Category Archives: Personal

Keeping in Touch – 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries Week 16

How have you found keeping in touch whilst we’ve been on lockdown?

Zoom has certainly come into its own since March, with businesses, individuals and groups using this technology for just about every event and occasion imaginable. I find myself on this video conferencing platform almost daily with a combination of management meetings, team meetings, webinars and our Sunday morning post-Church service “coffee chat”. We’ve used it for quiz nights and catching up with friends in Canada, although a number of those have also been accessed through FaceTime, Facebook Live and YouTube. I’m even about to embark on some Zoom interviews for a role within our finance team at work, although I’ve still to work out how to facilitate the excel-based competency test we usually ask candidates to complete under timed conditions in our office.

M has become an expert on MS Teams as his secondary school has finally managed to get itself organised enough to run some “live” lessons for some subjects in the last 5 weeks or so of the school year. He also uses it for his weekly lesson with our local dyslexia centre, who had everything in place as soon as the Easter holidays were over, and have offered him a week’s worth of daily lessons in August so that he doesn’t miss out too much on the learning and support they would have been doing with him since lockdown started.

G will be using MS Teams tomorrow as her tutor has organised an online face-to-face farewell session for her tutor group before she has an unquestionably late induction to the 6th form at her current school in case she decides to stay on there in September. For G, there has been very little contact with the school over the last 15 weeks. There has been no active teaching or engagement with the 300 students in her year group and many of them will not be returning in September as they move on to other schools and apprenticeships for the next step in their studies. Whilst we thought that the contact with M from school had been mediocre at best, for G it has been devastatingly pitiful and has done absolutely nothing to give her any semblance of any support during what has been a challenging time for us all, let alone for those students where the opportunity to take GCSEs and A-levels was suddenly snatched away.

As I mentioned last week, M took his first steps back to life as normal as it possibly can be these days with a return to school for a one hour session yesterday lunchtime. He was in with 8 other members of his tutor group, including 2 of his closest friends and it was a great opportunity to catch up and actually see other people for the first time in months. He wore his face mask into school, but chose to take it off during the session as the desks in the classroom had all been spaced 2 metres apart. He enjoyed the time they had and it gave him a much-needed change of scenery too.

We also met up with my Mum for the first time properly since lockdown began, although it was via a socially distanced cup of tea in our garden – Mum bringing her own flask of hot water, tea-bags, mug and chair with her! I have been either calling or texting her daily to give her regular updates about how we all are, and weekly Face Times with the children as well to give her and them an opportunity to chat. Sunday was the first chance for us all to be together for an extended length of time in person, something that I think we all needed. The weather wasn’t quite as glorious as it has been in previous weeks, but it was dry enough for long enough to allow us to sit out comfortably together and enjoy that time.

Re-opening the World – 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries Week 15

How has the easing of lockdown affected you and your family? Have you gone back to life as it was pre-lockdown, are you still following strict social distancing or shielding rules, or are you slowly working towards finding your feet in your new normal?

The last few days have been interesting ones for me as I’ve started to receive phone-calls from local services and businesses as they begin to re-open their doors and are keen to get people in after months of self-isolation. I’m sure there are those that will think I’m being overly cautious, but my answer to each of those enquiries has been simple: thank you, but no thank you, not at the moment. Having strictly restricted my movements over the last 15 weeks, I’m not in any rush to get back to the way things were before lockdown happened and will be keenly watching to see what happens over the next few weeks, particularly as pubs and restaurants reopen this weekend as well as some other businesses.

We’ve also been prepping to make sure we have everything we need as we do start to move towards relaxing our own version of lockdown. Despite the reluctance of the UK government to mandate the wearing of face masks or coverings when out and about in England, we have discussed the importance of them with G and M and agreed that the whole family will be wearing them once we start to venture further afield. Mike is already wearing a mask daily as he travels for his work and M has independently decided that he will wear his when he goes into school next week for an hour-long “keeping in touch” session before the end of the school year.

Both children had input into the face masks that they wanted to have and are happy to wear them when needed. We knew that having their buy-in was important, not least because there is a requirement to wear them when going into hospital for appointments and sooner or later that will be necessary for M and me, although we both currently have either telephone or video appointments booked for later this month.

Whatever your movements this weekend, be it to your local pub, restaurant or simply more staying at home, stay safe and keep well.

Surviving the weather – 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries Week 14

I know that it’s a very British thing to do, but I can’t possibly let another week slip by without mentioning the weather! When lockdown started what feels like a lifetime ago, the world experienced an influx of rainbows as communities looked to spread a little hope and happiness to all who saw them. G and M created their own rainbow masterpiece to display in the window nearest the road snaking past our house and we enjoyed spotting them in so many different locations as we ventured out for our daily exercise around the neighbourhood.

Friends and family in Canada and in Scotland were hit by an astonishingly late snowfall in early May, whilst in our part of the world we were experiencing weeks of unparalleled sunshine. The children loved being able to spend so much time outside on the trampoline or on bike rides, whilst Mike took advantage of the good weather and his time on furlough to tackle many of the gardening projects that have been lingering on his to-do list for an awfully long time.

And then, this time last week, everything changed. Our village and the surrounding areas were hit by huge storms, flash floods and all the problems that comes with such heavy rain. We had our own personal drama when the electricity transformer in the field next to our house exploded due to the combination of the wet weather and a faulty cable with a hole, knocking out the power not only in our house, but in half the village too. Fortunately, it turns out we have a secondary connection to the mains electricity, so we only in fact lost power for around 10 minutes, although the internet connection took a lot longer to re-establish.

7 days on and we’re back to the glorious sunshine of a few weeks ago and even hotter temperatures. My sister-in-law in Canada told me they’re experiencing a similarly high 30°+, but the humidex (humidity index) has made it feel like 37° or more. Yesterday was filled with ice creams, ice-cold drinks and staying in the shade and today has seen more of the same. The only question now is whether the thunder storm forecast for early tomorrow morning actually hits or not and brings a little relief with it.

 

Channelling Creativity – 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries Week 13

When writing my blog posts, I usually find that inspiration will hit for the next during the writing process, although I do occasionally find myself scrabbling around for ideas to develop and explore. This post is the result of one such experience. The truth about the last 13 weeks for most of us is that one week has very much been like another. In our household, weekdays have, and continue to involve, getting up and ready for the day, heading downstairs for work or homeschooling, some venturing out for water, lunch and copious amounts of coffee and eventually the end of the day, for me at least.

Evenings are time for family, daily exercise and bed. Weekends vary a little with no work and much longer walks with the children, but the truth is, there isn’t necessarily a lot of new and exciting things to share with anyone most of the time.

However, the one thing we have been doing is spending time developing some new skills and channelling the creativity hiding inside. With no choir rehearsals, sports or performing arts going on, it’s been really important to find other ways to spend our free time. As I’ve mentioned before, M has been honing his photography skills in preparation of starting his GCSE syllabus next year, whilst both he and G have been choosing to bake different treats every couple of weeks, which have been delicious to taste-test afterwards. G also decided that she wanted to share her joy of dancing with our community as a whole, so every lunchtime, 6 days a week, she goes out for an hour’s exercise and dances her way through our village.

I have also been feeding my inner creativity by learning to knit, a skill that both my Dad and my Gran first shared with me as a child and something I’ve long been tempted to revisit. Someone in our village offered some “How to Knit” kits near to the start of lockdown and whilst I don’t think I’ll be winning any awards for the end results, it’s been fun to relearn how to do it. And thanks to the discovery of a box of brand-new baby clothes and other paraphenalia from a few years ago hiding in the study, I’ve spent a few hours creating some baby bouquets and clothes bundles. With the help of one of the ward sisters, we’ve been able to donate these to

the NICU at our local hospital, somewhere that looked after both G and M at the very start of their lives. G helped out here as well, by making some beautiful hand-drawn congratulations postcards to accompany each bundle. It was fab to not only flex my creative muscles once again, but to also work with G to create something beautiful we could share with others in our community.

Working from Home – 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries Week 12

The last 12 weeks have seen thousands of people starting to work from home on a much more regular basis than they might have done before and I know that for some, that situation will continue for the foreseeable future, if not as a permanent change to their work location going forward. The reality of lockdown has meant that businesses have had to review and consider how they work, and can work in the future, especially where this means that potential savings could be made and help them to survive the current financial crisis.

As I mentioned in last week’s post, I am carrying on working from home and will be for an as-yet-to-be-determined amount of time. Working for a charity within the care sector, we are taking a very cautious approach with our work processes in order to protect our service users as much as we can and that same approach is being applied to those of us who work in the Head Office. Our Board of Trustees and Senior Management Team (SMT) are anticipating that our regular meetings will continue to be virtual for several months and our Head Office will continue to be manned by a skeleton staff whilst the rest of us work from home until further notice.

Working from home can come with its own challenges, be that about motivation and focus, or working excessive hours because it can be difficult to switch off mid-task; or, these days, the juggling act required to manage workloads, team dynamics and meetings alongside homeschooling and childcare. I attended a webinar a few weeks ago run by recruitment consultants, Robert Half, which looked at the pressures that working parents have felt during the lockdown period and the importance of changing the way we look at things for our own mental wellbeing.

One of the key messages from this webinar was that those of us who are working parents should aim to be a “good enough” parent, rather than a “perfect” parent. We may have started lockdown with ambitions to conquer the combined dizzying heights of homeschooling and working from home, but many, if not all, have struggled to achieve their own goals and the knock-on effect on motivation and wellbeing has been huge. Seeking virtual support from friends and family as well as setting more realistic goals for what can be achieved each day and not beating ourselves up about if we don’t manage to tick everything off the list is critical.

There were also some great suggestions about how to help yourself and your children get through lockdown. My favourite ones included using your usual commute time for some me-time however that looks like for you; or as a family making notes of the things we’re missing doing the most and saving those into an empty box or jar. Once we’re out of lockdown completely, you can pick those notes out and work your way through each experience. At the end of the day, succeeding at working from home might not look quite as you imagined it would, but getting through this time relatively unscathed is, without a doubt, the most important thing of all.

Easing Lockdown – 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries Week 11

How things have changed in the last week in the UK. The government announced that we could start easing the lockdown measures that have been in place since the end of March, a decision that has received mixed reactions from across the country. Changes have been discussed at the daily briefings, or published via press releases late at night, and all too frequently there has not been sufficient detail or further explanations provided to give comfort to anyone expressing concern that maybe we’re moving ahead too quickly when considering current statistics.

As lockdown eases, I’m able to continue to work from home for the time being, which has been especially reassuring given the recent publication of scientific research into the risk of COVID-19 on those living with diabetes. We had all been advised that those living with underlying health conditions were at higher risk during the pandemic, but the evidence suggests a particular link with diabetes and other health factors, some of which are relevant to me, others that aren’t. I won’t be changing the way I’m working at the moment and continue to limit myself to being at home or out for a walk in the area surrounding our village, somewhere I haven’t left since lockdown began.

Both G and M continue with their homeschooling and it was confirmed just before half-term that neither of them will return to school before September at the earliest. We continue to balance school-work with other activities to keep them entertained during the day, but they are yearning to spend some time with friends, although they do understand why that just isn’t possible at the moment. Our old trampoline finally gave up the ghost with a number of springs popping off in the first few weeks of lockdown, but we managed to get an order in for a replacement one and M has been waiting eagerly for it to arrive. The delivery finally happened at the start of this week and the introduction of a 16 foot trampoline to our paddock is certainly a sight to see. G and M have already been out bouncing as much as they possibly can and it’s definitely big enough to accommodate them both at the same time.

The biggest change with the easing of lockdown is for Mike. Having been furloughed on 1 April, he has spent the last couple of months doing a number of DIY jobs around the house and garden, but that is now coming to an end as he starts back at work tomorrow. This has come with its own set of concerns, not least about how Mike can best protect himself to minimise the risk of him bringing COVID-19 home to either M or me. We have agreed a process whereby he will change in the garage as soon as he gets home from work, put his clothes straight into the washing machine and will then come in and go straight to the shower before coming into contact with the rest of us. He has also been provided with a supply of PPE to wear throughout his day as he travels between houses to complete surveys and valuations. Finally, as I have taken over his study for my home office, he will be using the desk in the spare bedroom for when he needs to work on his reports.

What does the lockdown easing mean for you and your family? Are you returning to your new version of “normal”, or taking a more cautious approach for the next few weeks? Whatever you’re doing, stay safe and keep well.

Community Spirit – 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries Week 10

The one thing that has been much talked about during the lockdown has been the community spirit that has bee thriving around the UK. I don’t know what it’s been like near you, but our village has pulled together in so many ways, which has been lovely to see. Some arrangements have been purely practical, such as shopping or picking up prescriptions for the vulnerable, whilst others have been shared activities to do at home that have been aiming to raise a smile and give locals something to see and do.

Our village, like so many other communities in the UK, has seen a COVID-19 related support group springing up on Facebook, which has shared local information such as shop opening times as well as offering support to those most in need. Our local foodbank has seen a huge increase in demand and so many in our small community have rallied around to provide the tinned and packaged goods that will make a huge difference to those struggling to feed their families. Similarly, our parish council has co-ordinated efforts to make sure that groceries and prescriptions are collected and delivered to our elderly and vulnerable residents.

Local schools in the area have donated their unused PPE to healthcare organisations and many of the secondary schools have worked to produce face visors for any who have needed them. The charity I work for has benefitted from this in particular as we run 18 residential and supported-living homes across the region supporting adults with learning disabilities and, thanks to the generosity of a number of these local schools, we were given 120 face visors for our care staff to use to keep them safe as they do their everyday job.

Every Thursday, our community has come out to join the national #clapforcarers and we’ve seen more of our neighbours in the last 10 weeks than we normally do in an average year! We live right at the end of our village, so are fairly remote, but each week has seen more and more families joining in our thanks and recognition of those who have worked throughout lockdown to keep us safe. Mike and I have also been out on some of our daily walks when the #clapforcarers has happened, and have loved seeing how other streets in our village have been banding together – at an appropriate social distance of course – at this time too.

There has also been a plethora of community art projects happening, both in our village and on a national, or even worldwide, level. It started with the rainbows 11 weeks ago, many of which are still gracing the houses we pass each day on our walks and, for us, has now moved on to a scarecrow trail. Mike, G and M made our original scarecrow for VE day, but with the suggestion of a village-wide trail, “Gerald” has been updated and adapted to remind all who pass our house to follow the guidance on social distancing and protecting the NHS. We’ve spotted several other masterpieces as we’ve ventured around the streets, my personal favourite being the one collapsed on top of a hedge with an empty can of beer in his hand and a simple sign stating “After Party”.

Awareness in Lockdown – 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries Week 9

This week has been a focus for raising awareness for 2 causes close to our hearts: National Eosinophil Awareness Week (NEAW) and Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW). It somehow feels apt that these two go hand-in-hand this week as we have so often experienced first-hand how closely linked life with EGID is with the mental health well-being of all in our family. This year that is even more important as so many of us are struggling with the changes that the coronavirus lockdown has brought with it and none more so than the young people in our household.

National Eosinophil Awareness Week: We have been very active in raising awareness about eosinophilic diseases for a number of years, but decided to start taking a step back from that last year. Eosinophilic Colitis (EC) was the initial diagnosis that we received for M all those years ago from his consultant at GOSH, but in recent times, the diagnosis criteria for this condition have faltered and existing diagnoses have been actively questioned by many within the medical community. These days conditions such as mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS) have been bandied about in relation to M, but ultimately the root cause of his health problems still remains a mystery to us all. As I’ve said so many times, having a name to put to his health issues has helped us all, even when very little is known about it, and I continue to use both his original diagnosis of EC and the newer one of MCAS when filling in paperwork or talking about M with other people.

Despite our own uncertainty about whether EGID is the correct diagnosis for M or not, I will always continue to encourage and support the fundraising and awareness-raising efforts of organisations seeking to research and understand this family of conditions more. Lockdown maybe stopping us doing anything active to raise awareness this week as we have in the past, but it’s good to be able to do my bit even from within the constraints of my own home.

Mental Health Awareness Week: Mental health well-being has been a buzz word in our household for a number of years and never has that been more important than now as we see the impact of 9 weeks in lockdown on us all. I’m a happy introvert, who enjoys spending time in my own company and so, in many ways, lockdown life is suiting me quite well. Regular contact with my work colleagues through Zoom and conference calls, webinars and online catch-ups with other friends is keeping me in touch with the outside world, which is especially important at a time when my T1D is keeping me at home.

However, I see a greater effect on Mike and the children and I think a lot of that is due to the changes to their daily routines. I am still working 9-5 every weekday, albeit from home and more often 8-7, but the 3 of them are going through a very different experience to me. Mike was furloughed from his job as a chartered surveyor on 1 April and for someone who is very used to being out and about as he values or surveys properties every day, the restriction of staying at home has been difficult. He is also much more of a social bug than I am, so not having daily face-to-face time with anyone other than the children and me has also taken its toll. However, that being said, the online capability to chat to family and friends across the world is something he has definitely embraced, even taking part in his regular whiskey-tasting evening via Zoom the other night!

As for the children, well G and M are almost a perfect reflection of Mike and me. G is comfortable entertaining herself and being in her own company, whereas M thrives on spending time with his peers as well as being constantly active and mentally challenged by them. Both have found lockdown difficult and we have worked, and continue to work, hard together to find the best outlet for their emotions as well as effective ways to meet their social needs. Chatting on WhatsApp or connecting via the PS4 has been a good solution and both are also having tutoring sessions via Zoom or MS Teams every week. This connection with people from outside of the family has been key to giving them something that is a very faint semblance of what they’re used to experiencing daily. Keeping them in a routine has also been important as Mike and I are very conscious that their return to school in September, after the best part of 6 months home-schooling, will exhaust them physically, mentally and emotionally from the minute they step through the school doors, if not before.

The buzzword for MHAW has been Kindness and considering what random acts of kindness you can do for others has been much encouraged. However, I think it’s key to remember that, whilst showing kindness to others in all situations is important, so is showing kindness to ourselves. We truly are living through extraordinary times and we shouldn’t feel guilty if we are not coping as well as we perhaps believe we should. Be that by taking some time to do something we love to do as an individual – bubble bath anyone? – or spending time relaxing with our family or even reaching out to a friend because we just need to talk, being kind to ourselves will improve our own well-being, which is something we all need right now.

Food Boxes – 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries Week 8

One of the many things that have changed hugely during lockdown for everyone has been the process of buying food and this has been particularly challenging for those families living with food allergies. In the initial rush to panic buy the bare essentials – loo roll, pasta and flour to name but a few – those individuals who needed to buy freefrom foods found their usually more plentiful supplies being depleted by others who chose to buy allergy-friendly when their “normal” stocks ran out.

Thanks to my hoarding tendencies and the regular “big” shop that I do twice a month, we had enough safe milk, bread, flour and pasta to keep us going for several weeks and initially had no problems in buying more rice milk as that seemed to be the one dairy-free milk alternative that no-one else wanted. However, for a family who goes through around 40 litres of rice milk a month, the restrictions introduced where we could only buy 3 of any product proved to be a little more challenging in keeping our cupboards full. G and M have been brilliant at switching to drinking water, or occasionally squash, during the day, rather than the huge quantities of milk that they both prefer, which has certainly helped to eke out the supplies we have had at home.

Its been a case of not only trying to find the food you need and can eat, but also how you actually do your regular food shop. This has been especially true for our household as my T1D places me squarely on the clinically vulnerable list and as such, the advice has been clear that I should be staying at home. Fortunately for us, we already do a lot of our food shopping online, using our local food co-operative for our fresh fruit, veg and meat as well as Sainsburys and Ocado for our store cupboard essentials and, most importantly, the more specialised foods we need to keep G and M healthy and safe when they eat. The increased need for home delivery caused huge problems for many people at the start of the coronavirus crisis, but as we all settled into our new sense of normal, supermarkets and other food suppliers rose to the challenge of how to help more people in any way that they could and found a solution by introducing a variety of food boxes.

Now this will come as no surprise to anyone in the allergy community, but it took a little longer for these same organisations to realise that there was a whole group they were forgetting to cater for and now there’s a reasonable mix of freefrom boxes available too, though they do predominantly focus on the gluten-free market as far as I can see. We have ordered 3 different food boxes over the last few weeks and I thought I’d share our experience and opinion of each in turn:

Morrisons Food box (starting from £35) – one of the first food boxes to become available as far as I am aware and as the weeks have gone on, they have expanded their offering beyond the basic meat or vegetarian essentials boxes they started with. I ordered a meat essentials box, which arrived promptly and was well-packaged, including ice packs to keep the fresh produce chilled until I had time to put the food away. Our box contained, as it said, the essentials needed to keep us eating well: milk, bread, pitta breads, pasta, butter, cheese, meats, fruit, vegetables,tinned goods and the much-need pack of loo rolls were all included in it. Whilst it wasn’t the solution we needed in terms of safe foods for the children, it kept Mike and I going for another week at least and supplemented well what we already had in the house.

Marks and Spencer Food box (starting from £15) – with Easter coming so quickly after the start of lockdown, my Mum had managed to buy dairy- and soya-free chocolate for G and M, but apologised to me that she hadn’t had time to buy an Easter egg for me or Mike. Instead, she sent us a Marks & Spencer Fruit box and what a wonderful treat it was when it arrived. Again, it was a well-packaged delivery and contained a great variety of fruits to satisfy all tastes within the family. Whilst we order what I would term as our basic fruits every week (apples, bananas, oranges), the box also contained some more exotic fruits which, to put it simply, brightened my day. We received a plentiful supply of those regular fruits, which are always needed as we’re living with a 14 year old who lives for his regular smoothies and has a growing appetite at the moment, but I enjoyed the fresh mango and pineapple as part of my breakfast or lunch for a few days too.

Doves Farm Gluten-free Food box (£25) – this was an unexpected find, but a much welcome one. Surprisingly, I hadn’t seen anything mentioned about it through my usual allergy community social media platforms, but rather spotted it as a photo and post by an old friend on their FB feed. Discovering a box that not only catered amazingly for the gluten-free needs of our household, but also included 3 bags of safe flour was amazing and I couldn’t wait for this one to arrive on our doorstep. Add in the pancake batter mix, boxes of cereal and 8 delicious cereal bars that are safe for both children, there really was nothing to complain about. It was also great to find a new safe snack for M and I will definitely be looking to buy the apricot freee oat bars again.

Getting Back to Nature – 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries Week 7

One of the advantages of living in a village surrounded by expansive fields and glorious countryside is that our walks for the government-mandated daily exercise are many and varied. During the week Mike and I tend to venture out in the evenings once my work day has come to an end, although we tend to stick to the same few routes which are long enough to reach at least 10,000 steps and safe enough for even my poor eyesight to manage as dusk falls. G and M spend their time out in our garden: running around, climbing trees, building obstacle courses and bouncing on the trampoline as well as performing regular dance routines inside and out, from G in particular. However, at weekends, we insist on taking both children out with us and go for a much longer explore, along numerous trails which have taken us past our village’s Jubilee stone, through the woods in just about every direction you can imagine, across the fields to the next village over and past our farm neighbours to the fishing “lakes”, railway line and beyond.

Mike and M have taken their cameras with them on several occasions, seizing the opportunity to snap the wildlife, flowers, trees and anything and everything else we’ve come across along the way. M got some wonderful photos of the local bluebells covering the forest floors recently and has even tried his hand at taking pictures at night, including of the impressive pink moon that graced our skies a few weeks ago. Even when the camera hasn’t been packed for the trip, M can often be found using his, or my, mobile phone to capture what he spies as we walk and has achieved some amazing shots this way too.

These walks have been a great chance to spend some time together as a family and we always make sure that we have supplies with us to allow a stop for a drink and a snack on our journey. The beauty of our small village is that we rarely come across anybody else and, even when we do, there’s more than enough space to pass whilst following social distancing guidance. We’ve discovered more of our local area than in the 10+ years we’ve lived here so far and have been able to experience nature unlike ever before. Being able to watch 2 beautiful deer running and leaping through the fields alongside us last weekend was simply fantastic and whilst nobody managed to capture the it on film, I’m glad we were able to see and enjoy it without a lens or screen in the way.