Beach funThe rhythm of life at Happy Coulson is changing. Chris has started his first season as the local pool guy – he has 20 swimming pools to clean and open before the summer. Spring also brings a steady stream of pilgrims – more than steady this year as we’ve had record numbers already. Thankfully we have had a workaway – Kristen from Kansas – to look after them. We also had four French girls to stay for a language immersion during the school holidays.

Everyone is mucking in – the kids earned their first ever pocket money by doing whatever was required, from kitchen work to feeding the animals. India can pretty much prepare and serve the evening pilgrim meal by herself now and we came down one morning to find that Tana had taken payment from a couple of pilgrims and stamped their passports before waving them off.

We all love busy – Tana says he wants to live in a hut on an island so he always has something to do – but it’s important not to be a work bore. So four days at a friend’s beachfront house for their 40th birthday was just what we needed. Sea, sand, friends and food reset the balance beautifully.

Relaxed kidsWe often have French students staying with us during the holidays to learn English, this time two sisters from Paris who are here for their third visit. The girls work very hard at school and their parents are happy to know “they’ve changed the pace and content of their Parisian routine”.

You don’t have to live in Paris to have a busy life, and this can make life stressful for children as well as adults. The girls always enjoy coming to yoga with me so I planned morning and evening meditation sessions, in the hope of giving them some techniques they could take back home.

What exactly is meditation? For me, it’s a way of finding space in my head, with no need to do anything, just be. This can be very helpful for children who feel weighed down by expectations and overstimulated by life.

How do you do meditation with kids? It can sound a bit daunting, especially when it is not something you are used to doing yourself. Here are a few super-simple techniques that I use:

Seated meditation (you can do this anywhere, even if you only manage a couple of minutes):
1. Sit comfortably, with your back straight, if in a chair feet flat on the floor, eyes closed
2. Just be aware of your breath – observe how it lifts and lowers your chest
3. As you breathe out, relax your eyes. Relax your mouth. Relax your shoulders. Relax your hands
4. Stay here for as long as you want, coming out slowly with some deeper breaths, eyes to the floor

Other things to try (just use one technique, always starting with good posture and breath awareness):
– Put one hand on your belly and let your belly fill with your in-breath, just letting go with your out-breath
– Count how many seconds it takes you to breathe in and out. Try to slow your out-breath by 1-2 seconds
– Be aware of the little pauses at the top and bottom of the breath – maybe hang out there for a moment

Lying meditation (anywhere – in bed, outside):
1. Lie on your back, arms by your sides, palms up, relax your legs, shoulders and arms
2. You can do all of the above. Also, after getting comfy and focusing on your breath for a few minutes:
– If outside, become aware of any sounds. Start with those close by then let your awareness ripple out, taking in those far away before slowly bringing your awareness back. Take your time.
– Imagine yourself in a really peaceful place – lying in a meadow, on the beach, on a mountain, even on a cloud. Describe how it feels. Take your child on a journey, encouraging them to find their own place.

Give it a try. It’s worth it. And let me know how it goes.

Yoga des abeillesBees rock. We all know how important they are for our planet and here in our tiny village in southwest France they are especially revered. We even have an organic bee farm that makes natural cosmetics from the honey, propolis and royal jelly. Ballot-Flurin also runs Yoga des Abeilles (Bee Yoga) courses, where people sleep among the bees and leave the static and stress of modern life behind, enabling them to get close to the bees without any protection.

I teach outside yoga for the staff and sometimes early morning yoga for the people on the Yoga des Abeilles courses. I have even been lucky enough to do a meditation with the bees and had them all over my bare skin. It was an amazing experience.

Warré hiveNow, thanks to a wonderful friend who is a natural beekeeper, we are on our way to harvesting our own Happy Honey. Julie has just started a new business helping homeowners set up their own hives. In return for helping her with English translations, as she would also like to offer the service to English-speaking expats, Julie is overseeing the installation of our first Happy Hive. We have chosen to use a Warré hive, which provides the bees with an environment that most closely replicates what they would have in the wild. We are ordering our kit and Julie is on the lookout for a swarm that would like to make Happy Coulson their home…

English school with KateOur French student was given a list by her English teacher – things she needed to work on during her stay with the Coulson family:
Present perfect v. past simple
Prepositions
Forming questions
Third conditional
So I asked Yuka to write a blog using everything she has learned…

Hello, I am Yuka. I’m 11 years old and I am from Paris. I came here to study English. Do you want to know what I have done this week?

Our snowghostWell… we have been to the mountains, where we built a snow ghost, had a snowball fight and made snow forts; we have made and eaten lots of delicious food, including sushi, brownies, cookies, pizzas and toad-in-the-hole; we have made boats from corks and sailed them on a little river; we have played games like Picture Consequences and Bananagrams; we have been on lots of walks and done some yoga; we have watched films in English; we have made pottery – I made a vase; and we have made Origami shapes.

Don’t worry, mum, we also did lots of work. I knew that if I hadn’t studied hard, you would have been cross.
It is my second time with the Happy Coulsons. If I hadn’t enjoyed it the first time, I wouldn’t have come back!

download (3)New year, new resolutions. I hear it so often in my yoga classes – I must lose half a stone, stop smoking, stop drinking, I must change this or change that. Not the greatest start to the year, putting all these barriers between us and happiness?

Many resolutions fail because they start from the assumption that you are not good enough. They reinforce the mistaken belief that your happiness depends on getting what you want.

The yoga tradition offers a way to realise your heartfelt desires without asking you to change who you are. The practice of sankalpa, or resolve, starts with the belief that you already are who you need to be. All you need to do is focus, connect and let the magic happen.

Ok, so how on earth do we do that? It can actually be as simple as finding a space, breathing and letting go, both of things from the past and of your expectations for the future. Discovering your sankalpa is a process of listening. It’s not something you need to make up or go wildly searching for.

And if nothing comes up, just come back to space, breathe and let go. That may be all you need.

HappinessIf you don’t like Christmas, you’re not doing it right. That’s what I think every time I hear people moaning about this time of year. Too commercial, too much over-spending and over-eating, lack of real meaning, blah blah blah.

We all have a choice. How much to spend, how much to eat, what meaning we give this festive period, whether we allow ourselves to be suckered in by every advertisement.

And if we do eat or or spend too much and it turns out to be not such a good idea, we can choose to play it differently next year. Or we can choose to do exactly the same thing.

For us this year, Christmas is all about spending time together, just the four of us. Happy Coulson is a busy place (which we love) and we are busy people (which we love). So we have sl-ow-ed right down, with no work, few activities and limited socialising. Leaving lots of space for walking, cooking, crafting, watching films, or simply lazing around in bed.

Of course, there are people who are alone at Christmas through no choice of their own. If you know someone and can do something about it, then do. I heard about a great ‘spare chair’ idea where people offer a seat at their Christmas lunch to someone who would rather not be alone. Inspired.

So what does Christmas mean to you? And if you don’t like it, change it. There is always something you can do. If you can’t stand the commercialism, move somewhere with no shops. It’s working for us.

HalloweenAnother blog by Tana – he really wanted to post this before his birthday. And before Halloween but that didn’t quite happen…

I am 9 and in 19 days I will be 10 years old.
This is my liste (sic) that I like to do:
1. Writing
2. Drawing
3. Skateboarding
4. Scootering* (*made up word alert, as per David Walliams’ books)
5. Making cabanes (dens)
It is a litul (sic) liste (sic) but I like it.

My house is in the middle of nowhere but we do have some neighbours. They are having a party at their house the 31 of october. It’s Halloween. They always have a party at their house for Halloween. It’s nice because you stay up until 4am. Yesterday, I went to their house just to play with Tony and Amy but they had put the things up so I saw it. Well a bit because the window was open. It looks scarey (sic) in there.

I can’t wait for the Halloween party and my Birthday party and we are going to Engaland (sic) for my Birthday too. My Birthday is on the 21st of november but because we are in Engaland we are doing my Birthday party on the 15 of november. My mother was born the 14 of november and my dad was born the 25 of november and it is Christmas soon. Yeah!

Life with the CoulsonsTana

Hi, I am Tana Coulson. I live in France with my lovely house in Lahitte-Toupière. My mummy is very fun to have around and my father too. I have a sister. She is called India. India has rabbits and we have chickens and four cats. Well, that’s not true because we lost one so we have three cats, one dog and the nature because we live in the contrie said (sic). We have got one workaway and one France studiade (sic) at home. Today we are going to do a walk. 3 hours I think the walk is going to take. And after that we will go to karate then at 8.30 we will be in bed. Then tomorrow is another story. Good bye.

Life of a Pilgrim 

Life of a pilgrim must be hard. You will need to have a back pack and you will need to walk 25 or 35km. But they would see loads of views and then they will come to Happy Coulson. That is nice because Happy Coulson is Happy for Pilgrims. My father makes food for them. It is very nice Berf Boginiont (sic). Mmmmm, dellichuse (sic). They normally come in the spring or summer or automne (sic). They do not come in winter because it is too cold for them and slippery. We want to get more than 200 pilgrims a year. It’s good but we would like more than that. I like this house and my family. Happy Coulson is cool like this. Good bye again.

The End.

Just back from a wonderful week in the UK, where one word kept popping into my head and mouth.

Q: “Why did you move your family to rural France?”
A: “To find more space”.
At first we were in search of more literal space – more acres for our budget and more wide open spaces. The result of finding that? More space to be a family and see what we really want from life.

Q: “What is the best thing about your new life in France?”
A: “The feeling of space”.
Both literally, having mountains to look at and fields to walk through. And space to organise our lives as we want to, and make the changes and decisions that we want to.

Q: “Why do you do yoga?”
A: “For the feeling of space in my body. And in my head”.
People often think that yoga is about stretching. For me, it is almost the opposite. When you do a strong stretch, the reflex of your muscle is to contract. For me, yoga is about finding space to stop and be aware of what is going on in your body. It’s about pausing and allowing your body to realign, expand, do whatever it needs to do. And when that happens in your body and you are aware of it, it is only a matter of time before it starts happening in your head.

In September, we were lucky enough to take part in the Chemin de Travers, an annual event organised by a group of French friends for what has grown to be around 100 of their closest pals. It must have taken the 10 friends months to plan the four-hour bicycle treasure hunt and come up with the afternoon of incredible games and an evening of eating and being merry. Most of my English friends would LOVE to do something like that, but when asked why they didn’t, the answer was always the same:
A: “I just don’t have the time”.

Our French friends also work. They too have bills to pay and children to keep them busy. But here, most people make space for things like this. Every day, workers make space for a two-hour lunch break. Every May and August, virtually the whole country comes to a grinding halt as people make space for some time away from work. I have to admit that as an outsider I have sometimes viewed this as laziness and exceedingly inconvenient. But maybe their priorities are just different?

As my dad replied when the teenage Kate said she “didn’t have time” to go and see an elderly friend of ours: “Oh, you have the time, you just choose not to use it like that”.

Don’t get me wrong, I never said this was easy. Even here, with all this ‘space’, I still struggle with too much to do. But now I am definitely more aware that it is my choice. I have the power to decide how I spend my life. Sometimes that requires scary changes. But it is still my choice.

The CoulsonsThis was supposed to be our August blog but we were too busy having fun! Today is La Rentrée (back to school/work) and you can already feel the difference in the air. Peace and quiet. And breathe.

Wow, what a summer. Big thanks to Abby, Pete, Sophia and Theo from Norfolk who looked after Happy Coulson and all our guests while we lived it up at the Purcell and Buxton 40th birthday parties.

Big thanks also to my mum, sister and Granny Lulu, who gave the children a wonderful week while Chris and I enjoyed the longest time together on our own for 10 years. We escaped to the mountains for open-air theatre and some extreme hiking. And ate out. Late. A lot.

We had lots of visitors in August. Was great to see Dave, Suzy, Lily and Dylan for the big Maubourguet fête. And we had our first French families camping through the Gamping website (garden camping). A huge success and the children loved having loads of different playmates.

Chris starts his new business this week – Happy Pools. He will be the ‘Pool Guy’ for 20 swimming pools. Off now to collect his new work van…

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