Gillian Monks

'Making Fairytales Come True'

Month: November 2020

The Alternative Alternative Advent Calendar!

Making an alternative advent calendarI have a suggestion for an alternative advent calendar which is based on my book, ‘The Alternative Advent Calendar’ but is perhaps more suitable for children, or is something which the whole family can join in with producing and then following.

The idea is to make (or use) 24 little paper envelopes, which can be made from coloured paper, Christmas paper, plain file paper or even newspaper – anything you want. They can be decorated in any way you with too – this you can set the children  or the most artistic person in your household to work on.

Ready made envelopes can be used to save time, or pieces of paper simply folded in two and glued or sellotaped shut. I have made mine from red and green crepe paper. To do this:

  • Cut 24 pieces of paper, each 12 cm x 18 cm.
  • As in the illustration above, fold each paper almost in half, leaving a flap of around 2 cm.
  • Glue both sides together and then cut the top flap into an envelope shape and fold over.
  • Trim down both sides of envelope with pinking shears or decorative craft scissors, write a number from 1 to 24 on the front of each envelope and decorate as desired – I have simply stuck a smidgen of mini tinsel on the front of mine instead of a ‘stamp’!
  • Think of 24 things which a person can do to contribute to the preparations for Christmas, or to entertain everyone else in the household. For instance, find six jokes and tell them to everyone else; become someone’s ‘servant for the day/afternoon/an hour and agree to help them in whatever way they wish, or make everyone a hot drink… and so it goes.
  • Finding 24 helpful, seasonal ideas with which to fill the envelopes need not fall to you alone. Divide 24 by the number of people in your household and get each person to think of that number of contributions. Everyone needs to write them out separately on pieces of paper, fold them up and place them all in a bowl or some kind of container. Mix them up, and then randomly give everyone the same number of envelopes and allow them to fill with the folded suggestions from the container and seal them.
  • Then each person goes alone into a designated room – or you might wish to use the whole house! – and secretly hides their envelopes. Then the next person hides their envelopes, and the next, until they are all hidden.
  • On the 1st December, the youngest member of the family has to find the envelope with No. 1 written on the front and carry out whatever the message inside tells them to do.
  • On 2nd December, the next in age has to set off and find envelope No 2 and carry out the instructions which it contains… and so on.

Advent EnvelopesThis helps people to come together, share and makes sure that everyone is included, regardless of age or ability. It also helps to start slowly building the excitement, encourages everyone to join in and take responsibility for organising or performing some task or function but also helps to take a little of the focus off Christmas Day and spreads the activity, enjoyment and fun over the whole three weeks.

Many variations may be experimented with: each envelope may contain a joke or a quotation, or a riddle or the clue to a large crossword… whatever you can think of, so long as it is something everyone can join in with and enjoy the results of.

There is still time yet to get something organised before the 1st December on Tuesday – and it won’t cost a thing, except a little time and thought.

If anyone would like to try this out and then let me know how they get on, I would be absolutely delighted to hear from you. We as a family shall be using this idea for our ‘Advent Calendar’ this year.

Good luck – have fun!

Interview On Radio Lancashire

Silver birch treeFor those of you who wish to tune in on your radios or via the internet, I shall be chatting about my book, ‘The Alternative Advent Calendar’ on the ‘Breakfast Show’ on Radio Lancashire tomorrow morning around

After that, I hope to toddle off to a very tiny but special local Christmas Fair being held out of doors in someone’s garden – free cups of tea and coffee included!

With advent wreath making and Stir Up Sunday as well, this promises to be an altogether very Christmassy weekend, especially as it is sunny and frosty here!

I hope that whatever you are doing this weekend, you enjoy yourself too.

Happy days!

One Month To Go!

Mincemeat and Peels

It might not look like it but there is about 8 lbs of mincemeat in these three glass jars – and don’t the peels look glorious as they drain and begin to dry!

Well, this is it – a month today will be Christmas Day, so we can all begin this particular countdown from tomorrow onwards! My preparations are coming along slowly. Last week I bottled my mincemeat (which had been marinating in rum for a few weeks). It should be just lovely when I come to bake my mince pies!

I also finished off candying another batch of grapefruit peels. They are now all ready to chop up and add to my Christmas Cake mixture on Sunday. The last Sunday of November is traditionally known as ‘stir up Sunday’ and this weekend I shall be vigorously stirring, I can assure you! (Thick luscious peels like this also make excellent after-dinner treats if sliced and part dipped in melted dark chocolate and allowed to set again – the combination of tangy citrus and chocolate is a combination truly made in heaven! recipe can be found in ‘Merry Midwinter.))

This coming Sunday is also the first Sunday of Advent and I shall be making our Advent wreath… Oh yes, it is all beginning to happen now! Yaaaaay!!!

And I have a slightly different idea for an Advent activity which young and old can join in with – a sort of alternative to my Alternative Advent Calendar… but more about that next time!

Happy busyness!

Light In The Darkness

Daffs at Fron GochYesterday, I ventured out from my home and the almost hermit-like existence which has become habitual over the past eight months and went to visit my local garden centre. I haven’t been down there since last January and the first shock was to discover that there has been an extensive programme of extension and rebuilding and I hardly recognised the place! The second shock to my system was to be among so many people again – so many families with young children… ah, there is still life – and hope – out there!

As I sat in a new outdoor cafe area sipping a scaldingly hot latte, I reflected that here was truly a miracle. After all that has happened this year… the fear, worry, tension, loss, bereavement and grief… the political argy-bargy and wrangling… here are families – my local community, bless them – celebrating and enjoying the time of year and each other’s company. Their eager excitement and anticipation was almost palpable.

Tucked away indoors was the usual array of mind boggling glitz and glitter – the amazing sensory overload which constitutes the seasonal display of Christmas decorations.  Normally I revel in the sheer exuberance of it all, a counterbalance to my very personal, private and mystical experience of the Midwinter, but somehow it all seemed too much for me this time.

I took myself off outside and, while my husband went to browse the bookshop and organic market, I found myself wandering the aisles of winter plants. Here I regained my perspective of what our Christmas/Midwinter celebration is all about; a gaudy, frenetic event of light and light to illuminate this darkest time of the year – an island of colour and hive of activity in a sea of stillness and shadows. For the exhibition hall containing all the sensual overload of Christmas festoonary sits couched in a sea of winter flowering shrubs and plants… a miracle of life unostentatiously displayed in blooms, berries and foliage.

Beyond the confines of the garden centre itself, the leafless trees and sere fields lie sleeping, a counterpane of mist and cloud dulling  edges and softening stark realities. Here is my true Midwinter reality; that no matter what happens in the world – no matter what disasters and plagues and heartbreak – life carries on. Held within the palm of dead winter sits the beating heart of new life… new vegetation and abundance, new human life and potential – totally irrepressible, unstoppable… and utterly inspiring and heartening!

Here is to the continuation of life and to new beginnings… and blessings for all.

It’s Here!!!

Third Book PublishedI recently celebrated my birthday, but yesterday we were celebrating another very important ‘birth day’ in my life – that of my third book. ‘Spring In Your Step; Discover and Celebrate the Magic of Springtime’, was officially published on the 10th November.

I might be a writer, but I do not possess the words to convey exactly what it feels like to physically hold something which you have poured over and worked at for the best part of a year. Perhaps it is like watching an ephemeral dream suddenly take form and become physically real. Any book is created from the spun sugar of ideas, thoughts and dreams and woven into the finished tangible article of candyfloss on a stick in book form, all ready to eat, or in this case read. (Please forgive my epistolary flight of fancy!) But after all, I am positively fizzing!!!!

Yesterday evening, my son – who is also my publisher! – filmed an interview with me  talking about ‘Spring In Your Step’. It will need editing but will soon be available for you all to watch, and I very much hope that you enjoy it.

It is available from Amazon here: – or any good bookshop.

Feedback from beta readers and the few who pre-ordered from Herbary and received their books a couple of days early is all very positive and heart-warming. If or when you buy your own copy, please do let me know what you think of it – I genuinely love to hear from my readers!

A Very Special Day

Me with cakeYesterday was my birthday, and I have to say that I had a wonderful time. As readers of my first book, ‘Merry Midwinter’, will already know, I traditionally spend my special day visiting our local garden centre to see the display of Christmas decorations – this is also usually the signal for me to begin singing carols, playing Christmas music, and generally getting into the seasonal swing of things. But here in Wales we are still in our short ‘firebreak’ lockdown, so no garden centre for me this year. Besides which, the weather was absolutely gorgeous and far too nice to spend indoors.

Craflwyn WoodsInstead, my husband and I took our two Labrador dogs out for a good long walk. We went to the woods at Craflwyn, just the far side of Beddgelert, which are owned by the National Trust. I had hoped that all the family might go together, but my medical herbalist son had a whole batch of medicines to deliver locally and his partner was off out on her own woodland exploration.

Craflwyn are deciduous, native woods and are very beautiful, spreading up the steep slopes which eventually lead out onto the foothills of Snowdon. We passed little waterfalls and crossed many clear, gurgling streams as they raced down the hillside. I hadn’t walked here for quite a number of years. One particularly lovely spot is the ‘Giant’s Chair’ where we stopped to share our flask of coffee and munch on spicy ‘soul cakes’ left over from Calan Gaeaf… and the dogs had a nibble too!

Gill in the Giant's Chair

No, I haven’t suddenly shrunk – I am sitting in the Giant’s Chair.

From here, we came out of the more densely growing trees and the views of the valley and surrounding mountains, with the now dwarfed hill of Dinas Emrys (of Merlin and the white and red dragons fame) well below us, were absolutely stunning in the late autumn sunshine.


Dinas Emrys from CraflwynThe sun was rapidly sinking down the sky as we drove home again… approaching four o’clock and, I thought happily, just in time for ‘tea’. I don’t usually bother making myself a birthday cake, although I had quite fancied trying out a new recipe for a squidgy chocolate cake, but in the event, I hadn’t had time. Still, I thought, there was the rest of the ginger cake left over from Bonfire Night the previous evening – that would go well with a by now much needed cup of tea.

Gill entering the drawing room

My son also caught on camera my reaction when I walked into the room and saw everything laid out for tea.

However, when I got home, I was in for a surprise. My son and his partner had returned home before us and had been busy, and when I walked into the drawing room, there was the table, set for afternoon tea, with an array of fancy cakes, a birthday cake full of candles, and a pile of intriguingly wrapped little parcels!

Here we spent a couple of very happy hours together, the log burner blazing away, the candles lit and casting cosy shadows… drinking far too many cups of tea and consuming far too much sugar and calories… but enjoying it all immensely all the same. I opened my cards and gifts and read all my messages on Facebook which I found deeply touching, very kind – and sometimes downright hilarious!

Later, unable to go out for a meal we set the smaller dining table at one end of the drawing room with candles and wine and ordered in a set Chinese meal from our local takeaway. Five main dishes and lots of sides and rice – it was all delicious and we thoroughly enjoyed a right royal feast!

Later, I ended my day by watching a Zoom film made by two of my oldest and dearest friends, whom I haven’t seen for many months. They spent nearly half an hour chatting away, bringing smiles and happy tears to my face in turn.

My celebration was quite simple- nothing fancy at all – but in a place and with people whom I love so much, and shared with so many friends across the electronic miles… precious words and memories which, altogether, went to make this my very special day.

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