More Life Lessons we can Learn from Cats

You can’t have too many posts about cats…no, really, you can’t!
So, here are some more things we can learn from cats.
Actually, I’d quite like to be a cat…

More Life Lessons we should Learn from Cats - The Last Krystallos

Some more life lessons we can learn from cuddly floofballs…

A cat purring on your lap is healing...as the vibrations pure love and contentment - Saint Francis of Assisi - The Last Krystallos

Fluffy © Lisa Shambrook

A cat purring on your lap is more healing than any drug in the world, as the vibrations you are receiving are of pure love and contentment – Saint Francis of Assisi
They say animals assist healing, both physically and emotionally, and they’re often used in hospitals to aid recovery, especially in children and the elderly. I know that a purring cat is one of the most beautiful things in my life. Stroking a cat and listening to their contented purr has the ability to calm me and make me happy.
We could try to be more understanding, calming, and let our words heal.

What greater gift than the love of a cat - Charles Dickens - The Last Krystallos

Misty © Lisa Shambrook

What greater gift than the love of a cat – Charles Dickens
As above, a cat’s love is given when you’re worthy of it, and is infinitely rewarding.

Cats possess numerous charms, and anyone who has ever loved a cat has fallen for its magic - Susan Easterly - The Last Krystallos

Raven © Lisa Shambrook

Cats possess numerous charms, and anyone who has ever loved a cat has fallen for its magic – Susan Easterly
If we could harness just an ounce of cat magic, we’d be rich in mystery, and able to weave spells of utter enchantment. However, we have buckets of magic to offer, if only we would recognise it in ourselves. Find your magic and weave your own spells

God made the cat - pleasure of caressing the tiger - Fernand Mery - The Last Krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

God made the cat in order that humankind might have the pleasure of caressing the tiger – Fernand Mery
These miniature tigers and lions enhance our lives with their fun, love, and sense of adventure. We have the responsibility of caring for them and playing with them without the danger of huge claws and man-eating teeth…just small claws and small sharp teeth… Respect them!

Cats worshipped as Gods...Cats have never forgotten this - Anon - The Last Krystallos - Photo Caitlin Shambrook

© Caitlin Shambrook

Thousands of years ago, cats were worshipped as Gods. Cats have never forgotten this – Anon
Love this! Actually it doesn’t matter if cats were ever Gods, or if you are better than anyone else, cats generally love those who love them, and that’s a great ideal to live by! Again, it doesn’t matter who you are. As C. S. Lewis once said in The Weight of Glory It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible Gods and Goddesses…

As every cat owner knows, nobody owns a cat - Ellen Perry Berkeley - The Last Krystallos - Photo Bekah Shambrook

© Bekah Shambrook

As every cat owner knows, nobody owns a cat – Ellen Perry Berkeley
The cat is independent, and if you don’t treat them right they will walk.
I find several parallels with this quote. Every life on this planet is important, and we have been given the responsibility of caring for them and the planet that gives us life. This isn’t something we should or can walk away from. We don’t own this planet or any of the creatures on it, but our environment is something we should care deeply about. Unlike the cat, we can’t walk away if it’s not treated right.
And though cats wanderNot all those who wander are lostJ. R. R. Tolkien.

There are no ordinary cats - Colette - The Last Krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

There are no ordinary cats – Colette
And there are no ordinary humans either… and to continue C. S. Lewis’ quote …There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.
Embrace your oddness, your quirks, and your funWe’re not meant to be ordinary!

Enjoy your relationship with cats…
Find your love and magic, and make sure you can roar and purr!

Also check out: Life Lessons we can Learn from Cats and Life Lessons we can Learn from Dogs.

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Butterfly Flutterby – A Summer of Delicate Fairy Wings

Summer is the season when butterflies flutter by
with painted wings and a breeze of mystery…

Butterfly Flutterby - A Summer of Delicate Fairy Wings - The Last Krystallos

I could spend hours sitting beneath butterfly bushes watching these creatures waft by on glorious wings, landing silently on buddleias’ tiny purple blossom and feeding, then flitting off again for an airborne dance before returning to savour the nectar.

Red-Admiral-Butterfly-Buddleia-The-Last-Krystallos-If nothing ever changed...there would be no butterflies

Red Admiral © Lisa Shambrook

I’m not a fan of hot summers, but I have been butterfly watching and these little wonders have taught me about the beauty of change.

Mullein-Moth-Larvae-Caterpillar -The-Last-Krystallos - caterpillar end of the world a butterfly-Richard Bach

Mullein Moth Larvae © Lisa Shambrook

A couple of months ago I saw a cute caterpillar on the buddleia leaf and later identified it as a Mullein Moth larvae (moth caterpillars are known as larvae). Now, isn’t a caterpillar or larvae an amazing thing? Butterflies go through a magical lifecycle: from an egg a caterpillar is born, the caterpillar feeds voraciously, and then forms a cocoon or pupae, and finally after a long sleep a glorious butterfly emerges.

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Gatekeeper © Lisa Shambrook

I read a story a while ago, about a man who watched a cocoon and felt bad about the struggle the butterfly had trying to emerge, so he carefully helped break open the cocoon and release the creature. He then watched in devastation as the butterfly tried to open its wings but failed. The butterfly was doomed because the process of emergence was interrupted.

No matter how sincere the help butterflies need to go through the process alone. The struggle allows wings to form and for fluid to move from its body into its wings. Without this toil the butterfly is born with a swollen body and shrivelled wings and condemned to die.

Through the struggle of breaking out of its cocoon a butterfly gains strength, without that struggle its wings would never have the power to open and lift it to great heights.

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Ringlet © Lisa Shambrook

Sometimes we go through struggles that no one can help us with, they can cheer from the sidelines and encourage and comfort, but often we go through huge battles that we have to surmount ourselves. Only then can we internalise the strength that we gained and rise and fly to heights we never knew we could.

Embrace your struggle.

Peacock-Butterfly-The-Last-Krystallos - The butterfly counts not months, but moments-Rabindranath Tagore

Peacock © Lisa Shambrook

Most butterflies live for about a month, the smallest butterflies maybe only a week, and for such gorgeous creatures their lives are short. Butterflies don’t waste a moment. They feed, they mate, and they bathe in the sun. They live for the moment because that’s all they have.

Cherish your moments.

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High Brown Fritillary © Lisa Shambrook

Back to caterpillars and butterflies, it’s a bit like the story of the ugly duckling. Sometimes we see ourselves as boring, grey, shy, and don’t see our true beauty. We all have the ability to emerge from our troubles and grow into the beauties we’re supposed to be. Just like butterflies. Even the most basic butterfly is a wonder of nature. And, I adore moths too, dusty brown wings, silvered or matt, but beautiful. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Love who you have become.

Comma-Butterfly-The-Last-Krystallos

Comma © Lisa Shambrook (I wish this was a better photograph, taken on my first camera phone way back… but the Comma is too beautiful to leave out!)

And lastly, I have a fascination with the word butterfly. Rumour has it – I don’t think there’s a definitive answer as to why they are butterflies – that they fluttered about milk churns when butter was being made, or that they were so named because the first butterfly appearing in the year was the yellow-coloured male Brimstone, but the most likely reason is it was believed they ate butter and milk, words in Dutch and German translate as Butter-thief, so butterfly it became.

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Large White © Lisa Shambrook

Myself, I like the spoonerism – flutterby, I mean that’s exactly what they are!

So, welcome the flutterbys, after all, they’re not here for very long, and nature has a habit of giving us beauty in small doses, we just have to notice it!

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Small Tortoiseshell © Lisa Shambrook

My pictured butterflies are my locals,
what butterflies are your favourite where you live?

Red-Admiral-High-Brown-Fritillary-Small-Tortoiseshell-Gatekeeper-Peacock-Butterflies-Lisa-Shambrook

Red Admiral, High Brown Fritillary, Small Tortoiseshell, Gatekeeper, Peacock Butterflies © Lisa Shambrook

Coping with Alzheimer’s: Sadness, Love, and Humour

I saw a lonesome forget-me-not gaze up at me the other day,
late in the year for these delicate blue flowers,
but they will always remind me of my mother.
They will forever be linked with the disease that stole her.

Coping with Alzheimer_s amid Tears of Sadness, Love, and Humour The Last Krystallos

The forget-me-not is the poster flower for Alzheimer’s, so when I noticed this little blossom peering up at me, it brought the condition back to my mind, and reminded me that I hadn’t yet read a book loaded up on my Kindle. Maybe it had been too soon when I bought it, Mum passed away at Christmas last year, but sitting in the Dr’s waiting room with Dad the other day I clicked on the book and opened it.

Coping-with-Alzheimer's-Forget-me-not- The-Last-Krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

Instead of bringing tears, which it does too, it brought a smile to my face, many smiles. Finding a kindred spirit can do that. I relate strongly with the author S. R. Karfelt. Her candid humour, outright frankness, and sincerity shone through in her words. Our situations regarding Dementia are different, we’ve been through very different circumstances, but the familiarity of her anecdotes and narrative rang so true.

Alzheimer’s is the thief of time, stealing memories and lives with no compunction at all…and it is on the rise. More and more people are being diagnosed and figures show that 850,000 people lived with dementia in the UK in 2015 and it’s set to rise at a rate that will mean over 1 million in 2025 and 2 million in 2051. I’ve blogged about Prevention and Awareness before, and there are things we can do, changes to our lives, diets, and routines that can help, but this post isn’t about prevention or cure, it’s about living with the disease.

Coping-with-Alzheimer's-time-The-Last-Krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

Please remember that living with Alzheimer’s affects a whole plethora of people for every one person diagnosed. Whole families and communities have to come together to care. When someone in your family has dementia, you can’t walk away, you can’t hide, you can’t bury it. The condition sneaks up and robs you of your loved one, but unlike other diseases that leave you to grieve after you lose your cherished family member, dementia leaves the shell of the person with you. I can’t describe the pain that that instils.

In her book, Nobody Told Me: Love in the Time of DementiaS. R. Karfelt has been through all of this and eloquently puts her experiences on paper. For anyone facing dementia within their family, this is a book that will show you that you’re not alone. You’ll know you are part of a growing number of people dealing with this disease and staring it right in the face with defiance – and humour you have to laugh, and you’ll cry too. Lots.

So many stories in this book tickled me, made me smile, and made me belly laugh, because I’ve been there. You have to attack Alzheimer’s with humour, wit, and love, they give you the strength to carry on.

Coping-with-Alzheimer's-Home-The-Last-Krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

When Mum complained of the noisy street party going on in her back yard, outside her house, we had to humour her, because my parents lived in the middle of a field, not a sound anywhere. When she thought I was her mother, I held her close and rocked her. When she was convinced Dad was a doctor, I told her she’d better take her medication with no complaints. When she thought Dad was a stranger who had kidnapped her and was holding her hostage, I talked her through it, tried to allay her fear, and help her calm down.

Can you imagine believing you’re only fourteen, and then finding out you’re married and he’s an old man? Imagine looking in the mirror expecting to see your twenty-five-year-old-self gazing back and instead seeing a seventy-year-old with a very different face? Imagine nurses/carers visiting every day when you don’t think anything is wrong with you at all.

Coping-with-Alzheimer's-raindrops-The-Last-Krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

Imagine forgetting how to walk, or how to lift your food from the plate to your mouth with a fork. How would you feel if you couldn’t remember the beginning of the movie you started watching an hour ago? How would you feel when your grandchildren walk in and smile at you, but are complete strangers because you believe you’re twenty, and there are still eight years before you give birth to their mother yet?

Think about being in hospital or a home and not having a clue how you got there, or why, or for how long, or who took you there, or where you are, or why you’re there, or how long you’ll be there, and there’s nothing wrong with you, where are you, how did you get there, there’s nothing wrong, who took you there, when can you go home, as there’s nothing wrong… Where am I?

This is life with Alzheimer’s. It hurts – not only the patient, but the family, and carers, and friends… Alzheimer’s hurts everyone it comes into contact with.

So, if you’re dealing with, living with, coping with Alzheimer’s please know that you’re not alone. Please laugh as much as you cry. I’ve told my children that if I ever get this disease they are to treat me like normal, but play to it, allow me to stay in the time that I believe I am in, humour me, give me adventures, if I don’t know where I am – make it up!

Coping-with-Alzheimer's-leaf- The-Last-Krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

People will tell you how to cope with this condition when you’re caring for a loved one who doesn’t know who you are, but as long as you are compassionate and loving, you’re doing the right thing. Take time out. Laugh, I cannot say this enough, not at the person sometimes not even with the person, they won’t understand and you don’t want to hurt or alienate them even further, but you need to deal with the mess it makes of your life too, and once you’re out of the immediate situation talk through the absurdity Alzheimer’s proffers you and laugh at it. Irreverence can see you through it all.

Tears will fall, that’s a guarantee, but don’t ever think you’re alone.

The Alzheimer’s Society is an amazing resource who will help you through this minefield, as will those who’ve been there already. Stay strong.

Nobody-Told-Me-S-R-Karfelt-Dementia

You can buy
Nobody Told Me: Love in the Time of Dementia
by S. R. Karfelt on Amazon UK Kindle Hardbackand Paperback.
Amazon US Kindle, Hardback,
and Paperback, and from your local Amazon and other online bookstores.
Please visit her website for further information and links.

The Language of Roses and the Colours of Summer

Roses are, perhaps, the most expressive of flowers.

The Language of Roses and the Colours of Summer - The Last Krystallos.

They can be brash and bold, or full and heady, or delicate and sweet, or subtle and fragrant, and so much more…

Wedding-Jacaranda-Garden-Valentine-Funeral-The-Last-Krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

When people are asked for their favourite flower, roses are one of the most popular responses, and they are definitely the jewel in the crown in both florists and gardens. Roses generally flower from Summer to Autumn, but these days I’ve had roses blooming as early as April and as late as December!

I carried Jacaranda, deep mauve, roses as a bride, Vince brought me handcut roses from the gardens he worked at (he was a gardener) on our first date, I’ve adored a variety of roses in my garden, I’ve had single red roses for Valentine’s, and we recently had red and white roses at my mother’s funeral.

The Language of Roses and the Colours of Summer - The Last Krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

So what do roses say?

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Red Roses © Lisa Shambrook

Burgundy Roses say a little more than red, promising undying love and cherishing unconscious beauty!

Red Roses are the traditional way to say “I Love You,” the colour of passion and the definition of love. They also represent courage and respect.

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Orange, Peach, and Yellow Roses © Lisa Shambrook

Orange Roses; imagine the colour of fire and you have the flowers that embody passion to rival red roses representing desire, enthusiasm, and excitement.

Peach Roses are a delicate shade of gratitude and sincerity, a gentle rose to offer appreciation.

Yellow Roses show friendship, care, and platonic love, there are no romantic undertones with yellow roses, just sunshine and friendship. Yellow roses also convey memories, and are often given in long term relationships. They are also perfect for welcome home and new beginnings bouquets.

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White Roses © Lisa Shambrook

White Roses represent purity and innocence, spirituality and reverence, often seen as bridal or sympathy blooms.

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Pale Pink Roses © Lisa Shambrook

Pale Pink Roses suggest friendship and elegance, and can signify a new budding romance. They also offer sympathy and innocence. The delicate charm that laces pale pink matches the sweetness that they convey.

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Deep Pink Roses © Lisa Shambrook

Deep Pink Roses express appreciation and gratitude, and a lovely way to show happiness and contentment.

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Purple Roses © Lisa Shambrook

Purple and lavender Roses; purple has always been the colour of mystery and enchantment, and they express love-at-first-sight. Deeper purple roses signify majesty and splendour.

I adore roses of all colours, and every variety, from hybrid tea roses, to dog roses, climbing and rambling roses, old English, and modern hybrid, floribunda roses, and shrub roses – they all enchant me.

Roses-The-Last-Krystallos

Roses © Lisa Shambrook

I believe roses were given to us to celebrate colour, fragrance, and beauty, let’s not take them for granted.

What are your favourite roses?

When were you last given roses, or do you buy or cut your own?

What colour beguiles you most?

* All photos are roses from my garden or from the tables in Calon my local coffee shop (now called Pethau Da) and a couple of pics of bouquets from supermarkets!

Plastic – Polluting our Oceans

Do we need plastic?
That’s one of the questions I believe we should be asking ourselves,
as the ocean begins to drown in the man-made material…

Plastic - Polluting Our Oceans - The Last Krystallos

A plastic-free society is a scenario I definitely pose in my current manuscript The Seren Stone Chronicles (unedited excerpt):

‘Will’s eyebrows shot up. “There’s no plastic!”

“Legend has it that all your plastic got swallowed up by mother earth in the lunar apocalypse,” said Ianthe. “It melted in the pit of her belly.”

“Best place for it,” said Rhianna.’

In my future Wales, plastic has become a thing of the past, but how do we know how the phenomenon of this synthetic material created only 110 years ago (though natural polymers have been around for generations) and widely available from the 1940’s after the introduction of Tupperware, will ultimately affect the earth that we live on?

Plastic - Polluting Our Oceans - Earth - the last krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

I glance about me at home and plastic is rampant…It forms much of my laptop, television, plug points, plugs, wires, my car outside, pens, kitchen utensils, white goods – fridge, freezer, many appliances, and a huge amount of packaging. It even forms veneers on some of my cheaper bookshelves, plastic bags, and more, but the majority of disposable plastic in my home derives from packaging.

Plastic - Polluting Our Oceans - Plastic Bags - The Last Krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

How do we replace it? It shouldn’t be that tough, after all, generations only a hundred years ago didn’t have access to the sort of durable, strong plastics we do now, and they managed! We could move back to using metal, wood, and plant-based materials, but in this society that’s not always easy. A few years ago my daughter tried to reduce her plastic usage and go plastic free using bamboo toothbrushes, trying to buy dry food in jars, even taking her own jars to fill, and her own cups to coffee shops, and using canvas bags for shopping. It was so hard, and so unaccepted that it became near impossible to achieve. Some people have and I salute them, but it makes normal life very difficult.

Plastic - Polluting Our Oceans - Glass Jars - the last krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

We live in a society where butchers aren’t used as much as they could be, and meat is packaged in large, thick, sealed plastic boxes. The green grocer is left behind for plastic bags of pre-packed fruit and veg, and the grocer with cardboard boxes and tins and jars has been replaced with plastic bottles, containers, and bags for almost everything.

We are often pushed by governments and local councils to recycle more, fines are imposed when we don’t, and rubbish collection services are cut to force recycling. The fines and restraints should be levied upon the companies using excess packaging, in my opinion, but that’s another story.

Many people are trying their best to be environmentally friendly, after all we didn’t ask for plastic microbeads to be placed in soaps, facial washes, and toothpastes. We don’t need all the packaging that companies force upon us, and we don’t need many of the knick-knacks that are constantly thrown at us. And there are so many organisations trying to show us the way to a more enlightened and environmentally friendly approach to life.

We see how plastic is drowning the sea, how microbeads have devastated oceans and marine life, how plastic wraps have damaged creatures, and how plastic is washing up on beaches across the planet. 8 million tonnes of plastic enters the ocean every year from bottle tops, to rope, bottles, plastic bags, sanitary products, disposable nappies, and more. Evo News even quoted that:  ‘The number of plastic microbeads in oceans and seas, bigger than the number of stars in our galaxy.’

However, there’s been great news from Greenpeace who reported just last week that by 30 June 2018 all personal care and cosmetic products with microbeads will be off shelves in the UK in a government ban!

Seagull Dreams by Bekah Shambrook Plastic - Polluting Our Oceans - the last krystallos

© Bekah Shambrook

We’ve all seen pictures of seabirds with legs and feet caught in plastic bags and debris, turtles deformed with plastic can rings looped about their shells, and fish, seals, dolphins, sharks, and even whales caught up in plastic nets. These are creatures we have the responsibility of caring for. We have the responsibility of caring for the whole earth.

There are several initiatives trying to help clean up our oceans, and make us aware of the pollution of plastic. Von Wong began #MermaidsHatePlastic and borrowed 10,000 plastic bottles to make an art installation that makes a valuable point. Find him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and read his story.

And 4Ocean sells bracelets made from ocean plastic to fund the removal of trash from the sea Find them on Twitter.

My question evolves into a solution when people respond with the continuing need for plastic in our lives, why can’t we use the plastic we recover from the ocean? Hopefully we are, or if we’re not then governments will soon pick up the idea, as they have with home and business recycling.

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© Lisa Shambrook

But to counter, maybe we can try to use less plastic, invent things that use less plastic, and we could buy and use more environmentally friendly products to begin the move away from plastic. Plastic isn’t generally good for us. Many of us, myself included, reuse water bottles to drink from, but that plastic gradually breaks down and enters our bloodstream through constant use. It’s better to buy a metal or glass water bottle. As charges for plastic bags have come in, we are using less and reusing and taking our own, every little helps. We need to keep doing our bit, no matter how small it is.

There are alternatives if companies are willing to put the money and research in to develop products that are environmentally friendly – take these plastic bags for example…

I’ve seen plates and tableware made from palm leaves or wheat fibre pulp, bamboo toothbrushes, cotton/canvas shopping bags, water powered clocks, solar power and much more. We can all do our bit by increasing recycling, reusing products, avoiding one-use items, and we can actively reduce, reuse and recycle.

reduce reuse recycleI’ve seen many products that are created/invented using plant based materials, we just need to change our ways, alter our sensibilities, and transform our habits.

Humans don’t like change – but change is what we need to do.

We need to continue the fight to remove unnecessary plastics and packaging,
to help not only our own health, but the health of the planet on which we live.  

What are we doing to Mother Earth?

* Edited to add: 2nd August 2017 is officially #EarthOvershootDaywhich makes this post even more appropriate. Today is the day that we have used up this year’s quota of Earth’s natural resources for one year. We need the equivalent of 1.7 Earths to support humanity’s demands on nature… Just something to think about…

Cow Parsley and its Rogue Cousin Common Hogweed

I love the Welsh hedgerows of summer,
full of white Cow Parsley, Common Hogweed,
and dotted with Red Campion, and purple Foxgloves.

Cow Parsley and its cousin Common Hogweed - The Delicate Beauties of the Hedgerow - The Last Krystallos

Delicate white Cow Parsley and Hogweed flowers sway gently amid roadside flora, and along paths, and the edges of fields. Both Cow Parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris) and Common Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium) are common sights from spring into summer, and their dry stalks and skeletons decorate the verges when autumn and winter arrives.

Cow Parsley Hogweed Flowers - The Last Krystallos

Cow Parsley – Hogweed – Hemlock © Lisa Shambrook

Being an everyday sight in the UK countryside, Cow Parsley has become a favourite wild plant to include in my writing, its form and structure adds to descriptive scenes and offers history and familiarity to the reader.

It’s also familiar to readers who understand herbs and plants, as cow parsley has been used in traditional medicines to treat ailments, stomach and kidney problems; breathing difficulties and colds. You must be able to positively recognise the plant before using it as medicinal, or even in cooking, as you can make Cow Parsley soup and a variety of other recipes. My sister advises me that her horses love Cow Parsley!

Cow Parsley - The Last Krystallos

Cow Parsley © Lisa Shambrook

Cow Parsley is recognisable with its long, green, furry stems which are ribbed and have a V shaped groove, umbels of white flowers often tinted pink (left in picture below), and fern like leaves (top middle). Common Hogweed is a very close relation. Its leaves are edible when young, and it’s discernible from Cow Parsley by its daintier florets and broader leaves, but more rounded (bottom middle) than the jagged, spiky leaves of Giant Hogweed. Another cousin is the Wild Carrot (Daucus carota) with narrow ferny leaves and heads of tiny white flowers, but you’ll recognise the difference as the Wild Carrot’s flower cluster usually has a single red/purple flower right in its centre.

Common Hogweed, Cow Parsley, Giant Hogweed and Hemlock Leaves Stems - The Last Krystallos

Common Hogweed (left/bottom middle), Cow Parsley (top middle), Giant Hogweed (top right) and Hemlock (bottom right) Leaves/Stems © Lisa Shambrook

It has to be said that you need to be incredibly careful not to confuse these with their dangerous and poisonous relations Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) and Hemlock (Conium maculatum).

The first way to tell Giant Hogweed apart from its Common counterpart and Cow Parsley is its size. Cow Parsley can grow to just over 1m (3-4 ft), Common Hogweed a bit taller, but Giant Hogweed grows up to 3m (almost 12 ft) and its umbels of flowers are pure white and can reach the size of 60cm (2 ft) across. Giant Hogweed will generally tower over you and its stems are far thicker. Its leaves are deeply lobed with jagged, serrated edges, and its stem is bristly and purple blotched, (which you can see in the top right picture). Giant Hogweed has violent sap which will react if it touches skin in bright sunlight inducing burns and painful blistering, needing quick medical attention. My mother discovered this when she tried to cut one down without realising what it was and ended up arms of red blisters and hospital treatment.

Common Hogweed Leaves Stem - The Last Krystallos

Common Hogweed © Lisa Shambrook

Hemlock is much smaller, and very similar in appearance to Cow Parsley with fern like leaves, but it also has stems blotched wine-red, though its stalks are smooth (bottom right in picture). All parts of Hemlock are poisonous though it was also used as medication by the Anglo-Saxons.

Giant Hogweed is well known for its dangerous phototoxic sap, but it’s wise to remember that all of these plants have sap that reacts to bright sunlight. In the same way a wild animal would attack if assaulted plants can do the same, and if these plants are cut down by mechanical means (strimmers etc) they utilise their defences and their sap will react and burn when it touches skin.

Wild Carrot - The Last Krystallos

Wild Carrot © Lisa Shambrook

Both Cow Parsley and Wild Carrot are also called Queen Anne’s Lace in the UK. Queen Anne took the British throne in 1702, and she was the second daughter of James II. A story goes that the queen asked her ladies-in-waiting to see who could make lace as beautiful as the cow parsley in the countryside, and only she could. Another story says that Queen Anne pricked her finger while making lace, thus why the Wild Carrot has a purple flower at its centre.

Cow Parsley, Foxglove and Red Campion - The Last Krystallos

Cow Parsley, Foxglove and Red Campion © Lisa Shambrook

I love the wild flowers that embellish my landscape, and along with Bluebells, delicate, lacy Cow Parsley enchants me as it bends in the breeze like fairy blossom…

Sunset and Cow Parsley - The Last Krystallos

Sunset Umbels © Lisa Shambrook

What wild flowers charm you?

Life Lessons we can Learn from Cats

I’ve always been a cat person,
with the belief that cats are magical, beautiful, and healing,
and that purring is one of the best sounds in the whole world!

Life Lessons we can Learn from Cats - The Last Krystallos

I didn’t grow up with cats – my parents rescued Shantih and Charity, when I was already an adult. But Vince and I, newly married, rescued Rusty, a five-month-old abandoned ginger kitten, with only half a tail and damaged paw pads, when he tried living beneath my in-laws shed. He was a sorry sight, scrawny and malnourished, and the vet believed he wouldn’t have lasted another two weeks. He lived a happy, ditzy life with us ‘til he was twelve-years-old.

We got Misty and Raven thirteen years ago: having gone to a farm to collect a grey kitten from the masses of black kittens, the canny farmer placed a black kitten in Bekah’s hands, and that was that, we came home with both of them and adore them, as we should!

So, here are some lessons we can learn from these most independent, yet needy, creatures…

The smallest feline is a masterpiece - Leonardo da Vinci - The Last Krystallos - Photo Bekah Shambrook

© Bekah Shambrook

The smallest feline is a masterpiece – Leonardo da Vinci
It’s particularly lovely that this quote comes from Leonardo da Vinci, someone who not only appreciated art, but also mechanics and science. The physical attributes of a cat are truly works of art, from its sheer beauty to its agility. It’s no wonder they say cats have nine lives because if we jumped from a wall several times our own height we’re not likely to land on our feet and nonchalantly continue our journey.
If only we could appreciate our own beauty, the magnificence of our bodies and see just how amazing we are too!

Studied philosophers and cats, wisdom of cats is infinitely more superior - Hippolyte Taine - The Last Krystallos

Raven © Lisa Shambrook

I have studied many philosophers and many cats, the wisdom of cats is infinitely more superior – Hippolyte Taine
Slightly tongue-in-cheek, but don’t tell cats you disagree. Cat’s have an air of superiority, they take life as it comes, without having to philosophise, theorise, and speculate…but I do feel maybe they meditate, they must be thinking of something while they stare out of the window all day…
We can seek out wisdom and knowledge, and then be as lofty as any feline!

Anyone around a cat...patience with the limitations of the human - Cleveland Amory - The Last Krystallos

Misty © Lisa Shambrook

Anyone who has ever been around a cat for any length of time well knows cats have enormous patience with the limitations of the human kind – Cleveland Amory
This picture may or may not back up this quote – Misty is waiting for food, impatiently. However, if I don’t respond she will gracefully wait, until I do… As a people we could certainly do with cultivating patience. It’s not one of my virtues, but my cats have plenty of patience with me, and often humour me!

Cats have it all – admiration and endless sleep and company only when they want it - Rod McKuen - The Last Krystallos

Misty © Lisa Shambrook

Cats have it all – admiration and endless sleep and company only when they want it – Rod McKuen
Patience in a cat does run out…and when it does you’ll know. My cats, Misty and Raven, will pretty much allow you to cuddle, stroke, and pet them as much as you like, though Raven will begin to hiss if you push too far. However, Dad’s cat, Fluffy, is a nope cat, when she’s had enough she will sink her teeth and claws into you no matter who you are.
Many cats will only allow attention when they want it. Cats understand and employ consent. Wouldn’t it be great if people truly respected your time, privacy, and space, before you felt like releasing your claws!

Cats have the courage to live them - Jim Davis - The Last Krystallos

Rusty © Lisa Shambrook

Way down deep we’re all motivated by the same urges… Cats have the courage to live by them – Jim Davis
Why don’t we all try to live our dreams? Rusty lived a life of love and adventure. Raven explores and wanders all the time, and Misty sleeps and eats, yep, there are people who would be quite happy with that! I want the confidence of a cat to live my dreams…

Dogs come when they're called. Cats take a message and get back to you - Mary Bly - The Last Krystallos - Photo Bekah Shambrook

© Bekah Shambrook

Dogs come when they’re called. Cats take a message and get back to you – Mary Bly
There is a definite difference between dogs and cats, and this may be it. You don’t ever control a cat. Cat’s live independently living their own lives, albeit tied in with yours for convenience!
Cat’s choose to give you their loyalty, and if you keep your end of the deal they might keep theirs. The love of a cat is a beautiful thing, because if they love you, it’s because they have chosen to love you. I can’t say it’s as unconditional as a dog’s love, but it’s right up there with reciprocal love. Stay worthy of it!

A house is not a home without books and cats - Anon - The Last Krystallos

Raven © Lisa Shambrook

A house is not a home without books and cats Anon
This one is a favourite of mine. I was raised on books, but not cats, so since we got married we’ve had both, books and cats… Never a truer statement!

Let’s live like cats, with patience, adventure,
and the wisdom to know what we want and to go after it!

What do you love about cats?

Also check out: Life Lessons we can Learn from Dogs…

Blue John – Treak Cliff, Peak District

Blue John – the Indigo stone of Clarity…

Blue John - Treak Cliff, Castleton - The Last Krystallos

Crystals, gems, and stones enchant me from both a geological point of view and a healing, spiritual approach. So, when we were up in Nottingham this last weekend, Vince and I drove out to Castleton in the Peak District to visit the caverns.

Blue John - Treak Cliff - Stalactites - The Last Krystallos

Treak Cliff Cavern © Lisa Shambrook

We took an underground barge down the flooded Speedwell Cavern and learned about the lead mines and visited Peak Cavern. Peak Cavern is known as the Devil’s Arse, and is also connected to Speedwell via tunnels only accessible to potholers. We didn’t get to Blue John Cavern this time, but did go to Treak Cliff Cavern and our tour guide Katie was brilliant.

We entered via Tardis doors, because as we all know once past the tunnel going in you’ll definitely find that the caves are bigger on the inside… Treak Cliff is different from many cave systems in that moss and algae grow on the roof and walls in some spots and are encouraged as the caves also contain spiders, centipedes, and bats among other tiny wildlife. You can also see fossils adorning the walls, showing that the caves were once deep under the ocean and carved out in the Ice Age.

Treak Cliff Cavern - Castleton - Blue John Fluorite - The Last Krystallos

Blue John, Treak Cliff Cavern © Lisa Shambrook

300 years ago the original miners searched for lead, but found nothing in Treak Cliff, instead they found and disregarded a purple and yellow Calcium Fluoride (Fluorspar) running through the limestone. Its worth was later appreciated and Blue John was mined, both in Treak Cliffs and Blue John mines. This mountain is the only place in the world that Blue John is found. The caves are a Site of Special Scientific Interest and protected, and mining of Blue John is carefully monitored.

Treak Cliff Cavern - Castleton - Blue John Vein - The Last Krystallos

Blue John Vein, Treak Cliff Cavern © Lisa Shambrook

The miner who discovered the indigo-blue and yellow fluorite very imaginatively called it Blue and Yellow… In France they dropped the ‘and’ to make it Bleu Jaune, and back in Derbyshire without the romantic French accent it switched to Blue John and the name stuck!

Treak Cliff Cavern - Castleton - Blue John Pillar - The Last Krystallos

Blue John Pillar, Treak Cliff Cavern © Lisa Shambrook

I loved our tour through Treak Cliff Cavern, moving into caverns full of Blue John still running through its walls, and a pillar of the fluorite worth over 9million, but unable to be mined because the pillar holds up the cavern!

We moved into caves with flowstone, stalactites, and stalagmites.

Treak Cliff Cavern - Castleton - Stalactites - The Last Krystallos

Stalactites, Treak Cliff Cavern © Lisa Shambrook

The crystalline gemstone is valuable and rare, as I said, only found in Hope Valley near Castleton, and the mined stone is sold in rough and polished specimens, and turned into exquisite jewellery, bowls, and fine ornaments. Treak Cliff has a wonderful gift shop, which includes a display of items not for sale, but gorgeous. A Blue John dragon sits inside this display…I wish I’d taken a picture of it! I also visited Silver and Stone gift shop on Goosehill Bridge to find my slice of Blue John.

I have a lovely collection of gemstones, having researched them for my current work in progress, The Seren Stone Chronicles, and purchasing a couple of pieces of Blue John was a true pleasure.

Blue John - rough - polished slice - tiny - Calcite -Treak Cliff - The Last Krystallos

Blue John, rough and polished slice, and Calcite © Lisa Shambrook

The fluorite comes in a banded stone, yellow or white, with bands of purple crystalline. The more yellow pieces are coloured with iron ore. Sliced pieces show the gorgeous bands of purple and white. I chose a small two inch piece with intricate purple markings, which look amazing when held up to the light.

Blue John - polished slice - Treak Cliff

Blue John, polished slice © Lisa Shambrook

Blue John’s healing properties include clarity of mind and peace. It boosts mental, spiritual, and emotional awareness. Fluorite has many physical healing energies and Blue John has been used as an elixir to promote health and beneficial mineral absorption.

I love discovering the beauty of gems and stones, and Hope Valley’s secrets are there for all of us to discover, in a rich and striking vein of Blue John.

 

Coping with the Stigma of Antidepressants

Why is it still difficult to remove the stigma of medication
for depression, anxiety, and other mental health struggles,
while so many are experiencing these disorders?

Coping with the Stigma of Antidepressants - The Last Krystallos

When we talk about eradicating stigma we’re trying to normalise or accept something that has been deemed a sign of social unacceptability: the shame or disgrace attached to something regarded as socially unacceptable. In general, society is becoming much more compassionate and educated about mental health, and the stigma is relaxing. However, we still have a long way to go and even those of us fighting to remove the labels can have trouble accepting.

I’ve lived with clinical depression, anxiety, and panic for most of my life, and dealt with it in many ways. I’ve had success overcoming it using natural ways, and I’ve had many times when I’ve needed medication. Accepting medications has always been difficult. Nobody likes to admit they’re not in control of their own bodies, let alone their own minds.

Sertraline-antidepressant-Coping-with-the-Stigma-of-Antidepressanthe-last-krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

I know many people on antidepressants, and many who refuse meds, so how do you know if medication will help you?

I didn’t want to be on antidepressants for the long term and I believed meds would only offer the placebo effect after so long. I chose to take six month courses, weaning myself off by nine months, believing the serotonin, the meds, and my biological body would work together to rebalance.

tears-Coping-with-the-Stigma-of-Antidepressants-the-last-krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

So, what happens when your plans don’t work, when your body doesn’t do what you want it to?

Sometimes you have to allow your body to take its time.

Teddy-suicide-Banksy-Coping-with-the-Stigma-of-Antidepressants-the-last-krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

The last few years have been tough, culminating in a psychotic episode almost exactly ten months ago last week. An episode I wasn’t sure I’d return home from. It scared me and my family. The following week got worse, and eventually my GP prescribed Setraline and got me on a waiting list to see a counsellor.

I was scared of where I was and with a history of self-harm and suicidal tendancies I sought out private counselling. This helped greatly with learning coping skills and discovering how to deal with my demons. However, medication does a funny thing. I saw an initial counsellor who saw me in a terrible state, tears, panic, and reflections of the psychosis, and she referred me to a therapist closer to home. By the time I saw my new counsellor, I was a couple of weeks into my antidepressants and despite the side effects they were working. I was calm, relaxed, intelligent, and totally understanding of my mental health state. We worked hard together for seven months – and I felt fine.

Demon-Coping-with-the-Stigma-of-Antidepressants-the-last-krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

You know you often hear about people stopping their meds because they’re okay now? Yes, that. You truly believe you’re fine, and sometimes completely forget that medication is what’s at work.

Granted, I had many more tools in my mental health coping strategy tool belt, but I didn’t realise how well the antidepressants were working. I spent my seven months on them and (disliking the side effects) decided to lower my dose (with my GP’s say so). I halved my intake and within days I noticed the difference. My proposed weaning off from seven months didn’t go to plan. I became erratic, anxious, and paranoid. And when I experienced my second psychosis, my GP insisted I upped the dose once again.

I am now in what I call ‘no-man’s land’. I haven’t ever been here before and I don’t like it. I feel reliant on medication and I don’t want to be. I feel like I failed. Why didn’t my mind/body stick to my usual plan, the six month – nine month course that always worked before? I don’t want to be dependent on medication and I am stigmatising my own mental health.

Barbed-wire-Coping-with-the-Stigma-of-Antidepressants-the-last-krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

Here I am, championing mental health awareness and trying to eradicate the stigma, yet I’m scorning my own need. There’s truth that mental health conditions mess you up – it’s what they do. And accepting that you’re not in control is incredibly hard. I’m a control freak, so there’s that too. I know that I need to be on medication to stabilise, and I don’t know how long it will take for my brain and my biology to do that. I can’t treat it like a broken arm. I can’t time it, or give myself expectations, and I can’t hurry it up.

So, instead, I work on myself, I work on acceptance. I work on loving myself and giving myself time. That’s all we can ask for. For ourselves and those around us also living with what seem like insurmountable health conditions. It doesn’t matter if you have mental health issues, cancer, a broken limb, or any other health condition, nothing should stigmatise what we’re each coping with. Compassion, education, understanding, and love should flow. More so, when governments are assessing and stigmatising conditions and people who need help.

I have no idea how long I will be on medication for, and that’s okay. While I’m on it, I’m fairly stable, and I’m mostly me, and that’s what matters.

Many health conditions are tough to deal with
when all we want are bodies that work the way they’re supposed to.
How do you deal with your health problems when they don’t go to plan?

Going Underground – Mid-Week Flash Challenge

abandoned subway station - City Hall Station, in New York

Abandoned Subway by John Paul Palescandolo & Eric Kazmirek, featured Daily Mail 2012

Talin grabbed Cae’s arm, yanking her away from the wall and down to the ground. Cae yelped, but dropped beside him cursing at the cry she’d uttered. She bristled as his arm swept across her chest in a protective gesture and he held her against the crumbling wall. Falling bricks and concrete echoed amid the crash of shattering glass, and dust clouds rushed round the corner.

They pulled bandana scarves up and over their mouths and shrank back. A billowing fog of debris and death smothered the back street, and they remained crushed against each other and the broken wall.

Moments later, Cae impatiently pushed against Talin’s restraining arm and signalled to him. Reluctantly, he released her and followed as she began to creep, toe to heel, along the wall, her dirty fingers clutching at the disintegrating brick as the ground trembled beneath their feet.

Fog and dust swirled and rotors whirred above them, the hum of drones hovered, and Talin moved behind Cae, wiping the dirt and grease from his goggles. He could hear her breath wheezing behind her neckerchief, and knew her asthma was playing up. He reached out to slow her, but she was gone.

Explosions and splintering glass still rang in his ears as tenements crashed and collapsed behind him, and as he bolted forward, the ground disappeared and he fell through the same rotten boards Cae had.

He landed in a pile of rubbish with an oomph that juddered through his body. He jumped as a hand rested on his leg, as Cae grabbed him and pulled him to his feet. He knew it was Cae as her breath still rasped and rattled, and he immediately snatched her backpack off her shoulders. Even in the gloom he knew what he was looking for and his fingers quickly located her inhaler. They slipped off the mound of rubble and waste, and collapsed onto cold concrete. Talin found Cae’s hand and pressed the inhaler into it. He heard her cough and then gulp down the medication. There was silence as she held her breath, then she took another puff.

The sound hissed in the eerie silence, and then Cae breathed softly, more measured, and Talin relaxed.

“Where are we?” she panted.

“Don’t talk,” he warned. “We have to move from here, in case we’re tracked.”

“The drones can’t get down here…” began Cae.

“Never say never.” Talin squeezed her arm.

The vague light from above disappeared with a thunderous crash as the wall they’d inched along fell, and more dust and grime mushroomed down the hole.

“Not know, anyway!” cried Cae, leaping away from the falling stone and filth. She shrugged her backpack on again and felt along her belt until she found the torch hanging at her waist. She flipped the light on and a stark white glow shone out into the dark.

A broken steel ladder barely clung to the wall, rusted and hanging free of its bolts, and they stood inside an alcove. Cae stepped forward and cried out again, “We’re in a tunnel, the old railway!”

Talin pushed past her and stumbled on the ancient iron rails. Regaining his balance, he switched on his own torch and swept it about the tunnel. “Trains haven’t run for years…” He pointed his light at the tracks. “But these rails look so clean…”

“We shouldn’t be down here…” whispered Cae, clinging suddenly to his arm.

“Rather here, than up there,” said Talin, patting her hand. “And there’s no way back up there.”

Together they moved forward, following the tracks, stepping from sleeper to sleeper, their pace increasing as they hurried over the wooden stepping stones. Torch light bobbed ahead of them and they flinched as the sound of devastation continued to rain above.

The sound of war lessened the further they ran, until up ahead a soft golden glow shone like a candle in a window. The tunnel widened opening up into a vast domed underground station. Cae gripped Talin’s hand as they slowed to a walk then they stopped as two tiny red lights shone in the dark.

The red dots danced lightly across their chests, settling on their hearts. They stopped and waited.

Two women, dressed in combat trousers and torn jackets, with rifles and military boots, stood before them. “Friend or foe?” they asked in unison.

“We were escaping… I’m Talin, this is my sister, Cae.”

Broad smiles lit the women’s faces, “Talin, Cae, welcome to the Resistance.”

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Another great photo prompt from Miranda’s Mid-Week Flash Challenge over at Finding Clarity.

Write up to 750 words inspired by the prompt photograph.