Big Hopes for 2021

I see so many posts and blogs about farewelling 2020, and celebrating the back of a year that many would prefer to forget. Many have struggled through the past several months, being separated from loved ones, fearing this virus and all that it brings, job losses, business downturns, plans cancelled…. I could go on!

But I don’t want to forget. I don’t think we should. Human life is so precious and the little luxuries we have around us are often taken for granted. We should look back and learn. We should take heed of what has happened and hope that we can rebuild and find new and different ways to move forward.

All throughout history there have been natural disasters and plagues that have destroyed mankind and resulted in the mass loss of human lives. This one is no different. The spread of Covid-19 has moved quickly on a global scale, and this has been due to our inability to stop, follow rules and simply stay patient.

I’m writing this blog post because quite frankly I’m bored of it now. I’m sure we all are. We just want it over with, cut loose, get away, and live a normal life again. Yet that is just not possible right now. Even despite the recent vaccine approvals, life won’t be what we knew as ‘normal’ for quite a long time.

The after effects of this pandemic will likely last for years for many. So many have lost loved ones, and many have missed out on those final moments holding each other because of the risk of spreading Covid-19. Many businesses will never reopen, and let’s not forget the social and mental health impacts that isolation, fear, anxiety and loss has caused.

So will 2021 offer us a bright new shiny beginning?

The reality is, no! But with time, the roll out of vaccines, and an increased awareness and diligence from the general public we can hope for a slow return to a lifestyle that offers more freedom to move about and socialise with loved ones, friends and colleagues. We may even get comfortable giving those we care about a big hug again.

This past Christmas and New Years, has been the most minimalist celebration I’ve ever experienced. I am of course grateful for my small family and our quiet festivities. At the same time I have really missed spending time with our wider family, friends and purely enjoying that lead up to the festivities and celebrations, the events and the fun you have through the silly season. This year it didn’t feel so joyous.

So my New Year’s wish is for a hopeful year ahead. A year where things can change for the better, and we can all recover in our own ways. My four-year old son keeps asking me when the big germ will go away, so he can see his family in Australia and Ireland. I look forward to the day where I can tell him we have fought and won against the big germ and the planes are working again.

Happy new year 2021 – we have a lot banking on you!

The most wonderful time of the year…

With this year being what it’s been why should we follow tradition when it comes to Christmas?

I say let’s just throw all caution to the wind and start the festive season now! Why not? Positivity breeds positivity. Perhaps a little festive cheer and Christmas spirit is exactly what we all need right now to get us through the anxieties, set backs and worries that we have faced through this year. After all, a little Christmas spirit never hurt anyone.

So this past weekend was wet, cold and plain miserable for the majority of the time. With our current lockdown preventing us from doing much else but stay dry and warm indoors, I decided it was time to get out the Christmas tree.

My son and I spent the afternoon building our tree (a real one would never last through to Christmas), unraveling all of our decorations and baubles to carefully decorate its branches, and we even enjoyed some Christmas music to get the atmosphere going.

Our local garden center remains open through lockdown, so we also ventured into their new Christmas section and found some fun and quirky decorations for both inside and outside.

My son was so proud of his efforts, and looking at the tree with all its colours and lights after it was done made us all smile. This is truly the most wonderful time of the year, so why not start the feeling now. It’s time to look forward with hope, and if any time of the year brings hope, its Christmas!

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Lockdown Tip – Alphabet Hunt

My son is almost four and a half and an only child. So keeping him entertained, indoors, during a lockdown can be sometimes a little challenging.

He is at that age where he is curious and needs continual entertainment and company. During non-lockdown times we would generally mix up the weekends with some home activities, a play-date with one of his friends, and then a trip to a farm park, a zoo or some other activity.

However, with the closure of zoos, farm parks, activity centers, restaurants, and more, we are have to find other ways to keep him entertained and stimulated through the day. When the weather is grey and wet, there is always a temptation to just revert to screen time. Of course, some screen time if fine; but for me, personally, part of the fun of being a parent is enjoying learning and play with my son!

Today we made up a little game. I called it the Alphabet Hunt.

As my son is now in reception, he is learning phonics and letters. He is finding such joy in looking at new words and trying to sound them out. So we made a little game of it. I asked him to find different objects around the house that started with each of the letters, and then we worked together to sound them out so he could write the word next to each letter.

It kept him entertained for over an hour, and we had a lot of laughs as he would find very strange objects and played with their sound and spelling.

This was such an easy exercise to put together, and whether your child is spelling or just finding objects, it makes everything in the house a little fun as they go exploring through each room. There are so many ways you could play this type of game too, depending on your child’s age groups, and I could imagine the fun of a little competition between siblings.

I’ll keep sharing my ideas as they come to me, but I’d love to hear from others too! The more ideas and creativity the more we can conquer this lockdown and come out with a little less anxiety as parents!

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Locking down again…

England announced this week a second ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown for a month (maybe more). It didn’t come as a surprise with Covid cases increasing and our R number going up and up…

In some ways I feel like this should have happened earlier, but as I keep saying, we are where we are, and there is nothing we can do except comply with the rules and focus on staying safe and healthy.

This lockdown is a little different. The weather is much colder, the air feels damp, and so motivation to get outside and find things to do feels a lot harder. Plus, with Christmas only a handful of weeks away, it feels as though we are pinning our hopes on a ‘normal celebration’. But what is that really amidst this virus and the restrictions we face. Can we really expect to have a traditional Christmas this year? In the bigger scheme of things, the focus should really be on getting through this pandemic right?

So today was the first weekend of our new lockdown, and whilst it was cold outside, we were blessed with blue skies and more importantly, no rain!

The garden had taken quite a bad beating over the past few weeks in the wet windy rainstorms. It prompted us to take time as a family to do a small clean up, getting the garden clean and tidy for the winter frost that was surely arriving in the coming weeks.

More than anything, it was a bit of fun, quite a bit messy but most of all it was some much needed fresh air to get us out of the house enjoying the outdoors. Our son loves to be a helper, so we tasked him with removing some of the ‘badly planted’ carrots I had sowed over summer. He had to sort out the ones that had mutated together apart from the ones that were still edible. We made it a challenge to see how many ‘good’ carrots he could find.

What I’m learning is that children love activities that keep them entertained, and that offer them variety and where they can get involved and excited. Through the next four weeks I am challenging myself to seek out more activities like this – both indoor and outdoor. Locking down again reminds me that without the aid of farm parks, zoos or activity centers, we have to use our own creativity to look at different ways to help our little ones learn, grow and explore the world. But this makes it a little bit of fun! Today I enjoyed being a child again and spending quality time with my son in the fresh cool outdoors.

Sometimes it is just about finding the positive in a tough situation. Lockdown 2.0 we can do this!

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Sending a Virtual Hug

A simple hug is so powerful. The connection, the warmth and the feeling of support when someone puts their arms around you. Whether its family, loved ones, friends or colleagues, it shows that someone cares through the comfort of purely pulling you in for a body squeeze.

Now when I run into someone I care about it feels slightly awkward. My natural instinct is to step in with my arms outstretched. There’s a moment when you just kind of smile and almost lean in without touching. It’s not the same.

Then there are the people I should have seen, spent time with or travelled to over the past several months. We have spent time on FaceTime or Zoom calls to keep the connection alive and personal, but we haven’t been in the same room now for so very long. We laugh about sending a virtual hug to each other, and whilst the thought is comforting, it is not the same.

Of course we can’t complain to much! We have technology that makes the distance feel a little closer, and we have the opportunity to step out and connect with friends and loved ones in a respectfully distanced manner… These things can’t be taken for granted. Especially when you see many communities and countries still facing tougher restrictions around households mixing.

Our closest family are not in the same country. So many people are facing different situations when it comes to family and close friends. Perhaps we are lucky in some ways. I’d be far too tempted to give my mum a big squeeze if she lived nearby.

The risks are all too real now however. As our parents get older we need to protect them, and COVID-19 particularly preys on those with underlying (known and unknown) conditions. With my son at school I’d be even more concerned if we had our parents nearby. This pandemic spreads quickly and we still don’t know a lot about its long term effects. Until there is a real vaccine available our hugs will need to remain a concept rather than a reality.

My husband plays a little game with our son. He asks for a hug but then challenges our son to hug without touching. It sends our son into fits of laughter as he tries to work out how to hug without touching. It’s become a game, and our son understands no different. He continually comes back for me.

Maybe us grown ups need to find the fun in a non-connecting hug. Stretch out those arms, and squeeze the open air. We can always make the best of a very strange and sometimes awkward situation. It may not feel as comforting but we can have a good giggle in the meantime!

Even better, give yourself a big hug. Throw your own arms around your body, close your eyes and just squeeze. In these situations we need to adapt and find opportunities to just be kind to ourselves.

Who needs a virtual hug? I’ve got plenty to spare! It’s not the same I know but it will do for now!

Covid Work Life Boundaries

It’s hard to believe we are in October. In some ways this year seems to have dragged, and yet I wonder where the time has gone?

I spoke to a fellow parent at the school drop off on Monday and we both agreed that each week just starts with a bit of a groan right now. Same thing, different week.

My husband and I have both worked from home since February (like many others throughout the world), and so it just feels same-same, as you start a new week. Starting the week with school drop off, head back home and into the home office for video calls.

It’s now Friday again and the weekend will soon begin, but quite honestly, I am struggling to switch off, wind down and really relax on a weekend now. My office is ever-present, and so it becomes far too easy to just step into the study and answer that one email or finish that final report. Then that one email becomes me at my work PC for a good hour or two as I become absorbed in just closing off that next task, and then the next.

This weekend I found myself pacing the house. My son was at a play date, my husband was watching the Grand Prix and I felt jittery, a little restless and unsure of what to do. The clothes washing had been done, we’d just eaten, the house was generally tidy. I didn’t feel like I wanted to read a book or watch television, and so I found myself just sitting down at my desk and logging on. 

I realised then I had to put some clear rules (or boundaries) in place to create a better separation from my work. There were plenty of other things I could have done at that moment, but I chose work. Why? On self-reflection work gives me a sense of achievement, and right now a different connection to the outside world. I do enjoy what I do, and I feel accomplished when I deliver my objectives or make a difference to a colleague’s day. I find that I get inspired by the positivity that comes with closing off something I’ve committed to delivering, and that is what keeps pulling me back.

At the same time, this is not healthy. Our brains need to rest, and what I’m also finding is that my sleep is becoming impacted as I’m not shutting down at night, and I feel constantly in work mode, having to physically stop myself from checking my diary, my emails and missed calls.

So what boundaries have I given myself?

  1. Turn off my computer at the end of my day.  Whenever my day ends, that moment when I’m ready to walk away from work for the day, or at the end of the last meeting I’ve committed to, I now shut down my computer. Putting it in sleep mode makes it too easy to just press the space bar and fire it up in an instant. 
  • Work phone stays in the study with my PC. About a year ago I separated my work and personal life by investing in a second iPhone. However, I still carried both around, just in case. My personal phone is social, and so all my friends reach me on that. My work phone is used throughout my work week. Leaving my work phone in the study with my PC, stops me being tempted to check for texts or emails or invites. Whilst at times I want to sneak in and take a peek, the temptation is overruled by my common sense – what I don’t know about I cannot act upon.
  • Weekends are sacred. This will be my biggest challenge I feel. There are times on the weekend where I have down time, and I don’t do down time very well. Plus, I hate a full inbox on a Monday morning. But I need to keep reminding myself that my mind needs to recharge, my health and well being rely on me being at my best, and that our weekends are meant to be focused on family and friends.
  • Walk without Technology. Each day I try to take a walk or get out for some exercise. Without my work phone and away from my computer and my office study. If I was in the office, I go to the coffee shop with a colleague, and possibly spend a while connecting without staring at a screen. This little recharge each day is brain-saving. Thirty minutes to an hour of just me time allows my mind to wander into weekend planning and other non-work focused thoughts.

These may seem fairly common-sense and straight forward rules. For me it will take discipline and focus. Right now, when our lives feel so blended and work, family and household seem wrapped together, this separation is even more important to keep us well and happy.

What do you do to help you disconnect and recharge?

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The weather outside is frightful…

The start of winter is most definitely here!

I find it incredible to think that just under two weeks ago I went for a walk around my neighbourhood in shorts and t-shirt. The sun was shining and the warm gave its last bow for the year, as just two days later I had converted to knits and ugg boots.

This weekend the weather has been treacherous with wild winds, constant downpour and even flooding in parts of our countryside.

The hardest part now with Covid still circling around us, is what to do when the weather is so miserable. Right now we are amidst increased restrictions (lockdowns in some areas still) and we cannot mix households in many counties (at most we can have groups of six in non-affected areas). This time last year I didn’t even bat an eyelid on days like this to have friends around, keeping the heat on and just enjoying the warmth indoors. To keep my son entertained we would go to a soft play or the movies, and there was no need to plan, book in advance and even consider what precautions we might need to take to keep ourselves safe and well.

I’ve set my expectations now. The warm weather is long gone, and it is clear that we will endure a long, hard winter… Possibly much harder than years before given we are not seeing signs of a vaccine this year for Covid-19, and cold and flu season is also upon us. The risks are increasing, and it is so important that we continue to stay vigilant and respectful of the restrictions.

I’m not sure what the months to come will bring. Maybe tighter restrictions, a further lockdown? For sure, I’m staying in England right now, taking small but safe breaks in the countryside (as much as it hurts me to be away from family).

What does keep me focused and positive is that my son is going to school every day right now, and I am able to work effectively from home to perform my job, without the worry of commuting or being at risk of spreading germs in the office. Neither my husband or I have been in the office since February, which seems incredible when you think that we are now in October.

This weather is really no surprise. We are well versed with wet winters here in the UK. Now it is time just to prepare ourselves for this weather, and find creative ways to bear with the wet, windy, cold days that lie ahead, and look forward to the festive season, the New Year and beyond!

The Power of Nature

I’m not a green finger and gardening generally is not my thing.

But… I do love the majestic beauty of a sunflower under the clear blue sky in summer.

One of the benefits of lockdown is we were home most of this summer to nurture our garden and so we decided to plan some sunflower seeds back in May.  I loved watching them sprout, and then slowly grow from about one centimetre to varying sizes. 

It was only August when the flowers started to bloom. I must have planted about a dozen seeds and we ended up with nine fully grown sunflowers which isn’t bad.  I think our dog and cat used the garden as a play space, and a bathroom; as such some didn’t survive those early stages.

The success of growing sunflowers is daily watering and lots of sunshine!  We certainly had that this year, which I’m entirely grateful for.  Especially having not had our annual summer vacation overseas.

One of our little seeds must have had some superpower growth gene inside it, or the soil we planted it in must have had some strong vitamins. We call it the beanstalk sunflower.  This giant came from just one seed, and it was the last to flower. However, the buds span all the way down, on every branch, and I’m excited to see the final output in a week or so when there will be dozens of gorgeous yellow sunflowers sprinkled all throughout it.

As we reach the latter half of September, and the summer is starting to disappear, our garden and these beautiful sunflowers are a great reminder of the warm days we’ve enjoyed, the time with family throughout this anxiety and the power of one tiny seed.  One tiny seed that grew so large that it towers over the entire garden and all the plants within it.

Winter will come, the sunflowers will eventually wilt, and the frost will heed any further growth in our lovely garden. Nonetheless, nature has a wonderful way of reinventing itself each spring, and as the sun shines strong throughout the summer, we enjoy the revitalisation of colours and smells all over again. Another seed will be planted for another sunflower in April or May next year, and we will again the power of Mother Nature.

Perhaps this is a lesson learned for us. Whilst this year has already been uncertain and difficult, for many the winter will be even harder to endure as the cold, wet weather sets in. If we can just look beyond these dark, frosty months; knowing that spring will come, and when it does we will see ourselves grow in strength and colour beyond this pandemic.  

COVID-19 Memories

Many people will certainly want to forget Covid-19 and this year altogether! In some ways you can’t blame many for just wanting to move beyond lockdowns, restrictions, social distancing and everything else that has come with it.

For many, COVID has meant loss of income or jobs; business slowdown, or closure; home-schooling; inability to see close family and friends; sickness, death and general well-being concerns.

The reality is that COVID is not going away soon, and this blog by Robbie’s Inspiration got me thinking to be honest. Are there memories we want to capture from this year?

We certainly won’t be forgetting COVID any time soon, but personally there have been moments with my family and social bubbles that I find myself feeling grateful for.

  • Family time. Whilst school closures were inconvenient, especially as my husband and I work full time. We have been able to spend much more time this year together as a family. Our normal day or week involves rushing between work and childcare arrangements, trying to fit in the commute and social events, and generally wishing away each week, just to get to the weekend for those two days that are somewhat less manic.
  • Our neighbourhood has truly become a community. The friendships we have formed, the support and comradery (even over the 6-foot fences) and having people nearby to support and share experiences with has genuinely been a blessing. I remember having this as a child, but in my adult years I’ve never formed such good relations with my neighbours and I’m not sure if this would have happened despite COVID.
  • Daily exercise in the sunshine. Before COVID I had to try to fit any exercise in before or after work, and around my son’s morning routine or dinner time. Working from home means I can find an hour in the middle of the day to get out and enjoy the warm sunshine whilst getting fit and healthy. It may mean an earlier start or a later finish, but without the commute to the office, this is easily scheduled.

So, I don’t think I will be baking a cake to commemorate COVID. Partly because I’m not the best cook! I did however create a small and simple piece of artwork, a cut out of our hands. My family. This I have framed for my son’s playroom, and it signifies this uncertain and unprecedented moment in time. It represents our family unity, and will be a small reminder that whilst there has been a lot we would like to forget, we must remember to find positivity; for our own health and well-being.  

Exploring: The Cotswolds

Last weekend we were in one of my favourite English countryside locations… The Cotswolds.

We are quite fortunate as it is just an hour or two drive from our house, depending on which part of the Cotswolds we visit, but it is truly like entering a different world of quintessential sandstone homes and beautiful landscapes.

In fact, it was the Cotswolds where my husband and I went for our first weekend away many years ago as we had started dating.

The biggest challenge around the restrictions we are facing, and maintaining social distancing is trying to avoid crowds. As much I want to get back to normality, COVID-19 cases are again on the rise, and I’m not willing to put myself or my family at risk.

Some of the small market towns in the Cotswolds are normally incredibly busy, lots of people flocking to the boutique shops, enjoying cream teas and browsing the street markets.

We stopped in at Moreton-in-Marsh and it was VERY quiet. The Saturday we were there, the markets were alive in the street and the there was a small fun fair. There were people about don’t get me wrong, but there was no jostling around people, and the rides were all but bare. In fact, I feel heavily for the stall holders and ride owners as they are clearly being hit hard as tourism has dropped significantly this year.

We also went back to a favourite spot of ours, Broadway Tower. The walk around the tower is picturesque and you come across many farm animals (cows, sheep, etc) and even the roaming deer.  Booking is essential as they are limiting numbers, and masks need to be worn to climb the tower.  It’s worth it though as you reach the top and you can just take in the views of the Cotswolds from all angles.  Also, if you’re interested, as you climb the tower there are three floors offering a long and interesting history about the tower and even the onsite nuclear bunker.

Another lovely stopping point is the Batsford Aboretum. For a small entry fee you can spend hours here following the paths around the beautifully crafted gardens, having a picnic lunch in the open air, and simply taking in the different flora and fauna (almost 3000 labelled specimens exist around these vast gardens). My son enjoyed scooting up and down the pathways, and again the Aboretum is controlling numbers so crowding is not an issue.

More and more I’m looking for opportunities to explore England right now. Stay-cations are the in-thing, and certainly we need to do what we can to boost our local communities and small business owners and the economy in general.  All whilst ensuring we remain safe and healthy.