Bursts of colour

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #193

I rarely buy cut flowers because their social and environmental impact makes me cringe. Usually I am content with my many potted plants or, if I really crave a burst of colour, a small bouquet of wild flowers picked on the fly.

However last week I treated myself to a large bouquet with a clean conscience at Lokale Bloemetjes, a self-pick farm next to the CSA where I get my veggies from in the West of Amsterdam. It was wonderful to stroll through row upon row of different flowers, grown without chemicals, taking the time to observe each one before deciding whether or not to add it to my bouquet, all the while knowing this supports a local business contributing to increase biodiversity.

Once back home, I sorted the flowers by similar colours and popped them inexpertly into glass tomato-sauce jars that I had lying around and they’ve been doing an amazing job at brightening up several corners of my flat on these first rainy autumn days.

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.

New habits

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Here’s to the new habits that shape my days in this COVID-19 reality. It fascinates me how quickly we adapt and I welcome these fresh habits which definitely help to keep a semblance of balance in these tricky times.

  • Sitting in the sun for lunch with my tupperware of warmed-up left-overs, and then treating myself to delicious cappucino with oatmilk to help support local cafés like Slowth Brunch or Coffee District
  • The weekly Sunday evening zoom call with my family, where we choose a recipe and all prepare it separately, then catch up on how the past week went as we eat ‘together’.  Recommendations for series abound, as well as jokes and play on words!
  • My 30 minute bike-ride home from work has been replaced with simply shutting down my computer and heading out the door to soak up the late afternoon sunshine.  Walking along the canal, I have the pleasure of observing fluffy ducklings paddling with their parents, beaks searching efficiently for food on the water’s surface.  I weave my way, careful to maintain 1,5 meters distance from people enjoying an after-work drink on the grass and to not disturb the geese who hiss at me necks raised when I get too close.  The bluebells hidden among the birch trees are blooming spectacularly regardless of the pandemic.
  • A friend of mine lent me a puzzle and I’ve been enjoying the analog pleasure of searching for matching colours and the satisfaction of fitting the right pieces together. It’s an activity that brings me back to calm summer afternoons spent in the cool basement of my grand-parents’ country house many years ago…

Dark December days

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Lately the days are getting shorter and shorter, and even during normal daylight hours the clouds are so low that I sometimes need to switch on the light to see properly inside the flat.

Yesterday was one of those dark days, but after sitting indoors half of the afternoon, I decided to go for a walk, more because I knew that it would do me good than because I really felt like it. I took my camera along just in case.

The light was definitely not on my side, I had to crank up the ISO and hold as still as I could with slow shutter speeds, but it was a good exercise in spotting beauty in the remnants of plants and experimenting.

These tiny fruit that remind me of gorgeous fairy lights caught my eye and I got chatting with a lady, who was harvesting them into a small bowl.  She told me they are goji berries… you know that super food that is so fashionable these days?? Turns out they grow easily in our climate and as you can see this one still has fruits in December! Perfect for pepping up your muesli:)

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Guide for fun and energising Xmas gifts

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Tired of shopping for presents just before Christmas in overcrowded shops? There’s nothing wrong with presents as such, but I feel like the pressure to buy gifts pushes us towards quick fixes that are not always satisfying. There has to be a better way, right?

As with everything, I believe it is possible to make the whole experience much more energising and sustainable, both for the person giving and the one receiving:) By being more mindful, we end up with intentional gifts and stories that lead to more fun and greater connection.

Giving

  • Experience gifts:  They are the norm among my family and friends for several years already compared to material gifts.  It’s a chance to offer someone an experience, based on their interests that they will remember and cherish, rather than just one more object. You can make it as cheap or expensive as you like (a home cooked meal or time spent together are great options).
    Over the last years, I’ve given tickets to concerts, escape rooms and plays, offered vouchers for massages, made vouchers to spend creative time with friends and family…
    TIP: if it is an activity for several people, plan a date immediately with all participants, so you have something to look forward to!
  • Secret Santa: instead of buying gifts for everyone, organise a secret santa so you can focus on getting a quality gift for just one person
    TIP: get people to be very specific about that they want so you get them a gift that makes their heart sing (see below on Receiving).
  • Support small businesses: If you are buying material gifts (jewelry, clothes, decoration items…), think of this as an opportunity to support small/local businesses that make you enthusiastic and for who your purchase will make a difference, leading to a happy dance.
    TIP: Keep a list of the small craft businesses/independent brands you come across all year around at local craft markets, Etsy or social media, so you can recall them when you need a gift.
  • Books: Buy from independent bookstores, this is the chance to browse through all those lovely covers and keep local bookstores alive
    TIP: Experiment with books that you don’t know but are drawn to, discover new voices or authors from other countries
  • Wrapping: no need to spend money on new rolls of wrapping paper, just recycle newspapers or old magazines.
    TIP: Try to personalise the wrapping paper for the recipient (it is a very mindful activity for winter nights:)

Receiving

Actually reducing the number of physical presents received is quite a lengthy process as culturally we feel we should not to come ’empty handed’.  In the past, I’ve written emails to family and talked with friends to try and gracefully explain that I value experiences over material gifts. Slowly the idea is making its way and I have the secret conviction that it will inspire them too;)   The experiences I received and participated in were super fun and created memories I’ll not forget like going to London for an incredible workshop with my favorite author or exploring the Japanese gardens with friends:)

Another idea is instead of people searching for a gift, to tell them upfront you would prefer to receive some money for you to give to your favorite charity. Alternatively,  you can ask the person to use the money they would have spent on your gift on their favorite charity or to support their favorite artist on Patreon. They have more say on where the money goes and it is a win-win for everyone.

I’d love to hear more ideas! How do will you make your Xmas shopping more intentional this year?

Exploring the Japanese garden

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Travelling to Japan is high on my wishlist of destinations, but I haven’t quite organised it yet. For now I live vicariously through books, my sister’s travel stories and photos.  However lately I got a lovely taste of Japan. For my birthday, two dear friends gifted me an outing to go to the Japanese garden in the The Hague, which is open only a few weeks a year in Spring and Autumn.  We planned the date several months in advance so as not to miss the window of opportunity, so I also got to enjoy looking forward to it!

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The garden draws quite a lot of visitors, so it was quite busy on the morning we went, but that didn’t stop us from taking the time to soak up all the beautiful details, colourful bridges and plants.

It was lovely to explore, walking along the paths so as not to disturb the fragile mosses that cover the ground in a comfy-looking carpet. Gorgeous lanterns, harbouring delicate mosses and lichens, were brought over last century from Japan along with native Japanese plants.

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The autumn colours were spectacular with orange and green intermingled, highlighting the changing of the season, and all sorts of mushrooms were popping up all over the place.

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Even though it’s just an hour from Amsterdam, I had the feeling like I’d been to another continent for a short while (feeling extra good without all those CO2 emissions from flying!). Thanks so much ladies and here’s to experience gifts and travel opportunities close to home! 🙂