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:)

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.

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:)

 

 

 

Weeding in the vineyard

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #176

The days are blending into each other. It’s day 41 of confinement for me. Every morning when I sit down to write my Morning Pages I note down how many days its been, otherwise I would have no clue, time seems very elastic.  41 days is actually not much in the grand scheme of things but I had a bit of a melt-down last week, a combination of hormones, stress, sadness and probably remaining too isolated.

So I am super grateful to my friend Nina for inviting me this week to visit the grape vines that she and her husband rent in Amsterdam Noord, part of a communal project bearing the lovely name No Chateau.  We went on a Wednesday afternoon so there were very few people around and we had the vineyard to ourselves.  Keeping the security distance, we chatted as they pruned and tied the first vine branches to the wires and I had the pleasure of weeding. I knew very little about wine-making, so it was interesting to see the first stages of growth of a vine and hear about the process of growing grapes and making wine.

Being outdoors in the warm sunshine was such a welcome break from day-to-day confinement. I felt so grounded as I was digging away and hands in the soil, pulling out weeds is a flow activity for me with little space for thinking about much else.  I felt like I was connecting to my body again. I came across some worms, smelled the manure of the nearby veggie plots, dug up some purple flowers to plant on my balcony…  As I cycled home I felt completely relaxed and that night I fell into a deep, restorative sleep.  Another reminder of Nature’s healing power.

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.

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.

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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A quiet walk in the forest

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After spending too much time reading the news on Saturday, I decided to go for a walk to get some fresh air, as it is unclear how long we will still be free to do so.  I took my camera along and did what is best when my mind gets overworked, which is to enjoy forest bathing and focus on details.

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So far in Amsterdam we are still allowed walk outdoors freely, as long as we keep our distances from others.  There was a cold wind blowing, but the sky was bright blue with wispy clouds floating by. Spring is progressing undeterred by what is going on for us humans.

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It felt really good to be among trees that are coming back to life after winter, with tender leaves budding and catkins of all sorts. I liked how the sun shone through the leaf above, creating a tiny scene with the shadows.  As I was walking quietly, a male pheasant crossed the path and disappeared into the undergrowth, leaving me just enough time to admire its bright colours.

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I was also captivated by this surreal-looking fungus which looks like very delicate skin. A quick google search leads me to think it might be a Wood Ear Mushroom – but I’m not sure and would love to know more about it if there are any experts reading this:)