A summer like no other, but still filled to bursting with sunshine, laughter and huge amounts of safe ice-cream!
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”.
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.
Two weeks into the UK-wide COVID-19 lockdown and we are all slowly adjusting to life as we currently know it. Everything was turned on its head a bit this week, when Mike was furloughed from his job in line with the government’s job retention scheme. This didn’t come as a particular surprise to us as so many businesses are having to consider carefully how they can best weather this storm, but it does mean that the dynamics in the house have changed as Mike adjusts to both life as a house-husband and the nuances of how I like my day to unfold when at work.
G and M are currently doing okay with the sudden and continued disruption to their daily routines, though the end of the week saw tempers fraying a little as they spend almost every waking moment in much closer proximity to each other than they’re used to and with no real end in sight. Our dining room has become their school room every morning until lunchtime, when they can then close the door on their virtual lessons for another day. Their school work is more challenging not just for both of them, but also for me as I try to juggle numerous conference calls, zoom meetings and my own workload with their needs of support and guidance with the work being set for them online.
G is capable of being reasonably independent with her learning and has faithfully put in 2-3 hours every morning on continuing her GCSE revision timetable. By the end of the week, school had added work plans to prepare the Year 11 students for their A-levels due to start in September, so, having asked me to buy the pyschology textbook for her, G will be beginning the introductory tasks set to prepare her for those courses.
M similarly is working really hard at the lessons and homework being set for him, but is inevitably finding the quantity of different notifications he receives overwhelming to cope with on a daily basis. We have talked about the best way for him to work through everything that has been set and agreed that a balance between those tasks with the earliest due date and those he’s most interested in is the best way to go. He is completing the online tests and either uploading or emailing his completed work for his teachers to check and review. I have been impressed with his attitude to approaching his school work and he is keen to not miss out on his learning by not completing what he needs to do.
Their afternoons are spent with a mix of outside exercise and some much-needed fresh air, alongside spending time on their electronic devices. There’s no question that they are spending more time in front of a screen than we would normally allow, but their phones, and even M’s PS4, have become invaluable tools for staying in touch with their friends. Whilst G is happy spending time on her own and exchanging occasional text messages with her closest friends, M very much misses the daily interaction with his school mates. A much-needed gaming session on Friday evening allowed
him time to catch up with a few of them and he was unquestionably happier for it.
I’m not really sure what week 3 will bring for us all. It’s technically the first week of the Easter holidays, but we’ve agreed to keep going with a few hours of schoolwork whilst we’re in the midst of this weird hybrid of school-holiday-home-life. I’ll still be “going to work”, though probably in Mike’s home office now that he’s on furlough and Mike will hopefully complete a few of those jobs that have been lingering on what my wonderful Canadian sister-in-law calls his “honey-do” list.
There’s no question about it, rainbows hold a special place in most people’s hearts. Whether you believe that they are a symbol of God’s promise to us to never again flood the earth to the Biblical proportions of Noah’s time, or simply a natural phenomenon that occurs when you have the perfect conditions of both sunshine and rain*; most people would agree that they are a wonderful representation of hope and promise to us all.
At what is one of the darkest moment of current times and an experience that few of us have ever even had to contemplate, yet alone live through, the rainbow has become a reminder that there are bright days to come again and that storms don’t last forever. Reportedly starting in Italy, and now spreading worldwide, in much the same manner as COVID-19 though at a much slower pace, households are creating rainbows and putting them on display in a show of solidarity.
In our village, the local FB group has been encouraging families to put their rainbows up and we have enjoyed spotting them when we doing our daily exercise routine. I will rapidly clarify that we are fortunate to live in a relatively small community and have rarely come across anyone else whilst we are out and about. And it’s not just our community that is inviting young people to get involved with sharing these uplifting images. Communities nation- and worldwide are seeing these images spring up and our favourite charity, Over The Wall, launched its first #MondayMayhem today with the challenge to create a rainbow and put it on show.
Never being ones to reject a challenge, and finding it a good alternative to the monotonies of an isolated life, G and M worked together to create their “alternative” rainbow – their teen years apparently wouldn’t allow them to be in anyway typical or predictable – which is now proudly in the spare bedroom window for all who travel the A-road past us to see. There were also some threats to paint one another’s faces rainbow-style when emotions ran a little high, but thankfully we’ve managed to avoid that, at least for a few days.
Have your children or you created a rainbow of your own to bring some inspiration and hope to others in your local area? Have you spotted any that have brightened your day? Please do share them.
*the “perfect” conditions include geometry, raindrops and being in just the right place with just the right refraction of the sunlight. There’s a much better explanation of it all here!
The lead up to Christmas is always busy for our family with an array of birthdays, wedding anniversaries and the end of term to contend with before the big day itself. December this year felt like an especially hectic one what with a 16th and a 20th as well as a special 65th birthday to celebrate. We were planning to spend Christmas itself in South Wales with my Aunt- well part of it at least (and there is more about that to come over the next couple of posts) – which gave the perfect opportunity to experience a girls only birthday afternoon tea at No 6Hundred in Clydach.
I’ll be honest, it wasn’t the smoothest of bookings, with huge confusion over both the time of our afternoon tea and our dietary requirements, and my expectations weren’t particularly high despite the wonderful allergy-friendly afternoon tea we’d enjoyed at One Aldwych a few weeks earlier. Mum and I popped into the cafe on the morning of the 23rd to triple-check the booking once again and also pass over some decorations we wanted them to use for the table. With nothing else possible for us to do, it was time to go home, rally the troops and make sure we arrived for our 2pm booking.
I am delighted to say that the afternoon tea was excellent and they managed to cater well for the gluten- and dairy-free requirements for G. The tea itself was unsuprisingly influenced by Christmas itself and included a skewer with pigs in blanket and stuffing for that seasonal touch along with some freshly baked mince pies shaped as miniature Christmas trees. G’s plate was just as impressive and, given how quickly she managed to clear it, evidently delicious. The cakes were not only gluten-free, but also vegan and looked amazing, though she commented that the dark chocolate tartlet was just a little too bitter for her tastes.
The rest of us enjoyed a fantastic tea as well, though we were definitely beaten once again by the number of cakes provided and so picked our favourites to sample as part of the meal itself. We treated ourselves with either a glass of prosecco or mulled wine to kick the celebrations off – water for G – which were the perfect start to a lovely day celebrating my Aunt’s 65th birthday. I was impressed by the food provided by No. 6Hundred, especially the GF/DF offerings available for G, but would love them to work on their booking and confirmation systems to make it a truly fabulous overall experience.
Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a peaceful New Year! xxx
20 years ago the world was on the cusp of the new millennium. Fears were high about the possible fallout from Y2K and the dreaded millennium bug, and my Mum was not alone in stocking her under-the-stairs cupboard with enough dried goods and bottled water to see the family survive for months if the very worst actually happened. Films “Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace”, “The Sixth Sense” and “American Beauty” hit the big screen and we found ourselves singing and dancing along to “Tragedy”, “Livin’ La Vida Loca”, “Mambo No. 5” or even “Baby One More Time”. It was a time of excitement as we ventured into that new era with anticipation for everything that the 21st century might bring.
20 years ago Mike and I embarked on a new adventure that was all our own. Mike had moved almost everything he owned across continents, we had bought our first house, faced – and survived – the first big challenge of life with my T1D and, on December 18th 1999, we committed to loving each other and living together for the rest of our lives. We trusted that that commitment would bring with it much happiness, but knew that we would inevitably face challenges and sorrow too, which we would survive and could survive by being there for one another. Our vows “…for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health…” have been tested perhaps far more than we could even imagine, but we have come through the harshest of fires and are much stronger for it.
20 years ago we celebrated our wedding surrounded by our family and friends from near and far, and even though several of those who were with us then are no longer with us, we have precious memories to remind us of their presence when we started life together. Our wedding was very much a family affair. We were married in the breath-taking beauty of our local Cathedral and were blessed to have friends from my time with the Girls’ choir there performing integral roles in the ceremony – from the Canon marrying us, to the Organist playing, the Choir providing the music and the Head Verger adding and lighting tens of tealight candles before the service to bring an extra touch of magic. Our amazing vintage car was provided and driven by the father of someone who was at school with me and a friend of my Aunt made our stunning wedding cake. Our reception venue was decorated by my bridesmaid’s mother and friends of my parents provided a Dickensian feel with their wonderful singing of popular Christmas carols before our evening reception began.
20 years on, we are not the fresh-faced youngsters we were then. Life has taken us on journeys that we never imagined would be part of our future and has, at times, battered us to the point when it would have been so much easier to just crawl under the duvet and hide, rather than face it head-on. We have weathered every storm that has come our way and somehow found a way to absolutely dance in the rain. We are stronger and braver together than we would ever have been as our separate parts – 20 years of life experienced together will do that for you.
20 years on, I am grateful for every moment we have shared. Neither of us is perfect – far from it indeed – but somehow we’ve made it work. We’ve laughed together, loved together and grieved together. We have 2 wonderful children – most of the time – and life is good.
Happy 20th anniversary Mike. Love you always and here’s to 20 more!
If I’m perfectly honest, G’s 16th birthday cake is an idea that has been bubbling for a few years, ever since I first saw it shared on Facebook, but it’s taken me this long to pluck up the courage to actually give it a whirl and be organised enough to start the decorations more than 24 hours in advance of her birthday. I was very nervous about whether I’d be able to get it to work, but the end result was much better than I hoped and G was absolutely delighted with it. That was especially important given this was the girl who just a couple of weeks ago said that she didn’t really want to celebrate her birthday and wasn’t bothered about having a cake!
To start with, I found a brilliant new recipe for a gluten-free, vegan sponge cake on The Loopy Whisk and, with a few tweaks to make it just as G finally decided she wanted – a vanilla and chocolate chip cake – and ended up with a wonderfully light and delicious birthday cake for her. I also whipped up a batch of cupcakes for my choir’s Christmas meet-up from the same batter and despite a few issues around getting the timing of that bake right, I was thrilled with those as well.
Next it was on to the most challenging step of all – to create a “snow globe” to encase the top of G’s cake to make it a truly magical masterpiece. The instructions on how to make the globe from high quality melted glycerine can be found here as well as my “step-by-step” photos you can see here. I attempted a larger globe than for individual cupcakes, which was successful, but much trickier to coat the balloon than the instructions suggest. Also, a word to the wise, don’t use balloons that have writing/images printed on them – the only balloons I had tucked away at home were Over The Wall ones and so G’s snow globe had an unexpected additional image, which delighted her, but wasn’t quite what I was aiming for!
I kept the design on top of the cake quite simple and attempted a new buttercream icing using goats’ butter as that’s something she can tolerate without a problem and that M can have a little of as a treat. I always find it difficult to make a dairy-free icing that is stiff enough to pipe successfully, but this batch was better than ones I’ve created before and I think it will need to be a case of continued trial and error until I find that perfect recipe. So, with a layer of desiccated coconut snow, a simply piped Christmas tree and the requisite “16” candles, G’s birthday cake was complete for another year. And this year I was only up to 1.30am finishing it off!