The beeswax food wrap is a great alternative for cling film or foil. I have been meaning to try these types of wraps out for ages, so I was very happy when the Ethical Superstore asked me to do a review for them. I am pleased to say, they are not only pretty easy to use, they also smell great! As I want to cut down on the amount of plastic waste in my home, I’ll definitely be using these from now on.
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I am reviewing the Abeego beeswax food wraps from Ethical Superstore today, which come in different packs. I am reviewing the pack that contains three Abeegos – small (18 x 18cm), medium (25 x 25cm) and large (33 x 33cm), priced at £15.00. They have other sizes, a pack of six and larger packages too. The Abeego is a sustainable food wrap made from certified organic cotton and hemp, and keeps food fresher for longer. Another big plus? They come in a recyclable cardboard box, rather than plastic wrapping (you wouldn’t believe how many ‘eco-friendly’ products do!)
Antibacterial properties to keep food fresh
Although the idea of reusing something to cover your food may sound a little unhygienic, the Abeego beeswax wraps are in fact coated with tree resin for its natural antiseptic properties. In addition to that they contain jojoba oil which is anti-fungal and of course the beeswax which is naturally antibacterial. All good and natural! As Abeego is made from a cloth material rather than plastic, it will allow the food to breathe and naturally age, preventing mould and keeping leftovers fresh.
What do you use beeswax food wraps for?
The Abeego beeswax food wraps are great for wrapping sandwiches, fruit and veg for picnics or lunch. If you have leftover dinner or salad, the wraps are also perfect for covering your dish or bowl before putting them in the fridge for next time. Basically, if you would use cling film for it, you can use a beeswax wrap.
How to care for your beeswax food wrap
Don’t use warm water when cleaning your Abeego beeswax food wraps! Just wipe clean with cold water and a little bit of gentle soap. Using warm water could cause some of the beeswax to rub off. When cared for properly, your Abeego wraps can last for at least over a year. After a while the wraps can contain some stains, as it is a cloth material and staining is likely but this will not affect its performance. Please note that tree resin and beeswax are soluble in alcohol so use alcohol free dish soap to wash your Abeego. Dry them with a towel or hang over a dish rack. Abeego is not suitable for the dishwasher, microwave oven, direct heat or high temperatures.
Ikigai and gratitude, two words you’ll be hearing a lot this year. It is all about living mindfully and finding one’s purpose, meanwhile appreciating the little things in life. It’s always nice to have some recommendations for new books to read. At least, that’s what I think. Browsing Amazon or a bookshop in town sometimes makes me feel a bit overwhelmed, not knowing what to choose. Since it is the start of the year and self-care and making my life more peaceful overall are themes that currently interest me, I thought I’d share some titles of books I found at The Book Depository that may inspire you as well.
Ikigai : The Japanese secret to a long and happy life
Hector Garcia. Hardback, 208 pages. Price 11,27 € order
Ever heard of the word Ikigai? We all have an ikigai apparently. Even if we don’t know it yet. Ikigai translates as ‘a reason to live’ or ‘a reason to jump out of bed in the morning’. It’s the place where your needs, desires, ambitions, and satisfaction meet: a point of perfect balance, and perfect fulfillment.
On the Japanese island of Okinawa, people live longer than anywhere else in the world. There, finding your ikigai is considered the key to longevity – and to happiness. The Okinawans know that all lives are valuable; for them, your ikigai is the lens that will help bring your value into focus.
If you want to uncover your own ikigai, then this book will help you do this and equip you to change your life. It encourages you to leave stress and urgency behind, and throw yourself into finding your purpose, nurturing your friendships, and pursuing your passions.
Kindness : The Little Thing That Matters Most
author: Jaime Thurston. Hardback 224 pages. price 8,41 € order
An act of kindness, we all have it in us but in our busy lives we often forget how much of a difference you can make by doing it. And how much effort is it? Spend a minute doing something for someone, give a compliment, give up your seat on the bus. This book aims to motivate and inspire you to do more of these little acts.
It uses the voices of those who have been helped by the author’s charity – 52 Lives – to ground the ideas in real life action. The book is themed around 52 simple actions you can do to spread kindness. Interspersed throughout are nuggets of science explaining the positive effect kindness has on the brain and on the heart. This book is a call to action for people to live a more connected, fulfilling life. With inspirational quotes and personal stories this book will give you all the motivation you need to start spreading a little kindness – it’s free after all! Learn to live a life of kindness by following Jaime’s infectious positivity in this charming gift book.
The Art Of Gratitude
Meredith Gaston. Hardback, 200 pages. 18,50 € order
Being grateful for the little things in life can create a huge shift in your happiness and general well-being, when you practice it daily. The art of gratitude is the art of embracing and drawing joy from small moments and pleasures, and being open to inspiration and abundance, joy, peace and love. It’s an art that illustrator Meredith Gaston is well practiced in and uses in her daily life. In this book Meredith’s explores the different aspects of gratitude, adding tips, exercises and inspirational quotes, all beautifully illustrated with water colours.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
Gail Honeyman. Paperback, 400 pages. 10,39 € order
This book intrigues me and I can’t wait to read it! We all get into comfortable habits, think we’re fine and happy with what we have – and often we are. But what if change really is a good thing? What if stepping out of that comfort zone is not as scary if we think?
Eleanor Oliphant has learned how to survive – but not how to live. She leads a simple life. Wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend. She is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything.
One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted – while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she’s avoided all her life.
Change can be good. Change can be bad. But surely any change is better than… fine?
Winner of the Costa First Novel Award
No.1 Sunday Times bestseller and No.1 New York Times bestseller
Soon to be a major motion picture produced by Reese Witherspoon
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.
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.
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!
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.
I don’t usually do New Year’s resolutions, but this year I decided I would. Or rather: I want to set an intention. Self care. I have seen the word pop up regularly in the past year and I always thought that wasn’t meant for me. I also didn’t quite know what it meant. Pampering? Having your nails done? Spa days? No idea. Others obviously needed all of that for themselves for some reason. I didn’t, because I’m fine – I told myself, and not selfish like that. But you know what? Resilience needs fuel too. Self care is not selfish. It is about setting healthy boundaries and listening to your own needs.
Self care and pouring from an empty cup
I am probably not the only one, but I have given so much of my energy and focus to other people in the past few years that I am running on empty. My body and mind are telling me to take a break. And what do they say again about pouring from an empty cup? Exactly, you can’t. For years I kept pushing myself, just a little bit further, because I didn’t want to let people down or because I felt I “shouldn’t pity myself and just get on with it”. Handle it, woman! Making commitments even though my inner voice told me to go and rest. Saying ‘no’ is not an easy thing when you love what you do, but also have a natural urge to please and look after people.
Stop being your own worst enemy
You sometimes forget that your body and brain are not machines and that you deserve your own kindness too. I really am my own worst enemy sometimes. Ignoring my tiredness and making myself believe I am not that tired. My excitement and enthusiasm taking over as usual and there I go again. Go, go, go! But there’s only so many hours in a day. And by the way, I am also a mother of two small boys. Life is busy indeed. Does this sound familiar? It probably does.
Self care is looking after yourself….for once
I am turning 40 this week. Yesterday I was only 23, right? Time goes so fast. I see my face changing, some wrinkles appearing. The frown in my forehead is now permanent (I blame the kids! ;-)). I guess it’s maybe common midlife musings, but I have realised that I am not immortal. When you’re in your twenties and your thirties you feel life will never end. You bounce back after a night out, you can deal with a bit of tiredness. Turning 40 shouldn’t be such a big thing and I truly am grateful for having made it to this age healthily and without too many life hurdles. It is not given to everyone. But I believe I need to make a couple of small changes to my lifestyle in order to keep my health. Self care is one of them.
Trust your inner compass
So what does this mean to me? Sure, a pampering session will be lovely, but self-care is much more than a day at the spa. It is about caring for the inside. My mental health as well as my physical health. Listening to my body, my signals from the inside. I need to stop ignoring my inner voice, because my inner voice is my compass and she is always right .
Self care is honouring your inner voice
Yesterday I started a job in Valencia at a call center. I lasted until mid afternoon. I pushed myself into thinking “it would be good for that extra bit of money”, “to have colleagues” and “to have a permanent job”. When I applied, my inner voice was already protesting. What did I do? I ignored her. Yesterday morning while still doing the training for the job, my inner voice was protesting again, but my rational brain was telling her to shut up. It wouldn’t be that bad, it was a good thing to have work and a bit of routine. But you know what? I am so glad that I let my inner voice make the decision for me this time.
Sometimes you need little reminders!
Halfway through the afternoon calling session, my inner voice took over and shouted at me: “Why the hell are you doing this to yourself? You didn’t come to Valencia to do this kind of work! I know you hated it twenty years ago, what makes you think it would be any different? You don’t need to do this! It is making you miserable! For goodness sake, woman, I thought you want to do this self-care thing? Not really getting anywhere with this, are you?” Yes, I whispered, you are so right. Thank you. I put down the headphones and told my manager I was going home. I had the most wonderful stroll in the sunshine, in the park. Today I am focusing on my writing again.
Not being busy is something I need to learn and I expect many of you will feel the same. It is such a badge of honour in the western world to always be busy. With work, with stuff. Being idle is seen as a sin, mostly by ourselves.
Self-care is setting healthy boundaries
I also need to learn that it is OK to say ‘no’. Saying no is not about being horrible to people, it is about setting healthy boundaries. Breaking commitments is not a nice thing to do, so it is much better to say no right from the start if you are not sure to begin with. It is no use to anyone if you commit to something and say you will come/help out/do something if your inner voice is already warning you at that very moment. Say you will get back to them tomorrow with your answer, that you need a moment to think about it – this is totally fine. Be honest. To others, but mostly to yourself. If your inner voice is warning you, she will only become louder down the line, until you feel totally resentful to whatever it is you committed to.
We are enough
So what am I going to focus on this year to improve my inner peace and mental health? I am going to release the pressure for a start. Stop expecting so much from myself. I don’t need to achieve and be brilliant at everything. No need to prove anything to anyone. I am enough. I will also allow myself to rest. To take the time. To stop rushing around. It will be hard for me, I know, but it is necessary. I will also address some old pain and trauma trapped inside of me, which – again – I have ignored for years because I felt I should “just get on with it”. I guess I will try and drop the guards. Be confident in showing my vulnerability and not always covering up my feelings with a smile and an “I’m fine”. Be assertive but kind. Strong but soft. Who’s joining me?
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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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
Do you feel it too? End of year sadness and December blues? I don’t know if it is the darkness, the cold, the fact that another year has passed way too quickly or that you realise that you haven’t seen friends or family for a very long time. End of year melancholy. Homesickness for a home that it no longer yours. It’s not easy when you have moved away.
A comfortable coat that no longer fits
I’ve been an emigrant since I was 26. That is almost 14 years now. Fourteen years away from my motherland, the soil I grew up on. I almost feel like a tourist now when I visit. A strange combination of familiarity and foreign-ness. When I arrive back in the area I was born in, it feels like an old, comfortable coat, but after a while I also realise it doesn’t fit me anymore.
And now I uprooted for the second time ten months ago, finding my feet on foreign soil yet again. It’s been very exciting both times I moved country, for very different reasons. The first time around I moved to Scotland to be with my love and subsequently stayed more than twelve years to build up a life together, get married and start a family.
December blues and juggling family
This year we moved to Spain, because we both desired a new adventure, more sunshine and a different lifestyle for our family. And because well, a change does one good and all that. Good decision so far? Yes, although it’s not a permanent holiday like some people cheekily put it. School settling in dramas, language barriers and navigating the bureaucracy are just a few of our struggles this year. But hearing my little boys babble in Spanish to their teacher and the babysitter fills me with pride.
And now it is almost Christmas. Everyone who has family living far away will know this dilemma: where will we be spending Christmas this year? With my husband’s parents living in Wales and mine in the Netherlands, this has always been tricky. And then when your own parents decide to separate, things get even more complicated. Families, eh?
Looking back and standing still: another year has past
In Spain it doesn’t get any easier. Flights are a bit longer and not necessarily cheaper, despite more of the low cost airlines flying in our direction. So it’s a puzzle. This year we are actually skipping the family Christmases all together and are flying back to Scotland. Catching up with as many friends as we can possibly cram into two weeks. But it feels funny and these decisions are never without guilt. But then that is also the case when you decide to celebrate Christmas with one family and not the other. How do you juggle this issue?
So yes, December blues, although not in a depressive kind of way. Just reflecting. Taking a moment to stand still and be thankful.
This month most of us will reflect on the past year and all the things that have happened. The good times, the crappy times, the parties, the holidays, the busy work weeks, the day-in-day-out kids routines, the weeks that flew by. All the people you met, the new friends you made, the people you said goodbye to. The pets you have lost or that came into your life. The houses you moved out of. The things you felt really bad about, but didn’t matter in the end. The things you failed to do, but everyone has already forgotten about. Another year gone. Kids are growing up too fast, parents are getting older. What will next year bring?
More moments together. That’s what makes life meaningful.
This is a (Spanish) video that speaks more than a thousand words, even if you don’t quite understand what they’re saying. Friends and family speaking fondly of each other and how much they enjoy spending time together, and admit they don’t do this enough. At the end of the video the filmmaker tells them how much time in their life they actually have left together if they continue to see each other as often as they do now… Yep, a lot less than they thought. Days rather than years. Hours rather than days.
Just admit it, the whole idea of going into town or online looking for Christmas gifts again this year is not filling you with much joy. Or is it? Why do we do it? Why not just spend time with our loved ones, eat food and create memories? We all have so much stuff already and we really don’t need any more gifts. Certainly not anything made of plastic. If you need a gift, buy everyone books instead. Or handmade soap. Silver earrings, beeswax candles, wooden toys, tickets to the theatre. Buy art. Buy vintage. And wrap your gifts in paper.
No plastic this year, please.
Imagine how powerful it would be if we all stopped buying plastic? What a Christmas gift to nature that would be.
This year has been a year where a lot of awareness has been raised about the plastic problem. Finally, the whole plastic problem seems to become mainstream and generally seen as something very urgent by most people. This is a positive movement, because the more people feel something needs to be done about it, the more likely governments and big corporates will follow and actually change laws which would make a real impact. Only recently the EU parliament banned single use plastic from 2021. In the meantime, there are some pretty amazing people already working day and night to combat the plastic problem.
“Someone’s got to do it”. A young inventor starts the Ocean Cleanup
You may have heard of this guy, Boyan Slat, a young Dutch engineer who at the tender age of 18 invented something that could clean up the oceans. Although this was initially a project as part of his degree, six years later the idea is now a non-profit organisation called The Ocean Cleanup with over 80 people, developing advanced technologies to rid the world’s oceans of plastic. By utilising the ocean currents to their advantage, their passive drifting systems are estimated to clean up half the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 5 years’ time. The very first prototype has just gone out for testing in October 2018. Exciting times! And doesn’t it restore faith in human beings to do incredible things, if they want to – and care enough? Being Dutch myself, I am feeling very proud of Boyan and his incredible drive to make a difference.
Micro plastics in your food
The test phase has now begun, mainly collecting all the larger pieces of plastic in the water, some smaller as well. The micro plastics are of course much harder to catch. Micro plastics are the bits that fall off the larger pieces after being in the water for a long time, the flakes, crumbs, the tiny pieces of plastic. These micro plastics are the worst, as they are eaten by fish – and subsequently eaten by us. Research has shown that micro plastics are now even discovered in many other foods and even beers, simply because disintegrated plastic becomes so small that is enters our water system. Imagine what that does to our health… It is therefore vital that we stop plastic from going into the rivers and oceans in the first place, and catch it before it starts to disintegrate into micro plastics.
I would love to see The Ocean Cleanup become so successful that it becomes the start of a real change and cleanup of all the oceans. To see this inspirational young inventor Boyan Slat and his team come up with even bigger and better ideas to help us combat the ridiculous amount of plastic that we as humans have put into the environment. Of course, this project and the ones needed to cleanup all the other plastic floating around in the seas costs a LOT of money. I for one will swap my Christmas gift list this year for a donation to this cause.
If you feel encouraged too and excited about this like I do, perhaps consider thinking outside the (gift) box and ask Santa for charity donations this year. Surely clean water without plastic is worth more than yet another posh fragrance on your dressing table. The turtles will thank you for it.
How is your day going? I am feeling a bit overwhelmed today. Trying to get my head around becoming self employed in Spain but the bureaucracy is really daunting, as expected! Being self employed in the UK is a breeze compared to here. A tax return in English is one thing to get your head around…but in Spanish? And that four times a year, with VAT and very detailed book keeping plus big fines if you make a mistake or are a day late! Eeeek! I really feel I don’t want to do it anymore. Anxiety is kicking in.
I have not felt like this for years, thought I had left all that insecurity behind by now. I mean, I’ll be 40 next year. But no. Everything feels very wobbly all of a sudden. My steady foundation has turned into jelly and I am trying to find my feet. I guess we all go through these phases in life. You feel pretty safe and secure for a while, in control even, you think you know who you are. Got life sussed. Then BAM, you get presented with a brand new set of challenges that make you question all your values and what you stand for. It can even reveal sides of yourself you never knew you had. Anxiety for example. It is confrontational to say the least. It spices things up in life, yes, but it is tiring and emotional. Oh, and did I mention the language barrier? All part of the roller-coaster of moving countries.
Leaving the comfort zone
I remember how I felt 13 years ago, on the brink of emigrating first time around. I had not yet moved to Scotland, but I had flown across from the Netherlands for my very first job interview in English ever, which I was not quite fluent in yet. It went SO bad that I wanted to dug a great big hole right there. I was very nervous, struggled with the language and felt so small, embarrassed and stupid. Out of my comfort zone in front of three people asking difficult questions. I remember afterwards I cried and thought, stuff that, I am just going to work in that cafe over there serving tea and cake! I am not good enough for these types of jobs, way too scary. Of course, a few months later, another job came up and I got it. I was so proud of myself for biting the bullet and putting myself through it again. Another daunting interview. I still feel how happy I was when they called me to say I was hired.
So here I am 13 years later in Spain and I feel exactly the same. Happy but anxious. Excited but lost. Scared. Throwing up the barriers. I want to give up, not put myself through the complicated mill of freelance life in a foreign country. I want to hide under a large sun umbrella hoping it’ll all go away.
Monsters in my head
I am creating great big monsters in my head and keep thinking:”What if I screw up, what if I don’t know what to do, what if I don’t earn enough and can’t pay the monthly fees? What if I fail?” I need to remind myself I am not the first one who has done this and that there is help out there. There is no failing, only trying. But right now I just want somebody to hire me to serve tea and cake. Por favor?
Is it just me, or is being busy a badge of honour nowadays, not just for adults but for children too? Parents ferry their children around from one after-school activity to the next. They go to piano lessons on a Monday, tennis lessons on a Wednesday and art classes every Friday afternoon. Already exhausted new mums are putting themselves through the hassle of baby swimming lessons. Parents seem to be afraid that their brood misses out on becoming the next Einstein or Andy Murray and want every free moment in their kids’ lives to be ‘educational’. Otherwise learning apparently does not happen. And then there is of course peer pressure. How about some calm parenting?
Just playing freely without a grownup in charge almost seems rare in the lives of modern children. What ever happened to ‘freerange parenting’? Surely, most of us were brought up like that and it did us no harm. No constant supervision, no constant entertainment, no constant demand to achieve and produce visible results. Freedom to just be a child.
Today I want to make a plea for the return of mindful neglect.
It is almost impossible to arrange a play-date on a weekday, because most kids have extra-curricular activities every day of the week, on top of homework. Why? Does it really set them up to become incredibly good at anything? Develop a life-long love for learning? The full diary in their young lives perhaps teaches them that life really just is a busy to-do-list.
Calm parenting: give the gift of time
When I was little I was a stubborn little girl who didn’t want to do any activity outside school whatsoever. Not that my parents didn’t try and encourage me. They did. I just did not want to do it. No tennis, no ballet, no music lessons. Go away. Not interested. And you know what, for my parents’ attitude I am grateful. They may not have pushed me to take private sports and music lessons, and I was unable to play the piano like fellow twelve year olds, but instead they gave me time. Time to play and to be bored. Time to figure out what I like. The opportunity to learn how to feel happy in just my own company.
Natural curiosity, taking action when ready
When I was about 10 years old I eventually asked my parents if I could join the local gymnastics club. I also wanted to do art classes on a Wednesday after school. I chose my own interests, when I myself was ready and motivated. Until that moment I sat quite happily at the kitchen table drawing. No adult intervention whatsoever. I played with Lego and my barbies, built dens with my sister or played hide and seek with the kids next door. As a teenager at fifteen I discovered a forgotten guitar in the attic and taught myself some chords. I have been in bands ever since. I didn’t have to be ‘exposed’ to music lessons from an early age. No, that doesn’t make me special, and maybe I would have enjoyed music lessons at 5, who knows, it just shows a different approach to parenting. Letting things be. I was always going to find the things that interested me. And having time to figure that out, made me love it even more.
So what am I trying to say with all of this? I believe (but who am I but a mother with a humble opinion) that the rise in anxiety among even primary age children, comes from somewhere. Whether it is a crazy busy schedule, too much competition, high parental expectations or watching too much rubbish on Youtube (let’s not go into that, right), I strongly believe in free play.
Keep free play sacred
So much playtime has already been taken away from them in school, with kids as young as 3 years old learning how to write their name and do simple maths. It makes no difference academically if they would start at 6. As parents we can at least try and make free play outside of school sacred. Have them join football or do ballet, sure, if they want to – but also build in that bit of calm at home. Downtime. No matter if they lie on the floor yelling that they’re bored. Don’t worry. Bored is good. It serves a purpose.
So much research says unsupervised playtime in childhood essential. It is more important for the development of social skills than any adult led workshop or extracurricular class in childhood. Still, as a society and as parents, we believe we’re at risk of falling behind academically. Learning to read and write and count is important and schools have their role to play. But children will struggle to become independent, happy and well balanced adults at the end of childhood if they never get a moment to themselves. How will they know how to be at peace with themselves without the need for constant reassurance, distraction and entertainment from outside?
As a mother of two boys I try each day to be a good mum. Each day I wonder whether I did and said the right things and not screwed them up. It is not easy figuring out calm parenting and finding the key to motherhood. Still, instinctively I feel underscheduling is the way to go for my family. I want to encourage a calmness in my boys and an appreciation of the little things in life. I want them to be creative, resourceful and contented. Soulful living, right?
Calm parenting and creating resilient children
I hope to see more unstructured play in the park without helicopter parents trying to join in. Unstructured play in the garden without a well meaning parent leading some kind of Pinterest activity. Building Lego without the instruction book. Making stuff out of rubbish without the help of a grownup. Letting siblings quarrel without immediately trying to solve their argument. Letting them figure it out for themselves before intervening.
No pressure. Trust. Mindful neglect. Conscious neglect with the sole purpose of creating happy, mentally stable, sociable and resilient children. Kids with empathy. Kids who know the world doesn’t only revolve around them. Good humans. It seems a no brainer and common sense, but we have forgotten how to put it into practice. Or we are afraid to put it into practice. Because all the other kids…
Children are naturally curious. They don’t need to be taught how to learn. They know. Children have a natural desire to discover the world for themselves. Give them that space. Even though you as a parent may think your child is not learning much at a particular moment and you feel you need to teach them stuff, their brain is working hard. If they have questions, they will ask them (oh yes they will!).
Calm parenting: lead by example and stop overscheduling
Children learn by example and copy our behaviour. What example is a stressed out, tired parent making life way too busy? Instead, show calm. Just be. Say nothing. Trust your child in his or her own learning. Silence and time are essential ingredients for stimulating creativity and imagination and they are so precious. Childhood is short, please let’s not take away the magic.
I can’t tell you how amazing it felt to scoot away on my brand new ‘patinete’ or adult scooter, when I bought it in Valencia this spring. I felt like a kid again! Living in a city where you use public transport a lot and distances are sometimes a little bit far to walk (and arrive on time), it is extremely handy to have a portable vehicle to get yourself from A to B just that little bit faster. Adult scooters are perfect for short journeys, the school run or your daily commute with public transport.
My little boys have scooters and yes, they are usually associated with children’s activities, but believe me, the adult version is just as much fun. Wind in your hair, stepping away, gliding with ease, passing pedestrians and saving time. What’s not to like?
Scooters or patinetes (for the Spanish people among us) come in all shapes and sizes, with or without hand brakes. I bought an Oxelo adult scooter from Decathlon recently, for 119 euro. No hand brakes (instead you have a foot brake – you slow down by pushing the mud guard down on the back wheel with your foot), but it is foldable with a strap for easy carrying. Even the handle bars fold inwards so you basically carry a scooter over your shoulder the size of a large bag. And not too heavy. Very useful when getting on public transport! You can get actual carrier bags too if you want to take your scooter with you on longer journeys.
There are also electric scooter available these days, which I must admit, look very attractive, especially at times when I am trying to push my non-electric scooter uphill, in 32 degrees heat. They are quite a lot more expensive, but would be a good option if you have difficulty walking long distances or need something a bit faster but still portable and easy to manoeuvre.
Which surfaces are best for adult scooters
Non electric scooters are particularly great on the flat or downhill, on smooth surfaces. Unless your scooter has big rubber tyres, don’t ride with them on old cobbled streets or very uneven roads. You get the idea, bumpetybump. Not great. Tiled paths are fine, although the bigger the tiles the better. In quiet residential streets I sometimes ride on the tarmac, as this surface is obviously ideal. Just make sure you watch the traffic and get back onto the pavement when it gets busy (yes, mum).
Wearing a helmet is always a good safety measure. If you live on a hill, it is a must. These scooters gain speed fast when going downhill, especially with a 75kg/150lbs adult on it. You really don’t want to hit a rock or curb and go flying without being protected.
Scoot to the gate: your micro scooter with built-in case
For the geeks among us, or rather the commuters who are traveling a lot, there is the Micro Luggage Scooter. No more running to the gate at the airport pulling your trolley case on wheels or clutching your cabin bag. And killing time waiting for your flight will never be the same again. Imagine the smooth surfaces in that departure lounge…