on being approved for adoption

So that’s it, we’ve done it. Apparently. We’ve crossed the most important hurdle in this very bizarre process. Our status has shifted from ‘prospective adopter’ to ‘approved adopter’.

“Does it feel like the burden’s been lifted?” asks one friend.

Hmmm. I know what she means. And yes, in one sense it does. We no longer have to use tentative ‘if’s in conversation. We don’t have to wonder what the adoption panel will ask or what they’ll make of our report. We can look forward to the future with the certainty that we will be growing our family through adoption.

On the other hand, though, there’s a new burden to take its place. The burden of OK we really do have to get out of the boat now. Speaking of adoption in the theoretical sense and speaking of it in the practical/expectant sense are two very different things. One is confident, assured, smiling – everyone else is on board and thinks you’re wonderful for doing it. The other is unsure, unsteady and just a little bit isolating – suddenly you’re in a place no one else can go, and it’s slightly frightening. How do we choose a child? Will we ‘just know’?

I can understand why people ask how long the process should take from now on, I really do. But I’m never going to be able to give a satisfactory answer to that one. Finding a family for a child who needs one – for life – is not something to rush. You can’t create a family by randomly assigning parents to children, or vice versa, and expect it to work. There is a thoroughness to the process, many different stages designed to ensure – as much as is humanly possible – that the parent-child match is a good fit. So, no – I don’t know how long it will take from this point, and nor would I want to assign a timeframe.

A better question is ‘What happens next?’, for which there is a clearer answer. Essentially, we are now looking for a child. This can happen in different ways. Our social worker receives details of children on the adoption register, which she can forward to us if they match our criteria. We can search for children on a secure web register. And we’re planning to go to an adoption exchange event, where lots of different local authorities will have details of children who need families. Only when there has been a ‘match’, approved by both social workers, will we have an idea of timing.

No one told us that looking at children’s profiles, knowing that we are now in a position to make enquiries, would be this hard. We were prepared, of course, for the tough life stories – but we didn’t realise how clueless we would feel about how to proceed. Do we ask for details of any child who matches our criteria? Or just pick one or two? What if other adopters have got there first? Should we subscribe to the online adoption registers? And if so, for how long? They offer subscriptions for 1 month, 3 months, 6 months and a year – how are we supposed to know what to choose?

So – life post-adoption panel is exhilarating, exciting and filled with hope. It is also confusing, nerve-wracking and emotional. Out with the theoretical case studies – and in with the actual children, the ones with actual lives who actually need a family. They are why we’re in this process. I’m holding on to a thread of faith which believes that God will lead us to the right child – whilst also having no clue how He will do that.

So just like normal faith then :)

free clothes, being on telly and school discos – all what i’ve been up to recently

OK, this blog doesn’t tend to feature ‘newsy’ posts. I prefer to write about issues, thoughts and ideas I’ve been having, rather than over-personalise it, or turn it into some boring online diary. But I’m aware that posts have been a little irregular of late, and the fact is that some quite unusual and exciting things have been happening in Real Life, so here’s a little summary for you if you fancy. If you don’t fancy, feel free to close the window right now (and thanks for the extra blog stats).

Free clothes!

I won a prize draw after submitting my review of Skipton’s retiresavvy web portal! The lovely Mumsnet and Skipton Financial Services picked my name out of a hat to win a £250 shopping voucher which, after much deliberating, I chose to spend at a clothes shop which shall remain nameless and which, in all honesty, was probably the wrong choice but, hey, for the next couple of months I will look extremely fashionable.

TV appearance!

There was a thing on Twitter about chocolate addicts being needed for some BBC documentary and – well, you would, wouldn’t you? Turns out my chocolate addiction is pretty epic, and I’m now going to feature fairly heavily in the programme. Look out for Trust me, I’m a doctor, BBC2, late July, if you want to pre-empt the next day’s tabloid headlines: “BENEFITS MUM USES YOUR TAXES TO FUND OBSESSIVE CHOCOLATE ADDICTION”. They paid me in chocolate, though, so all good.

School disco!

Not only Mister’s first ever school disco, but my first ever organising of one. Seemed to go OK. Most of the essential ingredients were there (sugar-heavy tuck shop, enthusiastic DJ, dance competitions) but it turns out that Time Warp is no longer welcome at your average school disco.

And it seems that today’s kids don’t go anywhere without getting their nails done, so we set up a nail bar and tattoo parlour. (Temporary tattoos of course – what do you take me for?) Actually ‘bar’ and ‘parlour’ are stretching it a bit. A few teachers and parents sitting behind a school desk trying to make chit-chat with the kids probably sums it up more accurately.

Blogs!

Two friends of mine independently started writing blogs within 24 hours of each other. And they are both bloody amazing, if you don’t mind me saying. If it was a blog-eat-blog kinda world, I’d be out of business straightaway but, as it happens, they’re very happy to share cyberspace with me. Please go and read them, I promise you won’t regret it. Kate has an incredible family of 7, through birth and adoption, and shares her adoption story with humour and honesty. Jo is an amazing single mum, widowed, sufferer of MS – and has a lot to teach me about strength, resilience, perseverance, and trusting God through the difficult times. Go say hello on their blogs!

Adoption!

Oh yeah – and we went into a room filled with a whole load of scary grown-ups who weren’t actually that scary and they asked us questions and we talked and talked and then they went and said we could adopt a child. :)

may-mie oliver

Straight off, I’d like to apologise for the bad pun (which only really works if you read it aloud). It’s Month 5, and inspiration is running thin.

And then the next thing is this: friends, I’m afraid to admit that this is the month where I came unstuck. This is the month where my previously iron-hard resolve to cook from a different cook book each month crumbled and softened to the point where all I could do was gaze wistfully at said book every couple of days, in the hope that this would count for something.

Let me rewind a little. A couple of months ago, invigorated by how well this whole cookbook-a-month plan was working out, I found myself looking for cookbooks in the closing-down sale of a local charity shop. To my utter amazement, I found a hardback copy of ‘Jamie At Home‘ staring me in the face. I took it to the counter where the conversation flowed thus:

Shop assistant (older, male – if that should make any difference): “Who’s this then?” (looking at the book)

Me: “Uh…it’s Jamie Oliver. He’s like a really famous chef.”

Shop assistant: “Oh.” (Pause.) 

Me: “You know – he’s on the telly and stuff?”

Shop assistant: “25p.”

I could hardly believe my luck – the book which would usually cost the same as a meal out, was costing me less than a tin of tomatoes. Fast-forward to May, and the time came for me to use this book as my main source of recipes for the month. I couldn’t wait.

The first week went OK – homemade calzone (yum!), some nice pasta dishes, strange-sounding-but-good butternut squash muffins. And then I struggled. The book is structured around seasonal ingredients – fruit, veg and meat – which is not a problem in itself, but does mean that lots of the recipes are pretty simple things that you would usually throw together without written instructions. And, of course, the recipes are simple to allow the beauty of in-season tomatoes or bright-pink rhubarb to shine through – great if you own an allotment, not so great if you’re buying in all your veg (albeit from a local supplier). Also, because the recipes go through all four seasons – a calendar year – 3/4 of the book is out-of-season anyway.

So, I diversified. I decided to throw in my other Jamie Oliver cookbook to May’s cooking (Happy Days with the Naked Chef). From here, we tried Toad-in-the-Hole, Vegetable curry, Beef stew with Newcastle Brown Ale and Dumplings, and Chicken Breast baked in a bag with mushrooms, butter, white wine and thyme.

They were all lovely – but by then it was only half-way through the month and there really was not much else to try for a normal family meal.

I feel awful. I really do. It’s like breaking up with a boyfriend who has been nothing but sweet and kind – and yet the chemistry just doesn’t work. A classic case of “It’s not you, it’s me”. I know Jamie Oliver is not everyone’s cup of tea, but to me he’s someone I admire and respect and love to watch on TV. He has a great charisma, a real strength of drawing people in, and makes you feel like you can do it. I love what he’s doing for food culture in this country, I appreciate the diversity of his interest in food – and, amazingly, he even seems to have an incredibly grounded family life.

But, for me, his cookbooks don’t work. Fun to read, not so practical to cook from. Time-consuming and wordy (not ideal when dinner has to be on the table NOW NOW NOW). Either impossible ingredients (Essex Fried Rabbit, anyone?) or things I could do with my eyes shut (Roast new potatoes with sea salt and rosemary, for example).

This doesn’t mean that his recipes don’t work for anyone. I would imagine that if you’re just starting out in cooking and need to gain a little confidence, Jamie would be great. Also, if you’re an experienced cook who has great swathes of time to try out new and exciting restaurant-style dishes, Jamie has a lot to offer. But, for me and my little life at the moment, the chemistry’s just not working.

Jamie, I’m so sorry – honestly. I will continue to watch you on telly, grab helpful foodie tips from you about how to season things, how to throw flavours together, perhaps pick up some snazzy new ways to cook chicken – but, with regret, your cookbooks are going to the charity shop. Where, hopefully, they’ll pick up more than 25p.

expelling two myths of the stay-at-home parent

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The pros and cons of stay-at-home parenting are something that’s never left my mind since I quit work to have kids six years ago, but recently – perhaps prompted by Shared Parental Leave and associated press articles – I’ve been working through two particular lines of thought often expressed by those who would want to see me back in my teaching profession and paying for external childcare.

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Please understand that this is not an argument against those who work/use childcare! We’re all raising kids in different situations, and what’s best for one family won’t be best for the next family. Personally, I don’t think whether parents work outside the home or not makes much difference to the kids – it’s what you do in the time you have together that counts.

No, this definitely isn’t an ‘anti-working-parents’ article – instead, consider it a bit of comeback for those times when the media makes us stay-at-home parents feel just a little less worthy for making this decision. I’d love to hear your comments. :)

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1. It’s much healthier for your kids to see you working then staying at home.

The other day someone I don’t know very well said to me “Well, you see, our mum worked so it’s just natural for us to want to work”. Yeah, right. Whilst my slouch of a mum just bummed around feeding me, playing with me, taking me to groups, keeping the house reasonable and running a number of community initiatives – and I’m just following her lazy layabout example.

My kids see me running toddler groups, serving drinks to others, stacking chairs, setting out toys and other activities, washing up, leading songs and stories, scrubbing play dough off the floor, leading discussions and forums. They come with me when I go to the school office for governor business. They’ve shared their home with others as I’ve led Bible studies in our house. Whilst I do try and keep my commitments to evenings and when the youngest is at preschool, they do occasionally see me writing emails and making phone calls. And this is aside from the ‘obvious’ work of making their meals, clearing the kitchen, tidying their rooms and washing their clothes – which they observe on an hourly basis.

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In short – my children are under no impression that I am free from work. In fact, as part of a Facebook meme which did the rounds recently, I asked my son ‘What is Mummy’s work?’ and he said ‘Being a governor’. This is only a small part of my week, but interesting that he recognises this as work. Perhaps kids of stay-at-home parents simply grow up with a broader definition of ‘work’ – that it doesn’t have to be paid, or full-time, or purely devoted to one area. It can be voluntary, fitted around children, in and out of the home. This is healthy, right?

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2. You’ll lose confidence if you take time out of your career to raise your kids.

If you leave paid work to spend all your time with your children within the confines of your own four walls, then yes, I can see how your confidence will drop. But if you instead use the time to make new friends, explore your community, see how you can contribute your skills in new ways, and discover new gifts as well, I think it’s highly unlikely that you’ll experience a confidence drop.

My stay-at-home parent friends run groups for other parents and kids, they fundraise for the NCT, they write blogs and books, they visit prisoners, they connect with local charities to support vulnerable people, they volunteer at their children’s schools, they campaign for things they feel passionately about, they start toy libraries. All these things – and there’ll be plenty more examples in the lives of those you know – increase confidence through building upon existing skills and liaising with a more diverse population than might have been possible in the workplace.

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Make no mistake: as a result of pausing my career I have lost my salary, recent training, the opportunity to acquire new skills and a fair chunk of my pension. It’s fair to say that this former teacher now largely gets her education news through Twitter. But let’s be clear: for all I’ve lost, I haven’t lost my confidence. If I were to go back into the classroom tomorrow, to teach a lesson as opposed to dropping my son off, I think I would be more confident than when I left, six years ago. OK my skill-set would be a little rusty, and the GCSE syllabus would have changed beyond recognition (six years, three governments), but, essentially, my professional toolkit is just brimming with new skills and ideas that the experience of the last six years has developed in me.

What other stay-at-home ‘myths’ do you encounter? Go on, give me some fodder for a future blog post…!

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adoption: is faith a disadvantage?

It’s something several people have asked as we’ve headed down the adoption path recently. (For more on our adoption journey so far, you could read this and this.) “What do they think about your faith?” “Do they mind that you’re Christians?”

I guess they have in mind horror stories like this one, where a Christian couple were not approved as prospective adopters, essentially because of their beliefs. But, like most ‘real-life’ stories in the media, this is just one isolated example and, terribly sad though it is, I’m (optimistically?) guessing it’s not indicative of how most people-of-faith are treated up and down the country.

Certainly it hasn’t been our experience thus far. So much about our faith has given us positive answers to the many questions asked by our social worker. For one, it is vital that prospective adopters have a strong support network, to help them weather the challenges that adopting a child will no doubt bring. Being part of a church gives you this support automatically – we know so many people who would bring round a meal, look after our birth kids, or come and clean our house at the drop of a hat – not because they know us that well, but because this is simply what a functioning church family does for each other. Add this support network to our other friends and family, and it starts to look pretty attractive to any assessing social worker.

In addition to friends asking us whether the adoption agency ‘minds’ that we’re Christians, some follow the question with a statement such as “…because it must come up, surely?”, as if we could go weeks and weeks in the process before the issue of our faith was raised. Not so. Our faith underpins everything we do, every decision we make and every relationship we have. We don’t always do the right thing – far from it – but everything in our lives comes from the starting point that we trust in Jesus as our Saviour and friend.

So, to give you a few examples, we get grilled on our relationship with each other (as in, four hours of grilling!). How did we meet? Christian Union… How did we know it was right to get married? Prayer… How do we make decisions? We pray…  I’m giving you the abbreviated, simplistic response just to make a point – clearly there’s slightly more to it than that – but you get the idea.

Then we talk about finances, and the social worker sees that our approach to money is quite different. “So, you decide how much you need to live on, and then give the rest away?” asks one, cocking her head to one side as she tries to get into our clearly-extremely-warped minds. “Er…no…it’s kind of like the opposite…” we reply – clearly not a very satisfying answer.

We discuss identity, and have the privilege of chatting about Christ’s love for all, regardless of ethnicity, disability or sexual orientation – and, hence, the welcome and acceptance that is found in our church family for everyone.

We talk about values and morals and how we nurture and educate our birth children. We’re asked about our early experiences, through childhood and adolescence, what kind of educational experiences we’ve had, and our employment history. We discuss how we spend our time, how we use our home, how we celebrate occasions. Through all of these questions our faith has ‘come up’, so it’s no surprise to find that it’s a big part of the final report which has now been written on us. Whether it hijacks our chances of success at the adoption panel remains to be seen – but, for now, the most important thing is that we’ve been able to be genuine and honest, and our social worker has responded positively to the fact that we’re Christians. What happens from now on is in God’s hands, and we have total peace about that.

april recipe spring-clean

Goodness me, it’s nearly June, and I’m hurriedly writing up April’s recipe challenge so that you won’t notice the short time-lag when I smoothly write up May next week…will you promise not to notice? Pretty please??

I went a little off-kilter for April and, being in the mood for a spring-clean, decided to have a good sort out of all my loose recipes. You know the ones – those you cut out from food publications and supermarket magazines and odd recipe cards and things you’ve picked up from friends. They all sit in a little box on my kitchen windowsill until I get round to making them. Which is usually never. So, instead of cooking from one recipe book, I decided to cook from one recipe box, using up as many of these recipes as possible.

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It was an interesting challenge because, unlike the other months, of course all the recipes were coming from different sources. I found the Co-op magazine to be, largely, brilliant. A fantastically quick, yummy sweet-and-sour marinade for fish, an easy oregano and lemon chicken traybake, decent falafel, and sweet potato pies: a surprisingly flavoursome veggie dinner to add to our repertoire. Pudding-wise, the hot cross bun pudding with salted brandy caramel was immense – a scrumptious combination of everything good about Easter and Christmas cooking.

The Waitrose magazine was a winner too. We enjoyed a quick but delicious one-pot roast chicken supper, Scandinavian chicken, banana and coconut bread ‘n’ butter pudding, and Moroccan meatloaf. The latter fell apart, but I think I know why and it was entirely my fault. All of these I would make again in a flash.

When distant friends visited for an evening, we tried zaalouk, a Moroccan aubergine and tomato dip, with (shop-bought) flatbreads. This recipe had come on a Riverford recipe card, and was definitely one I’d try again with it’s gorgeous flavour combinations and kick of harissa. They also provided us with another curry recipe for our growing portfolio of Indian dishes – this one a lemony chicken and spinach curry with enough flavour for us grown-ups but not too much spice for the littlies. And they encouraged us to use leftover tahini to make a dressing for stir-fried greens. As people who try to avoid salad at all costs, it’s great to have a dressing which works excellently on cooked veg.

Three-cheese soufflés

Photo credit: BBC Good Food magazine

These three-cheese souffles from the wonderful Barney Desmazery at Good Food were SO rich and SO good that you must all follow the link and make them right now. (Or, at least, the next time you need a starter.) Mine looked exactly like the one in the picture.*

From some old Green ‘n’ Blacks packaging, I tried a chocolate sorbet. Unsure whether this would work or not, actually I found it to be a total winner – it may become my new failsafe ‘special’ dessert. Much quicker than making ice cream, and simple enough to be served just with a few berries, the sorbet melts in your mouth and thus turns to something rather like a cold hot chocolate. I cannot explain it better than that – you’ll have to try it to see what I mean. Bring 250ml water and 150g caster sugar to the boil and bubble for 4 minutes. Meanwhile, melt 100g dark chocolate, then add 100ml water to the sugar syrup and whisk in the cocoa, then the melted chocolate. Freeze. It will make enough for 4 (or 1 with relationship problems).

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All these recipes have made it into my recipe scrapbook, to be enjoyed again in the future. Those that didn’t include beer doughnuts (yes, really), Co-op fruit ‘n’ nut brownies (standard problem of bad brownies: too dry and cakey) and hummus. I’m sorry, but I don’t get on well with homemade hummus, as long-standing blog readers will remember from a Sabbath week disaster two years ago. I’ve tried at least three different recipes, none of which have turned out anything close to edible, and life is too short to try a fourth when there are absolutely NO PROBLEMS with supermarket hummus. There, I’ve said it. Just call me a food slob.

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* I’m sorry I’ve been rubbish at providing any photos since this challenge began. I’m not in the habit of photographing food but resolve henceforth to remember. Failing that, I’ll continue to provide professional food pictures, so that you can imagine I live a life of immaculate presentation.

fantasy v reality

I was so thrilled to bring Jo Pratt’s marvellous ‘Madhouse Cookbook‘ to your attention recently – it’s clearly a book which is needed in more households than just mine, and I’m delighted that several of you have ordered it since seeing it on here. (And, if you haven’t, it’s currently just £3 if you follow the link above – practically a steal.) But now it’s time to bring you up to speed on my other challenge for 2015 – reading a book a month.

The two novels I’ve read recently look pretty different, on the face of it. They’re both set in the 1800s, and they both straddle England and America, but the subject matters couldn’t be further apart. Erin Morgenstern’s ‘The Night Circus’ is a romantic, magical fantasy – that wonderful sort of escapist writing which teeters on the edge of believable and then snatches you away on a dream-cloud, where you have simply no choice but to trust the characters and situations. The story is of a pair of illusionists and the incredible ‘circus’ in which they operate – and, beyond that, I really can’t tell you any more for fear of spoiling it for you. Suffice to say, it’s a tale full of colour, imagination, magic, romance and life, and is quite unlike anything I’ve ever read.

By contrast, ‘The Last Runaway‘ (Tracy Chevalier), deals with the hardened, gritty realism of 1850s America – the slave trade, the Underground Railroad, quilts, whiskey and Quakerism. A young British Quaker girl finds herself in Ohio, unable to return to England, but with no family or identity in America. She starts to build her life around the strong convictions she has, starts to find a voice for her beliefs. This book taught me so much about America in the 1850s – and the British opinion of Americans back then. I loved getting to know Honor Bright, the heroine, and felt every emotion along with her.

One novel is fantasy, one is reality. But perhaps the two are more similar than they first appear. They both pick up the theme of running away – from situations, circumstance, and the expectations of others. Both books are, essentially, about individuals trying to break away from the life which is being dictated to them, and follow their hearts instead.

I love that two such different books can have this common thread. And in life, held together by the common thread of our own existence, we need a healthy balance of fantasy and reality as well. Too much fantasy, and we become useless to those around us, unable to function in community or relate to others. Too much reality and we lose our ability to imagine, to dream, to hope. My life has certainly been a good mix of the two recently – the gritty, hard stuff sitting alongside the joyful stuff that elevates me – and I hope yours has been too.