28 February 2013

The Shack - William P. Young

February's Old Duck's book was The Shack by William P. Young. I borrowed it from my local library.

This book was nothing short of profound.

I am so thankful that I read this book.

As I thought through the things I was thankful for with respect to this book, I realised that it all circled around one particular person. This person has unknowingly had a deep impact on my life. It was this person who told me about the playgroup I now attend through which I have, both directly and indirectly, met some of my closest friends, including MissyMoo3's (17 months) Godmothers. This person is also a part of the Old Ducks Bookclub, and suggested The Shack. I am thankful that she suggested it and for the journey it took me on.

The book is unapologetically spiritual. However, even if you're not into that, any person with a heart couldn't not be moved by this book in some way. Particularly if that person is a parent. Even more particularly if that person is a parent of a six-year-old daughter (like me). I read the first few chapters one night and cried myself to sleep. My heart was broken. I honestly did not know whether I would be able to carry on reading in the morning, how things could possibly improve from that low point at which I left the book. In some small way, I was taking on the protagonist's grief.

I am thankful that this same person and I had discussed the book earlier that day in the school car pick-up area. She had told me that, although parts were difficult, it was worth reading on and seeing it through to the end.

She was right. It was worth reading on.

At a "non-Jesus" level, it is a journey through grief towards a light at the end of the tunnel, towards a place where hope in life and healing might be found.

At a spiritual level, it was thought-provoking. As a Catholic whose faith is a constant ride of peaks and troughs, I identified with the doubts expressed throughout the book. What surprised me, though, was that I also felt it strengthening my faith, providing possible answers to some of my questions, and helping me to consider things from perspectives I have never encountered thus far in my life. It made sense.

The second day when I read through the rest of the book, I cried tears of joy. It was an emotional journey but one I am so thankful I was able to take.

So many people say "Things happen for a reason", but I have never truly believed that. I think that when things happen, you can learn from them, turn them into stepping-stones or "reasons", but that's something we do, not something which is done for us. I do believe that sometimes you find yourself in places or with people and you just know that it is exactly where you "should" be, but I don't believe that we are being led from one place to another all our lives - we just know when it's right. One of the things which really stood out for me was discussion of free will. I understood it and nodded in agreement at some of the things which were written. It helped me to see that not believing that things happen for a reason is not a sign of lack of faith ... which was comforting. At the same time, it reinforced to me that maybe I am where I "should" be.

There were so many ideas in there about relationships and how they all fit together, how they work in harmony, the things we do which strengthen our relationships with others and the things which can be destructive. In the last part of the book, it became exciting to see all the pieces and messages fitting together. It isn't just a story, it's a message. I know that if I read it over again in future, there will be so much more to get out of it.

If you're interested, have a read of it and/or check out the book's website: www.theshackbook.com.

I'll leave you with a quote from the book which I loved (p185): "Grace doesn't depend on suffering to exist, but where there is suffering you will find grace in many facets and colours."

Book: Paperback. Borrowed from my local library.
Rating: I've given this 5 stars on Goodreads.
One-liner: Amazing, moving, incredibly profound book.

Linking up for Thankful Thursday with Six by the Bay:

24 February 2013

My week in bullet points

It's that time of the week again - time for another set of bullet points! My social life went a little crazy this week, so some of the points are actually about me!

  • Monday morning I started volunteering at MissyMoo1's (6) school. Just changing readers over for half an hour - it's all I'm able to do there with everything else I have on, but it's nice to be able to do something. MissyMoo2 (3) and MissyMoo3 (16 months) had a nice sit together and nibbled on morning tea while I did it. They're good girls.
  • Tuesday night I went out for dinner with some friends. We do this once a month and it's so nice to have a chat without our kids or husbands around. Lots of laughs!
  • Thursday night was Old Ducks Book Club and we actually did talk about the book this time (among other things)! The book was The Shack by William P. Young - I'll be writing a post about this one soon - hopefully sometime this week.
  • Saturday night was Virtual Vodka Night on Twitter. Lot of fun! I'll post about this one later too.
  • Today MissyMoo1's friend had a birthday party at a nature reserve. Thankfully the sun came out today and we were able to enjoy a family day out. We even caught a critter show. All three MissyMoos were in on the action, patting reptiles, and MissyMoo1 and MissyMoo2 had a photo with a python wrapped around the two of them together - very cute. (Brave girls - I wouldn't have done it!)
Hope you've had a great week too! 
What did you get up to?

22 February 2013

Virtual Vodka Night

It started off as a silly Twitter conversation on the night of Australia Day:

Tweeter 1Just cracked my first beer. Its gluten free beer so I'm pretty sure I've completely *effed up whole Aussie Pride thing 
@FrancescaBlogsI'm having vodka and agrum. Does that make me russian??
Tweeter 1Perhaps... ;-)
Tweeter 2And vodka lime and lemonade ?
@FrancescaBlogsWe should find out when russia's national day is and have a virtual vodka together then :-)
Tweeter 1That sounds like fun! I'm in
Tweeter 2best idea I've heard in a long time !!!
@FrancescaBlogsLadies, Google tells me that it's Wed 12th June. Too far away.. 
@FrancescaBlogs: But it has "defender of the fatherland" day too on Sat 23rd Feb. Mark it in your diaries for a virtual vodka night 
Tweeter 2Sounds like a plan - will do !! 
Tweeter 1: Done!

So, here we are, the day is nigh and here is my proposal: a Twitter

Virtual Vodka Night!!!

When: Saturday 23 February 2013, 8:30pm (just to make sure the kids are asleep)
Where: Twitter
What do we do? Drink vodka and tweet!

I hope you can join me. If you do, be sure to say hello to me - I'm @FrancescaBlogs. Tell me what you're mixing your vodka with, where you are, who you're with etc. We'll use the hashtag #virtualvodkanight and see if it trends! And if it doesn't, no biggie, we'll have vodka :-)

Hope to "see" you there.

*This was edited by me to keep it clean :-)

17 February 2013

My week in bullet points

Another week, another set of bullet points! Here is a taste of what we've been up to this week - it has been a busy one:

  • Monday morning started off wonderfully with MissyMoo1 (6) receiving the first Courtesy Award for the year for her class: 

  • Following that award, it was the opening school liturgy for MissyMoo1's school. It was lovely to welcome the new school year, new school leaders and teachers and to hear the kids singing along. MissyMoo2 (3) and MissyMoo3 (16 month) were very well behaved, preoccupied with the contents of their lunchboxes!
  • Tuesday night was a meet the teacher session at school. It was good to have a chat and get some information on what the kids will be learning about this year, particularly as MissyMoo1 is in a 1/2 composite class this year.
  • On Thursday, MissyMoo1 had school photos, so in addition to being our most rushed morning with the drop-offs to three different places, grooming was a priority! It all worked out well.
  • Friday, I spent all morning at playgroup, as B and I went in early to sort through the storeroom to work out what toys we actually have there. It was great to get it done, even if we didn't make it to the craft cupboard - that will be another day in itself!
  • MissyMoo2 had a kidspeak gem for me this week:
MissyMoo2: I'm hungry
Me: Well come and have some more breakfast. Would you like Rice Bubbles?
MissyMoo2: No.
Me: What do you like?
MissyMoo23: Candy canes.
  • I read an amazing book. I'll blog about this later, after the Old Ducks have met to talk about it later this week.
  • We had a lovely morning at the playground this morning before the rain set in and we got to enjoy this view while the MissyMoos played: 

After a quiet weekend, the batteries are recharged. Bring on another week!

15 February 2013

When being organised isn't enough

My latest article on Aussie Mum Network is called "When Being Organised Isn't Enough". Check it out here: http://www.aussiemumnetwork.com/when-being-organised-isnt-enough.html


And here:

I have three daughters between the ages of one and six years. I work three days per week. My husband works five days per week. One child goes to school. One of those days in the week, all three children go to different places for school / pre-school / day care. We feel that the arrangements we have made suit our family, striking a good balance between current needs and longer term goals. So I’m not complaining about how busy life is.
But, we need to be organised to make this work.
I am great at writing schedules, and quite alright at sticking to them. I have even slotted my blogging into a schedule so that I can make the most out of my time while still allowing for free time to chill out. I keep a day-to-a-page diary and a weekly planner. We also have a monthly family calendar up on a wall in our home on which all activities are written in. Over time, we’ve figured out what works for us . Most things aren’t missed.
Sometimes, though, it is not enough. A list is only as complete as you make it; you can only fit so much into a set amount of time. Schedules may help to set your focus on what you need to do at a particular time, but there is a truth which must be universally acknowledged before relying on them.
Being organised is a tool, not a complete solution.
A teething toddler who won’t go to sleep does not know or care that you were supposed to start your ironing half an hour ago – she just needs some cuddles. A child who needs to talk about her day does not choose a free slot in your timetable – she needs a sympathetic ear. As a parent, I’m on call. Although I see being organised as an essential requirement, it is secondary to being flexible.
I admit that sometimes, in life’s day-to-day hectic pace, I lose sight of this. When you juggle, you’re bound to drop some balls. Sometimes being organised isn’t enough. Sometimes you just need to stop. Even if it is just a momentary pause. Is this wisdom? Maturity? I don’t know. All I know is that it is necessary. And worth it.

12 February 2013

Ash Wednesday

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, the season during which we prepare for Easter.

I am a little sad.

Tomorrow I won't be able to go to Ash Wednesday Mass. I am working and it's on during school time. School Masses are just beautiful. The church is packed, the kids are wonderful and the sound of their voices singing in unison is angelic. Now that we no longer have a Parish Priest, just one who comes and says Mass on weekends, we don't often have school Masses. Plenty of liturgies which are also lovely, but not Mass.

This year is also the first time in four years I won't have joined a lenten preparation prayer group. For the past three Lents, a group of us mums with young kids would get together once a week during Lent. The kids would play together and we would pray together, working our way through the Parish's lenten preparation program. It felt so ... healing ... to have time to sit together and just reflect on different topics, different ideas. I learned so much from those women and from myself. We're not doing it this year. I'm working more now. One of my dear friends from the group has moved away. I miss her.

But, this is a new chapter. Those stay-at-home mum days are still with me some of the time, just not all of the time. I can still prepare for Easter in my own way.

I used to give up chocolate and alcohol. But now I want to do things to try to be a better person - to improve rather than to sacrifice. Last year I tried giving up yelling at the kids. By 11am on Ash Wednesday I was trying again. And again the next day. But I tried. Quite a few times...

There's something in the bible, I can't remember the reference, but the gist is that you shouldn't go on about giving up stuff - you should be doing it to please God, not to show the people around you how holy you are. But I don't think there's any harm in telling you that this Lent I'm going to try harder at being kind - to my children, to my husband, to my extended family, friends and myself. Maybe in making an extra special effort during Lent, I can turn it into a natural, habitual way of living from Easter onwards.

10 February 2013

My week in bullet points

In keeping with my latest theme from the past two weeks, here is my week in bullet points.

A word of warning: we start the week off talking about poo (a mother's prerogative).

  • MissyMoo3 (16 months) did a poo on the potty not once, but twice this week! We're not toilet training her, but she usually tells us when she has done one or when she is about to do one (a cute little voice saying "poo"). So I dusted off the potty and brought it back out into use. She looks chuffed when she sits on it and even gave us a result a couple of times. I'm happy to take any nappies that don't need to be changed!
  • This week I've noticed how much of a spongeMissyMoo2 (3) is with learning. She's always been a good talker, but this week three things about her just blew me away:
    • She asked me to read a child's book in Italian a few words at a time so she could repeat the words. She repeated the sounds really well - sounded like a little Italian!
    • She knows most of the words to most songs playing on the radio at the moment. As soon as the radio goes on in the car, she just starts singing.
    • She counted to 27 the other day at the supermarket without missing any numbers. She had said she wanted to count the steps from the library to the supermarket as we walked down them. To my astonishment, she didn't miss a beat!
  • We ran out of bread Friday morning - an example of how working Thursdays is still throwing me a bit on the home front. It will take some getting used to.
  • MissyMoo3 (16 months) didn't even make it to her room at day care before the tears started this week - it all began at the front door. She ate this week though, that's an improvement!
  • Hubby and I have stuck with our decision, although we might be stretching the timing on it a bit, so you might be reading blog posts on this later rather than sooner (how do you like the suspense?).
  • My blog reached 30,000 pageviews!
  • I did my first product review on the blog.

08 February 2013

Product Review: Personal Planner

Hi people, welcome to my first product review! Are you excited? If you didn't already catch it, you can read up on my stance on product reviews or view my page on the subject.

Personal Planner approached me recently and offered me a free personal planner so I could review their product here on my blog. Now I have seen a few other bloggers doing Personal Planner giveaways lately - I've deliberately not read them knowing this was in the pipeline and wanting to make sure my opinions were all my own.

As you know, I try to be organised. So for someone who buys their day-to-a-page A5 diary in September of the preceding year, an approach in January seemed a little late. I almost said no. But then I thought I'd give it a go, perhaps I could benefit from it in some way.

Right at the beginning, I was impressed. Why? Because it is a 12-month planner but it can cover any twelve month period ahead - whatever you choose. I chose to start at February, which now means I'll have the planner all the way through to the start of the next school year. 

There are quite a few designs and colours available. This is what mine looks like at the front:

They come in four different sizes ranging from $35 to $45 in price. If you speak Swedish or Danish, for example, the planner can be made in those languages - no Italian though, unfortunately ;-)

The outlook is a week to an opening. You can put in personal dates too if you like, although I didn't. In mine I've also got a pink plastic ruler in the spiral spine to keep my spot. I have found the paper to be really good quality, nice and thick and the graphics have turned out very well.

There are a lot of opportunities for personalising your planner. As well as cover and language, you can add content to a title page. Here's mine, which includes a quote I love:

To do lists, ideas lists, goals and/or free space are all available options per opening.

At the back of the planner there are also a number of options for fun (or useful, if you're boring!) things to add. I opted for a mixture of fun and boring: world maps for fun (even though I have no plans to go anywhere in the next 12 months) and an overview of 2013 and 2014 to help plan even further ahead.

I still use my A5 day-to-a-page diary - the planner simply doesn't have enough space for me to write all my daily lists and other content. But I don't really think that this is its purpose. I find that I am using it - even though I've only had it a week - for my appointments, routines and ideas. I am finding it useful to see my whole week laid out in front of me instead of one day at a time. I am happy to say that I think I will enjoy it, not only because of my love of stationery, but also to fill the gaps in my time-management.

For more info or if you're thinking about ordering one for yourself, check out Personal Planner's website.

Francesca Writes Disclaimers Here: No payment was received by me from Personal Planner for the purposes of this review. Personal Planner did provide me with a free personal planner to the value of $45 for the purposes of this review, which I am keeping, because I like it.

07 February 2013

Thankful Thursday: Decisiveness

For I don't know how long, Hubby and I have been making plans, discarding them, making new plans, discarding them, making newer plans, discarding them, reviving old plans and continuing the cycle.

In part, it's exciting. These are big decisions which will affect our lives and our quality of life, one way or another. It has also been quite tiring and frustrating, unsettling and disconcerting. We've been really wanting to be able to make a decision and stick to it.

Today I am thankful because we have made a decision (again). The difference is that this time we have stuck to it for a whole two weeks! It feels comforting to be able to see ourselves taking a particular path instead of being stuck at a crossroads (of our own making)

I won't go into detail now, because if we do ultimately stick with this decision, I'm sure it will be blog fodder for months to come! For now, I am just thankful for our current decisiveness, for a husband who is always doing his best for our family and for the ability to have these options in the first place which lead to our indecision.

Linking up for Thankful Thursday with Six by the Bay:

06 February 2013

My view on product reviews

I've never done a product review before, but that is about to change.

Before I introduce you to my inaugural product review later in the week, I wanted to clear the air about where I stand on monetising, product reviews and sponsored posts.

I have no problem with bloggers attempting to make money from doing something they enjoy. A lot of bloggers spend a lot of time and energy on their blog and good luck to them if they receive financial reward of some description in return.

Personally, I was initially hesitant about putting any type of advertising on my blog. My blog is personal and at first I thought of monetising as a kind of "selling out" of our stories. But then, as I began to spend more time on it and my readership widened, I thought "why not?". So I joined Nuffnang, effectively putting my hand up to have ads placed on my blog.

Now, this has hardly turned into a money-making machine, but as it's not the primary purpose of the blog and as I don't spend money on my blog, it's neither here nor there for me.

Recently I was approached to do a product giveaway with accompanying review. I thought long and hard about it, as I admit that sometimes my eyes glaze over when I see product reviews on other blogs - I don't read them too often, unless it's a product that I'm already interested in. I decided against the giveaway - it's a compliance minefield with different rules for different jurisdictions, and with a lawyer's practising certificate to maintain, I have no desire to put that or my professional reputation at risk by opening myself up to a potential breach. I did decide to go ahead with the product review, though, purely because I was interested in trying out the product and I thought - if it was as good as the company said it was - I would get a lot of use out of it. You'll find out soon :-)

I don't like blog posts which do product reviews when you don't realise it's a product review until the end or halfway through - it makes me feel a little cheated out of my time and as if I've been tricked into reading something which I may otherwise have chosen not to read. I get that it's an art / cool way of writing for some, but I'm not into it. So if I'm doing a product review, it will be in the heading of my blog post and tagged in "labels" as such.

I will not write an "ad" without first reviewing the product myself. I will not review products or services which are in conflict with my day job.

I've never been offered money to write a blog post about a product or service. If I was I would, again, think long and hard about it. Rest assured that no matter what I do in this space, I take my own integrity and, by extension, the integrity of my blog very seriously. Benefits - financial or gifts - will be disclosed in the review post and my opinion will never be swayed by receipt of such things.

(Note: I will be setting up a PR page on my blog with an abridged version of this post setting out my stance on product reviews)

05 February 2013

Francesca's Festa of Favourites - February 2013

Last month, I launched a monthly link up: Francesca's Festa of Favourites. It had a great response for a first-time link up, with 21 great posts added. You can read them here.

I've closed that link now, as it's no longer January, but never fear, the February link up is here!

So come and join in with 
Francesca's Festa of Favourites for February 
(and I thought last month's alliteration was good!)

If you're not sure what I'm on about, here's a recap: "Festa" in Italian means a celebration, a party. This link-up is a place where you can place links to your favourite posts in a given month, but here's the difference: they don't have to be posts you've written (although they can be). You can link to any post for the month that, for you, has been a must-read, that you're proud of, or that you think is funny.

What's the benefit? I'm lazy, so I hope that by the end of the month, it provides me with a summary of cool posts to read. If you're lazy, you can sponge off the list too :-) 

Now as well as being lazy, I'm also not into spending money on my blog, so I haven't used one of those super-dooper paid linky party tools, so this is a free one. A few people had trouble with it last month, but I've found that as long as you remember to have ".html" at the end of the URL, it usually works. (Let me know in the comments if you have trouble and I'll try to fix it). The disadvantage of the free one is that there are no thumbnails, so you'll need to be creative with your words to get people to want to click on the link!

So, here you are, any time through February, feel free to link up posts you love.

Welcome to Francesca's Festa of Favourites!!

04 February 2013

30,000 Pageviews

Over the weekend, this blog's all-time pageviews ticked over the 30,000 mark!

When the blog reached 20,000 pageviews three months ago, I wrote a statistics party post. I am completely blown away that it took almost three years to reach 20,000 pageviews, but that the blog has been viewed a further 10,000 times in only three months!

I'm not going to go hugely into stats in this post, but the statistician in me thought it might be fun to list the top 10 all-time page-viewing countries, with the linguist in me including a little message in their mother tongue.

  1. Australia: G'day Aussies. Thanks for readin' me yarns. I reckon it's bloody beautiful.
  2. United States: Hi ya'll. Thanks for reading my stories. It's been legen ... wait for it ... dary.
  3. Russia: Здравствуйте. Спасибо за чтение моих рассказов.
  4. United Kingdom: Hello chaps. I'm much obliged for your kind attention to my tales.
  5. Germany: Hallo. Vielen Dank dafür, meine Geschichten zu lesen.
  6. Philippines: Hello.Salamat sa iyo para sa pagbabasa ng aking mga kuwento.
  7. France: Bonjour. Merci de lire mes histoires.
  8. China: 你好。谢谢读我的故事。 
  9. Spain: Hola. Gracias por leer mis historias.
  10. India: हैलो है। मेरी कहानियों पढने के लिए धन्यवाद.

There are a few changes from the last statistics summary:
  • The Philippines has entered the charts at number 6;
  • France has dropped one place to 7th;
  • India has dropped three places to 10th;
  • China has entered the charts at number 8;
  • Spain has entered the charts at number 9;
  • Brazil, Japan and Canada have dropped out of the top 10;
  • Google translate has increased its contribution from five to six translations :-)
Happy page viewing!

03 February 2013

My week in bullet points

I found that last week's wrap up of the week just gone was a great way to keep track of what had been happening in our lives when time for writing long blog posts has been short.

I've been really appreciating this blog as a way of recording things that I might otherwise forget because of busy day-to-day living. I love making memories. I also love a bit of help in remembering them!

So to keep up with that, I'm doing it again. I've seen people do "my week in pictures" on instagram. I don't instagram though, for a couple of reasons, so I'm doing "my week in bullet points".

  • MissyMoo1 (6) started year 1. She said: "Year 1 is even better than kinder, mum!" And that's a huge statement, because kinder was pretty awesome.
  • MissyMoo2 (3) started pre-school. She had one casual day last year to try it out, but this was her first proper day there and she just loved it. No complaints there. She was asleep on the couch at 5:30pm though - it must have been a busy day!
  • I started my extra work day for the week. It went well, only one minor technological inconvenience, but overall it was very productive. It might also have been because it was the first week back at school, but I noticed the reduction in "home" time and finished the week off quite tired. I'm sure I'll get used to it though.
  • MissyMoo3 (16 months) had the dreaded return visit to day care. Let's just say, now that she knows I leave her there all day, she's not so keen. It might take a bit of getting used to.
  • Playgroup started back too, which MissyMoo2 was excited about. Coming back after those few weeks off over the holidays, I really noticed how MissyMoo3 has gone from being a baby there to being one of the kids running around and getting in amongst it.
  • We had friends over to visit who we try to catch up with a few times per year. Some wine was consumed :-)
  • I had newborn cuddles with my friend's five-day-old baby. My friend and I have known each other since we were seven years old and now we're sharing in the next generation - it's just wonderful.
Hope you had a good week too.

01 February 2013

What? 1993 was 20 years ago?

The other night I was watching a movie which was made in 1993.

I thought nothing of it, until I noticed a couple of actors I recognised in it  - they looked so young. I then got to wondering, just how long ago was this movie made?

20 years.

No way. I remember 1993. That was the year I started high school. That can't have been 20 years ago.

But it was. 

20 years ago, I felt so big - the eldest child in the family entering the next stage of schooling where teenagering awaited. 
20 years ago, I felt so small - a child surrounded by women.
20 years ago, I stepped into the orange carpeted corridors of the place which was to be like a second home for six years, wide-eyed, excited, nervous. 
20 years ago, I began a journey as a shy, quiet little girl to emerge six years later as a competent, confident young lady. 

Sometimes I still miss my hometown. The place and time I remember most vividly from living there is high school. I catch myself being a little nostalgic about it at times. But the realisation that this phase started 20 years ago made me stop and take note of how far removed I now am from that time in my life. I obviously know that I am far removed from the high school years - I've been to uni, started a career, gotten married, had three kids and I live in a different place now - but being in touch with a lot of schoolfriends through Facebook and seeing what they're up to in their everyday lives sometimes brings with it a kind of artificial proximity. 

But 20 years?
I felt old.
When I was younger, only older people said "That was 20 years ago". 
Now I'm one of them :-)
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