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.

Thunder Moon

It’s been a full-on school year, exhilarating and exhausting in equal measure, culminating in a mini-heatwave and a thunder moon. It’s called the thunder moon because of the thunder storms brought on through the hot and humid air. And right on cue, they appeared

Change or be changed is the message of this Full Moon. Those who know me well are aware of how much store I set by the moon and its cycles. Since the Summer Solstice in June I have felt a sense of something shifting both within myself and with the outside world. The first half of the year is over. It’s a good time to look back over the last six months and consider what I have learned, what’s been lost and gained, to take stock and move forward to the second half of the year and do things better. In professional terms it’s a good time to plan for next academic year, revamp lessons, develop new ones and ditch the ones that didn’t quite work. I’m trusting my inner teacher voice and doing a fair bit of educational reading and research. It’s a time of year when after the initial exhaustion (How tired can an end of COVID-year tired be?) my enthusiasm, idealism and creativity is at a high. It’s a bit like a thunderstorm in my teacher head.

It can feel strange ditching perfectly good lesson plans but if they are no longer fit for purpose and you’ve found better ways to teach a topic, why hold on to them? It’s time-consuming to rewrite a scheme of work in the short-term but it will bring long-term gains – for my pupils and for me. it’s time to let go of the past and welcome in the future. Harvest is just around the corner – a time to start reaping what is sown, when your hard work starts to pay off. For anyone waiting for GCSE and A level results then the hard work put in last year will bear fruit. And for amateur gardeners like me there are trees full of fruit to pick and preserve. No cut flowers or veg for the first time in years. Something had to give in all the COVID school madness. I’m not getting too hung about it. There’s always next year.

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?

Packets of positivity

Now that the days are getting lighter, I’m going to sow a few sweet peas in pots in a sheltered spot to plant out in Spring.

I used to sow sweet peas in individual root trainers but now I sow a few in a deep pot, the kind in which I start the dahlias off. The don’t mind the cold but I protect them from the worst of the rain until they are ready for transplanting.

Something to look forward to next Summer.

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

Winter walks

I have been trying to get outside for a few minutes every day. At weekends I am spoilt for choice in Wiltshire but sometimes on a school day that involves a wander around the school site – which stands on a hill overlooking the Bath skyline – at 7.30am when its not yet fully light. It sets me up for the day before the craziness of managing hundreds of teenage boys in the middle of a pandemic.
I’ve noticed since I moved schools that many boys prefer to spend their free time outdoors during the school day and that, coupled with the school’s exposed position has kept most of us COVID free since September.
Outdoors really is a good place to be whatever the season.

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.

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