A summer like no other, but still filled to bursting with sunshine, laughter and huge amounts of safe ice-cream!
One of the changes that many people have experienced during last few months of lockdown has been more limited contact with their family members. Mike’s parents, brothers and their families are all in Canada and his usual contact with them can be sporadic at best, reliant on emails, FB messages and the occasional phone-call. Due to some changes in family circumstances in the last couple of months, Mike is now using both FaceTime and WhatsApp on an almost daily basis to stay in touch as well as get and give more regular updates from both sides of the pond.
G and M usually spend time with my Mum on a very regular basis be that after school or during the school holidays, and haven’t been able to do that since the middle of March. Instead we’ve replaced that time with regular phone-calls and weekly FaceTime chats on a Saturday so Mum can actually see how we’re all doing and we can compare current hairstyles, which always brings a smile. A couple of weeks ago we even managed a face-to-face meeting in our garden and fortunately the weather didn’t stop the happening, although it perhaps wasn’t as warm and sunny as we’d have liked.
Last week though, was a new venture for us. Following on from the success of our weekly quizzes, M proposed a family quiz and asked each member of the family to set a round of 10 questions on any subject they wanted. I added an additional round, pulled together all 8 rounds into a Powerpoint before hosting the quiz via Zoom. We covered a range of subjects from Star Wars to literature and from pop culture to facts and figures relating to our birthdays. It was a great way to spend an afternoon together, full of laughter and a few frustrated brows when obvious answers were missed. And, already a repeat performance has been requested, though I don’t quite know when it will happen!
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.
As many of the regular readers of my blog will know, there is nothing we love more as a family than a night out together, mostly at the theatre, though a trip to the cinema comes in a close second, especially when there’s a meal out involved too. We may be *only* 4 weeks into our COVID-19 lockdown, but there is already a small number of shows that have been missed: “A Christmas Carol” and “Macbeth” to help with G’s GCSE English Literature revision as well as the Christmas present we’d all been very much looking forward to, “Pentatonix” at the Apollo Eventim Hammersmith at the start of April.
The entertainment industry as a whole is making a huge effort to continue doing what they do best and are giving the general public the unprecedented opportunity to access a huge number of plays, musicals and even mini concerts through various social media platforms and I thought I’d share some of my favourite ones with you:
Gary Barlow’s #thecroonersessions: I have absolutely loved these sessions on Facebook, which see him performing some big hits with some big name stars and I would, without a doubt, recommend them to anyone looking for some great music to listen to. I’d be hard-pressed to pick a favourite, but his sessions with Ronan Keating, Alfie Boe and Matthew Morrison are definitely in my top ten.
The Shows Must Go On!: Thanks to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new YouTube channel, we’ve been able to spend Saturday nights at the theatre to enjoy a musical. It kicked off with “Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”, which had us all singing along without worry about what the people in neighbouring seats might think. M dressed up for the occasion in his best suit jacket with pyjama trousers and we even squeezed in an interval ice-cream halfway through the show. Unfortunately we just missed out on seeing the arena tour recording of “Jesus Christ Superstar” last weekend, but are definitely looking forward to “The Phantom of the Opera” this Saturday night. These shows are available on YouTube from 7pm on Friday evening for 48 hours and are announced weekly.
Disney+ Channel: Like thousands of others across the UK, and probably the world, we have signed up for a year’s subscription to the Disney+ channel, which has given us access to all things Disney as well as some unexpected extras such as the National Geographic channel. We have designated a “Disney” day each weekend, where a selection of Disney films are chosen to be watched, or in many cases, re-watched. So far we’ve enjoyed all 3 “High School Musical” films, the “Pirates of the Caribbean” saga and some more traditional animated films including “Moana”, “Hercules” and “The Little Mermaid”. It has also allowed both children to revisit some of their favourite Marvel movies over lunch after a morning of school work is completed.
Virtual Quiz Nights: this is not something we normally do, but what started as a fun way for G and I to spend some time with our heads together on a Friday evening has now morphed into a riotous event for the whole family. We kicked off with the “Friends” quiz a couple of weeks ago, were infinitely more successful at the Disney quiz in the second week and are now reading up in preparation for tomorrow’s “Harry Potter” quiz, a topic that I’m hoping my daughter will excel in as it’s definitely not part of my wheelhouse. It’s been fascinating to see who knows the most about the different quiz rounds – who could have imagined that M would have a seemingly faultless knowledge about what years Disney films were released as he managed an almost perfect score.
What have been your alternatives to nights out whilst in quarantine? Have you become an avid watcher of the wonderful productions of the National Theatre, or have you found something else to do? Please share!
With our whistle-stop tour of Scotland almost over, there were just a couple of places left on our hit list before we finally got back home. Mike was keen to detour via the Angel of the North, whilst G was desperate to make Scarborough our destination for the last night of our holiday. The last 2 days we were spending away from home were very much going to be all about the travelling, so it was good to have a couple of pit stops already planned for the necessary toilet breaks, stretches of our legs and escape from the relatively small confines of the car.
We crossed the Scottish border around lunch-time and I just about managed to snap a quick photo of the 3 Scottish flags that were flying to mark our departure. It then took us another 2 hours to travel down to Gateshead, home to the impressive Angel of the North. For those of you who don’t know, this is another Antony Gormley sculpture and one that dominates the landscape albeit in a surprisingly unintrusive way. As always there was a small competition in the car to see which family member could spot the Angel first and as it so often is, M managed to beat G and spotted it first. We parked easily and wandered across the grass to stand beneath its incredible wingspan and just stare up at the clouds. There was a somewhat heated debate between M and Mike as to whether the wings were moving in the wind, whilst G and I left the boys to it and simply stretched our legs out before climbing back in the car for the next part of the journey.
It would be fair to say that most of us slept – except Mike as designated driver thank goodness – over the next few hours, until we finally arrived in Scarborough far too late to do much more than drive rather aimlessly through the town and look at what we could have explored if only we’d arrived a little earlier. It’s still something of a mystery as to why exactly G was so determined to visit Scarborough, but I rather suspect that it has a lot to do with the infamous song, “Scarborough Fair” and not really anything else. She didn’t have a plan for anything she wanted to visit whilst there and M’s rather fed-up quizzing of her motives resulted in nothing more than a cursory shoulder shrug and typical teenage smile.
We were all a little tired, a lot travel-weary and in desperate need of food. Thanks to a speedy bit of googling on my trusty i-phone, I managed to find a well-recommended fish and chips shop that specialised in gluten-free batter and we decided to push the boat out for one last time on our holiday and spoil us all with that little treat. The gluten-free menu at Fish and Chips at 149 in Bridlington was incredible and I would highly recommend to anyone looking for a great allergy-friendly meal. We each chose our fish and accompaniment of choice and then headed to the seafront to sit and enjoy our meal. The portions were huge, but much enjoyed and we finished the evening off with a much-needed and refreshing walk along the seafront. It was a wonderful end to a fantastic holiday, though we were all looking forward to being homeward-bound once again.
You might have noticed that my blog has been quiet for a few weeks and, in time, I will explain a little more about the need…my need… for an extended silence as life has happened around us. However, we’re home after some family time away from home over the Easter holidays and I’m back with a vengeance with just so many reviews, recipes and photos to share from the last month or so.
But, before I get to the fun bits, I thought there was a much-needed health update, which is desperately long overdue. On the medical front, things are still ticking along without much intervention from anyone other than us. We haven’t been seen at GOSH for over a year and I have no idea when or if an appointment will come through the door. The gastro department there are very much working on moving patients back into local care and whilst I have steadfastly refused to let them discharge M from their care fully, they have definitely taken a step back and are in the background in an advisory capacity only should we want or need to call on them.
It also feels a little as if our local hospital has shrugged their shoulders with something of a “…we don’t really know or understand what’s going on with him…” attitude and are touching base with us on a fairly infrequent basis. I don’t really blame them as, for the most part, M is just going along as always and frankly I’m certain that I know far more about managing the ups and downs of his EGID on a day-to-day basis than anyone else. The one biggest change that has hit us has been the confirmation that there is almost definitely a mast cell problem lying alongside the EGID, but as the treatment is more or less the same for both, that diagnosis hasn’t made a difference to him or us in any way.
Food-wise, we’re now tentatively up to around the 9 or 10 food mark, having introduced onion, bacon and bananas on a regular basis and allowing the occasional other food creep in when circumstances call for it and we can be reasonably confident we can manage the outcome. These 3 foods have really added to my repertoire of recipes and make cooking so much more interesting and flavourful for M. Holidays continue to be the time when we really stretch our boundaries and whilst there are always consequences to live with – some of which are easier than others – our approach has led to a much happier M.
Both children are doing well at school with glowing “short” reports and parents’ evenings for them. G has selected her GCSE options with relatively little fuss or argument or discussion and we’re heading with a little trepidation into the wonderful world of humanities combined with dance. She recently took and passed her Grade 3 clarinet exam, a day I wasn’t sure we’d ever see and is also teaching herself to play the keyboard, guitar and ukulele in any spare moments she finds at home. G and M also recently took part in a regional Stagecoach performance celebrating 30 years of Stagecoach and loved every moment of it. It was great to watch them from the wings (I was back in chaperone role once more) as they danced and sang with enthusiasm on stage. As you can see, it’s been a busy few weeks and there’s just so much to share that I’m not entirely certain where I’ll begin!
There’s nothing I love more than decorating the house for Christmas, although the last 3 years have each carried their own challenge to being able to achieve that, with admissions to GOSH 2 years in a row followed by a health scare with my eyes last year. This year we’ve all been at home, all been in reasonable health and have all had a part, however small, in bringing the Christmas spirit into our home. Sunday was the day to “deck the halls” at home and M in particular couldn’t wait to get started on trimming the tree. With Christmas carols playing in the background, mulled wine warming on the stove and the advent candle burning down on the mantlepiece, the Christmas season really has begun.
I always feel particularly nostalgic when it comes to pulling the decorations out for our Christmas tree as each bauble evokes its own precious memory. Every year we buy at least one new decoration for each child for the tree and frequently they end up with more than one depending on our travels and on friends and family members who also buy and add to our collection. By the time G and M are ready to fly the nest and have their own homes to spend the festive season in, they will each have a boxful of decorations to trim their Christmas trees. As we unwrap each ornament, the memories of time spent together and journeys made wash over me and there are often stories to share as we reminisce about times past.
It’s hard to pinpoint my favourite decoration as there are so many happy memories encaptured in the beauty of our tree. There’s the small gold bauble with a red ribbon that marks our wedding as I hand-wrote enough for every guest to have one as an alternative wedding favour to celebrate the day. I have 2 handmade snowflakes from a German Christmas market, which my Dad brought back from a business trip and that have a special place in my heart. There are many from our holidays both before and after G and M arrived in our family – China, Australia, Ireland, Canada and even Greece to name but a few. Amongst the most precious are those the children have made over the years, from simple paper and sparkles in their nursery days to the hand-decorated ceramic ones that M made during his last hospital admission.
Today is the 5th day of Christmas and I’m looking forward to the memories we’ll be creating this year as we count down to the big day itself.
Ok, so it might not be Halloween just yet, but I thought I’d share some photos of the pumpkins that Mike and the children have spent time designing and carving over half-term. Halloween has never been a time to celebrate for me and was certainly never a significant time of year when I was growing up. My childhood was spent making a Guy for Bonfire night, rather than carving a pumpkin for Halloween and I never imagined it would become a regular part of our household’s routines. However, 20 years on from when I first met Mike in Canada and experienced trick-or-treating North-American style with my university friends, Halloween has become a family time with the children not only carving pumpkins with Mike, but often also with my Mum during half-term.
I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan of Halloween at all. We don’t go trick-or-treating with the children, though I absolutely support the work of the Teal Pumpkin Project which encourages households to provide non-food treats as a safe alternative to sweets for allergy children, so they can be a part of the experience alongside their friends. And I spend most of the week leading up to the day itself in an increasingly dark mood as October 31st is the anniversary of losing my Dad. It is always a difficult time of year for me, but I’m glad that the children are able to enjoy some fun time being creative with Mike and carving the pumpkins helps them celebrate their dual heritage in a unique way.
A month ago we spent our Saturday afternoon in what can only be described as a most unusual way for our particular family. It had all actually started a few days before, when Mike’s bike had developed a persistent flat tire that no amount of minor repair work was going to fix and he finally decided to take it to our local Halfords store for a complete overhaul. Unfortunately, the prognosis wasn’t good and sadly Mike had to come to terms with the terminal diagnosis that his bike just wasn’t going to make it and it was time to think of finding a suitable replacement. Not only did Mike need to urgently replace a crucial part of his daily commute, but my Mum had also been reminding me that I needed to actively do something to buy myself the bike that she has bought me as a birthday present for 2 years in a row, and so we headed back to Halfords to see what we could find.
If I was to say that G and M were not too enthused by the prospect of an afternoon investigating potential bike purchases for Mum and Dad, it would absolutely not be an exaggeration, but they really didn’t have much of a choice and so they begrudgingly came along, grumbling all the way. When we first arrived at the shop, it seemed fortuitous that they were having a end-of-season sale, but I really should have realised that being April Fool’s Day, the joke would ultimately be on us. Mike had already done some investigating into some options for me and I swiftly settled on a purple Apollo Elyse that would be everything I needed for future family cycling adventures.
And then the fun started. Whilst Mike explored the 2 floors to see what choices he had, both children took matters into their own hands and found bikes that would suit them too. We had been briefly discussing the fact that both G and M were starting to outgrow the bikes they had at home and the unquestionable allure of some great deals in their end-of-season sales plus a further negotiated discount because we were buying 4 bikes, instead of the anticipated 2, meant an attractive offer that we just couldn’t turn down.
It took a couple of weeks to pick up the bikes as they had to be ordered, delivered and serviced before we could finally take them home. Mike’s bike was pressed into instant service and the children were keen to get theirs out for a test run as soon as was humanly possible, so the Easter holidays came at the perfect time to allow them out on some mini adventures with Mike. However, I hadn’t had the same opportunity until last weekend dawned with the most glorious weather and with no homework left to do for either child. We decided to head out in a different direction than the ones they had been in before and cycled along the country lanes winding through the farm land and fields that surround our house. We cycled to the next village and back, not a huge distance by any stretch of the imagination, but a 5 mile introduction to what promises to be some great family adventures for 2017.