Saturday, 4 April 2020

Enforced Nesting

There's a kind of country-wide (world-wide I suppose) enforced nesting going on at the moment. Almost everyone is at home and when they're not trying to work from home or teach their children or care for family members, I suppose they're doing what we're doing: chores, DIY, gardening, crafting, reading, cooking. Leaving the house once a day for our permitted walk, trying to only shop once a week, avoiding non-essential travel. It's hard but I am coming to realise that resistance is futile. I think my main goal would be to try to relax into this new routine because there really is no-where I'd rather be than home - just perhaps not all day every day.

John has returned to work but that doesn't mean life has returned to normal at all. I have been going in to work on the odd day, although it's all very strange and not really like a normal school day. Bella and Angus are still learning remotely, and I think this week we really found our groove with it all, which is frustrating as we now stop for the two week Easter holidays. It will be hard to get back into the swing of it after the break, but more important I think to keep weekends and holidays very separate from school days - for the children and for me.

Amongst the supervising homeschool, housework, constant meal preparation and all the other things, I have been doing jobs like clearing out the garage, sorting out cupboards, and generally trying to make good use of this strange time so that, when it is all over, we can go out and do something lovely. But there are lovely things we can do at home as well, and I have been focusing on that because it keeps me sane and happy.

I ordered us all some new books recently, and I have been promising myself some daytime reading, a luxury only usually enjoyed on holiday.

I've long admired Jennie Maizel's online Sketchbook Club and thought that it would be something creative that Bella and I could do together while we are at home. By lovely coincidence, Jennie has temporarily made all her modules free during the lockdown and so I requested a few, including this Sardines collage/illustration. I started it rather impulsively at the end of a particularly fraught day and it was the best thing I did. 

I've done the background colour and collage (such fun choosing the papers!), and now will have lots of fun building up layers of detail and colour on the illustration with coloured pencils. 

Now and then I put a podcast on and do a few rows of my beaded bracelet.

The garden continues to be a haven, especially while the weather is so good.

I like to bring some flowers indoors whenever I can. It's usually a random mix of whatever is in bloom in the garden but there's something about those first little jugs and vases of flowers on the bedside table after winter.

 After a couple of false starts, I am really enjoying working on my trio blanket. I don't love the colours at the moment but they are just starting to change a little and I'm excited to see how it develops as the blanket grows.

I finally got around to doing something I'd been meaning to do for months. Years, really. I unravelled my rose crochet cardigan which I never wear. It's such a waste, all that gorgeous pink cotton yarn, just hanging on the back of the bedroom door.

I now have a sizeable amount of cotton and am looking for a simple, floppy, wearable t-shirt pattern, something I can wear with jeans in the summer, maybe half tucked in. 

I feel like we've really exhausted all the walks we can do from our front door but I am thankful that we can get to the woods on foot. It makes a difference, gives me a change of scenery and reminds me that it's spring. 

Monday, 30 March 2020

Keeping Busy

Lots has been said about this current situation, about how we're all dealing with it in different ways, and I think that our way has definitely been to stay busy. During our 14 day self isolation usual routines were temporarily paused and so we've all had to create new ones to anchor us in these turbulent times. I have definitely struggled to relax and whenever I find myself starting to unwind I instantly feel guilty and think: you are not on holiday, what are you doing? Keep busy Gillian! But, at the moment - and certainly when the weather is so good - we have been using this time to work through some jobs that we had been meaning to tackle in the Easter holidays, and it's felt really good to spend time outside working each day and feel tired at the end of the day. It helps with the restlessness.

We jet washed and treated the decking, so that it's no longer a death trap in wet weather.

I have steadily worked my way around all corners of the back garden, front garden, both side paths, weeding and pruning and generally trying to impose some order. While I was doing that, John took apart our garden table which he made a few years ago, sanded and oiled it, then put it back together with a whizzy new tool (pocket jig?) that does something. I don't know. He was happy.

We have been collecting wood at every opportunity and throwing it in the wood store to be dealt with, and we finally got around to emptying all the wood out. John chopped it while I was his assistant, ferrying wood here and there, stacking the wood store. It was quite a work out. 

Again, it's all about imposing order. The world might be in the grips of a huge pandemic, but our wood store is looking good!

We tiled a corner of the kitchen. Well, John did the tiling - I did everything around him like prepare meals, occupy children, make cups of tea, load and unload the washing machine, hoover up afterwards.... 

When we had this kitchen installed four years ago we opted to have a granite upstand instead of a splashback, thinking we would just wipe the paint above should it get dirty. This was a big mistake. Even the best kitchen and bathroom paint is not as scrubbable as a splashback in tile - or acrylic or stainless steel or whatever you choose - and the paint always looked marked and scuffed, especially around the food mixer which always gets splashed. 

We had planned to do this job back in January when John decorated the kitchen, but ran out of time, so it was always something we'd intended to do. What we've done is tile the gap between the upstand and wall cupboards. 

When we next have more time, we'll do the whole area behind the cooker and the worktop either side. 

The garden, rewarding me for all the attention I've been lavishing on it, gave me the first cut flowers of the year. It was a ramshackle collection of tulips, muscari, hyacinths and a couple of tete-a-tetes that really were past their best, and it made me feel so hopeful and optimistic.

We also found chives, mint and sage that had survived the winter.

I was so pleased to be able to cut a few chives to sprinkle onto this fritatta, which I made from things I found languishing at the bottom of the fridge: potatoes, a green pepper, a few tomatoes and an onion. It was delicious.

I don't think we're particularly wasteful around food as a household, but since the lockdown I am now completely obsessed with not throwing any food away. All leftover meals are portioned up and put in the fridge or freezer, so lots of my lunches have been a small portion of say, last night's risotto, with some salad, and very nice that is too. A limp bag of spinach and dubious looking half-tub of creme fraiche became he most delicious, green soup. But the banana situation has gotten out of hand again. We usually get through four a day as we all take one to work or school, but at home we're not eating them. I'm still making banana bread as fast as they all eat it, but found this pancake recipe which I like. It's simply one mashed banana and two eggs, beaten together and fried like a normal pancake. 

The lack of flour in this recipe is good because, and I don't know if you're the same, but I have really struggled to buy plain or strong white bread flour anywhere, and so I'm using what I have sparingly, mixing with rye or buckwheat where I can.

Other things to feel thankful for:

a garden and a trampoline

siblings that are getting along remarkably well all things considered


Ziggy, who is delighted to have all his people home so much and so many balls thrown in the back garden.

Our 14 days are over now and so John returns to work tomorrow, and I will on Thursday, although I think things all look and feel very different in our workplaces at the moment. But I've never looked forward to going to work so much in my life - a little bit of normality. 

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Staying Home

Well, it has been another week, hasn't it? I don't know about you but it feels like the ground is shifting beneath my feel at the moment, as we enter such strange and scary new territory. As of last night, the UK is now under a three week "lock down", during which movement is limited and only the most essential travel to work or to buy food/medicine is allowed. I miss normal life, I miss going to work (I really like job and my colleagues and promise I will never moan about work again!), I miss the freedom from worry. So, I am taking comfort in the everyday: whether it's changing the bedding, bringing fresh flowers into the house from the garden, opening the windows, listening to birdsong, gardening, baking bread - all of these things are my constant and they really help me. 

I'm reluctant to call our current educational situation homeschooling, as that relies on access to libraries, museums, parks and all sorts of other places outside of the home. Instead we're doing a kind of remote learning, where the children have work set from them by school which they submit and receive feedback on, a mixture of daily tasks and longer term projects. Bella's Year 8 homework is pretty much all set and assessed online by her teachers anyway (apart from practical projects) and it's a way of working she's familiar with, so this just feels like an extension of her usual work. She has certainly been given plenty to be getting along with, and I admire her focus and motivation. Angus, however, has found this new way of learning more challenging and is hugely missing the routine and social interaction of school. Luckily, he has to do a project on D-Day while he's off and WW2 is one of his favourite topics ever. 

I was very relaxed with the introduction of any kind of homeschooling routine last week (mainly because I felt so unwell, although I am feeling fine now) and so there is no colour-coded timetable here. Instead, we start the day with PE with Joe (on YouTube, it's a fun 30 minute long exercise session by the trainer Joe Wicks at 9am) then spend the morning doing school work. I dip in and out of this while getting on with other jobs in the background. After lunch, I try to encourage creative things, so they can craft, build lego, bake, help me garden, read, or just do whatever really, so long as it's not on a screen. From 4 pm the Xbox and TV is allowed, and so far this seems to be working. But it's early days.

We've been making good use of all kinds of things that have been stashed away in cupboards, like these cardboard letters which I bought about ten years ago.

Bella has been having a lovely time painting them, choosing the B for her room...

...and giving me the G as a Mother's Day gift. 

Mother's Day was a strange and muted affair, and it was hard not be able to give my own lovely mum a big hug (everyone taking social distancing very seriously here!) but I did bake a batch of sourdough cinnamon rolls as a treat for breakfast.

They were incredible - especially the way the sugary cinnamon filling melted and formed a crust on the bottom. It reminded me of lardy bread, which I used to eat when I was little. I don't think you really see it much anywhere now.

Pottering with houseplants is very good for calming the nerves. 

My monstera plant in the hall was almost as tall as Bella, so I took a couple of big cuttings from it, planting one in water and one in soil, in the hope that I can propagate them.

I have no idea what I'm doing but nothing ventured, nothing gained. 

Looks at this leaf here, about to unfurl - it reminds me of those biscuit wafer things you get in ice creams. 

I have been spending so much time outside gardening, especially now that I feel better and the weather has been so good. Slowly going around weeding, cutting back, tidying, trying to remember what grows where so that I don't accidentally pull up a baby plant thinking it's a weed....

In the odd quiet moment I've been working on this bracelet, slowly getting the hang of the beading technique.

It's all so strange and unsettling but we must remember that it's not forever, and we will look back on this time one day. Please look after yourselves. I'm going to have a glass of wine and cook dinner now. Chin chin.