It’s that time again, those winter days when I reflect on the past 12 months and carefully choose what word(s) will guide me for the year ahead. Words that I will keep in mind and can turn to when I need a little nudge in the right direction.
Some years the choice comes to me quickly. But as 2020 ended and 2021 came around I was still scribbling suggestions in my journal, turning words over in my mind as I walked or while in the shower, trying to find out what it was I really wanted to emphasise in 2021. In the end I selected the words EXPLORE WITH EASE.
What I am inviting in my life this year is having energy to explore new activities or topics with a sense of ease. Often when I try new things, the overachiever voice in my mind tends to insist loudly that whatever I decide to do must make absolute sense and be done as efficiently and perfectly as possible. This doesn’t leave me much wiggle room for experimenting or making mistakes. All this pressure can feel quite paralysing, turning anything new into a big deal and frankly putting me off trying at all if I cannot be assured that I will succeed with flying colours. That’s why I want to add EASE to the equation.
By doing so, I feel like I can let go of the worry of pushing myself too hard, berating myself if I ‘do it wrong’ and feeling drained. I will do my part to identify what I am curious to explore and I will look out for ways in which I can bring ease along for the ride. I already have a bunch of ideas to delve into: doing more freelance work, experimenting more with photography, reading books that are outside my comfort zone, improving my writing, finding a new part-time job, exploring new destinations by train and meeting like-minded people (when we can travel and gather safely again)… I trust that by being mindful, I can identify ways to lower the bar, allow the possibility of making mistakes and keep the process light and fun!
Have you chosen a word for 2021? I’d love to hear what it is and why!
In case you are curious, these are the words that I chose to guide me in the last years:
JOYFUL GRATITUDE #197
Recently I came across an event called A feminists’s guide to botany, and since those are two of my favourite topics, I was intrigued. At closer look it turned out to be an online botanical painting session, so I signed up as it sounded like a good opportunity to dust off my watercolours.
On the evening it was scheduled, as it got dark outside, I dug out my paint brushes, watercolours and thick paper, then covered my desk with some newspaper and settled down with a cup of tea.
The first half hour was an introduction about two women botanists of the 17th and 19th century, focussing on their art and how they evolved in the times when they lived. Forget boring art classes from high-school, this story-telling was captivating, nuanced and full of humour. I was so inspired by the tales of these bad-ass women who didn’t take no for an answer and went on to achieve ground-breaking work.
The second part of the session was dedicated to several short exercises with watercolour to loosen up, practise ‘really seeing’ our botanical samples and the negative space around them, playing with colours and learning some basic watercolour techniques. As the pace was quite fast, moving from one exercise to the next, there was no time for my inner-critic to come along and comment on my skills. Time flew by, I was in flow and really enjoyed experimenting with colours and techniques that were new to me.
It was a lovely way to spend the evening, the perfect Artist date, and I look forward to part 2:) The London Drawing group has a lot of different events coming up that you can join online, you can check the program here.
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:)
In our local organic supermarket, we can get most fruit and veggies in bulk and I do my best not to take any single-use bags (whether plastic or paper). Though this works fine with zucchini or leek, I often find myself struggling to get certain products to the scales. I do my best to carry potatoes, apples, onions, not to mention Brussels sprouts in my cupped hands, usually using the old envelope on the back of which my shopping list is scribbled, to increase my hauling surface. This often results in said products slipping away and needing to be chased down supermarket aisles and recovered inelegantly from under displays.
These days what with keeping 1,5 meter distance and wanting to spend as little time as possible at the supermarket, I decided to finally tackle a project I’d been thinking of for far to long. I got out some colourful fabric I’ve had lying around for years, and decided to a try making a very simple bag for bulk.
I let go of my perfectionist thoughts (I can only do it if I have a sewing machine, I need to make at least 8 bags of different sizes, they need to be perfectly symmetrical and so on…) and got into beginner’s mindset. After watching a couple of tutorials on Youtube, I decided on a very basic design and gave it a try. For my first attempt, I decided to keep it simple and just attach a little rope to the side to tie things up. For the next one, I plan to make a drawstring from some recycled ribbon…
Pretty quickly, I found myself in that place of flow: just me, my needle and thread, mindfully stitching away and the joy of working with fabric I really like. When looking closely, the stitches are not all the same size and there are bits of thread popping out here and there, but overall I’m happy with it. I wish I could have told my teenage self that one day I’d be in confinement and find myself grateful for the sewing skills I picked up when learning how to do patchwork;)
JOYFUL GRATITUDE #125
I am grateful for migraines. This may seem like a very strange thing to be grateful for considering the extreme pain they bring, leaving me writhing in my bed, eyes closed against the slightest ray of light, each sound magnified, my brain banging incessantly against my skull. You would probably never hear me saying this while I’m in the throes of an actual migraine, but now safely on the other side of a recent one, I can appreciate how migraines are teaching me to respect my limits. To accept what I cannot control. To reset my overachiever expectations of what I should be able to endure and instead practise (again and again) being kind to myself.
In the (not-so-distant) past, I used to resist the migraine, then wish for it to disappear as soon as possible so I could go straight back out into the world. Recently, I’ve decided that the strategy of walking shaky-legged, weak and raw right back into the day to day grind doesn’t work for me, and I believe this reflex has been exhausting me over time. So I’m experimenting with allowing myself a day to recover after the tsunami of the migraine, to rest at home with no obligations. It gives me time to simply rest, find my footing and my appetite again and gather my strength, so I can go back into the world with more appreciation and vitality.
I realise this is not a possibility for everyone, and that I am very privileged to be in a situation where I can take paid sick leave and take time to recover. However the reason this is a turning point for me is that for many years I believed that to-dos and other tasks had priority. I feared I may be letting people down by taking the proper time I need to get better. But it turns out that putting my self-care first hasn’t caused the world to stop turning in any way, and I hope this might inspire others to push themselves a little less hard when possible, in order to be more resilient in the long run.
Lovely colourful flags blowing in the wind in Blijburg, where I went with my photography class on Saturday for a photo shoot on the beach. We were really lucky with the weather, as the overcast sky with just a bit of sunshine peeking through from time to time was perfect for taking pictures.
We had great fun creating scenes inspired from our moodboards, with two models and a random collection of props, as passers-by looked at us with curiosity. It’s quite amazing how many creative ideas a bunch of people can come up with using a pineapple, a guitar, a shovel and a red-velvet cake on the beach… I laughed a lot:)
I particularly enjoyed exploring the story-telling aspect of photography and plan to use that more as a source of inspiration. Also I definitely want to do more portrait photography. It’s a good way for me to get out of my comfort zone, as it is much more challenging than my usual subjects like plants or landscapes.