Life Lately | March 2021

Tuesday 23 March 2021

It’s mind blowing to think we’ve been in lockdown for near-as-dammit a year at this point. Day 353 of this strange, altered existence that has slowly become comfortable in some ways. 

At this point, going out into the world and actually interacting with people is going to feel so strange. I never would have imagined writing my life update post in March last year when the pandemic was just beginning to hit that we’d be in this limbo state for so long. 

The Slow Grind To Normal

Thanks to the UK’s previous strategy of regional ‘tiers’, depending on where you live in the country, some people have experienced the last year as very much three distinct lockdowns. Where we live, as we were in ‘Tier 3’ restrictions in between the full national lockdowns, not much changed, so it felt like a continuous year of life being on hold.

And that’s been incredibly tough. 

I’m aware that I’m privileged to have kept my health, job and sanity (just!). But however you’ve experienced it, there’s not a single person who is going to emerge from this without some scars. 

For me, there have been moments of joy, yes. Spending more time with my kids while they’re little and being forced to appreciate the simple moments of happiness, like feeding swans at the end of the garden, or cuddling up to watch a film as a family. 

But there has also been trauma. The sheer impossibility of trying to juggle a full time job and two kids under five at home. My mum becoming ill and not being able to see her before she died. And I think it's going to take a long time to recover from that.

At the moment, we’re running on fumes. Both the Mr and I are beyond burnt out. 

Some people have experienced this pandemic as boredom - not being able to socialise, being furloughed from their job, suddenly having lots of empty hours to fill. We’ve experienced it as exhaustion - the relentless and quite impossible task of full time jobs and homeschooling, being always on duty as parents or employees with no time to care for ourselves. 

At this point, I don’t even know how we begin to recharge and heal. We’re just staggering along, making it through each day, grinding on -  but it's not sustainable. It’s going to have a long-term impact.

I call it the ‘pandemic parent paradox’ -  we are so busy we could cry but simultaneously bored. Bored of looking at the same four walls. Bored of having no time for ourselves. I didn’t mean for this post to strike such a depressing note, but it’s hard to express how low we are right now.

There may be green shoots in sight - a vaccine programme rolling out, a ‘roadmap’ out of the current restrictions -  but there’s been so much change and last minute reversals throughout the last year and a half, we don’t feel able to put our faith in getting back to some kind of normality. It’s still almost impossible to make plans, and I’m reluctant to hope for things when it feels as if they might be snatched away at any moment.

I honestly thought I’d have so much time for blogging during this shutdown - especially since giving up my freelance writing work - but that’s not the case at all. I’ve struggled to do even a quarter of what I wanted. 

And even though I’m working from home and not commuting, there never seems to be any spare time. I hope that by the time I do my next life update, things are a little more balanced.

Cooking Around The World

Traditional French cooking with kids boeuf borguignon avec des quenelles tarte tatin chocolate dipped madelines

One of the things that the pandemic has really thrown into sharp relief is how much we miss travelling and seeing the world. We didn’t go more than a couple of miles from the front door for months and months, save one weekend in Cheshire for our wedding anniversary when restrictions were a bit looser in the summer, and going down to Cornwall for my mum’s funeral. 

Being allowed to go further than the supermarket seems impossibly exotic right now. 

So to compensate, we set ourselves an activity to ‘cook around Europe’. For the past few weeks, we’ve been picking a different European country each weekend. We’ll learn some facts about it with the kids, and prepare a meal from the country. We make a big deal of it - several courses with music from that country playing in the background. 

We started with France, cooking up a traditional boeuf bourguignon avec quenelles, with a tarte tatin and chocolate-dipped madeleines for pudding (all absolutely delicious). 

Traditional Italian cooking with kids pollo allo zafferano Limoncello Tiramisu

Next, we tackled Italy, making a pollo al zafferano followed by limoncello tiramisu. 

Traditional Greek recipes cooking zouvlaki honey pistachio cake

Greek week was up next, with lamb souvlaki, feta potatoes, Greek salad and honey pistachio cakes - that was the kids’ favourite. 

Austrian traditional cooking semmelknodel pretzel sachertorte schnitzel

Stop number 4 was Austria - schnitzel, semmelknoedel, rosti and an epic Sachertorte (definitely making that again!). 

Spanish traditional tapas recipes croquetas jamon serrano padron peppers olives crema catalana

Next, we went all out for Spain - jamon serrano, mini chorizo, patatas bravas, albondigas, stuffed peppers and honey drizzled goat’s cheese croquetas with crema catalana afterwards. 

Swiss traditional recipes cooking fondue zopf bread gotthelftorte

Then we 'went to' Switzerland - with a cheese fondue, traditional zopf bread and a gotthelftorte. 

Next week we're tackling Poland. The only debate is whether to stick to continental Europe or 'do a Eurovision' and include Israel so we can crack open the Ottolenghi books! 

It’s been a really nice thing to do as a family, and also a great way to get the most from our new kitchen following a year of home renovation.

Walking Walking And More Walking

Dog walks routes nottingham

Literally the only thing there is to do at the moment is walk. With all the non-essential shops and restaurants shut and life at a standstill, we’ve all become doorstep ramblers lately. And although I’ll be quite happy to see the back of the one route we’ve been tramping to death, I think getting out into nature has been really important. 

Life has become all about walks, of many different kinds.

There are the family ones we take with the kids on their scooters, going down to our local nature reserve to be mesmerised by the murmurations of birds that are taking place nightly at the moment. 

There are the ones I take on my own first thing in the morning with Indy, listening to a podcast as we follow the misty path by the river.

There are the park strolling catch ups that constitute the only social contact we’re allowed outside of our families.

There are the night walks with a friend and a couple of cans of gin and tonic as we set the world to rights and bemoan the current challenges of life.

All have been really important in their own way and have been part of the very small thread that is currently keeping me just about sane.

I'm Watching...

watching snowpiercer tv series life lately

We’ve been absolutely drawn in by the Snowpiercer series on Netflix, which is the show I’ve enjoyed the most for a good while. Set in the distant future, the show takes place in a world where a second ice age has made the earth uninhabitable. The only survivors are on a train that circles the globe in perpetual motion. The train is it's own universe, 1,001 cars long with everything from medical facilities and a working hothouse farm to a nightclub on board. 

Passengers are divided between insanely wealthy first class, second class, third class (which has it's own black market culture) and ‘the tail’, which is a group of people who boarded illegally without tickets and are tolerated and sparsely fed in return for being a source of unpaid labour. 

The show is absolutely fascinating because it combines lots of different elements - the strain of life at close quarters, the relationships people have formed, the brewing class struggle as those in The Tail try to assert themselves, and the sci-fi shock of a frozen, inhospitable planet. There is also a Snowpiercer film, set separately before the events in the series, that I’m looking forward to watching. 

The acting is absolutely brilliant, especially Jennifer Connelly in the lead role. I’m actively looking forward to each episode and I love feeling so immersed in a drama. It’s really all we’ve been watching other than American Dad re-runs!

I’m Reading…

Reading has been one of the only sources of escape and real pleasure lately, so I’ve been devouring my books and frantically guarding the half an hour or so a day I get to myself to read!

Girl A | Abigail Dean

girl a abigail dean life lately

This is an absolutely haunting book about a girl who escapes from abusive parents by jumping through a window. The book follows her slow progress to redemption through intensive therapy and shows what became of her siblings. 

At times it was quite a hard read as a parent, because it quite unflinchingly looks at the subject of child abuse. But from time to time a horrific case like this emerges, and the way this was written smacked of the truth without being overly sentimental. 

The journey through love and loss felt very authentic and although you know from the start that ‘Girl A’ escapes, finding out the ‘why’ of this slow-burner is absolutely gripping.

The Divines | Ellie Eaton

the divines ellie eaton life lately book club

After ‘Girl A’, I jumped into something a little frothier, although still in the thriller. An old-fashioned and very exclusive girls boarding school, rotten at it's core with over privilege and vicitimisation, is facing closure. In the crazy, fin-de-siecle days before it shuts down, the pupils run wild and one of them ends up dead. What really happened to her? 

The book examines the consequences of spoilt behaviour and secrecy going unpunished. I really enjoyed it getting sucked into the claustrophic, hysterical world of the school, but I felt the ending was really abrupt and unsatisfactory. The book didn’t pay off all of it's early promise, which left me feeling a little bit cheated!

Zero Zero Zero | Roberto Saviano

Zero Zero Zero Roberto Saviano book club

I’m working my way through this powerful book from a respected journalist who now lives in hiding with a Mafia price on his head. It’s an examination of the narco-economy, and the politics, geography and business prowess that goes into the drugs economy. 

For me, it's been a huge eye-opener, realising just how global and enmeshed in geopolitical power structures the cocaine business is. Saviano tells a factual tale in a very lyrical, novelistic way and the book flips between a narrative tone and something very poetic, which makes it a unique read. 

The Power of Discipline : How To Use Self Control and Mental Toughness to Achieve Your Goals | Daniel Walter

book club The Power of Discipline : How To Use Self Control and Mental Toughness to Achieve Your Goals Daniel Walter

I’ve also been trying to get up early and read a self-help book each morning for 30 minutes. I feel like I have a lot of work to do in terms of self-development so at the start of the year, I bought a whole stack of books on subjects like this that I’m hoping will guide me. 

I’ve never felt like self-discipline is a talent of mine, and I can often let myself down by taking the easy route. Being able to exert self-control is definitely an area I want to work on, and I feel like it’s the cornerstone of a lot of the other things I’d like to change, so I went for this book first. 

It’s a very no-nonsense look at the psychology behind self-discipline, with lots of practical tips for implementing more control in your life. It took me a while to read as I made notes all the way through, but I think I’ve gained some useful points to apply to my life.

Do This For You  | Krissy Cela

Do This For You Krissy Cela book club

And currently, I’m reading this healthy living manifesto. Krissy Cela is an Instagram fitness model, and while I don’t follow her and hadn’t heard of her before reading this, she actually has some very useful and practical tips to do with prioritising your fitness and how to stick to a routine and make difficult choices to improve your wellbeing. 

It fits well with the book I’ve just finished on discipline, but is written in a much more engaging style - like the sisterly advice you always wanted!

I'm Listening...

mxms im listening new music

More disjointed playlist listening from me this month! I haven’t deep dived into an album for quite a while, but I am really enjoying Spotify’s recommendations and discovering new tracks and artists. 

A few of my current favourites include ‘In The Dark’ by Cathedrals, ‘Sirens’ by Fleurie, ‘After Night’ by MXMS and ‘Drift’ by ‘So Below’. All dark, moody gorgeousness - the perfect soundtrack to an escapist daydream.

So that's my limited life at the moment - let's hope that next time I remember to write a life update post, we have a few more freedoms back.

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