Tuesday, 9 November 2010

The Buddhist Kathina Festival


The Buddhist Kathina Festival is a time when the relationship between the monastic and lay parts of the community is celebrated. 2,500 years ago, the Lord Buddha made his monks and nuns materially dependent on the generosity of his lay disciples and this ensured that his teachings would stay alive through the medium of these relationships.

The history of this festival is that in the Lord Buddha’s time the rainy season in India made travel particularly difficult and so the Sangha (the monastics) had to stay in one place. This rainy period lasted three months and became knows as the Vassa or Rains Retreat.

Once, the rainy season caught up with a group of thirty monks and they were forced to stay where they were and at the end of the rains they continued their journey. When they reported this to the Buddha he rewarded them for their endurance by allowing them to gather cloth to make robes and then awarding this to one of the most deserving monks. The frame on which the robes were made and stitched was called a Kathina and this is how the festival got its name.

This year was particularly special as Luang Por Sumedho (at the age of 76 years) is planning retire to Thailand and this year will be his last year attending this festival in this country. Luang Por Sumedho was integral in establishing the Forest Sangha tradition in the United Kingdom. He was central in establishing Amaravati Buddhist Monastery (where he is now Abbott) and Chithurst Buddhist Monastery (where he was the first Abbott.)

The day’s programme was as follows:

9:00 Arrive at the monastery
10:00 Refuges & Precepts in the Dhamma hall
10:30 Rice Pindapat & Meal Offering
1:30 Ceremony of the offering of Kathina cloth
2:30 Farewell Offering to Luang Por
3:00 Dhamma talk by Luang Por
7:30 Evening Puja and Meditation

It was raining lightly when I arrived but that cleared and soon after 10.00 the sun appeared from behind the clouds although it stayed quite chilly as the wind was fresh.
It was a lovely day, great fun as well as being spiritually and emotionally moving.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Jonathan Dee, Astrologer & Author 1957 - 2010

It's very sad that we learn of the passing of Jonathan Dee last week as a result of a brain haemorrhage. A regular contributor to radio and television programmes, he was also the writer of over eighty books on historical or mind, body, spirit subjects with translations into ten languages. These included subjects such as Tarot, Runes, Feng Shui, Ancient Egypt and of course Astrology. Jon was also an expert Egyptologist, as well as being an established artist and illustrator.

Jonathan was the resident astrologer on BBC Radio Wales for over 20 years and a long-term member of the British Astrological and Psychic Society. I met Jonathan less than two weeks ago at the UK Tarot Conference 2010 where he gave an entertaining talk on the Major Arcana of the Tarot.

My first Tarot deck, complete with book, was the Jonathan Dee Tarot Pack, reviewed here on Aeclectic Tarot http://www.aeclectic.net/tarot/cards/jonathan-dee/


Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Time Travel through Music


Music. What is music...pleasing harmonious sounds by one or more voices or instruments? Yes, of course it is but it's so much more than that. A certain piece of music can instantly transport us to a different time and/or place. It's almost like a form of time travel and along with that comes all the emotional stuff.

I find that some songs have such an emotional hold over me that I can't listen to them without becoming taken over by the memories they hold. Daft maybe but they are so deeply entrenched in my psyche and hold such vivid memories of particular times of my life.

How is it that we can remember so many words of so many songs from so long ago - without even trying. An interesting project for the future would be a timeline of my life....in songs.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

To diet or not to diet?


For almost as long as I can remember I have been on some sort of diet. After my first child was born I found I needed to lose weight which was hardly surprising considering my daily afternoon visit to the cake shop whilst I was pregnant. I worked hard on a diet I found in a magazine and lost the weight I needed to and more - magic! I now had absolute power! Until the next pregnancy and then I was back to square one but I lost it again.......and again, after the third baby was born.

From then on my size varied between size 10 and size 14 but it was always a struggle to maintain a sensible weight...and it still is. And then, of course, there is the wardrobe full of three different sizes.

I have never succumbed to particular types of diets eg Cambridge, Atkins, food combining etc., just concentrated on low fat and low calorie and, of course, the dreaded exercise. There have been periods when I have been to the gym five times a week or swam a mile a day at the local pool, been running, walking, cycling...all of these things work well if you can keep them up. And that's really the crux of the matter. It's easier when one has a goal to focus on, a certain date to lose the weight by or a holiday to look good on but when it's a weight maintenance goal...not good as this is for ever and nothing at the end of it to look forward to.

Anyway, these last couple of years I have accepted that I am unlikely to ever be a size 10 again, I could be a size 12 if I tried really hard but I can't muster up the enthusiasm or put myself through that torture any more. Not eating enough food to maintain my weight makes me grumpy and bad tempered so why should I make myself (and my family) suffer needlessly. I still don't eat everything I would like to, so I suppose I am still "on a diet" albeit a weight gain minimising diet. I do eat healthily - lots of salads, vegetables, fruit, no crisps, no cakes, no chocolate (rarely) but I do have a tendency to eat too many sweets (I've always had a very sweet tooth) and that is my downfall.

So what if I do have a spare tyre (not just in the car) and my chin is starting to sag (hereditary?) - that's life, and my age. I just wish I could bring myself to get rid of all the clothes that will never fit me again....perhaps I'll keep some of them....just in case. :-)

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Leaflets and Letterboxes


The past couple of days I have been delivering leaflets door to door on a large housing estate in the next town. Well, not actually leaflets, they are money off vouchers for beauty treatments at my step-daughters beauty salon.

It may sound like a completely dead-end type of job (well, I didn't actually get paid) but approached with the right frame of mind it's actually OK.

Apart from the much needed exercise I find it quite interesting looking at the designs of people's front gardens and the variety of plants in them. I was also wondering how close the relationship between front gardens and the house interiors are.

Does a neat front garden relate to a neat interior? An untidy front garden full of weeds and litter might mean the living accomodation needs a little to be desired - lacking in housework? What about lots of flowers? Does this mean a fussy, romantic type of interior decor with lacy net curtains and flowery wallpaper? If there was just a patch of grass, perfectly manicured grass with two box topiaries in square silver pots - would this be a male household? It did give that feeling.

There is such a contrast though - some people just don't bother (or perhaps they don't have time, or don't care) and others have beautifully thought out designs requiring lots of care and attention. Different strokes for different folks - each to their own.

One thing's for certain - whoever thought of putting letterboxes at ground level had never worked as a postman.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Goodwood Revivial Meeting Sept 2010


A magical step back in time to the golden era of motor racing.

The cars and motorcycles making up each starting grid at the Goodwood Revival are carefully selected from the most authentic historic racers. Many will have raced at Goodwood in the past, and all capture the essence of bygone motor racing right down to the finest detail.

Each year, around 360 cars and motorcycles compete in 16 different races. Entry is by invitation only from the Earl of March. Not all of the races are staged each year and the eligibility for others may change in any given year, so the racing always promises something fresh. The race names have historical reference, matching those used when the circuit was previously used for competition.

The vast majority of Revival visitors dress in period style with many going to great lengths to achieve that authentic look. The resulting step-back-in-time spectacle plays a key role in making the Revival such a unique event.
While it's not compulsory to dress up, you’ll feel much more involved if you do.

Whether you go for the slick urban look, gentrified country style or chocks-away military look, it’s not difficult or costly to dress appropriately - just use your imagination.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

The Twisted Tooth (don't look if you're squeamish)

My daughter has a top front tooth that has gradually become more and more twisted over the past few years. We thought it might sort itself out when her "baby" teeth fell out and the permanent teeth came through.
The baby teeth have shown no sign of budging and so the orthodontist has made the decision that they have to be removed (all six of them!) so that when the permanent teeth come through then some sort of "metalwork" can be used to straighten the tooth, if necessary.
To minimise distress and make eating a little easier this has been done in two sessions at the dentist. The first three were taken out in the summer holidays and yesterday she had the second batch of three removed, after school.
Today, instead of her usual sandwich etc for lunch, she has taken some rice pudding and a milkshake - poor thing.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Reality Check


Recently, I have been thinking that it's increasingly difficult to separate fiction from reality. I don't mean fiction and non-fiction as in books but in actual, real (?) life. I find that life seems to be more and more subjective. Well, it probably always has been but perhaps I'm just noticing it more.

Everybody sees things differently - the same things are seen differently by everyone who sees them and this is partly due to our personality characteristics that make us see the world how WE are - through our own personal viewing lens.

I have particularly noticed this when people are recounting past events - nobody remembers the same things, in fact different people often remember the same event quite differently which is because they experienced the event in different ways. So, how does this affect word of mouth stories that are passed on down the generations? The final story may be nothing like how it started off so does this mean that a vast amount of history is untrue or unreal or imagined?

My husband was recently telling a friend how he remembered an event (about 20 years ago) very clearly "like it was yesterday". I didn't comment at the time as I couldn’t remember it as HE told it but later checked out the dates and it couldn't possibly have happened - he was confusing two different events at different times. He's also very good at exaggerating but then I suppose most men are.

These days there often seems to be some sort of deliberate deception going on.
There used to be a saying "the camera never lies" - it does now! Even the simplest computer software can radically alter photographs. Most of the photographs on magazine covers and in articles have been “doctored” in some way or other.
When studying, learning and education was confined to books, it was believed that books had been seriously researched and checked for accuracy and rarely was there any doubt that they were correct. The internet has now taken over that role from books to a large extent but there have been inaccuracies found in factual, encyclopedic sites such as Wikipedia which can be edited by almost anyone and in some cases particular pages have been deliberately sabotaged.

I no longer believe what I read in newspapers - actually I don't read them any more. Reporters seem to be able to say or imply whatever they want the reader to read and believe - after all, good or happy news doesn’t sell newspapers as well as upsetting, scandalous or tragic news. One week we are told that some particular activity or foodstuff is good for us and the next week we are told that it's not so good after all. Surveys only tell us what the company doing the survey wants us to be told - the figures can be manipulated to suit.

Adverts (particularly those on TV) are persuasive and misleading at the best and at the worst - a pack of lies although I have to admit that some are very clever which makes it understandable that the gullible are sucked in. Even so-called reality television isn’t REAL at all – it’s just entertainment.

How many emails do we get a day that aren't what they seem? Trying to get our banking details or passwords by pretending to be something they aren't. If we aren't careful with our internet security we can get rogue programmes telling us that our PC is infected so "download this infection remover tool now!"

It can be so difficult to know what is REAL any more – sometimes my dreams seem more real than reality….how does that work?

Monday, 6 September 2010

And so we move into September.


To me, September means....back to school, the beginning of Autumn (meteorogically), apples and blackberries, thinking about Christmas (sorry) and waiting to see the Christmas paraphernalia appearing in the shops, taking the summer shading off the greenhouse....to mention just a few things.

Astrologically, most of September is in the sign of Virgo which also reminds me of school. I always started the school year with the best of intentions. I was going to work hard and study hard, do my homework and pay attention in lessons. This generally lasted no longer than a few weeks before I succumbed to laziness - well at least the intention was there.

I travelled down to Somerset a couple of days ago and the fields were noticeably empty having recently been harvested of their cereal crops and there was an abundance of lorries on the road piled high with straw bales. How they don't topple over going around corners I don't know.

In Latin, septem means "seven" and septimus means "seventh"; September was in fact the seventh month of the Roman calendar until 153 BC, when the first month changed from Kalendas Martius (1st March) to Kalendas Januarius (1st January)....so now you know, well you probably did already.

I also need to think about putting away my trusty Fit-Flops which I live in throughout the summer and getting out my boots, getting out my cardi's and coats and (dare I say it?) putting on the central heating.

Friday, 20 August 2010

The Aberfan Disaster




On our recent holiday to Scotland we came back through Wales and visited Aberfan. For those who are too young to remember, on Friday 21st October 1966 the collapse of a colliery spoil tip killed 116 school children and 28 adults.

There had been several days of heavy rain contributing to the landslide which destroyed a farm, twenty terraced houses and part of Pantglas Junior School. An eight year old pupil recalled

"It was a tremendous rumbling sound and all the school went dead. You could hear a pin drop. Everyone just froze in their seats. I just managed to get up and I reached the end of my desk when the sound got louder and nearer, until I could see the black out of the window. I can't remember any more but I woke up to find that a horrible nightmare had just begun in front of my eyes."

After the main landslide had stopped, frantic parents rushed to the scene and began digging through the rubble as best they could, some clawing at the debris with their bare hands, trying to uncover their children that had been buried alive. Police from Merthyr Tydfil soon arrived at the scene and took charge of the search-and-rescue operations. News spread locally and hundreds of people drove to Aberfan to try and help the resuce operation but their efforts were largely in vain. There was still a lot of water and mud still flowing down the slope, and the growing crowd of well meaning but untrained volunteers further hampered the work of the trained rescue teams who were arriving.
A few children were pulled out alive in the first hour, but no survivors were found after 11 a.m. that day.
By the following day around 2,000 emergency services workers and volunteers were on the scene, some of whom had worked continuously for more than 24 hours. Rescue work had to be temporarily halted during the day when water again began pouring down the slope, and because of the vast quantity and consistency of the landslide of slag it was nearly a week before all the children’s and adults bodies were able to be recovered.

The final death toll amounted to around half of the pupils at Pantglas Junior School and five of their teachers. The causes of death were typically found to be asphyxia, fractured skull or multiple crush injuries – they were literally buried alive.

Following the investigation and tribunal into the disaster The National Coal Board was ordered to pay compensation to the families at the rate of £500 per child. Nine senior NCB staff were named as having some degree of responsibility for the accident, but no NCB staff were ever demoted, sacked or prosecuted, and Lord Robens and the entire Board of the NCB retained their positions.

Today there is a cemetery devoted to graves of the victims, a memorial cross and a Garden of Remembrance which is laid out on the site of the school that was destroyed by the landslide. The Garden is beautiful and well kept as the photograph below shows but the emotional upwelling from being there can’t be described.



Monday, 2 August 2010

The beginning of the end?


So….August is here already. For some reason I’ve really noticed the shortening of the days recently. Since the Summer Solstice (six weeks ago) there is now more than an hours’ less daylight each day. Some parts of the garden are looking slightly tired, jaded, faded and very dry, there is also a light sprinkling of Silver Birch leaves that have fallen on the grass. Many birds species are moulting this month so it’s just as important to keep feeding them to help grow new feathers and regain their strength during and after breeding.
Sure signs that this is the beginning of the end of Summer – only a few weeks left if you take September as the start of Autumn, which I tend to.
We’ve had a pretty good summer weather-wise so far, I don’t think anyone could complain about it but it seems to have gone so fast – so much still to do, places still to go and people still to visit.

Friday, 23 July 2010

The Decision

As a keen gardener I have a constant battle against predators. Not just the normal things such as slugs, snails, aphids, lily beetles etc etc., most of which I largely ignore these days - but those large even-toed ungulates, commonly known as deer. Living in rural Surrey this is hardly surprising and most of our neighbours have six foot high stock fencing to keep them out.
However, my husband (not a keen gardener) is firmly opposed to this, preferring an open frontage to the garden. In the past, I have tried all sorts of deer repellents such as human hair (in small net bags hung around the boundary), human urine (also around the boundary), ultra-sonic devices (emit a high pitched sound), lion dung (commercially prepared pellets impregnated with lion poo smell (allegedly)) and others that I have since forgotten about.
You won't be surprised to learn that none of these worked - my roses, pansies, fuschias, sedum, crocus and others plants were still being decimated. The only deer proofing that really works is a high fence and of course to accompany the fence - gates are needed which makes the whole project very, very expensive. I have attempted to fence (very amateurishly) a small area at the back of the house which extends into woodland, so I could grow what I wanted but recently this keeps being breached.
So....I have reached a decision. Instead of trying to battle against the enemy why not concede and live in harmony with the local wildlife. I don't really NEED to grow roses, there are plenty of other flowers, plants and shrubs that they don't eat. There is also some argument for alternative browsing i.e. planting things they do like so they leave others alone.
Actually, it's really quite exciting - I can feel a visit to the garden centre coming on.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

The Buddhist Way


Years ago, when I first started learning about Reiki, I also became mildly interested in Buddhism. I bought some books - read them, bought some CDs - listened to them but that was about it, I didn't really go any further. Perhaps it was the indecision of which "tradition" to follow or maybe just a lack of direction. Every now and then my interest would be raised but then....nothing further.
There is an annual Thai Food Festival near us which we would visit and there was always a Buddhist monk there to give blessings and receive donations I would always visit him, somehow drawn and fascinated by the philosophy involved.
There are several different "types" of Buddhism which broadly follow geographical locations. For example Mahayana Buddhism (which includes Zen) is practiced mainly in China, Japan, Korea, Singapore, parts of Russia and most of Vietnam. Vajrayana school of Buddhism is found mainly in Tibet, Mongolia and Nepal (this includes Tibetan Buddhism whose leader is the 14th Dalai Lama) and finally the Theravada which is practiced today mainly in Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand and Cambodia. (This is a very brief, simplified overview of the different traditions).
Anyway, a little while ago, my husband mentioned that a friend of his had a Buddhist Monk staying with him and his wife (who was from Thailand). This sounded interesting, I thought and we duly visited this monk. He looked very out of place in a typical 3 bedroomed house on the border with Hampshire and Surrey but I found his presence fascinating and my interest was renewed. He spoke very little English - luckily an interpreter was on hand and we found out that he was trying to raise funds to help build a temple in Thailand and we asked various questions about Buddhism and about his life. After a short time we left a donation and after having the "string" tied around our wrist, we said goodbye. One other thing we found out was that there is a Monastery in Chithurst, West Sussex.
After a little research, I discovered that this Monastery (called Cittaviveka) was of the Theravada tradition. A lot more research and studying later I decided I would go for a visit. They are very keen that their "lay" community of followers gets involved in what goes on and one can come and go as one pleases - within reason. They are totally dependent on donations (money, requisites or services) which works in two ways. The monastery becomes capable of maintaining itself and therefore remains as a resource for people to visit and draw inspiration from - mutual support. The lay followers provide support for the body and the Monastery provides support for the mind and heart. One can meditate there, eat, listen to talks, work, borrow books, sit and read, join in the group meditation and chanting periods or just sit in the peacefulness and it really is peaceful - set deep in the West Sussex countryside the only external noise is birdsong.
So, my point is that I have now taken the plunge and I can say that I am now a follower of the Buddha and his teachings.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

The Speed of Technology


Ten years ago we bought our first computer. We didn’t have a clue what we were buying or how to use one. Our son was six years old and we thought we should get one to help him with his school work. How na├»ve were we then?
We bought, or were sold, a Gateway computer (similar to that in the photo) with the infamous Millennium Edition operating system which developed a reputation as one of the most unstable operating systems ever. However, that is what I cut my teeth on – together with the dreaded dial-up. Remember that dialling noise as the modem tried to connect to the outside world?
I shudder when I think how little I knew then but everyone has to start somewhere and I can even remember boasting that I knew how to send emails! Wow!
It’s incredible to think back now though and realise that only ten years ago there was no internet in our house. Wi-fi was beyond our wildest dreams let alone being able to watch TV on our laptops. Our lives seems to revolve around it these days and sometimes we wonder what we used to do without it – it really has changed our lives and made the world a much smaller place.
Since then we have replaced our ageing Gateway desktop PC with its bulky CRT monitor with a Dell desktop with an LCD flat panel monitor and Windows XP (what an improvement) but that was five years ago so one of these days it’s going to be time for another leap forward into a new operating system – Window 7 (bypassing Vista).
I have made so many friends – cyber friends and real friends and learnt so much from the World Wide Web. I can buy practically anything I want without stepping foot outside the house and have it delivered to the front door which I love especially at Christmas time. The mind boggles at how technology has come on in leaps and bounds and one wonders what the next ten years will bring.
It’s very exciting – I just hope I can keep up with it.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Bumblebees


We have several bird nest boxes around our house. Some years they are used and some they aren't. I hadn't seen any bird activity around any of them this year so assumed they were all vacant. However, several weeks ago I happened, by chance, to notice a bee going into one of them. I waited and watched and there was another, then one came out and flew away and it was soon obvious that there was a nest of bees in this nest box. We were already members of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust so I look on the wallchart in the kitchen and discovered that they were most likely tree bumblebees (Bombus Hypnorum). This is apparently one of the less common species in the UK having first been recorded in the New Forest in 2001. It is widespread on the continent but it is not yet widely established here and has a tendency to nest in bird boxes. We already have a lot of bee and butterfly friendly plants and flowers in our garden and this year we made the effort to buy a few more.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

DON'T READ THIS IF YOU DON'T LIKE SPIDERS


Whilst getting ready for bed last night, I noticed a spider on the carpet and to stop it getting trodden on, I thought I would give it a little nudge with my toe so it would run off to a dark corner - as they normally do. I'm not afraid of spiders and usually let them get on with doing what they like doing best and accept their presence. However, this spider didn't run off, it turned towards my toe with an aggressive stance. I tried the same thing again from it's rear and it again turned to face my toe. I had been expecting it to run off and was taken aback by this behaviour. I then got a pencil and tried the same thing again - it attacked the pencil and bit it, well it would have done had the pencil been soft. I did this again just to check I wasn't imagining things and it again turned to attack the pencil.
By this time I was getting a little freaked out. It wasn't a large spider - no more than 1¼" including legs but it's attitude was a little scary.
A little research needed I thought so, off to trusty old Google having secured the spider under a glass. After trawling through a dozen or more spider photos and descriptions (for definite indentification) I discovered the following:

"....the 'aggressive house spider' or hobo spider (Tegenaria agrestis), is known to bite humans with little provocation. Despite its name, it is rarely seen in houses, preferring sheds, garages, and log piles.
... it is a spider to be avoided. It can and does bite and the poison can cause dizziness and headaches."


I was beginning to wish I hadn't tried to find out more and quite surprised what I was reading. Anyway, I don't like to kill things for no reason so I took "Mr. Hobo Spider" out into the garden and let him go.
I'll certainly be a little more careful in future when dealing with spiders and won't forget this little encounter in a hurry.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

TAROT - Myths & Misconceptions

A Tarot deck is a pack of 78 picture cards - yes, that simple. However, the pictures on these cards are worth more than a thousand words - they paint a picture of life. A Tarot deck can also be thought of as a Book of Life but every time you read this book, the pages are rearranged and it tells a different story. Over the years, some strange myths have grown up around Tarot and Tarot reading. However weird and outdated these ideas may seem today, there is often some truth in their origins.
* One of the first Tarot myths encountered is that it is bad luck to buy your own deck - it should be bought for you by someone else. You could wait for ever for this to happen and then it may be one you don't like. Choose and buy your own first deck, examine the images carefully and make sure you can relate to them i.e. don't buy a dragon deck if you are frightened of dragons.
* You have to be psychic to be able to read the Tarot. Many who read the Tarot are psychic and this will lead to a different type of reading but not necessarily a better one. Anyone can learn to read the tarot although, as with anything, some will have more of an aptitude for it than others.
* The Tarot cards must be wrapped in black silk to protect them from "negative forces?" That is entirely up to you although personally I feel that dust and children's fingers may be a greater danger. By all means take the necessary precautions to keep the cards clean and in good condition. They are, after all, your tools.
* Never let anyone else touch your cards. This is another personal choice. In a face to face reading situation it can be beneficial to let the querent (questioner) shuffle the cards in order to impart some of their energies into the deck.
* You should not read your own cards. Some say this is unlucky, I say it can be difficult to read ones own cards objectively. By this I mean it is easy to see what you want to see in your own cards.
* The "Death" card means that someone around you is going to die. Theoretically, this is possible as we are all going to die but it is highly unlikely that this card on its own will prophesise someone's death.
* What the Tarot cards say is always right. Nothing is set in stone - more like written in sand. We all have our free will and the Tarot gives us guidance along with choices that we can make in our lives. It is up to us to choose our paths. If we see something in a reading that we do not like then we have the choice to do something about changing that thing.
* Tarot is evil. Also described as the "Devil's Picture Book". It is human nature to be afraid of something that is not fully understood or what is viewed as threatening. True, some of the images may be a bit scary in some decks but so are some great works of art - they aren't thought of as evil.
At the end of the day, they are your cards for you to do what you wish with them. If performing a ritual before a reading makes you feel better - then do it. Just use your common sense. As long as it harms no one else - do what you wish.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Poinsettia - The Christmas Flower


This picture is of a Poinsettia that I have had for about four or five years. Not many people keep them for very long after Christmas but with very little care and attention they can be kept for years - just like any other houseplant.
Poinsettias (Euphorbia Pulcherrima) grow wild in Mexico and Central America so the conditions they are kept in need to be similar to their native climatic conditions. Having said that they are quite forgiving and adaptable as are most houseplants which is precisely why they can be grown as houseplants. In the wild they grow as a shrub up to ten feet in height.
The red "flowers" aren't flowers at all but bracts or modified leaves. The small, insignificant flowers can be seen in the centre of the red bracts. They are now bred in various colours including pink, white even yellow.
A sunny windowsill is an ideal position, avoiding draughts and direct heat from radiators etc. The compost needs to be kept moist but not wet and certainly not standing in water or allowed to dry out completely. The night time temperature should not be allowed to drop below 10 deg.C. In late Spring when the red leaves start to fade or drop off the plant can be pruned back and fed, watered and treated as any other houseplant. One other thing worth mentioning for those with sensitive skin is that the white sap can be irritating so best to avoid getting this on one's skin.
The trick to encouraging it to turn red again for the next Christmas lies in the hours of light and darkness it receives. Mine is kept in a room that is rarely used in the evenings and so receives no artificial light from inside or outside in the form of street lighting and this is the key. As the Autumn nights naturally lengthen from September onwards, this extra darkness is what makes the Poinsettia's red bracts form. If it is kept in a living room or any room that gets artificially lit in the evenings then it is very unlikely to turn red. A way around this is to place it in a dark bag or box every night for at least 12 hours but this would take a good memory and lots of dedication to achieve this.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

The Christmas Tarot


It may seem a little late to be talking about The Christmas Tarot - but I'm going to anyway.
This is a twenty-two card Major Arcana only deck inspired by the magic of a Victorian Christmas and the images were selected from Victorian Christmas cards. There are several changes of card names. The Fool is The Child, The Death card has been renamed Nativity, The Devil card is The Angel and The Tower is called The House of God. This is an electronic deck that can be easily downloaded in less than a minute. It can either be printed yourself or, as I did, sent to an on-line photo processor which gave excellent results - much better than I could have done at home. Included is a printable 45 page guidebook which includes descriptions of each card, several new spreads and tips and suggestions for your Christmas Tarot readings.
Visit the website and see the images on-line before buying and downloading. I can't actually see myself reading with this deck but I do love looking at the images - it's beautiful.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Quadrantid Meteor Shower


This shower of medium speed meteors can be seen radiating from a point in the north-east, assuming a cloudless sky. The bright, waning, gibbous moon may hinder viewing slightly this year but it's worth looking out this evening after 19.00 GMT as the hourly rate has been as much as 120 meteors per hour in recent times although this is more likely to be 40-60 per hour.

Lower numbers should be visible between the 1st and 5th January but the peak numbers are expected on the night of 3rd and the morning of 4th January.