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

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

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

Making money, doing the wrong thing

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

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

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

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

On a journey back to my values

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

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

Photo by Alex Baker images

Marketing help for creative entrepreneurs and artists

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

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

Have you gone through a similar transformation recently?

Want to know more?

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What we can learn from our children this year

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

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

We had a nice year

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

Stupid coronavirus

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

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

The sun will come up tomorrow

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

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

Reflecting on a crazy year; my positives of 2020

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

Opera singers on balconies

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

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

Heaps of creative online resources

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

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

Time as a family at home

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

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

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

The sheer joy of freedom

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

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

Not a bad day to celebrate freedom after lockdown

After the rain… fresh opportunities

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

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

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

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

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

silly covid rules
Yeah. Kids and masks.

Disinfecting the streets

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

The 1-mile pool walk

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

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

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

The taped off toilet cubicles

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

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

Booking a time slot at the zoo

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

Shoulder to shoulder on a plane

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

silly covid rules
Do I look anxious? Or mad?

Nose against the football fence

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

Closure of play grounds

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

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

silly covid rules

Follow the arrows in an empty museum

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

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

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

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

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

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

Figuring out the meaning of relationships

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

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

My love is a permanent marker

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

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

Seven unexpected benefits of wearing a face mask

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

benefits of wearing a face mask

1. You don’t have to speak to people

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

Hi! It’s me!

2. No more cold noses

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

3. You save on makeup

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

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

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

benefits of wearing a face mask

5. You can play ninjas

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

benefits wearing face mask

6. No more stinky breaths

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

benefits of wearing face mask

7. You don’t have to kiss strangers

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


Escaping algorithms, just what the doctor ordered

We all hate wearing face masks right now. They are uncomfortable, make breathing difficult, cause skin rashes and, to be honest, just look silly. In Spain, where I live, face masks are compulsory almost everywhere, unless you are at home, stuffing your face in a café, lying on the beach, hiking in nature or doing sports. My children and their teachers have to wear the masks for up to 8 hours a day: in class, at break time outside AND at P.E. They only take them off at lunchtime, for obvious reasons. Many other countries don’t have the rule of face masks in primary schools, but here in Spain, the numbers of contagion are so high right now, that everyone is petrified.

How long will this go on for?

I was and still am critical and sceptical about the severity of the virus compared to the enormous long term economic impact of the lockdown and ongoing restrictions. There is no doubt the strict lockdown was needed back in March when thousands were getting seriously ill and were dying. Many families lost loved ones and are still grieving. Hospital staff was working around the clock. The problem is, however, that we don’t know how long the virus is going to go on for. The world is eagerly – or less eagerly – waiting for a vaccine, but will this actually work?

covid conspiracy theories

And what would we do if there suddenly was a whole new virus? Would we just stop living? Another lockdown? Wear a face mask forever? Create another vaccine? More money to Big Pharma? And what about other diseases, are we not worried about them any more? The news is hysterical, politicians are fighting, people are becoming more polarized on social media. Businesses are going bust. It is exhausting. I noticed myself getting more frustrated and angrier by the day, rolling my eyes at stupidity on social media and hating the face mask with a vengeance. Then this week I happened to stand beside two GPs, or family doctors, outside the school gates, who are among the parents in my son’s class. I decided to ask them about the situation. Most doctors have a certain calm over them and a great skill of putting things into perspective. I needed some of that.

Overly cautious

“What do you think about the mask wearing in primary schools?” I asked the mum GP. “Oh, I know, they are horrible. I am wearing one all day too in the clinic. It saves on having to use makeup though!”, she laughed. “I have cousins in the Netherlands”, she continued, “and I am aware of schools in other countries too not having the mask rule for children. Children are not the problem. But right now, in Spain, schools have only just opened, and we all need them to stay open. We have waited so long! They want to prevent anyone from getting sick, so are extra careful. Maybe too careful. I expect, in a few months time, when we start to see that infection hardly takes place in schools among primary aged children, rules will be relaxed a bit.” I hope so.

covid conspiracy theories

I asked her husband what he saw in his profession right now in terms of Covid infections and whether it is as bad as the media tell us. He said: “After the first wave in Spring, we had nearly no one getting sick in July, but now we see a rise again, yes. The symptoms are very different though and most newly infected patients have no symptoms at all. They have had a test done for whatever reason, ended up being positive, and they call us up because they don’t know what to do. They don’t feel sick, and they are confused.”

No symptoms, no problems…then why still panic?

So why are we still so worried and hysterical about the virus if symptoms are so mild and almost nobody is dying? I asked him. “Because there is always a small percentage that will end up in hospital and ICU”, he answered. With only a few infections, that small percentage is negligible, but with the big rise we are seeing right now, that percentage naturally means that more people are going to need hospital beds. We need ICU beds for other illnesses too, they haven’t disappeared. And now we are heading towards winter. Traditionally every January hospitals are full of patients suffering from complications from the normal flu virus. We just do not have enough capacity for both COVID patients and flu victims. We have to flatten the curve. That is the reason. There is hope that we may not see such a big spike in normal flu infections among older people due to the use of face masks this year. But we just don’t know.”

And the vaccine? I asked. Will we all have to line up for a compulsory vaccine next year? “No, I don’t think so”, the dad GP replied calmly. “It will take a while before it is here anyway and then I expect it will be offered first to the people who are most vulnerable, like older people, like with the normal flu vaccine.”

Rabbit holes and rubbish blog posts like mine

Our conversation got cut short as we were overrun by excited kids coming out of class, but I am glad I spoke to actual doctors, face to face (mask). In a crazy year like this, it is so easy to get caught up in social media feeds and online discussions, mistrust mainstream media and do your own ‘research’, going down all kinds of rabbit holes, searching for ‘the truth’. It is great to inform yourself, of course, but not everyone is aware of how they are manipulated online in their opinion shaping without even knowing it. With every click.

If you haven’t watched The Social Dilemma on Netflix yet, I recommend it. You suddenly understand how dangerous and misleading the algorithms of platforms like Facebook and Youtube are and how you end up only seeing and finding posts, documents, videos and groups that constantly confirm what you already believe in, and which only strengthens that belief, so you see it as the truth. You are right, they are wrong. But this also happens on the other side of the scale. The result? More extremes, less middle ground. Conflict. In politics, in pandemics, across the world. We all have our own beliefs, and that is OK. You don’t have to agree with me. You may even think this blog post is rubbish. Those GP’s might be wrong. Sometimes however, getting offline and talking to actual people, away from the spell of algorithms, is just what the doctor ordered.

Yurt living in Spain. Meet Kausay eco community

Have you ever dreamed about leaving it all behind and moving into a yurt, in nature, far away from the madding crowd? That is exactly what a group of Dutch-American families did in the province of Valencia. Down a single track road 4km from the nearest small village, we find Kausay, a small eco community tucked away in a green valley in between the rocky hills of Enguera. The sound of crickets in the air; the smell of ripe carob fruit falling from the trees. We had the opportunity to experience first hand what life is like, living off-grid, eating straight off the land and ‘unschooling’ the children. Yurt living in Spain, it wasn’t quite glamping but it sure was a treat.

yurt living in spain
Yurt living in Spain: our beautful Mongolian yurt in the middle of nature

Freedom away from the covid madness

During the final week of the summer holidays we decided to go camping before the schools were back. After six months of having the children at home because of the pandemic, we were more than ready for school, but we wanted to escape the city one last time. I was searching for natural campsites around Valencia, but was put off by so many Covid restrictions. Then I spotted a post on Facebook by one of the members of Kausay community, offering a yurt as an alternative camping experience, and I booked.

I had no idea what to expect, other than that we were renting this great big Mongolian tent for three nights and would be spending some time in nature, with no Wi-Fi. But we ended up having much more than a random camping trip. We really felt part of the community for a short while, cooking and sharing meals, talking under the shady trees, picking organic food straight off the land and having a peek into a life that is so different from ours and that of many others.

yurt living in spain
The gorgeous interior of the yurt at Kausay community in rural Spain

Permaculture as a way of life

Most yurt rentals are advertised as glamping, as it appears a bit more luxurious than crawling around in a pup tent. It certainly felt very comfortable, having a double bed and bunk beds inside this large round living area. It even had a wood burner for the winter. But that is where it ends in terms of luxury. If you expect a jacuzzi and fancy on-site camping facilities, this is not your place. Luxury is the last thing that Kausay community is aiming for on their land: members Ellen, Jeroen, Inge and Brother and their children are working hard at building an eco village based on simplicity, trying to be as self-sufficient as possible, and producing very little waste. On their large plot of land we find one small cottage, five Mongolian yurts, and a couple of bell tents regularly used by visiting volunteers. A shared, fully kitted out kitchen shed and a large picnic table overlooking the vegetable garden, form the heart of the community.

A good part of the land is used as a vegetable garden, developed through permaculture. Permaculture is more than a set of gardening techniques, it is a way of living where you carefully think about the way you use your resources – food, energy, shelter and other material and non-material needs. Permaculture tackles how to grow food, build houses and create communities, and minimise environmental impact at the same time. The two families don’t tackle this big project all by themselves; a string of international volunteers visits and helps out year-round, adding to the community vibe.

yurt community spain
The shared kitchen shed forms the heart of the community
permaculture spain
A greenhouse to propagate seedlings

Compost toilets and how to use them

At Kausay community even human waste is recycled into compost. Compost toilets take some getting used to, as you don’t use water to flush, but instead sprinkle wood shavings to cover your deposits down below in the waste bin. Toilet paper goes in it as well, so don’t worry, you don’t have to wipe your behind with a handful of grass. A spray bottle with vinegar keeps the seat clean. Pretty easy, really. You do have to be patient when it comes to composting your own poop; it takes no less than two years before you can spread it out over your veg plot. Slow living and all that.

compost toilet how does it work
A compost toilet, how does it work?

Upcycling as a way of life

One of the things we loved at Kausay community is the creative use of materials, giving rubbish a new purpose. Large bathroom tiles as table coasters, old metal beds to elevate herbs that are drying in the sun covered by old windows. The women in the group, Inge and Ellen, together designed and built the almost temple-like building that houses two toilet cubicles. They found a pile of old kitchen cupboard bits and doors in a skip one day and made the solid wooden doors into decorative walls around the toilets. The outdoor wash basins and taps are new. The waste collecting bins are built underneath the building, and can be accessed from the back and removed once full.

yurt community spain
Compost toilets in the eco community in Spain
compost toilet design
Ellen building the roof of the toilet cubicles

A fancy outdoor solar-powered shower

The shower cubicles were another design that was very effective and well-thought-out. The rust-free metal sheets give the building a modern look, but are also preventing the cubicles from starting to look mouldy or dirty, like you would quickly by using wood for this purpose. On top of the roof coiled up black tubes are heated up during the day and provide a lovely hot shower. The shower tray, taps and sinks were bought new. A concrete base forms the foundation. The shower heads themselves are made from 5 litre plastic water bottles, placed horizontal, cut open at the top to collect the water from the tubes above and pierced at the bottom to give a rain shower effect. Genious! As the water gets recycled as well, you are only meant to use natural shampoos.

yurt community in Spain
Solar powered shower cubicles in the yurt community in Spain
solar powered outdoor shower
A pretty cool design! Outdoor solar powered shower. There is a gas bottle backup solution for the colder months.

From a corporate life to off-grid living

As we got to know the people who live in Kausay community a little bit over the course of our stay, we heard some fascinating stories. Career paths that many of us can relate to, but few ever leave. A busy corporate life, all about making money, managing people and businesses – making some rich and happy but most of us miserable and depressed. It takes guts, hitting rock bottom or a very strong calling, to escape the rat race in search for something else. Finding the thing you knew you were always going to do in the end. And then doing it.

Most of the residents in the community are now therapists or yoga teachers. Retreat leaders, mindfulness coaches, reflexologists, to name a few. But what they all do best and which binds them together, is just simply being. “Life here has really made me at peace with who I am on this planet. Close to nature, working with the land, appreciating being human.”, said Brother, who himself lives in a yurt with his young family. His presence oozes calm, and I can see how digging the earth, watching things grow and moving with the seasons, can be a real balm for the soul. Away from the fast-paced corporate world, fear-mongering media and consumerism. Our children played together all day with hardly a peep. Most of the time, we had no idea where they were. Educating themselves, I guess.

Family retreats and walking in silence

Except for bringing up their families and growing food, Kausay community also organises retreats on their land to share their way of life with others. Silent walking retreats, where you combine walks to waterfalls with meditation and mindfulness. Or you can go on a family retreat. This basically means you stay in the community for a week with your children. Doesn’t sound very peaceful to you, you say? Well, wait till you hear this: the kids do activities on a nature trail all morning while you can focus on your well-being during yoga and meditation sessions. Wonderful. I’m signing up. A bit of yurt living now and then will do me the world of good.

To find out more about upcoming retreats or to rent a yurt for a few days, visit their Facebook page or website.

www.facebook.com/pg/Kausaycommunity
www.kausaycommunity.com

Where is this yurt community in Enguera, Spain?

eco community spain
The retreat yurt, where yoga and meditation sessions take place
Nina's Apartment blog

Turn your camera roll into a gorgeous photo album online with Photobox

How many photos do you have on your mobile camera roll right now? Do you turn your digital snapshots into actual printed photo albums? For many years now I make an annual photo album of our family pics. It takes a bit of time, but I am so glad I kept it up. The books are real keepsakes in our house and often get taken down from the shelf to flick through. It is wonderful to see and remember what we were up to that particular year. I often include text as well; some funny phrases the children said or some things that happened in our lives that year. The children love looking at themselves as babies – and I just sigh and reminiscence at the thought of how time flies. Today I am going to tell you all about Photobox who I have happily used for nearly a decade.

Choosing a company to create a photo album online

There are many different websites for creating a beautiful photo album online and most also offer the easy option to automatically put an album together for you. This is especially handy for those who find it hard to think of a nice layout or simply don’t have the time. I love creating and publishing – as you will know from reading my blog – so I happily fiddle about with photos, backgrounds and embellishments until it’s 100 % right. Within the Photobox editing system you can choose layouts for up to five photos per page, coloured and patterned backgrounds, type fonts, frames and graphic elements such as speech bubbles, lines and even pieces of ‘tape’ or paperclip images to give the impression of a scrap book. Go for minimalist black and white backgrounds or have a different background on each page. Choose a soft or hard cover, A4 or a small square. There are endless possibilities. What about making a professional looking recipe book for yourself, with all your favourite dishes?

How do you create a great photo album?

My top tips for creating the best photo album online?

  1. Play around with different layouts (just one striking photo for example or a group of five), but keep consistency by only using three or four layouts throughout the book.
  2. Choose a style for your book in advance, perhaps go for a minimalist look or make it fun and colourful with lots of embellishments
  3. Use the same type font and colour scheme throughout for a great, professional looking design.

INCLUDE QUOTES, ANECDOTES, PICTURES OF DRAWINGS…ANYTHING THAT IS IMPORTANT TO YOU

As for the pictures themselves: if you are making a year book, use every day life, honest photographs and don’t include too many posed ones. Raw images are much more interesting in the long run than the family portraits next to the Christmas tree. Treat your photo album as a journal or a photo documentary. I even include pictures of school projects or drawings by the boys. In the future you will find it hard to remember those very normal things you or your family did it that particular year, so how lovely is it to keep a memory of those moments in pictures? I love our family photo albums mostly because of this approach. Keep it real, people! Leave out perfection. At the time I hated my husband taking that picture at 6am, me being unwashed and exhausted, breast feeding my baby while watching Thomas the Train with my 2-year old in the living room, but now I am so grateful it exists. I also usually include a few nice selfies, just to remind myself when I am old and grey, that really, I did look pretty good back then.

The best pictures? Capture the moment, good or bad

Portraits and posed group photos are fine of course, but don’t omit the random shots. Photos of people who are unaware of the camera often capture the moment much better. A sleeping child, friends laughing, your parents chatting. Exhaustion, boredom, a day in a life. I also take photos of our home: untidy, raw, like a time capsule. Look, this is what the house looked like when we had young children and life was crazy. It doesn’t all have to be Instagram ready. This is your life, your photo album and you will cherish that forever, promise.

Easy uploading, organising and editing a photo album online

As always, I only post about brands I like and Photobox is one of them, because of its user-friendliness and the quality of the products. You can simply upload and organise your photos in albums and come back later to create a product. You can edit your creation, save it and finish it later, no need to do it all on the same day. I mainly order their photo albums online, but have also created calendars a few times, which were great for ourselves and as gifts. Mugs, fridge magnets, canvasses and prints are other examples of products you can create with your photos. If you have created something in the past you can also simply order another copy at a later date, or order the same album for yourself and the grandparents.

Photobox special offer code

The other great thing about Photobox are their big discount offers, which come past fairly regularly. I usually wait until a Photobox offer code lands in my email inbox before ordering my finished product. You can save a lot on the price of a photo album online, which helps when you have a big book with about 30 to 60 full-colour pages. This August there is a 50% Photobox offer on all photo books, no code needed. Not got anything ready yet? Simply buy the credit and you have two months to use it.

Shipping internationally

After moving to Spain I wasn’t sure whether I could continue my annual photo albums with them, being a UK company. Luckily they ship internationally and I am happy to pay for the additional cost.


Click on the image below for the current discount link:

photobox promotion code

The crazy effects of lockdown on your mental health

Remember the first week of quarantine? It was all still new and you’d receive at least twenty Whatsapp messages each day with funny memes, homeschooling tips and hilarious or heart warming videos of life in lockdown. We were feeling OK, positive and were just going along with it all. Life was different, but OK. We could see the humour in it too. We are eight weeks at home now. And there is very little left of that optimism. The memes have dried up. We are all done with it.

Lockdown exhaustion

Last night I cried and emptied half a bottle of wine by myself. We thought after this weekend we would go into ‘phase 1’ of post-quarantine life, but last night the government changed its mind. Only certain areas of Spain are given that ‘freedom’ of going out a bit more than just one hour a day. We were beaten with a stick, back into our corner, at least that is how some people described it. Valencia and a number of other Spanish cities and districts were going to stay where they were, probably for another 15 days. Why? Reasons.

Conscious living blog

An empty cup

I sound like a spoiled child. I know it won’t last, I know this is not about me and I can put it into perspective. I have food on the table and a roof over my head, my family is healthy. I know this is nothing compared to what other people go through. Exhausted nurses. People who lost their income. People stuck at home in abusive relationships. People in poor countries, starving. People fleeing from war. I know.

But I feel what I feel and I am not alone. It is Covid-19 depression. And I don’t normally get depressed. But as someone who likes her own company and loves her freedom…this is really hard. I am feeling anxious just knowing that I am not allowed out to do some exercise by myself until 8pm at night. That come September I will have had my beloved but very noisy children at home for nearly seven months. There is no escape. I am an empty cup and there is nowhere to get a refill. The homeschooling is draining, family life 24/7 is too much, not being able to be as active as normal is making me sluggish and fat and I miss seeing my friends. I miss my band, I miss walking around the city, I miss walking in nature. I miss putting my toes in the sand at the beach. It’s the little things that are becoming vital for mental health.

conscious living blog

Keyboard warriors

Beside feeling depressed and drained, there is another thing that bugs me. This crisis started out as something we thought we would tackle together as a worldwide community with good common sense and a few weeks at home, but it is developing into something more sinister. It is dividing the population. Suddenly everyone has an opinion about Covid, masks, health and what is going on and it is NOT helping the situation. The rebels and the compliant people. The freedom fighters and the rule-followers. The anti-vaxxers and the Trump fans. The conspiracy theorists, the whistle blowers and the scientists. Left and right. The ‘awakened’ people and the blind sheep. They are all disagreeing – online mainly, as keybord warriors. People are starting to spread fear. They become afraid. Distance is created between us, literally. Masks have replaced freedom and joy. Mistrust and anger have arrived.

The aliens are coming to get us. Or something.

Social Media is plastered in opinions and heated discussions. The longer this lockdown lasts, and with too much time to think, the more people are starting to share stuff. Crazy theories, conspiracy theories, reasonable theories, all kinds of stories, published on Youtube or obscure blogs and alternative websites. Some make sense, most are ridiculous. With so many ideas and possibilities, people start to doubt everything. They want an answer. They want something to hold onto and follow. This surreal situation is too much to grasp. Who is speaking the truth? Is the government lying? Is the corona-virus a hoax? Is Bill Gates trying to kill us? Is 5G to blame? Are we all going to get a digital chip rammed into us through a compulsory vaccine next winter? Are the Chinese taking over the world? Or are the powerful people secretly aliens? It is wild out there. Links with the past are being made. Fingers are pointed.

conscious living blog

Even well educated friends and family are sending videos and articles which they want you to watch because they “are really interesting”. You watch and read and wonder whether they have lost their marbles. Or have you? What if they are right? We are bombarded and are drowning in information. We start to worry. Are we missing a trick? So we read a bit more. Do we need to speak up? To whom? We mistrust the news, we start mistrusting each other. We don’t know who to believe anymore. We share stuff on Facebook without checking the facts. But what are the facts?

We need to stop this shit. right now. We are making ourselves sick.

I don’t know what is true and I am not trying to convince anyone. Believe whatever you want to believe in. But I tend to keep both feet firmly on the ground and not be swept away by all sorts of theories and stories coming out of the woodwork. Fear, uncertainty and an economic crisis are a breeding ground for unrest, hate and uproar. Politicians, especially the ones we don’t want to see in power, will take advantage of this tasty cocktail at the next elections. They need us to be divided. That is a thing we can learn from the past, whatever wacky conspiracy theory you choose to follow.

Nina's Apartment blog

The planet is healing…but for how long?

Back in March, when this lockdown started, none of this felt so heavy. It just looked like the rat race had stopped and we were all slowing down. Many of us felt more creative, calmer and even saw the Covid quarantine as a positive change for the world. Planet earth was healing. And yes, it has in some ways had good things coming out of it. The seas are quieter, which encourages dolphins to come closer to the beach and even into the waters of Venice. The Himalayas are visible again from India, for the first time in many years because of less pollution. It was lovely to live in silence for a while here at home too, without the noise of traffic and instead hearing birdsong. Eight weeks later I am not so sure anymore how much of this change will stick. Big business is dying to get back to normal, as much as we are all dying to escape the house. Flights are on the horizon come June. I am an optimist by nature, but I don’t expect that pure capitalism will make place for a different, more balanced way of life any time soon. Here’s hoping.

Conscious living blog

Stories in our head

My mother once taught me a lesson, to keep things close to home when the world feels too much to bear. “Keep it small and go from there.” Look after yourself, your loved ones and your immediate community. You can’t carry the whole world on your shoulders, but you can make a difference at home. We can allow ourselves to be suffocated by the endless stream of news and information, becoming fearful and worried. We can allow ourselves to become angry. We can shout at the world and people on social media, we can point fingers, we can keep scanning all the articles on the net and searching the millions of videos on Youtube, looking for ‘the truth’. Or we can choose not to. Instead, we can choose to hold what we have, look at what is reality around us and live in the now. We can lie awake worrying about what could happen, what the future could look like, who or what could be behind it all. But these thoughts are only stories in our head and are not real.

This lockdown and any other abnormal situation, play tricks on the mind, that’s for sure. Because so much is unknown, unfamiliar and just plain weird, people panic and look for answers. Call me naive, blind or someone who keeps her rose tinted glasses firmly in place, but I don’t think it makes any difference to the world whether I spend all day scanning the web – or not. It does however make a huge difference to my health and well-being. Anxiety lowers the immune system. That doesn’t mean that I am not critical, or don’t make informed decisions in life. But right now I just need to look after my sanity.

Smiling at strangers

In times like these I believe it is better to turn off the TV and the internet and all the distractions in the media and go back to basics. Hard I know, for me as well, when we are stuck at home with too much time to kill. Let’s go outdoors and smell the flowers. Exercise. Work. Sing. Meditate. Focus on things we do have control over. Smile at strangers, even with a mask on. Life is precious. Breathe and feel the sun on your face.