Imagine being a happy freelancer, doing what you love, and then from one day to the next, all contracts stop and you have no idea when work will pick up again. Yep, it happened to many this year, as we all know. Ryan Godwin was one of them, a theatre set builder from London, now living in Valencia. Like everywhere in the cultural sector, all work suddenly disappeared when Covid arrived, and not just in the UK but across Europe. How does a theatre set builder reinvent himself in times of a crisis?
So you walk into a charity shop or second hand store or you inherit an old chair from your grandmother and have grand visions of it looking totally cool in a new piece of fabric. But it can be a bit daunting, the prospect of doing it yourself – if you even have the skills – or finding someone to do it for you. What fabric is suitable and what will look nice? And what to choose so you will still like it in a few years time, rather than a quick funky makeover that you might only like for a little while?
A vintage Lloyd Loom chair I transformed for a customer, using Farrow and Ball paint and a gorgeous piece of purple and grey patterned fabric.
I have revamped a number of chairs for customers and to sell in the shop. In some cases I did it totally myself (the more straight forward type of seat) or I would come up with the design and hand the actual job over to a professional upholsterer. It is amazing to see a smelly and tatty old chair being transformed into a fabulously stylish piece. My advice? Go for it. There are just a few things to keep in mind.
Pros and cons of doing upholstery yourself
There are pros and cons for both tackling a project like this yourself or getting someone else to do it. If you are on a tight budget and have lots of time, then it might be worth-wile learning how to do it yourself. It will be a fantastic achievement and something to be really proud of. On the other hand, especially when you have little patience, some things are better left to people who make a great job of it and spend that bit extra to get the result you are after. After all, ask yourself how much you would spend on a new chair in a high street store. Probably not even of the solid quality of your old vintage find.
For a more complicated vintage wing back chair I selected the fabric and designed the new look and asked a professional to reupholster it for me. I painted the feet in a graphite chalk paint to match the fabric.
The cost of professional upholstery
People are sometimes surprised by the cost of getting a chair reupholstered. Yes, it probably costs as much as buying a new chair, unless you simply go for slip covers and do a quick makeover. It is a mistake to think that just by buying a second-hand chair that needs new covers, you are going to save lots of money. Apart from the amount of time and material it takes to bring a chair back to life, it’s not about saving money really. It should be regarded as a different, far more interesting and exciting option. Plus you are saving something from being thrown away by giving it a new lease of life. How cool is that?
Here’s a quick comparison of doing it yourself versus handing the job over to someone else:
Doing it yourself:
- Pros: you will be learning/practising new skills, potentially saving some money, get a feeling of great achievement and have a fab creative project to work on.
- Cons: it will probably take you a long time to do, it is quite technical when trying to tackle a big chair such as a wing back. You may not get the professional looking result you were aiming for.
Paying a professional:
- Pros: they know what they are doing, using the right materials (fire retardant etc) and make your chair look amazing. They have the knowledge and expertise to advice on fabrics. They work a lot faster than you!
- Cons: it is more costly than doing it yourself.
An old rocking chair I revamped using Ikea fabric, which is now living in the Dell of Abernethy holiday accommodation in the Cairngorms!
Choosing fabric for upholstery projects
When choosing fabric for an a chair or sofa, make sure it is suitable for upholstery. For smaller seats such as kitchen chairs it is OK to use curtain material or fabric you would use for making cushions, but for the bigger chairs it needs to be suitable for upholstery and fire retardant. If in doubt, just ask a specialist fabric retailer.
There are of course millions of fabrics to choose from and it is totally up to you whether you want to go wild and patterned or choose a more classic and timeless fabric such as plain wool. I love the furnishing fabrics at Ikea. They are fun and inexpensive and most are suitable for (light) upholstery. Ideal for a quick makeover of kitchen chairs or box cushion seats. John Lewis also has some great fabrics, ranging from around £11 per meter for some of their printed cottons to well over £50 per meter for a quality wool. Keep in mind that for a wing back chair you will probably need around six meters of fabric, so the fancier your material, the more costly your project.
I love the fabrics by Scion (Harlequin), which come in fabulous graphic patterns. This is Scion Axis Tangerine.
Other sources for finding fabric I have used are good old eBay (you can often find some good value remnants of wool, linen and other quality materials) and Fabric Rehab, a great website with beautiful patterned fabrics, which you will love if you like the Scandi look like me. Always try and get a sample if you can when buying online, to prevent getting a roll of fabric that is not what you were after.
Webbing and foam
Mid century armchairs, including those made by Ercol, often have rubber Pirelli webbing rather than traditional webbing, which is fairly easy to replace, using the metal clips that come with it. The rubber straps are quite costly, so make sure you measure up how much you need before ordering. Pirelli webbing can be found on eBay or online shops specialised in upholstery. Furniture from the 1950s and 60s also often has foam blocks inside the seats (as supposed to horsehair filling used in traditional, antique furniture), so this is another thing that is pretty straight forward to replace. You can get foam in various thicknesses and density. For an armchair seat I usually buy a 4″ thick block, for a kitchen chair 1″ or 1.5″ is often enough. A useful website to buy foam from I find is Easyfoam.
Two Pirelli webbing projects I tackled myself: a small sofa and an armchair
Paint or strip wooden seat frames?
Get beautiful slip covers for your Ikea furniture
If you fancy a makeover of an old chair you bought from Ikea, you may want to check out Rockin Cushions, a small US based business, designing and making lovely slip covers for many popular Ikea chairs and sofas.
As a big fan of sustainable design, reducing landfill and creative upcycling, I was excited to recently speak to Michelle from Rockin Cushions, in Los Angeles. Michelle contacted me to collaborate, and I was very keen to feature her on my blog. Her creative buzz, amazing ideas and energy are contagious. I asked her about her business and plans for the future. Slip cover vending machines at Ikea, being one of them! Let’s hear more about her work.
Beautiful solutions for ‘disposable’ furniture
Michelle, tell us about your business. What is it you make?
I design and manufacture slip covers for IKEA furniture. The fabrics I choose focus on current decor trends, such as Scandinavian, Farmhouse, Boho Chic, etc. We fill the gap between buying a new upholstered piece of furniture and the current IKEA cover offerings. We hope that a new slip cover will save your “disposable” piece of furniture ending up in landfill. I feel strongly about reducing waste and with my covers I aim to offer people a very easy and affordable way to stay current without a big financial commitment.
What is your background? Have you always been creative?
My parents immigrated to Australia from South Africa when I was a year old. My dad was a self-taught leather craftsman. I was taught to sew as a child and worked in our family business, which grew into a small manufacturing company in Australia. I studied graphic design and fine arts at University, but was also acting in commercials on the side, and pretty soon the acting became much more interesting. I decided to move to LA to pursue my acting career shortly thereafter.
The old rocking chair that sparked my business
What made you start your Ikea slip cover business?
After moving to LA, I encountered the Fashion District in downtown, and my passion for creating was reignited. There are so many people creating, making, sewing and producing there. It is really inspiring. At one point I was given a traditional rocking chair as a gift and decided to make a cushion for it, because I couldn’t find anything I liked. I put my design on Etsy and people really responded positively. The seed was planted. I then started getting a lot of requests for IKEA slip covers, and slowly things grew from there. Eventually about 5 years ago, I decided to ditch the acting and run my business full time.
What do you love most about your work?
I really love to source new fabrics and I definitely have a need to spend a few hours a week creating something. I just started my craft channel on Youtube, which I’m really enjoying. I also love receiving photos from my customers who are really happy with their purchase. That just makes my day.
How do you choose pieces and what is your creative process?
The IKEA pieces I choose to work with are simply the most popular ones. It’s a little tricky taking a chance on something new because you don’t know if it will stay in the catalogue for very long. And it costs a lot of money to create the covers in all the different fabrics, so that’s why I stay safe with the furniture that has been around for decades, such as the Poang and Ektorp sofas. The process is pretty simple – I either copy the original slip cover, or create a new design. My Poang covers for instance has been modified from the original so that it fits all the different Poang cushions universally. After we design the covers, it’s just a matter of getting it into production with all the fabrics we offer.
2020 has been a crazy, but incredible year for business
How has the 2020 lockdown affected your business? Did you have to adapt or work differently?
This year has actually been the most incredible year for me. In April, I made some face masks for healthcare workers and set up a FB donation page. I was interviewed on a local morning show and not only did we raise our donation target, we sold over 30,000 masks in a month. It was the most crazy experience! I was also able to get business funding and some grants, which had been impossible before.
And even though sales have been slower than normal for the slip covers, I’ve been able to focus on my Youtube channel and start a subscription box service, with six (gift) products that have been 100% upcycled from our waste materials, such as table / kitchenware, home decor items, fashion accessories and bags. I really believe there is more opportunity than ever right now for an entrepreneur.
How do you reach your audience, what do you do to promote yourself?
I have a Shopify store and we do email marketing. We’re also on the socials – Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, Youtube and we’re about to start live streaming tutorials on Twitch. Content creating is a lot of work, but it’s the new normal for every business right now.
What is your biggest challenge in your business?
Right now I’m targeting the commercial market, such as “IKEA for Business” customers, so finding the right sales people is difficult. I’m not technically in the furniture industry, so I’m working on making those connections. Also cash flow is always a huge challenge. Staying on top of bills etc when times are slow is tough.
What is your next step in your business? Are you looking for world domination?
Lol, yes and no! I would love my brand to live alongside IKEA, I dream of being able to make a significant difference in reducing landfill. I have a crazy idea of having Rockin Cushions vending machines in the IKEA checkout /warehouse section! Designing covers for furniture rental companies to help keep their products in use for longer, is also something I’d love to be doing. And then I have another dream of hosting a DIY/ home makeover show because it would be so fun! But, at the end of the day, I really just want to have a financially secure future and time to do things I love.
Rockin Cushions is based in LA, United States. They also ship internationally, mostly to the UK, Europe, Australia. They support the non-profit DAYS FOR GIRLS by donating fabric and participating in sewing workshops in LA to produce menstrual kits to girls in developing countries, many of whom would otherwise not be able to attend school.
I am not a patient mother. I am also not an attachment parent and have never been a dedicated stay-at-home mum. My kids mean the world to me, but I also value my own freedom. A lot. And sometimes the two clash a little, especially when I am busy. Mum-guilt! I end up raising my voice, losing my temper, saying things I regret later. I know when children play up, it’s mostly because they want your attention, but some days I just don’t have the energy. I am only human. Do I sound familiar? Still, children do not always recognise that mum still loves them, even though she gets angry or impatient with them. How do you explain unconditional love to a sensitive child?
My eldest boy, nearly nine, is a worrier. He has always been a little nervous and anxious about things. On the surface he is a very active, happy and social boy, and he easily makes friends. He is not shy, is very creative and gets on with most people. But at home, he tells me he worries. About whether his writing is good enough, whether he looks OK and if we love him enough. “Mr Worry is bothering me again”, he says.
Figuring out the meaning of relationships
At this age, he is very much figuring out emotions, friendships, family relationships – and the meaning of love. He is especially confused about the difference between ‘liking someone’ and ‘loving someone’. I had to explain several times that I may not like his behaviour when he misbehaves, but I will always love him, no matter what. He worries about many things, but lately he worries that mummy will stop loving him when he is naughty. It breaks my heart to think he would even doubt my love for him, so I knew I had to come up with something.
How do you get through to a child with such anxiety? Where do these feelings come from? Is it my own fault? Does he need more guidance? It’s not as if we don’t show him affection at home. We cuddle him, play with him, spend time with him, read to him. Does he need more of it? Surely I don’t need to tell him I love him every 5 minutes? Or do I? His younger brother doesn’t show any of these insecurities, instead is cool as a cucumber, and very independent. The eldest one wants reassurance ALL. THE. TIME. How do you deal with that without going nuts? Oh, parenting, it ain’t easy, is it.
My love is a permanent marker
Last night, the worry was back. “I just think that you won’t love me any more in the future and I’m worried about that”, he said in tears. The boys were both in bed, it was about 9pm, and I was about to do the bedtime stories. I sat next to him, held him close and dried his tears. “Mummy loves you always” I told him, “That will never change. My love for you is permanent, it will always stay, even when you’re a grown-up. I will love you until the end of my life, I promise”, I told him, and of course ended up getting all tearful myself. “You mean, like a permanent marker?” he replied, obviously trying to make sense of the word ‘permanent’. “Yes, sweetie, like a permanent marker. It never rubs off. It will always stay on.” What a brilliant metaphor I thought! “So just remember, being angry, worried or scared is only like writing in pencil. You can rub it out, those feelings don’t stay forever.” He looked at me and smiled. “And mummy’s love you can’t rub out.”
This Monday morning we were rushing as usual, trying to make it in time for the school breakfast. Mr Worry was back. “Will we be late mummy, will we miss breakfast? Will we be late mummy, are we late?” my son kept asking in a panic. Normally I snap at him, telling him to stop asking the same questions over and over again, because surely I already told him it was going to be OK and can he please just be quiet. Today I stopped in the middle of the pavement, looked at his face and asked him:”Do you just need some more permanent marker on your cheeks, sweetie?” “Yes”, he smiled, quietly. I held him, covered his face in kisses, and he was happy. I squeezed his hand tightly as we walked into the school playground, calmly, and lovingly.
A lot of us have been hit by the 2020 crisis. The pandemic made many lose their jobs and thousands of employees are still on furlough, not knowing when they can go back. As a freelance content writer I too lost big clients this year and suddenly my income was cut in half. I had to think hard and really up my game online, or else it would hardly be worth continuing. I have now started increasing my income, just by using some of the tips below – and I am exploring others too. As I know many of you are in the same boat right now, I am sharing some ideas to maybe inspire you to start your own online business and become your own boss. Being your own boss is ace, I fully recommend it!
Do you believe earning money online is not for you? You can do this too, I promise. Here is how you can start your own online side hustle or business, even if you have never done this before. You could take your job everywhere, if you work online. Imagine the freedom!
What skills or expertise could you start monetising?
You may have done a boring office job for the past ten years, but everyone has skills that they could pass on in an e-course, an e-book or a blog. Think outside the box. Be creative. You may know exactly how to organise your week, house, and plan meals. Do you know how many women feel overwhelmed by clutter? Perhaps you are an absolute star at sewing, DIY or money management.
And don’t think that just because you’ve been a school teacher, you could only ever stand in front of a classroom. You will have built up valuable expertise, and perhaps have developed your own unique way of teaching kids to read or do maths. Don’t keep this to yourself. We want to hear about it!
There is space for everyone online
If you could share your insider knowledge or are very passionate about something, there sure will be a captive audience out there. “Oh, but there are so many others already doing this“, I hear you say, “Why on earth would anyone want to buy my course, e-book or read my website?” Don’t worry, there is space for all of us. The world is your oyster. And your knowledge is worth sharing.
Try and make a list of all the things you care about, know about or are very interested in. Business coaching, healthcare, party planning, cake decorating, hiking routes, mindfulness, fitness regimes, vegan living, upcycling. Anything. You will quickly discover topics that may be suitable to turn into a way of earning money online.
Sell beautiful e-books with Designrr
I always thought you had to be a ‘proper’ author to publish a book, any book, also an e-book. Turns out it is easier than ever to make a professional looking e-book. And you can earn money online by selling them. Designrr is one of those online software programmes that lets you create professional looking e-books from your existing blog posts, or you can design a book from scratch.
Making an e-book is a great way to pass on your specific knowledge to a worldwide audience. The more ‘niche’ the better. If people are searching for something online, your e-book will come up, if you use the right keywords. Do you know lots about fermenting vegetables and making kombucha? There is bound to be an international audience out there, searching for this on Google. Am I giving you ideas yet?
With Designrr you can simply pick a template, insert stock photos from their editor, or upload your own, and start writing. Check out their special offer of $27 for lifetime access to the standard system. Pay a bit more for the $97 pro package and you’ll get additional features, including publishing straight onto Amazon Kindle and other book selling platforms.
Offer your freelance skills on Fiverr
A natural result of the pandemic lockdown has been that many people worldwide are spending a lot more time online. New online stores and businesses are popping up all the time. This also means that entrepreneurs need blog content, help with IT stuff, accounting, videos, social media and marketing advice, graphic design, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), sound engineering, you name it.
If you happen to have those skills, or are willing to learn, you can easily start finding clients on platforms like Fiverr or Upwork. Just register, create a good-looking profile, show off your experience or portfolio, and start attracting clients. I have recently got new long-term paying clients just by promoting myself on these sites. You can also find freelancers to help you build your own business of course.
Record audio courses on Listenable
Online courses are a big winner this year and not likely to leave the stage soon. What better way than learning about something new from the comfort of your own home? Got a skill? Start teaching online! If you get nervous about videos, like me, then creating educational podcasts may be a more comfortable idea. Just voice, no face! I discovered Listenable recently, and they offer bite-size audio lessons of about 5 minutes each, in a series of up to 10 lessons in total. You could do that! Record 10 lessons (you could even record them on your mobile phone!) about something you are passionate about, and start getting paid for it. Browse their audio courses to get an idea of topics.
If you are interested in a Listenable subscription to benefit from the hundreds of audio courses yourself, I am able to offer you an exclusive 30% readers discount code on the annual Listenable membership. 30% DISCOUNT CODE: ninaeggens
Create an online course with Teachable
If you are comfortable creating videos and tutorials yourself, you may want to look at Teachable as a way to earn money online. Many artists and makers now offer online courses to earn additional income. On Teachable, like with the audio courses, courses range from business and marketing techniques to making sourdough bread and everything in between. People search for lots of weird and wonderful topics and you can offer them just what they need. Prices start at $29 for the Basic plan, so you can start creating your course.
You could also start a blog, and fill it with informative, useful articles about a certain topic, and include affiliate links to relevant products or services. A bit like what I am doing right now in this blog post: I tell you about the different platforms you could explore to make money online, and if you decide to click on one of the links and pay for those services on the partner’s website, I receive a commission.
Earn money while you sleep
Yeah, right, earning money while you sleep sounds way too good to be true. Well, it’s not a complete lie! Affiliate marketing can be very lucrative, but only if you choose a partner company that offers a high commission rate and you make sure you use the right keywords in your copy so you get found online. It takes time to put it all together and to fill your website with quality content. You may also need to pay for a domain name, a website and payment features. But once your site is attracting plenty of traffic, you can literally take a step back and receive your passive income while you are spending time on the beach. Sounds good, right?
Blogs about beard oil and baby clothes
Other than promoting professional online services, like I am doing in this blog post, you could promote physical products to your niche audience too. Perhaps you have a blog about crafts. Then you can choose to be an affiliate for craft products. Or cooking equipment. Travel items. Beard oil. Baby clothes. Etc. Etc. Etsy, Amazon and Ebay are big platforms you could become an affiliate for and you can pick and choose products you love. If you have a blog with enough quality content, you can also apply to become an affiliate through Awin, which allows you to join hundreds of specific well-known brands. That way you can fully tailor-make what you want to promote, what you like promoting and what suits your niche business. Try it! What have you got to lose?
Need help with a website or content?
If you are taking the plunge to build your own online business, don’t hesitate to contact me if you need well written SEO content, blog articles or product descriptions. You can contact me here on the Nina’s Apartment blog with questions or have a look at my Fiverr profile.
Whatever your reason to want to be moving to Valencia, Spain, it is an exciting plan that equally causes plenty of stress and worry. That is why you are looking for blogs and information online! Well, I won’t claim I know it all, but I am one of those people who took the leap and jumped! We moved to Valencia from the UK at the start of 2018, and we have not regretted it.
Buy the brand new E-book Moving to Valencia, Spain with children
Your must-have guide!
> 46 pages of useful tips about schools, neighborhoods, healthcare and what to expect, when moving to Valencia with children. Including a list of international schools and other schools worth checking out.
My brand new 46-page E-book is an excellent place to start, to make you feel a little less insecure and more ready to make your dream reality. As a mother of two young children, who’s gone through the process, I am sharing my knowledge and first-hand experience as an expat in Valencia.
Because really, it all seems impossible….until it’s done!
Price: $14.95 ex vat
What neighbourhoods are good in Valencia, Spain?
I receive a lot of emails from people who are thinking of moving to Valencia from the US, or the UK, and are full of questions. Many come as a family with children, so there are obviously a lot of concerns to do with schools and family-friendly neighbourhoods in Valencia and its suburbs. After having lived here now for more than 2.5 years, I have a pretty good idea of what would work best for new arrivals, even if you have never been to Valencia before.
List your criteria
The biggest question is usually: which neighbourhoods in Valencia are good to live in? First: Valencia is a very safe city. It is the third largest city of Spain, with about 800.000 inhabitants in the city itself, but you will quickly know your way around and feel right at home. So no neighbourhood is awful, but there are some that are more attractive than others. And of course, it is very personal. If you come from a big house in the suburbs, then you may find it unappealing to move into a shoebox city flat, and likewise, a city dweller may not like the idea of living in an out-of-town village. Think about what your criteria are as a family in terms of living space. Then compare them to the various neighbourhoods to get a better idea of what would be a good match.
Which neighbourhoods in Valencia Spain have good schools?
Another question I get asked all the time: Where should we live to find a good school for our children? You can read more about schools in Valencia on my blog post Choosing schools in Spain. Here are a few things to keep in mind when trying to find a good school and neighbourhood in Valencia:
- You can’t apply for a public or semi-private school if you have no address
- You can of course select a school and try and find a home nearby
- It is common for schools to be full. The ayuntamiento or district council, will then have to find you an alternative school closest to your address
- It is advisable to visit schools in advance to get an idea. Schools are very personal and what suits one expat, doesn’t suit another.
- It is very common to change schools here in Spain, so don’t worry if you change your mind after a year
- It is a good idea to rent an Airbnb for a month on arrival and explore neighbourhoods and schools while you are here
- Official school applications always happen in May, but you can get in throughout the year if there is a place
- Most out-of-town private and semi-private schools have bus transport arranged from the city centre
- Give yourself and your children time to adapt. Read my blog Emigrating with kids? The first year is a write off
Turia park: your 11 km city garden
The 11 km riverbed that was developed in the 1980s as a green park surrounding the city centre, is one of the best features of Valencia. If you base yourself near to it, you’ll always have access to a fantastic outdoor space for your daily exercise, play park visits and picnics with friends. There are cycle paths all along the park, that eventually lead you to the beach. It is lovely, year-round. Different sections with different flowers and trees, cultural buildings, fountains, sports fields and midie15th century bridges. Plus, the wonderful iconic Ciudad de Artes y Ciencias, at the very end, together with the biggest aquarium of Europe: Oceanogràfic. If you are looking to meet other expats quickly, you can find numerous exercise classes by English-speaking teachers on weekdays all through the park.
The list of different neighbourhoods of Valencia, Spain.
Good city centre neighbourhoods in Valencia
Often called the hipster neighbourhood of Valencia, Russafa (or Ruzafa, in the Valencian spelling), is a lively area, just south of the historic centre.
If you want to live amongst pretty old buildings, ancient towers and windy old streets, and hear the cathedral bells, El Carmen is the place to be.
The now pretty much gentrified old fishing village, right on the beach, is characterized by its colourful tiled facades and little bars in side streets.
Arts and Sciences
If you prefer bright, modern and comfortable over characterful and old, you may want to look at the areas around the City of Arts and Sciences.
Which towns and suburbs around Valencia are good for families?
Now this will make the whole search area a lot bigger of course. Many expats choose to live in the suburbs or towns within a 30-minute drive of the city, and many go north because of where schools are located. International and private schools in Valencia are more easily accessible if you live in these areas, although most schools provide bus transport from the city centre as well.
For some a bit too far out, for others the perfect place to live La Eliana, just off the CV35 road to Lliria. It is a nice, quite large, town about 30 minutes drive from Valencia. It does have a metro connection too.
I live in this area and I think it offers the best of both worlds: just 10 mins on the metro to the city centre, but still with a very village-y feel. There are lots of schools dotted around here, ranging from public, to Catholic concertados, to English private schools and everything in between.
This is a quiet residential are, or urbanización, mostly consisting of villas with pools and gardens. There are international schools nearby and it has a metro station.
Perhaps not the ideal location connection-wise (it has no metro station – but it does have a bus), but it is my favourite beach.
This urbanización is about 30 minutes out from Valencia, but located in a very pretty spot, just at the foot of the mountains of La Calderona. The American School of Valencia is located within the urbanización, and it is therefore quite a popular area among expats.
A good bit of advice? Order a large map, stick it on the wall and pin your short list areas on it. Knowing the map will make you feel you know the area, before you have even moved here.
The face mask. The awful face mask. It has become a staple in our household now, here in Spain, and I am washing more masks than bras these days. No, I can’t say I’m a fan. But hey-ho, nothing is permanent, and this too shall pass. So while we can think of enough negatives around wearing a face mask, such as feeling claustrophobic, getting a skin rash and just looking rather unattractive, we forget about the benefits of wearing one. Number one, of course, you have less chance of catching or spreading a virus. Obviously. Are there any others, you may ask. Oh yes, there are! I found seven. Let’s look at the bright side.
1. You don’t have to speak to people
Yes, I am speaking to you, introvert! I bet you secretly would want to wear that face mask all the time from now on, when going outside. If you have children, you know that feeling at 9am, when you drop off the kids at school and you have dozens of parents greeting you and you feel obliged to make small talk before you have even had a coffee. Just. No. Or that feeling when you are minding your own business doing the grocery shopping and your overly chatty neighbour spots you in the bread aisle. No longer, folks! That face mask makes you incognito. Combine it with a hat and sunglasses and you could rob a bank without anyone even recognising it’s you.
2. No more cold noses
It’ll be winter soon and that means freezing noses! So many times I have wondered why there wasn’t a solution for having a cold nose in winter. I mean, we put on hats, gloves, ear muffs, scarfs. But noses, no, they stay out in the cold. No more! Knit yourself a thick woolly face mask or cut one out of fleece material and your nose will be toasty warm.
3. You save on makeup
I hardly put on makeup these days, wearing a face mask. Especially combined with sunglasses, there is really no point. The only thing I use is a moisturiser in the morning. Saves a lot of time and money!
4. But…you could really go to town on the lashes
I now understand women in some Arabic countries who wear the full hijab. Have you ever noticed how gorgeous their eyes are? If you only see the eyes above a face mask, you may as well make them pop. Saving on lipstick means you have spare cash for a high quality mascara or a set of falsies.
5. You can play ninjas
OK, this is only if you are 6 years old and love being a superhero. I did find myself tapping into my inner child though, when going outside with my two little boys, who immediately pulled up their hoodies and starting doing kicks, shouting ‘Wayaaaa!’. Face masks are instant ninja outfits. Do you know the mobile game Clumsy Ninja? It’s fun.
6. No more stinky breaths
Standing in the metro next to someone whose breath could kill. Been there, done that. Ugh. Face masks have a little perk of taking the edge off smells. Stinky breaths, pissy alleyways, full bins in the heat of summer. Not a bad thing for a happy life. Sure, you’ll also miss the nice smells like fresh flowers or pine trees, but just head into the woods on the weekend without a face mask on and you’ll get your fair share.
7. You don’t have to kiss strangers
No matter how I love the Spanish culture and custom of hugging and kissing each other all the time (hence the high infection rate no doubt), I am not a big fan of kissing a total stranger two times on the cheek when being introduced. Yes, it is air kissing, but still. Wearing a face mask? You’re safe! We’re not kissing now anyway, it’s elbow bumping. I’m OK with elbow bumping.
With the crazy times we live in right now comes a little perk for many: working from home is now widely accepted and often required. Most people would prefer to not be in the office five days a week anyway and find themselves being much more efficient working from home. An office at home also means that you can design it yourself, to your needs and taste, which makes it even more pleasant and relaxed. If working from home is something you’ll be doing in the long run, it’s a good idea to invest in some durable, useful items to make your life easier and work space more professional. No more working on the sofa!
For this post I have done some browsing for you on Etsy and made a selection of beautiful and useful accessories for your desk, to create the perfect home office space.
All products listed are made from sustainable materials, including wood, paper and metal.
Prevent RSI with an ergonomic laptop stand
Many of us work on laptops, which makes working flexible. But having to work from home on a laptop can make those hands and wrists pretty sore after a while. Let’s prevent RSI and invest in a good ergonomic laptop stand, at the correct height.
Combine it with a keyboard and turn your laptop into a desktop when working from home. This beautiful minimalist design in oak and steel is from Etsy seller Oakywood gets very good reviews and costs £123. It reduces your eye and neck strain, rises your laptop about 6 inches (16 cm) to an ergonomic position at an eye level.
Desk organizers for tablets, pens and coffee cups
No one likes starting their working day at a desk full of loose stuff. Stationary, iPads, notebooks, paper clips, they all need a home! Invest in a good-looking desk organizer and you get rid of that problem.
This stationary organizer below is not only beautiful, minimalist and made of beech wood, it also features slots for your tablet and phone. Handy for watching tutorials or videos or having a quick hands-free call on screen. Above all, it keeps your pencils, pens, keys, business cards and desk accessories from going astray.
This organizer below is another nice wooden item, which even has a cup holder built in. Because we’ve all had that coffee spilled over the keyboard…
Sort your life out with a good daily planner
Hands up, who likes a good list? I enjoy a bullet journal too. Combine the two and you’ll get a daily desk planner pad. With this handy A5 daily planner from the Etsy seller InkyIntheWild you can really start sorting your life out.
The motivational desk pad comes with 100 easy-tear pages and a cardboard backing. Fill out the planner, organize your thoughts and then simply tear off the pages and stick them on your wall, memo board, fridge or fold and pop in your bag. You can order the daily work planner on its own, but you may be tempted to go for the mega pack (gosh, I need that), which includes a daily, a weekly and a handy meal planner. I am already feeling organized just looking at it!
Invest in some fancy book ends
Working from home undoubtedly means more files, notebooks and documents that need a shelf. Don’t shove them in a pile in the corner of your desk, or worse, on the floor. Give these files a proper home. Some fancy book stands or document holders will make your home office look a lot more professional and organized. I love these metal honeycomb book ends, made by seller Geomodus.
Make your office look neat with a desktop cable organizer
Laptop cables, USB cables, keyboard cables, headphone cables; it’s like bloomin’ spaghetti junction on your desk these days! Time to sort that mess out. To stick with the wood theme: I discovered this beautiful desk organizer made in walnut, which will make any desk look like an executive’s.
We all hate wearing face masks right now. They are uncomfortable, make breathing difficult, cause skin rashes and, to be honest, just look silly. In Spain, where I live, face masks are compulsory almost everywhere, unless you are at home, stuffing your face in a café, lying on the beach, hiking in nature or doing sports. My children and their teachers have to wear the masks for up to 8 hours a day: in class, at break time outside AND at P.E. They only take them off at lunchtime, for obvious reasons. Many other countries don’t have the rule of face masks in primary schools, but here in Spain, the numbers of contagion are so high right now, that everyone is petrified.
How long will this go on for?
I was and still am critical and sceptical about the severity of the virus compared to the enormous long term economic impact of the lockdown and ongoing restrictions. There is no doubt the strict lockdown was needed back in March when thousands were getting seriously ill and were dying. Many families lost loved ones and are still grieving. Hospital staff was working around the clock. The problem is, however, that we don’t know how long the virus is going to go on for. The world is eagerly – or less eagerly – waiting for a vaccine, but will this actually work?
And what would we do if there suddenly was a whole new virus? Would we just stop living? Another lockdown? Wear a face mask forever? Create another vaccine? More money to Big Pharma? And what about other diseases, are we not worried about them any more? The news is hysterical, politicians are fighting, people are becoming more polarized on social media. Businesses are going bust. It is exhausting. I noticed myself getting more frustrated and angrier by the day, rolling my eyes at stupidity on social media and hating the face mask with a vengeance. Then this week I happened to stand beside two GPs, or family doctors, outside the school gates, who are among the parents in my son’s class. I decided to ask them about the situation. Most doctors have a certain calm over them and a great skill of putting things into perspective. I needed some of that.
“What do you think about the mask wearing in primary schools?” I asked the mum GP. “Oh, I know, they are horrible. I am wearing one all day too in the clinic. It saves on having to use makeup though!”, she laughed. “I have cousins in the Netherlands”, she continued, “and I am aware of schools in other countries too not having the mask rule for children. Children are not the problem. But right now, in Spain, schools have only just opened, and we all need them to stay open. We have waited so long! They want to prevent anyone from getting sick, so are extra careful. Maybe too careful. I expect, in a few months time, when we start to see that infection hardly takes place in schools among primary aged children, rules will be relaxed a bit.” I hope so.
I asked her husband what he saw in his profession right now in terms of Covid infections and whether it is as bad as the media tell us. He said: “After the first wave in Spring, we had nearly no one getting sick in July, but now we see a rise again, yes. The symptoms are very different though and most newly infected patients have no symptoms at all. They have had a test done for whatever reason, ended up being positive, and they call us up because they don’t know what to do. They don’t feel sick, and they are confused.”
No symptoms, no problems…then why still panic?
So why are we still so worried and hysterical about the virus if symptoms are so mild and almost nobody is dying? I asked him. “Because there is always a small percentage that will end up in hospital and ICU”, he answered. With only a few infections, that small percentage is negligible, but with the big rise we are seeing right now, that percentage naturally means that more people are going to need hospital beds. We need ICU beds for other illnesses too, they haven’t disappeared. And now we are heading towards winter. Traditionally every January hospitals are full of patients suffering from complications from the normal flu virus. We just do not have enough capacity for both COVID patients and flu victims. We have to flatten the curve. That is the reason. There is hope that we may not see such a big spike in normal flu infections among older people due to the use of face masks this year. But we just don’t know.”
And the vaccine? I asked. Will we all have to line up for a compulsory vaccine next year? “No, I don’t think so”, the dad GP replied calmly. “It will take a while before it is here anyway and then I expect it will be offered first to the people who are most vulnerable, like older people, like with the normal flu vaccine.”
Rabbit holes and rubbish blog posts like mine
Our conversation got cut short as we were overrun by excited kids coming out of class, but I am glad I spoke to actual doctors, face to face (mask). In a crazy year like this, it is so easy to get caught up in social media feeds and online discussions, mistrust mainstream media and do your own ‘research’, going down all kinds of rabbit holes, searching for ‘the truth’. It is great to inform yourself, of course, but not everyone is aware of how they are manipulated online in their opinion shaping without even knowing it. With every click.
If you haven’t watched The Social Dilemma on Netflix yet, I recommend it. You suddenly understand how dangerous and misleading the algorithms of platforms like Facebook and Youtube are and how you end up only seeing and finding posts, documents, videos and groups that constantly confirm what you already believe in, and which only strengthens that belief, so you see it as the truth. You are right, they are wrong. But this also happens on the other side of the scale. The result? More extremes, less middle ground. Conflict. In politics, in pandemics, across the world. We all have our own beliefs, and that is OK. You don’t have to agree with me. You may even think this blog post is rubbish. Those GP’s might be wrong. Sometimes however, getting offline and talking to actual people, away from the spell of algorithms, is just what the doctor ordered.
Are you looking to give your living room or bedroom a makeover? You are probably thinking of the usual decorating methods of painting or wallpapering. But have you thought of trying something else instead? Self-adhesive wallpaper for example, is a great way to change the look of a room, without the permanence of traditional wallpaper. When you rent, this is especially interesting, as it will not damage your walls. Other ideas to update your boring walls is by ordering a photo mural or creating a photo gallery wall. Or what to think of a vertical plant wall? Here is some inspiration.
Self-adhesive wallpaper ideas
Do you think wallpaper is too permanent and tedious to remove again when the time comes? Are you worried that you will soon tire of the pattern? Then self-adhesive wallpaper is a solution. Wild jungle patterns, moody dark colours, animal prints, you can go to town with this stuff. It’s far easier to install and to remove compared to traditional wallpaper or paint. As you apply it just like a big sticker, it is very easy to install without the mess of wallpaper paste, and easy to remove when you want to change it again in the future. Self-adhesive wallpaper is widely available now online via Etsy or in your local DIY and hardware store. If you like to give your bedroom, kitchen or living room a new look, sticky wallpaper is a perfect option. It is also great for children’s rooms and nurseries.
Photo Mural ideas
Do you want to prolong that wonderful holiday feeling? Choose to print that tropical beach photo on self-adhesive wallpaper and cover your wall with it! You can do the same with beautiful black and white photos of your children, wedding or other memorable event. If you don’t have suitable photos yourself, search online for ready-made self-adhesive photo wallpapers on sites such as Etsy.
Vertical Plant Wall
Plants always make a room look lovely. If you want to add some greenery, consider installing a vertical plant wall. This is a frame, mounted to the wall, in which you either plant small plants, or hang pots from. In the example below, they suspended one plant from a bracket on the wall and guided the branches along the wall through a frame to eventually create a nice living, green wall. With a vertical plant wall you fill the entire wall with plants or part of it. If you have a green thumb, use real plants, but artificial plants also give a great effect and of course do not require any maintenance.
An original painted mural
Not as temporary as the other suggestions, and a little more time-consuming, but at least as cool: a painted mural! You will probably have to repaint this when you cancel the rent, but until then you have something unique to look at. And hey, it’s only paint! No screws, holes or other damage. If you are creative and artistic yourself, you can probably tackle this project yourself; alternatively ask someone in your network who can do this for you for a fee (or in exchange for something you can offer in return).
A photo gallery wall
Pick the best photos from your travels, friends and family and create a “cloud” of framed pictures on your wall. Want to add some lovely art prints? Have a look at these, on Etsy. You get the best effect if you choose different formats of frames and use them interchangeably. Would you rather not have nails and screws in the wall? Then buy self-adhesive brackets that you can easily remove from the wall. Also read our post on gallery walls and how to design them.
Have you ever dreamed about leaving it all behind and moving into a yurt, in nature, far away from the madding crowd? That is exactly what a group of Dutch-American families did in the province of Valencia. Down a single track road 4km from the nearest small village, we find Kausay, a small eco community tucked away in a green valley in between the rocky hills of Enguera. The sound of crickets in the air; the smell of ripe carob fruit falling from the trees. We had the opportunity to experience first hand what life is like, living off-grid, eating straight off the land and ‘unschooling’ the children. Yurt living in Spain, it wasn’t quite glamping but it sure was a treat.
Freedom away from the covid madness
During the final week of the summer holidays we decided to go camping before the schools were back. After six months of having the children at home because of the pandemic, we were more than ready for school, but we wanted to escape the city one last time. I was searching for natural campsites around Valencia, but was put off by so many Covid restrictions. Then I spotted a post on Facebook by one of the members of Kausay community, offering a yurt as an alternative camping experience, and I booked.
I had no idea what to expect, other than that we were renting this great big Mongolian tent for three nights and would be spending some time in nature, with no Wi-Fi. But we ended up having much more than a random camping trip. We really felt part of the community for a short while, cooking and sharing meals, talking under the shady trees, picking organic food straight off the land and having a peek into a life that is so different from ours and that of many others.
Permaculture as a way of life
Most yurt rentals are advertised as glamping, as it appears a bit more luxurious than crawling around in a pup tent. It certainly felt very comfortable, having a double bed and bunk beds inside this large round living area. It even had a wood burner for the winter. But that is where it ends in terms of luxury. If you expect a jacuzzi and fancy on-site camping facilities, this is not your place. Luxury is the last thing that Kausay community is aiming for on their land: members Ellen, Jeroen, Inge and Brother and their children are working hard at building an eco village based on simplicity, trying to be as self-sufficient as possible, and producing very little waste. On their large plot of land we find one small cottage, five Mongolian yurts, and a couple of bell tents regularly used by visiting volunteers. A shared, fully kitted out kitchen shed and a large picnic table overlooking the vegetable garden, form the heart of the community.
A good part of the land is used as a vegetable garden, developed through permaculture. Permaculture is more than a set of gardening techniques, it is a way of living where you carefully think about the way you use your resources – food, energy, shelter and other material and non-material needs. Permaculture tackles how to grow food, build houses and create communities, and minimise environmental impact at the same time. The two families don’t tackle this big project all by themselves; a string of international volunteers visits and helps out year-round, adding to the community vibe.
Compost toilets and how to use them
At Kausay community even human waste is recycled into compost. Compost toilets take some getting used to, as you don’t use water to flush, but instead sprinkle wood shavings to cover your deposits down below in the waste bin. Toilet paper goes in it as well, so don’t worry, you don’t have to wipe your behind with a handful of grass. A spray bottle with vinegar keeps the seat clean. Pretty easy, really. You do have to be patient when it comes to composting your own poop; it takes no less than two years before you can spread it out over your veg plot. Slow living and all that.
Upcycling as a way of life
One of the things we loved at Kausay community is the creative use of materials, giving rubbish a new purpose. Large bathroom tiles as table coasters, old metal beds to elevate herbs that are drying in the sun covered by old windows. The women in the group, Inge and Ellen, together designed and built the almost temple-like building that houses two toilet cubicles. They found a pile of old kitchen cupboard bits and doors in a skip one day and made the solid wooden doors into decorative walls around the toilets. The outdoor wash basins and taps are new. The waste collecting bins are built underneath the building, and can be accessed from the back and removed once full.
A fancy outdoor solar-powered shower
The shower cubicles were another design that was very effective and well-thought-out. The rust-free metal sheets give the building a modern look, but are also preventing the cubicles from starting to look mouldy or dirty, like you would quickly by using wood for this purpose. On top of the roof coiled up black tubes are heated up during the day and provide a lovely hot shower. The shower tray, taps and sinks were bought new. A concrete base forms the foundation. The shower heads themselves are made from 5 litre plastic water bottles, placed horizontal, cut open at the top to collect the water from the tubes above and pierced at the bottom to give a rain shower effect. Genious! As the water gets recycled as well, you are only meant to use natural shampoos.
From a corporate life to off-grid living
As we got to know the people who live in Kausay community a little bit over the course of our stay, we heard some fascinating stories. Career paths that many of us can relate to, but few ever leave. A busy corporate life, all about making money, managing people and businesses – making some rich and happy but most of us miserable and depressed. It takes guts, hitting rock bottom or a very strong calling, to escape the rat race in search for something else. Finding the thing you knew you were always going to do in the end. And then doing it.
Most of the residents in the community are now therapists or yoga teachers. Retreat leaders, mindfulness coaches, reflexologists, to name a few. But what they all do best and which binds them together, is just simply being. “Life here has really made me at peace with who I am on this planet. Close to nature, working with the land, appreciating being human.”, said Brother, who himself lives in a yurt with his young family. His presence oozes calm, and I can see how digging the earth, watching things grow and moving with the seasons, can be a real balm for the soul. Away from the fast-paced corporate world, fear-mongering media and consumerism. Our children played together all day with hardly a peep. Most of the time, we had no idea where they were. Educating themselves, I guess.
Family retreats and walking in silence
Except for bringing up their families and growing food, Kausay community also organises retreats on their land to share their way of life with others. Silent walking retreats, where you combine walks to waterfalls with meditation and mindfulness. Or you can go on a family retreat. This basically means you stay in the community for a week with your children. Doesn’t sound very peaceful to you, you say? Well, wait till you hear this: the kids do activities on a nature trail all morning while you can focus on your well-being during yoga and meditation sessions. Wonderful. I’m signing up. A bit of yurt living now and then will do me the world of good.
To find out more about upcoming retreats or to rent a yurt for a few days, visit their Facebook page or website.