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Not Sure What Pride Is About? Try Reading These…

Did you know that 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, which happened in June 1969 and are generally considered a major turning point in the civil rights movement that the LGBTQ+ Community is still fighting today? I’ll admit that I didn’t realise this until I started researching this post, which shows just how important it is that we all open our eyes and ears (and our minds!) to see and hear what is being shared by those within the LGBTQ+ Community during Pride Month and beyond.

As a heterosexual, cis-gendered person, I have lived in blissful ignorance of how hard the LGBTQ+ Community has had to fight over the years to come anywhere near equal rights, as well as how far we still have to go until equal rights are truly reached. I’ve never understood the hatred, fear, and bigotry held by so many, but I was completely blind to just how rife it truly was. That all changed over the past couple of years, as I began to follow a few bloggers who courageously put themselves out there to show people like me just what they faced and what I could do to help make a difference.

So this Pride Month, I wanted to share with you some links to posts that might help you understand the importance of Pride, why we need it, and how you can become an ally. And if you have any other links that you think I should read, please do let me know in the comments or via my contact form.

LGBTQ+ Bloggers and social media accounts

I’m going to start by listing the bloggers and instagrammers that I follow, who have opened my eyes to the challenges they face and encouraged me to try and become an ally. They have the most wonderful feeds about everyday family life, and are the kindest and most generous people you could ever hope to connect with.

Fizzy Peaches – Fizzy Peaches is written by Lyndsay and focuses on family life in Brighton. Lyndsay and her partner V have two young daughters, Violet and Pearl, and the blog is a wonderful document of their early years and the joys and challenges of parenting (which we can all relate to!). You can find them on instagram here.

LesBeMums – LesBeMums is written mainly by Kate, about life as a same-sex, two mum family. Kate and her wife Sharon are mums to T, whose beaming smile brightens up my feed every single day! But it is Kate’s posts about LGBT rights that always make me stop scrolling (particularly on Facebook) and truly pay attention to what is happening. If you follow just one new account this month, please make it this one!

Mark Loewen – Mark Loewen is the author of What Does a Princess Really Look Like? which focuses on who we are rather than what we look like. It all started because of a conversation with his daughter, when he realised they were both falling into the gender stereotypes of what boys and girls look like and how they behave. I can’t quite remember how I first started following Mark on instagram, but he quickly became one of my favourite people to follow, as his posts are so thoughtful and inspiring. He shares snippets of their life as a same-sex, two dad family, raising a daughter via open adoption. What I hadn’t realised, until looking for the link to his website for this post, was the intense journey he went on towards reaching this place in his life, including attending Conversion Therapy (which, as a Christian myself, breaks my heart that this even exists). Please do spend a bit of time today reading his personal story.

Meet The Wildes – Meet The Wildes is written by Amber, which she describes as “a modern love story about two women who fell in love, and the family they made together”. Amber and Kirsty have twin boys aged 4, twin girls aged 2, and a baby, and seeing their updates on instagram always makes my heart melt just a little. Amber writes so beautifully about both the joys and the challenges they face, and is always so honest about their journey. She is also genuinely one of the kindest people you could ever hope to meet. You can also follow Kirsty’s posts at The Little Wildes.

My Two Mums – My Two Mums is actually the first blog written by same-sex parents that I followed, and it was the honesty and openness of conversations that Kirsty and Clara displayed that first opened my eyes to how much I had to learn. They write a lot about their everyday adventures with their son, Monkey, as well as posting about the challenges they face and how we can all help to make the world a better place, where everybody feels safe to be who they are. I tend to follow them more on Twitter, where they regularly post updates and conversation starters.

These are, of course, just a tiny selection of LGBTQ+ bloggers and social media accounts, but I wanted to share them with you because they have all had a very big influence in my own life. You can easily find other blogs and accounts to follow by joining in the conversation online or looking at who others follow on lists such as this one.

What pride is, and what it is not

Pride Month is a celebration in many places, for sure, but it is also a reminder that we still have a long way to go. It is a call to action for all of us to work towards a time when we no longer need Pride Parades, because everybody is accepted just as they are. The fact that people even ask “when is Straight Pride?” shows just how ignorant we can be about our own privilege – we don’t need Straight Pride because we don’t have to try and justify who we are or live in fear of prejudice against us.

So Pride is an opportunity for us all to step up our game, to try to do better, and to work towards a kinder and more tolerant world. It’s not an opportunity for us to air our prejudices, cash in on a fast buck by creating rainbow coloured merchandise, or make mere token gestures and then forget all about it for the next eleven months. Here are a few posts that help show what Pride is and what it is not:

It’s Pride Month, Here’s What You Need To Know by CNN

Why we have LGBTQ Pride and not ‘Straight Pride’ by USA Today

How LGBTQ Pride Month became a branded holiday, and why that’s a problem by Vox

A Letter to the Marketing Team of… by LesBeMums

I don’t mind if brands profit from Pride – as long as the LGBT+ Community does first by The Independent Voices

Why We Need Pride

If you live in the UK like I do, I hope that you are aware of the protests against the No Outsiders programme that occurred earlier this year. The majority of the protests, from what I can gather, are based upon religious grounds. What bothers me the most about this is that, if you expect the Equalities Act 2010 to protect your right to live your life in line with your own religious beliefs and to have your religion taught in schools alongside others, then you also need to offer that exact same right to other people.

It’s not about whether you personally agree or disagree with it, it’s about providing children with the opportunity to explore and understand that everybody is different and that it is safe to be who you are, regardless of gender, race, religion, disability, or sexual orientation. 

As a Christian I am well aware that religious intolerance towards the LBGTQ+ Community is a problem, and I shall deal with that later in this post. But there is also intolerance amongst those who simply hold prejudices against those who are different to them, for no other reason than ignorance and fear. And that is why it is crucially important that we ensure that children are taught inclusive values from the youngest age.

It is entirely possible to teach this in age-appropriate ways at all levels of the school curriculum, providing a safe space for our children to grow up with confidence and security, no matter how they identify. We should want this for all our children, and for ourselves as adults, but we need to be aware that it is particularly important for those who may be feeling unseen, unaccepted, or even ostracised by society.

The fact that such protests are still happening in 2019, 50 years after the Stonewall Riots, is a damning indictment of how far we still have to go, and exactly why Pride is so important. Here are a few posts that highlight this far better than I ever could:

We exist and our children deserve visibility by My Two Mums

An Open Letter to Andrea Leadsom by Meet The Wildes

It’s Pride Month – And This Is Why We Need It by Scary Mommy

Why We Still Need Pride Parades – Institute for Policy Studies

Brunei Stoning: Which places have the death penalty for gay sex by the BBC Reality Check Team

Sexual Orientation Laws in the World (in map form) 2019 by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association

How You Can Be An Ally

Even when you know that you want to be an ally, it can be difficult knowing what to do or how to help, can’t it? This is true in any area of life where you are an outsider wanting to support a community facing things you will never have to face. But just because it might seem challenging at first, please don’t let that put you off trying.

The very best way to be an ally, in my experience, is to actually ask people what they need and how you can help. There’s absolutely no need to try and guess what is needed, especially when people are more than happy to answer any questions you may have. That being said, you don’t even need to ask to get started, because there are so many posts already out there about how you can become an ally. Here are just a few of them:

Come Out For LGBT and Be An Ally by Stonewall

5 Tips for Being a Good Ally by Psychology Today

Tips for Allies of Transgender People by GLAAD

A How-To Guide To Being An LGBTQ Ally by LesBeMums

What About Religious Intolerance?

As I mentioned earlier on in this post, prejudice against the LGBTQ+ Community based on religious intolerance is a big problem. I obviously cannot speak for those of other faiths, or even necessarily for others within my own religion, but as a Christian myself I find this really hard. The entire basis for my belief is in a loving God, one whose love is shown in the gospel accounts of Jesus who taught us to love one another, and to refuse to accept any domination system of our day which suggests that human laws (including religious ideologies) are above this ultimate love for each other.

Now, I appreciate that this isn’t necessarily the prevailing understanding of Jesus’ message and the gospel accounts of his life and teaching (or the accounts of the apostles). In fact I am very aware of this, because it was upon coming across extremely conservative and fundamental understandings of Christianity that made me run far away from the religion before I’d even had chance to properly explore it as a teenager. So I am in no way suggesting that this isn’t an issue, because it is.

But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t Christians who strongly object to the intolerance that exists within our religion. And this isn’t simply based on purely personal reasons, but because we believe that the Bible verses and religious reasons often given were never meant to be understood in the way they have been. I’ve touched upon this previously in a post about why I support the LGBTQ+ Community as a Christian, and I will continue to read and study the works of biblical scholars and theologians who help me to further understand the context for the scriptures and therefore how to better support those within the LGBTQ+ Community from within my own.

For now, I’d like to leave you with a few links which might help you out, if you’re ever faced with intolerance based upon Christian scripture or religious assumptions. I do hope that they help. And if you ever come across religious intolerance online and need somebody to support you in responding to it, please feel free to contact me (you can find me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, or send me a message via my contact form).

Jesus and Homosexuality by Paula Coppel

The Bible does not condemn “homosexuality”. Seriously, it doesn’t by Adam Nicholas Phillips

The Clobber Verses by Janet Edmonds

Shouting Into The Wind: Words From The Hearts of Christian Moms with LGBTQ Children (shared by John Pavlovitz)

Links to individual Posts, Articles, Studies & Documents by Serendipitydodah

I’m going to keep searching for links to add here, but I hope these are a good starting point for helping provide a response to anyone who tries to use the “Clobber Verses” to prop up their own prejudice. 

Not Sure What Pride Is About_ Try Reading These...

Celebrating Strong Female Characters

Friday 8th March is International Women’s Day, which is both an annual celebration of women’s achievements and a call for greater gender equality. As the mother of a son, I am very aware of the fact that he is growing up in a world which still treats men and women differently, and that his voice is crucial in helping to change that. Feminism isn’t just for women, and I am determined to help him understand that we all have a part to play in creating a better world. One way I can do this is by sharing books with him which have strong female characters, and I’d love to share some of these with you today.

Girl sitting on the floor reading a book

why strong female characters?

I’ve always been an avid reader, and during my teen years I could be found with my nose in a book most days. I’d read whilst having breakfast, during the lunch break at school, and in the evenings too. I loved immersing myself in other worlds, and literature was one of my strongest skills at school. There is just something magical about reading a book in which the characters become real, and in which you feel like you are right there with them. But even more exciting is when you find a character with whom you can relate, or who inspires you in some way.

When I was around the age of maybe 14 or 15, I randomly picked up a book from my sister’s bookcase called “Wild Magic“. The title really caught my attention, and I was hooked from the very first page. The protagonist, a teenage girl called Daine, was such a fascinating character to me. She had survived the loss of her family, gone through a time when it felt like she had lost her entire identity, and then through sheer stubbornness and willpower she found a new home.

The book was the first in a quartet (The Immortals series), and throughout the series Daine finds herself in the company of so many other strong female characters. There’s Onua, the Horse Mistress, who first gives her work. And there’s Alanna, the first female knight for centuries, who became the King’s Champion. And there’s the Queen herself, who set up The Queen’s Riders, who defend the land and go into battle just as frequently as the King’s Own guard. As an incredibly timid teenage girl, these characters were fascinating to me, and I longed to have their courage and strength, as well as their humour.

introducing tamora pierce, my favourite author

The Immortals series was my first discovery of Tamora Pierce‘s work, but I have since read several other works by her, all of which have strong female characters (and almost always as the main protagonist). Her first series, The Song of the Lionness, follows Alanna as she swaps places with her twin brother and pretends to be Alan, in order to complete knight training.

One of the most intriguing parts of this series, for me, was how many male characters supported her, once they found out the truth. First there was Corum, her manservant, who was in on it from the start. Then there was George, the King of the Thieves. And finally there were Prince Jonathan and his cousin Gary. Whilst Alanna was more the capable of completing the knight training (even though physically it was harder for her in many ways), the support of others made a massive difference. There’s even a brilliant scene in which she has her first period and panics as she has no idea what is going on. She sneaks into the city to ask George’s mother what she should do, and it’s really sweet to see her find a maternal ally in such a male-oriented world.

strong female characters in a man’s world

Alanna and Daine are not the only strong female characters Tamora Pierce has written, either. There’s Beka Cooper, an ancestor of George, who joins The Provost’s Guard in order to uphold the law. The work is dangerous, but the combination of her tenacity and intelligence help her to crack the toughest cases. And in Trickster’s Choice (and Trickster’s Queen) there’s Aly Cooper, daughter of Alanna and George, desperate to prove herself a capable spy. She ends up being abducted and sold into slavery, and yet still manages to earn trust, create a spy pack of her own, and uncover a threat.

But the one I found most intriguing was Kel, who in The Protector of The Small, becomes the first female to enter knight training since Alanna’s gender became known. In many ways she finds it harder than Alanna did, because knowing she is a girl from the start means that people are just waiting for her to fail. Alanna isn’t allowed to support her, in case people think Kel only succeeds because of additional support. And some of Kel’s teachers consistently choose not to see how talented she really is. She has some supporters along the way, but it isn’t until she is left in charge of what is thought of as a “safe space” away from the fighting, that people truly accept her importance. Because when that “safe space” becomes a key target, Kel keeps everyone safe.

What I love most about Tamora Pierce’s female characters is that they are all living in what it very much a “man’s world”. Over time they begin to change perceptions, but there is always resistance from some people, and even when the law is changed to create more equality (e.g. in allowing girls to train as knights), equality is still a long way off. This is true in our world today, but exploring it through a different lens somehow makes it seem clearer in many ways. It’s so easy to become accustomed to “the way things are” in our everyday lives, so seeing these themes in fiction always reminds me to look again.

the importance of strong female characters in children’s and young adult literature

As I mentioned before, I first came across the idea of strong female characters as a teenager. My childhood reading had consisted mostly of Enid Blyton books, and as lovely as they are they don’t have the most modern concept of what it means to be a woman, do they? So it really helped me to find these amazing characters during my teen years, when I was first discovering who I was as a girl, and who I wanted to be as a woman.

But as important as it is for girls to have these strong female characters they can relate to in the books they read, it is just as important for boys to see them too. As I mentioned at the start of this post, feminism isn’t just for women, it’s for men as well. We all have a part to play in creating a better world, in which men and women are equally valued. In fact, this year’s theme for International Women’s Day is Balance for Better, focusing on this very idea that we all need to work together on this.

Which is why I love the fact that there are some brilliantly written female characters in a wide range of books these days. I asked some friends and family if they could share with me their favourite female characters, and here’s who they came up with.

Hermione Granger (from Harry Potter by JK Rowling)

I’m pretty sure that most people know who Hermione Granger is, thanks to the popularity of both the Harry Potter books and the movie adaptions. She is a beautifully written female character. My friend Jen says, “Hermione Granger reminds me of Jane [Eyre]. Intelligent – almost to a fault, because books have become her comfort. You can always depend on books! A big heart she tries to pretend she doesn’t have because the structure of logic is ‘safe’. The courage to stand up for and fight for what she believes in.”

The thing I am always struck by when thinking about Hermione is that, whilst she is a supporting character rather than the main protagonist, she is as crucial to the success of defeating Voldemort as Harry himself. If it weren’t for Hermione’s intelligence and ability to stay calm in a crisis, Harry and Ron would probably have been killed long before the series ended, possibly many times over! It’s no wonder she has become a feminist literary icon over the past couple of decades.

Tiffany Aching (from Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett)

I asked my husband, Tim, if he could share any strong female characters he’s come across, and this was the first one that came to mind. Tiffany Aching is a young witch, who is befriended by the Nac Mac Feegle, who are a right rowdy bunch of tiny, blue men, who help her to go into Fairyland to save her little brother. She fights off the Queen of the Elves with a frying pan, of all things, and gains the approval of Granny Weatherwax, which is quite the accomplishment!

It’s interesting that the Tiffany Aching books were also the ones he recommended I read when first exploring Terry Pratchett’s Discworld – he obviously knows how much I love a good female character.

Princess/Doctor Pearl (from Zog by Julia Donaldson)

When I asked in a blogging group for recommendations of strong female characters, Jules from Pondering Parenthood reminded me of how much I love Princess Pearl from the Zog books. Here is a feisty female, who refuses to accept her role as a princess, and instead befriends a dragon and chooses to be a doctor instead.

“Don’t rescue me. I won’t go back to being a princess and prancing around the palace in a silly, frilly dress. I want to be a doctor and travel here and there, listening to people’s chests and giving them my care”. – Princess Pearl

I was delighted to discover the sequel, “Zog and the Flying Doctors,” and how even when forced back into her role as a princess, she still refuses to submit to what others think she should do. What a fantastic role model to find in a book aimed at the youngest of children. It’s never too young to start showing children that they don’t have to conform to outdated gender roles.

Jane Eyre (by CHarlotee Brontë)

My friend Amanda told me that her favourite female character is Jane Eyre. I have to admit that I’ve never read this book, because I tend not to enjoy more classical literature. So I looked it up on Goodreads, and discovered that Jane is a character who has an indomitable spirit, in a time when women were generally expected to simply accept their role in life.

Amanda says that Jane is her favourite character because, “she’s forgiving, and kind hearted but strong enough that she doesn’t give up on her beliefs or morals for a man, even the one she loves.” Now if that isn’t a role model for what it means to be a strong woman, then I don’t know what is!

jo march (from Little Women by Louisa M Alcott)

My sister-in-law, Amy, shared that her favourite female character is Jo from Little Women. This is another one of those books I’ve never read (see, I’m getting as much value from researching this blog post as anyone). But at least I know a little bit about Jo, because she’s one of those characters that people seem to really remember from their childhood!

Amy tells me that Jo is, “defiant and bold. She challenged expectations and was fiercely loyal.” These are all traits which inspire us to be uniquely ourselves, especially in a world which often demands that we stay within pre-defined expectations. And they also remind us that it is more than possible to be fierce and bold, without losing our love, compassion, and loyalty to others.

katniss Everdeen (from the hunger games by suzanne collins)

Another one from my friend Jen, who describes Katniss as, “similar to Jo March – fiercely loyal to her family, willing to do the things she is afraid of doing to protect them, and clever enough to take on any challenge.” I’ve got to admit, I haven’t read the Hunger Games either (I know, I have a lot of reading to catch up on, hey?) But having read the synopsis, I can see why she is considered a strong female character.

She volunteers to replace her sister in a televised fight to the death, only to then team up with another contender to defy attempts to make them kill each other. Who doesn’t love a character who finds a way to turn a potential enemy into an ally, and in doing so takes on the establishment which is the real enemy?

what about female characters who stick with us, even if not necessarily “strong”?

One of the more interesting conversations that came out of my request for favourite female characters, was that our favourite characters might not always appear to be “strong” in the conventional sense of the word. And yet, there is something about them which sticks with us. My friend Cheryl reminded me of this, when she chose Fuschia Groan from The Gormenghast Trilogy as her favourite female character.

I’ve not read the books (or see the TV adaption), so had no idea about the character, or her background. I did a little research, and it sounds as if she was terribly neglected as a child and, as a result, struggled with the relationships in her life. In many ways, this makes her more compelling, because often fictional characters overcome odds which many of us would struggle to deal with. Perhaps characters like Fuschia Groan remind us to question what “strength” looks like, to see it even within those who may appear at first glance to be quite weak?

As Cheryl writes, “I’m not really sure whether I’d describe her as strong or not, it’s just not the first thing that comes to mind when I think about her. Peake describes her as strong in a physical sense several times, but I think emotionally she’s quite vulnerable. She’s a very lonely person with depressive tendencies, who has been chronically neglected. I like that she doesn’t really fit in to any conventional female archetype. She’s very eccentric, passionate, loving, sometimes bratty though she grows up quite a bit. She lives in her own head a lot of the time. She’s not smart, but has more common sense and emotional intuition than the damn TV show gave her credit for.”

creating my own strong female character(s)

All of this has me thinking about how the characters I have loved have inspired the characters that I create myself. When I first started writing The Brethren (way back in 2010, before pregnancy and then the early years of parenting put it all on hold), I knew that I wanted to create a story with a strong female character as the protagonist. I particularly wanted it to be a strong teenage character, because that was what I found most influential in my own teen years.

When I read through that first draft, I can see that I had begun to develop a good lead character, but she still needed some work. She was a little too patient and, whilst she had moments of annoyance, she was far too forgiving of those around her. She was a bit of a pushover, to be honest. So as I work through each chapter, making edits, I am rewriting her with a bit more strength of character. And in some ways I think this reflects how I have personally grown over the past few years.

Back in 2010, I was still living a reasonably privileged life. I hadn’t experienced the financial insecurity and poverty that austerity would throw upon us. I hadn’t known what it was like to become so debilitated by health issues that I had to learn to find strength in my weakness. And I hadn’t experienced what it was like to lose friends over standing up for a cause that many would like to ignore. I was at best naive and at worst ignorant of the challenges faced by many in society, and seeing some of these first hand has made me all the more determined to explore them in real depth.

the importance of strong supporting characters

Which also means that some of the supporting characters in my novel are getting rewrites too. The female friend who has health issues, is being rewritten to show strength in weakness. The male friend who refuses to follow in his family’s military footsteps is getting a more fully-formed backstory. The military friend is becoming an unexpected ally. And the bad guy is being rewritten into the story in a charming and unexpected way. Because, at the end of the day, life is made up of so many different interesting characters, and nobody is simply a supporting character without a distinct story of their own.

I’m reminded of the supporting characters in the stories I love so much, and how it is they who help the strong female characters to grow into who they are meant to be. Often it is the friendships formed between characters which are the most compelling parts of the story. Just as it is the support that we give each other in life, which makes the world a better and more balanced place to live.

crossed legs on the floor, wearing red sneakers, with an open book on top

Joining Patreon – The Easy Way To Support Creators You Love

Today I want to talk a bit about Patreon, and how it is helping people like you and me support the creators they love, even with minimal time and funds. If you’ve never heard of Patreon before, the concept is both simple and brilliant! It provides a platform for Creators to access ongoing financial support from patrons, who commit to paying a certain amount per month to support their vision. This means that independent Creators can focus on doing what they’re best at, without worrying constantly about funding their work.

 

Patreon wordmark in navy

 

Of course, Patreon wouldn’t work at all if it didn’t have Patrons, which is why I wanted to talk to you a bit about the benefits of being a Patron today. I have been aware of Patreon for quite some time now, having seen some of my favourite yoga teachers sharing links to their own Patreon pages. But, as you know, money has been beyond tight for us this past year or two, and ongoing funding was something I simply couldn’t guarantee.

However, it was my birthday in April and I received more money from family than I had expected, and so once I had bought the things I really wanted/needed, I still had around £30 to spare. Instead of simply spending it on something I didn’t really need, I decided to put it aside so that I could cover the costs of funding someone for the next 12 months (by which point I’m hoping we’ll be a little bit more financially stable and able to carry on supporting the Creators I chose to support).

support your favourite creators for as little as $1 per month

Yes, you didn’t misread that – I’m supporting not just one, but two Creators on Patreon for a whole year for £30! Isn’t that amazing? £30 doesn’t sound like much, does it? But if just 10 people put that into the pot each year then it begins to add up. And, of course, other Patrons who are able to can choose to pay more per month, because Patreon offers tiered funding options to all Creators. Which means that people like me can become Patrons from as little as $1 per month (which is less than £1) for some Creators.

“But what’s in it for me?” I hear you say. Well, I’m glad you asked. As with most crowdfunding options available online these days, Patreon allows Creators to offer incentives to their Patrons, as a way of saying thank you for their support. Incentives can include things like behind-the-scenes footage, early release copies of content, and conference calls with the Creators. Incentives tend to increase with each tier, but even those of us offering just $1 per month get goodies just for turning up and supporting them.

support creators whose work you already admire

One of the best things for me about Patreon is that it enables me to support Creators I already love. The two that I chose to support (who I will talk about in a minute) are both yoga teachers, creating change one step at a time via free YouTube videos. I’ve benefited from having access to their channels, and love their vision to expand what they do beyond this medium. They both want to get out there and help others discover the joys of yoga, whilst continuing to provide free content (which, if it isn’t already obvious, may be free to the viewer but certainly isn’t free for them to create).

I am incredibly limited in what I can do at the moment (both physically and financially), so to be able to make a difference by adding to the pot in this way feels amazing. It really does take in the whole ethos of yoga as well, that simply showing up and doing what you can, even if that looks a millions miles away from what the teacher is able to do, is what is most important. By supporting these two creators, I am showing up in the best way that I can.

cosmic kids – the first creator i’m supporting

 

 

You’ve heard me talk about Cosmic Kids in the past, because we absolutely adore them and have done ever since we first came across their Star Wars adventure when Little Man was 3 years old.

I immediately published a post about his first experience of yoga (doesn’t he look so small?) and since then we have been thrilled to watch as Jaime and Martin expanded their video library, published four adventures books (amongst other things), and developed an amazing Teacher Training Course (which I have signed up for and plan to continue as my health improves).

We even had the absolute joy of attending Cosmic Kids Live and doing yoga with Jaime at Google HQ in 2015. That was actually the last time I managed to do a proper adventure with Little Man, and I almost didn’t apply for the chance to go as my health was already starting to fall into a quick decline. So I am doubly glad that we made such amazing memories that day, and whenever I’m asked what my favourite blogging opportunity has been, it is supporting Cosmic Kids as much as I’ve been able to.

But I still wanted to do more. I still wanted to be able to support them on an ongoing basis. So they were my first thought when I realised I had some money to invest in Patreon. Here’s what Jaime has to say about the difference your support can make:

I joined them on the Super Banana level, paying just $2 per month, which I set up through PayPal, so I could put the money for the year in there and not worry about it. This is their most popular tier, and it means I get access to exclusive news, behind-the-scenes footage, and video updates from Jaime.

If you’d like to support Cosmic Kids too, you can pledge to support them on Patreon here.

Holla with your dolla – The Second Creator I’m Supporting

Image of woman reaching to the sky in joy, saying "your life, your rules, make it matter"

Holla with Your Dolla was set up by Shiv and Ceemaj, who I originally found in 2015 when I first discovered Kundalini Yoga. Their Yoga to Feel Better, Beginners + Beyond Intro Class was my first real experience of Kundalini Yoga, and I was hooked from the very first moment.

I’d been to a yoga class in my teens with my dad, and had tried to practise it intermittently over the years since, but I’d never found anything that made me feel quite so in tune with my body! As you may know, I have the Hypermobile form of Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (hEDS). This is a genetic condition that affects the collagen in my body, causing joint pain and instability and issues with my Autonomic Nervous System. And in 2015 I was beginning to experience a rapid decline in my overall health and well-being, which was both terrifying and frustrating.

So finding a form of yoga which focused on a combination of movement, mantra, and mudras was pretty much life-changing for me, especially when taught by someone as down-to-earth as Shiv is. You only have to look at their YouTube channel – Shiv and Ceemaj The Feel Better Way – to see just how much they share with others about their life. There is a true openness and authenticity about the way they create their videos. Shiv recently told me that she’s a “one-take” kinda gal – they hit record, she shares what she needs to, and then they upload with minimal editing. In a world of heavily edited videos and photos, it’s so refreshing to see the all-too-human moments when she gets distracted or stumbles over some words. Because it reminds you that it’s okay to be who you are, in every single moment.

There are over 800 videos on their YouTube channel, and there really is something for everyone. There are 3 minute meditations, kriyas to help all kinds of issues we face in life, a whole Q&A series on Kundalini yoga, and general snippets from their life. Whatever you need at any given moment, you can be sure to find something to help on their channel. Which is why I was so delighted to be able to support Shiv and Ceemaj on Patreon too. They have a beautiful vision for creating change globally, starting with YOU. $1 really can make all the difference, and that’s why they called their campaign, “Holla with your Dolla”.  Here’s what Shiv has to say about it:

Isn’t that amazing? Can’t you just feel their passion for creating change and doing it together with you? And I have to tell you, they really do mean it when they talk about coming together as a community. Over the past few months I have had lots of wonderful little glimpses of what they’re up to via updates they share via Patreon. Even though I am on the lowest tier, I get access to so many things. Between the updates on Patreon and instagram, I feel like I have come to know Shiv so well. And the more I get to know her, the more I care about what she’s doing.

You really can make a difference with just $1. So why not head on over to Patreon to check out Holla with Your Dolla. If you join them you’ll even get your very own video welcome. They’re so much fun, and seem to get crazier with time. Here’s mine:

tHere’s a creator for everyone!

There are, of course, so many different creators you can support via Patreon. Just a quick glance at the “Explore Creators” page shows how varied the range of talent and focus areas are, so why not head on over today and see who you could support. It really is a wonderful feeling, to know that you’re helping to create real change with even the smallest amount of money.

Redefining Self-Worth - How I Found Freedom by Letting Go of Achievements and Valuing Who I Am

Redefining Self-Worth

I wanted to take a few moments today to reflect on the changes that have been happening in my life over the past few years. I don’t mean the external changes, although there have been plenty of those! I mean the internal changes that have helped me to look at my life from a whole new perspective, leading me to redefine my own sense of self-worth.

It feels almost impossible to know where to begin with this, because the way I view my life has changed in so many ways over the past few years. But I think the most logical place to start is in my teen years, when I first began to develop a warped sense of self-worth

Self-Worth from a High-Achiever’s Perspective

I’ve spent the vast majority of my life believing that my value came from the things I did, rather than simply who I am. As a naturally high-achiever at school, it seemed almost inevitable that this would happen. I got consistently good grades (often the highest in the class), and then I went on to study at one of the UK’s top universities. By the time I graduated, aged 22, my entire life had been about academic achievement. And yet, despite this, I never felt “good enough”.

Graduation Day University of Nottingham

It doesn’t make much sense, does it? I achieved so much as a teenager and in my early twenties, academically at least. You’d think that this would provide a solid foundation for confidence in my skills and abilities, but in reality the exact opposite was my experience.

I actually really struggled with self-worth a lot whilst at university, and when my dad asked me if I was finally proud of myself on my graduation day I honestly said that I wasn’t. I felt like I had completely bluffed my way through, and was a fraud.

And the thought of moving into employment terrified me, because I couldn’t ever see myself feeling confident enough to cope in the workplace. You see, for me, my self-worth had become so intrinsically linked with my achievements, I felt huge amounts of anxiety and fear over maintaining that high level of accomplishment. Anything less than “the best” felt like failure to me.

the ongoing impact of low self-worth

As a result, I did everything to avoid going into roles that might really challenge me. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my time working in childcare, retail, and student support. I’m a sociable person, and working in roles that involved meeting lots of people was lovely. But I never stayed anywhere long enough to advance up the career ladder. It didn’t matter that my employers could see my potential, giving me greater responsibility than my role actually required, I couldn’t see my worth.

And for most of my 20s I felt like I was just biding my time until I got married and had kids. The one thing I had always been sure about in my life was that I adored children and couldn’t wait to be a mother. I convinced myself that I wasn’t career driven or ambitious, I was just holding down a job until my real role in life would begin. So I was overjoyed when I fell pregnant in 2011, just a few months after our wedding. But my joy was short-lived.

Photo of pregnant mum and dad, back to back, with dad's belly sticking out like mum's bump

 

when life throws you a curveball, it’s easy to doubt yourself

As you may know, I suffered from Hyperemesis Gravidarum during my pregnancy. It was, quite honestly, sheer hell. I knew, without a doubt, that I couldn’t possibly face another pregnancy, because my first one almost broke me. But so did the decision never to have another child. I have never been so angry with God than I was during that time.

I remember crying through angry tears, asking why I had been made so maternally driven if I were only ever to be allowed one child. The one thing I had always felt so sure about, that I would devote years of my life to raising a young family, was suddenly snatched from me. And it broke my heart. I absolutely adored being a mother, it was everything I had ever dreamed of. But in my grief and confusion, my lack of self-worth started to seep into this area of my life too.

Any parent will tell you that having a baby is exhausting beyond belief. It feels relentless and scary, to be solely responsible for the welfare of this tiny being. And that’s before you even begin to look at other things that can make it even harder. We all have things we struggle with when we become parents. For me it was the combination of trying to recover from the trauma of my pregnancy whilst: caring for a baby who never slept; trying to deal with terrible issues with oversupply (which felt like my body was letting me down yet again); and supporting a husband who was beginning to suffer from depression. So, it’s not all that surprising that my thought process turned to beating myself up.

Mum and Baby cuddling

the destructive power of doubting yourself

I knew and trusted myself enough to know that I needed help to avoid spiralling out of control into a pit of despair, so I asked my doctor at my 6 week post-natal check for a referral for mental health support. I ended up having 7 months of CBT, and honestly I credit that with keeping my head above the water. But even with that, I still lacked the self-worth to follow my instincts and allow myself time to heal and process what had happened.

My inner chatter began to say things like, “why would you even believe you deserve to have more children when you’re already struggling with one?” and “what gives you the right to stay home and enjoy being with your child, when your husband is struggling so much at work?” I began to question everything, and whilst I look back on that first year with happy memories of sitting for hours just cherishing being home with my boy, I can see how I ended up taking the next steps that I did. Because I didn’t believe I deserved to enjoy being a stay-at-home-mum, nor did I feel like I was doing enough in my life. I felt like I needed to do more.

In a series of what I can now see were misguided, if well-intentioned, choices, I found myself pushed beyond my limit and close to a complete breakdown by the end of 2014. I returned to work when my son was just 15 months old, far sooner than I ever thought I would, and whilst I enjoyed the work immensely I also missed being with him more than I can say. At one point I ended up working two separate part-time jobs, and when one offered full-time hours I took it as it seemed easier than balancing two roles. But it was a role in which I felt incredibly isolated and which, due to the nature of the work tapping into my own personal trauma, almost broke me.

Screenshot of Amanda on Good Morning Britain

To any outside observer, 2014 should have been a high point in my career. My book was published and hit the top 10 for books in its genre on Amazon. I was interviewed live on national television. And I was working in a role that enabled me to support women all around the country. But I was falling apart inside in ways I had never, ever experienced before. And it was all because I hadn’t trusted myself enough to follow my instincts when they had repeatedly said, “this isn’t what you’re meant to be doing”.

sometimes the best lessons in life are the hardest to learn (because we resist them so much)

Near the end of 2014 I wrote a post called Warrior, because I felt like fighting was what I needed to do. But a few weeks later, in a moment of sheer desperation, I prayed to God in a way I’d never done before. I said, “I’ve tried everything, and I don’t know what I need to do any more. Please, you have to show me the way. It’s your turn now!” And I truly meant it.

I had spent so much time trying to figure out what I was supposed to do with my life, to give my life meaning, if I wasn’t meant to spend this part of my life raising babies. And I had found a purpose, no doubt about that. I had thrown myself wholeheartedly into campaigning for better awareness and care of Hyperemesis Gravidarum, so that one day no woman would have to make the same heart-wrenching choice never to have another baby as I had. But that wasn’t my purpose. That wasn’t what I was here for, and I was finally beginning to accept that.

But I was still very much caught up in the movement in a way that was deeply damaging for me, as well as for those I worked with. And I couldn’t see a way out. But, do you know what? Within moments of passing control over to God, I received the most overwhelming feeling of peace. It just washed right over me, and I heard the word, “Surrender“. And I knew that was what I was being asked to do. I wasn’t being asked to fight for (or against) anything, I simply had to surrender into it. And boy, did I surrender!

answered prayers often take us to places we could never have imagined

Within weeks of my prayer, I had been made redundant; been turned down at three separate interviews for being “over qualified”; and battled with a letting agency after our house move fell through unexpectedly. And yet, I felt nothing but quiet assurance that all would be well. I even began to think about trying to go it alone, finally finding the courage to look at my blog as a business opportunity, a chance to do what I was best at (communicate), rather than simply a hobby.

But in the end, I still didn’t trust myself enough to do that. I still felt as if that was something other people got to do, and it was silly of me to even contemplate the idea. Which is crazy, because it was around this time that one of my blog posts was chosen as one of the Blogger Keynotes at a blogging conference, and I got to read it in front of a room full of bloggers in June 2015. But still, I felt as if I wasn’t “good enough”.

Amanda with the founders of Britmums at Britmums Live 2015

So I eventually ended up in a part-time role, which I loved, but which was physically exhausting. My body had never really recovered from my pregnancy, all the symptoms connected to my EDS had increased, and my fatigue was at an all time high. I began to spend 3 days a week working, and the other 4 feeling like I had the flu. I could barely move, and began to get sick regularly on top. At the time I was gutted. I had thought I had finally said goodbye to the stress that had taken such a toll on my body.

But it was like my body was doing everything it could to make it impossible for me to continue ignoring the fact that I still wasn’t listening to my intuition. Every time I tried to find a purpose, things seemed to get immeasurably harder. I spent most of 2016 seeing multiple specialists to try and figure out what was wrong with me, and in the end I was given a diagnosis of Fibromyalgia.

life will keep sending you the same lesson until you get it

Even with this diagnosis, I still refused to stop and look at what I really needed to learn – self-worth. I left employment after 6 months on sick leave, but set myself up as a freelance VA and web support. I wouldn’t have dared dream of doing that until my sister-in-law asked me to do some work for her and suggested my skill-set was actually really valuable to other businesses. But with enough encouragement from her, along with two coaches I was lucky enough to work with (Pippa from Story of Mum, and Michelle Reeves), I took the plunge and set up Shortman Media.

My aim for the business was to build it up enough so that I could train Tim in the work I did, so that he could start working from home too. We knew his days in regular employment were numbered, and really wanted to avoid the UK Benefits System, which we knew was notoriously bad for supporting people like us. And for a while, it seemed as if this would work. During 2017 I managed to work with 6 different clients, and gained two amazing testimonials that boosted my confidence a bit.

But it wasn’t to last. By the end of 2017 I was working the absolute minimum hours (less than 10 per month), and even then I was struggling. And yet, despite knowing my health was in a rapid decline, I still had the most ridiculously ambitious plans for 2018.

when you “get it”, you really get it

I was still trying to “fix” my life, to find some purpose within the madness, so I didn’t have to face the fact that I needed help. So my body continued to send me messages I could not possibly ignore. I began suffering with migraines that lasted for 2 weeks every single month. I caught every virus going. I became practically housebound, barely leaving my house for the first quarter of 2018. I was literally reliant on others for pretty much everything.

And it was hard. Oh, boy, was it hard. I fought with feelings of guilt, and failure, as it just seemed to be one battle after another. The last 6 months of my life have felt like the darkest pit. And yet, once again, as I began to hit rock bottom I found my faith growing. I clung on to the hope that we would, one day, find our way out of this mess. And I began to realise that the only thing I could really do was focus on looking after myself.

Photo of Little Man smiling lovingly at me, as I rest in bed

I realised I couldn’t change what was happening to us externally, but I could change how I felt about it internally. I began trying to do things that eased my soul, and chose to trust that the Universe had my back. But it was hard. For instance, there were 3 weeks in which we were unable to bid on any council properties. This was then followed by several weeks when the only option were flats, which I knew without a doubt would be a terrible move for us.

There was one week when I really began to doubt myself and wonder if we should bid on a flat, just to get out of the house that had become almost prison-like to me. But I held faith, and lo and behold the very next week our dream bungalow became available. And even though it felt too risky to even dream we might get it, I just knew it was ours and felt like I was simply waiting for confirmation of what I already knew. And a week later, it really was ours!

letting go of the ego to find a true sense of self-worth

Of course, moving when you’re as ill as we are is far from easy. I had to swallow my pride over and over again, asking publicly for help with everything from decorating to doing tip runs. But do you know what I learned from this? I learned that people were more than happy to help, because they valued me for who I am, rather than what I could do. And it was a real revelation!

The more I asked, the more I received, and I began to see how truly blessed I am. In the moments when I felt like the biggest failure, I reached out for help instead of trying to hide my shame, and received so much support it was incredible. And it reminded me that, all along, I’ve been supported, I just didn’t want to believe it. Because I didn’t feel worthy. I felt like I hadn’t earned it.

But all that was changing. When I felt like I truly had nothing left to lose, I realised I had gained so much more than I could ever have imagined. And slowly, but surely, I began to redefine self-worth. I began to truly understand what it meant to honour yourself as worthy, just as you are. To “stop playing small” and fully embrace the beauty of who you are. I began to accept what I had written a few years ago, about us all being made to shine. And I began to trust myself again (or maybe, even, for the first time ever!)

when you trust yourself, you begin to find your way

This all brings me to the past few weeks, in which a huge amount of inner healing work has taken place. It all started with Rebecca Campbell’s new Work Your Light Oracle Deck, which I kept seeing on instagram.

I have several oracle decks already, and used to use them quite a lot. But in recent years I just haven’t felt connected to them at all. So it surprised me to be so attracted to this new deck, especially as the artwork was so different to what I would usually be drawn towards. After seeing it multiple times, and feeling a gut reaction to it every single time, I decided to trust my instinct and order it. And, wow, was that the best decision I have made in a very long time!

Work Your Light Oracle Cosmic Cross Spread

The deck itself is so incredibly beautiful, and the emphasis on the idea that You Are The Oracle really spoke to me. You can read about my first experience with the deck here, which in and of itself is incredible. I’d never shared anything quite so “New Age-y” so publicly before, and it felt really scary to open up that part of my life and express how much it means to me, especially as someone who also describes herself as a Progressive Christian.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve touched on this in the past, but I’ve never authentically shared how it fits into my own personal life, nor how important it is to me. And that felt like a terrifying thing to do. But it also felt so right. As I wrote in my instagram post, “I’m finding the courage to share all the aspects of my faith and spirituality. Because I do connect with both “New Age Spirituality” and Progressive Christianity. I truly believe they complement each other and do not have to be an “either, or” option when it comes to faith. This is my path, and I don’t want to hide it any more.”

finding the worth in your own, unique story

Thankfully, several people liked and commented on my post, giving me the added reassurance that it was safe to share my story in this way. And it opened up so many doors for me. Because, for the first time ever, I began to see the worth in my story and the power in sharing it openly.

I’ve been blogging since 2006, and right from the beginning I wanted to write about faith and spirituality and how beautiful it can be when it is truly inclusive. But as a 22 year old, I felt like I had no right to be writing about such things – what did I know about life?

So I began writing about things that seemed “blog-worthy”, based on the types of topics other bloggers were writing about. Things like homemaking, crafts, and parenting. But the truth is, that wasn’t what I needed to write about. I needed to write about faith. And I needed to write about it in the context of life itself.

By that, I mean, I didn’t need to have it all figured out, I simply needed to write authentically as life happened. Because there is power in being open and raw and vulnerable, especially in a world that is so hell-bent on aiming for perfection. My beauty lies in the unfiltered parts of my life. And my worth is based on who I am, not who the world wants me to be.

changing “only” to “Amazing”

And so, I began to simply write what was on my mind, rather than worrying about whether it was share-worthy. And I began to trust that it would find those who needed to read it. Because a few weeks ago, in what I can only describe as an inspired moment of clarity, I suddenly realised I had been looking at my blogging journey all wrong.

For many years, I’ve felt like a failure for blogging for so many years and still only having a fraction of the reach that other bloggers have. I felt bad that I get “only” 2,000 visits to my blog per month, that “only” 147 people follow me on Facebook, and that “only” 660 people follow me on instagram. But in that moment of clarity, I changed my “only” to “amazing”.

I realised that it is truly amazing that my blog is viewed 2,000 times per month, despite me doing pretty much no social media promotion whatsoever. And it is beyond amazing that people not only follow me on Facebook and instagram, but they also encourage and connect with me whenever I post, despite my posts being irregular and likely to be lost in such a fast-paced environment.

just share your story, that’s all that matters

I couldn’t possibly reach as many as I do people without my blog or social media. So it is a true blessing to be able to share my story in this way. And I’m beginning to see the true value in sharing it, no matter how many people read it.

Funnily enough, the Universe was determined to help me remember this, as I suddenly came across a video series by Gabby Bernstein, in which she encourages you to simply get out there and share your story. In her first video she even mentions someone who arranged a public talk and only one person turned up. And yet, after her talk that one person thanked her for such an incredible experience. If we simply share our story, the rest falls into place.

And so that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to share my story. I’m not going to worry about how long this post is, or whether it’s “of value” to anyone else. It’s of huge value to me, and reminds me that I’ve been sharing my story all along. It’s just, now I’m doing so with intention. Now I’m sharing it because I understand that it has value simply because it is true and authentic. And because of that, it is also healing.

This Is My Story. What is yours?

Picture of a woman smiling at the sky, with her arms stretched out behind her. The words Redefining Self-Worth - How I Found Freedom by Letting Go of Achievements and Valuing Who I Am are above her.

£5 note and three £1 coins

The True Cost of the UK Benefit System

Today I want to talk to you about the UK benefits system and how it is letting down the very people it is supposed to help. This isn’t my usual topic of conversation on the blog, so I hope you will give me the benefit of the doubt when I say this is a crucial conversation that we all need to be having.

I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a long time, but two things have stopped me. The first is fear of the negative reaction I may bring upon myself for writing this honestly. And the second is that I simply haven’t had the time or energy to do so, because I have been so busy trying to fight for the support we need whilst struggling with severe health issues. But after the week we’ve had, I’m making time to get this written.

what is going on with the uk benefit system?

I’m not even sure where to begin with this, because there are so many things happening within the benefits system at the moment. In fact it would be impossible to cover it all within one single blog post. But for the purposes of giving a short overview of where we find ourselves, here are some key facts and figures:

These are just four quick snapshots of what is happening within the benefit system at the moment, but they give a clear indication that something is terribly wrong. We are letting down children and those with health issues in a truly horrific way, whilst also engendering an attitude of suspicion and bitterness towards those who are on benefits. How have we reached a place where we look down upon those who are most in need, rather than supporting them?

the stigma of benefits

There is no denying it – there is a massive stigma attached to the idea of benefits. The charity Turn2Us published an in depth report about this very stigma, based on an independent Ipsos MORI survey carried out in 2012 and an analysis of media reports between 1995 and 2011. It is a long read, but there are two points that really stood out for me:

  1. Benefit stigma rests heavily on the perception that claimants are “undeserving”, and that claimants appear to be seen as less deserving now than they did 20 years ago.
  2. The media is often blamed for driving this stigma and, whilst there is some evidence of this, it is more important to note that there are specific ways in which this can occur. For instance, whilst the media shares both positive and negative representations of claimants, there is a distinct bias towards the negative view. And whilst negative coverage does not appear to be more prolific than it was in the late 90s, there seems to be more weight added to the “effort” that a claimant makes these days than in previous years.

I found the second of these points really quite profound. In the age of social media, it is easier to balance out the positive and negative views. However it is also far easier to be caught up in the idea that, “you can achieve anything, if only you put your mind to it!”

And it is an admirable sentiment, for sure. But how many of us can truly say that we have never faced a challenge that we simply couldn’t fix on our own? We all have areas we struggle with, times when we fall to our knees and need a helping hand. Whether it’s financial, relational, physical, or emotional, we all have our battles. And yet, because of this ideology that we should be able to cope on our own, we suffer in silence and expect others to do the same.

the benefit system exists for a reason

In 1942, William Beveridge published “Social Insurance and Allied Services” (known as the Beveridge Report), which set the stage for the post-War Welfare State. I’ve recently been rewatching Call The Midwife , and have been struck by the huge difference the Welfare State made in those post-war years and the decades that followed.

Social housing enabled so many families to move out of poverty and into homes that were safe and warm. And the NHS gave families access to healthcare that was free at the point of care. As a family who struggle with multiple health issues, we are constantly grateful for the fact we still have access to see a GP or consultant without worrying about financing such care.

It bothers me greatly that the NHS is being failed so badly by our government, to the point where its future is so uncertain. Just as the high levels of homelessness and families struggling to afford their rent worry me. I find it so difficult to understand how we have found ourselves in this place, where even working families are struggling to survive financially, and those who need support often aren’t able to access it.

we need to change the way we think about the world

And yet there’s a part of me that knows exactly how we got here. Looking back over the past 20 years, which is pretty much my teens and adult life, I can see just how often I was taught to believe it was possible to live a good life by working hard and being “responsible”.

I grew up with the belief that there were enough jobs to go around, and that you could easily keep a roof over your head and food on your table. So imagine my surprise when I graduated from university in 2006, struggled to get a job, and could barely afford rent even in a house share. The financial crisis in 2008, and the austerity measures that have damaged so many in our country have only made things worse. And yet we continue to cling to this idea that if only people tried harder, they would not need support.

Which is why I felt compelled to write our story, to show that those of us seeking support from the benefit system have not only worked unbelievably hard to stay out of a system that is downright cruel, we are also having to deal with the most awful treatment within it.

our story as a family with two disabled parents

Let me start by giving you a basic overview of the situation we currently find ourselves in, and why this is so important to me.

I’m Amanda, a 33 year old graduate and freelancer. My current health diagnoses include: Fibromyalgia; Endometriosis; Joint Hypermobility Syndrome; and Postural Hypotension. I also suffer from chronic migraines that can last for days, IBS, and eczema.

Tim is my husband. He is 36 and his current diagnoses include: Small Fibre Neuropathy, Fatty Liver, and Depression and Anxiety.

Our son is 6 years old and was recently diagnosed with Autism.

Tim and I are both currently out of work for health reasons. This is not something we chose – we have both tried incredibly hard to stay within work:

  • Over the past 10 years I have worked in numerous positions including: childcare; student support; tourism; PA; volunteer management; sales; and most recently as a freelance copywriter and VA. I even did a short stint as a dinnerlady whilst suffering from Hyperemesis Gravidarum during my pregnancy – if that isn’t a sign of how hard I have tried to work whilst suffering from debilitating symptoms then I don’t know what is!
  • Over the same 10 year period Tim has had 3 different careers – plumber, healthcare assistant, and admin assistant. He left plumbing when the pain in his hands and wrists became too much to continue in that line of work. He retrained as a healthcare assistant and worked in hospitals for almost 5 years before moving into an office based environment. This second career change came about because the shift work began to become too difficult to manage with his developing symptoms of Small Fibre Neuropathy. Unfortunately, despite multiple adjustments made at work, he lost his job last Summer due to the severity of his symptoms and the number of absences he had as a result.

As you can hopefully see from this, Tim and I have worked immeasurably hard over the years to remain in work. In fact, when I had to leave my final place of employment after 6 months of sick leave at the beginning of 2017, I set up my own business (Shortman Media) in an attempt to continue working around my health conditions.

I was determined to avoid having to apply for ESA, and had hoped to build up the business enough to eventually bring Tim on board as well. We knew his days were numbered in traditional employment and I wanted to find a way for us to continue to “pay our own way”. But the reality is that both of us are simply too ill right now to do that.

Since the beginning of 2018 I have barely left the house, other than to occasionally take our son to school. Some days I barely leave my bed, because the pain and fatigue and nausea is so bad. If Tim didn’t bring me food and drink I don’t know what I would do, because on my bad days I cannot cope with the stairs down to the kitchen. Even on good days I often have to go up on all fours because of the pain and instability in my hips and pelvis.

And whilst Tim is faring slightly better than I am, he is still struggling immensely. There are days when he wakes up vomiting from a combination of the pain and anxiety. There are days when the pain is so bad he can barely move, and he regularly cuts and burns himself due to sensory issues with his hands. And there are days when he cannot stop crying because of the awful situation we find ourselves in, and the battle we are facing simply to get the most basic of support.

We are doing our absolute best to support each other and keep our little family safe and emotionally stable throughout one of the hardest periods of our lives, but it is so hard. We are not new to this, we’ve been living with health issues for years. It’s just, right now, we need support to help us to rest, recover, and get back on track. But the very process of trying to get that support is actually making us more sick…

the benefit system is damaging those who are most in need

At present, we are surviving on a combination of ESA (for me), Child Tax Credits, Child Benefits, Housing Benefit, and Council Tax Reduction. Even with the best of budgeting intentions, this isn’t enough to make ends meet. Our rent alone is £540 per month (and due to go up to £555 next month) for a privately rented house that has had two major leaks within two years (I’m talking damage that required a whole new wall and ceiling, leaving us living in damp conditions whilst waiting for repairs!)

Thankfully I was put into the Support Group for ESA. But I was denied PIP last year. I could have taken it to appeal, but I was experiencing migraines that lasted for 10 days at a time, so I simply wasn’t well enough to do that within the month given. I have just reapplied, on the advice of Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB), but I thoroughly expect to have to go to appeal. They simply don’t accept how sick I am.

Tim, however, was denied ESA completely as the DWP found him “fit for work”. The decision letter actually states that they do not question that he is ill, but they see no reason why he could not find a job in a “modern office environment with reasonable adjustments.”

Now this, in itself, doesn’t sound that unreasonable, does it? But the fact of the matter is that Tim previously worked in a “modern office environment” and made all sorts of “reasonable adjustments” including specialised equipment and reducing his hours, but it still wasn’t enough to help him keep hold of that job. He was dismissed due to a high level of absence caused by his health conditions.

The DWP knows that he previously worked in an office environment and lost his job for health reasons less than a year ago. So the logic that says he should somehow be able to secure another job and miraculously find an adjustment that he missed in his last workplace is massively flawed. And yet that’s where we find ourselves.

On top of all of this, Tim has had the mobility aspect of PIP which he has been receiving for the past 3 years taken off him, despite the fact he is more ill now than he was 3 years ago when he was first assessed. How does that make sense?

This past week I have had to fill in his ESA appeal form and the mandatory reconsideration form for his PIP because the whole thing was too stressful for him. And when I say stressful, I mean I am seriously worried about his mental health and he’s due to see the GP again tomorrow.

Now here is where it gets hard for me, because in order to show you how damaging this system is, I have to share some of the darkest moments of our life. You see, over the past 3 years, Tim has had a couple of suicidal episodes. Twice I have had to try my absolute hardest to talk him down from the most harrowing place, trying to somehow get through to him that the world would not be better off without him. Because that’s honestly how he feels. There was also a time when he walked out of the house and I had absolutely no idea whether he was going to come back or not.

This is the level of depression and anxiety that he lives with, and yet despite being told this on numerous occasions the DWP seem to believe that he only suffers from “mild depression” and that finding him “fit for work” won’t have any serious implication to his health. To that I respond bullshit. There is no other way of saying it. If you can listen to a couple share experiences of suicidal episodes and then find that person to only be suffering from “mild” depression, then there is something deeply wrong with the system!

The DWP makes arbitrary decisions based on a flawed system

If you’ve never had to apply for either ESA or PIP then you probably have no idea how the system even works. So I want to give you a little bit of background. I’m going to focus specifically on PIP for this, but the ESA system has many similarities.

To start with, you have to call a number to start your claim. This is hugely terrifying for some people, and the process hasn’t even begun yet.

Then, you get sent a ridiculously long booklet you have to fill in (for PIP it is 15 questions) and you only have a few weeks to do it in. For people who are struggling healthwise, this is a mammoth task that is both exhausting and dehumanising.

The next step is a face-to-face assessment. This is carried out by someone with previous healthcare experience, but is basically a case of someone asking you a series of questions and typing the information that they feel is relevant onto a laptop.

But here’s the shocking part – the person who carries out the assessment and actually sees you in person is not the person who makes the decision regarding your claim. That is carried out by a “decision maker”, who may have absolutely no medical training whatsoever, and who has never met you.

the points based system fails to capture a range of conditions

The worst part of it all is that the system is set up to try and ensure as few people as possible are eligible for support. Just a cursory glance at the PIP descriptors shows how hard it is to qualify for even the most basic support (which requires you to score at least 8 points in either the daily living or mobility section).

Even though the DWP’s own guidance now states that these activities needs to be done reliably and to an acceptable standard, this is still open to huge interpretation. From what I have read, the term “reliably” should cover people like us who can do the activities, but doing so causes immense pain or fatigue, or takes us more than twice as long as somebody else. But my experience is that this isn’t always the case…

For instance, both my own refusal last year and Tim’s this year have stated that we do certain things (such as going to church and doing the school run) as proof that we are okay. Yet we have made it clear time and again that we have to rest for hours after the school run, and that doing so is incredibly painful.

We’ve also had our medications used against us. According to the DWP, I can’t possibly be in as much pain as I say I am because I do not take prescription painkillers that a lot of people with my conditions do. Except I told them I don’t take them as they make me too sick, and my Rheumatologist advised me not to take them. Tim received the same message, that he could only possibly be in “moderate pain”, despite taking the maximum doses of Pregablin and Tramadol, and having had to stop taking Amitriptyline and Oromorph due to side effects.

mental health is treated in the most appalling way

When it comes to the mental health side of things it gets even worse. The DWP seems to have absolutely no understanding of mental health, nor the severe impact that the system causes to those who are already suffering.

As I mentioned above, Tim is considered by them to have only “mild depression”, despite previous suicidal episodes and severe distress at present. This is because he was able to talk to the assessor and because he is only on a mild dose of antidepressants (again, because of negative side effects). I find this the most shocking of all, I think, and certainly the most distressing. Because I am the one trying to console my husband as he despairs at the state we are in and how much it feels like the world is against us.

I am actually generally a very positive person, I have my own periods of despair but my faith and natural optimism get me through most things. But even I am struggling mentally and emotionally with the burden we are facing right now, and the stigma that comes with the position we find ourselves in.

Nobody wants to be reliant on benefits. Nobody wants to have to spend every day worrying about how they’ll make ends meet and whether they’ll ever feel well again. And nobody ever wants to be treated like a second class citizen (which is putting it nicely).

I fear for the mental health of my husband right now. I fear that a day will come when it will all become just too much. And I feel guilty that there is absolutely nothing I can do to help him, because I’m too ill to fight the way we need to just to access the most basic of support. And nobody should ever have to feel guilty for needing support.

so let’s change the conversation, let’s support those in need…

If any of what I have written above has moved you in any way, please consider sharing this post with your friends and family. Let’s get the conversation started about the true cost of the benefit system in our country.

Let’s tackle the ongoing narrative that benefit fraud is a big problem and the current system is fair, because it isn’t. This brilliant article from The Huffington Post is a few years old now, but it is a great overview of how small benefit fraud is compared to other things such as tax fraud. It also shows how benefit fraud costs us less than 1% of the total cost of benefits and pensions. How have we blown it so out of proportion?

Well, a lot of it is due to the constant obsession with eliminating the budget deficit, which is actually harming our country. I’m not going to go into this in detail now, as there are people who understand it and can explain it far better than I can. To get you started, check out this brilliant article by The Guardian.

I feel like there is so much more I could say, but all I really wanted to do was to get the conversation started. My husband and I are currently in the heart of battle with this cruel system, and I won’t stop fighting until those in need start to get the support they deserve. Because it’s not just about us as individuals, it’s about us as a society. And I, for one, hope to build a kinder society for my child to grow up in!

help and support for claiming benefits

If you’re trying to access benefits, or want to know what help you may be able to access, please try some of the following places:

Citizens Advice
Benefits and Work
Turn2Us
Scope
Mind

Group of Women Together

The Power of Women

8th March is International Women’s Day, an annual event which celebrates “the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women”, as well as calling for greater awareness and movement towards gender equality in all areas of life. It’s a day which I have become increasingly aware of over the past few years, and today I wanted to mark it with a post about the power of women.

why focus on the power of women?

When I first started thinking about writing this post, I considered highlighting the areas in which I feel women are both disadvantaged and disempowered. To be honest, that might have been a quicker and easier post to write, because there are clearly many areas in which this happens. I mean, just look at the following facts:

  • The Gender Pay Gap is widening, with, “women in their 50s paid on average 18.6% less than their male colleagues”, whilst the gap for women in their 20s is now “five times greater than it was six years ago”.
  • The majority of working mothers have faced discrimination, “despite the legal protections that have been in place for the past 30 years.”
  • Two in Five women in the UK have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, with women being “three times more likely to have been seriously sexually assaulted” than men. Now, I want to add here that I am not dismissing the fact that men also experience sexual harassment. I think it is truly despicable that anybody should ever experience any kind of abuse or assault, and we need to work towards removing this threat for everybody! However, the point I’m trying to make here is that women are at greater risk than men.
  • Only 32% of current MPs in the UK are female. Admittedly this is a great increase on where we were two decades ago, but it still isn’t as close to a 50/50 divide as it could be.

These are quite sobering facts, especially when you consider that they relate to the UK where women have far greater rights than in some countries. However, it is possible to see advances being made in gender equality and, whilst we have a long way to go, I want to focus on the many amazing ways in which women are embracing their power to create change.

the tides are turning

I don’t know about you, but I feel like there has been this monumental change over the past year, particularly in the past few months. Movements such as the #MeToo and Time’s Up campaigns have united women around the globe to stand up for themselves and each other. For far too long, women have been betrayed by those who abused their power. They have been held down as victims, beaten by a system that made them afraid to speak out. And yet, suddenly, one voice turned into two, which doubled to four, and continued to grow exponentially until the power of women showed its beautiful strength in the form of solidarity.

Men and women came together to demand a better way of being. And that’s the beauty of the power of women – it is all-encompassing. Feminism isn’t about a battle between the genders; it isn’t a fight to be “better than”, rather it is a call to be equal. And once you hear her call, it’s hard to resist, because it is so beautiful. It speaks of a kinder, gentler, more balanced way of being. It nurtures all, and empowers everyone to speak out about injustice and demand a better way of life. Just look at how the #MeToo movement opened up the space for Brendan Fraser to speak about his own experience of abuse in the industry

i am woman, hear me roar

Group of Women Together

In the words of Helen Reddy, “I am woman, hear me roar in numbers too big to ignore, and I know too much to go back an’ pretend. ‘Cause I’ve heard it all before, and I’ve been down there on the floor, no one’s ever gonna keep me down again”. Every year more and more voices join the call for equality. Change is being made, little by little, and slowly we are creating a better world for ourselves and our children.

We’ve still got a long, long way to go, but when I look at how far we’ve come I feel blessed to be living in a time when people all around the globe are standing up and being counted. Social media, for all its faults, is providing a platform for change on an epic scale. International Women’s Day is trending across the major social media platforms today, as women embrace their power and use their voices to call for a better future. And it’s connecting women who wish to work together to enact the very change they wish to see in the world.

the power of women in action

Which brings me back to my aim for this post, to celebrate and highlight the power of women in action today. There are so many initiatives that empower women to smash gender stereotypes. These include (but are certainly not limited to) This Girl Can, Women in Science, and The International Women’s Day own campaign theme for this year, #PressforProgress.

But what I really want to do is share with you some of the smaller initiatives being created by individual women or small groups of women collaborating together to enact change within their own sphere of influence. Because what could be more inspiring that seeing the difference you can make with even the smallest changes? You don’t have to be a public figure or have lots of money and influence to have an impact. We all have an impact on the world, as these women show us so well…

one-to-one mentoring offer

Emily, who runs the hugely successful A Mummy Too, has decided to offer a year’s worth of mentoring to not one but 5 different bloggers this year…

authenticity over perfection

Ceri Gillett of This Welsh Mother and Aby Moore of You Baby Me Mummy launched the #SayNoToShiny campaign this year, aiming to collaborate with 1000 women online in the hope of impacting 1 million more women with their message. Their message? Our authentic selves are more important than so-called “perfection” that we often feel we need to strive for, especially on social media. Find out more here.

find ways to champion other women

Nyomi, who writes at Nomipalony and just happens to be one of my favourite bloggers, has written a post with 20 different ways in which you could champion other women. Do check it out!

share the gift of kindness to a stranger

Hannah, who runs the gorgeous shop Apples and Pips (and also writes at Budding Smiles), has created a wonderful Random Act of Kindness Scheme. Hannah and her “Kindness Tribe” are handing out gift vouchers and notes across the UK, to let parents know they’re doing a great job and that they are appreciated. Why not join Hannah or create your own Random Act of Kindness today…

explore herstory

Debbie from My Boys Club has written a thought-provoking post on how we can empower ourselves to create change by focusing on the women who have already made great change in our world. She starts by sharing 7 women who inspire her, and then goes on to introduce the idea of “Herstory”, which involves looking at history (which is often written from a male point of view) and finding the stories of women which may not have been told. Why not read Debbie’s post, and share the women who have inspired you…

Share The Joy – The Joy of Receiving

Welcome back to Share The Joy! Each month I shall be helping Christina to host this linky, and we’re both looking forward to reading all your joy-filled and positive posts. This month, I am focusing on the joy of receiving, which is something I have long struggled with…

Like many of you, I am a giver by nature. I love to give to others, whether that is time, money, or attention. But whilst that means that I naturally expect others to be okay with receiving my gifts to them, I have a hard time receiving things myself.

I don’t just mean I struggle to receive gifts (although this is a major challenge for me!) I actually really struggle to receive love and care, especially when I need it the most. Over the past few years I have become increasingly dependent on the support of others, as my health has plummeted dramatically. But the guilt and shame I feel over being unable to care for myself and those I love has caused me to feel unworthy of receiving. Do you ever feel like that?

a skewed perception of worth

I know that this comes from a skewed perception of my worth, and I’ve been working on this recently (as you can see in my previous post). I have this crazy idea that in order to receive something, I have to first give something of equal or greater value. And it’s crazy because I don’t expect that same kind of give and take when I give to others. So why do I feel it when someone wants to give to me?

I know, it makes no sense. But how often do our personal hang-ups make sense? Of course, none of this is made any easier by the fact that I have become so ill lately that I am reliant upon receiving help in most areas of my life. Whether it’s support from a listening ear, help keeping Little Man occupied on my worst days, or financial support to help make ends meet, I am learning how to receive with grace in abundance right now. And, wow, it is so hard!

re-framing the idea of receiving

We are taught, from a very young age, that we should be self-reliant, aren’t we? We’re told that if we only put our mind and energy into something, we can achieve it. We hear this very message from everyone: at school we’re told to “reach for the stars”; adverts urge us to aspire to “living a better life”; and social media is awash with people telling us how they got success and we can too!

And yet all of these messages forget to mention the one thing that always makes a difference – support from others. We might think we’re completely self-reliant and we can create whatever life we wish for, but the truth is that we all need something to help us get there. For some, like me, it might be help meeting very basic needs. But for others, it might be the support of a mentor, the meals cooked by a partner whilst they work late into the night on a new project, or even the word-of-mouth advertising from previous customers.

We all receive things from others every day. It might be as simple as a kind word, a piece of advice, or a pat on the back, but it’s all part of that act of receiving. And re-framing it within that context is really helping me to feel okay with receiving, even when it is something I feel totally unworthy of. After all, I might not be giving a lot back, but what I am giving (in my love for my family and friends, for instance) is all part of the give and take nature of life itself.

the joy of receiving with love and gratitude

Which is why, this month, I am focusing on receiving with both love and gratitude. I am incredibly blessed in my life, truly I am. I might struggle on a daily basis with my health and very basic things, but I have never felt unloved. In fact the exact opposite is what I feel – loved beyond measure. And instead of trying to justify why I get to be so loved when others aren’t so lucky, I am trying to be more grateful for what I receive.

And this includes the most beautiful gifts that keep coming my way from an anonymous sender. You may remember that last year I wrote about my Gifts from the Goddess (as I called them). Ever since January 2015, I have been receiving regular gifts without any kind of note as to who they are from.

It has to be someone who knows me, as they have been sent to two different addresses (we relocated in 2015) and are always very spiritual in nature. I’ve received 3 Earth Pathways Diaries; a magazine subscription to She Who Knows; a Tiana colouring book; a novel; an angel bowl; a CD; a DVD; an eco mug and herbal teas; another mug and a blessed sign; and most recently a stunning painting…

The Joy of Receiving - Goddess Painting Tiana Art 2018

I feel like this photo simply doesn’t do the painting justice. It is so beautiful in person, with the colours and highlights changing depending on the light source and your position in relation to it. But as you can see even in the photo, the painting is simply gorgeous.

the healing power in receiving

This painting, which stands at around 3ft in height, arrived just like all my other gifts. It was completely unexpected and had no message within it to tell me who it was from. It also arrived at the most perfect moment, as I was sitting in bed sobbing at how ill and weak I am right now. And in an instant my whole energy changed…

As we peeled back the protective packaging, my breath was taken away by the beauty within. I have seen prints of paintings by Tiana on our trips to Glastonbury, and even admired the large pieces of artwork within the Goddess Temple and Goddess House. But never could I have dreamed of having a piece of my own to hang in my home and gaze at every single day.

This past month I have been trying to sit and meditate with healing mantras every day. My experience has been that even if I cannot physically do more, simply sitting and focusing my energy on the breathwork, mudra (hand positions) and mantra is powerful. I feel the energy building up and can visualise it healing both myself and those around me. And this has only become even more powerful since being able to do so whilst sitting in the presence of this beautiful painting.

the gift of inspiration

Green is a healing colour, and when I shared the photo of the painting with friends online, everyone saw something slightly different. Some saw an Angel (Archangel Raphael in particular) – this is what Little Man sees in it too. Others saw a Goddess, Green Tara, Mother Mary, and even Eve.

This experience has shown me, more than anything else, just how powerful creative works can be in speaking to different people in different ways. It reminded me that one of my greatest gifts is my ability to create experiences and evoke emotions by weaving words in my own way.

By accepting the gift of another artist, I am inspired to go out and create my own works – they say it is in giving that we receive, but sometimes it is in receiving that we can finally give…

So this month I am celebrating the joy of receiving. And I’d love to hear from you about what gifts you have received and the impact they have had on your life. Do share your experiences in the comments below, I receive them all with love!


join in with share the joy

If you want to join in, it couldn’t be easier. Just follow the simple steps below:

1) Link up a creation that has brought you JOY – all genres are welcome, new or old favourites and as many links as you like!

2) Include the Share the Joy badge (below) or a text link back to this page in your own post.

3) Please comment on one of your hosts’ posts and a few others. Let’s Share the JOY through commenting as well as through our posts!

The linky will remain open for the entire month of February, and Christina and I will read and comment on them all. Don’t forget to tweet me @thefamilypatch with the URL to your post using the hashtag #sharethejoylinky so I can retweet it. You can also tag Christina at @LadybugHome1.

Feel free to invite your friends to join in – JOY is always better when it’s shared!

You can also subscribe to our mailing list here, to receive an email notification every time a new linky is published.

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Share The Joy Linky @ The Family Patch

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wordpress for beginners: a step-by-step guide

WordPress for Beginners (Part 1)- The Dashboard

Welcome to this new series – WordPress for Beginners. The idea for it came when I realised that I personally knew several people who are struggling to get to grips with WordPress. Some are fellow bloggers who wish to switch from another platform (such as Blogger), others are business owners who have outgrown the free sites offered by Weebly and Wix. All of them are finding the steep learning curve that comes when you first start with WordPress challenging, and so I decided to create a series for them.

wordpress for beginners: a step-by-step guide

wordpress for beginners: a step-by-step guide

I remember my own feeling of overwhelm when I first started using this platform, even though I’d been blogging for around 8 years by that point. It isn’t that WordPress is overly complicated – once you know how it works, it’s really very simple to use. No, the problem is that there is just so much to it. WordPress is such a powerful platform – there really are no limits to what you can achieve with it. But first, you have to find your way around.

Which is why I’ve decided to create this series with annotated screenshots and step-by-step instructions to help you get to grips with WordPress as quickly as possible. I hope to take the frustration away and replace it with a sense of satisfaction as you begin to discover the joys of using WordPress.

A series of 10 tutorials

As there is so much to learn when you first start using WordPress, I have broken it down into 10 easy to follow tutorials. This is the first, and the others will follow shortly.

  1. The Dashboard – Finding Your Way Around WordPress
  2. Themes – How to Choose and Customise A Theme
  3. The Page & Post Editor – Creating Your Content
  4. Plugins – How to Choose and Install Plugins
  5. Back-Ups and Updates – Keep Your Site Secure
  6. SEO and Yoast – Optimise Your Site with Help
  7. Widgets & Menus – Create Your Sidebar and Footer
  8. Settings – Fine Tune Your WordPress Experience
  9. Jetpack – Advantages of this WordPress Plugin
  10. Troubleshooting – Finding Support When You Need It

So, are you ready to get started with WordPress?

Wordpress for Beginners: a step-by-step guide - don't drown in confusion, follow my step-by-step guide (complete with annotated screenshots) which show you everything you need to get to grips with WordPress fast! Perfect for new bloggers, business owners, and those wanting to share their work online.

first things first…

This post relates to using the self-hosted wordpress.org rather than the free wordpress.com platform. It also assumes that you have already sorted out hosting and installed WordPress. If you haven’t already done this, you might like to try Salt and Light Solutions for your web hosting. They helped me to switch to WordPress back in 2014 and I have been very happy with their service ever since.

why start with the dashboard?

When I started to plan this series I realised that many of the WordPress for Beginner posts available on the web assume that you already know your way around WordPress. But unless you are familiar with the layout of the dashboard, telling you to “create a new post” will leave you wasting valuable time trying to find the right place. So I decided to start right at the beginning.

how to access the dashboard

To access the dashboard (which is the name given to the back end of your website), you need to log in first. To do this you need to visit yourURL/wp-admin or yourURL/login. You will see the following screen.

Wordpress for Beginners Series Part 1 WordPress.org login screen

You will have chosen (or been sent) your username and password when WordPress was first installed on your web host. It is likely that this will have been emailed to you, however if not you can access it by logging into your web host, or contacting them for help finding it. Once you have it, I suggest using a system such as LastPass to securely save and remember your username and password, avoiding the need to re-enter it each time.

the three parts of the dashboard

Once you have logged in, you will see the dashboard. It is split into three distinct parts – the main screen, the sidebar, and the notification bar at the top of the screen. These are highlighted below.

Wordpress for Beginners - The Dashboard: The Main Screen; The Sidebar; The Notification Bar

The simplest way to describe this is that the main screen is where most of your work happens, whilst the sidebar acts like a menu allowing you to choose what shows in the main screen. The notification bar is pretty much what it says – a bar where you get notified of updates and comments that may need your attention. Let’s look at all three sections in turn.

the main screen

When you log in to WordPress for the very first time, you will most likely be welcomed by a section on the main screen helping you to create your first pieces of content and start setting your preferences, as shown below.

Wordpress for Beginners - Welcome Message on Main Screen of Dashboard

You could, simply work your way through those links and create the beginnings of your website. However, I’ve always preferred to understand where everything is right from the start (which probably explains why the welcome message is still showing on my screen years after I started using WordPress – I’ve ignored it so much that I’ve never thought to remove it!)

If you’re like me and want to find everything on the dashboard itself, rather than following the quick links offered on this front page, then keep reading. I’ll cover each section shortly.

But before we move completely from this main screen, I want to point out a few helpful shortcuts that you can find on this first page when you log in…

at a glance

Wordpress for Beginners - The Dashboard: Overview of Posts and Comments

This section highlighted here shows you a snapshot of your website as it currently stands. It’s a helpful little “at a glance” view of how many posts, pages, and comments you currently have published, as well as how many comments are currently waiting in moderation.

Quick Draft

Wordpress for Beginners - The Dashboard: Quick Draft

Another helpful little section is this one, which allows you to quickly type in a post title and ideas for a post and save it as a draft. I’ve never actually used this, as I tend to go straight to the post editor, but if you’ve logged in just to make some quick notes for future posts then this could be quite useful.

updates and messages

Wordpress for Beginners - The Dashboard: Updates and Messages

Finally, as you begin adding more content and plugins to your site, you will begin to see updates and messages on the main screen when you first log in. These are often from plugin creators asking for access to something, feedback from you as a user, or even offering you the chance to sign up to their newsletter.

Most of them I simply dismiss, but it’s always worth reading them properly before dismissing, as sometimes they are really important – such as when WordPress rolls out an update (more on this in part 5 of this series).

the sidebar

You may have noticed that in the image above there is a little blue box around the bottom part of the sidebar. This is because, as I was mentioning plugins in that image, I wanted to show you where access to most of the plugins you install will show up.

But what else is in the sidebar?

access to pages, posts, comments, and feedback

Wordpress for Beginners - The Dashboard: The Sidebar Content

Near the top of the sidebar is a section which provides access to the main content on your site. This is how you access the page and post editors, which allow you to create new content or edit content already published or in drafts. You can also access the comments left by your audience and, if you have a contact form installed, you can access submissions using the “feedback” link.

You’ll notice that my sidebar has lots of orange circles with numbers in them – this is how WordPress lets you know that there is something which needs your attention. When I took this screenshot I had 4 comments which needed moderating and a submission to my contact form.

access to site settings and tools

Wordpress for Beginners - The Dashboard: Settings and Tools

Slightly further down the sidebar is a section with links to you site’s appearance, plugins, users, tools, and settings. Appearance is where you change theme and customise your chosen theme. Plugins are additional bits of software which enhance your experience of WordPress (more on this in part 4 of this series). And users is where you can add people as authors and editors to the site, if you want others to be able to access your site and upload content.

Tools and settings are both really important in helping you to get your site to run exactly as you want it to. We’ll cover these more in part 7 of this series. For now, just have a look – a lot of it is self-explanatory.

The notification bar

Finally we have the notification bar at the top of the screen. It is a really helpful overview of the key things within WordPress.

Wordpress for Beginners: The Dashboard - The Notification Bar

From left to right you have:

The W sign – click on this to access WordPress support
Your Site Name – click on this to view your site
Arrows + Number – this is the number of updates you need to do, click on it to access them
Comment + Number – this is the number of comments awaiting moderation, click to access them
+ New – this is a shortcut to create a new page or post

(When you are in the page or post editor, you will also see a “view post” option, which you can click to see a preview of the post. Certain plugins, such as Yoast, will also show notifications on this bar).

Front End View

If you click to view your site, you’ll notice that the notification bar will still be visible, as shown below.

Wordpress for Beginners: The Dashboard - NOtification Bar Front End View

Click on your website name again to go back to the dashboard. Or click on the paintbrush and “customise” link to go directly to the theme customiser (more on this in part 2 of this series).

Finally, on the right hand side of the notification bar you’ll see your name and another comment box. Clicking on your name enables you to edit your profile or log out. The comment box let’s you know when someone has replied to a comment you have left on their site, if you have done so using your WordPress login (usually via having a WordPress.com account and linking it to your WordPress.org account via Jetpack – more on this in part 9 of this series).

To be perfectly honest with you, I tend to ignore the right hand side of the notification bar, so don’t worry too much about this.

and that’s it…

Congratulations – you now know your way around the WordPress dashboard. I hope that this has been a helpful introduction, and that you’ve had chance to click on different sections to explore them a bit. I’ll cover each of the main sections in more detail in the rest of the WordPress for Beginners series. If you’d like to be notified when a new post is published, you can subscribe to the blog via email using the link in my sidebar (to the right) or by adding my URL to your blog reader.

And if you’ve found this post helpful, please do help others to find it by sharing using the buttons below,. I’m always particularly grateful for shares on Pinterest. Thanks.

Share The Joy @ The Family Patch

Share The Joy Linky – The Joy of Community

Welcome to Share The Joy – your weekly dose of positivity and inspiration! Since September this year, I have been co-hosting the linky with three other wonderful bloggers (Carol, Christina, and Lizzie) over on my other blog. However earlier this month I decided to bring everything here to The Family Patch, and it’s wonderful to welcome you to the linky here for the very first time!

what is share the joy?

If you’ve never taken part in Share The Joy, then you’re in for a real treat. Bloggers from across the world and spanning all genres join in by sharing posts that have made them smile. It really is a lovely linky, with several bloggers linking up week after week, and new faces joining in as we begin to spread the word. If you’ve never taken part in a linky before, it’s really very simple – you simply add the URL to your chosen post (new, or old) in the link up at the bottom of this post, and then visit and comment on at least one other link added by another blogger. The aim is to share the joy far and wide, and find new blogs to enjoy along the way.

Share The Joy Linky Sharing My Joy

what has made me joyful this week?

This week has been a really challenging one for us in so many ways – Tim and I have both been very ill, jobs we needed to get done have been postponed (leading to an ever-growing to-do list), and life has just felt hard.

However this weekend reminded me of the wonderful community we are a part of, and what a difference that truly makes in our lives. We spent Saturday at our church’s Christmas Fair, and had a wonderful time chatting to friends whilst Little Man did his Christmas shopping. Oh, how it filled my heart with joy to watch him eagerly write out a list of people he wanted to buy presents for, and then choose presents and pay for them with his own money.

And then, today, we went to Cafe Church and had a wonderful time chatting with friends about our plans for the coming weeks, how we’re planning on going to the Advent Study, and whether we might make the Folk Carol Service on Christmas Eve and even the service on Christmas Morning. This time last year was a turning point in my faith journey, as I began to realise I could fit in here. And this year Tim really wants to take part too, so we really do feel like we have become a true part of the community, and that is so exciting to me.

My favourite post from last week’s linky

Of course, there’s another community I love as much as the one in my local area, and that’s the online community! One of the greatest joys of co-hosting this linky is reading through all the posts each week. When it is my turn to host I try to choose one which really stood out for me, even though it is really hard to choose just one sometimes.

Last week there was a post which really spoke to me, and that was the one by Rachel from Rachel Ridler: Mum on a Mission, about the app for her local council. Reading how Rachel is using the app to report issues to the council, providing the “eyes and ears” that they may not have in the local community, made me realise just how often we feel out of touch with those who run our towns, cities, and countries. How often do we feel like our voices do not matter, or there’s nothing we can do to change the situations where we live? Not very often, it seems, these days.

And so to see a local council trying to change that, and a local resident taking it on board and really running with it, made me smile. Do go have a look at Rachel’s post from last week if you can, to find out more about it and how she’s using it to try and support her local community.

Share The Joy Linky Co-Host Amanda

And so, to this week’s linky…

If you want to join in, it couldn’t be easier. Just follow the simple steps below:

1) Link up a creation that has brought you JOY – all genres are welcome, new or old favourites and as many links as you like!

2) Include the Share the Joy badge (below) or a text link back to this page in your own post.

3) Please comment on one of your hosts’ posts and a few others. Let’s Share the JOY through commenting as well as through our posts!

Share The Joy will run for a whole week until the following week’s linky is open, so you’ll never be too late to join in. Don’t forget to tweet me @thefamilypatch with the URL to your post using the hashtag #sharethejoylinky so I can retweet it. You can also tag my co-hosts, @AllSortsHere, @LadybugHome1, and @lizzie_roles.

Feel free to invite your friends to join in – JOY is always better when it’s shared!


Grab The Badge

Share The Joy Linky @ The Family Patch


Join The Linky


Advent at The North Pole Characters

Welcome to the New Look Family Patch!

Well, hello there! I cannot tell you how wonderful it is to have the new look Family Patch back up and running. Once I had made the decision to rebrand the site and integrate all the stuff from Spirit Kid Network into this single blog, I felt the creative flow suddenly burst open and I couldn’t wait to get writing again. But of course I had to do all the behind the scenes preparation first, and as I’m not in the best of health right now it has taken me near on two weeks to sort out the new look.

But it’s finally done and I am so happy to welcome you back to my little corner of the internet. What do you think to the new look? Do you like the logo? What about the choice of fonts and colours? And the layout? I’d love to hear your thoughts on it… I personally love it, but does it work for you? I love the clean design, the clear sections, and the fact it is all set up ready to let the content I create shine. Because that’s what it’s all about, right? I’m a writer and a creator and I want that to be the main focus here, not some fancy design that takes me forever to create and distracts me from what I love the most.

So what’s new?

Well, Tim and I are about to start recording the daily poems for my Advent at The North Pole series. This is something I created way back in 2009, but the videos I created then were terrible. They were recorded on my laptop webcam, so you can imagine the quality! I’ve wanted to redo them for years, and now I finally am. We’ve got the gorgeous characters below, a Christmassy backdrop, some festive music, and a better camera. The plan is to post a new video every day during Advent over on YouTube and we’d love to see you there.

Advent at The North Pole Daily Poem Video The Family Patchwhat else is new?

I’ve also got a free Activity Advent Calendar the whole family can enjoy. This is something I created last year for Spirit Kid Network, and we loved doing the activities within it. There are 24 colourful activity cards to print out and each one has a whole A4 page of supporting material to help you make the most of them. There are even blog posts and Pinterest boards to give you even more ideas for some of them. Oh, I am so excited about Christmas this year.

Free Activity Advent Calendar

You can download the Advent Activity Calendar over on my new and improved Freebies page. There you’ll find 5 different freebies that you can download directly from the website. There’s no need to sign up to any mailing list in order to download your copy – just click and enjoy!

it’s all about the love of blogging

All of these changes reflect the fact that I am finally rediscovering my love of blogging. I first discovered blogging way back in 2006, long before it became the big business it can be today. Back then it was all about sharing your heart, and nobody worried about social media strategies and marketing. Over the past few years I’ve allowed myself to feel like I wasn’t doing a very good job as a blogger because I wasn’t investing the same time on those things as other bloggers do.

And all of it has done nothing more than make me feel like a failure. It stifled my creativity, made me think that I had to separate my content into different sites, and even made me consider giving it all up. So to find myself back at this place where I am simply enjoying blogging for the sheer love of it is so amazing. I can feel the passion for it running through my veins as I type this, and I can’t wait to see what the next year brings.

But for now I’m going to end this post so I can get cracking with the videos. Have a wonderful week, everyone!


I’m linking up with my Share The Joy Co-Host Christina this week, as this post has certainly brought me a lot of joy! Do check out the #sharethejoylinky for your weekly dose of positivity and inspiration.

#sharethejoylinky LadybugHome.com