Determined?

My dad used to say, with some pride in his voice:

“There’s determined.

There’s stubborn.

And then there’s sheer bloody mindedness!”

And there was definite truth in his assertion of these family traits. If I’m honest, I take some mischievous pleasure in them myself. We both enjoyed being ‘fully signed up members of the Awkward Squad’ as he put it.

But later in life, it wasn’t stubbornness that caused Dad’s inflexibility, despite his attributing it to this intractable characteristic, but dementia.

When his balance deteriorated and he was prescribed a wheeled Zimmer frame, he didn’t use it for a long time. If reminded, he would repeat that he was just too stubborn. But the simple fact was that he forgot it was there. If it wasn’t in his eyeline, it didn’t exist. We would place it right next to his chair to get round this but he would tidy it away into a corner, just out of sight and, for him, out of mind.

It’s true that stubbornness di play a part. He railed against his loss of abilities. He had always helped others and he struggled being on the receiving end instead.

During one hospital admission, he chided me to go home as my boys would be needing their dinner. I gently reminded him that we didn’t need to worry about them as both now lived away from home. His heart wrenching reply was:

“I guess I’m the boy you have to worry about now.” Dementia is an awful disease. And whilst I’m grateful that it didn’t turn Dad into a monster, only returned him to a cheeky eleven year old boy, it still robbed him of so much. And not even sheer bloody mindedness could protect him from it.

Every week the Five Minute Friday community free write for limited time inspired by a given prompt word. It’s also a fantastically supportive groups for writers. You can find more inspirational writing here: Community – Five Minute Friday

Priorities, Habits, and Hope

What matters most to you?

It’s something I ask patients a lot, especially when they’ve been referred for fatigue management. The answers vary but the most common are usually around family and loved ones.

Where are you spending most energy and time?

That often garners a different answer. So much effort for patients goes into attending medical appointments. Or trying to maintain the same routine and activities they’ve done for much of their adult life.

The latter can be true for all of us. We keep going with a routine out of sheer habit.

Habits aren’t a bad thing, especially in terms of energy management. They save us having to actively think about everything we do, which would be exhausting. But they’re not helpful if they no longer suit our current circumstances, abilities, or priorities.

Maybe that’s where the start of a new year or new season can be helpful. It can give us thinking time. Time to consider if the things we are prioritising in terms of time and effort match what matters most to us or not. Time to consider what prioritising something more important might look like. Time to consider giving something up that isn’t of consequence. Time to consider embracing something that does. Time to consider building new habits and routines.

As Christians, we can also think about what God defines as important and whether our priorities and activities match His.

Jesus said:

“The first in importance is ‘Listen Israel: The Lord your God is one; so love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.’”

I wonder what loving God with all that you have and are looks like for you?

For me, I think it means trying to always start my day with God in prayer. It means committing myself to ongoing learning about Him and me and the world. It means continuing to listen out for His guidance and prompting in big and little things. It means reminding myself that I can be wrong and there may be a different way of seeing things. It means remembering all that He has done for me so far with gratitude and looking forward for all that He will do with hope and increasing trust. It means being challenged and stretched. It means the pain and joy of continuous growth.

The older I get, the more of a glorious adventure life with God seems. I look back and see a life that has been so much more than I ever imagined. Places and people I would never have pictured. Situations I would never have thought I could deal with. Virtues I never believed I could develop. Knowledge and understanding I never realised could be possible.

And so this glass-half-empty person looks forward with hope. Knowing I still have a lot of growing and learning to do, aware that I am still God’s improvement project, but still with hope. Because refocussing my priorities on Him has proved always the wisest and most beneficial thing to do.

Every week the Five Minute Friday community free write for limited time inspired by a given prompt word. It’s also a fantastically supportive groups for writers. You can find more inspirational writing here: Community – Five Minute Friday

Carol Service

We had our Boys’ Brigade carol service this week.

To be honest, I wasn’t in the best frame of mind for it.

With the rise in Covid infections, we’d considered cancelling it but the BB staff had differing opinions and the decision was left to me. I went round and round the pros and cons for days but finally decided on reminding people of the precautions in place and giving them the option of not attending if they didn’t feel happy to. I wished I could take that option – especially with a son (albeit adult and not at home) with Covid himself at the moment – but as captain I didn’t feel I had that choice.  And then one or two debated the decisions in place.

So I arrived with blood pressure already raised.

And then the boys:

One forgot to bring his prayer with him. But I’d anticipated this possibility and had saved a copy on my phone.

One was due to be presented with a Duke of Edinburgh’s award in the service. Usually very prompt, he hadn’t arrived. A quick phone call revealed he wasn’t coming. So the minister and I hastily dropped that from the service.

One, who had led writing prayers with other boys the previous week and taken them home to put together, simply didn’t turn up. Halfway through the service, I slipped to the back to ask another boy to move his prayers to the earlier slot for the absentee. And, at the minister’s behest, I spent the sermon writing notes for a new prayer on my phone.

I never feel quite in the right place for worship at BB services anyway, I think because I am always on duty to some degree: checking up, directing, encouraging, or stepping in for any problems. And this service had even more of that than most.

It didn’t feel like part of the Christmas experience I longed for.

But for one moment.

One lad had arrived with his mum and his 5 week old sister. They were sat behind me. And while we were singing O Come All Ye Faithful, I happened to glance back. As she cuddled and rocked her little one in time to the music, we sang ‘O come let us adore him’.

And it all made sense.

No Five Minute Friday this week but hope you enjoy this post anyway!

O Come Let Us BEHOLD Him

I’ve been listening to a new (to me) podcast on the way to work recently, called Commuter Bible. It’s basically an audio version of the Bible.  I suppose it grabbed my attention particularly because I caught it as it was working through John’s Gospel, for which I have a bit of a soft spot, having studied it at A level and wrestled with it since. And there was just something about hearing rather than reading that made me notice different things: the word play on ‘sent’ in the story of the man born blind, the different disciples’ nicknames, the weakness of Pontius Pilate and his political wriggling.

When I saw the Five Minute Friday prompt this week, the obvious link is to the Christmas story of angels, shepherds, and wise men coming to BEHOLD the baby Jesus. But the first thought that came to my mind, probably because I’ve recently listened to that account in John’s Gospel, was Pilate’s declaration:

“Behold the Man!”

It’s a very different image to behold.

No nostalgic view of a cute child cuddled up in his mother’s arms. No soft lambs or shiny treasures. No warm smells of baby skin and hay. No romantic starlight or glorious angel singing. No natural rush of love and worship.

Instead, here’s a grown man, a political troublemaker, a disturber of the peace, a threat. Here’s a man who doesn’t give easy answers and, when he chooses, doesn’t give answers at all. A difficult man. A frustrating man. Here’s a man exhausted from lack of sleep and a whipping with an iron stink of blood and sweat. Here’s a man forced into fancy dress and slapped around. A man much easier to hate or pity or dismiss.

It’s so easy to forget the cute baby will grow up to be this man.

It’s easy to romanticise the baby’s story in the first place, wrap it in misleading myths and tinsel.

How uncomplicated was his birth? How socially unacceptable to be an unmarried mother? How comforting the smell of animal manure nearby? How hygienic to be using an animal feed trough as a cot? What to make of the strange visitors with strange stories? And how to cope with the trauma of becoming refugees to escape a mass murder?

It’s easy to romanticise our idea of our own Christmas celebrations. And then end up gravely disappointed when we can’t be with family like in last year’s lockdown restrictions. Or struggling to cope with expectations of joyful celebrations when we are grieving lost ones. Or exhausted by all the demands of preparations and events leading up to the day itself.

Maybe we need to remember more often that Jesus’ life – the start and the end – was messy and difficult and altogether human.

Just like ours.

Our Christmas doesn’t need to be perfect. It just needs Christ.

Every week the Five Minute Friday community free write for limited time inspired by a given prompt word. It’s also a fantastically supportive groups for writers. You can find more inspirational writing here: Community – Five Minute Friday

Great Expectations

My pregnancies did not turn out as I had anticipated at all.

The problem was, I had fallen for the hype: nine months of glow and joy. What I got was illness, hospital admissions, and anxiety.

First time round the timing was out (I’d just changed jobs) and a long labour preceded a precarious birth. Carefully made plans for Number Two went awry when my waters broke early, in an evening when my husband couldn’t drive because he’d had a couple of beers and my parents (babysitters for Number One) were without a car. Hyperemesis both times put paid to our hopes for a bigger family.

Looking back, I tell funny stories about all this. And I would go through it all again for the purpose of bringing these two wonderful human beings into the world – they continue to be so worth all the pain and fear. It just didn’t work out how I thought it would.

I wonder if Mary went through something similar?

Before that angel turned up, did she have dreams of how pregnancy and motherhood would be?

Certainly, the timing couldn’t have been as she had expected. Nor was the conversation she had to have with her fiancé early on. And an arduous, hundred mile journey of around a week I’m sure wasn’t part of her plans. Nor, I’m certain, was giving birth without her mother and other familiar figures for support.

The Christmas song, ‘Mary Did You Know’ asks if she was aware in advance of her baby’s divine purpose and actions. I wonder if she was caught out by all the messy human implications?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=trW_lD9sBt0

But isn’t that typical of life? How many of us can look back on our lives and say that they have gone entirely according to plan? Woody Allen, adapting an old Yiddish proverb, said, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him about your plans.”

I don’t think God is a spoilsport. I think His plans for us are so much over and above what we can come up with. I can certainly witness to that when I look back at my life. As Jeremiah 29.11 says:

‘”I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”’

The amazing thing is that He can take ‘all things and intermingle them for good for those that love Him’ (Romans 8.28). So a mistimed pregnancy can produce a beautiful child. A miserable pregnancy can give insight into others’ suffering, developing our compassion. Being out of our depth can throw us onto God’s mercy and increase our trust in Him. The trick isn’t to stop making plans but to make sure we include God in them and ask to be included in His.

Every week the Five Minute Friday community free write for limited time inspired by a given prompt word. It’s also a fantastically supportive groups for writers. You can find more inspirational writing here: Community – Five Minute Friday

Puddings and Preparations

It’s that time of year again for preparing food in advance for Christmas. I’ve got fruit soaking in Earl Grey tea ready for the cake. We’re making Christmas Puddings in the hospice with patients. And I’ve acquired a very good selection of kilner jars for this season’s mincemeat. My cupboards are overflowing with dried fruit!

I love this time of year. It brings back memories of making puddings with my mum, using her handed down recipe from my great great grandmother, which I continue to make with my niece. First we made them for the church’s Christmas Bazaar cake stall. Then we took orders from extended family. Now I’ve shared it at work, using it as a therapeutic activity with patients and a fundraiser with staff.

One reason it’s such a successful recipe is that our family treats it like Trigger’s Broom (for those of you unfamiliar with TV programme Only Fools and Horses, this will explain: Beckham in Peckham – Only Fools and Horses | Comic Relief – YouTube). Guinness, Malibu, dried apricots, dried cranberries, fruit juices, whole almonds, candied peel, milk, and a host of other ingredients have made an appearance or been deliberately excluded according to the cook’s preference or family situation. My current version is vegan and teetotal but this year we’ll be trying out some new non-alcoholic spirits for flavour.

But one tradition never changes – we never make just one. This is always a recipe to be shared and given away.

The original recipe was for 14lbs of pudding – that’s 7 generous family sized puds! So it was designed for sharing. But even if we do the maths and make fewer, it’s always a communal experience.

The memory that stands out is in my mum’s final year, when my husband and I took all the ingredients to her nursing home one evening and made it one last time with her. But everyone in the lounge had a stir and a wish and the extras we made went to the staff who helped, who had never tasted a homemade version before. How wonderful it was for my mum, who lived her life giving out to others, to turn the tables and care for her carers.

Nourishment isn’t just in the physical food though, is it? It’s in the love behind the preparation. It’s in the generosity of giving away the finished product. It’s in the sharing of the experience itself. It’s in the laughter and help and kindness.

I see this often in reverse working in palliative care – how hard it is for family when a loved one’s illness progresses so they can no longer eat normally and turn down meals offered. To the carer it can feel like it’s not just the food being rejected.

Jesus knew this all too well too. No wonder He countered one temptation with:

“Man does not live by bread alone.”

But we mustn’t forget He also added:

“But on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

We all need physical nourishment. But we also need social and spiritual nourishment. Without all three we live at best a monochrome life or at worst we wither away.

And perhaps that’s the value of Advent. Just as we can prepare physical food ahead of the Big Day, so we can take this opportunity to consider how to nourish ourselves spiritually and communally.

Perhaps that means daily Bible readings using an Advent devotional (check out your local Christian bookshop or Lucy Rycroft has some great recommendations here: 20 Best Books to Read During Advent – The Hope-Filled Family (thehopefilledfamily.com)).  Perhaps it means going to church (physically or online) regularly. Perhaps it means doing a Reverse Advent Calendar (plenty of ideas here Reverse advent calendar: what is it and why should you make one? (goodto.com) but do check what they need and by when if you’re doing it for a local foodbank).

What will you do for nourishment this Advent? I’d love to hear in the Comments.

Every week the Five Minute Friday community free write for limited time inspired by a given prompt word. It’s also a fantastically supportive groups for writers. You can find more inspirational writing here: Community – Five Minute Friday

Hidden in Plain Sight

When I was a student, I spent a number of my vacations working in Christian camps for teenagers.  One early and particularly cold Easter, we were based in an old castle in Northumbria, miles from anywhere. Midweek, we travelled to Hexham to play a wide game in the morning and go swimming in the afternoon.

In the wide game, the kids had to search the town centre for leaders in disguise. When they found them, they exchanged an agreed question and answer and the leader signed their sheet. The person who found the most leaders in the agreed time won.

Adrian dressed up as a nun and wandered the grounds of Hexham Abbey. Jane became a fake tour guide complete with raised umbrella and megaphone, Paul a vicar, Jessie a juggling clown. John wore a dress suit and persuaded a local furniture shop to let him become a shop window dummy. Lacking the imagination or funds for such costumes, I simply went jogging in the local park in my track suit.

I was the only leader not to be found.

My pursuers were looking for something different, something more obvious, something that stood out in a weird or unusual way. Not something typical that looked like it belonged in the setting.

I sometimes wonder if our expectations of God can be like that?

We assume Him to be completely out of the ordinary. We presume He acts only by overruling the laws of nature. We hope for Him to speak unequivocally to us; an invisible booming voice and words written in fireworks across the sky. After all, isn’t He God?

It’s an age old attitude. The Athenians in St Pauls’ day had shrines to numerous Greek goods – and if you’ve read the Greek myths, you’ll be familiar with their outrageous antics: turning humans into animals or trees, withering all plant life at the loss of a daughter, driving a man so mad he murders his children, demanding human sacrifice.

But Paul describes to them the god of another of their shrines, a completely different kind of god, The God Nobody Knows:

“He made the entire human race and made the earth hospitable, with plenty of time and space for living so we could seek after God, and not just grope around in the dark but actually find Him. He doesn’t play hide and seek with us. He’s not remote; He’s near. We live and move in Him, can’t get away from Him!” (Acts 17.24-29 The Message)

Maybe that’s why God turned up in Jesus. God wants to be found. Jesus Himself said it:

“Ask and you’ll get; seek and you’ll find; knock and the door will open.”  (Luke 11.9 The Message)

It’s like those Where’s Wally/Waldo pictures – God’s in plain sight.

If only we look.

Every week the Five Minute Friday community free write for limited time inspired by a given prompt word. It’s also a fantastically supportive groups for writers. You can find more inspirational writing here: Community – Five Minute Friday

Our Father

I ought to be praying or writing a blog post, Lord, but instead I’m scrolling through the internet, looking for anti-squirrel bird-feeding tips, my neighbour’s house for sale, and how split wellies can he repaired or recycled.  I slept in this morning after a long drive, indulged in coffee and lunch out, then walked on a beach and luxuriated in peppermint hot chocolate and a pumpkin spiced brownie. Now I’m tired again and the inspiration and ideas that filled my head yesterday have washed away like seaweed in the tide. What I’d really like to do is curl up with a book, with my family around me in quiet companionship, until teatime.

But maybe I’m not so far away from praying after all.

I used to think it was saying set words, preferably in in a set pattern: things I messed up and am sorry for, things I’m thankful for, situations that need divine intervention. Lists basically – prayer was a set of To Do Lists for me and God.

Later I learned about the idea of being quiet to let God get a word in edgeways, even if it was difficult to hear Him at times. I found He spoke loudest through the Bible so I read it like a letter from a loved one as prayer became a more two way conversation. I found His voce in devotional books and experience of other Christians too.

During times of darkness I sat in absolute silence or raged at Him. I found Biblical phrases to throw down to Him in angry challenge to act in my situation or promises to cling to and repeat (to Him? To me?) in desperate hope that He would keep them. Sometimes I sat in the still light of a garden morning, seeing and hearing lessons in His creation around me, imagining Him sitting beside me in equal happy contemplation. Or I curled up in a cosy armchair with no words, burying myself in a sensation of His arms around me.

Prayer has become much more difficult for me to define.

I mean, I do aim to have a daily ‘quiet time’ or ‘devotional’ with God. I still study my Bible, read inspirational books, and try to keep a balance of thankfulness, examen, and petition. But prayer isn’t confined to a habit or a formula anymore.

“How should we pray?” asked Jesus’ disciples.

And He gave them a pattern of prayer in response. But that pattern started with a definition of a relationship: Our Father.

And I think of the relationship I had with my father: the wide ranging conversations on those long university road trips; the nights stargazing together; the afternoons of companionable reading; the achievement I felt from his encouragement to be adventurous; the twinkling humour of his stories and catchphrases.

Is it any wonder that my prayer life, my relationship with God, follows a similar model?

I sometimes wonder at that question from the disciples: how do we do prayer? It’s like asking how do we do family? How do we love someone and recognise they love us? How do we love?

And that’s what prayer comes down to in the end, I think. Not a set formula (although patterns can help us start) but spending time in God’s company. So He’s been right next to me, looking over my shoulder at social media, getting blown about on the beach, and enjoying the skill of great cooking. It’s a matter of remembering He’s there.

Every week the Five Minute Friday community free write for limited time inspired by a given prompt word. It’s also a fantastically supportive groups for writers. You can find more inspirational writing here: Community – Five Minute Friday

The Trials of Isabella M Smugge – an interview with the woman herself

No description available.

Hi everyone and welcome to this interview with ‘Britain’s Most Relatable Mum Designer’ (Gorgeous Homes), Issy Smugge, where we’ll be talking all things #greatexpectations from family life to awards nights, along with the latest #IssySmuggeSays release and her predictions for #upcomingtrends.

Welcome Issy and thanks for taking time out from your busy schedule.

Thank you Liz. Always lovely to chat and can I just ask where you got those mismatched metallic earrings? They are so on-trend!

Thank you, Issy – you know how much I love a bit of #vintagefinds and #upcycling.

 So, it’s been a year or so since you and I last met and a lot has happened in that time. Tell me, how is your adorable family and are you all still loving #countrylife?

As you know, we’re expecting an addition to the family in April which is terribly exciting. My three, Finn, Chloe and Elsie are at the local primary school (surprisingly good) and of course are doing extremely well. They’re so clever, although I do say it myself. My husband Johnnie and I are on a break at the moment, but co-parenting and communicating constantly. I have to say, Liz, I wasn’t sure how I’d take to country life, but since I made some lovely mum friends, I really enjoy it. I do miss the buzz of long lunches, spa weekends and the cultural scene which only London offers, but Suffolk has got under my perfectly moisturised skin #newbeginnings #suffolkgirl

Do you think you’ve changed in that time? And if so, how?

Liz, I have changed. Without a doubt. You may be surprised to hear this, but I think I was just a tiny bit snobbish when I first moved to the Old Rectory. I’ve learned that you shouldn’t judge books by their covers, that everyone has a story and that true friendship is worth investing in. I even go to church from time to time, and it’s not nearly as boring as I thought it would be! #everydaysaschoolday

I have heard there is a #bigevent coming up for you – a significant birthday (#Fabio40)! What are your plans for celebrating? Or has that handsome husband of yours (#JonnySmuggeswoon) got a big surprise up his sleeve for you? 

It’s the new 30, Liz, as you know! I’ve got lots of plans, naturally. I’m sure #JonnySmuggeswoon has got something up his elegantly tailored sleeve, the girls are talking about taking me out for a fancy meal in a gorgeous little fine dining country pub and I may even dash up to town to treat myself to a girlie shopping trip. As I always say, age is just a number, and when you spend as much time on self-care as I do, it’s something which is easy to keep at bay.

Family is obviously so important to you. Can you tell us a little about your own growing up and how that has influenced you as a mum?

Of course! My sister Suze and I lived in Kent in our lovely big house with Mummy, Daddy and our much-loved Nanny. Some of my happiest memories are of playing with our best friends, Penny and Minty Pryke-Darby, swinging on trees, riding our ponies and playing hide and seek in the garden. I went away to school at the age of seven, but of course I always came home for the holidays and had plenty of letters and tuck sent from home! I wouldn’t want you to think I was completely isolated at St Dymphna’s! Mummy ran a very successful interior design firm, Carobella, with her best friend Arabella Pryke-Darby and I’m sure that much of my success can be ascribed to her example. I must tell her that more often. Liz, our relationship hasn’t always been the easiest, and I’ve vowed to spend lots more quality time with my own children. Sadly, I lost my dear father at the age of twelve, and since I moved up to Suffolk, I’ve found myself thinking about him a great deal. I am so sad that my children never met him. Mummy and Daddy did what they thought was best for us and they gave me a great start in life. I think times have changed, though, and I really cherish the opportunity to build closer relationships with my own children and learn from them in turn #whoknew #issysmuggesaysgettoknowyourkids

And what about friends? What influence have your new friends away from the #brightlightsbigcity had on you? And you on them? Having a major social media star in their midst must be such a benefit to them and the community.

Well my goodness, when I left London, I thought I had a wonderful friendship group! I know it won’t go any further when I tell you that my so-called chum Meredith has turned out to be a complete snake in the grass! Her husband Hugo dishes out tummy tucks and Botox for every birthday and Christmas and I think all that filler has seeped into her brain! One of the most wonderful things about moving up here has been the lovely friends I’ve made. Claire, the local vicar’s wife, Lauren a fellow school mum, and Lovely Lou, Kate and Maddie from Elsie’s class. They have accepted me just as I am and have been such a support over the last year or so. I hope you don’t think I’m bragging when I say that a star of the blogging world like myself has a moral duty to bless her community. I have given very generously to the school and the church. Social action and charity is terribly important to me. My agent, Mimi Stanhope, is also a big fan of giving, as long as it harvests plenty of new followers, shares and likes. The church roof no longer leaks thanks to my munificence, and the sound of happy little children frolicking on the school play equipment which I funded drifts over to the Old Rectory every day, which makes me very happy. I must say, with one notable exception, most of the girls at school just treat me as another ordinary, down to earth parent. Which is nice #blendingin #oneofthegirls

And in terms of your followers, do you regard them as friends? Or do you see yourself as more of a mentor? Do you feel a certain responsibility to them in any way?

So much more than friends! They are my family, my tribe, my Smuggers! Without them, I would just be another stay-at-home yummy mummy and think of the loss to the blogosphere! Yes, I see myself as their mentor, style guide and leader through the maze of social media. I work so hard to bestow my wisdom and knowledge on them and they reward me by buying my books, commenting on my posts and sending me the most adorable DM’s (all filtered by my socials guru, Harpreet of course). Increasingly, I feel that I have a duty to be honest and transparent about my life and not to post a constant stream of curated perfection. The biggest lesson that moving to the country has taught me is that it is OK to be vulnerable. And I never thought I’d hear myself saying that! #lifelessons

I just wonder, with being married to a hedge fund manager, the income you receive from sponsorship, and the paid help you have around the house and garden, how #relatable your lifestyle really is for your followers? Or do you feel yours is a more #aspirationallifestyle for them?

It’s true that I was born into a comfortably off family and that I benefited from an excellent private education and a trust fund. I have learned that there are many people in this world who are not nearly as fortunate as I have been. I’m proud of being able to pay my own way with my work, but of course it helps that my husband is in the higher earning bracket. I’ve always tried to be relatable, but as Lauren pointed out the other day, it’s easy to spend lots of time on skincare when someone else is paid to clean your loo. I do know that I am in a tiny minority of people in the UK who live in listed period homes. But of late, I’ve tried to be more honest with my content and spoken about my feelings as well as what I have. Yes, my lifestyle is something my followers aspire to and I flatter myself that I give them lots of lovely top tips and life hacks, sprinkling my own brand of magic on the everyday and mundane #stardust

We’ve noticed a growing number of mentions of #church from you. Would you describe yourself as a spiritual person, a #womanoffaith? And is it helping you cope with the continued criticism from Lavinia Harcourt? (#HandsOffIssy)

I’m not quite sure where I stand, to be honest, Liz. I have started praying from time to time and so far, my success rate is 100%! So I am willing to admit there may be something in it. I rather like going to church, although some of the handwaving and loud singing can be a little off-putting! I would like to be a bit more like my dear friend Claire, who is a proper religious person, being married to a vicar and going to church every single week, plus running groups all the time. Yes, strangely (and I can’t really explain this), when I have applied to the good Lord for help and guidance around my former schoolmate the horrible Lavinia Harcourt (#getoverit #itsjustaplait #youdidaskforit) He has really come through. Which is jolly kind of Him.

On a practical note, we know you #lovealist – any tips for us in how we can use them to help us?

There is nothing I love more than a list! I find that the very act of writing down a list of actions, or a to do list wakes the brain up and helps one to achieve more. My top tips would be:

  1. Buy at least ten notebooks a year
  2. Make sure you have lovely pens – I am a big fan of metallic ones #sopretty
  3. Every time you achieve something, cross it off your list. It will give you a sense of huge wellbeing
  4. Keep a notebook by your bedside. You never know when inspiration will strike

And finally, what are your #hopesanddreams and #predictions for the year to come? What more can we expect from you?

I would like to become a better person. Sometimes I look at my friends in the playground and see them struggling along with not quite enough money and small cramped houses, and yet they always have time for me. Of course I’d love to get more followers (#loveyousmuggers) and I’ve got my eye on the Bloggers’ Awards where I hope to break some records! Outside of work, I want to get closer to my children. As you know, I had to let a key member of my staff go last year and it has had an effect on the household. I’ve learned that however much time and attention you give children, they always need more, so I’m working on that. My predictions for the coming year are more sustainable fashion, less conspicuous consumption and a kinder, more local vibe. I am looking forward to my first photography exhibition at my friend Nicki Hartington’s gallery and of course to welcoming my fourth child! #expandingthefamily #smuggenumberfour. I am also spending more time with the extended family and loving the relationships which are blossoming.

Thanks for spending this time with us #weloveIssySmugge. It’s been #immense.

Thank YOU Liz! Loving your blog. We girls must stick together #bestfriendsforever #keeponblogging #lovemeablog

If you’d like to know more, Ruth Leigh’s new book, The Trials of Isabella M Smugge, is published today (22nd October 2021) by Instant Apostle and available at all good bookshops. Her previous book, The Diary of Isabella M Smugge is already out.

More information about Ruth Leigh can be found at Ruth Leigh Writes

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Buried TREASURE

I’m cheating today. I’ve not been well this week so I am reblogging a post I wrote four and half years ago, when my dad moved into a nursing home because his dementia made living at home too unsafe. I’m glad I found this post again and I hope you enjoy reading it for the first or second time too.

My mum was a hoarder. Not to the level of those TV shows where people are overwhelmed by towering piles of junk physically taking over every room of their homes. But she didn’t like to throw things away ‘in case they came in useful some day’; she couldn’t turn away a Betterware salesman without purchasing some kitchen gadget needed or not; she duplicated and triplicated items she forgot she already owned; and she kept every trinket given to her by someone she loved.

Dad’s dementia overtook his natural tidiness and organisation to continue where Mum’s big heartedness and slapdashery left off when she died. 

We’re clearing the flat they lived in for just over 9 years. I’ve done several ‘sort outs’ for them in that time, including the day they moved in! This will be the final one there and it’s an emotional experience.

5 doormats, 4 travel alarm clocks, and 2 steam carpet cleaners (one never removed from its packaging), along with various ornaments, will be finding their way to a charity shop. Catheter and incontinence supplies have been donated to a local community nursing service. Bedding is off to the Community Store that helps set up homeless people in their first homes and cupboard loads of tinned food to the Foodbank. Leftover laundry supplies, flowerpots, and unused wrapping paper will be put to use by family. Old light fittings, a rusted bathroom stand, a broken picture frame, torn plastic bags, forgotten squares of chocolate, and other rubbish have filled the dustbin to the brim.

But beneath this flotsam and jetsam of evidence of two lives well lived lies buried treasure, precious and of immeasurable value.

Dad had passed on his love of genealogy to me some years back but I found file after file of his investigations into our family history – detailed family trees, numerous birth, death, and marriage certificates, a newspaper cutting about his parents’ Christmas Day wedding, old Boys’ Brigade certificates, grammar school records, and an account of his own upbringing. The meticulous care and accuracy of recording reminded me of the gift of administration Dad said God had given him.

I found a love letter my mum wrote to him instead of a Christmas card one year. He had kept it carefully filed away with some other writings of hers: a poem about meeting an old friend and recollections on her children written before a wedding and an ordination. Here was written evidence of love grown, tended, and increasing over many years.

There was a dedication inside the cover of an old book, hinting at difficult times endured, bad behaviour regretted, and expressing hope for change. This was a more in depth portrait of the young man in the RAF than the stories he had previously told me.

In among the drawers were old notebooks, rather scruffy and nondescript but, when examined closely, filled with detailed notes from courses, conferences, and preaching training. Here were all the sermons he preached and orders of services he prepared, along with the words of prophecy spoken over him at his believer’s baptism. They all recalled the strong core of faith running through my dad like a place name in seaside rock.

That’s the treasure I discovered: I found my dad again. He hasn’t been stolen by dementia after all, just buried, hidden by a thick mist. And he has cleverly left us clues to follow, evidence to find so that we can rediscover him.

Every week the Five Minute Friday community free write for limited time inspired by a given prompt word. It’s also a fantastically supportive groups for writers. You can find more inspirational writing here: Community – Five Minute Friday