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.

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.