Happy Two Year Blog Anniversary!

imageI’ve just had a notification from WordPress saying it’s my 2 year anniversary today! I remember being so very nervous of putting myself into the blogosphere, never having even read a blog before. I barely used social media, having left Facebook a couple of years before and only recently joined Twitter, more to follow the news and a few sports people than to actually write anything insightful.

I had written a few recipes for The Raw Chocolate Company (for free) and my son suggested I start my own blog. It must have taken me 2 or 3 months to pluck up the courage and then to look into how to go about it. I had a few false starts with other companies, usually to do with incompatibility with iPads, before I tried WordPress. I floundered around trying to choose a theme – I had no idea what that meant – and eventually discovered the Blogging 101 course, which was very helpful and was where I met some of my first followers.

I soon found myself staring at a blank screen awaiting my first words of wisdom! I wrote what eventually became my Home page and my About Me pages, lost and rewrote them several times, eventually realising that what was supposed to be my first post was in fact several posts and resembled a novel. I was still writing in essay mode. It took a long time to find a more informal style for blogging – and I still haven’t mastered brevity!

imageFinally I wrote Pears But No More Parsnips: In Which I Confront My Parsnip Phobia! as a way of explaining the title of my blog and introducing my readers to juicing at the same time. I thought it was worth providing a link to this original post so that new followers can have an opportunity to read it and stop puzzling over my name 🙂

At the outset, I thought I would be answering questions about juicing and health. I thought my posts would be responses to requests from people seeking information about food- and health-related issues. I certainly wasn’t going to reveal anything personal. I didn’t even have a profile picture. In my blogging innocence, I never imagined I would have to come up with self-generated topics and send them off into what seemed like a vacuum, in the hope that someone would read them. I also never intended to write recipes! I didn’t want to write a food blog. It’s been hard marrying the two together and finding a balance. At times, I have felt that the balance has shifted too far over into food and away from health and wellbeing, hence the introduction of Monday Meditation, posts on mindfulness and creativity, kindness and gratitude, as well as the occasional post about struggles with my own health issues and about chronic pain, mental health and disability.

For a long time I had difficulty finding a balance between producing enough to keep people interested and not letting posting schedules take over my life. I feel more relaxed about my output now, but I do occasionally have a bit of a panic when my ideas/draft folder shows signs of haemorrhaging!

Thank you to everyone who has supported my endeavours, I never thought I would have a core of regular readers still cheering me on from the sidelines two years later. It has made a big difference to my life and I have ‘met’ so many people from such different places and walks of life. I am truly grateful. Namaste.

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Copyright: Chris McGowan

The Sunshine Blogger Award: Who, Me? My Response…

img_6613Many months ago, I was paying another visit to Adam at Weird Weekends, happily reading his latest weird post (he makes me laugh so much); I was minding my own business, when my eyes nearly popped out of my head: he only went and nominated me for The Sunshine Blogger Award! I’m not sure what the criteria are for being nominated, but I hope that I spread a little nourishing warmth with my vegan, gluten-free recipes and bring a little joy with my anecdotes. There’s nothing like a bit of sunshine to perk you up, give you strength (all that vitamin D) and bring a smile to your face.

It’s taken me so long, however, to respond to Adam that now I have received another nomination from Meena at Tingle-UR-Tastebuds and I hope she doesn’t mind that I am responding to both in one post – these award speeches really do take a lot of working on!

Thank you to both Adam and Meena, I am very happy you like my blog and that my posts don’t just disappear into the ether unread and unheeded. Please go visit their blogs, Adam makes everything he can turn his hand to: cheese, wine, hair-crafts, water-colours, and writes in a drily amusing style while Meena has a passion for cooking Indian recipes influenced by her mum and mother-in-law’s cooking and all the places she’s lived.

As in most things, you’re not just handed something on a plate when given a blogger award (see how I’m trying to make this relevant to my theme?), you have to sing for your supper, or in this case answer a few questions about yourself put forward by the nominee. I am sure Adam thought long and hard about these and I am already squirming in my seat at the prospect of people reading my responses. I would make a terrible celebrity, how do they cope with all those interviews asking increasingly intimate and often inane questions?

Here goes (my answers may or may not be the truth, the whole truth or completely made up!):

When was the first time you fell in love and was it “true” love?

Well, I won’t say what age I was because it might give a clue as to who his girlfriend was at the time, and I don’t want him or her to be embarrassed – you know what the tabloids are like – but, it was Paul McCartney. And of course it was true love!

What are you truly passionate about? 

Education. In all its senses.

What is one of your “guilty” pleasures?

I’m not sure I should own up to this, but once in about every 6 months or so, I just have to have a packet of crisps! Just a small one. I eat each crisp individually, slowly and savour the salty crispness. Nothing fancy. None of these weird flavour combinations. Just plain and salty.  I can’t ever take a handful and gobble them down. I enjoy each and every one. And then I get indigestion and don’t want any more for another 6 months until I have forgotten how they make me feel!

What is the thing that “bugs” or “bothers” you the most?

Everything! You’ll think twice about asking this question again! Injustice. Inequality. Poverty. Bullying.

1. People having the wool pulled over their eyes. Government bulldozing a policy through that no-one wants (eg fracking) regardless of the potential consequences and growing evidence of environmental damage and human sickness from those who already have it literally in their back yards. Phew! Glad I got that one off my chest.

2. Those cellophane ring seals on pots of humous that I can never break.

3. Drips of tea on the kitchen counter.

4. People letting their dogs bark outside endlessly first thing in the morning and last thing at night. Do they have a gene that allows them to desensitise to relentless barking and yapping?

I’ll stop now…

5. Oh, and for once and for all I have not had an industrial accident, nor a car accident nor PPI nor do I need loft insulation, cavity wall insulation, double glazing or a new driveway – oh, right, actually I do need a new driveway but not from someone knocking on my door with a spare few tons of tarmac round the corner!

Can I have a cup of tea now? I’m quite exhausted. See, you feel all flattered and fluttery when you see your name up in lights on someone else’s blog, but there are always consequences … I’ll have green please. Tea that is. With jasmine. Thank you. Oh, and I like it so it nearly takes the enamel off my teeth. (I was brought up in t’north, tha knows).

What was your most embarrassing moment?

Oh my goodness. Do I really have to answer this one? I can’t. I still shudder. So instead, I’ll tell you number two most embarrassing moment: out with friends in a local pub, mostly guys I’d grown up with and a couple of their girlfriends I think, whom I didn’t know well, get up to leave as a group, chatting away, I’m leading, talking to whoever was behind me, I stretch out my arm without looking to push open the door. And walk straight into the gents. All the guys I was with knew what was happening and didn’t say a word. They all thought it was hilarious. The gents door was right next to the exit door. I’m extremely short-sighted. Mortified.

Who do you admire? Why?

Anyone struggling against the odds. Anyone in public service. Anyone who can cut through it all and make sense without appealing to the lowest common denominator. Anyone who can make me laugh!

What one thing do you want to change?

I’d like to wake up one morning and find this whole US election/Brexit/Putin debacle was really a nightmare and that everyone had gone back to their kind, considerate and compassionate selves.

What is the strangest dream you have ever had?

I have weird dreams all the time, always very involved and vivid and involving either me packing but never being able to fit all my books in, lions in the house (!) or not being able to find my room on campus or classroom in school.

What is your favorite season and why?

Haha this changes with the seasons! If you ask me when it’s stifling hot (not that I remember the last time), I’d probably say Autumn because I love all the colours, the log fire and fairy lights; if you ask me in Autumn when I’m shivering because I refuse to have the heating on, I’d probably say Spring because I love seeing the bulbs coming up and and hearing the birds sing.

What is your most unique quality or trait?

I am terrible at making decisions and usually end up buying two of something because I can’t decide on a colour etc.

My nominees: these are people who either have great recipes, make me laugh or inspire me with their well-crafted original writing, sometimes all at the same time. I tried to choose people who didn’t already have a cabinet full of award nominations.

 Masala Vegan

Unmeasured Journeys

My Husband and I

Miss Sissinghurst

oh its only steven

Long Player Kitchen

Ask a Teenage Aspie

Our Green Nation

Paris Here and There

Questions:

What would you say to your 11 year old self?

What’s your favourite meal of the day?

Who would you like to play you in a film about your life?

What’s lurking under your bed?

What motivates you?

Who or what tries your patience?

What’s your favourite smoothie?

What’t your favourite poem?

Tell us a joke!

Copyright: Chris McGowan

A Surprise Christmas Present

Today, I was minding my own business, helping my husband make up the Christmas Ocado order when the postman arrived. There were the usual cards and statements,  but also a small padded bag. I looked at the back and saw the name and address of my old friend and former primary school teacher, Evelyn. Many of you will have read my tribute to her earlier on in the year. She had emailed that she had sent me card and so I was expecting to see her writing any day soon, but not on a padded bag.

I opened it and out fell a hard object wrapped in bubblewrap. The envelope had originally come from a bead and crystal shop and I thought she had sent me a crystal for Christmas. I carefully unwrapped it and to my astonishment out fell a very old fountain pen and propelling pencil – do you remember those?!

I couldn’t speak. I sat there with my mouth wide open and nothing coming out. When it did it was ‘Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god’ on a loop (my apologies to anyone offended by this) accompanied by my husband’s ‘What, what, WHAT?! I imagine we looked like a couple of goldfish in a bowl.

img_2735I held in my hand the very fountain pen and pencil Evelyn had used to mark the class register, write reports and letters to our parents, the same white and gold pen I had coveted all these years. I was only thinking about it quite recently and wondering if she still had it. And here was the set, looking a little the worse for wear, sitting in the palm of my hand. I was in shock.

This means so much to me, I don’t have the words to explain.

I looked inside the bag for a note, but all I found was a Christmas card wishing us a Merry Christmas and a Happy 2017 followed by the words ‘Over half a century now!’

Nothing about the pen and pencil. I desperately wanted to speak to her. I tried Skyping but there was no response. She is probably at her sister’s for Christmas and I will have to contain my excitement and inquisitiveness until the New Year!

I don’t quite know why I was so fascinated by this pen. I loved the gold pattern on it and I loved the black Indian ink Evelyn filled it with. I was 9 years old and this was my first experience of a fountain pen at close quarters. I was inspired by it. I loved her handwriting, big and loopy, very informal, arty and friendly. I would recognise it anywhere. To me, this pen set was symbolic of her youth and style, it was modern, unusual, fun. It is so slim and light. It also looked very posh to my impoverished eyes!

I have always loved using a fountain pen and I can’t wait to clean this one out and see if it still works. Wouldn’t that be something, after all these years?!

Needless to say, my husband had to finish off the shopping list all on his own, he didn’t get any sense out of me for the rest of the day!

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Happy Anniversary To Me – & A Big ‘Thank You’ To You!

img_2202Today, we are 1.

I’ve just received a message from WordPress, it seems it’s a whole year since I registered and tentatively, nervously began blogging. I had no idea what I was doing or if I was doing the right thing. It had been suggested a couple of times some time before that I write a blog, but I couldn’t imagine what I would have to say that was of any interest to anyone else.

Two things changed. I had been contributing recipes to The Raw Chocolate Company  blog for a few months when my son suggested I set up my own blog and I had also completed a couple of courses in raw nutrition and naturopathic nutrition. Now I felt I had something to say! I hoped I could pass on the knowledge and experience I had gained through decades of researching food and health. So many people are struggling with lifestyle health issues, perhaps I could help in some small way?

I have always needed to write, even if it was just a letter or a journal entry. I loved the old days of Compuserve where I was a regular contributor and in some instances Section Leader of various forums. I loved writing amusing anecdotes about our family as well as helping people with problems of one sort or another. Perhaps a blog could be an amalgamation of all that.

When I first wrote my About page, I was focused on juicing and raw food, providing health and nutrition advice, answering readers’ questions and so on. I categorically stated this wasn’t going to be a food blog as such and I wouldn’t be posting recipes other than juices!

Well, who knew!! Here I am a whole year later, and my blog is chock full of recipes! I quickly found they were the posts that garnered most views – people are obsessed with food photos, just take a glance at Instagram! – and I tried a different tack of including the health and nutritional information within these posts.

Therein lies the dilemma for many new bloggers: do I write what I want to write about or do I provide the content people want to read?

I also didn’t intend including any personal information – it took some time for me to pluck up the courage to even include a profile pic – however, after some months I was itching to return to family anecdotes, I really enjoy writing those, but I have to ration them and reign myself in because in the olden days of Compuserve, my family were either too young, too old or just not interested in forums so I was quite safe in the knowledge that no-one would ever read them. It’s all very different now! Every time I take a photo I hear a moan: Oh no, it’s not going on your blog is it?!

Today, twelve months down the line blogging takes up most of my thinking and writing time. I’ve also expanded to Instagram, Twitter and Facebook too, I am slowly taking over the world. You can’t get away fom me!

imageI want to say a bigthank you‘ to you all for giving me a reason to  do this, for all your kind comments and encouragement, with a particular thank you to those of you who have been here since the beginning when it was all a bit clunky and earnest at times.

Here’s your opportunity to give some feedback and let me know if there’s anything in particular you want me to include or you want to ask me about. Any constructive criticism? Do I post too often, for instance? Are the topics too diverse or too similar? Too many smoothies?

I realised recently that I tend to assume people know what certain items and terms are, so if there is ever anything I mention that you don’t understand, please ask me to explain.

I thought it might be fun to revisit one of my earliest posts: Pears But No More Parsnips: In Which I Confront My Parsnip Phobia! It explains in a light-hearted manner the origins of my blog title. It might give you smile.

Enjoy the video!

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Hand in Hand: A Poem for Father’s Day

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We skip along hand in hand

I on the inside you on the outside

the birds sing the sun shines

on your little girl and my doting dad

*

We stride along side by side

I on the outside you on the inside

darkness falls the moon shines

on your feminist hippy and my fifties dad

*

We stroll along hands on the pram

I on the inside you on the outside

the birds sing the sun shines

on my newborn son and my proud dad

*

We saunter along,  a stick in your hand

I on the inside you on the outside

The clouds darken the rains fall

on your oldest child and my aging dad

*

I shuffle along hands by my sides

down the edge of the road

the air chills the trees stir

I’m all alone you’re no longer here

*

I miss you, Dad. Happy Father’s Day.

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Copyright: Chris McGowan

A Quiet Saturday Doing Nothing Much – until…!

It began early. Too early! My husband decided that as there was a load of logs being delivered at any time today as well as the possibility of a family visit, he’d better get up at the crack of dawn to make the juices, light the fire, have breakfast and get to the shops as soon as they opened. No matter how ‘quiet’ he tries to be, I always wake up and this is never a happy start to our day: I don’t react well to being woken up, whatever the hour. I need time, lots of it, to come to, review my dreams, make an inventory of my aches and pains,  work out what day it is – always a tricky conundrum during school holidays because I don’t have the school children or school traffic to at least give me a clue as to whether it’s a weekday or a weekend. I don’t usually manage much sleep –  Morpheus and I are mere passing acquaintances – so when I do slip into slumber I like it to last as long as possible.

So his getting up even earlier than usual is not an auspicious start – the usually full-throated blackbird hasn’t even warmed up his vocal chords yet!  I want to stay supine for as long as possible, in order to gather my strength and my wits ready for the possible onslaught, I mean visit, of my lovely grandsons who usually like to invent some kind of medieval torture to inflict on their doting grandma – their favourite ‘game’ at the moment is Demon Dentists! They seem to have grown out of spies and pirates. We have a playroom full of cardboard instruments of torture designed by them over the years (see Creativity is Contagious), usually after a visit to the local ruined castle and of course used only on yours truly – I don’t know how Grandad always manages to get away with it!

We haven’t seen them since Valentine’s Day and I was looking forward to the annual Easter Egg frenzy, I mean well-organised, leisurely garden hunt (I swear they only love me for my chocolate 😉). So was Grandad, you’ve never met someone with as sweet a tooth and being well-brought up, they usually take pity on him and donate a small portion of their Easter booty.

But at 8.22 our daughter rang. This couldn’t be good news. It wasn’t – or it was, depending on how you looked at it! She couldn’t get the boys moving – the youngest (not that young) wanted to travel in his pyjamas!  The oldest didn’t thnk it was worth travelling all that way just for a couple of hours. She would try again during the week.

Ok. So I’m up but not dressed, I’m still in ‘coming to’ mode, when my husband gives me this news. I was off the hook, my sentence to torture has been commuted, but I am disappointed, though I understand. They’ve had a busy couple of weeks. The oldest had performed in a play, they both had violin exams, they just want to chill. But I’m up now. I sip my hot water as I look out on a damp, dark sky that looks leaden with rain, and groan. No sun then. I should have stayed in bed.

Nevertheless, I gird up my spirits (?!) and decide to go in the shower, wash my hair and see what the day has to offer by way of compensation. I love a scalding hot shower! It eases some of the kinks in my muscles and I love the total privacy of it, no interruptions, no extraneous noise, just quiet contemplation and a cocoon of hot, relaxing water. I let it cascade over me and muse about the new day ahead.

I go back to bed! I can’t face drying my hair, it can do what it likes, I don’t care. Bed is warm. Bed is quiet. Bed doesn’t require any effort. Bed doesn’t make me look at dark clouds. I can close my eyes and shut everything out. Just for a few minutes.

An hour later, I get up – again – and in passing the mirror I realise I made a huge mistake. My hair is standing on end! I mean literally standing on end.

Throughout the following hours, I don’t know what to do with myself. I was all geared up for chatting and playing. The house had been cleaned and tidied,  I had even discovered my husband cleaning the big kitchen window – wow, everything was so sharp, so clear, I had begun to think I was developing cataracts! – raw chocolate eggs had been made…

The day needed recalibrating but I didn’t know how to do it.  I write a post, I watch a recorded episode of NCIS, I contemplate the woodburner – a  very calming ‘activity’, I highly recommend it – I watch my husband going back and forth, back and forth with a wheelbarrow full of logs. I watch the rain and feel sorry for the people fighting with umbrellas in the wind and am grateful that I am inside contemplating the woodburner!

I would have watched the cycling Tour of Catalunya, but we prefer to watch the recording so we can fast forward the ads and the boring bits and besides, my husband was otherwise engaged with a log store.

At one stage my daughter texts me to say her oldest has just come downstairs and asked if it was too late to go to Grandmas! We’re now looking to Tuesday.

And so we arrive at dinner-time – pasta since you ask – and our evening date with a  boxed set of The West Wing.

Except, well…

My husband goes to the utility room to fetch something from the freezer and…

A flood happened. Not the freezer, the drain under the sink. Silt and water flow along the vinyl and he gets everything out from the cupboard, shines a torch, dons rubber gloves and begins digging out the silt. A tremendously heavy downpour had coincided with him emptying the bath and this was the result.

Except that turns out to be only the half of it. I look over to the door leading into the small extension we use as a playroom/craftroom and groan. When we open the door, we discover the flooded drain is just the apéritif: the flow of silt-sodden water has found its way into the playroom and the carpet is sodden. I groan again. And again. My husband is right royally fed up. It’s getting late, dinner is half-prepared, he’s been stacking logs most of the day, he’s tired and hungry and this is what he faced.

And do you know what bugged us most? Last autumn, we decided we would raise the floor in the playroom, it’s taken us years to get around to it. For some reason the previous owners had added the extension but it was a step down from the rooms it led off. So finally, we decided to bite the bullet and raise the floor as well as some other minor alterations. We decide we’ll do it in February this year.

Only we didn’t. If we had, it would have created a small step up from the utility room and the flood would have been stemmed before it reached the playroom!

The best laid plans and all that.

The next couple of hours are spent cutting out carpet and clearing up.

I put photos of the flood on Instagram to show the family. I half-seriously asked ‘What to do now?’ My son wrote back, ‘put a couple of convector heaters in there.’

Oops.

I’m not sure how to relay this to my husband. He has just come in, in short sleeves, cold and damp from dragging a sodden carpet out to the garage, which is all the way around the side of the house and up at the top of the drive. He is exhausted and hungry. He has locked up and is standing at the stove, ready to start over with dinner. He opens the pasta. The packet splits in two and the contents hit the floor.

The heaters are in the garage.

Copyright: Chris McGowan