Planting trees on New Year’s Eve at Bealtaine Cottage.
These were Christmas presents from Earth Lovers…Thank you!
The Colours of Winter
Today is the last day of the old year, but colour abounds on this permaculture landscape.
Roses in bloom on this last day of December…an indication of the extremely mild weather we have experienced in the west of Ireland. This has been a very wet month and the records may show just how much!
Dogwoods, Willows and Fedges.
Lichens have multiplied in the rainy month of December. It’s worth going walking just to see these beautiful creations of Nature.
Trees as pressies! I love these presents as they keep on givingand giving and will be here long after I have passed!
The weather is very mild and has been so for much of the winter so far. As testament to this the daffodils have decided to make an unseasonally early appearance and will be opening their blooms very soon.
Trees lend a huge amount of shelter to all kinds of plants, but especially early flowering bulbs…a good reason to plant under trees!
To the Water and the Wild…
The lower pond this morning, the day after Christmas. Water weed remains green and lush. The spring well gushes life into this huge pond from further up the hill…
The Wren Boys
Today is St. Stephen’s day in Ireland…one where people dress to hide their identities and go door to door singing and making fool in aid of charity…an ancient tradition!
The plants traditionally associated with Christmas were Holly,Mistletoe, Ivy and Common Yew. These trees and plants have had special roles in earlier religions and past cultures.
The Celts in Ireland had midwinter festivals to celebrate the return of the sun from the shortest day.
In the 4th and 5th centuries, 25 December was gradually adopted as the date for Christmas in Europe in order to superimpose on the existing mid-winter festivals.
The Roman festival of Saturnalia was a week of public feasting, dancing, singing and gambling. Houses were decorated with evergreens and bunches of holly were given as tokens of friendship. When this festival was absorbed into the Christian calendar, Holly and the other evergreens were absorbed as well.
Fire and Celebration
Midwinter Solstice marks the rebirth of the suns power.
The midwinter fire is the symbol of death and rebirth – going from the darkness into the light.
I celebrate the Midwinter Solstice with a traditional fire, food and drink with family and friends.
In The Bleak Midwinter
In the bleak mid-winter Frosty wind made moan, Earth stood hard as iron, Water like a stone; Snow had fallen, snow on snow, Snow on snow, In the bleak mid-winter Long ago.
~ Christina Rossetti
Ascent To Spring
The fire will burn into the night and as is the custom, I will use an ember to light the stove here at Bealtaine Cottage in the morning.
So the ritual of the Midwinter and the longest night will be over.
Tomorrow will begin the ascent to Spring and the light.
Time to light the fire and illuminate the darkness.
The stove is lit. The kettle sings out a tune of hot tea. Midwinter…a time to hunker down and keep warm.
“Light is the first of painters. There is no object so foul that intense light will not make it beautiful.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
“O Winter! ruler of the inverted year, . . . . I crown thee king of intimate delights, Fireside enjoyments, home-born happiness, And all the comforts that the lowly roof Of undisturb’d Retirement, and the hours Of long uninterrupted evening, know.” William Cowper
“Up rose the wild old winter-king, And shook his beard of snow; “I hear the first young hard-bell ring, ‘Tis time for me to go! Northward o’er the icy rocks, Northward o’er the sea, My daughter comes with sunny locks: This land’s too warm for me!”” Charles Godfrey Leland
Creating a Mosaic Mirror from broken mirrors has been a work in progress for the past few weeks. it was finally completed this morning!
Mirrors reflect light, bouncing it around rooms where light is at a premium.
The preparations for Christmas continues. Now that the mirror is finished, time to move onto finishing the firebreast wall around the mirror. I am going to paint it a bright colour…well, whatever is the brightest from what I have in leftovers out in the shed.
The mirror really comes into it’s own once the candles are lit on the mantlepiece. The candlelight is reflected, creating a visual warmth in the room, even without the stove being lit!
Living miles from the nearest town, beyond a fair stretch of the legs, shopping becomes an event…not to be treated in a casual way at all!
There is no such thing as, ‘just popping out to the shops,’ as the journey there and back can be costly on limited resources, such as petrol for the car.
Running out of food is simply not an option, so a pantry is essential, where a good stock of food can be built up and held in reserve.
The pantry really comes into it’s own at Christmas and other festivals where visitors are expected to descend with little notice…and the tradition is to always feed the visitor!
As the pantry is a cool, dark place, storing food is easy, much better than a fridge in some cases, especially when it comes to cakes, home made bread, vegetables and the like.
The Victorians were especially adept at designing and building pantries and larders. However, there appears to be little inclusion of this excellent feature in any modern design. I would even go so far as to say that few architects would even have heard of this small, but very essential room.
I used to live in an old Victorian house in London that came complete with a stone slabbed pantry, with fine mesh wire window, facing north for ultimate coolness!
Ideally the only light to penetrate the pantry is an artificial light or weak light from the north.
It is possible to build a small pantry in any home and I have even seen them made from wood, lined with various materials, in city apartments.
The pantry here at Bealtaine Cottage is well stocked. Over the course of this week it will fill up with home baked goodies. Jellies and cakes will jostle with cans and jars on the shelves.
Christmas cannot be bought…well, not here at any rate!
Dawn breaks in the east and illuminates the snow that has fallen overnight. Last night was very cold indeed, so it’s no surpise to awaken to such a winter landscape.
As I write this at 11am, the snow has begun to fall silently once more, surprising the onlooker at the sudden transformation. Somewhere, deep within the recesses of the barn, is stored a sleigh and there’s a good possibility that it will be brought out this weekend!
Just another five days until the time of the midwinter solstice.
This lasts for about three days or so and if the weather is good, with clear skies, then the Newgrange visitors should be well pleased!
Day 2 of the willow basketry workshop. It felt great to be completing my first willow basket.
These are some of the stages in the process.
I’m still digesting all the information.
Tomorrow I will cut willow on the smallholding for using to make my own baskets.
The willow needs to stand for 8 weeks after it’s cut, before it can be used in the weaving process.
I have got to say that this workshop, has been for me, a really wonderful experience, working and sharing with some great people!
Despite the fact that we all began the process together, each basket turned out to be unique!
Working on the basket edge finish…a nice, chunky edge!
Top finished…now working on the bottom edge. I have lots of ideas for baskets…using driftwood, fabric, wool, hedgerow materials… If you are thinking of a Christmas present…why not buy a creative workshop course…I would heartily recommend it!
New curtains, made from cotton gingham and hung on the newly cleaned windows, all ready for the festive season and visitors arriving on Christmas Eve…
There is a plethora of fabrics available to use in sewing, but many of them are produced as by-products of the petro-chemical industry and carry with them many pollutants infused into the fabric itself.
These pollutants then become infused into the very atmosphere of the home and part of the air we breathe…so, I choose natural fabrics for my sewing and decorating efforts.
Midwinter light, candles and greenery collected from Nature and placed on window sills as a reminder that life is eternal…
There is a soft beauty in the midst of winter. A quiet time of contemplation and renewal, re-charging the life force…
Paper stars, a simple form of decoration… I read that the Beckhams had spent $35,000 on a tree and decorations for their home this month. Now, I bet that the Beckham children would have enjoyed making decorations, collecting their own tree and decorating it for themselves!
During the great sort out of the cottage recently, I came upon an unfinished jumper that started life as a cardigan…a natural evolution when you think about it!
The logs are burning well in the stove in the kitchen, warming the cottage, water, radiators, boiling the kettle, cooking and baking!
In preparing for the season of Christmas, I follow the age old tradition of having a good old clear out and tidy-up…much to the discerning eyes and critical comments of family and friends…”but why are you changing the furniture around?” “…re-painting that room…” etc., Well, don’t ask me…it’s just what I have always done!
Yes, indeed, Christmas has some strange effects on people and it’s older than you think…
I am driven with the desire to instill a sense of order upon Bealtaine Cottage as the midwinter festivities approach.
There is a history to this festival that precedes the usual image we hold as the collective ideal…Christmas.
The winter solstice was immensely important.
This was because communities were not certain of living through the winter, and had to be prepared during the previous nine months.
Food and wine was ready to eat and drink as fruit fermented and animals were slaughtered as feed stocks dwindled.
Hyacinths continue to push their way up through the soil and moss in a pot, placed on a window-sill in the cottage. It’s good to have a reminder of what’s to come…
Even during the morning, parts of the interior of this Irish cottage can be dim during the months of midwinter.
Light was and remains the important aspect of winter and our ancestors realized the connection this had to all life.
That connection, that sense of knowing the elemental forces that governed their lives, was so important to them, that many monuments were erected to this end.
Here in Ireland, Newgrange is the most important, monumental reminder we have of this elemental connection.
So today has been a day of tidying and ordering…cleaning the henhouse, sorting wool, cleaning out one cupboard, (well, that’s a start!) and listening to the gentle music of “Altan,” as I go…
Here’s the hand made hearts made from scrap material, hanging above the hearth in a festive, jolly way…So easy to make and fun to create!
The last rosehips of the year hang ready for the birds and their midwinter feast.
My friend Thomas has recently made these shelves for me, for the pantry. They are made from 100% recycled wood, all collected and saved over the past year, from skips and builders yards. The shelves are a great addition to the pantry and enable me to store a wider variety of food.
While cutting back some of the willow recently I came across this bird’s nest…aren’t birds ingenious at finding some great places to nest-build?
The wind turbines on Kilronan Mountain are shining white in the afternoon sun. The light is getting weaker as midwinter approaches but on days like today it’s worth being outdoors!