It's just a life, but its all mine and I love it!

Monday, 27 July 2015

Random Crochet Photos - Toilet Roll Crochet Holder

This one turned up on my facebook feed.  Genius or cat lady?


Saturday, 18 July 2015

Reviewing…………….500 Crochet Blocks
A book by Hannah Elgie & Kath Webber

What's it all about?

It does what it says on the tin.  It's a crochet book with patterns for 500 crochet blocks. 

It starts off with an incredibly useful intro that includes friendly instructions on how to read a pattern or chart, how to do basic stitches (including pictures), how to turn etc.  It also has a bit of chat about yarns and hook sizes.

The book itself is broken down into 'back and forth' blocks, 'round and round' and 'colour work' which is another way of saying shaped motifs such as clouds and hearts.

For each block you're given the written pattern, the chart and a photo of a worked square.  You usually get at least one variation for each block.


Cost: $11.99 from Can Do Books, Hawthorn, Melbourne (Australia) Can Do Books
Online cost, Amazon kindle edition: $14.38 Amazon Aus Kindle Edition
In the flesh: It's hardback, about 16 cm square and 288 pages long.

What do I like about it?
  • This is my copy, I never keep a dust cover on and you know what? I really like that it is sunshine yellow! My mood lifts when I see it.
  • The layout, whatever your preference, pattern or chart it's there.  And having a picture of every block is so useful.
  • Browsing, even when I'm too tired (lazy) to actually pick up a hook it’s a great book to flip through.  I always find one I haven't noticed before.
  • Great value.
Turn offs?
  • Well I suppose I don't like getting to the end of it……………..
  • No honestly I would love it to be 1000 Crochet Blocks, but its great value for money and that would just be greedy.

Wrap Up
This was a birthday present a very wonderful friend bought me a couple of years ago.  It usually lives in my crochet basket and it a great source of simple pleasure to me.

Although I'm often caught in the instant gratification trap in this case I recommend making the effort to go out and actually buy this one.  Its just a nice size, flicking the pages somehow adds to the experience and it really is a good one for casual browsing.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Easy Reference UK vs US crochet

This is something I've pulled together mainly for my own reference as otherwise I find myself constantly googling to remind myself which stitch is which.  Especially as I swop between US and UK patterns.  I keep it as a handy little square of paper in my crochet box. 

British v US Crochet Stitches
Crochet Stitches

For those who are wondering what on earth I'm talking about crochet stitches in every country have different names.  This is perfectly understandable when those countries have different languages but seemingly bizarre when the language (i.e. English) is the same as is the case for the US and UK. 

It becomes less surprising when you think about when crochet became popular not so far back as I talk about here, which means that terms were being generated on both sides of the Atlantic.  In the same way we have chips and fries, chips and crisps, boots and trunks, eggplant and aubergine.  When I lived in the States someone yelled at me to get off the pavement, it was extremely confusing and possibly life threatening as I was at the time walking on what I thought of as the road! 

Given enough time and without the advent of popular media such as tv influencing things we would have ended up with two languages.

So in the hope that other people find it useful to bookmark or print, here's my handy little reference card.


Sunday, 3 May 2015

The Cinema and Austism, and Our Other Kid

One of the balances it’s important to find when you have children both on and off the spectrum is making sure that those not on the spectrum don’t miss out.  It can happen so easily and unintentionally.  Aspie kids genuinely require more effort in many cases, you can be kept so busy you don’t realise that the lion’s share of your energy is heading in one direction.  And the planning to do some ‘normal’ things can triple if you have to consider how to achieve it with your Aspie.

Trips to the cinema can be difficult for many autistic kids.  It’s dark, noisy, smelly, light, and very colourful.  And these assaults on the senses are coming from every angle.  There is to say the least lots of room for sensory overload.  But I have two children, my youngest loves to go to the cinema and there is no fair reason why he shouldn’t get to go.

There are now cinemas where there sessions that are quieter and the lights stay on aimed at kids on the spectrum.  This is wonderful and I really appreciate their efforts.  For my Aspie there is a little twist though.  He gets scared.  Not of the scary bits in films.  Those he can watch with complete equanimity.  End of the world due to giant exploding volcanoes? Meh, no big deal.  Sharks with laser guns on their heads? Yeah, so what?  BUT someone doing something naughty or accidentally naughty that they’re going to get told off for?  Run screaming (literally) from the room.   He knows it will be alright in the end, truly he does, but he struggles to process the emotions that go with this and with the barrage of noise and light I can end up with a kid screaming loud enough to disturb the entire cinema.

He does like films, he’ll watch some like Star Wars, the Battle of the Bulge, or any documentary on WWII over and over.  It’s just that when he watches something for the first time at home he tends to stand at the back of the room and run out when he can’t cope and peer back in when he’s ready.

If you’re in the same boat, whether from the sensory or the emotional side of things there are options.   Not taking my youngest boy when it’s one of his favourite treats is not one of them.

Option 1 – Distract him, bribe him, cuddle him, shout at him and hope for the best

I’ve included this for those who haven’t experienced an Aspie going into meltdown.  They’re not acting out, they’re not being naughty and they certainly can’t suck it up.  Their brains have frozen, the blue screen of death is on the screen and until you can press Ctrl+Alt+Delete to reboot in a quiet place there is nothing you or they can do to cope.  And no an ice-cream or bucket of pop corn won’t make any difference. 

Option 2 – My youngest son goes with one parent

Sure this is something we do sometimes.  It’s nice actually.  Whichever of us goes gets to spend someone quality time with him, he gets to be the focus of the attention.  With an autistic brother it can be a battle for him to feel he’s getting his fair share sometimes no matter how hard we try.

My Aspie has no problem with this either, he knows it’s his choice not to go, and usually he is very reluctant to go so he accepts this.  One day it will occur to him that he is missing out on a treat and ask for something in its place but right now he only perceives he is missing out on what to him is a trial. 

The downsides of this option are that we actually like to do stuff as a family, so while this is sometimes good, we don’t want it to be the norm.  But more of an issue is that my partner often works away for weeks, occasionally months at a time.  With no family over here to help with childcare this option sometimes simply isn’t an option.

Option 2 – The Drive-In

This is great! Financially it’s a winner, it’s about a third of the price of the normal cinema.  The kids really enjoy it.  It’s less intense than the cinema because you’re not surrounded by the dark, the noise of people before the film starts, and the only smells are the ones we choose to introduce to the car.  When the emotional side gets too much my little Aspie simply climbs over the seat into the boot, puts his head phones on and concentrates on the WWII documentary on his eye pad.  He’ll pop up and down to watch the film as he feels comfortable.

Downsides?  Purely that in the summer it goes dark too late to be able to take the kids to the drive-in.  When we lived in England there simply weren't any drive-ins.  We're lucky here in Melbourne to have a selection.  Our favourite is the Lunar Drive-In near Dandenong.  http://www.lunardrive-in.com.au/ 

Option 3 – Take an IPad to the cinema. Plan ahead. Enjoy.

This actually works really well too.  This weekend my youngest son chose the cinema followed by a sleepover with his best friend as his birthday treat.  He wanted to see the Avengers: Age of Ultron.  Obviously a quiet unobtrusive film!

My partner was working, if we were going to go it was me, two almost 6 year olds and my 7 year old Aspie.

We went and we stayed and we had a great time.  We spent far too much money on A-shaped drinks cups but I figured we hadn’t paid for a party so we were getting off relatively lightly. 

So how did we do it?  The wonders of the IPad.  We took the IPad and his much used very comfortable earphones.  We simply have these out as we walk in, I’ve never been stopped ort questioned yet.

I preselected the seats.  A row of four at the front right at the side of the cinema, at least he wasn’t going to be completely surrounded by people.  There were also choices for 3-D and ultra impact screenings.  We did not choose one of those!  He was well briefed beforehand, we watched trailers and talked about the film. 

He took the wall seat, sat on the floor with his back to the film, earphones on and watching his IPad.  Every now and then he popped his head up meerkat style watched for a couple of minutes and then flopped back down.  My youngest and his friend sat together ate popcorn, chatted till I shushed them and generally behaved like 6 years olds at a movie. 

We made it all the way through.  At the very end my Aspie took off his earphones, looked up and said “Mum that was fantastic! The best Avengers yet.”!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Aspergers Kids Can't be Described

For all those parents out there who have a recent diagnosis of high functioning autism or aspergers for your child. You're probably looking for a road map right now to tell you what your kid is going to be like. Unfortunately there isn't one. There's plenty of advice and lists of criteria for kids on the spectrum, but not one will properly describe your child.
My closest friends son is an Aspie as is my oldest boy. During a recent trip to the park we were chatting about the similarities but also the differences between the two. One is a mechanical things loving extrovert. The other is a nature loving introvert. One sings or refuses to listen to some songs, the other doesn't notice the presence or absence of music. One is small for his age, the other large. The list goes on.

He's not like Billy/Fred/Jane!

My long haired, WWII obsessed 7 year old was diagnosed as autistic or Aspergers about 3 years ago. I've never doubted that diagnosis, it made sense of a lot of things. I have however been told by well meaning friends and acquaintances that he isn't autistic because "my neighbour/ cousin/ daughter's friend/ pupil" is autistic and he's nothing like them.
I agree. He's not. Having aspergers isn't like growing up in Stepford. There's not a galactic cookie cutter either physically or mentally that Aspies get forced through before entering our world. If you attend early intervention classes with about ten kids there you'll probably find among other things:
  • Mostly boys - but they'll be some girls
  • Some kids with poor eye contact - but one or two will have great eye contact
  • Some kids that are playing on their own, seeming to ignore the existence of the others - and some running around playing tag or being dinosaurs or octonauts together
  • Some kids won't like bright lights, loud noises, strong smells, all of the above - some will get to an overload point - some will show no reaction whatsoever
  • Some very quiet kids - some really noisy kids - some moderate kids. And which ones are which will probably keep changing.
Cookie Cutter Autism
What you will not find is one obvious defining characteristic that puts all those kids in the same box.

Old or Young For His Age?

One of the things you'll get told or read over and over is that autism is about developmental delay. It is BUT that doesn't mean they will be delayed in every area.
My little boy still has the occasional time when he throws himself onto the floor hysterically because he lost a game in the classroom. In his defense he's well aware of his inability to cope with losing and takes steps to control it, usually by avoiding playing.
It's also quite apparent that he has very little care for others feelings if it's in conflict with what he wants. His little brother is the main exception to this rule, he doesn't like him being upset.
His coordination in sports is somewhat lacking in things like throwing or riding his bike. It would probably help if he would pay any attention to where he was going. His running is quite good though and now that he's becoming interested in cricket his catching is showing improvement simply because he's found a reason to be interested in it.
In other ways though he is frighteningly old. His thought processes are extremely logical, he can think his way around corners and can be incredibly persuasive in his arguments. His problem solving skills and manipulation of others can be scary and most certainly demonstrates an awareness of other peoples buttons and feelings. The best way I can describe him at such times is 'a born politician'.
He knowingly humours me. He will tell his stepdad that he's told me what I wanted to hear so he could get on with things.
So if you're looking into the future for a glimpse of your child, I'm happy to say that for autistic children it's just as much a mystery as for any other kid. And I can't emphasise enough - it won't be all bad, in fact some of it will be pretty damn amazing.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Drought Proof a Your Life - Redundancy

Worried About Redundancy

Over the last couple of years my industry has shrunk. Partly the bursting of the mining boom bubble. Partly government not investing in infrastructure. Partly the knock on effects of the global economy reducing companies willingness to spend.

I've been one of the lucky ones. I've come out the other end still fully employed. I have however been extremely aware of the shrinkage. One of my roles when my company decided on several occasions that we had to shrink too, was to be the one looking into people's eyes and telling them their world was changing. Yes I am that (insert descriptive expletive of your choice). I'm not HR, I'm a geologist, but I'm a team lead and if I don't do it who should?

As a side line to this article, each and every one of those people was truly amazing in their reaction at that unguarded moment.

I don't think anyone has come through completely unscathed or unaltered, but for me it's changed one of my thought processes in a basic way.

I think a lot of people when faced with the prospect of redundancy in their company start working out their redundancy package. At that point some even welcome the idea of redundancy! Most start looking at their debt, at their monthly living costs and of course jump onto the job seekers sites. It seems to me that most people take 3 to 6 months to find a new job. The redundancy package gets them over that first 3 months but then?


What's in Your Pantry?


Like a lot of people I pretty much lived paycheck to paycheck. I started looking at my pantry. If I lost my job today, how long could my household survive on what we had in?


When I first made people redundant it was just me and my kids. We're luckier now in that I have a partner so a little less vulnerable. But still, in the face of redundancy/ injury/ food or petrol crisis how long could we last on what we had?


The answer was a little depressing.


  • Obviously within a week or so we'd be out of fresh food, because well it's fresh and after a week it wouldn't be. For the first week though plenty of salmon, salads, yoghurts, deli meats, cheese.


  • When I was a kid we had a pantry with a shelf full of tins. I'm not sure if it's the fashion or my personal preference but I found I had a couple of tins of tuna, a tin of sweetcorn and a tin of coconut milk. Good as far as they went but hardly enough to keep us going for more than a couple of days.


  • Dried goods were better. I like to make bread so I had plenty of flour and the like. Pasta and rice were also in decent supply (I'd at least be able to make a tuna bake combined with the tins).


  • Finally the freezer. Some home made frozen meals such as pizza, lasagne, cottage pie and chicken nuggets. A respectable amount of frozen veg. A box of fish fingers.


Ok so I'm not listing everything here but you get the idea. The contents of my pantry, and freezer, and fridge were pretty meagre. They would keep us alive for a month or six weeks with very careful management and a lot of plain pasta but the variety and nutritional value was going to decline rapidly.


Extending this to the rest of the house and it was apparent that we'd be using newspaper for toilet roll and wearing hats to hide our greasy hair before the month was out if we ever had to rely purely on the contents of the house.


Now I know this sounds a little Mad Max post apocalyptic where everyone is suddenly wearing leather and carrying their own weight in weapons but it bothered me. Not in an obsessive I'm going to build tunnels under my house way but as a niggle at the back of my mind. I'd had to remove people's livelihoods in a snap of fingers. I was under no illusion that it couldn't happen to me tomorrow.


I didn't like feeling helpless and I was doing all I could to help keep things afloat at work, but there was something very concrete I could do at home to get rid of that niggle.


Where to Start?

Obviously it started with a list. Lists are very comforting when it's late in the evening, the kids are in bed and you can't make any actual progress. In all seriousness though a list in this situation was incredibly useful. I decided pretty quickly based entirely on gut feeling, that I wanted to have enough food and household goods in the house to survive comfortably for three months. Three months of school lunches for the kids. Three months of nutritious, tasty and varied evening meals, three months of porridge for breakfast. I didn't want to be able to just survive, I wanted to be able to keep things as normal as possible for the kids but I wanted to pay for it now while I could afford to.


I started in the morning and worked my way through breakfast, lunch and dinner. I mentally visited the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker. I considered raw ingredients for bread, cookies and cakes that wouldn't store for three months but would keep things normal if they were there. I thought about herbs, spices and condiments. Cordials and fizzy pop made appearances. Then I worked my way through the house, the bathroom, the laundry, cleaning products,lightbulbs, batteries. Finally I thought about where it would live (the garage joined onto the house) and what kind of storage I was going to need.


It is not a quick job! Start adding prices to the items and suddenly it's also quite scary, but for me that made it even scarier not to do it. It also made me realize I couldn't do it all in one month, I simply couldn't afford to. I had to prioritise and I did that in two ways.


  1. Essentials. The huge bag of baker's flour that would keep me in bread for the duration. The toilet rolls that would soon be very obvious if they were gone. I drew up groups of goods in order of importance.
  2. Deals. I also came out of this exercise with a desire to live more cheaply. Try working out what you spend on any single item over the course of a year. When you see the final number you'll soon make a decision on whether it's that essential. So I decided when I saw our favourite mint and tea tree shower gel for example at half price (thank you Coles) I would buy 3 months worth in one go. Why wouldn't you?


The next thing I did was go online and join Costco. It just so happened that a new store had just opened about 10 minutes drive from where I live (bonus!). People have different views of Costco but with this new philosophy it makes sense to me.


Less Time in Supermarkets

We're a year or so on from making this decision, and while we don't always have three months worth of goods in we probably have 2 months in as a rule. In fact I was prompted to write this article because I was having a pantry clear up and realize we've probably dipped to about 1 months worth for the first time in a long while.


A number of habits have changed over this time:

  • We get a meat pack from our local butcher, enough to last about 2 months each time. It's incredibly cheap to do it this way, the quality is excellent and there is plenty of variety.
  • We did have to buy a chest freezer to cope with the above, but it means we can store way more everything now.
  • Costco is our normal shop now. We try to go once a month for a big shop. We use a smaller shop for milk, salads etc when we need to.
  • We plan our meals better. The kids like to write their choices on a calendar for the month ahead. We don't stick to it rigidly but it makes a good guide. When we do this we're far better at remembering it get something out of the freezer the night before.


The whole thing has done what it was intended to do. The niggle in the back of my mind has quieted, but it's had another benefit that looking back is obvious but didn't occur to me when I made the decision. We're actually living a lot cheaper than we did, oh yeah and we spend a lot less time in supermarkets.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

How many bank accounts does it take to change a lightbulb?

Ok so there is no witty punch line to this one.  Blame it on a combination of frustration that two of those little in the ceiling lights have blown AGAIN! and that we're paying attention to household finances right now as we try and save a deposit for a house.

The question should be "how many bank accounts does it take to run our house?"

The answer is 5.  For 2 adults.

So what do we have? Why so many?  Or maybe this is normal?

We each have our own chequing account that we've always had.  We get paid into these and we keep a little private money in them, what might have been called pin money in regency times.  It's money that we don't need to think about spending, we know it doesn't affect our ability to pay the bills.  Also we've kept these accounts as my partner is self employed and people are used to paying him in that account and I've had mine as long as I've been in Australia.  It's continuity.

So that's two accounts.

Number three is our bill account.  This one is very important.  All of our bills, electricity, gas, rent, phones, subscriptions, tolls , kids child care, blah, blah, blah get paid out of this.  All we have to do is top it up at each pay day with our estimated bills for the month plus a little buffer.  Then we don't touch it.  I monitor it, make sure the bills are going out and for the right amount, but we don't touch it again till next payday, and then only to top it up to the required amount.  It gives me massive peace of mind, nothing gets forgotten and there is no chance of running out of money before a bill comes in.

Number four then is our household day to day costs.  Food shopping is the biggest, plus petrol and clothes if we need them. Also haircuts, car services, any normal everyday costs to run the family. And then fun stuff.  Family meals out, cinema or laser tag.  Trips to the swimming pool. We have a budget of course and the major food shopping tends to get done once a month just after payday again so that we know where we stand and whether we can afford to go out.

Having number three and four separate might seem overkill but it really does mean we know how much we have available for food, necessities and if we're really lucky for a bit of fun!

And finally five.  Five is our savings account.  Anything left over from the other four goes in here.  We're watching it grow, slower than we'd like but still grow.  Account number five is our future.

So how many accounts to make sure we have the money to change a light bulb? Five!  But I still don't know how many angels can dance on the head of a pin