Recovering slowly from a triple-festival-weekend, I suddenly realised it is the last day of July and time to write my blog. July has passed in a flash as summer is crazy here. In the last month, we have had more than 60 people to stay, ranging from the usual pilgrims and camping families, to 18 underprivileged city kids who cycled down from the mountains and a group of young women and their horses. We’ve had up to five workaways staying at once and a 16-year-old French boy for a week to learn English. All this as well as working full-time and ‘looking after’ our kids, who’ve been on holiday since mid-June. As I said, crazy.

If that sounds busy, it is. But we are not looking for sympathy. We choose this life. Admittedly, the sheer volume of things to do can be overwhelming, and the tension of walking such a tightrope can lead to either Chris or I needing to blow off steam, which we do. But we quickly get over it, do what we can to sort the issue, and move on. There is just no time to be grumpy during fête season in southwest France…

Friday 6 July – our village Moules Frites night and dancing till 4am
Sunday 8 July – Montaner Medieval Festival
Tuesdays 10 and 24 July – days at the water park
Saturday 14 July – Retrovintage fête at Lahitte
Monday 23 July – India horse-riding for a day for her birthday
Wednesday 25 July – canoeing down the Adour river
Thursday 26 July – Tour de France passes by
Friday 27 July – Festival Equestria
Saturday 28 July – Jazz in Marciac Festival begins
Sunday 29 July – Tempo Latino Festival in Vic-Fezensac

And that’s just July. Now August begins, which means most French people are on holiday for the whole month. Our August is starting perfectly, with a visit from my darling mum, who is coming over for the first time in 18 months and is here for her birthday! Then it’s on with more fêtes, festivals and parties (Medievales de Tour de Termes d’Armagnac, Festival d’Artagnan, Santana at the Marciac Jazz Festival, Maubourget fête, Montesquiou on the Rocks) culminating in our summer shindig at the end of the month 🙂

Well, it has certainly been a month of two halves. After an already very damp winter and spring, we spent the first half of June submerged by some of the heaviest early summer rains on record. These rains, coupled with the snow melt from the Pyrénées, meant the rivers just couldn’t cope and fields, roads and houses were flooded. Living beside a river was on my ideal home wishlist before we moved to France. It was the only box that didn’t get ticked and boy, are we glad that we live on top of a hill, far away from any rivers…

I left France mid-June amid floods and forecasts of more rain to spend a sunny week with my sister and mum in the UK. When I got back, summer had arrived. The pool is now open and the scorchio party season has officially begun 🙂

We had our end of year karate party on Saturday, where Chris and I got our brown belts in karaté contact and Tana his green. After a karate demo, the presentation, a long lunch and an ill-advised game of drunken 5-a-side football, we reluctantly tore ourselves away to go to a concert. It was the first event organised by our new village association, En Face Du Kiosque (Opposite the Bandstand), which has opened a weekend bar. As part of the national Fête de la Musique celebrations, the group Pas Vu Pas Pris entertained the village for two hours. An accordionist and singer, drummer and sousaphonist – utterly French and absolutely amazing. Bikini gardening for me today and Tana finishes school tomorrow (yes, really) so it is time to embrace the summer 🙂

Spring may have been wet and cold here in France but we have had some baby animals at Happy Coulson, which are guaranteed to brighten up even the saddest day. India is our purveyor of baby animals, any animals, in fact. She has always loved them. Much more than humans. I realised recently that when she holds a baby animal, she makes that face. The same face women and men make when they hold a baby they love dearly. The most beautiful face in the world, in my opinion. India is adamant that she doesn’t want children. She wants to be a vet and travel around the world in a van with her four huge dogs, rescuing and caring for wild animals. And you know what, I think maybe she will.

The first kittens.

Our first batch of bunnies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baby degus for her 10th birthday.

With Nanny’s dog, Bruce.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Indy’s favourite chick, Willow.

The latest addition – 3 Hallewell chicks.

Last month, I co-hosted a workshop called Uncover the Beauty of Your Spirit with the amazing Charlotte Speller.  It’s not a theme I would have explored alone, as this connecting to Spirit stuff is still pretty new to me, but I trust Charlie. And it turns out I know a lot more about it than I thought.

So what is your Spirit? And how do you connect to it? This is still something I find hard to define in words, but I know how it feels when I do something that delights my Spirit. On Easter Sunday, we had a group of friends round with their children and passed the time laughing, strolling and eating together. That. On Easter Monday, Chris and I took the kids and Wolfie walking in the mountains. That.

One of the best decisions of my life was making a career out of something that delights my Spirit. Yoga is a great way to get more in tune with your body, and through that, your mind and Spirit. I strongly believe that we spend so much of our life working, we really should try to find a job that makes us feel good.

Moving to France was another top decision as here, Chris and I have more time and space to find and pursue things that we enjoy. Making music is something that has come late to both of us, but now the whole family spends Wednesday afternoon at music school. Chris is learning the bass guitar, Tana the saxophone, India the piano and I sing and drum.

As adults, life often gets in the way of us exploring things that we enjoy. But doing things that delight your Spirit makes you happy. And is there anything more important than that?

I was in a slump today. Super excited about flying to the UK to see my sister, Storm Emma stopped play and I had to rearrange to fly tomorrow instead, losing a day of my time with her. I was supposed to be on my way to the airport but I was still here. Feeling grumpy. So I went for a walk. And soon felt better.

Why? Because I suddenly realised that I had some time, and nothing pressing to do. Just like on Wednesday when heavy snow meant I had to cancel a class, something I try never to do. But once I had told everyone and accepted the situation, I felt a freedom that was purely the result of having some spare time. And from all the wonderful photos on Facebook, I think a lot of people felt the same.

I used to say “I don’t have time for that” a lot. We all do. I remember vividly the day I realised that this was a choice.

I was in my 20s and visiting my dad for a few days, which was always a busy time, filled with seeing and doing. Dad had suggested that I call in on Bill Green, an elderly widower who used to work for him as a gamekeeper. Throughout my childhood I would do the early pheasant feeding rounds with Dad, and often, when we had finished, we would call in on Bill and his wife, Greenie, for a breakfast of sausages with brown sauce. “I don’t have time”, I said. “You do”, said Dad. “You just choose to do something else with it”. I remember finding that hugely irritating at the time. Because it was true.

Ever since, every time I find myself saying “I don’t have time for that”, I remind myself that I do, in fact, have enough time to do anything I want. And if it is really important, I will make time for it. For example, my children. I think it is one of the saddest things when a child wants to spend time with a parent and they say “I don’t have time”. We are busier now than ever, that is true. But it is still our choice.

One of the greatest things about moving to France is how it has simplified our life. Here, we have much less choice. So there is more time. Yet still I often find myself thinking I’m “too busy” to do the things that really make me happy, like taking the dog for a long walk or making music, singing and drumming.

So if you haven’t got time for the things you love, perhaps it’s time for a reshuffle. If you haven’t got time, make some. It’s the best medicine.

(Our last workaway, Mat, who has just returned to the Greek island of Amorgos where he’s been living for while, posted this video. It is beautiful and has a wonderful narrative about time. Treat yourself.)

Coming home from holiday is usually really depressing. When we were ‘dinkies’ (dual income, no kids), we always booked two holidays ahead so we had something else to look forward to when the end-of-holiday blues set in. On our way home from skiing last week, we were all looking forward to getting back – to our gorgeous home, jobs that we genuinely really enjoy, a real fire, our animals, continuing work on the barn, the quad bikes and space to ride them. It is true that the life we have built here is one that we find easy to adore, but maybe we are also just getting better at appreciating the things we have.

As always, we had a wonderful winter holiday in the Pyrénées. And as always, the changeable weather often changed our plans. But my favourite day was actually when we drove up to the highest ski station only to find it closed due to too much snow and risk of avalanche. So off we went, exploring the Cirque de Gavarnie in fresh, squeaky snow.

If you are lucky enough to have the use of your legs, walking is one of the simplest things you can do to boost your sense of well-being. I love walking anywhere, even in cities – there is always something to see. It won’t be long before we walk that pilgrim path that passes our door…

 

Love Knits Us Up Where We Belong

Now the cat is out of the bag, I can share in full the story of The Blanket of Dreams. During a Skype chat in November, Vicky mentioned that her knees were getting cold when out in her wheelchair and she really needed a blanket. I immediately knew that this blanket must be hand-knitted with love, as there is no doubt in my mind that love is the greatest healer of all. Alas, I don’t knit (yet), but I thought I might know some people who do… So I put out a call, in my yoga classes here in France, and on Facebook, to ask if anyone would like to knit/crochet/patchwork a 20x20cm square that I would try to turn into a blanket for Vicky.

120 squares from France and the UK later, this is the story of The Blanket and Cushion of Dreams…

The collection grows...

The collection grows…

Learning the stitch from knitting expert, Karen.

Learning the stitch from knitting expert, Karen.

The Big Knit Begins.

The Big Knit Begins on 8 December.

 

 

 

 

The last squares are added.

The last squares are added.

And now the fleecy backing.

And now the fleecy backing. A total of 15 people helped put this together.

19 December and it is finished!

19 December and it is finished!

The big reveal on 28 December.

The big reveal on 28 December.

Everyone loves the Blanket of Dreams.

Everyone loves the Blanket of Dreams.

Especially Vicky.

Especially Vicky.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vicky says: “Family and friends of Kate (and me!), thank you. I was speechless when I unfolded the blanket, and still can’t quite get my mind around the fact that so many people, a vast number of whom have never even met me, would take the time to create a woollen square for me when they could have been doing something else. I am humbled by the kindness in your hearts, I really am, and I will remember it all my life, whenever I come across someone in trouble.

“You did this for me, and I don’t know why, but I am warmed to my bones. This blanket will become a family heirloom, and I hope to have many hours ahead in which to study each square, committing them all to memory.

“Even now, after several days, I am surprised by a square I have never noticed before when I look down. There are hearts, tassels, cloud-like softness, big sturdy stitches and tiny fairy stitches, stripes, dots, fluffiness and smoothness. It is beyond anything I could have dreamed of, and yet it is my Blanket of Dreams.”

And it didn’t stop there. Eighteen non-knitted squares were turned into a huge cushion of loveliness, centred around a square with a special pocket for some of Vicky’s horse’s hair.

Our workaways arranging the squares.

Our workaways arranging the squares.

Irene and Francette put it together.

Irene and Francette put it together.

Vicky loved the little pocket.

Vicky loved the little pocket.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Cushion of Delight.

Someone likes her Cushion of Delight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And still it wasn’t over. A friend of mine here in France, Jeanette Armstrong, paints the most amazing animal portraits. So, with my mum and brother, I commissioned a picture of Vicky’s beloved horse, Nick.

Opening the portrait...

Opening the portrait…

Happy sisters and mum.

Happy sisters and mum.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you, everyone, for your love and support, knitted and otherwise.

At the Lahitte fête 2017

At the Lahitte fête 2017

A week before Christmas, we had some of that news that turns your world upside down. Chris’ mum had had a totally unexpected heart attack, aged just 68, and passed away. So unfair. Heather loved Christmas and adored her family and she died just a week before we were taking the children to spend their first ever Christmas with Grannie and Grandad. We went anyway, and we all struggled through as best we could. It was always going to be horrible, but it was good to spend time with Chris’ family and help them organise a fitting send-off for a wonderful lady.

The funeral was on Wednesday 10 January and it was truly beautiful, from the hearse being slow-walked out of Heather Close by the funeral director in top hat and tails, to the light, bright chapel crowded with Heather’s friends and family. From the incredible songs which were moving and uplifting in equal measure, to the readings chosen, written and read by the family.

I helped to pull the eulogy together and Chris’ sister, Beccy, paid me the biggest compliment when she said it was as if her mum had written it herself. The wake went on for five hours, filled with laughter and love, and it was lovely to spend time with Heather’s family and friends. That was Heather’s mission in life, to keep the family together, so everyone who came agreed that she would have loved it!

Heather Smith, we salute you. You leave a huge hole in all our lives, but we will try to fill it, as you did, with love, laughter and sunshine.

She Is Gone

You can shed tears that she is gone,
Or you can smile because she has lived.

You can close your eyes and pray that she will come back,
Or you can open your eyes and see all that she has left.

Your heart can be empty because you can’t see her,
Or you can be full of the love that you shared.

You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday,
Or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday.

You can remember her and only that she is gone,
Or you can cherish her memory and let it live on.

You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back,
Or you can do what she would want: smile, open your eyes, love and go on.

David Harkins 1981

It is much easier to show compassion towards other people than to yourself. But something I am re-learning is that if you don’t make yourself a priority, you will have nothing left to give. This has been the theme of my yoga classes for the last couple of weeks and I have been delighted by my students’ dedication and progress. But a couple of days ago, I realised I felt exhausted, with a pain in my shoulder that always pops up when I’m not taking care of myself. As Chris often points out, a classic case of “Do as I say, not as I do”.

I know this shizzle. I am forever telling people to put on their own oxygen mask first before helping others. But it took our lovely German workaway, Ronja, to give me the nudge I needed. I came home after a busy day teaching and rubbed my shoulder, grimacing. She gently asked if I would like a neck massage. I said yes but was a little embarrassed as I’m usually the one giving the massage! I sat on the floor in front of her and she spent a long time massaging and stroking my neck and shoulder. Ronja is only 22 but she is a wise, wise soul. Not a trained masseuse, but her intention was tangible and boy, oh boy, did it work.

I woke up the next morning full of energy and, for the first time in far too long, did a yoga practice just for me. Not practicing my class plan and thinking about my students’ needs, just for me. When I got to class that morning, my students said I looked radiant. And I felt it. Everything was easier – teaching, giving, receiving. At the end of the session, I gave them a challenge – to show themselves compassion every day for a whole week. Maybe by getting a massage, or massaging their own neck, making time for a bath or to listen to their favourite music, or simply by taking three deep breaths. Like everything, this gets easier with practice. And if you do it often enough, it will become a new habit. Now that is one habit worth having. Let’s do it.

Kasbah du ToubkhalWho’d have thought it? That leading a week’s yoga retreat* in Morocco, teaching five hours of yoga per day, with barely a fifth of the preparation time that I’d have liked, would leave me, yes, tired, but full of joy and a steady and enduring mountain energy. This was my home for a week, a little hut in the High Atlas mountains of Morocco. I shared it with my friend Nicola Mills, who was the perfect roomie, preparing my morning drinks and helping out whenever I needed it.

The Kasbah du Toubkhal is amazing. A Berber hospitality centre nestled high in the Imlil valley, surrounded by mountains and in sight of the highest peak in north Africa, Jebl Toubkhal. It couldn’t be more beautiful.

Le groupe de 2017But it wasn’t just that. What made this week really special were the people. Our hosts, all Berbers, were delightful, every member of staff smiley and honestly eager to help. And our group. Wow, what a group. An unlikely mix, perhaps, of yoga teachers, novices, French and English of all ages, and (lest we forget the Cranbury) a Californian pastor.

Everyone brought something to the group and together they gave me the support I needed to lead the retreat at what could have been a cripplingly difficult time.  I feel lucky to have had this experience and, instead of being sad that it is over, I feel it has permeated into my very cells, infusing me with the same rosy glow that washed over the mountains morning and evening. Until we meet again. Inshallah.

*The retreat was organised by Roro Retreats, who organise yoga holidays in Morocco, Spain and beyond.

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