How Our Solstice Celebrations Went.

Seeing as I am happy to read all religious texts and can see a lot of spiritual and social truths in all of them, many people may be unaware I am not actually as religious as I am spiritual. I believe in a God. Especially the earliest version of the Abrahamic God concept, or that of Eastern Nirvana, where God is not one person or one identity, but the very life and energy that composes the entire universe, a living consciousness that is both the creator of the universe and the universe itself. However my own spiritual experiences have led me to doubt anything men say about God, about higher, lower or simply different beings, about alternate dimensions, split dimensions, parallel dimensions and the space-time continuum. Humans may be a small, cell-like unit of the universe. But that doesn’t mean we know anything about it. That doesn’t mean we can understand what anything else in it may be wanting to tell us, let alone what the entire universe may or may not be saying. And I’d rather experience existence than fret about what one man tells me to do and another tells me not to do. Philosophical debate aside, I’m pretty certain we won’t know about death until we die, about existence until we transcend it (if ever) about God until (if ever) we meet It.

That said, I celebrate the Solstice, Christmas, New Year, Epiphany and Imbolc. Festivals of birth, rebirth  and renewal are always welcome. However the Solstice is of particular importance because it follows the pulse of life in our little corner of the universe. Every year it’s held on the longest night of the year, almost as though everything stops for a little bit longer in the middle of the night before the gears start turning and everything begins to rewind.

But, without getting too poetic and frilly about it: the longest night of the year is often seen as a bridge between spiritual worlds and our world, or between dimensions, a time when the dark reigns for a short while and gives us a chance to wonder about everything. Whether, the wonder is at a specific God, at the universe itself, at science, at the spirits and life and energy in everything, there’s something quite eerie and beautiful about the Winter Solstice, the time when the light is reborn.

We were planning to spend the Solstice with a few friends, but sadly they couldn’t make it. Instead, we focused on enjoying the day and the night.

The food we prepared.

Just for eating, well, feasting.

Unshockingly, whilst all meat, eggs and greens makes me look awesome, adding overt carbs back in causes water retention and general lethargy. I look so much fatter for potatoes and fruit than I did on steak and salad. But for a day it won’t kill.

Elderberry and Brandy Pudding.

Ingredients:

-250g flour

-300g elderberry jam

-100g sugar

-300g dried fruit

-100ml brandy

-cold water as needed

Utensils:

-mixing bowl and fork

-greased loaf tin

Recipe:

1: Mix the dry ingredients.

2: Incorporate the jam.

3: Mix the brandy in.

4: Add water as needed.

5: Bake at 160C until spongy, but crisp on top.

6: Serve with custard or cream.

Quick Raw Custard.

Ingredients:

-5 egg yolks

-1/4-1/2 cup sugar

-200-300ml double cream

Utensils:

-jug

-fork/whisk/blender

Recipe:

1: Whisk the yolks and sugar together.

2: Stir in the cream.

3: Stir before pouring.

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BBQ Pulled Chicken.

Ingredients:

-1 roast chicken

-chicken fat

-browned onions and potatoes

-softened brussels sprouts and courgette

-4tbsp ketchup

-bbq mix

-chili powder

-salt

Utensils:

-fork

-scissors

-frying pan

Recipe:

1: Shred the chicken. Cut the skin up with the scissors.

2: Place in a pan with the vegetables and cook until the fat and water has been reduced.

3: Add the seasonings.

4: Fry until crisp.

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Curry.

Ingredients:

-brussels sprouts leaves

-cabbage leaves

-1 small courgette

-small handful chopped pumpkin

-200g chicken

-3tbsp curry mix

Utensils:

-chopping board and knife.

-pot

Recipe:

1: Chop all veg and chicken.

2: Roll in curry.

3: Seal in bottom of pot.

4: Add water and remaining curry. Boil until cooked.

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And we also had a roast chicken and veg from our garden.

Spiritual elements.

Things that help me reflect on the meanings and meaninglessness of existence.

I prepared basic cinnamon sugar cookies to leave out for the ancestors/spirits. Just sugar, flour, eggs and cinnamon. I hung them as garlands about the house.

The fire was lit around 7pm. It was a large fire in the hearth, involving two large split halves of a log as our Yuletide log. It was still hot in the morning when the sun came up.

We offered some red wine to the gear spirits of Jon’s Renault 5. We concluded it had to have spirits as that hunk-o-rust go-kart can’t possibly be running mechanically and, therefore, must be kept alive by either Jon’s or its own willpower.

Dreams were intense as usual, even though we only slept from 1am to 6.30am.

Gifts.

Jon got me new pajamas which I needed and really liked. He was under no obligation to get me anything (although he didn’t want anything for his birthday, for mine he got me a brilliant genuine Bandai post-timeskip Zoro figurine, or, for you non-animetards, a nice dolly of my favourite cartoon character in his latest getup), but he felt he had to get me something else once he heard I was getting him a surprise on top of the backpack I’m making him for his security work.

And the surprise? I prepared Jon a traditional Christmas stocking, which he’d never had before.

 

Hand-made the stocking, too!

Hand-made the stocking, too!

This is how I decided to fill it.

Things he likes to eat. Treats and snacks he really enjoys. Winter is a time of cold and scarcity. That’s why feasts were so important to our forefathers. Therefore, giving him a small supply of treats to last him through the cold nights was important.

-10 Rocky bars. A favourite of his from his childhood.

-4 Nakd bars from my stash. His stash is oat-bars, which I can’t eat. This usually means he only eats the oat bars and leaves me with my Paleo-approved raw fruit and nut bars. It’s only fair to give him some of his own.

-Chocolate orange segments. When we lived apart, he used to love snacking on orange-flavoured chocolate in the car on his way from my place. Sometimes he would be collecting me and we’d have them together, sometimes he would be returning from a weekend together.

-White chocolate bar. Used to be his favourite sort of chocolate.

-Leibniz biscuits. Another childhood favourite.

-Relentless cherry drink. We used to get through so many of these together. Now, due to cleaner eating and cutting back on costs, he usually has one or two a week. But I know he still loves them, especially the cherry flavoured ones, which are lower in sugar and make a difference from the plain ones.

Things he could use for his security work. Rebirth, new move, new identity. It felt relevant to celebrate the changes in Jon as the Seasons changed.

-Hand-held crystal heat water bottle. You break it, get 30 minutes of intense heat and then need to boil it to dissolve the crystals. But he has damaged nerve endings in his fingers and sometimes needs something to kick-start blood flow when they get so cold they go white, as they may do when he’s out in the cold.

-Thermal gripper socks. Again, poor blood flow. Not as bad as in his hands, but having thermal socks that stick to the soles of his work boots may be welcome.

-Quality tie. For non-uniformed work and interviews. Solid, heavy silk.

-High-viz leg and arm bands. For situations where being invisible may be dangerous.

-Under-clothes belt. To keep his emergency money, his phone and other personals in.

– 2015 agenda. For notes on jobs, incidents, tax returns, interviews, etc.

Assorted things he would appreciate. Things that make life that little bit nicer, that you don’t just eat or use up, that may continue to bring him happiness until they are completely destroyed from use.

-Sticker for his laptop. It has a snake-print pattern and he loves snakes.

-Scented aftershave for delicate skin. For a nice finish after his hot-lather shaves.

-South Park videos. We have a video playing TV now, so I’m starting to buy us any fun videos we may want to watch.

-A little book of quotes. Hand-written poems, song lyrics, excerpts and quotes he would enjoy in a nicely designed notebook.

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The day in general went well. We rose late having exchanged gifts at midnight the night before, had a nice big lunch at Jon’s mother’s house, got home, had some hot drinks and relaxed. At sundown we feasted some more and at 7pm I lit the fire. Jon was away with his security work, so we’re making up for the loss of drinking and cake a little tonight.

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Last Minute Crafting, or Knitting for People Who Can’t Knit.

I’ve always wanted to learn how to knit. But I have days when I’m very clumsy with my hands, which would get in the way of even knitting, and also have a serious problem with numbers to a point where I can think of the number four and say “Seven” and “Eleven” first, or where I can skip entire numbers when counting or copying something. I usually deal with it in time for everyday situations, but when crafting something invariably goes wrong. Never a good place to start. And when I got bored of crochet due to the constant mistakes and plateaus caused by shaky hands and poor number management, I gave up on learning to knit, at least not while I had other things to do.

But I never stop learning about crafts, even ones I can’t do. Looking at patterns led me on a pinterest-crawl and soon I was learning about arm knitting. Then I realized that, even if arm knitting was simple, it required me to keep both my arms working on the knitting until I was done, in case I messed up and tied a knot when getting loose. Me? Sit still for over five minutes? With a craft? No chance. Especially not when the results look like they’d be so easily destroyed by a cat or a clumsy movement. But I  also discovered finger knitting. And it got me thinking.

As you can see, finger-knitting is based on the old way we used to use toilet rolls to knit bracelets in art class. It eliminates the counting, the fiddly needles and the time-consuming element. But I had two concerns. Firstly, that as with arm-knitting I just hadn’t the patience to sit like that for so long. Secondly that I only have four fingers, meaning I could only make something as wide as I could spread my fingers. So what if I could add to my fingers? What if I made a board or a box that I could use to finger-knit without knitting at all?

This is what I made:

 

Ugly and efficient.

Ugly and efficient.

However you could also make one with a board, maybe even paint it up and use it as a Christmas gift for any young or klutzy crafters in the family. I’m definitely making a knitting board all to myself sometime in the new year. Or maybe you could make yourself one and use it to knock out some quick and easy Christmas gifts for neighbours. However you want to play it, here are my instructions for a knitting board and a knitting box.

Knitting box.

Equipment:

-a cardboard box

-10-100 spiky, sticky things (actual sticks, kebab sticks, chop sticks, knitting needles, anything)

-heavy duty tape, hot glue gun, crafting glue

-(optional) fabric or paper for decorating

-(optional) small hook or clasp for holding your thread end (see instructions)

Assembly:

1: Mark an even number of dots along one edge of the cardboard box.

2: Insert the spiky things in through the dot and out through another side of the box, to hold them firm.

3: Make sure your knitting ends (the ones where you drew the dots) are all an even length.

4: Tape/glue the non-knitting ends against the box.

5: (Attach optionals.)

Knitting Board.

Equipment:

-1 long board

-10-100 evenly sized nails, round tops or other nails that don’t have a very wide top are much, much better

-hammer

-(optional) an extra nail or a clip

-(optional) paint

Assembly:

1: Mark the board with dots an even distance apart.

2: Hammer a nail into each dot.

3: Even out the nails.

4: (Add optionals.)

Definitely making myself one!

Instructions.

So how do we use this badboy? Well, we start by attaching the end of our yarn to the clasp, or otherwise just taping it to the side of our box/board.

KNIT1

Next we weave the ball end of our yarn over and under until we reach the end of the spikes.

KNIT2

Wrap it around and go over and under on your way back, so each spike has a bit of thread on the top and bottom of it.

KNIT3

Repeat both ways so that each spike has two bits of thread.

KNIT4

Pull the thread nearest the box/board over the top of the thread nearest you. Make sure the top thread stays on, but the thread near the box/board comes off!

KNIT5

KNIT6

KNIT7

Repeat on every spike.

Take your yarn again and weave once both ways.

KNIT4

The old “top” thread should now be the one nearest the board and the new one should be the top. Pull the bottom thread back over the top one.

Rinse and repeat.

Preparing and Hosting MeatFeast V.

Seeing as we hadn’t seen C___ for a while, we decided it was time to invite him round for a MeatFeast before we were all busy with work, festivities and the likes.

1: The food.

The spread minus the pork and lemon chicken.

The spread minus the pork and lemon chicken.

The night before the MeatFeast I cut some ox heart off the main piece, defrosted some chicken limbs and a pork shoulder roll. I scored the pork fat and rubbed it with A1 Steak Sauce. I rolled the chicken quarters in honey, cinnamon, lemon and salt, then placing them in a bag and filling it with more salt, lemon and water to marinade. I placed the heart in a bag of water with salt, pepper and chili to marinade. I find that sandwich bags are more than sufficient for small marinades. I also scrubbed some potatoes.

The next morning, whilst the ox heart was simmering in pepper and cream, I started work on the tart.

Plum, Peach and Cream Tart.

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Ingredients:

-1 can peaches (or fresh peaches and juice, if you’re not feeling lazy)

-300g plum jam

-200g flour

-50g butter

Utensils:

-mixing bowl

-greased or nonstick baking tray

Recipe:

1: Mash the juice and butter together with the flour, leave to cool in the fridge.

2: Once cool, roll it out, fit it into the pan and bake in the oven at 200C until firm but not solid.

3: Spread the jam and layer the peaches.

4: Bake at 160C until the crust is solid.

I also prepared a batter for the potatoes and some chicken wings.

Batter.

Ingredients:

-3 eggs

-200g goose fat

-flour, salt and peppered as desired

Utensils:

-2 bowls

-blender

Recipe:

1: Blend the fat and eggs together.

2: Roll the dry potatoes and wings first in the fat, next in the flour.

3: Place in the oven or deep fat frier until cooked-through and crisp.

Meanwhile, a whole chicken, some lemony chicken quarters and a small pork joint were roasting nicely in the oven. At the very end I sauteed brussels sprouts in chicken grease.

About half the chicken, 1/3 of the pork, all the wings, half the heart, half the potatoes, 2/3 the sprouts and 3/4 of the pie was gone by the end.

2: The drinks.

It was early in the afternoon, C___ is not currently able to drink much and Jon was driving C___ home, so there wasn’t much drinking going off, at least not by our standards. We had some beer and energy drinks for C___ and some wine for Jon and beer for me to enjoy later.

Jon's modest glass of wine.

Jon’s modest glass of wine. Mug for scale.

3: The entertainment.

Again, due to the time shortage we didn’t do much. Watched a few of the Bouncer Channel videos and generally just chatted.

4: The setting.

Decorations were up, the house was warm and the food was kept on the coffee table in the middle of the room, away from the mess in the kitchen. Nothing more in particular.

How To… Make Your Own Decorations.

So, seeing as my options were A: cheap, but kind of gaudy and nasty things from cheap shops or B: really expensive pretty things from specialist shops, and that neither of those offered what I wanted, I set about making my own decorations. These were specially made for small spaces and tight budgets, so you may expand what you do based on your own decoration budget and available space. I made a wall-mounted tree mural, a few wreaths and some wreath-in-a-jars for about the house and for friends and family. Here’s how to make them.

Wall-tree mural.

Our house isn’t tiny, but with all the furniture in the corners, radiators and paintings, there isn’t much space downstairs, especially not away from the fire and out of the cat’s reach. Therefore, I opted to try and make my own tree mural instead. I got 6m of tinsel, 2.7m of shiny stuff and 8 baubles from the 99p store; another 2.5m of tinsel, some beads and 3 more baubles from a charity shop and some pinecones. I used a decorative flower instead of a fairy or star. We chose red and white because those are Jon’s favourite Christmas colours.

Steps:

1: Mark the points where you want the tree branches to be.

2: Measure the tinsel you will need for the tree. Go and get tinsel and ornaments.

3: Attach the tinsel to the points you marked.

4: Hang ornaments from the tinsel.

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Total cost: £5.50.

Wreaths.

I love Christmas wreaths. They’re seasonal, beautiful, can smell lovely and are good for indoor or outdoor use. I made three: one for our house, one for Jon’s mother and one for a friend’s house.

Steps:

1: Make or find a base. I bought a cheap tinsel wreath at the 99p store. You could also make a hoop out of firm, bendy branches, make a wire ring or use something else that is ring-shaped.

Cheap wreath.

Cheap wreath.

2: Forage or buy decorative items. I used foraged holly, a variety of conifer branches, pinecones, some berries and the bows that came on the wreaths. Other items are artificial plants and flowers, ribbon, baubles, tree ornaments or dried plants. You can also use gold, silver, glittery, white or red spray paint to great effect.

Sacks of forage.

Sacks of forage.

3: Get some wire and some tools to manipulate it with. I chose jewellery pliers and bendy, thin gardening wire.

Carpet put down for easy hoovering.

Rug put down for easy hoovering.

4: Layer your base. DO NOT make my mistake and use holly as a base. It makes it very hard to layer pretty things on top when you’re being spiked. Choose tinsel, fake leaves, conifer bunches and ivy for your base. Layer until it looks right. You may want it thick or thin. Attaching with wire every 3 or 4 inches leaves a rounder, more natural, more robust base.

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5: Build into it. Add more base materials, balance the colours and textures, get it looking just right.

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6: Decorate. Add berries, flowers, pinecones, etc.

7: Add spiky things. Last of all, anything sharp.

Our wreath.

Our wreath.

Jon's mother's wreath.

Jon’s mother’s wreath.

Friends' wreath.

Friends’ wreath.

Total cost £1 and a bit per wreath (assuming I will use the rest of the wire elsewhere).

Christmas “Terrarium” Vases.

These are beautiful and a novel and adorable way of making Christmas bouquets. We made two, but I’d love to gather some more deep jars and make more.

Steps:

1: Find some large, clear jars. We used empty Yankee Candle jars.

2: Collect some bubble-wrap, take snow or some shredded polystyrene.

3: Find some cones, little snowmen, dry leaves, etc. Anything that could be a good little ornament.

4: Forage some hardy Winter branches and plants.

5: Pile the “snow” item in the base of the jar. Add your ornaments and arrange until they look right.

6: Create the bouquet around the ornaments. Add more until the jar is tightly packed. Maybe tie a bow around it or decorate with Christmas snowflakes and candles.

Yankee Candle jar with bubblewrap snow, leaf decoration, dry plants, holly and conifers.

Yankee Candle jar with bubblewrap snow, leaf decoration, dry plants, holly and conifers.

Yankee Candle jar with bubblewrap snow, pinecone ornaments, various berries, conifer and holly branches.

Yankee Candle jar with bubblewrap snow, pinecone ornaments, various berries, conifer and holly branches.

Total cost: £0.

Little Winter Bundles.

Small bouquets for around the house. They aren’t too gaudy, need no maintenance and leave a festive feel for very little effort. Plus, because they’re so simple even the most klutzy crafter or the youngest child can make a really pretty one.

Steps:

1: Find a pretty vase. We’re using lab sample pots because we’re tasteless nerds. :p

2: Gather some artificial or genuine conifer, Winter flowers and berries and holly.

3: Arrange 4 or 5 sprigs of various sorts as best you can in each vase, maybe tie a sparkly or Christmassey bow around the vase.

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Total cost: £0.

I may be making some more decorations or we may now be happy. Perhaps some strung-up branches of holly and pinecones, or a place to keep our cards? I’ll likely just focus on our Solstice dinner, a few Christmas surprises for Jon (shhh! surprise ❤), a proper Spanish New Year and Epiphany (including a Reyes Magos cake).

WWW. Cabbage-Wrapped Chicken and Sticky Spice Cake.

No photos and late post as we were too busy. We didn’t even eat our WWW meal together. 😦 On the plus side I’m definitely prepared to take care of the home finances, as I have turned my bad days into £50+ days and worked out how to get veg on the cheap. Not only did I save a bad day, I made around 4-8 servings of salad for 30p. I am a genius.

Anyway, bragging aside, here are the recipes.

Cabbage-Wrapped Chicken.

Ingredients:

(serves 2)

-2 cooked or uncooked chicken breasts

-12 large cabbage leaves from 2 or 3 varieties of cabbage

-200g peas

-40-60g cheese

-25g butter

-a bit of onion

Utensils:

-chopping board and knife

-baking tray

Recipe:

1: Place the roundest, deepest four leaves as the bases.

2: Chop the chicken, cheese and onion. Add to the base.

3: Add the peas and butter.

4: Wrap two more leaves around the first leaf. Secure with oven-safe string if you have any.

5: Bake at 140C for an hour.

Sticky Spice Cake.

Load this with fruit, ice it and you’ll have a brilliant Christmas cake.

Ingredients:

-500g flour and raising agents

-350ml single cream

-3 eggs

-5tbsp palm sugar

-5tbsp honey

-3tbsp cinnamon

-1tbsp ginger

-1tsp chilli powder

Utensils:

-mixing bowl and spoon

-greased or nonstick bread tin

Recipe:

1: Mix the dry ingredients in the bowl.

2: Incorporate the wet ingredients and stir until smooth.

3: Add water to make up and pour into the tin.

4: Bake at 180C for 45 minutes.

#NoNothingNovember: A Happy, Low-Stress, Wealthier Home.

So, it’s officially no longer November. That means the challenge is up and I’m free to go back to my old ways if I wish to. I’m so glad I didn’t give up chocolate or coffee because that would be an instant reversion. :p

However, I’m fairly confident that I will be able to adhere to these changes.

I will keep an eye out for everyone else’s conclusions and add them to this post, by the way! Feel free to comment with your conclusion if you want to share. 🙂

So what was it I gave up?

Whilst there is no upper or lower limit to what you can give up or change, three seemed like a rounded number. This was not least of all because thinking of two problems was too easy, so adding a third, more-thought-out issue felt like the right way to balance it.

Most of the men doing #NNN were quitting porn/masturbation, video games and some form of mind-altering substance like illegal drugs, medication dependence and/or alcohol abuse. Most of the women were quitting spending too much/too frivolously, idling around instead of exercising, eating rubbish food and/or slacking on the housework. Now, if I’d set any of those goals for myself I could probably go into “perfect princess” mode, sat back and enjoyed November.

Whilst I drink alcohol and caffeine, they weren’t really options as I don’t drink very often (making a month easy) and caffeine controls some of the symptoms of my depression (making a month non-conductive to results).

belief

I have a pretty strong hold of my diet. I don’t watch actual TV, rather choosing to watch videos and on-demand whenever I actually have the time. I am very money-focused and hate to spend, even small amounts on necessary items are scrutinized before I allow myself them. I try and keep on top of the housework so, whilst it isn’t perfect, it wouldn’t take long at all to make it so. But I knew that I was losing time and gaining stress somewhere in my life and it definitely wasn’t “just one of them things”, as I’d been telling myself. We all have our flaws and, though it pained me, I had to dig just a tiny little bit deeper than stereotypes or common problems to find what was eating away at my time, my money and my sanity.

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Shockingly, the main one was time-wasting websites. (I bet you’re shocked, right?) Literally the first thing that came to mind was “You spend so much time trawling Buzzfeed, Cracked or TheBerry, never mind the websites you actually enjoy reading!” Of course, quitting the internet wasn’t realistic. As a from-home tutor, an online tutor, a writer, a proofreader, a translator, etc, I depend on the internet to advertise my services, hold online classes and find and submit writing work. There were a few websites I could block right off the bat. These were the ones that whenever I was bored I would click on. If I didn’t have internet access and was that bored, I would have done my work, just as I used to when spending 3-5 hours traveling by coach or train to see Jon. So if I blocked them permanently, I would definitely do more work. I also noticed that I spent too much time on useful websites that I use to advertise, learn or unwind. Therefore I gave myself 15 minutes every 6 hours to access those websites. Yes, between all of them. This meant I would update or check my ads, read the odd piece or chat to someone in the morning, do the same to relax around lunchtime and have one last gander once the working day was over.

I guess I won't be using this any more.

I guess I won’t be using this any more.

The next thing I chose to give-up was interrupting people. This one may genuinely shock some of you who know me online, but I am not the quietest, politest of people in real life. A combination of being reasonably bright, well-read and self-centred means that I am loud, opinionated and generally won’t let others get a word in edgeways. Giving up interruption is surprisingly hard, not least of all because I generally don’t care much for what other people are saying. However, it had become a habit that offended people around me and sometimes was directed at people whose opinions I did want to hear, it was so automatic. In order to stop myself from interrupting people I decided to employ the “Boo the Villains, Cheer the Heroes” mentality, listening carefully to what others were saying and constructing the narratives in my mind. I would apologize if I spoke over someone and shut up so they could speak. At first it confused a lot of people, but it was welcome soon enough.

I may still need this one, though.

I may still need this one, though.

Finally, and I had to think quite hard about this one, I decided I would give up stress. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Giving up stress is impossible. It’s a biological function to an unpleasant situation. It can even be good!” But I didn’t mean to fully choke and kill my stress response. All I wanted to do was get rid of unnecessary stress. I stress very easily. First sign of a problem and I panic, hide from it, procrastinate, spin a mountain out of a molehill and start getting physically unwell because I’m stressed. Which in turn stresses me more. All of this was fine (albeit very unpleasant) when I was just studying, could take any day off, could let the house turn into a pigsty. But it’s not so tolerable when you’re actually busy and need to get things done. In order to fight stress I applied a simple plan: whenever a problem arose, I would set a reasonable time-frame in which to fix it. I would then spend as much time as possible looking for a solution. If no solution was found, I would swallow my pride and ask the most suitable person for advice on the matter. As I had no solution of my own, I would have to adopt their solution. If their solution was impossible or very impractical or if they didn’t have a solution, I would just endure the problem until it ended and not stress about it, as it was unfixable and not worthy of stress.

At first everything was pretty difficult. Keeping off the blocked websites wasn’t much of an issue, but I found myself looking for more things to distract myself and having to subsequently block them also. Keeping from interrupting people was hard in and of itself. I found myself apologizing a lot more than I was stopping myself. And not getting stressed was fine until I became so overwhelmed I couldn’t think.

From the extra stresses of #NNN, website bans and a high workload, I found myself unable to unwind at the end of the day. Fifteen minutes of idly browsing the net just wouldn’t cut it. Instead of giving myself more idle browsing time, I did the opposite: without altering my main blocklists, I blocked most time-wasting sites from evenings other than Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Instead I focused on relaxing with Jon, cooking, watching cartoons, chatting and getting creative. The stress faded back and I was better able to sleep. I also improved my diet, cutting back carbs and wheat and controlling coffee intake, which further improved my mood and helped me concentrate on destressing.

Eventually, I employed more tactics for noninterruption, such as breathing deeply and paying attention to my own surroundings rather than my own mind. I found out that most people, even those who didn’t know how bad I used to be, will really take advantage of a situation where you aren’t talking. I get less socially exhausted when I don’t talk, but I find myself running out of patience very easily. I’ve started to largely surround myself with people who talk about pleasant or interesting topics and avoid those who go on about minor problems, fears and dull topics. I’m finding conversation more enjoyable now that I’ve improved the quality of the speakers.

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Likewise, the quality of material I’ve been reading has gone up. With only 30-45 minutes to spend on certain sites, I find myself not finishing duller articles, not opening clickbait or shock-value ones and largely looking out for things that actually interest me. I’m reading more solid articles and essays, more studies and more self-improvement, marketing and cooking themed blogs. I’ve even been able to delete some blogs I was following and haven’t clicked on in ages. I feel I’ve advanced my IQ an entire SD.

Unsurprisingly, wasting my time on clickbait, pictures, drawn-out conversations and stories whilst reading or discussing topics that are dull or frustrating with people who are boring or annoying had also been stressing me. Having no time left at the end of the day with little to show for it whilst mulling over inane topics or annoying voices in my mind would leave me feeling like I was wasting my time, which would stress me. Now that I’ve freed up my time and use my spare time productively I don’t feel bad about a slow day or a busy day or having work leftover for tomorrow. I also found myself less pre-emptively worried about incomplete work, a busy day ahead or problems that arose from rushing things. I work towards avoiding being in those situations again, but if I’m already there then stressing won’t change anything. Pushing things behind me and moving on has left me feeling better, with more free time to work with and with more money in my pocket. Being highly strung really does you no favours.

My final adjustments were to further limit my Twitter access and cut out a number of websites entirely through Sunday, adjust my noninterruption tactics for working around students and throwing myself into my work so that my time is better spent and I have less reason to feel stressed.

Now that I’m so busy all day and have lessons or writing almost every evening, Jon and I can only truly relax on a Sunday. Sitting around on time-wasting sites just because it’s my day off is not conductive to happiness. Neither is forcing him to join in on my #NNN challenges. Instead, spending more time paying attention to him, talking, working on projects and helping him get ready for work has left me feeling far more relaxed.

Likewise, I am now commanding more attention and respect from students without necessarily shouting them down or shutting them up. I am better able to enjoy my time with friends, but likewise to control my environment during lessons.

And finally I am currently sitting in a perfectly ordered house, with the laundry moving through apace, the cat well-fed, the rubbish and recycling sorted, the sinks clear and clean, everything in its place and a few bags of forage on the hearth, ready for making wreaths. I have been writing and proofreading all day, made a few phonecalls and am prepared for the next lesson in around thirty minutes. My income is now at a steady £350+/week bar the odd bad one and I feel far more confident in my ability to support the home for a few months starting January.

All in all, through restricting my ability to waste time, stopping myself from interrupting people in social situations and not getting myself wound up over every little detail, I have managed to get my house, work and life in general under control. Which is pretty impressive, from a one-month, cold-turkey, triple-challenge, isn’t it?

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