My week … the one with pancakes and half term.

Of all the school holidays, February half term is my least favourite. There’s not much to do, the weather can be pants and its too short to fly to sunnier climes. I now look back on 2020’s shocker of a half term with nostalgia, yes it rained heavily all the time and was so cold, but we had the little luxuries, our family friend came and stayed with us for a few days, we sat in cafes, went to the inflatable session at the local swimming pool, visited a local museum etc.. Such things which now seem alien and showed how little we understood what was about to happen to our lives.

I was a bit worried about how this lockdown half term would go, at least home school gives a structure to days. As I drafted this blog, it struck me that this is one which will actually sound quite jolly and busy but there were times when the drudgery of lockdown life appeared starkly and there was plenty of screen time to keep everyone sane.

In a lockdown holiday, there were lots of walks, we tried a little variety but its still a walk and everyone is so fed up of another walk. However, its the one thing we insist on daily, no walk, no screens. The weather had been quite wet and windy on Monday, and we went out when there was a quick break in the clouds for a walk along the beach. As we passed a local takeaway and saw the lovely array of cakes and pastries I stopped, much to the children’s delight, and bought a little impromptu snack for us all. As we stopped to eat our delicious bakes (cherry and almond croissant for me, which was amazing) the sun broke through the clouds and we felt the warmth on our faces as we watched the surfers doing their thing in the waves, life suddenly seemed a little more hopeful and happy. On another day, we walked up to the local country park, where they had a photography exhibition, entitled Unmasked, portraits from the Covid frontline. One of their buildings is an art gallery and they used its large windows to reverse the display so it could only be seen from outside. The project was simple, nhs workers photographed, accompanied by a short text on their thoughts on working on the Covid frontline. Their thoughts were humbling and inspiring. It was also lovely to see a few familiar faces in the photos, developing the sense of community and togetherness. On another day, we went to a different local beach and could really see the effect of the recent bad weather, parts of the beach had eroded and there was lots of driftwood on the beach.

At the beginning of the week, Mr S was decorating our daughter’s bedroom as virtual learning from her bedroom had delayed this project until the holiday. Its all completed now and looks great, we’ve gone from dreary grey to a more joyful palette of colours with a hint of the tropical. Unfortunately the smell of the paint did leave me feeling quite poorly and we had a couple of lazy afternoons as I tried to shake a headache and nausea.

I managed to read quite a bit this week and Haven’t They Grown was a good page turner of a book. The plot was that a former friend of a main character had by chance seen her after 12 years, but her children had not aged. It was a thriller and kept you gripped by its quite chilling conclusion.

Another little thing I enjoyed this week was a live presentation by Marks and Spencer Archive department on their fashion archives. I came across the event on Twitter and signed up for the broadcast. Oh, the designs, patterns and styles were amazing and it was such an interesting mix of social commentary and fashion. I believe it is now available on You Tube and well worth a watch.

Being a lockdown holiday, we have spent lots of time in the kitchen, either playing family games or cooking. Pancake day was the big highlight and it was lovely that it fell in a holiday. We spent lots of time preparing our fillings and toppings and it became a real event, more than just tossing the pancakes. Little Miss has been learning how to make more meals this holiday. We worked through a vegetable lasagne from scratch this week and it was delicious. She then took her new skills of making a cheese sauce to another night’s dinner where she made it independently for a cauliflower cheese.

Its back to school for Little Man and I on Monday, whilst Little Miss continues home schooling with Mr S. They have a lovely routine going and it has definitely added something to their relationship, they describe themselves as the DAD gang (dad and daughter) Despite this, my daughter is desperately hoping she gets to go back to school on March 8th. I’ve been as honest as we can with the information we have, but until Boris unveils the road map on Monday, we cannot be certain of anything and we have tried to warn her, that it might not be the exact return to school date.

I’m hoping that this has been the last holiday in such severe restrictions, the vaccination programme is rolling out so impressively that I am hopeful. Have a happy week.

A bedroom makeover.

I’ve not been recording the work done on our home in much detail over the past year and yet despite lockdown, we’ve been busy. It started just pre lockdown in 2020 when storm damage caused a leak in the children’s playroom and we had to have the flat roof re-laid and then redecorated due to the water damage. We were able to continue with the work we had planned pre lockdown as it was painting the house exterior and the decorators could paint outside within Covid restrictions. Painting the outside had been one of those big jobs on the to do list for a few years and I am delighted with the result. I did spend a lot of time trying to decide colours, I did like the idea of a pretty pastel colour but ended up with cream which looks lovely. Inside, Mr S has been busy decorating since he ‘retired’ in the summer, he has done the playroom, dining room, our bedroom and now our daughter’s bedroom. As she is home schooled at present, we had to wait until half term to do her room.

I wish I had taken a before picture, as it was a tired, dull bedroom. Little Miss was desperate when we last painted her room to have grey walls and then chose black and grey accessories. I like a room to radiate ambiance and warmth and I simply couldn’t get this from the grey room. The paint faded quickly and just made the room look duller. Fortunately, Little Miss was up for something brighter and bolder this time. We have been more adventurous (for us) in the rooms we have painted recently and I think this helped her to embrace more colour. We have been playing with colour testers for the past few weeks, trying, shades of plum, teal, purple but this bright blue was the unanimous choice. It is sea blue from Dulux. We liked that you can get cheap testers on the Dulux website with free p&p. I did wonder if the blue would be too much as this is the largest bedroom, but with her wardrobe, bunk bed and large bay window it is not a problem. Our daughter has the biggest bedroom as its an interesting shape and really limits where you can put furniture, our bedroom is slightly smaller but a really good shape and this arrangement works best for us all.

In addition to the painting, we have had a big decluttering of her room and as she nears 13, it has definitely become a teen room. It is a little scary removing so many toys, books and momentos, but her favourites are still in her room, some things have been put in her memory box and others are being donated to the charity shop. We’ve also updated the accessories, her new duvet covers come from Next and I have a couple of complementary cushions on order. The bunk bed is unusual in that the bottom bunk is a double bed and the top a single. This means she uses bottom layer as more of a day bed/sofa reading, listening to her music etc.. and just uses the top bunk for sleep. The disco ball is a nice touch to her love for dance and the fan displayed in the old fireplace was a hand painted present from my parents. One of her favourite Christmas presents was the peg lights from her aunt, we’ve put these up and she’s chosen some favourite photos to display.

I’m really pleased with the transformation, its a room which is now full of life and character, the perfect reflection of our daughter.

#21for21

I’m a huge fan of Gretchen Rubin, I listen weekly to her podcast and have read a number of her books. Its difficult to categorise her work, it started with the happiness project but its more about wellbeing. For the past few years, I have done #18for18, #19for19, #20for20 and now #21for21. Its choosing 21 things you want to do in 2021. Here’s a link to an episode about #21for21 Gretchen Rubin . This year, my theme was definitely about fun and frivolity, life has been too dark and serious in 2020 and we need to add those sparkles to our lives.

Whilst it is the end of January I did create my list at the beginning of the year, its just taken to now to write it up on the blog. I have the list in my book in which I add notes and plans, I’m that sort of person with lists and the like. So here is my lists with some brief reasons.

  1. Graduate from my Uni course. This is carried over from last year as our course was extended due to Covid. It is a little cheeky as all our work is due on January 6th 2021, but as graduation will take place in this year, I’m adding it as I never got to achieve it in #20for20
  2. Have a doorstep plant. I had doorstep envy at Christmas with some of the trees beautifully lit on doorsteps and as I have a nice doorstep, I’m adding this to my list. I’m not a gardener but am thinking a few seasonal choices, I love daisies and lavender and then I’ll create a special Christmas display.
  3. Wear stylish jewellery. I used to have some lovely pieces but they have slowly been claimed by my daughter, broken with old age etc.. Every year I treat myself at either the steam fair or folk festival to a new piece of jewellery as they always have lovely local makers in their craft tents but with no fairs last year, I didn’t get to buy any new pieces. With this as one of my items, I may need to invest a little more this year! Sadly, I need to buy my jewellery, as despite 23 years together, and numerous hints Mr S has never bought me jewellery (except for my engagement and wedding rings which I chose with him) I do get lovely presents from him so this isn’t a criticism just an observation.
  4. Organise my boxes of decorations. I do like to dress up the house for special occasions and have a lot of decorations that need to be sorted and organised so I know exactly what I have and what I may need to replace.
  5. Spark joy with my clothes. Last year I lost a lot of weight and went down 3 sizes. For years I was grateful if something fitted so didn’t really consider style and at times felt a bit frumpy. This year its about finding my style and having fun with clothes.
  6. Listen to an audiobook. I love to read and am always listening to podcasts on walks and runs but have never married the two and tried an audiobook. So, a simple idea, I’ll either love it or it’ll be back to my Kindle.
  7. Take the children to KFC. Its a bit of a joke in our family that our children aged 11 and 12 have been to MacDonald’s less than 5 times in their lives. To them MacDonald’s is this mythical restaurant they see in adverts! In fairness its a 40+ mile round trip to the local Maccy Ds which isn’t conveniently in a town centre but on the outskirts of the town. However, they are now keen to try a new fast food restaurant, KFC and keep asking to go. Again its a 40+ mile round trip to an anonymous out of town retail park but this year we will do this for them and see which becomes their new favourite.
  8. Run the virtual challenge of Lands End to John O’Groats, 874 miles. This is a running challenge with a difference, to run the British isles from the most southern point to the most northern in one year. I’ve joined an online challenge so am tracking myself on a map. I think its doable but I need to be consistent in my mileage, so fingers crossed for no injuries.
  9. Do something creative everyday. I’ve recently got Lorna Scobie’s 365 days of creativity so am working through some of the challenges and those of my own. Some are simple 15 minute tasks, others are more detailed, but I hope to do something everyday to help me switch off.
  10. Burn more candles. Over these past months, I’ve been using my nice candles and its been lovely, so next year its about burning more candles and not keeping anything simply for best.
  11. Display more seasonal decorations. Over this past year, I’ve enjoyed decorating the house not just for the traditional festivals but for VE day, birthdays. I want to do more of this in 2021.
  12. Grow something. Mr S and my daughter are brilliant gardeners and last year grew many vegetables and fruit for us. Its inspired me and as they look after the garden I’m planning a little indoor herb garden or similar.
  13. Find the perfect summer straw bag. I know totally frivolous but I had an amazing straw bag which I used all the time on the beach, days out etc.. and it finally went beyond repair, I’ve never been able to find the perfect replacement, so that’s my new goal.
  14. Watch a Christmas film or two. A tad seasonal but last year I did not watch a single Christmas themed film in the festive season. Last Christmas has been on my to watch list for two Christmases now, so its time to sit down and watch it in 2021 and lots of other films with Christmas treats.
  15. Visit beautiful gardens. Last year was all about the wild beauty of country parks, I fancy seeing some pretty gardens in 2021 and of course the tea and cakes which tend to complement such visits.
  16. Do a flower arranging course. Another item on my to do list for a couple of years now. Lets hope it can be achieved in 2021.
  17. Get my red parkrun t-shirt. A repeat from last year, I made progress in the first few months of the year and then parkrun was suspended. I think if parkrun is back by the summer, I might be able to achieve this. I’ve already looked up the nearest parkruns to our holiday venues this year, so I don’t miss a week.
  18. Finally visit the Fashion museum. Again an item that’s been on the list before. I even got as far as being outside it (it was closed, which I knew but I wanted to know exactly where it was when I was visiting the town) I hope that museums can reopen soon, other wise small museums like this will be in danger of permanent closure.
  19. See a show / live music. The atmosphere is going to be electric when we get back into theatres and music venues. I’m so excited for this.
  20. Get lost in art. Lockdown has shown all the little things we take for granted and how much we miss them when they are gone. I’m looking forward to my cultural fix when life reopens, a lazy walk around an art gallery and simply looking and getting lost in a picture.
  21. Try something new. I’ve no idea what this could be, but its always good to try something different.

So that’s the list for 2021 and as its now Jan 31st I have started to make progress and tick a couple off. Its always good to start with a few simple ones to complete quickly as the list always seems more doable when its got a few ticks on it. Bring on #21for21.

Tommy’s Final Visits

December 13th: Marking the date on the advent calendar.

December 14th: The final pieces on the Christmas jigsaw.

December 15th: Reindeer racing with Santa.

December 16th: Magic snow fun.

December 17th: Topping the driftwood tree.

December 18th: Tucked up in bed with Rainbow.

December 19th: Learning the rules of Qwirkle.

December 20th: Raiding the chocolate tin.

December 21st: Hiding in the penny pot.

December 22nd: Curling the ribbon on the flower arranagment.

December 23rd: Bringing the ingredients for gingerbread decorations.

December 24th: Hot chocolate treats for Christmas eve.

Tommy Part 2

December 7th: Practising on Zoom for Little man’s class virtual coffee morning (he did appear on the live stream)

December 8th: Exploring Great Britain with a beautiful advent calendar gifted by a special friend.

December 9th: Labelled in French to help Little Miss’ vocab test revision.

December 10th: Hiding in a school blazer.

December 11th: Nibbling on a chocolate coin. The children always add these to their Christmas cards.

December 12th: Bringing a Christmas jigsaw for us all to do at the weekend. (Its forecast to be a wet weekend with tier 2 restrictions)

Tommy Part 1

Our favourite little elf is back this year, he is my one of my favourite traditions. Tommy is hidden each night and always writes a little letter to the children. Our library of letters over the past 9 years is a beautiful memento of childhood Christmases.

December 1st: Face mask and sanitiser and a rainbow of hearts, that’s 2020.

December 2nd: A little Christmas tree magic, the tree crystallised and provided gasps on the return from school.

December 3rd: Wind up races.

December 4th: Elf hat and costume ready for Elf day at school.

December 5th: Christmas wreath and a decoration for the tree.

December 6th: Jungle Tommy, hiding in my plant that I’ve managed to keep alive!

My week … the one with so much uni work to do …

Whilst the temptation was not to write a post this week, I am giving myself 15 minutes to simply jot down a few things, it’ll be a bullet point format but at least will provide some details of the week.

  • As you may guess from the title, my Uni deadline is looming, 40 days and counting and I should be fully focused on my project. However I am also having that moment of panic, best illustrated by extreme procrastination at times this week. What else could explain having wrapped all the Christmas presents and having written and addressed the Christmas cards when I in fact should have been reading and writing. No distractions now, the work must be done. I am dreaming of the January 8th when there will be with no more study stress (although in the best possible timing, I may have a promotion at work starting that week too!)
  • My Zoom life. As if Zoom at work wasn’t suffice, its been a work of Zoom meetings at home too. Scouts continues on Zoom and this week’s Taskmaster edition was excellent, so much fun. We then had our son’s Annual Review on Zoom, and as a parent, I embrace this medium for Annual reviews and teacher meetings, it takes so much faff away from the meeting and simply focuses on the content. It was a great meeting and lovely to have Little man appearing in the meeting too and showing the strong relationship he has with his new teacher.
  • The Great British Bake Off. I loved this series and how the team got it produced and aired in the Covid pandemic is amazing. The final was great and showed the simple joys of life, baking with friends. At the end of the programme, there was a dedication to all those getting us through 2020 and it gave me all the feels.
  • I’ve been reading Olive by Emma Gannon as I go to bed, just to simply switch off from academic work. Its a good read on the choices around becoming a parent, real and witty with some great characters.
  • We haven’t put up the Christmas tree. Despite a concerted effort form the Sparkles family to persuade me otherwise, I’ve remained strong on not putting up the Christmas tree early. I can’t bring myself to do it in November, I love my tree and decorations but it needs to be done in December. As compensation, I have planned a special Christmas day next Saturday to allow us to do this with some festive treats.

My time deadline is up now. Back to the studies and hopefully I’ll finish my portfolio tonight by bedtime. Last night I was doing Uni work at 11pm on a Saturday night, how did this happen?

My week … the one with more of lockdown 2.0

One day, I’ll write a different post to My week, but with juggling the looming assessment deadline for my Uni course, work in a pandemic and family life, my blog is on pause except for this weekly update. Its been a pretty miserable day, the heavy rain making a lockdown weekend even more challenging. We had a quick stomp in the woods this morning, I did the dreaded lockdown haircut for Little Man and we had a family game of Monopoly. At least, Strictly is on shortly, even with a few notable absences due to Covid, to finish my day with a sparkle.

Its been a strange week as I had a minor procedure on my foot this week. I had been expecting it to be postponed but it happened, under the most secure Covid precautions I have encountered. With Mr S at home, I was able to rest properly and with a few painkillers spent the day propped up in bed. What a luxury, I listened to my favourite podcasts, snoozed, did more Christmas planning and orders and read, it felt like a mini holiday.

Here are some highlights of the week .

I read …

This Time Next Year by Sophie Cousens and it was the perfect book for a lazy day in bed. It was one of my infamous Kindle 99p deal of the day books. It felt like a grown up rom com and had a good ending which I appreciated, I don’t do soppy mush. It amused me that the main character disliked New Year’s eve as much as me, I’m glad I’m not alone, even if it is a fictional character.

I listened …

I’m a big fan of a kitchen disco and today is my disco day as I love a Saturday afternoon prepping and cooking a special dinner. This week, I went for funk and soul and played it loud and proud. It really raised my spirits. I have seen that Craig Charles is playing a set next summer at the local music festival and I would love to be in that crowd. In lockdown 2.0, you need to be looking forward and planning for exciting times ahead.

I had a Christmas drink …

As a little treat after my clinic appointment, I popped into Starbucks for a takeaway Christmas drink. Whilst it was delicious, gingerbread hot chocolate, I wish I could say it gave me the festive feels, but with the clinic being in a shopping centre, and all the shops closed, it was an extremely eerie and strange experience. Whilst every year, I complain that Christmas comes too early, I realise that I secretly need the tinny Christmas songs on repeat with the glitzy decorations hanging in the shop windows.

I attended parents evening 2 …

On Tuesday, we had our son’s virtual parents evening. We are so proud of how well he has settled into his new school and his teacher is just lovely. I felt so happy and emotional after the meeting, we heard how well he is doing in his work, friendships are blossoming and his character is shining through.

And finally

For the next 6 weeks, my focus is solely on my uni work, as I have a coursework deadline to meet. However, I am prepared for short term pain for a long term gain!

Have a happy week.

My week … the one with lockdown 2.0

Normally this blog is about family life but this week seems to have been dominated by the national news of a new lockdown and international news with a final result in the fractious American presidential election. Family dinner table conversation has been about these topics and has given us a real chance with particular regards to the U.S. election to discuss some big themes, democracy, equality, representation. It sounds a bit heavy but the conversations have been presented in child friendly ways and I am proud of the values our children are developing.

This is also a week where my work has seeped into home life too. Lockdown 2.0 has meant loads of additional work due to the unique nature of our setting and its been long days, late nights and doing a few hours on my days off too.

Here are a few highlights from this week

I read

I have read Bella Mackie’s Jog On and it is a really interesting and thought provoking read. Given the title, running is a theme through the book, but it looks at anxiety and wellbeing too. Given Lockdown its a pertinent read and a timely reminder to look after ourselves.

I ran with my daughter …

I am genuinely becoming very concerned about the long term effect on children’s wellbeing in lockdown. We have been out every day during both lockdowns for long walks, cycle rides or in sunnier times, swimming in the sea but I am aware that my children don’t get the hard, physical challenges they used to, some close contact sports are banned and there are no after school sport clubs, competitions etc… To try and counter this we’ve tried to be more physically active at home, Mr S has been out in the garden with Little Man this week to play football and I have run some 5Ks with Little Miss. I do like these runs, I get to talk and listen with my girl and she always feels so much better at the end of a run. On one of her runs she said that she was missing parkrun and playing team sports like netball at school, its all a little heart breaking. However, we can’t focus on what we can’t do but enjoy what we are doing now and the runs will continue in lockdown 2.

I paused to remember the war dead …

Again, another very strange experience for Remembrance Sunday. For the last five years, Little Man has always been part of the parade through scouting. He is military mad and Remembrance day is a big thing for him. He was so proud last year when he got to represent his school at the children’s service and plant a cross for a soldier. This morning, I walked him up to the war memorial to observe a socially distanced 2 minute silence at 11am. It was respectfully observed, the location makes it easy for people to spread out and there was no service just a lone bugler to start and finish the silence. On this morning’s early run I did run up to the memorial and just pause, the memorial looks out onto the sea and on a dark, misty morning it felt eerily peaceful.

I followed the American Presidential election …

Whilst it became a bit of a marathon, so many page refreshes, with no result until Saturday evening, I have been following the American election so closely this week. As an aside, James Naughtie back on Radio 4 was great and Twitter was superb, my friends and I were sharing lots of tweets with articles, gifs etc.. It didn’t seem an election just to elect a President, but a culture. Thankfully that culture of respect, democracy and equality seems to have prevailed. I felt so much love and optimism with the result and the future feels so much brighter. I’ve become a total fan girl of Madam VP, Kamala Harris, the role model we need all our children to have.

And finally

If all goes to plan, I am going to stop and rest this week with a minor procedure on my foot. Although its painful, I am secretly looking forward to 24 hours in bed resting my foot. My whole week will hopefully be at a slower speed, as I simply cannot keep up with the pace of this last week.

Have a good week.

Covid Life Lately …

Until July, I was keeping pretty up to date with my Coronavirus diary post on this blog. I think just the ongoing nature of the situation made me lose interest in keeping the post live but as we are now here at the end of October and facing the second wave, I thought I would update what life is like and our new ‘normal’ This will be a purely home angle, no politics although there’s a lot to say …

We are currently in the first tier, ‘medium’ which means that we have the fewest restrictions, we can meet with friends in groups of up to six inside and out, drink in pubs until 10pm and generally get on with day to day life, as long as we have a face mask and sanitiser! Our children are both at school and amazingly have not yet been in self isolation for a 14 day period as there have been no cases in their ‘bubbles’. I am working near enough as normal, at my place of work, as I have done all this year. However, much of my work is online now, especially meetings and I think this will continue indefinitely and is one of the areas where things might not go back to what they were before lockdown.

We are being careful around our parents, we have first met part way between homes at a country park and now have travelled to their houses to see them but not stayed over. This has been difficult over half term, all our normal has changed. It was sad today to be reminded that this day last year, we were ice skating with my parents and cousin. The pictures look so strange now, so many people safely in one place, creating such a lovely atmosphere. Its the social contact I really miss. Whilst I’m still running, I miss parkrun and its community. I miss my Saturday routine, a run, a coffee, a trip to the shops and then back home to watch the sport. Its all different now, at present there is no parkrun and no crowds at professional sports matches. I have been shopping but when I’ve been in the shops there is minimal stock and its easier to buy online. Shopping isn’t fun, its functional.

However, despite the challenges, I do try to embrace the new normal. I have been out with friends to outdoor cafes, this was made so much easier when the children returned to school and there were so many months of our lives to catch up on. This week, I met up with friends with whom I go out every half term on an evening (we’re all teachers and tend to live by the school year) Our last meeting was during the summer holidays, when it was pleasant to be outside on the quay. However this week it was dark and cold and given our jobs, all working with vulnerable children, we weren’t keen to risk being inside for the evening (or 10pm when pubs close) We ended up at a friend’s house as her husband created an amazing outdoor space in lockdown, it is stunning and with a log burner made the perfect environment. It was a fantastic evening, we were warm and cosy and the clear skies and bright stars made quite a backdrop. It was so good that we didn’t realise how late it was until the church bells chimed for midnight, given the times, it seemed unreal to still be out after 10pm! We all made it special, I bought fancy hot drinks, there was freshly baked cake and we were all wrapped up warm, it made life feel a lot more enjoyable. Sometimes its just about the little things and making your normal work in different times.

Another example of this was a virtual 10k I did today. I had entered a 10k for June which was cancelled, so I had written off a race this year and just got on with my running. However, I read about the London 10k becoming a virtual race, £15 for entry with a medal and a technical t shirt and decided to give it a go. I liked the concept, you had a week to complete a 10k route of your choice and to upload evidence and it would tick off one of my 20for20 list. To further embrace the idea, I created a playlist full of London themed songs and set up an app to record my time and distance. It was simple fun.

Despite trying to adapt my likes to 2020 style, there are some things which simply can’t be replicated. I miss live music so much, the theatre and a big blockbuster at the cinema. The arts are so important in my life and I feel bereft at present. I would love to potter around a gallery. I want to be around others, be at big events, get the buzz of being in a crowd. Christmas will be very different this year and it will feel sad not to be participating in those festive favourites. Its only made me even more determined to celebrate every little thing in years to come and embrace the now.