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.

An oasis of peace in Amsterdam

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Cosy times

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #102

Last weekend we spent a lovely, slow-paced weekend with my Mum and her partner who were on a visit to Amsterdam.  I must admit, for many years I wondered why my Mum would systematically come to visit at the end of October, when the wind is icy, the rain always ready to tumble from grey clouds and the days are getting shorter.  But I think I’ve finally understood:)

It’s because with this weather no excuse whatsoever is needed to walk just 200 meters before feeling justified about going into the next cafe and indulging in some delicious cake, and staying cosily indoors while we catch up with each other and discuss possible travel plans for next year.  Also, spending two afternoons in the dark of the cinema, being transported to other worlds through movies, is a totally acceptable pastime and way to keep warm.  It offered the perfect occasion to discover a talented young pianist in the small room of the Concertgebouw and be moved by her stories and music, shielded from the cold outside.  So grateful for these fun moments spent together!

Healing walks in the Amsterdamse Bos

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #99

The Indian summer we are enjoying in Amsterdam at the moment is amazing.  I’ve been taking long healing walks through the Amsterdamse Bos, just listening to the breeze rustling through the leaves of the majestic trees which are turning all shades of orange and yellow, quietly observing the ducks, moorhens, herons and other birds go about their business undisturbed on the water, journalling as the sun warms my skin.  I am so grateful to have what feels like an unexpected extra shot of summer to charge up on fresh air and invigorating sunshine.

More theater

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #96

Lately with Paolo we’ve started going to the theater quite regularly. It turns out that at the moment this is a good way to spend the evening, without using up too much energy since seeing a play is less draining to me than having a drink in a loud bar or going to a concert.  Also, the story lines tend to unravel more slowly than in most movies, meaning there is more time for me to process the plot and emotions.

There is real inspiration in seeing people doing what they love and being vulnerable and creative on-stage.  I also enjoy the discussions Paolo and I have afterwards, about our favorite characters and new thoughts triggered by the play.  I look forward to what new shows we will discover together.