Last night, we got our first pair of lambs for this season. They're quite early as lambing doesn't usually start on this farm until end of March. But a cheeky tup managed to find his way into a field of ewes before we had chance to introduce them, and had his wicked way. We have no idea at this stage how many ewes he serviced but there could be a few. Fortunately, the lambs are big and healthy and taking milk from their mum. Of course, The Farmer blamed the ewes saying they encouraged the tup into the field. Perhaps they batted their eyelashes, applied some lippy and showed him a bit of leg. Who knows; but what we have now is some very early lambs and nothing organised.
I've known for quite some time that my husband's late parents still live in this house, albeit in spirit. I've sensed his mum around me often, not least when she cooks beef stew and leaves the aroma lingering through the house. During my first lambing season after I'd moved onto the farm, I would sit in what is now our dining room but back then was Jim's sitting room. Even though we have an abundance of rooms to choose from, before I moved here it was the only room in which the family would relax. They called it "The Room". For three consecutive nights at the beginning of lambing 2002, I could smell a very distinct perfume in The Room, one that used to be quite popular in the 1980's called Vanderbilt. It was only on the third night when the aroma was so strong I knew I needed some answers. I looked frantically through the sideboard, expecting to find a bottle of perfume having spilled inside a cupboard, but there was nothing. When I asked Jim, he confirmed to me that Vanderbilt was his wife's favourite perfume. She had been dead three years.
After Jim died in May 2007, we had many parts of the house renovated because he used to smoke very heavily and had left the stale smell of tobacco throughout. His bedroom, which is now my office, was completely in need of decoration as was The Room. It took a long time to get rid of the nicotine stains but the smell of tobacco still lingers through the air and is particularly strong in my office, almost five years after his death. But along with the tobacco smell that I experience frequently, I always know when Jim visits because he leaves the aroma of TCP, something he used every day for many years. Very often, I sense someone with me and am suddenly greeted by the aroma of Vanderbilt, beef stew, tobacco smoke or TCP. Any of these aromas alert me to a presence, a spirit that once resided in this big old house. Jim lived here all his life, almost 83 years. His wife lived here for almost 50 years. It's not surprising they don't want to leave.
Jim lived in a nursing home for the few months before his death and once I remember visiting him only to find him stroking an imaginary dog. When I asked what he was doing he replied, "I'm stroking Bob." The day before Jim died, we brought Sparky home, a beautiful red and white border collie. It wasn't until a short while after that I discovered photographs of a dog that my husband told me was Jim's favourite - Bob, a red and white border collie.
On New Years Day this year, we brought home Tanya, the most adorable kitten. Shortly after she joined our family, my husband dug out some old photos which were taken during the 1980's, of a kitten that belonged to his mum. She called the kitten Squeak. I'd heard Jim mention Squeak often and I felt the couple had a special bond towards it. It turns out that Squeak was indeed my late mother-in-law's favourite cat and lived until she was 19. She died shortly after my mother-in-law.
I have Amy's special educational needs review today. Since she started at special school last September, she hasn't really had any major issues apart from those that concern her growing up. I have no idea what a review will be like at a special school but I suspect it will be a lot more detailed and fulfilling than any she had at mainstream. Everything at mainstream school for Amy was "ongoing". It was as though they gave up on her because autism is a condition people live with for life. I used to come away from those meetings feeling depressed, disheartened, worried for my daughter's future. There were the usual comments from staff about action that needed to be taken, but it never was. The schools weren't bad schools, far from it, but they just weren't suitable for a child with special needs. Parents of children with conditions such as autism have found this time and time again. It is rare that a child is completely at ease and fully included in mainstream education. I don't blame the school but I do blame the staff. Saying there is only so much they can do is an excuse.
If I hadn't been able to get Amy into special school when I did, I was prepared to take her out of mainstream education anyway and pay for a home tutor. It would have bankrupted me but it would have been better than her hitting her head against a brick wall, getting nowhere fast and being picked on by children who weren't able to accept that she was "different". It is probably easy to pay attention to a class room full of typical children who all listen, concentrate and understand, whilst it is difficult to give your attention to just one pupil who is struggling to keep up. Amy's special needs support worker was a god-send; Amy wouldn't have lasted five minutes without her. And so here I am, getting ready for yet another review meeting where teachers and professional special needs staff will discuss my daughter. I'm hoping I come out of this meeting with a smile on my face and some positive news. It's become obvious how much she needed a special school and the staff have confirmed that she's in the best place. Some people prefer to put their children in mainstream schools even though they clearly have special needs and need much more one-to-one support than a mainstream school is able to give. I think I know why that is, but I also know that if a child needs to be in a special school it is worth the fight to get them into one. Because once you do, you won't look back.
I want to know why people think it's okay to take their dogs to the shops and leave them in the car for hours on end. I see it so often when I go to the shops, and especially when I visit the supermarket. I recently took Amy to town where we stopped at McDonald's first before driving to Morrisons car park in order to eat before I went in the shop. All I could hear was a dog barking; a loud, gruff bark of a seemingly pissed off large dog that had been abandoned whilst it's owners did their weekly shop. Don't these people realise that dogs are much happier, not to mention more comfortable when left at home, where they can get up and walk about a little, reach the water dish, spread out and perhaps fall asleep without distraction? The boot of a car isn't big enough to keep a large breed dog in, no matter what the weather. We were sat in the car park for about half an hour. I got out and went into the supermarket and when I returned to the car about forty-five minutes later, the poor dog was still barking its head off in the boot of the car. The windows were steamed up and by then I suspect there was steam coming out of the dog's ears. It was cold, but there was no window open and we all know how stuffy it can get inside a car. I've seen this in the summer, too; dogs left in cars in hot conditions where they have no choice but to wait loyally for their owner to return.
I'm sure that the owner loves their dog. I'm sure they spoil it rotten and hate letting it out of their sight. It's most likely that when the owners returned to their car (which we didn't see because we left before they did) the dog welcomed them with open arms, so to speak, tail wagging and ears pinned back in absolute relief that its unconditional love was appreciated. I've been in town many times on hot days when I've seen dogs in cars, then seen the same car parked on a supermarket car park and the dog still in the car, barking and completely losing it. Is this really a fair way to treat the animals we adore?
Please visit my other blog, Marvellous Mable, where paranormal investigator Nikki Bywater talks about why she believes in the afterlife.
Continuing the Blog Tour today, the following links have featured me on their blog:
This week will be a little different on my blog as I have decided to re-launch Discovery at Rosehill. Over the last two months I've been fortunate enough to find several people to feature me on their blogs as part of a blog tour, and many others who have reviewed the book. It isn't unusual for sales to dry up, especially on a self-published novel, but I hold this book so close to my heart that I wanted to keep it out there, on the virtual shelves, and possibly on your Kindles. It is still available in paperback format and also eBook, at Amazon UK, Amazon US or if you prefer a signed copy, you can buy direct from me by using the page above Discovery at Rosehill Information - you will also find other reviews, an extract and blurb on this page. To kick this blog tour off, here is me reading a short extract from the beginning of Chapter 24 which I have named "The Cellars".
Today, the following blogs have featured me, either in interview, an article or review. Please show your support and feel free to browse any of the links below.
All in all, it's been a pretty crap half term, especially for Amy. We had so much planned; a trip to the Metro Center for a girlie shop and lunch out, friends coming on Tuesday, swimming and dog walking with a friend on Thursday, and lots of horse riding. Not the end of the world that we didn't manage to do any of it, but then on Thursday evening, we noticed Tanya, the kitten, was showing signs of being unwell. I scoured through my cat manual and recognised some of her symptoms to be similar to cat influenza. The Farmer, who adores that little kitten as much as Amy and I do, rushed her to the vet. I had to break the news to Amy that Tanya wasn't well and play it down as much as I could so as not to upset her too much. But on the whole she was devastated. She's slept with Tanya since the day we brought her to the farm and when she's at home, the two are inseparable. And so we prayed. We sat together on the stairs and asked God to bring her home to us and let her be well again.
The Farmer got back about forty-five minutes later with Tanya in her cage, looking out and probably wondering what on earth was going on. Her eye, which had previously glazed over, seemed a lot better as the vet had applied eye drops. She'd also had a couple of nose bleeds which I assumed were serious, but the vet has a feeling she could have bumped her head when springing about. That doesn't surprise me; I've never seen a kitten jump so far, so often. She's hardly ever still and I guess seeing her looking unwell worried us more because we've always known her to be so active. However, the vet has told us to keep a close eye on her for a while, let her rest and keep her quiet for a day or two. That horrid feeling of losing our gorgeous little princess ran through my thoughts as I looked at her water dish and mouse toy. She's fast become a member of our family, without an ounce of fear for the four border collies, or indeed our large adult cat. She's made herself quite at home and even after such a short time of her living here, I just know Jigsaw Farm wouldn't be the same if she were gone. Unless you have pets, I think people find it hard to understand the incredible bond an owner has with their adored animals. They give you unconditional love and all they want in return, is that love to be reciprocated.
It's been a very long two days. And I suspect it's going to be a very long two weeks. As many of you already know, Amy managed to fall on the stairs yesterday and ended up in A&E after her ankle swelled like a balloon. They did a couple of XRays which didn't really determine anything significant, and so were forwarded to Orthopaedics's department at Wansbeck. We received a phone call in the afternoon to say we needed to go down to that hospital's A&E department without delay as a consultant had found what she thought to be a fracture on one of the XRays. So off we went, battling the 5 o'clock traffic on the A1, and arrived at A&E which was thankfully empty. Amy was taken to the children's unit where she was once again assessed. Another consultant looked at the original XRays and decided the best thing was to put a plaster-cast on the leg then send her down for some more XRays. The original XRays had shown a movement between the joint and ankle socket, where the bone had slipped out of the socket. It wasn't a full dislocation but the plaster would hopefully push the bone back into the socket. Two more XRays were taken and even though the bone was fortunately back in place, the consultant was still unsure as to what she was dealing with. So once more, we were taken down to the XRay department where another image was taken, this time showing a much better view of Amy's ankle. The consultant said she could see a small fracture and so made an appointment for us to see an Orthopaedic surgeon the following morning; i.e. this morning.
So off we went to Ashington, in plenty of time for our 10am appointment. The waiting area was heaving. It seemed everyone else had a 10am appointment, too. We were finally called in to see the surgeon at 11.45. I guess that's about average....
Anyway, I'll try to cut a long story short here; the surgeon examined Amy's ankle, called in another surgeon to scrutinise the XRays and they both concluded that there is no fracture but significant soft tissue damage. We then went to the plaster room where a large plaster-cast was applied, in a lovely purple colour as chosen by Amy, that will have to stay on for 2 weeks until we go back and have it looked at again. If the surgeon is happy that the tissue damage is healing then she will have the cast off and the injury will then be treated as a sprain.
My gorgeous girl has been incredibly brave, so much more than I ever would have been. She took it all in her stride, let nurses, doctors, consultants, surgeons and plaster technicians assess the damage and ask her questions. I'm very proud of her. It feels like we've done a lot of messing about but the most important thing is that she's absolutely fine, albeit in a plaster-cast. And I'm knackered!
I heard something that really disturbed me the other day; I guess many people will say it's not surprising news, but it opened my eyes once again to the ignorance that surrounds our society. A close friend of mine has a sixteen year old son with special needs. He is doing really well academically and currently attends a very reputable private school where he has made many friends and has been included in the school's small community. This year he will be spending a week doing work experience. The "problem", apparently, is where. I raised my eyebrows at the word 'problem' because to me, there shouldn't be a problem. But what my friend experienced left me gobsmacked and considerably worried for our children's future, especially those with additional needs. John (not his real name), wishes to help out at a primary school because he absolutely loves working with young children. He's a lovely young man, polite, well-mannered, sociable and very determined. The person who makes the decision as to his working at the school dismissed the request on the grounds that he has "special needs".
The person who makes these decisions has never met John.
What hope is there for children and adults with special needs and disabilities if people are discriminating against them without even getting to know them first? What chance do our kids have in this society of extreme ignorance?
My friend was, as you will understand, extremely upset. She was also pretty angry. This kid just wants a chance to see what he could excel at. He wants to be a part of our community. He wants to be independent, pay tax, pay bills, live a life that he is entitled to live. He is very capable of making decisions and made the decision to apply to the school for just one week's work experience, unpaid. Yet his application has been rejected because someone assumes his disability will hinder assistance in the classroom. But we know this is happening everywhere, even though we now have the Disability and Equality Act 2010 in place. It has to be accepted that some jobs aren't suitable for disabled people, or indeed those with a condition such as autism, epilepsy - I use these two in particular because I have first hand experience of them. For example, I would never qualify as a driving instructor. I spoke to another friend yesterday about this issue, a manager who works for the NHS. She pointed out that in some cases, it has to be appreciated that alternative positions can be found but this still means discriminating against disabled people is against the law, and is morally unacceptable.
I'm not so blinkered that I don't know this goes on; I do know people will always be treated differently if they are disabled. But don't our young people deserve a chance to prove themselves, even if they do have a disability? Shouldn't we feel obliged to help those who need a little extra help to flourish? I'm not sure whether my friend will appeal against the decision; we both thought that if John was eventually given the work placement that he may feel uncomfortable, not to mention unwelcome, knowing he wasn't really wanted. But on principle, this kind of issue needs addressing, otherwise what future do our special needs kids really have?
The other night Amy asked me about Facebook. She's probably mentioned it before but I've not taken any notice because I feel she is far too young to be entering the somewhat murky waters of social media. The conversation was only a few sentences from both of us but it did make me think. She said some of her friends from school are on Facebook, and even though I know the majority of her friends are a year or two older than she is, the fact still remains that these children are vulnerable. I know Amy inside-out and I know she is nowhere near responsible enough to have her own Facebook account. I know of a few children who are on there and I assume they are much more street-wise than Amy is, but the thought of my daughter being befriended by a stranger posing as a like-minded child, would actually scare the hell out of me.
There comes a time when we have to loosen the apron strings and trust our children to an extent where they feel independent. Breathing down their necks doesn't help them to secure friendships and it surely won't prepare them for the big wide world. But a child like Amy sees everything black and white. She doesn't understand the dangers of paedophiles and trolls, cyber-bullying and impersonators. She sees people as they are. If she thinks they have a pretty face, she will assume they are kind. Her vulnerability knows no bounds and there lies the dangers of social media for a child like Amy. The blog she used to write on was carefully monitored by me; she didn't know how to access it. She is able to use the Internet, quite efficiently I hasten to add, but I have parental control permanently on. I'm not an expert on social media, far from it, but I've seen and heard about the dangers children can find themselves in and it all leaves a lot to be desired. Maybe one day Amy will have her own Facebook account, but not for a few years yet. I'd like to keep a lid on the possibility of risks online, just for a while longer.
Edit: Please read Fiona's comment to this post because she is absolutely bang on the nail. Many thanks.
This post was inspired by Sandi McBride who writes eloquently about the subject of kids using Facebook.
I've never been one to look at my blog stats. I've always feared that if I get into the habit of perusing them regularly, that I'll lose sight of the enjoyment of blogging. On the very few times I have peeked at them, I've always failed to understand what they mean and so for me it's a waste of time. To be fair to those who keep tabs on their stats, I imagine this is because they either blog as part of their job, or because they work with PR's and companies that require this information on a regular basis. I blog for pleasure, therefore I'd rather assume my blog popularity by the interaction each post achieves. I think I've just about sussed the page views since changing to the new Blogger platform, but still some posts get hundreds of page views whilst others don't. Before I discovered last year that several of my posts had been stolen, it never occurred to me that my blog was so widely read. I have no idea if that person reinstated their blog after deleting it because frankly, I don't care anymore. But something I did come to realise was, in effect, all the page views that the plagiariser achieved on the posts she stole from me, were really my page views, too. In a way, I feel complimented.
Something I have learned to do is find out how people can land on my blog. There are some pretty strange folk out there. "Doing it doggie style" was one of the searches; imagine their disappointment when landing on my blog and finding pictures of my four dogs. Another search was "breastfeeding and my tits". I don't know what to say to that one. I read some blogs where the blogger writes as a hobby yet is obsessed by how many hits they get in a day, how many comments they receive. And if that number isn't a lot, they feel they're doing something wrong. They're not doing anything wrong. Blogs are someone's personal space, even if like me, you blog for an audience. See, I'm not ashamed to admit that either. In the years I've been blogging, I'd like to say that the best advice I can give to increase your stats, if that's all you're interested in, is to visit blogs everywhere; leave comments and interact. It isn't difficult to blog. It isn't even difficult to write a blog post. Believe it or not, it's pretty easy to interact. But what is difficult is maintaining that continuity and keeping the readers coming back. To some, stats matter a great deal and that's an individual choice. But try not to get hung up over them. With social media so popular now, blogging can be a very up and down activity, like one of those monitors next to a hospital bed. If you become addicted to the stats, the minute that line goes down you'll panic. And then the enjoyment of blogging will be gone.
Just like many other people, I make no secret of the fact that on behalf of my daughter I claim disability living allowance. I claim it to help with Amy's special needs and to enable her to be as independent as she could possibly be. This independence will always be limited. No matter how much money gets paid to her, she will probably never drive a car, live alone or bear a child. Think about that for a moment.
Please don't turn away, this isn't a post about Amy and the fact she may, in the future, be unable to get financial support just to live as normal a life as any person with autism can live. This is a post about you. When parents and carers of special needs children and adults are trying to raise awareness, they aren't doing so because they feel hard done by. They are doing it because they care. About you.
They, we, all of us need to open our eyes and realise that one day, you too could be classed as disabled. You could find yourself in a position where you have to claim a disability benefit, either for yourself, or, like me, for someone else. No matter how many of you turn your back and say, "never, not me, that won't happen to me", I can tell you something you might not want to hear.
Yes, it might happen to you. Yes, it is a frightening thought that one day you may find yourself living with a disability. And yes, it is easier to turn away from disability if it doesn't directly affect you. But what would happen if you or your child were unexpectedly diagnosed with a condition that left either of you unable to work or live the life you had become accustomed to? What would you do if you heard that a member of your family had just been diagnosed with cancer, epilepsy, autism, or any other disability that would change their life forever? How about if it was you who'd been diagnosed with these conditions and illnesses. It doesn't bear thinking about does it?
That's what I used to think. Then one day I woke up and had 2 epileptic seizures in the same day and was thus diagnosed with epilepsy. It happened out of the blue. I had no warning. Then another day my daughter was diagnosed with autism. I didn't even know what autism was. I don't claim allowance for myself but I do for Amy. Maybe you'll claim it for somebody one day. Maybe you'll claim it for yourself.
Or maybe you won't be able to. Even though it'll be the first financial support you will assume you're entitled to. Ignorance won't help anyone who turns away from an issue that you too, may have to face.
The Farmer took a few photos recently with his new camera that I bought him for Christmas. He's finally moved into the digital era so I've been able to put his pictures onto the computer via the sd card, rather than scanning them in. Here's a few:
Not sure Molly approves of the threesome...
Sparky guarding her ball
I'm useless at captions, always been one of those people who thinks of something witty to say ten minutes after the event. If you can think of any captions of your own for any of the above pictures, I'd love to read them.