Silver lining of lockdown

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #206

What a year 2020 has been! The plant on this photo is a good metaphor for 2020. I can view it either as an unseemly plant with evil spikes, or, if I look from another angle, a bunch of tiny stars reaching out towards one another 🙂

Over the holidays, the community of the Guilty Feminist (one of my favourite podcasts) is sharing personal silver linings from lockdown (check out some of the short videos here). The aim being to focus on gratitude and create a wave of support for displaced people all around the world who are living in refugee camps, via the organisation Choose Love.

Having more time to volunteering at a farm on the outskirts of Amsterdam and learning about local regenerative food production was my silver lining in lockdown. I’m so grateful to have gotten to spend those Sundays hands deep in the soil digging up Jerusalem artichokes, planting pumpkins, turning over the compost heap, harvesting parsnips, planting trees… It was particularly great because in a time of reduced social interactions, it allowed me to meet fun people and, while safely keeping our distance, have lots of inspiring conversations and good laughs.

If you’d like to hear more about it, check this episode where Josie Naughton the co-founder explains the amazing work that Choose Love does. Because in winter I often have cold feet and wear two or more thick pairs of socks at once, I purchased some warm winter clothes and shoes from the Choose Love website. Items start at just ÂŁ5 or if you prefer to act more locally, donate an organisation supporting refugees near you. All these small actions add up to make a difference 🙂

A taste of that holiday feeling

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #206

Lately I’ve been trying to see things in grey scales – and no, I’m not referring to 50 shades of Grey;-), I mean less thinking in black and white or in extremes. For example, I’ve been craving a far-away holiday to ‘get away from it all’, but obviously that is not really ideal right now. Instead of thinking, ‘Argh, I can’t go on holiday’ and closing off that thought, frustrated, I tried to see if I could find an in-between way. I reflected on what it is about that holiday feeling that helps me feel so good, to see if there was any other way to tap into that without travelling anywhere.

I came to the conclusion that it was not so much about where I went, but that it was more of a mindset. When I’m travelling I tend to be disconnected from the internet and screens, more in the moment and attuned to everything new and exciting around me and to spend time outdoors without rushing, being productive or feeling like I should be tackling things from my to-do list. So a couple of weeks ago I planned an Artist Date that I hoped would give me that feeling, time scheduled just for myself to do whatever I want with no plans.

I slept in and upon waking made sure to stay offline and leave my phone in the other room. I made myself crĂŞpes for breakfast, sprinkling them with sugar and lemon juice like when I was a kid, and ate them while looking out over the gardens and watching the birds.

Then, belly full, I went for a long walk in the sun along the Oeverlanden, close to where I live. Just as I would have done if I was on holidays, I switched off and refused to entertain any thoughts about laundry that needed doing or applications that needed sending. I slowed down and fully enjoyed traipsing along, listening to the sound of the water lapping at the bank, exchanging a few words with a fisherman who had just caught a gigantic carp, and generally let my thoughts wander to the rhythm of my feet.

When I arrived home, pink-cheeked from the ice-cold wind and ravenous, I dug up a home-made curry from the depth of my freezer, all I had to do was heat it up and I could tuck in, practically like going to a restaurant. Then I flopped onto the sofa to read cosily under a blanket for a while. By the time I reconnected with the world later that day, I felt fresh, recharged and rested. Turns out it was as easy as that.

Over a thousand trees planted

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #205

One morning last week, I was disturbed by the sound of a chainsaw coming from one of the gardens that my balcony overlooks. I went to check what was going on and to my horror, found that a tall conifer was being sawn into pieces. The combination of the sound of the chainsaw as well as the thud of branches and logs crashing to the ground below made me very anxious and sad. In about 20 minutes it was over. Silence returned and all that remained of the tree was some scattered sawdust.

But this is not a sad tale about neighbours preferring a little more sunlight over a living tree. Coincidentally a few days later, I went to help at my local CSA where over the course of two days volunteers would help plant over 1000 trees that will grow into a thick hedge around the crops to protect them from the wind. It felt like a chance to set things right.

It’s impressive what a small group of people can achieve with team work, motivation and the right guidance. It was a cold Sunday morning, barely a few degrees above zero, but I had piled on lots of warm layers and working with our spade warmed us up immediately. We made precise trenches, digging out the compact clay. Then placed the trees twenty centimetres apart. We broke the clay soil into smaller chunks and after mixing it with rich compost distributed it around the roots. Finally we watered the trees and added a layer of mulch (steaming autumn leaves salvaged from a nearby golf-course) around their base.

There was a wonderful atmosphere, chatting about all sorts of things as we worked, and the sun even came out over the beds at the end of the afternoon. The trees may look a little underwhelming right now, but I am really grateful to have participated and cannot wait to see how the trees wake up in spring, growing together to protect the crops and create more bio-diversity.

We rounded the day off with some delicious glĂĽhwein whilst warming our cold fingers by the fire. Cycling on the way home, I was rewarded with a beautiful moody sky over the water.

*****

Planting trees is a very effective way to combat climate change and it’s easy to contribute even if you don’t have a garden. Search for initiatives in your area to participate in person or donate to. If you are in Amsterdam, for example you can consider supporting this local food forest which is crowdfunding at the moment. Another easy thing to do is using Ecosia as your default search engine, so each time you satisfy your curiosity you’ll also contribute to planting trees. Feel free to add other initiatives you know of in the comments too!

Happily mixing soil and compost (photo taken by Lisa who works at the CSA)

Autumn in the Botanical garden

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #204

Botanical gardens are a wonderful outdoor place to retreat to in these COVID times and because the plants evolve so much over a short period of time you can return regularly and feel like you are discovering a new place. No matter how often I go to the Botanical garden in Amsterdam Zuid, every visit is different and new details pop out every time.

On that cold morning, I first went to the French consulate to apply for my passport renewal. The process these days involves two temperature checks by the security guard, waiting room with face masks, handing over my paperwork to the clerk on the other side of the plexiglass added to her desk and a whole lot of hand-sanitiser gel… I’m very glad that they are taking careful precautions, but couldn’t get out of the stuffy office and into fresh air fast enough. Luckily, the Botanic garden is just a few minutes bike ride away:)

Apart from the people working in the garden, I was the only visitor, so I could really take my time strolling through the alleys, unworried about people getting too close, and slowly marvel at the variety of plants. The highlight that morning was the fall colours. Reds, pinks, yellows and oranges catching my eye all around me, the last ones hanging on the branches, on the ground, or landing among beds of other plants forming new creations…

As I start taking pictures, my breathing always deepens and I enter into a lovely state of flow. I am unaware of time passing as I crouch down to look at the ground at what treasures I might find and drop my knees into the soggy soil to closely look at the lines and textures on the plants.

*****

I’ll share more pictures from the Botanical garden soon. In the meantime for pictures of my previous visits click here. If you are in Amsterdam, I highly recommend a visit, you can find all the details and adjusted opening hours on their website.

Rainy afternoon baking

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #203

On a grey afternoon, when it’s cold and raining on and off, when the sky is so dark I’m tempted to turn on the lights in the middle of the day, I feel like some comfort food. So I light a beeswax candle and make my second at baking the amazing Swedish chocolate cake, with the very poetic name Kladdkaka, in search of the perfect gooey-fudgy core.

I’m grateful for quiet moments of concentration as I measure out the ingredients, add the cocoa powder to the bowl and marvel as it gradually changes the mix to a rich brown colour, watch the butter melt beautifully in the bottom of a small pan before adding it to the dark cocoa until the mixture all slick, then buttering the tin and shaking it like I am panning gold then tapping its edges lightly to coat a thin layer of cocoa powder on its surface and sides, before carefully scraping as much of the mixture as possible into the tin (while leaving just enough for a reasonable licking of the bowl!).

I then watch the oven like a hawk, keeping an eye on the texture and making sure the cake cooked no longer than the ideal time (13 minutes!). I am glad to say, this second try was much better than the previous one… though I think I’ll have to make it again soon just to be sure to keep getting better at it;)

*****

PS: this is the recipe if you want to try it! Let me know how it goes:)

Autumn details

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #202

My daily walks have been keeping me sane and connected to the season as it evolves. I’m grateful for all the details that catch my senses as I am strolling along.

Tiny drops of dew shining on hairy seeds.

The smell of wet autumn leaves decomposing at the feet of the trees and sensing the layers of humus that came before them as the soles of my shoes sink into the ground.

Orange seeds bursting forth from bright pink flowers.

The distinct sound of a woodpecker jabbing away at a tree and the flash of its red feathers as it flies to its next pecking spot.

Mushroom clans where it seems like the elders are looking out for the playful young ones.

That sound when you kick through a thick pile of dry autumn leaves and the joy of their multitude as they float upwards and land again, each one slightly different shape and colour than the next.

More mushrooms

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #201

It’s that time of year again, after the switch back from daylight saving, when night falls so early. These days around 5pm it’s time to light candles on the window sill and curl up under a blanket with a steaming cup of tea and a good book. A good thing about not having a job at the moment is that I have chance to go on walks in the middle of the day and enjoy those precious hours of daylight.

It’s been rainy on and off, but when I spot some blue sky or it seems it will be dry for a little while I pull on my shoes and head to whatever spot of nature appeals to me that day. As I put one foot in front of the other, I process my thoughts, reflect on my writing assignment or potential applications I could write… I also keep my eyes peeled for small treasures like these tiny mushrooms among beds of moss.

200 weeks of JOYFUL GRATITUDE!

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #200

Here are some festive plants to celebrate 200 weeks of gratitude for the abundance of wonderful people, places, events and plants that brighten up my life:) 2020 with its unexpected challenges has highlighted more than ever how much I have to be grateful for, and the many big and small things that I must be wise not to take for granted.

When I started nearly 4 years ago, I had no idea what this series would turn out to look like. I’ve found there is something very powerful about taking time weekly to pin-point something I’m particularly grateful for (even if it is just the joy of an umpteenth walk in my neighbourhood, relaxing on a day off or the imperfections of a specific flower). It has become a practice I look forward to and plan to continue:)

I took a look through the archive and dug up seven of my favourite posts from the last 100 weeks. Reading these posts transported me right back to those days in different places or moods, plunging me directly into what was going on at the time, what season it was, how I felt…

Before I leave you with some flower confetti, I just wanted to say I’m also really grateful for people reading along and for your interesting comments and feedback, for sharing how things are in your part of the world (and for helping me identify plants I want to know more about;). THANK YOU!!

Walks with friends

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #199

In the last few days, we’ve been blessed with some beautiful weather, and I’ve been trying to soak up warm rays of sun while it lasts. As the measures to curb COVID-19 get stricter again in the Netherlands, I realise how lucky I’ve been to be able to go on safely-distanced walks with my friends in the months since the start of the pandemic.

Though in the past my modus operandi was heading out my front door spontaneously and strolling through my neighbourhood by myself, since March I’ve had the joy of regularly meeting with different friends for a breath of fresh air in one or the other of Amsterdam’s lovely parks, instead of going to the cinema or sharing a meal.

The rhythmic motion of putting one foot in front of the other is so grounding and perfect for catching up, hatching plans and dreams, and speculating on how the next months will unfold.

We also discuss mundane things like latest tested recipes or series we are bingeing, watch goats hidden among high nettles or hunt for the corner of the park which catches the very last rays of sunlight… making these moments a real balm in moments of loneliness, difficult decision making and uncertainty about the future.

Sometimes our walks include an ice-cream, a good coffee or a ginger ale with a side of fries, but just the act of simply getting together and airing thoughts that have gotten stuck in a loop, and sharing a chat and some laughs is enough for me to feel human again.

Observing mushrooms in the Veluwe

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #198

In the past few years, I’ve been travelling regularly to the area of the Veluwe, in the east of the Netherlands, for the pleasure of easily accessing nature to take long walks in the forest and heaths. This week I’m grateful I got to spend three fun days with a friend there in a cosy wooden cottage.

Our preparations revolved mainly around what delicious food we wanted to bring, as well as which notebooks and art supplies to tuck into our backpacks. We had a great time and though there were regular down-pours, we managed to take some long walks in the forest and collect pocketfuls of chestnuts. In the evenings, we relaxed on the sofa and chatted by the wood-stove, to the sound of the rain landing heavy on the roof.

Even in the Veluwe, it’s not always easy to get far from the road and the sound of cars, but armed with some tasty snacks from the bakery, we walked deep into the woods. With no real direction, we simply followed the intriguing shapes we saw in the undergrowth like a scavenger hunt. My hiking boots sank into the soft soil, made from layers upon layers of fallen leaves and mosses as I breathed in the rich smell of the forest.

The main highlight were the mushrooms. I was struck by their diversity, multitudes clustered by the dozen in tight bunches on decaying tree stumps, minuscule funghi on dead branches to large chunky brown ones, white ones that looked like lace, colours ranging from pink to metallic grey and even bright yellow ones that seemed to belong on a corral reef…

*****

As beautiful as it was to observe this abundance of species, I can’t help but mourn the fact that 85% of the biodiversity in the Netherlands has been lost, and we are not on track to meet the targets set up to stop this decline with the pressure of intensive farming and climate change. I can only dream of what this forest looked like twenty or a hundred years ago, and it’s vital that we safeguard what remains to make sure that in a not-too-far-away future the only trace that is left of these mushrooms is not just a few old photographs.