Here Are All the Things I Haven’t Accomplished This Year in Self-Isolation

by Brenna Holeman

Do you remember, back in March, when we all thought this would last two weeks?

The snow was melting in Winnipeg, I had a new boyfriend, I was almost overwhelmed with freelancing work, I was going to the gym regularly and loving it.

“Two weeks without seeing my family and friends, two weeks without going to restaurants, two weeks without going to the gym?” I panicked.

Oh, how innocent and naive I was. How blissfully, ignorantly unaware.

March passed slowly, and I made lists of things to do. I’d start canning, I’d start cross-stitch. I’d finally do that 12 week HIIT program on YouTube. Maybe I’d start up yoga! Oh and I’d read two books a week, practice the piano every day, and write – minimum – two blog posts a week.

Yeah. No.

None of that happened.

Outdoor adventures around Manitoba whenever possible

Today I sit in my office, the first day of snow in Winnipeg. It’s been seven months since I’ve seen many of my friends, eight months since I’ve been on an airplane. I can count on one hand the amount of times I’ve sat down in a restaurant. I’ve gone to the gym a smattering of times. I’ve lost all my freelance opportunities, I haven’t washed my hair in five days, and guess what? I haven’t canned a goddamned thing.

So as I hear my boyfriend – who has since moved in with his Bernese Mountain Dog, as it’s easier to isolate together – playing Call of Duty downstairs, I thought what better way to spend a cold afternoon than to list all of the things I didn’t do during this almost year of self-isolation. I could, you know, wash my hair or pitch a new publication or finally, finally vacuum under the bed, but, because I’m a masochist that strangely relishes in detailing my own procrastination, this seemed like a lot more fun.

Without further ado, here are all the things I didn’t accomplish so far in self-isolation (and a few that I did).

Please note: I do not mean to trivialize what is happening in the world today. It is scary and terrible. After a very tough few days here in Winnipeg in terms of number of cases and new restrictions, I just wanted to write something fun and light-hearted. Please stay home, wear a mask in public, support local businesses with takeout and online orders, and limit all social contacts, k?

-As mentioned above, I most definitely did not start canning anything. I also did not pickle anything. When IKEA opened up again in spring, I bought a ton of glass bottles and jars, hellbent on the fact that I was going to become a wizard of preserves. This, dear readers, did not happen.

I even half-heartedly picked up a bag of pickling salt the other day at Canadian Tire (they really do have quite the array of merchandise) but put it down in favour of a pair of hideous yet warm gloves for better control of two leashes and 180 pounds of dog during long walks.

And although I’ve been experimenting with cooking for the past few years, meaning nothing changed in that regard, the one thing I did absolutely nail was making my own Limoncello. Oh yes. Turns out the only thing more magical than drinking boozy, icy Italian liqueur on a hot summer’s day is drinking boozy, icy Italian liqueur that you made yourself. (Interested in the recipe? Here’s how to make Limoncello at home. Enjoy!)

And I mean… how many canned preserves would I eat, anyway?!

-I did not start yoga, nor did I end up miraculously falling in love with HIIT (high intensity interval training, like burpees and box jumps and other exercises designed to torture and/or induce the fetal position in grown adults). Way back in spring I asked for good home workouts on my Instagram stories and was flooded with ideas. And despite about 300 recommendations for Yoga With Adriene, I just couldn’t seem to find any online workouts I liked, nor could I find ones that were actually beginner level.

In January of 2019, I decided to change my entire life. I decided I’d start looking at food as how it could benefit my wellbeing. I started making sure that I was drinking enough water, sleeping well, getting enough vitamins and minerals, and being active every day, whether that was an hour of intense weightlifting or a quick walk around the block. I also started therapy because I wanted to work on my mind’s health just as much as my body’s health.

And doggone it, it worked. Over the course of a year, I got into the best shape of my life, and felt better than I ever had. My skin cleared up. My sciatica disappeared. I stopped struggling with anxiety and panic attacks. I had more self-confidence than ever in my life. I was happy, truly, freely happy, for possibly the first time in my life.

And then two things happened.

  1. I fell in love with a man named Jon, and falling in love is just as wonderful as I had hoped. I credit my lifestyle changes for finally being ready and open for a loving, healthy relationship.
  2. The gym closed, for obvious reasons. I am not complaining about that; anything that helps keep people safe is a-ok with me.

When I say it was pretty much all booze and all burgers and no working out, I’m not exaggerating. Jon and I both love to eat, love to drink, and love to binge-watch TV and movies. In the new throes of romance, coupled with having to isolate, we became hedonistic monsters. And don’t get me wrong, drinking beer and ordering pizza every other night is fun. It’s super fun, in fact… until it isn’t.

Experimental pasta with bacon and sweet potato

Around July, with nearly five months of eating poorly and being fairly sedentary, I knew I needed to change again. I felt so sluggish, unmotivated, and irritable. It took me a few months to get back into a healthy rhythm, but I’m slowly getting back to eating well and being active regularly.

I’m still not into HIIT (and probably never will be) but I did at least find out that I like the yoga workouts on the Nike app; there are quite a few general workouts on there that are good, and they’re quick enough that they don’t feel too intimidating. Other than that, it’s daily walks, home workouts with dumbbells, and dancing to this beginner routine once a week, because I can actually keep up with it. There’s nothing more humbling than trying a Zumba, hip hop, or salsa workout online only to discover you can’t even keep up with the warm up choreography.

-I did not write two blogs posts a week. Not even close. In fact, after I lost all of my freelance writing gigs – I was even ghosted by one I’d had for over seven years… as in, they just straight up stopped responding to all of their freelancers’ emails – I didn’t want to write at all. Nothing.

I tried journalling and lasted all of one day. I tried editing that old book I wrote that now is a convenient doorstop in the office. I tried sending pitches to a few old contacts. Writing felt overwhelming and awful, which broke my heart.

To compound that heartache, all of my blog traffic tanked. I always knew that one day I’d make the leap to full-time blogging and writing for myself, and back in February, my blog was earning enough to pay my mortgage and bills. I was on the way. Today, it barely pays a quarter of that. I’ve seen a lot of other bloggers write that their traffic is basically back to normal, but mine is still in the pits.

My boyfriend brings me beer, flowers, and brownies when I’m sad, because he’s the best

I’m not saying any of this for sympathy, but more of a: hey, if you are super sad and frightened and anxious and angry, it’s ok if your brain isn’t working the same way. In fact, it’s normal and natural. I have cried more than I ever thought possible about losing everything I’ve worked toward for the past decade. I’ve cried over turning down paid press trips because I simply cannot promote travelling right now, it doesn’t feel right to me. And despite losing the majority of my income, I’m one of the lucky ones: I still have a roof over my head and a solid savings account.

No, I didn’t write as much as I wanted over the past seven months, not at all. But I’m starting to forgive myself for it. I’m starting to forgive myself for it, and best of all… I’m starting to write. Who knows what the future holds for my career, but trying to write 1000 words a day is helping in so many ways.

-I did not learn to cross-stitch, make polymer clay earrings, start stretching every morning, read two books a week, or practice the piano every day. I did not start a gratitude journal or participate in Zoom hangouts or finally start meditating. In fact… I don’t really know what I have been doing for the past seven months when I haven’t been working. I know that I watched a lot of TV (currently: 30 Rock, The Queen’s Gambit, Breaking Bad, Fargo, Truth Seekers, and Schitt’s Creek. I don’t mess around). I know that I cook a lot, and drink a lot of local beer.

But on reflection, it’s been a year where I’ve spent even more time with the people I love: my boyfriend, my two best friends, my immediate family. My bubble is very small, and we socially distance (and wear masks if we can’t hang out outside) when we do see each other. But the time with them is priceless, and the connections stronger than ever before.

My mum lived in Winnipeg for the summer, and it was the happiest time

So what have I actually accomplished during self-isolation?

I fell deep into a depression again and I worked through it. I started to read again (currently: Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore, Gold Dust Woman: The Biography of Stevie Nicks by Stephen Davis, Five Little Indians by Michelle Good, and Toni Morrison’s The Last Interview). I gardened. I tried to spend whatever money I have to spare every month in the community, supporting local businesses. I’m cooking healthy meals, and being active daily, and learned a new song on the piano. I organized my back hall, my bedroom, my kitchen, and redid my office. I’m still making limoncello, and still drinking lots of it.

The bottom line, and the entire point of this post, is that it’s ok if you don’t do any of the things we all said we’d do with this apparent “extra time” at home. It’s ok if you’re not working out every day, or making crafts, or organizing your house. It’s ok if all you can manage is to make cereal for dinner. Honestly, with all of the chaos – with unemployment and home-schooling and a HORRIBLE PANDEMIC THAT IS KILLING THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE PER DAY – it’s ok if you just focus on putting one foot in front of the other.

Local red ale and Lazlow, what could be better?

When we finally have a vaccine, nobody is going to sit around reflecting about how many DIY projects you accomplished, how many home workouts you did, or how many books you read. Nobody is going to care how often you washed your hair or how many days in a row you had sandwiches for every meal. None of that matters right now. Right now, what matters is staying as safe as possible, and as sane as possible.

I watched one too many Instagram stories back in spring and felt under such pressure to use this time productively. But for me, for my sanity and my health, I realized that perhaps the most productive thing is to just do nothing sometimes. To just sit with my boyfriend and drink a beer on the back porch. To FaceTime with my sister and laugh about childhood stories. To be so utterly grateful and privileged to have my health.

I’m scared about the future, of course I am. But I’m no longer kicking myself over what I did or didn’t accomplish this year. If having to stay home and rewatch 30 Rock for the sixth time means that I’m helping slow the spread and keep my city safe, of course I’ll do it. Limoncello optional, though always appreciated.

Until it’s safe to go out and/or travel, this is where you’ll find me

Have you felt any pressure to accomplish a lot this year?

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37 comments

Katie November 3, 2020 - 7:00 am

I have felt the pressure. And I’ve done… absolutely nothing. I haven’t even made the photo books I wanted to make. And that last photo made me cry because I miss my second dog so much. And today is stressful. But. We go on, right? Maybe it’s time I learned to make limoncello.

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Brenna Holeman November 9, 2020 - 6:34 pm

But we go on indeed! I’m really having to remind myself that it’s OK if I accomplish nothing in a day… but it can be so overwhelming to accept that sometimes. I’m so sorry about your dog ๐Ÿ™

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Katie November 17, 2020 - 5:56 am

He died a year-and-half ago and I still cry about it. I feel ridiculous sometimes but I remind myself that he was my shadow. When that suddenly disappears after eleven years, it takes some getting used to.

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Candice Walsh November 3, 2020 - 8:47 am

Haha we are so alike. I undid all my hard work the year before by binge-eating comfort food and being a sad sack. But hey, we always claw our way back to the top.

(More dog photos please.)

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Brenna Holeman November 9, 2020 - 6:35 pm

Exactly, that’s what I’m reminding myself! I did it once, I can do it again. And if eating a bunch of two-bite brownies makes me feel better, who cares if I eat them?! Thanks for your comment, Candice!

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Lucy November 3, 2020 - 9:53 am

As the UK goes into a second lockdown this week you have definitely inspired me to start making limoncello! I’ve started a whole lot of things this year โ€“ I made one cross stitch card, started a novel, learnt a bit of Arabic and did 5 days of a Yoga with Adrienne 30-day challenge โ€“ but have accepted that I’m probably not going to keep any of them up and do not need the pressure of trying to. If I manage to walk a bit, sit by the fire with my cats and not drink all my gin collection in one go I’m happy with that!

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Brenna Holeman November 9, 2020 - 6:38 pm

I am all about that last sentence… although I’d forgive you for drinking all the gin at once! Thank you so much for your comment, Lucy… I hope you do try making Limoncello, it’s so much fun ๐Ÿ™‚

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Anne November 3, 2020 - 3:32 pm

I’m so going to have a go at making limoncello!

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Brenna Holeman November 9, 2020 - 6:35 pm

It’s so much fun! I hope you try it ๐Ÿ™‚

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Nadine November 3, 2020 - 5:58 pm

Whether you write 5 posts a month or 5 posts a year, I’ll be here to read them! Loved this one, loved The Queen’s Gambit, loved your perspective. Thanks for continuing to come back here and share your stories!

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Brenna Holeman November 9, 2020 - 6:36 pm

Oh wow, thank you so much, Nadine! That means so much to me, especially on low days. Thank you for your continued support xo

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LC November 3, 2020 - 10:05 pm

It’s definitely okay to not be okay. We’re just coming out of lockdown in Melbourne. Situations like this certainly give you an appreciation for the ‘small things’ in life that we readily take for granted. Doggo interactions most certainly help. Still in love with your bookcase.

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Brenna Holeman November 9, 2020 - 6:37 pm

Thank you so much, LC! Winnipeg is in a terrible, terrible position right now, so we’re all locked down (or we’re supposed to be, anyway). You’re right, the dogs help a lot… as do the books! Thanks for your comment x

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Jenna Hansen November 4, 2020 - 2:10 pm

Such a wonderful post. Thank you for the reminder, and so nice to read your words ?

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Brenna Holeman November 9, 2020 - 6:35 pm

Aw, thank you so much, Jenna, that means so much xo

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Liz November 4, 2020 - 7:07 pm

I really love your writing, thank you, Brenna! I have a question, having been a dog foster mom for years and finally foster failing with my dream dog this summer. I am a huge traveler and am usually gone 2-3 months every summer (I am a teacher). How has having your dog impacted your travels, pre-COVID? I wouldn’t trade my pup for anything but sometimes I get very nervous thinking about returning someday to my regular traveling and leaving her/finding long term dog sitting with friends or family. Would appreciate hearing how you’ve handled it. Thank you!

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Brenna Holeman April 14, 2021 - 12:37 pm

Hi Liz! I’m sorry that it took me so long to reply, it seems that replying to comments on the blog was also something I did not accomplish in the past year, and for that I apologize! I have never left Dottie for longer than a month, but when I did, I got a dogsitter/housesitter through Rover. It was fairly affordable (I just budgeted it into my trip) and I rested easy knowing that someone was looking after my house as well as Dottie. Dottie also appreciated being in her own house, I believe. I will admit that she was a bit standoffish to me when I returned, but that only last a couple of days until she was back to her regular self. nWith the two dogs, going forward, we’re lucky that my dad and his wife love looking after them, and that the dogs love them, too. But I honestly don’t know that I would leave for longer than a few weeks anymore because of them! I’m not sure if that helps, but that’s just my experience ๐Ÿ™‚

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Linda November 6, 2020 - 9:27 am

I love your honesty, Brenna – because it makes all of us realize we’re not alone in feeling we should/could be doing more…and reminding us that we should be kind to ourselves and get through this difficult period in the best way we can. Limoncello, dog cuddles, Netflix, comfort food – bring it on! I’m with you. Thanks for another great post!

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Brenna Holeman April 14, 2021 - 12:33 pm

Thank you so much for your comment, mama, and for your continuous support! I am so thankful to have you in my life xoxo

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Moani November 10, 2020 - 12:07 pm

This was much needed. I feel the same on so many levels and can relate! Also, I like Bad Yogi with Erin Motz for yoga. I tried Adrienne but Erin appeals to me more. Lol. Now I must go and try making limoncello because you’ve inspired me!

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Brenna Holeman April 14, 2021 - 12:26 pm

It seems that replying to comments on the blog was also something I did not accomplish in the past year, and for that I’m so sorry! Thanks for the yoga tip, I’m still determined that ONE DAY I will find something that I enjoy, ha ha. Is it bad that child’s pose is the only thing I like?!

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Julie November 10, 2020 - 2:39 pm

YES YES YES to this honest account of pandemic times…social media tends to guilt us with a lot of things so it’s nice to step away and reconnect with more meaningful things for our mental health. I too am savoring my days with our two big pups (we have a Berner too ๐Ÿ™‚ Thank you for sharing this, Brenna!

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Brenna Holeman April 14, 2021 - 12:33 pm

Aw, I love that you have a Berner! They are so great. Thank you so much for your comment, Julie, and I’m sorry that it took me so long to reply. xo

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Zalie November 12, 2020 - 9:51 am

Thank you for being so honest Bren, and for assuring us that it is OK to be feeling like so many of us are during this stressful time. We will all get through this! I love you sister and as alway, I am so proud of you! xoxo

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Brenna Holeman April 14, 2021 - 12:26 pm

I love you too, sister… thank you for always being there for me in the past year! xoxo

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Victoria November 15, 2020 - 7:25 pm

I haven’t done much except for helping out my family and reading! I feel like I’m doing “nothing” pretty often but then I remember that just because I’m not making money from my activities doesn’t mean they’re worthless!

Also, I’m sure you’ve thought of this already, but have you considered starting a Patreon? I’m sure you have a large handful of readers (me included) who wouldn’t mind subscribing in order to support your writing/blog!

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Brenna Holeman April 14, 2021 - 12:32 pm

Absolutely! Those are not worthless activities at all, especially if you’re helping out your family. And thank you so much for the Patreon suggestion, I have indeed started to think of it in the past couple of months as a few readers have mentioned it. I am so humbled by the fact that you would want to follow along there, thank you so much for that!!

And I’m so sorry, it seems that replying to comments on the blog was also something I did not accomplish in the past year, yikes ๐Ÿ™ Thanks again for your lovely comment, Victoria xo

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How to Make Limoncello at Home - This Battered Suitcase November 18, 2020 - 4:03 pm

[…] a recent blog post called “Here Are All the Things I Haven’t Accomplished this Year in Self-Isolation“, I reflected on all the yoga I didn’t do. All the canning, the crafts, the reading and […]

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Clazz - An Orcadian Abroad November 20, 2020 - 5:46 pm

Thank you so much for this post. I told myself I’d do all sorts of things back in March, and I really have not achieved much from that list. At first, I felt like I should; after a while, I realised that I didn’t need to. But still, now that it’s nearing the end of the year I have been feeling like I should have achieved more so I really appreciate this post. Like you, I sometimes wonder what I’ve actually *been* doing between working and sleeping. Some nights, I literally don’t understand where the past five or six hours have gone. But, I know this is temporary, it won’t be forever and all I have to do is manage until then. ๐Ÿ™‚ And thinking of it like that doesn’t make it seem so bad!

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Brenna Holeman April 14, 2021 - 12:31 pm

It seems that replying to comments on the blog was also something I did not accomplish in the past year, and for that I’m so sorry! I totally made a huge list as well, and tried to create schedules for myself that included working out, writing, reading, yoga, meditation, etc… when most days all I wanted to do was lie in bed and watch TV or scroll on my phone. I’ve TOTALLY lost track of time some days, to the point where I have no idea what I did. But you’re absolutely right, this is temporary, and it won’t be forever! Thank you so much for your comment, Clazz xo

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Lisa November 20, 2020 - 7:07 pm

Pretty much the only thing I accomplished is realizing that I can only do my part and canโ€™t make others take this seriously. And to enjoy the little things like snuggling my kitties and walks outdoors.

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Brenna Holeman April 14, 2021 - 12:27 pm

It seems that replying to comments on the blog was also something I did not accomplish in the past year, and for that I’m so sorry! I think what you accomplished is absolutely perfect ๐Ÿ˜€

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Cortney November 28, 2020 - 5:56 am

I can’t tell you how much I respect your responsible and compassionate and ethical decision to NOT promote travel right now, even if that meant a blow to your business and livelihood. I can’t imagine how hard that was, because I am seeing how easy it is right now for so many travel influencers to blithely soldier on with paid promotions and hyping travel and it makes me sick to my stomach, like some sort of alternate universe where privileged folks hop on planes after covid tests and poor people work essential jobs without healthcare. It’s a capitalist world and money pays the bills but when you choose morals over money you can sleep at night. I truly believe this will come back. You are an exceptional writer and you have built an incredible body of work. You did the hard, right thing by hunkering down and I think in the long run you will be the better for it.

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Brenna Holeman April 14, 2021 - 12:29 pm

It seems that replying to comments on the blog was also something I did not accomplish in the past year, and for that I’m so sorry! Thank you so much for your comment, Cortney. I really struggled and felt like I was in the minority most days, because everywhere I looked I saw other travel bloggers travelling. And I totally agree with you, it felt really weird seeing people going to resorts and on lavish holidays when so many people have lost their jobs in the past year. I am so appreciative of your support and of your amazing words, they truly mean so much to me and inspire me to keep going. I couldn’t ask for a kinder thing to say about my writing! Thanks again xo

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Erin January 16, 2021 - 8:12 pm

So great, as always, Brenna. I’m over making myself feel bad for what I did or didn’t do during this pandemic/2020. I’m living and surviving. That’s enough. It just has to be.

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Brenna Holeman April 14, 2021 - 12:25 pm

Absolutely. I believe in that 100%. Thanks for your comment, Erin, and I apologize for the late reply!

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Victoria@TheBritishBerliner January 26, 2022 - 12:48 am

Yes & No!
I was lucky enough that I was still able to keep working and to do so from home ‘cos I work for an IT company. In fact, I haven’t seen the inside of my office since March 2020!

I guess the pressure that I felt came from myself! I wasn’t travelling as much as I would have and felt that I shouldn’t “waste my time doing nothing,” so I did motivational coaching for people who were depressed, did some fund-raising for local artists and writers in Berlin who had mainly lost their jobs, I enrolled in some new IT courses, did a huge amount of gardening & started to learn how to drive!

At the peak of the pandemic, I kept my writing up on my blog but by the end of 2020, I sort of lost steam and wrote less and less. Partly because I wasn’t travelling as much anymore, and mainly ‘cos I simply didn’t want to!

I kept the gardening up though and made lots of chutney and jam. I also started a part-time PhD!

Having said that, 2022 seems to feel different so I re-vitalised my blog (sort of), and started writing every week again, with much success!

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