Gillian Monks

'Making Fairytales Come True'

Category: Musings of the Hearth (Page 1 of 6)

Snow Fairies

I love the snow! Still a child at heart, I rejoice in watching the whirling flakes of ice, in observing the ordinary green world as it turns white and vanishes, in seeing the frosted mountains, in smelling, tasting, touching this winter phenomenon.

Unfortunately, with the vagaries of our temperamental  British weather, further complicated by climate change, we do not often get snow here in the far north-western corner of Wales. I miss it. Some winters I end up positively yearning for it and feel out of step… out of kilter… with the rest of the natural world for lack of it.

Even in a relatively cold winter, such as the one we have just experienced, when many other areas of the U.K. have been regularly blanketed under several feet of snow, the closest we have got to it has been on the mountain tops while down here in the valley, we have had to content ourselves with a mere dusting of frost.

Contrary to my usual wishes, when snow was forecast earlier last week, I only felt concern for the wildlife which is already in the full throes of nesting, budding and blossoming, and disappointment that it couldn’t have come earlier in the year,

Then, last Friday morning, I awoke to the vision of thick snow  covering gardens, trees, fields… the whole valley! A blizzard of huge snowflakes danced past my window; the mountains across the valley were totally obscured and the sky was heavy with more snow to come. I sat with my hands wrapped around a scalding cup of tea, entranced at the magical wonderland being created before my very eyes!

As I watched, I became aware that the snow had a true individual presence, a life of its own – a thick layer of seasonal energy, a thronging of tiny, icy winter elemental beings (one for each snowflake, at least), which had come to bless and bestow upon the land the final kiss of winter, and all the benefits which a cold snap can bring. the snow lay, a living coverlet of natural energy, a rightful presence in partnership and harmony with the land.

Presently, the snow stopped, the clouds cleared and the sun came out, as did the village children, shouting and laughing and calling to each other as they slipped, slithered, tobogganed, snowballed and built snow people  in the field opposite my home. Many delightful memories flooded my mind as I sat, a grinning spectator to all their innocent fun.

With the sun, the temperature rose and the world began to steadily drip. Jewel droplets glittered from every branch and surface. My husband rushed out to clear patches of ground in the snow so that bird seed could be scattered, while fat balls danced from the fruit trees and bowls of ice were replaced with fresh water.

As the snow gradually melted away and the green and golden daffodils and primroses re-emerged, I realised that the land looked different – cleaner, refreshed, revitalised, more vibrant. The snow had gone but the elemental life which had arrived with it had transmuted into something different and was still very much present.

Just a reminder that we cannot always see or understand the need for certain events in our life, but there is always a good reason for them.


Wassail, Wassail!

Here we are, already at the last Friday in January. The year is picking up apace! Birds are singing their pre-courting solos, staking early claims to territory for the mating season, snowdrops are in bud, the snow has almost disappeared from the mountains. I sense that the land is almost holding its breath in this last gasp of true winter, as we crest the rise and begin to roll gently down into earliest spring.

Last week, as the light of the short afternoon faded, we ventured out into our garden to celebrate the first anniversary of the founding of our stone circle and to wassail the land. Wassailing is a noisy celebration to begin to awaken the natural world. We lit a fire, shared hot spiced apple juice with the land and each other, sang traditional wassailing songs and made a great hullaballoo with drums, rattles and bells. Special attention was paid to our four apple trees, especially the oldest which must have stood for at least a hundred years and which has rather a crusty, grumpy temperament, but, nevertheless is a good cropper in the autumn.

As we sat in the darkness and talked quietly around the warm and welcoming flames, flakes of snow began to fall and stick to our faces, our hair… the soft kiss of winter.

Wassailing is originally a Norse tradition which I have brought with me from the North West of England to this mountain fastness of Wales. Wassail means ‘good health!’ so in affect, we are blessing the land for another fruitful year. As a family, we have always wassailed the land on the 17th January, but in the recent resurgence in interest and practice of wassailing it can be done any time in January, from New Year’s day right through to the end of the month which then more appropriately spills over into the end of winter and the celebration of earliest spring at Imbolc – or for us here in Wales, Gwyl Ffraid – our next celebration around the wheel of the year at the beginning of February.

There is still time! Get out this weekend and, along with counting your birds for the big Garden Bird Watch for the R.S.P.B., why not acknowledge and bless your land as well? It needn’t actually be your land – simply the land – our land, this Earth which belongs to all of us and which sustains and nourishes us so generously. Even beneath the tarmac of busy roads and the foundations of tall buildings, the heart of the Earth beats strong and true.

Perhaps it is not so much a time to reawaken the natural world so much as an opportunity to reaffirm our connection to it all and to rejoice in it.

Blessings to all!

Waste Not, Want Not!

Our Christmas tree repurposed and redecorated as a ‘January Tree’ full of frost and ice!

I have just seen something which has greatly distressed me. A neighbour’s Christmas Tree, complete with lights, decorations and stand, put out at the side of the road for the refuse collectors to take away. My husband tells me that when he took some stuff to our refuse/recycling centre last week, there were several Christmas Trees there ready to go into a landfill site, in similar condition.

What is wrong with people? Are they really too lazy to dismantle their decorations? Do they really find it so onerous to put their decorations away in boxes and store them in an loft, cellar or garage for the next nine or ten months?

What a colossal waste! The planet is being poisoned by toxic landfill accumulated from billions of items which humanity uses once and then simply discards. As a species, we cannot keep on simply taking from and dumping on the planet in such thoughtless and selfish ways. There is also only a certain amount of raw material with which to manufacture all our consumer-driven needs. One day it will run out. What shall we all do then?

The fact that many decorations are relatively cheap to buy is besides the point. So many people cannot afford to even feed or keep themselves warm. Even a few pounds saved is better than none. And if folk really don’t want to keep something, why throw it away? Why not donate it to charity so that someone less lucky can appreciate it and be heartened by it again next year?

One of my dear friends has chosen to remove all her decorations from her Tree and put it out in her back garden, redecorated with fat balls and feeders for the wild bird population.

We haven’t even finished with our seasonal tree yet. It is still with us in its water oasis , standing in our drawing room. Cut fresh from the local forest, it hasn’t even begun to drop its needles yet, either. As always, we have removed all the coloured decorations and lights from it and redressed it in warm white lights and silver and white decorations, transforming it into a ‘Winter Tree’ which reflects the frost and snow of January. Similarly, our large jugs of evergreenery have had their colourful sparkles replaced with simple white lights. They all look truly chilly but they also cheer us at the same time. January is its own month, quite distinct from December, Midwinter and Christmas. It is lovely to be able to celebrate it and to have some appropriate decorations to brighten the dark days.

We might not even have finished with it at the end of this month – depending on how snowy the weather is in the first half of February, we might swap the silver icicles and glittery frosty baubles for the pink and red heart-shaped baubles we sometimes use to decorate for St. Valentine’s day on the 14th February!

Of course, I hasten to add that I have a rather full and untidy loft… but we have lots of fun, and we don’t need to keep buying new every year, just one or two items each season to refresh what we already have.

Life is for living and enjoying. How might you brighten these dark days and enjoy them? What might you have tucked away that can be repurposed and used for something fresh? Be inventive, use your initiative – give your spontaneity free rein.

Have fun!

And if you don’t want something any more, don’t waste it, pass it on!


The Pros and Cons of January

Early January sunset – view from my sickbed.

After my flurry of posts through November and December, some of you might be wondering about my sudden silence this month. The simple answer is that just after the start of the new year, I succumbed to a ‘flu-type lurgy and spent ten days languishing in bed, unable to do much at all except cough, suck throat lozenges and down lots of hot and cold drinks. Worst of all, I could neither read or write for most of that time – which for me really is a total disaster!

Yet my illness can be looked at another way; as an opportunity for a complete rest and a space in which to assess how well my winter celebrations are going, where I am up to and where I might like to go next… and how I might achieve it. Everything has a positive aspect to it.

Coughs and sniffles – with the added spectre of Covid – are all a part of winter life which appears to reach a peak of intensity in the grey cold days of January. The excitement of Midwinter/Christmas has passed, the weather is awful and we feel that there is nothing to look forward to except an unrelieved daily grind to pay off the seasonal bills and get through the next dull weeks and months. No wonder so many of us get depressed.

Yet, the month of January has a lot to offer in its own unique way, not least because it is a relatively empty, dull time which gives us the space to be bored.

There are two main ways in which you can help yourself to feel better. One is to  cosset yourself and cosy up with snuggly blankets, gallons of hot chocolate and heart-warming distractions in the form of books or on-screen stories. Alternatively, in an echo of jolly Christmas gatherings, arranging an activity with members of your family or friends – even just one other person – can also help to distract you and lift your spirits. Things like a simple meal – even just a bowl of hearty soup and some good bread with a lit candle can become special and comforting, especially if shared with the right person or people – or  shared with a relative stranger in whom you might suddenly discover a new and dear friend. Or you might decide to play a board or card game – look up an on-line quiz, meet for coffee at your local garden centre, go for a walk – anything, in fact, which brings you together.

Tip: don’t opt to watch something on a screen. You are looking for shared activity which brings you together and engenders conversation, company, connection and, if possible, laughter.

Enjoy and value these relatively ’empty’ days when you can afford to be  spontaneous. We have just spent a couple of months cramming all manner of preparations, parties and activities into our already overburdened schedules – now we have time. Acknowledge it. Use it. Enjoy it!

Is Christmas Just for Children?

“Christmas is just for children.” How many times have I heard that said? Not nearly as often now as when I was young. Thankfully, I suspect that most of the population under the age of forty would be totally horrified if you tried to suggest that to them. Judging from the many adult themed seasonal gifts and activities which are now on offer – even if many of them are based on over-indulgence – it definitely cannot still be claimed to be the case.

Like many of our so-called children’s activities and customs, including Father Christmas, the Christmas Tree, the nativity play and carol singing, these entertainments were once an integral part of the adult social calendar with their roots in ancient spiritual practice. The celebration of Midwinter  is the marking of a solar event which has been crucially central to peoples around the globe since the dawn of time with tremendously serious implications for the future well-being of all mankind. Many religions throughout history have chosen to adopt this hugely significant event, Christianity being only the most recent.

If there is any justification at all for the claim that “Christmas is for children” it is in the fact that children best learn by example; our Midwinter/Christmas activities each year should provide all our little ones with ample demonstration of kindness, generosity and love so that when they, too, grow to adulthood, they will be able to function as caring, responsible and loving members of society.

Here is the real nub of the matter though. Are our modern Christmas activities and ethos fit for purpose in the kindly and caring education of our young? Yet whatever one’s views on Twenty-first Century society, millions of tiny, unnoticed acts of loving thoughtfulness occur each and every day and once a year, at Christmas, we are all given the opportunity to unashamedly demonstrate what genuinely lovely people we can all be. It also gives those who would never otherwise think of performing a charitable act the excuse to display the ‘softer’ side of themselves, disguising embarrassment and self-consciousness in the general melee of seasonal good will.

Who among us is willing to be thought ‘soft’ and carry the Christmas bon homie on further into January and the springtime? These days, another more frequently heard question in relation to the Christmas season is “Why can’t it be Christmas every day?” No one would actually want it to be Christmas Day every day of the year – we would very soon be utterly fed up with it! – but surely the question really appertains to the generosity and love engendered in so many hearts, which, on mass, is a potent and powerfully wonderful occurance. The answer, of course, is that we can have this every day… what is stopping you?

We are the people now grown to adulthood who’s parents made many small and large sacrifices and efforts to give us as perfect childhood Christmases as possible. In every generation there have been wars – or their aftermath – economic crises, health concerns and social challenges. Here we are again, about to enter another new year, with overwhelming social difficulties, even within our so-called privileged and secure United Kingdom: millions of people who work full time but who still cannot earn enough to adequately feed or keep themselves or their families. Others who are struggling with physical and mental ill-health; and the desperate yet ‘invisible’ section of society who live deplorable lives of struggle and hopelessness.

Isn’t it time to demonstrate that we genuinely understand the principles behind our Christmas celebrations and have learned our childhood lessons well? Share whatever little we have with our struggling neighbour? Do not simply think in terms of finance. A smile… a kind word… a friendly gesture… these cost nothing but a fraction of thought and effort and are a good start in bringing ‘Christmas’ into our every day lives throughout the other eleven months of the year.

Remember: Christmas is a state of mind and way of life, ALL the year round.

Think about it!

Merry Christmas!

Greetings to all my dear ones and friends in both real time and via electronic devices – each and every one of you is deeply appreciated and cherished.

Early Christmas morning, and outside all the world is still and quiet – apart from the rain which occasionally spatters against my window. But I know that in a few minutes, the sky will begin to pale and lighten, dawn will come and with it the end of the darkest time of the year. The Sun/Son will truly be reborn and today, the daylight will last for longer than it did yesterday… the year has turned and we are definitely on the path back to the long, light, warm days of spring and summer and of our flowering, growing season.

On this most special of mornings, I would like to wish you all a very happy Christmas. Whatever your beliefs and spiritual practices, this of all other mornings in the year is surely a time for understanding, for forgiveness… a setting aside of all old differences and misunderstandings… a time for coming together,  for gratitude and community – the world community of humanity and all life – and of love.

Midwinter is a time for everyone – open your hearts and allow your love to flow out… unconditionally.

A very merry Christmas to you all!

Greetings On the Solstice!

View of Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) from my window – the highest mountain in England and Wales.

Greetings, all my dear friends and readers on this, the morning of the shortest day!

We have a day full of thoughtful and joyous celebration ahead of us here in the Snowdonia mountains of North West Wales.

As a little Solstice gift, I am including a short guided journey in this post. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the opportunity to record it, but if you read slowly through it and keep closing your eyes and follow what it says, you will still have a wonderful experience of Midwinter love and connection.

With heartfelt gratitude and blessings to you all.


Take three deep breaths… stretch… relax… and let go…

You are sitting beside a wide hearth on which a bright fire is burning… all the rest is in shadow… feel the heat from the flames… hear the crackling of the logs as they blaze… smell the aromatic scent of the wood smoke…

Know that here, all your ancestors have also sat… at this same hearthside you have all rested… eaten… laughed… wept… given birth – and passed away… see through their eyes and walk in their steps as they now see and walk with you, and be at one with all who you are connected to… feel that line of life and continuation…

What comes uppermost to your mind?

Open your heart to all your ancestors… to all those who have come before you… the strong, the weak, the good, the sick, the reliable and loyal, the dishonest and self-seeking, the selfish and fearful, the courageous and generous, and send out your love to them… without any reserve or restraint, enfold them all in your warmth and gratitude unconditionally…

The hearth and the fire upon it melt away and vanish…

You are in the dark, alone…

It is growing cold… bitterly cold… snow crunches beneath your feet… flakes drift before your eyes and melt against your skin…

You hear the faint sound of bells… the jingle of harness… the thud of hooves… the baying of hounds… it grows closer… and closer…

Out of the darkness a lone rider approaches… you see that it is a man, a huge fellow proudly sitting his coal-black mount… broad shouldered, barrel-chested, powerful, swathed in a flowing black cloak… his hair tumbles to his shoulders, his eyes glitter… and from his head there grow two horns – antlers…

White hounds with red ears and glowing ruby eyes mill around the horse’s legs, snuffling, growling…

Here is Gwyn ap Nudd, king of the Land of the Fair and the Tylwyth Teg… leader of the Wild Hunt of Winter…

Take courage… look up into Gwyn’s face… what do you see? … How do you feel? …

Gwyn watches you, as if assessing you… then he leans down and holds out his hand to you… take it… it is firm and warm… in one strong movement, Gwyn has hoisted you up into the saddle in front of him… and you begin to ride… you ride…

The great horse gallops across the snow, sinew and muscle straining as its huge limbs pump like pistons and faster, faster you go… you feel the icy air whistling around and past you… and with one almighty bound the horse leaps… and you take to the skies… Gwyn’s cloak billows out around you, the hounds stream out to either side and the stars come closer as you ride like the wind along the edge of the clouds…

Higher and higher you go… faster and faster… until the firmament is streaming past you in a blur of diamond glints and velvet dark skies… of rolling waves of shimmering rainbow light… and suddenly… it isn’t cold any more…

The horse slows… the hounds are gone… you come to a standstill.

What do you see? …

Look down at the Earth… what do you see there? …

Become aware of yourself… from where you were sending out love to your Ancestors there is a rosy-pink glow of light now coming from your chest… from your heart cavity… feel it rather than see it… be with it… follow the flow joyfully…

Look down and around you, and notice other pinpricks of light appearing, just like your own… there are more… and more… and more… until the whole Earth and sky is full of heartfelt light…

Heart, awakening unconditionally to Love… the Love which Midwinter re-enacts each year… the Love which the Baby Jesus and many other deities before him throughout history and all around the globe have come to represent… the rebirth of Light and the Love which it represents… and each pinprick of light is a heart glowing with that Love…

Yes, for many, that Love might be tarnished with exhaustion, worry, regrets, disappointment, bad temper, even violence and despair, but for even a fleetingly short time at this time of year, it burns clear, true and bright.

Feel yourself connect to this myriad of lights… reach out and joyously feel at one with all the other loving hearts… the soul-spirits fleetingly laid bare of their drab Earthly garb and showing what they truly are… magnificent sparks of the one Loving Divine Flame…

Remember how you are feeling at this moment… take this sensation of Love and Joy and Connection away with you and keep it warm and alive within your own heart… send it out every day to warm and heal and reconnect with everything around you in your world…

Look around you again… and see that you are once more sitting in your own chair where you began this journey…

Hear the clop of hooves, the jingle of harness and the baying of dogs growing fainter…

But remember the enigmatic being who helped to facilitate this experience for you… remember Gwyn ap Nudd with respect and gratitude…

Now go and spread your light into your world, today, and every day throughout the whole year – this is the most important task you will ever do – the most precious gift you will ever give…

When you are ready, come back into the room where you started your journey… rub your hands together… shuffle your feet… take a few deep breaths and stretch… and open your eyes and be fully present back in your life, your world.

Sugar Mice!

I have just made my first ever sugar mice! Not very P.C. as far as good diets and dental matters go, but, oh, SOOO reminiscent of my own childhood when (along with an apple, an orange and some shiny coins) I always found a sugar mouse nestling in the toe of my Christmas stocking!

These mice are not perfect – some even look a little depressed… that depends on the angle the snippets of currant are placed for their eyes… and one even has an unfortunate ‘bloody nose’ where I accidentally used too much food colouring – but they all have their individual characters and are my very own.

However, these are not destined for Christmas stockings but are going to be shared with my grove members at the Solstice – we are all little children at heart!

If anyone would like to try making them, they are really easy and quick to do – something perfect to entertain children before sitting them down with hot chocolate and a story – perhaps Father Christmas could be left a sugar mouse this Christmas Eve – make a nice change to all the mince pies he must get through!

I followed the recipe on the B.B.C. Good Food website – they are usually pretty reliable –

Very happy ‘playing’ to you all!

The Extra Ingredient

There is something tantalisingly magical about a bulging Christmas stocking stuffed with enticingly anonymous little packages, or piles of colourful gifts of every indescribable shape and size piled higgledy-piggledy beneath the glow of a bedecked Christmas Tree!

What makes these gifts so special? Yes, of course there is the obvious anticipation and surprise – even an element of learning how much someone really cares about you by how insightful their choice for you is… or discovering how much they value you by how much they have been willing to spend on you…

But what about the magic? That ephemeral, indefinable and elusive something which annually turns our Midwinter gift-giving into something so powerfully captivating that it enchants young and old alike – only too often to lead to disappointment, disenchantment and disgruntlement once the wrapping has been ripped away and the secret contents finally revealed.

Perhaps it is only fair to accept that no matter what someone gives us, no matter how much love, effort, thought and money a person might have put into our gift, it can never actually live up to our totally unrealistic and out of proportion expectations.

However, I have a suggestion to make. It has been scientifically proven that our thoughts actually become tangible and their energies can be electronically measured. So, when you are thinking about, or making, buying or even just wrapping a gift, stop for a moment and place your hands on that item and fill yourself with loving thoughts of the person you are going to present it to. If you like, charge the gift with your love.

When the gift is unwrapped, the warmth of your love will come flooding out with the contents. The recipient of your gift will never know why the gloves, book, toiletries or handkerchiefs always feel so very special and never cease to make them feel all aglow – but it will be there all the same – the extra element of magical love, invisibly but indelibly added to you gift for ever more… literally, the gift that keeps on giving.

Here is a chance to turn even the most mundane, the cheapest, the simplest gift into a treasure beyond compare!

What could be more magical than that?

Pots and Pans and Puzzlements

A simple cold supper for New Year’s Eve at the Hafod at Cae Non

Buying an electric implement for the kitchen will not automatically make you a good cook – or produce tasty food. Do not be fooled!

Every pre-Christmas, I notice that advertisements for electric accessories, tables and chairs and tableware proliferate, as if by owning these items your ability to produce perfect seasonal fare is then assured. Today, I walked into one local supermarket and was presented with a great pile of gravy boats. Do people only eat – or serve – gravy at Christmas? And what happens to all the gravy boats specially purchased other years – do they automatically vanish?

I annually ponder these vexing questions.

However, when I recently read an on-line advertisement from one of the mail order companies I deal with regularly, I actually felt cross. Here were special pans to microwave an omelette (£10), cook rice (£15), bake a pie (£35) or make soup (an eye-watering £70). Advertisers are clever and convince you that you rally cannot cook – or in any way do without – whatever item it is they are trying to sell. In these days of such widespread economic hardship, I find it in appallingly bad taste.

One omelette pan, one large soup pan (with lid!) and a collection of aluminium pie cases saved and washed from pies bought from the chippy or supermarket would produce all this food at a fraction of the cost. Unfortunately, what many are short on is the know-how of what to do in their kitchen.

I fondly remember the time I spent with my mother and uncle out in Sri Lanka when I was a child. We had a wonderful cook, Rajah, who could produce mouth-watering Singhalese and Indian dishes and cordon bleu European cuisine – his main utensils were a large sharp knife, and a medium-sized fork and table spoon. At the end of every day, he would carefully wash and dry them and reverentially lay them out on a clean cloth upon the kitchen table ready for his return the next morning.

Perhaps this is an extreme example in the opposite direction, but worth bearing in mind!

Every good cook is economical and hates waste. Keep it simple. Don’t be seduced into making unnecessary purchases – use what you have got and when you do have to buy new, make sure that it is multifunctional, of reasonable quality and will last a good long time.

For more ideas on how to operate in a kitchen economically, take a peek in either of my free e-booklets, ‘Eat Cheap: Survival Strategies in the Kitchen‘, or ‘Christmas on a Shoestring‘  which can be read on my website or downloaded – you can print them out yourself or order from Amazon if you want a professionally produced paper copy (just be aware that this last will cost you a few pounds).

I feel another book coming on – nothing quite like I have written so far, but one about how to basically run a household. It has already been suggested to me several times and I am beginning to think that maybe I should give it a try.

In the meantime, as far as Christmas Dinner is concerned, don’t get too stressed out… stick to simple, tried and tested… and good luck!

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