Stay at Home; some thoughts from Lockdown

I have, so far, been quiet about lockdown. But it feels odd to not share my experience on such a landmark event in all our lives. Our lockdown started a little earlier than most, with the children staying home from school on 17th March. School closures actually happened almost a week later, but we followed the Prime Minister’s suggestion that stopping all unnecessary social contact was particularly important for people with certain health conditions, and that they should be shielded for around 12 weeks. Some of you will already be aware that my children were born extremely prematurely, and had a very rocky start to life which has left them with less than perfect lungs. This means they are more likely to get pneumonia and complications arising from pneumonia. So, whilst they ordinarily live a normal life and aren’t particularly impacted by their lung issues day to day, we do need to be careful with them. My husband spent the next two days sorting out the working from home issues for his office, and he joined us on lockdown, exclusively working from home, on the 19th.

Initially, I suffered from a bout of PTSD relating to the trauma around my children’s birth and their precarious first few months. I had trouble sleeping and some deeply unpleasant lucid dreams, and was suffering anxiety attacks during the day. All triggered by the wash your hands messaging – washing your hands is a BIG feature of life when you have babies in SCBU and mine were there for 140 days. But my symptoms have improved enormously, partly as a result of the primary messaging changing from wash your hands (still hugely important!) to stay at home.

Food has been a stressful subject. It’s taken quite a while for the supermarkets to accept we are on the vulnerable list, and I really didn’t feel I could burden any of my neighbours with a full shop, so we have had to make some trips out for food. Luckily we have a very good butchers and farm shop nearby and most of the customers there have been very sensible about social distancing. Less so people in the supermarket, who seem to think that as long as they pass you at speed, they don’t need to stay the requisite 2 metres away. When you risk bringing a potentially life threatening illness back home to your children, this heightens anxieties to an uncomfortable level. But, I’m very pleased to say our local community has rallied around and we now have a weekly fruit and veg delivery (courtesy of a furloughed Italian restaurant), and Sainsbury’s now has us on their list so the kids can continue their coco pops addiction unhindered. I was also very grateful to be able to order flour from the lovely Kat Goldin at Gartur Stitch Farm so my sourdough bread baking has become a constant joy.

Homeschool is interesting. It’s not too much of a stretch to say, I am not one of life’s most patient people, so home schooling my children hasn’t been an easy thing to adjust to. But, having twins sometimes has its advantages. Whilst they aren’t necessarily in the same place academically, they are at least studying the same subjects at the same time, so I’m not coping with more than one curriculum, and they are good friends, so are supportive of one another, and happy to spend long periods just playing together. Their school’s IT and our rickety internet service has been a challenge for such a committed technophobe, but I’m just about there now.

The biggest adjustment for me has been the loss of solitude. If you are currently living alone, working from home, with perhaps only a cat for company, this may seem like a strange statement. But my pre lockdown life involved me being home alone (well, not entirely alone, as I have Merlin, my dog, for company, but you get my point) for up to 30 hours each week. I spent a significant part of this time working in my natural dye business and I’ve come to realise that solitude is a vital component of my art. Having the quiet space to be creative drives my dyeing. And that is gone for now and my dye pans are mostly quiet. But, I have been spending the little time I have in other ways. The pause has given me the chance to go deep diving in my undyed stash, to discover some lovely rarer breed yarns which will be getting the natural dye treatment. The first of these, 12 skeins of Whitefaced Woodland DK have been adorned with logwood and saxon blue indigo and will go in the shop in the next few days. I’ve also had more time to gather nettles and cow parsley and currently have yarn wallowing in vats of colour extracted from these plants. I’ve also been spending some time working behind the scenes on my website and getting myself a mailing list set up. More news on this at a later date.

So whilst it was rough at first, very recently I’ve begun to wonder if I don’t prefer some aspects of our lockdown life. Is it possible that I might be living my best life right now? Shielding our children means that we stay at home all the time. The only exceptions to this, are the daily dog walks I and my husband individually take; and we only take these because its very quiet here and very easy to stay a long way away from other people. It’s not that I dislike other people (far from it!), but as an introvert, every social interaction is a drain on my energy, and recognising the impact that has on my life has been eye opening. Our lives have become very unhurried – nobody is rushing in or out of the house anymore. I’m not chasing the kids to eat their breakfast, wash, brush their teeth, get dressed, find their school bags and get in the car – all before 8am every day. We are eating more healthily (well, apart from the coco pops!), because we aren’t relying on meals out and takeaways to make up for a lack of time or energy to cook. I’m enjoying meal planning and cooking a good deal more than I was before lockdown. I’ve learned things about thrifty cooking that make me disproportionately happy – for example, all my vegetable peelings go in a bag in the freezer now for stock, rather than in the composting bin. I’m enjoying the challenge of slightly random ingredients and making a lot of very nice vegetable soups. I’m noticing things on my walks that I’ve not noticed before; was the sky ever so blue, or the hedgerow ever so verdant? The children are reading a lot more, which pleases me immeasurably. I’m taking a great deal of pleasure from our garden and from the birds frequenting our bird table – all things I was seemingly too busy to do before lockdown. And I’m unearthing long buried wips and unfinished projects, most recently a quilt now on my daughter’s bed, which I started long before my daughter was even a thought.

So, when a friend on a zoom catch up, recently asked us all if we were ‘over lockdown now’, I was given cause to think that, whilst it feels a bit odd to admit it, a little part of me will be sad when lockdown is over and we all get back to some normality. I don’t want to go back to my too busy pre-lockdown life; I want to keep the time and energy to notice the blue sky and the hedgerow, the flowers and the birds.

This has made me to wonder if anyone else feels the same. Are there any aspects of your lockdown life which you want to take with you back into normality?

Me Made May Martin

Two non yarny things have happened to me this month, which have changed my outlook and will soon be changing my appearance.

The first thing was I went on a “Making the most of your sewing machine” course at the WI training college at Denman, in Marcham, Oxfordshire. The course tutor was May Martin, of The Great British Sewing Bee fame. But, what I didn’t know is, she has been a sewing teacher, of children and adults for over 40 years and what she doesn’t know about sewing, well, it just isn’t worth knowing. We spent one evening, the whole of the following day, and a last morning putting our machines through their paces and absorbing May’s handy hints and tips. Those few hours have totally transformed my feelings toward my sewing machine (which I’ve owned for over 8 years, I might add) from tentative, at best, to completely confident.

The second thing has been Me Made May 2018. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, go over to Instagram and take a look at #mmm18. Thousands of women (I’d like to be gender neutral about this but it really is mostly women) taking a selfie of themselves every day in May, wearing something they made themselves. In some cases, they’d made whole outfits, including their underwear and shoes! And this got me thinking, if they can do this, why can’t I?

I learnt to use a sewing machine at around the same time I learned to knit, at my mother’s side, watching, learning, trying and trying again. And in my late teens and early twenties I was too thin for the 10 – 14 ranges in all the late 1980s high street stores (oh how times have changed! Sob!) so I made a lot of my own clothes. But, apart from a few random garments, I haven’t sewn for myself with any real commitment for a long time.

So, now that’s changing. Today, I made this skirt, from fabric in my stash, without a pattern, AND it has an invisible zip (which really is invisible!) and a blind hem. I couldn’t be more thrilled with it. And there is plenty more on the cutting table. By the time Me Made May 2019 comes around, I want to be able to join in with plenty of Me Made outfits.

So, I need help. What are your favourite, go to patterns? The ones you’ve made lots of times, and that you just couldn’t be without? Which are your favourite stores for fabric? I need to make it all!