Gillian Monks

'Making Fairytales Come True'

Category: Out and About (Page 1 of 2)

Christmas Grocery Shopping…

Gingerbread stall, Erfurt

A whole stall selling nothing but gingerbread!

Yesterday I ventured out into Retail Land and did my big grocery shop for the Midwinter period. I try to be as organised as possible – write out a schedule of special days for which I want/need to specially cater, decide on menus and write a shopping list accordingly. Most of my purchases are ingredients with which to bake or cook things, so I have quite a task ahead of me in the kitchen! But it is of my choosing and I feel that it is important to remember this.

Wandering around the shops in the centre of town and the supermarkets always has an odd effect on me – I often become very tired and a little depressed. there is just so much and all my senses go into overload. Yes, there are some lovely luxuries and tempting treats but if we all spent a million pounds we still wouldn’t be able to achieve the occasion which so many of us seek.

This is because some of the vital ingredients which go to make up the perfect Midwinter/Christmas celebration are simply not for sale. What really makes a special time are the instances when people come together in common understanding and love… when someone shows compassion or empathy… when a person suddenly volunteers to help or to do… when a habitually grumpy person suddenly cracks a joke and changes the whole atmosphere… when one or more people rally round and jointly make something good. In other words, when humanity shows love and care it creates a magic which nothing else can rival or achieve.

Astonishingly, this magical element is more often found in the most mundane of situations. It is in all the thought and planning and effort… the tidying of cupboards to contain all the extra provisions… the cleaning of the house to ensure that all who enter there at Midwinter are as comfortable and cosy as possible…the extra and unexpected card hastily scribbled… the effort to get all the boxes of decorations out of the garage or down from the loft… the peeling, chopping, whipping and kneading that goes into producing even the simplest dishes… the steadying hand on the shoulder… the wordless hug… the smile which needs no explanation… the unsolicited cup of tea… these are just a few of the tiny ‘magics’ which go to make up the magnificent whole!

In other words, it does not matter a jot what we do, buy, make or have – it is the spirit in which we live our days… each hour… each moment, which makes all the difference and which will ultimately make a wonderful and memorable occasion. It will be the people, the laughter – even the disasters, later chuckled over – which will be remembered long after the wonderful (or unwanted) gifts, the table settings and the decorations have been forgotten. Done with the right approach and in the right spirit of loving and giving, a single candle on a table set with a paper napkin and a sprig of holly… with sausage and mash to eat and little promises of loving or caring actions written on slips of paper instead of lavish gifts can mean far, far more.

However you are spending this time of preparation – of Advent – and whatever you achieve once the time to celebrate actually arrives, make the very most of it. It is actually easier to get the most out of a few dishes, gifts, activities… to thoroughly appreciate and enjoy a single glass of wine rather than half a bottle… truly taste a couple of rich chocolates as you slowly consume them rather than guzzling down the whole box and then finding that you haven’t really tasted or even registered eating any of them. In over-abundance, so much can become obscured and lost.

Stollen stall, Erfurt

Thought that there is only one kind of stollen? Then think again. Here is every varied ingredient and type of stollen you could ever wish for!

Back to the two dreaded ‘c’ words – consumerism and commercialisation – try not to become distracted from the true relevance of what it is you wish to achieve. There are many occasions when the spectacular displays of the commercial world can be both enjoyable and inspiring (as in my recent visits to the German Christmas markets) so, go ahead, feast your eyes, and your other senses too – settle for one or two little treats which you can enjoy there and then or which will lift your special gathering when it arrives.

Remember not to throw the baby out with the bath water. Millions of people earn their livelihood from making and/or selling something, or supporting those who do. Just don’t allow it to get out of hand and, wherever possible, buy from local producers which then directly feeds money back into your local economy and supports your local community.

Lastly, don’t forget to have fun! Whatever you are planning for this weekend, stop, take a deep breath, give a smile, and remember to enjoy it!

Star stall, Erfurt

These wonderful stars really show up well in the dark of a winter’s night!

 

 

Hugs To All!

Sun behind treesJust a quick reminder to everyone that I shall be talking about my latest book, ‘The Alternative Advent Calendar’, with Selina Mackenzie on Talk Radio Europe just after 1.pm. today.

In view of the slight furore which my query about ‘Black Friday’ and observation about the derivation of the name ‘Black Peter’ caused yesterday, I decided to look up what I had written in the ‘Alternative Advent Calendar’ for today. Door number 9 for the 9th December suggests that we give Christmas hugs to everyone. This is particularly good advice as words so often get in the way. How much can be communicated by gentle and loving touch when words just trip us up and obscure our true intentions and feelings?

So, to all my dear friends and readers out there… people whom I literally know or are – so far – only electronic or literary friends  with… there is a genuinely warm and caring hug winging its way to you across the internet and the ether right now. May peace and understanding bless us always… with my love.

Schöner Advent!

Me among the stalls

On arrival at Erfurt Christmas Market

I bring greetings and wonderful memories from some of the Christmas markets of Germany! While I was away this past week, I visited several Christmas markets, but by far the largest and most mind-boggling was the huge market held on the Domplatz in Erfurt.

Regardless of its huge size, it was very tastefully presented. All the trader’s stands were substantially constructed wooden booths – more like little log cabins – an absolute necessity to protect both the goods for sale and the people selling them as the market is open from 10.am. until 9.pm., seven days a week, from the end of November until the 23rd December. These booths are decorated with lots of living branches of fir, coloured lights and, up on their roofs, scenes of Father Christmas and winter elves and animals abound.

The single word which springs to mind to describe the Erfurter Weihnachtsmarkt is ‘traditional’. The main emphases of the all the decorations on sale is that of wood and light, celebrating man’s interaction with nature, the darkness of Winter and the huge importance of the rebirth of Light in that darkness. Whether lit by wax candles or electrical replicas, the towering pyramids constantly and energetically circle carrying their assortment of traditional religious figures, and well-loved local dignitaries, characters and animals. Illuminated flying buttresses depict winter woodland and village scenes, the trades and crafts of the area or, occasionally, religious scenes.

Market from Cathedral steps

Dusk is falling as the short winter afternoon draws to a close. A view of part of the market from the bottom of the cathedral steps.

Every type and shape of candle, candle holder, lantern, incense cone and incense burner, Christmas bauble and tree-topper imaginable are available. So too is every conceivable size and flavour of spice cake, stollen, and cookie, with stalls also solely devoted to gingerbread and chocolates. And there is a never-ending variety of tempting and delicious foods, snacks and drinks to fortify the crowds as they happily make their way around the colourful and brightly lit stands. Sausages of every size and flavour and other savoury favourites like the hot and sustaining Kartoffelpuffer, (hot flat cakes of cooked potato served with an apple sauce), which I particularly enjoyed. Chestnut sellers pedalling their wares offer a tasty chance to warm both hands and mouths. Then, of course, there is the ubiquitous Glühwein… made from as many different ingredients as you can possibly think of. I had a particularly potent mixture made from rowan berries mixed with rum – it certainly kept the cold at bay! And while you stop and take a break, there is music – both piped modern favourites, and traditional carols played by musicians be-robed in velvet.

Cathedral and stage

The darkening winter’s sky and one of the soaring cathedrals provides a spectacular backdrop for the stage where musicians begin to play… and some of the audience dance!

The Christmas Market is truly a feast for the senses… a kaleidoscope of rich colour… an intermingling of the scent of burning charcoal, hot savoury food, mulled spices and smoking incense… a melodious symphony of chatter, laughter and song. For Christmas is really coming, and these markets mark the celebration of the anticipation and preparation which is key to this very particular time of year… Advent. They are a perfect illustration of how we can all come together, and still include the more tasteful commercial aspect of the season, without loosing the excitement, the wonder and magic, and the warmth of community experience.

Long they may continue, for these marvellous markets do not merely provide an opportunity for consumers and commercial producers alike, they create a spectacle, an occasion, an experience, and generate a scenario in which warmth, friendship and happiness can flourish. Long may they continue!

 

Holiday Time!

Tomorrow, my husband and I are off to Germany to spend a week with his family. We shall be celebrating Christmas early with them and also visiting the huge Christmas market which is set on the medieaSprig of Hollyval Dom Platz at the heart of the old city. Visiting a genuine German Christmas market has always been a dream of mine since I was a little girl… now, at last, it is about to come true!

So I shall be out of touch for a little while but you can depend on it that I shall have lots to say – and lots of stories to recount – when I return home.

For all my American friends and readers, I wish you a wonderful and very happy Thanks Giving Day.

For everyone else, have a marvellous time with your pre-Christmas planning and the slow ‘building of the magic’! It will be the first Sunday of Advent this coming weekend – enjoy it all and don’t forget to sing some carols – alternative or otherwise!

A Wonderfully Unique Opportunity…

Jess' Workshop PictureJust a reminder that this amazing day of seasonal creativity and celebration is almost upon us!

I shall begin the morning by giving a short explanation of why we decorate our homes with evergreenery at Midwinter/Christmas and what some of the decorations specifically signify. Then everyone will have the chance to make their own decorations to take home with them:- fir cone gnomes, Welsh calennigs, Advent wreaths and kissing balls. There will be hot mulled fruit cup to fortify you along the way. This will be followed by a gorgeous, three-course, vegan Christmas Lunch, after which, Lee will give a cookery demonstration of how to make some of the dishes that were served at the Christmas meal.

Lastly, we shall gather around a blazing fire in the library where I will lead a discussion on how to celebrate the Midwinter and Christmas festival more authentically, ending with the singing of alternative carols by candlelight and hot chocolate to drink by the fire.

£79 for the day – including a recipe booklet especially designed for event containing all the Christmas Lunch recipes.

Bed and breakfast rates for those coming from further afield.

TO BOOK:

Tel. 01286 882 388 or email info@trigonos.com
For a booking form, visit Trigonos’ website www.trigonos.org
Address: Trigonos, Plas Baladeulyn, Nantlle, Nr. Caernarfon, Gwynedd, North Wales. LL54 6BW

 

Back on the Airwaves!

If you would like to hear me talking about both of my books and the connection that I have with druidry, then tune into talkRADIO 9.am., Saturday, 2nd November, when I shall be chatting to Penny Smith. Exciting times – and it will be great for me to know that some of my friends are out there listening in!!!

Woodland Foraging

Out until twilight this evening in Beddgelert forest, gathering the abundance of the woodland for a workshop I am leading this coming Sunday afternoon. It is part of the ‘Vibrant Vegan’ retreat at Trigonos and I am busily assembling baskets and baskets of acorns, beech and alder masts, hazel nuts, heather, berries and foliage to provide the twenty-two participants with enough living potential to make autumnal door wreaths, broaches, table decorations and – lastly – cute little fir cone gnomes.

All good fun, and gives me a lovely excuse to be wandering the  woodland ways with my family and dogs as I source and gather the necessary wild materials. And yes, I am always respectful, and ask each bush, plant or area if it is willing to donate some of its produce to whatever I am making. I am also careful not to over-pick from any one tree or place so that no one can actually see I have been there and taken anything. One also had to bear in mind that many insects, animals and birds rely on our autumnal abundance for winter food. They are mostly territorial and we humans need to be careful not to completely denude one territorial patch and leave some wild creature without supplies.

Always remember to be thoughtful, grateful and appreciative. Otherwise, a stroll in the sunshine to collect some bits and pieces to make a seasonal wreath is a really lovely past-time for this time of year. Take a walk out… and enjoy!

Stepping Through The Archway

Earthwalking ArchwayHere is a picture of the Earthwalking Archway – symbolic commitment to entering the Earthwalking cycle. There are still a couple of places left on the next cycle – do any of you reading this feel that you could step through the willow into the space beyond?

We all had a lovely time together on Sunday at the Earthwalking introductory day. Numbers gradually grew throughout the day and as the weather improved, by the middle of the afternoon we were able to move outside into the hot sunshine.

The morning began with lots of grey cloud, damp and cool, as we tramped around part of the land and I was able to point out the stream, (which provides our water), the willow bower where on hot days we sometimes retreat into the shade while we journey or hold discussions. We also walked around the ritual grove area where the embryonic circles of oak saplings are flourishing and past the willow labyrinth with its four interconnected spirals and on to the tiny island of apples… the water channel around it being mightily overgrown at present but bursting with wildlife.

We also took time to connect to the four elements, to spend time with and savour them. People sat besides the lively stream who’s waters were swollen by the recent rain and bowls were individually drawn from it, peaty brown and stirred from the depths of the Earth herself. Tiny fires were carefully built and lit upon the bank of the stream and time spent entering into the dancing flames and appreciating their warm… their cleansing and transformative abilities… their potentially destructive power. Hands were muddied from digging out the earth and cheeks were cooled by the presence of the gusty wind.

Coffee and mint tea (picked fresh from the herb beds) were brewed and home made flapjack passed around before we went on to discuss why it might be necessary to regularly cleanse oneself psychically/spiritually; some of the ways to go about it and the best times to do it.

By one o’clock we were all ready for lunch – thick farmhouse tomato soup, cobs of brown, crusty bread studded with crisp seeds, blocks of cheese and piles of fruit followed by pieces of moist lemon drizzle and sticky chocolate cakes. By this time we had been joined by our youngest visitor to Earthwalking ever – a very small little lady who only celebrates her first birthday at the end of this month. She was  absolutely charming and impeccably behaved and quite stole all our hearts!

The afternoon was spent looking at the Celtic Spirit Wheel which is in fact a

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The Height of Summer

A wonderfully deserted beach!

My latest literary endeavour is now to turn my attention to the content of my next news letter which is due out at the end of July. (Any of you who haven’t yet signed up for it and would like to do so, just visit my author’s web page at www.gillianmonks.com ) I have to say that I am fairly staggered at how quickly these three month slots pass by!

The beach is a particularly good place for me to be just now… the wide open spaces of land, sand, stones and sky… the quality of light… the fresh breezes… very effective in clearing away metaphorical cobwebs of all kinds! And an utter delight to simply soak up the light and warmth and very essence of midsummer.

Looking around the countryside there is plenty of evidence of the season. Fields now shorn of their verdant grass lie pale, flat and smooth in the evening light; the hay harvest now safely gathered in. Hedgerows are smothered in blackberry flowers and sweetly scented honeysuckle. The tiny bouncy lambs

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Out and About

MBS Fair, LlandudnoHow to spend a gloriously sunny Saturday – among other lovely people who share an interest in healing, thinking and different spirituality, of course! This picture was taken of me yesterday at the Mind, Body and Spirit Fair at Venue Cymru in Llandudno. You can even read some of the details of the various workshops which I am offering this summer and autumn! Had a great day and met some marvellous people. Next one is on the 3rd August, if anyone would like to mark it in their diary and come along for a chat and explore the various possibilities of such alternative ways of thinking, healing and living.

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