Puppy’s first Christmas

Clara is a puppy who is excited for her first Christmas. She wants to know why we celebrate, and what everyone loves most about it.

Clara was a puppy. She lived with her Mummy and twin brother Rudy and their humans, Norah and Jasper. Clara was excited because it was Christmas soon. Clara wasn’t sure exactly what Christmas was, but by the sound of it, it involved lots of food, baubles to chew, and extra cuddles with their humans. It sounded amazing!

But today, Clara and Rudy were in the dog house. Apparently, trying to climb up the Christmas tree to eat the baubles was ‘incredibly naughty’.

The puppies had been told ‘no more treats today’. This made Clara sad. Her tummy was rumbling, and it was ages until dinner time.

“It’s not fair,” moaned Rudy, “I just wanted to eat that shiny star at the top of the tree. I love baubles.”

“Well, I wish that I hadn’t followed you. It was all your idea, and now I am in trouble too,” huffed Clara.

“You didn’t have to follow me up the tree!” Replied Rudy.

“I know that, but you called me a coward!” Said Clara.

“Hmph.”

“Stop arguing, puppies,” said Mum, “I am trying to have a nap.”

Clara walked to the back door and stared out at the garden. It was raining. Her tummy rumbled again. She sighed.

The next day, Clara tried to be well behaved, to please her humans. It was tricky. She really wanted to climb that tree and eat some more baubles. Sometimes it was hard being a puppy.

Jasper took her, Rudy and Mummy out for a walk to the park. Norah was wrapping presents, and apparently didn’t need their help, which was a shame. Clara loved the park: they could run around and meet other dogs. There were so many smells: grass, dogs, squirrels, poo. Jasper let them off the lead, and Rudy ran to smell a lamppost. Clara saw a friend, an old English sheepdog called Bert, and went to smell him. Then she licked his face.

“Bert, you are old and have had many Christmases,” said Clara, “what do you love most at Christmas?”

“Well,” replied Bert, “I love many things, but I suppose that my favourite is having my humans around, all of the kids  come and visit over the holidays.”

Bert’s humans were grandparents, and had their whole family round on Christmas Day.

“Oh,” said Clara. “I don’t know what I will love most, because this will be my first Christmas. It might be pigs in blankets. Bert?”

“Yes?”

“Why do we have Christmas?” Asked the puppy.

“Well, many years ago there was a baby born in Bethlehem. He was a special baby: he was called Jesus, the son of God.”

“The son of God? That sounds important. Why was he born?”

“To give hope to all people. He told everyone about God, and how much he loves them. In fact, Jesus died for our humans.”

“Oh. Does Jesus love dogs too?”

“Oh yes,” he loves everyone.”

Bert and his human walked away, and Clara went to chase Rudy around a tree.

When they got back home, Norah had hidden all of the presents: Clara had been hoping to have a peek. She was tired after her walk, so curled up next to Mummy and fell asleep. She dreamed of dancing pigs wearing tinsel.

It was Christmas Eve. Clara was so excited that she struggled to fall asleep. She closed her eyes and then thought of all the food and presents that she would get the next day, and jumped up, wide awake again. Rudy kept asking Mummy silly questions like how much food they would be able to eat, and whether it was allowed for puppies to climb trees and eat baubles on Christmas Day. Finally, after Mummy told her and Rudy a bedtime story called ‘The night before Christmas’, she nodded off.  

Clara suddenly jolted awake. She looked around, sniffing the air. What had woken her? She climbed gently out of bed so as not to wake her mum or brother. There! What was that sound? It sounded like… like… bells! Little bells jingling. She looked out at the back garden, but couldn’t see anything. Then she heard something from the living room. Very quietly, she pawed the kitchen door open. She popped her nose through the gap, sniffing hard. There was a new smell: similar to her humans’. Was there a burglar come to steal all of their Christmas presents? She would teach them a lesson! She would bite them hard on the bottom. 

Clara crept on tip-paws over the living room carpet. There, a fat man was standing by the Christmas tree! She would sneak up and bite him on his bottom before he even realised that she was there.

‘Chomp!’

Clara took a small bite of the man’s red trouser bottoms. 

“Yowch!” He shouted, jumping a couple of feet in the air.

He turned around. He had a big white beard and bright blue eyes. His hat was red… hang on, he looked familiar. 

“Oh no!” Barked Clara, “are you Father Christmas?”

“Ho ho, yes I am, young puppy. You have extremely sharp teeth.”

“I am so sorry, I thought that you were stealing our presents. Please don’t put me on the naughty list?” 

“Well, seeing as you were just trying to protect your home, I will let you off.” Father Christmas smiled.

“Yes, Mr Christmas. I promise to be a good puppy from now on. Please don’t tell Mummy that I bit you on the bottom?”

He patted Clara gently on the head. 

“Ok, I won’t.”

Clara noticed another smell and looked behind Santa: there was a small puppy, looking scared.

“Oh, Clara meet my newest pet, I just found her today. I was delivering over Finland when I noticed a little black nose sticking up out of a snowdrift. I flew in for a closer look, and found her, freezing cold. I put her in my coat to warm her up. Her name is Estella.”


The tiny puppy looked at Clara wide-eyed. Her brown fur looked like it needed a brush.

 “Hello Estella, my name is Clara. Would you like a treat?”

She nodded her head.
Clara gave her a puppy treat from her Christmas stocking that was hanging over the fireplace.


“I probably shouldn’t be looking in here, but my humans would understand.” 
She ate it up quickly, “thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” smiled Clara.
“Father Christmas, could I ask you a question?”
“Of course.”
“What do you love most about Christmas?” Asked Clara.
“Oh, that’s a good question. Let me see… well I love the snow; I love my big Christmas dinner that Mother Christmas makes me after I have delivered all of the gifts; but most of all I love making sure that everyone has a gift that they can treasure. Sometimes it is something small, but it brings them great joy.”


Clara smiled. 


“Now, help me to put your family’s presents under the tree, please?” He asked. 

Clara helped him to arrange them all neatly under the tree: Norah’s, Jasper’s, Mummy’s, hers and Rudy’s. She started sniffing her gift, but stopped when Santa looked at her.

“Could I open mine now please?”

“Ho ho, no young Clara,” laughed the plump old man, “you have to wait until the morning, like all of the other people and pets. Now, I must get on, it’s a busy night for me, you know.”

“OK, bye bye Father Christmas! Thank you for our presents. Goodbye Estella!”

“You’re welcome. Goodnight.” He popped the tiny dog into his front coat pocket.

“Bye bye,” whispered Estella sleepily. 

“Goodnight, safe journey! Sorry about your trousers.”

Santa turned around and headed back up the chimney. Clara noticed that he was wearing snowman pants underneath his red trousers.

She went back to bed, giving her present one more quick sniff on the way past.

“It’s Christmas!” Rudy was panting in her face.

“Get off!” Clara laughed, pushing him off her.

Rudy started running around the kitchen in circles, chasing his tail and then biting it. 

“Ow.”

Clara stretched and smelled the air. It smelled like turkey, roast potatoes and joy.

“Good morning puppies,” grinned Norah.

She was putting something delicious-smelling in the oven.

Rudy and Clara went to her for pats and cuddles, licking her hands happily.

“Where’s Mummy?” Clara asked Rudy.

“She is in the living room, let’s go see what Father Christmas brought us!” Replied her brother.

Clara remembered what had happened the night before, and smiled to herself as she followed Rudy out of the kitchen.

Jasper was handing Rudy his Christmas present – Clara recognised it as one that Father Christmas had brought.

“This must be from Norah,” Jasper said, “I don’t remember it.”

Rudy jumped in excitement and tore at the wrapping with his teeth. It was a squirrel squeaky chew toy. He threw it up in the air and caught it, tail wagging.

“And here is one for you, Clara,” said Jasper.

It was also one from Santa. She opened it – a snuffle mat with small treats hidden in it. Wonderful!

Mummy opened her present: it was a cosy red blanket.

“Let’s save your other gifts until after dinner, shall we?” Suggested Jasper.

Clara didn’t think that was a great idea, but she could be patient.

Jasper started cutting up vegetables and stirring things in big pots on the stove, so Norah took them for a walk. The frost on the grass was cold under her paws and looked like icing sugar, sparkling in the winter sunshine. All the humans were wishing each other “Merry Christmas” and they saw Bert again, wearing a fluffy red and white hat. They had a lovely walk but were in a hurry to get home, ready for Christmas dinner.

 After a delicious meal of turkey, pigs in blankets, roast potatoes, honey parsnips and carrots, the family were snoozing in front of the fire. They would open presents after the Queen’s speech. 

“Mummy, what do you love best about Christmas?” Asked Clara.

“The thing that I love most about Christmas is seeing your and Rudy’s happy faces and wagging tails. And also the food,” Mummy smiled. 

Clara thought that she loved everything about Christmas.

The end

What do you love most about Christmas? Can you draw it? Have you written to Father Christmas yet this year?

For more literacy resources and stories for kids, please go to https://literacytrust.org.uk/

This story is dedicated to my labrador puppy. It will be her first Christmas this year. ❤

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Rainbow walk for Samuel’s Hospice

I had seen a few adverts for the ‘Rainbow run your own way’, to raise funds for Children’s Hospice South West – the group of hospices that Charlton Farm is part of here in South West England. Charlton Farm is where my son Samuel lived for most of his very short life. It is a wonderful place that cares for children with life-limiting illnesses, and their parents and siblings.

I ignored them at first, telling myself that it was too much effort, and I wouldn’t raise much money anyway… then I saw it advertised again and thought that I could easily walk for 5km, and would rope my kids, parents and in-laws in. I admit that I didn’t feel enthusiastic. I was struggling after Samuel’s second anniversary, and didn’t know if I would be up for any challenges.

To win a medal, you had to raise £15 person that you registered. I thought that I could probably give enough for myself and my two kids to do so. In the end, I signed up 6 of us to our family team.

I set up a Justgiving page, setting my target at £100. That was quite high, but I was trying to be optimistic. I met the £100 target within 24 hours! So I set the new target to £200. The money flooded in. 🙂

Alex Dixon is fundraising for Children’s Hospice South West (justgiving.com)

In the end, I made over £650 including gift aid. And I later found out that I was in JustGiving’s top 20% of fundraisers for the month of June. That’s out of thousands of different Justgiving pages.

I couldn’t believe how generous people are. I am so grateful for everyone who gave – including some people that I don’t know. I guess that it’s personal – people know that my family were helped by the hospice. And I obviously have lovely friends and family.

My team also won the prize for best fancy dress – if you know me well, you will have an idea of how happy that made me.

We did the 5km walk around Stanton Park, which is where Samuel’s memorial tree is. It’s a special place for our family. I thought that a team of 6 was pretty good to do the walk, but people kept asking to join us on the day. We had 23 people and 1 dog on the team. It was fabulous to feel so supported by my family and friends. It was such an enjoyable day, and the weather behaved. Not everyone knew each other before the walk, but they all got on well and it was a great atmosphere.

I am so glad that I decided to sign up for the rainbow run your way. I love Charlton Farm and their amazing staff- and hopefully they will be able to support families like mine for many more years.

May is a difficult month, with it being Samuel’s birthday and anniversary of his death – but this was something positive to focus on.

Thank you everyone who joined in and donated.

Sophie and the forest

Chapter one

Once there was a girl called Sophie. She lived in town with her Mum. Her Mum was always busy at work. Her Grandmother was poorly so Sophie was going to visit her. Gran lived in an ancient cottage in the forest and didn’t have electricity. She only had a landline phone, not a mobile. She didn’t even have wi-fi.


Sophie’s mum was preparing food for Gran as she wasn’t well enough to cook for herself; and making sandwiches and packing snacks for Sophie’s journey.


“Now, you have the map to Gran’s cottage on your phone, don’t you?”
“Yes Mum, it’s all here. And I will have my GPS on, so I won’t get lost,” replied Sophie.


“That’s good. Have you packed your toothbrush?”
“Yes Mum.”


Sophie was going to stay the night at Gran’s house. It was a long walk, and it was the summer holidays.


“What about a cardigan? It can get chilly in the forest at night.” Said Mum, squeezing in a bag of crisps and some fruit.


The rucksack was so full that it would be difficult to close.


“Yes, it’s all there.”


“Text me when you get there, but I won’t be able to check my phone for a while.”


Mum zipped the bag closed with a sigh of relief, and picked up her thermos of coffee, heading out of the door, “I packed a first aid kit too. It’s got all sorts in there – you never can be too careful. Gran said that she is ok, just a cough and feeling run-down, but she isn’t one to moan. Right, I’m off to work a double shift. See you tomorrow evening.”


Mum gave Sophie a quick hug.


“See you later Mum, have a good time at work.”


Sometimes her Mum did double-shifts and spent the night at work. There was a small side room where she would catch a couple of hours’ sleep if she could.


Soon afterwards, Sophie set off for Gran’s cottage. She used her GPS and the map on her phone to help find her way there: she had walked there a couple of times with her Mum, but it was a long journey, so they usually drove a different way, missing out most of the forest.


It was hot, and Sophie had to stop a few times to rest in the shade of a tree for a drink. She sat under an old oak tree and rested her eyes for a minute- she wasn’t used to walking this far. Suddenly she jolted awake, and looked around, confused. She must have been asleep for a while- the sun was higher in the sky. She checked her phone before setting off.


“What, battery only 5% How did that happen?”


Oh no, the GPS had drained her battery, and she had forgotten to charge her phone the night before! She looked around – it was obvious that she had to go down that path, as she had definitely come from the other way. But would she really be able to find the rest of the way to Gran’s cottage herself? Sophie wasn’t sure, but as she had come so far already and had to get the food and medicine to Gran, she couldn’t go back home now.


Sophie looked around. The trees were huge here, and so close together. In the heat of the day, the birds were silent, and the silence felt oppressive. Almost like she was being watched. Sophie shook her head and told herself to stop being silly. She switched her phone off, to save the last few dregs of battery power.
She had been walking for a while, fairly confident that she was following the correct path, when it started to go dark. Oh no, not a storm? Luckily the trees would stop her from being drenched, but it wouldn’t be comfortable. She knew that there were a few old houses scattered around the forest but didn’t know if anyone was friendly or would take pity on her.

A crack of thunder made her jump in fright. She looked around for somewhere to shelter, perhaps a hole at the base of a tree. Not finding anywhere, Sophie decided to keep walking. Fat warm drops of rain started falling, and she moved to the shade of the trees to the side of the path. The sky got darker and the rain heavier. Sophie felt tired, wet and miserable.


Up ahead, she spotted a falling-down house in a clearing. Thank goodness! Hopefully the owner would let her inside until the storm ended. She knocked loudly on the door, but there was no answer. She peered through the grubby front windows: it was dark, but she could see an old sofa. Then she checked around the back, also knocking on that door and calling loudly. She tried both doors. The house seemed to be empty. How annoying!


She sighed and sat down at the front of the house, holding her backpack above her head to keep some of the rain off.
She looked up, glimpsing a movement in the bushes.


“Hello… my name is Sophie. I don’t want to cause any trouble. I just want to go into the house until the storm passes. Do you own the house?”
Silence.


“I have some food that I could share with you… a sandwich, or um, some grapes? Would you like some?”


No reply. Sophie thought that maybe her imagination was in overdrive, and she was talking to herself.


A quick flash of orange. Was the owner a hermit who never spoke to other people?


“Oh,” said Sophie, rooting through her backpack to find something to tempt the shy person, “I have a first-aid kit here, if you need a plaster or something? No? Oh, there are some peanuts here too… Gran loves peanuts… oh bother.”


Sophie sunk her head onto her knees and tried not to cry.


“I like peanuts.”


Sophie smiled to herself. She didn’t look up straight away, as she didn’t want to scare the hermit.


“Oh brilliant, thank you. If you let me shelter in your house, just while it’s raining, you can have all of the peanuts,” she replied.


“Ok, hand the bag over, and I will open up the house for you.”


Sophie looked up.


“Wait, where are you?” She looked around, confused. She was sure that they had been standing nearby, but now all that she could see besides trees and rain, was a squirrel – a red squirrel. They were quite rare.


“It’s ok, I will get the peanuts out of my bag now- so you can see I am not lying.”


Sophie took the nuts out and lay the bag at her feet.


“Ok, they are here for you to take – are you behind that chestnut tree? You can come out now.”


The squirrel darted forward and grabbed the nuts.


“Oh no, a squirrel has just nicked the bag of peanuts! I am so sorry; I will get them back… here squirrel squirrel…”


Sophie crawled forward slowly, trying to grab the snack before the animal ran into a tree.


“What, do you think I’m an idiot?” Asked the squirrel.


“What? Argh, a squirrel just spoke to me! I am going mad!” Sophie cried.


I hope that you are enjoying the story so far. Join me soon for the next chapter.


For more literacy resources for families, go to www.SwindonStories.org.uk

A video of me reading this chapter:

https://youtu.be/Hk7p64oOGxU

We took part in the Big Garden Birdwatch

The RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch always takes place in January. It allows the RSPB to assess how wildlife is coping.

https://www.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/activities/birdwatch/everything-you-need-to-know-about-big-garden-birdwatch/

It’s Sunday afternoon, and Bethany and I are sitting in the gazebo in our garden, wrapped up in coats and blankets. We have coffee, hot chocolate and chocolate brownies to hand.


So far, we have only seen two seagulls flying overhead. We also heard a bird’s claws scrambling about on the gazebo roof, but we couldn’t see what it was. We heard a crow in a nearby garden earlier. It’s snowing lightly and very cold.


To stave off boredom, Bethany is now drawing a Robin in pencil in her drawing pad. I have drawn one too. We often get robins in our garden. But not so far today.

I put nuts and birdseed on the grass earlier. They aren’t tempting the birds to our garden yet.

It’s quiet, although we can hear birds calling. I don’t know if we will see any birds this hour. It’s snowing a little.

A flying insect passes nearby. I thought that it was too early in the year for them?

We are probably scaring the birds by being outside, but this is more fun than watching from the warm indoors. It feels like more of an adventure. My feet are getting cold.

A single starling flies past, twirling and showing off. It’s unusual to see one by itself: they are usually in flocks of 20 or more.

The snow is getting a bit heavier now.

There go some seagulls: 1, 2, 3.

I am enjoying sitting outside and looking and listening. It’s peaceful. A silent snowy Sunday afternoon.

We both eat a brownie.

There are some perfect snowdrops at the base of the apple tree. I notice that the apple tree has many buds, waiting patiently for spring.

Hooray! Bethany spots a male blackbird, who quickly flies into the garden and finds a snack near the bushes.

A little brown sparrow pauses for a second on the fence.

That’s it, our hour is up. We spotted only two birds, but had a peaceful time together in the garden watching the snow fall.

Christmas memory baubles

It was 7 days until Christmas, and Leila was extremely excited. She loved Christmas. She loved the presents, she loved the crafts, but most of all she loved having all of her family together and eating too much.


Leila’s Mummy and Daddy had put up the Christmas tree, and Leila and Mummy were making some more decorations for it. They had already made some paper snowflakes and painted some wooden cutouts of the Nativity scene. Now they were working on baubles. These were no ordinary baubles though: they had little photos of their family members inside them. Mummy was cutting out the photographs and Leila was adding decorations like small sparkly stars and glitter, to make them look snowy. It was quite messy.


“Oops!” Leila cried as a pile of glitter landed on the floor. “Sorry Mummy.”


“Oh dear, not again.” Sighed Mummy, reaching for the dust pan and brush for the third time that morning.


“Glitter is quite messy, isn’t it?” Mummy asked.


“Definitely.” Agreed Leila.


Leila was filling up a bauble with a picture of her Gran and Grandad in it. They had big smiles. She put in extra glitter because she loved them very much.


“Mummy, I wish that Arlo could be with us this Christmas.” She said.


“Me too!” Agreed Mummy, reaching over to give Leila a hug.


“I really miss him.” 


“So do Daddy and I. We think about him every day.” Replied Mummy.


“How old would Arlo be now, of he was still alive?” Asked Leila.


“He would be 2 now. Just imagine, he would be getting his fingers in the glitter, and pulling the baubles off the tree!” Answered Mummy.


“Yeah, I think that he would be very cute, but also a mischief.”


“I think so too.” Agreed Mummy.

“Look, here is a photo of you holding Arlo when he was very little. Shall we make this into a special memory bauble?”


“Yes please. I think that it will be the best bauble ever.” Said Leila.


They had some tiny heart stickers, which Leila added to the outside of the bauble to show that it was an extra special one.


When it was finished, Leila held the bauble in her hand and smiled. 


“It’s beautiful.” Said Mummy.
“Sometimes I feel sad when I think that Arlo is missing out on Christmas.” Admitted Leila.


“Me too darling. But we will always remember him and always love him, won’t we? Do you remember that time that he weed all over Daddy when he changed his nappy?” 


“Oh yes, that was hilarious!” Laughed Leila.


Mummy and Leila hung all of the baubles onto the Christmas tree. They all looked good, but the one of Leila and her little brother was especially lovely. A ray of sunshine came in through the window and made it sparkle.
Mummy and Leila looked at each other and smiled. 


“It’s like he’s saying hello.”

Christmas can be a difficult time for bereaved people. If you have been affected by baby or child loss, here are some places that offer support.

https://www.careforthefamily.org.uk/family-life/bereavement-support

https://www.thegoodgrieftrust.org

https://www.sands.org.uk

National Grief Awareness Week: my story

Care for the family, who have a bereaved parents’ group, lead by the lovely Mike and Kath, spoke to me about my experience as a pregnant Mum who knew that her baby would die, and grief after your child has died.

https://www.careforthefamily.org.uk/bereaved-parents/a-very-short-life

Autumn writing activities with kids

Autumn is my favourite season. Nature is showing off and trying to lure us away from our TVs and phones and get us outside.

If you have a child, you probably spend some time every Autumn collecting treasures such as crunchy leaves, conkers and acorns.

You can use this as a chance to do some literary activities. Children engage better with reading and writing if it’s fun.

Some ideas:

Make a list together of words that describe what you see. For younger kids, you can do the writing, or it can just be a chat. With school age children, encourage them to do some writing too.

Write a poem based on the treasures. Touch them: how do they feel? What colours are they?

Write a short story of your trip to the park. What did you see? Were there any sounds like the leaves crunching underfoot, or a dog barking? Was the sun shining or was it rainy?

You can tie this in with art: drawing a leaf or painting faces on the conkers.

My daughter wrote some descriptive words of the conkers and leaves that we collected recently.

Then we wrote a poem based on some of those words.

What Autumn literacy activities have you done?

The yellow balloon


Faith had a yellow balloon. It was her favourite balloon because it was yellow. Everywhere she went, she carried her yellow balloon.

She took it to the shops with Mummy. When she went to Granny and Grandpa, along came her yellow balloon. When she went for a walk with Penny the dog, she carried her yellow balloon. Faith could not remember when she got it, and it felt like she had always had her yellow balloon.

One day, Faith and Daddy took Penny for a walk to the park. Faith brought her yellow balloon of course.
It got windier and windier and even windier. Penny ran off after a squirrel, and Daddy chased her. Faith was swept up by a gust of wind, still holding tight to her yellow balloon.


The wind lifted her up, up, up. She floated over Daddy. She swooped over the houses in town.

She soared over the sea. Faith and her yellow balloon flew all the way to the moon! It was beautiful up in space, and the Earth looked tiny.

“Wow! This is the greatest adventure ever, isn’t it, yellow balloon?”

After a while she got scared and wanted to go back home.

The yellow balloon carried her back down to the park safely. When she landed, Daddy was still there with Penny, looking for her.


“Where were you, Faith?” Asked Daddy. “I was looking for you everywhere!”
Daddy was upset because he thought that Faith had got lost.


“I was ok Daddy. My yellow balloon flew me all the way to the moon.” 


Daddy looked at her and laughed.
“Ok darling, but please don’t run away again. I was very worried that you were lost or hurt.”


“Sorry Daddy.” Faith replied.


She took Daddy’s hand and they walked back home. Penny walked beside them, and the yellow balloon was in her other hand.
Suddenly another gust of wind swept the string out of Faith’s hand, and before she knew what was happening, the yellow balloon went flying off. She tried to chase after it, but she couldn’t fly. It flew over the road, over the houses and far away.


“No! Come back!” Faith shouted. 


But the yellow balloon did not come back.
Faith cried and cried. She had never been so sad in her life. 


“I want my yellow balloon back!” She cried, all the way home.


“I want my yellow balloon back now!” She sobbed in the back garden while Penny looked at her sadly.


“Why doesn’t my yellow balloon come back?” She asked Mummy at dinner time.


‘I’m so sorry, darling. The balloon has gone away now. We can’t ever get it back again.”


“That’s not fair!” Shouted Faith.


Faith went to bed very sad that night. She missed her yellow balloon. Things did not feel right without it. She was still the same Faith, but just a bit sadder. 
That night, she could not sleep. It was very late. She looked out of her bedroom window. The moon  was big and bright. Then, Faith saw her yellow balloon! It was on the moon. She could just make it out, a tiny yellow dot ever so far away. She had excellent eyesight.


“So that’s where you went.” She whispered into the night sky. 
“I miss you yellow balloon.” 


Faith climbed back into to bed. She knew that her yellow balloon would never come back now. But, she just knew that it was safe, up on the moon. 
She yawned and fell asleep. In her dream, her visited the moon and her yellow balloon, and that made her feel happy. 


The next morning, Faith woke up and looked around her room for her yellow balloon. Then she remembered that it was gone forever. She felt sad all over again.


“I feel sad Mummy, I miss yellow balloon.” She told her mum at breakfast.


“I know Faith   I’m sorry. I know what, why don’t I buy you another yellow balloon? Will that help?” Asked Mummy.


“No thanks, I want my yellow balloon, not another one.” Sighed Faith as she ate her toast.


Daddy drank his cup of tea and thought.Penny looked at Faith’s toast and wished that she could have some.


“Why don’t you draw a picture of you holding your yellow balloon?” He asked. “I know that you love drawing.”


Faith chewed her toast and had a drink of orange juice. 
“Ok Daddy, I will.”


After breakfast, Faith went and sat in the garden with her crayons and some paper. Penny came too, and lay down next to her feet.
She drew a picture of her and yellow balloon standing on the moon, because that is where they had their greatest adventure. Penny had a nap and dreamed of squirrels.
When she had finished her drawing, Faith showed Mummy and Daddy. 


“Oh, that’s beautiful darling, well done.” Smiled Daddy.


“What an artist!” Agreed Mummy. “Would you like to put it up in your room?”
“Yes please.” Replied Faith.


So Mummy put the drawing of Faith and her yellow balloon up in her room. Whenever she felt sad, Faith would look at it and remember her greatest adventure with her beautiful yellow balloon.

Dedicated to my niece Lara, who loves yellow balloons.

And my baby son Samuel, who is my little yellow balloon in Heaven. ❤

When Samuel died

We knew that Samuel would not live for long. We found out at my ‘normal’ 20 week scan, which happened to be 3 days after Christmas 2018.

We knew that he would never talk, never take his first steps, never start nursery or school.

The cardiologist told us that the average life expectancy for a baby with his congenital heart defect was 2 days. I hoped for a few more, so that he could meet as much family and friends as possible. Of course, any baby can die during labour, so there was that awareness too.

We and other Christians prayed for a miracle,  but myself and Mike both felt that he was never destined for a long life. We would have gladly taken it, of course. Why didn’t God heal our Samuel? Only He knows. I do know that Samuel’s life is just as valuable as someone who has lived to 100, or climbed Mount Everest or became a millionaire. Every single person is loved by God, and that is not dependent on their looks, education or achievements. I do know that thousands of innocent babies and children die around the world every day, from disease, war, poverty, illness, accident, unknown causes and parental choice. So he is definitely not the only child currently chilling in Heaven. I miscarried before Bethany was born, so he has an older brother or sister with him.

When I was about 6 weeks pregnant, and then again at 17 weeks (after completely normal 9 and 12 week ultrasounds that didn’t show any problems); I did hear clearly a male voice in my head saying “There is something seriously wrong with your baby.” I hadn’t been thinking or worrying about my pregnancy at the time either. So I had some warning.

Thankfully we were in a lovely hospice for most of Samuel’s life, called Charlton Farm.

https://www.chsw.org.uk

We had as peaceful and enjoyable a time with him as we could. And it wasn’t just that Samuel’s every need was met. We were looked after as a family too. They were a real blessing, and we will be forever grateful to them.

I remember the last full day of his life, Saturday 11 May 2019. It was the weekend, so Connor and Bethany were with us again, after a few days at school (staying with Mike’s parents.) Being a Saturday, more family were able to visit, which was great. My sister in law, Mary, came to visit us in the morning. My sister, Laura, who had visited from Scotland ‘for just a few days’, more than 2 weeks before, was living at Charlton Farm with us, mostly to look after me as I had had a c-section and was fairly immobile. She was an absolute angel to us all, and I can’t thank her enough for being there for us. My brother Vince, and his fiance Anna visited us that afternoon. So Samuel was blessed to have all of his aunties around him on his last well day.

We went for a walk up to see the horses on the farm at the top of the steep hill with Mary and Thalia (Samuel’s nurse for the day), that morning. It was a warm sunny day. The kids played on the very posh private school nearby’s outdoor play equipment. We noticed that Samuel was struggling to poo, which is a sigh that we had been warned about. It was because his heart was failing, and the digestive system is the first thing that struggles to work due to reduced oxygen. He could still breathe fine on his own and wasn’t in any pain.

That afternoon, Vince and Anna arrived. We had a lovely time sitting in the garden while Samuel slept in his pushchair or was held by everyone in turn, and Bethany played in the nearby sandpit. Everything felt so relaxed and happy. I thought at the time that this was going to be a happy memory to cherish. You don’t always know what you will remember, but I just knew this time. Samuel was ok, if sleepy and not hungry. The exact opposite of his brother at that age!

We knew that his time was probably coming to an end, but didn’t know how long it would take. And there is always hope that you will be given a few more hours and days.

That evening as Mike and I watched a film, strangely I can’t remember what it was, we could see that Samuel was starting to physically deteriorate. He was still comfortable and didn’t need any interventions, but one of the hospice’s regular doctors made the effort to came to check on him anyway at about 11pm, long after she had gone home for the day. A trick of his was to creak at you almost like he was trying to communicate. He was also a surprisingly alert baby who stared at people as though working you out. He got more creaky and more pale. We felt calm, but there was sadness as we knew that we would have to face his death soon.

We told the two nurses on night duty to wake us up if there was any concern about his health. I was downstairs in his room, as the trip to the bedrooms upstairs was too tiring and I wanted to be near to Samuel at night. My sister was in the next bedroom. At about 2am, nurse Sophie woke me up to say that they had tried a little medicine, but he was quite poorly. I had a cuddle, and after a while he picked up a bit. About an hour later, they asked if they should wake Mike and the kids, as Samuel was struggling. I agreed, and soon Mike, Connor, Bethany and Laura came into the room. He was very pale and we told the kids that he was going to die soon. The nurses had given him some medication to make him more comfortable. We had some cuddles, and all said goodbye to him. He was in my arms as I sat in bed when he died. It was all so calm and quiet. I think that he had the best death that anyone could hope for.

At about 4am, we had said our goodbyes and the nurses made us all a hot chocolate while we sat in the nurses’ station where Samuel had spent many nights in a nurse’s or my arms. There are sofas and a big window. We watched the sun come up.

Samuel had a happy life and a peaceful death. He was hardly ever in a cot or pushchair as everyone fought over cuddling him. He made such a big impact on our and many other people’s lives in his 11 days on Earth.

We are sad, and sometimes angry; and it is incredibly unfair. We will never stop grieving our son. But what happy memories we have with him. He has helped me to think about life differently: about what is really important.

Covid19 diary week 1: 22-29 March

I first heard of the latest coronavirus in late December: it was far away in China then. Since named Covid 19, it is now the subject of 90% of all conversations, and traditional and social media outlets.

I decided to keep an online journal, so that I can look back on this ‘unprecedented’ time in a few years. If the zombie apocalypse hasn’t hit by then, of course. I cannot promise to make it interesting, but it will be honest.

The govt shut down schools (except for children who are at risk, disabled, or have parents who are key workers) on Friday 20 March. So for most parents in the UK, the 20th was the last normal day is what could be a long time.

Dropping my daughter Bethany off at school that morning, it all felt so normal. Only one child was crying, and everyone else seemed pretty calm.

I went into work that day, (I work in a college), also for the last time in a while, and besides it being very busy, it also felt normal. Although there was an odd feeling in the air, a sense of being on the edge of an invisible cliff.

That Friday night, I started thinking about how the following week would look for us as a family. Although we don’t have to homeschool, sitting the kids in front of the TV for 8 hours a day seems a little lax, so I made a list, and blogged about it, of things to do with kids when at home. We have already done some of those things, so it wasn’t a waste of time.

School at home ideas

It turns out that I didn’t really need to plan home schooling, as my kids’ schools both send work through online every morning. It only takes a couple of hours to complete, but combined with home learning stuff, I reckon that’s plenty. I had ordered text books for Maths and English online for both Connor and Bethany the previous week, so they do a little of that most days too. Also, Bethany has chosen to do a self-directed project on amphibians, salamanders specifically. So we have some books, and I have found online resources about that too.

Anyway, we have a rough plan every day, that gets written up on Bethany’s blackboard; of registration, English, break, PE, maths, lunch, playing/ garden/project/ art or baking. We don’t always follow the plan, and sometimes leave out PE (although we do go for a long walk/ scoot every day, which is PE I guess.)

Sometimes we video call friends or family. I am aware how difficult this is going to be for younger kids, who can’t just text or Watsapp their friends  like my son does. I think that when life goes back to normal one day, many of us will have forgotten how to do small talk. Hopefully, it won’t make us all even more self obsessed too. It doesn’t look that way, if the NHS volunteers and kindness that I see on social media is anything to go by.

Anyway, thankfully my kids have a good attitude to learning, and just get on with it every morning, without having to be asked. I do keep checking in, but it’s proving to be much easier than expected so far.

I have some work to do too; as well as never ending housework and keeping in touch with some elderly and vulnerable people that I am looking out for. I am also focussing on my mental health, by walking, exercising at home, getting into to the garden when it’s sunny, reading books, and art.

To be honest, at the moment it feels more like a strange holiday than anything that is particularly dangerous. That said, we are all following government advice, not doing any food shopping except when necessary, and only going out once per day. Plus the ubiquitous hand-washing.

I went for a long walk today, and it was so quiet. The sun was shining and the birds sounded  very pleased with themselves. I expect that the levels of air pollution have dropped so quickly, that this year nature is going to amaze us. It’s good that the plants and animals are going to get a much-needed respite from some of the human destruction. It’s like the Earth is telling us to slow down.

Most people are being more sociable now that they are less busy and not seeing nearly as many people. Dog walkers are generally the friendliest (and I already recognise a few of them from my regular walks and chats about their pets: I love dogs); but young and older people are saying hello as we walk past each other, much more than usual. Connor has asked a couple of times whether I know this or that person, but no, I don’t know most of them. We do always keep 2 metres away, I hasten to add, before anyone criticises me.

It is sad to see the playgrounds taped off with warning signs, but we wouldn’t be using them now anyway. It’s just sad.

I didn’t know that I could ramble so much…

Monday: speech marks, maths with Connor, #DrawwithRob

Draw with Rob Biddulph

Tuesday: Joe Wicks PE, baking cookies and nerf fight.

Wednesday: signs of spring and spring craft, also clothes in the apple tree.

Thursday: scoot in the Park, NHS rainbow drawings in window, clap for the NHS at 8pm with people around the UK.

Clap for the NHS

Friday: set up the piano, minibeast count in garden, sing to Nanny.

Saturday: guinea-pigs play in their new run in the garden. Blisters from too much walking. Monopoly.

Sunday (today): write to Grandma and friend, online church x 2, chilling.

I saw some friends while out today: we had a nice shouted conversation to each other from across the road. They have a dog. I wish I had a dog now, more than ever. The guinea-pigs are lovely, but it’s not the same.

Boris went down with a mild form of covid 19 this week. It’s no surprise, but it does show that nobody is immune. The deputy chief medical officer today announced that we might be in lockdown for the next 6 months! The mind boggles. It’s so hard to imagine living life this for half a year. But it doesn’t scare me. It’s just so surreal. My husband Mike says that this is probably all a dream of his. I don’t believe so. If it is  he had better wake up quickly.

BBC news

Have you noticed that when you watch TV or read a book, when they talk about hugging or going out for a meal, you tsk at them and feel morally superior? Maybe it’s just me. It’s quite incredible how quickly our minds can adjust to massive changes. Makes you wonder what other social rules we have grown up with and therefore see as normal, that other cultures would find offensive.

I am tired of thinking now. Goodnight.