Plenty of colours

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #210

Last weekend I took a little walk near Amsterdam Zuid station. Despite the biting cold and a short rain-shower here and there, the plants seemed keen on showing off their fresh beauty as I made my way around. It was so bountiful, with dashes of unexpected colour calling out for my attention every few steps.

A tiny magnolia tree in front of a brick wall (the shape of its unopened flowers reminiscent of the claws that my cat Villanelle is so determined to sink into my flesh when she sits on my lap to cuddle.)

The rugged green petals of an intriguing tulip, ready to unfurl.

The pink exterior of a bud just about to reveal its fresh green leaves.

A flush orange bush with tiny popcorn puff flowers.

The deep shiny green of these leaves wrapped so beautifully around each other.

Spring is on its way

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #209

February has done its usual trick of flying by at incredible speed. It’s hard to believe that not so long ago there was all this snow lying on the ground and people skating on the canals. It’s even more mind-blowing that one short week later we were experiencing warm spring temperatures of 18 degrees and indulging in the first ice-creams of the season. As I take my daily walks, I’m grateful to witness nature preparing for spring to burst forth. The days are getting slightly longer and we get to enjoy the blissful rays of sunlight just a little bit longer. Crocusses add a gorgeous touch of purple and yellow to the grass. Small bright green leaves are appearing on branches.

A colony of starlings has chosen to settle in the conifers outside my window. Most evenings they come, swooping down in groups and filling the branches. I love listening to them chatter all at once deep into the night, oblivious of their pigeon neighbours who were used to having the trees to themselves. When a sound startles them the starlings fly off all at once, their wings making this magical whooshing noise as they fill the sky with a ballet of their dark silhouettes.

Snowy walk

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #208

Recently storm Darcy swept across the Netherlands leaving a layer of snow over the city and immobilising public transport. The first couple of days the clouds hung heavy and the wind was blistering cold, but that didn’t deter anyone from going out. The streets and parks were full of people dressed in full-on ski-suits and colourful hats and scarves.

Wrapped in my many layers, I also went to explore, enjoying the crunch of every step in the fine snow. It’s amazing how these paths, that I’ve been walking along so regularly during the last months to keep my sanity during lock-down, looked so new and exciting just thanks to a beautiful dusting of snow.

It was also fun to watching people on long-distance skis making laps around the park, children on fancy sleighs or simple constructions made from kids’ chairs cleverly tied together, snow-people and snow-forts being built on the side of the road…

Cold fingers, warm feet

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #207

Lately I am trying to walk at least ten thousands steps a day in an effort to move just a bit more. Even when the weather is grey and cold, I lace up my boots, pull on several jumpers, wrap myself in my warm scarf and beanie and head out, motivating myself to wander a bit further than I may otherwise.

Today when I reached the forest I left the paved road and focused on just one task, trying not to slip on the muddy path. It was the perfect way to connect with each step and be in the moment. On a drier part of the path, I spotted a multitude of yellow catkins, flashes of colour in the bare undergrowth. They swayed lightly in the chilly wind, my fingers getting more and more frozen as I did my best to look for a pleasing composition.

On the way back, I was captivated by how the light shone through this mushroom, playing with the intriguing shapes. I experimented for a while, trying to capture those translucent effects despite the luminosity. By the time I got home, even if my fingers ached with cold in my gloves, my feet were warm and I felt energised.

2020 reading review

Having more time to read was one of my silver linings of the 2020 lockdowns. I read 66 books which is a record for me, according to Goodreads that is a total of about 20600 pages! I really enjoyed carefully choosing some books, being recommended and lent books by friends, and serendipitously coming across some in the little free libraries. Hereunder is this year of wonderful books in numbers and my intentions for 2021 (I will share some of my favourite reads from last year in another post soon).

As in the past few years I made a conscious effort to make my reading more diverse. In 2020, 79% of the books I read were written by women and 42% by Black, Indigenous People and People of Colour. I was able to travel vicariously and learn more about the cultures of countries such as Cameroon, China, Dominican Republic, Greenland, India, Italy, Japan, Nigeria, Poland, South Korea, Togo and Uganda. I am grateful for how all these voices help to broaden my horizons and get glimpses of worlds I would otherwise know little or nothing about.

I read a very mixed bag of books, though the majority was fiction (77%). I feel like I swung between extremes: I read books on topics such as feminism, racism and social injustice to keep deepening my understanding of these complex issues, and next to that I read a bunch of light romantic novels just to get out of the pandemic mood and into some parallel worlds with predictable happy endings.

I was surprised to see that I actually hadn’t purchased many books. The majority of books I borrowed from the public library (35%), from family and friends (24%) or from the little free libraries in my neighbourhood (21%). The rest I got as gifts or bought either new or second hand.

What about my intentions related to reading for 2021? To support my local book stores more (they need it now more than ever), to continue reading books from different countries, discovering authors of I have never read anything by and to keep actively educating myself about white supremacy, capitalism and inequality so I can get be better informed on how they intersect and do my best to be an ally where I can.

What are your reading plans for 2021? Feel free to share in the comments, I’d love to be inspired by them!

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Click on the links to see my reading overviews for 2019, 2018 and 2017, and further book lists.

Purple

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #207

On the last day of 2020, I took a long solo walk in the Amsterdamse Bos. It was a calm sunny morning and I wanted to be outside and feel the cold air on my cheeks as I reflected about the crazy year that was coming to an end. The path I chose to walk down was a bit muddy at the start which I guess discouraged other walkers and so I was alone nearly the whole time, accompanied just by birds singing and fluttering from branch to branch. As I strolled along slowly, it turned out to be a treasure trove of gorgeous winter details. I especially fell in love with this beautiful purple colour – also to be found on the photo on my last post. I will never tire of the unexpected colourful details to be found in the forest and the joy of observing nature as it moves through the seasons.

Explore with ease

It’s that time again, those winter days when I reflect on the past 12 months and carefully choose what word(s) will guide me for the year ahead. Words that I will keep in mind and can turn to when I need a little nudge in the right direction.

Some years the choice comes to me quickly. But as 2020 ended and 2021 came around I was still scribbling suggestions in my journal, turning words over in my mind as I walked or while in the shower, trying to find out what it was I really wanted to emphasise in 2021. In the end I selected the words EXPLORE WITH EASE.

What I am inviting in my life this year is having energy to explore new activities or topics with a sense of ease. Often when I try new things, the overachiever voice in my mind tends to insist loudly that whatever I decide to do must make absolute sense and be done as efficiently and perfectly as possible. This doesn’t leave me much wiggle room for experimenting or making mistakes. All this pressure can feel quite paralysing, turning anything new into a big deal and frankly putting me off trying at all if I cannot be assured that I will succeed with flying colours. That’s why I want to add EASE to the equation.

By doing so, I feel like I can let go of the worry of pushing myself too hard, berating myself if I ‘do it wrong’ and feeling drained. I will do my part to identify what I am curious to explore and I will look out for ways in which I can bring ease along for the ride. I already have a bunch of ideas to delve into: doing more freelance work, experimenting more with photography, reading books that are outside my comfort zone, improving my writing, finding a new part-time job, exploring new destinations by train and meeting like-minded people (when we can travel and gather safely again)… I trust that by being mindful, I can identify ways to lower the bar, allow the possibility of making mistakes and keep the process light and fun!

Have you chosen a word for 2021? I’d love to hear what it is and why!

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In case you are curious, these are the words that I chose to guide me in the last years:

Welcoming the new year

I spent the last few days of the year home alone in a cocoon of relaxed introversion and down time. I cooked tasty food for myself, read a lot, went for long walks, watched some movies… I also took the time over several sessions to journal about the past year. I wanted to take a step back and reflect on all that had happened, the difficulties of 2020 and its gifts, what I missed and what I learned. I found myself covering page after page with thoughts in my messy scrawl in ball-point pen, sometimes in dense paragraphs and others neat lists of bullet-points, with a generous sprinkling of smiley faces and a smattering of exclamation marks!

Afterwards, I started setting general intentions about how I want this new year to feel and I carefully began hatching plans for 2021. With no visibility on how this year will look, for now I am keeping concrete goals focused on things that are close to home and within my reach. However at the same time I’m contemplating bigger plans on the horizon for when the pandemic is behind us.

It’s a work in progress and I’ll be adding to it over the next weeks. I want to take the time to figure out what is really important to me so I make sure I’ve focussing on the right things. I feel excited about this year with a lot of curiosity at what will unfold in the next months and the unexpected possibilities that may surprise us. I wish you all a wonderful 2021 and thank you for dropping by regularly in this corner of the internet:)

Silver lining of lockdown

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #206

What a year 2020 has been! The plant on this photo is a good metaphor for 2020. I can view it either as an unseemly plant with evil spikes, or, if I look from another angle, a bunch of tiny stars reaching out towards one another 🙂

Over the holidays, the community of the Guilty Feminist (one of my favourite podcasts) is sharing personal silver linings from lockdown (check out some of the short videos here). The aim being to focus on gratitude and create a wave of support for displaced people all around the world who are living in refugee camps, via the organisation Choose Love.

Having more time to volunteering at a farm on the outskirts of Amsterdam and learning about local regenerative food production was my silver lining in lockdown. I’m so grateful to have gotten to spend those Sundays hands deep in the soil digging up Jerusalem artichokes, planting pumpkins, turning over the compost heap, harvesting parsnips, planting trees… It was particularly great because in a time of reduced social interactions, it allowed me to meet fun people and, while safely keeping our distance, have lots of inspiring conversations and good laughs.

If you’d like to hear more about it, check this episode where Josie Naughton the co-founder explains the amazing work that Choose Love does. Because in winter I often have cold feet and wear two or more thick pairs of socks at once, I purchased some warm winter clothes and shoes from the Choose Love website. Items start at just £5 or if you prefer to act more locally, donate an organisation supporting refugees near you. All these small actions add up to make a difference 🙂

A taste of that holiday feeling

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #206

Lately I’ve been trying to see things in grey scales – and no, I’m not referring to 50 shades of Grey;-), I mean less thinking in black and white or in extremes. For example, I’ve been craving a far-away holiday to ‘get away from it all’, but obviously that is not really ideal right now. Instead of thinking, ‘Argh, I can’t go on holiday’ and closing off that thought, frustrated, I tried to see if I could find an in-between way. I reflected on what it is about that holiday feeling that helps me feel so good, to see if there was any other way to tap into that without travelling anywhere.

I came to the conclusion that it was not so much about where I went, but that it was more of a mindset. When I’m travelling I tend to be disconnected from the internet and screens, more in the moment and attuned to everything new and exciting around me and to spend time outdoors without rushing, being productive or feeling like I should be tackling things from my to-do list. So a couple of weeks ago I planned an Artist Date that I hoped would give me that feeling, time scheduled just for myself to do whatever I want with no plans.

I slept in and upon waking made sure to stay offline and leave my phone in the other room. I made myself crêpes for breakfast, sprinkling them with sugar and lemon juice like when I was a kid, and ate them while looking out over the gardens and watching the birds.

Then, belly full, I went for a long walk in the sun along the Oeverlanden, close to where I live. Just as I would have done if I was on holidays, I switched off and refused to entertain any thoughts about laundry that needed doing or applications that needed sending. I slowed down and fully enjoyed traipsing along, listening to the sound of the water lapping at the bank, exchanging a few words with a fisherman who had just caught a gigantic carp, and generally let my thoughts wander to the rhythm of my feet.

When I arrived home, pink-cheeked from the ice-cold wind and ravenous, I dug up a home-made curry from the depth of my freezer, all I had to do was heat it up and I could tuck in, practically like going to a restaurant. Then I flopped onto the sofa to read cosily under a blanket for a while. By the time I reconnected with the world later that day, I felt fresh, recharged and rested. Turns out it was as easy as that.