Sunday, February 25, 2007

Hair Colour

Hmmmm. Well, it looked more purple on the packet. And it does look more purple than this photo shows too, although admittedly a marroony-reddish-purple. It makes a change from boring brown, anyway! This was a L'Oreal kit, so I suppose it wasn't going to be particularly drastic on my dark hair. I've just seen some really nice "goth" dyes on ebay though, so once this has worn off I might just go a bit potty with one of those.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Away Days

We had a nice little mini break in the middle of week, staying at a hotel for two nights in Droitwich. Yes, I know, the glamour!! Was it the ancient history of Droitwich that seduced us, or the modern technological marvels, or the vibrant arts scene? Er, no. It was mainly the fact that Droitwich is approximately half way between Cadbury World and West Midlands Safari Park. So, shameless tourists that we are, that's where we visited.

Cadbury world was interesting and fun, although extremely expensive for what it is, since it's not even a full day out. Half way round I remarked to Jon about how generous they were being with freebie chocolates (having accumulated a whole carrier bag full). That was when he pointed out how much we'd paid to get in (I'd been in the loo during the credit card handover), lol. Guess they could afford to be flippin generous at those rates. The day before we went, I'd rung to book tickets due to their website insisting that tickets had to be booked in advance. The lady on the phone allocated me tickets for 10:20 exactly and made it sound as though if you arrived at 10:21 that was tough luck, no entrance for you. Predictably, we got lost on the way, arrived in the carpark at 10:17 exactly and rushed to the ticket desk in a panic....only to find that arriving, well, any time approximately within that hour would gain you admittance, and even if you arrived hours later, well, they'll still let you in. Thanks. Wish I'd known that before the stressful journey!

Anyway. Emily had a great time there and was very impressed with being allowed to fiddle about with melted chocolate in the demonstration area. She liked the Aztec jungle bit too, and the interactive part where you could watch yourself being "made in chocolate" or dance about like mad on a floor chasing roving creme eggs. Jon and I liked the very interesting, albeit brief, look behind the scenes at part of the packaging plant. Some pics of Emily with one of the Aztec decorations, writing in chocolate and generally faffing about with chocolate (can't remember what she was supposed to be trying to do with it!)

After the crowds at Cadbury World (wouldn't like to be there during school holidays or weekends!) we walked from the carpark to the rather splendid Selly Manor, at which we were the sole visitors! Beautiful tudor manor house full of things to see and do. Really enjoyed that, although we weren't allowed to take any pictures there :-( Emily had a go at juggling and various other tudor style games, dressed up in tudor clothes, tried on some armour, played guess the spice games and lots more.

Next day we went to West Midlands Safari Park. We first went there the week after Emily left school in July 2004 and Emily had been wanting to go back ever since. Just like our first visit, the rain bucketed down for most of day, lol. This has its advantages - the safari park was extremely quiet and when we first drove around the reserves, early in the morning, most of the animals were very active. Only problem was that it was hard to take photos through steamed up windows (in the bits where the windows had to be shut) and through the driving rain. Memorable moments were definitely when a rather over friendly/greedy zebra wouldn't get its head out of the car and when a group of African Hunting Dogs attacked the back wheels of the stationary car, which was parked on a slope, so I couldn't pull away without risking slipping backwards onto them. They had a good old chew! Emily fell in love with the wolves. She has a thing about wolves. I think it may have something to do with her obsession with Remus Lupin from Harry Potter, lol.

We got absolutely soaked walking around the rest of the park after lunch, but it was lovely.

There followed a horrendously long and traffic filled drive all the way home in the dark which took twice as long as the drive down to Droitwich had. Never mind, we got back in the end.

Yesterday, Emily spent the day looking at the issues surrounding zoos and safari parks, researching on sites like Born Free and as well as looking at websites of various zoos and safari parks to see what they themselves have to say about the issues. She worked out a long list of pros and cons to zoos/safari parks with arguments and counter arguments put by both sides, noted the emotive language and photos used to "sell" each side of the story, and weighed up her own opinion. She also looked at the differences between zoos/safari parks around the world and how some countries have much stricter legislation and public tolerance levels than others. At the end of the day she produced a notebook page with the main points on it.
The tooth fairy paid us a visit yesterday too, as a tooth of Emily's that had been hanging on by a (fairly bloody at times!) thread for....ooooh, ages....finally gave up and slipped out painlessly in her sleep. Meanwhile, the BBC have decided that they do want to renew my contract, so that's something. I spent some time looking into various educational resources, and found myself drawn to the US which of course has a massive amount of home education stuff compared to the UK.... and became heartily sickened by the religious dogma in some of the US resources, where it appears not even basic addition can be studied without a bit of Bible brainwashing thrown in; geography can't be studied without an emphasis on missionaries and heathen natives; and don't even get me started on the so-called science. I just don't get it. If you have a strong faith, bringing your child up to learn about that faith is natural, I guess, but why does it go to such extremes? I just don't see how ramming something down a child's throat to that extent can possibly be healthy, or fair. Anyway. I found and joined a Secular Homeschoolers yahoo group, which so far has been full of interesting resources I didn't know about before. So there is hope for home educating heathens like me :-)

Oh yes, and I finally got round to colouring my hair purple. Well, purple-ish. :-))

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Looking to the Future - Mostly Business Related

Um. Away from business related poohs (see below), Emily's had a good week. On Wednesday we celebrated Valentines Day and Emily started off her "notebooking" by finding out lots of information about the history of Valentines Day and writing it up, beautifully decorated, with three love poems as well. Thursday morning she went to tai chi with Daddy, then in the afternoon she created a brochure for Normanby Hall as an English exercise, and also worked on some logical thought puzzles. On Friday we looked at Chinese New Year. Emily researched the history and customs of the celebration, looked up all of our Chinese zodiac birth years and decorated our seasonal tree beautifully with paper cherry blossoms, paper red and gold lanterns and a paper zodiac animal string.
Emily's also been working well on her maths course and reading a lot. The new book she has to review for the EO magazine turned up on Thursday, a pre-publication copy of the first in the Zodiac Girls series by Cathy Hopkins. This didn't go down well with me. Why? Pure jealousy! I've been plotting and planning in my head a series of 12 kids books based on zodiac signs ever since that dratted Rainbow Fairy series came out years ago. But of course, being me, I hadn't got any further than the plotting and planning. Looks like my services will no longer be required. Hrrrmpphh. Despite my dire warnings that she'd better find the book to be absolute trash, and that her review must contain in it somewhere the sentence "My Mum's a real astrologer and could write this series a thousand times better than Ms "Ha! Got there first!" Hopkins ever could"......Emily apparently rather likes the book and is finding it very funny. Oh well.

As home ed goes, that's about all I have to report, so if you don't wish to read about business related angst, please look away now :-)

It's been a serious and hugely thoughtful week for us poor, responsibility laden adults. Jon and I have had to do some serious thinking about the future of our business. This time last year we were on the crest of a wave, with a turnover approaching 250k, special terms with most suppliers, an ever increasing profit and, well, like was looking rosy, business-wise.

Here we are twelve months later having suffered some absolutely appalling runs of luck in the last 8 months, and we're struggling. Can't pretend we're not. Some suppliers are being very patient with us - one or two have been extremely unhelpful and aggressive, and we won't ever be going near them again. At the moment, we're in the unenviable position of not even being able to pay the VAT demand which is due at the end of Feb, let alone supplier invoices for this last month...and HM Customs and Excise are not a very patient lot. Turnover has dwindled dramatically as our supplies have dwindled due to accounts being overdue and on stop and we seem inextricably caught up in the horrific retail cash flow trap - we need to get supplies in in order to sell in order to have the cash to pay for the last lot of supplies, then we need to raise cash to pay for the supplies bought in to pay for the supplies...and such, of course, is an ever decreasing circle.

It's incredibly stressful for everyone, of course. Jon's response is to attempt to work 28 hours a day; my response is to alternately hide and get stroppy with everyone. Neither of those solutions are very good for people's health or wellbeing, let alone finances. Meanwhile, because we're no longer able to draw sufficiently from the business, our personal debts are also mounting alarmingly and if things continue at this rate for much longer, we'll be on the slippery slope of being unable to meet minimum credit card payments etc. It's not a good picture.

We're considering cutting our losses in retail and closing down that side of the business for twelve months once all outstanding bills have been paid. We have (just) enough income from writing to see us through 12 months of normal personal expenses. My theory is that, freed from the constant buy-sell-package-post-buy-sell-package-post time consuming demands of running a retail business, both Jon and I will have time to develop the writing side of the business much, much further. And, whether that works out or not, twelve months from now we'll have paid of some of our personal debts and be in a much healthier position to re-start the retail side again, if we so choose. It sounds perfect (if slightly scary) to me, but it's not so simple for poor Jon, whose self-esteem is horribly caught up in the business success or lack of it. All he can see is "failure", doom and gloom, criticism from his father, "can't write" etc. I, on the other hand, see "freedom", "massively more time", "exciting opportunities", "much higher profit margins than retail" and generally a chance to quit this awful, constantly demanding rat race for a while. Plus it would mean an end to dealing with completely unreasonable customers, of which we've had way more than our fair share recently. Frankly, since I stifle the urge to scream every time I have to reply to an unhinged and rude customer email, that's a huge plus.

Because this is our life, and because it affects Emily so hugely too (in as much as whether we can still afford to stay at home and home educate) it's obviously an emotional time. A lot of our decision will rest on whether or not my contract with the BBC is renewed in April. We shall have to see. Ultimately, the decision could be taken out of hands and us left with little-no choice, one way or the other. We won't know that for certain until April. But the whole situation is certainly casting a shadow over life at the moment. We're going away for a few days next week - perhaps a break from the daily grind will put things in better perspective. I hope so!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Knee Deep in Puddles

Well actually, that should read waist deep, I think! Dropped Emily off at her friend Maisie's house early yesterday morning and she spent all day there having a fantastic time. At one point they went off to Normanby Hall for a couple of hours in the pouring rain and Emily did a fair impression of a wild child with the puddles, rofl. She just can't resist them. Judging from the state of her trousers when I went to fetch her last night she must have been doing more than just jumping in them - swimming in them, perhaps??

Not having overdosed on one another yesterday, Maisie came over to ours this morning for a big play, during which the girls made chocolate pastry valentines jam tarts - YUM - and had a whale of a time playing on Emily's beam in the garden. Emily spent a while helping Maisie to balance while she got her confidence up, which was sweet. Unusual for Emily too, since she's usually the least physically confident in any random pair of children, so I think she liked mothering Maisie for once!
The girls also played LOTS of football in the garden, swapped Valentines cards and pressies, and did makeovers for each other (again! They did that yesterday at Maisie's too, lol).

Yesterday while Emily was out I had a lovely surprise when my friend Margaret called from Poland. They didn't think they'd be able to get their phone line set up for a while yet so I wasn't expecting to hear from her, but she'd just had it installed and was ringing for a chat and to let us know that the Valentines card Emily sent for Kate had arrived. Kate was desperate to talk to Emily, so we promised to ring back yesterday evening when Emily got home. They had a lovely chat together, which was nice to hear.

This evening we've come back from yoga with some great news - Emily's just passed her level six! After Maisie left today Emily just had time for some last minute practice before her test, but she was very worried about crow pose; she was finding it really difficult to hold the balance for more than a second or two. She must have done it well in the test though, because Rachel told me she'd sailed through it. She now has until May to write the three sets of posture sequences and meditations she has to do for levels seven, eight and nine.

Business-wise, things are tricky just at the moment. We've got a huge VAT bill to pay at the end of Feb. Not quite sure where the money for that's coming from just yet - a situation not helped by the news I received by email a few minutes of our magazine creditors has gone bust, which means I'm not going to get paid for work I did for their Feb issue, nor for the work I recently submitted to their March/April issue. I'm such a soft touch. Sigh. The invoice for the Feb issue was waaaaaay overdue for payment when they got in touch wanting the next lot of copy for March/April, having the cheek to give me a lead time of only 24 hours before the deadline too. After taking their assurances that the Feb invoice would be paid absolutely ASAP I stupidly went ahead and did the next lot of work. Well, that's the last time that will happen. Ever. From now on, anyone who owes us gets no more work until we're paid. And why has it taken me nine years to come to that conclusion?? I'm really not cut out for the cut-throat business world you know. I'm just too nice ;-))

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Flowers & A Headstone

Emily and Jon planted these flowers on Merlin's grave this afternoon. Each colour represents something about him. His headstone is finished too, as you can see, thanks muchly to Gramps for his carving. Such a sad thing to be doing on this bright, sunny afternoon.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Highs and Lows

It's been a decidedly weird week. We've all been devestated by losing Merlin and having to make the decision to end his life (and despite *knowing* it was the right and kind thing to do, the guilt of playing God like that gets to you, doesn't it?). Yet before Wednesday we had a wonderful day on Tuesday, which was our 10th wedding anniversary. From a bright, fun and optimistic high to a despairing and tear-ridden rock bottom in the space of 24 hours :-(

We all keep walking into rooms expecting to see Merlin there in his favourite spots. I've been watching the photo screensaver on Emily's PC which keeps providing photos of Merlin before he became ill. With yet another twinge of guilt it's dawned on me that we'd become so used to seeing him looking so thin and bony and very, very poorly that we'd forgotten what a handsome cat he really was. Jon says he was the friendliest cat he'd ever met - until recently, he would jump on *everyone's* laps for a cuddle, even if they were total strangers and whether they liked it nor not, lol. Cassie cat misses him loads and the kittens (must stop calling them that, they're 18 months old now!) have been very unsettled too. Here's a sleepy Romeo and Juliet on Emily's bed. They've been spending a lot more time together than normal this last couple of days. I guess they're missing their Uncle Merlin.
On Thursday morning, Emily painted a beautiful picture on wood to go on Merlin's grave, showing our world and the spirit world with Merlin flitting between them both. She also decorated a large rock in a glittery heart shape and started an acrylic painting of Merlin on canvas. On Friday, she went out with my Mum and Dad to get a large piece of slate to be Merlin's headstone, and Gramps is now carving Emily's message into it. They also bought some flowers to plant on his grave. Emily's coping very well with her feelings, although you can see the pain in her eyes at odd moments.

To get back to the happy part of the week - as I say, on Tuesday the 6th it was our 10th wedding anniversary :-)) Jonathan bought me a stunning swarovski crystal watch which was a heck of a surprise as we don't normally buy one another presents (so I was the worst wife in the world and hadn't got him anything!). My Mum and Dad had a lovely surprise for us too - Mum had made us a cake and decorated it and the cake stand with red and purple flowers like we had at our wedding :-)) They bought us some pink champagne too, which we also had at the wedding.
Emily had made us a gorgeous card with tissue paper flowers and brides, and we had a good day with a scrummy dinner too.

Then we had Wednesday, which of course was totally dominated by our anguish over Merlin and what to do. Once the decision was made, we couldn't get an appointment at the vet until 6pm so there was an awful afternoon of waiting and goodbyes :-(( Somehow, in the middle of the afternoon, Jon and I did manage to have a row with ebay who had removed our listing for a Hopi Ear Candling book on the grounds that it was against their illegal drugs and drug paraphenalia rules - wtf?????? Still, the mood I was in, a fight was a good thing to take our minds off the situation. After pointing out them at length that a) it was nothing to do with drugs of any kind and b) people were still allowed to sell the actual candles whilst we'd been banned from selling a BOOK, they still came back to say that this was tough and their policy was their policy. It wasn't until a further communication from us pointing out that following their logic all aromatherapy oils, healing herbs etc. should also be removed and that this a) put their entire alternative health category in question and b) had grave implications for the whole alternative health market that we're sure various media would like to hear about......that they decided they'd made a mistake after all and generously allowed the item to be relisted and sold. Gee.

On Thursday Emily didn't go to tai chi as the emotional meditations they do would have been too much for her to cope with. Jon was able to go, though, and it was also Thursday that we finally sent off the deposit and application for him to attend the Magic of Mediumship course. Guess I was right when I said he *would* be going ;-)

Today Emily's been to tap/ballet and has spent most of the rest of the day reading The Girl's Book and the Dangerous Book for Boys and trying out various bits and bobs from them including making her own bubble bath which was used with great success in this evening's bath. She also died her hair black. As you do.

Educational work has necessarily not been very high up our priority list this week. However, Emily has started reading The Haunting of Cassie Palmer which was a favourite of mine when I was a kid and we've started doing some guided reading type analysis/research/discussion on that.

Spent my hour and a half waiting at ballet this morning having a re-think about the way we're approaching education. I wasn't quite sure what I was looking for, but I know that I wasn't happy with the way we were doing things. I really want to get away from worksheets and fill in the blanks rubbish. We've covering a lot of ground, but it's not exactly inspirational.

Partly inspired by the post on Lucy's blog about waldorf main lesson books (which I'd never heard of) I did some research about waldorf educational styles (which was very interesting, but not for us) and chanced upon this lovely page full of links about "notebooking" as a home ed style. I'd never heard of this, but somehow it's exactly what I was wanting and looking for. I think we'll give this a go. Emily's very enthusiastic about the idea. Basically, we'll do all the research and reading around and discussion on a topic as normal, but then I'll leave it up to Emily which parts of what she's learned she wants to record, and how, whether in pictures, diagrams, writing or whatever. She can layout her pages how she wants and use lots of arty craft materials to get them looking great. I really, really like this idea and it's so simple - I can't believe we never thought of it before! I hope it will bring back some of the magic of home eduacation. We shall see :-)

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Sleep Well, Old Friend

Our beloved Merlin slipped away peacefully last night at the vets, with Jon comforting him until the last. It was the hardest decision to make, but Merlin's health had dramatically worsened over the last 48 hours. He contracted a lung infection on top of everything else and was severely constipated as his digestive system was just shutting down. He was struggling to breathe, often trying to be sick, could hardly move, couldn't eat or drink and was growling in pain at times, at other times barely conscious. The vet said it seemed he had developed pancreatic cancer in addition to his other problems. The next step would have been chemotherapy and we couldn't possibly have put him through that. He'd been through enough. We had to let him go.

We all had time to say wonderful, special goodbyes, for which I'm grateful. Merlin's body is now buried in the garden and Gramps will be carving a headstone for his grave, while Emily will be decorating it in lots of ways. His spirit, meanwhile, is now healthy and happy again, no doubt out mousing as I type.

Merly, my love, you came into my life 15 years ago with your sister, just a little bundle of black and white fur. You adopted Jonathan as soon as you met him and showered him with affection too. And then when Emily came along, she was your special friend - you never once failed to purr for her except yesterday when you were simply too tired any more. We love you so much and we didn't want to let you go, but we couldn't watch you suffering. Your sister Cassie cat has been looking for you this morning but I think she knows it was your time. She licked your head lots before you left us, but I'm not sure you were conscious enough to be aware of that. She loves you, as do we all. Sleep well for a while, sweetheart, then play happily just as you always did. Visit us often, won't you? And watch over Cassie, Romeo and Juliet for us. We'll never forget you. We're crying so much, but it's for us, because we miss you so much. We know you're free and happy now. We'll see you again, I know it, but until we do, sweet dreams and happy adventures Merlin, old friend.

Saturday, February 03, 2007


Fell in love with the cutest rabbits ever this evening when I went to pick Emily up. She's been out all day playing at Kayleigh's house and they now have four rabbits and a hamster. I just had to have tons of cuddles!!!! Although they were told all their rabbits were girls when they bought them, it looks like one of them is pregnant. Ahem. How did that happen??? So they may well be looking for homes for baby rabbits very soon.

And of course Emily is utterly head over heels with said rabbits.

Would love to have some, but I'm not sure how the cats would take to it. And it wouldn't really be fair on Merlin in his current state anyway. Although having said that, a year ago he was catching baby rabbits and bringing them home regularly, so it may perk him up a bit......although then that wouldn't be fair on the rabbits, obviously!! So I don't think we will, this time. But it was a nice thought while it lasted.

It's been deathly quiet here all day without Emily, but we did manage to get lots and lots of work done, so I suppose that's a plus. Would have preferred to play with rabbits all day though.....

Friday, February 02, 2007

Celebrating Imbolc

Yesterday and today we've been celebrating Imbolc/Brigid. When Emily came back from tai chi yesterday morning (having charmed all the old ladies with her new hairstyle, rofl) she settled down to produce a pagan wheel of the year poster complete with astrological signs. During the last few weeks in particular, she's become heavily interested in astrology, chakras, tarot, moon phases, wicca and psychic abilities. If she carries on at this rate we'll have a fully fledged witch by the time she's a teenager:-)
This morning, I went with Jon to a diabetic eye check up because the eye drops he had to have meant he couldn't drive. Left Emily behind with my Mum, busy making salt dough and shaping it into serpent shapes to honour the goddess Brigit and the concept of rebirth. Once we got back, Emily and I settled into reading about Imbolc and its history, customs and traditions. Emily wanted to make her own candles and I'm ummed and aahed about shelling out for a candle making kit, but in the end we went very DIY, lol. Emily melted down some white candles in a pan, added wax crayons for colour and poured the hot wax into yoghurt pot moulds, adding a wick once it had started to set. The resulting candles were really lovely and burn very well indeed. She's very keen to make more, so next time we're going to make some salt dough moulds of our own.

Next up we made seed chains to decorate our festival tree. Well, kidney bean chains anyway, do they count?
After lunch, we made a garden of light - the idea here is that you write down things you want to start or initiate in the coming 12 months (since this festival is partly about new beginnings and metaphorically planting seeds). Then those little scrolls are buried in earth and each place is marked with a candle. As the candles burn, you concentrate on your hopes and aspirations and let the flames "fire you up" with enthusiasm and plans. Here's Emily concentrating very hard, lol.
Next up it was time to spray paint the snakes and serpents Emily had made with my Mum from salt dough. She wanted to paint them green, yellow and black, but time was the enemy as ever so we had to settle for gold and silver spray paint instead. After that we just about had time left to make some paper candles to hang on the tree, before we had to dash out to tap. It was a bit of a rush, and we didn't have time to make the rain stick we wanted to do, but Emily enjoyed tap and wouldn't have wanted to miss it. Found out the dates of the tap exams today!

Here's our festival tree with its decorations and Emily with her homemade candles.
Oh, and here's the rest of Emily's altar, currently dedicated to Merlin with his photos and cards, various Egyptian gods and cat models.

And the patient himself on the way to partake of yet another tablet. The alarming looking gap along his front leg is where he was shaved before Christmas for a blood sample - it even predates his operation anaesthetic and the fur still hasn't regrown. It's not regrowing very fast on his operation site either, nor on his flank where a urine sample was taken before Christmas. Still, at least his front leg actually has some flesh on it now, a little - it did look literally like bare bone until a week ago!

It's been a lovely couple of days, although I confess to being extremely cross with Jon's Dad at the moment. My husband, despite being in my not so humble opinion the loveliest and most talented man on the planet, has no self confidence at all. After much deliberation and heartache on his part, he finally agreed with me that he'd sign up for this Magic of Mediumship Residential Course in April. That's a really big step for him and one that's taken him a lot of courage. The decision hadn't been made five minutes before someone overheard and started being incredibly rude and insulting about it and about Jon's abilities in just about any damned thing. Not content with that, he then came back about an hour later to belittle Jon again, in front of Emily this time. How can a parent do that?? And more importantly, why???? My patience with this situation is at breaking point just now. I have to keep the peace, and Grandad does have problems with his health, so I feel I can't tell him what I feel about his nasty behaviour. But I can't tolerate Jon's self-esteem being so spitefully undermined much longer. Families, eh?

Jon says he's now not going on the course because he feels stupid. I say he's going. And as we all know, my word round here is final!