Art and creativity

Musings from the garden

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Musings from the garden ..... little did I know 4 years ago when I started my first class of wu dang tai chi that I will enjoy it and stick with it. Little did I know that once I graduated to the sabre form that I will enjoy it so much and that each time I come out in the garden the sabre will accompany me, next to my journal, book, pen and coffee ... but it does.

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And also little did I know that my ambition to remember by heart the 5 forms I ve been taught will come so handy these days when I can and do practice on my own, in the garden or in the house. Ambition and determination always pays of ... this is what my father used to say. And it does! And as I am thinking about my parents, my mother used to say that ... I am like a crow ... oh well maybe this is why these lovely black creatures keep coming to me each time they see me

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About Albania ... the beginning of a story

 

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About Albania ......Memories ....are amazing .....they are collected somewhere in our mind and many times only a sound, a word, a smell, a person can bring them back to life .....this was the case yesterday when I was buying my takeaway coffee in the harbour ....Lola, the lovely waiter was Albanian (yes, when I “feel” a foreign accent, I want to find out where is it from). When I told her I went to Albania years ago on business and mentioned a bit of my adventures and love for her country, she had tears in her eyes. I know how it is. I am also a foreigner. What happened after that is even more interesting ....during the day I had an avalanche of flashbacks ...bits I completely forgot about ....vivid memories of my time in Saranda where I went for a “human trafficking prevention conference”, of the people I met and their dramatic experiences, the superb town/ resort was an absolute jewel of authenticity and peace (it reminded me of Balcic in the 1920’s when it was popular with artists, musicians, writers), of the hundreds of years old olive trees (this is where I fall in love with this tree), Tirana with the abundance of colourful terasa and young people being so fluent in many languages, the road from Tirana to Saranda which took hours and revealed a country of incredible beauty ....mountains, sea, hills ...peppered with the thousands of little military buildings, testimony of the paranoia of their communist leader, being stopped at point gun .....seeing military helicopters surveilling areas ....shortly the Kosovo conflict was going to start, delicious dinners with some of the other country managers of various American charities and so much more .....I cannot believe i was so lucky to have these experiences. Definitely it is time to write down properly my Albanian experiences ...it will be in the book I am writing now .....the painting .....the tree ....could very well be.....memories of Albania


Paintings take time

 

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Back in my studio .... painting again and thinking about a line I read earlier today ..... “the universe is made up of stories, not atoms.” - Muriel Rukeyser of course I agree ... I do ... stories need to be told .... my painting goes through a light phase now ... probably in an hour it will be a dark one and then light again until I hear ... that s it for now ... time to move to another painting....


Let's make some elderberry syrup today

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As you know, one of my favourite happy, peaceful ways of putting a nice wall between myself and uncertainty is by engaging with creativity. So I have been regularly picking up my journal and I have been allowing my hand to release my tensions through intuitive drawing.. and I am writing in my daily gratitude journal and filling in a few more pages from my creativity workbook...........But I have other ways as well of sealing myself off from the world for a time - yum yum, glug glug!

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By eclectic cooking, trying my hand, mouth and taste buds at making all sorts of exciting foody things .......including trying my hand at things my distant family used to conjure up from nature's larder - berries, mushrooms, fruits that I would gaze at on the kitchen table with amazement before they were subjected to the magic hands of my grandmother or aunt or cousin - and even more so after the first mouth full of whatever came out of their cooking pot! 

 

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So, what did I decide to make this time that would be exciting and evocative in so many ways - a batch of ... elderberry syrup. I discovered this years ago while visiting my Russian relatives. It always used to amuse me when opening my aunt's and cousin's fridges to see them full of jars of forest fruits prepared in all sorts of ways ... fresh ones with sugar on top, juices, syrups, amazing. And I remember that on my two day journey through Russia, Ukraine, Moldavia and Romania... by train ... back to Bucharest I had a sort of "can't wait to get home feeling" because some of those jars were in my luggage! Sweet memories (literally and metaphorically).... I wish I had more memories of those times ... I wish .... 

But, back to the elderberries .... my relatives, like many other Russians had, and still have I am sure,.. a deep connection with wild life, the forests and the gifts one has from the forests at different times of the year. They could tell which plant heals what, which berry is safe to eat and which one it wasn't, which mushroom is good to eat, pickle, cook and which one isn't!  That knowledge was transferred from generation to generation. 

So here I am, years later, preparing one of those syrups ... remembering with a warm feeling my Russian roots. 

What do you need to make it? Here it is:

3 1/2 cups water

2/3 cup dried elderberries 

2 tbsp grated ginger

1-2 tsp cinnamon 

1/2 tsp ground cloves 

1 cup raw honey (or a bit less .... it's up to you) 

First, pour the water into a saucepan and add elderberries, ginger, cinnamon, cloves. Bring to boil, cover, reduce to a simmer for about 45 minutes. Remove from the heat, let it cool, mash the berries carefully using a spoon. Pour through a strainer in a jar or bowl, discard the elderberries and let the liquid cool a bit. You are almost there ... add the honey, stir nicely and pour the liquid into a jar or glass bottle. When it is cold, store it in the fridge. Take 1 tbsp every day, add it to the top of your porridge, or pancakes, or a biscuit. It is really lovely I can tell you that. It is said that it also helps strengthen the immune system so why not prepare some? .....  Glug glug! oooooh.

 

 


Keeping a positive mindset through thick and thin - focus on something you enjoy doing

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Due to that unfriendly little v that is disrupting the world we live in, taking responsibility and looking after ourselves and our families means that for some months, maybe more, we are all going to have to change our habits - and that probably means that we could have a lot of time on our hands, time to watch the news feeds (please, dear L, NO) - or does it? The key, my mind tells me, is that in this interim period it would be good for us to focus this new "spare" time on doing things (possibly alone, probably at home, maybe not) that we used to enjoy (pre mass TV, pre internet) or still enjoy (if we think about it), activities that bring a smile, a sense of peace, and a sense of positivity to our lives. If you think it wasn't so very long ago, in our grandparent's generation, that using our hands and minds was what we all did in our spare time - even for me in 1989 in Romania we only had 2 hours of tv per weekday and 4 or so hours at the weekend - and no internet - so, guess what did we do then?

Perhaps it's not surprising then, because I love creating new things (that's my record I think you will agree), that these days I am doing my best to generate my own positive mindset, to forget what's going on in the world for a while. I turn to my pencils, pens, journals, paints, magazines, books, music or yoga mat to help me to escape the confusion of whatever others call reality AND I surround myself with colour and words, brushes and paints, sounds and stories - including the so so many stories from the past in the shape of movies and creative documentaries....often old ones as (in my opinion) they had way more story-telling substance than the new ones - we'll that's my view anyway. 

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I would say this wouldn't I but I have found myself becoming my own customer - I've turned to my own creativity workbook "Be a creative explorer". Last week, I started to complete the third chapter of the book, March .... slowly, and in no particular order of workbook suggestions ... one day I lost myself colouring in the designs, another day I simply finished the drawings, then looked with excitement at my collage assignment and started to hunt for interesting images from my pile of magazines, then using glue I happily glued them on the pages, without much thinking, using my intuition ... then I finished off a workbook writing assignment (the one I asked us customers to write about people who influenced our lives) and, guess what, what a pleasure it was to remind myself of two particular people who really influenced my life ... my Russian teacher and my English teacher, my mentor and my friend .... so much of who I am today is because of them ..... 

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And I love reading books, real ones, the ones I can touch and smell, not e-books. It's just the way I am, it's my normality,  and I hoped to influence you too to my way of thinking - each month section in my book I recommend a particular book as a good read. And what about using this newfound time for the journalling work-outs I suggested, writing by hand with a lovely pen, even a fountain pen, that feels as if it was born to tell stories. Writing by hand is something I believe in a lot because the emotional impact on us is very different as compared with typing on a keyboard.... writing by hand is soothing, increases creativity and deep thinking, and really does improve your mood and in time, your wellbeing.

So, for me, and perhaps for you, knowing that we are going to have to change our habits for a few months, why not travel back in time to the days we scribbled, coloured-in, made great collages that become ever more fascinating as each new image is stuck-in and you pat yourself on the back, broken only for hours at a time by the intensity of chapters of books you may have missed reading before. BECAUSE, knowing that there will be an end to that virus, keeping a positive mindset in the meantime, by letting my creativity workbook bring varied creative activities back into your life - or to open new creative horizons, will, I really believe, be good for you - and me. 

One last thing ... my creativity workbook invites you to .... be messy, forget about perfectionism, forget about writing beautifully, just write as it comes, simply blurt-out words that come to your mind and images and colours ... because to my way of thinking it is all about the JOURNEY and not about the RESULT. The result is your mindset, your inner peace, the hours of detachment from whatever you need to detach yourself from even if only for a few minutes. 

I created this workbook last autumn .... maybe it was meant to be. 

You can find "Be a creative explorer" on Amazon worldwide. 

 

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About 108 yoga gratitude journal, self publishing and why now?

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What is actually this word ... GRATITUDE 

Gratitude … a word just like any other word … a label ….a convention …. A word we use  often in nowadays conversations …. But … do we really feel it?…..a hard but very relevant question for today’s troubled world?  The good thing is that this word starts to really, really come alive at certain moments as we journey through life. Most of the time this happens when we’ve experienced pretty challenging circumstances …..health wise, in our professional life, family life or just as we live out our lives….. In my case, I have multiple reasons from my early life to be grateful. If you’ve read my family story you will understand why I say this.

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WHY THIS COMBINATION OF ..... YOGA AND GRATITUDE

At the end of last year, after a scary moment which ended well in my family I felt drawn to a particular program on line … a  20 minutes a day, 40 consecutive days yoga program. I decided then - as an offering to the divine, as a way of expressing my gratitude - to sign up to this program and, more importantly, to commit to the program. I can tell you now that for me the word gratitude  is not a label, not a sequence of letters for how I feel for signing up. … I can feel it at the cellular level. And this was 130 days ago …. I am still doing the program, now repeating the 40 days sequence again and again and again. It is now, part of my daily routine.  if you think that I and each day in a complete bliss and can't wait to hit the yoga mat, ... think twice ... it is very hard, very, very hard and I did skip 3 days .... and ... it does not matter because ... I came back to the program after a break and kept going. The most important thing is ... not to judge ourselves, to take breaks if we need them and ... to come back to .. the mat and the journal. 

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MANTRAS

A few years ago I was lucky enough to take part in a few live kirtan evenings organised by a very talented singer and yoga teacher  Diana Sampson from Luna Rhythms Yoga. It was an instantaneous connection for me with the sacred sounds and, believe it or not, I now find myself chanting when I am driving - or walking by the beach - or while I am deeply engrossed with my painting.

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WHY HAVE I POSED TWO QUESTIONS ABOUT YOGA PRACTICE 

What I have noticed while doing my daily yoga program is that different moves trigger a different emotion in me … sometimes I feel joy, sometimes I feel empowered, sometimes wobbly …. sometimes I loved the routines, sometimes I really didn’t. Along the way it became clear to me that my experience of yoga programs was deepening and broadening….and I knew then that I had to find a way, for the future, to record my individual feelings so that I could look back and retrieve in my mind those special moments. I had to write it down somewhere.

WHY A JOURNAL 

Writing by hand is something that fewer and fewer people do these days. I’m lucky, many years ago I started the habit and ever since I have loved creating my future memories. Somehow people have forgotten that there is something really soothing and even magical about picking up that special pen and start adding…. letter after letter, word after word. The whole body relaxes, the breathing becomes smoother, and believe it or not you enter into a meditative state … you really do become more mindful. 

PUBLISHING  

So, I decided to put all of the above together and to encourage those who love yoga to record their journeys and in so doing to become mindful about what they have experienced along the way…..

This is why and how "108 YOGA GRATITUDE JOURNAL" came to life. I hope you will find it useful and enjoy it as much as I did creating it and using it.

108 YOGA GRATITUDE JOURNAL is available from Amazon worldwide.  


Baking super seeded bread today and a story of resilience

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It's a lovely, cold but sunny spring day ... it feels like the very first day of spring .....and boy oh boy is nature coming to life in my part of the world, on the south coast of England overlooking the sea. So it's great, when not a lot positive is in the news, to see carpets of yellows, reds, violets, oranges and so many more shades of colour in various corners of my town and its public gardens. So after a brisk walk by the beach I decided to bake again(for the second time this week) ...this time a loaf of super seed bread. Let me tell you from the start ... I am not a baker, I've never been interested in baking before, but recently, because I want to go on a wheat free, sugar free diet I decided to be adventurous, to cook all sorts of unusual (for me) dishes. It is a great place to experiment, to be adventurous .... the kitchen! 

The recipe I decided to try comes from the Low-Carb Cookbook by David Cavan and Emma Porter but ... as always, I've changed the recipe a bit given that this is my second attempt at making it. 

Whenever I cook I love to have a movie in the background and .... thanks to the iPad I am able to watch almost whatever I want, almost whenever I want. In the background today I had a lovely movie ... The Million Pound Note starring Gregory Peck (watch it .. it's lovely)

But before sharing with you the recipe, let me tell you a story, a story that involves seeded bread, (my mother used to call it German bread), the second world world, Russia, and my mother, a story the baking of seeded bread triggered. The second world war had a devastating impact on many nations, many families, including my own. Imagine you are 6 year old, living with your family in a tiny village called Besedka in Russia (the village does not exist anymore ... it was re-claimed by nature a long time ago and is now a forest) about 100 Km south of Moscow, on the WW2 Eastern Front.

Imagine that your family has been thrown out of their house to make space for German officers who, together with their soldiers, had occupied the village. My mother seldom spoke much about those times .. it was too painful for her and like many people of her generation she kept those memories deeply buried in her mind ...yet.. those times had put an indelible imprint on her life, the way she looked at people and much more. One of the very few things she told me about those times was that .. the German officer in charge of the occupation of her village was really kind ... he was chubby, loved playing the harmonica, loved children (apparently he missed his own kids) and was often found gifting the children of the village (including my mother) little pieces of German seeded bread which my mother said was absolutely delicious, moist and beautifully wrapped. For children who had very few things to eat ... that bread was pure heaven. But that memory was the only nice thing she was able to tell me about that time. Sometime in 1944/1945 when that same chubby, smiling village officer received his orders to start their retreat, he gave orders to burn all the houses in the village, including our family home.

I can't repeat what happened in our neighbouring village where none of the villagers survived their occupation because "their" occupier left after not only burning the village but also killing the people. Human nature was .... is ....can be ......why is it so? Anyway, here I am ... so, so, many years later ... baking this bread with a bitter sweet feeling - feeling real gratitude for my own life .... but remembering the story it unexpectedly triggered, one that has clearly left a big imprint on me as well as my mother - because it found it's own way from my deepest memory into my consciousness ...... We are complex beings with all sorts of memories, our own and our inherited ones. Now ... let's get back to business ... and see what are the ingredients ... to be continued ... click here 

 

 


Being bullied in the civil service, my story

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Everybody reacts differently to the trauma of being bullied. It can manifest on the emotional level (depression, anxiety, PTSD) and of course physical level .... in my case it was, high blood pressure, nose bleeds,  severe insomnia, panic attacks  ... and all of those were just the tip of the iceberg plus of course the impact on the family life. It is like a tsunami that never ends.  The whole life is disturbed and the consequences can be long term and indeed they were. My daily 1 hour and 40 minutes commute was a nightmare as well and I was dreading approaching the office ... oh boy ... such memories .... I also remember how on - sadly - many occasions when the trains were cancelled or delayed and the reason was ... a body on the train lines .... I wondered .... what was the reason behind that desperate decision ....could it be that bullying was the reason? In order to understand better the story below please read first ...part 1  and after that part 2 

What helps besides what I've mentioned in my first  two blog entries on the subject of bullying  is connecting with likeminded people and sharing the experience with others. I was helped by joining the local Yoga studio, going on a yoga retreat. It is a good moment to remind myself what makes me tick, what do I love doing, what am I passionate about. Help comes in many shapes and forms.

Here is the last part of my fictional story based on my experience, telling a fictional story to illustrate what happened to me. As I have mentioned before,  I gave it to my superiors!

"...... There is a sudden lull in fighting. The Captain (my manager) stops panicking for a moment and announces to 1st Company and 2nd Company that he is stepping back from command of 1st Company - except that he would keep personal control of 1st Company's tank unit. The Sergeant (me), now Acting Lieutenant (me, temporarily re-promoted to my appointed rank) again, (so he thinks) thinks Thank God, the Company can concentrate on fighting the enemy now not trying to organise a fight amongst itself".

Unfortunately he had not allowed for the Captain's panicky nature in the face of conflict - signals keep coming at him (me) every minute as the next attack started - check this, do that, check this, do that, endless detailed instructions forgetting that the enemy knew where the hole in the hedge was now.

So, 1st Company shuffles around in a disorganised fashion with no clear chain of command - "shoot the enemy screams the Captain (my manager) - on second thoughts that will cost too much, hit them with the butt of your rifles as they come through the hedge - but don't damage the rifles as we can't afford the war".

The Acting Lieutenant (me) is going out of his mind as the big picture, shooting the ugly enemy breathing down our necks, seemed to be less important to the Captain than checking that the experienced Lieutenant was issuing the right instructions. Then he signals the Lieutenant to go and check that the tanks have oil in the engines, treads on the wheels and that the gun is pointing forwards, something the Captain had said he would do.

The Captain is now panicking and getting angry because the Lieutenant was trying to lead his men to victory and (even though the Lieutenant was two metres shorter than him and cross dressing) the Captain's body language and the way he was clenching his hands and his uncomfortably close proximity implied that he was about to thump the Lieutenant if he deserted his rifle even though the day's battle had now finished.

"Did you check the oil" screams the Captain "as I asked you". In desperation the Lieutenant objects by questioning the Captain's priorities - the Captain, who has pilloried the Lieutenant's efforts all day says "I won't allow you to speak to me like that". (the last time the Lieutenant had heard that sort of English upper class twit language was in the first world war - maybe that's where the Captain trained he thought)

The fighting ended, the Lieutenant picked up his loaded revolver and walked behind the privet - he had had enough, he wanted to end it all. This was not what war was supposed to be. You are supposed to fight the enemy, not fight your own men.

Bang!"

For me the bang meant fighting the system and .... eventually wining that battle - but not necessarily the war.

Do not suffer in silence!

 


Let's continue the story, my story, my experience of being bullied in the civil service world

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Let's continue the story started yesterday ... in case you haven't had the chance to read it ... click here

A few years ago, about 10-11 to be precise,  I was bullied. I was just one of many civil servants bullied on a daily basis. What was different in my case is that I was one of the very few people who reported the case to the management and went through the whole challenging and emotional process of proving the case. It was not easy but I do not regret doing it. What I encourage other people who are going through similar situations is to report it... stop suffering in silence. And most importantly involve your union. If you are not a member yet, do not way, go and join. Quickly! Reporting is super important as well. It is the only way to stop a very catchy and damaging behaviour. We all experience the pain of bullying in different ways ....pain is a label, a word .... underneath ... is an entire world. Anyway, one of the tools that helped me during the process was painting on a daily basis, late at night and writing ... below you can read the second part of my fictional story, telling the story of the environment I was working in. The deputy director who read it, told me that his wife has been bullied as well in her work environment (in another company) ... he was theatrical and hypocritical ... and why not .... he was the product of an environment he grew up in. The story now ... 

" .... down the line came the decision to move forward, the spring offensive was starting. All hell breaks loose with the enemy approaching 1st Company, the 8th Army bridgehead, from all directions. The Captain (my manager) panics, puts his head in his hands, loses the plot of defence completely and starts screaming at the Sergeant (temporarily demoted me)  - "have you checked that we have bullets (inferring that I am a complete idiot), the Sergeant says we have, the Captain says "are you sure, go and check" (meaning I don't trust you) - so the Sergeant's men are exposed as the Sergeant takes his eye off the approaching enemy. "Are you sure they are real bullets, not dummies" screams the Captain, "are you sure" (inferring the Sergeant doesn't do his job properly). The Sergeant replies "yes of course, the men are all professionals". "Go and check - and while you are at it do an inventory of bullets to make sure we do not run out" shouts the Captain at the Sergeant.

The enemy are getting closer but 1st Company is stationary as the Sergeant is having to do a stock check. "Have you checked that we have enough 303 rifles for each man" panics the Captain - the increasingly desperate Sergeant says "yes" - "go and check" replies the Captain - in a highly exercised state the Sergeant leaves his position once again even though he can see the eyes of the enemy peering through the privet hedge laughing ........

To be continued .....tomorrow!