Gillian Monks

'Making Fairytales Come True'

Category: Uncategorized (Page 1 of 3)

Merry Midsummer!

As a child I was always confused by the Summer Solstice and Midsummer. One is a solar event and scientifically predicted and observed; the other is more nebulous and coincides with St. John’s Day (John the Baptist) a few days later on the 24th June. This then places the magical Midsummer’s Eve (that one and the same wild event as in the woodland shenanigans of Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s dream’) on the 23rd of the month… which is today.

I find it easier to understand the meaning of the dates and unfolding progression of the planets and the natural world around the time of the Winter Solstice, with the shortest day and longest night around the 21st December, followed by several days of dark stillness until the morning of the 25th December (Christmas Day) when the the Sun (or Son) is seen to be reborn and when the length of daylight might actually be measured as longer once more.

The same applies to Midsummer but in reverse: the Summer Solstice marks the time when the Sun is closest to the Earth and we experience the longest amount of daylight and the shortest amount of darkness – indeed, even in the United Kingdom if the sky is clear on this night, the sky never fully darkens at all.

Then we pass through several days when the literal meaning of the word Solstice (‘sun stands still’) becomes apparent as days and nights appear to remain the same length, before the days inexorably and measurably begin to grow shorter once more from the 24th June onwards. Just as the Sun is seen to be reborn a few days after the Winter Solstice and we anticipate the lighter half of the year, so on the 24th June, we begin to witness the reverse effects of this solar event and the Darkness is reborn once more as we turn our faces to the encroaching dark half of the year.

In some pagan circles, the two halves of the year are represented by the Oak King who rules from Midwinter and represents the Light, and his bother the Holly King, who ules from Midsummer and represents the Darkness.

The significance of the Light and Dark, Jesus and St. John, the Oak King and the Holly King celebrating these two pivotal occasions in out calendar are all too obvious. Whatever one’s beliefs or method of interpreting or explaining them, the fact remains that these solar events are absolutely key to the continuation of life on this planet and have been – and are still – celebrated by many people of all religious persuasions and beliefs around the globe from time immemorial.

The evening of the 23rd of June is Midsummer’s Eve. and mirrors the magic and sanctity of Mother’s Night which coincides with Christmas Eve at Midwinter.

This is one of those times during our year when the veils between the many levels of existence thins enabling us to peer through into other times and places, and, in this particular instance and most importantly, into what is to come… into what we would like to become our future… an opportunity not just to view it but to drift and dream and decide what we would like to create our future to be.

There are many myths and stories, beliefs and traditions associated with Midsummer’s Eve. It is a night populated by the Fae and the Faerie, and by all manner of beings from other dimensions who are temporarily able to engage with us – a time when you may appeal to and seek the assistance of such wondrous beings.

I shall show my respect for our local Tylwyth Teg by honouring them with some gifts – crusty home-baked bread, local honey fragrant with the scent of last summer’s flowers, creamy cheese, and the rich amber of whisky. these shall be served on fine porcelain and crystal on the front lawn under the holly tree at dusk.

Personally, I like to sit with the evening shadows in the cool of the garden, surrounded by the peaceful valley and silent mountains. A high place or the beach are also good places to tune into this magical night.

Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, I wish you a very merry Midsummer, and many wonderful things to come your way in the second half of your year!

 

Just the Little Things

I chose to experience the time of the solar eclipse yesterday sitting out in my little stone circle. For us, here in North West Wales, it was early evening. Not much chance of actually seeing anything, as we have had rain and high winds for several days now. The skies were dark and lowering with heavy grey cloud, yet thankfully, the gales had calmed to a warm if boisterous breeze and only a soft drizzle fell fitfully.

The new moon and solar eclipse of the 8th April 2024 is a pivotal event in the progress of the human race and the Earth as a whole. As a Theosophist, we refer to the energetic changes we are all experiencing as Shamballa, which culminate in 2025. The effects of the current solar flares and magnetic storms upon our planet are just one contribution to the many challenges and difficulties we are all feeling and reeling from at present.

And it is not just we humans who are being subjected to such inter-stellar effects. Everything upon the earth and the Earth herself are being shaken up, stripped and renewed, hence all the earthquakes, floods and extreme weather this past few weeks – the earth is having quite a time of it too.

For years now, we have been impressed by the dire results of our careless, thoughtless way of life and have been made to view the bigger picture, globally, universally, and take responsibility collectively for our actions as members of the human race. While it is extremely important that we don’t lose sight of this bigger picture, it has been made clear to me that right now, we all need to focus on the little things in our lives… the myriad tiny occasions when ordinary life lifts our spirits with some of the millions of miracles which constitute our day-to-day lives, and which we are frequently oblivious to. The comforting sensation of hot water on your skin; the soft caress of clean clothes or a favourite jumper; that first mouthful of tea or coffee in the morning which is so good; the sight of a fuzzy bumble bee buzzing about it’s all-important business; the deep blue of a forget-me-not flower growing in the cracks of a path.

We need to take particular joy in all that we have to be thankful for and focus on our blessings, not our problems and woes. As humans, it is all too easy to only acknowledge what is wrong or missing in our lives, and not actually see all that we actually have. Now is the time to change all that, and to revel in every tiny moment of beauty, of comfort, of good fortune, no matter how transient, and to laugh… we really do need to laugh more and truly begin to feel the exuberant joy of being alive. After all, we are tremendously privileged to be alive today, at this crucial time in the history of our World.

What I am suggesting goes a little beyond the Mindfulness so many of us aspire to. I am trying to convey the feeling of living one’s life in actively positive joy and gratitude for everything, no matter how microscopic or insignificant. From these infinitesimal moments, we can birth a new and much more loving, peaceful and beautiful world. This is what is being asked of us. Our success is in the detail… the minutiae of our own everyday life.

Please share this message – by reposting links or sharing on Facebook, or whatever, but mainly by your own actions – amazingly, our collective future is in your hands, and the level to which you are prepared to allow yourself to be happy – set aside the habitual emotions of guilt and unworthiness which we all tend to suffer. This is your birthright!  Try it. What is not to like? After all, you are hardly being asked to participate in something unpleasant.

And if, every time you celebrate a moments joy, you can send out a flash of loving gratitude, think how, when multiplied millions of times, this could change everything. 

Have an absolutely brilliant day, and many days to come – smile, love, laugh, and enjoy life… your life.

News-Blog Instead of Newsletter

Greetings! I wish you all a joyful adventure for the  new year!

Thank you to all you readers who have sent me the seasons greetings and all the kind souls who have enquired if all is well with me.

You probably know me quite well by now. I believe in telling it like it is and speaking the plain truth.

Many people, both at home and across the globe – including myself – are experiencing ill health. The symptoms are chest infection, a hacking cough, disrupted sleep patterns and utter weariness (among others) which drags on unremittingly for months. (This is NOT Covid-19.) Recently, I have heard that it is actually an adult form of Whooping Cough, also known as the Hundred Days Cough… and I can well understand that particular description!

I have been ill since the beginning of November. My publisher has been ill for even longer. Courses of antibiotics have helped temporarily, but it stays with us with the temerity of super glue! I am not sure if I am gradually recovering or simply beginning to learn to live with it.

I had hoped to send out a newsletter for Midwinter, but due to on-going ill health, severe storms which succeeded in severing our telephone cable, (depriving us of the internet for nearly a fortnight), and various other mishaps, it simply never happened.

In desperation, I have decided to send out a simplified newsletter in a blog post to bring you up to date. This will be the third time that I have deleted much of what I had previously written… but you know what they say, third time lucky!

WALKING WITH THE GODDESS

I am amazed to realise that it is nearly four years since I last had a book published! (Except for my two ‘Eat Cheap’ booklets which I feel don’t really count.) ‘Spring In Your Step’, the sequel to ‘Merry Midwinter’ came out while all the world was devolving into chaos at the beginning of the pandemic. Apart from that, 2020 was an amazing year for me because I could stay at home and simply write, write, write, with absolutely nothing to distract me – it was crazily wonderful! I wrote three books!!!

Since then, the aftermath of Covid has been much harder to deal with and life has taken many odd twists and turns. In fact, as far as getting anything into print is concerned, it has stalled quite dramatically.

Now, I happily feel that I am back on track again.

I am NOT going to commit myself to a date when ‘Walking With the Goddess’ might be officially published, but you can depend on me letting you know when it is finalised. It will definitely be out some time in the next month or so, more than that I cannot say. It has already been to the printers once and now needs any corrections making before it goes off to print.

This is a wonderful book to start the spring season with. ‘Walking With the Goddess’ contains simple authentic suggestions and practices appropriate for people of all religions and spiritual beliefs. The ‘Goddess’ is the Earth itself, and readers will learn to literally walk not on her, or against her, or in spite of her, but WITH her.

‘Walking With the Goddess’ is a practical and experiential book covering a twelve-month cycle which the reader can pick up at any point throughout the year. In conjunction with some of the old Welsh deities and archetypes, (ten female and six male) readers will learn to work with elemental and healing energies using a variety of mediums including the specific energies of stones and trees, the development of intuition and the power of intention and thought forms. Readers will also learn how to access their own genetic coding and memory, step into – and out of – the Cauldron of Rejuvenation and Rebirth, and much, much more.

For each month, there is a guided meditation to follow – a journey to make – which will trigger new understanding, introduce new possibilities, and guide you to re-evaluate your path so far.  (Links embedded in the book take the reader to recordings of myself talking you through each journey – easy to click on for a really in-depth experience.) All the content has been freshly inspired and channelled and contains activities appropriate and necessary for our unique times.

Just as importantly it encourages the reader to become proactive in working on and with the land, growing things, wild seeding and planting, getting involved in charitable projects, and eliminating harmful domestic substances from our homes, agricultural land and public spaces. It will help readers to becoming more intimately and actively aware of the seasons and encourage them to celebrate them in their thoughts as well as openly acknowledging them in their daily places and life.

With freezing weather and winter storms, this time of year is dominated by water. As disrupted and intensified weather systems lash our planet, I offer this brief exert from ‘Walking With the Goddess’ for you to follow – one that will help to calm and heal the extreme effects of water when unleashed upon our world:

JOURNEY TO HEAL WATER

Science has now proved that we can change the structure of water molecules by our thoughts. Begin positive practice with the element of water today.

Bring a large glass or jug of water and an empty bowl into your healing space.

Settle yourself comfortably… close your eyes, take three deep breaths and allow all the hurly-burly of your day to melt away… and relax…

Open your eyes again.

Place your hands around the container of water for a couple of minutes and feel your love flowing out of your hands and through the glass into the water.

Take a few sips of the water in the glass. What does it really taste of? How does it feel in your mouth and as it slips down your throat?

Slowly pour the water from the glass into the bowl. As you do so, watch how the light catches the stream of liquid. Listen carefully to the sound of the water as it runs… falls… splashes…

Bend over the bowl and breath in the moist scent of the water.

Plunge your hands into the water and swirl them about in it… then simply rest them, submerged and still… What does water feel like?

Lift the bowl up onto your knee and wrap both your arms around it. Draw it to you as you would a small animal or child.

Look deeply into its depths and imagine a beam of softly glowing light above your head. This is the light of conscious energetic healing. Imagine it flowing down through the top of your head… down your spine… and back up through the front of your body to the crown of your head… and then back down your spine and up the front… and back down your spine… only this time, as the light surges up the front of your body, sense and see that you are also drawing healing earth energies up through the soles of your feet… up through your legs and into your body to join the upper healing energy as it travels back towards your crown…

When both energies have reached your head, feel or see them flowing back down through your neck… and into your arms and chest (where they also collect your own loving wishes of gratitude and healing) and sense them spilling out of your heart and the palms of your hands which you now hold over the surface of the water…

Stay in this position and activity for as long as you wish – for as long as feels right to you…

When you are ready to stop, feel the energies withdraw from the water and return back up your arms, through your chest and into your head – the higher energies disappear up out of the top of your head and the lower energies flow back down your body… into your legs and out through your feet into the earth.

Give loving thanks to All That Is for allowing and supporting you to do this loving, healing act.

Breathe deeply… open your eyes… move your feet… fully return to your present time and place.

Set the bowl of water down. When you are ready to leave your healing space, take the bowl of water with you. You need to carefully, gently and mindfully pour it away onto the earth, or into some other water source, preferably onto a garden – but even down the drain will do – knowing that the love and gratitude with which you have instilled that water will then connect with any other water it comes into contact with and communicate your loving intentions – and so your message will spread.

If you wish, now is the time to draw or write down anything from the experiences you have just had.

 

LOOKING AHEAD TO SPRING AND CAE NON

Another casualty of the pandemic and being confined to home or five-mile limits for travelling was our land and the spiritual retreat which we are slowly growing at Cae Non. The site is seventeen miles from our home, and we were unable to legally go there for quite a long time. I also had problems with arthritis in my knee and couldn’t have walked about on the land even if I had been able to travel there. And then there was also the little matter of cows from the neighbouring farm crossing the stream and breaking through the fence onto our land, leaving new growth stripped bare and the ground a miry mess of hoof-sized potholes.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the land has been busy doing its own thing throughout the past three years of relative neglect and all is absolutely blooming! This has also been greatly facilitated by two very dear friends who were able to spend time on the land in our place and have kept everything well maintained. They have even built a little log store round the back of the Hafod and erected a tool store which was kindly donated to us by a neighbour back in the village.

Now, a temporary electric fence has been erected to keep the cows at bay and work is moving ahead once more.

It has been an absolute joy to spend time at Cae Non again; it is such a deeply peaceful spot.

The path up the field to the Hafod, a corner of which can just be glimpsed in the distance.

I have always wanted to plant a proper hedge around the perimeter of our land. Apart from being a good investment as a barrier, it is also an excellent ecosystem for flora and fauna.  However, it is a very long stretch, even just to complete the side the cows have been coming through, so the task might require spreading out over two or three winters. At this stage we are also still debating what trees to order for the best, most effective stock proof hedge which will also thrive in wet, clay land.

Most of the existing herb beds will have to be completely replanted, but my son, (who is a medical herbalist) is planning on extensive extension of our cultivated area, and a functional but decorative ground plan of rectangular and circular raised beds has emerged. Coupled to clearing more land to plant a medicinal arboretum and pruning hundreds of metres of willow fedging, we have more than enough to be getting on with.

The days may be short at present, but there is always a cosy welcome inside our little Hafod, where the wood burning stove glows with warmth, the candle-light falls softly, and the kettle is always singing, ready to make the next round of hot drinks.

Even in these darkest days which I adore, there is a little part of me which is looking eagerly forward to being able to get out in the winter air.

And then, there is always the joy of looking ahead towards the coming spring. it really isn’t that far ahead now…

IN THE MEANTIME….

I wish you all a wonderful New Year for 2024. Create as much joy and feel as much love as is humanly possible and treasure each moment.

More from me soon,
With my love,

Gillian.

 

Winter Greetings!

Days come and go, the seasons turn and we have finally reached the first dark, turbulent days of Winter! Gazing out of my window across the drab khaki-green and brown fields, watching huge purple galleons of clouds majestically sail into view, I wonder what it is about this season which I love so much.

Perhaps it is that I finally get a few days to rest and catch my breath after all the hurly burly of the autumn, culminating in our three day celebration of Calan Gaeaf.

Monday (30th October) was the day we hold our Ancestor’s Dinner, when we gather around our dining table with extra places laid to welcome any shade of family past over who might be around at this special time of the year when the veils thin and loved ones are able to draw closer once more. A hearty meal of chicken pie in thick white savoury gravy accompanied by buttery red cabbage steamed with raisins and apples was followed by spicy Soul Cakes made to a traditional recipe, and numerous cups of freshly brewed Nicaraguan coffee from our local supplier. It is fair to say that I sensed the house to be happily bustling with movement and whispers and my son’s partner, who works from home, was wryly amused when a colleague on a video call asked who was singing in the background – she had been listening to the excited voices of children for some time, although no children have lived here this past thirty years.

The 31st October – Hallowe’en to many – was mainly fun and games for us, out in the darkness of our back garden where visiting children played the traditional games of ‘bobbing for apples’ and chasing the wildly swinging ‘sticky bun’ while we lit a fire and brought out steaming dishes of potato pie and fruit crumbles. Later, after the door had been answered to many excited ‘trick-or-treaters’, we settled around the welcome warmth of the blaze and told stories of the White (headless) Lady and Hwch Ddu Gwta, the tailless black sow who waits for unwary travellers by styles and crossroads (and other liminal places) and carries  them off, possibly to be plunged into Ceridwen’s Cauldron… which might not be as bad as it sounds as it is a magical receptacle of rejuvenation and rebirth. More Soul Cakes were consumed as we sang the traditional ‘Souling Song’. Marshmallows were toasted and sparklers were lit as we all joyfully danced in the night with our brave little lights.

The third and final day was Wednesday, the 1st November. In the past, the old Celtic calendar, and many other cultures of the Northern Hemisphere, began their New Year at this time, with the ending of the harvest, the settling into winter and a break from agricultural activity. The shadows thickened as friends and family gathered around our cosy hearth, the candles were lit, and we shared the first afternoon tea of winter – a hearty affair of savoury pies, pastries and sandwiches, followed by crisp thick shortbreads delicately flavoured with lavender and lemon, sticky dark parkin, and other sweet goodies.

We discussed when each of us personally feels that winter begins and the effects it has on us. I understand that some dislike winter intensely and many suffer from S.A.D. as the Solstice darkness begins to close around us. Which leads me back to ponder why I, conversely, love it so wholeheartedly. Perhaps it is because I begin to anticipate all the joyful excitement and celebration of Advent, Midwinter and Christmas soon to come? Or maybe it is because I hold so many wonderful memories of special loving times around the hearth with my family, talking, making, reading, in our shadowy, candlelit kitchen which felt so very safe and secure. On the other hand, I did also chose this time of year to enter into this life, although that is often a traumatic time for both baby and mother and my advent was no exception.

Whatever the reason, the coming of Winter never ceases to thrill me with all its possibilities and potential for cosy times, the plotting of treats and happy events and the general making of magical surprises. As a fairy-godmother-in-training I delight in helping to make wishes and dreams – no matter how large or small – come true.

I sometimes think that the greatest gift I can give to anyone is to invite them to my hearth, enfold them in shadow and soft candleflame, ply them with lovingly-made edible treats and watch them relax, unfurl and awaken to the gentle magical delights of a Winter tea by the fire. Old memories stir within us at such times, and it isn’t simply the province of visiting ancestors – there is something incredibly fundamental about drawing together in shelter and safety around a brightly burning blaze and sharing good food and good company, while the wind howls and the rain lashes outside. It is the oldest communal activity in the history of the human race, and one which triggers memory held deep in our DNA, and a suitably favourable reaction.

Living fire, living flame might not be so common in our homes now, but you might at least consider lighting a candle in this new winter’s darkness and match it with a flame of loving anticipation and appreciation in your heart… you can also use a candle flame to toast marshmallows too!

Just Another Afternoon

How is it that some of the simplest activities can be transformed into something special and everyday actions into memorable occasions? I tend to think that it is how we chose to view something, how we seize an opportunity, how we allow it to inspire us and – to coin one of my favourite phrases – how we make much of little.

This is exactly what happened to me yesterday when I travelled the thirty-five miles or so up the coast with my husband to the seaside town of Llandudno. We left home in rain and wind but arrived to brighter skies and sunshine just beginning to peep through the clearing clouds.

First we went to lunch in one of my favourite restaurants, ‘The Habit’ which has a huge selection of tasty dishes and delicious cakes, clean, relaxing, and cosy decor and excellent service. I hardly had time to enjoy my pot of tea or the selection of daily newspapers and books provided before my meal arrived.

You would never know all this fascinating information and deliciousness was behind this unassuming facade.

As we left the ‘Habit Tearooms’, I almost bumped into a sandwich board on the corner, advertising a chocolate museum down the little sideroad – now when had that sprung up without me noticing? My husband went off to his afternoon of voluntary work at the North Wales Wildlife shop on top of the Great Orme (which he does once a fortnight) and I disappeared down John Street to investigate the museum which is housed in old buildings alongside a very modern chocolate producing factory, all of which was started by entrepreneur, Timothy Winstanley, shortly before the pandemic.  http://llandudnochocolateexperience.co.uk/ Regardless of its apparently small size, an amazing selection of delicious chocolates are produced here (for sale in Maisie’s Chocolate Shop https://www.maisies.co/ just across Mostyn Street round the corner into Vaughan Street ) as well as creating between one and two tonnes of chocolate flakes each week. Anything to do with the handling and processing of chocolate is a black art and takes a great deal of skill, technique and care.

It was disconcerting to find some of my favourite chocolate bars, tins and boxes among the exhibits!

The museum was an intriguing and delightful experience; a veritable warren of small rooms and corridors full of chocolate-related artefacts, interactive experiences, scenes, models, information boards and recordings. I travelled 5,000 years from the cocoa-rich kingdoms of the Olmec, Maya and Aztecs (including bird song and other sound effects) through to the Crusades and Mediaeval Europe when both chocolate and sugar first found their way into modern western society, the chocolate houses of London, Songhai, the last indigenous empire of North West Africa, the slave trade, piracy, fashions in eating and drinking and monarchs who promoted it. To enhance my experience, on entering the museum I was issued with a plastic beaker containing five gorgeous chocolates, all of which are made on site, and which I was gently instructed to eat at various stages of my visit to help enhance my experience and illustrate the changes in chocolate and what it actually meant.

Floating in a warm fuzzy haze of sweet treats, I finally exited the museum to explore my favourite kitchen shop (where I did a little Christmas shopping for useful but much-needed items which I know will be greatly appreciated) and my favourite craft shop across the road. Here I found lots of little goodies for gifts to fill our Christmas Elf’s sack on the breakfast table on Christmas morning, or pack the model Victorian Snowy House which graces our dining table on New Year’s Day. I bought spools of 3mm wide ribbon in various shades of green for tying packages to go under the Tree, and gorgeous purple satin ribbon to make into bows to adorn the herb pillows I plan on making later in the autumn. I also found synthetic orange berries which will look great clutched in the pipe cleaner fists of my little autumn fir cone gnomes and extra sheets of felt for the making of pointy hats for my fir cone witches – more on those in a week or so as we approach Hallowe’en!

I also found a bunch of pretty gold fabric poinsettias which I might use to decorate our Christmas or New Year crackers this year. On the other hand, I might just adorn myself instead – such simple decorations can pull an outfit together for a seasonal occasion – one in my hair with two or three more as a corsage sewn onto my dress… or perhaps attached to my evening bag – or stuck on my shoes… or…

Entering a different kind of ‘fairy land’ through an archway of beautiful synthetic autumnal leaves!

This autumn I have been enchanted by all the seasonal decorations – the garlands of coloured leaves alone are glorious. Yes, I love authentic decorations straight from garden, but how long does a trail of beautiful brown and red Virginia Creeper leaves last in the warmth of our living room? About two hours before it wilts and curls away to practically nothing. Yes, we should use less plastic, but let’s not throw the metaphorical baby out with the bathwater. There are some truly beautiful items manufactured with which to decorate our homes and celebrate the seasons (not just Christmas) and if stored sensibly they will last many years – I still have a spray of plastic harebells which my mother bought when I was eight years old and sixty years later they haven’t even lost their colour.

The delicate, life-like shading and colouring make these garlands, flowers and sprays works of art in their own right.

In another shop I discovered lovely Christmas cards which depict an snug shed in a snowy winter’s garden but which to me looks remarkably like our Hafod down on our land on the Llyn Peninsular. (Oh, that we might actually get some snow this winter!)

Later, I sat on one of the old wooden benches in the sunshine beneath the trees in Mostyn Street, cooled by the unseasonably warm breeze and made lists: planned and dreamed my coming autumn and winter celebrations into being. Someone sat down on the bench beside me. I took no notice as I squirrelled away with my pen and paper. Finally a voice spoke… it was my husband! The shop had been fairly deserted all afternoon and he had decided to close a little early.

Happily, we drove home together, back along the coast and into the mountains where strong gusts of wind whipped up white horses on the surface of the water all down the Menai Striates, Anglesey was merely a thick black line on the horizon and the skies still wept above cloud enshrouded mountains. Apparently, it had been pouring with rain at home all day… I smiled as I remembered my lovely afternoon in the warm breezes and sunshine of the town… but then that is part of the magic of Llandudno and a very simple but special afternoon!

 

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!

“Mankind is my Business”

Free illustrations of VintageThe above title is a misquote from “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens, words uttered by a miserably repentant Marley’s ghost to an intractable and very unrepentant Scrooge.

The full quotation is: “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business: charity, mercy, benevolence, forbearance. These were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the ocean of my business!”

In earthly life, Marley became far too engrossed – obsessed, even – with his own business of financial profit and the power which it brought him. How much money we earn and what expensive items we own do not define us. It is not what we are but who we are that counts, and that is usually best revealed by our actions.

Far too often we become so totally wound up in our own emotions and challenges that we forget what life is really all about – living the best life that we can whilst reaching out to all around us with love… and that includes not just humanity but all the natural world as well!

Every year, during the winter season, we are ALL reminded of this fact, regardless of our religious practices or spiritual beliefs, and given the chance to enter into practical action… lay aside our grievances, fears and prejudices, and extend the hand of hospitality and friendship. After all, it is a win-win activity because when we bring loving and giving into our hearts and our daily actions, we not only communicate good feeling to everyone around us, but we also end up feeling much better about ourselves too.

Yet, even when we do think about it, how many of us do not generously give our caring and love for fear that it will be scorned and thrown back in our faces. Rejection is a bitter blow to deal with. Is it foolhardy to persist in giving and loving when there is such danger of being so wounded, or a sign of emotional and spiritual maturity?

To quote a Christian concept, remember to always turn the other cheek… give people the benefit of the doubt… if nothing else it demonstrates that you are the stronger, more mature character, as well as being the far nicer person.
And, in the long run, it becomes a habit.

So, how will your ‘business’ flourish this Midwinter? What will you be able to enter in your columns of positive and negative this Christmas? What service can you render to others; what gift of smiles, friendship, forgiveness and love can you distribute far and wide – even to complete strangers?

No ‘humbugs’ here, dear friends!
With my love.

Autumn Abundance

Large wreath for my front door – not yet complete – and smaller one for a friend.

A few days ago, a couple of my dearest friends presented me with an early birthday present – a wonderful long, flat wicker basket which they found recently on Ludlow market. As soon as I clapped eyes on it, it was love at first sight! I could immediately think of numerous uses for it – lined with colourful napkins and heaped with fairy cakes for Hallowe’en or piled with crusty cobs of bread on the local market stall…

However, that was not its first assignment. Instead, the next afternoon I took it out into the garden to collect examples of harvest bounty with which to make an autumn thanksgiving wreath – lengths of green aromatic bay to form the main framework, bunches of acorn cups and beech masts, clusters of deep scarlet hawthorn berries, strands of flaming Virginia Creeper, sprays of purple and pale green hydrangea and tiny-leaved Escalonia with bright little orangey-red berries, and so on.

Me this afternoon, about to hang the finished article

With the assistance of my amazing basket I was able to gather and transport everything gently without crushing or crowding, and once I sat down to begin construction of the wreath it made my work so much easier and less fiddly.

And what a lot we have to be thankful for this autumn, for despite the drought in the summer, we have been blessed by bountiful crops and the countryside as a whole has blossomed and burgeoned into a prosperous wealth of rich rewards. As the plants droop and wither, dying back towards the land which has nurtured and supported them and will now shelter their roots or seeds through the resting time of winter, the trees are turning colour and the rich scent of decay fills the woodlands.

Complete and in place

I love to make a wreath to hang on the front or back door of my home – sometimes both. This one is destined for the front door which is sheltered by a little open-fronted porch which means that the fragile flowers will last much longer. They vary remarkably every year, depending on what is available and has done well. Yes, of course the wreath will gradually dry out or wither and some leaves and berries will fall – but in so doing it will reflect the season it was made to celebrate – a land gradually fading into shadows to dream again of the spring and rebirth… regrowth.

This is a good time to rejoice and give thanks. How might you acknowledge the turning of the season and the maturing of the autumn… the onset of winter?

May all your store cupboards be filled with tasty treasures against the shortages of winter… may you bask in the glow of the long-gone summer sun and taste again the rich flavours of the light half of the year… may the autumn treat you gently.

A Very Happy New Year!

Belated – but no less heartfelt – New Year greetings!

For me, 2022 has got off to a fairly rollicking start. It is an old belief that whatever you do on the 1st January will set the tone and pace for the rest of that year. Well! I had carefully planned the day to be more relaxed, a lot more flexible, with lots of lovely activities (watching the New Year’s Day Concert from Vienna in the morning among them) with an early, less formal dinner for 5.pm.

All was going well and I was thoroughly enjoying my day. Yet, as our meal ended, a very dear friend and guest who had joined us for dinner suddenly lost consciousness and gracefully – with assistance from my husband and son – slithered down off her chair onto the floor. It was just as well that my son is both a medical herbalist and  an Emergency Medical Technician – he was therefore able to begin treating the lady in question immediately.

There then followed many hours of phone calls, urgent conversations, oxygen cylinders and read-outs, paramedics, numerous cups of tea, coffee and soup, and finally, just after midnight, the arrival of an ambulance to transfer our dear friend (now well on the way to recovery) to hospital for more tests.

It just goes to show that you can never tell what might happen next – even when you are sitting in your own cosy, comfy, safe home environment around your own table enjoying a happy family meal!

I have deeper thoughts about this which I will share with you another time, but for now, please accept my love and best wishes for a marvellous new year. We shall be gently winding down our Winter celebrations as the month progresses. Already, the birds are singing and the indefinable quality of light has changed… spring is on its way.

Make 2022 a brilliant year of choices, new adventures, wonderful experiences and love for all that is… indeed, a very happy new year!

The Advent Calendar Wreath

Tomorrow is the first day of December when many children (and adults) will be opening the first door of their 2021 Advent calendars. Many of us already receive so much around Christmastime that I like to do something for Advent which involves all the family and giving of oneself to others.

This year, I have hit upon the idea of the Advent Calendar Wreath. It is a smaller door wreath made from natural willow and covered in holly and ivy to which I have tied 24 pieces of coloured paper which have first been written on then tightly folded and sealed. Each piece of paper is numbered, 1 – 24 and each member of the family will take it in turns to find the appropriate number for the day, open the paper and carry out the suggestion written there.

However, we are going to do this the evening before the date it falls due, so that the person in charge of carrying out that day’s task has time to make any necessary preparations. For instance, they might be asked to find three Christmas jokes and tell them to everyone else, find and play their favourite Christmas carol, organise a little Christmas afternoon tea – even if it is only a biscuit and a hot drink – organise a game for everyone to all join in with, or search for a small parcel wrapped in a certain colour of paper which is hidden in a particular room and share its contents with everyone else…. and so on. They are only small actions, but most are calculated to involve everyone and, at the very least, to bring some seasonal cheer and togetherness into our lives each and every day.

Alternatively, this could be adapted to cover the Twelve Days of Christmas instead, and keep the winter seasonal festivities and sense of sharing going past New Year and on into the beginning of January.

If you would like to try it for yourself, this is how I did it:

Cut as many pieces of coloured paper as you will need – they only need to be about 3″ or 8cms square. Write a suggestion or ‘command’ on each one and then fold it up so that it is a long thin rectangle and seal with a bit of Sellotape so that it can’t begin to open up again. Write the numbers 1 – 24 on each folded paper. Then, take a needle and a 6″ or 15 cm length of thread (preferably some dark colour) and run it through one end of the folded paper, removing the needle and leaving the thread ends dangling, ready to tie the paper on to the wreath.

To make the wreath itself, take several very thin willow whips, two – three foot in length, and bend them around into a circle 8 inches (or 20cms) in diameter. Weave them in and out of each other if possible and secure firmly with one or two lengths of green garden twine.

Gather a few little lengths of holly and two or three long strands of ivy, plus three or four florets of ivy flowers which are in bloom at this time of year, and arrange them around your wreath, tying them onto it securely with the garden twine. Decide which part will be the top of the wreath and add a loop of green string or coloured ribbon with which to hang the wreath up by once it is finished.

Lastly, tie all your paper ‘days’ around the wreath. (See picture at beginning of post.)Be prepared to get your fingers prickled but it is in a good cause!

Find somewhere to hang your Advent Calendar Wreath where it will be seen frequently by everyone… and don’t forget to open each day in turn, gently reminding others when it is their turn if necessary. You may have to volunteer for the first couple of days to set the tone and pace.

Enjoy – happy days!

 

 

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