Monday, 31 December 2012

ThriftWitch: Jar of Blessings

I'm not sure where this idea originated - I came across it on Facebook. It's simple, costs nothing but really appeals to me, so I thought I'd share it here.

Find a clean, lidded jar that appeals to you. You can decorate it if you like - paint it, add glitter, or stickers, tie a bow around it, write 'Jar of Blessings' on a luggage tag and tie it around the neck... or just keep it plain. It can be big or small, but in the spirit of optimism, why not choose big!

Then starting 1st January, every time something good happens, write it down on a slip of paper and add it to the jar. Incidents of serendipity, plans that come to fruition, an unexpected phone call from an old friend, a beautiful sunset, happy holiday memories, unlooked for kindness from a stranger, the mastering of a new skill, some words of wisdom imparted to you, the recipe for the fabulous jam you made, the joke that made you laugh until you cried...

The idea is that at the end of the year you can empty the jar and revisit all your happy memories from the last twelve months. Hopefully there will be many, and even if it's been a tough year you can see that there have been lots of blessings too. But of course if there are rough patches during the year and you need to accentuate the positive, there's nothing to stop you opening the jar earlier than 31st December!

And that's it. I think it makes a very good partner to the Clean Start Soap Spell...

May your jar overflow with blessings in 2013!

Happy New Year.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Self Care, Wisdom and Breaking Old Spells...

Pic: Shrine to Brigid, Goddess of Healing at  the White Spring, Glastonbury

Good health is something I normally take for granted. A Naturopath told me some years ago I have a very strong constitution, and that seems to be the case. I have no allergies or food sensitivities to worry about. I can always sleep, and rarely lose my appetite. Like anyone, I get the odd cough or cold, but usually bounce back after a few days and that's that.


The Cold that IB and I caught in Madrid turned out to be a real stinker, and even now I still have an irritating cough that just won't seem to shift. Then at the beginning of December I succumbed to the Norovirus tummy bug and even after the stomach pains and vomiting had subsided, I found it hard to get my appetite back. Feeling totally washed out, I struggled to meet my work commitments during the week. And then the icing on the cake: last Friday I went down with tonsillitis.

I had tonsillitis several times as a child, but don't remember it being much different then to an ordinary head cold. I had it again as an adult in 2001, though, and couldn't believe how ill I felt that time! My head was pounding, my throat was incredibly painful and swollen, I couldn't eat, and I felt so light-headed and weak. I remember thinking, 'I don't think you can die from tonsillitis, but I feel so lousy at the moment that if I do I really don't care!'. That time T took me to the Dr who prescribed antibiotics and it cleared up in no time.

This time my experience was definitely a re-run of the 2001 episode, but more antibiotics - and nearly a week off work - have done the trick again. Even so, I am aware of underlying weariness and the sense of needing a good long rest.

In my previous, pre-divorce situation, life was much easier. I had work and commitments here at Halfway Up A Hill, but I could be flexible about what I did and when, and as T was the breadwinner, me taking it easy for a few days when I needed to didn't have that much of an impact. Now things are different: I need to work outside the home to support myself and it is often a struggle to do that and juggle caring for the animals, the house, the garden - and myself. Also, if I don't work, I don't get paid, so time off for leisure, appointments ( or illness has to be carefully considered and judiciously weighed out.

Because I generally have such good health, I take it for granted. I have a tendency to push myself to keep going where someone more sensitive to their body's limits would ease off. And I find it hard both to say 'no' when asked to do things and also to ask for help myself when I need it. Not really a good combination!

It is clear that I need to work on self-care. This run of illness has made me aware of many things. That I am not indestructible. That I have allowed myself to get run-down. That ignoring it and trying to keep going only makes me vulnerable to further illness. It is a hard lesson. I can be stubborn, and this kind of life experience makes me want to dig my heels in and ignore it because, dammit, I won't be beaten! But at heart I know that learning from experience - even bitter experience - is not being beaten, it is the gaining of wisdom.

Nevertheless I know myself well enough to know that it will be all too easy to fall back into old patterns of behaviour. After all, as humans, that's what we do, right?

Recently I have realised that 'being under a spell' in fairy stories could be seen as a metaphor for this falling back into old patterns. For example, a princess is held captive by a wicked magician/troll/dragon. Many suitors come to her aid and try to free her but they fail due to the enchantments/spell laid by the villain. They don't take the good (if weird) advice they were given for the journey (Don't look the giant in the eye! Don't eat the fairy food! Be polite to the old hag!), or they do exactly what all the other failed attempts did and rush straight at the bad guy/dragon, waving a sword - and are promptly turned to stone, or fall into an enchanted sleep, or are just plain killed. In other words, by falling back into old, tried-and-failed patterns yet still somehow expecting them to work, their attempts are defeated. But the resolution of the problem, the denouement of the story comes when the hero either has the good sense to follow the advice - however odd it seemed - or to try something different (Talk to the dragon! Outsmart the troll! Ask the golden bird in the cage what to do!), thereby breaking the spell - the old pattern - and achieving his goal and the freedom of the princess.

This is what I need to do - break the spell by taking the good advice I am given by friends and family (Eat well! Go to bed early! Learn to say no sometimes! Ask for help!), even if it seems easier to ignore it. And I will try doing some things differently in order to get a different result (Stop bottling up stress - instead thump a pillow, or do regular meditation, or restructure my working week...). I will take echinacea and multivitamins to build myself up. I will get the Dr to give me a health check. I will take responsibility for my well-being. I will learn to self-care.

I will break the spell. I will be well. By my will, with harm to none and for the good of all, so mote it be. Blessed be.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

On the Popularity of Dead Frogs...

One feature I like on Blogger is the opportunity to view my 'stats'. It's interesting to see where people who are viewing the blog live, or which websites pointed them in my direction, and it also tells me which posts are getting the most hits.

For a long time the most popular post has been 'Falling In Love', which surprises me as it's just a quick reflection on the beauties of early summer. I imagine it must be because it's a phrase that might easily be Googled and lead searchers here, though they're probably disappointed when they get to it if it's Mills & Boon they had in mind. Likewise those seeking gardening tips are undoubtedly disgusted by my laid back attitude to weeds when they are directed to 'My Lawn is Full of Dandelions', which is also high on the popularity chart - especially in spring. Hopefully at least 'St Anthony's Well, Llansteffan' is exactly what it says on the tin, and presumably 'ThriftWitch: The Clean Start Soap Spell' is a pretty unambiguous title. All popular posts.

But this week a new favourite has hit the top spot after scoring multiple hits, week in, week out. The post in question is 'When is a Dead Frog Just a Dead Frog?', and although it is a post I am proud of, I can't understand its popularity. Are there that many people out there Googling the term 'Dead Frog'? How else do they come to that particular post? Has someone else commented on it in their blog and people are coming over out of curiosity? Or... Oh my gosh, is it some sort of weird sexual practice... why didn't anyone tell me!!! At that point the possibilities fail me. Don't get me wrong - I do think it's a good post - but the most popular Moonroot post ever?

So, if you are one of those who has been drawn to 'When is a Dead Frog Just a Dead Frog?', do please satisfy my curiosity. How on earth did you stumble across it in the first place?

P.S. I couldn't find a convenient photo of a frog, so the photo is of somewhere a live frog might like to hang out. See? I'm nothing if not versatile.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Madrid: Living it Up and Flaking Out

Not having had the chance to get away for over two years, IB and I were in definite need of a holiday. When we saw that my favourite band, the Rubinoos, were going to be playing in Spain, we decided this was our chance.

Work constraints (I don't get paid holidays, and IB had just started a new job) meant we could only make a long weekend of it, but as we were both tired and stressed even that seemed like a luxury! Our stress levels were compounded by ongoing computer problems, which made researching and booking the trip a hard slog. Luckily my Mum and Dad were wonderful and did a lot of the legwork for us on their computer, so that all I had to do was deploy the credit card and sort out some Euros! My friend Lizzi agreed to housesit and mind the chickens and goose, and as she was bringing her dog with her the cats went on a holiday of their own to Mum and Dad's.

Despite horrendous fog, our flight on Friday afternoon took off in time and we had a smooth journey to Madrid. We negotiated the Madrid Metro system to the stop nearest our hotel, only to find my Dad had done a fantastic job of research. Not only was our hotel right by the Metro station, but it was also just round the corner from the concert venue. Impressive!

Unfortunately, the slightly sore throat I had put down to recirculated air on the plane developed into a full-blown headcold overnight. I awoke Saturday morning feeling dreadful and worrying about how I'd manage the concert that evening. We spent the morning on a gentle wander around the area to get our bearings, and were delighted to find 'Artemisia', an excellent vegetarian restaurant virtually on our doorstep - IB is vegetarian, and we had been a little concerned about how easy it would be to find vegetarian food. Particularly as I wasn't feeling great it was a real boon to find good veggie food so close by!

We spent the afternoon reading and dozing in the hotel as I wanted to save my strength for the evening's entertainment. As I wrote in my blogpost about our San Francisco trip, IB and I had become friends with the bass player of the Rubinoos, Al Chan. When he heard we were coming to Madrid, Al had kindly invited us to come along early to the soundcheck - we felt very privileged! We turned up at the allotted time, only to find the venue in quiet darkness, so we retreated to a nearby bar and sat outside nursing beers and munching tapas while we waited. After a little while we noticed people carrying musical instruments and amplifiers along the street; not long after that we spotted Al and the other members of the band, and followed them inside the club.

Al is a wonderfully wam and friendly person and even though we hadn't seen him since San Francisco, we were soon chatting away with him and lead guitarist Tommy Dunbar. Just then some more British fans turned up - Peter, Matt and Mike who had made the pilgrimage from Stoke-on-Trent - and we moved our little group to a nearby bar so the band could do their soundcheck in peace!

Madrid has a reputation as a party city, and even at what was a relatively early hour for Madrilenos, the bar was packed with an exuberant crowd. We were quickly befriended by a Spanish techo-DJ who spoke almost no English yet was soon declaring his undying friendship and inviting us all to his next gig in Belgium! It turned out the Stoke-on-Trent posse could have taught Keith Moon a thing or two about hedonism, and meanwhile a passionate argument about 'cerveza' between a waiter and one of the patrons was almost coming to blows, beer was being poured in vast quantities, and there was much merriment all round. As a natural introvert this is the kind of environment that would normally leave me feeling out of my comfort zone but the atmosphere was of such good-natured, bubbling, insanity I found myself carried along with it.

After the soundcheck, Al rejoined us and we all went for dinner in the Artemisia vegetarian restaurant, along with another fan, Mercedes. The waiter who had served us at lunchtime was very pleased to see us return with such a large party! By now it had gone 10pm and we returned to the club in time to see the support band, Suzi & los Quattros, who were excellent. By the time the Rubinoos came on, the Madrid audience was a joyous riot, dancing, drinking, singing, applauding, pogo-ing, crowd-surfing and beer spilling. Fuelled myself by the wonder combination of Rioja, paracetamols and adrenaline, I enjoyed every moment, including two encores, yet almost the moment it ended my cold kicked back in with a vengeance. We said our goodbyes to friends old and new and made our way back to the hotel - I was so glad it was just around the corner! We fell into bed at about 2am.

On Sunday morning we slept in late, and poor IB awoke with The Cold. We had planned to spend the day sightseeing, but both felt so wiped out that in the end we spent the morning vegging out in a coffee shop and then going for lunch at - you guessed it - Artemisia. The staff looked a little bemused to see us yet again! We spent the afternoon back at the hotel dozing, and felt too ill to seek out an alternative food source, so rather shamefacedly made our way back to Artemisia, joking that we'd have to wear false beards if we went back again!

On Monday we packed and checked out of our hotel. We had most of the day at leisure and had planned to visit some of the city's amazing art galleries, but once again found ourselves coughing and snuffling, unwilling to stir from the cosy coffee shop we had settled in. We bestirred ourselves enough to seek out another vegetarian venue for lunch (El Estragon), as we were just too embarrassed to go back to Artemisia yet again! From there we wandered down to La Latina Metro stop, where exhaustion overcame us and we admitted defeat and headed back to the airport earlier than necessary.

Flying home I felt guilty that we hadn't really done any sightseeing and had missed out on the opportunity to visit such internationally reknowned art galleries as the Prado, but we were both too ill, too exhausted and too wiped out. I guess we both really did need a break...