Monday, 30 December 2013

Wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles

My children are from a mixed faith marriage. As such I think it's particularly important they grow up with a sense of what each religion is about, not so they can chose one over the other but because many of the people I know with one Jewish parent who were brought up entirely secularly feel that something is missing. 

Ironically, this determination to ensure they know both of our cultures means that over Christmas I have not just been peddling Santa lies but have also been telling the nativity story many times, and answering all the questions that brings up. 

- "Where's Mary now?" 
- "Er, she lives on in hearts and minds."

- "Why did they have a donkey?"
- "Because cars hadn't been invented."

- "What's an angel?"
- "It's what people had before pregnancy tests."

And so it is that miracle babies are on my mind quite a lot, especially as my own littlest baby is about to turn one. 

My daughter took what seemed like a long time to conceive. I am aware it takes some people many more years than it took us (she took two and bit years) but at the time every month felt like a year. My son on the other hand happened immediately we began trying for a second child. 

Conversely, a friend of mine conceived her first child immediately but took two and a bit years to conceive number two. 

Based on our first experiences she thought she was super fertile and I thought we were sub fertile. Turns out we were both wrong - taking a mean average means we both fall pretty much in the normal camp. 

We don't know of course what would have happened had we both tried to conceive a month (or a minute) before we did. Did my friend just catch the right moment out of thousands to have sex when she conceived first time round? Had we tried a month earlier might we have thought we were super fertile too? It is so tempting to think of the baby who takes ages to come as the miracle baby. But of course the fact is they are all miracle babies, the barely believable product of that single moment in the history of people and time. 

- What's a miracle mummy?
- You are darling. 

The season, the fairy lights, the stars, the nativity story, the Jewishness, the heady mix of emotions a first birthday brings - it's only bloody gone to my head. 

Thursday, 5 December 2013

How to run a successful Kickstarter project

So I ran a Kickstarter project, to crowdfund a project for my new publishing company, Fisherton Press. You can read all about it here. And see the official Kickstarter project page here

Given I read a lot of blogs on how to run a Kickstarter campaign first, and have been asked that question lots of times since my campaign ended, I thought I would blog some reflections I can point people to. I hope it helps. Feel free to add yours in the comments. 

1) I feel you probably only have one chance to run a small scale friend reliant project. One of my funders, an American musician, shared some advice with me from her own experience running a Kickstarter project and said not to be afraid to cancel the project and set it up again with new tactics and asking everyone to donate again (effectively for the first time as the first donation wouldn't have been cashed), preferably all at the same time so it made the 'popular' slot on the Kickstarter homepage. I don't feel this would have worked for my project as I suspect friends of mine wouldn't necessarily know their donation hadn't been taken, just that they had offered it, and consequently I would have had my slice of their generosity already. But perhaps this does work for some people. 

2) I am based in the UK and concentrated a lot on trying to crack America where crowdfunding is a bigger thing. I tried to get retweets from American celebrities, politicians and journalists thinking if the word spread donations would pour in. This didn't happen. Nearly all of my donations come from people in the UK. 

3) However I think lots of people I know on Twitter saw me sending out loads of tweets to the above people and this reminded them to donate. In that sense it wasn't wasted. 

4) Lots of people told me that they wanted to donate but then didn't. Were they just being nice? Should I have reminded them? Perhaps I would have if near the deadline I hadn't made my target, but I had. Directly asking for money is, it turns out, rather awkward. I preferred the British thing of talking around the project, asking for retweets, and hoping people would thing 'hmmm, a retweet, I can do better than that, have a thousand pounds.'

5) Before I reached my target of £2000 ($3260 US at today's conversion rate) I wondered if perhaps I was being greedy and asking for too much. Then I made the target and wished I had asked for more. I think that means I probably got it about right. What I think you should do is ask for the amount you actually need to make the project happen, which is what I did. Any more is greedy. 

6) I am a journalist. Here is what I should have done. I should have had a media strategy, a press release written and some pitches for articles by me sent before launching the project. I should have had an angle ready for my local paper, for the Jewish press, for the London wide paper, for political magazines, for parenting publications and for publishing titles. And I should have briefed friendly journalists I know and pulled in favours for mentions in their columns in national newspapers. I didn't do any of this until the project launched? And even then a bit half heartedly. In my defence I was on maternity leave. Still, silly me - it was an error not to. Despite all the blogposts I read in advance telling me to prepare, prepare, prepare, I didn't really. You should. It doesn't matter how great your project is, if no one knows about it no one will fund it. 

7) Actually I thought Kickstarter would be so bowled over by my genius idea it would immediately become a staff pick. It didn't. Don't rely on this happening. 

8) I am not a natural fundraiser. One friend sent a particularly generous donation. I immediately emailed him to query whether he had added an extra 0 by mistake and offering to reimburse him. He said he had given what he would have given anyone in sponsorship for running the marathon and that he meant it. I have promised him I will never run a marathon. He has sworn to give up marathons and start publishing books. I am telling the truth. I am not sure he is. 

9) I personally know about 60% of my funders. Truth is, most of your money will come from people you know. Still, that's nearly 50 strangers who are taking a punt on me. Wow!

10) I think I got lucky. Since launching my campaign in October I have read a dozen articles about crowdfunding in newspapers or magazines and had a few approaches from other people I know about their projects or projects run by their friends. I think I got in just on time, probably being the first person to ask many people I know to donate to such a project. As such I suspect people will soon get crowdfunding fatigue. 

Thank you again to everyone who contributed financially, or by tweeting, emailing or Facebooking about the project. 

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Whilst we were sleeping

I've been inspired by Dinovember, in which a mum and dad pretend their dinosaurs come to life in November and every night set up a dinosaur tableau for their kids to discover.

Bizarrely, because we seem to own everything else, we don't own any plastic dinosaurs. (A friend recently suggested, kindly, that when we come to sell our house in due course we should put half of what we own in the loft to make it look like we have more space. I didn't have the heart to tell her we've already done that.) But we do have soft toys aplenty, and last night before I went to bed I set up a little scene between two of my favourite bears (for the children are fickle and do not yet have favourites). It was a simple scene - just two bears having a civilised chat over a cake each. Not for these bears a feast made of all our toy food. No, my daughter might like making concoctions such as chicken, orange and sock soup, but these bears are a little more refined. I mean, they do wear clothes after all.

No doubt if I was the Dinovember mum the bears would have had real cake, with icing on their paws and a trail of crumbs leading from the kitchen. See, for example, what happened when the dinosaurs discovered eggs.

Good job I didn't bother with that, for Goodynuff's Law that 'the more effort you put in the less bothered the children will be' was completely true. "Look" I cried when the children got me up and brought me downstairs at some ungodly time beginning with 5, "the bears came to life and decided to have a cake and a chat." I was talking to myself really - in the six hours between going to bed and getting up I had completely managed to forget I'd set up this scene before I went upstairs. When I opened the door the surprise was entirely mine. The kids, alas, didn't even notice.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Level crossing policy

Early on in my relationship with my husband, we went to see a concert at the Royal Festival Hall. I was early so got myself a cup of tea and found a seat, sharing a table in the cafe with another woman. We got chatting and I asked her what she did. She was the civil servant in charge of level crossing policy.

Oh that poor woman, she had no idea that she had just told this to a level crossing aficionado. 

I love level crossings - the excitement of seeing a train hurtle past, the slight danger than the signals have gone wrong, the idea that order depends wholly on people being told what to do by a mere wooden barrier.

"I love level crossings," I told the woman. I think she thought I was taking the piss. But I made her tell me all about her job, the pertinent issues in level crossing policy and the cultural differences regarding level crossing behaviour around the world. 

My mum puts this down to our regular day trips when I was a toddler, taking the bus to a local level crossing to watch the trains. It was, she says, a cheap day out and perfect for young kids.

I've not done this with my children yet. But our wooden train set has many exciting elements - a station, a ferry (with a horn!) that can take trains on it and that opens automatically as it touches the track, various loops and points and of course a level crossing. I buy the coolest bits for my husband as birthday or Christmas presents to him from the kids. I have noticed recently that, despite no day trips of the kind my mum used to take us on, my son is fixated on the level crossing, endlessly lifting up the barrier and letting it drop. I am so proud. 

Thursday, 7 November 2013

The best crafting with kids book I have read, ever.

I love being creative with my kids and as they get older my ambitions increase. I'm no longer content with using a glue stick to attach cut up bits of magazines to scrap paper. I want to make objets d'art. Though as I have written elsewhere on this blog, my strength lies in enthusiasm rather than execution.

I've been an occasional visitor to the Red Ted Art blog for a while now and have always thought the craft projects look great. But I try to keep my phone and my laptop out of the way when the paints and glue are out at home, and never remember to look up ideas in advance.

Last week however I treated myself to the Red Ted Art book, by Maggy Woodley. My daughter and I read the whole thing during an hour long bus journey, picking out what we want to make together - "everything!" She also spilled apple juice on it which on reflection is the best thing she could have done - now it's already sticky and crinkled we may as well feel free to let it get covered in glue and glitter and let paint covered fingers turn the pages as we look for inspiration whilst choosing our materials.

I particularly love Red Ted Art because so many of the ideas are so simple. Reading it I kept having 'why didn't I think of that?' moments. From easy ways to turn toilet roll middles into animals to cookie bunting, I really can't wait to get started, possibly even whilst the kids are elsewhere so I am allowed, for once, the sparkliest bits of ribbon and coolest scraps of wrapping paper. Is that terribly sad?  Plus I've also been inspired to rediscover crafts I did as a kid - egg blowing and flower pressing, long forgotten as a pastime, once kept me busy for hours. I suspect it will again now I have this book.

If you know me in real life, and you're the parent of young children, then apologies for ruining the surprise as I am likely to buy this for you as a present at some point. If I don't know you, or don't like you enough to buy you a present, go and buy your your own. It genuinely is the best book I have read this year.*

*I've not read many books this year - never sleeping for more than two hours in a row has dulled my concentration. But I suspect it would be my favourite of the year even if I had read more.

Buy it here

(Pictured are stone ducks, walnut boats and loo roll monsters).


Here's a little plug for my Kickstarter crowdfunding project for a book about elections aimed at toddler. Here's the link - every pound or dollar helps, and I have until Nov 21 to get to the £2000 total. And here's my previous blog post explaining what I'm doing

Sunday, 3 November 2013

A post about poo

People who don't have children often wrinkle up their noses, literally and figuratively, and the idea of pooey nappies. I don't mind poo however, unlike vomit which makes me feel, aptly enough, sick. After all, you're worried if your baby doesn't poo for a while, or struggles to do so, whereas vomit is a sign that something is wrong.

Nevertheless, shit stinks. I don't mind wiping it off the beautiful bums of my beautiful babies, but, in the words of Bill Clinton, I don't inhale.

Our council introduced fortnightly bin collections earlier this year for non recyclable rubbish. This has given us a poo problem. On an average day my children will do two poos each. That's four pooey nappies. Even bagged pre binning, that's quite a stench. Imagine now, by the time the rubbish truck is due, the smell of fifty six poos in various stages of decomposition. It's pretty awful in this chilly weather. Imagine what it was like in the summer. We live in a terraced house with small front gardens. Neither we, nor people walking past, can avoid our bins. It's a wonder our neighbours are still talking to us.

You might suggest that the solution is to use cloth nappies, though the environmental case for this, if you use a washing machine and tumble dryer, is far from clear cut. (This is explained in detail here but essentially the carbon footprint of cloth nappies is only lower than that of disposables if you wash at lower temperatures than recommended and don't tumble dry, and reuse the nappies for subsequent children.

I'm not against encouraging recycling, and I understand the strain on finances for local government, but really, fortnightly collections - it's a policy that stinks.

Here's a little plug for my Kickstarter crowdfunding project for a book about elections aimed at toddler. Here's the link - every pound or dollar helps, and I have until Nov 21 to get to the £2000 total. And here's my previous blog post explaining what I'm doing

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Polite notice. A real one!

Further to my post last week, here'a a lovely polite notice I spotted at Liverpool Street station today, proving my point that if it really is a polite notice, as opposed to a 'polite notice', it won't feel the need to headline itself as such.

Here's a little plug for my Kickstarter crowdfunding project for a book about elections aimed at toddler. Here's the link - every pound or dollar helps, and I have until Nov 21 to get to the £2000 total. And here's my previous blog post explaining what I'm doing