St Luke’s Church is next door to the beautiful Hodnet Hall Gardens, sitting just beside the entrance. This small, intimate church was open for visitors when we were at the gardens in the summer and is well worth a look if you like historic buildings and richly-coloured stained glass windows.
This Grade 1 listed building is Norman in origin and listed in the Doomesday Book. Much of the original Norman nave still exists. It has the only octagonal tower in Shropshire, with octagonal wooden clocks on each side. I had never seen a tower like it. I warmed to this unusual church instantly before venturing inside the porch, its open door inviting us in.
The stained glass windows were beautiful. One is in memory of Mary Heber, an ancestor of the current family in residence, and the other tells the story of The Holy Grail. It was really difficult to find the right angle to do justice to the vivid colours and images, the sun was streaming through windows and washing out some of the colour. We were the only ones there and took our time, not feeling in anyway rushed by person or event.
The aisles and chapels are tiled in various colours and intricate patterns. They are in wonderful condition. I spent a lot of time just sitting, contemplating, taking everything in, all the magnificent beauty and craftmanship.
The families who have owned the Hall have been – and still are – long-time patrons of this church, supporting its upkeep. Many of them are buried there or memorialised within the church. There are some very elaborate marble memorials on the walls and in the family chapel. Unfortunately, my camera battery died and I didn’t realise it had given up on the marble sarcophagus in the family chapel.
I’ve never seen pews like these before, they were all across the front of the congregation, no doubt there for the great and the good! I found them incredibly uncomfortable, forcing me to sit up rather than lean into them.
I don’t know exactly what it was about this church, but it had a very welcoming feel to it. It’s quite small which makes it more intimate, less intimidating, for all its imposing stone and sense of history. There was a sense of continuity through the family names that you get in small villages, and lots of notices addressed to visitors and parishioners inviting them to look around, providing information and histories, a visitors’ book, but also framed photographs of the current incumbents and articles about local people and activities.
A lovely touch was the invitation to request a prayer for, or thoughts be sent to, someone who needed it, whatever the circumstances, no names necessary, and there were candles and matches if you also wanted to light one on their behalf. No charge. I requested a mention for our dear friend, Terry at Spearfruit.
(Please Note: I wrote this post some time before Terry passed away and I hope it doesn’t cause distress to anyone close to him. He was very much on my mind at the time of our visit).
One project I particularly warmed to was some research conducted by the local Scouts group into the names on the War Memorial in the church yard. This research was left out for all to see and filled in the details behind the names, turning them into real people not just ciphers. The project was at the back of the church for anyone to leaf through, with an invitation to contact the authors if any information is incorrect or if the reader had more up to date details to include.
There was a small piano alongside the ancient organ, and really old prayer books, Bibles, registers in full view, not locked away or removed for fear of vandalism, as in many churches these days. This added to the welcoming atmosphere of this beautiful church.
I was reluctant to leave, but we had been out all afternoon and now it was approaching evening and the gardens where we had parked the car would soon be closing. If you click on the link in my first paragraph, you can read about this magnificent estate, one of the most stunning and unspoiled places I’ve visited.
A final look up towards the church from the entrance to the Hall:
When life is relatively calm, ie no family crises, and I find myself alone with no urgent tasks, I like to sit down and just let my mind wander where it will. I might close my eyes and just wait for my breathing to slow, or I watch the birds, or just take in my surroundings: the paintings, the family photos, the gentle flames of the woodburner.
When I am completely relaxed, I might get the urge to be creative. This can mean painting rocks, making cards, or even writing a letter – the old-fashioned way! But often, I like to bake or cook. It needs to be simple, quick, and not require that I keep several plates spinning at once, and definitely no interference.
Cooking on my own at leisure is a different experience from the pressure cooking of doing a meal with other bodies around and people requiring my attention or getting in my way. I like to be free to select whatever appeals, create something for my own pleasure and not have to be mindful of others’ pernickety tastes!
I rarely follow a recipe, or if I do, it’s more of a starting point that inspires a variation of the original, as with these no-added sugar energy balls. I fancied a little something with my cup of tea and didn’t really know what the result would be, but on looking in the cupboards I found some Tiger Nut Powder that needed using and remembered a recipe on The Tiger Nut Company Instagram page for Tiger Nut Macaroons by Eve Kalanik.
I used the general measurements, but made some substitutions: almond butter for the cashew, cacao nibs for the coconut chips and coconut water for the plain water in the original recipe. I also added some wild berry-flavoured supergreen powder.
These take literally seconds to make in the food processor and once in the fridge, by the time you’ve cleared up and put on the kettle, they are ready to eat.
It’s easy to make your own substitions so long as they’re like for like, but the texture or flavour will be different.
These easy raw treats are Vegan, Gluten-free and can be made Nut-free if you use Seed Butter.
Please note: Tiger Nuts are Tubers, Not Nuts.
100g Tiger Nut Powder
45g Desiccated Coconut
1 Tbsp Raw Cacao Nibs, for a bit of crunch
2 Tbsps Almond Butter
A pinch of Pink Himalayan Salt
4g Vivolife ‘Thrive for Her’, Raw Green Superfood Powder, Wild Berry flavour
Approx. 4 Tbsps Coconut Water (or water or apple juice)
Pulse all ingredients except water for a few seconds. Add water and process for a couple of seconds to mix.
Scoop spoonfuls of the mix and roll into balls.
Makes about 10.
Place in the fridge to set.
Keep for days in an airtight container in the fridge and for a long time in the freezer if you can resist!
So much healthier and satisfying than a shop-bought biscuit or pastry to have with your afternoon cup of tea, and will give you a lift, making you more alert and energised without the inevitable slump afterwards.
The tea, by the way, is Pukka Herbs’ Licorice and Cinnamon. A perfect relaxing combination on your own or to share with a friend.
I lost a dear friend last week, she had just turned 103 and I have been thinking about The End a lot.* Until relatively recently, we used to share a daily short walk, which inevitably reached its halfway point at the cemetery where her husband’s memorial stone stands and my dad’s tree lives. She, too, has now left her physical form, but whenever I go on that walk, I shall be thinking of her when I visit her husband and my dad’s tree. I am continuing our walks, I will visit her, too, when she joins her husband, and have a chat. I will tell her about the latest exploits of my grandsons, about whom she always inquired. There is no ending yet.
Her house is being sorted, her clothes given away, but her possessions will have a new life with others and so too will the house. It will be renovated and look spanking new again, ready to enter its new era. And it will contain all the memories created there by her and her family, who have occupied it for over half a century. There is no ending here.
I visited Barbara on her birthday a few days before she died. She was half-sitting in bed. She hadn’t seen me for quite a while as she had a fall on the stairs in the autumn and then developed a chest infection. Her sight had deteriorated and I was wearing a different coat, with a black scarf around my neck. She hardly knew me. I helped her open the card I had written for her, in which I had mentioned my grandsons in case I didn’t get to talk to her that day. Things began to come clearer at the mention of the boys’ names and now she knew who I was. I sat with her while her daughter had a break to make some calls. She looked tiny and frail. She was not happy. I asked her what the ETA was on her being up and about again. She grimaced and looked towards her daughter and her carer, whispering that they wouldn’t let her attempt to walk up and down the hall with her walker. She said, ‘You don’t get better lying in bed!’
She was right of course. She had such spirit, such determination. Her daughter told me after her mum had slipped away in her sleep that she knew her mum had somehow got herself out of bed a few nights before and she had found her in the hall by the radiator because she was cold. She had got there without her walker.
Three days before Barbara died, this heron came to visit on her roof.
A few years ago, in her 90s, Barbara broke her hip. The authorities wanted her to stay in hospital and then go to a care home. She was having none of it. She insisted they send her home. We all feared the worst, that she would never manage and would injure herself or catch an infection. We should have known better. Up to that point, she was still weeding her own garden, going to the shops, to church and to the hairdresser, she was a member of the Townswomen’s Guild and held a coffee morning every Thursday. There was to be no ending because of a pesky broken hip!
Every winter she developed a chest infection and we all shook our heads and thought she was unlikely to survive the winter. Barbara had other ideas.
The day before she left us, I had decided to make some cards. Barbara and I had established a tradition of sending each other notecards when one or other of us – often both – were confined to barracks – in my case when my back had given up the ghost. I had run out of cards with the one I sent just before Christmas. This time I chose a picture that was an image of a garden, as she loved hers. I had no idea I would be sending it as a sympathy card next day. I happened to take the photo to write about the smoothie I was having at the time. I had no idea it would be featuring in her eulogy. I finished the card, and sent it on its way to convey my thoughts and some memories to her family. No ending here either. Barbara’s daughter has found all the cards I sent to her mum and is going to let me have them. I will be able to relive the memories I shared with her, of my family as they grew, and smile at her own quips in response.
I am sad for her daughters and son, I am sad that I will no longer look over at her windows when I get up to check her curtains are open, or see her with her carer slowly taking her afternoon stroll, stopping to chat to the schoolchildren as they hurtled past. But I know she was not happy at being confined to bed. She was rapidly losing her strength (she wasn’t eating), and was adamant she didn’t want to go into the local Cottage Care Home. She was relieved to have her daughter back staying with her, from her home on the Continent, and she was ready to go.
But there is no End here. So many people looked out for her. She was loved by all her neighbours, a few of whom had known her for several decades, us included. Her death has brought us all together, we are all talking about her as we pass in the street. Some of us are used to seeing each other in passing and saying ‘good morning’ or commenting on the weather, but haven’t really got to know each other. Barbara has brought this small community even closer by our common bond of friendship with this tiny, frail-looking woman who was as strong as steel and insisted we all – young and not so young – call her by her first name.
The rain has stopped and the wind has dropped, I’m off to put on my coat and boots. I will wave to Barbara’s daughter and if I have the chance, I’ll invite her over for a cup of tea and a change of scenery. She looks so tired. Having only exchanged a few remarks when she has thanked me for writing to her mum, we are getting to know each other a bit more. There is no ending here.
Au revoir, Barbara. You continue to be an inspiration and I am grateful you came into my life. Thank you for all the walks and the memories.
As 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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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 😉
If it weren’t for the cold gusting winds, autumn would be my favourite season. We went for a walk in Lilleshall* again the other afternoon on a very blustery day, the wind so strong at times it almost blew us along. I didn’t take any photos because I’ve written often about Lilleshall and will be posting again soon (this picture is from a few weeks ago). The colours of the trees and the carpets of leaves were breathtaking and when the wind gusted, a shower of pale yellow silver birch leaves swirled about us, it was like walking through autumnal confetti. I just wanted to take it all in and not spend all my time framing shots with my camera. Sometimes I feel like I only have the experience secondhand through my photos afterwards rather than in the moment. This once, I wanted to take my time and drink it all up, really feel the wind in my hair, absorb the colours, take in the sounds of the trees, the ducks (all 13 of them) and the birds.
I’ve had a break from online activity recently and have not only been painting Christmas rocks, but also cards using various leaves as templates. It’s a relaxing, peaceful activity and takes no skill, just poster paint or thinned acrylic paint and a paintbrush. Children love to do leaf prints, many of the younger ones do them at school and I remember doing them with my young children.
One of the leaves I used is from the cherry tree I had planted for my dad and brother in our local cemetery – pictured here on a beautifully sunny autumn day a few weeks ago, I tried to catch the squirrel at the bottom of the tree but it ran off as I focused the camera. I made cards from this leaf for upcoming family birthdays. It’s the top left in the photo below.
Here are some of my efforts:
Wash and dry the leaves and flatten them between paper under a heavy object to smooth them out.
With fairly thin but not too runny paint, cover the front of the leaf, working the paint into all the veins.
Turn it over and gently position onto your paper or card, pressing down all over, especially the edges, trying not to smudge it.
Gently ease the leaf from the paper and if there are any gaps in the images, you can touch up with a thin brush.
I added some glitter glue to the holly ones when they were dried as I’m going to use them as Christmas cards. If you enlarge the picture below, you should be able to see the glitter.
No two are ever the same, which makes them all individual and special to those who receive them.
My craft room is getting a little crowded what with all the rocks and cards, my collection of leaves and conkers, my paints and pens, but it is a quiet, calming and light space that overlooks the garden and is warmed by the sun. Virginia Woolf famously said that every woman should have ‘A room of one’s own’, I have waited years to have this space, but finally after all its many previous incarnations, I now have mine.
Just a quick post to let you know I’m taking a break to have some osteopathy and to rest my body before the Christmas planning starts in earnest. I’ve scheduled some posts, but forgive me if I don’t acknowledge your comments for a while.
This is what I’ve been doing recently:
Each of these Christmas rocks will be going to friends, neighbours or family in place of a Christmas card. They are all signed on the back. You can’t really see from the photo, but they are all sparkly as I painted the backgrounds and certain details – like the snowman’s scarf and hat and the Christmas tree baubles – with glitter glue. The whole thing was then sealed to make them weatherproof – I shall put one on the doorstep of each of my neighbours when the time comes.
People ask where I get my stones from. My neighbour who has a huge garden and two allotments gives me some. Many of them are found on my walks, I acquired quite a few recently when I came a cross a private garden being landscaped and a couple of huge mounds of earth discarded by the fence. We also found a ripped bag of white cobbles at our local garden centre, they were the perfect size and they let us have them for less than half price.
A few tips for the best and long-lasting effect:
Wash and dry the stones. Some people lightly sand them with fine sand paper, but I don’t find it necessary and it’s time-consuming.
Prime the stones with a coat of acrylic paint, acrylic works best and keeps its colour, poster paints are dull and faint.
Paint your design, enamel paints work well too, some people use nail varnish, good quality permanent markers work well for details, eg Sharpie and Posco.
Paint thin coats and let them dry well before using marker pens on top.
Use a small paintbrush to use glitter glue rather than trying to draw with the squeezy tubes as they splutter and splurt and you get too much in the wrong place.
Seal with a couple of coats of spray sealant (these are strong solvents, cover your face and spray outside or in a well-ventilated room) or use paint-on sealant like ModgePodge, I find the spray works best, the brush-on sealant can sometimes smudge your design or writing.
Children love painting rocks – my two youngest grandchildren aged 4 and almost 3 had a great time at the weekend.
Being creative and in the moment is good for you! It’s relaxing and helps you destress.
Here are some others I’ve done that are for gifts and hiding for the children:
I’ve just had a notification from WordPress saying it’s my 2 year anniversary today! I remember being so very nervous of putting myself into the blogosphere, never having even read a blog before. I barely used social media, having left Facebook a couple of years before and only recently joined Twitter, more to follow the news and a few sports people than to actually write anything insightful.
I had written a few recipes for The Raw Chocolate Company (for free) and my son suggested I start my own blog. It must have taken me 2 or 3 months to pluck up the courage and then to look into how to go about it. I had a few false starts with other companies, usually to do with incompatibility with iPads, before I tried WordPress. I floundered around trying to choose a theme – I had no idea what that meant – and eventually discovered the Blogging 101 course, which was very helpful and was where I met some of my first followers.
I soon found myself staring at a blank screen awaiting my first words of wisdom! I wrote what eventually became my Home page and my About Me pages, lost and rewrote them several times, eventually realising that what was supposed to be my first post was in fact several posts and resembled a novel. I was still writing in essay mode. It took a long time to find a more informal style for blogging – and I still haven’t mastered brevity!
Finally I wrote Pears But No More Parsnips: In Which I Confront My Parsnip Phobia! as a way of explaining the title of my blog and introducing my readers to juicing at the same time. I thought it was worth providing a link to this original post so that new followers can have an opportunity to read it and stop puzzling over my name 🙂
At the outset, I thought I would be answering questions about juicing and health. I thought my posts would be responses to requests from people seeking information about food- and health-related issues. I certainly wasn’t going to reveal anything personal. I didn’t even have a profile picture. In my blogging innocence, I never imagined I would have to come up with self-generated topics and send them off into what seemed like a vacuum, in the hope that someone would read them. I also never intended to write recipes! I didn’t want to write a food blog. It’s been hard marrying the two together and finding a balance. At times, I have felt that the balance has shifted too far over into food and away from health and wellbeing, hence the introduction of Monday Meditation, posts on mindfulness and creativity, kindness and gratitude, as well as the occasional post about struggles with my own health issues and about chronic pain, mental health and disability.
For a long time I had difficulty finding a balance between producing enough to keep people interested and not letting posting schedules take over my life. I feel more relaxed about my output now, but I do occasionally have a bit of a panic when my ideas/draft folder shows signs of haemorrhaging!
Thank you to everyone who has supported my endeavours, I never thought I would have a core of regular readers still cheering me on from the sidelines two years later. It has made a big difference to my life and I have ‘met’ so many people from such different places and walks of life. I am truly grateful. Namaste.
When I wrote this post, I didn’t realise that it would be Invisible Disabilities Week when it was published; as someone who has spent her entire adulthood with an invisible disability, I am pleased to highlight a community sensory garden we discovered on one of our many meandering drives this summer.
Some time ago, I wrote about unplanned detours while travelling through our local Bermuda triangle (see below for links). On our first detour, I had noticed some public gardens. I thought we could take my elderly mother and I wanted to check it out to see if it was easily accessible, as I hadn’t been able to see an entrance. I didn’t know the name so hadn’t attempted to look it up. I knew it was near the railway bridge and a little terrace of cottages, how hard could it be? No matter how many times we tried to retrace our steps on the way to other nearby destinations, we could not find it.
This time, however, we made a special trip to find it once and for all. Having Googled ‘public gardens, Shifnal’, I came up with Shifnal Millenium Sensory Garden. We looked at the map, noted the street and off we went. I wasn’t at all sure this was it, but thought it was worth checking out anyway.
True to form, despite having directions, we went around in circles several times before spotting it. We had been looking for gates and a car park, but there aren’t either. You have to park on the street, which is not ideal when the gardens are structured for people with mobility issues, sight or hearing impairment. It’s a busy road and there are few spaces, with no drop down pavement. However, it was a weekday when we visited, and therefore quiet, so we had no problem parking.
The gardens are a community initiative, locally funded and run, quite small but having the appearance of being much bigger as they merge seamlessly into the vast grounds surrounding St Andrew’s church, which comprises lawns, the cemetery and woodland. In fact, the church had provided some land for these award-winning gardens.
The old church surrounded by tall trees makes a stunning backdrop when you first enter the gardens:
Inside the entrance, there is a sensory map:
It was late summer when we visited and a warm but cloudy day, so the gardens are not really shown to their best advantage in the photos. There were mainly large, showy, bright yellow, pink and red begonias in raised beds and hydrangeas in shrubby areas, other wilder and darker wooded glens, tall grasses and ferns. The geraniums had finished flowering, unfortunately. The pathways were either grassed, pressed pea gravel, or block paving, easily accessible for wheelchairs or people with walkers or sticks. Occasionally you come across a sculpture.
There is a peaceful air about the grounds; there are benches where you can sit and listen to birdsong or watch well-fed, healthy-looking squirrels migrating from the churchyard, digging up acorn stashes or chasing each other around trees.
The church grounds are vast, with silver birch trees, oak and yew, Scots pine, hollies and conifers. Some of the older areas of the cemetery are overgrown and unkempt, a haven for wildlife, while other parts of the grounds are immaculate and surround a beautiful Anglo-Saxon church, which unfortunately was locked when we were there so we couldn’t take a look inside.
We intend to return next summer to take a proper look inside this ancient village church, but for now here are photos of the exterior:
We spent a long time here, until late in the afternoon, each with our own thoughts, meandering about the old graves, around the church, under the trees or just sitting watching the squirrels. We could hear a lot of birds, the trees were so tall though that we couldn’t see most of them, but it was lovely to sit with eyes closed listening to such a melodious soundtrack in this woodland oasis just yards away from a busy road.
This wasn’t planned. I just this second decided to write it after reading first Carol’s post about memories of her mum and then Gary’s post of his latest ‘sighting’ of Terry.* It won’t be long, I just thought I should put my hand up and say ‘Me too!’ (I lied about the ‘long’ bit, sorry).
So many of us suffer in silence when we feel overwhelmed. We try to cope, to carry on with our daily lives and not worry anyone else. I used to keep everything inside. I never talked about anything. It just built up and built up until I suffered a physical and nervous breakdown, my first aged 17, my second aged 19, my third aged 25 and on through adulthood. Once I had children, I learned to hide it better. When Dad died suddenly, I took up red wine! But I eventually recognised that it wouldn’t solve anything. When I was bedridden for 5 years, my children had gone to university and my husband worked long shifts, I was at my lowest and started writing poetry to stop me writing suicide notes. As I matured, I learned to recognise the signs and adopt strategies to get me through them. I took up creative activities, used aromatherapy, meditation and so on.
I haven’t had depressive episodes for a long time. Changing diet, positive thinking, keeping a gratitude journal and acquiring a couple of grandchildren led to improvements in health and a life to look forward to. There have been very low times when family concerns have caused almost unbearable stress and worry, but I got through them.
Recently, though, I have felt a head of steam building. My elderly mum needs a lot of attention – from a distance, this is extremely difficult – and we have taken on a lot of extra responsibilities which often require a lot of butting of heads against brick walls. At the other end, family members are struggling to cope with the fall-out from a rare condition, which also affects us inasmuch as we can do so little as so little can be done, and we have to stand on the sidelines and watch those close to us stretch themselves to the limit on a daily basis.
The upshot of all this is that on Saturday I found myself sitting in our local twelfth-century church with tears rolling down my cheeks. I have lived here 30 years and never been in this church. I had been to a nearby shop and on coming out, had turned towards home but something made me look behind and I saw the church tower. I have often meant to go in to have a look round. It was Saturday afternoon and I expected to see the trappings of a wedding going on, but it was quiet. I started to walk towards it, the main doors were wide open. I hesitantly stepped in the porchway expecting to see a congregation but again, it was quiet. I could see a couple of women attending to the flowers, so I stepped inside.
As soon as I did, my shoulders relaxed. Facing me was a notice inviting people to have a prayer said for someone who needed it. I am not religious. I just love old churches. I love the tanquility, the architecture and sense of history, and of all the people who have been there before. I like the peace to sit and contemplate. However, I stepped forward and wrote a card out for the young person and her children, struggling with the disease. I placed it on the table at the front of the church, sat down and let the tears flow quietly.
A flower lady came over and asked if I’d like her to sit with me. I thanked her and explained that I hadn’t realised how overwhelmed I was feeling or that I was going to cry and I just wanted to sit for a while and contemplate. She passed the message on to the others and they let me be. After a while, one of them saw me looking about me and asked if I’d like a guide on the history of the church. I said yes, thank you. It was absolutely the right thing for her to do. It got me out of my head. I walked around and took it all in.
Later, in the early evening, after 3 long calls and 2 messages from Mum I couldn’t sit still. I needed to go outside. I needed to talk to Dad.
I visited his tree in the local cemetery just down the road. When I had finished, I was just saying thank you when a squirrel ran by, a few yards in front of me. I stood and watched for a minute. Tears filled my eyes. I looked down and there was a white feather and a smile grew on my face.
The moral of this story is, talk to someone; whether it be a flower lady in a church you don’t attend, a long-dead parent or even a tree, share what’s going on. Find somewhere where you can be quiet, somewhere away from the causes of your stress, your worries, for just a few minutes. Take slow breaths. Then look outward, take notice. When things build up, we can spend too much time in our heads. I like to watch the birds in our garden, talk to the neighbourhood cats while I have the doors open and I paint or make cards. At other times, only loud music accompanied by raucous singing will do! And occasionally I rage against the world.
On a gloomy day and in much pain, I asked my husband if he would drive me to the next village where we could sit quietly by the canal. I felt in need of fresh air, of some quiet time with nature while observing the sedate and elegant barges moored or gliding by in their unassuming fashion, a smile and a wave from the owners as they pass.
We parked in the car park of the country pub and made our way down to the towpath to find a bench. It wasn’t easy, my back was very stiff and painful, not helped by the damp, chilly conditions, but the tranquil atmosphere began working its miracle immediately.
There were lots of barges on the canal that day, most were moored but there were others passing through, immaculately painted and often decorated with pot plants. They left gentle ripples as they crept quietly by, almost surreptitiously.
Weeping willows graced the opposite bank and further along there were interesting, often eccentric, gardens leading down to the water:
But what fascinated us most was a male mallard. Seen first at some distance, on the towpath by himself, he was paying particular attention to something on the ground. We couldn’t see what it was at first and we approached slowly and quietly. He didn’t pay us any attention, he was completely focused on the thing he kept picking up and dropping.
As we drew closer, I realised he was trying to swallow whole acorns! He kept picking them up – they were still attached to the cup and stalk – tipping his head back and then letting it drop again, tapping it on the ground then having another go. He was completely oblivious to our presence and I clicked away.
This went on for some time. The slight rustling of a plastic carrier bag alerted the duck to a man approaching, but he carried on trying to swallow the acorn before the man reached him. He briefly and reluctantly gave up, walked away to the water’s edge and waited for the man to pass. He then walked calmly back, past other acorns and searched for the exact ones he’d been wrestling with.
He found them and with one almighty effort, he did it, he actually swallowed them whole! He then waddled over to the water, stood for a while like a child summoning up the courage to dive in and off he went to join the others.