21 Jun

Let’s talk about…CBD for anxiety

mia liljana cbd oil

My last post described my experience of anxiety, and a few months ago I found my worst days were becoming my every day, and the good days were a distant memory.   I told my GP that my medicine was no longer working and that I needed a swap. To do this, I had to discontinue my old medicine first. Then the games really began. Have you heard of discontinuation syndrome? Nope, neither had I until I asked Dr Google why my anxiety nightmare had levelled up. Add to this a complete inability to focus on anything, remember anything and my sense of the passage of time was making the world a really dreadful place to be in. 

Years ago, GPs would provide benzodiazapenes to relieve anxiety and these had a swift and effective action on me, even if the next day was not all that nice. I’d experience a little panic and wooziness when I stopped taking them, but they seemed to press the reset button on my brain and in the context of extreme chronic panic, the side effects were  absolutely worth it. This time, when I was going stir crazy in my own body, I was prescribed beta blockers. They knocked the edge off the fear but just made me feel like a really thick dry wedge of cardboard. I really can’t think of any other way of describing it! 

Then, I came someone on twitter who goes by the name of Dope Buds . They sell CBD products. Now – I had already researched CBD for anxiety and had decided not to try it because a) marijuana has a very negative effect on me, making me hallucinate and have panic attacks and b) it’s not been medically tested, so nobody knows if it’s truly safe, good quality and has no long term side effects.

However – faced with another two weeks of worsening mental distress and the only medicine I could access to help me through the discontinuation was guaranteed to make me feel like a thick dry wedge of cardboard – I was really, really desperate.  So I ordered some Mia Liljana oil, with next day delivery. 

I was apprehensive, but I really wasn’t functioning.  I was glued to the sofa, too frightened to go outside.  Discontinuation Syndrome really is a living hell.   I took half of a dropper full.  

Within half an hour, the majority of my panic just vanished.  I didn’t feel woozy, or sick, or any of the other side effects of every other sedative that is out there.  In fact, I was not sedated, i was energised!  I felt myself smile, for the first time in weeks.  The massive, loud, intrusive fear and internal noise just quietened.  It was as though I had stepped out from that awful, noisy, painful, storm, into a peaceful, gentle, colourful new day. I was up, dressed and cleaning the living room. 

While some people will no doubt argue that this is the placebo effect, I can only respond that I have never in my life been lucky enough to experience a placebo effect, even when I did believe in homeopathy and acupuncture and the like. 

It’s incredible stuff.  When I took more, I had no greater effect.  There is definitely a personal plateau level. There’s some more information about this on Hempura’s webpage.

So I’ve experimented with a couple of different oils since then.  The one I bought was a multi-spectrum CBD.  There are also broad spectrum CBD oils, but the broad spectrum didn’t have the same calming and focusing effect of the multi spectrum.  It didn’t seem to do much at all. 

CBD gummies have the same-ish effect as the oil with the advantage that they are easier consume and the dosing is presumably more accurate.  Some people prefer the gummies, like Yumi’s recover & de-stress ones (link for 20% off here), some the oil.  I actually really like the earthy smell of the oil.

Since my new medication kicked in again, I still get panicky moments and I find the CBD helpful for this, though the effects are less dramatic because I have a higher starting point, I suppose.

If I could afford a constant supply, I would consider weaning myself off medication and just using CBD oil, but I can’t afford to take it in the quantities that I’d need it.

There are only a few disadvantages that I can see:

  1. The cost.  It’s not cheap.  I’m not saying that it’s not worth it, but if you don’t have the money, you just don’t have it.
  2. it’s hard to get an accurate dose with a dropper.  I’ve considered using a pet micro dosing syringe but I don’t want to waste any because of 1.
  3. There have been no studies of the long term effects.

Have you ever used CBD for anxiety? 

I’d like to compare different methods of taking it, and brands. Which brands and types do you prefer?

I’d love to hear, either in the comments here, or on social media.

*not a sponsored post, just sharing my discovery.

 

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17 Jun

Let’s talk about…Anxiety

fear

I bet you’ve heard about chronic anxiety and wondered what the big deal was? Even maybe wondered why people can just pull their socks up and get on with life? Maybe even contemplated that people with anxiety are putting on a show and should just get over themselves? A bit of stress is necessary in the workplace – I was told once – because it motivates you.

Have you ever been nervous about an examination or a job interview? We’ve all been on edge at some point in our lives. Most of the time we ride through that worry and come out just fine on the other side. In a few days we will have wondered what we were concerned about.

I’ve been like that too. That kind of worry, for the sufferer of chronic anxiety is really mild and hardly worth a second thought. I suffer from long term, chronic anxiety. I am going to try to describe my experiences to you.

I feel able to talk about it just now in my life because I have been given some new medication and I think it is finally working a little bit. I can talk again, after about maybe a year or terrifying ups and downs. I don’t even know to what extent my anxiety is linked to PTSD, because I’ve had rapes, abuse, and a prolonged period of stalking. I am Autistic, so the world places extra demands on my senses even when my brain is in a non- anxious state. I will talk about Autism, another time.

Anxiety it is not a short term thing. On a bad day, it feels as though the world is full of noisy TV static which is not only a noise but a feeling of intense fear. Colour is dimmed. A thick gloopy grey fog surrounds me. I can see no fog, but I can feel it and my body struggles to move through it, as though gravity is extra strong. The world around me vibrates and is distorted by this static noise-feeling and I struggle to focus on anything. I am lucky to have a good brain that takes me on autopilot for most of my daily tasks, but each task is exponentially more difficult and concentrating on things is super frustrating.

My body tenses up and feels glued to the earth or to the sofa – a kind of feeling similar to that which you feel when you ride a roller-coaster and the gravity pushes you onto your seat . I feel pushed to the sofa, or my back to a wall with some kind of a force. Like when you pull two magnets apart, it takes a real big effort to move from sofa to table, from room to room. Like that moment before the roller-coaster drops, and your breathing is temporarily interrupted, your heart skips beats, but the feeling never goes away.

On a better day I can beat the exhaustion that being in a constant state of alarm gives you, and I can appreciate my dog’s soft fur and the birds singing outside. On a worse day, leaving the house is like a terrifying game of beat the zombies where I just have to focus on my tasks and act normally so that nobody suspects that I am not.like.them. I have to ignore the fight or flight response that my brain has activated and hold it together until I get home. It will take me the rest of the day or even the week to recover.

It’s relentless.

Life shortening.

It affects the whole body.

And it’s very, very, tiring.

There is medicine to reduce it, but, it will always come back in the end.

I often wonder – if in a better society, one where we all had a guaranteed level of security (good healthcare, an universal basic income) in our lives – whether anxiety would decrease across the population.

Whether if I hid my Autism less, my anxiety would lessen.

If poverty and war were a thing of the past, would we all feel more secure?

So. Many. Questions.

24 Mar

Keeping your kids safe online, respectfully and without fear.

Kids! Internet! These two words together can strike fear into the hearts of many an adult. This post will summarise my three decades of accumulated knowledge and signpost you to resources that will help you further your knowledge.

I’ve been using the internet since it was non-commercial and text-based. I’ve studied Computing to MSc level and my first degree was about how I.T. affects society. I have worked in youth services and have taught I.T. to young people and adults. I home educate my son and technology plays a central role in both our learning and entertainment. I follow technology trends and run an online business, promoting it using social media. I am a victim of online stalking and abuse. I am talking as a parent of a nine year old.

And yet, I “allow” my son unlimited screen time, and don’t use parental or age-related filters on our devices. I can tell that some of you reading this might feel those cold fingers of horror creeping up your spine as you read that. “But what if?”, and “how do you stop him seeing…?”, so, let me explain.

Gaming

“But they would play on it all day if I let them!”, is no doubt a common response. Not true. If you ban something, or restrict it in some way, it makes it more attractive. So, when the young person is allowed access, then sure, they will binge on it and protest if you take it away. Of course they would! You are imposing arbitrary rules, based on your own fears. Would you restrict their book reading hours? If they loved drawing, would you restrict their paper time to one hour a day? Why is it admirable to be a bookworm but atrocious to be a gamer?

We have grown up in a completely different world. It’s natural to have fear of new things. When books first came out, they were seen as frivolous and contributing to the degeneration of young people. TV too. But games are different. They are a mentally stimulating, visually rich environment that offer steadily more challenging levels of intellectual challenges. If your kid was into carpentry, you’d probably buy them some tools, because you can see the future real world application of such skills. So why would you not similarly encourage your computer-mad kid to develop their passions? If you cannot see the real-life application of gaming skills, let me help you. Game development is incredibly well-paid. Game playing is a sport. Look up “e-sports”. It’s massive and growing. Then there’s web development, 3d modelling and animation, and these are just the directly game-related future career opportunities.

Still can’t see it? Then I come onto my number one child safety tip: play WITH them. Sure, it might not be your cup of tea. But you don’t know unless you try. Join them in their worlds. Ask them, let them take the lead and show you how to play. Don’t be embarrassed to fail. Gamers fail a hundred times before each epic win. If you are getting mad and feel like giving up, try a little mindfulness meditation. Games will create new neural pathways in your brain and keep you from mental decline. Don’t take my word for it, go have a little look for yourself.

Dr Jane McGonigal’s website, public talks and books come highly recommended for solid, well researched and easy to read facts about the potential of games and gamers for a positive personal and social change in the world. Start at her website.

https://janemcgonigal.com/

The difference between having a healthy gamer and an addict is YOUR attitude towards it. If your young person sees their passion as wrong, time wasting and harmful, they will more likely go down the route of addiction. If you take time to play with them, research the benefits of gaming and understand these amazing digital worlds, if you join them and talk to them about it, if you take genuine interest in the worlds they love, it will strengthen your bond and improve your mind and emotional resilience.

“But they are so violent”. Yes, some of them are. But so is Tom and Jerry. There is no evidence that violent video games make more violent people. So what do I do? Number one: talk. So your kid sees a game, they want to play it and you’re just not sure. Our first stop is:

https://www.commonsensemedia.org/

I am not saying break the law by letting your kid buy any old game. Common sense media gives you and your child a sensible overview of the game (or film) and ratings are given by kids and adults too. The official rating scores might not tally with your ideas about what is appropriate. For example the age rating might be high because of language, whereas you know that your child would be upset by people being mean to each other or seeing blood. Youtubers show gameplay, so you could watch some of these together and decide whether your child feels that the game is appropriate for their level of maturity.

Again, the key thing here is talk. Be open about why you may not like the idea of a particular game or movie. Let your child give their opinion. Decide together. Some things that I thought my son might like he has not, and he feels free enough to talk to me and tell me if something is too real for him and makes him feel uncomfortable. For example, he is fine with dinosaurs killing each other (they are extinct) but does not like to see humans hurting other humans.

“But sitting still is not good for you”. I agree. I have an indoor rebounder trampoline and trapeze rings indoors, and a basketball net and trampoline in the garden for when the weather improves. My son knows to take eye and body breaks. He wriggles and jiggles and jumps here there and everywhere. He knows that I am not going to switch his screen off if he leaves it alone for a while. I also know that arbitrary switch-offs are not kind, because if hes invested time and skill into a level, then he has to reach a certain point before it saves. You wouldn’t just snatch a book out of someone’s hand and say “that’s enough now”.

Online gaming

Let’s talk Roblox, Fortnite and gaming with others. This is where things get more risky. As in the real world, there are mean people, bullies and sadly even people who want to take your child and do unspeakable things to them. One incredible resource that I would direct all adults to is Ineque.

https://www.ineqe.com

The next stage of this guide is written in conjunction with my nine year old. His main advice to you is to play with your young people. Get involved in the online games. Teach your kid how to block and report people. Let them know, in an age-appropriate way, that not everybody is kind and some people want to hurt kids online and that not everybody is who they say they are. My child’s response to people being mean is to switch servers, or play a different game. Sometimes people will evoke strong feelings of anger and as a parent this is difficult to see. His advice in such situations is to keep a distance and be there for him in a non-judgemental way when he needs me. Every child is different. Talk to the child ahead of such events and learn to respond as your child would like you to. Make sure you both know how to block, mute and report people. Ineque has plenty of digestible sensible advice about online gaming.

Never use your real name or real life image. Never share your location, hobbies, place of work (or school) or any clubs you might go to. Learn how to report and block people, and what might warrant such measures. My son has had more aggravation from face to face kids than online ones. So tempting though it might be to ban a young person from a certain game, it is healthier to be there to help them resolve the difficulty in a healthy sand safe manner.

Social media

You probably use Facebook at the very least, but do you know how to stay safe? When was the last time you reviewed your privacy settings? Model healthy online behaviour and teach yourself how to modify your settings to maximise your privacy. Ask for your child’s permission before taking and sharing pictures of them online.

A great summary of necessary safety measures can be found here: https://www.getsafeonline.org/social-networking/social-networking-sites/

Ineque also has videos about how to manipulate the settings of popular social media apps and websites here: https://www.youtube.com/user/Ineqe/videos.

Inappropriate content

This might vary from parent to parent in terms of tolerance. The only rule we have is to be kind, but other parents might object to curse words, for example. My kid – like others his age – watch more YouTube than TV. It drives me nuts! I yearn some days for a nice bit of CBeebies, or even something with a decent storyline. But, it’s what he likes, so I try to watch it with him and engage in conversation about it. This is my personal choice but I let him watch on the big TV, not on a smaller device, and there’s a reason for this. Yes, part of me thinks – in an old-fashioned authoritarian way – that I paid for the TV so I should have control of what is viewed on it. But, I breathe, smile, and think about how much I will miss him when he’s off doing his own thing in a few years time. Now, I am happy to let him hog the big screen.

However, it has two massive benefits. One, that it tests my calmness and tolerance levels and helps me to be mindful in the face of videos that I cannot always enjoy. Two, I get to see what he sees, unavoidably, in glorious technicolour. This opens up conversations about his favourite YouTubers but also about people who exhibit online behaviour that deserves analysis. We have discussed, sexism, racism, homophobia, environmental destruction, Donald Trump and the wall, bullying and trolling on the back of some of his video choices. This list will no doubt expand as he gets older.

Like other online channels, we both know that personal preference is not a reason to block and report but that if we see something that is harmful, then we know what to do. His advice to parents is to watch videos with your kids (groan!) and that if your young people are very small, to use the YouTube Kids app. I suggest that you preemptively let your young people know that sometimes there are things online that are scary, and if they see something3 like that to come to you straight away.

Youtube is a fantastic resource for entertainment and education, from Peekaboo kids to Ted-ed talks and Khan Academy. Here’s a cool list of channels for young people by the sensible Commonsense Media folks: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/12-best-youtube-channels-for-kids-and-teens#Minute

This is where I’m at from the 9 years experience that I have of parenting GamerKid. Be aware that this is what has worked for us. You and your child are individuals, with unique needs and tolerances. Technology changes all the time and new hacks and hoaxes appear. Stay safe online, don’t share personal details, always make sure you have the latest updates on your devices. Use an antivirus and scan with malwarebytes. Check https://www.snopes.com/ before panicking about any new virus or rumour.

Have I missed anything? I shall update it if I think of anything else.

Here are a few more websites about child safety online. Be informed, keep communication channels open, and enjoy the amazing, vast digital world that we are all a part of.

https://www.parentsprotect.co.uk/

https://www.internetmatters.org

https://www.nspcc.org.uk/

https://www.actionfraud.police.uk/reporting-fraud-and-cyber-crime

https://paladinservice.co.uk

If you have any questions, please comment below or use the contact form/email here: https://www.wildbunnyarts.uk/order-now/

kindness is my thing. screen printed t-shirt.



11 Mar

Simple beauty

One of my most frequently heard reactions about my appearance is that I definitely do not look my age. “Which is?” I hear you wonder. But a woman never reveals her true age, don’t you know. Hint: I’m a Chinese Ox, so, you have a few years to choose from there. I was definitely not born in 2009, as my son was. There’s a clue for you. I’m lucky with my genes. We always asked our Grandmother how she kept such a youthful skin and which products that she used to chase the wrinkles away. She told us that all she used was soap and water. Soap and water! But Grandma, all these expensive beauty products must surely be better than the bare basics – or so I wastefully and arrogantly assumed in my younger and richer days on this earth.

Nine years of parenthood and austerity later and my budget absolutely cannot stretch to the big name skin products that I used to buy. However, I’m definitely not looking my age still. Shall I share my secrets with you?

  1. Eat clean. It’s cheaper than processed food and better for you.
  2. Exercise daily. You don’t have to hit the gym every day. There are loads of yoga and HIIT apps out there now, or, get or borrow a dog to walk (but don’t forget to protect yourself from the sun).
  3. Steam your face. I’ve been very tempted by the skin care UK Panasonic facial steamer that I came across today, and my skin was never better than when I used to hit the steam rooms at the gym a couple of times a week.
  4. African black soap. This is very cheap and a lot more effective than any expensive cleanser. It does leave your skin dry, so:
  5. Moisturise with Shea butter as soon as possible after you wash. I discovered Clean and Natural’s products at a Vegan fair. The owner definitely had the loveliest, clearest and most radiant skin I’d seen on a grown-up, so that influenced my decision to buy. Plus, I discovered that it was the absolute best primer for going under:
  6. Mineral foundation. After years of annoying rosacea, I found that my liquid foundation was making my skin more irritable. Mineral make-up is positively soothing for me.
  7. At night, wash and sleep with Eumovate cream on your face. I wash my hands with this stuff too, and use as a body moisturiser for my awkward super-dry body and hand skin.

Have you got any beauty secrets that you’d like to share? Am I missing a hidden gem? Let me know if my suggestions have made a difference to you.

This post contains a sponsored link.

08 Oct

Custom Dr Martens

As we stroll into the soft sun of Autumn and feast our eyes upon the rich russets and golden browns of the falling leaves, we may not want to be wearing our lovely customised Converse, or custom Toms any more.

Now is the time to get your Doc Martens out again and be able to happily skip through the mud and puddles (and snow?) without worrying about getting soggy socks.

Maybe you’re getting bored of your monotone black DM’s? Maybe you want your footwear to be as bright and as colourful as your soul? As beautiful as you are?

You know what to do.  I’m here if you need me.

Custom Dr Martens. Hand painted with Angelus. No, the paint won’t wash off.

29 Jul

#shoutoutrevolution – Lauren C. Waterworth

Who are you and what do you do? 

I am an illustrator working in the U.K. and I create hand painted designs that I put together as downloadable/ printable clipart or Scrapbooking kits.

These kits will include a series of individual illustrations, patterned background papers, frames and a hand painted alphabet.

Customers who buy my kits use them to make digital scrapbooks, hand made cards, party crafts and much much more!

All my kits come with a limited commercial licence – this means that you can sell things you have made using my artwork as long as it’s a physical item (such as a card for example) but nothing that can be downloaded as that’s what I sell!

When did you begin making your incredible art?

I was hired by a company called Serif who are based in Nottingham, England to work for their DaisyTrail Brand – they specialised in creating ‘Digikits’ (Digital craft kits) that were sold to be used with Serif’s CraftArtist Software.

Prior to this I created a lot of different things, mainly acrylic and mixed media paintings, but I also created models out of polymer clay as well as many other things – I love being creative and trying out new mediums!

When I was asked If I’d be interested in applying for the job at Serif I didn’t have much experience working with watercolour but I picked it up quickly, now that is my primary medium.

What inspired you to create your form of art?

The joy of making digital craft kit is seeing customers use my artwork for their own designs – my creativity lets other people to be creative too!

Sadly the DaisyTrail brand was closed in 2017 but I enjoyed making the kits so much that I decided to continue making them under my own brand.

The versatility of creating matching sets of artwork means that I can then turn my illustrations into designs for other means – I also make Printable card making kits to sell through CraftsUPrint.com using the same images I’ve painted for my craft kits – I love having new opportunities to be creative with the artwork I have already created!

What is your one essential tool that you cannot live without (for your art)?

Probably my drawing tablet. I could create the kits in any medium but I couldn’t translate them to the computer screen within my tablet.

Where can I find you on the web?

I sell my work through a couple of sites:

https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/LCWaterworth

https://www.e-scapeandscrap.net/boutique/

https://www.craftsuprint.com/lcwaterworth/

You can also follow me on Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/LaurenCWaterworth

Or Instagram:

https://www.instagram.com/lcwaterworth/

What do you like to do when you are not creating?

I’m a mum to a very independent little boy! This is a whole new challenge that often means very limited time for creating art but I love him to bits and wouldn’t change him for the world, he is my masterpiece 😉

Have you got any pets?

We have a grumpy tuxedo cat called Neko.

What is your favourite book?

That’s a hard question – between working and looking after my little boy I don’t get much time to read but I’m always looking on Pinterest for art that inspires me!

I’m a big fan of Terry Pratchett and that includes the artwork of Paul Kirby who has done a lot of illustration work for the Discworld series.

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13 Apr

The back story

I often get asked when and how I started to draw on shoes, and where the name WildBunnyArts came from.

I’ve loved to draw and paint for as long as I can remember but customising shoes began when I had some Toms that had faded but the fabric and soles still had life left in them.  I dyed them black, painted a little dandelion on them with some fabric paint and stuck some rhinestones on them.  I had a new pair of shoes and nobody else had a pair of hand painted Toms like mine.

Back at the time that I started to paint shoes, I began to be aware that I was being stalked.  Things had been happening that I couldn’t understand but what I did not know was that my son’s father was stalking me.  We were going through the family court system at the time and when the court was presented with the evidence that he was stalking me, they gave him the go-ahead to continue, saying that because of the ongoing proceedings, it was “research”.  The police thought differently though and after several breaches of a restraining order he went to prison.

In 2015 I was working as a blogger and web designer but because of the stalking I closed down that business.  I would have been out of work but I had painted a few pairs of shoes as an unique thank you gift to some amazing people.  The amazing Dawn from thinkitchangeit.com had provided me with therapy to help me process the family court and stalking (p.s. she also cured me of my bird phobia).  Some of her friends loved my work and they wanted to buy hand painted Converse too.  She encouraged me to set up an Etsy shop selling custom Vans and Converse, painted Dr Martens and Nikes, and the rest is history.

Why the bunny? My son and I invented the name together, to honour the street bunny. Our street is home to an escapee rabbit – she belongs to someone, but keeps escaping. This bunny will not be caged! To my amazement, it’s survived the cold, the snow and any predators. She appeals to my rebellious spirit.

She’s a beautiful bunny but she used to hop away at an impressive speed if you approached her. The week we chose the name, my lad managed to get close to her and even pick her up. His joy was unparalleled, and he brought her into our garden for a play.

There’s a little vid on my YouTube channel, if you’d like a peek.

22 Jan

#shoutoutrevolution – Phantom Art Drop

Phantom Art Drop is a beautiful project akin to the Random Acts of Kindness movement.  Rather than dropping notes and acts of kindness, Phantom goes a whole leap further and drops her/his beautiful artwork in a public place with an accompanying handwritten note attached.

The project tickles my soul, and as soon as it stops raining so damned much I am going to join in.  Part of my fear of involvement is a fear that someone will trash my hard work, either binning it or otherwise vandalising it.  It takes a brave soul and a leap of faith to transcend this.

The Phantom Artist’s concept is beautiful, spiritual and heart blossoming.

So, I asked a few questions:

Who are you?  I’m a hopeless idealist. An anonymous artist who believes that through art we can learn to care for each other more. Strengthen the bonds of community and recognize the need for kindness without the want of fanfare.

Where can I find you?  I’m found in the Caribbean. I live a life of sand, sea and sun. In a way it influences my art. The people and the island life, it’s all apart of me and who I am.

On the web:

https://www.instagram.com/phantomartdrop/

https://www.facebook.com/fantomuartdrop/

What made you come up with your unique idea?  I can’t attest to the novelty of the idea but the reason behind it stems from the need to truly make a connection with someone. To reach out and provide both solace and inspiration.

How I’ve chosen to do it simply happened as a result of my skill set. Honestly the ‘what’ and ‘how’ could have been anything so long as the ‘why’ was satisfied.

So the art and the handwritten letters were my means of doing that. And that’s really the point. For each to take what they have as a gift or talent and give that freely to another in an effort to touch their life positively.

How can I join in?  I encourage any and everyone to take up this cause for kindness. I think we live in a time where it’s desperately needed. Love has become so conditional. Favor and kindness are typically only served if reciprocated with attention and adulation.

This is why I remain anonymous. It’s not about who does it but rather; simply; that it’s done for its sake and nothing more. So to join, do a kind thing for someone for no other reason than to see them smile. Using whatever God has given you. The Phantom Art Drop project is a notion of selflessness and giving… One that I hope we all can embody in our own way.

Note- creatives try leaving a random gift out in the open for anyone to receive. I promise it’ll give you a fresh perspective on life. ?

Can you recommend and amazing art book?  Oh wow hmmm, I quite like ‘ The Story of ArtThe story of art‘ by E. H Gombrich*. It outlines how art developed alongside the people it was made for and how it helps shape and transforms civilizations. It forces one to consider just how influential and important art is or can be.

I love the style of the Phantom Artist, what do you think?

*Amazon associates link

03 Dec

Working tax credits – challenging the “commercial” test.

In early January, HMRC had requested a set of very specific information from me – accounts, receipts, that kind of thing and I had sent them exactly what they asked for.  At the end of January, I went to check my bank balance one day, expecting to see my working tax credits and…nothing.  No working tax, and no child tax credits. I rang the office, expecting for there to have been an error of some kind, only to be told that I had failed their tests and that they would be taking my child tax credits – the money meant for my son – to repay the alleged debt that I owed them.

Devastated, I asked for further information but they could only tell me that the decision-maker’s word was final.  No advice, no word of where I had gone wrong, nothing.

Back in 2015, the rules changed for self-employed people claiming working tax credits and anyone that didn’t meet the new criteria would no longer be eligible.  I thought nothing of it, after all I worked regular hours, was profitable, and my business had a future.  Someone, somewhere, had decided otherwise, and nobody could tell me why.

Ten months later, I have won my appeal against their decision in a tribunal.  It has been tough, stressful, I have used food banks and borrowed money for bills, my son has gone without clubs and classes but we have won, just in time for Christmas.

I could not have done it without some key information, which is what I am going to share with you now, for if this abrupt removal of your lifeline happens to you.  It is cruel and inhumane what they are doing to us self employed people and if you are a) in a creative business and b) universal credit is coming to your area, you are at risk.

To avoid all of this, to exempt yourself from the profitability and commerciality test: 

  • Register as a limited company.  As  company director you will be an employee not a self employed person so the new punitive rules no longer apply.  Be aware though: as a company director, your name and address will be available to the public.  This is a risky move for some people.  Do your research. Be safe.

Prior to your tax credits being stopped:

  • If they ask you for a set of information, receipts etc., know that you are being assessed.
  • Send what they ask for, plus: a business plan for the financial year in question, future financial forecasts for the year in question, flyers, business cards and a comprehensive explanation of your business.  They need to be reassured that you have four weeks’ work in the future to do.
  • Send photocopies only, because I hear they lose a LOT of information that is sent to them.
  • Send it all by special delivery, so that they cannot deny receiving it.  This will all cost quite a bit of money, but trust me, it is worth it.  Losing your documents is a common occurrence.

I can’t guarantee this will, help, but that is the kind of thing they look for.

If you wake up one morning and have no cash, if they have stopped your money:

  • Ring and ask for a “mandatory reconsideration”.  You need to send them anything that you think might add to your case.  Tell them you can’t feed your kids and they need to start paying you your child tax credits back.
  • Citizens Advice can help at this stage.
  • IMPORTANT (because this takes a long time to come) put in a Freedom of Information Request asap. This is VITAL, they will not tell you the exact reason that your claim has been terminated, you will have to scour the information here and find out for yourself.  Within it is a score sheet. This will tell you more.  You won’t get this in time for your Mandatory Reconsideration, but you will do in time for your appeal.

If they turn down your Mandatory Reconsideration:

  • Citizen’s advice cannot help you here, they are not qualified enough.  If you are lucky and live in the right place, see if you can find a Law Centre.  If like me you don’t have the right postcode to get “free” help, you have two options: pay for a solicitor, or, do it yourself.  As I had no cash for a solicitor, I took the latter.
  • Begin your appeal straight away.  Revenue Benefits has loads of information about how to do this.
  • TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE. You have a tiny window of time to appeal in and chances are any letters they send you will be dated several weeks before you receive them, so you have to work fast.  Don’t worry, you will have plenty of time to prepare your case – between three months to a year before your case is heard in the Tribunal court.
  • Use this time to go through your FOI with a fine tooth comb to find out how they have marked you down on their score sheet and find evidence to disprove their (what are likely to be) assumptions.
  • Back this up with evidence that you’ve been working hard in the meantime.
  • Keep a time-sheet, make sure your accounts are kept up to date etc, because when they call you to court, you’ll have maybe two weeks notice.
  • Make a formal complaint.  For me, this confirmed what I had discovered via the FOI, that they had marked me down for information that they hadn’t actually asked for! if you’d like an email address, ask me.
  • Check case law.
  • Try to find someone to go with you.  This availability varies drastically area to area, so you’ll have to do your own research here.
  • Don’t give up.

 

25 Jun

On being vegan

People ALWAYS say (amongst other things)”but don’t you miss [xyz animal based product]”.  I have to admit that prior to the full swing to Veganism, I was worried that I would miss cheese, and a nice portion of fish and chips.  Ice cream, cream, I thought that I’d miss them too but as I age I find that my body is less tolerant anyway to fatty foods, particularly dairy based, so no, i do not miss eating pure artery-clogging animal fat.  My health and the planet are way more important.

I first went  vegan twenty-plus years ago and back then it *was* hard – all nut cutlets and expensive specialised health food shops.  Now, you can buy vegan ice cream for about two pound fifty in Aldi and cheap fruit, nuts and seeds there and in Lidl.  Frys and Linda Macartney do amazing reasonably priced stir  fry strips which go far as long as you are modest with the servings and combine them with ample veg.

But then there’s the cheese thing. That was a major thing to give up for me – after all what is more comforting than a nice cheesy baked potato or some macaroni cheese? For lush melty cheese-alike and for a slice in sandwich or melted in a toastie pocket I got for Violife. It’s more expensive than dairy cheese but any cheese is not great for the health so it’s a reminder to eat less of it..

For a home made recipe that is great with everything from nachos to macaroni cheese, I use this recipe, from Veggie on a Penny.  Nobody can believe it’s mostly made from carrots and potatoes! The bonus of vegan cheese is that it lasts a lot longer than dairy cheese in the fridge.

But a nice chippy tea is hard to beat right? The Avant-garde vegan made my tastebuds beam with happiness (if that is even possible…probably not!) with his vegan fish and chips recipe. The fish is made from tofu and noori and is every bit – if not more – melt in the mouth than battered cod. With the added bonus of not destroying the oceans and hurting sentient beings.

Being vegan is not hard these days. Eating out is not withing my meagre budget so is not an issue but I am told that restaurants and chain pubs offer an ok selection these days.

So, what are you waiting for? Give up animal products for your health, the animals and the planet.  Make this next month Veganuly and take an exciting leap into new cuisine.