Merry Christmas…

IMG_4812    Merry Christmas everyone,

and wishing you every peace and happiness

in 2014 and beyond.

Where to begin??  This is really the first Christmas ‘letter’ we’ve ever sent as a family.  It’s just past 8 o’clock here in Salies on Saturday 21st December, my last day at work before Christmas.  I really wasn’t sure if we’d have the time to write to you all as the run-up to Christmas has been so busy with work.  But receiving your cards, email and love has inspired me!

Later this morning, in about 90 minutes, I’ll be hitting the road to Biarritz to teach yoga.  I’ve been teaching two classes a week there since March.  It’s an hour drive through beautiful countryside, undulating hills that change every week as the fields are planted, the crops (mainly maize and tobacco here) grow, are harvested and then lie fallow.  I drive with the Pyrenees on my left, the Atlantic Ocean ahead and the sunrise behind.  Classes in Biarritz are very very small, sometimes only one person turns up, but I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to share yoga there and to connect with some fantastic people, both ex-pats and French.IMG_6061

I’m also teaching at home, with seven classes a week on the timetable now.  I teach in our spare bedroom which has no furniture and can accommodate up to four students.  I love to teach in a small group like this, as it allows me to get to know the students, their bodies, their temperaments, and to adjust the class and the postures accordingly.  I adore my work and find it so rewarding, even on the mornings when I have to drag myself out of bed to get ready to receive these enthusiastic men and women, most of whom are practicing yoga for the first time.  I teach traditional Hatha yoga and the Astanga Primary Series, a more dynamic style.  Come January I’ve been invited to transfer two of my classes to the base of a British holiday company, Active Vacances.  They specialise in triathlon training, but also run more relaxed weeks for those who want to get away and do a little exercise.

IMG_5770It’s taken most of the year to get this far with the yoga, and I worked part-tieme in a bar in Salies from May until the end of August to get some much-needed cash.  Since I arrived last October I’ve been volunteering once or twice a week with a local yoga association.  The non-profit group has 100 members, offering six classes a week for a very reasonable price.  In September they agreed to fund me for a three-year teaching diploma.  I’m already qualified, but to have a French diploma and to study in French was such a wonderful opportunity for me!  So once a month I spend the day in the local city of Bayonne working through the grounding principles of philosophy, anatomy, postures and breathing in Hatha yoga.

Over the summer period Chris worked for another local ex-pat company, helping care for the swimming pools and gardens of second homes in the area.  The properties are all owned by ex-pats and we were offered the opportunity to buy the business at the end of August.  We’re currently wading through the required paperwork and working to finally cut ties with his previous businesses in Alpe d’Huez.  The new company will be called Eden Property Services and Chris will be working alone as a sole trader, with me doing the publicity and accounts.  It’s an exciting time and he really enjoys the combination of contact with clients, being outdoors and setting his own schedule.

IMG_5705He came to join me from the Alpes on 18th May this year.  The seven months apart – having only just married – were very difficult for us both.  However, the improvement in our communication, trust and ability to ‘just get on with it’ were worth the sad moments and we really cherish the time we have together now.  We’re still living in our little two-bed rented house in a spa town called Salies de Béarn.  We have a lovely garden and Chris successfully grew and harvested an abundance of honeydew melons, peppers, chard, lettuce, pumpkins, spinach and peas.  There are still chard, leeks and carrots in the ground.

In July our family grew as we welcomed Om.  This spritely little kitten has brought us so much joy.  He rapidly turned into quite a monkey, flying up the trees and trying to terrorise our neighbour’s older cat.  He doesn’t roam far (thank goodness) and loves to cuddle in the mornings and evenings. Now eight months old, he’s grown into a very independent little man.

IMG_5681Through the spring I was visited by my dear friends Dom and Malou, then Carly and my family came in the summer.  My parents stayed for the month of August in a nearby gite which they have rented before; and my brother came for a long-weekend over my birthday.  We celebrated with a mid-afternoon party of tea and cakes, despite the plus-30 degree heat, sheltering in the cool of the house until the sun had moved out of the garden.  We had around forty guests in the end, with a wonderful atmosphere and felt truly blessed to be part of such a friendly community.

In September I left Om and Chris to their own devices and took a week to walk some of the pilgrimage trail, the Chemin de Compostelle (Way of Saint James) that starts roughly forty minutes from here and runs through Spain to Santiago.  My adopted French godmother and I managed 130km before the rain came and we called Chris to come and collect us.  It was a very spiritual time for me, and I felt immense freedom in the simple routine of wake, eat, walk, shower, eat, sleep.  We carried our few essentials on our backs and Sylvie was a great help in translating into Spanish that I eat neither meat nor fish.  Despite loving the experience, I’d been feeling a little ill during the week and just put it down to sun exposure, endurance exercise and a very limited diet!

IMG_5931On my return however, we discovered that I was pregnant, just over three weeks.  Sheer joy!  I just can’t describe how I felt but maybe this photo will give you an idea.  We’d decided we’d like to start a family and were so entranced by the speed with which God granted us this enormous blessing.  We kept very quiet for the first three months, then gradually allowed the news to seep out.  As I write this I’m halfway through my fourth month and showing a small but definite belly.  We started to feel the baby kick two weeks ago and our next scan is early in January, with Tiny Tonkin due on 15th May 2014.

So far everything has gone smoothly.  I suffered more nausea than actual sickness in the first trimester, and was very tired into the fourth month.  It turns out my body is reacting badly to sugar.  I’m not diabetic, but on the way.  Gestational diabetes is a very common pregnancy complaint and I can control the condition with changes to my diet.  I’m currently only allowed a tiny taste of fruit in my morning porridge and a square of dark chocolate when I really want one.  I’m grateful for sugar-free biscuits, which allow me to feel a moment of relief when everyone around me is indulging.  Chris has been an angel and almost stopped eating sugar too!

IMG_5540Throughout the year I’ve been singing with a small, local ex-pat choir, the Lass Singers and have started introducing some new hymns and church too.  We’ve been attending the Anglican Church in Biarritz, a compact community that holds a weekly service in the chapel of a Catholic church in Biarritz.  In September I was invited to become a Churchwarden and also to take the Reader course in order to lead services.  We don’t have a full-time vicar but are part of the Anglican church under the Diocese of Europe.  I liaise with the Venerable Ian Naylor, Archdeacon of France, when necessary, and through the summer months we have visits from other clergy in the diocese who perform the Eucharist.  We’re growing in numbers and in faith as our little church continues to embrace and share the love of God.  Chris and I are so grateful for the opportunity to serve and to make a difference.

IMG_5808Chris, The Bump and I are heading back to the UK on the 23rd to meet our new nephew James (who was born to Chris’ sister Mandy in August) in his home town of Devon, Sidmouth, before heading up to my family in London.  We’ll be back on the 31st and back to work on Monday 6th January.

We wish you the best of good health, love and peace over this magical Christmas period and into the years ahead.  And we send you much love and gratitude for the role you’ve all played in our lives this year.

Vixie, Chris, Om and Tiny Tonkin (otherwise known – affectionately of course – as The Bump)


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