I have never been very good at doing things in moderation. I am an all-or-nothing-kind-of-gal! If there are chocolates in the house, they get eaten. If the bottle of wine is opened, it gets drunk. If I fall in love, I jump in with both feet. You get the picture! I have a pretty addictive personality and, up until recently, the only way I could really manage my addictions was with abstinence. When I quit my 30-a-day nicotine habit in my late 30s, I had to just quit completely and I will NEVER touch another cigarette. A few years ago I quit the booze for a couple of years and was sugar-free for a similar length of time. I felt great….super-healthy, clear-headed, vibrant, energised, glowing.
However, since moving to France 4 months ago, I have faced a bit of a challenge and my old ways of managing these addictions doesn’t really work for me anymore. There is a beautiful patisserie in nearly each village, we are surrounded by some of the best vineyards in the world and our local wine shop (chateau) is only 5 mins away from our front door and looks like this –
Personally I just don’t see the point in living here and not allowing myself to enjoy these simple pleasures. They are so much a part of the way of life and I really want to enjoy ALL aspects of my new life here in a healthy, balanced way. Continue reading “In Search of Balance”
A large part of the reason that we decided to leave Ireland was because we are outdoors people and we found the weather there to be changing for the worse over recent years. Having spent a lot of money and time creating a beautiful patio area outside our house there, we noticed that in 2016 we were actually only able to spend about 10 days throughout the whole year sitting in it because of the poor weather conditions. The part of Co. Down where we lived also seemed to be getting wetter and wetter and the seasons were becoming less defined every year. Despite Mr Trump’s assertion that climate change doesn’t exist, the long hot Irish summers of my childhood are definitely a thing of the past.
We were both craving more daylight, more sunshine and more vitamin D, especially during the long winter months which were always a bit of a struggle for me. So before we made our decision to move, Eoin did extensive research of weather patterns in different parts of SW France. Even within the Dordogne there are quite different conditions in various areas. We finally settled on a specific area which we loved and which also has great weather and we have been living nearby since the start of October.
Locals told us stories of eating Christmas dinner out in the garden some years. They also told us that February and May are usually the wettest months but that the seasons are well defined and that we will be able to spend most of our time outdoors for about 8 months of the year. It sounded like heaven to us!
And yet, in recent weeks all the locals are talking about is “le temps exceptionnel” (the exceptional weather) and they don’t mean exceptionally good! It honestly feels as if it has hardly stopped raining here since the start of November. Our daily walks with the dogs across the vineyards and through the forests find us all returning covered in mud and often soaking. Yesterday was so wet and wild that the dogs didn’t even want to go out to the toilet! So, for the first day since we left Ireland, we didn’t get any exercise or fresh air. The Dordogne river is higher than people have seen it for nearly two decades and the land is completely saturated. This photo looks lovely until you realise that is actually an image of the picnic area and car park by the river in Limeuil which has been under water for the last few weeks. A friend here told me on Monday that 10 of their 12 acres of riverside land are now under water. We haven’t been able to sit outside once in nearly two months now and whilst it is milder than Ireland, the damp conditions mean that we are lighting a fire every day. This was not what I had visualised for my new life in France! I hope that we didn’t bring the Irish weather with us.
When I woke up this morning to the sound of more rain, more muddy dog paw prints to mop up and the prospect of another wet walk, I have to say that my spirit was struggling. My mood was low and I was aware of feeling frustration, disappointment and a tinge of despondency. But one of the great things about our two dogs is that they love their exercise and Delilah especially gets very jittery if she doesn’t get at least 4 kilometres a day (plus her daily deer chase which she loves in the Dordogne!). So, with great reluctance, I hauled myself out of bed, put on my walking gear and we headed out. Continue reading “A Shift in Perspective”
Perfect comfort food for a winter’s evening. Even better if cooked with love, using only organic ingredients, combined with a glass of full-bodied red wine from our neighbouring Chateau de la Jaubertie or your own favourite and relished mindfully in front of the fire. Heaven in a bowl!!
750g finely sliced onions
2 crushed, peeled and chopped gloves of garlic
1.5 litres of vegetable stock
200 ml white wine
1 bay leaf
a sprig of thyme
pinch of sea salt
freshly ground pepper
some thin baguette slices
100g grated Gruyere cheese
Melt butter in a saucepan over a medium heat then add the onions and reducing the heat. Stir regularly for 50 minute and make sure they don’t stick to the pan or start burning. Slow and gentle here. Add a little more butter as necessary until they become soft and golden or caramelised.
Next add the garlic and flour and stir it well to make sure the flour coats everything. Then slowly add the white wine stirring all the time to make sure it thickens gently and isn’t lumpy. Add the thyme leaves, bay leaf and season with salt and pepper before covering the pan and simmering over a low heat for 40 minutes.
Toast the baguette slices then cover in Gruyere before melting under the grill then pop them on top of a steaming bowl of soup.
After 6 months looking and 3 months extremely focused and intensive (15 hours per week) house-hunting we have finally bought our new home in the Dordogne! Voici ‘La Girouette’……
Anyone who has bought a home in France knows that the system here is very different to the UK/Ireland. For starters there are no big centralised property search engines that all the immobiliers (estate agents) register their properties on. There are dozens of different websites many of which are difficult to navigate and have poor search terms. Next, hardly anyone puts up “A Vendre” (For Sale) signs so you have no idea which houses are actually on the market. After all our searching we genuinely believe that maybe 1 in every 5 houses in the Dordogne must be on the market. The number of properties for sale here is just staggering so you can spend literally weeks trawling through websites trying to find houses which match your criteria.
Then once you do find one which looks good and ticks the boxes on paper you have to try to find out where it is. “Proche d’un village” (near to a village) can mean anything up to 10 kms from the local village and, even then, that village might have no boulangerie or any other shops because there are many, many ‘dead’ villages in the area. The estate agents’ descriptions of locations are deliberately vague because they don’t want people to go to the owners directly for a private sale. Given that the agent’s charge a massive 5-6% of the selling price in fees, you can understand that they might want to safe-guard that income by being as cagey as possible. However, for the house-hunter this makes life very difficult and the whole process incredibly slow because you have to arrange a viewing of every single property which might vaguely be of interest even though you have no idea if it is on a main road or right beside a factory! Continue reading “Home Sweet Home!”
As I sit here in my dressing gown in front of the fire, loaded with a nasty cold, surrounded by used tissues and with the rain pouring down outside this Sunday morning, it would be easy to start to feel a little sorry for myself. After all, part of the reason that we moved to the Dordogne was to get away from the dark, wet Irish winters and, to be honest, it feels as if it hasn’t stopped raining here for about 10 days. On top of the yucky weather, Eoin and I have been loaded with this cold/flu thing for a week now so, in the brief moments that it has stopped raining, we haven’t really had enough energy to go out and enjoy the countryside.
Of course, I have to remind myself that all of this is just my negative perception this morning and that there have been dry spells, the occasional bit of sunshine and, despite our coughing and spluttering, we still managed to have lots of fun with Eoin’s brother and his wife who came to visit us last week.
Have you ever noticed that when your body’s immune system is struggling, your mental/emotional immune system is also lowered and negative thoughts and perceptions can sneak in much more easily than when you are feeling strong and healthy? Continue reading “Avoiding the Void”
It’s been quite a while since I wrote a blog and we have had so many different experiences and adventures over the last 12 weeks since we drove away from our old home in Northern Ireland in search of our new life in the Dordogne.
As I write this, however, I am not in France but in Edinburgh airport on the first leg of my journey back to Eoin, the dogs and our new winter rental home near Bergerac which we moved into a few days before I flew out to Ireland last Thursday afternoon. It has been a mad whirlwind week which feels more like a month. I flew to Dublin where I was running an event for 160 people through the Positive Living Network which is one of my businesses there. During my 48 hours in Dublin I also had precious 1-1 time with my Positive Living Network team, a couple of girlfriends and one of my step-daughters. I then got a lift up to Northern Ireland where I stayed Saturday night with one couple of friends and Sunday with another. I checked in on Source Wellbeing Centre which is our business in Belfast and had time with our manager there. I even squeezed in a yoga class with my old yoga teacher before flying over to Edinburgh on Monday!
Once in Scotland I drove up to Dundee to stay with my daughter, Georgia, and her partner and to help them move into their new flat. Yesterday was spent at Georgia’s graduation from her Master’s degree and then celebrating with my brother, his wife and one of their daughters over a meal and cocktails.
I don’t think I could have fitted more into the week if I had tried! Georgia said to me yesterday “it hasn’t been much of a holiday for you” and I had to point out that it was never meant to be a holiday. Strangely enough our day to day life in France still feels like a holiday and coming back to Ireland/UK is more about going to work and catching up with loved ones.
After only 12 short weeks of living in France being here in the UK/Ireland has felt quite alien to me and I have been acutely aware of the much faster, more stressed and less connected way of life which is so different to life in the Dordogne. I am really surprised that after such a short period of time, the UK/Ireland no longer feels like home to me and there is literally nothing that I miss from my old life (apart from my friends, who are still my friends and whom I chat with regularly anyway). Continue reading “What is Home Anyway?”
This is where I am sitting as I write this and I just had to share this photo with you because it is so beautiful here this evening!
After a fabulous couple of weeks in Mirabelle (the motor-home) exploring the glorious South-West coast of France, we arrived here near Belves about 10 days ago. We are house-sitting in an incredible house for the whole of October and looking after Chewie and Jabba the labs while their owners take a holiday. Our two dogs are also with us so we have quite a pack to walk every day but it is worth it for the opportunity to spend time in this incredible setting for free.
The October weather has been glorious so far and today the temperature soared to a glorious 28 degrees. It is now 8 pm and I am still sitting outside in a t-shirt. My skin is brown and my body is loving all the challenging hilly walks with the dogs on the Camino (which runs right beside us), my daily swims in the pool here and lots of yoga. There is literally zero stress from day to day at the moment and part of me still thinks that I am on holiday. The reality that this is my new life hasn’t quite sunk in yet.
I think that this is partly because we have had so little interaction with any kind of local community since we arrived. We have been moving around a lot over the last 8 weeks and we have been pretty self-sufficient in terms of keeping each other company which as been wonderful. Eoin and I are best buddies and we have lived and worked together since we met 8 years ago so we are used to spending a lot of time with each other. However, we have met quite a few couples who have moved here and have made the mistake of becoming totally dependent on each other for company and haven’t made the effort to get out and make new friends or create a sense of community around them. This always ends in one or both of them wanting to move back ‘home’ – mainly because they haven’t made France their real home. We will NOT be doing that! Continue reading “Feel the Fear and Speak French Anyway!”
As I write this, I am sitting in Mirabelle (our motor-home) in a beautiful campsite and I can hear the roar of the wild Atlantic which is less than 5 minutes’ stroll from our ‘front door’. We arrived here almost a week ago after an overcast and quite damp 10 days house-sitting in the Gironde. When we left there last Monday we decided that we wanted to chase the sun and, thanks to Eoin’s brilliant weather app, we found it. We have had a blissful week here with lots of sunshine, swimming in the waves, cycling, yoga and general outdoors living in temperatures in the mid to high 20s. My skin is feeling sun-kissed and my body is feeling very healthy (if a little tired after a long time in the ocean yesterday).
Our two dogs are still staying with friends in the Dordogne and we decided to make the most of these two weeks of total freedom with no commitments to anyone apart from ourselves. When we arrived here on Monday we told the receptionist that we would be staying a couple of nights but after two nights we realised that we were both really happy, relaxed and loving the place. It was only our minds that were telling us that we “should” explore more of the coastline and see or do more. We both dropped the word “should” from our vocabulary a few years ago so we decided to stay put until we both feel the urge for a change of scene.
Continue reading “A Pair of Old Beach Hippies!”
It is now two weeks since we drove away from our old home in Nothern Ireland and about 10 days since we arrived in France. My life has been turned on its head as I left behind so much which is familiar. My physical environment is currently changing every few days as we explore this beautiful country. And yet I am fascinated by the fact that many aspects of my day-to-day life are very similar to how they were before. I have the same morning routine and the same bedtime routine. I have the same little habits that I have had for many years and my perimenopausal hormones are still as crazy in France as they were in Northern Ireland!
It is so easy to think that you will be fundamentally changed as a human being just because you make a big life change like moving to another country, ending a relationship or changing a job. However, of course, just because the external circumstances of your life are different does not mean that you are different.
Yesterday I found myself waking early, going straight onto my laptop to check emails and then rushing to get to the morning market at a decent time. I then observed myself wandering through that lovely French market and experiencing some more stress all of which was created by my thought patterns about what to buy and cook for dinner! Rather than being fully present and enjoying the sights and sounds of the market and marvelling at the fact that this is now my new ‘normal’ way of buying food, my mind was caught up in old, outdated programming.
Luckily I have been meditating and practicing mindfulness for so many years now that I was able to observe the antics of my mind, catch them and bring myself fully back into the here and now. I could then really experience the beauty of my surroundings and the pleasure of chatting in French with the fish-stall holder while I selected some monkfish for dinner. I was able to appreciate the intricate wonders of the window display in the chocolaterie. I could savour the smell the basil that I bought from the man who grew it.
So many people chase the dream and think that their lives will be totally different when they move to France (or any other country) but the reality is often that their lives are not really that different. The common denominator of any stress and anxiety that we experience in our lives is not really the circumstances of our life. It is YOU! We all know that there are people living in what we perceive as horrifically deprived situations in countries like India who are filled with an inner joy and deep appreciation for their lives. We also know people who ‘have it all’ and who are horribly unhappy. Continue reading “New life, same old me!”
We have now been on the road for one week and are gradually settling into our temporarily nomadic lifestyle. So far we have spent nights in Northern Ireland, Dublin, near Stratford-upon-Avon, Portsmouth and a few nights in two different towns in the Loire region of France. Our original plan had been to stay in a different place each night as we travelled down through France from Normandy to the Dordogne so that we could just do a couple of hours’ driving each day and explore the country we were passing through. However, Tuesday saw a change of plan……
We spent Monday night in the car park of Portsmouth ferry terminal so we could get the early crossing and we had a restless night and an early start. When we arrived in France on Tuesday at lunchtime it was hot and as we drove South the temperature and humidity kept rising. By the time we arrived at our campsite after nearly 4 hours’ drive, we were all a little frazzled. It was one of those days when I was sweating as I sat still never mind putting up the awning and getting ourselves unpacked. The dogs were hot and stressed too. By the time we got set up for the evening, Eoin and I were, quite frankly, f**ked! All the busy-ness of the last few weeks, getting used to motor-home living, travelling with the dogs and finding our way around new terrain had finally taken its toll. We sat down under the stars for dinner that night and decided that we all needed to take the next day off and just ‘land’ in France. So we stayed for two nights and moved on yesterday but again, this morning, we both really felt the need for stillness so we are staying another night in the lovely campsite where we are right now. It has been a great decision just to take things a little easier on ourselves and to have a couple of lazy days in one place without having to pack up and move on. This afternoon it is raining heavily so we are putting our feet up and making the most of the enforced rest.
Tomorrow we have a reasonably long drive but the reward at the end of it is that we are dropping Samson and Delilah off with our friends in the Dordogne who are dog-sitting for them for the rest of September. We love the fur babies but they are just too big to travel around with in Mirabelle and it is also very unsettling for them. So this will be best for all of us.
I guess that we are still in the process of unwinding from the sale of our home, possessions and car and all the work that we had been doing in the background to simplify our lives before we left Northern Ireland. Even at a combined age of 109 years old, we both have great energy levels which are helped by our healthy lifestyle and excellent nutrition but we definitely had underestimated how tired we actually were.
Continue reading “The Freedom of Simplicity”