Tag Archives: Zoom

Camp in the Cloud – 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries Week 20

Since their first camps in 2016, G and M have looked forward to the start of every year to find out if they have got a place at their choice of Over The Wall camps. The initial outcome of this year’s applications saw both children on the waiting lists for their respective choices and, in M’s case in particular, with fingers tightly crossed that they might be lucky enough to make it to the actual camp when the time came about.

Like so many other activities, the coronavirus pandemic understandably shut down the Over The Wall camps this year, something that we all understood although it did leave the children somewhat disappointed. However, no sooner had we been advised that camp wouldn’t be happening this year, than an email was sent telling us that they were looking into a virtual alternative and to keep an eye out for future updates to be sent. It didn’t take long for the final details to reach me and both children eagerly signed up to the first ever Camp in the Cloud.

M was first up with the online South Health Challenges Camp and about 2 weeks before the start of camp his Camp in the Cloud box arrived on our doorstep. He did a grand reveal and shared opening his box with my Mum and Aunt over Face Time on the Saturday afternoon. Hidden inside was a padlocked box, sealed envelopes labelled for each day, face paints, a stationery set and, most importantly, his team t-shirt revealing he’s risen to the heady heights of being a green boy. The box also included a pot of M-friendly hot chocolate for cabin chat. The note on the container reminded him he could make it with the dairy-free milk alternative of his choice – a small thing that showed just how much OTW focuses on the finer details for each and every camper in their care. They also followed that up with an email just before camp began to remind me to check the ingredients to make sure I was confident that it was safe for M to drink.

The week of Camp in the Cloud came at a perfect time for M. It was a good start to his so-say summer holidays and proved to be a great distraction from the sad news of losing Grandpa the weekend before. The daily challenges gave him a focused activity to try his hand at and he loved being able to explore the virtual campsite, searching for the hidden Newman’s sauce bottles and participating in all his favourite camp activities in one way or another. The highlight of each day was most definitely the camp chat via Zoom, which gave him around 45 minutes to meet his team mates, accept, or set, team challenges and just chat in a face-to-face context, something he hasn’t really been able to do since lockdown began.

I was intrigued to see what M’s response to the week would be and it couldn’t have been more positive. Whilst he commented that it obviously wasn’t as good as going to camp itself, he loved being part of it and having something different to do after so many weeks of the same old, same old. Being able to dip in and out of the online platform during the day worked perfectly for my usually active child and the evening cabin chats really made it feel like camp. M was so impressed with the camp that he even contacted OTW himself to suggest that Camp in the Cloud is something they could continue to do in the future. He loves going to camp and always feels the bitter disappointment when he isn’t successful in getting a place. M believes that being able to offer Camp in the Cloud to those children who aren’t able to go the physical camp would be a great alternative and would reach out to offer the fantastic OTW experience to even more campers than they usually can. Whether they consider doing that, we simply don’t know, but anything we can do to help make it a reality we will.

Now we’re onto the countdown for G’s Midlands siblings camp at the end of the month – and she just can’t wait!

Family connections – 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries Week 18

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!

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.

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.

Virtual Events – 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries Week 6

Somehow we find ourselves at the end of yet another week in lockdown and, as I continue to listen to the daily government briefings, it’s hard to imagine when lockdown will start to ease and what that might even begin to look like. Nor do we really know when things can begin to return to even some semblance of what we now consider as life before coronavirus. Here at 7Y2D HQ we continue to try to follow a routine each day with G and M, who start with a morning of school, stop for lunch and then spend the afternoon outside or doing other activities such as playing board games or practising dance routines. Being stuck at home for 6 weeks has started to take its toll a little on everyone, so this last week has seen us joining in some virtual events that reflect activities that we would do normally do in our everyday lives.

First, was last weekend’s 2.6 challenge – a charity initiative to replace the annual London Marathon. Now, I’m not going to pretend we have, or ever have had, any aspirations to take part in the marathon itself, but we are avid fundraisers and this challenge was a great opportunity to get both children flexing their brain cells to think up something new to do. Our charity of choice was, of course, the fantastic Over The Wall, focus of our fundraising for several years now following G and M’s experience at their camps. The 2020 camps have had to be cancelled due to coronavirus, but they are seeking to #savethemagic and launch “Camp in the Cloud” for all camp applicants instead.

From last year’s indoor skydiving to G’s dramatic hair cut a few years ago, we’ve tried our hand at a lot, so it took some serious consideration for both children to dream up a new challenge. G quite quickly settled on 262 sit-ups (well a marathon is 26.2 miles after all) and eventually M chose to attempt 262 seconds in plank. Neither managed their challenge in one sitting, but they did it and should feel rightly proud that, even during a pandemic, they have found an alternative way to support a charity that has supported, and continues to support, them.

Our second virtual event of the week was yet another annual one, this time the awards ceremony for the Free From Food Awards 2020. Usually held in London, instead the fabulous organisers of the awards took to a virtual ceremony, which started with an amazing Zoom “drinks and nibbles” ahead of the main event itself. With over 80 participants at one point, the Zoom breakout rooms proved a great opportunity to network a little and meet some new faces as well as spotting old familiar ones from afar. The awards ceremony is always a glamorous affair and so the whole family decided to dress up for the occasion. Dresses were donned, make-up applied and jewellery was carefully picked out to compliment the outfits. I even convinced myself to put on a pair of heels for the first time in weeks, though I will confess they didn’t last for the entirety of the event!

G and M put to good use some of those cooking skills they’ve been honing over the last 6 weeks and produced an excellent free-from buffet, fit to rival that usually enjoyed after the winners are announced. We didn’t have many of the gold winning items* at home, though I did enjoy the dairy- and soya-free chocolate-dipped strawberries that were beautifully crafted with a little help from Mike and took me back to my confectionery judging in January, what now seems like practically a life-time ago. All in all, has been a good week and the introduction of these new activities added some much-needed variety to what has quickly become everyday.

*you can read more about the big success stories of the #FFFA20 here and can even experience the ceremony itself by watching the presentation here

The 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries – Week One

Without a shadow of a doubt, the world as we have known it has changed radically in the first 3 months of 2020. The fast spread of the COVID-19 virus not just through Wuhan, China, but worldwide has shocked us all and we find ourselves living in extraordinary times. Times that go far beyond the much-fabled “interesting times” often quoted as an ancient Chinese curse*. Life will never go back to the way it used to be for most of us, if not all and so we have to search for our normal despite not really knowing when things will start to be more “normal” once again.

Our first week at home was mostly a good one.

G and M continue with their home studies, though some days with more dedication and, let’s be honest, success than others. They’re keeping up with the extra courses they’ve both signed up to as well and we’ve found additional activities to keep them busy. G has been using the Diversity online tutorials to hone some more dance skills thanks to their 20DV website and I’ve signed M up for online tutorials for his bass guitar through Fender. Stagecoach Performing Arts has also provided some at-home online learning videos, which helps break up what can be long days.

My 12 weeks working from home is off to a good start with all finance and banking systems working well on our home wifi. There are daily conference calls with the rest of the senior management, sometimes via Zoom, to review the situation across our charity and track the progression of COVID-19 through both our staff and the individuals we support in our homes. I’ve also scheduled weekly catch-up sessions with the other members of our finance teams to make sure they are all coping okay with their new work situation. Keeping an eye on the mental well-being of all my staff is critical in times like these and they have my phone number to be able to call or WhatsApp whenever they need.

It has taken a new level of cooperation and adaption for us all. Mike is used to working from home on his own. He takes to his study in the morning, may reappear for drinks or food and then disappears again until his day is finished. M and G each have work stations set up in our dining room and manage to avoid conflict by being plugged into their own devices as they study. I have set up on the 1 remaining downstairs in the kitchen, which works brilliantly for me as I have ready access to the kettle, but can prove challenging to the rest of the family when they look to escape to the garden or make their lunch.

The last week has been filled with rainbows, working from home and trying to convince 2 increasingly grumpy teens to keep going with their own home studies…and I think we just about managed to do it all.

*There is no clear evidence that the curse “May you live in interesting times” is in fact either ancient or Chinese. It is purported to have come into more common parlance in the early 1900s, in all likelihood in the UK thanks to Sir Austen Chamberlain, brother of UK PM Sir Neville Chamberlain. You can find a good explanation of this origin here. Chinese or not, it is now widely accepted to mean times of trouble, rather than of peace,