A present from Seville

If white is the colour of the first half of January, then by the end of the month it’s given way to orange. I love a bit of purity and minimalism after the richness of Christmas. Early January is a time for snowdrops in tiny vases, nutritious green juices and snow. But after a few weeks I’m ready for a bit of sunshine – even if that is in a jar.

I bagged a bargain box of Seville oranges from a local farm shop to make marmalade but couldn’t resist putting a few aside to make bitter orange pud for our supper. It’s a twist on Nigella’s bitter orange tart. I had a packet of Dorset ginger biscuits left over from Christmas so crunched them up with melted butter to form the base, divided the mix between 5 ramekins, popped the orange curd on top and chilled.

Once I find those muslin squares I put away for a rainy day and today’s snow has lost its virgin sparkle, I’ll be making a few jars of marmalade with spiced rum. Jars of sunshine in the depths of winter. It’s what I crave right now.

When life gives you lemons…preserve them

It’s been a busy week – teaching from home, on the rota with keyworker and vulnerable children in school, year 11 assessments to collect evidence for the end of course grades and a 290 mile round trip to take my father-in-law for his COVID jab. Pretty shattered actually and so the simple task of chopping a few lemons to preserve was just the job. Creative, therapeutic chopping which resulted in someting pretty and useful to stash in the larder.

It’s the work of a moment but a real mood booster. Sterilise a Kilner jar, place a couple of teaspoons of salt granules in the bottom then layer up fat slices of lemon (I used 2 lemons) with a teaspoon of salt between the layers. Cover with the juice of a couple of lemons, press down so that all the lemon slices are covered by the brine. Pop a couple of bay leaves in the top, seal and place in a cool, dark cupboard for a couple of weeks. Give the jar a shake from time to time.

They should be ready to use in a fortnight. I use them in soups, tagines and stirred through grains like bulghur wheat. You can preserve whole lemons or lemon wedges but I find slices are more versatile for my needs and you can make a small jar which is ready in 2 weeks as opposed to three months.

New Year lockdown

Pic Anne Williams

Back to school has been a bit different this term. As a family we were lucky to enjoy some time together, walking, playing board games and sitting by the fire at Christmas but we all agreed it didn’t feel very Christmassy this year. I think- more than ever – I associate Christmas with cold weather and so when it arrived in January I wanted to savour that slow holiday feeling that comes with a break from school.

Amidst the frantic scramble to move to online teaching and learning, keep everyone safe when I am in school on the teaching rota and allay the fears of my colleagues, students and parents about what is going to happen to GCSE and A Level assessment this year, I have carved out some time to go for walks, spend time tidying the garden and cook. I’ve ordered the second load of logs of the winter (our log store is more bijou than I would like) and have a stack of books ready to read when I switch off the work computer half an hour earlier in the evening. (Let’s hope I manage that!)

The weather in Wiltshire is crisp but not snowy and our ramble along the canal towpath was a bit boggy this afternoon but it was an hour of fresh air, living in the moment with my husband, nevertheless. Now I have a lot of preparation and marking to do before tomorrow. I also have a box of seville oranges to turn into marmalade sometime soon. I think I might add the last of the Christmas spiced rum to the pot.

Balance is everything.

How are you maintaining the balance in your life whilst working from home?

Wellbeing, it’s elemental. Part 4 : Fire

We Celts are never shy in celebrating – more often than not it involves music, dancing, alcohol and fire. Even in this strangest of years we’ll be welcoming in the New Year with a celebration around the fire. Of course it will be a quiet affair beside our  own hearth rather than on top of a hill where a community gathers beside a hastily constructed beacon blazing ostentatiously. How I long for those atavistic days! Having to scale down Bonfire Night affected me more than almost every other festival this year. Truly!

Fire stirs something deep within me and never fails to soothe. Not that I’m a pyromaniac you understand but I’ve spent hours tending bonfires after dusk on the allotment, love the daily routine of laying a fire in the hearth and am fanatical about the log pile. I adore a firework display but my passion is for the accompanying bonfire. One day I’m determined to do a spot of firewalking. 

To celebrate the end of 2020 I’ve splurged on a cornus for our cottage garden. Cornus ‘midwinter fire’. It’s a beauty and will go some way to assuage the lack of fire celebrations this year. Whenever I look out of the kitchen window it will remind me of 2020 – the craziness, the changes, the interruptions and the sheer joy of living in the moment. 

Making plans for next year

I’m filling in my 2021 diary, making plans for next year – I’m an optimist- determined to bring some balance to my life.

2020 did not bring the opportunity to spring clean the attic, clear cluttter, redecorate the entire house or learn Swedish. Neither did I sit back and reevaluate during lockdown. School life, if anything was busier than usual. The box of tulip bulbs in the garden shed that has been awaiting planting since October is a testament to that.

So what of 2021? More walking, more cooking, more gardening, directing a play, more family time, home improvements maybe finally getting that part in The Archers and, God willing, everyone staying healthy. All these are going in the diary before work commitments. Today’s first step was to pot up some paperwhites (finally) and to order these fragrant beauties for the garden – two more daphnes, a Carolina allspice and a winter honeysuckle.

Aftrr all, teaching is just a job. There. I’ve said it. Probably for the first time in my life. It’s what 2020 has taught me.

Cold Moon Rising

Pic- Country Living

Tonight is The Full Cold Moon, so called because after tonight the temperature should start to drop rapidly. It is also known as The Oak Moon and Yule Moon – the final Full Moon of the year and one of the brightest Moons of the year.

Let it be a time of release, of letting go and being our authentic selves. For me that means admitting that I have been exhausted and disillusioned by the constant demands on and criticism of teachers this year. Heaven knows we don’t do the job to be thanked, but in 2020 it has been a Sisyphean task.

The Cold Moon brings an opportunity to be positive, open, ambitious and tuned into an inner strength that will pull you through anything. It is also a time to look back on the year passed and reflect on all the lessons we have learned and the people who have come and gone in our lives. Periods of self-reflection are vital; they are energizing and transformative and they provide an opportunity to sweep away the negativity, relax and allow yourself to move into to a new year with hope.

So as you gaze up at the Cold Moon, I hope you find blessings, meaning and hope in the coming year.

Wrapping up Christmas

Christmas is cancelled, according to the doom-laden press. It’s true enough that Christmas is very different this year for many. It’s true that we haven’t felt very Christmassy because the usual rituals have been curtailed or changed. It’s not true that the spirit of Christmas has been cancelled. Resilience, adaptability and community spirit – always positive character traits – have been forced upon us.

Here we are lucky enough still to be able to wrap up homemade gifts with love and care and deliver them to the friends we love who live nearby. We don’t go in for sparkle and glitter in our wrapping, but there was plenty of sparkle when we stood for 15 minutes on doorsteps chatting and planning to meet when were all allowed out next year. It was lovely to find a bit of normal in our topsy-turvy world.

Christmas bunting

Whatever your circumstances this year, life is better with Christmas bunting. This is some made by a former teaching colleague to fundraise for a local charity. It reminds me of Christmases past, people whom I no longer see on a daily basis and taking pleasure in the simple things.

I think that’s important, more than ever this year.

Packets of positivity

Now that the days are getting lighter, I’m going to sow a few sweet peas in pots in a sheltered spot to plant out in Spring.

I used to sow sweet peas in individual root trainers but now I sow a few in a deep pot, the kind in which I start the dahlias off. The don’t mind the cold but I protect them from the worst of the rain until they are ready for transplanting.

Something to look forward to next Summer.

In the bleak midwinter

Pic by Benjamin Ranyard

My heart goes out to anyone struggling through dark times. I am especially mindful of teaching colleagues who have worked through fourteen weeks, standing in front of hundreds of unmasked children indoors for five or six hours a day and now find they cannot visit or be visited by their own children and grandchildren. At the Winter solstice we need hope that lighter and warmer days will return.

How timely then that Saturn and Jupiter will appear brighter and closer than they have for several hundred years in the sky tonight. A serendipitous reminder that if you fix your eyes on the light the darkness is that little bit easier to negotiate.

Blessings of the Winter Solstice to you all. Xx

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