Positive procrastination

With Paolo we’ve been joking recently about how many random things I can get done when I am procrastinating from doing my writing assignments.  I’ve been found baking spontaneous apple pies for instance, cleaning the bathroom or sorting out and tidying the attic (something that was on my to-do list for at least 6 months).

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When I’m feeling blocked and just can’t seem to find the way to start writing, I try and remember that taking a walk, while it does not contribute to getting words on the page, is generally a good cure for break my mental resistance. In the worst of cases, I tell myself that even if I still don’t write afterwards, I’ll have at least stretched my legs and gotten some fresh air.  In the best cases, I come back with a sliver of a new idea to work on.

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Saturday afternoon was one of those days, so after sitting frustrated for a while and uselessly distracting myself by reading other people’s writing, I decided to go out and catch the last of the afternoon light.  I set myself the challenge to attempt to capture the colour contrasts in that lovely low autumn light. So with my ISO set high, I looked around for bursts of colour to photograph while trying to hold my camera as still as I could.

 

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When the light faded and the cold got to me, I headed home, clear-headed. I even saw a beautiful pink sunset that I would most likely have missed were I staring at my computer screen.  My inner-critic probably also got a bit frozen, because it left me enough space to sit down and start typing when I got back.

Taking time to just be

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #153

Last Sunday I kept an entire day free of plans, so that I could recharge my batteries.  I had some work to do on my writing assignment and plenty of other to-dos, but I decided to first take some time for myself.

I spent an hour meditating, sitting in silence and trying to focus only on my breathing (which in reality ended up being more like becoming aware of my incessant thoughts and letting them come and go).  It felt like a reset for my overstimulated brain, a welcome break from constant inputs.

Afterwards, since the sun made a welcome appearance after some very rainy days, I took the chance to go for a slow walk in the neighbourhood. I did my best to stay as much as possible on the sunny side of the street to soak up lots of vitamine D and watched people enjoying the good weather as I ambled along.

The autumn colours were beautiful, with colourful leaves holding tight to their branches and covering the pavement.  I also enjoyed observing the details of the last flowers remaining in people’s gardens, like this purple flower with its silky petals emerging from the strange black and green pod, and the petals around the remnants of this bordeaux-coloured flower.

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Books about walking

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Hibernation season has decidedly arrived and as the cold settles in and raindrops hit the windows, I’m happy to live vicariously from the comfort of my sofa, while I wait for the right season to pull on my hiking shoes and go for a long walk. Here is a short list of books about walking to accompany you in these cold months.

Wild – Cheryl Strayed

Cheryl Strayed’s beautiful memoir of how walking can lead you back to yourself in times of deep loss and grief.  It doesn’t sugarcoat the experience of long-term hiking, and it’s funny, desperately sad and hopeful all rolled in one.

Walking: One step at a time – Erling Kagge

I read this book in Italian, I was drawn to its title which is translated as ‘Camminare – un gesto sovversivo’, meaning ‘Walking – a subversive act’,  and therefore appealed to the rebellious part of me. It’s a poetic ode to walking on a day-to-day and a reminder of how slowing down and walking is a powerful way of resisting being pulled into the vortex of ever-increasing speed.

Walking to listen – Andrew Forsthoefel

The true story of how Andrew set out to cross the US by foot and actively listen to people’s stories. He shares stories from people from all walks of life, races, ages, who were generous on his way.  I enjoyed how it reveals a lot about privilege and how stereotypes are put to the test when we realise we are all simply humans trying to live our best lives.

Without ever reaching the summit – Paolo Cognetti

Cognetti’s account of his hike at the foot of the Himalayan mountains makes you feel you are right there with him. I like this book because with no intention of conquering the summit it is focussed on just experiencing the landscape at 4-5000 meters, observing its nature and wildlife, and describing the inhabitants and the human connection born on such a trip.

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*****

Putting together this post, I took a dive in my photography archive to look for some relevant pictures from when I was walking the Camino along the Northern coast of Spain.  Just looking at these photos I am drawn back to the remote places along the path, I can feel the weight of my backpack, the exhilaration of having no other task than to walk 6 to 8 hours a day and the repeated joy of overlooking an amazing landscape after an upwards climb.

 

On setting boundaries

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #152

Today want to express gratitude to the Universe for kindly giving me plenty of opportunities lately to practice setting my boundaries.  I often wish it was a one time thing, that you just set your boundaries once and for all, and then they were there, stable and protective forever.

However it is not so, and I keep realising that I have to figure out my boundaries anew.  Which makes sense of course, because I am constantly learning and evolving, what I may once have accepted no longer feels OK or that the ‘should’ that pressured me in the past is clearly not my monkey to take.

Setting boundaries is hard for me as a people pleaser. Speaking up about what doesn’t work for me is a weak set of muscles that need to be trained, over and over again.  I would love to say that with all this practice I’ve got it figured out, but I keep on struggling to hear the truth my intuition whispers to me, amongst the noise of ‘I should’ and ‘might be cool’. Actually, I don’t want ‘cool’ and if I find that I’m trying to convince myself to do something, I realise I’m pushing my boundaries and I am the only person who can respect them for me.

When I set my boundaries it is far from elegant, I find it scary to put my needs out there, not knowing how people will react.  But regardless of the way my message is delivered, it does feel empowering when I identify my boundaries and stick up for myself.  I have to keep reminding myself the short-term effort is worth it for my future self.

First impression of the Deelerwoud

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On the Eastern side of the Hoge Veluwe sits its twin, the Deelerwoud, a very similar parc but with no entrance fee and much less people. It was recommended by our landlady, so we went to check it out on our last day in the Veluwe and found it’s a great alternative.

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There too mushrooms were popping up all over the place in the undergrowth, showing off the details of their unique caps.  We enjoyed a quiet walk, savoured having the path all to ourselves, meeting only one lady with her dog during the whole time.

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It was sunny when we headed out and we chatted as we made our way, until all of a sudden when we stopped to take some pictures we realised huge grey clouds building up behind us and pretty soon after it started to rain.

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Soon it was pouring so hard, we had to cut short our exploration and head back to our bikes. We were lucky to come across a little hut at the entrace of the parc to take shelter in, while we waited for the downpour to calm down. It was a cute place, all made of wood, where you can self-serve coffee and tea and have a snack. There was even locally-made ice-cream in the freezer, but soaked as I was it’s one of the rare times I turned down ice-cream.  No problem though, that just means we will have to go back – both for a longer walk and to try the local ice-cream;)

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Half-day holiday in Utrecht

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #151

It turns out it doesn’t take much more than a few hours exploring another city on a quiet weekday morning to get a holiday vibe:-) I am grateful for a wonderful half-day spent in Utrecht with my friend Eva. Our initial plan was to go and visit the Oude Hortus (the old botanic garden) and we made it, though not before making a few spontaneous stops on our way through the city center.

We spent a perfect slow morning sipping delicious coffee in a cosy spot, then finding treasures in a great second hand shop, before enjoying a tasty lunch and chatting as the rain poured down outside. When the sun came out again, perfectly timed with the end of our lunch, we headed over to the Oude Hortus and strolled through the lovely garden showing off its autumn colours.  We also explored the laid-back green houses, home to succulents, cacti, waterplants and giant ferns. I felt my senses come alive with the smells of soft fuzzy japanese citrus fruit, the incredible textures of the plants, the splashes of sunlight falling on the foliage.

Mindful walk in the Amsterdamse Bos

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I’ve been enjoying some time off to explore near and further afield in the Netherlands.  Last week, I took a walk in the Amsterdamse Bos which is just a 10 minute bike ride away from my house. Initially, I was disappointed, having just returned from the Hoge Veluwe I was expecting lots of colourful mushrooms on the side of the path, but this was not the case.

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As often happens with expectations, it was just a question of realising I was holding on too tightly to them and letting them go. I reminded myself this is a different ecosystem and I should stay curious and keep walking along patiently. In the end, the mushrooms turned out to be much more discrete. Either a multitude of teeny tiny ones on a dead stump, or huge ones that push up from the ground covered in leaves and therefore harder to spot.

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I also tried to alternate looking very close up for details and staring out over the fields at the autumn colours and menacing clouds on the horizon.  It always takes a while to get into the creative flow and start to ‘see’ patterns, textures, combinations…

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My favorite find was this tiny little snail, perfectly camouflaged amongst the seed pods of this plant. Can you see it? Such a gorgeous colour combination!

Mushroom season

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #150

In the past few weeks, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying mushroom season, not so much for eating them as for observing them.  I am blown away by the sheer number of different types I had the chance of coming across, from the typical red ones with white spots that you see in cartoons to the sponge mushrooms, from clusters of tiny mushrooms on a mossy tree stump to orange ones pushing up from the ground, from ones that look to me like bread buns straight out of the oven (like these two photos from a lovely walk this week the Amsterdamse Bos) to wise mushrooms that stand mindfully, unphased by what goes on around them.  I’m very grateful of the diversity of nature that keeps on surprising me and especially for having had some quality time lately to be outdoors and wander, without being in a rush, eyes peeled for these astonishing shapes.

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Autumn Artist Date in the Veluwe

During our stay in the Veluwe, I spent a wonderful hour or so on a short exploration to take some pictures in the last light of the afternoon. It was the perfect Artist Date.

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I pedalled along the wet cycling path, beneath the trees starting to show their autumn colours, until I reached the place with open dunes and mossy hillocks that I had spotted the day before when it was too rainy to stop and take photos.

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Then I just walked around, undisturbed, looking for interesting details and observing the plants. My shoes were really slippery as I carefully made my way up and down the mounds, trying not to crush anything as I knelt down low on the ground to take closer looks.

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There was such a wide variety of plants, mushrooms, mosses and lichens, of all different colours. Every few meters, something new would catch my eye.  I was all alone, no one passing on the cycling path, just the sound of birds in the pine trees near by as the light diminshed.

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On this tree stump, a tiny colourful hope of renewed life was growing, hosting two ladybirds in its branches.

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Just as I was about to leave, I turned to look at the lanscape once more and noticed that the last rays of sunshine were lighting up the trunks of the pine trees as if they were on fire (though this picture doesn’t show quite how strange the light was…)

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As I cycled back to our cottage, darkness starting to surround me, I felt so relaxed, from just one hour of quiet, focussed only on observing nature’s beautiful details.  My body and mind, with their infinite wisdom, signalling that I should do this much more often.

Short trip to the Hoge Veluwe

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #149

I am just back from a few beautiful days in the Hoge Veluwe with Paolo where we had the joy of exploring the National Park and the surroundings of Hoenderloo by bike. Of course, mid-October in the Netherlands there is no guarantee with the weather and we did get soaked a few times, but on the whole it was not cold and we even got some sunshine here and there.  The key was simply to be equipped with good rain gear at all times;)

Actually Autumn is a great time to go because of the amazing colours.  The trees are shifting to orange and yellow, bright leaves strewn on the undergrowth and there are bursts of colours everywhere. I am also obsessed with the many different mushrooms popping up all over the place on the forest floor and at the foot of trees (prepare yourself to see many pictures of them here in the next posts;). It was a wonderful breath of fresh air and a good reminder that just a couple of hours from Amsterdam by bus and train we can easily immerse ourselves in stunning nature.