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.

Back to work blues?

Like many people I’m dragging myself towards being work-ready after the festivities. Haphazard and spontaneous by nature I know that routines are important for my work-life balance, my family and my own mental health. That back to school feeling never really leaves a teacher, the days when you realise it’s time to let go of slow living for a few weeks. Teaching is all-consuming for a few weeks at a time, punctuated by holidays when you catch up with friends, clean your house, bake, visit the dentist and plan for the next few weeks. It’s hard to get back on the work waggon.

This year I’m determined to set some time aside every work day for walking, gardening, reading, meditation, yoga, family or a spot of creativity – the things that make me happy. This turned up in my inbox and it looks like a great way of setting aside some time to be happy. I think I’ll adapt it for myself, any family members that fancy joining me andthe students in my classes.

Happiness begins at home, every day and the new year is a good time to start.

Wellbeing – how the great outdoors can heal you

 

There are plenty of New Year’s Resolutions on my twitterfeed and among my friends about running, walking or gardening more in 2020. Even 20 minutes spent outdoors everyday can lift your mood and this book by Emma Mitchell is a testament to that. It’s beautiful and comes highly recommended from me.

Emma has suffered with depression – or as she calls it, `the grey slug’ – for twenty-five years. In 2003, she moved from the city to the edge of the Cambridgeshire Fens and began to take walks in the countryside around her new home, photographing, collecting and drawing as she went. Each walk lifted her mood, proving to be as medicinal as any talking therapy or pharmaceutical.

In Emma’s hand-illustrated diary, she takes us with her as she follows the paths and trails around her cottage and further afield, sharing her nature finds and tracking the lives of local flora and fauna over the course of a year. Reflecting on how these encounters impact her mood, Emma’s moving and candid account of her own struggles is a powerful testament to how reconnecting with nature may offer some answers to today’s mental health epidemic. While charting her own seasonal highs and lows, she also explains the science behind such changes, calling on new research into such areas as forest bathing and the ways in which our bodies and minds respond to plants and wildlife when we venture outdoors.

Written with Emma’s characteristic wit and frankness, and filled with her beautiful drawings, paintings and photography, this is a truly unique book for anyone who has ever felt drawn to nature and wondered about its influence over us.

Publisher: Michael O’Mara Books Ltd
ISBN: 9781789290424

 

….in with the new.

I’m clinging on to the remnants of the slower pace of the school holidays. I have lessons to prepare, a presentation to write and a research project to work on but today is not the day. Instead I cooked a roast dinner for the family and read a Margery Allingham detective novel I received as a Christmas present.

There have been no grand resolutions, trips to the gym, gatherings on the beach with friends, walks in the countryside or frantic taking down of decorations and deep cleaning the house. Just a quiet determination to live in the moment and find the good things in every day. In truth, I’ve always found January 1st something of an  anticlimax. I’m not ready to embrace the new challenges, new opportunities and new adventures of a new year. They’ll keep until tomorrow.

Out with the old….

Change is in the air on New Year’s Eve. It’s always been a time to reflect over the past year – what’s been good and not so good – and to get to grips with how you want to move forward into the new year, or in this case the next decade. Deep winter is a good time to look closely at the structures in the garden, prune away the dead, overgrown and ugly and open up areas for new growth in the spring. With that in mind we’ve been doing a spot of pruning of the hazel at the bottom of the garden. The same is true of life in general. A spot of pruning does you good.

Twenty years ago today, on our wedding anniversary we took a trip into the Cotswolds for lunch and returned home to discover that we two would become three, some months into the new decade. Eleven years of being a couple were over and it was time to let go of old ways of being and embrace a different kind of life. In fact we became five within a couple of years. As we face the next decade we’re contemplating changes as gradually the children fly the nest and make their own way in the world.

Change is in the air.

In my classroom too it’s time for reflection about how to better inspire and support my students. The best teachers are always looking for ways to make the classroom experience better for themselves and their students. I’m focussing a lot on supporting independent learning strategies in the students I teach, letting go of resources and ways of working that have served their purpose, learning a few new tricks myself and making an impact beyond my own classroom.

Change is in the air.

The perfect Christmas gift.

I haven’t really done any Christmas shopping.

There. I’ve said it.

In any other year the prospect of having no working oven, no ideas for presents and a pot cupboard which is only half full of home-made goodies would have caused me some stress but not this year.

At the start of November my mother-in-law, who had been holding her own in the final stages of dementia for some time went into decline and passed away. My father-in-law who had been caring for her took a tumble when visiting her in hospital and broke his leg.  What followed was a few weeks of craziness – during which time the oven packed up and four different replacements couldn’t be fitted because of a redesign which didn’t accommodate the gas pipe, my daughter sat her mock GCSEs, my son worked on his university application, my husband spent most of the time away from home supporting his parents and I marked GCSE mock exams and wrote reports – dozens and dozens of them.

Now the storm rages no more, there’s time to reflect, take stock and appreciate what’s important about Christmas. My mother-in-law’s death has unlocked the door to happy memories of when she was healthy, which I found hard to bring to mind in the last few years during the worst parts of her illness. My father-in-law needs kindness, companionship and a new sense of purpose. Above all he needs our time.

I’ve always been a fan of homemade goodies or experiences rather than ‘stuff’ as gifts but the real gift of Christmas is time.

Time.

Take some for yourself and give some to those you love this Christmas. It’s the perfect Christmas gift.

Christmas kitchen – red onion marmalade

 

There’s a timely article in the paper today about foods to eat to help keep the winter blues at bay once the clocks go back. Oily fish, green vegetables and onions feature highly.

I’ve blogged about making red onion marmalade before and on a chilly Autumn day in October I like to have something to show for my time when I can’t make much headway in the garden. There are bulbs to plant, weeds to hoe and pruning to be done but the soil is so cold and wet that I’m loathe to trample piles of soil all over the lawn and the terrace ( I use the terms ‘lawn’ and ‘terrace’ in their loosest sense!).

This October’s red onion marmalade is 2 kilos of red onions sweated down for 45 minutes over a low heat with 140g butter , a good slug of olive oil (about 4 tbsp), a generous tbsp of fresh thyme leaves, a small handful of dried chilli flakes, salt, black pepper, 140 g muscovado sugar and a spoonful of ground gloves. Once the onions are soft to the touch (they should break easily if you press them with a spoon) add a 75cl bottle of cheap red wine, 350ml of red wine vinegar and 200ml port. Simmer over the heat until 2/3rds of the liquid has evaporated. Cool slightly and then pot into sterilised jars.

They should  be stored in the larder or a cool, dark cupboard where they will keep well for three to six months, by which time they will be long gone and you’ll need to make another batch. By Christmas it will be yumsome. I’m going to add some to a food parcel for my eldest who is away at Uni and mentioned ‘home cooking’ at least four times in his weekly phone call home yesterday.

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