Let’s talk tea

I am a simple soul I think.  I do not crave expensive diamonds or flash cars.  Instead I have things in my life that make me happy there and then.  I have learned over the years that the small stuff is what keeps me ticking over. I was recently invited to Twinings and this really made my heart sing.  Anyone who knows me will understand why.  I love tea.  I am a tea monster, but I am something of an old fashioned tea drinker as I still use loose leaf tea (my granddad did and so did my parents). Then something rather serendipitous happened and Sage asked to review their Tea Maker by Heston. Oh be still my beating heart, great quality loose leaf tea from twinings and The Sage Tea Maker.

So let's talk tea................

Tea There is something about a pot of tea which cries out to be a social event.  A pot means drinks all round and my boys love tea too.   Tea is my go to drink.  I am quite happy to take it white, black, with lemon, but no sugar for me please.  I have even been converted to green tea and love the new Twinings new Green Tea with Salted Caramel Apple.  I love iced tea in the summer and green tea makes fab ice tea, especially served with mint. I start my day with a cup of English breakfast tea in a thermos mug, which MadDad brings to me in bed as he leaves for work at 6.30am and I end my day with a cup of calamine tea before bed.  My whole day can be timed by which type of tea I am drinking.  If I am feeling in need of a hug in a mug then a homemade chai latte is my drink of choice. Tea for me is an affordable luxury and I like to buy the best I can afford.  I have also put the tea tasters subscription on my wish list for my birthday later in the year.

The Tea Maker

Sage tea maker review I am in love with my Tea Maker for someone who likes tea it is a must.  It takes all the guess work out of making sure the water is the right temperature for the specific blend of tea and also makes sure that you do not over brew your tea. Even better you can set a time for it to come on and it keeps your brew warm for up to an hour after you make it. Don't want to make loose leaf tea in it, don't worry you can use it as a kettle and specify the temperature of the water or even add a tea bag into the strainer.  No more bitter green tea for me! It is really hard to put in to words just how much I love my tea maker.  It makes good tea great and everyone who sees it wow's over it.  I have to admit that I am something of a tea nerd or would that be geek and used to use a removable strainer and timer when making tea previous to receiving the tea maker.  I hated returning to a teapot to find the tea all strewed and bitter. Taking tea is a family experience for us and even though I adore my tea maker I have been decanting the tea in to teapot to take to the table, but I know that we will drink a whole teapot full in one setting.  During the day when I am making tea for me I make enough for two mugfulls and it is a joy to return for my second cup and to find it as good as the first. What to know more about making the perfect cup of tea, then take a look at Heston's video below and #TalkTeawithHeston.  You can also find out more about Sage on their facebook page and chat to them about all things tea on twitter. #TalkTeaWithHeston
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Our Perfect Family Day Out

This week is half term in the UK and typically this has meant rain, rain and more rain.  Which to start with wasn't too bad.  We have been spending our week at Sand Le Mere Holiday Village, but eventually even the rain got to us, well more specifically me and Mini and I developed a chest infection and Mini tonsillitis.  You could tell that Mini wasnt well as he didnt even want to go swimming in the fantastic swimming pool. The mads meet woody and jessie In addition to being half term, it is also National Family Week this week.  In celebration of this Kidsunlimited asked me to tell you about our perfect family day out. As we have had some great days out recently I thought that this would be fun to do.
Our Perfect Family Day Out
  • Good weather
  • Alvin the dog
  • Exercise
  • A delicious picnic lunch
  • Fun
  • Adventure
  • Excitement
  • The great outdoors
  • Water
  • A super dinner
  1. To make the Mad House perfect Family Day out take our fun loving family of five, including Alvin the dog.
  2. Mix in some good weather, great food and adventure and stir.
  3. Add in some excitement, learning and fun.
  4. Place into a family car and drive for no more than 50 miles
  5. Stopping somewhere picturesque along the way for a delicious picnic and for the children and dog to let off some steam
  6. Then drive to destination and continue the fun!
As a family we love adventure and excitement, but also love doing things together as a family.  We understand that experiences bring more enjoyment that things and we want to make the most of our time together as a family. It has been really difficult to put together a perfect family day out that suits us all and over the weekend you will find out what the boys would choose. For me it would involve dropping off Alvin at the groomers so he could be pampered whilst we were out. Someone preparing a luxury picnic for us to take out with us (I think that even Mum's deserve a rest), a day out visiting Leeds or York (both are doable for us on a day trip) with a fab family meal in a restaurant on our return. What would be your perfect family day out? 3.  
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Father Day Mugs

homemade Dad Mug perfect for fathers day We love giving homemade personalised gifts here in The Mad House and we have been busy pinning personalised and monogrammed mugs for ages.  Mini decided that these would make a great Fathers Day mug for MadDad (don't panic Father's day isn't till the 15th June this year).  These are so simple to make and if you do not have a Cricut Explore then do not despair as you could either use letter stickers or even print some out on your printer and cut them out. Materials:
Top tip - Do not use sharpies.  I know there are a lot of pins on pinterest using sharpies, but I tried it and they do come off in the dishwasher.  Using porcelain paint pens makes all the difference as we are still using and dishwashing things that we used these pens on three years later.
How to make vinyl template using the Cricut Explore   how to personalised mug with cricut explore

How to make Dad mugs

  1. As I said above, do not worry if you do not have one of these fab cutting machines, you can use paper or scrapbooking stickers.
  2. Position them on to the mugs.
  3. As this was something the boys were doing we kept things really simple and use gold dots to create the negative space for the letters and then they coloured in the stencil one with silver porcelain pen.
  4. I think that monograms would look fab with black chevrons or stripes and we are planning those for teacher gifts.
  5. Once the paint has dried then carefully peel away the stencils and fix the mugs in a non preheated oven as per instructions, this will make them dishwasher safe.
  6. Dont forget to get your child to pop their name and the date on the underside of the mug.
Dad mug collage 3.
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Traveling with kids – Must have gadgets and technology

We do a fair amount of travelling, last year alone I made three transatlantic trips, 2 with kids, 1 european trip and numerous UK trips, some of which took ALL day!  So I know a little about what technology and gadgets ease the load and make travelling  and being on holiday with kids a lot easier. Our top gadgets and tech for traveling with kids Before we even talk about gadgets and tech, we need to discuss charging them.  There is nothing worse then getting somewhere or being mid travel and pow you are out of charge.

Charging Technology

  Nomad Charge Card and Charge Key These two small but perfectly formed devices are pretty much permanently on my person.  The Charge Card (with a micro USB attachment) lives in my purse and the Charge Key (lightening connection) on my keyring.  They have become indispensable and have been used a lot, not just by us, but by friends and colleagues too.  You always need a charger when you are out and never seem to have one.  This is the perfect solution to that.  Even better they are under £20 each. PortaPow Crystal 4.2A USB Universal Charger I seriously heart the PortaPow Crystal 4.2A USB Universal Charger (under £15), it can  charge up to 4 tablets, smartphones, satnavs, ebook readers etc at high speed anywhere in the world using universal USB charging sockets.    It has four  individually coloured and shaped status LEDs let you know when a device has finished charging and returned to trickle charge mode.  Even better it comes with interchangeable UK, US, European and Australian shaped plugs clip securely into place for use in almost any country worldwide.  We have two of these and they are totally amazing. Belkin 4 Port Travel Hub (£6.00) We use this a lot in the car, it is perfect for connecting to a USB Car Charger (£3.00), which means we can use four things at the same time one of which is my trusty satnav.  Plus is you are travelling with a laptop or device with a usb connection you can use it to charge quadruple your charing ability from that device. Always take with you camera battery charger or a space battery (sods law means that it will lose charge just when you least want it too!)

Great Gadgets

  QDOS Q-Bopz Bluetooth Speaker Both my boys love to relax and go to sleep to an audiobook or to listen to music the QDos allowed us to do this with great quality sound for as little as £20. It was really simple to use and set up and didn't require constant charging.   It has a really clever suction cup too, so you can stick it pretty much anywhere, even to the back of you decise and use it as a stand. Kensington KeyFolio Pro 2 Case, Keyboard and Stand for iPad Family I love my Ipad, it has revolutionised technology for me and I have to say that travelling with the Kensington KeyFolio Pro 2 Case, Keyboard and Stand for iPad Family just takes it to the next level.  I find that I don't need to take  a laptop with me when I travel.  Yes it is a little heavier that our Pong Ipad case (which we are still using a year after first getting it), but for travel it works really well.  MadDad has the Kensington hardshell case for his Ipad Mini and he uses that when we are travelling too. Headphones For both you and the kids.  I think that good quality children headphones with a decibel limiter in are a must when travelling with kids.  However, I have jet to find a pair I feel confident recommending.  We have had different ones and unfortunately the boys have killed them within less than six months.  So perhaps you can suggest a great pair for me! Safesports ID Bracelets Both the boys have Safesports Kids ID Bracelets and I think they are ace. We got them before travelling to Florida and neither of them took them off the whole time we were there.  They are like those on trend plastic bands that people were and for the kids version the  information is discreetly imprinted.  They are made from 100% silicone and the data is engraved directly into the wristband.  These survived water parks, roller coasters, fights, sports and children who have eczema! I still use them when we go anywhere as a family where we might be split up. 

But what about the Tech?

  As for actually tech to take with you, my boys have an Ipod each, which is great and we also travel with the family Ipad (great for movies and TV whilst travelling).  They also tend to take their Nintendo 3DS' with them too.  For younger children I recommend Leapfrog products and my Best Friend will be taking a Leap Pad with her to Malta in a couple of weeks for her younger children along with the Leap Reader. Once we get to our destination technology takes a back seat and will often remain unused, but it is great for travelling with and I love that the boys can store audiobooks and music on their Ipods. Digital cameras are one of our most used pieces of technology when travelling and the boys both have point and shoots and we are currently lusting after a Go Pro after Who's the Mummy showed us hers.

 What is your must take?

  My boys are nine and nearly eight at the moment and I am aware that this will be a different list for children of other ages and I would love to know what would be on your list?
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A weekend in the garden

I married a farmer's son, so it was inevitable that we were going to grow stuff in the garden and not just flowers.  This became even more important to us when we had children.  We wanted to show them where their food came from and to encourage them to grow their own.  This year we are growing shallots, potatoes, carrots, parsnips, peas, runner beans, broad beans, cabbages, cauliflowers, salad leaves, radish, spring onions, tomatoes, strawberries (in hanging baskets) and an array of herbs (dill, basil, cress, flat parsley, chives, mint, sage and fennel). Center Parcs challenged us to share with you a day in our garden for this months Tots100 Center Parcs Outdoor Challenge. So this weekend I gave my phone and camera to the boys and here is a weekend in our garden.  It helped that this weekend was a perfect one weather wise with lots of sun. Garden Collage MadDad wields a pen all week in his job, so loves getting his hands dirty at the weekend and this weekend has been no exception, he has build a planter out of scraps of wood.  He has relaid a patio and cleaned it too.  Hard to believe that eight years ago this was all just mud as we live in a new build. The boys and their friends pretty much come and go in the garden and the grass sees games of football, cricket, rugby and tennis on a regular basis (we are lucky that our neighbours just throw the balls back)! This weekend also saw the first of what we hope to be many BBQ's on our trusty charcoal outback BBQ which is now over ten years old. This weekend also saw me taking a rather nasty tumble which I ended up on the garden fork, thank goodness I am OK though and it was a blunt fork.  My Trousers bear the holes and not my legs which are rather cut and scraped to say nothing of my ego as all the neighbours saw and heard.  I was well looked after though as one is a GP and two are nurses! CenterParcs Family Blog Club ‘I’m a Center Parcs Family Blogger and I visited Whinfell village with my family (See our review here). If you want to enter to win a place as a wildcard winner just go to the challenge page to find out how http://bit.ly/1okzxJv’ 
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My go to spring sandwich

I adore advocardo's.  They seem to be one of those things that people either love or hate.  Me I love them, but I find it really hard to predict when they are just right to eat.   So when we were challenged to make our perfect sandwich with Primula by the Tots100 to To celebrate National Sandwich Week I decided to crack open the avocado.  Kids primula Avocado, primula (instead of butter) and chilli flakes on brown bread or brown toast of you are feeling the need for a little crunch to your break. I hadn't had Primula for what must be over 30 years till very recently.  Primula have brought out a children's version, Primula Kids and it actually contains the lowest salt, fat, calories and highest cheese and calcium content of any branded spreadable cheese on the market. primula I was going to tell you all about my Primula memories, but Laura from Littlestuff has done that and much more eloquently than I could have done.  But it is good to see that the Primula still comes out with the crimped edge just like from a fancy piping bag! Since getting our Primula kids it has become a firm favorite, especially for Maxi who doesn't like butter or spread on sandwiches.  We have been using the Primula instead and it has stopped his bread getting soggy and he loves the taste (winner). When I was unwell as a child my favorite food was tomato soup and primula on bread to dip in to it and eating it has brought memories flooding right back.  My mum loved the prawn version on crackers. Fancy winning a fab two night break in a double room in any of the 25 Urban Village locations on a bed and breakfast basis?   All you need to do is create your Primula sandwich, share your photo on Twitter or Instagram (or both!) and tag @tots100 using the hashtag #PrimulaSandwich giving the details of your sandwich too! You need to share before 11.59am on 23rd May 2014 to be in with a chance of winning. The Tots100 website has more information about the competition and the full terms and conditions. Oh and any tips on how to tell if an avocado is ripe, please do leave me a comment.  3.  
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A spring collection with the Cricut Explore

I thought I would start off with a really simple craft on the Cricut Explore.  Some table decorations for a spring themed tea party. I wanted to get the hang of using the new design space software and use the free images and do something simple with the boys. Spring cake cases and straws Materials:
  • Cake cases in three sizes
  • Cardstock
  • Glue or double sided tape
  • paper straws
  • Craft knife
spring themed party crafts

How to make

We chose the shapes for the flowers on the Cricut Design Space and resized them, which is really simple using the onscreen scale.  I then cut them on cardstock, which is super simple with the new Cricut Explore as you just follow the instructions on screen after you press the go button. design At this stage you can also choose the amount of cuts you want to make, rather than copy them all in the design space.
Hint - If you want to manually arrange the cutting layout change the size of the cardstock from 12 x 12 to 12 x 24 and then you can rearrange them to optimise them for your size of paper.
spring themed party I purchased my paper straws and cake cases from ebay, in fact I have put together a collection on ebay for Cricut accessories. This craft was as simply as cutting out the shapes on the Cricut explore and then gluing on the cake cases.  I used a craft knife to cut an x in the smallest cake case to slip a straw though. We made pink which was the boys choice, but they would look fantastic in any colour or event with patterned card. 3.  
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Karcher K 4 Compact Home Pressure Washer Review

Firstly I am going to admit that we already had a Karcher pressure washer, which was passed down to us via the in laws when they upgraded.  This machine is around 9 years old, so I know that Karcher Pressure washers are designed to last. The Mad House Karcher K 4 Compact Home Pressure Washer Review As part of out Karcher Clean Ambassador program we have been sent a Karcher K 4 Compact Home Pressure Washer to review, which is perfect for this time of year and cleaning the car and garden. We liked:
  • The patio kit and cleaner - this is brilliant. One of the things we hated about cleaning our patio previously was the spray and splash of muck when you used the lance on its own.  The patio cit stops the water and muck going everywhere.  it takes a little getting used to, but it dislodges all the much, but leaves it loose on the patio.
  • You can attach the machine to a water butt, perfect it you live in a hosepipe ban area
  • The dirtblaster lance which provides up to 50% greater cleaning power than a standard high pressure lance, it does this my sort of spinning the water. 
  • It comes with a three year guarantee
  • It is compact, so doesnt take up too much space in the garage and is lightweight so I can carry it easily
  • It has storage areas for the tools.
Karcher K 4 Compact Home Pressure Washer Review We weren't keen:
  • It is an investment piece at £232.09, but will save you loads on car wash costs and cleaning products.
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Making Magic with Innocent Kids

We were challenged by Innocent kids to reproduce a magic trick from the back of their Kids Juices packets as part of their magic circle.  There are seven #innocentmagic tricks and seven of the Innocent gangs favourite bloggers have been chosen to perform. We were sent a sample of Innocent's new juice flavour tropical, which both the boys loved.  Mini isnt a fan of orange juices, but really likes the tropical flavour, which is a blend apples, oranges, pineapple, mango and passionfruit and even better it has no bits, so no funny faces!  I love that these are the perfect size for lunch boxes and I will be putting them in when the boys go to football training during the holidays (they have school dinners normally). They also count as one of the boys five a day (which is great if you struggle to get fruit and veg in to your kids). mini magic We were set the "hovering water" trick below: We have practiced, practiced and better practiced and this is our video! As you can see we ended up very wet! However, take a look at Nia from the Ana Mum Diaries performing her trick really well! We might not have succeeded...................... yet, but we are having lots of fun trying.
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The Bloggers guide to encouraging and nurturing a love of reading

I am a book lover, I always have been and it is one of the things that I have always wanted to foster in my children.  We have books everywhere in The Mad House.  You can not go into a room without there being books. I wanted to share with you some information about the Scottish Book Trust, which is Scotland’s leading agency for the promotion of literature, reading and writing. The organisation works with writers, children, teachers, librarians and readers from all backgrounds to spread a love of books and reading. Don't worry if you are not in Scotland as  the Scottish Friendly Children’s Book Tour (which has been running for 14 years) comes in to schools in England too and reaches on average 6000 children every year. Mini at nearly eight is just like I was as a child, he loves books, loves reading and often falls asleep with a book in his hand.  He learned to read before school from sitting watching Maxi read. Maxi, however, at nine is something of a reluctant reader.  This is not down to inability, oh no he has been reading at an advanced level since starting school. The Bloggers guide to encouraging and nurturing a love of reading So I put out the question to some amazing bloggers that I know and asked them what was their one top tip for encouraging and nurturing reading in children:
  1. Read everyday with your child. It's the single most important thing you can do! Growing Book by Book
  2. Provide lots of books, magazines, pamphlets, leaflets, letters etc. Anything and everything that can be read. And lots of variety! Swirly Arts
  3. Start reading to children from an early age, make it part of the daily routine and encourage children to choose books they enjoy as they get older The Life of Spicers
  4. Make it fun, We have homemade book marks that we've made together and we have reading charts that we use to record how much reading we’re doing by adding a sticker to it every time they read for half an hour.  When they get to the end we all have a family treat like an afternoon out or a treat tea! Dairy of a Frugal Family
  5. Be the example!! Have a stack of books you are reading, and talk about how you enjoy reading with your kids. If they see you do it, they will want to do it too. Chicken Babies
  6.  Start reading when they are babies, regular visits to the local library where they can choose their own reading material greatly helps Rambling through parenthood
  7. Not pressurising them to conform and most importantly find them books they like reading...nothing more off putting than being 'forced' to learn to read with a really dull book Cherished by me 
  8. Read books that have been made into movies. When you're done with the book you can watch the movie together, compare the movie version to the book version,etc.. Suzy Homeschooler 
  9. Change it up by listening to books on audio together while traveling. Ask comprehension questions! Still Playing School
  10.  I would suggest having a reading routine. For most parents, the easiest time to do this is bedtime. Make it a "special" time. Sit in a comfy chair. Snuggle up. Cover yourselves with a special blanket. Give your child your full attention and block out other distractions. Try and do it every night...even a quick book on nights where you're putting your child down late. All these things help show kids how reading is an important and precious activity!  One Time Through
  11. Take them to the library regularly and let them choose their own books. What do we do all day 
  12. Start reading from the absolute beginning but also let your children see You read! I read in front of my son all of the time and I think it helps - If Mummy loves it why won't he! Petit Moi
  13. Anything can be reading material, if they want you to read cereal packets then go with the flow. Recipe books also make good reading tools as they like the pictures Emmys mummy
  14. Start young. Look at picture books with your baby. Read board books to your toddler. Even if they are running around you in circles, read the words and then point out things you think will interest them. Eventually, they get to a point where sitting and reading appeals to them. Make reading a part of their life from the beginning and it will become a natural part of their life throughout their childhood (and beyond). Library Adventure 
  15. This week it would have to finding your ladybird books from childhood. Seren has been reading all of mine, intrigued that they were from when mummy was a little girl! Johnson Babies
  16. Set an example and read yourself. Both my children have loved 'reading' their own books alongside me from a very early age. I think children emulate what they see so if their parents read then it can spark their own interest in it. Catch a Single Thought
  17. Make reading the norm. We have a house full of books, read to my son after lunch and before bed every day. We've visited the library and borrowed books since he was a baby. He knows nothing different and he even had books as rewards when we were potty training Over 40 and mum to one
  18.  Let them pick their own books to read at home. If you have to read 'Room on the Broom' every night for two weeks so be it. It means they love it and enjoy it. Also just because you liked a certain series of books or an author when you were a child don't expect your child to like them as well. Reading at home should be all about pleasure.   Jibber Jabber
  19.  Read to your kids every day from the very beginning! When your children start enjoying longer, more complex picture books, start reading simple chapter books to them. It will increase vocabulary, comprehension, and conversation. There's nothing like bonding over a great book! The Measured Mom
  20. Read to them every night, even when they can read themselves. Never skimp on it. My 9 year old still gets so much from me reading to her at bedtime. We read books that she might find too challenging to read alone and it fires her imagination and vocabulary. Actually Mummy
  21. When you read together make it special. Make sure you turn off the television or the radio and put your mobile phone down. Snuggle under a favourite blanket or make some hot chocolate or in the Summer sit on a blanket in the shade with a cold drink or an ice lolly. Make the time when you are reading for enjoyment cosy, relaxed and inviting. Damson Lane
  22. Seek out different books, ask other parents, children and your librarian what books they'd recommend for your children. Mums do travel
  23. Let your children see you reading an actual book rather than glued to electronic devices (that's a lesson for myself to learn!). They copy so be their example and show a love of books. Three Children and It
  24.  Read, read, read!!! My kids all get to pick their own books at the library. This has become a really big deal! My daughter got her own library card when she was 5.  You would have thought she won the lottery! Big hair and books
  25. My big tip is audio books for children who are not keen on the actual book, it's an easier way in. Sometimes they will read along as they listen. David Walliams does great readings on all the audio versions of his books. Opposable Thumbs
  26. As children get a bit older libraries have great reading schemes running through the summer holiday, where children get rewards for reading books. Hellies Corner
  27. Encourage a love ofof reading by choosing books, based on your children's interests.  That should be true for very small ones, but also for older children. Offer your toddler books about dogs if he is excited to see them, and do not disapprove of an older child if he wants to read a novelization of some cartoon that looks like garbage to you. It is alright, they will outgrow it. It is the great feeling of pleasure associated with books that will stay and matter in the end. Adventure in a Box 
  28. Read to them every day. If they are too restless to sit and listen, read aloud while they play and show the pictures. Let them choose books at the library and treat is as a special event. Give books as a birthday party gifts to friends to teach their value to your own children. Let them see you reading. Have books always accessible to them. Bare feet on the dashboard
  29.  I pretty much let my son read anything he fancies, he's three but loves Batman so we have loads of comics as well as books and..umm... he does get Young Adult graphic novels out of the library sometimes! I have to change the wording a bit (thankfully we're still at the age where I can do that) but he's always desperate to pick those up and read them. Crafts on Sea 
  30. My Autistic son is 8 and has the reading age of 11yrs+ He needs no encouragement! He LOVES books and most nights falls asleep with a big hardback Encyclopaedia stuck to his face!! Our world and Autism
  31. We started reading to him at about 4 months old, he got/gets 3 books every night, and over 3 years later he still does! We always let him choose books as well as toys when it's treat time. He loves to be read to now during quiet time in the day and has started to read a few words himself. Mischievous Mum
  32. Hide a torch under their pillow (school age) with a good book at bedtime. Make sure they know it's there but say goodnight and turn out the light. All mine then reach for it and read for a god half hour before falling asleep! Makes for peaceful bedtimes, I factor the extra half an hour in so they don't go to bed too late, and the idea that it's almost not allowed seems to really grab them lol!!! Musings of a 21st Century Stay at Home Mum
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