Christmas 2021: A Walk on Boxing Day

A Boxing Day walk is traditional; in more recent years around Stourhead. It’s here that we’ve walked off the Christmas excess of roast potatoes, our own bodyweight in cheese and, this year, a raspberry roulade that would have fed the entire avenue. We’ve been there on crisp, cold days with grandparents – now achingly no longer with us; with friends when the snow was melting; on grey days, just the five of us when clouds hung low and gloomy. We’ve completed reindeer trails with our three lively pre-school explorers and imbibed gluwein or hot chocolate beside the Christmas tree in the thatched cottage with them transformed into teenagers who raced ahead together, chatting or sporting headphones. There are dozens of happy memories woven into the fabric of the place. Rarely though has it felt less Christmassy than today.

Perhaps the Christmas spirit had been packed away carefully by the National Trust staff until the after-dark Christmas light event. It’s hard to sparkle all day long when the weather makes it feel more like October. Three cornus ‘Midwinter Fire’ (I have one in the garden) put on a brave show near the temple of Apollo however, as an aide memoire that we have just celebrated the Winter solstice and there was room for a mince pie or two in the cafe. Finding it difficult not to roll my eyes at the conversations taking place around us about how keen people were to dismantle Christmas “now that it’s over” I popped into the shop to pay for the last cornus in the plant section and carry it home. A celebration of Christmas 2021- still at its height in our house – and of those yet to come.

Driving back home in the late afternoon, the mists were beginning to weave and curl through ancient forest on either side of us, caressing the gnarled bark of ancient oak and ash. There’s still midwinter magic to be savoured if you open your eyes and your hearts to it.

Christmas 2021:Midwinter fire

I’d hoped to spend the evening at a village gathering, round a fire pit, drinking gluwein and singing Christmas carols but it didn’t work out. So I made my own fire to celebrate the solstice and the return of light in the form of a quick batch of delicious chilli jam.
A kilo of preserving sugar, the better part of a couple of bottles of cider vinegar, a dozen red chillies and a couple of pointy red peppers deseeded and chopped finely put on a rolling boil for 10 minutes and poured into sterilised jars when cool, setting and the scarlet flecks are evenly distributed and suspended in the jam.

So easy and uber delicious.

Christmas 2021: Homemade

Homemade presents are the best. I was all set to make a batch of chilli jam for friends when I stumbled upon a batch of marmalade I’d made (and forgotten to label) at the back of the pantry.

Fifteen minutes with the pinking shears and an offcut of starry material and these jars of jewelled loveliness are ready for delivery around the village tomorrow. We might even combine it with a jaunt around the advent windows and Carol singing with mulled wine and mince pies around the firepit at the outdoor village eatery.

Just the job to celebrate the Winter solstice.

Christmas 2021:Wintering

@stilllifegallery

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.

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.

Looking backwards and forwards

We managed to book a trip to Stourhead on a glorious Easter Sunday. It has been a regular haunt of ours ever since the children were tiny. In latter years we’ve rocked up in an impromptu fashion, ambled around the lake, visited the thatched cottage and treated ourselves to coffee and cake in the cafe.

This year because of COVID restrictions and two of our three returning from Uni with testing and isolation involved we had to plan ahead, take our chances on the weather and pack a picnic. It felt like old times -and none the worse for that.

From time to time I reflect on how quickly my brood have grown and lament all the things I said we’d do and didn’t but on glorious days like these none of that matters. We have shared experiences and happy memories of times gone by and plenty of new and different ones to come.

Surely this mingling of old and new, of experience and potential, of what’s been and what’s to come is Easter in a nutshell?

Plant-based inspiration

Three words that strike fear into the hearts of most working mothers must be “What’s for dinner?” I love to cook but masterminding the family dinner every evening after work seems to suck the joy from what ought to be one of the best parts of the day. I used to dream of us all chatting together in the kitchen whilst prepping something tasty, sipping wine, mulling over the business of the day. It never quite turned out like that. I’d barely set foot through the door when someone wanted to eat. Tell me, I’m not alone in that? More recently however we got remarkably near to the utopian existence. One of the benefits of lockdown and working from home, I suspect. Take the half hour commute out of the equation and the ability to munch on an apple or pop on a round of toast whenever you’re peckish and the whole ordeal becomes much more relaxed and joyful.

I’ve been a life-long veggie and although I’ve always catered for the meateaters in the family it’s the veggie dishes that I love to cook. We’re not short of veggie inspiration but this new book from Anna Jones is special. It’s veggie but making every recipe fully vegan is so easy too Since lockdown I have struggled to control my psoriasis ‘issue’ and a plant-based diet seems to alleviate some of the worst symptoms so that appeals too. There’s tons of lovely recipes which are super-easy to make in one pan, pot or tray – always a boon if you don’t have to spend the rest of the evening tackling the washing-up – and there’s a helping hand too on sustainability. Using up leftovers, shopping more thoughtfully and ethically and cooking with the seasons all get more than a nod. I particularly love the ‘ten simple ideas’ for a variety of vegetables – great if you have a veg box and tend to get stuck in a rut making the same old recipes. Baked potatoes with leeks in cheese sauce is a storecupboard favourite here but leeks and shredded greens with mustard, thyme and grated cheese is even better. I have a celeriac in the fridge and have just spotted celeriac and red wine stew with cheddar dumplings. Yum! Sunday lunch this week sorted already.

Website Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑