Inspiring compost initiative in Amsterdam

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #108

I’m am grateful when I discover other people who are as obsessed with worms and composting as I am!  Last Friday I got to attend a great presentation, given by Peter Jan Brouwer, the founder of Stichting Buurtcompost, an organisation which is tackling this issue of food scraps/natural waste, from the ground up with the collaboration of the city of Amsterdam.

The city has committed to recycling 65% of its total waste by 2020. Though that deadline is just around the corner, we are still far from that target.  However, tackling fresh food waste could be a huge step towards reaching that goal.

So far Stichting Buurtcompost has worked extremely hard to set up 30 worm hotels , futuristic looking towers into which 5 families can dump their food scraps for worms to process, creating quality compost for them over time. The plan is to install another 50 worm hotels in 2019 all around the city.  Locals are super enthusiastic and there are already long waiting lists to be the next ‘worm-hoteliers’!

Furthermore, Stichting Buurtcompost has tested the option of an underground container to collect foodscraps from up to 150 families (identical to the containers in Amsterdam where you recycle your glass or paper)

The grass-roots initiative of this organisation are so inspiring, and the energy and passion of the presenter were contagious:)  It’s super impressive to see how a decentralised solution, created to solve one specific problem, actually leads to many other local benefits:

  • Social connection: the worm hotels create a sense of community as people tending to a worm-hotel together get to know their neighbours better (some locals even organise ‘harvesting celebrations’ when the time comes to collect the rich compost)
  • Better quality soil in the city: quality compost for local people’s gardens and balconies (they had the worm compost tested for pesticides and other contaminants, and it’s totally clean!)
  • Less transport : with the underground container, the food waste of 150 families can be accumulated and processed by the worms for 1 whole year without needing to be collected by a truck
  • Circularity: the worm hotel is made of pressed grass that was mowed close to the highway and is therefore not fit for consumption by animals (and it means the worm hotel is biodegradable in the long run)

Imagine if you could easily recycle every veggie peel and shriveled-up salad leaf just around the corner and the result could be used to feed the soil close…  In Amsterdam, today food scraps are not collected, and my lovely worm bin on the balcony is not quite big enough to process all our fruit and veggie peels (especially in the winter months). So my dream is that very soon every street corner has a worm hotel or underground container for food scraps, so we can use these precious resources to boost our plants, balconies and gardens instead of wasting them!

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There is plenty more info on their website should you be inclined to find out more:) http://buurtcompost.nl/

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! 🙂

Nature’s details

In September, I had the pleasure to spend a few days in nature in the Veluwe to disconnect. One of the things I noticed was how as I walked in the forest with no rush, all sorts of delightful details were reaching my senses. It was like a treasure hunt for autumn beauty.

Apart from the impressive sponge mushroom, I came across quite a few other types of funghi but none as cute as this one with a gorgeous orange stem, illuminated by a ray of sunlight in the undergrowth.

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The pattern created by the shadows of these leaves on the tree trunk are so delicate and reminded me of the elegant patterns on a kimono. So simple and beautiful!

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All along my walks, I also encountered lots of these common beetles with their iridescent blue-black shells, which were progressing with incredible speed and determination compared to my laid-back pace.  As I sat quietly at the foot of a tree to take a break, I could even hear the soft sound as the beetles made their way through the dry leaves on the ground.

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Conversation around a sponge mushroom

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Recently on my trip in the Veluwe, I was walking in the forest, enjoying having time to observe the details of the mosses, plants and funghi of all sorts. A man of about 65 or so overtook me on the path and said hello in the polite way people do in the forest, I greeted him back before going on with taking a close-up picture of whatever moss I was busy with.

A while later, as I made my way up a small hill, surrounded by ferns, I saw the same man come back along the path towards me with a smile on his face making a gesture of success. He told me he was glad to have found me as he had spotted a big mushroom that I could photograph. I was a bit wary, but I followed him, and sure enough he pointed to a strange mushroom on the side of the path that looked like coral.  I asked what type it was and he told me it was a ‘sponszwam’ (a sponge mushroom) and explained they can grow much bigger than this one.

While I took some pictures we had a little chat, each question unravelling something new. He reminisced about his childhood spent in Australia, in a small miner’s town in the 60s. He told me about taking his elderly mother back to Australia years later to visit their town and friends.  He spoke about his family and about the grief at losing family members and we talked about the healing power of nature and how he loves the Veluwe and drives all the way from Amsterdam just to be able to hike there. He showed me pictures of other mushrooms on his phone and explained that because he had Parkinsons he had trouble taking photos and needed to consciously breathe and try to steady his hands.  After chatting for a while, he simply said goodbye and went off on his way.

I was left standing in the quiet forest, next to the sponge mushroom, feeling positively surprised and grateful that this stranger had come specially to get me to show me this peculiar mushroom and that it had led to him sharing parts of his story with me.  I was struck by the similarities with my own childhood in Australia and the incredible nature there, and the conversation reminded how fortunate I am to be in good health and to keep turning to nature for healing.

Bright yellow

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Yellow is a colour that lifts my heart up. I painted one of my kitchen walls bright yellow wall to brighten up the long Dutch winter evenings by reminding me of the sun.

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Lately I’m really enjoying how yellow flowers are popping up all over the place in gardens and along the streets of Amsterdam.

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On a recent walk in the Kennemerduinen, the pastel landscape was peppered with splashes of yellow, gorgeous gatherings of tiny flowers asking for their beauty to be seen.

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Also the bees and the caterpillars were also showing off how colour coordinated they were with their beautiful surroundings:)

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Photowalk: Amsterdam Oud-West

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This weekend with a friend we planned a photo-walk in the neighbourhood of Oud-West. It was like a scavenger hunt with loose rules, we chose some topics to search for and decided to see what we would come across. It was really fun and a great way to get out of my comfort zone, photographing different things than usual, whilst we were chatting and exploring the neighbourhood. Here are some of the highlights:

  • While strolling along throughout the afternoon, several locals started talking to us. Like the lady who told us about the beautiful mosaic hopscotch below and how she had made it with her daughter. She told us that kids often play on it, as well as adults and that it brings a lovely vibe to the sidewalk in front of her house. (In passing, I learnt the Dutch word for hopscotch: hinkelen!)

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  • It made me regain some faith in humankind. This is linked to the point above, people are friendly, eager to connect and busy with nice itiatives. For example, this little table with cherries and cool water was set up in the context of an ‘open gardens day’ by a lady who told us all about how she planted many flowers to beautify this little square which she takes care of herself.

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  • I was amazed by how many things I noticed.  Even though I had cycled down many of the streets before, walking allowed me to see the neighbourhood in a whole new light.  Also being on the lookout for interesting things to photograph made us more alert. We spotted new cafes and restaurants, shops and even this hairy caterpillar with its amazing yellow crests that was methodically chomping away at this leaf. 

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  • My curiosity was sparked by things we came across and I even learnt some new things. On seeing this mural, we pondered whether this gentleman was a mathematician…  as one of the topics we were hunting for was ‘mathematical object’. When I got home, I googled it and found out it is Huygens, who was indeed a mathematician, physicist and astronomer.
    I also looked up what type of butterfly would emerge from such a peculiar caterpillar and actually it is a moth – the Tussock moth. It turns out there are lots of different Tussock moth caterpillars, all rather hairy and in different colour palettes.

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Letting the flowers grow wild

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Some sunny days are for making an effort to take the train and go for a long walk outside the city, and others are for choosing simplicity and being outdoors close to home.

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Whenever I need a ‘bowl of fresh air’ (as we say in French), after a long day on the computer or when the sun finally appears from behind the clouds, I usually head to this spot in the Schinkelbuurt, just behind the Olympic Stadium.

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I love how the wild flowers and grasses have been left to grow freely, rather than being neatly mowed to the ground as they usually are. It makes for wonderfully messy spaces, bursting with all sorts of plants swaying in the breeze, the perfect playground for many insects and feeding ground for the moorhens, ducks, swans and other birds that abound.

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Though it’s not even 10 minutes from my flat, spending some time there always helps my mind to reset.  It’s a great place for people-watching and subtly eavesdropping on parts of conversations as the locals walk their dogs or cycle by, while the kids jump bravely into the water when it’s warm outside.

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It’s a beautiful place in all seasons: winter, spring, summer, autumn

Tiny pineapples

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #79

Just a short post to celebrate this branch that looks like it has tiny little pineapples growing on the end of it.  As we took a long walk through the dunes, there were hundreds of these bushes, with their surprising details, growing alongside the path.

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For more ‘things that look like other things’, check out these tiny succulents having a party:)

Of dunes and mermaids

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Most days I love to take a walk by just heading into my neighbourhood of Amsterdam Zuid and roaming my usual paths.   However weekends offer more time to get out of the city for day-trips a little further afield.  This weekend for instance we took the train to Castricum station and went for a walk in the Noordhollands Duinreservaat, a place we regularly return to with great pleasure.

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I like the fact that the landscape changes a lot as you go along. The first part is in the shade of the trees with bluebells lining the path. Then when coming out of the woods, you find yourself in the flat, sandy landscape, peppered with windswept bushes of all different types creating beautiful colour contrasts, and lakes on which birds gather and play.

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After following the winding path, you end up at the final steep dunes which hide the North sea.  I love this colour palette of beige and grey sand, dry dune grasses and blue sky with passing white clouds.  We took a long walk along the beach, enjoying the sea breeze and the sound of the waves… Paolo exchanged a few words with a fisherman casting his rod from the beach, who when asked what he was trying to catch, answered “Platvis… en zeemeerminnen natuurlik” (Flatfish… and mermaids of course!).

Lunch by the lake

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Seeing that there would be warm summery weather over the weekend, Paolo and I planned a day-trip to go for a long walk in the dunes near Santpoort Noord.  The dunes were beautiful, coming back to life with the first leaves growing on the trees, large grey snails slowly making their way through the grass and small birds insistently calling to each other all around us.

Enjoying the rhythm of walking along the sandy paths that wind over the hills of the dunes and feeling the sunshine warm my skin after these long winter months was exactly what I needed.

We stopped to eat lunch in the shade by this small lake.  As we savoured our picnic, we took in the gorgeous surroundings.  It was so peaceful, the wind was rustling in the trees, carrying the lovely smell of pine needles reminding me of summer holidays past.