Summer 2021 Part 1: 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?

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.

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.

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

December Saturdays

Saturdays in December are not for schoolwork. And so today we headed to Stourhead for a pre-booked walk, a mince pie and hot drink in the cafe and a spot of Christmas present shopping before picking up our Christmas tree from a farm in Rode.
No stress, no fuss. Just relaxing family time. It did feel somewhat strange without the boys but by the end of next weekend we will be back together again and hitting the Christmas Monopoly tournament with a vengeance before the last week of term.
December Saturdays are precious, perfect opportunities to recharge the batteries. This year many more people are appreciating a slow build up to Christmas, appreciating what they have, what they can make and how actions and experiences speak louder than ‘stuff’. 

Wellbeing, it’s elemental. Part 1: Air

My pile of summer holiday reading has included this little gem. It couldn’t have come at a more apposite time. Standing in queues, spending hours in front of a computer screen zooming with pupils, calming anxious teens or fretful toddlers, worrying about what the ‘new normal’ will look like…..we all need to draw breath. But how do you know that you are doing this most fundamental aspect of life well?

Last time a book about breathing landed on my desk it was also a good time. I was uber-busy and about to introduce a learning program to help my students manage their time better. I know all about breathing in, focusing on something positive or colourful and breathing out a few times to reset my mental attitude or those of my children. I’m aware of the benefits of slowing down my breath to promote a feeling of calm, of keeping my airways clear, my posture open and balanced and my feet literally grounded to promote mindfulness. And yet I hadn’t really considered the benefits of nose-breathing or the pitfalls of over-breathing. Even a few small adjustments to the way we breathe can affect our health. It can “jump-start athletic performance, rejuvenate internal organs, halt snoring, allergies, asthma and auto-immune disease and even straighten scoliotic spines”. As a natural optimistic sceptic I want to believe that this is true, but I needed the evidence. James Nestor has drawn on thousands of years of medical texts and some recent cutting-edge studies as well as subjected himself to a fair degree of experimentation to provide it for me.

I know some people have got fitter and leaner during lockdown – but I haven’t. I suffer from an auto-immune disease – and it hasn’t miraculously cleared up whilst I have been wandering the garden in my pyjamas in the early morning with a mint tea in my hands. And someone (or some several) in the house snores! Being disciplined about breathing correctly is a relatively easy way to kick-start my journey back to tip-top health before school begins in September. The book has an appendix of ‘breathing methods’ and there are some video and audio tutorials of these techniques, and more at https://www.mrjamesnestor.com/breath

If you are feeling less than healthy or anxious or hopeless or like me busy but in need of a bit of a boost, begin by paying attention to your breathing. It’s fundamental to your wellbeing ….and it’s free.

 

 

Pembrokeshire promise

This week we took the teens whose summer plans had crumbled back to the scene of many of their childhood holidays. A last-minute booking of a comfortable cottage adjoining farmland in Lamphey, Pembrokeshire led to a few sunny days of coastal walks, beach cricket, reading, picnics, clifftop  ice creams, garden boules, sunset chip suppers, beer and a late-night box set of Foyle’s War.

More of a mini-break than the promised holiday but it did us all a lot of good to be together by the sea. Not that we’ve been short of time together since the end of March. It might be the only beach time we get this summer. I’m glad we made the most of it.

We’re planning a Winter version at the end of the year.

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