Home alone…again

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I’ve written a feature for Red magazine next month. It’s about my single summers. The up-to-four weeks of every year since we bought La Maison Blanche that I spend home alone in London while my boys get fattier, dirtier and scruffier in France. Like Peter Pan’s Lost Boys refusing to grow up, ignoring the inevitable start of another academic year. One day that summer will be the summer before GCSEs or A Levels. One summer, in the not too distant future, it will be the last summer before leaving home….oh who am I kidding? This generation are NEVER leaving home…
Anyway, this summer (or rather, last summer, because, blog readers I am still a year behind real life! Keep up at the back there…) I had less time home alone than usual but it was, as ever, a combination of whooooppppppeee free, free at last. And the odd evening of meal for one, Coronation St on catch up and sleeping like a starfish in my super king.
The funny thing about being alone is that I never seem to get any time to myself. My friends book me up so that I have something planned almost every day and night. While weekends become a blur of all day drinking at Shoreditch house – and I can at times exist for days on nothing more nutritious than wine and peanuts. I pointed out to a childless friend for whom this is the norm all year round – that perhaps the real reason we have children is just to safeguard our livers.
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So when we ARE reunited – we go out and drink rose. And appreciate our marriage, our partnership and we heartily recommend that all couples spend a bit of time apart. It makes you realise how nice it is being together.

Oink oink

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The Two Little PIgs

It’s time to talk pigs. My youngest son, Sebastian has for quite some time been nagging us about getting a dog back in London. We have said no. Many times. As husband, Peter points out, he would end up walking it, feeding it and picking up its poo. He is, funnily enough not that keen on this. Sebastian always insists that he would ‘help’ but until they have produced a dog in a lab that can use his paws to play Minecraft it’s unlikely that Seb’s interest would last beyond a fortnight.

When in France, one of his favourite things to do is visit our friends who own a camel farm (click here for their story – it is too long and complicated to explain again why they have camels in south west France!) and on an early visit there they showed us this year’s bumper crop of piglets!

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Please can we have one????

And so his campaign began…. “Pleeeeease can we have one?” And both Peter and I quite liked the idea of some cute pigs roaming around the patch outside our back door (a ready made pig sty in fact), rushing up to us for food and strokes. Oh yes, it would be like Babe only without the talking. And Sarah who owns the Camel Farm insisted we take two (an only pig is a lonely pig) and that’s how we ended up with two pigs living at La Maison for the summer.

We had to decide on names. Ant n Dec? Kate and Wills? Eric and Ernie? Kim and Kanye were all ruled impossible as the only two pigs slow enough to let us catch them and take them home were girls. And so it was left to the children to suggest one name each and they chose…… Dawn and Misty!! Peter said they sounded like strippers and vowed to check the parental settings on our laptop when we got home to see just what the boys had been watching on youtube…. .but it turns out they were Pokemon references which he persuaded them to change to Dawn and Cora (marginally less ‘stipperish’). And the names stuck.

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They ate like pigs!

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Trotters Inc.

And for at least a couple of days, everyone was fully committed to feeding Dawn and Cora. A diet for baby pigs of bread, milk and sugar sometimes topped up with the scraps from our meals (anything as long as it wasn’t pork – inadvertent cannibalism, even among pigs was considered very dodgy). But unsurprisingly after about a week and the realisation that pigs don’t really DO much except eat and then run away into a dark corner squealing, the boys got bored of their porcine friends. And despite my efforts to get Dawn and Cora to interact with us, they remained terrified of anything except the Marks and Spencer Andante bowls filled with bread and milk (maybe they’d seen that Gordon Ramsay programme and knew their eventual fate at the hands of humans – maybe pigs are born with an inante fear of humans – like the rabbits in Watership Down!) Whatever their reasoning – they steadfastly refused to become our friends.

But at the end of the summer, when we packed them back into their box – after a most amusing game of ‘catch the squealing pig’ which involved us all falling over a lot in the mud until Peter finally pinned them down – we were a bit sad to see Dawn and Cora leave. Especially as we knew their fate and it wasn’t a lifetime of running about in fields growing old and fat. And the bowls we used to feed them for the previous six weeks wound up back in our human crockery rotation. And if I sat down to eat soup out of those Andante bowls, I’d find myself getting a bit emoshe – especially if it was ham and lentil….

A baby at La Maison

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Children make the best childcare

NOT FOR ME!!! Dear god – that horse has bolted…..but there are moments like when baby Io came to stay this summer that I do wonder if our French House could be just a little bit fuller – I mean we have the space….

Anyway broody feelings notwithstanding, this is a tricky post to write as it features my friend Ian, who is a writer. And he is a very good one. Writing a blog post about a writer is rather like putting on an am dram production of Iolanthe and asking Robert de Niro to swing by for a look.

Only last week Ian wrote a brilliant piece on turning 42. It was featured on the Independent website – and although I was apparently quoted in it, there were many ways he had found to describe the subtleties of aging that seemed so spot on I was a little envious I hadn’t written them ALL myself. Finding a successful path in life is surely about being so good at something that others simply don’t understand how you do it. And this is sort of how I feel about Ian’s writing. I feel the same way about Peter and plumbing. My Mum once said to me that she couldn’t understand “how you come up with so many ideas for things to go in your magazine each month” and it was one of the best compliments anyone had ever paid me. I do it without question or analysis. And I love it and maybe, I hope, I’m quite good at it. One of my main hopes for my children is that they find something that they are good at. That they get to spend every day of their life doing that – even if it is building Minecraft servers or googling pictures of poo!

Anyway back to Io – enough of her parent (who for the sake of blog continuity I should mention is a friend from Uni who, along with his lovely wife Alice had already visited La Maison Blanche once – it was pre Io, they didn’t just leave her in the car with the window cranked a bit… The sun shone while Io visited physically and metaphorically. My children were angelic, picking up on her good girl vibes, offering to look after her so that Ian and Alice could head off to Super U alone (for those reading without small children – at this stage of parenthood, a trip anywhere without having to pack a nappy bag is like a week on Necker with Ryan Gosling)

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Seb’s in charge

And we were happy that Io liked the big plastic toys we’d been amassing at vide greniers for her in the run up. The boys even used their allocated €5 to get her some wooden building blocks at one. And Ian cooked us an amazing dinner of chicken with baked bread and we lolled and LOLed in the hammock with Io squished in between us. And Sebastian asked why he couldn’t have a baby sister – at which point Peter shuffled uncomfortably and announced he was going for a long run. But with our combined baby girl god-daughters Mabel and Bo and slightly older goddaughter Cara we have more than enough girlyness at La Maison and at home in London. But we did suggest that Io comes again next year and every year after that if she wants to – she can get her Dad to write a book about it!

The way you make me feel…..texture, fabric and other touchy feely stuff around my French House

Bonjour! Je suis en France. And as per usual this means blogging takes a back seat to complete relaxation. Eating and relaxation in fact. As we speak I am feasting on cherry compote with fromage frais with one hand and writing this with the other. One of the great joys of being in France is eating – as much and as highly calorific food as I can. 

The other joy is wandering around, looking at all my finished projects. Taking a little mental walk down memory lane. And I thought I might take you on a stroll with me on this blog post using textures and fabric to tell the stories. Or at least to kick start them.

 

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lumpy and bumpy

This is our hallway. Smooth huh? The walls in La Maison Blanche are not smooth. They are in fact the exact opposite. Craggy, lumpy, bumpy, like wall cellulite in fact – everywhere. And although some were so bad we had to replaster them, most. like this have been painted over and left. Lumpy. Peter insists this adds to the house’s character. I’d truthfully like to plaster them all up a bit and at least make the edges a bit neater but as he’s the one doing the work I can’t really do much about it. This wall is half way up the first flight of stairs and I bought the light in one of the first Vide Greniers we ever went to. There is a door on this wall. I have never been beyond it. There are lots of these in our house – doors leading to attics – which sound like romantic, hidey holes for children to play in. If CS Lewis were writing this blog post we’d all be in there discovering secret lands and faraway adventures. But sadly – they are just dark, cobwebby attics probably full or rats or bats or both. 

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Who IS the fairest of them all?

Marble plus mirror in my bedroom. A very early purchase and for bigger pics of the bedroom cick here. This mirror came from my favourite shopping destination – ebay…..and I have always wanted one just like it. They are however very expensive – but this one wasn’t because it was broken. There were a couple of pieces of glass which had fallen off the mirror so the vender couldn’t charge much for it and no one else wanted it. And when it arrived, Peter simply glued the broken pieces back on and voila. My dream mirror. The marble fireplace in our bedroom is the original fireplace and very grand. But our only attempts to actually light a fire in it ended in us being smoked out of our bedroom, eyes streaming, gasping with smoke inhalation as opposed to sitting gazing into each other’s eye’s romantically in front of it. 

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Star Studded

These are our dining chairs. Which Peter upholstered himself. Each morning he likes to get up early. I am never sure if this is simply a way of getting time alone before everyone else gets up or wether his body clock is wired differently to everyone else in the world . If he’d been married to Margaret Thatcher they’d have been always bumping into each other at 4am – her deciding wether to  defend small island nations, him wielding an upholstery gun. Anyway, I love these chairs. I barely let people sit on them I love them so much. And they populate my dining room which is the best room in the house.

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Le Metro tile

And now my own personal homage to the Metro Tile. The budget conscious renovators best friend. Which is lucky because I love them. And if you can’t use a Metro tile in France then where can you (unless of course these tiles were so named because of the Newcastle Metro – whay aye) These ones came from Topps Tiles and we drove them over in the back of our estate with the back end dragging along the motorway! I think the real trick to make metro tiles more interesting is to get a coloured grout. In Jamie Olivers Italian near us they have orange grout in between which looks really cool. Though taking loo inspo from restaurants can be dodgy as before you know it you’ve ended up with your home looking like Nandos! 

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Charlton Hessian

These are my home made curtains. I am very proud of them as I’d never made curtains before. If you look really closely it turns out I’ve attached the linings to the wrong side so the hems are actually on the outside but by the time I’d done this, sewing three metres along both sides and a metre along the top and bottom, I couldn’t face redoing them. And who will look THAT closely anyway. The fabric I bought on ebay for next to nothing as well as the lining fabric. And the whole project took me about a week to complete. I’ve bought the fabric to do the same for the sitting room but can’t even face getting the sewing machine out of it’s box. It might be easier just to go to John Lewis like any normal person.

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yeeeeeee haaaaa!

My final fabric/wallpaper is this and features Seb as it IS his room. I have always loved this cowboy fabric from Cath Kidston. When we bought out first flat together in Balham, London, I bought some of this in the oilcloth fabric to cover some old chairs Peter had retrieved from a skip for our kitchen. I then painted the kitchen to match with green walls and cream cupboards but I had never managed to persuade Peter to use it any more liberally than that. Until now. Perfect for a boys bedroom although terrifyingly already feeling a little juvenile for my growing boys. Arthur has in fact moved out of this room now and into his own more minimalist designed den. And I can’t help but feel that in a year or two Sebastian won’t want cowboys on his walls anymore. And so it is with all children’s room decoration – it serves to remind you that they aren’t children forever. And those sheep cot mobiles, designers guild cat print curtains,  and toy wooden forts are but for a fleeting point in time. A time that YOU appreciate far more than they ever will which is no doubt why we spend so long decorating children’s rooms. Mine are happy if they get to put a Harry Potter posted on the wall (posters are strictly forbidden in our home, as are cartoon related duvet covers) which one day, when they leave home they can do. Until then its cowboys and farrow and ball paint colours. But from the look on Seb’s face he SEEMS happy enough with his wallpaper. Until he’s 13 and decides he wants to paint it all black anyway.  

Sitting room make over – shop the look!

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pink to make the boys wink

Of all my room makeovers – I love this one the most (for more pics of ‘le salon’ before and after click here). And that’s before it is even finished. It is now an enormous, grand room befitting the style and size of the house. A place to gather formally. If we were prone to American style family Christmas cards we could all sit around the fireplace while Peter leaned in a patriarchal way on the mantlepiece. But the downside of this is a seismic shift in my attitude. I’ve gone from family and friends being able to wade through the house in mud covered wellies to a situation where I am following kids/guests/Peter around with a dustpan and brush. And that’s NOT how this holiday home was supposed to be.

Is this what happens when you choose a pale pink and cream colourscheme for a high traffic room? I fear so… But as out home becomes more boutique and less shabby-not-at-all-chic I am starting to get un peu precious!

Take my Stockholm black and cream Ikea rug

STOCKHOLM Rug, flatwoven IKEA The durable, soil-resistant wool surface makes this rug perfect in your living room or under your dining table.

Black and white and really alright

I spent a large portion of this New Year’s Eve celebrations encouraging guests that this was a ‘no outdoor shoe’ zone. I cried as the New Year’s Eve canape selection got tipped onto it and I even stressed about champagne spills as the clock struck midnight (red wine was banned natch). What had I become?

And my wall sconces that I picked up at a vide grenier now house drip free candles in case we get wax on them or heaven forbid the new real wood floor. I’ve found very similar ones though here at RE in case of serious disaster!

Galvanised Wall Sconce

Candle on the wall

The chairs all came from various vide greniers and the plan is to upholster them all in cream vintage linen picked up from markets and vide greniers too. And I shall be insisting upon clean trousers before anyone even attempts to sit in them. Should you want to copy my half finished chair covering look. Check out ebay for vintage french linen.

And finally woe betide anyone who messes with my cushions. Regular blog readers will know that cushions will possibly be cited in divorce papers should Peter and I ever split up. He hates them. I love them. I tried making my own (click here for blog post on this very subject) But when I spotted these ones at Graham and Green I splashed out. Shhhh don’t tell Peter!

Cushion and on and on

And finally for those who have virtually admired my cowhide footstool (*waves to twitter followers who did so…) It came from Marks and Spencer but is sadly now discontinued. So I recommend trying something like this from MADE.COM which has loads of great footstools. I have one of their purple chesterfield ottomans in my London home too! Just don’t attempt to sit on it. Well not unless you’ve showered and changed first!

Too nice for putting your feet on!

Mum and Dad and Marciac and Jazz

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When Grandad and Gran came to stay…

My Dad loves jazz. But not in a ‘smokey, dingy basement bar with people in roll necks listening to students with a double bass’ jazz. What my Dad likes is big band stuff or ragtime or the kind of jazz that you’d imagine you’d hear on a New Orleans’ paddle steamer. And luckily for him (and it turns out for us as we’ve been every year since we bought our house in France) one of the world’s best jazz festivals takes place 15 minutes drive from La Maison Blanche.

The Marciac Jazz festival runs for a week (or it might be two don’t quote me) during the month of August in a sleepy, quaint French village. Only its not sleepy at all for those weeks – it comes alive like the Enchanted Wood at night. Some of the world’s best jazz musicians descend and although jazz is not really my thing and I’ve never really heard of any of them (I think Jamie thingy who is married to Sophie Dahl may have been there one year but I couldn’t swear on it) the atmosphere is amazing as our sleepy little Marciac is filled with music, wine and even stalls selling touristy tat.

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Ice cream is crucial when jazz listening!

Each of the restaurants in the village expand into tents in the market square and there is an ice cream seller with around 100 different flavours. And each year we book a table at Le Monde A L’Envers a great restaurant on the square and we eat fine food, drink fine wine and listen to the jazz bands playing in the square. And when the kids were smaller they would dance but are now far too cool for such things. But as it turned out they could hand that mantle over to someone else this year. As the square got dark and the jazz got louder everywhere around us people started to dance. And when we lost Mum and Dad for a little while we wondered what on earth could have become of them but it turned out they had found a corner of the square where a band were playing and people were dancing so they’d joined in. A proper dance that only parents seem to know how to do.

And my Dad declared it was his best night out for years.

Kids, animals and the Fete de Maubourguet

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Thinks he’s made of candy…

So there we were. The summer lay ahead of us with the promise of lots of visitors, temperatures of up to 38 degrees and the only renovation projects we had were minor ones (finishing the Salon painting mainly). So like Cliff Richard and Una Stubbs we set off on our summer holiday.
We had almost a week before my parents arrived and there was a lot to do. First things first – the fete de maubourguet. Most French villages host a weekend fete at some point over the summer. These are two hedonistic days of wine drinking (or as I spotted in maubourguet a combo of beer and absinthe drinking!) game playing and dressing up as women. (Fetes bring out the Les Dawson in the burliest of French men!)
The tiny square in Maubourguet is transformed into a fun fair like Rydell High at the end of Grease. For a small village there are some big rides but the main attractions for my boys are the giant balls you can roll around in on three inches of water and the trampolines with harnesses so you can bounce and spin – referred to by our friends who have some near their holiday home in Cornwall as ‘bouncealines’.

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The most fun in the world

There are slot machines, coin slide machines (where Sebastian hit the jackpot and thought he was James Bond when presented with a watch as a prize) and there is food – loads of it. Candy floss as big as your head, crepes, popcorn and ice cream. And local children are allowed to stay up as late as they like and the adults get stuck into the wine. And at some point in the evening, burley men, dressed as women encourage the local children to join them in a giant tug of war competition. And for the first time ever this year, our children elected to join in. And as we watched them grab the rope on opposing sides with dozens of French children of different ages, laugh, fall over and speak the universal language of silliness, we remembered one of the reasons we took on this crazy project.

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Tug of war in maubourguet

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To try and give two, urban, London, relatively privileged kids, a slice of life that money can’t buy. To show them that sometimes pulling a rope with thirty, non English speaking village kids in rural France can be way more fun than an x box. And the sense of achievement when one brother came in on the winning team was Millibandesque for whichever one of them it was.

So we went and bought silly hats to celebrate.

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The wurzels

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Maubourguet in fete

Meanwhile, back at Summer 2013

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Sunshiney home

I’ve veered off on a tangent. Which is what happens when I actually get to our french house – I want to show you all pictures in real time but if that happens I’ll lose my train of thought and the narrative bits of our story. Yes its finally nice, we can sit in one room and be warm and dry while others sit in a different room and concurrently experience warmth and dryness. Fancy that?

Its the house we always dreamed of and in Summer 2013 we threw open the doors, shutters and all other apertures of La Maison Blanche to a host of fabulous guests. I spent the longest I ever have over there with my husband and sons (regular blog readers will have read tales of my separate summers but it not click here .) And despite my usual bouts of ‘oh god why can’t I be in some sort of organised resort with a kids club’ woes – this summer was the summer I saw the value of our french folly.

Iphoto is a wonderful tool – you can spend hours just flipping through a visual history of key moments of your life (daubed with a healthy selection of selfies/foodstagrams and comedy videos if you’re anything like me!) and, if you’re like me, you can sit back and say WOW my life looks bloody amazing! If looking at other’s facebook feeds can sometimes make you want to slash your wrists in terms of self underachievment (just this week I had people posting everything from first class flights to Barbados, to Billie Piper at their new year’s eve party!) Then my iPhoto feed serves to provide just the opposite.
A quick scroll through one year of photos makes you realise just how much we pack into our lives. And how many amazing people wander in and out of it along the way, family, friends and this summer some porcine friends too.

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Ride on time!

And so it is with summer 2013 – an iPhoto scan shows the White Family on our own having fun, the white family plus my parents having jazz fest fun, the white family and possibly one of our all time fave guests – baby Io having fun and finally us plus The joyous Murray Leslie family having fun with rope swings, camels and more. So really it’s several blog posts to come. But here’s the visual whistle stop.br />

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Gran and Grandad!

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When kids do daycare

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Kids, animals and other stuff

Oh and then there was the arrival of Dawn and Cora….. But that’s definitely another blog post!

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Two little pigs

New Sitting Room makeover pics

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Le Grand Salon!

I’m here! In my lovely French home – and you know what? It is really lovely. Could be warmer but with fires in all the rooms and extra blankets for the boys (and cashmere bed socks for me!) we can snuggle down.
And today when the pompiers came round for their annual donation (in return for which you get a calendar full of fire warden activities – recovery position anyone?) we were able to invite them in for the first time since we moved here. They decreed our salon ‘tres jolie’ and although it’s not finished yet I thought you might like to see some pics.
And if you don’t mind I’ll get back to playing Mastermind, listening to Plan B (and explaining to Sebastian why it’s Ok for HIM to use the F word?) and drinking red wine from our cubivin!! Oh and waiting for Uncle Richard and Stuey to arrive!!

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Fake Christmas tree (for emergencies such as these – you try finding a tree on December 27th)

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Drop down lights from graham and green, sofa ikea ektorp

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Chandelier for 1 euro (need a bigger one but this will do for now)

What’s French for Christmas?

Joyed Noël obvs. Today’s slightly – ate too many mince pies, drank too much mulled wine – blog post is a lazy one. I thought you might like lots of lovely festive pics of La Maison Blanche at Christmas. I’ve blogged about previous festive seasons in France here and here and here but for an easy peasy tour of Christmas Chez nous – I’ve rounded up my fave pics. They go from Christmas number one to our most recent. And this year we’re off to France on Boxing Day…. I’ll be adding more pics then. Bonne Fete xx

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A tree – dig it!

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Children refuse my protestations for a ‘minimal’ tree

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Yule fool!

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Nom nom

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Berry nice right?

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Giz a kiss

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Shabby…. But cosy

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He’s been!

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Finally get my minimal tree

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A dining room fit for xmas