This is the first in a three-weekend cross-country marathon of Christmas shows. And I’m telling you, writing this in January 2020, the only FREE MOMENT I’ve had since November 2019 to even recount this all to you—sigh—it was a dramatic whirlwind.

So let’s get started.

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I arrived home to Nova Scotia extremely late on Tuesday, after being delayed in both Calgary and Ottawa for several hours because of a snow storm. For the Moncton show, I fly into Halifax and spend time with my family and either Mom or my sister Jessie will usually drive up to Moncton with me. On Wednesday, after sleeping in, I prepared my inventory and display items to pack in the car.

Nanny wasn’t doing well. She’d had an infection and wasn’t bouncing back, and was thus bedridden. She had declined in the last few years though she was always kind and eager to converse with the other residents, visitors, and staff in the Harbour View Lodge. I went to visit her with Mom on Wednesday and I noticed the difference five months had made on her. Although bedridden, she wanted to be part of the conversation around her, despite her extreme deafness. I told her (again) that I was getting married in the summer and she got very excited and said, “We’ll all go.”

I had a conversation with Joe, the showrunner, before making the trip up to Moncton about the possibility of renting tables. I was surprised to hear that yes, the supply company would be onsite to handle rentals, and it wasn’t something I had to book ahead of time. What a relief! I’m used to having to order everything months in advance. This really helped, as I was scared we’d have to go buy more fold-out tables.

On Thursday morning, Mom got a call that Nanny was not doing better, and she decided not to go with me to Moncton. Dad would accompany me instead. This also complicated our other plans—on Sunday night, the plan was to stay in Truro, so that Mom, Jessie, and I could attend a wedding dress shopping appointment I’d made. When you only have one functioning car and you live in a rural area, changing your plans to make everything work can be difficult and stressful. But that’s probably why I’m so good at making and juggling plans. The solution is, you just make it work.

The new plan became: Dad and I would go to Moncton to do my show extremely early Friday morning, Mom would drag their Mazda convertible out of winter storage, and Jessie would come home for the weekend. We packed the car and I spent the evening making meals for Dad and I to take with us.

No one slept well on Thursday night. I was awake at 2:30am, and despite trying, couldn’t quite fall back asleep before having to get up at 5:30am.

It’s a three to three and a half hour drive to Moncton. I got in the driver’s seat, and felt very little anxiety, only a thick haze of responsibility. Dutiful readers will remember that I have a driving anxiety. Dad and I kept each other awake and when we finally got onto the highway, he helped me through the anxious parts. Eventually, the haze became extreme fatigue, and we stopped in Amherst for coffee and a Big Breakfast at McDonalds.

Dad used to do the Sunday flea markets and craft markets when I was little (he’s a carpenter) and sometimes, I’d get up early and go with him to help. We would always go to McDonalds to get a Big Breakfast meal. Sometimes Mom and I would make fudge the day before and I’d take some to sell. I was only in elementary school at the time, but I saw how rewarding it was at an early age to make and sell your own products.

He drove the remaining forty-five minutes, but still, I was quite pleased that I had done the majority of the trip.

As soon as we arrived, the red-vested volunteers came and helped us unload. The caffeine was starting to kick in and my show brain was taking over. I collected the badges and found our spot.

I went and found the supplier, and rented two tables. I got one free with the space, so I had a total of three surfaces. I lucked out with the third table, as the legs were adjustable. It was the perfect counter space! Dad and I set up in due course and I had enough time to do my hair and makeup. A woman in the bathroom said that I must sell makeup with the amount I had scattered over my corner of the counter (and the artistry with which I was applying it? lol).

Mentally though, I was already “done.” And yet this was the beginning. Not just of the weekend, but of three weekends of intense holiday retailing.

Display

I really regret not bringing my horizontal banner! Or having the patience to hang the lights I bought. I needed something against the black, because it feels a bit yard-saley without some kind of backdrop. Next time!

I love my wings! It is hard to get them to stand out against a dark background – and it takes a lot of planning to use them effectively. My sister made them and uses them for the Eastern shows–maybe this is the year I bring it back out West? (it is SO HUGE and kinda fragile, I am wary shipping it. Maybe it’ll fit on a pallet?).

This was my first-ever corner booth, by myself. I have a lot of room for improvement here. People didn’t really understand that they could COME IN to my booth, because of the way the smaller counter was positioned, and how I stood in front of it. I moved it on the Sunday to face the aisle, and this was an improvement, but it was still awkward when people came into the booth and they were just standing behind me. Next time, I’ll create a similar set up as my Signatures shows, and maybe find a way to create a smaller counter space.

Sales

Overall, sales were strong—stronger than my Calgary holiday show, Festival of Crafts. I beat last year’s sales. I was pleased with my numbers, although as always, I want more!

My $30 bundle deal continues to dominate! Gear and Sea did well as a stand-alone sale—the banner really helps! The Violet Fox outsold Stars In Her Eyes, which surprised me, as usually the cover art performs well at holiday shows. But what can I say? Fantasy is popular.

Saturday was busy, and surprisingly so was Friday, and I could have used an extra sales person! I couldn’t help but feel I was losing people, especially with my awkward set-up.

Interactions

People were surprised I’d flown all the way out east just to exhibit at this show. Yeah, the flight is costly, but the space is half the cost of the craft shows out west. And, I am a Maritimer, despite living in Calgary now—that counts for something. Also, a LOT of people told me I was a “smart girl” for writing, publishing, and selling my own stuff.

Dad stayed with me for the three days, and he made friends with my neighbours. One of them noted my busy booth and said to him, “She’s got the touch, doesn’t she.” Everyone was so friendly and helpful, thank you so much!

I also finally got the chance to meet the showrunner, Joe, who I’ve been otherwise communicating with for the last several years through email or phone. He said that he’d been meaning to introduce himself to me, but every time he came by, my booth was always so busy!

I had a pleasant interaction with a woman who, after walking away, came back for my card. She then said, “I do readings. And just now, I got chills. Something big is coming for you.”

Sweet! Something…good I hope?

One couple was shopping for their grandson. They gravitated to my science fiction series, but upon seeing the titles (Stars In Her Eyes, Dreams In Her Head), the woman announced that her grandson doesn’t like reading about girls, and told me that I should “write something with a ‘him’ in the title” and then she’d buy.

Wow, what a punch in the gut. Sometimes people will say anything to a stranger. I’ll get right on that….not. My books aren’t for everyone, and that’s OKAY. Just move on politely. Ughhh!

Nanny & Life Lessons

We knew it was coming. We just didn’t know when.

Early Saturday morning, we got the call from Mom: Nanny had passed away earlier that morning. She would have been 99 in February.

This was really hard, even though I had already said goodbye. On one hand, I could have left the show and gone back home. I could have forfeited my spot, my sales, and my profits to be a support.

But I also knew, in my heart, that I would have regretted that decision.

When you work for yourself, you have to make hard decisions and more importantly, you have to be strong enough to live with the consequences. I chose to stay and emotionally swallow everything in the name of marching on. My mom was okay with me not being there—she had amazing support and help on that day, for which I’m very grateful. I was very lucky to grow up with and have a relationship with all of my grandparents. In my mind, the time spent with them alive is the most important.

That morning, all I thought was, what do I do when someone asks how I am? How do you tell someone, “Well, my grandmother just died, but I’m here, how are you today?” Or, “Your problem of finding the right gift is rough, but I have no emotional space to deal with you right now?”

There is no right answer to this. When there’s nothing else for you to do, you have to get up and do your job and survive until the end, because this is the promise and commitment I have made to my audience. And that became my mindset through this three-weekend ordeal. Just get through this day, and the next day. I can do this, because I know I have a deep well of strength I can draw upon when things get tough. In the short-term, I can get through. But there’s also a cost to this mentality. It is not for a long-term haul.

Instead, I lent a hand on Saturday evening by editing the (long) obituary on my phone, trying to cut out as much as I could. It was really hard. For nearly her entire life, she lived in a rural community–the same community I grew up in–and she was very active in the school board, the church, community organizations, the hospital board, and she even worked as a bookkeeper! She also loved Scottish and Irish music and would chord on the piano at the local dances, and was a big supporter of our musical endeavors.

If you knew her, you knew she was a tenacious force and the embodiment of kindness and community goodwill.

***

On Sunday, we packed everything up and loaded the car. I directed Dad out of Moncton with Google Maps. We had a good chat about a potential Christmas book I could sell during my holiday shows—something I’d been cooking in the back of my mind. I think the show turned out to be a welcome distraction for us both. Dad was also getting excited by the idea of me shipping a pallet to the venue, and all around the country.

You can tell he’s my dad because we get excited by the same things. He was an entrepreneur for most of his life too. He reads all of my post-mortems! I really enjoyed having him around during the weekend – in fact, without him, I probably wouldn’t be doing shows at all!

Once we hit Amherst, it was pouring rain. My dad’s night vision isn’t great, especially in precipitating weather, so I took the wheel and drove the rest of the way to our house in Truro. The visibility was so poor, even the trucks were going less than 70km/h. With everything that had happened over the past two days, I didn’t have emotional space to be anxious about driving in terrible weather at night, passing long, slow trucks on the highway. It was just another thing that had to be done, so that I could finally get to the place where I could rest.

Well. Kind of.

I had a wedding dress appointment in Truro on Monday morning that Mom insisted on keeping, even after Nanny’s passing. Because in our family, if you want to do multiple things, it’s best to pile them all in at one time so that they get done! It was also a happy distraction for everyone, I think.

So Dad dropped me off at the Truro house on Sunday night, where my sister Jessie was staying. Jessie and I got to unwind with some wine and get some much-needed visiting time in. Dad drove the rest of the way back home to the Eastern Shore with my show stuff and unloaded it so Mom could drive back up to Truro for the dress shopping.

On Monday morning, we (Mom, my sister, my aunt, and I) went to a little wedding boutique in downtown Truro. There were many good dresses, and I had narrowed it down to two. As I deliberated buying one, we had lunch, and Mom and Aunt Kerry finalized the funeral arrangements.

Me: I am QUEEN OF THE DRESSES

Also me: I am getting on a plane in five hours.

After deciding not to spend $2500 on a wedding dress and veil/crown (sigh), I ran errands with Mom and spent some quality time decompressing before she deposited me and my things at the airport. I really didn’t want to leave.

This was the second hard decision – not cancelling follow-up shows to stay for my grandmother’s funeral.

I wrestled with this. Turners was a good show. But the Butterdome in Edmonton was the following weekend, the holy grail of Canadian holiday craft shows. I’d already invested heavily just to do it. I couldn’t walk away.

On the plane ride back to Calgary, I outlined a short speech for Jessie to read on our behalf at the funeral. I wrote out all the life lessons Nanny had imparted to us over the years, and I thought I’d share a few here.

  • If you order a milkshake, it’s your drink and your dessert!
  • If you do a little bit of cleaning every day, then you never have to spend a full day doing chores. If you do it now, it will be done.
  • Always look your best, no matter where you go. Especially if you can get a deal on a fashionable suit from Frenchies. If you are wearing something new, it is acceptable to ask, “Do you like my new suit?” Confidence is everything.
  • If you sit on the bench at the mall, strike up a conversation with the person next to you. Inevitably, you will discover a geographical or familial connection with them, and you will see that the world is not so large or scary after all.

At this point, I was looking forward to everything being over, because on December 12, my parents would come to Calgary, and we would spend Christmas together. That was the thing I kept my sights on, to get me through.

Stay tuned for the next two post-mortems, where I:

  • Attend the Edmonton and Winnipeg holiday shows, one weekend after another;
  • Get horribly sick;
  • Question everything about myself and my business.

Will I Go Back?

I think so, yes! Turners has a loyal crowd, and it’s worth it for me to go. And it’s a nice excuse to go home and visit family.

Hey there again! It’s me, Clare.

I hope you enjoyed the post-mortem!

Want to read how I did at other shows? Click here for the full list of articles.

READ MORE

Hey there again! It’s me, Clare.

I hope you enjoyed the post-mortem!

Want to read how I did at other shows? Click here for the full list of articles.

READ MORE

Want MORE post-mortems?

I've developed a WHOLE NEW site where I go more in-depth with my post-mortems, including write-ups on online marketing activities! If that interests you, head on over to cmarshallpublishing.com.