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How I Became a Midlife Stress Buster

4 Minute Read

‘Tell me what you do in just one word?’ After 12 years in the business, it still didn’t slip off my tongue. How was it possible to sum up midlife and all its issues, in just one word? I went for a very long walk.

My love of personal development coaching had always been part of me. At junior school, I received the ‘Concientiousness Towards Others’ award two years running. I knew helping others, listening to their needs, was a huge part of me, yet as I reached my 40s, this potential had not been truly realised.

One day, sitting with my toes dangling in our private pool, and I could see into the next 20 years. Very clearly. It was not a place I wished to be. I had everything, a loving husband, a luxury lifestyle in the Mediterranean, a six bedroomed home, two wonderful boys soon to fly the nest, and my own hormones creating havoc. I wasn’t happy. None of my peers seemed to be happy either. What was it about the peri-menopause, modern day living and me? There had to be more to life.

I found inspiration in a magazine. I realized that I could take my social science degree, add to it life coaching and begin a new career. This life change has led to a glorious 15 years of exploration and connection to myself and what matters to me the most - helping others. With it comes those all-important, life-changing light bulb and goose-pimple moments. I usually know when I’ve hit the spot because my skin begins to have those telling sensations before my client has fully explained what is happening to them.

My clients tend to be midlife women, coming through peri-menopause into menopause and beyond. Often they are dealing with life issues such as divorce, loss of a loved one, empty nests, boomerang kids, ageing parents, financial worries, ill health and their own looming mortality. It can be a tough place to be. Each and everyone one of us will cope with it differently and yet we all share something in common - a problem shared is a problem halved.

Listening to another person can be draining and rewarding at the same time. Often things will come up in this conversation that apply to your own circumstances. However, keeping your own ‘story’ out of the way is key to the results. As I honed my skills throughout the years, I noticed one theme came up again and again - the need to put oneself first, to be Sensibly Selfish. Wear the oxygen mask before helping others, something many women fail to do. (Myself included at times).

Yet it wasn’t until 2015, when my own life took a dramatic turn that I saw new results in my business. My husband was offered a job working in East Africa. A contract to build a 5* hotel. We couldn’t refuse. Within the space of a month, I had put our Spanish finca for sale, decluttered 20 years worth of possessions, told our two grown kids to fend for themselves, and arrived in Zanzibar with 20 kg of luggage. My new home had just two rooms and a red tin roof, yet it was perfect in every way and very close to the most beautiful beach and azure sea.

Walking daily on the pure white sand, connecting to nature, living a simple natural life, with healthy food and exercise made me realize where my own personal life-disconnections had been. I had been stuck in the rat race, believing that possessions make you content and that striving to consume was good despite the constant feelings of disharmony I was feeling as the havoc of such a lifestyle created on the planet and myself internally.

I discovered that there is no need to live in turmoil. By simplifying my thoughts and my possessions, I had plenty of literal and metaphorical space to connect to self without causing harm to Mother Earth. It is this simple peaceful space that I offer clients in order that they can also find clarity. I help them look at their lives in a holistic manner and find their own sustainable success.

So what is my one word? Stress-Buster.

Actually, it finally ended up as four words ‘The Midlife Stress Buster’ yet my coach accepted it! Stress has had a bad rap over the years, in fact it does have a good side. Often we cannot avoid the actual midlife stressors but we can choose to cope with them differently. Sometimes we just need support to see things differently. Supporting others to find a way with their midlife tensions is what gets me jumping enthusiastically out of bed every morning.

You can find Kay Stress Busting here:

My Son and I as Writing Partners

8 Minute Read

'Write a book with your son! Are you mad?’, was the common reaction of friends and also my parents, when I told them this was what I intended. My younger son Cato, (then in his 20s), and I had signed up with a publisher to write his first-person account of creating an entrepreneurial lifestyle. Alongside this there would be ideas, information, and case studies to inspire others. Though in truth I had not thought through what the reality might be, or the emotional implications.

His dad Olly and I had certainly been through the usual upheavals, stand-offs and misunderstandings through Cato's years of growing up. But by the time he completed his biology degree and MSc in science communication, he and I had evolved an easy-going, caring relationship, and when we did hit heads-on over something we both reached for emotional intelligence tools and worked it out.

He also seemed set fair for a science career and Olly and I sighed with relief that he was likely to be well employed. We had not reckoned with our son going on an extended visit to Spain to do a TEFL course during a holiday break, and falling in love with a beautiful Sevillian woman. We grew very fond of the spirited Carolina when she came to stay and hoped she might come over to be with Cato, but no. Her teaching job comes with civil service privileges and a pension. She declared love for our son but she was not about to give up a hugely coveted job. A sound feminist she argued that she and Cato could split and she would have lost her livelihood.

So Cato decided he would up-sticks and move to Spain. Which meant abandoning his science career, with nothing obvious to replace it. Until he announced his intention to become an entrepreneur, and follow an ambition to compose music which had always been there, though put aside as science was so obviously more sensible. He was also experienced at making websites and began picking up work to take to Spain.

I won’t pretend his dad and I were overjoyed. We saw a load of pitfalls, and throwing up all for love was rather overblown romanticism wasn’t it? Oh yes, we panicked and sat Cato down, asking how realistic this radical 'jumping ship' really was. Nor was there much chance of a decent job in Spain, a country struggling with unemployment. But he was adamant he could create an entrepreneurial lifestyle, and that frankly this might be best as he was distinctly ill-fitted to structured office life. So it wasn’t a case of his dad and I instantly patting him on the back and saying ‘go forth young man’, and we upped our evening wine-consumption for the first anxious weeks after Cato had left home.

But in truth I did understand. I had pursued a way of life, in my youth, following dreams rather than common sense, very often. Like taking a job on an unreliable contract with a distinctly shifty bunch running a news agency because I thought the owners looked like the kind of journos you found in entertainment like 'Deadline Midnight'. Giving up a solid job as a court reporter to do so. Or turning down the offer of a newsroom contract with the BBC when the offer of a job in Amsterdam came up, that sounded much more fun if less of a sound career move.

Fast forward seven years and Cato was settled in Seville with his girlfriend - now wife - and had built a successful life as an entrepreneur with three enterprises - scoring films and selling albums of the music he writes, constructing websites, and recording voiceovers for a huge range of clients. Having several income streams is the key to making this way of life succeed, he says, so if one ‘earning stream’ goes quiet the others, hopefully, will keep going. It is a modus operandi that works for Cato and he earns more in a year than I have ever done. He has developed a sharp business edge and shapes his substantial work hours around spending quality time with his wife Carolina and he is the happiest we have seen him. He is inclined to quote Milton Berle: ‘If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.’

On one of the fairly frequent work visits he made to London, we were discussing the direction he had taken his working life one day, and I asked if it had been the right thing to do. (With an uneasy feeling he had probably lost the chance of the career he had before, should he want it again). But no. Cato gave me the biggest smile and said hard work and insecure it might be, but he earned enough, had infinite variety and was in charge of who he worked for and what he did. No less important he could design the shape of his working life to spend a rewarding amount of time with his wife - and now there is a baby daughter too - and if it meant working into the night to compensate sometimes, so be it. 'I am,' he informed me very firmly, '...a Lifestyle Entrepreneur.' Suddenly Cato’s way not only made sense but struck me as being very much a way of working for the future. A millennial‘s way to take charge of working life, at a time when there seemed less and less chance of that within traditional work.

Which is how I came to set about writing a book with Cato on how to be a lifestyle entrepreneur. Our enthusiastic publisher produced a contract which we signed, without pausing to think what it would mean to operate as co-authors. Not mother and son, with all the learned behaviour that relationship brings ie the hierarchy where I was the one whose life experience gave me (I assumed) the superiority I had through his growing years - right down to jokingly referring to myself as Mother Superior.

The first intimation that we would not be harmonious co-authors came with a meeting in the office and recording studio Cato has in the family home. I arrived with a box file overflowing documents, print-offs from the computer, article cuttings relating to the do-it-yourself way of earning and living, which I thought we could pore over, discussing and highlighting interesting bits. Cato looked horrified, recognising in that moment how very different our approaches would be. He summoned me to his computer and showed me a mind map he had constructed with our thesis as the centre point and coming off this a series of arms labelled with ideas for themes and chapters. There was clearly an implicit criticism. My Boy did not get that I find scribbled bits of paper piled around me, along with pens, books and post-its, stimulates creative thinking.

Cato has always been known as an easy going chap and he and I have had a largely laid-back relationship. But all that fell apart as we hit tensions, a couple of explosive rows and the panicky feeling that we might not get the book done. His voice became less than affectionate when I failed to grasp the technological stuff that is vital in the digital age, or understand it when he wrote about... SEO, landing pages, liquid layout, nesting. He was angry in a way I thought only parents were permitted to be to their young, when I screwed up on Dropbox and managed to wreck a document he had posted. A new one appeared marked ANGIE DO NOT TOUCH.

As I have spent long years interviewing people as a journalist I did a series of case studies, talking to people working as entrepreneurs in very different ways. Tensions ran higher as we struggled to get Cato’s voice, which is the essence of the book, correct. I found his writing too formal, he found my interventions a bit slick. We started off writing the first chapter together, then editing each others’

versions. A couple of fiery rows erupted (and Cato, an Aries, is stubborn by nature). There were a few 'locked horns' moments, but we worked out a system. Cato worked on the practical information - building online communities and markets, ways to get funding, the psychological issues you may encounter. And as Cato and I got into our stride something lovely happened. Our relationship really did move from the hierarchy of mother and son, into a co-operative partnership.

I now see that when Cato jumped ship from his employed job he had actually picked up the zeitgeist. Being a Lifestyle Entrepreneur, using your initiative to set up an enterprise based on your own interests, shaping work and family life as you choose, and being in charge of work decisions, is something an ever-increasing number of people are looking towards, at a time when the conventional workplace becomes ever less hospitable.

We delivered our manuscript as co-authors with an extra layer of emotional good stuff added to our relationship. And as I write this Olly and I are visiting Cato, Carolina and their baby daughter. Once he has finished the tune he is composing in the recording studio he has set up in his Spanish home, we will all go out for tapas. And never mind that just about everyone else will be back in their offices.

(Gibson Square) by Cato Hoeben and Angela Neustatter.

The authors will launch a website on being an entrepreneur later in the year. Anyone interested in receiving this please contact

Tides in the body: Menopausal Musings

1 Minute Read

I’m still on the edge, and not often there, as yet. Yesterday is only the second time I’ve had an encounter with the menopause. The first time was two years ago, when I didn’t have my ‘bloody days’ for three months in a row – after which I wrote the ‘Celebration of the Circle’ poem, published here at Advantages of Age - and the second time is now. Now is when the blood is still not coming. I’ve been waiting for my period after what I thought were typical premenstrual symptoms. It’s that strain and unnerved-ness, which ends when the period begins.

Period-experience had taught me that when blood comes, the tensions cease. It’s just that I had not been as conscious of this relationship as I am at this moment when it’s not here and I am still waiting! I have realized that it’s the blood-flow which actually brings healing to the body. The sight of the blood signals the transition from the lowest state of ‘ebb’ back to ‘flow’. So one can say that there are tides inside the body, and for a long time in a woman’s life it’s our blood-flow, which enables the flow of things – and we go with it! We all go with it, we all ‘go with the flow’, when we are at ease! So our period enables and teaches us this.

Flow, tide, ebb, flow, ebbflowebbflowebb: I think that as women, as long as we flow, we are like rivers. When we stop flowing, it might be because we have reached the sea. All rivers, as we know, flow into the sea! So we will all get there eventually.

There are tides by the sea as well, of course, and even more obviously so – tides in a river are more likely to be overlooked than they are by the sea - and it matches how we, as women, are overlooked; and also how we, as women, neglect the significance of our tides, our periods. Sign of the times, sign of the tide, precisely, it is! Period! We are Zeitgeist! We are time and space, within!

Once we flow into the sea, we merge with a greater body of water, and merge with the oceans, a taste of greater expansion. But this body of ocean is not a male or female body, it’s universal. So the ocean is both male and female (and ‘other’ too, as the sea is fluid!). More evidence that the sea is not just male is that it ‘answers’ to the moon. So it’s another aspect of us, and of us all!

A gender-politics note of caution: I do not consider this to be a ‘women and nature’ story: rather it is about ‘geography and the body’. It’s embodied psychogeography.

Psychogeography is, traditionally (though it’s at odds with ‘tradition’!) a radical/alternative/ transformative exploration of urban (and non-urban) environments. It developed around the Situationist International, highlighting the constraints of capitalism on our life-experience, space, place, time, boundaries. It’s about us and space then - landscape, and the effect that has on us: what industrial landscapes do to us, or housing, urban planning, coastal edges, and more. And in this tradition too, I have looked at my body in itself as a geographical space, and what our bodies do to us, and what that means.

I think traditional cultures often say that rivers are female, and the ocean is male – though some rivers are male too. My experience echoes the idea of women as rivers, to start with, though. This leaves more space for gender ‘fluidity’ as well. How would you write a male version of this? I am curious to hear other interpretations and experiences, with perhaps other ‘elemental’ immersions and configurations.

So my geo-spatial body experience (and my choice of elemental signification) is that I am not in the sea yet, but I have reached the river-mouth, I am still on my way to the beach, and happily taking my time, doing loops and turns rather than moving in a straight line towards the sea. But despite all of my twists and turns: the menopause is not too far off – the sea is out there! As of now, my period will most likely come back again – rolling down the river!

There’s one more thing I realized from this experience of period-intermission: the idea that the onset of the blood, as long as it comes, brings healing. It’s healing because it brings about a release of that premenstrual tension in the body, signaling that body is ready for another cycle-turning. What blood can do! And that makes me think of Christianity in an inverted way. The church uses the symbolism of blood as a means of healing, during communion. The way the church sees it, however, seems taken out of context. From my experience here it’s a woman’s blood that brings healing, not that of Jesus – unless, of course, Jesus was a woman! And that now, seems more and more inevitable to me.

Dream, Plan, Go!

11 Minute Read

How do you go from fantasizing about travelling to actually boarding a plane and letting your dreams take flight? You’ve been imagining travelling to a dream destination for years, but how do you make that leap from reverie to reality? Thoughtful planning and preparation are the keys to unlocking your fantasy vacation!

My husband Reggie, 76, and I, then 69, took that leap in April 2017. We’d been talking and dreaming about a trip to Hawaii for many years, but it always seemed to be one of those unattainable goals. Finances played a big part in our indecision. The priorities of helping our three kids pay for college, a mortgage, and just living expenses took centre stage. As the self-proclaimed family CFO of big financial decisions, I was the dream gatekeeper. But one day about a year and a half ago, feeling that we finally had some financial space, I turned to Reg and said, “It’s time to stop dreaming–let’s plan our Hawaiian trip!” And plan we did.

Where to Go?

So many places to go, so little time! Once you’ve made the decision to put travel on the front burner of your life, how do you decide the perfect place for your maiden voyage? Europe and Great Britain were at the top of our travel destinations, as well as the Azores, the birthplace of my paternal grandparents. One thing stood in the way: I hadn’t ever gotten around to getting a passport! We’ve been to Canada a few times, and Mexico, but that was many years before a passport was necessary. (I am happy to say that on my 70th birthday this past year, I finally got my passport!). Reggie, on the other hand, has been a passport holder since he was 23, when he went on a European tour as a percussionist with the Pittsburgh Symphony.

If you’re traveling alone, then it’s up to you to decide where you want to go, but if you are a couple, or travelling with friends, then sitting down and discussing several possible dream places is a good starting point. Once you’ve picked a few options that you agree on, and you know a preferred time frame, consider the weather conditions for each location. Next, research prices for flights, accommodations, activities, and highlights of each place–that will help narrow to down your choice. Since we’ve always wanted to travel to Hawaii, we only had to decide which islands to visit.

Financial Planning

If you are fortunate and don’t have any need to be frugal, then you might be able to skip our first planning step: shopping around for the best miles card on the market. (And for UK readers, here's a link to advice about the best air miles credit cards.)

Several years ago, as a gift from our children, we traveled to California. After our trip, we applied for and got Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards cards. We had heard good reviews about the airline and knew that plans were in the works to start flying out from the Portland Jetport, so we decided to plan ahead to be ready for our dream trip. There is a yearly fee, but we got bonus miles to get us started, and we made it a point to use our cards for everyday expenses. We used our miles to book our round-trip Southwest flights from Maine to California… for free! Even better? Reggie kept checking for the best possible prices and pounced when a flash sale popped up, so we were able to make our miles go even further.

Once our L.A. flights were booked, Reggie went online to find the best price for our flights to Hawaii via Hawaiian Airlines. He got a great price–$563 each–from California to the islands of Maui and Oahu and back. Those cards have served us well, and we’ll continue to use them when flying on Southwest Airlines. We’ve done a little more research since then, looking for a more versatile card, and got approved for a Capital One Venture Card. We can accumulate miles pretty quickly by using the cards for everyday expenses–even monthly bills–and as long as the balance is paid each month, there are no interest charges.

An essential financial pre-planning step is to get all your monthly bills paid or scheduled, so you don’t wake up in the middle of the night in your hotel room, or tent in the middle of a jungle, and realize you’ve forgotten to pay a bill. We didn’t need to stop our mail because we had a dog sitter staying while we were gone, but all of those details need to be considered as well. I think of pre-trip organization, including detailed to-do lists, as a “trip atlas”; it gives you the peace of mind to really relax and enjoy every minute of your vacation.

We booked our car rentals in a similar way to our flights. We weren’t existing Costco members, but they seemed to have the best rental car prices and didn’t charge cancellation fees, so Reg decided it was worth buying a membership to get the best deals. When he found a better price, he simply canceled and rebooked. Since he is retired, and I am still teaching voice lessons five days a week in my studio, I gladly left all that fun stuff up to him!

Choosing Your Accommodation

I was more involved in choosing accommodations because I had very specific must-haves After checking different sites, we found that Home Away VRBO had the best, most beautiful and affordable listings.. We decided on Kihei, Maui for our first location. Next, we decided to fly to the airport in Honolulu on Oahu (where we would be met by our friends, who, in true Hawaiian style, presented us with leis). Two nights were spent at their condo, before we headed off to our accommodations in Laie. Both places exceeded our expectations, one with the peaceful Zen setting and majestic gardens, and the other a beautiful place above the pounding waves of the Pacific Ocean.

On Maui, we found a ground floor condo for $109 a night with a stunning, peaceful Zen garden bordering our lanai (porch or veranda)–a perfect match to the online pictures and description. We enjoyed our morning coffee and meditation while sitting there, reminding ourselves that we weren’t dreaming; we were living the dream.

In Oahu, for $120 a night, we stayed in a second-floor, one-bedroom apartment with a spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean with its pounding waves crashing just below our balcony.

Prepare yourself for travel

This might not be something you would necessarily think about before traveling, but especially for advanced-age travelers, I think it’s very important to prepare physically and mentally for your trip. If you’re going on a very laid-back journey or a retreat, then this is less important. But if you plan on doing adventurous activities that you haven’t done in the past, then it’s a good idea to get a physical, make sure all medications are up to date, and that you have enough medications for the duration of your trip. If working out is part of your normal routine, and you plan on hiking, zip lining, rock climbing etc., then you should be fine, but if you’ve been pretty sedentary, then head to the gym or start an exercise regimen at home to build strength and stamina. The last things you want while traveling are an aching back, your legs giving out, or an injury!

Being emotionally ready for travel is also essential. Know your own threshold for when you need downtime, rest, or food to keep you from crashing. Travelling is fun and exhilarating, but it is tiring as well. Spending ten minutes to a half hour practising meditation daily, before and during our trip, helped us find the balance we needed to enjoy every minute, without needing a vacation from our vacation!

Plan some activities

Even if you are free spirits and enjoy being totally spontaneous, I suggest you put some time and research into at least planning some anchor activities and highlights. First, make a list of your interests, food preferences, special events, etc. Then, go to an online site like TripAdvisor, Trivago, Kayak, similar sites, or tourist bureaus to research them. Our anchor activity in Maui was a luau that we booked in advance. The Feast at Lele, in Lahaina was our choice because the pictures of the beach at sunset, the description of the Polynesian cuisine, the fully staged show, and the private tables set right on the sand made it irresistible. We wanted to go to 'Mama’s Fish House', but when I looked at the entrée prices online, I nixed it. Yet, as our days in Maui were waning, I felt an uncontrollable urge to go, and once again, I gave the go-ahead, feeling that we deserved this once-in-a-lifetime extravagance. Since our anniversary was in two months, I also figured it would be our 47th-anniversary gift to each other. The setting, ambiance, drinks, appetizers, desserts, and entrees were worth the nearly $300 tab. We were not disappointed!

Zip lining anyone? Hell, why not! You only live once! To ensure that we wouldn’t chicken out, we booked it ahead, at Climb Works, for our anchor adventure on Oahu

Some travel precautions

If you travel to Hawaii and plan to hit the beaches, only swim at beaches where there is a lifeguard and other swimmers. Don’t exceed your ability if you haven’t swum in years. Don’t turn your back to the ocean. Don’t stand on wet rocks. Learn about riptides—where they are and what to do. The ocean is much stronger than you, and it will always win! I can attest to this firsthand when a wave caught me by surprise and gave me quite a tumble. Fortunately, the worst that happened was that I mooned a few people behind me. Whoops. From then on, I was more respectful of the ocean.

If you decide to head for the hills and plan to drive on mountain roads, always check weather alerts for flash flood warnings. Oh and be sure not to leave any items visible in your vehicle - put everything into the trunk to reduce the risk of theft or break-ins.

'Do you really need that?'

Reggie asks me this question whenever we travel–even if it’s a two-day trip. It’s just so hard to decide what you will to want to wear on any given day, so I usually over pack. It doesn’t make much difference for a road trip, but flying is a different story. We wanted to keep it to one checked bag between us, and a carry-on each. For our Hawaiian trip, I made a list and started practice packing a month before. Packing for a warmer climate made it easier to squeeze in more “necessities.” I would put items in, think about whether I could manage without them, and was able to eliminate a few unnecessary things. I also reminded myself that if I was lacking anything, it could be purchased there. I actually did end up buying a pair of very stylish but comfortable Croc sandals on Maui because the bottoms of my feet were burning. My feet were in heaven for the rest of the trip!

What are you waiting for?

So if you’ve been dreaming about a trip, and for whatever reason haven’t taken that leap to bring your dream to fruition, now is the time for action. Dreaming is the first step. Unless you open that dream jar, act on your fantasy, and make it a priority, it will stay a dream and fade away. Once we decided to make travel a part of our lives, I thought it would be nice to document our travels in a blog with prose and pictures. Did I have any idea how to write a blog, or if I could even put words on paper? Hell no! But I came up with a great name, “VagaBonnins,” opened a WordPress account, and just did it!

I haven’t been very prolific yet—I’ve written only two blog posts—but it’s a start. So what’s next? I’m happy to say that we are in the very early planning stages of a trip to England, Paris, and Amsterdam for this coming August. Once again, Reggie is searching for the best deals for flights and accommodations. Another dream has left the jar and taken flight, so I’d better start practice packing now!

You can read more about Gloria & Reggie's adventures at

The Grand Escape to SW France and our own Wellness Centre

6 Minute Read

I met my man when he was 50 and we married three years later when I reached my own half-century. Between us we have five amazing children – he has two boys and I have three girls, all now in their 20s. We had a great life in the UK. We both had good jobs, the kids all did well at school and college and were on a trajectory to fly into their own lives after University and professional training. So, you might think, what on earth did we want to change things for?

The sunshine. Pure and simple. I’m a proud Englishwoman, but boy does it rain. And somewhere in my DNA was a little voice calling me southwards, where the skies are blue and I don’t have to hibernate from November to March. Luckily for me Julian felt the same – in his case the call of the mountains for skiing in winter. The kids no longer needed us to be there in the same way so why not see what we could find while we were still young enough to really enjoy it?

We started exploring in 2011 when we took my little red sports car for a holiday in the Pyrenees, starting in San Sebastian, crisscrossing the peaks as far as Foix to the East then returning to Bilbao. I speak Spanish so the logical place to settle was on the Spanish side, but who’s following logic when you are looking for a home?

The rolling countryside around Carcassonne and Mirepoix in French Cathar Country captured our hearts. Panoramic views of the high mountains, medieval cities, vineyards soaking up the sun. We were entranced. We carried on researching, but nothing was quite the same - the high Pyrenees were just too high; the Black Mountains were too wet; the rest of the Languedoc down to the coast was too dry and windy. Starting to feel a bit like Goldilocks, we came back to the low Ariege and realised that for us, it was just right.

And so began a fact-finding mission to see if we could afford the kind of house we wanted. My dream for many years had been to set up a Wellness Centre in the UK, offering a range of complementary therapies, but importantly just a place for people to stop. To rest. To be. For one reason or another, it was never the right time, but this now was my opportunity. We wanted a small house for us, with gites for our guests and workspace for the therapists.

Julian is an ace organiser, and he had set up for us to meet an estate agent in Mirepoix. She threw herself into the task of finding us a place and spent all of Saturday showing us fantastic properties from mountainside chalets to fourteen-bedroom estates. But nothing was saying yes. As we looked at these remote houses we saw why. We wanted to be part of a French community, not in glorious isolation in the countryside. She had one property left for us to see. Not at all where we wanted to be, not at all the kind of property we asked for. But she persuaded us it was worth it.

Have you ever experienced walking into a house and knowing it was going to be yours? Well, that’s exactly what happened. Within five minutes, our fact-finding mission had turned into a ‘lets make an offer’ conversation. A year early. Not at all what we had in mind. More than we wanted to spend. Oops. But we made the offer anyway and after the usual to-and-fro we had an agreement.

The Gods of French Planning Permission intervened, and it took that whole year to get the sale finalised. I learned more about French law in that time than I ever expected to need to know. My rudimentary language skills got stretched to the limit and I now have septic tank vocabulary to match the best French builder. Until finally, in April 2016 we came over to get the keys.

One of the joys of those early months was what we came to call ‘indoor camping’. We brought over only the bare essentials of clothes and home comforts, and most of the car was packed with tools for the renovation. I made supper the first night using a Stanley knife as I didn’t have proper utensils and we opened the wine with an actual screw and pliers. It was idyllic. For two people meeting later-in-life, it was just like starting out as newly-weds with nothing. Making do and having fun.

The house was in great condition generally but to transform it into my Wellness Centre, it was going to need a bit of paint. Ten huge tubs of white emulsion to be precise. And interior scaffolding (the roof is 6m high in the main living area). And rolls and rolls of wallpaper. We added a wall or two and made some tweaks in the kitchen, but the main work was outside, creating a little paradise on the side of our mountain. And a vegetable garden that now grows monster pumpkins.

We’re at 600m and the view from our bedroom is of Mt Fourcat at 2000m. The little hill that is our regular walk goes to the height of Snowdon. Its big stuff here! There was an old tennis court in the garden that is the flattest areas for miles around, and we’ve transformed it into a three-roomed space with a gypsy caravan as my office, a tipi for group work and a fabulous day bed for relaxing and enjoying the views. The pool has had a makeover so we can use it year round and the pool house now has a yoga terrace.

To say we have landed on our feet in this community is the understatement of a lifetime. We have been welcomed by the village and feel so at home. We sing in the choir. We run a weekly ‘Franglais’ group where we teach each other our native languages. We take part in the village Cabaret in June (last year with our new Dutch friends we were Abba – white lycra and all). Our lovely octogenarian neighbour organises village group walks and picnics. If we had designed a life, we could have not done better than what we have found here.

And our children, I hear you ask, do they really not mind? We were advised by friends that we would actually develop a better relationship with our family than we had before, as when they come it is for a few days and not just the odd hour or two. They’re often here individually so we can devote more time to them than when we are a crowd. We still pop back reasonably regularly to visit, so no, they don’t mind. Free summer holidays. Free skiing. Great food and wine. They love it here too. And they love seeing us happy.

Our advice to anyone with a dream? Follow it as soon as you can. There is much to be recommended in living life to the full.

Hilary is also a member of The Silver Tent, a conscious, collaborative, global community supporting women over 50 - The Silver Tent Community & Launch Summit

Social media’s not just for the kids!

4 Minute Read

Sally Brockway, aged 53, talks about her new online course, Social Media for Mid-Lifers.
When I set up my own PR agency back in November 2016 and started looking for business, I was astounded by the number of highly motivated, intelligent and successful entrepreneurs I met who had no social media presence.

They were mostly over the age of 40 and the very mention of Facebook, Twitter or Instagram was enough to bring them out in a cold sweat. They could just about handle paying somebody to create a website for their business, but had decided that social media was for the kids.

It’s not and to prove a point, I devised an online course about social media for people like me who once used a landline to arrange dates, read newspapers made of actual paper and think that wearing a coat when it’s really cold is a sensible decision.
50% of the UK population use social media in some form or other, so why would you choose to be in the half that’s missing out?

I met a business owner the other day whose 87-year-old mother gets her daily news fix from Twitter. She still can’t get over the fact that she knows about stuff a good 24 hours before it appears in the papers.

If the trains are up the spout, your best friend is running a marathon for charity or you are fascinated by soap carving, then social media will give you all the information you need and allow you to make connections with the right people at lightening speed.
My course, which is called Social Media for Mid-Lifers, covers the basics. It will show you how to set up accounts on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. I show you around the platforms and explain how to post text, pictures and video. If you really want to impress the kids, I also explain how you can access GIFs (animated sequences), run polls and post a boomerang – not a strange wooden object commonly found in Australia, but a video loop that is all the rage on Instagram.

Many of the older people I meet worry about the lack of privacy on social media, but the fact is, you only post what you want to. You can choose your friends on Facebook and you can decide who will see each individual post. My mum lives in New Zealand for six months of the year, so I often put up family pictures that only she can see, as I don’t want to bore the rest of my social circle with constant news of my children's achievements.
You can also make your Instagram account private so that only followers that you approve can see your posts and you can do the same with Twitter - I show you how to do this on the course and it takes seconds.

You don’t need to use all three of these platforms, it depends on what you are looking for. I first discovered social media when I did some shifts at TV Times magazine. One of the young reporters was always on Facebook and I was curious. Initially, it seemed like such an alien concept. Why on earth would you want to tell everybody what you’ve had for lunch and where you’re going on holiday?

But then people I knew started signing up and soon everyone was talking about it, so I created a Facebook account. I haven’t looked back. I’ve made contact with long lost school friends, stalked ex-boyfriends and spent hours looking at cat videos and I don’t even like cats!

Next, I signed up to Twitter and loved the way I could watch news unfold as it happened and see what people were saying about my favourite TV shows as I watched them.
I was a reluctant Instagrammer, but when I started selling pop-up greetings cards as a sideline, I decided I’d have to get on board. Instagram is a visual platform – you have to post videos or pictures and you also need to get your head around hashtags. In case you are wondering, this # is a hashtag and it’s simply a symbol that enables you to search for posts on a specific topic.

That’s something I talk about in the course and I also give a quick guided tour of a site called, which analyses your hashtags to see how effective they are.
My course consists of 33 video tutorials where you’ll watch me navigate various social media platforms as I give instructions. None of them are much more than six minutes long and I promise I won’t bamboozle you with jargon. It costs £50 and if you type in the code AOA25 you’ll get 25% off.

And if there’s anything you don’t understand, you can always e-mail me on

Don’t be scared, be bold and have fun!

You can buy the course here:

My website is at:

One Middle-Aged Man Reclaims His Body as a Temple

8 Minute Read

‘The human body is the best picture of the human soul.’ Ludwig Wittgenstein

‘Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own’ 1 Corinthians 6:19

I long since discovered that – like us all - I was born to be a vessel for something greater than myself.

And like most of us, I had spent the first half of my life confused as to what that might be, pouring in various substances and behaviours to get the desired result.

The ubiquitous mistake, of course, is to fail to empty and cleanse the vessel in preparation for that which seeks to enter.

One Sufi master put it this way: ’When I go out, He comes in.’ The injunction is clear – get out of your own way.

And why not, for who wouldn’t want to be penetrated by The Holy Spirit, which promises the ultimate joy – a kiss on the inside of your own heart?

As a young man, I was given devastating glimpses of what was possible, moments of utter bliss that were pure gifts and a joy that could not readily be put into words.

The trap is to spend one’s life chasing that one holy instant rather than accepting it with gratitude, knowing it is a herald for things to come and a peace that passes all understanding.

Given that, it would be sensible to put my own house in order.

But like many of us, my body had its own plans, which ran counter to my varied attempts to corral it under my control.

Looking back on my 55 years – and it’s a big ask for a man to admit this - I ran, pumped weights, shed three stone in three months boxing, took up various martial arts, dropped various martial arts, drank pukey powders, went weight watching, walked The Camino and of course, joined gyms the length and breadth of Britain.

I don’t think I have been to the latest one for months, with more pounds going out than there are coming off. What was missing, of course, were consistent good habits and regular daily disciplines.

Yet I seem to be seasonal and rhythmic – although not in a good way.

It used to be easy. In my 20s, I ran and yomped across the Malverns with a guy from the SAS. At 40, I boxed with other yuppies in Ladbroke Grove, both with heroic turnarounds.

At the end of last year, I began Ju Jitsu, but was soon out of action when the instructor landed on my rib cage with an almighty crunch.

Down the years, I had two girlfriends who were into raw food and, for a time, I would clean up my act. But try as I might, I would always return to couch surfing with an assortment of favourite, salty snacks.

The low point came when I found myself brushing my teeth with my own urine and realized the pendulum may have swung too far the other way.

The simplicity of moderation had always passed me by but the one thing I actually enjoyed was juicing. I started with a 30-day juice fast with raw foodie number one and then completed a 60-day fast on my own in 2015.

I felt vitalized, alive, marvelous.

But in the past two years, my blood pressure and my cholesterol had crept up as my good habits slowly began to unwind. When my iron levels went down, I had tubes inserted both ends to check for cancer.

It was clearly time for a re-think, although there remains no satisfying explanation for my iron deficiency and luckily no cancer.

I had heard about Vital Detox through a superb herbalist, Fiona Milligan, who had begun to despair of my lack of interest in my own body and quite fairly had me pegged as a hopeless case. She had been a key member of the staff team since it began life in Wales.

I turned up for the week at Middlewick outside Glastonbury – now luckily a stone’s throw from me – at the end of January. I had paid, spent three weeks with the flu, and had fallen out of the shower, tearing a cartilage, the day before arrival.

Crutches never look good on a detox but I wasn’t alone. We arrived in various states of health and, swaddled in blankets for morning meditation, turned the place into something resembling a care home with funk.

Groups don’t faze me. Having done and run so many over the years, I tend to stand back (sit back in this case) and pace myself, avoiding the usual temptation to over-talk as people get to know one another.

The warm, allowing atmosphere created by the staff team grants an immediate ease and there is an attention to detail that comes from a genuine love of human beings. (Founder Anna Tolson suggested comfrey oil for my knee and it appeared the next day via someone’s visit to Glastonbury.)

It slowly became clear there was something unusual going on: a business not motivated to make zillions but to reach people in a deeply personal and heart-centred way.

The regimen was strict, not rigid with meditation at 8am and juices and broths at 9am, 12 noon, 3pm, 6pm and 8pm, although everything was optional, including the excellent talks with Fiona, Fran, Barbara, and Annie. If we wanted food, said Anna, food would be provided.

What has been achieved and what is so key to healing - as any good therapist knows - is an emotional container that provides a safety that will allow unconscious material to appear.

Detox does not just mean of the body but the mind and the emotions too and all 26 participants had individual process sessions with members of the team, who have various skills.

I missed using the swimming pool but received a supremely soothing massage from Rachel and a less comfortable yet important abdominal massage with Andrew.

But there was one thing I was not looking forward to – the self-administered colonics known as colemas. I am not overly familiar with having things inserted into me (although my recent colonoscopy had given me fair warning) and I prevaricated for the first few days.

Finally, I hopped up to Fiona and asked for help. She set up the various paraphernalia, including a bucket of water above my head, and left me to it. While I couldn’t say I enjoyed it, I was aware of its importance so I gritted my teeth and surrendered.

By day four, the process was considerably more hardcore than when I started. I was now on daily colemas; the juices were now almost utterly devoid of fruit and I couldn’t wait for the day when there was more going into my mouth than out through my posterior.

Finally, we came out of the fast into raw food and a feast for the senses. People started to notice I had dropped both weight - and crutches - and had that famous fasting glow. I was clear skinned and ready to go.

A month on and now off wheat, dairy and sugar with the odd minor relapse, I turned up at the staff cottage to speak with Anna.

The child of a bohemian mother, after an ‘alternative’ upbringing she had trained as a homeopath but struggled, like many seekers, with what she calls ‘existential angst’, that wrestle to be here, on this earth, in a human body.

She had attempted to heal that split (I call it the wound of the Chiron in Pisces generation) through relationship and had finally reached a devastating rock bottom after another painful ending.

But victory came when her mother gave her Brandon Bays’ book The Journey: she qualified as a practitioner in a few months after chasing seminars around the globe. She condensed the process while working for another detox business and the rest is history.

‘It was a miracle and it was exhausting, but the results of combining detox and journeying were extraordinary. People are so emotionally available because they are so stripped bare.
I had been depressed my whole life not wanting to be here. I went into my rage and have never been depressed since.’

The effect on her relationships was that they transformed from being traumatic to supportive.

With a push from a client, she then set up her own team in Cardigan, before finally moving the centre to Somerset, her intent to create a happy team:

‘My driving force was to do this job but with people who loved each other. We would become an intentional family.’

One week a month that family lives on site in the lee of Glastonbury’s famous Tor and brings its well-being and care to others.

I had known that a session from home with a practitioner or even a series of sessions would not be enough to get me on track. I needed a new foundation.

Happily, I found it.

For more information visit:

The Buck Stops Here

10 Minute Read

People seem to be comfortable telling me their life stories. One of my willing ‘victims’ was Ted Buckwald who I had the pleasure of meeting with his ‘significant other’ Ecuadorean Mercy Medina, his soul mate and partner for the last 4 years. They met playing ping pong. ‘I pinged and she ponged!’ he told me tongue in cheek in Cartagena, Colombia where they approached me in the street beckoning me over as they loved my style of dressing. Ted, at a sprightly 85, looked dapper in his colourful bandana which he changed every day of his life. A man prepared for all seasons!

An amazing storyteller and joker who loved to make willing listeners laugh. A collector not only of 40,000 butterflies which he incorporated into his artwork of blown up photographic butterflies suspended in space, but also of one-liners heard over 40 years on the radio, cinema and TV. In addition to this gigantic collection of words, his thoughts on the power of positivity and happiness would come to him while soaping his lean and fit body in the shower every morning. Thus he would write these down too. Words flowed effortlessly like running water.

He assured me longevity was in his genes as his father Benjamin (known as Buck to be Americanised), had lived to the grand age of 105 and Ted was out to beat Buck by any which-way even if he had to buck the system!

A typical Jewish immigration story starting in Imperial Russia in 1899 when Ted’s grandfather, Joseph Samuel Buckvald, a tailor, wanted a better life fleeing from anti-Semitism, first to Vienna then moving after World War One to America, the Land of Opportunity. Arriving at Ellis Island he changed one letter in his surname to sound less guttural. Buckvald became Buckwald! He came with some means and 4 children including baby Benjamin aged 1, born to become an all-American and proud of his country. ‘God bless America’, wrote Jewish Irving Berlin.

Uneducated academically, young Benjamin, known as Buck, lived in the multi ethnic area of Brooklyn called Bensonhurst, a mixed neighbourhood of Jews and Italian immigrants at the turn of the century. The grandparents spoke Yiddish and probably never learned English. Buck grew up, married Esther and produced 3 sons, Ted being the eldest, born 85 years ago. Then the middle son Arnold and finally the youngest of the trio, Peter. The family was tightly knit with no secrets, at least not in the early days!

Young Buck was clever with his hands and fascinated by electrical components, alternating currents and high-frequency power circuits. He had been inspired by the doyen of electricity, none other than Tesla. He could repair anything and was proud of his knowledge. So many people in his neighbourhood came to him wanting their cherished radios repaired that Buck thought he would open a small shop selling new radios. He loved the Art Deco angular lines. To Buck it was sculptural art emitting sounds and thus he began his intriguing radio collection. Obviously influenced by his father’s passion for collecting and hoarding, young Teddy, as Esther called him after President Roosevelt, helped his father in the basement workshop of their large family house.

His grandfather, Joseph Samuel, had put aside some money to help finance Buck’s dream business, but where? Not Bensonhurst for sure. Buck was reaching for the stars and there was only one place which drew the crowds right on his doorstep in Brooklyn. Coney Island! Coney Island was a huge attraction in the summer months comprising of 3 distinct areas, the 5 mile beach extending from Brighton Beach, Wonder Wheel with its famous Ferris Wheel and Luna Park, an amusement park featuring the famed Cyclone roller coaster, as well as street performers and the circus sideshow. In fact between 1880 and 1945, Coney Island was the largest amusement park in the US.

Buck was far sighted and had become a collector of 100 dollar bills, putting aside a bill every week. Later in his heyday he would hoard each $100 bill every single day during the summer season! Witnessing the advent of television in New York City on July 1, 1941 , he decided to increase the size of his shop to incorporate the growing demand for TV sets. He even provided the Turner microphone for President Kennedy’s speeches to be broadcast to the patriotic crowds.

Ted was 22 by this time, having served in Korea and Germany for the US army as a trained combat photographer. In 1954 he moved to New York City, first working as a stylist for the well-known hairdresser to the stars, Mr Kenneth. Later when he got fired, he opened his own salon, taking his 300 best customers with him. He would tell his blue rinse ladies that beautiful things never grew old! Everyone adored chatterbox Ted and so his salon was a big success.

He, however, never forgot his love for Coney Island in the summer, the smell of candy floss, licking ice cream popsicles, munching roasted popcorn, riding the carousels and roller coasters. Memories of Buck’s arch-enemy Dutch Nathan with his wife Ida, famous for their sizzling hot-dogs which Ted devoured daily with sweet mustard. A meal in itself, he salivated at the memory of Nathan’s famous hot dogs.

Ted's shrewd father had moved with the times, realising that the hawkers and buskers needed microphones to draw the crowds in to the shows and thrilling rides. Buck had the monopoly and the knowledge that others did not, so other funfair owners would sub-lease technical sound equipment from him as their businesses expanded too. Money was the name of the game. Buck’s collection of undeclared $100 notes grew. He became a Scrooge hoarder, giving his wife money from time to time but was stingy and frugal. He collected the notes in bundles of 5” thick, with a $100 note at the top and the bottom, each roll sealed with special electrical masking tape to secure the bills. Over the years Ted reckoned he had squirreled away $1 million which he never spent. Always living in the same house, he had become, instead of the merchant of Venice, the merchant of Bensonhurst. Esther was not happy in her Scrooge marriage.

She knew there was cash in the house and one evening in Buck’s absence called her three sons together, instructing them to search the house for the hidden fortune. Though they searched high and low - or low but not high enough! - they gave up looking as it was not to be found. Ted’s long-suffering, frustrated mother finally left Buck and bought a guest house in the Borscht Belt. Ted would go there in his fancy Pontiac every summer, fraternising with comedians such as Jerry Lewis, Lenny Bruce and countless others who had begun their stand-up comedy acts in the Catskills. He would impress them by taking them for rides in his black coupe 1955 Pontiac, bought through the US army who shipped it back to New York. Ted already knew Vic Damone, Elliot Gould, Eddie Fisher and Larry King, as they grew up in the same neighbourhood of Bensonhurst. This of course gave him the traditional love of Jewish American humour and one-liners which was to influence Hollywood and the movie industry.

All three sons married and had families. Peter and his family moved to California and Ted often wondered how he managed to buy a big house and set up his vacuuming store, as he apparently had so little to start with. The brothers all went their separate ways. Later Esther moved to California to be close to her beloved Peter, her favourite son. The years passed, fifteen in all. Ted was not in touch much with Peter, as they had grown apart over the years with life styles and all that jazz, but he kept up his brotherly friendship with Arnold, who remained in New York. He was also in the vacuum business with four successful stores, but he had a run-in with the Mafia when he refused to pay for protection, so he too moved to California. Ted had no intention of leaving his beloved New York, and continued to make his upmarket clientele beautiful.

One night back in New York, Ted was caught with Arnold in a terrifying electrical thunderstorm in his Pontiac. Arnold was scared and, thinking they might not make it through the night, decided it was time to confess to Ted that the weasel Peter had left for California with the hidden money! He had confessed to his mother that he found it in the ceiling and had spent hours substituting the $100 bills inside each roll for $1 bills, leaving the top and bottom $100 notes so Buck would not suspect the theft. No wonder he had shrewdly invested the cash in real estate and set up a vacuum cleaning business. He told his mother in confidence which is why she had moved, colluding with her adored rogue of a son.

Poor Ted had not known about his family’s betrayal and even his trusted brother had hidden the truth from him. Arnold had eventually been told by Esther but he, like Ted, never got his share of the stash of money either. Beats me how Arnold could still love his mother and younger brother after her betrayal, let alone Peter’s dishonesty.

But Lady Luck took over. Ted somehow knew the tax law and what a ‘Walking Trust’ was. After his mother’s death from excessive smoking at the age of 72 in 1982, Buck could not access Esther’s money, which ironically unknown to him was his own money. He needed her signed death certificate as they were legally separated and Ted was the Executor of her will. It was blackmail - Ted refused to release the certificate unless he was given his share of the booty! When Buck finally relented, Ted deducted his thieving brother’s portion and divided the rest between himself and his brother.
Ted asked Buck if he had any secrets but Buck Said ‘No’, never mentioning his hidden fortune. That was his mother’s estate, but when Buck finally passed away at the grand age of 105 in 2004, Ted inherited a mere $200,000. Why so little you might ask? Buck in his senility decided to put his cash of all places in the bank because he thought it would be a safe place! What a joke as of course the bank took most of his undeclared cash for tax purposes!!

Ted however got enough to invest in a goldmine in Mali of all places. Once again Lady Luck was not on his side. He decided to fly to Mali to check out his investment and discovered the owners had not released the property from the Government, as they should have done within 6 months. Thus the company lost their right to mine and Ted lost all his money. Undeterred he remained in Africa for a further four years and saw real poverty which altered his values. He began to search for rare butterflies again and to help educate the poor with the technical knowledge he learned while working for Buck in Coney Island.
One day, after his dear brother Arnold had died from smoking like Esther eight years earlier, Ted decided to forgive Peter the weasel, after a 30 year silence. He was his only family left. Egged on by a distant cousin, he spontaneously called him in California, not mentioning the money and they resumed their brotherly friendship just like in the old days.
‘Let bygones be forgotten’, said Ted. Blood, after all is thicker than water, especially Jewish blood!

Today Ted lives frugally but blissfully, through happenstance, in a rented condo in Deerfield, Florida surrounded by his 40,000 butterflies and his butterfly art. Long live Ted who beat Buck to win back his lost bucks!

Written by Jilliana Ranicar-Breese in Casa Isabel, Getsamani and Sofitel Santa Clara, Cartagena, Colombia with help from the indefatigable Ted on WhatsApp!

Jan 2008-December 2017

0 Minute Read

It’s goodbye to the everyday

purpose slowly draining away

like the morning mugs I rinse in the sink

My Outlook suddenly feels much brighter

appointments and appraisals

recruitment and risk assessment

scheduled for binning alongside brainstorming

A final collection and card

false smiles

we will miss you so much

do keep in touch

don’t forget to leave your pass on the way out

10 years wiped clean

like my computer screen

control, alt, delete

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