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!

My 2021 Goals

It’s that time of year again! And the scariest thing is how fast it comes back around…I swear the years are going faster and faster.

Anyway, before I start dwelling too long on my imminent slide into old age and death, here are my goals for 2021! And if you missed my recap of 2020, you can find out here https://chantelleatkins.com/2020/12/10/my-2020-goals-vs-the-reality/ how I got on with the goals I set myself at the end of 2019.

  1. Do even better in the vegetable plot – Improving how much food we grow ourselves was top of my list of goals last year and it is again for 2021. There are so many reasons why this is important to me but I think the main reason is mental health. Gardening absolutely saved my sanity during the first lockdown and home-schooling. It’s addictive. It burns more calories than just about any other exercise and getting dirty is good for you physically and mentally. I could go on and on about how amazing it makes me feel to spend time in the garden, but I think you probably get it. Towards the end of this season I extended the plot and I am still popping in there whenever I can to keep on top of weeds and to add mulch and manure. I cannot wait to start sowing again!
  2. Publish the next two books in the Holds End Trilogy – This should happen. Emily’s Baby and The Search For Summer are both good and ready to go. They need formatting for ebook and paperback, they need their back cover blurbs finalised and they need front covers. All these things are in motion and I hope to release them early next year, possibly February and March.
  3. Revamp and re-release Bird People and Other Stories – This little short story collection needs a makeover. I have already contacted my designer about revamping the front cover and my proofreader is going to go over all the stories after I have. This shouldn’t take long and I hope to re-release it in April.
  4. Finish and release my short story and poetry collection The Old Friend and Other Strange Tales and Poems (working title!!)– This collection just keeps growing and growing but at some point I need to call time on it and get it out there! I will get the same designer to do the cover so that it compliments Bird People and of course there will be several rounds of edits and proofreads before it is ready, so I hope to release it towards the end of the Summer, perhaps July or August.
  5. Start the second draft to my current WIP The Day The Earth Turned- Book One – I am very close to finishing the first draft and really hope to have it done by the end of 2020…so the next step for this one would be a second draft. I was tempted to dive straight into writing book two, but as this is such a complex and challenging book to write (more on that another time!) I now feel going back over Book One would be beneficial before I start Book Two. There are already bits I want to change, for example.
  6. Move things forward with Chasing Driftwood Writing Group – now that I have a creative partner, I am really excited about the CIC changing and growing in 2021. We have some exciting plans in motion which we will talk about very soon. Lots and lots of things in the pipeline – so I really hope that after the disaster of 2020 where thanks to Covid I barely earned a thing, I can finally start to see the hard work pay off in 2021.
  7. Carry on writing the screenplay version of The Boy With The Thorn In His Side – this is a project I recently started and it’s not a priority. It can’t be, with all the other things going on! But if I have a spare moment in the week, I do enjoy getting back to this. It’s really challenging and fun turning a book into a screenplay and of course, it would be my absolute dream come true to see the series turned into a TV series.
  8. Get better at promoting my books! – I have been shockingly bad at this in 2020. Sometimes I go weeks or even months without so much as tweeting a link. I really need to come up with a plan and stick to it. I think I will get a separate notebook just for promotional activities and ideas and make a load of lists to tick off. This should motivate me a bit more and keep me on track.
  9. Keep adding notes to other book ideas… – I was tempted to add ‘finishing some almost ready books’ to this goals list but I think I would be setting myself up to fail. I got over half way through a first draft of the sequel to The Mess Of Me recently but then decided The Day The Earth Turned had waited long enough and I wouldn’t let The Mess Of Us jump the queue….In 2019 I wrote the first draft of a YA novel with the working title We Hate The Cool Kids. I would also love to tackle a second draft of this but again, it will have to wait. And then there is the spin-off book from The Boy With The Thorn In His Side series…in the fifth book I introduced two characters called Alfie and Tom. They took on a life of their own and I started to plan a spin-off book for them. I’ve actually written fourteen chapters of it in a very small notebook and they are always in my head! But no, no, no, The Day The Earth Turned series and my two collections will take priority in 2021! I have to draw a line somewhere! I will, however, keep adding notes to these books whenever I think of something. They are all very much alive and crowding my head and their time will come.
  10. Continue to Practice Self-Care – it wasn’t until the perimenopause set in last year, followed by Covid 19, that I realised how bad I am at looking after myself. I’m talking about really small, simple things – the small pleasures that calm you down and make you smile, like long baths with a good book and a drink of wine! I started making more of an effort in 2020 and I will carry this on. I will insist on time for myself in this busy, hectic life and I will make sure I get it.

So, that’s my list of goals set for the year ahead. I do hope 2021 is a better year for everyone. We can only hope! Are you setting yourself any goals for the next year? Please feel free to comment and share!

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

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