Sidewalk treasure

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Yesterday in between two rain showers I went for a quick wander to get some fresh air, and I came across these beautiful yellow flowers, a lone stem left on the sidewalk by some recycling bins.  Sure, the leaves were a bit wilted, but apart from that the blooms were still in great shape. Look at that multitude of gorgeous, tiny petals! So I took them home and popped them into a small vase.  I felt so lucky to have found them and it totally made my day:) They are the perfect splash of colour to lighten up the kitchen in these dreary winter evenings.

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.

Dark December days

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Lately the days are getting shorter and shorter, and even during normal daylight hours the clouds are so low that I sometimes need to switch on the light to see properly inside the flat.

Yesterday was one of those dark days, but after sitting indoors half of the afternoon, I decided to go for a walk, more because I knew that it would do me good than because I really felt like it. I took my camera along just in case.

The light was definitely not on my side, I had to crank up the ISO and hold as still as I could with slow shutter speeds, but it was a good exercise in spotting beauty in the remnants of plants and experimenting.

These tiny fruit that remind me of gorgeous fairy lights caught my eye and I got chatting with a lady, who was harvesting them into a small bowl.  She told me they are goji berries… you know that super food that is so fashionable these days?? Turns out they grow easily in our climate and as you can see this one still has fruits in December! Perfect for pepping up your muesli:)

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Starting a gratitude jar

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #106

In an interview of Elizabeth Gilbert that I listened to recently, she mentioned that she has a large apothecary jar which she fills with gratitude notes, and how even on the most difficult of days, even in the midst of grieving, she can always something to be grateful for.  I’d been toying with the idea of starting a gratitude jar for a while and if Liz Gilbert was doing it, well I took that as a sure sign that it would work for me too;)

Gratitude jar

Since the gratitude jar would sit on my desk, I wanted to make it colourful and engaging.  So I found an old jar and gave it a clean, and then spent a mindful hour selecting pages of all different colours from old issues of Flow magazines and cutting them into small rectangles.

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I keep the papers in a clip on the top of the jar, ready for use. The fact that I don’t need to go rummaging for a post-it or piece of paper makes it super easy and often in the evenings while waiting for veggies to cook, I’ll reach for a pen, reflect on what I’m grateful for that day and scribble a few notes, fold them and pop them into the jar.

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I love the result! There is something deeply satisfying about this analog ritual with a low threshold.  No pressure, just the joy of seeing the jar steadily filling up with colourful papers, constant reminders of the multitude of things and moments I have to be grateful for everyday.

Cosy corner

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Danielle’s aloe vera plant is growing beautifully in its new pot, an upcycled olive oil container.  This looks like the perfect cosy corner to read a book or listen to a podcast on a cold winter Sunday!  Thanks Danielle for the lovely photo:)

 

Leaning in

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #105

Growing up as a child in Australia, I was fascinated by empty cicada shells, perfectly formed and dry, gripping onto trees, long after the cicada had pulled itself out of its cramped skin to take its new form.

That image came back to me while meditating yesterday.  I feel like I am gripping the tree, white-knuckled, pushing against my edges, trying with all my might to crack the shell around me, to extricate myself from its tight grasp and be able to breathe and spread my wings.

On the surface it may seem like a quiet time in my life, a rare moment where I have very reduced working hours and can spend extra time to care for myself, rest and recover.  However, inside me it is far from peaceful, I feel like I am being stretched further than I have been for a long time.  Waves of emotion crash over me for seemingly no reason, I feel in turn sad, then anxious, then afraid, then restless and back again. I crave relief so deeply. I ache for clarity, for lightness, to feel better, more energetic, enthusiastic, happy…

I’m filling page after page in my journal, trying to get the swirling thoughts on paper, to see if I can make some sense out of them, as I know this has helped in the past.  And in the midst of the rants and anxious complaints in my journal, the wise voice from somewhere deep inside comes out to tell me, again and again, to trust the process.

This is the transformation in preparation for the shedding of the skin, it cannot be rushed.  I am exactly where I need to be.  My job right now is to stop resisting, to let go of wanting things to be different, to practice accepting that I feel the way I feel and that it is OK.

What is there to be grateful about in all of this, you may ask.  Well, I know deep down that every day that I lean in to the turmoil, rather than resisting it, brings me closer to coming out the other side, to breaking out of the tight shell.

An oasis of peace in Amsterdam

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As the city of Amsterdam gets more and more full of tourists, one place I love to escape to for fresh air and a quiet afternoon is the Botanic garden in Zuidas.  Surrounded by modern buildings, it’s a lovely oasis of calm hidden within the bustling heart of the business district.

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I really appreciate that the entrance is free of charge, making it accessible for anyone to come and discover their incredible collection of plants.  While I was there last I also saw several patients in wheelchairs coming from the nearby hospital for a change of scenery.

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There is an incredible diversity of plants making each visit a new experience as the seasons change. Last time thanks to the Indian summer, there were still a multitude of flowers blooming in October.

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It’s always a pleasure to slowly walk around, spot new plants and take in the details of the various species.  The splashes of colour bring me so much joy.

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It’s a real celebration for the senses with all the different colours, intriguing textures and unusual shapes.   The perfect way to be in the moment and feel grounded.

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A step back to reflect

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #104

Today marks 2 years of writing weekly about JOYFUL GRATITUDE, so like last year I am taking a step back to reflect a little on this practice. 

Writing the weekly post has the benefit of bringing me joy by re-living the moment and exploring what it was exactly that delighted me. Recognising those special moments helps to consciously create more of them in the busy day to day rush.  

I’d like to bring up one point however. It may seem when reading the weekly posts like everything is always rosy, as I focus on the good times, creating something  that may seem like a mismatch between real life and my tone here. In reality, I am struggling like everyone. Though I realise I am very privileged, I must still work hard to find mental balance and peace.

This weekly practice is an exercise in training my mind to zoom in on the positive, big and small things that bring me gratitude. Like everyone I struggle with bad moods, fear and doubt, but there is also a wise voice in me, like in all of us, and I trust that by writing regularly here, this voice is somehow guiding me step by step. I am deeply grateful for this voice tapping into a deep pool of wisdom somewhere beneath the surface:)

When having a quick look at the main themes that came up over the last year, there were no surprises. The top 3 can be categorised like this:
     1. Nature / Outdoors / Plants
     2. Quiet time / Reflection
     3. Mindfulness / Self-care

So that’s where I’ll continue to focus on the coming months:) Tell me, what will your focus be?

Guide for fun and energising Xmas gifts

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Tired of shopping for presents just before Christmas in overcrowded shops? There’s nothing wrong with presents as such, but I feel like the pressure to buy gifts pushes us towards quick fixes that are not always satisfying. There has to be a better way, right?

As with everything, I believe it is possible to make the whole experience much more energising and sustainable, both for the person giving and the one receiving:) By being more mindful, we end up with intentional gifts and stories that lead to more fun and greater connection.

Giving

  • Experience gifts:  They are the norm among my family and friends for several years already compared to material gifts.  It’s a chance to offer someone an experience, based on their interests that they will remember and cherish, rather than just one more object. You can make it as cheap or expensive as you like (a home cooked meal or time spent together are great options).
    Over the last years, I’ve given tickets to concerts, escape rooms and plays, offered vouchers for massages, made vouchers to spend creative time with friends and family…
    TIP: if it is an activity for several people, plan a date immediately with all participants, so you have something to look forward to!
  • Secret Santa: instead of buying gifts for everyone, organise a secret santa so you can focus on getting a quality gift for just one person
    TIP: get people to be very specific about that they want so you get them a gift that makes their heart sing (see below on Receiving).
  • Support small businesses: If you are buying material gifts (jewelry, clothes, decoration items…), think of this as an opportunity to support small/local businesses that make you enthusiastic and for who your purchase will make a difference, leading to a happy dance.
    TIP: Keep a list of the small craft businesses/independent brands you come across all year around at local craft markets, Etsy or social media, so you can recall them when you need a gift.
  • Books: Buy from independent bookstores, this is the chance to browse through all those lovely covers and keep local bookstores alive
    TIP: Experiment with books that you don’t know but are drawn to, discover new voices or authors from other countries
  • Wrapping: no need to spend money on new rolls of wrapping paper, just recycle newspapers or old magazines.
    TIP: Try to personalise the wrapping paper for the recipient (it is a very mindful activity for winter nights:)

Receiving

Actually reducing the number of physical presents received is quite a lengthy process as culturally we feel we should not to come ’empty handed’.  In the past, I’ve written emails to family and talked with friends to try and gracefully explain that I value experiences over material gifts. Slowly the idea is making its way and I have the secret conviction that it will inspire them too;)   The experiences I received and participated in were super fun and created memories I’ll not forget like going to London for an incredible workshop with my favorite author or exploring the Japanese gardens with friends:)

Another idea is instead of people searching for a gift, to tell them upfront you would prefer to receive some money for you to give to your favorite charity. Alternatively,  you can ask the person to use the money they would have spent on your gift on their favorite charity or to support their favorite artist on Patreon. They have more say on where the money goes and it is a win-win for everyone.

I’d love to hear more ideas! How do will you make your Xmas shopping more intentional this year?

Mushroom wisdom

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #103

As I write this, the rain is pouring down outside. I am indoors, warm and watching rain drops slide down the windows, with a delicious cup of coffee by my side.  Like every week, I’m wondering what I want to write about.  I have a lot I am grateful for, so it is never a problem to come up with some ideas, but sometimes inspiration brings strange ideas with it.

Today I am grateful for this mushroom, spotted in a local vegetable garden on one of my afternoon walks, to get out of my head and into the fresh air while looking for some interesting details to photograph.  I felt so drawn to this beautiful mushroom and I believe it has wisdom to share with me. What is so special to me about this mushroom, you may wonder…

It stands tall and dignified, not wondering if it is sticking out or whether it looks funny.  It does it’s mushroomy thing, confident and unencumbered by the way other mushrooms look and behave. It is not questioning whether it is doing things right or well enough, and does not care what the leaves around it might say.  It is centered and grounded, fully in the present moment, unafraid of the rabbit that may come and nibble on it in the future.  I want to be more like this mushroom. These are the precious lessons that I am tucking away in the folds of my mind this week, to bring up again when the inner critic raises its head.