Welcome home

Photo by Alan Tyghe

I’ve experienced some enchanting views  this week. Some of them in daylight – misty views as I headed down into the village of Kilmerston as woodsmoke curled up from chimneys, thick Dickensian fog in Bradford on Avon and this one, near Great Chalfield Manor – one of my favourite places for a walk – posted by a friend who takes lovely, atmospheric pics.

But home is where the heart is.

January is when my front garden begins to bloom in earnest. Yes. Really. It’s a Winter garden. I blogged about it last year. Delightful Daphne is in full bloom, welcoming me home and  scenting my way to the front door, now that the Christmas lights are packed away.

The theme of the Chelsea Flower Show this year is loneliness and mental health and Jo Thompson helped a little by Zoe Ball has been commissioned to design a front garden which encourages conversations with neighbours and a friendlier community. 

I wanted to make our North-facing patch at the front of the house thrive and so I spend a fair amount of time in it. Certainly I’ve found that working in it has been a conversation starter. We’ve extended the patch by putting in an amelanchier lamarckii in a large painted oil drum container and repainting an old garden table as a pot stand. And I have plans for the summer for a few more pots.

It’s good to know that by creating and maintaining a garden that welcomes us home can also provide a place of beauty for others who live or pass nearby and an opportunity to have a chat with your neighbours.

 

Nobody’s perfect.

People seem to be looking for perfection – every day, everywhere. I can’t think that’s good for anybody’s mental health and well-being. Airbrushing, body shaming, posting your (heavily edited and filtered) life on social media, blocking people who disagree with you and pretending they are not there and the endless nit-picking if someone in the public eye shows that they are human, with flaws, like the rest if us. All these point to this trend for perfectionism.

We just need to make today that little bit better than yesterday – if possible. Hope, resilience, engagement, taking responsibility, taking small steps, finding contentment in the little things are all better than negatively promoting perfectionism. It’s a theme I share with students every day in the classroom and with my own children.

The firstborn heads back to Uni today after a five week break over Christmas. As a mother back in December I was looking forward to having all my children together again under one roof. In my imagination we’d go on frosty country walks, eat leisurely breakfasts, go down to see grandad in London and pop up to see the lights, play board games in front of the fire and share round the Christmas chocolates and mulled wine.

It wasn’t quite like that.

There have been some shared meals, one game of Monopoly, a trip with the boys to the bookshop and a family trip to Stourhead. I’ve binge-watched episodes of Sherlock and Father Brown with the eldest, nattered with the youngest over a coffee in the kitchen and mused over university applications and the likelihood of the Green Bay Packers making the Superbowl with the middlest. The weather has been frosty in the last few days but largely grey and wet before. Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve saw the teenagers head out with friends rather than staying in by the fire with their parents. There have been no huge gatherings of family and friends.

On reflection it’s been a bit chaotic. Most of the time my kitchen has been a bicycle cleaning and repair shop. I haven’t given the house a proper clean in weeks and we haven’t sat down to one family breakfast in the whole of the time there have been five people under one roof. Last night I lit the fire and gradually everyone appeared with their hot drinks and stayed for the rest of the evening, laughing and chatting. Proof that my life is beautiful.

Unplanned, imperfect but beautiful.

Clearing the clutter

Sarah Raven has a nice line in twigs and indoor bulbs . Perfect for January.

Once the Christmas decorations have been taken down isn’t there always an urge to clear the clutter, spring clean and look ahead to more streamlined ways of living?

I’ve spent time over the last week archiving emails, popping donations to the charity shop into cardboard boxes and thinking about doing some pruning in the garden, once the storm abates.

I admit to being much more ruthless than the rest of my family about clearing clutter, having discovered that it REALLY IS GOOD for my mental wellbeing. But human nature is to hang on to precious things. The trouble is some things become anything but precious when they prevent you from moving on. You end up clinging on to things that are no longer helpful and indeed may be harmful to your growth and ability to thrive. Clinging onto the past can stop you embracing new opportunities in the future.

My mate Sara emailed me last week about what to do with the dormant Our Flower Patch website. A few years ago, when our children were younger, when Sara had started her British cut flower business and when I was away from the classroom writing learning materials we combined to set up a small business. Our Flower Patch was a learning programme for primary school and prep schools. Essentially we supported schools to set up a mini-enterprise in the school garden. It got children and teachers outside, actively learning aspects of the National Curriculum in a real context.

We worked hard on making the programme fun, educational and accessible. I am so proud of what we achieved but as our own children got older our priorities changed. Sara’s flower growing business has expanded and I have returned to a secondary school context. Our Flower Patch went onto the back burner but we kept our blog with its hints and tips for gardening with children and Sara’s beautiful pictures. I didn’t want to let go of it – like a beautiful dress at the back of your wardrobe that made you feel awesome but no longer fits. It’s not taking up too much room; you might slim back into it one day; you hope that by wearing it again you’ll rekindle that feeling of awesomeness.

Yet its time has gone. Accept it. You need to find awesomeness in something new and keep it as a happy memory of past times. Reclaim the space and start filling it with new things. For Sara that means developing her online presence; for me it’s fuelling all my energies into a new learning programme at school. I’ll be blogging about this during the course of the year.

What’s taking up room in your life that’s preventing you from moving on?

 

Morning meditation


Meditation has a significant effect on stress management. It can build resilience over time but it can also help you feel more centred in minutes. 5 minutes a day will do the trick. It’s all I have and it works. Of course 45 minutes woudld be better. An hour in a spa woud be ideal but what’s a bust mum to do?

Regular practice is important. If you want to develop a regular habit it’s  easier to hang it onto something you do already. Trust me on this one – it’s psychologically proven. My students are probably sick of me telling them that they shouls learn quotes while brushing their teeth.

One of my regular early morning habits is making coffee. I do it every day, rain or shine. So I bought myself one of these stove-top  coffee pots and while the coffee’s brewing – and it helpfully makes a gentle percolating sound – I meditate.

5 minutes to get centred before the day kicks off and a delicious cup of coffee at the end of it.

Simple.

Snowdrops

It’s blowing a hoolie. I’ve spent all afternoon watching the eldest teen taking part in a cycle race under dour skies. But there’s a log fire crackling and signs of life in the garden. I don’t usually pick snowdrops but I planted a few in the green last year especially for cutting after the twinkly lights and Christmas bunting have been packed away until November.

Charming, aren’t they?

Wolf Moon

Helen Thompson is my ‘go to’ woman for enchanting pics of the moon

Tonight is the Wolf Moon – January’s full moon named because of the lupine howling which traditionally haunted the midwinter. If we’re lucky, it will look like this.

When my children were younger and bedtime stories were stiil popular, I remember reading them ‘The Wolves of Willoughby Chase’ whilst gazing up at the moon. For parents of primary school aged children it comes highly recommended from Country Gate HQ.  It was my favourite time of day. I miss it more than anything else about daily parenting tasks that are now a memory.

A wolf moon is said to symbolize a time to look to your community for creative solutions and to communicate with inspiring individuals to overcome challenges.

We need that right now, don’t we? There is a great comfort and power in getting to know your community well and working together to make it an inspiring and vibrant place for everyone.

What better way to start off the new decade than by immersing yourself in your local community?

All the teens are stiil at home after the Christmas break. Maybe we’ll share some family time tonight while gazing up at the moon.

 

 

A trip around the herb garden – Bay

 

 

Spending as little as five minutes in nature every day exposes us to natural light and helps us slow down and get or daily rhythms in sync. I’m particularly fond of walking on the grass in bare feet. I’ve blogged about this before. January is perhaps a bit extreme to indulge this too much so a wander round in boots, clutching a hot drink and looking for signs of life is more my thing. The bulbs are poking through; the snowdrops are in bloom; weirdly there are still some rosebuds clinging on – pretty strong evidence of the way the seasons are crazily mixed up now; and many of my herbs are still looking good.

Herbs are the first plants I remember growing and picking as a small child. My granny had an old Belfast sink in the garden where she grew mint and a lavender hedge over which she used to spread her hankies to dry in the summer. It was herbs that I grew on the windowsill of my student digs and now they take up more than their share of space in the garden. This year I’ll try to feature one herb a month, tell you about its history and talk a little about how I use it. Queen of herbs Jekka McVicar was showing deep love for her bay tree (above) over Christmas and the bay I transplanted from the allotment into the front garden is looking mighty healthy so let’s start with that.

Bay has a long and noble history. The ancient Romans and Greeks used to make crowns out of true bay leaves (Laurus Nobilis) to crown great and accomplished people – kings, war heroes and Olympians. As a teacher I’m honour-bound to point out that the term ‘baccalaureate’ originates from this giving of bay leaf crowns to signify success, as does the term “poet laureate”.

One of the constituents of a traditional bouquet garni, used to flavour soups and stews bay leaves are in regular use in my kitchen. Dried bay leaves that are more than six months old are pretty pointless in my experience. Pick them fresh and keep them from anywhere from a week to a month for optimum use.

Or try this recipe suggestion I picked up from Borough Market when visiting the East End in-laws
Bay two ways: try bay leaves infused into the milk of a rice pudding along with a little cardamom, which highlights that menthol and eucalyptus quality further; alternatively tuck it in  among forced rhubarb. Its gentle scent will work its way into those pink batons as they release their juices and cool. It’s easy and comforting. Give it a go.

Juicing in January

It’s time to stop the sherry trifle breakfasts or cheese and crackers with a Belgian chocolate chaser of an evening. A determination to get fit, join a gym, run more and eat more healthily is the stuff of the infant days of the year. I am a great fan of juices and smoothies but the start of term is often frantic and shopping specifically for a juice cleanse alongside feeding a family of five carnivores, vegetarians and vegans is a step too far.

So I treated myself to a five day juice cleanse from Hanna Sillitoe – all ready made.

It’s a bit of an extravagance but the odd treat does you good.

I first came across Hanna’s book and blog about 18 months ago when searching for dairy free recipes to heal a flare up of psoriasis. Since then she has appeared  on Dragon’s Den, securing offers from all of the dragons to launch a new range of products. Check Hanna out. She knows her stuff, is inspirational and a jolly lovely person into the bargain.

Yesterday a chilled box arrived stuffed full of delicious juices for the next five days. No work, no stress and packed with the kind of goodness I need to get through the start of the new term. Admittedly by Friday afternoon my year 9 class may find me a teeny bit grumpy as I’ve avoided coffee, Christmas cake and the temptation of the biscuit barrel in the staffroom for the umpeeth time.

And I’ll be smug.

Oh so smug.

Mindfulness and the beauty in winter

Picture shared by Dominic O’Connor

It’s the start of January and I drove to work in the dark and home in the drizzle. My timeline is full of comments from those suffering post-Christmas blues. For many deep Winter is a challenging time. Many of the labels we attach to Winter are negative ones – depressing, lifeless, cold, miserable – and yet there is beauty in every season if you look for it.

The moon poking through the clouds; a deer darting across a field; candlelight; firelight; snowdrops poking up through the brown soil, the glimmer of occasional low sun in the late afternoon and the pattern of moss on a tree.

Practice mindfulness and January has its beauties.

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