Today I am sharing some tips to help you in your own interior design projects. Next time you are redecorating your front 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.
Lockdown was miserable and I think we were all looking to cheer ourselves up a bit, while we were – and maybe still are – limited from going out and seeing our friends and loved ones. Did you buy something nice for yourself? I am not one for luxury items, but I decided to order a silk kimono on Etsy. Why? I had enough of my baggy yoga pants and if I have to be at home most days, why not lounge around in something a bit more stylish and sexy? I can honestly say, I am now looking forward getting out of bed in the morning and throwing it on. My husband thinks I am nuts, but that kimono makes me feel HAPPY so I don’t care. Ha! How is that for self-care.
Floaty and airy
Etsy is usually a good bet for finding unique handmade gifts and items for your home and wardrobe. As I still had some gift vouchers to spend, I finally decided to go and buy something with them. I had been wearing a fluffy, fleecy bath robe around the house for most of the lockdown (on top of those baggy yoga pants – oooh mama), but as it was heating up here in Spain, I needed something a bit more summery. I searched for kimono robes on Etsy and found this beauty by Wear the World Label, a UK based Etsy shop specialised in oriental robes, trousers and other clothes made in cotton and silk, with floral prints. Lots of rich colours to choose from. And she ships to Spain and other countries!
A little gift in the post
The fun thing about indy sellers on Etsy is, they often wrap the items beautifully, add it a little personal note or a card, so it feels like a real gift arriving in the post. Try to get that personal service on Amazon! I am therefore a big fan of Etsy and continue to support all its wonderful, hard working and talented sellers on there. It is true to say that nowadays the platform has grown a lot and it is sometimes hit and miss depending on what you look for, but if you use the shoppers guide or editor’s picks as a help, you’ll get some great suggestions.
Silk kimonos for breakfast…or a night out?
The ochre, or mustard yellow, silk kimono I ordered, is perfect. Loose fitting, down to the knee, with the a long waist band for fastening. It is very comfortable to wear in the morning at breakfast, or throw it on after a shower in the evening. In fact, just wear it out as a dress. Style it up with a big belt, a statement necklace and some heels and you’d be glam as anything.
The kimonos from Wear the World Label are all priced at around £39, which I felt is a good price for something of such great quality that I’ll be wearing for years to come. I am glad to be out of strict lockdown now, but that kimono will still be worn every single day.
Disclaimer: This article contains affiliate links, which you probably figured out already. I only ever promote brands that I use myself, like and love, so anything I say in this article comes from a good heart, and I only share things that I feel are worth sharing and could be of value to my readers.
When choosing a kitchen, most people nowadays will play safe and buy a white one. Bright white, off white or cream. Either sleek and contemporary or a shaker style to create a more traditional look. A super expensive one or a cheaper version from Ikea. This is then usually combined with some neutral, grey or cream tiles, a slate floor and some rustic natural wood shelving and furniture. Nothing wrong with that, it’ll look fab for years to come. But how about stepping away from the white and throwing in some colour?
Accent walls, painted cabinets, bold artwork and colourful tiling
A wall in a bright colour, a bright yellow vintage cabinet, colourful mosaic tiles or a mixed bag of old painted chairs. Colourful accessories like pendant lights, large framed posters and things like kettles and toasters in bold colours are great too for contrast. Be brave, make it unique! Choose a colourful kitchen. Green, like the one in the picture above? Why not?
Splash out on some expensive wallpaper for a feature wall
A feature wall with colourful, patterned wallpaper can make a bold statement in a dining room or kitchen. Imagine the room with just a white wall…not quite the same, right?
Go for an eye-catching splash back
Don’t want to change the kitchen itself? Mosaic tiles, Spanish tiles or even tile decals can really change the look of a kitchen. A colourful back splash will make a huge difference. Decals or stickers are ideal if you are renting and cannot make huge changes to your kitchen.
Add some bold artworks to your eclectic kitchen
Bold contemporary, graphic artwork can also add some real style to your kitchen-diner. It combines well with white furniture and a white washed floor. Look on Etsy for inspiration and ready made sets.
Black kitchen cupboards instead of standard white
A black kitchen can be abold alternative to a standard white one. Black looks sleek, dramatic, modern and goed perfectly with splashes of colour such as chairs or artwork.
Barn doors as an alternative
Adding sliding (barn) doors to a kitchen can also add a difference to a room. How about adding one to an alcove you use as a store cupboard/pantry? Turn it into a blackboard for a real eye catching element.
Accent colours in the kitchen
Another example of bold wallpaper and accent colours in a great space.
Want to see more eclectic and colourful kitchens? All images and more can be found on my Pinterest board.
Having lived in Scotland for over twelve years I know a fair bit about its summers and how they are usually over in a flash, if you get one at all. You may get a gorgeous day or even a week where temperatures hit the upper twenties, but the rest of the year you’ll be wearing a jumper and probably a coat. There actually is a saying up in Scotland: ‘There is no bad weather, just bad clothing’. But do you know that feeling, when it’s been a sunny day, you have just laid the table, ready for a nice al fresco dinner or a BBQ, cushions on the chairs, wine poured…and then it starts to cloud over…and rain. Yes? Let’s look at how we can create beautiful roofed patio areas to enjoy the outdoors in all weather.
Roofed patios and verandas to enjoy your garden year round
Thank goodness there are solutions (other than moving), including building some useful roofed structures in the garden or as an attachment to your home. People seem to like their wooden summerhouses in the UK, but they are usually not very big and may only have space for two seats at the most. Larger roofed outdoor spaces, like verandas, would give people a lot more opportunity to sit and entertain outside while getting shelter from the weather. Create comfortable lounging areas or place a dining table for al fresco eating.
Verandas for shelter and outdoor seating areas
I love verandas. Just a little bit of roofed area alongside your house can give great shelter from some rain or a chilly breeze. Even if it is just to dry your washing. Place a comfortable outdoor sofa alongside the wall to relax and enjoy the view onto your garden.
Indoor flooring for outdoors
This great roofed patio area even has space for a swing. And who says you have to stick to traditional garden tiles? Use large kitchen tiles for a nice feature and don’t forget you can also place rugs for additional colour accents and comfort. Read more about washable rugs.
Installing wood burning stoves for cosy evenings outdoors
In my home country the Netherlands, where the weather can also be quite variable, large roofed patios or ‘garden rooms’ are very popular nowadays. Often combined with a shed or garage, these sheltered areas are great for creating a relaxing corner with outdoor sofas and even a wood burner to add some heat in the evening.
Small roofed patios for shelter
A roofed garden area doesn’t need to be big, it could be just a small space to cover your favourite comfy seat, or a small table and some chairs. I love the space below, with the large swing and the outdoor rug.
Large garden rooms and roofed patio spaces
What a fabulous big garden room this is in the image below. Again an example of what is quite popular just now in the Netherlands. Great decor, including lighting and artworks, and still space for a tool shed beside it. I would happily sit here with some friends and a glass of wine, wouldn’t you?
Aluminium pergolas for sun and rain
Ever hear of aluminium pergolas? Biossun is a company that makes these things out of recycled materials and they are pretty cool, especially if you prefer something a bit more sleek and contemporary instead of the ones with heavy wooden rustic beams. The Biossun is a swivelling slat pergola that ‘regulates the temperature in all seasons and protects against heat, wind and bad weather.’ Basically, it can be fully open to let the air through, half open to give some shade from sun or shut when it is a rainy day but it is still warm enough to sit outside. They can be built against your house or freestanding in the garden. Looks like a neat solution. If you live in Scotland, our friends over at Papillon Landscaping are the only local supplier of this structure, so get in touch with them if you want to know more.
This coronavirus lockdown of 2020 has encouraged a lot of creativity in our household, including the upcycling of old clothes. If you can’t go to the shops, you got to be resourceful! Upcycling is an old hobby of mine and I had a lot of fun making these super quick water bottle carriers out of an old pair of jeans. How I did that? Read on for the DIY tutorial.
Easy DIY water bottle carrier
If you have kids, then as a mum you know that on trips and hikes you are basically a packing donkey carrying everybody’s junk. Right? Now on a hot day, it can get a bit heavy dragging around litres of water for everyone. You also get fed up having to take out the bottles again because little Johnny needs another drink, even though it was only five minutes since the last one. Solution? Let them carry their own water!
It is super easy to make this DIY water bottle carrier out of denim. I don’t claim to be a neat sewer, I am a quick results, practical kind of person, but feel free to make your own improved, beautiful version of this bag. Mine looks pretty good I think, is sturdy enough to hold a bottle and wide enough to carry your phone or small purse too on your walks. I added a little pocket for a snack (or your public transport card!), which took a bit more time, but otherwise, you will have this made less than an hour.
What do you need?
- An old pair of ladies jean trousers, ideally stretchy and tapered at the ankles. It needs to fit snug, but not too snug around your water bottle. You can, of course, use a wider trouser leg for a larger bag that holds more.
- A thick, wide ribbon or fabric belt of a dress or something for the shoulder strap.
- Optional pocket: a different piece of fabric or denim and a button for decoration
Step 1. Cut the trouser leg
You will be using the bottom part of the trouser leg. The best thing is to place your water bottle on top of the leg before you cut. Cut the fabric about 2cm (1”) longer than the bottle is. The hem of the trouser leg will be the top of the bag, so that bit is already done.
Step 2. Sew the bottom of your water bottle bag
Turn the fabric inside out and sew the widest opening (and not the existing hem) shut. Sew a straight line about 2cm/1” from the edge. Cut off the excess and sew a zigzag to finish to prevent the edge from fraying.
3. Add elastic through the top hem
Next I cut two small holes in the top of the existing hem (which of course is a ready-made hollow tube!) and used a safety pin to pull a piece of elastic (19cm) through. Now you could choose to pull a drawstring through the top, but I chose to put elastic in instead. A wider strap is more comfortable on the shoulder than a drawstring, but that doesn’t fit through the small holes of the top hem. Once you have the elastic through, tie both ends together. Tie it so that it makes a slightly smaller, stretchy opening without making it too hard to fit the bottle in. The elastic is really just to keep the bottle in place rather than to close the bag completely.
Step 4. Sew the pocket on
You can leave the bag like it is and skip straight to sewing on the shoulder strap, or you can embellish your DIY water bottle carrier with a handy pocket. I cut out out a piece of around 12 x 10cm of blue denim for contrast, using the bottom hem as the top of the pocket. With the square being quite small, I decided to zigzag the edges instead of folding them over, as that would become too bulky. Once you have done that, sew the pocket onto the bag, either using your machine or stitch it by hand. I added a little button just as a colour accent.
Step 5: Sew on the shoulder strap
The shoulder strap can be pinned onto the bag along the top across the full width. I sewed a straight line both along the top and the bottom of the strap to secure it. The ends of the strap can now be tied around the shoulder, adjusted to the person using it. It will be shorter for a child than for an adult obviously.
And you are done!
Summer is on its way and you may be looking to give your outdoor space an upgrade. Some new plants, a few new seats, perhaps you are retiling the whole area. Washable rugs are a great way to give your balcony, terrace or patio a new look. They are not only practical, they add a touch of comfort, colour and style to your outdoor space. There are many washable rugs available nowadays and the nice thing is that you can use them indoors as well in areas such as the kitchen and bathroom. Great for when you love durable, practical products, without cramping your style. Here are some of my favourites.
Why choose washable rugs?
- Most are machine washable, so very practical
- No more expensive carpet cleaning products needed
- There are many beautiful designs available
- They are very durable
- They are kid-friendly and pet-friendly!
- Washable rugs can be used both indoors and outdoors
Mustard yellow outdoor rugs
Beautiful blue washable rugs
Blue always makes a modern, fresh statement on a terrace or balcony and goes well with the colour of natural wood and other neutrals.
Pink washable rugs
Another alternative for outdoors: the stenciled rug!
If you have a decked or tiled patio area, this could be a great idea to give your garden a unique style. It doesn’t come any more washable than that! You could do an edge only or a square underneath your dining table or sitting area. Be creative! You can find stencils at your local DIY or craft store or browse the stencil collection on Etsy.
Remember the first week of quarantine? It was all still new and you’d receive at least twenty Whatsapp messages each day with funny memes, homeschooling tips and hilarious or heart warming videos of life in lockdown. We were feeling OK, positive and were just going along with it all. Life was different, but OK. We could see the humour in it too. We are eight weeks at home now. And there is very little left of that optimism. The memes have dried up. We are all done with it.
Last night I cried and emptied half a bottle of wine by myself. We thought after this weekend we would go into ‘phase 1’ of post-quarantine life, but last night the government changed its mind. Only certain areas of Spain are given that ‘freedom’ of going out a bit more than just one hour a day. We were beaten with a stick, back into our corner, at least that is how some people described it. Valencia and a number of other Spanish cities and districts were going to stay where they were, probably for another 15 days. Why? Reasons.
An empty cup
I sound like a spoiled child. I know it won’t last, I know this is not about me and I can put it into perspective. I have food on the table and a roof over my head, my family is healthy. I know this is nothing compared to what other people go through. Exhausted nurses. People who lost their income. People stuck at home in abusive relationships. People in poor countries, starving. People fleeing from war. I know.
But I feel what I feel and I am not alone. It is Covid-19 depression. And I don’t normally get depressed. But as someone who likes her own company and loves her freedom…this is really hard. I am feeling anxious just knowing that I am not allowed out to do some exercise by myself until 8pm at night. That come September I will have had my beloved but very noisy children at home for nearly seven months. There is no escape. I am an empty cup and there is nowhere to get a refill. The homeschooling is draining, family life 24/7 is too much, not being able to be as active as normal is making me sluggish and fat and I miss seeing my friends. I miss my band, I miss walking around the city, I miss walking in nature. I miss putting my toes in the sand at the beach. It’s the little things that are becoming vital for mental health.
Beside feeling depressed and drained, there is another thing that bugs me. This crisis started out as something we thought we would tackle together as a worldwide community with good common sense and a few weeks at home, but it is developing into something more sinister. It is dividing the population. Suddenly everyone has an opinion about Covid, masks, health and what is going on and it is NOT helping the situation. The rebels and the compliant people. The freedom fighters and the rule-followers. The anti-vaxxers and the Trump fans. The conspiracy theorists, the whistle blowers and the scientists. Left and right. The ‘awakened’ people and the blind sheep. They are all disagreeing – online mainly, as keybord warriors. People are starting to spread fear. They become afraid. Distance is created between us, literally. Masks have replaced freedom and joy. Mistrust and anger have arrived.
The aliens are coming to get us. Or something.
Social Media is plastered in opinions and heated discussions. The longer this lockdown lasts, and with too much time to think, the more people are starting to share stuff. Crazy theories, conspiracy theories, reasonable theories, all kinds of stories, published on Youtube or obscure blogs and alternative websites. Some make sense, most are ridiculous. With so many ideas and possibilities, people start to doubt everything. They want an answer. They want something to hold onto and follow. This surreal situation is too much to grasp. Who is speaking the truth? Is the government lying? Is the corona-virus a hoax? Is Bill Gates trying to kill us? Is 5G to blame? Are we all going to get a digital chip rammed into us through a compulsory vaccine next winter? Are the Chinese taking over the world? Or are the powerful people secretly aliens? It is wild out there. Links with the past are being made. Fingers are pointed.
Even well educated friends and family are sending videos and articles which they want you to watch because they “are really interesting”. You watch and read and wonder whether they have lost their marbles. Or have you? What if they are right? We are bombarded and are drowning in information. We start to worry. Are we missing a trick? So we read a bit more. Do we need to speak up? To whom? We mistrust the news, we start mistrusting each other. We don’t know who to believe anymore. We share stuff on Facebook without checking the facts. But what are the facts?
We need to stop this shit. right now. We are making ourselves sick.
I don’t know what is true and I am not trying to convince anyone. Believe whatever you want to believe in. But I tend to keep both feet firmly on the ground and not be swept away by all sorts of theories and stories coming out of the woodwork. Fear, uncertainty and an economic crisis are a breeding ground for unrest, hate and uproar. Politicians, especially the ones we don’t want to see in power, will take advantage of this tasty cocktail at the next elections. They need us to be divided. That is a thing we can learn from the past, whatever wacky conspiracy theory you choose to follow.
The planet is healing…but for how long?
Back in March, when this lockdown started, none of this felt so heavy. It just looked like the rat race had stopped and we were all slowing down. Many of us felt more creative, calmer and even saw the Covid quarantine as a positive change for the world. Planet earth was healing. And yes, it has in some ways had good things coming out of it. The seas are quieter, which encourages dolphins to come closer to the beach and even into the waters of Venice. The Himalayas are visible again from India, for the first time in many years because of less pollution. It was lovely to live in silence for a while here at home too, without the noise of traffic and instead hearing birdsong. Eight weeks later I am not so sure anymore how much of this change will stick. Big business is dying to get back to normal, as much as we are all dying to escape the house. Flights are on the horizon come June. I am an optimist by nature, but I don’t expect that pure capitalism will make place for a different, more balanced way of life any time soon. Here’s hoping.
Stories in our head
My mother once taught me a lesson, to keep things close to home when the world feels too much to bear. “Keep it small and go from there.” Look after yourself, your loved ones and your immediate community. You can’t carry the whole world on your shoulders, but you can make a difference at home. We can allow ourselves to be suffocated by the endless stream of news and information, becoming fearful and worried. We can allow ourselves to become angry. We can shout at the world and people on social media, we can point fingers, we can keep scanning all the articles on the net and searching the millions of videos on Youtube, looking for ‘the truth’. Or we can choose not to. Instead, we can choose to hold what we have, look at what is reality around us and live in the now. We can lie awake worrying about what could happen, what the future could look like, who or what could be behind it all. But these thoughts are only stories in our head and are not real.
This lockdown and any other abnormal situation, play tricks on the mind, that’s for sure. Because so much is unknown, unfamiliar and just plain weird, people panic and look for answers. Call me naive, blind or someone who keeps her rose tinted glasses firmly in place, but I don’t think it makes any difference to the world whether I spend all day scanning the web – or not. It does however make a huge difference to my health and well-being. Anxiety lowers the immune system. That doesn’t mean that I am not critical, or don’t make informed decisions in life. But right now I just need to look after my sanity.
Smiling at strangers
In times like these I believe it is better to turn off the TV and the internet and all the distractions in the media and go back to basics. Hard I know, for me as well, when we are stuck at home with too much time to kill. Let’s go outdoors and smell the flowers. Exercise. Work. Sing. Meditate. Focus on things we do have control over. Smile at strangers, even with a mask on. Life is precious. Breathe and feel the sun on your face.
In week one of lockdown due to the coronavirus we were having a lot of fun at home with the kids. My boys are just 6 and 8 years old and generally have heaps of energy but not an equal amount of patience to sit down and do school work. So we were dancing, baking, drawing, singing, playing, dressing up and cuddling. A LOT. It was lovely. At bedtime we’d read a book and the next morning we would again come up with brand new ideas. I felt I was catching up on lost time. In Spain they are normally at school five days a week from 9 till 5. You hardly see your children during the week.
Then came week two. First an email from the teacher of infantil for the 5/6 year olds, then swiftly followed by another one from the teacher of Primaria 2. Five, six, seven or even eight attachments for several subjects, accompanied with a plan for the week and I’m sure well meant suggestions for how to focus your day around your children’s education. Your DAY yes, not hours, or a morning, but DAY. Because, sure, us parents in lockdown are suddenly all jobless and twiddling our thumbs and dying to get retrained as our children’s dedicated primary school teacher.
I knew it should not make me feel stressed, after all we are all in a very unusual situation, worrying to say the least, and the main objective surely is to stay calm and love our family. I admired my friend Marie who bravely emailed school administration to tell them they wouldn’t be doing any home education whatsoever (read her very funny blog post here). Good, I thought, let’s all jump on the barricades! But another friend pointed out to me that “Nina, you are rebellious, but you also want to please the teacher”… Damnit, I’m caught out, I admit it, I suffer from a split personality and it’s bugging me.
You cannot get a bunch of high wired children to do a week’s worth of maths, when they haven’t been out running outdoors for over a fortnight. Anybody who is a parent of young children and boys especially knows that these monkeys need to be ‘walked’ in the fresh air regularly just like dogs, to regulate their energy and emotions. Now in other countries with less restrictions around lockdown you can still escape to a nearby field or forest as long as you are pretty much on your own, but not in Spain. Unfortunately dogs currently have more rights to public space here than children, so the poor puppets are stuck between four walls for the next foreseeable future. Imagine living in a tiny apartment on the fourth floor and not having a balcony. Seven Spanish million children are not allowed out. It’s like a high pressure cooker.
So yes. Homeschooling dilemmas. We try to find a compromise. Our children normally have week plans at school with their various assignments they have to finish by Friday, so I decided to copy this concept and make up my own simplified plan per child. In week one I got them to make up their own plans, which included anything from cuddling mummy, joining an online dance class to eating an apple in ten seconds. I mean, essential life skills right there! Last week I incorporated a few more ‘educational’ tasks from the teacher’s email. But I also happily skipped others, such as ‘sing these traditional Spanish songs with your children while dancing together’ and “do page four full of problem sums” (key: meltdown – I’ll leave that for the classroom, thank you very much). But it turned out that my children were actually OK with an hour of doing a few sums and/or spelling exercises, followed by an hour or longer of drawing (Art for Kids Hub is now a firm favourite here) and of course investigating weird and wonderful stuff on Youtube. I mean, who doesn’t want to know everything about megalodons or how cars are made? And why do animals not have belly buttons?
Week three has commenced and suddenly the teachers are ramping it up. Four separate emails with attachments (our printer is broken, but “if you don’t have a printer, just let your child copy the text by hand in their notebook”. Yeah right.), and basically the same amount of tasks they normally get in class. Just as I felt I had cracked it during the very laid back and enjoyable second week of semi-homeschooling, the knot in my stomach was back. Nina, please, I told myself, just ignore them, these people are crazy. But what if, I kept on thinking, what if all the other children are neatly keeping up with their tasks in their notebooks and so when school opens again, my children have nothing to show to the teacher? If you’re like me, you will have surely had a similar non-stop stream of Whatsapp messages from anxious parents about the various assignments, showing off their kids in photos sitting at the kitchen table working and seemingly being a much better home-schooler than you’ll ever be.
Bullocks of course. First of all, for all we know, we may have our kids home until September. Yes, let that sink in. It doesn’t matter if they do the homework that is being sent. They’ll start afresh once they are back. They are not going to fail in life because of this. Secondly, while any curriculum school work is put on hold, or lessened, suddenly an opportunity is created for children to discover a wide range of other things and have control over their own learning. Indulge in their current crafts obsession, learn how to cook, find fascinating facts about nature and science on Youtube, enjoy baking cakes, help out with daily chores, read lots of comics, have a disco in the living room each night and have heaps of snuggles with their favourite people in the world: YOU. And just chill. The modern world asks a lot of our children. This morning I read this awful article in the Washington Post about how ‘homeschooling during the coronavirus will set back a generation of children‘ and how long breaks end up in ‘learning losses’ and a ‘mess’. Ugh. How about adding some extra pressure to us parents while we are already stuck indoors and worried about our health. Because, oh wait, why are we all indoors again? Yes, a deadly virus.
Of course I can see what the article was also saying: theoretically there is a risk that those children who live in homes where parents have no time for, or even interest in spending time playing with their children or do any kind of reading or revising with them while in lockdown, may be worse off than their peers in a more stimulating environment. Children are always learning, in their own way, every day, but if one child keeps working hard on their maths, with a private online tutor if one can afford it, and another sits in their bedroom only playing Fortnite for two months… You know who will likely pass their maths exam. But that would mainly be an issue for children in secondary school. Also, more importantly, this kind of inequality will always exist, with or without a pandemic. I don’t think in any case my 6 and 8-year old will ‘academically fall behind’ by keeping on reading daily, doing the odd sums and spelling words after breakfast and for the rest just playing and bonding with their family. You might just end up with happy and resilient children.
So what are we doing as a family at home every day? I made up a bit of a day plan, which we all religiously try and stick to or else we’d still be in our pyjamas by 2 o’clock in the afternoon. Normally it’s 8 o’clock wake up time here and straight away getting dressed, 8.30am breakfast, 9am school! We work on sums or spelling for an hour, then do another hour or more of art or science if the kids are not moaning too much yet. Around 12 we’ll take the school papers off the kitchen table, make lunch and let the kids play. We stick to this schedule as much as we can. But we are only human and sometimes we change our plans. This morning we all felt tired and grumpy and the boys just really wanted to go and build a city out of Kapla. Who then am I to drag them to the kitchen table to do sums? I may as well open the gin bottle straight away. One rule we do try and stick to is no computer games before 4 o’clock. These things are fabulous babysitters, I know all too well, but enough is enough and 2 or 3 hours a day of square eyes is plenty!
Balance, it’s all about balance. And while some children love having homework, doing sums and writing stories, others would be better off using this lockdown time to indulge in things they have a keen interest in, whether that is cooking, crafting, building or dancing. While the numbers of infected people with the coronavirus are still on the rise, and many people are dying from it, we surely need to have our priorities right. We need to stay stay strong and healthy, all of us. Not just physically, but mentally too. No child benefits from parents at home who are losing the plot, getting frustrated by the amount of school work while also trying to hold down a job and working from home, who are turning into alcoholics in the process (right!) and literally missing the opportunity to just ‘be’ with their children. If you can, relax. (Yes, I am also taking note!). We are not teachers, we are parents. We are doing enough, we are doing our best, we are not expected to copy a normal school day. Let’s guide ourselves and our families through this storm on a calm ship and let our children remember this time as special, despite the crisis going on outside.
This title sounds like some science fiction movie and I can’t deny it feels very much like it. COVID-19. The zombies are coming! We’ve been in quarantine in Spain since Friday the 13th. The streets are dead. Shops are closed, apart from the supermarket. The hospital emergency waiting rooms are empty. People are all inside their homes. Waiting. Here you currently risk a fine of up to 3000 euro if the police catch you out on the streets without a valid reason (you can go grocery shopping, take a trip to the pharmacy or go to work if you really have to – and only travel solo). They have lost track of the correct number of infected people and nobody gets tested anymore, but here in Spain the official number jumps up with 1000 cases per day, 11,000 and around 500 deaths at the time of writing, most of them in Madrid. Just a week ago I was still being very flippant about the whole thing, as we only had about 400 cases and hey, what are the chances, right? And here we are.
The good thing is that most people will only have mild symptoms and won’t need to be hospitalised. It’s not the bubonic plague, you know (see this graph to compare different viruses throughout history). The whole quarantine thing however is not for you to not catch it, but to prevent the corona virus from spreading to those who will end up in hospital. People who are old, frail, sick already or have a lessened immune system for whatever reason – even though there are also cases of young, healthy people becoming critically ill. There just are not enough beds for all of them in intensive care, nor ventilation machines if the previously mild symptoms turn into serious pneumonia. So we all stay indoors for the sake of the country and beyond. We need to stop the virus so we can get back to normal. I know my UK readers will be in a different situation (at this time of writing), with their government not opting for the same approach.
What is normal?
But…what is ‘normal’ and do we actually want to go back to it after this is all over? Interesting question. It is a worrying time but I can’t help feeling a little excited too – weird I know and quite inappropriate. Excited because maybe this will be the thing that will change the world for the better, in the long run. Could it? It is definitely a time for reflection and a big obligatory pause for people no matter what race, gender, salary and political views. The virus hits us all – especially in the western world. We’re all sitting at home, forced to look at ourselves in the mirror. See our life for what it is, our partners, our children, our jobs, our crazy busy lifestyle. Who are we and why did we think we were leading a ‘normal’ life in the first place? Stocks are plummeting. Airlines are going bust. You would almost think planet earth is hitting back. You still think you can treat me like shit, after all environmental disasters, hurricanes, floods and famines? Here, catch this you fuckers.
Ask me again in two weeks time, but right now it makes me happy to see all the good things that come out of people because of this unusual situation of being stuck indoors. The solidarity, the creativity, the resourcefulness you see on social media is incredible. I still believe in the good in people and apart from the initial greedy panic buying of truck loads of toilet paper, liters of hand sanitizer and 25 packs of spaghetti, I am optimistic. We are so used to the rat race, the consumerism, the individualism and the loss of connection to others, that this sudden lockdown is a breath of fresh air. Excuse the pun.
This too shall pass
People are reaching out to each other and strangers are becoming comrades. My heart filled with love and my eyes with tears last night at 8pm when I suddenly heard applauding, shouting and whistling outside from all the houses and balconies, by people around the city thanking hospital staff, police and other vital workers doing their best to stop the virus and care for the sick. This Thursday at 12 noon we’ll be treated, like they did in Italy last week, to live music from the communal orchestras, again from balconies. I saw a video of neighbours playing bingo from their open windows in an apartment block down in Andalucia. Valencia’s biggest annual festival Las Fallas was cancelled this week. A major decision that nobody expected, even a few weeks ago. The artists who had already created a Fallas statue of a meditating lady, with the title ‘This too shall pass’ (how apt), was given a face mask after the news. We all mourn about the loss of normality, but accept and adjust. We simply have no choice. We have to flatten the curve.
Reinventing our existence
It is an alien situation and we are all trying to navigate through this sudden unwanted gift of time. We should make good use of it. History tells us that in 1665 Cambridge University was temporarily closed because of the plague and it was then that Isaac Newton thought of his law of gravity. Boredom and idleness lead to great inventions. The school Whatsapp groups however are in overdrive with mums and dads fearing this sudden standstill and the fact that they have the children at home, which obviously is not ideal when you still have work to do. They are sharing links to educational resources, online museum collections and libraries, just to offer some sort of quality entertainment while stuck in the house. The iPads are a godsend to entertain the kids, I am not denying that, but this compulsory indoor-holiday requires more effort than just the easy babysitter called screen-time.
So far we have baked a cake, built Lego towers, are learning to play instruments (we are working on getting a family band up and running), are reading books, watch films, look up science experiments on Youtube and just spend a lot of time together as a family. How well do you know your child really and have oceans of time to cuddle and sit with them, look at their beautiful faces and listen with attention to what they are interested in? I bet I am not the only one to admit that modern life, work stress, long school hours and occupied minds are detrimental to real human connection. No doubt many children will remember this 2020 quarantine period as something quite special.
People are becoming very opportunistic and creative when stuck indoors. The dance teacher is uploading his classes onto Youtube so we can start the morning with a fun workout. Yoga and pilates classes and meditation sessions are all made accessible online. Music venues and concert halls upload concerts to enjoy for free. Artists offer tutorials online. It is incredible how many people are sharing quality content with each other worldwide. Not just for fun, but also because income has disappeared overnight and we’re all trying to figure out what to do next. We still have bills to pay. How do you earn money when you cannot meet face to face?
The sacrifices and losses in the corona battlefield
Small businesses are suffering greatly. No doubt many will go under during two or three weeks quarantine plus months of recovery and little trade. I am a self-employed content writer who lost a big client overnight because of COVID-19. An estate agent on the Costa Blanca I write and translate for suddenly has no one from northern Europe making plans to view and buy holiday homes anymore. My other job as bicycle tour guide has also suddenly been put on hold, because first of all of less tourism and currently because nobody is allowed outside. With no invoices to send there is no income. A self employed worker in Spain pays 283 euro a month to the social security system (compulsory, no matter what your earn), so go figure. A petition has been going around to ask the state for a payment break due to corona, but I am not very hopeful. Unfortunately we all know who gets hit the hardest in times like these.
Cheap flights and plastic from China
Earlier this week I shared a very interesting article published in Dezeen on my Facebook page about how Coronavirus offers “a blank page for a new beginning”. In it trend watcher Lidewij Edelkoort says “it seems we are massively entering a quarantine of consumption where we will learn how to be happy just with a simple dress, rediscovering old favourites we own, reading a forgotten book and cooking up a storm to make life beautiful.” She is hoping for a better system, a better balance for the environment and humans worldwide. I hope so too.
Can we indeed go back to a simpler life? Buying less plastic crap from China? Being more conscious about the amount we consume? And then not just the people who already do this anyway…but could it become mainstream again? Growing our own food, and repairing stuff instead of our throwing away culture. A more honest, calmer way of life. Can we stop wanting to go on four holidays a year, on cheap flights to everywhere, burning the planet and ruining unspoiled territory around the world? Can we please stop? Get away from this ‘economic growth’ obsession? Wishful thinking perhaps, because money makes the world go round and no doubt the big guys at the top are already planning a recovery strategy to get back to ‘normal’. Still, as consumers, we have the power to right now start with a clean slate and make some significant changes to our lifestyle as a result of living through these strange weeks of lockdown, quarantine and self isolation. The virus has thrown us a brilliant opportunity to rethink and redesign our common future, for the next generations. Let’s not waste it.
Why do we want to record and publish every moment, minute, event of our lives? We photograph ourselves holding a coffee cup in the morning sun and put things in the caption like ‘Blissful moment. #lovemylife. #coffeeaddict. We hit ‘share’ on Instagram and wait for the hearts and likes. We can’t have an evening out anymore without creating evidence and letting everyone at home know that we have such a fabulous social life. If it’s not snapped on your smart phone, it hasn’t happened. Why? For who? When have we become so self obsessed? And is it arrogance, narcissism or insecurity that drives this strange modern day behaviour? Why do we think people want to see what we’re up to in our private life?
No skeletons here
Gosh, I am no saint. I am guilty of it myself, posting photos on Instagram of my happy children on the beautiful Valencia beach, a selfie because I think my hair looks pretty, a picture of a fun afternoon with friends. I have always liked creating written and visual content, stories, photographs, putting it all together, long before Instagram was a thing. So these kind of platforms obviously offer an easy and very addictive outlet for me. But I can’t ignore the fact that I am also hooked to the dopamine hit received from every ‘like’ by my online friends, and to get as much dopamine as possible I am trying to make everything in my life look just a little bit more beautiful than it perhaps is. Nice lighting, good angle, a pretty filter, a bit of cropping, choosing the perfect shot out of ten others. Shoving that pile of laundry out of the frame. And obviously I’ll be leaving out the skeletons hiding in the closets. Hands up, who’s with me? I am sure I am not alone.
Sex, drugs and…social media
Neuroscientists are studying the effects of social media on the brain and research has shown that positive interactions (such as someone liking your post) trigger the same kind of chemical reaction that is caused by gambling and recreational drugs. An article by Harvard University researcher Trevor Haynes tells us that when you get a social media notification, your brain sends dopamine, a chemical messenger, along a reward pathway, which makes you feel good. Dopamine is associated with food, exercise, love, sex, gambling, drugs … and now, social media. To make things worse, the reward centers in our brains are most active when we’re talking about ourselves. As a normal functioning human you probably talk about yourselves 30 to 40 percent of the time. On social media it is all about showing off your life. That means you are talking about yourself a whopping 80 percent of the time. (source: Now. The intersection of technology, innovation and creativity).
Then there are the Instagrammers with their 100k+ followers. They look like they have their lives way better sorted than us, don’t they? Their daily pictures show perfect homes, dirt-free children, sunny days out, loving marriages and gorgeous bodies fueled by green smoothies. And we lap it up like they are the next Messiah. It’s all lies and don’t we know it. Why do we still swoon over them? These people are marketeers, trying to make money. It is their job to make you believe their life and the products they are wearing, showing, sharing are worth coveting. Whether it is ethical to sell us a dream world, that is another question, but it gives them their income. And just like with any other advert, we can choose to either fall for it or not. If we remind ourselves that it is just futile entertainment, we stay in control and put it into perspective. If however we feel shitty about our own life as a result of scrolling their feed, then it is perhaps time to switch off the wifi and go for a walk.
Now as adults and middle aged cynics like myself most of us can see through this. We scroll through Instagram or Facebook, click ‘ like’ on something we find inspiring or funny and then move on with our lives. We probably have other stuff to do. Adolescents however are not yet able to see the bigger picture and the futility of it all, and risk a number of things. First of all, there is the risk of crushing their self esteem when the dopamine doesn’t hit and their post doesn’t get liked. Big deal, we think, but for a child? Secondly, there is the pressure of social media posts by their friends, seemingly all having a better life than them, making them feel isolated and depressed. Then there is the trolling and online bullying and last but certainly not least, the danger of creepy grownups privately messaging (without you knowing) your underaged child and abusing them, virtually or – god forbid – in real life. Want to know how real this danger is? Just go and type #12yearoldgirl into the Instagram search box to see how much inappropriate comments are made by older guys who clearly know these girls are children. Time to have a closer look at your kids’ devices, their apps and the privacy settings.
Pouting in the pool
What makes someone want to be on Instagram though, other than the dopamine hits? So many accounts and they are all trying to grow their followers. Fitness freaks, yogis, foodies, new mums with stylish interiors, and yes, the millions of pre-teens and adolescents trying to look like the next top model. You see that last category in bucket loads out in the wild these days. Just go to the beach, the park or hang around at pittoresk city spots and you’ll find them. They usually drag a mate along to do a shoot or they take turns pouting lips and standing in awkward positions. (Cue: girl seen from the back in bikini coming out of the swimming pool, looking seductively over her shoulder). I have even spotted mums photographing their daughters like this, obviously hoping they will be discovered as the next Kim Kardashian. That is the thing with social media: creating an account is free, making content can be creative and a lot of fun, and yes, it is possible to make a career out of it in some cases.
Multi-billion dollar business
Ask any 15-year old what they want to be when they grow up and ‘paid influencer’ or ‘youtuber’ will be in the top 3. And who doesn’t like to dream of a job as someone traveling the world, posting pictures on Instagram and getting paid for it? Nearly three quarters of Gen Z and millennials in the U.S. follow influencers on social media, 86% of them would post sponsored content for money, and 54% would become an influencer given the opportunity. (source: cnbc.com). For people over 40 like me, it is astonishing to think kids idealise this online world so much, but the fact is that online marketing is a career and influencers play a huge part in it. Influencer marketing is still projected to become a $15 billion business by the year 2022, even though the market is now becoming saturated and pay can be low for many people trying to make a living out of it.
If you have an Instagram account yourself, trying to promote your work as an artist or perhaps your small business, you know yourself that it requires commitment to frequently post something interesting in order to grow your brand and not lose followers. For those who have been able to make an actual career out of being an Instagrammer, some even grow tired of it. In the article The fatigue hitting influencers as Instagram evolves Brianna Madia, 29, tells about the fatigue of keeping a successful social media account alive. Madia currently lives the #vanlife, documenting her travels through the desert with her husband and two dogs. While her traveling lifestyle might seem like a dream to followers, Madia says she’s “grown tired of catering to an audience of 285,000 bosses”. She says deleting her Instagram is something that she dreams about frequently.
It is not all doom and gloom in the world of Social Media though. For me personally it’s a quick and easy way to stay in touch with friends and family all over the world (especially important for me because I’m an expat). It is a great tool to find and meet like-minded people online or in local groups. Without it I wouldn’t have made all the friends and connections in my new city as quickly as I did. I also use it a lot to find out what’s on locally in terms of concerts, art exhibitions, festivals etc. and to check out the reviews on a restaurant before making a booking. It is not only a place of rampant consumerism either – some ‘influencers’ use their presence online to promote greener ways of living. Positive News lists a number of follow-worthy young people who are trying to make the world a better place. I have learnt and read about a lot of things because someone shared it on social media. Climate change, political activism, mental health, feminist and LGBT issues and equal rights, zero waste campaigns, you name it, if it wasn’t for social media we would all know a lot less about these things. And I guess that is worth a few measured dopamine shots.
Last year we decided our eldest son would repeat his school year. It was after much headaches, tears (me) and consideration, and of course after talking with his teacher. Repeating the year? Shock horror. I always associated this concept with the kids who were really at the bottom of the class, somehow had developmental problems or otherwise behind. My kid? How? I felt I had failed him. I had mother’s guilt in ten fold.
Children are sponges
Maybe it was the guilt of having moved to Spain, pulling him out of his comfort zone and plunging him into a whole new and foreign environment. Did we gamble with his future by emigrating? Enrolled in a school at first in which he literally drowned, then since September a different school which he really likes, but obviously everything still is all in Spanish. “It is such a gift to a child moving to a different country, what an experience!” I keep hearing from people who have never done it. “Children are sponges, they pick up the language so fast.” Sure, both my boys speak quite a bit of Spanish after 18 months, children’s language of course. That doesn’t mean they also miraculously catch up in all school subjects in Spanish – and Valenciano. And when even maths becomes a struggle, you start to wonder if perhaps life is going a little too fast for a small boy.
My 7-year old has a vivid imagination, is very creative and loves art. He is easily distracted and has a sensitive soul. He is also terribly stubborn and has never liked people telling him what to do, from potty training to learning to read. But then he is also very social, caring and makes friends easily. He loves to play. Last but not least, he is a December baby. In Scotland that meant he was the youngest in class and in Spain this is no different. For some children no problem. For others it is.
I remember when my son was 4 years old I asked his school back in Scotland if he could have an extra year in nursery. The boy could not sit still and was in my eyes far from ready to do any form of academic learning. Normal right, for a 4-year old child? “No” was the clear answer I got, “His birthday is in December, so he will be going to Primary 1. He has no clear developmental reasons to be kept behind.” Behind. An interesting word.
Sitting still age 4
So off he went to Primary 1, this tiny active playful boy age 4.5. Two months later we received a letter from his teacher. “We are informing you that we are having to give your son additional support, because he has difficulty focusing on forming and recognising letters. “Well yes, I know”, I thought. “I told you so. He is 4.” But hey, the train had left and we were on it. The system required he should do a certain trick by a certain date and he was falling ‘behind’. He continued to refuse any form of homework for the rest of Primary 1. Still he now reads chapter books like the rest of them.
Seeing a child for who he is
Fast forward three years and we are in Spain. Was it the added anxiety of moving that made him struggle so much? Maybe. Is my child less intelligent than the others? Well, no. His teacher said two things: “It is the language, yes,…but it is also his maturity. He is very young. And he wants to play.” When she said those things, it all fell into place. Although hearing that your child is not doing well in school is hard on a mother, somebody finally just seeing your child for who he is, feels like a relief. Somebody recognised that our son was perhaps in the wrong year all along. Pushed ahead because of a silly birth date. “He could go to the next year, yes, he could do it with extra support”, she said, “But why? It will be much better for him to stay where he is, be a little bit older, feel more confident and have more time to adapt.” The train had stopped. Thank you, teacher.
La vida no es una carrera
My son is happy with the idea of repeating thankfully, which is one headache less. When I told the news to the parents in his class however, I received mixed reactions. There were the high achieving parents:”Really? Por que? It is not needed. You should get a second opinion! With extra support he can do it!”. Then there was the majority:”That sounds like a very wise idea, he will be totally OK. And his friends will still be here in the playground.” And then there were quite a few mothers who actually admitted to me that they too felt stressed about school, how their children were hurried along and how they felt the peer pressure.”La vida no es una carrera” (life is not a race), I had written in my message to the class mums, and it obviously made them stop, think and breathe.
Resilience and memories
Life is not a race. Why do we get upset when our child gets the advice to repeat the year? Because we take it personally. Our own ego is playing up. We judge ourself as a parent. We should have done more, we have failed. Our child is lost. Not as good as the rest. What will become of him? Nonsense, of course. But that’s how it feels.
Would he have had the same advice in Scotland? Probably not. Repeating is seen as a bit old fashioned and not usually done nowadays. Still, if it works, it works, time will tell. And what if our children have their own path in life? Something we as parents cannot micro manage? Perhaps it was needed to have this tricky first year in Spain. Maybe it has made my son more resilient, teaching him valuable life skills already, way beyond any academic learning. And maybe it was meant for someone to step in and slow down my son’s childhood. To give him that extra year of being small. To stop the anxiety and feel calmer. Him and me. After all, childhood is precious and memories last. We just have to love them and walk beside them.
Learning happens all the time
How often do you still recall something from your childhood? Those short years have such a big influence on the rest of our lives. What are the best memories you have? I bet a lot of those memories are to do with freedom. Being with other children, running outside, going swimming, camping in the woods, making up stories, building dens, playing hide and seek, just simply having fun and being a kid. Very little adult intervention. School yes, it was there, but for me it certainly wasn’t something I now see as the most important aspect of my early childhood or how it shaped me. And this is how it should be. Learning happens all the time, everywhere. School has its place, but childhood is so much more. Let’s not let that precious time rush by. It goes quick enough anyway. We shall see what September brings. Summer first.