The forgotten generation of the pandemic

It’s coming up to a year soon. Friday the 13th of March 2020. That’s when it all started, when we got locked indoors with our children in Spain for 66 days. Kids had fewer rights than dogs during spring last year, because at least pups were allowed for a walk. A year next month. And the end is not in sight. Right now, we are again in a half lockdown here in Valencia, with no cafés open, no possibility to see our friends, and even the city boundaries are shut over the weekend. We have been wearing compulsory face masks outdoors, in shops and in schools, since the middle of July last year, including children as young as six.

How long does resilience last?

I am not one to start a huge debate on this blog. That’s not what my blog is about. My blog is about optimism. But right now, it’s hard to still be that upbeat person. I have watched the debates and the online mud slinging on social media, between the sheeple, the anti-vaxxers, the anti-maskers, the Qanon brigade, the obedient rule-followers, the people absolutely petrified of catching Covid and everything in between. It is a war zone. And, there is no right and wrong, really, because everyone has their own reality and circumstances. Someone whose business has gone bust because of the pandemic has a very different reality from someone who is physically not strong enough to survive a lung infection.

I have kept clear of speaking out much about this topic online, as it just upsets me to see so much hatred. Expressing any vague doubt about the strictness of the lockdowns gets you sent straight into the tin foil hat corner. But today I want to speak out. I am speaking out on behalf of the children. The forgotten generation of the pandemic. The little ones, who have just got to do what the grown-up world tells them to do, and have no say. Mask on, honey, out you go.

A very long pause in their childhood

They line up in front of their classroom each morning, with their hands stretched out in front of them, to get ‘gelled’ and disinfected. Storybooks are no longer sent home, as even the books have to be quarantined for three days. Play parks are taped off, sports lessons are cancelled. The swimming pool is closed. The kids can’t see their grandparents. No birthday parties. Children are robbed of so many things that give them joy, social connection, and (mental) health. A normal childhood, setting them up for life. Kids are spoilt rotten these days, you say? Sure, toys and games enough around the house, and sticking them in front of a screen is always an easy pacifier. But what about teaching them about life, love and common sense?

It is coming up to a year now. And I am not expecting this situation will improve much for the rest of 2021. So for the good part of nearly two years, children as young as six will have been covering their mouths, following incredibly strict rules at school, if they’ve been in school at all, and have had to constantly adapt to new situations. “Can we go to the park, mummy?” “No, sweetheart, we can’t this week.” “But we were there last week?” “Yes, I know, but we are not allowed now.” “Why mummy?” “Because of Covid.” “Is there Covid in the park, mummy?”

Rise in OCD cases

We spoke to a psychologist, who told us that her clinic is currently full of children with OCD and other anxiety disorders as a result of the pandemic. Continuous handwashing, germ paranoia, wear that mask, or you might die! Fear. Caused by an environment of scared parents, stressed teachers, passers-by keeping a ‘safe distance’. Every. Single. Day. They hear it at home, at school, on the street. They are told not to cuddle anyone, share toys, or even talk during lunch when they have their masks off for 30 minutes. Let that sink in.

Two years is a long time for a child. Even one year is an eternity. And I am no psychologist, scientist or other researcher, but I cannot help to wonder how this will have a lasting impact on the well-being and mental health of our young ones. The future generation. The ones who will have to deal with the consequences of the economic crisis as a result of lockdowns. The ones who have been told that being close to people can make you sick. The ones who, perhaps, have also lost grandparents to Covid, and now believe that everyone may die if they are not careful, distant and disinfected enough.

Built up of stress

I want to be optimistic. And I know that children are strong and adaptable. Most kids don’t appear to be depressed. Mine have shown a lot of resilience over the past year, and we certainly do our best to have a family life as normal as possible. We still try and find ways to escape into nature, or go to the beach, on weekends, enjoying a home-made picnic, and some freedom. We have to try and distract ourselves from negativity and fearmongering. But I also see, in my own children, the anxiety and frustration that has built up inside them over the past eleven months, and which may flare up in sudden, unusual outbursts of rage, over nothing. Such a lot of stress, simmering in a developing body, what does that do to a child’s health?

The hospitals are at capacity, the ICUs are full. So we have to do this for the vulnerable, the old and our public health staff. I understand. This is the general story we all know, and I am no Covid denier. I have an enormous amount of respect for nurses and doctors working their asses of to care for so many patients. And I do not want to go into a debate about how many of the dying are actually dying of Covid, or with Covid. Or the fact that nearly all people who die of (or with) Covid, are very old, and had an underlying health condition already.

But nobody is particularly concerned about how our children are doing. They just get on with it. Right?

My children have not seen their nana and grandad in Wales since Christmas 2019. Their Dutch grandparents have also been missing them for a year. We all know how fast children grow. It breaks my heart. When can we hug our grandmothers again? After a vaccine? With a mask on? Is this all worth it? Is it ‘just the way it is’ right now, a sacrifice worth making? Doesn’t nana want as many hugs as she can get in those final years of her life? And do all these rules make any difference at all to the statistics? I have yet to see some facts that stack up and are coherent across all European countries. How many Covid outbreaks are known to have started in an outdoor play park, on the swings?

But I am not looking for a fight. I am making a noise on behalf of the children. Because I want them to be heard. We read about the ‘importance of mental health of children during lockdown’, but in reality, it is never a priority. O

Every week a new set of rules, or a different restriction. We can see our friends, oh no, now we can’t. We can go to the beach, oh no, now we can’t. We can go for lunch. Oh, no we can’t. Because of Covid. “Is Coronavirus everywhere, mummy?” It is confusing for anyone, let alone a child.

On the square in front of our house, a forgotten face mask lies on a bench. A toddler waddles towards it, ready to grab it with her tiny fists. Her mother runs across and shouts in a panicky voice:”No, don’t touch! It’s Coronavirus!” She hurriedly gets her disinfectant gel out of her bag, and tells off the small child. The child looks at her with her big wild eyes. Her mummy means it.

How 2020 made me realise that I had gone in the wrong direction

Creativity runs through my veins. It is my life fuel, my elixir to go back to when I need a boost. Once I have an idea in my head, I am unstoppable. It’s like the energy just keeps flowing, and I feel so alive. Do you know that feeling, when you’ve found something you are passionate about? Whatever you may say about 2020, it’s been a year of transformation for many. The lockdowns, the changes, they have made many of us stop and think, and adapt. 2020 made it clear to me that I had gone in the wrong direction. And something had to give.

It’s coming up to three years now, since we left Scotland and moved to Spain. Moving to a sunny country sounds dreamy and amazing, and it is in many ways, but it also throws you into complete turmoil. It shakes the ground under your feet, makes you wonder who you actually are in this new country, and what you are going to do with your life, now you’re here. You really start from scratch. No friends, no family, no job. Just your husband, kids, a fluffy old cat and a truck full of furniture. And even for me, someone who is, in general, pretty resilient and flexible, it’s been a heck of a process to figure it all out.

Making money, doing the wrong thing

When we left, I felt all eyes on us from afar. “Will they make it? What are they going to do? How are they going to earn money?” I made it my job to set up a business as soon as possible, in fact, even before we moved. I know you shouldn’t care about what other people think, but you still do, and I wanted to show the home front that we were doing great! As Spain is not an easy place to find work, I decided to set up as a freelance copywriter. I thought, that’ll be a good bet, every business needs copy, and I am a good writer. And I wasn’t wrong.

Within a year, I found clients, mainly remote, and started to make a reasonable income as a startup business. It felt good to make money, while living in the sun! I mean, working on your laptop in a café on a Valencian beach…versus sitting in a freezing Scottish office, watching the rain lash against your window? You get the picture!

You can’t beat the blue of the Valencian sky.

But then last year, the Covid-19 lockdowns hit, and I lost some big clients. I felt stressed, and frantically promoted myself online as a copywriter, and luckily, by September, things got better. I had upped my income again, and even earned more than before. The thing was, I started to hate it. Writing web copy for a plastic cosmetic jar factory, an About page for a drone rental company…blog posts for a lease car business. Product descriptions for posh sinks and bath tubs! It was becoming soulless. The money was coming in, but the fire was going out.

On a journey back to my values

In October, while my husband decided to go away for a month to walk the famous 800km Camino the Santiago, I went on my own journey. An internal one, just here at home, in my office. I don’t know where this pull came from all of a sudden, but one thing led to another, and before I knew it, I signed up for an online business course. I started to follow money mindset coaches and business mentors, for goodness’s sake. That was a first! I bought new notebooks, did lots of journaling. I was changing. And you know where it brought me, in the end? Back to my passion.

In three months time, I rediscovered the thing that I really want to do, and what I have done nearly all of my adult life: working with creative entrepreneurs. Writing about shiny bogs and taps just ain’t cutting it when you are an artist at heart. I was missing my quirky, creative tribe! I had made ‘Soulful Living’ the tag line of this blog, but was I doing it? Nope, I had drifted away from my own values.

Photo by Alex Baker images

Marketing help for creative entrepreneurs and artists

So here I am, three months on, and I am very excited to share my new venture with you all: The Creative Business Coach. I am going to coach and train up creative entrepreneurs on how to become more visible online. In my 20+ years of working in the cultural sector as arts marketeer and audience development consultant, I met many artists, and one thing was always very clear: they find it hard to promote themselves. The lack of marketing skills, confidence and sales techniques is holding many creatives back, and I believe there is a need for change. Art is work? Well, you bet it is.

So what about the copywriting? I love writing, I love blogging, I love creating content – and storytelling is part of what I teach my clients. I am a writer at heart! So I am not giving that up. But staying true to your values also means choosing to only work with clients who you love working with. Being selective, and saying yes to clients when you feel a real connection, and the project excites you.

Have you gone through a similar transformation recently?

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What we can learn from our children this year

I’ve been feeling like a high pressure cooker lately. Just done. Boiling over regularly. Anyone else in the same boat? The stresses of this year, family life, work, and let’s not forget the freaking c-word. The other day it was late afternoon and I just had it. I broke down in front of the kids. Boiling over again. But what my son said to me then, changed everything.

“What’s the matter, mummy?” he asked, looking at me, as I sat there on the floor in the hallway feeling sorry for myself, coat still on. “It’s ok, sweetheart, mummy is just very tired!” I replied. “This year has been so horrible! I have had enough, I just want it all to be over.” The boys looked at me as if I was talking Chinese. They were still wearing their face masks, as we’d just come in from outside.

We had a nice year

Then my eldest, who had turned nine a few days earlier, said: “But mummy, this year wasn’t horrible. Why are you saying that? We had a nice year.” I looked up at him in surprise. He actually meant it. He continued: “We had my birthday, that was fun, and we went to a fun halloween party, and in the summer we went to the swimming pool. That was fun too. And it’s almost Christmas. Why are you saying it’s a horrible year?” I hugged him tightly. “You are right”, I said. “Mummy just needed a little cry. Thank you for cheering me up.”

Stupid coronavirus

I realised it is all so subjective. Our kids see things so differently. And this ignorance is bliss, of course. We get bombarded by the media, let everything get to us. We become angry and frustrated because things are not normal this year. We’ve been robbed from certain freedoms. We fight it so much internally. Store up the anxiety and anger in our bodies, creating havoc on our health. Meanwhile, the kids only focus on their own little world. They are flexible and resilient. Yes, they shout: “Stupid coronavirus!” in the street, but then they run off and play tag. And then they ask what’s for dinner.

Children are so much more accepting and living in the now. No judgement, going with the flow. As long as they get enough love, food, outside playtime and, yes, their beloved video games on the weekend, they’re happy. Face masks? Yeah, ok, wear them. Next year not needed anymore? OK, fine, take ‘em off and forget about the whole thing. No big deal. We turn all of these things into great big stories and fear in our head, adding to our heavy heart. We should play more tag.

The sun will come up tomorrow

I wish I could switch off my grownup brain for a bit. Just be. Not think about what’s been this year or what’s coming next year. Get angry at propaganda in the news, most of it lies. Right now I am sitting in my house, with a meal in the oven, a cup of tea in hand, and happy children playing Lego in the living room. The cat is purring. The sun is going down. Tomorrow the sun will come up again, and the cat will pur, and the children will be playing, and the kettle will be boiling. Nothing more, nothing less. The world may be raging in the media, but here in my house, it is still and peaceful.

And it hasn’t been a horrible year for us. It’s just that everybody is saying it, and it’s just been really unusual. My family is OK, we have work and savings, and a roof over our head. There are waves we must ride, yes, like in any household, and in life, but storms never last forever. It’s been a 10-month tornado, but right now I want to look at my children and see that there is still plenty to be grateful for.

Reflecting on a crazy year; my positives of 2020

This has been the weirdest year ever. Who would have thought we’d be walking around like surgeons, obsessing about germs and basically staying home most of the time? Anyway, as a happy story, I felt, since it is December, that I should try and end on a positive. Time for reflection, to be grateful and to look back on a year when amidst the craziness, there were beautiful things too. Here are my positives of 2020.

Opera singers on balconies

I mean, how amazing was that? You’ve probably seen the videos going viral on social media of the opera singers in Italy back in March, or people singing from their windows. In Spain, it was just like that. Like Italy, Spain had one of the strictest lockdowns in Europe. We were not allowed out, even for a walk around the block. A walk to bins was a holiday. Our kids were literally imprisoned for over 60 days, driving whole families up the walls. We were all going pretty insane.

But while times were weird and tough, I can still recall feeling the glow inside, when suddenly hearing the voice of an opera singer one street down from us (see video), singing Valencian’s anthem on a Sunday morning. The emotion, the passion, the vibrato. The burst of applause and ‘bravos’ exploding from the surrounding flats, once finished. I cried. It was a moment of feeling human, standing together, solidarity, because we were all in the same boat.

Heaps of creative online resources

With no option to go out those first few months, people spent all day on the internet. And I mean, thank god for the internet. Because other than the funny memes that kept us all entertained on social media, we were also kept fit by our favourite dance, pilates and yoga teachers who suddenly started doing Zoom lessons. Parents on Whatsapp shared amazing links to virtual museum tours or educational resources, to help each other to spice up homeschooling.

And there were plenty of wonderful living room concerts organised by artists who suddenly saw their world tours cancelled. Did you attend any? I did, and I even bought tickets! While at first, most of these things were given away for free, people quickly got used to the idea of paying for online services, as a way to support creative businesses, and because the output is often of superb quality. You miss the live experience, for sure, but it’s certainly the next best thing.

Time as a family at home

Alright, alright, by May time, we all had enough. I admit, this homeschooling malarkey was just too much for everyone. But the first weeks or even months, it was quite special, having the kids at home all of a sudden. No hectic school runs, no busy schedules, no shouting ‘where are your freakin’ shoes’ at 8.30am. Suddenly, we were still. We had all the time in the world. Nothing to do, nowhere to go. Even my work got halved as I lost a big long term client.

We built towers, we danced in the living room, we read books, we watched films, and we did endless hours of arts and crafts. To me, those first weeks were a real eye-opener. Of how busy we’d been, how we had lost connection with our children, how we had become a family-machine in a way, just surviving and getting through the weeks. I was able to simply see my children, be with them, and listen to their wondrous stories. To me, those months at home during lockdown have been very precious.

Hair dye experiment on the terrace. Why not. We had nothing else to do.

The sheer joy of freedom

But I won’t lie; being forced to stay indoors with two young boys who have so much energy, they should be plugged into the national grid, was no easy task. When the news came that children were allowed out again, it was as if Christmas had come early. We only had an hour a day, and could not go any further than 1 km from home (as I am writing this, I realise the absolute weirdness of it all!), but we explored every inch of our town.

Unknown play parks, forgotten pieces of forest to build secret dens, the endless agricultural fields, and the quiet, empty car parks for learning to ride a bike. Then, late May, when we were finally allowed to meet other people, we really counted our blessings. Sitting on a terrace on the beach, sipping an Aperol Spritz, and having a laugh with our long-lost friends, was just a relief. Freedom should never be taken for granted.

Not a bad day to celebrate freedom after lockdown

After the rain… fresh opportunities

With no tourists coming to Valencia any more, my job as a cycling tour guide for 2020 was cancelled. My copywriting jobs were also rapidly slinking, as my biggest client was an estate agent in Spain, fully dependent on expats buying second homes. I suddenly sat at home with loads of time but hardly any income. I seriously wondered if it was better to stop being self-employed, as I still had my monthly expenses and it was hardly worth it. But, me being me, I decided to keep going and looked for fresh opportunities.

Over the summer I registered myself on various platforms such as Fiverr, and after a few weeks of accepting low-paid jobs to build up testimonials and becoming more visible online, the better paid jobs were slowly trickling in. When I also started to work on money mindset, and I took the plunge to up my prices, things really started shifting. I started attracting much better clients and much nicer jobs. I since have tripled my income, despite a difficult start of the year. With so many people starting online businesses, the need for great website copy has surely gone up.

What have your highs been this year? Did you start a new business against all odds? Did you discover the joys of working from home? Have you created new habits? Leave a comment below!

When life gives you lemons…upcycle your skills.

Imagine being a happy freelancer, doing what you love, and then from one day to the next, all contracts stop and you have no idea when work will pick up again. Yep, it happened to many this year, as we all know. Ryan Godwin was one of them, a theatre set builder from London, now living in Valencia. Like everywhere in the cultural sector, all work suddenly disappeared when Covid arrived, and not just in the UK but across Europe. How does a theatre set builder reinvent himself in times of a crisis?

From flipping burgers to West End shows

“I always liked making things, being creative,” Ryan says, as we sit down in his big rough and ready workshop in the area of Cabanyal, near the beach. “I actually ended up as a set builder in the theatre world totally by accident. I was flipping burgers at an event, and got annoyed by stuff strewn on the floor of the van. So I just built some shelving to tidy it up. Turned out the owners of the burger place were West End actors. They were impressed by my carpentry and introduced me into the theatre world in London. That was the start of a 10-year career. I since worked as a set builder for many West End shows, major TV/film productions and events, including the London Fashion Week and the X Factor. It’s been a fascinating job.”

Upcycling business Valencia

“In 2019 I fancied a change though, and with set builders from the UK having a good reputation across Europe, I managed to secure some big jobs in Spain and Italy for 2020. So I was looking forward to continuing my trade, but now based in Valencia. Unfortunately the pandemic threw a spanner in the way.”

“I was faced with a sudden harsh reality of sitting at home, in Spain, with no work, a loss of identity and feeling quite depressed as a result, to be honest. I didn’t know what to do with myself. There was no work for any of us in the industry. I heard of colleagues back in London being contracted to build coffins instead. It was grim. It’s only been a few weeks or so that I am beginning to pick up the pieces.”

Upcycling business Valencia

Spice racks and bedside tables

This Autumn, Ryan decided to go back to his trusted carpentry skills and start making things for fun. Usable stuff for the home, made from scrap wood, which he finds in the street. First just some shelves, but people like his work, and he has already been commissioned to make a set of bedside tables. He is now making coffee tables, spice and wine racks, bookshelves and other unique pieces of furniture, from his Cabanyal workshop. In a corner of the large brick, industrial looking space, stand a number of cool looking pieces of furniture, made out of recycled wood. One of them a coffee table made from slats, on top of an old metal single bed frame.

Upcycling business Valencia

Upcycling old wood and telling its story

“It feels good repurposing old wood, it balances things out for me.”, he explains. “You wouldn’t believe how wasteful the set building industry is. I once worked as a set builder at Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park and remember being horrified by the sight of four articulated lorries stuffed full of wood that had been used for the food stalls. None of the material could be reused, and was taken straight to the dump, only because it was covered in some food or oil. There are companies who take stuff away for recycling, but half the time it just ends up in the incinerator.”

Ryan finds usable wood and other materials left next to bins and in skips in Valencia, on the streets, anywhere, and keeps it from going to landfill. He takes stuff apart, cleans it, cuts it to size, sands it down, finishes it, and turns it into beautiful designs. “It’s fun creating things. I am a big fan of history and love the fact that something has a past. I try and leave the patina, so you still see some of that history in the wood.” He is slowly expanding his collection, trying to find out what people need and like, and then making it. An online shop is in the making too.

Ryan decided to name his new venture Made in Valencia. But perhaps it should be called re-Made in Valencia. After all, it’s not just the wood that’s been given a second chance.

You can find Ryan’s upcycling business in Valencia currently on Facebook.
His set building work can be found on his website.

Are you affected as a creative by the covid crisis? Want to get inspired and connect with other creative businesses? Join my free community on Facebook, for marketing tips and business advice.

The comedy of it all. The funniest covid rules that make no sense whatsoever

How long have we been in this crazy situation now? Right. Since March. And we’ve seen it all, haven’t we? I know everybody is trying their best to keep the virus at bay, or they are just implementing what they’re told, but some rules make you wonder about people’s sanity. And I mean common sense here. I want to share some things that just made me laugh. I mean, can you imagine your reaction if we had told you during summer 2019, that we would be all be walking around like surgeons this year? Not being able to hug our grandma, being fined for going out after midnight and getting excited about a new face mask in a fancy pattern? It’s bonkers! It’s mad! We got to laugh, right, or else we’d be crying. Keep up the good spirits, folks, we’re all in this together. What’s the most ridiculous rule you have come across this year?

silly covid rules
Yeah. Kids and masks.

Disinfecting the streets

Maybe it’s a Spanish thing, but I am truly amazed by the obsession of this country to spray bleach across the asphalt. Perhaps they did this before the pandemic, but they’ve certainly ramped it up this year. And people actually want this! They send angry letters to the council to tell them they want their pavement disinfected, because god forbid; germs. I’m not sure about you guys, but I don’t generally go around licking and touching roads. And have you heard of anyone getting covid from a wheely bin? Me neither.

The 1-mile pool walk

It was August and it was HOT here in Spain. We don’t have a pool, so off we trotted with the kids down to the local communal open air swimming pool one afternoon. On arrival, they asked me for 1) my proof of appointment and 2) all our ID cards. After a 10-minute admin stint, we got in. Stop! Held at gun point! Well, thermometer gun point. All good. Shoes had to go through the sanitizer mat, hands gelled, and we entered. Phew.

Then came step two. They did a good job splitting the artificial grass up into squares with red and white tape, and made it clear to us that we had to stick to our little private patch. No problem, all good. The boys jumped in and splashed around. Oh! Child one needed the toilet. Face mask back on, and off he went. On the way back, however, there was absolutely no way he was allowed to just quickly run back to our grassy patch a few steps away from the toilet block. There were arrows to follow, señora! Poor kid had to turn right, and walk a rather long and pretty ridiculous circular route around the whole of the pool, in bathing costume, but with a face mask on, to finally arrive back at base. Because god forbid he may have passed someone on the way, in the fresh air, with a face mask on. Because that never happens in the street, right? No point at complaining. Rules are rules, especially in Spain.

silly covid rules
Super busy! Watch out, you may pass someone on your way to the toilets. Sorry, I am getting cynical. It’s a serious business.

The taped off toilet cubicles

Social distancing. An important technique to stop a virus from spreading and drilled into each one of us this year. But can anybody please explain to me how a virus could spread through the partition wall of a toilet cubicle? It truly baffles me, each time I see a queue of people waiting for a row of toilets, because every second cubicle has been closed off. Surely we’re all more at risk gathering in a narrow corridor? You tell me. We can all sit beside each other on the bus or metro without partitions, but clearly toilets are a danger zone.

silly covid rules
OK, I get the sink one. Perhaps you’d accidentally splash an infected covid drop on your neighbour, while washing your hands. Right? Oh, I don’t know.

Booking a time slot at the zoo

Sounds good, I thought! I hate crowds with a vengeance, and a dedicated time slot to avoid those sounded like a perfect solution to me. I imaged a nice, relaxing day ahead of me with the kids; wandering around in peace, watching the giraffes, the elephants, the meerkats, with very few people there. Only, they forgot to kick out visitors who had booked for the 10am slot, and so they were all still there at 2pm. So there we were, standing in a bloody queue for the gorillas. Not sure who looked more grumpy, me or those gorillas who clearly also had enough of endless hordes of visitors. Hundreds of people, being squeezed through narrow pathways to catch a glimpse of an animal, all for the price of €23 a ticket and a pretty pointless exercise of trying to limit crowds by offering time slots. I had a large glass of wine that evening. I have since learnt that the zoo got sanctioned for not taking enough care that particular bank holiday weekend. Oops, zoo.

Shoulder to shoulder on a plane

I know, I know, I didn’t have to risk it. I didn’t have to get on a plane. But not seeing my parents since last winter was becoming too painful, so I flew solo across to the Netherlands for a few days to be with them. Just me. The airport was very quiet. No queues, easy security control, pleasant first leg of the journey, it was a breeze! “Please wear your mask, keep 1.5m distance at all times”. All pretty doable. Until we got on the plane, that was. Fully booked. Not a seat empty. So there I sat, jammed in a seat next to a total stranger for two hours and twenty minutes. People in front of me, behind me, across the aisle. At least my neighbour took protection very seriously and was wearing two face masks. And then, 45 minutes later, the stewardess came round with refreshments and all masks were hungrily removed at once. Hmmm, coffee! Luckily the air on an aircraft gets refreshed every six minutes. They even say it is much cleaner than the air in restaurants, bars, stores, or your best friend’s living room. OK. We can breathe.

silly covid rules
Do I look anxious? Or mad?

Nose against the football fence

Football matches are without audiences this year, stadiums are weirdly empty. This is no different for the local village team playing their Saturday game. Seats are taped off, nobody is allowed to watch inside the club’s playing field. However, you can’t keep the Spanish away from a good match, and so they found the perfect solution; they can watch it all through the fence, can’t they! So there they stand, whole (masked) families, shoulder to shoulder, snacks in hand, looking through the tall chicken wire fence of the football field, shouting at the players. At least the sports centre can claim they are following the rules.

Closure of play grounds

I was hoping that by now there would be enough evidence across the world to show that children under 12 hardly pose a risk of infection at all. Whenever there is a class quarantined, it’s nearly always because a teacher has covid. None of the pupils catch it in class. Because of wearing a face mask? Nah. I doubt it. You can’t tell me that a 6-year-old is protected from the virus by a wet, dirty piece of cotton strapped in front of his mouth, that he also touches regularly throughout the day while cuddling all his classmates. I am waiting eagerly for the news that my kids can go to school without a face mask on for eight hours a day. Anyway, different topic.

The play grounds in Valencia city have been closed for two months now. It’s the saddest sight ever, those tied up swings and red and white tape around a climbing frame. However, most neighbouring towns kept them open. Why? No idea. The play areas in our municipality are open, but the ones in the town that borders it, are not. Plenty of families in our school come from the neighbouring town. Are you seeing the logic? Because I don’t.

silly covid rules

Follow the arrows in an empty museum

Why museums are closed in many countries, is beyond me. Unless you are wanting to visit Rembrandt’s finest in Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, you are likely to wander around large airy rooms by yourself or a handful of others, with plenty of space to ‘social distance’. Here in Valencia, the galleries are open right now, and I treated my creative eldest son to an ‘art date’ with mummy this weekend. We went to the modern art museum and entered gallery number 1 where we were greeted by a guard, explaining the lay of the land. “Please follow the arrows and stay in your half of the room, and on the way back you will see the other half.” Alright. The gallery consisted of three large spaces. There were literally five people in it. But hey, rules, right.

I know these constitutions and organisations all try to do their bit, but I have raised many an eyebrow the past eight months. I wish we were all being drilled about the importance of taking vitamin D, about staying mentally sane and physically healthy, so we have strong immune systems and can fight off all viruses. The emphasis is so much on following arrows and disinfecting streets, rather than what you can do yourself to prevent disease in the first place. I am not anti-mask just now (even though it’s uncomfortable) nor anti-vax for vulnerable people, once it becomes available. But, blimey.

The world has gone mad this year, and people are becoming suspicious of one another, even reporting each other for not following rules, to the extend of ‘online shaming them’ in local Facebook groups. People are scared of germs, and petrified of visiting their relatives, even in the open air, in case they “kill granny”. Meanwhile, granny is deteriorating alone in her nursing home, longing to see a loved one after another endless, quiet day at the tail end of her life. I sincerely hope we will soon see the end of this madness and start looking after ourselves and each other again, in a normal, healthy way. By all means, keep washing your hands and stop snogging strangers you just met on Tinder, but just calm down and keep the perspective. This too shall pass. Stay sane.

Mum is a permanent marker. Explaining unconditional love to children.

I am not a patient mother. I am also not an attachment parent and have never been a dedicated stay-at-home mum. My kids mean the world to me, but I also value my own freedom. A lot. And sometimes the two clash a little, especially when I am busy. Mum-guilt! I end up raising my voice, losing my temper, saying things I regret later. I know when children play up, it’s mostly because they want your attention, but some days I just don’t have the energy. I am only human. Do I sound familiar? Still, children do not always recognise that mum still loves them, even though she gets angry or impatient with them. How do you explain unconditional love to a sensitive child?

My eldest boy, nearly nine, is a worrier. He has always been a little nervous and anxious about things. On the surface he is a very active, happy and social boy, and he easily makes friends. He is not shy, is very creative and gets on with most people. But at home, he tells me he worries. About whether his writing is good enough, whether he looks OK and if we love him enough. “Mr Worry is bothering me again”, he says.

Figuring out the meaning of relationships

At this age, he is very much figuring out emotions, friendships, family relationships – and the meaning of love. He is especially confused about the difference between ‘liking someone’ and ‘loving someone’. I had to explain several times that I may not like his behaviour when he misbehaves, but I will always love him, no matter what. He worries about many things, but lately he worries that mummy will stop loving him when he is naughty. It breaks my heart to think he would even doubt my love for him, so I knew I had to come up with something.

How do you get through to a child with such anxiety? Where do these feelings come from? Is it my own fault? Does he need more guidance? It’s not as if we don’t show him affection at home. We cuddle him, play with him, spend time with him, read to him. Does he need more of it? Surely I don’t need to tell him I love him every 5 minutes? Or do I? His younger brother doesn’t show any of these insecurities, instead is cool as a cucumber, and very independent. The eldest one wants reassurance ALL. THE. TIME. How do you deal with that without going nuts? Oh, parenting, it ain’t easy, is it.

My love is a permanent marker

Last night, the worry was back. “I just think that you won’t love me any more in the future and I’m worried about that”, he said in tears. The boys were both in bed, it was about 9pm, and I was about to do the bedtime stories. I sat next to him, held him close and dried his tears. “Mummy loves you always” I told him, “That will never change. My love for you is permanent, it will always stay, even when you’re a grown-up. I will love you until the end of my life, I promise”, I told him, and of course ended up getting all tearful myself. “You mean, like a permanent marker?” he replied, obviously trying to make sense of the word ‘permanent’. “Yes, sweetie, like a permanent marker. It never rubs off. It will always stay on.” What a brilliant metaphor I thought! “So just remember, being angry, worried or scared is only like writing in pencil. You can rub it out, those feelings don’t stay forever.” He looked at me and smiled. “And mummy’s love you can’t rub out.”

This Monday morning we were rushing as usual, trying to make it in time for the school breakfast. Mr Worry was back. “Will we be late mummy, will we miss breakfast? Will we be late mummy, are we late?” my son kept asking in a panic. Normally I snap at him, telling him to stop asking the same questions over and over again, because surely I already told him it was going to be OK and can he please just be quiet. Today I stopped in the middle of the pavement, looked at his face and asked him:”Do you just need some more permanent marker on your cheeks, sweetie?” “Yes”, he smiled, quietly. I held him, covered his face in kisses, and he was happy. I squeezed his hand tightly as we walked into the school playground, calmly, and lovingly.

How to start earning money online as a newbie

A lot of us have been hit by the 2020 crisis. The pandemic made many lose their jobs and thousands of employees are still on furlough, not knowing when they can go back. As a freelance content writer I too lost big clients this year and suddenly my income was cut in half. I had to think hard and really up my game online, or else it would hardly be worth continuing. I have now started increasing my income, just by using some of the tips below – and I am exploring others too. As I know many of you are in the same boat right now, I am sharing some ideas to maybe inspire you to start your own online business and become your own boss. Being your own boss is ace, I fully recommend it!

Do you believe earning money online is not for you? You can do this too, I promise. Here is how you can start your own online side hustle or business, even if you have never done this before. You could take your job everywhere, if you work online. Imagine the freedom!

earn money online fast

What skills or expertise could you start monetising?

You may have done a boring office job for the past ten years, but everyone has skills that they could pass on in an e-course, an e-book or a blog. Think outside the box. Be creative. You may know exactly how to organise your week, house, and plan meals. Do you know how many women feel overwhelmed by clutter? Perhaps you are an absolute star at sewing, DIY or money management.

And don’t think that just because you’ve been a school teacher, you could only ever stand in front of a classroom. You will have built up valuable expertise, and perhaps have developed your own unique way of teaching kids to read or do maths. Don’t keep this to yourself. We want to hear about it!

There is space for everyone online

If you could share your insider knowledge or are very passionate about something, there sure will be a captive audience out there. “Oh, but there are so many others already doing this“, I hear you say, “Why on earth would anyone want to buy my course, e-book or read my website?” Don’t worry, there is space for all of us. The world is your oyster. And your knowledge is worth sharing.

Try and make a list of all the things you care about, know about or are very interested in. Business coaching, healthcare, party planning, cake decorating, hiking routes, mindfulness, fitness regimes, vegan living, upcycling. Anything. You will quickly discover topics that may be suitable to turn into a way of earning money online.

Earn money online fast

Sell beautiful e-books with Designrr

I always thought you had to be a ‘proper’ author to publish a book, any book, also an e-book. Turns out it is easier than ever to make a professional looking e-book. And you can earn money online by selling them. Designrr is one of those online software programmes that lets you create professional looking e-books from your existing blog posts, or you can design a book from scratch.

Making an e-book is a great way to pass on your specific knowledge to a worldwide audience. The more ‘niche’ the better. If people are searching for something online, your e-book will come up, if you use the right keywords. Do you know lots about fermenting vegetables and making kombucha? There is bound to be an international audience out there, searching for this on Google. Am I giving you ideas yet?

With Designrr you can simply pick a template, insert stock photos from their editor, or upload your own, and start writing. Check out their special offer of $27 for lifetime access to the standard system. Pay a bit more for the $97 pro package and you’ll get additional features, including publishing straight onto Amazon Kindle and other book selling platforms.


Offer your freelance skills on Fiverr

A natural result of the pandemic lockdown has been that many people worldwide are spending a lot more time online. New online stores and businesses are popping up all the time. This also means that entrepreneurs need blog content, help with IT stuff, accounting, videos, social media and marketing advice, graphic design, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), sound engineering, you name it.

If you happen to have those skills, or are willing to learn, you can easily start finding clients on platforms like Fiverr or Upwork. Just register, create a good-looking profile, show off your experience or portfolio, and start attracting clients. I have recently got new long-term paying clients just by promoting myself on these sites. You can also find freelancers to help you build your own business of course.

Earn money online quickly
Start earning money online, wherever you are.

Record audio courses on Listenable

Online courses are a big winner this year and not likely to leave the stage soon. What better way than learning about something new from the comfort of your own home? Got a skill? Start teaching online! If you get nervous about videos, like me, then creating educational podcasts may be a more comfortable idea. Just voice, no face! I discovered Listenable recently, and they offer bite-size audio lessons of about 5 minutes each, in a series of up to 10 lessons in total. You could do that! Record 10 lessons (you could even record them on your mobile phone!) about something you are passionate about, and start getting paid for it. Browse their audio courses to get an idea of topics.

If you are interested in a Listenable subscription to benefit from the hundreds of audio courses yourself, I am able to offer you an exclusive 30% readers discount code on the annual Listenable membership. 30% DISCOUNT CODE: ninaeggens


earn online money fast
Working online means you can be a true digital nomad. Take your work to the beach!

Create an online course with Teachable

If you are comfortable creating videos and tutorials yourself, you may want to look at Teachable as a way to earn money online. Many artists and makers now offer online courses to earn additional income. On Teachable, like with the audio courses, courses range from business and marketing techniques to making sourdough bread and everything in between. People search for lots of weird and wonderful topics and you can offer them just what they need. Prices start at $29 for the Basic plan, so you can start creating your course.

earn money online fast

Affiliate marketing

You could also start a blog, and fill it with informative, useful articles about a certain topic, and include affiliate links to relevant products or services. A bit like what I am doing right now in this blog post: I tell you about the different platforms you could explore to make money online, and if you decide to click on one of the links and pay for those services on the partner’s website, I receive a commission.

Earn money while you sleep

Yeah, right, earning money while you sleep sounds way too good to be true. Well, it’s not a complete lie! Affiliate marketing can be very lucrative, but only if you choose a partner company that offers a high commission rate and you make sure you use the right keywords in your copy so you get found online. It takes time to put it all together and to fill your website with quality content. You may also need to pay for a domain name, a website and payment features. But once your site is attracting plenty of traffic, you can literally take a step back and receive your passive income while you are spending time on the beach. Sounds good, right?

Blogs about beard oil and baby clothes

Other than promoting professional online services, like I am doing in this blog post, you could promote physical products to your niche audience too. Perhaps you have a blog about crafts. Then you can choose to be an affiliate for craft products. Or cooking equipment. Travel items. Beard oil. Baby clothes. Etc. Etc. Etsy, Amazon and Ebay are big platforms you could become an affiliate for and you can pick and choose products you love. If you have a blog with enough quality content, you can also apply to become an affiliate through Awin, which allows you to join hundreds of specific well-known brands. That way you can fully tailor-make what you want to promote, what you like promoting and what suits your niche business. Try it! What have you got to lose?

Need help with a website or content?

If you are taking the plunge to build your own online business, don’t hesitate to contact me if you need well written SEO content, blog articles or product descriptions. You can contact me here on the Nina’s Apartment blog with questions or have a look at my Fiverr profile.

Earn money online fast

Disclaimer: This article contains affiliate links that I receive a small commission for at no cost to you. I only ever recommend products that I love and would use myself also. You can read my full affiliate disclosure in my privacy policy.

Moving to Spain? These are the best neighbourhoods in Valencia

Are you thinking of moving to Spain, and trying to find out which place is best? I remember being in that exact same position. Googling myself silly every night, trying to consume as much information as possible to see if it’s all is worth the risk and stress. Moving to Spain is a big adventure, for sure! But so worth it. And totally doable. Whatever your reason for moving to Valencia, Spain, it is an exciting plan. We took the leap in 2018, and we haven’t regretted it. Is Valencia a nice place to live, you ask? It is a wonderful place to live. The climate, the beautiful city, the beach and the mountains inland, Valencia offers it all.

Skip the blog posts, save time: find all the answers in my two handy e-books on moving to Valencia, for families and expats without children.

E-book Moving to Valencia, Spain with children. 50-page guide on the Spanish school system, what to consider, lists of good schools in Valencia, family-friendly neighbourhoods and what to expect in the first year. 15.95 + vat

Your Guide to Moving to Valencia Spain. For when you are looking for guidance and reassurance, but don’t need the schools part. 32 pages of info on life in Valencia, great neighbourhoods and out-of-town areas for housing, advice on healthcare, finding work, cost of living, and making friends. (2021). 9.95 +vat


Moving to Valencia with kids? Nina’s e-book is a good place to start. It answered quite a few questions I had (mainly about schools) and is full of really great tips to make the transition to another country, easier. Also, it’s full of wise advice and Nina is good at managing expectations. Moving to a new country is not easy so I can relate to the gentle warning words of “taking it easy” and being kind to yourself when you first get there. All the main subjects of concern (schools, bank accounts, healthcare etc.) are covered. Nina’s book is as reassuring as it is exciting! Can’t wait to start our own adventure! – Cecile M, London


Put your mind at rest, and feel better prepared.

> Nearly 50 pages of useful tips about schools, neighbourhoods, healthcare and what to expect, when moving to Valencia with children. Including a list of international schools and other schools worth checking out.

My brand-new E-book is an excellent place to start, to make you feel a little less insecure and more ready to make your dream reality. As a mother of two young children, who’s gone through the process, I am sharing my knowledge and first-hand experience as an expat in Valencia. Because really, it all seems impossible….until it’s done!

Price: 15.95 ex vat

living in valencia spain
The beautiful, iconic City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia

What neighbourhoods are good in Valencia, Spain?

Where is good for families to live in Spain? Is Valencia a good place for families? Where do families live in Valencia? I receive a lot of emails from people who are thinking of moving to Valencia from the US, or the UK, or elsewhere, and are full of questions. Many come as a family with children, so there are obviously a lot of concerns to do with schools and family-friendly neighbourhoods in Valencia and its suburbs. After having lived here now for more than 3 years, I have a pretty good idea of what would work best for new arrivals, even if you have never been to Valencia before.

List your criteria

The biggest question is usually: which neighbourhoods in Valencia are good for families and expats? First: Valencia is a very safe city. It is the third largest city of Spain, with about 800.000 inhabitants in the city itself, but you will quickly know your way around and feel right at home. So no neighbourhood is awful, but there are some that are more attractive than others. And of course, it is very personal. If you come from a big house in the suburbs, then you may find it unappealing to move into a shoebox city flat, and likewise, a city dweller may not like the idea of living in an out-of-town village. Think about what your criteria are as a family in terms of living space. Then compare them to the various neighbourhoods to get a better idea of what would be a good match.

Which neighbourhoods in Valencia Spain have good schools?

Another question I get asked all the time: Where should we live to find a good school for our children? What is Spain’s education system like? I explain all of this in my e-book Moving to Valencia, Spain with Children. Here are a few things to keep in mind when trying to find a good school and neighbourhood in Valencia:

  • You can’t apply for a public or semi-private school if you have no address
  • You can of course select a school and try and find a home nearby
  • It is common for schools to be full. The ayuntamiento or district council, will then have to find you an alternative school closest to your address
  • It is advisable to visit schools in advance to get an idea. Schools are very personal and what suits one expat, doesn’t suit another.
  • It is very common to change schools here in Spain, so don’t worry if you change your mind after a year
  • It is a good idea to rent an Airbnb for a month on arrival and explore neighbourhoods and schools while you are here
  • Official school applications always happen in May, but you can get in throughout the year if there is a place
  • Most out-of-town private and semi-private schools have bus transport arranged from the city centre

Turia park: your 9 km city garden

The 9 km riverbed that was developed in the 1980s as a green park surrounding the city centre, is one of the best features of Valencia. If you base yourself near to it, you’ll always have access to a fantastic outdoor space for your daily exercise, play park visits and picnics with friends.

living in valencia spain
Our green lung: Turia park

Psst…moving to Valencia, Spain, but not interested in lots of info about schools? I have another guide!

Have a look at my e-book: Your Guide to Moving to Valencia, for people who don’t need the info about schools. 30 pages of info about neighbourhoods, life as an expat, healthcare, finding friends, finding work (and costs involved to be self-employed).


valencia areas to avoid
Photo by Joan Costa on Pexels.com

The list of different neighbourhoods of Valencia, Spain.

Good city centre neighbourhoods in Valencia

Russafa
Often called the hipster neighbourhood of Valencia, Russafa (or Ruzafa, in the Valencian spelling), is a lively area, just south of the historic centre.

El Carmen
If you want to live amongst pretty old buildings, ancient towers and windy old streets, and hear the cathedral bells, El Carmen is the place to be.

Ensanche
The posh brother of Russafa, Ensanche lies right beside it, and centers around the beautiful market building of Mercado de Colon.

Cabanyal
The now pretty much gentrified old fishing village, right on the beach, is characterized by its colourful tiled facades and little bars in side streets.

Arts and Sciences
If you prefer bright, modern and comfortable over characterful and old, you may want to look at the areas around the City of Arts and Sciences.

living in valencia spain
Photo by Milan Chudoba on Pexels.com

Which towns and suburbs around Valencia are good for families?

Now this will make the whole search area a lot bigger of course. Many expats choose to live in the suburbs or towns within a 30-minute drive of the city, and many go north because of where schools are located. International and private schools in Valencia are more easily accessible if you live in these areas, although most schools provide bus transport from the city centre as well.

Some of the areas that are popular are La Eliana, Godella/Rocafort/Campolivar, La Canyada, Patacona, Betera, and Monasterios.

You can read more about the best neighbourhoods and suburbs in the my e-books Moving to Valencia, Spain with children, and your guide to moving to valencia, spain

Another good bit of advice? Order a large map, stick it on the wall and pin your short list areas on it. Knowing the map will make you feel you know the area, before you have even moved here.

Good luck!

Seven unexpected benefits of wearing a face mask

The face mask. The awful face mask. It has become a staple in our household now, here in Spain, and I am washing more masks than bras these days. No, I can’t say I’m a fan. But hey-ho, nothing is permanent, and this too shall pass. So while we can think of enough negatives around wearing a face mask, such as feeling claustrophobic, getting a skin rash and just looking rather unattractive, we forget about the benefits of wearing one. Number one, of course, you have less chance of catching or spreading a virus. Obviously. Are there any others, you may ask. Oh yes, there are! I found seven. Let’s look at the bright side.

benefits of wearing a face mask

1. You don’t have to speak to people

Yes, I am speaking to you, introvert! I bet you secretly would want to wear that face mask all the time from now on, when going outside. If you have children, you know that feeling at 9am, when you drop off the kids at school and you have dozens of parents greeting you and you feel obliged to make small talk before you have even had a coffee. Just. No. Or that feeling when you are minding your own business doing the grocery shopping and your overly chatty neighbour spots you in the bread aisle. No longer, folks! That face mask makes you incognito. Combine it with a hat and sunglasses and you could rob a bank without anyone even recognising it’s you.

Hi! It’s me!

2. No more cold noses

It’ll be winter soon and that means freezing noses! So many times I have wondered why there wasn’t a solution for having a cold nose in winter. I mean, we put on hats, gloves, ear muffs, scarfs. But noses, no, they stay out in the cold. No more! Knit yourself a thick woolly face mask or cut one out of fleece material and your nose will be toasty warm.

3. You save on makeup

I hardly put on makeup these days, wearing a face mask. Especially combined with sunglasses, there is really no point. The only thing I use is a moisturiser in the morning. Saves a lot of time and money!

4. But…you could really go to town on the lashes

I now understand women in some Arabic countries who wear the full hijab. Have you ever noticed how gorgeous their eyes are? If you only see the eyes above a face mask, you may as well make them pop. Saving on lipstick means you have spare cash for a high quality mascara or a set of falsies.

benefits of wearing a face mask

5. You can play ninjas

OK, this is only if you are 6 years old and love being a superhero. I did find myself tapping into my inner child though, when going outside with my two little boys, who immediately pulled up their hoodies and starting doing kicks, shouting ‘Wayaaaa!’. Face masks are instant ninja outfits. Do you know the mobile game Clumsy Ninja? It’s fun.

benefits wearing face mask

6. No more stinky breaths

Standing in the metro next to someone whose breath could kill. Been there, done that. Ugh. Face masks have a little perk of taking the edge off smells. Stinky breaths, pissy alleyways, full bins in the heat of summer. Not a bad thing for a happy life. Sure, you’ll also miss the nice smells like fresh flowers or pine trees, but just head into the woods on the weekend without a face mask on and you’ll get your fair share.

benefits of wearing face mask

7. You don’t have to kiss strangers

No matter how I love the Spanish culture and custom of hugging and kissing each other all the time (hence the high infection rate no doubt), I am not a big fan of kissing a total stranger two times on the cheek when being introduced. Yes, it is air kissing, but still. Wearing a face mask? You’re safe! We’re not kissing now anyway, it’s elbow bumping. I’m OK with elbow bumping.