Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Happy 10th Birthday Moses!

At 18 months the day we left London
It's hard to describe how much you have changed our life Moses. We've always loved you. Even the very thought of you before we first met. Remembering back to 2004 when Vonnie and I, Joshua and Eloise began talking about getting a family dog to live with us in New Cross in south east London, we loved the idea of how you might change our lifestyle. How you would necessarily force us to live more outdoors, explore more of London's parks twice a day and take longer journeys out of the city where you, and we, could run a little freer.

Asleep with Eli
The previous summer, Josh had been bitten by a big brutish dog while we were all on a yoga retreat in Italy and as a small boy was understandably a little scared thereafter of dogs. That had to change. So Von began doing her research into the best family dogs and the best breeders. Later the following year in 2005 we went to meet Lillah and her family in Sutton Coldfield in the UK Midlands. And to meet the 14 six week old puppies of the single litter Lillah let your mumma have. Josh picked up a few of your brothers and sisters before finding you. You lay on your back in his hands for just the right amount of time before wriggling to right yourself. Apparently a good sign you would be compliant but not too docile - still with a little joi de vie. You were the one.

In France 2007
We returned to London and left you to spend a few more weeks with your mamma. Now we had to find your name. Took us a few weeks of playing around with a few.  Had to be grand.  Had to somehow capture how we felt your introduction to our life would lead us all on an adventure. Late one night, lying in bed laughing about historic adventures in human history, I said "Moses". Vonnie looked at me, smiled that big broad soft ear to ear grin of hers,and repeated "Moses. He's called Moses."

Lake Dijon
Over the years since, I've often remembered that night of choosing your name. We had at the time absolutely no idea how provident that choice would be. It just felt right. We joked with our friends you were called Moses because you would lead us to the promised land. And that, my friend, you surely did.

After just 18 months of exploring London's parks and surrounding countryside, holidays where you would be welcome and free, we finally began to realise that morning and evening walks and weekend wooded escapades were so much fun that maybe we'd like to spend all of our time with you like that. So we decided to quit our jobs, take the kids out of school, rent our house, buy a motorhome and take you on a much bigger expedition round Europe.

Marking territory top of Portugal
And we'd call it the Poop in Europe Tour aiming to let you poop in as many countries as we could manage in a year. That link is the first blog we ever wrote, and it still gives me goose bumps to think of how nervous and excited we felt at the top of the cliff before we jumped.

Italy Sheep Trough
Abruzzo with Margot Portrait
6 months of travelling, eating, learning, cycling, walking, swimming in Europe's lakes, rivers and seas (and Italian sheep troughs!), you led us to an old farm and the possibility of a new life in the mountains of Portugal. Through all the chaos of the beginning months, the uncertainty of not knowing whether we could restore these old ruins and what on earth we would do when we finished, the trepidation of starting to invite people to spend a week with us on retreat, the hundreds of people who have come to see us since, you Moses, have been our dependable, faithful constant.

The original yoga deck and Safira
Wife Safira and daughter Moksha

Serra de Estrela
It's been a remarkable 10 year adventure. And we owe it all to you buddy. Just in case you ever get to read this blog, your official pedigree registered name is "Osrealin The Show Must Go On" and you were born on Sep 15 2005.  May you live long and healthy into your aging years and continue to bring joy and solace to all who know and love you.

We love you Moses.

Walks by rivers

On the beach in Barcelona
Company while restoring houses
First touch of Portugal

Outdoor Shower with Vonnie

First snow for 30 years
Ready for shampoo and set in Lisbon

Friday, June 19, 2015

The State of Deliciousness, my retreat review by Chloe Skinner

Lying on my yoga mat this morning I was 'invited into stillness' by Von - my favourite yoga teacher, and now, after my third visit to Vale de Moses, my friend. I lay there in the beautiful yoga shala overlooking mountainous forests, gleefully anticipating the joy of the astanga practice that was to come - a yoga practice guided by Von's playful, sincere and genuine love of sharing the joy of yoga with others. 'Stillness' isn't something that I find easy to 'achieve', but here at Vale de Moses, even in the invigorating movement of a vinyasa flow, a meditative morning walk with Andy, or a solitary hike up a hill, I can - albeit apprehensively and reluctantly at times - find stillness.

Stillness in the surrounding mountains; stillness in the stars on a clear night; stillness in the people around me; stillness in myself. Stillness can be intimidating, particularly following or during life's storms - the times I have found myself journeying back to Vale de Moses - but the warmth and love of those that live and work here, coupled with the ease of finding solitude, is such a nurturing environment in which to seek stillness.

As someone more naturally inclined toward movement however, the ability to balance this stillness I need so much with the delight of  physically flowing - as well as the inevitability of a concurrent emotional flowing - is one of the many dynamics which draws me to Vale de Moses. After a morning walk with a sparkly-eyed and warm-souled Andy - predominantly silent but with a vignette of wisdom sprinkled in - a yoga class in which all different bodies are lovingly celebrated, 'held', supported and encouraged by Von, and a body and soul nourishing breakfast with good food and good people, I spent some time alone yesterday down at one of the natural pools - basking in the cool, fresh water, the fire of the sun, the rich smell of the earth and the silkiness of the light wind.

In the nurturing stillness, I found the rarity of the time to 'look' - simply 'look' - and found movement, adventure and busyness. Watching the small fish under the surface, the insects resting on the water's surface, the sway of the surrounding trees, I thought about how lucky I am to find myself in a place where I am reminded of the ease of loving this life, this world, these people, this self - even amidst the inevitabilities of pain and hardship which came before, and will come after, this moment, this week, this retreat.

All of this and it was only midday! The afternoon followed with mouth-tingling nourishment, brain-stimulating conversation, heart-warming laughter, body-quenching yoga practice and, all in all, soul-quenching life! Lovely life!

This morning, after hearing ourselves moving, stretching, and breathing into our bodies alongside one another - bodies that have recently been deeply massaged by the expert hands of Pete or Von - two of the other guests remarked upon how good an idea it was to come to Vale de Moses. I couldn't agree more - it is an excellent idea... indeed, it is my favourite! It is true, however, that one of my 'favourite' volunteers here said yesterday that 'every 'thing' is your favourite'. But that is just how I feel at Vale de Von said to me,

'it is just about moving from one state of deliciousness to another'. 

And it is. It is delicious here.  Come.

Chloe Skinner

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The beauty of May in the Forest

Spring here in central Portugal is, by far, our favourite season. Warm and sunny already well into the mid 30 degree heat, cool in the evenings and mornings, with the heavy rain showers back in April, as always, precipitating such a splendid show of flowers, roses and colour everywhere. We love it. It's divine. 

We just uploaded to our Facebook page some of our favourite guests' photos of their retreats here since March.  A few on the blog today but do take a browse if you can. There are some stunners.  

To help us capture the lushness of the landscape at this time of year, tomorrow a film crew arrive with a drone! They came last week to do some light testing and flight path work, and it was so bizarre to have a noisy little machine flying around the place.  Like a wee invasion from the civilized technological world far far away.  But we think it's the best way to film the valley and buildings here so it's happening tomorrow and Friday. Gulp!
On a personal note, although it's been wonderful to have so many more lovely people retreat with us again this year, Vonetta and I are missing our children terribly during the week days. Eloise is in Lisbon at art school and Josh finishing off his schooling in Castelo Branco. They’re both healthy and happy but we wish we could all still be together.  Summer is here soon and they’ll be home for a while. ;)

As if I hadn't already realized that they’re both all grown up and flying the nest in search of their own independent adventures, the arrival of tattoos kind of visualized it for me. You won't believe how many times I've said I'm getting a Tat but always chickened out.  Not our two though!  They beat me to it.  Maybe encouraged a little by the fact that where Eloise stays in Campo Pequeno, a new tattoo bar opened up last month beneath the flat! 

I’ll leave you with links to two videos of our new Tipi going up a couple of weeks ago. (Videos will appear here soon when I work out how to embed from FB!) Big thanks to our dear friends Ian and Merle from Hummingbird Tipis and Scorp for carrying it over in 3 suitcases on an airplane and putting it up for us. It's resplendent. 

Tipi poles go up 
Tipi is built

Paz e amor,

Monday, January 26, 2015

Happy New Year and Green Smoothie Recipe - by Vonetta

Campo Pequeno
Happy New Year one and all. I just finished my first practice session in a few days. Over the winter so far, I have been travelling and moving and teaching and studying and being a Mother. My yoga practice often has to fit into my life and 2014 indeed was very busy, productive and outstanding. It is a little daunting to consider making it all happen again in 2015, but I am also reminded that my life will not fit without practice and it is on to the mat I go.

My setting has changed, I am now in a tiny little flat in Lisbon.  

For the last seven years at Vale de Moses my gaze while practicing looking forward out of the shala has always landed on a tiny little pine tree. From where I like to stand, this tree appears to be growing at the end of a fire path. When I first started practicing in Portugal this tree was pretty little. Like me, it has survived being in total isolation, aloneness, strong winds, blazing heat, electric storms and even a huge forest fire in 2012. I remember the first morning practice after the fire, I looked up ready to say goodbye to the little tree to find the fire had been put out by the brave firemen just above it. That morning when I came to practice Vrksasana I felt a communion with the little tree. It had survived and would therefore be nourished by the scary events that had taken place, depositing nutrient laden potash all around it.

This morning I am seeing the tree but only in my mind's eye. My real view now is an elegant yellow Lisbon apartment building. I am unable to sprawl around the shala and I am not receiving strong and satisfying adjustments as I would do in a studio. I have simply rolled out my mat and a delicious solitary practice can begin, time and space, after months of teaching, working, travelling, moving and mothering.  I am actually landing and there is no better place to land than on my own on my mat.  

This morning I am surprised by how light and happy my body feels even though certain more athletic postures feel awkward. I know that after a few days of dedicated practice more lightness, or freedom or whatever may come, but I am not concerned. The aloneness that this personal practice provides is needed right now.  

Tomorrow, I will be back to the studio, Casa Vinyasa in Lisbon (not unfortunately on this beach nor this mat in Barbados!), allowing my body to be artfully adjusted in postures, a benefit that I would not be without. I am sure this morning's gleeful leaping around the mat while it has personality, must lack technique. However today is a personality day and I am having fun. I am falling in love with lengthening and broadening again.

When I am struggling with accepting any phase in my life, then this little practice time helps me to just feel better after, or at the very least, less bothered. Practice is, after all, a tried and tested method of delighting in the now.

In a few months I will be back to retreat teaching and the joys of seeing known faces and new ones, of hearing their stories of the Winter face to face rather than on FB. My days will be filled with sweet smelling oils, pungent herbs and Qi balancing magic wands (acupuncture needles). Beautiful bodies of all sizes and descriptions will be nourished by the excellent Vale de Moses team and volunteers.  

Like my Yoga practice, the pleasures of retreat life have been tried and tested and I am relieved to have this in my future. Yoga practice with our other teachers coming this year will begin and there will be sharing and learning and a light competitive frolicking and I am looking forward to such long and generous summer days. However, right now it is good just to roll out my mat and be there.

The joy of yoga has to be being alone in your flat with your tunes, enjoying the immediate gratification of touching your toes.  

Ah, all that is left to mention is my Green Smoothie fetish. My favourite smoothie at the moment.  Created by Dr. Fuhrman and inspired by Victoria Boutenko's Green Smoothie Revolution and introduced to me by my Natural Physician Course. The course gives me the mental challenge I need while I wait for my loved ones: Andy from his work preparing the valley and cottages in the mountains for the Yoga Season ahead; Josh finishing school in Castelo Branco and Eloise finishing a day of art school in Lisbon. The juice gives me that zip that lasts throughout the day and will also help get rid of some of the Christmas loving.  

It's a lot of fun working on the course, I am constantly running little benign experiments on myself and it is worth it as I know the experiences I am having through this course will improve what we offer at Vale de Moses and in Barbados over many years to come. This juice was apparently drunk by Pop icon Peter Max every morning since 1998.  It is a deluxe Super Green juice that gives me the stamina to keep at it. If you would like to try the juice and do not have all of the ingredients, don't worry about it just substitute and omit. I often have to. 

The treat of a great juicer such as Hurom 700 GY or a Vitamix may be just the thing for you to get this 2015 off to a bouncy start.  

Dr. Fuhrmanʼs Green Longevity Drink
Makes 4 cups 

1 large head romaine lettuce 
1 1/2 cups spinach 
2 sprigs parsley 
1 cup broccoli florets 
2 leaves mustard greens or turnip greens 
3 collard leaves 
1/2 cup watercress 
1/8 tsp. oregano 
1/2 avocado 
1 banana, peeled 
3 large strawberries 
1 cup frozen or fresh blueberries 
1/2 papaya or mango 
1 1/2  tsp. flax seeds 
1 1/2  tsp. sunflower seeds 
1 1/2  tsp. sesame seeds
I hope 2015 is a Yogi Year.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

7 years since we found Vale de Moses

In September 2007, on a family tour round southern europe in a motorhome, with Moses our golden retriever, Josh aged 10 and Eloise aged 8, we arrived in Portugal and saw on the web an old abandoned farm in the centre of Portugal with the same name as our dog.

Here's the blog entry we wrote on that providential day when we first arrived to the village of Amieira and were led by our trusty hound to discover the hope of a new adventure. I re read it today to remind us where this all began. Worth a read if you've not heard the story before. All the photos on this post today are from 2007.

That's 7 years ago this month. Feels like an entire lifetime away. And what an adventure it has been. Learning how to restore houses. Learning a new language and culture. Learning how to make wine, plant trees and potatoes, cultivate herbs and tomatoes, use power tools, drive tractors. Learning how to fish. Learning how to teach English to children in schools. Learning about social media and launching a yoga retreat from our home. Meeting such a rich diversity of people, teachers, volunteers, therapists and carers from all over the planet. Most importantly of all, raising our children (this was Eloise aged 8!) in an isolated forest environment with an abundance of peace and olive oil.

Life, they say, revolves in 7 year cycles. Every single cell in our body changes over this time. Perhaps we fundamentally do too. I was 35 then and now I'm 42. A quick Google search brings up some fascinating stuff around the phases of our lives. And this one I've just been through resonates with lots that have been written about by sages past. Here's a snippet of just one of those links...

"From the thirty-fifth to the forty-second year, depending upon one’s personality and what one’s circumstances allow, one begins to feel a new restlessness. In some degree a desire to share whatever one has gained through life with others comes to the surface. What has been developed or realised can be taken to greater subtlety during this period. This is almost like unfolding something, perhaps similar to the way a flower unfolds a bud that has been developing in earlier phases of its growth. 
You may reach heights or realisation and creativity not touched previously. The profound breakthrough of ones innate genius that emerges around this time will no doubt be expressed in some degree. However, whatever is attained or realised will be enlarged and synthesised in later periods."
All encouraging stuff. Seems from these sites that there is more to come as we get older. Obviously. Good to know nonetheless.

So here we are, drawing towards the close of another fabulous yoga retreat season at Vale de Moses, starting to peak at what might be down the road in the months and years to come. Josh left home last week for school in Castelo Branco. Eli just left for art school in Lisbon this morning. Soon our retreats will close once again for the year, our wonderful team departs and it will then be just Vonnie and I. Then she's off end of November for a while to New York to see her aunty before our Christmas retreat in Barbados. So in December it will be just me and Moses. And his Mrs, Safi and their puppy Moksha. And our 11 year old cat from London, Angel. No one else.

Despite the fact we've lived so remotely for 7 years, I've actually only spent a couple of days here on my Jack Jones own. December might be just the thing to take stock, reflect and dream a little more of what lies ahead. The next 7 year cycle is just around the corner. Today though, I am feeling unbelievably grateful that we bought a puppy in London and named him Moses and that he led Vonnie, Josh, Eli and I to this magical little valley in Portugal.

May your journey through Autumn this year be full of loveliness, whatever life cycle you find yourself in.



p.s. was also looking through some of the restoration videos we took and found this one by Eloise. Check out the chaos of building work...

Friday, August 29, 2014

Kids leaving home & Yoga at Christmas in the Bajan Sun - by Vonetta

We've been having another super summer here at Vale de Moses. So many guests once again have made long trips from all over the world to spend a week or 2 with us in our home in these remote Portuguese mountains. Doesn't feel so remote here when we're surrounded by all these lovely people. You should see some of their sweet photos of their stays on our FB page and some kind words in reviews on our new Trip Advisor page.

We’ve had tremendous help from lots of great people too. Our Karma volunteers have relentlessly and cheerily washed dishes and tidied spaces. Katherine Smith has continually created culinary delights in our kitchen, wrote our first retreat menu cookbook and teaches her afternoon yin yoga classes. Fleur van Hille from Amsterdam is sadly leaving us today after running 4 inspirational vinyasas flow retreats in July and August. And Peter Packard, who Maria Mercati (my TCM teacher from Body Harmonics in the UK) sent us, has been brilliantly massaging our guests this summer and treated me too with regular with acupuncture and Thai, keeping my own body in good energetic shape for teaching and treating everyone that comes here.

Pete and I have decided to run our first Thai Massage Course with Yoga this October, 19th to 25th. We're really looking forward to it. If it goes well, we plan to run a few more courses next year too.

Big family changes are on the close horizon for us in the next few weeks. My Eloise got accepted into Art School in Lisbon, António Arroio. So she’ll be leaving home end of September to stay with a family there until we can find a place to rent together in Lisbon from January onwards. Gulp.

Joshua is also moving to Castelo Branco to finish off his last year at a new school, Nuno Alvares, studying Physics. He’s in England at the moment with Andy’s folks touring a few universities to consider. So both Eli and Josh are leaving home at the same time in under a month!! A little earlier than we had thought they would. Andy keeps telling me "breathe, Vonetta, breathe. Change is inevitable. It’s all gonna be OK."

I went shopping with Ellie and a friend of mine the other day and picked up a number of items of clothing I felt best represented my present incarnation as Von.  As I lifted up the choices for my friend’s inspection, I was thinking “yep, nice look”.  My friend raised her nose, smiled out of the corner of her mouth and noted “you can take the island girl to the city and through the desert and place her in the middle of the Portuguese forest, but you definitely can’t take the island out of the girl!”  I looked again at the clothes, one with a palm tree printed over bright magenta, others with orange, sunshine yellow or cobalt blue fabric.  I smiled back recognising the truth of her statement. I am an island girl and that is never going to change, no matter how far I have come since leaving Barbados at 17.  I left the shops that day knowing what I really wanted. To go home to that beautiful, feisty tiny rock in the middle of the cobalt Caribbean Sea, and teach some yoga surrounded by real palm trees.

Teaching and living in a temperate climate like this in Portugal is exciting.  As the seasons change, so too does my yoga practice.  More expansive in the summer months. More internalised in the cold winter months. Feeling the surge of energy as the Spring sap rises in the forest, and being refreshed by the Autumn rains as they douse the acute dryness of our long summer months. Yet there is nothing like practicing in a constant climate - the day and night temperatures are relatively stable in Barbados. Even the sea temperature varies little.  Air humidity is moist with a cooling drying sea breeze.  This constant temperature means that the body has the opportunity to remain in a pretty constant state of muscular relaxation. There are no sudden cold chills to shorten the back of the neck and lock the hips.  Flexibility is greatly improved by consistency, not only consistency of practice but also consistency of environment.

While recently away with Andy and the kids (and Sally & Jonathan my inlaws) on the Costa Vicentina in June, down on the South West gorgeousness of Portugal, I needed a vigorous practice of backbends, handstands and salutations before my body temperature was high enough to cope with the invigorating Atlantic sea.  It was fun to run around, get hot and then charge into the ocean, but I definitely felt the need for strength over flexibility.  While lying on the sand recovering from the shock and thrill of the cold water, I found my memory drawing me to a particular practice time I experienced last year when we ventured back to Barbados.  It was one of those practices you don’t forget easily. Instant ecstasy.

Everything feels more alive when we practice outside especially with the song of tropical birds in the ears and a turn to face the waves of the ocean or a monkey stealing a mango from its tree. A pre heated supple body, softened by an early morning swim in warm clear water retreating from the Caribbean sun to a shaded veranda for a long slow indulgence in the fine art of stretching and breathing.  I began the practice that morning with breath work and was immediately delighted by the ease of my breath. Warm salty water into the nose from the sea rather than from my usual neti pot meant my breathing was silky smooth and entirely relaxed.

In my sun salutations, I felt like a hot knife moving through room temperature butter as all 650 plus muscles in my body surrendered to the Bajan sun. There was no crunch in the spine as I slid from Chaturanga Dandasana to Updog.  I was able to assess the liquid nature of my spine as I folded into forward bends and the strength of fully relaxed muscles as I sprung into Full Wheel.  For the first time in several years I was able to effortlessly place both feet behind my head and sit, it was so good to experience easy open hips.  I emerged from Yoga Nidrasana thinking once again, “This yoga shit is the bomb”.  My mind was quieted and utterly present as the gentle swish of the lapping sea, placed me in a mellow mood.  I walked along the beach after practice towards the kids snorkling with Andy out on the reef and as my entire pelvis swayed effortlessly from left to right I lost the sensation of having bones or separate parts.  The supple nature of my spine made me feel somehow taller and thinner.  Liquefied is the word that most aptly describes the experience of practicing yoga in Barbados. My nervous system in tune with my mood worked with me and everything within flowed as one.

My practice on the beach in Barbados that day made me realise that I wanted to find a way for others to feel this comfortable while practicing yoga. For those who struggle with tight hamstrings, stiff hips and a rigid lower back, retreating to my little island might be just the thing for them to escape the pain and discomfort in their bodies that colder northern winters often bring. When we got back to Portugal we decided we’d run retreats there one day if we ever found the right place.

Bathsheba along the East Coast of the island has always been my favourite part of the island.  Our Sunday afternoon family outings there as a child always involved a drive and rest watching the waves of the Atlantic ocean crashing against the shore.  My mum and my dad both live in more populated and buzzing parts of the island. Bathsheba in contrast ushers in an energy of reverence as the small hills and dunes formed out of the flat chalk areas of the rest of the island and scenes of busy hotels and home districts fade to small wooden chattel houses and fecund tropical vegetation.  No matter the time of year we could always find a good breeze to lift the spirits and dry away the tropical humidity, easing us into serenity. Bathsheba gave me this as a child and 25 years later nothing has changed, serenity is still very much the spirit of the east coast.

Earlier this year my Dad called to say he had found us the perfect place to have Yoga Retreats and it was, of course, in Bathsheba.  A newly built retreat called Lush Life with a dozen or so luxury eco lodges, set in an 18 acre palm tree forest far from the often overcrowded parts of the island with their big hotels. We checked out their website and Youtube video and I immediately knew where we were going to be spending our winters from here on in, out of the European wet and cold and in with the new, hot Christmases of yoga and gentle rebalancing and maybe a little partying at night on the lively South Coast bars and clubs.

So we’re off to Barbados this December. Just for a couple of weeks this time. December 16-30. In these retreat weeks we will yoga chill, immerse ourselves in the tropical heat, moisture and natural Vitamin D boost of the sun, and explore a more supple, yielding, willing, adaptable body, possibly a little freer from our winter aches and pains.

My shopping friend was right, I am indeed still Vonnie from Barbados and I’m sooo looking forward to sharing my little island with those coming with us this Christmas.

When we return to Portugal in the New Year, it will be to a new phase of our lives, based more in Lisbon, until our 2015 yoga retreat season starts again at Vale de Moses.  We will have spent 7 years living here full time in this beautiful peaceful forested valley, and from January our adventure and our daughter are drawing us to the charming capital city of Lisbon.  Perhaps we’ll add to our annual retreat calendar, not just more Thai Massage courses and winter trips to Barbados, but also some short Spring and Autumn city breaks in Lisbon with yoga classes and treatments. I wonder....:)

Watch this space.

Peace and Love

Vonetta xxx