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.

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

Strange Times

I am not really sure where to start. So much has happened in the last week, and so much will still happen, but here - thankfully - we are all fine. We are self isolating for 14 days as per the government guidelines because I have a "sudden and persistent cough" along with other cold/virus symptoms. My instinct is that it's just a cold and I feel a bit of a fraud being stuck at home with John and the children, but that's easy for me to say because I am fortunate to be a generally healthy person. It might not be just a cold, and I work with people - children and adults - who don't have the same levels of immunity that I take for granted, and I have to remember that. It's all so strange, trying to strike the balance between being sensible but not overreacting. 

I have been trying to take things easy since the weekend as I've not been feeling well, but I do find it hard to stay chipper when I'm under the weather. I like to be busy, feeling productive is good for me, and so I'm now trying to find a navigate a way through this surreal situation where we are at home. All of us. At home. For the next two weeks. Luckily there is still lots we can do, including getting out for fresh air and exercise, and both children's schools have already made work available online for them to do.

But I am very, very worried, and I imagine you are too, and so today I am here for the calm and positivity, not covid-19 chat. I imagine you want a break from that? I know I do. So, here are some of the things that are working for me and my mental health right now:

Looking out for signs of spring and watching it unfold in the garden. That fact that spring is happening around us is truly keeping me sane at the moment.

Bringing the first flower cut from the garden into the house.

John assembled my cold frame and my seeds have somewhere snug to grow. I have been pottering in the garden for an hour or so each day. I'm desperate to get out there and start tackling projects but at the moment I'm just doing small tasks like a bit of tidying or weeding until I have more energy.

The dog. Never have I loved him so much, and especially for his constancy and steadiness. He knows nothing about the news, he just carries on being consistently himself; following us around the house when he wants a walk, stealing unattended food, barking at the cat across the road, greeting visitors with a mad frenzy of love and licks. 

Starting a new craft project. Crafting is always wonderfully mindful and finally I find I have the time to look at this little beaded bracelet kit I bought from Purl Soho on holiday in New York last summer.

I have a way to go with my tension, and goodness it's fiddly, but I am enjoying the process.

Finishing a craft project is always satisfying, especially when the item in questions fits beautifully.

Although there are sadly less opportunities to show them off at the moment. Unless I can wave my wrist warmers at people from a distance of two metres.

These two, embracing the notion of homeschooling, went rummaging in the toy cupboard and found a science kit. Before they'd even had breakfast.

I am taking the opportunity to do the most everyday jobs mindfully and am finding some peace in the normality of it. Even changing the bedding, packing away the winter duvet, freshening up the room - it all helps me.

Other things that help:

getting out
staying busy
talking to friends a lot on the phone or via messaging
listening to podcasts
watching mindless tv
avoiding the news

Let me know please what is working for you? I sincerely hope you lovely lot are all ok and, if unwell or self isolating, are finding a positive way through it. I will continue to be here, doing my thing, bringing you a regular dose of daily life. Even that will be interesting. Much love to you all.