Advent activities for real life

Corner by corner - simple advent activities


















I am a big fan of advent calendars. I may have blogged about this before. They represent to me a near-perfect combination of festive celebration, Christmas anticipation, and chocolate. What’s not to love?

Rosa's advent chestRemember Rosa’s advent chest? Her excitement at getting it out of the attic this year has reached fever pitch. She and her sisters are spending next weekend with my parents, and even her excitement at this (“Granny and Grandad’s house is the life I always dreamed of!”) is slightly dampened by the prospect of two nights away from the chest and its various delights.

India's advent calendarI am less convinced that India remembers her fabric Christmas tree with velcro decorations, but perfectly sure that once it’s hung on the door she will be as consumed by Christmas excitement as the rest of us. Our advent excitement has been further augmented this year by the following exchange on twitter with our new milkman:

Yup. The milkman brought her an advent calendar. I felt as if I were living in Trumpton. Rosa seemed to think all her Christmases had come at once (which is ironic, given that the nature of an advent calendar means that Christmas has in fact NOT yet come). Even India was sufficiently swept away by the excitement of it all that she forgot to be consumed by jealousy and sadness.

So naturally, amongst all this preparation, a mother’s thoughts turn to this year’s advent activities.Or rather, my thoughts turn to this. More normal people, I realise, will buy a chocolate advent calendar from the Co-op and be done with it. I on the other hand am a ludicrous person who sets myself impossible targets, and I like the idea of the girls getting a little slip of paper each day with a Christmas activity written on it, for us to do together that day.

Honestly, things have been so manic here lately that I might have abandoned the idea this year, except that Rosa (curse her excellent memory!) remembered and said to me, “And will my advent chest have Christmassy activities in it for us to do?”. Like a fool I said, “Yes, of course!”

I remembered the ruthless cutting down of the advent activities printable that I did last year, and I felt a little weary. The thing is, in theory I am all up for 24 festive, memorable activities. I think it’s rather beautiful. But in actual fact, when it’s 4.30pm and it’s already dark, and we’re all tired out, Persephone is gripped by the terrible twos…. well, sometimes on those days the prospect of just putting on the TV is rather more attractive than engaging in some craftiness.

Also, I think many of the activities suggested on other blogs are just a bit exhausting. Or very American. Or really designed for families who live in much more predictably cold climates than here. So I decided to make my own list. A list of do-able activities, more tailored to British families, specifically put together for people who (whisper it) might be a bit tired and a bit crabby some days.

The list is available on the link below as a Word document, ready to print out. But as a taster of what you’re getting, here are my list of advent activities:

  • Have dinner by candlelight
  • Write to Father Christmas
  • Make Christmas cards
  • Make a gingerbread house
  • Give some old toys away
  • Learn a Christmas carol
  • Watch a Christmas film
  • Give some food to the food bank
  • Make popcorn
  • Wrap presents
  • Make Christmas biscuits
  • Make a decoration for the tree
  • Drink hot chocolate with marshmallows
  • Do some Christmas crafts
  • Dance to Christmas music
  • Draw a Christmas picture
  • Read a Christmas story
  • Make paper snowflakes
  • Visit Father Christmas
  • Have a Christmas party
  • See Nanna and Grandpa
  • Make Christmas fudge
  • Do some Christmas colouring
  • Put out a plate of food for Father Christmas!
  • Eat mince pies
  • Go Christmas present shopping

Yes some of these activities are a bit full on. ‘Make a gingerbread house’ is lovely, but not a simple stress-free activity. ‘Make Christmas biscuits’, ditto. There are 26 options so you can exclude any that don’t appeal, and there are also some blanks as well, in case you are tempted (as I confess I will almost certainly be tempted) to add in a few more, ‘Watch a Christmas film’ options instead. We may well recycle this particular one and use it on more than one after school night when it’s grey and everyone is getting scratchy and tired out.

I added a couple of activities which you will either find beautifully wholesome or slightly nauseating, depending on your point of view. But I really, really want the girls to donate some food to the local food bank, for political as well as for character building reasons. Similarly, I want them to be involved in making some space in their ever-growing collection of toys. I want them to think, even if only briefly, about children who do not have as many toys as they do, and also for them to realise that getting rid of possessions can be a positive choice.

So here is my printable of realistic, down-to-earth, advent activities. For families with aspirations for a festive period stuffed with family fun… who are sometimes thwarted in their ambitions by tantrums (child and adult), by tiredness, by a little bah-humbugginess, and by the exigences of the washing. To download it, click on the image below, or there is an old-fashioned text link below that.

Corner by corner - simple advent activities


















Download advent activities.

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Simplest, fastest DIY bunting ever

Corner by corner - the simplest, fastest ever DIY buntingI think it’s fair to say I am quite a fan of bunting. I have already blogged about the birthday bunting I made to string up over the mantelpiece during family birthdays. I also made Christmas bunting. Oh, and bunting for the play house. The long and the short of it is that this house isn’t short of bunting.

But isn’t it true that you can never have too much bunting? The nay sayers may find it twee, or too ubiquitous. But I say, ‘When in doubt, bunt.’ Which is to say, when in doubt, hang up some bunting. Furthermore, much of the bunting we have is seasonal, and hence only makes a quick appearance and then is put away. I am currently much enamoured of a more fun, quick-win approach to decorating the house. I am tired of waiting for an expensive forever solution that may never materialise. And when bunting is this quick and cheap to make, why wait or agonise over it? Just hang it up until you’re tired of it.

Corner by corner - workspace 'before' shotThe genesis of this mini project is our new ‘workspace’ area. Before we knocked through our reception rooms, we had an entire (huge) study. This room was theoretically dedicated to books and quiet work. In actual fact it was dedicated to wheeled items (buggies, scooters, bikes, trikes) and to piles of things that didn’t quite fit anywhere else. Now we have stripped this all back, gained a massive amount of living space, but lost a separate room for work. So I am trying to create a new workspace.

This is the ‘before’ shot. You can see our filing cabinet, which I am hoping to spray paint. You can see my framed bus blind which is going up on the wall above the desk, which actually used to belong to my parents. The desk is scruffy, and has been partially sanded, but it’s solid and sturdy and lovely. Note the touching details of real family life: the halloween costume hanging artfully on the back of the door on the far left of the picture. The empty Ikea under bed storage box in explicably placed next to the desk.

I have all sorts of plans for this workspace. I have (naturally an entire Pinterest board dedicated to collecting ideas for the kind of slightly off-beat, brightly coloured, eclectic look I want to go for. But I arrived back home today, realised I had just under 45 minutes to myself, and suddenly was seized with the urge to do something small-scale, something creative, and something that would brighten up this sorry little corner.

Reader, I made bunting.

Corner by corner - notebook from TigerI had been pondering making some miniature paper bunting to hang over a pegboard, but then I suddenly remembered I had bought this notebook of triangular thin cardboard at Tiger the other weekend. What could be easier than ripping out little triangles of brightly-coloured card and sewing them together? I decided that even though the triangles were many times larger than I’d planned, I would go for it anyway. What harm could it do?

Corner by corner - making simple buntingIt was so simple that I am almost embarrassed to provide instructions. I literally just fed the triangles into my sewing machine. I got a bit over-excited and had a few false starts: a wobbly line on my first triangle, a bobbin that ran out…. But it took only a few minutes to select my next colour, and feed that one in.

Corner by corner - simple DIY buntingAnd doesn’t it look great? The cheery rainbow colours are exactly what I needed. The bunting won’t be permanent – I am already planning something here above the desk which may include any or all of a pegboard, some Ikea hanging storage, and some framed prints. But for now, I think it lifts a space that was starting to look rather sad. It took me all of about ten minutes – it probably took longer to find the sellotape to stick it up and take pictures of it than it did to make it. And it only cost whatever the pad cost. Which would be a much better point if I could remember. But Tiger is very cheap, so let’s say £2 and wait to see if I am corrected!

You can see on the desk some of the other things I have made plans for, too.

Corner by corner - tooth mugs for pensThese tooth mugs from Ikea are destined to hold pens of some kind.

Corner by  corner - mugs from Tiger for pensThese ceramic mugs from Tiger were also only a couple of pounds each, and I thought would similarly be perfect for storage. I can’t quite envisage how I will use them yet, but they were so achingly hip that I couldn’t resist purchasing them. Perhaps an arrangement of three like this?

Corner by corner - mugs for pen storageAnd I have bought another small set of wooden drawers, after the success of the ones I adapted for the girls.

Corner by corner - wooden drawers from IkeaI am very tempted to also spray paint these yellow, but then I plan to paint a chair yellow to put at this desk (and you’ll note my lucky yellow satchel) so I worry that might be a bit much yellow. Also, I am worried that this mini chest of drawers might not be quite mini enough. So it may be re-assigned to toy storage. Everything is up in the air.

Corner by corner - happy DIY buntingOk, let me rephrase. Everything is up in the air, but now also strewn with happy bunting. Which was also amazingly cheap, and hilariously fast to make. Which strikes me as a bit of a result.

Until next time: if in doubt, bunt. It’s a great life rule. Trust me.



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A cheering 5 minute update

Obviously, being someone who is obsessed with improving her house, I spend a long time dreaming of huge, big house-changing projects. We have just knocked through our two reception rooms downstairs (have I still not blogged about this in full? Shame on me…). We have decided to re-do our kitchen in 2015 (EXCITED!) and I think I have found a wallpaper that I want to put in our hall.

But some days you have five minutes spare and you want to do something short, sharp, and immediately successful. Some days the house looks a bit plain and bare and formal, and suddenly you get the urge to add something a bit decorative, something quick and fun and light-hearted.  I decided that the door down to our basement would be the beneficiary of my desire to get a lot of bang for my buck, and one afternoon set about it with instagram photos and washi tape.

If you inhabit the blogosphere, you are probably sick to death of washi tape. Washi-this, washi-that. Washi-tape tutorials, washi-tape storage solutions, blah blah blah. If you inhabit that shady, chaotic place known as the real world, you may well be thinking to yourself, ‘Washi-what?”
Put simply, it’s paper, patterned tape. It’s pretty. It rips off the roll easily. It peels off surfaces straightforwardly. It is achingly hip. What’s not to love?

2014-08-12 14.57.05

I wanted something geometric, square and fun. I wanted something to lift my spirits every time I descended the dark steps down into the basement. I wanted another way to display family photos around the house, and in this particular place, I wanted all the photos to be reasonably current. Instagram photos, in a square type formation, seemed to be just what would scratch that itch. I did  a quick google search and went with polargram for my prints. Not for any great, considered reason, just that they did both plain squares and also the ‘polaroid’ style prints that I had fixed my heart on.

Corner by corner - instagram prints and washi tapeIt took me around 5 minutes to stick them up. I am sure I should have got out my ruler, spirit level and measuring tape. But instead I just whacked them all up by eye, adjusting slightly as I went along. It was perhaps the quickest, most immediately ‘wow’ish project I have ever done.

Buoyed by my success, I went on and stuck a row of them down the wall in a little space next to our new french doors.

2014-08-12 14.57.48 And again, I love them. I am certain that this second set won’t stay there forever. I don’t intend that bookcase (a relic from our old study) to stay there forever. But I have reached a point now with this house where I am tired of waiting for things to be perfect. I just want things to look nice now. NOW. So I have decided, wherever I can, just to go right ahead and do things that look nice, realising that they might not be a ‘forever’ solution, so that’s ok as well.

But for now. For now, don’t they look fab? In the medium-term, I have various plans for the basement door, which is a rather horrible, chipboard specimen and not at all attractive. I might paint it with chalkboard paint. I might screw on some brightly-coloured picture frames and use it as a space to display the girls’ art. Something about it being a slightly smaller door, and a basement door to boot, has freed me up to think about different things I could do with it.

Corner by corner - washi tape and instagram photosHere, despite the appalling picture quality, you can see the pictures in situ. My hall has a newly sanded and stained, beautiful dark wood floor, but the woodwork is still all faintly yellowing white, and needing some love and attention. Five minutes spent taping up photos has livened it up no end. I heartily recommend it.

PS Are you on instagram? Naturally not everyone is on the look out for yet more social media sites to be part of. But it is rather lovely. It’s very quick, and visual, and in my experience overwhelmingly female and a very kind, supportive online space with a more intimate feel than, say, twitter or facebook. If you are there, then – yay – let’s follow each other. I am @rectripp

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Lotus mirror review

I have always had a bit of a thing for a decorative mirror. Long before I had a whole house to prettify, when I was a student living in college accommodation, my sister bought me a beautiful wooden mirror shaped like a sun, and at the beginning of each term I would hang it lovingly above my mantlepiece.

Now that our sitting room is finally back in action (more on that to come!) I realised that I would need to take some firm action to make it look really finished. Specifically, i would need to Put Some Stuff Up On The Walls. This was not as straightforward a task to accomplish as it might sound, complicated by the fact that in knocking through between two rooms we had (of course) lost two walls. This meant that even if I was up for recreating exactly the way that things had been before  – which I wasn’t at all up for, since the look that these rooms used to have was eclectic at best and depressingly messy at worst – it would have been impossible to do so.

So I was starting entirely from scratch, and in doing so I realised the room had a few spaces which were just aching for something lovely to go there. Like this one above the piano.

Corner by corner - a blank canvasLet’s pause for a moment, shall we, to admire the collection of things on top of the piano first? I am remarkably pleased with them. When the painting was first done, and we moved back into the sitting room, I was struck by how little I liked all of our things, suddenly. All our furniture, placed against our new wooden floors and freshly painted walls, had a certain junkshop look to it. And not in a good way. All our ornaments and fripperies I was suddenly tired of.

So rather than following my instinct, and buying huge amounts of stuff, I instead got more strategic. I bought a small amount of stuff (here, the wooden ampersand is new), and then cast a critical eye around the house for other things I could use. My cream cakestand normally lives in the kitchen, but moved into the sitting room, it suddenly took on a decorative function. Similarly the cut glass flaggon / pitcher normally sits in a slightly unloved way high up on a shelf, but now has a function holding the keys to the new french doors. i combined these with a few hydrangeas cut from the garden, a pot I made in school, a picture and a photo frame and … ta dah! A lovely collection of things, almost all of them retrieved from around the house, placed together in a new way and looking newly lovely.

Corner by corner - on top of the pianoAll it needed was something above it. So it was serendipitous when I got an email from Culture Vulture Direct giving me the opportunity to review something from their website. I’ll be honest, I hadn’t previously heard of them. But being someone who loves both homewares and online shopping, I am always pleased to find a new place to browse online. And it was the Lotus Mosaic Mirror which really spoke to me. ‘Put me in your home’, it said. ‘I could sit beautifully and stylishly above your piano. I would be a focal point. A lovely feature. Do it.’

And who am I to argue with that?

Corner by corner - piano and mirrorI was initially worried when it arrived that it might have been damaged in the post. But in fact the slightly ripped paper concealed beneath it a very healthy amount of bubble wrap and cardboard, meaning that the mirror itself was pristine. Hanging it up was the work of a few moments, made much easier by the fact that the hanging loop for the nail is very close to the upper edge of the mirror. Is it just me who gets all flustered when hanging things up, and trying to mark out where I want it to go, and then measuring how far down the nail will need to be? Anyway, this was very easy, which I appreciated.

Corner by corner - mirror from Culture Vulture DirectAnd my goodness, this mirror is just GORGEOUS. I can see it from where I am currently sitting, tapping away on the laptop on the sofa, and even now a few days after putting it up, I keep catching myself by surprise with how much I love it.

Corner by corner - mosaic mirror detailI am prepared to admit that this is partly some lucky happenstance in the design. As well as being a bit obsessed by mirrors, I am also, coincidentally, extremely keen on things that are a sun / star / flower shape. I am also very partial to mosaics. And as if that weren’t enough, the royal blue / purple when the light hits it colour is pretty much my favourite colour in the world.

But I do think that as well as being an almost spookily personal design for me, it’s just an objectively beautiful mirror.

Corner by corner - lotus mirrorIt bounces light around the room in a very pleasing way. It’s striking without being arresting or distracting. And it’s light enough that I put it up with a simple nail but am not constantly concerned it will come crashing down onto the heads of my unsuspecting children. You can see from the close-ups above that the mosaic detailing is simple and even and well-grouted. It’s not a stunningly artistic piece of mosaic (I have seen some amazing mosaics that made me want to weep because they were so well executed and beautiful. Equally, I didn’t buy those mosaics because they were such fabulous works of art that they were quite rightly very expensive.) but it isn’t at all shoddy looking like some mosaic items can be.

I think we can conclude that this represents a big thumbs up from me. I am certainly adding Culture Vulture Direct to my list of online places to shop. Especially after having a quick browse of their garden planters and ornaments (I have some big plans for my side return….)

Until next time, I hope you are all enjoying this surprisingly warm summer,

Disclaimer: this mirror was sent to me for review purposes, but all the opinions on it are my own.

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Rosa’s rose party

Rosa's rose party - corner by corner       My two biggest girls are very into birthday parties. Now aged 6 (only just) and 3-and-three-quarters, they begin planning their next birthday party just as the guests are leaving from the current one. Rosa’s first birthday party was a wonderful sunny afternoon in what was then our new house, bunting strung up everywhere, and a garden full of friends and family. It was a very slightly emotional affair for me as I’d wanted to have a party for her the previous year but we’d just not had enough space. Also, I was heavily pregnant, and feeling (very rationally) that her second birthday party might well be the last nice thing i would ever have time to do for her.

Since then we have always held parties at home, and have always so far been lucky with the weather. Even though every year i promise myself that this is definitely the last year, and swear faithfully to everyone in earshot that I am definitely – DEFINITELY – going to find a venue the following year, outsource absolutely everything, and just turn up with a cake.


Another battle I have on my hands is that we tend to have party themes, and I have made it my MISSION not to have a Disney princess party. I can’t quite explain this. Despite my feminist ideals and my attempts at gender-neutral parenting, the girls are obsessed with Disney princesses, and our house is full of them. Their bedroom is heaped with plastic princesses, princess dresses, and novelty items with princesses on them. So it’s not as if I am staging some kind of boycott. But for some reason I think that having a Disney princess party is just a bridge too far. So far we have had a Gruffalo party, a Tiger Who Came To Tea party, a Froggy / Hello Kitty party (the result of a last minute change of mind from the party girl).

So this year was the year of Rosa’s Rose party. The theme was genuinely her idea. But once she’d uttered it, about 9 months ago, i was so taken with the idea that I purposely reminded her of it, bought a few rose things, and managed to ignore her other party ideas (“Mummy! I want to have an Olympic party! And a cake shaped like the Olympic stadium!” “Mmmmm? … What’s that darling? Shall we watch some TV?”

Tissue paper pom poms - corner by corner

Turns out that a rose theme provided the excuse I’d been looking for to hang up tissue paper pom poms everywhere. I thought if I bought pinkish ones they would look like big suspended roses. And aren’t they magnificent? As I type, the party took place about 2 weeks ago, but the pom poms are still hanging, turning lightly in every breeze, resplendently floral and celebratory, because I cannot stomach taking them down.

I had a quick google for tissue paper pom poms, swiftly abandoned the idea of making my own, and found a seller on ebay who sells a whole variety of sizes and colours. I can’t tell you how much I love them. There is scarcely a room in my house that I don’t think would be improved by hanging up some of these beauties. But in the meantime, I think I will buy a couple more in some greens and oranges, then hang up some of them over Persephone’s cot, and some in Rosa and India’s room.

Corner by corner - birthday buntingI know. I know that I already have birthday bunting. I know that I had in fact already bought plain bunting. But I used this printable bunting for both the big girls’ birthdays last year, and loved it so much that even though it was just paper hastily stapled onto raffia, it was strung up in their room for nearly a year. So I thought if I printed out and laminated some saying ‘happy birthday’ then we could add it to our party box, and bring it out for every party.

Rose cupcakes - corner by cornerBy now you can see I was going a bit OTT with the rose theme. The cupcake wrappers I found in a discount bin in Hobbycraft about six months ago. The fondant icing roses on top are the result of two lucky happenstances: the first being my own misspent childhood making roses out of Fimo, the second being discovering that our wonderful summer au pair, Perrine, as well as being very helpful and charming generally, has superpowers which include tissue paper pom pom assembly, and fondant rose making.

Corner by corner - flower fairy lightsThe string of flowery fairy lights were retrieved from the girls’ bedroom. I actually bought them ten years ago (gulp0 to string along the top table at our wedding. It was a nice feeling, therefore, albeit a sentimental one, to use it for my not-so-little girl’s sixth birthday

Corner by corner - rose cakeThis is the rose cake. Although I don’t do much icing of cakes, I was confident in this one…. because I’ve actually made it once before, for India’s christening. The design was an idea I found on Pinterest, where someone earnestly assured me that this fabulous effect was actually very easy. Turns out they were right. I bought loads of tubs of ready-made buttercream icing (my secret weapon. After baking cakes I can never face making icing), and firstly gently spread on a flat and thinnish ‘crumb layer’. After that I grabbed my piping bag, and star nozzle, and just squirted spirals all over it, then filled in any gaps with swooshey shapes. Ta dah!

Corner by corner - triple layer rose cakeThis shows the inside. It’s a triple layer Victoria sponge, filled with fresh whipped cream, jam and fresh raspberries. The sponge was my favourite Nigella food processor recipe, from How to be a Domestic Goddess, doubled. It was really very delicious. Hard to slice up. But delicious.

Corner by corner - party tableAnd here’s the party table. Turns out that even if you think you’ve got a pretty unique party theme, someone else has still got there first. So I bought the ready-assembled Vintage Rose essential party kit from Party Pieces, which included the pink table cloth, the rose plates and napkins.

Corner by corner - party tableWe even managed not to go overboard on the food this year, remembering that even when you’ve invited roughly twice as many children as you meant to (whoops) they are in fact normally too excited to eat very much. So just a few sandwiches and crisps, cupcakes, party rings (“They taste really horrible.” I explained to Perrine, “But they are a traditional party of any British children’s party. So we have to have them.”) a bit of watermelon, and then, after a suitable pause, the obligatory chocolate fountain and a slice of cake, and basically everyone is happy.

Party table - corner by cornerHere’s the full table. Set off to perfection by the bare plaster wall, don’t you agree?

Musical bumps - corner by cornerI think a good time was had by all. Certainly there was some very enthusiastic dancing going on during Musical Bumps.

Rosa - corner by cornerAnd Rosa loved it. I mean, she just loved it. Every time I arranged something on the table, or brought something out, she greeted it with whoops and ‘wow’s and ‘this is the best party ever’s, and ‘mummy, you’re the best’s. Which was brilliant.

Birthday cake - corner by cornerHere we all are grappling with the perennial problem of birthday candles plus the slightest of slight breezes….

Birthday girl - Corner by cornerMe and the birthday girl.

Party pots - corner by cornerJust before i go, a brief mention of our party bags. Or party pots. The first activitiy we all did was to decorate pink flower pots with stickers (party dresses and paints do not strike me as a good combo). Then we ‘planted’ or sellotaped a fake rose in each pot. These pots then doubled as party bags, and each one was filled with a ‘make your own rose’ kit, a sweetie bracelet, and a small bag of Haribo.

Party pots - corner by cornerYou can also see how my lovely friends stuck the tissue paper and straw roses we’d made into the pots. They looked really beautiful all lined up on the piano, and the children all seemed really pleased to take them home.

It was a really lovely afternoon. Happy birthday Rosa!

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Room by room

I have alluded to the fact that we are having building work done. Time for me to blog properly about it.

Since we first moved into this house, I have periodically announced to Oli that I wanted to knock down the wall between our two reception walls. Like a massively less successful and considerably less expensively dressed Kirstie Allsopp, I would stare balefully at the wall that stood between our sitting room and our study, and I would plan its demise. Oli was uncertain. I was resolute.

One of the reasons for knocking down that wall was that, truthfully, the study was never a very well-used room. It was full of bookshelves, which should have been brilliantly useful but which really just attracted Stuff. It housed the piano, which neither Oli nor I play anything like as much as we would like to. The study basically functioned as a big dumping ground come buggy park. Which I think we can all agree is a pretty expensive waste of space.

So we finally got to the point where we could start doing just a few of the grand ideas I have for the house, and I was determined that we would knock through. Oli was still nervous, but reassured both by my certainty and also by the knowledge that when it comes to design and decor decisions, his role is a consultative one …. at best.

And operation ‘ground floor renovations’ was born. It was in three major parts:
1. Remove the shower from the ground floor bathroom, get shelves built for washing machine and tumble drier, and turn room into utility room.
2. Knock through two reception rooms.
3. Remove window from the study (second reception room) and put in french doors.

Truthfully, getting this work done was equal parts amazing and horrifying. I really seriously thought that my childhood would have prepared me for the inconvenient and messy aspects of building work. After all, my parents are inveterate DIY and renovators. Turns out I was wrong. All my childhood gave me was the uncertain benefits of having ‘an eye’. After being dragged around countless old houses for sale, and exhorted to imagine how lovely they could be if done up, I can definitely do that. I can look at the bones of a room, see past the mess and the damp and the decor, and see that it would be a great space. What I can’t do is any of the practical stuff to get them there. Or live happily and calmly with the mess and disruption required to make major improvements.

WindowThis is the space in our study where the window used to be. Part of my plan for here is that putting in French doors will open up the side return of our garden. It’s pretty wide, and is currently used to store the hose. I have a lovely mental image of some pots, some trellis, a little table and chairs. Basically I think the French doors here will give us a bit more garden, which will be lovely. Once the hole had been made in the wall (and once the rotting lintel had been found, and replaced) I started to get quite excited.

Corner by corner - french doorsHere are the french doors in situ. I am so pleased with them, they’re totally beautiful. Our builder made them to match the proportions and panels of our front door, which means they look as if they have always been there. I am planning to paint the outside the same pale grey-blue as our front door, too, just to emphasise the similarity.

Corner by corner - renovations in progressThis was the hard bit, though. Here you can see where the floorboards were taken up, in order that the enormous steels could come in through the french doors, and one could go under the floor forming the bottom part of an enormous metal frame. Said metal frame is basically tasked with holding the house up.

Keeping the faith was hard when the rooms were a tip, the girls were running riot, both reception rooms were a no-go area, every available room in the house was full of things from the reception rooms, and all the items I owned seemed to be in boxes, with all the important things in the boxes at the bottom.

Corner by corner - protecting the cornicingThis is the wall that was coming down. This is the view from the sitting room. RIP wall. Roy our builder talked very knowledgeably about the things he would do to protect our beautiful cornicing (one of the very few original features left in the house) but obviously there are no guarantees. So seeing it with the protective frame around it, ready to be stuffed with soft material to hold it steady, did give me a wobble.

What was really difficult was trying to actually imagine what it would really look like. So it was genuinely serendipitious when I was contacted by the folk at RoomSketcher, asking if I would be interested in trying out their product. RoomSketcher is an online tool which describes itself as for ‘visualizing homes’ (more about that Americanism later). Well, why not?

It was very easy to sign up. I did have that moment of faltering at something new …. does anyone else have this with technology? When you’ve bought a new phone, or a new printer, and you KNOW it will be perfectly easy to do, but there’s the box and the manuals, and the help pages, and the quick starter guides, and it all suddenly seems so complex when all you want is for it work perfectly, seamlessly, without you having to do anything other than make tea. I did get over this. I realised if I wanted something nice from RoomSketcher I was going to have to put in a bit of time. So I allocated an evening to getting to grips with it, cleared some mental space, watched a couple of the videos, and jumped in.

It won’t work on the iPad, which is a pain, but hardly their fault. RoomSketcher uses flash, which just won’t work on apple devices. This was a huge inconvenience to me when our laptop suddenly stopped working, as I had to halt work on my roomplan entirely for about a week until our replacement arrived. Again, not exactly RoomSketcher’s fault, though.

Once I’d remembered that I stored the house details the estate agent created, and that this included floorplans and measurements, I realised I was away. It took not very long at all to create a room outline, and then the fun began. I put in the dark wood floor that I’ve long been dreaming of, filled in the walls an elegant pale grey, and began to play. Sofas. Bookshelves. Rugs. Oooh – cushions! We don’t have a fireplace at the moment but re-opening up the chimney and putting one in is definitely on my to do list, so I stuck one in my room too. Ditto the beautiful built-in white cabinets for the alcoves which are currently on my lottery list.

I did run into a bit of trouble trying to layer things up. I couldn’t get a picture to appear above the fireplace, and ended up with it resting in front of the fire. I spent a minute or two wondering why my fireplace looked so strange, and realised I’d placed it facing the wall rather than the room. These are obviously small things, and I’m sure if I was a regular user I would laugh at myself. But they were a bit fiddly to get my head around.

Corner by corner - room sketcher imageBut – look! Doesn’t it look great! Once you’ve put some stuff into your room, you can play with it in various ways. You can take snapshots, you can upgrade those snapshots to ‘premium photos’, you can create a ‘room 360′ from any point in the room (which makes a little video as if you were in it, spinning slowly around on the spot). I have to say that my initial feeling, that this was a program that seemed nice but gimmicky, was being replaced by a sense of how versatile it was.

Corner by corner - roomsketcher image 2I was impressed by being able to find the EXACT Expedit toy storage unit we have. And this was brilliant, because for ages I had been thinking that when the wall came down, we could move the Expedit from the middle of the chimney breast, and put it behind the sofa. But I had been wondering whether this would really work, and if there would be enough space to move from one room to another. Ta da! More than enough space. Highly pleasing.

I found a piano as well, and sofas which approximated our sofas enough to give a good impression of the room. I could have dived right in and spent ages filling up the bookcases with books and ornaments, and looking through different pictures on the walls, but I decided enough was enough.

I did struggle a bit with a few other things, though. Creating the bay window was hard. I ended up making angled walls and dropping in windows to give a bay impression. There is a better way to do it, but I wondered as I did it whether the software was American and perhaps just not used to us quaint old Brits with our Victorian houses. It’s not American, apparently, but the person who does the interior design aspect of the site *is* American, so you have to watch out. Thankfully I have wasted enough time on US interior design blogs to know that a hutch, for example, is not something in which to keep a guinea pig, but instead what we know as a dresser. See also ‘credenza’, and other such esoteric terms. I can see, however, that if you have more of a life than I do don’t spend time reading American websites about homewares then this aspect might be confusing or frustrating.

The best bit, though, was switching to 3D mode, and just spending some time virtually ‘walking’ through my room. After all the planning, the scaffolding, the building regs confusion, the rubble, the dustsheets and everything, it was desperately soothing to just click through and walk to and fro, through where the existing wall was, imagining a time when the walls would be finished, and small children could run happily from room to room.

I was given access to a VIP account for 6 months in order to review the product, and I was thinking about whether I would try it again. RoomSketcher do three different types of account, a free one, VIP (which gives access to more features like high-res floorplans and 3D pictures), and a pro account which is more for commercial use. I can easily imagine property developers using the pro application to sell properties off-plan, for example. The VIP account is $49 (around £30, depending of course on exchange rates) and Pro is $99 (£60 approx).

As an interior design tool, I am probably not so enamoured of it, just because you are obviously limited in what you can do by the pre-determined options. Thinking about this more carefully, I think if you are into interior design and love to buy stuff straight-up from the high street, then this might be perfect. But if you’re into a mishmash of second-hand, DIY, some high street, and some personalised stuff then it is very hard to recreate that look here.

But honestly, if I had another big project to do, then yes I would purchase a subscription. If I was buying a house and thinking about taking walls down / dramatically altering the room layout then I would probably have a play with RoomSketcher just to see whether the rooms would flow. Testing out whether a ‘standard’ size sofa would fit in my room was brilliant, and I can’t think of another way that I could have had a virtual ‘walk’ around my new room without using this.

Disclaimer. I was given a 6 month RoomSketcher VIP account in order to write this review, but all thoughts and opinions are my own.

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A warm welcome

Sponsored post

There are times, during a dark, bleak British winter, when you get so cold that only the copious application of cosiness will possibly warm you up. I am not just talking about an extra jumper, environmental though that would undoubtedly be. I am talking about super-duper cosy-central. Times in a cold February when I want my life to resemble a desirable photo-shoot from a modern, handmade lifestyle magazine: cashmere bedsocks, goose down duvet, grey merino hand-knitted hand warmers, large stoneware mug of tea, big purring cat.

This year has been weirdly warm (“when is it going to SNOW, Mummeeeeeeee?”) which has happily meant that most thoughts of trying to warm myself up have been banished from my mind. This is especially good, since opportunities for languidly lounging around wrapped in desirable warm items of homeware made from natural fibres are sadly limited round here. We tend to rely on the hot heat of tantrummy soft-play to warm us up these days.

So we’ve relied on our heating only a little bit this winter. This is something of a relief, since our heating system is what one might describe as touchingly basic. No thermostat. No particularly obvious way of altering the temperature on the radiators, other than the time-honoured, ‘turn the knobs as far as you can in one direction then see whether the radiator seems cool or roasting next time you remember’. Basically when it gets cold, although we can set the rudimentary timer on the boiler, we tend to just turn the heating on for a few hours, then turn it off again. Thankfully our house, whilst having many problems that we would like to fix, is actually a pretty warm house. It heats up pretty quickly, and retains the heat reasonably well. Which is a blessing, actually, now I think of it, that I should really appreciate more.

The boiler on the other hand, is hard to appreciate, sitting as it does right in the middle of the kitchen. Remember our kitchen window, which I posted about blimmin’ ages ago some time ago?

The kitchen windowWell, since then we’ve seen a few small improvements. I removed the hideous metal blind. I even undercoated and painted the window frame. And I bought a metal shelf from Ikea to hang our saucepans from, having admired the very same thing in a friend’s house.

Corner by corner - kitchen windowSo here you can see the white painted window frame, which made a lovely difference to the whole space, making it feel much cleaner and brighter. But what’s that, dominating the view from here? Ah yes. The boiler.

My ideal boiler would be hidden away somewhere. Preferably in a built-in cupboard, so we could put it completely out of sight, and I could live a nice warm life whilst pretending that there was no such thing as pipes, gas supply, or indeed heating bills. I just have this nagging feeling that if we ever tried to move this boiler, it would not only be massively expensive, it would also hasten its demise. So there it stays.

Since being sent some information about evohome, a smart central heating system has also joined my dream list for our heating. The basic premise is that instead of waiting to feel cold, then flipping open the boiler and switching it on, the whole thing works in a rather more seamless, technological and beautiful way.

honeywell1You get to control your heating remotely via an app, which is music to the ears of a technophile like me. There is something pretty pleasing about the idea of sitting on a cold train, getting out your phone, and arranging for the house to be nice and toasty when you get back. But you also get a control panel fitted like the one above, which has a pleasingly futuristic air about it.

Of course, a love of gadgets and a desire to change the temperature when on the London Overground are not the only reasons to find this all appealing. You can also create ‘zones’ in your home and heat them separately, which should mean you can use your heating more efficiently and save money.

If that’s piqued your interest, there are a couple of places to find out more, both the Evohome website, and the nifty system planning tool, where you can input a few details and get a price.

This is a sponsored post in association with Evohome. I received payment for this post, but all words and thoughts are my own.

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Painting our Ikea craft table

I recently wrote about various things that, as I snappily said ‘I love so much that I can’t decide where to put them, and therefore currently don’t have anywhere at all in our house‘. As part of this, I resolved to, over some as yet unspecified period, include the following stuff in our home, somehow, somewhere:

– a garland
– a wall sticker (or wall stickerS. I might go crazy.)
– tissue paper spheres
– chalkboard paint

So here we are. After hearing some words of doom concerning blackboard paint, largely concerning how hard it was to remove and sand off, I started off small, and decided to paint our little Ikea table first of all.

Corner by corner - Ikea children's table Here it is. This is the ‘before’. I love this little table, which I bought with two chairs when Rosa our eldest was probably about two. The idea was for her to have a table and chairs to draw at, and it has been used variously as a place for playing, drawing, reading, and eating snacks from.  It was, of course, from Ikea. As is almost everything in our house (apart from those things which I bought from ebay). I love the shape of it. I love the little chairs. I love everything about it, apart from the finish. Slightly too shiny, slightly too orange, slightly too wrong. I decided I needed to paint it almost as soon as we got it home.

I knew I wanted to spray paint the table a neutral colour, and then paint the top in blackboard paint. I thought the girls would enjoy scribbling on it writing on it with chalk. Truthfully, I thought *I* would enjoy writing things on it. I thought it would only be a small job. Easy.

But then every time we reached a point where we might begin to wrest back some control over our lives, and might possibly be able to find a moment to paint some furniture… well, we developed the habit of just having another baby. Hurrah. After all, why not?

So here we are. As with so many things. Emerging from the abyss of tiny babies, with our youngest now just days away from being 18 months old, and staring down the barrel of all the things we should have done years ago. The sun was out a few weeks ago, the girls were happily romping around the garden, and I had a sudden rush of blood to the head: ‘I could spray paint that table!’ I thought to myself.

And so I did.

Corner by corner - spray painting Ikea table I just did it. In the words of my previous post, I carped the diem. I did the whole works: lightly sanded the table, then sprayed it with grey primer, before getting stuck in with the almond colour paint I wanted to use on the legs. In retrospect I am not quite sure that grey primer was the right call. Even after about three thin coats of almond paint, the overall impression of the colour is still… well… very grey. I don’t mind that so much. I’m all up for a bit of grey. It just wasn’t quite what I had in mind.

Corner by corner - painted Ikea tableBut undeterred, I pressed on, and painted the top with my trusty tin of blackboard paint. I have to explain here how had a slightly hilarious episode with a magnetic tin of blackboard paint some years ago now where we painted a wall in our old kitchen with it. We were then mystified by the wall’s steadfast refusal to acknowledge its magnetic properties in any way.  We couldn’t persuade even one small word of magnetic poetry to cling to it for longer than a second, before sliding slowly and sadly down the wall. Turned out that we had failed to stir it properly, so all the magnetic stuff (iron filings?) was sitting at the bottom of the paint tin, being resolutely and uselessly magnetic there.

So this time I was pretty determined to stir it properly. I wielded my weapon of choice (a knife from our cutlery drawer) and stirred it as well as I could. It was hard. Trying to get it all to mix together was nearly impossible. I have searched hard for an adequate metaphor to describe how difficult this was. It wasn’t like whisking up salad dressing.  It was more like…. like… well, imagine a bucket half-filled with gravel, then topped up with water. Imagine usng an implement, let’s just say a knife from your cutlery drawer, and imagine trying to whip up the gravel into a gentle emulsion with the water.

Can you imagine that?

Well, quite.

So. I did my best. I stirred and whipped valiantly. Then I painted. And the effect was pretty good. You can see above. It has just the contrast I wanted between the pale neutral and the black.

Corner by corner - Ikea tableBut… but… what’s this? I was perplexed by its shininess. I kept thinking it would dry matte, and it kept… well, not being matte. Turns out that shiny blackboard works just as well as matte. You can still write on it with chalk. The girls don’t mind one bit.

I mind. I consulted the Oracle on such matters, who goes by the name of my Dad.

“Why is my chalkboard paint drying shiny rather than matte?”
And do you know what he said?
“Ah. Yes. You need to stir it properly.”




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A picture ledge for our room

I was admiring a picture ledge on the rather lovely Tales from a happy house. The only thing better than how lovely the ledge looked was finding out that rather than being impossible to replicate (“Oh, this? I bought it at auction years ago.” “Oh, this? I found it at this DARLING little flea market in Paris.” “Oh, this? My grandfather made it for me when I was born.” etc. etc.) it was in fact from Ikea. From the ‘Ribba’ range, no less, which I know reasonably well since approximately one million of the Ribba frames already hang on my walls.

So upon hearing the fabulous news that it was neither prohibitively expensive, nor impossible to get hold of, I did what any normal person would do. I bought two the next time I went to Ikea. And then I gazed at them in a pleased fashion for a minute or two, slung them under the spare bed, and left them there for at least six months.


 I knew exactly where one of the ledges would go. The space above our bed, where I put up our sun mirror. There was only one problem. To put it up, I would have to use the drill. Because here’s the thing: I lost my drilling mojo, over the course of three pregnancies, and having three newborns. When pregnant, I didn’t want to use the drill. I wanted to lie down, eating Lindor chocolates, and watching trashy TV. When I was looking after a newborn, I didn’t want to use the drill. I wanted to have a bath, and a sleep (of course, what I actually did was to spend every hour god sent breastfeeding). So I stopped believing I could do it. And hence the flow of DIY in our house, halting and uncertain at the best of times, came to an almost complete standstill.

Until I decided that this was ridiculous. I OWNED a drill. I had previously used it. It was not rocket science. It was not frightening or mysterious. It was just a drill, and I was going to conquer this strange mental block, and drill holes in the wall if it either killed me, or took me all day.

And I did!

Corner by corner - picture ledgeI got Oli to sit up in bed so that I could make sure I put it high up enough. I had an uncomfortable vision of sitting in bed, with a ledge at the exact level of the back of our heads. I wasn’t sure whether the worst thing about that image was the idea of always hitting my head on it, or the idea of constantly knocking pictures off. Either way, it was an image to be avoided. You can see above not only how high up it is but also how I was so excited once I’d actually managed to put the ledge up that I immediately balanced some pictures on it to see how it would look.

Great, was the answer. So I scoured the house to find some more pictures to put on it.

Corner by corner - picture ledgeAnd in one of those weirdly serendipitous moments, it turned out that I already had a collection of frames which, after just a little bit of shifting around, moving forwards and back, looked pretty near perfect together. Some of these were frames that had been looking for a home for a while. Like this one:

Corner by corner - family tree paper cutThis papercut vision of gorgeousness is a personalised family tree. I am very slightly obsessed with personalised prints and homewares, and spent more time than I’m prepared to admit looking at different family tree type prints online. The fact that this one combined a tree, a papercut, and serifed lettering makes it a bit of a holy grail item for me. I actually found it online before Persephone was born, and bookmarked it ready for when our family was complete. I then – ahem – bought it as a father’s day present for Oli from the girls. And the fact that I love it so much is entirely incidental.
Moving on.

Corner by corner - you are my sunshine printThis picture was a Valentine’s present from Oli. All the more remarkable (and appreciated) because he bought it all by himself, and I hadn’t even seen it or commented on it, or dropped hints about it, or told him to buy it for me, or emailed him the link, or anything.

Corner by corner - picturesThis is a picture of my gorgeous sister on her wedding day. And next to it is – um – an empty frame. The colour and size of the empty frame are perfect for the space. All I need to do is put a picture in there.

Corner by corner - picturesMore family photos at this end of the ledge, too. What’s funny about this ledge is that it’s ended up being largely white and silver, which I would previously have definitely said would not have worked in our room with its largely warm tones. But there it is, being white and silver, and looking lovely. And somehow it’s lightened the whole room up a bit.

Corner by corner - picture ledgeThere it is. I love it. I am hopelessly, stupidly pleased with myself for having rediscovered my ability to use the drill. It fills the space above our bed beautifully. And I do love a picture ledge. The rest of our bedroom is currently covered in stuff and full of boxes, as minor building work takes place downstairs, and every item we own seems to be in a box, piled on top of other boxes. But looking at this space makes me feel very soothed and happy.

Rachel x



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Tutorial: make a fairy door

      Corner by corner - fairy door tutorial

It all started, as things so often do for me these days, with Pinterest*. It started with a pin that showed some rather adorable looking ‘fairy doors’ made out of lolly sticks. But, frustratingly the pin didn’t take me anywhere useful. And I suddenly thought, ‘I could DO this. I could make them myself, and make a tutorial, and maybe it would be good for me, and perhaps it would even be useful.’ So here we are.

Tutorial: make your own fairy doors


  • Lollipop sticks / popsicle sticks (around 9 per door)
  • Glue (either PVA or, more thrillingly – and with more opportunities for James Bond impressions – a glue gun)
  • Thick carrier bag or other smooth non-porous surface to act as a gluing mat that you can easily peel gluey lolly sticks off
  • Buttons
  • Hacksaw, or something else sharp enough to cut lolly sticks with

1. Glue together enough lolly sticks to make the main body of your door. I just judged this by eye, and I found around 6 looked good. If you have a glue gun then this is the work of a moment. If you don’t have one, or if like me you DO have one but can’t lay your hands on it, then PVA is your friend. I laid out my six sticks next to each other on a reasonably sturdy carrier bag, thinking this would be easy to peel off afterwards. I made sure they were straight by pushing something straight up against one edge of the door, and then just ran glue up and down all the visible joins. I did think about carefully applying glue along each thin edge, then butting them up against each other one by one, but I thought this a) felt like a big faff and b) felt as though the glue would seep through and be visible from the ‘right’ side.

Corner by corner - fairy door

In fact, you can see in the picture above how this worked out. My red lolly sticks are ‘wrong side up’ so you can see shiny glue along where all the lolly sticks meet. The plain one is right side up, and you can see how they’re joined pretty seamlessly. You can also see how gluing like this made them bow slightly, but fear not! Step 2 will address this.

2. Glue on your reinforcements.

Corner by corner - fairy doorI wanted each of my doors to have two horizontal reinforcements, and one diagonal one. But there are no rules, obviously. I like this stage, because I think this is what makes a row of lolly sticks start to have undeniably door-ish qualities.

Corner by corner - fairy doorsI again did this by eye. I think the fairies are not exacting in their carpentry requirements. Strangely, I had two different sizes of red lolly stick, meaning I could use a whole one for the diagonal piece. But when it came to the plain sticks, I had to cut all three of my reinforcement pieces to size.

Fairy doors - corner by cornerBy now I had found my glue gun, so pressing my little doors flat, and holding on the reinforcers was the work of a happy, hot-glue moment. But if I’d still been using PVA I would have applied glue very sparingly (to stop it seeping through to the front), then folded over the carrier bag so that the door was encased in plastic to protect it, then thwacked a thick book on top to keep it all flat whilst it dried.

3. Adorn

Fairy door furniture - corner by cornerAfter all that ‘right side’ / ‘wrong side’ flapping about, you can clearly see in the picture above that I glued my reinforcers onto the wrong side of my red door. Ah well. Learn from my mistakes.

Once the doors are glued and flat you can stick stuff on. I kept it very simple and just glued on some very plain small buttons to act as doorknobs. If I’d had more time I would have roamed around the house looking for more stuff to act as door furniture. I’m thinking perhaps beads, more unusually shaped buttons, and perhaps little bits of broken jewellery to act as door knockers, letter boxes, finger plates, hinges etc.

4. Hide around the garden

Fairy doors - corner by cornerThe plain door (in my head this is the ‘untreated pine door’) found a home amongst the ivy of a tree stump.

Fairy doors - corner by cornerThe red door I tucked into the base of a tree on the other side of the garden.

Fairy doors - corner by cornerThis picture gives you more of a close up. It is hard to convey how cute these doors look. They are seriously adorable. I have left them out overnight because quite apart from any enjoyment that the girls get out of them, I really like the idea of them hiding out in the garden, ready to charmingly surprise at any moment.

But talking of the girls…

Fairy doors - corner by cornerI was trying to get a picture of them playing with the doors, and this was my first attempt. I show it here just to demonstrate the level of their enthusiasm: it was very hard to move them away sufficiently to take pictures. They must have spent at least an hour, perhaps two, out in the garden today playing fairies, entirely independently, only interrupted by my asking if they needed the toilet, and Persephone wandering over to destroy their games and pull their hair, in her indomitable toddler way.

Fairy doors - corner by cornerInspired by the wonderful Red Ted Art, we made peg fairies yesterday and today, and they delightedly invented games where the two fairies went in and out of the doors, and got up to various other adventures that mere parents aren’t privy to.

Fairy doors - corner by cornerThis is Rosa’s doll, Periwinkle, which she made all by herself. I made a conscious effort to sit back and let her do it herself, and not intrude. She totally loved it, which made me realise I should get less stressed about the girls’ craft generally, and just allow them free rein with all my their craft materials, at least occasionally.

Fairy doors - corner by cornerAnd there you have it. Lovely fairy doors. Entertaining for children. Charming for whimsical adults. I don’t know how long these will last (though I am suddenly tempted to give them a good spray with clear varnish tomorrow, for good luck). But frankly, they took so little time to make that I don’t really mind. I feel quite happy with the idea of making more of these in the future. There were certainly plenty of places where I could imagine hiding them, inside and out.

Which brings to a conclusion my very first tutorial I hope you liked it. I do have more planned…

*As an aside, talking of Pinterest, I was recommending to a friend with a new lovely house that she should look on Pinterest for pictures of amazingly capacious, over-styled American laundry rooms, and another friend overhead and said, “Why? Why would you do that? Why torture yourself by looking at these pictures?” And I was torn between wanting to shout, “You just don’t GET it!” …. and feeling that, actually, she had a point. Why do I browse the web looking people living amazing lives and doing things I can’t replicate? How is that different, exactly, from reading celebrity gossip magazines? Hmmmmm.


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