April 4th 2020

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I was rudely awakened by the postman knocking the door this morning – it brought me out of a lie in (8 o’clock!) with a start. A package for the kids from their grandma (my Mum) with some lovely keepsakes to remember their grandpa who died in January this year.

I managed to drag myself out of bed but after breakfast, coffee and some jam making I collapsed again and went back to sleep on the sofa. As a result I didn’t get half the things done today I wanted to. I did manage to get our old baby bath out from the loft which I’m hoping we can turn into a wildlife pond. I also started to tackle the Leylandii hedge issue (they are several feet too tall) but after two hours I felt I hadn’t made much progress (although I think I now have a method which should make the remaining work slightly easier (which is good as I have three or four times as much to do as I’ve already done).

The kids found out about Google Arts and Culture and other virtual tours online, and spent some time in the morning browsing round various museums and the Taj Mahal. Predictably, if slightly disappointingly, the virtual tour of the the Legoland Hotel seemed to spark more interest than the Taj Mahal 😀

Having not really got going in the morning the afternoon seemed to race away from me, but I did manage to record my part for a virtual choir project I’m taking part in.

We’d all been looking forward to the Saturday evening quiz run by C from choir, and since this week was a David Bowie theme fancy dress F, D and B had been working at making Bowie masks and Bowie themed cupcakes with blue/red icing and lightning bolts.

We thought the quiz was harder this week and were then amazed when our lucky guesses all came good making us winners for the week – to much excitement from the kids (and the adults).

The day was rounded out with the second part of the Gilmore & Roberts online gig including a request we’d made and a namecheck for B & F which they loved. Then D and I watched “Have I got News for You” – as with “The Mash Report” which we watched yesterday – it was very strange to see these topical news comedies/satires having to film in people’s houses and especially in the former the lack of an audience to react to jokes and comments really showed and made the result a bit strange to watch (for me anyway). We then watched the final episode in Sky Arts “Portrait Artist of the Year” (where the winner is commissioned to do a portrait of a famous figure – in this case Nile Rodgers) which was weird in the other way of being a reflection of a time where people would just meet and get together and do stuff! It’s strange how quickly we’ve started to see this kind of scene slightly jarring. Antiques Roadshow was another programme where we were watching and it felt strange to have all these people just crowding around each other!

Last achievement of the day – I finally managed to finish baking the focaccia I’d originally intended to have ready for lunch today – so that will be a nice treat for tomorrow.

Sitting with D this evening I realised that we really haven’t had much proper time together for weeks. During the day we’re both working and trying to accommodate the kids, in the evening we’re both tired. I think the best “quality time” we’ve had in the last three weeks is when we were both up early one morning and the kids were still asleep (or at least still in bed). Something to try and fix next week I think (love you D xxx).

Stay safe, stay strong.

3rd April 2020

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After getting an early night last night, I then woke early – first at 5am, then again at 6:30 when I got up. However I feel better today so maybe it did me some good to get to bed earlier, even though I didn’t actually get more sleep!

Its felt like a busy week work-wise – lots of calls to get through, lots of work to do, and I’ve still failed to do some long overdue business admin – I must try to get that done over the weekend.

The original plan was that we’d be with my Mum in a lovely holiday cottage in Wales this evening, with a weeks holiday with E and family stretching before us. Sadly, of course, we are at home instead. So we celebrated by having a lovely fish pie (cooked by D) and then sticky toffee pudding (shop bought I’m afraid) & custard (which I made … from Bird’s Custard Powder of course!) – which was sweet, sickly and delicious.

After tea we had another treat – an online gig by my favourite folk duo, Gilmore and Roberts. I was meant to be seeing them live for my birthday in a couple of weeks, but with gigs for the foreseeable future cancelled they decided to setup a Patreon page and committed to doing an online gig once they had 50 patreons – which they managed in a week.

I was so glad we were able to support them, and then enjoy a great hour or so of entertainment this evening. Also really appreciating have a projector, big screen and decent sound system at home – it made it feel like they were in our living room. F spent the concert drawing illustrations for each of the songs (when she wasn’t dancing), while B spent it doing origami, and D and I sang along to the songs (which apparently isn’t polite at a real gig)

Tomorrow I’ve promised the kids we’ll try to make a wildlife pond out of an old baby bath (which I’m hoping is still in the loft, otherwise that project is going to hit the buffers pretty quickly), and I need to try to finish my hedge taming in the garden. I’ve also got to record my part for a “virtual choir” we are doing, and hoping to get some band practice in with the kids, and finally wishing my youngest nephew happy birthday – so it should be a pretty busy day.

Stay safe, stay strong.

2nd April 2020

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Moving towards the end of another week, and I’ll be glad of the weekend. Today started with an exercise routine devised by F, although thankfully (for me) she isn’t as hard a task master as Joe Wicks!

D has been helping B get on top of his school work, and plan his time more effectively. B’s cough has almost subsided although he still seems to have a bit of a cold.

F seemed to have a good day with only a few upsets and nothing that lasted too long. She also announced she had another request for her birthday – that I write a new book in the Chronicles of Claudette series (a series of graphic novels which feature a young girl called Claudette who definitely reminds me of F). I feel this particular birthday wish maybe beyond me (although she did tell me that B could help me if I wanted).

Another shopping delivery meant we were fully stocked up (including bread flour) and I made another spelt loaf – although due to me forgetting to half the liquid along with the rest of the recipe the dough was quite a bit wetter than intended – but as George (of Haddie and Trilby) advises “the wetter the better” – and it all turned out fine in the end.

Very satisfying to have made this – makes me feel like I’ve done something worthwhile today! Next up on the bread baking front, I’m planning to make some focaccia at the weekend as a treat for us all.

At the end of the day I did the third lesson on “arranging for choir” by Seb, our choir musical director. It was definitely interesting to watch him at work, but it felt like quite a big step up in difficulty from the previous lesson. I think I need to go back to basics with chords and structure before I’m ready to try this again. D snapped me focussing hard on one of his previous YouTube broadcasts (or, as B suggests they should be called, “sebinars”!).

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That @ostephens72 being fully engrossed in a ‘seb-inar’

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I made a successful chicken stir fry for tea and started reading “Wings” by Terry Pratchett to the kids this evening (the last in his “Nomes” trilogy). Once again a bit of upset from F for some reason, but eventually she calmed down and enjoyed the first chapter (she’s enjoyed the others in the series so not really sure why she decided she didn’t want this one).

Pitch Perfect is now on TV, but having been late to bed several nights in a row I’m going to drag myself away and get some sleep instead.

Stay safe, stay strong, sleep well.

1st April 2020

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  • Feeling: OK
  • Listening to: Bach’s Goldberg Variations played by Glenn Gould
  • Watching: Performance videos with the choir

Mum’s birthday today, the first of a run of April birthdays in my immediate family (including mine). We video called her in the morning so the kids could talk and then later E had arranged for the three of us children (E, M and me) to talk to her together this evening. It was lovely to see her and chat together, but no substitute for being there.

Another busy work day although not too stressful, and it was really nice to do a regular call with a large group today which has been cancelled for the last two weeks because of the current situation – it felt like a return to “normal”! Hearing of other peoples schedules and work situations today has reinforced to me how lucky I am.

We didn’t get out today which was a shame – mainly down to me having a run of calls all afternoon without a proper time for a break, although the lack of sunshine didn’t encourage us to make time.

We had virtual choir this evening, and I think it worked well. Really nice social sessions before and after where people can do a bit of chatting and see each others faces (in Zoom) with a YouTube streamed session in between led by Seb with some singing and watching some performances and looking at one of our songs in some detail – the wonderful “For Good” from the musical Wicked.

Really enjoyed both choir and talking to Mum, M and E and feeling happy this evening, although somehow it is gone midnight again and I’m still awake… maybe I’ve not adjusted to the clock change yet 🙂

Tomorrow by some black magic D has managed to get a shopping delivery slot again, and I’ve just put some “poolish” (a flour, yeast and water mixture) in the fridge ready to make some more spelt bread tomorrow (I think today was the first day for 2 weeks we’ve not had bread in the house ready to eat)

31st March 2020

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I’m going to keep this short because I’m tired and it’s past midnight (again). Today was much better than yesterday, with a more even keel all round. No tantrums, no tears, and even a nice walk out in the sunshine this afternoon.

F enjoyed doing some creative writing this morning and the plot she had devised (involving a prophecy about a young photographer & inventor who is in trouble for breaking rules) obviously had really grabbed her, because she spent quite a bit of the day furnishing us with more details.

B managed to get through all the work he was meant to do, including an animated film for French. He still won’t stop stressing about work but I think getting himself organised has helped. We also encouraged him to work downstairs with the rest of us today because its too easy for him to start getting stressed when he’s sitting upstairs by himself.

I finally ventured out to the supermarket today which was a strange experience – I’m not sure I can stand the stress of shopping while trying to avoid everyone and not touching anything – I may have to dial down my paranoia a bit. Mostly everything we needed was there – the only real exception being flour and noodles – where the shelves were completely empty. But that aside the main issue was that there was a lack of choice where we’ve been used to having huge amounts of choice.

Together with our regular fruit/veg + meat/fish boxes we get delivered on a Tuesday each week I think we should have enough to get us through the week now. I also picked up some lego sets for the kids as a treat – I thought they deserved one.

Thinking ahead to the so-called “Easter holiday” and wondering how we are actually going to manage that. F is keen to be on holiday, but I’m not sure trying to “holiday” when you can’t leave the house is a great idea – I suspect after a couple of days frustration would set in (although possibly F would be happy if we let her watch back-to-back Boss Baby and Avatar cartoons the whole week.)

I spent the evening starting a jigsaw, and then trying to arrange 8 bars of “Everything is awesome” into a SATB (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) choral arrangement based on a webinar by the MD of our choir, Seb Farrall. That took much longer than I expected, so now it’s time for bed.

30th March 2020

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As with last Monday, this was a tough day. I guess over the weekend it’s possible to pretend things are “normal” to a large extent, but when Monday comes, reality hits: no school, no going out, no fun 🙁

F was restless all morning, didn’t really want to do anything except watch TV, and as she got more and more bored even the slightest suggestion of doing something else was met with tears and upset. Unfortunately F seems to blame herself when things go wrong, and so once she felt she had done something wrong (which she hadn’t, and we didn’t suggest she had) it was a downward spiral.

Lunch indoors today which was a shame, but the weather is just not as good as last week.

After lunch, it was Art for the kids, and as last week, this was a bit of a bumpy ride. F was reluctant to do it in the first place (and we gave the option for her to skip it, but she eventually, grumpily, decided she would do it), and then became upset when she felt her picture wasn’t anything like it was meant to be.

I really empathise with her on this because I know the feeling of not achieving the outcomes you want, especially artistically, and how bad that can make you feel. I became convinced I was ‘no good at art’ when I was younger, and that feeling stays with me even though I know that all this does is limit myself – I don’t want F to fall into that trap.

I had my own teary moment during the afternoon, when the fact I couldn’t make things better for F right now hit me hard.

B had his moments of trauma today as well, as he felt he wasn’t coping with the work being set by school. The truth is he’s doing great generally but he’s struggled with exactly how to organise himself, and the way the teachers are setting work due is not entirely consistent which has left him missing submitting a couple of pieces of work – and he really hates feeling like he’s not doing the work right.

And through this poor D had to support us all – she is amazing as always and keeps us all going.

Happily things picked up when F, then B, had their one-to-one sessions with a tutor from Explore Learning (they’d usually go to this maths & english tutoring centre once or twice a week). This was by a long way the best online interaction they’ve had because it was one-to-one – it was just so nice to see them getting on with work, chatting to the tutor in a relaxed way.

Also welcome was a delivery of tea and coffee from The Golden Monkey Tea Company – which was a relief as I finished the last of my existing coffee this morning and we were running short on tea (and I didn’t actually manage to get out to the shop today – that treat will have to wait until tomorrow).

D and the kids had done some rainbow drawings for the tea shop window:

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Drawing rainbows for local tea shop

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And final good news of the day is that we finished off the “Fantastic Beasts” jigsaw (bar three missing pieces) and so we can move on to the next challenge … Ook!

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Weekend plans….just one more day….

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29 March 2020: Leaving the house

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We left the house today for the first time since St Patrick’s day (17th March). We didn’t go far and were probably only out for about 20 minutes. It was odd to see other people out walking (and felt very strange that we were trying to plot a course that avoided them as far as possible).

Going back to the start of the day, I woke around 4am and found it hard to settle again. Eventually I moved downstairs and did manage to get back to sleep on the sofa listening to the “No such thing as a fish” podcast.

When I woke again it was after 8am, and it turned out both D and I had the same thought on waking: “how lovely to have slept until after 8”, until we realised the clocks had gone forward and it was really only just after 7!

We got up at a very leisurely pace and it wasn’t until after 10am I got out in the garden to pick up from where I left off yesterday. It was cold out and I needed my woolly hat and coat first thing. I managed to tidy up some of the junk I’d found in the hedge on Saturday, avoiding starting trimming our other hedge until as late as possible so as not to disturb our neighbours. Eventually I got the trimmers out and went into battle with the hedge, taking several feet of growth off the top!

I couldn’t reach all the way across the top of the hedge to completely trim the top, and I don’t really want to try going around to the neighbours to work from that side at the moment – I think I need to find a way of hooking or looping the growth to pull it over to our side – I’ll have to think how I can do this.

I wasn’t quite up to tackling the leylandii that makes up the rest of the hedge today – it will be a bit of a tough job, but I’ve got plenty of time.

F has been struggling today. She’s had several melt downs, and was crying as it was time to go to bed claiming it was “too early”, until after questioning she explained that “there wasn’t anything happy to think about” when she went to bed. To try to cheer her up I’ve downloaded series two of Cabin Pressure for her to listen to (I’d originally promised this as a treat for when we drove to Wales for our Easter holiday. She’s also been enjoying John Finnemore’s (writer of Cabin Pressure) “Cabin Fever” videos which he has been posting on YouTube to entertain people (and possibly himself!) during the lock down.

I’m hoping tomorrow the promise of an Art class and an online tutoring session from “Explore Learning” will help cheer F and B up, although that said last week F struggled with the Art lesson – so it might not go to plan. Fingers crossed anyway.

Apart from our short walk, D, B and F spent quite a bit of the day inside. D made good progress with a “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” jigsaw.

Meanwhile the kids played with their “Turing Tumble” – a great toy which uses some cleverly designed plastic “switches” and ball bearings to let kids (or adults) build mechanical computing devices. The kids managed to build a machine that counted in binary today!

F has been making good use of our new Disney+ subscription to work her way throughh the “High School Musical” films, and Number 3 was on her afternoon viewing list.

This afternoon I had a call with the rest of the choir committee to discuss how we should keep the choir going while we are on lock down. We’ve done two online “virtual rehearsals” so far and we want to take the most successful elements and use them to build an approach that can work over weeks to keep people engaged and involved. It was really great to see the rest of the committee and talk to them, even though we were mainly talking business. I can’t wait until we can all meet up again and actually see each other.

Another day done, and another week done. I started this blog a week ago because it felt like I should really document a period of time that is likely to have a huge impact on everybody’s lives. Writing everyday hasn’t (so far) been a chore, although sometimes it has kept me up later than perhaps is wise. I also suspect that as we settle into our routine more, documenting the minutiae of each day will become less interesting for me and for any readers – but at the moment the idea of being able to go to the shop tomorrow seems exciting and slightly shocking!

28th March 2020: Last day of isolation

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Saturday, and in theory the last day of isolation for us because it’s now 14 days since B first developed a persistent cough. B is still coughing, and still doesn’t seem quite 100%, but the rest of us haven’t shown any symptoms thankfully.

I spent a lot of time in the garden today. First F and I cleared the rest of the grass from the path – it’s a long time since parts of it have seen the sun!

After that F and I dug a hole to sink a small trampoline into and make it level with the ground. The trampoline was one she got for her third birthday, and its been sitting unused at the back of the house for a while now – so good to see it get a new lease of life.

It was fun little project to work on together and F has discovered a love of digging and started digging holes in other parts of the garden – not sure what we are going to do with those yet!

After lunch I started to trim the hedge, but a basic trim turned into a full scale cut back as I decided to cut it all the way back in an attempt to reclaim some of the garden!

Damyanti had been up early drawing pictures of objects from the Ashmolean museum and B, F and I all wrote descriptions of them based on our own version of where the object had come from and its history. We read them out to each other over lunch and had to guess which object we were describing.

B still seems tired and not himself – I think not just being ill but also the situation – he loves school (as does F) and misses it. He is in touch with a few friends, but its not just seeing his friends that he loves, but interacting with the teachers and learning. He does like to learn by himself as well but I think he’s missing the stimulation of school.

After all the gardening B, F and I were going to have a band rehearsal, but unfortunately tiredness led to F and me both behaving a bit badly/grumpily and we didn’t manage to get to any actual practice – hopefully we can do that tomorrow.

Pizza delivery from Basement Browns and a Zoom call with my brother & sister and their families, and my Mum, was meant to cheer us up and it was lovely to see everyone, and B and I had a nice chat with them all. Unfortunately, it was a frustrating experience for F – she had something very specific in mind she wanted to discuss (planning a musical play with her cousins) but it wasn’t really the right environment for that, and she felt no-one was listening to her – so got frustrated and upset again.

However a quiz organised by C from choir (again on Zoom) was a real pick me up at the end of the day (and coming third was very pleasing) and we all enjoyed taking part (although F opted for watching a cartoon on the iPad after the first two rounds). It was a really nice way to use Zoom – just the right amount of structure with chance to see and hear each other. Big thanks to C for organising it.

One other high point of the day was finding that the Golden Monkey Tea Co. in Warwick could deliver us some much needed tea and coffee. It was lovely to talk to M even though it’s obviously a really hard time for the business.

Tomorrow I’m hoping to do the top of the hedge I started today and then attack the other hedge in the back to see if I can reduce the height. Although isolation ends today I’m not sure we will go out tomorrow with B still coughing – while he shouldn’t be infectious at this point I’m not sure people want to see someone with a cough walking around currently. I guess we’ll see how he is tomorrow.

Stay safe, stay strong everyone.

27 March 2020

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Its Friday, which would usually be cause for minor celebration and the question “what shall we do this weekend?”. But instead we face another day of being at home.

F, at least, is looking forward to the weekend with the promise that the rest of the family will drag themselves away from work and do something more interesting instead.

While I think we’ve settled into a reasonable routine, I also feel like (ironically) I’ve been less ‘present’ for the kids than I usually am during the week. Work has tended to seep in at all edges and I feel like I’ve spent quite a lot of the week in my own work “bubble”. On top of that now my (limited!) social life is also online – so I go from working on the computer to doing social stuff on the computer almost without a break. I’m still looking for the right balance, and don’t think I’ve found it yet.

Doing the Joe Wicks PE with F has been fun and good for me, although it takes me a good hour to recover from the high intensity workout! Hopefully that will improve as well.

B is still coughing and although his 7 days of isolation finished last weekend I still don’t feel completely comfortable with the idea of him going out. Our own 14 days of isolation finishes on Sunday and it would be great to get out for a walk if we can, but it might need to wait until B is fully recovered.

Plans for the weekend involve spending time in the garden. I need to give the hedges a good trim, and I have an idea the kids could build a bivouac or den of some kind from the clippings if we can find some suitable wood for the basic frame. I also want to try to give a new lease of life to a small trampoline (more of a trampette really) that we bought F for her 3rd birthday. Six years later it’s just sitting in the back garden and it would be lovely if I can find a way of making it useable again. I just hope the sun shines again this weekend.

We should have been going away to Wales at the end of next week with my Mum and E & family, celebrating Mum’s birthday, nephew J’s birthday and F’s birthday, and it’s sad to be sitting here knowing we are going to miss all this, and to know this is being reflected for so many people across the country and across the world. But we have so much to be thankful for, and in the big scheme of things these are relatively small hardships. So far the overall impact on us has been about inconvenience and disappointment, not tragedy – for which I’m hugely grateful.

So I sit here sipping a whisky, listening to Shakespeare Sister, moisturising my hands, and remembering how lucky we really are. Here’s to the weekend!

26 March 2020

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I woke before 7 again. Although I’m not particularly conscious that I’m worrying about the current situation, I obviously am and I suspect that’s part of the reason I’m waking early (I know 7 isn’t particularly early generally, but it is for me!)

I let myself have a slow start to the day, getting on with the spelt bread I started yesterday. Thanks to D we got a Sainsbury delivery today – initially left on the wrong doorstep by the delivery man (luckily he phoned to say he’d left it, and D got to the door before he drove off!) and that prompted me to do a proper review of what we have in the freezer (although my ideal is to keep the freezer full and only start using stock from there if we absolutely have to). With the new supplies plus some things from the freezer I was able to cook bolognese tonight (using the chicken stock I made at the weekend) which the kids really enjoyed.

We’ve not quite got a handle on how much milk we get through (although I partly blame D as she has a tendency to suddenly decide to offer the kids hot milk/hot chocolate without first checking we actually have enough milk). We didn’t order any from the supermarket as we are getting regular deliveries from the milkman, but after B had breakfast there wasn’t much left from the bottle we got on Wednesday. As a result I had to make do with an almond milk latte this morning (oh woe is me) but I was pretty pleased with the result (although I still prefer dairy milk for tea and coffee).

Almond milk latte

The Spelt bread worked well and made a great ham, cheese, salad & pickle sandwich for another garden lunch in the beautiful spring sunshine – glad everyday that its nice enough for us to get outside in the garden.

After a relaxed morning the afternoon was more stressful but just normal work stress to be honest – too much to do and not enough time. At 5 I joined Seb (our choir music director) for a webinar on arranging music for choir. There was quite a lot to take in, and I was desperately trying to remember my grade 5 theory to keep up. I think I’ll need to re-watch the recording, although it did generally make sense as we went through it – he’s set me some homework to try to do the harmony for a short (8 bar) tune – which is a nice challenge.

My work bled into the evening until about 9:30, and D and I were both tired out and nodding off a bit as we watched TV. At 8pm there was a “clap” for all those working to keep us safe through the pandemic – especially NHS staff. D and I clapped in the house, but no-one in our crescent of houses seemed to be out clapping (maybe they were doing the same as us though!). It seems other areas were clapping away outside as Mum said her street were out clapping, and lots of people from choir had been joining in and able to hear others doing the same.

Time for bed now. Stay safe, stay strong

Spelt bread