The ugly truth of using third party websites

Gig economy and third party websites. These go absolutely hand in hand. Third party websites have created the gig economy. 

The next questions to ask are, ‘what is a gig economy?’ and ‘what is a third party website?’ 

What is a gig economy? A gig economy is an economy that operates flexibly, involving the exchange of labor and resources through digital platforms that actively facilitate buyer and seller matching. An example of this is Uber and Uber drivers, Uber classify their drivers as contractors instead of employees. This means drivers would need to earn minimum wage and receive benefits. Employers also have to pay taxes on employees that they don’t need to pay for contractors. Uber is one of the largest companies offering ride sharing service that has ‘no driver employees’, as all drivers are contractors.

What is a third party website/app? It is a website which is a platform offering you services through individuals advertised on their website/app, generally anyone can register on the website and the website takes a commission on the service you purchase. Well known 3rd party sites/apps: Uber, Amazon, Ebay, petting sitter services…

Are are the advantages of using a third party website? Cost. Everyone loves a bargain, right? Using a transportation app is cheaper than using a traditional taxi. You think to yourself, ‘bargain!’ but you may not realise the problems that come with getting a ‘bargain’.

What are the problems with the perceived bargains of a gig economy? Simplistic answer: pay, rights and conditions. Many countries have outdated employment laws that gig/third party companies exploit to gain a competitive advantage. Companies are able to class their workers as ‘self-employed contractors’, allowing them to avoid any responsibilities towards the people who work for them. Classing their ‘workers’ or ‘employees’ as contractors/gig workers comes with many problems for the workers:

  1. ‘Self-employed’ contract/gig workers do not get holiday entitlement, sick pay, pensions or parental leave. You have to be a ‘employee’ of the company to get these BASIC rights, which contractors/gig workers do not get.
  2. Gig workers/contractors get paid per job, not by the hour (generally speaking). Awesome on the weekends, when such services are in higher demand. However, on ‘quieter times’ delivery workers on €2.50 a ‘gig’ may make a delivery, then can sit waiting around all day until another gig comes in. This means many people are earning less than the hourly minimum wage, with absolutely no financial security.
  3. As the contractors depend on the app for jobs, this frequently means that they are dependent on the app to make ends meet and as jobs can be infrequently or at odd hours. This can also lead to a ‘hand to mouth’ lifestyle. The odd hours can also directly lead to an imbalance in work/life/family balance.
  4. Gig/contractor work lack basic financial guarantees, such as job security, employment rights and/or structure around work. This is a growing source of stress which can effect physical and mental ill health.
  5. The consequences of having insecure work and income makes it harder to get mortgages and loans, this making it difficult to plan for the future. 
  6. Whilst you the user are believe you are a service at a ‘bargain’ rate, the rate you are paying does not offer a fair wage to the gig worker/contractor, it doesnt make them rich or allow them to earn enough to plan for the future.
  7. Gig workers/contractors carry all the risk (covering the costs to maintain their vehicles, covering their pensions, sick leave, holiday, etc), while employers get rich on the profits.

Whilst there have been a number of very public lawsuits between third party websites and governments, fighting for the rights of gig workers/contractors, dont expect any government any time soon to change employment law in favour of gig workers/contractors.

The above focuses on the gig workers and the implications of gig work to them. The below focuses on the disadvantages to users using third party websites.

The dangers of using a 3rd party website. Its easy to read great reviews of apps/websites and think that your experience will be the same. This is a word of warning to understanding the downsides of using 3rd party websites. What can go wrong and what happens when it goes wrong?

Most third party apps/websites view themselves as purely a (third party) website and nothing more. They believe the onus and liability is with the user of the website should something go wrong. They believe that because the user has chosen the product/driver/gig worker on their website, the liability is with the user, as they are not involved with the matching the users with the product/driver/gig worker on their website. When you read a positive review from such a website, you a really reading the review of the users review of the specific gig worker/contractor they have hired, not of the overall website.

I looked at third party websites which are available in the Netherlands and was surprised at what I found. I found that some of the companies even offered ‘gurantees’ on their websites, which were actually made invalid by their T&Cs. I specifically looked at petting and house sitting apps/websites available to users in the Netherlands.

What you should know: None of the (below) listed house/pet sitting companies are registered companies in the Netherlands. You can easily check this by checking the KvK (chamber of commerce). In some instances, they don’t need to be registered (below a certain income threshold), however, it is ALWAYS good business practise to be registered even if they are below the threshold. If you have a problem with a company who is not registered (with the KvK), it can be difficult to take action against them. For instance, Consuwijzer (Practical advice for consumers from the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets) does not intervene as its not a Dutch company and legally the police and lawyers generally will not get involved as there is no Dutch registration of the company to be found. T&Cs: Most of the companies terms and conditions are clear that the company is not liable if something goes wrong. You as the home owner/pet owner are liable to claim against YOUR own insurance should something go wrong.  AWLAYS READ THE FINE PRINT AND CHECK THE T&Cs. Below is the T&C wording from a few companies websites (please note that the wording was correct and taken from the websites at the time of publishing the post):

TrustedHousesitters:

  • If Owners choose to use TrustedHousesitters Owners do so at their sole risk. The guarantee cover is provided “as is”, without warranty of any kind, either express or implied.
  • Owners acknowledge and agree that, to the maximum extent permitted by law, the entire risk arising out of their access to and use of the TrustedHousesitters, and their listing of any Home(s) via the Platform remains with them.
  • (c) For any loss, the Owners must first claim against their Underlying insurance where possible, before seeking recourse to this guarantee. 

Pawshake:

  • While we may help facilitate the resolution of disputes, Pawshake has no control over and does not guarantee (i) the existence, quality, safety, suitability, or legality of any Listings or Host Services, (ii) the truth or accuracy of any Listing descriptions, Ratings, Reviews, or other Member Content, or (iii) the performance or conduct of any Member or third party. 
  • Because we are not involved in User-to-User dealings or control the behaviour of Users, Users must resolve any issues, disputes or concerns directly with each other. You agree to release Pawshake from any claims or liability that may arise from any disputes between you and other Users. As a Member, you acknowledge and agree that the entire risk arising out of your use of the Site, including listing and booking Host-Provided Services, is entirely your own.
  • As a Host, you acknowledge and agree that neither Pawshake nor a Member have any responsibility to reimburse or otherwise cover you for any property damage that may be caused by a Member pet, and you hereby agree not to seek any such reimbursement or other damages from Pawshake or a Member or guest pet’s owner(s) in the event of any such property damage, in each case except as provided in the Pawshake’s Premium Protection Program.

Rover:

  • We make no representations or warranties about the quality of boarding, pet sitting, dog walking, house sitting, or other services provided by Service Providers (“Pet Care Services”), or about your interactions and dealings with users. Service Providers listed on Rover are not under the direction or control of Rover, and Service Providers determine in their own discretion how to provide Pet Care Services.
  • Subject to Section 16 below, Rover has no liability for any claims, injuries, loss, harm and/or damages arising from and/or in any way related to your interactions or dealings with other users and the acts and/or omissions of Service Providers and Pet Owners, whether online or offline. You acknowledge and agree that, to the maximum extent permitted by the applicable law, YOUR USE AND/OR PROVISION OF PET CARE SERVICES IS AT YOUR SOLE AND EXCLUSIVE RISK.

Consumer Law: Whilst consumer law exists in most countries, the coverage it offers varies from country to country. In some countries consumer law can override a companies T&Cs ( a company can write whatever they like as T&Cs but it does not make it legal). In other countries consumer law is not as strong and T&Cs can hold more weight than consumer law. There are also many loop holes in laws, which will vary from country to country. I have found law in general (and consumer law) in the UK to be much stronger than in other countries, which is great if you live in the UK (this is why you also see many high profile cases going through the UK High Court). If you dont live in a country which has great consumer law, you may find that there is no (legal) satisfaction in pursuing a case against a company. Always seek your own legal advice, where you feel it may be needed.

Why am I making this post? Unfortunately, a few years ago I had a truly horrific experience with a third party app/website. The outcome of my experience was that I was left with substantial damage to my home and one of my cats died. The company was not willing to do anything ‘as per our T&Cs, we are not liable…’.  When I went to the police, I was told because they couldn’t find the company, as it wasn’t registered in the NLs that I ‘had been scammed’. I asked what could be done and the police said because the matter was civil and not criminal, they could do nothing! They could take name of the gig worker/contractor but only after a further three complaints were made against this person, would they have enough ‘justification’ to investigate the person further but even then, it would be unlikely that they would. I sought legal advice and was told the costs of suing the individual would cost more than I sue for. I was told that Dutch law and consumer law were not made for such cases. It was suggested (more than once) that it was my own fault for not making sure the company was Dutch and registered in the Netherlands.

This was a truly horrific experience for me, which I never want anyone else to go through.

Whilst there are honest and reputable gig workers/contractors who use these sites to get work, equally there are people who are not honest using these websites and because of the approach the websites take, it can be incredibly difficult to take any form of action against the company or the gig worker/contractor if/when something goes wrong. Through my experience I found a number of other users who had equally horrifying stories using third party websites and the websites being ineffective/unhelpful in resolving their problems. As a result of the raised issues, try to avoid using third party sites. Try to use local businesses who are registered with the KvK (for the Netherlands or other legal company registries) and whose T&Cs are not made to avoid any form of liability.

The above opinion and perspective is personally my own and is not provided as advice or a legal perspective to what apps/services you should or should not use. Please do your own research to the services you want to use and ALWAYS check the small print and terms and conditions of the company for your locality/country.

Additional references:

The Gig Economy Is a Vampire That We Shouldn’t Make Peace With

Why the Gig Economy Doesn’t Work

Driving Uncertainty: Labour rights in the gig economy

The recession hasn’t ended for gig economy workers

Ice sculptures and Eindhoven

This year I decided that each month I’d like to visit a different city. After living in the Netherlands for 5 years, I haven’t really travelled or seen much outside of my ‘comfort zone’, ie Amsterdam. I tend to stick to what I know. I also think that all city centres really look like each other, so for me there is a lack of excitement, as it feels like de ja vu.

Screenshot 2023-01-29 at 22.35.32

Zwolle and the Netherlands Ice Sculpture Festival

I decided that I would visit the Netherlands Ice Sculpture Festival in Zwolle. I wont lie, the weather on the day was awful, it was beyond grey, raining, so much non stop rain between heavy showers and mist rain, it was wet the entire day (ie typical dutch weather but with winter added in). I was hoping to make a slight road trip out of it but the rain deterred anything that wasn’t indoors or in the car. I didn’t even see the town it was in apart from literally going to the location and then back to the motorway. The theme was ‘what a wonderful world’, however, once I was inside looking at the sculptures at no point in time did I consider it had a theme or that the theme was ‘what a wonderful world’. I wont lie, oddly despite knowing that I was going to a ice sculpture exhibition, I did not think to bring gloves or a hat. I have no idea what I had in mind as to what I thought it would be but the thought of ‘cold’ never entered my mind. It was cold, so cold! As any normal person would expect…

I did think there was an incredible amount of talent involved to crease such pieces of ice. Would I go again? No. There is something the Dutch quite simply dont do, queue. They are simply incapable of forming a line or keeping to a queue. So when you’re trying to follow the queue, people are going around you, before you… You cant simply take 3 seconds, snap your photo and move on, no before the person behind you thinks you’re taking too long and walks in front of you as you’re trying to take a picture. Its situations like this that I find quite infuriating.

During the Queens lying in state, I came across this and thought it was wonderful, so truly wonderful and so truly British. It gave me a great sense of British pride and made me think ‘f*ck me, this would truly NEVER happen in the Netherlands’.
I don’t particularly care either way about the Queen. But the queue? The Queue is a triumph of Britishness. It’s incredible.
Just to be clear: I don’t mean the purpose of the queue. I don’t mean the outpouring of emotion or collective gried or the event at the end and around the queue or the people in the queue. I mean, literally, the queue. The queue itself. It’s like something from Douglas Adams.
It is the motherlode of queues. It is art. It is poetry. It is the queue to end all queues. It opened earlier today and is already 4.2 miles long. They will close it if it gets to TEN (!) MILES. That’s a queue that would take TWO HOURS TO WALK at a brisk pace.
It is a queue that goes right through the entirety of London. It has toilets and water points and websites just for The Queue.
You cannot leave The Queue. You cannot get into The Queue further down. You cannot hold places in The Queue. There are wristbands for The Queue.
Once you join The Queue you can expect to be there for days. But you cannot have a sleeping bag. There is no sleeping in The Queue, for The Queue moves constantly and steadily, day and night. You will be shuffling along at 0.1 miles per hour for days.
The BBC has live coverage of The Queue on BBC One, and a Red Button service showing the front bit of The Queue.
NO ONE IN THEIR RIGHT MIND WOULD JOIN THE QUEUE AND YET STILL THEY COME. “Oh, it’ll only be until 6am on Thursday, we can take soup”.
And the end of the queue is a box. You will walk past the box, slowly, but for no more than a minute. Then you will exit into the London drizzle and make your way home.
Tell me this isn’t the greatest bit of British performance art that has ever happened? I’m giddy with joy. It’s fantastic. We are a deeply, deeply mad people with an absolutely unshakeable need to join a queue. It’s utterly glorious.

Eindhoven

I try to visit Eindhoven once a year to visit the Van Abbe, its their modern art museum. I wanted to visit in December and it just didn’t happen. I thought Id take the chance to see a bit more of the city, as I tend to go from train station to museum and back again.
It started with going to the Van Abbe, I must admit that I didn’t enjoy the current exhibitions as much as I have in previous years but I did have a few laughs. If you cant laugh and giggle at art, then all is lost. I then decided to visit the DAF museum. Before looking up, ‘things to do in Eindhoven’, I had never heard of DAF left alone that they had a museum. DAF is a leading global truck manufacturer with a firm focus on innovation, quality and transport efficiency. Previously they made small cars but the focus is now on trucks. The museum was interesting because it featured other brands of cars to, Im still unsure as to what the link was but interesting to see. Im really a girl when it comes to cars, gas is on the right, brake is on the left, what more do I need to know? Ok, Im not quite that bad but close.
It was nice to explore Eindhoven slightly more than I usually do. Getting lost between finding museums and seeing parts of Eindhoven I hadnt previously. The centre is must like any other large Dutch city centre.
I have previously visited the Philips museum and I wasn’t a fan. It felt to me that they missed many opportunities to showcase their achievements in technology beyond what the public know them for. It was also quite interactive for children, as I dont have children, I didn’t find it engaging for adults (or me). I had considered visiting it again but much like the DAF museum, once is enough for me 😉.
Of course I then went to Five Guys, oh how I long for Amsterdam to get Five Guys! There are a few Taco Bells around the Netherlands, Eindhoven is one of the locations, I skipped out on it (as I was rather full from FG) but regretted it on the train home… Some foods and fast food restaurants I miss and take far too much glee in finding in the Netherlands.
January – box ticked for visiting a new place, if not two!

5 Years in the Netherlands and 2022

5 Years in the Netherlands

2022 was my 5 year anniversary living in the Netherlands. What a 5 years it’s been, from extreme highs to extreme lows and quite frankly everything in-between. I’ve been lucky to meet some truly extraordinary people who I am honoured to now call my (best) friends (and other select words), who have created a family for me in the Netherlands. Im incredibly grateful to have met people who are as sassy, understanding, crazy and cat loving as I am.

Here are some just a few highlights from my 5 years in the Netherlands: cocktails (so many cocktails), selfie museums, staycations, surviving the pandemic (just), games nights (and virtual quizzes), bets (mostly me losing them!), concerts, musicals and museums, buying a house (and everyone helping me to to paint it!), skydiving, Wadlopen and of course, cats, my precious pampered cats.

Its been a truly astonishing 5 years… Whilst I will never see Brexit as a positive thing, I am grateful that it brought me to the Netherlands and forced me to start everything from scratch. This is the 4th country Ive lived in (also my second time in the NLs), learning Dutch has been a unique experience (I have no doubt I’ll always murder the language even though Im at level B1) and merging 3 cultures (American, British and Dutch) has not always been an easy task. I am grateful that I now call the Netherlands home and look forward to seeing what the future holds.

Every year I try to visit a place called Zaanse Schans, which is a quintessential tourist location of window mills, lots of wind mills. I take a picture and then get to compare myself over the years. Its a massive tourist attraction but there are times when you can plan it when its quiet and theres something really calming and quaint abut it.

2022

2022 seems to be the year everyone forgot Corona existed, to see how far we’ve come and yet how quickly we’ve gone back to our old ways.

What a year it’s been. Some of my highlights from the year: 3am emergency vet visit in the Hague, Friendsmas, days out, swimming with dolphins, turkey hats and laughs, there have been so many laughs! I like to think that laughter keeps me sane.

Coming from a family of scuba divers, this year I decided to officially dip my toe into scuba diving. Anyone who knows me, knows that I am not a fan of the ocean, I find it dirty (not in a tree hugger, think of all the plastic you use kind of way). Thanks to my germ-a-phobia I have, I think this will always be an issue. However, what I realised with scuba diving is that I get sick sea and then land sick (awesome!) for days afterwards.

After a the very unfortunate and tragic death of George last year, Callie changed. Her entire personality changed, she’d follow me around the house and would run to the door every time I would come and go. Given that Callie was never like this wither other cats, I thought she was lonely and wanted a friend. Lady Penelope (Penny) joined the house, she has brought energy, entertainment and sass, shes a very sassy Maine Coon kitten. I thought Callie wanted a friend, 7 months later and Callie is yet to be fully convinced of another cat in the house and most certainly have buyers remorse on my behalf. They do play together, occasionally until Callie realises shes also too old for a kitten. Its Callies biggest secret that she likes Penny but it’s a closely held secret. I now have 2 cats with seem to be the combination of who I am, one whose rather autistic and hates change and the other whose ready to do something, between naps.

Its been a year, a year of challenges, progress and laughs.

Saying a very cheerful good-bye to 2020!

2020, what a year! Everyone likes to say what a horrific year it’s been; admittedly it has had its challenges but I’ve had a good year. It hasn’t been a total success, being in and out of lockdown for over 9 months now, saying ‘…I think you’re on mute’ over and over again to colleagues and adjusting to the ‘new normal’. If anything, this year has proven that most of us have a much bigger sense of humour than we ever imagined. 

2020 drink

I’m a bit of a meme queen and I adore a good meme. One of the best parts of 2020 has been the memes, hands down! Most of them are so accurate that you have to laugh, there is no other option. I’m pretty sure that most adults went through a stage of quarantine alcoholism during lockdown, no shame, it was a real thing, 95% of us did it. 

there

Lockdown and quarantine have reminded me of the Simpsons repeatedly saying, ‘Are we there yet?’ but quarantine rules are more like, ‘Can we leave our houses yet?’ over and over again! 

Working from home started at the end of March and I’ve been in the office 2 days since (in October, literally before the next lockdown was announced). It only took me 7 months but I’ve started to use my office, as an office… I loved working from my kitchen table, primarily for the convenience to the kettle. However, I noticed that my posture was getting worse, a proper chair was the answer, a colleague  suggested I just bring my office chair to the table but that would just look silly. Both the kittens and I have had to adjust to me working from the office. I took them several months to adjust to me being home all the time. The office has now been made cat friendly, a created a window sill seat for them, which gives them (and their rather large fluffy tushies) more space to sit next to me whilst I’m working, a floor mat to lie on and ensured the sofa is clear(ish) to be slept on. They are still both hopeful that I will let them out on the balcony whilst Im working, however, they need to wait til spring…. it’s going to be a long winter. I have a few more tweaks to make but I’m now content to be working on the office. 

office

What I’ve achieved in lockdown?Whilst I didn’t blog as frequently as I should have (equally not much to blog about), my year started out well and I made use of time when lock downs were eased. My DIY skills have improved, I adore my she-shed and have an impressive collection of power tools. I’m currently debating how to insulate the shed (possibly my next project?), to make it more user friendly in the winter.  My procrastination skills have become next level, I mean really there is no rush and there is absolutely always tomorrow! I’ve now ninja level of being able to keep myself busy whilst achieving absolutely nothing, as a friend likes to tell me, ‘you’re always busy doing everything and nothing’, it’s impressive and confusing at the same time.  

I completed my tick list for the year, I’m still incredibly excited to think that I did a 13,000 tandem sky dive and want to do it again! I had such good fun with friends doing Wadlopen that I’m trying to plan something for next year but I’m not sure what I have in mind will happen inline with current travel regulations. 

My friends still remain a constant source of entertainment, fun and enlightenment. I think we’ve all helped each other get through 2020, from memes to garden parties (when allowed), to joining me on completing my tick list and generally just mucking around. Im so grateful for all the memories and laughs we’ve made together this year. They continue to encourage me where they shouldn’t, laugh at my dating stories and go along with my crazy ideas, I wouldn’t have them any other way! 

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), quality = 100

Its certain that we’re in lock down until mid-January and have been advised not to travel before mid-March, which I think will be extended quite a bit further beyond that… I have to say that I’m trying to be realistic about 2021 and currently I don’t have very high hopes for the year but never say never and given how ‘good’ my 2020, I have hope that 2021 will even be even better. Now to write my tick list for 2021… 

DIY Masks, the latest fashion accessory

In the Netherlands, it was announced that from the 1st of December, masks are required to be worn in most places, grocery stores and anywhere ‘inside’, in short. 

Masks are the latest thing that you literally can’t leave home without! I initially bought masks (I have more than I know what to do with) and then realised that the need to wear a mask really isn’t going away any time soon and disposable masks are just that. I decided to delve into the idea of making my own, washable and reusable. I initially made some in May but I made a ton of mistakes and they’ve all now been binned. I thought I’d share my hints and tips with those who also fancy building your stock of washable reusable masks or just trying it out to see how easy or difficult it is to make a mask. I have a sewing machine, which has made my life much easier but theres no reason why you cant make them at home with hand stitching. Ive now made over 20 and decided to give a few as gifts for Christmas this year.

M1

I normally wear glasses and have ‘the fog’ whilst wearing a mask. I specifically searched out templates that claimed to fix this. I also bought additional accessories for masks to stop ‘the fog’. To date, Ive had limited success in stopping ‘the fog’. I think the honest answer is to either breath less heavy or not at all, admittedly using these templates and lowering my glasses a few centimetres does seem to help but it doesn’t solve the problem entirely.

I found 2 types of patterns that I wanted to try and it turns out that I prefer 1 pattern over the other.

fab2

Mask patterns/templates:

gigi Patterns and she has a youtube video which shows how to make the mask (you must fill in the silly form to download the template but you can enter fake details). The adult XL was the pattern that I used as the primary template for my masks. I found the Adult L not to be big enough, it literally made me question if I have a big fat head (I think the answer is yet but we just don’t admit these things out loud) and I also wanted a mask where I didn’t feel suffocated, personally the XL was a winner.

SeeKateSew is an incredibly similar pattern to gigi Patterns and the template provides clearer instructions on the mask folds and offers an option to include a filter pocket. I printed out this template to specifically know where I should make the mask folds, very helpful!

Nanay Express is a different pattern from the two above and I think it’s somewhat easier to work with, though some of the points I didn’t fully understand in the Youtube video. I liked that given the way the pattern is, its possible to use 4 different pieces of cloth if you wanted to and if you think about it, its possible to sew it in a way which allows for space for a filter at almost no extra time or effort (see below). However, I didn’t like the way it fits on my chin, to me it just looks weird and once I see it, I cant unsee the chin weirdness.

Here are a few things that I learnt in making my masks, please note that I only made masks for adults and can only comment on the patterns that I used.

  • Always use 100% cotton fabric! The initial masks I made in May I used every kind of fabric I had from satin to velour to polyester, none of these were breathable, cute, felt great on my face but holy crap did I struggle to breath in them.
  • Prewash your fabric and iron it in advance of using it.
  • For the elastic to go around your ears, I tried 3 different lengths (24, 27 and 30cms) and I found that 30cms/1ft worked the best and I ended up using 30cm for all of my masks. This also didn’t give me the feeling of having the mask so tight on my face that I just wanted to take it off.For
  • For the gigi pattern, I learnt to cut off sections on the side before you fold it over to sew for the canal that is for the elastic (I also only fold it once rather than twice). With less fabric it wasn’t as difficult sew, less layers to go threw. It also is less pressure on the side of the face from fewer layers of fabric when you’re wearing it. As per the photos below, after I stitched the the folds, I went back the cut up to about 1cm away from the line and then folded this over once and stitched it for the canal for the elastic.

fab5fab6

  • For the stitches above, I realised it much easier if I get out my pencil and a ruler to ensure that the lines are straight! The first few masks I made, no straight/aligned lines, it gave a new meaning to wonky and I’m beyond crap at eyeballing and thinking its a straight line!
  • Use fun fabrics! Seriously life is too short to use boring or plain fabric! Have fun with it! I found some cute fabrics and have never looked back!

Creating a filter section for the Nanay Express pattern. I decided to have fun with it and user multiple different types of fabric and create an area for a filter to be added without adding another layer of fabric.

I used 3 different fabrics, 2 for the outside of the mask and 1 for the liner. I cut them out as per the template. I have a bit of extra fabric for the edge of liner, so that I sew a clean edge, as per the yellow fabric. 

fab1 

I then sewed a straight line down the the front and bottom. 

fab4   fab3

Now onto the liner, I completely made it up as I went as to what I should do. I created clean edged on both pieces of fabric and then sewed down the bottom of the pieces of connect them. 

fab   fab2

I then pinned to the fabrics together inside out to few them together, it was at this point that I realised that the hole for the filter could have been much smaller, oh well! 

fab7   fab8

The finished mask with the 2 fabrics front he front. The inside of the mask, as you can see where it folds over to cover the nose, could have been one piece rather than open for a filter, as this areas doesn’t need a filter. 

Tags: As I am giving masks as gifts, I wanted to give them with some sort of tag and care instructions. I came across two that I really liked!

Savlabot handmade crafts have a selection of labels and tags for masks that I really liked and have printed off.

The Birch Cottage has some really cute care instructions that I printed off (and slightly altered).

fab4

The above is using the gigi pattern Adult XL, it fits, no weird chin, its not too tight and the fabric makes it a fun mask!

Where I purchase my fabric from in the Netherlands Budget Stoffen, Stoffen en Zo and  Ali Express (for my fun fabrics but it does take over a month to arrive). 

I hope you find these tips useful and remember to share with friends! 🙂

DIY Layered Santa Soap (melt and pour)

It’s that time of year! I am one of these people who truly loves the holidays, I still feel the magic and excitement of the holidays. It probably helps that I always take two weeks off work at the end of the year, so that also gives me something to look forward to in addition to the holidays.

Over the years, I’ve come to learn that my homemade soaps are appreciated and looked forward to more than the presents that I buy my colleagues/friends/family. I now give a mixture of homemade items and bought items. As this soap is specifically Santa themed, they needs to given around the holidays, although I would find it utterly delightful if someone gave it to me in June, I do love when stores are eager and put out one or two items in June!

I have to say that I cant give measurements for this tutorial, as there are lots of little steps. Truthfully speaking, Ive never measured how much I put in each soap, as Ive always eye-balled it (sorry)!

s2

DIY Layered Santa Soap

  • Clear Melt and pour base – I use Stephenson
  • White Melt and pour base – you will need more white than clear
  • Mica powders (I use red and green) – do not use food colouring as this is not suitable for skin contact
  • Castor oil (or avocado, apricot kernel or almond old) – I use roughly 1-2% oil
  • Essential oil (Peppermint, pine, any holiday scent will work but avoid colours which make discolour the white base – see step) – 1% of overall weight to be used in essential oil, if you have 100g of base, use 1g of essential oil
  • Cellophane or any other kind of plastic to wrap your soaps in
  • Santa mould – I bought mine of Ebay but go wherever suits you
  • Soap moulds – I found Tupperware that suited the size that I needed to fit in Santa
  1. First you need to create your Santa embeds. Melt down a small amount of white soap base and add in the mica. As I only have 1 mould, I spend an evening creating the Santa embeds. I do not add any essential oils to them, I just use the base and mica powder. Once Ive popped them out of their mould, normally I have a bit of excess base around the edges(antlers, toy bag, hooves, etc) and I trim them with a toothpick (second picture). I follow standard melt and pour melting technique of melting it for 20-30 seconds at a time (even around 15 seconds) in a microwave, covered with cling film. I then stir in the mica powder until I get the desired colour and then pour into the mould. I then spray with alcohol to dissolve the air bubbles.

s17s16

2. Let your Santa embeds sit for at least 24 hours before you use them in creating your layered soaps. Please also ensure that the mould for your layered soap is big enough put fit whatever shapes you are putting in it. Ive found the Santa mould is slightly longer than standard bar soap moulds you purchase and I found a Tupperware box that suits the size I need. You will want whatever mould you choose to be flexible and made either of plastic or silicone, which will help with releasing the final bar of soap.

3. Melt the clear base and pour it half way into the depth of the bar of soap that you’d like to have. Following standard melt and pour melting technique of melting it for 20-30 seconds at a time in a microwave, covered with cling film. Spray alcohol over this once done (second picture). You need the temperature to be at approximately 120-125F, this will stop the embed melting when added on top.

s11s12

3. Spray again with alcohol and add on your Santa embed. This is where temperature makes a difference (120-125F), Ive ruined a number of soaps this way (see below). Spray again with alcohol. You will see that the Santa drops into the clear base, this is what you want, it should not sit on top of the clear base.

s7

When it doesn’t go to plan: below is what it looks like when you wait too long, you will see a film starting to form over the clear base, NOT good (go ahead and remelt, do not use it in its current state for layering). I thought I was better than the film, as you can see, I was not. When I put Santa on top of the clear base, it sat on top of the base, which is NOT good and then wrinkled when I push it in a bit. The second photo shows how much this does not work when it’s layered. It created air pockets between the clear and mould, when I added in the white base, it filled these air gaps. It also shows the how the film that had formed distorts the Santa and makes it less clear.

s9s1

4. Let the Soap and clear base sit for a few hours before adding on the white base. Even with the lower temperatures, you want to ensure there isn’t a tie-dye/bleeding effect. Melt your white base and add in the oil and essential oils (please note that EU regulation states that you should not use more than 1% of essential oils), spray the clear base with embed with alcohol and pour over the white base mixture. Spray with alcohol. Allow to set over night or several hours before removing from mould.

s2

5. Wrap your soaps after they have set in either cellophane or a plastic of some sort. I completely forgot to take pictures of the soaps before I wrapped them! These were my finished soaps. The green top soaps are where I screwed the process and let the white layer set before adding in the embeds, the red soaps are the happy soaps where everything went to plan.

s3

Tips: Use an essential oil which will not discolour your base. I thought I was being clever (which normally means I’m not) and used cherry and vanilla for a number of soaps, within hours the discolouration started and its only gotten darker. You’ll see the top 5 soaps are darker than the bottom soaps, this is where I used the cherry and vanilla essential oils… They have since gotten much darker! For the bottom soaps I used peppermint and pine. (I also made coffee soaps as you can see, no guessing what home made soaps everyones getting this year) 🙂

s1

I hope this tutorial inspires your Christmas soap creations! Please borrow/steal my idea and share with friends. Id love to see Santa soaps in June!

Remember to share with friends! 🙂

Winter Spice Jelly – A deliciously delicate infused jam for winter

Halloween has come and on and so have the cats outfits. The cats are pleased that torture will not come their way in the form of clothing for another year.

hallocats

Winter is here, the clocks have gone back, there is less day light and it seems like my body is preparing for hibernation mode, as in lets eat as much as possible and then sleep (if only I could be a bear and sleep for months!). Im constantly hungry at the moment and cant seem to sate the hunger feeling. Im also in a jamming mood, so I was thinking of jams to make that would hopefully satisfy the hunger and of course make the house smell deliciously ‘wintery’ at the same time. This recipe has ticked all my boxes and is crazy delicious on toast or bagels.

I kind of love this recipe which Im modified from the BBC. I originally tried it a few years ago with pears and it came incredibly cloudy and with a different flavour. This time it came out great, I didn’t add in the spices to jam once it was made as per the original recipe, as I think it was going to flavour the jam further and I really didn’t want that. I love the complete delicate flavour this recipe has, its subtle, leaving you wanting more!

I also doubled the recipe, as Im incapable of doing anything at the suggested measurements.

WSJ

Ingredients:

  • 1kg cooking apples (I also used 2 large pears)
  • 2 cinnamon sticks (I didnt have any and used 1tsp of ground cinnamon)
  • 2 star anise
  • 8 cloves
  • 1/2 tsp of ground nutmeg
  • 2 long pieces lemon peel
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1KG of jam sugar per 900grams of grape juice (please note this may differ based on the sugar you are using, I used a very specific jamming sugar)
  • 100ml apple cider vinegar

Method:

1. Wash and cut up the apples into chunks, without peeling or coring them (much of the pectin is in the cores and flavour in the peels). Dump the apple into a large  heavy bottomed pan with the spices, lemon peel and bay leaves. Cover the apples and spices with 600ml water. Once it comes to the boil, turn down the heat and simmer with a lid on for 1 1⁄2 hrs. (left picture is with everything in my large pot and the right picture is when it started to boil and I turned it down to a simmer)

2. Ladle the apple mixture into a sieve lined with muslin (or a jelly bag) suspended over a large bowl. Leave to drip for 2 hrs (until it stops dripping) or overnight. Do not push the liquid though the sieve or your jelly will become cloudy. (Left picture: ladling the mixture into my sieve lined with muslin. Right Picture: muslin line sieve over a large bowl, leaving it to drip).

3. At this stage I start to sterilise my jars, I put them in the oven at 180C for 30 mins, which is roughly about the amount of time to takes for the jelly/jam to cook.

4. Measure the juice – you should have about 600ml (left picture: I doubled the recipe and had more). Pour the liquid into a large pan along with the jam sugar(far right picture, I use a very specific jamming sugar) and vinegar (middle picture).

4. Set over a low heat to dissolve the sugar, stirring constantly. Once dissolved, turn up the heat and bring to the boil and follow the instructions of your sugar. Mine asks me to boil for X mins, whilst others may require you to use a candy thermometer to get it to a certain temperature (left picture: adding in the jamming sugar and vinegar).

5. You will notice a foam on the top of your jam (also known as scum), remove it. The foam has a different texture and colour from your jam/jelly, it is simply fine air bubbles. If you don’t remove it from your jam before processing, you will have the foam on the top of your jelly/jam, taking away from the perfect finish (top right picture).

6. It’s normally at this point that I put the lids in a bowl and cover with boiling water for 5 minutes.

7. Once you have reached your desired temperature or completed the instructions, remove from heat, skim off any remaining foam and pour into the sterilised hot jars. I ladle the mixture into jars using a jam funnel, it makes life much easier! My instructions for my jamming sugar is also to tip the jars upside down and allow to cool completely.

I wont lie, I was pleasantly surprised with the subtle understated taste this jam has. I’m use to big flavours that have a punch but this doesn’t and its refreshingly light for a winter inspired jam. 

I was so pleased with this jam and the other preserves I made, that I posted it to a friend and colleague. He was delighted with the homemade goods and pleased that despite not being in the office for over 7 months, he was still got my treats. 

jars

Remember to share for with your friends, family or neighbours 🙂

Winter Warming Beef Stew

Winter is almost here and so is the need to fill my freezer with comfort foods. No matter how hard I try, I’m incapable of cooking really for under four, so I’ve embraced this (and my love of Tupperware) and cook for ten with the intention of making freezer meals for myself. A few delicious ideas to which make great meals are pasta sauce, chilli, or beef stew (to name a few). Simply take them out of the freezer the night before and dinner is basically made.

Ive really been craving beef stew to with sourdough bread (I make it roughly every two weeks) or American biscuits. With the drop in temperature, putting on the winter duvet and autumn colours finally here, I took the plunge and decided to make a stew.

Technically what I make falls under the food umbrella of a French bouef bourguignon rather than a beef stew.  What’s the difference between a bourguignon and a stew? In short, wine! Traditional (American) stews use beef broth or tomato sauce as their base, whereas the French use a good wine. Fun fact: Real wine was not available to most American cooks until well into the 20th century. I like to be mix and match and go with what tastes great and mix beef broth, tomato paste and wine in this recipe.

You do need a dutch oven/cast iron pan with lid and patience for this recipe, as it’s a low and slow recipe, which I allow to cook for at least 4-6 hours in the oven. As this stew cooks for so long, your kitchen/house will smell amazing but it takes any beef (cheap or otherwise) and turns into a tender, yummy, fall apart which touched piece of meat. 

stew

In line with the photos, I doubled the beef, carrots, mushrooms, shallots and parsnips for my stew.

Beef Stew

Ingredients:

  • 2lbs/1kg beef stew meat, trimmed to remove fat/grizzle and cut into bite size pieces
  • 1/2 C/125g bacon
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon fresh black pepper
  • 4 carrots chopped
  • 2 cups/200g chopped mushrooms
  • 1 medium onion chopped/3 shallots
  • 2 parsnips
  • 4 cloves garlic minced/ 2 tablespoons garlic puree
  • 4 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 4 cups beef broth
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
  • 2 bay leaves

Method:

  1. In a medium bowl toss beef with the flour and set aside.
  2. Heat a heavy bottom pan on medium high heat. Add half of the vegetable oil and add half the meat. Brown for 3-4 minutes turning the meat halfway through. Remove meat, putting it in you dutch oven and repeat with the rest of the meat.
  3. Add the rest of the oil and add bacon, onions, and garlic, cook for 3-4 minutes or until onions are softened. Once cooked, add into your dutch oven with the browned beef.
  4. Add the red wine to the pot with oil and give it a good stir, scraping off the bottom of the pan, this deglazes the pan and and all the brown bits will give your stew flavour! Let the wine cook down (it’s important to let the wine cook off for a good 4-5 minutes before adding the other liquid, this also cooks off the alcohol). Add in the beef stock, worcestershire sauce, tomato paste, Italian seasoning and salt and pepper. Stir until combined and then pour into your Dutch oven over the beef and onion, garlic, bacon mixture.
  5. Preheat the oven to 320F/160C.
  6. Give everything a good stir in your dutch oven, now add in your vegetables and bay leaves. Give this a stir, be careful, as your pot should be quite full!
  7. Place the pot in the oven at 320F/160C for 4-6 hours.
  8. Every hour or so, give your stew a quick stir. You will see the mixture darken in colour and thicken as it cooks over the hours. Normally around hour 4 (left picture) you can decide how much more time it needs. After 5 hours of cooking, I decided mine was done (middle picture).
  9. Serve with a piece of sourdough bread or biscuits for dipping! (oh and remove the bay leaves before serving, do not eat those)

I popped a portion over to my neighbour, as she and I are quite good to share things with each other and honestly it was super delicious and I wanted to boast a bit about how nice it was! 

Remember to share for with your friends, family or neighbours (or just freeze portions and enjoy this delicious meal all by yourself!)  🙂

Sugar and Spice and all things nice – Jams and Jellys

As the seasons are changing, winter duvet is now on the bed, Ive been feeling unwell and have been craving comfort food.  I’ve recently been spending quality time in my kitchen and thought Id share my recipes with you!

1

Grapes, grapes and more grapes. I have quite an amazing grape vine that gave me approximately 30 kilos of grapes this year. More grapes than I knew what to do with, I was hoping the birds would eat them, when this failed, I realised that I needed to do something with this. The grapes are exceptionally seeded too, which made eating them impossible, as I was constantly having to spit the seeds out, which is not a pleasant look. Initially I made grape juice but it’s amazing how quickly you can go off pure grape juice. I even mixed it with honey rum, (that was an amazing combination) but again, only so much grape juice you can drink. I was then reminded of a true American classic, grape jelly! Goes amazing with peanut butter or as the sweet to a savoury sandwich.

2

Grape Jelly

Ingredients required:

5KGs of Red Grapes

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

1KG of jam sugar per 900grams of grape juice (please note this may differ based on the sugar you are using, I used a very specific jelly sugar)

Method:

  1. You need to clean the grapes. I dumped mine in the sink filled with water, got rid of the bad grapes (and bugs) and put the cleaned grapes in a large heavy bottomed pan with the juice and zest of a lemon. I didn’t bother to mash them or deseed them or really put any effort into beyond taking out the bad grapes (and bugs). I do not add any additional water, as the grapes release juice/liquid with the heat. If you want to add water, you can, I would add either 1/4C or a 1/2C.
  • Bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes. You should smell the grapes and see the bursting, it’s quite a sweet scent your kitchen will be filled with.

  • Put a sieve above a large bowl and put the grapes and juice into the sieve. Then gently press the grapes against the sieve. This can be messy (I did slightly cover myself in grape juice) but gives your arms a good work out. (I forgot to take a picture of this stage, sorry!) Now you are left with pure grape juice, once cooled you can either drink it or use it as the jelly base.
  • You now need to measure out your juice to know how much sugar you should use for it, as its all weight based. I had approximately 4 KGs of juice.
  • At this stage I start to sterilise my jars, I put them in the oven at 180C for 30 mins, which is roughly about the amount of time to takes for the jelly/jam to cook.
  • In a large heavy bottomed pot, add in the freshly strained juice and the sugar, mix well. On high heat, bring to a full rolling boil. Stir it constantly and watch it, it will start to form a foam, of which you should remove. The foam has a different texture and colour from your jam/jelly, it is simply fine air bubbles. If you don’t remove it from your jam before processing, you will have the foam on the top of your jelly/jam, taking away from the perfect finish.9
  • Stir the sugar all at once, bringing it back to a full rolling boil and follow the instructions of your sugar. Mine asks me to boil for X mins, whilst others may require you to use a candy thermometer to get it to a certain temperature.
  • Its normally at this point that I put the lids in a bowl and cover with boiling water for 5 minutes.
  • Once you have reached your desired temperature or completed the instructions, remove from heat, skim off any remaining foam and pour into the sterilised hot jars. I ladle the mixture into jars using a jam funnel, it makes life much easier!10
  • Then firmly put the lids on the jars, I did have a few mishaps. You should hear the lids ‘pop’ as  part of the vacuum effect, which causes the lids to seal on the jars. The ‘pop’ sound indicates that the seal on the lid has closed tightly over the jar. as My sugar instructions tell me to then flip the jars upside down for the jams to set for 12-24 hours. 11
  • Enjoy on toast, in a sandwich or with something savoury to give the sweet edge.
  • butter

    A few years ago I did a post on Pear Butter, this year I fancied Apple Butter (and threw in 2 pears for fun). There is just something amazing about the way your house will smell over the slow 6 hour cook of Apple Butter, truly its cinnamon and spice and all things nice! Its very homely comforting smell, if a smell could give you a hug, this is the smell! It’s a warm all consuming, everything is right with the world and relax smell, kind of Christmasy too!

    Apple butter is a concentrated form of apple sauce created by a long slow cook of apples with vinegar and sugar to a point where the sugar in the apples caramelizes, turning the apple butter a deep brown. The concentration of sugar (and vinegar) gives apple butter a much longer shelf life as a preserve than apple sauce, basically its good for a very long time!

    Apple Butter

    Ingredients:

    • 2 KGs/4 LBs of good cooking apples (I used a variety of Jonagold, Elstar and 2 pears)
    • 1 cup/250ml apple cider vinegar
    • 2 cups/500ml water
    • Caster Sugar ½C/115g per cup of apple sauce (mine was just over 4cups, see cooking instructions) I also used 1 cup of brown sugar, you can use normal white sugar or a mix of both brown and white sugar but do not use only brown sugar.
    • Pinch of salt
    • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
    • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
    • Rhind and juice of 1 lemon
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla paste/extract ( I used 1 tsp of each)

    Method:

    1

    1 Wash and cut the apples into quarters, without peeling or coring them. (Much of the pectin is in the cores and flavor in the peels). Remove any damaged/bruised parts of the apples.

    2 Place the cut up apples into large heavy bottomed pot, add the vinegar, water, lemon juice and lemon rhind, cover, bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, cook until the fruit is soft, approx. 20-30 minutes. I did give mine a stir a few times.

    3 Purée the apples through a food mill/ chinois/sieve over a large bowl to catch the pump. Ladle apple mixture (cooked apples and liquid) into a chinois sieve (or food mill) and using a pestle/wooden spoon force pulp from the chinois into a large bowl below. I used a spatula to occasionally scrape the pulp from the bottom of the sieve into the bowl.

    4 Measure out how much apple puree you have. This is vital to the much sugar you will need to add in. For every cup of apple puree you have, you need to add in ½C/115g of sugar. (Mine was 9 cps of puree, so I added in 3.5 cups of white sugar and 1 cup of brown sugar)

    5 After you have measured your puree, return it to the heavy bottomed pan, adding in the sugar, salt, spices and vanilla. You can taste and adjust seasonings if required. Stir in all the spices and sugar, you will see the colour change instantly from the spices (and brown sugar if using). 

    6  Cook the apple mixture, stirring only occasionally, uncovered on low heat, stirring occasionally to prevent burning. Scrape the bottom of the pot while you stir to make sure a crust does not form on the bottom of the pan.

    Cook until thick and smooth (2-6 hours), you will notice the colour darken over time and it become thicker. You will also see the foam form, remove it throughout the cooking process. I go for the low and slow method here, I cook on the smallest ring for the longest possible time. If you are in a rush you can do this is in 2 hours at medium/low heat, if you have the day, go low and slow, its so worth it! A small bit spooned onto a chilled (from the freezer) plate will be thick, not runny.

    7 When you have approximately 30 minutes left of cook time,  start to sterilise your jars,  putting them in the oven at 180C/350F for 30 minutes.

    8 When you have approximately 5 minutes of cook time left,  put the lids in a bowl and cover with boiling water for 5 minutes to sterilise the lids.

    9 Once your cook time is up, using a ladle and jam funnel pour the apple butter into the hot, sterilised jars and seal with the lids. As the jars cool, you should hear the lids “popping” as they seal the jars. (If you plan to store the apple butter un-refrigerated, make sure to follow proper canning procedures, which can be found on Google)

    12

    My 2Kgs/4lbs of apples/pears made 3 jars of apple butter. 

    As you can see, Ive been busy making and sharing (much to a few friends delight) jam/jellys and preserves. Im ready for winter with my jams now! Ive also made an updated version of the Comforting Spice Jam and will be updating the recipe in the days to come. 

    Remember to share for with your friends, family or neighbours 🙂

    List complete, mudwalk done!

    Ive had 2 tick boxes this year, sky diving and Wadlopen, Ive now completed both! Im 100% for the year, which I think makes my 2020 much better than many others.

    What is Wadlopen?

    During specific times of the year, groups walk across mudflats located in the Wadden Sea. You can only enter the mudflats during low tide and with a licensed guide. Mudflat walking in the Wadden Sea takes place on the shallow parts of the mudflats. You walk through the mud, sandbanks and along mussel beds, which are partly under water (it can go from ankle height up to your neck you choose to go into deeper areas). The wind can also affect the walk, as it can make the water deeper or shallower depending on the direction.

    The Wadden Sea

    The Wadden Sea is on the Unesco World Heritage List. It is a large continuous system of sand and mud plains, it is relatively dry during low tide allowing hikers to walk across it. It consists of tidal channels, sandbars, salt marshes, gullies, beaches and dunes. Mudflat walking on the Wadden Sea is a unique experience in a unusual nature reserve.

    Why Wadlopen?

    I was an exchange student in the NLs in 1999-2000 and as a 20 year anniversary, I wanted to redo Wadlopen. I decided to invite friends along to relive the memory and to make more memories. I arranged for a private guide, I would advise booking a private guide for Wadlopen, as you go in a much smaller group (no more than 12) where as organised tours can have up to 50 people and stay in the quite shallow areas of the Wad, rather than properly exploring it. Originally five friends were joining me but it was three on the day, a mix of Dutch and expats. It was such a fun experience, we laughed most of the time, which helped, we were covered in mud and the last kilometre was most certainly the hardest. We were quite literally yawning over dinner and debating who would fall asleep the fastest. Everyone else has said that their box is ticked and that never need to do it again but much like sky diving, Id happily do it annually or every 20 years, as the current timeline seems to be.

    Random Modern Art

    I enjoy doing exceptionally touristy things and things that are off the beaten path. I came across a list of more unusual things to do and see in the Netherlands and found a few things that I thought, ‘I must visit this attraction’, with one of them being a place called the Dutch Kremlin. A man has taken his passion of welding and art and created a truly unique garden. I insisted that we add it onto our road trip back from the North and everyone agreed, so we added 90 minutes onto the journey and ended up in a small village called Winkle. It was a great stop if you don’t take art seriously and are truly not expecting the Kremlin. Whilst we only spent about 30 minutes, many people spend an much longer taking it in and talking to the creator/owner.

    Almost October

    I can’t believe it’s almost October, it’s been a unique year, in more ways than one. I’m preparing to start working back in my office a few days a week, discovering what the new normal is going to be going forward. It’s been unique working from home for 6 months and having to get out of bed 05:30 does not feel with me with delight in any way. Ive enjoyed my 3 minute commute down my stairs to my kitchen table and not having to wear professional clothing of any form. Ah well, all good things must come to an end…