Gillian Monks

'Making Fairytales Come True'

Category: Thoughts From My Fireside (Page 1 of 2)

Going Crackers… Again!

These are quite small crackers and each one contains a ‘prediction’ for the coming year and a sweetie.

The beginning of October and yes, I am already planning my Advent, Midwinter and Christmas celebrations. No, it is most certainly not too early to be doing so. It is only just over two and a half months to the Winter Solstice and Christmas Day, with most of the celebrations actually taking place beforehand in the month of Advent. As I like to make most of my own foods, treats and surprises, it is never too early to make a start.

This autumn many of my ideas are revolving around crackers – the ubiquitous table decoration which frequently yields hoots of derision, laughter or groans of despair as images of paltry plastic tat, brain-cringing jokes and wayward paper hats spring to mind. Yet they are an integral part of our Christmas dinner fun.

Harking back to the original crackers which were developed by Tom Smith back in the 1840’s and 1850’s, crackers can be used for any occasion – not just Christmas – and can contain anything you wish from love letters to very expensive gifts. They can be colour/decoration co-ordinated with your surroundings or with themed contents for lovers of books, the garden and so on.

In the past, I have tried the better type of cracker with nice hats, good jokes and mottos and expensive gifts, but discovered, to my great disappointment, that they were still regarded as no better than the cheap, gaudy ones, and were largely discarded on the dinner table with little thought or consideration.

Now, my focus for Midwinter festivity is always inclusive communal activity and suggestions and encouragement as to how everyone might join in and give rather than passively sit back and simply receive.  I make my own crackers and fill them with interactive gifts, suggested activities, impertinent questions to ask fellow diners or philosophical suggestions and sweets. Sometimes there are no hats included; instead, revellers have to make and decorate their own as a pre-dinner activity – and the more sherry consumed the livelier the creations produced!

Making your own crackers can be a communal activity – just leave one end open to be filled and sealed later so that only you know what is actually contained within them. Crackers can be a little fiddly but are not difficult to make. Nor need they be expensive – you can make crackers form sheets of discarded newspaper (a ball of colourful Christmas twine and a length of tinsel cut up to make glittery pompoms completes the decoration) and fill them with jokes downloaded from the internet (or copied out of books from the library – get you kids to help you with that one!). If you really aren’t that ‘craftily’ inclined, buy a box of crackers and carefully open the end of each and insert a better gift and extra jokes. One of my favourite inclusions in crackers for any dinner table is a question to ask your neighbour – or to ask the assembled company as a whole – this can stimulate lots of interesting discussion and laughter and is a good ice-breaker for multi-generations of one family or people who don’t already know one another.

Crackers can be made and used for any season or occasion throughout the year – try making them from pale yellow or green crepe paper and decorating them with silk flowers for your Easter Sunday lunch table, or similarly themed for summer… try deep yellow, brown and red for autumn decorated with bunches of berries – real or synthetic – and filled appropriately, or orange and black ones for Hallowe’en… the possibilities are endless.

The key tip here is to make them well in advance, while you have the time to feel inspired and enjoy the process, then pack them away well covered and protected until they are needed so that they don’t become damaged, dusty or tired-looking in the meantime. It is absolutely no pleasure to anyone if you have all these wonderful ideas and then leave them until the last minute when they can become a horrendous chore to all concerned.

Have fun! Planning and plotting surprises and joy for others doesn’t mean that we can’t enjoy ourselves too. If something doesn’t bring you some measure of satisfaction and pleasure, then don’t do it – find something (or someone!) else instead. Living our lives should be as nourishing and enjoyable as possible – why not? But that is a topic for another post another day!

If you would like to know more about the history of the cracker, click on the link below to read an excellent article produced by the Victoria and Albert Museum.,a%20twist%20of%20tissue%20paper.

Please note, ‘cracks’ for crackers can easily be purchased on the internet, and although they might initially cost you several pounds for the old measure of a gross (144), kept somewhere dry they will last for many years. 

Happy Valentine’s Day In Lockdown!

Daffodils at Fron Goch

Picture taken at my local garden centre last year, only weeks before we were all plunged into lockdown – they truly lift the spirits!

One doesn’t have to confine Valentine celebrations to those who are a couple/in a relationship. I have always liked to surprise my friends and family with little (home made) cards and treats at this time of year. It is a chance to also honour love and  friendship in its wider sense. Perhaps this year, while we are mostly in lockdown and with not much chance of fine wining and dining and treats outside the home, it is especially appropriate to remember and contact loved ones we are currently isolated from – and to cheer up those whom we are in close contact with.

To this end, I am planning a little family tea for tomorrow afternoon – Valentine’s day – just for the four of us and our dear friend and neighbour who we have been in a ‘bubble’ with ever since this whole rigmarole began. So my Saturday afternoon has been largely spent in the kitchen.

Well, we all have the best of intentions and we all have ‘one of those days’. This was certainly ‘one of those days’ for me! I have two bottomless heart-shaped cake tins which simply sit on a baking sheet. I planned to make a pink cake and ice it with buttercream and decorate with silver balls. True, I have never tried this before and should probably have looked it up somewhere first, but, hey, what the heck!

My first problem was with the food colouring. It simply didn’t want to turn my cake mixture pink. After using at least a quarter of a bottle of the stuff it had only managed to make the mixture an odd off-orange colour (which happily disappeared when it was baked) so I gave up and tipped the mixture into the baking tin. In cooking, about a fifth of the mixture decided to escape through the tiny slit along the bottom of the tin where it had fractionally warped and puff itself up in all sorts of fantastic – and useless – shapes, rendering the main cake skewed to one side.

Then I thought that I would make my darling husband some hand dipped chocolates…. perhaps I should have quite while I was ahead?

But tomorrow we shall gather around our hearth and our tea table; there will be hot buttered crumpets and chocolate ‘tiffin’ and a lopsided heart-shaped cake filled with home made jam and butter cream and decorated with pink icing and silver cashews. We shall each bring to the table poems, readings, songs or stories which reflect the themes of springtime and love. And we shall make a Valentine garland of loving messages and quotations to hang across our chimney breast, to inspire us and remind us all in days to come of this occasion when we sat together and lovingly listened to and appreciated each other’s company. Hopefully, no one will notice the wonky cake or the wildly formed chocolates!

With our human commonality and mutual connection in mind, I send my love out to all who read this. Let’s celebrate our care, understanding and – yes – love for each other. Let’s all try and spread a little love around our world. Have a very happy Valentine’s Day!



‘If It Were Done When ‘Tis Done’…

Drawing Room Christmas Window…’Then ’twere well it were done quickly’! So the quotation from Shakespeare goes. In other words, don’t put off till tomorrow what you can do now, this minute, today.

As January progresses our family Christmas unfurls into more general winter celebration with a couple of birthdays of close family members, Distaff Day, Plough Monday, the wassailing of the land on the 17th of the month and then, of course, a celebration of love on the 25th with Saint Dwynwen’s Day. Who said that there is nothing to look forward to after Christmas?

Yesterday afternoon, at the end of the first very sporadic and half-hearted working week  after the Midwinter holidays, the family gathered around the hearth to enjoy afternoon tea – a simple process of eating up the last of the stollen, spice cakes and mince pies. We shared our news of the day and then got down to singing some wassailing songs in preparation for next weekend. Many people sing these old carols as part of their Christmas activities and in some places the blessing of the land is done on New Year’s Day, but we prefer to follow the old calendar and celebrate it as a completely separate event.

None of us can ever remember the words of the old songs by heart, regardless of the fact that we sing them many times every year, so out came our Christmas carol books where the words to various wassails are also kept. These large plastic folders with individual pockets where sheets of paper can be slid in (or out) have been in our family for nearly 15 years and during that time each family member has added songs, written their own alternative words or collected variations which they liked/preferred. We also have carols in three different languages; German, English and Welsh… with the odd bit of Latin thrown in.

The result is that the original sequence and numbering of the sheets and pages is completely jumbled and a general consensus and quick reference of page numbers now almost impossible. Nor does everyone always have the same words either. Each year the chaos grows worse and each year we all declare that we really should do something about it.

Frustrated, my son suddenly decided that enough was enough and organised us into an impromptu song sheet sorting work party. How it is that four reasonably intelligent and well educated adults can find such a simple and logical activity so complex and difficult is beyond me, but it all suddenly became very complicated.

“Where did you say the Somerset Wassail was?”
“On the back of the Gloucester Wassail.”
“So where should I put the Ancient Lord Of The Dance?”
“I haven’t got A White Christmas!”
“Well I printed one out for you…”
“Oh. yes, it’s here behind the teapot…”
“The Holly And The Ivy?”
“And the alternative words for it with Herne off hunting in the woods…”
“There is also the version with stars shining and longer winter days.”
“Can I slide We Wish You A Greener Christmas in here?”
“Just how many versions of the Holly And The Ivy have we got?”
“Listen, I can easily go and print some more copies.”
“Has everyone got Jackie’s Bleak Midwinter?”
“No… yes! It had fallen on the floor…”
“What about Mother’s Night?”
“No, but I have three copies here of God Rest Ye Merry, Druid Folk… one in larger print…”
“I haven’t got Jingle Bells at all!”
“Look, I can bring the printer down here from the office…”
“Can anyone tell me where I should stick the Boar’s Head?”

You get my drift?

It took about forty minutes to get it all sorted out. Now, all I have to do is type up an alphabetical index. Thank heavens I shall be doing that all by myself! But at least we shall all be literally singing from the same hymn sheet in future.

And the moral of this little tale? Use some if this slower time in January – and in lockdown – to sort out stuff that otherwise keeps getting put off. Don’t try to do everything on your own – aim for assistance and teamwork where you can – it might not always make things easier or quicker, but it can be a heck of a lot more fun.

Happy ‘untangling’!

Who Or What Is The Sprit of Christmas?

Christmas ElfWhen we are children, we talk about Father Christmas. Who is he? A sacred being? A god? A real person? A figment of our fertile imaginations? Contrary to many varying – and sometimes quite outrageous – suggestions, it is most likely that this figure of sacred folk memory has evolved out of an amalgamation of northern deities such as the god, Odin, and the Wild Man of the Boreal Forest of Eastern Europe.

Knowing what incredible effects the sheer power of thought can have upon creative energy, I am very willing to accept that the mass consciousness of humanity has by now very possibly actually created Father Christmas or Santa Claus. (We should all be very careful what we think! Our kindly and benign festive old elf is lovely, but not some of the other monsters we niaevley give credence to.)

As we become adults, we begin to refer to the ‘Spirit of Christmas’. What is that? And how does it differ from Father Christmas or Santa Claus?

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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:

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.

Access, Honour, Celebrate!

View from Caer EnganYou can do something life-changing and life-affirming today. You can improve your life. You can change the world. It is really very simple.

In Walking With The Goddess this month we shall be working with the energies of Math ap Mathonwy who will provide us with the key to access our memory codes stored within our DNA. We have memories of all the life that we have ever lived stored within it and in challenging times such as the pandemic has produced, we need to remember how we have previously faced and successfully got through similar experiences. We need to call on our strengths and courage to discover the inspiration to formulate a new way of living – one which does not replicate our old, destructive and dysfunctional ‘normal’ from before Covid-19 but a bright new future which encompasses a nurturing and loving community and nourishes and honours all life on the planet.

There are many ‘keys’ to achieving this. A major necessity is to harmonise our lives with that of the natural world and to reconnect to the rhythms and cycles of the Earth. The first steps we may take to do this is are to literally become aware of the Earth we stand upon and to notice, acknowledge and celebrate what is going on around us in nature. This month there are suggestions for gathering the natural bounty of the wayside and woodland to bring into your home to decorate and enjoy at this time of year.

Hand in hand with this is an active participation in cleaning up and eliminating from our lives activities and substances which are damaging to the environment – and, in a roundabout way, damaging to us too. This month we take a look at the fabric we use to clothe ourselves and decorate our homes with. This needs long, hard consideration and sustainable long-term action – new habits forming and definite decisions making.

Every good thought, each small action does make a difference. We can make a difference. Together, we can achieve a great deal. So why not come Walking With The Goddess today? Each monthly, on-line module contains around 7,000 words (or 24 pages) of background information, inspiring ideas and practical tasks and challenges, as well as a 20 – 40 minute audio guided meditation for you to listen to and join in with. It only costs £5 – and if that is financially too challenging for you, just get in touch with me and we can make some other arrangement. Just click on this link for more information: or this link: to purchase the September module.

May you be safe and well in these difficult times.

I look forward to hearing from you,
With my love.

Looking At The World Through A Chocolate Wrapper

Quality StreetDoes the world around us really change, or is it just the way we perceive it that alters? In other words, what do we really see? What is real and what is illusion?

For instance, after the past glorious days of pale spring sunshine, clear blue skies and dramatically clear mountains we are once more plunged into a grey and weeping landscape. This morning, the low cloud has completely obscured Mount Snowdon and the craggy Nantlle Ridge, mist in the valley has blurred all the edges, lack of light has robbed what is left of the vista of its light and skewed what were bold spring colours to paler, washed-out shades.

Yet the landscape itself remains the same. The mountains are still there behind the cloud, the natural world is still beavering away preparing to raise new young and burst out in growth and blossom… it just looks dead… and ultimately so much more depressing. But nothing has really altered… just how we are seeing it today through a different colour.

I always have great fun with this concept at Christmas and Easter or any time I come within range of some Quality Street chocolates. Ever since I was a child I have loved choosing my chocolate, carefully unwrapping it, luxuriating in the sweet creamy confection, and then gently smoothing out the coloured plastic wrapping and looking through it, delighted and intrigued to see how a different coloured filter makes my familiar surroundings suddenly appear so different.

Gazing into a newly opened tin of chocolates is a feast for the senses in itself – the deep jewel colours are glorious to behold – like a chest of pirate’s treasure – and that indefinably enticing scent of… chocolate! Since Christmas I have gathered a little collection of six coloured cellophane wrappers; peering through the blue, purple and green makes everything look cold or as if I was suddenly living in an underwater world. The pink, red and yellow transform everything into an intriguing, enticing, warm or sunny environment. But it is, after all, just the same room or view from my window – it is how I am choosing to see it that is different.

Try it for yourself next time you have access to coloured plastic. It works best if you have several colours so that you can compare the differences… and also compare how your mood also alters with each colour.

Next time you don’t enjoy what you are looking at, aren’t happy with the life that is yours, perhaps you might like to try changing your internal filter. The places around us, the people, the situations we live in, do not change from day to day… just the way we perceive them. Therefore, you have freedom of choice; you are in control – do you put in a nice rosy coloured filter or do you opt to depress yourself by insisting on glaring out on the world through blue or purple? Don’t blame the world you live in – it is your choice – it is entirely up to you.

Today I am definitely drawn to pink!

A Very Happy Christmas!

Me with Father ChristmasAfter such an eventful and truly magical Advent, nearly all the pre-Christmas preparations and activities are complete.

Today I have presents to wrap and one or two gifts and cards to hand deliver around the village. I have listened to my own advice and ditched my plans to make a wonderful savoury hot dinner this evening set around a festive table – yesterday evening my darling husband made us all chips while I finished making the last of my gifts and this evening, my lovely son is going to do a stir fry for us all while I put my feet up and celebrate Mother’s Night!

All the baking is done (for now!) and later this afternoon, I shall be setting out a grand afternoon tea with stollen, spice cakes, mince pies, biscuits and all manner of sweet delights. As the light begins to fade we shall all gather around the hearth to light the candles and sing carols and open our gifts from friends, near and far.

This is the last day of deep darkness. Tomorrow morning, the Sun/Son will be reborn and the Light truly with us once more. The Earth which has been ‘standing still’ since the Solstice early on Sunday morning will once more move on and we shall begin to travel the long journey back towards the warmth and springtime.

In the meantime, I wish you all a wonderful Christmas Eve and a very happy Christmas. Celebrate truly what is happening around you and within your hearts. As I light my ‘Mother’s Candle’ tonight, I shall think of each one of you and be sending out my very best wishes and love to you.

Good Yule!
Merry Midwinter!
A happy Christmas!

Afternoon at Home

A typical late autumn day. Rain is rattling against the windows and the mountains are totally obscured by cloud. It is almost twilight, although only half past three in the afternoon and I have switched all the lights on in the kitchen and living room, including the little coloured fairy lights above my stove.

This picture of the top of my Aga says it all, really. Two different kinds of fungi drying at the back. A basket of rose hips also nearly ready for processing in the dispensary. A tray of hot fruit scones just out of the oven, ready to eat with clotted cream and home made raspberry jam for afternoon tea by the drawing room fire. Classic FM playing softly on the radio in the kitchen… clock ticking loudly… Labradors snoring sonorously.

Ah, the pleasures of being at home and able to snuggle up cosily in peace. My idea of heaven!

New Book Published Today!

A very happy moment!

Today is the day!!! The moment I have been waiting for… to hold my latest book in my hands, ready to present it to the wold! ‘The Alternative Advent Calendar’ is an inspiring read which will – hopefully – propel you off into all manner of actions and adventures. Published by Herbary Books, ISBN 978-1-5272-4942-4 and available for £7.99 through bookshops and on Amazon:   

Celebration!  Furthermore, for any of you who are in my area, I am holding a book launch on Sunday, 6th October at the Hirael Community Hall, Ambrose Street, Bangor, North Wales at There will be a short talk about my new book, copies will be for sale along with ‘Merry Midwinter’ and there will be home made treats to eat and drink. But the main thing is that I want to celebrate… and everyone is welcome!

Very happy reading – with my love!

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