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.



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?

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.

Indoor gardening

I’ve taken my plants back to school today – a mixture of succulents, indestructible spider plants and potted bulbs like these crocus, which I snapped last year, cheering up the gloomy north facing window in one of our rooms at home.

Over the next few weeks they’ll be joined by some seed trays because my classroom windowsill is THE perfect place for starting off the annual cut flowers, herbs and a few veggies that will be planted out into my garden beds once the frosts have passed.

Indoor gardening has become really popular, especially among millennials, who may not have access to a lot of outdoor space but want to grow a few culinary herbs. In fact windowsill herbs was the first kind of growing I did as an independent adult in my student digs. Along with the obligatory yukka and spider plant there were a range of mints to make tea and some basil jostling for position on the windowsill.

I’ve even grown some peashoots for students to munch. The only down side is that my classroom is miles from any water source.

Woodpiles, fire and hunkering down in January


There’s something very satisfying about a full log store at the beginning of January. I’ve blogged about fire wood at this time of year before. It’s an annual experience. We had a load of kiln-dried firewood delivered on 2nd from Top Grade Logs in Bathford. When the weather turns wild and we’re all home for the evening,  we can put on our pyjamas, light the fire and hunker down, albeit with marking, homework or A Level mock exam revision to do. It will go some way towards making up for the lack of tree lights in the front garden and the loss of the Christmas tree in the kitchen.

I might buy some fairy lights for my classroom at a post-Christmas knockdown price. I’d install a wood burner if I could but I don’t think it would go down too well with the lady in charge of health and safety at school. She tolerates my penchant for houseplants and seed propagation. Some twinkly light in January is just the job.

Wellbeing on a budget

My son and his friends are heading back to university. It’s fair to say some of them have not quite got on top of establishing a routine during their first term. There’s been a lot of socialising, making new friends, trying new activities and coping with the inevitable Freshers’ flu. After a long relaxing summer and the much freer approach to attendance at lectures, seminars and tutorials, it’s hard. Even the fairly strict training schedule of a competitive cyclist can go awry if illness and socialising are to the fore in the early weeks at university.


It started me thinking about how to maintain wellbeing and feel productive when money is tight. It’s relatively easy if you have the money to indulge in some retail therapy, plan a weekend away, have a spa day, buy some paint and redecorate a room in your flat or house, go to the cinema or splash out on some special food. When you have to count every penny you need to be a bit more creative.

Here  are my top tips for keeping healthy in the full sense of the word when you have no spare cash.

The comments in bold are for my son.

1. Sleep well
Pulling the odd all-nighter and having a late night out with your friends every now and then is a given fir students, but not getting enough sleep affects chemicals in the brain which can make us feel low and anxious. So, make sure you get as many good nights’ sleep as possible to feel refreshed and recharged – you’ll wake up with a more positive attitude ready to take on the day ahead.

Note to son – getting up early is also a good idea.

2. Stay active
Regular activity and exercise is not only good for your waistline and physical health, but also for your mental health and wellbeing. When you exercise you’ll see an immediate boost in your overall mood because your body releases chemicals (endorphins) and these endorphins trigger a positive feeling in the body. And you don’t need to run marathons to be active, even a brisk walk around the local park will help!

10/10 for this if you are a member of the Swansea University Road Cycling Team

3. Help others
Whether it’s volunteering in the community, raising money for a good cause or a simple random act of kindness, helping others can make us feel good and improve our self-esteem, whilst reducing stress and negative feelings.

You know it makes sense and you’re a charming and responsible member of society.

4. Socialise with others
Long periods of being alone and isolated aren’t healthy, so interact with people regularly and grow your friendship network. Chat with others on your course, introduce yourself to fellow residents at your accommodation, join clubs and societies, get involved with any events at your university/college, accommodation or student’s union, volunteer in the community and embrace any work opportunities.

This needs no further work. You’re doing just fine!

5. Enjoy yourself
University isn’t just about studying and deadlines. It’s important to have fun, laugh as much as possible and enjoy yourself. Whether it’s playing a team sport, watching the latest movie at the cinema, catching up with friends over dinner or getting lost in a novel, be sure to make time for doing the things that make you happy.

Another one you’ve cracked already.

6. Maintain a balanced diet
Reaching for the convenience foods and sugary snacks might be an easy option as a student but they’re not the healthiest. These sugary foods are absorbed quickly into the bloodstream which may cause an initial ‘high’ or surge of energy, but it will soon wear off as the body increases its insulin production, leaving you feeling tired and low. However, a balanced mood and feelings of wellbeing can be protected by eating a well-balanced diet containing adequate amounts of complex carbohydrates, essential fats, amino acids, vitamins and minerals and water.

I know it’s a hassle and you’ve made a start by bulk cooking healthy stuff at home and taking it back for the freezer in your student digs but there’s work to be done here.

7. Stay hydrated
Similar to your diet, you should maintain a health intake of fluids. Avoid drinks high in caffeine, or at least drink them in moderation, and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated, particularly if you are drinking alcohol. If you don’t drink enough water, you’ll become dehydrated which can cause headaches and make you feel tired and dizzy.

Drinking loads of water is second nature to you. Top of the class.

8. Establish a routine
Remember when you had a timetable of lessons, regular training sessions, regular mealtimes and got up at pretty much the same time every day? You got loads done and still had time to socialise, hold down a part-time job and binge watch episodes of Sherlock or Game of Thrones, didn’t you? Now you get to establish your own weekly timetable.

Just do it.

9. Grow some herbs
Nurturing a windowsill full of green stuff you can use to spice up your cooking is beneficial on all levels – improving your environment, looking after something living, improving your cooking…..even if that’s buying a few potted herbs from the supermarket.

Trust me on this one – I know what I’m talking about.

Following these simple tips will help to improve your health and well-being whilst at university. However, if you do experience any problems throughout your studies, no matter how big or small they may be, you should always speak to someone and seek advice.

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