Tag Archives: cottage

A little bit of news

autumn-2015Well autumn is in full swing and you are probably wondering if I have dropped off the edge of the planet as it’s been SOOOOOO long since I penned you a little note, dear Reader.  In truth, I have been plucking up the courage to write this one for some time and then with all that’s happened over the last month, I simply haven’t had a spare moment to tell you.

So let’s start at the very beginning, shall we?  Huff, Puff and Snuff made their final journey – a sad but happy day for all of us.

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I never cease to be amazed at how well Poppy and Primrose deal with abattoir day.  Far better than I do for a start.  I feel wonderfully relieved that my haphazard hobby farming over the last three years hasn’t resulted in them being put off meat for life.  Quite the opposite, dear Reader, they love being a part of it all, caring for the animals until D-day and knowing where the food on their plate comes from.  So thanks to Puff, roast pork on that first Sunday was truly delicious and made Primrose’s 8th birthday lunch all the more special.

Yes, dear Reader, our dear little Primrose turned 8 at the beginning of this month.  Where does the time go I wonder?  Anyone wanting to give a group of 7/8 year olds a fun birthday treat (as well as the inevitable sugar rush…..and believe me it was epic) should give Chocolate Craft in Alresford a ring.

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Vats of tempered chocolate and 8 children are seriously seriously entertaining when mixed together.  Best birthday party I’ve sorted out in years and the children all went home with a mountain of chocolate – much appreciated by their mums and dads!

Before all of that, there was Poppy’s first day at school.  Not a moment too soon as far as she was concerned.  Talk about wishing her life away!  Her school bag was packed the first day of the summer holidays.  Inevitably, the house is much quieter without both the girls during the day and the dogs wait patiently for their playmates to return home.  However, I am busying myself with rather a large project and I feel that although this is the end of an era, a new chapter is heading my way in more ways than one.

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And then Dora turned one.  Still pretty half pint-sized for a spaniel but rather more grown up these days.  Sweet and mad in equal measure but always utterly adorable Isadora.  Even Monty has succumbed to her charms.

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However I digress dear Reader.  The bit of news I really wanted to share with you has been rather harder to pop into words than I thought.  Not least because it was not an easy decision for the four of us to make.

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After 3 years of living in our cosy cottage and settling into village life, we’ve decided that the time has come for pastures new and the house is on the market.  At this point in time, the future seems a little uncertain but rest assured dear Reader, we won’t be going too far.  In fact, we wouldn’t think of leaving the countryside we have come to know and love.  Dare I say it….we are looking for a farm perhaps?   Jerry is already resigned to the fact that his life from now on will feature rather more animals than he ever imagined when we married.  Poor chap.  I keep reminding him of all the bacon sandwiches he has enjoyed in that time…..

I hope you’ll wish us luck, keep all fingers and toes crossed and bear with me over the next few months as we search for a new home and try to find a new owner for our little cottage.  I’m already looking forward to setting up camp at a new Margot and Jerry HQ.  That’s if keeping the cottage as a ‘show home’ doesn’t kill me before then, dear Reader……

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It’s beginning to look….

a lot like Christmas!  With our little mini Margot, Poppy, turning 3 last week and birthday party shenanigans over for another year, we could finally settle into the Christmas spirit.  Where has the time gone, dear Reader?  Our second country Christmas is a mere whisker of Father Christmas’ beard away and I couldn’t be more unprepared to be honest.  Not a Christmas wreath or a cake steeped in ginger wine in sight this year.  At this rate, our guests on Christmas Day will be tucking into cream crackers and cheese.  Still, with our priorities well and truly organised, the girls and I headed out to immerse ourselves in a bit of Christmas cheer.

Mottisfont1Dear Reader, I give you the most humongous tree (Primrose’s description…) at the wonderfully Christmassy Mottisfont, one of our favourite National Trust haunts.  Christmas with the National Trust never disappoints and Mottisfont is a veritable feast for the eyes this year.  The magic of the Nutcracker and the Sugar Plum Fairy is alive and well and we bounded round the house and gardens, eyes agog.  Even the grinchiest adult couldn’t fail to be transformed by the sheer delight of the largest Christmas tree  I’ve ever seen, a trail through the Land of Sweets and Winter Garden, finishing with meeting the Sugar Plum Fairy herself.  I found myself mesmerised by that beautiful tree.  Maybe, just maybe, I could squish it into my country cottage?  I’m  not sure even the man in the red suit could sort that logistical conundrum for me, even if he can shimmy down all those snug chimneys!

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Perhaps one of the loveliest bits of our trip to Mottisfont, was the room of automata.  My girls love puppets and puppets there were in abundance.  Shadow puppets, automata of almost every description from the fabulously talented Cabaret Mechanical Theatre and more buttons to press than you could shake a stick at.  Heaven for two small children.  Poppy and Primrose are still talking about the flying machine, man in a spaghetti bath and running dog a week later.  Glorious entertainment.

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Feeling suitably Christmassy, we headed for a hot chocolate and large slice of cake!

Mottisfont5Now if someone could just have Christmas all set up and ready to go at the old cottage before Christmas Eve without me having to lift a finger, that would be truly MAGICAL!  Oh and I wouldn’t mind Mottisfont’s lovely tree either!  I’m still waiting for that delivery……

 

 

Hampshire calling!!!!

Boxes, boxes, boxes....

Boxes, boxes, boxes….

Dear Reader, I bet you thought I had vanished into the ether or had stumbled down a ditch!  Well it has certainly felt like it over the last week!  We left the Big Smoke a week ago now and to be honest, life could NOT be more different.  Everything is rather lovely here and Jerry, Primrose, Poppy and I keep having to pinch ourselves as it all seems too good to be true.  It is every bit the rural idyll we hoped it would be.  It was distinctly odd saying goodbye to the cottage but rather surprisingly I didn’t shed a tear (and I am well-known for being a tad gushy with the old water works).  Perhaps that was because the time was right for us to go?  The cottage seemed so small without all of our clutter and shutting the door, Jerry and I were more than happy to skip off into the sunset to try and retrieve the keys for our new countryside manor.

Boxes piled high in the ‘new’ cottage, Jerry and I spent our first night eating bread and cheese and drinking champagne from the girls’ plastic beakers.  Utterly exhausted but very happy indeed.  It wasn’t until Day 2 that I remembered what my lovely friend Bee had said to me about how I would feel in my first week.  Then the sudden realisation hit me that there was an EXTRAORDINARY amount of unpacking to do, that the puppy still needed to be walked, girls still needed to be fed and that I was amidst farmland with no phone, no internet and no mobile signal as BT had crossed our lines with a dear old lady in the village who was housebound and now unable to use her phone too!  Apparently the countryside has no need for that new fangled invention: the internet or indeed a phone line!  So I can tell you, dear Reader, that I have so far spent the week unpacking boxes, yelling at BT, organising where everything is going to go, yelling at BT, shouting at the computer and phone, more yelling at BT….I am sure you get the gist, dear Reader.  Margot without the internet it would seem spells mini breakdown.  This combined with Monty the dog shredding a 12 pack of loo rolls, eating one of Jerry’s shoes, making himself sick gobbling up a dead mouse found in the lane, the girls refusing to go to bed because they want to watch the sunset from their bedroom window , the fridge and washing machine being too large to fit in the utility room despite being the standard size and did I mention no internet ?!  To be honest, there is not enough gin in the world that could have mollified my black mood.

I am not sure that Minty would have approved of the plastic beakers...but needs must!

I am not sure that Minty would have approved of the plastic beakers…but needs must!

HOWEVER…..with every cloud comes a silver lining……..I can wholeheartedly say that never a truer word was said as we have been truly welcomed into the village with open arms.  Villagers have left cards and bunches of flowers, invitations to drinks and all have greeted with the warmest of smiles and firm handshakes.  The postman even ventured that he thought we would bring some much needed life to the village.  So we may not be totally unpacked, we may not have any telecommunications (I am posting this from the top of our nearest hill as hanging out of the bedroom window was deemed a bit too dangerous by Jerry) BUT we all LOVE it here and feel very very much at home.   Big Smoke – where’s that?!  Our adventures in the countryside have just begun…..!

Sweet peas left on the doorstep!

Sweet peas left on the doorstep!

Knit one, purl one

Let's start at the very beginning....

Let’s start at the very beginning….

Desperation and despair set in this week…….well as one knows, I do love a little melodrama in my life, dear Reader.  Jerry and I looked at six houses and not one had any merit!  Too small, too much to do, too damp, too far from the station, the list went on and on…..I felt positively more and more like Goldilocks with each house we entered!  Jerry and I weren’t nearly so fussy when we bought the beloved cottage!  The damp farmhouse with huge garden and 2ft of water in the cellar looked ever more promising until a call from the agent revealed that someone had signed and sealed the letting agreement the day after we had been to see it for a second viewing.  Downcast, I sulked for a day or so muttering under my breath that Jerry had ruined my chances of living the good life forever.  Remember what I said about a little melodrama, dear Reader….  Jerry took it all on the chin, adding rather bluntly that the farmhouse could only ever have been my dream house if it had been gutted and had had hideous amounts of money thrown at it.  Something which, as it was a rental property, was unlikely to happen.  Of course, he was absolutely right which left me infuriated and more sulking ensued.

Thinking that I could not sulk forever, I turned my attentions back to my list of Margot’s New Year resolutions.  I have been remiss of late and far too focused on house hunting to sink my teeth into anything else.  With only 4 months until the Big Move, I was worried that I might not have mastered all the requisite country skills needed to wow my new villagey neighbours.  How would I ever be adopted into the bosom of the countryside WI, if I couldn’t complete no.18 on the list: Knit a tea cosy?

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With that notion firmly planted in my mind, I recalled that at the start of the year, one of my favourite Tweeters, the lovely @Twickermum blogged about the relaxing properties of knitting….’meditative properties’ no less!  Well, surely that could take my mind off house hunting for a while and have me skipping all the way to my first WI meeting in the village hall?  Killing two birds with one stone as one would say.  I even had all the crafty implements for this one squirreled away.  Dear Mamma added a beginner’s knitting kit (for 8 years old and up) to my Christmas stocking last year and I hid it under the bed, in the full knowledge that if it stayed there long enough, I could avoid having to make something with it.   Knitting has been my arch crafty nemesis for some time.  I am hopeless at it and what makes it all the more awful is that, my dear Mamma is an amazing knitter.  Her creations have been worn by many in the family and even friends of mine who have had babies.  From berets to christening shawls, Mamma can knit anything!  Just in case one was wondering, knitting skills are not genetic and the ability to turn long thin noodles of yarn into garments has not been passed down to the next generation.  It would be fair to say that Mamma has long despaired of my lack of craftiness and has tried many times to teach me but it would seem that I am rather a lost cause.  Disappointing.  Especially as Primrose has been dying to learn how to knit.  Casting these negative thoughts aside, armed with a knitting pattern, stitch instruction booklet and some wool, I set about facing the woolly enemy.  Sitting in bed with yarn all around me, gesturing and ranting loudly at something ridiculous on the television over the click clacking of knitting needles, Jerry commented on my rather striking resemblance to Madame Defarge from Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.  I bet she didn’t struggle with knit one, purl one, otherwise the names of impending deaths would never have been encoded in her knitting.  After a few hours, some swearing, more ranting at the television and at Jerry for making me drop stitches, the result was rather…..well…..let’s just say I could do with some more practice.

Oh dear....

Oh dear….

Not sure I got much further than one side of the wretched cosy before I became purposefully distracted (momentarily of course,  I really was trying to take this knitting thing seriously…) by a questionnaire in The Telegraph……no prizes for guessing why!  Are you a Good or a Leadbetter?  Attempting the Good Life quiz, I realised, even before I got to the second question, that perhaps I was going to have to work a lot harder on my transformation from townie to country bumpkin.  Turns out (most unsurprisingly) that I am still mostly Margot.  Well, dear Reader, one can lead a horse to water…..  It would appear that Primrose had been thinking the same thing and had little faith in my ‘Good’ly abilities, especially once she had seen my failed beginnings of a tea cosy.  This is perhaps her best picture of me yet!

Take a look at that industrial sized G&T! P knows her mother well!

Take a look at that industrial sized G&T! P knows her mother well!

Must dash, dear Reader…..off to change into my maxi-dress and turban before dinner.  Knitting my tea cosy will just have to wait.  That G&T is calling to me!

Off to find a farmhouse…

Stevie. Uncle 'Money' you have a lot to answer for.

Stevie. Uncle ‘M’ –  you have a lot to answer for.

February at last!  I thought January and its dreary dank days would never disappear.  Evicted from the cottage on a blissfully sunny but cold day, Jerry, Primrose, Poppy and I decided to start the search for our new home at long last.  Having spent all week tidying and laying fires for estate agents to value our little house, we then had to decamp as viewings were organised within a few hours of instructing the agent.  I filled the cottage with flowers, baked some croissants, lit a fire and hoovered and dusted furniture within an inch of its life.  I have to admit that the dear old bricks and mortar looked rather wonderful and Jerry and I were almost ready to call the whole selling thing off.  Sensing our indecision, Primrose promptly reminded us of the garden she is looking forward to having and the fact that we had promised her a bike and a puppy.  It is amazing how one can be persuaded into giving a child anything in return for stopping what they are doing/listening to what one is saying/doing as they are told.  Primrose has already talked me into parting with all my jewellery in some Faustian-style pact to stop her from singing (more like shouting) into the microphone on her electric keyboard (named Stevie, after Mr Wonder himself) as the demo track struts its jazzy/bluesy/pop/latino stuff in the background.  No doubt, her lawyer-like negotiating skills will also see Jerry promising her a pony before long!

Setting off in the car, Jerry and I were excited at the prospect of discovering our dream house in the countryside.  Nancy (sat nav) switched on and armed with particulars and addresses, we left the Big Smoke in our wellies and wax jackets.  Dreams of Cranford, village pub lock-ins and helping out with the church flower arranging filled my head as we hurtled down the M3.  Jerry contemplated his necessary commuter car purchase.  To Land Rover Defender or not?  That was the question.  Nearing our destination yet miles from the nearest station, we soon realised that we were going to be visiting properties in completely the wrong place.  Jerry’s daily commute would be ridiculously long and there was not a decent village in sight.  At the brow of the hill, there it was.  The farmhouse from the glossy brochure.  Only one problem, it looked more akin to Cold Comfort Farm than delightful family home.  Amazing what a wide-angled lens and some estate agent speak can do for a property.  I imagined that at any point, a smouldering Seth Starkadder would walk out of the outbuildings, shirt half unbuttoned, hair ruffled and chewing a bit of straw.  Second surprise: the land (2.2acres to be exact!) adjacent to the farmhouse seemed to populated with some rather hairy looking creatures which turned out to be llamas.   Llamas…I ask you, dear Reader, who owns llamas and what on earth would one do with them?  I know that their wool has graced many a jumper but honestly, why else would you keep them?  Do they make good pets? They hardly seem the most affectionate of creatures.  Had I missed something I wondered?  Perhaps the secret to eternal youth was not the milk of asses after all as Cleopatra led us to believe.  Perhaps those in the know, have been busy sipping cold glasses of llamas’ milk to keep their wrinkles at bay all this time?  Whatever the answer, Jerry and I quickly dismissed the farmhouse out of hand, not even bothering to get out of the car and ringing the agent with a pathetic excuse.  Our conclusions: too close to the road, an odd walk-through arrangement with bedrooms on the floorplan and in the middle of nowhere.

Our next viewing was a barn.  Jerry and I have never been particularly keen on barn conversions as they tend to be too modern for our tastes and this one was no exception.  I have to confess, dear Reader, that it did feel awfully strange poking around someone else’s home.  I could imagine viewings being the ideal pastime for those with a penchant for nosiness!  The barn reeked and seemed to be inhabited by a collector of old sewing machines, kitchen gadgets and Glade plug-ins.  Oh dear, I thought.  Another disappointment.  At this rate, we would never find a house!  We got back in the car, where Jerry spent the next half an hour testing out mobile phone signals as we drove along, talking of boosters and broadband dead zones.

Spring is coming!

The rest of the day passed with Jerry and I on tenterhooks, waiting for a call to tell us about the buyers who had been snooping around our cottage!  Turned out that the viewings went rather well which left us in a state somewhere between panic and happiness!  We decided on a walk in Morgaston Woods (one of favourite spots) to clear our heads.  It sounds silly but a walk never fails to make us all feel uplifted.  The first sighting of snowdrops filled me with cheer and the chilly air carried the promise of spring on its way.  Everyone we passed smiled and wished us a good afternoon….unheard of in London and reminding us why we are turning our lives upside down to move!  (I did wonder if they had taken one look at the matching Barbours, tweed and country hats and thought to themselves, “Typical blooming Londoners!” and were smiling in amusement rather than country friendliness)!  We did stumble upon a fantastic den in the woods too.  Primrose and Poppy were all set to move in!  You never know dear Reader, we may need to….

Home sweet home?

Home sweet home?

No new dwelling to call home on the horizon, the only thing left was for the four of us to return home.  We found that our dear little cottage was well and truly on the market when we came home – a ‘For Sale’ board had been put up in our absence!  We did manage to lighten the mood though.  What with, dear Reader?……..why a Farmhouse cake of course!

A farmhouse of sorts...well farmhouse cake anyway!

A farmhouse of sorts…!

Should you wish to bake your own farmhouse, here is the recipe!  It was given to me by my dear godmother who is a whizz at all things teatime and makes the most amazing pork pies too!

12oz self raising flour

1 level tsp salt

2 tsp mixed spice

8oz caster sugar

12oz mixed dried fruit (glace cherries are fantastic as part of the mix)

grated rind and juice of 1 lemon

6oz margarine (Flora works best for this as it is easy to mix in: this is an occasion when butter won’t do!)

1/4 pint of milk

3 eggs (I use Burford Browns from Clarence Court as the yolks are very yellow and creamy)

Sieve together the dry ingredients first, except the fruit.  Add all the others and mix together, first with a beater (you could put it all into the food processor) until thoroughly mixed then finish mixing lightly by hand.  Pour into an 8inch cake tin which has been greased and lined. Bake on middle shelf at 150 degrees C for about 2 hours.  Cool in the tin, then turn out onto a wire rack.  Never lasts long in our house!

Out with the old….

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Enough books to start our own library!

What a week it has been, dear Reader.  There has been so much to do in the cottage.  Estate agents are descending on us for valuations and Jerry and I have been frantically trying to tidy and declutter so that the agents value the dear old building at more than 5p for lock, stock and barrel.  6 years we have lived here.  Moving from the hustle, bustle and gritty urban life of an SE London post code to the serenity and predictably middle class suburbia on the edge of Richmond Park.  In that time, the cottage has weathered many storms: Jerry’s beginner DIY skills, my obsession with green paint and not least the arrival of our fluffy prince Bertie, followed by our two little darlings, Primrose and Poppy.  Its four walls have been the source of both great joy and terrible woe as one thing after another ceased to function as it was supposed to.  Yet through all of that, it has remained one of my greatest loves.  Indeed, it was love in the first place, Dear Reader, that caused me to purchase the ramshackle bricks and mortar we now call home.  In a fit of impetuousness, I decided on first viewing to buy it.  Jerry was on a stag weekend at the time and was ‘delighted’ when he received a phonecall from his wife saying that she had purchased a house!  I saw the cottage, fell in love and made a foolish decision that left Jerry and I to pay the asking price even though the house was in need of considerable modernisation.  When asked by the estate agent (and the vendor) whether I wanted to wait until my husband returned to make a formal offer, I glibly said “No, Jerry won’t mind!”  Jerry has never let me forget that moment of rashness in the entire 6 years we have lived here!  I have lived and breathed the house ever since from sourcing Victorian wallpapers to underpinning chimneys, converting the attic into a third bedroom, ripping out the 70s decor, installing a new kitchen (with a newborn Primrose in tow) and weeping every time the roof leaked and water poured through the ceiling and down the walls in the middle of the night.  One can only say that the cottage has been a true labour of love.  Jerry has, on numerous occasions, told me (through gritted teeth) that I would not be allowed to look at or buy houses alone in the future and that the only house he would consider living in now, would be a modern box.  Interesting…as only a few days ago, I caught him trawling through properties on Rightmove which boasted period features and oak beams.  However, I do feel an immense responsibility to prove to Jerry that all the time and effort spent on the cottage has been worth it and that someone as mad as Margot will fall in love with it, want to move straight in and make us a ludicrous offer!

Wondering if I could ever be parted from my beloved cottage, Jerry rather glibly imparted, “Buyers might not love your wallpaper as much as you do.”  What a simply ridiculous notion!  Well if they don’t love the wonders of Lewis&Wood wallpaper then they clearly do not have an eye for vintage beauty and I won’t be selling the house to them!  Hmm.  With all the tidying I missed the whooping excitement of a crisp clean blanket of snow.  I felt a perfect winter Grinch as I watched others sledging down hills in the park, whilst I gave myself white blindness of a slightly different sort, painting the bay window.  DIY capers continued into the weekend when Jerry and I used some tester pots to retouch areas in the kitchen and bathroom.  Sadly for us (we saw the funny side only much later on) it turned out that the Farrow and Ball paint we thought we had used in the first place, did not match the little pots.  Too late to do anything about it when one has painted a great big patch and could only tell the difference in pantones when newly painted area is bone dry…..  Jerry and I spent a few hours mixing different F&B pots together until we finally reached the desired shade and then had to repaint the section all over again!  More grumbling ensued.

Margot's Lewis&Wood joy!

Margot’s Lewis&Wood joy!

Onwards to the decluttering…… I have to confess to liking a little clutter so I knew that this part of the operation was going to be a challenge.  Clean lines have never appealed and I hoard books as if I shall never see another again.  Advice from the lovely Kirstie Allsop’s friend, Phil, on selling a property says that the key to a sale is to ‘declutter’ and ‘de-personalise’.  Buyers want to imagine themselves in your house.  Oh dear, I thought.  Might have to box up most of our things in that case!  “Don’t you like any of your things anymore, Mummy?”, asked a rather outraged Primrose, our resident magpie and lover of shiny pretty things, as she watched me taking things out of cupboards and ramming once loved items into black bin bags ready for the charity shop.  Halfway through, even Jerry was concerned that I seemed to have cleared out half of my wardrobe and had decimated my herculean handbag collection.  (I have always maintained that one needs a good handbag for every possible occasion!  At last count, I had managed to collect in the region of fifty something…).  Nevertheless, I was an unstoppable machine and in one weekend, 6 years of cottage life was streamlined and decluttered.  Poppy did her very best to prevent the proceedings by throwing Primrose’s Mister Maker box onto the floor.  Sequins, googly eyes and heaps of glitter spilled out onto the floor just as the vacuum cleaner had been returned to the under-stairs dungeon.  I can’t repeat the language used but I am sure you can imagine, dear Reader!

For sale: One cottage covered in sequins and googly eyes.  Toddler thrown in with purhcase.

For sale: One cottage covered in sequins and googly eyes. Toddler to be thrown in with purchase.

Hours of cleaning duty later and Jerry and I were more than ready for Gin o’clock!  The realisation that we are selling up has set in.  Surveying our handiwork, Jerry and I felt like our dear little cottage had been stripped bare.   I wondered how on earth I was going to be able to keep the clutter at bay.  Not least because in a fit of impatience, Jerry stuffed the last of the unhomed items (precariously balanced no doubt) behind a few cupboard doors!  Let’s hope any potential buyers don’t feel the need to check out the storage…..

Snow now melted away, a new week dawns and for now, dear Reader, the sun is shining.  The cottage is looking pristine.  You will be pleased to hear that amidst all the clearing out, I did manage to find room for ONE new little purchase.  A country hat.  Well…..it was winking at me from its lonely spot in a shop window and I couldn’t possibly leave it behind.  It was clearly a sign.  Out with the old, in with the new as they say!

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No19 on the list : Procure a stylish country hat. DONE!