Thursday, 21 January 2021

Sorting through my 2020 photos

Every year in January I set aside some time to sort through our photos from the previous year. I get rid of the blurry ones, choose the best picture from a series of near identical shots, and remove any unflattering photographs of me. Then I use my favourite photos to make a slideshow for my computer.

Normally it takes me several days, this year I managed to sort them all in under an hour. With no holidays or days out to document, along with me blogging less frequently, we don't have nearly as many photos as we usually do. Nevertheless I found plenty of photos which I love, and I thought I'd share a few of my favourites here. 

The first photo was taken way back in February 2020. Ram was very ill for several weeks with all the Covid symptoms, although I guess we'll never know if he actually had it or not. It was half term and I'd been staying in with the children to look after him while it rained for weeks. I finally managed to drag the children out for a walk and we scooted around this flooded area near our house. The area has been purposely built to take excess rainwater away from the estate, but this is the wettest I've ever seen it!

Children on scooters near flooding

Most of my photos from 2020 were taken in the garden. We were so lucky with the weather over the summer! After all that rain at the beginning of the year it didn't rain properly again for months and we spent so much time enjoying the outdoors.

Children playing with bubbles in the garden

We tried to get the children out for longer walks at the weekend and we spent lots of time exploring the places that we can walk to from our house. This is taken from a nearby hill, really not that far to walk and with beautiful views across the sea and country.

Children on a country walk

This is one of my favourite photos of the year, and I've used it several times on the blog. It was taken on a summer evening at our nearest beach, when the restrictions had been eased to allow us to travel for exercise. We discovered these markings painted along the seafront and I couldn't resist documenting them. It seemed strange at the time as it was one of our first trips 'out' but now of course we are used to staying away from other people in public!

Children on the seafront at 2m distance

In July we actually managed to get away on holiday for a week! We spent a week in a self-catered apartment in Westward Ho! and we did a day trip to Bude. Bude itself was very busy so we didn't stay long, but we managed to fit in a visit to the famous Bude Tunnel!

Family selfie in the Bude Tunnel

It was a strange and quiet Christmas this year but we tried to keep our usual traditions going and we made our usual gingerbread houses. I'm glad that the children were able to be at school leading up to Christmas, as although it wasn't quite the same as usual they were still able to do some of the usual Christmassy things. 

Children with their gingerbread houses

I'm going to try and make more effort to take photos this year, especially over the next few months when I suspect that we're going to be at home with limited opportunities for external entertainment. I do love looking back through photos and reliving the memories.

Monday, 18 January 2021

Things that I achieved this weekend

Sometimes a weekend, especially one in which entertainment options are limited, can feel as though it passes by in the blink of an eye without me actually doing anything. So I thought I'd make a list of all the things that I achieved this weekend! 

My Tax Return. Yay! We both have to complete one and usually leave it to the last minute. Mine is quite simple to do but I need to wait for Ram track down all the interest statements and to double check it for me. We did make a mistake and managed to overpay my National Insurance contributions by a small amount. They don't make it easy to find the correct figure to pay! Hopefully they'll either refund the difference or it will come out next year...

Harry's presents. It's his birthday this week and it has rather crept up on me. I have a few extra presents to wrap this year as family have sent them direct to us from Amazon. When I went to wrap them I discovered that I didn't have much 'boy' wrapping paper left so he has a mixture of blue, pink and Christmas wrapping paper. Luckily he says he doesn't mind!

Children playing at the beach in the waves

Sorting out the junk corner. In our guest room I've been collecting things that the children have cleared out for garage sales, school fair sales and so on. Obviously these were all cancelled this year so I've had a sort through and got rid of some things and streamlined the rest so it all looks a bit neater.

Sorting out the cruise box. We last cruised in November 2019 and booked a Disney cruise placeholder as we were confident we'd be cruising again soon. Unfortunately cruising isn't going to happen again for a while so I sorted through the bits that I keep aside for cruises, gifts for exchanges and so on, and packed it away. 

Dragged the children out for some fresh air. We visited our closest beach for a quick walk and some fun chasing the waves. It was a bit of a mission to get out and we encountered a fair bit of resistance, but it was well worth it for the fun that they had once we were out.

Reading. I finished Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell which I'd been wanting to read for a long time. I enjoyed it very much, although it did make me feel quite sad. I liked picking out the references and inspirations for Hamlet. Now I'm reading The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow which is also shaping up to be a great read.

Brownies in a tin

Exercising. Normally I do my exercise during the week, but Ram was keen to go for a run and then we ended up doing some Joe Wicks workout videos together. It was his first attempt at a Joe Wicks video - they aren't for the faint hearted!

We had a family Zoom call for my niece's birthday which was lovely. I'm not very good at video calling but I do like to see everyone on screen.

Baking. I made rice crispie cakes with Mia which has become our lockdown baking staple, and I also made a batch of easy brownies.

Maybe I was quite productive after all!

Thursday, 14 January 2021

Trying to make the days more interesting when every day is the same

Some lyrics which perfectly encapsulate my mood right now:

"I'm bored of being bored, I'm tired of being tired" - My Little Empire by the Manic Street Preachers.

At the moment we are stuck in a loop. Every day feels the same, and seems to go by so quickly. I can't relax until the children are settled in bed, which comes later and later. All of us are feeling a bit down and fed up, and we just seem to amplify that among ourselves.

So I've been trying to think of ways that I can do to make the days more interesting for all of us. Hopefully by keeping on top of my own mental health I'll have the strength to bring up everyone's mood a little bit.

Cutting down social media

I have been getting sucked into social media, especially Twitter, and using it as a way to pass time despite my anxiety rising with every tweet I read. As well as avoiding it I've been cutting down the people that I follow - 'friends' on Facebook that I've never met and accounts on Twitter that I only followed because they followed me. This makes my social media a more interesting and personal place to be.

Reading

I've replaced the majority of this previously wasted social media time with reading, and I've found some excellent reading material recently. I've taken note of recommended books from blog posts and social media and reserved them for free to pick up from the library. I'm also using two ways to find free and cheap Kindle books which I'll share below in case you don't know about them and are interested:

Amazon Prime Reading as I understand it ( and please do correct me if I'm wrong!) Prime members can borrow up to ten books at a time from a selection of books that updates once a month or so. Once you've read a book you return it, and the books, will stay on your Kindle for as long as you have a Prime membership even if they are removed from the selection available. 

Top Kindle Books 

The Top 100 Paid tab will bring up popular books and bestsellers that are currently on special offer for 99p. And I can usually find something that I like the look of in the Top 100 Free section. You do need to be a bit careful with the free ones, sometimes they are just short stories and sometimes the books are the first in a series and liable to end on a cliff hanger to encourage you to buy the next one.

Exercise

I started a regular exercise routine in September and I'm really pleased that I've kept it going. Unfortunately my main form of exercise was running, and with the children at home I can't get out for a run in the day and it's too dark and cold first thing. I've been working through the Joe Wicks back catalogue and trying a different video each time. We've also ordered a decent cross trainer for exercising at home. I want to find some more fun exercise videos to try as well. I'm thinking about trying this dance one tomorrow although I know I'll be terrible at it!

Baking and cooking

Before Covid I used to regularly pop to the supermarket and only planned meals a few days in advance. Although we often ate the same meals, it was easier to cook something that I was in the mood to eat. Now that we shop less often, I need to meal plan much more efficiently and be more rigid. I'm determined to get a bit more inventive with our dinner options, there is plenty of inspiration online. I also enjoy baking and it's a good activity to do with the children, with the bonus of a tasty treat at the end of it. I want to make dinner something to look forward to!

Playing board games

I've found that (like most people) the children don't cope well when they are on a screen all day. It can't be helped when most of their learning is online, but I've been trying to set aside their longer lunch break to play some quick games together. We enjoy Maponimoes, Charades, Guess Who, and yesterday we even had a game of Elefun. Just trying to enjoy something together. 

Embracing my longer afternoons

When the children are at home I gain an hour and a half in my day. They often finish their schoolwork by three, and if they are happy to entertain themselves after that then I have a couple of hours until I start making dinner. I'm trying to use that time to do something useful - get some work done if I have some, do some housework, write a blog post, or just sit down for a bit with a book. 

Generally I feel much happier about my day if I feel that I've done something productive, even if it's just a happier child, a tidier house, some work done, an interesting chapter of a book read or a blog post published. So I'm really trying to make sure that I achieve something interesting every day!

Monday, 11 January 2021

Walking in the frost

Recently it has been frostier than I can remember for a long time. For days we have woken to a thick layer of frost on cars, on the grass and even on our front hedge. I haven't been out for a run in almost a week. Because the children are at home all day I need to go out when it's dark, and I don't trust the pavements not to be slippery. 

Frost on a hedge

It did cause us some problems last week when we needed to film a video for school. Mia was supposed to be lost in the Amazon rainforest, but unfortunately the frost on the grass in the garden, even in the late afternoon, rather took away from the authenticity of the location.

It has made it easier to get the children out for some fresh air though. They love walking down an unpaved road near us where the water has collected in large puddles and frozen over. You'd think they'd never seen ice before! In fact when we got home we even put water in containers in the garden so that it would freeze overnight and they could play with it the next day. A simple home school science lesson!

Children playing in frozen puddles

I don't mind the cold weather so much when I don't need to go out and do the school run. I don't miss hanging around in the cold playground in the gap between finishing times. And I've not had to deal with a frozen car yet this winter as we aren't going anywhere! 

Thursday, 7 January 2021

Back to home learning

So for the next few weeks we are back to learning at home. I don't like to call it home schooling because I'm not a teacher, but I do need to be in constant supervision of the children for the duration of the school day. Luckily our school is very supportive and the children are given plenty of work to do, so I don't need to worry about planning or setting the work myself!

It's a bit different to back in the spring though. Now that Harry is in the senior school he has live lessons on Google classroom which follow his usual timetable through the day. So he can sit up in his room in front of the laptop and pretty much get on with it by himself with me checking in occasionally and providing snacks. He's getting on well, he was exhausted after the first day but he's coping better now that he knows what he's doing. 

Mia uses Seesaw and it's very similar to last time, so she's familiar with what she needs to do. She has tidied up her bedroom so that she has a clear desk to work at, and although she is given all her work for the day in one go, she's keen to follow a timetable where she can. We try and get most of the difficult work (that would be the maths!) done first thing to get it out of the way. Although I'd like her to be more independent, the reality is that she does still need quite a bit of help. She also misses having Harry around, so she relies on me for company and entertainment.

Child learning from home in bedroom

It's so much easier second time round as the teachers and children are more prepared and everything is already in place. I also find life easier during the school week as the children thrive on the structure - getting up at a certain time, getting dressed and regular breaks. During the holidays they have a tendency to go a bit feral, with late nights and staying in pyjamas all day!

I'm holding on to the belief that the children will be back at school after the February half-term and this time they'll be staying there. Fingers crossed!

Monday, 4 January 2021

Goals and resolutions for 2021

 After the unexpected way that this year turned out, I'm a little wary of setting too many concrete goals for 2021! But I didn't do too badly with my ten things to do in 2020 so I thought that I'd still find it helpful to put together a list of things that I want to accomplish this year. Not New Year's Resolutions exactly but just a few changes that I want to make, or new habits that I want to continue.

Lose the Christmas weight. I haven't dared weigh myself recently. I was doing pretty well at losing weight until the beginning of December, when the Christmas chocolates and treats began to appear with the weekly food shop. This last week has been particularly bad, as I've been busy eating up all the cheese, biscuits and chocolate tubs ready for the New Year diet. I'll be making a start today and I'll weigh myself next Monday, to give myself a starting point that hopefully isn't too horrific!

Keep up the exercise. When the children went back to school in September I picked up my running routine again. I designated Monday, Wednesday and Friday as my exercise days and I have managed to stick to it pretty consistently until now. On days when it rains I've been doing a Joe Wicks home workout. We are also looking at buying some home exercise equipment to keep us going through the winter now that we can't depend on the gym being open. So I want to keep up this routine of a decent workout three times a week.

Feet in trainers running up stairs
Photo credit Bruno Nascimento via Unsplash

Continue with my reading. I've read so much this year, and it's mainly down to my local library. They shut for several months from March, and when they re-opened they offered a service where you could request a selection of books to be chosen for you, along with free reservations. I was so pleased with the books that the librarian chose for me. When the library opened again for browsing I because a regular visitor, bringing home armfuls of books to keep me going during the inevitable continued closures. They are closed again at the moment and I'm down to my last couple of books, so I've just reserved a few more which I can hopefully collect later this week.

Piles of brightly coloured books
Photo credit Ed Robertson via Unsplash

Start regular blogging regularly again. I love blogging, but this last year I've really struggled. We haven't done much worth writing about, and I've definitely lost my inspiration. It was difficult when the children were at home so much, and I've also been doing some transcription work which has been keeping me busy when the children are occupied. I'm going to aim for two regular posts a week for the time being, and see how I go from there.

Practice the piano more often. I enjoy playing the piano, and when I play familiar pieces I definitely get into a flow state. It keeps my mind busy and also helps with my anxiety. Also I think it will encourage Harry with his practice too if he sees me playing for pleasure. So I've bought myself a couple of new piano books including an easy book of Hamilton songs and I'm going to try and play for a few minutes at least every day.

Enjoy the summer. Hopefully things will be looking a lot brighter by then. We spent so much time in the garden last year, playing, relaxing and eating. It's definitely something that I want to do again this year. I need to make the effort to get out there as often as I can once the weather starts to warm up.

Child jumping into a paddling pool in the garden

It's quite a simple list and full of things that I enjoy (well, apart from the giving up chocolate and biscuits part!). Hopefully doing these things regularly will also help me to keep my mental and physical health in a good state as we try to get through the next few difficult months!

Thursday, 31 December 2020

A year of completing my unfinished craft projects

At the beginning of 2020 I set myself a challenge to complete one of my unfinished projects each month. Despite all the twists and turns that this year brought I did pretty well with my challenge and was very pleased with all the projects that I managed to tick off my list, as well as finding the time to try out some new crafts. Here's how I got on:

My project for January was this Heart cross stitch. Although I only started it the previous December, I had purchased the pattern at least a year before and was really keen to start working on it. It was bought as a pattern only so I used embroidery floss from my stash, and I love the finished product.

Heart cross stitch circular pattern in embroidery hoop

In February I got out my paintbrushes and worked on this Paint by Numbers Fishing Village. I really enjoyed painting it and in terms of buying craft supplies it was a bargain at only £5 from Hobbycraft. It inspired me to take up painting again, something that I spent a lot of time working on during the first lockdown as I completed my 100 Day Project.

Painting by Numbers Fishing Village from Hobbycraft

During March I tackled this Circular weaving project which I had started a couple of times and given up. I found it difficult attaching the warp threads to the circular ring and keeping them all lined up so that I could weave properly. I enjoy the process of weaving but next time I'll stick with a square or rectangle! But I persevered and I was happy with the result, I particularly like the fluffy trees and the patch of sea that I added in a change in the design from the original kit.

Circular weaving project completed

A bit early perhaps, but I started my Christmas crafting in April with this Mini Christmas cross stitch. I bought this in Hobbycraft a few years ago as part of a 3 for 2 promotion, and gave the other two kits to my friends. It was a very simple project to stitch and didn't take too long, and I finished it off with a simple border before mounting it on some green felt and framing it. It has spent the Christmas period on display on the mantlepiece.

Mini Christmas wreath cross stitch

I was very excited for May craft, this Van Gogh diamond painting which I bought on holiday in Florida last year (it's also available in Hobbycraft). I love diamond painting, such a simple and relaxing craft. This piece is very big and was really enjoyable to work on. I bought a frame for it and is now on display in the kitchen where I can see it as I cook dinner.

Van Gogh Starry Night diamond painting kit complete

In June it was back to Christmas crafting with these Christmas felt kits that I received to review a little while back. Two very sweet and simple decorations which graced our Christmas tree this year.

Christmas crafting felt kits, polar bear and stocking

For July I dug out all the bits and pieces that I had collected for my Smash book and had lots of fun sticking them into place. Now it's a fun book filled with colour and memories.

Double spread Smash Book page

August saw me finishing off some Decopatch projects that had been lying around for too long. I replaced the glue that I'd finished and made this large J among other things. 


In September I turned to my Cross stitch map. I knew that this wasn't a project that I could finish during the month, so I concentrated on filling up a bit more of the space. I'm pleased with how this project is going as it's something that I've made up myself rather than following a kit, but I find it quite difficult to do. Both physically because the fabric is very stiff and can't be held easily, and creatively because I need to come up with the designs myself. So it's a very long term work in progress but I'm pleased with how it's coming along.

Cross stitch travel map in progress

Then as the year began to draw to a close I realised that I didn't really have any more projects lying around that I wanted to complete, instead I wanted to concentrate my crafting on something that I could work on without feeling any pressure. So I opened up the cross stitch kit that I'd had lying around for a couple of years and was desperate to start. It's called the Olde World Map and I really love the design. I've made a good start, and hopefully this project will be keeping me company for the next couple of years or so.

Olde World Map cross stitch project beginning

So that was my year in unfinished projects, and I'm really proud of how well I got on. And I have a few more crafty ideas lined up for the year ahead, now that I've cleared some space in my crafting cupboard!
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