Lockdown adventures with the little one

Gearing up for another week of life in lockdown, and reflecting a little on the very different experience – one shared in every household across the country – that last week was. For me, it was mostly spent finding ways to keep an active and inquisitive toddler entertained while housebound, instead of with our usual routines full of morning play groups and afternoons between home and the farm. It’s been a good focus to have in the midst of all this, definitely a learning curve and a surprisingly fun challenge – and one that’s connected so many of us too, with parents sharing ideas near and far through the wonders of technology that we’re so lucky to have.

As last week went on, we settled into splitting our days up into separate sections to keep them as varied as possible, which I think we’ll stick to as this week begins. We also tried to use as many different places around the house as we could to break it up even more – starting after breakfast in the living room until snack time, up to the bedroom for a change of scene, and after lunch often out to the garden for a lot of the afternoon, with bath towards the end too – which has become a huge activity all of its own, trying to keep up swimming activities and pouring games even in the small space! 

It’s amazing how things have changed over the course of a week, and a lot of it has meant a real perspective shift, as some of the things I would previously just get done myself quickly – running bath, putting a washing on, making tea and looking after our little hamster, Sandy – have become not only activities that we can do together, but in fact also often highlights of the day. I feel guilty in fact with many of these for not working them into our day more so far, but it’s a good lesson learned and definitely something we can continue to do when all this madness is over! Mealtimes too have become such highlights, with my husband working from home it’s been lovely all of us getting together three times a day for meals instead of just once and we’ve all enjoyed more time together.

I’m so amazed at how quickly the wee one has adapted to all this, looking forward to heading up to her bedroom for some time with her dolls’ house, or out to gather sticks even just in the small area of the garden; and we were able to add some extra socialising too with video calls to family and friends, something I think we’ll do more and more as we all get used to this.

We began our week with an online version of our usual Monday music class on Zoom, which was wonderful – she so enjoyed seeing her teacher, singing her same songs and playing along with instruments at home with the other children on. Since then, we’ve utilised online activities as much as we possibly can to keep screen time as positive and as interactive as possible. Our local library has been running activity ideas, lego-building competitions, drawing lessons with children’s illustators, readings by favourite authors, which have been great to dip into. A few Bookbug sessions too, where we normally find ourselves in person at least once a week – gathered round in the library with familiar faces – have been uploaded to YouTube for using anytime, so have been brilliant for doing some songs and rhymes with actions from home. Within a couple of days it was clear how brilliant participating in online classes was, especially the ones that keep us moving, and we’ve also discovered through recommendations a couple of other ways to do the same – Cosmic Kids Yoga has been wonderful for getting some exercise in from home, accessible yoga for all the family to the narration of well-loved stories – the Very Hungry Caterpillar our favourite so far! And PE with Joe, which seems to be keeping just about every household in the UK and beyond active just now, has been wonderful too – though I hope I’m not the only one who’s realised how unfit I am through doing it!! 

As we begin this week, I think we will use these activities mostly as our starts to the days, in place of the usual groups we’d have been out at, as this seemed to work very well last week – moving on to snack and a quieter time with some of our usual stories or games later in the morning, just as we would have done on returning back home.

This is undoubtedly a very strange time for all of us, the littlest of children included; but it’s actually quite refreshing in some ways to have the challenge on our hands of finding ways to fill the day without the usual well-worn routines. There’s been a lot more time spent indoors than normal but I’m pleasantly surprised by how captivating activities like painting and stickering have become – and even more so at the imaginative play emerging just with a small play tent and a few soft toys. It’s been lovely too keeping in touch with other parents online and bouncing ideas backwards and forwards. We’re all in this together, and it feels like an experience we can all learn something from as we adapt to our new normal for the next little while. 

A big hello to everyone in the same boat, and wishing you all, whatever your situation, all the best for another week of keeping busy and keeping cabin fever at bay! 🙂 

 

Morning at the farm

Standing at the field gate this morning, waiting for my boy to pick his way up the field towards me – just as he always does, day after day – was the most refreshing and comforting reminder that some things in the world do just keep on going, in spite of everything else going on.

This huge event we’re all living through, one that none of us will ever forget, means nothing at all to the horses. They continue to be driven by their own steady routines, by seeking out grass and water, moving in time with the changes in weather and season, and awaiting their anticipated daily schedules, just like always.

In so many of the less calm periods of my life so far, I’ve taken comfort in the unchanging rhythm of time spent with horses; and this is no different. When I returned to the farm earlier this week after a period of isolation, I could see things had moved on, but in nature’s own way; quite apart from all the well-documented news I’d been following every day. After some sunny days and a break in the rain, the fields had dried up a little; and after a winter of queuing at the gate to get in for a feed, the horses were relaxed and settled, further down the field, enjoying the new grass it had to offer. The pony’s fluff had continued to come out in clouds each day, his summer coat replacing his winter one – just as it does every year.

The natural rhythm of things was continuing, unaffected by events around it and instead moving simply, predictably and steadily with the changing season.

Along the track, rows of daffodils were opening up in vibrant trumpeting yellow. In the fields, grass was growing. And our wisest and steadiest of friends were continuing just to observe that, and to live each of their days as always.

I am incredibly grateful in the midst of our current turmoil to have the anchoring start to each day of just a little time back in an unchanged world – where all that matters is the feed pouring into the bucket, the rhythm of hooves on the concrete coming in and out of the barn, and the knowledge that winter turns into spring, spring into summer; and our world keeps turning. ❤️

Hope you are all keeping safe, and well. x

Thoughts in a locked-down world

I’ve opened up WordPress a few times in the last couple of weeks, since these increasingly strange days began, bringing with them so much change – at first little by little, then something new, bigger and more overwhelming each day; until within a matter of weeks the world around us is completely unrecognizable. Each time I’ve dipped back in here, I’ve found it impossible to know where to begin – what to write, how to reconcile the reality we find ourselves in with where ‘normal life’ left off such a short time ago. I have two drafts I’d been waiting to post, both of which I’ve found myself just staring at in disbelief that they can possibly feel so distant already: One about a road trip I took with my daughter just at the end of January, up round some of our favourite places in Highland Perthshire – driving freely, popping in and out of small shops, chatting with walkers in the woods, visiting family – all things I could never have imagined would be taken away from us within weeks. The other, my March reading diary, a regular post I’ve been keeping running in my drafts each month with notes on the books I’ve read throughout, and then posted all together at the end of the month. This one begins with a book I went to the launch of on March 1st, on a wonderful night out with a lovely friend, having dinner, drinks, and sitting in a room packed full of people listening to the author speak. That we can have gone from that to this in a little over three weeks is almost unbelievable – and yet here we are.

I just wanted to post a hello, and a hand-hold out across this online world – now all of a sudden really our only way of connecting in the world – to you all. We entered our own isolation at home here just over a couple of weeks ago now, as my daughter and husband both came down with what we’re sure was just a cold, but had a cough with it, so we began a period of household isolation for 14 days. We watched from inside as the wider world changed a little more every day, with social distancing measures introduced for all, isolation lengths and vulnerable groups guidance updated, workplaces closing, public facilities, then schools and nurseries, cafes and restaurants; until finally we got to where we found ourselves here on Monday night: total lockdown. Every day, after our new routine – my husband working from home in a little pop-up office in our kitchen and me filling our daughter’s day with activity as best I can in just about every other room of the house; we come together to watch the daily briefing at 5pm, and hear the latest on all the efforts to battle this virus.

That is really all that matters in the midst of all this. All of the vast changes we might have had to make to our daily lives in the last few weeks – even adjustments that may have felt so difficult, like replacing the much-valued company of family and friends with phone conversations and video calls; pale into insignificance alongside the experience of those who have lost loved ones to Covid-19. It is tragic how many lives have been lost so far across the world, and all I hope for is that we can keep this at bay as much as we possibly can, and keep as many people as possible well and healthy. These are huge and unprecedented days, and all this is so very disconcerting; but all we can do is our best to stay as safe for ourselves and each other as we can and follow all the advice as it updates and changes with all the new research that is being worked on so tirelessly, until those amazing people who can achieve it can find a way to conquer this.

In the meantime, we adjust to life as it is for the time being. Since our own household isolation ended yesterday, I’ve been able to return to the farm to check on Charmer after the longest time away from him I’ve had in years, which I’m so thankful for; although of course keeping it to the absolute minimum, just what’s essential to keep him well and looked-after. I’m very grateful to the others at the farm who kindly looked after him while I couldn’t, and to our yard owners who have put so much in place to ensure we can have a small isolated slot each day to care for our horses without risking crossing paths with each other – and also that there are plans in place for if we do find ourselves unable to visit.

Being on maternity leave has meant life is very different for me than it would have been otherwise, as I would have been working more than ever in what is currently the most impossible time of crisis in the world of home care – a challenging one to keep staffed and running efficiently and safely for all our vulnerable clients at the best of times. As it stands, I can’t do anything to help at the moment, just days away from giving birth, other than hope and pray for the safety and health of my colleagues and clients – and all who are out there working in so many different fields to keep others as safe as they possibly can.

My days are being spent at home looking after my two-year-old, where I’m very grateful to be able to be; and every day I’m more amazed by her perspective on all this and how she is adapting to such completely different routines and taking it all in her stride. For our new little one, due to join us this very week, this will be such a strange time to be born. All is well with the baby, which is wonderful, but I did have to go for a check up at the weekend, after a couple of concerns and having missed a couple of regular ante-natal checks due to being in isolation; and it was a strange experience being taken into the hospital “red zone”, face mask on, to be seen. When I got in there, though, the midwife was beyond kind, caring and reassuring; all staff just doing the most wonderful job imaginable even at such an overwhelming time for them all.

Everything around us is just so unknown just now, and it’s good to have a little outlet here, to gather thoughts and to read and write in the midst of it all. I will write more soon – for one thing with possibly the biggest list of books I’ve ever read in one month before, which I’ve found to be the most wonderful escape in an unsettling time; and also with how we’re keeping busy, especially the little one, in these strange days, as we hole up, take care and wait for our newest addition to join us. In the meantime, hope everyone is well, stay safe, and take care all. xx

In the clear!

Today started with yet another weekly vet visit for Charmer, which we’ve grown very accustomed to in the last few weeks, checking again the progress of his mouth healing up.

Everything had been moving quite slowly the first couple of weeks, and the jury had stayed out on whether he would require any further intervention. The last couple of weeks though he had been coming on in leaps and bounds; and this morning, finally, after a third very positive check in a row, he was discharged from the regular visits.

I still need to keep an eye of course on the very last stages of healing up, but the vet is happy not to return to check again and happy that a second operation is not needed unless any further issues emerge down the line; which is the most wonderful news for my boy.

Charmer has made a wonderful recovery especially taking into account how complicated his operation ended up and his age; and I am very grateful to our dedicated vets, and just over the moon to see him doing so well. ❤️

Lots of cuddles in the barn this morning and home now cosy with a coffee and still enjoying the relief!

Hope you are all having a good week. X

February Reads 📖❤️

Continuing on with a monthly round-up of the books I’m reading as the year rolls on, just a few thoughts on the varied but lovely stack that’s kept me going in February.. ❤️

Jill Has Two Ponies by Ruby Ferguson

This month found me with my very own childhood dream-pony on my mind a lot as I prepared to take him up to the vets’ for his dental operation – and sometimes when worries about him are preying on my mind, there is nothing else for it than pulling from the shelf one of the very same comforting, sustaining and uplifting pony books I’ve been reading for decades. When I dust off a Midnight Dancer, or a Jill book or a Sandy Lane Stables, I could be ten years old again and dreaming of one day having a pony all of my very own – and when I’m lost in the well-thumbed pages of one sat on a feed bin in the barn with my arm slung around my boy’s neck, hand absent-mindedly buried in his fluffy coat, I could just as soon be 14 and calming our nerves before taking a 4-year-old Charmer off to our first show, than 32 and preparing my old man for a daunting stay at the vets. Set in the 1950s and full of old-fashioned charm, the Jill books are, and forever will be to me, truly classics of the pony-book genre. Jill’s spark, her drive and her endlessly charming narration set Ruby Ferguson’s books apart and make each and every adventure irresistible. This book, the third in the series, continues to build on the story of Jill’s first pony Black Boy while introducing her second, Rapide, and all the ups and downs of their tumultuous start together. Steeped in the unforgettable enchantment of Jill’s world, one I quite unashamedly dip back into whenever it’s most required; this is among my old favourites, and I really enjoyed reading it again this month in a steadying few moments both in quiet evenings at home and companionable stable mornings with my boy.

Mindfulness for Mums by Izzy Judd

This is a refreshing, soothing and uplifting read and a perfect bedside table or coffee-table book that I’ve enjoyed dipping in and out of over the last few weeks. In part a handbook on classic mindfulness techniques angled towards those juggling busy family lives, and in part a reminder to observe and to learn from the unique and fresh perspective on life children themselves bring and to live in the moment together as a family; this is a lovely book – full of little gems I know I will remember, and I found myself noting ideas down to come back to throughout. I’ve enjoyed reading it in the stiller moments there have been this month, especially on our family weekend away in the middle of February, and it’s one I will keep to hand on the home run of pregnancy and as labour and newborn days approach. 💛

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon

The first of Joanna Cannon’s books I came across was her second novel Three Things About Elsie, a book that immediately became one of my favourites ever, has stayed with me ever since and has meant a great deal to me – inspiring in part in fact my whole career change a couple of years back into care. A few months ago I also read her memoir Breaking and Mending, documenting her time as a junior doctor, and I came to the end of it with the same swell of tears at such a moving story and wave of admiration at such a wonderfully-written book. Having come at her books in an unusual order then, I had had my mum’s leant and highly-recommended copy of The Trouble with Goats and Sheep on my shelf and on my to-read list for months, and this month finally righted that long-held wrong and at last read her celebrated debut novel.

Joanna Cannon’s writing is so incredibly perceptive that after the first chapter I found myself just wondering how anyone could possibly write so captivatingly, evoke such a sense of place, and inhabit characters so completely. When we are first introduced to Grace and Tilly, two ten year old girls and – initially at least – the characters the story revolves around, I could feel every inch of their existence, so richly brought to life in the slapping of sandals on cobbles in the summer holiday haze, the swell of the heat and the drive to belong, the importance of friendship and the tug of war between childhood and adolescence.

As the novel unfolds, the whole “Avenue” is brought to life in all its shadowy truth. At times so dark my breath caught in my chest and I had to speed through, at others so funny I laughed out loud, and throughout, unwaveringly, told with a clear, slowly-unveiling truth, this a beautiful novel about human nature, the aspects of our lives we share within a community and those we keep more guarded. Sparks of faith, friendship and families set the street alight in a story that spans just one summer and yet also somehow decades of lives all threaded together.

Dealing with life’s big questions as sometimes only the perspective of a child can, this is a novel that through describing in such beautiful detail the “mundane” details of suburban life, manages to explore human nature in all its depths and uncover truths universal.

The Namesake – Jhumpa Lahiri

I had looked forward to reading The Trouble with Goats and Sheep so long and built it up so much that I never imagined another book would come along immediately after it that would rival it for my favourite of the month, but The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri did just that, and I fell absolutely in love with it from the word go.

It arrived to me as part of the last instalment in a year-long very special gift I had received at the end of 2018, a wonderful and unique online book club – called Reading in Heels when I first began and rebranded to Reposed more recently – where each month brought with it a delivery wrapped up in tissue paper of a new book along with several other little beautiful bits and pieces – make up, chocolate, teabags, bookmarks, etc. I found myself home alone last week for a couple of nights with just my little daughter for company, and when she was tucked up in bed on Thursday evening I finally opened my last box in the series (which had arrived at Christmas but I’d set aside for a time I could really enjoy it) and enjoyed unwrapping the lovely things inside. I hadn’t been sure what I would read next and I very rarely just start reading right away, but that evening I opened just the first page of The Namesake to get a feel for what it was about and found myself utterly gripped.

Opening in 1968 with Ashima in exactly the same position as I find myself just now, awaiting the arrival of her child, I was drawn to her instantly and then so pulled in by Lahiri’s wonderful insight and descriptions, finding myself 100% in the Cambridge apartment where the first chapter opens, watching the world outside through Ashima’s own lens, as she adjusts as best she can to life in the US with her husband, a world away from her childhood in Calcutta. This is another book in which the true magic is very much in the incredible skill of transporting the reader so completely into a sense of place and into so wholly inhabiting a character; rather than in a racing plot or twists and turns. It is so beautifully and captivatingly written, and as the novel leapt on throughout the family’s lifetime, I was as gripped by Ashima’s son Gogol’s life in the 1990s as Ashima and Ashoke’s in the 1970s – the subtle changes between their experiences striking and memorable.

We come to know the inner workings of both Ashima and Gogol so well through their narratives – even as Gogol’s develop and change over time as he grows up and shifts in perspective. One of the things I found most wonderful about this novel was that while it was set in America in its entirety, with no time spent in India at all, so much of the Bengali life and traditions are illuminated purely through Ashima’s observations of how American life varies; and through how very much her upbringing and the values she has taken from it define her as a person and her entire outlook on life. Gogol’s own journey through his adolescence and early adulthood is a very moving one, and again so simply and yet so meaningfully told.

This is a very special novel, a beautiful exploration of cultural identity and family life with characters not to be soon forgotten; one I really loved and am very glad to have come across.

Wishing you all a lovely week. ❤️📖