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.

Postal joy – greeting cards for charity

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #179

In these weeks of confinement, some of the highlights of my days have been opening my mailbox to find cute cards from a friend living on the other side of Amsterdam, a lovely envelope full of collage materials sent as a surprise, a small package containing a hand-made mask in gorgeous Japanese fabric with swallows on it as a symbol of hope… These gestures have delighted me and made me feel deeply cared for.

Is there someone who you’d like to send a card to in these days? For a cousin’s upcoming birthday for example, or to celebrate how well a friend is handling living alone in confinement, or just to drop someone far away a message that isn’t digital and surprise them when they open their mailbox?

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Here’s my suggestion: I’ll send one of my cards for you and I’ll donate the worth of the greeting cards to a local charity against domestic violence called Blijf Groep (read more about their approach here).

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How it works:

  • Choose the greeting card(s) you like best
  • Send me an email with the number of the card, the address of your loved one and your message
  • I’ll copy your message in my neatest handwriting and pop the card in the post!
  • The greeting cards (including a recycled paper envelope) are 3€ each and postage is 0,91€ for NL/1,50€ for International. If you’re in NL, I’ll send you a tikkie. If you are abroad, you can make a bank transfer or I trust you to donate that amount to a charity close to your heart locally ♥

Let me know if you have any questions and feel free to share with anyone who you think might like the idea! Really looking forward to it 🙂

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Creative energy

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #178

Yesterday I was discussing with a friend how difficult we find it to sit down and write lately.  I alternate between times of acceptance and others where I despair about wasting this  ‘ideal period’ where I supposedly have plenty of time to write.  Interestingly the result is the same whether I beat myself up about my lack of writing or not, so I’m trying to remember that and take the pressure off.

Thinking about it some more today, I realised that actually that creative energy is being channeled in a very different manner lately.  It’s most likely serving me as much as usual, but being used to find inventive ways of navigating these tricky COVID-19 times.

Like devising new routes around the neighbourhood for my daily walk, trying to anticipate where there may be less people to avoid and on the way picking wild flowers  to brighten up the house.

Like finding various ways to recharge, be it a 3 hour nap on the sofa or treating myself to a taiwanese pancake take-away so I don’t have to cook dinner after a long day.

Like keeping in touch in ways that don’t involve a computer or a phone, such as writing a short card to be sent by snail mail, uncertain of when it will land in the recipient’s mailbox.

Like attempting to imagine what life might look like on the other side of this pandemic and journaling to keep track learnings I want to be sure I remember, of new habits I’d like to keep, optimistic plans I’d like to focus on…

I’d love to know, what are you imagining for after confinement?

Half-up half-down

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #177

I am grateful for people who plant flowers in public places for all passers-by to enjoy.  Yesterday during my evening walk I came across scores of these purple and white flowers, billowing out from improvised pots in front of a corrugated iron warehouse.   They’ve been pummeled by the recent rain we’ve been having and are in different stages of withering which to me adds to their beauty.

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I was particularly drawn to the flower pictured below, which looks like an accurate illustration of how I feel in these days of confinement, half-up half-down. Both optimistic and overwhelmed, hopeful and afraid, full of good intentions and struggling to get started, aware of my privilege and self-centered, happy to simply get through the day and thinking I should be ‘doing more’, glad to connect with people and fatigued by video calls…  I’m doing my best to remember that all these contrasting feelings are allowed co-exist and making space for them by being kind to myself rather than judgemental.

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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.

Pancake breakfast

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #175

Though on the whole the life during the confinement is not so different to my normal life (I just have a better excuse to not go out…), this sheltering in place is not easy.  I’m 35 days in and it’s uncanny how this period feels both so long and so short.  How despite having the possibility to slow down, I still feel overwhelmed regularly.  I’ve been journaling a lot, trying to process it all, but am realising it only works to a certain extent. I often find myself lying awake at night, mind and body alert, from a cocktail of news, the latent anxiety of a simple trip to the supermarket and too many hours spent online.

My mind is a melting pot of feelings bubbling up.  I picture them like the Northern Lights, blending together into mesmerizing and ever-evolving shapes in the sky: anger at what we are doing to the planet, how we even got here, gratitude that so far me and the ones I love have not been impacted too hard, sadness for all the lives lost and how the less privileged are in fact much more at risk, joy at seeing humans remember their connection and creativity, grief because of recent changes, how life as we know it no longer exists, yearning for when I will be able to see my family without a screen between us, fear of what this crisis might lead to, hope at what might change for the better if we learn from this experience, loneliness of days of seeing next to no-one and wonder at the surreal beauty of spring blossoming all over Amsterdam regardless of the pandemic and on and on the thoughts swirl…

I know I need to stay with the feelings and they’ll eventually pass, but I find I’m struggling to with how much energy it takes.  So I’m practicing being kind to myself, reminding myself over and over again to take the pressure off, this is no normal time and it’s ok to feel overwhelmed. This morning after another night of not sleeping so well, I coaxed myself out of bed by deciding to make pancakes for breakfast.  I gobbled them up with the ingredients I had in the fridge: Parmesan, maple syrup and pear. It was just what I needed:)

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.

A few moments of focus

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #172

This week I met up on a video call with some friends with who I have the joy of practicing mindfulness from time to time. It was heart-warming to share our experiences and observations of this period of crisis.  I must say lately, although in a way I have more time, I feel scattered, my mind still rushing and busy.  Just doing some short meditations together and returning to my body through breathing felt like a gift.

Among the many things we discussed, one person shared a great suggestion, which was to wash our dishes as if we were bathing a baby buddha.  I love this vivid image and how it instinctively reframes my approach to such a mundane task.  I’ve been trying to keep this in mind as I wash my dishes several times a day. Paying attention to get the water to just the right temperature, noticing how the foam feels on my fingers, handling my bowls and dishes more gently…  I’m glad for those few moments of focus, when I am fully in the here and now.

How quickly we adapt

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #171

In trying times, it becomes even more obvious how much there is to be grateful for.  Here are some thoughts on my seventh day of social distancing.  I am so thankful for the fact that I am safe and healthy, and so is my family.  Also, I can work from home quite easily and I am lucky that I don’t have to juggle work and taking care of children like many people do.

I’m impressed by how fast we can adapt to a new reality, however unexpected.  The initial ‘hamstering’ of pasta and toilet paper now seems to have slowed down.  Seeing so many neighbours come to their windows at 8pm, to clap for the medical staff and others performing vital jobs, is heartwarming.  When I watch series, I catch myself feeling surprised when I see characters shaking hands or hugging each other, because I am so aware of the need for physical distance.

This week has been a remarkably social one. I’ve had increased digital contact with family and friends, near and far, from all over the world. I’ve connected with friends online to catch up over a glass of wine, I’ve seen pictures of my colleagues’ home-offices and pets (one has a bat who nests in his house!), as well as received and passed on an inordinate amount of memes.

So far, in Amsterdam we are not in lock-down, so I am also taking lots of walks while I can. I’m deeply grateful each time for the freedom to leave the flat and witness spring unfolding.  Those walks are definitely helping to keep me grounded and I’m sharing these photos for those who don’t have the possibility to go outside as they wish at the moment.

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