Is this what you call gentle??

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GENTLE ALIGNMENT. Those were the 2 words I chose to guide me for 2018.  Already at the end of 2017 I could feel that I was drained, something needed to shift and I needed to make some changes to be more aligned with my true self. The reality was I had no idea how much I had drifted nor how to get aligned again.

This year turned out to be full of exhaustion, frustration and deep questioning. Many tears were cried, hundreds of pages were filled in my journals to try and process my conflicting emotions, to feel them and get through to the other side of the dark woods.

I was reflecting with a friend recently about my words of the year and I mentioned how I felt like it hadn’t really been GENTLE at all.  To which she rightly pointed out, that if I hadn’t added the word GENTLE it would possibly have been even more brutal.

The flip side of the coin was that being burnt-out meant I had to surrender, to let go, to rest. It was a powerful lesson in giving up my usual ways of reacting. I have to learn a new, more sustainable way of looking out for myself and my boundaries. Maybe the word GENTLE refers more to how I should focus on treating myself in the midst of this confusion as I try to get aligned again:)

Things I have learned the hard way:

  • I need to stop pushing myself. The overachiever in me has helped me get this far but when I push myself out of alignment, too far from my values and deepest desires, it exhausts me and does not serve me in the long run
  • I need to balance the parts inside me that want freedom and that want stability
  • I need to look for what makes my heart sing and brings me joy, as these will give me energy
  • I will practice saying my TRUTH more and experiment with daring to ask for what I need (this is going to be especially vital in the next months as I return to the office, build up my working hours again and figure out where to go from here)

Of course things are not so easy, it’s not like I will never make those mistakes again…. but hopefully I will be reminded of the lessons learnt in this period and slip less easily into misalignment.

Coming up soon, my words of the year for 2019 and why I chose them!

Fern patterns

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #112

During my recent walk in the forest near my home town, at one stage I came across lots of ferns that had been cut down by the side of the path. I was mesmerised by their colours and shapes, which formed these wonderful dense and intricate patterns.

Ferns are one of my photographic nemeses, I love how they look (from shy, bright green ferns in the forest undergrowth to massive native Australian ferns that are more like trees) but always struggle so much to capture them in a way that does justice to their splendour…

I’m grateful to have had a chance to observe the beauty of these ferns and their patterns before they shriveled up and became part of the forest floor, it was the perfect opportunity to practice photographing them:)

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2018 reading statistics

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It’s always interesting to look back at the past year’s books and crunch some numbers to observe if there are any trends and help plan for the year ahead. This year I started tracking which books I read on Goodreads, which is great because it means I have an accurate overview, as it’s easy to forget which books I was reading 12 months ago.

Findings from 2018

In 2018, I read 56 books, corresponding to 16320 pages (!), I doubt I’ve ever read that many books in one year.  I mostly read novels (64%), the rest was a combination of non-fiction/memoirs/self-help books.

Of those books, 59% were written by women (33 books), 39% by men (22 books)  and 2% by a woman/man couple (1 book).  I paid more attention this year to selecting books written by women so I’m glad that is reflected in these numbers and it balances out my 2017 gender gap.

Without particularly trying to diversify, the authors of the books are from 13 different nationalities (Austria, Australia, England, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Norway, Switserland, USA), however with a high proportion of the books written by authors from the USA. I read mostly in English, and just a few books in French and one in Italian.

The books I read were published between 1946 and 2018, however the large majority  of what I chose to read was written from 2000 onward (84%). Like for movies, I tend to be attracted more by recent books.

Plans for 2019

I would like to make a more conscious effort to support new authors, as well as read more books from different countries. (I’m so inspired by the story of the lady who read a book from every country in the world)

I will continue to strive for gender balance. I plan to source my books from a combination of the public library, independent bookstores, gifts (I received four great books by women authors for Christmas, hooray!) and the little free libraries in the neighbourhood.

I’m curious to hear your reading plans for 2019. Feel free to share in the comments:)

Mini road-trip to Chavenay

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #111

During the holidays my Mum suggested a mini road-trip to a pretty village called Chavenay, that she had driven through by coincidence, not far from our home town.  It’s funny how it always seems more exciting to go further afield, than to explore places closer to home.  In this case, we enjoyed some fresh air and had a lovely time exploring, simply by jumping into the car after breakfast on a beautifully sunny morning and we were home in time for lunch:)

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It was a cold and wintery, with frost on the grass and a misty haze spreading over the plain.  The light was soft, gently casting long shadows already around noon.

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I was captivated by the small clumps of moss along the frozen walls, which was half green where the sun was slowly melting the ice away.

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We took a short stroll through the streets of Chavenay and headed to the outskirts to see the horses, grazing peacefully on the side of the hill overlooking houses and old barns. We had a lovely chat as we walked along the road, taking in the view and the beautiful surroundings.

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Everything is intertwined

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The end of the year has arrived, bringing with it some quiet days. I’ve been reviewing this whole year and taking a step back to journal and reflect on the 12 last months, as well as look at what is coming next. For me 2018 was both incredibly tough and very healing. It’s always the same, we have to go through the dark woods to feel better on the other side. Despite the difficult times, I’m grateful for the learning that 2018 brought me.

Like the teeny tiny spiderweb threads, intertwined in the ‘fingers’ of this plant, everything is linked: maintaining boundaries, slowing down, experimenting, generosity, being true to our authentic self, mindfulness and acceptance, letting go of perfectionism and busy-ness, cultivating creative practices, self-compassion… I’m still not out of the dark woods, but I know that giving attention to one aspect opens space and possibility for another as they build on each other step by step.

I’m looking forward to what 2019 will bring. I hope that I can apply the lessons learnt in 2018 for more smooth sailing and I trust that there are exciting times up ahead:)  I wish you all a wonderful new year!!!

Desserts and good laughs

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #110

I am deeply grateful for these quiet days spent with my close family around delicious meals and many wonderful desserts, easy moments of catching up together after months of only talking on the phone, of laughing and being ourselves with our different characters and interests.

This week we also took the time to discover some poetic films that got us thinking, to get warm in the sauna whilst chatting about the world we live in and how we can change it, to exchange (experience) gifts, to go for a mini road-trip to a pittoresque village close by, to share our plans for 2019 and of course to take activist naps and recharge our batteries…

Beautiful forest details

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Just a five minute drive from the house where I grew up, there is a forest where I love to take walks.  There are several options: you can take the tarmac path straight into the heart of the forest, you can explore muddy side paths or you can walk right at the foot of the trees, your shoes sinking with each step into the deep layers of fallen leaves.

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Today I mostly ignored the paths and spent the morning deep in the humid undergrowth, guided by every splash of colour or unusual shape, looking at the tiniest details to see what I could find. I was welcomed by trees, mushrooms, mosses and lichens of all types, as well as slugs patiently gliding along and snacking on mushrooms.

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On my treasure hunt for beauty, there was just the sound of birds calling to each other. I felt perfectly in the moment, taking in all the beautiful colours and textures.  I experimented with photographing what I came across, until my jeans were dirty and humid from kneeling down to get close to the forest floor.

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Forest bathing is so healing. Looking at myself in the mirror when I got home I was glowing like I’d just had a long nap or a restorative massage, my body kindly reminding me, yet again, that I should surround myself with nature more often:)

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Napping as an act of resistance

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE # 109

So glad that it is the end of the year and I realise how extremely lucky I am to have two full weeks off work during which I get to visit my family in France and Paolo’s family in Italy.  My simple plan is to rest and recharge my batteries.

No packed schedule, no zooming around from one place to another to see as many people as possible…  I want to feel ease and deep peace in these quiet days, as my body is still craving rest. Apart from a few social occasions, the only thing I have scheduled are regular and decadent naps.  I love how the Nap Ministry reframes any negative ideas about naps and opens our eyes to how they are actually an act of healing and of resistance rolled into one:-) Since viewing daytime sleeping like this,  I’m even more dedicated to becoming a nap activist!!  I’m off to have one now actually:) Ciao!

Not-quite-end-of-year book recommendations

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The first snow has made its appearance in Amsterdam this weekend, and it is the perfect weather for cupping a warm cup of tea with two hands with a good book in my lap. It’s not quite time to review the statistics about all this year’s reading, so for now I’ll just share three recommendations from the last months, as inspiration to read during the cosy evenings of the Christmas holidays!

All the birds, singing – Evie Wyld

I came across this book at the library by chance and it kept me in its grip for the few days I spent reading it.  The story telling is well done and you can really feel the heat of the Australian bush as if you were there. It brought back very clear memories of a trip we took with my family over 25 years ago to a farm in Australia where we saw sheep being sheared, it’s amazing how those images remain ingrained in some deep corner of the brain after all those years!

Tattoos on the heart: the power of boundless compassion – Gregory Boyle

I found this book in a little free library, and though it is written by a pastor it is not at all the ‘religious’ as I thought it may be. This book will warm your heart. It is a bundle of anecdotes from Father Gregory’s time working in Los Angeles in a neighbourhood with high gang activity and his amazing project to find concrete solutions.  It’s a powerful mix of down-to-earth, hilarious stories and deep reflection about hope and how to value every single person whatever their situation. It’s inspiring to read about the effects of acknowledging our common humanity and approaching it with unconditional love.

Vox – Christina Dalcher

This is the latest book we are reading in our book club (great suggestion by Paolo!), about a world very similar to ours, except women can only say maximum 100 words a day, after which they receive an electroshock for every extra word.  The frustration and anxiety you feel just reading about such a situation is a serious reminder of how precious our voices are and a powerful call to activism.

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Previous book recommendations: books I enjoyed lately, books about creativity, non-fiction books, discovering new voices.

Inspiring compost initiative in Amsterdam

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #108

I’m am grateful when I discover other people who are as obsessed with worms and composting as I am!  Last Friday I got to attend a great presentation, given by Peter Jan Brouwer, the founder of Stichting Buurtcompost, an organisation which is tackling this issue of food scraps/natural waste, from the ground up with the collaboration of the city of Amsterdam.

The city has committed to recycling 65% of its total waste by 2020. Though that deadline is just around the corner, we are still far from that target.  However, tackling fresh food waste could be a huge step towards reaching that goal.

So far Stichting Buurtcompost has worked extremely hard to set up 30 worm hotels , futuristic looking towers into which 5 families can dump their food scraps for worms to process, creating quality compost for them over time. The plan is to install another 50 worm hotels in 2019 all around the city.  Locals are super enthusiastic and there are already long waiting lists to be the next ‘worm-hoteliers’!

Furthermore, Stichting Buurtcompost has tested the option of an underground container to collect foodscraps from up to 150 families (identical to the containers in Amsterdam where you recycle your glass or paper)

The grass-roots initiative of this organisation are so inspiring, and the energy and passion of the presenter were contagious:)  It’s super impressive to see how a decentralised solution, created to solve one specific problem, actually leads to many other local benefits:

  • Social connection: the worm hotels create a sense of community as people tending to a worm-hotel together get to know their neighbours better (some locals even organise ‘harvesting celebrations’ when the time comes to collect the rich compost)
  • Better quality soil in the city: quality compost for local people’s gardens and balconies (they had the worm compost tested for pesticides and other contaminants, and it’s totally clean!)
  • Less transport : with the underground container, the food waste of 150 families can be accumulated and processed by the worms for 1 whole year without needing to be collected by a truck
  • Circularity: the worm hotel is made of pressed grass that was mowed close to the highway and is therefore not fit for consumption by animals (and it means the worm hotel is biodegradable in the long run)

Imagine if you could easily recycle every veggie peel and shriveled-up salad leaf just around the corner and the result could be used to feed the soil close…  In Amsterdam, today food scraps are not collected, and my lovely worm bin on the balcony is not quite big enough to process all our fruit and veggie peels (especially in the winter months). So my dream is that very soon every street corner has a worm hotel or underground container for food scraps, so we can use these precious resources to boost our plants, balconies and gardens instead of wasting them!

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There is plenty more info on their website should you be inclined to find out more:) http://buurtcompost.nl/