Monday, March 30, 2020

Self sufficiency

We had been planning to use some of our field for food anyway, but given the end of the world is nigh, we have gone all-out self-sufficient. Thomas has dug it up and between us we've got in 72 metres of potatoes, 10 metres of carrots, 4 metres of garlic, 34 metres of onions, 12 metres of strawberries and a new herb patch with rosemary, sage, bay leaf, and oregano, for now. That's on top of the orchard I mentioned earlier and the  hazelnuts and berries (raspberries, brambles, gooseberries, currants etc) at the back of the orchard. I'll update this once more is added😁

Apocalypse shopping

So this is shopping now, just in case this is all a distant memory one day. Fortunately, unlike what Charlotte is reporting from Scotland, toilet roll is still plentiful, and pasta has not sold out, not even the fancy and exotic things like bucatini, nothing is rationed and no one is stockpiling. On arrival, however, you are now sanitized and then given gloves and as you walk around, there are little red markers on the floor telling you where to wait to give way to other customers, though as you can see, we didn't have much giving way to do. A lone sign at the checkout reinforces this. It's hard to remember that just three weeks ago, you simply ran in, filled a basket then ran out again, happily chatting to others or passing products to those beside you.

Our orchard

I've been meaning to count the trees in our orchard since we moved here back in September. At a glance I thought there were probably about twenty, but we decided to map them today and write down the ones we remembered from the tail end of last season. It turns out to our surprise that there are no less than 42! These include many different types of apples, at least five different pears, cherries, plums, greengages, a medlar, a quince, some crab apples, and a rowan. I can't wait to see them in spring and summer as they were already nearing the end of the season when we first saw them last year.

Improvisational teaching

The teachers are having to find whole new ways to go about all this. Last week Léon's Danish teacher simply asked them all to write a two page essay on any topic they wanted. It sounded like a bit of an easy and fairly boring task. Léon is male and fourteen so we got screeds about some guy's adventures in his pastel yellow vintage Porsche. We didn't think much about it till today - hand-in day. But Claus didn't want it handed in! Boring task, can't even be bothered to mark it - that's not like Claus, who is usually a much-loved and inspiring teacher...

We should have guessed. They have now been informed that they have been paired off with another pupil in their class, and asked to Skype that classmate tonight at bed time and read it to them as a good night story, tomorrow the other kid is to phone Léon and do the same, then they are to move on, like a progressive dance, to the next one. So he's got them all writing, reading, listening, staying in touch as a class and with friends. I had my doubts as to whether that was cool or not, but Léon's away through to do it now, very excited at the prospect of being allowed to stay in touch. Genius!

Hair under lock down

Several weeks into lock down, I am seeing mass hysteria online - not, surprisingly, because of the death toll, but more amongst women around my age who have suddenly realised their hairdresser is shut indefinitely and they're going to have to go grey! I had been toying with hair dye recently but given I still only have a few grey hairs, I hadn't got round to it yet - phew!

But even if I did, I think we're a resourceful enough bunch...

On Thursday Amaia decided this was the optimum week to go from waist-length hair to a bob - immaculate timing! But nothing a wee ten minutes on YouTube couldn't resolve...

I think this decision has a lot to do with school being off. Normally I make her brush he hair before she goes for the bus every morning, but getting straight from bed to the google meet class in the mornings has meant she's likely skipped brushing a few times, making it almost impossible to run the comb through now. All in all I think Amaia's hair has been the first local victim of the infamous Corona virus.

Léon has been kicking himself since this all came to a head. He had fully intended to go to the hairdresser the two weekends before this all kicked off but he didn't quite get there. He has been terrified of letting us loose on his outrageously thick hair since we scalped him (accidentally) several times as a small child! But it was really getting out of hand. 
He finally cracked on Saturday, when the front reached fully 2cm below his eyes, and was pleasantly surprised with Thomas's attempt! Here's a before and after...

Feeling on a roll, we decided to go for three, so I chopped Thomas, which was quite successful - no need to work on a comb over, then he decided to ditch his beard for summer, which Anna and I aren't so sure about, but maybe he thinks we're in for a hot one, fingers crossed.

Sunny boy

I wonder if this is where it all started - this is Léon in the south of France at the age of nine months... You've got to admire those thighs! 

Léon has a great love of all things Mediterranean and his great love is Tuscany. Since the age of nine or ten he's been telling me he's going to move to Italy when he's older - just as well his dual national status means Boris and the gang haven't destroyed that dream for him, in the way they have for most of his Scottish contemporaries.

Anyway, now we've got a huge garden, both he and Amaia have asked to have their own small garden. Anna only wants a blossom tree and has no real interest in the responsibility of a garden, Amaia wants flower beds, she's bought lots of packets of seeds and she says she also wouldn't mind a tree house! Léon has decided he simply wants to plant row upon row of sunflowers with a space in the middle big enough for his deckchair. He plans to sit in the middle playing all his instruments. As an afterthought he also asked if I thought that he might attract cicadas if he plants enough of them to fool them into thinking this is actually Italy! Cute.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

3D animals on Google

A friend pointed out this Google feature today that we were unaware of. Amaia's been having fun with it all day, so if you've done stir-crazy quarantined kids on your hands, check this out on your phone. 

It came with the following instructions. Only downside seems to be that it isn't yet available for 'llama or alpaca! 

For those with children, this has kept us quite busy today. If you type an animals name into Google and then press ‘View in 3D’. It brings up your camera and then 30 seconds later you have a tiger in your house! You can take a photo of the kids with them and they can walk around it:   
Emperor penguin 
Angler fish 
Brown bear 
Shetland pony 

Here are a couple of ours...

Friday, March 27, 2020

Corona quarantine - day 16

There's loads to blog about at the moment, and yet nothing at all.

Life is so manic, I have no time to set pen to paper or fingertips to keys, for that matter.

We're now on day twelve of home school and isolation. I'm beginning to think there must be a god after all as the weather has been glorious every single day, and without that we'd maybe all have lost our minds... only kidding, of course, I know it's random! (Had you worried there for a moment, especially you, Gillian😂!)

So, we've come up with a reasonable routine. We've somehow managed to keep the kids getting up at a reasonable time, ok not their usual 7am, but they are up and ready to work by 9ish which is a miracle more than two weeks in. Normally Léon and Anna at least would be getting up around lunchtime if this was two weeks into a school holiday. So, I'll give us a wee pat on the head for maintaining that already!

Straight after brekkie, the girls usually tune into the daily science shows that Randers Regnskov (Denmark's version of the Eden project with animals thrown in) are doing. I saw there were UK ones too but given the kids are likely to be hearing more English than usual at the moment as they can't see their friends, I figured the more lessons in Danish, the better.

I try to start an hour before the kids or it gets too mad. I do my own Danish homework then often have an hour online with my Danish teacher (Mon, Weds, Fri), followed by more homework. I take ten minutes out whenever I need to set up one of the kids' google-meet lessons, then sigh with relief when their real teachers are in charge of them for an hour or two. Interestingly, Amaia seems to do twice as much work every time she's seen Henriette (her Danish teacher) or Sten (her Maths) teacher online. I guess, psychologically, it must make it more real for her.

I've got Léon teaching Amaia Maths and both of them helping Amaia with her Danish spelling. She is also happy to sit working her way through spelling and grammar exercises online in exchange for a wee minecraft session, sometimes with friends from her class. Then I've negotiated that if Amaia reads her Danish book to me when I stop work for the day, I let her also spend the same amount of time reading me an English book of her choice. She hasn't sussed that I'm sneakily trying to keep her English up to scratch, because obviously nothing they do in their English lessons at school are of any use to her. Occasionally, I need to take an hour out if either Léon or Anna needs a German lesson, but otherwise they are more autonomous, working through Danish books, writing essays or similar. Obviously, a reasonable amount of procrastination has also been factored in!

Thomas is more or less managing a normal day's work, with interruptions to teach Léon to bake bread - home economics but better. They have music lessons on Skype too. Anna's been drawing and trying to write songs - we've not been let in on those yet!

Léon's Tuscan friends (from his summer there) are all under serious lockdown, of course, so they are running one-on-one Italian lesson with him an hour a day. He's not doing too badly. They are definitely pushing him a lot faster than language learning in your average Scottish high school which is great. It's quite sweet, they are even giving him lists of Tuscan dialect equivalents for the standard hoch-Italian words he's been learning too!

When they finish up about 3pm, Léon's been digging the field for us - call it PE meets self-sustainability, the girls do dancing on YouTube instead of PE. They've also had three bonfires with sausage sizzles this week - I'm sure that is a useful outdoorsy lesson of some sort too, and Léon now has a lovely bonfire area in the garden, should his social life ever return. Then it is over to the garage to paint rooms - I'm not sure what lesson that is - art? DIY? We finally throw in the towel and sit down around 7pm.

The kids are doing their own washing and hanging it out. I'm as busy as them, so why not? Léon was seen digging the field yesterday in PJs when he accidentally washed all his clothes - or all his trousers at least!

Léon is the most extrovert and sociable of us all and is therefore starting to find his isolation from friends hardest. He keeps telling me how much he misses school, but he means his friends, to be honest.

I think in a smaller house, with no garden this would be a lot harder. Having ten years of working from home definitely helps most, not just because we're used to it, even if it isn't our preferred option, but also because the kids are used to having parents who could need to be left in peace. But still, by the end of the day when Thomas has done his work, I have done mine and the kids schooling has continued as best it can, it is hard to fit in normal tasks such as tidying, hoovering or similar. We're simply out of steam every night by dinner. It'll be interesting to see how long we can sustain the pace, particularly after the Easter holiday week.

To be honest, the hardest bit of it all has been Aula - my Danish parent friends will relate. It's the system Danish schools use to contact parents, send letters, appointments, homework and all the rest. Imagine Glow, combined with all your WhatsApp mums' chats, combined with the kids' class Snapchats and the school weekly news letter (yes, that bad!). With three kids in two schools, we're drowning in 15 official messages a day - you then see every parent or child's replies to each of these messages, so you manage to miss the one asking you to go online in an hour because it's hidden in amongst forty messages asking for clarification on a finer point of German grammar. My phone buzzes all day long and it always reads: Et nyt opslag 'XXX' er blevet delt med dig. It's doing wonders for my Danish reading skills - I can even skim Danish quickly now to filter out the dross! Until I moved here, I was mainly good at understanding spoken, rather than written Danish.

I'd say I can deal with working from home, and I can just about deal with home schooling, but indefinite Aula - I'm not so sure!

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Skype school

As I mentioned last Thursday, school's off. We got word late on Wednesday that schools would be closing from Monday, but that anyone who could already keep their kids home as early as Thursday morning were encouraged to do so.

Thomas's boss phoned around the same time to send him onto compulsory working from home and my college emailed me that classes were going online too. So Thursday was a bit of an odd day - some kids were still at school, those who were home had no idea what they were meant to be doing and better still it was a warm, blue-sky day. It became an impromptu holiday for four of the five of us. It wasn't to last, however.

We were emailed times for each child to turn up at school on Friday morning to pick up a laptop and a home study pack.

By 11am on Friday we were ready to go. Each child disappeared into their room and did a couple of hours of Danish, German, English, a little Maths and some History. So far so good.

Monday they got up slower than normal, not reaching their desks till around 10am and by 1pm Léon had gone off on some brioche-baking tangent. You could of course argue that watching French baking channels on Youtube and producing a lovely pair of loaves for afternoon coffee is also educational but perhaps not what the school intended. Other than lazing around with a novel each, not an awful lot was done. Monday night we got a message from school that Skype school was starting this morning.

They'd to be up, dressed and have logged into Google meetings before 10am! Anna's seemed to go fairly well and her teacher just checked how they were getting on and if they needed help. It was over in just over an hour. Amaia was so pleased and excited to have her teacher, Henriette, in her bedroom and even happier to see all her classmates again, but more importantly the teacher started the lesson by asking each of the kids what they had managed to do since last time. What a motivator that turned out to be! Her Skype class finished just before 12 and straight after lunch she disappeared like a shot. She was not seen again till 4pm! She's done most of her spelling book, read most of a book in Danish and English, done every Maths sheet she could lay her hands on etc She's obviously gearing up to impress Henriette when they reconvene tomorrow at 10am. Into the bargain, with all of them off working all day, even Thomas and I have managed to fit in all our work today.

Léon has been friends with all the children in the village in Italy where his grandparents live since he spent the whole summer there three years ago. The kids are, of course, in quarantaine and quite demented with boredom... Today they Skyped Léon with a solution! They'd met him online for an hour a day to help teach him better Italian. It's so sweet. He's even been given homework for tomorrow 😂

Long lie, no packed lunches to make, but kids working perfectly and learning loads - I could get used to this!😂

Monday, March 16, 2020

Complex families and Corona

This is not what I signed up for 😠

I've just left the UK because of Brexit - you see they didn't understand the complexities of blended multi-cultural, multi-national families. The hoops Brexit was making us jump through just didn't work for a family as complex as mine - with husband and wife not sharing any nationalities and five kids split into two groups - some dual UK/French citizens, some dual UK/Danish and so on.

So now, once again, this time because of Corona, a government has decided to issue blanket, simplistic rules that once again cause no end of hassle to my family.

I have two kids back, for now, in the UK. One is a graduate working in London as a banker. He has two passports and lives in a rented house in Brixton. With a full-time job, he is not currently an issue, though of course as his mum, who sees him in my head, more like the first image than the second...

I would bring him back home till all this virus nonsense is over and done with. Of course, the mere suggestion would be laughed out he park.

The other is more complex. At 20, Charlotte is a student living in halls. She has a 44 week lease which runs out at the end of June. Like Marcel this is my wee Lotsie in my head, even although this is her in reality.

Charlotte was meant to be coming here after her term finished (March 27) for two weeks to study then returning for her exams, then around May 20 she was due to move out her halls and in with us. Technically, she lives with us mid May - end September each year as she has no permanent address in Scotland since we moved. In practice of course she usually works all summer in Spain - leaving around June 25 and returning to us some time in August or early September. We are her family and she still lives at home with us 3-4 months of the year. That was never an issue and shouldn't be but on Saturday Denmark closed its border to all but Danish citizens and Danish residents. Technically she is neither - as someone who lives in Scotland term-time she is not registered here yet, and as a step-child she is not eligible for a Danish passport, despite the fact that Thomas has been her only father for nearly three quarters of her life. Her bio-dad lives in China and hasn't seen her since she was in primary school. So with the temporary lock-down of Denmark, kids and young adults like Charlotte are stateless. At the moment they are due to reopen in April so it shouldn't be an issue, but should this be prolonged till her lease is up, she could be homeless and unable to come to her family home where she has a room, unable to go to Spain where she has a job offer from June and unable both to extend her lease or move in with her gran as the UK wants contact cut off between the over 70s and young people.

I wish governments would stop seeing the world as a black and white equation. The world has long since become globalised. There are crazy families like mine with three or even four different nationalities and no easy way to encompass them in a Venn diagram. Kids who study in the UK often don't have a student room all summer - they are outrageously expensive (£7000 for 44 weeks) and there are no student grants so of course they need to be able to come home when they are not studying - not just for financial reasons but also to see younger siblings or similar.

I have no issues with the government using extraordinary measures at the moment, because these are extraordinary times but there should be some kind of form you can fill out to explain why that is your family home and why you should be allowed home, after all, if Charlotte was currently here and Anna was the one at say boarding school in Scotland, she could easily travel back to her family home. It isn't nice to see some of your kids treated like second class citizens.

And it isn't like there is a travel ban on her coming into the EU for health reasons - as a French national she can easily seek repatriation there, the problem is that her family are in Denmark and her job is in Spain.

I just hope the borders are open again before this issue becomes extremely stressful for all concerned.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Ten-year-old philosophy

So we're sitting together watching the news on my laptop on Friday morning and it's all about the Italian lockdown. Amaia listens intently then simply questions: If God is real, why does the Pope need to shut all the churches in Italy to protect people?
Can't say I've got a response for that one 😂

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Lockdown - city versus countryside

We live 15km north of Denmark's third largest city. After last night's lockdown advice from the PM, I meandered over to Søndersø this morning as it has a Netto, a Rema, an Aldi and a Superbrugsen. I figured with so many shops, I might be able to pick up the last things I might need to see us through Armageddon. I mainly wanted fresh yeast as Thomas likes to bake loaves, so I wasn't going to turn my nose up at that! Aldi was stocked to the rafters with fresh produce, tins, loo rolls etc but the only thing they'd run out of was yeast!
How civilised! There were no loo roll fights, most people were lifting a pack of nine, but no more than one, and things were completely calm. I walked over to Brugsen, got my yeast and then returned home. Again there was nothing I couldn't get, no spaces, so I even picked up some nice fresh bread, warm baked pâté and some cheese for lunch. The checkout operators even were still happily telling us to have a nice day!

I am hearing however from people who live in the cities that the people there are losing the plot this morning. A few shots from the big 24 hour type supermarket in the city are telling a rather different story to up here! Are these people even aware that just 15km up the road there are freshly baked loaves?

People up here have loads of space and aren't hamstering, but down there, their little flats must be bursting at the seams! It'll be interesting to see how this develops.

Danmark lukker ned - day one

It finally happened last night around 9pm. Denmark has closed down!

It's been a weird limbo week - it's been brewing under the surface since the weekend and it had definitely begun to feel like it could only be a matter of time. We'd already bought some extra pasta, rice, loo rolls, tomatoes, pesto and UHT milk about three weeks ago so weren't really worrying about that aspect. The house is big enough that we have a chest freezer, so we could probably manage six months if necessary!

At the weekend we were sitting on 20 odd cases of corona but by Monday morning things had started to double and by Tuesday night we'd been told to try not to use public transport at rush hour. I'm attending an adult language school at the moment and it usually takes me around 25 minutes door to door, but with many heeding the advice Wednesday saw the journey time increase to almost 40 minutes. Conversely those who'd come on the bus and train were amazed at how empty things had been that morning. I also had to contend with even more bikes than usual. Things felt different.

No one could concentrate in class on Wednesday - rumours were flying about the office staff being tested in the school and most of us were sitting on our phones watching the figure of infected multiplying at around fifty and hour. The rumoured staff infections were enough to see at least one member of the class simply walk out mid-morning with a polite 'tak for i dag', followed by a swift exit. Our spoken Danish skills increased as the day went on when new figures were discussed and plans for the rest of the week debated. Come 1-30, when the teacher came out with her usual 'vi ses fredag', most of us simply replied with 'måske' rather than our usual, 'ja, vi ses', and it looks like we were right, we won't be seeing her this Friday, or any other Friday for the foreseeable...

Schools are closed from Monday to allow time to find babysitters as the government is strongly recommending against contact with grandparents, but anyone who can already keep them off from today is being encouraged to do so. Amaia thinks she is now on an extended minecraft holiday, while Anna has opted to play with dramatic experimental make-up and Léon has gone out to meet up with his friends - hmmmm, not sure this is what Mette Frederiksen had in mind...

The dentist has texted to cancel Amaia's appointment today, the music school has texted to say there will be no individual or orchestra practice before Easter and Léon's talented musicians programme in Odense has now been shut down till the end of April. I'm getting about an email an hour from the two schools with updates and instructions and the girls were officially devastated when the latest one asked them both to attend tomorrow morning for ten minutes in order to pick up a laptop and a study pack each. Thank goodness, I think three or four weeks of them home might drive me completely batty if we can't go out and do anything. Léon has arranged a 'study group' with three or four friends to work through his study pack - I expect that will be him doing their English work in exchange for them doing his German but whatever! It will keep some semblance of structure in their lives.

I'm sincerely hoping Thomas and I stay healthy as we know no one here so us in hospital would leave Léon who's only fourteen and a half, home alone in charge of his younger siblings! I know he is actually capable but I'm less sure it is legal!

Obviously with my ex-husband living in Shanghai these days, I have been kept up to speed more than most on how this thing is developing and how to deal with it, which helps. It's nice we can finally have an adult conversation, even if it has taken the best part of fifteen years!

It is fascinating to watch how other countries are reacting. I know I am well known for my anti-Tory leanings but I can't help but think this is another thing they are majorly cocking up and my kids, mother and brother's family are still over there! Football matches, Cheltenham, the House of Commons bursting at the seams during the budget yesterday, open schools, unis, no change to public transport etc - seriously? Boris is awol again, except when he's suggesting that letting the virus move through the population might be the way to go? I mean, come on?! I am watching the 'too little too late space' on tenterhooks.

Of course, we're hearing a lot from various other places. I have heard from Thomas's folks who are more or less under house arrest as they live in Tuscany. The Italian authorities are struggling to treat anyone over 65 now, as so many people are ill. I've spoken to my three French nieces, they all have primary school aged kids, and one has a toddler so they are a bit on edge. I've also spoken to my French sister in law (their mother) who is in her 60s, and of course, they are all worried for each other but not yet seeing much in the way of fall out. Lottie has spoken to the two Spanish families she au pairs for in Madrid every summer and their kids are all home now with their schools closed. They're saying it is a shame she can't come over now to babysit! On a positive, they've asked her back in a couple of months so she's desperate for it to blow over so she can go back to her favourite place in the world!

Charlotte was meant to be coming here in ten days to study for her exams but she's now worried she might not get back to the UK for those so she's put that on hold. Of course, if the uni gets shut and an alternative to exams is implemented, she might be safer with us on our large, rural plot of land, rather than in the city, but that decision will need to wait a week or two.

Marcel is currently living in London, but he's young and fit so I have to stress that to myself, but of course, he's still my baby, even if he's nearly 23, so everything equal, I'd rather he came here to work from home too, even though I know he won't😥

Anyway, that's day one - let's see how this proceeds.

Monday, March 02, 2020

Scotland's (future?) ambassador to Denmark

"Can you give a talk about Scotland in school on Monday?" asked the English teacher... I'm not sure she knows what she's let herself in for 😂

So off he's gone to school with his fiddle, some home-made shortbread, some home-made tablet and conkers on strings. He's taken a printout of  'ye cannae shove yer granny aff a bus' , and 'the jeely piece song' and a video teaching them how to do the Orcadian Strip the willow 😂🎶

I fully believe he might end up taking the class for the whole day rather than just the English period!