Monday, 29 April 2013

Is it that time already......?

Tomorrow is the last day of April, which means we're already one third of the way through the year.

How on earth did THAT happen?

I think I might be disorientated by the fact that winter lasted twice as long as it should have done, then we've had just one week of spring and jumped straight to summer.

I'd intended getting so many things done this month but it's snuck right past me and now I'm up against the beginning of May the day after tomorrow.  It's a complete impossibility to get an entire month's worth of stuff achieved in just one day but I've decided to throw caution to the winds and give it a damn good go.

Of course the one BIG thing I didn't get round to starting this month is the annual accounts in preparation for doing my tax return.  Regular readers will know just how much I enjoy this yearly ritual and how I rub my hands with glee at the prospect of spending several days trying to make sense of my admittedly chaotic bookkeeping system.  I can hardly wait to sit goggle-eyed in front of a computer spreadsheet, struggling to understand why the figures in column A don't match those in column D as they should.   I expect it will all come right in the end though (it usually does) but I'm going to wait till after the Bank Holiday weekend before I dive in.  I may try some desultory 'sorting' and 'arranging' of various piles of paperwork before then, just to give me some false sense of being ahead of the posse.

No matter.

These things are sent to try us, and they do.

Indeed they do.

Rather more pressing is the fact that as is always the case when we return from a short break away in the caravan, camping detritus spreads through the house like a miasma.  It's fairly bad in the kitchen, where several piles of dirty laundry are awaiting their turn in the washing machine.  Similarly, the hall is strewn with storage boxes and I can hardly turn round in the workroom because the caravan awning and flooring have taken up residence in there.  

Once all of that has been relocated, I have several orders to package and a large batch of china painting to do.  Whether or not I can get all of the latter completed AND fired before May 1st remains to be seen so I'd better go and just get on with it.

Friday, 19 April 2013

The writer's voice.......

Small Dog joined Facebook on 11th February this year.

Who would have thought that a small Yorkshier Terrior would have caused such controversy, such vitriolic comments, such (and you must excuse my language here) absolute and complete fuckwittage.

Look.  I know we're talking about FB here.  It's not exactly a bastion of common sense, good taste and sensitivity.  But I did expect a certain modicum of laissez-faire.

To paraphrase Small Dog, I cannot even believe that some people can be so stupid.

Perhaps I should explain FOR THE COMPLETE RETARDS my modus operandi although obviously, they're not going to understand that either.

As a child we always had animals. 

Dogs - several
Cats - several
Hamsters - a few

ALL of them had a different 'voice'.


It was my mum who started it.  

Our pets would talk to us.  They would tell us their hopes, fears and ambitions or simply what they wanted for dinner.

But... and here is where the writer's voice comes in..... they would also leave us written notes.

For example, our dogs wrote in a style very similar to Small Dog. 

You have to understand that animals might readily understand our spoken language but they struggle with translating their thoughts into our written language.  They write what they hear, but without the constraints of spelling and grammar.  The fact that they can write in phonetic sentences at all is fairly amazing.

Any idiot can do bad spelling.  In fact there is so much bad spelling on FB I don't even know where to start, so to be upbraided for my dog not knowing how to spell is somewhat galling.

It takes me much longer to write a Small Dog post than one of my own (I hasten to add that I have to 'channel' SD's posts as they are obviously ALL her own work)

I write, edit, re-edit, and edit again to get just the right words and tone.  I aim for funny and clever and I expect the only other person on the interweb who might understand this is Sue Newstead, whose Fox Terrior, Delphi Dog (DD) and SD are "grate frends" and who I know puts just as much time and effort into her DD posts as I do for SD.

It is NOT bad or sloppy spelling.  It is how Small Dog writes.  It is how ALL the dogs I have ever known have written.

Cats write in a completely different way.  More sparse and pared down (although their spelling can best be described as 'experimental).  With none of the existential angst.

With hamsters you're lucky if you get more than two single syllable words at a time.  And the notes are always chewed round the edges.

On the other hand, guinea pigs can be virtuoso writers.  When my children were young we had a guinea pig called Virgil who wrote the Aeneid in crayon.  So think on.

Frankly, I don't give a rat's arse about who doesn't like Small Dog's FB page (although I presume that rats, being notably intelligent rodents, might be right up there with some of  the best writers).  I've had to ban people from posting inappropriate comments and batten down the page so that nobody can post on the timeline.  Basically, a bit like the Pentagon, Small Dog's page is on lockdown.

If people don't have the intellectual ability to read and understand her posts then perhaps they'd be better off going elsewhere*.  I've heard that the likes of Justin Bieber can occasionally string a coherent sentence together but what do I know.

So, if any of my regular blog readers, many of whom I know are ardent fans of Small Dog, would like to join her FB page, do let me know and I will send you an invite.

*The bounds of decency and good taste dictate that I cannot give free rein to my thoughts on this.......


Time's winged chariot.....

Today is officially the last working day before my birthday extravaganza next week.  I may tinker with a few work projects over the weekend but only in an 'unofficial' capacity.

I tend to get a bit introspective around birthday time.

Another year older.

Another year closer to the nameless terrors of the grave.  (I am reliably informed that you can actually get a 'humourous' birthday card with that sentiment inside.....'hilarious' or what?)

One of the things I'm least looking forward to on attaining my 55th birthday (and the list is l-o-n-g) is having to move up another age category when completing online questionnaires.  It's one thing to select 50-54.  I can cope with that.  But as of next week I'll be up in the over 55 slot.


Not only that, apparently I should be concerned about my hippocampus.  I watched a very interesting TV documentary last night about memory.  The hippocampus is a tiny area deep in the brain, responsible for our memories.  In our mid 50's (NOOOOO!!!) the hippocampus begins to atrophy, leading to the normal memory loss associated with ageing.

I've always rather prided myself on my memory, so the prospect of a gradual slide into loss of short term memory is a frightening thought.  However, the old adage, "use it or lose it" is pertinent, and as I have to remember all of PP's day to day stuff as well as my own I get plenty of practice.  

Of course having a reasonably good memory does not exempt me from the universal condition of arriving at the top of the stairs with NO IDEA why I'm there.  I have to go back to my starting point and think VERY HARD about why I needed to go upstairs in the first place.   

Small Dog has an excellent memory, although as she has a very small brain I suspect that her hippocampus is only the size of a pinhead.  She knows where the dog biscuit tin is kept, even if we move it around from cupboard to cupboard.  She knows where her harness and lead are kept.  She knows our normal route through the maze of paths and tracks in the woods behind our house, which is more than I do.  Whether this is due to her memory or merely a learned response is open to debate, but she does seem to remember things.

However, given the effects of MS on my brain, the state of my hippocampus is probably the least of my worries. 

Prior to my diagnosis, when I was undergoing various neurological tests, I had an MRI scan. The young doctor who saw me afterwards expressed concern at the number of white lesions on my brain.  I will never forget what she said....

 "This is very unusual in someone of your age.  You have the brain of a 70-year old"

Given that I was only 47 at the time, this was a tad alarming.  Naturally, it was only afterwards that I could come up with suitable responses, such as

"Have you ever thought of a career in one of the caring professions?"
"Whoa Doctor.....way to go with the sensitive bedside manner?"
"D'you think it's a matter of luck or judgement that you've never been punched on the nose?" 

Living with MS does tend to lead to introspection, and intimations of mortality are a regular occurrence.  Therefore I've taken a unilateral decision to majorly celebrate any birthdays from now on which end in either a zero or a five.  As time progresses *fingers crossed* I may even extend that to those which end in one to four and six to nine.

In the meantime, given that there's little I can do to influence the course of my MS, perhaps I should turn my attention to shoring up my face and body, which are inevitably suffering the cruel effects of gravity.  Maybe I should start saving now for a self-gifted 60th birthday present, a full face and body lift.   


Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Just in......

I'm always on the lookout for new tools and materials to make micro dollmaking easier, so I was delighted recently to discover a new line of superfine steel rods which are absolutely perfect for micro wigmaking.

Who would have thought that some lengths of silky smooth steel would send me into such paroxysms of delight?

Up until now, the finest needles I could reliably source were 1.25mm thick, which is great for making ringlet curls for tiny dolls between 1"-2" tall.  However, the new rods are available in 1mm and an even more amazing 0.70mm thickness so I just had to have some for my own use and to add to our Complete Micro Wigging Kits

These new rods will enable me to make exquisitely fine, delicate curls and tendrils to accentuate my doll's doll wigs.

My eagerly awaited order arrived today and I've only just added the new rods to our kits.  Packs of the three sizes of rods are also available to purchase separately, for customers who already have a complete wig pack, or for those who wish to purchase additional rods.

This week only, our Weekly Specials feature the "New & Improved" Wigmaking Kits at the original price of £15, as well as the new Micro Curl Rod Packs.

So no prizes for guessing what I'll be doing tomorrow....... experimenting with some lovely new wig styles using my wonderful new rods.

I probably should get out more.......

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Spring at last....?

It's now halfway through April and at long last we've had a proper spring-like day.  Warm and sunny with hardly a breath of wind.

Along with most of the inhabitants of the south coast, we headed down to the beach with Small Dog to promenade along the seafront, then sat on a bench to watch the world go by.  It was so clear we could even see all the way across the channel to France!

On the way home I would swear that flowers had started to bloom, and trees come into leaf in the few hours since we passed them on the way down.  Everything has been held so far back that it feels as if there's suddenly an explosion of new growth.

Of course I must be careful not to get carried away..... it could be snowing again next week... but I'm already feeling the benefits of a few hours in warm, spring sunshine.

Fingers crossed it continues......


Saturday, 13 April 2013

Perfect firing.....

This morning the kiln had cooled enough for me to carefully open the lid and see what had occurred inside.....

Only a perfect firing.... WOOHOO!!!

Each tiny piece fired to maturation, with just the faintest flesh like bloom.

This is the topmost shelf, which gets hottest, so that's where I place the heads and bodies.

The middle shelf has mostly arms.....

Bottom shelf has the legs....

I know what you're thinking....

"Blimey Sandra, that's an awful lot of tiny doll parts!"

And you'd be right.  It is.  But there are around 12 different types of dolls and each is destined for a different purpose.

Some will be used to re-stock toy doll kits, including some new kits in the pipeline.

Others will be transformed into vintage china dolls, or marionettes, or teeny tiny ballerinas, or 1" babies, or pierrots, or Georgian-style dolls...... my ideas list is l-o-n-g.

However, long before I can get to the fun part.... dressing and wigging, each and every doll's face must be china painted then fired, painted then fired, painted/fired.... up to 4 times.

Which will take some considerable time........

Each face will be subtly different.... cheeks can be pale or rosy.  Lips might be tiny rosebuds, or exaggerated bows, again in every colour from the palest pink through to vermilion.
There must be eyes in every colour.... blue, green, grey, hazel, brown, violet, green-grey, blue-green, jade.....

Eyelashes, eyebrows, lid lines, pupils.... all must be meticulously painted using the finest 00000 (5/0) sable brushes, some of which I trim down even finer.

Each tiny doll is lavished with love and care to be as perfect as I can make her.

The journey from small puddle of liquid porcelain slip to fully costumed and wigged toy doll's doll, ready to nestle in her box is long and complex, but I'm proud to know that my tiny creations have found homes in many countries all around the world.

So on days when things aren't going quite right, I should remind myself that mostly, I really enjoy what I do and give thanks that I can do what I love every day.....

Friday, 12 April 2013

All fired up........

I greet bisque firing days with a mixture of relief, trepidation, anticipation and excitement.  There is so much that can go wrong, potentially wrecking weeks of work so I never, ever take anything for granted.

Today's full bisque firing is only the fourth since I installed a new set of kiln elements, so I'm still fine tuning the firing schedule, adjusting the top temperature and the soak time to hopefully achieve a perfect fire.

One of the joys of having a computer controlled kiln is that I can programme a time delay so that the firing can begin in the middle of the night.  This is especially helpful with a bisque firing which can take up to 10 hours, as I like to be around for the final, critical stages.

Today's firing took just 6.5 hours, due mainly to the relatively new elements.  As they age, firing times will gradually lengthen until eventually it becomes difficult to reach the top temperature of 1215 degrees Celcius.

Which is very, VERY hot!
The normal domestic electric oven reaches a top temperature of around 250 degrees Celcius, and if you've ever burnt yourself on an oven shelf you'll have some idea of just how hot that is......

This is a view of the kiln lid, showing a glowing line of white heat from the interior.

It is always a massive relief when the soak time is achieved, (that is the duration of time for which the kiln is held at the top temperature to allow the porcelain to properly mature)
the kiln switches itself off, and the display shows.......

However, I will have to wait at least 12 hours before the kiln will be cool enough to open, so tomorrow morning I will discover what has happened inside.

Hopefully, when I lift the lid I will find perfectly fired porcelain bisque...... *fingers firmly crossed*


Thursday, 11 April 2013

The wanderer returns....

Arrived home yesterday afternoon from the wilds of East Anglia, where I had a lovely visit with my daughter.  I'm not at all familiar with that area of the country, but it does have a wild, big sky loveliness, with pretty towns and quaint riverside villages set in a landscape which feels as though it has hardly changed for centuries.

However, as with all east coast counties which sit beside the North Sea, it can be a tad on the cold and windy side.... I look forward to returning later in the year, when the sun is shining and it's warm enough to sit outside without several layers of thermals.

Back at work today, and spent several hours hunched over the kiln, carefully placing each of over 1000 individual, tiny, fragile doll parts onto the shelves.  More by luck than judgement, when the last piece was laid on the topmost shelf, there was less than 1 square inch of free space remaining, so my estimation of a 'kilnload' was spot on.

That kilnload represents approximately 6 weeks of work.... many casting sessions, soft-firing, marathon soft-cleaning stints..... (oh the endless soft-cleaning) so I shall be on tenterhooks tomorrow during the bisque firing, which will take up to 8 hours and make the whole house toasty warm.  I won't be able to open the kiln until it has cooled down sufficiently, sometime on Saturday, so hopefully *fingers crossed* it will be a perfect firing otherwise there will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth......


Saturday, 6 April 2013

A blog post revisited.....

One of the problems with having a blog which spans over 7 years and contains around 1200 posts is that it's very difficult to find a particular one.

I'm very lax at adding memory-jogging tags so often, looking for something specific is like hunting for a size 12 between (for the uninitiated that's a VERY small, fine needle) in a large haystack.

For the past few days I've been looking for just such a post, which I vaguely remembered as containing a short animated film showing a little doll shop.  My laxity of late has extended to progress on La Mignonette, my little shop of dolls, which, now that is is assembled, with none of the component pieces littering the workroom, has ground to a halt.

I have some interior fittings but I want to achieve a certain look, and thought that the elusive post containing the animated short, might be it.

Anyway, aside from spending a disproportionate amount of time wandering down memory lane revisiting past posts, I have finally found what I was looking for.

So HERE it is!

I'd much prefer La Mignonette to be rather more benign though....

Friday, 5 April 2013

Perfect timing.........

It's rare that we hit anything with perfect timing but for once we seem to have managed it.  

After two weeks of bitterly cold, but mercifully, dry weather, during which our front garden was dug up then block paved and finally finished yesterday, this morning we woke to relentless, steady rain.

Had it rained while the work was ongoing our thick, clay soil would have turned to claggy mud and made the whole process a sticky nightmare.

However, now that it's complete, the rain, for once, is our friend, washing the sand down between the bricks, settling the dust and revealing our lovely new drive in all its glistening, gleaming glory.

It's still a novelty to look out of any of the front windows and see an expanse of pristine blockwork instead of a very scrappy, rutted lawn.


Now that the front is finished, plans are afoot to transform the workroom, from a bland, boring, utilitarian space, into my dream studio.  Within the inevitable constraints (size and shape of room, existing storage units etc, I'm reasonably confident that it's possible to make a huge difference for a relatively small financial outlay and a proportionately larger amount of work, most of which we can do ourselves. 

In the almost 10 years we've lived here, every other room in the house has been redecorated and flooring and furniture replaced or revamped.  Only the workroom looks exactly the same as it did when we first moved in.  Given that I spend most of every day in it, I think it's long overdue a makeover, disruption or not!

Firstly, I'll need to completely rationalise all the cupboards and get rid of EVERYTHING I no longer want or need.  That's what I thought I'd been doing for the past however long but I strongly suspect that all the cupboards contain a Narnia-like portal to another dimension. 

The World of Stuff.

As quick as I get things out, other things from the The World of Stuff immediately infiltrate and fill the empty spaces.

However I have to be brutal and just get on with it.  For example I have several hundred, (possibly over a thousand) doll's house and miniature magazines dating back 25 years.  I can't face selling them individually on Ebay or our website, so I'm going to offer them as one lot for pick up only at a bargain price.

Ditto books, which admittedly, as they're much higher value, have been selling steadily on Amazon and the website for some time.  However the teetering pile of books in the workroom is testament to the fact that I still have some way to go.

In the meantime, I plan to strip the orangey-looking varnish from all the cupboards doors, which are solid oak, then lime them with liming wax.  I've already done a test patch on the inside of one of the doors and the oak comes up beautifully pale and light, with a lovely, distinctive grain. 

Then there are a few storage units which are most definitely NOT things of beauty, and even the fact that they're useful does nothing to redeem them.  They have to go.  Either freecycled or consigned to the garden sheds.

Once the clearout is complete, and only those things which I actually need or want are left, we can then temporarily relocate the cupboards and shelving units into the sitting room so that the workroom can be re-painted and re-carpetted.

Once that's done, new curtains hung, revamped cupboards and shelving reinstated and Hey Presto.... a lovely, fresh, new, inspirational space in which to work.

Well that's the plan.  And we all know what can happen to best laid plans......



Thursday, 4 April 2013

Driven to distraction.....

Our new front garden paving is finally finished.

This is what it looked like before.... moss and weed-infested grass, with a bare patch where the caravan sits and rutted tracks from the wheels....

And this is what it looks like now!

There is still some loose sand lying on the surface, which we have to brush across the bricks as the whole thing settles in but once that's done its full glory will be revealed.


No more trudging through puddles to get to the caravan.

No more struggling to cut the 'grass' on what we tenuously called the front lawn.

No more hour-long sessions trying in vain to manoeuvre the caravan up onto the front garden after an outing.

No more stepping out of the car (which was too wide to fit comfortably onto the old driveway) into a muddy mire. 

Driven to distraction?  Not any more!


Pet Postal Peeves.....

As if it's not bad enough that we're all still bumping painfully along the bottom of the current recession, suffering the coldest spring in years and facing the prospect of having to sort out our end of financial year accounts, the Post Office has decided to wade in and add yet more misery to the mix.

On 1st April they reorganised postal prices yet again, and, surprise, surprise, everything costs more.... some things considerably more.

To post a small package, which 5 years ago cost 36 pence, will now cost £3.00.  If I have to use a slightly larger box to protect delicate contents, the same weight will cost an astounding £5.00!

If I have two identical packages, it is marginally cheaper for me to post one to the US than it is to post the other to Battle, 6 miles up the road.

In the 'Good Old Days', when all postal charges, both domestic and international, were based purely on weight, I could take 10 packages to the post office and rarely spend more than £5. However now that domestic rates work on a combination of weight and size the bill is likely to be more than £30.

And of course, the story doesn't end there.  P&P isn't just about postage.  There's the packaging element too.  Anyone who has ever purchased from us will know that we take packaging very seriously.  We buy in proper postal boxes, designed to withstand the worst that the delivery process can throw at them.

Which can be substantial.

Costs of packaging supplies across the board have also risen in the past year but that's an area of our business in which we can't make savings.

Anyway, to cut a very long story short, we've spent all morning working out the various postal permutations and after much consideration we've decided to absorb the price hikes across the board, at least for the time being.

So, for the foreseeable future, our standard UK and International P&P charges will remain unchanged.  

Bargain or what?!

As before, orders over a value of £50, which require tracking/insurance/special delivery etc, will incur an additional charge on top of the standard P&P rates, on an individual basis.

If you have any questions about postal charges, or any of the above, do contact us and we'll do our best to help.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Working Wednesday......

I was forced to be up and about unreasonably early again this morning, courtesy of the still ongoing work on our front garden.  It's amazing how BIG it looks.  From a certain angle, taking into account the expanse of brickwork, and the gentle slope away from the house, it slightly reminds me of a section of the Great Wall of China.  In fact, next time Google Earth is updated I must check to find out if it can be seen from space.

Our chap has said that it will probably be finished tomorrow.

Or Friday.

Either way it will be good to try out our new, non-muddy hard-standing, which should make parking the caravan a piece of cake, as opposed to the stress-laden, 'domestic'-inducing, extremely hard work it's been thus far.  

In retrospect, for the relatively small amount of money it's costing, we should have had it done years ago.  Although, we did have a few quotes a while back,  some time before the first dip of our triple dip recession, and prices then were ludicrously high. 

So high that we might have been forgiven for thinking that we were getting an actual chunk of the real Great Wall of China rather than a fair facsimile.

No matter..... it's nearly finished and I'm sure it will look incredibly swish.

In other news, we seem to have retreated into another Ice Age, and here in East Sussex we have more snow forecast for tonight.  I'm all for seasonal weather but this is ridiculous. I know that April can be a bit hit and miss weatherwise, but having to scrape thick ice off the car windscreen in sub-zero temperatures this morning was a bit of a shock to the system.

Anyway, the upside of these ridiculously early morning starts is that I'm generally ensconced in the workroom well before 9am, which is a bonus.  I have several new projects gradually forming in my mind, so over the next week or so I'll begin working on those.  Not to mention the massive amount of soft-cleaning still to do from my marathon casting sessions last month.

On the plus side though, this is a short working week, so woohoo!!!  

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Ladybirds live again.....

As a child I had a huge collection of Ladybird books from the 50s and 60s.  It seemed to me that they contained all the wisdom I would ever need, from the Well Loved Tales, through History, Geography, Nature, Famous People, Science..... for almost every childhood question there was a Ladybird book to answer it.

At primary school we used Ladybird Workcards, which required the reading of a specific book from different categories in order to answer a series of questions.  I particularly remember the requirement to "always answer in a complete sentence".

I still have a few of my childhood Ladybirds, which were just as well-thumbed by my own children.  

Happy days.

So when I found THIS on one of my favourite blogs, I just had to share...

Brilliant stuff.....