Elderberry tincture

Some people spent lockdown learning Swedish, writing a novel or taking on an allotment. Virtual learning and preparing to move schools curtailed my usual creativity. No elderberries were harvested and so there is no usual elderberry tincture in the pantry to stave off those usual Winter colds and boost my immune system.

Consequently I indulged myself and ordered an elixir from Sweet Bee Organics. It’s the business but hugely expensive. I’m going to find time to make my own using freeze dried elderberries rather than fresh this year. I’ll blog the recipe and provide step by step instructions in due course.

Christmas Cake 2020

This year’s Christmas cake is in the oven – an annual half term job. More than ever this year I feel the need to prepare for a truly memorable Christmas. Nothing fancy – just the simple pleasures of family walks, log fires, books, board games and comfort food. I am a Celtic mother after all.

I used Mary Berry’s Christmas cake recipe this year but substituted honey for treacle, cut out the nuts as some of the family don’t care for them and used my own special mix of dried fruits. The fruit was liberally soaked in brandy for four days prior to cooking (obviously) and will be fed once a week with more brandy until Christmas – if I remember. Sometimes I don’t- but the cake is all the better for getting slowly sozzled.

I enjoy October Half Term more than any other holiday with its colourful Autumn walks, bulb planting and tidying up the garden, store cupboard cooking for Christmas, bonfires and domestic chores. The gutters have been cleared and cleaned, the firewood chopped and stacked, the quince tree mostly harvested, the dresser cleaned and polished with beeswax and the tree surgeon and oven cleaning guru are booked to do their magic over the next few weeks. The latter, I admit is a bit of an indulgence but I treated myself and my still-broken arm. Full time teaching in a new school during a pandemic, all the while without proper use of one arm needs rewarding somehow. A professional oven clean and a vastly expensive bottle of elderberry tincture to ward off the usual school lergi should be just the job.

More about elderberry tincture to follow.

A Sunday stroll around the Stones

We dodged the showers and headed to Avebury for some much-needed fresh air and vitamin D today. One of the few National Trust properties that you can still just turn up to without booking, it’s long been a family favourite.

In Summer there’s usually a cricket match happening on the pitch near the car park; but I love it best in Autumn and Winter when there are fewer folk around and the tramp around the stones is either bracing or an altogether more meditative affair, accompanied by a dank atmospheric mist. Occasionally you’ll find someone playing a recorder leaning against the gnarled trunk of an ancient tree, as if guarding the entrance to a wormhole, making a spot of time travel seem almost possible.

Today’s excursion, like the weather was bitter sweet as it was our first ever family trip without the boys, who are both away at Uni. I have so many happy memories of time spent at Avebury – climbing trees, Winter picnics, summer hikes, visits to the second hand bookshop, treasure trails with friends and the time the middle son was stung by a wasp and the cafe kitchen produced a bottle of honey vinaigrette dressing in lieu of vinegar to treat it.

Doubtless we’ll return in December when all the family is back together.

Resilience

pic by Alan Tyghe

I’m having to dig deep at the moment. Life is a bit of a Coronacoaster. After six months of teaching from home with all the family around me, living slowly and simply I have fitted sixth months of excitement and business into the last three weeks. I’m not into navel-gazing as a rule but a tad of reflection is vital.

Two sons moving back to Uni, four family birthdays, a new job back full-time in the state sector for the first time in twenty years along with all the COVID-safe measures of moving around the site, cleaning our classrooms to keep everyone safe and dealing with the attendant anxieties of teenagers who’ve missed several months of school. I knew it would need bags of energy, a thick skin and no ‘me time’ until Half Term. What I hadn’t factored in was a fall onto concrete, a seven-hour visit to A and E and an arm injury which has blown all my carefully-laid plans out of the water.

So digging deep is important ……as is the ability to be less than perfect, rely on others and stay positive whilst waiting for an MRI scan and possible surgery. In any other job, at any other time it might be possible to pull back and just do the necessary. But in a new teaching job in the middle of a pandemic I can’t see how this is going to be possible. As well as that, my usual R and R activities – gardening, chutney-making, baking are outside my capabilities for a while. I need help to get dressed, am typing one-handed and standing-up and lacking sleep. It’s a test of how resilient I really am – and of my family’s patience.

It’s also a perfect opportunity to rethink priorities and plan to do things differently in the future when life calms down. Alan Tyghe’s beautiful pic of Broughton Gifford common is a reminder of of the kinds of things I want to make time for in the future.

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.

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