Doesn’t like wet feet ( A guide to growing indoor plants in Finland)

People often tell me they can’t keep plants alive, but it’s really not too hard. Like children and pets they do need a bit of attention now and then to keep them healthy and sustained but seriously, anyone can do it.

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When moving to a new climate it does take a bit of learning about what plants do best and it helps to know a few basic steps on how to care for them. Here’s my beginners guide to keeping your apartment looking green in Finland.

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Look for Clues

In homes and offices, as well as in plant shops, you’ll start to notice the same kinds of plants over and over again. This is a good way to ascertain what grows well here and also the time of year it becomes available.

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This plant is really common here in Finland and is growing well in a bedroom with only two small windows. As winter approaches you’ll need to find plants that survive well with very little light so take clues from those you see doing well around you.

Move it, move it

This plant has been hanging near a window in our bedroom, up against the glass.

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He was sagging and drooping like limp wet washing until I moved him last week, just around the corner and out of direct sunlight. He immediately sprung to attention like some crazy guy looking for a party and so here he will stay. Take hints from your plants and if they’re not happy, try moving them. Mix up things like direct sun, shade, window positions and shelter.

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This guy is very happy in his usual window spot but I may move him in winter

Lest we Forget

My favourite kind of plants (after palms) are succulents and cacti – and you don’t need to overlook them in Finland. We don’t have the same kind of heatwaves but we do live in a cold, dry climate – much like a desert in winter.

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If you think about it, cacti can withstand cold temperatures. Just don’t over water them when it’s cold and remember they don’t like wet feet (who does?) so put them in cactus soil that drains water away. With good heating and triple-glazed windows, Helsinki apartments are warm over winter so bring your cacti indoors during the colder months.

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Invest in your babies

I paid 80 euro for this huge monstera, which is a good incentive for me to keep it alive.

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You also need to invest your time – but I don’t mean loads of it. I take a glass of water to bed every night and hardly ever drink it, so in the morning I tip it on to a different plant each day. That’s it. A regular little drink to the one who looks like they most need it tends to keep everyone happy.

Read the signs

When you buy plants they tend to come with a plastic sign with some basic care instructions on the back. Does it like sun, shade, direct light? How often should it be watered? Sometimes that’s all you need to know to keep your plant alive.

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‘Tis the season

Don’t be afraid to buy something just for winter. These heathers do really well in Finland and survive even in snow.

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You can also buy small trees in pots that will survive the cold. I used to buy plants for life (mine). Now I buy them for the plant’s life, doing my best to keep them going over winter but adapting to new varieties if they don’t make it through.

Keep trying

I’ve yet to master growing something really well in these glass bulbs but will persevere because I really like them.

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The trick is they need just a little water and often, because the water drips straight out. A spray bottle is a good way to wet them and my monstera loves a spray on his trunk so he gets one too on the way past.

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So, there you have it. You can grow plants and you can do it well – and it has nothing to do with luck. With just a little bit of loving they’ll keep you happy and healthy all year round, just as you do for them. (Otherwise – faking it is also okay).

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Helsinki’s best cafes to meet with kids in autumn

I met a lovely Finnish family today who were looking for some tips for their upcoming visit to NZ. While they admitted I am the first New Zealander they have ever met (I hope I did us proud) there is a small community of us here and there is a meet up planned for tomorrow afternoon.

With a high forecast of just five degrees, it got me thinking of the best cafes in Helsinki to meet at when you have kids & the weather is cool. These are my top three & I’d love to hear any other ideas (because we all know it ain’t getting warmer any time soon….)

Moko Market

This homewares store has a great cafe as well as one of the best roasters in the city housed out the back (Kaffa Roastery). There is a room you can reserve, as well as a playhouse, making it popular for baby showers.

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Book Cafe at Annantalo

This grand old building is a children’s arts centre and the cafe is spacious and comfortable. As well as tables there is a curved couch and loads of children’s books in Finnish and Swedish. There are also exhibitions for children and art workshops.

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Children can leave their pacifier with this toucan when it’s time to give them up

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Cafe Koket

This spacious cafe has a play area and you can reserve tables for groups. There’s Babies Brunch every Monday for parents with young kids and they serve a cake made out of cinnamon buns! See the website for details of their Father’s Day brunch.

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Baby Brunch on Mondays

Baby Brunch on Mondays

A new island home

Not content to be winter’s plainer cousin, autumn was showing her beauty in Helsinki today with blue skies and earthy colours.

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We enjoyed her show on the island of Seurasaari.  Connected to the mainland by a footbridge, this open-air museum is home to buildings from around Finland from across the ages.

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We’ve been at Christmas and at Midsummer but hadn’t yet visited at this time of year.

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Even though most the buildings are now closed for winter it is still worth a visit for a walk and a picnic and the trails are popular with joggers.

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We enjoyed walking around and choosing which house we would live in (as long as it has good insulation).

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Despite having been before, we found new things to enjoy, including signs of Finnish ingenuity from time gone by.

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Autumn was all around us and as always, nature was left untamed and free to grow.

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We were soon joined by the island’s residents, who I assume are starting to squirrel away stores for the Nordic winter.

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Autumn showed us that she is no shrinking violet – and her display will only get stronger between now and November.

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And we finally found the house we might like to live in – or at least have as our summer home.

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Of reading and sleeping and boa constrictors

The first time I went to Arkadia International Bookshop I was greeted warmly by the owner, Ian. “Come in, look around, lie down, take a nap,” he said.

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He encouraged me to explore the whole store, starting downstairs, which is below street level. “You’ll find couches with Swiss Army blankets on them,” he said. “Feel free to stretch out and take a nap.”

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With that in mind I did explore the shop, which just got better and better as it went on.

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There’s a huge array of second-hand books, in many different languages.

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Downstairs there are rooms that lead to rooms that lead to other rooms and finally to what Ian calls ‘The Chapel.’

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Here there is a table, set in an alcove and laid with water and glasses for customers to enjoy.

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The rooms are full of boxes of books, which you are encouraged to rifle through.

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If they don’t have it, it probably doesn’t exist, with books apparently available on every subject.

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Upstairs, customers gather and chat, drinking tea from a samovar. Regular events are held that include poetry readings and musical performances.

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I didn’t take that nap but it sure was tempting.

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Until I peeked inside the terrarium and realised I couldn’t see Zefiro anywhere….

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Arkadia International Bookshop

Address:
Nervanderinkatu 11 (view map)
00100 Helsinki, Finland

Opening hours:
Tuesday–Friday 12.00–19.00
Saturday 10.00–18.00
Closed on Mondays and Sundays

Winter love in late summer

On a recent trip to Malta I felt so happy seeing the wildly spilling bougainvillea and rows of prickly pears.  I had forgotten how much I love being around plants and I had the same feeling yesterday at Helsinki’s Winter Garden.

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It’s funny to visit the Winter Gardens when we are having a lovely late summer, but it was well worth a visit to the stunning glasshouses.

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Built in 1893, the gardens were recently renovated and are home to over 200 plants.

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To my delight there is a room dedicated to succulents and cacti, many of which are currently in bloom.

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I just love these plants, they really make my heart sing. I felt so happy wandering around and would love to have some of them growing at home.

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There is also a display of puppets on at the moment, which gives the place a really magical feel.

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In another wing there are beautiful palms and tables set out where you can sit and read or enjoy a picnic with friends.

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Outside there is a beautiful rose garden with views across Töölönlahti.

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I look forward to returning in winter when Helsinki is no longer so green and keeping warm amongst the plants. There’s enough there to warm even the prickliest of hearts.

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Helsinki’s Winter Gardens (Talvipuutarha) are at Hammarskjöldintie 1 & entry is free.

Come As You Are

With the sun hardly setting in Helsinki these days, we are taking every opportunity to enjoy dinner outdoors.

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Our favourite places Skiffer and Cafe Birgitta only open in summer and they are now in good company with the opening of Hernesaaren Ranta.

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Hernesareen Ranta (Hernesaari Beach) is located south-west of the city, in the redeveloping area of Hernesaari (Pea Island).

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Bus number 14 will take you almost to the door, but as always there’s also plenty of parking for bikes.

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The area is home to a range of eateries, including Piece & Love Pizza and Mexican Chalupa. There’s also a venelaituri (boat pier) for those arriving by boat.

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Once ashore there’s many areas to sit and you don’t all have to order food from the same place.

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Unfortunately, some food providers are still learning how to run food events efficiently. The night we visited, the Champagne Bar ran out of champagne and the sushi bar was hand-rolling sushi to order, meaning a 25-minute wait for food after a 20-minute wait to order.

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Luckily there’s another bar where you can grab a drink while you wait and there’s also a dance floor for those who stay late.

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These guys knew how to kill time, turning up for dinner in a boat equipped with a sauna and sofa up on top.

And we’ll be back. With the area measuring 2000m² and open all week from 10am-2am, there’s something for every man and his dog.

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Hernesaaren Ranta

It’s a bit hard to find – continue west from Cafe Birgitta, past the public sauna building site until you feel sure you must be lost. Hernesaaren Ranta will appear as if a mirage in the distance, just as you are about to turn back. 

 

 

 

To Stockholm by Sea

One of the best things about living in Helsinki is its proximity to the rest of Europe. While Finns say they feel fairly remote, for those of us facing a  26-hour flight home, anything less is a breeze.

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Photo: Marko Stampehl/AS Tallink Grupp

During the summer months you also have the option of visiting neighbouring countries by boat. By boat, I mean passenger ferries, built to accommodate you and 3000 of your favourite strangers.

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With my parents visiting we decided to do the ferry trip to Stockholm, which we’ve been told, pretty much makes us Finnish. We travelled on the Silja Serenade and were welcomed on board by Moomin, musicians and circus performers. The big promenade down the centre of the boat makes orientation really easy.

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As well as bars and restaurants, there’s a big play area for children. I sat in there for two hours while Miko played and recommend taking a book, as you need to stay in the area but not really watch your child the whole time. (Magazines in Finnish are provided).

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To travel, you pay one ticket price, that covers the fare and accommodation for all those sleeping in your cabin. A cabin with a window costs more, but with the Nordic summer sun visible for nearly 24 hours these days, you may not miss having one.

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One of the best things about the trip, that I hadn’t anticipated, was the beautiful views as we drew nearer to Stockholm.

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We had a bird’s eye view of the archipelago as we cruised slowly by, fascinated by the remotely set houses and saunas.

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Stockholm is a city set over 14 islands, connected by bridges. Once docked, we headed into Gamla Stan (Old Town), via bus.

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We passed by beautiful parks full of beautiful Swedish people, before reaching the Royal Palace.

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Gamla Stan is full of little streets to lose yourself in, with stores selling books, shoes, waffles and ice cream.

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We use the Foursquare app for recommendations on where to eat and were not disappointed with the lunch we had at Under Kastanjen.

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After an ice cream in the sun, we headed to the Nobel Museum, leaving Mum & Dad to tour through while we had a drink and people-watched in the Old Town Square.

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Later, on board the boat, we got a window seat and enjoyed drinks and the view, which once again was absolutely captivating. By the time we arrived back in Helsinki the next morning we agreed –  we all had a case of Stockholm Syndrome.

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Good to know:

  • Silja Line ferries dock a bit further out of town. Allow 20-30 mins for the bus into town, which is very easy to catch.
  • The currency of Sweden is the krona (SEK)
  • If you are a Club One member, take your card on board as you can earn points and get discounts
  • The duty free stores onboard have better prices than the cafes for things like chocolate
  • There are also big savings on Finnish souvenirs, like Moomin mugs (19€ on land, 13€ at sea)

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Midsummer ( Juhannus ) is one of the biggest events on the Finnish calendar and is celebrated on the Saturday after June 19. With the biggest events happening on Midsummer’s Eve, we set off to the island of Seurasaari for some traditional Finnish celebrations.

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We’ve had a lot of rain this week, but the sun was out and the island is looking beautiful, covered in wildflowers and green.

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We love how the landscape here is left untamed and unshaped over summer, just left free to do its own thing.

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There was quite an extensive program on, with traditional crafts, singing, storytellers and puppet shows set up around the island.

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At one place you could make your own head wreath, choosing flowers from baskets of wildflowers.

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We stopped for a while in a clearing and the boys had turns on stilts while I went for a ride on a horse-drawn cart.

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Next we went down to the main events area and had our picnic dinner and wine. There was a flag procession and singing and Jonathan got drawn into dancing a Finnish folk dance, much to his discomfort and our immense delight.

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We soon followed Jonathan and his band of merry dancers down to the beach for the lighting of the first of the bonfires.

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Midsummer bonfires are called kokko, which is also the name of a mythical bird of iron and fire from Finnish folklore, similar to a phoenix.

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Despite the appearance that the sun was still rising in the sky, it was soon time for us to head off and get Miko to bed.

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For those who stayed there was music and dancing until 1 am and more bonfires lit beneath the midnight sun.

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Seurasaari is an open air museum and home to examples of Finnish architecture from across the ages and country. My parents are visiting from New Zealand and enjoyed checking out the different buildings on our way back to the bus.

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You can tell by our clothing that it wasn’t a particularly warm night on Friday, with the temperature hitting a high of just 14 degrees. That was 14 degrees warmer than last year however, so in comparison it really was a Midsummer Night’s Dream.

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Save it for a rainy day

Sorry Helsinki – I seem to have made it rain. My parents are visiting and asked yesterday if it rains very often here. I laughed and said ‘No! Hardly at all,’ and it hasn’t stopped raining since. Luckily Helsinki is not only set up for outdoor fun but inside adventures too.

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There are a few indoor playgrounds in the city but the one we’ve been to the most is Snadi Stadi. Based five floors underground in the suburb of Ruoholahti, it boasts 3000 square metres of games and activities for children.

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There’s an area for children under 3 and the rest of the place is for kids of all ages to basically go nuts.

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We first went with Miko’s paternal grandmother who kept accidentally beating him very convincingly at air hockey, no matter how hard she tried to lose.

Miko can't understand why his grandmother keeps beating him at air hockey

As well as arcade games and floor hockey, there’s also a big bike path that runs around the centre of the arena. Some of the bikes have room for two kids, which is great for the little ones who want to hitch a ride.

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Miko’s favourite thing is the skate ramp which has scooters and skateboards and basketballs to shoot hoops.

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There are also these crazy horses that you ride by pushing down on the stirrups with your feet, which propels them around the room.

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There’s even a place for children’s hair cuts, complete with distractions for the wriggliest child.

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To be honest the worst thing about Snadi Stadi is that it’s a bit boring for adults as your child will just run off and play for four hours and leave you sitting to the side. Take a friend or take a book and take some money for coffee (although your first is free with entry).

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Perhaps my favourite thing about the place is this crazy picture near the ball pit of a child, dressed as a bear, walking an inflatable whale on a lead.

Hopefully we won’t be seeing too much of it over the next few months as I have realised the power of my words and their direct impact on meteorological events….*

Snadi Stadi – summer tickets are now 32€, which will get you entry throughout June & July

* I don’t actually believe I made it rain **

** well, maybe a little bit

Face painting for beginners

I really like Lokal and was happy to see recently they were having an artist in to paint pictures of the public.

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I booked a time for Miko and told him that a man was going to paint his portrait. ‘My what?’ he asked. ‘Your portrait,’ I said. ‘You know, paint your face.’

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When we arrived another family were just finishing their sitting, so Miko explored the joy of infinity in the mirrors while we waited.

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When it was his turn to sit, Miko wriggled around until I told him he had to sit as still as he did last week when the doctor was trying to pull a piece of lego out of his nose. ‘Out of your nose?’ asked the artist. ‘How did it get up there?’

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‘Oh,’ explained Miko patiently. ‘It was Star Wars lego and it jumped up there.’

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Matti Pikkujämsä is a Finnish artist who does a lot of illustration in Japan. He also made the wooden animals featured in Lokal’s Wild Animals Helsinki exhibition.

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Finished and pleased with the result, Matti and Miko posed for a photo before we headed home.

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‘Do you like it?’ I asked Miko. ‘Yes,’ he said, smiling. ‘But Mummy, I thought you said he was going to paint my face.’

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