Autumn in the garden 🍁

The wind whispering
Through chilly trees
Sounds like sand on shore
After a wave hits.
One dry yellow leaf
Swiftly falls from its
mother tree’s branch
And an apple clumps
Softly on the lawn.
A toad hides under
A fallen leaf,
Alert for danger.

The labrador jumps,
Trying to catch him:
But misses by miles, Settles instead for
Chomping a spider.
Her web-smeared black
Nose sniffing loudly,
Hoping for more snacks.
She smells wood fire
On the breeze. Shivering,
Heads back inside to
Her humans’ sofa.

6 October 2022 is National Poetry Day.

Why don’t you write a poem? It’s easy to do and doesn’t have to rhyme. Write about what you like, or how you are feeling. 🙂

For more info, go to:

https://nationalpoetryday.co.uk

The National Literacy Trust helps children and families to develop a love of reading and writing. They have great resources and a local site for people from Swindon, called Swindon Stories.

https://literacytrust.org.uk/communities/swindon/

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September

September’s first sunset

Is candyfloss fluffy 

Pink on watercolour 

Azure. The drought-cracked ground

Thirsts desperately for rain.

Yellow, salmon, crimson

Roses scent the cool air.

Perfectly formed, like

Fragile, living sculptures

Too good for this world.

Sparrows fly overhead,

Heading for lofty nests.

Juicy soft blackberries

Are waiting to be picked

And cooked in jams and pies,

Just like when we were kids. 

The nights are creeping in,

I can breathe again.

Autumn has arrived.

Rainbow walk for Samuel’s Hospice

I had seen a few adverts for the ‘Rainbow run your own way’, to raise funds for Children’s Hospice South West – the group of hospices that Charlton Farm is part of here in South West England. Charlton Farm is where my son Samuel lived for most of his very short life. It is a wonderful place that cares for children with life-limiting illnesses, and their parents and siblings.

I ignored them at first, telling myself that it was too much effort, and I wouldn’t raise much money anyway… then I saw it advertised again and thought that I could easily walk for 5km, and would rope my kids, parents and in-laws in. I admit that I didn’t feel enthusiastic. I was struggling after Samuel’s second anniversary, and didn’t know if I would be up for any challenges.

To win a medal, you had to raise £15 person that you registered. I thought that I could probably give enough for myself and my two kids to do so. In the end, I signed up 6 of us to our family team.

I set up a Justgiving page, setting my target at £100. That was quite high, but I was trying to be optimistic. I met the £100 target within 24 hours! So I set the new target to £200. The money flooded in. 🙂

Alex Dixon is fundraising for Children’s Hospice South West (justgiving.com)

In the end, I made over £650 including gift aid. And I later found out that I was in JustGiving’s top 20% of fundraisers for the month of June. That’s out of thousands of different Justgiving pages.

I couldn’t believe how generous people are. I am so grateful for everyone who gave – including some people that I don’t know. I guess that it’s personal – people know that my family were helped by the hospice. And I obviously have lovely friends and family.

My team also won the prize for best fancy dress – if you know me well, you will have an idea of how happy that made me.

We did the 5km walk around Stanton Park, which is where Samuel’s memorial tree is. It’s a special place for our family. I thought that a team of 6 was pretty good to do the walk, but people kept asking to join us on the day. We had 23 people and 1 dog on the team. It was fabulous to feel so supported by my family and friends. It was such an enjoyable day, and the weather behaved. Not everyone knew each other before the walk, but they all got on well and it was a great atmosphere.

I am so glad that I decided to sign up for the rainbow run your way. I love Charlton Farm and their amazing staff- and hopefully they will be able to support families like mine for many more years.

May is a difficult month, with it being Samuel’s birthday and anniversary of his death – but this was something positive to focus on.

Thank you everyone who joined in and donated.

I rescued a hedgehog

My daughter Bethany and I were nearly home after a walk. We saw a little something by the side of the road. It was a hedgehog. I have never seen a live hedgehog in the wild before. It was cute, but bigger than I imagined. It was bleeding a little and obviously not doing well because it was out in the middle of the day. I wasn’t sure how badly it was injured, and thought that it might die soon. But I couldn’t just leave it there to die, alone on the side of a road. I checked with Bethany if it would be ok to take him home, with the understanding that he might not live long. She agreed.

I picked him up carefully and found that his spikes don’t hurt at all. He was very calm. I got some blood on my shirt, but it’s old so I didn’t mind.

We made a little cardboard house for him in the garden, with a door so that he could get out. The kids found slugs and earthworms for him to eat, but he just slept for the first few hours. Suddenly he woke up, gobbled down the treats and started to dig up and root around in a patch of earth.

It was wonderful to see a wild animal close up. He has a long nose that he uses to look for worms, and a little tail. His body shape is similar to a guinea-pig, just with spikes and slightly longer legs. He has big ears like a cavy too.

He had stopped bleeding but I noticed that the right side of his face was a little squashed. He couldn’t see out of his right eye, but it hadn’t been cut.

 

I’m not sure how he was injured: a car would have finished him off and a lawn mower probably would have made a much bigger cut. Perhaps a small dog or cat got hold of him? Or a bike rode into him? That would fit the injuries a bit better.

We named him Spike.

He slept some more and then woke up just before sunset. He seemed ok and was touring the garden, but I still wasn’t sure if he would last the night. There is a small gap under our side gate that is big enough for him to squeeze under, so he did have the option of leaving our garden in the night if he wanted to.

I heard him at about 3 in the morning, looking for food noisily. The next morning, we looked for him but he wasn’t to be found. I said that he must have gone back home during the night and was probably fine. Bethany was sad, and I was too. He wasn’t a pet, but we liked him.

A couple of hours later, Bethany shouted excitedly “There’s Spike!”

He was patrolling the garden busily. It looked like he was on a mission. He seemed full of beans, and Connor saw him catch a slug in the bushes and then eat it. But he walked into our feet a couple of times, which isn’t right for a wild animal. I wondered how well he could see out of his good eye. And shouldn’t we humans smell strong to him? I wondered if the accident had caused some head trauma.

We didn’t want to let him go back to the wild if he wasn’t well, even though he seemed fine. I found a phone number for the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, which I had not heard of before. 

https://www.hedgehogstreet.org/about-our-hedgehog-street-campaign/who-are-the-hedgehog-champion

The BHPS has resources that help you to help hedgehogs. You can make a hole at the bottom of your fence to allow them to travel more easily and safely (away from roads); instructions on how to build a hedgehog house and a photo gallery where you can upload your hedgehog photos, amongst other things.

Anyway, the Hedgehog Preservation Society referred me to the RSPCA. The RSPCA took Spike’s details: his injuries and how I found him: not his allergies, date of birth and surname. I don’t know that. They asked if we would be able to take him to a local vet. I agreed and they gave me a reference number to pass onto the vet. That would have his recent medical history, so we wouldn’t have to explain everything to the vet.

They said to put him into a box that he couldn’t escape from and take him to the vet when we could.

I phoned the vet to confirm that we would be dropping him off soon.

At the vet, we put his box outside and let them know that he had arrived. We didn’t even have to go inside the building, which is good as we are still shielding. The lady on reception picked him up and took him inside.

Goodbye Spike. It was lovely to meet you. Get well soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spike

 

When Samuel died

We knew that Samuel would not live for long. We found out at my ‘normal’ 20 week scan, which happened to be 3 days after Christmas 2018.

We knew that he would never talk, never take his first steps, never start nursery or school.

The cardiologist told us that the average life expectancy for a baby with his congenital heart defect was 2 days. I hoped for a few more, so that he could meet as much family and friends as possible. Of course, any baby can die during labour, so there was that awareness too.

We and other Christians prayed for a miracle,  but myself and Mike both felt that he was never destined for a long life. We would have gladly taken it, of course. Why didn’t God heal our Samuel? Only He knows. I do know that Samuel’s life is just as valuable as someone who has lived to 100, or climbed Mount Everest or became a millionaire. Every single person is loved by God, and that is not dependent on their looks, education or achievements. I do know that thousands of innocent babies and children die around the world every day, from disease, war, poverty, illness, accident, unknown causes and parental choice. So he is definitely not the only child currently chilling in Heaven. I miscarried before Bethany was born, so he has an older brother or sister with him.

When I was about 6 weeks pregnant, and then again at 17 weeks (after completely normal 9 and 12 week ultrasounds that didn’t show any problems); I did hear clearly a male voice in my head saying “There is something seriously wrong with your baby.” I hadn’t been thinking or worrying about my pregnancy at the time either. So I had some warning.

Thankfully we were in a lovely hospice for most of Samuel’s life, called Charlton Farm.

https://www.chsw.org.uk

We had as peaceful and enjoyable a time with him as we could. And it wasn’t just that Samuel’s every need was met. We were looked after as a family too. They were a real blessing, and we will be forever grateful to them.

I remember the last full day of his life, Saturday 11 May 2019. It was the weekend, so Connor and Bethany were with us again, after a few days at school (staying with Mike’s parents.) Being a Saturday, more family were able to visit, which was great. My sister in law, Mary, came to visit us in the morning. My sister, Laura, who had visited from Scotland ‘for just a few days’, more than 2 weeks before, was living at Charlton Farm with us, mostly to look after me as I had had a c-section and was fairly immobile. She was an absolute angel to us all, and I can’t thank her enough for being there for us. My brother Vince, and his fiance Anna visited us that afternoon. So Samuel was blessed to have all of his aunties around him on his last well day.

We went for a walk up to see the horses on the farm at the top of the steep hill with Mary and Thalia (Samuel’s nurse for the day), that morning. It was a warm sunny day. The kids played on the very posh private school nearby’s outdoor play equipment. We noticed that Samuel was struggling to poo, which is a sigh that we had been warned about. It was because his heart was failing, and the digestive system is the first thing that struggles to work due to reduced oxygen. He could still breathe fine on his own and wasn’t in any pain.

That afternoon, Vince and Anna arrived. We had a lovely time sitting in the garden while Samuel slept in his pushchair or was held by everyone in turn, and Bethany played in the nearby sandpit. Everything felt so relaxed and happy. I thought at the time that this was going to be a happy memory to cherish. You don’t always know what you will remember, but I just knew this time. Samuel was ok, if sleepy and not hungry. The exact opposite of his brother at that age!

We knew that his time was probably coming to an end, but didn’t know how long it would take. And there is always hope that you will be given a few more hours and days.

That evening as Mike and I watched a film, strangely I can’t remember what it was, we could see that Samuel was starting to physically deteriorate. He was still comfortable and didn’t need any interventions, but one of the hospice’s regular doctors made the effort to came to check on him anyway at about 11pm, long after she had gone home for the day. A trick of his was to creak at you almost like he was trying to communicate. He was also a surprisingly alert baby who stared at people as though working you out. He got more creaky and more pale. We felt calm, but there was sadness as we knew that we would have to face his death soon.

We told the two nurses on night duty to wake us up if there was any concern about his health. I was downstairs in his room, as the trip to the bedrooms upstairs was too tiring and I wanted to be near to Samuel at night. My sister was in the next bedroom. At about 2am, nurse Sophie woke me up to say that they had tried a little medicine, but he was quite poorly. I had a cuddle, and after a while he picked up a bit. About an hour later, they asked if they should wake Mike and the kids, as Samuel was struggling. I agreed, and soon Mike, Connor, Bethany and Laura came into the room. He was very pale and we told the kids that he was going to die soon. The nurses had given him some medication to make him more comfortable. We had some cuddles, and all said goodbye to him. He was in my arms as I sat in bed when he died. It was all so calm and quiet. I think that he had the best death that anyone could hope for.

At about 4am, we had said our goodbyes and the nurses made us all a hot chocolate while we sat in the nurses’ station where Samuel had spent many nights in a nurse’s or my arms. There are sofas and a big window. We watched the sun come up.

Samuel had a happy life and a peaceful death. He was hardly ever in a cot or pushchair as everyone fought over cuddling him. He made such a big impact on our and many other people’s lives in his 11 days on Earth.

We are sad, and sometimes angry; and it is incredibly unfair. We will never stop grieving our son. But what happy memories we have with him. He has helped me to think about life differently: about what is really important.

My 5th cancerversary

The 5th cancerversary is a big milestone for survivors. And 5 is a big number, definitely. Sadly it doesn’t mean that it will never come back. Cancer can hide in your cells, even spread to many parts of your body, even decades after treatment for the primary cancer has finished. But, of course I am grateful to be well now, and happy to have been around for those extra years with my family.

This year, the whole world decided to join in with the chemo feelings of social isolation; loneliness; possible loss of income or job; fear of being really sick and dying; lack of control; and general inconvenience. Doesn’t feel great does it?

Strangely, this isolation caused by covid 19 has helped me to feel less isolated. Because we are all in this situation together, my family has not been singled out for a change. That feels much more manageable. We’ve got it a lot easier in fact, than many people do. We are not NHS or key workers. All we have to do is stay home. Thankfully, so far none of my friends or family has caught the virus.

When I received the unexpected shielding letter from my hospital last week, I was not as relaxed about it. I have had a few random health problems over the last few years, including an awful cough and breathing problems caused by a chest infection that didn’t heal for 6 months. But I suppose that it’s the chemo that got me on the list.

So, once again, the shadow of cancer hangs over me, meaning that I am again seen as a vulnerable person. I have been put into the ‘poorly person’ box  again, and I don’t like it at all. I think that the biggest problem is one of identity. I am Alex. I am not a cancer victim. I am not my illness. I needed to remind myself that the letter doesn’t change this. They are, in fact, looking out for me. That’s a good thing, that the NHS cares about little old me.

The other issue is one of control. I have been in uncontrollable  situations many times, so have learned this lesson before. But I guess it’s a lesson that needs to be learned again. Strangely, there is so much strength from admitting weakness, by realising that there are very few situations where you are actually fully in control. Nobody is always strong.

That’s the advantage of having faith in a God so much stronger and wiser than me. I don’t need to pretend to myself and others that I am god of my own life. Because I’m not. I didn’t choose when or how I was born, and I won’t choose when or how I die. I have found a peace in that.

For now, I am enjoying my lovely house; garden full of new life; and family who I get to spend more time with.

I will never be grateful that I had cancer, but I am here, I got through it. And if that isn’t a good reason to eat chocolate cake, I don’t know what is.

 

 

 

 

Week two of Covid 19 lockdown

So how was this past week for you? Can you even remember?

I planned to write one Covid journal entry per week, but, as everything feels like too much work at the moment, and I barely know what month it is, they will probably get more infrequent.

 

This week, my (paid) work stepped up, so I was surprisingly busy. I didn’t mind at all, in fact it felt affirming to be needed. I did spend less time focused on homeschooling; but as my kids’ teachers are so good with sending regular work through, that didn’t really matter.

 

Connor and Bethany still have great attitudes to self-directed learning, but as the isolation weeks drag on, we are all struggling to get up and ready in the morning. Not that it matters.

 

Highlights include the kids spending hours digging and getting a patch of soil ready for planting (they have planted radishes, and I hope to get some dwarf French beans and spinach to grow too); letting the guinea-pigs have a run and as much fresh grass as they can eat; and painting pebbles rainbow colours, to say thank you to NHS and key workers. Mike shaved all of his hair off, to stop having to cut it so often. It’s already growing back.

 

In the news, the PM Boris Johnson is still in hospital with the virus; Matt Hancock threatens us with a ban on any outdoor exercise (please, no!); and the Queen delivers a kind and wise speech, thereby uniting the nation while confusing us all as to why it’s so warm and there aren’t any mince pies.

 

Bethany often sees an old dog on our daily walks: we have done for months (on warm/ dry days), but seeing a regular friendly face outside the home feels special during this current unprecedented national event. The poor old girl always wags her tail and loves our attention (the dog, not Bethany), but most of the time she is too tired to stand and greet us.

 

It is my 5th cancerversary next week, on the 15th. Usually it is a big date in my calendar  but so much has happened in our lives since then, that it doesn’t feel that huge now. Still, it’s important for me to mark the date. My world tilted on its axis when got the diagnosis, and it has never gone back to the way things were beforehand. It’s fabulous that I am here to mark the occasion, but of course there are no guarantees that I will be here for the 10th anniversary.

 

Many people will find that after this virus has finally gone: they won’t be the same as they were. Something has changed forever for all of us now. Many will feel more resilient, many weaker, some broken. Some will want to forget and move swiftly on, others will never forget.

 

I think that the best thing we can do is to be kind: to ourselves and others. If you have an elderly or vulnerable friend or family member, please call or write to them regularly so that they don’t feel forgotten. It’s such a simple thing to do.

 

It’s the Easter holidays now, so there is no whiff of a routine. We will do an Easter egg hunt though. Some things are too important to forget about.

PS: why are people still buying so much flour?

 

Bet with friendly dog

 

 

 

Covid19 diary week 1: 22-29 March

I first heard of the latest coronavirus in late December: it was far away in China then. Since named Covid 19, it is now the subject of 90% of all conversations, and traditional and social media outlets.

I decided to keep an online journal, so that I can look back on this ‘unprecedented’ time in a few years. If the zombie apocalypse hasn’t hit by then, of course. I cannot promise to make it interesting, but it will be honest.

The govt shut down schools (except for children who are at risk, disabled, or have parents who are key workers) on Friday 20 March. So for most parents in the UK, the 20th was the last normal day is what could be a long time.

Dropping my daughter Bethany off at school that morning, it all felt so normal. Only one child was crying, and everyone else seemed pretty calm.

I went into work that day, (I work in a college), also for the last time in a while, and besides it being very busy, it also felt normal. Although there was an odd feeling in the air, a sense of being on the edge of an invisible cliff.

That Friday night, I started thinking about how the following week would look for us as a family. Although we don’t have to homeschool, sitting the kids in front of the TV for 8 hours a day seems a little lax, so I made a list, and blogged about it, of things to do with kids when at home. We have already done some of those things, so it wasn’t a waste of time.

School at home ideas

It turns out that I didn’t really need to plan home schooling, as my kids’ schools both send work through online every morning. It only takes a couple of hours to complete, but combined with home learning stuff, I reckon that’s plenty. I had ordered text books for Maths and English online for both Connor and Bethany the previous week, so they do a little of that most days too. Also, Bethany has chosen to do a self-directed project on amphibians, salamanders specifically. So we have some books, and I have found online resources about that too.

Anyway, we have a rough plan every day, that gets written up on Bethany’s blackboard; of registration, English, break, PE, maths, lunch, playing/ garden/project/ art or baking. We don’t always follow the plan, and sometimes leave out PE (although we do go for a long walk/ scoot every day, which is PE I guess.)

Sometimes we video call friends or family. I am aware how difficult this is going to be for younger kids, who can’t just text or Watsapp their friends  like my son does. I think that when life goes back to normal one day, many of us will have forgotten how to do small talk. Hopefully, it won’t make us all even more self obsessed too. It doesn’t look that way, if the NHS volunteers and kindness that I see on social media is anything to go by.

Anyway, thankfully my kids have a good attitude to learning, and just get on with it every morning, without having to be asked. I do keep checking in, but it’s proving to be much easier than expected so far.

I have some work to do too; as well as never ending housework and keeping in touch with some elderly and vulnerable people that I am looking out for. I am also focussing on my mental health, by walking, exercising at home, getting into to the garden when it’s sunny, reading books, and art.

To be honest, at the moment it feels more like a strange holiday than anything that is particularly dangerous. That said, we are all following government advice, not doing any food shopping except when necessary, and only going out once per day. Plus the ubiquitous hand-washing.

I went for a long walk today, and it was so quiet. The sun was shining and the birds sounded  very pleased with themselves. I expect that the levels of air pollution have dropped so quickly, that this year nature is going to amaze us. It’s good that the plants and animals are going to get a much-needed respite from some of the human destruction. It’s like the Earth is telling us to slow down.

Most people are being more sociable now that they are less busy and not seeing nearly as many people. Dog walkers are generally the friendliest (and I already recognise a few of them from my regular walks and chats about their pets: I love dogs); but young and older people are saying hello as we walk past each other, much more than usual. Connor has asked a couple of times whether I know this or that person, but no, I don’t know most of them. We do always keep 2 metres away, I hasten to add, before anyone criticises me.

It is sad to see the playgrounds taped off with warning signs, but we wouldn’t be using them now anyway. It’s just sad.

I didn’t know that I could ramble so much…

Monday: speech marks, maths with Connor, #DrawwithRob

Draw with Rob Biddulph

Tuesday: Joe Wicks PE, baking cookies and nerf fight.

Wednesday: signs of spring and spring craft, also clothes in the apple tree.

Thursday: scoot in the Park, NHS rainbow drawings in window, clap for the NHS at 8pm with people around the UK.

Clap for the NHS

Friday: set up the piano, minibeast count in garden, sing to Nanny.

Saturday: guinea-pigs play in their new run in the garden. Blisters from too much walking. Monopoly.

Sunday (today): write to Grandma and friend, online church x 2, chilling.

I saw some friends while out today: we had a nice shouted conversation to each other from across the road. They have a dog. I wish I had a dog now, more than ever. The guinea-pigs are lovely, but it’s not the same.

Boris went down with a mild form of covid 19 this week. It’s no surprise, but it does show that nobody is immune. The deputy chief medical officer today announced that we might be in lockdown for the next 6 months! The mind boggles. It’s so hard to imagine living life this for half a year. But it doesn’t scare me. It’s just so surreal. My husband Mike says that this is probably all a dream of his. I don’t believe so. If it is  he had better wake up quickly.

BBC news

Have you noticed that when you watch TV or read a book, when they talk about hugging or going out for a meal, you tsk at them and feel morally superior? Maybe it’s just me. It’s quite incredible how quickly our minds can adjust to massive changes. Makes you wonder what other social rules we have grown up with and therefore see as normal, that other cultures would find offensive.

I am tired of thinking now. Goodnight.