Calm among storms.

The run up to Christmas is always hectic here, it comes with the toy shop ownership territory. We looked forward to the Xmas break but for the very best of reasons, it was never going to be. Christmas, visitors, a wedding, decorating – it all added up to a holiday that passed by very quickly and we were back at school and work before we knew it. And this year is already whizzing past; I’ve already had one business trip away and this week sees two more, the week after sees another one and the week after that another two. Then I get a week off before the next; chatting with our friends over at BigJigs Toys this week while I was there, I decided I’m very glad to only be a retailer and a blogger; I really don’t think I could handle the weeks and week they spend away at the shows that dominate all our lives at this time of year. On top of that, we find ourselves navigating the reality of a school which isn’t fitting a child adequately and trying to work our what do do about that (achieving more with the current school, moves of various types to be explored or a measured return to home ed all being on the cards). And then, because I’m me, I’ve not been able to stand by and watch the kids gym fall apart. I’m not one for focusing too long on what is done, in fact I cannot stop myself from feeling compassionate about the people involved to be honest – it breaks my heart to see people I liked caught up in a scandal and I’m far too sensible not to understand there will be more to it than meets the eye or seems obvious – but reality is reality and the gym is in crisis. So of course I’m part of trying to keep it going. It seems to me that is the happiest outcome for all concerned and it was a good club, the nicest we’ve ever been involved in and I’m gutted to see the mice  deserting the sinking ship when we have so much worth saving. But it is time consuming and a huge amount to try and understand and put back together.

And all that means that the ever decreasing islands of me time, blogging time, crafting time and time with my kids is getting squeezed away still further. I’m used to not seeing the girls so much, the big ones are increasingly ‘bedroom dwelling teens’ anyway but it smarts when I don’t get days with Bene and when I do, I’m knackered and don’t do those days as well as I want. We have a lovely time but I’m having to be on the phone a lot and even if I keep totally away from work, I’m not getting on with being a fab toddler mum the way I want to.

Family comes first, me time is also important, remembering to blog makes me happy. Instagram is my friend; micro-blogging that reminds me of what I’ve done. If I haven’t taken enough photos that day, we’ve not done enough together. While I know my girls are now too big for me to insist on them downing screens, I’m working on finding bits of time, for me or for them, that are proper, quality family/personal time and make our mini memories in between dashing about.

1. Reading.
Reading together, reading alone, talking about reading. Spotting when someone is at a loose end on been on brain-drain (or even homework) too long and diverting them into a book. Currently we are reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe together, a return to read-alouds after far too long. It was a highlight of Xmas but we need to finish!
We discovered that Amelie and Josie didn't know what Cair Paravel was. Fran is fixing this. #mummyfail

Fran and I are also making the most of bits of time and reading – or listening, to books. I’ve managed Wee Free Men, Soul Music, Broken Homes and The Secret keeper so far this month and Fran has read The Book Thief along with a whole heap of books she is going to blog for me as a list of great teen reads. Maddy reads less at the moment but both she and Amelie are making use of the school library to pad out their Jacqueline Wilson knowledge. At bedtime, Fran and Maddy have just finished listening to Anne of Green Gables, which made me stupidly happy :) I love that they still listen to books like that.

2. Jigsaws.
We were sent (that’s me disclosing I was given this to review, right there) a lovely jigsaw to review at Christmas from Wentworth Wooden Puzzles; I chose a Dartmouth one as I was feeling particularly nostalgic for the place my heart lies at the time but it was REALLY hard to choose because the artwork was gorgeous on them all.
Totally gorgeous #review jigsaw from Wentworth wooden puzzles
The trouble with jigsaws is that they aren’t terribly compatible with having a toddler and limited surfaces, which is a shame as we all enjoy them and I really love the fact that a jigsaw, half complete and out on a table, draws people back to it and around it in a way that only a fire can otherwise do. I really ought to invest in one of those roll up mat things for them, but it never reaches the top of the list of spends. One of the best things about this one was that, coming in to do it from a long walk on a cold day around the local thatched cottage village, the pieces of the jigsaw smelt utterly deliciously of wood fire. I’m not sure what they do to them, but it was the most incredibly evocative smell and just made me want to huddle near to it. My testers said the pieces were lovely to work with and the special shaped pieces (pictured) made it quite a challenge as they don’t interlock in a standard way. At £36.95, it is something of a gift/heirloom item, but yes, definitely worth it for that. Our Dartmouth Art Puzzle will be treasured.

Well, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve been well and truly diverted from knitting into crochet. I keep trying to find my way back but no project has appealed yet. It’s annoying really.
Loving it so much #crochet #crochetaddict
My current work in progress is coming along but it has reached the non-portable stage now and my other one is not much better. I’m resolutely not starting anything new until this is done though (or allowing myself to buy curtains for the living room with my birthday vouchers either!) so I’ve set myself a target of the end of January. Bizarrely I’ve had two enquiries about making blankets for people recently; I’d quite like to do it but letting them go would be a wrench. Blanket construction is definitely a winter activity; snuggling under this one as it appears is just perfect. But what to make next? I’ve got a stash to bust (oh my word do I have a stash to bust!) and a million ideas but I need an extra day or two a week.

4. Encouraging Creativity.
There is no getting away from the fact that I have work to do today and I’m stuck to the dining room table while dishwasher runs, washing washes and people go out an run or play rugby sessions. I’m home with a couple of the girls who sometimes slope off to their room or find themselves sucked into that world of virtual Lego which is Minecraft. So today I’ve got them to come down and be with me, to snatch family time and also do some of the creative things we all wish we did more of.
Encouraging creativity. Getting the girls drawing this morning.
I’ve got every intention this year of making extra bits of time for this type of thing this year. We rush around a lot but I think if I can just plan a little we can make pockets of time to be together and enjoy the wealth of materials and opportunities in our house.

5. Sibling Collaboration.
Having a guitar lesson from @minimoobear
I miss the familiarity and ease of sibling relationships since they all went to school; it changes things. This year I want to make more time and space for this sort of thing. Some of them are better than others at it and the last year has marked a huge shift in the invisible boundaries between their development. It’s worth putting time into though; I’m always conscious that what I’m orchestrating now, as they reach the second half of their childhood, is the way they will interact as separate adults and after I’m gone.

6. Games and Lego.
Playing the board game of a book while Josie makes the Lego of a computer game. Weirdness.
It’s a funny thing; one of the things I remember about my childhood is HOURS of board games. I loved them. Since having kids, I love them less because I get antsy about pieces getting knocked over. It brings out a control freakery in me only otherwise seen when I get Christmas lights out – a sort of instant anger embedded in my genes that I don’t really acknowledge I have too. My biggest problem though is that I cannot bear playing games with people who care too much about winning or get grumpy about losing. I get a deep seated anxiety that builds up and it makes me want to walk away – this means I cannot play games with most children or most of my friends ;)

It’s also why games like Animal Crossing are my best friend :) No pressure or competition :lol: but the opportunity to connect and play together anyway. We’ve had very happy days on that.
Animal Crossing. Kindle. Listening to an Audible story (wee free men). Crochet. Wine. These are a few of my favourite things.

Lego. It’s a joy. I might not be patient with games but I do love to do some Lego alongside someone. Today Josie and I are dipping into a Christmas kit. Everyone will end up having done some of it. It’s a perfect family activity. I need to make sure we find a way to access it as often as possible. The main bulk of our supply has got a bit tucked away.
Enjoying Lego.

7. Walks. Running.
I love being on a walk. I am hopeless at shoehorning myself out of the house to go for them. I want to live somewhere else and I fail to make the most of the small amount of beauty I could find near here now.
Crunching leaves is the only way to walk.
Bene loves walking, I adore being out for a one to one walk with any of my children. If I can get my habit to walk at lunch time back, I’ll be a happy girl.

I’m also ready to run again; I want to be fitter more than I need to be lighter now and I now have a 5km Park Run so there is no excuse. It’s time to start up again. I know it will make me happy. This year is, for me, about kicking depression and the grip it can get on me, for as close to good as I can. I know my triggers and tiredness, weight, being inside and getting bogged down in dreary all combine. I can’t always deal with the chemicals but I can help them. Running will help.

8. Meals.
I went to a parents evening this week (a whole other story) where one teacher said “it’s very evident that you are a family who eat and talk together”. It’s a compliment of the highest order. Gym and life sometimes get in the way of that now but we make it happen as often as we possibly can. We never snack separately, littered across the house and we have Max to thank for making that such a fundamental part of family life. I loved that part of my birthday this year was my every food whim being gallantly catered for by loving husband and children.
Inspired by someone on Facebook earlier, this was my birthday tea request. Perfectly executed by lovely Max :) Thank you!
It’s such a big deal to me to all eat together; when the girls start leaving home, their absence around the table will be keenly felt.

9. Work.
It’s a funny thing to say, but work has become one of the highlights of my life again. After 5 years always from my own business, to a greater or lesser extent, it has been so exciting to come back into it. It runs beautifully and that removes the stress of it from me. It’s still got masses of growth potential and that excites me enormously too, plus it combines my skills in a way that pleases me and fulfills me. Having organised life in an imperfect way that nonetheless works, I get to be there twice a week with Max too; having that oasis of time together, both to work and to grab lunch, take a break, plan, talk discuss in the hours of daylight has been a huge plus. And while our staff group is tiny, we work in a building that means I have social and professional contact with people – and that has been a huge help in getting my feet back in the real world. So I count it among my pleasures and blessings – and that is no small thing to be able to say about your job.

There are worse ways to spend an evening in a hotel if you have to be on your own. Love that my husband checked I had crochet with me before I left!
How clever was this – a work trip where I still managed to grab some time to do my favourite things. Multi-tasking ;)

10. Us.
And that leads me to end up in one place. One of the highlights of life but also something that needs working on – us time. Having been to hell and back, Max and I have learned the value and requirement for time together. We are lucky to have teenagers and children who understand that and give us evening space as much as is possible, but we often don’t sit down together until 10pm. It’s not really enough.
What we’ve learned is to keep the tv off, snuggle up with books together or spend our precious bit of time in the same room, even if doing different things. Sometimes it’s me crocheting with my feet in his lap while he kills aliens. Sometimes it’s a book. Sometimes, not often, we work side by side or talk stuff through. And occasional it is a film with the all important glass of wine. Not even a diet matters more than that. It’s important to keep perspective ;)

Never a bad call.

So these are a few of my favourite things; things I love, things I love and make us who we are.

What makes you?


As is customary in the Puddle household, last week we took ourselves off to Centerparcs. It’s always a good way for us to have a low maintenance wind down holiday after the busy Xmas period and one of those holidays which, being a large-ish family, has not too much effort attached. In fact, it’s easy, get up, lounge, swim, lounge, eat, lounge, play badminton, swim, eat, lounge. This year was even easier as the kidlets are largely self-sufficient, can go shopping, pack their swimming stuff reliably*, go swimming ahead of us, help to tidy, pack, organise, entertain themselves etc.

I was worried I’d have horrible flashbacky ‘last year we were pregnant moments but actually most of the last few years of CPing have had baby sadness in them and I was immune; we went to a different one last year anyway and I pro-actively booked a different style lodge to try and minimise the feeling. But we’ve been so often that last year was not really my most coherent memory anyway. So in point of fact, to get it out of the way and pat myself firmly on the back, I had a really good week, the closest thing to a break from grief that I’ve had yet. I made myself do it and succeeded, which is an achievement I think. Max fretted a bit but I wanted them to have a good week, so I made sure I did and apart from a slightly*shriek* moment when I gave myself a birthpool flashback and the inevitable pain of a little cerebral palsy boy who was so beautiful and happy, I did really well.

Another milestone.

(New style villa; very different, but we liked it. Might even redo our floor downstairs having lived with boards for a week.)
The kids had a lot of fun; Fran did get her nose out of Inkheart occasionally, but was mostly immersed and we played a great game of Ticket to Ride Europe one night, but mostly we just swam endlessly and flumped in between times.

Knitting & Reading
I discovered that Kindle (love it, love it!) means I can knit and read!

Babmington ;)
Maddy was the unexpected badminton demon and wants us to find a club to play at.

The blackboard on the wall in the villa was a big hit, particularly as we’d decreed a no ds holiday thanks to last years crime outbreak at that particular resort. That meant a lot of reading, drawing, card playing etc went on, which was great. This is Maddy’s version of a Gogo, something which is inexplicably popular in this house :roll:

We also had friends there; we didn’t see much of them as we felt a bit of a need to hunker (as we often do :/ ) but meeting up at swimming was great. At least this year I could go on the slides anyway. I will find positives.

On the last day I got to go to the spa, which was great. I thought, made some plans, didn’t cry and got to stick my hand in a tank of the fish that eat your feet. They felt very, very weird, but I might have a go another time.

Good holiday. It felt like I might never have another one, but I did. We all did.

*apart from Amelie who arrived without a costume on one occasion.