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 life. A lot. And sometimes the two clash a little, especially when I am busy. Mum-guilt! 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?
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.
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.
I am not a coffee expert, but I love drinking it. Frugal as I am, I once bought a secondhand £20 Krups espresso machine on Gumtree in Scotland and it lasted us for a good six years. And that machine saw some heavy traffic in our house. Unfortunately, during the 2020 lock-down this Spring, it gave up the ghost. Great timing, right? I almost lost the will to live. I mean, not being allowed out for a proper cafe con leche, home schooling two small children, not sleeping well AND no working coffee machine at home? You get the picture. The dragon was unleashed.
Rediscovering what you already own
But there was hope. My husband, clearly having had enough of my moaning, but too stubborn to just order a new machine online, did an emergency search through the cupboards looking for an alternative. He dug out an old stove top coffee maker. Not quite producing your creamy machine coffee, but it had to do. I still grumbled. But then my man stumbled upon a Youtube video that made all the difference. If you own a cafetiere or French press, read on.
The basics: selecting the right coffee bean
First up: a crash course in coffee beans. They make all the difference if you start making cappuccinos at home! There are two types of beans, namely the Robusta and the Arabica. The Robusta is also known as the “average supermarket coffee”. The Arabica bean is more highly regarded and has different qualities. It has a more refined smell, a soft, full taste and low caffeine content. Also, the acidity is higher in the Arabica bean, which is a good sign when it comes to coffee. You can make nice coffee with ground coffee from a package, but if you want to go all barista, you can of course grind the beans yourself.
Making great coffee in a machine or a stove top coffee maker
If you have a proper espresso machine at home, spread the ground coffee evenly over the filter holder. This ensures optimal extraction. Then press the coffee firmly and place the filter holder back in the machine. Then immediately brew the coffee, don’t let it sit there, to avoid a bitter, burnt taste. If you are using an Italian espresso pot for on the stove, you basically do the same: spread the coffee grounds evenly, press it down well and put it on the stove until ready.
Make the best cappuccinos at home with a French press
If you want to make the best cappuccinos at home on a budget, read on for the trick that totally improved our morning routine! Frothing milk is quite a job to make a cappuccino that tastes the same as in your favorite coffee bar. There are all kinds of machines and milk frothers for sale, but did you know that you can also use a cafetiere for this? Heat a little milk in a pan, until just short of boiling, and pour it into your cafetiere. Then go up and down with the plunger / whisk of the cafetiere and beat the milk for about a minute until it foams. Carefully pour the milk foam over the coffee, slowly reducing the distance between them. For the last layer, keep the cup straight so that the top layer on the inside is beautifully white and surrounded by a brown edge. Voilà, barista!
The pet industry is booming and you can buy an enormous variety of accessories for your furry friends. Most pets spend a lot of time in the home and their beds will most likely sit on the floor in the living room or kitchen. They can take up quite a bit of space too. We choose our own furniture and accessories to match, so why not get a dog bed that blends in with your decor too? Here is my selection of gorgeous dog beds from makers and sellers on Etsy.
Why does your dog need a dog bed?
Does your pup even need a dog bed? Should you spend a lot of money when your dog is just as happy lying with you in your human bed or on the sofa? The answer is: yes. Even if you love having your dog sleeping with you in your human bed, every dog should also have a bed of their own, to snuggle up in during the day for a nap and as his own little safe space.
Health, hygiene and a place of safety
Unlike the floor, a bed will keep your dog cosy and will support arthritic joints and prevent calluses. Dog beds are usually washable, which is useful if your dog has accidents, has fleas or mites, or has walked in covered in dirt! Dog beds are also useful when traveling. Some dogs can get a bit anxious on a journey and it often calms them down to sleep in a familiar bed. They’ll rest easier and feel less anxiety.
Select a dog bed that suits your pet, your style and your budget
Dog beds are available in any style, shape, fabric and size. From fluffy and velvet cushions to sleek, minimalist dog beds. There are cheap ones and expensive one, and many people make a pet bed themselves. Choosing the right bed depends on your taste, budget, and decor, Of course, dogs being dogs, they may decide not to sleep in it at all, so there never a guarantee…! If you know where your dog feels most comfortable to rest, you may find it easier to pick the right dog bed. Also, make sure the bed is big enough for your dog to sleep in comfortably, without his legs spilling out over the edge.
Best dog bed for rescue dogs and other pets with anxiety
I fell in love with this design dog bed, which not only looks gorgeous, but looks like a bed I would like to snuggle in myself! Handmade in the Netherlands by designer-maker Rose from Floofculture, this high-end faux fur and gorgeous cotton canvas bed & sleeping bag combo is pretty and extremely comfortable. This bed is great for all animals, but especially the ones that need a bit of extra safety, such as rescue dogs. Also great for traveling; it doesn’t take up too much space. Everything is handsewn with very strong thread, in this case Brazilian waxcord. Price: £58.49 / 76.50 USD / €64.59 Check out this one and many other colours at Floofculture on Etsy
Choosing art for your home can be quite a challenge. How do you buy art online? Where do you find affordable art in your local area? Here are the best tips for buying art for your home.
Art: an essential ingredient in interior design
Architecture forms the bones of a house, art is the soul of the interior.
I absolutely love art and have always been interested in it, from when I was very little. Art needs to be around me, whether it is paintings, photographs, sculpture or ceramics. I yearn for the handmade, original qualities of a piece of art. Even though I have long run out of wall and shelf space to display anything, I just can’t help myself. You can take away my furniture, don’t touch my art. So what do I look out for when buying art for my home?
Expert tips for buying art for your home:
Don’t care about what others may think about your choice or whether the work is by someone famous. If you love it, it is meaningful and worth buying.
Pick something that ‘speaks’ to you. Does the work make you happy or emotional? Do you adore the colours? Does the subject have significance? You’re onto a winner.
Set yourself a budget if you don’t want to be swept away by crazy impulse buying tendencies. Yup – I am speaking from experience.
Sleep on it. Do you still want that artwork the next morning? Get it.
Art is personal, buy what you love
Art has the ability to ‘grab’ you and you feel you need to own it, probably because it is such a one-off, unique piece and you feel you may never come across it again. That has happened to me on more than one occasion. Even though buying art was the last thing on my mind when leaving the house. Choosing art for your home often happens by chance, rather than through research.
One time I was working at the Glasgow Art Fair for a previous employer and during a little wander around this big orange Rothko-like painting drew me closer. I couldn’t walk away. It was as if the devil had taken over my sanity and before I knew it I spent every last penny of my hard earned savings. Utter madness. Do I regret it? No. It is still my favourite painting and I will love it forever.
There is always space: create a gallery wall
If you spot something you like – or even more than one piece, don’t be put off buying it because of lack of wall space. Group pictures together to create an interesting gallery wall. And don’t be scared to buy something large either. Nothing worse than a tiny picture frame on a massive wall.
Where do you buy the best art?
If you are not too familiar with art buying, you might feel a bit at a loss when buying something for your walls. You may choose to be safe, going for a picture that matches the colour of the curtains rather than that it evokes any emotion at all. This is a missed opportunity, because why not make your home a place that inspires you? Fill it with things that are meaningful, not mass-produced. You will likely get bored of that department store print very soon.
If you feel you know very little about art, then where do you look for something that ticks those boxes?
Visit the degree show of the local Art School
Those fresh graduates are dying to make it big and have their art out there. You are bound to discover some pretty cool pieces. The artist will also be incredibly grateful if you go home with one of their works.
Go to local art fairs and markets
There must be some in your city or area. Stroll around, speak to the artists. These events are usually very lively and informal and feel less daunting than shopping for art in a quiet gallery.
Buy art online
There are a growing number of online galleries selling original artworks at various prices. An easy way to familiarise yourself with different styles and see what you like. Artfinder for example is a good place to start. They have some more great tips on what to look out for when buying art. Etsy is also a popular site to browse for some unique and often affordable prints and artworks.
Be brave! Dive into an actual gallery!
Galleries may look scary for someone who doesn’t usually go to these kind of places, but trust me, gallery owners want to sell art and you are customer just like anyone else. You’ll probably find there are pieces of art at different price levels. You may not be a regular, but you have every right to go in and have a look around. Many galleries in the UK now have a scheme called Own Art, which let you buy an artwork with a 0% loan, so worth popping in for.
Finding vintage treasures and making art yourself
The local auction house
Your local auction house will have plenty of artworks too. Have a look in their online catalogue of items to see if it is worth bidding. You’d be surprised how often you could pick up a framed original for less than £50. Of course, as with markets and charity shops: it is hit or miss, but certainly a good way of buying quirky art on a budget.
Browse the second-hand shops
Charity shops, car-boot sales or flea markets for original paintings, etchings and vintage posters.
Make something yourself. Paint, draw, sew, print or take photos. Frame a piece of fabric or wallpaper you love. Get the kids involved and let them go crazy with their felt pens and finger paint. It is amazing how good things look in a frame.
Have fun, starting your art collection!
How many photos do you have on your mobile camera roll right now? Do you turn your digital snapshots into actual printed photo albums? For many years now I make an annual photo album of our family pics. It takes a bit of time, but I am so glad I kept it up. The books are real keepsakes in our house and often get taken down from the shelf to flick through. It is wonderful to see and remember what we were up to that particular year. I often include text as well; some funny phrases the children said or some things that happened in our lives that year. The children love looking at themselves as babies – and I just sigh and reminiscence at the thought of how time flies. Today I am going to tell you all about Photobox who I have happily used for nearly a decade.
Choosing a company to create a photo album online
There are many different websites for creating a beautiful photo album online and most also offer the easy option to automatically put an album together for you. This is especially handy for those who find it hard to think of a nice layout or simply don’t have the time. I love creating and publishing – as you will know from reading my blog – so I happily fiddle about with photos, backgrounds and embellishments until it’s 100 % right. Within the Photobox editing system you can choose layouts for up to five photos per page, coloured and patterned backgrounds, type fonts, frames and graphic elements such as speech bubbles, lines and even pieces of ‘tape’ or paperclip images to give the impression of a scrap book. Go for minimalist black and white backgrounds or have a different background on each page. Choose a soft or hard cover, A4 or a small square. There are endless possibilities. What about making a professional looking recipe book for yourself, with all your favourite dishes?
How do you create a great photo album?
My top tips for creating the best photo album online?
- Play around with different layouts (just one striking photo for example or a group of five), but keep consistency by only using three or four layouts throughout the book.
- Choose a style for your book in advance, perhaps go for a minimalist look or make it fun and colourful with lots of embellishments
- Use the same type font and colour scheme throughout for a great, professional looking design.
INCLUDE QUOTES, ANECDOTES, PICTURES OF DRAWINGS…ANYTHING THAT IS IMPORTANT TO YOU
As for the pictures themselves: if you are making a year book, use every day life, honest photographs and don’t include too many posed ones. Raw images are much more interesting in the long run than the family portraits next to the Christmas tree. Treat your photo album as a journal or a photo documentary. I even include pictures of school projects or drawings by the boys. In the future you will find it hard to remember those very normal things you or your family did it that particular year, so how lovely is it to keep a memory of those moments in pictures? I love our family photo albums mostly because of this approach. Keep it real, people! Leave out perfection. At the time I hated my husband taking that picture at 6am, me being unwashed and exhausted, breast feeding my baby while watching Thomas the Train with my 2-year old in the living room, but now I am so grateful it exists. I also usually include a few nice selfies, just to remind myself when I am old and grey, that really, I did look pretty good back then.
The best pictures? Capture the moment, good or bad
Portraits and posed group photos are fine of course, but don’t omit the random shots. Photos of people who are unaware of the camera often capture the moment much better. A sleeping child, friends laughing, your parents chatting. Exhaustion, boredom, a day in a life. I also take photos of our home: untidy, raw, like a time capsule. Look, this is what the house looked like when we had young children and life was crazy. It doesn’t all have to be Instagram ready. This is your life, your photo album and you will cherish that forever, promise.
Easy uploading, organising and editing a photo album online
As always, I only post about brands I like and Photobox is one of them, because of its user-friendliness and the quality of the products. You can simply upload and organise your photos in albums and come back later to create a product. You can edit your creation, save it and finish it later, no need to do it all on the same day. I mainly order their photo albums online, but have also created calendars a few times, which were great for ourselves and as gifts. Mugs, fridge magnets, canvasses and prints are other examples of products you can create with your photos. If you have created something in the past you can also simply order another copy at a later date, or order the same album for yourself and the grandparents.
Photobox special offer code
The other great thing about Photobox are their big discount offers, which come past fairly regularly. I usually wait until a Photobox offer code lands in my email inbox before ordering my finished product. You can save a lot on the price of a photo album online, which helps when you have a big book with about 30 to 60 full-colour pages. This August there is a 50% Photobox offer on all photo books, no code needed. Not got anything ready yet? Simply buy the credit and you have two months to use it.
After moving to Spain I wasn’t sure whether I could continue my annual photo albums with them, being a UK company. Luckily they ship internationally and I am happy to pay for the additional cost.
Click on the image below for the current discount link:
I have met many talented artists, makers and designers in my career, who make beautiful work, but have no clue about marketing themselves. They may have set up an online shop or are dabbling in social media, but are all struggle with the same question: how do we get seen and earn money online and offline? Digital marketing for creative businesses, where do you start?
Be social: network offline and online
Before we get into the online bit, here is tip one: networking is very important, both online and offline. Knowing lots of people helps. Go to local business events, workshops, talks. Speak to people, exchange business cards, ask questions, LEARN. Chances are you will always come away with at least one new idea, useful contact or a bit of info that will help you move forward. Not everyone is comfortable introducing themselves to new people at such events, but just remember that people are all there for the same reasons: they want to learn something new and meet new people. So don’t be shy, because you have something pretty cool to talk about: your business.
Tackle social media like a boss
Which social media platforms are best for your business? It depends on what you sell. If you own a design business, you obviously have plenty of gorgeous visual material to use in your marketing. Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook are therefore great media. On Facebook you can easily set up a Page for your business, sharing news and photos, videos and links. Nina’s Apartment currently has just under 5,000 Likes which didn’t happen overnight but grew through being engaging, entertaining – paying for some posts now and then (you can boost a post to reach more people) and just generally being active on it.
Saying you are ‘not into’ social media or online marketing is going to harm your business. You have to use social media – there is no way around it, if you want to be seen online. Again, perhaps a learning curve for some and a whole new field to explore, but it is fun and mostly free. I find it in fact quite a creative exercise, to design Instagram posts and blog articles. With the right approach it can really make your brand and product stand out and reach a big audience. Yes, it can be all consuming and rather addictive even, but if you choose your accounts wisely and set dedicated time aside to update them regularly (or use an app like hootsuite to schedule posts and update them all simultaneously for you), then it is not so daunting.
Design professional graphics with Canva
To create beautiful social media posts, or even e-books, flyers and business cards, I recommend Canva. The free account gives you many templates to design professional looking graphics. I couldn’t be without anymore!
Instagram, stories and hashtags
Instagram is a great social platform to share and promote your work, WORLD-WIDE! Post daily or a few times a week and make sure you use suitable hashtags to attract visitors looking for such topics. Use one of the online hashtag generators to find out which # are trending or popular in your field.
The stories feature on Instagram is a great way to post about your daily practice, behind-the scenes, things that inspire you or special offers, etc. The stories are only visible for 24h, but usually get seen by more people than the posts.
Twitter: connect with (local) media and journalists
Twitter is different and less useful for artists and designers in my opinion, with the added challenge of saying something worth reading in only 140 characters. However, Twitter can be good for following professionals, journalists and bloggers in the industry. If you are active on Twitter and start to reply to tweets by people you want to connect with (or be seen by), it is not too difficult to all of a sudden be speaking to a celebrity! Or perhaps a magazine that may be interested in featuring your work.
Be human, show the people behind the business
Social media is about showing the human face behind your business. It is about connecting with your customers, lowering the threshold, having a conversation. Smile, be nice, be yourself. Your website can be more static and informative – your social media activity however should be fun. An informal, friendly voice talking about what you do and why you do it, rather than a one-way stream of information about opening hours and what you have on offer this week. Listening to people as much as talking to them (and not at them – get it?) is a helpful way to find out what your customers need and think of your business. The ultimate goal of being on social media is to make people want to be part of what you do, to love your brand and tell others about it. Because once you get the ball rolling, social media really is ‘word of mouth on steroids’.
To establish your business name and brand (and remember, a ‘brand’ is not the same as a logo, it is the whole package: from type font to customer service!) you want to create recognition. A consistent use of logo, colours, images, type font and tone of voice are therefore pretty important in order to come across as someone who knows what she’s doing. Decide how you want to be seen, what look or style you want to portray and stick with it across all of your marketing. It will make your material online and offline look professional, coherent and recognisable.
I am not talking about your looks here. I mean the way your business is portrayed in everything you publish. If you design or craft things you want to sell or get seen, make sure your photography is up to scratch too – and consistent. Ever been on Etsy? You are probably drawn to those pictures that are really making the product stand out: white background, no clutter, beautiful styling. Keep this in mind when taking photos of your own products.
Don’t make things complicated though, just use what you have already and your imagination. You can easily take photos on your smartphone, against the same background (consistency!), and then edit them with the built-in image app or putting filters on them on Instagram. There are lots of great free mobile apps available to turn photos into videos / slideshows, add text, or turn them into collages. All very useful to make your product look pretty and be great at digital marketing for creatives.
Having an actual website is still important despite having your social media accounts. A website is your base, your home, the place where all your social media lead back to. This can be an online shop or a blog (my website/blog is built on WordPress). But everything you put out on social media should lead back to the base. And make sure you can be found.
Spend time on SEO
Spending time learning about Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is pretty useful if you want to drive organic traffic to your website. After all, you want lots of people to visit your online business! If this kind of techy web thing dazzles you, I recommend hiring a cheap freelancer on Fiverr, to put things in place for you pretty quickly.
SEO Basics? Pay attention to all descriptions, words you use in titles, image captions, links – and get others to link back to your website too. Find out what popular keywords people type into Google on sites like Keywordtool and use them on your website.
Build an email list
An email newsletter is a great tool to directly contact your customers and keep a relationship with existing fans and clients. Collecting email addresses is therefore a good idea online, but also if you sell at fairs or other physical events. Software Like Mailchimp is free up to a certain amount of addresses, and easy to use and makes your newsletters look professional and attractive. These apps also offer very useful reports in who opens and clicks on links. It also tells you a lot about what campaigns work and which not.
Pinterest: the visual search engine
Pinterest…oh Pinterest. My favourite! Great for inspiration and highly addictive, but also be another tool for yourself to promote your products/business – linking back to your website. I have found that good, original images and graphics pinned from my blog, drive a lot of traffic back to my website. People look for certain colour schemes, products and ideas, so if you can give them what they want on Pinterest and make them click, you have just got yourself another website visitor. Now, make sure you have plenty of high quality content to keep that new visitor on your site. And don’t forget to tempt them to subscribe to your newsletter.
Video tutorials, e-courses and e-books for digital marketing
I know a lot of people who successfully use Youtube or Vimeo as well to boost their reputation and follower numbers. How about creating little ‘how-to’ videos or demos about what you do? Or a tour around your shop or studio? Videos have the added bonus of rating higher on Facebook, reaching more people. Video content is very effective and keeps people’s attention much longer than just a picture. Try it. You can post video content on all platforms.
If you are doing OK selling on Etsy or perhaps you have a physical shop, but would like to earn a passive income too, look at creating an e-course or e-book. Teachable and Listenable are great platforms to create both visual courses and audio courses on. If you fancy creating an e-book, I recommend Designrr, which helps you design beautiful e-books which you can start selling online.
Digital marketing for creatives: add an SEO blog
Last but not least: start a blog. A blog is very useful to increase visibility online. Why? Because Google and other search engines LOVE fresh content. Adding a blog post to your website once or twice a month will really help your website to rank higher. Use the right keywords, and people who are searching for something, will arrive at your website for the answer. What do you write about? Make sure it is something useful, beautiful, entertaining or informative. Around 500 words is enough. And break up the text with two or three gorgeous images.
don’t try to sell your products and services constantly on your social media platforms. use those creative skills in your marketing too.
Aim for high quality content that makes people want to come back to again and again because they like hanging out with you and your brand. What would you find interesting to read yourself? Getting them to subscribe to your newsletter is a great idea to keep the readers with you.
The key in all social media: be social, not pushy. And just be yourself.
Looking for more support? Join my dedicated free Facebook group for connection, resources, and advice on how to grow your creative business.
Got a room to do up and need some free interior design advice? During the time when I still had my furniture store and was buying and selling vintage, all I ever did was follow my intuition and try things out. Put things together to see how it looked. I still don’t follow a certain style, or even a trend, I just pick what I love and usually immediately see if it works well. You can’t help including things or colour schemes that are trendy sometimes because what is ‘in vogue’ can actually be very beautiful and you know you will still love it even when the trend has passed.
Go with your instinct. If it speaks to you, especially when you have thought about it for a few days, get it – or do it.
Today I am sharing some tips to help you in your own interior design projects. Next time you are redecorating your living room, or in fact any room, try and follow these steps. They may help you see things differently and choose a colour scheme, furniture and accessories with confidence.
Interior design tip #1: Start a Pinterest board
This is a no brainer really and I am sure most of you are doing this already. Create a dedicated board on Pinterest and gather images of rooms you like, furniture you like, colour schemes and images that inspire you and ‘fit’ within the look you are thinking of. While pinning your favourites, think about the function of the room too: are you going to spend time in it during the day or mainly in the evening? Which family members will be using it most? Does it need a play area, a library, a desk? Will it have a TV in it and where would it go?
Once you have built a bit of a collection, stand back and look at it as a whole to see if you can see a cohesive style. Is there a certain colour that is dominant? This might become your wall colour or accent colour in textiles or upholstery. Are there certain patterns or textures you pinned in more than one image? Then this is another element you can use, when choosing perhaps wallpaper or accessories.
Delete any images that you feel are just too different from the rest, as this helps you narrowing it down. You can always save the image in another board, for future projects and ideas. As you do this (fun!) exercise over the space of a few weeks, you will slowly see a cohesive style board emerging, which can serve as a very helpful guide when choosing colours, furniture and accessories for your redecoration project.
Interior design tip #2: Look at the features of the room
When it comes to styling living rooms, I always start by looking at the features of the space. I try and picture it without anything in it. What is the light like? Are there any focal points like fire places or alcoves? Are the ceilings high or is it a cosy room with small windows? It is a good idea to measure up the space and draw it out to scale on a sheet of paper with written dimensions of walls, windows and doors. This helps you choose the right size furniture later on.
Interior design tip #3: What to do with the flooring
Next you look another very important permanent element: the flooring. What is the flooring like? Is it staying? Depending on the ideas on your Pinterest board (and budget) you may choose to replace old carpet with wood flooring, paint your old floor boards or leave it as it is and work with rugs later on. Carpets can add a lot of warmth to a room, especially in old houses or if the floor boards on their own are just too draughty.
Interior design tip #4: Walls and woodwork: wallpaper or paint?
Next up are the walls and woodwork around the room including windows, skirtings and doors. If you are going for the ‘Scandinavian’ bright look, keep it simple and choose different shades of white as a calm background for your more colourful furniture. If you are thinking of a more traditional or ‘cottage/farmhouse’ style, you may want to look at darker, moodier colours such as deep blue, sage green or dark grey for the walls, creating a cosy sitting room for the evening. It may feel scary to go dark, but you’ll probably be surprised with how good it looks.
Whatever paint ideas you have collected on your Pinterest board, it is a good idea to get some tester pots first as you may change your mind when seeing colours in the actual light of your room. Woodwork can also look beautiful just stripped and waxed if you live in a period house, or go for a contrasting colour to make a modern statement. If you go for wallpaper, most people choose to use a bold pattern on just one wall as a feature, rather than plastering it on all four.
interior design tip #5: Lighting
Lighting is super important in interior design and needs proper attention. On your drawn outline of the room mark where you think you will need light. Where are you going to sit and read? What aspects need a spotlight (pictures, a bookcase)? Is a central ceiling pendant light necessary or can you just go for standard lamps, wall fitted lamps and table lamps to light the room in the evening? Perhaps consider putting in a dimmer for a ceiling light to change the mood of the room.
When choosing lighting, don’t buy lamps that are all very busy or different in style and pattern, but perhaps go for a standard and a table lamp with matching shades combined with some stylish wall mounted lamps. Or have one heavily patterned shade combined with more minimalist lighting. Also look at what type of bulb you are using in each lamp: white light creates a cool, contemporary atmosphere while yellow light gives off a warmer glow.
Interior design tip #6: Furniture
You may want to start from scratch if the budget allows or you just want to make a clean break. The likelihood is that you probably have some things you want to keep, so it is a good idea to photograph them to include them on your Pinterest board to see them in the mix. Then it is important to make a shopping list, not the least because you likely want to know what it is all going to cost.
Invest wisely and think long term. It may be better to spend a bit more on a quality sofa than splash out on that super stylish vintage drinks cabinet you have spotted but are unlikely to use on a daily basis – although, I know, sometimes you just gotta have something. Shop around and mix and match. Don’t be afraid to buy your brand new sofa at a high street store, then combine it with an upcycled vintage coffee table and compliment it all with a set of cheap plain bookcases from Ikea. Your house is not a show home, make sure it is you and that your style shines through.
How much furniture do I need in my living room?
How much furniture should you get? Less is more, you can always add something if you feel there is something missing. Just don’t cram a huge corner sofa into a small front room. Keep it airy, make sure there is still room to move. A 2-seater sofa and two matching midcentury modern armchairs on either side of a low table may be a good solution if you want to create a good ‘conversation space’ in a lounge. When it comes to upholstery, a safe bet is a quality lasting plain wool fabric or leather for the sofa. A grey herringbone is a timeless choice, and so is tan leather. Armchairs can add colour and contrast or even go for patterns to jazz it up.
Interior design tip #7: Soft furnishings
Curtains, blinds and rugs. What does the room need? Plain grey or off white full length linen curtains are always a lovely choice, and go with both modern and traditional styles. Combine it with painted wooden venetian blinds or a patterned linen roman blind for some sophisticated layering.
When it comes to a rug (if you have wood flooring), choose a bolder pattern if your furniture is muted and calm in colour and texture. If there is already a lot going on in your upholstery or colours and patterns on the wall perhaps, select a large natural wool rug in a light colour as a base.
Interior design tip #8: Accessories
Finally, accessories. Pictures, mirrors, cushions, vases, clocks, baskets, etc. Cushions are a good way to start. Combine contrasting colours, different patterns and textures. As long as they all fit in more or less with your image collection on the Pinterest board, they will add welcome interest.
>> General cushion pairing formula:
TEXTURE + LARGE SCALE PATTERN + SMALL SCALE PATTERN + LUMBAR
When it comes to choosing artwork, don’t be afraid to get a big frame. A large painting or photograph can make a great statement in a room. They also look good over a sofa or sideboard. Alternatively a gallery wall can add a lot of interest and a great opportunity to show off family photos. Maybe even show off your collection of fabrics.
Play around and learn what works
Play around with placing accessories like vases and other loose objects. Does it look good where you placed it? What composition have you created, is there a good balance? Use other things as well to create interest such as some of your favourite books, found objects like shells or a rock and don’t forget plants! Plants literally add live to a room (as long as you keep them alive of course).
I hope this list is helpful in guiding you, whatever room you may tackle. What do you find most difficult in your redecorating projects?