I used to be a backpacking adventurer and we probably will be in the future, but in this phase of our life it was just bliss to be looked after and have a proper rest. I would recommend this hotel in Tenerife for any of you with children, and especially young children.
Ikigai and gratitude, two words you’ll be hearing a lot this year. It is all about living mindfully and finding one’s purpose, meanwhile appreciating the little things in life. It’s always nice to have some recommendations for new books to read. At least, that’s what I think. Browsing Amazon or a bookshop in town sometimes makes me feel a bit overwhelmed, not knowing what to choose. Since it is the start of the year and self-care and making my life more peaceful overall are themes that currently interest me, I thought I’d share some titles of books I found at The Book Depository that may inspire you as well.
Ikigai : The Japanese secret to a long and happy life
Hector Garcia. Hardback, 208 pages. Price 11,27 € order
Ever heard of the word Ikigai? We all have an ikigai apparently. Even if we don’t know it yet. Ikigai translates as ‘a reason to live’ or ‘a reason to jump out of bed in the morning’. It’s the place where your needs, desires, ambitions, and satisfaction meet: a point of perfect balance, and perfect fulfillment.
On the Japanese island of Okinawa, people live longer than anywhere else in the world. There, finding your ikigai is considered the key to longevity – and to happiness. The Okinawans know that all lives are valuable; for them, your ikigai is the lens that will help bring your value into focus.
If you want to uncover your own ikigai, then this book will help you do this and equip you to change your life. It encourages you to leave stress and urgency behind, and throw yourself into finding your purpose, nurturing your friendships, and pursuing your passions.
Kindness : The Little Thing That Matters Most
author: Jaime Thurston. Hardback 224 pages. price 8,41 € order
An act of kindness, we all have it in us but in our busy lives we often forget how much of a difference you can make by doing it. And how much effort is it? Spend a minute doing something for someone, give a compliment, give up your seat on the bus. This book aims to motivate and inspire you to do more of these little acts.
It uses the voices of those who have been helped by the author’s charity – 52 Lives – to ground the ideas in real life action. The book is themed around 52 simple actions you can do to spread kindness. Interspersed throughout are nuggets of science explaining the positive effect kindness has on the brain and on the heart. This book is a call to action for people to live a more connected, fulfilling life. With inspirational quotes and personal stories this book will give you all the motivation you need to start spreading a little kindness – it’s free after all! Learn to live a life of kindness by following Jaime’s infectious positivity in this charming gift book.
The Art Of Gratitude
Meredith Gaston. Hardback, 200 pages. 18,50 € order
Being grateful for the little things in life can create a huge shift in your happiness and general well-being, when you practice it daily. The art of gratitude is the art of embracing and drawing joy from small moments and pleasures, and being open to inspiration and abundance, joy, peace and love. It’s an art that illustrator Meredith Gaston is well practiced in and uses in her daily life. In this book Meredith’s explores the different aspects of gratitude, adding tips, exercises and inspirational quotes, all beautifully illustrated with water colours.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
Gail Honeyman. Paperback, 400 pages. 10,39 € order
This book intrigues me and I can’t wait to read it! We all get into comfortable habits, think we’re fine and happy with what we have – and often we are. But what if change really is a good thing? What if stepping out of that comfort zone is not as scary if we think?
Eleanor Oliphant has learned how to survive – but not how to live. She leads a simple life. Wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend. She is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything.
One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted – while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she’s avoided all her life.
Change can be good. Change can be bad. But surely any change is better than… fine?
- Winner of the Costa First Novel Award
- No.1 Sunday Times bestseller and No.1 New York Times bestseller
- Soon to be a major motion picture produced by Reese Witherspoon
Have you ever thought of doing a home exchange during the vacations with a total stranger in a totally different country? The first thought that pops into people’s head is often “oh, I don’t fancy having strangers going through my drawers and what if they wreck the place?” But we have now done home swaps on a number of occasions and we absolutely LOVE it. Here’s why.
new toys and a home from home
The first time we swapped was with a family in Edinburgh during the October holidays and it was amazing. All we needed to do was drive for a couple of hours and we didn’t spend much more money that week than entries to the zoo, a few meals out and normal food shopping. We enjoyed experiencing life in a city neighbourhood, in a gorgeous Victorian house. The kids had the best time, discovering millions of ‘new’ toys. Since then we have done it a number of times, nationally and internationally and it is positive every time.
Risky? Stranger-danger? Sure, there is always a little bit of risk doing something informal like this, but from experience I can say that most house swappers are kind, caring, helpful, generous and welcoming people. They are willing to give you the keys to their house after all. It is a matter of trust. And, by the way, we have always found our house ten times cleaner than we left it and our cat spoiled rotten.
The pros of home swapping for the holidays
Well, I could make an endless list, because I am such a fan of the concept, but here are my main reasons for opening my house to people from around the world in return for a stay in theirs.
You cut out the accommodation costs
Let’s be fair, home swapping is not just fun, it also saves you a heck of a lot of money. Imagine having to fork out nightly hotel costs or the rental of a holiday home for a couple of weeks. Even doing AirBnB adds up for a week, no matter how low the price per night is. Home swapping can drastically bring down the cost of your holiday, especially if you are already paying for flights.
It is a home from home
No swanky hotels during a home swap but the comforts of a home. You literally move into someone’s house, so you find their fully kitted out kitchen, comfy sofa’s, a beautiful terrace or garden, shelves full of books and – if you swap with a young family – plenty of ‘new’ toys for your own children to get excited about. You move into a whole new neighbourhood for a bit, get a feel for what it’s like to actually live here. In fact, we once felt so at home during our home swap with a family in Valencia that we ended up moving here permanently, haha!
You get to stay in incredible houses around the world. For free.
You can keep it local and swap with someone in your own country. We have just agreed an exchange to stay a week in a beautiful house in the mountains near Alicante, Spain, which for us is just a short car journey away right now. You may find surprising locations just on your doorstep.
Someone with a quiet cottage in the wilderness may love to come and stay in your inner city apartment. But likewise, someone with a beach house in a hot climate may just be dying to come to the misty west coast of Scotland. Also, if you have always wanted to visit Canada, Australia or the Far East, you can try and swap with someone over there. The flights will be the only pricey aspect, but you’ll be saving a LOT on accommodation. And what better way to travel and get to know a different culture, than by living like a local?
You get insider tips from the home owner
Most home swappers, including myself, find real joy in preparing a welcome pack full of insider tips, hidden gems, maps, brochures and itineraries for lovely days out. It is a great way to get to know a new city or area through the eyes of someone who lives there.
You have pet care sorted
Got cats (or goldfish or chickens…) that need looking after during the holidays? Many home exchangers are happy to look after your pets as well as your home while you are away. Saves additional expenses on catteries and they can stay in their own environment. Of course check with the people you invite whether they are happy to do this kind of thing.
You can even swap cars
If you are not too precious about your vehicle, this is another great saving you can make during a home swap. In the UK you will need to put an additional driver on your car insurance, which won’t be much more than 60 pounds usually and most home swappers are happy to pay this as it is way cheaper than hiring a car. In Europe the car itself is insured, hence you won’t need to pay for additional drivers on your insurance. Not everyone will want to swap cars, but it is especially great when you are unable to bring your own because you are traveling by plane, so worth asking!
Are there any cons at all? Not many in my opinion, but of course there can be issues which would make you not want to do a home swap.
You will have to tidy up and clean your house beforehand
We underestimated this the first time we swapped, haha! But yes, before you leave your house to your visitors, it is only good manners to clean the house top to bottom and put the clutter and stray clothes and toys away. This can take longer than you think, so good to start early. On a plus note: you will probably come home to your house in an even cleaner and tidier state than you left it. After which my home returns to its usually happy, messy state within half a day.
Things may break
Got a Ming Dynasty vase from your great grandmother on the sideboard? A beautiful, delicate set of glasses you don’t want anyone to touch? Your kids got some new or expensive toys they don’t want to break or get lost? While 9 out of 10 times nothing will go wrong, we are all human and things can break. Guests broke one of our plates, we broke one of their toys. People are mostly honest and tell you immediately, offer to replace the item or leave a bit of money as a ‘sorry’ gift. Still, if you have stuff you definitely don’t want anything to happen to, put it away safely.
If you have a spare room that doesn’t need to be used during the swap, put all your private or fragile stuff in here and ask your guests kindly to respect this room and keep it closed. If you have a key, lock it. We usually let friends of neighbours look after our computer and financial documents for the time we’re away. Not because you expect the guests to rummage through your files and steal your money, but since you haven’t known them for very long, it is only common sense to keep your valuables safe. The rest? Just stuff.
Home swap tips and home swap websites
home exchange websites
Want to give it a go yourself? There are a number of websites you can advertise your house on. You usually pay an annual subscription fee and then you can swap as often as you like. We are currently members of Guardian Home Exchange, which is a UK based website part of the Guardian (newspaper) but it has many international houses on it – including our own one in Valencia. We pay 59 pounds a year membership, which really is not much if you think what you would spend on one night in a B&B alone. There are many others you can try of course, including Home Love Swap, which is the biggest of them all.
find Pet sitters
Another website, which is a slightly different concept, is TrustedHouseSitters.com, a site which doesn’t offer home exchanges (although you can swap in some cases), but on here you’ll find people who offer pet sitting services for free, in return for a stay in your home while you are away. You can also offer yourself as a pet sitter, to find somewhere ‘free’ to stay during the holidays. Again, a huge saving because you don’t have to fork out money for a kennel or a cattery, plus your house is looked after during your vacation. And vice versa, you get to stay in someone’s house for free in return for walking a doggie.
We invited a couple into our home over the Christmas holidays as we were unable to find anyone to look after our cat Buster. I must admit I was slightly apprehensive at first, as it wasn’t a straight swap…Total strangers would pick up our keys from the neighbours and move in…without us having the keys to their property. But I needn’t have worried, because the retired Belgian couple who came were the sweetest cat sitters we could have wished for and when we returned they welcomed us back in our own home with tapas and cava. It seems that it is a certain type of person who is attracted to this kind of holiday. Open-minded, caring, curious, kind and interested in other people, other customs and exploring new locations.
How to prepare your home for listing
Take good photos
A tidy house gives better pictures and better pictures attract more home swap requests. make the beds, clear the clutter, put some fresh flowers on the table, etc. You can shove all the clutter into one room just for the time being until you got your photos done, it doesn’t matter, but make sure that that first impression of your house is good. It’s a bit like getting your house ready for selling. Make it look fab!
describe your house
Place yourself in the shoes of someone who is looking for a house to exchange with. They will want to know how many bedrooms you have, bathrooms, sofabeds etc. Also what kitchen equipment perhaps or things like baby cots and high chairs if you own them. Each exchanger is different, but it is good to describe how your house is suitable for different types of people. Not want tiny sticky fingers on your wall? Make this clear in your listing that you rather want older families or couples only.
Describe your location and area
You may not think of your street or neighbourhood as much, but your guests are excited, it is all new to them and they want to explore. Describe the highlights of your village or town, maybe there is a fine bakery around the corner or some splendid woodland walks. Describe how far larger towns, cities and other attractions such as beaches or mountains are. Tell them about castles, museums, swimming pools or zoos in the area. Anything that will persuade them to get in touch with you for a swap. The nice thing about a home exchange is that you often end up in places you would never normally have gone to, but they turn out to be real hidden gems.
Respond to your messages
If you own a fabulous house in an even more spectacular location, be prepared for lots of messages. We certainly received a few more now we are in Spain than we did when we still lived in Aberdeenshire! Just make sure to respond. You decided to list your house on the site so be polite and reply to people who are interested in coming to stay in your house. Of course you don’t have to sit and wait for an email, you can also fire off requests yourself. Most people are lovely and will tell you straight away if they are happy to arrange an exchange.
Make a welcome pack
A welcome pack can be as simple as an A4 with the workings of your TV, oven and heating system. However, it’s nice to include some ideas for excursions, directions to the nearest bank, shop and public transport, etc. I usually include tourist brochures that I pick up from around town, cultural agendas and business cards of my favourite restaurants. People are very grateful if you take the guessing out of their visit. Provide them with some tried and tested tips for visits you enjoy yourself. Also include some emergency numbers, names of neighbours that may be able to help out in case of anything happening and other info you may think is useful during their stay. I usually also leave a bottle of wine or a yummy delicacy from the local area on the table for the guests on arrival. It is nice to make people feel welcome, and you will likely find similar kindness on the other end.
I don’t usually do New Year’s resolutions, but this year I decided I would. Or rather: I want to set an intention. Self care. I have seen the word pop up regularly in the past year and I always thought that wasn’t meant for me. I also didn’t quite know what it meant. Pampering? Having your nails done? Spa days? No idea. Others obviously needed all of that for themselves for some reason. I didn’t, because I’m fine – I told myself, and not selfish like that. But you know what? Resilience needs fuel too. Self care is not selfish. It is about setting healthy boundaries and listening to your own needs.
Self care and pouring from an empty cup
I am probably not the only one, but I have given so much of my energy and focus to other people in the past few years that I am running on empty. My body and mind are telling me to take a break. And what do they say again about pouring from an empty cup? Exactly, you can’t. For years I kept pushing myself, just a little bit further, because I didn’t want to let people down or because I felt I “shouldn’t pity myself and just get on with it”. Handle it, woman! Making commitments even though my inner voice told me to go and rest. Saying ‘no’ is not an easy thing when you love what you do, but also have a natural urge to please and look after people.
Stop being your own worst enemy
You sometimes forget that your body and brain are not machines and that you deserve your own kindness too. I really am my own worst enemy sometimes. Ignoring my tiredness and making myself believe I am not that tired. My excitement and enthusiasm taking over as usual and there I go again. Go, go, go! But there’s only so many hours in a day. And by the way, I am also a mother of two small boys. Life is busy indeed. Does this sound familiar? It probably does.
Self care is looking after yourself….for once
I am turning 40 this week. Yesterday I was only 23, right? Time goes so fast. I see my face changing, some wrinkles appearing. The frown in my forehead is now permanent (I blame the kids! ;-)). I guess it’s maybe common midlife musings, but I have realised that I am not immortal. When you’re in your twenties and your thirties you feel life will never end. You bounce back after a night out, you can deal with a bit of tiredness. Turning 40 shouldn’t be such a big thing and I truly am grateful for having made it to this age healthily and without too many life hurdles. It is not given to everyone. But I believe I need to make a couple of small changes to my lifestyle in order to keep my health. Self care is one of them.
Trust your inner compass
So what does this mean to me? Sure, a pampering session will be lovely, but self-care is much more than a day at the spa. It is about caring for the inside. My mental health as well as my physical health. Listening to my body, my signals from the inside. I need to stop ignoring my inner voice, because my inner voice is my compass and she is always right
Self care is honouring your inner voice
Yesterday I started a job in Valencia at a call center. I lasted until mid afternoon. I pushed myself into thinking “it would be good for that extra bit of money”, “to have colleagues” and “to have a permanent job”. When I applied, my inner voice was already protesting. What did I do? I ignored her. Yesterday morning while still doing the training for the job, my inner voice was protesting again, but my rational brain was telling her to shut up. It wouldn’t be that bad, it was a good thing to have work and a bit of routine. But you know what? I am so glad that I let my inner voice make the decision for me this time.
Sometimes you need little reminders!
Halfway through the afternoon calling session, my inner voice took over and shouted at me: “Why the hell are you doing this to yourself? You didn’t come to Valencia to do this kind of work! I know you hated it twenty years ago, what makes you think it would be any different? You don’t need to do this! It is making you miserable! For goodness sake, woman, I thought you want to do this self-care thing? Not really getting anywhere with this, are you?” Yes, I whispered, you are so right. Thank you. I put down the headphones and told my manager I was going home. I had the most wonderful stroll in the sunshine, in the park. Today I am focusing on my writing again.
Not being busy is something I need to learn and I expect many of you will feel the same. It is such a badge of honour in the western world to always be busy. With work, with stuff. Being idle is seen as a sin, mostly by ourselves.
Self-care is setting healthy boundaries
I also need to learn that it is OK to say ‘no’. Saying no is not about being horrible to people, it is about setting healthy boundaries. Breaking commitments is not a nice thing to do, so it is much better to say no right from the start if you are not sure to begin with. It is no use to anyone if you commit to something and say you will come/help out/do something if your inner voice is already warning you at that very moment. Say you will get back to them tomorrow with your answer, that you need a moment to think about it – this is totally fine. Be honest. To others, but mostly to yourself. If your inner voice is warning you, she will only become louder down the line, until you feel totally resentful to whatever it is you committed to.
We are enough
So what am I going to focus on this year to improve my inner peace and mental health? I am going to release the pressure for a start. Stop expecting so much from myself. I don’t need to achieve and be brilliant at everything. No need to prove anything to anyone. I am enough. I will also allow myself to rest. To take the time. To stop rushing around. It will be hard for me, I know, but it is necessary. I will also address some old pain and trauma trapped inside of me, which – again – I have ignored for years because I felt I should “just get on with it”. I guess I will try and drop the guards. Be confident in showing my vulnerability and not always covering up my feelings with a smile and an “I’m fine”. Be assertive but kind. Strong but soft. Who’s joining me?
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Do you like the idea of journaling? Many people do, but some just don’t know where to start. You got a pretty notebook, a set of pens. Now what? Journaling, sketching and doodling doesn’t come natural to everyone. The thought of filling all those blank pages can be quite alien and even feel a bit daunting. But there is no right and wrong in journaling, because it a private thing. Diaries used to have a lock on them for a reason! Nobody would even dream of taking photos of their diary pages and sharing them with the world (and I am certainly glad I never did, haha!). Today I am sharing some journaling ideas to help you get started.
Why keep a journal? What is it for?
Know that feeling when your head bursts and you feel it all gets a bit much? Journaling can really help to focus the mind when things feel overwhelming, so it is a great tool for keeping mentally healthy. Write down what bothers you or the things that you find important and often it suddenly looks a lot clearer when you see it written down.
FOCUSING THE MIND – SEEING THINGS CLEARLY
STORING AND EXPLORING CREATIVE IDEAS
RELAXATION – MINDFULNESS EXERCISES
Journaling can also be a good way to keep ideas in one place, whether it is for a new business concept or for an artwork that you want to create in the future. Using words combined with images is a very powerful tool to visualise something you want to achieve. It feels a lot more ‘real’ when you start putting ideas and dreams on paper. Of course keeping a journal can also just be a lovely way to relax and take a bit of time out of a busy day.
Getting stuff off your chest and visualising dreams
I started writing diaries when I was about eleven and I never really stopped. In my early life it used to be a ‘dear diary’ kind of thing. I wrote almost daily about my thoughts and feelings and it must have helped me get through the years of adolescence. A sort of outlet at the end of the day, getting stuff off my chest. I remember writing pages and pages late at night in notebooks. Do teenagers still do that? It made me develop my writing skills, that’s for sure. As life got busier with work and eventually family, I stopped keeping a daily diary, but always found that journaling helped me focus and visualise my dreams whenever I had ideas for the future. Sticking pictures on pages, doodling, making lists. It makes ideas come to life.
Lesson 1: NO PRESSURE
It doesn’t matter if your journal doesn’t look Pinterest-worthy, it is not meant to be an artwork. And it certainly shouldn’t give you stress and pressure to make those “perfect, beautiful journal pages” you see online. I’d say, ignore Pinterest all together, just start. Write stuff down, stick some pictures in, anything. As long is it gives you joy and it is meaningful to you, you can do whatever you like.
NOBODY WILL JUDGE YOU. YOUR JOURNAL IS PRIVATE
Nobody will judge you, nobody will think you wrote or drew something silly. Nobody has to see it. The main purpose of your journal is for you to have some fun, jot down ideas, keep inspirational images you found, and make it your own personal, private space. Perhaps pencil down some things you’d like to focus on this year. Places you’d like to visit, films you’d like to watch. As a reminder to yourself. Sure, write down goals if you feel you need that kind of push, but hey, be kind to yourself. Life is busy enough, right?
Bullet journals and Art journals: what’s the difference?
There seem to be two different types of journals popular right now. ‘Bullet’ journals and ‘Art’ journals. The first type is a bit like a pretty, highly organised diary with months and days and timelines drawn in beautiful letters and it usually features plenty of lists (‘bullet points’), with the purpose to keep you focused on goals and tasks. You can also add lists of your favourite things or the things you are grateful for. Art journals on the other hand are more like a sketchbook in diary form and often feature collages, paintings and little creative experiments, combined with words and text. Of course you can choose whichever you like and you can do a bit of both in one journal.
Journaling Ideas to write and draw:
Ideas really are endless when it comes to journaling, so my list are only suggestions. Anything that makes you smile is a good start.
- Something that made you happy today. It can be a simple as a cup of coffee in silence.
- A poem you read somewhere that you love
- Funny quotes from your (grand) children
- A quote you find inspirational
- A cut out image from a magazine (or make a mini collage)
- Things you wish to achieve this year
- Everything that brings you joy
- Your favourite songs, books, food, places, activities
- A list of people you love and what you admire in them
- A memory from childhood that makes you happy
- Reasons to be grateful
- An affirmation that will make you feel good when reading it
- Words, images and drawings that make a new idea come to life
- Drawings, doodles and sketches
Examples of Affirmations for journals
If you believe in the manifestation of positive thoughts and creating your own reality by focusing on what you want in life, then affirmations will be a helpful tool. Write down an affirmation to work on your self image, your self belief or a more positive attitude towards life. The more you write down a certain phrase, the more it will stick. Can’t find the right words? Here is a list of different affirmations you could pick from for your pages if they resonate with you.
Choose an affirmation that you like and want to focus on and write it down in the middle of a page. You can draw a border around the words or fill the rest of the page with drawings if you wish. Doing the additional drawing helps you focus on the affirmation more and let the words really sink into your subconscious. It’s a bit like meditation, you take time to loose yourself in the moment.
Borders and dividers
A wish list, a poem, a quote, a little bit of random text on a page – it will look prettier with a border around it. Doodling borders is not hard, it can be as simple as repeated lines or dots along the page. Drawing patterns like this can be quite meditative too. Here are some journaling ideas for creating pretty borders around the pages.
It’s your journal, you can cry if you want to
Last but not least, your notebook is a dumping ground to have fun in! Do you want to write down all that makes you sad? Go for it it, it may give air. Do you want to remind yourself of all that is good in your life? Try it, it may make you smile. Or do you want to explore your creative talents? Get the pencils, paint, stamps, scissors and old magazines out and go crazy. Journaling ideas are endless and the pages are all yours.
Journals have no rules, unless they have ruled pages.
Stove top potpourri, ever heard of it? Forget the chemical scented candles and expensive room scent diffusers, just put a load of fresh fruit and spices in a large pan and let it simmer on the stove. Just a wonderful scent filling your home, with only natural ingredients. The perfect welcome for your guests on Christmas day, before they sit down for their Christmas dinner. Or just to get you in the Christmas spirit the days before.
How do you make it? Here’s the Christmas potpourri recipe for this lovely DIY home scent. Merry Christmas!
Just check now and then if it still has enough water so it doesn’t boil dry and let the heat do the work. Enjoy your own homemade Christmas potpourri!
Whatever you will be serving on Christmas day, beautiful natural Christmas table settings will make your table look even better. It doesn’t have to be complicated and you don’t need a degree in design, less is more. You can keep it simple and make a big impact by using natural materials like branches, twigs and leaves. Be resourceful and have a look around the house for what you already own. Use your beautiful vintage glassware, silver cutlery, linen fabrics, burlap and plain white candles in clear bottles. Here are some ideas.
Rustic Christmas table setting
Go all natural and rustic by using a linen table running in the middle, topped with natural fresh tree branches. Use some vintage or other solid brass candle holders as well as candles or tea lights in glasses. Simple white dinner ware and linen napkins add to this look, which is both very understated and very stylish.
Rustic natural centerpieces
Gather some greenery, branches and pine cones from the forest to create beautiful centerpieces for your natural Christmas table settings. To make the vases or pots, use large tins and wrap them with burlap or other fabric.
Table centre pieces with glass bottles
Festive decorating can easily become over the top with ribbons, dancing santas, flashing fairy lights and bottle brush trees on every surface. Using natural materials in your holiday decorating will bring back a bit of peace and tranquility in this busy time of year. Try going ‘Scandinavian‘ in your decorations and reuse your white wine bottles as candle stick holders, and fill them with water, leaves and sprigs.
Don’t forget the napkins: attention is in the detail
Don’t bother with trying to fold twelve napkins into the shape of a snowflake. Who has time for that? Just roll your simple linen napkins up and tie them with a pretty bit of string, ribbon or even leather. A tiny sprig finishes the look.
Do you feel it too? End of year sadness and December blues? I don’t know if it is the darkness, the cold, the fact that another year has passed way too quickly or that you realise that you haven’t seen friends or family for a very long time. End of year melancholy. Homesickness for a home that it no longer yours. It’s not easy when you have moved away.
A comfortable coat that no longer fits
I’ve been an emigrant since I was 26. That is almost 14 years now. Fourteen years away from my motherland, the soil I grew up on. I almost feel like a tourist now when I visit. A strange combination of familiarity and foreign-ness. When I arrive back in the area I was born in, it feels like an old, comfortable coat, but after a while I also realise it doesn’t fit me anymore.
And now I uprooted for the second time ten months ago, finding my feet on foreign soil yet again. It’s been very exciting both times I moved country, for very different reasons. The first time around I moved to Scotland to be with my love and subsequently stayed more than twelve years to build up a life together, get married and start a family.
December blues and juggling family
This year we moved to Spain, because we both desired a new adventure, more sunshine and a different lifestyle for our family. And because well, a change does one good and all that. Good decision so far? Yes, although it’s not a permanent holiday like some people cheekily put it. School settling in dramas, language barriers and navigating the bureaucracy are just a few of our struggles this year. But hearing my little boys babble in Spanish to their teacher and the babysitter fills me with pride.
And now it is almost Christmas. Everyone who has family living far away will know this dilemma: where will we be spending Christmas this year? With my husband’s parents living in Wales and mine in the Netherlands, this has always been tricky. And then when your own parents decide to separate, things get even more complicated. Families, eh?
Looking back and standing still: another year has past
In Spain it doesn’t get any easier. Flights are a bit longer and not necessarily cheaper, despite more of the low cost airlines flying in our direction. So it’s a puzzle. This year we are actually skipping the family Christmases all together and are flying back to Scotland. Catching up with as many friends as we can possibly cram into two weeks. But it feels funny and these decisions are never without guilt. But then that is also the case when you decide to celebrate Christmas with one family and not the other. How do you juggle this issue?
So yes, December blues, although not in a depressive kind of way. Just reflecting. Taking a moment to stand still and be thankful.
This month most of us will reflect on the past year and all the things that have happened. The good times, the crappy times, the parties, the holidays, the busy work weeks, the day-in-day-out kids routines, the weeks that flew by. All the people you met, the new friends you made, the people you said goodbye to. The pets you have lost or that came into your life. The houses you moved out of. The things you felt really bad about, but didn’t matter in the end. The things you failed to do, but everyone has already forgotten about. Another year gone. Kids are growing up too fast, parents are getting older. What will next year bring?
More moments together. That’s what makes life meaningful.
This is a (Spanish) video that speaks more than a thousand words, even if you don’t quite understand what they’re saying. Friends and family speaking fondly of each other and how much they enjoy spending time together, and admit they don’t do this enough. At the end of the video the filmmaker tells them how much time in their life they actually have left together if they continue to see each other as often as they do now… Yep, a lot less than they thought. Days rather than years. Hours rather than days.
Real tree or artificial Christmas tree? What’s in your home? I am going to warn you, I am biast. I have always preferred real Christmas trees over fake ones. Just because I love authentic, nice things and a plastic tree just never fitted that picture. Still, I wanted to look at the options more closely, because more and more people have them nowadays for various reasons. Some claim it is in fact a more eco-friendly option than buying a real tree year after year, only to throw it outside after a few weeks. But a plastic tree…environmentally friendly? Not sure. By the way, did you know the fake tree was invented by a U.S.-based toilet bowl brush manufacturer, the Addis Brush Company? This company created an artificial tree from brush bristles in the 1930s, acting as the prototype for modern artificial trees. Interesting little bit of history, right?
So what’s the truth? What are the options and what are the pros and cons of real versus fake trees?
Real Christmas tree: Pros
You can’t beat the smell of a real Christmas tree. The fresh smell when you brush against the branches. It fills your home with Christmas!
You support local business
By buying a real tree from a local tree grower, you support local business. These businesses spend all year caring for their trees so that you can take one home and enjoy it during the Christmas holidays. Some vendors make it into a whole experience: getting you to pick your favourite tree, wrapping it up, selling hot chocolate and coffees on site to warm up. It can be a lovely trip out for the family if it’s somewhere picturesque in the countryside, on a frosty December morning.
It is natural. And biodegradable.
If you hate plastic, you want a real tree. A real tree from nature. Falling needles and all. No point trying to convert you, as a fake plastic Christmas tree will not enter your house. Real trees are authentic. And they will not sit in landfill forever.
Real Christmas tree: Cons
Some are worse than others, but all real Christmas trees will at some point lose their needles. Central heating is the main cause and then there are kids and pets brushing against it. You’ll be sweeping up and hoovering almost daily and if you’re really unlucky, your tree is not looking great anymore by the time it is Christmas day.
It gets thrown out every year
I don’t know about you, but I always feel sorry for the Christmas tree the first week of January. Decoration taken down and off it goes, dragged through the hallway and out the front door onto the pavement. All bare and needles brown and dropping. It’s done a good job, but poor tree.
They cost money…every year
Real Christmas trees are pricey. And on top of gifts, food, drink and maybe travel, it is an extra cost in December you could maybe do without.
Artificial Christmas tree: pros
They look perfect
Look at the image above. Perfect. No lop sided trees with one side thicker than the other. Or funny looking tall ones with a long thin top which makes the topper bend down. A fake tree is perfectly shaped in a perfect shade of green and with perfectly even spread of branches.
You can leave the decorations in
If you’re really short of time, energy or are just plain lazy, you can get a ready decorated fake tree. Job done. Fold it up, put it in a bag and store it away for next year. Boring and uninspiring? Perhaps. But convenient it sure is. And not everyone loves being creative and crafty.
You reuse it every year
No need to shop around for trees, just get it down from the loft and put it up. It saves money for sure. If you buy a high quality one, you’ll be using it for many years. My own parents-in-law apparently have had their artificial Christmas tree since the 1980s. That sure is a durable solution.
Artificial Christmas tree: the cons
It still ends up in landfill
No matter how many years you use your tree for, it still is plastic and at some point in the future will end up in the bin. I wonder how many of those sold in the 1960s are still taking pride of place in the living room this December. I know, you say, but what about all the other plastic household things you use that will break at some point in the future…kettles, light shades, garden tools, buckets, bins, toys, etc… Yes, you are right. But perhaps next time you need to replace those, it’s worth looking for non plastic, more durable alternatives too. In case of a tree, it is easy to make that decision right now. But if you already own a plastic one, keep it forever!
There is no smell
Nothing beats the smell of…plastic? I suppose you could light a fragrant candle in the room to add some seasonal smells, but they sure won’t come from your artificial Christmas tree. If you like the smell of nature, a fake tree won’t do the job.
Fake trees are questionable in terms of human health. Today’s artificial trees are typically manufactured with metal and polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a non-biodegradable, petroleum-derived plastic. In addition, many older varieties may contain lead, used as a stabilizer in the manufacturing process.
The artificial Christmas tree is non-recyclable and non-biodegradable, meaning they will sit in a landfill for centuries after disposal. An artificial Christmas tree will last on average five to seven years, meaning you’ll eventually have to dispose of it, and many secondhand stores will not accept them. There’s also no guarantee the LED lights will last the whole time you own it, and they can’t be removed and replaced like with a real tree.
I believe it is a good idea to choose natural materials over plastic as much as possible, so you can guess what I am supporting.
Buy a tree in a pot
Don’t like the thought of sad dead trees on the doorstep after Christmas? You can of course opt to buy a fresh Christmas tree, in a pot. You can then plant it in your garden after Christmas is over and dig it up again next year. The question is always whether it survives after having lived in a heated living room for a good few weeks, but it is worth a try. Don’t forget to water it!
Adopt a tree!
How about giving it back to the grower? You enjoy it over Christmas and then it goes back ‘home’, where it gets looked after for another year. Not a very mainstream option yet, but it does exist. Find out more on Adopt a Christmas tree schemes or do a Google for your own local area.
Don’t want a tree at all? Decorate a large house plant. Or collect a few nice branches from the forest on your next walk and place them in a large vase for a minimalist look. Ideas plenty.
I will just leave this here. Merry Christmas!
Need some ideas for no plastic gift ideas for children? I’m with you. Birthday parties, Christmas presents, gifts brought by visiting relatives, children get a lot of stuff. And if you have young children like me, this stuff amounts to a lot over the months and years. Boxes full of toy cars, action figures and dolls and a whole lot of plastic you’d rather not have in your house. It’s messy and half of it the kids don’t even play with. I bet most parents would agree. Still, a child’s birthday or Christmas requires a gift as you don’t want to see sad faces. How about not adding to the heap of expensive commercial plastic toys, but bringing something imaginative instead? Here are some suggestions I love.
A Craft & bead box for creative little hands
Got a cute vintage tin or a wooden box with a lid? Or how about pimping up an old shoe box? A lot of children around the age of 5-8 or older love to make things like bracelets or necklaces, so create a beautiful treasure box for them! Fill a box with old beads, ribbons, buttons, scrap fabric and string and let their imagination do the rest. I know I would have loved to receive a box full of things like that.
A wooden tree compatible with Lego
I love it when companies make their stuff compatible with other brands. Smallable, which has a fantastic range of wooden toys for children, sells this plywood tree for a very reasonable £16 that is compatible with Lego bricks. There is also a castle and a space ship in the same series, making perfect no plastic gift ideas. Check out their other beautiful wooden toys here.
Board games and other family fun
I must admit, I’ve never really been one for games, but being a parent I kind of had to get into it. Snakes and ladders, Ludo, Memory, Uno, you name it, my kids love it. I don’t know whether it’s the game itself or the fact that you are playing it with them and they can beat you, but I sure score some brownie points when I get on the floor or around the table for a board game. We were given a great wooden Snakes and Ladders/Ludo combo board a few years back and it gets used every week. Definitely not something that will end up in the forgotten toys corner any time soon. Charity and second-hand shops usually have games in stock, so worth checking. If you rather invest in something high quality and new as a gift for the family to enjoy together for years to come, then John Lewis is a good bet.
DIY Frame lacers for fine motor skills
Frame Lacers are a colorful DIY toy that doubles up as a great fine motor skills activity for kids. Got a tiny child in your life? Make them one of these!
An invention box or ‘robot box’ for explorers
Do you have a child in your life who loves taking things apart or figure out how stuff fits together? Gift them an ‘invention box’ or ‘robot box’! Create a robot box for the toddler in your life using outdated technology. Find old CDs, floppy disks, cables & cords to create a fun bin for toddlers to imagine with. For the older child, fill a large box with more fiddly things they can put together. Nothing better for their creativity than open ended learning and discovery. Check out Research Parent for ideas on what to include in the box.
Happy Green Friday everyone! Your Facebook timeline and Inbox will be bombarded with Black Friday ads today trying to lure you into spending money on stuff you don’t really need. Tempting, I know, because wow, such big discounts! (or…are they really?). Here is a little reminder for some feel-good and guilt-free alternatives. Please share this post to remind others too….because advertising is powerful and people will be spending way too much on Amazon today! 😜Let’s support the small guys today or, hey, just have a coffee with a loved one instead.
Art, it makes you happy, it is unique, you can’t have enough of it AND you make a creative individual do a little happy dance when you buy from them. What else do you need to know? This is my personal number one when it comes to buying presents at Christmas – or for any occasion. Where to find art? Pop into a local gallery, find local artists at fairs and markets this season or browse artists on sites such as Artfinder, Etsy or Redbubble.
It is very convenient to buy everything at the click of a button from Amazon, and we’ve all done it, but don’t complain when another shop in the high street goes out of business! Go out there and support your local stores, craft fairs and Christmas markets. Every penny spent locally on Green Friday or any time of the year goes back into your local economy and keeps your neighbourhood, town or village alive.
Vintage toys, vintage clothes, vintage jewellery, vintage homeware, beautiful vintage collectables. Totally guilt-free because it already existed anyway. And do you know how much love and time goes into sourcing these beauties, by passionate, knowledgeable and very dedicated vintage shop owners? I know, because I used to be one! And I know many of my vintage trading friends will 100% agree with me. And what is more unique as a gift than to give someone a gift with a story to tell? Go and support these hard working vintage treasure hunters.
Got clothes you no longer need? Books you’ve read, too many kitchen items or gardening tools? Organise a Swap Shop! It’s a lot of fun getting a group of friends together and make each other happy with items you no longer need. I did it a few times with clothes and I tell you, they were one of the best little parties I had. A few clothes rails are handy to display the clothes, or just use a large table and some baskets for smaller items to rummage through. Expect plenty of laughter, silliness, drinks and nibbles and time for a good catch-up while others are trying to squeeze themselves into each other’s old evening dresses. You get the picture. Go and do it. It’s great.
How about creating some lovely hampers with eco-friendly items on Green Friday? Great for those New Year’s resolutions to finally give up on plastic bags and chemicals in your bathroom and kitchen. Think of Beeswax food wraps, a bamboo takeaway coffee cup for on the road, lovely handmade natural soaps wrapped, etc. Also check out the Ethical Superstore for guilt-free gift ideas.
Make do and Mend
Got a pile of clothes lying in the corner that need buttons sewn on, gaps repaired and patches stitched on? Before you spend too much money in the Black Friday ‘sales’, go and put the kettle on, pick a Netflix film you were meaning to watch for ages and fix those holes.