Sunday, 19 August 2007

Cake sale

Once a month in my office we hold a cake sale in aid of a friend at work's fund raising for a local hospice. Her husband was diagnosed with cancer shortly after they got married and he died not long after. She is going on a 10 day trek to South Africa in memory of her husband - it will involve walking for up to eight hours a day across rough terrain, in 30+ degree heat, camping with very basic facilities and finishing with a white water raft ride on the Orange river on the last day. She is trying to raise £3,000 for the hospice. She's very brave - in more ways than one, and I like to contribute to her sale by rolling up my sleeves and getting the mixing bowl out. The only down side is the amount of washing up!

This month's cakes were Banana Nut Loaf (my old standby), Spiced Apple Cake which was delicious but a bit crumbly, Jam and Coconut Sponge, Coffee and Walnut Squares, Anzac Biscuits and Chocolate Chip Cookies.

Next month, instead of the cake sale, there will be a stall at the hospice and I've volunteered to make jam. I'm going to pick blackberries and crab apples and another work colleague has offered to bring in plums. The only problem is where to get enough jars! I've put up a post on Freecycle and hope I get some responses (hopefully before the blackberries are all gone).

I may also knit some items for sale - I don't know what to make though. I thought hot water bottle covers, cotton dishclothes, or little toys. Maybe some of these little animals from this month's Simply Knitting. I'd welcome any suggestions... I have quite a large stash of knitting wool, and it would help to make a dent. Looking back on my blog, I realise I haven't really shown much of my knitting - when I see what other bloggers do, my attempts look feeble. This is a knitted Arnold the Pig I made a few years ago for my daughter. I wonder if it's the sort of thing that would sell at the fundraising day?

I've never been fond of knitting complicated lacy patterns - I prefer patterns that I can unpick when I make a mistake! I used to knit all the time when my children were young, school jumpers and cardigans, toys for school fetes, but I very rarely knit things for myself. I don't often wear knitted things, though when I see some of the knitted socks other knitters are turning out I'm tempted to try my hand at a pair - these look very cosy.

Monday, 13 August 2007

Finding new homes for things

I was busy over the weekend having a big sort out and found lots of things that are no longer of any use to me , but I thought someone out there might find them useful so I listed quite a few things on Freecycle - buckets and spades and sand toys, an inflatable shark (yes a shark!) and fun tyre, bats and balls, a child's bike seat, a couple of hideous brass plant pots, etc etc, as well as a lawnmower and garden roller for my next door neighbour.

Our local Freecycle has lots of members and most things were snapped up very quickly. I'm always in a quandry who to give things to, though I prefer to give things to people who are friendly and polite. If I list an item and get two replies, and one says "Yes please, when would be convenient for you, here is my phone number", and one just says "I'll take it" I have no problem choosing. Some of the replies do make you laugh - sometimes you get a long sob story, other times people email with their complicated reasons why they want it badly but can't pick up for a week, and others are just plain rude. I usually pick the one that causes the least amount of hassle. My daughter answered the door to one man who came to collect a stack of children's videos and he asked her out. We hadn't bargained for that! (In case you're wondering, she turned him down, very tactfully).

I still have a nightmare garage that needs to be sorted out and I can't imagine what is lurking in my attic. Rest assured, as little as possible will end up in landfill! If it can't be Freecycled, recycled, sent to the jumble sale, charity shop or sold on EBay (if I'm very lucky) only then will it end up being thrown away.

The important thing is, I have made some space in my shed and cupboards and even helped my neighbour shift a few items too. However, I have a confession, I took a bag of things to the local RSPCA shop today, and came away with a couple of little baskets and some holiday reading!

Saturday, 11 August 2007

Living with Autism

I have mentioned before that my son is autistic. He's now 18 and attends a foundation course at a local college. He has very long hair, dresses like a goth, enjoys heavy metal and power metal music, adores Transformers and Japanese anime. He doesn't think he has autism - he thinks he is perfectly normal. In fact he thinks everyone is trying to pigeonhole him into being a person with special needs when he feels he is just fine. This can be a problem as he shrugs off help of any kind and will not accept that he is a bit different.

I knew before he was two that something wasn't quite right but I didn't know exactly what was wrong, it just seemed strange that he didn't have any interest in talking. I actually thought he might be deaf but he was checked and found to have normal hearing at around 20 months. It was a real struggle to get anyone to take any notice - the health visitor said he was "a late developer" and the GP wasn't really interested.

Sadly, worry about my son's development took a back seat as just before his 2nd birthday he was scalded on his chest and upper arm which involved weeks in hospital and months of dressings and eventually pressure garments. In addition, around the same time my 4 year old daughter was diagnosed with a blood disorder that we battled with for the next 7 or 8 years. On top of everything, we also moved house, but at last I found a new health visitor who was more inclined to listen to my concerns about my son's development, and we were referred to a paediatric consultant who tried in vain to assess him. My son either couldn't or wouldn't co-operate, but finally there was recognition that something was not right. He was referred to a children's centre where he had weekly speech therapy sessions; there was very limited progress, and eventually at age 4 he was referred to an educational psychologist. She told me then that he had an Autistic Spectrum Disorder and decided that he would need to go to a special school where they would be able to carry out further assessment.

He was so difficult in those years, constant tantrums, impossible to communicate with, but so beautiful he could make your heart melt. He spoke in "echolalia", repeating parrot fashion whole episodes of Thomas the Tank Engine, but couldn't ask for food or drink, he had to be buttoned up tight and covered from neck to toe, couldn't bear to wear a tshirt or shorts in the summer and never went anywhere without a hat on. He would never try anything new - food, games, TV programmes, activities - even hated wearing new clothes. He lived in a little world of his own, almost as if he was a cartoon character - I'm sure he wished he was Toby the Tram.

To cut a long story short, I never imagined the little boy who lived entirely in the world of Thomas, Toby and James, would ever grow up to have any kind of independent life. It may be some years yet before he'll be able to live on his own, but he can travel to Colchester on the train by himself, can cook his own meals (a limited menu at the moment, but he's learning) and shops for his own clothes and music. Admittedly, he doesn't have good social skills but he has lots of online friends that share the same interests as him and most of the time he's happy. He loves shopping but is absolutely hopeless with understanding money though he functions well enough with a bit of help (he can always phone me on his mobile to ask if a £10 note is enough to buy something for £7.50!). And he is now one of the most talkative people you can imagine (admittedly, he loves to talk almost exclusively about things that interest him) but what an enormous change from that silent little 2 year old.

We didn't have a great experience with education; the local provision didn't really meet my son's needs at the time, but I'd like to hope things are improving. The National Autistic Society's campaign Make School Make Sense asks for improved training for teachers and better provision of schools. I hope that in time there will be more support for people with autism and their families. As the song goes: things can only get better!

Friday, 3 August 2007

Happy Bunnies

The rabbits have settled in really well to their new home, though I constantly confuse them by moving things around inside their little house. I have tried to create lots of dark nooks and crannies for them and the last few weekends I have tried various arrangements to find the most suitable. I have finally come to the conclusion that they actually like the excitement of new places to explore so every week when I give their house a clean I'm going to shift their "furniture".

They have their original rabbit hutch (which I am horrified to think pet shops sell as adequate homes for rabbits to live in - there isn't enough room to stand up, or stretch out). I have removed one door so they can hop in and out, and they can hide underneath or stretch out on the roof. Clover has eaten her way through all four legs, but is keeping her teeth nice and short in the process. They have a "sheepy" footstool (originally from Ikea, which I got very cheap off EBay) with Clover's habit of demolishing everything she can get her teeth in to, she's had a really good chunk out of it. They also have the little table and chairs that came with the wendy house when I bought it. With an assortment of old towels and blankets for them to dig into (and for Clover to nibble on) or draped over, they've got lots of hidey holes to play in.

I go out early most mornings and to gather a few fresh leaves and twigs for them to nibble on, hazel and beech are very popular, as well as dandelion leaves - Bramble likes to eat the flowers too. They also get a little cabbage, carrots, broccoli and an occasional apple or pear and Excel for dry food). All this love and care, but they are still totally terrified by the sight of a human. I did mention before that we got these two from the RSPCA, but I don't think they were handled much so they are very shy and Clover really hates to be picked up. Bramble tolerates it, but as soon as he is back in his own space he's out of sight, back legs thumping in a very cross way!

As much as I would love to have two cuddly rabbits, I don't mind too much, as I could just watch them for hours, particularly when they groom themselves or each other. There is no cuter sight than a rabbit washing its face and ears!

Thursday, 2 August 2007

Where did July go?

What a horrible month July was. I'm not a huge fan of hot sunny weather, but July was so wet, cold and miserable that even I was longing for a change.

I had planted tomatoes, courgettes, broccoli, cabbages and pumpkins and a few assorted herbs in the garden, but the wet conditions have meant that I have very little to show for my efforts - the slugs and snails just love the wet, and mildew seems to be spreading everywhere.

Work has been horrible, which I won't elaborate on but things have been so bad I even applied for another job and although I got an interview, I wasn't successful. I'm keeping my eyes open for other opportunities, but I'm the wrong side of 50 and it isn't easy.

Among my few entertainments this month, I decided to read all the Harry Potter books - well the first 6 at least. The final instalment still awaits me. I know, they are children's books, but I've enjoyed reading them, and it's been a bit of escapism. I loved fantasy books as a child/teenager, all the C S Lewis books, The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, but I haven't really read much fantasy as an adult. I mainly read crime novels, psychological thrillers and modern and classic fiction. Maybe I'll dip into some adult fantasy fiction, and see it they are as much fun as HP!