Adventures in Home Education & Asperger's Syndrome

This year the Gerbils have their very own Christmas tree, because that’s the sort of thing we do here.

IMG_3131

Gerbils right, Christmas tree left, in case you were unsure.

IMG_3126

They also have their own stockings. Labelled and everything.

I hope they appreciate the effort we’ve gone to to liven up their corner of the hall. And of course when I say we I mean I, because no one else in our house, or our street or perhaps even our city, would think to provide four small rodents with their very own Christmas entertainment. Meanies.

The humans here also have a tree and stockings. It’s not purely a gerbil-centred household. Just to be clear.

IMG_3136

Human’s Christmas tree 2014

Those are of course hats, not stockings, which don’t appear until Christmas eve, despite what the gerbils think.

The bonus tree was a spontaneous buy, spotted whilst wandering through a local charity shop. There it was sitting in the window, all tiny and neat and with a £3 price tag. I thought it would be fun to set a mini tree up next to the gerbil tank, brightening up an otherwise dull, dusty corner of the hallway. And of course it might have the added benefit of drawing people’s eyes away from the layers of dust, piles of papers, books and general detritus that greets us all as we first step indoors (no photos of that you’ll be relieved to know).

The gerbils watched with interest as I fiddled around next to their glass home, moving tables and sorting out plugs and wiring and such. And then finally I turned on the tree lights.

There was a moment of stunned silence in the tank as the gerbils all stood transfixed by the giant multicoloured monstrosity towering over their home. They looked as if they’d been hypnotised by an evil magician and were awaiting their orders to… kill… Kill… KILL!

And then all hell broke loose. Tony, the gerbil voted most likely to panic, darted underneath their nesting box and started thumping. Apparently back leg thumping is gerbil language for; ‘Danger! Danger! Dart around in fear. Stare momentarily paralysed at the lights before running around in circles squeaking for a bit… then hide. Repeat until exhausted and then fall asleep on top of Steve.’

So that’s what they did.

Fortunately, now the tree’s been up a couple of days, the guys seem to be getting used to its menacing blue, red and silver lights, its terrifying miniature baubles and intimidating little gold stars. They have in fact more or less settled back down into their normal behaviours. Well, normal for gerbils anyway.

I think perhaps seeing their mini stockings hanging under the tree might have helped a bit. Even gerbils like surprise parcels left by Santa in the middle of the night. They’re not completely daft you know.

I think they will approve of their edible gerbilicious gifts and will spend a very happy new year chewing on carrot shaped maize treats to their heart’s content.

And they’ll miss the tree when it’s gone.

Almost certainly.

DSCN7964

Tony panicking a wee bit.

DSCN7959

You are under my spell…

(That little circle is stuck on the glass to stop the box room door handle from slamming back into it and cracking the tank. It’s not an eye patch that Steve’s wearing to cover up his pink eye)

I like lists. They help me focus. Also I have a terrible short-term memory so they are vital to keep me from forgetting what needs to happen next.

I have a Dogbusters list on the wall in the kitchen. That tells me that we have three dog walks booked this week. The boys never look at it. I’m not sure they even know it’s there actually. If I didn’t stand at the door in my coat, clutching a handful of doggy poo bags at the appropriate times during the week, Dogbusters would… well… go bust.

I also have a list above the calendar telling me when the boys’ favourite Superhero programmes are on throughout the week. Tonight it’s Gotham, which is about Batman’s childhood, before he became Batman, if that makes sense. On Friday we have Marvel Agents of Shield, which isn’t strictly about Superheroes per se but they do get mentioned. On Thursday we have to watch The Big Bang Theory. That isn’t about Superheroes either, but the main characters in it do spend a lot of their time in comic book stores, reading or talking about The Hulk or Spiderman or The Flash, so I count that. Dr Who is on a Saturday normally, although not now until the Christmas Day special. Does he count as a Superhero? I’m not entirely sure.

You’d think the guys would remember such important events in their week as these wouldn’t you? Well, sometimes they do, but often they don’t. So it comes down to me to act as TV monitor and gather the troops as required. I need to organise meals around these times too, as it is impossible to watch any of these programmes whilst things are boiling on the stove or saucepan lids are being clanked. Trust me it’s impossible.

Going back to my lists, in the hall I have a chalk board, which I rescued from a charity shop, on which I write reminders of appointments. At the moment, and for the last several months actually, there is only one word written up there. DENTIST.

I glance at the board every time I walk past it and eventually will have to make the call and book us all in for our very overdue family check up. Eventually.

My most recent list is leaning up against the door of the airing cupboard in the dining room, next to the coffee machine, so it can’t be ignored.

When in Lidl a while ago I spotted a bargain. A very large white board at a ridiculous price. I looked at it for a while, then circled it with my trolley several times. Eventually I saw a couple looking very interested in it, so once they had moved on, I grabbed it and wrestled it into the trolley and eventually into the car.

It is big. Standing about three feet tall and two feet wide. I got it home and wondered if I really needed a board that big.

But it turns out I do.

I now keep a list of everything important I need to do. As I get them done I make a point of dramatically scoring a line through them and then leaving them there for a bit to remind me that I don’t just slob around in my dressing gown all day.

At the moment number one on the BIG list is MAKE A FAMILY DENTAL APPOINTMENT. That’s been there a while. I really must do something about that.

Next we have WRITE CHRISTMAS CARDS. Last night I was able to score through that one with great satisfaction having spent the whole weekend getting our cards written. I do enjoy doing them actually. For many friends and family it is the only point of contact we have throughout the year, so I try to add a chatty line or two to each. But it’s also a relief when they’re done and ready to be posted, simply because there’s so much else that needs attention. You probably feel a bit the same.

Number three on my big list is BACK UP BLOG POSTS. I really need to do this regularly as the idea of all this writing, over three years of it now, just vanishing in a puff of cyber-smoke, is more than I can bear. So far I’ve managed to convert about a dozen of my 268 or so posts into word documents. This could take some time.

The list goes on down the board, almost to the floor in fact. As I scan through it I see I need to decorate the cake, write a Christmas story for my creative writing buddies, clean the entire house and then decorate it for the festive season, paint the window frames where I reputtied them a couple of months ago and re-cover the sofa cushions which look like a dog ripped into them searching for a bone.

I have at least crossed some out too. Finish the Christmas letter… done. Send parcel of pressis to Devon…done. Book dentist… bother.

So I’d better stop whittering on here and go and do the next thing on my list. It’s not actually written down, but it’s there none the less.

MAKE A CUP OF COFFEE.

IMG_3110

and the dentist thing of course. Let’s not forget that.

I can’t remember if I’ve already told you about the two computer related activities Robert is currently involved with.

If I have, then just ignore this post and go and make yourself a cup of tea.

You might want to do that anyway.

If not, then I’m not sure why I haven’t written about them before since they are between them two of the most successful activities Robert has been lucky enough to take part in.

Actually I’ve just done a quick search and realised I did write about one of them back in June. http://sidewayslearning.com/looking-for-different-and-finding-it/

What I didn’t do was to follow it up and tell you how Robert was getting on there.

So just to remind you, Pass IT On is a fantastic charity which accepts donated computers, renovates or rebuilds them and then either gives them away to disabled people or sells them.

Robert joined them in August as part of his work experience…experience, and has been thoroughly enjoying his time there ever since.

So far he has helped take old machines apart, put new ones together, assess whether parts are working or not and lots of other things too computery to go into here.

He has also chatted and laughed and generally enjoyed socialising, in his own quiet way. Being around just two or three other kind people talking about the thing he loves most in the world is pretty much the perfect activity for him, apart from PC gaming anyway.

The added bonus is that Robert often comes home clutching a little piece of computer technology, either too damaged or too old to be of any real use, but of great beauty and significance to him.

It’s more than great to see how much he gets out of these sessions.

Having found this place for Robert over the summer we were feeling pretty happy with how things were going for him and then we heard about Remade.

Remade is also a local charity. It started I believe as a drop-in place for people to learn how to repair and recycle their stuff. Sewing classes are on offer and folk are encouraged to bring along clothes or other items in need of repair instead of throwing things away.

And then just a few months ago they started a drop-in computer repair evening and workshops advising and assisting in basic repairs to computers, laptops, phones etc.

We discovered these had started from Flora who now runs the social club James still goes to. She contacted the chap who runs the computer repair events and Robert was invited to go along to see what they did there.

He now spends one evening a week helping with repairs and learning a lot about it all from Sotiris the computer engineer in charge. They seem to get on very well and Robert comes home with yet more wee gifts of spare parts to add to his collection.

How amazing, after searching for so long for the thing that would be good for Robert to do, to then find not just one but two amazing places filled with amazing people where he can relax, chat about computers to his hearts content, learn his craft and socialise in a safe and understanding environment.

Long may they both continue.

After I dropped Robert off at his work placement this afternoon I took the bus back into town with my camera to visit the Garden of Remembrance.

DSCN9163

It was a sobering sight seeing so many individual wooden crosses, most with a hand written name of a relative killed as a result of war, some including words of love and loss.

Many dated back to the first and second world wars, others were much more recent. Some had photos attached. All looked so very young.

Like me, other people were wandering around, quietly reading or writing individual messages and taking photos.

One or two were searching for specific names amongst the mass of crosses.

I wondered who it was they were searching for. A son maybe, or a brother, a father, or grandfather.

There were certainly women commemorated there too, although it seemed the vast number were men.

I took some photos, stood quietly for a few moments and then left the others to their private moments.

    DSCN9189

DSCN9162

DSCN9165

DSCN9191

I had a £10 haircut this morning. It was a bargain.

I resent paying up to four times that for a trim when more often than not the cut I get is less than satisfactory.

Having hair like mine almost invariably makes for misery at the hairdressers. I’ve lost count of the number of local salons I’ve tried over the years. Once or twice I’ve struck lucky and found a good cutter with a natural sense of shape and form who is able to avoid the common problem of turning an unruly mop of curls into an almost completely circular ball of fuzz, not unlike those multicoloured wigs worn by people advertising the National Lottery. Just add a hint of blue or pink or orange and I’d be perfect for a career in television, or in the circus. Unfortunately every time I’ve found a good cutter they seem to vanish into the night, or take on new careers or some third thing.

My salvation for the last twenty plus years has been Heather, the mobile hairdresser who cuts my mother’s hair, and mine whenever I get back down to Devon. Unfortunately one haircut every nine or ten months isn’t enough to get through the year looking even slightly groomed.

It’s been three months since my last cut and the mop was becoming unmanageable again. I needed a trim but paying vast amounts for a haircut is a challenge, especially this close to Christmas, so I decided to try offering my services (again) to a trainee hairdresser.

I’ve done this twice before with limited success. The first time, while waiting for Robert on his IT course at Edinburgh College, I booked myself into the training salon there. The poor girl presented with the task looked aghast when she saw me and her hands shook throughout the time I sat there. Not a good way to engender confidence in ones customers I thought.

The cut was not a good one. Not the worst one I’ve had but certainly not the best. Still it was only £7, so I wasn’t really in a strong position to complain. I did discover though that they seem to train their hairdressers to cut by numbers. I was a number four I think. No question of assessing my hair or the shape of my face or even looking at the photo I brought with me to show what I was after. No, a number four was what I was going to get and presumably that was what I got.

The next person I let loose on my hair was from a salon with a notice in the window asking for models for students to practice on. I volunteered my services but when I arrived for my appointment I was told that my hair was too challenging for a student to tackle and instead was given a newly qualified cutter.

Despite being upgraded, cutter-wise, the end result was equally disappointing. The girl did her best, but her only guidance was the odd grumpy shout from a more senior stylist on the other side of the room, not enough to prevent another poor quality haircut.

Anyway, not to be put off and encouraged by a lack of funds, I decided to give the trainee thing another try. After all how bad could it be?

This time I took my courage in both hands and headed into the new upmarket salon just around the corner. I’ve walked past it many times but never dared go in knowing the prices would be way beyond my budget.

I bravely asked if models were needed for trainees and they couldn’t have been nicer about it. An appointment was made and the price (£10) agreed.

And so there I was at 9am this morning, hair wild and unkempt from windy rainy weather and not having had time to wash it for several days before getting there.

The trainee, Chloe, was totally unfazed by being met with such a mop of curls and we had a detailed chat about what I wanted. She then discussed her plan of action with her supervisor before confidently getting stuck in.

This was however not before bringing me a cup of peppermint tea… and a biscuit…on a tray. If I’d gone next door to Starbucks, the drink and bickie alone would have cost almost what I paid for the haircut. In fact the salon actually had a menu, offering a range of herbal teas, three different types of coffee, two types of mineral water and orange juice. Presumably people who frequent these sort of places expect this nowadays. I don’t know. It’s not a world I often step into.

And about 90 mins later I was able to leave the place sporting a pretty decent haircut. Maybe not quite up to Heather’s annual trim, but not at all bad for the money.

So hopefully that’s me sorted again for the rest of the year. If I’m lucky maybe they’ll let me do the same thing again sometime in early 2015.

Next time perhaps I’ll go for a latte.

Eye Glass Novice

A couple of eye tests ago I was given a prescription for a pair of mild reading glasses, for mild reading obviously.

My long sight was, and indeed is, excellent. 20:10 in fact. Apparently that’s even better than 20:20. So that’s good.

Unfortunately though my near sight is struggling a wee bit these days.

Seemingly one’s eye muscles get less elastic as we get older and their ability to adjust to both long and short distances reduces throughout our middle years.

My most recent eye test, just a couple of weeks ago, gave me the all clear when it came to serious eye maladies, which with our family eye history, is a big plus.

My long sight continues to be excellent, yay! And my reading prescription remains mild, albeit slightly less mild than last time.

However, despite the good results, I’m actually finding the daily reality is somewhat different.

Instead of going to the supermarket and casually browsing the shelves, occasionally glancing down lists of ingredients for detailed contents, I now stand squinting at products held at arms length, trying to find the brightest light in the place to read by, or asking one of the boys to read it all for me.

I’ve been doing a fair amount of close work recently, mostly at the end of the day when meals are finished and other distractions have fizzled out and I’ve noticed as the evening wears on the need for glasses increases considerably.

Of course I don’t sit quietly and demurely doing needlepoint (or whatever), like someone from Pride and Prejudice. No, I like watching TV as I work, especially crime dramas. Poirot and I are like this (imagine crossed fingers).

The problem with this combination of police sirens across the room and petit point (or whatever) an inch from my face is the constant on off on off glasses thing when swapping from one to the other. Either that or attempting to balance them precariously on the end of my nose while looking over them to find out if the butler did it after all.

One hot flush and the specs will slip off and crash onto the table top in front of me.

For long term glasses wearers this must all seem like the norm and not a big deal at all, but for a novice it is a real pain.

So yesterday I wondered whether maybe bifocals might be the answer.

I needed to go to the post office with some parcels and so on the way back I did a bit of a spectacles reccy.

Turns out it’s quite hard to find over the counter reading bifocals. Not unless you fancy spending big bucks anyway.

And then in a charity shop I spotted a rack of reduced, new, ready to wear reading glasses with narrow lenses. Ideal for looking over the top of and possibly a viable alternative to actual bifocal lenses.

And so I came home with a rather elegant pair of black rimmed narrow lens glasses, perfect for my evening’s entertainment combination.

That was £2.99 well spent I thought.

I suppose I’ll gradually get used to relying on glasses and the on off thing will become second nature to me. But for now, if I forget to take my snazzy black rimmed high quality eye gear with me,  I should always make sure to take a highly trained small print reader along with me to the supermarket.

They also usefully double as a heavy bag carrier. You should get one. Or two even.

It’s been a funny sort of day today.

It started out like most Wednesdays do (well most days actually), with the usual battle of wills between teenagers in their cosy beds and their parents trying to separate the one from the other.

I had already decided today was definitely the day to get rid of all the bags of rejected clothes that were cluttering up the hall. A car load was heading out to the charity shop after lunch without fail.

And then my mother rang to break some very worrying news. Lapsang Souchong tea appears to be vanishing from the shops and when available it seems to have more than doubled in price.

Panic began to set in as I tried to imagine tea time without Lapsang. Nope, I found it completely impossible to contemplate.

I probably should mention here that our whole family has been brought up on this particular type of tea forever. We all drink it by the bucket load, well teapot load anyway. Sometimes it gets mixed with a dash of Indian tea but mostly we drink it in its pure form…every day… sometimes several times a day. It is in fact pretty much the only tea any of us drink, with the exception of the odd lemon and ginger or peppermint herbal, usually saved for days of heavy coughs or colds when everything tastes peculiar anyway.

Suddenly this Wednesday had become track down dwindling Lapsang supplies day.

With less than an hour to go before lunch, I dashed out to the local shops to suss out their tea stocks. I came home 45 minutes later empty handed. Well actually not quite true. I came home with £25 of other groceries that I remembered we needed while I was in Tesco, just no tea.

After lunch I rang round all the large supermarkets in the area to see if they stocked it, having to spell Lapsang Souchong several times to bemused customer services people.

It turns out Tesco no longer stocks it, or even remembers what it is seemingly. Maybe they’ve had their memories wiped to make the loss easier to bear? Or maybe most of them had never heard of it in the first place.

Morrisons did have some they said, and what’s more it was on special offer. Sainsbury’s also had some and so they both became the focus of my quest.

Dragging Robert out with me I drove across town to Morrisons where I stripped their shelves of all six boxes. Sorry other Lapsang lovers, but it had to be done. Somehow a whole load of other items ended up in my trolley too. Why does that always happen?

Sainsbury’s was equally successful. Some more teabags and a batch of rather nice looking bargain sausages too. And some short dated bread. And some cheese…

I came home triumphant and stashed our year’s supply of teabags carefully away in the pantry. Hopefully by the time these are all used up the tea crisis will be over and normal service will be resumed, Lapsang-wise at least.

Phew. Crisis averted. Think I’ll go and put the kettle on.

A couple of days ago I was trying for the umpteenth time to close the doors of my wardrobe which seemed to have a life of their own, frequently bursting open as I passed by. This was often followed by a cascade of coat hangers, jackets, skirts, boots and shoes spewing out onto the carpet at my feet.

After carefully checking the hinges and doors for signs of poor workmanship, I finally surmised that the problem lay not with the wardrobe itself but rather with the contents therein. It was in fact full to bursting.

Yes, it was time to have a clear out.

Saturday was the allotted day and, having cleared the area in preparation, I started pulling everything I own, clothing-wise at least, out and onto the bed. I was so intent on tackling the chaos that I forgot the number one rule of all bloggers… always take photos. You wouldn’t have liked it anyway. Horrible mess.

Gradually I emptied everything out, trying clothes on as I went and ending up with several piles.

Pile one… Still fits. Keep

Pile two… Might fit soon with less cake. Keep

Pile three… Not a snowball’s chance. Get rid

The get rid pile was then divided into charity shop donations and ebay selling items in a bid to boost the Christmas fund a tad as well as helping out the folk at the Shelter shop a wee bit.

It was at this point that I remembered to start taking photos. You must be so pleased.

IMG_2870 IMG_2871

These are just a few of the charity bags I’ve filled so far. It’s a very good feeling once you get into it isn’t it?  Ignore the unrelated gerbil toys and bedding though.

IMG_2875

Just look how tidy the wardrobe is now. I don’t remember the last time I could open it without fear of attack by rampant outerwear.

IMG_2876

Even the shoes are now mostly captive.

Phase one complete.

Phase two involved the very time consuming task of sorting, cleaning, ironing and taking photos of each item to be sold on ebay and then listing them all on the site. All that took me most of Sunday afternoon and evening actually. I hope some of them sell after all that.

I didn’t get around to Phase three until this morning.

Having succeeded with the wardrobe it was time to tackle the drawers, for years stuffed beyond full with jumpers and t shirts and pairs of well worn jeans. Clearing them out was a job about ten years past its due by date.

IMG_2878

Before long however they looked like this…

IMG_2874 

 … and the bed looked like this

More sorting and trying on was required. The trying on was a bit disappointing and strengthened my resolve to cut out the cake and possibly the biscuits, depending on what sort of day it’s been of course.

So after all this activity I now have a total of eight bags to take to the Shelter shop, fourteen items waiting for bids on ebay, an airer covered with wet clothes drying by the Aga, a mound waiting to be ironed and photographed, a wardrobe with doors that behave themselves and drawers that are only half full of well fitting neatly folded jumpers and jeans.

I can’t believe how much I was able to get rid of in the end. Mostly they were clothes I’d not worn for years but kept just in case I had a change of heart, or weight. Some I’d forgotten about all together. A few I looked at wistfully and put into the maybe next year pile.

It’s always good to be optimistic.

Blood Moon

Last night there was a lunar eclipse. Unfortunately it was only visible in parts of America, Asia and Australia.

The moon was called a Blood Moon because of its striking red colour. The photos that I’ve seen of it are amazingly beautiful.

Even though we didn’t get the whole eclipse thing here, the moon has been exceptionally large and beautiful these last few days, so last night I took my camera with me when I dropped James off at club.

Despite the very cloudy skies, there was a brief window of moon-sighting which happily coincided with our arrival at club, so I dropped James off and then parked diagonally across the car park to get the best view without having to step out of the car and risk being mugged in the dark.

DSCN8826

The moon looked huge sitting just above the roof tops. 

DSCN8809

I managed to capture it just as it started to become engulfed by think black clouds. It looks like someone’s taken a huge bite out of it doesn’t it?

Even though officially ours wasn’t a Blood Moon, one of last nights photos seemed to suggest otherwise. Actually it looks more like a giant floating pumpkin, which is quite appropriate for the time of year I suppose.

I’ve spent the last few weeks, on and off, making urgent eleventh hour first aid repairs to our weather beaten sash windows, in a last ditch attempt to prevent them from totally disintegrating over the cold, wet and windy winter months.

I think it’s safe to say this is not one of my strongest talents. I’ve done a fair amount of DIY over the years… wall papering, carpet tile laying, painting, building flat-pack bookcases… but repairing rotting window frames and replacing glazing putty is a bit out of my area of expertise.

Nevertheless I’ve been giving it my best shot, spurred on (or possibly shamed into action) by reports that my mother had recently and successfully done the same to her windows and the fact that it would cost several arms and legs to get a professional in to do the work.

So a while ago I went out and bought steel wool and primer and undercoat and weathershield gloss paint and window putty and a putty knife and then I sat and thought about it all for a while, feeling a bit daunted.

Anyway, the weather this month (actually I suppose it’s last month now isn’t it?) has been excellent and perfect for in/outdoor DIY projects so I finally stirred my stumps and got cracking on it all.

The window sills, all ten of them around the flat, (excluding the study one which is totally inaccessible behind piles of papers and books, an old pine cupboard and an impossibly heavy exercise machine) eventually got sanded down, primed, undercoated and painted and I started to feel a bit more in control of the situation.

And then life got in the way and a week or two slipped by unnoticed. The weather was so good that instead of staying inside and scraping down old paintwork, I dragged the boys out for school trips to the Botanic Gardens (such cruelty) suggesting to them that it was an excellent learning environment but actually so that I could take some photos for the annual RBG photographic competition (closing date yesterday)

However now the fine weather is threatening to disappear and be replaced by heavy rain on Friday and so suddenly the window repairs became more urgent.

Earlier this week, as I stood awkwardly half straddling the large immovable desk in front of the bay window, hands and arms (and the sleeve of the blouse I should have changed out of first) covered in paint and dust and putty finger marks, and chipped off the old damaged paint and battled largely unsuccessfully to get the new putty neatly and evenly finished across the window, I thought about the week’s news.

The papers (and the web) have been overflowing with photos showing the lavish Venitian wedding of George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin. There were fantastic images of a flotilla of speed boats parading down the Grand Canal bringing luxuriously dressed guests to the nuptials, passing the stunning buildings of that impressive city. Gorgeous Armani suits and Stella McCartney gowns were everywhere. It was a sight to behold.

And as I crouched in my ripped jeans (not ripped in a stylish fashion-conscious way like the girl on the bus yesterday, but simply because I’d worn them for too long and, like the windows, they are falling apart) and my now permanently paint-stained blouse, inelegantly balancing across the desk, paint brush in one hand and steel wool in the other,  I thought about that wedding and all its elegance and beauty.

And it occurred to me that there was very little chance that the new Mrs Clooney will find herself desperately re-puttying her own windows this winter, even though I suspect she’s the sort of woman who can probably turn her hand to most things.

Not that I’m feeling jealous at all. I mean she’s now married to arguably the handsomest man on the planet and they just got married in probably the most beautiful city in the world, wearing undoubtedly the most luxurious clothes imaginable….

No I’m not jealous at all… scrape scrape scrape.

Tag Cloud