Tag Archives: relocation

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!


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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Beginning The Back-to-Europe Process

Leaving Australia began to feel a bit more real this past week. I have booked the movers to come and pack up the household goods and ship them back to the UK — in a VERY few weeks. Yikes!

Several of you have asked if that means we plan to live in Great Britain — but truthfully, we don’t know where we want to resettle. We’re starting in England and sending our ‘stuff’ there because that’s Mark’s passport country. Are we more likely to end up living in one of the EU countries? Quite possibly.

We are very open-minded right now and since we’ve been away from Europe for three years, we plan to do short term work contracts and travel through several countries BEFORE we make a final decision.

Boxes, boxes, boxes and mountains of bubble-wrap and shipping tape. THAT is what will take up at least 50% of each day for the next few weeks. And we have to do a long list of pre-departure things like new glasses, dental cleaning, getting our medical records, donating things to charity, and a big garage sale. And did I mention packing – packing – packing?

Packing boxes -- ready to load!

Packing boxes — ready to load!

We’ve gone from a gorgeously tidy house as people viewed it for a few weeks prior to sale to stacks of boxes and bubble-wrapped artwork lining the walls of the hallway. I’m still wrapping my head around it!

Just a short update today.

More soon!

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Time To Move On — Joyfully

It’s been a challenge — being back in Australia after living in Europe. We returned to find the social and political climate had changed significantly — and it wasn’t our ‘cup of tea’ any longer.

We had a plan and we’ve stuck to it — even if it did all take a bit longer to unfold than expected. We bought a fixer-upper house in a charming and established neighbourhood — a practically derelict 1950 house on a 1/4 acre lot with mature trees. And yes, it was that classic real estate cliche — the worst house on a good street.

The goal was to fix it up and sell it and then head back to Europe. But my oh my — didn’t 60 hour work weeks (on top of the renovations) and BREXIT and other kerfuffles add to the stress.

The house was completed and listed for sale in early July — and 7 weeks later we had an unconditional sale. Now the gritty part begins — deciding what to sell, what to keep, and then the flurry of packing boxes and bubble-wrap appears again. There will be happy moments and wistful moments and we know that it’s all part of the process of getting us BACK to a continent where our hearts are happy and we resonate with the look, smell, art, history, and social ethics of the place.


So wish us luck as we transition away from this quite beautiful Mid-Century house and off to the unknown! I’ll post progress updates along the way — and there will be some REALLY big news in the next few weeks about my simultaneous project (as if I didn’t have enough on my plate!) of launching an entire trilogy into the Amazon universe plus re-issuing 2 previous books that have unexpectedly gained ‘traction’ again.

Whew! Back to work!

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.


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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!

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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Counting Down to Departure from Northern Hemisphere!

It’s now only ONE WEEK until our household goods get picked up by the moving company! I’ve spent my day filling out ‘Unaccompanied Goods’ forms for the Australian Customs folks, refining the inventory sheets so they know what is in every single box we have packed, getting specs online for our fridge-freezer to ship back to AU, and finding out what the coolant in that appliance contains (nothing negative, thank heavens!).


Australian Fridge Form


I was and HOPING to find some time to do photo editing this afternoon and I am SO far behind and my agencies in New York and London are awaiting images that should have been there already. Sheesh!

We spent the day at Hadrian’s Wall yesterday and in spite of the breathtaking cold, we had a wonderful time. That will be a future post full of pictures, but it might have to wait for awhile.

Back to work I go!

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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Ping-Ponging? Nope! Happily Back To Australia!

Have you ever heard the term ‘Ping Pong Poms’ and do you know the origin? It refers to people from Great Britain, commonly referred to around the world as ‘Poms’, who move to Australia for a new life and ping-pong right back to the UK because they find that it’s too much of a change for them or that Australia isn’t British enough for their tastes. They usually return to the northern hemisphere within 12 months or less.

So, in our own case, if we moved whole-heartedly to Europe from Australia over 2 years ago and, in spite of that previous commitment to a European life, are now returning to Australia — does that make us Ping Pong Aussies? Actually no — it’s a very happy choice and we are getting more and more excited with each day at this point.

I consider myself to be a boots-on-the-ground documentarian of the places and social conditions where we are living. Although I sometimes report on the glossy travelogue version of Europe, at other times you will read my take on the current day-to-day facts about Europe.

The reasons we came to this side of the world and that we love it here are all still valid — the visual beauty, the greenness, the history, the architecture. But it’s quite clear that Europe, including the UK, is unravelling financially and unless you are in banking, medicine, or property sales — if there is no way to make a decent living, you’d be in trouble in no time. We just spoke to a building contractor here in Newcastle about an hour ago and he said that 8-10 years ago he made 3-1/2 times what he does now each month. If we ever DO want to retire, we have to be sensible and go back to a place where we can start building the accounts back up, not continue to deplete them. We actually feel very blessed to HAVE options when so many people are trying to LEAVE the UK and emigrate to Australia or New Zealand. There are several television shows over here about how to do that!

France would have been our happy-heart choice here in Europe, but the tax changes and pension changes just blew that out of the water for us. There is simply no work here in the UK and even the people with jobs all feel quite insecure.

I was relieved to leave Australia in 2010 — I won’t lie about that — but not because I didn’t love it there. I wouldn’t have bothered getting Australian citizenship if I hadn’t truly loved that country and I would have just carried on being a legal resident the way I was in France. The rural lifestyle just wore us both out. It was much too much in a way that neither of us could have anticipated before we tried it. But gosh — we did love all of the people we met out there in Central Victoria who are now life-long friends to know as we get older.

I am glad that I never-ever departed from Australia with negative feelings about it because, after having a bit of a think about it and getting our heads wrapped around it, we have both realised that neither of us is having ANY issues with moving back in the end. And isn’t THAT a nice surprise! It’s as if going away has given us a better appreciation for the country and made us understand that it’s still a darned good lifestyle in Australia compared the austerity of Europe and the UK and the dreadful financial mess that is ever-present in the USA.

The best part of Australia to me is the part that is the most European — Melbourne! So Mark has agreed that even if we live in a shoebox sized house, he’ll do city living (thank God because I had enough of snakes, bushfires, and heat in the countryside the last time!), join a city cycling club, and let us have the freedom of just walking out the door and catch a tram to the market, a club, a museum, a cafe. He always turned up his nose at the idea of a more centralised city lifestyle in Melbourne or even when we were visiting Sydney but thankfully that has changed. Maybe we’ll eventually have a weekend cottage in the country? Maybe not. We’ll see.

Once we were actually on this side of the world, Mark finally got into the groove of that urban lifestyle choice in places like Berlin and Amsterdam and London. Those two months in London in 2011 showed him that cycling in the city can be quite interesting and visually stimulating in a different way to the bleached brown rolling hills of Victoria, Australia. When we actually lived full time in St. Girons in the south of France, he finally had his eyes opened to how cool it was to have your own wee manageable space in your home, but then the greater world of entertainment was right on your doorstep — literally — instead of it being a long and boring DRIVE to get to anything.

Our life in St. Girons has set the template for what we want to go back and find in Melbourne. But we wouldn’t have know THAT either unless we had left Australia for awhile.

So to answer the questions that have trickled in about how I REALLY feel about moving back to Australia and are we both happy about it –it’s all good, we’re fine with our decision, and as much as it seems like a shockingly abrupt turn-around to some people, we will not only manage, we will thrive! Mark is quite calm about moving back, I am quite calm about it, and we will relish every minute of this little 2-1/2 year adventure and know that it was the right thing to do AT THE TIME that we did it. Now it is the right time to go back.

Next up? The list making, re-packing, staging, reservations-making, booking of moving companies, and then getting ON THE PLANE. Wheeee!!!

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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