Monday Meditation: My 10,000 Steps (and very sore feet).

A very personal post this week. I hope you’ll bear with me, I am writing this the night before posting in place of the scheduled one. Typos may happen as I’m pretty tired and sore because yesterday (Saturday), this happened:

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This is the first time I have ever reached this goal and this is how I felt when I saw the stats:

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To put it into context: I’ve had a severe back injury that goes back (sorry) to when I was 20, and has been exacerbated by numerous other injuries, surgery, medications and treatments. I have spent months in a plaster cast, weeks in traction, years wearing a steel reinforced corset, and spent most of my adult life lying flat on my back rattling with pills that didn’t work, unable to have anyone touch me due to intractable pain.

I’ve missed countless family events.  I have gone to bed in my trainers because there was no-one around to unfasten them for me. I have frequently slept in my clothes because either I couldn’t move or the pain was too severe to have someone help me. There are times I can’t even clean my teeth because raising my arm is too painful. I didn’t have a bath, shower or hair wash for 5 years – I eventually had my son shave my head, very liberating! I can’t travel to see my mum. I can’t hold a book. There are still days when I can’t get out of bed. But just occasionally, with a lot of hard work over a long period of time, with fingers crossed and all the planets in alignment, I manage to go for a walk. Usually they are short. Once in a blue moon and usually in warm summer weather, they become longer.

Saturday was one of these days.

To cut a long story short, my husband needed me to go with him to take a parcel that was being returned and the address needed to be scanned, but he doesn’t have a smartphone and wanted to use mine. He has a (justified) reputation for losing or breaking electronic devices and I didn’t trust him with mine!

Had I known how far we would be going, and end up going via a circuitous route along the canal, I would have gone by car. I wasn’t feeling the best, but knew I should try and have a walk. In the event, I was distracted by swans and ducks – flying overhead and sitting on the water –  crocuses, snowdrops and canal architecture, smallholdings with geese, old buildings, and my husband pointing out where various people lived and so on.

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By the time we arrived home, I had done 7,000 steps. SEVEN THOUSAND STEPS!! In winter when it’s impossible to leave the house, I struggle to make a few hundred; previously when I did go out, I was delirious if I made 1500. Lately, with hard work, I’ve been managing 3-4,000, that’s how momentous this is. I couldn’t believe it and knew immediately there would be payback. I could feel myself stiffening up as soon as I sat down.

It had threatened rain, so it had been damp, which didn’t help. The next time I stood up, I couldn’t straighten my legs, and my feet and ankles felt like they would break with the pressure. My back was not happy at all. I knew I had to keep moving, hard as it might be. So, even though my husband kept offering to fetch things for me, I doggedly shuffled about trying to keep the bodyparts mobile. I felt like I was in my nineties! Injections of WD40 would have been appreciated.

Later, as my husband made dinner, it became a lovely evening with a peach-toned sky and I decided I had to try to walk around the block or I would never get out of bed in the morning. I was rewarded by the most beautiful song from an overhanging tree as I rounded the corner. A robin was in full voice right above my head and I had my own private concert. I was glad I made the effort.

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Can you see him? I wish you could hear him, but my blog won’t support video. I took this still from the video I took with my phone camera.

His song lifted my spirits and I walked the rest of the way with a smile and a metaphorical if not literal spring in my step.

By late evening, my husband and I compared notes, we had both done just over 9,000 steps! I couldn’t believe it. My competitive genes kicked in and I knew, if I tried really hard, I could manage the final 1,000 before bed, just walking around the house. I knew I would be sorry next day, but I didn’t care: I also knew that my sense of achievement (and the fact I beat my very fit husband!) would be worth all the pain and discomfort.

I had a long and very hot shower, smothered myself in arnica gel and set about my task. Eventually, I looked at my stats and it said 9,951! So close. I shuffled and counted. I was sure I had made it. I checked again. 9,951. What was going on? Again I counted. Still 9,951. I knew I had made it but I needed the visual evidence! I walked around and around the kitchen as I waited for the kettle to heat up for a couple of hot water bottles, I was going to need them! I was dead on my feet, they would ever forgive me for abusing them this way.

Finally, finally, the stats changed. 10,360! That was so cruel. I could have been in bed 360 steps ago! But I was ecstatic. And so proud. I have been trying for years to improve my walking and kept being kicked back to the starting point. This was incredible. I was so happy.

All I needed now was a good night’s rest and to take things easy next day, try to keep moving but not push myself. So, what happened? A dog barked all night. The temperature had risen and I was overheated with the shower and hot water bottles. I was over-stimulated by the exercise and my mind wouldn’t stop recalling my efforts and everything I’d seen that day. I was so stiff, I found it hard to change position. By the time I felt like I had just managed to drop off, a blackbird was singing his heart out and it was still pitch dark!

It took me an hour and a half to get up this morning. Another long hot shower. More arnica gel. My feet didn’t want to touch the ground. I felt like I’d been in the ring with Ali. My husband went on a 50 mile bike ride and I could barely lift a cup of tea!

And yet, I was smiling. I couldn’t wait to show my also very fit cycling son and my kick-boxing daughter what I had achieved. They wouldn’t believe it. I still had trouble believing it. I keep having to look back at the stats.

I may never manage it again. But if I don’t, I will always have this feeling. I will always remember this euphoria. I will always be grateful for the chance to prove that despite all the ‘can’ts’, this time I could.

Ps Plus the added bonus of beating my husband!

PPs I could never have done this before I started juicing and became vegan. There has been a marked improvement in my overall health in the last 4-5 years. I think there has been a reduction in the inflammation throughout my body, plus the added nutrients feeding my muscles, nerves and so on.

Thank you for reading. I just had to tell someone!

Copyright: Chris McGowan

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Monday Meditation: Cleaning Up the Neighbourhood

Last week, in my post Monday Meditation: My Walk Around the *Neigh*bourhood, I wrote about my walk up to the horses’ field and shared some happy memories of times past: spending time with them, taking treats and sharing precious moments. I wanted to keep the tone of that post positive, so I didn’t go into detail about the less pleasant aspect of the walk. This week, I shall elaborate on what made me so frustrated and angry.

This is what greeted me when I arrived at the field:

I was aghast at how much rubbish there was, just around the gate. I began to look up and down the grass verge along the busy road, and in the hedges.

So many plastic bottles, drinks cans, crisp packets and wrappers, whisky bottles, takeaway cartons. There was even a carrier bag full of takeaway cartons thrown into the hedge. My thought was: the clue is in the name, it’s called ‘takeaway’, ie you take it away! Some of it could have been blown there after a refuse collection: bits of cardboard, crips packets etc, but it was obvious much of it had either been thrown from passing cars or dropped by people congregating or walking past. (There is a waste bin a few yards away).

As I looked, I wished I had brought a bag with me, but then realised one bag wasn’t going to do it anyway and I couldn’t have picked up all the litter and carried it by myself.

I walked home, slowly, subdued, pondering on why people would have so little regard for their environment, and the amount of damage to wildlife.

39DF2B78-A987-4713-BBEC-A8B5823CDBC5This field and verge is the first thing you see when entering our small country town, and it doesn’t exactly make you want to stop and support local businesses or visit local tourist attractions. Our town has a long history and still has some Tudor buildings, a canal, a lake, lots of Blue Plaques detailing where famous people lived or visited, old pubs and so on.

B22E4613-CE66-44EB-9FF8-0DA7489D089DIt used to be on the route taken by the Royal Court on its way north, and provided fish for royal banquets. Charles Dickens stayed here, it’s rumoured he got his inspiration for Miss Haversham during that visit. Princess (later Queen) Victoria stayed at a local inn which was later renamed in her honour. We still have cobblestones, an annual carnival, Old Tyme Market, a nocturnal bike race.

On my way home, I began to notice all the litter under the hedgerows, and flattened cans and bottles in the gutter at the roadside. There was even a plastic wheel hub on the pavement.

This is a rural area, not an inner city. I couldn’t understand it. I realised as I walked, eyes down, how much litter we walk past every day, we have become innured to it. We live in an area surrounded by several schools, and a lot of the rubbish is from the school kids on their way home. Other things, takeaway cartons, beer cans, for instance, is what is discarded on the way home from a night out at the weekend. Some is discarded by parents parked outside schools waiting for their children, or dropped by the children getting into the cars: hairbands, hairslides, bits of paper, sweet wrappers, cigarette ends.

I told my husband when I got home, hoping but not daring to ask that he would say what he did: I’ll help you.

Next day, in cold but fine weather, we set off with large recycled charity bin-bags (the ones that regularly get pushed through our letterbox and collect in the cupboard of our utility room), disposable gloves and two grab sticks.

This was our haul:

We gathered all this from about a hundred and fifty yard stretch by the field and then another 2 bags on the way home, including the wheel hub that was still lying on the path. It was pretty hair-raising at times with traffic hurtling past as they came off the by-pass onto the residential area.

It took about 2 hours and at one point the first bag split, but some gardeners working on a new housing development nearby let us empty it into their skip. They told us, if we needed to do it again another day, just to go around the corner and use the builders’ skip. They appreciated what we were doing.

Just as we neared home and were pretty tired, a local authority highway maintenance truck driver nodded to me and gave me the thumbs up, which made me smile. I found myself humming Lonnie Donnegan’s ‘My Old Man’s a Dustman’ as we headed for home! (See video link below*)

It had been an exhausting – and cold! – couple of hours’ work, I hurt all over and wanted a hot shower, but I felt so much better about this day’s walk than the previous one, I was no longer angry.

I felt proud that I had actually been able to do something for the community.  We must have walked and driven past all this litter so many times, I don’t why it had such an effect on me this time, but I’m glad I noticed and that I was able – with my husband’s help – to take some action, and not just send off an irate email to the Refuse Department of the Local Authority!

We became even more determined to ditch as much plastic as we could from our regular shopping. I regularly support campaigns and sign petitions calling for a ban on single-use plastic items: straws, bottles, takeaway cutlery etc. but I realise, that’s not enough.

Sitting at a keyboard is easy, actions are what count.

Related posts:

Let’s Ditch the Plastic

Earth Day: Microbeads – What Are They Good For…?

* A fun video: My Old Man’s A Dustman by Lonnie Donnegan

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Monday Meditation: My Walk Around the *Neigh*bourhood

A9782E54-B393-4A09-B173-2A2C704B7C59As I write, it’s midday on Sunday, the sky is a clear blue as far as the eye can see and the sun is bringing out the crocuses and daffodils in the front garden. A perfect time to go for a walk. Except it’s 2 degrees C out there with an icy wind. My crazy husband is out on a bike ride with the club, but I’m waiting a couple of hours for those predicted extra couple of degrees! So, I’ve put on the Prime Chill album, made a cup of 3 Mint tea and thought I would show you some pictures of last week’s walk on a similar day, when I went up to what used to be the horses’ field.

Not that long ago, I used to go regularly to see the permanent residents of this field, Dolly and Annie, two working carriage horses. Dolly was a black heavy, plodding mare who was so quiet and friendly. Annie was a tall chestnut and very temperamental. She was a bully and any other temporary residents were given short shrift, including the foals, often receiving a nip or a kick to let them know their place in the scheme of things. She was quite haughty, looking and behaving more like a thoroughbred. She would always push herself forward for any treats and I often had to distract her so that I could sneak some apple or carrot to Dolly or the foals. But they both allowed me to befriend them and would make their way over from the far corner of the field as soon as I approached, Dolly plodding over in her slow, lumbering fashion, Annie skittish and tossing her tail.

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I was privileged to witness one of Dolly’s foals being born, a really ugly little thing with a huge head, but he was so friendly and funny. Annie had a much more elegant-looking long-legged foal not long after and some months later, on a beautiful summer evening, I stood and watched as first Dolly’s foal started racing around the perimeter of the field, then Annie’s foal joined in. Annie was not impressed and tried to put a stop to it, but then Dolly got the itch and began charging around after the excited foals, pounding the ground with her heavy feet, and before long, Annie had to join in the fun. I’ve never witnessed anything like it. Four horses careering around the field at full gallop, round and round, uninhibited, kicking up their legs every so often with the sheer freedom and fun of it all. Oh, to move with such joyful abandon in the fresh summer air under an endlessly clear sky!

 

Now, sadly, the field lies abandoned. The local authority wants to build a supermarket, petrol station and housing, by a busy roundabout in a residential area at the entrance to the town. Of course there has been a huge outcry and everything has been up in the air for a few years.

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This gnarly old tree used to be the only shade for up to 6 horses, next to a pond that gradually shrank over the years. Now the tree has apparently been struck by lightning, cleaved in two. It wasn’t an ideal situation for the horses: in summer it was completely overgrown with tall thistles and nettles, in Spring and Autumn, it was a boggy quagmire around the perimeter with all the rain. But it was a large space, with a right of way for walkers, who would bring treats as they passed through. I loved taking my young grandchildren there: they, too, saw the baby foal within minutes of its birth. It was a special time. We were on a nature walk at the time, I had given them a list of things to look out for. We had spotted guard-dog geese, a pair of swans with their cygnets, collected feathers, but this was truly a gem.

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Annie’s foal with my grandson

On my most recent walk, I spotted these gates further up the road on the opposite side to the field:

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I don’t know how many hundreds of times we have driven past, or the dozens of times I’ve walked past, but I have never noticed them before. I was always looking over the road for the horses. They are beautiful iron gates with metal flower ornamentation.

When I arrived home, a little sad and angry at what I had found by the field (see next Monday), I came through our gate and smiled. I saw the first real signs of Spring:

 

The daffodil had been proudly standing in bud since early January, the only one to be in such a hurry, and I thought it would be sure to get caught by the frosts, but has withstood everything the elements have thrown at it: frost, hail, rain, snow and icy winds, and now it was fully open. And there, too, was the first forsythia flower, a sign I always look for tell me that Spring is really very close.

And now the outdoors calls again, the sun couldn’t be brighter: it’s bouncing off windows and cars. Incredibly, we are forecast snow on Tuesday! Have a wonderful week, we are confined to barracks having the parquet flooring in the hallway refurbished, pictures soon.

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Copyright: Chris McGowan

 

Monday Meditation: A January Day in the English Countryside Part II

Last year at this time, I posted photographs of a walk along the local lanes on a clear, warm January day in what turned out to be another mild winter.* This year, the weather couldn’t be more different. We had 7” of snow before Christmas, sub-zero temperatures and cowered under numerous storms as we shivered by the woodburner and gradually desiccated in the central heating. This past week has again been freezing and wet, and we’ve just had another two days of sleet and snow.

This particular afternoon, however, the wind abated, the rain stopped and the sun peeped out for a look-see, so we took the chance for some fresh air and exercise and decided to retrace our steps from the previous year.

There was so much mud, debris (squashed plastic water bottles and other litter blown hither and thither by the gales) – and horse manure – on the lanes and verges! But I spared you all that detritus and picked out as much green as I could. We didn’t see the animals on the smallholding, which seemed abandoned, but we did see some sheep. Here are the photos I took this time around:

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This proud wood pigeon wasn’t at all camera-shy, he posed for a very long time, allowing me to get the perfect picture, making sure I only caught his good side, though!

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If you zoom right in on the next photo, you should be able to see a flash of orange just a little left of the tree trunk in the middle. This robin flitted about the whole length of the lane but was always in too much of a hurry to get a decent shot.

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This squirrel on the other hand sat motionless for so long he could have been an ornament. He was so well camouflaged, much darker than all the other grey squirrels, it was a while before I realised he was there. We had met a friend of my husband’s and they stood chatting under this tree. I had my eyes skyward, looking for birds when I spotted him.

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Do you remember the odd long pods that looked like suspended grey broad beans from last year’s post? This year, there were hardly any, those that were in evidence were shrivelled and black and much smaller, but there were many more of these pink, blossom-like flowers on the twigs. I still don’t know what it is.

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From the colour of this sky, you wouldn’t believe we have had endless days of heavy dark cloud, rainstorms and winds strong enough to blow you along the street. My mum’s fence was blown down last week! It was so calm this afternoon, but cold enough to freeze your breath.

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I think this is my favourite photograph from today. 

It was such a refreshing break to be outside amongst the nature we are so privileged to have all around us. It is threatened, sadly, by endless new housing developments which have taken up all the open fields around the schools here. These views are on opposite sides of the lane we walked. The view on the right used to be the same as that on the left.

 

 

We make the most of it and appreciate it while we can.

*Monday Meditation: A January Day in the English Countryside

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Monday Meditation: Time to Reflect, Give Thanks & Set Intentions

C8F8B40E-AE15-4D77-BD09-C6C1F10CC09EAs many have commented, the beginning of the new year is a time when many of us take a look at who we are and how our lives are panning out. We often don’t like what we see as our weaknesses or shortcomings and we decide on some resolutions in the hope of rectifying any flaws in our current lifestyle, character or appearance, in order to set our lives back on the track we mapped out.

I’m all in favour of periodic reassessment, but I think we can be too hard on ourselves. I think resolutions can be too hard and fast, too black and white, and can be a means of setting ourselves up to fail because they don’t take account of circumstances beyond our control and don’t allow us to take babysteps or even missteps. We can’t always live up to our own high expectations, and once we miss that gym session or we are pressed to have a celebratory glass of wine, or we can’t cope with the craving for bacon, that’s it, we’ve failed, so we may as well give up and revert to our previous lifestyle.

I do, however, like to reflect and take stock. To see what worked and what didn’t. To look at relationships and my part in them. To make adjustments. But also to give thanks and acknowledge my achievements. I try to learn a new skill every year: this year I took over my mum’s affairs, something I never thought I would manage, and added rock painting to my creative interests.

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I also like to express hopes and intentions, send healing thoughts out to the universe and ask for support, not just for myself, but for all those struggling in difficult times.

For many, the planet has seemed slightly off-kilter this past year, not just politically or economically, but, for those around me, health and welfare issues have dominated our concerns. For me, I know that this year will be a significant one concerning my elderly mum and also a much younger family member coping with a terrible disease. It is difficult to watch loved ones suffer and not be able to take away the pain and the confusion, restore the memories fast disappearing, or provide enough support for those doing the hands-on caring, and in particular for the children of a sick parent.

I have friends who are caring for 3 parents in various stages of dementia as well as serious physical conditions. They themselves are suffering physically from the exertions of lifting, cleaning, cooking, driving back and forth and being called out in the middle of the night, all while working full-time jobs and looking after their own children. My heart goes out to them and I feel bad that I can’t ease their burden. I worry about them.

I have to remind myself periodically that I do what I can. I am here to listen to their worries. I check up on them regularly.  I offer advice and information when I can see where something might help. I lend equipment to ease back pain. I give treats. And that’s all we can do: do what we can. If we all do what we are able, then that is all we can ask of ourselves and everyone will benefit.

Of course, this applies to our new resolutions, our goals, as well. If we do what we can at this stage in our lives, and we do better as we move forward, then we should be proud of our efforts. As the tag line on my Home Page says: You did then what you knew how, when you know better, you do better. (Maya Angelou). There are bound to be times when Life conspires to make things extra tough and we weaken, but that’s ok, it’s human, it’s not a reason to give up. We reflect on what’s occurred, the possible reasons why, acknowledge them and begin again. No recriminations are necessary, just self-care and self-support.

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My Reboot Salad

Every Christmas and New Year, despite my confidence in my ability to stay on the healthy food wagon, I succumb. Not at Christmas, but at New Year. What happens is, we buy all sorts of foodstuffs we – and especially I – don’t normally consume, especially snacky things. We get them in for the teenagers in particular. We also try to find me some vegan equivalents of the foods they like: pizza, sausage rolls etc. I’m not tempted by the cake or biscuits or any sugary foods, it’s the savoury foods that get me every time. I don’t like eating them, but they are completely addictive for me. I can refrain from them all year round, they are not in the house. I rarely crave them. They make me feel heavy and uncomfortable, but once I have them, I have to have them again, and so it goes on until they are gone. I try to send much of what’s left over with them when they go home, but by then the damage is done. I put on weight easily, so by January, I am having trouble fitting into my jeans, I feel bloated and unhealthy. My energy levels have dropped.

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Supergreen Smoothie

It would be very easy to jump on the scales every morning and berate myself while comfort-eating the very things that have got me there. But I know this never works. I acknowledge what’s happened, that it is now an inevitable occurrence at this time of year. I sort out my cupboards, get rid of anything I don’t want to eat (some to the foodbank) and gradually steer myself back to what is normal for me. It’s not easy, I have always been a compulsive comfort-eater and I find January a particular challenge, having said goodbye to all my family for a while and facing the dark, cold days until the first signs of Spring. Changing my lifestyle has helped a great deal, and learning to be gentle on myself has also played a big part. (The Supergreen Smoothie recipe above will be in my next post).

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Election Day Special*

Starting a juice program, doing some work on past hurts, meditating and repeating affirmations, using aromatherapy oils and decluttering my home and my mind have all been beneficial to my health and wellbeing. You can read my story in the links below. Adopting an organic and vegan lifestyle, cutting down on plastic and waste also give me a sense of contributing to the welfare of the planet, of animals and those working with toxic products. I feel proud of my efforts.

We do what we can. Everyone has their line in the sand. If we all do a little bit, we will see positive change in our own lives and in those of the people that surround us. Hopefully, we will see positive change in the way we are governed and in attitudes towards this precious planet and to all its many and diverse inhabitants.

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Mango Chia Pudding**

For those of you trying to change to a more sustainable plantbased diet, looking for ways to improve health conditions or move about more, there are links below to posts that may help motivate or keep you on track.

***

At this point, I’d like to acknowledge the fact that at some point over the Christmas period I reached over a thousand followers. I’m not sure how this has occurred, it’s a little overwhelming to be honest. I am very grateful that you all take the time to read and comment on my posts, and for the support you give me when I’m struggling with the stresses in my life.

***

Over the next couple of weeks, I shall be taking a break for some much-needed rest and back treatment. I have scheduled some Monday Meditatios for while I am away, but won’t be able to reply to your comments for a while. Thank you all for reading them, they have proved quite popular and I hope I’ll be able to go on more rambles and explorations as soon as the weather (and my back) improves.

Thank you all! Be kind to yourself: look after you body, it’s the only home you have.

PS These links should help keep you out of mischief and on track while I’m away, I shall be asking questions when I return, so make sure to do your homework 😉

About Me: From Vesta Curry to Vegan Sushi

My Road to Raw – Going Veggie

Raw Energy

Pears But No More Parsnips: In Which I Confront My Parsnip Phobia!

Juicing: How to Begin or Do As I Say, Not As I Did!

My Top 20 Tips for Juicing – updated to 25!

*Election Day Special Fruity Beetroot Juice

**Monday Meditation: Mango Chia Pudding or Sunshine in a Jar – no blender required (plus hidden smoothie recipe)

Invisible Disabilities Week – My Story

Taking a Break to Rest My Broken Body + Tips to Cope with Chronic Pain

How I Juiced My Skin Clear: A Rash Decision?

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

‘What Do You Eat If You Can’t Have Anything Naughty?’ – What Vegans Eat

Veganuary

Monday Meditation: Mindfulness and Rock Painting

Painted Christmas Card Rocks & Taking A Break

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Monday Meditation: Lilleshall Nature Trail Part II – By Day

I know that many of you are recovering from Thanksgiving, are in the final week of preparations for other family get-togethers at this time, or coping with the after-effects of winter weather or fires, but I hope you will accompany me on this week’s walk in the sunshine, take a few deep breaths, admire the landscape and recharge your batteries for a few moments.

I wrote in a previous post about our spooky night-time discovery of the new nature trail around the estate that is home to our National Sports Centre. We first saw it – barely! – in the gloom of the early evening and as I  promised, this post highlights the trail on a beautifully sunny autumn day 4 weeks later.  

The day was perfect for a walk: crisp and bright, the colours and the light perfect for photographs. It didn’t take long for us to realise that we had previously only experienced about a quarter of the trail, having missed the signs to other parts due to the darkness that had quickly descended.

The ducks look like they hadn’t moved since our last visit!

29936896_UnknownWe visited after lunch and despite the long shadows and bare branches in places, the sun is so full of himself, some of the photos look like they were taken in summer.

29936080_UnknownThe afternoon shadows of the trees stretch across the lush green lawns, but the sun illuminates the bright green trail sign at the entrance.

These next photos are some of my favourites, featuring more grand trees, with the sunlight showing off some glorious reds and oranges against a wide expanse of blue sky. There are several places on the trail where you can’t see around a dark corner and then you are treated to a wonderful view of the estate in the sunlight, or the path ahead is a stunning carpet of red leaves with that lovely autumn scrunch as you step across, or a patch of squelchy soft mud that kids like to stomp about in.

 

 

29936496_UnknownAs well as snaking through all the breathtaking grounds by follies and flowers, the trail takes you through dark woodland with lots of nesting boxes for all kinds of birds, bees and bugs, a bug hotel, and boggy areas for amphibians, all well-signed with lots of bright easy-to-see pointers and information boards.

This is the entrance inviting you in to explore the trail, you have no idea where it will take you – the last time we venture in, we disappeared into the dead of night!

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Here’s the ingenious bug hotel made from all sorts of natural materials and recycled items.

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These next exhibits made us stop in our tracks! Not real unfortunately, although there are several places around the grounds where you can see evidence of their presence.

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This one, however, is very real:

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Fortunately, we have very mild-mannered snakes here – my niece in Colorado recently posted a picture on Instagram of my recently-emigrated brother and sister-in-law on a hike with her 4 year old son, they were standing in front of a sign advising Caution: Rattlesnake area!

(I have never seen a snake in the wild, despite living in the countryside for most of my life and having walking holidays in Scotland). 

The trail would be fun with children, but anyone who is able-bodied would enjoy it. It is a great idea and well set-out.  There are tree trunks and fallen tree limbs to scramble over, wide spaces of grass to race about on, while above you stretches the wide open blue sky or the arching branches of majestic trees.

Sometimes you think you’ve come to the end and then you notice another sign on the opposite side of a wide area of lawn or pointing down a narrow track into another part of the woods. But you can exit at any point.

I loved every minute of our revisit to the nature trail, although my husband was disappointed we couldn’t find the way to the café – it was the only part that wasn’t well-signed!

I left one of my stones on a tree trunk near the bug house for a child to find on a future visit.

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I hope you enjoyed our  walk in the woods for this week’s Monday Meditation.

You might also like:

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

Monday Meditation: Mindfulness and Rock Painting

Monday Meditation : Gratitude & Faith in Nature

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Monday Meditation: Lilleshall Nature Trail Part 1 – By Night

29669888_UnknownOne afternoon/early evening, late September, we’d both been cooped up all day for various reasons and as it was going to be a fine evening, we decided to take a walk around our favourite estate, Lilleshall National Sports Centre. We were on the cusp of autumn, the leaves were changing and the days were growing shorter, but we decided we’d have plenty of time before the light disappeared and it would be lovely to stroll among the trees at dusk for a change.

When we arrived, the sun was in quite a hurry to reach the horizon, everyone but us seemed to have taken the hint because there was no-one else in sight. I took a few photos, but by the last one below, the light was really fading and I had to use the flash. I thought we were soon going to have to make our own way home.

The ducks were enjoying the fine evening on the lily ponds:

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However, just as we were about to turn around, in the distance and off to the side, a large colourful sign caught my eye and I strode off to investigate. It announced the development of a new nature trail:

29670064_UnknownThis was too good to miss! It looked really dark and spooky in there but I couldn’t resist, I was sure we could make it through in what light was left. I wished we had our grandchildren with us, it would have been even more fun. With hindsight, we probably would have lost them and there was no gingerbread house for them to shelter in!

This was what greeted us as we stepped into the woodland:

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My husband was very reluctant but I left him no option as I marched off into the gloom. It was a bit foolish really, neither of us had torches and we didn’t realise until we did the trail a few weeks later in daylight how many obstacles I could have tripped over and really done some damage: large tree roots and fallen limbs, tree trunks, low narrow wire fencing to prevent people straying off the trail, just at knee height! But I love exploring and off I went.

29670112_UnknownWe came across lots of wooden boxes on trees for bugs, bees, birds and so on and illustrated signs with fun pictures and information about creatures and habitats. This is a bug hotel made from bricks, cardboard, plant pots, straw, pine cones, ferns and pebbles. I used a flash but you can see how dark it was:

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I felt a bit guilty as we realised we were disturbing the birds who were settling down for the night and who knows what other creatures felt invaded by our stumbling feet and stage whispers?

I’ll post some better photos of the whole trail taken in daylight next time, these don’t really do it justice.

By the time we came out, the light had completely disappeared. We discovered on our next daylight visit that we had only experienced about a third of the trail as there are exits and continuing paths all over the estate. Finally, on the way back to the car, this little chap was almost squished under my husband’s size 9s, it was so black out he only saw it at the last moment because a car’s headlights shone over it:

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He was in no hurry to move off the road, sitting frozen while I took several photos before he finally hopped off. He was the only wildlife we saw on our first visit to the nature trail!

We had set off in bright evening sun and arrived home in the dead of night an hour and a half later. I never take Lilleshall for granted, every visit shows up new sights and our evening walk didn’t disappoint. It is a little-known oasis of calm and beauty that we are very fortunate to have free access to at any time of day – or evening!

See Part 2 for more photos taken 4 weeks later on a beautiful autumn day.

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Monday Meditation: The Edwardian Gardens of Victoria Park, Stafford – & Lots of Ducks!

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A few weeks ago, we had occasion to take refuge in The Edwardian Gardens of Victoria Park in the centre of Stafford, a vast award-winning site of colourful flower gardens that also includes a bowling green, a glass house, an aviary, sculptures, the official town war memorial and a couple of listed buildings.

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29933792_UnknownThis park has everything for everyone. Previously, we’ve only been there with the children on a hot summer’s day. There is a separate huge play area for children of all ages, including a splash pad which our young grandchildren loved: spouts of water shooting up from the ground at different times and heights, great fun, and a concrete skate bowl. These are at the far end from the more peaceful flower gardens, however, and there is no need to fight your way through over-excited children and buggies to enjoy the flowers, the birds and the waterfowl – oh, I forgot to mention there’s also the River Sow running through it! You can picnic by the river and take shade under the weeping willows.

This time, however, we were there for a little respite on a chilly early autumn afternoon after spending a couple of hours in the bank registering Power of Attorney for my mum’s accounts. This was our second trip as the first time I didn’t have the right documents – have you tried proving your identity these days without a passport or driving licence? It was draining and time-consuming, and I was feeling the stress and anxiety of having to acknowledge that Mum was struggling and I was now responsible for taking care of her and her finances.

When we came out, I suggested we have a look at the gardens, I wanted some air and time to destress, but I also wanted to see if they were accessible for Mum. I find that everywhere we go now, I am assessing the access and whether it is somehwere Mum would like to go. This was definitely her cup of tea. Sadly, despite obvious attempts to make it so with entrance ramps, they were much too steep for an elderly woman who can only shuffle with a walker. My husband thought we could hire a wheelchair but I burst out laughing and said they would both end up in the river!

These sculptures are of the cricketer, W.G. Grace, and the 17th century writer, Isaak Walton, most famous for ‘The Compleat Angler’ but also author of several short biographies.

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 Even at this late time of the year, there were plenty of brightly coloured borders to walk by or sit alongside – there are lots of benches all over the park. It is much more structured than other parks or woodland areas I’ve written about (and usually prefer), but it was lovely to reacquaint myself with this vast area of parkland, trees and flowers, and of course the ducks! I couldn’t believe how many there were, far more than I could fit into the photos. In one of the photos it looks like they’re either queuing up for a boat ride or about to dive in for a race!

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We couldn’t spend long there as the light was going amd it was threatening rain, but we strolled about and stood and watched the ducks and birds. It was long enough to let go of the stifling couple of hours sitting on an uncomfortable chair in a tiny cubicle in the bank. The young woman who dealt with us couldn’t have been more helpful or understanding and patient, but it takes as long as it takes and I was grateful for this short respite. Our forefathers had incredible foresight in designing and constructing public recreation areas like this one, in the middle of the town. For me, they are a lifesaver. Being among trees and wildlife is rejuvenating, it allows me to let go, to breathe in the clean energising air and to look beyond what is currently taking up my thoughts and time: my mum is adjusting to the idea of moving to be near us, but there is a lot to do and she needs constant reassurance that it’s the right thing for her now.

When we arrived home, my brother and sister-in-law, newly ensconced in the US, Facetimed us before we had chance to remove our jackets and, now relaxed, I was able to give them a positive rundown of the afternoon’s proceedings and give them a laugh about the wheelchair.

Look at these beautiful birds. We are so fortunate to have access to wide open spaces of natural beauty and the wildlife therein.

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Copyright: Chris McGowan

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Monday Meditation: An Autumnal Walk in the Park

29670864_UnknownA few weeks ago, we had to return a couple of items to a clothing store in the town centre and I realised it was near the vast Telford Town Park. I have never been there because it is huge, nor had I previously been able to manage the slightly uphill walk from the car park to the children’s area, which in the past would have been the part we would be visiting. It was an iffy sort of afternoon, it had all the appearance of being fine and unthreatening when we set off, but by the time we left the store it looked like it could turn at any time. We decided to risk it.

I wasn’t feeling great that day and was lacking in energy, so we took our time meandering just far enough to feel the sun on our faces, take some uplifting photographs and enjoy the peace and the autumn colours. The experience was eye-opening. I never knew this oasis existed in the middle of this urban conurbation. I was only aware of it as a venue for mass Bank Holiday events, mostly aimed at teenagers and young adults.

There is a small lake just inside the park and I was delighted to see geese, ducks and swans either snoozing on the banking, gliding over the morror-like surface or – in the case of the geese – apparently having had a bit of a tiff and taking time out!

I love the reflections. It was a huge privilege to witness this family of cygnets enjoying the late afternoon sunshine.

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The goose on the right looks in a real huff and none too pleased at my appearance! I abandoned the notion of any type of mediation. He didn’t attempt to wander off though and I stood watching for quite some time.

The mallard, however, was to all intents and purposes, having a siesta, but as I drew closer I realised he had his beady eye on me and was watching my every move. He did not twitch or flinch or show any signs of being disturbed by my presence and allowed me to take several photos. I felt humbled and honoured to be given this opportunity to be so up close, to see the textures and colours of his beautiful plumage. I seem to get on well with ducks!*

Eventually, we walked slowly away and sauntered around the play area. It was a school day, so we pretty much had the place to ourselves. These are extensive grounds but I only saw a tiny portion. I was tired and it started to drizzle so I just took a few photos of the trees, the magpies and a beautiful sculpture comprised of assorted shiny metal leaves:

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I am ashamed to admit I almost laughed at the quote. For anyone who knows Telford, it has been the butt of jokes since its inception as a new town comprising mainly industrial parks, ugly modern buildings and roundabouts, similar to East Kilbride in Lanarkshire and other New Towns. It was built to provide a hub for several outlying smaller towns surrounded by the beautiful Shropshire countryside. However, I looked around me and shed my preconceptions. I turned a blind eye to shopping centre (mall) at the far side of the lake, with all its junk food outlets and gaudy hoardings, and looked at the wonderful undulating landscape of the park, extending further than I could see with its woodland areas, lakes and abundant wildlife.

It had given me a couple of peaceful hours in the company of waterfowl and birds, amongst autumnal colours of every hue. I was sad to leave and go back to the car, but it was getting late and the light was fading. It was beginning to drizzle. I made a mental note to come back in the summer when body and blooms are at their best.

*Monday Meditation: A Study in Perseverance

Copyright; Chris McGowan