On the last day of 2020, I took a long solo walk in the Amsterdamse Bos. It was a calm sunny morning and I wanted to be outside and feel the cold air on my cheeks as I reflected about the crazy year that was coming to an end. The path I chose to walk down was a bit muddy at the start which I guess discouraged other walkers and so I was alone nearly the whole time, accompanied just by birds singing and fluttering from branch to branch. As I strolled along slowly, it turned out to be a treasure trove of gorgeous winter details. I especially fell in love with this beautiful purple colour – also to be found on the photo on my last post. I will never tire of the unexpected colourful details to be found in the forest and the joy of observing nature as it moves through the seasons.
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:)
On an autumnal morning this week, I checked the forecast to see if I had a few rain-free hours ahead of me, and decided to take myself on an artist date to the local Botanical garden in Zuid. It had been a busy week of climate demonstrations, some taking place just a few blocks from the garden in the heart of the Zuidas, Amsterdam’s business district.
Though the protests were non-violent with a festive vibe, and I did not feel worried about COVID (thanks to respectful 1,5 meter distancing and every participant carefully wearing their mask), being surrounded by many people meant that I’d stretched my social boundaries and my introvert self needed to recharge. Spending a morning in the Botanical garden, reconnecting with myself by soaking up the beauty of the incredible variety of different species, was just what I needed.
I arrived just after opening time, the sun was peeping out from behind the clouds from time to time, it was a little misty, the tiniest drops of dew pearled on the surface of flower petals.
I had the place to myself, apart from a few birds, including an indecisive grey heron who flew back and forth over the length of the garden with heavy wings, squawking loudly, until he seemed to have found a suitable spot. I explored at my own pace, slowly making my way along the pathways, drawn by the colours and observing the minute details.
I was fascinated by these little pods, I’d seen them when they are grey and dried, but not with these neat 70s browns. It’s hard to see here, but they also have this funny sort of trunk sticking out of their centre.
It was the perfect way to start the day, breathing in fresh air, taking time to just be, feeding my senses with all this natural beauty. It was also a tangible reminder of why we need to take care of our planet and its amazing biodiversity, and why it is worth sometimes getting out of my comfort zone to bring awareness to the climate crisis.
I’ve been in France for a month already and how these weeks have flown by. They were my last working weeks as I have left my job. I worked hard until the end and now I am excited take some real time off, time to reflect and think about what next. It feels like such a luxury now to not need to rush to get back to work or fret about work-related questions. I’ve really been appreciating spending time in the garden, a wonderful risk-free place to relax in the COVID times.
I’m taking time to sit on the bench in the garden and slowly write my Morning Pages while the sun warms my legs, surrounded by yellow flowers on thin stalks.
Time to watch bumble bees feasting on the lavender bush and different types of butterflies joyfully fluttering from other parts of the garden, keen to get their share too.
Time to look up at the eucalyptus tree, planted in memory of the time we spent living Down Under, its leaves different tones of green and even red swaying in the wind against the bright blue sky. Its thick bark peels off in strips, that crunch underfoot and its fragrant leaves bring me right back to memories of playing in the bush as a child…
As we approach the longest day of the year, I love how the days stretch out, providing extra hours for my first alfresco boxing class since confinement has eased, or quiet after-dinner walks around the block when not many people are around. The soft light and beautiful skies are a daily wonder.
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!
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.
Even if it has been a very mild winter, this week I clearly felt the sparks of joy linked to the first signs of spring. Like realising that I feel a tiny bit more energetic, and how lovely it feels to cycle through the city when it is still daylight on my way home from work, and feeling the sun’s rays a little sharper on my face during my lunch walk…
I am grateful for winter and its quieter days, but I am also glad that spring is on its way. I can’t wait not to have to wear two pairs of socks to keep my feet warm and to bundle myself in layers of clothes and scarves. I’m ready to watch nature waking up and bringing to the world its colourful buds and fresh green leaves, to hear bees buzzing among tiny flowers and watch ducklings by the canals. I look forward to the simple pleasure of sitting in the park to read in the sun.
A couple of weeks ago, my sister Helena came over from Cologne, as usual we caught up up over many cups of tea. She also brought her embroidery equipment, so she could introduce me to the the process. You may remember her from the interview we did together in September where she spoke of her activist embroideries. I’ve been very curious to try it since then.
Our first step was to bake a delicious vegan banana bread, so we were sure not to get hungry in the middle of our creative flow;) Then as the delicious cake smells wafted through the air, we thought up some fun designs, and played around with drawing the main outline on scrap paper.
I decided to draw a long-eared jerboa (an animal I recommend googling if you want to be overcome with cuteness!). I don’t draw much so finding the right perspective was no easy feat. In the end, I went for a jerboa wrapped in a blanket holding a warm beverage and having a cosy introvert moment.
In my sister’s stash of threads, I found a beautiful disco thread with mixed metalic colours that I wanted to use. I took an old t-shirt and drew the contours of my disco-jerboa with a thin pen. Then got a needle and started to make small stitches along the lines and get acquainted with how much or how little to pull the thread. I struggled most with trying to make end of the tail look bushy.
As we worked away with our needles, I was in flow and I enjoyed seeing the piece come together step by step. It was really fun and I’ll definitely try to come up with some more ideas as a nice way to practice and customise some clothes with some unique details:)