Sunday, 31 January 2021

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 92: From Falling Leaves to Buds and Shoots

 


The 'Winter Blessings and Beauties' project began at the beginning of November and will conclude on 2nd February, covering a period of 3 months/just over 13 weeks.

The changes in the Winter landscape aren't as eye-catching as those of Spring, Summer or even Autumn. The Winter palette is more muted, vegetation growth  slowed by low temperatures and short, dark days. And yet changes are happening all the same. When we look back to the beginning of this period when everything in the landscape seemed to be dying back or hibernating, it's a striking contrast to where we are now - though as I pointed out right back at the beginning of Winter, the buds of Spring were already formed. Gradually, as the weeks passed they've been slowly growing, fattening in preparation to burst into leaf when the conditions are right. The very first buds to open won't be leaf buds, though - they will be those containing the soft grey fur of pussy willow catkins. At the same time the tightly held hazel catkins will lengthen into golden tassels, shaking out their pollen in the wind. 

Meanwhile the first bulbs are rising out of the earth. Already there are snowdrops to be seen, and the sturdy green snouts of daffodils are pushing up through last year's leaf litter. I even spotted a solitary yellow daffodil flowering in a sheltered spot the other day. Only thirteen weeks since the world was dying back, it is again surging back into life and growth. The only constant in the Wheel of the Year is change - and I find that curiously comforting.

Winter Blessings and Beauties: Day 92

From Falling Leaves to Buds and Shoots

In only a few more weeks, the world will be greening again as Spring gets into her stride. Before then, bring in a few twigs from deciduous trees and shrubs in the garden and put them in a vase half-filled with water in a warm spot. Once they have been in the warmth of your home for a week or so their leaves will begin to open. Most deciduous species are suitable, but you are most likely to get good results from those which have well-developed, plump buds. I usually use a mixture of willows, hazels, forsythia and fruit tree twigs.

The vase of green leaves is a visual reminder of the change in seasons and can be seen as a kind of sympathetic magic to welcome back the Spirit of the Green.   

   

 



Saturday, 30 January 2021

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 91: St Brigid's Cross

 

We are approaching Imbolc, a festival associated with the Goddess Brigid. One of Her symbols is the Brigid's cross which is traditionally made at Imbolc from rushes. They are a great centrepiece for an Imbolc altar.

If you'd like to try making your own, follow the instructions given below. Making them seems a little fiddly when you first start but once you have established the first few straws it's easy. 

Winter Blessings and Beauties: Day 91

St Brigid's Cross

To make your own St Brigid's Cross, there is an easily followed tutorial here, or if you'd prefer video instructions, here. As mentioned, rushes are the traditional material, but you could also use straw or even pipe cleaners or strips of card. A similar, but even easier craft activity is making a God's eye or Ojo de Dios from yarn woven around crossed sticks. This is a great one to do with  children. Instructions for making a God's eye are here.

Other suitable decorations for your Imbolc altar include a pot or posy of early spring flowers (especially snowdrops), white candles, or symbols of Brigid such as a book of poetry, healing herbs, or craft tools (She is the Goddess of healing, craftwork - especially smithcraft or metalwork - and poetry).   

  


Friday, 29 January 2021

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 90: Winter Retrospective and Winter's End Ritual


As we near the end of Winter, it's a good time to pause and review the last few months - and this project, intended to encourage a positive experience of the season. 

Winter Blessings and Beauties: Day 90

Winter Retrospective

I suggest you take a few days to go through this process of looking back (and forward) to examine your experience of Winter in sufficient depth before you move onto the Winter's End Ritual.

Cast your mind back in time to the beginning of November. Samhain had just been and gone, and the whole Winter lay ahead of us. How were you feeling then? If you've been following this project, perhaps look back to the very first post to help stir your memories of how you were feeling then, mentally, physically, emotionally. What did the prospect of Winter seem like then? What were you anxious about? What were your hopes? What were you looking forward to?

Scrolling forward through the Winter Blessings and Beauties posts - and/or your journal - how did Winter unfold for you? Did it go as you expected? What surprised you? What disappointed you? What delighted you? What did you discover? 

Winter's End Ritual

After working through the Winter Retrospective exercise thoroughly, move onto the Winter's End Ritual.

Looking back, at the end of this Winter what will you be leaving behind? Write a list of those things you wish to leave behind in Winter 2020/21, and burn it or add it to your compost heap to be transformed. 

As the door between Winter and Spring swings open, what will you choose to carry forward? Make a list in your journal of all the Winter blessings and lessons for which you're grateful and carry them forward with you. 

What do you hope Spring be bringing in for you? On a fresh sheet of paper, make a list of your hopes, dreams and plans for Spring 2021. Put it somewhere you will be able to see it every day, and make sure to check in regularly to monitor your progress and keep yourself on track.

Blessed Be. 

Thursday, 28 January 2021

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 89: Root Vegetables


Root vegetables are perfect seasonal food during the Winter months. For one thing, they store well - depending on conditions some can be left in the ground and harvested when they are needed, and others can be kept for long periods in the right conditions (usually cool, dry and dark). Most are also a source of starchy carbohydrates which help our bodies to stay warm and fuelled throughout the cold months.

The reason root vegetables are in season at this time of year is because they are roots and tubers - the energy of the plant has withdrawn into the roots so that it can safely survive the harsh winter conditions. This is the same mechanism which allows many of the first flowers of spring (e.g. snowdrops, lesser celandines, daffodils, wood anemones) to bloom so early in the year. These flowers all grow from bulbs, rhizomes or tubers which provide a reservoir of stored energy when there's not much sun for them to use for photosynthesis. These types of plants have a valuable lesson for us about ensuring we have adequate reserves to get us through the difficult times! They are also very grounding.

Winter Blessings and Beauties: Day 89

Root Vegetables

Root vegetables are a tasty, warming, filling and versatile Winter staple. There are a wide variety to try - for example potatoes, carrots, parsnips, turnips, swede, beetroot, sweet potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes, celeriac and kohlrabi.

Try them in the following:

  • Root vegetable curry - their sweetness goes well with curry spices
  • Mashed swede with butter, salt & pepper and chopped coriander
  • Roasted root vegetables - season with garlic and chopped rosemary & thyme, or harissa paste, or smoked paprika, cumin & onion powder.
  • Add to soups and stews
  • Curried parsnip soup
  • Home-made vegetable crisps  

     

Wednesday, 27 January 2021

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 88: Time for a Tea Party!


Today is a special day for two ostensibly very different reasons. It is the birthday of Lewis Carroll, who wrote (amongst other things) the marvellously oddball 'Alice in Wonderland'. And it is also National Chocolate Cake Day (which is actually an American 'National' Day, but those of us in other parts of the world can ignore that minor detail because, y'know - chocolate cake!). Yes, a special day for two very different reasons, but - hear me out here - what if we were to celebrate the day by putting those two separate things together? What say we let our inner Mad Hatter out and celebrate by having a Tea Party with Chocolate Cake! On a rainy day in late Winter, what could be finer?

Winter Blessings and Beauties: Day 88

Time for a Tea Party!

Why not prepare an impromptu Tea Party for yourself or those in your bubble* - just because. Put on your fanciest hat and prepare yourself a feast. Cucumber sandwiches! Fairy cakes! Earl Grey - or Darjeeling? Scones! Crumpets! Jam tarts! And of course, Chocolate Cake! 

Happy Lewis Carroll's Chocolate Cake Birthday Day!

* Dormice optional.


Tuesday, 26 January 2021

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 87: The Dance of the Changing Seasons


Have you noticed the way Winter is starting to retreat a little - then it comes roaring back in full force, only to recede again later? We seem to be at that stage in the season where Spring is waiting in the wings and Winter is giving consideration to when it will be time to retire for a well-earned rest.

For the last few days here, Winter has been in full force with a heavy fall of snow and sub-zero temperatures. But today a thaw has set in, and we are due a few days of mild weather before wintry conditions return at the weekend. Meanwhile, the first snowdrops are appearing and daffodils and other bulbs are poking up their green snouts from the frozen ground. In the hedge, catkins are preparing to fully unfurl so they can dance in the wind.

Winter Blessings and Beauties: Day 87

The Dance of the Changing Seasons

Notice the graceful to-and-fro dance of the seasons at this time of year. Each year the exact steps are different, and yet the dance is the same: a solemn shifting back and forth between Winter and Spring. One day one is dominant, the next day the other. And yet gradually the balance is shifting towards Spring. Can you feel it?

Monday, 25 January 2021

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 86: Saint Dwynwen's Day


January 25th is St Dwynwen's Day (Diwrnod Santes Dwynwen) in Wales, 'the Welsh Valentine's Day'. 

St Dwynwen (pronounced doin-WEN) lived in the 5th century and was the daughter of a King and was reknowned for her piety and purity. She fell in love with a young man named Maelon, but her father refused to let them marry. In despair, Dwynwen prayed to be rid of her feelings for Maelon. God sent an angel to her in a dream, who brought her a potion to help her forget Maelon but which turns him into ice. God also grants her three wishes, and she uses these to request that Maelon be released from the ice, that God will act favourably towards all true lovers and finally that she herself will remain unmarried. As thanks for God's help, she became a nun, settling on the Isle of Anglesey, where she founded a church at Llanddwyn. 

A well near the church supposedly contained magical fish (some sources say eels). The movements of these fish could supposedly be read to to predict the future for young lovers.

St Dwynwen became the patron saint of young lovers (and also sick animals), and is celebrated in Wales much as St Valentine's Day is celebrated in other parts of the world, with cards and gifts of flowers and chocolates. In fact many people in Wales celebrate both dates, so we get two special dates devoted to lovers!

Winter Blessings and Beauties: Day 86

St Dwynwen's Day

On St Dwynwen's Day let's be thankful for love. Love for your partner, spouse or significant other, but also love of all kinds, not just romantic love. Love for your friends. Love for your family. Love for your co-workers. Love for your pets. Love for places. Love for the planet. Love for your heroes and heras. Love for your passions in life.

Who or what do you love? Today, give thanks for all those people, things and places you love. The more you love, the more love you have to give. 

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 85: Snow Days


It's probably my own fault for not paying closer attention to the weather forecast this week, but I was surprised when I woke this morning to a world white with snow. Heavy snow had fallen overnight, completely blanketing the hills and fields and leaving us snowed in. A snow day!

The winters here in West Wales are mostly not too harsh, but there have been years when we've had particularly bad weather which has led to us getting snowed in. One memorable time we were snowed in for about three weeks. Since then I've been a bit anxious whenever it snows, just in case - but usually it's only a day or two before it thaws. 

Nevertheless, it can be very inconvenient if the snow prevents us from getting out -  especially on a work day.

There were no such problems today, due to lockdown. We didn't have to go anywhere and could just enjoy the novelty of the snow (which is due to thaw in a day or two anyway if the weather forecast is to be believed). I had a fine time trying to capture the beauty of the snow with my camera, accompanied by cats Hemlock and Tansy who were quite fascinated by the deepest snow they have thus far encountered in their young lives.

Wintner Blessings and Beauties: Day 85

Snow Days

If you don't have to try to get anywhere or do anything, an enforced snow day can be an absolute pleasure - and a great lesson in just relaxing and going with the flow. Make the most of it by getting outside to enjoy the snow while it lasts. Take a walk, build a snowman, take some photos, make snow angels. Then get back inside and warm up with a hot drink and some comfort food (Homemade soup? Crumpets? Cake?). Cosy up under a blanket and watch the snow falling softly outside. 

And if there's no snow? Schedule a snowless snow day (aka a duvet day) for a little well-deserved R'n'R.   























 

Saturday, 23 January 2021

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 84: January Soundscape


As January slides towards February, and Winter edges closer to Spring, the soundscape subtly changes. The other morning I noticed the incessant calls of a great tit along with the soft croons of a wood pigeon. Although both birds are around throughout the Winter, I don't recall hearing them much over the last few months. Certainly the call of the great tit is something I associate with the coming of spring. They begin to scout for breeding territory this month, so perhaps their sudden vocal presence is a way of asserting themselves.

It's not just the subtle changes in birdsong. Other January sounds are rain against the window, the pitter-patter of falling hailstones and the quiet hiss of snowfall. The dripping of thawing ice. The crunch of footsteps on frosted grass. The muting, muffling effects of fog. The sudden rush of wings as a flock of starlings pass by overhead. 

Winter Blessings and Beauties: Day 84

January Soundscape

What is the January soundscape where you live? What are the specific sounds of the season? How does the weather contribute or affect the acoustics? How does the sound of human activity change in the winter? Which birds are or aren't singing or calling right now? What will sound different in Spring, in Summer, in Autumn? Which sounds are currently absent? Which sounds will change or disappear as we edge into Spring?


Friday, 22 January 2021

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 83: Moss and Lichen



Although the trees are bare in Winter, they have their own beauty at this time of year. The absence of leaves makes it easy to see the graceful arch of branches silhouetted  against the sky, and it also reveals the amazing textures and colours of the lichens and mosses growing on them. 










Winter Blessings and Beauties: Day 83

Moss and Lichen

Mosses and Lichens are among the oldest living organisms on Earth. Different species can grow in some of the most extreme environments on the planet. Some have been or still are used in horticulture and floristry, or as foodstuffs, insulation, medicine, dyes and perfumes. 

Take note of the mosses and lichens in your area. Notice the colours, shapes, textures. Where are they most prolific? If they are absent, what is the likely reason? Is the environment too dry, too exposed to sunlight or too shaded? A complete lack of lichens could be due to air pollution, although there may be other environmental factors at work, or merely a lack of suitable surfaces for them to inhabit. 

Mosses and lichens are the kind of everyday miracles that surround us, often quite unseen in our everyday lives. Take a little time to notice and appreciate their beauty and variety. 





 

Thursday, 21 January 2021

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 82: International Hugging Day


National Hugging Day was first celebrated in Michigan, USA on January 21st 1986. Since then it's become an international annual event which is also known as National Hug Day, Hug Day, International Hug Day, or International Hugging Day. The idea is simply to cheer people up by encouraging us to hug our friends and families more often. In most years, the main consideration is ensuring hugs are consensual. That's still relevant, but 2021 brings the additional challenge of how to give and receive hugs when we are supposed to be observing social distancing? 

It's OK to hug the people you live with - as long as none of you are currently isolating - but when it comes to people outside your immediate household, some creativity is required. For example, the graphic above is from Action for Elders, a charity which works to improve quality of life for older people. They say about National Hugging Day, 

"With the Government urging social distancing to prevent the spread of Covid-19, many are missing those heart-warming embraces - so much so that people have tried to make homemade 'hugging stations' where a protective plastic barrier separated them from their family and friends.

It's clear that many of us are craving those stress-reducing squeezes. So in celebration of National Hugging Day, we've rounded up some safe, feel-good hug alternatives you can do on your own. 

If you or anyone is struggling with loneliness please contact us today.*"

The graphic suggests comforting yourself with hug substitutes such as making yourself a hot drink, taking a soak in a warm bath, using a weighted blanket, trying guided meditations or yoga, brightening your living space with holiday decorations, or snuggling with a pet.

See below for other ideas...

Winter Blessings and Beauties: Day 82

International Hugging Day

Here are some other ideas for how to give someone a 'hug' without actually coming into physical contact.

  • Phone, Skype or Zoom family and friends. Tell them it's International Hugging Day and you're sending them a socially distanced hug!
  • Write a letter - even just a postcard can give someone you love a real boost when it pops through the letterbox as a lovely surprise.
  • If restrictions in your area allow you to visit but not enter a loved one's home, exchange 'air hugs' at a distance when you next see them. It's not the same as a physical hug, but emotionally it still warms hearts.
  • Send a small 'just because' gift with a little note. If you Google 'virtual hugs gifts' you will find a huge range of ideas (if possible, try to purchase it from a small independent retailer or craftsperson via a platform like Etsy - that way you will be giving two hugs - one to the gift recipient and one to the person you purchase from!).

When giving hugs - even virtual ones - you also receive, when you see the smiling face or hear the happiness in a loved one's voice. 

Sending you all a big virtual hug! 

* Contact details for Action for Elders:

email: info@actionforelders.org.uk 
tel: 030 330 30132

Wednesday, 20 January 2021

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 81: Crumpets!

 


"Mary Poppins sniffed. "Then why not say so at once!" she said snappily. She crossed to the window and waved her hand to summon the Crumpet Man.


  Downstairs the front gate opened quickly with its usual noisy squeak. The Crumpet Man ran up the path and knocked at the Back Door. He was sure of an order from Number Seventeen for all the Banks family were partial to crumpets."

- P.L. Travers, 'Mary Poppins Opens the Door'


We are drawing towards the close of Winter now, there are only a couple more weeks before Imbolc and I have just realised that I've thus far neglected to mention one of the great Winter delicacies - crumpets! Hot, buttered crumpets consumed by a cosy log fire are the very essence of hygge - and a favourite of Mary Poppins, to boot.  

Crumpets - for those not familiar with them - are a kind of soft, unsweetened griddle cake made from a batter containing yeast. They are best toasted and eaten hot, spread with plenty of butter - their spongy, open texture soaks up the butter as it melts. Delicious!

Winter Blessings and Beauties: Day 81

Crumpets!

While the Winter weather justifies it, treat yourself to some hot, toasted crumpets! Ready-made crumpets are easily available in the shops here in the UK, but if you fancy making your own, there are plenty of recipes to be found online, such as here   

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 80: Orion

 


"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars" 

- Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere's Fan

The long, dark nights of Winter are perfect for stargazing (when the skies are clear enough of course). One of the easiest constellations to spot is Orion, thanks to the brightness of its stars and the distinctive line of the three of them constituting his 'belt'. Look for Orion in the southern quarter of the sky from about 9pm onwards. The easiest way to find it is to look for the three bright, closely aligned stars of Orion's belt. 

The constellation is named for Orion, a hunter in Greek myth who was placed in the night sky by Zeus (or in some stories, Artemis). Orion is most visible from January to March, Winter in the Northern hemisphere and Summer in the Southern hemisphere. In October, a meteor shower known as the Orionids can be seen - so named because it appears to originate from within Orion. 

Winter Blessings and Beauties: Day 80

Orion

On a clear, crisp night, find Orion in the night sky. Once you've learned what it looks like you'll easily be able to find it another time. If your interest is piqued, learn some other easily distinguished constellations such as The Plough (aka The Big Dipper) or Casseiopeia, and find out about their myths. 

Alternatively - create your own constellations. What do the arrangements of stars in the sky suggest to you? Find shapes and give them your own names!

Monday, 18 January 2021

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 79: Winnie the Pooh Day


“I don’t feel very much like Pooh today," said Pooh.

"There there," said Piglet. "I’ll bring you tea and honey until you do.”
― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Today is Winnie the Pooh Day which commemorates the birthday of A.A. Milne, who was born on 18th January 1882. Milne wrote the Winnie the Pooh books inspired by the childhood adventures of his son Christopher Robin. The first book appeared in 1926 and they've been loved for their gentle whimsy by children and adults ever since.  

Winter Blessings and Beauties: Day 79

Winnie the Pooh Day

Who doesn't love Winnie the Pooh? And who doesn't love having something to celebrate? So let's celebrate Winnie the Pooh Day! Here are a few ideas of how...

  • Read the books!
  • Eat plenty of hunny... 
  • Put on your Big Boots and go on an expotition...
  • Play Pooh sticks
  • Make up a hum...
Happy Winnie the Pooh Day!

Sunday, 17 January 2021

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 78: An Extra Hour


Ever since the Winter Solstice/Yule, the days have been lengthening by a little over two minutes a day. And so, tomorrow we will be getting an hour more daylight than we were back then - and of course the days will continue to get longer until the Summer Solstice in June.

Winter Blessings and Beauties: Day 78

An Extra Hour

We have a whole extra hour of daylight to make use of... what are we going to do with it?  

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 77: Winter Scavenger Hunt



Here's a fun activity for a Winter day: a Scavenger Hunt! Issue a challenge - just to yourself or to a group of friends and/or family - make a list of selected items and go on a hunt for them. It's a great outdoor activity, but it works just as well indoors if the weather is unfavourable. Even in lockdown you could have a Scavenger Hunt in your home and then Skype or Zoom with friends and family to share your results. The great thing about it is that it really challenges your powers of observation and gets you noticing things in your environment that might otherwise go unheeded. It helps you think outside the box and encourages exploration and imagination. For example the photo above is a collage of images that I photographed this afternoon after I set myself a mini-Scavenger Hunt to find and photograph things representing all the colours of the rainbow. Some colours were more of a challenge than others in the Winter landscape, but I think the end result really challenges the idea that Winter is a drab and colourless season.

Winter Blessings and Beauties: Day 77

Winter Scavenger Hunt

There are different ways of doing a Scavenger Hunt. The classic version is to find and bring back with you a selection of objects. But you can also search for less tangible things like a colour or a sound. Or like me you could record your finds as photographs rather than bringing them home with you. Here are a few ideas of things to look for on your Scavenger Hunt:

  • You could look for natural objects like a seedpod, a flower, a feather, an interesting pebble, something green, a fallen leaf, a snail shell - or look for specific species such as an oak tree, a robin, a snowdrop, a bramble. 
  • Search for things to engage all your senses - something blue, something pretty, something that smells nice, something soft, something prickly, a bird singing, the sound of running water, something that tastes nice.
  • Like me, look for things in all the colours of the rainbow - something red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet (you can add more colours to the list if you like!).
  • Search for things which evoke a (positive) emotional response - something that makes me happy, something funny, something exciting, something which is my favourite colour, something that reminds me spring is coming, something I love to eat, something that reminds me of my friends, something silly etc.
Good hunting!

Saturday, 16 January 2021

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 76: January in the Garden


Although January is often the coldest month, the lengthening hours of daylight post-Solstice mean that the garden is beginning to stir - just a little. As mentioned yesterday, snowdrops begin to appear, but they are not alone. Hellebores, winter pansies, winter aconite and bergenia may also be in bloom, along with winter-flowering shrubs like witchhazel, wintersweet and winter jasmine.

As yet there is not too much to be done in the garden, but there are a few things you can begin to sow in preparation for spring - it's most satisfying to feel you're getting a head start on the growing year.

Winter Blessings and Beauties: Day 76

January in the Garden

Here are some of the things you can sow or begin growing in January:

  • Sow sweet peas
  • Begin chitting first early potatoes
  • Begin forcing rhubarb
  • Plant bare root roses
  • Sow winter salads under glass
  • Sow hardy annual flowers like cornflowers and antirrhinum
If you only have indoor growing space, you can still sow winter salads in containers on a sunny windowsill, or plant amaryllis bulbs in pots on a warm windowsill for beautiful flowers in spring.
 

Friday, 15 January 2021

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 75: Snowdrops


Today I spotted the first snowdrop flowers that I've seen this year. It was only a small patch and the bells hadn't yet opened properly, but soon there will be swathes of their white flowers everywhere. Each year the snowdrops are one of the first sights signalling the change from Winter to Spring. The white drifts at the base of the hedgerows that once were snow transform imperceivably into flowers - it's a kind of magic. And when the pioneering snowdrops have bravely blazed a trail, other flowers - pussy willows and primroses, daffodils and celandines - will follow.

As Snowdrops herald the very beginning of spring, they have become a symbol of hope for better times ahead. As they usually bloom towards the end of January/beginning of February they're associated with Imbolc - and also its Christian counterpart Candlemas, which earned them the alternative name of Candlemas Bells. Other lovely old names for them include Dewdrops, Eve's Tear, February Fair-maids, Snowpiercer, White Bells and Mary's Tapers.

In the Language of Flowers Snowdrops symbolise chastity, consolation, hope and purity. A German legend tells that God asked the flowers of Earth to give colours to the snow. The flowers all refused, but the Snowdrop gladly offered the snow its colour. In return, the snowdrop got to bloom before the other flowers.    

Snowdrops aren't native to the British Isles. They were introduced from the Caucasus mountains by Italian monks in the 15th or 16th Century, later escaping into the wild where they have become naturalised. Growing to about 7-15cm tall, the bell-shaped flowers hang down to protect the pollen from harsh winter rains. As they flower so early, snowdrops don't rely on pollinators to reproduce, spreading instead via bulb division. However, they're visited by bees and other insects on particularly warm days, so in favourable conditions they can produce seed.

Winter Blessings and Beauties: Day 75

Snowdrops

Have you spotted any snowdrops flowering yet? Or are there other signs of spring where you live? Here daffodil leaves are pushing up from the soil and tiny catkins can be seen on the twigs of the hazel. 


Wednesday, 13 January 2021

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 74: January New Moon


Today brings the January New Moon, the beginning of a new lunar cycle and like all new moons a great time to start new projects. This particular new moon is in Capricorn making it an excellent time to set goals - especially those relating to career and finances - and get organised. Strangely enough, the plans I had made for today got cancelled and without any conscious thought of which sign the moon is in, I found myself seized by a sudden urge to clear out and re-organise a large cluttered cupboard in the kitchen. Following that I rearranged the counter tops and then went through all the jars of herbs and spices, throwing away any that had gone stale and arranging what had been a chaotic mess into neatly ordered rows. It was great to realise later that I'd unknowingly tuned into the day's energies. 

Winter Blessings and Beauties: Day 74

January New Moon

If you made any New Year Resolutions or set an intention for the year ahead, today is an excellent time to review your progress so far and work out what your next steps will be. It can be helpful to break big plans down into smaller bite-size actions, and work out a realistic timetable. Use that Capricorn energy and the steady growth of the Moon over the next fortnight to give you focus and add power to your plans.      

Tuesday, 12 January 2021

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 73: Feeding Your Soul in January


It seems a bit of a cheat, but I have postponed the post I had planned for today after stumbling across this lovely article, filled with inspiring suggestions for literary treats (including films, stories, poems, talks, podcasts and music) to enjoy during this month. I hope you'll forgive me - in fact once you've dipped into the treasures on offer I'm sure you will!

Winter Blessings and Beauties: Day 73

Feeding Your Soul in January

Check out the link above. Enjoy. You're welcome. 



Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 72: Marking the Midpoint Between Yule and Imbolc




Today we find ourselves at the midpoint between Yule and Imbolc. If Yule is the deepest, darkest period of Winter it seems unbelievable to me that we are already halfway to Imbolc and the beginning of Spring. Purely coincidentally, the period of bitterly cold, icy weather that we've been experiencing for the last couple of weeks has today given way to a thaw. 


Winter Blessings and Beauties: Day 72

Mark the Midpoint Between Yule and Imbolc

At the midpoint between Yule and Imbolc, take time to pause and sense the shifting energies. Yule is the deep heart of Winter, the hinge of the solar year. We're now moving from the dark still point of Yule towards the growing light of Imbolc and the first stirrings of Spring. Can you sense the pulse of the Earth fluttering back towards wakefulness? How has the light changed? The scents on the wind? Is there a change in the birdsong or the colours in the landscape? How does your body react to the lengthening days?

Take a moment to recognise and give thanks for the patterns of the ever changing year. Take in a good breath of fresh Winter air. The days of Winter will soon be dwindling away along with all their Blessings and Beauties, making way for the debut of Spring. Why not raise a mug of hot chocolate to toast the wonderful Winter while you still can? 


Monday, 11 January 2021

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 71: Marmalade Season

 


Seville oranges appear in the shops for a few short weeks starting in January, and that means it's marmalade season! Marmalade can be made from any of the citrus fruits, but the bitter Seville orange is the classic ingredient. 

I first became a fan of marmalade many years ago when I worked as a children's nanny. I found a slice of toast and marmalade was a far more 'portable' breakfast than a bowl of cereal - one that I could eat standing, sitting or running after my small charges! Since then I have found other ways to enjoy it - I particularly like it spread on slices of toasted brioche, where the bittersweet citrus of the marmalade contrasts beautifully with the slightly caramelised sweetness of the toasted brioche. Or I use it to add a twist to bread and butter pudding by spreading the slices of bread and butter with marmalade before assembling the dish. It also makes a fine ingredient for marinades and glazes for meat or vegetarian proteins like tofu or Quorn. Or how about a marmalade cake? Paddington would be proud of me. 

Winter Blessings and Beauties: Day 71

Marmalade Season

If you are able to find Seville oranges, make yourself some marmalade. Home made marmalade is a revelation if you are only used to the store-bought kind! If you can't find Sevilles, you can use sweet oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruit, clementines... or a combination. There are lots of recipes both for making marmalade and using it here, if you need some inspiration. Enjoy!


Sunday, 10 January 2021

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 70: Watercolour Days



We often think of the Winter as bleak, dark, monochrome, but on a bright cold day like today, the colours of January are those of a delicate watercolour. The pale glitter of frost. Mother-of-pearl skies. The softness of mist. The slanting golden sun.


Photo © Cathy Martin





Winter Blessings and Beauties: Day 70

Watercolour Days

Take time to appreciate the beauty of the colours of January on even the coldest days. It may seem like a minimalistic, monochrome time of year, but if you look at what is actually in front of your eyes you will see a kaleidoscope of colours and be amazed by the soft, gentle, pastel palette glistening with frost and gilded by sun.   

Friday, 8 January 2021

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 69: A Time of Peace

 


Although we think of January as the first month of the year, in the original Roman calendar (on which our current Gregorian calendar is based), the first month of the year was March. Their original calendar had only ten months, with the winter period a chunk of time considered dormant and hence 'monthless'. Because this period was dormant it was a time of peace, and also rest from the agricultural cycle.

I find it very interesting that there are so many instances of this period of the year being framed as 'time out of time', such as the rites of Saturnalia (when the usual order of things was inverted), or the Twelve Days of Christmas and Twelfth Night revels. To this day the period covering the end of December and beginning of January is a time when the usual routines of work, school and even home are disrupted and the usual rules don't apply. Is there something innately 'out of time' about this part of the year, when although the sun is slowly returning from its nadir the land has not yet stirred from its winter slumber? 

Winter Blessings and Beauties: Day 69

A Time of Peace

Just as we only slowly move from deep restful sleep into consciousness, the Earth is slow to reawaken. Let us not be too eager to rush the process, let's instead lean into this time of peace, this time between the outbreath and the inbreath. This is a liminal time, a brief pause. Embrace the stillness, the rare gift of peace.

   

Thursday, 7 January 2021

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 68: St Distaff's Day


The day after Twelfth Night is 'St Distaff's Day'. There never was a St Distaff though, the name is a sort of joke. The relevance of the day is that it marked a return to work for women following the Christmas period (men returned to work on Plough Monday, the first Monday after Epiphany - sometimes this was the same day as St Distaff's Day, but at others the men got a few more days of leisure). Spinning thread was a huge part of 'women's work' in the pre-industrial era, and one of the tools used for this was a 'distaff', a stick or spindle used to hold a bundle of unspun fibres in preparation for spinning them into thread. The tool became a symbol of women and their work, and to this day the word 'distaff' is used as an adjective denoting something relating to women.

These days, most fibre is produced by machine and women no longer have to spend their time spinning - unless they want to! Yet many people - of both sexes - still enjoy fibre and textile crafts such as knitting, sewing, weaving, crochet, quilting, felting, macramé, embroidery, cross-stitch, appliqué, lace-making... 

Winter Blessings and Beauties: Day 68

St Distaff's Day 

I'm very grateful to live in a time when work - and creativity - is no longer considered gender-specific and when technological advances free us up to enjoy these activities - or others - as hobbies rather than chores! I love knitting, but I'm sure it would be much less enjoyable if it was a compulsory duty rather than a leisure pursuit.

What are your hobbies? When were you last able to spend some time enjoying them? If you haven't had much time for your favourite creative pastimes recently, make sure you set aside some time and space to savour and celebrate them soon. 

Happy St Distaff's Day!     


Wednesday, 6 January 2021

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 67: Wassail!



 Photo: Wassail Cup my brother had made for me by Barrington Pottery

"Here's to thee, old apple tree,
That blooms well, bears well.
Hats full, caps full,
Three bushel bags full,
An' all under one tree.
Hurrah! Hurrah!"

Another traditional Twelfth Night activity was Wassailing, a folk-custom in which orchards were visited and the trees sung to and blessed to ensure a good harvest in the coming year. The word 'Wassail' comes from the Anglo Saxon 'Wæs Þu hæl' which literally means 'Be thou hale (healthy)'.

The details of Wassailing ceremonies differ from community to community, but generally the trees are honoured and sung to, sometimes toast soaked in mulled, spiced cider is placed in their branches and/or a libation of the mulled cider is poured around the trees, and often the assembled group shout, sing and bang drums, pots and pans to make a huge din which will frighten any lurking malignant spirits away from the trees. Sometimes a shotgun is fired through the branches to make sure! 

Winter Blessings and Beauties: Day 67

Wassail

If you have any fruit trees in your garden or locality, Wassail them by singing to them and toasting their health with mulled cider or hot spiced apple juice. Here's to a good harvest! Wassail!

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 66: Twelfth Night


Twelfth Night marks the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas - although there's some disagreement as to whether it falls on 5th or 6th January as some Traditions count Christmas Day itself as the first Day while others begin the count from Boxing Day. Either way, the Christmas interlude is officially coming to its close. Interestingly, this is a relatively modern development which was brought in by the Victorians - in Tudor times, the festivities continued until Candlemas/Imbolc at the beginning of February! Then again those fun-loving Tudors didn't have an Industrial Revolution to run...

For Christians. Twelfth Night primarily marks the visit of the Three Kings to the infant Christ, and the coming of the Epiphany. For non-Christians, nowadays it's merely the day you are supposed to take your Christmas decorations down but in former times it was a special occasion marked with merrymaking, singing of carols, house-blessings etc. One Twelfth Night custom found in many different countries is the eating of a special cake called a 'King Cake' which takes a variety of forms but which crucially often contains a special token hidden within it. Getting the piece of cake containing the token confers luck, blessings or special (temporary) privileges. In times past in the UK, the cake contained a hidden bean, and the finder was declared 'King of Misrule' for the duration of the festivities. Sometimes there was a hidden pea too for the 'Queen of Misrule' to find. The idea of a King and Queen of Misrule, drawn by lot, seems to hark back to the Roman practice of electing a 'King of the Saturnalia'.

Winter Blessings and Beauties: Day 66

Twelfth Night

If you haven't done so already, now is the time to take down the Christmas tree, decorations and cards. Christmas is over with until next December - it's time to reclaim your living space and look forward as the New Year begins to unfold. 

It's also time to notice that the days are already beginning to grow longer since the passing of the Winter Solstice over a fortnight ago. The Wheel of the Year is turning. Why not celebrate with cake! 





  

Monday, 4 January 2021

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 65: Winter Wildlife

 


I spotted this beautiful fox along the road ahead of me on Winter walk. I later saw him (her?) running across a field and down into a spinney at the foot of the hill where I lost sight of him - I think he may have disappeared into a hidden den in the thicket.

The cold, harsh weather of Winter sometimes leads to wildlife - like my fox - taking greater risks in order to find food, increasing the chance that we'll spot them as they cross our path. 

Winter also brings visits from migratory species, especially birds such as (in the UK) Barnacle Geese, Brent Geese, Water Pipits, Redwings, Fieldfares,  Whooper Swans and Waxwings. 

Winter Blessings and Beauties: Day 65

Winter Wildlife

Research the species that you are most likely to see in your area. Visit beaches, wetlands and woodlands or just take a walk and see what you can spot. Take binoculars and a pocket guide book. Even if you don't see the animals and birds themselves, keep an eye out for clues to their presence such as tracks in snow or mud, droppings, nibbled nuts or gnawed bark, owl pellets, burrows, nests or tufts of fur snagged on a fence.   

Sunday, 3 January 2021

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 64: Tarot Year Card

 


The beginning of a new year is an obvious time for divination. If you use the tarot, you have very likely already read your cards for the year ahead. But there's another way the tarot can guide you through the next 12 months: your tarot year card. This method uses a kind of numerology based on your birth date to pick a card which indicates the issues and lessons to be learned during the course of the year. Even if you're not familiar with the tarot and don't own a tarot deck, you can still work out your year card (and it's easy to find the meanings for the card you've picked online).

Winter Blessings and Beauties: Day 64

Tarot Year Card

To work out your Tarot Year Card, add together your birth day and month with the digits of the year ahead to get a 4-digit number. So for example, if you were born on 17th May, your calculation would look like this: 

    17
    05
2021
2043

When you have found your 4-digit number, add the 4 digits together. In our example you would therefore add together 2 + 0 + 4 + 3 = 9

If your answer is a number between 1-21 then that is the number of your Tarot Year Card. If the calculation gives an answer higher than 21 (e.g. 25), add the digits together to get a number within the range 1-21 (e.g. 2 + 5 = 7). 

The number you end up with should correspond with one of the Major Arcana Tarot Cards, as listed below:

    1. Magician
    2. High Priestess
    3. Empress
    4. Emperor
    5. The Lovers
    6. The Hierophant/Pope
    7. The Chariot
    8. Strength
    9. The Hermit
    10. The Wheel of Fortune
    11. Justice
    12. The Hanged Man
    13. Death
    14. Temperance
    15. The Devil
    16. The Tower
    17. The Star
    18. The Moon
    19. The Sun
    20. Judgement
    21. The World
If you're not familiar with the meanings of the cards, there are plenty of online sites (such as this one) which can help you interpret your card.  

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