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Image of two pumpkins surrounded by lit candles on a forest floor

Samhain Reflections

October 31st marks Halloween or Samhain (or even All Hallow’s Eve), depending upon your personal tradition. Halloween has always intrigued me, since long before I began to explore the history and culture behind it. But the more I have learnt about it, the more it has held a special place in my heart. This is particularly true of the more Pagan roots of Samhain.

Within the Wheel of the Year, Samhain falls at the third and final harvest of the year, and so marks the end of Summer. It is a time of giving thanks for the warmth and light of the Summer months, and preparation for the cold and dark days ahead as Winter draws in. And as today was one of the first days we had to de-ice the windscreen before the school run, I am painfully aware of how long the Winter can be!

(As a side note, Little Man refuses to put on his new Winter coat until December 1st, no matter how cold it gets, because for him it can’t possibly be time for that until the month when Winter officially begins comes around.)

But it’s not just the changes within the physical world that we celebrate at this turning point in the year. For many, Samhain is also about going within and reflecting on the changes in our personal lives. And at a time when the outer world is slowly dying away, we can choose to look at the things that are falling away within our own being. Whether that’s old habits, thought-patterns, or actual physical things like ending a job or moving home, there is always some change we can focus on. Because if there’s one thing we can be certain upon in this life, it’s that change will always happen.

In the past, my reflections at this time of year have often focused on the things which I wanted to let go of, or hopes for a kinder future after months of testing times. And had you asked me about this a couple of months ago, when I was completely bed-ridden by the affects of the Summer heatwave on my health issues, I’d have told you that’s where I thought I’d be right now, desperately hoping for change. But here’s the thing, I’ve spent so much of my life waiting and hoping for things to change within my outer world, that I completely underestimated just how powerful inner change could be.

This Samhain I find myself still in a battle with the DWP, back in debt and desperately trying to manage our finances whilst we’re both too sick to work, and frustrated by so much that is happening in the outer world (don’t get me started on what’s happening in the political world right now). But, I am feeling so much more content than I have done in such a long time, and that means that instead of hoping for change to my circumstances I am able to accept them and live my without the high level of fear and helplessness that have been my constant companions for the past decade.

Because, for the first time ever, I have become aware of harmful patterns of behaviour that have affected so many of my decisions and allowed me to end up in some of the most painful situations. It started with the sudden realisation, as the Summer drew to an end, that I have spent my entire life seeking approval. It seems silly to say that I hadn’t realised this before, but as much as I had known I had issues with “imposter syndrome” and never feeling “good enough”, I hadn’t made that additional step to realising that my behaviour was one of seeking approval from others. And, more importantly, seeking it from people who would never be able to give it.

I realised that there is a true beauty in the way that I view the world, and that my inability to accept the status quo had led me to trying to create change whilst simultaneously trying to “fit in” so that I gained that approval. I was torn between walking my own path and towing the line. And it was so incredibly painful that it’s no wonder I got as sick as I did. Nobody can live like that.

Coming out of that initial realisation were several further lessons. The first was that I had spent a large part of my life playing out certain roles which didn’t feel right. No wonder I’d never managed to stay in a role for more than 18 months, and had changed careers completely on so many occasions. What I wanted to do (i.e. write), felt like something that other people got to do. I honestly believed life had to be hard. Even when I chose to write a book, I didn’t have the confidence to just do it. I sought approval for it. And even though I knew how hard I had worked on it, not to mention the quality of that work, I enabled a situation where this would be questioned.

That same pattern is reflected in all areas of my life. I felt like I had simply “bluffed” my way through university, instead of realising that I am simply very good at languages. My tutors were right when they told me I wasn’t ambitious enough, and was capable of achieving more. But, instead, I felt like a fraud for receiving the results I did! The same goes for my blog. I’ve spent years feeling like I wasn’t “good enough”, because I don’t get the kind of page stats that others do. And yet, as I said before, I know I am a good writer, and that stats aren’t everything.

Basically, the past couple of months of my life have been a massive unfurling of the layers of personas I have tried to fit into throughout my life. It has reached every part of my soul, to the point where so much deconstructing has been happening that I feel like I no longer know who I am. And yet, I’m okay with that. At times it is intensely painful, and I scramble desperately to figure out who I am if I am not all of these things I always thought I was. Especially when I question whether people will like the “real me”. But mostly, it is a joyous unravelling of a tangled web which has held me captive for far too long.

And so, this Samhain, I am celebrating the falling away of these old masks I have worn. I am saying goodbye to the patterns I have allowed to rule my life, thanking them for the lessons they have given me along the way, but grateful to see them finally go. And I am welcoming the darkness of the coming months, as a time of quiet hibernation and reflection, as I allow the spark within to begin to grow in warmth and brightness. Today I am grateful for change, because it means that healing is always within our grasp!

Happy Samhain.

 

The Family Patch History of Halloween

The History of Halloween

Love it or hate it, there’s no denying that Halloween is thoroughly embedded into our modern day calendar as an exciting time for kids to dress up, have fun, and enjoy a bit of trick-or-treating! When I was growing up in the 80s and 90s, it wasn’t as common for kids to celebrate Halloween here in the UK, but I remember always wishing we could celebrate it and so Tim and I have made it a big celebration every year since we met. We’ve never missed a year of decorating the house, playing games, and handing out sweets to those who knock on our – we even dressed up when WB was just a few weeks old!

The Family Patch Happy Halloween

But as much as we love the modern day secular celebration of Halloween, we also love to celebrate the spiritual side of its history too. And its history is really rather interesting, to say the least. It amuses me slightly when I hear people saying that they don’t like or agree with Halloween because of its origins, because it has changed and developed so much through the years that it’s neither one thing nor the other now. By all means dislike Halloween because you don’t like kids knocking on your doors or the commercialisation of it, but don’t dismiss its very colourful and complex history as the reason for not liking today’s Halloween celebrations.

Because it is constantly evolving! In recent years I have seen more and more churches offering “Light Parties” as an alternative to dressing up as ghosts and ghouls to go trick-or-treating. Whilst I personally don’t feel the need to do that (I have never seen Halloween as “dark” or “menacing” in any way – death is not something to be feared, but rather a part of the cycle of life) I love the fact that people are allowing the celebration to evolve to better reflect their own personal and/or religious ideas. Surely that is what it has always been about!

So what is the History of Halloween?

Well, most sources of information talk about the origins of Halloween lying in the ancient Celtic celebration of Samhain (pronounced Sow-een). This day marked the end of one year and the beginning of the next, and was also considered to be a day in which the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead was particularly thin. It was a time of passing between two worlds, the old and the new, not just about connecting the living and the dead. And so it was a time of reflection on the past, the present, and the future in all areas of our lives.

As Samhain fell at the end of the harvest and before the long Winter months, death and scarcity were clearly things to consider. Not only would more people be susceptible to death during those bitterly cold months ahead, but the world itself seemed to die away as the trees lay bare and the fields barren of most crops. The bounty and joy of the summer months had passed, remaining purely as a memory, just as those loved ones who had passed before us did. At this turning point in the Wheel of the Year it’s no wonder there was an emphasis placed on those no longer with us.

And yet, as I mentioned before, death was not something to be feared but rather accepted as a natural part of life. The beauty of The Wheel of The Year is that it reminds us of the cycle of life, that brings us from birth, through life, to death and right back to birth again through renewal as the wheel turns once more. We may well fear the dark mystery of death now that we are so far removed from it in our day-to-day lives, but when we accept it as part of the cycle we can look back and honour our ancestors and those who have gone before us, especially at a time like Halloween as the year draws to its end.

The Christian church later carried on this tradition in its own way, with the introduction of All Saints Day or All Hallows, which also remembered those who had passed into the next world. It focused on those who had given their lives to spreading the love of Jesus to the world, which (as far as I understand it) is the focus of the Light Parties thrown by many churches. Whilst this may not have had quite the same emphasis on a thinning of the veil between the two worlds, there still remains a time for reflection on life and death., particularly on the promises of ever-lasting life offered to those who follow Christ. That light in the dark, and eternal life, are only a stone’s throw away from the reflections made by the ancient Celts at Samhain.

But what about Trick-or-Treating? Where did that come from?

Again we have to look back at the ancient celebration of Samhain and the idea of this thinning of the veil. Traditions related to this included placing food on the doorstep to feed the ghosts that roamed the earth during the night, as well as wearing masks so that the living would be recognised and accepted as fellow ghosts when leaving their homes. It’s easy to see how these traditions have developed into the modern day Trick-or-Treating fun of dressing up and knocking on doors asking for sweets, isn’t it?

I found it really interesting to learn that the family friendly traditions we know and love today may actually only have really begun in the 1950s in America, as this video from The History Channel explains. It seems that there have been many different variations over the years and even those we think of as really entrenched into our society are actually relatively modern additions!

So what does Halloween mean today?

Well, it can mean anything you want it to mean really.

If you want to take from all of this that Halloween has simply become a secular event with no real relation to the ancient traditions from which it came, then feel free to celebrate it (or not) as that.

And if you feel like it is too “dark” with it’s connotations about appeasing and tricking the dead with food and masks, then maybe a Light Party is what you need.

You might even be like us, choosing to celebrate the fun of the secular Halloween excitement whilst also holding a little personal ceremony to honour the loved ones who have passed before us whilst looking forward to the year ahead.

Whatever you decide, know that it is perfectly okay to make it work for you and your family – that’s what raising spiritual kids in the modern world is all about, making spirituality mean something to you personally. There’s no point in following a tradition that means nothing to you, just because you feel you should. Embrace it, relate to it, and celebrate it!

I’d love to know what you think about Halloween and how you celebrate it (or if you don’t). Please do leave me a comment to share your thoughts!

 

 

 

 

halloween-crochet

Crochet Chat: Seasonal Crochet & US vs UK Stitch Terminology

Welcome to the second installment of my new weekly feature – Crochet Chat! Every Wednesday, at 12pm GMT, I shall be going live on my Facebook page to talk all about crochet. I’ll be covering everything from hints and tips based on my own experiences to resources I love and think you should check out too. And because it is live you can always hop on and ask me any questions you have and I’ll do my best to answer them for you!

I’ll post the replay on both my Facebook page and the blog, so even if you can’t join in live you’ll still be able to catch up and leave your comments for me to find afterwards. Here’s today’s installment…

As I mentioned in the video, I have created a free PDF download for you, to help you navigate the sometimes confusing difference between US and UK patterns. You can find it on our freebie page. You’ll notice that the PDF mentions a series of photo tutorials (Crochet Basics) which is no longer available on the blog – this is because I am currently reshooting the images for better quality and will be relaunching that series over the coming months.

The others resources mentioned in the video are listed below – I hope you find them useful:

Ravelry – if you want to connect on there, my username is dochka (shortened from Amandochka, which was a name my landlady in Russia occasionally called me!)

Crocheters of Awesome – Jen’s awesome site, where you can find patterns for turning practice squares into fingerless gloves and potholders!

Handmade pumpkins

Handmade Halloween Home

Halloween Kids Art

Halloween is a big thing here at The Patch. We just love this time of year, the autumn colours, the cooler weather (and snuggling up warm in the evenings) , and celebrations galore. Halloween is the first, quickly followed by Guy Fawkes, and then it’s not long before the run up to Christmas. We all need reasons to celebrate during these colder, darker months and there’s nothing we need more in our family right now than some cheer during the harsher season.

I know Halloween can be a bit of a tricky holiday for some, and I thought about explaining how we celebrate it, but in the end I decided I didn’t really want to do that. What I want to do is share with you the way we have made Halloween our own this year.

It’s the first year that Little Man has really been able to grasp the concept of celebrating and the changing of the seasons, so we have had fun doing autumn and Halloween crafts with him. We’ve done lots of art, hung on the wall (under our Wheel of the Year display) as directed by Little Man himself (hence the higgledy piggledy nature of the display!)

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We have also made pumpkins… there’s the decoupage pumpkin we did together (or rather mummy did most of because Little Man didn’t like being sticky!) And the crochet pumpkin I made.

Handmade pumpkins

And then there are the actual pumpkins… as we have been ill lately, I am rather behind in Halloween preparations and so we haven’t actually carved the pumpkins this year. I am still debating whether to carve them when Little Man gets home from nursery or whether to simply cook something with them for tea, to eat whilst answering the door to the multitude of Trick or Treaters we are bound to get.

And talking of Trick or Treaters, this year I have bought some non-food related treats to put in the bowl, as inspired by my US friend Jen and the Teal Pumpkin Project. The idea is that some kids can’t take part because they have allergies and cannot eat the things we hand out, so it’s nice to have a non-food alternative for these kids. As someone who struggles with food intolerances (not even allergies!) I knew it was something I wanted to try and incorporate. I’ll print out a sign for our door so people know we do have food-free treats (you can get these online).

I scoured the shops and found these ghost bottles of blowing bubbles so decided they would be fun. To bulk up the treat bags I have added some monster stickers and Halloween balloons. Here’s hoping no-one has a latex allergy, hey?!

Non Food Halloween Treat Bags Teal Pumpkin Project

I wasn’t sure how many to get, after all the novelty of bubbles after lots of sweets may be tempting even for kids who can eat the chocolates we bought, but I didn’t want to be left with loads of bubbles afterwards if no one took them. So this is definitely a trial run! Any that are left can still be used next year.

We decided on treat bags this year as it means we can make sure all the kids get a nice treat. The food ones all include a small treat-sized chocolate bar or bag of cookies, plus a smaller chewy sweet and either one sticker or one balloon. I had so much fun putting them together – I think I may have overdone it and so sent a dozen to work with TJ today too!

We usually go all out for Halloween decorations too, but most are cheap ones from the supermarket that do not last. This year we wanted to add some extra special bits, so aside from our own handmade items we bought something too…

Handmade Halloween wreath from Ashleigh's

It is hanging inside our door (to keep it safe), hence the very orange photo as our hallway doesn’t have any natural light!

I bought this from someone I know through the HG world who has set up her own handmade business. Ashleigh’s Wonderland is filled to the brim with the most gorgeous handmade Christmas decorations and I cannot recommend her work highly enough. She made a few Halloween items earlier this year and I had to buy one of her rag wreaths. Just look at it!

Halloween Wreath close up

Isn’t it marvellous? She has added some truly charming details to it, like Halloween shaped buttons above. I love the colour combinations too… and we have two felt decorations to match!

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They’ve all been sitting in a bag for weeks now waiting to come out and I am so excited to see them hanging in my hallway. It will last us for many, many years and it only cost £20 which is an absolute bargain when you consider the cost of materials and the time it must have taken to make. Seriously, do check out Ashleigh’s other work and see if anything takes your fancy.

Finally, I couldn’t end this post without letting you see Little Man’s make-up for today’s celebrations. He’s gone to nursery with two little pumpkins on his face (the theme was orange and black) as I didn’t have time to sort out a costume for him. Isn’t he cute?

Kids pumpkin face paint

And that’s it from me. A quick peek into our Handmade Halloween Home, I do hope you liked it. Tell me, do you decorate at Halloween?

Seasonal Craft Activities… It Starts Here!

Halloween Kids' Craft

One of the things I have been most looking forward to since becoming a mum has to be getting to a stage when Little Man and I would be able to do some crafts together. I loved creating things as a child, and continue to enjoy it as an adult, so I couldn’t wait to explore this love with Little Man too.

He has enjoyed watching kids’ art programmes on tv for a while now and recently he has really started getting interested in scissors and sticking, rather than simply drawing with pens. So when he received more money for his birthday than he really needed for a few more toys and books, I decided it was time to head to the craft store and buy him some bits and pieces.

We took a trip to Hobbycraft and I swear I could have bought the whole store! I found it rather difficult limiting our shop to a certain budget and so decided to stick to a theme for our crafting adventures. And that theme was “seasonal activities”.

With Halloween coming up, we went with this pumpkin which we plan to decorate with tissue paper and glitter, as well as some leaf shaped foam pieces to use while exploring the changes in nature as we move into autumn, and some more tissue paper, scissors and glue for good luck!

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I couldn’t resist buying a little something for myself whilst we were there. I got this wooden sign and orange paint (I need to dig out the other colours we have stashed somewhere at home) and will try and find time to sit and paint this before Halloween arrives. It is a big celebration in our household, so any new addition to our decorations is always well received!

Christmas kids' crafts

Returning to the bits we got for Little Man, we decided to look ahead and buy a few bits ready for Christmas too. These baubles for painting are so adorable, I cannot wait to see what Little Man paints on them. And the wooden stamp set is for taking our handmade wrapping paper up a gear.

The plan is to start decorating the big pumpkin tomorrow – it is almost October after all. I may also have to try and crochet a few little pumpkins to go with it. I’m so excited.

Tell me, are you planning any seasonal craft activities?

Halloween Fun

Halloween 2

Can you believe it is November already? 

I cannot say that this year has zoomed by because it hasn't. I spent the majority of January through to September feeling pretty darn miserable. But now that the pregnancy is over and my mind has pretty much blocked almost the entirety of my pregnancy experience it feels as if we were celebrating last year's Halloween just a few short months ago. It's like I have lost 9 whole months. Not that I'm complaining, this time of year (October to December) is my absolute favourite. But still, it's weird!

I also realise I have so much I want to get done before Christmas and so little time to do it that I really am going to have to prioritise. One such thing is sorting out this blog. I'll tell you more about that another day but it does make me realise how fast time is flying by and how much I want to do now my sweet boy is here with us.

But for now we're just enjoying having some fun. And that includes celebrating Halloween, which is always a big deal in our house as, for TJ, Halloween is as big a celebration as Christmas! In fact, Little Man had not one outfit, not even two, but three different Halloween outfits to wear! One was the skeleton you see above, which he wore when answering the door to the trick or treaters with his daddy. The second was a pumpkin outfit, which daddy took a photo of on his tab and which I must download to share with you all sometime. And the third was a sweet long-sleeved top with a cute picture of a mummy on (the Egyptian kind) which also had the words "I love my mummy" on. I'm not sure whether I actually took a photo of it or not. I probably did, but as I am switching between using my phone, the camera and the video camera to take photos and videos at every possible moment I'll  be darned if I can remember which one it is on!

Although I am cherishing every moment and do not want to wish the year away, I have to say that a part of me kept thinking "I cannot wait until next year" as Halloween will be even more exciting with a one year old toddling around in a cute little outfit. And it will be nice to have him sharing in the Halloween treats rather than trying to breastfeed him while eating my own lunch. I don't mind doing it, in fact I love breastfeeding my little man, but it seems such a shame when he is discreetly tucked away under my nursing cover when we have guests around. I'd much rather his grinning face shine out from the other side of the table while we were eating.

So that's that. Halloween is over for another year. Now starts the Christmas preparations. I'm going to need every second between now and Christmas as my little man takes up so much of my time (and rightly so) but it does mean that I need to get super organised to make sure everything is done on time this year and not finished in a mad panic on Christmas Eve as seems to be my pattern of late. 

TJ is off work this week so there is an extra pair of hands to hug the little dude, so I hope to get cracking on some of the Christmas prep as well as making the changes to and updating my blog with all the things I have wanted to write about but haven't found the time for. Because, let's be fair, I'd much rather be hugging my boy than typing on the laptop. Who wouldn't, when you get this sweet face to gaze at?

Sleepy

Pumpkin Cupcakes for Halloween

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As it is Halloween, and Tim has gone mad (almost as mad as I go at Christmas), I set out to make some awesome pumpkin cakes for our Halloween party. I am planning on attempting some more marshmallow icing today, and will post an update on how that goes later. But for now, let me share the fun three hours I spent in the kitchen yesterday making not just one batch of cupcakes but also pumpkin bread.

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My first chore, was of course, to scoop out all the pumpkin seeds and then cut/scrape out as much flesh as I could without ruining the pumpkins that Tim will be carving into lanterns tonight. It was a messy job, I can tell you, but still quite enjoyable.

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I then quickly boiled up and mashed the pumpkin flesh. The recipe called for canned pumpkin, but I have no idea where to get that from in the UK and also I enjoyed playing “waste not, want not” by using my pumpkins for both food and decoration.

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I beat the butter with a wooden spoon (not having a mixer as suggested in the recipe) and then creamed in the sugar, before adding half the pumpkin mash I had made to the buttermilk and combining it with the flour/spice mixture and eggs.

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This is how they looked going into the oven. It’s actually the last photo I took as well, because things suddenly got a bit more complicated and taking photos slipped my mind. For you see, while they were baking in the oven I set about cleaning my bowls and utensils so I could make the pumpkin bread and put it in as soon as the cupcakes came out.

So, I have no photos of the bread making process either and I cannot share the bread recipe with you as it isn’t mine to share. The cupcakes are another story, however, as I converted measurements, combined two recipes and made substitutions and so it feels more like “my” recipe than one from someone else’s book. So here goes…

Ingredients

  • 400g plain flour
  • 2tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg (or approx. 1/4 whole nutmeg, grated)
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla essence
  • 300g caster sugar
  • 150g butter
  • 250ml buttermilk
  • 100g pumpkin flesh, mashed
  • 2 eggs

The baking process:

  1. In a bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, salt, and spices.
  2. In a second bowl, beat the butter until creamy in texture and then add the sugar and vanilla essence, mixing well.
  3. In a smaller bowl or jug, add the buttermilk to the pumpkin mash and mix well. This will help make adding the flesh to the cake batter easier.
  4. Slowly add the eggs to the butter and sugar mixture, adding flour and the buttermilk/pumpkin mixture as you go along so that the mixture never gets too runny from the wet ingredients or too stiff to mix from the flour.
  5. Once everything is mixed in the cake should have a “dropping consistency” – i.e. if you scoop some up in a spoon and tilt it over, the batter should drop in a smooth motion.
  6. Spoon batter into pre-prepared cupcake moulds. The amount you get will depend on the size of the moulds – I used medium sized cases and got 44 cupcakes.
  7. Place in a preheated oven at 180 Celcius or 350 Fahrenheit for approximately 20 minutes or until golden brown and springy to touch.
  8. Allow to cool, decorate and enjoy!

 

I hope that made sense… I shall be back sometime soon with an update on the decorating.