Clinging To What’s Certain in Uncertain Times

Uncertainty is my biggest stress trigger. I can cope with anything if I am prepared. I’m quite good at slipping into survival mode. But not knowing what is going to happen, stresses me out. A good example is the outbreak of Covid 19. Those first few days as schools closed and lockdowns were imposed were terrifying for me because I just didn’t know what to expect. As soon as things became clearer, I calmed down. I rolled my sleeves up and got on with it just like everybody else.

Image by Kranich17 from Pixabay

Now, we face endless uncertainties. Food prices are rising, gas and fuel prices are soaring and during the last few weeks here in the UK it has been difficult to get petrol for our cars. I can cope with all of these things if there is some level of clarity. If the powers that be were able to say, for example, no petrol for three months! Food prices will get this high! This is how much your central heating will cost you! I wouldn’t be happy, obviously, but I would figure out a way through. It’s the not knowing that stresses me out, not knowing how long to expect disruption for, not knowing how high prices will go, not knowing if at one point we as a family will no longer be able to afford to drive.

I’d love to know! I’d love to know the answers to so many things because then I could plan, prepare and calm down. But I have to accept that uncertainty is about the only thing that is certain right now. Not only are we facing supply chain issues, driver shortages and labour shortages, we are also facing climate change and a world full of ‘leaders’ who refuse to acknowledge what needs to be done. We live in scary, uncertain times and I often wonder how any of us get up in the morning and get on with things.

The answer is that we have to. We are somewhat trapped. We have to go to work to pay the ever-rising bills, to put fuel in the car and so that we can pay our rent or mortgage. We have no choice but to carry on until we can’t.

I don’t want to live my one short life in an increasingly stressed and frightened manner, so I’ve been trying to get to grips with all this, for my own sake, and for my kids. I’ve been reminding myself that while so much is uncertain right now, there are plenty of things that are certain and can be relied on. And I need to cling to those.

So, for me, these things are certain, at least for now and I will be holding on to them as tightly as I can.

  • Love. The most obvious and sometimes the one most taken for granted. I love and I am loved. I am married to my best friend and somehow we always find a way to laugh at things. I have four beautiful, kind-hearted children. I have friends and relatives I can rely on. Love is certain.
  • Laughter. We laugh every day. I am lucky that my husband and all of my children have wonderful, wry, dark sense of humours. There is always something to laugh about and laughing is something we are pretty good at as a family. Laughter is certain.
  • Gardening. In times of stress and uncertainty I turn to my garden even more. When wildlife is threatened around me, I do all I can to encourage it to my little plot. I plant trees, shrubs, seeds and hedges. I do what I can because it makes me feel like I am doing something. Gardening is certain.
  • Writing. The same applies to writing, my one true addiction. I write about what scares me, I face my fears, I create characters to do and say what I can’t, I explore darker futures and every word that comes out of my head makes me feel better and calmer. I will always have writing. Writing is certain.
  • Hope. It’s hard to have, painful even, but we have no choice. We have children and children deserve hope. They deserve to get up in the morning believing that a better future awaits them. They deserve to hold onto that hope and let it guide them. I still have hope. You just have to.
  • The Small Things. I’ve always believed that it’s the small things that get us through. Flowers blooming in Spring, your favourite song turned up loud in the car, a perfect cup of tea, the smell of coffee and a freshly baked cake, a glass of wine on a Friday night, Saturday Night Movie Night and a bowl full of sweeties! Snuggling up under soft blankets on the sofa. Watching Taskmaster and laughing our heads off. Dogs welcoming you home like you’ve been gone forever. Birdsong in the morning. Cold Winter air through open windows as I hide under the duvet. A good book read in a warm bath. The Tawny owls calling at night. Coming home. All these things are certain. All these things are precious.

I hope things are not too uncertain or scary for you right now. It’s a tough world and getting tougher, but there is still plenty to smile about and be grateful for. As long as I have some certainty from the things I’ve mentioned, I know I can keep going.

What about you? What small things keep you going when times are tough?

Hello Home…

Hello Home…

Here we are in lockdown again with you, dear home. Only allowed to work outside the home if our work is deemed essential. Only allowed to leave the house once a day for local exercise. Not allowed to let anyone else inside our home. These are all sadly familiar rules and in some ways, it feels a little easier this time around. What makes it undoubtedly harder are two, sad, cold facts.

One, the virus has mutated and this new strain spreads faster and easier and is now hitting younger people. The NHS is under incredible strain as the peak threatens to outgrow the last one. Quite simply and horrifically, even more people are going to die.

And two, this time our isolation at home happens in the bleak mid-winter. January – the Monday of all the months.

Photo by Chantelle Atkins on January 10, 2021. Image may contain: tree, sky, outdoor and nature.

So, here we are home, back within your safe, warm walls. Me and the children huddle within you, with extra socks and warm jumpers and numerous cups of tea to warm our cold hands. Even without the heating on, even without a fire lit, you still withhold the warmth we have built in you.

Each morning, I leave the house to let the animals out. The grass is covered in thick frost. Every blade and every branch, twig and leaf in the garden is sparkling with a layer of icy frost. It’s beautiful. And freezing. I rush about, from one end of the garden to the other, filling the watering can to provide the hens and ducks with fresh water. Stuffing fresh warm hay and straw into their hutches and houses. I let the rabbits out but keep the guinea pigs indoors until the frost has melted later in the day. I watch my breath form in the air around me. I, in turn, am watched by the horses in the field at the end of the garden. I say hello, but I don’t know their names. Jesse pup skips about with me, keeping me company, while you shelter the children, all now home from school until we-don’t-know-when.

When the early morning jobs are done I rush back inside, grateful for your warmth and stability. House, you are our home and I have been grateful to you since the moment we first stepped inside your gate. I remember I worried that we could not afford to rent you, yet we also knew we were getting an incredible deal. Your garden plot was more than I could have dreamed of and my head filled with pictures of shrubs, trees, flowers, vegetable plots and livestock.

Even now, in the depths of a freezing, frightening winter, I am grateful for this little bit of land, with its fir trees and sycamore, with its buddleia and holly hedges, with its bramble and fruit trees. The largest trees were here when we arrived, the rest I have planted myself over the years, to say thank you.

  • Photo by Chantelle Atkins on November 04, 2020. Image may contain: tree, plant and outdoor.

Your front garden used to be a square of gravel surrounded by holly hedging. It’s now a jungle of shrubs and trees and flowers with a path winding through it. We keep the birds fed so we can watch them from the kitchen windows. I love this garden, I love this house, I love this lane and all the land, the fields, the common, the woodlands and rivers that surround it.

And during lockdowns the road falls silent and all we can hear are the clip clop of horses as they pass up and down the lane, the haunting cry of the buzzard as she hovers above, the chattering of crows roosting in the Oaks, and at night, my favourite, the constant calls of tawny owls. I sleep with my window open because of them and so that I can fall asleep to the sound of the green river rushing by.

Home, we are so lucky to have you. During the first lockdown, I could have cried with love and gratitude. Some people had small houses and gardens, some people had no gardens, some people had no homes. We are so, so lucky to call you home.

Those warm, sunny months, we ran, hid, climbed, hopped and played on every inch of the garden. We set up bases and camps with army style tarps and netting, we dragged branches around to make walls, we gathered fir cones for bombs, we lit tiny fires and roasted marshmallows, we made mud pies and had scavenger hunts. The garden was our PE lesson, with running, jumping, skipping and our favourite The Floor Is Lava!

Photo by Chantelle Atkins on July 17, 2020. Image may contain: one or more people, tree, plant and outdoor.

We planted new things and watched them grow.

We ate nearly all of our meals outside, surrounded by green. And without people bothering it and abusing it, Mother Nature gained ground all around us.

But the human race and the powers that be seem incapable of learning anything…and so we find ourselves locked in and locked down. And I find myself counting my blessings once again. This lockdown is different. We are inside more than out. We have fires and drink hot chocolate. We eat cheese on toast and scrambled eggs to keep warm. We never venture far without a hot drink in our hands.

Darkness falls early and the tawny owls come out to call to each other. I know that Spring is just around the corner and already I see the smallest signs. A camelia in bud. Daffodils poking through the earth. And we are already planting new seeds so that we can watch them grow.

Home, you keep us safe, you keep us warm, you are steady and true. Every day I place my hand on the wooden gate and smile at you. My family is nurtured inside you – despite the coldness and the fear beyond your windows. Staying home keeps us safe and we fill our time with home-schooling and new lockdown projects.

Photo by Chantelle Atkins on March 21, 2020. Image may contain: plant, tree, sky, house, grass, outdoor and nature.

We lose track of days and time is strange, a bit like an extended Christmas. Tensions rise within your walls – the teenagers feel trapped and isolated from their friends – they are missing out. We pull away from each other, desperate for space and time alone, and then we pull back again, needing comfort and laughter. The youngest fills you up with laughter and silly noises – the loudest child that ever lived! He bounces around your rooms, thunders up and down your stairs and races from one end of your garden to the other. I hope in years to come they all look back so very fondly on you, Home.

Guest Post #5 Pandemic Pets – How Our Furry Friends Saved Our Sanity

Welcome to the last post in my Pandemic Pets feature! I have been welcoming guests to the blog to tell us how the furry friends in their life have made getting through the Covid 19 pandemic that much easier. Today I’d like to extend a warm welcome to my very own big sister, Fran Hemsley. Fran is not a writer or a blogger, but I felt she had an interesting experience during lockdown, so I asked her if she would consider contributing to the blog.

When I found myself furloughed back in April I did what a lot of people in my position did – I started running! Every day I escaped home-schooling and the house full of people for about thirty minutes of ‘me time’; something I have never really indulged in before.

During lockdown I experienced the sudden death of my beloved Weimaraner Beau. I’m not ashamed to say he was the love of my life and my best friend. To cope with this unexpected bereavement I turned to running even more and found it even more beneficial as a means of ‘escape’.

Beau

It was during one such running session that I first came across Mr Fox. Well, I think he was a mister! He was sat as bold as brass in the middle of the road and when I paused to talk to him, he bounded on over and stopped at my feet.

And so an unlikely friendship developed in the midst of the global pandemic and the loss of my best friend.

After that initial hello, Mr Fox started appearing on my drive when I returned from my runs. He quite quickly started to follow me through the gate of our side lean-to. Even when the running stopped and I returned to work, if I left the gate open, he would appear like clockwork at the kitchen door.

After Beau died I was left with some very expensive dog food, so of course this went Mr Fox’s way. As did his wormer and flea treatment.

Mr Fox

Some people don’t like foxes being fed in urban areas, but their opinions don’t bother me. We have taken over their natural environment with the urban sprawl, turning them from hunters to scavengers and with the modern wheelie bins being so tall, it is hard for them to find our leftovers. Every single person I have spoken to about Mr Fox, bar one, does not have a problem with me feeding him. In fact, many neighbours confided in me and said; ‘Well, don’t tell anyone, but I feed the foxes too!’ It seems to be a very well kept secret where I live!

These days it’s too cold to sit in the lean-to and wait for Mr Fox to appear but I leave food for him out the front every night. Our property is kept clean and tidy and he must devour the food quickly, as we do not have a rodent problem in the area.

Brave Mr Fox

Making friends with Mr Fox was totally unexpected and magical and really helped me to get through the lockdown and the loss of my beloved Beau. I really hope to see Mr Fox again in the Spring.

Thank you so much to my sister Fran for sharing this with us and thank you too to the other bloggers and guests who shared their pandemic pet stories!

Time to Dig Deep

It was predictable but here we go again – heading into another lockdown in England. Like a lot of people I’d been expecting this for some time as the rate of infections has been accelerating since September. I know there are divided opinions on the best approach to tackle the dreaded Corona Virus, but I’d class myself as falling into the ‘I don’t want another lockdown but if it saves lives, okay then,’ camp.

The announcement came on Saturday night and today it will be voted through Parliament with the lockdown starting tomorrow, Thursday. It will not be as strict as last time, (which does make me wonder whether it will even work…) with schools, colleges and universities remaining open and essential shops, as well as DIY and garden centres staying open. The advice is work from home ‘if you can’, which will no doubt mean for a lot of people, life will go on as normal. Which again, makes me question what impact this will have on the spread of the virus…

For me, I once again cannot teach my writing clubs and groups in person. Instead, I am forced back online, and I suppose the only good thing about it this time is that I am better prepared. Last time, I just could not act fast enough to what was happening. I think my brain put me in survival mode and for me that meant looking after my kids and ignoring everything else. As the time wore on I did give in and purchase Zoom and I have been holding regular adult writing groups online in this way. There is no reason why my other groups cannot go online, but unfortunately children seem less keen to do this, and I have not had a good response so far to my proposed Zoom clubs.

The other positive is that having predicted this would happen, I undertook a Copy-Editing and Proofreading course and at the moment I am providing these services for free to a few authors with the agreement that they will write testimonials for my website. Editing and proofreading their work is also a great experience for me. The plan is my CIC Chasing Driftwood Writing Group will soon offer extra services to authors in the form of editing and proofreading. I hope eventually this will bring in some money to help replace what I have lost. In the long-term it gives me an income stream that can be achieved working from home.

A few days ago I felt intensely unsettled and anxious. I’m sure a lot of people did as they waited to hear whether their place of work would have to be shut down this time or not. For me, it is the uncertainty that makes me anxious. As soon as I know what is happening, I feel better and I can deal with it. I felt sad driving home from dropping my youngest at school and gave in to a few tears while alone in the car. His school have asked parents to wear face coverings during drop off and pick up time, and of course everyone has complied instantly and without complaint. But it was sad to see all these faceless parents dropping off their children and I could not kiss my son goodbye properly, which really got to me. I thought about the virus and how it has made so many things miserable and joyless. Shopping, mixing with people, moving about and now even the school run. I had my tears but I am over them now. Today I am sat here feeling thankful and positive.

I’m thankful because the schools have not closed so while that remains the case, I can get tons of work done at home without disruption. I’m thankful because I have a new business partner at last to share the load and really push Chasing Driftwood in the right direction, despite the pandemic! I’m thankful because I live in a beautiful area with glorious walks right on my doorstep. I’m thankful that so far my family and loves ones are all happy, healthy and safe from this virus. I’m thankful for my pets and my kids and my garden and all the ways I have to distract myself if I start to feel down.

Last time around, the weather was beautiful and we threw ourselves into gardening. It was a real family effort, transforming areas of the garden and making the most of what we had. It was a life saver and I know it had a massive effect on my moods. Being a woman of a certain age struggling daily with the mood swings of the perimenopause, the pandemic has been an eye opener with regards to mental health.

I am better when I am busy, and I am even better than that when I am outside getting my hands dirty. I was fascinated watching the wonderful AutumnWatch the other day, where they explained the science behind nature elevating our moods. From being near water, walking among trees and even spotting birds, all aspects of nature release mood enhancing hormones in our brains. In particular there is a microbe (Mycobacterium vaccae) in soil that when inhaled by us increases the levels of serotonin, lifting our mood and helping us to feel relaxed and happy.

I can testify to this, because whenever I spend any time gardening I finish off feeling as high as a kite – no kidding! It makes me feel amazing, it really does.

Last lockdown saw a huge rise in people growing fruit and vegetables, tending their gardens, attracting wildlife and so on. This will be harder as we enter Winter but not impossible. I have set myself a challenge. To help me through this uneasy time of reduced income and increased stress, I aim to spend at least half an hour every day in my garden. There is still plenty to do out there and I will not let the cold or the rain deter me. I need it!

So, my advice to anyone with a bit of dirt near them is to dig deep and keep digging. Gardening is productive, positive and rebellious. It reminds us where we came from and links us to our ancestors and their ways of life. It connects us to nature and to wildlife and elevates our mood, making us feel happy and content, despite the crazy world we live in right now.

We are all feeling on edge as the virus increases again, as we worry about our health and the health of our loved ones, as we isolate from the rest of humanity, cover our faces and keep our distances, as we fear a reduction in income and living standards, as we fear so many things….We got through it last time so we know we can get through it again. Talk to each other, help each other, speak up when you are feeling lost and afraid and dig deep, even deeper this time to find the resilience we are going to need to get through it.

(Image by Goumbik from Pixabay)