Guest Post #3 Hello Home…

Welcome to another guest post for my ‘Hello Home…’ pandemic themed feature. It would seem all of us have experienced or are still experiencing a lockdown of some sort while the corona virus continues to blight our lives. Although we are all in the same situation, we experience it differently because our homes are all so different. Thinking about this inspired me to write a piece a few weeks ago dedicated to my house and what it has meant to me during these strange and unsettling times. This week, please welcome author Paul Waters to the blog with a wonderful piece about a lockdown project that really brought the local community together. Enjoy!

The Blue Book House

During Covid my second home has kept me connected to the world. It’s not what you think. I don’t spread my life between two properties. But I do have a home-from-home with essential creature comforts and it sits on my front fence.

My other house is wooden, double-fronted and painted blue. My carpenter friend, Mick, made it watertight and solid for me. My friend, Wink, friend carefully painted it. My Mum, Patricia, did the lettering. And the creature comforts it contains are a selection of one of life’s essentials – books. Hence the name, the Blue Book House.

It all started before the pandemic when I realised that I had far too many books. It seemed like putting a book house in front of my human house would be a good way to share my surplus and spread the book love. But it has not turned out as I expected.

The message written on both sides of my book house says: “Choose a free book. Read it. Keep it forever. Or pass it on.” And people do. They look through the windows or open the doors for a rummage while standing on the pavement.

But far from reducing my book stock, the book house has boosted it in volume and variety. That’s because people passing by also do two other things. They return books they’ve taken and they kindly add books of their own. Sometimes they slot them in. (I try to keep children’s books on the left and other on the right – though that system and any themed displays I attempt quickly become higgledy-piggledy.) Other times I open my front door to find a pile or bag of books in my porch. Which is lovely, though it wasn’t quite was I was aiming for.

I love books. I read voraciously. I write books – you’ll find my debut historical crime thriller Blackwatertown in shops in the UK, Ireland, France and Spain, and online. I like talking about books – I co-present a books and authors podcast called We’d Like A Word with fellow author, Stevyn Colgan. And I love sharing books and the love of reading. So the Blue Book House fits right in.

But it has also become something else – a point of contact with other people when we are restricted in where we can go and what we can do. It’s a connection at a time of social distancing, loneliness and alienation – and reduced hours or closure for local libraries. Most of the time people dip in and out of the book house without me noticing. The only indication is the books rearranged, some gone, others arrived.

But sometimes I happen to be passing a window when people are browsing. The book house is a reason to pause and rest when walking the dog or getting some exercise. Or perhaps I happen to be coming or going myself and have the chance to exchange socially distanced hellos with neighbours.

Sometimes a note is posted through my letterbox or left inside the book house saying thanks for a particular book. They’re usually anonymous. Sometimes with the handwriting and crayon drawings of a young reader. And that is lovely.

When there’s so much doom and gloom and disruption, the notes and conversations prompted by the Blue Book House bring light into my life.

You’re welcome to look inside and see if there’s a book that tickles your fancy. Or if you’re not in the neighbourhood, you could visit virtually via Twitter @bluebookhouse or Facebook @LittleBlueBookHouse

Even better, you could create your own book house. Just don’t expect it to help you cut down the number of books in your home.

Thank you so much to Paul for contributing this wonderful piece to Hello Home…feature. If you would like to find out more about Paul and his work his bio and links are below!

Bio

Paul Waters is the author of Blackwatertown, published in paperback/softcover and ebook by Unbound and audiobook by WF Howes. His website is http://www.paulwatersauthor.com

Books

 Blackwatertown: Amazon.co.uk: Paul Waters: 9781783529254: Books or www.amazon.co.uk/Blackwatertown-Paul-Waters/dp/1783529253/ref=sr_1_1?crid=4G0MXWZ5E4EO&dchild=1&keywords=blackwatertown+paul+waters&qid=1611069602&sprefix=blackwatertown+%2Cdigital-text%2C140&sr=8-1

Guest Post #2 Hello Home…

Welcome to another guest post for my ‘Hello Home…’ pandemic themed feature. It would seem all of us have experienced or are still experiencing a lockdown of some sort while the corona virus continues to blight our lives. Although we are all in the same situation, we experience it differently because our homes are all so different. Thinking about this inspired me to write a piece a few weeks ago dedicated to my house and what it has meant to be during the strange and unsettling time. This week, please welcome author Drema Drudge!

Pandemic Chair Musings

By Drēma Drudge

During the summer, during normal summers, that is, Barry and I spend as much time as possible at the Indiana Dunes. While our miniscule backyard is certainly not a day at the dunes, being forced to spend more time there than we ever had in 2020 led us to rediscover wonders during the spring and summer months of the pandemic that rivaled our favorite outdoors spot.

Beginning in March, when I was supposed to be on a book tour for my debut novel, instead we enjoyed sitting in the backyard, a drink in hand, observing “our” squirrel scamper, and a myriad of birds from robins to blue jays populate the pine trees, and watching spring and summer come and go.

Later in the fall, our squirrel was joined by another. Alas, no introductions were made, so we had to draw our own conclusions about the nature of their relationship. We saw them playing and chasing one another quite a bit, so one does wonder…the most interaction we had with them was when our original squirrel fussed at us for coming out and sitting in the very chair he wanted to occupy. Or so we surmised by his squealing as we invaded his space.

While we didn’t do all that we could to learn the names of the various flowers and weeds, bugs and birds (which is to say, we did virtually nothing to), we did spend lots of time observing them. A pandemic malaise overcame us that meant for the first time we didn’t feel obligated to do anything that didn’t have to be done. I also learned to nap and may have done a little reading but more dozing in the backyard.

Small things became important. We our Rose of Sharon. I had saved it from dying out a couple of summers ago by briskly, aggressively, pruning it and feared I had done it mortal damage until it came back. Barry said during our chair musings that the right side of the now-thriving bush was a tree that needed to be removed; I wasn’t so sure. We even compared the leaves of both and still disagreed; we hadn’t had such nature chatter together, well, ever. (I’m the greater nature lover in the family.) Funny how impassioned such topics became during that us-two-no-more time.

For the record, I think he’s right about the tree, but I’m too stubborn to admit it. I’ll just sneak out in the spring and chop the tree out and be done with it.

We sat daily in the vinyl chairs which we had rescued from our neighbor’s spring clean-up pile a couple of seasons before and watched with great interest some sort of ground cover (fence cover?) creep up and over the neighbor’s fence in a matter of weeks. The squirrels seemed vexed by it, because it was along the fence line they enjoyed traveling. Tiny pink and white flowers appeared on the covering. It reminded me of honeysuckle, but it didn’t have a scent. We decided to just enjoy it without further investigation, and when fall brought its dipping temperatures, we bore witness to its browning and shrivelling. Though we were momentarily sad, we looked about with interest to see what would come next as we sipped our drinks, we wrapped in our jackets, watching our breath in the evening cold.

Because our backyard is so small, Barry and I turned often to mindless conversation in those intermingled months. I brought a book of poetry outdoors and read the whole thing. Aloud. Sometimes we’d stay out until the stars appeared, because no one was stopping us.

On my favorite nights, he’d bring out his guitar and play. Sometimes I’d sing along, but more often than not I just enjoyed.

When we put fruit in our daily drinks, the bees or the creepy crawlies inevitably came calling. Those, too, were wonders to study, although Barry is allergic to bees, and I’d rush him indoors as quickly as he’d allow when that happened, but not before examining them up close and taking photos if I could.

We also took the time to plot what was next in our writing lives. We cohost a podcast, too, and we would discuss upcoming episodes. These weren’t meant as work sessions (okay, maybe my overly productive self was trying to show up), but they were so leisurely they didn’t feel like it.

Mostly, though, we’d sit and talk about nothing. That was best of all.

We bought a new grill, our old one having given up the ghost a couple of summers before. We took turns grilling food for the week: hamburgers, hot dogs, steak, pork chops. Then we could sit and watch whatever took our fancy on Netflix on the days when it was too hot to sit outside until evening or read. It was like having (besides our at-home work, naturally) an extended vacation. Thus began a real partnership on the cooking front. I’m not mad about it.

There were days, of course. There were moments of panic and fear, wondering what would happen if we got COVID. Would any of our loved ones get it? We hated to see it happen to anyone. The death toll rose. We glumly mulled the state of the world. Barry listened as I spewed my fears and he’d try to logic me out of them. When that didn’t work, he’d bring out his guitar and soon enough I’d be so enthralled those worries receded.

We were relieved to have a mild fall, and we continued our tradition as long as possible, even as the temperatures dipped below my comfort level. The fresh, cool air revived us and our cherished (yes, I said it) spring and summer months.

Writing this, the temperature is about 30 degrees Fahrenheit today. While we still occasionally rush outdoors for a few minutes, most of our time interacting with our backyard takes place watching our squirrels out the window. But we’re counting the weeks.

The pandemic brought plenty of ill to the world, but we are also thankful for what it gave us.

Thank you so much to Drema for writing this wonderful piece for my blog. If you would like to find out more about her and her writing just check out the link below!

My bio:  Drēma Drudge suffers from Stendhal’s Syndrome, the condition in which one becomes overwhelmed in the presence of great art. She attended Spalding University’s MFA in Creative Writing Program where she learned to transform that intensity into fiction. Her debut novel, Victorine, is now available. For more about her writing, art, and travels, please visit her website, www.dremadrudge.com, and sign up for her newsletter. In return you’ll receive a free historical fiction short story. 

Guest Post #1 – Hello Home…

Last week I posted about how it felt to be entering yet another strict lockdown here in the UK due to Covid 19 infections soaring again. It was a post addressed to my home…the place that is sheltering us and keeping us safe. It got me thinking, how are other people coping in their homes? All our homes are so very different – how does it feel for other people to be locked in again? So, I reached out and I’m happy to report I’ve got a wonderful selection of guest posts lined up for the coming weeks on the theme ‘Hello Home…’. For the first post please welcome author R. V Biggs. You can find out more about him and his books at the end of the post!

Home.

‘Home… home again.

I like to be here when I can.

When I come home cold and tired,

I love to warm my bones beside the fire.’

Wonderful song lyrics that I’ve remembered for almost 50 years and taken from the album ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ by Pink Floyd.

But at some point during autumn, maybe into November, a switch usually turns on inside my head while I’m glaring at tail lights during the daily commute home along the M6. The switch activates the memory of these song lyrics and draws me into the warm embrace of what home means, especially when we’re heading for the dark months.

That warm embrace offers up a myriad of recollections all listed under the heading of Nostalgia and not just related to the winter months when, for the most part, we humans migrate indoors.

As the years have passed, I’ve realised that Nostalgia isn’t just a yearning for years gone by. It can invoke memories in the recent past, and I think lockdown has had its effect on this notion as well.

My commute came to a halt in March 2020, much like, I imagine, many others, though I deem myself one of the lucky ones who can work quite effectively from home. So now my house has become my sanctuary, since I’m shielding, a place where I’ve been able to shut out the world to keep safe.

But the way I feel about my home has changed over the last twelve months. It has taken on a more poignant meaning after a three week stay in hospital when the medical experts tried to figure out what was wrong. Mercifully they did and returning home made me realise how I long for and value my home when I’m away.

For almost a year now I’ve worked from home, which suits me for the main reason that I don’t have to commute… the single most exhausting part of the working day. It means I’m here to have breakfast with my wife, and elevenses, lunch and dinner, the latter without being almost too tired to eat. There’s a comfort in knowing I can share more of my day with her and Mags, our Labrador rescue.

As I look around, I see the material things that make up our home. The furniture, the photographs, prints on the wall, the candles, the DVDs, my wife’s knitting basket. Then outside the trees we have planted, the roses, the summer bedding, the hard landscaping, the vegetable garden, the bird feeders. The list goes on.

But each of these things invokes a shared memory. The memory of when and where we bought ‘x’, or planted ‘y’. When this or that photo was taken and what we were doing at the time.

Imagine if you stood in each room of your home in turn, picked out an object and pondered when you bought it, from where, and what you were doing at the time, how far down memory lane could you go? What connections would you make?

Here’s an example. On the bistro table in the photograph above, there are cups and saucers my wife and I purchased from a charity shop in Tywyn, near Aberdovey. At the time we were having a short break in October 2019 for our wedding anniversary. I use one of this set each day for coffee while I’m working, and it reminds me of our rediscovery of the Cardigan Bay coastline of Wales.

During the year we met, we took a short break in Wales and fell in love with the place and each other. For years we holidayed there in the Autumn before discovering the vastness of Scotland after which we only had days out in Wales. But the return was an eye opener, since we’d all but forgotten its beauty. Now when I look at these cups and saucers, I remember that holiday in 2019, I remember the days out over the years, the seafront at Criccieth, Cadwalladers ice cream, the long beach at Harlech, Fish and Chips from Barmouth… catching the sunset before the long drive home. And all this from an object that sits in a cupboard in our kitchen.

Maybe these are the things that really define our homes so that when we return we are surrounded by the memories we’ve made.

I mentioned lockdown above. Well, below is a picture of homemade jam. The fruit was partially foraged locally by my wife during lockdown on daily dog walks, and from Cumbria during an early autumn holiday of this year before the world closed in once more.

Everything around me has a link to a memory somewhere in the near or distant past, and for me each of these memories relates to and brings me back home.

But if I were to be honest, home has two meanings for me. The first is that which we all recognise from the word… the place where we live. But for me, the other meaning is my wife. She is the reason I have a home, the reason I have so many memories, so many objects around me that link to my past. In the words of Roger Waters, (sorry, Pink Floyd once again but more recently than 1973), ‘Everybody’s got someone they call home.’

I think home must mean more to me than I sometimes realise, which is why I chose to weave themes of family and home into my writing. Not a decision I sat and thought about… it just developed that way, as you can see in this extract from Reunion, the second in my short series of psychological mysteries.

Sarah’s need for the sanctuary of family was her greatest strength and her greatest weakness. What was family, she thought, if not a place to belong? Family was everything. It was a warm blanket… an embrace… a safe place to hide when the world threatened. A refuge where the door was always open, and a friendly face welcomed. Her need was deep-rooted, which explained the intensity of her grief after losing both of her parents.

With thoughts of family, she recalled the feeling she’d had when entering the building over half an hour ago. But the feeling of home that touched her back then, was little to do with the carpeted entrance, the heavy curtains and fresh flowers. Instead, it was the presence that called to her… a manifestation which sent forth warm tendrils of love that spread outwards from this quiet room overlooking the sea.

So I guess ever more so during these times of lockdown, home is not only where the heart is, it’s where memories lie, where our spirit settles, where our souls are at peace.

Thank you so much to Rob for this wonderfully personal piece. If you would like to find out more about him and his work his bio and links are below! We will have a new ‘Hello Home…’ piece mid-week!

R V Biggs lives in a small ex-mining village near Wolverhampton, England, with his wife Julie, and Mags the black lab. He has four grown up children and six grandchildren.

Walking with the dog is a favourite pastime and much of the story line for his first novel was developed during these lengthy outings.

Robert worked for 35 years in telecommunications but changed career paths to a managerial supporting role within a local Mental Health National Health Service trust. It was during the period between these roles that the concept for Song of the Robin was born.

Robert is a firm believer that destiny and co-incidence exist hand in hand and this conviction extends to his writing. He has a passion for holistic well-being and after first-hand experience of the potential healing powers of Reiki, a form of energy therapy, took a Reiki level 1 training course to heighten his spiritual awareness. Robert’s experiences in these areas helped conceive the ideas that led to Song of the Robin and its sequel Reunion, novels with central themes of fate, love and the strength of family. His writing is not fantasy but is set in modern times involving real people living real lives.

Amazon :- Tinyurl.com/yavoqlbx
My website:- rvbiggs.com

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.