Cardiff, connection and self-care

Two years on from a planned trip to Cardiff to the Principality Stadium to cheer on Wales against Scotland, we finally made it yesterday. It was meant as a pre-A level exams eighteenth birthday treat for the son who is now nearly twenty and a second year university student. Yesterday seemed more of a reward for endurance. Teaching and learning through a pandemic has taken its toll but this blog is not the place to air that grievance. Let it be enough that I refuse to feel guilty for taking most of a day off to connect with my family and do something we all enjoy. When the children were much younger and we were strapped for cash, our days out consisted of picnics, treasure hunts or exploration of National Trust or English Heritage sites. Now we can afford to buy rugby tickets and eat out but the key elements remain – shared family time, outdoors with food and drink.

I enjoyed listening to the various conversations on the train which suggested that there are a whole heap of folk who rest, recuperate and take time out for connection and self-care at the weekend. The couple next to us were planning a DIY project – although the colour of the bedroom paint and the exact delivery date for the bed was up for discussion. Someone else had spent time pottering in the garden. (Note to self – this is a neglected part of my own self-care routine.) I caught up on the adventures of a lady who has thrown herself – quite literally – into wild swimming in the winter. And in the stadium itself the five of us with 74,000 others spent a couple of hours united in song, jokes, stories of past matches and appreciation of a sporting contest which meant so much to fans and players alike. A day to remember and one that might go some way to balance a Sunday spent marking and working in front of a computer.

And balance is the key. Teacher, doctor, professional, human – know that you can’t fill from an empty pot. Efficiency and creativity is the gift you bring as an employee when self-care and connection with others lies at the heart of your life. Employers, especially school academy trusts would be well-advised to recognise this. Whatever you do this week, make time for yourself and those you love. An exhortation made especially poignant upon learning out of the blue on Friday afternoon of the death of a dad whose children are contemporaries of our own.

Christmas 2021: On the threshold

One of the best New Year’s Eves ever. Low key – and all the better for it.

We pottered, went for an impromptu wedding anniversary lunch, saw the children off to spend the evening with various friends, watched a bit of telly, drank wine and read books by the fire. In bed tucked up by midnight, listening to the bangs and pops of garden fireworks nearby, I pondered a little on the threshold of a new year and the hopes, expectations, possibilities it holds; I gave thanks for 2021. Much has changed, a lot has remained constant. Above all however, my priorities and I have changed.

Perhaps the lesson of 2021 is that if you take pleasure in the small gifts life offers up and live in the moment, a sense of contentment will inevitably follow. Crossing the threshold this New Year’s Eve has been a gentle stroll on a misty day. When the mists clear I’ll follow the path that feels right.

Christmas 2021: A Walk on Boxing Day

A Boxing Day walk is traditional; in more recent years around Stourhead. It’s here that we’ve walked off the Christmas excess of roast potatoes, our own bodyweight in cheese and, this year, a raspberry roulade that would have fed the entire avenue. We’ve been there on crisp, cold days with grandparents – now achingly no longer with us; with friends when the snow was melting; on grey days, just the five of us when clouds hung low and gloomy. We’ve completed reindeer trails with our three lively pre-school explorers and imbibed gluwein or hot chocolate beside the Christmas tree in the thatched cottage with them transformed into teenagers who raced ahead together, chatting or sporting headphones. There are dozens of happy memories woven into the fabric of the place. Rarely though has it felt less Christmassy than today.

Perhaps the Christmas spirit had been packed away carefully by the National Trust staff until the after-dark Christmas light event. It’s hard to sparkle all day long when the weather makes it feel more like October. Three cornus ‘Midwinter Fire’ (I have one in the garden) put on a brave show near the temple of Apollo however, as an aide memoire that we have just celebrated the Winter solstice and there was room for a mince pie or two in the cafe. Finding it difficult not to roll my eyes at the conversations taking place around us about how keen people were to dismantle Christmas “now that it’s over” I popped into the shop to pay for the last cornus in the plant section and carry it home. A celebration of Christmas 2021- still at its height in our house – and of those yet to come.

Driving back home in the late afternoon, the mists were beginning to weave and curl through ancient forest on either side of us, caressing the gnarled bark of ancient oak and ash. There’s still midwinter magic to be savoured if you open your eyes and your hearts to it.

Christmas 2021:Wintering

@stilllifegallery

The end of term and an afternoon spent stirring a pot of vegetable chilli, reading a book by the fire and making up natural decorations for the Christmas presents. After the noise and excitement of the school term, a quiet time for reflection, repetitive tasks and making is just what I need. Midwinter may be cold and dark but if you choose the right activity it’s so good for the soul. ⁹

I’ve been thinking deeply about the act of wintering – the power of slowing down, resting, retreating as an antidote to difficult times. I suspect there is more to come about this. Half-formed plans are starting to haunt the quiet corners of my mind. The betwixt and between times of late December may give them shape and substance.

Advent – a time for reflection

It’s telling that I haven’t had time to post anything since October Half Term. Such is the world of teaching. I love this picture from The Country Crib. It says so much about my state of mind in advent. One week till the end of term and a straight path has revealed itself from amidst the mists of late November.

Advent is traditionally a time for quiet reflection and preparation. After a frantic twelve months a gentle but firm resolve to do things differently is gradually taking shape. I hope to be posting more over the coming weeks. I hope you find time for reflection amidst all the business of the run up to Christmas. I am sustained by the thought that in a few days time I will have time to plant the last of my tulip bulbs, sweep up the leaves and make a batch of chilli jam for Christmas hampers.

It’s the small things which give the most pleasure.

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.

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.

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?

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