Week forty seven: it’s half term, give yourself a break!

We’ve made it! It’s half term – for the kids at least, though I have booked a day off on Thursday – and so we have a week off from daily Zoom lessons, Google classroom and the constant round of nagging about doing the work set. I cannot fault their schools, and am in awe of their teachers who are planning and delivering online work and feeding back on it, while also doing the same for the key worker children in school, managing pastoral care and also looking after their own families… but I am so glad it’s half term.

Not just for me, but for my mum (and dad) friends as well. We are working parents, without exception, and while we are expert jugglers and plate spinners – often holding at least two conversations while simultaneously sorting laundry, thinking about dinner, and praying for bedtime – there is a limit to the number of plates we can keep spinning before something drops. Right now, we are spinning all these parental plates and at the same time juggling the work oranges as well. I know that I am not the only one who feels like we aren’t giving enough time to either. It’s hard to help with maths when you’re in a Teams meeting, for a start. Children – especially young ones – don’t understand that there are other demands on your time and don’t respect the boundaries of an online meeting. Older children can be a help sometimes, but they have their own work to do and its not fair to put extra responsibility on them.

In ‘normal’ times we have our work heads and our home heads, and often we have a commute in between so we have a chance to swap them over, to decompress on the train home, to think about dinner before we are faced with actually having to cook it, to read a few chapters of a book or to listen to a podcast. You don’t realise how valuable that down time is until you don’t have it. Over the last couple of weeks I have been finishing work quite late (for me, anyway, as a committed morning person!), getting up from the dining table where I’ve been working, and starting on dinner straight away in response to the ‘what’s for dinner/when’s dinner/how long till’ conversations. By Thursday I’d completely lost the will to live cook and resorted to the chippy. My head was so overfull that I couldn’t contemplate dinner as well, let alone trying to cook something that everyone would eat. Dinner that night was just one too many plates to spin, so I gave up.

On Friday all three of mine were on a screen-free, mindfulness, wellbeing sort of day as decreed by their schools. An excellent idea, and the secondary school sent home ideas of things they could do (I really approved of the one that said ‘make your parent a hot drink’). I, on the other hand, did not have a screen free, mindful sort of day. I was trying to focus on what my museum learning might look like in three years time. It was too cold – with a wind chill of -8 – to send them outside for any length of time. I couldn’t stop to play board games or do jigsaws, or to go for a walk in the sunshine, so their wellbeing day didn’t do a lot for me.

So this week it’s half term and I still have work to do, and I am going to give myself a break. If they spend a whole day on Minecraft while talking their friends, I am not going to worry about it: they can’t go on playdates with them, so this is the contact they can have. If Thing 1 wants to stay in bed watching emotional teen movies till lunchtime, fine. We can all benefit from a bit of a break, whether its from parental plate spinning or algebra. And yes, there might even be takeaway one night.

Creative chaos

After last week’s ramble about wanting to learn to draw, I picked up my sketchbook and did a couple of Craftsy classes online – I started the ‘Urban Sketching in 15 minutes a day’ course, and then yesterday I tried a line drawing one about how to sketch a house. I really enjoyed them and am learning to embrace the imperfections, as one of the tutors was very keen to impress on me. Craftsy is a great source of courses at the moment, and I took advantage of an offer a couple of months back to get a year’s premium membership for about a fiver rather than $70.

In the year of the handmade gift I sent off a TARDIS cross stitch to a lovely Whovian friend – he and his husband have just bought their dream home, so I used a design by NERDpillo to make this one. I almost didn’t want to fill in all the blue as the black lines were so clean and sharp, but I did. I’m so pleased they like it!

It’s been proper brass monkeys weather this week – today is the first day in a week that the thermometer has gone above one degree. I was quite excited on Tuesday when I got to add a new colour to the Temperature Tree as it was so cold. You can also see a little toadstool in a hoop that I did purely to try out a string art backing technique, and an ombre string art heart card.

Finally, I chopped all my hair off on Friday morning – I tried the unicorn horn method that I used last time and it was still too long at the back, so I put it in pigtails and chopped both off at collarbone level. I love it, it’s curly and I can get a brush through it in seconds flat.

Tiny work doodle

(I was also really, really chuffed to be told on Friday that my article for CPRE had received 2000 views.)

Happy Valentines Day

A shout out to another creative friend here – the very lovely Emma, whose Etsy shop provided my gifts to my beloved for my anniversary last weekend and Valentine’s Day today.

There’s been a sweet theme this year: he indulged my passion for liquorice, and as well as torpedoes I have been given several bags of Spogs. These are a standing joke between us: when we were first together I had a bag of liquorice allsorts, and I’d saved all the spogs for last as they were my favourites. I came home to find he’d eaten them all as he thought I didn’t like them.

So that’s week 47! Happy Valentines Day to you all, you gorgeous bunch. See you next week!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

The Grave Tattoo – Val McDermid

Inspector Hobbes and the Blood – Wilkie Martin

In which we survive week one (with a few adjustments)

A week which progressed rapidly from ‘social isolation’ to semi-lockdown! A week which is showing the very best of people as they band together to ensure neighbours and friends are safe, sharing resources, running errands and painting rainbows for their windows for families on walks to spot. Also, the first week when we’ve all been at home together…

The kids’ schools have been great, posting work via the Milk and Parentmail platforms, and sharing messages via Class Dojo. Thing 2 was particularly pleased to be awarded five Dojos for her art work on Friday.

Woven fabric shield – using up my stash!

I’ve been quite clear that what’s happening here is not home schooling or home educating – those are choices made by parents for a range of reasons, while the current situation is driven by necessity – but like a lot of parents I started the week with a timetable of sorts. Admittedly mine was fairly basic, comprising ‘school stuff’ in the mornings and ‘creative stuff’ in the afternoon, but even that turned out to be challenging at times. My own work schedule has settled into a 7-2 pattern, which means that by the time the Horde are getting restless I am ready to finish too. It suits me – I’m very much a morning person!

Thing 1 has been pretty independent, working through the home learning set without much input from me. This week should have seen her choosing her GCSE options – luckily she’s quite clear about what she wants to do. The Milk app has crashed repeatedly over the week due to the level of demand, but she’s working on her French daily.

Thing 3 loves maths and would focus all his time on those if he could, so we have started each day with handwriting tasks based on the statutory spelling words for his year group – this is more of a challenge for me, as I have had to model the correct formation and as anyone who has tried to decipher my meeting notes will tell you, my handwriting is truly atrocious.

A lot has been written on various satirical mum blogs about the KS2 literacy curriculum – particularly on the demands of SPAG (spelling, punctuation and grammar) – and it turns out they weren’t exaggerating. Most of my support for Thing 2 this week has involved Googling grammar so I could help her. I’m not sure I could pass a KS2 SATs paper these days.

The afternoons have been an utter joy though, seeing them finding creative ways to fill their time. The Boy has played with a lot of Lego, swept out the treehouse (which the three of them designed collaboratively a few years ago) and on Friday he planned and made some shelves. Careful diagrams led to measuring, cutting and building with Dad’s help, and he’s very proud of his new furniture – like most of the treehouse, it’s been upcycled from other furniture.

Shelves designed and built by Thing 3

We’ve also had delicious chocolate cake made to a foolproof recipe courtesy of my Aunty Jan, flapjacks, and home made bread rolls – we’ve tried to be quite hands-off, only helping when asked.

Things 2 and 3 have enjoyed outdoor art work – they have always enjoyed using the garden stepping stones as canvases for their chalks, and the glorious weather this week has helped.

We’re stepping on rainbows…

Thing 1 has been experimenting with acrylics – art is one of her GSCE choices so she’s exploring different media. I asked her to decorate a letter for me, and she chose my favourite garden flowers and my beloved ladybirds.

Flowers and ladybirds!

Daily exercise has been a joy too – social distancing rules have meant we have spent time on North Weald Common behind the house. One day we explored by letting each child choose a direction every time we came to a fork in the path, which led us past rabbits, following badger, fox and deer tracks. The March sunshine has been a blessing here!

Thing 2 demonstrating social distancing

I think the format of the days is something we can stick to. They are earning gadget time by doing jobs around the house, so I haven’t emptied the dishwasher in days!

Enough about the horde! What about me?

It’s been a week of adjusting for me too – working remotely with a big project underway has meant a lot of time on video calls – Skype and Microsoft Teams, as well as experimenting with Zoom to talk to my family. After a chaotic Monday briefing where my colleagues were treated to the sight of the kids dropping in and out (Curious George was an amateur compared to this lot) I have been conducting meetings half way up the stairs where the WiFi is consistent and the interruptions are mainly from the cats – equally curious but quieter! Video calls mean I can see people too – you get used to being able to pop down the corridor to ask a question, or chatting over the boiling kettle at coffee time. Whatsapp has been a good tool, too, sharing photos of what the formal learning team have been experimenting with.

I have been thinking about what the schools programme might look like in the new museum – exploring links with STEM and creative subjects rather than social history. I’m getting through a lot of index cards, which have been my go-to organisers since university – and taking advantage of no teaching to do a lot of reading about how children learn and play.

Before and after work I’m trying to make positive use of time – like most crafters, I have a butterfly brain and constantly want to dip into new creative flowers! I’ve made a list of WIPs (works in progress) that have been hanging around for far too long and my lockdown resolution is to work on these rather than starting anything new. I do suffer from depression so it’s helpful to have things to focus on.

The list looks like this:

  • Purple jacket (a 1950s design that the sleeves wouldn’t work on, so I gave up in a huff and its been hanging from the curtain rail for about four years)
  • Crochet diploma
  • Say Something In Welsh course
  • Coast ripple blanket (Attic24 pattern)
  • Long waistcoat
  • Attic window quilt (that I cut out when I only had one child)
  • Mini quilt (er, ditto)
  • Seurat cross stitch – at least I only started this last year!
  • Couch to 5k (again)
  • Spring clean the shed, evicting the winter spiders…and being realistic about what I will actually use in my stash, then donating the rest

Nothing too ambitious then! I’ve made a start, with the first five modules of the diploma, and the rather wonky mini quilt is finished. The Attic window quilt top just needs the strips put together after a productive day yesterday which also saw Thing 2 starting to learn to sew. I have had to get out another sewing machine – a Singer Samba 2 given to me by my aunt. Sewing machines are like cats and tattoos – one is never enough!

Couch to 5K is going well – early morning frosty runs have been glorious, and I’ve dug out my trail running shoes which are saving my knees!

So that’s week one done… see you on the other side of week two!