Gillian Monks

'Making Fairytales Come True'

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: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Spring-Your-Step-Celebrate-Springtime/dp/1916339670 – 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.

Greetings For Calan Gaeaf!

Ancestor Table

The Ancestor Table is set and awaits the names, photos and memorabilia of those to be remembered and honoured… a time of soft light and deep shadows.

So, here we are… at the end of Summer and the beginning of Winter. The seeds of all our endeavours for 2020 have been sown – and harvested – and what a curious year it has been.

Now it is time to draw all the threads of our year together. To take all that we have hoped for, striven for and achieved, all we have failed at or lost, and pull them within to be reviewed, reworked and reborn in resolutions for the coming new year. In the summer months of the year the light is all around us… it pervades, intrudes, even disturbs our sleep as it demands our attention and constant activity. But here we are at the very threshold of Winter – with barely eight hours of daylight each day, less in stormy times of heavy cloud and driving rain, and growing ever shorter as we journey on to Midwinter.

The focus of our lives shifts. The undeniable light which suffused us throughout the summer has dimmed. It is time to harvest that too, and take the light within… to shield and nurture it… to sit and be present with it… to bring it to the very edge of our own inner cauldron which represents the roiling, moiling inner source of all that makes us ‘us’ and illuminate what we discover there. For this is also the time of our own inner harvest. Then we may rest, recuperate, and await our rebirth with that of the Sun at Midwinter. Take time to breath and reflect… to decide where you go from here… what you wish to see and do in the new year… and, perhaps most importantly of all, how you wish to achieve it.

Be bold! Be daring! This time of pandemic is not one for holding back and being timid – it is a time of make or break, a time to play your hand and aim for the very highest goals.

As Darkness envelops us (in many more ways than one) and the northern half of the  Earth judders and sighs as she settles for her rest, all that has passed and gone before – along with all possibility of what may be to come – draws near us at this liminal time, the transition from this to… what? It is for us to choose. And at this time of decision, all the Ancestors, our ancestors, of blood, of place, of belief, draw close once more. Do they come to support us? To chastise us for our follies? To seek forgiveness and love? Welcome them. We need solidarity at this particular time. They have faced it all before. They can help to guide us through. Simply open your hearts and minds to them with love. You do not have to know who they are, just acknowledge that they have been… must have existed, or else you could not possibly be here now. Buried deep within your DNA are genetic memories of all that they have experienced, and they will help you remember now, so that you may learn by their own personal collective triumphs and failures what to repeat and where not to go.

I do not wish you a mere ‘good weekend of festivity’, or a jolly, enjoyable or exciting ‘Hallowe’en’ with silly masks and make-up and fancy dress and all the theatricals which humanity employs when it is really seeking to dodge important issues.

I wish you a mind-bogglingly transformative weekend, an experience of such depth and colour that it will take your breath away. But to begin, simply sit with yourself, light a candle, and be silent, with love in your heart.

May the true blessings of Calan Gaeaf / Samhain / Hallowe’en be yours!

It’s Here!

New Book Dress Rehearsal

‘Spring’ is not quite this large – it is just the perspective of the camera shot – but I promise you that it is a good read!

It is said that if winter comes, can spring be far behind? Well, for me, winter truly begins this weekend… and my third book, ‘Spring In Your Step’ will be published ten days later. And here it is! The proof copy (which is why it has that dark strip across its front cover) just to make sure that there is nothing else that needs doing to it before it goes to print.

The book takes us all from the cold, snowy, dark depressing days of January through the spring months to the very edge of summer and explains how the celebration of the return of spring has developed over the years – not only in the U.K. but in other parts of the world too, it is just another common thread which humanity shares – but contains loads ideas of how we may enjoy these often difficult days of bad weather when the light and warmth of spring and summer seems a very long way off. There are lots of examples of how we might genuinely and authentically celebrate and enjoy these first few often inhospitable months of the year and use them for planning and laying the groundwork for the rest of our year… which, hopefully, will literally give you a real ‘spring in your step’. Like every other season, it is not really what is happening in the rest of the world but how we choose to see it, and hopefully, my third book will help everyone to recalibrate their perception of the first season of the year and make the absolute most of these fresh young spring days of hope, inspiration and potential.

‘Spring In Your Step; Discover and Celebrate the Magic of Springtime’ can be pre-ordered now on https://herbarybooks.com/product/spring-in-your-step/

Where Is Your Centre?

Fire and HearthIt is an extremely grey, wet, stormy afternoon in deepest autumn. With a second ‘lockdown’ just begun, the road outside is totally deserted. I have just popped into the dining room to look something up in one of my recipe books and am sat in a chair by an cold,empty, ash-filled grate. We do not light the fires in all the rooms every day and are gradually changing over to enclosed log burners anyway, but it seems a very chilly and sad prospect.

The hearth and living fire has always been the heart of my home ever since I can remember. This is traditionally the focal point of any room, where everyone comes to, warms themselves at, sits around, huddles up to, talks by, reads or sews besides and rests while they watch the T.V. or listen to the radio. When the flames dance brightly the whole room is brought to life. When the fire is out – as it is now – the room dies and becomes hollow, empty, soulless.

Where is the centre of your home? We all need a centre to turn towards, to make for, to represent having truly arrived. Perhaps it might be your favourite chair, or your kitchen table, or the corner where your television sits? The problem with making the television your focal point is that, although it constantly depicts humanity, it is, in itself, essentially dead. Wherever you decide, perhaps you need to enliven it further – stand a couple of house plants in that same corner, and add a candle or two (but not too near to the plants as they fear fire).

What other ways might you depict and furnish the centre of your sanctuary with? Photos of friends or family, perhaps? A stack of your current reading? Bag of handiwork… radio near to hand… biscuit barrel close by? (Naughty!) Think about it this damp, wild day while so many of us are shut in and thrown back upon our own resources, and decide where the centre of your home is and how you can make it even more welcoming and cosy, both for yourself and for others.

I also understand that, for many of us, it is the people who we are closest to who truly make our home the haven and comfort it is… the company, the spark, the support, the laughter… the understanding when there is tears. And perhaps some of you dear souls out there will have recently lost loved ones.

To illustrate just what I mean I will finish with a poem which I wrote after the death of my mother 16 years ago, when the cottage was standing empty and neglected due to my father’s illness when he came to live with us. That was an empty cold dining room too…

Sitting in the creaking chair I look around – you are not there;
You with your funny marvellous ways – only the ‘ghosts’ of ‘yesterdays’.

The room is dark, the hearth grown cold, candles guttered, lamps well out,
China dull and silver tarnished – I blink my eyes and turn about…

Laughter, warmth and dancing flames, steaming food and boisterous games;
Companions close in evening light, enwrapped in love against the night.

But night has come and entered here. Such times with you are now long past.
The group is scattered far and wide; for good or ill no time can last.

I shake my head to break the rays of dancing lights from other days.
Ashes cold – the hearth unswept, this then is death… and I have wept.

SO – bring new life into your home, your daily routine. Do not despair. Look forwards to new beginnings and leave the past where it belongs, in fond memory, but don’t allow it to pollute all the good things which you have now… this day.

With my love.

A Life of Many Hats

Miniatures

An afternoon spent happily working with wood.

During my life I have had many jobs, many interests, and therefore metaphorically worn many hats; teacher, historian, dancer, writer, caterer, healer, as well as mother, wife, daughter, carer and so on. Another ‘hat’ I wore for twenty years was craft artisan and maker of miniatures for the collector’s market – in plain words a designer and maker of period doll’s houses and furniture.

We built houses, cottages and shops of all shapes and sizes, and produced Tudor and 18th and 19th Century country furniture in both 1/12th and 1/24th scale, along with all the soft furnishings and period accessories.  My whole family was involved and we had huge fun doing it, travelling all over the U.K. and even on to mainland Europe to attend specialist fairs as well as posting orders out as far as the U.S. and Australia. We met many lovely people and had some great adventures.

The wheel turns and life changes and soon after the new millenium began I had to step away from it all due to illness and family commitments. But now, I have had what I think is a marvellous idea for a children’s story, which incorporates the making of a small basic doll’s house and furniture to go inside it. My life-long love affair with miniatures is back!

Yesterday, I stood in my local hardware store and just revelled in the smell and feel of all the new wood around me… the panels of plywood, the different shapes and sizes of the ready cut beading, the smooth feel of the grain… ALL that potential! WOW! My husband and I had gone to buy the wood to make a prototype of the model cottage which I want to feature in my next book, (much more about that after Christmas, suffice it to say that I have already begun writing it!)

Miniatures 2

Tiny seats and fireplaces – notice the £1 coin to give an idea of scale. There shall be further blogposts as to what I intend doing with them.

At one time, trips to our huge wood yard back in Lancashire used to be an almost weekly occurance for me, and the thought suddenly struck me that I haven’t done this once regular activity in well over fifteen years. I suddenly felt quite emotional – in a very happy sort of way. It is said that if you wait long enough, everything in life comes round again.

I have now had an idea of utilising my miniature-making skills to also produce Christmas decorations and gifts, so the world of 1/12th scale and 1/24th scale seems to be very much back in my life just now!

Watch this space for what I come up with and in the new year, news of my – as yet – embryonic story.

Wish me luck!

My Life On The Way To Somewhere Else

Path through gorse‘Can you just throw the dog’s ball for me?’ I ask as an excited Labrador rushes up and down the kitchen while I am busily mixing a large tray-bake of sticky dark parkin ready to go in the oven for tea.

My darling husband had been walking past the backdoor, beaker in hand, to put milk in it so that he could make himself a cup of instant coffee. The next thing I know, he has turned back into the living room where our aga cooker is situated (don’t ask!) and a full minute later, has reappeared without his beaker, then proceeding to go outside to throw the dog’s ball.

‘Where did you go?’ I ask as I tip the parkin mixture into a large tray.
‘You asked me to throw the dog’s ball, so I went to take the kettle off the Aga.’ he  replies.
Oh, for the luxury of doing just one thing at a time!

How often do you do little tasks whilst on the way to somewhere else? I do it all the time. Sometimes I walk around the house like a human trolly, picking up and putting down items which the rest of the family have left lying about. Or I run the washing-up water into the bowl while feeding the birds. I have, on occasion, found myself cleaning out whole cupboards or weeding and sweeping out thirty foot drive while actually on the way to another part of the house or garden. Sometimes my ‘life on the way to somewhere else’ has developed into a whole afternoon’s activity as I end up doing a huge job of work which I never originally intended setting out to do at all.

They say that women are better at multitasking than men. I think that anyone who has brought up a young child will have had to learn how to multitask just to stay on top of everything and survive a busy life. Feeding a child whilst making a meal, answering the door or telephone and attempting to help another child with its homework is not an uncommon sort of combination for the full-on parent or home-person. The same goes for bustling activity in any walk of life – we all try to cram in as much as we possibly can in the little time we have got. Over the years I must have spent months engaged in activities which I performed on the way to somewhere to else.

Which is why I would like to share with you something which I have just read in the North-Western Federation Journal for Theosophy. I do not know who the author of this piece is, but it is a timely reminder that we do not always have to justify each second of our time with multiple activities. In these strange times of isolation and lockdowns due to the pandemic, many of us have suddenly experienced more time than we normally have to spare. How do you fill your life on the way to somewhere else, and what do you choose to do with those little ’empty minutes’?

Take time to think – it is the source of power.
Take time to read – it is the foundation of wisdom.
Take time to play – it is the secret of staying young.
Take time to be quiet – it is the opportunity to seek God.
Take time to be aware – it is the opportunity to help others.
Take time to love and be loved – it is God’s greatest gift.
Take time to laugh – it is the music of the soul.
Take time to be friendly – it is the road to happiness.
Take time to pray – it is the greatest power on earth.
THERE IS A TIME FOR EVERYTHING.

 

Cerridwen’s Cauldron

Ancestor TableOctober is upon us and deepest autumn has arrived. This is the month of the goddess, Cerridwen, Welsh deity of endings and death, but also of rejuvenation, rebirth and hope. The Celtic year ends at Nosen  Calan Geaef on the 31st October with the completion of the harvest as winter closes in. In this month’s Walking With The Goddess, experience for yourself the magical, transformative journey to Cerridwen and her mighty cauldron and what it might bring you for your ‘new year’.

This time of year is also when we remember, acknowledge and celebrate the Ancestors; those who have lived, worked and worshipped/believed as we do now, as well as those connected to us genetically by blood. As part of our endeavours to heal our society and our world, I invite you to also heal your ancestors with kindness, remembrance and love. Many of us unwittingly carry the results of the efforts – and mistakes – of our forebears, buried deep within our genetic code. On the other hand, we are also now struggling to live in and come to terms with a flawed world which our ancestors helped to create. There is much to understand, to forgive and to now change.

This month, Walking With The Goddess also asks you to turn your hand to doing something practical to change this faulty world of ours – from adopting unwanted, derelict or abused land, forming action or community groups, or inspiring a lot more outdoor communal activity as a way of us being together safely, read some of my suggestions on how we might all become more pro-active or think up your own ideas of how we might support others to get things moving in the right direction.

We all have the capacity to work some ‘magic’ in our lives. We are all responsible for our world. Come Walking With The Goddess – our own sacred planet Earth – on an adventure of discovery and creative inspiration and begin to make things happen.

Each monthly module only costs £5 with a sliding scale for those who are experiencing financial hardship.

To find out more or to purchase, click on the link: https://www.earthwalking.co.uk/walking-with-the-goddess/

We can formulate our plans for a bright new future around the rim of the cauldron, and we can bring them into being through our own endeavour.

With gentle blessings of the dying year,
And my love.

‘Dementia Diary’ – published 30th September

On the 30th September, my dear friend and fellow author, Ali Sinclair, has her first book, ‘Dementia Diary; A love story to the end’ published by Herbary Books.

Ali has produced a charmingly frank, honest, sensitive, and very personal account of one woman’s challenge to single-handedly identify and care for her beloved partner who develops frontal lobe vascular dementia and it makes remarkably compelling reading. It is interwoven with poems and diary exerts which encapsulate Ali’s emotions, humour, confusion and frustrations as their love and life together is increasingly tried and tested by Bob’s deteriorating health.

The brisk, lively pace of the narrative also refreshingly illustrates how and why it is perfectly permissible to feel fear, anger, and despair and how Ali often manages to dig deep and draw on reserves of patience, love and understanding. Ali hopes that in honestly and authentically sharing her experiences it might help others in similar circumstances.

I really wish Ali well with her first venture into the literary world. It took her a great deal of courage to re-open old wounds and re-read her diaries so that she could write her beautiful, touching and inspiring story of determination, tenderness and love… to the very end.

Ali Sinclair Author Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Ali-Sinclair-Author-106303377845196

Join her for the book launch on Zoom, 5th October 7 PM! https://zoom.us/j/96659447639?pwd=R2hQd0lGM21aamE4YXNhSGVjdWJ1QT09

 

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