Tree pruning, winter sunshine and a full log store

Yesterday I ran around doing errands in snow flurries; today the winter sunshine is streaming through the kitchen window as I teach my classes. We had a visit from the tree surgeon this morning to give our trees a bit of a Winter prune.

The laburnum at the front is beautifully shaped after a year of being nothing short of bedraggled. And the hazel has afforded a few extra logs for the fire and some bean poles.

Its the kind of day which provides food for the soul. Sunshine, stores to plunder in the future and everything neat and tidy.

Snowdrop walks, woodpiles and bee berets.

I’m missing my visits to National Trust properties to wander among the snowdrops so this beaut picture from The Courts gardens in Holt, where I have spent many a happy hour was a boon when it popped up in my timeline. The snowdrops in my own garden are nodding their heads vigorously in today’s strong winds. Yesterday in Wiltshire was positively barmy,when I did a spot of weeding and planted two new daphnes in shady parts. I’ve never known a year when annual weeds were so prolific in February. The urge to sow seeds is strong but with no greenhouse I’m holding off outside until April, though I may start a few on the kitchen windowsill before then. In the meantime the garden jobs include some tree pruning to reshape the laburnum, quince, apple and greengage trees and to coppice the hazel. I’m also marking spots where I want to sow more bulbs in the autumn. If I don’t mark them now, by midsummer, when the borders are romping away I will have forgotten. I’ve ordered some Patty’s Plum poppies for a neglected spot and some more hellebores.I can never have enough of these in the shadier parts of the garden.

There is a definite whiff of spring in the air. My friend’s chickens have started laying; I drove home from school in daylight for the first time in months and even sat outside with a coffee on Friday in between online lessons. But it’s still good to light the fire of an evening. We replenished our woodstore for the second time this winter. A full logstore is a thing of beauty and a log fire is the perfect accompaniment to Six Nations rugby and the mountain of GCSE and A Level marking that is currently occupying my Google Classroom.

This term has flown by despite one day being pretty much like another in the world of online teaching. This week was enlivened by the COVID Russian roulette of being on the in-school teaching rota and my good friend Helen popping round en route to the supermarket to drop off a beautiful handknitted red beret embellished with bee and flower. Looking at the forecast for this week, her timing couldn’t have been better.

Imbolc, St Brigit and new beginnings

pic from Naturescape, who supplied my snowdrops

“Born from winter dreaming, life stirs and the first tender shoots emerge from the earth. As the wheel turns, we feel the promise of spring and the dawning of a new beginning”

There’s a smattering of snow on the garden, the snowdrops have been out for weeks and we have come to the end of what feels like the longest January ever. I had an emotional wobble on Thursday, having spent all day at an online moderation meeting for sixth form EPQ projects when the rest of the school were off timetable, encouraged to take time away from online study. It couldn’t be helped but nearly broke me. But everything happens for a reason and it has forced me to realise how little time I have spent since Christmas socialising, reading, walking, gardening, cooking and doing all those activities that make me feel like me. I need to recalibrate and fill the pot from which I pour to others during the week.

Today is the feast of St Brigit and the ancient festival of Imbolc, a fire festival. Traditionally it was a time when stores would be running low. No change there as we have just exhausted our supply of fire wood and have another booked to arrive tomorrow. Fire rituals at Imbolc ensured a good growing season and celebrated having successfully survived the darkest days of another winter. Ritual fire was kindled to ensure a good growing season and to increase the power of the returning sun. Families would celebrate having successfully survived the darkest days of another winter.

That seems especially poignant this year as we begin to emerge from the effects of the pandemic. We’re not there yet but there are signs that, if managed carefully, we should not slip back into the dark days of winter. To celebrate quietly we had a catch up with the boys who are in lockdown at university, lit the fire last night and watched ‘The Dig’ on Netflix, a beautiful bittersweet film with some lovely understated performances. Life affirming but not shying away from the fact that living has its fair share of personal difficulties.

Imbolc blessings to you all. May the sunshine return to your homes and gardens over the coming months.

A present from Seville

If white is the colour of the first half of January, then by the end of the month it’s given way to orange. I love a bit of purity and minimalism after the richness of Christmas. Early January is a time for snowdrops in tiny vases, nutritious green juices and snow. But after a few weeks I’m ready for a bit of sunshine – even if that is in a jar.

I bagged a bargain box of Seville oranges from a local farm shop to make marmalade but couldn’t resist putting a few aside to make bitter orange pud for our supper. It’s a twist on Nigella’s bitter orange tart. I had a packet of Dorset ginger biscuits left over from Christmas so crunched them up with melted butter to form the base, divided the mix between 5 ramekins, popped the orange curd on top and chilled.

Once I find those muslin squares I put away for a rainy day and today’s snow has lost its virgin sparkle, I’ll be making a few jars of marmalade with spiced rum. Jars of sunshine in the depths of winter. It’s what I crave right now.

When life gives you lemons…preserve them

It’s been a busy week – teaching from home, on the rota with keyworker and vulnerable children in school, year 11 assessments to collect evidence for the end of course grades and a 290 mile round trip to take my father-in-law for his COVID jab. Pretty shattered actually and so the simple task of chopping a few lemons to preserve was just the job. Creative, therapeutic chopping which resulted in someting pretty and useful to stash in the larder.

It’s the work of a moment but a real mood booster. Sterilise a Kilner jar, place a couple of teaspoons of salt granules in the bottom then layer up fat slices of lemon (I used 2 lemons) with a teaspoon of salt between the layers. Cover with the juice of a couple of lemons, press down so that all the lemon slices are covered by the brine. Pop a couple of bay leaves in the top, seal and place in a cool, dark cupboard for a couple of weeks. Give the jar a shake from time to time.

They should be ready to use in a fortnight. I use them in soups, tagines and stirred through grains like bulghur wheat. You can preserve whole lemons or lemon wedges but I find slices are more versatile for my needs and you can make a small jar which is ready in 2 weeks as opposed to three months.

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?

Wellbeing, it’s elemental. Part 4 : Fire

We Celts are never shy in celebrating – more often than not it involves music, dancing, alcohol and fire. Even in this strangest of years we’ll be welcoming in the New Year with a celebration around the fire. Of course it will be a quiet affair beside our  own hearth rather than on top of a hill where a community gathers beside a hastily constructed beacon blazing ostentatiously. How I long for those atavistic days! Having to scale down Bonfire Night affected me more than almost every other festival this year. Truly!

Fire stirs something deep within me and never fails to soothe. Not that I’m a pyromaniac you understand but I’ve spent hours tending bonfires after dusk on the allotment, love the daily routine of laying a fire in the hearth and am fanatical about the log pile. I adore a firework display but my passion is for the accompanying bonfire. One day I’m determined to do a spot of firewalking. 

To celebrate the end of 2020 I’ve splurged on a cornus for our cottage garden. Cornus ‘midwinter fire’. It’s a beauty and will go some way to assuage the lack of fire celebrations this year. Whenever I look out of the kitchen window it will remind me of 2020 – the craziness, the changes, the interruptions and the sheer joy of living in the moment. 

Making plans for next year

I’m filling in my 2021 diary, making plans for next year – I’m an optimist- determined to bring some balance to my life.

2020 did not bring the opportunity to spring clean the attic, clear cluttter, redecorate the entire house or learn Swedish. Neither did I sit back and reevaluate during lockdown. School life, if anything was busier than usual. The box of tulip bulbs in the garden shed that has been awaiting planting since October is a testament to that.

So what of 2021? More walking, more cooking, more gardening, directing a play, more family time, home improvements maybe finally getting that part in The Archers and, God willing, everyone staying healthy. All these are going in the diary before work commitments. Today’s first step was to pot up some paperwhites (finally) and to order these fragrant beauties for the garden – two more daphnes, a Carolina allspice and a winter honeysuckle.

Aftrr all, teaching is just a job. There. I’ve said it. Probably for the first time in my life. It’s what 2020 has taught me.

Cold Moon Rising

Pic- Country Living

Tonight is The Full Cold Moon, so called because after tonight the temperature should start to drop rapidly. It is also known as The Oak Moon and Yule Moon – the final Full Moon of the year and one of the brightest Moons of the year.

Let it be a time of release, of letting go and being our authentic selves. For me that means admitting that I have been exhausted and disillusioned by the constant demands on and criticism of teachers this year. Heaven knows we don’t do the job to be thanked, but in 2020 it has been a Sisyphean task.

The Cold Moon brings an opportunity to be positive, open, ambitious and tuned into an inner strength that will pull you through anything. It is also a time to look back on the year passed and reflect on all the lessons we have learned and the people who have come and gone in our lives. Periods of self-reflection are vital; they are energizing and transformative and they provide an opportunity to sweep away the negativity, relax and allow yourself to move into to a new year with hope.

So as you gaze up at the Cold Moon, I hope you find blessings, meaning and hope in the coming year.

Wrapping up Christmas

Christmas is cancelled, according to the doom-laden press. It’s true enough that Christmas is very different this year for many. It’s true that we haven’t felt very Christmassy because the usual rituals have been curtailed or changed. It’s not true that the spirit of Christmas has been cancelled. Resilience, adaptability and community spirit – always positive character traits – have been forced upon us.

Here we are lucky enough still to be able to wrap up homemade gifts with love and care and deliver them to the friends we love who live nearby. We don’t go in for sparkle and glitter in our wrapping, but there was plenty of sparkle when we stood for 15 minutes on doorsteps chatting and planning to meet when were all allowed out next year. It was lovely to find a bit of normal in our topsy-turvy world.

Website Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑