Gillian Monks

'Making Fairytales Come True'

Category: Musings of the Hearth (Page 1 of 4)

A Very Merry Midwinter!

We have reached the turning point of the Winter… the shortest day… the darkest time of the year. Before us lies the Solstice… the rebirth of Light, of the Sun; the turning of the year and of a new spring season to look forward to.

I wish you all a golden, joyous Midwinter, a tremendous Yule, a very happy Christmas and a New Year of bright and beautiful days!

With my love, always.

It Works!

My family and I have been engaging in our ‘Advent calendar wreath’ activity for just over a week. For those of you who haven’t read the post (entitled The Advent Calendar Wreath) this consists of twenty-four suggested activities for all the family to share , which are written on numbered pieces of folded coloured paper and suspended from an evergreen wreath. One piece of paper is removed from the wreath each day. I am now happy to report that the concept is working very well!

Each evening after we have eaten our meal, we sit drinking our coffee, following whatever the day’s suggestion might be. So far, we have discussed what we most like about Christmas, played our favourite Christmas carols, told seasonal jokes, and so on. However, yesterday evening was the best  so far.

Earlier in the week, my husband (who loves going for walks) had opened the Advent wreath command to organise a torch-lit walk – in other words, a walk after dark. Unfortunately, storm Barra was currently raging across the countryside and walking anywhere outside was definitely unpleasant not to mention dangerous. With the weather finally calming down, the rain reduced to a slight drizzle and the gales abated to blustery wind, we decided to fulfil the challenge.

Suitably kitted out in our warmest coats (which for me is a massive red duffle coat with thick, cosy hood) and a plethora of scarves, hats, gloves and boots, we set forth with our two bemused dogs in tow.

It was a very dark night indeed, but we planned on doing a full circuit of the village  which is largely illuminated by street lamps, except for one stretch of old lane further up the hill where the the full force of the gusts buffeted us mercilessly before we plunged down an even narrower, darker lane, taking us past the old bakery and back onto the bottom road.

Our objective was to seek out as many Christmas lights as we could and in that cold, black night, the sight of gaily lit trees and cosily illuminated house windows was welcome indeed. Eaves and roof were edged in ice blue or frosty silver; fence tops were decorated with peeping Santas and jolly snowmen; front doors sported wreaths and porches were festooned with swags of jewel-coloured pinpricks of light.

We did note with some distress that many of the houses were in darkness which reflects the sad fact that nearly half of the dwellings in our village are now holiday homes and stand empty for a good portion of the year.

Once safely back indoors, we divested ourselves of our thick outer layers. I made hot chocolate to drink and as we sat around the toasty warm Aga in the candlelight from our German wooden decorations and soft glow of fairy lights, my son fulfilled his Advent wreath challenge for that evening, which was to tell a Christmas story.

He had  searched on the internet for some time until he found one which he felt conveyed a compatible message. It was about how the White Envelope Project came into being. A woman bought and donated to a poor inner city church some sports equipment to be used by underprivileged children – and she did this in her husband’s name. She presented these charitable actions to her spouse in the form of a note in a little white envelope which she hung among the branches of their Christmas Tree and which was opened on Christmas morning along with the rest of the presents. Her husband, who adored children, was utterly delighted, and it became an annual event which the whole family eagerly anticipated.

Some years later, the first Christmas after the man had passed away, the children – now grown to young adulthood – all did something similar in their father’s memory – and so the charity was born and grew.

We all felt heartened, warmed and inspired by such a lovely account and my son was obviously well pleased that he had found a little story which so richly illustrated one aspect of the true meaning of Christmas.

This evening, my husband has been tasked with organising a family game, and so our own simple story of seasonal activities and resulting togetherness continues…

Wishing You A Very Normal Christmas!

I recently read an advertising slogan: ‘Have a memorable Christmas!’. While it is most important to share and make good, happy memories, I would suggest that after the past couple of years, surely we shall all be happy – and lucky – to simply be able to celebrate an ordinary Midwinter festival?

Recently, so many people have lost loved ones, or are experiencing ill-health due to Long Covid, or the effects of lock-down, or burn-out from working too long and too hard under traumatic conditions, that a bit of ‘normality – whatever that really is? – would be a genuine blessing and boon. After the isolation and loss of contact with loved ones for so many months would agree. I am also sure that the thousands of people still without electricity and water in the wake of Storm Arwen would also be heartily delighted just to have a bit of normality in their lives at present.

Of course, it is also true that times like Christmas give us the opportunity to lift ourselves out of the everyday mundane rut and splash out… go  a little overboard… let our hair down and forget everything else for a while.

Just keep things simple. Focus on enjoyment and fun along with kindness and hospitality. Aim to create wonderful memories. I have seen a  simple setting with a few tasteful, natural decorations and candles, good quality but simple food carefully cooked and served and activities which all ages and abilities can join in with produce the most superlatively memorable results. This is the sort of tried and tested framework on which to hang any fool-proof celebration. It is very easy to spice things up a bit and suddenly embellish something with a little luxury if that is what suddenly takes your fancy. Otherwise, start small and simple – your pocket, your brain and your emotions won’t feel so overwhelmed – and take it from there.

So, however you decide to spend your Christmas, I most sincerely wish you an extremely normal winter holiday – after all, it is a magical time, and when has magic ever been truly ‘normal’? … but you know what I mean!

Humbug!

Once again I am astonished by the advertising hype that annually assumes such ludicrous proportions at this time of the year. I am being repetitively admonished by my favourite radio station to ‘order now and have the magic of Christmas delivered to your door’. What nonsense is this? One of the definitions of the word ‘magic’ in the Oxford English Dictionary – and the one which I feel applies most closely to Christmas – is ‘an enchanting quality or phenomenon’. How can any sane person seriously suggest – or believe – that this elusive and ethereal quality can be boxed up and popped through one’s letterbox?

Surely, the magic of Christmas is an outlook, a perspective, a state of mind? It is reflected in the selfless and kind actions and thoughts of humanity. It could perhaps be explained as the winter manifestation of unconditional love. How could anyone suggest that thus can be physically quantified and purchased?

More sadly, it overtly implies that you can achieve this blessed and happy state by simply flashing your cash – that it is not necessary to exert yourself in any way, that you do not have to actually do anything yourself, you can simply buy it. How tragic. No wonder so much depression and despair follows the Midwinter holiday season!

The final straw which prompted me to write this post was when I opened a mail order catalogue from which I sometimes buy clothes for my menfolk. This particular mail-out contained an extra Christmas section. Among the items was listed a ‘singing dancing Christmas pudding – delightful fun – great entertainment for all your Christmas guests’. Words fail me. It might amuse little children, but can you really envisage your adult friends and family gleefully watching a plush pudding with white custard hair and a red cherry top-knot jigging about on your beautifully set Christmas dinner table? Have we all completely lost our senses? Is this what ‘Christmas’ comes down to?

I cringe as I hear those dreaded words ‘Black Friday’, which for many of the larger retail businesses has now become ‘Black November’. Of all the more recently human-generated retail traditions, this surely has to be the most despicable. in essence, it encourages and promotes the very worst aspects of human nature, ruthless avarice and greed.

What do you truly want from your Midwinter/Christmas celebration this year? If you could have anything at all as a gift under your Christmas tree, what would it be? What is the most precious thing that is within your power to give to a loved one?  I can guarantee that if you think deeply about it, your answers mostly involve the intangible qualities of life: time, good health, peace of mind, comfort, courage, love….

Before you  grab some over-priced piece of irrelevance in your panic-stricken seasonal shopping spree around the stores, or overheated trawl of the internet, just stop for a minute to think about what that person might really want… or need. One of my most treasured gifts was to receive a super-strong stainless steel, sharp bladed garden spade which faithfully served me for many years and gave me huge pleasure.

Bringing the two principles of giving of oneself and supplying something which people might want or need, I try to make at least some of my own gifts. Last week I went on a Christmas shopping foray, but many of the items I purchased were to make things from: material, thread, pipe-cleaners, felt. I also bought a bag of oranges and some dark chocolate from which I shall be candying the orange peel and dipping it in melted chocolate to make the most gastronomically sumptuous (yet simple) gifts. Far from perfect, but absolutely delicious and definitely my own.

So, stop and think. What do you wish to give and how can you achieve it? If it is something intangible, you can always convey your intention by writing it down in a seasonal card or simply on paper and giving that, so long as you make sure that you follow through with your promises.

I wish you all an alternative and, perhaps, very different but far more satisfying and happy Christmas shopping experience this year.

Welcome Winter!

This picture is of my drawing room, all ready and prepared for our rather more seriously adult Calan Gaeaf/Hallowe’en celebrations last Sunday. The first day after the clocks ‘went back’, the end  of the Celtic year and beginning of Winter.

I chose this picture because it typifies how I feel and what I like about this time of year – a drawing in and coming together of friends and family… a time to sit and cogitate, drift and dream beside the hearth… a chance to process all that has happened in one’s life over the light, sunny spring, summer and autumn months…

This is a special time – a few weeks when we can stop and draw breath, reconnect to our roots and grow into ourselves again before all the craziness of Midwinter and Christmas celebration engulfs us. It is a quiet, very personal time. My deeply hidden, secretive and passionate Scorpio self revels in the shadows, the darkness, and all that which is mysteriously hidden and only hinted at. I LOVE this time of year! Perhaps that is why I chose to be born now? But it speaks to all of us.

When I was a child I believed that it was the close proximity to all the excitement of Christmas which made this time of year so very precious and special to me, but it isn’t that at all, just the reverse. Midwinter/Christmas is a part of it, but the deep resonances of heath and home, of ancient connections and ancestors, of rest and rejuvenation and reaffirmation of belief in and love of life reach very much further into our genetic history… our psyche… the very fibre of our being.

Instead of shrinking away from the cold and the dark of winter, I like to enter wholeheartedly into each activity which the change in season and temperature brings. I mark the day when I need to once more get out my thick winter dresses and the evening I first need to wear my warmer nightdresses or fill my hot water bottle. My taste for certain foods changes too, and once more we are into days of baking cakes rich and heavy with fruit, sticky ginger parkin dark with molasses, steaming, savoury stews and casseroles and one of my childhood favourites, ‘taty pie (meat and potato pie) with pale pastry crust and accompanied by well buttered and peppered root veg from the garden.

Longer evenings mean more time to talk and share with the family, to enjoy leisurely meals, to be unhurried. They also facilitate opportunities to plan and create treats for the Midwinter festivities, secret surprises for all to enjoy with all the glee and little or none of the corrosive pressure. And they provide the time and space to settle with a good book, a long neglected hobby, or simply the space to simply be…

So, please don’t reject the winter – grab it with both hands and thoroughly enjoy it while it is here . The long, light, frenetically busy spring and summer months will soon be back with us. Take this opportunity to absorb the nourishing darkness, sink into the shadows, relax and find yourself again.

Hallowe’en Greetings!

This is a big celebratory weekend for my family. The house is warm with all the candles, lanterns and illuminated pumpkins; decorated with photos and mementos of past family members and fragrant with spices from baking the baking of ‘soul cakes’. The Ancestor Tree stands on the table in the hall. Two cauldrons adorn the hearth, reminiscent of Ceridwen’s mighty Cauldron’s of Regeneration. A glow of connection and coming together permeates the whole house and a frisson of excitement tingles through the air.

This is Calan Gaeaf… Samhain… Hallowe’en… the ending of the Celtic year with the last of the harvest when we enter into the dark time, to pause and reflect, which is only brought to an end with the rebirth of the light at Midwinter. A time between times… a threshold… a liminal space where worlds – different levels of life and energy – may draw closer to one another, when we are able to look back into the past, and forward into the future. A mysterious, unsettling time time of magic.

Yesterday evening we began our celebrations with a Dinner for the Ancestors. We gathered around the dining table where an extra place was set for each person attending the meal, so that they could invite any of their past antecedents to sit and join us. After serving the main course, we all ate in silence to allow everyone the space and opportunity to fondly recall their loved ones who have already entered the Summerlands. I have to say that I sensed our cosy dining room to be absolutely crowded out with folk – a wonderfully heart-warming feeling of loving presence and reconnection.

Later today, we will be gathering with friends to let go of this past year – to literally cast what is no longer relevant or necessary in our lives into the fire where these energies will be transmuted into something more positive and useful. We shall be writing out our hopes, wishes, plans and dreams for the coming new year and carefully placing them into the cauldron where Ceridwen shall keep them safe, allow them to germinate and return them to us as viable new strands to our life. We shall, again, give time and space to remember those who have gone before – not just those genetically connected to us by blood, but those we love and honour in our spiritual and professional lives, or any other aspect of our existence – brothers and sisters who have walked facets of our own path before us, and who we now acknowledge and remember with loving gratitude.

Tomorrow, the day of All Souls, we shall finally come together to remember ALL our ancestors… the hundreds of thousands of people from whom we are directly descended, right back to the beginning of time.

Then, as the last remnants of autumn fade into the dark of true winter, we shall sink back into the shadows, with time to think, to reassess, to visualise and dream, before we set our faces towards the Midwinter and the return of the light.

May this hurly burly time of year, of chaos and temporary lapse in ‘normality’ treat you gently. May you courageously touch infinity with a loving heart and allow it to inspire and illuminate what comes next in your life.

My love to you all, always.

Thread Bear

Ted-Wow

Do you have a beloved toy from when you were a child? When I was just six months old I was give a teddy bear by my parents. He was officially named Edward Bear but as I grew and learned to talk I couldn’t pronounce that properly – I could only say Ted-Wow and Ted-Wow he has been known as ever since.

At just over  12 inches (30 cm) tall, he instantly became my constant companion, went absolutely everywhere with me and had to be with me each evening or else I couldn’t/wouldn’t go to sleep. He came into cinemas, restaurants and theatres – there was once a great outcry when it was discovered that I had left Teds in a coffee bar in the middle of Preston! When I visited my Grandma on a Saturday evening, Teds came too, and he used to get bathed and dried on the hearth in front of her fire.

As I grew older and began to travel abroad with my mother, Ted-Wow naturally came with me. My mother made him lots of sets of clothes so that he could be suitably attired for any occasion, from suede jacket and muffler, to pyjamas and slippers, or tropical ‘whites’ to black trousers, gold lurex jacket and black velvet evening cloak for the theatre. She also made him his very own passport which the gentleman at Athens airport kindly stamped for me and seriously shook Ted-Wow by the paw to welcome him to Greece.

By the time I grew into my mid-teens, I began to fear for my precious teddy bear’s safety as I travelled the world, especially in drug-conscious destinations like Turkey – I certainly didn’t want to watch as some officious customs officer ripped my old bear apart looking for smuggled items! So I began to leave him at home.

By that time, Ted-Wow was also becoming disreputably worn and tatty.  My mother thoughtfully offered to recover him in new golden plush fur fabric. Even though I was almost grown up, it still gave me a turn to see his limbs being separated from his torso and his head removed from his neck! So as not to lose any of the original bear, my mother simply covered him in new ‘skin’ and left his original fur underneath. Amazingly, by doing this he ‘grew’ nearly an inch, (2cm)!

Katy Bassett, most definitely ‘smiling’ for the camera!

Over the years, Ted-Wow has matured into a great character. He has developed a wife called Katy Bassett, (a mere youngster of only 25 years or so), and a son of 18 years of age called  Teddy Edward.

Teddy Edward, who’s smile is often obscured by his longer fur.

I realised a very long time ago that the expression on his face actually changes. Sometimes my bear is definitely smiling broadly and at other times he most certainly can look sad. Nor do his moods always mirror my own. Even my husband has had to admit that Ted-Wow can look quite different each time someone looks at him.

Now, as I approach my 66th birthday, Ted-Wow still remains my constant companion, sitting with his own little bear family on a padded stool next to where I do all my writing. Unsurprisingly, his shiny new coat of fur is now, once again, very dull and worn – his ears have flopped and his nose is a bit squashed and completely bald from where I habitually kiss him… yes, even now.

I worry a little in case he wears into holes. I really don’t want to recover Ted-Wow a third time, it wouldn’t feel quite the same. He is precious just as he is. Like many older people, Teds is looking a little limp and frail now. Each caress, each hug and cuddle, each kiss has thinned his fur and ground away his sawdusty insides.

However, I am acutely aware that Ted-Wow has been worn away by love. How absolutely marvellous to be worn away by love! I think that I would rather like it to become my own ambition; to be worn away and made threadbare by all the hugs and cuddles, the loving experience and interaction between me and the people and the world around me.

Bring it on! When I eventually depart this mortal coil – and I hope that that won’t be for many years yet – I definitely want to leave this life metaphorically threadbare… or in Ted-Wow’s case, threadbear!

Living In A Dickens Scenario

We have also always made all our own display stands. This is me, some years ago, late one evening, dishevelled and tired, finishing off some display boards.

When I was very young, my mother got very excited one evening when she discovered a cricket, sitting on our living room hearth in our ancient cottage home, ‘singing’ its little heart out. It is an old belief that such an occurrence will bring great good luck. Magical! It stayed with us for several evenings and finally disappeared, never to return.

This led to my parent reading certain passages aloud from the story entitled ‘The Cricket On The Hearth’ by Charles Dickens… but it is only during this past few days that I felt prompted to take down one of my volumes of Dickens and read the whole of that short story all the way through… and there, to my utter amazement, I found a description of my younger family working life… something so common and familiar to us all… it took my breath away!

For in the story, there is a toy maker called Caleb Plummer who lives with his blind daughter, Bertha. Their living room is also their workshop which is filled with every kind of wooden toy in every stage of completion imaginable… among others, horses, animated toys, musical instruments, dolls and doll’s houses… and it is this last which held me spell bound!

In view if my recently rekindled interest and involvement in doll’s houses and doll’s house miniatures through the current children’s story I am writing, this has taken on an even greater relevance than when I first made these observations on Facebook six years ago.

For in my younger years, and for at least two decades of my adult life, my family and I were

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Sunlight or Shadow?

How often in our busy lives do we take time out to truly reflect? To think seriously and deeply about our lives from a position of security, calmness and balance? A liberating position of space, time and free-will?

In the ruthless pressure to simply survive in life, from our earliest days, humanity has needed to withstand the physical wounds, the emotional hurts… has, out of sheer necessity, developed the ability to rise to its feet and stoically move on, regardless of the circumstances and the long-term effects. Society expects it of us, the inference being that if we gave free rain to our emotions we would threaten to destabilise everyone else around us and the very fabric of our fragile society would be at risk of collapse.

For how many thousands of generations have our children be abjured to dry their tears? Told not to be soft? A cry-baby? How may of us as adults have been denied the time and opportunity to grieve? To be heard? To be healed? It has become the habit of the species that we must carry on regardless in our inexorable march towards… what? What are we here for? It is not enough to have life; we must strive towards a certain quality of life.

My personal belief is that we are here to experience and learn. We are here to make the most of every opportunity that comes our way, to the very fullest of our ability. And that also means fully experiencing the pain and confusion of life. It is all a valid part of the experience. The vision of a person finally arriving at the end of their life covered in scars but gloriously unbowed and undefeated springs to mind. But that simply isn’t the truth for many. I fear that most of us are bounced through life from one (or multiple) blows, pains, traumas to the next, without ever having the chance to deal with what went before… to assimilate and heal from it.

A memory of my twenty-year old self springs to mind. My family had just received the news that my uncle and three family friends had been murdered. My parents rushed off to the local police station and I remained at home to stand by and answer the telephone. In the meantime, I tried to remain practical and went into the kitchen to bake bread and finish the dinner which my mother had begun preparing, figuring that whatever happened, people would still need to eat at some point. It has ever been my way of dealing with distress. To be practical, reliable… down to earth.

However, it is just not good enough! I now realise that I am metaphorically covered – not with scars – but open wounds which have never been given the chance to heal from properly. I have simply kept slapping on the temporary dressings which have kept them well out of sight, and learned to live with the ever-increasing side-effects.

We all need to take the time to backtrack, to remember, to re-examine, to bring into the light, and eventually to heal. Not because we are weak and cannot get over ourselves; just the reverse, because we are strong. Because we haven’t crumpled at the first hurdle but have valiantly carried on regardless.

Surely we now need to develop a gentler, more understanding, nurturing society where everyone regularly has the opportunity to take time out, to be listened to, supported and allowed time to heal?

But if we still haven’t advanced sufficiently as a species to communally accept the need for this, then once more, we as individuals must draw the line and mindfully make the time and opportunity for ourselves. This does not need to involve reliving every deeply disturbing and upsetting moment of our rollercoaster lives. I am developing a simple but profound practice for myself to help deal with these wounds. I do not wish to appear to be preaching – here, I confess I am unashamedly letting off steam! But if you would like to read my suggestions, please send me a message.

Which do you choose? To blossom in the sunshine or merely scrape an existence in the shadows?

Taking the initiative to become whole into our own hands is just a tiny aspect of the new world we can be visualising and bringing into being. We must all endeavour not to get side-tracked by day-to-day trivialities but walk our individual path with courage, grace and love.

Good luck!

Perspective

Sweet peasAt the end of July I found a lump. As the advert says, just a very little thing. This coming Monday, I am having a cancerous tumour removed from my breast. The prognosis is excellent and full recovery expected.

Yet there are always those unpretentious yet niggling and unsettling little words, ‘what if?’

Throughout my life I have had numerous challenges provided by my health; some have been long and protracted, some agonisingly painful, but I have never had anything which was potentially life threatening before. For many years now I have learned to accept the fluctuating state of my health as opportunities in disguise, wise guides, to be given gratitude and blessed.

My current situation hasn’t affected me any differently. After a very difficult, draining and traumatising time this past year in connection with close family members, that little ‘c’ word has given me focus and permission to leave the past behind and fully enter into and relish every moment, to stop procrastinating in any way and do it now… whatever it is.

In the past few weeks there has been so much love and laughter in our home. Every moment, every breath has become a sacred joy and my gratitude and exuberance to engage with everything around me has brought intense wonder, fulfilment and enlightenment. I find myself continually cresting a wave of energy which is perfectly formed from unconditional love, and I am completely blown away by it.

However, I now find that there is even more to my current situation than I first thought. Our physical bodies and our higher selves will go to the most extraordinary lengths to bring into our circle of experience just the right situation, activity or understanding. In this case, it has been discovered that my blood pressure is far too high; so high that they may refuse to give me the operation in three days time and the procedure may have to be postponed until my B.P. is more healthy.

Now, I have to confess that I have known that my blood pressure was not as it should be for some time; that I wasn’t successfully controlling it any more as I have for the past eighteen years, but I have had other concerns to deal with and have kept ignoring it. Now, my body has taken a firm and unrelenting grip of the situation. I either address the problems with my blood pressure or I eventually die of cancer. No wiggle room. No argument.

Even more staggering is the thought that everyone is so terribly fazed by cancer, but here I have been walking around with a condition – quite easily treatable – which could severely incapacitate or even kill me in the next hour. Where is the sense in that? Therefore, I have even more reason to give deep gratitude to my little ‘blip’ – my cancer has possibly saved my life.

It is all too easy to rant and rage against what life is apparently throwing at us. Right now, I feel even luckier than I did a couple of weeks ago. Life is good and it works in mysterious but amazingly wonderful ways which so often are not at all obvious. I humbly submit to whatever life has in store for me next.

I completely agree with the closing of words in the book ‘Journey Into Spirit’, written by Kris Hughes, who is head of the Anglesey Druidic Order:

‘LIVE! Take this life and be it, run with it through pain and joy, and bring every ounce of colour and brightness you can to the song of the universe. This is your story; make it a good one.’

 

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