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: In Search of The Gruffalo on Haughmond Hill

29668880_UnknownMy husband has oftened mentioned Haughmond Hill as a place we might visit, since it’s one of the (many!) café stops his local cycling club makes when out on long rides. I wasn’t at all sure about this proposed adventure as the mere fact that it was called a hill rendered it on a par with Everest as far as my hiking abilities go.

We have often driven past on our way to or from Shrewsbury and had visited the nearby Haughmond Abbey the previous summer, and every time we did he told me there was a café there and suggested maybe I’d like to go. Now, as much as my husband loves stopping for a cup of tea at the drop of a hat, I’m not a sitter and drinker, I like to be doing and the thought of just driving all the way there to sit and watch him drinking tea wasn’t exactly appealing (I don’t drink tea or coffee).

However, this particular morning, I weakened and agreed to go and see what all the fuss was about. It was only when we arrived at the bottom of the hill that Husband admitted he didn’t actually know where to park or what the terrain was like as they only ever cycled straight to the café!

29668736_UnknownWe sorted out the parking (you have to pay) and wandered over to some signs with maps on. Haughmond Hill is managed and maintained by the Forestry Commission. It is a working forest and covers a vast area of dense woodland containing ancient oaks and younger varieties of trees with 4 walking trails of differing lengths and difficulty mapped out. Apart from a few benches and the café area by the car park, the whole place is natural, with minimal human interference.

Three of the trails are named after famous people with ties to the area: Wilfred Owen, the War Poet; Henry lV, who massed his armies there before one of the biggest battles in Britain, the Battle of Shrewsbury, fought around Haughmond Hill (there was a spectacular performance of Shakespeare’s Henry lV Part One in the nearby abbey in 2003). The third trail is a tibute to the Corbet family who previously owned the estate, including the Abbey, whilst the fourth, the Geo Trail is so named because it takes in the view of the quarry below. The Hill is a geologically renowned site as it is made of precambrian stone and affords one of the best views across Shrewsbury.

We chose the easiest, the Corbet Easy Access Trail, which has a surfaced route, is mostly flat and accessible to wheelchairs, buggies and mobility scooters. There are also benches along the way. The trails are well-signed and inter-connect at various points, so if you’re feeling more adventurous you can switch to a longer route or rougher terrain.

It was a mild, sunny day and the woods were very peaceful. We met the occasional dog-walker but for the most part we felt like we were the only ones there.

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There was the occasional muddy patch or pond next to the trail and I kept thinking of my 2 year old grandson whom we would probably have to keep rescuing if he came along too! We took our time and had a gentle stroll, breathing in the fresh air and soaking up the vastness of the place and the overwhelming majesty of these ancient sky-scraping giants.

And then we started coming across signs with pictures of characters from the Julia Donaldson story book The Gruffalo!

 

I had forgotten, but a friend had told us a while back that there is an app you can download to accompany the walk that allows you to scan the signs and is interactive. Children can look through the holes in the signs and see other characters to spot along the way. Some time later, I was telling my neighbour’s girls about it and they had the app and had followed the trail, having a lot of fun doing so.

Near the café area, there is another character from a Julia Donaldson story, The Stick Man, as well as several sculptures, one of them a magnificent owl carved by chainsaw sculptor, Paul Catling.

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There were several young families enjoying playing around them. The Hill seemed to appeal to people of all ages, and I noticed signs for a bike trail and orienteering route as well.

We sat to have the inevitable cuppa outside. I had taken a juice with me but to my surprise they sold herbal tea. We watched a couple of toddlers walking along the spiral sculpture, and we were joined for a while by a robin.

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The young guys in the cafe cabin allowed us to borrow a chair to take outside as I can’t manage picnic benches and for once I was quite happy to sit and just be. I didn’t want to leave.

Oh, but before we did, I hid one of my painted rocks* in the claws of the owl and a couple of days later, it appeared on Facebook in the hand of a smiling, happy child.

*Monday Meditation: Mindfullness and Rock Painting

Copyright: Chris McGowan

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

Monday Meditation: Taking Time Out To Just Be

 I had a whole week’s ebreak. Rather greedily, I was hoping to make it longer: it takes a couple of days to get used to not checking for mail/posts etc. but then I really enjoy the liberation that comes from being unfettered by phone and iPad. However, I generally have to email a company about a product I need to return, or do some online banking or some such thing, and it’s impossible to avoid noticing there are a gazillion emails awaiting my attention, and that’s just the inbox I use for my blog!

But even just a week away from screens is enough to make me feel calmer, and it’s good to take time out to reassess and plan changes.

A week away from all the negative news works wonders, lifting the spirits and renewing a deep-seated faith in human kindness, friendship and compassion. And there is so much more energy and motivation to tackle things that have been ignored for too long: you know that growing mound of paperwork that needs attending to, but with which you vainly try to avoid eye contact? I attended to mine! It felt so much better to have that done and dusted and no longer have it in the back of my mind, gnawing away.

We spent a lovely day collecting our Bramley baking apples and cherry tomatoes, swapping them with our neighbours for eating apples, beetroot, advice on growing potatoes for Christmas. I say ‘we’ collected, I just pointed and tried to stop him falling off the ladder!

 

We had so many face-to-face conversations with neighbours and enjoyed catching up with old friends, recently returned to our street.

We – or rather, my husband, again, I just supervised! – did some work in the garden, dead-heading, pulling up the sweetpeas and collecting seeds for next year, planting potatoes and ordering a pear tree from our local nursery. Time outdoors is never wasted time, whether it be just sitting watching the birds, the ants, or children running about, or walking in the woods or park. I feel my shoulders relax and my mood lift; my breathing slows and I take time to really look and absorb what’s around me.

When indoors, I painted and crafted, made cards and wrapped presents. On sunny days, I went for walks, collected leaves, watched squirrels, took pictures (the squirrels were too fast so excuse the poor quality!)

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I did get one to sit still though:

 

This sculpture was carved from a tree trunk with a chainsaw! Such talent. There is another sculpture of two hares in a circle, but I’ll save that for a future post about my rock painting as I hid one there.

I met this friendly little chap. We communed for quite a while, he posed quite happily for photographs before eventually hopping off through the hedge.

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Such a lot of butterflies around this past week, too, of varying colours. I saw the one below on a walk near my house. It alighted on the lamp-post as I approached. My 2 year old grandson sent me some conkers he had collected. We planted 2 as well as the acorn. On another afternoon I sat in the garden and watched the various layers of clouds moving and changing shape, brightening and darkening by turns.

 

So much achieved in a few days away from that ever-hungry screen, that devours so much of our time and attention. Yet, I didn’t feel stressed or overworked. I highly recommend it.

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

In Case You Miss Me, I’m Recovering From All The Decluttering!

From today, I’m taking a break to have some osteopathy and rest my body after a hectic few weeks of Christmas, family visits and mass decluttering of cupboards and wardrobes, alongside all the normal family support and blog-writing.

I’ve done a 3 week juice plan and flooded my body with healthy nutrients to see me through the busy times, now I need to take some time to rest and give my back a chance to unknot and my mind some peace and tranquility.

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This is just one small cupboard that was still filled to the gunnels with my daughter’s school and university stuff – and the yellowing old French book on top? Mine from A Level French, a whole lifetime ago! It’s all gone now. The music books are having a new life with my daughter’s musical sons.

Dusty old classics and plays and poetry, from the 60s and 70s, all gone to the charity shop – and this scribble was inside the copy of Charlotte Bronte’s ‘Villette’, neither of my children are owning up!

It is quite daunting clearing out things you’ve loved or which belonged to people you love that have always just been there on shelves, in cupboards, on walls. But there comes a time when you just know it has to go!

I followed the advice in this post from Watching the Daisies, of placing a small bowl of salt in the rooms whch need decluttering –  it alters the chi or energy in the space, and, before you know it, things are magically winging their way out of your home to start another life elsewhere! It really worked!

I’ve scheduled some posts for while I’m away, but I won’t be able to respond to comments or questions until I return, so please forgive my silence.

Take good care of yourselves, be sure to replenish your energy stores once in a while.

A bientôt!

Copyright: Chris McGowan