Somehow October has raced by and we’re already in November and starting the countdown to G’s 18th birthday and Christmas. However, I couldn’t let the opportunity pass by to mention just a few of the things we did manage to fit in to the end of September and October.
I was invited to be a part of the judging team for the first ever FreeFrom Christmas Awards and was delighted to accept the honour. It felt extremely strange to head back to London for the judging session after last year’s online involvement for the main FFFA21. I had a fab afternoon tasting and judging entrants in the After Dinner category and, as ever, there were some cracking entries. The full list of winners can be found here for you to peruse at your leisure, but in the meantime I’ll tempt you with a couple of photos of the delicious Tesco Finest HoneyComb Dome and Morrisons’ The Best Gingerbread and Butterscotch Sponge pudding, both of which were well-deserved winners of a gold award.
Mike celebrated a not-particularly-significant birthday and we kicked off a very early start to G’s 18th birthday celebrations with a long-awaited trip back to the theatre for the first time in 20 months to see the fantastic “Everyone’s Talking About Jamie“, which we all loved. It was simply amazing to be back to doing something we love and have missed hugely since the first lockdown happened. We have more trips planned over the next couple of months as a number of shows that G has been desperate to see are passing through our local theatres on their UK tours.
Finally, the month was seen out with a plethora of half-term activities, some more interesting than others. We finally redecorated our hall, stairs and landing – something that Mike had promised my Mum would be done before G turned 18 and something he’s managed to squeeze in just under the wire! I enjoyed my 2020 Christmas present, the hire of a Morgan sportscar for a day and now have a 15 year old who is very keen for us to have one. We managed a day trip to the Pensford viaduct so that M could take photos for his GCSE photography project and naturally had to stop for a fish and chips lunch at Salt and Malt in nearby Chew Stoke. Mike and the children also completed their annual pumpkin carving session, whilst I simply sat back and savoured the odd Pumpkin Spice Latte or two.
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.
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.
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.
I find myself in an odd position today. Torn between wanting to try and keep things as normal as possible with my blog posts about life as it is living with chronic illness; and the hard reality that is the current crisis with COVID-19. There is no question in my mind that COVID-19 is impacting all of us in a multitude of ways, so I thought I’d focus this post on what this virus means to us at 7Y2D HQ and how it is affecting each family member right now.
For the children, the biggest change has to be that they are both now home and won’t be at school for the foreseeable. Neither G or M are considered to be particularly high risk for the virus because of their age, but we know from personal experience that M is far more susceptible to catching bugs like this than his peers and his body can and will struggle to cope once he has it. His bout of Aussie ‘flu 2 years ago is too fresh in our memories to want to have to go through anything even vaguely similar again, so we are taking precautions and following the social distancing guidelines as recommended. I find myself once again so glad to live in the countryside and to have access to some beautiful and very quiet walks with little risk of encountering anyone else. We have ventured out both days over the past weekend to make sure we’re getting some much needed exercise and fresh air, and the children even practised a handful of their Stagecoach routines given their classes have all been cancelled.
School has been brilliant and the teachers are setting work to be done at home to make sure that pupils are not absent from all learning in the next few months. There were a few IT hiccups this morning as a large number of the 1300 students plus parents and teachers at school all attempted to access the online learning platform at the same time, but we got there in the end and I managed to print off some of the tasks set to make sure that M in particular has things to do in the coming weeks. His dyslexia centre is also setting up a system for online tutoring and so his 1 hour 1:1 tutoring sessions will restart after the Easter holidays, which is just brilliant.
The impact on G has been far greater. Her GCSEs have been cancelled and she has been told she has a guaranteed place at her school’s sixth form for September. She has also been told that she won’t be back at school until then. We’re really proud of G’s attitude to this as rather than sit back and relax over the coming months, she has instead determined to keep going with the comprehensive and individualised revision plan she was given by school just a couple of weeks ago and look to finish her learning that way. With more clarity still needed about exactly how her final GCSE grades will now be determined, I’ve encouraged her to keep going with the mock papers and practice questions and to submit them to her teachers, so that they have all the evidence they might need of the hard work she is continuing to put in each and every day.
G has also decided to learn BSL (British sign language) through an online course wonderfully being offered free of charge because of COVID-19 and has done her first lesson in that this morning. Learning sign language has been something she’s been interested in for a while and is an area she wishes to explore further as part of her A-level studies next year as she considers dance therapy and non-verbal communication as part of her possible future career plans. Not to be left out, and with a view to his yet-to-be-confirmed GCSE options, M has signed up for a 4-week online photography course which Mike has agreed to do alongside him. He received a digital camera for his birthday and we’re hoping this course, as well as the school enrichment week course he took last summer, will stand him in good stead for September.
My T1D has put me firmly in the ranks of those who are considered vulnerable and therefore at higher risk of both contracting the virus and complications arising from it. Diabetes is not currently on the list of those considered to be extremely vulnerable, which you can find here, and so the advice is to follow the social distancing guidelines, rather than to self-isolate. These days I work for a charity who provides social care and support to adults with learning disabilities, both in homes and in the community, which actually puts me into the key worker category as one of the back office workers needed to keep those services running. I am extremely fortunate therefore that my employer has been supportive of my own health requirements and has enabled me to work from home for not just the next 12 weeks, but for as long as considered necessary. Half of my team also fall into the category and so we are running the office on a skeleton staff basis and have been trialling meetings by both conference and video calls this morning.
Finally Mike, who is probably the easiest one of us all. He has no underlying health conditions that put him at higher risk, but he does have to be careful because of my and M’s chronic illnesses. He already works from home and has a home office set up with just about everything he needs. There will come a time when Mike’s workload will reduce significantly – it’s not quite there yet – as he is a building surveyor and the social distancing and self-isolation rules mean that people are less likely to want him and his colleagues to go into their homes. He is the most able to go out to the shops, although we already regularly shop online with Sainsburys, Ocado and our local food co-operative, so our shopping habits are unlikely to change much if at all, delivery slots permitting.
I hope that you are all finding a way to adapt and cope with this strange new world that is our current reality. I find myself waking each day and wondering about the very surreal situation we all now find ourselves in, not just in the UK but worldwide. This is an experience like no other and there is no doubt that life as we know it will never be the same again.
Stay safe, stay well, stay in touch – but most importantly, STAY AT HOME
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