Evening mist

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #134

Yesterday as I was cycling leisurely home from my boxing class just before 10pm, it was still daylight and the Vondelpark was bathed in the soft light of the magic hour… and an incredible mist started rising mysteriously over the wide open grass spaces and the water of the lakes.  It was a breathtaking sight. So grateful to have been there to witness it:)

Working through different drafts

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Last Friday, another of my texts from a writing exercise was featured on the Facebook page of the International Writer’s Collective.  You can read it on this link if you are curious and let me know what you think:)  I’m really grateful that it was featured and to see people’s reactions, as had a lot of fun writing this piece. After reading a quite rambling first draft out loud to Paolo, he gave me pointed feedback to improve it which I incorporated to a certain extent (yes, I know, I could have put more dialogue!).

Hearing the feedback from my class mates about the second version was really great because they understood what I was going for and put it very beautifully in words, as well as pointing out more improvement suggestions. It’s a beautiful reminder of how I don’t write alone, even if I am by myself at the keyboard. People’s reactions and comments really help to see if I’m on the right track and get new ideas, as well as be encouraged to continue.  Several people have also asked what happens next or made suggestions on what they think will happen… so I need to take some time to move it forward some time soon;)

Jotting down tiny scenes

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #128

In the spirit of trying to channel inspiration for my writing, I have been making a conscious effort to be more observant of what goes on around me.  I am easily overwhelmed when there are too many stimuli and living in a busy city means that there are constantly a million things vying for my attention, as well as the need to be careful of traffic, so most of the time I feel like I am blocking out a lot of my surroundings.

However, I do find opportunities to practice noticing things, like sitting in cafés and people-watching, going for walks in my neighbourhood which is rather quiet or just staring out of the window of the tram. Lately I’ve started jotting down what I see. Nothing fancy, just the date and a few words to remember the details of the scene which can maybe serve as inspiration for my next poem or story.

Here are some recent examples that caught my attention:

  • a little boy on a bike wearing a t-shirt, blue shorts and a ski mask, pedalling wildly on the sidewalk
  • a gaggle of geese patiently crossing a busy street, head held high and unphased as cars stop to let them pass, and people on the terrasses of cafes watching the spectacle in amusement
  • delightful blossoms fallen off a tree onto the pavement, forming a pink carpet in different stages of decomposition

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Has any particular scene caught your eye lately? I’d love to hear about it!

Medicinal herb garden

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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:)

Cactus beauty

Botanic gardens and greenhouses are my happy place.  I can easily entertain myself for several hours, slowly making my way along the pathways, mesmerised by the hundreds of different species and their unique details. A couple of weeks ago, I spent the end of the afternoon quietly observing the cacti in warmth of the desert greenhouse at the Amsterdam Hortus. Here are some of the details which I liked the most.

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This cactus looks to me like a sea-urchin, stripped naked of its spikes, revealing a pattern reminiscent of a scottish tartan.

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These flowers are a delight, the bright colours of their petals popping out against the parched surroundings.

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Look at these incredible spikes, lined up all along this plant, it seems like each tip has been handpainted in reddish brown.

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The symmetry of the Fibonacci sequence spiralling outwards from the heart of this cactus, growing drier and spikier as it goes…

Spring in the Amsterdam Hortus

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Spring time in the Hortus Botanicus in Amsterdam is enchanting! The garden is coming back to life with buds and blossoms everywhere you turn, from the sprawling beds on the ground to the trees, peering out from in between rocks and on flush bushes.

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I love how the changes with the seasons means every visit is really different. This time we took a tour, led by a guide who shared her knowledge and fun facts about different plants around the garden.

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But my favorite part was afterwards, walking along the winding paths with my camera, unrushed, spotting colours and textures of the new bursts of life, emerging under the sunshine, reaching towards the light.

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When, despite the sunshine, it got a bit chilly, I went to my favorite spot in the greenhouse to warm up and admire the captivating cacti… but I’ll write more about that soon;)

Signs of Spring

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Walking along the sunny canals

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #118

Despite the underlying worry regarding climate change, I’ve been enjoying these precocious Spring-like days that we have had recently.  I found myself naturally drawn to walk part of the way home after work, strolling through Amsterdam’s city center, crossing bridges to be sure I was on the side of the canal which the sun shines down.  As I go, I like looking at the details of the steps leading up to the fancy houses, peering into the basement offices and shop windows, watching cyclists just avoid tourists stepping unexpectedly onto the bike path to take pictures…

As I move my body after a morning of mostly sitting at the computer, I also start to process what happened during the day on the way.  I think of the conversations I had, information received and try to make sense of how I feel about all this busyness and complexity.   When I process my thoughts during the day as I take one step after another, I realise I tend to sleep better too.  Usually I catch the tram for the last stretch of the way home, and by then I already feel more in touch with my mind and can let go of the work things. The power of walking is incredible:)

Inspiring compost initiative in Amsterdam

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #108

I’m am grateful when I discover other people who are as obsessed with worms and composting as I am!  Last Friday I got to attend a great presentation, given by Peter Jan Brouwer, the founder of Stichting Buurtcompost, an organisation which is tackling this issue of food scraps/natural waste, from the ground up with the collaboration of the city of Amsterdam.

The city has committed to recycling 65% of its total waste by 2020. Though that deadline is just around the corner, we are still far from that target.  However, tackling fresh food waste could be a huge step towards reaching that goal.

So far Stichting Buurtcompost has worked extremely hard to set up 30 worm hotels , futuristic looking towers into which 5 families can dump their food scraps for worms to process, creating quality compost for them over time. The plan is to install another 50 worm hotels in 2019 all around the city.  Locals are super enthusiastic and there are already long waiting lists to be the next ‘worm-hoteliers’!

Furthermore, Stichting Buurtcompost has tested the option of an underground container to collect foodscraps from up to 150 families (identical to the containers in Amsterdam where you recycle your glass or paper)

The grass-roots initiative of this organisation are so inspiring, and the energy and passion of the presenter were contagious:)  It’s super impressive to see how a decentralised solution, created to solve one specific problem, actually leads to many other local benefits:

  • Social connection: the worm hotels create a sense of community as people tending to a worm-hotel together get to know their neighbours better (some locals even organise ‘harvesting celebrations’ when the time comes to collect the rich compost)
  • Better quality soil in the city: quality compost for local people’s gardens and balconies (they had the worm compost tested for pesticides and other contaminants, and it’s totally clean!)
  • Less transport : with the underground container, the food waste of 150 families can be accumulated and processed by the worms for 1 whole year without needing to be collected by a truck
  • Circularity: the worm hotel is made of pressed grass that was mowed close to the highway and is therefore not fit for consumption by animals (and it means the worm hotel is biodegradable in the long run)

Imagine if you could easily recycle every veggie peel and shriveled-up salad leaf just around the corner and the result could be used to feed the soil close…  In Amsterdam, today food scraps are not collected, and my lovely worm bin on the balcony is not quite big enough to process all our fruit and veggie peels (especially in the winter months). So my dream is that very soon every street corner has a worm hotel or underground container for food scraps, so we can use these precious resources to boost our plants, balconies and gardens instead of wasting them!

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There is plenty more info on their website should you be inclined to find out more:) http://buurtcompost.nl/

Last traces of Autumn

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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.