Sand in between my toes

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #195

Sometimes all that’s needed for a full reset is spending an afternoon on the beach with a good friend, relentlessly whipped by the wind, hair flying in all directions, enjoying the sun when it appears from behind the clouds, until every ounce of stress has been blown away.

The beach is quite empty, with just a few kite-surfers performing impressive jumps and skids in the shallows. We sit watching the waves, talking peacefully and enjoying the snacks we brought along, carrots dipped in hummus, crunchy chickpea crisps, fresh figs…

We take tentative steps in the water, only to realise the sea is not that cold and so we walk along the shore, tiny waves lapping at our feet, sun on our cheeks, chatting as we go.

Fine white sand travels in mesmerising sweeps over the surface of the beach, piling onto our blanket and back-packs, grain by grain, until all our possessions are partially buried and every inch of our skin is covered in sand.

When I get home and I shake my belongings out on the balcony, I release sand from the folds of my towel, it comes pouring out of the side pockets of my back-pack, I brush it off my legs as best I can, and I realise I’ve brought home enough sand for a mini-beach of my own.

Only for a little while, as I go about cooking dinner, I leave just a few last grains of sand, safely tucked in between my toes, reluctant to fully let go off that beach feeling.

The smell of apple cake

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #194

As night falls earlier, covering the city with its cloak of humidity, I’ve asked myself once or twice already whether I should turn on the heating but it seems way too early in the season. So far I’ve resisted and instead, in the evenings, I’ve been pulling on an extra jumper and spending more time cooking myself hearty meals. This never fails to warm me up, with the added bonus that the flat is filled with the aromas of the ingredients mingling in the pan or the oven. I’ve been trying a few new recipes, but mainly preparing familiar dishes, comfort foods for chilly evenings. One of those is torta alle mele (apple cake), its delicious smell happens to be wafting over from the kitchen counter as I type these words:)

Bursts of colour

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #193

I rarely buy cut flowers because their social and environmental impact makes me cringe. Usually I am content with my many potted plants or, if I really crave a burst of colour, a small bouquet of wild flowers picked on the fly.

However last week I treated myself to a large bouquet with a clean conscience at Lokale Bloemetjes, a self-pick farm next to the CSA where I get my veggies from in the West of Amsterdam. It was wonderful to stroll through row upon row of different flowers, grown without chemicals, taking the time to observe each one before deciding whether or not to add it to my bouquet, all the while knowing this supports a local business contributing to increase biodiversity.

Once back home, I sorted the flowers by similar colours and popped them inexpertly into glass tomato-sauce jars that I had lying around and they’ve been doing an amazing job at brightening up several corners of my flat on these first rainy autumn days.

Repotting houseplants

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #192

Before I left to France for over a month, I moved all the plants from inside my flat onto the balcony, where they would get naturally watered by the rain in my absence. I wasn’t sure what to expect on my return, and was agreeably surprised to find that they were in great shape, to the extent that I nearly felt insulted that they were thriving so well without me;)

This week in the course of walks in the neighbourhood, I was lucky to come across three undamaged pots, discarded by their previous owner but perfect for me to repot those of my plants which were getting cramped. So yesterday afternoon I put on some music and got to work on the balcony, performing what I visualise as the gardener’s equivalent of the hermit crab dance, where each plant gets repotted into a larger container leaving a pot free for a slightly smaller plant to expand.

One by one, I transferred the plants from the biggest to the smallest. Coaxing the bundle of roots out of its pot and placing it into the rich soil in their new pot, enjoying the handfuls of cool dirt that I carefully nudged down the sides around the roots, leaving me with a dark rims under my nails and the calm satisfaction of knowing the plants have a bit more space for now.

The Valloires gardens

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Back in July, during our stay in Le Touquet, my Mum and I spent a wonderful day together exploring the gardens of the Abbaye de Valloires.

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We enjoyed the drive, trusting the GPS as it guided us on the scenic route through villages with cute houses and inviting gardens, along dense crops and fields full of cows.  We even proceeded when the GPS directed us down a very narrow-looking path surrounded by marshes and high grasses, praying we wouldn’t come face to face with another vehicle and very relieved to get back onto a proper road and make it to the abbey.

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After a few clouds had cleared, it turned out to be a lovely sunny day.  We took our time to stroll through the five themed spaces on different levels of the property, observing the multitude of different species. Apart from the stunning symmetrical beds at the foot of the abbey, containing roses of all sizes and colours, there is a vegetable patch, a section with ferns, one focussed on the textures and colours of trees and bushes…

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The garden is beautifully maintained and the variety of textures and colours buzzing with pollinators is so rich, it’s hard to know where to direct your attention.

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After a delicious lunch in the garden’s café, sampling the locally grown vegetables and home-made desserts, we went back to the rose garden to enjoy the calm and beauty some more.

Holidays are for…

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #191

Lying on my bed in the middle of the afternoon, feeling the breeze come through the open door to the balcony and reading uninterrupted for several hours.

Not setting an alarm and being woken up by the sound of a grumpy and insistent jay.

Having a spontaneous skype call with a friend in the middle of the day.

Taking a calm evening walk lost in thought as grey clouds slowly fill the sky and being cooled by the thick raindrops falling lazily down on my way home.

Walking through rows of trees laden with apples and pears, carefully choosing the fruit that look ripe and unspoilt, then turning them gently upside down until they break off neatly into my hand. Filling my tote bags full of them, as the smell of rotting fruit wafts up from the grass, black and orange butterflies and wasps happily gorging themselves at my feet.

Reserving a time-slot and popping on my face-mask to go see a photography exhibition and being able to linger in front of the snapshots I like best.

Exploring the Beatrixpark at night and searching for the perfect spot, away from the light pollution, to watch lightning majestically rip through the sky.

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:)