Friday, 31 January 2014

Glasses Wearing and the Negative Connotations of being a Geek

Today I wrote this post about clothing featuring glassing wearing animals in response to an article in the Daily Mail that I read this morning.  As a parent of a glasses wearing child it resonated with me, although my opinion differs to that of Aneliese, the mum at the centre of the story.

The Daily Mail reported that the decision by Tesco to ban the image of glasses in childrenswear alongside clothing featuring words such as geek or nerd, was following a campaign by Aneliese, whose little boy wears specs, which 'forced' the retail giant to remove these clothing lines.  In fact Aneliese was just one of many people who complained about one particular t-shirt design  featuring a cartoon character in glasses alongside the slogan 'geek' in an innocent Facebook rant.  She did not launch a campaign, nor did she demand the removal of all clothing lines featuring glasses.  As is common with Daily Mail reporting, the story was taken out of context. She did not give an interview to the DM and the information was pulled from another publication and twisted to sensationalise the truth.  This afternoon, I have spoken to her on Twitter and found out the facts behind the headlines.  This isn't a story of political correctness gone mad, as implied in the article that I read this morning.

Aneliese's little boy has been subject to some horrible abuse because he wears glasses which have powerful prescription lenses. The Daily Mail and subsequent articles, including a mention on The Wright Stuff have opened this family up to a world of online notoriety.  Some responses to the story have been supportive but unfortunately some people have used it as an excuse for bullying her 19 month old son.  Grown adults have stooped to the lowest levels of trolling, victimising a baby because he looks different.  They have been thrown to the lions by the media.

I sympathize with her situation, so I felt a duty to post this to offer a different viewpoint.  Although I've personally never had to suffer the horrendous situation where my son has been laughed at and cruelly called a 'geek' or a 'nerd' for wearing glasses, she has, which is why she feels there is such a negative connotation to these words when used in conjunction with an image of a character in glasses. Her argument is why don't clothing retailers use a word with a more positive connotation such as 'cool' or use no wording at all. She is not against glasses being featured on clothing, as the DM article suggested, in fact she said she thought that was 'nice'.  It is just the profiling of glasses wearers, labeling them as geeks or nerds that she objects to, as it can provide fuel for bullies to use against these children.  No other disability or impairment would be used on a t-shirt in this way alongside a potentially negative association.  I see that point of view and if Freddy had been the victim of name calling I  too would be angry to see those very same words used so flippantly.

It was interesting to talk to Aneliese on Twitter today.  It has reminded me that behind every DM story is a real person who has not necessarily been correctly represented.  Although I still love merchandise that embraces my son's difference in a positive way and allows him to feel 'normal' and represented in popular culture, the stereotyping of glasses-wearing on children's clothes could be used against other children. We mustn't forget that while many of us now regard words such as 'geek' as trendy and desirable rather than detrimental, somebody else's child may have been the victim of bullying because of the previous negative connotations associated with the same word. It's a sad fact that children (and adults) feel the need to attack others who they feel are 'different' and if my son had been treated in the way that Aneliese's precious little boy has been, I too would be up in arms.

We need retailers to continue to represent glasses wearers in merchandise.  Glasses are super cool at the moment and very fashionable. This is great for us mums of kids who wear them. Geek chic is very trendy and being a nerd is no longer seen as a bad thing since being adopted into youth culture. This has helped to break down barriers and reduce prejudice and I've never heard 'geek' or 'nerd' used as an insult to any of my glasses wearing children.  I'd hate to see a reversal of this trend.

I personally do not believe that slogans on clothing will suddenly cause bullying, however if my child had been subject to the same abuse as Aneliese's son, I'm sure I would also be ranting on Facebook about the glamorization of a word I'd heard used as a hateful, hurtful insult.

Mathseeds - Get a Free Four Week Trial Today!

We are fans of Reading Eggs, an online programme which features motivational reading games and phonics lessons for children aged three and up.  My little boy Freddy  is quite a reluctant learner, but as he is still only four I am not concerned!  However, he really enjoys the games with the fun characters that keep learning interesting, engaging and kid friendly. I have an annual subscription to Reading Eggs and the apps downloaded onto my phone so I can entice Freddy with some phonics fun at home.  So when we were asked to review Mathseeds on a free trial, which is an online programme designed to make mathematics fun for little ones, I was very interested in seeing how Freddy got on.  He has always been good at counting and numbers so he was very interested in getting stuck in and playing the games.

Mathseeds teaches kids aged 3-6 core maths and problem solving skills, starting with simple number and shape recognition and moving on as the child progresses.  The games are very engaging and Freddy is enjoying consolidating his knowledge and learning new skills.  The games are very user friendly and children can play independently. Children personalise an acorn avatar that moves around a map as the child completes the lessons.  You can earn acorn points which can be exchanged for accessories to further personalise the avatar and his treehouse home which gives children an incentive to complete tasks.  Freddy really enjoyed this element of the game. Cute cartoon pets are hatched at the end of each lesson, which adds an element of fun and rewards children on their progress.  Lessons can be repeated as often as necessary and children can progress at their own speed.

I am really impressed to have such an engaging and comprehensive maths programme online to support my son's learning.  He loves computer games and is happy playing on Mathseeds.  He thinks he is just having fun, which to me is the best sort of learning a child can do!


An annual subscription costs £29.95.  Mathseeds can be played on a PC or Tablet and is iPad and Android compatible.

Find out more at

Readers of my blog can enjoy an extended free trial using the promotional code UKB26MST. This will give you a 4 week free trial instead of the usual 2 weeks all new registrations receive.  So you can try before you buy!

Why banning bespectacled animals on T-shirts is not a good idea.

Tesco have just announced that they are banning a range of clothing featuring animals wearing glasses alongside the words 'geek' and 'nerd'.  But is this decision the right thing to do?

Of course as a mother, we want to protect our children from the big, wide world, and that instinct kicks in moreso when our child has something that may make them stand out from the crowd.  I appreciate the desire to wrap our children up in cotton wool and keep them safe from hurt, but this campaign seems to be dreadfully misplaced and in my opinion, a step back from achieving acceptance for our 'different' children.

Freddy has worn glasses since he was a toddler as he has one eye that refuses to behave!  He is patched and has regular hospital appointments, so I understand what it is like to have a child who wears glasses. Thankfully, we have not experienced many negative reactions from his peers.  In fact his school friends tend to be very interested in his latest glasses designs featuring Moshi Monsters or the Mr Men.  In fact glasses have had their status as a fashion accessory escalated recently.  Teens without eye problems, opt for non-prescription eyewear and geek chic is totally en vogue.  I feel that this trend is in part fueled by the way that glasses have been featured in the mainstream as a cool logo on clothing, bags and stationery products.  Suddenly, the nightmare NHS glasses of my own youth have achieved cult status!  this is something to be celebrated.

Having giraffes or zebras wearing glasses on a T-shirt range, children are seeing spectacle wearing as something normal and fun.  Children with glasses can relate to the images and know that wearing specs is something perfectly normal.  In fact, I deliberately source items with glasses on for Freddy.  I chose his lunchbox because it featured a chimpanzee wearing glasses and I could say "He's got cool glasses just like you!"  It empowers him to see that glasses are fun, fashionable and not swept under the carpet in an attempt to deny imperfection exists.

Tiny Me, lunch box

I have in fact NOT bought items because they DIDN'T feature glasses.  For example I was going to buy little figurines for Christmas to hang on the tree.  Each figurine would represent each family member.  But all the little boy figurines clearly had 20/20 vision and not a single pair of glasses was in sight in any of the versions available.  Buying a figurine that was not a depiction of my son's true image seemed to imply that he was not as good as the little boys that these figurines were intended to depict.  If figurine makers didn't think glasses were a cool accessory, then I did not want their product on my Christmas tree.  Glasses are a part of my boy and are not something I want to deny.  I don't want them to be conspicuously absent from products in the shops.  I want glasses wearers to be hailed loudly and proudly!  I want glasses wearers represented not hidden.

If children are exposed to this imagery, surely they will be more accepting when they see a peer who needs vision correction.  Surely, therefore, the removal of such iconic imagery on clothing will only serve to mystify the reality of wearing glasses and make bespectacled kids stand out more, setting them up for being singled out because they are not like everybody else?

glasses, geek chic

It is a fact that some kids will tease others for a multitude of reasons, or for no reason at all.  That's an unfortunate fact of life.  I was teased for being tall (What's the weather like up there?)  My husband was teased for his surname (Do you want fries with that?)  It's a part of life.  I'd rather try and give my children the tools to cope with this, instead of shielding them from it.  Empowering them with self-respect, self-belief, self-confidence and an acceptance of diversity is a better tool against being bullied than taking on retail giants in an attempt to remove anything you deem offensive.

I will continue to be a fan of the glasses logo in fashion.  I will buy geek tops for Freddy to wear.  He looks cool in them! We're not ashamed or embarrassed by Fred's specs.  Glasses wearing is not a stigma.  Their image should not be removed as if it is offensive.  That is counterproductive.  The words geek and nerd are no longer considered insults.  Thankfully the days of calling kids "four eyes" or "Mr Magoo" are well and truly over. I want being a 'geek' to be considered a positive thing, for every bespectacled, studious glasses wearer out there! Let's not make those words once again be considered as negative slurs due to their absence in the mainstream. Let's embrace that geek is chic and give our kids who need glasses the chance to be cool, embraced by our culture and represented in the world of fashion!

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Kalixa Pay - helping you to manage your finances at home or away!

There is no getting away from the fact that many of us are struggling to manage our finances in this economic climate. Times are hard with prices in supermarkets going up every week.  The price of petrol and our household fuel bills are at an all time high.  Our hard earned cash has never been so stretched.  With a few changes we can however regain control of our bank balance and get our budgets back on track.

The Kalixa Pay prepaid MasterCard® is a pay as you go card which can help you stick to a monthly spending budget safely and easily.  You simply transfer the money you wish to spend for the week or month onto the card, and use it instead of your usual debit card.  It is a simple, secure and effective payment option  for online or in store purchases, helping you keep track of what you are spending.  It is a great solution for families trying to manage their finances in the New Year.

The benefits of using Kalixa Pay to help you budget are:

  • You receive a free email or SMS alert every time you use your card (for purchases over £5) detailing what you have spent and your updated account balance ensuring you always keep on track of your spending.
  • The account includes an online portal (eWallet) so you can keep an eye on where your money is going how much is left to spend. 
  • The card has no overdraft facility so you can rest assured that you cannot exceed the amount pre-paid onto the card. This means you will not be stung by expensive unexpected overdraft charges.
  • Your Kalixa Pay account is not linked to your main bank account, so even if the worst was to happen and your card is cloned or stolen, you will not lose your entire bank balance.
  • Sticking to your budget will definitely help to improve your finances!  With the Kalixa Pay card, when the money's gone, it's gone, so you won't be tempted to overspend.

pre-pay card

The Kalixa Pay prepaid MasterCard® also gives you a simple solution to spending when abroad. With zero foreign exchange fees and the most competitive rates on the market, it allows you to top up with one currency and spend in any other giving you total flexibility and convenience.  Perfect for both business or pleasure trips and a great way for families to manage their money when holidaying abroad.

This simple payment solution is perfect if you need multiple currencies or frequently travel to different locations. Kalixa Pay enables you to pay securely in any currency, both online and at over 36 million locations worldwide, eliminating the hassle of carrying and exchanging cash. Simply top up your card and you are ready to go. If you do need cash on your travels you can also use your Kalixa Pay card to withdraw your money at over 1.2 million ATM’s worldwide. (International ATM Fee - £2.25)

Once your trip is over, if there is money left on your card you do not have to worry about the exchange rates  or charges involved in converting your money back to Pounds Sterling. You can just continue using your card once you are back home - no fees, no hassle. 

The free SMS alerts detail exactly what you are spending allowing you to make your holiday spends go further and keep track of how much you are using to buy souvenirs, ice-creams, sun cream or meals out! Especially useful if you are one of the 10% of holidaymakers who admit to recklessly spending all their holiday money within 48 hours of arriving at their destination!

Kalixa pay, mastercard

I really like the idea of the Kalixa Pay cards for older children, allowing them to go out shopping independently with a budget they can't exceed.  You can give them a clothes budget or the money for a day out already pre-paid onto the card.  This way, they won't be carrying large sums of cash and you, as a parent, can keep tabs on what they are spending.  It gives youngsters the opportunity to learn about budgeting and gives them independence, while you keep hold of the purse strings.  It is also a simple way to help a child who is away at university, by topping the card up weekly for grocery shopping or other expenses.  Again it allows them to learn how to manage money in the real world, without the danger of going over budget.  

The Kalixa Pay prepaid MasterCard, including the eWallet service, is available for a one-off payment of £6.95.

For more information and to register for your Kalixa Pay MasterCard visit

This post is a PR collaboration.

The secret of the perfect Mother’s Day - a guest post

January is in its final days which means that edging ever closer to the promise of springtime.  This starts me thinking about special days that are coming up such as Mother's Day.  So now is the time to start concocting plans, especially if you are planning something big this year.  In the following guest post, one mum describes her perfect Mother's Day! It might give you some ideas about how to create the perfect Mother's Day for your own mum!

"Mother’s Day – that one glorious day of the year where mums don’t need to lift a finger. That blissful 24 hours of being waited on hand and foot by your devoted family, lying on the sofa watching rom coms, eating chocolates and then tucking into a delicious meal that has been lovingly prepared by your even lovelier children.
But hang on a second.
This is Mother’s Day we’re talking about and you can’t press the pause button on being a mum, not even for one day.
To be fair to my husband Jed, he does his best to let me relax on my special day but there’s always something that gets in the way. Like two years ago when he and the kids started off the cooking but I ended up taking over when they got stuck. So I ended up in the kitchen all afternoon, slaving away, making the roast that they were supposed to be making for me, which was neither relaxing nor quality time spent with my family.
When we went to bed that night I could tell Jed knew it hadn't been the lovely day I’d envisioned – which I suspect is why he made an extra special effort for Mother’s Day 2013. Here’s what happened!

My Mother’s Day surprise

A week before Mother’s Day, Jed told me to pack a bag. To my relief he wasn’t kicking me out but he wouldn’t tell me where we were going. All he told me was to pack enough for three days.
As soon as I’d packed the bag, Jed took it and put it in the car but he wouldn’t tell me when we were leaving. I only found out that Friday night when we were supposedly going to the supermarket and ended up on the motorway (which is not the way to the supermarket).
And where did we end up, you’re wondering? Two hours later we pulled into Combe Haven Holiday Park in East Sussex – the location of our first ever family holiday in 2001!
I’d actually caught Jed looking at UK holiday deals at Haven a while ago but thought nothing of it. Now it all made sense!

holidays, Haven

A perfect weekend

To describe it in one word, the whole weekend was perfect from start to finish. Away from the stresses of domestic life, we had a wonderful time being together as a family. It’s cheesy but that’s the best Mother’s Day present I could have asked for (you’re right, that is cheesy).
On Mother’s Day itself, Jed sent me off for a day of pampering and relaxation at the owner’s-only spa (we were staying at his best friend’s caravan so we could enjoy all the privileges of an owner). After a little work out at the gym to re-energise, I watched all my worries and stresses disappear as I relaxed in the sauna. And as for the spa treatments – they were just heavenly.
But you know what the best bit was? When I got back to the caravan, Jed and the kids had made me a lovely meal. It looked quite elaborate for something cooked in a caravan (roast potatoes and everything!) but then I forget that these holiday homes have all the mod cons these days! 
To top it all off, they had one more surprise up their sleeves. After lunch they told me to put on my trainers because we were going for a walk. And where they took me was spectacular. There’s a spot on the park that has incredible views of the English Channel so once we reached it, we all got together for a family photo with the beautiful scenery in the background to help remember the day.
It really was the perfect Mother’s Day. And the secret? Don’t stay at home!"

coombe haven, Haven, holidays

A guest post in collaboration with Haven Holidays.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Wish I Was There Photo Competition #AFWishIWasThere

The January weather is wet and miserable.  The sky is grey and the rain is unrelenting.  Not a great way to start the new year.  As I sit and look out of my window at another dull day, my mind is wandering back to last summer.  The unexpectedly gorgeous weather was the perfect setting for spending many a glorious day basking in the sunshine.  In August we took the family to Disneyland Paris.  The weather was positively tropical with the temperature creeping over 30 degrees, which was a huge bonus.  My kids adore Disney so spending five days onsite with a premium dining plan was the perfect vacation.  The Disney magic was sprinkled over our holiday in abundance as we watched parades, enjoyed rides, met characters and spent quality time together as a family.  For us, this is the perfect ingredients for the ideal holiday. The smiles on the children's faces were simply priceless and the laughter, fun and memories we shared will last a lifetime.  I wish I was back there now!

disney, holidays

disney, holidays

If you have a photo of your summer holidays that makes you wish you were there, Al Fresco Holidays would love you to share them.  You could win £300 holiday vouchers or a Nikon Camera! Ten runners up will win a printed copy of their photo.

My 2014 Reading List - 10 books that will change your life

I am a member of the Collective Bias® Social Fabric® Community. This shop has been compensated as part of a social shopper amplification for Collective Bias and its advertiser.

I love to read.  Escaping into the pages of a good book is one of life's greatest pleasures, taking you on an emotional journey, allowing you to step into the lives of countless others and experience things through their eyes.  There is something so organic about reading a book; the smell and feel of the paper and the sound of the pages turning. My favourite books end up dog eared, with creased spines from being re-read so often. Some pages become stained with fallen tears, a constant reminder of how the book made me cry. My reading list grows longer by the day as I discover new and exciting authors or books that come highly recommended from friends or family.  I cannot resist the power of a good book!

“Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul.”                                          — Joyce Carol Oates

A love of reading is one of the most wonderful gifts you can bestow upon your children, giving them a passport to magical places, wonderful times and unimaginable adventures.  My daughters have grown up to be book worms with a passion for reading.  I really enjoy sharing my favourite books with my girls, discovering great classics or contemporary works together, and nothing beats the moment of realisation when we discover a book that literally changes our lives, challenges a pre-conception or opens our eyes to something new.

reading, reading list

My 2014 Reading List features the books that are life changers.  These are the books I want to read or revisit, and the books I want my daughters to read, so they too can enjoy the power of the perfectly written word.

"Read, read, read." - William Faulkner

In compiling my reading list, we visited Waterstones in the Trafford Centre to purchase one of the books on my must-read list "The Book Thief" by Markus Zusak.  We love browsing the store and flicking through books, reading the blurbs and mentally compiling future reading lists.  It is a veritable wonderland for book lovers!  Their 'Now Read This' displays provide a range of modern classics giving customers the chance to find some of their best loved titles such as Catch 22, Birdsong, A Clockwork Orange and Brave New World.  


As I knew exactly what I was looking for, we used the A-Z by author signage on the shelving to locate The Book Thief.  Given that it was written by Markus Zusak it was among the Z's on the very bottom of the shelf, but still clearly visible with its front cover turned to face out.  Having the shelves alphabetized makes it easy to find the authors you are looking for and see all the books they have written in one place.  

books, the book thief

So, here is my 2014 Reading List of the books that are real life changers, which I want my children to read and enjoy and share with me.  They do not conform to a single genre because reading gives you the freedom to step outside of your comfort zone and into new literary adventures.  I never discount Young Adult fiction when choosing a book to read and have discovered some wonderful authors through my children's bookshelves.

"Once you learn to read you will be forever free." - Frederick Douglass

reading, goodreads

The Fault in Our Stars - John Green  This book will see you shed floods of tears so have the tissues ready.  It is, at its simplest, a love story between Hazel and Augustus.  But it is so much more than that.  It is about life and death and the space inbetween.  It is about rewriting your life story and embracing each and every moment as if it was your last. It is tragic, raw and breathtaking.  Long after you have finished the book, the characters stay with you, inspiring you to live life to its fullest.

"I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, then all at once." - John Green
Just Don't Fall- Josh Sundquist  This autobiography proclaims itself to be: 'A Hilariously True Story of Childhood, Cancer, Amputation, Romantic Yearning, Truth, and Olympic Greatness'.  Written in the voice of the author it will have you laughing one minute and sobbing the next. It describes the cruelest of childhood events and shows us that misfortune does not need to define us.  It inspires us to be the best we can be, reach for the stars and chase our dreams.  If you ever feel like you can't do something, read this book and re-evaluate your situation.  An inspirational story of human triumph which puts things firmly into perspective. 

“People who stop laughing are always the ones who get hurt.” - Josh Sundquist

The Celestine Prophecy - James Redfield  This book is a spiritual classic which takes the reader on an adventure of self-discovery.  Drawing on the wisdom of an ancient Peruvian manuscript, this fictional story reveals nine key insights into life.  As each one is grasped, we are moved closer to spiritual enlightenment with a new found optimism and energy for tomorrow.  I am not a traditionally religious person, but this book really resonated with me on a spiritual level, shining a little light into my life.  It presents a series of tools that we can use to make sense of our life and our interactions, woven into a fictional tale.  It's an easy to read dose of enlightenment and a good starting point for further self-discovery.

“I don't think that anything happens by coincidence... No one is here by accident... Everyone who crosses our path has a message for us. Otherwise they would have taken another path, or left earlier or later. The fact that these people are here means that they are here for some reason...”
- James Redfield

The Stand - Stephen King A horror title had to find its way into my reading list, but The Stand transcends this genre and takes us to a post-apocalyptic world where the final showdown of good vs evil is played out.  This is an epic story filled with memorable and believable characters on a journey of self-discovery and survival.  It draws you in and makes you question your own morality and consider the biblical magnitude of the plot and the destructive nature of mankind. It makes you think about sacrifice and just how far you would go in the pursuit of 'good'.  An awesome read.

“The place where you made your stand never mattered. Only that you were there...and still on your feet.”- Stephen King

Noughts and Crosses - Malorie Blackman  Malorie Blackman writes thought provoking books which inspire debate.  This young adult title is a stunning read which follows a doomed love story in a racially divided society, blinded by colour.  Sephy is a 'Cross' from the dark skinned ruling class and Callum is a colourless 'Nought' and part of the underclass.  Turning the tables on equality, against a background of prejudice and distrust heightened by violent terrorism and hatred, Sephy and Callum's relationship leads them both into terrible danger.  It's a heartbreaking and disturbing read which challenges our preconceptions about society and prejudice.

“People are people. We'll always find a way to mess up, doesn't matter who's in charge.”
 - Malorie Blackman

The Kite Runner -  Khalid Hosseini This shattering and soul-searching novel about a childhood friendship destroyed by betrayal, jealousy and fear is set against the backdrop of Afghanistan and its fall from a secluded oasis to a war torn battlefield. It is beautifully written with such a powerful narrative.  The main character Amir escapes to a new life in America, but is shattered by an event from his childhood which continues to haunt him, causing him to return to the country of his birth in search of redemption.  The political upheaval of Afghanistan and its descent into terror and chaos is played out alongside Amir's own downfall.  It is a challenging read and a story that stays deep inside you, making you question the harrowing power of evil and all its faces.

“And that's the thing about people who mean everything they say. They think everyone else does too.” - Khalid Hosseini

The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger  Holden Caulfield is the classic cynical adolescent at the heart of this novel.  A high school drop out negotiating the perils of growing up in a world filled with 'phonies', adrift in an uncaring society.  The wry observations of teenage alienation create a feeling of empathy in the reader as we recall our own  teenage angst and insecurities. The question of whether Caulfield is actually an innocent trying to cope in a cynical world turns the theme on its head and makes you question the very essence of the book.  A true classic.

“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn't happen much, though.”  J.D. Salinger

The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery  This short children's book is translated from French.  It takes a short time to read but stays in for heart for a lifetime.  A pilot is stranded in the desert with a limited supply of water and no way to fix his plane.  He is visited by a Little Prince who tells him stories about his home and about the planets he has visited on his way to Earth, each with their own unique beauty and problems. The beautifully enchanting story personifies childhood innocence and the worlds seen through the prince's eyes provide a greater metaphor for life.  You cannot fail to connect with the story and you will never see things the same way again.

“All grown-ups were once children... but only few of them remember it.” 
― Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry

The Field -  Lynne McTaggart This book made me re-assess my view on reality and provided me with a framework for my beliefs based on a core of Quantum Physics.  It is not a work of fiction as such, but is a very readable text, bringing the works of many research scientists and parapsychologists  together in a very accessible and conversational format.  Some of it is quite mind-blowing and makes you question conventional wisdom.  A great read that makes you think.

“The excitement that science possess is its ability to answer the big questions.”
― Lynne McTaggart

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time - Mark Haddon This exceptional murder-mystery story is narrated by the detective: Christopher, a fifteen year old, fact obsessed boy with Asperger's Syndrome.  When the neighbour's dog is found killed, he sets off to discover what happened and in doing so messily unravels a lot of secrets surrounding the incident, his family and the past.  Christopher's world and daily struggles are perfectly portrayed but we never feel pity for him, only deep respect and admiration.  It opens our eyes to the subject of disability and our own preconceived notions.  It is an excellent read.

“Everyone has learning difficulties, because learning to speak French or understanding relativity is difficult.” ― Mark Haddon

Number 11 on this list is the new book I bought from Waterstones, so am yet to read:, 

The Book Thief - Markus Zusak  I am assured that it is a life changer, and having seen a thread on a friend's Facebook wall where this book was discussed, I won't be disappointed.  Here is the blurb: 

"1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier.
Liesel, a nine-year-old girl, is living with a foster family on Himmel Street. Her parents have been taken away to a concentration camp. Liesel steals books. This is her story and the story of the inhabitants of her street when the bombs begin to fall."

Death itself is the narrator of this book, which sounds like a very interesting angle.  I'm looking forward to snuggling up on my sofa with a blanket over my knees for some wonderfully thought provoking reading!

“Picking five favorite books is like picking the five body parts you’d most like not to lose.” — Neil Gaiman

There are so many books that could have made this list:  The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom, Geek Love by Katherine Dunn, Conversations with God by Neale Donald Walsch, Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men and George Orwell's 1984 to name a few.  It's impossible to pick a favourite because different books suit your individual needs at any one time.  To me, that is the true beauty of being a are never alone with a good book in your hand!

waterstones, reading

What books do you consider have been life changing for you?

What books do you want your children to read?

Are there any books on your 2014 Reading List that you'd like to share with me?

Please leave me a comment - I'm always on the look out for new must-read titles!

Thursday, 23 January 2014

To tattoo or not tattoo?! And what to do when it goes wrong!

Getting Tattoos vs Tattoo Removal

For my first wedding anniversary back in 1998, Ian and I had tattoos done.  I had a simple bracelet style tattoo around my wrist and Ian had a dragon headed sword design on his upper arm.  We arrived at the tattoo parlour on Ian's motorbike, all revved up and ready to be inked by local tattoo artist 'Big Dave'.  I really enjoyed the searing, sharpness of the inking needle as it marked my skin.  Unfortunately Ian was not so keen and ended up passed out in the seat having smelling salts wafted under his nose to wake him up!

Ian's tattoo

While we were waiting to be seen, we sat in the waiting room with a group of young girls who had designed their own tattoos.  They expectantly clutched their designs sketched on A4 paper along with the signed (possibly forged?) permission slips as they were under 18.  I will never forgot the girl who went before me, coming out with an ugly, big, bright purple heart dripping with teardrops tattooed on the top of her boob. She looked delighted with her very visible, self-designed body art, but I just knew she would live to regret that decision.  I envisioned her in the future, wearing a wedding dress with that angry heart tattoo clearly on show and felt remorse on her behalf. I imagine that a few years after having that monstrosity done she was Googling laser tattoo removal!  It really was just so ugly and so very visible and so permanent.

Ever since that first tattoo I have wanted more, but just have never gotten around to getting one.  I can't decide what design I want or where I want it.  I just know I want one.  Ian and I came up with a design for a tattoo that we planned to get done for our tenth wedding anniversary.  It was a pattern that incorporated both of our initials in an abstract design.  But it just never happened.  Having moved away from our home down South to Shropshire, we no longer had Big Dave and his tattoo parlour on our doorstep.  Not knowing many tattooed people to get recommendations from meant we would be taking a huge gamble if we went somewhere that we knew nothing about.  We've all seen photographs of tattoos that have gone wrong, words misspelled, Chinese characters that don't mean what they say they do, smudgy flowers, deformed dolphins and wonky linework that looks like a 5 year old had drawn it.  Getting a tattoo is a big decision!  I would not want to regret having one.  I'd need to be certain that the design was perfect and would have longevity. But such precautionary thinking isn't always the case.

My wrist tattoo

With more and more people getting tattoos over the recent years, it is no surprise that a percentage of them will get bored with the design or regret having a permanent marking in a prominent place.  What looks appropriate on a young, trendy teen may not suit a 40 year old business woman. Tattoos of partner's names can be terrible reminders of relationships gone wrong. (Remember Johnny Depp's 'Winona Forever' tattoo that he had altered to 'Wino Forever'?) I wouldn't want my husband to have the name of his ex permanently inked on his body, it'd be horrendous to have your man's past love life flaunted in your face everyday.   Drunken tattoos can result in some terrible decisions. Coming home from a holiday abroad with an inappropriate tattoo emblazoned across your body is a very unwanted souvenir of a boozy night out.

I used to have a friend.  A very gorgeous, tall woman with a mane of beautiful red hair, who bore an uncanny resemblance to supermodel Claudia Scheiffer.  She dressed in designer clothes which she wore so well over her slim built body.  She was the kind of woman that turned heads wherever she went.  But she had a secret. As a rebellious 16 year old, she had a tattoo of a large, naked, baby devil complete with pitchfork on the top of her arm.  She very quickly regretted the gawdy cartoon character with his very visible genitals and had extra work done latterly to transform him into a Fireman devil.  His pitchfork became a hosepipe and a little uniform covered him up, giving him a little dignity.  But it was still awful and looked so wrong on such an elegant arm. She always covered up, even in the summer.  I lost touch with her when I moved away, but I still wonder what became of that little devil. Is he still there, an embarrassing reminder of her rebellious youth or was he the victim of successful tattoo removal??

Nowadays, there are some great treatments for the removal of tattoos, such as the popular laser treatment which works by breaking down the pigment using light produced by the laser.  It is a simple, safe and effective way of getting rid of unwanted tattoos.  Clinics such as Sk:n offer this treatment (along with other skin treatments for conditions from acne to verruccae).  They offer a free nurse consultation and have a transparent pricing structure so you know exactly how much it will cost before you commit to treatment.  So if you have a tattoo that you have grown to hate, you don't have to put up with it!

I love watching NY Ink, Miami Ink and LA Ink and the new tattoo gameshow, Inkmaster, on TLC.  I even love watching America's Worst Tattoos.  Body art really fascinates me.  Some of it is so beautiful, telling a story that is permanently etched on the canvas of the skin. Some are so bad you wonder what possessed someone to ever think it was a good idea. Celebrities seem to be guilty of allowing their bodies to become indelibly marked with bad tattoos.  Just look at Harry Styles's Sharpie Marker-esque tattoos. They are awful! The two swallows on his chest just look silly.  And Dappy's neck tattoo, although a lovely sentiment, just looks tacky and too big.  And as for Jodi Marsh's broccoli tattoo...just why!? And don't get me started on Cheryl Cole's giant rose covered bum!

If I found a tattooist that I trusted I would love to have my original tattoo redone and embellished.  Over the years it has lost its definition and looks a bit tired.  I would love to give it a brand new lease of life and extend it. I'd also love Ian to have his design extended into a full sleeve. I bloody love a full sleeve on a man! Unfortunately, given the fact that he passed out with his first inking, a full sleeve is probably a bit ambitious! So instead I'll just look at David Beckham and Adam Levine when I want to get a full sleeve fix!

Check out Sk:n's blog to find other articles about tattoo removal and clinic treatments.

This post was written in collaboration with Sk:n.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Poorly Freddy

It's been a tough week.  Freddy got poorly on Thursday night complaining that he couldn't 'swallow the water in his mouth'.  That was the start of a horrendous virus that has only just started to abate.  Freddy's throat has been so swollen up that his breathing seems to stall when he is asleep, resulting in me waking up to his silent stillness with a start and having to shake him, whereby he'd gasp in a lungful of air with a loud snort.  Very scary.  He also developed a horrible rash, which I deduced was viral, but still worried me nevertheless. And he ran a high temperature for five days straight.  I decided to take him to the doctor's just to make sure I wasn't being under cautious, but they confirmed my DIY diagnosis of it being a virus.

My poor little boy was in a right state.  It is only yesterday that he started to play and ask for food, so he is on the mend.  But he still has no voice, talking in nothing more than a tiny whisper.

He has been very philosophical about being poorly.  He said there were 'bad guys' inside him that were making him ill and the 'good guy superheroes' were trying to 'defeat them'.  This made the administering of two hourly Calpol/Ibuprofren medicines much easier, as I could tell him it was energy giving fuel for the good guys to give them the power to fend off the bad guys.  It made him far more receptive to taking it, even with a swollen throat that made swallowing very painful for him.

Enduring five nights of very broken sleep, consoling a child who is screaming a croaking, gaspy cry at 4am, has been really hard on me.  I really am getting too old for all nighters!  But I was happy to sit downstairs with my poorly boy propped up on my chest, watching Cartoonito in the early hours, because I knew I was comforting him and keeping him safe.  

Hopefully he is now over the worst and well on his way to being his usual self.  I'm going to try taking him to school tomorrow.  I think he'll be OK, albeit with a very little voice!

Poorly Boy

New Year, new budget: move away from old habits and start saving money!

They come around every January, those brief moments of virtue and determination known as New Year’s Resolutions. They don't always pan out, but we use them to give ourselves ideas of what we need to achieve in the New Year. If your resolutions were to spend less money in 2014, here are a few ways you can make that happen.
Set Goals and Be Specific
At the beginning of the year, many people decide on a money-saving goal. That goal needs to be specific, however. Look at your monthly bills and decide how much you want to set aside each month, whether it's to add to your savings, pay off your debts, or spend on something special. Once you've set your goal, it's time to start thinking about the strategies you can employ to achieve them.

Establish Money Management Time
One of the reasons that many people fail to achieve their money-saving goals is that they don't allow themselves the time they need to think about their finances. For many people, saving is something that only happens in times of crisis. One way to get around this problem is to establish a certain amount of time each week as time to look at financial information. Save receipts, bills and other financial documents to look over during this time. You'll keep on top of your financial situation more easily this way and be able to make the right decisions to reach your goals.

Eliminate One-use Purchases
One type of expense that's easy to eliminate is the one-use purchase. These items, which don't contribute any lasting value to your household, can be cut out with a little planning. Carry an insulated flask of coffee to work instead of buying from coffee shops, or fill a bottle with tap water instead of buying expensive bottled water. Try substituting washable microfiber towels for paper kitchen roll. In general, anything you buy in a single-use package is going to be much more expensive over the long term than a more durable solution.

Cut Your Energy Costs
With gas and electricity prices rising all the time, getting your energy use under control is a good way to save money
. It's also good for the environment, so you'll feel even better about yourself when you achieve it. One easy way to cut down on the amount of money you waste on energy is to replace outdated incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent or LED bulbs. It might seem like you're saving money by buying old-fashioned bulbs, but it's a false economy: not only are they much more expensive to run, they don't last nearly as long as their more modern counterparts.

Plan Your Food Shopping
Supermarkets and other retailers rely on impulse purchases and great-seeming offers to get customers into the shop and spending money. We see the “buy one, get one free” label on a shelf and reach for the package, forgetting that we don't even want one of whatever it is we're buying, let alone two. Making a weekly meal plan and sticking to it will help you come out of the shop with only what you need. This isn't a small savings, either: some sources estimate that the average household wastes £500 a year on uneaten food.

Making the decision to save money is easy, but building the habits that support it can take a little work. The first few months of your new financial plan will require constant watchfulness to make sure that you don't fall back into old, inefficient ways of spending. However, like any good habit, once you get into the groove of planning ahead, keeping a watchful eye on your finances and buying only what you need, you'll wonder what you ever found difficult about it.


*This post is a PR Collaboration*

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

A moment that mattered from 2013

2013 was a funny old year.  With much of the early part of the year given over to Ian's operation and long, slow recovery, my memories are a bit of a blur.  It took a long time for Ian to get himself back to normal
and I think my brain has safely locked away all the stressful moments and worrying times that we experienced.  Recovery time was meant be be three weeks, but it took Ian something like six weeks to feel like himself again. That aside, and given that the outcome of the operation has improved Ian's life and future health, it wasn't all bad.

In 2013 we enjoyed some great family holidays to Center Parcs, Disneyland Paris and Butlins.  We had loads of great days out, threw some fun parties and did some cosmetic work on the house.  There was lots of fabulous family time and I got to meet my beautiful great nephew who I am totally smitten with.  I spent time with my grandson and watched as my own son became a wonderful dad, which made me immensely proud.

But if I had to pick one moment from 2013 that really made a difference to me, it would be Freddy starting school.  Being a July baby, meant he was just over 4 years old in September.  He had an incredibly traumatic time on starting nursery and never completely settled into the routine of his daycare.  Consequently I was worried sick about my baby boy being thrown into full time education. It really affected me negatively, although I tried not to show it. It hung over me like a dark cloud as the school holidays came to an end.

The local school he was due to start at, is a big, oversubscribed Infant school with a reception  intake of over a hundred children.  Securing the much sought after place just did not feel right for us. I thought he would be lost in the sea of little people and not given the one to one support he'd need.  So, at the eleventh hour, I refused the place and I found him one in a tiny, rural school with an intake of just seven kids and an ethos of care, compassion and family values. It just felt like the perfect setting for my little boy to thrive in, where he would be treated as an individual and given the time to grow.  I was still nervous about Freddy being at school from 9-3 everyday and worried about everything from him eating lunches to going to toilet.  But my boy surprised me.  He went straight in on day one without as much as a backward glance and has been a happy schoolboy ever since. He loves the school routine, adores his teachers, has lots of little friends and is learning at his own pace. I am just so proud of him and am so impressed with how he tackles life head on. He may be little, but he is a tough cookie and a real star.

school, uniform

This moment is also significant to me as his mother because I trusted my instincts and went against the expected route to find something that was right for my son.  It's a reminder to me of the importance of doing what's right for each of my children, treating each of them as an individual with their own needs and to fight tooth and nail to provide the best for them.  This is something that I try my very best to do, and so when it works out I feel totally validated as their mum.  It's nice to feel like I've done the right thing.  I so often second guess myself or over think situations or doubt my decisions, but sometimes you just have to trust your judgment and do what you believe is the right thing!

Competition entry for Lloyd's Bank.

Secrets Behind Beauty - An Infographic

Secrets Behind Beauty

Escape and unwind by creating a real pamper session at home with indulgent bodycare products.

This post is a PR Collaboration.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Cheer Yourself Up on Blue Monday

Today is officially the 'most depressing day of the year'.  A combination of post Christmas blues, winter weather, low motivation, failing New Year Resolutions and financial troubles conspire against us, resulting in a media based rhetoric of doom and gloom. But it doesn't have to be that way!

Positive thinking can go a long way to improve our mental state and banish the negative energy that threatens to ruin our outlook on life.  Simply by smiling, we can lighten our mood and relieve stress.  Focusing on the good and making plans to overcome challenges one step at a time can help to turn around problems.

Another way to make Blue Monday more bearable is to treat yourself to something you'll enjoy. How about preparing a special dinner to lift the spirits?  A healthy and heartwarming root vegetable and lentil stew is full of goodness and is comforting and delicious.  Perfect if you are giving Veganuary a go, or doing Meat-Free Mondays.

healthy, stew, casserole

A nice glass of something fruity and fun can be a perfect antidote, inviting in a taste of the summer and of tropical climes to counteract the wet British winter.  Barefoot Pink Moscato is a sweet, tongue tickling, bubbly tipple which brings the taste of peach, cherry and raspberry to your palate.  Serve with a handful of strawberries and blueberries in a pitcher with a little ice for a fruity sensation.

barefoot wines, bubbly

Home baking always lifts my soul.  I love making some delicious muffins, cookies or cupcakes to treat the family.  I have made some sweet and indulgent Golden Syrup Cupcakes to cheer ourselves up on Blue Monday.  I've made them dairy-free, but you don't have to.  I used Tate and Lyle's British Inspired Golden Syrup sugar which has a rich, bold and distinctive flavour and gives a syrupy richnesss and a luscious, moist texture to sponge cakes.

Golden Syrup Cupcake Recipe

baking, cupcakes

4oz dairy free margarine
4oz Tate and Lyle Golden Syrup sugar
2 free range eggs
4oz self-raising flour

3oz dairy free margarine
8oz icing sugar
2 tablespoons golden syrup
(add a little almond milk to get desired consistency)

syrup, cake baking


Cream fat and sugar.
Beat in eggs one at a time.
Fold in sieved flour.

Put spoonfuls into 12 cupcake cases in a tray.
Cook for about 12-15 minutes at 180 degrees or until the top springs back when pressed.


Beat the icing ingredients together to desired consistency and pipe onto the cooled cupcakes.
Decorate with a squeeze of golden syrup and a some fudge pieces.

cakes, syrup

Whatever you do to cheer yourself up today, make sure you remember these words from the Dalai Lama:

“See the positive side, the potential, and make an effort.” 

mood lifting food, baking, wine

I was sent a bottle of Barefoot Pink Moscato wine from the Barefoot Wine and Bubbly range RRP £6.99. Available at Tesco, Sainsbury's, Asda, Morrisons, Waitrose and Co-Op. Find them on Facebook at Barefoot Wine and Bubbly for fun recipes and serving suggestions.

Tate and Lyle's new Taste Experience range of golden and brown sugars are available in stores. I received some to try out for this recipe (which is my own).  Find Tate and Lyle on Facebook on their We Love Baking page.

Friday, 17 January 2014

TalkTalk Mobile SafeApp - Protecting Your Phone and Your Family For Free

The TalkTalk MobileSafe security app for Android  is available exclusively for TalkTalk Mobile customers.  It provides a unique range of security features to protect your phone and your family on the go. Available from the Google Play store it can be downloaded free of charge and the features required can be activated to give the user mobile security and parental control.

I have been testing out theTalkTalk MobileSafe app on my LG G2 handset from TalkTalk Mobile.  After installing the app, the icon appears on the screen, from where you can access the features. You have to set up a five digit security code in order to activate or change your settings.

mobile phone, security

The following features are included and you can opt to have any  umber of them activated.

Anti-Theft: If you lose your phone, you can be safe in the knowledge that your personal data is safe by remotely locking or wiping all your data from your device. If you're just not sure where it is, you can also see where it is on a map, or sound an alarm to track down where you left it.  You can input a trusted mobile number which can be used to notify you if the SIM card is changed without your knowledge.  To use the remote options you have to send an SMS to the handset using your security code and a simple command.


Anti-Virus: You can scan your handset to detect and remove any malicious software that may have reached your phone through apps or through web browsing.  If anything is found the phone gives you a message and gives you the option to uninstall anything that it deems a danger.


Parental Control: You can choose what type of web content and which apps you're happy for your child to access. If a child inadvertently tries to access anything that falls into a category that you haven't allowed, the page or app will be blocked. 


It is simple to set up the parental control feature for a child, or if your children won't be using the handset, you can set it to the 'adult' setting and have full access to the internet. 

I tried out the Parental Control and searched for the Robin Thicke 'Blurred Lines' video on YouTube.  The big red cross blocking access to the site shows that the Parental Control works just fine!  So if you want to protect your child from content that you deem harmful, the MobileSafe app is a good way to do so.

Talktalk, mobile, parental control

Safe Contacts: You can block calls and text messages from any phone number by simply adding it to the block list. If you ever suffer from nuisance calls then this will be invaluable.  It is a tool which can help combat cyber bullying by adding known numbers to the block list, protecting children from abuse from bullies.


Safe Browser: Included with TalkTalk MobileSafe is the Safe Browser, which not only helps with Parental Control but also blocks any known malicious websites such as those designed to steal your personal data.  You can search the web without worrying about fraudulent sites or phishing.


It is easy to navigate the app by either scrolling across the pages or using the arrow keys to pick the icon for the page you are looking for.  Using your security code, you can alter your settings at any time.  

Talktalk Mobilesafe

If you choose to uninstall the app there is a button in the 'More' section of the app.  Here you can also access your TalkTalk account and find out more about TalkTalk services including their HomeSafe package.

mobile security

The MobileSafe app includes a comprehensive list of security features which are useful on a daily basis and also in the case of theft or loss. The app is very user friendly, intuitive and straightforward.  It runs discreetly in the background, doing its job and doesn't adversely affect the performance of the handset in anyway.  It is reassuring to know that I have this level of protection for my handset, protecting it from malicious sites and viruses.  It helps make the internet a safer place for everyone.


I am trialling the handset with TalkTalk mobile service in order to do this review.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

LighterLife Fasting - How Easy is the 5:2 Diet?

I'm into the second week of my 5:2 diet plan using LighterLife Fastpacks on my fast days.  After week one, my weight had dropped by 3 lbs even though I had enjoyed an Indian takeaway on one of my 'normal' eating days.  Definitely the kind of dieting that appeals to me!

The LighterLife Fastpacks are much tastier than I thought they would be, and surprisingly filling even though the portion size is quite small.  Knowing that I am getting my full RDA of nutrients makes the 5:2 diet concept safe and reassuring.  I am not depriving my body of any vitamins or minerals, I am just cutting calories for two days a week.

The packs are easy to make up using water.  My advice though would be to put the mix into a bowl first then gradually add the water while whisking with a hand whisk.  Day 1's rather lumpy porridge taught me the lesson of proper mixing - you can't just chuck it in a bowl and microwave and hope for the best.  Since realising this, everything else has turned out perfectly well.

diet, 5:2

The porridge has a very fine texture, is sweet and creamy.   My kids said it looked like baby food, but I am one of those mums who secretly enjoyed the odd bowl of baby porridge or a smooshed rusk, so this was actually a positive to me!  I enjoyed it and it was comforting and filling. I have a late breakfast on my fast days, which I find stops me feeling hungry before lunchtime.

fastpack, fasting

Lunch is a bowl of soup.  Again I enjoyed it as it is creamy, thick and highly flavoured.  I liked the little bits of vegetable in it, giving me something to chew on!  Again it was surprisingly filling for a bowl of soup.

diet, weightloss

The snack bars are actually quite big.  I have peanut bars and toffee bars which are both very nice.  they don't taste like a 'diet' product at all, which surprised me.  The peanut bar, pictured below is like a puffed wheat cereal bar crossed with a soft peanut brittle! The toffee bar is wafer and soft caramel in a chocolate coating.  They fill me up until dinner time and give you a sweet treat on fast days, plus they are packed with nutrients.

weightloss, diet

The pasta carbonara and spaghetti bolognese meals are both vegetarian dishes containing soya. I was honestly quite shocked that they tasted really nice. If I am honest, I expected something akin to a bland Pot Noodle but I was very wrong.  Both are really flavoursome with a good texture.  The carbonara, pictured below, was creamy with a real taste of smoky ham.  It was nice to have the pasta pieces and I felt quite satisfied afterwards.  The spaghetti bolognese is really yummy with soya mince and short pieces of spaghetti combined.  I have lost a few calories from my dinners because my daughters kept wanting to try them! So hats off to LighterLife for making 150 calories of dinner taste so appealing.

diet, weightloss

The overall experience of a fast day has been really positive.  I drank zero calorie drinks such as water and black decaff coffee.  I must confess that I did miss fresh fruit and veg on my first fast day, so I chopped up a carrot and kept it in the fridge to nibble on, just so I could eat something 'real'.  At only 30 calories, I feel this was a worthwhile addition that made the fasting much easier and satisfied that craving.  But knowing that I would be eating fruit and veg again the next day meant that missing fresh food was a very minor concern.

The food I am eating during the 5 normal days is what I would usually eat, meals such as vegetable stews, curries, Mexican dishes and Quorn based meals.  I am definitely noticing a psychological knock on effect from the fast days, making me eat better. On a whole, I am being more mindful of what I am putting in my body and not eating junk and unhealthy snacks between meals, as I don't want to undo the good I'm doing on my fast days. I still enjoy an occasional take away or meal out without worrying too much about my diet.  I find myself making better choices such as switching my usual Mocha to an Americano, or having fresh fruit as a snack.

I can switch around the fast days to suit myself as long as I choose two non-consecutive days.  So it fits in really well with my lifestyle.  I like the fact that I am not deprived of eating foods I enjoy during the week and I only have to be really strict on the two fast days.  But given that LighterLife have made the two fast days so easy, sticking to the plan is not an issue and takes minimal effort.  The 5:2 diet has given me a much needed focus on my diet after the excesses of Christmas and I do enjoy having a structure to my eating that drives me towards my goal.

You can continue to follow my LighterLife fastdays experience on Twitter @wendymcd83 with the hashtag #tryfast.


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