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 & SexualitĂ©’ 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 PyrĂ©nĂ©es, 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 PyrĂ©nĂ©es, 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 PyrĂ©nĂ©es 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 rentrĂ©e, 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, fĂȘtes 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 ‘rentrĂ©e’ (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 fĂȘte 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 fĂȘte 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 fĂȘtes, festivals and parties (Medievales de Tour de Termes d’Armagnac, Festival d’Artagnan, Santana at the Marciac Jazz Festival, Maubourget fĂȘte, Montesquiou on the Rocks) culminating in our summer shindig at the end of the month 🙂

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