For the past six years, moving our family to rural France to start a new life has been adventure enough. But this year we all felt ready for a new challenge so we took the kids on their first proper trekking holiday. Last year, I taught a yoga and walking retreat in the Atlas mountains in Morocco and it was so amazing that we decided to have a family holiday there in the week before I taught this year’s retreat.

Well, I thought it was beautiful last year, but last year we didn’t have snow or the autumn colours. And we never walked for long enough to get out of the Imlil valley. This time, after a couple of nights at the wonderful Kasbah du Toubkhal, we embarked upon a four-day trek that took us out of the valley and around in a loop to come back over the other side. Chris and I have always loved trekking. There is nothing like walking through incredible natural beauty to get to your next resting place. We have walked a lot with the children around where we live and in the Pyrénées, but this was their first full-on adventure.

We walked for up to six hours a day and slept in isolated villages, in very basic accommodation, sometimes without even a fire to keep us warm. We slept fully clothed and faced the usual challenges of inclement weather, treacherous paths, blisters and tired legs. But the children rose to every occasion and we all absolutely LOVED IT. We particularly enjoyed walking through the remote villages and seeing how people live in this extreme environment. Tana said: “Mum, I thought these people were poor but now I see that they have everything they need”. We are now planning next year’s adventure, trekking in the Pyrénées with a donkey…

Being known as Happy Kate of Happy Yoga, who lives at Happy Coulson, means that I am often asked for advice on how to be happy. My understanding of happiness is constantly evolving but I wrote my current  philosophy down for a friend the other day so thought I would share it in my blog.

I believe that deciding to be happy is an essential step. So well done if you are there. Breathing deeply is another really important element. Shallow breathing is like apologising for being alive. Breathe deeply, down into your belly, and be proud to take your place in this world. It can take time to change habits so don’t beat yourself up if you find this hard. Lie on your back, knees bent, hands on belly and chest, and practice filling your belly like a balloon. If you need more help with this, there are loads of free resources on the internet. Use them.

Changing habits takes discipline and commitment.
So if you want this, you need to do it every day.

Daily happiness practice:

Gratitude – Every day, breathe deeply while you think of three things you are grateful for. It can be something as small as being able to get out of bed or seeing a bit of blue sky. Maybe write it down.

Compassion – Catch yourself having negative thoughts or saying negative things about yourself or others and STOP. If you find this hard, that’s OK. Breathe more and think less.

Forgiveness – If you are caught up with negative feelings towards yourself or other people, use the Sword of Forgiveness (Prem Rawat) to sever the relationship with the action that is dragging you down.

Write this out and put it somewhere prominent. Commit to doing it every day and these happiness habits will become your new default setting. But maybe not immediately. So when you find it hard, breathe deeply and be curious rather than critical. Be kind to yourself when progress is slower than you want. Practice smiling at your reactions to things rather than getting frustrated or depressed. Above all, when your monkey mind starts spinning you a story, breathe more and think less. Make that your mantra.

I love seeing the swallows arrive in the autumn. They stay for quite a few weeks on their way down south, hanging out in their hundreds on the telephone wires that line our road. Whenever we drive, cycle or walk along it, the swallows swoop off in different directions – it really is a sight to behold.

Last year, while cycling Indy to school in the village one morning, we called out to the swallows that they were invited to our house that evening to dive-bomb our pool to catch insects. And they did! This year, during one of my rare moments alone by the pool, a posse came down and did just the same, whirring around my head as I lay there.

But the swallows have also made me feel sad this year. After a very busy summer we can usually look forward to a relaxing rentrée, with the kids back at school and free weekends. Time to stroll up the lane en famille and wonder at the beauty of our little visitors. But this year, every weekend in September has been filled to the brim with parties and festivals. Now, we LOVE a good shindig so I’m not complaining about that but it did mean that we haven’t yet had the quiet, relaxed family time we usually do at this time of year.

Chris and I found we were getting scratchy with each other, which is not ok if you take the bold step of labelling your home, jobs and life ‘HAPPY’… So we made time to go for a walk along the ridge and talked non-stop for over an hour. Some of it was not pretty but whoa, did it clear the air. Literally. We both agreed that our family must come first and as we are the team in charge of making that happen we committed to making more time for each other. A week later and the swallows are making me smile once again.

What a fantastic summer we have had at Happy Coulson. We’ve been here for six years now but each year we discover something, somewhere or someone completely new and wonderful. Highlights of  August 2018 were seeing Santana at Jazz in Marciac (especially as we knew the show’s video manager, who managed to sneak out for a pre-concert drink) and the crazy Rockabilly festival Montesquiou on the Rocks, featuring the awesome Dead Elvis.

People who come here can’t believe that there is so much going on in this sleepy corner of southwest France. Even the French students who stayed for English immersion were amazed at the variety of festivals, fêtes and other activities. Considering we only spent an hour in this area before deciding to buy our house, we feel very lucky indeed!

And the people. Each year we meet more and more groovy people and find it only fitting to bring them together at the Happy Coulson shindig to celebrate the end of the summer holidays. This year, we had an eclectic mix of 66 people, French and English, young and old. Our greatest pleasure was looking around at everyone first talking to each other, then eating, singing, drumming and dancing together.

Normally, we have a relaxing ‘rentrée’ (back to school) to look forward to in September. But this year, we have a big 50th birthday party and a dance music festival in the next village the weekend after. So R&R will have to wait for a few weeks. For now, we’ll just keep on partying 🙂

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…

 

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