Sunday, 27 November 2022

Cupboard of doom.....

Yesterday, this came up in my FB memories....



When I was little, our understairs cupboard was called 'the glory hole' but as a child I could discern nothing glorious about it.  It was dark and damp and smelled musty, and the spiders were legion.  I generally avoided it all costs, but now I'm a grown up, and from time to time, roughly every six years apparently, needs must and the 'cupboard of doom' as it is now called, must be tackled and tidied.

Can't believe it's been a whole 6 years since we last cleared out the understairs cupboard although of course the difficulty in closing the door has been hinting at it for some time.   It's a tiny cupboard which you have to crouch to get into but I am convinced that it is a portal to another dimension, from which 'stuff' continuously seeps. 

Ideally it should house the hoover, spare light bulbs, car de-icer, household tools etc.... really useful stuff which should be easy to find.

In reality it functions as a depository of weird sh*t, the uses for which are lost in the mists of time.  So yesterday I set about hoiking everything out of it, to assess what we actually needed and what we could safely sell/recycle/dispose of.

In no particular order, I discovered.....

  • Huge number of dusty cobwebs, the inhabitants of which were probably hiding under the storage unit during the upheaval. I wisely decided to leave the unit in situ.
  • Eleventy billion carrier bags, which at current rates probably equate to the annual GDP of a number of small countries.
  • Quantity of electrical leads and cables with a frankly unbelievable selection of different plugs, mostly obsolete.
  • Assorted components of old tech from long deceased computers, TVs etc, again, mostly obsolete. 
  • Car components which have been replaced but deemed to good to get rid of.
  • Eleventy hundred spare light bulbs of every size and wattage with every conceivable fitting.
  • Assorted tubes of silicone, caulking, sealant etc, several of which were solid.
  • Eleventy thousand loose rawl plugs and screws in every size and shape.
  • Arcane plumbing bits and pieces.
  • Several miles of old bits of cord and string which had combined to make one large unholy tangled mess of knots.
  • Bags of various fixings and fittings which we had no idea the use of.
  • Reels of sticky tape for every conceivable sticky tape emergency.
  • That perennial tube of stove polish, which I might actually use at some point before Christmas....
After I'd pulled it all out we stood looking at it disconsolately for a while and I was sorely tempted to just chuck it all back in again and nail the door shut forever.  However, I soon rallied, and optimistically reasoned that between the two of us we would be able to power through the sorting and decision making more quickly.

A damn fine idea in principle, but mine and PP's notions on what constitutes 'useful' are poles apart.  We had a minor tussle over the worn out car windscreen wipers but PP won and they ended up back in the cupboard.  I scored some minor victories over all the old cables and tech and we declared a truce on selling some barely used leather toolbelts.

Apparently, no piece of string or cord longer than 6 inches should ever be discarded, so I spent an entertaining half hour untangling the massive Gordian Knot and sorting all the various bits to relocate to the kitchen drawer of doom, which is a smaller cousin of the cupboard.

Several hours later we were left with three piles....  one with 'useful' things to keep, one with stuff to sell or freecycle, and one with old junk to take to the recycling centre.   We were both tired, dusty and disgruntled, but at least the cupboard door does now close easily with a satisfying click, and once the various boxes of cleared out stuff have gone to their respective fates, the hallway will once again passable without having to negotiate an obstacle course.

When I've fully recovered, physically, mentally and emotionally,  I might even tackle the Tupperware cupboard.....

Monday, 21 November 2022

Lesson learnt.....possibly

 

Final batch of Advent Box kits....

Well..... I can honestly say, hand on heart, that I will never, EVER, EVER do this again.  It's taken a whole 6 weeks of working every single day to complete all the kits for my Advent Boxes, and as of right now, there is just one box remaining to post this week. 

It did all start out as fun, but after two weeks in I was definitely flagging.  Now, after 6 relentless weeks I'm completely done (in).  Boxes are currently winging their way all round the world to destinations as far afield as Australia, Canada, USA as well as many countries in Europe, so fingers crossed they all arrive by 1 December.

In the midst of all that chaos, I've also, somehow, managed to complete my commission orders so I am currently, inexplicably, completely up to date.

This hardly ever happens.

I can now turn my attention to the workroom, which is a complete tip, not to mention the house in general which needs a thorough tidy and clean in advance of the festive season.  I'm even in the throes of doing mini makeovers in the two guest bedrooms which have necessitated yet another major clearout of surplus to requirements 'stuff'.  I can't say it's not cathartic but it is exhausting.  My little car is full to the roof with bags of books, clothing, games, bric-a-brac etc, all destined for our local hospice donation centre tomorrow, after which I can hopefully crack on with the fun stuff.

My next, admittedly tenuous deadline is 30th November for having the whole house restored to pristine cleanliness in preparation for festive decorating. 

What could possibly go wrong....?

In other news, given all the trials and tribulations of the past year, I'm having a major recalibration and have decided that I will be officially retiring at the beginning of next April, to coincide with the end of the tax year and the termination of my website hosting package, which will make all the loose ends easier to tidy. 

I may, from time to time, if/when the mood takes me, create some special miniatures for sale, but Tower House Dolls itself, as a business will be closing.  It's been my life for the past 36 years and I'm sure I'll feel quite discombobulated initially.  Of course I will still have my lovely workroom and the opportunity to be creative, but I will no longer be subject to the need to keep the business afloat.  The past three years have been challenging..... Covid, then cancer.  Not to mention the continuing negative effects of Brexit, which have seen my European customers drifting away as the effects of taxes/fees/bureaucracy have taken their collective toll.

I won't be disappearing completely though.  I will still write this blog and showcase my makes here.  If you want to be sure you don't miss anything exciting, simply subscribe to my newsletter.... you can do it here, using the form on the right   

Over the next 4 months I'm sure future plans will coalesce and solidify, and I'll be using the time to further downsize my stash of fabrics, trimmings, kits, miniatures etc, so there will be lots of bargains to be had in the New Year.

Onwards and upwards then.....

Monday, 24 October 2022

Advent Boxes - now available to pre-order!

UPDATE - Now all SOLD!


Shhhhhhhh......it's a secret!

I am delighted (and somewhat surprised!) to announce that my very limited edition 'one time only' Advent Calendar Box is now available to pre-order. 

It contains 25 different kits, some revisited from the past 3 decades, many new, and also includes one newly designed toy doll kit, exclusively for this Calendar.

It's a joyful celebration of my 34 years working as a miniaturist and features kits for a wide range of children's toys, games, puzzles and dolls, all designed by me.  Many are taken from my extensive private collection of vintage books and litho-printed games from the late 19th century.   

It will be despatched from 1st November to ensure delivery in good time for the beginning of December.  You can choose to make up the kits on a daily basis (most will take less than 1 hour to complete) or keep them to fill those lazy days between Christmas and New Year.

I'm offering this pre-order opportunity to my blog readers and newsletter subscribers first, as I only have a total of 20 packs.

The cost per pack is just £40 (plus shipping) which is a frankly incredible bargain and I will allocate packs on a first come, first served basis, strictly in the order in which I receive email requests.

If you wish to reserve one, please contact me (using this link) and write 'Advent Box' in the subject heading.  So that I can accurately calculate shipping costs, also provide your name and address and whether you would like standard (uninsured) or insured shipping.

If you are successful I will send you a PayPal invoice for payment, and your box will be despatched from 1 November in order to avoid the pre-Christmas postal surge.

Details of the contents are a closely guarded secret, however, long time customers, who may have some of my previous kits may request a full list if required.  Please don't share the information though, for those who want surprises!



In other news, I currently have a Flash Sale of 25% off all 1/12th scale porcelain doll kits, all of which are now discontinued.  They're listed in the 
1/12th doll kits category on the website.  I'm also hoping to have some new festive miniatures completed by mid-November, including some lovely little surprise stocking filler gifts... I'll let you know when they're ready!

 


Perseverance.... I has it

OK.

I'll admit it.

When I had this batshit crazy madcap idea to produce an Advent Calendar for this year, part of my hindbrain was like:

"Yep.  Go for it.  You'll never do it but go ahead.  Knock yourself out. Just don't come crying to me when it all goes tits up"

Obviously I ignored it.  Because if there's one thing I hate when I come up with a project idea, it's being told it's a bad idea.

Obviously it WAS a bad idea, and there've been points in the last fortnight when I've felt like throwing the whole bally lot out the window and myself after it, but I persevered and got past the point of no return, when to throw in the towel would have been really counter-productive.

So I have been working solidly on it, in tandem with all the other orders on my workdesk.  

And.... believe it or not.... yesterday afternoon I finally completed the last kit.  I've been sitting staring at all the boxes of pristine kits and thinking "bloody hell Sandra!  You've only gone and done it!!" 




Sunday, 9 October 2022

Countdown.....

It can't have escaped your notice that something festive is looming on the horizon.   The shops are full of it already and it's not even Halloween yet.  Granted the past few years have been anything but festive so I suppose we can all be excused for looking forward to this year's festivities rather more than usual.

Last year, due to circumstances, I didn't manage to make anything at all in the run up to Christmas as I was barely clinging on by my fingernails.  However, I'm determined that this year is going to be different.

I've already started several small projects in the house, with a view to making it really cosy and welcoming.  We should be able to have family and friends here this Christmas and I fully intend to make the most of it.

I'm also determined to make some festive-themed miniatures and the other day I took, as my Scottish grannie would have said, a turavee. 

For those unfamiliar with Scottish vernacular....

Turavee: a wild, extravagant mood, a strange turn, an odd notion or fancy. 

I'm well known for taking turavees.  PP always knows when I get a certain glint in my eye, and start taking measurements, making notes and Googling furiously, that I am in the throes of one, and wisely steps back to let it run its course.

My current work-related turavee concerns the days in advance of Christmas...  the period known as Advent.  Back in the day, when I was a young child, an Advent Calendar consisted of an A4 card and the doors opened to reveal a little festive picture behind.  Then when I was a older, there was a little piece of chocolate behind the doors.  

Since then, Advent Calendars have gone completely batshit crazy.  There's literally no product that can't be found in them.  There are the obvious decadently indulgent ones, like wine, or gin or chocolate truffles, but I've recently seen ones with tea, coffee, cheese(?!) and more intriguingly, fabrics, haberdashery, and (be still my beating heart) ...... stationery.

You can see where this is going.... can't you?

Yes, I have decided (against my better judgement) to make a Mini Kits Advent Calendar.  I've thought about doing one before, over the years, and fortunately, each time, commonsense prevailed as I knew it would be a major mission.  I've also always left it far too late.  However, this year, I think *fingers crossed* I got going at just the right time.  

It's partly because I have boxes and boxes of assorted components from kits I've designed over the past 30 years, partly because I want to mark my countdown to retirement, partly because I'm a stickler for giving myself impossible tasks and partly because I'm deranged.  

Some of the kits will be new, some will be revisited from many years ago.  I've calculated that I'll need to make up 500 individual packets (that's 20 complete calendars, each with 25+ individual kits)

Over the past few weeks I've been gradually working through my list of kits, adding to a growing collection of boxes, each containing one day's kits.  Every available inch of worktop and desk space in the workroom is covered with them, along with the various components for the kits I'm still working on.  I reckon I'm about half way through, and true to form I've kept the trickiest ones till the end.  I'm aiming to be able to start sending them out at the beginning of November, so I have 3 weeks in which to finish them all which will be a stretch.

On Friday I belatedly realised the scale of the task I'd set myself and briefly considered throwing in the towel, but one glance at all the kits I'd already amassed confirmed that I'd have to keep going.  I also have several commission orders pending from the KDF online showcase, which I'm gradually working through too, as well as a few special festive miniatures to go on the website, so to say I'm a tad beleaguered is a massive understatement. 

Off course I have nobody to blame but myself.  I'm just hanging in there, imagining the sense of achievement and satisfaction I'll have when all those little packets are neatly labelled and boxed up, awaiting despatch.

However, this will definitely be a one-off. There is no way I'm EVER doing it again.  Sometimes I just have to get something out of my system and move on. 

I know just what Small Dog would have said at this point....

SD: *sceptically* Murm... I seeriyuslie hav KNO IDEER whye yue embarkt on this paytentlie kompleetlie insayn projekt.  Ai dispare. 

And I am in complete agreement with her.

*sigh*









Tuesday, 27 September 2022

One year on....

This time last year we were winding down from a week away to celebrate PP's birthday.  She'd been unwell off and on throughout the summer and a diagnosis of pancreatitis had been given.  On our return home, she experienced further onset of pain, and our GP requested a blood test at our local hospital.  While she was there, and still in pain, I insisted that she attend A&E, where she was quickly put through triage and an urgent scan was carried out.  Just hours later, she was told that they'd found a mass on her pancreas and that it was cancer.

She was kept in hospital for a few days, while they carried out further tests and on the day of her discharge we met with the GI consultant who outlined their immediate plans... referral to the regional pancreatic centre, 80 miles away, for a biopsy, and an appointment with the oncologist at our local hospital to discuss treatment options... initially a regime of chemo.  We were also told that the tumour was wrapped around the portal vein and was inoperable, which was a major blow.

At that stage, it was assumed that the diagnosis would turn out to be the common type of pancreatic cancer (adenocarcinoma), and although we put on a brave face, we both secretly thought that it might all be over by Christmas.  Pancreatic cancer isn't called the silent killer for nothing.  Mostly, by the time it's diagnosed, patients have at most months, sometimes weeks to live.

Except..... when we went to Guildford for the first of three biopsies, the team there expressed surprise at how well PP looked.  And when we met with the clinical oncologist she remarked on how well PP looked.  At that point we thought they were trying to be kind and upbeat, to raise our morale at such a devastating diagnosis.  However, it was around then that the suggestion of neuroendoendrine cancer was mooted.  We'd never heard of it.... unsurprising as it's much rarer than its better known, deadly counterpart. 

So chemo was put on hold, as it isn't effective against neuroendocrine tumours and PP then underwent a gruelling series of biopsies and a nuclear scan, as they attempted to get an accurate diagnosis.  Finally, in mid-December, they verified that she did indeed have a pancreatic neuroendocrine tumour.  In the interim, I'd gone on a war footing and had been researching like crazy.  Treatments for NETs (neuroendocrine tumours) are very different and I discovered that the best option would be for her to be referred to a Neuroendocrine Centre of Excellence, which specialises in NETs.  Fortunately, there are two of these Centres in London, with King's College Hospital covering our area of the south east.  So we requested a referral and she was rapidly transferred.  More specialist scans were carried out to determine the exact type of tumour and the suggestion was made that despite being deemed inoperable by both our local and regional hospitals, there was a chance that the surgical team at King's might be able to do a resection, as their transplant surgeons have experience in dealing with tricky vascular surgery.

Finally, in January, we received an appointment to meet with the lead transplant surgeon, who confirmed that yes, he could operate, although the surgery would be challenging, due to the tumour's involvement with the portal vein.  His plan was to remove the tumour from the head/neck/body of the pancreas and leave the tail, which was hoped would produce enough insulin to prevent her from becoming diabetic.  The op, which is called a Whipple, would also require removal of the gall bladder and duodenum as well as the affected local lymph nodes.

With a projected wait of 12 weeks, she was started on a monthly injection of Lanreotide, which acts on the cells of the tumour to reduce activity.  It wouldn't shrink the tumour, merely aim to keep it 'asleep'

On April 28, she underwent surgery, but due to the size and position of the tumour, unfortunately the tail of the pancreas had atrophied, and there was no alternative but to remove the entire pancreas, along with the duodenum, gall bladder and spleen, plus assorted lymph nodes.  The portal vein was also resected.

It was major, life-changing surgery and immediately resulted in Type 3c diabetes, so she is now fully insulin dependent.  Having no spleen also has lifelong implications with regard to her ability to fight infections, and she will have to take twice daily antibiotics indefinitely.

Initially, recovery was slow and difficult, but now, 5 months later, she is very much better and continuing to improve week on week.  It can take up to a year to fully recover.  Having no pancreas makes diabetes management trickier than Type 1.... her blood glucose readings can fluctuate wildly from hour to hour at times, and we are constantly monitoring and making adjustments, as well as counting carbs to ensure accurate insulin dosage.

But life now has much more of semblance of normality than at any point in the past 12 months.  We have just returned from a week away in Dorset to celebrate PP's birthday.  It took us way out of our comfort zone, being so far from home and our support network.... it's the first time in a year that we've gone away on our own.  However, despite the daily duel with diabetes we had a lovely time in a little apartment overlooking the harbour, where boats came and went and the sun shone every day, prolonging the sensation of summer's last hurrah.

Back home now, and there's no escaping the autumnal chill.  I'm going into full 'nesting' mode, making the house cosy for the months ahead.  It's PP's one year cancerversary tomorrow, and right on cue she's just had her first post-op scan.  It will be a few weeks before we get the results, which will hopefully show that she has 'no evidence of disease', which is as good as it gets with all cancers.... neuroendocrine ones in particular.  After all the trials and tribulations of the past year it would be amazing to be able to move forward in the knowledge that the surgery has reset the clock.

It's impossible not to look back on the year and try to make some sense of it all.  While we were going through it, it felt interminable and exhausting, as though we were wading through treacle. I think we have both discovered a store of resilience which we didn't know we had.  

PP has been nothing short of amazing, displaying stoic courage and determination through the darkest of days.  For my part, I have done my best to be her most supportive and effective advocate... researching and evaluating accurate, relevant information and seeking the best professional help at each stage, navigating through the maze of diagnosis and treatment options, applying pressure when things stalled and generally trying to keep the train on the tracks.   Since surgery, the emphasis has moved to her recovery and she's been doggedly determined to get to grips with the vagaries of her daily life now, which revolve around constant monitoring of her blood glucose, keeping her completely re-plumbed digestive system in check and working effectively, and coping with all the new 'normals'. 

It's still a tad too soon to feel that the experience has given us a different perspective on life. Pending the first scan results we feel as though we're holding our breath and hoping for the best.  However, given where we were this time last year, it seems miraculous that we've both coped with everything thrown at us and have emerged, not exactly unscathed, but relatively unbowed.

Carpe diem and all that.....



 

Wednesday, 31 August 2022

September 2022 - KDF Online Showcase Exclusives


KDF Online Show - Special Offer

***For the duration of the show (1st Sept - 8th Sept) all website orders of £50 or more (not including shipping) will receive a free pack of my two new Alice in Wonderland book kits (see below).

You can visit my website HERE  (site will open in a new window)

***

When I booked to participate in the online showcase, the intervening months yawned in front of me with a frankly irresponsible invitation to prevaricate and procrastinate.  However, I firmly determined to get all my ducks in a row and back in July I got well ahead of the posse by designing a new pullalong toy kit, based on our much loved Small Dog


Yorkie pullalong toy plus bonus kits

After that I must admit I sat on my laurels, waiting for inspiration to strike.  And while I was awaiting inspiration, I went rooting through my cupboards and found a few theatre cart kits from years ago which I didn't even realise I had.  

Which resulted in these......


One of my favourite ever creations.... a travelling toy cart pulled by a remarkably amenable wolf.  Although.... you can never be too careful with wolves, so he wears a little bell round his neck.  Not sure how helpful that would be if he went rogue but every little helps.

He pulls a brightly decorated wooden cart, which opens to reveal a little theatre inside.


The theatre has interchangeable scenery and double-sided characters, which are cleverly magnetised so they can be placed inside without falling over. There is even a 'transformation scene' where the poorly grandmother, languishing in her bed, can be flipped to reveal the dastardly wolf, wearing her lacy cap.  Needless to say, the woodcutter can step in to save the day, although not, obviously the wolf.

On second thoughts, if the wolf pulling the cart ever gets wind of the final act,  the bell round his neck might be completely ineffective.

For the other theatre cart I went completely down the rabbit hole.....


Dodos are rather more sedate creatures, and this one was persuaded to don a frankly ridiculous feathered headdress, which he felt added to his dignified stance.

My Alice-themed theatre cart features the entire cast of characters from both books, as well as several backdrops and free-standing scenery.  


There is a total of 12 backdrop/scenery pieces and 20 different double-sided characters which are also magnetised so that they can't fall over.   

It also includes my newest pull-out Alice books, which are also available as a kit.


***This kit is free with orders of £50
or more during the online showcase.


Still on the Alice theme....

Alice doll trunk with Humpty Dumpty

Musical Alice Set

There are also several new mignonette toy dolls in all the colours of the rainbow....




I've also made another of my miniature musical mignonette automatons with a different selection of classical piano music....


There's much more, available now on the website, including

  • An amazing bumper pack of never to be repeated fairy tale-themed kits.
  • A new range of Rainbow Mignonette toy dolls
  • A new toy doll kit
  • Clearance 1/12th doll kits
  • Book Saver Bundle
  • Ready to Dress Micro dolls and related supplies
  • Rare, discontinued hairstripe silks
As ever, any questions, just contact me and I'll do my best to help. 😊