Monday Meditation: In Search of The Gruffalo on Haughmond Hill

29668880_UnknownMy husband has oftened mentioned Haughmond Hill as a place we might visit, since it’s one of the (many!) café stops his local cycling club makes when out on long rides. I wasn’t at all sure about this proposed adventure as the mere fact that it was called a hill rendered it on a par with Everest as far as my hiking abilities go.

We have often driven past on our way to or from Shrewsbury and had visited the nearby Haughmond Abbey the previous summer, and every time we did he told me there was a café there and suggested maybe I’d like to go. Now, as much as my husband loves stopping for a cup of tea at the drop of a hat, I’m not a sitter and drinker, I like to be doing and the thought of just driving all the way there to sit and watch him drinking tea wasn’t exactly appealing (I don’t drink tea or coffee).

However, this particular morning, I weakened and agreed to go and see what all the fuss was about. It was only when we arrived at the bottom of the hill that Husband admitted he didn’t actually know where to park or what the terrain was like as they only ever cycled straight to the café!

29668736_UnknownWe sorted out the parking (you have to pay) and wandered over to some signs with maps on. Haughmond Hill is managed and maintained by the Forestry Commission. It is a working forest and covers a vast area of dense woodland containing ancient oaks and younger varieties of trees with 4 walking trails of differing lengths and difficulty mapped out. Apart from a few benches and the café area by the car park, the whole place is natural, with minimal human interference.

Three of the trails are named after famous people with ties to the area: Wilfred Owen, the War Poet; Henry lV, who massed his armies there before one of the biggest battles in Britain, the Battle of Shrewsbury, fought around Haughmond Hill (there was a spectacular performance of Shakespeare’s Henry lV Part One in the nearby abbey in 2003). The third trail is a tibute to the Corbet family who previously owned the estate, including the Abbey, whilst the fourth, the Geo Trail is so named because it takes in the view of the quarry below. The Hill is a geologically renowned site as it is made of precambrian stone and affords one of the best views across Shrewsbury.

We chose the easiest, the Corbet Easy Access Trail, which has a surfaced route, is mostly flat and accessible to wheelchairs, buggies and mobility scooters. There are also benches along the way. The trails are well-signed and inter-connect at various points, so if you’re feeling more adventurous you can switch to a longer route or rougher terrain.

It was a mild, sunny day and the woods were very peaceful. We met the occasional dog-walker but for the most part we felt like we were the only ones there.

29668960_UnknownE29669152_Unknown29668944_Unknown29669088_Unknown29668992_Unknown29669072_Unknown29669104_Unknown

 

There was the occasional muddy patch or pond next to the trail and I kept thinking of my 2 year old grandson whom we would probably have to keep rescuing if he came along too! We took our time and had a gentle stroll, breathing in the fresh air and soaking up the vastness of the place and the overwhelming majesty of these ancient sky-scraping giants.

And then we started coming across signs with pictures of characters from the Julia Donaldson story book The Gruffalo!

 

I had forgotten, but a friend had told us a while back that there is an app you can download to accompany the walk that allows you to scan the signs and is interactive. Children can look through the holes in the signs and see other characters to spot along the way. Some time later, I was telling my neighbour’s girls about it and they had the app and had followed the trail, having a lot of fun doing so.

Near the café area, there is another character from a Julia Donaldson story, The Stick Man, as well as several sculptures, one of them a magnificent owl carved by chainsaw sculptor, Paul Catling.

29669232_Unknown29669264_Unknown29669344_Unknown29669392_Unknown

There were several young families enjoying playing around them. The Hill seemed to appeal to people of all ages, and I noticed signs for a bike trail and orienteering route as well.

We sat to have the inevitable cuppa outside. I had taken a juice with me but to my surprise they sold herbal tea. We watched a couple of toddlers walking along the spiral sculpture, and we were joined for a while by a robin.

29669440_Unknown

The young guys in the cafe cabin allowed us to borrow a chair to take outside as I can’t manage picnic benches and for once I was quite happy to sit and just be. I didn’t want to leave.

Oh, but before we did, I hid one of my painted rocks* in the claws of the owl and a couple of days later, it appeared on Facebook in the hand of a smiling, happy child.

*Monday Meditation: Mindfullness and Rock Painting

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Advertisements

Laughter Really Is The Best Medicine – Paint a Rock & Give a Smile to Someone Who Needs It!

 B4B53D6F-9C92-4C30-920B-75FB1D18287AMany of you know that I have a long-term back problem, but perhaps not how serious it is. The warmer weather helps and today we ventured out for a walk along the former railway line, now turned Sustrans bike track. Unfortunately, I was enjoying myself so much that I pushed my body too far and my back seized up by the side of the canal where I had wanted to look at the brightly-coloured barges. I was in a bit of a pickle and knew I couldn’t turn around and go back, nor could I see a bench to perch on while I worked out how get out of this predicament.

I was wondering how on earth I would make it back to the car when I looked up and saw on a ledge a small rock painted with the words: ‘Staffs Smilesstones, please share a pic on FB then rehide me’ with the name of the family who had put it there. It did indeed make me smile, it was such a surprise, sitting there at my eyeline, waiting for me to look up and smile.

This smile and its subsequent break into laughter helped me relax enough to make it to where I needed to go – a nearby pub where I waited while my husband walked back to fetch the car.

When I got back home, and after a few hours’ rest, I looked up Staffs Smilestones and they have a page on Facebook, full of photos of young children with painted stones and cute happy faces, finding and re-hiding the rocks all over Staffordshire for the pure joy of giving someone a smile. I joined their group and will be painting my own rocks very soon.

I am sitting here with a heat pad on my back, having taken some Arnica and smoothed on some Arnica cream, about to go to bed, but wanted to share this story with you.

Here’s a calming photo of a barge drifting along the canal for your Friday night meditation 💜 I love the reflections in the water.

29402128_Unknown

I’ll be writing a fuller post with lots of photos of our walk when I’m up to it. Oh, and we didn’t get lost!

This story was first shared on Terry’s blog

Copyright: Chris McGowan

The Tour de France & A Parquet Tour de Force!

It’s that time of year again when the sun shines (theoretically), the men don their lycra for a cycling saunter around France and Chris gets house makeover ideas beyond her station! After a few years of not really tackling any major work on the house – I think the last big upheaval was for my mum’s 80th birthday celebration 7 years ago – last year, *we* (I ;-)) decided it was time to do over the front room, which had been neglected for many years. It was dark and dated, needed new curtains and carpets and I was dying to get rid of the 90s sofa, which to my embarrassment actually featured in an episode of Eastenders when Sharon and Phil ran the Queen Vic!  Despite its age, it was hardly used until recently when we had a woodburner installed in that room. I found the room depressing and wanted to lighten it up. Bit by bit, I eventually won over hb and that’s when we struggled over the decision to give away our old piano (see post links below).

At first, we were going to replace the carpet with good quality laminate flooring, but when we lifted it we found this: image

So we took the bit between our teeth, got some quotes and found it would cost no more to refurbish the old parquet than to buy good quality laminate or carpet. We had no idea what it would look like: Wayne of Acorn Floor Sanding aka wood floor doctor warned us it would be a lot lighter but other than that it was in the lap of the gods. We were lucky in that only a few blocks needed relaying, although there were many gaps needing to be filled and many of the blocks had warped as well as shrunk. There was also the hearth to take care of. We needed to replace and extend it as there was a strip of concrete where the old fireplace had been removed and there were no blocks to replace it. So we had that done first. The whole job took 4 days and we ended up with this:

29130320_Unknown

The fire recess is actually dark teal. We were so delighted with the result that we decided there and then we would save up and do the back room this year and then the hallway next year.

The back room is variously referred to as the kids’ room or Mum’s room, depending on who is occupying it at the time: it is the original dining room but we have always used it as an extra bedroom/playroom for the younger family members. More recently, my elderly mum has been using it as she can no longer use the stairs. And therein lies the problem: trying to arrange a room that is suitable for toddlers, teenagers and my elderly mum! The teenagers complain it’s too babyish, it’s also a bit boyish as it was predominantly used by the older three, but now we have girls and Mum too.

It was going to be a thankless task. Mum doesn’t like wood floors, she likes the comfort of carpet under her feet, is convinced wood floors make a room colder – they don’t – and worried about slipping, but it is not slippy at all.

Six weeks ago, we grasped this particularly prickly nettle, emptied the room, pulled up the carpet and found a much more difficult project awaiting:

28867040_Unknown

The blocks were badly stained with bitumen that had gradually worked its way through the many large gaps, the blocks were warped but also badly cut – few were squared off properly. There was a large concrete slab where the old fireplace was, plus cement-covered bricks supporting the sliding doors to the playroom. Worst of all, the entire room other than three sides of the border had to be relaid, a time-comsuming and expensive task.

A 4 day job turned into 9 days, Summer chose that week to pay a visit making it hot and sticky work. At one stage it looked like a humungous game of jenga was being played in there!

IMG_3729

A large tin of filler for the gaps would normally cover 5 rooms the size of ours but it only filled two thirds of the gaps here! Every day there was a problem that delayed procedings. The concrete slab was more difficult to remove than first assumed and the floor wasn’t level, spare blocks were needed and dowelling to fill the gap that still remained under the skirting board.

We had tried to source reclaimed blocks on eBay, the internet and a reclamation site in our local Bermuda triangle where even Silly Sally SatNav got us lost 3 times! All to no avail. We needed maple and we could only find pine and oak and not the right depth. Our carpenter neighbour came up trumps with a random box of various-sized blocks that someone had given him and he’d never used, and which turned out to be maple. They weren’t the right depth, but Wayne removed some originals from under a built-in cupboard where the space wouldn’t be seen, used those in the middle of the room and our neighbour’s were used to make a slight ramp up to the sliding doors over the brick supports.

This is after the first sanding:

IMG_3735

What a transformation already! It had 9 sandings in all, done corner to corner in 4 directions to go with the grain as much as possible. Then it was sealed with one coat of Bonakemi Traffic and 2 coats of Bonatraffic HD. This is a high quality low maintenance Italian satin finish recommended on a website about wood floors I discovered when researching the first room we did. It is hard wearing, not too shiny and requires no ongoing upkeep, unlike an oiled finish.

It was such hot, hard work and honestly there were times when I thought Wayne was losing the will to live! We kept him supplied with copious amounts of strong coffee and amusing (haha) anecdotes to keep his spirits up, and finally it was done.

Prepare to be stunned:

We are delighted with the result. The room is so much lighter and looks more spacious. I can’t praise Wayne’s work highly enough. A lot of improvisation and imagination was required as well as hard physical work in difficult weather conditions.

Mum came this last weekend. She loves the floor, said it’s beautiful, then ‘what kind of carpet are you going to put over it?!’

I need a rest, I’m off to watch skinny men in lycra riding bikes and swapping jerseys to see who fits what the best!

To read about our traumatic decision to give away our piano see:

Ode To Our Piano, a Faithful and Long-Suffering Friend

Ode to Our Piano – What Happened Next…

Ode to Our Piano: Guess What?

Ode to Our Piano – Flowers & Phew!

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Everyday Distractions…

IMG_8230As I type, there is an industrial floor sander working in the next room so loud I feel I need to wear ear defenders, there’s a plumber working on the shower in the bathroom, the Tour de France is on the telly, we are looking at websites trying to find suitable furniture for the room that’s being sanded and hopefully have it all done and dusted before my elderly mum comes to stay next week! It’s her birthday – and several other family members’ – so presents need to be found, wrapped and posted, too. All in all, I’m a little distracted just now, have been for a few weeks to be honest, what with having the decorators in (same room), choosing plants for the garden (which the snails and slugs apparently thought were Christmas lunch and so promptly decimated and killed them), trying to get a date for the drive to be resurfaced (in 2 weeks’ time) and fit in a haircut (next Wednesday).

This is all by way of a long-winded explanation and apology for neglecting not only my blog at the moment but reading and commenting on others. I try to fit in a few when I get chance, but now that all the Tour de France stages are being televised from start to finish, the men in lycra are just too distracting!

In case you’re wondering, that’s Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas winning the yellow jersey the other day.  Unfortunately I don’t have him in our family Tour de France fantasy league, but I do have his teammate Chris Froome who took it over yesterday and I too am currently in the lead – my  very competitive, bike-mad son sent me a text last night to tell me to look behind me as he is catching up fast! (He likes riding up very steep hills for very many miles and even managed to fit in a ride up one of the climbs of that year’s Tour de France when on his honeymoon a few years ago!)

When all the madness has calmed down, I’ll post photos of the parquet floor we’re refurbishing, but if you want to follow the process in real time, take a look at my Instagram account (@pearsnotparsnips) to see the transformation.

I hope normal service will be resumed as soon as possible. I’ll be posting a new gluten-free bread recipe soon. Meanwhile, enjoy the holidays and some relaxing days in the sun, fill up on Vitamin D (but beware of the midday rays), some fresh air and exercise – and commiserations to those of you in the southern hemisphere!

PS The plumber can’t fit the new shower, turns out the previous installer had extended the wires and connected them with insulating tape which makes it very dangerous! So now we have to wait for an electrician to come and rewire it – in 11 days’ time, the cost now being three and a half times as much <sigh>.

Photo by Team Sky.

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Trump is Not a Tragedy: Sign Your Own Paris Accord

This is such a positive response to the news that Donald Trump has pulled the US out of the Paris Climate Agreement, seen here as an opportunity to take personal responsibility for your carbon footprint and its effect on the environment. What can you do to help your planet? What goals can you set so that our children and grandchildren will have clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, clean food to eat and a vibrant environment in which to live?

We don’t use the car much, I think when we changed cars recently, there were only 6000 miles on the clock after 3 years. My husband cycles a lot and we are fortunate to have everything we need literally around the corner, including dentist, doctor and optician. The only flight was when my hb went to his niece’s wedding a couple of summers ago. Plastic is a big deal in our house. We used to use miles of cling film and tons of bottled water (years ago now), but no more. We recycle everything we can in whatever way we can. He is vegetarian and I vegan. We use energy-saving lightbulbs, switch off lights and appliances at the plug when not in use, cook one-pot meals and use triple layer steamers for vegetables. We grow some of our own fruit and veg. There is always room for improvement, but we do what we can manage and taking small baby-steps is better than none at all.

The Great Unwashed

The United States has backed out of the Paris Accord. Not surprising given their president’s world views. Rather than calling this event an environmental tragedy, take the situation for what it is- an opportunity. This is a chance to open up a discussion about climate change, the environment and consumption with your family, friends and children, because ultimately, nothing has changed.

The people still hold all the power. With every product you purchase, with every watt, kilojoule or BTU of energy you use, you are voting. In buying shampoo, you’re saying “Hell Yeah!” to Proctor and Gamble, each time you drive your car, it’s a message to Exxon “Keep up the good work” and by charging your phone, depending on where you live, it’s like slapping a small invisible bumper sticker to your tush that says “What’s that lovely smell? It’s natural gas”.

Each person votes hundreds of times a…

View original post 1,171 more words

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.

IMG_3603
The end of the line, nowhere else to run
28598208_Unknown
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.

28598240_Unknown
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

Ducks, Daves and Detours

Some of you may have read my post An Impromptu Mother’s Day Adventure or How We Survived the Vortex that is Our Local Bermuda Triangle …, and were kind enough to say you found it amusing, well, here’s a little sequel for you…

But first, I must tell you that the other day someone used the search phrase ‘how far away from Fiji is the Bermuda Triangle?’ and guess where they were directed? Yep, my Mother’s Day post! If you’re reading this too, I am so sorry I couldn’t be more helpful answering your question.

On with the sequel: we have established that my husband has a reputation for going off road, or at least off the road he’s meant to be travelling, and ending up somewhere else. What you may not know, is that he’s also terrible with names, and since he knows an incomprehensible number of Daves, he tends to use this generic name whenever he gets stuck. This is relevant later on.

IMG_1448After the earlier post, he invited me to accompany him to his bike-fit session at a bike shop called Bicycles By Design. The shop is 15 miles away – more or less, depending on whether or not HB is doing the navigating: when we did our recon last week, it was 30 miles away because we made several unplanned detours! As you may recall from the earlier post, a bike fit involves setting up your bike to fit your particular physical quirks so that you can ride in comfort and avoid those niggling aches and pains from riding in the wrong position.

As exciting as that prospect was, I politely declined, citing hair washing and nail filing, and I looked forward to having a few hours on my own playing indie (or Indian as hb insists on calling it) music very loud, while eating raw chocolate almonds* and bantering on social media. No car keys to find, no bike parts to admire, no iPad problems to sort out (despite spending years working with computers, he just can’t fathom how to tweet or message on Instagram).

Friday morning came and all went according to plan. Hb left early for his bike-fit. It was a lovely morning and I had breakfast outside, while listening to the birds and watching the bees. Bliss.

He arrived home, happy with his bike adjustments and no impromptu sightseeing – or so he reckoned. However, on putting his bike away, he noticed Dave, the bike-fit guy, had left a shop quick-release on the back wheel instead of replacing his own. He had to take it back. He was going to have a quick bite to eat and set off. The sun was out, the bike shop is on the river, it was going to be a quick in and out, so I decided I would go with him.

Surprisingly, we had an uneventful drive and pulled up outside the bike shop. It was in a lovely setting, part of an old building that used to be the china works but is now a Youth Hostel, café and the bike store. The cherry blossom was breathtaking, the sun was shining and it was so quiet. Just the river flowing behind us and the occasional whoosh of beating duck wings flying by.

28065904_Unknown

Hb went in and returned the quick-release to Dave, then we spent some time by the river and the canal which runs alongside it which used to serve the china works with its bottle kilns, tar tunnel and tracks, but is now home to a large colony of mallard ducks.

 Bottoms up!

We realised it was getting late and we needed to set off home before the rush hour.

First, though, we had to find our way out of the vortex of these 4 small towns!

I don’t really need to say it do I? We got lost. Again. No, we still don’t have a Sat Nav. In all fairness, the signage in this area is woeful, and that’s putting it mildly. Several times, you arrive at a junction and the sign will indicate that the town you are aiming for is in fact in both directions at once! So you ‘discuss’ the alternatives and whichever you choose, inevitably end up having to go back on yourself, spinning round and round the local plughole until it finally spits you out, dizzy and exhausted, and barely speaking to each other, as both are adamant their way was the right way!

On the way there, we had passed what looked like some lovely public gardens and I suggested that on the way back we take a look to see if Mum would be able to manage a visit – she is coming to stay for a few days soon. Needless to say, we couldn’t find them. They just disappeared. I had made a mental note of whereabouts they were, I could describe the row of cottages nearby, the railway bridge and so on, all of which we found, but no gardens. Apparently sucked into the vortex.

By this time, we were both tired and hungry so we agreed to give in and made it home without further issues.

Apart from the energy-sapping journey home, it was a lovely afternoon. Next time though, can we just borrow the Tardis?

Oh, and Dave the bike man? His name was Rob!

*Highly recommended, but be warned, very moreish!

IMG_3358

The Raw Chocolate Company

Copyright: Chris McGowan

It’s January: S.A.D.? Do What You Love!

I bought a new mug the other day. Well, actually, it’s a rather large cup that you need two hands to hold, one of those Friends-type ones that you can snuggle up with, full of hot chocolate*, in front of a cosy fire. It’s nothing special. It cost 99p in a local shop and is both dishwasher and microwave safe. It was what was written on the front that resonated.

I don’t usually like things with slogans, but this one says:

‘Do what you love!’

img_2967

Being January, with its cold and damp grey days, and being a little susceptible to Seasonal Affective Disorder, I have learned to try always to have a project on the go to absorb my attention and give my brain something else to contemplate other than when is the sun ever going to wake up and the garden turn green again?

In the past it’s been family history research: when I finished my own, I helped someone else. I try to catch up on letter-writing too. Real letters with real ink written on real paper! I love to use a fountain pen, and this year I have my precious old one sent to me by my primary school teacher, Evelyn (you can read about it here).

21f65416-e275-4687-a6cc-13eef10a45aaI’m currently on my second week of a juice plan, so that has occupied me somewhat – and made me get some much-needed early nights! – but I needed something creative too.

Every year, when we take down the Christmas cards, I put them away for recycling and reusing in November for next Christmas. But I always think I should do it now because November is always such a busy month with all the other preparations and my back really suffers so that I’m always in pain at Christmas.

img_2968This time, when I saw the mug, it was like a message from the universe! So, here I am, doing what I love, making Christmas cards in January! Oh, and drinking my favourite liquorice and cinnamon tea.

This is also the time of year when the professional cyclists dust off their lycra, don their new team strips and bring us some much needed sun from Downunder!

The Tour Down Under began this week in Adelaide, just what I needed: sun, culture and men in lycra – and leading the family Velogames league after Stage 1 and 2 (I don’t even cycle, they take it very seriously) <wicked laugh!>

So I may be a little preoccupied for a while … with the cards I mean 😉

Time for my next juice, cheers!

img_2957

What do *you* love to do during these winter months?

*Recipe for Spicy Raw Hot Chocolate with Hemp Milk (or nut milk).

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Jumpin’, Jivin’ an’ Jiggin’ About: Your Home As Your ‘Gym’!

img_6025

We all know any kind of movement is good for us.

We do, don’t we?

(Can’t hear you at the back of the class!) 

At this time of year especially, articles, tweets, tv programmes, Instagram memes all shout at us to get our bodies moving.

Just in case you’re still in any doubt or denial, here is a list of proven benefits:

  • it gets the heart pumping
  • improves circulation
  • builds muscle and bone which improves balance – especially important for those of us no longer in the first flush of youth
  • builds strength and stamina
  • creates endorphins which improves our mood, helps us feel better and therefore helps diminish those January blues and even depression.
  • makes you feel more alert and energetic
  • aids mental clarity, making us more productive and creative at work and home.
  • helps prevent lifestyle diseases like Type 2 diabetes through better control of blood sugar levels
  • helps keep our weight in check – if we also keep an eye on what we eat.
  • helps keep joints mobile and flexible

So, now you really do know that exercise is good for you, you can’t claim ignorance as your get-out clause!

But don’t worry, this post is not about going all out on the crossfit machine or hefting eye-watering weights at the gym. It’s all about movement and fun!

At this time of year, when the Christmas season is over, we feel overfed and lethargic, Spring is in the air and many of us start making plans to go to the gym, start running or take a zumba class.

Trouble is, in the cold months, our resolve can soon start dying a slow death. It’s cold, wet, dark, and miserable. The woodburner or the tv and a glass or cup of something warming are far more attractive. All that money spent on gym fees or trendy neon fit-wear may as well be flushed away for all the use we make of it.

Unfortunately, many of us have also had negative gym experiences or are old enough to remember the torture of school PE classes: being made to run cross-country in freezing conditions wearing t-shirt and shorts, inadequate footwear and with little or no preparation, the booming voice of the wrapped-up PE teacher in our ears decrying our efforts and urging us on, drill-sergeant style. (Anyone who has seen the film ‘An Officer and a Gentleman’ will know what I mean!)

It’s also often difficult if not impossible for many of us to embark on formal exercise regimes due to having small children or sick family members or because we have physical problems of our own or simply can’t afford the expense. So we accept that’s how it has to be and get on with it, skipping over all the articles we see urging us to move more and diverting our eyes from all the pony-tailed, fitbit-wearing runners dashing past the window.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. No more guilt at being a trainer-free home-bod.

Hooray! you shout.

Hang on, you’re not getting off that easily! You still have to move about, just not in a gym or on the road. 

Here are some tips to get it all jiggin’ about:

  1. Your home can be your gym and everyday items your equipment. Little or no expense, warm environment (less chance of injury), relative privacy (though maybe not privacy from your relatives 😉), win-win situation. Your stairs can be your step-exercise, bottles of water or tinned goods your weights, your cd player your zumba instructor.

2. You can even incorporate exercise into your everyday activities.

And no-one needs to see you doing it!

According to the BBC programme ‘Trust Me, I’m a Doctor,’ * a group of people over 40 – and therefore losing muscle, I think the oldest was 67 – incorporated exercise into their daily activities. Over a month on average they gained 3% more muscle, 12% more muscle strength, 13% more muscle power and 4% more grip strength.

So how did they do it?

Visit the website to see in detail, but basically:

  • squats and standing on one leg while brushing their teeth
  • heel-raising while washing-up
  • lunges while vacuuming
  • arm curls with juice cartons or tins
  • wall presses.

You get the picture.

I would add to these:

  • using the stairs as often as possible
  • doing step-ups, and also hanging your heel off the edge of the step to stretch your calf muscles and tendons
  • standing up from a chair and sitting back down without using your hands during advert breaks while watching tv or sitting at your desk
  • doing a walking circuit of your home as often as possible
  • in an upright chair with arms, press down on the arms and raise your bottom from the seat for as long as is comfortable
  • even on your commute, on buses, trains or planes, you can raise alternate knees, toes and heels (maybe not in a car – unless you’re a passenger!)
  • on fine days, take a turn around the garden, up and down your driveway or around the block, look up at the sky, the trees, the birds, breathe and smile!

Exercising needs to be fun too or you’ll never stick to it. Here comes the Jumpin’, Jivin’ an’ Jiggin’ About bit! (At last!)

3. One piece of exercising equipment I would recommend investing in if you can manage it is a rebounder. You don’t have to jump like an Olympian!

Rebounders are not trampolines. They are not as springy and provide more resistance. And kids please note: don’t even attempt to do somersaults! Parents please note: children should always be supervised because they *will* attempt to do somersaults!

image

NASA-approved, this method of exercising is accessible to most people if you start off slowly and simply, just gently bending your knees then graduating to lifting your heels and low bouncing before trying anything more energetic.

A couple of rebounding sessions a day exercises all parts of the body, gets your lymphatic system moving – strengthening your immune system and clearing out waste and toxins – and makes you feel more alive.

And it’s great fun.

Kids naturally love trampolining and this is great for getting them to exercise during the winter months when they can’t use the one in the garden. It tempts them away from their screens for a while which is always a good thing. Even the smallest members of our family make straight for it when they come for a visit. They are great family fun. (Again, children should always be supervised).

The Juicemaster website* sells various sizes of rebounders, the smaller ones fold up and have a carrying case. I can vouch for their quality and endurance.

4. Just dance like no-one is watching!

With or without a partner, dancing with reckless abandon is the best way to forget your worries and feel alive! Put on your favourite music, the one you like singing aloud to at high volume and just go for it! (see video below).

You can jig about when you’re in the kitchen – my regular readers will know that I often like to attach a YouTube track to accompany my recipes – or when you’re cleaning or tidying up, doing the ironing, doing a bike repair (one for you, K and S!😉). I have even seen my neighbour doing her ironing to the accompaniment of reggae music in her back garden in the summer, not caring a jot if anyone saw her.

In general, whatever your age, state of health, fitness or finances, any movement is better than no movement.

(I realise there are certain health conditions where this may not be appropriate).

5. Many of us, especially older people, get stiff joints and cold legs from sitting. While reading, doing the crossword or watching tv, you can raise your knees and heels up and down, rotate your ankles and wrists, stretch out your fingers and make a fist, walk about during the ad breaks even if it’s only to get up and make a cup of tea. Clench alternate groups of muscles and release. Do shoulder rotations.

img_2421My husband exercising on a borrowed rowing machine in the garage with a broken arm. He also used one of those stretchy bands that physios use which come in different levels of flexibility.

Do what you’re able and what you enjoy – with your family, friends or on your own. Walk, cycle, laugh, sing – they all exercise your body inside and out.

Just do!

6. Oh, and btw, apparently, exercising is more effective in burning fat if men exercise on an empty stomach and women after eating. (I can hear all the women cheering from the gallery!)

Ps Whatever form of exercise you do, be sure to warm up and stretch first,  and ease into it – it won’t do you much good if you pull a back muscle or sprain an ankle in your first session!

PPs If you have any concerns about whether or not you should follow any of the advice above, please do talk to your doctor.

*Trust Me, I’m A Doctor – you can watch on BBC iPlayer

*Juicemaster: Rebounders

(Thanks to Clive at Take It Easy for putting me on to these guys!)

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Zingy Kale Salad Juice

Are you ready to ditch the festive food yet and get healthy again? 

I am.

Food is a real problem for me when all the family get together. My juicing routine is interrupted and meals take so much time and preparation that I end up compromising and eating things I know are going to leave me feeling uncomfortable if not in great pain.

Yesterday was one of those days.

With a houseful of meat-loving teenagers, there are only so many times you can get away with vegan nut roast or pizza, fruit salad, and raw chocolate treats, before you have a mutiny on your hands. So yesterday, their final lunch was fish and chips from the local chip shop! There was no time for juicing or making salads as they were on a tight timetable for their journey home. I ended up having a few chips, my first potatoes of any kind for 18 months. They were crisp and freshly made and tasted good with Himalayan pink salt. I ate them slowly and mindfully. I asked them to be kind.

Those few chips caused me so much heartburn and acid reflux, I was in pain all night and had no sleep! What’s more, the skin on the back of my hand began to itch (see How I Juiced My Skin Clear: A Rash Decision?).

This morning, I decided that was it. Back on the juice.

*

This is one of my husband’s concoctions. It’s a throwback to summer days in the garden. Sometimes you have to take a deep breath, hold your nose and cross your fingers, but this turned out really well!

Wash all the ingredients, keep the peel on unless you’re using a waxed lemon, in which case pare it very thinly to leave as much pith as possible, this is where the micro-nutrients live and we need them in the juice. It helps the kale to go through the juicer more easily if you chop it roughly and feed it through in scrunched-up batches between apple and cucumber. Feed the lemon in with another item and leave the celery to last if your juicer doesn’t cope with it too well.

This juice has protein, antioxidants, B vitamins, healthy omega fats, electrolytes, fibre and is hydrating and good for your skin.

Ingredients

Large handful of Kale

2 Apples

Half an unwaxed Lemon with peel

3″ Cucumber

1 Stalk of Celery

Handful of Green Beans

1/4 of Avocado

Wash and juice everything except the avocado which is blended into the juice.

(Begin with apple and end with apple for best results).

You can chop and freeze the remainder of the avocado to use for future blended juices or in guacamole etc.

image

Juicing in the garden during the late summer while hb mends bikes – it’s his thing. It’s very messy and that’s as close as he gets!

Copyright: Chris McGowan