Category Archives: Miscellaneous

COVID-19 -Homeschooling what? A few recommended online resources

There’s a reason why I’m not a teacher. And that’s not going to change. However, during times of crisis we all have to deal with things that take us out of our comfort zone, for example, not being able to leave the house with two little kids…

Honestly there are so many online resources, web pages with information, educational sites for kids, etc. that what is most difficult is to find good ones. Or ones that don’t make you pay before you use anything. At my older son’s school they didn’t send us any work this last week to let other people catch up from previous weeks, and next week is Easter “holiday”, so we won’t have anything either. I’ve been scouring the internet myself to try to find things to print out to put together some sort of homework pack for the week.

Although it’s not a long list, here are a few resources that I’ve used that have been helpful:

1. https://www.verywellfamily.com/best-free-educational-websites-for-kids-3129084 This web has a list of 17 web sites with a mix of educational information, games, etc. So far from what I’ve seen there are a lot of interesting things. Some are a bit too old for my 6 year old, but again there’s a good mix:

2. www.pbskids.org Any American will know PBS from when you were little. My 6 year old loves this site. It has a lot of easy, interactive games for little ones and videos.

3. https://www.education.com/home-learning/?cid=10.177 This site is generally pay, but they are offering a lot of great, free resources now. I’ve printed out a lot of the Independent Study Packs and used the worksheets to put together lessons. They have from pre-school to 5th grade and by subject. There are also a few easy, interactive games and guided lessons

4. https://es.ixl.com/math/infantil This one is in Spanish. It’s full of short, interactive exercises that your kids can do on the computer to practice math and reading. So far I’ve used it for basic math.

My last reco isn’t a web site, but we printed out “Happy meal box templates” that we found online and made homemade happy meals, complete with chicken nuggets, french fries and of course a small toy (make sure you have this before starting). There are tons, but here’s just one example:

And here’s how they came out 🙂

I have to say the kids really loved this one. I would definitely recommend it!

Good luck!

COVID-19 Lockdown Day 12: the kids are alright; it’s the parents who aren’t. Two things keeping my sanity.

Cue The Who: The kids are alright. Lots of talk about the poor kids not being able to play outside and memes with kids escaping or having meltdowns. They’re going to be so upset… the truth is that the kids are quite alright! It’s the parents who are going crazy with this lockdown. I’m the one who’s going to be hitting myself in the head with a toy gun soon.

Maybe it’s just in my case – please I’d love to hear feedback from others – but my two little kids don’t seem to be bothered in the least that they’re home playing all day….in fact I think it’s going to be tough to take them out of the quarantine. School? Wait, what’s that?!

For sure the ones that are going crazy being stuck in the house are the parents. From time to time I silently put on my jacket and sneak out to “the outside” to buy bread at the gas station. I feel like a delinquent.

Two things that are keeping me sane during these times:

  1. Exercise. For years now I’ve been an outdoor runner since that’s really the easiest and fastest form of exercise with little kids. Cut to quarantine – I’m becoming a big fan of Hiit/Cardio videos on Youtube. When you’re given lemons, make lemonade. Some of my favorite channels that I’ve found so far, although really there are endless free ones:
  2. Music. The best way I’ve found to take a little breather and zone out mentally is with music. I’ve always liked music, but there’s something about it these days that helps to have that little bit of mental escape. (you can put on your headphones, turn up the volume and tune out screaming kids :)) The best I’ve found so far is this one: every day from 14-15h (Spain time) Bob Sinclar spins a streaming live awesome mix through his facebook channel. It’s great, if you like that kind of music. I’m still waiting for David Guetta to get into the mix. Definitely open to hearing any other suggestions or channels!
Bob Sinclar live session today

Bob Sinclar live session today

Keep calm. The end is near…

Customer Experience during COVID-19 – more important than ever!

If you’ve followed my blog in the past and/or read some of my past entries you’ll know that Customer Experience is something I’m very passionate about. There are two main reasons for this: 1) I used to work on a research team at Forrester Research dedicated to the importance of Customer Experience and showing the real ($$) benefits of companies taking this seriously, and 2) when I moved to Spain I realized how I had really taken customer experience for granted in the US. Spain had a LONG way to go. Fourteen years later the whole Customer Experience “thing” has definitely gained importance over here, but the customer is still not always the priority. In general in Spain I usually go into “Atención al cliente” calls assuming that they will tell me I’m wrong or being the one to blame. Some companies are better than others, but overall it’s still not a priority. You can find a number of past articles in my blog about my experiences.

One thing I’m pretty clear about: customers don’t easily forget bad experiences! Now, as we’re on the brink of a severe economic crisis that is affecting and paralyzing almost all sectors, it’s the best time for companies to show customers that they care about them and give them something memorable. When the COVID-19 crisis is over and things get back to normal (yes they will), I can guarantee that people would be more than likely to do business again with a company that has treated them well and/or showed them care during the crisis than ones that have put their own priorities first or ignored customers during this time of uncertainty.

A couple of my experiences:

  • Hotels. I had 2 different trips that have completely gone out the window (and 2 possible out the windows) with this crisis. In both of the non-salvageable cases I wrote directly to the hotels that I had reserved to cancel. In one case I paid for a non-refundable weekend stay at a hotel in Barcelona. Given the situation I wrote asking to use the already-paid for weekend at a later date, not trying to get my money back. I was very happy to receive a personal note back a few days later saying that this wouldn’t be a problem. In the future if I have to make another trip I will definitely consider booking with Hotel Balmoral again. In the other case I had a hotel reserved in Marrakech with free cancellation; I’m still waiting for them to get back to me to confirm the change.
  • Airlines. This is a big one. The airline industry is being completely destroyed by this epidemic, and there’s not much that can be done with global travel restrictions. However, again, at some point in the future people will start traveling again and airlines will be back up and running. Although loyalty in the airline industry is pretty much limited to gaining points and not any real loyalty to the brand itself, I’m sure that a customer will be more likely to try to fly with an airline that has treated them well with any reservation cancellations or flight changes during this time than one that has not. I’ve spoken with quite a few friends that had trips that have been cancelled, and they’ve had pretty much a lack of response/clear answers from the airlines. Tomorrow I have to call Iberia to cancel a reservation I made with avios; since it’s not completely cancelling a full-cost flight, but rather one booked with points, it should be easier. Still I’ll be interested to see how they handle the call.
  • Online shopping. This is probably one of the few areas that is having an incredible boost these days. All I have to say is thank goodness for Amazon! We may not be able to leave the house, but I’ve been able to order a number of things to keep the kids entertained, and the delay has been minimum.
  • Also, another great experience with Mizuno (not related to the current crisis, but just a great example of customer experience): I bought some new running shoes a few weeks, a new style from Mizuno, a brand I love. Unfortunately for whatever reason the new style just didn’t work for me – I tried running with them 4 or 5 times, but every time afterwards ended up with pain in my legs. (I’m pretty sure I was straining some muscles that I wasn’t used to using.) Anyway, I contacted Mizuno to ask if I could return the shoes even though I had already used them a few times. Their response wasn’t 100% clear, but I tried anyway. If not it would have been 140€ thrown down the drain. After shipping the shoes back to Mizuno (with a pre-paid return label) I was happy to receive an email less than a week later acknowledging their receipt, apologies that I wasn’t 100% satisfied and telling me that a credit was already being processed to my account.

Now, as soon as I can actually leave the house and go outside to run again the first thing I will do is order new running shoes from Mizuno. They will definitely count on my business in the future.

 

 

Madrid COVID-19 quarantine – Day 7

Spain just announced that the official lockdown has been extended until April 12th. So, in the best-case scenario we’re looking at another 3 full weeks inside until things can potentially get back to “normal”. This isn’t surprising – they announced last night that we can only expect the overall situation to get worse in the coming weeks. Hey, if this is what it takes for things to get better and finally get back to “normal” then it’s what we need to do.

Just to clarify, when I say official lockdown I don’t mean the kind where there are recommendations for social distancing and staying at home to flatten the curve. I’m talking about not being allowed to leave our houses. You can get fined by the police if you’re out on the street without a justifiable reason. No complaints here – while we stay healthy and safe I can’t complain.

And on a positive note my sense of smell/taste is finally starting to come back, slowy but surely!

On another positive note there are so many different entertainment options available online these days it seems the real problem is not having enough free time with the kids around to be able to take advantage. Some cool ones I’ve seen so far have been live concerts that artists are putting on from their homes, like Alejandro Sanz, Chris Martin, Bob Sinclair. Not sure about David Guetta but I’d love to see him. For the kids our house has converted into a 24 hour arts and crafts gallery/lego making station. Hey, whatever works.

At night we’re still continuing with our solidarity applauses and cheers at 8pm from our balcony. For the kids its the moment when they get excited to put on their jackets and shoes and go outside to see all the neighbors and lights. I hope this will continue and keep everyone’s spirits up. I just spoke to some friends in Italy who told me that this has kind of died out over there where they are at least (now they’re already on 2 weeks of quarantine),; hopefully we can keep it up here, at least for the kids’ sake, and as a bit of motivation for all.

I’ll leave with this image, drawings my son put up on our terrace this morning to share with the neighbors. #wecanbeatthis:

IMG_3540

 

 

 

Madrid lockdown -Do I have COVID-19?

After hearing the latest news about common symptoms in COVID-19 cases, I’m  thinking it’s quite likely that I have a mild case of the virus or at least a clear case of some key symptoms.
The virus is so prevalent here I’m not surprised. First there were some cases in my office, and they say it can incubate in your system for weeks. Then my son had a high fever for six days (they say in kids it can manifest as normal “sick” kid symptoms or totally asymptomatic). At the beginning of the lockdown I had one night with fever and chills, but then the next day I felt more or less back to normal. Now for about 4 days I’ve had a bad cough, really dry and annoying, to be quite honest. But the strangest thing, and what I didn’t even think about until this morning, was the other symptom – for the last 3 days I’ve had absolutely no sense of smell or taste. When I mean none I mean like today when I made a bag of popcorn for my kids and couldn’t smell it. At all. It seems like this loss of sense and smell is common in 3/4 of the cases, normally at the end of the infection. Check out this  Forbes article today..

How strange. I’m still not sure if what I have is more of a sinus infection/cold or COVID-19, but it’s eye opening nonetheless.
This morning I called the dedicated number that the community of Madrid has set up for COVID. They asked me four questions – after I answered that I don’t have a fever or any shortness of breath it was over. The answer: stay home, as we’re doing, and just monitor things.
So hopefully this will disappear soon. TBC

 

 

COVID-19 Lockdown in Madrid – Day 4

Another day – check! T- ???

Two important things I learned today:

  1. Cardboard boxes (especially if they’re big) are the solution to everything. Next time we have a birthday or occasion for gifts I’m definitely going to think twice about buying anything

IMG_3284

2. 8pm is now one of our favorite times of the day. It started as a spontaneous moment the first day of the official quarantine at 10pm where everyone went out on their terraces to clap in appreciation of the medical staff and support who are working around the clock to fight this. Now this has turned into a nightly 8pm clapping ritual with kids. After the first day it was announced that the following day at 8pm we would repeat so that kids could join. Now it’s a routine, jackets, shoes and all, to go out on the terrace and join our neighbors in clapping. The kids love it. Today someone in an apartment not too far away started playing what sounded like the drums. I’m looking forward to tomorrow!

COVID-19 lockdown in Madrid – 5 thoughts

We’re now officially on Day 3 of the government-enforced quarantine here in Madrid. I never would have imagined something like this happening a few years ago. Actually,  I never would have imagined something like this happening a few months ago, let alone a few weeks ago, but here we are. We’re at war with an invisible enemy.

Every time I see the news there’s something new: Spain is closing its borders, Western Europe is closing its borders, the number of cases in Spain is almost at 12,000 (a few days ago it was roughly half)… I’m thinking about trying to not watch the news for a little bit, although that will probably be hard to do. What’s also startling is the economic impact that we’re already seeing and will probably see for many years. In Spain a number of large companies have already announced massive temporary layoffs to thousands of employees. If companies are completely shut down and don’t have any income I guess there is no other viable option, but it’s still startling nonetheless.

IMG_2546

Here’s a picture of the supermarket the day people went crazy and thought a zombie apocalypse was coming.

And here is the supermarket the next day stocked up and ready to go. Clearly this was a false sense of security that things were under control as this was 2 days before 100% quarantine.

 

On a personal note, I can’t remember the last time I spent so much uninterrupted time at home, especially without having any defined end in sight. In my opinion this is definitely a necessary step that the country is taking. When the government in Madrid decided to close schools for 15 days last week, this resulted in the public parks, bars, restaurants, etc. overflowing the following day and multiplied cases- clearly this wasn’t going to work without some sort of formal enforcement. I’m not going to tell the US to watch out; I think even since starting this post it’s gotten more serious there. I’m the first one who thought this was all overblown and a bit crazy a few weeks ago..

Quarantine is a challenge! Especially when trying to balance working from home and having two little kids in the house all day. (We can’t even go downstairs to the common area in our apartment complex). The challenge is trying to organize activities, schoolwork, routines, playtime, etc. and work at the same time without everyone going crazy – ideal, but most likely not 100% possible. Work-family balance has gone out the window.

Here are a few thoughts:

  1. Feel lucky to have such uninterrupted family time. When was the last time you can think of that you were with your children, spouse (or both) for an extended period of time? In this day and age we tend to complain or worry about not being able to spend enough time with family due to work and other commmitments. So take advantage of this time. At some point (hopefully in the not too too far away future), playing endless games of Go Fish and Candyland will just be a memory.

Now, imagine if we lost internet access as well…  is it just me or has anyone else noticed an increase in the amount of mobile phone usage? (well, in your household since you can’t observe anyone else really)

2. Find humor where you can; it’s the best medicine as they say. Everyone’s in the same situation, so we might as well try to find ways to laugh. Memes are great. Within minutes of any of the more-confining public announcements there were more memes. There are too many too post and almost all are in Spanish, but trust me – they made it a little easier the first day. Here’s one of my favorites:

c056d439-4bbe-4120-88a6-ebe0c37cf02e

3. Exercise, but with caution. I’m an avid outdoor runner, so of course one of the first things that came to my mind when the quarantine was announced was “what am I going to do if I can’t go out for a run, let alone leave the apartment?” I’m a firm believer in the importance of exercise for not just physical, but also (and almost more importantly), mental well being. Of course there are a ton of online exercise channels, but I had never been one to try this out. Now came the time.

My word of advice: don’t overdo it! The first day in quarantine I decided to do an intense Hiit cardio workout thinking it would be too difficult since I’m used to running. Wrong: the workout was great; great until I couldn’t walk the next day…

4. Buy bread. Thank goodness buying a fresh baguette is sacred here in Spain! This is one of the few “necessary” reasons why you can still leave the house, but only one person at a time and maintaining your distance if you see anyone. Yesterday I went out to buy bread at the gas station up the street. Everyone had to leave a distance of at least 2 meters between other people in line, and you had to buy the bread through a little window.

IMG_3032

Buying bread at the gas station

On the way back the UME (the Military Emergencies Unit) drove by me. Good thing I had the big loaf of bread or they would have asked what I was doing out. Definitely weird, but at least this is one way to get a little fresh air if you can’t take it anymore (unfortunately not for the kids though 😦

5. Take advantage of your apartment terrace if you have one. Who knew terraces could have so many uses? We’ve been living in our current apartment for almost 5 years. I can probably count on one hand the amount of times I’ve used our terrace for leisure. Usually it’s just to get something we have out there in storage or to hang up clothes on the clothes rack. It’s time to be creative. Over the past few days the terrace has been converted into a workout studio, picnic station, chalkboard, disco and weak leak to the outside world. I am counting my lucky stars now that we have the terrace!

IMG_1477

Pretending to go out for a run

IMG_2910

The terrace. Sans bikes for now

Check out this great article in thelocal.es about what some people are doing from their terraces: TheLocal.Es article. I’m waiting for our apartment complex to get on board.

To be continued. This looks like it will likely go beyond the 15 days…

 

Why I’m happy I had children in Spain instead of in the US

Here’s a very interesting HBR article that highlights different country social policies when it comes to mothers in the workplace.

https://hbr.org/2020/03/two-new-moms-return-to-work-one-in-seattle-one-in-stockholm?ab=hero-subleft-3

Granted this article is a direct comparison with Sweden and not Spain, but it still highlights some major differences of the US vs Europe. Aside from the actual time off (and/or paid time off) what’s most interesting to me is the cultural aspect here: in the US women are more afraid to tell their bosses about their pregnancy and it can be received quite negatively, whereas in Europe (generally speaking of course) this can be received as positive news.

Motherhood is tough in itself! Having to deal with uncertainties in your workplace, lack of job security and negative feedback on top of just surviving to sleep and get by every day just seems unimaginable to me in a country so advanced as the US.

 

Flying across the ocean with kids – leave the stroller at home or consider a cheap one

I was just looking back at some of my old posts, and I thought it could be a good idea to write a short, simple post about this to make a point – airlines don’t know how to handle strollers. Out of 4 international trips with kids that I’ve taken, my strollers have been broken twice – once with Delta/KLM and once with Iberia — and both times “conveniently” when I’ve been traveling alone. And don’t think the flight/ground attendants were so helpful when both times I was left with a baby/toddler asleep in my arms (and in one case a baby and another little one). Note that both strollers were left at the door of the airplane, not checked in previously.

If this happens to you the most important thing is to go directly to the airline counter when you land to fill out an incidence form (even if it is the last thing you want to do). Then you’ll probably have to go to the store where you purchased the stroller to get an estimate of how much it will cost to replace or fix it. In the case of Lufthansa I went through all of this since I had brought my expensive stroller with me. It was a bit of a headache, but in the end they paid to replace everything. (see: Delta/KLM and the broken stroller (continued)

In the case of Iberia, during my last trip I decided to purchase a cheap umbrella stroller online to have when I arrived since it wasn’t necessary for me to travel with one as my youngest was older. Iberia decided to break it (wheels and entire frame missing/destroyed) when I landed back in Madrid at 7am from Boston (direct flight by the way). In this case it was going to be more hassle for me to go to a store and get all of the necessary forms, and given the cost of the stroller I didn’t pursue it further. However, it doesn’t seem right to me that they can get away with it. In any case what Iberia should do is offer a voucher or gift card to be used at your discretion. The damaged items web site has a voucher as an option, but when you try to get this you get a strange error message which forces you to call Customer Service (not toll-free). When I did call it turns out that apparently they do this with bags, but in the case of baby strollers it’s not an option. So they shouldn’t even have this option on the site since it was clear it was a baby stroller…

I’m glad to finally be getting away from this phase of traveling with strollers, but I thought it might be helpful to share my experiences for those with upcoming trips. Airlines (Delta/KLM, Iberia, etc) need to be more careful with these kinds of items! And in the case that something happens the post-service reclamation should be a lot less headache-filled for those who already have enough headaches with little kids!

Is Saudi Arabia the new Spain?

The short answer is no. After my recent travels to the kingdom, however, I would venture to guess that in 10 years time the current kingdom as we know it will be unrecognizable, perhaps in the same way Spain was unrecognizable after the fall of Franco’s fascist regime in 1975.

Over the past few months I have traveled three times to Riyadh for work-related purposes. Prior to the first visit I have to say that I really didn’t know what to expect. When I would hear about Saudi Arabia, images that would come to mind would be oil, the desert and women wearing burkas. To be honest I really didn’t know much about the culture and life there, nor if I would feel safe. Approximately two years before my trip women started joining the work force, and approximately one year before my trip women were given the right to have driver’s licenses.

While there is a long path ahead to modernity, I will admit that I had some incorrect pre-conceived notions.

I had no sensation of lack of safety during my visits. A sensation of subservience, yes, but lack of safety, no. At least in Riyadh and in the office setting where I was it was not necessary for me to wear a hijab. I did this during my first visit out of respect, but during the past two trips I’ve let my hair down. (Note: this doesn’t mean that the Saudi women are doing this. I didn’t see any women in fact that did not at least have their head covered, and full burkas are extremely common, probably in half of the cases). As for clothing I don’t think it would be appropriate to wear my fitted outfits that I wear back home, but with a long, loose shirt (better if it’s dark) and/or a long jersey or jacket over my clothing it’s been fine (see my past post: Saudi Arabia just changed its formal dress code for international female visitors). What you don’t want to do is wear something really tight, fitted, or showing skin; I think it will take a while to get to that point.

The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, is moving forward a lot of change in the kingdom, especially with the ambitious Strategy 2030, a plan to diversify the income of the kingdom with moves into areas like technology and tourism. Since he came into power in 2017 he has made a number of changes like with the religious police (a colleague of mine pointed them out sitting in a police car while he was showing us around Riyadh’s center one evening; they have a real lack of power now).

 

He’s also opening the kingdom up to tourism which wouldn’t have been thought of five years ago. Now beautiful, historic (and interestingly/importantly, religious) sites like Al Ula will be opening up to tourism (Al Ula in October 2020). There are now tourist visas upon arrival into the country and just recently a new norm allowing unmarried opposite sex couples to share a hotel room, something that would have been unheard of before (see Another Saudi Arabian law change).

And women are now allowed into football games (or at least one recently), public concerts are happening, movie theaters are opening up. Even the NY Times published an article about coffee shops becoming a new space for young unmarried people to meet up (see: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/15/world/middleeast/saudi-women-coffee-shops.html).

NY Times article Saudi Arabia coffee shops

It’s almost hard to keep up with all of the changes!

While I was given a tour around a historical museum/fortress in the city center I was overwhelmed by the  hospitality of the people welcoming us into the center. At the Masmak fort museum we were greeted openly with tea, dates, incense (and repeatedly) without anything expected in return. I had the feeling that the idea of tourism and foreigners visiting the country is so new that people don’t know what to expect. In a sense this reminded me of my honeymoon trip to Myanmar 8 years ago. Five year old boys were riding around on top of buffalo and Coca Cola didn’t exist (now it does). When we were there the country was on the brink of tourism. I think Saudi Arabia will be there soon.

IMG_1408

My favorite Arabic coffee and date man (I don’t know his name as there was no common spoken language…)

All of the changes also make me think of Spain, which explains the title of this post. When the fascist regime of Franco ended in 1975 Spain changed – dramatically. Granted I wasn’t around at that time, but from what I’ve heard and read this is when the free, fun, vibrant, live and party culture that currently defines a large part of the Spanish being and culture came into being. Once you take away religious restrictions, involve alcohol, freedom, music…. well, I guess the rest is history.

Of course all of these changes will require a BIG shift in mindset for the people within the country and a softening of religious norms and views of outsiders. What is clear though is that there’s no turning back. As the country opens itself up to the influx of foreigners and the nationals go more outside the kingdom and experience more of the world it will be very difficult to maintain an enclosed, tightly enforced society as before.

Time will tell… there are already a lot of similarities to the Spanish culture in the kingdom, like the importance of family, gatherings around food, lunch/dinner schedules (I had no idea they ate so late), etc.

What are your thoughts? Have you been to the kingdom? What are your impressions from your visits or reading of the news?