Friday, 9 April 2021

What I learned from temporary home schooling

I'm hoping that we have finally said goodbye to the home learning. I've thought this before of course, but this time things seem to be moving in the right direction, and I feel more confident that the schools won't be closing again.

I was relieved to see the back of home learning, and I don't at all envy the poor teachers trying to help children get used to being in the classroom again, without their Roblox and constant access to snacks. But having the children at home gave me the chance to spend more time with them, as well as get a small insight into their school day. And looking back, it wasn't too bad overall.

So here are some of the things that I learned from home schooling the children:

* Teachers deserve a great deal of respect. I can't imagine how stressful it must have been to have planned out all the work for the year, then at the last minute (and not once but twice!) having to rewrite everything and adapt it so that it could be taught remotely. It must have been such a change to their normal working patterns and I don't know how they did it.

* I always thought that I would have liked to be a teacher, but now I know for sure that I don't have the patience. It was hard enough trying to deal with two children, let alone an entire classroom.

* I also always thought that home schooling permanently might be fun. But it wouldn't be for me.

* I'm so glad that my job is part time, hours can be worked to suit, and I don't have to do any live meetings or calls. With my husband's job being so demanding it would have been impossible to juggle everything.

Child learning from home on an iPad at a desk

* I had to learn to step back and not get overinvested, and I had to learn to stop myself jumping in to correct spelling and grammar.

* I found that the children are more independent than I give them credit for, and I often do things for them that they are more than capable of doing for themselves. When left to their own devices they had no problems understanding and completing the work set, they just enjoyed the reassurance of me being involved.

* It was interesting to see the areas where the children need some extra help. Fractions and decimals in particular proved to be tricky.

* Their different personalities mean that their learning styles are different. Harry likes structure and clear instructions, Mia enjoys more open-ended tasks. I had to help them adapt to home learning in different ways.

* I found out how much maths in particular has changed since I was at school. While I could always find the answer to a maths problem, it wasn't usually in the way that the teacher wanted me to find it!

Second time around it was all much easier, and if it does happen that we need to learn from home again, perhaps due to a positive case in the class, we are all much more confident with the situation. But fingers crossed, this time they'll be remaining in the classrooms!

Wednesday, 7 April 2021

Our new cross trainer

We've been dedicated gym members many years now, since well before the children were born, but of course it has been shut for most of the last year. Even when it reopened over the summer we only actually returned in October for a month or so, and it has been closed ever since. 

I feel bad because I know that businesses like this, even a large national chain like our gym, are going to struggle with the  loss of income. But we have paid them a huge amount in membership fees over many years, and the truth is that not only have we saved a fortune this year, we've also realised that we can manage extremely well at keeping ourselves fit without it. So we have handed in our notice, and unless they are able to offer us a good incentive to stay then we will be leaving once we've worked through the notice period.

We decided to put some of the money that we have saved towards buying ourselves a cross trainer. We placed the order back in January when it was darker and colder than it is now, but due to supply issues we only actually took delivery of it this week. It was very exciting!

New cross trainer in bedroom office

Thanks to having cleared and decorated one of our top rooms as a good sized office for Ram, we had plenty of space to fit it. It means that he can use it while he's working, and if I do feel the urge to exercise during his working day he can usually take calls in another room. 

We've only had it a few days but we are really pleased with it so far, and I'm planning to share a full review when we've been using for a couple of weeks. A big benefit is that I can prop my phone up and watch my own videos while I'm working out, instead of relying on the gym televisions, and it's nice and quiet so I don't need headphones. I haven't used a cross trainer much before so it's still quite new to me and I'm finding it very hard work. I can manage twenty minutes on the lowest setting before I wobble back down the stairs and collapse. 

Ram has been eyeing up those fancy sheds that you can install in the garden to use as a home gym. Probably with the amount that we'll be saving on gym membership it won't be long before we can afford one!

Monday, 5 April 2021

My goals for April

Writing a monthly goal list has become a new thing for me, and I'm finding it really motivating to have both long and short term goals to keep me focussed during the month. 

So here's what I want to achieve during April:

* Finish my pallet planter. I've been putting this off because it's been so cold, but as soon as the weather has warmed up a bit I'll be out there with the sandpaper and the paint.

* Spend lots of time in the garden. I've spent several hours out there today, it's still a bit chilly but I wrapped up with a blanket and a hot drink and I even took my exercise mat out there and did some stretches (well away from our Ring security camera!). I feel really good for the fresh air. So I intend to sit outside for at least a few minutes every day, as long as it's not raining!

Reading in the garden under a blanket

* Plant out the rest of my seeds. I ordered plenty of seeds back in February but I've only planted out tomatoes and sweet peas so far. I've been saving plastic trays and for my planter project I need lots of marigolds, I also have other flowers to do. I might plant some more tomatoes as well as I'm always successful with those and had a lovely crop last year.

* Keep up with the exercise. We spent some of the money that we saved on our gym membership over the last year on a decent cross trainer, and I'm enjoying using it on the days when it's too cold to brace myself for a run outside. I also want to keep up the core training and flexibility routines that I've been doing.

* Continue my leg stretches. I'm interested to see how far I can get with my leg stretches this month, I've been seeing a lot of improvement, so I definitely want to keep up with my short ten minute daily stretch routine.

* Spend time down at the beach. I enjoy a run along the beach after school drop off once a week or so, and I can also run to the beach from my home. I find it so relaxing to sit on the beach and watch the waves for a little while, especially after I've been exercising.

* Refine my YouTube stream. I've been really into YouTube recently but I find it far too easy to get sucked into watching mindless videos that end up being a waste of time. I have massively reduced the list of channels that I was subscribed too, and when I go through my home feed I'm being diligent about reporting videos that don't interest me. That has made a big difference and has also introduced me to some new channels. I've found some lovely relaxing videos like the one below, and I've been watching organisational and productivity videos while I'm on the cross trainer. I'd love to hear any recommendations if you have them!


* Publish more blog posts. I'm finding that writing in my journal has been a really good way to come up with ideas for blog posts, I just need to find the uninterrupted time to write them up properly. It's been tricky lately as I've had quite a bit of work on, so I need to get better at organising my time (and possibly spending less time on YouTube!).

* Pick up my cross stitch more often. I'm really pleased with my progress so far, but it has been a little neglected lately. My goal is to start working towards the first side of the border. There's a lot of it, but I don't mind it because it's quite mindless and I don't need to follow the pattern too closely. The design is Olde World Map by Janlynn. This is where I'm at so far:

Cross stitch Olde World Map in progress

I think that these goals are very achievable. Many of them feel geared towards making my life feel a little calmer and more relaxing, which I definitely need to concentrate more on!

Friday, 2 April 2021

An update on my March goals

I did so well with my February goals that I was really keen to keep the momentum going with my list of goals for my list of goals for March. I had found it really motivating to have a list of things to work on through the month and I was pleased with my progress.  

When I started to write this post I wasn't feeling very positive, but when I sat down to think about it I realised that I'd actually done really well! The only thing that I didn't get do was to make my garden planter, mainly because it was too cold outside for me.

Here's what I achieved:

* Get back into the school routine. This went pretty smoothly and the children have settled back in nicely (albeit only for three weeks before the Easter holidays started). The first week back was rough, and they were both overtired and overwhelmed. But they benefited so much from going back. Harry had been anxious about the lateral flow tests but he soon realised it wasn't a problem and we've been continuing them at home with no issues. 

Covid lateral flow tests in a box

* Continue my exercise. I'm pleased to say that I've been doing very well with this. I managed two long runs along the seafront despite the freezing winds. I also joined Ram and the kids for school drop off and ran back home - it's nearly ten kilometres so I definitely felt that I'd earned my cake that day! I completed the shredded abs challenge that I was working on and my stomach definitely feels tighter and flatter. I'm doing a flexibility challenge for my legs, and I'm noticing big improvements there too.

*Get out the garden furniture. It has been out for two days now and I spent ages out there today reading with a blanket round me!

* Sort out the garden. The strawberry plants are weeded and the dead leaves removed, I've raked over the empty vegetable patch ready for later in the spring and I've made a start on the planting - tomatoes and sweet peas so far. 

Seedlings planted in plastic tubs on the windowsill

* Continue with the healthy eating and lose the last bit of weight. I'm delighted to announce that I have just hit my goal weight, I'm now the lightest I've been for a couple of years! I'd like to lose a little more to give myself a buffer, as I always put on weight during the summer what with the barbecues, the delicious pizzas and the ice cream that I can't stop buying. 

* Find some podcasts to listen to on the school run. This one was half achieved. I found some interesting podcasts, but I found I couldn't concentrate on them while I was driving! I realised I prefer to put some familiar music on and sing along.

* Try and manage some socialising. I went up to see my parents and I went for a lovely long walk with a friend. I have also scheduled in some more meetups for the Easter break.

* Clean out the kitchen cupboards. I cleaned the two worst ones at least!

* Plan for the Easter holidays. Another success, you can read about my Easter holiday planning here. 

* Publish at least one blog post a week. I managed this but it was tough, and I didn't feel very inspired when it came to writing blog posts. But I'm feeling a lot more productive at the moment so I'm hoping to step it up a bit this month.

I'm so pleased with the progress that I've made, and I want to continue making these lists because it definitely helps to keep me focussed with long and short term goals. So look out shortly for April's goals!

Tuesday, 30 March 2021

Our new pets - two little goldfish

The children have been nagging for a pet for years. The trouble is that (in normal times at least!) we are often away from home, and we don't have anyone close by that I'd feel happy asking to come in and feed a pet. But I've kept goldfish in the past, and I sometimes used to leave my most recent goldfish on his own for a week or so at a time with a slow release food pellet. We also recently discovered that you can now buy such things as automated fish feeders which can be used to feed fish while you are away.

So we have finally relented, and after plenty of research between the four of us we decided that we would invite two goldfish to share our home. I still had my old tiny goldfish tank in the loft, but times have changed since I was a teenager and pet shops quite rightly are a lot more fussy now about making sure that you have the correct size tank for your fish. So we invested in a fancy new tank that came with a light and filter included.

Fish tank with two goldfish

I was sure to warn the children not to get too attached to the fish that we bought, just in case they didn't settle well into their new home. I remember setting up a tank and watching fish after fish die before I was left with three sturdy fish that lived for years. But fingers crossed so far so good, and we've been coming down in the mornings to see them still swimming happily around.

Two goldfish in a tank

Harry's fish is the one with the white patch, and he's called Archimedes. Mia has named her goldfish Glimmer. They each chose a decoration for the tank, with the little bridge in the middle coming from my original tank. At the back you can see my paint by numbers painting, which is the perfect size to hide all the cables. 

I've always enjoyed having fish, and I must admit that it is lovely watching them swim around. It's very relaxing, and we've each been spending time sitting on a chair pulled up in front of the tank just watching them going about their business. Fingers crossed they are with us for a long while yet!

Thursday, 25 March 2021

Making a plan for the Easter holidays

I think one of the hardest times for me last year was the Easter holidays. School closed very suddenly leaving traumatised children, both had been suffering from mild coronavirus symptoms, there were food shortages and there was just so much anxiety and uncertainty to cope with. Proper online learning was yet to be set up, and a return to school after the holiday was looking more and more unlikely. With all our fixed and potential plans for the holiday cancelled, along with far too much screen time and late nights, things didn't go well.

This year things are very different of course. The anxiety has lessened greatly now that it feels as though everything is finally on the right track. And hopefully from the 29th of March we will be able to meet some friends and family, albeit outside in smaller groups.

However we are still left with three weeks to fill, as won't be going out and about too much. I'm also quite busy with work at the moment, so it would be nice if I could find things to keep the children occupied while I get a few hours done each day.

To help me, I've printed out a blank template for the three weeks that they will be off. It's completely empty at the moment, but I'm busy trying to arrange a few meetups with friends and family. We are lucky to have big beaches close by where there is plenty of space to spread out even when it's busy, and along with toilets and ice cream vans it's an ideal place to meet.

In terms of things to do around the house, I'm planning on delving into the toy cupboard and pulling out some things that haven't seen the light of day for a while. Harry may be growing up fast, but I think he'll still have fun playing with the Duplo and the Hot Wheels for a bit! He's also not too old for den building and picnics in the garden (or living room depending on the weather) and I'm teaching him to bake me lots of treats.

Easter cake with eggs on top
Photo credit Haley Owens via Unsplash.

They both have lots of crafty things to get on with. My Mum bought them each a big paint by numbers kit which they've made good starts on, and with a bit of time each day they might be able to get them finished. Mia has several diamond painting kits to complete, and we have buckets and buckets of Hama beads that are crying out for some attention. Mia and I will write in our journals together and hopefully there will be lots of reading.

With a bit of luck we'll be blessed with the same lovely weather as last year, and I can continue my start on the planting of seeds for the vegetable patch and plant pots. The garden furniture will definitely be coming out of the garage, and I'll be dragging the children out for walks around the neighbourhood to get some fresh air and sunshine.

It will still be difficult to try for a reasonable bedtime when they don't need to get up early in the morning, but if I can keep them away from screens before bed at least then I think that will definitely help. There will still be lots of screen time I'm sure, as for Mia in particular playing games online is the way that she socialises with her friends. But hopefully I can steer the screen time mainly towards something more productive, for example Harry is quite interested in coding at the moment and is teaching himself Python.

Fingers crossed we can have a lovely Easter break!

Blank journal page
Photo credit Ashley West Edwards via Unsplash.

What do you have planned for the Easter holidays?

Wednesday, 17 March 2021

Playing videogames for the children while they are at school

I am really hoping that I'm not the only indulgent parent that does this!

Now that the children are back at school their screen time has been drastically reduced. This is fantastic of course, they've had far too much over the past year, but they are finding the separation a little difficult. Some of these games are very addictive, and you have to log in to each game each day to get various rewards. I can understand the feeling, I've already written about our collective Animal Crossing addiction

The trouble is that I'm far too soft. That's why I've spent the last week logging into Roblox everyday to join children across the world playing Club Roblox. I spend my days collecting tokens that Mia can then use to buy exotic pets for herself and her friends. Originally she told me that I could just be 'AFK' (away from keyboard) in the Pizza restaurant then I would earn tokens in the background while I was working in another window. But I soon noticed that I could earn extra tokens by carrying out tasks, so I became obsessed with trying to get as many as I could by teleporting all around this imaginary world, attending parties, bowling, visiting the vets and so on.

This is of course all while I'm trying to work on my PC at the same time. My poor virtual baby, given the carefully chosen name "My Mia", just cries all day, because I'm far too busy making ice creams alongside Roblox addicted tweens to take care of her needs.  

Roblox pizza earning points

Then of course there's still our Animal Crossing to take care of as well, and I am often given a job to do during the day. I regularly log in to check the turnip prices, and this week I was tasked with taking a photo of the first rainbow to appear on our island (the children were pleased but I must admit that I found it distinctly underwhelming, you can barely see it).

Animal Crossing rainbow

My Roblox playing is becoming an obsession. Every time I collect enough points for Mia to buy whatever it is that she wants, she sets her goal higher and I need to collect her even more tokens. I'm going to have to call a stop to it soon otherwise I'll never get anything done!

Tuesday, 9 March 2021

Starting to write in a journal

I remember a book that I read once, it was a non-fiction book but I can't remember anything else about it apart from just one part. The author described going on some kind of retreat and about how she didn't feel sociable one evening, she would rather sit in her room and write in her journal. It really struck a chord with me, and it made me want to be the sort of person that could spend an evening writing in her journal. 

I have always enjoyed writing things down in notebooks. As a teenage I kept a regularly daily diary which I wrote in just before bed. I usually just wrote about what I'd been doing that day, but I also found it a good way of working through my feelings and problems. It definitely helped clear my head before bed.

So I thought that I quite fancied the idea of starting a journal, and when I mentioned it to Mia she was very enthusiastic. She also likes writing in notebooks and I think that it will really help her with processing her emotions if she gets used to writing things down. So I popped onto Amazon and we each chose a nice new journal to write in. They arrived the next day, and we have started setting aside some time each day to sit at the table and write together. She likes to decorate her pages with drawings and stickers whereas I just stick to words. We both agree that our journals are private and that we won't look at what the other is writing.

I feel as though I'm just writing nonsense really. Sometimes it's things that I've done that day, sometimes things that are going around my head, sometimes just random lists. But I've found that my head does feel clearer after I've spent a few minutes writing, and also it has helped me to come up with new ideas for blog posts and other projects that I want to do. It's definitely a habit that I want to keep up with!

Journal with flowers and pen on crochet blanket

Affiliate link to my journal - Lined Journal

Wednesday, 3 March 2021

My goals for March

Earlier this week I shared my excellent progress with my February goals. I completed them all, and I found it really motivating to have a few things to work on during the month. So I've decided to do the same this month and make a list of goals for March.

It's not such an easy month as February, when I knew that we'd just be staying at home for the whole month. On Monday the children will be back at school, which will be a big shakeup to our family routine, but then the children break up for their three weeks of Easter holiday on the 26th March. 

So here's what I want to accomplish:

* Get back into the school routine. I'm hoping that this will make a big difference to the mental health of the children, and that any new changes, like masks and regular testing, don't cause us too much stress.   

* Continue my exercise. In particular I want to get back to regular running, hopefully combining the school drop off with a run along the seafront. I have made a new running playlist on Spotify in preparation. I also have a couple of fitness challenges that I'm working on. One of them is this Shredded Abs challenge. I'm on Day 4 and I like to think that I can see a difference, the exercises are certainly getting easier, so I'll let you know how shredded my abs actually become!


* Get the garden furniture out from the garage and clean it off ready for the summer.

* Sort out the garden - tidy up my strawberry plants which seem to have survived the winter, weed the vegetable patch and flower beds. Also make a start on my planting. 

* Continue with the healthy eating and lose the last little bit of weight. I also want to investigate some healthy baking recipes, as I love baking but it's so many calories. I quite fancy trying some new things like beetroot brownies or these healthier Easter chocolate nests

* Find some podcasts to listen to on the school run. I've never been into podcasts but I'd like to find some short ones to make my school run drive more interesting and bearable. 

* Finish building my pallet planter and paint it. Hopefully the weather will start to warm up a bit so I can get outside and do some work on it.

* Try and manage some socialising. Currently one person can meet one other from a different household outdoors, at the moment for exercise and from next week to socialise. Then from the 29th March the rule of six, or two households, will be back in place. So it would be really good for me to schedule in some walks with my friends, and then maybe meet up with another family or two over the holidays for some outdoor play, assuming that the restrictions allow.

* Clean out the kitchen cupboards. This job is long overdue. I'm not too bad at sorting them out and using up out of date food, but I'm not very good at taking everything out and giving it all a good clean inside!

* Plan for the Easter holidays. Get some activities lined up, and try and plan for a routine which will keep everyone happy. Hopefully we will be treated to some nice weather like last year so that we can get out and about in the sunshine!

* Publish at least one blog post a week. This one is at the bottom as it's something that I'm struggling with at the moment! But hopefully there will be some new things going on this month and I'll actually have something to write about! 

Monday, 1 March 2021

My February goals - update

I can't believe that February has finished already. It's a very good job that I didn't have writing blog posts as one of my February goals!

But I have done very well with keeping up with the February goals that I did set at the beginning of the month. Here's how I've got on:

Focus on the children and their mental health - I've been doing the best that I can. Spending lots of time with them especially at bedtime, reading to them and talking to them about the things that are on their mind. 

Last week we were able to arrange an appointment for Mia with the well being adviser at school, a lady that she usually sees weekly but hasn't seen since December. I'm not entirely sure what it involves as she's rather secretive about it, but she came out with a big grin on her face and said that it had been helpful for her, so I'm very grateful that our school is able to provide this service. 

The news about school starting next week has definitely made a positive impact on us all, it's nice to be able to count down now and they are both very much looking forward to going back.

Paint my nails - I have had painted nails every day and loved it! My nails are really long and nicely shaped now. I'll definitely be continuing this one!

Lose the Christmas and January weight - Yes! I've eaten well all month, on a diet that includes enough treats to keep me going, and I'm back to the weight that I was a few months ago. I still want to lose a tiny bit more, but I'm confident that I'll get there soon.

Keep up the exercise - Again yes, and I'm really pleased with how I'm doing. I've not been for a proper run since before Christmas as I find it hard to get out when the children are around. But I've replaced this with a variety of different YouTube and Apple Fitness videos and I'm enjoying doing some more varied workouts. I've definitely noticed a positive change in my body shape. 

Buy seeds and compost - I have my seeds and compost ready to go, I'll start my planting this month.

Do something with my pallet - This has been sitting untouched in the garage for far too long. I lack the correct tools and strength to fully dismantle the pallet, but I attacked it with a saw and it's starting to look like I want it to. I've got a vague idea at least of what I want to do with it, I need to add some little shelves and then paint it and I've been collecting tins to decorate for plants. It's a job for when the weather is warmer!

Upload a YouTube video - I present to you a video filmed in conjunction with my son. It's his Mindstorms device for improving the Animal Crossing experience by repeatedly pressing a button that enables you to convert Nook miles into Bells. It has been very useful!

I'm feeling very pleased with myself for my February achievements. It definitely helped me to have my goals written out so that I could keep them in mind as the month went on. I will shortly be publishing my goals for March so that I can keep myself accountable once again!

Wednesday, 3 February 2021

February goals

I realise that I'm a few days late with this post. But I decided that February 1st was a good time to come up with some goals for this month. 

Why? Well it fell on a Monday so the start of a new week. February is a short month, the days are getting longer and finally, with my positive thinking hat very firmly hat, this will be our last full month of lockdown! And it also gives me a chance to catch up with the ones that fell by the wayside in January...

So here goes:

Focus on the children and their mental health. Spend time with them, talk to them, help them with what they need, read to them, take them out for some fresh air both together and individually.

Have painted nails all month. This stops me nibbling on them, but does also make me feel a bit more put together and motivated.

Lose that Christmas/January weight. I don't have much to lose, but it really needs to go otherwise I just get used to it and add to it. I want a reasonably flat stomach again!

Keep up the exercise. I've been doing really well with this anyway. I can't really get out for a run at the moment because I can't fit it in around the children so I've been doing regular exercise videos on YouTube. Then last week my husband activated his three month free trial of Apple Fitness+ so we've been working our way through lots of those. I don't have an Apple watch myself but I still enjoy the workouts, and we're finding them really good and varied. We also have a decent cross trainer on order which is due for delivery at the end of the month.

Order seeds and compost. I don't want to get caught out like last lockdown when the choice was so limited! But I was pleased with what I did manage to order from Suttons, so I've requested a catalogue to browse through.

Big pile of seed packets

Make a plan for the pallet that I have had in the garage for several years. I want to paint it and turn it into some kind of planter, but I keep putting if off. This year's the year!

Upload a YouTube video. I've got out of the habit, but the truth is that I do make a few pounds each month from my channel so I need to keep it active. I don't have any fancy equipment but I have a few ideas, and  I'm also going through some of our old family home videos and looking for interesting footage. Like this one that I made of our family trip to Disneyland, California back in 1993.


Lots to be getting on with there!

Tuesday, 26 January 2021

Things that are better about this lockdown

I won't lie, as a family we are finding this lockdown much more difficult than the previous ones. Although our school has been great with the home learning provision, both the children are struggling. It's partially to do with the screen heavy workload, but mainly down to the social integration that they are missing out on.

I know that this is a problem for all children over the world, and I do worry about the long term repercussions for all children. I'm hoping that if we can get through the next few weeks (months?) it will all be fine once they are settled back at school, hopefully this time for good.

I'm really trying my hardest to be there for the children and try to maintain a positive outlook. Hopefully it will help both me and them! So in that spirit, here are some things that are better about this lockdown than the previous ones.

This time I feel that the end is in sight. The vaccination programme seems to be going really well, and although I'll be at the bottom of the list for a vaccine I know that this is because I am at a low risk of becoming seriously ill with Covid. I'll feel much happier when I know that the most at risk people have been vaccinated, and hopefully that will be very soon.

We are set up with regular food deliveries. In the summer we signed up to the Tesco Delivery Saver and the husband is on the ball with booking delivery slots well in advance. So far we've been pretty satisfied with the service (apart from this morning when our vegetarian pizza was substituted with a pepperoni one, grrr.)

There seem to be no major food shortages. There are a few things from our regular list that we've not always been able to get but there have been alternatives, and I'm confident that if we desperately needed something we could pop to a local shop and pick it up. 

Our online learning provision is very good. It has always been good but this time they've really hit the ground running and both teachers and children are confident with what they are doing. Over the last few weeks our school has done really well at adding in some extra lessons like PE and music alongside the basics, which help to make the day more interesting. There are also some scheduled live lessons which give me a bit of a break during the day. 

Child home learning on an iPad

We can still meet one other person for exercise. I have only actually done this once back in November, and I don't plan to again in the near future. But it's nice to know that the option is there if I need it!

There is nothing left to be cancelled. All we have is rescheduled tickets to the Hella Mega tour in June, but I'm pretty certain now that won't be going ahead. Not like last year when we had a string of holidays and events that we watched slowly get cancelled one by one.

No school run. I really don't miss the school run at this time of year when it's cold and rainy and I have to drive through the traffic then hang around outside for twenty minutes between pick ups. It also gives me an extra couple of hours in my day!

Lots of family time. Yes, it's very hard work, and sometimes I am just desperate for some time to myself. But I'm really trying to make the effort to enjoy spending time with the children and hopefully help their mental health too. We've been playing board games during their lunch break, working on our Animal Crossing island together once they've finished for the day, and today we had a teddy bears picnic in the living room!

Teddy bears picnic with children

Hopefully concentrating on the positives will help us all to get through this difficult time!

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!

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