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:)

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.

Looking closely

Today I’m happy to share a few more pictures from my recent visit to the Botanical garden. The picture above was taken through the glass at the back of the greenhouse (which is not open to the public at the moment due to COVID-19). Glad to see the cacti and succulents are clearly thriving with the reduced human presence;-)

In the outdoors part of the Botanical garden I took my time looking closely at the myriad of different species to spot some interesting details. I love the texture on the back of this leaf. It looks to me like a map of Amsterdam with wonky little canal houses on both sides of the leaf-nerve roads.

As always, I was on the lookout for colour combinations that catch my eye. These pinkish young leaves are lovely and I like how they gradually turn green as they mature.

I also liked the delicate simplicity of these pointy leaves, just a slightly lighter colour than the green around them and not quite symmetrical.

Over a thousand trees planted

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #205

One morning last week, I was disturbed by the sound of a chainsaw coming from one of the gardens that my balcony overlooks. I went to check what was going on and to my horror, found that a tall conifer was being sawn into pieces. The combination of the sound of the chainsaw as well as the thud of branches and logs crashing to the ground below made me very anxious and sad. In about 20 minutes it was over. Silence returned and all that remained of the tree was some scattered sawdust.

But this is not a sad tale about neighbours preferring a little more sunlight over a living tree. Coincidentally a few days later, I went to help at my local CSA where over the course of two days volunteers would help plant over 1000 trees that will grow into a thick hedge around the crops to protect them from the wind. It felt like a chance to set things right.

It’s impressive what a small group of people can achieve with team work, motivation and the right guidance. It was a cold Sunday morning, barely a few degrees above zero, but I had piled on lots of warm layers and working with our spade warmed us up immediately. We made precise trenches, digging out the compact clay. Then placed the trees twenty centimetres apart. We broke the clay soil into smaller chunks and after mixing it with rich compost distributed it around the roots. Finally we watered the trees and added a layer of mulch (steaming autumn leaves salvaged from a nearby golf-course) around their base.

There was a wonderful atmosphere, chatting about all sorts of things as we worked, and the sun even came out over the beds at the end of the afternoon. The trees may look a little underwhelming right now, but I am really grateful to have participated and cannot wait to see how the trees wake up in spring, growing together to protect the crops and create more bio-diversity.

We rounded the day off with some delicious glühwein whilst warming our cold fingers by the fire. Cycling on the way home, I was rewarded with a beautiful moody sky over the water.

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Planting trees is a very effective way to combat climate change and it’s easy to contribute even if you don’t have a garden. Search for initiatives in your area to participate in person or donate to. If you are in Amsterdam, for example you can consider supporting this local food forest which is crowdfunding at the moment. Another easy thing to do is using Ecosia as your default search engine, so each time you satisfy your curiosity you’ll also contribute to planting trees. Feel free to add other initiatives you know of in the comments too!

Happily mixing soil and compost (photo taken by Lisa who works at the CSA)

Autumn in the Botanical garden

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #204

Botanical gardens are a wonderful outdoor place to retreat to in these COVID times and because the plants evolve so much over a short period of time you can return regularly and feel like you are discovering a new place. No matter how often I go to the Botanical garden in Amsterdam Zuid, every visit is different and new details pop out every time.

On that cold morning, I first went to the French consulate to apply for my passport renewal. The process these days involves two temperature checks by the security guard, waiting room with face masks, handing over my paperwork to the clerk on the other side of the plexiglass added to her desk and a whole lot of hand-sanitiser gel… I’m very glad that they are taking careful precautions, but couldn’t get out of the stuffy office and into fresh air fast enough. Luckily, the Botanic garden is just a few minutes bike ride away:)

Apart from the people working in the garden, I was the only visitor, so I could really take my time strolling through the alleys, unworried about people getting too close, and slowly marvel at the variety of plants. The highlight that morning was the fall colours. Reds, pinks, yellows and oranges catching my eye all around me, the last ones hanging on the branches, on the ground, or landing among beds of other plants forming new creations…

As I start taking pictures, my breathing always deepens and I enter into a lovely state of flow. I am unaware of time passing as I crouch down to look at the ground at what treasures I might find and drop my knees into the soggy soil to closely look at the lines and textures on the plants.

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I’ll share more pictures from the Botanical garden soon. In the meantime for pictures of my previous visits click here. If you are in Amsterdam, I highly recommend a visit, you can find all the details and adjusted opening hours on their website.

Rainy afternoon baking

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #203

On a grey afternoon, when it’s cold and raining on and off, when the sky is so dark I’m tempted to turn on the lights in the middle of the day, I feel like some comfort food. So I light a beeswax candle and make my second at baking the amazing Swedish chocolate cake, with the very poetic name Kladdkaka, in search of the perfect gooey-fudgy core.

I’m grateful for quiet moments of concentration as I measure out the ingredients, add the cocoa powder to the bowl and marvel as it gradually changes the mix to a rich brown colour, watch the butter melt beautifully in the bottom of a small pan before adding it to the dark cocoa until the mixture all slick, then buttering the tin and shaking it like I am panning gold then tapping its edges lightly to coat a thin layer of cocoa powder on its surface and sides, before carefully scraping as much of the mixture as possible into the tin (while leaving just enough for a reasonable licking of the bowl!).

I then watch the oven like a hawk, keeping an eye on the texture and making sure the cake cooked no longer than the ideal time (13 minutes!). I am glad to say, this second try was much better than the previous one… though I think I’ll have to make it again soon just to be sure to keep getting better at it;)

*****

PS: this is the recipe if you want to try it! Let me know how it goes:)

Autumn details

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #202

My daily walks have been keeping me sane and connected to the season as it evolves. I’m grateful for all the details that catch my senses as I am strolling along.

Tiny drops of dew shining on hairy seeds.

The smell of wet autumn leaves decomposing at the feet of the trees and sensing the layers of humus that came before them as the soles of my shoes sink into the ground.

Orange seeds bursting forth from bright pink flowers.

The distinct sound of a woodpecker jabbing away at a tree and the flash of its red feathers as it flies to its next pecking spot.

Mushroom clans where it seems like the elders are looking out for the playful young ones.

That sound when you kick through a thick pile of dry autumn leaves and the joy of their multitude as they float upwards and land again, each one slightly different shape and colour than the next.

Natuurpark Vrije Geer

Thanks to the beautiful autumn we’ve been having, I’ve had the chance to go walking in lots of different parts of Amsterdam lately. I vary my destination based on which friend I am meeting up with, how long I have until the next predicted rain shower or if I am in another neighbourhood for some errand, and I usually try to loop through a park if possible.

The other day I needed to pick up second hand gum-boots that I’d found via Marktplaats in Sloten, an area of Amsterdam where I rarely go. While planning my route on Google maps I spotted a small green area and decided to take a look on my way back.

At first I thought I couldn’t enter the park and that it was just a green wetland for birds as there were many coots and geese pecking around in the grass undisturbed. But I cycled around the perimeter until I found an entrance and a plaque with the name Natuurpark Vrije Geer.

The sky was grey as I walked along the path. The park had recently undergone maintenance as lots of reeds and grasses had been cut around the remaining shrubs and trees. It was quiet, with birds flitting here are there among the willows, tall reeds, ferns and autumn colours…

I also came across trees laden with funny fruit that look like a small brown apple with tentacles. Some light googling later on led me to the Dutch name mispel (or medlar in English) which is a plant that has been cultivated since the Roman times and carries fruit into the winter. Apparently you eat the medlar when it is overripe and has become sweet like apple sauce. I’m curious to try it!

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Back home I read up about the history of the park. I found out that in the 90s the city of Amsterdam was rapidly transforming meadows and nature in the area into constructible zones and also threatened to run the tram line through this space. There were protests against this, which led to a local referendum in which over 200 000 people voted. Luckily 90% voted against housing construction and that’s how the park is a thriving ecosystem to this day. I found it interesting to read that the municipality was surprised that so many people showed up to vote for keeping a piece of land barely anyone was aware of before. To me this is an important reminder of how vital it is to involve citizens in decisions that impact their environment.

Click the links for more info about the referendum for Natuurpark Vrije Geer and the fauna and flora it harbours (in Dutch).