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 #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!

Guest Post #4 Pandemic Pets – How Are Furry Friends Saved Our Sanity

Welcome to another Pandemic Pets feature! Each week I will be welcoming a guest to the blog to tell us how the furry friends in their life have made getting through the Covid 19 pandemic that much easier. Please welcome YA author KM. Allan who tells us how her new kitten Dash helped fill the hole left by her previous writing buddy, Slinky.

How Having A Pet During The Pandemic Made Things Joyful

When lockdown began in Australia during March, I’d had my new kitten Dash for only a few weeks. He wasn’t a lockdown pet, but a cat I’d been waiting to get for a few months, having lost my last cat, Slinky, to cancer 2 years prior. I’d had her for 15 years and was looking forward to having another furry companion and a new writing buddy.

Slinky – writing buddy

That first lockdown lasted from March until June. Then we had a second lockdown in July that’s still ongoing, although the harshest of restrictions eased last month. Having spent 7 months of the year in lockdown—mostly at home for 23 hours a day—you get to know a kitten pretty well.

While Dash spends a good amount of time sleeping, he’s also playful. Sometimes that playfulness happens at 3am and I wake to find him trying to steal my pillow, but it has made lockdown more bearable.

I tried to keep a routine during this time and stick to writing with the #6amAusWriters on Twitter, and this became part of Dash’s routine too. He’d get up with me and sit near the desk, often stealing my chair (until I got him his own) and would keep me company on cold winter mornings. It even got to the point where he’d wake me if I didn’t get up when my alarm went off (yes, really. And his idea of an alarm is biting me!)

Dash – writing buddy

While I didn’t get a pet to help me through lockdown, I wonder what it would have been like without one. I probably would have checked the news more often, letting the sadness of the world get to me more than it did. I wouldn’t have taken breaks through the day to throw soft balls around and marvel at how high a kitten can jump, and I wouldn’t have discovered how much Ragdoll cats are like dogs and will play fetch with you.

I would have known what it was like to pass the Groundhog Day sameness of lockdown by doing a puzzle without a cat stealing the pieces, but I wouldn’t have arranged boxes from online orders into cat tunnels or upgraded to a cat play system. I got to do those things during a time when we’ve all done things we probably thought we wouldn’t.

Dash – box tunnels

It was, and still is, a hard year to cope with, and I’m glad that I had a pet to help me through it.

Dash wasn’t just there on the days when all the creativity I could muster was to set Netflix to binge. He was also there when I achieved milestones like publishing my first two books.

In a year when being a debut author meant missing out on bookstore events, in-person launches, and celebrations in restaurants with family and friends, having a cat who was just as excited as me to open a box of my published books was fun. Okay, so for him, it might have been about a new box and not the books, but I’ll always smile when I see the picture of Dash nosing his way into the carton.

An event that didn’t pan out like I thought it would because of 2020 was still joyful, and it and many more events throughout year were, simply because I had a pet to share them with during the pandemic.

Thank you so much to Kate for joining us on The Glorious Outsiders and introducing us to the gorgeous Dash! It sounds like having him around really helped the strict lockdowns become more bearable. If you would like to know more about KM Allan and her books her links are below! And if you would like to write a personal piece, story or poem on the Pandemic Pets theme please get in touch!

K.M. Allan is an identical twin, but not the evil one. She started her career penning beauty articles for a hairstyling website and now powers herself with chocolate and green tea while she writes novels and blogs about writing.

When she’s not creating YA stories full of hidden secrets, nightmares, and powerful magic, she likes to read, binge-watch too much TV, spend time with family, and take more photos than she will ever humanly need.

Visit her website, http://www.kmallan.com, to discover the mysteries of the universe. Or at the very least, some good writing tips.

Guest Post #3 – Pandemic Pets – How Our Furry Friends Saved Our Sanity

Welcome to another Pandemic Pets feature! Each week I will be welcoming a guest to the blog to tell us how the furry friends in their life have made getting through the Covid 19 pandemic that much easier. Please welcome author Val Portelli who has a fascinating tale to tell about some unusual lockdown visitors!

I love animals, except meeces, I hate meeces. I’m not sure why they make me neurotic; they’re tiny, supposedly more scared of me than I am of them, and it’s not as if they can harm me. Although I’d be worried if I came face to face with a charging lion, at least that would be logical. My first lockdown visitor was a mouse. My personal supply of cheese and chocolate diminished rapidly in an effort to tempt him into oblivion, but he was a clever-clogs and managed to avoid or jump over traps and sticky things.

It was as well we were not allowed visitors as they would have had hysterics at the sight of me banging on the kitchen door before opening it, and yelling, ‘I’m coming mouse, hide, I don’t want to see you. Alright?’

Sometimes he listened, sometimes I didn’t bang loud enough and saw him scuttling into a corner, while I shook in fright. With the aid of my household cavalry, I plucked up courage to re-enter the kitchen, but even when they saw him scuttle off, there was no way he could have squeezed into the tiny gap between the floor and the cupboard under the sink. Where had he gone? Was it in fact a ghost mouse come to haunt me?

I’ve always loved dogs and when I was growing up, they were part of the family. It didn’t seem fair to have one when I first bought my own property, and was out at work all day, but fate intervened. A casual visit to some friends with my fiancé resulted in us coming home with a bundle of mischief I named Pacer, after the character in one of my favourite Elvis films. Our friends had holiday-sat a Labrador who had got frivolous with their Alsatian and somehow a puppy ended up coming home with us. We had nothing ready for the new addition but for the next seventeen years Pacer was part of our household.

‘No more dogs,’ I said, when he went over the rainbow bridge. ‘Holiday arrangements are impossible, they want walkies even if it’s snowing on Christmas day, the house is always a mess and losing them breaks your heart.’

Six weeks later Mij, a staff mongrel, took up residence and was the boss for another sixteen years. When he joined Pacer, I realised that apart from a few weeks, the house had never been without a canine presence, and I had no-one to blame if it was untidy.

Next to appear on the scene was ‘Cheeky.’ This was a fox who appeared in my garden one day, and decided I was a soft touch. Over time he realised the chairs in the conservatory were quite comfortable, and they still bear the claw marks from where he wriggled down for a snooze. He would eat from my hand, and wander about as if he owned the place. Sometimes when I was engrossed in writing, I would look up and find him next to my desk in the office, but I’m not sure how impressed he was when my first book was published.

He was followed by Chico and Rosie, who visited regularly for a few years. Chico was the larger and more confident of the two, but woe betide him if he tried to snatch all the goodies. Rosie would give him a tongue lashing and put him firmly in his place. I was sad when I returned from a few week’s holiday and they didn’t appear. I hope they had found alternative lodgings, but as by then they were quite elderly perhaps they had gone to join their predecessors. For a while there were no animals around as restricted mobility meant I was unable to have more dogs who needed exercise, and the house felt empty.

Around the time the virus hit, I noticed a new fox in the garden who ran off as soon as I appeared. A box of cheapo chicken wings went on the shopping list, and Spiro became a regular visitor. What was surprising was his size seemed to alter slightly, but that might have been because of the dark evenings and his fur being flattened by the rain. It took a while to build up his confidence, but gradually, instead of leaping the fence as soon as I appeared, he would sit and wait for me.

The mystery was solved when he came for dinner late one afternoon while it was still light, and through the trees I noticed another face watching. There were two of them! No, actually three! Spiro was very slightly larger, but the twins, Lucy and Luca were identical. I now had to buy giant sized packs of chicken, to feed the growing family. Although I wasn’t responsible for the great toilet roll shortage of 2020, a lack of chicken wings in the shops might have been down to them. Lucy was the most nervous of the three, and it became a game to ensure they all had their share. As the most confident, Spiro would grab one piece, then sprint back for the two others before she got a look-in. Luca would often take one off him, leaving Lucy with nothing.

I wonder if the neighbours thought I had totally lost the plot through Lockdown if they heard me calling ‘Come on, quick. Before the others get back. I’m not going to hurt you, but if you don’t learn to trust me, you’re going to starve,’ especially as it looked as if I was talking to the tree.

Although I live fairly close to the city of London, it made me appreciate the joys of having a garden. The menagerie currently comprises three foxes, one occasional squirrel, the odd jackdaw, a pair of magpies, and various roaming neighbourhood cats. I seem to have taken on the role of referee, often having to break up fights by clapping my hands at 3 o’clock in the morning, and threatening them if they don’t quieten down. Like stroppy teenagers, they’ve also learnt to answer back. I’m not expert in speaking fox, and hope they are saying ‘Thank you,’ but I have a sneaking suspicion when they stand and bark it me, it’s actually ‘We’re hungry. What kept you?’

With love from the crazy lockdown fox lady.

© Val Portelli November 2020

A huge thank you to Val for this gorgeous piece and beautiful photos of the foxes. My sister was also visited by an urban fox during lockdown, one that has become so friendly it enters their house to take food. I’m trying to persuade her to write about it for my blog! If you are interested in finding out more about Val and her books her links are below. If you would like to write a personal piece, story or poem on the subject of Pandemic Pets then please get in touch!

Val’s Amazon page: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Val-Portelli/e/B08272K1R4?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1607110915&sr=8-1