A blissful soak

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #190

Armed with our swimmers and a picnic containing an unreasonable amount of brioche and cake, my friend Eva and I took a long walk through the Amsterdamse Waterleidingduinen headed to the coast.

We sauntered through the woods and dunes, stopping here and there to lay out our picnic blanket in the shade for a snack and a peaceful chat. It was very calm, finally far away from the sound of traffic, and since it was a Thursday there were few people and many animals, undisturbed by our presence.  We even had the pleasure of quietly observing some kingfishers, flying speedily back and forth over the canal giving us glimpses alternatively of their bright blue wings and orange chest, and diving at lightning speed from a branch into the water to catch fish.

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The highlight of the day was dipping into the sea when we made it to the beach in the late afternoon sun.  After walking for several hours, a swim was exactly what my body craved.  It was divine to enter the water, feeling the sand and shells in between my toes, small waves lapping at my calves.  When we got deep enough and were ready, we finally surrendered our entire bodies to the cool water. Mine wasn’t what you’d call an active swim, no, it was a glorious release of every muscle into total relaxation, a blissful soak, the joy of floating along with my toes peeping up on the surface, carried by the sea.

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Enjoying the garden

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I’ve been in France for a month already and how these weeks have flown by.  They were my last working weeks as I have left my job.  I worked hard until the end and now I am excited take some real time off, time to reflect and think about what next.  It feels like such a luxury now to not need to rush to get back to work or fret about work-related questions. I’ve really been appreciating spending time in the garden, a wonderful risk-free place to relax in the COVID times.

I’m taking time to sit on the bench in the garden and slowly write my Morning Pages while the sun warms my legs, surrounded by yellow flowers on thin stalks.

Time to watch bumble bees feasting on the lavender bush and different types of butterflies joyfully fluttering from other parts of the garden, keen to get their share too.

Time to look up at the eucalyptus tree, planted in memory of the time we spent living Down Under, its leaves different tones of green and even red swaying in the wind against the bright blue sky.  Its thick bark peels off in strips, that crunch underfoot and its fragrant leaves bring me right back to memories of playing in the bush as a child…

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Dreamy colour palette

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #189

Last week, on a quiet Friday morning I went for a walk with my Mum and her partner at Marly-le-Roi. We did our usual round through paths beneath the tall trees and then they chilled on a bench while I went to explore the place that had caught my eye.

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Whereas the grass is yellow and dry through most of the parc for lack of rain, there is this large dip teeming with young trees, waving reeds and wild flowers.  I made my way around it slowly admiring the gorgeous colours and variety of plants.

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At one point I stepped on a dry branch close to the side and startled something.  I just caught sight of the backs of a couple of deer bounding away before they disappeared into the thick of the reeds, leaving no trace.

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I love the colours of this little eco-system, the pastel pinks and silvery greens combining with the light reed tops and darker greens of the shrubs.  This space is so lush and wild in contrast to the highly symetrical layout and trees trimmed in cone-shapes of this part of the parc. I am glad that these little of bushy pockets remain for the wildlife to take shelter and thrive.

Sleeping snails

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #188

On a recent walk, I was searching for some interesting details to photograph and was rewarded with a few simple snails, napping peacefully on a leaf of their choice.  I love looking closely at their shells, admiring the texture and the elegance of the tight spiral. The lines on the snail below seem like they were hand-painted with ink.

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In an effort to better understand how ecosystems work, lately I’ve been looking up the role of different animals within them.  I am grateful for snails, who help with decomposition of organic matter and provide many of their prey with precious calcium.

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In my explorations down the internet rabbit hole of snail facts, I also discovered there is such a thing as aestivation, which is like hibernation but for summer.  When snails risk dessication because conditions are too hot or dry, they can go into aestivation to lower their metabolism until conditions improve.  I like this concept, and think I may adopt it as a perfectly good justification for these warm summer days when all I have energy for is napping in the shade:)

Montreuil-sur-Mer

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #187

In between very busy days of work and some rain showers, I had the pleasure of spending some quality time with my Mum exploring the region around Le Touquet.

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We spent one sunny morning walking around the fortified village of Montreuil-sur-Mer, which contrary to its name is actually not at the seaside (anymore). Instead, from the tops of the walls there are the stunning views over the surrounding countryside.

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We were the only people visiting at that time and it was great to have the place to ourselves. We took our time wandering around the walls, walking up paths surrounded by tall grass and observing how wild flowers and ferns burst through every crack between the bricks.

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I liked the freedom with which the plants were left to grow untamed. Later, we read a sign about how Montreuil-sur-Mer is actively protecting bio-diversity, leaving grasses unmown in places, not using pesticides and planting large beds of wild flowers visited by all sorts of bees from beehives placed around the property.  It makes me hopeful to see nature thrive when humans stop controlling it so much…

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Seaside walks

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #186

I’ve been working remotely for the past week in a beautiful old house in Le Touquet.  Living just a short stroll from the shore is wonderful. Everyday the beach and its surroundings look different, the weather varies a lot and it’s great to pop over and see what it’s like at different moments of the day.

I’ve been taking long after-work walks alone, savouring each step along the long white sand to the sound of the seagulls flying overhead, whipped by the wind, accompanied by the crashing of the waves as the tide comes up.

With my Mum, we’ve delighted in treating ourselves to delicious artisanal ice-cream, trying to combine swiftly eating the melting cones with chatting as we make our way in the sun along the esplanade.

I also explored the dunes, walking between the tufts of wild grasses blowing in the wind, taking deep breaths of fresh air and watching whispy clouds float quickly across the sky.

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Back in France

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #185

After months of weekly family Zoom calls and following the news to find out when the borders would re-open, I finally took the train back to France today.  I nearly missed it because the train didn’t actually stop in Schiphol where I planned to get on! But thanks to years of conditioning from my Mum, I had arrived super early at the station, as always, so had time to jump on a fast train to Rotterdam and catch the train to Paris there:)

I realise how lucky I am, as many are far from their loved ones and still don’t know when they’ll be reunited. I’m grateful that I live just a train ride away and can work remotely, meaning I have the chance to spend some time surrounded by my family and to share meals and laughs in person!

Cycling to Noordwijk

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We’d been planning this mini-adventure with my friend Eva for a while already. Our challenge was to meet up in a ‘virus-free’ way, somewhere between Amsterdam and the Hague, our respective cities. So we decided to rent e-bikes and meet at the half-way point, by the seaside in Noordwijk, for an afternoon.

The joy of being outdoors, on the road to somewhere, exploring new areas, moving with my own power (and a little help from my e-bike) felt liberating.  Thought going for such a long ride was a sudden shift from my mostly sedentary days working from home over the last months. It was my first time on an e-bike and it became clear that you still need to pedal just as much as normal and having the wind against me made my initial progress towards Haarlem extremely slow.  (Also, it turns there are more powerful e-bikes than the one I rented;) Next time I’ll go for one with TURBO power!!)

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Cycling through areas that I normally only see from the train window or on a map was really interesting.  It made me realise how much constructed area there is on that route.  Following the cycling paths, I found myself mainly in (sub)urban areas, or surrounded by dry fields devoid of the colourful tulips from a couple of months ago.  These sad mono-cultures tear at my heart, a sorry reminder of how we are draining the resources of the land and reducing biodiversity.  Luckily there were some pockets of nature, with wild flowers and poppies, high-grasses, some gardens with lots of plants and little patches of forest where the sunlight barely passed through the foliage and the air was cool.

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Getting to our meeting point took me much longer than anticipated. I was pedaling hard and checking maps I saw on the way to make sure I was still on track. The bike path crossings are numbered and to be sure I followed them correctly I would scribble the next few numbers down on my forearm, like winning lottery numbers 11 – 44 – 6 – 31… to make sure I followed the right direction.

Once we met up at last, it felt even more rewarding to catch up and be able to chat in person.  We shared our experiences and enjoyed some delicious cakes, sitting on the beach overlooking the sea, watching some brave swimmers and kite-surfers, bare feet in the cool sand, the wind blowing around us. It was bliss.

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I rode home via a different route, part of it spectacular along the dunes with the light becoming softer at the end of the day, watching large groups of birds fly up together in shifting shapes before settling on shrubs, and big hairy caterpillars confidently crossing the bike path.  The rest of the way, heading east, with the sun in my back through the towns, a long stretch between a high-way and a road, until I started to recognise where I was and pedal the last kilometers into Amsterdam Zuid.  I’m grateful for such a lovely day, for the good company and the perfect weather.  Another great reminder that it doesn’t take much to go for a mini-adventure.

Unlearning

 

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On this rainy Sunday, I am reflecting on the events of the past weeks. Thunder is rumbling ominously overhead, as raindrops fall in heavy curtains onto the gardens below.  It always takes me time and stillness to process events going on, before I can attempt to wrap some clumsy words around what I am feeling.

I am deeply saddened by the daily violence and systemic racial injustice towards Black people that is being highlighted with the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and many more.  I am aware that these issues are not something that is happening only in the US, this applies everywhere, including here in the Netherlands, and I am part of problem. As a white woman I am realising how much I have benefited from white supremacy my whole life.  Acknowledging my privilege feels uncomfortable, as it should, and I want to sit with that discomfort and dig deeper. Like many, I’ve been pondering: how can I be actively anti-racist? How can I be a better ally?

On this journey of understanding how be anti-racist, I commit to listening to the experiences of Black, Indigenous and people of colour and proactively spending time doing the work of unlearning white supremacy.  There is no magic switch, it wont happen overnight, it is a long and necessary unraveling.  This means that I will keep reading and educating myself to understand the complexities of the deep-rooted systemic racism and how it impacts my behaviour.  I will reflect on how to bring the focus back to our common humanity and how to take personal actions to contribute to change.  I will not shy away from uncomfortable discussions about race and inequalities, even if I fear I don’t have the ‘right arguments’.  I will make mistakes and get it wrong, and when that happens I will receive the feedback humbly and learn from it to do better next time.

Soft evening light

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #184

As we approach the longest day of the year, I love how the days stretch out, providing extra hours for my first alfresco boxing class since confinement has eased, or quiet after-dinner walks around the block when not many people are around.  The soft light and beautiful skies are a daily wonder.