Over the years I’ve learnt from Paolo that the most interesting way to get directions when we are lost is to ask someone passing by if they know the way. Most of the time it works and we are back on track in no time. Even when it does not lead to the right indications, it beats looking on Google maps because it is the chance for a spontaneous exchange with people and those encounters often leave us with a smile on our face or a shared experience to remember.
Recently, as I was returning home from the Veluwe, I was cycling with my large backpack near the center of Arnhem, trying to figure out the way to the train station. I saw a man who was walking towards me on the sidewalk, so I smiled to catch his attention and asked in Dutch how to get to the station. He replied in English that he doesn’t speak Dutch, adding that he is from Syria, so I asked my question again in English and he kindly pointed me in the direction of the station. I thanked him but before I could pedal off again, he indicated that I should wait and started rummaging around for something deep in his backpack.
After about thirty seconds, he pulled out a mini-snickers bar and held it out to me with a smile. My first reaction was to refuse, a sort of reflex from deep down, not wanting to take something he probably needed more than me, and then quickly I thought after all if he is handing it to me he probably wants me to have it. So I took it, thanking him and feeling very touched. We smiled at each other, feeling the warmth of connection for a few seconds, the simplicity of giving and receiving this small gift, and then I cycled away to catch my train waving goodbye.
Now looking back, it seems that by asking for directions I received more than just a geographical location. I’ll never see that man again but our shared moment has stayed with me. Alongside the directions to the station, I also subtly received directions for life: a reminder of how generosity can be found in small gestures of human connection and how it lights us up.
I’m back home after this wonderful escapade to France and Italy, and I feel like I’ve been away for ages though it’s only been 2 weeks. It’s a pleasure to be back in the flat that smells like natural soap and find that all my plants have survived perfectly despite the cold. I feel energised and inspired. Being away and seeing new horizons has taken my mind off the day-to-day and it feels like new spaces have opened up in my mind. I can hear more clearly that small voice saying “I want more exploration and curiosity, less stress, more adventures, more creativity and connection with those dearest to me”.
Every year for the past 5 years (or maybe even more??) I’ve chosen a word to guide and inspire me throughout the year. After my 2017 epiphany, I’ve realised one word may be too vague, so this year I’ve decided to experiment with a couple of words to see if that helps:) My guiding words for 2018 are GENTLE ALIGNMENT. What exactly that will look like, I don’t yet know… All I can say is I hope to make tiny steps and adjustments so every day I can find inspiration from all different sources, as well as many laughs and fun and sparks of joy!
What word(s) will guide you in 2018??
First day of a fresh new year. I’ve spent the holidays reflecting on the past year, on how fast it flew by and how much happened, what I liked and what I want to change moving forward.
I’ve been scribbling down an endless list of wonderful things I want to focus on and do in 2018 and beyond. I’ve been making these lists for years (at any moment, not just at the years end) and when I pull them out years later I’m always amazed at how much of the things on those lists actually happened – maybe not immediately but surely over time, either by changing habits or consciously taking steps towards making them a reality, or by what seems like sheer luck:) 2018 bring on your magic!!
At the start of every year I choose a word to guide me throughout the next 12 months and encourage the universe to send vibes relating to that word my way. Beginning of 2017 the word I chose was GROW. I was imagining the universe sending me gentle nudges to get out of my comfort zone, try new things and become a better version of myself…
Instead, I was reminded to be careful what I wish for… as the universe delivered big time and gave me many opportunities to grow. Amongst others, the task of being the celebrant at the wedding of two dear friends in Thailand, and a challenging new position at work that never seems to ease up. This year I’ve felt stretched way beyond expectations, often exhausted by work and the ‘growing pains’ were sometimes intense. At the same time I appreciate how much I’ve grown my comfort zone, and I’m proud of having done things I could never imagine daring to do.
At our Christmas lunch, I was having a chat with some colleagues about what their word for next year could be. It was beautiful to hear what they were thinking of choosing, a lovely way to get to know them better over a slice of kerstbrood. As a cautionary tale, I told them about what my word for 2017 had been and how I sometimes experienced it as grueling. One of my colleagues cheerily suggested that I should simply have added the word SUSTAINABLY behind GROW. (I was flabbergasted! How did I not think of that myself??! It could be that easy. It was a total moment of reframing for me.) He then proceeded to explain how trees in the forest grow very slowly under the canopy and in that way they become strong. If they develop too fast, ever reaching upwards for the light, they are thinner, weaker and less healthy in the long run.
At this year end, I feel like a little sappling who strived to grow no matter what, without growing sustainably. So during these holidays, while I’m taking the time to reflect on the past 12 months and thinking about my word for next year, I’ll keep in mind the power of words and intention. I haven’t chosen my word for 2018 yet, but it may turn out to be 2 or 3 words to be a little more specific on where my focus will be:)
My balcony overlooks a lovely patchwork of gardens and sheds, belonging to the owners of the appartments on the ground flour. The walls of the building form a large rectangle around the gardens, enclosing this wonderful ecosystem in which birds are the main protagonists, seemingly oblivious to us humans as they go about their business.
Fat turtledoves fly heavily from the railing of one balcony to another, groups of green parrots (who have taken root in Amsterdam) come by from time to time sqwaking loudly, tiny blue tits flit amongst the branches and there’s even a beautiful lone woodpecker who appears from time to time, tapping for bugs in the bark its favorite tree…
I love how the view on the gardens is constantly changing with the seasons. Today heavy snow flakes were swirling around in the wind, giving the gardens an enchanted look. The birds took shelter as they could, while the snow gently covered the ground and the branches and it was quieter than usual. So beautiful!
This weekend I walked down a road that happened to be blocked and I had to go back the way I came and make a detour to get to my destination. As I retraced my steps, I spotted these lovely small pink flowers growing tightly at the foot of a tree. They made my day!
They were a wise reminder that sometimes in life it seems like you are not going anywhere or you may reach a dead-end and need to back-track, however there is surely something wonderful to be found on the way:) I’ll be looking out for it!
If I had half an hour with you on this beautiful bench this is most probably what I would talk about…
How I had a lovely relaxed weekend, enjoying some precious down time in the sunny city and strolling through the flowery streets of Amsterdam Zuid to try and capture the heavy rose blooms and the atmosphere with my camera…
How I had fun concocting creative plans with a friend over a delicious hazelnut iced coffee served with a sustainable metal straw (@Slowth Brunch: you guys rock!!!).
How it was a weekend of pizza making with Paolo (not even this heat will deter us from cranking the oven up to 240 degrees so we can eat some tasty homemade pizza;).
Lovely colourful flags blowing in the wind in Blijburg, where I went with my photography class on Saturday for a photo shoot on the beach. We were really lucky with the weather, as the overcast sky with just a bit of sunshine peeking through from time to time was perfect for taking pictures.
We had great fun creating scenes inspired from our moodboards, with two models and a random collection of props, as passers-by looked at us with curiosity. It’s quite amazing how many creative ideas a bunch of people can come up with using a pineapple, a guitar, a shovel and a red-velvet cake on the beach… I laughed a lot:)
I particularly enjoyed exploring the story-telling aspect of photography and plan to use that more as a source of inspiration. Also I definitely want to do more portrait photography. It’s a good way for me to get out of my comfort zone, as it is much more challenging than my usual subjects like plants or landscapes.
For me the cold winter months are the perfect time to stay indoors, in a state of semi-hibernation, living vicariously through podcasts about other people’s lives:)
Here are some of the thought-provoking podcasts I’ve been enjoying a lot lately. Check them out and let me know what you think.
Good Life Project Radio
Jonathan Fields alternates short 10 minute riffs on different life themes and 1 hour in-depth personal conversations with guests from all horizons. There is so much wisdom in these recordings.
Some of my favorites: The Truth About Luck, Orly Wahba, Elizabeth Gilbert, Tiffany Dufu
Lea Thau is a beautiful story teller, many of these true stories have me crying and laughing at the same time.
Some of my favorites: Alaska Bingo, The Waxing Virgin, the Love hurts episodes
Side hustle school
In a totally different genre, Chris Guillebeau’s daily podcast is only about 7 minutes long and it presents lots of wonderful tips and tricks to get your business ideas up and running, without quitting your day job. I love that all the examples are really specific and concrete, with actionable suggestions.
Recently I came across two great documentaries and an episode from one of my favorite podcasts which revolve around plants. I find myself thinking back to these stories regularly, the ideas are like seeds that need to spread, so I thought I’d share some links.
The Salt of the Earth – about the life of incredible photographer Sebastiao Salgado, and the foundation he and his wife set up to combat deforestation and erosion in Brazil by planting native trees and creating an education center (read more about Instituto Terra)
Seeds of permaculture – beautiful and inspiring documentary about permaculture, and what impact a holistic approach to growing our own food can have.
The surprising story about a writer who gets the dream job of taking care of a wonderful garden. (Strangers is a podcast about true (and often incredibly moving) stories that link total strangers. It makes for amazing listening!)
Any suggestions of other similar films or podcasts?