Four things that are saving me these days

Photo: View from the Kaimai Ranges, by Mr. Wanderlust

On Wednesday morning, I turned the calendar leaf to reveal the first day of a new month. It dawned on me that, although this new month doesn’t feel remotely like the Novembers I have come to know, with their cold gray rain-drenched streets and trees that shed their cover in preparation for a blanket of snow, it’s nevertheless the second-last month of the year. And oh, how time does fly. That same day, I walked through the local shopping centre, where tall artificial Christmas trees had popped up overnight, to the sound of Christmas songs playing. November has always been my least favourite month in the northern hemisphere, and although it feels different in NZ, where sunny days are interspersed with warm springtime rainfall, I remain vigilant of the state of my thoughts and emotions. The reason I prioritise self-care and consistently work to improve my wellness habits is precisely because it’s much too easy for me to slip.

These days, here are four things that are saving me and helping me to stay well:

1. Walks in nature

On most mornings, after I take the Wanderlust Juniors to school, I walk to the beach or through the reserve. Some days, I drive to the local hills or the Mount for a more challenging walk to the summit, where I stand in awe, gazing from above upon our spectacular city. From time to time, whenever Mr. Wanderlust is able to steal away from his work for an hour, he joins me. Sometimes, we ride our bicycles in lieu of walking. I wrote previously about the resistance I have been feeling, as of late, toward more formal forms of cardio. Of course, yoga is a necessary daily practice, but I also crave fresh air and outdoor movement. Once outside, I often feel I could walk for hours. Some days, I listen to music or a podcast, but I prefer to tune into the sounds of the ocean’s waves or birds around me and take it all in, observing the ornate seashells as I pass them on the sand, the sheep that graze on the hillside. I walk briskly, but my mind remains in a state of meditative flow. If I’m lucky, from time to time I’m able to eavesdrop inconspicuously on an interesting conversation that I file away as possible material for a story.

2. Healthy routines

About two months after our move to NZ, I began to feel particularly homesick. I went through what immigration experts term the ‘fight or flight’ phase, during which I compared everything in NZ to what I had come to love in Canada. Then, I would nitpick at everything that did not appeal to me as much as I had hoped it would. At the same time, I began to drown my emotions in jars of Nutella late in the evening. Believe me, dear reader, that for me to admit to this feels shameful. I have always prided myself on being a careful eater and I have always had a difficult relationship with sugar. I know that it’s best for me to avoid it altogether. These days, I am picking up the pieces of me that I misplaced during that challenging phase. One day at a time, I plan carefully, eating three healthy solid meals, and avoid snacking after dinner. I brush my teeth, slip into my pajamas, and unwind with some Yin or restorative yoga, followed by reading a few pages from a book before turning off the light. I myself have often felt that this routine sounds rigid, but it helps me to feel my best, and for Vata, consistent healthy routines are key.

3. Community

Community is another major factor in adjusting to our new life in NZ. It’s easy for me to be a hermit, to stay at home all day and avoid any social interaction. However, when I do start speaking with our neighbours or the members of the fitness club who attend my classes, the conversation often ventures beyond small talk and leaves me feeling fulfilled. Moreover, online interaction via the blog also brings its delights. Yesterday, I received an email from a friend who told me about how much this blog helped her friend when he was going through a challenging time. As a writer, I enjoy putting my work out there, but I often wonder about who actually reads it and whether anyone cares about the content I produce. Similarly, as a yoga teacher, I want to know whether I deliver the type of class that other expect to attend and whether, in my classes, I am able to effectively address issues that others often struggle with. That feedback is invaluable to me and helps to connect me to the greater community, both online and offline.

4. Small celebrations

Earlier this week, our children celebrated their first Hallowe’en in NZ. Hallowe’en is a new holiday here and was not celebrated traditionally the way it’s celebrated in North America and some parts of Europe. With the longer daylight hours, the Wanderlust Juniors trick-or-treated when it was still light out, and stopped at only one spooky house among the non-ornate ones. Nevertheless, they enjoyed every moment of their outing and were particularly delighted that they did not need to wear winter jackets over their costumes the way they used to have to do in Canada. Seeing their excitement reminded me that every day is to be celebrated and that dressing up is fun. When I shared this article on my personal Facebook page, about one of my favourite fictional characters and films, lamenting over the casual dress in NZ, a friend commented to remind me that I should feel free to dress up and express my style any day. She’s right, of course, and I intend to do just that. I feel better when I put more effort into my outfit, even on days when I don’t have anywhere special to go. We should not need to wait for an occasion. Instead, every day can be a special occasion if we make it so.

Your turn: What is saving you right now? If you live in the northern hemisphere where November is the cold month in-between fall and winter, what do you do to turn up the hygge and make this time of year more enjoyable? Please leave a comment below. 

In the spirit of community-building, thank you for sharing this blog with a friend. 

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Open to Wonder

When the days seem dark and bleak, shrouded in misery, seek out sunlight.

In a storm, light a candle, sip tea from your favourite mug, or call a friend whose brilliant smile will warm your heart.

When the noises around threaten to overwhelm us as they grow increasingly louder and create conflict, seek a quiet corner, even if that corner is inside a small closet.

When doubts are menacing and everyone around knows everything about what we should do next, where we should plan to go, and how we should behave, seek stillness.

Often, the answer is to do nothing at all.

When we have grown weary of chasing after solutions and have researched potential outcomes to no end, what more is there left to do?

Nothing. Nothing can be great sometimes.

When we feel lonely, may we seek out other footprints in the sand.

May we open our eyes, minds, and hearts to Wonder.

As I stepped onto the path between the dunes leading to the beach, I felt the pull of the ocean’s tide, heard its gentle whisper to be silent and let it do all the talking.

We have not always been friends, the ocean and I, but these days, I am letting it share its secrets with me. I remain forever a humble student in search of Wonder.

It’s here. It has always been here.

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Thank you for sharing this blog with a friend who might find resonance in these words.

I’ve always been a bit of a rebel, or how I keep myself accountable

The title of this post might suggest that I am about to divulge to you a few naughty secrets. In part, that’s true, but it’s likely not what you would expect. Instead, I will share with you how I meet outer expectations, resist inner expectations, and the tactics I use to trick myself into following through on a self-imposed task.

When I read Gretchen Rubin’s Better than Before, I became fascinated with her concept of the four tendencies. I rushed to pick up a copy of her latest book, The Four Tendencies, on its release date in Canada. As the title suggests, this book focuses specifically on the four tendencies — Upholder, Obliger, Rebel, and Questioner — and examines how each of the tendencies meets or resists inner and outer expectations. I had taken the quiz previously to learn about the category into which I fit. However, I must have done what many Obligers do, according to Rubin, by running off with the idea that I was not an Obliger at all. This was followed shortly by a dismissal of the entire four tendencies framework because I rebel at the mere thought of categorising myself or other people. Still, I kept coming back to the framework, just as I continue to study the Myers-Briggs framework. I’m actually a sucker for personality psychology; it helps me to understand myself and those around me. Yet, I also remind myself to refrain from making generalisations and fitting myself and others into prescribed boxes.

This time, while reading the book, it was time to be honest with myself and delve deeper. Mr. Wanderlust, after taking the quiz, immediately declared that I am an Obliger, and somewhere at the back of my mind I wanted to protest. Then, I sighed and continued reading, only to discover that although I am most certainly an Obliger, I also veer toward the Rebel tendency, a common scenario which Rubin explains as a variation within a tendency. This variation makes sense to me and helps to explain why I also am inclined to agree with a few attributes assigned to a Rebel. As an OBLIGER/Rebel, I do meet outer expectations more readily than I do my inner expectations, but I often resent being told what to do. I have always resisted the idea of someone else keeping tabs on me. Although it might be easier for me to meet external expectations, I do not enjoy working out with friend who helps to keep me on track. At the end of the day, I prefer to do things alone and to set my own goals. So, what is an OBLIGER/Rebel to do to keep herself accountable?

Here is my dirty little secret. Although slightly embarrassing, it works for me. I keep myself accountable by pretending that I am on camera, whether the camera is hidden or one that overtly follows me around, filming my every move. To some, it might sound creepy or downright ridiculous. For me, it is a way to ensure that I can hold my actions to the highest standard. When I pretend that someone else is watching me, I am not as likely to reach for a second square of dark chocolate. I am more likely to go to sleep and get out of bed early in order to exercise. Some might choose to use social media to keep themselves accountable, posting status updates from the gym and taking photos of their daily meals. I like to play pretend. Interestingly, in the book, Rubin quotes a Rebel doing something similar to keep her/himself on track. And here I thought I was doing something unusual.

Another method that I often use, and one which Rubin attributes to Rebels, is to set intentions for my day and make resolutions based on how I want to feel, rather than what I think I should do. This allows me to connect with my identity, making choices that are aligned with my perception of my present and future self.

All this self-exploration leads me to wonder about how others keep themselves accountable. It also makes me wonder how others feel about personality psychology. Please leave a comment below to join the conversation.

If we are making ourselves too busy, what are we trying to escape?

I made a mistake. I made the mistake of making myself too busy. A few weeks later, when I came down with a bad cold due to burnout, I understood that I had filled my schedule to the brim because I was too afraid to face a tumultuous issue that was brewing under the surface.

As always, the irony of the situation dawned on me when I felt I had nothing more to give. There, on the couch, feeling too weak to move, I was forced to pay attention to the signs that were before me all along. Instead of sweeping the proverbial dust under the rug, I held it in the palms of my hands, breathed it in and made myself sneeze a few times, blaming it on the virus, before allowing myself to face the big elephant. By doing too much, by constantly moving forward, we often keep ourselves from thinking about what makes us vulnerable. It’s easy to get up in the morning and get to work, to tackle the grit without asking ourselves why we tackle it and whether it serves an ultimate purpose. In making myself busier than I needed to be, I avoided the big question of how I was actually feeling and what I truly wanted to do.

If we are making ourselves too busy, what are we trying to escape?

We must slow down. We must slow down to allow creativity to flow. We must slow down and give ourselves permission to feel the emotions that will arise, instead of attempting to deny them. We must be honest with ourselves about what we truly want to do, why we resist certain projects, and whether we are actually meant to undertake any of those projects in the first place.

When I’m quiet, I hear an inner voice that asks me to simplify, to allow myself to tune into the creative flow. That voice begs me to pay attention to the signs that are before me. After that, I gently nudge myself to take just one step in the direction that feels right to me at this time.

What signs are before you? Have you been paying close attention to them and heeding them?

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Favourites from around the web:

Turning Negative Thinkers into Positive Ones

“Dr. Davidson’s team showed that as little as two weeks’ training in compassion and kindness meditation generated changes in brain circuitry linked to an increase in positive social behaviors like generosity.”

Three questions to ask yourself before buying something – I follow a similar approach.

How to enjoy exercising without making it feel like a chore – For me, it’s all about moving my body in a way that allows me to feel healthy, strong, and energised but grounded.

Community, and the importance of getting to know our neighbours, is a subject that has been on my mind often as of late.

A different narrative

Do you ever talk to yourself? In case you are worried about feeling snubbed by people who might claim to never have so much as thought about talking to themselves, don’t. A few days ago, I listened to this podcast about the merits of talking to oneself in the third person, with reference to research that has shown that doing so can help to reduce symptoms of anxiety through compassionate awareness.

I remember a time in my teenage years when I sat on the bathroom counter in my parents’ home, gazing curiously at the tears that rolled down my cheeks. I believe I might have shed those tears over some boy, but that’s an insignificant detail. As I sat and stared at my reflection, the writer in my head started to draw a narrative to describe the situation, complete with an illustration of the warm droplets on my face and how delicate my wet eyelashes appeared at that moment. The narrator’s descriptions made my inner turmoil seem commonplace, banal, and I soon turned my attention to something more interesting, allowing time to heal the pain.

The writer / narrator in my head has saved me many times by plucking me out of perpetually swirling anxiety-ridden thoughts and casting me in the role of an observer looking in from the outside. Gosh, I realise how strange all this might sound to some. Yet, it works for me, and it appears that others also have had similar experiences.

The premise of the research to which Jonathan Fields refers in the podcast is that when a situation goes sour and we are tempted to turn to self-deprecating talk of ‘not good enough,’ we can instead describe the scenario from the point of view of an observer. It’s the difference between, “I’m an awful mother. I failed today as a mother when my child threw a tantrum at the shopping centre and I ended up yelling at her in front of crowds of people” and, “(Insert name here) is a mother who had a challenging day today. After a restless night of taking care of her toddler, who keeps waking several times throughout the night, and having not had enough coffee, she lost her patience while shopping with her daughter. It was not a pleasant situation, but it’s over. The mother and toddler both need an afternoon nap to recharge and reconnect.”

The latter approach of talking about ourselves as an observer allows us an opportunity to take a step back and evaluate a situation from a more compassionate place. I will continue to refer to this approach as listening to the voice of the mindful writer or narrator within. Care to try it? Have you tried it?

I’m curious to read about your experience with talking about yourself in the third person. Won’t you please leave a comment below to contribute to the conversation?

Thank you for sharing this blog with a friend.

Photo by Christichka Photography.

Four Things I Learned Recently

This is an exciting week for our family, and I promise to tell you more about it in a few days. For now, I will share with you four things that I learned recently and which you might find interesting in reference to your own health and wellness:

1. A lack of routine can present a setback. 

I stumbled and have been working to get back up. Following our move to NZ, my regular fitness regimen took a hit. Although I have continued to exercise, I lost my routine of waking early in the morning for yoga. We have been staying in a small, charming beach house, and although we are fortunate to have these accommodations, it has proved to be challenging to find room in the house where I could exercise without waking my family. As an INFP, routine is of paramount importance to me. If I don’t schedule something into my calendar, it might not happen at all. Likewise, although I am passionate about a healthy lifestyle and my energy levels are the highest early in the day, in the winter when the sun rises late, if I don’t make the effort to go to bed early and wake up before everyone else, I might not make time later in the day for my yoga practice. This week, I have adapted a new routine and am diligently working to stick with it. How do you feel about steady routines? Do you tend to veer off the path when on holidays?

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2. Variety and consistency are the key to a good fitness regimen.

Speaking of exercise, it might sound funny, but I designate certain days of the week as my cardio days. As I mentioned above, if I don’t schedule something in my calendar, I might never get to it. I do enjoy cardio and toning; both forms of fitness benefit and complement my yoga practice. Yet, sometimes, I forget about them altogether. Even with a consistent fitness regimen, I need variety. Some days, I enjoy ballet barre-style exercise, and on other days, I combine toning and cardio into one fun cardio pilates routine. Similarly with yoga, I might start with Vinyasa and end with Yin, then the next day opt for a restorative practice if that is what my body craves. The key is to design the practice intuitively. How do you feel about scheduling exercise? What criteria do you use when choosing a fitness regimen?

3. Different personality types have drastically distinct approaches toward starting a business.

Listen to the podcast here. This explains why Mr. Wanderlust is more inclined toward playing things safe when it comes to starting new projects, whereas I am more likely to abandon all prior commitments to launch directly into something novel and exciting. It turns out neither of us is wrong in our approaches. I’m curious to read about how this applies to your personality type and perhaps to your business venture or special project.

P.S. In the above podcast, there is also an update on new research that indicates that consumption of fruit and vegetables can nourish not only the body but also the mind, fuelling creativity and curiosity.

4. Aromatherapy continues to come to my rescue.

A few years ago, I started to experiment with essential oils. I am sensitive to various conventional products and, naturally, don’t want my family to be exposed to harmful substances. As such, I continue to concoct my own natural cleaning products for my yoga mat and for our home. Likewise, I only use skincare products that are naturally derived and gentle on my skin. I have always enjoyed specific scents but have recently become increasingly sensitive to certain fragrances, leading me to be selective about products that are not strongly scented but nevertheless provide me with a welcome aromatherapy boost. I was recently introduced to HZP + Co, a company based in the Bay of Plenty, our new home in NZ, which creates natural skincare products with the most delicious light scents. I can’t say enough about the beautiful Hydra-Defence Serum and Cream to Body Oil, created with local kiwifruit, mamaku leaf, and kowhai extracts. The Wake Me Up Splashwater, with a blend of citrus oils, has become my magic mist on dark mornings when it’s challenging to roll out of bed. Do you enjoy scented skincare and/or home cleaning products? What are a few of your favourite scents?

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Do you have a few additional minutes to stay and read? 

One year ago on the blog: Anniversary

Two years ago on the blog: Marriage Lessons from the Past Nine Years

A favourite from around the web: The Myth of the Teachable Moment

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A tranquil scene on one of the beautiful paths to the summit of Mount Maunganui
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Exploring Papamoa Hills

Please leave a comment below to join the conversation, and thank you, as always, for sharing this blog with a friend! 

Words and treasures

Less than three weeks after our arrival in NZ, we visited the local library and opened an account. Since then, many a Sunday afternoon have been spent at the library with the Wanderlust Juniors, helping them select Thomas the Tank Engine DVDs and Tintin comics, then perusing the shelves for woodworking, mythology, and sailing books for Mr. Wanderlust, and new fiction, non-fiction, and knitting books for me.

No matter where in the world, I feel at home when I step into a library or a quirky, charming bookshop. Some derive pleasure from dipping their hands into containers of beans or lentils; I find it by running the tips of my fingers gently along the spines of books that line never-ending shelves. I pause at a book that feels somehow strangely familiar, and open it to a random middle page only to listen to the whisper of the spine like the lazy creak of a door that has remained shut for much too long. I breathe in the comforting smell of the pages and wonder who has held this book in his or her hands, and how long ago. Did they enjoy reading the words on which my eyes now rest?

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Sometimes, inside a book, I find bookmarks in the form of a bus ticket or a sticky note. I once worked with a woman who complained of always losing her bookmarks. She didn’t bother with them and, instead, heeded the clever advice of her son to use a sticky note. That way, she smiled, it would never fall out of the book. A few years ago, I found a daisy pressed between pages, its dried white petals carefully preserved by a reader who had sat frolicking in the long grass after making daisy chains — or so I like to think. I myself often find maple leaves and flowers pressed by me between the pages of my own books. I never remember the circumstances under which I chose to preserve one leaf over another, but I always try to keep the prettiest ones after assembling a bouquet in the Canadian autumn.

Of course, such gifts are rare. Most often, treasures are presented to me not in the form of bus tickets or dried flowers but in the words and thoughts that take flight with each page that we turn. What a wonderful gift it is, to assist a writer to bring a story to life my merely reading it.

What are a few of your favourite books? What are you reading these days? Please leave a comment below with your recommendations.

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What’s an introvert to do?

Two conversations, 14 hours apart, have served as a reminder for me to a) stop overthinking everything, b) get out of my cosy, comfortable, safe shell, and c) drop the labels.

The first exchange was with a woman whom I met on Monday evening. Having lived in several places before settling in NZ, she discreetly snuck in a peace of advice for me to work harder at making friends with the locals, many of whom, in her opinion, are more reserved than North Americans. She must have sensed a whisper-thin trace of loneliness that rested, unspoken, between the lines. Immediately, a sarcastic voice somewhere at the back of my head jeered, “Oh, lovely news for an introvert like me, who has often dreaded the mere idea of having to make the first step toward meeting people.”

On Tuesday morning, as I walked back to my car after taking the Wanderlust Juniors to school, a friendly voice brought me to the present moment, dissipating thoughts of a not-so-distant past. I turned my head and was met with the beautiful smile of a fellow yoga mum who beamed warmly at me as she invited me to attend a class at her studio. More reserved, my foot, I smiled to myself.

I have often hid behind the ‘introvert’ label, using it as a shield from the outside world and as an excuse to stay at home with my books, living vicariously through literary characters and their adventures instead of creating my own. Classifying myself as an introvert is akin to making a sweeping generalisation about the characteristics of a certain group of people. Besides, even extroverts enjoy a cosy evening at home from time to time.

So, what is an introvert to do in a new town, in a new country? She shall be compassionate toward herself and others. She shall ever so gently nudge herself out of her comfy shell, reminding herself of her past triumphs and hiccups that have served as incredible lessons. She shall leave behind any previous labels that have been assigned to her before and which she had assigned to herself, that have served to educate her about herself and the world around her but which, at times, can feel divisive. She shall keep an open mind and an open heart. She shall brush aside traces of doubt before they threaten to disturb her peace. She shall give herself room for introspection, but remind herself that here, in this moment, is where the potential for magic dwells.

I suspect that these reminders might also be timely for others.

Thank you for reading and sharing this blog with a friend.

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*** Both photographs used in today’s story are courtesy of the incredible Christa Pauwels of Christichka Photography. ***

Favourites from around the web:

10 Literary Romances, Put to the Happily-Ever-After Test — The perfect amount of entertainment to accompany my mid-morning tea.

Making a Marriage Magically Tidy

Integrating Yoga into Daily Life — A great podcast with Canadian yoga teachers Natalie Rousseau and Melanie Phillips

How to Care Deeply without Burning Out

How to parent like a minimalist

Foreshadowing. Could a favourite children’s book have predicted the future?

Slinky Malinki was blacker than black

A stalking and lurking adventurous cat.

He had bright yellow eyes, a warbling wail

And a kink at the end of his very long tail.

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After Mr. Wanderlust and I started to announce that we were expecting our first baby, a couple of our friends very thoughtfully surprised us with three children’s books. One of those, Slinky Malinki by Lynley Dodd, would quickly become a favourite for the eldest Wanderlust Junior, later for the youngest, and also for us, the parents. We admired the quirky illustrations of adorable Slinky Malinki the cat, and the Wanderlust Juniors used to comment that he looked very much like our own late cat, Meeshu. It wasn’t long before our boys, learning to speak, started to complete the words at the end of each stanza. Without needing to try, we had memorized the funny rhyming story.

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Hello there, Slinky!

Shortly after arriving in NZ, we started to notice illustrations of a dog called Hairy Maclary in bookshops, the local library, and at the school, and we quickly deduced that the same illustrator also worked on Slinky Malinki. It turns out we were correct.

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I wasn’t able to capture Slinky lurking off to the right-hand side of the kerfuffle scene.

When we first visited the Tauranga waterfront playground, we delighted at a garden of sculptures of a group of dogs that chased a hissing, distressed cat up a pole. A second cat lurks nearby, obscured by a low wooden barrier just steps from the unsuspecting, distracted dogs. Yes, you would be correct to guess that the stalking and lurking kitty was our old friend Slinky. Our investigation concluded a minute later, after we read a nearby sign about Lynley Dodd, who is originally from Rotorua and is a resident of Tauranga. As has happened several times within the past seven weeks since our arrival in NZ, Mr. Wanderlust and I looked at each other with eyes wide in marvel, then laughed.

“The signs were there all along.”

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Leader of the pack and a new favourite literary character, Hairy Maclary
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Wonderful detail

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For over seven years, we read from a beloved book that, somehow, unbeknownst to us, would lead us to its place of origin in what has become our new home.

Do you believe in signs?

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Stalking and lurking, indeed.

The week in review: May 19th

It appears winter has arrived in NZ, announcing itself by way of rain, wind gusts, and crisp mornings. Inevitably, it’s all very different from winter in Ontario and we are curious about the months to come. I think of plans for July and immediately conjure images of hot and humid days, then remind myself that such weather doesn’t apply to this part of the world at that time of year.

There are also other fascinating discoveries. Two weeks ago, I noticed that the moon phases progress in the opposite direction in the southern hemisphere than in the northern. As someone who follows the moon particularly closely, I was puzzled to see that the moon was waxing from the left to the right side. My delight at this so-called discovery might sound downright ridiculous to others for whom this information is likely common knowledge, but it fills me with inexplicable joy and curiosity. Please do leave a note in the comments below and tell me, did you know about this ‘mirror effect’ of the moon in the northern vs. the southern hemisphere?

A few favourite moments from the past week:

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I was almost knocked off my feet by a wind gust while taking photos near the dunes. I’m at once terrified and fascinated by the ocean on stormy days.
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Beachside treasures that leave me in awe of the wonders of the universe.
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It’s easy to eat the rainbow when delicious vegetables are in abundance at the farmers’ market.
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I adore the whimsical nature gifts that the youngest Wanderlust Junior brings home almost daily. Some of them — ahem, pet bugs — are somewhat questionable, but others are sweet.

Favourites from around the web:

Modern Mrs. Darcy has released her list of 17 books everyone will be talking about this summer. I can’t wait to get my hands on a few of these. Which ones are you looking forward to reading?

A fascinating podcast: Accelerated Learning: Get Good at Anything in 20 hours

Beautiful, honest, and though-provoking. Our Mothers as We Never Saw Them. I have often looked at photos of my mother from her late teens and early 20s and wondered about the woman she was before I changed her world.

We spend plenty of time inside our heads. You Can’t Be Creative without Being in Your Body

Things have been busy on my end. It’s time to return to basics. Today I’ll Press Pause

Excellent advice for the writer. So you want to be a writer? Essential tips for aspiring novelists

Wishing you a beautiful weekend, regardless of the reigning season!