Magic hour blossoms

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Every day lately I’ve been walking past the trees covered in stunning blossoms just around the corner from my apartment. Each time I make a mental note to take a closer look at their beauty before they all fall down to form a colourful carpet at the foot of the trees.

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Today after dinner I went for a digestive walk and finally remembered to bring my camera with me. I caught the very last rays of sunshine before it dipped behind the buildings on the other side of the canal.  The sheer number of them is breathtaking and I enjoyed watching them sway in the wind.  I also love how the petals are a darker pink on the outside compared to the lighter coloured inside.

Pancake breakfast

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #175

Though on the whole the life during the confinement is not so different to my normal life (I just have a better excuse to not go out…), this sheltering in place is not easy.  I’m 35 days in and it’s uncanny how this period feels both so long and so short.  How despite having the possibility to slow down, I still feel overwhelmed regularly.  I’ve been journaling a lot, trying to process it all, but am realising it only works to a certain extent. I often find myself lying awake at night, mind and body alert, from a cocktail of news, the latent anxiety of a simple trip to the supermarket and too many hours spent online.

My mind is a melting pot of feelings bubbling up.  I picture them like the Northern Lights, blending together into mesmerizing and ever-evolving shapes in the sky: anger at what we are doing to the planet, how we even got here, gratitude that so far me and the ones I love have not been impacted too hard, sadness for all the lives lost and how the less privileged are in fact much more at risk, joy at seeing humans remember their connection and creativity, grief because of recent changes, how life as we know it no longer exists, yearning for when I will be able to see my family without a screen between us, fear of what this crisis might lead to, hope at what might change for the better if we learn from this experience, loneliness of days of seeing next to no-one and wonder at the surreal beauty of spring blossoming all over Amsterdam regardless of the pandemic and on and on the thoughts swirl…

I know I need to stay with the feelings and they’ll eventually pass, but I find I’m struggling to with how much energy it takes.  So I’m practicing being kind to myself, reminding myself over and over again to take the pressure off, this is no normal time and it’s ok to feel overwhelmed. This morning after another night of not sleeping so well, I coaxed myself out of bed by deciding to make pancakes for breakfast.  I gobbled them up with the ingredients I had in the fridge: Parmesan, maple syrup and pear. It was just what I needed:)

Hand-sewing a produce bag

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In our local organic supermarket, we can get most fruit and veggies in bulk and I do my best not to take any single-use bags (whether plastic or paper).  Though this works fine with zucchini or leek,  I often find myself struggling to get certain products to the scales.  I do my best to carry potatoes, apples, onions, not to mention Brussels sprouts in my cupped hands, usually using the old envelope on the back of which my shopping list is scribbled, to increase my hauling surface. This often results in said products slipping away and needing to be chased down supermarket aisles and recovered inelegantly from under displays.

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These days what with keeping 1,5 meter distance and wanting to spend as little time as possible at the supermarket, I decided to finally tackle a project I’d been thinking of for far to long.  I got out some colourful fabric I’ve had lying around for years, and decided to a try making a very simple bag for bulk.

I let go of my perfectionist thoughts (I can only do it if I have a sewing machine, I need to make at least 8 bags of different sizes, they need to be perfectly symmetrical and so on…) and got into beginner’s mindset.  After watching a couple of tutorials on Youtube, I decided on a very basic design and gave it a try. For my first attempt, I decided to keep it simple and just attach a little rope to the side to tie things up.  For the next one, I plan to make a drawstring from some recycled ribbon…

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Pretty quickly, I found myself in that place of flow: just me, my needle and thread, mindfully stitching away and the joy of working with fabric I really like.  When looking closely, the stitches are not all the same size and there are bits of thread popping out here and there, but overall I’m happy with it.  I wish I could have told my teenage self that one day I’d be in confinement and find myself grateful for the sewing skills I picked up when learning how to do patchwork;)

Walking together

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #174

I am grateful for an afternoon spent on a long walk with a friend, safely keeping the security distance of 1,5 meters, among the trees.  We made our way through the Amsterdamse Bos as we chatted and relished in the gorgeous weather. As we caught up and speculated on how the next months will turn out, we roamed with no real direction, passing the goat farm, steering out of people’s way, watching a man on a beautiful black horse gallop back and forth along a long sandy path… More than just the surroundings, it felt good to be with a friend in-person and to share with the rhythm of our steps and talk without staring into a screen.

Grounded

As I start my fourth week of social distancing, I am trying to disconnect more. To let go of that tether that is the internet and its ever-updating news, and instead be more aware to things around me.  I’ve worked from home to the best of my abilities, and had calls and creative session with loved ones.  It’s also been a beautiful weekend of sunshine. I’m doing my best to be grounded in the present.

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I’ve taken daily walks, mindfully keeping my distance from others, smiling at those I coming my way to ease the act of changing sidewalks. I’ve found a sunny bench to sit on and watch the world go by as I drink coffee and write my Morning Pages. In pots on the sidewalk, plants are showing off their beautiful colours and uncanny shapes.

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One evening, I heard rustling under the sink, like plastic being moved around. When I opened the cupboard to see what was going on, a mouse popped out and paused for a moment on the edge of the bag that contains the recycling.  We stared at each other for several seconds, motionless, before it disappeared behind the wall. I’ve not had mice before so it feels like this little creature came to keep me company in these days of isolation.

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I’ve also enjoyed the feeling the sun warm my limbs as I read and moving around the living room to follow the sun rays making their way to land on my orange wall and bathe the whole space with glowing light late in the afternoon.

Cheery blossoms

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #173

Last weekend walking with a friend in the Amsterdamse Bos (with 1,5 meter safely between us!) we ended up in the cheery tree garden and found it was in full bloom! It was spectacular, but there were quite a few people around so I didn’t feel comfortable staying too long.

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However the next day I felt drawn to return, so I went at the end of the afternoon hoping it would be quieter.  Clouds appeared and an icy cold wind started blowing and soon there were even less people milling around.  What I love about this garden is how much more beautiful in real life it is than on pictures. Looking up at the branches is enchanting.

The density of the white flowers, as well as the symmetry of the evenly spaced trees, the peace and quiet, a few ducks waddling here and there, you don’t know where to look to try to take in all the beauty.

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I lay on my back on the grass in the last rays of sunshine and watched the branches swaying in the wind, the occasional black bumble bees flying up high among the blossoms. Each time there was a strong gust of wind the petals showered down on me like snow.

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I agree with this sweet handwritten note found on one of the trees. So grateful for nature and how lucky I am to be able to take these lovely walks and witness spring in all its glory.

Take the pressure off

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I was initially excited at the idea of having lots of free time at home, I started thinking of everything I’d be able to do.  However rather than writing that amazing short story and making an incredible amount of submissions, as well as learning how to draw, the days are just flying by.  Nothing has come of all those plans and instead I’ve been working remotely by day, then on Skype calls with friends and family to attempt to make sense of a situation that none of us ever thought we would experience, and binge-watching episodes of Narcos to empty my mind in the evenings.

I’ve noticed lists circulating of things to fill the days with: crafts to do, films to watch, new skills to learn, and found myself stressing about not doing enough.  I noticed that I have trouble concentrating and am actually spending a lot of energy adjusting to the situation, so now I’m trying to be more mindful of taking the pressure off and letting go of my unrealistic expectations.

I realise this list of tips only makes sense because I am in the privileged position where I can work from home and receive my salary and paid holidays… I am sharing it because it’s been a mind-shift for me over the past couple of weeks and I thought it may speak to others who might also feel the pressure to ‘be making the most of confinement’.

What has helped me the most has been to dial back the DOING and give myself permission to just BE a bit more.

  • Digital detox: Sunday I didn’t connect to internet until my 7 pm skype call with my family.  That morning I didn’t switch on my computer and refresh the news repeatedly and I left my phone out of sight.  I had tasks on my to-do list I couldn’t take care of because they involved being online, so I let go of them for a while reminding myself they were not urgent. It felt very freeing. I want to try and do it one day a week.
  • Sleeping / napping: now is the perfect time to rest – if not now then when? Going to bed earlier and sleeping a little longer in the mornings since I don’t need to commute is great.  I’m glad to catch a few extra ZZZs to compensate for those nights where insomnia comes to visit with its thought-loops. Also naps are an act of resistance, it’s great to be an activist from the comfort of my own bed!
  • Taking a day off work:  I’d been saving my holidays for spring time to go see my family and explore Cornwall by train. But those plans are cancelled for the foreseeable future. I could try to power on through and save my days off to travel later, but the long winter months are behind me and there’s an on-going crisis going on, so right now taking a random day off feels like a gift to myself. I took today off and I think I’ll do it again in the next weeks when needed, to recharge when needed.
  • Doing nothing: I’ve found peace in just sitting on the rug in that square of sunlight flowing through the window, day dreaming freely for a while and letting my thoughts roam…

I’d love to know what has helped you in the past weeks. Please feel free to share in the comments!

A few moments of focus

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #172

This week I met up on a video call with some friends with who I have the joy of practicing mindfulness from time to time. It was heart-warming to share our experiences and observations of this period of crisis.  I must say lately, although in a way I have more time, I feel scattered, my mind still rushing and busy.  Just doing some short meditations together and returning to my body through breathing felt like a gift.

Among the many things we discussed, one person shared a great suggestion, which was to wash our dishes as if we were bathing a baby buddha.  I love this vivid image and how it instinctively reframes my approach to such a mundane task.  I’ve been trying to keep this in mind as I wash my dishes several times a day. Paying attention to get the water to just the right temperature, noticing how the foam feels on my fingers, handling my bowls and dishes more gently…  I’m glad for those few moments of focus, when I am fully in the here and now.

Budding leaves

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If you are cooped up indoors and can only go to the supermarket and back with a self-written permission slip, this post is dedicated to you. You may be wondering what spring looks like out there,  well let me tell you it is magnificent!

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In between the flurry of zoom meetings and skype calls, I’ve been taking walks in the parks around my neighbourhood.  On Friday, the sky was overcast and it was cold and windy, but I went deep into the Amsterdamse Bos and walked for a couple of hours in no particular direction, letting myself be guided simply by interesting-looking branches with budding leaves.

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From afar there was not much to see, but when taking a closer look, the textures and colours were amazing.  Soon the trees will be green again, and I am so glad to have the possibility to witness the transition of the seasons and observe these wonderful details.

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How quickly we adapt

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #171

In trying times, it becomes even more obvious how much there is to be grateful for.  Here are some thoughts on my seventh day of social distancing.  I am so thankful for the fact that I am safe and healthy, and so is my family.  Also, I can work from home quite easily and I am lucky that I don’t have to juggle work and taking care of children like many people do.

I’m impressed by how fast we can adapt to a new reality, however unexpected.  The initial ‘hamstering’ of pasta and toilet paper now seems to have slowed down.  Seeing so many neighbours come to their windows at 8pm, to clap for the medical staff and others performing vital jobs, is heartwarming.  When I watch series, I catch myself feeling surprised when I see characters shaking hands or hugging each other, because I am so aware of the need for physical distance.

This week has been a remarkably social one. I’ve had increased digital contact with family and friends, near and far, from all over the world. I’ve connected with friends online to catch up over a glass of wine, I’ve seen pictures of my colleagues’ home-offices and pets (one has a bat who nests in his house!), as well as received and passed on an inordinate amount of memes.

So far, in Amsterdam we are not in lock-down, so I am also taking lots of walks while I can. I’m deeply grateful each time for the freedom to leave the flat and witness spring unfolding.  Those walks are definitely helping to keep me grounded and I’m sharing these photos for those who don’t have the possibility to go outside as they wish at the moment.

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