Some Kind of ‘Normal’

Way back in February last year, when life was different and we all had plans for a ‘normal’ kind of year, I had a blog post half written about how our lives were changing as the older children began to leave home- it was slow going though and I was somehow lacking motivation… In the post-Christmas, pre-spring lull that happens every year I was struggling to get back into ‘working’ mode, but had every intention of doing everything I could, starting with this blog, to build Little Dolly Clothes Shop into the business I want it to be. The year before had been a strange one (we thought) – one which not only saw us sadly having to say our final goodbyes to my Mum, but one which towards Christmas saw both Knitting Pixie and Games Boy leaving home and becoming independent within weeks of each other; and Apple beginning to only stay at home during the week as she too began to spread her wings and spend her weekends with her boyfriend.

So in a way New Year 2020 had properly signalled a new start- the time for us to get used to being a smaller family unit for the majority of the time. It hadn’t got to the point of being any less chaotic in reality, as although the immediate demands of family life became less; as we were just beginning to find out, fitting in visits from older children and keeping in touch with them is in a way MORE demanding than when they’re all living at home as they want more than just the odd five minutes with you here and there!

We were therefore only just beginning to find OUR new normal, when of course another completely different ‘new normal’ took over… :/

March 2020 – and the world suddenly stopped… or so it seemed, though in reality I think it just started turning the other way- everything carried on as it did before, but differently. It’s felt at times a bit like we went to sleep and woke up in a parallel universe… although it already feels like now is ‘normal’ and before was a distant time gone by… like when you recall memories from childhood, or learn about what it was like living during the war or in Victorian times…

For a few months life went on, with each day much like the next and no real difference between ‘weekdays’ and ‘weekend days’. It felt as though we were living in some sort of suspended animation, where everyone was just waiting for the go ahead to begin living as normal again. Of course, we all knew it would take a while, that things wouldn’t just suddenly go back to the way they’d always been- but I think deep down we were all secretly hoping it would happen that way. That one day we’d wake up, as if from a dream- the world would be healed and we’d be told ‘it’s all over’…

Sadly of course, that never did happen. Summer dawned and with it came new hope as rules around the world were relaxed gradually. We were finally able to return to the caravan by mid-July and in August we spent nearly three weeks there. We watched first hand as things continued to improve- from the first few nights where any kind of ‘live entertainment’ was strictly off limits, to a few days later where the first entertainers of the year were finally allowed to perform once again on the stage- quietly and with restraint (with no audience participation/ singing along/ dancing/ loud volume). For them though it was a milestone, a real turning point and the hope of better times to come. For the entertainment industry, along with hospitality and holiday parks among many others, it was the start of the return to normal that we’d all been waiting for, and everyone was hoping it would last.

On Curly’s 18th birthday during that stay we were able to celebrate all together at the caravan- though there was still a cautionary limit in numbers gathering, for us just to see Mike’s mum and dad, our two older girls and their boyfriends was enough, and at the time still legal ❤ The girls and their young men joined us for the evening- eight of us around one table in the clubhouse felt very crowded when we’d just all got used to living in such reduced numbers!

By the end of the holiday though, things were already taking a downward turn- so soon after it seemed that life was getting back on track. The number at a table was reduced to six (lucky for Curly that her birthday fell exactly when it did!), all the staff were expected to wear masks, and although the newly reintroduced entertainment was still allowed, the sparkle seemed to be fading from the evenings again already…

Back once again in our ‘real’ world and away from our second home, children were returning to schools for the first time since before Easter. Curly was excitedly preparing to begin her journey in Art College- she’s only studying an hour away from home, so the fact that she would only be in the actual college one day a week with everything else online for the foreseeable future, whilst disappointing, wasn’t too much of an issue.
Little Blondie was delighted to find that her school’s much anticipated new uniform- met school-wide with such enthusiasm in the dim and distant world of 2019, was still going ahead, and she was proudly wearing it as she finally headed back off to school at the beginning of September.

Such hope, such anticipation of a gradual return to normality now that they were finally back through those doors. I had been okay with her learning at home- where we knew she was safe and happy and working hard. But for her, September was important- a chance to catch up with friends long since only seen on a screen or spoken to through text or messages. But it was soon apparent to those girls that life was now anything BUT normal… no mixing with other year groups, or tutor groups… designated entrances and exit gates… and toilets… lunch delivered to form rooms… the wearing of masks on the bus up until through the school gates- which quickly changed to everywhere throughout the school unless seated in a classroom… 😦

The first ‘bubble’ within school to be sent home due to a positive COVID case came only days into the term… followed by at least one such instance a week- Little Blondie’s bubble themselves had two weeks learning at home in November, and another couple of odd days off while track and trace was carried out. It became a way of life- half expecting each day to hear that she wasn’t needed in school…

Meanwhile the world was shutting down around us once again- firstly with restrictions on how many people you could meet, then where, then even stricter depending on where in the country you happened to be living. We were lucky where we live here in Devon- our rules tightened more gradually… our pubs and restaurants were able to continue trading for just a week or two longer… but it was all just a matter of time.

We felt a big sense of relief when Little Blondie finally broke up for the Christmas holidays- due back in school two weeks later. By only that evening the physical return to school had already been extended by a week… by the New Year by another week… on 4th January, the day the spring school term officially started (remotely, from home) the country went back into full lockdown with schools due back… who knows when.

I’m happy to have my little table buddy back- her school is extremely well organised with their home learning provision, and she sits happily working away all day on her computer at the table opposite me, while I work on mine- and she still seems to be making good progress in all her subjects. Mike is still happily (or not, depending on how well his day is going!) working upstairs in Games Boy’s old room; and Curly has the living room to herself, and spends her days spread out over the entire area with her artwork and her Zoom calls and lectures…

It’s not how I ever imagined our lives would be when our new normal began all those months ago after the next three oldest of our children all left home within months of each other.
It’s not been easy and, probably like the majority of other people there have been days when I’ve struggled- but imagined or not, this IS our ‘new normal’… and along with the rest of the world we just need run with it, and wait to see where life takes us next 🙂

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And So Another Week Begins…

On Thursday lunchtime about three weeks ago, Little Blondie went around the house declaring loudly ‘it’s the weekend!’… She was in the middle of her online end-of-year assessments and, having no exams scheduled for that Friday, wanted everyone in the house (and possibly the village!) to know that she was free until Monday morning. Of course, for Mike and also to some extent for me, Thursday lunchtime does not count as being anywhere near the weekend… Curly however, in her own words, pointed out that she has been on a ‘constant weekend of Saturdays’ since the middle of March… :/

She has a point. When the world shut and the country went into lockdown, individual days of the week ceased to have any real meaning. No one leaves the house on weekdays, we no longer go out to church on Sundays, and caravan weekends no longer exist. Even the television schedules have become confusing- with Saturday night ‘comfort viewing’ showing seven evenings a week!

For our poor Curly, weekdays lost their significance very early on into lockdown- school closed on the day her Product Design A level coursework was due to be handed in- indeed for the last few days of school, there was doubt over whether the school closure date, or the handing in date would arrive sooner! With all the confusion and unrest over what was happening in the world, they were given a few extra days to complete the work (the completion day having been set by the school to ensure everyone finished on time!) and this, along with an English assignment which needed finishing were what kept Curly busy for the first week…

The ‘Easter holidays’ followed for the next two weeks, since which Curly has had no set schoolwork to do; with her A Level exams cancelled, there was no sense in the teachers setting any further work… and so weekdays completely lost their meaning for her.
As for the rest of us… well…

Online learning has become Little Blondie’s life- her school are fantastic in setting work in the Online Classrooms. They follow the same timetable as they did previously when they were in the building, setting just enough work to keep the girls busy for the hour long lesson, and teachers are always available by email and classroom chats to answer any questions.
Still being at the lower end of the school they would usually have had no study leave between their summer exams- but acknowledging the unusual circumstances the girls have found themselves in, the pressure is off this year: relaxing, spending time reading, playing games and taking part in family activity has been positively encouraged throughout. 🙂

It’s still not the same though- much as she works quietly and conscientiously through her lessons each day, the knowledge that she’s sitting at home, at the dining table opposite me as I try to work, with Mike upstairs working and Curly around doesn’t really re-create the same atmosphere as a classroom full of similar aged girls, all studying the same thing at once! And, much as we have encouraged her to approach each ‘school day’ with a positive start- eating breakfast and getting dressed, there has to be a difference in feeling between learning while dressed in a smart blouse and fitted skirt, and sitting at home dressed in a comfy Harry Potter t-shirt and leggings!
But at least to some extent, weekdays still have some significance for our Little Blondie…

Mike also still has weekdays; he’s been very fortunate- working in school finance his job has carried on pretty much as normal. After all, whether a school has its pupils actually in the building or learning remotely at home, the money needed for paying staff and building costs remains pretty much the same… and having a mainly computer based job meant it was easy for him to make the transition from working in an office to working in a home ‘office’- in other words instead of travelling into town each day he now works from Games Boy’s old room! The main disadvantage of this being that when the office is only fifteen paces across the landing, the temptation to work longer hours, and at weekends is all too great- Mike’s distinction between weekdays and weekends has become a little ‘blurry’!

As a full time housewife and mum working from home, I’ve never really had a set ‘week’ of my own to follow- rather my life has always revolved around the family, and my daily pattern set around their current needs… With a large family and a husband working regular hours my life has always therefore run to a basic weekly schedule. However, with my little business sometimes it’s been essential to work ‘out of hours’ or at weekends as that’s my free time for working, and at busy times such as in the run up to Christmas I can’t afford to take any days off from my sewing or I risk delays in orders getting sent out.

Little Dolly Clothes Shop was built around the fact that I could run it alongside my family, and was always intended to be worked in my ‘free’ time- either while the children were out at school, or in the evenings once the family were fed and settled for the evening. Perhaps somewhat ironically, lockdown has actually seen me making MORE distinction between weekdays and weekends- to retain some semblance of normality and keep track of the days as much as possible I’ve been deliberately doing different things at the weekends…
I made a conscious decision to do no ‘work’ on Saturdays and Sundays, unless posting updates to Facebook or Instagram, or responding to customer enquiries, and to spend more time with the girls. The glorious April and May weather helped enormously as we spent loads of time sitting out in the garden together and reading- sadly the first time I’ve ever really appreciated relaxing out there; or on cooler days we’ve stayed indoors and enjoyed doing jigsaw puzzles and watching films together… 🙂

Even so, life has become rather staid, and every day has become the same. It’s apparently Monday today, and another week has begun… another week full of the same old things- washing, cooking, cleaning, eating, shopping… schoolwork for Little Blondie, work for Mike, Curly trying to make sense of her days, and me just trying to make sense of life and keep the family going- while of course trying to keep in contact with all of the older children and the rest of the wider family… :/

Another week may have begun, but to all intents and purposes the days currently have no meaning. It may well be Monday back out in the real world that we used to live in, but here in this new world…
It’s simply Day X.

Life is Like… A Bunch of Daffodils

DSCF8577 (2)I love spring. I love the lighter mornings and evenings… the birds singing as they fly around building their nests… the feeling of hope in the air as plants and trees begin to wake from their winter’s sleep. And I especially love daffodils- seemingly growing up out of nowhere, even through the snow, they seem to sum up all that the coming season represents. 🙂

Daffodils, of course, are in the shops way too early for actual spring, and that’s one of the reasons I love them so much- though I do know this isn’t actually what nature intended, but is forced on them by greedy shop owners looking to cash in on as long a selling period for the bright yellow blooms as possible! But for me they serve a much needed purpose. Whilst lining the shop’s pockets from the second week of January may to some seem an unnecessary and maybe unethical (?) expense (though with a usual price tag of around a pound per bunch they can hardly be described as expensive!) they not only brighten the house during that dull period of time between Christmas and actual spring, but as a result can lift my mood.

Working from home- both as a housewife and mother, and now with my little business, means that the main view of the world I get is through the windows- and during January and February that can be a pretty depressing view. We may overlook the moors, and our garden is filled with trees and bushes, but when the weather is constantly grey even that view can begin to look a little lifeless. Still beautiful, but in contrast to the bright lights and colours and cosiness of Christmas it can, just for a few brief weeks seem completely dull- making it nearly impossible to be motivated into work of any kind… :/

DSCF8578 (3)A simple bunch of daffodils on the windowsill can therefore make all the difference. While the ones left to grow wild are still tucked up safely beneath the earth, a patch of sunshine is blooming in my house and it makes me smile. On a dull miserable day it’s there as a constant reminder of what’s to come, and as the first stems start to emerge from the ground outside, and their buds begin to grow it’s as if that ray of sun is spreading from indoors to out… and shows that spring really is on its way.

So it’ll come as no surprise when I say that yesterday evening’s supermarket shop delivery contained some of my favourites. The shopping arrived just as I was dishing out dinner (bad timing, but it was the only time slot available when I ordered it!), and with the vases already full of the sad remains of last week’s bunches I didn’t actually end up sorting my lovely flowers out until everyone had left for school and work this morning.
And that’s when I realised that the daffodils stand for far more than just a bright spot on a dark winter’s day- they’re actually a really good analogy for family life! 😀

Daffodils are notoriously difficult to arrange neatly in a vase- for even though they have a single straight stem, they actually move about a great deal whilst taking in the water and opening their buds. They twist and turn and no matter how ‘soldier like’ you’ve positioned them; they’ll do their own thing! I was musing over this as I made a half-hearted attempt at arranging them in such a way before taking the vase through to the living room this morning- the reasoning behind my perseverance simply being to give them the best chance of not getting their flower heads caught in one another, whilst they are developing…

But as I attempted to separate the stems and tried to arrange them neatly around the edge of the vase, my attention was caught by what was happening inside the vase- to the stems beneath the water. No matter how carefully I tried to stand the individual flowers around the edges, the lower parts of the stems remained tangled together and criss-crossed over one another- one from this side leaning right across another, more upright flower on the opposite side… Another one- caught in the middle, was poking its way through to the front where its flower was blooming way ahead of the others… yet another, apparently smaller and weaker stem still in bud, stood proudly at the side slightly away from the rest, but still happily nestled within the bunch.
‘Oh well’ I thought to myself, ‘they’ll all still look beautiful together when the buds have opened out…’

And that’s when I realised it. That while to some life may indeed be like that famous ‘box of chocolates’, life is in fact far more like a bunch of daffodils. 🙂

Tangled and in a mess, struggling or confident, fighting for our place within the family… within our social circle… or in our workplace or just in society… or even quietly and happily working away in the background unseen- like the bulbs developing underground throughout the year- everyone is beautiful, and everyone has the ability to shine. And even more so when we have others to bloom and build our lives with. All of those tangled and complicated lives combine to make up our family and friendship groups, and are all the stronger for each individual’s input.

Of course there will always be some for whom the single life- free from ties of any sort is what works best, and we all have the ability to shine as individuals. But, for the rest of us- however close either physically or emotionally those others are to us, whether in the background or living with us, we still all thrive best with family or friends there to support us. 🙂
We need them within our lives… just like the daffodils need each other within the vase to look their most beautiful, and to spread that ray of sunshine into our homes. ❤DSCF8569 (2)

New Year Thoughts

DSCF7557 (2)Every year when I sit down to write my New Year blog post I basically begin it the same way- ‘I’m not a big believer in New Year resolutions’… ‘Just because the year has changed, why would everything suddenly be different from how it was only the minute before’…
It’s not just that I’m boring or repetitive- though some of my family may wish to dispute that (!), but more that it happens to be what I actually think; and writing a similar post at a similar time each year is always bound to cover some of the same ground…

Of course, this year also saw a change in decade- a chance for everyone to start looking back at how things were for them ten years ago… It was quite interesting to have a little think back, to re-visit some of the news and pop songs, but I wasn’t that over bothered about revisiting the past too much at the time- I had more than enough emotion running through me just by remembering ‘this time LAST year’…
I did however, enter into the spirit of things a little more for Little Dolly Clothes Shop– running my usual mid-January sale as a ‘20% off everything’ sale in reference to the year… 🙂

New Year however does always present a chance to reflect- on the past year, on Christmas, on where life is leading you at that particular time, and where you’d like to be headed by this time next year. It’s a clear starting point, a date that can’t be forgotten, or lost track of along the way no matter how determined you are NOT to forget. A date that everyone makes a note of… and one that comes around again all too soon the next year! :/

Sometimes it can be a good thing to take a little time out, reflecting on the last few months. If you think you’ve had a particularly tough year, but then spend some time trying to recall any good things that came out of it, it could come as a pleasant surprise to find that the year wasn’t actually so bad after all. Of course, this could also work round the other way- when a year has felt good, but then you remember just how much went wrong… maybe we should only worry about it when we’re feeling a bit down at the stroke of midnight, and not if everything feels like it’s going well!

Then there are the years when specific life events have dominated our year as a whole. And perhaps then, even more than when we’re just feeling a bit like life is against us, we should take a few moments to look back and remember the highlights, as very rarely can an entire year go by without anything good happening- even if we take little notice of it at the time. Birthdays and anniversaries, promotions and new jobs, exam results or changing schools, lifestyle changes… all of these things just carry on around us year in year out, no matter what else is going on in our lives. Sometimes we have to just let events play out by themselves, sometimes we can be distracted by them- but at the end of the year there’s always a list of these things to look back upon.

Whilst planning out another (now half written!) blog post looking back on my own year, it surprised even me just how much there was to celebrate in my family’s lives over the past roller coaster year, while everything was so obviously overshadowed by one sad time. Even though I know how easy it is to let things slip past, unnoticed, and how important it is to celebrate each day- the year still flew by, seemingly only taking my Mum with it and leaving behind a family of heartbroken people… 😦

One of my main aims over the last few years has been to keep in touch with people more- sadly easier said than done. We all have such busy lives- family, work, church, school, chores, hobbies… everything in our intertwined lives just adds up to create days full of… well, just busy-ness really. Nothing that can’t wait for five minutes even just for a quick text or email, never mind a phone call or visit; but we’re all guilty of letting things slip. We’ll text later, send that email tomorrow, phone next week, visit next month… Fortunately most of the people we surround ourselves with in our lives are in a similar position to us- our best friends back in London for example, who we see all too rarely these days have a similarly busy and demanding family life to ours. They, like us, never seem to find that time to email, or text… but when we meet up it is like no time has passed at all.

But if the last year has taught me only one thing- it’s the understanding that time is precious. Of course I already knew that, but it has now been underlined and is written in bold capital letters…
I didn’t ever have the sort of relationship with my parents where we were always on the phone to each other several times a day, or where not a day went by without communication of some sort- ours was more of an as-and-when kind of relationship, developed by them as much as me, and which suited us all. But now that the chance to talk to my Mum face to face has been taken away, I’m finding I miss it more than I ever did- when previously weeks could go by without even a text… Human nature can be cruel.

Of course, that’s also making it harder now that I need to try to keep in touch with my Dad more- to tell him how much we all love him and hope he’s coping okay. He doesn’t have email, or Facebook, and though he owns a mobile phone he doesn’t particularly ‘do’ texts either- meaning I am going to have to try this year to put my life long hatred of using the phone to one side…
No such excuse with all the other family members and friends who have numerous ways of contact. My only let out is that fortunately it’s not all one way- they never find the time to communicate with us either… :/

As for anything else; well, my aim is still (as it has been for the last couple of years) to try to get my little business back up to where it was only a short time ago. When I first opened Little Dolly Clothes Shop I never expected anyone to want to buy even one thing from me- never mind for it to be successful enough to expand into more than just selling dolly dresses, and branch out into my popular little doll’s nappies and bedding. My first ever order was only about a week after I launched my website and it quickly took off from there, averaging about one hundred orders per year. It’s only been over the last couple of years with all the political and economic unrest in the country that there seems to have been such a negative impact on my poor little business. Well, that and the fact that Google seems for some reason to have taken against it all of a sudden…

Seemingly there’s not a lot I can do about it, other than just sit tight and wait for things to improve- assuming, of course that they do one day! But keeping my website up to date- changing the ‘slideshow’ on the home page to show the latest offers or new outfits… likewise keeping the ‘Latest News’ page up to date with details of what’s new or sale dates… posting regularly on Instagram and my Facebook page… and publishing more than just the occasional blog post on here are all supposed to help by making Google and the other search engines notice that the website is active… well, according to Google anyway!

And if course, making the most of any advertising opportunities always helps- especially if they’re free! I know a lot of people use Facebook as their main selling platform, but I’ve only ever really used my page more as a showcase than to actually sell through. Just before Christmas I joined a couple of ‘Christmas/ Handmade’ groups on there to try to expand my showcasing efforts, and shared posts from my page on there; I also joined a couple of local pages and advertised on them as well. The last three (recent!) orders I’ve received have all been through Facebook, and since I joined the groups, so who knows- it may even be working! 🙂

Above all, the one ‘resolution’ I’ve always managed to keep though, no matter what else happens around me, is to keep enjoying life. Not in a laugh-a-minute, nothing-can-go-wrong kind of way, but simply in an appreciating life kind of way. Our family life is busy and chaotic, sometimes a struggle and sometimes a challenge, it can be fun and it can be tough. Trying to co-ordinate the different emotional needs of a large family spanning many ages can at times be exhausting, and allows very little personal time for dealing with issues or events outside of our household.

But I still would never change the life I’ve been dealt- it’s beginning to evolve now by itself as the children get older and start to spread their wings, and in a way that’s quite sad and scary. But waiting to see what the next chapter of our family life will bring is also exciting- good times and bad, I can handle them all because I have my lovely family beside me, and my faith to guide me. ❤
Happy New Year!

Christmas Magic

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So Christmas came, and Christmas went… and in its place I’ve been left with a feeling of sadness; sadness that I didn’t manage to enjoy the build up to it as much as usual, and sadness that it’s already been and gone.
But more than that, I also have a feeling of contentment and Peace and the sense that Christmas came and did what it was designed to do- just when I needed it most 🙂

If you read this blog, you’ll know that my Mum’s passing last year affected unexpected areas of my life. This poor blog suffered from it, when I lost the enthusiasm for writing it- despite having recently discovered that keeping it up to date could in fact be one of the best things for keeping my little business in the search engines’ ‘eyes’…
My motivation for planning ahead and actually sewing completely went AWOL for a while- despite the fact that my Mum was undoubtedly the biggest inspiration for me ever even learning to sew, and certainly was therefore at least part of the reason for me setting up my little business in the first place…
And my excitement for the festive season, which I normally have to rein in from around September for fear of upsetting people, just never really surfaced until the day itself- despite Mum’s enjoyment of the season causing me to love it myself quite so much…

I still felt compelled to go through the usual motions- putting up our strings of lights around the walls and windows at their usual times… decorating the house in all its festive glory only a few days later than ‘normal’ for us…
I thought I’d feel it more this year, and until November hit I was fully doing Christmas for my Mum- it was in tribute to her.
That feeling had already been slipping away from me by the middle of the month, when I opened the box containing my beautiful knitted Nativity :/

Isn’t it funny how a particular item, or in this case group of items can come to mean so much at different times during your life? My Mum (no surprise) was the one who knitted the set for us. Way back when Knitting Pixie was tiny, Mum came across the pattern book for a knitted Nativity set and being keen on knitting, but (at that time) not having many grandchildren to knit for, she knitted the basic characters and presented it to us in late November that year. It quickly became very special to us, and the next year it was one of our key decorations- one of those that once up signifies that Christmas has ‘arrived’ in the household.
A couple of years later and the pattern maker had introduced a donkey to the set, so Mum made us one and that was added- along with several stray sheep from our church’s travelling Nativity, to our set.

Our first Christmas after we moved from London to Devon was spent in a caravan as the house wasn’t ready to be moved into. Although we bought some lights and decorated the van as best as we could, we didn’t have any of our decorations with us- we hadn’t expected to still be in temporary accommodation, so everything was deep in storage. Although it was sad not having the Nativity around that year, our move was the start of an exciting new chapter in our lives and we knew we had many more years to enjoy it.
The next year it found its new home in a prominent position in our living room- just as it had back in our old house 🙂

Which is where it was proudly standing seven years ago- on the day we lost our house to the fire…

It broke my heart seeing it standing there in the remains of our home, and somehow it symbolised everything we had just lost. It hadn’t burnt, but smoke and water damage and damp from the cold empty shell of the house took its toll on the poor set, and left it unusable. Of the whole set, just one lonely sheep survived- found later on the floor buried beneath other things. After yet another stay in storage, the set was then transferred to our rental home’s garage as I couldn’t face the thought of throwing it away. We know we’ve had mice out there, crawling through the still boxed up remains of our previous life, but I STILL haven’t been brave enough to look… :/

Mum knew how much I loved that set and so five years ago, though already poorly, she began making a replacement- asking me for photos so she could match the colours as closely as possible to the original. Though her illness was to a large extent kept ’in the background’ with few long stays in hospital, she was obviously finding things harder going. That first year she made me just the main characters- Mary, Joseph, the Baby Jesus, a Shepherd and a sheep. The next year a King, second Shepherd and another sheep… followed a year later by the other two Kings. With the set almost complete, the Donkey was set to join the group last year… then this year… sadly, he never did.

This year, the set once again seemed somehow to symbolise and sum up all my feelings and emotions from this last roller coaster year. With the set’s history I knew it would be difficult, but I didn’t expect to chicken out of even touching the first King… to have a sudden vision of Mum carefully knitting each stitch… to remember the photo she sent through proudly showing him half knitted… 😦

I closed the box, but kept it around- deliberately ‘in the way’. I knew I would recognise when the time was right for displaying them- either that, or I’d get so fed up with the box being in the way that I’d get them out just to clear it away!!

And the day did come. On the 23rd December we were having a mad clear up and getting the last of the decorations out- the pretty finishing touches of tinsel, the stocking hangers, and the place-mats for the dining table… Games Boy was due home that evening for a few days, and Knitting Pixie the next. Excitement was beginning to build in the household, and I suddenly realised how daft it was that our treasured set wasn’t yet out.

Suddenly it was easy to lift each character out and stand them in their place on the windowsill, and to build the Nativity scene around the other decorations. Suddenly everything seemed to fall into place, and it felt like Christmas had arrived at last. After having been feeling quite down about the whole season this year, it was nice to feel contentment- and to feel that things were going to be okay.

I’m not going to pretend that this year’s Christmas was the best we’ve ever had. I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t get so stupidly wound up by the idea of travelling and leaving the house over Christmas (a by-product of that day seven years ago) that I didn’t feel physically sick at thought- while switching lights off at 7am to travel across the country! Or pretend that I wasn’t also dreading the prospect of our annual family gathering, minus my Mum.

But Christmas Peace somehow worked its magic in me. From being invited to join with a group of friends from the village and pub for dinner at the pub a couple of days before, to then being included in the pre-Midnight Communion drinks at the churchwarden’s house… from the calm and peace of that service to the chaos of our once again full house on Christmas morning… the fun of Christmas Day and Boxing Day… and from the busyness of four days of travelling around the country visiting family and friends to the hopeful anticipation of the New Year…
Throughout all of it, the true spirit of Christmas shone through and I was left feeling refreshed- tired from all the travelling and busyness of family life, but renewed in my hope that everything would one day be ‘okay’ again 🙂

Nothing will bring my Mum back to us, and sadly only time can heal the raw grief of my poor Dad. But one day it will be alright without her here, we’ll learn to find that ‘new normal’ that everyone tells you about in times like this.
Little Dolly Clothes Shop will hopefully find its place in the search engines again and thrive once again- time moves on and tastes and shopping trends change, but the basics of what I make and sell never alter. If I can sit out this period of uncertainty in the country, make it through the constant economic and political turmoil then maybe my little business has a chance.

Above all, if Christmas taught me anything, it’s that if I can keep my faith and put my trust in God, if I can remain true to believing that He will look after us, whatever happens around us- then everything will definitely be ‘okay’ again… one day 🙂