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Wednesday, 18 February 2015

There once was an alpaca....

A bit of publicity for a random act of kindness today (RAK). My friend at work likes alpacas; she went to an alpaca farm for her birthday and when I got some alpaca fibre recently she was daydreaming about having a headband with alpaca ears on it.

So I went one better....

It's a bit big, but it will shrink a little when washed in hot water. The yarn is handspun 50% Texel, 45% alpaca, 5% merino, and there is enough left over to make another couple of hats - so hop over to my Folksy shop and bag yourself some RAK alpaca too!

Monday, 9 February 2015

Sad? No way!

(or How To Make Your Birthday Last A Week).

Yes, it's my birthday this week, and as usual I have taken the week off work. Why anyone would want to work on their birthday is beyond me; it's the first date I book for leave every year and I have no intention of working on my birthday ever. So there!

I have had a couple of comments recently, from well-meaning friends and colleagues, along the lines of, "It must be hard when your husband can't celebrate your birthday with you". Isn't it odd how people make assumptions? Of all the 365 days in each year, birthdays are no more or less hard than any other day. Him not being here (or being there) is just how it's always been for us.

To me, birthdays are more important than other national or religious holidays. In our family they have always been the day when the birthday person gets to choose what to have for tea, and what to watch on telly. We also tend to spin our birthdays out too, covering as many days as possible. In previous years I've been to gigs, exhibitions and on general adventures in the days before and after my birthday. If week-long celebrations were good enough for the Romans....

My husband is very good at getting his cards to arrive before the actual day. I have no idea how he manages it, given the number of different hands our mail passes through and the inevitable delays and disappearances. My birthday envelope arrived at the end of last week, and I have been very good and not opened it yet.

Of course most people associate birthday with presents. I get enough from my friends and other family, I'm not in need of anything more from my husband. If the giving of gifts was a requirement of mine for a successful relationship, I really shouldn't have married him! And at least this way, I don't have to share my chocolates, or worry that the flowers I treated myself to this afternoon will bring on his allergies.

We are focused on our next visit now in a few weeks, so this week is more a time to get practical stuff like dental appointments and boiler servicing done than being too extravagant. I am visiting Oxford later this week with my daughter and we are going to the William Blake exhibition at the Ashmolean, and for burgers at Atomic Burger down the Cowley Road.

I have no need to ask for more.



Saturday, 31 January 2015

Elderly, cold, hungry and alone

There is an elderly chap, we'll call him Joe, who spends most of his days in a small room. Like many others of his generation, Joe has outlived his parents, siblings and even some younger members of his extended family. Friends drifted away many years ago.

Joe tries to make ends meet by being creative. He has a little enterprise where he makes twine from scraps that other people discard, and the twine is useful to occasional interested parties. But making the twine is getting harder as Joe's fingers are developing arthritis, and his eye sight isn't what it used to be. Joe doesn't complain; no one would listen if he did and he prefers to keep himself to himself these days.

Getting up at 3am every day for breakfast is getting harder, especially in the winter. The thermal underwear he was given a few years ago by someone passing through is full of holes but it is still one of his prized possessions. But Joe dare not stay in bed and miss a meal - he doesn't have the means of making a snack to keep him going until the next meal time rolls around, whenever that might be. After breakfast, Joe sits by the window looking out at the sleet falling from a grey sky not too dissimilar from the walls surrounding him. He wonders how many more winters he will see, and whether any will be from the other side of the glass and grey walls. What will happen if his sight goes completely? Will they move him away from his familiar surroundings that he can navigate now if he needed to, to somewhere "more suitable" but completely unfamiliar?

You out there reading this, are you thinking "there are charities who can help Joe"? Unfortunately, Joe is just one of thousands of inmates in America's prisons serving a long sentence with little to no chance of parole. Joe's crime was committed decades ago, when he by his own admissions was "young and stupid". No one got killed, but criminals had to be made examples of. Even if Joe was able to apply for parole, he would not meet the requirements of having a stable address and prospects of employment to parole out to. He is in a catch 22 situation that is only partly of his own making.

This is not a European stereotypical call for all inmates to be released. Some of us over here are more sensible than that, and clearly there are some inmates who continue to pose a threat to themselves or others regardless of their mental or physical age. But they are not the majority.

TDCJ is one of the few corrections agencies that have an official age designation for "geriatric inmates". You may find it hard to believe that it is the age of 55. Prison can preserve a body or accelerate its demise. TDCJ recommend around 450 inmates for early medical parole every year, and yet fewer than 1/8 of those inmates are approved by the Board or Pardons and Paroles (BPP). The BPP believe that it is better to keep these individuals inside a prison and have the tax payer fund their increasing medical bills, rather than release them into a community where the remaining friends, family and social support networks are often willing and able to help.

My husband knows a number of Joes in his prison. We help where we can, but the system discourages inmates from sharing, selling or giving away physical items. My husband officially became a geriatric inmate himself recently and we have another 10 years to hang on before we get to ride the parole roller coaster. In a country that prides itself on opportunity, there is a large pool of unproductive but willing labour at the country's disposal. Imagine, instead of 2 million inmates sucking the life out of the country's finances, what if there were even 1 million less of them and 1 million more contributing to the economy even in a small way and paying some of their own medical bills. Maybe not the land of the free, but more the land of the hard working repentants?  

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

30 Q&As for last year and this

I know I said no looking back, but I saw this meme on a few other blogs over the past week so decided to join in.


  1.  What did you do in 2014 that you'd never done before?
    Published my first knitting pattern, and got some orthopaedic inserts for my shoes.


    2. Did you keep your new years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
    I don't normally make new year resolutions, but I did want to get better at spinning and I've achieved that. 


    3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

    Two of my friends had babies this year, both little boys.

    4. Did anyone close to you die?
    Not particularly close to me, but one of my husband's relatives died in November.


    5. What countries did you visit?
    Wales, America and Denmark. I think people forget that Wales is a different country to England sometimes.


    6. What would you like to have in 2015 that you lacked in 2014?

    A pair of Viking combs.

    7. What dates from 2014 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

    Definitely our time in Denmark in September. Four nights and 3 whole days exploring Copenhagen and Roskilde with my daughter was exciting and chilled at the same time. 

    8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
    Apart from not quitting my day job in a blaze of glory (or just a blaze); publishing and selling my knitting patterns.


    9. What was your biggest failure?
    I haven't failed at anything specifically this year, but I haven't finished everything I had hoped to. 


    10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
    Quite the contrary, my blood pressure is now well under control, my feet are responding well to the inserts (though my back is still protesting) and I've lost a few pounds in weight. Mentally I've had a few wobbly days, but nothing that got out of hand.

    11. What was the best thing you bought?
    A washing machine for my daughter and her chap, for their new house.


    12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?
    Stephen Sutton. Without doubt a very special young man who devoted his final months of life to raising funds to assist other teenagers with cancer. If you would like to donate, you still can here Stephen's Just Giving Page


      13. Where did most of your money go?
    Flights. Which makes it sound like I jet set around the globe regularly, but I don't. The cost of a return flight from London to Houston is now around £800, which is more than twice what it was the first time I flew there in 2006. It is also more than I spent in total for 4 nights in a hotel, flight and spends in Denmark.


    14. What songs will always remind you of 2014?

    Nickelback – Edge of a Revolution
    Ed Sherring – Sing
    Royal Blood – Little Monster

    15. What do you wish you'd done more of?
    Dancing.


    16. What do you wish you'd done less of?

    Banging my head against metaphorical brick walls.

    17. How did you spend Christmas?
    I don't celebrate Christmas. We celebrate the winter solstice instead, doing much the same thing as everyone else does a few days later. On Christmas day this year I cleaned my front room carpet and did loads of laundry.


    18. Did you fall in love in 2014?
    Yes, with a bakery in Copenhagen.


    19. What was your favourite TV program?
    I really don't watch a lot of telly, I tend to have it on in the background just to help me keep track of time. I did enjoy the BBC's Musketeers, Crimes of Passion (the Swedish murder mystery series on BBC4) and my guilty pleasure, Strictly Come Dancing.

    20. What was the best book you read?
    Jo Nesbo “Phantom” - I adore his writing and can't wait to read the next in the series “Police”


    21. What was your greatest musical discovery?
    Royal Blood – gutted that their tour sold out before I could get a ticket.


    22. What did you want and get?

    Dresses! 

    23. What did you want and not get?

    Less stress at work, less micromanagement, less deception.

    24. What was your favourite film of this year?
    I didn't see many films this year, certainly fewer than in 2013, but I really enjoyed Dallas Buyers Club, Out of the Furnace, and the 3
    rd Hobbit.


    25. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
    Apparently I was 44. Not the exact day of my birthday, but we did go to Southampton to see Killswitch Engage and Trivium.


    26. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
    Not having to explain and accept the inconsistencies and bloody-mindedness of TDCJ. There is no sensible reason why TDCJ inmates are not permitted to make pre-paid overseas calls. But maybe we'll get video visits instead before he comes home.


    27. What kept you sane?
    Knitting, my daughter, loud music, the robin on my window feeder, frozen yoghurt.


    28. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
    Christian Bale. Nuff said.


    29. Who did you miss?

    My parents. My husband. My dearest friend.

    30. What does 2015 hold for you?
    A new job (secondment), more European-style eating, and possibly (hopefully) a trip to Norway.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Onwards

At this time of year, many people look back over the past 12 months and dissect their trials and tribulations. I find that a little depressing, even for the happy times, because they have gone and you can't get them back. So I prefer to look forwards, do a bit of planning (in the face of the Gods, just to see if they are taking any notice) and work out where I'd like to be in 12 months or so from now.

The recent VAT debacle has made me revise my original plans for developing the knitting patterns I've been working on. This has been a good thing, though I'd rather it hadn't been dropped on me at a moment's notice. But, carpe diem and all that jazz. I may not be as prolific as some designers out there, but I think I can contribute something to the global pattern library, so I will be working on those this year.

I'll still be spinning of course, and I have some more grey Gotland fleece on order. It's all part of the bigger picture really; I want to spin so I have yarn to create designs with, for myself and my family. I do also have a large stash of assorted yarns that I need to work with before buying any more... but any knitter out there will know how likely that is! 2015 is the Chinese year of the Sheep (goat/ram/etc) so I'm hoping to pick up some of the fleecy vibes.

I'll be seeing my husband again this spring, which is usually the main event in my year. I'm contemplating requesting a weekday visit at the moment, as it would fit our plans better. They are at the Warden's discretion of course, but if you don't ask, you're unlikely to get.

Blogging more often is also on my To Do list. I'm not one to blog for the sake of it, you are unlikely to see "this is my breakfast" or "my cat just did this" posts, but I do want to aim for at least once a month this year.

I've been offered a new opportunity at my day job, a secondment for up to 2 years, so things will be changing there and hopefully for the better. I'm not allowing myself to get excited about it until I have more details, but it has come at the right time for me. I've been doing my current job for just over 9 years now and things have changed a lot in that time.

There will be a bit of travel around the UK for my family history investigations. We have a castle in Durham ... well, we did, a few centuries ago, and it's now a mossy ruin, but I'd still like to go up and have a wander if I can. Plus there are still some bits of Berkshire that I need to get to and document properly.

So really 2015 will be more of the same, but hopefully bigger and better, and a little more lucrative!

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Out with the old and in with the new - VATMOSS

Anyone in the EU who sells digital files should now be aware of the changes in VAT legislation that come into force on 1 January 2015. There are details on HMRC's website.

This has had a big impact on my plans for developing the knitting patterns that I have so far designed. I currently sell them on Etsy, as Folksy does not provide a platform for digital downloads. However, Etsy has been extremely tardy in its information to sellers and only a few days ago announced that it would not be handling the VAT on behalf of European sellers as it believes that is our responsibility. Unfortunately, HMRC and the rest of the EU disagree.

In short, I cannot comply with the EU directive by myself. It would mean collecting 2 non-conflicting items of evidence for the purchaser's address, and storing them for 10 years on an EU approved secure server, as well as submitting VAT returns every 3 months covering all of my sales (not just the digital patterns). Up to this point, the VAT threshold has been £81,000 for small businesses; when you make less than that each year you are not required to register for VAT. From 1 January 2015, there will be no threshold for digital sales, and the EU is hoping to extend this to physical items as early as 2016.

For micro businesses across the EU this is a disaster. There are several petitions which you can sign on Change.org. The EU-wide petition is here: Change.org EU petition for suspension of VAT changes and you can read up on the comments on Twitter using the #VATMOSS hashtag. Other seller platforms such as Ravelry and Folksy have been meeting with HMRC over the past couple of weeks to bring to HMRC's attention how the changes will impact small and micro businesses. It is sad, but not surprising, that the EU commissioners did not thoroughly investigate the impact since the changes were first announced in 2007.

However badly the directive has been constructed, it will still come into law in a few days time. This means I have had to re-think how I sell my knitting patterns now and in the future. I have been looking at other platforms - some that currently focus on ebook sales as the VAT directive affects them too. I'm now feeling more positive than I was a week ago; I have a platform I can use who will also handle the VAT on my behalf, and it has spurred me on to continue to design and develop more patterns and offer them in different formats.

Until I have my own website, I will list my patterns for sale here on my blog, under the Hare's Moon page over on the right. The link will take the buyer through to Payhip.com where you can purchase the pattern simply and easily using PayPal. I will also be working on collections of patterns, rather than single items. These will be for sale via Payhip and by CD mailed to you. Stay tuned for the release of these pattern collections later in 2015.


Saturday, 18 October 2014

It's in the blood

Back from our Danish adventure (with a little bit of Sweden thrown in as well), and have some images to share with you all!













Our 4 nights in Copenhagen were great, so much to see in such a relatively small place. I could definitely adopt the culture of not hurrying anywhere and always time for coffee and cake.

Since I've been back, I've started to move some of my Etsy shop stock over to Folksy. For those who are not familiar with Folksy, it's a British-based marketplace similar to Etsy, but I like the feel of it better for my yarns and hares. If you are interested, check it out Hare's Moon Yarns on Folksy