5 valuable work lessons from a nine-year maternity leave

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Last month I shared with you ‘5 valuable work lessons from maternity leave’ from the Jasiri blog (a wonderfully thought-provoking new blog, if you were looking for one to get your teeth into!).

I was nodding along with every single one of Naomi’s points. Yep, that had absolutely been my experience too.

But I was also inspired to respond. I guess you could say I’ve had a rather long ‘maternity leave’ (nearly nine years and counting). If you asked me, of course, I’d say it’s just been a career of a different sort, but if you frame it in the context of ‘leave’ from paid work, then there are definite lessons I’ve learnt which are helping me now I’m starting to return to work. 

The five which I’m about to share don’t discount those that Naomi wrote about – I agree with all of them! – but simply add the perspective of one who’s been out of paid work for quite some time…

1. Use every minute

There are no two ways about it: I am simply more productive now than before I had kids. Nine years of cramming in cooking, laundry, tidying and cleaning to the tiny corners of life left free after four kids have been entertained, fed, bathed, read to, taxi-ed around and fed again have taught me to make the most of every scrap of time I get.

I won’t say I never faff about. I’ve been as guilty of spending 20 minutes scrolling through Harry and Megan pictures as the next person.

But mainly I can’t rely on having time ‘later on’ – whether that’s this evening, tomorrow or next week – because my kids might get ill, or there may be another crisis. So I have to do things now – there’s no putting them off, and the faffing is greatly reduced.

In work terms, it is this heightened productivity that has made me utilise my writing times more effectively. I drop off the kids, open my laptop and crack on, knowing that those five precious hours ahead of me will soon be gone for another week.

2. Plan, plan, plan

In order to use every minute productively, especially when you’re fitting in ‘lifemin’ around caring for your kids, you need to have a really good idea of what needs doing and when. When are you going to collect that prescription, buy that present, send off that form?

I’ve learnt to work everything like this into my diary. As ridiculous as it sounds to write ‘pay for school dinners’ or ‘count hot dog rolls for BBQ’ alongside ‘Swimming lesson’ or ‘Toddler group’, if I don’t plan my days and my week like this, I simply forget the things that keep our household running smoothly.

Getting better at planning has been SO useful on my writing days. Each Monday is scheduled with assignments well before I get to it, meaning that I can start work straight away, rather than having to spend half an hour wondering what I should do today.

3. Be audacious

If you don’t ask, you don’t get! Yet in my pre-kids working life, I often lacked the confidence to realise my dreams. The fact that what you’re asking for often benefits the other party is something I’ve learned through my voluntary work since having kids.

I remember the first time I negotiated with a photographer to run a reasonably-priced photo-shoot for families at our toddler group – I felt wonderful! Yet all I’d done was given him a rather lucrative opportunity to make a fair bit of money over a two-hour period – so it worked well for both of us!

This attitude has developed through the other voluntary work I’ve done, not least in my current role as PTA Chair. We’re always asking shops and businesses for things – and we’re not scared to put ourselves out there!

As I’ve recently turned my focus to writing, I’m not scared to approach professionals – writers, bloggers, editors and publishers, to ask for what I need, or offer my work to them. Sure, it’s always going to be nerve-wracking to show your work to another who might be critical, but audaciousness makes you do 100 things in the hope that one of them will pay off.

4. Build good foundations

I am the Queen of Impatience – I like to fit a lot of different things into my life, and I hate it when one of them seems to take forever, robbing me of something else I could be doing.

But parenting has taught me patience, the importance of a long-term view, and how it’s worth taking time over things to get them right.

For want of making my children sound like my ‘projects’ (they aren’t, but they are also kind of my job, so it’s a bit of a blurred boundary), I’ve seen that the hours you spend reading to them, even when they’re crawling away from you, pay off when they’re older and learning to read, and suddenly you realise – WAHEY! They have a vocabulary! They can put letters together because they know what word is expected in that context!

I’ve learnt that biting my tongue and intentionally practising patience when my kids and I cook together (THIS TAKES A LOT OF PRAYER) results in some pretty amazing chef skills eventually. (My 3yo twins can crack eggs like pros!)

This has helped me as I’ve started a new career, particularly when considering my aims. Instead of having a monetary target, I’ve realised I need to spend time building a good foundation: writing to the best of my ability, using social media well, building my audience, connecting with like-minded others. I don’t know where my writing will go in the future, but I do know that it will only go somewhere if the foundations are good and strong.

5. Focus

I’m an ideas person, and always have been. Looking back at my teaching career pre-kids, I was trying to do everything.

On reflection, I should have chosen one thing and done it well. Three years as Head of Music could have made a real difference to one aspect of the school’s musical life. Instead, my legacy was confused and haphazard.

Nowadays, I’m not making the same mistake. My kids have taught me how to focus on them while juggling a lot of other balls – and I’m determined to put this into practice for my work-life too.

As I write, there are many projects I could be getting on with – writing for businesses, charities, magazines, blogs…not to mention The Book. Yes, I’m frustrated that a couple of these opportunities have had to be shelved for the moment, while I concentrate on finishing the book and other urgent projects, but it’s more important to focus on these jobs, rather than to become distracted by all the opportunities, and end up missing them all.

***

A footnote:

I’ve written a few times about being a SAHM – how it doesn’t need to mean intellectual suicide, how it is a valid feminist option, and how we women work just as hard in the home as out of it!

I don’t believe that being a SAHM is always the best option for families, but my words come from a place of frustration towards what I see communicated in the media: that educated women are wasted if they don’t earn money, that SAHMs spend their days watching trashy TV, or that raising kids is not a worthwhile endeavour for someone with brains.

I hope my words offer encouragement to anyone who’s walking this path, or thinking about walking it in the future. It can be a totally awesome thing for you and your family – and, as I’ve shown, develop some amazing skills for the workplace too!

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The man my kids are blessed to call Dad

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I’m not one for gushing.

But today I feel compelled to write a post honouring my husband, affectionately known on this blog as DesertDad. Perhaps it’s because he’s been away most of this week, and has therefore gone up in my estimation, or perhaps it’s because tomorrow is Fathers’ Day – although, to all intents and purposes, this day functions like any other Sunday in our household, as he’s not a fan of what he calls ‘commercial festivals’.

I don’t know.

But recently I read this (celebrating the real men in our lives), this (speaking life to our spouse), and then this (how to show him he’s a great dad), and was challenged that our marriage is so full of banter and sarcasm, that to say uplifting, honouring things about each other (certainly in public) does not come easily – and maybe I need to change that.

The problem, of course, is that this type of post is likely to sting for those who have a poor, or non-existent, relationship with their fathers – or those who, for whatever reason, are raising their kids without a father. Others of you, I know, mourn the fact that, although your kids do have a Dad, he doesn’t fulfil his role with any sense of commitment.

So I want to be honest. I want to tell you, straight-off, that my husband is not perfect. To illustrate this, I just wrote a paragraph of his character flaws – but thought better of it and deleted it. But please promise me you’ll read the following in the context of knowing he can’t possibly be superhuman – just in case what I’m about to write makes him sound made-up.

Agreed? Then we’re good to go.

For someone who, in another life, would have been perfectly content as a childless bachelor, DesertDad has grabbed parenthood by the horns, and is fully immersed in the parenting of each one of our children.

He does the practical stuff.

After long days at work, when he’d be justified in collapsing in front of the telly, he doesn’t shy away from the grotty jobs, but willingly feeds, bathes and clears up the toileting accidents of our offspring.

It makes me very happy that he’s been able to spend today at the Stag Do of an old friend, because most of his days off are entirely child-focused. There are loads of hobbies that he’d love to do, yet building relationships with his kids remains his priority.

He’s also proactive with housework. Perhaps we don’t have the same ideas about which jobs are the priority (and we definitely both see ‘mess’ differently), but if he sees something which needs doing, he does it without being asked.

He willingly takes charge of the kids so that I can do things which stretch my brain. Governor meetings, PTA commitments, church events – he readily switches roles so that I can have a break, even though it might mean him having to play catch-up at his work later on.

He does the emotional stuff.

He’s amazingly pastoral and non-judgmental – and this isn’t just me, people say it all the time. A friend once said to him, “I feel I could tell you anything, and you’d never be shocked”. Our kids will benefit from his empathy more and more as they grow up, but already he is a great listener to our kids, often picking up on stuff that I’ve missed, even though he spends a fraction of the time that I do with them.

Our church feels like a family, and I think this is partly because he leads it like he leads our nuclear family: with love, grace and gentle nurture. He teaches his ‘flock’ with passion and authority – whether it’s his flock at church, or his flock of kids at home. He sets boundaries and he disciplines with love.

He does the spiritual stuff.

He shares his faith with our kids, reads the Bible to them and explains aspects of theology. I do these things too, but I worry about the impact on children who’ve only had spiritual leadership from their mother, and it makes me so grateful to have a husband who acknowledges his role in bringing up our kids to love Jesus too.

He’s fiercely outspoken about aspects of secular culture that most of us Christians accept too readily. He questions the things people take for granted about their children and planning for their futures. He’s not irresponsible, but he’s prayerful and godly, and wants our children, above all, to cultivate their own relationship with Jesus, knowing that nothing else completely satisfies.

He does the awkward stuff.

Like parenting ‘someone else’s children’.

I know some men who wouldn’t consider adoption, even though their wives might be keen, but this one willingly gave up his right to have more biological kids, in order to become the father that our twins would otherwise not have. He’s every bit their father, and gives them the same love, kindness, security and boundaries that he gives our birth kids.

In doing so, he leads by example. He shows our little family, our wider family, our friends and our church what it means to father the fatherless. What God’s priorities are when it comes to relationships. That a family which doesn’t reach out to others is poorer for it.

He is the father of my children, and they are so blessed to have him.

Read my first ever blog post – about Fathers’ Day 2012!

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Can you imagine having no father?

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I can’t imagine how it would feel to have no father.

I can imagine a remote father – detached, preoccupied, no space in his life for children. I can imagine his regret and guilt at having been talked into a family he never really wanted – or, perhaps, the absence of regret and guilt, as time starts to justify the distance that’s grown between him and his kids. I can imagine the loss, the sadness, the shut-down, the self-preservation of the children who long for his time and know they will never get it.

But I can’t imagine no father at all.

I can imagine an absent father – living in a different town now, perhaps with a new wife, new life, new kids – remembering birthdays (or not), sharing a week together every summer, occasional weekends. I can imagine the awkwardness for a child struggling to fit into a different family every now-and-then, having to adapt behaviours and routines for different sets of parents.

But I can’t imagine no father at all.

I can imagine a neglectful father – leaving everything to Mum, putting his own needs first, not noticing the children who require his help to regulate their emotions, because he can’t yet regulate his own. I can imagine the children who grow up thinking this is what family life is like: Mum raises the family, Dad does what he likes.

But I can’t imagine no father at all.

I can imagine an abusive father – letting his anger control him, free-flowing with the insults, the lies, the manipulation, the fists. I can imagine – although it pains me to write it – a father who cannot control his lust, who does the unthinkable, who abuses the trust of those who have no one else to rely on.

But I can’t imagine no father at all.

No father? Obviously, at some point, there must have been.

But was that a father? Or was that a few drops of bodily fluid, moving from one body to another? Two lucky sperm which made it, which kick-started two new lives, unbeknownst to the person who ejected them from their being?

And now, somewhere, that person walks free, unaware of the lives he has created. He may pass them in the street – or he may be living on the other side of the world – and we will never know. Was he old or young? Tall or short? Does he have other kids? A wife?

I can’t imagine – because the possibilities are infinite.

What was his ethnicity? Was he unemployed, or was he a CEO? Was it a romantic liaison, or a one-night stand? Did he pay?

Okay, so maybe I am imagining. But imagination usually starts with reality – and here, there is no reality to know of. No clues, no evidence, no memories and no one to ask. With endless possibilities of what this sperm-donor may have been like, I’ll likely never guess the real him.

And the kids – how will they respond? Not just knowing little, but knowing nothing. Future Fathers’ Days, when they’re old enough to understand. “Best dad” cards taking on a new meaning. Adolescence, and wondering whether emerging character traits come from him. DNA tests when they meet their future partners.

There wasn’t really a father. What might have turned into one was actually just a couple of seeds, fertilising a couple of eggs.

But God likes seeds. Faith as small as a mustard seed can move mountains. Seeds planted in good soil will produce a healthy crop.

And a seed from a man can fertilise an egg, creating a life which God dreamed up many millennia before it happened.

You see, there is a Father after all. A Father who was intentional and loving from the start. A Father who wanted these children to be born into his world, to take their place in family life, to come into relationship with Him.

Yes, it matters that there is no earthly father. But no, it’s not the end of the story.

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The Mermaid Who Couldn’t – review and GIVEAWAY!!

Being removed from your biological family, at whatever age it happens, has life-changing impact. There will be negative emotions and responses which feel so intuitive, that the idea of ever shaking them off seems impossible.

The more resources which help children and parents to navigate these tricky emotions, the better! And so I was thrilled to find a copy of The Mermaid Who Couldn’t on my doormat recently.

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Image credit: Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Written by adoptive parent Ali Redford, The Mermaid Who Couldn’t (illustrated by Kara Simpson) tells the story of Mariana, a mermaid neglected by her mother. Mariana is found and nurtured by a turtle, Muriel, and the book depicts Mariana’s journey from the deep, dark depths of the sea, up to the fresh air and light of the mermaids’ cove. This is a wonderful metaphor for vulnerable children to latch onto, offering hope and encouragement.

Just in case you might be thinking that this sounds like an overly-simplistic message for such a book to portray, let me reassure you that the journey from dark to light is never portrayed as straightforward. When Mariana first surfaces from the sea, for example, she feels totally useless, as she can’t sing beautifully like the other mermaids – so she dives back down to where she was. She is sad and angry that she hasn’t been able to ‘survive’ in the light – but doesn’t know how to make things better.

Even towards the end of the book, when Mariana is in a much better place, there comes the line: “But if she feels low, as she sometimes still does, Muriel is ALWAYS close enough to remind her to look up at the sky…and sing her own sweet, mighty song”.

Mariana’s background, whilst it hasn’t been loving or nurturing, is not dismissed – instead, she is encouraged to sing “her own sweet, mighty song”. This validation of her experience reassures both parents and child that, however damaged a child may be, he/she is a unique individual, with a very special contribution to make to society.

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Image credit: Jessica Kingsley Publishers

The Mermaid Who Couldn’t uses a lot of helpful emotion words – useless, scared, sad, angry – to encourage the reader to voice their feelings. I liked this very much – small children struggle to understand, let alone articulate, what they’re feeling, so putting this language into their vocabulary, via a character who has experienced a similar background, can only be a good thing.

And – this sounds obvious, but I’ll say it anyway – the fact that the story centres around a mermaid, i.e. a mythical creature, makes the whole thing rather more detached from reality and, therefore, much more approachable for a vulnerable child. Anything resembling real life more closely might just be a little too uncomfortable.

This said, there are a few phrases or sentences which might be distressing to some children. I don’t believe they should have been excluded, as they may start important conversations for the children who read them – but of course every child is different, and some are more sensitive to language than others.

I really loved the bold illustrations, and found some of the facial expressions in particular very moving, subtly depicting the different emotions Mariana feels throughout her journey. But a couple of my friends weren’t sure about them – I guess it’s all pretty subjective, and certainly not a reason not to buy the book!

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Image credit: Jessica Kingsley Publishers

I recommend The Mermaid Who Couldn’t wholeheartedly – it’s a great book to have on the shelf. Whilst aimed at children who are adopted or fostered, it could be successfully used with birth children whose families were preparing to adopt or foster. It would also be a fantastic addition to any school library.

The author and illustrator have clearly intended this book to be aimed predominantly at girls, as they’ve previously released a ‘boys’ version: The Boy who Built a Wall Around Himself. It’s definitely helpful for children to be able to see themselves in the story, but in the interests of gender equality I like to read my children books containing heroes of both genders – so I read this with my 3 year old adopted boys, as well as my 6 year old birth daughter, and it was appreciated by all.

As the book is aimed at ages 4-9, I was not expecting my 3 year olds to start long, deep, meaningful conversations with me after reading this book, but I trust that as we keep it on our bookshelf and return to it regularly over the next few years, the conversations will start to unfold. Any resource which makes this easier is a godsend.

Now – onto the fun part – Jessica Kingsley Publishers have kindly sent me a giveaway copy, so to be in with a chance of winning, simply sign up to my newsletter – or, if you’ve already done so, leave a comment below. This giveaway is now closed. Congratulations to Katherine H who won!

And, if you haven’t already, why not read my review of The A-Z of Therapeutic Parenting? It’s another brilliantly helpful JKP publication.

You may also like to check out my Adoption Pinterest board for more blogs and articles I’ve written on all aspects of adoption.

A couple of disclaimers: I was given a free copy to review, but all views are my own, and I never recommend anything I wouldn’t buy myself. Affiliate links are used in this email – if you click through and make a purchase, I make a small commission at no cost to yourself. Thanks for your support!

Brilliant books, BBQs, and a post that went (my version of) viral! (What I’m into – May 2018)

Books

After a couple of heavy-going titles this year, May was a good month for books.

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Our book club read The Light between Oceans which was fabulous. Lighthouse-keeper Tom and his wife Izzy are the only inhabitants of a tiny island many miles off the west coast of Australia. When a boat containing a baby and a dead man gets washed up on shore, the couple is left with an agonising decision.

I don’t want to spoil the story for you, so I’ll stop there, but needless to say the story’s main ethical dilemma, interwoven with a complex web of loss and love, death and life, made for an absolutely stonking read.

I also read Spark, the second in Alice Broadway’s brilliant trilogy (I read the first book, Ink, last year). I wish I’d made time to re-read Ink before reading Spark, as the books are set in an innovative fantasy world, and I just couldn’t remember all the details from last year. But, as the plot came back to me, I found this book gripping – maybe not as much as the first, but I think the middle book in a trilogy is always going to be harder work, without the novelty of the first and the conclusion of the second.

However, I really loved the space there was to explore all kinds of questions about what constitutes ‘truth’, how the same event can be portrayed differently by different groups of people, how hard it is to shake off what you were brought up with, and so on. I can’t wait for book three!

Food

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We had a pretty awesome barbecue over the first bank holiday weekend with lovely family. (At risk of sounding Very British – hasn’t the weather been lovely? And it’s not even June. Well, it is now – but it wasn’t in May. When the weather was fab. Did I mention this?)

Also, the kids wanted to bake bread, but we didn’t have a whole lot of time to be doing with the rising and the proving, so we cheated and made soda bread (which is actually just as nice as normal bread, but don’t tell).

Our book club met at Bistro Guy for pizza. I know I go on about this place, but it really is something. If you’re local and haven’t tried it, you really must.

The kids made some fruit sparkler skewers – very simple really, taken from The Artful Year – which I totally love as a guide to process-oriented art (as opposed to “let’s all make exactly the same thing out of exactly the same materials”-type art).

Music

Seems an age away now, but we enjoyed Eurovision. Actually, I’m not sure ‘enjoyed’ is the word – what is the correct adjective here?

We’ve had a lot more Karine Polwart in the car, and DesertDad has been making me listen to this Hans Theesink album – reasonably palatable Blues (to a non-Blues fan) – since he saw him live at the start of the month.

Stage and screen

I went with some friends to see The Play that goes Wrong after rave reviews from various members of my family. It wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea – it’s basically non-stop slapstick, and there were a few moments when my attention wandered – but there are also several genius comedy moments, which are executed brilliantly. There are still loads of places left on the tour, so if it’s coming near you, I highly recommend it.

The hubs and I have also been watching House of Cards (the British version from the early 90s). Totally absorbing, even for a non-politics person like me. The central character, Francis Urquhart, becomes more and more twisted in his relentless drive to become PM, and it does make for compelling viewing. We’ve just started the second series and I’m hooked!

And a friend invited me to watch The Holiday which is totally my kind of feel-good rom-com, with all the essential ingredients (crappy ex-boyfriends, wonderful British-American banter, and Jude Law). Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz take part in a holiday house swap, to get as far away as possible from their complicated romantic lives. Kate ends up in L.A., Cameron in Surrey. Romance (obvs) ensues. Much recommended!

Articles

Everyone has a role. So what’s mine? is a powerful, tear-jerking article by foster-carer Julie on behalf of Home for Good, outlining how we can support vulnerable children, even if we don’t do the actual adopting/fostering ourselves.

I loved these responses to Bishop Michael Curry’s Royal Wedding sermon: 9 Assorted Thoughts on That Wedding Sermon and 4 reasons people didn’t like the Royal Wedding sermon – and why they’re wrong.

And I resonated with 5 Valuable Work Lessons from Maternity Leave – so much so, in fact, that you’ll be spotting my own response to this in the next couple of weeks.

On the blog

I wrote about the challenges of parenting in The Day of Demands, the challenges of marriage (not least royal marriage) in Dysfunctional Families? There’s hope in marriage! and the challenges of adoption in my review of The A-Z of Therapeutic Parenting.

I was thrilled to interview new author Joanna May Chee on How to Chase your Dreams (and why so many of us don’t), and wrote a little blog about money, based on my first few months’ experience attempting to build a freelance writing career.

I waxed lyrical about this amazing Herbs & Essential Oils bundle (flash sale ends this Monday, 4th June so be quick if you want it!).

AND…I was slightly flabbergasted to find that my thoughts on Should children be allowed to run around in church? quickly became the second most-read blog post on Desertmum…EVER! (And I’ve been blogging six years, so this is quite an achievement!)

It clearly struck a chord with some, and I’ve enjoyed the various debates on Facebook, ranging from “No, they absolutely shouldn’t” to “We need to re-think how we do church so that no one has to stay in their seats at all”. Loved it!

(Although, had I known how much attention it would receive, I might have worked on it for a bit longer. I mean, it’s kind of like going out in jeans and a top, then realising everyone else is in a dress and, if you’d have known, you’d have smartened up a bit.)

Elsewhere

On Home for Good, I wrote Preparing Birth Children for an Adopted Sibling, which does what it says on the tin, while my ACW blog this month was titled What Led you to Writing?

Also, I started organising everything I’ve ever written about adoption in one easy-to-navigate Pinterest board: Adoption Encouragement and Honesty. Not everything is up there yet, but I hope you’ll agree it looks much more enticing than a plain old list.

Do have a look! And please follow/share with others who would be encouraged to find this free online resource library.

Other

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* We spent a beautifully sunny day enjoying Fountain’s Abbey. What a place! We just love it here. Oh, and we used the opportunity of being en famille plus one to attempt a family photo – no fewer than 18 times. The result? I think we got one where 5/6 of us look OK.

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* I got me some NEW HAIR! (And then I washed it, and it pretty much went back to normal.)

* THE ROYAL WEDDING!!! Wasn’t it immense?! I’d quite forgotten how fun these are, and felt kind of sad that there won’t be another important one for a long time.

* I put up a hanging basket ALL BY MYSELF.

* And we had a glorious couple of days away sans kiddoes – the first time this has happened in over four years! I planned it as a surprise for the hubs – he’s pretty dozy, so it wasn’t difficult to pull the wool over his eyes. But it worked – he’d had no idea, and was pleasantly happy at the thought of no responsibility for two days. Look at us, looking all happy and carefree and like we haven’t cleared up a puddle of wee in 24 hours! (In case you’re wondering where we stayed – it was Gladstone’s Library – a residential library! How cool is that?)

Linking up, as always, with the lovely Leigh Kramer’s ‘What I’m into’ blog posts. Do check them out – you may discover a fantastic new blogger!

Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links. Click through, make a purchase, and I will make a tiny bit of commission at no extra cost to yourself. Why, thank you!

How do I use herbs and essential oils to improve my family’s quality of life?

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Last Autumn, Missy requested a ‘lip-balm making party’ for her 6th birthday. I’d never made a cosmetic product in my life, but a Google search provided a simple-enough recipe, and I began ordering the ingredients. Missy chose the flavours herself, opting for lavender and lemongrass.

After the party, to use up leftover ingredients, we made more lip balms and other products for Christmas presents. We needed a few more flavours, so before long our essential oil collection looked pretty comprehensive.

Now – as I guess you’ll know if you’ve ever bought oils – these don’t come cheap. And, once the purpose is served, you’re still left with quite a lot in the bottle – so what do you do?

I’m aware that it’s possible to make a whole range of skincare products using oils. I’m also aware that you can use them in homemade cleaning products. Both of these have the capacity to reduce plastic consumption as well as lowering the number of chemicals we put on ourselves, our kids, and in our home. Sounds good so far.

The question is: where to start? You can Google individual recipes, of course, but who knows if they’re going to work or not? And how long is it going to take you to build up a decent collection of stuff that really works?

Cue the Ultimate Herbs & Essential Oils Bundle: a huge, diverse and useful digital library of e-Books and online courses carefully sourced and curated to give you ideas, recipes, tips and background information galore.

Ultimate Bundles is a Canadian company which scours the Internet, looking for the best digital resources on topics requested by customers. They then collate them all into an incredible ‘bundle’ and sell it for next-to-nothing – but only for a few days.

I came across them a couple of months ago when I bought their Ultimate Homemaking Bundle. It’s revolutionised my life, and I’m only a few books in! There were sections on parenting strategies, working from home (the Blog Boss course was SO helpful!), fashion and style tips for parents, budgeting, time management, self-care, home organisation and even faith. There were over 130 titles in all – and I paid the equivalent of about two or three books.

Anyway, you don’t want to hear about that (although I could ramble on for ages, it was such a brilliant buy) – you want to hear about what you get in this Herbs & Essential Oils bundle – right?!

Firstly, there’s a ‘Beauty’ section – seven fabulous e-Books written by people who know their stuff, going into detail on how you can make all sorts of different skincare and bath products.

I’m particularly keen on the ‘The Nerdy Farm Wife’s Natural Bath Bombs’ – I think I’ll be stashing this one away as a good idea for me and the kids to make for Christmas presents. And ‘Natural Body Care: Recipes that soothe the skin’ will be really interesting, as I have eczema and very sensitive skin.

Then there’s a section on Cooking, which includes a couple of helpful guides on cooking with herbs, spices and oils. I’m a huge fan of growing herbs, and we have a good selection in our garden, but I’m not so brilliant at finding ways to use all of them.

There’s also a section on Essential Oils – a 3-month membership to The Essential Oils Club, plus six e-books on all aspects of oils including recipes, safety considerations, benefits for families, and much more.

The other sections are on Herbs, Foraging, Natural Remedies, and For Your Home. DIY Holistic Cleaning: Safe and Natural Ways to Clean Your Home and Workplace sounds particularly intriguing – I’d love to learn more about how I can clean without chemicals. (When I do clean. Ahem.)

If you bought each resource individually, it would cost you $567.48 (roughly £426) – not to mention the time it would take you to source so much fabulously helpful material – but from May 30th to June 4th only, you can get them all in this fantastic bundle for $29.97 (roughly £22.52).

That’s the cost of about three actual books – but you’re getting 34 resources. Amazing! And there are 444 recipes across the bundle – can you imagine how much it would cost to buy this amount of inspiration? At least two, if not three or four, recipe books.

I’m not planning a hard sell here – that’s not my style – but I do like to share with you resources that I’ve found useful. The Ultimate Homemaking Bundle blew me away, which is why I’ve become an affiliate, bringing these packages to lots of my UK readers who won’t yet have come across this company.

If herbs and oils aren’t your thing, not to fear – there are plenty more bundles planned for the rest of this year: healthy living, photography, genius blogger’s, and healthy meal planning. I’ll be alerting you to each one, so that you won’t miss out on something you’re interested in.

Whatever the topic, each bundle will be filled with quality resources, designed to make your life easier, more interesting and enjoyable. And, unlike ordering paper books, you’re not waiting for a chance to get to the bookshop, or for an online order to be dispatched.

The Herbs & Essential Oils bundle is available from this Wednesday (May 30th) until June 4th only. To purchase it, simply click here anytime between those dates (I’ll remind you next week, but wanted to give you a bit of time to think about it).

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This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I make a commission at no extra cost to yourself. Thank you for your support.

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Should children be allowed to run around in church?

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When we arrived at our current church, a little over four years ago, our two children (then aged 4 and 2) were the only regular kids attending.

Some weeks it was just the two of them – and other weeks, they had one or two friends join them – but, with such small numbers, they always had the run of the church.

And, when I say ‘run’, I mean ‘RUN’. My husband and I were frequently both involved in any given service, and our kids hadn’t yet got to know the other adults well enough to sit happily on their laps – so we let them run.

As our church started to grow, we realised that we’d inadvertently set a precedent. New families coming into the church only had our model to follow.

It’s not that it was a bad model necessarily, it’s just that we’d done what we needed to, given the circumstances, and it hadn’t really been thought-through – theologically or practically.

So now that we have four kiddoes (8, 6, 3 and 3), and our wonderful church welcomes nearly 30 children each week, the issue of what we should expect from kids during services is regularly on my mind.

On the one hand – I love that our church is so welcoming and non-judgemental, and wish all churches were like that. (I’m aware many are, which is brilliant!) On the other – I wonder when kids should start engaging with the service, and how that’s supposed to happen when we haven’t developed that culture with them.

May I answer a question with a question? (I’m not going to wait for your answer. Jesus answered questions with questions, so I reckon I’m fine.)

In response to the issue of whether children should be let loose in church, I’d like to ask, What would they be doing if they weren’t running around?

And here are some possible answers to that question:

They might be screaming, tantrumming, or banging the pews/chairs. (An aside: for all their frustrating inflexibility, pews are SO much more satisfying to bang, right? A much more resonant sound. Thank you. As you were.)

Mainly, this applies to toddlers. Let’s be fair: when do we ever expect a 2 year old to sit still and quietly for more than a couple of minutes in any context apart from church? (Mealtimes don’t count – you can’t strap a child into a highchair in church, and you can’t feed them for the entire service either, not unless you want to raise a child reminiscent of the Michelin man.)

This might also apply to older children with additional needs. These beautiful human-beings, who God created and loves and wants us to welcome graciously, may not yet have the emotional understanding or ability to meet the kind of expectations we might put upon other children. Are we to place impossible, stressful demands upon them and their parents?

Quite honestly, if it’s a toss-up between a child roaming freely around church, or having a screaming fit because they’re feeling restrained in a pew – I’m with the first option.

But here’s another answer: if the children weren’t running around, they might be actually engaging in worship.

I’m speaking now of school-aged children primarily – children who do regularly sit still in class at school, and in assemblies. By allowing them to run amok, are we denying them of the opportunity to absorb Scripture through learning hymns and songs, taking part in the confession, and hearing Bible passages read to them?

John Piper gave a thought-provoking interview a couple of years ago on “Should children sit through ‘big church’?” I don’t agree with everything he says, but I do love his emphasis on our role as parents when it comes to modelling church for our children:

“The greatest stumbling block for children in worship is parents who don’t cherish [it]…They don’t love it. Children can feel the difference between duty and delight. So, the first and most important job of a parent is to fall in love with the worship of God…You can’t impart what you don’t possess. And this is what you want your children to catch. You want them to catch authentic worship…The cumulative effect of 650 worship services spent with mom and dad in authentic communion with God and his people between the ages of 4 and 17 is utterly incalculable.”

If we don’t allow our children to authentically engage in worship – first by observing us, then by taking part themselves, then by believing, questioning and really owning it themselves – what are we hoping for their futures? That they won’t know how to cope with services which aren’t specifically tailored to their age group? That they will never own their faith for themselves?

It doesn’t sound very optimistic!

I do think our services need to be free and relaxed enough to accommodate children in all stages of life, with all sorts of different needs, on all sorts of days, in all sorts of moods. But I also think that us parents have a responsibility to develop a healthy model of communal worship with our own offspring.

A final answer: if children aren’t running around in church, they’ll be running around at home, at the park or on a football pitch.

None of these options are bad – in fact, they’re all lovely ways to spend time. But ultimately it’s a joy to have children in our churches! Do we really want to lose them to other activities because parents have felt judged or frowned upon when they’ve come through our doors?

Regardless of our own feelings, if our words and actions make parents feel uncomfortable and unwelcome when they show up, then they simply won’t return.

Sometimes, we’ll just need to bite our tongue or smile when we don’t feel like it – but if these small actions help people to know God’s welcome, God’s love of children, and God’s huge desire to see them come to know Him, they’ll be worth every piece of our energy.

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