Party, party, and then – you guessed it – another party! (What I’m Into – September 2018)

Books

Along with my Book Club, this month I read My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout. I really enjoyed it, bearing some similarities to Eleanor Oliphant, which I read in June.

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The title character, like Eleanor, has had a less-than-ideal upbringing, in a dysfunctional family, and now struggles to cope with aspects of everyday life that the rest of us take for granted. Lucy doesn’t necessarily notice or verbalise these struggles, but they become implicit through Strout’s deeply incisive writing, which I enjoyed very much.

The book however, is not mainly about Lucy’s struggles (as an adopter, I tend to read everything through an ‘early life trauma’ lens even when the author hasn’t necessarily intended that!), but more about her relationship with her mother, who comes to visit for a prolonged period when Lucy finds herself in hospital. The pair haven’t spoken in years, and now Lucy is married with two daughters. The ensuing conversation sheds light on Lucy’s upbringing, the characters of the two women, and on what might be going on elsewhere in Lucy’s adult life.

I found it a fascinating read, if slightly frustrating in its ambiguity. I like a little bit of uncertainty (“it could have been this…”, “maybe she felt like this…”) but I also like to know what the actual story is, as I never trust my instincts to have got it right! But maybe that’s the point.

Anyway, it was not a long read, and I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys this type of story.

Food

There has been A LOT of party food (read: cake) kicking around Casa Desert this month. ALL four of my kids had the audacity to be born in September, and I know that every time this month rolls round, God is laughing at His amazing joke of putting all four of these September-born kids into the life of a Mum who is liable to get a little too party-obsessed.

Yeah, funny. Thanks God.

Actually, the joke is working. I’m chilling out about the kids’ parties. They’re not as much of a mission as they used to be. These days I’m tending to just book a bouncy castle, open a packet of cheesy balls, and let everyone create their own fun. Imagination never hurt anyone, right?

And, to bring this back to the subheading, I don’t really do much with the food. It mainly comes from packets. This year we made some (pretty nice, if I say so myself) chocolate cupcakes from Twist (quite possibly the most helpful, foolproof and scrumptious baking book ever) – but only really for something to do with the twins, who can’t get enough kitchen time at the moment.

Then there were the Birthday Cakes. Listen, I’m hardly Bake-Off material, but I like to try, OK? A mermaid one for Missy (now 7):

Spiderman for Monkey and Meerkat (now 4 – geez, where did that go?):

And a football one for Mister (9! He’s 9! Double figures next year! Someone remind me when I’m supposed to get the hang of parenting?):

Music

George Ezra.

That’s about it really. He sits neatly in the very small overlap section of our family’s Venn diagram when it comes to musical preference. The catchy melodies and simple, repetitive words appeal to our kids, who can remember all of them (even the 4 year olds). The Orbison-esque voice and use of brass give it a vintage sound that Desert Dad and I appreciate. Perfect!

And – for those of you who are fans of George Ezra AND a cappella (as well as those of you who are not) – you absolutely have to watch this:

I love that this isn’t even a gig…they’re just warming up!

My articles

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This month’s piece for More than Writers explored one of my (many) misadventures with DIY this summer, and its application point for writing and editing.

Home for Good published my piece on What the Church needs to know about Invisible Needs. I feel a bit arrogant saying it’s an essential read for all those in church leadership – but I’m going to put myself out there, uncomfortable though it is, for the sake of all the many traumatised children who attend our churches each week and struggle in ways many of us never notice.

My Aussie friends Mike and Helen started an awesome company called XCeptional, which helps people with autism get into employment. They run training, provide software testing for clients, and work with companies who want to become more inclusive.

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I love what they do, and often wish I could support more but I’m sooooo far away – so when Mike asked me to write them a blog, I snapped him up! Take a look at ‘One Mistake Start-ups are Making – and Three Ways to put it Right’.

Here on the blog, I shared the second and third of my trilogy, reflecting on the Living Out Identity conference I attended back in June. If you’re interested in the church’s response to sexuality, give them a read. They discuss whether celibacy can equal fulfilment, and how a church can be Biblically inclusive.

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I shared five questions that adoptive parents should ask prospective schools when looking round, and asked what we’re doing wrong as parents, when only 1 in 4 girls aged 7-21 call themselves ‘happy’.

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I also went giveaway-crazy, reviewing both The Father’s Kiss and A Really Incredible Feast. And there’ll be more giveaways to come in October – stay tuned.

Articles elsewhere

Do you ever read something and get the feeling the writer has reached inside your brain, pulled together all of your incoherent thoughts and expressed them more eloquently and articulately than you would ever have done?

I love it when this happens! When my friend Laura shared this article on Facebook, I have to say I was blown away. You try reading When Kids won’t bow to your Idols and see if you don’t feel mightily challenged and entertained all at once.

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  • Parties! Three of them, to be precise. Missy had Unicorns and Mermaids, the twins had Spiderman (very loosely adhered to, I might add), and Mister had the easiest one of all: Football! (Think: kids, muddy food, a ball and some food, and that’s pretty much it.)
  • Sleep! Actually, not much of it. Pray for me in October!
  • Books! Some progress! Still nothing to report to you, but hopefully very very soon… Suffice to say, there’s been enough progress that I’m feeling pretty excited!
  • Christmas Anthology! Out soon! I have a reflection in it! If you’re on my mailing list, look out for a special subscribers-only offer in your inbox very soon. And if you’re not on the list, join now! It’s fun – I promise.

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!

A blog about money (in which I attempt to justify to myself why it’s okay to earn money from something I love)

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They say that the three topics best avoided in polite company are sex, religion and money. I’m not planning to talk about the first one any time soon, but feel that as I frequently bare my soul on the second topic, I should probably ‘fess up my recent thoughts about money – namely, the idea of earning it in return for writing.

I’m hoping that, at some stage in the future, I’ll be able to make money from writing – but I’m also having a hard time justifying this to myself. After all, I’ve been writing this blog for nearly six years with no income – and none desired. The idea of people paying me for something I love seems wrong, somehow.

For those of you who are new to this blog, in January this year I decided to push my writing up a notch. I’d been offered a little paid freelance work, so I vowed to push a few other writing doors to see whether they opened too.

I’ve been wondering why I feel I need to earn a living from this. After all, if I’d chosen to remain at home as a full-time housewife, or commit my week to my church as a volunteer, wouldn’t these be valid uses of my time? What is it about writing that I feel the need to validate it with an income?

I think that, firstly, it’s a tangible sign of whether writing is worth pursuing in the long term. The hubs and I have agreed to give this initial ‘testing’ period two years. My aim, eventually, is to earn a part-time salary from writing – and, while I’m not expecting this to happen by the end of 2019, I think we’ll have a good idea at that point as to whether it’s going in that direction or not.

Secondly, I wasn’t ever really considering significant voluntary work at this stage of life. Whilst I love volunteering for school and church, my intention was always to try and do this alongside a part-time teaching job – and this, obviously, would have been paid. Why not writing?

Thirdly, I feel that to pursue my passion without bringing anything financial into the household would be irresponsible. My husband would love to have more time to write, but as things stand at the moment, he can’t do that because his paid job (i.e. the one which supports us and the kids) takes up too many hours. So why should I have this opportunity any more than him? (And – who knows – maybe one day my income will allow him to reduce his work commitments and have some more time to write!)

I have to keep reminding myself that writing is my business. Just like any of my friends who’ve started their own businesses, I need to work hard to improve what I do, build my brand, grow my audience and learn how to market myself. And I deserve to be paid for providing a service, every bit as much as my friends are paid for their photography or cooking skills.

The other week, with my husband out at a meeting, I got down to ‘business’, forming an email to send out to my subscriber list (click here if you’re not getting the emails!). When I finally sent it, someone my husband was with got the ping on her phone, saw it was me and said to my husband, “Wow…Lucy’s very audacious!”

But, the thing is, if I’m not audacious about my business – who will be? I’ve only ever been in jobs where others provide work for me to do. Now I’m self-employed, no one is going to throw work (or payment) at me – I need to seek it out myself.

You must understand, though, that none of this feels very comfortable right now. I’ve been writing this blog unpaid for so long, that to now start to use it as a platform towards an income seems wrong – even though my logical side tells me it’s not.

I genuinely want to keep this blog as it always has been: full of adoption/parenting/family/discipleship stuff, and anything else that floats my boat. Please would you tell me if it starts to become sales-y and annoying? I really don’t want that!

So, given my commitment to retaining Desertmum’s integrity, how am I hoping to build up my salary?

Affiliate links – you’ll be familiar with these from other websites. You see a link, click on it, make a purchase, and the author of the original website makes a small commission, at no extra cost to the customer. I’ve now become an affiliate of several companies, because recommending resources is something I’ve been doing since this blog began, and many of you have told me you’ve bought things you heard about here. Promoting new or unknown authors, bringing unusual or unexpected products to your attention – that kind of thing I’ve always loved to do, and will continue doing.

Books – I have two books in the pipeline – one hopefully coming out next year, the other to be confirmed. Obviously I hope to earn royalties from sales of these books – although unless you’re Julia Donaldson or Michael Rosen, this is hardly big bucks, particularly when you take into account the many hours spent travelling the country to promote your book, petrol costs, props/food/venue hire needed for book launches and signings. But having a book or two under your belt does help to build your brand, and bring in more work (hopefully).

Articles – I’m already doing some paid work for one of my favourite charities, and I would hope that this kind of work increases. One-off articles result in one-off fees (as opposed to continuous royalties from books) but, again, it helps to get your name known as a writer and builds your audience.

Freelance writing and proof-reading – I’m hoping that, eventually, I might have time to seek out this kind of work – again, it’ll be one-offs, but hopefully fairly regular and varied.

What I’ve learnt is that being a writer usually involves a certain amount of piecing together of a lot of different types of work, all of which feed off each other in terms of getting a name out there and building an audience.

It’ll be hard work, but hopefully one day all of these things might add up to an income which justifies the amount of time I spend writing!

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the day of demands (and the half-dead flowers which spoke more than any bouquet)

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Today’s sultry summer weather has reminded me of a similar day a few weeks ago.

It was a day of demands.

And, being the good British mum I am, I wanted to let my children experience the glories of summer in case the season decided not to greet us again until next year. Read: I got the paddling pool out.

It’s no mean feat, this. In my head, suffering with the amnesia which comes from not having done something for a whole year, it takes around 10 minutes to inflate and fill a paddling pool. The reality? Allow half a day.

So, by the time the big kids came back from school, all four were fired up and ready to go. The clothes came off, the swimsuits came on.

And the demands flowed like honey:

“Mum – can you put the slide in the paddling pool?”

“Can you get down my other swimsuit?”

“Can I have a drink?”

“I done wee-wee in my pants.”

“Can I have a snack?”

“Mum – can you help me with the slide?”

“Can you fill up my water gun?”

“I don’t like breadsticks.”

“Mum!! Monkey’s tipped water all over me and I’m soaked!”

“Meerkat’s fallen over and he’s crying.”

“Mum! There’s a nettle growing through the trampoline!”

(Silly me, thinking I might be able to hang out the washing while my children played contentedly.)

In the middle of the demands, though, came a small and almost-missed voice. See if you can spot it.

“Mum – can you fill up my water bottle?”

“I want more snack!”

“We’ve found some snails and we’ve called them Tilly and Billy and we’ve put them in my bed to live forever.”

“Mum – I want to get changed – where’s the towel?”

“I brought you some flowers Mummy.”

“Where my snack? Me hungry.”

“I need a poo!”

“Mummy help me – can’t get my swimsuit off.”

“Mum will you tell Monkey to stop hitting me?”

“I’ve put them by your bed, Mummy.”

By the time they all went to bed, I was exhausted. And yes, somehow, we’d managed to get some food into them, cleaned their teeth and got them safely to bed, but it had zapped all my energy, and I was lying comatose on the sofa for the rest of the evening.

Eventually, I dragged myself upstairs. Walking round the bed to get to my side, I was struck by a sight which made my eyes well up and a broad smile creep across my face.

Three half-dead flowers lying on my bedside cabinet.

More precious than any fancy bouquet I’ve ever received were these three half-dead flowers, lying in their quiet generosity on my bedside table. A sign of unconditional love from my girl – that amidst my snapping and gradual loss of patience, she not only still loved me, but wanted to give me something to show it, even going to the trouble of carrying them upstairs for me, as if she knew that this small action was going to be something I wouldn’t get round to today.

And I don’t really know what else to say, except Love. Love love love love love. It’s borne in the moments of impatience and frustration, of tiredness and snapping, as much as it is in the giving and the celebrating, the laughter and the smiles.

If you’ve had a day of demands: never underestimate what you are investing in your kids each day through the miracle of your humanness. You don’t need to be perfect: you just need to be you.

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The Diary of a (trying to be holy) Mum – review and GIVEAWAY!!!

When you write a blog, it’s inevitable that people start telling you to write a book. All very well, you say, but it’s a bit harder to come up with an idea that might actually sell. After all, a book has to be more than a group of disparate thoughts all fused together. (Unless you’re a celebrity, in which case people will buy this kind of book in the thousands.)

This has been my dilemma over the last year or two, and particularly in the last few months since taking the plunge to devote more time to writing. If this blog could ever be translated to a book that people might want to read, then it would probably be a sort-of diary, perhaps halfway between Bridget Jones and Adrian Plass, recounting the pressures of parenting whilst telling the funny stories and also trying to pursue discipleship through the haze of early…

…BINGO! Fiona Lloyd has written this book, and it says EXACTLY what I would want mine to say, and she has done it A BAZILLION times better than I would have done. One thing can now be crossed off the to-do list. (Which seems to grow rather than shrink. Anyone else have this experience?)

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I’ve had a wonderful March, indulging in The Diary of a (trying to be holy) Mum. It’s honestly been my guilty pleasure, and has had me laughing out loud at times, and moved to tears at others.

The diary follows the ups and downs of Becky Hudson, mum of three and wife of one, who struggles to keep afloat in the sea of tweenager tantrums, toddler mischief, and one little boy who’s very obsessed with Formula One – not to mention a husband who’s facing Ofsted, an overly judgemental mother-in-law, and a church leader who seems to think Becky has a gift for leading whole-church prayers.

It didn’t take me long to warm to Becky, and her group of friends, as they support each other through their various parenting struggles and joys. I saw so much of myself in her, and various other characters. If the author has resorted to a couple of stereotypes (a holier-than-thou church mum, and the aforementioned MIL), she’s quickly forgiven because of such brilliantly funny, sassy writing, and a plot which develops cleverly throughout the diary entries.

I don’t usually read Christian fiction, and I found the whole experience completely wonderful. Christian non-fiction can inspire in a radical, ‘things you hadn’t thought about before’ way – but Christian fiction, like this book, can inspire you in a much more down-to-earth, ‘getting alongside you’ way.

If you’re a Mum, you’ll love this. If you’re a Dad who likes reading Mum books, you’ll love it too. (If you don’t, then buy it for a Mum you know.) I would also go a step further to say that even if your kids are all grown-up, you have grandkids or great-grandkids – you will still love this book! I’ll bet it’ll take you back to your days as a younger mum, and have you nodding away as you chuckle into your cuppa.

If you’re keen to get to know Fiona Lloyd before investing in this book, you can read this brilliant piece she wrote for the Baptist Union on why (and how) churches should welcome parents, or listen to this wise and articulate podcast she recorded for Premier Radio. If you subscribe to Woman Alive, you may also be interested to read her article in the April issue.

But before you head off to order the book…enter this giveaway! The kind folk at Instant Apostle have offered TWO FREE BOOKS to two lucky readers! All you have to do (you’ll be getting to know the drill by now) is leave a comment below by 11pm on Wednesday 4th April. I’ll use a random number generator to pick two winners, and let you know the happy news pronto.

THE GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED. CONGRATS TO HEATHER AND REBECCA!

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Disclaimery bit: I reviewed my own copy of the book. All views are my own. Instant Apostle are kindly supplying the giveaway copies. But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t review books I think are no good. I don’t receive payment, and if I receive a free book myself I’ll always let you know.

Also, this blog contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I make a small commission at no extra cost to yourself. Thanks for your support.