It's hard to believe that this is the third Christmas on the blog, since Rob gave me my camera and essentially changed the way I see the world. It would be untrue to say that this Christmas wasn't hard. It was. Our first Christmas as a separated family, with all the heartbreak and regret that comes along with that. But I really wanted to get through this, for my sake and Immy's, with grace, and love, and gratitude. I AM grateful. Grateful that she has a dad who adores her, who came over late on Christmas Eve to lay down snowy Father Christmas footprints, who spent the night here so that he could be here when she woke up to her filled stocking and presents on Christmas morning. We exchanged gifts (a lump in my throat at Rob's incredible generosity of spirit) and laughed at how her favourite thing this year was the 'snow' off Santa's boots (gifts forgotten) and it all meant that I could almost forget the shadows at the edges of our celebrations.

It's tradition, from when I was a kid, to have a beautiful meal on Christmas Eve. My brother flew in from Cape Town, and we celebrated as we always do. A pretty table, a wonderful meal (prepared by my mom lest anyone mistakenly think I actually cooked), Christmas music and a mountain of gifts under a twinkling tree. We read 'The night before Christmas' by the light of the Christmas tree, after Immy insisted that all the lights be turned off. And then I hung her stocking, and tucked her in, and took a moment to be thankful for family, for love, for a child's unbridled excitement the night before Christmas. 

Jeremy, the Christmas tortoise.

Every year, she gets her own ornament for the tree. This year, ahem, it was this one.

And every year, I order the Swarovski annual snowflake ornament from Amazon. I always order it at the last minute and I'm always amazed when it gets here on time. I don't collect things, and I'm not very sentimental, but I love these. They are beautiful, and simple, and timeless.I think the 2014 one is my favourite so far.

On Christmas morning, we opened our gifts, drank cappuccinos, ate mince pies and shortbread. Our day was spent in that comfortable, lazy way that family brings. Immy and I got to spend some long overdue quality time with her uncles, laughing and swimming and playing with her new toys. And for the rest of the day, I could truly put aside the sadness, and enjoy each moment for the gift of joy it held.

I've already taken the tree down. Wrapped up the ornaments, and carefully put each bauble back in it's box. Sorted out the endless tangles of lights, and taken all the Christmas books down off the shelf, to be taken out next year again. And as I placed each thing carefully in our huge box labelled Xmas, I couldn't help wondering where I would be this time next year. Thinking about how much can change in one single, short year. How we leapfrog from event to event - birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas - those celebrations that roll around once a year, but in between the milestones our days and hours and minutes are crammed full of life, love, loss, adventure, tears, laughter. How the scales can tip in an instant, for better or for worse.

As I closed up the box, and sealed it, a line from a movie drifted quietly into my mind, in the way that all perfectly timed thoughts do.

We must face tomorrow, and whatever it may hold, with determination, joy and bravery.

I'm off tomorrow for two whole days by myself. A retreat to reflect on the year gone by, the year that lies ahead, reading and writing and contemplating the stars. An in-room spa treatment can't hurt either, so I may have booked one of those.

Merry Christmas. See you in 2015.