Urban Foraging in Amsterdam

Urban Foraging in Amsterdam

Before I moved to Europe the only kind of tea that would pass these lips was iced and sweet. Tea made in my mother’s house was brewed and served according to very strict guidelines:

  • There was one small aluminum pot used to make the tea. No other other pot would do and NOTHING else could ever be cooked in that pot. I learned this the hard way after warming up a chef boyardee after school snack.
  • After the water is at a rolling boil, put in one pinch of baking soda, turn off the water, immerse, two Lipton family-size bags, cover with a thick, old saucer and wait at least 10 but not more than 20 minutes.
  • Add two large scoops of Dixie Crystal sugar to a large, glass pitcher
  • Pour hot tea over the sugar and stir until all sugar melts.
  • Top up with cold tap water until pitcher is full
  • Serve immediately over glasses filled to the brim with ice. If the ice floats, add more. Never serve first cups with floating ice.
  • Finish entire pitcher and never store over night, not even in ‘fridge.

It’s not often that I drink this kind of tea anymore, even if I could find it outside of Georgia. And as for hot tea, well that’s one of those things like free jazz that I really want to like, but alas my tastes are slow to mature beyond the days of sweet tea and bluegrass.

Until recently.

I am in the last stretch of certification as a nature therapy guide and one of my final projects is to identify with 110% certainty between 4-6 plants that I can forage and brew into a tea served on a nature therapy walk. And though I am getting to know the names of the trees and plants around me (I call the Japanese Maple in my garden Ruby), the goal of nature therapy is less a naturalists’ endeavor of classification and far more a somatic experience with the more-than-human world. I’m rightfully wary of serving folks what I pluck from the forest because what looks tasty is often poisonous and what seems dangerous can turn out to be incredibly healthy!

So, rather than relying on books and handy Youtube foraging videos, I recently reached out to the incredibly wise Lynn Shore, founder of Urban Herbology in Amsterdam, and spent a lovely morning wandering through her “River of Herbs” gardens in a city park learning about delicious plants that grow in abundance in The Netherlands.

As we walked and talked and touched the tender plants, Lynn plucked herbs and placed them in thermoses filled with piping hot water. I picked and tasted a bit of Wild Garlic, Stinging Nettle, Lemon Balm, Sweet Cicely, Garlic Mustard, Sweet Woodruff, Cleavers and Wild Geranium. Each plant I met was bursting with fragrance and flavor and my tastebuds were beyond thrilled with the invitation to experience the delights of the wild world.

We sat on a path strewn with pink blossoms and sipped the steeped tea and talked about the benefits of the plants, respectful foraging and how a love for nature inspires a genuine care for the environment.

This new way of getting to know tea, looking for the friends in the field that we can forage and share under the trees, is the tea-making tradition I hope to share with others on our journey of falling more deeply in love with creation.

Unplugging In, With and For Nature

Unplugging In, With and For Nature

A long time ago, in a mindset far away, I planted and served an online church in Second Life. I’ve served as the minister of digital community at the UCC denominational level and even traveled the States leading “social media bootcamps” for clergy. For about 4 years I worked as the director of digital strategy for a liberal arts college in the south. All this after I graduated from seminary with a focus in social justice, pastoral care and digital ministry. I was about as nerdy as theologically progressive gal could be. 

And then just before the world turned upside down and tuned into all things virtual (meetings, game night, karaoke and church), the universe with her delightful sense of humor, plopped Braiding Sweetgrass into my heart, shook me to the core and called me away from the screen and into the woods.

Now I am called to (and trained in) nature therapy, outdoor life coaching and eco-chaplaincy, as far removed from technology as possible. Of course I still hang out in digital spaces, the public square of our age, and even build websites for folx in helping professions. But every day I more fully inhabit my wild love for the natural world – of which we are all a part – to invite others into this (re)connection with creation of which we are all luminescent, interdependent parts.

More and more research around the world verifies the positive physiological, mental and spiritual benefits of intentional time in nature.  

But it’s not all about humans and how we can use nature for our wellbeing. When we spend more time (re)connecting with the natural world through activities such as forest bathing, nature retreats or guided nature meditations, there are positive impacts on our environmental attitudes and behavior. A spirit of reciprocity invites each of us to be in and with nature, recognizing we are of nature and to do what we can to be for nature in a world that only sees what can be consumed. A walk in and with nature is the first step to remembering we are of and for nature.

I hope to have the honor of sharing a walk with you one day.

1. Amy Novotney, “Getting Back to the Great Outdoors” American Psychological Association, (2008)

2. Dr. Qing Li, Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness, (2018)

3. Kyoung Sang Cho et al., “Terpenes from Forests and Human Health,” Toxicology Research, (2017)

4. Claudio D. Rosa & Silvia Collado, “Experiences in Nature and Environmental Attitudes and Behaviors: Setting the Ground for Future Research,” Frontiers in Psychology (2019)

The fog of fear

The fog of fear

March has come in like a lamb here in Holland. As is often the way on the cusp between seasons, a thick as snert soup fog was draped over the tilting houses and the cobbled streets as we cycled to work this morning. So we took our time winding through the sleepy city, being careful to not careen into a canal or other commuters making their way to through the murky dawn. As we rolled past the shrouded polders and pastures, I recalled that just yesterday I’d walked the same path and the sky was Delft blue, the landscape dotted with crystal clear livestock and resting swans.

I took a hand off my handlebars and tried to grab the fog. It is real, it is here, but I cannot grab it, I cannot hold it. And my musings about unlearning fear returned… I wondered, maybe fear is like the fog? Real and at the same time mere vapor. Yes, fog can pose real danger – to visibility, to compromised lungs, to a perfectly coiffed head of hair – but fog can also be beautiful and, as far as we know, it is always temporary. 

When fear settles on our shoulders and clings to the fabric of our being, we can forget the clear day before or be unable to imagine a potentially clear day tomorrow.  I’m not suggesting that we dismiss the fog, no quite the contrary. We have to acknowledge and move through the fog, with careful intelligence, clothed appropriately (they say here that there is no such thing as bad weather just the wrong clothes), going slowly to observe our surroundings, adjust our trajectory and hold onto the the knowledge that the sun is still shining even if we can’t see it. 

What is deeply troubling me is that it seems like the powers that be profit from perpetually having their hands on fog machines to cloud our vision of a beautiful world. Maybe it is because we are on the cusp between seasons – between the old paradigm of greedily, violently hoarding power and a newer, more compassionate reality where all of creation can flourish in freedom.

My question is, how do we move through the fog – how do we discern what is truly dangerous to our personal and collective lives and what is merely vapor? How do we hold onto the memory and hope of a sun burning brightly?

What do you think?

A day in the life of a broad abroad: to Paris and back

A day in the life of a broad abroad: to Paris and back

At 5 a.m. the alarm interrupted my midwinter dreams and awaken me to the practically perfect day ahead. After tiptoeing through the morning to get ready while not waking my wife, I hopped on my bike to pedal through a still sleeping Leiden. Once my bike was parked in the jumbled stacks at Central station, I found my way to platform 4 to take the 6:28 train to Schipol where I would find the 7:35 Thalys train to Paris. With a warm kaasbroodje and a cold Coca Cola in hand, I jumped on the train and settled in for the three-hour ride across Holland, Belgium and France. Somewhere between Antwerp and Brussels a deep pink sunrise emerged across the frosty fields on our left. After a brief train-car change in Brussels, and little more than an hour later, I stepped off the train in rainy but ever beautiful Paris. A quick Uber ride to Notre Dame brought me to the cobbled Rue de la Bûcherie where a warm vegetarian restaurant had set a table for the surprise déjeuner with my daughter.
 
Absolutely priceless was look on her face as she realized that the woman standing in the doorway who looked like her mom was in fact her mom! We dined with delight surrounded by hugs and tears and laughter and champagne and friends and falafel. When we could linger no longer around the sumptuously set table, we made our way to the rented flat where Z was staying with the family who loves and looks out for her back home in the States. After a bit of truffle cheese generosity smeared on a baguette, a crisp glass of white wine and off again we went to enjoy a walking history lesson that revealed and reveled in both the opulence and downfall of French nobility.
 
Soaked to the bone with cold rain, we made one last pub stop, sipped a beer or two more, shared sweet hugs and kisses and said our goodbyes. Off again I went to catch the 17:35 train back to Amsterdam. Because parting was practically impossible, the rather late return Uber ride was a mad blur through the rain drenched, rush hour streets to Gare du Nord. With a slippery dash along platform six, lungs near to collapsing, I plopped down in carriage 15 for the ride back home surrounded by delicate French children ranging in ages from eight to fourteen, all possessing the sweet understanding of the etiquette and electricity of whispering among adults sipping wine and pouring over maps of Amsterdam.
 
Three hours later I was extracting my bike from the tangle of handlebars and spokes that is a Dutch parking lot. A city that was sleeping when I left was now wide awake and sparkling with the remaining nights of the holidays. The fragrance of sweet and savory food trucks wrapped around me as I coasted along the bustling streets of little Leiden. And what to my wandering eyes did appear as home drew near? The most beautiful, drafty 100-year-old home, warmly lit with candlelight and Christmas tree, my partner puttering in the kitchen, presently plating her homemade chicken paprikash.
 
With stories shared, dishes done, pups cuddled and a heart overflowing with the unmerited blessings that are mine, dreams of my practically perfect day welcomed me to sleep once more on a cold winter’s night in The Netherlands.
Thanksgiving in Ireland

Thanksgiving in Ireland

When thinking about what to do for Thanksgiving as a couple of broads living abroad, of course the first thing to come to mind was to hop a plane and head to the Emerald Isle. Thanks to RyanAir’s recent kerfuffle, the tickets were ridiculously cheap, so…

After the staff meeting on Wednesday afternoon, our wonderful Scottish colleague drove us to the airport where we waited in a little airport pub and tipped back a couple of practice pints while chatting with the pimply-faced bartender.

Within a couple of hours we boarded, took off and landed in Dublin in the pouring rain. We quickly hopped the 747 bus that drove us to the College Green/Temple Bar stop, sloshed our way to the quaint Fleet Street Hotel (yep, I am a Sweeney Todd fan), dropped our bags and headed out for a brief, single-street pub crawl.

First we wandered just down stairs and sat for a spell in the hotel pub, O’Malley’s for a couple of pints of Guinness and Smithwick’s Pale. From there we found our way to The Quay where the music was thumping and the patrons were jumping. Betsy got a little ribbing from the bartender for ordering a mere 1/2 pint, but I made up the difference by waiting patiently for my perfectly poured pint of Guinness. With intentions to keep crawling, we figured a stop for dinner would be in order.

Not more than a block away we found The Old Mill, a second story restaurant where we indulged in matching baskets of fish and chips. And wow, these fish and chips were the absolute best, most mouth-watering fish and chips I’ve ever tasted. The batter was crispy and seasoned to perfection, the fish was flaky and the chips were both plump and crunchy. As you might imagine, after all that our bellies were full and our pub crawl ran aground as our eyelids began drooping.

Thursday we awoke with hearts full of gratitude for all that this life is giving us. After a great breakfast in the hotel canteen, we made our way to Trinity College to see the Book of Kells and visit the old library. There was no line, the Book was on display and the library was breathtaking! Happy Thanksgiving indeed!

By noon, we checked out and made our way to the Enterprise car rental at city center where we were taken care of by just the friendliest and most helpful Irishmen. Not only did we come away with a great car but a full list of places to visit in Galway. So away we went, continuing to marvel at the constant warmth of the Irish.

With Bets at the wheel and Siri+Kim navigating, we coasted across Ireland. Before long we saw signs for the Tullamore Dew Distillery and, with no set agenda, we decided a detour was in order.  Hint: the actually distillery does not give tours, but the old distillery in town does – yes please! As we entered the small town of Tullamore,   the glorious, sticky-sweet smell of peat fires filled the air. We enjoyed the truly creative tour, sipped some damn fine whiskey and wound up buying a 12-year-old bottle of The Dew.

Back on the road and we soon found ourselves in Galway for another bit of a pub crawl. This was really special for me since I had fallen in love with Galway years ago. We popped into my favorite places, Tig Coilis, The Quays and then stumbled into our first Christmas market of the season. In a twinkly light and mulled wine haze, we sauntered from stall to stall gazing at the glittering tchotchkes and paper stars. We ended the evening at Tigh Neachtain, packed to the gills with ebullient locals, expats and of course, tourists.

Next morning, up and at ’em for a beautiful drive along the coast to have visit Spiddal. After a warm breakfast in the tiny town, we walked to the little church and crawled through the age-old graveyard, along the shore rocks and eventually into the sanctuary where we lit three candles under a beautiful stained glass window full of fish and boats…one for Betsy’s dad’s 75th birthday that was on that very day. The other two flames we left flickering were for me, tiny prayers for sanity and peace to find it’s way back home.

While in Spiddal, we visited the town’s craft village, which is an outcropping of small colorful shops, each dedicated to a local artisan selling their local wares. We found gifts for family and friends and even a few treats for ourselves from a gifted glass artist, a friendly basket artist famous for his “royal rattle” and a very clever Celtic Coin Jeweler. We also came away with another helping of what money cannot buy, the joy of spending even a few moments talking with Irish folk. We even received an invitation to a house party for a CD release party happening later that weekend. Unfortunately we could not make that gig because we would already be on a plane headed back to Holland.

So we made our way back to Galway where we had an amazing day, picked up a few more nice things then walked around town where we “discovered” the only LGBT pub in town – Nova.

There was a single bartender behind the tiny bar and not another soul in the place. As we shook the cold off and stepped up to the bar we found smiling, young Sharon to take our order. Sharon began to “warn us” that a regular patron of the pub would be coming in soon. She told us that they were the only pub in town who would serve the elderly man because he was dying, dying of cancer and coughed so violently, coughing up the death that was in him, that most people found his presence repulsive. She told us that three months ago he had been given one month to live. We thanked her for her gentle warning, but ordered our pints and took a seat by the window to work on our stack of postcards.

Before long, the old man came into the bar, and as she promised, was coughing that cough I recall so well from when my own father was dying. My throat clenched, my heart ached, but we continued sipping and chatting and in a few moments witnessed a truly holy and tender moment in that little gay bar. Sharon greeted the man with a genuine smile, chatted with him a moment and then briefly came to our table to check on us. Then back to the shuddering man, sitting alone in the pub corner. After a few more minutes she seemed to be escorting him out. Instead, she stood with him in the damp vestibule, lit a cigarette, took a draw and then held it to his slack mouth so he could inhale tendrils of one of his last comforts.

His cough subsided briefly and Sharon came back to our table to check on us once again. With tears in our eyes, we told her we’d seen how tenderly she cared for her friend and she shared with us bits about her own life, snippets from her journey and plans for her future. Sharon – barmaid, pub-hospice chaplain, nurse and friend – may the road indeed rise to meet you, sister.

We spent the rest of our Galway evening wandering back to the Christmas market, picking up a nice bottle of Writer’s Tears along the way. And we ended the evening back in the warmth of Tigh Neachtain where we enjoyed sharing a flight of fine whiskey and chatting with locals who assured us that Galway is as special as it seems.

The next morning we packed up early and headed back to the east coast of Ireland for our flight back to Schiphol. We dropped off our rental car (where the attendant insisted on giving us a courtesy ride to our penultimate stop – the Guinness Storehouse tour). Though a bit overpriced and a lot over commercial, the panoramic view of Dublin from the top is stunning. If you go, buy your tickets online and skip the crazy long line. We recommend going straight to the restaurants a few floors up then visit the top-floor and then, if you really must, take the tour. We didn’t spring for the extra €€ to partake in the pouring class, but we did enjoy a couple of decently poured pints along the way. Try to avoid the gift shops if you can, or you’ll drop a pretty penny taking back swag for your friends.

So off to the airport we went with swift cab ride and dash through the terminals. Sitting in different rows, we met and chatted with more lovely people until an hour and a half later we were back on Dutch soil.

We are incredibly thankful for the beautiful whirlwind this trip was! Thank you, thank you, thank you, Ireland for your multitude of gifts.

Stay tuned for the next grilled cheese-off, a peek at a couple of Dutch Christmas markets and eventually, a post about going back to the States for Christmas.