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.

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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.

Home schooling in times of a pandemic. Worth it?

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.

covid 19 mental health impact
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.

covid 19 mental health impact
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?

covid 19 mental health impact
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.

covid 19 mental health impact
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.

covid 19 mental health impact
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!

covid 19 mental health impact
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.

lockdown mental health advice
“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.

covid 19 mental health impact

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.

covid 19 mental health impact

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.

covid 19 mental health impact
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.

Nina's Apartment blog

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?

Nina's Apartment blog
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.

covid 19 mental health impact

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.

covid 19 mental health impact

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 smart phone, 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 mealtimes. 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 mealtimes? They start with a small desayuno, a cup of coffee and a croissant or a 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 mealtimes. 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 we’re 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 centred 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 leisurely 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 are 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 is 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.

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