Dangle Day Friday and the end of an emotionally exhausting Mental Health Awareness Week.

Daisy © Angela Porter 2019 - Artwyrd.com
Daisy © Angela Porter 2019 – Artwyrd.com

Dangle Design – Daisy

I woke up this morning with an idea, which was to use a dangle design of a flower along with some words about that flower. I chose to start with Daisy and you can see what I’ve come up with so far.

I’ve included a fair bit of etymology concerning the word Daisy; I find etymology (the origins and evolution of words) fascinating.

I drew the dangle design on paper and then scanned it into Autodesk Sketchbook Pro on my Surface Studio.

Next, I re-drew the design digitally using my Microsoft Surface Pen on the screen just like pen on paper. I set the brush to have a width that varied with pressure.

My plan was then to hand letter the title and the words about the daisy.

I tried again and again and again and I was never happy with what my pen put on paper (or screen). So, in frustration with myself and the knowledge I have other things that I really need to get done today, I decided to foray into the realms of Microsoft Publisher.

I did choose a font that is very similar to my own basic hand lettering style. I think I may need to look at how I can convert my hand lettering into custom fonts to use in the near future for days like today.

I do quite like the simplicity of the layout, but I do think I could’ve done a bit better with the text. I’m quite happy with the dangle design – the simplicity suits the simplicity and innocence of lovely daisy itself.

If you’d like to learn how to draw dangle designs, step by step, then my book “A Dangle A Day” is now published.

My Emotional well being

I am emotionally exhausted. I’ve not had much of a chance to recover from my EMDR session on Tuesday which left me absolutely poleaxed.

Wednesday and Thursday I took care of a stand for Time to Change Wales, and though they didn’t take up all the day it still drained me.

I’d said to myself on Wednesday I’d not put the happy smiley mask on over my exhaustion and emotional ‘flatness’ as I had little energy to spare for the effort it takes to keep that mask in place.

I had no choice about the mask; it appeared automatically, draining me further on Wednesday and very much so yesterday.

What didn’t help was that I had a commitment on Wednesday evening which I couldn’t cancel. So I had very little time between the stand and dashing out again to have some self-care time.

The result of all this is that when I got home after the stand and then running a couple of important errands that couldn’t be put off was that I was absolutely running on empty. I had something to eat and ended up sleeping for a couple of hours.

This has all taken it’s toll on my digestive system which has been upset since EMDR on Tuesday. It’s still not right today even though I went to bed early and woke up later this morning than I usually would.

I know I have a busy day tomorrow, one I can’t cancel on and I have lots of things to get ready for that today. All I want to do is sleep. My mind doesn’t want to work but it has to work.

You may be wondering why I do all this to myself. Well, Time to Change Wales (TTCW) with it’s goal to end stigma and discrimination around mental health by getting people to talk about it to gain more understanding and compassion is very important to me. I’ve faced that stigma, discrimination and total lack of understanding by so many people.

Mental Health Awareness Week happens but once a year (though it should be mental health awareness week every week!) and TTCW are so busy everyone who can help does to make sure the message gets out.

Also, I had no idea that EMDR would floor me this week, but it did.

I knew about my commitment for tomorrow, but didn’t think that everything else in the run up to Saturday would drain me.

You may think I’ve let myself down by not taking care of myself.

Perhaps that is true. However, I think it’s worth it for just this one week. I’ll recover, most probably just in time for EMDR on Monday!

Even though I do have a fair amount of stuff to do in preparation for tomorrow, I can stay at home and take a nap if I need to. I also don’t have to answer the door – I already ignored a knock from someone who seemed to be trying to sell double glazing; I saw him and his mate walking down the street with a handful of leaflets each.

Even though I am very tired, emotionally and mentally, it was important to me I took time to do some art and I’m quite pleased with my drawing, and disappointed in myself that I just couldn’t hand letter it myself.

So, as much self-care as I can do in the next couple of days is absolutely essential for me, and art is part of my self-care toolbox.

Lammas

Today is Lammas, a name that derives from the Old-English hlafmaesse, which means ‘loaf-mass’.  August 1st is also known as Lughnasadh or Lughnasa, particularly among the modern Pagan community, and you can find loads about it on the world weird web.

Anglo-Saxon church records from the ninth century onwards show that that Lammas was the festival of ‘first fruits’ with wheat, corn and bread to celebrate the corn harvest.

The first ripe cereals were reaped and baked into bread which was consecrated at a church upon that day.  A book of Anglo-Saxon charms advised that this holy bread be divided into four pieces, each of which was crumbled in a corner of a barn in order to make it a safe storage-place for the harvest about to arrive there.

Certainly, the arrival of the time when the first harvest could be gathered would have been a natural point for celebration in an agrarian society, and the importance of the first day of August was already so well established by 673 that Archbishop Theodore of Tarsus decreed that the annual synod of the newly established Church in England should be held then.  It seems very likely that a pre-Christian festival had existed among the Anglo-Saxons on that date.

Although not one of the official quarter days, Lammas was a regular day for paying rents, settling debts, and changing jobs and houses.

It’s position in the year also contributed to its key role in the organization of rights to common lands.  Where common or church land was rented out by the half-year, or where common strips of land were apportioned annually, Llamas was often the time that the business was carried out.

Lammas was also a popular day for fairs, for example at Exeter and York, and local feasts and revels, such as at Combe Martin in Devon.  Temporary rules and regulations were in force during the time of a fair, it was important that everyone knew when the fair opened and closed, and impressive civic processions and readings of proclamations were often reported, along with the use of highly visible symbols that were displayed while the fair lasted.

Another name for Lammas is ‘the Gule of August’, and this phrase was in use from at least 1300; it also was in use in Old French and Medieval Latin.  One suggestion is that ‘Gule’ derives from the Welsh ‘gwyl’, or ‘feast’, but it’s not clear why or how Norman English or Old French picked up such a word.  It is more likely that the word is derived from Latin.  For more about this read ‘The Stations of the Sun‘.

References:

  1. The English Year, Steve Roud
  2. Stations of the Sun, Ronald Hutton

Lammas thoughts

The new wheat of the year and the first loaf baked with it.  Wheat and other cereal crops are one of the western world’s staple foods.  Agriculture, one of the major innovations of the Neolithic peoples, allows us to grow vast quantities to ensure we are all fed, we all have bread to feed our bodies.  How many of us take this for granted?  How many of us pause to consider those in other parts of the world who do not have enough bread to sustain their bodies, bread being an analogy for essential food?

Today is a day, traditionally, to give thanks for the harvest that will feed us, but it would be nice for us to think of those who struggle to find enough food to feed them, whether it be through environmental disasters, societal turmoil, war, or man’s inhumanity to man.  We could also send thoughts to the animals and plants who are suffering as much as mankind, often far more, through natural and man-made disasters and atrocities.

It is a time for community.  In the past, communities would come together to gather the harvests in as quickly as possible so little was spoiled and all was safely stowed away to last through the coming year.  It was a time of hard but necessary work.

This takes us back to the thoughts about those in the world and how the paradigm needs to change to a world community where we help one another to ensure all have enough for a decent life.  Take time today to consider those who do not have enough food or any other necessities of life, and consider making a commitment to donate regularly to charity to help these people, if you don’t already do so.  Of course,  the world community includes not just humans, but all other living things, and the very Earth itself, for without these life would not be possible, would it?

These are the general and worldwide issues that come to mind in connection with Lammas; but what of the more personal, more symbolic messages that come with the first harvest of the year?  What spiritual bread is there?

We all sow symbolic seeds – new beginnings, new projects, new ways of looking at ourselves, new ways to interact with people, and so on.  These seeds will germinate in fertile ground, where we nurture them, and eventually they will bear the fruit of our efforts.  Today is a day when we can look back at the seeds we planted in the spring and see what ‘fruits’ are ripe and ready to be plucked, and which need to be left to grow more before they will mature.

Another meaning is transformation.  Wheat must die for it to give us sustenance and also so that new life can spring again from it when it’s seed is planted in the Earth.  The life of the wheat is sacrificed to make way for new plants in the Spring.

So it is with our lives; we need to ‘sacrifice’ situations, projects, tasks, and so on that have reached their conclusion, let go of those that will not grow or have not germinated, and we need to do this in order to move onward, to allow new things to enter our lives.

Change is never easy, but it is necessary if we are to grow and realise our potential in all things.  Lammas marks the start of the time when we can savour the fruits of our efforts.  A time when we can experience the sweet taste of success, or the bitter taste of failure.  Either way, Lammas is the time to start to let them go from our lives as it is the first harvest, the start of clearing the land of the crops that have either matured successfully or failed for various reasons.  Lammas is the time to look within ourselves and in our lives to see where this is also the case.

This letting go of what has ended, no matter if it is a success or a failure allows a symbolic death of that which has come to its end.  This is echoed in the increasing period of night that we notice at this time of year.  The nights are drawing in, and while the days are still hot and balmy, there is a feeling of change in the world as we move to the Autumn Equinox.  Yes, nature still flourishes and grows and fruits continue to grow and to ripen, but with the first harvests we begin to see nature coming towards the end of its yearly cycle of growth, the fields being laid bare ready for sowing with new seeds.

For now we can celebrate our successes, learn from our failures, and mourn letting go of what is complete, knowing that as one thing ends something new is on it’s way, just as a bare field means new growth will come in the Spring.

Whatever you consider today, whatever you think about Lammas, enjoy the day!

A clowder of cats and a kindle of kittens

Some Memories from Primary School

Yesterday, while looking for a particular book, I stumbled upon a copy of “A First Aid in English, Revised Edition”.  I’d forgotten that I’d bought this book several years ago simply because I stumbled upon it on Amazon and it brought back warm memories of primary school.  I remember with fondness enjoying working through it, working neatly in my English book, while left to my own devices while everyone else in my class was practising for the competitions for the Urdd Eisteddfod.  I wasn’t with them as I wasn’t deemed good enough for any of the competitions; my accent was too English, I was too clumsy and uncoordinated to dance or act, and was told I couldn’t sing either.  So, I was left with maths and English work to do in the classroom by myself.

Fond memories of being left by myself?  Yes, that is the case.  I have always enjoyed learning, working, and producing beautifully written notes/work.  I guess this was something I could excel at when everyone else thought I couldn’t excel at anything else.  Also, I had and continue to have a love of words and phrases, and the First Aid in English fed that love.

Other fond memories crop up, such as being able to choose a photograph from a huge, numbered collection to use to inspire story writing.  This could be done once the set work was completed and while others will still working on that.  I’ve occasionally remembered about this activity and thought I could use it now as a source of inspiration for creative writing.

Anyway, once I found the book, I had to sit with pen and paper and work through some of the exercises, and found great pleasure and comfort in doing so.  I realised how much I’d forgotten, and how much the book seemed to have been cut down compared to the one I used when I was in school, but that may just be the warping effect of time on the memory.

I know, it’s sad, but it’s also true!

Similes

And this is where the title of this post comes in!  Clowder is apparently derived from clutter, which would describe a pile of cats all together, very much like a furry cloud!

Kindle is more obscure, coming from Old Norse ‘kynda’ which meant ‘to kindle’.  Maybe it’s just a cute sounding word to describe a pile of cute cuddly kittens making apt use of alliteration.

Flowers, folklore and folk-medicine

Our Fathers of Old

Excellent herbs had our fathers of old –
Excellent herbs to ease their pain –
Alexanders and Marigold,
Eyebright, Orris and Elecampane –
Basil, Rocket, Valerian, Rue
(Almost singing themselves they run)
Vervain, Dittany, Call-me-to-you –
Cowslip, Melilot, Rose of the Sun.
Anything green that grew out of the mould
Was an excellent herb to our fathers of old.

Wonderful tales had our fathers of old,
Wonderful tales of the herbs and the stars –
The Sun was Lord of the Marigold,
Basil and Rocket belonged to Mars.
Pat as a sum in a division it goes –
(Every herb had a planet bespoke) –
Who but Venus should govern the Rose?
Who but Jupiter own the Oak?
Simply and gravely the facts are told
In the wonderful books of our fathers of old.

Wonderful little, when all is said,
Wonderful little our fathers knew.
Half their remedies cured you dead –
Most of their teaching was quite untrue –
“Look at the stars when a patient is ill.
(Dirt has nothing to do with disease),
Bleed and blister as much as you will,
Blister and bleed him as oft as you please.”
Whence enormous and manifold
Errors were made by our fathers of old.

Yet when the sickness was sore in the land,
And neither planets nor herbs assuaged,
They took their lives in their lancet-hand
And, oh, what a wonderful war they waged!
Yes, when the crosses were chalked on the door –
(Yes, when the terrible dead-cart rolled!)
Excellent courage our fathers bore –
None too learned, but nobly bold
Into the fight went our fathers of old.

If it be certain, as Galen says –
And sage Hippocrates holds as much –
“That those afflicted by doubts and dismays
Are mightily helped by a dead man’s touch,”
Then, be good to us, stars above!
Then, be good to us, herbs below!
We are afflicted by what we can prove,
We are distracted by what we know
So-ah, so!
Down from your heaven or up from your mould
Send us the hearts of our Fathers of old!

Rudyard Kipling


Yes, there were some dreadful examples of medicine in days long ago, yet there were also many examples of folk-medicine that did work and that we use today.

For example research in biomedical Egyptology shows that many were effective and that some 67% of the cures recorded in various papyri complied with the 1973 Edition of the British Pharmaceutical Codex. They used honey, a natural antibiotic, to dress wounds and treat throat irritations, for instance, and aloe vera was used to treat blisters, burns, ulcers and skin diseases. They also used mouldy bread to treat infections; one of the moulds that grows on bread is penicillin!

There are many more examples of cures that worked and the active ingredients are used in modern medicine. Indeed, there is a branch of science called ethnobotany or ethnopharmacology that studies folk-medicines with the hope of finding new and active ingredients to treat the plethora of diseases still suffered by humanity.

Regardless of whether they worked or not, reading and researching about the uses of plants and other materials in folk medicine as well as the theories our fathers of old had about illness is something that I find fascinating, when I have the time to dig and delve into it. I find lots of interesting tales about where the names of plants come from, so I learn more about etymology, history, folklore, legend and myth. I get to look at photographs and illustrations of the plants used, so widening my knowledge and experience of art and so inspiring me to create my own. One day, the tales may even help to inspire me to do my own creative writing, maybe poetry, about all the wonderful lore that surrounds our most familiar plants, crystals, rocks, horseshoes, and so on.

Mistletoe and Ivy

Well, as I’d done some notes about holly previously I thought it would be a good idea to complete the trio of plants most associated with Yuletide/Christmas/Winter festivities.

Mistletoe (Viscum album)

Early antiquaries thought all types of Christmas foliage came from that used by the Romans at Saturnalia, which was a festival that originated in Greece.  However, once mistletoe became especially popular, the more picturesque theory of Druidic origin gained ground.  Pliny the Elder (AD 23-79) recorded the following about mistletoe:

The Druids hold nothing more sacred than mistletoe and a tree on which it is growing, provided it is Valonia oak … Mistletoe is, however, rather seldom found on Valonia oak, and when it is discovered it is gathered with great ceremony, and particularly on the sixth day of the Moon (for which these [Gallic] trips constitutes the beginning of the months and years) … Hailing the Moon in a native word that means ‘healing all things’, they prepare a ritual sacrifice and banquet beneath a tree and bring up two white bulls, whose horns are bound for the first time on this occasion.  A priest arrayed in white vestments climbs the tree and with a golden sickle cuts down the mistletoe, which is caught in a white cloak.  Then finally they kill the victims, praying to God to render his gift propitious to those on whom he has bestowed it.  They believe that mistletoe given in drink will impart fertility to any animal that is barren, and that it is an antidote for all poisons.

Steve Roud in ‘Oxford Dictionary of Plant-lore’ comments that ‘largely as a result of this passage, more nonsense has been written about mistletoe than any other British plant’.  It is responsible for more disinformation in British folklore than almost any other.   Whatever its merits in itself, it has been repeated over and over and has been used for many flights of fancy about Druids and the ancient origins of our customs and beliefs.

Because of its Druid and pagan associations, mistletoe is traditionally banned from churches, according to the very influential John Brand in 1849.  However, recent research has shown he was wrong, at least for some regions such as Staffordshire where churchwardens’ accounts record repeated purchases of mistletoe.  In 1648 is first listed among the many evergreens decking churches and homes at Christmas by Herrick in Hesperides, no 893.   From the Middle Ages on, the use of holly and ivy in this way has been well recorded.

Mistletoe became important in the late 18th century as part, and soon to be the most valued part, of the elaborate kissing boughs/bushes that were hung up in farmhouses and kitchens, of which kissing under the mistletoe was first recorded in 1813.  There were rules as to when it must be taken down, which varied regionally.  Why mistletoe was included was never recorded, and why kissing beneath it became popular is never fully explained, though it is commonly attributed to it being a Druidic/pagan fertility plant.  This has been stated again and again that it has become ‘The Truth’ as opposed to ‘the truth’.

‘Pliny was writing about the Gauls, not the Brits.  We do now know where or from whom he got his information about the Druids.  Classical authors, however reliable they may be in other respects, are at their most unreliable when describing foreign people, their lands and their beliefs.  There is no hint anywhere else to support Pliny’s report.  There is no other mention of the sacred nature of mistletoe in Britain until antiquarians began reading and believing Pliny’s report some 1500 years later.  Even if Pliny’s report was accurate, there is no evidence that the practice was continued into historical times or had any influence on later lore.  Modern mistletoe beliefs are reported almost exclusively from England, and not the Celtic areas where was are told the Druidic traditions continue to have resonance.’ (4)

Nordic Mistletoe Myths

There may be a link to ancient Nordic myths too.  Mistletoe, apparently, was the plant of peace in Scandinavian countries and if enemies met beneath it, they would lay their arms down and keep a truce until the next day.  Perhaps it was this ancient Norse custom that led to the one of kissing beneath the mistletoe?

This tradition, however, went hand in hand with the story of  the death and resurrection of Baldur, one of the most intriguing of the Norse myths, and perhaps it is this that is the start of the tradition of mistletoe as a ‘kissing plant’.

Baldur’s mother was the Norse goddess, Frigga. When Baldur was born, Frigga made each and every plant, animal and inanimate object promise not to harm Baldur.  However, Frigga overlooked the mistletoe plant — and the mischievous god of the Norse myths, Loki, took advantage of this.  Always the prankster, Loki tricked one of the other gods into killing Baldur with a spear made from mistletoe.  This god was Hoder, who was Baldur’s blind brother.  Loki guided Hoder’s hand, and Baldur’s heart was pierced by the spear.  The death of Baldur, a vegetation deity in the Norse myths, brought winter to the world, although the gods did eventually restore Baldur to life, but not before Frigga’s tears had become the white berries of the mistletoe.   After this, Frigga pronounced the mistletoe sacred, ordering that from now on it should bring love rather than death into the world.  Happily complying with Frigga’s wishes, any two people passing under the plant from now on would celebrate Baldur’s resurrection by kissing under the mistletoe.Mistletoe etymology

While the romantic traditions woven around mistletoe give us a feeling that the plant is all dreamy and lovey-dovey, it’s interesting to ponder the etymology of ‘mistletoe’.  The second century Anglo-Saxon name for it was misteltan, with  mistel meaning dung and tan meaning twig.  It was believed at that time that the plant grew directly from the birds’ dung rather than the seed that passed through its digestive system.

Kissing and love

  • When a kiss is exchanged beneath the mistletoe, a berry should be removed.  Once all the berries have gone, no more kissing that year!
  • If an unmarried woman is not kissed beneath the mistletoe, she will not marry in the coming year.
  • If a couple in love kiss under the mistletoe, it is considered a promise to marry.

After Christmas is over …

  • Mistletoe should always be kept until the Christmas following.  It is believed around the Chudleigh district that it will stop the house from being struck by lightning.  At Ottery they say it will ensure that the house will never be without bread.
  • A piece of mistletoe must be kept to be burned under the Shrove Tuesday pancakes.
  • A piece of mistletoe must be kept from one year to the next because while mistletoe stays in the house love also stays.
  • A sprig kept hanging on the beam until next Christmas will keep the witches out/keep evil spirits way/goblins away.

My own mistletoe tradition

I must admit that I keep a bunch of mistletoe hanging in my front room at home.  I change it, usually, on the Winter Solstice, burning the old out doors.  I use a blowtorch to set fire to the old bunch and it burns fantastically well!  I make sure I stand upwind of the fumes too.

Why do I do this?  Well, it’s become a tradition for me at this time of year.  It symbolises the protection around my home that exists to keep bad away – maybe not ghosties and ghoulies and things that go bump in the night, but to keep people of ill intent out, to neutralise any ill intent sent my way, to create an environment of peace and harmony and love.  It seems to work … perhaps simply because it is a physical symbol of my intent to have such an environment around me, a safe environment to retire to when the world outside is just too much to cope with and I need quiet time to rest and recuperate.  Burning the old symbolises letting go of the past years’ troubles and worries and upsets and so on, and the fire purifies the darker elements that the mistletoe has symbolically soaked up, returning them to the light.

Whether you believe it or not, it works for me!

Ivy (Hedera helix)

Considered by some to be unlucky to have in the house at any time other than Christmas.

Ivy leaves formed the poets crown in ancient times, as well as the wreath of Bacchus, to whom the plant was dedicated most probably because leaves of ivy were bound around the forehead to prevent intoxication.

    Greek priests presented a wreath of ivy to newly-weds as a symbol of fidelity.

      English taverns used to display a sign of an ivy bush over their doors to advertise the excellence of the liquor served within – ‘Good wine needs no bush’.

        References

        1. Steve Roud, ‘Oxford Dictionary of Plant-lore’
        2. Jacqueline Simpson and Steve Roud, ‘ A Dictionary of English Folklore’
        3. Ronald Hutton ‘The Stations of the Sun’
        4. Steve Roud, ‘Penguin Guide to the Superstitions of Britain and Ireland’
        5. The Mistletoe Pages
        6. Norse Myths and Mistletoe at About.com
        7. The Truth vs. the truth – an old Wyrdsmithing blog engry
        8. BBC’s h2g2 website

        Holly

        English Holly (Ilex aquifolium)

        Holly © Angela Porter 19 Dec 2010

        Etymology

        The word holly comes from the Old English ‘holegn‘ which became the Middle English ‘holin‘, which Tolkien fans will recognise – Hollin was the name among men for the land of Elves that thrived to the west of the Mines of Moria, known as Eregion, and it was famous for its holly trees.

        In Welsh holly is called celyn.  In Terry Pratchett’s ‘Soul Music’, Imp Y Celyn is the lead singer of The Band With Rocks In

        Folk names for holly hulver bush, holm, hulm, holme chase, holy tree and Christ’s thorn.

        Holly decorations

        Holly is one of the most striking objects in the winter woodland with its glossy leaves and clusters of brilliant scarlet berries. It is very much connected with Christmas in many Western cultures. From very early days, it was gathered in great quantities for Yuletide decorations, both of the church and the home. The old Christmas Carols are full of references to holly.

        Christmas decorations are said to derive from a Roman custom that involved sending gifts to their friends during the festival of Saturnalia which occurred in mid-December. Strenae, twigs of holly or laurel with sweets fastened to them, were a popular gift. Boughs of holly and other evergreens were also used as decorations. Evergreens are symbolic, of course, of enduring and renewed life as well as a way to encourage the return of vegetation at the end of Winter.

        The Christians were quick to adopt holly for their own celebrations, with the holly representing the crown of thorns that Jesus wore, the berries symbolising drops of blood. A medieval legend asserts that the holly sprang up from the places where Christ walked, hence the name Christ’s Thorn.

        Old church calendars have Christmas Eve marked ‘templa exornantur‘ (churches are decked), and the custom is as deeply rooted in modern times, whether you celebrate Christmas, Yule, the Unconquered Sun, or the return of the light, as it was in either pagan or early Christian days.

        Childhood memories of ‘trimming up’.

        As a small child, I can remember going to bed on Christmas Eve to an ordinary home.  Generally, we were in bed early –  6pm on a school night, 7pm any other night.  On Christmas Eve, my parents used to keep us up until gone 7pm just to try to get us all to sleep through the night – I am one of six children, the second oldest.  I’d be blamed for everything, including the indecently early hour of waking on Christmas morning.  We’d make our way downstairs, bags of gifts in hand, and we’d be amazed!  The stairwell was lit by twinkling fairy lights.  The front room was sparkly with shimmering tinsel, metallic versions of fancy paper-chains, and the lights, baubles, lametta and tinsel on the tree.

        As a child this was magic!  It was, in many ways, the best part of the day.  We were always told that the the fairies that lived in the central heating did the work of decorating, but as we grew up, we took our places to help the ‘rents decorate, as well as taking part in the toast at 10pm to members of the family past and present.  Even when we were all young adults, the house was never decorated before Christmas Eve, and even when we all had moved away to our own homes we still returned on Christmas Eve to decorate for the ‘rents.  I still believe the rest of the family do so now.

        Holly superstitions

        It is said to be unlucky to cut a branch from a holly tree; it should be pulled off instead.

        Old stories advise people to take holly into their homes to act as a shelter for elves and fairies who could join mortals at this time without causing them harm. However, it must be entirely removed before Imbolc Eve (31st January) as just one leaf left within the house would result in bad luck.

        In Somerset, it was considered unlucky for holly to be brought into the house before Christmas Eve, and then only brought in by a man.

        In Herefordshire and Worcestershire, a small piece of holly which had adorned a church at Christmas time was regarded as very lucky to hang up in your home, even though the domestic decorations had to be burned as usual.

        Pliny tells us that if holly is planted near a house or a farm it would repel poison, deflect lighting and protect from witchcraft.

        Pythagoras noted that the flowers would cause water to freeze and if the wood, if thrown at any animal, would cause the animal to return and lie down by the wood, even if the wood did not touch the animal.

        A good crop of berries on holly is still said to be a sign that a hard winter is on the way.

        Holly uses

        Holly wood is heavy, hard and white-ish and it was used for the white chess pieces, ebony being used for the black.

        In the 1800s, weaving looms had holly wood spinning rods; holly was less likely to snag the threads being woven as it is a very dense wood and can be sanded very smooth.

        Peter Carl Faberge used holly cases for his famous Easter Eggs, as well as small objects such as hand seals.

        Holly is also used for veneering.

        1. www.wikipedia.com
        2. www.botanical.com
        3. homepage.ntlworld.com/blackbirdhollins/articles/Holly%20tree.htm
        4. “English Folklore” J Simpson and S Roud

        Focusing on the positive

        Being Star Wars-ed?

        Well, now, where to start.  I know, I’m going to Star Wars you!  Here’s a quote from Star Wars Episode 2: Attack of the Clones

        “You’re focusing on the negative, Anakin. Be mindful of your thoughts.” – Obi Wan Kenobi

        Over the past week or two, there have been numerous times when I’ve felt I’ve been in a Star Wars movie, being given advice about The Force.  However, the advice given by a dear friend of mine and my counsellor has been about focusing on the positive, good times and things in my life.   The counselling work has been about rebalancing my view of me and my life.  This has involved condensing the negative perceptions of myself and my reactions and thereby reducing their significance and expanding on the positive perceptions with evidence to support it.  The positive evidence, and focusing on the positive is not an easy thing for me to do.  To acknowledge my successes, my achievements, the times I’ve been praised and gained acclaim, these are times that are easily brushed aside.

        All the same, I have endeavoured to focus on the positive.  I’ve made a concerted effort to write a list of good events, good feedback, things to be grateful for in my offline journal at the end of every day as I sit in bed before sleep.  I do write about problems, confrontations and so on still so that I can reflect on them, work my way through them, and come to a balanced perspective on them, but I have been doing my best to write down a gratitude list.  And even on the murkiest, darkest, trouble-beset days there are things to be grateful for.

        Jedi philosophy, Buddhism, eastern religions … all seem to tie in, don’t they?  I remember seeing the first Star Wars Film – Episode 4, A New Hope.  It was the first time any kind of belief system had struck a chord within me, and though I knew the film was fantasy, the ideas would eventually ignite my own search for my personal brand of spirituality.  And it turns out that things for me aren’t too different from the Force!  Is this worrying?  I think not!

        New phone

        That time had come around again – the renewal of the mobile phone contract with T-mobile.  This time, I opted for a new phone rather than the £10 per month loyalty discount as the price for my tariff had plummeted considerably.  Essentially, the new bill is £20 a month, compared to £26 with the discount or £36 without the discount!  Brill!  And what phone did I get.  Well, the lovely chaps at T-mobile recommended the Motorola Defy to me, seeing as I have no idea about phones, am not interested in fashion statements and the like.  I wanted something that would be durable, easy to use, and they told me I also would want a phone that would let me use my unlimited internet allowance too.

        Well the phone arrived, I was totally bemused for a while, but within a few hours was comfortable with it, and now find it a marvellous thing to have with me!  I certainly won’t get bored when waiting … I must remember to carry my glasses with me as I am getting eye-strain from looking at little letters on a little screen close to me.  Oh the joys of being long-sighted!

        My favourite app so far is Google Sky, which was free for me to download and one of the student teachers at school was most disgusted at that as he’d have to pay to get it on his iPhone!  Result I think!  I also downloaded, amongst other things, a nice meditation timer which I’ve yet to use but is likely to prove useful in the future.  I’ve not got music on the phone yet, but there’s no rush for that either.

        Having said that, the weather reports have been very useful given all the snow and traffic chaos that has ensued.  And it’s been nice to cwtch up nice and warm in bed and email/message friends rather than get drafty-cool sat at the ‘puter.

        So, I march on into a new realm of communication, wondering why it took me so long!

        Snow – bleurgh!

        I’ve already mentioned the snow.  There’s not been too much of it around South Wales, generally, but enough to cause chaos at times with travelling.  The main roads have mostly stayed pretty clear and I’ve found it perfectly fine to get around, though I’ve not been to the higher reaches of the Valleys.

        A bonus has been a couple of days at school with few pupils in.  Small classes, quiet, calm.  It should be like that all the time!  It’s amazing the difference it makes with just 5 or 6 out of each class – the mainstream class sizes then become around 25 to 27.  I’m a lot calmer, the pupils are a lot calmer too.  How on Earth class sizes have been allowed to creep up to such huge sizes.  Some days I feel like I’m engaging more in crowd-control than actually teaching.

        New career needed … ideas anyone?

        The good thing about smaller classes and the snow is that it reminds me of how teaching can be, how it would benefit the pupils and the teachers.

        As I type this blog entry, it is now raining here.  I hope it washes away the snow and ice quick-sharp!

        Arty stuff

        I’ve not been able to settle to do much art in the last couple of weeks.  I seem to have been either tired or dashing around from place to place.  But that’s ok.  That’s how life is at times.

        I have completed another auragraph for a lady, but I won’t post a picture of it until she’s had it and had a chance to show others it, if she wishes.  It is personal for her.  I have another two to do, and I hope to get one done later today.

        Music and railways

        Some musical events are coming up for me.  Firstly, I’ll be playing my flute with Marcus (of Marcus Music, Newport, South Wales) and his wife, Pauline, at the Pontypool and Blaenavon Railway on the 19th December.  Christmas carols/songs will be the order of the day.  Pauline asked if I would go and play with them again this year, which was really nice of her to do so.  That’s as long as I can get there given the weather conditions!  I always enjoy playing with Marcus and Pauline – no pressure on me with them at all.

        There’s also the school Carol Concert coming up, where I’ll be playing flute in the orchestra and singing alto in the choir.  In years gone by it’s always been a stressful time for me and I often come down with tonsilitis, pharyngitis or some horrible form of ‘flu all brought about by the stress of performing in school, which goes back to my school days as a pupil!  I wish I could find a way to get over this … I really do.

        However, it’s always nice to play with other people, and I do wish I could do so more often.  I’ve not found people to do that with … yet.

        Things have taken an interesting turn concerning the railway and myself recently.  The creaking door that was still open by just a nano-metre has finally been closed.  To be honest, this is a relief to me.  I can now walk away from there without any guilt and find somewhere else to volunteer my time where I can learn and also teach others things.  One adventure has come to an end, many more await me.  That is perhaps a sign of a more positive me about me!  The only problem is getting me out there to take part in the adventures!