Happy Two Year Blog Anniversary!

imageI’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!

imageFinally 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.

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Copyright: Chris McGowan

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Invisible Disabilities Week – My Story

IMG_4186I just learned today that it is Invisible Disabilities Week. As someone who has spent her whole adult life with an invisible disability, I thought I would share this ‘short’  anecdote on what it is like to look strong and healthy but struggle with a pain and disability that is not obvious to the casual observer. I know I promised short, but this wasn’t planned and you know me, this could go on a bit, for which I apologise in advance – but there are some nice photos too (and yes, that is a packet of crisps in front of me!)

Many moons ago, in a county far, far away, I had a prolapsed disc that refused to heal. I was in my early twenties with a toddler son, had spent a couple of months in bed on the advice of my doctor but could not get moving. I did, however, read the complete Thomas Hardy oeuvre and while doing so, discovered my son was teaching himself to read when he looked at a paragraph containing lots of t’s, p’s and s’s and announced, ‘Look, Mummy, that’s like Top of the Pops!’ (A popular BBC chart programme).

 I had three weeks in hospital on traction where even hospital staff would leave my meals by the side of my bed while I lay flat on my back unable to reach, because I was young and they were preoccupied with the older patients. Eventually, I was sent home with a steel reinforced surgical corset and instructions not to spend a lot of time sitting. A few weeks later, I had my check-up appointment at the hospital. There had been no improvement. Despite the ‘no sitting’ command, I was kept waiting – and sitting – for two hours for a five minute chat that ended with ‘come back in a few weeks’.

Afterwards, I had to wait in reception for a sitting ambulance to take me home. Unfortunately, it was almost lunchtime but there was one ambulance leaving before the lunch-break and I inwardly heaved a sigh of relief. I was in excruciating pain, all the while knowing that things were going to get worse not better for my trip to the doctor (a constant theme in my life) and all this sitting was doing me more harm than good.

A driver came over. He had one seat left. He looked at the elderly lady next to me with a stick. She had told me she had been to the audio clinic to have her hearing checked. He looked at me. Young, smiling, long shiny hair. He chose the elderly lady.

I wanted to cry. I didn’t know how I was going to get through the next hour, possibly longer, before another ambulance left. Not only was I in pain, but despite the corset, I didn’t have enough strength to sit upright, I kept tilting.

I eventually made it home about 3 p.m., having left home at 8.30 a.m. Up until that point, I hadn’t sat for more than half an hour at a time in several months. The pain was so severe I almost passed out before I could get upstairs to bed. My poor excited son had to make do with the briefest of hugs before the painkillers took hold and knocked me out.

That was a long time ago. During the interim decades, things have improved and got worse and improved in a monotonous recycled pattern including surgery, torturous treatments and therapies, car accidents and so on. My overall health is much improved since I changed my diet and lifestyle, gave up prescription drugs that never helped and always made things worse, and took my health into my own hands. However, despite seasonal improvements during warm weather, I have never regained my strength and full mobility.

IMG_4182And yet… just yesterday, my elderly mum was lauding my efforts to look after her during her stay at the weekend, saying ‘It’s lovely to have my daughter back, back to normal!’ A smile and a talent for acting work wonders in reassuring others, but they also help make a disability invisible and raise expectations.

29935072_UnknownOn Saturday, we took Mum out to see the barges on the canal. She had a lovely time, sitting in the sun eating ice-cream – where unexpectedly, an owl and a hawk where among the patrons! – happy that the three of us were able to have a rare outing together. I usually stay at home.

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29935168_UnknownShe went home next morning and I spent the rest of the day sorting out all her files (with the help of a green smoothie of course).

This morning, I couldn’t get out of bed. My whole body felt like I had been kicked by a mule, my back was on fire, I had no strength, I was exhausted despite twelve hours in bed. I couldn’t get dressed. When I did get up, about 11.30 a.m., I sat with a heated pad on my back while my husband brought me herbal anti-inflammatory drops and an anti-inflammatory ginger and turmeric juice.

Two hours later, I am dressed and writing this post. I will soon be making phonecalls on my mother’s behalf. I will call her to see if she is ok after the journey home. I won’t of course tell her how I’m feeling.

As someone recently said to me, we have no idea what is going on in other people’s lives. If someone is rude, irritable, in a bad mood, unwilling to contribute help to some event you’re organising or collect your kids from school etc. please bear in mind they may be suffering a devastating migraine attack or a flare-up of rheumatoid arthritis; they may have an undiagnosed brain tumour, they may have insufferable chronic pain, MS, ME, or any number of invisible conditions. If they are behaving ‘inappropriately’, they may have Asperger’s, anxiety, dementia, having a panic attack, depression or on the verge of going into a diabetic coma.

And most of all, just because someone with a disability or chronic illness can do something one day, doesn’t mean at all that they can do it repeatedly, or even ever again. My mum thinks that everything I do when she is here is what I do every day. She has no appreciation of the superhuman effort I make when she – or anyone else – is here, to make her stay comfortable, to give her something to tell her friends about, some nice memories. But once she has left, I am back in bed, desperate for rest and relief.

Please note: This was written on the spur of the moment as a plea on behalf of others, not for sympathy. I am used to the ups and downs of my life and make the most of it. I am a positive person who laughs a lot and I enjoy seeing Mum doing things she wouldn’t otherwise get to do and I know it means a lot to her that I join in. 

Ps It did get a bit long, didn’t it? Oops…

Feeling Overwhelmed: World Mental Health Day

Monday Meditation: Osteopathy, Rest & Recuperation in Nature

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

The Mood Booster: Raw Chocolate Mulberry, Banana & Walnut Smoothie

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Vegas Victims Have No Right To Healthcare

I have no words to express my confusion at why people in the US who are victims of another’s violent act cannot automatically receive the treatment they need, but are reduced to begging via fundraising websites. As someone said thoughts and prayers are free, what these people need is a right to healthcare.

Source: Vegas Victims Have No Right To Healthcare

BackPacks with School Supplies for Impoverished Children via Mary’s Meals

29401648_UnknownThis backpack filled with school supplies is all ready to be collected by our Abel & Cole driver and sent on to Mary’s Meals who will transport and distribute all the donations to impoverished schoolchildren in Malawi.

Mary’s Meals was started by two Scottish brothers during the Bosnian conflict when they collected food supplies for those affected. The initiative evolved into a non-profit charity that helps provide nourishing meals for children in areas of conflict, disaster zones and poverty.

Kitchens are built and equipped near schools using local resources where possible, while school staff and parents make and serve one nourishing meal a day to the children. This in turn enables them to attend school and receive an education while also being guaranteed one hot meal a day.

They are currently helping one and a quarter million children worldwide.

It costs £13.50 to feed a child one meal a day for a year.

Many children in this country support this charity, raising funds and awareness. One young blogger, Martha at Never Seconds , has taken the charity to heart after writing reviews of her school meals and has been recognised by Jamie Oliver amd others , receiving awards for her efforts in campaigning for healthy school meals for all children.

The backpacks don’t have to be new, they can be redundant or discarded, outgrown, and you can fill them with spare supplies. I have so many coloured pencils from generations of children who have drawn and coloured in our house that I am sending some along with some notebooks, drawing paper, erasers and a ruler.

Skirts, polo shirts, shorts, sandals and flip flops, a bar of soap, toothbrush and toothpaste and a small ball can be sent too, but not toys or sweets. 

It takes hardly any effort or money but means so much to the children who receive them. 

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Election Day Special Fruity Beetroot Juice

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

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

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

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Wherever your political loyalties lie

GO OUT & VOTE!!!

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

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

(Does this count as subliminal advertising?)

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Copyright: Chris McGowan

Ever Tried Wrangling Young Rabbits?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Back home

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

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

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

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

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

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

My thoughts are with all those affected.

Copyright: Chris McGowan

This Valentine’s Day Scrooge is Spreading the Love!

It’s Valentine’s Day next week and it’s a day we usually avoid like the plague. I am a Valentine’s Day scrooge!

As an adult I see the prices of flowers inflate as the day approache; as a teenager I remember the anxiety of wondering if anyone would like me enough to send me a card and the agony of going to school to hear endless screeches and laughter at the often rude sometimes soppy cards my friends had received – often not just one but two or three – while I just mumbled that the post hadn’t arrived before I left for school.

But a post by Pioneering the Simple Life about Home-made Valentines past got me rethinking my stance. All our birthday, Christmas, anniversary, condolence, congratulations cards are home-made when possible, but we always give Valentine’s Day a miss.

However, love isn’t just the romantic kind. So, this year on St Valentine’s Day, why not spread some family love? It would be fun to ferret out the felt, the card, the glue and scissors and spend some time playing. It’s been a while.

So I did.

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I drew, cut out and glued foam hearts on sticks leftover from making children’s mobiles and arranged them in a glass jug. I made vanilla and almond raw chocolate hearts, stars and chunks.* (I’m calling it Vanutte! See my Raw Treats – Recipes).

Cards were also made to send to the other family members who wouldn’t be visiting. It was great fun and took my mind off aches and pains, worries and weather!

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You can use all sorts of everyday household materials – have a look at Pioneering the Simple Life and Scribbleartie for ideas. For the cards I used some felt I bought for a previous project some time ago, but you can use card, foil, shapes made from leftover wrapping paper, string and ribbon – I save everything for moments like this!

Give it a go, find your inner child – or just borrow a real one! – and get sticking and colouring and baking and making. Share your love with those close to you, whether family, partner, friend or someone who just needs to know they are not alone and forgotten.

Love isn’t just for Valentine’s Day! Make it personal any time of the year.

Everyone benefits.

In the words of Jason Mraz: ‘When you love someone, it all comes back to you.’

With lots of love,

Chris x

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*Basic recipe on the back of  The Raw Chocolate Company Raw Cacao Powder and Coconut Palm Sugar packs.

Copyright: Chris McGowan

A Surprise Christmas Present

Today, I was minding my own business, helping my husband make up the Christmas Ocado order when the postman arrived. There were the usual cards and statements,  but also a small padded bag. I looked at the back and saw the name and address of my old friend and former primary school teacher, Evelyn. Many of you will have read my tribute to her earlier on in the year. She had emailed that she had sent me card and so I was expecting to see her writing any day soon, but not on a padded bag.

I opened it and out fell a hard object wrapped in bubblewrap. The envelope had originally come from a bead and crystal shop and I thought she had sent me a crystal for Christmas. I carefully unwrapped it and to my astonishment out fell a very old fountain pen and propelling pencil – do you remember those?!

I couldn’t speak. I sat there with my mouth wide open and nothing coming out. When it did it was ‘Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god’ on a loop (my apologies to anyone offended by this) accompanied by my husband’s ‘What, what, WHAT?! I imagine we looked like a couple of goldfish in a bowl.

img_2735I held in my hand the very fountain pen and pencil Evelyn had used to mark the class register, write reports and letters to our parents, the same white and gold pen I had coveted all these years. I was only thinking about it quite recently and wondering if she still had it. And here was the set, looking a little the worse for wear, sitting in the palm of my hand. I was in shock.

This means so much to me, I don’t have the words to explain.

I looked inside the bag for a note, but all I found was a Christmas card wishing us a Merry Christmas and a Happy 2017 followed by the words ‘Over half a century now!’

Nothing about the pen and pencil. I desperately wanted to speak to her. I tried Skyping but there was no response. She is probably at her sister’s for Christmas and I will have to contain my excitement and inquisitiveness until the New Year!

I don’t quite know why I was so fascinated by this pen. I loved the gold pattern on it and I loved the black Indian ink Evelyn filled it with. I was 9 years old and this was my first experience of a fountain pen at close quarters. I was inspired by it. I loved her handwriting, big and loopy, very informal, arty and friendly. I would recognise it anywhere. To me, this pen set was symbolic of her youth and style, it was modern, unusual, fun. It is so slim and light. It also looked very posh to my impoverished eyes!

I have always loved using a fountain pen and I can’t wait to clean this one out and see if it still works. Wouldn’t that be something, after all these years?!

Needless to say, my husband had to finish off the shopping list all on his own, he didn’t get any sense out of me for the rest of the day!

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Muslim-Owned Restaurant Offers The True Spirit of Christmas.

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

Kindness Blog

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

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

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

Vicky Lanfear wrote on Facebook:

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

Suzannah Harris added:

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

Linda Leach wrote:

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

The FREE three-course…

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