Counting my blessings

Since I started blogging just over a year ago, I’ve come across lots of other mummy bloggers online through various things like the BritMums bloggers network and the Keep Britain Breastfeeding Scavenger Hunt. I wouldn’t say that I know them well, but I do feel a connection with them as we write about similar topics, giving our own individual takes on them, and I was pleased to meet quite a few in person, albeit briefly, when I attended the BritMums live 2012 conference, which allowed me to put face to avatar.

Being part of this community is mainly fun and encouraging as people share their snippets of life with a family. But along with the smooth comes the rough, and recently there have been some tragic losses of life, a blogger herself and babies both inside and outside the womb. Hearing of these awful events has made me feel so sad, even though I don’t know the people involved as well as I know my close friends offline, because I see how they are families just like us – ordinary people living ordinary lives – and it makes me realise that bad things can happen to anyone.

When such tragic events happen, it makes me step back from the busyness of daily life, the getting on with things regardless, where there is a danger of taking things for granted; it makes me count my blessings. I usually don’t mind the current night feeding that much, but this week I’ve positively delighted in the opportunity to hold my baby close. Often cheeky toddler antics wear me out, but this week I’ve savoured the moments watching his wide grin and listening to his giggles. Although as parents of two young children we don’t get to spend much time alone together, this week I’ve made sure that Daddy gets the recognition, appreciation and affection that he deserves, particularly after he came off his bike one evening on the way home from work (he escaped with only a minor gash to the chin, a grazed knee and a few bruises).

As a Christian, when I count my blessings, I thank God because I believe that they come from Him. The question of why such awful things happen in this world is a tough one, and I don’t claim to have a definitive answer on it. But I do know a few things that help me at times of pain, either my own or seeing others’: first, Jesus Himself went through great suffering when He died on the cross, so He knows what it is like to experience extreme physical and psychological pain; second, Jesus never said that following Him would be easy, or that it would involve no suffering – in the Gospel of John (chapter 16, verse 33) Jesus was recorded as saying that we will have trouble in this world – but the good news is that He also said to take heart because He has overcome the world, through His death and resurrection, and anyone who believes in Him will have everlasting life with Him in Heaven after life in this world; …which leads onto point three…. I believe what God said through the writings of John in the book of Revelation (chapter 21, verse 4) in the Bible that in Heaven there will be no more tears, crying or pain. For these reasons, I know that death is something I do not fear, although of course it is a natural human emotion to feel sad and mourn loss of life from this world, and that is absolutely fine to do.

Although I have not experienced such tragic loss on the scale of some bloggers and their families recently, I have found the song ‘Blessed be Your Name’ by Matt Redmann helpful, both when I’m going through a tough time and feeling very down and when things are going well and I’m happy. I’ve given the lyrics below and a video at the end. The words remind me that there will be times when I’m on ‘a road marked with suffering and ‘there’s pain in the offering’, as well as times when ‘the sun’s shining down on me’ and the world’s all as it should be’, and that my attitude towards God is the same throughout – praising Him – because He is constant, unchanging, always there for me no matter what life throws at me. The last few lines of lyrics as shown below remind me that God gives and God takes away, and although it’s hard for me to see the bigger picture, I trust that He has a plan and everything that happens throughout eternity fits into that. My time on Earth, however long that turns out to be, is a small drop in the large ocean of eternal life. It may seem hard to praise when there’s such a strong feeling of pain or sadness inside, and in my experience it really is, but it’s times when I’ve felt the lowest that I’ve drawn closest to God and He has helped me get through it.

I find to hard to know what to say to those who are going through such difficult to deal with times, but I know there’s one thing I can do for them, and that’s pray for them.

Blessed be Your Name – by Matt Redman

Blessed Be Your Name
In the land that is plentiful
Where Your streams of abundance flow
Blessed be Your name

Blessed Be Your name
When I’m found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness
Blessed Be Your name

Every blessing You pour out
I’ll turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord
Still I will say

Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious name

Blessed be Your name
When the sun’s shining down on me
When the world’s ‘all as it should be’
Blessed be Your name

Blessed be Your name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there’s pain in the offering
Blessed be Your name

Every blessing You pour out
I’ll turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord
Still I will say

Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious name

You give and take away
You give and take away
My heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be Your name

Nominated: Best Pregnancy Blog in the MADs

A few days ago there was much excitement on twitter as the organisers of the MAD (Mum and Dad) blogger awards started to announce blogs which have so far been nominated in each category. As I saw the tweet for the Best Pregnancy Blog nominations come up on my feed, I thought I’d take a look, not because I thought my little blog would be on it, but because I’ve come across a few other pregnant bloggers and was curious to see if they were on there. Although I had been aware of the awards, I’m not really into asking for nominations, and I know a lot of my readers (who aren’t that numerous anyway compared to some blogs) aren’t bloggers themselves so probably wouldn’t be aware of the MADs. But to my astonishment my URL was listed! Someone must have liked my weekly bump diary enough to nominate me 🙂

In my very first blog post I talked about the reasons why I blog: primarily because I enjoy writing and wanted a place to do it regularly as well as writing one-off articles in parenting magazines published by charities (one of which I now edit), but also I like to see others read it and get something out of it – maybe it encourages them, makes them laugh (hmm maybe… if they share my slightly odd sense of humour), gives them a different perspective on something, or introduces them to something they’ve never heard of before. It is such an encouragement to know that my blog is being read and enjoyed. I often get comments from people I see face to face, saying how they liked my last post or found my post on such and such useful, and I get a few positive feedback comments on the blog, but I still think of my blog as quite small, by which I mean not very widely read. So to be nominated for an award, particularly in a category that I wrote regularly and enthusiastically on over this past year, gives me a great sense of achievement. I never set out to win anything, but it’s lovely to know that my writing is appreciated enough to be nominated.

So what happens now? Having checked out the MADs website, the nomination stage is still open until 18th February. After that the blogs with the most nominations will be shortlisted as finalists and then a winner will be voted on. Most of the voting is by bloggers, so being popular and widely read will help, but there will be one blog shortlisted in each category based on a panel of judges’ decision. I have no idea how much chance I have of getting through, but whatever happens, I’ll wear my ‘nominated’ badge with pride – look at it all colourful over there —>

Thank you to all of you who read my blog; without you it would just be me wittering on to myself!

MAD Blog Awards

Fun times and lots learnt at BritMums Live 2012

Finally I’m getting round to thinking and writing about what experienced at the BritMums Live 2012 blogging conference. I hope I’m not too late to join the linky….. I’ve seen (via twitter) so many people posting on there already. But as I said in my last post, the past week (and the week before the conference) have been incredibly busy with one thing and another, so I’ve only just had time to gather my thoughts and look back it. Luckily I have a pretty good memory, though pregnancy is clouding that somewhat, so I can still remember (most of) what I did.

Granny and Grandad kindly looked after Andrew on the Friday, and Daddy did his usual Andrew entertaining stint on Saturday until I arrived home in the evening. So a big thanks to all three of them for enabling me to go in the first place. This was the first time that I have ever been away from Andrew for more than a working day. I did miss him, and wouldn’t want to do it often, but there was so much going on that my mind was kept occupied.

I travelled down to London with Amanda from The Family Patch, and her husband kindly drove us so it was a much more restful journey for me than getting the train. After a slight hold up on the way (due to a gridlocked service station car park!) we arrived just after Ruby Wax’s talk had started. We decided to go straight into ‘The Hub’ rather than try and creep into her talk unnoticed – I’m never confident enough to do that and risk disturbing someone else’s view or ability to hear the talk. The Hub was a room with several stands run by reps from various companies which might be of interest to mums/dads. I soon got chatting to a few of them whose products interested me, and it was nice and quiet at that point so we could actually hear each other without shouting! I picked up a few freebies whilst chatting, like some Nurofen syringes (which are so handy because you can only get that stuff out of the bottle with that specific syringe and they’re easily misplaced around a toddler-inhabited flat), and a Lego goody bag with a Duplo set that’s perfect for Andrew right now (actually, they had run out of bags on the Friday, so I got one the day after, although I was told off by the Lego rep who I hadn’t spoken to the day before for just asking for a bag without talking to her first – cheeky her, I’d already done the chat!)

Duplo set in the Lego goody bag - perfect for Andrew, he loves it!

We managed to sneak into the main room between Ruby’s talk and the next one, which was a discussion between various top bloggers with different genres of blog about ‘British blogging now’. This was very interesting to hear, particularly as I’m still such a newbie and I’m still getting to know the blogosphere out there. They gave some useful tips from their ideas of what blogging is all about. The tea/coffee break that followed gave me a chance to find my way around the venue a bit more (e.g. locate the toilets – essential when you’re pregnant!) and be amazed at how posh it was! I’m not used to being called ‘Ma’am’ by a gentleman in a bowler hat as I’m welcomed through the door. For an old brewery, converted into a conference centre, it all looked very plush and sparkly. The cake during the break was yummy; the worst part was having to choose between all the different kinds which all sounded lovely.

Once I’d re-energised with a slice of cake, I headed to my first workshop of the conference. There was a choice of four, and I chose the one entitled ‘Crossing the Chasm – how to bring your blog to the next level’, which was given by a group of five top bloggers. I was a little unsure before going as to whether this would be relevant – would the ‘level’ they were going to talk about be the one I’m interested in getting to next? But this turned out to be one of the best workshops I attended. Rather cleverly they talked in general terms about improving your blog/blogging, as well as giving more specific tips for particular different stages of blogging that individuals in the audience might be at. I got a lot out of it, both things to work on in the future, and (perhaps more importantly) confirmation of things that I’m already doing right/well.

That brought me to the end of day one. It would have been nice to stay for the BiBs awards party, but I knew I had quite a trek across London in Friday rush hour to reach my overnight sleeping place (thanks to my brother and his girlfriend). As I’m still getting exhausted by early evening, I thought it would be unwise to stick around much longer with bump, and instead headed to the tube where I stuck bump out in the hope of getting a seat – nobody obliged, but I grabbed one quickly as someone got off a few stops down the line.

Day two started bright and breezy for me, because even without Andrew to wake me up, my own body managed to do it instead. I made the trek back east across central London, and turned up at about 8.20am, just a bit too late to join in with Bloggercise. I felt like I’d done my own muscle workout by lugging around my laptop and overnight bag all day though. A tasty almond pastry and a sit down in the again quiet Hub was just what I needed to prepare me for the long day ahead. The day started officially and promptly with a talk by Sarah Brown (as in the wife of the former Prime Minister) who does lots of work for charity through Piggy Bank Kids. She was an inspiring speaker, who honestly and genuinely spoke about her experience of finding her voice and making a difference. It was so refreshing to hear that these things don’t just happen overnight, even if you’re more publicly well-known than me, and that even as someone who now comes across so confidently as a speaker, she struggled massively with it to start with.

Then I went to another workshop on photography – how to use lighting and household objects to take better pictures for your blog. This was a fantastic presentation, given by Julia Boggio, professional photographer. She talked us through some pretty basic concepts of light, positioning and using various filters (like a white shower curtain or a little black dress) and compact mirrors to reflect light. I learnt a lot from this, and photography is something that I’d like to work on, particularly for my food shots, so I’ll try to put it into practice and achieve some good results. Not only was she an excellent and easy to follow speaker, but also she revealed at the end that she had taken all the amazing shots she showed us on her iPhone, to prove that you don’t need expensive specialist photographic equipment to get great photos. I was definitely inspired by this talk and, when I get around to it, will be constructing a white screen and transparent mat to start using for photos of objects.

A well-timed tea/coffee break (I don’t know why I’m calling it that when I didn’t drink any tea or coffee – still not fancying it for pregnancy-related reasons) meant that I could refuel with some yummy cake and visit the ladies. Talking of cake, I also came across the cupcake decorating competition at the Lego stand, so gave it a shot. Even if I didn’t win the grand prize of a load of Lego that I’m sure Andrew would have appreciated at some point, it was a tasty thing to come away with. It was then time for more workshops.

My decorated cupcake for the Lego competition

The second and third workshops of the day ran back to back, so there was a lot of info to take in before the lunch break. For the first, I chose ‘Blogging for the greater good – using your voice for a worthy cause’. This was a discussion, with time for questions from the floor afterwards, between some amazing bloggers who do great works for various charities. Although my blog isn’t officially involved with any charities at the moment, this is something that I have been thinking about recently, particularly since taking part in the Keep Britain Breastfeeding scavenger hunt. I do feel passionately about spreading the word about breastfeeding, and I wondered whether I could do more through the blog for this than what I’ve so far written. The speakers gave some very useful advice, were inspiring in what they had themselves achieved for others, and also confirmed some thoughts that I’d had myself, so it was just what I needed. I’ll have more of a think, again when I get time, about what I could do along these lines.

Blogging for the greater good workshop - some fab top bloggers telling us all about using your voice for a worthy cause

The next workshop I attended was completely different. It was more of a technical talk about Google+. I’d seen the g+ symbol on quite a few blogs, but had never had chance to figure out exactly what it was and why I would want to use it. The speakers talked us through how it is another social networking tool, but explained how it is different from facebook and twitter. As I had my laptop out anyway, I was convinced enough to register there and then. Admittedly I haven’t had a chance to do anything else with my account other than create it, but I hope to one day find some time to sit down for an hour or two and get it set up properly. With only 24 hours in a day and only a small fraction of that available for blogging, I have to prioritise what comes first. Although Google+ looks interesting and useful for connecting with other bloggers, there are currently more important things to do in my blogging time, like actually doing some writing, since that’s the bit I love 🙂

It was definitely time for a spot of lunch after that morning of mental action. I should have guessed that a venue as nice as that would provide more than a sandwich buffet for lunch. Indeed as I walked towards The Hub I could smell that lunch was more than cold finger food. Normally I would be impressed by this, but since I can’t stand the smell of cooking still, it was a turn off. But I knew I needed to eat something, so thought I should brave the queue and see what there was – maybe there was some bread or salad lurking in amongst the hot dishes? All the meat dishes looked too meaty for someone who doesn’t really eat meat, so I moved on to the veggie end of the table. The choices were something with goats cheese (not allowed), a korma curry (not a massive fan of korma anyway, but definitely not into curry at the mo) or a pasta thing with a cheese I hadn’t heard of. So I decided to ask the staff if the pasta was suitable for pregnancy. The lady was very helpful and went off to ask behind the scenes; after a few minutes came back the answer that the pasta wasn’t suitable, and the only thing I could have as a pregnant veggie was the korma. Great! I explained that I really wasn’t feeling well enough to want curry, and without hesitation she offered to get me a salad made up. Within 5 minutes appeared a salad – an ‘interesting’ combination of flavours I have to say, with rocket, watercress, olives and blueberries, and a chilli dressing. Olives have never been something that I’ve enjoyed eating, but I thought I would try one, just to confirm that I still didn’t like them. But I was surprised to discover that I actually liked it! Amazing what pregnancy does to your taste buds – I’ve completely gone off one of my previously favourite fruits, bananas, but now I like olives! So I ate up the whole salad willingly.

During my time waiting for the salad to appear, I bumped (pun intended) into the lovely Louise Lloyd of Team Lloyd who is also pregnant. She had tried to organise a bump meet-up for any pregnant mums there, but despite initial interest on twitter before the day, it only ended up being the two of us. I think there was just too much else going on. Nevermind, it was great to meet a fellow pregnant blogger, whose blog I really enjoy reading, in person. After I’d eaten and chatted to Louise and her friend Kelly, we all decided to enter a competition run by Acer to win an Android tablet. I was feeling quite left out as I seemed to be one of the only ones there who didn’t have an iPad or iPhone, so I thought it would be a handy prize if I won. To be in with a chance of winning you had to stand in a photo booth and pose how you wanted for four different photos. I decided to do some baby signs, thinking it was a bit different, but sadly I didn’t win.

Louise and me posing with our bumps (thanks to Kelly for the photo)
Babysigning in the photo booth: top left = cow, top right = dog, bottom left = cat, bottom right = sheep

Lunch was followed by two more workshops. The first one I chose was all about how to make money with your blog. It took me a while to decide on this because the other choices also looked relevant and interesting, and I don’t want to make money from my blog at the moment. But in the end I thought it would be useful to go along and find out more about making money, in case I decide this might be a route to go down in the future. Although the main speaker was very fast, I did manage to get enough info out of it to confirm that I don’t want to turn this blog into anything commercial. She said, as I thought, that parenting blogs are not usually the right place to make significant amounts of money, but that niche blogs that spin off from them can make quite a bit. For now blogging is something I do for fun, and I really don’t want to bombard my readers with adverts and marketing, because that would go against why I started doing it. But I might find in the future that I could look into making money from blogging and writing, using another blog or website set up for that purpose.

The last workshop was a rather disappointing choice, after all the other good ones that I’d been too. But I guess 5 out of 6 isn’t bad! The problem was that the title gave a false impression of what the speaker was going to talk about. It was called ‘Writing about your life for non-fiction and memoirs.’ I was interested to hear about this, because I’ve been saying for a while that maybe one day I’ll write a book about our breastfeeding (and early parenting) experience because we seemed to hit issues that aren’t widely written about beyond postnatal breastfeeding support group literature. However, the speaker only made points that were relevant if you were writing a biography (how is that ‘your life’?) or auto-biography, and focussed on researching genealogy and historic events. By that time I was exhausted anyway, so I switched off for most of it and just played around on t’internet (incidentally the wifi was soooo much faster there than our home ‘narrowband’ connection! – sorry Tom, it had to be said, again 🙂 )

This workshop was disappointing - the title here was misleading

Although there were a couple more things on the program for the evening, both I and Amanda were more keen to get back home to our boys and a good night’s sleep. So, after one last walk round the stands in The Hub, where I was drawn to the freshly-made bread from the Panasonic breadmaker and interested to know how I could be involved in testing/tasting in the future, we headed out of London. Oh, how could I nearly forget? – first we picked up a heavy goody bag full of bits and pieces to take home with us, most of which I or Andrew will find very useful. He’s already enjoyed the Tilda Kids risotto and Winnie the Pooh rice cakes (full marks on a review of taste from him!), and read the children’s books. Lugging in my goody bag, I arrived home to one very happy little (and one very happy big) boy who greeted me with a big hug. The littler one was all ready for bed, and we had a nice long milky snuggle to make up for the time we’d been apart.

Most of the goodies that I got in the BritMums goody bag, plus a few extras that I picked up at various workshops/stands
Andrew (hand on the right, sneaking into the picture) already spotted a Nurofen syringe and started chewing it! The syringe in itself is great for teething, even without the medicine!

Overall I’d say my experience of BritMumsLive was excellent, and I am definitely thinking of going back next year (though it may not work out with an 8 month old baby). I learnt a lot! The only problem I have now is finding enough time to put everything I heard, and frantically took notes on, into practice; that’ll be quite a slow process. My reason for going was primarily to hear some amazing bloggers, who have been around longer than I have, share their experiences and tips, and I wasn’t (generally) disappointed in the quality and quantity of what I heard. For me, the event wasn’t so much about who I could meet (both bloggers and companies), but I was happy that I did get to put a few faces to names and chat with speech rather than online media. I’m sure a lot of effort goes into organising an event that big, and I think BritMums pulled it off well. It seemed like there was something for everyone with all the different workshops, and if I go again, I hope some of the same or similar ones will run so that I can go to the ones I missed this time because they were on at the same time as another one that I chose. So that’s an overall positive review from me!

Am I up for a BiB award?

As I only entered the world of blogging a few months ago, I was very surprised to have been given The Liebster Blog award by a fellow mummy blogger a few weeks ago. As if that wasn’t enough of an encouragement that people actually like to read my blog, I was stunned when I read earlier this week that I’d been nominated for a BiB award – Brilliance in Blogging (not what Tom thought when he glanced at the BiB logo: he thought I’d been nominated for a Breast is Best award, as if it were some prize for breastfeeding my baby into his 2nd year of life!!). These brilliant blogging awards, which come in different categories, are (in the words of BritMums) ‘an opportunity to recognise the most creative, inventive and compelling blogging of the year!’ A fellow mummy blogger, Amanda over at The Family Patch, nominated me in the FRESH VOICES category. I’m very pleased that someone who writes so wonderfully herself thinks that my blog is worthy of an award. So here’s the badge that goes with the nomination.

Brilliance in Blogging: Fresh Voices 2012

I guess if one person thinks this mixed bag of all sorts deserves (in BritMums’ words) to be celebrated as a newbie in the blogging world, with content, pictures, video and voice that makes the rest of the bloggers take notice, then it’s just possible that others would nominate me. So if you agree that my blog fits the description of a FRESH VOICE as I’ve just given, please add your nomination by clicking on the badge in this post or on the sidebar. I’m up for a BiB award, if others think so too.

What happens then? Well, from now until 15th March, we bloggers nominate our favourite bloggers in 12 categories. I still need to do this, so I must get my skates on (no wait, I’d only fall over, I’m hopeless at skating….probably best to put some flippers on or something). One thing is for sure, I’ll be nominating Amanda in the INSPIRE category – why don’t you check out her blog yourself if you haven’t already? Then all the responses will be gathered together and BritMums will make a short-list, so everyone can vote for their favourite in the list. Finally the winners will be announced at BritMums Live! in June. Having just booked my ticket to this, I’m very excited to be going and picking up lots of tips for how to improve my blogging as a total novice. I’m very much looking forward to it already. Let’s see what happens with the awards 🙂