Outdoor time in the Utrechtse Heuvelrug

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #163

Last Saturday I went with two dear friends for a walk in the Utrechtse Heuvelrug national park as a belated experience-gift for my birthday.  As we walked away from the station with its noisy traffic, and entered deeper into the woods, time seemed to slow down. It felt so good to breathe in the smells of the humid forest.  I felt my legs getting more energised with each step on the path.

The landscape kept surprising us, changing from oak forest to pine trees, to sandy open spaces, to paths winding through mossy forest floors…  Also we were graced with a wide range of different weather in just a few hours: sunshine, clouds, rain, rain and sunshine at the same time, and even hail, as we continued to put one foot in front of the other, without haste.

As always it felt really good to be away from the bustling city, not to mention the snacks and thermos full of boozy tea that we had along the way, which took the experience to another level;)  But mostly it was our chats and laughs that made my day.  I’m so grateful for sharing this calm afternoon, talking about what’s on our minds and catching up in such a relaxing setting.

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Taking time to just be

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #153

Last Sunday I kept an entire day free of plans, so that I could recharge my batteries.  I had some work to do on my writing assignment and plenty of other to-dos, but I decided to first take some time for myself.

I spent an hour meditating, sitting in silence and trying to focus only on my breathing (which in reality ended up being more like becoming aware of my incessant thoughts and letting them come and go).  It felt like a reset for my overstimulated brain, a welcome break from constant inputs.

Afterwards, since the sun made a welcome appearance after some very rainy days, I took the chance to go for a slow walk in the neighbourhood. I did my best to stay as much as possible on the sunny side of the street to soak up lots of vitamine D and watched people enjoying the good weather as I ambled along.

The autumn colours were beautiful, with colourful leaves holding tight to their branches and covering the pavement.  I also enjoyed observing the details of the last flowers remaining in people’s gardens, like this purple flower with its silky petals emerging from the strange black and green pod, and the petals around the remnants of this bordeaux-coloured flower.

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First impression of the Deelerwoud

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On the Eastern side of the Hoge Veluwe sits its twin, the Deelerwoud, a very similar parc but with no entrance fee and much less people. It was recommended by our landlady, so we went to check it out on our last day in the Veluwe and found it’s a great alternative.

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There too mushrooms were popping up all over the place in the undergrowth, showing off the details of their unique caps.  We enjoyed a quiet walk, savoured having the path all to ourselves, meeting only one lady with her dog during the whole time.

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It was sunny when we headed out and we chatted as we made our way, until all of a sudden when we stopped to take some pictures we realised huge grey clouds building up behind us and pretty soon after it started to rain.

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Soon it was pouring so hard, we had to cut short our exploration and head back to our bikes. We were lucky to come across a little hut at the entrace of the parc to take shelter in, while we waited for the downpour to calm down. It was a cute place, all made of wood, where you can self-serve coffee and tea and have a snack. There was even locally-made ice-cream in the freezer, but soaked as I was it’s one of the rare times I turned down ice-cream.  No problem though, that just means we will have to go back – both for a longer walk and to try the local ice-cream;)

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Mindful walk in the Amsterdamse Bos

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I’ve been enjoying some time off to explore near and further afield in the Netherlands.  Last week, I took a walk in the Amsterdamse Bos which is just a 10 minute bike ride away from my house. Initially, I was disappointed, having just returned from the Hoge Veluwe I was expecting lots of colourful mushrooms on the side of the path, but this was not the case.

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As often happens with expectations, it was just a question of realising I was holding on too tightly to them and letting them go. I reminded myself this is a different ecosystem and I should stay curious and keep walking along patiently. In the end, the mushrooms turned out to be much more discrete. Either a multitude of teeny tiny ones on a dead stump, or huge ones that push up from the ground covered in leaves and therefore harder to spot.

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I also tried to alternate looking very close up for details and staring out over the fields at the autumn colours and menacing clouds on the horizon.  It always takes a while to get into the creative flow and start to ‘see’ patterns, textures, combinations…

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My favorite find was this tiny little snail, perfectly camouflaged amongst the seed pods of this plant. Can you see it? Such a gorgeous colour combination!

Mushroom season

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #150

In the past few weeks, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying mushroom season, not so much for eating them as for observing them.  I am blown away by the sheer number of different types I had the chance of coming across, from the typical red ones with white spots that you see in cartoons to the sponge mushrooms, from clusters of tiny mushrooms on a mossy tree stump to orange ones pushing up from the ground, from ones that look to me like bread buns straight out of the oven (like these two photos from a lovely walk this week the Amsterdamse Bos) to wise mushrooms that stand mindfully, unphased by what goes on around them.  I’m very grateful of the diversity of nature that keeps on surprising me and especially for having had some quality time lately to be outdoors and wander, without being in a rush, eyes peeled for these astonishing shapes.

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Autumn Artist Date in the Veluwe

During our stay in the Veluwe, I spent a wonderful hour or so on a short exploration to take some pictures in the last light of the afternoon. It was the perfect Artist Date.

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I pedalled along the wet cycling path, beneath the trees starting to show their autumn colours, until I reached the place with open dunes and mossy hillocks that I had spotted the day before when it was too rainy to stop and take photos.

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Then I just walked around, undisturbed, looking for interesting details and observing the plants. My shoes were really slippery as I carefully made my way up and down the mounds, trying not to crush anything as I knelt down low on the ground to take closer looks.

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There was such a wide variety of plants, mushrooms, mosses and lichens, of all different colours. Every few meters, something new would catch my eye.  I was all alone, no one passing on the cycling path, just the sound of birds in the pine trees near by as the light diminshed.

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On this tree stump, a tiny colourful hope of renewed life was growing, hosting two ladybirds in its branches.

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Just as I was about to leave, I turned to look at the lanscape once more and noticed that the last rays of sunshine were lighting up the trunks of the pine trees as if they were on fire (though this picture doesn’t show quite how strange the light was…)

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As I cycled back to our cottage, darkness starting to surround me, I felt so relaxed, from just one hour of quiet, focussed only on observing nature’s beautiful details.  My body and mind, with their infinite wisdom, signalling that I should do this much more often.

Short trip to the Hoge Veluwe

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #149

I am just back from a few beautiful days in the Hoge Veluwe with Paolo where we had the joy of exploring the National Park and the surroundings of Hoenderloo by bike. Of course, mid-October in the Netherlands there is no guarantee with the weather and we did get soaked a few times, but on the whole it was not cold and we even got some sunshine here and there.  The key was simply to be equipped with good rain gear at all times;)

Actually Autumn is a great time to go because of the amazing colours.  The trees are shifting to orange and yellow, bright leaves strewn on the undergrowth and there are bursts of colours everywhere. I am also obsessed with the many different mushrooms popping up all over the place on the forest floor and at the foot of trees (prepare yourself to see many pictures of them here in the next posts;). It was a wonderful breath of fresh air and a good reminder that just a couple of hours from Amsterdam by bus and train we can easily immerse ourselves in stunning nature.

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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Organic farm day

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #140

This week I spent a day with my colleagues on an organic dairy farm. It was a welcome break from the usual grind in the office.  Literally, a breath of fresh air… including the potent smell of dung of course (though I noticed you get used to it surprisingly fast:).

In the course of an afternoon we experienced rounding up the 46 cows from a field down the road and escorting them to the barn where we helped (a bit:) with the milking. The cows are beautiful, huge with shining fur and it’s funny to see they have different characters, they know what they like and don’t like, and are very human-like.

Even if this experience just scratched the surface, it was eye-opening for me as a city-girl to realise how relentless this lifestyle is (having to make sure the cows are milked twice a day no matter what, going through the motions with each individual cow, keeping the milking space as hygienic as possible, checking how each cow is doing…).

I suggested we should do team outings like this regularly, to be more in touch with where our food is coming from and what the life of a farmer is like, even if it is just a glimpse, to avoid romanticising it or ignoring the difficulties.

I’m grateful to have a chance to get out of my urban bubble and learn a lot in a day.  Even though I realise that dairy farming has a huge negative environmental impact and should be reduced, I appreciate that there are farmers trying to do so on a small scale, organically and with deep respect of the animals, and the hard work that goes into producing each glass of organic milk.  Next time I hope we go to an organic veggie farm:)

Seaside bliss

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Just back from holidays. The kind of holidays that are basically just sleeping in, reading, eating good food, taking naps without setting an alarm clock. The kind of holidays that I actually come home rested and recharged from, having watched the tide come in high and retreat over hundreds of meters, having spent fun moments with my family, having breathed in the salty air of the sea, having been cleansed by strong winds whipping fine sand onto my calves, having strolled slowly back and forth along the shoreline my bare feet sinking into the wet sand, processing my thoughts and searching for colourful seashells…