Monday Meditation: Making the Most of Autumn Leaves

29936192_UnknownIf it weren’t for the cold gusting winds, autumn would be my favourite season. We went for a walk in Lilleshall* again the other afternoon on a very blustery day, the wind so strong at times it almost blew us along. I didn’t take any photos because I’ve written often about Lilleshall and will be posting again soon (this picture is from a few weeks ago). The colours of the trees and the carpets of leaves were breathtaking and when the wind gusted, a shower of pale yellow silver birch leaves swirled about us, it was like walking through autumnal confetti. I just wanted to take it all in and not spend all my time framing shots with my camera. Sometimes I feel like I only have the experience secondhand through my photos afterwards rather than in the moment. This once, I wanted to take my time and drink it all up, really feel the wind in my hair, absorb the colours, take in the sounds of the trees, the ducks (all 13 of them) and the birds.

I’ve had a break from online activity recently and have not only been painting Christmas rocks, but also cards using various leaves as templates. It’s a relaxing, peaceful activity and takes no skill, just poster paint or thinned acrylic paint and a paintbrush. Children love to do leaf prints, many of the younger ones do them at school and I remember doing them with my young children.

IMG_4208One of the leaves I used is from the cherry tree I had planted for my dad and brother in our local cemetery – pictured here on a beautifully sunny autumn day a few weeks ago, I tried to catch the squirrel at the bottom of the tree but it ran off as I focused the camera.  I made cards from this leaf for upcoming family birthdays. It’s the top left in the photo below.

Here are some of my efforts:

30201488_UnknownWash and dry the leaves and flatten them between paper under a heavy object to smooth them out.

With fairly thin but not too runny paint, cover the front of the leaf, working the paint into all the veins.

Turn it over and gently position onto your paper or card, pressing down all over, especially the edges, trying not to smudge it.

Gently ease the leaf from the paper and if there are any gaps in the images, you can touch up with a thin brush.

I added some glitter glue to the holly ones when they were dried as I’m going to use them as Christmas cards. If you enlarge the picture below, you should be able to see the glitter.

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No two are ever the same, which makes them all individual and special to those who receive them.

My craft room is getting a little crowded what with all the rocks and cards, my collection of leaves and conkers, my paints and pens, but it is a quiet, calming and light space that overlooks the garden and is warmed by the sun. Virginia Woolf famously said that every woman should have ‘A room of one’s own’, I have waited years to have this space, but finally after all its many previous incarnations, I now have mine.

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PS The smoothie is Pomegranate Chia Pudding. Yum!

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

If you like country estates, you’ll love this!

Ducks Crossing! In Which We Take a Break from House Refurbishment

Copyright: Chris McGowan

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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

Bees, Baskets & Begonias: Summer Flowers At Last!

imageChance would be a fine thing! We haven’t had any consistent sun in weeks. However, many of you were kind enough to appreciate my post I Love My Garden! and I thought I would take a break from posting healthy recipes and do another post for the spirit, showing the gardens now that the summer flowers are finally coming out. It has been a long month of deluge after deluge, which has fed the weeds and flattened many of the flowers, as well as sapping our souls, but it is refreshing and uplifting to look out of the windows and see all the colours and the bees! They love the pink and purple flowers and are so busy at the moment – if you look carefully you can see them.

If you’re viewing this via email, you’ll need to click onto the blog to see the slideshow.

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The sharp-eyed amongst you will spot that the title is something of a misnomer: because it has been bucketing down with rain, the begonias are in fact still in the greenhouse waiting to be planted! They are my husband’s domain and he has been tied to a paintbrush in the interim, struggling to cover blue tester paint patches with white – did you know you’re not supposed to put test samples directly onto the walls? imageNo, after years of doing exactly that with no problems covering it with the chosen colour, we now have a large blue ‘m’ in the middle of our chimney breast showing through cream stain cover and white emulsion! Apparently, you’re supposed to put the test paint on a piece of card and hold it up to the wall! Really?! How is that going to give you a realistic image if your wall is a different colour or texture?! Don’t say I never teach you anything.

It’s been a trying few days.

We need some sun!

Hope you enjoyed the show and if you have a surplus of the yellow stuff, we’d be extremely grateful if you could send a bit our way. Thank you.

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Ode to Our Piano: Guess What?

(For Parts 1 and 2 see Ode to Our Piano and What Happened Next)

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Okay, so where we? Oh yes, our beloved old piano moved house yesterday to take up residence with a family of six children.

Except…

Make a brew and pull up a pew, this could take a while, the old lady hasn’t quite finished her story yet…

Last night I went bed sad at waving goodbye to our friend of 33 years but consoling myself – as lots of you have reminded me – that she will be given lots of love and attention in her new environment. When I got up today, I peeked in the ‘piano’ room and my heart skipped a beat. It looks cavernous, not helped by the fact that the shelves and their contents have also been removed while the floor is replaced and the room decorated. But, that’s ok, it will be alright in the end. We can get on with it now that we don’t have to work out how to manage the piano in amongst all the upheaval.

We went about our day, ‘discussing’ paint for the better part of it – our daughter is coming this weekend to paint the garage too (she’s bored, poor thing, so we thought we’d find her something useful to do or she’ll start decluttering again and they barely have a seat to sit on after the last one!) HB wants Forest Green ie the same colour he always does it, I want Sage, but there’s a £33 difference in price so guess who wins – again! (I’m keeping my powder dry, cos there’s the ‘piano’ room to come, haha!)

Anyway, back to the story…HB was about to go and buy the paint when I could hear him talking on the phone and his tone was downbeat, then I heard him say ‘I’m very sorry to hear that, I’ll speak to you soon.’ My stomach lurched. Those words usually mean only one thing, but as I’d spoken to everyone in my family in the last 24 hours, I realised it could mean only one *other* thing: a problem with the piano. It doesn’t play. It broke in the transfer. The daughter doesn’t like it. It’s too old and ugly. The husband hates it, it takes up too much room.

He trudges up the stairs to where I am resting in anticipation of the onslaught of testosterone later today when my grandsons descend on us. I hear his sigh and prepare myself for the words that are sure to come out of his mouth…

It doesn’t fit.

Come again? IT DOESN’T FIT?!!!

It doesn’t fit.

WHY DIDN’T ANYONE THINK TO TAKE A TAPE MEASURE AND MAKE SURE IT WOULD FIT?!

(I am a little overwrought by now)

They had to put it in the lounge, not the room they’d planned on becoming *their* piano room, and the neighbours have complained! Already!

‘Would you like it back?!’

ARE YOU KIDDING?!

DID THEY NOT TELL YOU HOW HARD IT WAS TO GET IT OUT AND HOW MUCH PAINT WENT WITH IT??

(Stressed and Distressed don’t adequately describe my demeanour now)

DO YOU NOT UNDERSTAND HOW HARD IT WAS TO LET IT GO AND NOW YOU WANT US TO GO THROUGH IT ALL AGAIN?!

Ok, calm down, Chris. All is not lost. She is just making sure.

She understood that a second person had asked us about the piano after she had said she wanted it. Yes, yes, that’s right! The lady was so disappointed when we called her last night to confirm it had gone. Yes, we’ll give you her number. Oh, but, wait a second, we told her there was one being advertised in the local newsagent’s and she was going to check it out. We’ll phone her and see.

SHE STILL WANTS IT!

Oh, thank you, thank you…

She has two children who play saxophone and want to have piano lessons at school but don’t have an instrument to practise on. Plus, she also came round a few weeks ago to donate some garden gloves for our Garden Glove Love collection, so that’s reassuring, too.

There’s a tiny snag, just a small, teeny tiny one: her husband wasn’t keen the first time she came to ask, but she had cajoled him into agreeing. She would have to go through it all again.

And so we wait…

See Ode to Our Piano – Flowers & Phew! for the final installment!

Copyright: Chris McGowan