Almanac: Embracing Winter with Six Health and Healing Preparations for Autism

How to care for someone who cannot tell you where hurts

This has been my most requested post and there seems no better time to write it than as we enter the colder months, amidst the coronavirus pandemic. I am a mother of five and two of my sons have profound non-verbal autism with high sensory sensitivity. Written below, is how we aim to help our little chaps when they are under the weather.

  1. Change the environment around them

Dealing with the environment around my child is easier than trying to change what they wish to do. When they are ill, they can revert to a more fundamental version of their autism and years of progress can temporarily dissolve away until they recover.

Our house lights can be controlled with our phones (and wall switches) to dim and change colour. We also have tilting window shutters. This means that we can change the degree of light or ambience, as well as air flow, to create a peaceful place for them. In this season of shortened days, we have programmed the lights to recreate dawn and dusk, gradually rising and dimming at the times of day that they should wake or feel sleepy.

I use an atomiser with warm water and lavender oil to soothe them, or eucalyptus and tea tree oil to help with decongesting their noses if they catch a cold.

Music can alter the ambience of a room immediately. We keep our music device well out of reach, as autism can create an urge to play the same few seconds of a tune over and over again. There is a great post on how to rig up an old iPhone here: Tip For Playing Music For Children, Particularly Children with Autism.

2. Soothing warm (or cold) blankets to hold

My sons will not abide anyone trying to help blow their noses and I cannot give them tissues, as they both cannot resist shredding them into tiny pieces. Instead, I keep a large stack of soft baby muslin cloths. I warm these in the tumble drier or on radiators and then add Albas oil or my sleep oil mix to them and they will cuddle these happily, and instinctively dab at their noses.

3. A safe place to rest

My older autistic son finds head colds very bothering as if something is stuck there and this can provoke him to make sudden head movements. I have found the best way to help him is to surround him with a giant duvet and cushions in what I call his “get better nest”.

4. Hugging and consoling a sensory-sensitive child

My little sons often do not like to be cuddled or held if they have fevers – their sensory autism means that changes in body temperature can feel extreme and any touch adds to either the heat or the cold. I can help them by spraying them with a perfume atomiser of cooled sterilised water that we always have handy in the fridge if they are hot, or hugging them through warmed blankets if they are cold.

(In summer months I create Aloe Vera Ice Cubes with Added Dinosaurs )

5. Water Therapy

My older autistic son is running a temperature, he likes to spend time in the shower, where the water brings his temperature down and the steam helps clear his sinuses.

My younger son is wary of getting water in his eyes, but does have a fascination with running water in general – so I can usually get him to sit in a bath and play with a running tap, whilst I create a lavender steam for him in the nearby sink or little bowl.

6. Taking Medicine

In preparation for them taking medicine, I have helped my sons get used to the oral syringe included with most child liquid medicines. I fill the syringe with water and a touch of honey for a similar consistency to let them practise. If they ever need to take medicine, at least they are familiar with the process of using the syringe.

Is there anything you can add to this list that helps you and your loved ones? I’d love to read your comments below.

Wishing you and your family a safe and healthy winter time

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Tisserand Aromatherapy – Lavender Essential Oil, 9 ml

ASAKUKI 300ml Essential Oil Diffuser, Ultrasonic Aromatherapy Scented Diffuser Humidifier for Room, Spa, Baby with LED Changing Lights and Waterless Auto Shut-Off, BPA-Free Wood Grain

Almanac: Fallow deer, uncurling ferns and foxgloves

Barely a drop of rain has been felt for over eight weeks. My 12 year old son and I have decided to make the most of this last day of sunshine, before the much-longed for storm arrives tomorrow. If we take the footpath that winds through the fields, to the north of our village, it gently meanders its way to the deer park.

A gentle breeze ripples through the meadows and the scent of fresh grass and blossom is heavy in the air. We breathe deeply, filling our lungs. Newly sown crops form neat little lines.

The parched ground is cracked and covered in stone chips. We hold tight to the wooden rail, smooth with years of use, as we skid down the final steep slope and enter the park. Hand gel is hastily applied, a pandemic ritual that now feels normal. As the path dips, the cooling breeze disappears and it is stiflingly hot. Our destination is the monument on the distant hill.

The riverside is busy with both deer and tourists. Who could resist being here on such a glorious day? Some people have set up tents. Others are encouraging their children to offer picnic snacks to the wildlife. Wardens arrive in a jeep, firmly advising enthusiastic visitors that the deer are not quite as docile as they look. My arm around my son’s shoulder, we keep our distance. It is a culture shock to see all this bustle after months of staying closer to home. Quickly leaving the cheery crowds and the heat of the valley behind, we begin our ascent to the War Memorial.

My son relaxes now we are alone again and are no longer measuring the space between ourselves and others. He runs, dashes, climbs; darting from one outcrop to another. This year’s bracken is already knee-height and unfurling upwards in search of the sun.

The air is filled with the sound of bees buzzing and the constant clicking thrum of grasshoppers. The marshy pools look a sorry sight; shallow waters greening over with choking algae. Tomorrow’s rain will heal them. Foxgloves spike up amongst the mass of fern.

At the crest of the hill, I gasp in awe. We have greeted the sunrise here on a crisp Christmas morning and never had such far-reaching views. We can see the city of Leicester glimmering in the distance, usually shrouded in a heavy haze. The several month lockdown of both traffic and industry has given nature time to breathe.

We make our descent through cool, shady trees. The quiet is only occasionally broken by piercing, sudden bursts of birdsong. A young buck stalks through the ferns; we stand very still and let him pass.

You can perhaps spot him to the left of centre.

Leaving the parkland, we cross a road and find the half-hidden footpath that leads us back to the fields on the western side of our village. Honeysuckle escapes neighbouring gardens to ramble over the hedgerows.

We skirt our little woodland by taking the buttercup lined path that leads to the dairy farm. The meadows beyond are freshly mown; a tractor noisily gathers up the hay.

Our thoughts turn to our garden as we draw nearer to home. With storms predicted for at least a week, there is a lot of work to be done this afternoon in our vegplot. Talk of which seeds to plant next lasts us all the way back to our front door and waiting family.

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Almanac: How to scare a storm away

The air is heavy when we awaken, there must be a storm coming. I open the skylights and a sudden gale whistles down the stairwell. My autistic 11 year old, still in pyjamas, is absolutely delighted. He sets up directly underneath the velux with an old Thomas the Tank Engine book and watches as the downdraft turns the pages for him.

Everyone else slowly gets up. We can feel the storm creeping into our bones. No one is much for moving this morning, except our littlest family member. She is standing at the back door with her boots on, holding a football; only a year old, but very determined.

Ten minutes later, my daughter and I are out in the fields. She finds a hollow, discarded corn stem from last year’s crop. As she holds the treasure aloft triumphantly, the twenty mile an hour winds whistle through it. She squeals as the magical singing sword comes to life.

There is a sprig of cow parsley on the footpath. My daughter rushes over to the hedgerow and spends quite a while trying to encourage the plant to rejoin its friends. I tell her that she can keep her find if she wants.

Clutching the flowers tightly, she heads off purposefully towards the darkening clouds on the horizon.

Soon, I am carrying these and many further treasures for her whilst she hunts around for yet more. A feather that was caught on a bramble. A snapped branch. A tiny stone. She pauses to draw faces into the soft ground with a twig.

The clouds, distant just moments ago, are shepherded towards us with increasing speed. The gale is picking up.

My little explorer carefully collects brittle fragments of fallen leaves from the path; opening her palm, she watches them take flight.

Our voices also fly away from us. I show her that we can shout as loud as we want into the storm and it sounds like just a whisper.

My daughter loves this game. She stands firm, bracing herself against the harsh weather, “HELLO!” She holds her corn-sword aloft and yells her favourite words; “RABBIT! FLOWER! FOOTBALL!” Her voice comes out as the tiniest squeak. She thinks. Looking up at the sky, she roars her fiercest tiger roar … just as the wind drops. Her eyes are wide with delighted surprise, did she do that?

She is full of smiles as we turn towards home, her hand in mine. I confide to her that only the bravest and strongest can send a storm back to where it came from.

—Keep safe and well everyone. With heartfelt thanks to all those who are working to keep us safe, especially those on the frontline in the NHS and hospitals around the world.

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Almanac: VE Day, bunting and a street party

It is the 75th Anniversary of Victory in Europe Day.

We wake up to blue skies and sunshine and set to work tidying the front garden, whilst our resident house martins dart around us, swooping down from the eaves.

Repurposed paper fans and rugby flags decorate the iron railings. Our son’s homemade Union flag takes pride of place on our front gate. It is made from a collage of scrap paper. Our neighbour tells him that because he has made it himself, this makes it the most special flag on the street.

Our neighbours are also adorning their own houses. We carry all of our garden chairs out onto the front pavement just in time for the 11 o clock minute’s silence in remembrance of the fallen.

Afterwards, the street celebrates together. A tray of freshly baked fruitcake is balanced on a hedge so that our children can approach and take a slice, without breaking social distancing rules. A radio is brought out, playing Vera Lynn, I dance my little daughter in my arms.

We talk about the flour and yeast shortages, how we are having to improvise in our baking and which local shops are best for finding eggs. We chuckle at this faint echo of WW2 food rationing. A kind neighbour offers to post sachets of yeast through our door as she has some to spare.

After a lunch of cucumber sandwiches and scones, I take my second son for a walk around the village. Lots of people have set up parties in their front gardens; we receive many cheery smiles and waves.

There are chalk-drawn flags and messages across house fronts and pavements. We are deeply impressed by one family’s efforts, where bright, billowing ribbons cascade from their top windows down to the trees at the edge of their garden.

The BBC is due to broadcast Winston Churchill’s victory speech at exactly 3pm, just as on VE Day itself. Picnickers have set up radios outside in readiment, all playing the same channel. It creates a strange distorting effect as we walk between houses, so odd in this era of indoor tv and headphones.

My son and I walk through the centre of the village, known as The Nook, and then wind our way back home through the churchyard, down alleyways and small residential streets.

Embracing the bygone era, a group of young children are playing hopscotch. One household have set up a cricket pitch on a strip of grass beside their home, another is playing rounders.

We see socially distanced extended families, where the grandparents have organised a party in their front garden and their loved ones have joined them from the pavement, or are sat in cars with the doors flung open and music playing. Little children are dressed in party outfits. I spot one mother holding up a newborn baby for the grandparents to see.

For this VE Day anniversary, it feels that we have learnt a little more of what it is like to be separated from family and friends. We have certainly come to more intensely appreciate the freedoms that were secured for us by the World War generations now that we are living in a temporary lock-down.

I note that everyone, of all ages, is looking happy and healthy. Being surrounded by others again, albeit at a distance, is bringing a glow to faces just as much as the sunlight. We have become accustomed to the quiet and shadow of the last six weeks. The now familiar gestures meaning “shall I or shall you move aside?” have become the main communication between us all when we see others approaching. A friend of ours calls it “the corona dance.” It is good to be reminded that this is not our normal way of life.

To see and hear so much activity and noise all around us today leaves us with a wonderful life-affirming feeling.

Keep safe and well everyone. With heartfelt thanks to all those who are working to keep us safe, especially those on the frontline in the NHS and hospitals around the world.

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Almanac: Storm chasing, lichen and muddy boots

I welcome the promise of rain. Our plants desperately need it and I can feel the storm coming. The air feels heavy, the sky seems closer. It is only midday and yet the familiar bright tones of the garden seem washed out in the dim half-light belonging to dusk.

As the clouds roll over the hill at speed, we are pulling on our waterproof coats for the first time in weeks, ready to get outside and be willingly caught in the downpour. The long grass in the meadow is already drenched and water droplets flick up at us as we hike through it.

I have my second and third sons with me today and they run ahead together, slipping a little here and there in the mud, laughing as they do, charging headlong into the wind.

We turn off before the woodland today, taking a newer, southerly path through the lower fields. Only a week ago, the newly sewn crops were almost imperceptible and yet now the fields are a vivd seedling-green. The storm-light brings out the russet tones of the dried grass beside the footpath. Cow parsley is in bloom now, a dusting of white froth along the hedges.

The fallen tree, with its outstretched roots and branches, has been here so long now the path politely curves around it. I call to the boys to wait for me and stop briefly to take a look at the green patches of lichen. Close-up, it is a thriving world of its own.

The ancient byway shines with pools of water, meanwhile our boots become increasingly heavy with the clay soil-turned-to-mud. For a moment, the rain is sideways, blowing down from the higher ground, we brace ourselves against it and then, suddenly, the sun breaks through.

We are close to home now, and take a pause to look over to the distant city through a gap in the hedgerow. We shake off our hoods, exhilarated at the beautifully crisp air that the rain has left behind. We stand together for a few minutes, my arms around my sons’ shoulders, as we watch the storm sweep its way southwards.

Keep safe and well everyone. With heartfelt thanks to all those who are working to keep us safe, especially those on the frontline in the NHS and hospitals around the world.

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Potager Garden: April 2020

If summer brings to mind old English roses, then springtime must be the month of apple blossom. By the first week of April we glimpse the bright red buds starting to unfurl.

I have never been so glad of our small patch of green space, for in this national lock-down it allows us to spend an unlimited amount of hours outside, together as a family, under the ceiling-less sky. At this time of year, the garden changes constantly and brings a natural rhythm to each day.

Encouraged by the sun, soon every plant starts to awaken. One morning we are greeted by bursts of tiny flowers in every corner, and the once-still air is starting to fill with insects and the occasional orange tip butterfly. We eagerly await a sighting of our first bumble bee.

On Good Friday, my second son plants the chitted potatoes into the vegetable garden. Everyone is able to help. My two autistic sons love playing with water so the elder fills a watering can and tends to the raised beds each morning, whilst our littlest son likes to top up the stream with the hose.

On Easter Weekend, we hide tiny chocolate bunnies and eggs around the garden. It is so beautifully warm that we have to hurry to find them and keep the discovered ones clustered in the shade before they melt.

By mid-April, the apple blossoms have opened and our house martins return to their nests in the eaves of our roof. We plant sunflower, nasturtium and cabbage seeds in the raised beds amongst the red onions. The garlic is thriving and its scent rises to greet me every time I enter the vegetable plot through the little gate.

Then, one morning, whilst I sip my tea from the Ponder Chair (a comfy old high back chair, covered in blankets, with the best vantage point for pondering the garden) a large bumble bee flies in through the open door and rests beside me on the windowsill. A very welcome sight.

Within days others follow, until there are countless bees darting in and out of the apple tree branches. My second son, the keeper of the tree, is so excited: “This means we will have apples in the autumn!”

Late April and the bluebells arrive. I am happier than ever to see them this year, when we cannot spend as much time in the ancient woodland as we normally would due to the national quarantine. A small part of the old English spring is here with us.

As the weather warms, the stream becomes irresistible to the children. Our one year old daughter loves to change the sound of the water by piling up different combinations of pebbles. Sometimes little channels start to overflow into the borders and the plants look glad of it.

I am now able to walk barefoot along the paths each morning and we keep the doors open, so that we can step out into the garden with a cuppa in hand. The children run in and out. I actually like it when the occasional bee loses its way and buzzes through the kitchen to inspect whatever am baking, before catching the scent of flowers again and returning to the garden. I welcome the occasional burst of light rain.

I leave the window above the sink open, so that I can hear birdsong throughout day and watch the pigeons, robins, sparrows and blackbirds bathe in the stream as I work in the kitchen.

Now the apple blossom looks more fragile, and is occasionally starting to drift away on the breeze. As the delicate watercolour-like spring petals fade, we prepare to welcome the fresh greens of May.

Keep safe and well everyone. With heartfelt thanks to all those who are working to keep us safe, especially those on the frontline in the NHS and hospitals around the world.

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Almanac: Leafy canopies, wild flowers and a woodland glade

A late afternoon in April. It is the hour of long shadows and changing light; the best time to see the hidden glade. A gentle breeze drifts across the farm fields as we make our way towards the woodland.

In comparison to the areas of ancient forest nearby, our local wood is small, only 30 hectares, but still feels big enough to enclose you. I could imagine myself utterly lost here, yet know that ten minutes’ walk towards any compass point will see me safely back to the fields.

The bluebells have blossomed. Amongst them pheasants roost and several times now one has startled and taken flight right beside us in a flap of feathers.

Wood anemones flourish closer to the main pathways, upturned to the sunlight as if they would catch every drop.

From the shadier corners of the woodland’s edge, red campions dazzle.

Never forget to look upwards. I remain fascinated by the silent language of trees, how the canopy allows all to get their share of light. The branches of one tree will strive not to touch those of another. Deciduous trees are companionable, they seem to be working together so that none are crowded out.

To the glade then. Throughout the colder months, the lofty branches shade a shallow mirror pool that reflects the leaves above. When spring comes, and the water drains away, it transforms into a rich glade of tufted grasses and wild flowers. This is my favourite time to visit, as the late afternoon sun shines down like a spotlight.

I concentrate on the birdsong, as the wind ripples through the oak, ash, wild cherry and hazel. I breathe in the greenness, then close my eyes to feel the warmth of the sun on my eyelids; forest bathing in the now-empty pool.

Keep safe and well everyone. With heartfelt thanks to all those who are working to keep us safe, especially those on the frontline in the NHS and hospitals around the world.

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Almanac: An early morning hike through English farmland

This morning I am up early, pulling on my walking boots and heading out into the fields before the day has fully started.

The natural world seems so alive to me in springtime. The hedgerows stretch upwards towards the blue skies, straining to grow.

I instinctively want to steer clear of the nettles that are creeping outwards towards the path, but I know that if I take a moment to crouch down and look closely, there will be delicate white blooms to admire beneath the leaves.

I reach the edge of the little woodland, on such high ground that it can be seen for miles around. I love the grassy slopes, the layers of foliage, the birdsong. There is always a gentle breeze up here, even on a hot summer’s day. Breathing in the cool, clean air, I feel refreshed and alive.

As well as hedges, ditches frequently act as markers between the fields. These paths are virtually impassable in winter due to the heavy clay soil, so drainage is vital and these little sleeper bridges are common.

Climbing uphill again, there are views out to the neighbouring village and glimpses of a little pool of water – a pleasant walk in its own right. Deciduous trees are native here and the local landscape drastically transforms from season to season. April is a palette of greens.

I turn towards home. There is a haze of sunshine in the air and the day is beginning. I can hear a faint rumble of traffic from the south now and occasionally there is a glint of speeding metal on the horizon that gives away the location of the distant road.

The pathways here are ancient byways. No crops will grow in the hardened soil where people have walked for centuries. Either side, pushing through the freshly tilled soil, tiny green shoots are visible.

Almost back now. When I approach the next crossing, birds scatter into the air. Several house martins circle above – we are headed in the same direction. They have seven nests in the eaves of our house and returned to roost last week. I watch them dart back eastwards again, and it helps me pinpoint my home and waiting family.

My boots are left by the back door, disinfected and set aside to dry. A new habit that now feels normal. I arrive in the kitchen, greeted by many excited voices, feeling motivated and ready for the day.

Keep safe and well everyone. With heartfelt thanks to all those who are working to keep us safe, especially those on the frontline in the NHS and hospitals around the world.

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Potager Garden: Simple water meditations in the garden

I miss spending time in the forest during this coronavirus lockdown. Finding ways of replicating the sense of peace and wellbeing that the woodlands give me, really helps ease the longing to be back there.

Just after a light April shower is the perfect time for mindfulness in the garden. There is such calmness in water. I wait for the rain to stop falling and for that moment when the clouds part and the droplets amongst the leaves and branches suddenly illuminate with sunshine.

I watch through my camera lens as a miniature globe slowly edges to the very end of a petal. It takes every ounce of concentration. I feel my breathing slow – I am so close that a brisk exhale would cause all of these droplets to cascade.

The slightest breeze, now rustling through the garden, makes the raindrops precarious, reminding me that all things are precious and transient.

Inside each bubble of water are refracted images of the surrounding stems. Another gentle breeze and they all run down to the soil to nourish the plant.

When the unfurling leaves of the rhubarb are filled with rainfall, I am reminded of our hikes in wild Scotland, and the river valleys that flow through the purple, heather-topped mountains.

I encourage my children to find their own stillness in the garden.

For my toddler, this might be a flower on a stem, where I know she will be fascinated by the petals. For my young autistic sons, I might give them a ribbon to run with. Meditation does not always need to be motionless.

I ask my eldest sons to find a spot next to the stream and sit comfortably, and then we chime a brass singing bowl. I ask them to pinpoint the moment when the echoing ring of the bowl fades into the sound of the running water. It takes all of their concentration.

I tell them that if a thought pops into their head, then this is okay. Acknowledge it, and then imagine that it drifts away along the stream like fallen leaves.

I notice a profound difference in their self-belief, confidence and concentration, when we turn back to our schoolbooks, if they start the day with calmed minds.

I hope that wherever you are, you are able to find a little window of peace in your day.

Keep safe and well everyone. With heartfelt thanks to all those who are working to keep us safe, especially those on the frontline in the NHS and hospitals around the world.

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Potager Garden: Stream watching, borrowed hats and precious food

We continue adapting to this new, quiet time in our lives. I am noticing little changes. Food, for example, is suddenly becoming very important due to the shortages. We seem to talk about it a lot more than normal. Our autistic sons have very restrictive diets, therefore we are saving all of the plain items we know they will eat just for them. I am also trying to disguise other foods creatively to tempt them into eating more protein, as we cannot buy enough vegetarian substitutes in the shops at the moment. Courgette fritters worked well – gobbled up before they knew they were not potato rosti. Hummus disguised as butter was viewed with suspicion and then handed back to me with knowing looks.

My ten year old son (on the left) is enjoying the peaceful garden and has taken a great interest in the stream lately. He can spend over an hour watching the water flow under the wooden bridge, rearranging the pebbles and floating tiny leaf boats. His autism often causes me to forget that there is only eighteen months in age between him and my next eldest son and it is when they spend companionable time together like this that their similar heights make it very apparent.

Our little daughter is completely unaware of any difference in the pace of life. This is her first spring outside of babyhood, to her this is what the season is – the tranquility of birdsong as the plants she has grown to know so well burst into new life. She is amazed at leaves emerging from shrubs she knew only as twigs, pointing them out to me, hopping up and down. Look, look! Who knew they were magic?

She has taken to wearing a flatcap that belongs to her youngest brother. He in turn picked it from an outdoor shop because it matched his dad’s walking cap. Our youngest son likes to look like other family members, feeling secure in wearing what is familiar. He prefers hand-me-downs to new clothes.

One of my long term aims with the garden is to create a miniature woodland, especially sized for children. The evergreens will be cropped and kept small, to look like old gnarled oaks. My daughter is already enjoying this little area that has “trees” her size. She is starting to play hide and seek with us, and is just about able to stay hidden now without giggling and giving herself away.

There is a slight camber in the path here, which was designed to make the track exciting for the boys’ scooters as they sail around the “roundabout” section. My daughter goes very carefully – although I can barely detect the lean as I walk around the route, it must feel much more so to her, being so small.

I have been working on raised bed number three. I’m trying my luck with beetroots for the first time, and cabbages grown from seed. I usually use plugs for the brassicas, but deliveries are in short supply. The garlic and the strawberries I feel at home with, these always seem to thrive. I’ve also planted some sunflower seeds and nasturtiums, as I love to have an orange hue to the garden as autumn approaches.

I have removed the older, damaged leaves from the strawberry plants, detached any runners and planted them in their own space.

Our neighbour’s apple trees have come into blossom, which gives a lovely screen of privacy again. Hopefully it will not be too long before the bamboo provides this all year round.

In the late evening, when the children are asleep, I spend a contented hour writing up the garden plans and making note of when everything was planted.

Next, before bed, I will go through all of the salad and fresh food, see what is coming close to being overripe and decide what to make with it for the seven of us tomorrow. I always knew that healthy meals were important – but now they feel precious.

Keep safe and well everyone. With heartfelt thanks to all those who are working to keep us safe, especially those on the frontline in the NHS and hospitals around the world.

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Almanac: Sunshine, doorstep parcels and fresh air

In the national lock down, we are all permitted to leave the house for exercise and fresh air once a day, as long as we keep our distance from those that are not from our household. Today is the perfect spring day; warm like summer, with a gentle breeze.

I’m walking with my ten year old autistic son. I am usually protective of him because of traffic, though today I hold his reign tightly in my hand in case he gets the sudden urge to reach out to someone he knows.

“Park?” He asks. I say no, no park today, the park is shut, we are going to the fields. “Park.” He repeats with finality, as if the matter is now settled.

At the hedgerow he pauses and breathes in deeply. It is quiet, except for the buzzing of bees and the starlings in the trees.

From the fields we can see over to the neighbouring village to the west and the city to the south. As we get to the extent of our walk today my son pulls towards the distant woodland and I gently steer him away.

I return my son safely home to the rest of our family and collect my little daughter. It is too complicated, with the risk and social restrictions, for us all to go into the village at once, so we are taking our children out in shifts.

Usually, my daughter picks up every fallen flower and runs her fingers along fences or railings, so today she is safely on my back in her carrier.

We see an elderly gentleman we know from our volunteer work tending his front garden. As we approach along the footpath he quickly rises and stands ten foot back, smiling and waving to my daughter. We exchange a few cheery words. The nearby main road is empty and we cross without our usual wait.

We are on our way to photograph our library’s Community Garden. It is particularly enjoyed by those who do not have gardens of their own and we want to make sure they can still enjoy watching it bloom online.

My 19 month old daughter is enjoying herself immensely, waving at everyone and pointing out dogs. “A dog. An-other dog. Also dog. More dog.”

It reminds me that when my 10 year old son was younger, he used to call dogs random names because he was copying, although slightly misunderstanding, how humans greeted each other. “Hello Phillip!” he would say to a passing german shepherd. It really confused the owners.

We find the Community Garden full of life. We encourage anyone from the village to add plants to the little plot and it is a wonderful riot of colour.

We head back through the church yard and as we pass under the trees dozens of startled birds take flight. They have already gotten used to having the place to themselves.

It is very odd to see straight across to the local pub. I cannot usually get a clear view for the constant traffic.

There is a large queue of elderly shoppers outside the butcher’s, so we take the longer route back through quiet residential streets, to avoid stepping out onto the road to keep a safe distance.

I notice that quite a few houses belonging to older villagers have sacks of potatoes, milk bottles or loaves of bread outside on the doorstep. Neighbours have been leaving food parcels for those in need. Such kindness is heartening.

Keep safe and well everyone. With heartfelt thanks to all those who are working to keep us safe, especially those on the frontline in the NHS and hospitals around the world.

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Potager Garden: The unearthly quiet, rabbit clouds and bare feet

We have spent the last week preparing for the shut down that we knew would be coming. It started fully today. Our business is now on hold and the charity library where I am a trustee has shut its doors on government orders. Even though we already worked from home whilst educating our five children, there is an absence of emails and phone calls that will take some getting used to.

Our friends and family have so far stayed healthy and we are in constant contact over text and Skype. Our children send drawings and letters to their grandparents over email.

I am glad it is spring and very grateful we have a little garden.

We cannot explain to our two autistic sons or little daughter what is happening in the world but this has turned out to have a happy side effect. The fact that they live completely for the present moment is teaching me how to do so too.

Today our daughter spent time just watching the clouds go by. Every time she spots a cloud that she thinks looks like a rabbit, she squeals, runs over to me, grabs my hand and pulls me over to see.

Our second son’s apple tree, planted last autumn, has leaves forming. He knows that insects help pollinate flowers and I found him carefully moving spiders from the bark to other areas of the garden, so that their webs did not catch any of the bees by mistake.

The ground has dried out enough in the spring sunshine for us to go barefoot. This is our daughter’s first spring where she can walk and run about (she was just learning to crawl this time last year) and she likes to scrunch her toes in the grass.

Each morning I hide little fir cones around the garden for her to find. She darts all over searching for them, handing them to me as she runs by.

I notice the unearthly quiet of a busy world ground to a stop. Usually there is a constant distant hum of traffic from the city outskirts and a nearby lane. Now I can only hear birdsong, the sound of children playing in gardens nearby and the ripple of our garden stream.

The bright sunlight this morning showed up my younger children’s fingerprints on the windows, and as I was polishing the glass in a bedroom that overlooks the green, I could see other people doing the same. Soon, many neighbours had flung their windows open and we all waved at each other, shouted hellos and gave a thumbs up.

The seasons keep on moving, even though we have all paused. As we come out of winter, my family naturally begin to change the rhythm of our days. Our school lessons move out into the garden, or at the very least we have the doors next to the kitchen table thrown open, and the breeze coming in. The house feels airy and fresh, no need for scented candles or oil burners when the real smell of grass and blossom is drifting in.

Keep safe and well everyone. With heartfelt thanks to all those who are working to keep us safe, especially those on the frontline in the NHS and hospitals around the world.

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