Montreuil-sur-Mer

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #187

In between very busy days of work and some rain showers, I had the pleasure of spending some quality time with my Mum exploring the region around Le Touquet.

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We spent one sunny morning walking around the fortified village of Montreuil-sur-Mer, which contrary to its name is actually not at the seaside (anymore). Instead, from the tops of the walls there are the stunning views over the surrounding countryside.

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We were the only people visiting at that time and it was great to have the place to ourselves. We took our time wandering around the walls, walking up paths surrounded by tall grass and observing how wild flowers and ferns burst through every crack between the bricks.

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I liked the freedom with which the plants were left to grow untamed. Later, we read a sign about how Montreuil-sur-Mer is actively protecting bio-diversity, leaving grasses unmown in places, not using pesticides and planting large beds of wild flowers visited by all sorts of bees from beehives placed around the property.  It makes me hopeful to see nature thrive when humans stop controlling it so much…

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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:)

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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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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Grounded

As I start my fourth week of social distancing, I am trying to disconnect more. To let go of that tether that is the internet and its ever-updating news, and instead be more aware to things around me.  I’ve worked from home to the best of my abilities, and had calls and creative session with loved ones.  It’s also been a beautiful weekend of sunshine. I’m doing my best to be grounded in the present.

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I’ve taken daily walks, mindfully keeping my distance from others, smiling at those I coming my way to ease the act of changing sidewalks. I’ve found a sunny bench to sit on and watch the world go by as I drink coffee and write my Morning Pages. In pots on the sidewalk, plants are showing off their beautiful colours and uncanny shapes.

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One evening, I heard rustling under the sink, like plastic being moved around. When I opened the cupboard to see what was going on, a mouse popped out and paused for a moment on the edge of the bag that contains the recycling.  We stared at each other for several seconds, motionless, before it disappeared behind the wall. I’ve not had mice before so it feels like this little creature came to keep me company in these days of isolation.

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I’ve also enjoyed the feeling the sun warm my limbs as I read and moving around the living room to follow the sun rays making their way to land on my orange wall and bathe the whole space with glowing light late in the afternoon.

Catching the last light

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I’m enjoying these quiet days with my family,  baking cakes, chatting, eating delicious meals and of course napping.  This afternoon, I decided to get some fresh air before nightfall. I wandered with no particular destination in mind, turning into random streets in the neighbourhood, open to whatever I may come across. When I set out, it always takes a little while for me to start noticing details. At first, everything seems uniform, I just see houses, walls, gates, sidewalks…

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However when I start to look more carefully, interesting colours and textures appear.  Hanging from long vines, these beautiful dry flowers caught my eye, so in the last light of this overcast day, I played around trying to capture the simple delicacy of their unruly petals, while they were blowing lightly in the wind.

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A yurt all to ourselves

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #142

Sometimes you just need to conjure up your perfect holiday…  Last weekend I had the pleasure of spending three days with my good friend Eva in Wageningen, where we rented a yurt:)

We had no plans other than to relax and we were very successful. It doesn’t hurt that we had this gorgeous space all to ourselves. The soothing roundness of the space with its wooden beams leading up towards the skylight, a basic kitchen to cook our vegan sausages and other treats, a tap outdoors to do the dishes while the sun warmed my legs, a tree to read and play games under, progressively moving our blanket to remain in the shade, feeling the humidity come up from the earth as the sun set, being able to see the stars in the night sky…

Every evening we chatted whilst looking into the flames of the wood-burning stove, feeling the heat on our bodies, tired in that lovely way that comes from spending all day outside.

It felt like true luxury to have our own garden and be able to eat leisurely meals outside, feet in the lush grass, next to a patch of colourful flowers. Enjoying all this green and fresh air, as well as our chats about creative plans and laughs, recharged my batteries immensely.

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Be astonished

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“Instructions for living a life.
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.”

Mary Oliver

This quote from Mary Oliver’s poem “Sometimes” is one that often get shared. I like its simplicity and straightforwardness considering the vastness of the scope (it would be hard to be so direct for something as small as how to install wifi on your phone). It works for me, I am repeating it to myself, trying to be mindful and to follow the instructions…

It’s my reminder to be in the moment, with a beginner’s mind that allows itself to be astonished at whatever catches its attention and to share it. For example, look at these flowers I saw at the Botanical Garden. Don’t they look a little like tall hats? And how gorgeous is the winding stem holding them together with its copper green tint? Just beautiful:)

A hike on Mount Etna

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While we were in Sicily last month, we went for a hike on Mount Etna, accompanied by Pippo, a local guide who’s been exploring Etna for the last 50 years and told us lots of facts and stories about the volcano he’s passionate about.

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We didn’t go to the main crater, but rather avoided the crowds on a much more quiet route on the South Eastern slope. The views were breathtaking as we hiked along the crest of the Valle del Bove, a huge valley which was filled with lava of the 1991 erruption and is still the recipient for more recent lava trails.  You can see on the picture the darker lava trails from the latest erruption mid-June.

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The photos cannot really capture how enormous the valley is, a gigantic bowl catching the lava and protecting the villages and towns further down. The lava field is entirely barren with no plants growing on it, a huge dark moon-like surface, but on our path, above the valley there was plenty of life.

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It was a beautiful walk, with changing landscapes, incredible rock formations, and lots of plants that somehow manage to take root in the volcanic soil and survive under the blazing sun.  As we walked we were surrounded by butterflies and thousands of bees, buzzing frenetically around the flowers.

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As we made our way along the path that was sometimes marked just with a piece of red ribbon, the views on both sides of the crest evolved, always wild and spectacular… It left me wanting to return and explore more.

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