FAMILY, lockdown

Thankful Thursday 💛

This week there has been so much to be thankful for here in our little corner of the world. With lockdown measures easing for the first time on Friday, we found ourselves able to meet at least a little with others once more; and over a long weekend we managed to catch up with our family – the opportunity to see each other again in person after almost three months apart one I was so very, very grateful for.

Things aren’t quite back to normal yet, and won’t be for a long time I imagine. Social distancing remains in place and it does feel very strange to keep back from those we’re most desperate to be close to, but just having the opportunity to sit, even a little apart, and chat in person felt so much closer to normal than life has for a long time. It was beyond wonderful to be able to see our oldest little daughter’s face light up seeing her family again, and to have all of them meet our youngest for the very first time.

Things have settled back a little now after all the excitement, for us at least. After a few days of absolutely perfect sunshine just when we needed it, letting us sit out together in gardens comfortably; the last couple of days it’s been cooler and rainier, and we’re back to mostly indoor games, video calls and the lockdown life we’ve grown so accustomed to over the last few months.

Even so, I’m so thankful for all our connections with our family and friends – in lockdown, in this new transitional phase back to normality and always. Unexpected cards and little gifts arriving in the post, giving such a lift just when needed the most; laughter on virtual games nights all together, just as around the family dinner table; baking dropped off on a doorstep; books read and shared; breathing in the sight of the faces of my wonderful, wonderful family and my oldest friends in the warmth of sun this last week, smiling across the distance; the memories of all the day-to-day things we’ve shared together for a lifetime and look forward to again with a renewed understanding of their indescribable value. I’m very grateful for wonderful people around us, the time we got to share together this week, and the hope of more to come. ❤️

Hope you are all keeping well, doing alright whatever stage of this strange time you’re at, and having a good week. X

BOOKS & STORIES

May books

Good Wives – Louisa May Alcott

May’s arrival found me still seeking out some pandemic comfort reading, and having re-read the first volume of Little Women back in March in the very first week of lockdown, I’ve now enjoyed reading the second, Good Wives, for the first time. Picking up where I’d left off with Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy, I loved returning to this family’s world; these girls’ faith, resolve and determination; and watching the next years of their lives play out. This book is not without its share of sorrow, but is a testament to the endurance of a family all together – most especially to the bonds of sisterhood, and was a poignant and relevant book for now.

I recently watched the 2019 film Little Women and read memoirs by Louisa May Alcott talking of the pressure she found herself under to marry off the fiercely independent Jo. Reading this with some background in mind gave new dimension to some of the characters, but – in spite of any moulding the author may have been required to do – this book is a feminist achievement worthy of celebration all this time on; and I truly loved losing myself in the warmth and companionship of these strong women and inhabiting the Marches’ world once again.

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit – Judith Kerr

This month I have re-read the first two novels in Judith Kerr’s semi-autobiographical trilogy Out of the Hitler Time.

The first, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, begins in 1933 with the election of the Nazi party and the Kerr family’s necessary escape – first to Switzerland, before later France and finally England. It was a favourite of mine in childhood, and it was wonderful to read again now as an adult with a fresh perspective on it – especially as Judith Kerr plays such a huge role in our current home life, having brought us not just the Mog books, a truly wonderful collection, but also the one and only The Tiger Who Came To Tea. While these were favourites of my childhood too from a very young age and make me feel very connected to my family too, they’ve become everything to our little unit today – they’ve been read I don’t know how many times; a cuddly Mog and Tiger make up prominent figures in our two-year-old’s toy team and we know them inside out. This made it even more special to step into “Anna’s” world, and especially to enjoy moments like the account of her first day at her new and alien school in Paris. Unable to speak the language and anxious to keep up and fit in, an art class provided a much-needed opportunity to feel on an even footing, and a picture of a cat she drew that day not only led to a turning point in her settling-in, but gave an early glimpse of the characters she would go on to create.

In this novel, Kerr captures such a huge period in history from a child’s unique perspective in nine-year-old Anna’s narrative; the most striking and moving example perhaps being the fact that her deepest sense of personal loss at the very beginning of the story, when the family home is possessed by the Nazis – all belongings seized and all of her father’s books burned – is that of her beloved stuffed Pink Rabbit, left behind when they made their swift journey across the border.

Above all else, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit is a novel about the strength of family. We learn that Anna harbours a secret desire to become famous, but laments that she will never succeed due to not having had what she believes is the required “difficult childhood”. That she doesn’t view her family’s struggles as meeting this criteria is a testament not only to her spirit, but also to her parents’ incredible achievement in creating a sense of security irrespective of place – a contentment just to be together and a determination to greet every twist and turn as an adventure; and illustrates so very beautifully what is so special about this book.

The Other Way Round – Judith Kerr

The second part of the trilogy is set a few years on and finds the family in London during the Second World War. The events of this time – the rumbling uncertainty, the waves of terror, the juxta-positioning of normal struggles in relationships and work life with the vastness of the world situation – are so very real when told to us by Anna and framed by the small and solid unit of her family. By the time we have reached this book, Papa, Mama, Max and Anna feel so very well known that all that they live through is so keenly felt. As Anna grows up and learns so many lessons, I felt so much for her – and the way the family band together and flare with such a passion for protecting each other is so very moving. This is a subtly drawn insight into life during the war years, a coming of age tale as Anna faces all the ups and downs of young adulthood, and once again a story of the great triumph of this family’s togetherness in the face of their struggles.

The Girl Who Speaks Bear – Sophie Anderson

Our book club pick for this month, The Girl Who Speaks Bear by Sophie Anderson was one we chose having read and enjoyed The House With Chicken Legs by the same author last year. Yanka lives in a village on the edge of a great forest where she was found as an infant safe and well and living in a bear cave. She has been raised ever since by a loving adopted mother but forever been unable to shake the feeling that she doesn’t quite fit in – and when she one day wakes up with a bear’s legs instead of her own she sets off to try to find out more about where she came from. This was just simply a beautiful book to read, the gentle story of Yanka’s growing acceptance of who she is and shifting understanding of the family and friends around her. Interspersed throughout with sweeping Slavic folk tales of dragons and journeys, it is a really lovely read (and another one that leant itself perfectly to reading aloud to the littlest one in the night ❤️). I very rarely find myself reading fantasy (Harry Potter the exception!) but really enjoyed this total departure from the usual and this special little story.

One Day in December – Josie Silver

This is the first book I’ve read this year that I really haven’t enjoyed. I’d been looking for a light and easy read and had had this on my Kindle for a while and seen it recommended by everyone from Marian Keyes to Reese Witherspoon. On paper this should be my ideal book, sold as perfect for Bridget Jones fans and set at Christmas time. I absolutely love a cosy wintry novel and Bridget and Mark Darcy’s love story is one of my favourites and one I’ve re-read over and over; but I really can’t see the comparison with One Day in December‘s Laurie and Jack’s.

First “meeting” through a bus window on a snowy December day, both remember the other though they don’t speak and don’t come across each other again until a year later when Jack is introduced to Laurie as her flatmate Sarah’s new boyfriend. The novel covers the next ten years of the characters’ lives with their stories interweaving over time. Especially in the second half it did have me turning the pages to find out where it would go next, and there are definitely some twists and turns, but I didn’t find much to root for in Laurie and Jack’s story and Jack in particular seemed unpleasant and even violent at one point. Reading this held up as the “sweetest love story” reminded me a little of the summer holiday I read all three Fifty Shades books waiting to come across the reason they were such bestsellers and instead just being left incredulous at the controlling and abusive nature of their relationship. I did enjoy the story of Laurie and Sarah’s friendship in this book, and felt for Laurie as a narrator to an extent but really did not warm to Jack at all or to the idea of them as a couple and this as a beautiful love story. I know I seem to be in the minority (although there at least some on Goodreads who seem to feel the same!) so definitely keen to hear what anyone else thought if you’ve read!

Hope everyone is well and having a good week. X

HOME, lockdown

The Sunshine in Lockdown

As we come to the end of the first phase of lockdown, I look forward to being able to be with family and friends again, albeit at a distance, more than I can say. We’re reaching a time it sometimes seemed would never come and it will be beyond lovely to sit outside with the people we love most and speak in person after so long.

Being here at last, however, has had me looking back on the last couple of months. We have been incredibly lucky during these last 10 weeks we have been at home to all have been well, to have been well-connected with family and friends and to have everything we need at home to make it a positive place to be.

For us, these weeks have been time we could really enjoy as a little family, especially as our newest member arrived just a couple of weeks in. I will always look back on the bubble we had at this time as so special in spite of all the restrictions. It’s been a time span that’s covered so much for us – our second little daughter’s birth and first weeks, growing from a tiny newborn into a now 8-week-old holding her head up to take in the world and the sights and sounds around her, enjoying the breeze in the garden and giggling at the chaos of her big sister’s world of play. I’ve kept a diary for her of life in lockdown and her arrival into a world that was as far from its norm as it could have been but that we were all able to be together in while we waited to widen our circle once more.

For all of us, it’s been the beginning of a new era. Some of the things I’d been looking forward to most about family life have arrived. We’ve found our feet in a routine and taken a daily walk together every lunchtime as a four. The two girls have grown together, played together and settled into their new roles as sisters. We’ve had our first couple of family takeaway nights, our eldest’s eyes wide at the food arriving in boxes. We’ve started settling to a film all together – working our way through Disney films on quiet Sunday afternoons. We’ve had long walks gathering sticks and stones, the big little loving the exploring around our village that we often didn’t end up doing in favour of woodland or park walks further afield.

It’s been amazing how much more we’ve taken in of our own little corner of the world. A couple of months ago it seems now that we were just passing through the garden to jump in the car for busy days. Now we’re completely paused here, and are able to properly see it. At the moment we have blue tits nesting in the bird box in our back garden which is wonderful to see – they are just building their nest at the moment – and sparrows in a fir tree in the front garden whose babies have hatched already – they are very tucked away and we haven’t gone too close to see them but they are filling the garden with their tiny chorus when their mother flies in and out with food. Across the road too, a rural but normally busy one, now much more silent, deer and hares are running so much closer and more freely than ever before and are lovely to see. On our walks, just to the edge of the village usually, although once or twice slightly longer down to the shore we’re lucky to have just a couple of miles away, we’ve seen buzzards soaring and really enjoyed the wildlife and the world around us blooming even more for the lack of traffic and bustle.

Mostly we’ve been so blessed and I’ve been so grateful, but as I’m sure is the case for everyone there have been some times I’ve struggled more with being locked down and being away from my own family. In these, I’ve turned to some much appreciated rays of sunshine in this strange time. The wonderful world of video calling – Zoom, Messenger, House Party, we’ve tried them all! – has made the distance seem so much shorter, and has meant we haven’t been socially distanced at all, only physically. Week after week we’ve gathered with family and with friends too for quizzes, games nights and chats and it’s been wonderful to feel in some small way that we’re still able to sit and relax together, hanging on to all the things that are most important. We’ve managed to translate so many things across the distance – Pictionary, charades and Guess Who popping up in our increasingly inventive family games nights; quizzes and drinks with friends somehow managing to feel at least a little like the relaxed chat of pub nights; an afternoon coffee with a friend; book group analysis of our latest read; and even surprisingly successful play dates for the toddler, her and her friends loving seeing each other and amazing us by just going with it and adapting to the new normal.

I’ve found myself reading lots in my spare time (mostly in the middle of the night just now!), books a wonderful escape. Some will forever be synonymous for me now with this period and because a lot of what I’ve been reading recently has ended up being books I’ve been sharing with or had recommended by family and friends it’s been another wonderful way to keep connected.

TV box sets have also kept me going – we had already started watching our way through Parks and Recreation together for the first time when lockdown began and had been so enjoying it, but our watching definitely ramped up from then on. Feel-good, heartwarming and hilarious, I have absolutely loved it, and when we got to the end of the seven seasons we even had the extra bonus of the April 2020 special filmed and set during the pandemic, so perfectly pitched to be a lift at this time, and with all the heart of the show and a tear-jerker finale. ❤️ I’ve also turned to some proper cosy British comedy TV – The Vicar of Dibley and Outnumbered a couple of my go-to comfort programmes; and as so many of the country have done, we have found Gogglebox more appealing than ever these last few weeks – something so lovely about finding a way of still settling into the living rooms of familiar faces on a Friday night.

One of the biggest joys has of course been the actual sunshine – it’s been so wonderful as we’ve all passed the time, played and stretched our legs to have such wonderful weather; and now it’s even more of a blessing as we prepare to welcome family to our garden over the next couple of days at last.

As we move into the new phase, I’m so grateful for all that kept us going. I know our return to normal life will be gradual and these things will keep sustaining us when needed. I am so thankful to be able to look to seeing family again, and also for the time we’ve had as a little unit in these last weeks, before we take these first steps forward all together.

Hope everyone is doing well and having a good week. Xx