Tales of Home Schooling

It’s Saturday morning (9 January 2021) at the end of a draining week. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the schools were safe on Sunday, opened them after Christmas on Monday, and then closed them on Tuesday.

It was a tough call taking our children to school on Monday morning, of which the practicalities of getting the children to school was the easy part. I had trouble settling down on Sunday night as we were concerned about them going back to school. The circumstances were far worse than last September, and Boris Johnson had already suggested that stronger coronavirus restrictions were likely soon. The lockdown was announced on Monday evening.

On Tuesday I wrote on social media, that despite the personal challenges and societal problems (which I acknowledge are huge), the lockdown seems right, and I feel safe at home with my family. Taking the children to school yesterday didn’t seem right, and it felt very different compared to last term.

Although safe at home, like millions of other parents, we faced the immediate challenge of home schooling again – this time more organised and a legal requirement.

We felt a little shell-shocked, and sent the following note to Freddy and Matilda’s primary school teachers: We’re motivated for home-schooling and looking after the welfare of our children during lockdown, but this morning we’re a little shell-shocked. So we’re just stepping back today in order to adjust to this new reality. We’re being kind to ourselves as a family and trying not feeling guilty. Sometimes you just have to go with the flow and not beat yourself up. We really appreciate you and value your professionalism, but we don’t want to feel too pressurised. We’re not experts and we want this to be relaxing and fun. Our default home schooling position is simply reading books (of which they have many) with them, and then moving on to the other tasks. Be affirmed and encouraged.

Home schooling is a messy mixture of frustration and satisfaction, but we’re really grateful for teachers who are doing everything they can in very challenging circumstances, delivering interactive, downloadable, and Zoom classes.

We recognise we’re fortunate that neither of us are working, but that can bring its own problems, and we really feel for those who are having to juggle competing responsibilities.

By Friday, we’d started to establish a routine, felt that we’d bossed the technology, and sorted out some workarounds when the tech didn’t scratch where we itched.

Everyone’s challenges are unique in the overall situation. It’s not a competition, there’s no prize for who’s coping best in lockdown with all its common (yet uniquely individual) challenges. We all need to encourage and support one other. One day it’ll be me screaming inside and you can encourage me. Another day it’ll be the other way round. None of us is immune. But, even in our struggles, we can choose to be an encourager.

Thank you teachers, you are amazing!

See also Freddy’s Self-Isolation Homework

Note: the photo is Elmer, made from the top of a milk container by Matilda as part of her homework.

Microsoft Editor

Like me, many of you will probably have been using Grammarly to check your spelling and grammar across the web, it was (and still is) certainly a useful tool. But, there’s a new kid on the block, namely Microsoft Editor.

Previously, I had Grammarly installed as an extension in Google Chrome (my browser of choice) until Microsoft’s editor came along. It works in the same way, checking your spelling and grammar in real time. Initially, it wasn’t as good, but it’s now been developed and is equal to Grammarly (if not better).

If you have Google Chrome synchronisation activated, it also works across all your devices and platforms.

My only contact with Grammarly now is via emails from them telling me I haven’t done any writing recently, and how they miss me. I must unsubscribe.

Normalising Abnormal Stress

We are living in strange and stressful times. We may feel we’re coping or might be run down, weary and possibly at the end of ourselves. We may be berating ourselves for falsely believing we should be coping better. We may even have experienced the whole range of emotions and feelings over the last few months.

In this final month of 2020 there are still many signs that our lives aren’t normal, for me it’s a sense of sameness every day. Yes, I know I’ve retired, but even allowing for that there’s an absence of variety in daily life that we possibly took for granted before coronavirus.

I wonder if we’ve normalised the abnormal levels of stress that living in 2020 has created?

Back in March 2020 we quickly adjusted to our new reality and easily adapted to our new circumstances, even if it presented us with huge challenges and struggles. We generally understood the need for the lockdown. We made allowances, we cut ourselves and others some slack, remembering we were all in exceptional circumstances. For the most part, we lowered our expectations of ourselves and others.

But, here we are, nine months later, and feelings and circumstances are different. We can easily forget that life isn’t normal. We’re living with fear, uncertainty and isolation, all of which are difficult in so many ways. Have we have forgotten what it’s like to live without this background stress, this constant weight bearing down on us? Have we stopped making allowances for ourselves and others?

Don’t beat yourself for not doing more. Don’t criticise yourself for not coping better. Don’t feel bad for not being as productive as usual. Don’t expect to be upbeat all the time.

There’s hope for the future with a coronavirus vaccine on the horizon, but there are still struggles ahead. Christmas is going to be different this year, and so we can’t necessarily rely on the usual comforting traditions to carry us through. We have to find other avenues of strength and support. We’re still in tough times.

We have to make allowances for ourselves and others, we can easily act ‘out of character’ because of circumstances. Lowering expectations of ourselves and others is vital, even though it’s counter-intuitive. When we or someone else acts in a negative way, we need to ask ourselves what might be causing it.

This approach helped us recently in dealing with a problem that could so easily have resulted in a confrontational argument, but we approached it sensitively to achieve a win-win situation. The presenting problem was actually a symptom of deeper issues related to coronavirus stress. What could have gone badly wrong (we were also stressed) became a wonderful opportunity to draw closer together. I merely use this personal example in the hope that it helps you, we could equally have been the ones causing the problem because of our background stress.

Humility and thoughtfulness for others are always vital.

Goodreads (for book lovers)

Goodreads is a social media website that allows you to search its database of books, annotations, quotes, and reviews. You can sign up and register books to generate library shelves and reading lists. You can also create your own groups of book suggestions, surveys, polls, blogs, and discussions.

I’ve joined Goodreads since retirement to keep a record all my books (since July 2020) and to keep in touch with friends. I’ll be pleased to link up with my friends and contacts to share our reading. The links above take you to my profile or you can click here. Apps for smartphones and other devices are available.

You can find out more about my reading here.

How are you coping?

There’s a deliberate double-meaning in the title of this post. It’s asking (1) how are you coping in the present difficult circumstances, and (at the same time) it’s asking (2) what positive things you are doing to help yourself cope with life right now.

In difficult and unsettling times, it’s important that we remain grounded.

Grounding exercises are things we can do to bring ourselves fully into contact with the present moment, the here and now. This is where we live, breathe, and have our being. They can be quick strategies like breathing deeply and consciously, or longer exercises (of which there are many).

Different strategies work for different people, and there’s no right or wrong way to live in the present.

If you think about it, we can only live and breathe in the present. We can’t live or breathe in the past, any more than we can live and breathe in the future. We need to be present fully in the here and now, it’s a way of coping with an uncertain future.

Breathing exercises can help, and there’s an app for that, although you don’t need one. Here’s a helpful page from the NHS, but Google is your friend.

So, I’ll ask the double-meaning question again, how are you coping?

Maintaining your Smartphone

You don’t need the latest smartphone! Let me repeat that, you don’t need the latest smartphone! There, I’ve said it! My current smartphone is four years old today (Wednesday 14 October 2020) and it’s still going strong, so why change it?

When your contract comes up for renewal, you can just walk away. You can simply exchange your expiring contract for a SIM only one. I’ve written about it here.

It still does everything it did when it first came to life; it still takes great photos, music still sounds great through quality earphones or headphones, and it continues to enable me to share ‘dad jokes’ on Facebook – but for half the monthly cost of the first two years!

There’s some simple steps you can take to help ensure your smartphone lasts a long time:

  • Don’t let the battery become completely exhausted.
  • Switch off and on again at least once a day.
  • Use the power-saver feature.
  • Don’t have too many apps running in the background.
  • Limit the notifications to the ones you really need.
  • Only install apps that you actually use.
  • Always have plenty of free memory space.
  • Delete unwanted photos, videos and downloads regularly.
  • Close, rather than minimise, apps after use.
  • Use a cleaning utility app like CCleaner regularly.
  • Use the built-in [Optimise] app or widget regularly.
  • Make sure you have a tempered glass protector on the screen.

Finally, and most important for the long-term well-being of your smartphone, don’t drop it down the toilet!

Note: If you find my blog posts helpful, especially if they save you money, you might like to make a donation towards my running costs. You can find out more information here.

Delete Tweets with Semiphemeral

Semiphemeral protects your privacy by making it easy for you to automatically delete years of old tweets while giving you control over exactly which tweets you want to make sure you keep.

For example, you can set it to automatically delete tweets that are older than 30 days unless they have at least 20 retweets or at least 20 likes (all these numbers are configurable). You can also:

  • Keep all tweets that are part of the same thread as a tweet that meets those RT and like thresholds
  • Search through all of your tweets and pick which ones to exclude from automatic deletion, so that Semiphemeral will never delete them
  • Unretweet tweets after a number of days
  • Unlike tweets after a number of days
  • Automatically delete your old direct messages

See also: Unfollow Inactive Twitter Accounts