For today’s post I am thrilled to have collaborated with the illustrator Eva Polakovicova (Eva Pola Illustration & Design). She created these lovely illustrations to accompany my words, working by hand combining her stencil technique and colour inks. She did a wonderful job of capturing the joy of these small pleasures, and I am in love with this gorgeous colour palette♥
You can find out more about Eva’s inspiration and this technique in the interview we did back in January.
JOYFUL GRATITUDE #182
Watching little groups of sparrows come to drink water on my balcony
The sound and smell of white wine evaporating from risotto rice
Lying down at the end of the day and relaxing into my pillow, knowing there is still time to read a good book
Opening the mailbox and finding a postcard or an envelope from someone I hold dear
Having no plans and letting myself fall asleep in the sofa in the afternoon without setting an alarm
Cooking with radish leaves and carrot tops and feeling like there is twice as much food and no waste
The smell of rain on the garden after a long dry spell
The lovely feeling of fatigue after several hours of walking or cycling in nature
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:)
Last Friday, I went for a long walk in the Amsterdamse Bos to enjoy the lovely afternoon sunshine and magic hour. I ambled without destination or time-pressure, taking time to breathe and looking closely at the plants along the way. Spring has done wonders since I took photos there on a cold windy day back in the early days of confinement in March.
The wild flowers and purple grasses are popping up everywhere, brightening the path with their delicate shapes and burst of colours. I took a break to write my ‘Late-Afternoon Pages’ on a bench by the water, accompanied by the clamorous song of countless birds perched in the trees all around.
There were plenty of new leaves showing off beautiful patterns and colour combinations. It felt so relaxing to wander without haste for several hours, enjoying the softening of the light, until my stomach started to rumble and I decided to make my way home, the sun low in the sky.
Greeting card action for charity is still on-going – find all the details here and don’t hesitate to reach out:)
As I start my fourth week of social distancing, I am trying to disconnect more. To let go of that tether that is the internet and its ever-updating news, and instead be more aware to things around me. I’ve worked from home to the best of my abilities, and had calls and creative session with loved ones. It’s also been a beautiful weekend of sunshine. I’m doing my best to be grounded in the present.
I’ve taken daily walks, mindfully keeping my distance from others, smiling at those I coming my way to ease the act of changing sidewalks. I’ve found a sunny bench to sit on and watch the world go by as I drink coffee and write my Morning Pages. In pots on the sidewalk, plants are showing off their beautiful colours and uncanny shapes.
One evening, I heard rustling under the sink, like plastic being moved around. When I opened the cupboard to see what was going on, a mouse popped out and paused for a moment on the edge of the bag that contains the recycling. We stared at each other for several seconds, motionless, before it disappeared behind the wall. I’ve not had mice before so it feels like this little creature came to keep me company in these days of isolation.
I’ve also enjoyed the feeling the sun warm my limbs as I read and moving around the living room to follow the sun rays making their way to land on my orange wall and bathe the whole space with glowing light late in the afternoon.
I was initially excited at the idea of having lots of free time at home, I started thinking of everything I’d be able to do. However rather than writing that amazing short story and making an incredible amount of submissions, as well as learning how to draw, the days are just flying by. Nothing has come of all those plans and instead I’ve been working remotely by day, then on Skype calls with friends and family to attempt to make sense of a situation that none of us ever thought we would experience, and binge-watching episodes of Narcos to empty my mind in the evenings.
I’ve noticed lists circulating of things to fill the days with: crafts to do, films to watch, new skills to learn, and found myself stressing about not doing enough. I noticed that I have trouble concentrating and am actually spending a lot of energy adjusting to the situation, so now I’m trying to be more mindful of taking the pressure off and letting go of my unrealistic expectations.
I realise this list of tips only makes sense because I am in the privileged position where I can work from home and receive my salary and paid holidays… I am sharing it because it’s been a mind-shift for me over the past couple of weeks and I thought it may speak to others who might also feel the pressure to ‘be making the most of confinement’.
What has helped me the most has been to dial back the DOING and give myself permission to just BE a bit more.
- Digital detox: Sunday I didn’t connect to internet until my 7 pm skype call with my family. That morning I didn’t switch on my computer and refresh the news repeatedly and I left my phone out of sight. I had tasks on my to-do list I couldn’t take care of because they involved being online, so I let go of them for a while reminding myself they were not urgent. It felt very freeing. I want to try and do it one day a week.
- Sleeping / napping: now is the perfect time to rest – if not now then when? Going to bed earlier and sleeping a little longer in the mornings since I don’t need to commute is great. I’m glad to catch a few extra ZZZs to compensate for those nights where insomnia comes to visit with its thought-loops. Also naps are an act of resistance, it’s great to be an activist from the comfort of my own bed!
- Taking a day off work: I’d been saving my holidays for spring time to go see my family and explore Cornwall by train. But those plans are cancelled for the foreseeable future. I could try to power on through and save my days off to travel later, but the long winter months are behind me and there’s an on-going crisis going on, so right now taking a random day off feels like a gift to myself. I took today off and I think I’ll do it again in the next weeks when needed, to recharge when needed.
- Doing nothing: I’ve found peace in just sitting on the rug in that square of sunlight flowing through the window, day dreaming freely for a while and letting my thoughts roam…
I’d love to know what has helped you in the past weeks. Please feel free to share in the comments!
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.
JOYFUL GRATITUDE #165
I’m grateful for the blue sky and winter sun, perfect weather for sitting peacefully by the water, without haste. A flock of white geese paddle by, as the sun warms my face. The willow branches sway in the wind. Two moorhens putter about by the shore, before diving into the water repeatedly and snacking with gusto on their catch. When a large boat passes by, the water brushes up on the rocks in small waves. It’s so grounding to be focused on these simple scenes that often escape my attention.
Today I’m sharing another photo from a lovely walk a few weeks ago in the Utrechtse Heuvelrug. I love how this tree sticks out of the heather and rises up to the sky with its branches. Just looking at this picture reminds me of how good it felt to be outdoors, to be brushed by the elements, to feel the temperature shift as the clouds came and went, to be drawn to the amazing details of plants and lichens, to pay attention to the myriad of surprising shapes and textures…
I guess I’m spending a bit too much time at the computer, what with work and writing assignments/submissions, so I’m craving being nature and to slow down, undisturbed by traffic, notifications and other distractions. I think this weekend I’ll try to make some time for a little forest bathing:)
JOYFUL GRATITUDE #153
Last Sunday I kept an entire day free of plans, so that I could recharge my batteries. I had some work to do on my writing assignment and plenty of other to-dos, but I decided to first take some time for myself.
I spent an hour meditating, sitting in silence and trying to focus only on my breathing (which in reality ended up being more like becoming aware of my incessant thoughts and letting them come and go). It felt like a reset for my overstimulated brain, a welcome break from constant inputs.
Afterwards, since the sun made a welcome appearance after some very rainy days, I took the chance to go for a slow walk in the neighbourhood. I did my best to stay as much as possible on the sunny side of the street to soak up lots of vitamine D and watched people enjoying the good weather as I ambled along.
The autumn colours were beautiful, with colourful leaves holding tight to their branches and covering the pavement. I also enjoyed observing the details of the last flowers remaining in people’s gardens, like this purple flower with its silky petals emerging from the strange black and green pod, and the petals around the remnants of this bordeaux-coloured flower.
JOYFUL GRATITUDE #147
After participating in the climate strike last week, I felt a deep need to rest. Luckily I had guarded my free time in the weekend like a watchdog and had scheduled a full day and a half with no absolutely zero plans, no where to go and no one to meet. I realise how privileged I am to have so much free time, and I am very grateful for that.
I know I write a lot about how much I like quiet time, so if it sounds repetitive feel free to skip this post. However I will continue to write about it because sometimes it’s important to stop and observe. We live in this flurry of a world where everything is a click away and instant notifications increasingly pull at our attention, where we feel we should satisfy everyone who wants a piece of our time and FOMO is just around the corner making it extremely hard to say NO to things. In this context, I want to normalise carving out down time for ourselves. I want to be able to say “I am available that day, but actually I prefer to rest” without feeling like I’m letting people down. Because really, even if I were say YES to everything, there would still be people I let down, and more importantly I would be letting myself down by not getting the down time I need to recharge my batteries.
In that day and a half, I did things that were important to me, like writing, and I did them without being in a rush, with enough time to procrastinate by baking a delicious apple cake, stare mindlessly out the window and write three different drafts of my assignment before choosing the first one after all… On Sunday evening, I realised I was still in my pyjamas and went straight back to bed in them. It was perfect. On Monday morning, I felt completely renewed. Those sleep-ins and taking time to reflect while pyjama-lounging on the sofa set me off to a positive start of the next week and I had more energy to give to those around me.