BackPacks with School Supplies for Impoverished Children via Mary’s Meals

29401648_UnknownThis backpack filled with school supplies is all ready to be collected by our Abel & Cole driver and sent on to Mary’s Meals who will transport and distribute all the donations to impoverished schoolchildren in Malawi.

Mary’s Meals was started by two Scottish brothers during the Bosnian conflict when they collected food supplies for those affected. The initiative evolved into a non-profit charity that helps provide nourishing meals for children in areas of conflict, disaster zones and poverty.

Kitchens are built and equipped near schools using local resources where possible, while school staff and parents make and serve one nourishing meal a day to the children. This in turn enables them to attend school and receive an education while also being guaranteed one hot meal a day.

They are currently helping one and a quarter million children worldwide.

It costs £13.50 to feed a child one meal a day for a year.

Many children in this country support this charity, raising funds and awareness. One young blogger, Martha at Never Seconds , has taken the charity to heart after writing reviews of her school meals and has been recognised by Jamie Oliver amd others , receiving awards for her efforts in campaigning for healthy school meals for all children.

The backpacks don’t have to be new, they can be redundant or discarded, outgrown, and you can fill them with spare supplies. I have so many coloured pencils from generations of children who have drawn and coloured in our house that I am sending some along with some notebooks, drawing paper, erasers and a ruler.

Skirts, polo shirts, shorts, sandals and flip flops, a bar of soap, toothbrush and toothpaste and a small ball can be sent too, but not toys or sweets. 

It takes hardly any effort or money but means so much to the children who receive them. 

Copyright: Chris McGowan

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A 40’s Night Out at Blackpool Tower & A Broken Arm at the Dodgems!

img_6815A couple of weeks ago, a conversation about our grandchildren’s class projects developed into an intergenerational reminiscence about Blackpool Tower.

The class had been given different geographical monuments to research: our grandson’s was Stonehenge and our grand-daughter’s was Blackpool Tower. Whilst we had no experience of the former, the memories of this seaside town and its iconic landmark flowed like uncorked vintage wine from its dusty bottle as my mum, husband and I stretched our minds back many decades, recalling incidents and accidents that had our daughter’s family laughing and shaking their heads while jotting down our slightly addled anecdotes and the somewhat rarer nuggets of useful information. (Sorry, that was rather a long sentence!)

You see, my family used to live near Blackpool and my husband’s family went there often for day trips, so to us it was just down the road. It was a Mecca for young people with its funfair, arcades, annual illuminations and of course the famous tower with its ballroom, aquarium, menagerie and circus. My brother also went to college there and I remember we all visited him in the depths of winter when I was very pregnant and spent most of the visit scouring the streets for a shop that sold the object of my craving, an Orange Maid ice lolly. No other kind would do, of course.

Some historical context

Inspired by the Eiffel Tower and opened in 1894, Blackpool Tower is 158m tall and reputed to be the 120th highest freestanding building in the world.

(Circus, left, Ballroom right. Images from the official Blackpool Tower site, link above).

The main attractions in the tower include its splendid circus ring (still in action today, but thankfully with no wild animals since 1990) and its magnificent opulent ballroom, designed by Victorian architect, Frank Matcham. This stately setting features in the BBC ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ programme when, halfway through each series, the show gets very excited with itself as it heads for the splendour of the sprung, woodblocked, 11msq ballroom. It’s a dancer’s dream and where the original ‘Come Dancing’ series of the 1970s was filmed. You can still attend daily tea dances there.

This wonderful ballroom has also witnessed less glamorous dancing as my mum testified, when she had us in stitches with her tales of going dancing at the tower on a Saturday after work with her friends.

Apparently, in the 1940s, a special train ran to Blackpool at about 5pm for ‘the couples’ and young people having a night out, dancing. She and her friends would catch the bus to the station, using the journey time to put in their metal curlers and do their make-up, then they would tie up their hair in a turban with a headscarf (like the factory workers in wartime). These curlers were kept in for the entire journey and when they arrived at the tower, they would head straight for the ladies cloakroom where the curlers were removed and they would primp and powder until glamorous enough to make an appearance on the dancefloor! She doesn’t remember what they did with their curlers while they danced. Any suggestions?

img_6814Mum remembers live dance-bands like Joe Loss and his Orchestra (I remember seeing them on tv and hearing them on the radio, a bit too old-fashioned for me even at that young age). In the interval, the now world-famous Wurlitzer organ would slowly ascend through the floor, with Reginald Dixon the renowned organist playing as it did so. He would play until the band was ready to resume. Reginald Dixon designed the tower’s second Wurlitzer and he played there for 40 years. You can still witness this phenomenon at the tea dances today.

Later, my mum and dad would go dancing together at the Tower Ballroom. She misses those days, they both loved ballroom dancing. The labels on the 78s we used to have were all marked as ‘foxtrot’ or ‘waltz’ and so on. In the late 1950’s I remember her teaching me to rock ‘n’ roll to Cliff Richard!!

When my husband reminisces, on the other hand, we steel ourselves for the latest in a long history of mishaps, usually involving lost teeth or broken bones, which more often than not occur when out with his older cousin and he should have known better. The grandsons in particular find these stories hilarious and get Grandad to repeat them to entertain their friends when he visits. My daughter and I wince at what they are absorbing by osmosis and storing away for their teen years when they will dredge them up in an effort to redirect admonition because ‘You laughed when Grandad did it!’

One of these stories involves a trip to Blackpool on the back of his cousin’s scooter at the ages of 16 & 17. You see, right there, it doesn’t get off to a promising start. From past experience, straight off the bat you know that any story with this combination of characters is not going to end well!

Along the way, they have a puncture. My husband falls off the back and breaks his arm. Unperturbed by this misadventure, they decide that, as they are more than halfway there, they would carry on. So, Cousin takes the wheel to a garage but can’t get it to inflate properly, they then decide to make use of the inner tube from the too-large spare wheel tied to the back of the vehicle!

Somehow they make it to Blackpool and have a jolly time – Husband sets great store by the fact that they won a tiny 2″ model of Blackpool Tower on the Pleasure Beach before throwing themselves about on the dodgems. With a broken arm. With torn jeans and blood running down his leg.

It is 24 hours before he thinks to go to see the nurse at work and she packs him off to Casualty to have it x-rayed! He was most upset that he had to miss his scooter test the following week because he had a cast on. I think we’ll leave that story there. (In fact, he complained and requested a rewrite because I didn’t give enough attention to the miniature model of the tower! He insists it was the highlight of the day.)

He did, however, contribute to the project by remembering the zoo which prodded Mum’s memory a bit more. She remembered those poor animals in cages: big cats, polar bears and so on. They lived in cages underneath the tower. Thankfully, no longer. She said the aquarium was wonderful, with beautiful small fish of all colours and some large evil-looking ones too! The aquarium was the first attraction in the tower since the first owner bought the existing aquarium and planned to build the tower around it.

Mum and I couldn’t remember whether we went to The Blackpool Tower Circus or not. I recall one visit to a circus as a child, but I think that might have been Billy Smart’s Circus in  a proper circus tent on the local park. The memories are confused because the clowns at the Tower Circus included the famous Charlie Cairolli and Paul, whom I remember well, but I don’t know if I saw them live there or just remember them from television.

Then there was the time we went to see Blackpool Illuminations and the queue of traffic was so long I couldn’t put my foot on the floor of the Morris Minor because it was over-heating so badly! Our son had been keeping his much younger sister awake, chatting and singing and pointing out things of interest, until we finally reached the start of the brilliantly colourful spectacle along the Promenade. We turned round to see the wonder and delight on our daughter’s face, only to discover she was fast asleep after all.

I love occasions such as these, when we share family memories.

Family history is important because it acts as an anchor. It holds people together and prevents geographically distant family members drifting apart. My grandsons rarely see my mum, they have little interaction with her other than perhaps seeing her once in 18 months and receiving a birthday card. She is deaf and becoming increasingly forgetful and confused. She doesn’t use technology other than a basic tv and an even more basic landline phone. These stories help them see her as a person, to see that they are linked by more than a £10 note in a Christmas card. They help her feel involved in their lives when she knows that these titbits will be used in their schoolwork and she enjoyed making them laugh about her curlers on the bus.

I am aware of time passing and soak up as much as I can when we chat. Nowadays, though, it is often I who provide her with the memories as she confuses different events, times or personnel in the near past or present. But the distant past is mostly still there. She laughs at the time she outwitted her dad to go off with her friend to meet their boyfriends, only to find him waiting for her at the bottom of the stairs when she snuck back in. She loves to tell how she used to go to the pictures every week on a Friday after work and my dad would pretend that he was going there too so that he could go with her. They worked for the same company and his colleagues had bet him he would have no chance asking her out!

I write everything down and one day I will put it all together so my grandchildren can read the whole story and not have to pay a fortune to genealogy sites searching for information about their ancestors like I have!

Copyright: Chris McGowan

How to Make Vegan Raw Chocolate Love Hearts & Mini Eggs

img_3122A bit late in the day, but better late than never, I hope! These were made with ingredients I won in a recent Raw Chocolate Company giveaway. We’re looking forward to having another go and substituting some of the ingredients, meanwhile these happily passed the taste test: husband and gardener friend (here to prune trees and replace broken flags) demolished them and gave them their seal of approval. (Gardener took some home for his wife!)

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My prize:

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We began with a basic recipe by Eighty20Nutrition but halved the amount, changed the nuts and greatly reduced the amount since they were chopped – we didn’t need as many as the whole pistachios in the original recipe – we also added vanilla. I would have used almond butter instead of tahini but didn’t have enough. Next time.

We also thought we might use Goldenberries next time, they are a bit tart and very fruity. You could also try dried sour cherries or cranberries (I like them infused with apple juice).

For those of you who like to spice it up, you could add a little chilli powder.

So here’s how we did it – all organic where possible, measurements very approximate, substitute like for like where you wish.

Vegan & Gluten-Free.

Ingredients

120g Cacao Butter*

About 50g Sweet Apricot Kernels,* finely chopped but not ground (you could use almonds or any other nuts)

 1/4 Cup Cacao Powder*

75g Dried Mulberries*, lightly broken up if using small moulds (reserve 1/4 Cup whole ones for the end)

150g Tahini or Almond Butter

1/4 Tsp Organic Vanilla Extract

3/4 (three-quarters) Tbsp Maple Syrup

 Method

Place the tub of cacao butter in hot water until it starts melting (you can also use cacao butter buttons). Slide it out and break up until you have the amount you need, in this case, half a tub.

Place a Pyrex bowl over a pan of hot, but not boiling, water and slowly melt the cacao butter.

When completely melted, add the remaining ingredients except the reserved mulberries, stirring until mixed in.

Blend until smooth with a stick blender.

Fold in the remaining mulberries and if setting flat in a tray some larger pieces of nuts – pistachios work well.

img_3126Spoon into silicone moulds or into a baking tray and refrigerate for a couple of hours until set. Cut into slices if set in a tray.

(The moulds are inexpensive, we found ours on Amazon).

Best eaten from the fridge as home-made chocolate melts quicker than commercial chocolate.

They also keep in the freezer.

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We made 15 hearts and 20 mini egg halves, which have gone into the freezer for Easter.

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See also further raw chocolate recipes in these posts:

 Food Matters’ ‘One Minute Slice’ Raw Chocolate Protein Bars

This Valentine’s Day Scrooge is Spreading the Love!

Fill Your Easter Basket with Home Made Vegan Raw Chocolate Eggs

Raw Treats – Recipes

*The Raw Chocolate Company

Copyright: Chris McGowan

A Word About Teenagers & ‘Energy’ Drinks

My 13 year old grandson attends a martial arts class every week.

He is very keen and although he is very young he participates with adults who all bring their bottles of Lucozade energy drinks to consume during their practice to keep up their fluids and energy levels.

As young as he is, he is very aware of the sugar content of these drinks however, he wants to fit in and felt under pressure to conform, but it bothered him. He is not alone.

There is a lot of concern among health professionals and schools at the effects of so-called energy drinks on the health and behaviour of teenage boys in particular.

These drinks can contain the caffeine equivalent of 2 cups of coffee and up to 20 teaspoons of sugar!

They are believed to be playing a significant part in the obesity crisis among young people and contribute to the growing addiction to other sugary foods in their diets. Teenage boys are particularly drawn to these types of drinks, believing they improve performance in sports or combat fatigue from poor diets and lack of sleep.

Concern is such that there have been calls from some groups to ban them from sale to under-16s.

I live on a street near to a secondary school, and every morning I see teenage boys walking to school with cans or bottles of energy drinks and packets of crisps or sweets in their hands. My grandson’s friends also bring Lucozade to school.

He however wanted an alternative drink that didn’t make him feel uncool but wasn’t chock full of unhealthy ingredients. We have persuaded him to have a recovery smoothie when he comes home after his session, but he wanted something to drink along with his water during breaks in practice that would also not set him apart too much from his mentors.

We eventually came up with Purdey’s Rejuvenate Multivitamin Fruit Drink.

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Made from fruit juice, sparkling water, with Vitamin C, B vitamins, botanical extracts and no chemicals, caffeine or refined sugar, the drink also comes in a recyclable dark glass bottle which protects the contents and is better for you and the environment than single-use plastic. It provides 1 of your 5 a day and contains no artificial sweeteners.

I don’t normally recommend commercial products unless they are organic and unprocessed, but sometimes circumstances mean you need to compromise a little bit. Purdey’s was always my go-to when out and about and feeling my blood-sugar levels getting low. It was the closest I could get in the shops to a healthy drink at the time. (Long before cold-pressed juices were sold and even before I had ever heard of them!).

Another plus when our grandson asked about this is that at the moment Sainsbury’s have them on offer at £1 each, so we bought a dozen to get him through the next term’s sessions.

I thought long and hard about writing this post.

Teenagers will always do what teenagers do and above all they want to fit in. So I hope this doesn’t disappoint my regular readers looking for home-produced, unprocessed recipes and recommendations.

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Inspiring Women: An Expression of Gratitude

Bernadette at Haddonmusings.com has invited her followers to write posts about the women who have inspired us and has generously provided a platform to leave a link on her blog ‘because we can never share too many stories about inspiring women.’

At first, I wasn’t sure how such a post would fit with the themes of my blog, but then I thought that since gratitude and appreciation are essential traits for our sense of well-being, our happiness, how we interact with others and especially our physical and emotional health, this gives me an opportunity to write about an amazing woman who shepherded me through my early years and saw something in me that I have struggled to see in myself.

So, this is my inspiring woman:

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For a long time I’ve wanted to tell the world about my primary school teacher, Evelyn. She didn’t just teach me, she supported me and influenced the person I’ve become, and continues to do so. I didn’t just like or admire her, or feel inspired by her, I wanted to be her!

I believe our class was her first posting after qualifying. We were 8 years old and just back from summer holidays, all chatting excitedly, when a young woman with fashionably-waved shoulder-length blonde hair walked into our classroom, wearing a pencil skirt and v-neck sweater. She had a ready smile and sparkling, smiley eyes. She laughed easily. I liked her immediately.

I enjoyed school and I did well, but was quite reserved and somehow this new teacher brought me out of myself. She gently pushed me to move beyond my limitations, selecting me to read the Lesson in morning assembly when it was our class’s turn to do so, listening to me practice over and over until I gained the confidence I needed, persuading me to lift my voice so they could hear me at the back;  encouraging me to try out for the choir; giving me a lead role in our class drama but not one that was too showy – I played the narrator who was a grandma, sitting in a rocking chair with her 2 grandchildren at her feet, listening to me read the bedtime story that was enacted by our classmates.

She was energetic with modern ideas. For our annual Rose Queen Day, she choreographed formation hoola hoop and I was one of the leaders! She also lead the maypole dancing and country dancing instruction – I think we must have sorely tried her patience – and inevitably on the day, the wind would get up and the pole would lean perilously, despite the heaviest boys being commandeered to sit on the base to keep it upright!

My favourite part of her class, though, was the art and craft sessions. She is responsible for all the handmade cards my family and friends now receive, all the Christmas decorations over the years – I remember her teaching us to make Chinese lanterns – the weaving, the knitting and so on.

I loved watching her write with a white and gold fountain pen in indian ink. I have always loved writing with a fountain pen, though that hardly ever happens now as the iPad has taken over my life. There is something inspiring about ink gliding over a new sheet of good-quality writing paper. It seems to produce higher-quality work. (* See my follow-up post, link below).

Somehow, it was decided that she would move up with us the following year. It was all so seamless and I was never happier. I don’t recall one bad day while in her class – but there were some amusing ones. Like when we had been studying tadpoles in a tank in the classroom which suddenly became frogs over the weekend and were jumping all over the place when we arrived on Monday morning. Then the shock we had when our 2 class mice became a dozen while our backs were turned and all these hairless pink-skinned creatures took over the cage. I didn’t like them and am squeamish to this day when it comes to rodents. I do recall her being as surprised as we were at this unexpected turn of events!

I once found a white kitten and took it home. We had two dogs and Dad said I couldn’t keep it. The poor thing spent a couple of nights in our coal house. I told Evelyn about it and she could see I was upset. She asked the class if they would ask their parents that evening if any of them could take it. One boy, Michael, announced next morning that his mum said he could give it a home. Evelyn told me to bring it to school after lunch. Of course, the white cat was now well and truly dark grey, having slept on a pile of coal for 2 nights. Evelyn was aghast and told me to wash it in the class sink and then take it out onto the field to dry out. Can you imagine this happening today?! Michael and I went to his house to deliver the cat. His mum knew nothing about it! But I left the cat there and as far as I know, that became its new home.

This school photo was taken at the same time as the imageone of Evelyn above. I remember her suggesting that I pull my ponytail round onto my shoulder. My cardigan was bright red with white spots. It was one of my favourite things to wear. But it wasn’t school uniform!

One of the things she pressed home was never to begin a sentence with ‘but’ – and I paid attention for so many years. However, having missed a rebellious youth, I arrived at a rebellious middle age and when she was proofreading my family history book, I deliberately included this grammatical faux pas, just to see if she would notice, and I do it periodically when I write to her. Did you spot it in the last paragraph? She will of course read this and smile indulgently.

We went our separate ways at the end of that year, Evelyn married and moved to another area and another school, and a year later I went on to a girls’ grammar school, having passed my 11+. I couldn’t have done it without her encouragement and gentle coaxing, giving me much-needed confidence and self-esteem, and the belief that I was capable.

We kept in touch and have continued to do so all these years, even when she lived on a different continent. We have both had our trials and tribulations, but there was always the thrill of seeing her big, bold, loopy handwriting on an envelope when the post came, with its foreign stamps and exotic tales.

Apart from when Mum and I stood outside the church to see her in her wedding dress and a chance encounter after school at a bus station when I was 11, we’ve only met twice since, in the 80’s, once at her home when my family were very young and we holidayed nearby, and once when she and her husband visited us.

Yet, she has been there watching and encouraging me all the time. We laugh about our headmaster’s crêpe-soled shoes and her dislike of his ‘slobbering labrador’ and smile about the foibles of other teachers.

She taught in various capacities all her life, including young people who had problems at school. She did yoga, swimming, Scottish country dancing, drama, made cards. She has collected other pupils along the way and helped women who were struggling to cope. Since she retired some time ago, she has joined the University of the Third Age and is so busy I hardly hear from her! Every so often I receive a breathless apologetic email and I laugh. She will be mortified when she reads that.

Did you notice the horseshoe necklace Evelyn is wearing in herimage photograph? She sent it to me some years ago, it was bought for her 21st and I remember her wearing it when she was my teacher. I was very honoured to receive it. Here it is on a new chain that my mum bought for the purpose. It is doubly special.

I shall always be grateful to this young novice teacher for having faith in me, for making me laugh, for making school such an enjoyable, positive experience, for not giving me up when she moved on. I love learning, I have an enthusiasm for it that matches hers. I challenge myself regularly. She also taught me about loyalty and the value of a true and trusting friendship. I have held others to this high standard and sadly found them wanting.

There is, however, one area where we do differ: she likes dogs and I prefer cats!

Thank you, Evelyn, for everything.

*A Surprise Christmas Present

Ps. Take a look at Bernadette’s blog to read about other Inspiring Women – link at the top of this post.

Five inspiring legends on stage together (if you’re reading via email, click on to the blog to watch the video):

Copyright: Chris McGowan