Monday Meditation: Appeals for Help for Homeless People in the Prolonged Icy Weather

295843B4-63EE-4573-BC5B-133F6C8D6401As I write, the latest fall of snow is melting. We had the littles here for the weekend and they had a lot of fun playing in it, as did their dad, a little too much as it turned out – if you enlarge this photo, you’ll see a hole in the right garage window!

Towards the end of the first prolonged period of snow when it had hung around for about 10 days, I braved the outdoors during a brief fine spell for a short walk. I had been cooped up in dry central heating for so long. How good it felt to fill my lungs with the sharp fresh air!

As I gingerly walked along the roadside, avoiding the sometimes slippery paths, I pondered about how we coped without central heating when we were young children, when there was often ice on the inside of the windows and a bath was a weekly affair to be dreaded and shivered over. I remembered about chapped red legs from wearing wellies to walk to school. Dead white fingers when I walked my young son to school and I couldn’t untie his shoes. And then I thought about all those having to work in these conditions, but most of all, people who were even now having to spend the nights outdoors in flimsy clothing. I chastised myself for complaining the other night about not being able to sleep when it was -10C . I had a thick duvet, two hot water bottles, woolly socks, central heating and a comfortable bed. How many didn’t have any kind of bed, or slept in damp rooms with ill-fitting windows and no heating?

I came home and went online to see if there was a charity for homeless people in my area – how did I not know that already? We support the local Foodbank, but as I thought, there was no dedicated charity for homeless people in our immediate area, although I found one for the nearest large town and made a donation. Nowhere near enough. It felt like conscience money.

719CAC7A-861A-4A48-8CAE-9F7A86FDE4F0This past weekend, the icy winds and another 3” of snow have returned and I read an appeal on Twitter from @StreetsKitchen in London (also StreetsKitchenOffical on Facebook) for warm socks and underwear to give to homeless men. I went on Amazon and ordered some to be delivered there. (They had recently also appealed for sleeping bags). A drop in an enormous ocean, I know, but many people have responded, so let’s hope a few more people will be supported during this freezing weather.

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Please click the link if you’d like to know more or can help in any way. They need food donations too. Or please think about donating warm clothing to your own local charity, or your time to hand out warm soup and drinks.

 

Copyright: Chris McGowan

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Monday Meditation: The End? Absolutely Not!

CA6CD8E5-4285-419D-B9C2-01DAECA3E688I lost a dear friend last week, she had just turned 103 and I have been thinking about The End a lot.* Until relatively recently, we used to share a daily short walk, which inevitably reached its halfway point at the cemetery where her husband’s memorial stone stands and my dad’s tree lives. She, too, has now left her physical form, but whenever I go on that walk, I shall be thinking of her when I visit her husband and my dad’s tree. I am continuing our walks, I will visit her, too, when she joins her husband, and have a chat. I will tell her about the latest exploits of my grandsons, about whom she always inquired. There is no ending yet.

Her house is being sorted, her clothes given away, but her possessions will have a new life with others and so too will the house. It will be renovated and look spanking new again, ready to enter its new era. And it will contain all the memories created there by her and her family, who have occupied it for over half a century. There is no ending here.

I visited Barbara on her birthday a few days before she died. She was half-sitting in bed. She hadn’t seen me for quite a while as she had a fall on the stairs in the autumn and then developed a chest infection. Her sight had deteriorated and I was wearing a different coat, with a black scarf around my neck. She hardly knew me. I helped her open the card I had written for her, in which I had mentioned my grandsons in case I didn’t get to talk to her that day. Things began to come clearer at the mention of the boys’ names and now she knew who I was. I sat with her while her daughter had a break to make some calls. She looked tiny and frail. She was not happy. I asked her what the ETA was on her being up and about again. She grimaced and looked towards her daughter and her carer, whispering that they wouldn’t let her attempt to walk up and down the hall with her walker. She said, ‘You don’t get better lying in bed!’

She was right of course. She had such spirit, such determination. Her daughter told me after her mum had slipped away in her sleep that she knew her mum had somehow got herself out of bed a few nights before and she had found her in the hall by the radiator because she was cold. She had got there without her walker.

Three days before Barbara died, this heron came to visit on her roof.

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A few years ago, in her 90s, Barbara broke her hip. The authorities wanted her to stay in hospital and then go to a care home. She was having none of it. She insisted they send her home. We all feared the worst, that she would never manage and would injure herself or catch an infection. We should have known better. Up to that point, she was still weeding her own garden, going to the shops, to church and to the hairdresser, she was a member of the Townswomen’s Guild and held a coffee morning every Thursday. There was to be no ending because of a pesky broken hip!

Every winter she developed a chest infection and we all shook our heads and thought she was unlikely to survive the winter. Barbara had other ideas.

5A2D5BF6-5273-4FC7-9254-99C3D1D17ADFThe day before she left us, I had decided to make some cards. Barbara and I had established a tradition of sending each other notecards when one or other of us – often both – were confined to barracks – in my case when my back had given up the ghost. I had run out of cards with the one I sent just before Christmas. This time I chose a picture that was an image of a garden, as she loved hers. I had no idea I would be sending it as a sympathy card next day. I happened to take the photo to write about the smoothie I was having at the time. I had no idea it would be featuring in her eulogy. I finished the card, and sent it on its way to convey my thoughts and some memories to her family. No ending here either. Barbara’s daughter has found all the cards I sent to her mum and is going to let me have them. I will be able to relive the memories I shared with her, of my family as they grew, and smile at her own quips in response.

I am sad for her daughters and son, I am sad that I will no longer look over at her windows when I get up to check her curtains are open, or see her with her carer slowly taking her afternoon stroll, stopping to chat to the schoolchildren as they hurtled past. But I know she was not happy at being confined to bed. She was rapidly losing her strength (she wasn’t eating), and was adamant she didn’t want to go into the local Cottage Care Home. She was relieved to have her daughter back staying with her, from her home on the Continent, and she was ready to go.

But there is no End here. So many people looked out for her. She was loved by all her neighbours, a few of whom had known her for several decades, us included. Her death has brought us all together, we are all talking about her as we pass in the street. Some of us are used to seeing each other in passing and saying ‘good morning’ or commenting on the weather, but haven’t really got to know each other. Barbara has brought this small community even closer by our common bond of friendship with this tiny, frail-looking woman who was as strong as steel and insisted we all – young and not so young – call her by her first name.

The rain has stopped and the wind has dropped, I’m off to put on my coat and boots. I will wave to Barbara’s daughter and if I have the chance, I’ll invite her over for a cup of tea and a change of scenery. She looks so tired. Having only exchanged a few remarks when she has thanked me for writing to her mum, we are getting to know each other a bit more. There is no ending here.

Au revoir, Barbara. You continue to be an inspiration and I am grateful you came into my life. Thank you for all the walks and the memories.

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Inspired by a post called Conversation With The End by Cathi at Over The Hill On The Yellow Brick Road

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Election Day Special Fruity Beetroot Juice

With apologies to From Pyrenees to Pennines who also used this title today, I had this in mind when I got up this morning:

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Juice: Beetroot, Apple, Pear, Carrot, Lemon, Cucumber, Romaine Leaves and blend with Frozen Cherries, Mixed Berries, Banana & hemp seeds. And if that doesn’t cover the full gamut of the electoral spectrum, I don’t know what does!

Here in the UK, it’s General Election Day. Universal suffrage was a hard fought right, don’t waste it.

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Wherever your political loyalties lie

GO OUT & VOTE!!!

There are people waiting in polling stations to collect your vote, who have been up since 5am and won’t get home much before midnight – my husband is one of them – so don’t leave them sitting there twiddling their thumbs:

GO ON, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR??!!

(Does this count as subliminal advertising?)

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Copyright: Chris McGowan

Ever Tried Wrangling Young Rabbits?

This may seem a strange question on a health and wellbeing blog but bear with me. 

This morning, I was woken by such a commotion in our front garden which seemed to then moved and down our drive. I could hear children, adults, a dog barking, someone shouting to a cat and a child calling to someone or something else and a lot of running back and forth. It took me a while to process it all. At first I thought the neighbour’s dog must have escaped again. I couldn’t hear my husband so I hauled myself out of bed and opened the curtains.

Rabbits! Two of them. Scampering all over, children chasing, adults cajoling and admonishing, a cat and a dog being restrained, utter chaos. I didn’t recognise half the humans running amok on my lawn, jumping over the newly blooming irises. I reluctantly went downstairs and found my husband completely oblivious as he was making juices and hadn’t heard a thing.

I went back upstairs, looked out and one of the fathers gave me a smile and a thumbs up! I assumed that meant ‘success’ and ‘thank you!’

We went about our morning tasks, I had a shower and washed my hair, husband finished juicing, and when he took out the compost discovered that the rabbits belonged to the son of our newly-widowed neighbour, a birthday gift for her older son. But they were back in their hutch, locked up and she was going out, not being any the wiser as to how they had escaped. It appears it wasn’t the first time, and her son gets so distraught when they do.

Not half an hour later, husband goes outside only to discover them sitting at the top of our drive where the young apple trees and tomato plants are, the cat from next door keeping a nonchalantly watchful distance. We had no idea what to do, neither of us having the first inkling of how to entice a frisky pair of bunnies back to their home, nor being sprightly enough to chase after them!

Picture the scene: I am standing holding a towel not exactly sure as to when it would come into play, my husband is wandering about looking clueless and wishing his phone would magically conjure up the neighbour’s number, but we don’t have it.

I suggested he at least shoo away the cat – it doesn’t take any notice of me but doesn’t like him at all – and then he remembered he had neighbour number 2’s number in his cycling book (really) from when we rescued her escaped dog (do you see a theme developing here? We have also in the past rescued former neighbour number 3’s ducks, neighbour number 4’s chickens and neighbour number 5’s two daft senseless dogs from being run over!).

It turns out, number 2 doesn’t have neighbour number 1’s number either, they communicate via Facebook, but does have new neighbour number 3’s (who lives in former duck neighbour’s house, are you keeping up?).

To cut a 2 hour long story short, we got the rabbits coralled behind our shed, hemmed in by wheelie bins and a fireguard.

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The end of the line, nowhere else to run
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Gotcha!

Throughout the entire procedings, the robins kept a beady eye on us, their nest is nearby and they interrupted their collection of nesting materials.

Then the cavalry arrived – or rather by the wonders of bush telegraph, the local neighbourhood rabbit-whisperer!

She wrangled them into a plastic recycling box which was quickly covered with my towel and lugged them back to their home. Which, it soon became evident, was falling apart and all they had to do was lean against the door and the catch fell down, and out they romped.

The grandad had been so excited at making the hutch himself for his grandson’s birthday, but unfortunately the wood near the catch was rotting and the screws were loose. These rabbits were very nifty and not short of a few brain cells.

My husband made a temporary repair, the catch was tied up and a box leaned against the door. An hour later, they were still ensconced in their residence looking a bit out-witted and not at all happy,  but safe.

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Back home

We had all been worried that their young owner would come home from his school trip to find them gone – there are several dogs adjoining our garden, including a Jack Russell and a Retriever, so it could have been very dodgy – it would have been too much so soon after losing his dad, but hopefully he will be none the wiser.

His mum came home and thanked us profusely. She is going to buy a more secure hutch.

What I wanted to say here though, was that out of a potentially disastrous and emotional situation, a new friendship is building.

I have never said more than hello to our neighbour as she passes by on her way to or from school always in a hurry, but since her tragic loss, we have offered help in the form of using our drive for all the visitors coming to support her and her son has begun chatting with my husband when they see each other on the drive: it seems he has a keen interest in cycling, as does my husband. Today was my first proper conversation with his mum as I explained what had happened with the rabbits. She was so grateful and so relieved and as we chatted about her son, she mentioned that she wasn’t sure she had the confidence to take out the two boys on the bikes by herself. I immediately offered my husband’s assistance and she looked really pleased and suggested that perhaps he might take the older son out on the bike track some time. I said he would be pleased to, and he later agreed.

It was a good feeling to have helped saved the day and prevent the family from having to face another loss, as well as finally getting the opportunity to meet properly and offer our friendship if she ever needs it.

Postscript: This episode was particularly poignant on this day when news was coming out about the awful slaying of young children and their waiting parents and grandparents at the Arianna Grande concert in Manchester. It felt good to feel useful and to do something positive for our young neighbour at a time of helplessness in the face of such an atrocity.

My thoughts are with all those affected.

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Muslim-Owned Restaurant Offers The True Spirit of Christmas.

This is another example of compassion and kindness and reading it brought tears to my eyes: a Muslim-owned restaurant is offering a free meal on Christmas day to anyone who is homeless or elderly, stating that ‘no-one eats alone on Christmas Day!’

Kindness Blog

A Muslim-owned restaurant in London is offering a three-course meal to homeless and elderly people on Christmas Day so that “no one eats alone”.

Shish Restaurant, in Sidcup, is asking local residents to spread the word of its offer and has put up posters saying “We are here to sit with you” on 25 December.

The restaurant urged people to share its plan through social media – where the initiative was widely praised.

Vicky Lanfear wrote on Facebook:

“This is the most selfless gesture I have ever seen and they should be recognised as a pillar of the community.”

Suzannah Harris added:

“What a lovely gesture; a restaurant that gives something back instead of merely seeing Xmas as a time to cash in. Will definitely visit in the new year if ever in the area.”

Linda Leach wrote:

“There is still kindness in this world. Amazing people.”

The FREE three-course…

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Birthday Celebration!

Niki’s campaign to raise $250 to buy winter clothing for a teenage boy whose mum is struggling fits so well with my latest post The Gift of Kindness At Christmas that I had to reblog it. Please help her achieve her goal of giving this family a much-needed boost this Christmas. All donations however small are gratefully received. Just click on the photo in her post to be taken to the GoFundMe website and leave your special message for this family.
I know there are many many people struggling this Christmas and we often feel overwhelmed and helpless, but this is one family you can help in a very practical way. Thank you for reading.

The Richness of a Simple Life

In honor of my birthday this week, I’d like to invite you to help me celebrate it by contributing to the family I’m sponsoring for Christmas this year. I’m hosting a campaign that you can be part of! A family is in need of winter clothing for their son and I thought that would be a great way to teach my children about the importance of being thankful for what we have as well as giving back.

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The Gift of Kindness At Christmas

IMG_1098At Christmas, it’s easy to get caught up in the seasonal excitement of buying and exchanging often expensive gifts we can’t afford and they don’t really need. We look forward to seeing the faces of our loved ones light up when they open our presents, the all-round smiles say it all. But sometimes it can be just a temporary happiness: the item breaks down, doesn’t fit, goes out of fashion or needs updating, it wasn’t the right model, they already have two… And then the credit card bill often provides one heck of a shock in January.

Many of us are feeling the pinch this year and Christmas can be a worrying time financially. But there are other ways of giving that bring joy and make a positive difference to the lives of the recipients which won’t almost bankrupt us when the festive season is over. There are savings we can make that could also allow us to help others in a small but significant way. (See later in the post for ways of helping others this Christmas).

Do we really need such a big tree, so much alcohol? How much do we overeat and drink only to bemoan the extra pounds on our bodies and the lack of pounds in our pockets? How much rich food gets thrown away?

IMG_1084 How many of us buy and post cards and then also wish our friends and relatives ‘Seasons Greetings’ in person or by text or social media as well?! Stamps are expensive but most people have email or can receive texts, we can send our greetings for free with news and photos of the family, for example. There are some lovely animated ecards available, see my suggestions later

Here are some ideas for spreading some Christmas cheer that will hopefully last throughout the year, some can be given as Christmas gifts to those who already have all they need and introduce children to the real message of Christmas: the gift of kindness, compassion and consideration. (For US readers, Tamara at The Purple Almond blog has written a Post listing non-profit companies who sell beautiful gifts and give back to good causes).

CARDS

  • Apart from elderly friends and relatives, we are sending seasonal greetings by email and using the money saved on cards and postage to buy food for our local food bank.
  • If you would like to send a more personalised greeting, for £9 a year to http://www.jacquielawson.com you can send as many beautiful animated cards as you like throughout the year.
  • The cards we do send will as always be either homemade from recycled items or bought direct from charities so that they receive all the profits. Even if you buy charity cards from stores, they take their cut too so the charities only receive a percentage of the price of the cards.
  • Years ago, we realised that colleagues who worked within inches of each other would wish each other a Merry Christmas *and* give everyone an individual card as well. This seemed crazy and we initiated a Christmas whip-round in lieu of cards that would be donated to a local charity which everyone voted on each year, Air Ambulance and the local hospice being favourites.

 

 

  • This year I have been painting and découpaging rocks to leave on my neighbours’ doorsteps in lieu of cards – link here to see how.
  • If you have access to foliage, you can make your own Christmas displays –much cheaper and more satisfying than buying them.

 

 

There are many people for whom compassion and kindness would be the best gift of all this Christmas. Often, all that is required is a little thought and some of our time. Perhaps you remember when you were in need but are now able to ‘pass it forward?’

SUPPORT THE ELDERLY & VULNERABLE

  • An elderly relative or neighbour, or someone who has recently lost a loved one may appreciate a phone call or visit. Christmas can be particularly difficult for people who are isolated through immobility or having no family nearby or being recently bereaved.
  • Perhaps invite an isolated neighbour for Christmas lunch or tea. Check that they have everything they need to see them through the holidays, do they need any shopping or cards posting? If the weather is icy or there has been snow, offer to clear their path.
  • Help make a refugee family feel welcome and help them settle into the community.

VOLUNTEER

In the UK, there are 2 organisations that provide advice and friendship for elderly people who could use volunteers and/or donations:

  • Volunteers are also needed at food banks and shelters for homeless people.

DONATE

  • A donation will provide a hot Christmas dinner for a homeless person at

http://www.crisis.org.uk

It costs £26.08 and they can also have a shower, haircut, health checks, clothes and advice that can potentially set them back on their feet. Even my mum asked me to reserve a dinner on her behalf this year when I told her what I had done.

  • A microloan of as little as £15 to

https://www.lendwithcare.org/

helps individuals or groups in developing countries set up their own businesses. I was given this as a gift one Christmas and each time the loan is paid off, I roll it over so someone else can benefit.

GIFTS

  • Oxfam and Good Gifts have catalogues and web sites with life-changing gifts which benefit individuals and small businesses at home and overseas, some at stocking filler prices:

http://www.oxfam.org.uk/Unwrapped

https://www.goodgifts.org

HOMEMADE & HANDMADE 

  • Homemade gifts, especially from children, are always appreciated. Children learn about giving and not just receiving. For several years when our grandchildren were young, they would give us something of their own, many of which we still have, although one of my husband’s prize gifts from our eldest grand-daughter – a plastic microphone with a loud echo – is permanently hidden away!!
  • Older children and adults can make gifts of homemade food: I used to make pickles, shortbread, petits fours, my husband made wine and beer. These days, nut butter, chocolate avocado mousse and raw chocolate truffles may be more likely.
  • My daughter knits mittens and fingerless gloves, beanie hats, socks and sleeveless jumpers.
  • My son has made kitchen chopping boards from offcuts and fallen trees, as well as belts, wallets and even clocks from discarded bicycle tyres and firehoses.
  • Last Christmas, we all made food that contributed to an extended family dinner, which occurs only once a year and was all the more special for that.

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How many of us watch the Christmas adverts, look at all the presents we’ve bought and all the money spent on food and complain about the over-commercialisation of Christmas? How many vow that next year we will do it differently?

Make next year, this year.

I wish you all peace, love, health and happiness.

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Updated 4/12/17

Copyright: Chris McGowan

A Post Election Plea For Compassion & Peace

A year ago, when very new to blogging, I published a post called Compassion is Good for Our Health in the context of negative newspaper and political rhetoric about refugees, homeless poeple, those with disabilities and mental health issues. It was also written against the background of the shootings and bombings in Paris.

I explained how demonstrating acts of compassion is beneficial to our physical as well as our spiritual health.

Then we had the terrorist attacks in Belgium.

In June this year, after the attacks in Orlando, I reposted it. We in the UK had also lost an MP, a campaigner for peace and for human rights, in an attack outside her surgery. The nation was stunned.

Next came Brexit and all the lies and infighting, and there seemed to be an open season on anyone considered non-British, or on benefits and so on. Again. Only more so, and with impunity. These people felt able to be quite open about their views and to express them in the most hurtful and derogatory terms, often along with physical intimidation or even violence, without fear of restraint, recrimination or incarceration.

Now, following the US electoral compaign and vote, and all the online vitriol towards women, minority and vulnerable groups, I find myself revisiting these issues. Videos of High School students carrying Trump posters while chanting about White Power made me feel sick.

I don’t post about politics, this blog is not about that. But all this hate, negativity and lack of compassion is not good for us or for our society. It certainly isn’t good for those who bear the brunt of it, those who already find life challenging.

Twelve months on from that first publication, I can’t believe we have not moved any further forward, but rather it would seem we have taken a huge step backwards. I can only believe like many others that hope and humanity will win out, that –  as Chris Martin of Coldplay said very eloquently on The Graham Norton Show recently – once those who feel disenfranchised and ignored have had their voices heard, things will calm down.

Please take a look at my original post. As Ellen Degeneres says, Be Kind To One Another.

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(Sorry, I found this on Instagram, I don’t know the source).

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Garden Glove Love: Update

To read the original post please click here.

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A young mother sorts through rubbish in Kathmandu, using gloves from the original Garden Glove Love scheme: photo credit Liesl Clark

Some of you will recall a post I wrote earlier this year about a scheme set up by Liesl Clark of Pioneering the Simple Life. Liesl is a documentary maker and she and her family have close ties to Nepal: they volunteered there after the devastating earthquake and have been involved in various schemes to help local people, including setting up children’s libraries.

Liesl’s family are returning to Nepal this summer and they are taking with them lots of used, new, discarded, odd and paired gardening gloves to give to the child rag pickers. These children and young people support themselves and their families by picking through rubbish tips for recyclable items which they sell to India. They suffer injuries and infections from this work, sorting through sharp rusty objects, glass, faeces, chemical containers and so on.

imageSo often we read about the awful circumstances of people’s lives and feel helpless to change them. This was one instance where I decided this was something that was easily doable. Within minutes we had found 3 gloves in our house and shed.

We composed a letter to our neighbours, which my husband posted, telling them about the scheme and asking them to have a look around their homes and gardens, sheds, roadsides etc. I heard nothing for a long time and thought that was it. I’d failed miserably.

Then slowly, they began trickling in. We found a bag of gloves on our doorstep one morning, we still don’t know who left them, imageand a neighbour brought a bag of new ones in children’s sizes, then the lovely lady who eventually took our piano also brought some. Gradually, we built up quite a collection.

This was the pile that were new or unsoiled.

Then there were the very soiled ones that had to be washed and hung out to dry – a difficult task as it wouldn’t stop raining for more than an hour at a time!

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Eventually, they did dry out and were parcelled up. Liesl has arranged for an archaeologist friend to take them out for us.

And off they went.

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We wish Liesl, her family and Mark bon voyage and hope we have helped in a small way to improve the lives of some of the most economically deprived people. They have welcomed Liesl and her family and friends into their community, taken care of her children, taught them skills and customs, enabling them to experience a different culture and a new perspective on the world. Liesl has made a documentary about their lives after the earthquake. She continues to support them and to highlight their strengths and their needs.

This was the least we could do.

Copyright: Chris McGowan