July has felt a bit like a rollercoaster of highs and lows. All three girls had to isolate from school, one after the other, like dominoes. The return to home learning again was not something I’d anticipated this late in the school year. Ella was first, when a student in her half of the year tested positive for Covid. Then Mimi a few days later when five people in her actual class – some of them close friends of hers – came down with it. She was only able to return for the final day of term because of the timing of when the start and end dates of the isolation period fell. Finally, on the same day that Ella went back to school, Lola’s class bubble burst when one of her friends tested positive. It meant that her Year 6 class had to miss their last ever week at primary school and it was just devastating for all of them.
I hadn’t realised up until now just how stressful this constant uncertainty and the ups & downs of all of our emotions has actually been. My heart racing every time a notification on my phone pings, wondering if it’s a message from school instructing me to go and pick someone up. Constantly on the lookout for possible symptoms starting to develop. The frustration of not being able to go out. Waiting for days for PCR test results. The relief when they’ve all been negative and we’ve stayed well. The disappointment of cancelled plans and missing out on doing fun things. Relentlessly juggling work with home learning. The joy (and challenge) of having everyone home again unexpectedly.
Truthfully, I’m glad it’s the summer holidays now and that everyone is home and safe. It felt like a long countdown to the summer break this year, whereas normally it speeds by. I’m working more than I want to be, the heatwaves and thunderstorms have matched our moods and the unsettled feeling seems to have taken up a fairly permanent residence in my chest. Seeking out joy in the little things has definitely been the thing that’s kept me going this month!
Here are all the little things I’ve been loving lately in July…
The Secret Commonwealth: by Philip Pullman. I somehow managed to finish this chunky book much more quickly than I initially thought I would. It’s the second story in the ‘Book Of Dust’ trilogy, which wraps around the ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy. It took me about 100 pages to properly get into it but once the story drew me in I couldn’t put it down. It was definitely more grown up than the previous stories – understandably, seeing as the main character, Lyra, is now ten years older – and it took me a little while to adjust to that but once I did it felt right.
The Secret Commonwealth answered questions from all of the previous books in the series and also left me with even more questions unanswered! I can’t wait for the final book in the trilogy to be released – as yet it’s still untitled and there isn’t a release date either so I think I might be waiting for a while.
It’s such intricate storytelling – the characters and storylines interweave so cleverly and the descriptions are so detailed that I felt like I was travelling alongside Lyra on her journey, which seamlessly merges the ‘real world’ with the world of magic. Utterly brilliant. 10/10 recommend.
Writers & Lovers: by Lily King. I’ve had this on my ‘to be read’ pile since it first came out (I bought it because I liked the synopsis) and have never quite seemed to be in the mood to pick it up and get started. After being so fully absorbed in ‘The Secret Commonwealth’, which has fairly complex language and requires a decent amount of concentration, I wanted something relatively light and easy to read.
Writers & Lovers turned out to be the perfect choice and absolutely ideal for slow summer days. I finished it in less than a week. I’d not really been sure what to expect and it ended up being a good blend of deep-and-meaningful (it tackles the topics of grief and anxiety with honesty) mixed with light-and-frothy. I have to say that I was slightly underwhelmed by the ending but even so I thoroughly enjoyed it and it’s earned a place on my ‘keepers’ bookshelf to be read again one day (as opposed to the pile of books at the bottom of the stairs that will be passed on to someone else).
Sports Day: Well, Sports Hour really. Each class in the school got one single hour of the school day to themselves (to make sure class bubbles didn’t mix) to compete in a few races and I’m so grateful that we parents were allowed to go and watch as it was Lola’s last ever Sports Day at primary school.
She did the Obstacle, Skipping and 40m Sprint races. I know many schools weren’t letting parents spectate at all so I feel very lucky that we were able to, especially because of their bubble bursting the following week – I’m glad the school scheduled it slightly earlier in the month than they usually do otherwise it wouldn’t have happened at all! Considering there weren’t very many people there compared to usual it was still a good atmosphere, everyone cheered everyone else on and it was lovely to have that last event together.
Tom Grennan: I have an extensive Spotify playlist that I like to listen to whilst I’m editing photos in the evenings, cocooned in the privacy of headphones so that I can focus on what I’m doing without distractions. I’ve taken it off shuffle play for the time being though and instead have had this song on repeat ever since I first heard it on the radio on the school run one morning. I have no idea why, I just really like it!
Ed Sheeran: I’m also loving Ed Sheeran’s new single ‘Bad Habits’ – it’s definitely an earworm.
Summer Bucket List: Every year the girls and I make a ‘Summer Bucket List’ of fun things to do during the six week break from school and we stick it on the fridge in the kitchen so we can draw inspiration from it at any time. Some items on the list are the same each year, traditions that we like to uphold for both familiarity and nostalgia.
I always try and think up a few new ideas to add to the list every year as well, to keep it fresh and interesting. There are a couple of different ones on this year’s list. So far this year we’ve really not done very much because Lola was isolating for most of the first week and I’ve been working. I’m hoping that we can tick a few more things off throughout August!
1SE Video: I tried out the 1se (One Second Everyday) app for the first time this month and made a little video of snippets from our days. I’ve been wanting to capture more video of our everyday lives rather than just the travel vlogs I make and this seemed like a fun way to do it. I’m so very aware of time slipping away and I desperately want to hold onto the sounds of their voices, their different expressions, the way they move and their laughter, as well as the beauty of tiny, quiet moments from my day, whether it’s a solo walk or a peaceful breather from the chaos.
It’s such an easy app to use (although I clearly need a little more practice as there should have been music on this video and for some reason it’s not there when I shared it on Instagram). I started out with the free version which is probably more than adequate but I quickly realised I wanted more features – music, the ability to have longer clips, the option to have more than one project on the go at once etc – so I upgraded to the paid pro version. It works out at just over £3.50 every month, so really not much in the grand scheme of things for something that I know is going to bring me more joy than I initially realised it would.
I had been so worried that we hadn’t really done much this month, that no memories had been made, that the days were just passing by. Seeing each clip, especially when it’s all stitched together in sequence, made me recognise that fundamentally there is a lot more happiness in our house than I often recognise there is. This is quite an important lesson for me to learn I think. It’s a project that I will definitely be carrying on with so you’ll see a video like this every month in my Little Loves post.
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School uniform: Lola wore her primary school uniform for the very last time this month and it really does feel like the end of an era. In a month’s time she’ll be starting high school and having to wear a shirt, tie and blazer instead of a polo TShirt and cardigan, so she’s going to look very different to how we’re used to seeing her!
Once she received her leaver’s hoodie at the start of the month she pretty much lived in it for a few weeks (before the heatwave hit!) – she finds new clothes quite hard sometimes so this was a big achievement. The school organised a belated leaver’s party in the second week of the holidays, so the children all had the opportunity to get TShirts signed as well – it wasn’t quite the same as it would have been if they’d been at school properly for their final week but I’m pleased they still got to celebrate and say goodbye to each other in the end.
Shorts and dresses: I always feel most like myself in the summer months and absolutely love the warmth and the sunshine. I have to admit that even I struggled with the week-long heatwave though. Daily 28-32 degree celcius temperatures are great when you’re on holiday and you have a pool or the sea to cool off in, plus air conditioning indoors, but trying to work in it alongside entertaining isolating children (without a paddling pool – the one I’d ordered for the summer holidays arrived the day after the heatwave ended!) was not easy. I wore shorts and dresses every day and it would have been lovely if I wasn’t quite so sweaty! I think about 24-26 degrees is the perfect temperature.
Summer holidays: We’re already almost a third of the way through the summer holidays and we’ve really not done very much at all in between isolating, heatwaves, rain, life admin appointments (opticians, hospital, haircuts, vets…) and me working a lot.
We managed a long walk along the trail near our house; Mimi has been out with friends a few times; Lola has been for a sleepover to her best friend’s house for her birthday; and we’ve done some baking. There has also been a LOT of screen time (which, to be fair, is also balanced out as much as possible with lots of reading time too).
We still have four or so weeks left though and we’ve mapped out a couple of day trips so hopefully we’ll make a few more memories next month!
Bat Rescue: One exciting thing that happened was that we rescued a little bat which had somehow got into our house and ended up clinging to the blind on our landing. Lola spotted him and had no clue what it was, just came to me, wide-eyed and worried, and told me that she’d seen something “black and furry, with tiny feet”.
I looked up what to do on the Bat Conservation Trust website and managed to get him into a shoebox with some airholes in the top. We took him out in the garden at dusk and he flew off happily after a few minutes which was a relief as we’d been worried he might have been injured.
He was tiny – only about as big as my thumb – and he had such a cute little face. We called him Bruce (it couldn’t be anything else really because of Batman, could it?) and I think I’ll remember him always.
Virtual photoshoot: The creativity and resourcefulness that people displayed to keep their businesses going during the first lockdown eighteen months ago astounded me and one person in particular who I think is a great example of this is Tim Dunk. He pioneered the concept of virtual photoshoots – capturing people ‘on camera’ via an app on their phones. The idea really took off and he now shoots people all over the world and has taught many photographers how to do it so they too can continue to keep their businesses afloat and their income flowing.
I’d wanted to have a go, just for the experience more than anything, for ages and wasn’t brave enough to do it. But with 2021 being my ‘year of confidence’ I gave myself a talking to and and booked a shoot with him. It was surprisingly fun and I was only a little bit awkward. I’ve met Tim before (at a Wedding Photography Workshop I attended a few years ago) and he’s very funny – he soon had me laughing and I love pretty much all of the final images he sent me, which is really saying something as normally I much prefer being behind the camera rather than in front of it.
Chapter seven of 2021 has now drawn to a close and I’m feeling a mixture of relief that it’s over and incredulous at how far through the year we are already. It’s a particularly poignant, almost bittersweet marker in the calendar – the line where my youngest shifts from still being the littlest in the family to being on more of an equal footing with her sisters. I’m going to do my best to use next month to soak up as much of my girls as I can before everything changes with the new school year in September.
I hope that July has been kind to you all and that August is full of summer fun and sunshine.
Stay well x
(Joining in with Sincerely Anna and #LittleLoves)