Wow, what a month! The world opened up just enough to allow our yoga and conscious cooking retreat to go ahead. My theme was Open to Receive, and boy oh boy, did we ever. The weather was perfect, the people divine, and everyone found exactly what we had intended, a bit of radical self-care.

Held at the magical Domaine de Hongrie in Lupiac, this was my richest experience ever of holding space for a retreat. The three French women who came all said that their friends and family had warned them that it sounded like a cult! We laughed about this, but I don’t disagree. A cult is described as a group of people defined by a devotion to something. Well, my cult is compassion and I am devoted to helping people practice this, towards themselves and others.

Part of my practice of self-compassion and self-care following this heart- and mind-blowing retreat was to do something just for me. With my dear friend, Louisa Hallewell, who provides the conscious cooking on our retreats, we spent an afternoon doing aerial yoga on silks. It was an incredible experience.

For the first time in my life, I felt that it was possible to be strong and feminine. And I managed to climb the silk all the way to the top, something I have never been able to do. My body felt strong and balanced, but also elegant and graceful. It seemed to me that this was something I had been preparing for my whole life.

We came away from flying yoga exhilarated and excited about going again in a couple of weeks. Then I broke my leg – tibia and fibula. Jumping on silage bales with India. I knew I had done something serious so a trip to the ‘urgences’ was inevitable. But even then, my ever-optimistic mind was reassuring me it wasn’t broken. I was eventually x-rayed at 1.30am and told the news, to my great surprise.

Emergency surgery followed, to put in a metal plate to hold the bones together, and I came home with a plaster, which was soon decorated with rainbows, hearts and unicorns. The idea of a static summer would usually be ‘l’horreur’ for me, but, once again, I felt that this was something I had been preparing for my whole life…

During May, France began to inch her way out of lockdown. We celebrated by streaming the Glastonbury festival onto a big screen in the camping field. There were some technical difficulties in the UK, but this just meant we had time to enjoy our own music and dance like loons around the fire.

Early summer parties are always exciting as it signals the start of better weather and months of outdoor fun. But this year, it was even more important as it coincided with the lifting of lockdown and curfew rules. There was a real feeling of rediscovering something we had forgotten we had lost.

Here’s hoping the perfect unfolding can now begin in earnest. But we’ll roll with the punches and ride the waves. Obvs.

+D'ORGASME, -DE TRAVAIL

Sign in Vic-en-Bigorre. Nuff said.

I rarely share my opinion as it’s just my opinion, based on what I have experienced and learned, and it can evolve or change at any moment, so why would I inflict it on others? But I am often asked so felt moved to write this blog. (Caveat: I am in no way looking for political, or otherwise, debate. Thank you xx).

I read and hear a lot about ‘conspiracy theorists’ and ‘anti-vaxxers’ (although I don’t like either of these labels as they sound to me judgemental and provocative). In my chosen community of Facebook friends, which includes a lot of yoga teachers and heart-led folk, many people are asking brave questions about what is happening in the world and wondering if there is a better way of doing things. This is never easy in a world shaped by habit, but I believe that constant review is a healthy practice that should be encouraged.

However, as with most things, the balance is sometimes lost. People with the kindest hearts and best intentions can become disappointed, disempowered and disillusioned, and resort to combative and hateful language and argument. For me, this approach never works and will often alienate sympathetic souls.

For what it’s worth, this is how I currently deal with what is going on in the world:

I choose to believe that people are intrinsically good.
I choose not to follow the news.
I choose not to get involved in debate.
I choose not to do things just because other people do, or because that’s the way it’s always been.
I choose never to judge or blame myself or others.
I choose never to be influenced by fear.
I choose to work on getting myself steady, using breath, yoga and meditation.
I choose to think less, and feel more.
I choose to neutralise, not dramatise (thank you, RozyGlow).
I choose to live each moment as it comes, untainted by regrets about the past or fear of the future.
I choose to feel into each situation as it arises.
I choose to practice listening to and trusting my instinct.
I choose to try every day to be my best self, forgiving and loving myself when I mess up.
I choose to be kind and compassionate. Always.
I choose to be grateful, every damn day.
I choose to be the change I want to see in the world.
I choose to be humble enough to admit when I need to let something go.
I choose to be open to possibilities, potential, even miracles.
I choose to do whatever I can to look after my health, inside and out, before searching elsewhere.
I choose to believe that happiness is not a destination, it’s a way of life that takes practice.

Some people might think that this approach to life makes me naive, ignorant, even stupid, and that’s ok. What other people think of me is none of my business (thank you, RozyGlow) 😉

I’m sharing this because choosing these things makes me happy, even during these crazy times. Of course, I recognise that I am very fortunate to live where I do, with the people in my life and the opportunities available to me. But I do believe that it’s possible for everyone to choose to thrive instead of just survive.

So, DO I believe in conspiracy theories and WILL I have the vaccine? You are welcome to draw the conclusions of your own choosing 🙂 (Oh, did I not mention that I can also be really irritating?)

Jim reading the paper with baby Tana

My beloved stepdad, Jimbo, passed away peacefully at home on 20 January, holding my mum’s hand. My darling mum, who spent every last bit of energy keeping him at home, refusing to let him be taken into a hospice, where she would only get to see him for 20 minutes a day, in full protective clothing. I believe that fulfilling Jim’s wishes until the end is one of my mum’s greatest achievements.

The last couple of years have not been easy for mum and Jim and I haven’t been able to help her as much as I would have liked. I always said that I would go over to be with her as soon as Jim passed, and no UK Covid variant, international travel ban or Brexit was going to stop me. But when it came down to actually getting to the UK AND back again, it seemed a daunting prospect…

I found myself having to practice what I preach. When things seem too much of a struggle, take a step back, breathe and trust. Suddenly, everything started falling into place. A sheaf of documents, six trains and two Covid tests later, I was reunited with my mum, sister and brother after more than a year apart. It was the best of times and it was the worst of times. But I will be forever grateful that I was able to say a fitting farewell to one of the kindest, gentlest men I have ever had the pleasure to meet. Jim Tatford, I salute you.

This was Friday rush-hour.

 

Travelling on the London Underground, with glasses to protect against eyeball contamination, was surreal.

 

 

My sister greeted me with gluten-free Turkish Delight brownies.

Reunited with my mummy.

 

 

After the service, we went for a walk in an ancient yew wood with my brother and his boys.

The socially-distanced service was beautiful, and people who couldn’t come were invited to line the street or watch online. All was well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We welcomed the new year in with cautious optimism. January is nearly over and a third confinement is looming. But we are still optimistic. When things seem difficult we go out for a walk with the dogs. We walk and we talk.

We’re very lucky that we can walk from our house but whenever we can, we head into the mountains, to blow away the cobwebs and get things back in perspective. There’ll be no skiing this year, so Chris and I have bought raquettes (snow shoes) and a couple of guidebooks so we can still escape into the snow.

We LOVE Christmas here at Happy Coulson. Between us, Chris and I own nearly 10 festive jumpers – our latest additions (purchased in Lidl, other stores are available) proudly displayed here. Chris found a Father Christmas jumper that actually looked like him, and I was particularly excited by mine as it features hip and trendy street slang that our teenagers just ADORE me using.

As for many people in this crazy Corona year, Christmas came early to Happy Coulson. We did wait until December but then it was full steam ahead, with trees, decorations and enough twinkly lights to be seen from space. As India put it, as she remonstrated with us for having the lights on every day: “Wow, you really are bleeding energy this year”.

Delivering a festive boot of Floc de Gasgogne

The barn/yoga studio “bleeding energy”

 

 

Nature’s decorations

 

Christmas Day cuddles

Skyrunners and skates

Opening my birthday presents on the trampoline

Opening birthday presents on the trampoline

November is birthday-tastic at Happy Coulson (we blame Valentine’s Day). My birthday’s on the 14th, Tana’s is the 21st and Chris’ the 25th, with friends filling up the other days. This year was strange as France went into its second lockdown at the end of October. Thank goodness the weather has been outstanding since the summer. We still managed to have a lot of fun in our bubble but it was kind of irritating not being able to do whatever we wanted.

It was the first time I’d felt a bit trapped and restricted, which isn’t bad after a total of three months in lockdown this year. I wanted to have a big party and invite ALL of our friends. I wanted to take Tana trampolining, go secondhand clothes shopping at Emmaus, have a coffee in a bar, eat out in a restaurant, go to the cinema, listen to live music and go to a party somewhere other than at Happy Coulson. I wanted to be able to go anywhere I wanted, at any time, without having to make it fit one of the boxes on the ‘attestation’ we are legally obliged to carry.

We’re still in lockdown until 15 December but shops are open and we’re allowed to travel up to 20km for the purpose of exercise, for a total of three hours. When lockdown lifts for the festive season, the 9pm curfew comes back in, which, if I’m honest, makes me feel like a moody teenager. Who are they to tell me I have to be home at 9pm? I’m 47 years and two weeks old. We do get two curfew-free nights, on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve so we’re planning the mother and father of all parties. But only for six people, obvs.

France slid back into confinement at the end of October, via a 9pm curfew which felt, in some ways, even more bizarre than full lockdown. We went to a bar the night before the curfew started and everyone had to leave in time to get home by midnight. All very Cinderella, with a hint of police state.

Full confinement kicked back in a week later, with the difference that schools would remain open and people who couldn’t work from home could still work. So this lockdown feels a lot less fearful and more ‘normal’, with loads of people out and about. Although Tana is now only at lycée for half the week and India’s collège is talking about the possibility of home-schooling so all may change…

It certainly is a year of change and crazy energy, which can feel scary at times. But in the words of my wonderful friend, Rozy Kalliabetsos (www.rozyglow.com), who offers world service meditations:
ALL you have to do is MAKE A CHOICE ❤️ IN YOUR HEART ❤️
The rest is gifted to you depending on the choice you make.
NOT making a choice in and of itself is complying with giving your power away.
This makes YOU easily manipulated by F.E.A.R. (false evidence appearing real).
So I invite you to remember your POWER and CLAIM IT NOW.
The LIGHT HAS WON!
How quickly YOU see it depends on the choice you make.
The walls of the old world ARE coming down and one REVELATION after the next is on its way.

Rozy’s meditations always come with the full and new moons and this October has gifted us three glorious moons. We love stargazing here as there is so little light pollution and the skies are often clear. So we had front row seats for the Harvest or Blood Moon, the Hunter’s Moon and a blue moon (second full moon), which you can see in the photo taken from our favourite viewpoint out the back of our house. 

Whether or not you believe in the power of the stars and moon, taking time to look up at the sky is a wonderful thing. Stargazing is a free, constantly-changing show that generates conversation and bonding. Thoughts clear and connection to nature strengthens. It fosters inspiration and imagination, alleviates stress and can even increase happiness. Job done.

What an unusual rentrée (back-to-school). And that’s being polite. Both children at new schools – Tana moving up to lycée after passing his Brevet with a Mention Assez Bien and India moving to Marciac collège in search of tolerance, kindness, and harder school work – and not a word from either establishment before the first day. Really, no one knew anything. Apart from what time the children needed to be there.

It was a similar situation for my yoga classes. Would I be able to use the rooms? How many people would be allowed per class? Would we have to wear masks? Would I have to clean all the rooms before and after use?

In an effort to avoid frustration, I found myself constantly reminding myself, my family and my students of the three As of yoga (and life) that I learned in my first teacher training – Adapt, Adjust, Accommodate.

And here we are, nearly a month in and both kids are super-happy and settled at their new schools. Tana is doing the sports option at the local lycée, which means he gets to do sport as part of his Baccalauréat, and he’s also playing in the front row for Maubourguet rugby club, which he loves. He’s finding new friends, learning to live with old enemies and standing steady in his regained confidence, gifted to us by the virus Corona. India is loving her new school, where she gets loads more homework and no one bats an eyelid at her undercut, earrings and awesomely weird dress sense. She’s doing dog agility with Minty, riding (of course) and twice a week kicking butt in Krav Maga (Israeli self defence) at our beloved martial arts school.

Chris is still working flat out on pools but is looking forward to closing them all and getting stuck back into work here, finishing the yoga studio and starting on the chillout space upstairs. I’m back teaching full-time, more classes than before as numbers are limited, but very pleased that the vast majority of people have come back, and I have a steady trickle of newbies. We’re doing full-contact karate again after taking a year off for Lyme disease, and we’re determined to get our black belts this year. We’re also making lots of music, with friends and rehearsing with our band, The ZamZams. I’m talking about Lyme disease in the past, having done A LOT of work on myself during lockdown – I’d call it a full cellular and emotional detox. I still get the odd symptom but choose not to let them rule me. And it seems to be working thus far.

It is undeniably a strange time. We are very fortunate here to be protected from the worst of it but we still feel the effects. The most obvious is the wearing of masks and the children have to wear one at school all day. I am not convinced that wearing a mask is necessary for most people but I do it when I am asked to, and take it off at all other times. No one really knows what is going on and what to do for the best. There is a lot of fear and mistrust and that, in my opinion, is the biggest danger. So I will be focusing on getting steady, breathing, letting go of fear and tension, and being kind. Being kind to myself, to everyone I know and also to everyone I don’t know. Big changes are afoot and this is a good way to deal with any change.

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