Relish, Reindeer and Melomakaronas.

Christmas Preparations.

Hah! Say that with your mouth full of cookies.

The sky is hanging about 12 feet above the ground. It’s not raining, exactly, but the finest mist is dangling there in the most exasperating fashion. It feels like a slight weight, a downwards pressure on the shoulders and the spirits.

I am feeling tired, perhaps under-caffeinated (more on that anon) and in dire need of cake.

If you fancy a delicious morsel pop over for a look at my melomakarona recipe and review of The Little Christmas Kitchen. I worked hard to make this a good recipe and it really is.

melomakaronasMelomakaronas are delicious Greek cookies, soaked in a spiced honey syrup and traditionally eaten at Christmas. We devoured (I say we because I don’t want to admit that I ate so very many) dozens of them as I was testing this recipe. The book, The Little Christmas Kitchen by Jenny Oliver was also a real treat. I didn’t expect it to have much bite but it caught me by surprise and really hit a nerve. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it for holiday reading.

I went all out, hell for leather, on the Christmas preparations last week. The only problem is that there is almost no light at all so I have very little photographic evidence of my efforts. Here is one candle-lit photo which pretty much encapsulates my week:

Christmas Preparations.

Rudolf was the high-light. Isn’t he adorable? He is my very first crocheted toy and I am more than a little enamoured.If you are tempted, you can find the pattern here. He may get stuck with the name Rudolf Gilmore as I made him while watching The Gilmore Girls with my daughters. Anyone else watch it? It was terrible. Less said the better.

I realised in panic, as I opened my last jar of rhubarb chutney, that I was in imminent danger of having NO CHUTNEY FOR CHRISTMAS! Action stations were assumed, my most humongous pot was excavated from the dreaded corner cupboard and filled to the brim with the stuff of toasted cheese sandwich fantasies. We call it fakeymaloe relish, it’s not so far off the real McCoy and you can find my not-so-secret recipe here.

Chutney crisis averted, I moved on to emergency mitten replacement for the Small Girl. If these look like exactly the same mittens I made last year it’s because they are, but one size bigger. I used the same ball of cheap yarn that refuses to come to an end regardless of how many Barbie dresses and babydoll blankets I make from it. The Small Girl is content because they match every other pink thing in her life and I won’t be heartbroken when she inevitably loses one of them (never both). Just looking back at last year’s mittens I was reminded of this post which I must try to bear in mind as I strive to resist strangling my Teenage Son in the run up to his Christmas exams.

So, we were going well (errant teenagers aside) with the reindeer and the mittens and the twelve jars of chutney and then…disaster struck…my beloved Burleigh mug took a nose dive off the arm of my chair, bounced a couple of times and skidded out the door to the hall where it spun around dramatically before striking a tragic handle-less pose.

It has been carrying a chip on its rear end for months now but that didn’t bother me. This mug is a champion, a hero amongst mugs. It can hold thirty percent more than the average mug which is just exactly how much more coffee you feel you need when you reach the bottom of an average mug. This ergonomically-shaped mug also keeps coffee hot for a good forty minutes which is exactly how long you need to drink a thirty percent longer cup of coffee. Also, it’s very pretty. And my favourite colour. Sob.

I was quite prepared to live with a handle-less-chipped-but-otherwise-perfect mug but when Husband attempted to fill it he discovered a fatal injury. Scroll back up to the photo and see if you can spot it.

‘Yes, you can still use your mug,’ he assured me, ‘but only if you are willing to approach it sideways on and never have more than an inch of coffee at a time.’

The family have little pity. They are all greatly relieved that I, as opposed to anyone else, broke my own mug.

Since then, I have achieved nothing. Zilch. Nada.

I have sliced the top off my left index finger bringing a halt to all yarny activity.

I have thrice stepped in dog poo and some incontinent, foul fowl has taken a shine to the windscreen and bonnet of my car.

The laundry basket has complained to the laundry basket union about over-time and over-crowding.

I ordered pizza for Sunday dinner.

There is every chance that my Husband is writing to Santa as we speak requesting a proper, functional housewife as his old one appears to have broken down.

Here…the man said it:

 

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And so it begins…

trifle bowl snow scene

I’ve been doing my level best to hold back on an all out, no elves barred, Christmas post but I can restrain my reindeer no longer. It is December 1st my friends; let the insanity begin!

I know that I’m not the only Corkonian(e) to lose the run of herself  in the brand new Sostrene Grene shop that opened three doors down from Waterstones and twenty yards or so from my favourite coffee-and-a-bun shop (Ali’s Kitchen). Let’s just say that you won’t require any fancy triangulation technology to discover my location over the next few Saturday mornings.

From the dizzying array of prettiness I chose just two  bottle-brush Christmas trees. I’ve been searching for these for five years so that I could recreate a cute idea I saw on Pinterest (famous last words, eh?). Nary a plastic tree could I find and then, like the proverbial buses, three come along at the same time. I found a teeny weeny tree in the Ballymaloe shop and then, lo and behold, Sostrene Grene have them in various sizes and degrees of snowiness.

All that I needed to do was hijack a dinky truck from Teenage Son’s vintage collection and wash the dust out of the trifle bowl…

trifle bowl snow scene

Look, that trifle bowl is making me 40 shades of happy so no laughing!

trifle bowl snow scene.

Of course, that scene will need to be dismantled on Christmas Eve to make room for some actual trifle.

In further Christmassy creative endeavor, I thought it would be a hoot to make my own Christmas crackers. I was wise enough to check the availability of cracker-snaps on the internet before committing to the project. By committing I mean telling the Small Girl. I failed to notice in the small print, however, that it is not permissible to send explosives, however miniscule, through the post from the UK to Ireland.

Worry not, once committed there was no backing out so the snaps were found locally (thanks to Cork Art Supplies) and the crackers were created. The gifts inside them would have been far cuter had Sostrene Grene opened a week earlier! You can read more about that here but prepare yourself in advance for some truly dire cracker jokes.

homemade diy christmas crackers.

We are off to the Panto tonight so the madness has well and truly started.
Oh No It Hasn’t.
OH YES IT HAS!

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Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

Crocheted nativity scene.

My Grandmother was not prone to profanities. She was, however, inclined to call upon her celestial guardians at those moments when life demands a verbal explosive. ‘Mary, mother of God,’ might have been an appropriate reply to some surprising and mildly unpleasant news; that the bus fare had increased by five pence or a magpie had shat on the clean sheets. ‘Sacred Heart of Jesus,’ was reserved for dire, genuinely heartbreaking calamities. ‘Jesus, Mary and Joseph,’ came somewhere between these two. Jesus, Mary and Joseph were beseeched upon in moments of exasperation. In fact, the intercession of  Jesus, Mary and Joseph was so frequently implored that it sometimes seemed they had taken up residence in some netherworld spare room at the back of the house.

‘Jesus, Mary and Joseph, who let the fire go out?’
‘Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the immersion was left on all night!’
‘Jesus, Mary and Joseph, get down the stairs, your dinner is getting cold!’
‘Jesus, Mary and Joseph, we’ll be late for mass, the bell is ringing.’

It has been proven that cursing and swearing can alleviate pain (Scientific American article here). I imagine Jesus, Mary and Joseph brought a similarly analgesic effect to Granny’s days.

None of that has much to do with crochet but those were the thoughts that were running through my head as I stitched up this little holy family.

Crocheted nativity scene.

The pattern is from Whistle and Ivy and a pure joy to work from. In fact, I enjoyed it so much I couldn’t resist making a second little holy family.

Crocheted nativity scene.

So now, there is a little Jesus, Mary and Joseph convention taking place on my kitchen table.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph convention.

You know that I’m a 44 year old Irish Catholic, right? That means I was a child before the scandals broke and a parent after. I’m willing to bet that most 44 year old Irish catholics have a deal of inner conflict about the Catholic Church.

I don’t want to get too deep here, but just to say that this Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the Jesus, Mary and Joseph that (almost) kept Granny sane, will always have a place in my home at Christmas.

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(Phew, I thought this was going to be a quick and cheery bit of Christmas crafty stuff. I don’t always know what’s lurking beneath my fingertips.)

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Just one sentence about the Irish book awards.

The overall prize at the Bord Gais Irish Book Awards, The Eason’s Novel of the Year, was won by Mike McCormack‘s book, Solar Bones, which I picked up in Waterstones last week and put down again thinking I might read it another time when I’m not so tired because, well, to be honest I was intimidated by the fact that it is written as a single sentence, all one sentence and no full stops, except one at the end, I suppose, and that just seemed a bit too Joycean (I failed at Joyce, twice, in my teens and got scared off trying again) so I took the easier route and chose Graham Norton’s Holding which, as I wrote about yesterday, I completely loved and clearly I was not alone since Graham won the Irish Independent (darn it but these sponsored prizes have unwieldy titles) Popular Fiction Book of the Year which was not in the least surprising and nor was I the teeniest bit surprised to read that Liz Nugent won the Ryan Tubridy Show’s Listeners’ Choice Award for her book, Lying in Wait which I wrote about here and which has been milling around in my head ever since I read it as I keep thinking about poor Laurence, especially with the weather turning so wet and miserable, and hoping that he has made good his escape although that seems about as likely as my succeeding in getting a night of unbroken sleep of which I am so clearly in desperate need and more so than ever having remained awake all night last night for fear that my beloved Teenage Son, and member of the Irish delegation to the European Youth Parliament (that possibly sounds more impressive than it really is but I am very proud of him all the same), would miss his bus to Dublin, and therefore his flight to Hamburg, which didn’t seem unlikely at all given that I was met in the kitchen at 5.45 AM by another dog diarrhoeal incident (you may like to revisit the previous incident, here) the noxious whiff of which could not be ignored and on top of that (not literally) said EYP delegate was wandering around, in extremely unparliamentary attire, at twenty-five minutes to bus-leaving time looking for a pair of socks while I scoured the hall table for a second glove but, fear not, I got him to the bus and now I must spend five days worrying that he will keep himself safe and wear two socks at all times and you won’t believe it but Ryan Tubridy just this minute announced on the radio that it is snowing in Dublin so good job I insisted on that second glove and good job also that I finished my crocheted fingerless mittens, the pattern for which I have already managed to lose, sorry about that, and which I am wearing right now while I type to my great advantage and comfort but not yours, you cry as you read this nonsensical, but mercifully odourless, verbal diarrhoea so I will tell you about just one more thing which is that you should take a look at the National Book Tokens Find The Books competition which looks impossible to begin with but then you get a run at it and are fooled into thinking you might actually get all the clues but ultimately you are stuck with one that drives you crazy for every waking and trying-to-sleeping moment of the day until you finally beg your Facebook friends to put you out of your misery and that smartass who happens to be the person who told you to write something, anything he said, which turned out to be this blog (so that’s who to blame if this is doing your head in) bings back with the correct answer in seven seconds flat which is at once an enormous relief and gigantic anti-climax, at least that’s how the Find The Books quiz went for me last year so if that sounds like a good time to you (as it does to me, honestly) take a look and be prepared to help me when I get stuck and decide to close this ridiculous post with a massive, and long overdue, FULL STOP.

book review of Liz Nugent's thriller Lying in Wait.Holding by Graham Nortoncrocheted fingerless mittens

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A Muggle Mother Writes To Molly Weasley.

a jumper 'like Ron Weasley's'

Dear Mrs Weasley,

I hope that you and your family are well. Poor Ron was given a hard time over all that Cursed Child business but, never mind, he is still my favourite. He sounds like a wonderful father and you must be enjoying having grandchildren to knit for.

On that, I am feeling a little resentful because you have given my children the impression that a good mother can provide an endless supply of Hogwarts-appropriate knitwear. No sooner have I tied the last tassel on a Slytherin scarf but the next child in line begs for a new jumper and she won’t be happy unless it is ‘the same as Ron Weasley’s’. If I plead exhaustion my children remind me that you provide a new, personalised, jumper for every one of your children every Christmas AND you throw in a box of homemade fudge!

I understand that you mean well but you are putting muggle mothers under tremendous pressure. I’ve tried to explain that the impenetrable mysteries of intarsia present no difficulties when YOU CAN USE MAGIC!

Please Molly (May I call you Molly? I feel I know you so well), could you give us a break?

Best love to you and all at The Burrow,

Lynda.

a jumper 'like Ron Weasley's'The muggle pattern for this Aran-weight jumper, with non-magical instructions for intarsia is from Blue Blog Patterns, here.

Slytherin hat.This Slytherin hat was knit using this rib hat as a guide but adjusting the stitch to match my mistake stitch Slytherin scarf.

Slytherin scarf with knitting pattern.Full instructions for my Slytherin scarf and a million photos for those new to knitting without magic can be found here.

WARNING: Things Teenagers Do When Left Unsupervised.

FREE HOUSE: two words that should never be found in the same sentence. Even worse is to combine them with this word: TEENAGERS.

We decided to trust our teenagers  and leave them alone in the house for a whole day, from early morning to late evening. We calculated that they would sleep until mid-afternoon, wake hungry, raid the cupboards and, if our luck held, go back to bed.

Our only precaution was to leave BOTH of them in the hope that they would mind each other. I figured that between them they should have enough muscle and good sense to account for one whole adult.

More fool me. That’s not how adolescence works.

Husband and I, with the younger girls, had a brilliant day in West Cork with friends who we don’t see nearly often enough. We walked in a forest, collected blackberries, built a fire, grilled meat, drank wine, ate cake…all the good stuff.

It was a long and winding road home. We had one puke-stop but, you know, we coped.

As we turned into our gateway I scanned the house for any obvious signals of disaster. No extra cars crowded the driveway, no bodies hung out of windows and no smoke or flames gushed skyward. Only the dog appeared, with his head tucked under the lace curtain to resemble a bride, peering from his sentinel post and looking concerned. Our dog always looks concerned, he may have learned the expression from me, so no great cause for alarm there.

The teenagers, clean and smiling, met us in the hallway. We redoubled our suspicions.

‘What have you done?’ were my first words of greeting. I’m well known for my positive and trusting approach to parenting. Witness the dog’s face.

They laughed hysterically. Honest to God, they laughed so hard they were literally doubled over and clinging to each other for support.

They have always got on like a house on fire, these two, except when they are tearing strips off each other. They know each other’s buttons, for better and worse. I hope with all my heart that they will never forget how much they have laughed together even if it is usually at my expense.

It was impossible not to laugh along even while I scanned for damage. Nervous laughter is the most infectious kind.

On they sniggered, giggled and guffawed while I inspected the house and found it remarkable only in its unusual tidiness.

Amusement was almost souring to panic when the eagle-eyed eleven-year-old spotted something amiss with one of the framed photographs which line our staircase.

It has taken  almost two months to discover the full (I hope) extent of their prank. They tell me I’m only half way there but I am hopeful (or deluded) that they are winding me up.

What did they do?

They jumped out of bed the minute our car pulled out and spent their ENTIRE free day sourcing, re-sizing, printing and pasting photos of Will Smith into family portraits.

I know. Daft. Well, I raised them.

Will Smith, looking suitably dejected, is in the group photo from our wedding day. Will Smith is caught congratulating Husband on his graduation.Will Smith poses as a sculpture on a plinth in the Crawford Art Gallery. Will Smith appears delighted to be embraced by Husband in the conservatory of Ballymaloe House. Will Smith, in a baby’s bonnet, perches gleefully on my lap. I can’t show them all to you because, you know, it might be embarrassing for Will Smith.

I left them for one day and my kids turned the house into a huge game of Where’s Willy?!

We (they) restored most of the pictures to normal this week but I have decided to allow Will Smith remain where he is not blocking any actual family members and, obviously, where I haven’t discovered his hiding places.

Here is one where Will Smith went on a riverside walk with the kids:Will Smith on a riverside stroll.That one had to go as he was blocking Eldest Daughter.

I love this one. Will Smith casually jogging by as the kids enjoy an ice-cream:Will Smith jogging past our house.Looks like the same eagle-eyed child may have spotted him on that occasion also.

It seems Mr. Smith may even have stowed away on our honeymoon:Will Smith stowing away on our honey moon.

If you had pulled me aside that September morning, nineteen years ago, and somehow managed to let me read this post I would have said to you,

Thank you, that is all I could wish for and more.

PS. Perhaps minus the puke-stop.

 

Knitting Mum and the Great Slytherin Defection.

Knitting pattern for Slytherin scarf.

 

We have a defector in our midst. Middle Daughter, heretofore a stalwart Gryffindor, has taken a shine to Scorpius Malfoy and requested a transfer to Slytherin.

In considering this, I have realised that my lovely baby girl was born (in April, 2005) into a house deeply engrossed in all things Potter. We were already six books, three movies and seven gazillion pieces of Lego deep.

The Half-Blood Prince was released in July of that year and I have the warmest memories of spending two whole days seated on our back porch, nursing the babe in arms while reading. Life does not get better than that.

Anyway, it dawned on me that, even though Middle Daughter imbibed Potter with her mother’s milk, The Cursed Child was the first book which  she could call her own. I pre-ordered it from Waterstones in her name and she was allowed to read it first. Oh how she LOVED knowing what happened while the rest of us killed time with bated breath. In as much as any of us can own any book, she owns that one.

Her request for a Slytherin scarf was a treat for me…an excuse to indulge in some yarn shopping, faff about with possible designs and then relax into easy-peasy knitting.

I made a Gryffindor scarf a couple of years ago but, as a last-minute Halloween costume request, it was a rush job of super-chunky garter stitch in unpleasant (I’m being generous there) yarn.

This Slytherin scarf, by contrast, was a labour of love. I ordered Sylecraft Special DK, which is unbeatable for colour choice and value for money, from Wool Warehouse.

This one is definitely not just for Halloween. Middle Girl has been wearing it with swagger. It even looks terrific with her school uniform which includes a bottle green jacket. Happy Girl, Happy Mum.

Knitting pattern for Slytherin scarf.

You can find my pattern, for completely free, and read the knitty-gritty details here. I’ve also included suggestions for the other house colours.

Slytherin scarf with knitting pattern.

This one is dedicated to Alan Rickman, greatest of Slytherin alumni, who melted my heart, always.

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A Crafty Catch-up.

Be patient, please. This is the post where I show you pictures of my creative endeavors and ask for reassurance that I am not the only nutter who gets a kick out of making things from next to nothing and re-making things which others would throw away.

Do we all remember the haul of Doon? (There were two posts, one about the convent of Doon and one about the stuff I brought home from the auction.) Here is a reminder of Husband trying to configure everything, tetris-style, into his hatchback.

loot from Doon.

We’ve been putting the loot to good use. The flask has been to the beach and all that cutlery has been a boon to my sanity. You’d be surprised what a luxury it it to have soup spoons and never need to dispense sugar with a fork.

My ten euros bid on the tea trolley may have been the best impulse splurge of my life.

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A quick lick of blue (Colourtrend eggshell) paint was all it needed.

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I have romantic notions of wheeling this, laden with tinkling cocktail glasses, out to the patio for parties. For now it is the repository of all the stuff I’m forced to clear on a daily basis from the kitchen counter. IMG_0835

The chair, you might recall, was included in the same lot as the trolley. You could say I got it for nothing or paid five euros for each. There’s not much in it either way. I hoped to find some crazy fabric to cover this. I wanted skulls and crossbones or goldfish, something ridiculous that would declare, ‘this is definitely not a nun’s chair’. I failed utterly and ended up with a piece of good quality, well-behaved velvet. The very convincing lady in Galligan’s of Cork sold this colour to me as chartreuse, dahling. When I brought it home it took on a decided hue of baby poo. IMG_0682

Husband helped me to fit new canvas straps, tuck in lots of new padding and tack on the poo/chartreuse fabric. My grandfather spent years upholstering cinema seats in Dublin but it seems that upholstery is not necessarily an hereditary skill. We struggled with this, we bickered and hammered each others thumbs, but the resulting neat and comfortable chair is precisely what was needed for our tiny sitting-room. The universe does not always tend towards chaos.

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I spent my very first Bookwitty pay-cheque on a new sewing machine. Wait until you see the colour of it. Ta-daaah:

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Isn’t that hilarious? This was pure indulgence but Teenage Daughter and I have both got a huge kick out of it. It makes me smile just to look at it. The very first thing I made was a cover to go over it. Nothing fancy, I just copied the plastic cover that came with it.

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I lined it and used interfacing for the first time.IMG_0628

It’s more like a sewing machine-cosy than a cover but it means that I’m happy to leave the machine sitting in the corner of the kitchen, ready for the day I am suddenly overwhelmed with the inspiration to whip up something fabulous. Let me dream.

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Last Christmas Husband gave me two skeins of gorgeous lace weight Merino yarn from Irish Fairytale Yarns. I crocheted a shrug from the first skein. I felt even then that I was unlikely to wear this thing and it turns out I was right. Right in being wrong to make it in the first place so not much satisfaction there. Never mind, I can revel in how much the garden has grown since I took this photo.IMG_9925

With stubborn determination to make something useful from the second skein, I embarked on a knitted infinity scarf. I cast on several hundred (enough to lose count) stitches to 5mm circular needles and started knitting. After spending a fortnight trying in vain to complete a single round, it dawned on me that several hundred was far too many stitches so I ripped back and began again with 250 (I think).  And on I knit, and on, and on in endless stocking stitch with no rows to count and no end in sight. The plan was to keep going until the ball ran out but it never did. I swear to God, this ball of yarn has no end. IMG_0883

Endless stocking stitch was relaxing. For the first month. The second month was tedious. The third month was downright aggravating. The fourth month was fine because I left it in the bottom of the bag and went out to pick flowers instead. At the end of the fifth month I broke off the endless ball of yarn and declared it done. I give you The Infinitely Boring Infinity Scarf….ta-daaaah:IMG_1394

I know, that was under-whelming in the extreme, right? Look, it’s very soft and it won’t hang down in the dog’s face when I’m putting his collar on.

I’m taking a break from the expensive yarns for a while. They put me under pressure to make something more beautiful than I am capable of. I get wound up (groan).

I’m moving on to something cheap and cheerful. When I finished this blanket I started making Granny squares from the leftover scraps. I stowed them in a drawer and added more whenever I found any odds and ends of Stylecraft special DK. A  lovely friend recently up-ended her scrap basket into my lap and gave me enough yarn to finish 63 six-round squares. The plan is to add a seventh round of pink (fondant, to be exact) and put them all together. Can anyone advise me on how many 7-round squares would make a bedspread for a single bed. Also, how much yarn might be required to make a wide granny border (at least five rows? Small Girl is beside herself with excitement about this. She has been counting the squares every day and sorting them into stacks and generally egging me on.

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Can you blame her?

A Fairy Happy Birthday.

fair garden welcome gate

The Small Girl’s birthday began with a note from her fairy friends, Buttercup and Apple Blossom. They have been visiting out house, via a special netherworld passageway, for several years now. They can be relied upon to exchange teeth for money although they have, on occasion, taken quite a few days to turn up. Once in a blue moon they leave a tiny note with a special message which, as you can well imagine, leaves us all in a state of high excitement.

fairy door

Buttercup and Apple Blossom had shocking news. Their forest home has been over run by tourists and so, much to our delight, they have taken up residence in the base of our tree house. Can you believe how lucky we are?!

fairy windows

They’ve even told the Small Girl that, while they must hide away during the day, she is welcome to visit their garden.

fair garden welcome gate

Unfortunately, their (lollipop stick) picnic table and Adirondack chair and (Lego) tyre swing are all a little too little for us to use…

fairy garden

…and they have requested that we water the flowers from time to time.

fairy garden in terracotta pot

As they just happened to have moved in on her birthday, they left a tiny surprise for the Small Girl…

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…hidden from view and from the pouring rain.

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Those might be the most valued enchanted story cubes on the planet.

We decided the fairy door deserved a few stickers as a Thank You to the fairies.

fairy door

Small Girl asked for, ‘chocolate cake with Smarties and marshmallows on top.’

That is precisely what she got, with a fairy of course to guard against thieves.

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