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.
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!
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.
By the way, if anyone knows the name of this plant with yellow flowers, please let me know in the comments:)
Here’s to the new habits that shape my days in this COVID-19 reality. It fascinates me how quickly we adapt and I welcome these fresh habits which definitely help to keep a semblance of balance in these tricky times.
- Sitting in the sun for lunch with my tupperware of warmed-up left-overs, and then treating myself to delicious cappucino with oatmilk to help support local cafés like Slowth Brunch or Coffee District
- The weekly Sunday evening zoom call with my family, where we choose a recipe and all prepare it separately, then catch up on how the past week went as we eat ‘together’. Recommendations for series abound, as well as jokes and play on words!
- My 30 minute bike-ride home from work has been replaced with simply shutting down my computer and heading out the door to soak up the late afternoon sunshine. Walking along the canal, I have the pleasure of observing fluffy ducklings paddling with their parents, beaks searching efficiently for food on the water’s surface. I weave my way, careful to maintain 1,5 meters distance from people enjoying an after-work drink on the grass and to not disturb the geese who hiss at me necks raised when I get too close. The bluebells hidden among the birch trees are blooming spectacularly regardless of the pandemic.
- A friend of mine lent me a puzzle and I’ve been enjoying the analog pleasure of searching for matching colours and the satisfaction of fitting the right pieces together. It’s an activity that brings me back to calm summer afternoons spent in the cool basement of my grand-parents’ country house many years ago…
JOYFUL GRATITUDE #165
I’m grateful for the blue sky and winter sun, perfect weather for sitting peacefully by the water, without haste. A flock of white geese paddle by, as the sun warms my face. The willow branches sway in the wind. Two moorhens putter about by the shore, before diving into the water repeatedly and snacking with gusto on their catch. When a large boat passes by, the water brushes up on the rocks in small waves. It’s so grounding to be focused on these simple scenes that often escape my attention.
With Paolo we’ve been joking recently about how many random things I can get done when I am procrastinating from doing my writing assignments. I’ve been found baking spontaneous apple pies for instance, cleaning the bathroom or sorting out and tidying the attic (something that was on my to-do list for at least 6 months).
When I’m feeling blocked and just can’t seem to find the way to start writing, I try and remember that taking a walk, while it does not contribute to getting words on the page, is generally a good cure for break my mental resistance. In the worst of cases, I tell myself that even if I still don’t write afterwards, I’ll have at least stretched my legs and gotten some fresh air. In the best cases, I come back with a sliver of a new idea to work on.
Saturday afternoon was one of those days, so after sitting frustrated for a while and uselessly distracting myself by reading other people’s writing, I decided to go out and catch the last of the afternoon light. I set myself the challenge to attempt to capture the colour contrasts in that lovely low autumn light. So with my ISO set high, I looked around for bursts of colour to photograph while trying to hold my camera as still as I could.
When the light faded and the cold got to me, I headed home, clear-headed. I even saw a beautiful pink sunset that I would most likely have missed were I staring at my computer screen. My inner-critic probably also got a bit frozen, because it left me enough space to sit down and start typing when I got back.
JOYFUL GRATITUDE #153
Last Sunday I kept an entire day free of plans, so that I could recharge my batteries. I had some work to do on my writing assignment and plenty of other to-dos, but I decided to first take some time for myself.
I spent an hour meditating, sitting in silence and trying to focus only on my breathing (which in reality ended up being more like becoming aware of my incessant thoughts and letting them come and go). It felt like a reset for my overstimulated brain, a welcome break from constant inputs.
Afterwards, since the sun made a welcome appearance after some very rainy days, I took the chance to go for a slow walk in the neighbourhood. I did my best to stay as much as possible on the sunny side of the street to soak up lots of vitamine D and watched people enjoying the good weather as I ambled along.
The autumn colours were beautiful, with colourful leaves holding tight to their branches and covering the pavement. I also enjoyed observing the details of the last flowers remaining in people’s gardens, like this purple flower with its silky petals emerging from the strange black and green pod, and the petals around the remnants of this bordeaux-coloured flower.
I’ve been enjoying some time off to explore near and further afield in the Netherlands. Last week, I took a walk in the Amsterdamse Bos which is just a 10 minute bike ride away from my house. Initially, I was disappointed, having just returned from the Hoge Veluwe I was expecting lots of colourful mushrooms on the side of the path, but this was not the case.
As often happens with expectations, it was just a question of realising I was holding on too tightly to them and letting them go. I reminded myself this is a different ecosystem and I should stay curious and keep walking along patiently. In the end, the mushrooms turned out to be much more discrete. Either a multitude of teeny tiny ones on a dead stump, or huge ones that push up from the ground covered in leaves and therefore harder to spot.
I also tried to alternate looking very close up for details and staring out over the fields at the autumn colours and menacing clouds on the horizon. It always takes a while to get into the creative flow and start to ‘see’ patterns, textures, combinations…
My favorite find was this tiny little snail, perfectly camouflaged amongst the seed pods of this plant. Can you see it? Such a gorgeous colour combination!
JOYFUL GRATITUDE #127
Recently during a walk with two dear friends, we discovered there is a lovely garden with medicinal plants in the Beatrixpark in Amsterdam Zuid. I am so glad that after nearly 13 years of living in this city, I still keep stumbling upon hidden gems by chance. Surrounded by hedges, it is a peaceful space in the park and there are some benches to just sit and relax, a perfect spot to soak up the quiet atmosphere and listen to the birds.
There’s a wide array of plants and short explanations of what they can be used to heal. Featured above is lungwort (Pulmonaria officinalis), a plant traditionally used to treat lung problems and chest infections. It was said that the spots on the leaves looked like diseased lungs… to me it just looks like a beautiful pattern:)
Sunday as I cycled home from the bookclub, I noticed some bushes covered in what looked from a distance like small yellow tassles, against the blue sky. After picking up my camera at home, I took a short walk back through my neighbourhood until I reached the square, located between four roads, where spring is starting to show in the nurtured flower beds.
I took a closer look at those branches to find them covered in what looks like cheerleaders’ pompoms made with crepe paper, encouraging ravenous pollinators to come visit them.
Though the purple crocusses popping up through the grass are more striking, I love the colour combination on these ones, perfectly suited for a 70s kitchen.
On branches that were bare just a few days ago, tiny leaves are sprouting, deep lines etched into their surface like the grooves on your fingertips after lying for too long in the bath, and clusters of tiny yellow flowers spread their pistils like antennas searching for signals in the warm spring air.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.