Monday Meditation: Mindfulness and Rock Painting

A few weeks ago I wrote about finding a small painted rock by the canal with instructions to post a photo of it on Facebook and rehide it.* It made me smile when I was in a lot of pain. Since then, I’ve discovered painting and hiding rocks is quite the thing. At the end of the school summer holidays, I saw some young children leaving their out-of-school club holding small painted pebbles and looking very proud of their efforts. One little boy was so over-excited, he wanted to hide it straightaway and despite his grandma’s efforts to dissuade him, he couldn’t contain himself and just had to hide it there and then: he put it under the privet hedge of the house right next-door to the school. I loved his enthusiasm and it made me smile.

Soon after, my neighbour’s two young daughters came back from their holidays and told me about sitting on the beach painting stones. I said I’d like to have a go but couldn’t find any smooth stones as it’s all gravel around here. They brought some back from their next trip and we are going to have a joint rock painting session one rainy day in the half-term holiday.

29668112_UnknownSince then, I have really acquired the rock-painting bug! Every time my mum phones, she asks me what I’m doing and I reply, Guess! My first efforts were not much to write home about: I just tried out different media – acrylic v. poster paint, felt tips, matt or gloss varnish, glitter glue – just to see what worked and what didn’t.

I eventually learned that acrylic paint is best, poster tends to lose its intensity and can smudge if you put varnish on with a brush, but if you use a couple of coats of poster paint and a fine spray sealant, it can work well (be aware of solvent fumes and use in a well-ventilated area. I’m going to buy some paper face masks and spray outside!) Permanent markers work better than ordinary felt-tips which tend to bleed.

I soon discovered you can make it as simple or as complicated, as cheap or expensive as you like. I used 20 year old acrylic paints and varnish, 15+ years old paint brushes and a metal water pot I’ve had since I was at school! You don’t have to be an artist, there are many stones out there painted by very young children and not so young adults that have a few stripes or spots on or are sprinkled with glitter. What matters is the doing, the hiding and finding and giving people a smile. It’s a great activity to do with children, especially on rainy days or during winter months.

Painted rocks can make lovely gifts too, and even send a message: many people are painting Halloween stones at the moment but also ones with red poppies for Remembrance Day (see my poppy ones below), others like to write uplifting or humorous quotes on them. I’m thinking of giving the neighbours Christmas stones instead of cards.

The benefits of this activity are many: When I’m painting, I am totally focused. After some time, it comes as a surprise to me that I am no longer repeatedly turning over current family concerns, I haven’t looked at a screen or a clock and I am smiling. I am completely relaxed.  

I liked the goldfish above, and hid it on the girls’ front door step while they were out for the day. They have since rehidden it on a woodland walk. Remember Henry, the young boy next-door whose rabbits kept escaping?** I left my first effort on his rabbit hutch. He was so pleased to find it and then so disappointed when the next thing he found there was a bag of our homegrown tomatoes!

We have since found 2 stones and hidden 5 of mine (see below), one of which turned up on Facebook a couple of days ago. I can’t describe the joy and surprise of seeing it in a child’s hand with the message that they had rehidden it.

(This sculpture of the hares was made with a chainsaw).

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My second crop are a little more adventurous:

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I am particularly proud of the hedgehog and may have to keep him!

Any time I’m on my own, have time on my hands or feel a little overwhelmed, I hide away with my rocks and paints. I fear my supply will soon dry up and like any addict have taken to the (occasional) illicit purloining of rocks from neighbourhood driveways! I decided that couldn’t go on, it was a very slippery slope, so the other day, I traded baking apples from our tree for a few gorgeously smooth pebbles by our friend’s back door!

Here’s my latest batch:

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IMG_4101Why not have a go, leave them on benches, in parks or on woodland trails, in your or your grandchildren’s garden  – anywhere where people saunter or children play; tag them and write a message with instructions to rehide. I even left one in a bistro recently. Join or form a Facebook group so you can track them and other people can join in. Currently I belong to #shropshirerocks and #staffssmilestones . It’s a great way to make friends through a shared hobby, swapping tips and recommending brands of supplies.

It’s a wonderful way to switch off, get creative and relax. The result can also give someone a lift who is not having the best of times: the stone with the lopsided smile and mismatched blue eyes (above) went to a dear friend in hospital last week. She loved it and it made her smile. 

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

**Ever Tried Wrangling Young Rabbits?

Copyright: Chris McGowan

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Monday Meditation: Stunning Stained Glass in a World-Reknowned Medieval Shrewsbury Church

As some of you will know, I recently had a birthday outing to Shrewsbury (see Vegan Birthday Burgers at O’Joy Wellness Bistro, Shrewsbury – Review). When we had finished lunch, we were so stuffed and had been sitting so long, we needed air and exercise. The skies were heavy and grey, it didn’t look too promising. However, close by the bistro in the town centre stand three medieval churches. We randomly chose to take a look at the redundant Anglican Church of St Mary The Virgin, not knowing anything about it, but once inside it took my breath away. It has the most stunning stained glass windows I have ever seen, which are apparently world-reknowned: it is said that there is no other collection like it.

The Norman Gothic style church dates from Saxon times and has additions dating from the twelfth century onwards. At over 500 years old, the spire atop the tower is reputedly the third tallest in the country, in fact it is so high I couldn’t get it all in the one shot. Unfortunately, the weather was really taking a turn for the worst, the light was awful for taking photographs. I had also forgotten to take my camera so these were taken with my iPhone.

 

I’ve borrowed a photo from Wikipaedia of the exterior and spire to illustrate its entirety:

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These beautiful wooden doors welcome you into the most overwhelmingly imposing building, with sweeping stone arches, a huge ancient carved stone pulpit, a dark wooden organ gallery.

However, you are immediately drawn to the enormous and detailed panels of brightly-hued stained glass in the famous fourteenth century ‘Jesse’ window*, with its panels of portraits of Old Testament Kings and Prophets, as well as a medieval cartoon strip of the life of St Bernard. Much of the glass was originally used for a Franciscan church, then moved to nearby St Chads after the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry Vlll.  It was rescued after the church went up in flames and reused to dramatic effect here. The rest of the glass came from various parts of Europe.

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The photos really don’t do it justice, the light streaming through the intensely-coloured glass left me lost for words. I couldn’t get the right angle to include it all in the best light. The Trinity Chapel on the right, first created in the 1300s, also has brilliantly-lit stained glass panels. These are bolder and more dramatic.

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The aisles and chapels have beautiful Victorian tiled floors and the ceilings have intricate fifteenth century oak carvings of animals, angels and birds, that are so high up you have to use the handheld mirrors provided to view their reflection.

 

I found the whole experience humbling. It was awe-inspiring. I am not a religious person, I just love historic buildings including churches and this was one of the most affecting that I’ve visited. I constantly marvel at the craftmanship, creativity, ingenuity and sheer hard work that went in to building these churches, often not just over decades but centuries too. They survive fire, flood, hell and damnation – in the form of Henry Vlll’s distruction of these fine buildings – and are still here for us to enjoy and to sit in peaceful contemplation. I feel the presence of all those who have gathered here before me, and it is an opportunity to feel close to my dad and my brother who both passed away at this time of year.**

This church is now under the care of The Churches Conservation Trust.

Visiting old churches and ruins is my favourite thing to do, Shrewsbury and the surrounding area is awash with them – there will be further posts I’m sure – and all in all I had a very enjoyable day. The weather even held off until we made it back to the car – just – before the deluge arrived!

* A ‘Jesse’ window refers to an artistic rendering of the biblical family tree starting with Jesse of Bethlehem, father of King David.

To read about other historical visits, please see:

A Nursery, a Ruin and a Baby Cow

Wroxeter – A Roman City on A Beautiful Summer’s Day.

William Penny Brookes, Father of The Modern Olympics!

Magnificent Trees, Olympic Medallists, A Czar & Some Sheep!

For more photos of buildings in a Shrewsbury:

Some Fine Tudor Buildings – And Albert’s Shed!

**To read about my dad, please see:

You Were So Much More Than Your Job: A Tribute to My Dad For Father’s Day

Two poems:

My Dad Walked Straight and Tall Like A Soldier

Hand in Hand: A Poem for Father’s Day

and my brother:

Sweetpeas For Dave

Thank you!

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Sweetpeas For Dave

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I so wish this was scratch-and-sniff and I could fully share these beautiful sweetpeas wth you all! They have such a powerful scent, my husband’s allergies won’t allow him to be in the same room. But every year he grows me a pot full because they are my favourite flowers and they bloom in July, which is doubly significant as it is my birthday month and also the anniversary of the death of my younger brother, Dave, age 22, who also loved sweetpeas.

I have struggled for some time to find a way to mention him. We as a family find it difficult to talk about him, even after all these years. His death was so violent, so sudden and so incomprehensible. Far fom home. It is still too raw.

This month is so difficult because he died the day after Mum’s birthday, 5 days before my birthday and 7 days before my son’s second birthday, and in between all those dates we had to cope with a post-mortem, an inquest and a funeral. In fact, I learned of his death as I was getting my toddler son ready to attend his friend’s birthday party. I hid my tears as I operated the music for Pass the Parcel and Musical Chairs. Since then, we have added three more July birthdays, so this month is bitter sweet.

One of my other brothers and I have spoken about him in recent times, we have different perspectives as I was away from home in the latter years and there are huge gaps in my memories. However, Judith at Nature Knows Best published a post today that happened to be about grief and the colour of one’s kitchen (yes, really, pop over and read it), and it struck a chord – in particular because we are currently choosing the colour of our kitchen! I commented on her post and it seemed to open a way for me to publish my own post on this topic.

Dave was an artist, poet, lyricist, bongo player; he loved animals, nature programmes and being outside; he hated being cooped up. He worked intermittently, finding it difficult to fit in and adhere to another’s routine. He worked for the park’s department so he could be outside.

When we were young, people thought we were twins, there were only 13 months between us. We both looked like our dad: mousey hair, skinny, short-sighted. He was not in robust health through his short life. I remember him having Scarlet Fever and breathing problems. But he was so strong, he could easily beat me at arm wrestling and I still remember the Chinese burns!

Dave was a bit of a cuckoo and there are few photos of him past a certain age as he rarely seemed to be present for family photos. He was always off doing his own thing. The one below was given to me by my best friend, Denny, with whom he wrote many songs and whose guitar he decorated. Denny still uses it. It is well-worn now!

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I cut some sweetpeas every year and bring them into the house for him. They are fragile, colourful and last only a short time, but they have a strong impact while they bloom and few are unaffected by their appearance.

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Copyright: Chris  McGowan

How to Make Vegan Raw Chocolate Love Hearts & Mini Eggs

img_3122A bit late in the day, but better late than never, I hope! These were made with ingredients I won in a recent Raw Chocolate Company giveaway. We’re looking forward to having another go and substituting some of the ingredients, meanwhile these happily passed the taste test: husband and gardener friend (here to prune trees and replace broken flags) demolished them and gave them their seal of approval. (Gardener took some home for his wife!)

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My prize:

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We began with a basic recipe by Eighty20Nutrition but halved the amount, changed the nuts and greatly reduced the amount since they were chopped – we didn’t need as many as the whole pistachios in the original recipe – we also added vanilla. I would have used almond butter instead of tahini but didn’t have enough. Next time.

We also thought we might use Goldenberries next time, they are a bit tart and very fruity. You could also try dried sour cherries or cranberries (I like them infused with apple juice).

For those of you who like to spice it up, you could add a little chilli powder.

So here’s how we did it – all organic where possible, measurements very approximate, substitute like for like where you wish.

Vegan & Gluten-Free.

Ingredients

120g Cacao Butter*

About 50g Sweet Apricot Kernels,* finely chopped but not ground (you could use almonds or any other nuts)

 1/4 Cup Cacao Powder*

75g Dried Mulberries*, lightly broken up if using small moulds (reserve 1/4 Cup whole ones for the end)

150g Tahini or Almond Butter

1/4 Tsp Organic Vanilla Extract

3/4 (three-quarters) Tbsp Maple Syrup

 Method

Place the tub of cacao butter in hot water until it starts melting (you can also use cacao butter buttons). Slide it out and break up until you have the amount you need, in this case, half a tub.

Place a Pyrex bowl over a pan of hot, but not boiling, water and slowly melt the cacao butter.

When completely melted, add the remaining ingredients except the reserved mulberries, stirring until mixed in.

Blend until smooth with a stick blender.

Fold in the remaining mulberries and if setting flat in a tray some larger pieces of nuts – pistachios work well.

img_3126Spoon into silicone moulds or into a baking tray and refrigerate for a couple of hours until set. Cut into slices if set in a tray.

(The moulds are inexpensive, we found ours on Amazon).

Best eaten from the fridge as home-made chocolate melts quicker than commercial chocolate.

They also keep in the freezer.

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We made 15 hearts and 20 mini egg halves, which have gone into the freezer for Easter.

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See also further raw chocolate recipes in these posts:

 Food Matters’ ‘One Minute Slice’ Raw Chocolate Protein Bars

This Valentine’s Day Scrooge is Spreading the Love!

Fill Your Easter Basket with Home Made Vegan Raw Chocolate Eggs

Raw Treats – Recipes

*The Raw Chocolate Company

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Creativity is Contagious – Pass It On!*

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Thank you, timelesswheel for nominating me for this award, I am a little taken aback as I am a blogging novice and I feel I am still serving my apprenticeship! It did, however, inspire me to write a post on creativity and health:

Creativity is a basic human instinct, a need. We all need to express ourselves and if we repress this instinct or we are not given the physical or emotional space to do so, we can become withdrawn, resentful, introverted, insular, develop disease or depression, become frustrated and even angry, often hurting those close to us.

If we are not creative how do we progress as a society?

Being creative doesn’t mean you have to be an artistic or writing genius or require other people’s approval for your efforts. Doodling is being creative! Making a meal is being creative. Constructing medieval weapons or a castle out of cardboard for your grandchildren is being creative!

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One blogger, scribbleartie, makes lovely whimsical images out of ink blots and soap bubbles, she is still working on her technique and loves having fun experimenting. She also takes everday items that have been discarded and turns them into works of art.

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My son-in-law gets great pleasure from stacking logs and has recently studied Norwegian methods of creating different shapes out of these stacks from a book he was given for Christmas.

My husband, who was never interested in food, cooking or nutrition, now spends Sunday mornings communing with bread dough.

I like to make cards and paint rocks, you can read how to in these posts: Monday Meditation: Mindfulness and Rock Painting & How To Paint Christmas Card (or any) Rocks & Taking A Break

My first efforts were nothing to write home about at all, but as with anything, the more you do it, the better you get. The benefits to your wellbeing of mindfulness, of being completely in the moment, having fun through being creative, are many and varied, from increased self-esteem to a strengthened immune system and improved mental health.

Watch a child unihibitedly splashing paint on a large sheet of paper: she doesn’t ask what colour she should use or what shape she should make, she doesn’t feel she has to keep within the margins or hold her brush a certain way – heck, she doesn’t always even use a brush, her fingers and toes will do!

Go on, free your mind, let it wander where it will, pick up a pen and write a silly story or poem for your children, or even a letter the old-fashioned way; or grab a pencil and sketch the cat or the dog – it can be a cartoon or as surreal as you like; find a pair of scissors, some images or card and some glue; grow some plants or vegetables; look at the clouds or the embers in the fire and see what shapes are developing, what thoughts and images do they conjure up? Arrange some garden flowers or twigs in a vase. Pick up your camera, go for a walk. Build a bike from recycled parts. Meditate, find your inner creator.

Take a leaf out of timelesswheel’s book, she had no idea why she wanted to write a blog or what she wanted to say. She just started writing and is still finding her voice and her creative eye in her photographs. And we are enjoying watching her do it.

Give it a try. Express yourself. You will be so much happier and healthier for it.😊

Now *I* have to get creative and come up with 5 things about myself:

  1. I have pens, pencils, paper, scissors, glue in every room I or visiting children use
  2. When I can’t sleep, I create new recipes for juices, smoothies or raw treats
  3. I love watching children playing, talking to themselves and being completely focused on what they are doing or being
  4. At school, I was no good at art, sewing or knitting nor did I ever have a cookery lesson, yet these became my main pastimes in adult life.
  5. I think maybe I should buy shares in Caran d’Ache! Their watercolour pencils are so soft and have such depth of colour, I can predict a growth in their future sales!

Here is my list of recommendations for creative blogs that I hope will inspire:

Thethomastimes – encouraging children to be creative

Watching the Daisies

BrewNSpew

http://spiritualfoodie.org

http://katyhadalittlefarm.com

Storyville

http://susanrushton.net – beautiful photography

About

*Albert Einstein

 Copyright: Chris McGowan