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Saturday, 7 December 2013


A few days ago, Hubby and I celebrated 7 years of marriage. We celebrated separately of course; we've only spent one anniversary together in all of those years.

We have two anniversaries each year. Our wedding anniversary in December and also our "first contact" anniversary in June. That marks the day that we first knew each other, the day we first talked. Hubby always places more importance on that one than I do, possibly because he has been married before and I haven't.

When I read others' posts about their anniversaries with their husbands, fiances and boyfriends, I always think they get a bit gushing and luvvie. I'm sure that to them, their men are wonderful and everything they ever wanted in a man - except for not actually being there of course. I don't want to go down that same route with this post. Instead, I want to put down what it means to me to be a wife.

So many women go into marriage thinking about what they will gain from it. Whether it be financial or emotional or practical support, there is often a benefit to being married rather than staying single (or even staying with the guy but not being married). When you marry an inmate, it really doesn't work like that at all, especially if the inmate is in TDCJ.

If you are looking for financial help, you really should look elsewhere. TDCJ inmates are not paid for the work that they generally have to do, so you'd better make sure you can support yourself, and him (and any kids or other family you might have or acquire through marriage). I have a good full-time job which is enough to cover our expenses; he hates it that I send him money each month, but if I didn't he wouldn't be able to write to me or the rest of our family or friends.

Practical support is also, obviously, not there. I take out my own rubbish, do my own dishes, put up my own shelves and do my own laundry. Ours is a self-contained relationship in that we each take care of ourselves and not physically each other. This wouldn't work for everyone, you have to be very comfortable with your own company and resourceful, not minding if you break a nail here and there.

So what's in it for me, I hear you wondering.

At the risk of slipping into slushiness, it's the emotional support. I'm a pretty together woman, and can draw on my own reserves when I need to, but what I get out of this arrangement is someone who cares what's happening to me. Someone to discuss stuff with, and make decisions with, someone to tell about my day who is genuinely interested. Someone to share new discoveries with, someone to encourage and who encourages me in return. It's a bonus that I happen to think he is damned good looking.

I take my vows very seriously. Not the common "love, honour and obey" that you get in religious ceremonies, because we didn't have one of those. We were married by a Judge and the words she used were much more relevant to us, about being two individuals making the choice to face whatever life throws at them together. To be each other's shelter and stability. That was my promise to Hubby, that I would continue to be as I had been up to then, that I could give him consistency and stability.

The past 7 years have been..... unorthodox. Naturally there are things I would change if I could, but he isn't one of them.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Adventures with fibre: a weekend to dye for

After selling a few skeins of yarn over at Hares Moon Yarns, I decided to try some experiments with different and unusual fibres. Not only do I want to see how they knit up, I also wanted to have a go at dying them.

Having bought 400g of white shetland as the base, I chose 100g bamboo and 100g of banana fibre to play with from D&T Craft & Design in Sale, Cheshire. Having drawn a blank in finding any acid dyes locally, I bought some small pots online from Rainbow Silks in Buckinghamshire.

The shetland dyes really well, though it can be a bit patchy if you don't loosen it after squeezing out the excess water before putting it in the dye bath.

I've dyed soy silk before and that also takes the dye really well, so I hoped that these other plant fibres would act in a similar fashion. Not so.

Both have come out interesting but pastel shades of the colours I was hoping for. The banana I divided in 2 and now have some pale yellow and some pale peach (which should have been the same as the shetland above as it is was in the same pot!). The bamboo I was hoping to turn a deep sea green, but I have mint instead. Nice, but not really what I wanted.

By contrast, the soy silk I dyed a couple of weeks ago is a good strong colour:

I think I'll stick with the soy silk for now, although I'd like to try some cotton at some point.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Using a sledgehammer to crack a peanut

TDCJ has outdone itself yet again when imposing new rules on inmate correspondence.

Two things have found their way to me this week relating to the new inmate correspondence rules for TDCJ that come into effect next March.

The first is that apparently, from then on, the only place that friends and family can purchase stationary for inmates will be eComm Direct, the "new" online vendor for TDCJ. I predicted this would happen a few months ago, and now it has. I feel bad for the small businesses around Texas that had previously been approved by TDCJ to supply stationary like the Texas Prison Bookstore and Rosie's Graphics.

The other item is about things you cannot send to an inmate:

11. Contains an altered photo.

"Altered Photo” is an image with content in violation of this policy that has been edited, including, but not limited to, by removing or changing the contents of the image with a computer software program or other means
I don't think they realise how badly worded that statement is - or if they do, then it is a Draconian measure that could lead to the mailrooms denying all photos because they could not be sure if they had been "altered" or not. Altered must surely include cropping a photo, as well as adding text as I often to do the copies of our visit photos that my husband and I get, just to put the date and our names on the front so he can send them on to family and friends.

If they don't want people to send naked photos with stars or other shapes blocking out the naughty bits, then fine, say so. But this will affect a lot of people who innocently just want to tidy up a photo, and perhaps obscure someone's face (like a child) and then send it to the inmate. Equally, the "or other means" at the end would potentially also include cutting a photo with scissors or even writing the inmate's name and number on the back of it. Whoever came up with this new rule obviously has far too much time on their hands!

 image from: Google
It could however, be more insidious than that. It could be that someone in TDCJ thinks that women should not pose naked for photographs - even if the crucial bits are obscured - even if they are sending them to their husbands. It could be that TDCJ are trying to change the behaviour of people who are otherwise outside its control. Or it could just be that someone has put a CO's wife's head on the body of someone else in a compromising position and caused a major fight somewhere.

But the most useful piece of information they could have included is not there at all - what exactly constitutes a "package" as far as TDCJ is concerned? 

Monday, 2 September 2013

Hare's Moon Yarns

If you are a knitter, crocheter or just someone who likes messing around with yarn, why not take a look at what's on sale at Hare's Moon Yarns right now.

To purchase any of these yarns click here:  Hare's Moon Yarns

Monday, 26 August 2013

A long weekend

It's the August bank holiday weekend here in England (the Scots don't share this one with us), which means Monday off work for a lot of people, me included. It hasn't come too soon in my opinion, I tend to work all through the summer when others are taking their holidays, and I use my days in the spring and autumn instead. That makes for a long slog getting from week to week though, so I do look forward to this short working week. We haven't had a public holiday since the end of May this year, and don't get another until Christmas.

It's given me an extra day to just do very little. Normal weekends are not quite long enough to fully let my head unwind, but this does feel like a proper break from work. My job involves thinking for about 15 other people, planning and troubleshooting as well as customer service, so it's nice to only think about me for a while.

But as usual, I end up thinking of other people anyway! My mother-in-law hasn't had the best of summers, so while out shopping yesterday I decided to get a few small things to make a surprise package for her. When I got home, I decided I also needed a small bag to put the items in, and so set about making a Bag Of Sunshine:

I've been suffering a little bit of Festival Envy this weekend too, watching the Reading Festival on telly. I grew up in that town, and spent a few of my teenage summers either inside the festival or just hanging out on the outside meeting random people and generally enjoying the music and the atmosphere (back in the days when it was still a ROCK Festival). My daughter went for the first time when she was 12 (with her dad) and that spawned an equal appreciation of live music to rival mine. We are hoping to go and see Volbeat live in October together, but watching the kids at Reading this weekend made me yearn for the days of sun, beer and tunes in a field in Berkshire. I'm tool old and arthritic to camp over these days, but maybe next year Download for the day...

The downside to a bank holiday weekend is no mail on the Monday. As I've had the time to write, my husband will be getting a much longer letter than he's been used to recently, so no complaints from him! He generally doesn't complain but as I've worked a few very long days over the past month, I've been sending cards instead of proper letters. Now I can expand on some of the things I've just mentioned in passing, which stimulates conversation back from him too. He has also started writing short pieces for a blog on the nature he sees when he is working. It's a good discipline, one we both enjoy.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

From him to me

Another song he wants me to listen to. This is about as close to Country music as he dare nudge me, but as he's asking....

Sheryl Crow ~ "Easy"

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Need cake?

Who doesn't!

I'm all for people starting their own small businesses, and a friend of mine at work' wife has recently started a cake making business. It is called Laura's Cakes, and she is based in Gloucestershire, England. My friend brought a batch of Laura's Cakes to work today for us to road-test, and I have to say that the vanilla sponge with vanilla buttercream icing and a white chocolate drizzled strawberry on top were awesome!

So get on over to Laura's Cakes and order yourself some scrumminess like the cupcakes made by Laura below :)

Saturday, 6 July 2013

The Mountain

Many of us have mountains to climb in our lives. Some are the real kind of rocks and snowy peaks that we chose to climb because they are there. Others are obstacles in our way to other things, we usually hope "better" things. And for some, life itself is just one big mountain that must be scaled.

My husband an I are negotiating a mountain of sorts with his time in TDCJ, and this in itself is a mountain of his that he reached the top of, only to find a bigger one obscured by the mist. For his brother, life has been one mountain after another, and may have grown bigger over time due to his brother's own actions. You can't bury mountains; they rise and fall of their own volition, but if you have the right equipment then most are conquerable. Sadly for my brother-in-law, he faced one mountain too many and was found dead a few days ago.

This now presents us with more mountains, although I am confident that these will not be as large or looming as ones we've already faced.

The first one was how to get word to my husband. His mother lives in a care home and is unable to access the inmate telephone system for TDCJ inmates. I live in the UK, and am also prohibited from registering with the TDCJ phone system. My mother-in-law is also in a difficult position when wanting to call overseas, but thankfully the care home did allow her to call me a couple of days after the event.

She also called and spoke to one of the new Chaplains at my husband's unit, explained the situation, and the Chaplain organised a call between my husband and my mother-in-law, which is not supposed to happen but I am so thankful that it did. It meant my husband was informed within a few days of the death of his brother, and by someone close to him instead of a guard or the Chaplain himself.

Had either of us been able to access the TDCJ inmate phone system, the Chaplain's assistance would not have been necessary.

The yarn I have been spinning this week is half Yak down and half Merino wool and very soft to the touch. I had been thinking of naming it something to do with the Himalayas because of the Yak content. However, time moves on even if we don't. It is now simply named "The Mountain". 

Friday, 21 June 2013

Big knits

I'm not a small woman, though I'm certainly not enormous, and I don't really like clothes that cling to me and show everything I've got. Friends and I were discussing the lack of knitting patterns for women of a certain size that don't all look like galleons in full sail or potato sacks with no shaping. I think I may have found some nice patterns from the folks at DROPS, and not only are they all available up to around a 50" bust, they are also FREE to download!

I can't add photos because of copyright, but here are some links to the patterns on Ravelry:

Garter stitch jumper 3/4 sleeves with frill

Garter stitch jumper, full sleeves with lace shawl neck

4ply striped jumper, 3/4 sleeves scoop neck with eyelet detail

Super chunky cable jumper with scoop neck

Super chunky jumper with hood

Aran weight jumper, 3/4 sleeves, empire line with hood

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Busy, busy, busy...

This past month has been jam-packed full of stuff! I've been doing some overtime at work, which hopefully will pay for a few days away at the seaside in September and my daughter's birthday present this year. I've also been dog-sitting for a friend's West Highland Terrier called Spike. He is no trouble at all, but as I only have access to a communal garden, we were out walking 3 times a day while he was here!

Of course I have been spinning as well. I acquired a full Welsh Mountain fleece, and I've spun about half of it so far into a very fine yarn that my friend can use in her weaving. The other half I will be spinning into slightly thicker yarn to go into my Etsy shop. Margot, my wheel, has been working hard this month and we've produced 2 different coloured yarns as well as the Welsh Mountain.

Finally, last week I spent the day in Shrewsbury, Shropshire with my daughter and another friend. I'd never been there before, but it's a very pretty town with lots of Tudor buildings and a lovely riverside walk. It felt like it should have a University, but it doesn't; just an Abbey (the setting for Ellis Peters' "Cadfael" novels) and the grave of Ebenezer Scrooge, as well as being the birthplace of Charles Darwin.

So to illustrate all this, here's a slideshow of some of the things I've seen recently.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Eurovision: you put your best act in, you best act out, in out, in out....

I am unashamed to say, I adore the Eurovision Song Contest. From way back when I was a kid and used to listen in bed to it on my radio, to my adult years watching it on TV, I have only missed a handful of shows over the past 40*cough* years.

Now that Eurovision 2013 has come and gone (number 58 for all you aficionados, so only 2 more years to the Really Big Party Eurovision - can you imagine it!) the inevitable introspective naval gazing has begun in the British media. Oh why do we do so badly, they opine. Last week everyone seemed relatively confident that good old Bonnie Tyler would "do well" and some were even sticking their necks out that she might .... well, come in the top 3 at least.

But no. Bonnie managed what is now being described as a "credible" 19th place with 23 points. I think the media just don't want to rub salt in the wound. The top 3 acts all got over 200 points, and Bonnie came in behind the Armenian entry which was written by Black Sabbath's Tony Iomi. That in itself should tell you something about why the UK hasn't won since we borrowed an American called Katrina back in 1997.

While I wasn't a huge fan of Denmark's winning entry, I can see why it won. The staging took you straight to Les Miserables - one of the biggest films out in the past year, and a smash hit musical, not to mention a classic novel written by Frenchman, Victor Hugo. Add a young blonde girl with a passable voice and a catchy repetitive chorus and Bob's your mother's brother.

Azerbaijan's second place was courtesy of an attractive young chap singing a well-written song (in English, as were many of the higher-placed songs, so the UK can hardly complain that no one understood our lyrics), with interesting staging of a "shadow" man in a glass box and a girl in a red dress. Third place Ukraine I personally thought had a weak song, but they did employ a gimmick of having the female singer carried in by a 7 and a half foot tall guy dressed as an ogre. I have no idea what that had to do with the song, but it seemed to do the trick!

My personal favourite this year, Malta's entry, did really well, and the Norwegian song has been growing on me all week - so much so that I've added it to my Spotify playlist today. My daughter loved the Greek entry, a ska number called "Alcohol Is Free" by a group of guys wearing black kilts, who also finished inside the top 10. That's the beauty of Eurovision.

So, why didn't the UK win? Simple, we don't take it seriously enough. We insist on wheeling out either spoof acts created solely for Eurovision, or has-beens (even nice ones like Bonnie and Blue), with songs that may well be popular with Radio 2 listeners, but do not hit the button with the rest of Europe. The UK really does have some of the most tallented musicians in the world, the best song-writers and the biggest-selling artists winning awards all around the globe and racking up platinum after platinum record sales. But if we want to win Eurovision, we have to stop looking down out noses at it and just sending a token entry to the slaughter.

Look at Hungary's and Malta's entries this year: 2 simple, low key, songs with young male singers who you'd be happy to see any night of the week down at your local pub Open Mike night. Swap either for Ed Sheeran, and we'd have been in the top 10 too. If we need a female singer to belt out a power ballad, look no further than Adele or even Florence West from Florence and the Machine. Hell, swap the Danish girl for Diana Vickers from X Factor and we'd have probably done better than we did last night. Let any of them write their own song, and it could be United Kingdom 12 points all the way.

The political voting was reduced last night, mainly due to some of the usual culprits not getting through the semi-finals. Austria didn't even give Germany 12 points and I can't remember the last time that happened. It's really not because the rest of Europe don't like us: they just don't like what we send to Eurovision. And frankly, neither do we.

The only way for the UK to do better next year is for someone to take a good look at what is popular around Europe in their respective Top 40 charts in around September this year. Then ask a Brit who happens to be doing similar stuff rather well to give it a go. Release the song at the end of March right across Europe so that everyone has already heard it by the time May arrives. Sit back and cross fingers.

If we really do want to do well, that is.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Hot off the wheel

New listing at my Hare's Moon Yarns Etsy shop, Mint Crisp. Click here for more details and to purchase.

Coming soon: Mint Crisp (light) ~ a thinner, softer version of the above yarn.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

There and back again... again

I've just got back from another visit to Texas to see my husband. For anyone contemplating this kind of lifestyle, the stress related to visiting an inmate in a foreign country cannot be overstated. It's certainly not all hearts and flowers and violins playing in the background! More likely, it will be hearts strung out like a piece of elastic, flowers drawn on a handmade card, and the constant background noise of other families trying to visit at the same time as you.

While our visit this weekend was one of our best ~ mainly because the visit room was very quiet on both days, probably because of Cinco de Mayo ~ there seems to always be something that leaves us thinking "Huh?". This time, it was pictures, or rather the lack of them. Most TDCJ units only allow photographs to be taken at the visits of inmates and their visitors on the first weekend of each month. The money made (each photo costs $3) goes to local charities, and the photos are taken by the guards or by volunteers linked to the charity involved. Sometimes, a month will be set aside where photos are available on every weekend in that month. That seems to happen in September for some reason.

I try to arrange our visits so that I am there on a photo weekend. We need those photos to add to my husband's parole packet when the time comes, to show continued support. I may also need them when I decide to try and move to the States. This weekend was the first in May, so naturally we assumed we would be able to have photos. But when I arrived for registration on Saturday there was a sign on the picket door saying "No photos today!". When I asked about it, the guards said that the decision had been made to do photos next weekend instead, because that is Mother's Day in the US.

I didn't make a big deal of it, but I don't understand why they couldn't do the photos on both weekends. In fact, why limit them to once a month in the first place? Questions like this rarely get an answer with TDCJ. It just is.

It was lovely and warm there in Tennessee Colony, cool by TX standards but perfect for me and my pale European skin. My husband's unit has a set of tables outside of the contact visit room, with canopies over them, fenced in within the grass surrounding the building. You would get to them from the contact room. If the door was ever open that is. In the 6 years I've been visiting there, and all the people my husband has asked, no one has ever known those outside tables to be used for visitation. They would be perfect for those bringing young children; the kids could be noisier than in the echoing visit room, and they would be outside in a safe enclosed area. Other units use their outside tables. My husband's unit does not. Those tables are just expensive lawn ornaments.

                                                   image from Rick Mauderer's blog

I try not to tell Texans (or anyone else) that they are wrong. Instead, I try to find the reasons why someone might do a certain thing. But with TDCJ you hit brick wall after brick wall. Often the "reason" appears to be "because we can" or "because we say so", and neither of those answers do anything towards rehabilitation or consideration that an inmate's family are not there to be punished as well. Currently, we don't understand why:

  • TDCJ inmates and visitors are made to sit across wide tables from each other in the contact sections, so wide that to hold hands you have to sit constantly stretched at an awkward angle
  • TDCJ inmates are not permitted to get up or walk around during a visit unless it is to use the bathroom (and even then, they are discouraged from doing so) 
  • Children visiting TDCJ inmates have to remain seated at the table and have no toys or books to help occupy them. Given that visits are usually between 2 and 4 hours long, this rule can only have been made by a man who has never had to spend any time with a squirming toddler. The alternative reason can only be that TDCJ feels children should not be in the visit rooms at all, and imposing a rule like this will discourage many parents and grandparents from bringing children to visit. 
  • The table we were assigned (you can't choose your own at my husband's unit) had not been cleaned from the previous weekend. It still had crumbs from the snacks on the table top. There is only toilet tissue available to wipe tables with. I find this very strange, given that there are numerous inmates capable of wielding a cloth and a spot of detergent on at least one of the week days when visits are not held.
  • Visits are only held on weekends, with the exception of Death Row at the Polunsky unit. Maybe not so much of an issue at units with just 1500 inmates, but when there are more than 4000 inmates and only 60 contact tables, and always several families travelling more than 300 miles and qualifying for a "special" visit of 4 hours on both days, inevitably some people have to wait before they are able to enter the unit. If you arrive after midday, you are unlikely to get a full 4 hours and many have to wait up to 2 hours for their regular visit. Having visitation during the week would help ease the bottleneck at weekends; weekday visits could also be child-free, and possibly a less restricted experience where inmates could earn a weekday visit for good behaviour and be permitted to sit next to their visitors and walk to the vending machines and select their own snacks. They are strip searched in any case, and if the privilege is earned then it is less likely to be squandered.
 The strange thing is, all of the points above are already utilised in other states across America. So why does TDCJ reject these things as a means of rehabilitation, reward for good behaviour, and a way of enforcing its stated commitment to help inmates stay in contact with their friends and families? Because it can.  

Friday, 26 April 2013

Ironic conservatism

I used to submit articles to an online site called Helium, and before they dramatically changed their submission rules a couple of years ago, I was making decent pocket money from it (enough to cover what I send my husband each month and contribute to the flight costs). Then in 2011 they changed their rules and decided that they only wanted articles written in passive 3rd person tense. I find that really difficult to read - it's like an instruction manual from 1930 - and equally difficult to write because it's not a natural style. They also now demand a 1-year exclusivity agreement on all new submissions and editied older submissions, which I am not prepared to agree to because it's my work, not theirs. So I stopped submitting, and now just enough to keep the page view earnings open to me.

Today Helium deleted an article of mine that has been on there since around 2009, with the explanation that is it a knowledge article written in the first person. I'm actually quite pleased, because Helium wont let contributors delete their own work. Given the subject matter of the article, I do wonder if there is some other conservative bias at work, but it doesn't matter. I'm going to post it below, see what you think.

How to make the world a better place using just $100
Though I'm sure many people will be writing from a prospective or hypothetical viewpoint on this topic, this year I have already spent a little over the equivalent of $100 and if just one cent of that goes towards making the world a better place then it will all have been worth the time and effort I have given to it. However, I doubt that I will ever personally see a return on my investment. That's OK with me, just as long as someone somewhere does.

This year I decided that instead of just sending Christmas cards to people I know, both here in the UK and overseas, I would reach out to some people I don't personally know as well. It is an extension of something I took part in last year, a Christmas card circle organised by a lady in Germany, that collects and distributes the names and addresses of American inmates, mostly on Death Row, for those with compassion to send cards to. You can submit and accept as many names as you feel able to deal with. Last year I offered to send 10 postcards to assorted inmates; after writing my name and address (most Department of Corrections don't accept mail without a return address on it somewhere, although you can use a post office box) along with their details on the cards, there really wasn't room for more than a couple of sentences on the cards, so I just put that someone was thinking of them across the miles and that I hoped their holiday season was peaceful.

To my surprise, I received 6 replies. As I already have incarcerated penpals, I had to think hard about the consequences of taking on any more. I made the decision to look up their crimes, which ruled out a couple of them from my own boundaries of people I will correspond with. After some deep thought, I ended up with just one name, who over the past year has turned into a real character and I have no regrets at all about continuing to write to him. It turned out that just before I sent the card, he had been moved off Death Row, and in the past year has managed to make it into the Honour Dorm at his prison. I don't know if I have had any influence in that, directly or indirectly in his behaviour, but we have come to be friends and I know from experience that mail call and dependable correspondence is a useful tool in encouraging an offender to make better decisions.

So this year, I reached out on my own. I offered to send Christmas cards, and also Yule cards to those who do not observe Christmas, to the incarcerated loved ones of several women that I talk to regularly on a web forum. This takes a certain amount of trust on the part of the ladies; to give out the details of their loved ones means that in Texas at least I would be able to look up their crimes as well, and also as a woman myself, there is a worry that a new female writing to a loved one may trigger some romantic interest on the part of the inmate. I understand those worries, because my husband is also incarcerated and I too am wary about giving out his full name and number. But I put the offer out there, and received a good response, amassing some 20 names. To this I added the names of some of the inmates my husband has mentioned over the past year as guys he works with or gets along with, and of course my existing penpals.

I bought cards, none too religious in sentiment or picture, and wrote a few words of encouragement in each. I signed them from both myself and my husband, so there would be no room for misinterpretation of my intentions. The postage came to around the equivalent of $50, so with the cost of the cards on top and the extra small gifts for my penpals, I have spent approximately $100 on making other people's holiday season just a little more personal and brighter.

But it could go deeper than that. Just as dropping a stone into a pool creates ripples, so does the act of giving and passing on a kind thought. If just one of those cards find an inmate on a day when they are feeling forgotten by society, their friends and family at a time of year when traditionally people get together, that card may be enough to keep them from sinking into a depression, giving in to feelings of hopelessness, or attempting to end it all. If one of those cards touches the heart of an otherwise cold man, and is enough to stop him lashing out at a guard for just one day, then perhaps that guard can return to their family at the end of their shift and enjoy Christmas without doing so from a hospital bed. If one of those cards renews enough hope in an inmate to try one more time to contact their own family, or build or mend bridges that appeared to be long gone, then perhaps next Christmas that family will be closer and stronger than before.

The ripples don't end there of course; in a very small but no less important way, those cards have kept people in employment. The artists, manufacturers, paper mill workers, shop assistants, postal workers and mail room staff at the prisons all depend on people buying and sending those cards throughout the year, but in the current economic climate, good sales figures this Christmas may be the make or break point.

So those little cards, this year I hope, will help show the world that someone cares enough to make it a better place.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Sneak peek

I'm almost ready to put the first batch of commercial yarn up for sale on my Etsy shop, Hare's Moon Yarns, but I thought I'd give you guys a preview :)

It's wonderfully squishy and soft, a blend of merino and another unnamed wool.

I also made some aran-weight shetland yarn for a friend's birthday recently:

Saturday, 2 March 2013

TDCJ/eComm Direct care packages - chocolate teapots?

For weeks now I have been looking at the eComm Direct website to see if there was anything I could purchase for my husband. He doesn't eat a lot of junk food, and I was hoping to just get a few things that he would normally get for himself. One of those things is coffee.

Americans drink a lot of coffee. TDCJ inmates drink a lot of it too. I thought maybe that was why the eComm site never has any available, that it just kept selling out too fast for me to see it. Imagine my surprise then to be told on a forum a few weeks back by someone who claims to work for TDCJ, that they would not order extra supplies of coffee to be delivered to the unit commissary stores "because it might go stale". We're not talking premium freshly ground coffee beans here folks, the coffee available to inmates is your average cheap and cheerful instant stuff, sometimes freeze-dried and sometimes powdered. I took a look at my jar of coffee in the kitchen; the best before date is 2 years from now. That person was seriously trying to tell me that TDCJ thought they might not sell the coffee they had ordered within 2 years.

Another of the items that seems to be missing for no good reason is deodorant. Apparently it is a very scarce commodity at many TDCJ units at the moment. OK so it's not a food item, and it's not essential to life, but how much more dignity can a system deliberately remove from an individual? Yes you can have your visits but you're going to smell and your family might think twice about visiting again..... I can see the mindset of TDCJ at work here.

I was talking to a friend who has penpals in other US states a while ago, and mentioned that TDCJ has a care package programme now. She asked what kind of things we could buy and I told her only what is already available to the inmates through commissary. Her response, "What's the point of that?" Honestly, I don't know what the point is, besides dividing inmates into those who have people on the outside purchasing for them and those who don't. I've wondered if it might be a way of TDCJ to electronically gather information about who is interacting with the inmates, and possibly electronically take a portion of deposits before they reach the inmate, but TDCJ isn't usually that up to date.

The comments I've had on previous posts on this blog relating to the eComm system seem to be as dissatisfied with the "service" as we are. Hubby has told me not to bother with it, simply because if his commissary is out of stock by the time his order comes to be filled, he wont get what I've asked for anyway and is unlikely to want something I haven't ordered.

But what really gets me is the sheep mentality out there of people who say we should be thankful that we now have this service. They say we shouldn't complain in case there are retaliations again the inmates, or that a second-rate service that looks like it was designed 20 years ago might be withdrawn. I'm not going to be thankful for something that is as useful as a chocolate teapot.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Let the spinning begin

In a previous post, I said that if you doubt the existence of the Gods, tell them your plans. Most people take this to be a negative thing, like if you give voice to your plans, they wont come to fruition, and obviously that happens a lot. Sometimes you have to accept that though your plans may be what you want, they don't fit into whatever bigger picture there is for you or your family. I believe that if something is not right for you, then no matter how many ways you approach it and how long you keep trying, it simply wont work.

So imagine my surprise when just after my previous post about wanting to learn to spin and hopefully get myself out of the job I really don't like and can see coming to an end, I heard of a spinning wheel that might be for sale locally.

Over the past couple of weeks I have been making arrangements with the owner, and this week I took delivery of the wheel on Monday and the rest of the accessories arrived this morning. I handed over money that would have gone towards a flight to see my husband, but he is as excited about this new venture as I am and he just said I need to get spinning and selling that yarn so I can see him asap :) That's all the incentive I need!

The wheel is an Ashford traditional, looks like it was made around 1975 so almost the same age as me. OK, so I'm a little older, but we're both 70's babies :) I have given her a polish and some oil to her moving joints and she moves well. Took me a while to work out that the bobbin had been put on the wrong way round, but once I'd realised that everything fitted perfectly.

In the bag of accessories that arrived today were a niddy-noddy, a pair of carders, 3 spare bobbins, a ball winder and the best thing of all, a Jacob fleece! Good thing I got a book on spinning a while ago so that I could start scouring the fleece straight away :) (beware, the following photos make my bath look filthy, but I assure you it is just crud from the fleece)

 So you know what I'll be doing for the next couple of days.....

Monday, 28 January 2013

First of a long line

I've spun odd bits of fibre before but never created a complete yarn. Until now...


This is merino and mulberry silk plied to make the yarn. The silk was easier than the merino to spin, but another couple of hundred grams of merino and I think I'll have it at the thickness I really want.

Go me! :)

Friday, 4 January 2013

If you doubt the existance of the Gods......

....Just tell them your plans. So lets see, shall we?

I have a kinda, sorta plan for this year. It's possible (likely?) that I could be made redundant this year as things are changing at work and people are being shed like yesterday's chip papers. I never imagined I would ever work in an office, so my 7 and a bit years in this job has been somewhat of a blip in an otherwise more craft-filled existence. Parts of it have been fun, and I've met some nice people, but the physical reality of sitting down for most of the day and staring at a computer screen is beginning to take its toll on my body and frankly if they decide to pay me to leave, I wont be arguing with them.

I will almost certainly have to find other employment working for someone else, but I also want to invest in myself too. I want to learn to spin properly using a wheel (I can already use a drop spindle). I want to start dying fleece and fibre with natural dyes. I'd like to be able to sell what I produce too, and hopefully get to the point where I can offer work experience placements for youngsters who need something to put on their CVs. But that's jumping ahead a little!

To start with, this first half of 2013, I intend to practise spinning with my drop a bit more, and gather some more bits of equipment. I had a browse round Amazon the other day and picked out about 10 books that looked like they would be useful in this new endeavour. I've been asking around to see if any fleeces might be available locally and it seems like there are several possible options.

The thing is, I don't want to wait until the redundancy notice drops onto my doormat before I get started with a new Plan A. I need to get my skills updated and get some networking in place first so that the transition, if and when it happens, is not so much of a culture shock.

Lots of people knit and crochet. Not so many people spin and process fleeces and fibres. I want to be one of them.