Gillian Monks

'Making Fairytales Come True'

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

Any Room At the Inn?

Flag of UkraineI have just had an extraordinary conversation with my family. They happen periodically. The last occurred when we sensed that something monumentally threatening was approaching our world, our society, and a few months later, the pandemic swept into our lives.

This latest conversation concerns the horrendous events taking place in Ukraine. I see the heart-breaking pictures of families torn apart, of elderly people, traumatised and in real need of warmth, food and comfort, of bewildered children and physically and emotionally exhausted women, of men crying as they say goodbye to their loved ones on crowded railway platforms,  and I just want to sweep them all up in my arms. Like so many of us, we, as a family, desperately want to do something to help.

We have a decent-sized spare room. We have decided to offer shelter and accommodation to a Ukrainian family – or whoever needs us most. We are currently checking the internet each day so that we may apply as soon as we are able to do so.

My son speaks some Russian, which might be helpful. He also thinks that he will be able to access Ukrainian T.V. via the internet for any visitor to watch. If others in the area also volunteer to extend their welcome and hospitality to these people, then gatherings and events can be organised for them so that refugees do not feel quite so isolated. Various thoughts along these lines are blossoming in my mind – I  have a reasonably-sized living room and dining room which could also possibly be utilised for social events – but I mustn’t get ahead of myself!

Would YOU consider doing something similar to temporarily help out? Is there anyone in my own area of Snowdonia who is contemplating also taking such action? Perhaps we could contact each other so that in our openhearted and openhanded efforts, we don’t feel quite so isolated either?

We all feel shock and horror at what is being perpetrated in the Ukraine. Often, when we hear of such suffering, it is so far away that we feel powerless to help, but here is an opportunity to really get involved – to demonstrate not just our support but our warmth and love.

So, come on all my readers – what can you do to help? If ever you have felt sympathy or compassion for people suffering somewhere else in the world, now is your chance to put those feelings into practical action!

A Cry From The Heart

Please read this – I will be brief. We have all heard of what is taking place in the Ukraine. Might I suggest that we ALL respond in a radical way that is sure to have an effect? When you think or hear of what is taking place, please, please, please simply send that part of our world… those brothers and sisters of ours of the human race who are facing such challenges on many levels – a loving thought, straight from your heart.

It is easy for us to succumb to our own volatile emotions – to respond with horror, fear, sadness and hopelessness, as well as give way to judgement, bias, aggression, belligerence, hatred, and so on. And we feel self-righteously justified in thinking and feeling this way.

But acts of aggression are already generating all these energies – and more. Right now, the Ukrainian and Russian people do not need us all focusing more of the same upon their situation – do not need the corrosive judgement, indignation and anger of the world directed at them – they need our love.

So, please, whenever you hear about or think of the conflict which is currently unfolding in that part of the world, please direct your pure and unconditional love towards them. Some people are lighting candles in their places of religious worship or their homes – light a candle in your heart and keep it burning bright and true.

Do not add to the problem – be a part of the solution.

Celebration Versus Commercialisation

Valentine Cake, baked yesterday afternoon and served fresh for tea.

Commercialisation! Excess consumerism! We do not engage with common celebration because we do not wish to join in with the commercial jamboree which is sapping the goodness from our Earth and poisoning our planet – as well as tempting many to spend more than they have got. This is what I hear from many sensible, sensitive and responsible members of society.

But why should we metaphorically throw the baby out with the bath water? Why deny ourselves and others around us the pleasure of celebrating a lovely occasion, just because we don’t want to buy what is on offer in the shops? Surely this demonstrates that we have all become truly brainwashed by the commercial world into thinking that we can only celebrate something if we buy the requisite formula from commercial outlets?

Primarily, celebration is a state of mind and a general outlook. A public holiday or event or personal occasion approaches and we feel that we would like to take part in it. This then gives rise to ideas of how we might do this, which frequently involve the participation of others. We are contemplating a special time when we are able to tune out from the ‘ordinary’ day and spend a bit of quality time with loved ones, (or are blessed with the peace and space of our own company), enjoying an activity or activities which are just a little different or special.

Speaking as the mother of a family, our celebrations first and foremost involve bringing family and often dear friends together. Before any event, we discuss and agree on what form we wish our celebration to take, and also who would like to volunteer to do what towards it, or what they might provide or donate towards it. We meet and greet each other with the common aim of spending valuable quality time together and enjoying ourselves.

What we do once we are together follows a very simple and often similar formula. We spend quality time together. We talk and share. In the darker months we switch off all the electricity and light candles and/or encircle the hearth and sit in firelight – or outside around the flames of a bonfire. We bake or cook a special cake, dish or meal. We brew a pot of tea or coffee or set out (home made) wine and a cheese board. We play games, spend time in the garden or out in the woods… we watch a performance of ballet of opera on T.V. We exchange gifts – most usually individually home produced with much love and care. Activities and refreshments of food and drink often reflect the changing seasons.

It might not be to everyone’s taste, but it is authentic to us and largely free, for it is what we bring to the gathering within ourselves which makes each occasion so valued and special. It is not just the jokes, the communal song, the music, the conversation we share which warms us, nourishes and supports us and makes our hearts sing. It is the fact that we are happy to co-operate and create these occasions, together, and the love for one another which this demonstrates.

Where in any of this have I mentioned buying anything, or even leaving the home environment, unless it is to go out into the garden or natural world?

I am sure that you all have your personal favourite ways of enjoying yourself and celebrating. But it does not have to involve running with the herd and doing what everyone else does. It does not have to involve great expenditure. Customers tend to buy items to make a celebration. They go through the motions of setting the scene by simply flashing their bank cards. But the amount of real involvement and input, effort and care is negligible – and so celebrations are frequently found to be devoid of any true meaning and so hollow and disappointing.  Then people feel disappointed and let down. Rows often ensue. We need to be reminded that we only get out what we put in.

So, what might you decide to next celebrate? What ‘ordinary day’ might you choose to use to alleviate the grey drabness of this end of winter? There are always personal highs to focus on… even just the fact that it is a stormy day and you want to be cosy indoors – enter candles, cakes and hot buttered crumpets… perhaps reading aloud, singing or listening to lovely music… or getting up on your feet and dancing around your living room?

Looking in the calendar of springtime events in the back of my book, ‘Spring In Your Step’, I see that on the 21st February it is International Mother Language Day.  That could be celebrated in all sorts of ways by reading poetry or prose aloud, writing something, singing, signing up to learn to speak your original ‘mother tongue’ or getting in touch with others who speak the same language. Spend a few minutes thinking about how lucky we all are to be able to communicate, how lucky we are that most of us can speak, articulate, and hear similar responses.

Or simply take a little time to celebrate your good health… peace… the fact that you are alive and have this day. But it doesn’t have to cost you a thing – except thought and effort, perhaps.

Go on, be daring! Celebrate just being alive!

 

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Perhaps a bit over the top this year in response to all the grey winter weather we have been experiencing and the currently grave situation relating to world peace… but it makes us smile!

Loving greetings to you all! For thousands of years, this time of year has been the focus of many different kinds of celebration – but usually all loosely connected to some facet of procreation and the coming of spring in one guise or other. Personally, I like to celebrate love in all its aspects on this day, especially platonic love between friends. I feel that this doesn’t get acknowledged or honoured nearly enough.

Where would we be without our friends? As the saying goes, you can’t choose your family (debatable with my beliefs!) but you always choose your friends. They are the people who we can be ourselves with, who support us when we are in need, who can understand our joys and our woes… and we do the same for them in return. We are there for each other. They are people who we can trust, rely on and who will tell it like it really is, or know when to keep silent. Friends.

My wish is that everyone who sees this post today – or any other day, for that matter – will make a point of telling a good friend straight out how much they mean and how loved they are.

Me? I am starting off with you! All you lovely people who read my books, my blog posts, my Facebook posts… your warm interest and support means a very great deal to me and I bless you for it.

Now I am off to decorate my heart-shaped sponge cake for afternoon tea…

Wishing you all a lovely day and a wonderful week as we truly adventure into spring.

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.

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