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.

Sleep is over-rated

I’ve always been a bit of an insomniac. I find it hard to shut down, wind down and relax at the end of each day. It is as though my mind suddenly wakes in the early evening and everything and anything can be whirling around in my head.

After having my son, it got worse. Working full time, and then with the sometimes-multiple night wake ups I found myself getting even less shut eye, as each time my son woke it would take me longer to re-settle and get back to sleep again.

It is sometimes worse than others. When I say worse, I mean I get literally no sleep or maybe an hour.  The challenge is that I have a four-year-old and a full-time job, so napping in the day is not the solution. 

At times I have considered getting medical help (ie. Sleeping tablets), but that would be a short-term fix, and I’m always fearful that it would too easily become a crutch for me.

At one stage I did see a sleep therapist, and some of the techniques worked. Though what I found was that it was my mindset I needed to change.

  1. Sleep is overrated. This was a little bit of an eye-opener for me, but the fact is that adults really do not need a full seven to eight hours sleep each night. My issue is once I got into that ‘no sleep’ mode, I’d start to get anxious as time ticked by. This would almost further exacerbate my insomnia as I would count how many hours were left for me to get some sleep. 
  2. Technology no-no.  I moved my phone away from my bed, turned it into sleep mode, and tried my best to stop my screen time just before I closed my eyes. Even more important, I left my work phone downstairs in the study.  It was too tempting at times to check the emails coming through overnight, and suddenly with one ask my mind started whirring.
  3. Focus on health food habits. Especially now that I’m working from home every day, it is too easy to keep topping up my coffee throughout the day. That biscuit tin seems to call to me in the late afternoon every day. A glass of wine to shut off the day. Sugar, chocolate or crisps as an after-dinner snack. No wonder my body can’t shut down with the sugar, caffeine and salt intake.  Now more than ever, with COVID-19 threatening a second wave, I’m conscious of staying healthy. I’m more conscious of my food habits, snacking and ensuring that my evening intake is less intensive for my body to digest and wind down to.
  4. Enjoy a warm bath before bedtime. Sometimes the thought of running a bath, infusing lavender oils and other such relaxing scents and just enjoying the peace and relaxing seems a little too much to organise. Nonetheless, the effort is worth it as the tensions disappear and my mind eases into a more relaxed state just before bedtime.

It’s not perfect. I still have waves of insomnia of course, and sometimes I throw my own advice to the wind (and regret it), and the cycle starts again.

But sleep is important, no matter which way you look at it. We need our bodies to recharge, we need it to strengthen our immune system. Right now more than ever we need to stay healthy and focused. So perhaps for now I’ll make it my priority.

My post Covid-19 wish list

I recently read a great blog post on a website I follow Lifesfinewine.com and it has inspired me to think about what I want once this pandemic panic is over.

The world has stopped this year, or most of it. Our lives have all been impacted in some way by Covid. In many ways I’m a little anxious about how we will think and act on many levels when things really start to relax. I don’t see us ever going back to the way things were completely. Some things will never be the same again. Covid-19 has changed us.

I was reading this article about the future of experiences post Covid. Online shopping has become very much the norm, and it is very likely that many will not run back to high streets for just a day of browsing. I love to shop. I used to love wandering down Oxford Street in London to just explore, find a bargain or discover the things I suddenly realised I needed to purchase. Online shopping may not offer that same touch and feel experience, or trying on ten outfits at a time. The reality however, is do we want that? And if we don’t, how will that impact retailers, jobs, real-estate, etc?

So the big question I now keep reflect on is what I would wish for once this pandemic is finally over?

  1. I want to travel, far and wide. I want to get on an plane or a train or a boat and find new places to explore without worrying about my health and safety. I especially want to get home to Australia to see my family and bask in the sunshine.
  2. I want a girls night out. Cocktails, crowds, music and people. I want to enjoy the buzz of being around people, and not fearing getting too close, or squeezing up to a bar to order some daiquiris.
  3. I want to hug my friends and family, without concern or feeling like I’m doing the wrong thing. I’m a tactile person, and I like to connect with people through physical touch. Reassuring someone is often my hand on an arm, or putting my arms around someone who is celebrating or feeling anxious. This is the way I show I care.

These are all wishes. They are nice-to-haves. Of course, it would be lovely if the world changed overnight. But the reality is that we still have some more months of restrictions to live with. My biggest wish of all, is that I want to avoid us going backwards. Having the restrictions we have today increased even further; or worse, a new lock down with everything but essential shops shutting once again. Access to any friends or family completely forbidden and confinement to our houses through the coming cold and wet months. This is what we need to avoid, and we can if we just follow the rules and guidelines that are still in place today.

‘Patience is not the ability to wait, but the ability to keep a good attitude while waiting.’

JOyce meyer

We have been dealing with these social, physical and lifestyle changes now for the best part of 2020. Many of us are getting impatient for normality to come back. Personally, I am desperate to see this year out to it’s close. I’m hoping that 2021 brings us much more to look forward to. The reality is that we must be patient and find a way through this situation, be aware and safe, and most of all, we should focus on staying positive and hopeful that the end of the pandemic will come soon.

Back on the Bicycle

Life is like riding a bike… to keep your balance you must keep moving.

This is such an apt saying for right now. We can’t stop, wait and put our lives on hold just because of Covid-19. We have to keep moving forward, despite the challenges that this year, the lockdown and all the restrictions we are facing, has thrown at us.

For my son’s fourth birthday his big present was a red bicycle! Red goes faster he tells me! Well look at him go!

My previous bike – pretty but not practical

I actually bought myself a new bicycle too! It was my own treat to me. Something I felt I could indulge in despite Covid-19 and all things pandemic. I wanted something that was a little more sporty than my previous bike (which was very pretty but not very practical as you can see from the picture). My new ‘sporty’ bike is much lighter, a little less decorated, but rides like a dream. I can’t wait until we can do some real family bike riding.

Perhaps by next summer he will be off his training wheels!! I can be patient – I guess. What is so exciting, is watching his confidence grow with each biking adventure we take. I love watching him test himself and his balance as he navigates different terrain or different speeds.

Despite some patchy weekend this bank holiday just gone, I was inspired to encourage my son to get out on a bike ride with me, after I’d read a news article about the 4J Studios Open Series 5 and Kayleigh Haggo’s new world record! Getting on a bike, whether it is for fun, adventure or competition is just so much fun. The joy is contagious!

I remember exploring bike paths and different ways home as a kid, and even making little obstacle paths around our garden and on our footpath. I loved BMX Bandits (an Australian movie – in fact one of Nicole Kidman’s first starring roles), and I would ‘try’ stunts on my own non-BMX bike, having mini competitions with my brothers!

My bike was out almost every day, and I hope the same will be for my son. It is such a healthy, fun and non-expensive sport to enjoy. Exploring the countryside, testing your balance as you navigate different paths and obstacles, and feeling the breeze on your face as you race against the wind and push your limits.

I keep telling myself that the weather has been such a blessing through all of this. Being able to get outdoors and enjoy the sunshine with some easy, lighthearted activities has made these restrictions much more bearable.

However, Autumn is coming and I know the days will get much cooler, and the weather will start to turn. I’m an outdoors person, but only when the weather is right. In other words, I don’t like the rain. I can deal with the cold, and in fact I love a fresh, bright winter’s day, when the ground is almost white, and the cold air snaps at you as you enjoy the outdoors. When it rains, I go into hibernation. So I’m making every moment count right now, as I’m well aware that our UK winters can be so predictably soggy and miserable.

This weekend the forecast is sunshine and only slightly cloudy skies. I can guarantee we will be out again with our bikes enjoying what could be some of the last of our summer weekends. What are you doing this weekend? Is your bicycle ready to go?

It’s not over yet – parenting through Covid

I just want to ask……… who else is feeling utterly exhausted?!!! I am not sure whether it is from school at home, working extra hard to catch up for …

It’s not over yet – parenting through Covid

I found this post so easy to relate to. In many ways it reminded me of one of my first blogs on this site: Work and Life Imbalance