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: Mothers and Daughters at Christmas

IMG_4331As I write, it is 2 am on Christmas Eve. I can’t sleep. It’s been a busy and quite an emotional day and I have too many thoughts going around in my head. For the first time in many years, I got to spend a few hours alone with my daughter, whom I miss more than she can understand, and later my elderly mum arrived for a few days with us. We three generations of women chatted and laughed and had our photos taken – although I doubt any of them will see the light of day since we couldn’t get it together long enough for all of us to stop laughing at the same time! The photographer – my husband – wasn’t any better, he was laughing so much at us, his hands were shaking so most of them are out of focus anyway.

But although it’s lovely to have photos to look back on, I don’t need them to remind me of today, I will always remember it. 

I will remember sitting outside in the winter sun having a cup of licorice tea as I waited for R to arrive. I’d had a busy morning making sure everything was ready for Mum, even down to sweeping the moss from the paths so she wouldn’t slip; I was over-excited about seeing my daughter, who works so hard and has such a busy time with three teenagers that I only see her three times a year, but never on her own. I took a few minutes out of my busy schedule to breathe and enjoy the warmth and brilliance of the sun in a cloudless blue sky, which had been absent for so long. It was a welcome sight and it made me smile.

I laugh as I recall how I had planned to meet her on the drive as she pulled in and give her a big hug as soon as she got out of the car, only to have her rush past me calling ‘I need a wee!’ and dash off to the bathroom. (She would not be impressed if she knew I had included that gem, but she doesn’t have time to read my blog so I’m safe). As soon as she returned, she said, ‘Shall we do that again?’ and I got my hug before she emptied the car of all the items she was returning from her brother or donating to our household in yet another clear-out of her home. She is very much the minimalist and nothing outstays its welcome.

We sat outside and she told me all about the party they’d had the previous evening, laughing at the compliments she’d received from her guests for all the food she must have spent hours cooking, which was actually delivered to her door by the very nice man from Waitrose!

After a while, I took her to look at the sheltered housing community where we are hoping to get Mum settled sometime in the next year – I need constant reassurance from my family that I am doing the right thing and she gave it the thumbs up. A man was walking his little dog, which wanted to say hello, and he told us his mum lived there and how it was a close-knit, friendly community and that his mum was really happy there. I was heartened by his comments.

We then went round the corner to Waitrose – how did we manage without them? – to choose some flowers for Mum, momentarily shocked to see that all the beautiful  Christmas bouquets from the day before had disappeared,  but we found one bunch of creamy-white roses in bud that did the job. We returned home for lunch of homemade carrot and sweet potato soup and waited for Mum to arrive.

I will never forget the look of sheer joy on my mother’s face when she greeted her grand-daughter, whom she hadn’t seen for two years. Or the long hug, and the giggling, girlish chatter of my daughter, taking me back to before she became a wife and mum, a coper in difficult circumstances, a hardworking exams officer and foster mother. Watching my mum and my daughter teasing and joking, my daughter laughing so much she had tears in her eyes, was present enough for me.

My mum is very deaf and very stubborn, she refuses to wear hearing aids and misses a lot or mishears, which can lead to some amusing conversations at times, she forgets easily and becomes confused, but today seeing her laugh so much and enjoy my daughter’s company took years off her and it was a sight to behold. I smile at the memory.

We had dinner together, a vegetarian curry cooked by my husband, took our photos and then it was goodbye to my daughter as she returned home to discover what havoc her boys had wreaked while she was away. I am sure there would have been nothing left in the fridge had there not been a Waitrose delivery that afternoon! (I’m really not getting any commission for this extended advert!)

Mum and I spent the rest of the evening watching first a Michael Ball concert – not my cup of tea, but she really likes him – and then an André Rieu concert, both at ear-bursting decibels (‘it wasn’t that loud’) before we called it a day.

And this day would have made Christmas for me, except I get to do it all over again on Wednesday with my son and his family and then my daughter’s family will be descending en masse for New Year’s weekend. A week of musical beds ensues!

I am very fortunate to have family willing to travel distances to spend special occasions with us, and that my husband is willing and able to make the long journey to pick up Mum and take her home again. I know there are many who aren’t able to be with those they care about or who are isolated for whatever reason, and I never take my family for granted.

However you spend Christmas, I wish you peace and good health. And thank you for all the support you have given me this year, I appreciate all your comments and encouragement.

From our family to yours, Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year!

And now I’m off back to bed!

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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: 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

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

Monday Meditation: A Much-Needed Day Off

I find coming up with a suitably interesting title the most difficult part of writing a blogpost and today’s is no exception because I’m actually writing it on Sunday and it’s about *my* Sunday, which I’ve grabbed hold of with both hands and declared My Day Off!

imageI am sitting at my dining table, drinking my Morning Glory juice* and with Agnes Obel playing gently in the background. It is 10.30 in the morning and I have the house to myself. For an hour, I have just been sitting, doing nothing. Watching the carefree clouds careering across a balmy blue sky, the trees bending in the wind. My husband is on an extended bike-ride with the club (Storm Brian is about to hit with full force in about an hour, but nothing gets in the way of a planned bike ride!) Apart from Agnes’ dulcet tones and gentle piano, I can hear a pin drop and I love it. Recent weeks have been filled with activity, phonecalls and visits, this peace is so welcome and I am going to make the most of it.

Some of you will know that I’ve been spending a lot of time taking over my 87 year old mum’s affairs and every day of the last 3 weeks has been spent doing things on her behalf: sorting out her files (years of them), talking to energy, phone and water companies – I was especially pleased with myself for getting £160 off her energy bill by switching to a diferent tariff; registering Power of Attorney with her bank, which required two visits of two hours each on very cold windy days to a branch half an hour’s drive away. Most of my time, however, has been spent finding sheltered accommodation nearby and persuading the authorities to put her on their waiting list, providing relevant documentation, making many phonecalls and bringing her to our house to look at the housing scheme, a major feat as she has always refused to discuss moving anywhere. Her intention has always been to remain in her bungalow 2 hours’ drive away until she no longer has breath in her body.

I have made Skype calls to my brothers to keep them up to date and yesterday my sister-in-law paid a visit on her way back from cleaning and clearing Mum’s house in preparation for her eventual move. We spent time bringing each other up to date and we took her to see the houses, which, reassuringly, she thought were perfect for Mum. Both my brothers and my other sister-in-law are on board with my plans and that is such a relief.

After decades of receiving care for my own health problems** I am gradually becoming a caregiver for my mum, and I can already feel myself slipping slowly away in the process. Every waking – and often sleeping – moment is taken up thinking about her needs and wondering if I’m doing the right thing, if we’re going to get her moved in time, while she’s still able to have some independence and mobility – her greatest fear is being placed in a care home.

29935696_UnknownBut for now, I can breathe again, for a little while. I can be me again, for a little while. I can play relaxing music that only I enjoy. Later, if I feel so inclined, I can play loud, raucous music that I can sing along to at the top of my voice.  I can write, uninterrupted by requests to find keys, wallet, phone, sort out a social media issue (husband) and so far the phone hasn’t rung – Mum can ring up to 5 times a day if she is stressed, asking the same questions. I can do some painting. I can go for a walk.  I can make an indulgent raw chocolate smoothie (recipe next week). I don’t have to shout to be heard (Mum is very deaf). I don’t have to repeat myself over and over. I don’t have to use my voice at all.

For now, the sun is shining. It gives me energy. It gives me hope. It gives me warmth.

I am grateful to still have my mum. She helped us so much when the children were young and I had serious health problems. I am trying to repay all that time she gave up when we needed it. My dad died 31 years ago and left a huge hole in my life, she is alone with no family around her and all her friends gone. But I am also grateful to have this time to be myself. I know others who are further along in their elder care journey and I know how exhausting it will be once she’s here. My husband especially will be kept busy. So, for now we are making the most of our available free time. Because we will need to keep ourselves fit and healthy so that we can make her life easier and ensure that she has a longer, healthier and happier life here than she would isolated and bored where she is. Because that’s what we’ve promised her. And I always keep my promises.

*7 Juice Recipes

**Invisible Disabilities Week – My Story

**Monday Meditation: Osteopathy, Rest & Recuperation in Nature

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Monday Meditation : Gratitude & Faith in Nature

About 15 years ago, I bought a baby tree. The label said it was an hibiscus and that it would grow 6′ wide and 10′ tall. Its job was to fill a gap between a maturing leylandii hedge along the drive and the garage at the top of the drive, so that the back garden was enclosed and private. I liked the idea of a hibiscus tree. I had read of them in novels set in an exotic context and always wondered what they were like.

I waited and waited. It crept up inch by inch but did little to inspire my confidence in its reputed inherent beauty and ability to fulfill its allotted task.

Several years went by. It grew up, but didn’t reach anywhere near its full potential. It did not grow out. It eventually began shooting tight and tiny dark burgundy buds but they resisted any enticement to open out and show themselves off.

About 5 years ago, we released this tree from its obligation. We didn’t think it would ever have the strength or intent to fill the gap. We decided to put a fence behind it. We allowed the tree its freedom. I made sure it was kept watered during dry weather, and occasionally admired the variegated leaves. There were by now lots of plants below and around it that had more colour and vibrancy.

 

Two summers went by and I noticed the tree had grown about 5″ above the fence. It had bushed out too. I didn’t let it know I had noticed, but I kept a close eye on it.

Last year, the tree had put on about another 12″ of growth above the fence and now filled the gap! It was covered in tight burgundy buds. I realised it most likely hadn’t been happy being exposed to chill winds in winter and baking sun in summer. It was much happier sheltered by the fence and was now paying back for our consideration.

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The other day, I was walking on the drive, in a great deal of pain throughout my back and legs and trying to ease it with movement. I had been struggling for several weeks and nothing was improving, or at least, if it did it was only for a brief while and then it would come screaming back, laughing at me for thinking I could get away with making a smoothie or drying my hair. I was finding it hard to keep smiling and have faith in my improved health.

It was getting chilly and I knew I should go back inside, the cold would just make things worse. As I passed the fence, I glanced up and saw the most amazing sight: it wasn’t that big or overly showy, but there it was, a single pink flower in the middle of the hibiscus tree, showing just above the fence. I stopped to take a closer look and smiled. A broad, happy but disbelieving smile. I momentarily forgot about my back and the cold. I reached inside my back pocket, but I’d left my phone inside. I slowly made my way to the house to find my camera. I was afraid that either I wouldn’t be able to make it back outside or the flower would have dropped off before I had time to capture it.

But I did on both counts.

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It is still the only open flower on the tree. It is still making me smile, even just to think about it, just knowing it’s there. I’m so glad I held faith with this tree and it with me: neither of us gave up.

I can’t wait to see what happens next summer.

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Copyright: Chris McGowan

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

IMG_9015As many of you know, I recently injured my back again being much too optimistic about how far I could walk. This is an ongoing problem I have had all my adult life since lifting an overloaded case of albums (as in LPs), along with subsequent whiplash injuries, surgery and medieval torture!

Periodically, I need to have osteopathy and rest up for some time. I’ve been struggling this last few weeks, so I am taking some time off to have some treatment and give my body a break. It’s been a physically demanding few months with all the house refurbishment and family birthdays, not to mention 7 weeks of watching sweaty men in lycra, cycling Les Tours de France, Spain and Britain! I need to take better care of myself.

Pain Awareness Month – a personal reflection on Chronic Pain (but don’t worry, this isn’t a moanfest and I suggest tips to help cope!)

This is Pain Awareness Month and boy, have I been aware of pain 😉 Chronic pain is a widespread but often invisible disorder, it interferes with every part of your life and affects those around you as well as those in pain. It affects mood, mobility, the ability to work or create, family relations – I have missed so many important family events, often having to let people down at the last minute – and you can lose friends very quickly.

img_6480It is difficult for people, especially the medical profession and often some family members, to understand why one day, or even hour, you can do something, but the next day it is completely impossible; why – even though you’re smiling – you are still in deep, often agonising pain. In this photo, I had had no sleep for a couple of nights due to deep persistent pain, but I was up on Christmas morning ready to join in the family gift-swap.

You are often damned if you do and damned if you don’t: over the years, I have been regularly taken to task for not trying hard enough, then berated for trying too hard and making things worse! It can be impossible to find the right balance.

I have had to spend long periods of time in bed – I’m talking months and even years at a time – unable to look after my children, but I have had people say to me: ‘you’re in the right place’, when it’s cold or wet, or ‘I wish I could lie in bed all day and not have to go to work!’ Don’t say it!

Natural Therapies

Doctors can only offer me prescriptions for pills that don’t work and make things worse with their side effects. So I choose natural therapies like craniosacral osteopathy for realignment (a gentle form, not the bone-crunching type!), music and aromatherapy oils for relaxation and meditation, herbal remedies for inflammation, homeopathic gel for bruised muscles, audiobooks for stimulation, heat pads for spasms and poor circulation, Rescue Remedy for shock and stress – and my diet helps. It includes copious amounts of raw chocolate! And laughter really is the best medicine.

(Raw cacao is a mood booster and anti-inflammatory and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise;-) It contains 40 times more antioxidants than blueberries, is a rich source of magnesium which is heart-healthy, helps relax muscles and prevent depression; it contains more calcium than cow’s milk, iron, zinc, B vitamins, omega oils and protein. And it tastes amazing).*

Gratitude

The regular giving of thanks helps prevent and reduce the onset of depression when dealing with chronic pain. Starting a gratitude journal when severely depressed saved my life. Knowing you have to write something down at the end of the day makes you look for the positive and helps to change your mindset. Nowadays, I don’t need to write it out but I express my appreciation every day, even for the little things, especially for the little things. And even when at my worst physically, I still try to perform random acts of kindness.

Thinking of others, looking outwards instead of always looking inwards at my pain, helps me cope. It is partly why I began this blog, to pass on what I have learned and researched in the realm of diet, health and wellbeing, in the hope that someone reading it might be helped just a little bit to improve their lifestyle, their health and their outlook and enjoy a happier, healthier life.

Juicing for Health

IMG_8106Juicing and adopting a vegan diet eased my aches and pains by reducing inflammation, removing extra weight from my joints, resetting my hormones, calming and relaxing me, providing energy and a positive outlook – you can read about my first juice fast and the positive effects on my health here: Juicing: How to Begin or Do As I Say, Not As I Did!

Keep Calm, Plants Have Protein!

Altering my diet has improved so many health issues: since changing to a plant-based diet I no longer use an inhaler or have asthma attacks; losing the extra weight reduced the pressure in my spine, improved my mobility, brought my cholesterol levels to normal and improved my digestion. Pain causes tension, which impedes digestion. In addition, years of pain medication has damaged my stomach lining. Dietary changes also helped cure a sudden-onset itchy scaly rash that almost drove me mad. (see How I Juiced My Skin Clear).

(There are several posts in the menu about the nutritional and environmental benefits of adopting a vegan diet).**

IMG_3797Looking and feeling better does have its drawbacks however! People sometimes think that because I look healthy, smile, study, make cards and write a health and wellness blog, everything is hunky dory in the pain department. Sometimes it is hard not to feel a bit of a fraud when I see myself through other people’s eyes. The more I do the more I am expected to do, my health improvements tend to be taken somewhat for granted. I, however, appreciate every little thing I can do, but I do have a tendency to get over-confident and my body will soon let me know how it feels about that!

I’ll be signing off on Tuesday, 12th September but I have scheduled some posts for while I’m away to keep you on the straight and narrow, so don’t be off bingeing on doughnuts and chips just because I have my back turned!

A Bientôt!

See also Brigid’s excellent and positive post on coping with Fibromyalgia & Chronic Illness, also using natural methods.

*My favourite raw chocolate is from the award-winning The Raw Chocolate Company It’s vegan, gluten-free, organic and Fairtrade.

**Some posts about changing to a plantbased diet:

Veganuary

Veganuary – results

Where Do I Get My Protein on a Vegan Diet?

Where Do I Get My Calcium On A Vegan Diet?

Environmental Benefits of Adopting a Vegan/Vegetarian Diet

Where Do I Get Iron on a Vegan Diet?

Plant Powered New Year

Please Note: these are my personal thoughts based on experience and research. Please see a doctor before reducing or stopping medication or beginning a juice-cleanse for the first time.

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