We did it. We survived crazy July. And what’s more, we all enjoyed it! I did wonder, what with my treatment for Lyme’s Disease that meant I couldn’t go in the sun, working full-time, having a French student to stay for two weeks to learn English, workaways leaving and arriving, teenage girls in our tent, Granny Lulu staying for a week, and the usual pilgrims and campers. Oh, and three triple-party weekends in a row…

Honestly, it could have been a complete nightmare. But I’m living ‘au jour le jour’ at the moment so I didn’t even let myself worry. And unbelievably, the combination of people and personalities meant the two weeks passed in a haze of fun. A massive player was the Pond of Huw and the people who inhabit it. An oasis of natural beauty where the kids swim all night and I usually hog the best swingseat in the world.

Then there were the fêtes – Lahitte village fête, Montaner medieval festival and the incredible Lahitte Retrovintage day. Add to that a couple of private parties, a day at the water park, an afternoon canoeing down the Adour, a trip to the Chateau Fort in Lourdes, a very rowdy DJ night, a picnic by the river complete with bridge jumping and a Shakespeare reading and you have our July so far. Not everyone’s cup of tea but Granny Lulu loved it. And everybody loved her.

Our workaways, Jaime from the UK and Jacopo from Italy, were just perfect. Our French student, Alex, was my favourite student ever. 17 and with a good level of English, he got on brilliantly with everyone and was a joy to teach. And Tilly and Isabella… what can we say? You brought laughter, crazy dancing and general hilarity to Happy Coulson. Can’t wait to see the rest of your family in August for more of the same. What a month. But I have to admit it was lovely when there was no one here but me, floating in the pool on a giant watermelon. Off to the UK on Thursday with the kids for 10 days seeing family, then back for a chilled August. Bring it on.

Ok, so I have Lyme’s Disease.  After months of malfunctioning knees, headaches and fatigue, the mystery has been solved. How I got it, however, remains an enigma as I haven’t seen a tick or bite on me for years…

I found out last Monday after a wonderful week in the UK doing a yoga teacher training with a favourite teacher and catching up with lovely friends. Trips like this are one of my greatest pleasures but this time I didn’t even want to go. I was tired, sore and didn’t want to have to face not being able to do the things I really love, like yoga and walking.

But in fact I could do both. Gently. The theme of the training was meeting your own needs, taking care of yourself, which fitted perfectly with what I have been both experiencing and teaching. One of the most important parts of the course for me was the daily meditation. I have been moving slowly towards a daily meditation practice, especially since my knees often make my usual personal yoga practice impossible. It is not easy but I am finding that sitting with what is going on inside is making a lot of sense.

I had a feeling I would come home to news as while I was in London I was unable to find out the results of my latest blood tests online. Turns out they had been sent to another lab to confirm the diagnosis. I hear my mouth saying a lot that it is good to have a diagnosis at last. And it is. And it isn’t. There is a lot going on inside my head – everyone has something different to say about the disease and there is so much unknown. But I have found a specialist in a mountain town just 40 minutes away. I am seeing Dr Médinsky next Tuesday, the day after we come back from Camp Disco, a family festival in Derbyshire organised and populated by dear friends. And I am meditating, sitting with whatever comes up. Tout va bien.

Wonderful first retreat in France with 14 of my lovely students at Santosha Yoga in Conilhac-de-la-Montagne. I have LOVED leading the two retreats in Morocco but it was such a treat to discover such an incredible place just three hours away. Not to mention the joy of teaching in just one language!

Before the retreat, I was a little worried that my knees would get in the way so I asked the Adourables Thérapeutes (a network of therapists from the Val d’Adour of which I’m a member) for their best suggestions. They advised me to do a fast. Just water. For six days. So I started the following day.

Not eating was easy as I had a very good reason not to. But I found the lack of energy tough going as I was still teaching full-time. I managed to get to the end but had to drink some vegetable juice during the last afternoon so I had enough energy to teach my evening class.  During and after the fast, my knees felt almost back to normal and my skin was radiant! I was able to thoroughly enjoy my retreat, especially the delicious vegan food that was the perfect follow-up. I even managed a two-hour walk with zero knee pain during or after.

What an incredible bunch of women. And Neil and Gillian were the perfect hosts. We had such an amazing time that I am already looking at dates for next year… Unfortunately, a few days after I got back my left knee had a funny turn, so I’m booked in for more tests and a trip to a Centre de Rheumatologie in Pau. But the sun is out, my mum has just been to visit, our vegetable garden is looking great, and we have a new workaway – the first 20-year-old I’ve met who knows how to put a pillowcase on properly. Happy days.

My story of self-care  so  far.  After two  months of sore knees and neck and general bleuch-ness I think I am getting better. I say ‘I think’ as it’s been up and down so I don’t want to get too excited. And it is very important that I don’t run before I can walk. Literally.

What I’m going through is small fry compared to what others are dealing with, but I’m hoping that everyone can learn from my mistakes. Being unable to walk or move properly has been challenging, not least because I am a yoga teacher. But also because, for me, most enjoyment involves movement.

Learning how to deal with things changing is part of growing older. Over the past few weeks, I have had to accept that, even at the tender age of 45, I can no longer do everything that I want to do, all of the time. I am learning that I need to listen to what my body is saying to me, thanks in no small part to my wise friend, Maryjane Claydon, who sent me the following message:

“Hello Kate” said body. “Hello body” said Kate. “I want to be your friend” said body. “You have to do what I say” said Kate. “OK I’ll try” said body. … “I’m not feeling too good today” said body. “I don’t care” said Kate “you have to do what I want”. “OK I’ll try” said body. “We’re going skiing” said Kate. “You’re joking?” said body. “You have to do what I say” said Kate. “OK I’ll try” said body “but I’m really not feeling too good”. “I’m in charge” said Kate. And body thought secretly to Herself “Enough is enough, I shall bring her to her knees. It is time for her to surrender to me. In you go headache, in you go stiff neck, off to her knees”. “Oh body!” said Kate “you are not doing want I want, I will prod you and look at you to find out why.” “Just listen” said body. “Surrender to me. I will guide you exactly but LISTEN TO ME. I have done my best to be your friend but you just keep pushing me right to the end. Now is the time, a moment to celebrate, to unite as a team now don’t be late! I’m in charge now as you can see with a Wisdom so wise just LISTEN TO ME. Can we be friends? Proper friends I mean, not a massage to relax your mind! Proper, proper friends where we actually talk and you tell me what you want, I tell you how I feel and you do actually LISTEN TO ME! All will be fine for a long, long time, just please give me a break from that demanding mind! I know you love to do, do, do and I do too. But I also just love to chill out! It is my turn now to be in charge and like it or not I can be large! And here now this poem-ish comes to an end. So please Kate, can we be friends?”

So I’m taking it easy – doing the minimum, sleeping lots, relaxing instead of racing around, letting other people do things for me. I’m trying various natural cures suggested by trusted friends and I’ve even been on a mini yoga retreat, just for me. And it’s working. We are feeling good, my body and me.

My knees hurt. I insisted on skiing while I had flu and the doctor thinks the virus went into my knees and caused viral arthritis. My lovely yoga students think differently. Several of them have pointed out that in French the word for knees is ‘genoux’ or ‘je’ (I) and ‘nous’ (us). And if we don’t look after ourselves then our knees will remind us. Loudly.

Even before the holidays, I knew I was running on empty and I was really looking forward to spending a couple of days on my own in our mountain apartment while Tana was on his work experience placement at the local aquarium. But I only managed one day of relaxing. I used the other one to squeeze in a 20km cross-country skiing circuit. Before racing home to go to full-contact karate. Before a week of skiing every day from 9am until 5pm. And a 10km walk up a mountain to round it off.

I am really good at telling other people to look after themselves. In fact, I have made it my job. But for me to actually practice what I preach, my knees have to be virtually disabled. I was forced to spend a few days on the sofa, letting people help me, which I find acutely difficult. But I have an amazing family. My husband forbade me to do anything remotely active and I was bowled over by how proficient the children are at doing what I do. They even managed to clean my yoga rooms to my exacting standards!

I can walk again now but I have stopped taking the antiinflammatories and the pain and swelling is coming back. So I am forced to admit that this is just the tip of the iceberg and my ‘je/nous’ mean business. It is time for me to get serious about self-care and I have already booked two wonderful yoga breaks this year, just for me. Thank you, Chris. I have also signed up to a very scary journey of self-discovery, facing some old, deep scars that might just be at the root of all this. This blog is part of that journey. Let’s do this.

I have been finding time to connect with new friends, especially women, which is unusual for me. I have never been someone who needed or wanted close female friends. I was always happier with the boys while growing up and as I met my boy-for-life when I was 19, my friendship needs were met.

Recently, though, I have really been enjoying female company. Maybe it’s because I am approaching the menopause and I want to go in blazing, with a strong sisterhood around me. Maybe it’s that my kids need me less now, and I enjoy spending time with others who are going through the same thing.

Whatever the reason, I have found, and continue to find, in France and the UK, a bunch of incredible women. I look forward to spending more time with them as the years pass – we’ll be the Women Behaving Badly 😉

As it is Valentine’s Day I feel I should be writing about love. And I am. In a way. Last weekend, I went to a workshop that I would normally never even consider going to. But I saw the poster in the window of a village pottery and felt compelled to sign up. The theme of the workshop was ‘Femme & Sexualité’ and we were to use dance and clay to explore this subject. As I approach menopause I am becoming more aware of my woman-ness and I want to move into the next phase of my life roaring like a wild woman rather than fizzling out like a damp squib.

Well, after a day of dancing and sculpting – excruciatingly embarrassing and wonderfully liberating in equal measure – I can honestly say that it was a Sunday very well spent. The two leaders were incredible – professional, warm and reassuring – and I personally felt supported to explore some deep-rooted stuff that has been holding me back for a while. We could all do with signing up for a workshop to celebrate our sexuality. I, for one, will be looking out for the next opportunity, maybe a four-day wild woman retreat in the Pyrénées, dancing around a fire and sleeping under the stars…

Our Christmas and New Year was pretty perfect this time around. We spent a deliciously relaxing week at home over Christmas. Just the four of us, doing festive things, walking lots and seeing friends. Then it was off to the UK to catch up with family and loved ones and see in the new year. No big parties – in fact, we were all asleep before midnight on the big night itself! But that’s not what we were there for. It was especially lovely to see my mum beaming, surrounded by all of her children and grandchildren.

It was also amazing to see my sister looking so well – a welcome contrast to last year when we were wrapping her up in the Blanket of Dreams. Vicky is back to work and horse-riding so we returned to France to start our 2019 with a real sense of optimism. Already in the diary for this year are parties, festivals and other exciting adventures. Chris is loving his winter job back in construction as he continues to turn our barn into a yoga studio and music room. I can honestly say the Happy Coulsons are indeed HAPPY.

Our aim this year was to have a truly restful Christmas, with minimum travelling and minimum fuss. Just the four of us. And we did. Walking, talking, feasting, playing, watching great TV and films in front of the fire. Perfect.

And to top it off, an early New Year’s Eve party with dear friends. An awesome combination of naughty and nice 😉 Followed by an extremely lazy day of gentle tidying and lounging around. The perfect antidote.

Tonight we fly to the UK, to spend New Year with Nanny, Poppy and Aunty Spider and have a couple of days in London with Granny Lulu. Then it’s back to Happy Coulson to start the new year. May it be as blessed as this one.

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…

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