Organic farm day

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #140

This week I spent a day with my colleagues on an organic dairy farm. It was a welcome break from the usual grind in the office.  Literally, a breath of fresh air… including the potent smell of dung of course (though I noticed you get used to it surprisingly fast:).

In the course of an afternoon we experienced rounding up the 46 cows from a field down the road and escorting them to the barn where we helped (a bit:) with the milking. The cows are beautiful, huge with shining fur and it’s funny to see they have different characters, they know what they like and don’t like, and are very human-like.

Even if this experience just scratched the surface, it was eye-opening for me as a city-girl to realise how relentless this lifestyle is (having to make sure the cows are milked twice a day no matter what, going through the motions with each individual cow, keeping the milking space as hygienic as possible, checking how each cow is doing…).

I suggested we should do team outings like this regularly, to be more in touch with where our food is coming from and what the life of a farmer is like, even if it is just a glimpse, to avoid romanticising it or ignoring the difficulties.

I’m grateful to have a chance to get out of my urban bubble and learn a lot in a day.  Even though I realise that dairy farming has a huge negative environmental impact and should be reduced, I appreciate that there are farmers trying to do so on a small scale, organically and with deep respect of the animals, and the hard work that goes into producing each glass of organic milk.  Next time I hope we go to an organic veggie farm:)

Seaside bliss

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Just back from holidays. The kind of holidays that are basically just sleeping in, reading, eating good food, taking naps without setting an alarm clock. The kind of holidays that I actually come home rested and recharged from, having watched the tide come in high and retreat over hundreds of meters, having spent fun moments with my family, having breathed in the salty air of the sea, having been cleansed by strong winds whipping fine sand onto my calves, having strolled slowly back and forth along the shoreline my bare feet sinking into the wet sand, processing my thoughts and searching for colourful seashells…

A hike on Mount Etna

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While we were in Sicily last month, we went for a hike on Mount Etna, accompanied by Pippo, a local guide who’s been exploring Etna for the last 50 years and told us lots of facts and stories about the volcano he’s passionate about.

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We didn’t go to the main crater, but rather avoided the crowds on a much more quiet route on the South Eastern slope. The views were breathtaking as we hiked along the crest of the Valle del Bove, a huge valley which was filled with lava of the 1991 erruption and is still the recipient for more recent lava trails.  You can see on the picture the darker lava trails from the latest erruption mid-June.

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The photos cannot really capture how enormous the valley is, a gigantic bowl catching the lava and protecting the villages and towns further down. The lava field is entirely barren with no plants growing on it, a huge dark moon-like surface, but on our path, above the valley there was plenty of life.

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It was a beautiful walk, with changing landscapes, incredible rock formations, and lots of plants that somehow manage to take root in the volcanic soil and survive under the blazing sun.  As we walked we were surrounded by butterflies and thousands of bees, buzzing frenetically around the flowers.

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As we made our way along the path that was sometimes marked just with a piece of red ribbon, the views on both sides of the crest evolved, always wild and spectacular… It left me wanting to return and explore more.

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Outdoor theater

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #137

Last night we went to see the Three Musketeers at the Amsterdamse Bos Theater, a lovely outdoor theater nestled amongst the tall trees of the forest. I love that to reach it you cycle away from the city center where most theaters are and instead head into nature.

As we pedalled along the water we passed a dignified heron who was watching the world go by while standing on one leg.  After a busy week, it felt like a real treat to let myself be carried along by the story, laugh at the jokes and disconnect completely for a few hours as we sat surrounded by trees and clear sky, as night slowly fell over us.

Spring in the Amsterdam Hortus

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Spring time in the Hortus Botanicus in Amsterdam is enchanting! The garden is coming back to life with buds and blossoms everywhere you turn, from the sprawling beds on the ground to the trees, peering out from in between rocks and on flush bushes.

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I love how the changes with the seasons means every visit is really different. This time we took a tour, led by a guide who shared her knowledge and fun facts about different plants around the garden.

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But my favorite part was afterwards, walking along the winding paths with my camera, unrushed, spotting colours and textures of the new bursts of life, emerging under the sunshine, reaching towards the light.

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When, despite the sunshine, it got a bit chilly, I went to my favorite spot in the greenhouse to warm up and admire the captivating cacti… but I’ll write more about that soon;)

Signs of Spring

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Sunday as I cycled home from the bookclub, I noticed some bushes covered in what looked from a distance like small yellow tassles, against the blue sky.  After picking up my camera at home, I took a short walk back through my neighbourhood until I reached the square, located between four roads, where spring is starting to show in the nurtured flower beds.

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I took a closer look at those branches to find them covered in what looks like cheerleaders’ pompoms made with crepe paper, encouraging ravenous pollinators to come visit them.

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Though the purple crocusses popping up through the grass are more striking, I love the colour combination on these ones, perfectly suited for a 70s kitchen.

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On branches that were bare just a few days ago, tiny leaves are sprouting, deep lines etched into their surface like the grooves on your fingertips after lying for too long in the bath, and clusters of tiny yellow flowers spread their pistils like antennas searching for signals in the warm spring air.

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Fern patterns

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #112

During my recent walk in the forest near my home town, at one stage I came across lots of ferns that had been cut down by the side of the path. I was mesmerised by their colours and shapes, which formed these wonderful dense and intricate patterns.

Ferns are one of my photographic nemeses, I love how they look (from shy, bright green ferns in the forest undergrowth to massive native Australian ferns that are more like trees) but always struggle so much to capture them in a way that does justice to their splendour…

I’m grateful to have had a chance to observe the beauty of these ferns and their patterns before they shriveled up and became part of the forest floor, it was the perfect opportunity to practice photographing them:)

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A step back to reflect

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #104

Today marks 2 years of writing weekly about JOYFUL GRATITUDE, so like last year I am taking a step back to reflect a little on this practice. 

Writing the weekly post has the benefit of bringing me joy by re-living the moment and exploring what it was exactly that delighted me. Recognising those special moments helps to consciously create more of them in the busy day to day rush.  

I’d like to bring up one point however. It may seem when reading the weekly posts like everything is always rosy, as I focus on the good times, creating something  that may seem like a mismatch between real life and my tone here. In reality, I am struggling like everyone. Though I realise I am very privileged, I must still work hard to find mental balance and peace.

This weekly practice is an exercise in training my mind to zoom in on the positive, big and small things that bring me gratitude. Like everyone I struggle with bad moods, fear and doubt, but there is also a wise voice in me, like in all of us, and I trust that by writing regularly here, this voice is somehow guiding me step by step. I am deeply grateful for this voice tapping into a deep pool of wisdom somewhere beneath the surface:)

When having a quick look at the main themes that came up over the last year, there were no surprises. The top 3 can be categorised like this:
     1. Nature / Outdoors / Plants
     2. Quiet time / Reflection
     3. Mindfulness / Self-care

So that’s where I’ll continue to focus on the coming months:) Tell me, what will your focus be?

Mushroom wisdom

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #103

As I write this, the rain is pouring down outside. I am indoors, warm and watching rain drops slide down the windows, with a delicious cup of coffee by my side.  Like every week, I’m wondering what I want to write about.  I have a lot I am grateful for, so it is never a problem to come up with some ideas, but sometimes inspiration brings strange ideas with it.

Today I am grateful for this mushroom, spotted in a local vegetable garden on one of my afternoon walks, to get out of my head and into the fresh air while looking for some interesting details to photograph.  I felt so drawn to this beautiful mushroom and I believe it has wisdom to share with me. What is so special to me about this mushroom, you may wonder…

It stands tall and dignified, not wondering if it is sticking out or whether it looks funny.  It does it’s mushroomy thing, confident and unencumbered by the way other mushrooms look and behave. It is not questioning whether it is doing things right or well enough, and does not care what the leaves around it might say.  It is centered and grounded, fully in the present moment, unafraid of the rabbit that may come and nibble on it in the future.  I want to be more like this mushroom. These are the precious lessons that I am tucking away in the folds of my mind this week, to bring up again when the inner critic raises its head.

Healing walks in the Amsterdamse Bos

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #99

The Indian summer we are enjoying in Amsterdam at the moment is amazing.  I’ve been taking long healing walks through the Amsterdamse Bos, just listening to the breeze rustling through the leaves of the majestic trees which are turning all shades of orange and yellow, quietly observing the ducks, moorhens, herons and other birds go about their business undisturbed on the water, journalling as the sun warms my skin.  I am so grateful to have what feels like an unexpected extra shot of summer to charge up on fresh air and invigorating sunshine.