Slipping through my fingers

I’ve been working from home since the end of March with much more  control over how to organise my time, no commuting and three teenagers to help out with the chores yet August feels just as busy as ever.

I don’t suppose I’ll ever master a school holiday routine which leaves me gliding serenely to the start of term. July ought to be the time where I get all my lesson plans prepped, clean the house, decorate a couple of rooms and overhaul the garden. But, in all honesty, I’m too exhausted by the end of term to do anything other than sleep and read a book.

This year school shoe-stopping has been replaced by uni supplies shopping  but the feeling of time slipping through my fingers like sand remains – more than ever this year as we wave off two sons to university. And the dreams which plague many teachers before the start of a school year – the ones where you can’t find your way round the school and your behaviour management strategies don’t work  – have just started to kick-in.

Who knows what will happen this year? Expect the best, prepare for the worst will be my mantra. I have a week to get ready but will try to fit in a country walk or two before then to steady the nerves, quell any anxiety and bring some stillness to a busy few days.

Wellbeing, it’s elemental. Part 3: Earth

Whilst the education world has raged about the efficacy of grades, we’ve been trying to keep things chilled whilst the middle students and the youngest await their what were Centre Assessment grades for A Level and GCSE. Many of my fellow teachers have their internal barometer switched permanently to outrage. I am a  mother who feels the best approach for my own children is not to get sucked into this vortex of destruction and to be ready to support them on to the next stage whatever happens. And so I am keeping myself grounded in the shady parts of the garden.

There has been ample evidence that gardening is good for you. Obviously fresh air and homegrown produce – be it food or flowers is beneficial to your health, along with the green gym aspects of gardening as a hobby. Certainly cutting the hedge by hand and mowing our small patch of lawn with a push mower is a great workout. Nurturing seedlings, keeping vigilant to an attack of pests and dealing swiftly with it, planning ahead by ordering bulbs, taking failures on the chin and knowing next time things will be different is all good for your mental health. But did you know that even putting your hands in the soil can increase serotonin levels?

Contact with soil and a specific soil bacteria, Mycobacterium vaccae, triggers the release of serotonin in our brain according to research, a natural anti-depressant way of strengthening the immune system.

So, what are you waiting for? Find a shady patch to nurture and feel the benefits.

Wellbeing, it’s elemental. Part 2: Water

Our windowsill basil was looking the worse for wear this morning but it soon plumped up after a pre-breakfast soak in the sink. I know how it feels. At school I always have a water bottle with me; at home I’m never far away from the coffee machine. I need a metaphorical soak in the sink, to ditch the decaff for an infusion of cucumber and mint.

Drinking two or three litres of water a day is the kind if routine which benefits mind and body. One glass of warm water and lemon first thing, one glass with a tablespoon of cider vinegar before meals and several more glasses of a mint and cucumber infusion is my ideal. All good for liver function, keeping hydrated and stimulating the brain cells.

Like many things at the moment, it’s part of a decluttering regime, a desire to pare back and simplify life to prepare for what is sure to be a busy, strange and potentially stressful term back at school. If I can cultivate the habit now, it’ll be well established when life gets hectic.

Cheers!

 

 

A crisis, getting rid of the clutter and a bit of creative thinking

Pembrokeshire beach

I’ve been caught between the Scylla and Charybdis of too much schoolwork and all the home chores I wanted to catch up with in the first weeks of the summer holiday – achieving not very much in either sphere. No surprises there! When you’ve been working from home since late March, the lines become somewhat blurred. It’s hard to know where to focus the limited energy you have left after spending hours on Zoom. A few days away beside the sea in Pembrokeshire, walking, reading and spending time with those I love did me the world of good. Yes, the very ones I’ve been holed up at home with for three months.

I never fail to return from a holiday with some ideas for lessons, a determination to maintain a healthy work-life balance and renewed vigour with which to tackle the pile of work which is waiting for me. Usually I have an idea for a novel too – but that’ll have to wait until I’m retired.  A break allowed me to recalibrate my relationship with social media and curate my Twitter feed – an excellent idea on a regular basis. It turns out this was the start of a general declutter which there simply hadn’t been time for during the height of lockdown remote teaching. I’m already feeling more energised and creative. I hope my students are taking time out and will be able to return to school refreshed and determined to be equally creative in their approach to their studies when they return to school.

Here are my top tips.

  1. Establish some rituals. If you get up at the same time every day, check your emails or instagram feed at certain times, exercise on the same evenings every week, this will become second nature and you’ll free up time to be creative.
  2. Have fun, connect with others, especially those who have different ideas to you. Be open-minded and kind.
  3. When thinking about solutions to problems believe that there are no bad ideas. Don’t self-filter. Jot everything down as viable. Then think through the options.
  4. Watch films and read books – especially the read books bit.
  5. Exercise and do it alone, without music and your phone at least some of the time. Silence and exercise = creative energy.
  6. Practice devotion not discipline. The former has more of a positive vibe.
  7. Learn to love lists. Unloading your cluttered mind onto paper is another beneficial way to shift a creative blockage.
  8. Know when your peak work moments are. These are the times when you are at you most creative. Leave the mundane jobs for when you’re more tired.
  9. Create something every day. Practice makes perfect. Sowing a seed which will become a beautiful plant, making the best scrambled eggs on toast you can, knitting -yes, I know. Me recommending knitting – anything you’ve made is beneficial to your mental health and your creative confidence. If you can do something small then the next step is much easier.
  10. Do it now. This is about having the confidence and an open-minded approach to allow you to take risks, have a go, avoid the shackles of perfectionism.

I’m following my own advice.

 

 

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.

The comfort (or confinement) of routine

It’s the end of term but we are in that weird no man’s land of having undergone weeks of working from home where one day can be much like another. It doesn’t feel like the school holidays.

For weeks social media has been alive to the sound of parents wondering how to navigate the minefield of getting their teens out of bed and on with the business of the day. Now that the holidays have arrived maybe they will be able to relax a little.

I love the relaxed feel of a school holiday but have discovered over the years that having a routine of sorts even on lazy days keeps me grounded and productive. With three teenagers whose exams were cancelled in the house we haven’t been too disciplined over the last few weeks but have gently encouraged a sense of purpose and a goal for each day – however small. There are still boxes of ‘stuff’ to sort under beds, spring cleaning to do and files to archive. It’s happening slowly.

Packets of potential

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The postman’s called and it’s almost time to sow a few seeds outdoors. I’ve got a few peas, beans and beetroot in already but I tend to wait to sow annual flowers, salad, spinach and squash until later in the month. I don’t mess about much with sowing in seed trays any more. Seeds that are sown direct soon catch up.

Now that we’re in lockdown, growing your own has never been so popular. There’s quite a dig for victory vibe going on. I love that families are looking to dig up bits of their garden and grow their own veg and there’s always room for a few flowers in a cutting patch.

There’s plenty of advice online for newbies as well as more experienced gardeners. My grandad always said you should hold off on outdoor sowing until the soil is warm enough to drop your trousers and place your bare backside on it comfortably. I’d suggest a less extreme measure. Just wait until the annual weeds begin to sprout, hoe them off and then away you go. I deploy old CDs on string as bird scarers to keep my seedlings safe from the pigeons. Other birds don’t seem to scavenge as much.

I’m partial to lettuce varieties with interesting names. Last year’s was ‘Drunken Woman’. This year’s is ‘Elf’s Ears’ courtesy of the very lovely folks at Vital Seeds, whose strapline is packets of potential.

They certainly are. Potential for growth in the future.

I think we need that right now.

Shout if you need any advice.

Lunar living

Pop out into your garden at around 3.35am tomorrow morning and you’ll see a beautiful pink supermoon. It seems particularly significant whilst many of us are isolated from our wider family and friends. The moon is one of the few constants right now. When you look up at the moon, wherever you are in the world you can be sure that your loved ones can see that same  moon. It’s a way of bringing us together when we feel disconnected.

I’ve more than dabbled with biodynamics or sowing, pruning, mulching and harvesting according to the phases of the moon in the garden for a number of years. Read about it here. Times are tough but looking up at the moon always makes me feel connected.

Spring flowers

The sun’s out, the sky’s blue and our tulips are blooming. I love a tulip but there was a time when I wasn’t quite so enamoured. When they are planted in groups in the borders they tend to flop and look a tad untidy. I had a Damascene moment when I decided only to plant tulips in pots (like Nigel Slater, who has been tweeting pics of his beautifully structured garden where pot after pot of tulips flank a gravel path) or close together in trenches for harvesting.

I order mine from Peter Nyssen during the summer holidays. I prefer to order from a specialist bulb merchant rather than a garden centre. The bulbs seem more reliable and they arrive in timely fashion to be stowed away in the garden shed until November, when I plant them. Tulips need a period of cold in the ground to grow long stalks. Even though last Winter wasn’t particularly cold, these have done okay – but they wouldn’t win prizes in a show.

They are good enough for my kitchen table jug nevertheless.

Pop a note to order tulips on your calendar in July or August when, God willing,  today will be a memory only. And not a wholly bad one if we focus on the sun, the blue sky and the tulips.

Friday Night leftovers

I used to shop on Saturdays for food and so Friday night In this house is leftovers night. Since the lockdown we’ve had some pretty weird supper combos, but tonight’s roast dinner was extraordinary. Not for the ingredients this time, but because a Friday night roast is a first. I have never had the energy to face cooking this after a week in the classroom. But life in the topsy-turvy world of COVID19 can offer opportunities as well as restrictions and uncertainty.

This week I am grateful for the time I got to spend with my family, to cook, to potter in the garden, to watch theatre productions live streamed to my pc and to reflect on my teaching practice. I’ve even signed up for some online courses to make me a better and more informed teacher. I haven’t had time for that for years,

There are still leftovers in the form of some over-ripe bananas so my daughter whipped up a quick banana loaf after supper. It’s easy – 140g each of butter, caster sugar and self-raising flour, a couple of eggs, 2tsp of baking powder and a couple of very ripe bananas whizzed together and baked at 160 c for half an hour in a fan oven.

And now I can relax in front of Gardener’s World, watching Rachel de Thame start her walled kitchen garden project.

One day that will be me.

 

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