Monday Meditation: A January Day in the English Countryside

Originally published in January 2017, now updated.

A few pics from our impromptu afternoon out when we were in need of fresh air and space after being cooped up for some time. It was a grey but fine day with no icy winds to sting our faces and make our eyes water, unlike the storms currently battering the UK a whole year later. We did the same walk this week and when I compare the views, it is noticeable how much greener, calmer and more fertile-looking the land was last year. This year there is a lot of mud and debris from all the winds and rain. I’ll be posting the latest photographs in a companion piece later.

27536688_unknown

27536624_unknown

Lots of crab apples!

27536720_unknown

A gnarly old tree, one of many!

Does anyone know what plant these grey pods belong to?

 

They look like they are from a climbing plant, they were growing next to some lovely yellow winter jasmine overhanging a garden wall and had a few small pink flowers like blossom on their branches. They look like grey broad beans! (A year later, there were hardly any pods, and what there were looked black and shrivelled from the frost).

27536768_unknown

27536848_unknown

An English country lane. We saw a fat grey squirrel leap from the bare twigs of a tree on the right hand side of the road into the large pine tree opposite, very athletic! Such a contrast between the lush green conifers on the left and the bare-twigged hawthorns on the right. We were accompanied by a robin we saw a few times down this lane, but he was a little camera-shy, he kept flying off before I could take his photo.

Some farm animals on a smallholding, the grey goose did not like our presence one little bit!

 

This poor goat was looking at us and bleating the whole time, both when we passed the first time and again an hour later. Then we realised it was in exactly the same position. It was clearly quite distressed and we realised it was tethered so tightly it could neither turn around, lie down or move in anyway from this position. I can’t stop thinking about how disstressed it was and how much stress there must be on its joints etc. having to remain in that position. There was no-one around to do anything about it.

When we retraced our steps exactly 12 months later, there was no sign of any of the animals, the land looked abandoned; they could have been in the out-buildings, but we heard no sound.

27536816_unknownMore crab apples! This time in a small woodland.

(None at all 12 months later).

 A lonely glove. This one’s for the Tom Hanks’ collection! Did you know he collects photos of discarded/lost gloves?

27536640_unknown

27536656_unknown

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Advertisements

Monday Meditation: Lilleshall Nature Trail Part II – By Day

I know that many of you are recovering from Thanksgiving, are in the final week of preparations for other family get-togethers at this time, or coping with the after-effects of winter weather or fires, but I hope you will accompany me on this week’s walk in the sunshine, take a few deep breaths, admire the landscape and recharge your batteries for a few moments.

I wrote in a previous post about our spooky night-time discovery of the new nature trail around the estate that is home to our National Sports Centre. We first saw it – barely! – in the gloom of the early evening and as I  promised, this post highlights the trail on a beautifully sunny autumn day 4 weeks later.  

The day was perfect for a walk: crisp and bright, the colours and the light perfect for photographs. It didn’t take long for us to realise that we had previously only experienced about a quarter of the trail, having missed the signs to other parts due to the darkness that had quickly descended.

The ducks look like they hadn’t moved since our last visit!

29936896_UnknownWe visited after lunch and despite the long shadows and bare branches in places, the sun is so full of himself, some of the photos look like they were taken in summer.

29936080_UnknownThe afternoon shadows of the trees stretch across the lush green lawns, but the sun illuminates the bright green trail sign at the entrance.

These next photos are some of my favourites, featuring more grand trees, with the sunlight showing off some glorious reds and oranges against a wide expanse of blue sky. There are several places on the trail where you can’t see around a dark corner and then you are treated to a wonderful view of the estate in the sunlight, or the path ahead is a stunning carpet of red leaves with that lovely autumn scrunch as you step across, or a patch of squelchy soft mud that kids like to stomp about in.

 

 

29936496_UnknownAs well as snaking through all the breathtaking grounds by follies and flowers, the trail takes you through dark woodland with lots of nesting boxes for all kinds of birds, bees and bugs, a bug hotel, and boggy areas for amphibians, all well-signed with lots of bright easy-to-see pointers and information boards.

This is the entrance inviting you in to explore the trail, you have no idea where it will take you – the last time we venture in, we disappeared into the dead of night!

29936144_Unknown29936752_Unknown29936816_Unknown29936272_Unknown

29936704_Unknown

Here’s the ingenious bug hotel made from all sorts of natural materials and recycled items.

29936416_Unknown

29936400_Unknown

These next exhibits made us stop in our tracks! Not real unfortunately, although there are several places around the grounds where you can see evidence of their presence.

29936784_Unknown29936848_Unknown

This one, however, is very real:

29936656_Unknown

Fortunately, we have very mild-mannered snakes here – my niece in Colorado recently posted a picture on Instagram of my recently-emigrated brother and sister-in-law on a hike with her 4 year old son, they were standing in front of a sign advising Caution: Rattlesnake area!

(I have never seen a snake in the wild, despite living in the countryside for most of my life and having walking holidays in Scotland). 

The trail would be fun with children, but anyone who is able-bodied would enjoy it. It is a great idea and well set-out.  There are tree trunks and fallen tree limbs to scramble over, wide spaces of grass to race about on, while above you stretches the wide open blue sky or the arching branches of majestic trees.

Sometimes you think you’ve come to the end and then you notice another sign on the opposite side of a wide area of lawn or pointing down a narrow track into another part of the woods. But you can exit at any point.

I loved every minute of our revisit to the nature trail, although my husband was disappointed we couldn’t find the way to the café – it was the only part that wasn’t well-signed!

I left one of my stones on a tree trunk near the bug house for a child to find on a future visit.

29936368_Unknown

I hope you enjoyed our  walk in the woods for this week’s Monday Meditation.

You might also like:

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

Monday Meditation: Mindfulness and Rock Painting

Monday Meditation : Gratitude & Faith in Nature

Copyright: Chris McGowan

A Magical Winter Wonderland – Snow Pics

IMG_4286It’s been snowing for 4 days so far and we have now had 6″ fall in our garden. Every morning I open the curtains to another magical display of Nature’s talents and it takes my breath away. This was taken the first morning, the sky was very grey, a sign of things to come.

IMG_4342I am fortunate, I don’t have to struggle into work on icy roads or wait around for cancelled commuter trains, I have enough food in for a nuclear winter and I have someone who can brave the cold air and slippery paths to bring in the wood for the stove. I can sit back with a cup of warm golden milk* or chocolate and just marvel at the landscape framed by my windows.

IMG_4299

I know many people struggle in this weather, especially when the snow melts and then freezes. My mum can’t leave the house, a fall would be disastrous given her age and distance from family, and I can’t go out the door and risk a fall given my back issues. But for now, I am enjoying the view.

30465904_Unknown

The sun is shining today, making the snow sparkle like diamonds, the moon is still up too and the snow was still pristine when I took the photos (until my husband went in search of kindling, he’s not have an easy time lighting the fire).

Here are some photos taken over the last weekend mostly from indoors I’m afraid, too treacherous to venture out. We hardly ever have snow here so to have so much for so long is quite a bonus, my apologies if you have too much of it or you’re enjoying your summer! My friend in Perth showed her almost 3 year old daughter our snow pics and she is now watching out of her window waiting for the snow to arrive for Christmas – it’s 30C!

Yesterday at dusk:

IMG_4320

IMG_4323

This morning:  IMG_4332

30465968_Unknown

30465984_Unknown

30466032_Unknown

30466112_Unknown

30466128_Unknown

30466160_Unknown

IMG_4331

The bonus of a snow weekend meant we bought a (tiny but cute) tree, decorated it and put up the lights. It all feels cosy and Christmasy now. We just need a few children to build a snowman and marvel at the lights. But we have to wait a couple of weeks for that. I finished all the cards for posting and the Christmas rocks had been delivered the day before the snow came.

Christmas, we’re all ready!

*Golden milk: gently warm some nut milk, tiger nut milk or other plant milk with some fresh ginger and turmeric, stirring all the time until hot enough to drink. Strain and add a teaspoon of maple syrup if liked.

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:

29669920_Unknown

29669824_Unknown29669872_Unknown29669984_Unknown

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:

29670080_Unknown

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:

29670176_Unknown

 

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:

29670240_Unknown

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: 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.

30201536_Unknown

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.

30201968_Unknown

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

Monday Meditation: The Edwardian Gardens of Victoria Park, Stafford – & Lots of Ducks!

29934240_Unknown

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.

29933776_Unknown

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.

29934000_Unknown29934208_Unknown29934032_Unknown29933808_Unknown

 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!

29934112_Unknown29934192_Unknown29934096_Unknown29934080_Unknown

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.

29934176_Unknown

Copyright: Chris McGowan

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.

29668960_UnknownE29669152_Unknown29668944_Unknown29669088_Unknown29668992_Unknown29669072_Unknown29669104_Unknown

 

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.

29669232_Unknown29669264_Unknown29669344_Unknown29669392_Unknown

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.

29669440_Unknown

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

Invisible Disabilities Week – My Story

IMG_4186I just learned today that it is Invisible Disabilities Week. As someone who has spent her whole adult life with an invisible disability, I thought I would share this ‘short’  anecdote on what it is like to look strong and healthy but struggle with a pain and disability that is not obvious to the casual observer. I know I promised short, but this wasn’t planned and you know me, this could go on a bit, for which I apologise in advance – but there are some nice photos too (and yes, that is a packet of crisps in front of me!)

Many moons ago, in a county far, far away, I had a prolapsed disc that refused to heal. I was in my early twenties with a toddler son, had spent a couple of months in bed on the advice of my doctor but could not get moving. I did, however, read the complete Thomas Hardy oeuvre and while doing so, discovered my son was teaching himself to read when he looked at a paragraph containing lots of t’s, p’s and s’s and announced, ‘Look, Mummy, that’s like Top of the Pops!’ (A popular BBC chart programme).

 I had three weeks in hospital on traction where even hospital staff would leave my meals by the side of my bed while I lay flat on my back unable to reach, because I was young and they were preoccupied with the older patients. Eventually, I was sent home with a steel reinforced surgical corset and instructions not to spend a lot of time sitting. A few weeks later, I had my check-up appointment at the hospital. There had been no improvement. Despite the ‘no sitting’ command, I was kept waiting – and sitting – for two hours for a five minute chat that ended with ‘come back in a few weeks’.

Afterwards, I had to wait in reception for a sitting ambulance to take me home. Unfortunately, it was almost lunchtime but there was one ambulance leaving before the lunch-break and I inwardly heaved a sigh of relief. I was in excruciating pain, all the while knowing that things were going to get worse not better for my trip to the doctor (a constant theme in my life) and all this sitting was doing me more harm than good.

A driver came over. He had one seat left. He looked at the elderly lady next to me with a stick. She had told me she had been to the audio clinic to have her hearing checked. He looked at me. Young, smiling, long shiny hair. He chose the elderly lady.

I wanted to cry. I didn’t know how I was going to get through the next hour, possibly longer, before another ambulance left. Not only was I in pain, but despite the corset, I didn’t have enough strength to sit upright, I kept tilting.

I eventually made it home about 3 p.m., having left home at 8.30 a.m. Up until that point, I hadn’t sat for more than half an hour at a time in several months. The pain was so severe I almost passed out before I could get upstairs to bed. My poor excited son had to make do with the briefest of hugs before the painkillers took hold and knocked me out.

That was a long time ago. During the interim decades, things have improved and got worse and improved in a monotonous recycled pattern including surgery, torturous treatments and therapies, car accidents and so on. My overall health is much improved since I changed my diet and lifestyle, gave up prescription drugs that never helped and always made things worse, and took my health into my own hands. However, despite seasonal improvements during warm weather, I have never regained my strength and full mobility.

IMG_4182And yet… just yesterday, my elderly mum was lauding my efforts to look after her during her stay at the weekend, saying ‘It’s lovely to have my daughter back, back to normal!’ A smile and a talent for acting work wonders in reassuring others, but they also help make a disability invisible and raise expectations.

29935072_UnknownOn Saturday, we took Mum out to see the barges on the canal. She had a lovely time, sitting in the sun eating ice-cream – where unexpectedly, an owl and a hawk where among the patrons! – happy that the three of us were able to have a rare outing together. I usually stay at home.

2B08A8EE-11B0-47AE-9699-75586BE4C7BC

29935168_UnknownShe went home next morning and I spent the rest of the day sorting out all her files (with the help of a green smoothie of course).

This morning, I couldn’t get out of bed. My whole body felt like I had been kicked by a mule, my back was on fire, I had no strength, I was exhausted despite twelve hours in bed. I couldn’t get dressed. When I did get up, about 11.30 a.m., I sat with a heated pad on my back while my husband brought me herbal anti-inflammatory drops and an anti-inflammatory ginger and turmeric juice.

Two hours later, I am dressed and writing this post. I will soon be making phonecalls on my mother’s behalf. I will call her to see if she is ok after the journey home. I won’t of course tell her how I’m feeling.

As someone recently said to me, we have no idea what is going on in other people’s lives. If someone is rude, irritable, in a bad mood, unwilling to contribute help to some event you’re organising or collect your kids from school etc. please bear in mind they may be suffering a devastating migraine attack or a flare-up of rheumatoid arthritis; they may have an undiagnosed brain tumour, they may have insufferable chronic pain, MS, ME, or any number of invisible conditions. If they are behaving ‘inappropriately’, they may have Asperger’s, anxiety, dementia, having a panic attack, depression or on the verge of going into a diabetic coma.

And most of all, just because someone with a disability or chronic illness can do something one day, doesn’t mean at all that they can do it repeatedly, or even ever again. My mum thinks that everything I do when she is here is what I do every day. She has no appreciation of the superhuman effort I make when she – or anyone else – is here, to make her stay comfortable, to give her something to tell her friends about, some nice memories. But once she has left, I am back in bed, desperate for rest and relief.

Please note: This was written on the spur of the moment as a plea on behalf of others, not for sympathy. I am used to the ups and downs of my life and make the most of it. I am a positive person who laughs a lot and I enjoy seeing Mum doing things she wouldn’t otherwise get to do and I know it means a lot to her that I join in. 

Ps It did get a bit long, didn’t it? Oops…

Feeling Overwhelmed: World Mental Health Day

Monday Meditation: Osteopathy, Rest & Recuperation in Nature

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

The Mood Booster: Raw Chocolate Mulberry, Banana & Walnut Smoothie

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Monday Meditation: We Finally Discover Shifnal Millenium Sensory Garden

When I wrote this post, I didn’t realise that it would be Invisible Disabilities Week when it was published; as someone who has spent her entire adulthood with an invisible disability, I am pleased to highlight a community sensory garden we discovered on one of our many meandering drives this summer.

29398928_UnknownSome time ago, I wrote about unplanned detours while travelling through our local Bermuda triangle (see below for links). On our first detour, I had noticed some public gardens. I thought we could take my elderly mother and I wanted to check it out to see if it was easily accessible, as I hadn’t been able to see an entrance. I didn’t know the name so hadn’t attempted to look it up. I knew it was near the railway bridge and a little terrace of cottages, how hard could it be? No matter how many times we tried to retrace our steps on the way to other nearby destinations, we could not find it.

This time, however, we made a special trip to find it once and for all. Having Googled ‘public gardens, Shifnal’, I came up with Shifnal Millenium Sensory Garden. We looked at the map, noted the street and off we went. I wasn’t at all sure this was it, but thought it was worth checking out anyway.

 True to form, despite having directions, we went around in circles several times before spotting it. We had been looking for gates and a car park, but there aren’t either. You have to park on the street, which is not ideal when the gardens are structured for people with mobility issues, sight or hearing impairment. It’s a busy road and there are few spaces, with no drop down pavement. However, it was a weekday when we visited, and therefore quiet, so we had no problem parking.

29399792_UnknownThe gardens are a community initiative, locally funded and run, quite small but having the appearance of being much bigger as they merge seamlessly into the vast grounds surrounding St Andrew’s church, which comprises lawns, the cemetery and woodland. In fact, the church had provided some land for these award-winning  gardens.

The old church surrounded by tall trees makes a stunning backdrop when you first enter the gardens:

29399008_Unknown

Inside the entrance, there is a sensory map:

29399776_Unknown

It was late summer when we visited and a warm but cloudy day, so the gardens are not really shown to their best advantage in the photos. There were mainly large, showy, bright yellow, pink and red begonias in raised beds and hydrangeas in shrubby areas, other wilder and darker wooded glens, tall grasses and ferns. The geraniums had finished flowering, unfortunately. The pathways were either grassed, pressed pea gravel, or block paving, easily accessible for wheelchairs or people with walkers or sticks. Occasionally you come across a sculpture.

29398816_Unknown29398832_Unknown29398864_Unknown29399744_Unknown29398912_Unknown29399728_Unknown29398848_Unknown29399760_Unknown

There is a peaceful air about the grounds; there are benches where you can sit and listen to birdsong or watch well-fed, healthy-looking squirrels migrating from the churchyard, digging up acorn stashes or chasing each other around trees.

29399200_Unknown29399280_Unknown

29399440_Unknown29399488_Unknown29399376_Unknown

The church grounds are vast, with silver birch trees, oak and yew, Scots pine, hollies and conifers. Some of the older areas of the cemetery are overgrown and unkempt, a haven for wildlife, while other parts of the grounds are immaculate and surround a beautiful Anglo-Saxon church, which unfortunately was locked when we were there so we couldn’t take a look inside.

We intend to return next summer to take a proper look inside this ancient village church, but for now here are photos of the exterior:

29399024_Unknown29399104_Unknown29399136_Unknown29399152_Unknown29399184_Unknown

We spent a long time here, until late in the afternoon, each with our own thoughts, meandering about the old graves, around the church, under the trees or just sitting watching the squirrels. We could hear a lot of birds, the trees were so tall though that we couldn’t see most of them, but it was lovely to sit with eyes closed listening to such a melodious soundtrack in this woodland oasis just yards away from a busy road.

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

Monday Meditation – A Stroll Around Hodnet Hall Gardens

An Impromptu Mother’s Day Adventure or How We Survived the Vortex that is Our Local Bermuda Triangle …

Ducks, Daves and Detours

 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).

A2083E35-A20F-45CE-902D-A15E1181EE94

My second crop are a little more adventurous:

29668624_Unknown

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:

29933440_Unknown

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