To home school or not to home school? Questions in times of a pandemic

In week one of lockdown due to the coronavirus we were having a lot of fun at home with the kids. My boys are just 6 and 8 years old and generally have heaps of energy but not an equal amount of patience to sit down and do school work. So we were dancing, baking, drawing, singing, playing, dressing up and cuddling. A LOT. It was lovely. At bedtime we’d read a book and the next morning we would again come up with brand new ideas. I felt I was catching up on lost time. In Spain they are normally at school five days a week from 9 till 5. You hardly see your children during the week.

Then came week two. First an email from the teacher of infantil for the 5/6 year olds, then swiftly followed by another one from the teacher of Primaria 2. Five, six, seven or even eight attachments for several subjects, accompanied with a plan for the week and I’m sure well meant suggestions for how to focus your day around your children’s education. Your DAY yes, not hours, or a morning, but DAY. Because, sure, us parents in lockdown are suddenly all jobless and twiddling our thumbs and dying to get retrained as our children’s dedicated primary school teacher.

We are lucky to have a little bit of outdoor space. Many families in Spain live in apartments, sometimes without even a balcony.

I knew it should not make me feel stressed, after all we are all in a very unusual situation, worrying to say the least, and the main objective surely is to stay calm and love our family. I admired my friend Marie who bravely emailed school administration to tell them they wouldn’t be doing any home education whatsoever (read her very funny blog post here). Good, I thought, let’s all jump on the barricades! But another friend pointed out to me that “Nina, you are rebellious, but you also want to please the teacher”… Damnit, I’m caught out, I admit it, I suffer from a split personality and it’s bugging me.

You cannot get a bunch of high wired children to do a week’s worth of maths, when they haven’t been out running outdoors for over a fortnight. Anybody who is a parent of young children and boys especially knows that these monkeys need to be ‘walked’ in the fresh air regularly just like dogs, to regulate their energy and emotions. Now in other countries with less restrictions around lockdown you can still escape to a nearby field or forest as long as you are pretty much on your own, but not in Spain. Unfortunately dogs currently have more rights to public space here than children, so the poor puppets are stuck between four walls for the next foreseeable future. Imagine living in a tiny apartment on the fourth floor and not having a balcony. Seven Spanish million children are not allowed out. It’s like a high pressure cooker.

Quarantine action shot. Noise, mess and multiple activities going on all at once.

So yes. Homeschooling dilemmas. We try to find a compromise. Our children normally have week plans at school with their various assignments they have to finish by Friday, so I decided to copy this concept and make up my own simplified plan per child. In week one I got them to make up their own plans, which included anything from cuddling mummy, joining an online dance class to eating an apple in ten seconds. I mean, essential life skills right there! Last week I incorporated a few more ‘educational’ tasks from the teacher’s email. But I also happily skipped others, such as ‘sing these traditional Spanish songs with your children while dancing together’ and “do page four full of problem sums” (key: meltdown – I’ll leave that for the classroom, thank you very much). But it turned out that my children were actually OK with an hour of doing a few sums and/or spelling exercises, followed by an hour or longer of drawing (Art for Kids Hub is now a firm favourite here) and of course investigating weird and wonderful stuff on Youtube. I mean, who doesn’t want to know everything about megalodons or how cars are made? And why do animals not have belly buttons?

Who needs to know about Picasso when you can learn how to draw a poop emoji?

Week three has commenced and suddenly the teachers are ramping it up. Four separate emails with attachments (our printer is broken, but “if you don’t have a printer, just let your child copy the text by hand in their notebook”. Yeah right.), and basically the same amount of tasks they normally get in class. Just as I felt I had cracked it during the very laid back and enjoyable second week of semi-homeschooling, the knot in my stomach was back. Nina, please, I told myself, just ignore them, these people are crazy. But what if, I kept on thinking, what if all the other children are neatly keeping up with their tasks in their notebooks and so when school opens again, my children have nothing to show to the teacher? If you’re like me, you will have surely had a similar non-stop stream of Whatsapp messages from anxious parents about the various assignments, showing off their kids in photos sitting at the kitchen table working and seemingly being a much better home-schooler than you’ll ever be.

Need your child to write? I asked mine to make up a recipe. A favourite task that day.

Bullocks of course. First of all, for all we know, we may have our kids home until September. Yes, let that sink in. It doesn’t matter if they do the homework that is being sent. They’ll start afresh once they are back. They are not going to fail in life because of this. Secondly, while any curriculum school work is put on hold, or lessened, suddenly an opportunity is created for children to discover a wide range of other things and have control over their own learning. Indulge in their current crafts obsession, learn how to cook, find fascinating facts about nature and science on Youtube, enjoy baking cakes, help out with daily chores, read lots of comics, have a disco in the living room each night and have heaps of snuggles with their favourite people in the world: YOU. And just chill. The modern world asks a lot of our children. This morning I read this awful article in the Washington Post about how ‘homeschooling during the coronavirus will set back a generation of children‘ and how long breaks end up in ‘learning losses’ and a ‘mess’. Ugh. How about adding some extra pressure to us parents while we are already stuck indoors and worried about our health. Because, oh wait, why are we all indoors again? Yes, a deadly virus.

The best way to play a knight is with a waste bin on your head of course and a laundry bin lid as a shield.

Of course I can see what the article was also saying: theoretically there is a risk that those children who live in homes where parents have no time for, or even interest in spending time playing with their children or do any kind of reading or revising with them while in lockdown, may be worse off than their peers in a more stimulating environment. Children are always learning, in their own way, every day, but if one child keeps working hard on their maths, with a private online tutor if one can afford it, and another sits in their bedroom only playing Fortnite for two months… You know who will likely pass their maths exam. But that would mainly be an issue for children in secondary school. Also, more importantly, this kind of inequality will always exist, with or without a pandemic. I don’t think in any case my 6 and 8-year old will ‘academically fall behind’ by keeping on reading daily, doing the odd sums and spelling words after breakfast and for the rest just playing and bonding with their family. You might just end up with happy and resilient children.

It is great to ask your child to make their own work plan for the week. You’d be surprised what they come up with.

So what are we doing as a family at home every day? I made up a bit of a day plan, which we all religiously try and stick to or else we’d still be in our pyjamas by 2 o’clock in the afternoon. Normally it’s 8 o’clock wake up time here and straight away getting dressed, 8.30am breakfast, 9am school! We work on sums or spelling for an hour, then do another hour or more of art or science if the kids are not moaning too much yet. Around 12 we’ll take the school papers off the kitchen table, make lunch and let the kids play. We stick to this schedule as much as we can. But we are only human and sometimes we change our plans. This morning we all felt tired and grumpy and the boys just really wanted to go and build a city out of Kapla. Who then am I to drag them to the kitchen table to do sums? I may as well open the gin bottle straight away. One rule we do try and stick to is no computer games before 4 o’clock. These things are fabulous babysitters, I know all too well, but enough is enough and 2 or 3 hours a day of square eyes is plenty!

Who wouldn’t rather build a parking lot than do a sheet of sums at 9am?

Balance, it’s all about balance. And while some children love having homework, doing sums and writing stories, others would be better off using this lockdown time to indulge in things they have a keen interest in, whether that is cooking, crafting, building or dancing. While the numbers of infected people with the coronavirus are still on the rise, and many people are dying from it, we surely need to have our priorities right. We need to stay stay strong and healthy, all of us. Not just physically, but mentally too. No child benefits from parents at home who are losing the plot, getting frustrated by the amount of school work while also trying to hold down a job and working from home, who are turning into alcoholics in the process (right!) and literally missing the opportunity to just ‘be’ with their children. If you can, relax. (Yes, I am also taking note!). We are not teachers, we are parents. We are doing enough, we are doing our best, we are not expected to copy a normal school day. Let’s guide ourselves and our families through this storm on a calm ship and let our children remember this time as special, despite the crisis going on outside.

The world is changing overnight and there is no escape

This title sounds like some science fiction movie and I can’t deny it feels very much like it. COVID-19. The zombies are coming! We’ve been in quarantine in Spain since Friday the 13th. The streets are dead. Shops are closed, apart from the supermarket. The hospital emergency waiting rooms are empty. People are all inside their homes. Waiting. Here you currently risk a fine of up to 3000 euro if the police catch you out on the streets without a valid reason (you can go grocery shopping, take a trip to the pharmacy or go to work if you really have to – and only travel solo). They have lost track of the correct number of infected people and nobody gets tested anymore, but here in Spain the official number jumps up with 1000 cases per day, 11,000 and around 500 deaths at the time of writing, most of them in Madrid. Just a week ago I was still being very flippant about the whole thing, as we only had about 400 cases and hey, what are the chances, right? And here we are.

“This too shall pass”. Fallas statue in Valencia, with added face mask. Image: www.instagram.com/valencia_secreta/

The good thing is that most people will only have mild symptoms and won’t need to be hospitalised. It’s not the bubonic plague, you know (see this graph to compare different viruses throughout history). The whole quarantine thing however is not for you to not catch it, but to prevent the corona virus from spreading to those who will end up in hospital. People who are old, frail, sick already or have a lessened immune system for whatever reason – even though there are also cases of young, healthy people becoming critically ill. There just are not enough beds for all of them in intensive care, nor ventilation machines if the previously mild symptoms turn into serious pneumonia. So we all stay indoors for the sake of the country and beyond. We need to stop the virus so we can get back to normal. I know my UK readers will be in a different situation (at this time of writing), with their government not opting for the same approach.

What is normal?

But…what is ‘normal’ and do we actually want to go back to it after this is all over? Interesting question. It is a worrying time but I can’t help feeling a little excited too – weird I know and quite inappropriate. Excited because maybe this will be the thing that will change the world for the better, in the long run. Could it? It is definitely a time for reflection and a big obligatory pause for people no matter what race, gender, salary and political views. The virus hits us all – especially in the western world. We’re all sitting at home, forced to look at ourselves in the mirror. See our life for what it is, our partners, our children, our jobs, our crazy busy lifestyle. Who are we and why did we think we were leading a ‘normal’ life in the first place? Stocks are plummeting. Airlines are going bust. You would almost think planet earth is hitting back. You still think you can treat me like shit, after all environmental disasters, hurricanes, floods and famines? Here, catch this you fuckers.

Ask me again in two weeks time, but right now it makes me happy to see all the good things that come out of people because of this unusual situation of being stuck indoors. The solidarity, the creativity, the resourcefulness you see on social media is incredible. I still believe in the good in people and apart from the initial greedy panic buying of truck loads of toilet paper, liters of hand sanitizer and 25 packs of spaghetti, I am optimistic. We are so used to the rat race, the consumerism, the individualism and the loss of connection to others, that this sudden lockdown is a breath of fresh air. Excuse the pun.

This too shall pass

People are reaching out to each other and strangers are becoming comrades. My heart filled with love and my eyes with tears last night at 8pm when I suddenly heard applauding, shouting and whistling outside from all the houses and balconies, by people around the city thanking hospital staff, police and other vital workers doing their best to stop the virus and care for the sick. This Thursday at 12 noon we’ll be treated, like they did in Italy last week, to live music from the communal orchestras, again from balconies. I saw a video of neighbours playing bingo from their open windows in an apartment block down in Andalucia. Valencia’s biggest annual festival Las Fallas was cancelled this week. A major decision that nobody expected, even a few weeks ago. The artists who had already created a Fallas statue of a meditating lady, with the title ‘This too shall pass’ (how apt), was given a face mask after the news. We all mourn about the loss of normality, but accept and adjust. We simply have no choice. We have to flatten the curve.

Reinventing our existence

It is an alien situation and we are all trying to navigate through this sudden unwanted gift of time. We should make good use of it. History tells us that in 1665 Cambridge University was temporarily closed because of the plague and it was then that Isaac Newton thought of his law of gravity. Boredom and idleness lead to great inventions. The school Whatsapp groups however are in overdrive with mums and dads fearing this sudden standstill and the fact that they have the children at home, which obviously is not ideal when you still have work to do. They are sharing links to educational resources, online museum collections and libraries, just to offer some sort of quality entertainment while stuck in the house. The iPads are a godsend to entertain the kids, I am not denying that, but this compulsory indoor-holiday requires more effort than just the easy babysitter called screen-time.

The kids’ dance teacher uploaded his class onto youtube

So far we have baked a cake, built Lego towers, are learning to play instruments (we are working on getting a family band up and running), are reading books, watch films, look up science experiments on Youtube and just spend a lot of time together as a family. How well do you know your child really and have oceans of time to cuddle and sit with them, look at their beautiful faces and listen with attention to what they are interested in? I bet I am not the only one to admit that modern life, work stress, long school hours and occupied minds are detrimental to real human connection. No doubt many children will remember this 2020 quarantine period as something quite special.

Content sharing

People are becoming very opportunistic and creative when stuck indoors. The dance teacher is uploading his classes onto Youtube so we can start the morning with a fun workout. Yoga and pilates classes and meditation sessions are all made accessible online. Music venues and concert halls upload concerts to enjoy for free. Artists offer tutorials online. It is incredible how many people are sharing quality content with each other worldwide. Not just for fun, but also because income has disappeared overnight and we’re all trying to figure out what to do next. We still have bills to pay. How do you earn money when you cannot meet face to face?

Last year’s yoga retreat jumper suddenly became very appropriate during quarantine.

The sacrifices and losses in the corona battlefield

Small businesses are suffering greatly. No doubt many will go under during two or three weeks quarantine plus months of recovery and little trade. I am a self-employed content writer who lost a big client overnight because of COVID-19. An estate agent on the Costa Blanca I write and translate for suddenly has no one from northern Europe making plans to view and buy holiday homes anymore. My other job as bicycle tour guide has also suddenly been put on hold, because first of all of less tourism and currently because nobody is allowed outside. With no invoices to send there is no income. A self employed worker in Spain pays 283 euro a month to the social security system (compulsory, no matter what your earn), so go figure. A petition has been going around to ask the state for a payment break due to corona, but I am not very hopeful. Unfortunately we all know who gets hit the hardest in times like these.

Cheap flights and plastic from China

Earlier this week I shared a very interesting article published in Dezeen on my Facebook page about how Coronavirus offers “a blank page for a new beginning”. In it trend watcher Lidewij Edelkoort says “it seems we are massively entering a quarantine of consumption where we will learn how to be happy just with a simple dress, rediscovering old favourites we own, reading a forgotten book and cooking up a storm to make life beautiful.” She is hoping for a better system, a better balance for the environment and humans worldwide. I hope so too.


Can we indeed go back to a simpler life? Buying less plastic crap from China? Being more conscious about the amount we consume? And then not just the people who already do this anyway…but could it become mainstream again? Growing our own food, and repairing stuff instead of our throwing away culture. A more honest, calmer way of life. Can we stop wanting to go on four holidays a year, on cheap flights to everywhere, burning the planet and ruining unspoiled territory around the world? Can we please stop? Get away from this ‘economic growth’ obsession? Wishful thinking perhaps, because money makes the world go round and no doubt the big guys at the top are already planning a recovery strategy to get back to ‘normal’. Still, as consumers, we have the power to right now start with a clean slate and make some significant changes to our lifestyle as a result of living through these strange weeks of lockdown, quarantine and self isolation. The virus has thrown us a brilliant opportunity to rethink and redesign our common future, for the next generations. Let’s not waste it.

My friend dopamine and the reality of the Instagram dream world

Why do we want to record and publish every moment, minute, event of our lives? We photograph ourselves holding a coffee cup in the morning sun and put things in the caption like ‘Blissful moment. #lovemylife. #coffeeaddict. We hit ‘share’ on Instagram and wait for the hearts and likes. We can’t have an evening out anymore without creating evidence and letting everyone at home know that we have such a fabulous social life. If it’s not snapped on your smartphone, it hasn’t happened. Why? For who? When have we become so self obsessed? And is it arrogance, narcissism or insecurity that drives this strange modern day behaviour? Why do we think people want to see what we’re up to in our private life?

No skeletons here

Gosh, I am no saint. I am guilty of it myself, posting photos on Instagram of my happy children on the beautiful Valencia beach, a selfie because I think my hair looks pretty, a picture of a fun afternoon with friends. I have always liked creating written and visual content, stories, photographs, putting it all together, long before Instagram was a thing. So these kind of platforms obviously offer an easy and very addictive outlet for me. But I can’t ignore the fact that I am also hooked to the dopamine hit received from every ‘like’ by my online friends, and to get as much dopamine as possible I am trying to make everything in my life look just a little bit more beautiful than it perhaps is. Nice lighting, good angle, a pretty filter, a bit of cropping, choosing the perfect shot out of ten others. Shoving that pile of laundry out of the frame. And obviously I’ll be leaving out the skeletons hiding in the closets. Hands up, who’s with me? I am sure I am not alone.

Me, taking a selfie, looking all dreamy with my guitar and using a weird filter over the top of it just to pretty it up. #whenyourefourtysomethingandyouthinkyourecool

Sex, drugs and…social media

Neuroscientists are studying the effects of social media on the brain and research has shown that positive interactions (such as someone liking your post) trigger the same kind of chemical reaction that is caused by gambling and recreational drugs. An article by Harvard University researcher Trevor Haynes tells us that when you get a social media notification, your brain sends dopamine, a chemical messenger, along a reward pathway, which makes you feel good. Dopamine is associated with food, exercise, love, sex, gambling, drugs … and now, social media. To make things worse, the reward centers in our brains are most active when we’re talking about ourselves. As a normal functioning human you probably talk about yourselves 30 to 40 percent of the time. On social media it is all about showing off your life. That means you are talking about yourself a whopping 80 percent of the time. (source: Now. The intersection of technology, innovation and creativity).

Advertising tools

Then there are the Instagrammers with their 100k+ followers. They look like they have their lives way better sorted than us, don’t they? Their daily pictures show perfect homes, dirt-free children, sunny days out, loving marriages and gorgeous bodies fueled by green smoothies. And we lap it up like they are the next Messiah. It’s all lies and don’t we know it. Why do we still swoon over them? These people are marketeers, trying to make money. It is their job to make you believe their life and the products they are wearing, showing, sharing are worth coveting. Whether it is ethical to sell us a dream world, that is another question, but it gives them their income. And just like with any other advert, we can choose to either fall for it or not. If we remind ourselves that it is just futile entertainment, we stay in control and put it into perspective. If however we feel shitty about our own life as a result of scrolling their feed, then it is perhaps time to switch off the wifi and go for a walk.

Teenage angst

Now as adults and middle aged cynics like myself most of us can see through this. We scroll through Instagram or Facebook, click ‘ like’ on something we find inspiring or funny and then move on with our lives. We probably have other stuff to do. Adolescents however are not yet able to see the bigger picture and the futility of it all, and risk a number of things. First of all, there is the risk of crushing their self esteem when the dopamine doesn’t hit and their post doesn’t get liked. Big deal, we think, but for a child? Secondly, there is the pressure of social media posts by their friends, seemingly all having a better life than them, making them feel isolated and depressed. Then there is the trolling and online bullying and last but certainly not least, the danger of creepy grownups privately messaging (without you knowing) your underaged child and abusing them, virtually or – god forbid – in real life. Want to know how real this danger is? Just go and type #12yearoldgirl into the Instagram search box to see how much inappropriate comments are made by older guys who clearly know these girls are children. Time to have a closer look at your kids’ devices, their apps and the privacy settings.

Image by Elisa Boscolo from Pixabay

Pouting in the pool

What makes someone want to be on Instagram though, other than the dopamine hits? So many accounts and they are all trying to grow their followers. Fitness freaks, yogis, foodies, new mums with stylish interiors, and yes, the millions of pre-teens and adolescents trying to look like the next top model. You see that last category in bucket loads out in the wild these days. Just go to the beach, the park or hang around at pittoresk city spots and you’ll find them. They usually drag a mate along to do a shoot or they take turns pouting lips and standing in awkward positions. (Cue: girl seen from the back in bikini coming out of the swimming pool, looking seductively over her shoulder). I have even spotted mums photographing their daughters like this, obviously hoping they will be discovered as the next Kim Kardashian. That is the thing with social media: creating an account is free, making content can be creative and a lot of fun, and yes, it is possible to make a career out of it in some cases.

Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

Multi-billion dollar business

Ask any 15-year old what they want to be when they grow up and ‘paid influencer’ or ‘youtuber’ will be in the top 3. And who doesn’t like to dream of a job as someone traveling the world, posting pictures on Instagram and getting paid for it? Nearly three quarters of Gen Z and millennials in the U.S. follow influencers on social media, 86% of them would post sponsored content for money, and 54% would become an influencer given the opportunity. (source: cnbc.com). For people over 40 like me, it is astonishing to think kids idealise this online world so much, but the fact is that online marketing is a career and influencers play a huge part in it. Influencer marketing is still projected to become a $15 billion business by the year 2022, even though the market is now becoming saturated and pay can be low for many people trying to make a living out of it.

Account fatigue

If you have an Instagram account yourself, trying to promote your work as an artist or perhaps your small business, you know yourself that it requires commitment to frequently post something interesting in order to grow your brand and not lose followers. For those who have been able to make an actual career out of being an Instagrammer, some even grow tired of it. In the article The fatigue hitting influencers as Instagram evolves Brianna Madia, 29, tells about the fatigue of keeping a successful social media account alive. Madia currently lives the #vanlife, documenting her travels through the desert with her husband and two dogs. While her traveling lifestyle might seem like a dream to followers, Madia says she’s “grown tired of catering to an audience of 285,000 bosses”. She says deleting her Instagram is something that she dreams about frequently.

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Green influencers

It is not all doom and gloom in the world of Social Media though. For me personally it’s a quick and easy way to stay in touch with friends and family all over the world (especially important for me because I’m an expat). It is a great tool to find and meet like-minded people online or in local groups. Without it I wouldn’t have made all the friends and connections in my new city as quickly as I did. I also use it a lot to find out what’s on locally in terms of concerts, art exhibitions, festivals etc. and to check out the reviews on a restaurant before making a booking. It is not only a place of rampant consumerism either – some ‘influencers’ use their presence online to promote greener ways of living. Positive News lists a number of follow-worthy young people who are trying to make the world a better place. I have learnt and read about a lot of things because someone shared it on social media. Climate change, political activism, mental health, feminist and LGBT issues and equal rights, zero waste campaigns, you name it, if it wasn’t for social media we would all know a lot less about these things. And I guess that is worth a few measured dopamine shots.

How the Spanish eat five times a day and still don’t get fat

“Do you know how many times the Spanish eat per day?” I always ask tourists when I guide them around the city. “No? Five times.” “Five times?!” they answer standard in disbelief. Yep, and isn’t it wonderful? One of the great things about living in Spain is the food. And they take meal times very seriously.

spanish meal times
A terrace waiting for the lunchtime rush next to the Mercado Colon in Valencia. Don’t expect to be fed between 12 and 2! If you’ve missed almuerzo, you’ll have to wait until the restaurants open for comida.

I admire the Spanish for their sacred keeping of meal times. Ever got stared at in Spain while munching on a sandwich on the go? Exactly. Nobody does that. The amount of boxed ready made sandwiches full of additives I have eaten from Marks & Spencers in Scotland in my lifetime, is incredible. There I was at 1pm, queuing up to pay for my “meal deal”: a cold soggy sandwich from the fridge, a bottled drink and a bag of crisps or bar of chocolate. Eaten on a bench in the park, or more often back at my desk. Scoffed in about 10 minutes. Plastic waste in the bin. Every day.

Enjoy a beer with your almuerzo

So how do the Spanish do it? What are those sacred five Spanish meal times? They start with a small desayuno, a cup of coffee and a croissant or bit of toast for breakfast, mostly at home. For the kids some ‘galletas‘, thin biscuits dipped in a glass of milk. Then at 10.30 it gets more serious. Almuerzo. Terraces fill up, workers gather at the bar of a cafetaria. Bring it on. Tortilla, chorizo, ensalada rusa, bocadillos with cheese and jamon, ‘tostada con tomate’, croquetas…lots of dishes you can choose from mid morning, all freshly prepared on site. Fresh bread from the bakers. And hey, let’s just wash it all down with a glass of beer or wine. Yes, you read that right.

Spanish eating habits
Almuerzo usually means fresh bread with Spanish ham or cheese or a slice of tortilla. A plate of olives on the side and a bottle of beer on the table.

Menu del dia, the best thing since sliced bread

A few hours later, somewhere between 2 and 3 o’clock in the afternoon it is time for la comida. Lunch. Restaurants open, but shops close, and it is siesta time until about 5 for shop keepers and banks. Most office workers go back earlier. Yes, people do work in this country, believe it or not, a lot of people don’t finish work until 7 or 8 o’clock. And no, they don’t go to sleep during siesta. Maybe when you’re 80. People either go home to cook their lunch or meet with colleagues outside on the terrace of a restaurant. For three courses, usually. On week days you can eat a 3-course home cooked Menu del dia for around €10, which includes a starter, main course, coffee/dessert and a drink. Apparently a leftover from the time general Franco was in power, who in the sixties and seventies ruled that each restaurant should provide an affordable meal for people on work days. He may have been an awful dictator, but at least he got one thing right.

Valencia cafe culture

Carbs are for Comida

After a few more hours of work or school (kids also enjoy that 3-course meal at lunchtime! I drool when I read their menu each week…), it is time for number four on the list of Spanish meal times. This little meal, or rather snack, is still taken quite seriously, and happens at around 5pm when the schools are out. Merienda. “Quieres merender?” You often hear mothers ask their kids when they tumble out of the classroom, tired and hungry. No kid ever refuses, as merienda involves bread, biscuits, chocolate milk, fruit or other items children could practically live on. Most parents will just have a cup of coffee. And I suppose this bit of snacking is needed, because most kids are ferried off to football, piano or tennis lessons and they will have to sit it out until at least 9pm when the final meal of the day is served: la cena. Dinner. “Wow” the impressed tourists usually gasp by now, when I get to meal number five. But cena is not usually a very big meal. Not like our evening dinner. No plates full of pasta or otherwise carb heavy recipes. After all, you already have that 3-course meal in your belly, right? Exactly. And a tip from the tour guide: paella is never eaten at night. Remember that next time you visit Spain 😉

Spanish dinner times
The beautiful Central Market of Valencia, where it’sall about fresh produce.
Photo by Juan Gomez on Unsplash

You either eat or you talk about eating

As I am learning more Spanish by the day I am starting to understand random conversations in the street between people. It is always about food. “We either talk about food, or we eat,” a Spanish mum from school explained to me with passion the other day, while were out for a walk in the hills. “The whole objective of going out somewhere is eating together. It is the most important thing. Got something to celebrate? You go out for a meal. Meeting up with friends? It has to be centered around a mealtime and finding a nice place to eat.” I asked her why Spanish people are not all morbidly obese with all that eating. “It’s not about the quantities”, she said, “I never have huge plate fulls, but I love eating. It’s about tasting different things and appreciating the flavours. And about the social aspect.” I remember being told by a Scottish colleague once years ago that “eatin’ is cheatin’“, when I suggested we should go for something to eat before hitting the bar. I never got into that pint drinking on an empty stomach habit. I love a beer, but give me some croquetas, por favor.

Spanish dinner times
Photo by Victor on Unsplash

An all day activity and no one knows where the kids are

Needless to say that the Saturday morning hill walk was heavily interspersed with almuerzo (and cans of beer at 11am), followed by a leasurely lunch on the village square….and my new favourite thing: the ‘sobremesa‘, which basically means you all stay at the table after the meal, talk, laugh and keep bringing out drinks and snacks. For hours. The kids were playing somewhere, stole food off the table every so often and nobody really cared. Everyone had a great time. We went home at 6pm, all happy and tired.

I was wondering about what makes Spain such a pleasant and laid back country to live in. Ignore politics and bureaucracy, as these things will make you angry no matter how much vitamin D you’re soaking up, but Spanish people really know how to enjoy life. The climate helps for sure. Sunshine year round brings everybody out of their houses and together in the street. No staying indoors or in cars all day. Being outdoors, chatting and eating. Did I mention food? Spanish meal times take a bit of getting used to, your old schedule gets thrown out of the window. But it’s pleasant, as long as you go with it. “No pasa nada” is a great expression and used all the time in Spanish. “It’s OK”, relax, don’t take it all too seriously, here, have some olives.

siesta in spain
Husband doing siesta

Traveling solo at 40 versus traveling solo at 23. What’s changed?

Do you enjoy traveling solo? I have just spent two weeks in and around Singapore this month. Never been to South-east Asia before, plus I hadn’t traveled solo for longer than a few days, for many, many years. I was so excited! No kids, alone, peace and quiet. Adventure! What a gift. Off I went, to the other side of the world. It was amazing, but I also learnt a thing or two about myself. Things just ain’t the same, two kids later at the age of 40.

Little India, Singapore

I backpacked solo around Latin America in 2002 for three months, at the tender age of 23. Just graduated from university I had been working hard to save money for the big trip. I booked my flights, organised my first hostel, found a Spanish school in Quito to brush up on the much needed lingo. And then I went. Ten days later I ended up with a drip in my arm in hospital in Ecuador, after contracting an e.coli infection, probably by drinking a smoothie made with tap water. Not a great start. Good god, was I ill. My mother was worried sick and suggested I’d come home. No way! I was young, free and fearless and after four days in hospital and being discharged with a large pack of antibiotics in my pocket, I continued my journey. Got sick, now I’m better. I felt immortal! But I understand my mother, now I have children of my own.

traveling solo ecuador
Living with an indigenous family in the Andes mountains in Ecuador for a week.

I ended up having three unforgettable months, teaching me common sense, resilience, resourcefulness and flexibility. The experiences, the sights, the people, the smells, the colours, the tastes, everything was incredibly intense. Those three months have had a huge impact on my life and gave me lasting memories. I never felt so free, alive and strong as back then. If you’ve been in my shoes, you know the feeling.

Hair pin roads and views to die for

Looking back, some memories now make me both shiver with fear and smile with delight. Being on a tight budget, I often traveled through the night for 12 hours on very old buses in Peru and Bolivia. Buses full of locals in their colourful attire, preaching evangelists and sometimes a chicken. Picture narrow bumpy hair pin roads through the Andes mountains, a struggling engine and steep drops. Some wrecks of cars down below in the ravine. No toilet on board. Brief stops on the way where you could quickly pee in a dirty makeshift toilet with a bucket to flush. I felt like a true explorer, a cool solo female traveler, a tough cookie who dealt with it all. I would share dormitories with fellow backpackers, heard the craziest stories, smoked pot once at high altitude, saw landscapes that were out of this world. Absolute freedom and no responsibilities.

Bus in Bolivia
Crossing the desert in Bolivia by bus, 2002

The thought of traveling on my own seventeen years later filled me with excitement to say the least. OK, I wasn’t going for three months nor was I going to be backpacking on a tight budget, but hey, I was going VERY. FAR. AWAY. Alone. Without kids. 12 hours on a plane? Whoah! Films, books, glass of wine. Peace. Couldn’t wait.

Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

A good friend of mine was living in Singapore for a few years and I decided to take the opportunity to visit her, before she would move back to Europe. I knew it wasn’t going to be quite the same as backpacking in Bolivia, but maybe I could just get a tiny bit of that ‘cool female explorer’ freedom sensation back. Or could I?

Being in Singapore is comfortable, modern and safe (oh, and a bit pricey). Staying at my friend’s house of course was also rather nice. Seeing a new city, country and culture is fabulous and Singapore is such a melting pot of skyscrapers and colourful neighbourshoods. But don’t you think everything is more intense when you are in your early twenties and experience it all for the first time? I had a fantastic holiday, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Still, I kept looking for that same thrill I felt at 23, but it was hard to find.

from host to hostel

After a week of Singapore city life and catching up with my friend, I decided to go somewhere else for a few days, truly traveling solo. I took the ferry to nearby Indonesian island Bintan. Indonesia, that surely would be different! And yes, it was indeed, even though it was only a stone throw’s away from Singapore. Whereas nobody even looks at you in Singapore, you get stared at, called and approached as soon as you set foot on the shores of Bintan. I had booked a hostel and luckily got picked up by one of the hostel owners so didn’t have to make my own way. The hostel looked very nice online. It was cheap and basic, but the pictures looked idyllic in a very laid-back, surf shack kind of way and it had very good reviews. I was hoping to meet fellow travelers, hang out with them in the evening, visit some places on the island. Just like the good ol’ days.

The blue waters of Bintan island, Indonesia

It was funny. As soon as I sat in that taxi, no airconditioning and a driver who didn’t really take the traffic rules very seriously (were there any?), I felt nervous. What was I doing here? Wooden huts and jungle lined the road, poverty all around. Scooters and mopeds like flies crossing and passing. The heat was suffocating. I told myself to get a grip and relax. After all, I wanted a bit of adventure and real experiences, right? I was looking forward arriving at the hostel, with its palm trees and lovely terrace, chat to some people and make the most of my time on the island.

Breakfast and ants included

Then the taxi slowed down and turned left into a dirt road. Wait, what? The hostel was right there, I could see it, but it didn’t quite look like the pictures. We got out and the hostel guy guided me into the reception area. Well, let’s call it the front room of a wooden shed. It was like a sauna. There was a water tank, a kettle and a bread bin with a few white slices in it “for breakfast”. There were ants marching across the table. Did I mention it was hot? There was a shared bathroom, with no actual shower nor a bath. There was one toilet that had to be flushed with a cup of water. I got shown the one dormitory in the hostel, with six bunks and noticed only one bed was taken. But she was out for the day. It was 2pm. There was nobody there but me and the hostel guy. “It was low season.”

heat and panic

I panicked. Sitting down on my bunk bed I frantically started to think. I was going to faint. What if I fainted? Was there a hospital? Would I get rescued? What if I got sick. I got sick before in a hot place like this. Could I get dengue fever? I was on my period. How would I wash? I could see a stripe of daylight in the wall of the dormitory. Were there cockroaches here? There must be cockroaches. Only one guest? What would I do? Was this hostel safe? Where would I eat? What would I eat? I am so hot. I can’t breathe. My heart was racing. I needed to calm down. What if I die? I have two kids. I want to go home. What was I thinking? I started crying. I’m 40 years of age, I have responsibilities. I can’t stay here. I need to stay alive. Am I being silly? I probably am, but I hate this place.

traveling solo Singapore

“It’s not you – it’s me”

Unlike in 2002, even this basic hostel had wi-fi. Thank god for wi-fi. I decided I wasn’t going to stay in that hostel. I felt like a cheat and a wimp but I needed to get myself to somewhere more comfortable. “Throw some money at the problem” my husband used to say, whenever you would find yourself in a situation that needed solved immediately. He hadn’t liked the idea of me traveling solo to this island and hostel in the first place. I swallowed my pride, found a resort 3 miles up the road and booked myself a room. The hostel guy was so apologetic and scared I would give him bad reviews, but I just told him it wasn’t him – it was me. “Oh my boy, I am naive, I am 40, I thought I could still do this but I can’t, I have changed. I have lost it.” was how I felt. Instead I said:”I need a shower and there is no shower.”

The resort was bliss. I felt like a spoiled lady of leasure. Slightly ashamed but so happy. A fabulous clean private room with a fan and working airconditioning. A view over the tropical white sandy beach, waving palm trees and blue waters. This was more like it. Just wow. I opened the mini bar, took out a cold Tiger beer and scoffed the two bags of complimentary crisps out of pure relief. Bloomin’ heck. Thank god for that. I might not be that adventurous explorer anymore, but you know what, that is OK. Been there, done that. Got the pictures. Got the stories. I’m still traveling solo, alright – just in a bit more comfort. Tomorrow I go snorkeling.

traveling solo Singapore

Are you addicted to your smartphone?

Admit it, the first thing you do when you wake up is look at your phone screen to check your social media. You are addicted to your smartphone. And take a look around you when you walk outside in the street, sit in the park or catch the bus; what do you see? How many people are staring at their mobile at that very moment? It is an epidemic and no one escapes. People do not seem to be able to do ‘nothing’ any more, use every second to take out the phone and check their social media feeds, email and other news. How serious is your own addiction?

addicted to your smartphone


Scared of boredom and missing out: addicted to your smartphone

Everyone seems addicted. Just check with yourself: how often do you check your smartphone on any particular day? Five times? Ten times? Every ten minutes? You are sitting in a cafe waiting for your friends. Or even worse, your friend gets up to use the bathroom. What do you do, do you pull out your phone? I know I do. You’re on the train. Do you read a book or are you looking out the window? I bet you’re not. Do you have a nice conversation with someone sitting opposite you? What in the world did we all do before the smartphone was invented

smartphone addiction


We feel that we are fully informed about everything and everyone via our telephone. We don’t want to miss out. But most news and updates are pretty volatile and superficial, there is very little depth, unless it is propaganda from one newspaper or another. What is really going in the life of a friend on Facebook? Do you know? You see pictures of their babies, their holidays, their night out. But how are they doing? What’s hiding behind those happy faces? They may well be depressed, but hey, thumbs up for that funny photo they posted.

Checking celebrities’ Instafeeds at 2am

You read a short article or watch a funny movie of a silly cat. But how useful is all that information, is it important or is it pure entertainment? Entertainment is fine, but perhaps we don’t need it every ten minutes. We all keep telling ourselves and everybody else that we are so incredibly busy. And yes, life is busy and stressful. Work, kids. Social activities. But how true is this statement really when you seem to have time to scroll the Instagram feeds of Kim Kardashian for hours before bedtime. Then only to switch back to Facebook to see what’s new. It is a circle of infinity. And are you really influencing people’s opinions by mixing in online discussions with strangers, anonymous facebookers or twitterers, who you don’t know and from which you draw conclusions based on a few comments? Does it change the world? More importantly…does it make you feel good?

smartphone addiction

How great would you feel about yourself if you had spent those two lost hours on getting fit or doing something creative?

Without wanting to sound like your grandmother, we spend way too many hours on the mobile, wasting our time on absolute nonsense. You may jump to the defense, saying yes, but it is useful to quickly reply to some emails when I’m waiting for someone anyway. I’d say (to myself too), let’s give it a try, keep the mobile in our pocket next time we have a spare minute. Whether it is on the metro or while waiting for the kettle to boil. If you are not addicted to your smartphone, this should be an easy task. Notice what you see and hear around you. Maybe a wonderful silence. Mindfulness and all that, right?

Give your brain a break

Being alone with our thoughts, just sitting somewhere alone in public, can be scary for some people, but is in fact very healthy. All information overload that you stuff into your head all day, and especially via your smartphone and the internet, also needs time and space to be processed in your brain. Do you have trouble falling asleep at night? Or do you notice that you get annoyed quickly by small issues or people around you? This may well be the result of your addiction to the smartphone. Not healthy at all, and it only increases anxiety. Is this setting a good example for the next generation?

Take away the temptation

And then we are not even talking about the impact on work or studies. Your phone is probably sitting on your desk next to you while you are working. When you are addicted to your smartphone, the temptation is to constantly check it. New Whatsapp messages? And what happens on Twitter? Because of this constant interruption, you can concentrate less and your brain cannot absorb important information when you are constantly switching from one thing to the next. Of course you know all these things, but an addiction is hard to break. Just put your phone in another room. Better still, buy a safe and lock it.

smartphone addiction

Ready to kick the habit?

Are you addicted to your smartphone and really want to make a positive change? Here are a few things you can bring into your life to help you kick the habit.

  • Install usage tracker apps on your phone to remind you
  • Turn off notifications for apps, so your mobile doesn’t constantly attracts attention
  • Make a promise to put the phone away after the work day is over
  • Put your phone on the charger in the kitchen, not in your bedroom
  • Buy an old fashioned alarm clock, don’t use your mobile for it
  • Have a smartphone-free day – or even hour! – a week and do something positive
  • Carry an old fashioned street map and a notebook with you
  • Delete social media apps off your smartphone (ouch!)
  • Use an egg timer to become more productive: set aside 15 minutes for smartphone checking after at least one hour of doing something else.


A yoga retreat in the hills of Valencia

Shifting mindsets and gaining clarity

I turned 40 at the start of the year and I decided to celebrate this milestone by going on a yoga retreat in Valencia. Or more precisely, in the beautiful hills of Favara, just 45 minutes south of the city. Bliss! I had seen yoga teacher Jennison Grigsby‘s yoga events advertised before and a friend had become a bit of an retreat addict, so I decided to join her on the trip to see what it was all about. It turned out to be much more than just a ‘fun weekend’ without the kids. It was a mind opener and a perfect kickstart of the year ahead.

Yoga with Jennison

Jennison has been organising English-speaking yoga classes in Valencia for a few years now. originally from California, Jennison teaches a dynamic Vinyasa Flow as well as slower-paced yin yoga, often outdoors in the park or on the beach. What mostly makes her stand out from any other yoga in Valencia are her yoga experiences, such as a pure relaxation session combining yoga and reiki, a beautiful yoga & piano combo, full moon yoga classes….and of course her weekend retreats, which she organises in Spain and also Italy.

We are all in the same boat

The January yoga weekend was packed with great yoga sessions, yes, but it was so much more than that. It was also a weekend of bonding with women from different countries and different backgrounds who at first sight looked worlds apart but turned out to have so much in common. We are really all in the same boat. Some on rougher seas than others, but all trying to stay afloat, as mothers, busy worker bees or figuring out what to next in life. Sharing a weekend like this with other women is very powerful. We all carry so much, we all doubt ourselves too often and to feel connected like this, helps.


Nothing more healing than belly laughs and a walk in the hills. Plus what’s better than having all your food prepared for you three times a day? Not needing to do any dishes? The talented sisters of catering business Hinojo. prepared delicious vegan and vegetarian food. Then there was the stunning location. Picture a midcentury modern villa set in the mountains, with views to die for, a swimming pool (too cold to dive into but hey, there is always one…) and clear starry nights. It all felt utterly indulgent, but so good for my tired soul.

Yoga retreat Valencia

Intention setting and manifesting your dreams

One of the things during the weekend that really helped focus the mind, was intention setting. Rather than setting yourself goals, an intention allows you to free yourself from the limits of strict outcomes. It creates space for growth, expansion, and change, resulting in less pressure and unnecessary expectations. Setting intentions helps you to create big lifestyle changes rather than focusing on one specific goal.

So what did we do? You take a journal and jot down everything you want in life, no matter how crazy it may sound at the time! Want a villa in the mountains? Find your soulmate? Become debt free? Seeing it written down is step one. Then the next step, how are you going to set the wheels in motion and help the universe to do the rest? (“I intend to…”)

Most of my wishes were to do with my family life and how I wanted things to go a bit more smoothly and with more patience and compassion. Being a mum of two, a wife and self employed all in one – plus the fact that we recently emigrated to Spain, has not been an easy ride. Trying to look after everyone and everything is exhausting and you just keep putting yourself and your well-being at the bottom of the list. I have always felt a lot of resistance to expressing my own needs (being needy is weak, right?), so to write down what I wanted felt alien and selfish. But even doing that was so needed.

And then we all had to pull a card out of a stack of cards with different phrases and meanings, to see what was relevant to you at that very moment. Guess what I pulled? Spooky.

intention setting cards
mindfullness Valencia

Express your own needs and feel unapologetic about it

One of the more materialistic things I wrote down was that I wanted to earn more money. Well, what am I going to do to set the wheels in motion? Up my prices, ask for what I am worth and feel unapologetic about it! For years I always thought I was “still learning”, “others are much better at this sort of thing” etc, which resulted with me pricing my work too low. Writing down that I wanted to change this and that I was going to feel confident about it, was very liberating. (And you know what? On Monday I emailed two of my long term clients with the news that I was upping my prices….and they were fine with it! Because they replied :”I provide quality work for them and they value this”. It was clearly time I started valuing myself in the same way!)

yoga in valencia

I would book myself on one of these weekend retreats again without any hesitation. As you get travel, accommodation, activities and all food and drinks included, they are the price of a short holiday. But if you can treat yourself to it, or have a milestone to celebrate like I did, I thoroughly recommend it. It may just change your view on life, yourself and the future.

yoga with jennison videos

In the meantime, if anyone would like to enjoy some of Jennison’s yoga, please head over to her 21-day yoga challenge on Youtube, which I have just completed myself.

Have a great week! Or as the retreat slogan says: “Namaste all day”


yoga in valencia

Inspirational book tips: from Ikigai to Gratitude

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


Self care and listening to your inner voice

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 tips

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?

Book Tip

The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook : A Proven Way to Accept Yourself, Build Inner Strength, and Thrive.

Are you kinder to others than you are to yourself? More than a thousand research studies show the benefits of being a supportive friend to yourself, especially in times of need. This science-based workbook offers a step-by-step approach to breaking free of harsh self-judgments and impossible standards in order to cultivate emotional well-being.
PRICE: euro 16,88

Journaling ideas for a bullet journal or art journal

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

Why keep a journal? What is it for?

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

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

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

journaling ideas

Getting stuff off your chest and visualising dreams

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

Lesson 1: NO PRESSURE

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

NOBODY WILL JUDGE YOU. YOUR JOURNAL IS PRIVATE

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

Just start.


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

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

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

Journaling Ideas to write and draw:

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

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


Examples of Affirmations for journals

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

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


Borders and dividers

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

journaling borders

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

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

Journals have no rules, unless they have ruled pages.