November on SWB + Lush Halloween Bad News!

Hello kittens!

I hope you had fun this Halloween, I know I did. I didn’t get to do the look I wanted, but there’s always next year! Still, I think I looked pretty fierce!

Happy Halloween ūüėČ #paintedforfilth #professionalpaleperson #cateye #vampirechic

A post shared by Natasha (@shewhobakes) on

And my ickle baby snake Pumpkin did his part too!

Speaking of pets; if you have any furry free ranging friends (I’m talking cats and dogs), look after them over the next few days and through the festive season. Fireworks are going off all over the city tonight, and have been since before Halloween. Consider keeping cats indoors for the short-term, or at least overnight. I would hate for any little fur friends to go missing ūüė¶ Dexter and DeeDee are housecats, so my bases are covered there, but I will be making sure to give them their space and comfort them accordingly if it all gets a bit much.

I’ll start with the bad news from my title. In my Lush Halloween post, I told you that a number of the Halloween products would be hanging around until Christmas, as this is what I’d heard. I’ve since been informed by Lush staff that there has been a change of plan, and now Lord of Misrule and Sparkler will be leaving us after Halloween after all. That means that the products will still be available to buy, but they won’t be restocked when they sell out. I’m pretty gutted, as LoM is one of my favourite bombs of all time, and Sparkler has my favourite Lush fragrance, but at least Northern Lights is staying. I believe the soap Fairy Ring is staying too, but do check availability at your local branch, or online, to avoid disappointment.

Now onto better, or at least different news- November at SWB!

In terms of Special Delivery posts, I have some Lootcrate reviews that will be coming off the back burner, Birchbox as per, hopefully a Lush Kitchen review and maybe more. I’ll also be reviewing some make up for you- stay tuned if you like a bold lip!

I have had a number of requests to do a post introducing you to my pets, so I’ll do my utmost to sort that out!

If you’re here for the food, I’ve got a dessert recipe going up tomorrow, and hopefully lots of comfort food one rate coming weeks.

November is going to be an odd month for me, as I’m working on my house at the moment, plus work, plus Nanowrimo, plus preparing something special for December on the blog‚Ķ so whilst I’d love to promise X, Y and Z, I’m just hoping I’ll make a couple of posts a week.

Love and kisses, darlings!

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BEDA: Furry Little Nightmares

So, when I’m not cooking tasty things, I’m generally feeding the leftovers to my live in composters: my rats. And I’ve never talked about them on here before, or even mentioned them in passing. I guess they don’t much go along with the theme of food and lifestyle here at She Who Bakes, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t an enormous part of my life.

If you’re curious as to why I keep my private vermin swarm, google why rats are good pets. I’m sitting here with two pauldrons +5 to fluffiness and another lady giving me smooches. They’re ace. I’ve been breeding rats for 5 years now, keeping them for longer, and won my stud name (Elkwood) 3 years back with a very handsome buck called Tiberius. I breed for a variety called Platinum, which is a beautiful pale grey with pink or very dark red eyes (called ruby). However, I get lots of different colours out along the way. I currently have Platinum, British Blue, British Blue Agouti (BBA), Black, Chocolate, Chocolate Agouti, American Cinnamon and Agouti in my breeding stock. I breed them for show (which is similar to dog showing, in that they are judged on conformation, colour, condition etc, and not similar in that they are shown in well ventilated ‘show tanks’, rather than paraded around on a lead) but also for temperament- a good show rat needs to be confident and calm anyway, and animals are a lot of work- if they aren’t enjoyable to keep, why keep them?

As proof of how doofy my brood are, here are some tragic shots of me tolerating their company. Apologies for no makeup, and the box fort in the background.

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My population is ever changing, as I have new litters born, and as older rats pass on. I keep more rats (perhaps) than the average pet owner, but I try to keep my population between¬†ten and twenty five adults. Ten, and I am probably on the rocks as far as keeping my line going. Twenty five, and I am pushing my personal limit of what I can cope with. It’s different for everyone, and I’ve had a lot more than 25 rats at a time before, but trust me- I never want to go back to cleaning 19+ cages a week unless I am getting PAID for it.

Currently, as in today, I have ten adults and five kittens. Two little bucks went off to a new pet home today (as there was seven in the litter (born 27th March- rat kittens can go to new homes from 6 weeks of age)) and one little girl is theoretically up for homing with other kittens her age‚Ķ but she’s now named, so there’s not much hope of that.

Truthfully, I had a litter born this afternoon, and mummy Tia (Elkwood Tiergarten- naming them is half the fun!) has been kind enough to hop of the next and let me see that there are approx. six babies. I’m sort of vibrating with excitement here.

Anyhoo, it’s not the most mainstream of hobbies, I suppose, but I’ve met good friends through it, and gained a lot of joy out of caring for and loving my Furry Little Nightmares. That and they will eat ANYTHING, so very little goes to waste in House Elkwood.

 

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BEDA 3: What’s going on?

You may have noticed, if you are a frequent follower of SWB, that there have been several long blips where I  have simply vanished over the last couple of years. These almost exclusively match up with periods of ill mental health for me, and mirror the rather pathetic picture of what the past few years have been like for me.

I don’t like to harp on about my anxiety and depression- not because I’m trying to hush it up, but because I write because I enjoy writing, and because I want this blog to be the sunshiny place it should be, considering it is so full of cake. But, I have anxiety and depression, that is the truth of it. And my job was making me a lot worse.

I’m not going to go into the nitty gritty of each miserable detail of my descent into woe, nor each nail splitting, heart wrenching step back up, nor knock back down I’ve suffered. But looking back, a frightening number of blips match up to times I had to be signed off work, or times I tried to fight my way back there.

The job I did was¬†an good¬†job- well paid with a reputable firm, several benefits‚Ķ it was also in London, and pretty dull. It was waaaaay outside my field of interest, being that is was a financial firm, and there wasn’t even a hint of creativity or do-gooding to the work. The deadlines were pressured, the work load high, and the payoff not grand. Such as are a great deal of jobs I have done. Such as are most jobs. However, this, combined with some shakeups in my personal life (including my father leaving and being made homeless), combined with some real ‘characters’ in the office one by one snapped whatever cords were keeping me balanced, and I fell. And looking back over the past couple of years, I never really made it back up.

In March this year, after another six months off sick and several botched attempts to return, I bit the bullet. I quit. It took three days of panic attacks to do, and the final day in April took another three days of doom to face, but I did it. I left. I never need go up to London again, except for pleasure. I also don’t have a job.

But you know what? Financially, currently, I’m not any worse off. After a time, sick pay withers away, after all. Obviously I need to find employment, but for now, nothing has changed. Except the two ton weight I’ve flung off my shoulders and into the abyss, that is. Within days of quitting, people noticed a difference in me. I noticed it too. I could smile again. And laugh. I didn’t sit locked and tense, eyes darting all the time. I relaxed. I slumped. My confidence started to return, smidgen by smidgen. I went on a date. I started going out more, and feeling able to cope with that. The shrivelled little version of me left crumpled on the floor began to pick it self up again.

I’m not saying I’m fixed, cause I’m not, but I am better. My creativity is back. My energy is better. I want to do things again. I feel stronger, and prettier and more powerful than I have in years. It’s like my doctor said; it’s amazing what the wrong job can do to a person.

So‚Ķ. what have I learned? Well, I’ve learned that a pay check and healthcare is not the be all and end all in life. Yes, I need to pay my mortgage, but wanting to not wake up in the morning in the darkest way is NOT the way to do it. I have to be true to myself.

Currently I am job hunting, and adapting what I’m looking for. I instantly signed up with agencies looking for a carbon copy of the job I just left. Which is really fucking stupid, excuse my french. I’m nearly 27- I need to fall into my career now, and stop dicking about putting things off just so my bank balance will look ok. Look how much good it has done me thus far.

Current plans include pushing my arts and crafts ‘business’, which I have been doing for years and happily earns me a bit of pocket money. In terms of bill paying work, unless the former suddenly leaps ahead, I’m going to canvas bakeries and cafes with my wares, and ‘worst comes to worst’, take part time work, so long as what I’m doing isn’t completely soulless.

So yeah. I did promise you’d get wet with my thoughts this month.

I hope today finds you bright and sunny, despite the weather. I’m off to find some brunch, then pack for a trip to Brighton. Whee!

 

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Tips for a Happy Holiday

This may seem a little late in the year to be applicable, but the weather is so dark and dreary, even for autumn (I like crisp and cold, personally) that I thought we could all take a moment to imagine jetting off for some winter sun.

Or going to Devon. Which is what I did a few weeks ago for some exceptionally lazy R&R.

Leaving my animals and my home is, for me, stressful. As are deadlines (i.e. leaving times). In plenty of time before setting off, I sat down and thought of ways to improve my holiday experience. Added to what I’ve learned in hindsight, here are some tips to make your holiday happier, loosely arranged into three sections. Because, why not?

Screen Shot 2013-10-22 at 14.07.09Beer Harbour, Devon

1: Packing

If you’re anything like me, packing isn’t hugely stressful- it’s UNpacking that can sour a trip, either when you get there or when you’re home again.

A fairly simple, and probably obvious tip is to pack a couple of bags in your case- totes or plastic, for bagging up laundry, dirty shoes etc on the way back. I’d suggest packing a couple more than this however, for compartmentalising further. Pack one for clean clothes, one for books/hobby items you brought with you, one for souveniers and purchases and one for toiletries. Yes, you probably neatly packed a little washbag to go away with, but by the end of the holiday it’s going to be all over the bathroom and dressing table. Having something larger to put the washbag and any wet things, like shower goodies, toothbrushes and bath lilies is going to reduce the stress of having to neatly pack a washbag AND a suitcase. Also, when you get back, it means unpacking your suitcase is like unpacking shopping and you needn’t heft the whole bleedin’ thing upstairs/to your bedroom full. Leave your shoe bag at the door, take your toiletries bag into the bathroom. Dirty clothes by the washing machine, souvenirs can go in the lounge to be picked over, and then you have a light, nigh empty case to shift with your remaining clean clothes and reading material.

Secondly, don’t fold. ROLL.

Finally on this subject, before you go, when you are out buying your final treats, go to department store or otherwise located perfumery and try out perfumes on tester cards, being sure to really douse them. Pick your favourites and bring the cards home. Pack them into your suitcase, so when you arrive after the stress of travelling, you’ll be greeted by a calming and delicious puff of perfume upon opening your case, and your belongings will have a lovely freshness too.

If you are easily stressed by travelling, why not include something Lavender scented, like a few sprigs, a scent pillow or a tissue doused in lavender essential oil? I find any ‘nice’ smell soothing, but lavender not only ticks this box but has specific calming properties.

This works not just with perfumes, but anything that smells nice. I like to use little scented candles or wax tarts too, as they have the same effect and pack a big scent punch.

563585_675867955877_1112788662_nYou could always buy some containers while you are away. I couldn’t resist this shopping basket.

2: Pampering

Holidays are about getting away from your troubles for a while. What better way to soothe body and soul is there than spoiling oneself rotten? And it doesn’t need to break the bank- that’s what airfares are for.

A great place to start is with bath products- what is more relaxing than getting clean? I favour Lush in this department, but if you can, buy something new to use in the shower. That way, that different scent and feel will become synonymous with your time away, and will help extend the holiday feeling when you come home. Also, so long as you don’t hate baths, if you never have time for them at home, why not invest specifically in a bath product, like a melt or bomb?

Secondly, food. If you are going self catering, every meal you make should be satisfying and indulgent. Stop counting calories- they don’t count on holiday. That being said, you needn’t live off junk and take away either (though a bit of that isn’t going to hurt!). Why not instead try going Organic for the duration of the holiday? Or local only? Instead of raiding the supermarket, find suppliers in the community of your drinks, meat, fish, vegetables, bread and dairy products, and you won’t be sorry. Again, it won’t break the bank, but it will help your holiday feel more special. It will also help you explore the area you are staying in, get to know more about the people there, and any leftovers that can be brought home will allow you to celebrate your time away with meals after you have made it home again.

Oh, and be sure to try the local delicacy, no matter what it is. It’s a delicacy for a reason.

Screen Shot 2013-10-22 at 14.06.35Probably the best Cream Tea you will ever eat, at the Salty Monk in Sidmouth

Pamper your mind as well as your body. For the price of a new book, or less if you can borrow one, you can take yourself away to a new world, not just a new town or country. Whether it’s five minutes before bed each night, or a solid sunbathing session, I think everyone benefits from a holiday read. (Although I perhaps went a bit OTT…)

Another way to feed your mind is to try something new. It can be something frivolous or silly (banana boating or getting your palm read…), something active and exciting (surfing, riding, heck even getting up early and going for a walk on the beach…), something creative and enriching (taking a class, learning a new skill, trying out new looks you wouldn’t dare at home…) or even something scary (eating something new? Well, perhaps if you’re me…). All of these experiences will improve the quality of your holiday, even if you don’t end up liking them. They’ll build memories you otherwise might miss, will make you feel brave and empowered, and might send you home with something more than a few snaps and trinkets- a new passion.

1236298_675127255247_1616777195_nI tried Sardines for the first time at the River Cottage Canteen in Axmouth. Delicious.

3: Plan. Or don’t.

I think what goes wrong with a lot holidays, and why people often look back at childhood holidays without much enthusiasm is the fact that we want to get our money’s worth out of our precious time away. The risk there is that we pack in far too much, not allowing us time to rest or even truly enjoy each activity, and leave us coming home more worn thin than we were when we set out.

I personally couldn’t go on holiday and literally do nothing. I’m too fidgety in body in mind. But I also couldn’t cope with packing 5 things in a day when a lot of the time I literally cannot get out of bed until eleven, and need a nap at three.¬†Whether you are as fit as a fiddle, feisty as a filly or worn as old leather (that would be me…), it doesn’t matter. You would benefit from a loosely planned, under filled trip away.

On the first day, unless there if an activity you are dying to do but can only do on said day, I would heartily advise doing as little as possible. Revel in the fact you aren’t at home or work, and have quality time to relax. Get that holiday read out. However, DO spend some time getting leaflets and using google-fu to look up local tourist attractions, food suppliers and activities. Make a list of those you absolutely want to do. Ideally, try not to have more than 1 or 2 activities per day, and plan to go to things that are near to each other on the same day to reduce travel times. The more time you spend resting and thinking about what you have done, the more relaxed and fulfilled you will feel when you come home.

This method isn’t rocket science, but it helped me and my mother plan our holiday effectively, yet without stress and ensure we got to the right places on the right day for certain things, but also know that we could swap and change activities if the weather didn’t permit them, or we didn’t feel like it, and also be able to go back to places we loved. The latter is crucial- not over filling your days means that if you find something you love, you will have time to go back and do it or see it again.

Screen Shot 2013-10-22 at 14.07.25Me and Mum on the beach at Beer. We loved it so much we used one of our spare days to go again.

There are probably a dozen other tips and tricks that can be used to maximise the enjoyment of your holiday, but you know what? I wanted to keep it simple, just like I did with my holiday. And it was glorious. So, whether you’re off for some winter sun, or just California dreamin’, I hope you have a truly great holiday, or even a stay-cation.

WYWH,

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The hostess with the most-ess in minutes.

In an ideal world, all of us would have a good couple of days to prepare for a party. Cleaning, ¬†sprucing and catering for even modest do’s can be time and energy consuming, not to mention getting yourself ready to fabulously and ferociously show your nearest and dearest a good time. Of course, we live in the real world whether we like it or not: the work days are long, nothing ever goes quite to plan and nobody is perfect. Being far shy of divinity in the domestic department myself, I generally greet my first guests in my pajamas, with wet hair, brandishing brooms for them to do the final spot cleaning.

When you are out of the house as much as I am, you want preparations for any event to be as easy as pie. I’m a messy creature, and don’t have much time in the week for tidying, so this has to be my priority when it comes to party prep. Unless I stayed up all night, I’d never get all the food I planned done… unless I lower my goals to quick but classy party food that no one can resist. Your guests are wowed and well fed, and you haven’t been slaving away preparing it when you could have been doing your nails or trying hoover up all the catfluff that has, somehow, become attached to the ceiling light.

Having just held a party, here are 5 easy ‘recipes’ to make your life, well, easier.

1) Pre-purchased snacks

Popcorns, crackers, chips, gourmet crisps… they’re fairly inexpensive, can be bought in a variety of great flavours and can be moved from kitchen to table in seconds. Even popcorn made from scratch at home is the work of minutes. Little bowls of salt and vinegar are the bomb at kiddy parties. For grown up do’s, a couple of pounds more spent can buy you some real gems, and it isn’t cheating- selecting the perfect snacks for your guests means almost as much as whipping something up at home. Buy things you know your guests like, and if in doubt… Japanese rice crackers and wasabi peas, flavoured popcorns, ‘posh’ crisps and chips help the cocktails go down.

2) Canapés

Grab some of the following:

  • smoked salmon
  • sliced roast beef
  • cream cheese
  • blinis and/or brown bread
  • black pepper
  • dill

Pop your blinis in the oven at 180 for about 4 minutes, or toast your bread as usual. Cut your bread slices into triangles or rounds, and slather them and/or the blinis with cream cheese.

Top with smoke salmon and a spring of dill, black pepper and beef or just black pepper and serve warm or cold. Yum.

3) Olives

Love them or hate them, olives are a classy addition to a nibbles bar. I like black olives, but pick up whatever you like, either chilled, jarred or canned. Drain them and serve with generous chunks of feta, and cocktail sticks. It’s like cheese and pinapple for grown ups- tactile and special. For extra drool-worthyness, dress them with a good quality extra virgin olive oil.

4) Super-quick baking

Palmiers sound posh, look clever, cost little and taste great. Buy pre-rolled sheets of puff pastry, slather them with a filling, roll up and cut into little rounds, and bake until puffed up and browned. Try these fillings:

  • Tomato(passata, puree or otherwise), basil and black pepper (also good with cheese)
  • Parmesan and Italian style herbs
  • Cheddar cheese
  • Tapenade
  • Pesto
  • Cinnamon (1 tsp cinnamon mixed with 50g each sugar and butter)
  • Sundried Tomato and Feta

5) Crudités, or presentation, presentation, presentation.

A few shards of carrot and cucumber in a tumbler, next to a tub of dip is, well, a bit sad IMHO. Even when you’re pressed for time, a healthy crunchy snack that looks voluptuous and lush is moments away.

Buy or make dips- whichever you like. Hummus, salsa, guacamole and cream dips are always good bets. Decant them into pretty bowls or dishes if you want your spread to look more home made, and set out.

Next on your shopping list, get your veg:

  • cucumber
  • tomatoes- piccolo and little cherry yellow and orange ones are perfect.
  • Peppers- any colour
  • Celery hearts
  • anything else you like to dip- bread sticks might not be veg, but I tend to grab some too!

Start with a large decorative plate. Trim the celery and cut each stem into three, and use to section out the plate like a clock. Build up waves of colour with piles of sliced peppers and cucumber, and in the centre and sprawling out organically, pile the tomatoes. I try to get some on the vine for extra prettiness and freshness.

It’s a simple concept, but easy to glam up with presentation, and it’s great for making people feel good with the fresh, healthy crunch of nice veg slathered in naughty dips.

 

I hope that’s given you some ideas for your next party. Some if not all of these, make excellent pick me up snacks in their own right!

Until next time, then…

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Quince: Part 2

If you are a longer term reader of She Who Bakes, you’ll remember this little rant about a certain yellow fruit. The rage persisted within me long after posting about it, and I never did get any very helpful responses. It turns out my Aunt has a fruiting Quince tree in her garden (likely a Japanese one), but I didn’t discover this until after I had already taken action.

As I have probably noted previously, I do like to garden. I wouln’t say I’m completely green fingered (though, I am wearing OPI ‘Gargantuan Green Grape’ today’…), but I can keep things alive, get them to flower etc. I’m actually pretty good with roses. But I digress. This spring, being the first spring in my new house, I was keen to start planning my new outdoor living space. I live in a fairly normal Portsmouth house-¬†a victorian terrace 2¬†bed¬†with a yard out the back. My back garden is concreted over, almost in its entirety, which was a little dismaying, but actually, considering how much I am out of the house with work, it’s ideal for a low maintenance set up, and whilst it isn’t vast (also a blessing, really), there’s room for most things I want to do in the short-medium term. It also has a very handsome shed.

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My dream for the garden was a leafy idyll, a respite from my busy commuter lifestyle. I wanted somewhere to relax with a glass of wine in the last of the summer evening sun, private and not too structured, harking back to my garden and the wooded village in my previous Kentish home. And, as an avid preserve maker and baker, I wanted a productive garden- Tomatoes and chillies for chutneys, any other veg to supplement mine and my pets’ meals,¬†berries and fruits for jams, conserves, jellies and desserts, and herbs for all of the above.

The Quince drama made me certain I wanted to grow my own Quinces; that was an imperative. However, my garden as previously mentioned is small, and fruit trees are generally large. I began to investigate cordons, and asked a keen gardener acquaintance of mine, Tony, for advice. He told me about grafting (a lot of commercial fruit trees are actually cuttings from one ideal tree grafted onto, wait for it, Quince rootstock. WHAT.) and advised dwarfing varieties. In my mind, a dwarfing fruit tree would be, say, half the size of normal, so still 3 metres instead of 6- great for fruit picking, not so great for my postage stamp garden, particularly if I wanted more than one. Oh, what I did not know then!

Tony told me about a very good fruit tree producer in my county, Blackmoor. A little rummage (I say little…) on their website introduced me to their Patio Collection– dwarfing fruit trees that grow very happily in large planters or in the ground, and when full grown won’t exceed 1-2 metres in height. This was EXACTLY what I had been looking for. And, lo and behold, they offered a dwarf Quince.

SOLD.

A short drive up past Liss on the same chilly february day of ordering (I could have had it delivered, but I’m impatient), and I collected my beautiful new tree. He was dubbed Quincey, MD.

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It’s now June, and the tree is disgustingly healthy- a testament to the quality provided by Blackmoor. It’s doubled in size, put on leaf and blossom. It will likely fruit this year, and come winter I will be making preserves from them. That’s all I wanted. And, if we apply the maths, It would have cost me in excess of ¬£5 to buy TWO quince fruit last autumn. For ¬£25 plus compost and container (approx ¬£32 all in) I have a beautiful tree, and I will have plenty of fruit to satisfy my curiosity. I only need 12-13 fruit for the tree to have paid for itself, which could theoretically happen this year, looking at the number of buds.

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I’m still annoyed about this. I wouldn’t be if I was talking about a Kiwi (though I have a Kiwi tree…) or a Dragon Fruit (sadly, I don’t grow these), or something else exotic that has to be doused in chemicals and flown halfway around the world for us to eat it, or grown in a hot house at great expense. I am talking about a fruit that not only grows well in the British climate, I’m talking about a fruit that has been grown in England since 1275 AD, a fruit that has grown successfully as far north as Scotland, and is a Eurasian native species. When in season (late autumn), Quince should be in greengrocers and supermarkets, yes, I concede, perhaps only the more specialist ones. I should not be having to shop online for them, nor should they be imported, nor should I have to tell a greengrocer what a Quince is.

We import vast (and I do mean vast) quantities of fruit as a nation that we are quite capable of growing ourselves at likely less expense to the consumer, of greater quality than most imported stock, and with a much reduced impact on pollution and food miles. Every year, tonnes upon tonnes of British fruit rots beneath forgotten trees of old orchards- on roundabouts and sidings. One of best jams I ever made was of little wild plums picked from the side of the approach to the M25 motorway. More and more productive ground is lost, and more and more productive trees are destroyed for space, but also because people can’t be bothered with them.

I’ll do a post another day about ‘scrumping’, and the wealth no doubt available in your home area, but please; just think about how wasteful we are. I’m all for convenience, but please, please look at your labels. Support British produce, buy local and in season in you can. And why not think about looking for fruit in your area, or, even better, planting a fruit tree? It’s good for the environment, good for your well being, good for your tastebuds (you can’t beat homegrown), and, possibly most importantly, good for your pocket.

And for God’s sake, someone agree with me on this Quince issue?

Later days,

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The long and winding tale of a recovered nail biter.

Nail biting isn’t good for you.

Ok, it’s unlikely to kill you, but it’s not the grandest of things. It’s a ‘bad’ habit; socially dubious and probably likely to put someone off in an interview. Whatever is on, under or… around your nail ends up in your mouth and sometimes down your throat, including potentially parasites and germs. It leaves unsightly hands behind- flaky or torn or bitten cuticles which are more prone to skin infections than unbitten nails and their cuticles are. It also results in jagged stumpy nails that snag hose and, more importantly your skin, imbedding whatever is on your nails (afore mentioned bugs and whatnot) in a fresh scratch, ready to cause havoc.

Or at least that’s the way I’ve always seen it. I still did it- I started in primary school when I saw other children doing it and was desperate to fit in. As a person with a somewhat nervous disposition, it stuck, and became not only a nasty habit, but later an obvious tic when I was stressed, down, or out of mind with anxiety. The same is true for many people.

Last year, I had what people certainly used to refer to as ‘a nervous breakdown’. The doctors called in Generalised Anxiety and Depression, and PTSD. I fell apart. I couldn’t work, I could barely get up. As time went on, with hard work, help both medically and therapeutically, and from the friends and family who gathered around me, I began to improve. I still savaged my nails to cope- to take out my nerves and stress in a mildly self destructive way.

When, in autumn, I decided it was high time to face some demons and start seeing people I had to see again, I looked in the mirror and despaired. I thought of all those handshakes, and my blunt and bitten fingers trembled. I had to do something to face, in this case, my cousin’s birthday party.

I picked up my chaperone (phase 1) and we started on the road down the coast to the seat of my family. I swung in to a supermarket, and bought a set of false french manicured nails. We sat in the carpark for 5 minutes while I glued them on, and I drove, spread handed for a few miles, as they dried.

At the party, even if I felt like my insides were swelling up, and my skin was crawling, I looked at my hands, and they were… pretty. Neat. Acceptable. No longer a source of personal shame; evidence of my miserable state of mind. I could fit in with the ‘norms’. A lot of people talk about ‘putting your warpaint on’ to face the day. Well, for me, I sharpened my claws.

I kept gluing the things back on every time they pinged off until there was really no point- they were so glue covered and done.  I was left with my own nails, a tad longer than normal for the exercise, but soon to be savaged by another deep bout of anxiety.

The lead up to Christmas is a busy time for my family, and, having dipped my toes once into that particular social pool, I felt obliged to do it again. I was terrified, but determined. The memory of my talons stuck with me- how much stronger I felt with those ten tiny crutches holding the shreds of my self esteem up. However, I knew I didn’t have the willpower to go cold turkey. I knew the bitter tasting biting stopping potions they sell spoil everything they (or rather, your fingers, touch) including delicious sandwiches and what not, and weren’t a strong enough deterrent for me. I needed to physically NOT be able to bite my nails. At all. So found a local salon (The Nail Boutique– they are truly lovely, barmy ladies), and had acrylics put on.

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Naturally, my nails looked great, and however much I put them in my gob, I didn’t want to bite them, couldn’t really. I felt better- in control of something for once, and a worry was lifted off me. No one could judge me (if they even would) about my hands. My nails were neat and tidy, and they made my short little fingers look longer. For two months I kept getting refills, every 2-3 weeks. I even got them ‘did’ for Christmas.

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When my nails had grown out under the acrylic to the same length as the acrylic, I had them soaked off, and immediately had shellac put on. I had heard about how long it lasted, but also how it added a little strength to the nail too. I have to say, even though I tried the product a few times, it wasn’t me. It never lasted more than a few days- I’d always have to go back and get repairs done, wasting both mine and the salon’s time. I had one set that was discoloured by a mystery substance- no idea what. My nails weren’t strong, and it didn’t really help, and in retrospect- the same colour for 2-3 weeks? I’d get seriously bored.

So I did a bad thing, which made me feel bad- I got rid of the shellac pretty badly, damaging my nails in the process. They were already damaged by the acrylic, so I didn’t care. I was disheartened. But, I realised, my nails were longer than they had been in years. And I wasn’t biting them. Not even a bit. Yes, I’d destroyed the polish (and I was very stressed at the time), but the nails had, pretty much, survived.

I filed them a little bit the improve the shape, and shortened them up when they broke. I oiled them, moisturised them and pampered myself to keep the drive going. Every week they got stronger, broke less. I looked up nail polish brands, told my friends and family what I had achieved (and it WAS an achievement), and found they cheered me on. I bought some lacquer, and then some more (oops), and then found care packages were arriving for my claws and me:

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I was going through a really tough time then- reintegrating back into the work place, still plagued by my illness. Looking after my nails became part of my cooldown. It didn’t matter how bad I felt, I had to do my nails. I had to make sure they looked good, because then I would feel good. And nothing could hurt me then.

Of course, that isn’t true really, but that kind of positive thinking and behaviour is part of building up your self esteem, part of fighting to get better. And some days yes, I do chew off my polish. And yes, when stressed or sad I have bitten at my nails in the past month or so, but only broken ones, and you know, it doesn’t make me happy or calm anymore. They don’t taste the same. Because it isn’t my crutch any more.

I am not suggesting that you need to tumble into a pit of misery and despair in order to claw back out with fabulous nails. In fact, I really, really hope that is not what you need to do it. But if, and only if, you really want to stop biting, this is my advice.

  • Find something to take your mind of biting: Drive that potentially nervous energy into something else, whether it be a hobby (crochet or knitting are good, as they occupy your hands) or even taking care of your nails.
  • Use a deterrent: ‘No more biting’ solutions are to nail biting what squirty bottles are to bad dogs. However, as afore mentioned, they are evil and want to stop you from interacting manually with tasty things. For me, the deterrent was a barrier. A bad dog can’t steal a biscuit if they’re locked away. You can’t bite your nails through falsies. And you’ll get that instant ego boost too.
  • Get support: Tell your friends and family. If they know this is a thing for you (and if you don’t, explain it), they will care, because they love you. Giving up anything addictive is helped by encouragement more than it is by suffering in silence, or chiding. Hate yourself a little less, welcome in love some more. I can’t guarantee they’ll send you insane care packs like my aunt (because, DAMN), but I found that every person who said ‘let me see your nails then… good for you!’ helped just a little more. In fact, I have a friend who complains they are too long now!
  • Be patient: It takes approximately 6 months for the average human nail to grow from the cuticle to the the tip of the finger. If you have little fingers, and/or if your hair grows fast, you might see them grow faster. Likewise, if your hair doesn’t grow fast, or you have larger fingers, you might have to wait longer. But your nails ARE growing all the time, especially when they aren’t being bitten. The more you lavish care on them (nail strengtheners like Nail Envy by OPI, or cuticle oils like Solar Oil by CND), the better they will be when they get there, and on the journey.
  • And finally, if they break, don’t give up!: Filing your nails short is NOT a bad thing. Shorter, broader nails are stronger, and the more weaker, older nail you have filed away, the more cared for, new nail remains. The nail remaining will grow through stronger, and you WILL see a difference the next time they grow out.

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So that’s the story of how I beat my bad habit. I hope my story might help if you’re thinking of quitting. And I apologise that I am not wearing make up in any of the pictures :s.

Good luck, and later days!

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