When Plan B Becomes A Blessed Plan A: Guest Blog by The Fabulous Rayne Hall


My life was good... and then fate turned it upside down - and I'm happy with the result.

I want to share this story because it may bring a cheer to your heart, and inspire your courage. 

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In my fifties, I had the life I wanted: I earned a living in my dream career as a writerI was living in Britain near the sea, renting a pleasant ground-floor flat (American English: 'apartment') with a garden ('yard'), had a sweet cat companion and a circle of like-minded  creative friends. I planned to live there for the rest of my life.

Then politics happened. Britain decided to leave the European Union. Without going into the pros and cons of the so-called 'Brexit' (I don't want this post to lead to political discussions!), for me as a German, it was a potential disaster. 

As a European Union national, I have the right of residence with full legal rights in any country of the European Union. I had chosen Britain, and lived there for almost three decades. But suddenly, everything I'd built up threatened to tumble down. Government officials contradicted themselves about if and on what terms European Union nationals would be allowed to remain. I really don't want to go into details.... let's just say it was a period of terrible uncertainty.

I thought, "I don't want to lose my home and everything I've built up! I want to stay here. But what if I have to leave? What if the worst comes to the worst, and the government decides to expel people like me. What if I have to leave at short notice, with nowhere to go?"

I wanted to have a Plan B, just in case. So I researched my options. I discovered that Bulgaria - a European Union country about which I knew almost nothing - could be exactly right for me. I travelled there for a holiday ('vacation') to see what it was like. At this stage, I still thought of it as merely a Plan B that I hoped not to need.

From the first day of my visit, I realised that Bulgaria was perfect for me. The country offered me all I needed, and more. Since Bulgaria has excellent Internet, I could continue my life as a freelance writer - and since the cost of living is much lower, the international income (modest by British or German standards, but high compared with Bulgarian wages) would stretch much further.  Gorgeous landscapes with mountains, pine covered slopes, plains, fields of cheerful yellow sunflowers, apple orchards, archaeological treasures from the ancient Thracian and Roman periods, picturesque townshouses with brightly painted facades in the National Revival style, a cornflower-blue sky with bright sun... I loved it

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Within a few days, my Plan B had become my Plan A. 

Back in wet grey Britain, I didn't even await the outcome of latest political Brexit-squabbles. I learnt Bulgarian and started packing. 

I've lived in Bulgaria for two years now, and I feel - in my head as well as in my heart - that this was the right decision. 

After the dismal damp weather of Britain, the Bulgarian sunshine and bright blue skies boost my health and brighten my mood.

Rayne Hall

Rayne Hall

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I used to dream of owning my own property: a single-story village house with a garden where I could practice permaculture, create a flower paradise, be self-sufficient in fruit and vegetables, and pick fresh fruit directly from the trees of my own orchard.

In Britain, this dream was unrealistic. With my relatively low income as a writer, property ownership iwas out of the question, let alone a nice house with an orchard. I labelled that dream 'unrealistic fantasy' and shelved it. 

To my delight, I discovered houses in Bulgaria - especially in villages - are inexpensive. Now I'm the happy owner of a single-storey house, complete with 2000 square meters (circa 2400 square yards) of fertile land. Plum, quince and fig trees offer their  succulent bounty, and I'm creating the permaculture orchard of my dreams. I'm planting apples, pears, cherries, sour cherries, apricots, peaches, nectarines, kiwi, passionfruit, pomegranates, walnuts, almonds, strawberries, redcurrants, blackcurrants, raspberries and other fruit that grow here in abundance, and shaping a paradise of fragrant flowers around my new home.

Under Britain's perpetual grey drizzling skies, I used to crave sunshine. Here in Bulgaria, I have enough sun as I like, with cornflower-blue skies all year round. Even in winter, when the temperatures drop to below freezing, the dry air, picture-postcard snow and cheery sun are a joy.

My cat Sulu - proud holder of a European pet passport - loves the vast spaces where he can roam in safety, climb up walnut trees and nap in the shade of juniper bushes. Here in Bulgaria, it's safe for cats to be outdoors, and Sulu often comes for walks with me.  When I write, he lies on the table and watches me work.



He has been joined by two feline companions - stray cats who followed me home and simply took up residence. When I moved into my new home, a friendly stray dog stood at the front door to welcome me. He, too, has become part of the family. 

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I feel blessed.

Although this opportunity had existed for me for almost thirty years (basically from the day Bulgaria joined the European Union), I had not been aware of it. I vaguely knew that Bulgaria was one of the former Eastern Block countries in Eastern Europe, but it had never occurred to me to look in that direction, let alone to emigrate there.  

I didn't leave Britain because I had to. I could have stayed, at least until the politicians had resolved their squabbles. I moved to Bulgaria because I chose to.

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The dreadful uncertainty about Brexit did me a favour: it opened my eyes to options I had not previously considered.

The threat of loss (of my home in Britain) gave me the freedom to  explore new possibilities.  

One door closed, and another opened to something better. Or, more specifically: One door threatened to close, and I opened my eyes and saw for the first time that there was an open door leading to what I'd dreamed about all my life.

I hope that if you find a door closing on something you don't want to give up, you'll remember my experience, and look around to find the open door leading you to where you're meant to be.

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Here are three lessons in a nutshell:

1. If something important is at risk because of circumstances outside your control, prepare a Plan B. You may never need it, but it's good to have it, just in case. Do this sooner rather than later, so you have time to research and choose what's best for you.

2. If one door closes, another will open. Often, doors close because a higher power (God, Goddess, the Creative Force of the Universe, Fate, whatever you call it) is about to open (or has already opened!) a door to something better.  View the closing door as a signal that a new period of your life i starting, and as a sign that you're meant to look in a new direction.

3. We can't choose what life is doing to us. But we can choose how and when you respond to it. 
Have you had a similar experience? If yes, post a comment to share it with us.

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Choir Singing - For Therapy: A Guest Blog by Susanne McCarthy

Cheaper Than Therapy

Yes, that’s me up there on the stage. In the middle of the third row, in my sparkly frock. It was a charity concert for Children in Need, and we raised over £1000 (about $1300) that night. 

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I’ve always enjoyed singing – in the shower, in the car. Belting it out singing along to an Eagles CD. But I had never thought of joining a choir until we moved to Devon. My husband was born here, but I didn’t know a soul. The pages of the magazine Agony Aunts always have letters: young mums desperate for some “me” time, hard-working women looking for a way to de-stress; empty-nesters, movers, retirees. “I want to make new friends – what can I do?” 

Well, here’s my suggestion. Join a choir. There are choirs of every type, all over the country. Ladies only, men only, mixed. Choirs that sing classical choral style, some that focus on soul music or world music. Most of them have websites, some with music clips so you can hear them sing. That’s how I found Riviera Sound.

Of course it’s scary going somewhere for the first time, walking in to a whole group of strangers on your own. But choirs are very friendly - I had only made it as far as the car-park before a smiley blonde lady spotted me and came over: “Are you looking for the rehearsal?” 

Now, I have to make a small correction here. We aren’t a choir – we’re a chorus. It’s a fine distinction I know, but it’s something about the style of singing. We’re an all-ladies chorus, and we sing unaccompanied four-part harmony. We sing pop songs old and new, songs from the shows, schmoozy ballads and swinging rock songs – at the moment we’re learning This is Me from the Greatest Showman, and Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen is a big favourite. We sing at weddings, at Christmas carol concerts and charity events. We sang at a garden party for the Queen’s jubilee, and at the local Gay Pride festival – even at the re-opening of Babbacombe’s cliff railway!

So how does four-part harmony work? Think Barbershop, where you have four singers – a lead who mostly takes the melody, a tenor harmonising a little higher, a bass singing lower, and a baritone who kind of weaves around filling out the sound. We even keep the same names for the sections, though we’re all women.

You don’t have to be an amazing singer to join us, though everyone in our chorus does have a good voice. Other types of choirs are more picky or less picky – some want you to be able to read music, others are mainly for sing-along fun. Shop around to find what suits you. What you will find, I guarantee, is that after a couple of months of practice your voice will have improved enormously. 

That first night, Chris - our Musical Director – gave me a quick (private) voice-test to see which section to put me in. A few weeks later, when I’d managed to learn a couple of songs, I had to sing my part alongside someone from each of the other three sections, to see if I could hold my own when all around you are singing something else.

No, it isn’t easy – but that’s part of the fun. You have to learn your own part really well – we get “teach-tapes” which play the notes for you, as well as the sheet music. Load the teach-tape onto your MP3 player and listen to it while you’re doing the ironing, or driving, or whatever. Often we will practice it in our own sections. Then we all get together and… er… try it.

With some songs it’s amazing how quickly we can pick it up, with others we have to go over it and over it. Chris will stop us and make us get it spot on, all starting the line exactly together, all pronouncing the words exactly the same. We get tired, fed-up, never want to hear that song again… And then suddenly some kind of magic happens, and you’re left thinking, “Wow! Was that us?”

And it’s not just that sense of achievement that makes singing in a chorus so good for you. There’s no way you can keep worrying about the gas bill, or that pile of work waiting on your desk, when you’re trying to remember to go from an A to an A flat while the person next to you is singing an F. American writer Kurt Vonnegut said, “Practicing an art… is a way to make your soul grow.” 

        1. Science has even got something to say on the subject. Professor Graham Welch, of the University of London, has studied singing for 30 years and he says that singing reduces stress by acting on the endocrine system, which is linked to our sense of emotional well-being. “Psychological benefits are also evident when people sing together as well as alone because of the increased sense of community, belonging and shared endeavour.” 

And it’s not just your psychological health – Professor Welch says it’s good for your physical health too. “Singing has physical benefits because it is an aerobic activity that increases oxygenation in the blood stream and exercises major muscle groups in the upper body, even when sitting.” 

But the best thing is probably the friendships. There are over thirty of us in the chorus, all ages and types, but the love of singing is what unites us. Any sing-out is an opportunity to go for a coffee or a drink together afterwards. At Christmas we have a party, in the summer a barbeque. 

Last year we went to Jersey – supposedly to compete in the Jersey International Choir Festival but really to have a rollicking good time. Hitting the shops en-masse in our bright red fleece jackets, we attracted quite a lot of attention, and several people asked what we were about – and inevitably the request came, “Give us a song, then.” So we did!

Paul McCartney – one of the Beatles - said, “I love to hear a choir. I love to see the faces of real people devoting themselves to a piece of music. I like the teamwork. It makes me feel optimistic about the future of the human race when I see them co-operating like that.”

Or how about, “Singing in a choir is cheaper than therapy, healthier than drinking, and more fun than working out.” I don’t know who first said that, but it works for me. 

About Susanne McCarthy

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Susanne is a British writer of Romance novels. To find out about her books, visit her website (www.susannemccarthy.com where you'll also find some free short stories.

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Play Field Hockey? A special contributed blog post!

Like Field Hockey? Enjoy our newest collaborative blog post!

When people think of field hockey, one of the first things that they are likely to think of is the different equipment that is needed to play it. From the necessary match day and training apparel to the required safety gear, a hockey player’s kitbag is likely to be full with all manner of different items of equipment.

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In this article, we are going to take a look at just a few of the key pieces of field hockey equipment that would be required by someone who had decided to take up the sport for the first time and incorporate it into their fitness program. After all, it is certainly a great way to stay healthy. 

Hockey stick

When someone thinks of hockey, and field hockey equipment, they are likely to think of the hockey stick first of all. What many people may not know is that there are a number of different types of hockey sticks. These often deviate from each other in terms of the shape of the “hook” at the end of the stick, with slightly different shapes better suiting different types of players who occupy different positions. In general terms however, the stick is usually between 80 and 95 centimetres long and made of wood, fibreglass, Kevlar, and/or carbon fibre composites.

Hockey shoes

Almost all field hockey is now played on Astroturf pitches, and so studs and boots similar to those worn for football are no longer usually required. Instead, more trainer-esque shoes are worn, offering grip and protection, even in wet and damp conditions. Made by some of the biggest sporting brands around, including Adidas, Mizuno and Asics, players can play in the confidence that they are wearing good quality, safe footwear while they are on the field.

Hockey gloves

Though they are not a mandatory item of kit for a field hockey player, gloves can still offer participants important protection. Hockey is a competitive and hard fought game – there are plenty of instances in every single match where there will be “coming-togethers” between players, and with 22 individuals charging around the pitch with a big, heavy stick in their hands, these padded gloves can offer security and a sense of security to those wearing them.

Gum shield 

Field hockey might not be the first sport associated with the players having to wear a gum shield. However, when you think about it, playing hockey has a number of potential situations where the mouth or teeth could be at risk. The ball can sometimes fly up into the air, flailing limbs can catch teammates or opponents, and sticks can even accidentally make contact with the mouth and face. A professionally fitted mouth guard or gum shield is the best way to ensure that no long lasting damage is caused to the mouth or teeth.

If you buy those items, you’re good to go.


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