Help pick the new book cover! + "Get to the point!" in French?
To peel or to pare or to shuck in French: éplucher + new video!

Recipe: bacon-wrapped prunes - Pruneaux au lard fumé + the French word "serviable" and a lesson worth learning!


Galette des rois (c) Kristin Espinasse
"Smokey's Temptation"

La galette des rois was not planned. I'd gone to the supermarché for eggs--to mix in with three overripe bananas (for sweet bread). Only, when I pushed my cart into Carrefour I saw the traditional stuffed cakes. "When is the actual date for eating these?" I asked the pretty check-out lady. "Epiphany," she said. " "When's Epiphany?" I wondered. "Today," she said. "...I think..." I love it when the French second-guess themselves. The world grows suddenly cozier.

serviable (sair-vee-yable)

    : willing to help, helpful, obliging, amenable

The phrase peu serviable is often heard. It means unhelpful, not cooperative

Example Sentence
I wish I could tell you more about the galette des rois, but I had another story planned for today. For those willing to help with information or an explanation about the galette des rois tradition--simply leave a comment here. Thanks, you're so helpful! Merci, vous êtes bien serviable!

You can even order a galette des rois on Amazon and try it for yourself. Click here and learn a few quick facts about the French King Cake for Epiphany.

A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse

On Becoming Serviable & Noël near Aix-en-Provence...

Jean-Marc's cousin, Sabine, invited the whole family over on Christmas Day. Because our clan is growing, it's a little more complicated each year to fit into the cozy reception room. I smiled noticing the clever diagonal position of the dinner table, allowing for 3 or 4 more seats to be squeezed in. As we admired the table's decor (set by 15-year-old Mahé), Sabine admitted that now that we're grown with kids of our own these winter indoor gatherings may no longer be possible. 

I had a good nostalgic look around the room as I prepared the tray of apéritifs. Each and every French face--how familiar they all were to me now. What a privilege it has been to be part of this family history in which year after year we stand here, a little taller or wider or wrinklier than the last time we gathered. And yet it is tricky seeing the physical changes, when the soul takes precedence, shining out from behind a loved one's eyes:

"And what have you made us?" my brother-in-law, Jacques, smiled, his eyes sparkling as he reached for a mini pancake.

"Oh. Blinis et tarama," I said, of the pancakes with their puréed fish-egg spread. The blinis seemed like a good idea at the time--back when I offered to bring a few dishes to the Christmas potluck. They are my husband's favorite and you could buy them by the dozen. All that was needed were a few small tubs of tarama, which could quickly be added once we got to Sabine's....

I studied my brother-in-law's face as he bit into the cold pancakes. "I should have toasted them," I said to Jacques, knowing full well I didn't mean it. (There was no way I was going to toaster four dozen mini-pancakes!) 

"You could use the oven upstairs," my mother-in-law whispered, as she found her way past me to the chair in front of the fireplace.

I was really hoping somebody wouldn't point that out. But there was no reason to feel guilty--after all, there was no time for dashing back-n-forth to the oven, now was there, when one had three more apéro trays to prepare! But I knew the truth: a good hostess would find a way to heat things!

Oh well. I wasn't a hostess! Just a lazy in-law. I quickly dumped a bag of bacon-wrapped prunes onto another platter. At least I'd thought to bring my mother-in-law's pruneaux au lard--leftovers from the previous night, when we'd gotten together at Jacques'. I figured she would be happy I'd thought to bring them.

Instead, my mother-in-law said, "They taste better heated."

Standing there with the tray of stiff prunes, I looked down at my belle-mère. She was the only one in the room seated. I knew she was tired, but apparently not so pooped that she couldn't hand out a suggestion!

"They're good room-temperature, too!" I pointed out, as hot-headed as a little chili pepper. Gosh, where had that feistiness come from? No time to wonder. Turning away I ran smack into Sabine, who smiled as she selected one of the little apéritifs on my tray.

"Looks delicious!" she said.

"Michèle-France would have liked them heated," I coughed. "They're better that way..."

"That's not a problem," Sabine said, taking the tray from me. I'll just pop them in the oven upstairs!"

Only, as she took the tray, a gaggle of teenagers ran up. Next an engine of grabbing hands worked itself across the platter as the kids went for their favorite: those pastry-wrapped mini hotdogs that my mother-in-law had also made.

"It's no use," I said to Sabine, as the mountain of hors d'oeuvres diminished right before our eyes. But Sabine only smiled, allowing the kids to continue picking from the tray.

"Stop it!" I shouted, slapping my son's hand as he grabbed for more. "Those are on the way to the oven. They'll all be gone before they've been heated! And God knows they are better heated!

While one of us grew even testier, the other was the picture of grace. "I'll be right back," Sabine said, disappearing to her kitchen.

"But there are hardly a dozen left! It's not even worth the time to heat them..." As I watched Sabine run up the stairs, I knew that there was a woman to idolize. But I needed more than an angel-faced mentor. Once and for all I needed to put my pleasure-seeking self behind me and learn how to serve others.


Ten minutes later, my mother-in-law lit up as she reached for a crispy bacon-wrapped prune. "Ahhh... nice and hot. They're so good this way!"

As I passed around the warm tray of appetizers, I wished Sabine were here to see the joy that came of her effort. Indeed, I wished I had made the effort. But it wasn't too late to do something thoughtful, after all--something that would further touch my mother-in-law.

"Sabine insisted on heating them for you..." I blurted out, before pausing to witness the effect. The news of this caring gesture caused my mother-in-law to melt from the warmth of so much tenderness. 

It was enough to make this little chili pepper mellow out, too ...and even remain calm when one of the aunts passed by with a surprise:

"Oh, I see someone made these too!" She said, dumping a plate of stiff bacon-wrapped prunes onto my steaming tray, adding "we can combine them!"

I cringed as I watched the cold prunes tumble onto the steaming mound, neutralizing the temperature of those that had just been warmed.

Where was the lesson in it all? Did good deeds, in the end, go unrewarded? Wise men ask such questions. This is one time I'm glad I'm not one of them. And thank goodness! Rather than rack my brain, I realize I'm happier circling around the room with a tray of goodies.

Philosophy couldn't garner smiles like food could!

*    *    * 

Pruneaux au lard fumé

Are these as popular in your area as they are at a French Christmas table? I see they're also known as "Devils on Horseback."

=> You may use pitted or unpitted fruit. Simply take dried prunes and wrap them in bacon. Fasten them with a toothpick before putting them in the oven for 8-12 minutes (350F?) Delicious tip: my mother-in-law stuffed each prune with a pistachio nut before wrapping them with bacon. These were the best!  

You may also add other tasty ingredients. A prune/bacon/cheddar combination is especially popular for these appetizer bites or bouchées apéritives.

1-smokey sheep
Mobile sheepherding with Smokey


Iris unguicularis and stone cabanon (c) Kristin Espinasse
This chair was left out sometime last year. It looks onto the boules or pétanque court. All "tied up" now, it may forever look on to the boules or pétanque court.... (flower note: the purple beauties are "iris unguicularis". Thank you, Margaret Brown, for identifying them in the comments box!

 For more stories of French life, thanks for buying the book Blossoming in Provence. Click here to order a copy.

A Message from KristiOngoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal week after week. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, I kindly ask for your support by making a donation today. Thank you very much for being a part of this community and helping me to maintain this site and its newsletter.

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Patricia Sands

Thanks for that very useful word, Emma. I wasn't familiar with it.
I wrote about la galette des roes (with recipe) and the January 6th celebration in France today on my blog. Here you go - tit for tat, as they say!

Betty Gleason

I make bacon & dates, rather than using prunes. They are a little sweeter, but I think the contrast in flavors is more interesting. Good both hot & cold.

Fay Plauche' Butler

King Cakes have been part of our New Orleans Mardi Gras tradition for as long as I can remember - and that's a long time, now.

We enclose a tiny pink rubber baby doll in each cake and the person who finds it in their slice must buy the next cake and host next party.

Basically, King Cake is a heavily iced (in purple, green and gold) short bread made in the round.

Sue jean

Our French teacher makes a Galette des Rois each year, and it is always delicious but sadly I don't have the recipe. There is always a "favour" hidden in one slice , and whoever gets it must choose a Roi or Reine. Unfortunately there are only 2 possible Rois in the class, but it is always good fun.

Margaret Brown

I loved your photo of the chair with the irises. I am envious! Iris unguicularis or Tunisian Iris is so joyful in winter and better still, it thrives in very poor soil e.g. rubble!

Lynne Schultz

Fond memories from my youth of the New Orleans French King Cake tradition on Epiphany. Pan de Rosca iced in national colors in Mexico are sold commercially, businesses give pieces to their clients, hotels bake them to distribute to guests and visitors.
Most significant is the giant cake placed in Mexico City's Zocalo which is cut for the populace. This year, a major detachment of law enforcers is assigned to keep order. Guadalajara does it too.
I am retired in Jalisco, MX.


Beautiful essay, Kristin, and so honest--thank you. Our Epiphany homily mentioned two things: the importance of the kings kneeling in the straw by the crèche, and the fact that they returned "by a different route." What you shared helps on both accounts, the humility of knowing our defects and the effort to change. Blessings to all this Christmastide.

Linda R.

Good morning, Kristin. Your essay was beautiful in so many ways - the privilege of gathering around the table and being part of the history of the family; smiling at your mother-in-law's repeated suggestion; recognizing the kindness and grace of your sister-in-law's gesture. Thank you for the recipe. When I taught French for decades, we would always make crepes, bûches de noel (amazing what one can fit into a scheduled class time), and ... either I or a student would make and bring galettes des rois to share with the classes. Bonne Année.

catharine ewart-touzot

Interesting story of family interaction and the importance of Epiphany..When I first came to France that was when gifts were exchanged as opposed to Christmas and the King cake was a must have, in the family I lived with..the person who found the charm, I can't recall exactly what it was, became the "king" and servant for the French was extremely bad at the time and I'm sure I lost a lot in the explanations but I do recall the
feeling that it was a a really nice tradition.


I was struck by your phase “learn how to serve others.” My mother in law once told me she didn’t like to wait on people. Of course, I already knew this as I had observed it her for over two decades. She liked to be waited on. I think serving others is in your DNA but it can be learned to. When you do serve others they remember how you made them feel. Moreover, serving others, I think, is a good thing for you too.

24/7 in France

I just posted an informational article about this holiday on my blog, 24/7 in France. Bonne fete!


Epiphany is also known as King's Day, marking the 12th day of Christmas, when the magi visited the Christ child. King cakes, with a favor baked inside, are used to celebrate that day, and here in New Orleans, to mark the beginning of the carnival (or Mardi Gras) season. Local king cakes are more like a brioche, many with icing in purple, green and gold (Mardi Gras colors). Happy King's Day!

catharine ewart-touzot is an interesting article about with recipe for the celebration

Kathryn Duchene

Dear Kristin,
Another beautiful post with charming pictures a thoughtful story and a bonus recipe for a tasty treat, hot or cold! And this morning, right beside the French Work-A-Day email was one from my other favourite american-in-france, David Lebovitz, with a recipe for Galette des Rois for those who do not live in France or New Orleans.


Great post as always, Kristin. I am enjoying New Orleans style king cake today, very different than the gallettes des rois in France (which my daughter in Paris is eating now). I just heard that the gallette offered to President Hollande doesn't include a feve so as not to risk his not getting it and someone else becoming king or queen. Thanks again for your stories.

Faye Stampe, Gleneden Beach, OR

Wonderful post Kristin and a great way to start 2014! I loved the family interaction, the food, the photos and all the comments.

Thank you for being there - I love to drink my coffee in the am, read your post and dream of France.

Be well!


Our dear Kristin,
What an absolutely beautiful post today.You have such talent for showing us life's most important lessons--now about accepting kindness(help)with humility and reciprocating without any thought of personal gain.Perfect for today,which happens to be Orthodox Christmas Eve as well.(we also celebrate it).
My belle mere would teach me family recipes to honor the celebration;I was 18,newlywed,in love,and excited to learn traditions which were do different from those I grew up with.Now,nearly 50 years later,these traditions have become a complete part of me and m y life.
THANK YOU for helping me to recall these joyful memories--and also lessons to use every single day.
Natalia xo

Marti Hinman

Bonjour Kristin! Heureuse 2014.
Vivent les Rois!
Longtemps fixee 6 janvier, l'Epiphanie est maintenant celebre l'Adoration de l'Enfant Jesus par les rois mages guides par une etoil miraculeus jusqu'a la creche de Bethleem. Ce jour-la croyants ou non partagent en famille ou entre amis la galette des rois, qui a survecu a toutes les tourmentes de l'histoire. Durant la Revolution,elle est meme devenue le gateau de l'Egalite et l'Epiphanie la fete des sansculottes! Feulletee a Paris,briochee a Lyon,faconnee en couronne en Provence,fouree a la frangipane dans toutes les regions, la galette des rois est toujours une occasion de rejouissances. Le plus jeune convive,cache sous la table,ordonne la distribution des parts ,dont une supplementaire destinee selon les regions a Dieu ou aux pauvres. L'origine de la feve que designe un roi ou une reine se perd dans la nuit desdes temps.
Chez les Egyptiens,elle etait objet de veneration car ell passait pour etre douee d'une vertu de fecondite.Les Hebreux utilisaient les feves blanches et noires en guise de bulletin de vote. Au cours des siecles, la feve a pris les formes les plus
variees, trefle a quatre feuilles, enfant Jesus emmaillote,fer a cheval,petits animaux,louis d'or..De nous jours,elle est souvent remplaces par un santon blanc de Provence et emaille au four.
Un ami de Provence m'a reconte cet histoire,
et je la envoi a tous avec plaisir.
Malheureusement, mon e-mail ne me permet pas de mettre des accents :(
Marti Hinman
La Floride

Joan Clark

Hi Kristin, loved yet another of your endearing posts. Your honesty is so refreshing, I just love it! Serving others is not always easy and usually not convenient , though I believe there is nothing that brings grater joy. I am LDS ( Mormon) and service is an integral part of our faith. We learn to really love one another when we serve. When we are in the service of our fellow man we are only in the service of our God. When I am going through a difficult trial it is so beneficial to do something for someone else and when I do that I forget my own problems. Funny how that works.
It seems to me that you, Kristin, are really a lovely example of one who does serve quite willingly.
I am looking forward to your next charming post. Thank you for who you are and how you brighten each day

Mary Joe Krieger

King Cakes are a vibrant part of the Mardi Gras tradition in New Orleans.

As part of New Orleans' Christian faith, the coming of the wise men bearing gifts to the Christ Child is celebrated twelve days after Christmas. We refer to this as the Feast of the Epiphany, or Little Christmas on the Twelfth Night. This is a time of celebration, exchanging gifts and feasting. Today, the tradition continues as people all over the world gather for festive Twelfth Night celebrations. A popular custom was and still is the baking of a special cake in honor of the three kings, called "A King's Cake."

Inside every cake is a tiny baby (generally plastic now, but sometimes this baby might be made of porcelain or even gold). The tradition of having King Cake Parties has evolved through time, and the person who receives the slice of cake with the baby is asked to continue the festivities by hosting the next King Cake party.

Sheila Cooper

"Little Christmas," as the Feast of the Epiphany is ironically called in Ireland (where my mother was born and raised), was traditionally the gift giving day, the Twelfth Day of Christmas. We always had a festive meal on Little Christmas, but didn't have the Kings' Cake tradition. When I began studying French in college, I learned of the galette des rois, and have enjoyed the galette every year since then. My two sons, now in their 40's, grew up with the mystery of where the bean would be in the cake and who would be the king or queen until next Little Christmas. We have Casse Croute, a wonderful French bakery, just a few blocks away, and the galette awaits this year's roi or reine!


I have a question - not related to gallette des rois. Can someone tell me the difference between boules and petanque?

m.g, moore

I believe you mean chili pepper---or chile pepper. If it were a "chilly pepper" it would need to be heated in the oven...upstairs!

Ron Cann

Families are so much fun! We adults all look at each other when we recognize the "fussy" child - over tired or perhaps, jealous. It is a little more difficult to recognize the fussy adult or mother-in-law in contrast to taking the "fussiness" as reasonable criticism. In your example, a nice answer might have been: "you are right, these might taste better warmed." (No further action required, except perhaps, a warm smile!)

Diane Young

Well, you stirred up a lot of memories for readers about the Fete des Rois, whioh our local Alliance Francaise had yesterday. I wasn't able to go but in the past have twice gotten the "feve" or baby and received a free bottle of champagne or similar prize. The new year is already off and running, for sure. I thought the amuses bouches of prunes with bacon sounded very good, as well as with dates. Hope you have a chance to see your French in-laws more than once this year as tha family is so important.
Thank you for sharing your life with us.


Thank you, Kathryn Duchene, for posting the link to David Lebovitz site.
I got inspired and added his another advice for the tart dough
minimized the added sugar (1/4 of the recommended dose) then complimented the Creation by soaking it in cognac ..almond paste is just asking for it!... Et voila!! Perfect Epiphany it is! :-)

Kathleene in SF Bay CA

Lovely post, Kristin. I would love to know what the French phrase for "Devils on Hoseback" is. Sounds like a delicious treat that I would like to prepare but of course with the appropriate French name.


We are in America....but when it comes to fetes we are French
Tonight some of my family came for Epiphanie dinner: we had confit sent by our cousin in Toulouse & of course a galette des rois which I had made............we, too, love traditions around the table but thank you so much for the pruneaux....we will definitely be adding those to our next feast: heated! hahaha
As always, love your are truly a bright spot in any day


Just a lovely post! And don't feel too terribly late MIL, from an old Virginia family and NOT a cook, would also complain about food "...not quite to my [her] standard...". Take my advice - IGNORE her...advice I was given 20+ years ago and which has proven to be invaluable! My French grandmother instilled high standards in her daughter and grandaughters...not such a bad thing because it made us all far better cooks and housekeepers but a bear to live with! Just keep up the everything you are doing, raising terrific kids and supporting your sweet husband, writing your blog, etc. No one could ask for more! P.S. I think you mean "chili" pepper.


To SuSu:

"..Take my advice - IGNORE her...advice I was given 20+ years ago and which has proven to be invaluable! ..Just keep up the everything you are doing, raising terrific kids and supporting your sweet husband, writing your blog, etc.. No one could ask for more!.."
Posted by: SuSu | Tuesday, January 07, 2014 at 06:17 AM

Your words still reverberating in my ears while I am making those "walnut-plum-bacon" bouchons (sending many thanks to Kristin for her wonderful stories sprinkled up with occasional traditional French recipes my family loves so much) and wondering if it is really true that no one IS asked for no more than to be a functional, or yet, a very talented person with extended, and often perfected, ability to multitask on the family grounds, a person also known as "wife"?
"When you look for the bad in mankind, expecting to find it, you surely will." Abraham Lincoln
I used to think that any situation could be viewed as A Call for Joy, or A Call for Love. There is nothing else to this life, as I also happen to believe.

Just as I was reading about MF and her remarks, in my mind I saw a little love bird that flew directly into MF's apron, chirping gleefully and worrying if the oldest (and often the crankiest) "family member" was taken care of, listened to, allowed to be what she wanted to be (or to play) that evening, surrounded by her closest ones.. If she felt truly lo-oved in her, perhaps, the most eccentric behaviours many elders are so famous for, especially during those close-knit-family meet-ups..

This could be remarkably effective during those family gatherings.. When someone was out of line, and others may have just showered her with just a little MORE affection in return, or with a kind word, perhaps, or even with a kind joke to create a feeling in a "troublemaker" — "Hei, I love you anyways.."

This story reminds me my favorite character in the movie "Pollyanna"; Reverend Ford. Anyway, "Pollyanna" follows the exploits of a young girl newly arrived in a small town, about the turn of the century. She holds the view that within every situation and each person is something good, and that this can be noted and amplified in such a manner as to make our existence easier, to make us glad that we are here.



Played by Karl Malden, the Reverend is a judgmental, shaming individual, loudly promising damnation for anyone not heeding his tirades each Sunday.

One day Pollyanna finds him practicing another venomous sermon. She asks him if he likes being a minister.

The Reverend is amazed by such a question, but she explains that her late father was also a preacher, and that he became saddened by his inability to get his message across. She says, "But then one day he read something that helped him. I have it here in this locket. It's the only thing I have of my father's."

Reverend Ford reads the quote at the beginning of this column and is transformed.

The movie ends with Pollyanna leaving for the hospital after a fall and subsequent paralysis. Her presence in this formerly austere, and undemonstrative town has changed the inhabitants so much, that they gather as one to wish her well.

Reverend Ford, the most profoundly changed of all, utters the final line as she is carried past him. The words have never left me, and I carry them with me to the office each day;

"We looked for the good in them, and we found it."

I am still wondering, of course, if I should have used these "walnut-plum-bacon" BOUCHONS properly, and not write my thoughts here... I'd be happy if I have made The Right Choice though..


I had to divide my posting in two parts, it seemed that the site did not accept the long messages.



Name: Anna
Form of: Hannah
Meaning:Grace; favour
Meaning:Grace; favour

Julie Farrar

Nothing new to add on the galette, but I will say that I love your chair photo. So nice to see something green when all we have here in St. Louis is whitewhitewhite.

I have to make a small comment on French culture, though. The French seem very set on the idea that everything must be just so. Hence the comments on the blinis should be hot. If they could move away from the multi-course meal and into a good ol' self-service buffet way to feed a crowd, you'd never be saying that there are too many people for winter gatherings. I've fed up to 50 or more people for holiday dinner - drinks in the kitchen, main dishes on the dining room table, desserts on sideboard, etc. Everyone grabs a seat where they can, even if on the floor. I've been at French dinners with 15-20 people squeezed together at the tables, and just to lay out courses took almost ten minutes per course. Just let everyone help themselves and sit wherever!

Mary T

The Feast of the Epiphany was almost as fun as Christmas.
We always left our tree up until then for the Three Wisemen.
Being the 5th of 6 children,I had to wait which seemd a very long time,to be the one who would place the three kings in front of the creche! Ta turn! My younger sister and I would play all day with all the figurines. The rest of January seemed so still does!

Chris Allin

"And yet it is tricky seeing the physical changes, when the soul takes precedence, shining out from behind a loved one's eyes."

I see this as the essence of this story, Kristin. My belle-mere, Mary, was born on Epiphany. I met her in France over 50 years ago. Three days after this Christmas our family attended a memorial service and dinner for her with my husband's five siblings and their families. We lost her in early September and everyone had been with her then. This gathering was a time of celebration and healing. Having known this family for so very many years and understanding the nuances of their growing up together, it was amazing to see so much put to rest.. to see the love, respect and appreciation for each other that emerged. You captured my impression so beautifully in this post. In truth, the annoyances will always be there, but so is the love. Reality...which you help to so honestly acknowledge.


“The most precious gift we can offer anyone is our attention. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.”

― Thích Nhất Hạnh

About this author

Thích Nhất Hạnh is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, teacher, author, poet and peace activist who now lives in southwest France where he was in exile for many years.


There is such a thing human beings do called dominating and avoiding domination. Mother in laws having a selfish relationship with sons is dangerous stuff in my opinion especially if the sons are vulnerable in my opinion.

I hope that's not the case! Bonne Année.

Robbie Jackson

Imagine small, rolled cookies with or without the bacon, with a little flour, a tad of butter, rolled in chopped pecans and a few chopped raisins, then coconut, then dusted with powdered sugar, then cooked in the oven. Those used to be our Christmas cookies. Roll in more powdered sugar when cooled. You can use almost any basic cookie recipe, even shortbread.

Robbie Jackson

Me, too. Absolutely beautiful, especially the stone bldg.

Ahulani McAdam

I loved your post, Francesca.
I'd like to add something which is really just an observation from the point of view of the elder woman. She is going through something profound herself at these gatherings. A transition , an identity crisis. And she is doing it alone, which is part of the process. All women who have raised children, created family traditions, including favorite recipes, will have to let go of all their cherished connections as the new wave of wives and mothers take over! No longer is she the center of the house, no longer is she the one with the brimming trays of goodies.

Who is this suddenly old woman? She feels no different about herself, but is snow relegated to a seat by the fire. She sits there asking herself that same question. It is quite a profound rite of passage done painfully and invisibly under the eyes of the very family she has gotten her identity from for so long. Who is she now? What does she do with all the wisdom and advice she would love to share? Again, as a mother, she knows she must continue to let go in order for her own chicks who are now hens, to have their turn. Who can blame her if once in a while, she can't stand it and blurts out the way SHE would have done it.?

Yes. More she needs more love and not less. But so does the next generation of women who have their own style and need to find their own unique expression.. And so does the part of us that wishes we were more generous. More love, not less.

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