Creative writing course

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‘Improving my writing skills’ started popping up regularly on my dream lists last year, so in January I decided to treat myself and use these quiet winter months to follow an 8-week creative writing course.

It is a very fun and interactive class, and it works like this:

  1. We read in detail a 2 page extract from a published writer, analysing the type of narrator, tone, mood and techniques. Then our homework for the next class consists in writing a 2-page double-spaced piece inspired by the extract. The goal is to try out the techniques that made the extract successful. I love reading, but I hadn’t looked at a text in such detail since I was in high-school. It’s fascinating to see the craft used to have an effect on the reader and how words can take us into another world in no time.
  2. We critique the piece written by each student. Though this sounds daunting and it is definitely outside my confort zone, it is actually really interesting both when you are critiquing and being critiqued. It’s fascinating to see in real-time how people react to something I’ve written and get feedback from fellow students and the teacher. It helps to see what people liked or didn’t resonate with. I also really love reading what other students have come up with based on the same instructions, the outcomes are so wildly different and amazingly creative.

So each week lately I’ve been spending several hours on my assignment, and I’m enjoying the challenge so much, regularly finding myself in flow.  Based on the guidelines, I start getting ideas, jot them down, improve the wording and then it is like a puzzle  to manage to rearrange the parts, putting them together so the story flows somewhat logically.

Though it is challenging to stick to just two pages, it’s fun to see how in so little space it’s possible to create a small world, stretching myself to find solutions and iron out the creases as the idea becomes more concrete in my head. The great thing is that having only one week between classes, I just need to squeeze writing time into my schedule and get on with it. Of course my inner critic makes regular appearances but I reassure it that these are ‘just exercises’, so no need to worry;)

The set-up is constructive because it’s a great way just to get something on paper regularly, it doesn’t need to be perfect because with feedback from the others you leave the class with concrete points to improve your piece.  This course is definitely one of the most fun things I’ve done lately!

Dreaming up the new year

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #113

Last weekend, with a few dear friends we spent the afternoon reflecting on last year and making dream boards for the new year.  A calm afternoon, hot tea and coffee in our mugs, accompanied by delicious vegan (and not-so-vegan) cakes as we sat around the kitchen table. It was great fun to look back at the dream boards we made together a year ago, discussing the words we had chosen for the year and how reality had panned out.  We celebrated the successes and achievements of the past year, and acknowledged the tough stuff that happened too.

Afterwards we got quiet cutting out pictures and words from tattered magazines that have been cut out from many times over and pasting the colourful images and inspirational snippets to create new dream boards…

I am so grateful for these lovely friends who embrace the dream board concept with joy, and who inspire me so much with their stories, dreams, perseverance and achievements.  Just spending a few hours together really energised me, we could simply be ourselves and dream up all sorts of wild ideas for 2019, manifesting our desires visually and calling in synchronicity and support from the universe:) I can’t wait to see what this year brings us all!

100 weeks of JOYFUL GRATITUDE!

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #100

Today marks 100 consecutive weeks of JOYFUL GRATITUDE! I want to celebrate this milestone and I am particularly grateful today to the people who read this blog and share their thoughts and experiences with me. Thanks so much!

Time flies! I created this series nearly 2 years ago to practise bringing my attention more to what brings me joy and what I am grateful for.  It’s been so much fun each week to look back and choose one thing, among the many things I am have to be grateful for, to write about.  It’s now a collection of snapshots of wonderful moments.  Curious? You can find all the posts here.

Last year I wrote about my findings after 12 months of JOYFUL GRATITUDE.  In 1 month’s time I will analyse the results of this past year in the same way to see if any new trends have appeared:-)  In the meantime, Paolo and I will be celebrating 100 weeks of joyful gratitude with some tasty Scottish whisky tonight! Cheers!

Let me know, what are you feeling grateful for today? 🙂

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Seven minute road trips and other pleasures

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Just returned from our trip to the Altantic coast of France.  It was wonderful to have a bunch of uninterrupted time with Paolo and my family for the things that really matter: long, tasty meals with lots of laughs, discovering gorgeous beaches and swimming in the waves, playing guessing games where we mime French expressions (never realised how absurd some of them are!), a fishing trip where Paolo showed his all talent, sharing books and magazines, trying out zumba with my sister on the sand, going for seven minute road trips, walking along the shore with our feet in the shallow water whilst having real chats…

Books I enjoyed lately

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #86

At the beginning of the year, I looked back at the books I had read in 2017 and the statistics about how many of those books were written by men and how many by women. I aimed to read more books by women in 2018 to counterbalance that number.

As we are half-way through the year (already!) I thought I’d check my progress. So far I have read 22 books, of all sorts of genres (novels, crimes, non-fiction, self-help…).  Of those books 12 were written by women, 8 by men and 1 by a woman/man couple (Nicci French). Some books were favorites that I re-read just for the pleasure and others were new discoveries.  I thought I’d recommend the books I preferred for anyone looking for some holiday reading:

Carpentaria – Alexis Wright

A dear Australian friend recommended me Carpentaria when I told her I was looking to read more works written by women and wanted discover some new voices.  Though it took me a little while to get into the book, pretty soon I was captured by the story and characters. It reads like a mix between ‘A hundred years of solitude’ and ‘Life of Pi’, with changes of rhythm as the author portrays the Aboriginal reality of a small town in Northern Queensland. A great read!

Fates and Furies – Lauren Groff

I found this book discounted in a local book shop and though I’d never heard it, I was tempted by the cover. It was a flowing read and I love a good peek into people’s lives (even if they are entirely fictional!). I won’t say much more as I don’t want to spoil it for you (something the cashier at the book shop couldn’t help doing when I bought it… luckily I enjoyed it all the same:).

The Monk of Mokha – Dave Eggers

If you like coffee and adventures, this is one for you! It’s the true story of a Yemeni American importing coffee from Yemen, the birthplace of coffee. An incredible and gripping true story of how far following your dreams will take you.

Happy reading!!

In celebration of free Fridays

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #83

I am deeply grateful for having every Friday off.  Today I am alone at home, the appartment is completely quiet, there is nowhere I need to be. I am enjoying a cup of coffee and I can slowly come back to myself and process the many experiences that string together to form every ordinary week.

Usually in the morning on my day off my thoughts are a-flurry, then little by little they calm down and new channels seem to open in mind, unrelated topics start to come together and ideas that hadn’t properly been worked through take on a new meaning.

Working 4 days in a busy office and then being off for 3 days is for me a much better balance and I can really feel the difference. I feel like I have much more time to recharge as an introvert and that gives me space to do things that are important to me, and in the end that is what life is all about!

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Fun things to do on a day off:

Tiny pineapples

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #79

Just a short post to celebrate this branch that looks like it has tiny little pineapples growing on the end of it.  As we took a long walk through the dunes, there were hundreds of these bushes, with their surprising details, growing alongside the path.

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For more ‘things that look like other things’, check out these tiny succulents having a party:)

Family time

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #73

I am grateful for having had the luxury of a long weekend at home in France to recharge my batteries.  It was a pleasure to catch up with my family, chatting and laughing while enjoying delicious meals, a fusion of slow cooked French traditional dishes alongside Lebanese delicacies.  Cakes were abundant as always, as well as Easter treats in many forms (including an unexpected chocolate clam!).

Not everything revolved around food though, we also soothed our mind with some lovely spontaneous meditation sessions, lying side by side on our mats, our heads supported by lavender filled cushions as we did our best to focus on the guided body scan. It was particularly fun to debrief afterwards and compare our experiences:)

Not listening to the ‘shoulds’

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February in Amsterdam has been sunny but relentlessly cold.  Typically on the weekend I have a lot of ‘shoulds’ popping up, like ‘I should go out for a long walk to get fresh air’ and ‘I should make the most of the sun to take some photos’…  Most of the time that works for me and being outdoors makes me feel great. However in these days the winter now feels like it is dragging on. Despite the days getting longer, the cold feels excruciating and my fingers ache in the freezing air as I try to snap pictures.  So I decided to give myself a break and make it a weekend for lying on the couch with the sun pouring through the window, reading an easy thriller uninterrupted for several hours, and for enjoying fun conversations over a lengthy delicious brunch in a warm cafe. It was perfect!

Gentle alignment

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I’m back home after this wonderful escapade to France and Italy, and I feel like I’ve been away for ages though it’s only been 2 weeks. It’s a pleasure to be back in the flat that smells like natural soap and find that all my plants have survived perfectly despite the cold. I feel energised and inspired. Being away and seeing new horizons has taken my mind off the day-to-day and it feels like new spaces have opened up in my mind. I can hear more clearly that small voice saying “I want more exploration and curiosity, less stress, more adventures, more creativity and connection with those dearest to me”.

Every year for the past 5 years (or maybe even more??) I’ve chosen a word to guide and inspire me throughout the year. After my 2017 epiphany, I’ve realised one word may be too vague, so this year I’ve decided to experiment with a couple of words to see if that helps:)  My guiding words for 2018 are GENTLE ALIGNMENT. What exactly that will look like, I don’t yet know… All I can say is I hope to make tiny steps and adjustments so every day I can find inspiration from all different sources, as well as many laughs and fun and sparks of joy!

What word(s) will guide you in 2018??