Curious festive traditions from around the world. The season of death, darkness and peculiar saints

Moving abroad means meeting people from all over the world, all with different backgrounds and customs. You chat to them about life, family traditions and “what are you doing for Christmas?” and soon discover that people have all been brought up with different things. It is very educational to say the least, and wonderful to learn about what everyone celebrates from October to December. Here are some of the known and lesser known traditions you can find around the world this season. Some rather scary ones too.

Halloween. No, it is not an American invention

An American lady here in my hometown of Valencia posted in a Facebook expat group how she was keen to “organise the typical American experience of trick or treating” in Valencia and invited us all to take part. I don’t think she saw what was coming next, namely a whole host of Scots and Irish expats telling her that she “didn’t have to show them, thank you very much, as halloween is a holiday of Gaelic origin – not American.” I guess that was her told – ouch.

Halloween, or the ancient Samhain, is considered the time of year when the veil between our world and the spirit world is at its thinnest. Samhain (pronounced sah-van or sow-in) is the traditional Gaelic festival marking the change of seasons and the approach of winter. Dead and departed relatives played a central role in the tradition, as the connection between the living and dead was believed stronger at Samhain, and there was a chance to communicate. The idea that souls return home on a certain day of the year is repeated across many cultures around the world, including the Day of the Dead in Mexico around the same date. During Samhain or Halloween eventually, mumming and guising (going door-to-door in disguise and performing in exchange for food), or pranks, were a way of confounding evil spirits. Pranks at Samhain date as far back as 1736 in Scotland and Ireland, and this led to Samhain being dubbed “Mischief Night”. The original lanterns in Ireland and Scotland were carved from turnips, not pumpkins.

As a Dutchie who didn’t grow up with Halloween, I went around my local Spanish neighbourhood with an Irish friend this year, as well as a group of Spanish parents and a Swedish mum, who also felt a bit out of place. It was a laugh, and kind of odd trick or treating in a T-shirt in still 24 degrees at night. For the Spanish this halloween thing really is a novelty. Hilarious and entertaining to see everyone learning from each other and adapting to new customs.

All Saints Day in Spain

The day after Halloween the Spanish celebrate All Saints’ day, or Día de todos los Santos, where they remember their dearly departed and bring flowers to the graves of their deceased loved ones. Of course nothing goes without eating in Spain and there are a few traditional sweets that the Spanish eat on All Saints’ Day. The most common are the so-called huesos de santo (literally, “saint’s bones”), which are made of marzipan and sweetened egg yolk. Another treat you’ll find are buñuelos de viento, puffy fried balls of dough filled with pastry cream, whipped cream, or chocolate. Yum!

Yum, how about a bite in the old Saint’s bones?

Day of the Dead, more than just a costume

Day of the Dead, taking place in Mexico the first few days of November, is currently a bit of a fashionable theme for people choosing their halloween costumes, but is actually an ancient celebration that is way more than a bit of makeup and a lot of flower displays. Some of the earliest origins of the tradition can be traced as far back to 2,000-3000 year-old rituals honouring the dead in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. Celebrating the lives of deceased family members and friends, people believe that during this part of the year, loved ones can return from the Chicunamictlán – the land of the dead – because the border between the real and spiritual world melts away.

When Spanish colonisers came to the region, they carried the Catholic holidays of All Saints Day and All Souls Day, celebrated on the first two days of November. Day of the Dead was moved to correspond closer to these days. In 2008, UNESCO added the country’s “indigenous festivity dedicated to the dead” to its list of so-called Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Day of the Dead in Mexico, with their colourful parades and iconic face masks

St Martin and the paper lanterns

In the Netherlands, at least the north where I grew up, as well as parts of Germany, we celebrate Saint Martins Day on the 11th of November. The day is named after St. Martin of Tours, a Roman soldier who became a monk after being baptised as an adult. He was eventually made a saint by the Catholic Church for being a kind man who cut his cloak in half to share with a beggar during a snowstorm – although as a child I never knew this part of the story. All I remember is that we went around the streets after dark with paper lanterns knocking on people’s doors, sang songs about St Martin and received sweets and oranges in return. It often rains that time of year, so you can imagine the sight: soggy lanterns and frozen children.

Saint Martin, going around the houses and singing songs in return for sweets

Saint Nicholas or ‘Sinterklaas’ in the Netherlands

Staying in the Netherlands, we are also the first to kick off the festive season with our Saint Nicholas on the evening of 5th of December, or 6th of December in Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and Northern France. This saint is a legendary figure based on the historical figure of Saint Nicholas (270–343), a Greek bishop of Myra in present-day Turkey and the patron saint of children. Saint Nicolas, who is believed to also be the predecessor of good old Santa Claus, introduced to the United States of America by Dutch immigrants, who, just like myself, couldn’t shake off some of their old customs. Some people refuse to believe this, but Santa Claus actually received his jolly, cuddly image from Coca Cola, who felt the old bishop needed a non-religious makeover.

The Dutch with their peculiar tradition of St Nicholas and his black helpers…coming on a boat from Spain and bringing presents to the children in the Netherlands.

In the Netherlands however, we have kept the St Nicholas tradition alive and well. It is also the cause of wide eyes and disbelief among the international community when I try and explain what in my mind has always been a very innocent tradition. St Nicholas is depicted as an elderly, stately and serious man with white hair and a long, full beard. He wears a long red cape over a traditional white bishop’s alb, dons a red mitre and ruby ring, and holds a gold-coloured crosier, a long ceremonial shepherd’s staff with a fancy curled top. For some reason the old man with the beard no longer comes from Turkey, but he now arrives every year on a boat from Spain. Until recently our St Nicholas, or Sinterklaas, was assisted by a large number of Zwarte Pieten (“Black Petes”), curious helpers dressed in Moorish attire and in blackface, who would take naughty kids back to Spain in a sack. Wowzers. As a child I know for certain we thought nothing of it: they were just the Saint’s helpers, not a racist imitation of people with a black or brown skin colour. Their black colour was because they climbed through the chimney, obviously. And somehow they ended up wearing gold earrings and curly black wigs with it. Cue: gasping audience. You will be glad to hear that Zwarte Piet has left the scene and was in recent years replaced by Rainbow Pete

Did Black Pete made you cringe? Meet Krampus, his evil Austrian brother

A beast-like demon creature that roams city streets frightening kids and punishing the bad ones – nope, this isn’t Halloween, but St. Nicholas’ evil accomplice, Krampus. Just like in the Netherlands, in Austrian tradition, St. Nicholas rewards good little boys and girls, while Krampus is said to capture the naughtiest children and whisk them away in his sack. In the first week of December, young men dress up as the Krampus (especially on the eve of St. Nicholas Day) frightening the living daylight out of kids with clattering chains and bells. Holy shoot. Give me back rainbow Pete any time.

Hide your broom in Norway

Perhaps one of the most unique Christmas Eve traditions can be found in Norway, where people hide their brooms. Yes, that’s right. Nevermind the manic last minute gift wrapping or preparing the Turkey for Christmas dinner. Get that broom safely in the cupboard. It’s a tradition that dates back centuries to when people believed that witches and evil spirits came out on Christmas Eve looking for brooms to ride on. To this day, many people still hide their brooms in the safest place in the house to stop them from being stolen.

Colourful Boho Chic Christmas Décor Ideas

Minimalist was never your thing anyway? Go for a Boho Chic Christmas this year! Choose bold colours, crazy patterns, folklore, floral and gypsy touches and your home will certainly look unique this festive season. Today I am sharing some inspiring boho chic and folklore Christmas decorations that are to awake your inner hippie, even if you haven’t tried such ideas before.

Boho chic christmas decor
Go bold and colourful with your Christmas decorations, using garlands, wreaths and fairy lights.

Boho Chic Christmas Tree Décor

Let’s start with a wonderfully colourful Christmas tree. It can be decorated with vintage and folklore styled ornaments, colourful pompoms and garlands and bold lights. No space for a tree? Try hanging a stick Christmas tree on the wall and decorate it with colourful ornaments. Use a crocheted, patchwork or woven round rug as a tree skirt. The more colours and bohemian patterns you add into the mix, the more fun you’ll have. No minimalist less is more here. Go bold!

boho chic christmas tree
Decorate your tree with silk flowers for a truly gorgeous Boho Chic Christmas! See the tutorial here.
Boho chic christmas decor
Vintage Christmas baubles are the ideal way to create a bold colourful Boho Chis Christmas tree. Buy a box full on Etsy or source them in your local vintage shops.
Boho chic christmas decor
No space for a real tree? Temporary replace that artwork with a wall hung tree made out of branches!
boho chic christmas decor
Use a crocheted round rug as a tree skirt to finish off your boho chic Christmas decor. This one can be found on Etsy.

Christmas Ornaments, boho style

Choose colourful folklore and boho chic ornaments and make some unique ones yourself. You can crochet them, make mini dream catchers with feathers, use crystal pendants or make an ornament garland or wreath. Find some vintage ornaments and make a hanging using an embroidery hoop and bold ribbon. You don’t even need a tree to display ornaments: just hang them on a string or on the window, along your stair banister or pin them on the wall. You can also put them on the mantel or put ornaments into a jar to add to your festive boho chic atmosphere.

Boho chic christmas decor
Lovely wooden dream catcher ornaments on Etsy

Boho Chic Christmas Wreaths

No Christmas is complete without a wreath on your door! Make this year’s wreath keeping the bold boho style in mind: make an evergreen wreath with plenty of colourful decorations, a floral piece wreath interwoven with lights or a wreath in dream catcher style. Macramé and crochet are welcome, colourful pompoms will make also make fabulous and unique Christmas wreaths. You can also make a wreath of sticks and some greenery for a natural feel.

Boho chic christmas decor
Pom poms make an instant colourful impact when made into a wreath. This one is on Etsy

Boho Chic Christmas Stockings

If you use stockings as part of your Christmas décor, you can really push out the boat whenit comes to the boho chic and folklore theme. Adhorn your stocking with vintage fabrics, small crocheted squares or patchwork, beads, buttons, ribbons and bits of lace for a bold and colourful effect. They will spruce up any mantel.

boho chic christmas stockings
Use up your favourite fabric remnants, ribbons and tassels to make beautiful Boho Chic Christmas stockings

Lower your energy bill (and be good for the planet)

Do you want to lower your energy bill too? I live in Spain so you would think that all energy comes straight from the sun, but no. Unfortunately the big energy companies still have a monopoly on supplying everybody with electricity through fossil fuels, which means the monthly bill is not as low as we’d like it to be, never mind the impact on the environment. Only about 14% of energy in Spain comes from different renewable energy sources. Sun, we have so much sun here, imagine how much energy we could generate! Anyway, while I am waiting for a renewables revolution and the tides to turn (excuse the pun), here are some ways to lower your energy bill right now.

Turn off the standby button

I am terrible at this, leaving my laptop on standby, leaving mobile phone chargers dangling from sockets and keeping the coffee machine on all morning. Do you also leave your laptop or TV on standby when you’re done with it? Switch off all electricity. Always. A lot of power is lost by devices that are not being used, but are secretly still on.

save money on your energy bill

Use a multi-point extension lead to lower your energy bill

Use a multi point extension lead for several devices at the same time. Devices with an adapter or transformer also consume a lot of energy when they are off or in standby mode. If you have them in an extension box, then you can operate multiple devices at the same time with one button and you will noticeably combat sneaky energy consumption.

Air your home: good for health and wallet

Opening windows and airing your rooms: not only good for your health, but also for your wallet so you can lower your energy bill. Ventilate your apartment or house well: fresh, dry air is easier to heat than moist air.

Turn the heating down a notch

Turn your heating down one notch. Or two. Does that really matter? It certainly does! Every notch means a reduction of 7% on your final bill. Always feeling cold? Buy a nice warm cardigan for at home, some matching furry slippers. The lower energy bill at the end of the month will make you glow inside.

save money on your energy bill

Fill your fridge to lower your energy bill

Another thing that you probably didn’t know yet: a full fridge costs less energy to cool than an empty one. Make sure the fridge is full in order to lower your energy bill. If necessary, place empty bottles filled with water to fill the refrigerator. Handy to have spare bottles of cool water in summer and your refrigerator will use less energy.

Remove the ice layer in the freezer

In so many homes, the freezer doesn’t get cleaned regularly and soon a thick layer of ice appears around the drawers and the edges. Better be careful! For every 2 mm ice layer, the energy consumption of the freezer increases by 10%. It is worth defrosting it every once in a while.

Swap all your old light bulbs for energy saving ones

Most of you have probably done this already over the years, but you may find some old fashioned energy gobbling bulb sitting in a bedside table lamp. It may be an investment, but it is worth exchanging all bulbs in the long run. Energy-saving lamps require 6 times less electricity and last 10 times as long.

Change supplier

If you really want to lower your energy bill, maybe it is time to review your supplier. You can make the biggest financial savings by choosing the right energy company. Therefore, check whether you have a contract that suits you, your house and your usage. Make sure that you get a well-arranged bill, so that you have a better insight into what most of your energy is spent on.


Four decor items to make you feel right at home

Whether you have just moved house, staying somewhere temporarily or you are a digital nomad traveling the globe, it is pleasant to feel at home somewhere straight away. Especially if you are on your own. What are items to make you feel right at home? Things that are comforting and add a sense of familiarity? Here are four items you could try for yourself while on the move, or to welcome your guests while staying at your home.

Digital nomad lifestyle items

Home fragrances and natural candles

I don’t know about you, but I like a room to smell nice. So candles or room fragrances can really help with that. If you have guests arriving, it can be very welcoming to have a fragranced candle flickering in the bathroom for example to add a bit of a ‘spa’ feel. Or how about a candle that smells of freshly ground coffee filling the space?

You could pop your favourite candle in your hold luggage too if you travel somewhere, to make your hotel room smell beautiful. (Be careful putting it in hand luggage or it may get taken at security, you never know what is seen as a potential ‘liquid’!)


Soft, comforting blankets to snuggle up with

Adding softness and comfort to your interior is another important factor to make you feel more at home. Drape some chunky knitted throws over your sofa and add plenty of cosy layers to your bed. No space will feel cold and unfriendly when dressed up with beautiful blankets. Not got much space in your suitcase while traveling? Invest in a super soft cashmere throw which could double up as a cosy blanket on a long haul flight.

digital nomad lifestyle items
This beautiful soft cashmere scarf will be your snuggle blanket on the go! €49.73
Digital nomad lifestyle items

Familiar photos or prints on the wall

When you move into a new house or flat, the space can feel very alien for a while. Everything is unfamiliar. One of the first things you could do to make your home feel like yours, is to put up some pictures. Create a gallery wall full of family photos or hang your favourite artwork in a prominent place. Add a few large plants and look how you have already transformed the place. If you are traveling or living somewhere for a short period of time, carrying picture frames around with you is probably not an option. Try using other items, such as postcards or smaller pictures, which you could hang with pegs on a piece of string pinned onto the wall.


Your favourite coffee mug to make you feel at home

Nothing beats the feeling of being at ‘home’, or at ease, like a hot cup of tea or coffee in your own special mug. Sitting back, enjoying the view out of your new window and taking it all in. I know it was one of the first things I unpacked after moving last year. If you can pack your favourite mug and bring it with you when away from home for along period of time, it sure soothes any homesick feelings you may have. Choose something sturdy that won’t break easily in transit. Good old Denby mugs are a good bet when it comes to resilience. Oh, and don’t forget to pack your favourite tea either. Enjoy your cuppa!


Digital nomad lifestyle items
Denby mugs in lovely colours. Heritage Fountain Cascade Mug €14.00

Sophisticaded bedroom ideas with mustard yellow bedding

Since my post about mustard yellow and grey living room schemes is a popular one on the blog, I thought I’d give you more of your favourite colour. Today I will be sharing some lovely ideas to use this versatile colour in the bedroom. Here are ideas for bedroom decor, using mustard yellow bedding.

mustard yellow bedding

Soft, natural linen for your bed

I love natural bed linen, especially if it is of a soft, pre-washed quality like these beautiful shades, pictured below. The ones below are from VelvetValley and CottonMood on Etsy, 
both sellers making duvet covers and pillow cases in natural linen in all sizes.

Linen duvet cover by VelvetValley on Etsy
mustard yellow bedding

Tips for accessories and accent colours to go with mustard yellow bedding

Mustard yellow seems to be a colour trend that is here to stay. The new accent colour that goes very well with grey, sand colours, blues and even dusty pink or browns. Try adding some accessories like copper light shades, woven natural baskets, natural wooden ladders or crates for storage and some framed artwork in monochrome, blue and grey shades.


Knitted blankets and crisp sheets

Mustard yellow bedding doesn’t have to be the duvet cover. Invest in a beautiful cosy blanket or throw for the colder months, perfect in combination with crisp white sheets. This super soft chunky blanket is by WoolArtDesign. This blanket is arm knitted from best quality merino wool, which is fair, ethical and eco-sustainable.

mustard yellow beddingChunky knitted throw in merino wool by WoolArtDesign

Add some artwork to your mustard grey bedroom

A bedroom wouldn’t be finished without some striking artwork on the wall above the bed. This beautiful mountain print set would make a stunning addition to your sophisticated mustard and grey bedroom. Very affordable too at just £35 for three large A2 size unframed prints.

mustard grey bedroomSet of three affordable prints by BlackDotStudio

Mixing up textures for a layered look

The bedroom is the perfect place to to use a variety of different textures and textiles. Linen is lovely to sleep under, but soft velvet cushions can add a but of luxury and ‘boudoir’ feel to your bedroom. Knitted blankets and woven rugs will balance things out with their more ‘rough’ and chunky look.

Vintage furniture in a new built home: house tour

I decided to do a little house tour today, of our rental home in Spain. It is usually a mess, as anyone with young children knows it is an eternal war zone living with too many toys – and very small boys. I took these photos recently so we could advertise our house on a holiday home exchange website. (Whether you sell your home or otherwise promote your house, tidying up for the photos is a must!). Here is our eclectic mix of vintage furniture in a new home.

Boho decor in new house

It is in some ways funny to see our vintage furniture in a new home, as supposed to our old 1930s granite house in Scotland where we were before. Still, it was surprising how it somehow looks as if it belongs here. The white new built box we live in now provides a nice blank canvas to show off our vintage furniture and artworks.

The design of our rental house is almost modernist in a way, open plan, with a mezzanine opening to the next floor. Large windows. We love the style of architecture, although with two noisy boys you can imagine sound travels easily in such an open space! It is also quite a cold house in winter, with any heat going straight upstairs. Nevertheless, it is a great, spaceous home for us to live in right now.

vintage furniture in new homeboho decor in new house

Midcentury sideboard in a new built home

We added a few pieces of furniture we didn’t have before, including the white lights above the dining table. We also added a vintage painted sideboard to our interior, which we bought from Back to Life Furniture in Aberdeenshire, just before we left last year. As we had a giant artic truck coming to move us to Spain, we decided to make use of it! I love the way Lynsey painted the drawers and outside of the midcentury piece white and adding with subtle stripes to the doors, changing the look completely.

Vibrant paintings in a Spanish home

We also brought quite a few large paintings and framed prints to Spain. The vibrant painting of the jazz band above the sideboard I always loved, but it never looked quite at home in Scotland. Just a bit flamboyant. It is by a South American painter called Yvonne Mora and it looks so much more at home in Spain! I am so glad we kept it. It means even more to me now I have found a new Spanish band in Valencia and continue to sing (in English though, my Spanish is not up to singing standard yet!).

The large green artwork behind the dining table is a 1966 original print by the late Aberdeen artist Pauline Jacobsen. I once bought it at auction for just £25… I instantly loved the midcentury feel of it and I am so glad we now own it. It is one of two…I wonder where its twin is…? Does anyone know?

No hallway? What about the shoes!

As with many Spanish houses, there is no vestibule or hallway. You open the front door and you’re straight in! This means tidying up is pretty vital in the entry area, with jackets, shoes, cycling helmets and school bags. I bought a coat stand and recently decided to move one of my vintage chests of drawers downstairs as well, to help keep most of the stray stuff out of sight. I think the vintage furniture in our new home goes quite well. The painting above it? Another wonderful Scottish artwork (by Ian W. Paterson) I found on one of my treasure hunts, at a book fair this time.

vintage pieces in new home

boho decor in new house

A large sunny loft space

One of the perks of this new built house in the suburbs of Valencia is its large attic space. It has become a very versatile room, for the kids to play in as well as for guests to stay. Our cat also loves it up here. Peaceful! Sometimes – when I feel disciplined – I roll out my yoga mat once the kids are at school and before I start work. I open the door onto the roof terrace to let the sun in. Bliss. In summer it turns into an oven up here, but right now in winter it is pleasant and warm.

mustard yellow bedroom

Craving for colour

Living Spain has made me want to use more bold colours in my interior. I probably wouldn’t have chosen these bedroom curtains back in Scotland, but here they look fabulous in the bright sunlight. The vintage mustard yellow Welsh blanket is only used in the winter months, as it’s airconditioning on and thin sheets all summer! The artwork above the bed is a relief print by Scottish artist Francis Boag.

mustard yellow bedding

As we are renting this house, it is tricky to make it completely our own. I probably would change a few wall colours or be a bit more adventurous with putting up shelves and pictures, but I mainly used existing picture hooks. The walls are also different here than in the UK and much harder to drill into. Don’t want to make a mess of it! We did use some heavy duty Command strips to hang up white board and pictures on the tiled wall in the kitchen.

white kitchen cabinets

Rescue plants from Scotland

The terraces are filled with mediterranean plants. It even has two plants I once rescued from a dark old house in North-east Scotland, when I was on one of my vintage furniture buying trips. It turns out that they are a money plant and a rubber plant, both native here in Spain. They are literally growing arms and legs and obviously very happy to be in their natural habitat.

mediterrenean garden ideas

roof terrace ideasbalcony ideas

How to create the perfect gallery wall layout

Art is my go to ingredient whenever I want to refresh my decor. I always seem to change pictures around! But a beautiful artwork can really make a difference in your home. How do you style your home with art? Here are some inspirational ways to group art together and create a gallery wall layout. Find some ideas to display pictures, frames, prints and paintings large and small, around the house.



Forgotten corners: turn them into galleries

Image: pinterest

Hang it like you play Tetris

We all have places in our house we don’t really use for anything. Maybe part of the hallway or a corner in the living room. Give these empty spots a job and some interest and use them for displaying art. Floor to ceiling, combine small and larger frames and create an eye catching mini gallery. Start with the bigger frames and fill up the spaces around it with smaller ones. It’s like playing Tetris!

Image: pinterest

Group colours or themes together

Got a batch of black and white photos? Maybe some pencil sketches and drawings? Or some monochrome abstract prints? Combining art in similar colours can produce a striking result. You can create a beautiful gallery wall layout like this.

Buy these six prints as a ready made collection on Etsy

Set of ten monochrome prints ready to buy on Etsy

Gallery wall print set
Set of three mountain prints on Etsy

It doesn’t need to hang perfectly

I know a lot of people get nervous when thinking about hanging multiple frames together. How do you get them in a straight line? If you are one who cares about perfection, check out this tutorial. Otherwise, relax! Frames don’t need to hang perfectly straight if you are going for the ‘boho’, eclectic look. They look good anyway. If you’d rather have a perfect grid, scroll down for some layout templates. Best thing is to lay out all frames on the floor first to decide on what goes where. Then, measure from the top of the frame to where it hangs from, to know where in the wall to put the nail. (Don’t want to use nails? I use some great alternative picture hanging strips in my rental just now!)

Gallery wall ideas
Image: pinterest
ready made gallery wall set
Buy this gorgeous ready made set of five prints on Etsy

Gallery Wall Layouts

Do you like to know what you’re doing? Need a bit of guidance? I understand. Here are some Gallery Wall Ideas and suggestions for layouts to help you figure out how to hang art on your wall.

Gallery wall grid
gallery wall set
This set of six can be purchased on Etsy

Your taste…makes a great collection

You know what? As long as you buy what you love, you’ll probably find that the art you own goes pretty well together and makes a fabulous, colourful group on the wall. Gather lots of smaller framed pictures and one or two larger ones and create a cloud of artworks on one wall.

Not got enough art to do create a gallery wall layout? Try framing some beautiful wallpaper, fabric, a vintage photograph or eye catching concert poster. Or how about some cute abstract scribbles from your children? Anything goes when putting your colourful creative gallery wall together. Don’t be afraid, just try things out. You’ll be surprised how good things look in a frame.




How to hang a picture

The most beautiful art for kids rooms

Are you looking for some beautiful art for kids rooms? No room is complete without some art on the wall and you can’t start them young enough! There is so much whimsical art for kids available nowadays and what better way to encourage their imagination than to add some art to their bedroom or nursery? And you really don’t have to limit yourself to cute bears, unicorns and balloons. Children are very good at looking at art with an open mind and a lot of joy. They love discovering shapes, faces and all things weird and wonderful in an artwork or poster.

I have been looking around the net to find some beautiful art for kids on various websites, focusing on animal themed illustrations in particular. Here are my picks:

Animal art for kids rooms and nurseries

When you think of art for kids rooms, you can’t really get away from pictures of animals. I love these Scandinavian style framed art prints by TheWhistlingWren  on Etsy. Colourful, cute and just lovely to look at. Not too expensive either, at €24.61 for a set of three A3 prints.

art for kids
Scandinavian prints for kids rooms by TheWhistlingWren

Smallable has a lot of gorgeous products for kids rooms (and adult things too) and although they are not specialised in art in particular, they do have some very nice posters in their collection. I love this print of jungle animals by French illustrator Charlotte Janvier.  It is €26.11 for an A3 size print.

RedGateArts on Etsy sells fabulous original prints by a number of artists, many of which would make fantastic art for kids rooms. I love the colourful prints by Kate Simpson. So much to look at! They are priced at €44.54 for the large A1 size.

Print by Kate Simpson on Etsy
Print by Kate Simpson on Etsy

Alphabet charts for kids rooms

Children love studying a poster for ages, discovering lots of new things each time they look at it. This one has plenty to look at, plus it has the added extra of the alphabet thrown in. This print can be found on Etsy by seller PaperPaintPixels and is €26.37 for size 33 x 48.3cm.

I love this ABC poster that not only teaches you the alphabet but does so with values and little life lessons. This one is by Etsy seller Penelope and the Ducks and costs €23.19 for an unframed A3 print.

beautiful ABC kids art print

World maps for kids rooms

World maps are great for kids rooms in general. Always something to study and discover. This wonderful illustrated map in water colour may not give a too accurate impression of countries and continents, but for younger children it makes a great print to stare at for ages and just let their imagination wander. It is by artist FrauOttilie and costs €17.90 for a 70 x 50cm print.

Another great illustrated world map with lots to look at is this one by Hannah Owen. And remember, these maps don’t have to be accurate, these prints are to enjoy as an artwork in the first place! For the largest size poster A1 you pay €45.70, an A3 is €19.91.

Want to browse some more beautiful original art prints for kids? Here are some collections to try out:

Art for kids on Etsy
Art for kids on Redbubble
Animal prints on Artfinder

Would you swap your home with a stranger?

Have you ever thought of doing a home exchange during the vacations with a total stranger in a totally different country? The first thought that pops into people’s head is often “oh, I don’t fancy having strangers going through my drawers and what if they wreck the place?” But we have now done home swaps on a number of occasions and we absolutely LOVE it. Here’s why.

new toys and a home from home

The first time we swapped was with a family in Edinburgh during the October holidays and it was amazing. All we needed to do was drive for a couple of hours and we didn’t spend much more money that week than entries to the zoo, a few meals out and normal food shopping. We enjoyed experiencing life in a city neighbourhood, in a gorgeous Victorian house. The kids had the best time, discovering millions of ‘new’ toys. Since then we have done it a number of times, nationally and internationally and it is positive every time.

stranger-danger

Risky? Stranger-danger? Sure, there is always a little bit of risk doing something informal like this, but from experience I can say that most house swappers are kind, caring, helpful, generous and welcoming people. They are willing to give you the keys to their house after all. It is a matter of trust. And, by the way, we have always found our house ten times cleaner than we left it and our cat spoiled rotten.

Home swapping for the holidays. Would you do it? Tips, pros and cons for house exchanges around the world.

The pros of home swapping for the holidays

Well, I could make an endless list, because I am such a fan of the concept, but here are my main reasons for opening my house to people from around the world in return for a stay in theirs.

You cut out the accommodation costs

Let’s be fair, home swapping is not just fun, it also saves you a heck of a lot of money. Imagine having to fork out nightly hotel costs or the rental of a holiday home for a couple of weeks. Even doing AirBnB adds up for a week, no matter how low the price per night is. Home swapping can drastically bring down the cost of your holiday, especially if you are already paying for flights.

It is a home from home

No swanky hotels during a home swap but the comforts of a home. You literally move into someone’s house, so you find their fully kitted out kitchen, comfy sofa’s, a beautiful terrace or garden, shelves full of books and – if you swap with a young family – plenty of ‘new’ toys for your own children to get excited about. You move into a whole new neighbourhood for a bit, get a feel for what it’s like to actually live here. In fact, we once felt so at home during our home swap with a family in Valencia that we ended up moving here permanently, haha!

You get to stay in incredible houses around the world. For free.

You can keep it local and swap with someone in your own country. We have just agreed an exchange to stay a week in a beautiful house in the mountains near Alicante, Spain, which for us is just a short car journey away right now. You may find surprising locations just on your doorstep.

Someone with a quiet cottage in the wilderness may love to come and stay in your inner city apartment. But likewise, someone with a beach house in a hot climate may just be dying to come to the misty west coast of Scotland. Also, if you have always wanted to visit Canada, Australia or the Far East, you can try and swap with someone over there. The flights will be the only pricey aspect, but you’ll be saving a LOT on accommodation. And what better way to travel and get to know a different culture, than by living like a local?

You get insider tips from the home owner

Most home swappers, including myself, find real joy in preparing a welcome pack full of insider tips, hidden gems, maps, brochures and itineraries for lovely days out. It is a great way to get to know a new city or area through the eyes of someone who lives there.

You have pet care sorted

Got cats (or goldfish or chickens…) that need looking after during the holidays? Many home exchangers are happy to look after your pets as well as your home while you are away. Saves additional expenses on catteries and they can stay in their own environment. Of course check with the people you invite whether they are happy to do this kind of thing.

You can even swap cars

If you are not too precious about your vehicle, this is another great saving you can make during a home swap. In the UK you will need to put an additional driver on your car insurance, which won’t be much more than 60 pounds usually and most home swappers are happy to pay this as it is way cheaper than hiring a car. In Europe the car itself is insured, hence you won’t need to pay for additional drivers on your insurance. Not everyone will want to swap cars, but it is especially great when you are unable to bring your own because you are traveling by plane, so worth asking!

The cons

Are there any cons at all? Not many in my opinion, but of course there can be issues which would make you not want to do a home swap.

You will have to tidy up and clean your house beforehand

We underestimated this the first time we swapped, haha! But yes, before you leave your house to your visitors, it is only good manners to clean the house top to bottom and put the clutter and stray clothes and toys away. This can take longer than you think, so good to start early. On a plus note: you will probably come home to your house in an even cleaner and tidier state than you left it. After which my home returns to its usually happy, messy state within half a day.

Things may break

Got a Ming Dynasty vase from your great grandmother on the sideboard? A beautiful, delicate set of glasses you don’t want anyone to touch? Your kids got some new or expensive toys they don’t want to break or get lost? While 9 out of 10 times nothing will go wrong, we are all human and things can break. Guests broke one of our plates, we broke one of their toys. People are mostly honest and tell you immediately, offer to replace the item or leave a bit of money as a ‘sorry’ gift. Still, if you have stuff you definitely don’t want anything to happen to, put it away safely.

If you have a spare room that doesn’t need to be used during the swap, put all your private or fragile stuff in here and ask your guests kindly to respect this room and keep it closed. If you have a key, lock it. We usually let friends of neighbours look after our computer and financial documents for the time we’re away. Not because you expect the guests to rummage through your files and steal your money, but since you haven’t known them for very long, it is only common sense to keep your valuables safe. The rest? Just stuff.

Home swap tips and home swap websites

home exchange websites

Want to give it a go yourself? There are a number of websites you can advertise your house on. You usually pay an annual subscription fee and then you can swap as often as you like. We are currently members of Guardian Home Exchange, which is a UK based website part of the Guardian (newspaper) but it has many international houses on it – including our own one in Valencia. We pay 59 pounds a year membership, which really is not much if you think what you would spend on one night in a B&B alone. There are many others you can try of course, including Home Love Swap, which is the biggest of them all.

find Pet sitters

Another website, which is a slightly different concept, is TrustedHouseSitters.com, a site which doesn’t offer home exchanges (although you can swap in some cases), but on here you’ll find people who offer pet sitting services for free, in return for a stay in your home while you are away. You can also offer yourself as a pet sitter, to find somewhere ‘free’ to stay during the holidays. Again, a huge saving because you don’t have to fork out money for a kennel or a cattery, plus your house is looked after during your vacation. And vice versa, you get to stay in someone’s house for free in return for walking a doggie.

We invited a couple into our home over the Christmas holidays as we were unable to find anyone to look after our cat Buster. I must admit I was slightly apprehensive at first, as it wasn’t a straight swap…Total strangers would pick up our keys from the neighbours and move in…without us having the keys to their property. But I needn’t have worried, because the retired Belgian couple who came were the sweetest cat sitters we could have wished for and when we returned they welcomed us back in our own home with tapas and cava. It seems that it is a certain type of person who is attracted to this kind of holiday. Open-minded, caring, curious, kind and interested in other people, other customs and exploring new locations.

How to prepare your home for listing

Take good photos

A tidy house gives better pictures and better pictures attract more home swap requests. make the beds, clear the clutter, put some fresh flowers on the table, etc. You can shove all the clutter into one room just for the time being until you got your photos done, it doesn’t matter, but make sure that that first impression of your house is good. It’s a bit like getting your house ready for selling. Make it look fab!

describe your house

Place yourself in the shoes of someone who is looking for a house to exchange with. They will want to know how many bedrooms you have, bathrooms, sofabeds etc. Also what kitchen equipment perhaps or things like baby cots and high chairs if you own them. Each exchanger is different, but it is good to describe how your house is suitable for different types of people. Not want tiny sticky fingers on your wall? Make this clear in your listing that you rather want older families or couples only.

Describe your location and area

You may not think of your street or neighbourhood as much, but your guests are excited, it is all new to them and they want to explore. Describe the highlights of your village or town, maybe there is a fine bakery around the corner or some splendid woodland walks. Describe how far larger towns, cities and other attractions such as beaches or mountains are. Tell them about castles, museums, swimming pools or zoos in the area. Anything that will persuade them to get in touch with you for a swap. The nice thing about a home exchange is that you often end up in places you would never normally have gone to, but they turn out to be real hidden gems.

Respond to your messages

If you own a fabulous house in an even more spectacular location, be prepared for lots of messages. We certainly received a few more now we are in Spain than we did when we still lived in Aberdeenshire! Just make sure to respond. You decided to list your house on the site so be polite and reply to people who are interested in coming to stay in your house. Of course you don’t have to sit and wait for an email, you can also fire off requests yourself. Most people are lovely and will tell you straight away if they are happy to arrange an exchange.

Make a welcome pack

A welcome pack can be as simple as an A4 with the workings of your TV, oven and heating system. However, it’s nice to include some ideas for excursions, directions to the nearest bank, shop and public transport, etc. I usually include tourist brochures that I pick up from around town, cultural agendas and business cards of my favourite restaurants. People are very grateful if you take the guessing out of their visit. Provide them with some tried and tested tips for visits you enjoy yourself. Also include some emergency numbers, names of neighbours that may be able to help out in case of anything happening and other info you may think is useful during their stay. I usually also leave a bottle of wine or a yummy delicacy from the local area on the table for the guests on arrival. It is nice to make people feel welcome, and you will likely find similar kindness on the other end.

Journaling ideas for a bullet journal or art journal

Do you like the idea of journaling? Many people do, but some just don’t know where to start. You got a pretty notebook, a set of pens. Now what? Journaling, sketching and doodling doesn’t come natural to everyone.  The thought of filling all those blank pages can be quite alien and even feel a bit daunting. But there is no right and wrong in journaling, because it a private thing. Diaries used to have a lock on them for a reason! Nobody would even dream of taking photos of their diary pages and sharing them with the world (and I am certainly glad I never did, haha!). Today I am sharing some journaling ideas to help you get started.

Why keep a journal? What is it for?

Know that feeling when your head bursts and you feel it all gets a bit much? Journaling can really help to focus the mind when things feel overwhelming, so it is a great tool for keeping mentally healthy. Write down what bothers you or the things that you find important and often it suddenly looks a lot clearer when you see it written down.

FOCUSING THE MIND – SEEING THINGS CLEARLY
STORING AND EXPLORING CREATIVE IDEAS
RELAXATION – MINDFULNESS EXERCISES

Journaling can also be a good way to keep ideas in one place, whether it is for a new business concept or for an artwork that you want to create in the future. Using words combined with images is a very powerful tool to visualise something you want to achieve. It feels a lot more ‘real’ when you start putting ideas and dreams on paper.  Of course keeping a journal can also just be a lovely way to relax and take a bit of time out of a busy day.

journaling ideas

Getting stuff off your chest and visualising dreams

I started writing diaries when I was about eleven and I never really stopped. In my early life it used to be a ‘dear diary’ kind of thing. I wrote almost daily about my thoughts and feelings and it must have helped me get through the years of adolescence. A sort of outlet at the end of the day, getting stuff off my chest. I remember writing pages and pages late at night in notebooks. Do teenagers still do that? It made me develop my writing skills, that’s for sure. As life got busier with work and eventually family, I stopped keeping a daily diary, but always found that journaling helped me focus and visualise my dreams whenever I had ideas for the future. Sticking pictures on pages, doodling, making lists. It makes ideas come to life.

Lesson 1: NO PRESSURE

It doesn’t matter if your journal doesn’t look Pinterest-worthy, it is not meant to be an artwork. And it certainly shouldn’t give you stress and pressure to make those “perfect, beautiful journal pages” you see online. I’d say, ignore Pinterest all together, just start. Write stuff down, stick some pictures in, anything. As long is it gives you joy and it is meaningful to you, you can do whatever you like.

NOBODY WILL JUDGE YOU. YOUR JOURNAL IS PRIVATE

Nobody will judge you, nobody will think you wrote or drew something silly. Nobody has to see it. The main purpose of your journal is for you to have some fun, jot down ideas, keep inspirational images you found, and make it your own personal, private space. Perhaps pencil down some things you’d like to focus on this year. Places you’d like to visit, films you’d like to watch. As a reminder to yourself. Sure, write down goals if you feel you need that kind of push, but hey, be kind to yourself. Life is busy enough, right?

Just start.


Bullet journals and Art journals: what’s the difference?

There seem to be two different types of journals popular right now. ‘Bullet’ journals and ‘Art’ journals. The first type is a bit like a pretty, highly organised diary with months and days and timelines drawn in beautiful letters and it usually features plenty of lists (‘bullet points’), with the purpose to keep you focused on goals and tasks. You can also add lists of your favourite things or the things you are grateful for. Art journals on the other hand are more like a sketchbook in diary form and often feature collages, paintings and little creative experiments, combined with words and text. Of course you can choose whichever you like and you can do a bit of both in one journal.

Not great at drawing? Keep it simple and just write lists, words or quotes that mean something to you. Image: Productive and Pretty
A Bullet Journal often has the dates clearly written and lists drawn on the page. Lists can be anything from to-do-lists to ‘favourites’. It can be a nice way of capturing this moment in your life, the things you enjoy right now, so you will remember in the future. This one has a lot of drawings in it, but of course you can just keep it simple and write lists without the drawings. Image: My Inner Creative
An Art Journal usually has plenty of collages, painting, sketches and drawings (also called ‘mixed media’) as well as quotes and affirmations. Image: ontapfortoday.com

Journaling Ideas to write and draw:

Ideas really are endless when it comes to journaling, so my list are only suggestions. Anything that makes you smile is a good start.

  • Something that made you happy today. It can be a simple as a cup of coffee in silence.
  • A poem you read somewhere that you love
  • Funny quotes from your (grand) children
  • A quote you find inspirational
  • A cut out image from a magazine (or make a mini collage)
  • Things you wish to achieve this year
  • Everything that brings you joy
  • Your favourite songs, books,  food, places, activities
  • A list of people you love and what you admire in them
  • A memory from childhood that makes you happy
  • Reasons to be grateful
  • An affirmation that will make you feel good when reading it
  • Words, images and drawings that make a new idea come to life
  • Drawings, doodles and sketches


Examples of Affirmations for journals

If you believe in the manifestation of positive thoughts and creating your own reality by focusing on what you want in life, then affirmations will be a helpful tool. Write down an affirmation to work on your self image, your self belief or a more positive attitude towards life. The more you write down a certain phrase, the more it will stick. Can’t find the right words? Here is a list of different affirmations you could pick from for your pages if they resonate with you.

Choose an affirmation that you like and want to focus on and write it down in the middle of a page. You can draw a border around the words or fill the rest of the page with drawings if you wish. Doing the additional drawing helps you focus on the affirmation more and let the words really sink into your subconscious. It’s a bit like meditation, you take time to loose yourself in the moment.


Borders and dividers

A wish list, a poem, a quote, a little bit of random text on a page – it will look prettier with a border around it. Doodling borders is not hard, it can be as simple as repeated lines or dots along the page. Drawing patterns like this can be quite meditative too. Here are some journaling ideas for creating pretty borders around the pages.

journaling borders

It’s your journal, you can cry if you want to

Last but not least, your notebook is a dumping ground to have fun in! Do you want to write down all that makes you sad? Go for it it, it may give air. Do you want to remind yourself of all that is good in your life? Try it, it may make you smile. Or do you want to explore your creative talents? Get the pencils, paint, stamps, scissors and old magazines out and go crazy. Journaling ideas are endless and the pages are all yours.

Journals have no rules, unless they have ruled pages.