Bumble-bee bush

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I’ve been spending more time than ever in my home lately, what with working from home and social distancing, and though I’ve been tidying and decluttering, that does nothing to help when my thoughts are whirling around my mind like a washing machine.  The best cure for that, I’ve learnt throughout the years, is taking a walk around the neighbourhood.

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So between two rain-showers, I pulled on my shoes and strolled along, lost in thought, until I passed a beautiful yellow bush, that was buzzing. On closer look, I found that it was full of pollinators: flies, bees and especially many many bumble-bees.  I was amazed by the diversity of the bumble-bees: they varied in size, had different combinations of yellow, white and black stripes and even distinct ‘hair-styles’.  But they all went about their collection of nectar like bunch of hungry teenagers tearing into an all-you-can-eat buffet!

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I was thrilled to watch the bumble-bees buzzing around and to see such diversity. It was great to be reminded that even in such a small space between the wall and the side-walk, this modest garden is bountiful for so many pollinators and supports real bio-diversity.

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By the way, if anyone knows the name of this plant with yellow flowers, please let me know in the comments:)

A list of small pleasures

For today’s post I am thrilled to have collaborated with the illustrator Eva Polakovicova (Eva Pola Illustration & Design). She created these lovely illustrations to accompany my words, working by hand  combining her stencil technique and colour inks.  She did a wonderful job of capturing the joy of these small pleasures, and I am in love with this gorgeous colour palette♥

You can find out more about Eva’s inspiration and this technique in the interview we did back in January.

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #182

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Watching little groups of sparrows come to drink water on my balcony

The sound and smell of white wine evaporating from risotto rice

Lying down at the end of the day and relaxing into my pillow, knowing there is still time to read a good book

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Opening the mailbox and finding a postcard or an envelope from someone I hold dear

Having no plans and letting myself fall asleep in the sofa in the afternoon without setting an alarm

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Cooking with radish leaves and carrot tops and feeling like there is twice as much food and no waste

The smell of rain on the garden after a long dry spell

The lovely feeling of fatigue after several hours of walking or cycling in nature

Harvesting, planting, weeding

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Yesterday I had the pleasure of spending a day volunteering on the farm where I get my veggies from, in the West of Amsterdam.  It was a beautiful day with a fresh breeze which made it perfect to be working outside, though I was glad I had my sunscreen and hat to protect me as the sun was really beating down.  I enjoyed harvesting some greens, forking the soil, placing the tarp along the row, planting some pumpkin plants at a regular distance, watering them…

I dedicated the end of the afternoon to clearing weeds from a long bed.  It was the perfect exercise in mindfulness, I was focused on the task at hand, careful to extract as much of the deep roots as possible to avoid the weeds growing back, with the satisfaction of the pile of weeds in my crate getting bigger and the row looking more and more clear of weeds. We finished off the task together with one of the girls who works there, chatting as the sun made its way towards the west and became less harsh.

I’m very grateful for the opportunity to experience working there and learning more about how the CSA is run.  The farmers were really kind, patiently explained and showed what needed to be done and answered my many questions. It was physical work and I came home very tired, but in a good way, with the joy of having spent hours with a calm mind and hands in the soil, admiring earthworms, healthy soil and thriving vegetables.  Spending time with passionate people and hearing about their experiences, is wonderful because it opens up a world of new ideas and possibilities.

Abundance

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #181

The Artist’s Way is a book I dive into regularly because of Julia Cameron’s deep wisdom (and humour!).  Recently I pulled it off the shelf and opened it at a random chapter as I often do, knowing it would provide me just the nugget of guidance I need. This time I landed on the chapter about ABUNDANCE, which made me laugh because I’ve also been pulling that word lately from my tiny pack of Angel cards… Clearly this is something for me to focus on at the moment;)

Interestingly some of the exercises from the chapter are about getting rid of things around the house.  I always need to get over that little voice in my head that whispers that I may need it later, the one that is scared I won’t have ENOUGH. It seems counter-intuitive at first to give away things to feel abundance. But there’s a reason why I’m not wearing the t-shirt or why my heart is telling me it’s fine to let go of some object I have lying around for years that I didn’t even choose myself.

Seeing the happy look on the face of someone who comes over to pick-up a second-hand purchase is always a pleasure. I can tell they will appreciate the object so much more than I do and it avoids one new item being put out into the world.  Also, after depositing several back-pack loads of books at the little free library, my bookshelves are lighter and more ‘me’.

Parting with all these objects has highlighted that I have more than enough, and as an added bonus, this clearing has created space for a few new things, chosen with care. This week I treated myself to new washi tapes, finally replenishing my collection which had dwindled to with quasi-finished rolls and dark colours.   I splashed out on the good quality ones with beautiful patterns and bright colours like neon pink, enough to decorate my journal and my snail mail for a long time ahead and I felt like I was spoiling myself in the best of ways:)

Cooking with nettles

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Anyone who has spoken to me lately will know I am completely obsessed with my new weekly veggie box.  The contents are all fresh and seasonal, grown just 10km away from my house, in the west of Amsterdam (on the polder I spoke about in my last post) before being brought to the center by electric bike.

The contents of the box vary every week and it’s been bringing lots of joy into my life lately, especially in these COVID-19 times. Having lots of fresh greens as well as carrots, radishes and spring onions ready for use, is perfect for whipping up a quick salad between two zoom meetings while I work from home. I also like the fact that most of the veggies I wouldn’t normally buy (or even find) in the supermarket. I’ve been enjoying getting out of my routine and experimenting with lots of new recipes.

Stinging nettles are my nemesis in the wild (somehow I am always brushing a little too close when I take photos of other plants), but I’ve been enjoying preparing dishes with them in the kitchen.  I particularly like how mindful I need to be when cleaning the leaves. It’s possible to use gloves or a plastic bag around your hands, but I’ve found that simply using a fork to handle the nettles works fine, as long as I am concentrated. I enjoy carefully cutting the leaves from the stem and hearing the dry sound the leaves make as I drop them in the colander (it’s hard to describe, the leaves are not soft like spinach or salad, it sounds more like paper rubbing together…)

So far, I’ve made delicious linguine with nettles and sun-dried tomatoes, a nettle risotto, and otherwise just added remaining nettle leaves to my stir-fry.  If you have other nettle recommendations, I’d love to hear them:)

Cycling around Nieuw-West

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #180

In the nearly 14 years I’ve been living in Amsterdam, I’ve never seen such a long stretch of warm and sunny weather.  Yesterday, as it was a public holiday, the city was bursting with people which meant maintaining a safe distance was a challenge, so it was the perfect opportunity for a mini-adventure around the polder in Nieuw-West. It was a relief to escape to escape the crowds and take refuge in a much quieter area.

I love the feeling of freedom when pedaling without haste, being self-propelled with the light breeze and the warm sun on my skin. It felt so good to get away from the constructed part of the city and closer to nature.  We heard frogs croaking loudly among the reeds, passed large flocks of grey geese lounging in the grass by the canals and even saw a tiny baby Shetland pony.

We had a destination in mind, the beautiful Amsterdam Bee Park, but finding it out of bounds (for COVID-19 reasons) didn’t deter us from exploring the area.  Instead, we strolled along the wooden pathways of the poetically named Fluisterbos (Whisper Woods), which turned out not to be as calm as its name might indicate.  Then we found a quiet stretch of grass that we had practically to ourselves, where we could chill in shade and play Frisbee undisturbed:) A restorative bubble of calm before returning to the bustling city.

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Since we have more opportunities to explore close by due to the COVID situation, I really recommend to visit this area if you are looking for a day trip by bike from Amsterdam, there’s loads to do! See more info here, and for more of my own adventures: Fruit picking in Fruittuin van West, Local fresh fruit and Amsterdam Bee Park.

Impressions from the Amsterdamse Bos

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Last Friday, I went for a long walk in the Amsterdamse Bos  to enjoy the lovely afternoon sunshine and magic hour.  I ambled without destination or time-pressure, taking time to breathe and looking closely at the plants along the way.  Spring has done wonders since I took photos there on a cold windy day back in the early days of confinement in March.

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The wild flowers and purple grasses are popping up everywhere, brightening the path with their delicate shapes and burst of colours. I took a break to write my ‘Late-Afternoon Pages’ on a bench by the water, accompanied by the clamorous song of countless birds perched in the trees all around.

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There were plenty of new leaves showing off beautiful patterns and colour combinations. It felt so relaxing to wander without haste for several hours, enjoying the softening of the light, until my stomach started to rumble and I decided to make my way home, the sun low in the sky.

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Greeting card action for charity is still on-going – find all the details here and don’t hesitate to reach out:)

 

 

 

Postal joy – greeting cards for charity

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #179

In these weeks of confinement, some of the highlights of my days have been opening my mailbox to find cute cards from a friend living on the other side of Amsterdam, a lovely envelope full of collage materials sent as a surprise, a small package containing a hand-made mask in gorgeous Japanese fabric with swallows on it as a symbol of hope… These gestures have delighted me and made me feel deeply cared for.

Is there someone who you’d like to send a card to in these days? For a cousin’s upcoming birthday for example, or to celebrate how well a friend is handling living alone in confinement, or just to drop someone far away a message that isn’t digital and surprise them when they open their mailbox?

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Here’s my suggestion: I’ll send one of my cards for you and I’ll donate the worth of the greeting cards to a local charity against domestic violence called Blijf Groep (read more about their approach here).

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How it works:

  • Choose the greeting card(s) you like best
  • Send me an email with the number of the card, the address of your loved one and your message
  • I’ll copy your message in my neatest handwriting and pop the card in the post!
  • The greeting cards (including a recycled paper envelope) are 3€ each and postage is 0,91€ for NL/1,50€ for International. If you’re in NL, I’ll send you a tikkie. If you are abroad, you can make a bank transfer or I trust you to donate that amount to a charity close to your heart locally ♥

Let me know if you have any questions and feel free to share with anyone who you think might like the idea! Really looking forward to it 🙂

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Camino cravings

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Recently I picked up a copy of the book Wild by Cheryl Strayed in my local little free library and started re-reading the story of her epic hike along the Pacific Crest Trail.  I thought these adventures would be exactly what I needed to get my mind off confinement, but instead I find myself getting increasingly itchy feet.  As I sat down to write this, I realised that four years ago at this exact time of year I was hiking along the Camino del Norte.  No wonder I’m doubly craving that incredible feeling of freedom.

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I find myself fantasising about getting up at the break of dawn to pull on the same clothes as the day before, with no other plan than to put one foot in front of the other and follow the yellow arrows, open to whatever the day will bring.

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The Camino is nowhere near as difficult or wild as the Pacific Crest Trail, but I recognise that feeling of intense relief when putting down your backpack that Cheryl mentions and those descriptions of gobbling down all the food you can get because you are so hungry after a day of hiking.  I will never forget how every apple tasted delicious, every tortilla sandwich was utter heaven:)

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I loved being alone with my thoughts for hours, hearing just my feet crunching on the path and seeing the landscape evolving with every new kilometer covered. The quiet of the moments of solitude overlooking beautiful landscapes were incredible, as well as the fun times shared with other pilgrims of all walks of life met along the way.  I think I may need to plan another long hike when it’s possible to travel safely again.

Creative energy

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #178

Yesterday I was discussing with a friend how difficult we find it to sit down and write lately.  I alternate between times of acceptance and others where I despair about wasting this  ‘ideal period’ where I supposedly have plenty of time to write.  Interestingly the result is the same whether I beat myself up about my lack of writing or not, so I’m trying to remember that and take the pressure off.

Thinking about it some more today, I realised that actually that creative energy is being channeled in a very different manner lately.  It’s most likely serving me as much as usual, but being used to find inventive ways of navigating these tricky COVID-19 times.

Like devising new routes around the neighbourhood for my daily walk, trying to anticipate where there may be less people to avoid and on the way picking wild flowers  to brighten up the house.

Like finding various ways to recharge, be it a 3 hour nap on the sofa or treating myself to a taiwanese pancake take-away so I don’t have to cook dinner after a long day.

Like keeping in touch in ways that don’t involve a computer or a phone, such as writing a short card to be sent by snail mail, uncertain of when it will land in the recipient’s mailbox.

Like attempting to imagine what life might look like on the other side of this pandemic and journaling to keep track learnings I want to be sure I remember, of new habits I’d like to keep, optimistic plans I’d like to focus on…

I’d love to know, what are you imagining for after confinement?