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 around Nieuw-West

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #180

In the nearly 14 years I’ve been living in Amsterdam, I’ve never seen such a long stretch of warm and sunny weather.  Yesterday, as it was a public holiday, the city was bursting with people which meant maintaining a safe distance was a challenge, so it was the perfect opportunity for a mini-adventure around the polder in Nieuw-West. It was a relief to escape to escape the crowds and take refuge in a much quieter area.

I love the feeling of freedom when pedaling without haste, being self-propelled with the light breeze and the warm sun on my skin. It felt so good to get away from the constructed part of the city and closer to nature.  We heard frogs croaking loudly among the reeds, passed large flocks of grey geese lounging in the grass by the canals and even saw a tiny baby Shetland pony.

We had a destination in mind, the beautiful Amsterdam Bee Park, but finding it out of bounds (for COVID-19 reasons) didn’t deter us from exploring the area.  Instead, we strolled along the wooden pathways of the poetically named Fluisterbos (Whisper Woods), which turned out not to be as calm as its name might indicate.  Then we found a quiet stretch of grass that we had practically to ourselves, where we could chill in shade and play Frisbee undisturbed:) A restorative bubble of calm before returning to the bustling city.

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Since we have more opportunities to explore close by due to the COVID situation, I really recommend to visit this area if you are looking for a day trip by bike from Amsterdam, there’s loads to do! See more info here, and for more of my own adventures: Fruit picking in Fruittuin van West, Local fresh fruit and Amsterdam Bee Park.

Impressions from the Amsterdamse Bos

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Last Friday, I went for a long walk in the Amsterdamse Bos  to enjoy the lovely afternoon sunshine and magic hour.  I ambled without destination or time-pressure, taking time to breathe and looking closely at the plants along the way.  Spring has done wonders since I took photos there on a cold windy day back in the early days of confinement in March.

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The wild flowers and purple grasses are popping up everywhere, brightening the path with their delicate shapes and burst of colours. I took a break to write my ‘Late-Afternoon Pages’ on a bench by the water, accompanied by the clamorous song of countless birds perched in the trees all around.

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There were plenty of new leaves showing off beautiful patterns and colour combinations. It felt so relaxing to wander without haste for several hours, enjoying the softening of the light, until my stomach started to rumble and I decided to make my way home, the sun low in the sky.

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Greeting card action for charity is still on-going – find all the details here and don’t hesitate to reach out:)

 

 

 

Postal joy – greeting cards for charity

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #179

In these weeks of confinement, some of the highlights of my days have been opening my mailbox to find cute cards from a friend living on the other side of Amsterdam, a lovely envelope full of collage materials sent as a surprise, a small package containing a hand-made mask in gorgeous Japanese fabric with swallows on it as a symbol of hope… These gestures have delighted me and made me feel deeply cared for.

Is there someone who you’d like to send a card to in these days? For a cousin’s upcoming birthday for example, or to celebrate how well a friend is handling living alone in confinement, or just to drop someone far away a message that isn’t digital and surprise them when they open their mailbox?

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Here’s my suggestion: I’ll send one of my cards for you and I’ll donate the worth of the greeting cards to a local charity against domestic violence called Blijf Groep (read more about their approach here).

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How it works:

  • Choose the greeting card(s) you like best
  • Send me an email with the number of the card, the address of your loved one and your message
  • I’ll copy your message in my neatest handwriting and pop the card in the post!
  • The greeting cards (including a recycled paper envelope) are 3€ each and postage is 0,91€ for NL/1,50€ for International. If you’re in NL, I’ll send you a tikkie. If you are abroad, you can make a bank transfer or I trust you to donate that amount to a charity close to your heart locally ♥

Let me know if you have any questions and feel free to share with anyone who you think might like the idea! Really looking forward to it 🙂

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Creative energy

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #178

Yesterday I was discussing with a friend how difficult we find it to sit down and write lately.  I alternate between times of acceptance and others where I despair about wasting this  ‘ideal period’ where I supposedly have plenty of time to write.  Interestingly the result is the same whether I beat myself up about my lack of writing or not, so I’m trying to remember that and take the pressure off.

Thinking about it some more today, I realised that actually that creative energy is being channeled in a very different manner lately.  It’s most likely serving me as much as usual, but being used to find inventive ways of navigating these tricky COVID-19 times.

Like devising new routes around the neighbourhood for my daily walk, trying to anticipate where there may be less people to avoid and on the way picking wild flowers  to brighten up the house.

Like finding various ways to recharge, be it a 3 hour nap on the sofa or treating myself to a taiwanese pancake take-away so I don’t have to cook dinner after a long day.

Like keeping in touch in ways that don’t involve a computer or a phone, such as writing a short card to be sent by snail mail, uncertain of when it will land in the recipient’s mailbox.

Like attempting to imagine what life might look like on the other side of this pandemic and journaling to keep track learnings I want to be sure I remember, of new habits I’d like to keep, optimistic plans I’d like to focus on…

I’d love to know, what are you imagining for after confinement?

Half-up half-down

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #177

I am grateful for people who plant flowers in public places for all passers-by to enjoy.  Yesterday during my evening walk I came across scores of these purple and white flowers, billowing out from improvised pots in front of a corrugated iron warehouse.   They’ve been pummeled by the recent rain we’ve been having and are in different stages of withering which to me adds to their beauty.

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I was particularly drawn to the flower pictured below, which looks like an accurate illustration of how I feel in these days of confinement, half-up half-down. Both optimistic and overwhelmed, hopeful and afraid, full of good intentions and struggling to get started, aware of my privilege and self-centered, happy to simply get through the day and thinking I should be ‘doing more’, glad to connect with people and fatigued by video calls…  I’m doing my best to remember that all these contrasting feelings are allowed co-exist and making space for them by being kind to myself rather than judgemental.

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New habits

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Here’s to the new habits that shape my days in this COVID-19 reality. It fascinates me how quickly we adapt and I welcome these fresh habits which definitely help to keep a semblance of balance in these tricky times.

  • Sitting in the sun for lunch with my tupperware of warmed-up left-overs, and then treating myself to delicious cappucino with oatmilk to help support local cafés like Slowth Brunch or Coffee District
  • The weekly Sunday evening zoom call with my family, where we choose a recipe and all prepare it separately, then catch up on how the past week went as we eat ‘together’.  Recommendations for series abound, as well as jokes and play on words!
  • My 30 minute bike-ride home from work has been replaced with simply shutting down my computer and heading out the door to soak up the late afternoon sunshine.  Walking along the canal, I have the pleasure of observing fluffy ducklings paddling with their parents, beaks searching efficiently for food on the water’s surface.  I weave my way, careful to maintain 1,5 meters distance from people enjoying an after-work drink on the grass and to not disturb the geese who hiss at me necks raised when I get too close.  The bluebells hidden among the birch trees are blooming spectacularly regardless of the pandemic.
  • A friend of mine lent me a puzzle and I’ve been enjoying the analog pleasure of searching for matching colours and the satisfaction of fitting the right pieces together. It’s an activity that brings me back to calm summer afternoons spent in the cool basement of my grand-parents’ country house many years ago…

Pancake breakfast

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #175

Though on the whole the life during the confinement is not so different to my normal life (I just have a better excuse to not go out…), this sheltering in place is not easy.  I’m 35 days in and it’s uncanny how this period feels both so long and so short.  How despite having the possibility to slow down, I still feel overwhelmed regularly.  I’ve been journaling a lot, trying to process it all, but am realising it only works to a certain extent. I often find myself lying awake at night, mind and body alert, from a cocktail of news, the latent anxiety of a simple trip to the supermarket and too many hours spent online.

My mind is a melting pot of feelings bubbling up.  I picture them like the Northern Lights, blending together into mesmerizing and ever-evolving shapes in the sky: anger at what we are doing to the planet, how we even got here, gratitude that so far me and the ones I love have not been impacted too hard, sadness for all the lives lost and how the less privileged are in fact much more at risk, joy at seeing humans remember their connection and creativity, grief because of recent changes, how life as we know it no longer exists, yearning for when I will be able to see my family without a screen between us, fear of what this crisis might lead to, hope at what might change for the better if we learn from this experience, loneliness of days of seeing next to no-one and wonder at the surreal beauty of spring blossoming all over Amsterdam regardless of the pandemic and on and on the thoughts swirl…

I know I need to stay with the feelings and they’ll eventually pass, but I find I’m struggling to with how much energy it takes.  So I’m practicing being kind to myself, reminding myself over and over again to take the pressure off, this is no normal time and it’s ok to feel overwhelmed. This morning after another night of not sleeping so well, I coaxed myself out of bed by deciding to make pancakes for breakfast.  I gobbled them up with the ingredients I had in the fridge: Parmesan, maple syrup and pear. It was just what I needed:)

Hand-sewing a produce bag

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In our local organic supermarket, we can get most fruit and veggies in bulk and I do my best not to take any single-use bags (whether plastic or paper).  Though this works fine with zucchini or leek,  I often find myself struggling to get certain products to the scales.  I do my best to carry potatoes, apples, onions, not to mention Brussels sprouts in my cupped hands, usually using the old envelope on the back of which my shopping list is scribbled, to increase my hauling surface. This often results in said products slipping away and needing to be chased down supermarket aisles and recovered inelegantly from under displays.

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These days what with keeping 1,5 meter distance and wanting to spend as little time as possible at the supermarket, I decided to finally tackle a project I’d been thinking of for far to long.  I got out some colourful fabric I’ve had lying around for years, and decided to a try making a very simple bag for bulk.

I let go of my perfectionist thoughts (I can only do it if I have a sewing machine, I need to make at least 8 bags of different sizes, they need to be perfectly symmetrical and so on…) and got into beginner’s mindset.  After watching a couple of tutorials on Youtube, I decided on a very basic design and gave it a try. For my first attempt, I decided to keep it simple and just attach a little rope to the side to tie things up.  For the next one, I plan to make a drawstring from some recycled ribbon…

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Pretty quickly, I found myself in that place of flow: just me, my needle and thread, mindfully stitching away and the joy of working with fabric I really like.  When looking closely, the stitches are not all the same size and there are bits of thread popping out here and there, but overall I’m happy with it.  I wish I could have told my teenage self that one day I’d be in confinement and find myself grateful for the sewing skills I picked up when learning how to do patchwork;)

Walking together

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #174

I am grateful for an afternoon spent on a long walk with a friend, safely keeping the security distance of 1,5 meters, among the trees.  We made our way through the Amsterdamse Bos as we chatted and relished in the gorgeous weather. As we caught up and speculated on how the next months will turn out, we roamed with no real direction, passing the goat farm, steering out of people’s way, watching a man on a beautiful black horse gallop back and forth along a long sandy path… More than just the surroundings, it felt good to be with a friend in-person and to share with the rhythm of our steps and talk without staring into a screen.