Slowing down

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #170

In these strange COVID-19 times, I feel thankful for the fact that some preventive measures have been put into place and it means life is slowing down in an unprecedented way.  I know this crisis is negatively impacting thousands of people, and that many health professionals will be working overtime in extremely difficult conditions.  So I appreciate that this feeling of gratitude comes from a place of privilege (I am not in the most at-risk group; I have a safe place where I can keep my distance and that is also the case for my family; I can easily work from home and keep receiving my salary etc).

Only time will tell how the next weeks and months will turn out.  In order not to get too anxious, I’m trying instead to focus on the upsides of seeing what life is like when dialing back from the frenetic pace we are used to.  For now, I’d like to embrace this slowing down as an opportunity to rest and reflect.  I may use some of that down time at home to simply declutter the apartment, do some writing and work my way through the pile of books waiting to be read on my nightstand…

A delicious day off

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #167

Last year I decided to try and take a day off work every so often, just to recharge my batteries and make more space for myself.  The first and last time I took such a random day off it felt wonderful and I’m surprised to see that it was almost a year ago already!

In late January, I planned to take another such day off, in the middle of February.  It seemed like ages away  at the time, but I’m so glad I blocked time for it in my agenda as it felt perfectly timed.  So grateful to past-me for scheduling it;)  I also enjoyed the special feeling of being free while most people are at work.

I planned absolutely nothing and spent the day taking it very easy. I thought about what I felt like doing in that moment and did it.  I ended up watching a movie at home in the middle of the day (something I don’t do often enough!), cooked good food for myself, went for a long walk to clear my head and watched the rough wind ruffle through the grass, I took time to edit a fiction piece I am writing…  It was just what I needed:)

Craving time outdoors

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Today I’m sharing another photo from a lovely walk a few weeks ago in the Utrechtse Heuvelrug.  I love how this tree sticks out of the heather and rises up to the sky with its branches.  Just looking at this picture reminds me of how good it felt to be outdoors, to be brushed by the elements, to feel the temperature shift as the clouds came and went, to be drawn to the amazing details of plants and lichens, to pay attention to the myriad of surprising shapes and textures…

I guess I’m spending a bit too much time at the computer, what with work and writing assignments/submissions, so I’m craving being nature and to slow down, undisturbed by traffic, notifications and other distractions.  I think this weekend I’ll try to make some time for a little forest bathing:)

Spending more time together

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #159

Despite the festivities and family get-togethers, this has felt like a calm week, dedicated to slowing down.  I particularly enjoyed the fact that we were not online or watching television too much.  Instead, we have been playing board games, a simple way to spend time together, laugh a lot and connect. We also made our yearly dream-board collages and inspired each other with colourful images, activitst ideas, creative projects…  I’m happy to collect these good memories and inspiration for the next months when we will all go back to our day-to-day lives in different places.

Downtime before the festivities

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #158

I made it back to my hometown in France without too much trouble, despite the on-going strike. After a busy week trying to finalise things before the holidays and packing, I appreciate being able to simply take my time.

This morning I slept in and after breakfast I slipped back under the colourful duvet to read Flow magazine. I love the slow-paced articles accompanied by beautiful illustrations, that get me thinking and remind me about the important things in life. I am particularly grateful for this precious downtime to recharge my batteries before the xmas festivities begin.

Books about walking

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Hibernation season has decidedly arrived and as the cold settles in and raindrops hit the windows, I’m happy to live vicariously from the comfort of my sofa, while I wait for the right season to pull on my hiking shoes and go for a long walk. Here is a short list of books about walking to accompany you in these cold months.

Wild – Cheryl Strayed

Cheryl Strayed’s beautiful memoir of how walking can lead you back to yourself in times of deep loss and grief.  It doesn’t sugarcoat the experience of long-term hiking, and it’s funny, desperately sad and hopeful all rolled in one.

Walking: One step at a time – Erling Kagge

I read this book in Italian, I was drawn to its title which is translated as ‘Camminare – un gesto sovversivo’, meaning ‘Walking – a subversive act’,  and therefore appealed to the rebellious part of me. It’s a poetic ode to walking on a day-to-day and a reminder of how slowing down and walking is a powerful way of resisting being pulled into the vortex of ever-increasing speed.

Walking to listen – Andrew Forsthoefel

The true story of how Andrew set out to cross the US by foot and actively listen to people’s stories. He shares stories from people from all walks of life, races, ages, who were generous on his way.  I enjoyed how it reveals a lot about privilege and how stereotypes are put to the test when we realise we are all simply humans trying to live our best lives.

Without ever reaching the summit – Paolo Cognetti

Cognetti’s account of his hike at the foot of the Himalayan mountains makes you feel you are right there with him. I like this book because with no intention of conquering the summit it is focussed on just experiencing the landscape at 4-5000 meters, observing its nature and wildlife, and describing the inhabitants and the human connection born on such a trip.

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*****

Putting together this post, I took a dive in my photography archive to look for some relevant pictures from when I was walking the Camino along the Northern coast of Spain.  Just looking at these photos I am drawn back to the remote places along the path, I can feel the weight of my backpack, the exhilaration of having no other task than to walk 6 to 8 hours a day and the repeated joy of overlooking an amazing landscape after an upwards climb.

 

Half-day holiday in Utrecht

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #151

It turns out it doesn’t take much more than a few hours exploring another city on a quiet weekday morning to get a holiday vibe:-) I am grateful for a wonderful half-day spent in Utrecht with my friend Eva. Our initial plan was to go and visit the Oude Hortus (the old botanic garden) and we made it, though not before making a few spontaneous stops on our way through the city center.

We spent a perfect slow morning sipping delicious coffee in a cosy spot, then finding treasures in a great second hand shop, before enjoying a tasty lunch and chatting as the rain poured down outside. When the sun came out again, perfectly timed with the end of our lunch, we headed over to the Oude Hortus and strolled through the lovely garden showing off its autumn colours.  We also explored the laid-back green houses, home to succulents, cacti, waterplants and giant ferns. I felt my senses come alive with the smells of soft fuzzy japanese citrus fruit, the incredible textures of the plants, the splashes of sunlight falling on the foliage.

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.

Prioritising down time

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #147

After participating in the climate strike last week, I felt a deep need to rest.  Luckily I had guarded my free time in the weekend like a watchdog and had scheduled a full day and a half with no absolutely zero plans, no where to go and no one to meet.  I realise how privileged I am to have so much free time, and I am very grateful for that.

I know I write a lot about how much I like quiet time, so if it sounds repetitive feel free to skip this post.  However I will continue to write about it because sometimes it’s important to stop and observe.  We live in this flurry of a world where everything is a click away and instant notifications increasingly pull at our attention, where we feel we should satisfy everyone who wants a piece of our time and FOMO is just around the corner making it extremely hard to say NO to things.  In this context, I want to normalise carving out down time for ourselves. I want to be able to say “I am available that day, but actually I prefer to rest” without feeling like I’m letting people down. Because really, even if I were say YES to everything, there would still be people I let down, and more importantly I would be letting myself down by not getting the down time I need to recharge my batteries.

In that day and a half, I did things that were important to me, like writing, and I did them without being in a rush, with enough time to procrastinate by baking a delicious apple cake, stare mindlessly out the window and write three different drafts of my assignment before choosing the first one after all…  On Sunday evening, I realised I was still in my pyjamas and went straight back to bed in them. It was perfect.  On Monday morning, I felt completely renewed. Those sleep-ins and taking time to reflect while pyjama-lounging on the sofa set me off to a positive start of the next week and I had more energy to give to those around me.

Searching for green

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We are finally enjoying some warm summery weather in Amsterdam and that’s the moment when I most wish I had a garden.  A small green space of my own where I could relax in the shade without needing to face all the other Amsterdammers who are out and about also searching for their own few square meters of greem.

Luckily the Botanical garden is just a 7 minute ride away, a lovely place to escape from the masses. On Saturday I took refuge there for a few hours, sitting on a rock amongst the blossoming plants, feeling the light breeze on my skin, listening to bumble bees buzz their little hearts out whilst feasting on pollen:) It was a moment of slowing down, breathing deep, being surrounded by nature, just noticing all the simple beauty of the many varieties of plants that grow side by side. I hope one day to have a garden of my own just like that!