Summer 2022- recharge and reboot

Most school holidays begin with large amounts of sleep, a clear out of the clutter of the school year and a modicum of preparing for the new school year. By August I am ready for plenty of downtime. Last week we managed to fit in a family trip to Llangollen – low key but an opportunity to live in the moment and create a few more memories to sustain us through the busyness of the next few months.

No family holiday is complete without a visit to a National Trust property or two and during the week we explored Erddig (jam-packed with servants’ memorabilia and beautiful bouquets of home-grown flowers for sale) and Chirk Castle (excellent scones, segway tours and a thriving kitchen garden). I’ve always been fascinated by windows. Peering in or peeking out they are portals to other worlds. As a child I was always being scolded for walking too slowly past our neighbours’ windows to see what they were doing. Who can’t resist a glance into a kitchen or living room window as they walk past, imagining what life is like inside? As a student I spent a lot of time on trains staring out of the windows onto the British countryside – woods, allotments, lakes and rivers and, as Larkin so aptly put it, towns ‘approached with acres of dismantled cars’. As I get older, the vista from windows fascinates me more. I recall the views from all the kitchens and bedrooms I have ever occupied more clearly with every passing year. Somewhere in my mind is an amalgum of these and others to sustain me through the tough times and this one of Chirk’s glorious parkland has been added to it. Staring out of windows and daydreaming is fast becoming a lost art in the age of the mobile device. I so wish it sees a resurgence. I’m pretty sure there’s scientific proof as well as my middle-aged tendency to bemoan change as to why we need to disconnect from devices and reconnect with musing.

August at home is a time to improve the vista from my own kitchen window by tending the garden. We’ve repaired the boundaries and replaced the terrace and I want to change some of the planting. In Winter and Spring it works wonderfully well but I need to give more thought to the late summer and autumn garden. That will do for now. Perhaps our next home will enable a view something like this to be glimpsed through the window?

These boots were made for walking

It is a truth universally acknowledged that this Celt owns more sturdy boots than pairs of shoes. And these boots have put in plenty of work shifts- – in the garden, around numerous National Trust properties and in the lanes and fields within a stone’s throw of home over the Winter. They have been to Pembrokeshire beaches and Wiltshire barrows. They’ve beaten the same path near one of our local farm shops and another round the back of the allotments, through fallow fields, past sheep flocks, down to the river, through the woods and along the canal towpath.

Plenty of people discovered the benefits of walking outside during the pandemic. Numbers seemed to have waned more recently as folk have restarted busy lives but if the price of fuel continues to be volatile or there are shortages, we’ll be back to walking to the shops.

I’ve never been a fan of running. At school I did the shortest possible cross country run, even cutting through a forbidden shortcut hedge to get back sooner for maximum hockey time. But walking fires up a different part of the brain. I want to be outside, observing the subtle changes in nature day by day rather than getting uncomfortably sweaty.

There is no question that walking is good for you. It burns calories, lowers blood sugar, strengthens the heart, improves the immune system, eases joint pain, boosts energy, tones your leg muscles, improves your mood and helps you think more creatively. What’s not to love. I have to admit I have not walked anywhere near as much over the Winter whilst the craziness of school life post pandemic has sucked me in. And I can feel how wrong that is. Now that the days are longer I am determined to get back to pulling on my boots for an hour every day – at the very least.

How about you?

Emerging from Winter

It’s a late postcard this week. Half Term has allowed for a lot of much-needed sleep, reading and recuperation. The weather has been pretty wild – a mix of high winds, relentless but gentle rain and the odd moment of watery sun. It is a metaphor for my work life right now.

This picture of a misty morning walk popped up from one of my friends over the last few days; it also speaks to me. A little bleak but there is a clearly defined, if very muddy and slippery path and when the sun does eventually break through, it will be a glorious day.

The garden tidy up has begun. I always keep the borders protected by leaves from our trees over winter and leave places for wildlife during the worst of the weather. Small bunches of tete a tete daffs nod their heads near the kitchen door. Grape hyacinths and primroses sprinkle the ground under our ancient hazel; the snowdrops are dying back heralding the start of spring. I can see the bluebells burgeoning and we’ll have a good crop of wild garlic under the hedge this year. I no longer have a greenhouse and so seed sowing will have to wait for a few weeks.

Whatever the weather, there’s always hope in the garden and with lighter evenings we’ll have time to absorb its positivity.

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.

Snowdrops, magpies and the end of winter

pic by Sally Tonkin

Christmas seems a lifetime ago; COVID has reared its ugly head again at home and in the classroom; my marking mountain never seems to get any smaller and every time I want to get out in the garden, the weather turns or I have too much school work to do. I have been in danger of losing my sense of perspective and, worst of all, my sense of humour. BUT the start of Spring is just around the corner; there have been two magpies in the garden for the first time ever; the snowdrops are blooming. This beautiful photo from a Facebook friend reminded me to check out our snowdrops at the bottom of the garden this weekend. I hadn’t spotted them until now, what with leaving for work and getting home in the dark every day. A tiny habit which reset my internal barometer from stormy to fair.

I’ve written about the start of Celtic spring – Imbolc – before. I started this blog thirteen years ago at this time of year around Candlemas when I was looking for a new project. The urge to embrace the green shoots, shake off the winter blues and start new projects, spring clean, clear clutter in the house and in the garden is strong but I’m going to have to resist for the time being. In the garden it’s probably a good idea to wait for warmer weather anyway. Pollinators are often wintering in dead leaves and hollowed out stems so it’s best to let them bee (sic). In the house, clutter clearing as my husband sorts through the endless contents of my in-laws house moves very slowly. The major spring cleaning work this year has been internal in the letting go of ways of being and working that are no longer fit for purpose and are certainly not conducive to wellbeing.

I’ve set myself a long-term goal. By Spring next year I hope that much will have changed about the way I spend my time, my priorities will be different and I’ll feel more grounded. I’m in it for the long haul. Evolution not revolution. Not my usual approach but all the better for that I think.

Imbolc blessings for the week ahead.

Plants in the classroom

Plants affect your mood. They lower anxiety and blood pressure, decrease stress levels and increase concentration. Perfect in a classroom, then. All of us have an innate tendency to seek connections with nature. Biophillia has been big news for many years. Some GPs have started to prescribed time in nature as a cure for stress; gardening is a well-recognized therapy for PTSD and depression; just putting your hands in the soil stirs up microbes in the soil and inhaling these microbes can produce serotonin which makes you feel relaxed and happier.

I am so lucky that my current classroom overlooks a city park. In my last school, it overlooked the science technician’s greenhouse and the approach to the playing fields. The seasons change in front of my eyes through the window from one term to the next. But I do love filling my classroom with plenty of indoor plants too.

At this time of year, when daylight hours are limited, it’s good to remind yourself that Spring is on the way. A few pots of bulbs are an effective aide memoire. If you’re uber-organised, you’ll have ordered bulbs in the summer, had them delivered in the Autumn, potted them up at weekly intervals and stored them in a cool, dark until the shoots appeared, brought them out into a bright spot and watched them grow. Less efficient individuals can pick them up for a few pounds ready – planted at a supermarket or garden centre.

Whichever option you choose, once they’ve bloomed, leave them in a corner somewhere to die back and you can pop them in the ground to enjoy again for many years to come. I like the idea that pupils at all the schools I have ever taught at have been able to enjoy bulbs I’ve planted, long after I’ve moved on.

Brighten the January days with some hyacinths, daffs or crocuses, perk up your mood and, if you’re a teacher, you’ll be helping your students to concentrate too.

Christmas 2021:Wintering


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.

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