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.

Bumble-bee bush

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I’ve been spending more time than ever in my home lately, what with working from home and social distancing, and though I’ve been tidying and decluttering, that does nothing to help when my thoughts are whirling around my mind like a washing machine.  The best cure for that, I’ve learnt throughout the years, is taking a walk around the neighbourhood.

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So between two rain-showers, I pulled on my shoes and strolled along, lost in thought, until I passed a beautiful yellow bush, that was buzzing. On closer look, I found that it was full of pollinators: flies, bees and especially many many bumble-bees.  I was amazed by the diversity of the bumble-bees: they varied in size, had different combinations of yellow, white and black stripes and even distinct ‘hair-styles’.  But they all went about their collection of nectar like bunch of hungry teenagers tearing into an all-you-can-eat buffet!

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I was thrilled to watch the bumble-bees buzzing around and to see such diversity. It was great to be reminded that even in such a small space between the wall and the side-walk, this modest garden is bountiful for so many pollinators and supports real bio-diversity.

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*****

By the way, if anyone knows the name of this plant with yellow flowers, please let me know in the comments:)

A list of small pleasures

For today’s post I am thrilled to have collaborated with the illustrator Eva Polakovicova (Eva Pola Illustration & Design). She created these lovely illustrations to accompany my words, working by hand  combining her stencil technique and colour inks.  She did a wonderful job of capturing the joy of these small pleasures, and I am in love with this gorgeous colour palette♥

You can find out more about Eva’s inspiration and this technique in the interview we did back in January.

*****

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #182

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Watching little groups of sparrows come to drink water on my balcony

The sound and smell of white wine evaporating from risotto rice

Lying down at the end of the day and relaxing into my pillow, knowing there is still time to read a good book

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Opening the mailbox and finding a postcard or an envelope from someone I hold dear

Having no plans and letting myself fall asleep in the sofa in the afternoon without setting an alarm

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Cooking with radish leaves and carrot tops and feeling like there is twice as much food and no waste

The smell of rain on the garden after a long dry spell

The lovely feeling of fatigue after several hours of walking or cycling in nature

Harvesting, planting, weeding

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Yesterday I had the pleasure of spending a day volunteering on the farm where I get my veggies from, in the West of Amsterdam.  It was a beautiful day with a fresh breeze which made it perfect to be working outside, though I was glad I had my sunscreen and hat to protect me as the sun was really beating down.  I enjoyed harvesting some greens, forking the soil, placing the tarp along the row, planting some pumpkin plants at a regular distance, watering them…

I dedicated the end of the afternoon to clearing weeds from a long bed.  It was the perfect exercise in mindfulness, I was focused on the task at hand, careful to extract as much of the deep roots as possible to avoid the weeds growing back, with the satisfaction of the pile of weeds in my crate getting bigger and the row looking more and more clear of weeds. We finished off the task together with one of the girls who works there, chatting as the sun made its way towards the west and became less harsh.

I’m very grateful for the opportunity to experience working there and learning more about how the CSA is run.  The farmers were really kind, patiently explained and showed what needed to be done and answered my many questions. It was physical work and I came home very tired, but in a good way, with the joy of having spent hours with a calm mind and hands in the soil, admiring earthworms, healthy soil and thriving vegetables.  Spending time with passionate people and hearing about their experiences, is wonderful because it opens up a world of new ideas and possibilities.

Abundance

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #181

The Artist’s Way is a book I dive into regularly because of Julia Cameron’s deep wisdom (and humour!).  Recently I pulled it off the shelf and opened it at a random chapter as I often do, knowing it would provide me just the nugget of guidance I need. This time I landed on the chapter about ABUNDANCE, which made me laugh because I’ve also been pulling that word lately from my tiny pack of Angel cards… Clearly this is something for me to focus on at the moment;)

Interestingly some of the exercises from the chapter are about getting rid of things around the house.  I always need to get over that little voice in my head that whispers that I may need it later, the one that is scared I won’t have ENOUGH. It seems counter-intuitive at first to give away things to feel abundance. But there’s a reason why I’m not wearing the t-shirt or why my heart is telling me it’s fine to let go of some object I have lying around for years that I didn’t even choose myself.

Seeing the happy look on the face of someone who comes over to pick-up a second-hand purchase is always a pleasure. I can tell they will appreciate the object so much more than I do and it avoids one new item being put out into the world.  Also, after depositing several back-pack loads of books at the little free library, my bookshelves are lighter and more ‘me’.

Parting with all these objects has highlighted that I have more than enough, and as an added bonus, this clearing has created space for a few new things, chosen with care. This week I treated myself to new washi tapes, finally replenishing my collection which had dwindled to with quasi-finished rolls and dark colours.   I splashed out on the good quality ones with beautiful patterns and bright colours like neon pink, enough to decorate my journal and my snail mail for a long time ahead and I felt like I was spoiling myself in the best of ways:)

Cooking with nettles

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Anyone who has spoken to me lately will know I am completely obsessed with my new weekly veggie box.  The contents are all fresh and seasonal, grown just 10km away from my house, in the west of Amsterdam (on the polder I spoke about in my last post) before being brought to the center by electric bike.

The contents of the box vary every week and it’s been bringing lots of joy into my life lately, especially in these COVID-19 times. Having lots of fresh greens as well as carrots, radishes and spring onions ready for use, is perfect for whipping up a quick salad between two zoom meetings while I work from home. I also like the fact that most of the veggies I wouldn’t normally buy (or even find) in the supermarket. I’ve been enjoying getting out of my routine and experimenting with lots of new recipes.

Stinging nettles are my nemesis in the wild (somehow I am always brushing a little too close when I take photos of other plants), but I’ve been enjoying preparing dishes with them in the kitchen.  I particularly like how mindful I need to be when cleaning the leaves. It’s possible to use gloves or a plastic bag around your hands, but I’ve found that simply using a fork to handle the nettles works fine, as long as I am concentrated. I enjoy carefully cutting the leaves from the stem and hearing the dry sound the leaves make as I drop them in the colander (it’s hard to describe, the leaves are not soft like spinach or salad, it sounds more like paper rubbing together…)

So far, I’ve made delicious linguine with nettles and sun-dried tomatoes, a nettle risotto, and otherwise just added remaining nettle leaves to my stir-fry.  If you have other nettle recommendations, I’d love to hear them:)