G started her A-levels in the sixth form at our local school after 6 months of practically no school whatsoever following the outbreak of the COVID pandemic and ensuing lockdown in the UK. It has not been the easiest year for her whole cohort as they’ve struggled to get back to learning with not only the added challenges of online schooling and social bubbles within school, but also that monumental shift into further education. It has quickly become apparent that traditional A-levels do not suit G’s learning style or allow for her exam nerves, and so she has bravely made the decision to move to a local college and study BTEC courses instead. It feels like a very grown-up choice for her to have made, not least as she will be catching the train to college each day, but with her 18th birthday approaching far too quickly, it is unquestionably the right time for her to make this change.
M, on the other hand, has, for the most part, embraced the challenge of his GCSEs and has shown a definite flair for both the artistic (photography and performing arts) and the scientific (Computing and Science) in his Year 10 mock exams. His cardiology appointment in May revealed that he grew an incredible 12cms and gained 15kg in 15 months, more than he’s ever managed before and he continues to grow like a weed and is fast catching up on me! I’m not sure it would be fair to say that he’s looking forward to moving into Year 11 in September, but he is beginning to think about what he wants to study next and G’s move to another college has helped broaden his outlook on where he might go.
Our summer plans are fairly quiet, though we are hoping to squeeze in a week away at some point, COVID allowing. G is helping out with the Stagecoach summer school for 2 weeks and M has volunteered to help with the sound at a couple of the summer camp family days that our church is running. They both have some school work to complete too, but the rest of this week is mostly going to be occupied with lots of sleep and an outside performance of Macbeth (one of M’s GCSE texts!) to enjoy, our first trip to the Theatre for an awfully long time…and I simply can’t wait!
Whilst we still can’t do much more than dream about resuming our international travel adventures at the moment, we have been talking lots about where we’d like to go once we can start again. We’ve discussed weekends away, city breaks, longer holidays and birthday treats, not least because G will be turning 18 at the end of this year. Some destinations have been something of a surprise (Hungary and Russia in the middle of the winter to name a couple), whilst others have been on one family member or another’s wish list for a long time.
There has also been a definite fatigue within the 7Q2D kitchen over the last few months and so, taking inspiration from all of our conversations about travel, I decided to pick a handful of countries and their cuisines to influence our menu choices. It started with a return to a recipe I’d adapted whilst we were watching the Great British Bake-Off last year and both children fancied trying the Japanese steamed buns that were prepared. I made them in the Autumn using duck as a filling and had surprisingly great success. However, I hadn’t turned my hand to them and so decided one weekend to give them another whirl, with plenty of time to fit in a family walk whilst the dough was rising.
In the spirit of travel-inspired foods and, quite frankly, building on that success, this past week has been all about Italy – another of G’s picks as well as Mike’s hopes for a Roman weekend. So far we’ve enjoyed Gnocchi (though I must admit it wasn’t home-made), risotto, pizza, arancini di riso, and pasta on different nights and with plenty of enthusiasm from even my pickiest diner.
I’m not quite sure where next week’s travels will take us, but it’s been fun and an entertaining alternative so far to the same old dishes that I seem to cook week after week.
It’s been a manic couple of weeks as year-end audits loom far faster than I’d like along with the end of term 5 for both G and M, with oodles of revision needing to be done in all of our immediate futures. Add in an unexpectedly large number of hospital appointments for M as well as dental, hair and opticians appointments for G, M and me, no wonder I barely have time to breathe, or so it feels.
However, tonight I’m hoping to take a couple of hours to join the virtual party for this year’s FreeFrom Food Awards. If nothing else, I’ll certainly be following their social media accounts to hear the winners and hopefully find some new products for G and M to try. There’s always some goodies to uncover, so if you’re got some time this evening or even in the next few days, it’s definitely worth having a look at the winners’ list on the #FFFA21 website.
You may be wondering what has me thinking about these incredibly whimsical creatures, especially when the last 60 weeks have been all about the global pandemic and not a great deal else. The answer is really quite simple and that’s my happy discovery this week of The Book Fairies. For someone who loves books as much as G and I do, what could possibly be more magical?
Last year, the Duchess of Cambridge and National Portrait Gallery launched a UK-wide photo project called Hold Still, which asked individuals and communities from across the country to take a photo portrait based on one of three themes reflecting life in lockdown. Thousands of photos were submitted and somehow whittled down to just 100 encapturing the nation’s experiences of COVID-19 in a number of different ways. These photos were presented in a digital exhibition as well as being displayed across the UK during the autumn and last week a book was also published.
Now you may be wondering how fairies come into the picture, but as my reading revealed, a number of book fairies as well as some of the 100 photographers included in the photobook were given a copy to leave in their local area in a place that had given that community hope over the last year. Book Fairies are a group of book-loving individuals from around the world, who want to share the joy of books with others by leaving books in public places to be found and enjoyed by just about anyone. Notes can be hidden inside and stickers popped on the cover to indicate that the book has been left by a fairy, and the idea is to simply share a book you’ve enjoyed with others.
I can’t imagine anything more magical than coming across a hidden treasure like this and think I may well encourage G and even M to think about finding some books that they’d be happy to share by becoming book fairies. How very wonderful to be able to bring joy and light to a world that has experienced great darkness over the last fifteen months and many individuals who will continue to do so.
This time last year the annual Free From Food Awards were done and dusted with the judging having managed to get in under the wire when it came to all things COVID. We celebrated the winners via a virtual awards ceremony on Zoom and then wondered just what would happen when it come to the 2021 awards, quietly confident that the wonderful and hard-working team behind the magic of the FFFA would have something special up their sleeves.
Needless to say they absolutely did, and even managed to put in enough measures to allow some in-person judging of the increased number of categories, albeit in a different way to what all of us seasoned judges have become used to. Unfortunately, despite an offer to travel to London for a judging session at the end of March, I wasn’t quite sure when my first vaccine would happen and so sadly I decided to decline the invite this year. However, G and M were delighted to step into my shoes and take up my mantle by judging some of the offerings from the “Child & Teens” category, which once again found some new favourites to add to our cupboards.
M also joined the brand new “Digital Presence” panel and absolutely loved being able to legitimately spend time online looking at how well various freefrom brands manage their websites and social media. And my month was made when I was asked to join the virtual session for finalising the shortlisted products and awards for the Child and Teens contenders.
This week the finalists for the Free From Food Awards 2021 have been announced and it’s wonderful to see some of the children’s new finds as well as old favourites being included in the shortlist, which you can see here. The final winners will be announced on May 27 and we can’t wait to see just who has won what across all of the categories.
Over the last couple of weeks, G and M have gone back to having face-to-face Stagecoach and Dyslexia Centre classes, are swimming twice a week and have even had some in-person medical appointments. Whilst we’re still a long way from being back to our pre-2020 lives – and lets face it, who knows when or if we will be – it has been fantastic to escape the constant need to be online.
It really does feel as if we’re moving in the right direction and hopefully that continues. However, as we creep ever closer to a more normal day-to-day, our family and friends in Canada as well as thousands of others around the world are struggling with increasing COVID numbers and stricter restrictions. It’s difficult to predict when things will once again improve for them too, but all we can hope is that it’s not too far away.
The last 2 weeks have been busy both for us and for the rest of the UK. G and M have been enjoying their Easter holidays from school, not least as both have been active participants in this year’s Over The Wall Camp in the Cloud sessions once again. Every day has been a combination of crafts, challenges and nightly cabin chats and it’s been lovely to see them engaged in something other than their electronic devices night and day! I’ve been honing my face-painting skills and have discovered a new outlet for my creativity, though M has been more reluctant to let me practice now that his camp has come to an end.
We’ve been impressed once again with the #CitC offerings this year, not least as the daily activities have all been different to those they completed last summer. G in particular has connected with friends she made both through the 2020 virtual camp and from attending camp in person before and is enjoying the opportunity to chat and laugh in a safe space with some lovely individuals. I’m also really pleased to see that they will continue with the opportunity for monthly cabin chats with their teams for the next 3 months and know that both children are looking forward to that as well.
The slow easing in lockdown measures hasn’t affected us too much so far, though we did take advantage of the opportunity to see my Mum on Easter Sunday. Undoubtedly, the highlight of M’s week has been the news that our local pool has reopened and he absolutely loved his first swimming session back on Tuesday evening, something he has very much missed over the last few months. We’re not ones to rush out to our local for a swift half or a meal outside in the UK weather, and we will continue to take our own small steps in widening our world once again.
Whether you are celebrating Easter, starting the school holidays with your children or simply enjoying a long weekend off work, no matter what you’re doing or who you’re spending your time with, I hope you enjoy a peaceful and blessed Easter.
This weekend sees another small step forward in our household as we continue to find our new normal of living with coronavirus: Mike has been invited to have his first COVID-19 vaccination. We can only assume that our local GP practice is ahead of the national rollout as he definitely hasn’t hit 50 (yet!), but as soon as the text pinged on to his phone, he clicked the link and booked his appointment.
I’ve also been on the hunt for more information about when G might be able to have her first vaccination and was delighted to find out that as she is a registered Young Carer, she falls into priority group 6 and will be able to have hers as soon as there’s a Pfizer delivery in our local area. I’ve confirmed that her name is on the waiting list with our GP and we’ve now got everything crossed that a batch arrives sooner rather than later.
That just leaves young master M without his and after a conversation with his gastro consultant at our local hospital and have found out that it will be a bit of a wait until he’s eligible for his jab. There’s a bit of a question mark about whether he will hit the criteria once he’s 16, but given that’s still a year away and we know that a lot can happen in 12 months, it’s a case of waiting and seeing what that time brings.
All in all, a small step, but definitely a good one!