Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Archive: A post-Bealltainn post

There were some things I didn't have time to get round to doing before the actual day, but I'm hoping to get them finished in the next couple of weeks before the Old Style Bealltainn, at least.

One of them is the garden, but the weather's against me so there's not a lot I can do about that at the moment. I've managed to do some more planting and mowed the lawn, but that's it. We went south into Ayrshire on Sunday on the one day it wasn't raining as much, and took the kids to the beach to fly a kite - Mr Seren's first ever attempt, as well as Tom and Rosie's. The beach at Saltcoats was beautiful - a huge flat expanse of sand - so it was perfect for running around with the kite, but unfortunately I didn't take the camera with me. Saltcoats seemed to be a lovely town, in a ghostly, half-abandoned kind of way. Years ago in its heyday it was one of the places to go on holiday for the workers in Glasgow and the surrounding area. During the Glasgow Fair every July, when the factories would shut down for two weeks, the workers and their families would descend en masse on the Ayrshire coastal towns like Saltcoats, but the cheap flights abroad and Maggie Thatcher killing off most of the industries in the area put paid to all that and these towns began to fade and wither. In spite of the fact that it was a bank holiday weekend there wasn't much open in the town, so we stopped off for lunch at a Garden Centre on the main road on our way back home and had a bite to eat at the cafe and a nose around the shop.

I resisted the tasteful giant gnomes (and was disappointed at the lack of tasteful giant mushrooms), but picked up a raspberry bush to go with the blueberry I've already got, a couple of junipers, a poppy, and some evergreen type bushes to fill in a few gaps, along with some red chipped glass pieces with an idea of doing something with them, but I'm not sure what yet...It was still sunny when we got home, so I set about mowing and did a bit of weeding and got most of the plants in before the rain came. One of the junipers and the poppy went around the puddle pond, and the raspberry went wherever it would fit, and I did some weeding and managed to break up the soil a bit more and dug some organic plant food and compost into it; hopefully that will condition the soil a bit, it really needs it. I still have some planting to do and I need to finish the lawn, and I'm contemplating buying some strawberries to plant as well.

For my celebrations at Là Fhèill Brìghde I made a devotional sort of plaque out of modelling clay, with a snake incised on it, which I then painted and varnished. I was intending to make one for Bealltainn but I've yet to be inspired so I'm still thinking about it for now. Since Christmas I've been making some seasonal murals with the kids - nature-themed, so not overtly religious (in respect for Mr Seren), but containing elements that are significant to me, that I can talk about with the kids. Well, the last two have been, the ones we did in December were paper snowflakes decorated with glitter (which is when I hit idea of doing them for each season as something I could do with the kids). For Là Fhèill Brìghde we did a 'spring flower' theme. Rosie and I did daffodils, and Rosie did dandelions (for Bride), and Tom..."made purple":

(Some of the snowflakes providing a backdrop for my inaugural use of the coffee grinder I got for Christmas. Sad, I know).

I was feeling a little uninspired for a summery theme until we did some painting yesterday and Tom started doing 'butterflies' by painting splodges onto the paper and then folding it in half. So I decided butterflies were very summery and we set to it. I drew the butterfly shapes, covered them in glue and then the kids decorated them with glitter, pom poms and pipe cleaners. Tom tried a feather butterfly, too. And then they covered the background with the flowery paper to tasteful effect...Rosie helped with the Otherworldly grass and fabric flowers that were going spare while Tom mostly ran around in circles being shrill because it was so exciting!!!!

The result is very Tasteful, I think you'll agree:

But it certainly brightens up the place. I've been putting the pictures up in the kitchen, against the wall that can be seen from the front door and hallway, so it gives a cheery view when you walk in. It's a bit of a dead space otherwise, that's home to the fruit bowl and generally any crap that doesn't have a home for the minute, so it's a good excuse to keep things clear.

Continuing the crafty theme, I've also made a hob house as a friend suggested...How better to give good hospitality, than give a proper place, specially for them? I've been looking for a hob house for a while (after seeing Judith's) but it never occurred to me to make one until now, so while the kids were doing play-doh the other day, I decided to join in with the modelling clay; it's handy having kids sometimes, the tree shaped cutter and the butterfly shape that came with the play-doh factory were put to good use:

Painting it gave me something to do while Mr Seren was away dahn sahf, and I have to admit I'm quite pleased (surprised) with how it turned out, although it's a shame the butterfly 'bled' as I varnished. I thought about putting it on the kitchen windowsill but I think it would get damaged there, so now it's dried out it's taken pride of place on my shelf where it won't get poked and prodded at and hopefully, with some regular offerings, it will make a good home for somebody and then maybe the remote control will stop going missing for no apparent reason, and things will stay where I left them...Thinking about it I probably should have moulded some sort of dish into it somewhere, so I could pour some milk into it as an offering, but maybe not; then I'd have to keep disturbing it to keep it clean and my honoured guest probably wouldn't appreciate that. I shall have to find something appropriate to put next to it for that, instead, but I'm not sure what yet. I'll see how it goes.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Archive: Bealltainn 2009 (2)

Thursday dawned dull and grey and didn't get much better once the rain set in, but it didn't dampen my spirits (pardon the appalling pun...).

The day before, however, I took Rosie for a walk to the beach and we made offerings of apples and bread that were much appreciated if the squawks from the sea gulls that seemed to appear from nowhere were anthing to go by. Then later, just before dusk set in, I took the dogs for a walk to the woods behind our house where all the bluebells are. Mr Seren was supposed to be going dahn sahf so I was taking the dogs out because obviously I wouldn't be able to do it in the evening without leaving the kids on their own. It turned out that the meeting was cancelled so Mr Seren wasn't going to go after all, but my late afternoon walk gave me the opportunity to collect the rowan I needed for the following evening, and to take a look and see how the bluebells were coming along in the woods.

I approached the rowan and discovered a plastic stegasaurus surreptitiously keeping guard in amongst the long grass and dandelions, which I thought was charming and made me laugh. It's plastic expression was somehow welcoming as well fearsome and I bid it good afternoon (luckily nobody was around to think me a crazy person); maybe the appeal of the randomness made me think it was a good sign. I approached the tree and found a damaged branch that needed to come off and made offerings and asked permission to take it, and without any ill omens to suggest a negative answer, I broke it off and took the dogs to the woods. There's been a lot of rain since I took pictures of the bluebells last week and they were pretty much hidden by a sea of ferns that had shot up.

The next day, I spent the morning trying out some Brodick bannocks for the first time. These ones are from the Isle of Arran, so they're the most local to my area that I've found so far. They were very sweet, surprisingly light and extremely tasty, and the closest to a scone in texture that I've tried so far. They have a lot of baking powder in them, but even so I was surprised at how much they rose (and didn't shrink once they came out of the oven), and it gave a rather rustic look once they were cooked.

I tried one with a bit of butter and jam, and a bit of butter and cheese. They were too sweet to go with the cheese well, to my tastebuds, but made a very good breakfast with the strawberry jam. Tom and Rosie helped me make them, and I blessed them as we as all pitched in, but while they were eagerly awaited as they were baking in the oven, Tom wasn't all that impressed with them. There was an unforgivable lack of chocolate as far as he was concerned.

Rosie and I spent the afternoon in the neighbouring village of Skelmorlie, which is older than the village we live in and very olde worlde and quaint, with lots of narrow and winding lanes, old sandstone cottages, and equally old and very green woodland. In spite of the rain Rosie was very keen to explore a new place (and new puddles), and we found a park that might need visiting in the summer. We made our way back to the main road and stopped off at the local butchers to have a nose around and I bought some Pittenweem oatcakes, a selection of cheeses (including one called Stinking Bishop, glorious), a bottle of rosé wine selected and sold by the butcher under his own label, along with a pack of meat that's far cheaper and far better in quality than anything you get from the supermarket; from hereon in, I'm a convert.

We got home with time to spare before we had to pick Tom up from nursery, so we tried the oatcakes and cheese. Mr Seren set about the sheep's cheese and oatcake with enthusiasm and, evidently feeling very authentic, proudly declared himself a Pict before going back upstairs to work again. I bought the oatcakes purely to see how they'd compare with my own efforts at making them (because they're handmade and hopefully tastier, rather than bland and mass produced like you get at the supermarket), and I was pleased to find they tasted pretty much the same so at least I know I'm doing it right...

Anyway, the evening of festivities kicked off with roast lamb, garlic roast potatoes, shredded carrot and swede, and peas (at Tom's insistence - not being one to discourage a child's enthusiasm for vegetables, I duly obliged. Well. Legumes, I suppose...). As I cooked and the kids got in my way helped, Mr Seren cranked up the volume to the music he was listening to - his new obsession, an Orkney band called The Chair (which he discovered the name of after hearing them on BBC Alba and then emailed the Beeb to ask for a playlist; they were very helpful and Mr Seren was very happy, and on his trawls on the internet looking for their music, discovered a band called Ceilidh Minogue. Arf). I'm fairly sure he got his bodhran out and started drumming along, too, but when I asked he got sheepish and defensive. He rarely plays, and even more rarely plays for an audience, so the timing was good synchronicity as far as I was concerned.

For once I managed to make enough food to make sure I could leave the best of each out as a goodly offering, before Mr Seren chanked it all as seconds, and after the dinner was all cleaned away I set about making the Yetholm bannocks for pudding. They're a little strong for the kids' tastebuds so I made them some chocolate chip shortbread, which I also blessed. Seeing as the bannocks have caudle applied I didn't make any separately, but once they were all cooked I served them with a bit of custard, and it was all very tasty.

Once the kids were in bed I got everything ready and turned everything off in the house (but not the freezer or Mr Seren's computers, which had to be on; I like not having food poisoning and Mr Seren likes being able to pay the bills, so a compromise had to be made there). I performed a Good Wish and a sunwise turn, made offerings and libations (using the wine I'd bought earlier) as I did so and then after some contemplation I put the offerings outside. Seeing as it had been raining all day it seemed like a happy coincidence that the sun had come out by this point, so I took the opportunity to check on my new pond and see how it was all doing, and I left my offerings on the stones I'd positioned specially for that purpose. I'd been hoping to finish it all off before I celebrated Bealltainn, but the weather hasn't been with me. Everything I've planted so far looked like it's settling in well, and I was at least able to put the rushes and the other pond plant I'd bought into the water, but there are still some gaps to fill aroud it.

I hadn't filled the pond with tap water, deciding it was probably better to let it fill up naturally, so I took some of the water for saining the house, and brought in the spare marigolds for potting. I kept them for decoation in the house and I'll put them out the front at some point, so far they've taken pride of place on the mantlepiece. I sained the house in the morning last year, with the water I collected, but decided it was best to stick with the usual way of doing things this time round, to keep the flow and rhythm that I've found and like with the format I've been using.

Then I used the nine-candle holder as last year to light my 'bonfire', which I then used to rekindle the hearth - the candle on my shelf, seeing as it's the 'centre' of the house. By this time it was dark and the moon was up, so it felt very effective and with the blessings said the atmosphere in the house seemed a little lighter than it has been recently. Even so, by this point I was struggling to stay focused, so I took a break and tried to relax.

Now it was time to make the rowan charms, but I couldn't find the red thread I'd bought specially for them. All I could find was a sad and sorry piece of red thread from the sowing kit, which was only going to be enough for one charm. I peeled the bark of the wood and tied it up but it wasn't exactly sturdy. I was a little concerned at what this might mean (I would've been seriously worried if I couldn't find anything, though), but I managed to hang it with the charm I used with the ones I made last year, and it's still there and in one piece at least. I suspect I may have some amends to make with the wee buggers in the house, because this isn't the first time something I've desperately been searching for something only to come up with nothing, and I'm not the sort of person who loses things. I might make a wee house for them for my shelf, so they have a place too. And get some more houseplants.

By this time I was getting tired and had to admit I was still struggling to keep focused. Maybe it was because I'd been planning for it all day and I'd spent too much energy thinking about it all already, or maybe it was because I seem to be feeling a little tired and blah these days anyway, but I was getting frustrated with myself at times for not being able to keep it together. I kept forgetting things, like how much ground almond I needed to put in for the shortbread, which nearly messed up the whole batch - especially after I realised that Tom or Rosie had bodged the scales and then I wasn't sure how much I'd put in anyway. I managed to rescue them in the end, in spite of using too much vanilla as well...

So being tired I decided to call it a night. After a little break to wind down I finished off with some ogam fews picked out of my bag, and was surprised to find that there seemed to be a very positive feel to them (or so it seems, at first glance). Surprised because all the little irritations were making me doubt myself.

I nearly forgot to use the Brodick bannock as the offering, "Here's to thee!" etc, so I did that with Yoda, the black cat, looking askance at me, and I jumped the bonfire, as it was dying down, for luck. I spent a while outside contemplating, hoping to clear my head and breathing in the clean air that had a slight chill to it and the scent of cut grass. I left the plate from dinner and further libations out, not wanting to leave them inside and in reach of the dogs. Then I went inside and smoored and after a chat with Mr Seren, got into bed to the sound of my friend the owl (the cailleach-oidhche, somehow very apt) hooting outside as she had been for most of the night.

In the morning I collected the first water from the tap, which I will silver and keep for saining and anything else that it might be needed for in the coming year. Hopefully this time Rosie won't get her hands on it so I'll have some left come this time next year.

Deep down there was a sense of rightness to it all, in spite of the fact that things didn't go as smoothly or as focused as I've come to expect of myself, so I think that's what's left me feeling a little conflicted. I suppose it doesn't matter how I want things to go, so much as how I should do things, how I act and how I honour, so long as a connection has been made, and I got there in the end. But still, I'll be leaving a few more offerings to the wee buggers, and breaking out the modelling clay for that house...