighbours, waiting for what seemed like a very long time before the first response crew arrived, and then watching the blue lights coming down the road, the courtyard fill with large red trucks, and men begin unfolding water hoses and spraying the house with soap saturated water.

Firemen tearing out the burning roof rafters


Firemen cutting out roof rafters with chainsaw whilst dousing roof with water

The wonderful farmer and his wife from next door bundled up in warm jackets and brought over coffee, plastic cups, and cubes of sugar to serve the firemen. We went into the gite, figured out how to use the drip coffeemaker since we normally use a stove-top Italian coffee maker for our own daily use, and we took a second pot of coffee and a bottle of milk outside for top-ups for les pompiers.

Neighbours with coffee for the firemen

It was almost 3 in the morning before the wonderfully efficient firemen finished their last walk through of the house, rolled up their hoses, and went home to their own warm beds. We are so grateful for their prompt response and their thoroughness in staying until every last place, both upstairs and downstairs and inside and outside, had been checked and rechecked. Mark asked if they were all volunteers and the farmer’s wife said yes — they were. How astonishing to see such a large turnout on that winter night from men who gave freely of their time and effort because they felt compelled to give back to their own community.

Exhausted firemen rolling up the hoses just before 3 AM

Here are shots of the damage that I took a couple of hours ago. We have heard from the firemen that the fire was within inches — INCHES — of entering the main house. It’s a huge place with lots of very flammable timber beams and it would have raced through there at lightening speed.

Burned out storeroom and collapsed roofline


The gutted storeroom & garage directly attached to the house

We are feeling quite shaky today, rather fragile to be truthful, but oh so grateful that we were here. The house would have burned to the ground if no one had called it in — and the farmer’s wife told me that they were watching television and had the volume on so high that they never even heard the sound of the crackling timber and the exploding bottles of champagne and chutney.

The fire chief told me that even a few more minutes would have meant that they couldn’t save the house since the storeroom and the garage were hard up against the main body of the house. And thank god/goddess/universe/whatever that the HUGE gas tank on the other side of the garage didn’t explode from the heat and flames! Mark said that when one of the firemen saw it, he looked quite startled and told Mark to move away quickly.

Just minutes before the firemen arrived last night, I briefly stepped inside the entry hall since I knew that the dogs were outside and Mark had safely locked them in the other gite. But as I peered into the smoke filled hallway to see if any of the cats were there, I looked to the left and the pet door was glowing with a bright orange light behind it from the roaring flames on the other side. It made me go weak at the knees momentarily and I hastily went back outside. The pet door melted and is completely missing and we are completely agog that the flames didn’t get sucked into the house.

Pet door where flames could have been sucked into the house -- but weren't!

These shots below show you just how large and lovely the main house is. And in the second photo you can see the yet-to-be-rendered side wall of our gite with that vulnerable timber in the upper section. All of that would have been awash in flames quite quickly if the main house had caught fire, so I was quite correct to begin packing in case we needed to make a speedy exit.

Polly's house -- still intact


Front view of Polly's house with vulnerable gite end visible

We laugh rather often about my ‘beagle senses’ of smell and hearing and I know that it is sometimes annoying when I hear things or smell things that no one else notices until I point them out. This was an instance where I was thrilled to have both heightened physical senses and a strong psychic sense that had been telling me for days that something was not quite right.

The house is intact even if it smells eerily of smoke and all 3 cats and 2 dogs are alive and well.

Blessings abound — and we are grateful!

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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