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Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Winter Solstice

(or the end of one year and the start of the next)

I'm sitting here as the sun disappears on the shortest day of the year, with a red cinnamon candle burning. Red for love, happiness, warmth, generosity. I am not sad that this year is over, though it hasn't been my worst by a long chalk. I had hoped to be a leaseholder by now, but that looks likely to happen next month so I can wait a little longer.

Unusually, I took a few extra days off work this week to give myself a longer soul holiday this year. Normally I work right up to when my employer closes for Christmas, and I would have no objection to working on Christmas day (or any other day) as long as I was compensated in some way. But this year I need to use up the leave I had been saving in order to get my kitchen re-done. I intend to use these days as soul yoga time. It's a phrase my friend Ciel came up with years ago, meaning doing things that are gentle stretches for your mind and mental health. Sometimes it can include physical activities, if your mental health responds well to them. Today I decided to go for a walk, instead of staying home all day with only the garden birds for company.

I started by taking one of our town buses to the end of its route, where I'd never been before. It was an interesting ride, and easy to know where to get off as it was a large supermarket. Then I looked at the road signs and picked a direction that would lead to somewhere I was familiar with.

I have osteoarthritis, and depending on the weather I can walk about 3 miles on a really good day before I get some pain or discomfort. Today was not a really good day, but an OK day, and my spidey senses got me onto a familiar bus route after about a mile which then gave me the confidence to take the rest of the distance one bus stop at a time. I managed about 2 miles before getting back on a bus, and I'm happy with that.

Back home, my de-stash continues; I had some dusky pink aran yarn that has now been turned into a jacket for a 2-3 year old and I finished a matching beret this afternoon. Then I started a cowl with some alpaca mix yarn which will be for a friend when we have lunch next week, and I'll try and get a pair of fairisle gloves done for the other friend who will be joining us. There is a lot of half-used 4-ply yarn left over from socks and fairisle seems a logical thing to use it all on.

And then I have a secret project that I want to work on in 2017. It involves knitting rather small things and leaving them anonymously as gifts in public places. I have been inspired by a church group who last week hung up hundreds of knitted angels around their town which were free for anyone who wanted to take one.

I think we can all give a little more next year.

Enjoy the rest of the Solstice everyone!

Saturday, 29 October 2016

How long should it take to purchase a property?

Certainly not as long as it is taking me to purchase the flat I live in from my landlord.

We started this process at the end of May, and I have already had to serve notice on the landlord for missing a legal timed deadline for one portion of the transaction process. My landlord is a social landlord, and I'm buying under the Right to Buy scheme - mainly because of the threat by the Conservative government to make workers pay full market rent on social housing properties. Commercial rents here are more than twice what I currently pay, and on the property I live in would take approximately half my income each month if that were to happen. A mortgage, with the RTB discount, is roughly the same as my current rent. The choice is clear.

What is not clear is why it took my landlord almost 14 weeks to provide me with a valuation of the property, and why it has taken since the end of May for them to finally confirm this week that there is no asbestos in the loft space (I have an upstairs flat). It has so far taken them 3 weeks to put together the transfer documents to send to my solicitor (and even she has started calling this a 'saga'!), and they still have not sent them.

The landlord also refuses to tell me whether a wall I want to remove is a load-bearing wall in advance of the completion of sale. It wont make any difference to me buying the flat, but my solicitor advised me to try and get the confirmation in advance of completion. Now that they have confirmed there is no asbestos, I can get my own builder to check, but it makes me very wary of how long they will take when I'm a leasholder to give permission for the building work to be done. My builder says I should allow 3 weeks for the building and then to fit a new kitchen, and I've saved a couple of weeks holiday from work this year to cover that period, but our holiday year runs from April to March and at this rate the work wont get done before next summer. I could do with a few days away right now, but daren't use any more holiday just in case the sale is suddenly completed and we can get going with the building work.

Why do we make these things so difficult in this country? I work in customer service and if I had delayed something in the way the landlord has, I'd have lost my job by now.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Nutcracker suite

Last weekend I spent about 20 minutes watching a squirrel in my garden. He (or she, impossible to tell unless you're close enough to get bitten) was helping himself to the hazel nuts on my tree. There are lots, and I don't really mind, I was just a little surprised to actually catch him doing it.

Today I decided to see if any nuts were ripe enough for me. A few are, but now I have a new problem ....

I don't have a nut cracker!

While I was in the garden, I thought I'd take a few pictures of the flowerbed, to show how the colours change from spring through to autumn - which we now seem to be in.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Will the September TDCJ inmate strike change anything?

Some people may say that I shouldn't be blogging about this. Some may say that it could put hubby at risk of intimidation or retaliation by the prison guards or administration. So let me start by saying two things very clearly:

1. Hubby has no intention of taking part in the planned inmate strike on 9 September 2016, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't have an opinion on it or discuss it.

2. Intimidation and retaliation are just other words for bullying, and if there is one thing I detest more than people touching things that don't belong to them, it's bullies. They only have power if you let them, and by not talking about something like this, you give them power.

OK, now that's out of the way, lets get to the subject at hand: the proposed inmate strike on 9 September. This is a follow-up, and in some cases, ongoing action, from the April strikes that took place in at least 5 TDCJ prisons and several others across America. The reasons for the protest and action are many - when you have around 2 million people affected directly by something, you are unlikely to get a single number one issue. But Texas is unusual in that it does not pay its inmates any money at all for the work that they are obliged to do (don't turn up for your work detail in TDCJ, you'll catch a case and further punishment which can include being placed in Ad Seg, loss of other 'priviledges' such as the already limited recreation time, etc).

Now I do get the argument put forward by many in Texas that inmates get a number of things 'for free' while in prison that they would have to pay for in the freeworld. These include food, a roof over their head, a bed, clothes, running water (from the walls if not from a tap, and you probably wouldn't want to drink it anyway given the levels of arsenic in some areas). I also get that these are people who have been found guilty or plead guilty (two things that do not necessarily mean a person IS guilty by the way) and are in prison as punishment. But just as TDCJ is fast becoming the dumping ground for mentally ill individuals, the Texas public and lawmakers have a somewhat schizophrenic relationship with prisons and inmates (and their families).

First, there is absolutely no such thing as a free anything in Texas (or anywhere else). Just because the inmate does not pay directly in cash for the food, bed, roof, clothes, etc, doesn't make it free. Either the family pay by sending money that is then used to cover some of the medical costs or communication costs or food and other items from the commissary, or EVERYONE ELSE in Texas who pays taxes is paying for it all. And for many, that includes the inmate right up to the day they find themselves in jail.

In a state so adverse to paying personal income tax or any other kind of tax, doesn't it strike you as odd that very few Texans question the amount of their tax that contributes to the monster machine that is TDCJ with it's more than 100 prisons and around 140,000 inmates?

If TDCJ paid a dollar an hour - dammit, even a dollar a day - to inmates who worked, then the $100 annual medical charge (inmates who are indigent are not denied medical attention - I wont call it 'care') would be a little easier to swallow, because it would indeed be coming from the inmate's own funds. But given that inmates do not get paid, it is not the inmate who then pays for the medical charge: it's the friends and family of the inmate who are already paying through their taxes, and are then being told that they will pay TWICE through the money they send the inmate.

It's not just the money, or lack of, that is an issue in Texas. The convoluted and downright deliberate lack of will to assign many inmates any credit or 'good time' if they do behave themselves, is clogging up the system. It is causing (along with the dysfunctional BPP system) inmates to remain in prison long after they make that mind shift from reprobate to remorseful and wanting to give something back to society. The inability of the system to see beyond a crime to the inmate, to measure that inmate against them self rather than against an outdated perception of what an inmate should be, or to see prison as an undesirable millstone around the neck of a community has lead to certain parties within TDCJ and the TX legislature working tirelessly to keep as many inmates in prison as possible just to keep the prison machine going as it is.

Given the size of TDCJ, one possible reason for not paying inmates to work could be that there simply would not be enough 'jobs' to go round. It almost certainly suits some sections of the administration that so many TDCJ inmates are excused work because of 'medical' reasons - when these individuals could easily take part in computer-based occupations (no, not the Internet or unrestricted email), building and repairs, modern farming (rather than the plantation slavery that has men weeding fields on their knees with their hands in the TX summer) and any number of other things that would.... oh, I remember, we don't want the prison population to fall too low do we, otherwise some good ol' boys might have to be let go. Better to keep those inmates in prison until they are too old or sick to contribute as much as they would like to society, so that if by some miracle they do get paroled, it will only be a matter of time before they roll back through the picket gate again.

So will the planned strike change anything?
 In short, no I don't think it will - beyond making life even more uncomfortable for any inmates not only involved, but also just in the same prisons as the action-takers. I understand the need to feel in control of ones destiny and to rise up against tyranny, but I really don't think this kind of action will achieve that.

What might go some way to achieving it is for the friends and families of the inmates to stop taking this laying down. Stop taking on the shame of your inmate's crime - let the inmate carry that, and walk in liberation with your head up to that polling booth and vote out the people who are standing in the way of change. Stand for local government yourself, then state government. TALK about this with people, don't let the bullies think they can do what they like and get away with it. Educate yourself, learn the law and use it, start blogs, newspapers, radio shows, join the TIFA, become active. Don't do your inmate's time for them, use the time to make the situation fairer for all now and all who come after. It can be done, you only have to look outside of the US to see that penal systems do not have to be run along the same lines as gulags.

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Waspgate update

After last week's wasp post, I thought you, dear reader, would like to know how the 'Take Back The Garden' movement was doing.

I'm sorry to say that I did indeed resort to chemical genocide in this instance. It would have been lovely to just wait for some passing hungry badger or honey buzzard to snack on my colony of stripey invaders, but as I'm not in a rural location I'd still be waiting for that to happen some years down the line. So action was took, and 2 cans of spray foam later plus disturbing at least part of the nest, I think I have got rid of the infestation. Wont know for sure until tomorrow morning when I attempt to dig the final patch of soil, but there were no wasps flying around the final entrance hole just now.

The nests themselves are a thing of beauty though. If you've never seen inside a wasp nest (and why would you!) here's the top half of a chamber:

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Wasps, huh! What are they good for?

Absolutely nothing!

Well that's not strictly true. Wasps, I'm told, eat insects that we don't want in our gardens. Right now though, I'd happily trade a plague of greenfly for the wasps that find my garden such a desirable residence. A couple of weeks ago, wasps were busily moving in to a gap behind the fascia board next to my front room window. The pest control folks came out and put something in the hole that either scared the wasps away or killed them all, but either way within 12 hours they were no more.

But in digging out the pile of spoil from the flower bed in the back garden this morning, I discovered another wasp nest, and this time they were not at all happy to see me. I've never been stung by a wasp before, and I actually expected it to hurt a lot more than it did. That doesn't mean I particularly want to make a habit of it. I made a hasty retreat, and I now have some 'wasp foam' that I will attempt to spray on the entrance to their nest this evening. I don't like using chemicals in the garden, but sometimes, needs must.

Meanwhile, my natural attraction to mosquitoes and any other biting insect prevails. After 3 hours in the garden this morning, my ankles are swelling with numerous bites - some of which have drawn blood, but many that are 'testing' sites. Having been bitten twice earlier this year by Blandford Flies (that did not live to bite again) I seem to be particularly reactive to any other kind of bite. I've read up on the subject and it would appear that as a larger, active, blood Type O individual I'm up there with caviar and oysters when it comes to choice cuisine. I've always been popular with the mossies, and if your pet has fleas I'll be able to tell you within a couple of minutes of sitting on your sofa, but it seems to be getting worse.

Still the flowers are doing well, and citronella candles do appear to keep the worst of the little biters away while I sit on my bench.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Quick garden update

Not a lot of knitting going on here at the moment, although I'm still working on a sheep pattern.

But lots of stuff done in the garden. We've gone from this (last August):

To this (today):

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Everything in the garden

In my previous post I forecast that this post could be a while in appearing as I now have a garden. So here I am, 3 months later, aching but happily so because it's a result of digging!

I have a 30 x 30 foot square of garden, fenced with wire mesh all round, and with an established hazel tree. I didn't do anything with it for the first 6 months I lived here because I wanted to see if anything else was hiding and would sprout. In that time I sorted out the inside of the flat instead, still got a few boxes of stuff to work through but it's comfortable and coming together now. I got a bird table for my birthday from my daughter, and I've hung some feeders from the hazel tree. The birds happily hoover up all the food I put out for them, and I did the Big Garden Birdwatch a few weeks ago.

The garden last August when I first moved in, complete with neighbour's rabbit!

But the garden kept calling to me. Resistance was futile, mainly because I am a plantaholic and adore gardening. Having been without a garden for the best part of 12 years, I needed a fix and badly. It started with a pair of beech trees. They were only £3 each and I couldn't leave them, had to have them. You know how some women are with shoes, bags or make-up? That's me with armfuls of plants.

The popular thing to do here these days is to put up a wood fence to enclose a garden. That's not particularly good for the wildlife though; birds need hedges and bushes, and hedgehogs need to be able to travel between several gardens to forage. As I already have the wire fence, I have decided to leave it in place and plant a mixed hedge around the 2 external borders. This means digging out a border, so to have more space for plants I am making a curved deep bed that will take up approx 1/4 of the whole garden.

All sounds simple, right? Except whoever lived here before me decided to bury sheets of corrugated asbestos about 6 inches under the turf exactly where my flower bed needs to go. I'm aware how dangerous asbestos can be (which is probably why the morons buried it instead of disposing of it properly), but we had it at home when I was a kid, and it can't stay where it is so I'm taking my chances. It's certainly not dry, and I'm working outside.

I have osteoarthritis and 2 replacement hips, so I can't spend all day digging even though I want to. I'm having to do it in 2-hour slots, early in the mornings at weekends when I'm at my most mobile. I'm sure it would have taken a strapping young man just a day to shift it all, but I don't have one of those handy. Today I lifted the biggest pieces, and I really thought I'd got to the end of them length-wise but nope, there is a bit more under the biggest piece, still buried. There is also more buried towards my neighbour's garden so it looks like at least one more weekend before I can get the council to come and remove it all. One of the most awesome things was uncovered today - a baby slow worm, awake but sleepy, under one of the pieces of asbestos! I carefully picked it up and moved it to the pile of bricks and stones under the hazel tree to keep him safe.

Baby slow worm picture from blog: Everythinginthegardensrosie.com

I've put a Rowan tree in the corner, with shrubs and a holly. 
Honeysuckle and dog rose to climb the fence.

I've designed gardens and wildlife areas before, and I know how this garden wants to be organised. There will be a seat next to the hazel with some ferns and hostas, and a patio area along the neighbour fence (which I will screen with some bamboo screening I've already bought). Along the fence that separates my half from the downstairs' flat's garden I will have a raised veg plot, possibly a small compost heap and an apple tree. I'm putting a gate in the fence nearest the footpath so I don't have to always go though downstairs' garden. Luckily, my half gets sun for most of the day despite being north-facing, and the soil is a dreamy sandy-loam.

I am definitely in my element.