19 December 2013

25 Years Ago


Some of my friends have been posting photographs on Facebook of themselves twenty years ago. I wanted to join in, of course I did. Sadly I couldn't find the album from 1993. What I did find was this photograph of me in 1988, twenty five years ago.

Twenty five years ago, in this photograph, I was 18 and had just left school. I was waiting for my A-level results and discovering which university that would lead to. I had money, having worked 22-25 hours per week throughout the sixth form. I had a boyfriend and plenty of friends. This was taken at a house in London. We partied all weekend. I was slim and I had great hair. I mean, look at it. That is seriously great hair.

I look back at that day, that weekend, and I can clearly remember feeling invincible. The world was my oyster. I wonder now why I made the choices I did in the weeks and months following this magical moment in time. I can't help regretting many of my decisions. My life didn't turn out the way I'd hoped. I certainly didn't make the most of my potential.

Twenty five years later I am in a good place, despite the years of self-sabotage. I wonder if there is any of that 18 year old girl left in me? I think perhaps there is, a little. It's just a shame my hair won't go that big anymore though...




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4 December 2013

Three things that are wrong with the cinema




I love going to the cinema. Let me start by saying that, otherwise the rant that follows has no context.

I've always loved films. When I was single I regularly went to the cinema on my own. Sometimes it was just me in the cinema. Well, me and a massive bag of Revels.

When I went travelling I often enjoyed sitting down for a few hours during the day. One particularly memorable film experience was 'Best in Show'. I saw this is Christchurch, New Zealand, on a rainy Tuesday. There were a dozen people in the cinema, mostly pensioners, we all sat at the back. The film, as you would expect from Christopher Guest, is hilarious. What started as a few little chuckles here and there quickly escalated into belly laughs from everyone, and a wonderful shared experience.

These days I mainly see children's films, on a Saturday morning. There's not much to say about that, other than it's a sit down in the warm.

Recently I did see David Tennant in the live RSC production of Richard II. That was amazing. I thoroughly recommend this cinema option as the next best thing to actually being in the audience at Stratford. Again, it's the shared watching that enhances the experience.

This week I was chatting with my oldest friend (well, you know, she's not old, we've been friends for 34 years) and we arranged an impromptu trip to the cinema to see Philomena. Another excellent film, I'd give it a three hanky rating.

This brings me on, however, to what is wrong with the cinema today.

1 - Trailers
When did film trailers change? What happened to a teaser, to whet the appetite? Now you see the whole film. You see all the explosions, all the jokes, all the sad bits, all the spoilers. And it does spoil the film for me. I'd rather not see the trailer. Andy and I watch a lot of DVD's through our Lovefilm subscription and after each trailer we usually say, 'Well, I've seen that, no need to bother watching the DVD'. Last night we saw the trailer for Star Trek: Into Darkness. We've seen the film and were amazed how much of the action is in the trailer. Are trailers for the lowest common denominator? Will people only see a film is they know exactly what they are getting? I don't like it.

Dear People Who Make Trailers,
Please please please go back to proper teasers. You're putting me off your films by showing me the whole story.
Thanks,
Sandy with a brain.

2 - Screening Times
This is my biggest bugbear. I'm freelance. In between working, school volunteering and PTA duties I occasionally like to squeeze in a little me time. Every week I look at the cinema times in the hope that there's a film I can watch, that finishes in time for the school run. This hardly ever happens. Andy has a day off before the children break up. We'd like to see the new Hobbit film at the cinema, but the showings start at 12.40. That's too late for us. Instead we'll wait for it to come out on Lovefilm and move the sofa closer to the television to watch it. It's not the same.

Dear Cineworld,
Please please please show more films that finish at 2.30. Think of all the stay at home or work at home parents who would skive off and spend their money with you during the day.
Thanks,
Sandy with time and money to spend with you.

3 - The Price of Snacks and Drinks
Nothing new here, snacks and drinks have always been a ridiculous price. If cinemas charged a reasonable amount we wouldn't all pop to Sainsbury's beforehand to buy our family-sized bags of Revels.

Dear Cineworld,
Me again. £2.80 for a bottle of water? You robbing so and so's.
Thanks, for nothing,
Sandy.

Do you agree?



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Saving Money on your Energy Bills with Hive

This is a sponsored post, but I've enjoyed researching it and I think Hive looks like an exciting and worthwhile project.



You know when you're buying a new car, you see that car everywhere? It's the same with Hive. I was asked to take a look at it and now I see it everywhere. I even had  a letter about it today.

What is Hive?

Hive is a new way to control your hot water and heating remotely. If you're away from home, you can use an app on your smartphone to tell your heating to cool it for a while. You'll never have to heat an empty house again. Coming home? Simply use the app to crank up the heating before you get there and by the time you get home - bingo - lovely warm house. Similarly, if you're out walking and would love a long hot soak in the bath, simply turn on your hot water remotely so that there's a tank waiting for you as soon as you get home (and have drunk your hot chocolate).

I love the sound of this. Our heating and hot water are currently both run off a timer and a thermostat. This is actually quite inefficient. I wonder how much we would save on our family hot water and central heating bills if we managed them better? Hive claim that an average family could save £150 per year on their heating bills. What could you do with an extra £150 per year?

How does Hive work?

Hive offer a professional installation by one of their engineers that takes around an hour. Hive runs off your existing heating system. There are three main parts in Hive Active Heating: the wireless receiver, thermostat and hub. The hub plugs into your broadband router so that your thermostat can be connected to the internet allowing you to operate it from your online dashboard

How much does Hive cost?

You can buy Hive today for £199. This investment would pay for itself pretty quickly.

I'm tempted to give it a go. I hate waste and I dislike paying my energy bills, so I'd happily kill two birds with one stone.



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3 December 2013

How to make the perfect cup of tea


I think I may have hurt Andy's feelings today, but I couldn't go on living a lie.

I wasn't rude, I didn't shout, neither did I call him a name. I was just honest.

I've written before about my dislike of rudeness dressed up as 'telling it like it is'. I prefer to spare people's feelings if I can, but sometimes you just have to come out and say it.

Andy and I were having another discussion about the science of making tea. Don't get me wrong, it's not a major topic of conversation chez Calico, but I'm a little fussy when it comes to hot beverages. I commented that he doesn't always draw fresh water each time he boils the kettle. He said that his tea can't be that bad as I don't complain. I told him that was true, but also that I have to pour some of the tea he makes me down the sink as it is undrinkable.

I know. What a horrid thing for me to say.

He'll get over it, of course, but I'm not expecting many hot drinks to be made for me for a while.

So, how do I like my tea (just in case you're brave enough)?

  • Use only new, fresh water in the kettle
  • Pour boiling water onto the tea bag
  • Let it brew for a few minutes
  • Add a tiny drop of skimmed milk

See - I'm not that fussy, after all. I'm NOT!

***

I wrote this post ages ago, but hadn't published it because it's a bit, well, grumpy. Today I was having a chat with Michelle from The American Resident and she admitted that she doesn't like making tea for people. When they're as fussy as I am, frankly I'm not surprised. I seldom accept a cup of tea if I'm at a friend's house because I start to twitch if they don't pour the water the second the kettle boils (they never do). If they put too much milk in my tea I want to cry. It's safe to say that if I go to your house I will ask for coffee (and then flinch as you pour the water the second the kettle boils). Hey, T from Mummy Barrow, you of the tea linky, how do you make tea?


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Review: Lucky Voice App




Earlier this year I reviewed Lucky Voice Online Karaoke. It was a huge hit with my family.

Now there is a new mobile karaoke app available for iPhones and iPads. The app is free to download and comes with 25 songs. These songs will be refreshed weekly. This week's songs include a mixture of karaoke classics (think 'Summer Nights' from Grease and Elton John and Kiki Dee's 'Don't Go Breaking My Heart') to songs from right now, such as 'Somewhere Only We Know' by Lily Allen.

If that's not enough for you, you can subscribe for as little as £1.49 per month and have access to 8,500 songs. If you already have a Lucky Voice account, as we do, you can also access this through the app.

If you're out and about and fancy a bit of karaoke action, then you can be singing along to your Lucky Voice app within seconds. Of course, by out and about I mean in the pub...

The app is great fun. It's the same high quality karaoke experience you would expect from Lucky Voice.


Disclosure: this app is free from the iTunes store. I agreed to take a look at it, and write about it on my blog, in addition to my original review of  Lucky Voice Online Karaoke.

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12 November 2013

Run, Fat Girl, Run



I hated cross country running at school. We used to shuffle out of sight of the school, sit in a field, and smoke, until we saw the fit girls heading back to school. We shuffled in after them, tucking our lighters in our knickers.

I'd always looked at runners as if they were from another planet. In my entire adult life I had never run for a bus. I had never run at all.

Then I met Dawn Walton, Cognitive Hypnotherapist.

Dawn has been helping me get my head in the right place, so that I could lose the excess weight I have carried all my life. It's working, I've lost 4 stone.

One entirely unexpected benefit of her Weight Loss Coaching is that I am far more active that ever before. I choose to walk over taking the car. I walk faster than ever before. I now run things up the stairs, instead of waiting until there's a huge pile of stuff to go up. I'm not scared of stairs. I no longer get out of breath running up them. I used to have to sit down to recover after any burst of activity.

Six weeks ago I thought I'd have a crack at the Couch to 5k training programme. I never expected to get past the first week, but I did. Every time I looked ahead on the app, to see what future weeks held, I thought I'd soon reach a point where I couldn't keep up.

Today I completed Week 5, Run 3.

Week 5, Run 3 is as follows:
Walk 5 mins
Run 20 mins
Walk 5 mins

Guess what? I did it. I ran for 20 minutes.

Unbelievable.

I think 20 minutes, non-stop, makes me a runner.

I get it now. I get why people love to run. There's something primal about it. It's just you and the path. I love the fresh air and I love the feeling of all those endorphins rushing around my body.

Three words I never thought I would write:

I love running.



Disclosure
Dawn let me try the Weight Loss Coaching programme for free, in exchange for a review on this blog. If I need Dawn now, I pay her. Just so we're clear.
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Tesco is backing the Pampers UNICEF campaign in the global fight against Maternal and Newborn Tetanus.

This is a sponsored post.



From October to December, Pampers and UNICEF, the world’s leading children’s organisation, come together for the eighth year to launch the “1 pack = 1 vaccine” campaign. This year, Tesco has upped the stakes and set the challenge to its shoppers to help raise the cost of one vaccine every second of the campaign period – that’s nine million life-saving vaccines helping to protect the lives of 3 million women and their newborns! 

A team from Tesco and Pampers visited Senegal, West Africa, to see the success of the UNICEF vaccination programme and meet those who have witnessed the devastating effects of MNT first-hand:

Ami Seck tragically lost her first baby boy to tetanus;
“After a few days, we noticed the child was trembling excessively,” Mame Touty, Ami’s mother-in-law says, “We spent nine days in hospital, but the boy died on the tenth day. When it happened we were very dejected. After the regretful incident, Ami became pregnant again, but we learnt lessons, we had an antenatal care package, and everything went smoothly. Everyone knew that our baby boy died but we are a living example of how you can get out of the maze.”

Moussa Pouye is the Chief Nurse at Dabaly Health Post, Nioro District, Senegal talk about dealing with a case of tetanus;
“I had to deal with a case of tetanus where the lady had no antenatal care or tetanus vaccinations. I met with the Supervisor of the Health Centre and he gave me 200 doses of tetanus to do an immediate campaign in the area to avoid another case. We made sure all other women in the village were protected. The village, Touba Saloum, now has its own Health Hut and all the women are subscribing.”

Ways you can help:
Visit your local Tesco today and pick up your pack of Pampers or buy online at Tesco.com:

1 Pack = 1 Vaccine
During October – December 2013, for each Pampers®- UNICEF pack purchased, Pampers® will donate the cost of one tetanus vaccine to support UNICEF in the fight against Maternal and Newborn Tetanus.                                                                              
UNICEF Pledge Donations

By becoming a monthly donor to UNICEF today you can join thousands of other parents who donate every month to improve the lives of these vulnerable children. Visit www.supportunicef.org/Pampers to see the difference that you can make.

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31 October 2013

Looks like a...


So, my five year old son went to art club and made this "fish"...




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My Christmas Wish List

This post was written in collaboration with Joules

I was in Boots today and the Joules bath and body range caught my eye. I looked at it all longingly.



I think the colours of the products themselves, and the packaging, are both gorgeous. I knew Joules for their quality clothes, but hadn't realised they sold other products.

Then I came home and saw that Joules wanted to pay me to write about them. Spooky. Well, I guess it is Halloween after all.

So I decided to prepare my Christmas wish list.

I want...



Terrific Treats Bath Wash Trio, £18



A Winnie the Horse Wash Bag, £16





Richmond leather tote bag, £169





Marsha Womens Intarsia Jumper, £69.95






And finally...

Because I'm worth it...



Posh Welly Womens Glossy Welly, £69.95


Go on, you know you want to. I'm smiling winningly

:)

See.



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30 October 2013

My Rules for Trick or Treating




This year, for the first time, I'm taking the boys trick or treating at Halloween. I've resisted for years. Last year I carved a pumpkin into a Jack O'Lantern and placed it by the front door. It certainly attracted more callers, but in previous years - with no Halloween paraphernalia - we still had plenty of trick or treaters.

One year I had a distraught Presley to deal with at Halloween. He had managed to shell some acorns and shove the bits up his nose. I had to consol him, answer the door, shove sweets at strangers and think about calling NHS Direct.

This year, Halloween falls in the middle of our half term. We are going to a friend's house, with some other families, for a take-a-plate Halloween tea (I'll be searching Pinterest for spooky food ideas). Then, when it gets dark, we'll go trick or treating. We have costumes. We have plastic buckets in the shape of pumpkins. We're ready.

BUT... I have some rules that I'd like to share with you.

SANDY'S HALLOWEEN RULES:

If I ruled the world, Halloween would happen like this.

  1. If you want trick or treaters to knock on your door, leave a pumpkin on your doorstep. If you don't, don't.
  2. If you go trick or treating, only knock on doors where there is a pumpkin on the doorstop.




Actually, if I ruled the world 31st October would be just another day.

Bah humbug.

Do you celebrate Halloween?



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Review: Breema





What is Breema?

Breema is difficult to describe. It's a new age kind of a cross between partner yoga and Thai massage. The idea is you feel fully present. This appealed to me as my head is all over the place. I'm never doing less than seventeen things at once. I have also been trying to eat mindfully, but struggling. You can have Breema done to you or you can practise Self-Breema.

Why have I never heard of it?

It's new to the UK. It's been around elsewhere for some time. For more information do check out the Breema website.

What happens during Breema? What does it feel like?

You know when you go to a spa, or a salon, and you have a treatment? You get an orange 17 year old making you feel more tense during a terrible massage because you know she is pulling disgusted faces behind your (fat, oily) back. Well, Breema is NOTHING like that.

There are no oils. In fact, it's not a massage. You are fully clothed. You feel safe, warm and loved. There is no judgement, no competition, you're just being.

Eva Brauner from Core Inspiration makes you feel at ease as soon as you meet her. You lie on a padded floor as Eva touches you with her hands, body and feet. She holds you, pulls gently, taps and rubs.

I have never experienced anything like it. I have never felt so relaxed. Afterwards, I didn't want to move. I felt utter bliss.

Where?

Luckily for me, Eva is based in Milton Keynes.

How much?

£45 per session. As a treat for yourself, or a friend, it's totally worth it. I really can not recommend Eva more highly. I LOVED my Breema session.

What else do I need to know?

Eva runs weekly Breema classes in Milton Keynes. For more information click on Eva's page in the Breema Directory.

Eva is also a qualified psychotherapist, specialising in the body.





Disclosure: Eva is a friend of a friend and offered me a free Breema session in exchange for this review. 
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25 October 2013

The Many Faces of Caitlin Moran



Last November I went to the first Mumsnet Blogfest. I'm such an awesome blogger that it has only taken me eleven months to write about it. Finger on the pulse, me.

Still, better late than never.

To top off a slick, professional, yet friendly conference I nabbed a front row seat for keynote speaker, Caitlin Moran. Being a complete Caitlin fan-girl I snapped away all the way though her funny and wise turn. The woman can talk and pull faces, all at the same time. Who knew?

What I loved about Blogfest was that it wasn't the usual crowd. There were some familiar faces, and I was grateful for that, but because I wasn't bumping into friends every two seconds I was able to widen my blogging circle.

The sessions were mostly useful, although I felt the speakers were quite journo-heavy.

As soon as the tickets went on sale for this year's Blogfest, I snapped one up. I'm excited by the sessions and will be torn as I have friends speaking at different sessions AT THE SAME TIME. Argh.

Are you going? Do say hello. I may write about you in eleven months or so...




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6 October 2013

An Open Letter to the Definitions Editor of the Oxford English Dictionary




Dear Sir or Madam,

I am writing to suggest you amend the dictionary definition of unnecessary to:

The swing version of 'When Will I Be Famous?', as seen on the Strictly Come Dancing results show tonight.

I mean, seriously, it was dreadful. 

Yours faithfully,

Sandy Calico.


PS If you're reading this, Matt Goss, you're lovely and everything, and When Will I Be Famous? is a classic, BUT I really really really hate swing. Sorry.



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4 October 2013

Let us tell you a story...part 19

Tired Mummy of Two


You may have seen this amazing story unfolding on many different blogs over the last few weeks. Today it is my turn to play blogger consequences.

For the background to this writing challenge, and part one of the story, visit Tired Mummy of Two.

Mari left us yesterday with Laura's brother, Simon, surprising her with cruise tickets for her birthday. It's not that simple though. Laura's husband, Robert, has just reappeared after faking his own death...

"Simon chatted as he walked her down the short corridor towards the lounge and as he turned the corner his eyes landed on Robert standing opposite."

Simon opened his mouth, then closed it again forcing it into a tight thin line. As he clenched his fists he pressed his nails into his palms.

Robert jumped to his feet, defensively raising his hands. 

"Simon, S-Simon, I'm sorry, I can explain...", he said. 

"No, Robert, you can't explain", shouted Laura, "Get out. Now!".

Robert flushed red, then paled as both Laura and Simon lunged towards him. He ran for the door but collided with Simon's wife, Jude, knocking her to the ground. 

Robert made it out of the front door, trench coat flying behind him. Laura yelled after him to never come back, then slammed the door. 

Laura's ears were ringing. Poppy, her dog, was barking and running up and down the hall. Through the din, Laura heard Simon shouting,

"Laura, call 999, it's Jude".


What's wrong with Jude? Will they make it onto the cruise? What happens to Robert? Will we see Tony again?

Visit Mum's the Word tomorrow to find out what happens next...



If you were wondering whatever happened to Write On?
Well, life happened. It will be back soon, I promise.


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1 October 2013

CAKEZILLA




A few weeks ago I made the cake to beat all cakes for the boys' birthday party - even if I do say so myself. 

We called it Cakezilla and you can see why.




It was huge, and I'm really rather pleased with it. I think it was my most liked ever Facebook update and Instagram photograph.

It was two regular vanilla sponges sandwiched together with chocolate butter cream. I'd also covered it in chocolate butter cream, placed chocolate finger biscuits all around the sides, and put giant chocolate buttons and assorted sprinkes on the top. 

If I hadn't made it up as I went along I would have made the cake chocolate, but it was yumminess on a plate anyway.




I had some butter cream, giant chocolate buttons and sprinkles left over, so I also decorated these 12-for-60p fairy cakes from Morrisons to serve at the party. They went down very well too. 



Recipe for Cakezilla Vanilla Sponge
  1. Weigh 4 eggs in their shells. Use this weight for the plain flour, butter or marg, and caster sugar.
  2. Add baking powder and vanilla essence.
  3. Make an all-in-one batter. I use an electric hand whisk.
  4. Add a drop of milk if the batter is too thick.
  5. Cook in a 9" spring cake tin, sprayed with cake release spray, for 30-40 minutes at 180. The cake is done when a knife or skewer poked in the centre comes out clean.
Repeat steps 1-5 for the second cake (if the first simply isn't high enough).


Recipe for Cakezilla Chocolate Butter Cream
  1. Put 250g of salted butter, 50g of cocoa powder and 450g of icing sugar in the bowl of your mixer.
  2. Cover your mixer with a tea-towel to stop the icing sugar from escaping.
  3. Mix slowly at first, then at full speed for 5 minutes.
  4. Scrape the sides of the bowl to incorporate all of the ingredients.
  5. Add some milk if your icing is too thick. Mix for a final 2 minutes.
  6. Clean up the icing sugar that still managed to escape from your mixer.


Do let me know if you make anything similar. I can guarantee you will have a queue of children - and grown-ups - waiting for a slice of your Cakezilla.





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Review: Lucky Voice Online Karaoke

When I was asked whether I would like to review Lucky Voice Online Karaoke I expected to have some fun with it.

What I didn't expect - but what I got - was fun for all the family.

I was over the moon to see just how interested my children were in singing into the microphone.

They were able to practice their reading and have a sing and dance. We chose simple songs for them - mostly ones they hadn't heard before - and soon they were singing with gusto.



You can watch the lyrics, streamed over the internet, on full screen and they are clear and very well done.



Presley, 6, and Cash, 5, have been going to bed later than normal every night as they ask for just one more song please. Andy and I have then had to wait until they're in bed and asleep before we can have a go.

Lucky Voice Karaoke Kit - £49.95


You get a mixing box. There's reverb for instance, to make your voice sound better - I don't need it, obv. The kit comes with one good quality microphone and it's possible to add another. It's easy to set up, you just attach it to your internet connected laptop or PC, and speakers, and off you go.

Lucky Voice Online Karaoke Subscription - £4.99

For just £4.99 per month you can access thousands of decent karaoke versions of songs. If you want to belt out 'I believe in a thing called love' or 'Wuthering Heights' at full blast on a Saturday night you can. And I did. With just about any song you can think of just a few clicks away, the hardest thing will be deciding what to sing next. Fancy yourself as the next Adele? You can sing the whole of '21' in the privacy of your own kitchen. There's no time restriction, other than your need for sleep. New songs are being added all the time. You can sign up for regular email updates if you don't wanna miss a thing.

Not sure if it's for you? Try it for a month for nothing, there's a 31 day free trial. Register here for your online karaoke experience.

Our verdict

It's easy to use, great fun and would make a fantastic family Christmas present.

Positives - there are so many songs to choose from.

Negatives - there are so many songs to choose from.




Disclosure - we were given a Lucky Voice Karaoke Kit and a year's subscription to Lucky Voice Online Karaoke free of charge for the purposes of this review. All opinions are my own, blah blah blah.


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19 September 2013

The What I See Project

What do you see when you look in the mirror?

That was the question I was asked by the What I See Project.

The What I See Project was set up by Edwina Dunn to give women a voice. It is a not-for-profit global project exploring female perception and self-expression.

I was honoured to be asked to be one of the hundred communicators adding their voices this month.

Here's me, pulling faces and bearing my soul in my video:





You can see my video (and all the others) on the site What I See Project.

Some of my friends are also taking part. Becky from Baby Budgeting and A Beautiful Space made me sob with her video. You must watch it. Also Penny from A Residence's (and Parent Shaped) video is excellent. I'm looking forward to catching up with them at the film screening on 1st October. I've loved watching the individual voices and can't wait to see them (and myself) on the big IMAX screen at the Science Museum.

You could also win a ticket to the Science Museum on 1st October by taking part on the What I See Project. full details are on the WISP website. Add your voice to the many.

I'm delighted to be able to the pass the baton onto Magda Knight at www.mookychick.co.uk who is in the spotlight tomorrow.

So, what do YOU see when you look in the mirror?



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18 September 2013

Monkeys will wreck your car



My Dad would never take us to Woburn Safari Park. He said,

"I'm not having those f***ing monkeys wrecking my car".

He was quite precious about his cars. You'd have thought he'd got over that when, aged four, I suffered from car sickness all the way from Bedfordshire to Cornwall. Not so. No monkeys on our car, ever...

Fast forward thirty-nine years, and when a friend suggested taking the children to Woburn Safari Park I jumped at the chance.

The entrance fee was £50 for myself and two children. We took a picnic, that we ate on blankets next to our cars, and spent the day at the Park.

We started our foot safari by swanning about on the lake in pedalos. This was the right thing to do, as there were huge queues later in the day. We loved the new meerkat enclosure. The foot safari is best punctuated by feeding times and animal talks. We adored the penguins and sea lions, and the Birds in Action display. You can venture in with lemurs and squirrel monkeys and stroke the goats. There are plenty of places to play, including a bouncy castle for the little ones and soft play for the more adventurous.

After a train ride, and the obligatory visit to the shop, we headed back to our cars for the Big Safari.

The car safari takes a leisurely hour. You drive through herds of rhino, zebra and giraffes, before going in with the big cats and the bears. There is so much space for the animals, but we were able to see everything. I absolutely LOVED it. I tried to convey to Presley and Cash just how awesome it was to see these animals this close.

Finally we got to the f***ing monkeys.

This part of the safari is optional, but I wouldn't have missed it for the world. One inquisitive chap jumped from car to car until he got to ours. He then stayed on for slow ride, much to the delight of the boys, before leaping over to the next car. He didn't do any damage to our car - of course, and we knew better than to try to feed him.

We loved our day at Woburn Safari Park and give it the Baby Baby Thumbs Up.


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Stop being ripped off. Switch your energy supplier! [Infographic]


 Switch Energy Supplier Infographic


Brought to you by Ovo Energy – the cheaper, greener and simpler energy supplier

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10 September 2013

Finding a Cure for Cancer. The Saatchi Bill for Medical Innovation


I was invited to attend a meeting at the Houses of Parliament to hear more about the Medical Innovation Bill, also known as the Saatchi Bill.

Once I'd got through security... I found my way, past the entrances to the House of Commons and the House of Lords, to one of the Lords' committee rooms. I was one of several bloggers in attendance, all with a story to tell about how they have been affected by cancer or serious disease. Instead of a regular press conference, Saatchi wanted to explain the Bill to the storytellers. He wanted us to tell you about the Bill in the hope that you will tell your friends about the Bill. If enough people make enough noise then Parliament will listen.

Why was I there?

In November I lost a dear friend, Amanda, to cancer. I am lost without her.

I wrote about my loss on Annie's blog, as part of her cancer series, in Adrift. I would love it if you could take the time to read my story and the other stories in the series. It is one of the best pieces I have written and should adequately explain my interest in this Bill.



Another day at the office for Chris Mosler


What is the Saatchi Bill?

The Medical Innovation Bill will allow doctors to deviate from standard medical procedure without fear of litigation. Using multi-disciplinary peer review, and fully-informed patient consent, it will enable doctors to find new treatments for cancer and other diseases via innovation.

In 2011 Maurice Saatchi lost his wife, Josephine Hart, to ovarian cancer. He was frustrated by the lack of progress in the treatment of most cancers, and decided to use his grief to make a difference.

Maurice described cancer as relentless, remorseless and merciless and the treatment of cancer as medieval, ineffective and degrading. The standard procedures of surgery and chemotherapy are decades old. We've been handing out the same treatments for years, knowing that they are not a cure, but not being able to deviate from those procedures to make any progress. He called it the endless repeat of a failed experiment.

We keep doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome.

An Act of Parliament can't cure cancer, but it may enable the man or woman who can. It will do this by clarifying in law what is responsible innovation.

Professor Andy Hall filled in some of the background to the traditional treatment of cancer. In the 1950's childhood leukemia was not treated at all, now it has some of the best survival rates of any cancer. This is because some doctors were bold. We need to make those kinds of leaps now.

Debbie Binner spoke beautifully about her daughter, Chloe. Chloe was just 15 when she felt a pain in her leg. It turned out to be bone cancer. Debbie said that Chloe was not one of the lucky ones. She could not have an amputation. Debbie fought to get her daughter the best treatment, but found doctors too willing to accept the status quo. Chloe died in February, aged 18.

Michael Ellis, MP for Northampton, will present the Bill to the House of Commons for its first reading tomorrow. He explained that the Bill has cross-party support and will give doctors the tools they need to make a difference.

At the end of the presentations we, and those joining us via G+, had the opportunity to share our reason for being there and to ask questions. I asked about another barrier to innovation, lack of money. I asked about the role of drug companies and their lack of investment where they could not see a quick profit being made. Debbie responded that she had found that huge publicity can focus a spotlight on the drug companies. If enough people make a fuss it is their corporate social responsibility to respond. Lord Saatchi added that this Bill is focused on changing a risk-averse culture. Lack of money alone does not block innovation. Barrister Daniel Greenberg, who drafted the Bill, made the point that this Bill give doctors freedom to innovate, not drug companies. He also reminded us that medicine is not just about drugs.

I found the meeting moving and informative, and the setting was spectacular. The law does need to change. I hope I am a tiny part of history being made, it certainly felt like it being sat in a committee room in the Houses of Parliament.



What can you do?

Talk about the Bill, on social media, on blogs, at the water cooler, at the school gate.

Let's have a debate about it.

Ask questions.

Follow @SaatchiBill on Twitter and use #SaatchiBill

Write to your MP and ask them to support the Bill. It amused me that the politicians were trying to move with the times and harness the power of social media, yet when we asked what they would like us to do they suggested writing to our MP's. Old-fashioned it may be, but in our democracy this is the way to influence the person who represents us in Parliament. I sent my MP an email, it took just minutes.

Further Reading

The Medical Innovation Bill
Cancer 52. 52% of cancers are rare forms of cancer.
Maurice Saatchi, talking in the Telegraph.



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9 September 2013

So, I tried to take a knife into the Houses of Parliament...




Yes. I did.

I tried to get through security at the Houses of Parliament with a knife.

I've never liked Smarmy Dave, I've made no secret of the fact, but I wasn't planning to stab him or anything like that.

No. I'm just a doofus. 

I had this Swiss card in my handbag, you see, and it has a knife on it.



There is a good reason why I always carry it - there was that unfortunate incident in the supermarket toilets for a start - but I usually try to get myself out of sticky situations with it... NOT INTO THEM.

After a thorough search of my bag I was allowed in - without my Swiss card. They didn't throw me in the Tower or anything, but I still felt like an idiot.

Here's the evidence that I was actually allowed into the building:


Just a quick snap as I was on my way to a meeting regarding the Saatchi Bill. I'll tell you all about that in my next post. Do please check back.



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5 September 2013

Slimming World Ice Cream



Ingredients
Fat free yogurt

Method
Put it in the freezer for a couple of hours


Okay, so it's not technically ice cream.

A little ice may form at the top, but underneath the frozen yogurt is creamy and tastes like ice cream.

It's syn free at Slimming World too.

You're welcome.



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22 August 2013

Peppa Pig World at Paulton's Park; Official Merchandise Review and Family Ticket Giveaway



***This giveaway is now closed***

The winner is...

Louise Fairweather

CONGRATULATIONS!




I was reliably informed - by a 4 year old - that this is not Peppa Pig. It is, in fact, Peppa's friend, Suzy Sheep. Suitable chastised, I shuffled over to have my photograph taken with her (as you do).

My family and I were invited to Paulton's Park, the home of Peppa Pig World, to review the latest official Peppa Pig merchandise. Several other bloggers were also there. Our children tore through the toys, gifts and clothes like a tornado. Pieces of jigsaw puzzle were scattered around the room. The children looked like they were competing to see who could carry the most soft toys. After our rigorous testing, we spent the rest of the day at Paulton's Park.


My Top Tips for visiting Peppa Pig World and Paulton's Park

  • Get there early, the park opens at 10am. Be parked and at the gate by 10. 
  • Go to Peppa Pig World first as the queues will quickly build up throughout the day
  • There are loads of rides suitable for younger children in the rest of Paulton's Park. These rides have tiny queues. There are also animals and play areas, including a splash park.  
  • Leave before the park closes. You do not want to get caught in a traffic jam just trying to get out of the car park.



Peppa Pig Official Merchandise

If you are looking for exclusive official Peppa Pig merchandise, that is not available anywhere else, you can either visit the store at Peppa Pig World, Paulton's Park, or visit the Peppa Pig Shop online.

You get free delivery on all orders over £25, delivery to any UK address and free returns.

Here is a selection of our favourite items from the current range:


Granny Pig Loves Baking Apron (£14.99)
How fantastic is this apron? My mother-in-law is definitely getting this for Christmas.


Grandpa Pig's Polo T-Shirt (£18.99)

This polo t-shirt is excellent quality. It would make the perfect gift for a doting grandad. We loved the nautical stripes.


George Green Cap (£5.99)
We were pleasantly surprised by the range of boys' clothing. This cap is super.


George's Mr Dinosaur Dressing Gown (£14.99)
We adored this dinosaur dressing gown. My 4 year old son put it on and didn't want to take it off.


Peppa's World of Playsets (currently in the sale for £19.99)
Both my boys (aged 5 and 4) enjoyed playing with this playset. The set only comes with one Peppa figure, but other figures are available. There is plenty of scope for imaginative play with this toy.

There are also soft toys galore. You can get Peppa, George, Peppa's Teddy Bear and George's Dinosaur in all sizes (to suit all pockets). There is also stationery, bedroom accessories, books and pictures.

You can even get George Pig Beanie Ballz for balancing on your head (£6.99, husband not included)



The Giveaway

Have you ever fancied a day out at Peppa Pig World? Paulton's Park are offering one lucky Baby Baby reader a one day family ticket for two adults and two children under twelve.

To enter all you have to do is complete the Rafflecopter form below.

Good luck!


Terms and Conditions:
The prize consists of a one day family ticket for two adults and two children under 12 years old. Tickets are valid until Monday 4 November, 2013 and are non-extendable. They are not valid for Santa’s Christmas Wonderland. Travel expenses are NOT included in the prize, the winner will have to make their own travel arrangements. The prize will be sent out by the promotor, Paulton's Park, Ower, Romsey,The New Forest, Hampshire SO51 6AL. There is no cash alternative.
This giveaway is open to UK residents, aged 12 and over, who correctly complete the Rafflecopter form.
This giveaway starts 12.00am 22 August 2013 and closes 12.00 29 August 2013. The winner will be picked at random from all correct entries within three days of the end of the giveaway, using Rafflecopter. If the winner does not respond within 7 days of being notified by the promotor, the prize will be re-drawn.




a Rafflecopter giveaway


Disclosure
My family and I were given free entry to Paulton's Park

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9 August 2013

How's the weight loss going, Sandy?



Very well, thank you for asking.

That there is a Slimming World 4 stone award. I'm a whopping 4 stone lighter than I was last year.

My 5 year old son weighs slightly less than that and I can't carry him very far at all, but I used to carry that weight around all the time. No wonder stairs were a struggle. Not any more. I have spent the summer holidays this year chasing the boys around farms, zoos and theme parks.

As well as going to Slimming World I am also having Weight Loss Coaching with Dawn Walton. I'm 10 weeks into the 12 week programme and it's not an understatement to say that working with Dawn has changed my life.

This is my post from the start of the Weight Loss Coaching.
This is my post from 6 weeks into the Weight Loss Coaching.

I will update you in full at the end of the 12 weeks as I have so much to tell you.


Disclosure: Dawn is providing me with her Weight Loss Coaching services free of charge, in exchange for my honest feedback via Baby Baby.



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Pampers unveils their giant Baby Blanket – knitted with the nation’s good wishes for the new Royal Baby!




This is a sponsored post.

As mentioned recently on Baby Baby, to celebrate the birth of the new royal baby, Pampers has knitted a giant baby blanket made from the good wishes of love and support from the UK public, in aid of family support charity Home-Start UK. I hope you got involved too?

The campaign has received overwhelming support from all over the world – including Canada, China and Australia - with thousands of parents sharing their wishes of love and support for the royal couple. And for every message received, Pampers has donated a nappy to family support charity Home-Start UK with a final donation of 100,000 nappies being made.

On Thursday, Pampers invited mums and babies to see the unveiling of this giant blanket and continue the nation’s celebration of the new arrival!

Now that the blanket has been unveiled, Pampers will be donating framed sections of the blanket to neonatal units and children’s hospitals across the UK to display on their walls.

Every little baby is a prince or princess to their mum and dad, and Pampers wishes them nothing but love, sleep and play. To find out further information visit www.pampers.co.uk.



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1 August 2013

The Summer Holiday Survival Guide to... The Supermarket


AKA The one where I go all Supernanny on you.




I was looking forward to the Summer Holidays. My children had completed their first full year at school. The sun was shining. I'd made a few plans, bought a few new garden toys. We were set.

Then school ended.

I don't know if it's tiredness from a long final term at school, or the heat, but my two little angels have lost their halos. They seem incapable of playing together, or with me, without fighting. They don't want to do anything. It takes us forever to leave the house, they drag their heels, won't keep their socks on and don't see why they should try to do a wee before we go out.

I usually do my food shopping online, but - desperately needing a diversion - I decided to take the children to Sainsbury's.

This is when I had a brainwave. I'd watched enough episodes of Supernanny (before I had children) to know that children like to be engaged in an activity. So I stuck their toy trolleys in the car and got them to write lists.




They both wrote six things on their lists and took a pencil to cross out each item as they put it in their trolley.

We floated around the supermarket in a cloud of our own wondrousness. Wondrousness? That must be a real word because it describes us in the biscuit aisle in Sainsbugs. Other Mothers looked on in awe. Small children turned green before our very eyes. Old ladies smiled approvingly.

The boys put their goods on the conveyor belt, then packed it in their bags for life.

I had won at shopping.

Cue the sound of a needle being dragged from a record.

Of course this only worked the first time I tried it.

We went back to Sainsbury's this week and my little darlings didn't want to write their lists, they wanted ALL the crisps and they fought over a four-pack of garlic. A dozen old dears patted my arm sympathetically and said, 'You're brave.'.

It's back to online shopping for us.



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Saving Money on Energy Bills as a Family


British Gas paid me for publishing this post, but who doesn't want a few easy tips on how to save money?


Most families are in need of saving a few bob and if you work together in a quest to becoming a little more frugal, you’d be amazed at how much you can save in a relatively small time frame. It’s all well and good, planning to cut back on things or save on electricity but if your family don’t follow suit, you’re fighting a losing battle. Get them to jump on board in your new, savvy venture and you could all see impressive savings. After all, it’s much better to spend your hard earned cash on days out and treats that in it wasting it on things unnecessarily, right?

In every home, there are plenty of ways in which to save money on your energy bills and by adopting these practices, you will see savings in your utilities almost immediately. While you could save money with British Gas Green Deal, there are other ways in which you could save money (and positively affect your energy usage) without having to jump straight onto the home improvement bandwagon although, with the help of the British Gas and government initiative, this is increasingly easier to do. Summer is a perfect time to start with the lighter nights and warmer days. Take a look at some of these top tips to see what you can incorporate into everyday life.
  • Turn lights off after use – it’s so easy for a child (or grownup!) to leave the bathroom light on after nipping to the loo but every time this happens, energy and money are being wasted. Switch lights off when you don’t need them. 
  • Replace standard light bulbs with energy saving ones. 
  • Don’t leave the water running when you’re brushing your teeth – it’s incredible how much of this valuable resource is wasted, especially when you’ve got kids! 
  • Turn the washing machine down to 30 (or less!). The cycle is only marginally less than 40 and cleans your clothes just as well. Plus, you save energy and cash. 
  • Turn down the thermostat by 1 degree, which should be easily done during the summer months. You could always reach for a snuggly blanket if you do get a little chilly. 
  • Avoid using electric heaters – they cost a fortune! 
Simple ways in which you could save money in your home, which you’ll see in your next energy bills. Encourage your kids to do their bit too and you won’t feel like you’re the only one doing the work.
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22 July 2013

Write On Link Up Week 4





How did you find this week's writing prompts?

I didn't know where I was going to find the time to write this week, but Sarah from Older Mum in a Muddle suggested a Write In on Sunday evening. A few of us agreed to write from 8-10pm. I joined in, after watching the end of the Tour de France (whoop), and wrote a 1500 word story. Amazing what you can do when you try.

I chose prompt 2 - Turning Point 

‘Fish and chips’ I said.
‘What do you want?’ he asked, again.
‘Fish and chips?’
‘What do you want?’ he shouted.
‘Fish and chips!’ I shouted back, thinking he hadn’t heard me.
‘If you don’t tell me what you want I won’t get you anything’ he bellowed.
This was getting silly. I started chuckling.
‘Fish and chips?’
The door slammed. Oh.

I didn’t get any fish or chips. Apparently I should have specified cod or haddock, or a battered saveloy.

How did I end up here? How did I end up living with an ogre? Not a loveable, green Shrek-like ogre. Oh no, my ogre was a joyless, angry wine-guzzler. He had Shrek’s eyes though. Or maybe his eyes were more toad-like. They could flick from whatever TV programme he was watching to give me ‘the look’, then flick back again. When I got ‘the look’ I knew I’d said something to upset him. He wouldn’t tell me that this was the case, but the eyes had it.

Of course I do know how I ended up here. I had been single for a while. I was feeling unloved. I looked for stuff on Ebay, this took hours. I spent far too much time laying on the sofa reading glossy celebrity magazines. I had put on weight, a lot of weight. I wanted to be like every other woman I saw. They all looked happy, confident and glossy. They went on dates, they had someone. I was lonely.

I joined an internet dating site. I wrote my biography. I said I loved the theatre, cinema, eating out, swimming and walking. It wasn’t true of course, apart from the eating part. I found an old photo, a ten stone photo. You couldn’t really see me, I was too far away. It was my favourite photo of me. I sat back and waited for the flood of date offers.

My standards were low. They were so low down on the low scale that I would have accepted a date with Darren Day (not that he’d have asked me out, what with me weighing fourteen stone and all).

I checked my email every day. Eventually Richard contacted me. We exchanged emails for a while, well for two days, before he asked to meet me. He sounded nice enough, he flattered me on my figure. He liked the theatre, cinema, eating out, swimming and walking too. What am amazing coincidence! I wouldn’t have described him as my ideal man when I saw his photo. More Wayne Rooney than George Clooney, but looks aren’t everything.

The warning signs were there right from the start. I chose to ignore them, after all I was on a date. Richard had clearly lied about his height. He didn’t offer to buy the first drink. He didn’t laugh at my jokes, but laughed heartily at his own. When we were discussing a staff issue I had at work he told me what I should have done to think about the blue sky, out of the box. He told me he’d had an argument with his boss that day and his boss was a tosser.

Still, woo hoo and yay, I had a boyfriend!

Richard lost his job the following month due to a clash of personalities. He also lost his company car so could I drive over to his house and stay there most evenings? After a few weeks we decided I should sell my house and move in with him. Instead of paying my mortgage I could help him out with his, just while he looked for another job. An executive post. A senior management position. Not like my front-line supervisory management position.

He told me he loved me so much. But only so much. How we laughed at his witticism. When I asked him ‘no really, why do you love me?’ – I know, I was asking for trouble – he said it was because I had big tits. I laughed the first time, but after hearing it again and again I think he meant it. The charmer.

We booked a romantic holiday to Barbados. We joked about getting married on the beach, but not even I was that depressed. I upset him in a shop, on a tour of the island. We walked back to the tour bus in silence. The silence continued until we were sat in the bar that evening, drinking our all-inclusive rum punches. I plucked up the courage to ask what was wrong. After the usual rounds of ‘nothing’s wrong’ and ‘are you sure?’ Richard told me what was bothering him. Why didn’t I buy him any dollars to put in his wallet so he could buy the map he wanted?

The map he wanted was rolled up on his suitcase. I'd bought it for him.

I was starting to realise that my life was resembling a bad soap opera. I thought of myself as a tragic down-trodden character. A woman driven to drink by a verbally abusive passive-aggressive partner. You see it all the time in Walford.

Yes, I’d had far too much to drink, but this had fuelled the delusions of cockney princess in me. He wouldn’t dance with me so I stood in the middle of the dance floor and sobbed.

That night in our room we had a shouting scene. We ended our relationship. We just didn’t get on.  It was over. Dum dum dum dum da da dum.

In the morning we clung together to ease our lonely hangovers. We made up. There was a love scene.

The next few months were less like a soap opera and more like the film ‘The Snake Pit’.  In this film the baddies try to convince Vivienne Leigh that she is losing her mind. The film is truly terrifying if you have ever felt like you may lose control of your sanity.

I was on edge the whole time. I alternated between standing up for myself and facing the wrathful consequences, and acquiesing. The latter course of action resulted in my hands shaking. Despite all my shaky efforts at keeping the peace I still upset him.

He hadn’t found another job, I guess there’s not much call for miserable senior executives. Besides, going to work would take him away from his main hobby of looking at  porn on the internet. Filling my computer with viruses, and videos of big girls taking baths.

One weekend I accidentally knocked a wine glass behind an occasional table. When I moved it I discovered the decomposing remains of a bird, a victim of the cat. I’m no forensic scientist, but that bird had been there for quite some time.  When I suggested to Richard that he could perhaps, possibly, if it’s not too much trouble, maybe do a tiny bit more housework during the day while I was at work, he flicked me ‘the look’. I spent the rest of the weekend cleaning his house.

We read ‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus’ and tried to analyse our relationship. Perhaps we didn’t get on because we were men and women. He needed time in his cave apparently. I wished I was in another cave.

I was worried about his drinking. He guzzled two bottles of red wine every night. Sometimes I joined in, trying to get my fair share of the wine rack. I asked him once why he drank so much. He told me I drove him to it by being such a crazy bitch.

I went to work everyday and spent the first twenty minutes in my friend Jane’s office sobbing in frustration. I told her about the latest argument.  ‘Bastard’ she said. She told me to leave him. ‘I’m trying to make it work’ I said.

Jane and I discussed my relationship every lunchtime. I knew I’d made the wrong choice, but I had nowhere to go.  I knew I should leave, but then I’d have to admit to everyone that the whirlwind romance had run out of puff. I didn’t want everyone to know that I’d been a total idiot. I was ashamed of myself. My self-esteem couldn’t be any lower. She told me to leave him.

The final straw came when Richard offered to look at bungalows for my elderly parent to move into. I said that I would prefer to see them myself as I knew my family better than he did. He said I’d hurt his feelings. My parent were going to have to leave the house they had lived in for forty years and Richard had hurt feelings. Diddums.

I went into work the next day and told Jane that I was leaving Richard. She didn’t believe me. The smile on my face eventually convinced her that I'd reached a turning point. She did a victory dance and bought cakes.

I had lost myself, but in ditching the ogre I found some self-respect.


Richard had a theory about everything. His favourite was ‘All men are bastards, all women are crazy’. Cause and effect?

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This needs a lot of little editing and more character development, especially for the narrator, less tell and more show, actually the whole thing needs re-writing, but it felt good to hammer something out.

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Do please add your link below.

There is still plenty of time to join in. You will find this week's writing prompts here.

It would be great if you could visit some, or all, of the other blogs taking part in the Write On Link Up this week. I'd love it if we could support one another in our efforts to just write.

I'll be back in September for more Write On, I hope you'll all join me then.

In the meantime, the link up is open...

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