6 Weekend Things

I do love a good listicle and they say sharing is caring. No idea who ‘they’ are but let’s dive in, shall we?

The weekend is but a moment away and as I count down to packing my kids off for a weekend with their dad, fold and put away the last of the laundry and log off my work computer, I think about writing another list of things to pack into the two day work break. It’s easy to see why life feels like a bit of a merry-go-round at times.

This list is fun, no really, and it matters not an iota if I don’t tick off a single item by Sunday evening. It’s a list of opportunity rather than responsibility. There’s a bit of everything. Chill, fresh air, creative pursuits, baking and organised chaos!

1 – Invisible Women, Caroline Criado Perez

I ordered Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez after a recommendation from a colleague. I’m preparing to interview a doctor next week and my colleague suggested I read up on the gender disparity and inequality in the health care industry as detailed in the book. Technically this is preparation work, but I already know it’s going to ignite something in me to read more, and that totally counts as personal development. I’m always looking for book recommendations, if you’ve got one to share (or ten, no one ever has just one book recommendation) drop me a line katereillyjames@gmail.com

2 – Mad Men

Alright, I know I’m like 15 years late to the party, but I’ve just started watching Mad Men season 1 on Amazon Prime and i’m totally hooked. I’ll get at least two episodes in this weekend. I’m outraged by the every day sexism, the misogyny, the double standards, and yet I can’t help but admire Don Draper, played expertly by Jon Hamm. The fashion, the dialect and the early 60’s aesthetic, plus everyone smoking all the damn time. I’m 6 episodes in and I’ve committed to the long haul. Can’t stand Mr Campbell and adore Joan Holloway. Dying to know what’s wrong with Betty’s hands? And how cute is a teeny Kiernan Shipka as their daughter? Wait til they find out she grows up to be a witch!

3 – Ebay

Urgh, it’s that time again. I routinely do an Ebay selling haul twice a year and while the app now makes it much easier to list your items, it’s still a pain in the ass. To spice things up this time, I’m also clearing out my boyfriends wardrobe to add to the massive bin bag collection waiting patiently in the spare room. i’m told Sunday, early evening is the best time to list as buyers are more likely to have time to bid and see an auction through to the end, hopefully encouraging a last minute flurry of offers. This task alone will likely wipe out Sunday, but it’ll be worth it for the money – honest! Zara dress BNWT for £5 anyone?

4 – Urban Graffiti

I’ll be back at Springfield Park, Knotty Ash at 6am on Saturday (because I’m a complete weirdo who can’t lie in, especially if the weather is dry, no chance) to chalk the pathways for the local children and those visiting Alder Hey Children’s Hospital. I’ve created some fun playground games on the paths a number of times previously and as it’s set to rain on Saturday afternoon/evening, these modern hopscotch will vanish ready for the next ones. This also counts as mini yoga/pilates once I’m done weaving my way along the paths. I’m shattered afterwards.

5 – Community Spirit

I’m loving having a couple of creative tasks to get on with this weekend. Secondly, i’m breaking out the sewing machine to make a start on some bunting for our local foodbank, The Drive. We’re having a crack at the ‘In Bloom’ competition this year and determined to spruce up a triangle of wasteland/grass into something for all the community to enjoy. I’ll be making giant floor cushions, picnic blankets and bunting to brighten up the planters and railings. Pass me the pinking shears!

6 – Pumping Iron

My HHT has been pretty bad this week. I’ve had a nose bleed every day including 4 whoppers on Monday which saw me calling into work sick and dizzy on Tuesday morning. My lovely colleagues suggested I try dates as a healthy iron supplement. So my plan is to have a go at making date flapjacks to munch on throughout the week as they keep really well. Thanks to Sabah and Nikki for the heads up. I’ll bet they taste a million times better than plain old iron supplements. Yuck. If you’ve never heard of HHT before and wonder what it’s like to sporadically bleed like you’ve been punched in the face, head this way to learn more.

What are you up to this weekend?

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Baby Driver

I was having a little reminisce yesterday and I realised I missed the taxi ride into town, all dolled up, slightly tipsy and raring to dance my legs off, more than I miss nights out.

Nine times out of ten, if you call for a cab to take you from the suburbs into the city centre here, you’re getting club tunes and break neck speed. It’s a ride in all possible ways and it never fails to set you up for an epic night out. The cabbie will be looking to get you out of his cab as soon as possible, in the best mood possible and so this is the winning formula.

With his ears bleeding from a selection of screeched lyrics of dance classics including but not limited to: “PRETTY GREEN EYEEEESSSSSS’, “BABY I GOT YOUR BACK LIKE WE’RE STILL SEVENTEEEEEEN’, and “AND BOY I THINK ITS TIME YOU KNOW, WE’RE GONNA TAKE IT NICE A SLOW’. If you know, you know.

There’s something really special about this 20 min period of a night out. You’re hyped, you look and feel a million dollars, you’re taking selfies, you’re possibly swigging a mini on the way in to meet the girls and you know all the lyrics.

That’s where it stops for me. At least for now. The thought of going out beyond that cab ride, into the packed out bars and clubs is a risk I’m too scared to take. I’ve had both Astrazeneca vaccinations and I’m testing twice a week in a bid to keep my kids safe. I know I wouldn’t be able to relax, let my hair down and fully enjoy myself.

Plenty of people are though. They’re having a ball packing out the bars for the Euro’s and weekend nights and I don’t begrudge them anything, we have to live, and maybe learn to live with Covid too. I hope they’re loving those taxi rides. Belting out the tunes and laughing themselves silly.

The risk is still too high for me and my babies. I don’t even know what it will take for me to declare the world fit for purpose again? Maybe it never will be. Waiting for COVID to be fully eradicated seems like a stretch, doesn’t it? Waiting for the UK government to do absolutely anything conducive to restoring whatever ‘normal’ was also seems a bit pie in the sky. Maybe when we no longer have to wear masks? Or show our vaccination certificates or stay 2m apart.

Where do you draw the line on returning to ‘normality’?

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Precarity

WHAT a hell of a month June was. You still with me? Clinging on? Yeah, me too.

I did it all last month. Soaring highs and the deepest of lows. Not one, but two of my three kids had accidents which resulted in broken bones. I’ve been to court and back, three times for good measure. I traveled 1000+ miles and island hopped to lay on golden beaches and stare in awe endless skies swept with jaw-dropping sunsets. I also battered London’s art scene in a 12 hour jaunt to the capital, and started a self improvement plan in earnest following a Thursday Throwback that really hit home. on an emotional rollercoaster scale, we’re talking Pepsi Max Big One, on repeat.

I’m feeling incredibly creative recently which is due in part to a trip to Saatchi Gallery to see JR Chronicles exhibition. An artist I’ve admired for a number of years, JR gives a global voice to marginalised communities in order to tell their stories and correct society’s bias. His work is incredible and to see the camera he found on the Parisian subway which kick started his career, was truly special. Sliding doors. You can watch his TED Talk about the impact of his work, here.

At the start of the month I traveled up to Scotland for four idyllic days on the isle of Seil, one of the Slate Islands. Crossing the ‘Bridge Over The Atlantic’ for the first time to our bothy, wifi replaced with skyscapes I could never have imagined, i knew it was going to be an amazing trip. The beaches at Arasaig and Morar took my breath away, as did Calgary Bay on the Isle of Mull.

Catching the Harry Potter Express at Malaig and walking beneath the iconic Glenfinnan viaduct, framed with blue sky, was a treat. Later at the equally iconic Clachaig Inn at Glen Coe, I retraced my dads footsteps from back in the late 80’s. I also took the opportunity to follow in 007’s tyre tracks and drive the Lock Etive road or Skyfall road as its known. Eat your heart out Bond!

Loch Lomond, Castle Stalker, or Castle Aaaaaarrrrggghhhhh as made famous in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Oban fish and chips, cycling Kerrera thanks to amazing loan bikes from Oban Cycles and free passage on the basic b*tch ferry made for a truly memorable trip. Having adopted the farm cat, charmed on M&S mackerel pate, and sat on the patio, wrapped in blankets waiting for the stars, this Scotland trip is top 5 one of the best holidays I’ve ever had. A soaring high. Check out the bothy here.

From high to low, low and stressful. First up, my son fell off the play equipment at school and broke his foot. This required plaster and a wheelchair as he’s on diddy. This presented about as many logistical issues as you can imagine when I have two other children who need to get to and from school twice a day and a full time job to hold down. TWO WEEKS LATER, my middle kid launches herself off a swing in the back garden after our first ever, and highly successful BBQ at home. The crack of the impact still gives me goosebumps when I think about it. Broken humerus and two nights in hospital – tended to by THE SAME ORTHO CONSULTANT LOOKING AFTER MY SON, I collected my ‘Parent of the Year’ award on the way out. I mean, you couldn’t write it, could you?

The poor kid (the second casualty) struggled with the pain a lot and so after 6 hours sleep across three nights and a whole load of morphine ( her, not me), I spent just 10 minutes preparing for a huge interview and unsurprisingly, came out of it feeling utterly meh.

On the up again – I taught shorthand again this month and I LOVED IT. I started working out and cycling more. I’ve lost three pounds but I’m sure its down the sofa, insert wink emoji here. My mum is super happy after a little surprise windfall and has treated herself to a new Dyson. My eldest kid smashed her GCSE mocks and isn’t injured in any way, although I’ve probably just jinxed that. A good mate smashed his shorthand exam, I worked with Kiss FM and I finally met my lovely work team, in person, for the first time since starting my new job in February. Yep, five months ago! I climbed Kinder Scout again, this time with the eldest kid. The weather was pants, my dad cried off saying he’d hurt his back (suspish), and with the new diet regime I couldn’t eat strawberry laces all the way around the hike. That said, I managed to eat plenty of caramel Snackajacks at the summit and my dad got his front and back lawn mowed. Alls well that ends well.

How’s July looking?

Check out all my photo’s from June (including some x rays for the gruesome fans) over on the Gallery, here.

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Kinder Scout

Giving up Kinder Bueno for Kinder Scout has been three years in the making.

6:15am Sunday: I’m stood in the kitchen in my pjays making an epic packed lunch. Tuna and sweetcorn sandwiches, roast chicken salad sandwiches, mini Soreen bars, flapjack(shop bought, I’m not mad), cookies (also shop bought) lots of water, grapes, two packets of Sainsbury’s rainbow laces, chocolate buttons, cheese and onion rolls and coffee.

An hour and a half later we pulled into the car park at the foot of Kinder Scout, a mountain in the Peak District, just a stones throw from the pretty village of Hayfield. It’s bright and breezy an rain is forecast for 1pm so without further ado, with my pocket bulging with rainbow laces, me, my boyfriend and my Dad, set off.

The first thing that struck me, or rather it, was a massive squirrel which had fallen victim to an electricity pylon and was hanging, bat like from the wires, by its melted back feet. I almost chucked up, rainbow style. I hurried past and refused to look up for the rest of the trip.

Passing Kinder Reservoir, the abandoned pump house and secluded £3.5m estate (many conversations about lottery wins ensued.) we started to climb. There’s something really peaceful about falling into step in comfortable company. The odd sheep interjecting, a cuckoo, skylark and goose adding to the chatter.

Having reached Kinder plateau in 2 hours, running on rainbow laces alone, we stopped to take in the view and snap some outcrop photos. Dropping my Canon EOS 1300D camera on the rocks, I vowed to listed to my dad’s expert safety advice of “Kaaaaattttteee maaaaannn, (he’s a geordie) stand still before you take the bloody picture.” Don’t worry, the camera survived to tell the tale in the photos you see here.

Kinder Downfall waterfall allows for some epic shots too and having inhaled a chicken salad sandwich and a handful of grapes, I was back to arsing about, slipping, splashing and snapping in the water.

We touched lucky and missed a huge rain cloud which dropped it load all over neighbouring Stockport and Manchester, to reach the Kinder and Kinder Low trig points at lunch time. The views are incredible. Mam Tor at Edale to the east and on a good day, Snowdon and Cheshire out to the South West. Kinder Reservoir on your right hand side, glistening in the sun.

I was surprised by and awe-struck by the amount of people hill/fell running. Their bodies highly tuned to withstand the uneven ground conditions and steep inclines/declines of the mountain. At 663m above sea level, Kinder Scout is no Snowdon, but it’s still a hefty challenge.

I’ve put so much weight on over the last three years and more so during lockdown and my current role which involves me sitting at a desk for 7 hours a day isn’t helping either. I don’t want to look nor feel like this any more and having picked up on the fact that historically, May is an active month for me (Superhero challenge and charity abseil ) I didn’t wan’t to miss an opportunity to pick up on the momentum. I’ve chosen Kinder Scout over Kinder Bueno’s. It’s time for a change.

We made the circular trip in 5 hours, dodged the rain, chatted, laughed, said a hundred friendly hello’s, slipped, tripped but didn’t fall and definitely didn’t get electrocuted like that poor bloody squirrel by the car park.

My dads dodgy knees still in tact, we arrived home in time to watch the Grand Prix and put everything in the wash before tucking into a sensational Sunday roast. Sundays well spent and a cracking start to my May movement plans!

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Faces of Liverpool

Liverpool is a truly diverse city and this Explore Liverpool feature proves it.

My thanks to Donna Staunton and the team at Explore Liverpool for inviting me to interview for the online platform back in September 2020, when the world felt like a very different place.

Faces of Liverpool is a brilliant feature which highlights people from all walks of life, who call Liverpool home. We’re not talking just famous faces and celebs, the regular feature highlights the voices and stories of ordinary scousers and adopted-scousers, like me, and gives the readership an insight into what makes the city so special for them.

Three of my favourite Faces of Liverpool interviews so far are:

  1. Natalie Reeves Billing – https://www.explore-liverpool.com/faces-of-liverpool-natalie-reeves-billing/

2. Ngunan Adamu – https://www.explore-liverpool.com/faces-of-liverpool-ngunan-adamu/

3. Oisín Hassan – https://www.explore-liverpool.com/faces-of-liverpool-oisin-hassan/

Three very different people with totally different experiences of Liverpool and why they call the city home.

My own experience of moving to and back to Liverpool at various stages of my life has enabled me to see Liverpool through a different lens each time. While the city landscape has changed beyond recognition in places, the people, the warmth and vibrant energy has remained, even through the pandemic.

The iconic landmarks I have spoken about in my Faces of Liverpool interview, will remain ingrained on my heart as they represent more than just meeting places. The Bombed Out Church, the Littlewoods Building, Liverpool Cathedral, they all stand tall as symbols of my journey through life and its ups and downs and there’s so many more to come.

This is my Faces of Liverpool story – https://www.explore-liverpool.com/faces-of-liverpool-kate-reilly-james/

My thanks also to John Drysdale of NoGuru and Marco Pierre White, Chapel Street Liverpool for the photo.

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I Cannot Sit

It’s #WorldPoetryDay and who doesn’t love an opportunity to pour their heart out on the page?

I Cannot Sit

Soaring, I love you and want to consume your every fibre, soak it up like sun rays on Sundays on the water front. Swallows darting overhead, carefree and playful.

Rock bottom it’ll never last, two worlds collide but the gravitational pull loses momentum and we drift apart on different trajectories, narrated by that professor off the telly.

Opportunities rise like Spring flowers through the dirt. A sense of worth and renewed vigour to achieve and thrive. Feeling good, confident, ready.

The cracks appear and they’re not filled with roses but sharp stabbing pains of self doubt and anxiety. What do I contribute? Why does it even matter?

My legacy grows, fed on knowledge from the four corners of the earth, pixelated, vibrant, loud. Morning, noon and night, plugged in, switched on.

As it’s eyes turn square and it no longer responds to human touch, I dream a preview of the 2D future to come. What use are hands if all we grasp is a cold, plastic controller and not each other?

I instil love, compassion and creativity yet do not practise what I preach. Empty words, spoken with tenacity and vibrancy, but mean nothing. Sure, yes, of course. Nothing.

I have performed miracles. I have changed, adapted and shifted to accommodate life, death and everything in between. I have lived.

The shell and the burden I carry is scarred and heavy. Scrawled with my stories and minute details, my contours, shapes and angles are not what I see in the mirror. I see hurried conversations, chances missed and regrets.

I am a legacy. Repeating history, following suit. If three is the magic number, I want 4. If 4, then I want five.

It is time to sit. To take a seat and bathe in all that went before me. It will suffocate and choke. It will pour deep into my lungs and draw every last breath from my chest.

If I hold on, just hold on, grip the seat, I will make it to the shore and I will sit and look out at a new horizon, full of promise, integrity and meaning.

‘Washed up’ they’ll say. Cleansed, I will correct them.

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I’m Supposed To Be

I love routine, thrive off it, yet tomorrow’s eagerly anticipated school run has thrown everything off kilter.

I’m supposed to be ironing uniforms right now. I realised on Friday that I hadn’t tried any uniform on the kids and had no idea if it still fit. Luckily their lockdown 3.0 diet of selection boxes, pancakes and pre-Easter, Easter eggs hasn’t had a detrimental effect on their pinafores and school sweaters.

I’m supposed to be sorting out school coats in the wash. My six year old son lost his first tooth last week and with pearly white in hand, proceeded to drool blood all over his coat! Why are boys so messy?! His toothy grin is a welcome distraction from his hastily shawn buzz cut. Bring back the barbers, please!

I’m also supposed to be carrying out an undercover toy clear out while my kids are with their dad. This delicate operation involves lashing Happy Meal toys, old kids comics and magazines, rearranging books and arts and crafts supplies and gathering up the millions of errant Lego bricks which litter every single surface and edge of carpet between their two rooms.

I’m supposed to be reading the Sunday papers cover to cover, like I’ve promised myself for the last three years. The reality is I’ll skim through the Home, Travel and supplements and the rest will line the cats littler tray throughout the week. I’ll maybe have a crack at the Sudoku.

I’m supposed to be prepping packed lunches for the week ahead. Although my month long stay in a Premier Inn with three kids last October, has prepared me well for this one. If you can make a nutritious packed lunch in a Premier Inn room with no fridge or cooking facilities, at 10pm, every week night for four weeks, you’re practically an X Men.

I’m supposed to be enjoying a long soak in the bath having invested in some Pink Himalayan Bath Salts a couple of weeks ago. They’re in danger of forming some kind of stalactite (is it stalactite or stalagmite when they grow upwards?) if I don’t get around to it soon. Mmmm a long relaxing bath, proper Sunday behaviour.

I’m supposed to be prepping a Sunday dinner for when the little ones get home, before the dinner, bath, bed routine resumes and we get to chapter three of the latest Michael Morpurgo kids book. Kaspar Prince of Cats is epic by the way, especially if you can nail the voice of The Countess!

Lastly, I’m supposed to be drafting my latest creative writing piece, which is the most fun brief I’ve received in ages. Naturally, everything else is getting binned off and I’m making this a priority.

The returning school run and related responsibilities has forced me into a teenage like slump where I don’t want to do all the boring stuff. Basically, I’m rebelling. I genuinely do love routine, as a family, we thrive off it. But my last few hours of freedom will be spent typing away, knowing I’ll have to get up at 5am to put coats in the tumble dryer, while stepping over toys I should’ve donated or chucked out, living with the regret of not having read that article or soaked my dry skin in the bath. Still, it feels good to rebel, even just for a little while.

All hail the homeschoolers, the end is near.

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And Just Like That…

The first cohort of students I taught to be journalists have officially flown the nest.

After 18 intense weeks of study in the middle of a global pandemic, 7 students have completed their NCTJ and are setting off on their next chapter.

It’s been a hugely rewarding experience. Getting to know them, monitoring their progress, making memories, and finding new and exciting ways to breathe life into Teeline Shorthand. No really, it actually was exciting for a moment there.

They have completed modules such as Court Reporting, Media Law, Video Journalism and more. They’ve bonded as a group and had their first taste of life in a bustling news room. Some even had their work published in a number of national and international publications which is testament to their work ethic and determination.

Some days we plugged away at three hours of Teeline shorthand drilling exercises, some lessons we did Buzzfeed quizzes, identified the funniest headlines, and who can forget the fiercely competitive Kahoot? Sheesh, they’re seriously out to win!

With E-portfolios finally complete they’re off to write their next chapters. Whether that’s in the news room, comms, PR or elsewhere, I’m confident they’ll all take a host of new skills on the journey. I hope they all keep in touch as they progress in their careers. It’s been a real pleasure.

To the NCTJ Journalism Diploma Fast-track class of 20/21 thank you for coming to this press briefing. My name is Jane Brown 😉

Good luck.

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The Backlog

How long is your to do list right now? I can’t see the end of mine.

It’s been a week. I’m fully aware it’s only Wednesday afternoon, but I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t eyed up the gin already. I’m here for a mini moan, but I also have good news. Stick with me.

My Zoom link failed in my first new cohort class this morning. My iphone has been installing the latest brain washing update for almost 90 mins, my kids homeschooling is running two days behind and I’m locked in an eBay battle for an amazing pair of ceramic hoop earrings. I’ve just been outbid.

On top of the earring drama, I’ve still got to file my tax return, I have 80 pieces of written work to mark and we’re in desperate need of a big shop. Sod it, Koka Noodles for tea it is!

I’m not stressing anymore. It is what it is. There are bigger things at play. This week Boris Johnson made a promise to the public that once we’re through the Covid pandemic, there will be a day of mourning all those lost. What a load of bollocks. Why not just quit throwing money at crack pot ideas (read, giving your mates a load of tax payers money for shit that would never work) and protect the front line staff and those who are vulnerable?

The statement took me back to October. 4am sat on the sofa bleary eyed listening to my mum wail down the phone because my step dad had died suddenly in the night. From covid. Having worked a weekend shift in admin at the local hospital. The same place he was told earlier in the year to stay away from because he was classed as ‘clinically vulnerable’.

I sat there for about an hour. In shock. I went up to bed and told my boyfriend what had happened and cried. Then I got up, took my kids to school and went to work. It’s safe to say I’ve not even begun to deal with the grief, because it doesn’t feel like there is time. There’s homeschooling three kids, three meals plus snacks, my own workload, phone calls to make, my mum to look after, laundry, oh my days the laundry. Where does it all come from? It took me two days to put clean bed linen on my own bed. I have been so tired and lacking in energy. I slept in my kids’ bunkbeds because I just couldn’t be arsed.

Well here’s the good news. I’m writing, a lot. I am leaving my mega stressful job and starting a new role with an organisation I have admired for more than ten years. It is literally a dream job. An organisation which not only understands the demands on working mums, but encourages you to identify how you can get the best out of your working day. There’s far too many things to list, but it’s safe to say I’m mega excited.

Here’s some more good news. My kid aced her spellings this week. My other kid told me she wasn’t coping with her school work and it was making her upset. So we sat down and brainstormed for a bit and I introduced her to time blocking. Two days later, she’s a different kid. My son? He’s just living his best life in his Pokemon pjays. Rocks up, eats the entire contents of the fridge, does a bit of purple mash and then toddles off to play with his Lego, game on the Nintendo Switch or annoy his sisters. Oh, he painted his glow in the dark solar system yesterday, but we’ve lost Venus. Probably in the Dyson already.

We’ve started going for 8pm walks again. We did this in the first lockdown when I was scared of being around people. Now it’s just a great way to switch off from the days activities and get some fresh air before bed. A constitutional if you will.

If you’re anywhere near the end of your to do list, I salute you. If like me, you can’t see the end of your list, I invite you to join in an 8pm walk. Leave the list. Chuck the pen. Just wander. It’ll all still be there tomorrow.

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A Little Less Conversation

I’ve been thinking about communication a lot this week. How do you talk to someone?

If there’s one particular skill that is essential to being a journalist it’s being able to strike up a conversation with anyone, anywhere. It’s also the single most annoying part of being a parent apparently. “Mum you’re so cringe, you talk to anyone.”

Are you one of those people who talks to their family every day? I am. I chat with my mum probably 2/3 times a day. I call my dad once a week and the same with my brother. I also send daft videos and memes and stuff on whatsapp and Instagram as a way of checking in. Covid restrictions haven’t really influenced this routine, it’s just how we roll. Although, things have begun to change.

As January trundles on I’ve found myself feeling more withdrawn from my usual chatty self. I feel as though there are only three topics of conversational allowed and I’ m so over them all. I think I’m ready to hibernate. You know all those Christmas and new year conversations we have; “All ready for Christmas?” people ask, “yes, just a few last bits” you reply. Or, “how was New Year, do anything nice?” they’ll ask, and you say ” ahh just a quiet one at home with a few drinks, you?”. Those inevitable conversations we enter into a certain times of the year? They’re only manageable because they’re limited to like a two week period.

We’re now in month, I don’t know 9/10(?) of homeschooling and the same perfunctory conversations we were having in April 2020 and still here. Lingering like a empty wine bottle by the bin, waiting to be taken out and replaced. A lady in the park yesterday asked me if I was enjoying homeschooling. I switched into robot mode, “Oh you know, we’re getting a few bits done each day. That’s what counts isn’t it?”

She went on to tell me about how she studied IT in university 20 years ago and introduced computers into high schools for the first time. Her daughter is an architect and she’s making plans to oppose the local park being built on. 125 apartments, imagine the extra traffic? See, I listened. I asked questions about her Dachshund (who knew they barked so loud?) and her granddaughter (much less barky), both of whom we’re trying their best to get into the doughnuts in my shopping bag. She is the only stranger I have spoken to in months and the conversation left me weary.

Oh, that’s not entirely true. An Arriva bus driver told me he liked my phone case when I was paying for a ticket. I smiled and said: “Ahh it just stops me from smashing the screen on a daily basis.” We both smiled that knowing smile all Iphone users do and I went and sat down. Meh. Kind but meh.

I’m torn between wanting something new and exciting to talk about, the inauguration bought us a few covid-free days, but then lacking the motivation to engage. It all seems so trivial and I’m in danger of losing my conversational skill to funny Tik Tok videos and Instagram reels. Why bother to tell the joke when you can send a video of a cat snoring into a microphone? Right?

There are people I am close to who will say that this description does not match the person at all. I am loud, gregarious, sweary and forthright. And they are right, usually.

It’s stressing me out all this not talking. It’s like I need to perform, to be that loud, gregarious girl, always with something to say and never afraid to say it. But it’s knackering and striving to be that person is making me blue. I abhor being negative. Hate it. Always try to look at the postives. But my family are far away, my daughter is struggling with lockdown, my mum is so desperately lonely having lost my step dad in October, the list goes on and it’s mostly crap.

*Audible sigh here*

I went for a five mile walk, posted some Ebay stuff (said hello and answered the home schooling question again from the lady in the post office) and gave my head a wobble. Reset firmly pressed.

Rather than fight it, perhaps now is the time to be quiet. Embrace it. It’s going to be a busy few weeks. I’m signing off from one adventure and beginning a new one. Lots to learn, many new colleagues and people to meet and new routines to establish at home. Maybe this time was always meant to be spent in quiet contemplation? Maybe it’s time to be more of an observer and less of a participant?

January is to me, a month of change. Ordinarily I buy into various resolutions and ‘new year new me’ bollocks until around 13th when the wheels fall off. I also start writing a new diary and clear out my email inbox and message apps. This has all gone to plan, including the wheels falling off bit. But the more noticeable and sustainable change is how I communicate. It’s taking some getting used to but I think I like it. It’s less turbulent, more considered.

Communicating in the right way at the right time, as opposed to just ALL the time, is a 2021 habit I can really get behind. I never wanted to believe it, but maybe less really is more?

Are you feeling lockdown weary or covid/homeschool gagged? What are you doing to combat it? Talk to me.

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9 Really Fun Home School Activities for Lockdown 3.0

These ideas don’t take ages to set up, they don’t need lots of expensive equipment and you’ll definitely enjoy them yourself (when the kids have gone to watch Cartoon Network!)

I woke up with Whitesnake’s 1987 hit, ‘Here I Go Again on my Own’ stuck in my head. Following yesterdays anouncement of lockdown 3.0 in the UK, I decided to make a start on some fun home schooling activities for my younger two. My teen is already being inundated with work from her teachers, but we both know she’ll emerge from her tech cave to join in the chalking and science experiments. They always do!

So, here’s 10 ideas I’ve pulled from the likes of Pinterest to help ensure my kids to actually learn something, but also explore activities outside of Purple Mash and TT Rockstars. My younger kids are age 6 and 9, years 2 and 4 at school respectively. I try to find activities they can both do, and leave the targeted English, maths and science to the pack sent home from school. Basically, I’m trying to be the fun substitute teacher who lets them paint their hands with glue and do word searches!

Baking and cooking together teaches all kinds of great skills.

My advice, not that you asked for it, but my advice for homeschooling is don’t sweat it. Yes there will be days when they have square eyes from being on tech, there will be days when you assign Lego building as an educational achievement (well, it is) and some days you’ll get a full set of timestables done with dry pasta shapes before cooking it for tea. It’s all good.

Here’s 10 fun homeschooling activities to check out during lockdown 3.0

1 – Cotton Bud Painting

My little boy hates practising his handwriting. He practically has his own font, but it’s the one thing that gets flagged up at every parents evening. We’ve had a go at cotton bud painting to make it more fun and then made dot art pictures afterwards. All you need is a box of cotton buds, some paint and paper. More here.

2 – Me on the Map

My kids both enjoyed making maps of their local areas at school. I thought we would take on this idea, and see if they could identify where they are in the universe, never mind their own postcode. Paper, sweet wrappers, pens, highlighters, glitter, string, whatever. Make a map of your world together.

3 – Salt Dough Dinos

I LOVE salt dough, but playdough is just as fun to mould. We’re combining history and play here by making some salt dough dino prints. We’ll prob watch Jurassic Park afterwards too. More inspiration for salt dough creations here.

4 – Maths Pegs

Maths is a bit of a chore in our house and so anything that can make numbers more fun is a bonus. If you can get your hands on some wooden pegs, this is a great way to get to grips with times tables without needing the wifi code. Paper, pens and pegs. More info here.

5 – Scavenger Hunt

These scavenger hunt cards are so easy to make and you can choose to stay indoors or even take them out into the garden or the local park. Paper and pens is all you need. Set your kids a challenge to find something rainbow coloured, slimy, fluffy, green, hard, smooth, whatever. More ideas here.

6 – Taste the Rainbow

Did you know there so much more to a bag of Skittles than just eating them?! Science experiments with Skittles are a great crowd pleaser for little ones. It’s as easy as arranging the sweets in a circle on a plate and adding warm water for an instant rainbow. Alternatively, if you have some food colouring at home, check out this rainbow lettuce and celery experiment.

7 – Marble Run Maze

It’s day one and the kids have already eaten me out of house and home, which on the plus side means, I have loads of boxes and tubes to use. Get yourself some selotape, some boxes and scissors and make a marble run. You don’t even need marbles! Toy cars, frozen peas, bouncy balls, all work just as well. I’ve found that taping boxes to the walls often pulls the paint off, so I stick to the doors or fridge works best. More inspiration for your little engineers here.

8 – Historical Pick A Number

Do you remember making these ‘pick a number’ things in school (bottom left hand corner of the pic)? I have no idea when I learned, but I can still make them in my sleep! Why not mix up your kids history projects with a bit or origami? Great for history or English tasks, swap out the ”you’re cute’ messaging for comprehension questions, where did I live? What food did I eat? Name one interesting fact about me, what era did I live in? More on this idea, here.

9 – CHALK!

Chalk is the most versatile teaching aid of all time. You can pick up a pack of chalk for about £2 and teach your kids something from every aspect of the curriculum with it. Draw the solar system on your driveway, draw around each other and sketch in the bones, make an Urban Orienteering playground in your own garden, blend the colours to make art, draw a treasure map, write times tables down path, draw a frame and snap selfies, the possibilities are endless. More ideas here.

To all the parents and care givers taking on lockdown homeschooling, I wish you good luck! Let’s do our best.

Give these ideas a go and drop me a line with how they went, I’d love to hear your feedback. I’m on Twitter @katereillyjames or email me, katereillyjames@gmail.com.

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Liverpool Blues

Blue is the colour

I teach Journalism in the heart of Liverpool’s Georgian Quarter. Nothing makes me happier than slipping out of the staff room at lunch to wander the cobbled streets, and day dream about living in one of those amazing houses. Especially in December, when they’re bestowed with baubles and wreaths. It’s like a scene from the original 101 Dalmatians animation.

The Georgian Quarter offers up so many visual gems. Hope Street is crowned at either end by an architectural delight. Not one, but two cathedrals. St. Brides Church is another personal favourite landmark, towering up from the pavement with it’s Parisian, Madeleine-esque columns. What I love most is the huge expanse of sky from Gambia Terrace, Hope Street, looking out to Liverpool Cathedral, especially on a clear day. Similarly, the wet paving stones on Percy Street offer up beautiful reflections after a downpour.

My lunchtime strolling had led to an accidental Twitter series of pictures. My Liverpool Blues features whatever I come across on my Georgian Quarter walks which includes a shade of blue. Usually it’s the sky, sometimes its a front door, railings, anything. I just always seem drawn to the colour and can’t resist taking a pic.

It’s not at all grim up north, sometimes you’ve just got to dig a little deeper, or take more time to appreciate what’s around you. What better time to invest in your surroundings that during lockdown 3.0? We’re allowed to get in some exercise outside with members of our own household, so why not charge your phone, pick a colour and see what looks good in your neighbourhood?

Send me your colours on Twitter, @katereillyjames and I’ll share the hell outta them.

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Meet Me At St. Paul’s

I’m a pluviophile. I love the rain.

I’m also a big fan of pina colada’s too but I’ve only just made that connection. There’s something about the rain I find soothing, calming. You can stick me in the middle of a bustling cityscape, say London, during rush hour, during a torrential downpour, and the tube is flooded from Euston to Waterloo – and I have to get to Bank and carrying an overnight bag and laptop and, and…..I’d still be wearing a smile, because of you.

Of course, it was destined for failure. But at the moment, that damp, cold, October night, nothing has ever felt more right. The rain belted down from mid-afternoon. From my lunchtime spot in the Trafalgar Square pub, I watched both tourists and Londoners alike dash about with umbrellas trying to dodge the puddles. Still, I wore a secret smile.

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The advertising training session ploughed on though the afternoon and the heavily loaded clouds persisted over the Thames. Growing steadily in number and weight. Looking out from the 14th floor, searching for the landmark, knowing you were so close, yet the clock held us apart. It took everything I had to not bolt out of the room at the end of the day. Hurried goodbyes and papers stuffed into my bag, I made for the tube.

The course had been a casual event, which is lucky because my leather trousers and Adidas combo were my only defence against rush hour people, trains, cyclists, and the persistent rain. That rain. It was biblical. London reached critical mass at exactly 5:27pm. The Northern line had flooded, the city was gridlocked. The phone connection was patchy at best. With no umbrella and the hefty weight of my overnight bag on my shoulder, I made a decision.

There’s no way I was going to meet you looking my best. I made my peace with it. So out came the Yankees cap up went my denim collar, and the 2-mile trek across the city began.

I was wet in places you can only be when you’ve hauled ass through the pouring rain for something truly unmissable. I was drenched. Head to toe. Racing towards each other through packed streets, filled with pissed off commuters and shoppers, we checked in with short calls: “Where are you now?” “Oh wait, my phone is getting wet, let me duck in somewhere.” “I’ll call you right back.” “Stay right there I’ll get the tube towards you.” “Oh no, that’s flooded too.” Until finally.

“Okay, let’s just pick a central point, I’ll meet you at St. Paul’s Cathedral. Whoever gets there first, just take shelter and check back in soon, yeah?”

“Okay,” I smiled.

It was 2.3 miles, from where I was stood, outside New Look in the rain, soaking through my buttoned-up denim jacket and Adidas, to the steps on the west side of St Paul’s Cathedral. I was so cold. The type of cold that feels like it’s all up in your shoulders and neck. I looked like I’d walked twice that distance by the time I arrived.

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But the moment I laid eyes on you, it didn’t matter. Nothing did. It wasn’t meant to be a Hollywood moment. It really wasn’t. But it felt like one. Smiling and kissing and laughing. Just staring at each other in disbelief. Stood, rooted to the spot, almost in shock that it was even happening.

The rain stopped. We walked across the Millenium bridge to the Southbank, unaware that another human being walked the earth. It was all eyes on us. You snapped a pic of me having run across a busy road, dodging slick hackney cabs and red, London buses. Looking at it now, it could be a simple pic of St. Paul’s in the dark. But there I stand, unaware of your camera, yet wholly aware I was breaking every single rule in the book.

We wandered along the Southbank in a steady rhythm of comfortable silence and bouts of raucous laughter and conversation. You knew the perfect place to grab a bite to eat but suggested a drink first to dry off and settle the nerves. Nerves? The age of us, behaving like kids.

Shakespeare, the creator of the most famous lovers, looked on as we went for a late dinner at a cosy Borough Market restaurant. It was perfect. We’re sharing tapas, you’re getting tipsy on the red. You paid the bill and came back with two glasses of prosecco. Clinking glasses before we left for the apartment.

I remember feeling cold at dinner, my jacket and leather trousers still slick with rain. The nightcap prosecco took the edge off and loitering around Potters Field, snapping the lights reflected on the water, feeling your gaze one me, quickly took my mind elsewhere.  Stopping to take pictures on London Bridge, illuminated against the inky blue sky, I felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

Like a teen on a first date I walked along next to you silently hoping you were going to stop and kiss me again. As backdrops go, we’d started strong at St Paul’s, and London Bridge after a rain-storm is a pretty good second base.

Almost as if you’d read my mind, you took my hand, pulled me over towards the wall, and kissed me long and hard. against the backdrop of an in illuminated city. I was breathless. Your hand on my right cheek, the other pulling me into your body. The weight of my overnight bag on my shoulder, forgotten.

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When It All Falls Down

Work is online, school is closed and the threat of COVID feels closer than ever before.

It’s day one of 2021 (for those like me, who didn’t kick start their New Year until Monday) and it’s all gone to shit already! I will be teaching online for the foreseeable future, my kids are all home until at least 18th January, and I just heard that another 5 people I know have COVID.

First of all, I have to look at the positives. I hadn’t yet bothered to iron any school uniforms, so that’s a tiny win. I’m genuinely a little bit excited about home schooling my younger two kids. We have a ‘paint your own solar system’ and a shed load of new Lego to get started on. I emailed my kids’ school this morning to thank the staff for everything they’re doing behind the scenes to ensure the pupils have access to school work and reading books. I fully support their decision to close and protect themselves and their families.

Back to window gazing it is then.

My mum, who is now part of our support bubble, having lost her husband to COVID in October, is asbolutely delighted that she can spend more time with the kids and help keep them occupied while I work. Speaking of work. I’m looking forward to two weeks worth of Zoom lessons with my NCTJ students. It’ll be the first time we’ve gone fully digital as we battled through in the news room in 2020. With exams looming, we’ll be battering the wifi to get their portfolio’s completed, it’s a challenge I’m wholly up for.

There’s no way to sugar coat this horrendous virus. Both my mum and step dad contracted COVID in October and sadly, my step dad died. My mum was hospitalised and has made a good recovery, despite her grief. Thank God for grandchildren.

Today I leaned another 5 extended family and friends have caught COVID. All of which have continued working throughout the pandemic, but have taken every precaution otherwise. No pub drinks, no meals out, hand washing, mask wearing, law abiding, and yet, they’re all suffering the effects.

Scotland has just locked down until the end of January. Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon made the decision despite believing the country is approx 4 weeks behind London, in terms of infection rates etc.

Is a UK lockdown just around the corner? With confirmed COVID figures now surpassing the height of the peak back in April 2020, surely it’s the only option? I don’t know about you, but I’m more nervous about COVID now than ever before. I’ve seen first hand how it can reduce a person to a shell. I don’t want that for anyone.

Home Schooling in 2020

In the coming weeks I hope we can go back to looking out for each other again. Checking in, saying hi, sharing recommendations for take-aways and Netflix shows. I’m going to try and source some more, fun home activities to do with the kids and share them on Instagram. It’s just small things, but they can mean a lot.

Having my family close gives me a little bit of comfort. Mentally I’m preparing to lockdown again. I think it’s coming. And if it doesn’t, then God help us all.

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10 Things I Can’t Do

….without having a nosebleed.

I have HHT. I’ve written about it a few times previously, but if you need to catch up, head this way first. I have daily nosebleeds. Sometimes it’s just a 5 or ten second trickle. Sometimes it’s 40 mins in my boyfriends bathroom and it’s exploded all over the sink, the tiles, the floor and me. The gift that keeps on giving.

Lots of people have nosebleeds. I get them because HHT causes my blood vessels to form improperly. They’re a big old tangled mess. It’s a hereditary condition and my dad, brother and two daughters have it too. Needless to say, we go through a whole load of toilet roll in our house.

HHT is a royal pain in the arse. When it’s not causing life threatening symptoms, such a liver failure, stroke and pulmonary issues, HHT likes to find an outlet to bleed like hell, without any warning. I’m a fan of sharing just how frequent and severe my bleeds are on my social media. I believe it helps to raise awareness of the disease, which in the UK is massively underrepresented.

Filtered pics and trigger warnings aside. My HHT gets me down a fair bit. A fellow HHT sufferer posted in a Facebook group that she’d lost a loved one to HHT over the festive period. If that wasn’t bad enough, her state of heightened emotions meant she’d suffered horrendous bleeds of her own, every day since. It’s hard going.

While there is no cure and treatment is still very much in the developmental stages for HHT, having each other is the best medicine right now. People who understand what living with a potential ticking time bomb disease feels like. It’s not great, but an understanding ear and virtual hug means the world.

Sharing tips on how to stem bleeds quickly (tampons up your nose – winner) or what questions to ask your ENT, vascular or genomics specialist (can I see what you just pulled out of my nose please?) and the odd message of support, it’s all we’ve got.

I want to share some things with you that I can’t do. My HHT dictates what’s good on a daily basis. Some days I can ride my bike to work. Some days I can ride my bike to work but I arrive looking like I’ve been involved in a road traffic accident, covered in blood. You get the idea.

Debilitating is the word I’d most associate with HHT. Frustrating is a close second. Here’s why.

Ten things I can’t do without having a nosebleed.

1 – Blow my nose. Nope, don’t even thing about it. Guaranteed a double nostril downpour, for sure.

2 – Sleep on my right side. After multiple laser surgeries, my right nostril is now weaker than the left. If I lay on my right during the night, the pressure builds in my nose and it’ll pour all over my pillow and bedding.

3 – Take a hot shower. Yep, hot water and my nose simply do not mix! Team lukewarm over here!

4 – Blend foundation or concealer on my nose. Nah, red, blotchy and interesting it is. Not worth the risk.

5 – Sauna or steam room. Again, nope. Is that my temperature creeping up? Incoming nosebleed it is then.

6 – Bend/lean over. This sounds utterly mad, but even if I so much as lean off the sofa for the remote, my nose is going to go.

7 – Rush. This one is particularly troublesome because I’m not exactly the most organised person. The morning school run, in the rain, laden down with bags and flutes and pe kits and lunch bags has resulted in many a HHT fail. I think our school friends are used to seeing me covered in blood these days.

8 – I’m going to say it. Sex. I’ve bled on my other half a couple of times at the worst possible time. It’s not a consistent problem but it’s not exactly great. Luckily he’s awesome about it.

9 – Strain. Again, ewww but true. I know that anything that builds pressure will result in a bleed. I’ve got a lot of love for leafy greens and less awkward chats with my consultant about toilet habits!

10 – Brush my teeth. I do it twice a day, so obviously I run the risk of two bleeds each day. Which then makes me feel sick and light headed. Plus, if my nose bleeds into my mouth, or my lips or tongue bleed, then yes, you guessed it, I have to brush my teeth again. Such fun.

So there you go. A little insight into the daft but annoying as hell limitations of having a vascular disease. If you’d like to find out more about HHT, head to www.curehht.org.

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HNY 2021

New Year was truly lovely, but saying goodbye to 2020 has taken an extra 72 hours.

I celebrated New Years Eve with my boyfriend, lots of lovely food, cocktails delivered from a fab local bar and a kick ass playlist. We counted down on the door step, in the rain watching the neighbours firework display across the road. We clinked glasses, kissed, took some pics and went inside to resume kicking/heading balloons around and drinking champagne. It was perfect.

Happy New Year 2021

Waking up 6 or so hours later, it didn’t feel like a fresh start. It felt like Friday. A normal, run of the mill day in tier 3. We cleaned up. Okay, he cleaned up. We went for a wander along the waterfront and did some laundry. He napped. The whole weekend has felt much the same. We watched films, cooked, cleaned up, went for walks and covid tests, showered, etc. All very samey.

It’s now Sunday, and tomorrow feels like a brand new start. What is it about Mondays? The kids are home. Work emails have restarted, I’ve considered ironing some uniforms, although no one knows what will happen in terms of schools re-opening. Does anyone believe anything the government say anymore?

I’m ready for 2021. I’m excited. Nervous, but overall excited. I feel like I need to write. There are words and ideas swirling around in my brain, desperate for a creative outlet. A portion of this has been spent creating shorthand and portfolio study aids for my students during the festive break. Transcribing football press conferences, Oscar winners speeches and celeb interviews certainly breaks up the more traditional ‘ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming to this council meeting’ openers!

The prospect of travel, new career opportunities and a little personal growth is keeping my spirits up. My boyfriend and I had booked to go to Rome when lockdown 1 began. Travel plans grounded, we managed 4 fantastic days away in Scotland in the summer instead. This year I’m hoping I’ll finally get to see Thomas Keats’ final resting place, as well as the ancient architecture and delicious Italian cuisine!

Work wise – things are mega busy this month. My first cohort of journalism students sit their final exams in late January and fly the nest! It’s foot firmly on the gas until then, however, post 22nd January, I’ve no idea what will be. Will there be bank hours available? Will I be out of the job? Who knows? I am loving teaching but I understand that education isn’t an option for as many people, given the year we’ve had, and so application numbers will be down. Gulp.

I have kept my hand in. I was published with Explore Liverpool last month. Fellow Evertonian and all round fundraising legend, Phill Hayward has embarked on a year long challenge to support Wirral Mind. Naturally I want Phill to get as much support and donations as possible so we organised an interview and hey presto! You can read his story here.

Cambridge based publisher, Kettle’s Yard also published my poetry submission in December. Take a look at this collaborative piece, dedicated to NHS staff and key workers.

New Year Resolutions never work out for me. I lack discipline. It’s something that holds me back from achieving my ill thought out goals, and by January 3rd, I’m usually done. This time I haven’t set any goals, until January 3rd, so I’m already winning, right?

Inspired by the one and only Dawn O’Porter – whose excellent list of 2021 to-do’s had me nodding and smiling in agreement, this is where I’m going to be in December 2021.

1 – Yes! It’s a massive cliche, but I will be lighter, fitter and healthier. You can’t outrun/cycle a bad diet and being hot at 40 is rapidly approaching! Body overhaul time.

2 – Sleep more. I love my bed and this one sounds pretty easy, but in order to get more than 5 hours, I must be more organised. Double whammy. Sleep app redownloaded!

3 – Read more books. Another double bubble here, because in order to turn more pages, I simply have to put my damn phone down. I have no less than 14 books to read and it’s only January!

4 – Stop swearing. I would fit right in on any turn of the century docklands with my overuse of the f-word and co. It’s unbecoming and I will instead expand my vocabulary to be more ‘Susie Dent’.

5 – Write a book. I’ve been threatening this for years. I’ve attempted it a few times and lost confidence. Published in 2021 sounds good.

6 – Clean and wear my glasses regularly. It’s not rocket science. I can’t see. Don’t know why I make it so difficult for myself.

7 – Learn to play Z Cars on the piano.

8 – DON’T dye my hair. I have been going steadily silver for about 10 years. In August 2020 I decided to stop dying my hair. This is the longest I’ve ever gone and I currently have about 3 inches of white/silver hair. I’ve come this far. 2021 will not break my resolve!

So that’s it. Come December 2021 I will be a fit and healthy, white haired, well read, well rested, published piano playing author with clean lenses. Who’s with me?

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