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.

A Sicilian break

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #135

When this is posted, I will be in Sicily for holidays:) If it is anything like our last trips there, a lot of time will be spent exploring, chilling and eating delicious food:)  I’m looking forward to proper sunshine and summer weather, jumping off the volcanic rocks into the transparent sea, going to the market to buy kilos of juicy plums and peaches that remind me of what fruit should actually taste like, and walking through the small streets soaking up the atmosphere…

During that time I look forward to being very little connected to internet and very much connected to the beauty of the island, Paolo and his family, and everything I will get to discover. I’ll return after a little break from posting.

So many things to be grateful for

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #124

I am sitting on my sofa, with the sun streaming through the wide-open window, warming my skin and I am wondering what to write about today.  After a few false starts where I type and delete a couple of paragraphs, I decide to consult my angel cards and see if they have any suggestion about what I should focus on. I shuffle the cards carefully and choose one of the 80 glossy cards from the tiny stack spread out in my left palm, I turn it over and… the word on the card is GRATITUDE!  Hahaha, OK, so much for that;) I guess it is a luxury problem not to know what to concentrate my gratitude on.

So here are a few things from the past days that I am particularly grateful for:

  • having time to write Morning Pages at home while drinking coffee (and feeling light anxiety release its grip when I lean into it and write out my thoughts, making the day ahead so much easier)
  • seeing a gripping and original play about 9/11 terrorist attacks (and the subsequent discussions with Paolo about it)
  • gorgeous sunshine (and enjoying a lovely walk with a dear colleague and her son, discovering favorite spots in their neighbourhood)
  • attending an intimate Q&A with author Kristen Roupenian (and learning all about her approach to the craft of writing, extremely inspiring!)
  • keeping up the rhythm of writing two pages per week (and getting precious feedback from Paolo about which parts work and how to move the piece forward)

Wishing you all a great weekend!

Spring in the Amsterdam Hortus

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Spring time in the Hortus Botanicus in Amsterdam is enchanting! The garden is coming back to life with buds and blossoms everywhere you turn, from the sprawling beds on the ground to the trees, peering out from in between rocks and on flush bushes.

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I love how the changes with the seasons means every visit is really different. This time we took a tour, led by a guide who shared her knowledge and fun facts about different plants around the garden.

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But my favorite part was afterwards, walking along the winding paths with my camera, unrushed, spotting colours and textures of the new bursts of life, emerging under the sunshine, reaching towards the light.

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When, despite the sunshine, it got a bit chilly, I went to my favorite spot in the greenhouse to warm up and admire the captivating cacti… but I’ll write more about that soon;)

Signs of Spring

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Sunday as I cycled home from the bookclub, I noticed some bushes covered in what looked from a distance like small yellow tassles, against the blue sky.  After picking up my camera at home, I took a short walk back through my neighbourhood until I reached the square, located between four roads, where spring is starting to show in the nurtured flower beds.

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I took a closer look at those branches to find them covered in what looks like cheerleaders’ pompoms made with crepe paper, encouraging ravenous pollinators to come visit them.

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Though the purple crocusses popping up through the grass are more striking, I love the colour combination on these ones, perfectly suited for a 70s kitchen.

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On branches that were bare just a few days ago, tiny leaves are sprouting, deep lines etched into their surface like the grooves on your fingertips after lying for too long in the bath, and clusters of tiny yellow flowers spread their pistils like antennas searching for signals in the warm spring air.

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Walking along the sunny canals

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #118

Despite the underlying worry regarding climate change, I’ve been enjoying these precocious Spring-like days that we have had recently.  I found myself naturally drawn to walk part of the way home after work, strolling through Amsterdam’s city center, crossing bridges to be sure I was on the side of the canal which the sun shines down.  As I go, I like looking at the details of the steps leading up to the fancy houses, peering into the basement offices and shop windows, watching cyclists just avoid tourists stepping unexpectedly onto the bike path to take pictures…

As I move my body after a morning of mostly sitting at the computer, I also start to process what happened during the day on the way.  I think of the conversations I had, information received and try to make sense of how I feel about all this busyness and complexity.   When I process my thoughts during the day as I take one step after another, I realise I tend to sleep better too.  Usually I catch the tram for the last stretch of the way home, and by then I already feel more in touch with my mind and can let go of the work things. The power of walking is incredible:)

Observing the details

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Yesterday I had planned to spend some time for my Artist Date at the Botanic garden exploring the greenhouses, looking for new plants I could photograph to accompany upcoming blog posts. On arrival I found the gates of the garden were closed (I hadn’t checked the opening times – rookie mistake!). However I took this setback in my stride and instead cycled around looking for a place out of the wind where I could soak up the sun and write in my journal.

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I settled for a bench in a tiny playground just two minutes from my flat, which is mostly sandy with a few plants scattered around the edge.  At first glance most plants seemed to have suffered from the winter months and looked rather bland.  I didn’t expect much, but then a pink flower close to the ground caught my attention, so I got out my camera and started taking photos of it. Then my eyes searched a bit further for interesting colours, textures and backgrounds, and as I observed the details of each plant, I  was led from one to another and kept noticing more and more things.

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Here are a few of the finds that I liked most: The lace-like structure of a perfectly shaped Physalis pod with a rough black seed nestled inside it, and a rose hip with tiny lines etched onto its bright red surface…  I was also very excited to stumble upon several types of ladybirds, the first I’ve seen this season, mentally thanking them for the natural pest control they perform with their unending appetite for aphids that we would rather do without. Even if it wasn’t the Botanic garden, I was impressed by the many details to be found in such a small space when taking the time to really look.

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Last traces of Autumn

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #107

The last few days have been definitely very rainy and grey.  Somehow I am always surprised again at how dark this time of year is. The last of the autumn leaves are falling and in their place on the sidewalks Christmas tree stands are appearing.  ‘Tis the season to hibernate and read books on the sofa snuggled under a warm blanket:)

In these days where I crave warmth and light, I’m grateful that I soaked up as much sunshine and vitamine D as possible during the lovely Indian summer we had.  This is a photo from a walk a few weeks ago to this small artificial island just near my place where I come to often. On that very chilly afternoon, the low rays of sunshine over the water lit up the autumn leaves on this willow just beautifully against the blue sky.

Healing walks in the Amsterdamse Bos

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #99

The Indian summer we are enjoying in Amsterdam at the moment is amazing.  I’ve been taking long healing walks through the Amsterdamse Bos, just listening to the breeze rustling through the leaves of the majestic trees which are turning all shades of orange and yellow, quietly observing the ducks, moorhens, herons and other birds go about their business undisturbed on the water, journalling as the sun warms my skin.  I am so grateful to have what feels like an unexpected extra shot of summer to charge up on fresh air and invigorating sunshine.

Letting the flowers grow wild

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Some sunny days are for making an effort to take the train and go for a long walk outside the city, and others are for choosing simplicity and being outdoors close to home.

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Whenever I need a ‘bowl of fresh air’ (as we say in French), after a long day on the computer or when the sun finally appears from behind the clouds, I usually head to this spot in the Schinkelbuurt, just behind the Olympic Stadium.

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I love how the wild flowers and grasses have been left to grow freely, rather than being neatly mowed to the ground as they usually are. It makes for wonderfully messy spaces, bursting with all sorts of plants swaying in the breeze, the perfect playground for many insects and feeding ground for the moorhens, ducks, swans and other birds that abound.

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Though it’s not even 10 minutes from my flat, spending some time there always helps my mind to reset.  It’s a great place for people-watching and subtly eavesdropping on parts of conversations as the locals walk their dogs or cycle by, while the kids jump bravely into the water when it’s warm outside.

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*****

It’s a beautiful place in all seasons: winter, spring, summer, autumn