Tuesday, December 29, 2009

New Year's Eve Style for Summer

For those of us in warmer climes, dressing chicly but casually for New Year's Eve can be really problematic. I like to go along the lines of resort wear - light, floaty and chic.

I love the first outfit, and I will be wearing a variation of this myself. I just love the pairing of the casual white denim with a floaty ruffled silk top. The silk and ruffles take a casual outfit and jumpstart it.

The next outfit is often perceived as dressier, since, well, you are wearing a dress!! I like this dress because it is like a casual sundress, but the small amount of beading around the neck and waist make it that little bit festive. Paired with gold flat sandals, you will be all set for a cool and chic evening.

The last outfit is great if the evenings a little bit chillier. The mini caftan styling is great to show off a tanned pair of legs, while the long sleeves give you some coverage. This would be great for a casual BBQ or a pool party.

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Monday, December 28, 2009

New Year's Eve Style For Winter

Christmas has been and gone, and New Year's Eve is just around the corner. Magazines are filled with pics of sparkly cocktail dresses and ball gowns, but for most SAHM's, New Year's Eve isn't about running off to the ball like Cinderella! But if you are like me, you still want to look a little bit festive and party like. Here are some ideas for a more casual, but still chic, New Year's Eve.

The first outfit is as comfortable as jeans and a sweater, but the velvet jeans from Banana Republic and the jewelled embellishment on the sweater from Boden take it up a notch, as if to say, tonight is something special.

The purple sweater dress is also from Boden. The merino wool is nice and cosy, but the deep neckline and the blouson sleeves add just the right amount of "I made an effort". Paired with knee high leather boots, tights (and a coat) and you are all set regardless of the weather.

The last outfit is for when you are going someplace where you don't want to be the "overdressed" one, but still want to look fantastic. A trouser cut pair of dark jeans from Old Navy will fit right in, as will the black scoop neck top from American Apparel. Find a pair of sparkly flats (ignore the price on these ones; well priced ones are available everywhere!) and add in a statement necklace, and you will be the best dressed person there.

For those of you celebrating New Year's Eve in the heat of summer like me, stay tuned!!

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Handmade Christmas Presents Revealed!

I hope all of you had a wonderful and safe Christmas! Our Christmas was lovely, full of family, food and good cheer. Since my family are readers of my blog, I wasn't able to post the handmade presents that I had made for some of them as I didn't want to ruin the surprise! Now that Christmas has been and gone, here they are:

For my niece, I made some things for her room. The first thing I made was a castle shaped hairclip holder. The hair clips clip on to the ribbon underneath.This was made from a KaiserCraft BTP mini wooden castle album that I modified to form the castle. I then covered it with various scrapbooking papers and embellishments, including rub-on transfers, glitter, and die cut shapes.

I also made her a framed initial to match, using the same scrapbooking papers. I overlapped the cut outs on top of the frame mat to give a more three dimensional look.

For mum and dad, from the kids, I made a perpetual calender with a photo of the kids. I really like the Beyond The Page items from KaiserCraft; the calender was really easy to put together, and because the come without papers, etc, you can embellish and decorate it however you want.
The kids' photo was attached to a chipboard shape, rub-on transfers were added, and then I covered it in dimensional magic, giving it a resin/glass look.

Mum is about to start taking Yoga classes, so I made her a yoga bag based on a tutorial from Sew4Home. I changed the bag slightly, making matching handles instead of using webbing, and adding a pocket to the outside. The instructions were really clear and easy; if you want a yoga bag, I highly recommend this tute. They also have a tute for a more traditional sling bag style yoga tote.

For dad I made a tic tac toe (noughts and crosses) set, also from a KaiserCraft kit. I forgot to take photos, though!

I made this lovely old-fashioned rag doll for Irini. It took me hours, due to the instructions not being that clear for a self-taught beginning sewer, but with plenty of seam ripping and plenty of cursing, it finally came out just perfect. The doll's clothes are all removable, including some gorgeous bloomers underneath. I was planning on making more clothes for her down the track, but unfortunately, I think she is destined to sit on the shelf in Irini's room - she was not interested in it one bit! Maybe in a year or two it will have more appeal, and then I can increase her wardrobe.

For Stephen,I made two large pots of homemade scented glitter playdough. I also made a road playmat as well. Again, I forgot to take photos! Stephen's present was a real hit with the littlies on Xmas morning. They played with these for hours, which just goes to show that for little kids especially, simple homemade toys are often just as exciting as expensive plastic toys.

I also made some food gifts this year. These jars are a batch of desert lime (an Australian native food) marmalade and some Boxing Day Chutney. The chutney is absolutely divine, and is from a recipe I saw on Kirstie's Handmade Christmas, a wonderful British TV special all about having an old fashioned homemade Christmas. You can find the wonderful recipe here. I didn't have dates, so I subbed currants, but it was still lovely. It is just perfect in sandwiches made with leftover Xmas ham and a nice strong cheddar cheese.

One of my nephews loves my hot chocolate, so when I found this idea for Hot Chocolate on a Stick over at Givers Log that uses an almost identical recipe to how I make hot chocolate, I knew it would be just perfect. I made up a dozen sticks for him, and he was stoked!

While I didn't totally go handmade, since most of my in-laws just don't really appreciate home made, I really enjoyed making most of the presents myself. It was time consuming, but the sense of accomplishment at the end, as well as knowing that i was giving a present made for love and care, was absolutely worth it!

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Bringing up toddlers

If I thought parenting two under two was exhausting as it could be, I was so underestimating parenting two toddlers. Stephen totally skipped over the terrible twos, but the terrible threes have definitely come with a vengeance. And as if to prove to me that Stephen's angelic behaviour as a two year old had everything to do with nature and not nature, Irini is getting a head start on the terrible twos at just 21 months!

Anyway, I could just sit there and whine like a toddler about it (is there anything more annoying about a toddler's whine?) or I could take action. So, we have implemented a few plans. The first is following the 1 2 3 Magic program with Stephen which has taken care of a lot of issues. The timeout system that they use is really working well for him. He is such a sensitive child that usually the 2 warnings about being removed from our presence is enough to stop in its tracks whatever behaviour we want him to stop.

The second is to set up a daily and weekly routine for him. I discussed this a little while ago, and this is really helping prevent a lot of meltdowns. Stephen is very much into order and routine for his day, and doesn't like to deviate from it. When we can prepare him in advance for the different things that come up, he is less likely to throw a tantrum about leaving the house or packing away his toys. As my parents and my house can attest, packing away his toys is still a work in progress.

Lastly, when he throws a tantrum (which used to be rare, but is now much more common) he has to go to his room until he calms down and then I talk to him about how he was feeling. His tantrums are not usually because he is not allowed to do something, but are a reaction to his frustration that something did not go the way he wanted. For example, yesterday, we had a ripper that lasted for nearly twenty minutes because his blocks fell down and it was "not perfect no more". When ha had calmed down and I could finally talk to him, I started probing how he was feeling. After a few minutes, we came to the conclusion that he was "angy" (angry) because he wanted his blocks to look a certain way. There is something very cute about a little tear stained face telling you he is angry!

For Irini, we are a bit stumped. Her behaviour has become really out of control, mostly involving beating up her brother to the point of drawing blood, pulling his hair so hard it lifts him off the ground, or just general mayhem and destruction. I am trying 1 2 3 Magic, but so far we have not had the success we are having with Stephen. I am really at a loss with her! I am hoping that if we stay consistent, as she gets a bit older she will start improving.

I also found a wonderful blog the other day, The Natural Mommy. Beth has put together a series called Tips to A Better Toddler which starts here. These are really great ideas that I have started using and they are all great. Make sure you check out the rest of her site; her craft ideas are amazing as well!

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

SpellQuizzer offer

I posted a review on SpellQuizzer a little while back and got some really fabulous feedback on the program. So I just wanted to let you all know that they are offering 50% off the usual price of $29.99 for a 12 month license. If you are interested, you must use the link below:


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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Our Christmas Decorations

I finally got around to taking some photos of our Christmas decorations. I know that Advent is well and truly underway, and we are less than two weeks until Christmas, but better late than never, hey? The pic above is the first thing you see when you walk in the house. Next to the tree is a handmade quilted Advent calender.

This year's decorations are all new, and a big departure for me. My previous decorations were less fun, but more chic, in shades of ivory, gold, amber and chocolate. While they were chic to me, they were also mostly made of glass, and with two kids, I could see disaster and trips to the ER looming. So instead, we have plastic, felt and fimo ornaments that are unbreakable and colorful. The one good thing about this new tree decor is that hand made ornaments will fit in beautifully. I always wanted to make my own ornaments, but they would never have looked right with the old tree. I can't wait to make some next year with the kids. Given that they will be nearly 3 and 4 by then, I think they will find it really exciting.

I bought this kit for a quilted Advent calender last year, but never got around to making it. I changed it slightly from the original pattern, which had the patchwork going all around the Santa panel, since I simply couldn't be bothered making sure all my seams were going to match exactly. I think it still looks really nice with the patchwork just down the bottom.

The calendar has 24 ornaments that hang on the bottom patch work panel. Each day you take one and hang it on a button on the Christmas tree. Stephen seems to like the concept, but I still don't think that he gets the full idea of counting down until Christmas. Every morning when he comes down stairs, he starts yelling "Merry Christmas", and "where is Santa and Dorothy" (as in the Dinosaur from the Wiggles). Why he has joined those two together, I will probably never know!

Just inside the front door we have a recess that seems to only be filled at Christmas, since it has awkward dimensions. It is very tall, but quite skinny. Last year, I just had the nativity set, but that looked really odd, so this year I replaced the two front door wreaths, and put the old ones in the recess, as well as adding the two pressed tin angels. This has given it a much more balanced look, plus the red wreaths play off nicely with the red Christmas tree decorations.

The Nativity set is by Willow Tree. I would love to eventually have the whole collection, which includes the Wisemen, a camel, bronze stars, more stable animals and a Creche. Still, I am happy with my little collection. Plus, if I had the whole set, where would I put it?!

So, this is my Christmas decor for this year. Next year I hope to make some more quilted wall hangings and ornaments, as well as decorating the rest of the house a bit as well, since everything is focused on the entry foyer at the moment. But for now, especially with two toddlers, I think we have it just right.

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Create your own diaper/nappy bags!

Now that Stephen has been toilet trained (in the day time at least), I can downsize the amount of stuff that I need to carry on a daily basis. I love the idea of purse organisers, as they allow you to transform a regular bag into a diaper/nappy bag, as well as making it easy to switch between bags - you just grab the already packed organiser and plop into the new bag!

I own two organisers - one from Pish Posh Mommy, based in the US (but ships internationally) and the other from Brag Bags, a local Perth company.

The Pish Posh Mommy organiser was the first one that I bought. It is slightly smaller than the Brag Bags one, but is otherwise very similar. I have it in the print above, Napa Buds, which I liked because it was pretty but still modern. The beige lining is water resistant which is great since I have had a few bottle accidents in there, and it has saved my handbag!

The pockets on the outside are nice and roomy and just perfect for my everyday essentials such as phone, makeup and keys. The inside pockets are great for my wipes container, as well as 2 bottles. The inside compartment is big enough to fit 4-5 walker sized nappies.

The one I bought has a drawstring closure at the top, but it also available as a zip top, and just recently, with carry handles so it can be used on its own as well. The organiser is US$45.00, but is currently 10% off.

The Brag Bags BabyToGo bag is very similar, and just as useful. It also has inside and outside pockets, and a water resistant lining. As I said, it is slightly larger, and it also has a zippered pocket on the outside, which is handy to keep your wallet and keys more secure.

The BabyToGo bag comes in a black and white check, or red and white stripes. These bags retail for AUD$39.95, but Brag Bags currently have two specials going on. You can buy two BabyToGo bags for $60, or a set of one BabyToGo organiser and one standard purse organiser for AUD$49.95.

These organisers are absolutely fantastic and I can't recommend them highly enough. If you are pregnant and already have a large handbag, consider buying one of these rather than a dedicated diaper/nappy bag. If you already have young babies/toddlers, then this can help you move back from the nappy bag (be honest, after using it everyday,you are almost ready to burn it!) to a stylish non-mum bag. They would also make wonderful and unique Christmas gifts.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

5 quick energy boosts!

If there is one thing that every mother of young children can agree on, its that they could all do with more energy. At this time of the year, as we rapidly approach the Christmas rush, this is all the more true. So here are 5 quick energy boosts to help make this period somewhat easier!

  1. Eat breakfast - you've heard it a thousand times before, I know, but it's right. And when I say breakfast, I'm not talking a bowl of sugary cereal, but a good wholesome energising breakfast. Porridge, yoghurt, fruit, eggs are all good starting points.
  2. Get some exercise in - when you are feeling low in energy, exercise can seem the last thing you want to do, but it will make the world of difference. A quick walk or a dance around the lounge room with your kids will really boost your energy.
  3. Have a cold shower - at the end of your hot shower, blast yourself with cold water. You are probably reading this thinking "you've gone bonkers" but trust me and try it.
  4. Cut out processed foods - get rid of the sugary and salty processed foods. They aren't good for you, and they are the ultimate energy sappers. Stock your fridge and pantry with healthy snacks to reach for instead.
  5. Salute the sun - a few quick yoga cycles of the Sun Salutation series will really wake you up, can be done anywhere, and only takes minutes.

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Monday, December 7, 2009

Homemade Gift Idea - Spa Box

Christmas in just around the corner, so if you haven't already finished your Christmas shopping (like me!), now is the time to get cracking! As I mentioned before, I think it is a great idea to forgo regular commercial presents as I don't think there is anything better than receiving a gift handmade with love and attention. A wonderful gift for a female is a Spa Box, full of homemade and natural goodies to recreate a day spa at home. This gift can be tailored to the recipient; fun fruity essences would be great for a tween while soothing lavender and rose would be wonderful for a harried young mum. Don't forget to pay attention to the packaging - how you present these lovely gifts will take it from a good gift to an amazing gift.

Here are some recipes to get you started!

Toning Body Scrub

1 cup coarse sea salt
1/2 cup clay (white is best for this scrub)
1/2 tablespoon ground coffee
1/2 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 tablespoon peppermint tea leaves
60 drops grapefruit essential oil

Mix all the dry ingredients well, and then add the essential oil slowly, making sure to avoid lumps. Store in an airtight jar. Label with instructions: "combine 2 tablespoons of the mix with water or oil to make a smooth paste, then massage into body"

Solid Bath Melt

2 1/2 oz (70g) cocoa butter
1 tablespoon grated beeswax
1 tablespoon coconut oil
15 drops mandarin oil
15 drops lavender oil
5 drops rose oil

Melt the cocoa butter, beeswax, and coconut oil in a double boiler. Remove from heat, cool slightly and then stir in essential oils. Pour into silicone mini muffin moulds and out in fridge to harden. Store in a cool place. Drop one melt into a warm bath.

For extra decoration, sprinkle some dried rose and lavender petals into the base of the muffin moulds before pouring in the melted mixture.

Cleopatra's Milk Bath

1 cup instant milk powder
1/2 cup cornstarch
15 drops rose essential oil

Combine milk powder and cornstarch and then add essential oil drop by drop until mixed in well. Add a few scoops to running bathwater.

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Saturday, December 5, 2009

Stephen's Circus Birthday Party

It was Stephen's 3rd birthday last Friday, and I (some say foolishly!) decided to have his party at home for the first time. I really wanted to have a theme, and inspired by some amazing parties that I have seen on various blogs, I chose a circus theme.

After quite a few weeks of planning, and days of cooking, we ended up having a fantastic party yesterday! Stephen had a great time, and this morning was asking when we could have another birthday party!

Above is a pic of the table setting for the kids. For the circus theme, I decided to keep the colour theme red and white, rather than multi coloured. I struck it lucky with the kids chairs which I hired. When I went to pick them up, they had a choice of red, white or blue chairs, so of course, I went with red.

This is a close up of the individual place settings. The cups, plates and napkins are from Pink Frosting, a wonderful online store full of party ware that is themed, but in an elegant way, not the licensed Disney character way! I fell in love with the old fashioned paper straws and I had to have them as part of the party, even though this involved the expensive (and ridiculous, according to hubby, though he humoured me) exercise of ordering them from Modern Lola in the US.

This is the birthday boy about to enjoy the homemade berry punch.

This is the table in action; the kids really seemed to like the homemade party food! We had lots of traditional party foods, such as fairy bread, marshmallow cones, popcorn, choc crackles, sugar cookies and orange jelly wedges. For hot food, I made wholemeal pizza scrolls, mini chicken and regular sausage rolls and chicken strips. I topped the cupcakes with little premade icing decorations. While I love party hats, I have to assume that children don't share my affliction, as I didn't see one child put one on :(

To decorate the back wall of the courtyard, I wanted to create somewhat of a circus tent feel, so I draped some red and white striped fabric across the back wall, and hung a string of paper lanterns in front.

The adults food table was decorated with some red and white polka dot fabric and balloon bouquets. Some of the food was the same as the kids' food, since who doesn't like kids' party food; I also made little quiches, peking duck crostini and marinated boccocini. Yummy!

Here is the cake in all its glory! I can't take credit for the design, since I blatantly copied a circus cake found here but in red and white rather than multicoloured. The cake turned out so much better than I expected! It took Mum and I more than a few hours to bake and ice, but it was so worth it. I was particularly excited with how the circus tent topper came up. Making this involved a LOT of cursing and almost tears it was so frustrating to make. But worth it in the end.

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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Creating A Toddler's Picture Routine

I hope those of you in the US all had a happy and safe Thanksgiving holiday! As for me, I have spent the last couple of weeks in birthday party mode, as Mum, Dad and I prepped up Stephen's circus birthday party. Photos will be up early next week!

Today, though, I wanted to talk about creating a picture routine for your toddler. I believe that young children really benefit from a having a flexible routine, and creating a chart that they can follow can help prevent a lot of meltdowns as they learn to know what to expect. A picture routine is a great way to share the day's (and week's) routine with your little one.

A picture routine is pretty easy to make yourself using clipart, laminate and magnets. However, I fell in love with a ready made set from Little Billies. Their visual schedules are personalised with the name of your child and come with a plethora of activity magnets that will take your child from toddlerhood right through to school age.

This is a shot of the daily and weekly charts up on our calendar board. Each morning I go through with Stephen what is happening today, and what we have coming up during the week. I am hoping that this will not only give Stephen an idea of a day's routine, but also help him to understand the rhythm of our week.

This is the daily chart. It is divided into morning, afternoon and evening, and has magnets assigned for the various tasks such as meals, bath time, the different activities we do during the day, clean up time etc. This picture routine has made a huge difference to our day; there are fewer arguments when TV time is over or it is clean up time, since it is on the schedule! I update the daily chart each night with the next day's specific activities such as a morning shopping or a weekly playgroup session.

The weekly chart, on the other hand, is used for specific weekly activities, such as Stephen's Gymbaroo, playgroup, his homeschool Pre K mornings, and days he spends with his grandparents. This chart pretty much stays the same week to week. Occasionally, different activities will come up, such as next week's playgroup Christmas party, or last week's birthday party, and these get added to the chart.

The charts are $19.95 each, including personalisation, and come in boy and girl versions.

If you would prefer to make your own, then I highly recommend checking out SparkleBox. They have 1000's of free printables and other resources, including a basic visual schedule. It was designed for children with special needs, but it is perfect for a young child's schedule.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

The power of protein

In recent decades, conventional wisdom has suggested eating a lower fat, higher carbohydrate diet for health and lose weight. The food pyramid above clearly emphasizes that carbs should be the bulk of your daily diet. On the flipside, there were the high protein, zero carb brigade who claimed that their way was the only way to successfully lose weight, such as Atkins and the Zone. These were often accompanied by higher fat, especially saturated fat.

I think the reality probably lies somewhere in the middle, and as usual, moderation is the key. However, I do think there is quite a lot of positives to increasing the amount of protein in your diet. There is a lot of research out there that shows that high protein foods, especially lean meat and low-fat dairy, are a key factor in not only losing weight, but successfully maintaining a healthy weight. As part of having my Best Year this year, I have increased the amount of protein I am eating.

So firstly, what are some benefits to adding high quality protein to your diet?

  • Protein is low in calories, but nutrient dense - protein and carbs have the same amount of calories per gram, but protein sources provides some very important nutrient sources that carbohydrate sources are often short of, such as iron, zinc and vitamin B12. Replacing some of your carbs sources with protein sources will not significantly affect the calorie count, but will diversify the nutrients you are eating. For example, instead of a bowl of cereal for breakfast, create a breakfast parfait with some non-fat Greek yoghurt, half as much cereal as you would have had, and fruit. Yummy and filling!
  • Weight loss - a major study found that diets that were made up of 25-30% of calories from protein, as opposed to 12-15% (fat was the same), lost more weight. In particular, they lost more fat, especially the highly dangerous abdominal fat.
  • Keeps you satisfied - in general, high-quality protein sources keep you fuller for longer, due to the slower effect on blood sugar compared to carbs. This is even more the case if you are replacing highly processed carbs such as white bread, white rice, and sugary foods, which cause dramatic rises and falls in blood sugar levels. This usually results in cravings and hunger later in the day.
Secondly, what are good quality protein sources?
  • Lean meats, including beef and pork
  • Poultry (removing skin)
  • Fish and shellfish
  • Low fat dairy
  • Legumes such as lentils, and beans
  • Nuts and seeds (limit these to small amounts as these are high in fats)
  • Eggs (the whites contain the protein, but no fat)
  • Soy products such as tofu and tempeh
Lastly, how can you increase protein in your diet?
  • The easiest way is to try and include some protein in every meal and snack.
  • For example, add a poached egg to breakfast, some left over roast meat to your salad at lunch, and a tin of tuna to your mac and cheese at dinner.
  • For snacks, add a small amount of protein such as a tub of yoghurt with some fruit, almond butter with apple slices, or hommous and veggies.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Kitchen Command Center

The kitchen is always a hot spot for clutter, assorted junk, and assorted papers, some of it important. So creating a Command Center is a wonderful way of corralling it all together and organising it so that things are easily accessible by everyone in the family. The pic above is my Command Center, which I have located on my kitchen bench. Within the Command Center, I've created separate areas with different functions; there is a cleaning supplies section to the left hand side, a calendar and stationery section in the middle, and a memo section to the right.

The memo section is a large magnetic board that has a roll of note paper, my menu planning pad and my shopping list. I also have various magnets with important phone numbers. The menu planning pad and shopping list are both important parts of keeping me organised easily. By planning out menus for the week, I save money by not buying groceries that go to waste, as well as minimising the need for takeouts. The shopping list next to it is also great; as I finish things, I can tick them straight off on the list. Again, this saves me from buying unnecessary items, or doubling up on items that I already have.

I only plan 5 meals during the week, and the plan is not set in stone. That way, we can still go out of we feel like it, or drop into my MIL's for a meal.

Next to my calendar is my cleaning caddy that holds brushes, rags and various natural cleaning supplies. I mostly use the all purpose cleaner, but I also have furniture spray, window spray and stainless steel spray in there for when its needed.Lastly, below the calendar is my stationery section. The green pot holds stamps, elastic bands and staples, while the cups hold scissors, pens, markers and screwdrivers. The little white dish is where I put my rings when I am cleaning or cooking, while the white rectangle dish holds a letter opener. I also have antibacterial gel and orange oil there as well.

This Kitchen Command Center has made a huge difference in the day to day running of our home. Things are easy to find, junk gets sorted into the bin straight away, and everything is finally organised!

PS: Off topic: Angie, could you please email me? I need your email to organise your Spell Quizzer license. Cheers!

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