Overall I got pretty much everything I was hoping to do done (do done? Is that even proper English? I'm really don't think it is...). Everything I did get round to doing went well, barring my ogam reading which just didn't seem to...spark? It wasn't a disaster but I just wasn't feeling it - but more on that later. I'm fairly sure I know why.
Friday was pretty much dedicated to baking and then carving the tumshies - I did three again, and seeing as they take a while and the kids had taken a while to settle in bed before I could get started, I was fairly wiped out after I finished. The past few weeks have caught up with me, I think, and even though I'd had a good three hour nap that afternoon (I'm so glad Mr Seren had the day off) I wasn't up to much else after that. I started on the pictures for our wintery scene, though - I glued and padded some icicles for the kids to paint and decorate, and put together the mountain scene, also for the kids to decorate. I did most of that one because I wasn't really sure what I intended for it so I was just making it up as I went along.
The next day the pictures were dry enough to work with, so the kids painted, splodged, glittered, glued, sparkled, pompom'd, and - most of all - gleefully made a mess of the kitchen and themselves. And me. We talked about how it was going to get cold now, and it would get frosty and might even snow. Tom was disappointed that we couldn't make snowmen now...
We were going to decorate the gingerbread men we'd made the day before but thanks to Mr Seren being a biscuit fiend, there weren't really enough left to make it worthwhile. I should've hidden them. I at least managed to save some for offerings later on.
My brilliant plan of letting the kids scoop out the pumpkin nearly didn't work out. Note to self: In future it's probably best not to shout "BRAAAAAIIIIIIIINS!" as you lift the lid of the pumpkin off. I wasn't expecting the pumpkin to smell as strongly as it did and neither did the kids, apparently - or just how much mess there was going to be:
Not Rosie's most flattering pose, is it? They weren't too impressed, although Rosie did stick with it for a bit once I dived in to help as well:
A dessert spoon isn't the most effective tool for the job, it has to be said.
Tom became a bit more interested once we got to the carving a face stage, which ended up being quite late as we had to get some food in. He insisted the pumpkin should have triangular eyes and big teeth, just like at nursery the day before. We hadn't even got the lanterns lit before the first guisers turned up, but I had time to light the bonfire outside before the main lot arrived in a steady flow. I made some offerings and a Good Wish to start the festivities properly, and the lanterns were lit from the bonfire. It took forever, though, because the wind kept blowing everything out, but once I got it all done - finally - I was about to go inside when a firework went off, almost right behind us. That was a nice touch. I was almost getting worried at one point - trying to keep the fire lit was like I was doing battle with the wee feckies, but I was buggered if I was going to give up. It's tempting to think that way, anyway.
So here are the lanterns:
I'd got a couple of bowls of treats ready, with all sorts of chocolate, Haribo, monkey nuts and apples like last year. We had a ton of guisers turn up once the lanterns were at the window, and like last year we almost ran out of sweets to give out so we had to get some more in quickly. They started coming thick and fast after Star Wars Episode 2 finished on TV - coincidence? I think not (Tom enjoyed it too, much to my disapproval). But of course, as soon as we had more sweets, hardly anyone else came.
Most of the kids did a turn for their goodies - some of the jokes were awful, some were funny, and one kid turned up wearing a gigantic afro wig and had his electric guitar with him. He played Wonderwall by Oasis and was pretty good in spite of the strings being out of tune, so he got extra treats for actually making an effort. Mr Seren refused to give sweets out to one lad who told an anti-Celtic (as in the football club) joke and just gave him some nuts and let his friend have his share of chocolate instead. The kid was quite put out at not getting his treats but Mr Seren told his friend he could give him some later if he thought he deserved it. Later on Mr Seren said he wasn't offended by the joke, he just thought it wasn't too bright telling jokes like that to complete strangers, even these days. The lad deserved a lesson, and it was better coming from someone who really didn't take offence.
We didn't get round to playing any games - dinner was late and I was busy with that in between the guisers and getting the lanterns lit, and Rosie was tired once the novelty of the guisers wore off. Mainly the fact that all the sweets were being given away and she wasn't getting any grew tiresome. I can't imagine her mood would've improved by getting smacked in the face repeatedly with a scone covered in treacle as she and Tom tried to catch it, but oh well. In the end they made their own entertainment by breaking the monkey nuts open (the packaging actually had Warning: May Contain Nuts Or Nut Derivatives on it. Apparently the company who produces them is owned by Captain Obvious), and evidently it was such good fun that Tom proudly announced, "I've got nuts!" to a small group of guisers (who seemed quite old, really) who then looked panic stricken as their minds sank to the gutter and they tried not to laugh. "Don't tell everyone, Tom, or they'll all want some," I said, which made them look like they wanted to run away. Rosie tried to make it better by handing them more and more sweeties.
Anyway, our feast was roast lamb followed by some of the leftover treats and raspberries, strawberries and cream - I couldn't do the cranachan, we'd run out of whisky. We ate by candlelight, which Tom and Rosie found very exciting, and then had some quiet time to get the kids to calm down before bed. I had a little quiet time too, before getting onto the serious business, so by that point it was getting late.
I decided to give up on the 'bonfire' outside - the wind was playing havoc with it and it was spitting a lot. I moved the lanterns to the hearth instead and did most of my devotions by the fire. I started off with the deiseal, made offerings, and sained the house with the water I skimmed at Bealltainn - paying close attention to the door jambs, but also just sprinkling it around with a few words for warding. I sained myself too. I had to take the offerings outside to keep them away from the dogs so that was when I meditated a little and thought about my beloved dead. I'm lucky this year in that I haven't lost anyone close to me, but I did feel something, a closeness of sorts from some of those I was thinking of and remembering them fondly. "Dinner's in the oven," I said. "You're more than welcome to join us." I couldn't leave it on the table - the dogs would have it. I poured out a pint of beer from Orkney that we've bought a few bottles of - all different flavours, but this one was called Raven Ale - it seemed apt given my...whatever it is...with Badb. It also seemed well received, too.
After I came back inside I made the rowan charms and hung them up - some rowan went in the compost bin too (my interpretation of 'the midden' - rowan was put in there too to stop the toradh being taken from it. Being a rich and important source of nutrients for the vegetable patch it was an important asset to the household so I guess the compost bin would be more apt than our rubbish bin which just takes the non-recyclables).
Then I decided it was time to take some ogam, but as soon as I began to pick them I just wasn't feeling it. Something felt off but I couldn't think what, so I wrote down what I'd picked and took a look at them all. One of the fews - Coll - was broken, the top had snapped off. I've no idea how it happened but I'm either going to have to glue it back together or make a new one (I'm erring on the side of the latter). I got the beeswax out and waxed them before putting them away, just to keep them conditioned). I'm not sure whether to count the fews I picked as a 'proper' reading yet, so this is going to be a learning experience I suppose - the set wasn't whole but how would that affect the reading?
All that was left was to finish off the wintery picture the kids and I had done so I could hang it up and surprise them with it in the morning. The icicles weren't yet dry but I'm still trying to figure out how to hang them up, anyway - they're a little heavy. But all in all it turned out not too bad after I fudged it a little and had to try and rescue it:
Although there was a slight hitch in that the picture is too tall to fit the space properly. Doh! But even when they don't turn out quite as I'd hoped I've been enjoying doing them with the kids and telling them all about the changing seasons, and it's a nice way to look forward to what the season will bring.
I was intending to perform the frìth on Sunday morning, assuming I was up in time for sunrise. I was awake at 6.30 so that was no problem, and I managed to sneak downstairs without waking the kids up - definitely a bonus. I had plenty of time to meditate and get into the right frame of mind to focus on what I was doing, although at first I was impatient to get started in case the kids woke up. I knew I just had to go with the flow, though, and if I was interrupted then I could probably take that as a sign in itself - I could have waited until this morning to do it, when a lot of the sources say it was usually performed, but I wanted to keep the flow of my celebrations and it seemed better to do it then.
This time I remembered to keep my feet bare and hair unbound, unlike my last go that seemed to be a failure. I was a little more sure-footed about what I was doing, too, and it seems to have gone well; I made offerings and offered a prayer to Bride, walked to the door, eyes closed, and took my place with hands on either side of the door frame. I opened my eyes to see a spider spinning a web on the porch. I see spiders as a good sign, and it was spinning its way (at least, I assume it was spinning) in a sunwise direction so I hope it is a good one.
I needn't have worried about the kids - I had time to make my thanks after I finished at the door, and then got on with the bannocks which were blessed as usual. Tom and Rosie surfaced just as they were ready to come out of the oven, so we had some for breakfast. I'm not usually a morning person and I don't normally relish such early starts, but there's something very relaxing about starting the day with a bit of peace and quiet. After the afternoon at the in-laws, driving through torrential rain and minor flooding here and there, we came home in time for the kids' bed and to narrowly miss a car crash - two cars were trying to race each other at the roundabout coming off the bypass and one must have skidded on the wet road. The car ended up wrapped around a sign in the central reservation - lucky for them no one was hurt and they all got out and laughed about it. Eejits. We stopped to make sure they didn't need help, as did another car who witnessed it all, and then drove on. I'd been feeling apprehensive all the way from the in-laws because the roads were bad, so I was relieved that Mr Seren had slowed down to give them some distance - if he hadn't, we'd probably have been involved too. My offerings just before I went to bed last night were very heartfelt...
It's been a busy but oddly calming few days and as usual I've got some bits to chew on that weren't expected. Things went relatively smoothly and I think having a vague sort of plan, with lots of wiggle room if need be, is a good way for me to be doing things. As I think about how I do things, there are parts where I like it not being scripted - the time where I contemplate and meditate, just sit and be and see what happens; but there are parts that I like being more formalised, where the repetition of doing something I've done before helps me focus - like when I perform the deiseal which I use as a sort of opening devotional ritual. I've been slowly ritualising more and more of what I do, in keeping with the way so much was ritualised from what we can see in the Carmina Gadelica, and I've been getting a lot out of it. But still when I get to actually trying to communicate with the gods I prefer not to ritualise (in a formal sense, at least). I suppose in a sense that's the time when I stop doing and just try to listen in the stillness of the moment.