How To Paint Christmas Card (or any) Rocks & Taking A Break

Just a quick post to let you know I’m taking a break to have some osteopathy and to rest my body before the Christmas planning starts in earnest. I’ve scheduled some posts, but forgive me if I don’t acknowledge your comments for a while.

This is what I’ve been doing recently:

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Each of these Christmas rocks will be going to friends, neighbours or family in place of a Christmas card. They are all signed on the back. You can’t really see from the photo, but they are all sparkly as I painted the backgrounds and certain details – like the snowman’s scarf and hat and the Christmas tree baubles – with glitter glue. The whole thing was then sealed to make them weatherproof – I shall put one on the doorstep of each of my neighbours when the time comes.

People ask where I get my stones from. My neighbour who has a huge garden and two allotments gives me some. Many of them are found on my walks, I acquired quite a few recently when I came a cross a private garden being landscaped and a couple of huge mounds of earth discarded by the fence. We also found a ripped bag of white cobbles at our local garden centre, they were the perfect size and they let us have them for less than half price.

A few tips for the best and long-lasting effect:

Wash and dry the stones. Some people lightly sand them with fine sand paper, but I don’t find it necessary and it’s time-consuming.

Prime the stones with a coat of acrylic paint, acrylic works best and keeps its colour, poster paints are dull and  faint.

Paint your design, enamel paints work well too, some people use nail varnish, good quality permanent markers work well for details, eg Sharpie and Posco.

Paint thin coats and let them dry well before using marker pens on top.

Use a small paintbrush to use glitter glue rather than trying to draw with the squeezy tubes as they splutter and splurt and you get too much in the wrong place.

Seal with a couple of coats of spray sealant (these are strong solvents, cover your face and spray outside or in a well-ventilated room) or use paint-on sealant like ModgePodge, I find the spray works best, the brush-on sealant can sometimes smudge your design or writing.

Children love painting rocks – my two youngest grandchildren aged 4 and almost 3 had a great time at the weekend.

Being creative and in the moment is good for you! It’s relaxing and helps you destress.

Have fun!

Here are some others I’ve done that are for gifts and hiding for the children:

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Back soon 😊

Monday Meditation: Mindfulness and Rock Painting

Copyright: Chris McGowan

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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

Monday Meditation: Indulgent No-Banana Cherry & Chocolate Smoothie

29935776_UnknownA different Monday Meditation this week. This is an indulge-yourself post. A spend-some-time-on-yourself post. A take-a-break-from-the-world post.

(Look out at the end of the post for a link to a FREE Moby download of relaxation music).

This is the smoothie I made on my  Much-Needed Day Off. I really needed some me time after a busy and stressful few weeks taking care of Mum’s affairs, so-to-speak (she isn’t really having affairs, I mean accounts, housing application, optician, etc.!)

Chocolatey and indulgent – bet that’s got your attention – a bit chilly for an autumn morning with Storm Brian currently battering at the windows, but if you warm up your insides first with some green or herbal tea, it’s worth it! Or save the recipe to celebrate the first day of Spring. Of course, if you’re in the southern hemisphere, you can just ignore that!

Full of nutritional goodies but still feels like a treat! Raw cacao is mood-enhancing and rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and healthy fats. Go on, indulge yourself, you know you want to 😉

Ingredients

(Vegan, Gluten-free, Organic where possible, Can be Nutfree if you use a different plant milk)

1 heaped Cup Frozen Cherries

1 Cup Homemade Almond Milk*

1/3 Cup Raw Dried Mulberries**

1/4 Tsp Vanilla Extract

1 Tbsp Raw Cacao Powder**

2 Tbsps Live Plain Yogurt

Raw Chocolate Mulberry Chips to serve**

Blend all on high (except the Mulberry Chips) for 40 seconds.

Serve with Raw Chocolate Mulberry Chips or any other raw chocolate treat, eg grated chocolate, raw cacao nibs, raw chocolate covered raisins.

Play some relaxing music, sit back and enjoy.

*Nut & Seed Milks & Smoothie Recipes

**From The Raw Chocolate Company – they have some amazing healthy raw chocolate recipes on their website too.

Ps Here is the link to a FREE Moby download of ambient music on his website: it is 4 HOURS long, and can be used for relaxation, meditation, yoga or sleep. You can download it for free or pay to stream it. It is wonderfully relaxing and calming. Perfect start or end to the day.

Moby: Long Ambients1

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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: Osteopathy, Rest & Recuperation in Nature

 I recently took an ebreak to have osteopathy and give my long-suffering body a welcome rest – see Taking a Break to Rest My Broken Body + Tips to Cope with Chronic Pain 

My wonderful osteopath treats me at home. In my case, she uses cranio-sacral osteopathy which is such a gentle therapy, not the bone-crunching type you see on tv! It not only realigns everything and increases the flow of blood and spinal fluid, it helps my sinus problems and blocked ear. We have become good friends. We have a catch-up chat, a laugh, and exchange book titles. I give her some of our tomatoes or apples and she brings me Scottish oatcakes from her holiday on Arran. Then I fall asleep! I spend the next two days in and out of bed, relaxing with audiobooks and this time an occasional look at The Vuelta (I can’t not watch the cycling, it’s taken over my life, I think I need a support group!)

I originally chose complementary therapies on the advice of my orthopaedic surgeon because nothing else worked; they are non-invasive and they allow me an opportunity to completely switch off and focus on myself and my health. There are no prescriptions, no potentially toxic chemicals involved, no equipment, just hands-on care and compassion. 

Sooner or later, I have enough of lying down and need to be outside. I enjoy sitting quietly in the garden, or sauntering around, absorbing the colourful surprises that have occurred while I’ve been otherwise engaged – this time, the rudbekia was positively glowing in its burnished yellow, standing to attention, facing skywards to soak up any spare rays that happened to be around that day (left of picture).

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I love the crossover of late summer and early autumn colours in our garden: all shades of yellow, orange, red and green. In September, it is warm enough to sit out but not so hot you get burned in our suntrap of a garden. The birds always treat me to some delicate twittering and whistling at this time of year, they are not showing off quite so much. It is a tranquil place, where I can sit and contemplate, take time to close my eyes and absorb the gentle sounds (having made sure my husband is not going to be tinkering away on bike repairs or talking bottom brackets and derailleurs with customers!)

Later in the week, we took a drive to the canal, we parked in a different place and walked over the small hump-backed bridge. My husband suggested we take a photo to send to our young Australian friend who had her own photo taken 23 (!) years ago (aged 18) when the two of them cycled there together.

 

It really is a beautiful place, full of trees and flowers, well-kept gardens (there is a plaque proudly pronouncing Best Kept Village 2015), and of course the boats moored alongside. They look so modern nowadays, they even have solar panels!

(I hid one of my stones by the canal – see photo of the mooring – but more about my painted rocks in another post).

The large grey geese kept their eyes on us, honking every now and then if they felt we overstepped our boundaries. I felt a little sorry for them, penned in a patch of nettles while the hens, roosters and bantams sauntered around at will, pecking at anything interesting, not paying us any mind. They lead such an uncomplicated life.

It was a cooler day and the increasingly dramatic clouds were threatening rain, I was still quite stiff and sore so we kept it a short visit. Short as the trip was, I could quickly feel my shoulders relax, my lungs fill with cool fresh air and the pain-strained muscles of my face form a beatific smile! We are so fortunate to live in a place where plants and trees grow so bountifully, in hundreds of shades of green, where we can roam at will and experience a calming freedom just a few minutes from our doorstep. If it weren’t for the rain about which so many complain, we wouldn’t have such an abundance of greenery and autumnal colours to enjoy.

In another post, I’ll share my therapeutic efforts with brush and paint, goo and glitter!

Copyright: Chris McGowan

A Visit to Dad’s Tree

I have been in reflective mood this week. This month is full of birthdays – not just my husband and daughter’s, but so many of the people I was close to who are no longer here: my brother, father, grandfather, 2 uncles, they all had birthdays this week.

img_3815Thinking of them, of their combined love of the outdoors, of wildlife, plants, walking, creativity through music, writing, upholstery, gardening, reminds me of our interconnection. I like to think of their spirit living on in me.

I am also reminded that things can change in a split second. It can be a heart attack or a devastating diagnosis. But it can also be an unexplained remission or what seemed an unbearable situation can turn around on the words or actions of a stranger.

These thoughts reawaken my own spirit, remotivating me when I am beginning to feel overwhelmed by pain or by circumstances, either personal or global. Being outdoors, filling my lungs with fresh air, listening to birdsong and the rustling of the trees, re-energises me and helps me square up to my recurrent pain and look it right in the eyes. It feeds my creative urge and I want to pick up my pen, my paintbrush, my camera.

Last weekend, I visited the tree I had planted for my dad and brother, about 11 years ago, a cherry tree. I hadn’t been there for a long time, but felt drawn there on a particularly difficult day. I could see scratches on the lower part of the trunk where the squirrels ran up and this made me smile. Dad used to like feeding the squirrels. I stood with my hands on this now sturdy trunk, closing my eyes and silently talking to my dad and brother, thanking them for helping me through difficult times and asking for them to be with me as I faced another physical setback. I drew strength from the tree, from the warmth of the sun which had broken through the clouds, brightening what had started as a gloomy day. I bade them farewell until the next time.

IMG_4058I slowly opened my eyes and prepared to step away from the tree and make my way home. As I did so, I wondered if the crocuses I had planted all those years ago still flowered in the Spring? While thinking this, I involuntarily looked down at the base of the tree and saw two white feathers beside my feet.

Today is my dad’s birthday. I shall celebrate by watching one of his favourite John Wayne films, which also happens to be a favourite of my husband: The Quiet Man, set in Ireland, and I will set aside my feminist sensibilities and laugh. A lot.

Happy Birthday, Dad.

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Copyright: Chris McGowan

Monday Meditation – A Stroll Around Hodnet Hall Gardens

On the recommendation of 29400512_Unknowna new friend, we recently visited the beautiful gardens at Hodnet Hall, a sprawling, centuries-old estate in Shropshire. It has so many trails, gardens, lakes, magnificent trees, waterfalls – there is always something else to discover around the corner.

It is such a tranquil place, we went on a fine though at times overcast August Sunday and often felt like we were the only people there. It is not a flashy place at all, no amusements, almost no signage (you are handed a map of the trails on arrival), no ice cream vans, no litter, no overhyped overtired children, no gift shop. Instead, young children were happily roaming about, enjoying the freedom and fresh air, often accompanied by grandparents, sometimes extended families; there were young couples, elderly couples and those who were obviously regular visitors to historic houses and/or serious walkers. But as you can see in the photos, we were barely aware of anyone else, such is the design of the estate.

The grounds are structured so that there are many separate parts to the whole, where you can sit or walk through areas of parkland or woodland, waterways or flower gardens and barely hear a sound but for the birds, ducks or swans and the gentle lapping of water. There are wooded glens, wooden bridges and walkways over the water – one looked decidedly like the hangout of the local troll!

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There is a sixteenth century timbered building that has become the tearooms but used to be the stable block of the original mansion. Its interior is not for the faint-hearted i.e. me! The walls are covered in the heads of African game, including a huge water buffalo, and there is even a fully stuffed lion and tiger, just standing there to left and right of the entrance! No vegan food here!

But back to the start:

The small pay booth by the entrance gates is manned by a lovely elderly gentleman called Tony, who is so welcoming and knowledgeable, and always happy to chat.

The driveway into the gardens is flanked by beautiful multihued hydrangeas, they grow throughout the grounds in indivdual gardens and along the paths: blue, purple, all shades of pink, white, so many I could have spent all visit just photographing hydrangeas and little else!

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The current house is Victorian and was built when the family decided to move across the grounds to a higher, less damp position, but it was renovated in the 1960s. These steps lead down to one of the lakes:

The middle photo is of the other side of the house to where the main drive leads. Unfortunately the house is roped off, only the gardens are open to the public.

The bottom picture is the stone garden, a separate circular and sheltered spot where you can sit and just listen to birdsong.

The lakes are stunning. There are 5 of them, in varying sizes and settings. Some are quite wild and dark, set in almost rainforest-like conditions, one has pike, one has waterfalls, some more restful with swans and lily pads.

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There are some interesting structures and sculptures too. 

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The structure top left is the old smoke house – it has a seat in it these days.  The building below it is a 16th Century dovecote, a symbol of financial and social success. Pigeons would nest there and the young squabs taken before they could fly, destined for the dining table and regarded as a rich man’s delicacy. Below is the tithebarn or threshing barn from the same period:

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But this was my favourite view, we sat here for a very long time in quiet contemplation – my camera had given up when the battery died so I had to take this with my iPhone and it turned out to be my favourite. I leave it here for you to enjoy:

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Note there are no photos of big game!

(See also my post on the beautiful St Luke’s Village Church next door to the Hall).

Copyright: Chris McGowan

I Was On A Break, But I’m Back! I Feel Great! Here’s What I Did On My Holiday…

I’ve been on an Ebreak. No iPad or iPhone for 8 days. No blogging or blog-reading for 9 days. No Social Media for 10 days. I didn’t take one photo. No texts.

I needed the break because I was exhausted. I wasn’t sleeping, my mind was racing all the time, coming up with ideas for posts, getting up in the night to write them up.

Blogging was beginning to feel like a full-time job. I was constantly taking photos for the blog, for Instagram etc. Every mealtime, my husband would have to wait to eat while I took photos, ususally asking him to move something that was in the background, even the furniture!

My family and friends needed support, which I’m always happy to give. But the phone was always ringing. Messages kept pinging. I felt stressed, my digestion was shot and I felt on edge. My back, neck and shoulders were so painful, I felt permanently hunched over, all my muscles were in a spasm.

Action was needed. So I had osteopathy and my Ebreak.

The first two days were easy. I regularly have osteopathy and always take the opportunity to have a break from electronic devices and to rest afterwards. For one reason or another, I hadn’t been able to fit in an appointment for some time and that’s why everything had built up.

After treatment, I naturally don’t want to start typing and scrolling – I don’t want to undo all the benefits by immediately returning to behaviour that had got me to that state. But after a couple of days, I get bored and twitchy. I want to know what’s going on.

Fortunately, this time the weather was mostly good and I was able to spend time outside, just relaxing, contemplating, watching the birds etc. My husband did a tidy-up of the garden while I supervised as he has a tendency to dig up the plants and leave the weeds!

I began to unwind.

I found I was going to bed earlier. I listened to relaxation tapes and audiobooks.

imageSoon, I got out my craft box and began making cards. I hadn’t made any since the start of the year and I’d missed it, but I could never tear myself away from the iPad long enough to change focus and concentrate on something else. It felt good to do something creative again. I became engrossed and time passed more constructively.

I really began to feel calmer. I could feel myself slowing down, my muscles relaxing. I was giving full attention to everything and everyone instead of reluctantly giving half an ear to what was being said while I continued to write a blogpost. I was more patient. I was taking note.

So much more was attended to. All those little things you keep meaning to do but never get around to. I sorted out the drawers of my desk. Decluttered my wardrobe. My bookshelves. The (grown-up) kids’ books. Dvds. I sent a lot of things to the charity shop, others went on Ebay (I had to rely on my husband for that, I was on a break!). I sorted through the dreaded paperwork.

Most importantly, healthwise, I also did a Raw Island One Day Juice Cleanse – more on that next time.

I would have managed a longer holiday, but on the eighth day I had to contact a company and the only way was by email. Unfortunately, this meant that I also saw I had 125 emails waiting in my inbox and I began to panic about how I was going to cope if they kept on coming. So I started to scroll through, deleting those that were just notifications, telling myself I would only do so many and then stop. But you know how it goes, one or two were from people who really needed the support of a full reply and before you know it, you’re back! But I’m trying to be more disciplined.

All in all, I thoroughly recommend taking a break from all the electronic chatter. Everything and everyone will still be there when you come back. I feel refreshed. I feel like I can be a little more disciplined about my iPad use and not quite so obsessive about checking up on everything and everyone.

I was a little anxious that people might have moved on, that out of sight might mean out of mind, but not at all. I had some lovely messages and comments awaiting my return which are much-appreciated, thank you.

Oh, and if you see me here after midnight, tell me to go to bed! (I now have 10 minutes to log off and make tracks!)

Enjoy the Friends Clip! (You’ll need to click onto the blog if you’re reading this via email).

Copyright: Chris McGowan