Half Term: Slow Living

So much has happened since my last post – mostly COVID – related and with work that a Half Term without gadding about is in order. I’ve prioritised sleep, family time, tidying up the garden, reading and cooking.

The bulbs I ordered back in August have arrived; the Christmas cake fruit is soaking up a generous glug of brandy; there is a wood store to stack with the latest load of logs and there are quince and apples to preserve in time for Christmas hampers. There are also friends to catch up with, a stack of books to enjoy and time to spend baking the odd treat and stirring the soup pot.

Just like last October. There’s a comfort in tradition and ritual after the madness of the last few weeks.

Summer 2021: Walking

En route to Edgehill escarpment.

I’ve been walking five miles a day during the Summer holidays. Before you conjure up an image of my delightful family rising before dawn and heading off with me on one of the many ancient byways that criss-cross Wiltshire to witness the sunrise, let me disabuse you of that idyll. Most of the time I have been alone and on all but a few occasions I have tramped round one of a number of familiar routes- sometimes with members of my family but mostly alone – in an attempt to regain some lost fitness and become grounded – an antidote to weeks of online teaching. I get a bit twitchy if I don’t get out in the fresh air every day – whatever the weather. Sometimes I have to fight the instinct to keep working at my pc in an attempt to ‘get stuff done’ but, without exception, going outside is the best way to recalibrate and still my troubled mind. That much I have learned this summer.

The benefits of walking are well-documented. For me the obvious positives have been a much-needed two stone weight loss, time to myself away from a busy household, time connecting with those I love most, an opportunity to live in the moment and connect with the flora and fauna of my neighbourhood thereby deepening the sense of place that is so important to me and some space for creative thinking. The walk pictured above was undertaken when we were on a short break in Warwickshire. We did it twice – once with one son on a gloriously sunny day where the views from the top of the escarpment overlooking the site of the battle of Edgehill were breathtakingly beautiful and once with the rest of the family on what started as a sunny day, clouded over and left us sheltering from the storm under some ancient oaks and me wringing muddy brown water out of the hem of my dress. I loved both.

Finding the time to continue daily walking into the busy term ahead and the dark days of Winter will be more of a challenge but I’m up for it and what’s more I need to do it.

Thunder Moon

It’s been a full-on school year, exhilarating and exhausting in equal measure, culminating in a mini-heatwave and a thunder moon. It’s called the thunder moon because of the thunder storms brought on through the hot and humid air. And right on cue, they appeared

Change or be changed is the message of this Full Moon. Those who know me well are aware of how much store I set by the moon and its cycles. Since the Summer Solstice in June I have felt a sense of something shifting both within myself and with the outside world. The first half of the year is over. It’s a good time to look back over the last six months and consider what I have learned, what’s been lost and gained, to take stock and move forward to the second half of the year and do things better. In professional terms it’s a good time to plan for next academic year, revamp lessons, develop new ones and ditch the ones that didn’t quite work. I’m trusting my inner teacher voice and doing a fair bit of educational reading and research. It’s a time of year when after the initial exhaustion (How tired can an end of COVID-year tired be?) my enthusiasm, idealism and creativity is at a high. It’s a bit like a thunderstorm in my teacher head.

It can feel strange ditching perfectly good lesson plans but if they are no longer fit for purpose and you’ve found better ways to teach a topic, why hold on to them? It’s time-consuming to rewrite a scheme of work in the short-term but it will bring long-term gains – for my pupils and for me. it’s time to let go of the past and welcome in the future. Harvest is just around the corner – a time to start reaping what is sown, when your hard work starts to pay off. For anyone waiting for GCSE and A level results then the hard work put in last year will bear fruit. And for amateur gardeners like me there are trees full of fruit to pick and preserve. No cut flowers or veg for the first time in years. Something had to give in all the COVID school madness. I’m not getting too hung about it. There’s always next year.

Looking backwards and forwards

We managed to book a trip to Stourhead on a glorious Easter Sunday. It has been a regular haunt of ours ever since the children were tiny. In latter years we’ve rocked up in an impromptu fashion, ambled around the lake, visited the thatched cottage and treated ourselves to coffee and cake in the cafe.

This year because of COVID restrictions and two of our three returning from Uni with testing and isolation involved we had to plan ahead, take our chances on the weather and pack a picnic. It felt like old times -and none the worse for that.

From time to time I reflect on how quickly my brood have grown and lament all the things I said we’d do and didn’t but on glorious days like these none of that matters. We have shared experiences and happy memories of times gone by and plenty of new and different ones to come.

Surely this mingling of old and new, of experience and potential, of what’s been and what’s to come is Easter in a nutshell?

Plant-based inspiration

Three words that strike fear into the hearts of most working mothers must be “What’s for dinner?” I love to cook but masterminding the family dinner every evening after work seems to suck the joy from what ought to be one of the best parts of the day. I used to dream of us all chatting together in the kitchen whilst prepping something tasty, sipping wine, mulling over the business of the day. It never quite turned out like that. I’d barely set foot through the door when someone wanted to eat. Tell me, I’m not alone in that? More recently however we got remarkably near to the utopian existence. One of the benefits of lockdown and working from home, I suspect. Take the half hour commute out of the equation and the ability to munch on an apple or pop on a round of toast whenever you’re peckish and the whole ordeal becomes much more relaxed and joyful.

I’ve been a life-long veggie and although I’ve always catered for the meateaters in the family it’s the veggie dishes that I love to cook. We’re not short of veggie inspiration but this new book from Anna Jones is special. It’s veggie but making every recipe fully vegan is so easy too Since lockdown I have struggled to control my psoriasis ‘issue’ and a plant-based diet seems to alleviate some of the worst symptoms so that appeals too. There’s tons of lovely recipes which are super-easy to make in one pan, pot or tray – always a boon if you don’t have to spend the rest of the evening tackling the washing-up – and there’s a helping hand too on sustainability. Using up leftovers, shopping more thoughtfully and ethically and cooking with the seasons all get more than a nod. I particularly love the ‘ten simple ideas’ for a variety of vegetables – great if you have a veg box and tend to get stuck in a rut making the same old recipes. Baked potatoes with leeks in cheese sauce is a storecupboard favourite here but leeks and shredded greens with mustard, thyme and grated cheese is even better. I have a celeriac in the fridge and have just spotted celeriac and red wine stew with cheddar dumplings. Yum! Sunday lunch this week sorted already.

Mistletoe and no wine

I’ve given up wine for Lent but to compmensate one of my Christmas presents arrived in the post yesterday. It’s an exercise in patience. I’ve wanted to try growing mistletoe for years – what with it being sacred to the Celts – and now I have the chance. I have plenty of mature host apple trees (including one called Celt)nbut it will take a few years, some patience and a fair amount of luck before I’m harvesting for Christmas.

There’s a lot of hocus-pocus surrounding the growing of mistletoe. In essence the reason why most attempts fail from Christmas boughs is that the berries dry out or are stored in the dark or are sown at the wrong time in December or January. For best results well-stored juicy berries need to be squidged onto the branches of a mature apple tree in February or March. Some will be eaten by birds or slugs at any time before they are established and you’ll need at least one male and one female plant to ensure a supply of berried mistletoe in the future.

The seed needs to be squeezed out of the berry – you’ll find they stick onto you rather well. Then remove as much of the jelly-like substance as possible, as the seeds seem to germinate better when fairly ‘clean’. They’ll stick on perfectly well with only a little of the ‘glue’ remaining. Young branches, from 2 to 6 cm diameter well away from the centre of the tree are best. Stick 6 or so seeds onto the branch. Label them with a plant label tied to the branch (I know I’ll forget which branch I used and initial growth is tiny. Try to plant as many as possible, at least 20 berries at once, divided between 4 or so branches.

Germination is easy apparently. Whether or not they survive is in the lap of the gods.

Dreaming of a purple patch

February into March is all about snowdrops and daffodils in the garden but I’m ready for that purple patch that follows. Perhaps it’s the need to move on after months of the limbo of online and in-school teaching. Usually I savour the here and now but the thought of Spring sunshine, more time spent outdoors and a bit of colour in all our lives is a strong fillip right now.

In fact, the tulips I planted during the Christmas holidays are beginning to poke through the top of the pots where I stowed them. In this cottage garden, tulips are planted in trenches to be harvested for indoors or in pots to be enjoyed whilst sitting on the terrace with a cup of coffee. In borders they tend to flop and look somewhat unkempt. Not unlike me after weeks of teaching and no visit to the hairdresser.

Pink primulas and garden planning on a rainy day

A rainy walk today and not really a day to be doing more than taking a quick jaunt around the garden. These primulas are loving the rain and there is plenty of plantlife burgeoning. There is some frost-damage to prune away on some of the shrubs which had started putting on new growth and a general tidy up and weed to do. I’ve made a start and hope to get that finished before the end of Half Term.

I’m going to hold off on sowing seeds in earnest until April but I might get a few sweet peas underway before then. The ground is too wet to work so I’m getting my garden fix from planning and ordering a few snowdrops in the green to pop in ready for next year. It’s a great time to do it now when you can easily see the gaps where they should go.Another few weeks and there will be too much growth. Planting them in the green also builds stronger plants. Whatever the season or the weather, there’s always something to do in the garden.

A bit of self-care on Valentine’s Day

We’ve never subscribed to an uber-commercialised Valentine’s Day and this year is no different. Lockdown Valentine’s is business as usual – a bunch of daffs in the kitchen, a couple of non-specific “not Valentine’s Day” cards, the offer to make a coffee or rub tired feet.

After six weeks of busy online and in-school teaching I decided to treat myself to a bit of self-care today. Solitude, a takeaway coffee and a quiet stroll in the rain round one of my favourite local places and the promise of an hour in the garden when the weather improves, tidying up in time for spring sowing. I have some more hellebores to pop in the ground along with some grasses and three Patty’s Plum poppies – one for each child.

Later today a catch up with said children, a log fire, a good book, a slice of home-baked blood orange drizzle cake and a rugby match on the TV is also on the cards.

Bliss.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Half Term

Six weeks of online and in-school teaching and I am SO ready for a few days of walking, gardening, reading and cooking. School life is full-on, especially now. It’s important to switch off and recharge from time to time.

Website Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑