Celebrating Birthdays, Whatever Your Age

 

I’ve recently thinking about birthdays. March and April are busy months for birthdays in our family at this time of year. Our kids absolutely love their birthdays. A whole day to celebrate you with presents and parties and, of course, cake. Let’s not forget the cake. Nothing says “birthday” quite like a cake whether its decorated in your favourite cartoon character or covered in frosting and chocolate. A birthday cake is an integral part of the day, and best of all, you’re actually allowed to eat it. More than that, it’s expected. In this day and age when sugar is the root of all our problems, carbohydrates are a form of self-harm and wine the downfall of all our dieting intentions, birthdays provide an excuse for some guilt-free indulgence.

My twins love their birthday so much they start planning it six months in advance. After Christmas they start talking about what kind of party they are going to have. Their birthday is in June. The date is firmly on the radar and even if the details still need to be worked out one thing is certain, there will be some form of serious celebration. They look forward to the day with eager anticipation. They rip open presents, display their birthday cards all around the house and generally revel in the attention, telling everyone we happen across that day that this day is special because it’s their birthday.

Speaking of marking birthdays, how do you celebrate yours? Do you go all out with parties, balloons, and trips away? Do you stretch it out over a week or two to get as much mileage out of it as you can? Or do you only do those things for other people, choosing instead to spend your day quietly and anonymously, not telling anyone it’s your birthday, and certainly not divulging your actual age. Because we never give that away.  That’s often a state secret only to be shared after one too many glasses of pinot grigio. We are happy to discuss ages with our kids though. It’s quite common to ask how old a child is. It’s one of the standard questions: What’s your name; What class are you in at school; how old are you? We are happy to discuss our favourite things and what we do all day. We never discuss our age. Unless our kids do it for us. I remember a trip to the dentist where they asked the standard questions, what’s your name, how old are you? Ben proudly announced “I’m Ben and I’m five, and this is Tracey and she’s forty-three!” I like to think the dentist looked surprised at this revelation, but I know it was actually amusement at Ben’s total acceptance of the numbers and lack of inhibition in sharing them. After all, age is just a number, isn’t it?

The idea of age has changed over the years. Our parents look much younger now than their parents did at forty thanks to more flattering hairstyles, younger looking clothes and a longer life expectancy. Forty isn’t so old any more. If forty is the new thirty, then eighty is the new sixty if the last party I was at is anything to go by. Sylvia, the birthday girl, defied any preconceived notions of what eighty should look like, blazing a trail in a chic black dress and dancing the night away. Maybe we should all take a leaf out of her book and throw birthday parties complete with champagne cocktails (she served rhubarb gin and prosecco – strangely moreish), fabulous food and dancing until midnight.

Have you got a birthday coming up? Why not plan something lovely, nice coffees at break time or a lunch at the very least, and load up those candles on your favourite cake. I plan to kick-start my birthday festival with chocolate muffins for breakfast, indulge in some delicious chocolate truffles for elevenses, and a slice of chocolate cake for tea washed down with some prosecco. Alright, I might throw in some vegetables at lunchtime and maybe a piece of fruit or two, but you get the picture. I’m starting the planning early; my birthday is almost seven months away.  I think my twins will approve.

 

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Visiting Relatives with Twins

What are your plans for Christmas? Are you staying at home or heading off to stay with relatives? When friends say they are heading off somewhere for the weekend we often say things like “that’s great, it’ll be fun to have a change of scenery and catch up with some other adults!” But, in reality, it isn’t always all that relaxing to go away for the weekend with young twins. The change of scenery presents a whole new set of challenges and as for catching up with adults, well, it’s not always easy to chat when you have your arms full with two toddlers. This is even more complicated if you are staying somewhere that has not been toddler-proofed.

Now, when it comes to toddler-proofing there are three broad areas to cover. Safety first obviously, cover all of the sockets, fasten all curtain-chords and strings and lift everything out both of sight and reach on the basis that if they can see it they will try to reach it. Secondly, bolt everything down because toddlers are like bulldozers. They barge through rooms leaving trails of knocked over things (aka destruction) in their paths. So it follows that anything remotely delicate, flimsy, breakable, or even nice should be moved out of the way. Thirdly, they love glittery shiny things. Objects are there to be picked up, licked, tried on, prodded, bent and generally tested for durability and overall robustness, and probably dropped when the inspection is over.

So, what happens when you bring two of these wrecking balls to stay with friends or relatives who have not done any baby-proofing at all?! Which is precisely what happened to us when we went to stay with family a few years ago. They had a gorgeous new baby who was still small and stayed put (remember that?!) so they hadn’t had to baby-proof yet. Delicate coffee tables with spindly legs and elegant Laura Ashley lamps perched on top. Piles of cd’s on the floor along with books and photo frames. All calling to the twins to be picked up and admired with toddler sticky fingers, dropped and smashed into smithereens.

I positioned myself strategically between a bookcase and a coffee table and spent the conversation trying to talk normally while heading toddlers off at the pass – diverting them as they aimed for either books or lamps and distracting them with the many toys we had brought with us, or my stash of emergency rice cakes and raisins. It takes concentration and a bit of determination to keep chatting normally while wrestling a wriggling octopus. We’ve all been there. Chatting about life while wrestling wriggling toddlers who are intent on emptying DVD boxes is the Olympics of multi-tasking. Having a conversation on the phone while toddlers and kids are messing in the background is the same. “Yes, Tuesday would be fine, put that down! Will they take the old microwave away with them? Get off him! They will? Great, my card number is no we’ll be having dinner in a minute, 45678……

We didn’t sleep a wink either. Ben had a habit of shouting in his sleep and I was so terrified that he would disturb the baby that I was on high-alert all night, ready to spring out of bed and catch him before the moans could grow into a yell. So, in the end it probably wasn’t much of a break, neither was it all that relaxing, and the change of scenery was a little stressful if I’m honest. On the plus side it was really great to catch up with the adults which made it all worthwhile.

So, are you heading off with your twins to stay with relatives? You’ll have a great time and it’s always great to have a change of scenery! Just pack lots of toys; pack lots of food; and don’t expect to get much rest!

Ribbon – the Ultimate Cake-Saver

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No birthday party is complete without a good old fashioned cake to finish it all off. Birthday cakes are exciting, loaded with candles, heaped with decorations and, in my view, the more icing and flavoured butter cream the better. Birthday cakes symbolise the point of the whole occasion. They bring about the moment when the party pauses to celebrate the birthday boy or girl. Candles are lit, lights dimmed and the cake is revealed, ceremoniously placed in front of the person wearing the birthday hat or badge and we all sing “happy birthday”. The singing is usually in an unsuitable key and all out of tune, and sometimes out of sync, but it’s all part of the pageant and once it’s done we can get on with the best bit – slicing and eating the cake.

With all eyes on the cake it needs to be a good’un. So what happens when the decoration goes wrong? Icing a cake is harder than it looks and definitely takes twice as long as you think it will. All too often the icing doesn’t stretch to the bottom, the decorations won’t stick to the sides and you manage to accidentally dent the icing around the sides with your fingers. So what do you do when time has run out and your cake looks like your four-year old twins have iced it themselves? I always turn to the ultimate in cake-saving kit: ribbon.

Ribbon hides the mistakes.

For Emily’s sixth birthday cake I rolled out the icing but it wasn’t big enough for the cake. I stretched it as much as I could but it just didn’t reach to the bottom of the cake and the ends looked ragged and very unappealing.

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Some white and pink ribbon covered up the rough edges and transformed the cake from a mess into a cake fit for a party.

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Ribbon helps one-cake-fit-all at joint birthday parties

Decorations can serve a greater purpose than making a cake look nice. If you have twins and don’t want to make two separate birthday cakes, entirely reasonable in my book, ribbon can help solve the problem of how to share one cake instead. My twins each chose their favourite colour and I tied both around the cake.

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Ribbon keeps everything in place

Chocolate fingers around the outside of a cake look great. A great cheat if, like me, you can’t make chocolate swirls. You can go for all chocolate fingers, or alternate chocolate and white chocolate fingers for a change. But, whichever kind you go for, they don’t look so great when they are falling off and peeling away from the sides of the cake. Even with a good thick layer of butter icing around the cake the chocolate fingers can slide around and start to lean out from the cake. The last time I made one of these I tied ribbon around it to keep the fingers in place. The ribbon actually added to the decoration of the cake as well as holding the chocolate fingers in place.

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So, the next time you are baking a cake for a birthday party don’t worry about spending hours trying to perfect the edges of your icing or pipe the perfect swirls. Simply break out the ultimate in cake saving kit – the humble ribbon. Ribbon can hide the roughest edges, hold together uncooperative decorations and transform even the messiest of messes into a pretty beautiful thing worthy of any party.

Travelling with Twins – Without a Mobile Phone

 

Mobile phones – like them or loathe them they are everywhere. But do you remember life without them?

Ah yes, the good old days when we sat down to meals without photographing them first, wrote actual letters  with all of the words fully spelled out and even included grammar, and made actual plans to meet in a particular spot at a specific time. You knew exactly what time you were expected to turn up and exactly where. Of course this had its drawbacks. If you arrived first you had to wait for ages just in case the other person had been delayed. And if you were running late you had no way of letting them know you were stuck just because your dart had stopped for no good reason for twenty minutes on the bridge halfway between Connolly and Tara Street.

The ease with which we make our plans now hit home last year when I brought my twins on their first ever flights from Dublin to London. We were planning to hire a car and make the two-hour drive to see my dad and his wife, stopping off to visit a friend on the way. Of course I said I’d text them all when we were on the way so they would know when to expect us. My husband was working in Munich that week and I told him I would text once we got to London. Promises promises…

Ever tried travelling with young kids? There are a lot of things to juggle. I managed to remember to bring everything with us, passports, boarding passes, car park voucher, car hire voucher, driving licence, wallet, backpacks for the kids, my backpack, coats, shoes, toothbrushes, everything we could need. Everything that is, except my phone.

No sweat, I thought. I used to manage without a mobile phone back in the good old days. I’ll just use a pay-phone like we used to and cope without it. We landed in Gatwick and the first thing I had to do was find a cash machine to get some sterling. Then I had to find a shop to break the notes for some change. Next task was to find an actual pay-phone. Turns out there aren’t as many of them around as there used to be. I eventually found one, figured out how to use it, phoned dad, situation explained, job done.

Next on the list: to phone my friend who was also expecting a text. Except I didn’t know her number. It was in my phone listed under her name. So I was going to have to email instead. Cue next job: to find a computer terminal so I could email my friend to let her know we wouldn’t be too long. Also I needed to email my husband to let him know not to ring me on my mobile as it was still in Ireland and to make sure he had dad’s home phone number. Phew.

We found the computer terminals and they only took one pound coins, which of course I didn’t have. We were going to have to hike back to W H Smith again for a one pound coin. This was getting to be really quite tiresome by this stage.

Was life always this complicated? Was it really this difficult back then? All I know is that trailing around Gatwick airport with luggage and children looking for cash machines, shops, computer terminals and phones, all punctuated with trips to the loo and requests for food and water, takes more time and energy than you would believe.

Yes, mobile phones have replaced conversation and brought about many other changes which belong in a different post. But they have also made travelling easier and making plans to meet much less complicated and stressful.

So now when we travel anywhere I make sure I have all the essentials, wallet, wipes, and of course my trusty fully charged and fully operational mobile phone.

Interview on the Anton Savage Show

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This morning I had the privilege of going on the Anton Savage show on Today FM to chat about my new book about the first year with baby twins, “It Gets Easier”.

Nothing really prepares you for having twins! It takes a while to recover from the shock and to figure how you are going to cope with your two new tiny babies. You feed babies and change nappies around the clock with very little sleep and can’t see how things will ever get easier. The truth is, it will, and sooner than you think. It gets a little easier at every single stage until one day you find yourself looking back and marveling at how different life is now to how life was then with two brand new tiny babies to look after. The book is filled with these reassurances that you are doing a great job, that you are completely normal, and that life with your new twins will get easier.

You can catch the interview with Anton on the Today FM website or by following this link….

http://www.todayfm.com/Expecting-Twins-It-Gets-Easier

or this one….

http://www.todayfm.com/player/podcasts/The_Anton_Savage_Show/The_Anton_Savage_Show/49238/2/Expecting_Twins_It_Gets_Easier

 

Announcing my new book: It Gets Easier!

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Welcome back to my Blog where I will be exploring the world of twins and reassuring you that life with twins will get easier as they get older.

Speaking of things getting easier I’m thrilled to announce my new book all about that first year with twins and full of reassurances that it will all get easier. In fact, I decided to call it “It Gets Easier” to say right from the beginning that it won’t always be as difficult as it is at the start. Those few months are the hardest it gets so hang in there. I needed to hear this myself, and I know you do too. I even asked total strangers in the street who had stopped to have a look at the twins in their pram to tell me that it would get easier!

This book was written to tell you that it will get easier. It gets easier very gradually by degrees and so slowly that you don’t notice at first. But every little thing adds up. I’m not saying that it will all be plain sailing after three months, but you will be getting over the initial shock and feeling stronger and more in control. From now on the twins grow stronger, start to stretch out their sleep at night, get bigger and interact with you and eventually learn to do things for themselves. Before you know it, you’ll be sitting down to enjoy a cup of tea while the twins are napping and you’ll look back and laugh at those crazy early days.

“It Gets Easier” offers these reassurances and more. It has lots of tips on what to bring to hospital and baby equipment to buy. It looks at the big areas of feeding and crying and talks about routines and how to get yours up and running. “It Gets Easier” is out now and available online at Amazon, Easons, and Waterstones.

Fish Fingers? Yes please!

If I told my twins we were having fish for tea they would groan and most likely say something like “we don’t like fish!” However, if I offered to make fish fingers they would cheer. I learned very early on to call things by names which would make them acceptable to small and fussy children! So in an effort to encourage them to eat more fish, or trick them into it, (same difference!), I decided to try out making homemade fish fingers with them. Kids love eating things they have made themselves and these are really simple to make. There are a great many recipes out there with the same idea. I first came across a similar version by Rachel Allen using salmon, but you can use any fish. You can also use any flour and any breadcrumbs whether shop-bought or home made. I keep a packet of shop-bought breadcrumbs in the freezer so that I can use a handful for these whenever I need it. You can add Parmesan cheese to the breadcrumbs for more flavour if you like.

One small tip – things take longer than you can imagine if you are involving your kids so leave plenty of time! Oh, and be prepared for some mess….

You will need:

Fish (any fish, I used hake today, just make sure there are no bones in whatever you choose. 1 x medium fillet or 2 x small ones would be perfect for two toddlers)

2 x large spoons of Flour

1 x beaten egg

Breadcrumbs

3 x plates or bowls

1 x baking sheet

Sunflower or vegetable oil

Method

1 – Preheat your over to 190 degrees

2 – Sprinkle some flour onto one of the plates, the beaten egg onto another plate, and the breadcrumbs onto the third plate

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3 – Slice the fish into “finger” sized portions

4 – Brush some oil onto the baking tray to prevent the fish fingers from sticking

5 – Dip the fish slices into the flour first

6 – Next dip the fingers into the egg making sure to coat them all over. You can loosen the egg with a little water or milk if you have a lot of fish to coat

7 – Finally roll the fish in the breadcrumbs and place them on the baking tray

8 – Cook for 15-20 minutes or until the fish is completely cooked through.

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These can be served with whatever your kids will eat. Rice and carrots feature regularly in our house, but mashed potato or home-made wedges are equally great options. They also make great sandwiches or fish “burgers” for a more casual lunch.

(For the delicious Rachel Allen salmon version see “Salmon fish fingers with a tomato and basil dip” in Home Cooking (Harper Collins, 2009) page 266.)

 

 

 

Recipe for a Party

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Our twins turned five last week – five! I can’t believe they are five years old already. It made me think about the last five years, how good those years were, and how much life has changed from when they were born until now. It also made me think about how much more I should have done with them during those years but I reckon it’s best not to dwell on that. I also got to thinking about parties and how much fun it is to have a celebration with your friends. Birthday parties in particular can be so much fun. I’m probably fairly typical in that I prefer organising parties for other people so having twins to plan parties for is perfect!

Parties can also take a little bit of planning, but planning and effort definitely pay off in the end. They usually follow a fairly predictable recipe:

Pick a theme: Pirates Ahoy!

It can be difficult to settle on a theme that will please girls who love pink and boys who love trucks and trains. Pirates fitted the bill nicely. Turns out pirate paraphernalia comes in pink too so all tastes in colours are catered for.

Throw in Some Decorations

Balloons are mandatory and streamers are always good. You can even get pirate streamers to hang from the ceiling. Throw in a banner or two and you’re good to go.

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Add in a Treasure Hunt

Every pirate party needs a treasure hunt and every treasure hunt. I bought a treasure hunt game last year and embellished it this year by adding in more elaborate clues. I bought eye patches to put on all of the kids at the start of the treasure hunt to get them fired up and got them shouting “aaargh!” like good pirates after each clue was read out – hilarous!

Include Treasure!

Every treasure hunt needs treasure and I made ours by decorating  a cool box to make it look like a treasure chest.

Step 1   Take one cool box

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Step 2   Wrap in brown paper and black ribbon. Stick on some gold chocolate coin wrappers and some sea shells and draw on a lock.

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Step 3   Line with red paper

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Step 4   Fill with your treasure. I filled ours with goodie bags.

Don’t forget the Treasure Map

What would a treasure hunt be without a treasure map? I made this one by drawing out some pirate doodles on a large white sheet of paper. Next I painted it with tea and browned the edges with some dark brown paint.

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Stir in a Birthday Cake

Who doesn’t love birthday cake?! They make a nice centerpiece and are crucial for the singing of “happy birthday”. And you can’t have a kids party without letting them try to blow out the candles on a cake! I’m always sightly amazed that anyone would want to eat it after two small children have sputtered all over it but it turns out that chocolate cake is hard to resist. This year we went for a chocolate bonanza – chocolate fudge cake, chocolate icing, chocolate fingers stick all around the outside, and Maltesers, white chocolate buttons and large handfuls of m&m’s add up to a real chocolate feast! Once it was decorated I wrapped it in pink and blue ribbon to finish it off.

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Mix with Some Party Food

I realised half way through the party that I had forgotten to put out the strawberries and blueberries that I had put in the fridge, so the party food table consisted of crisps, cookies, and cake! Ooops! We also had some pizza but I think more of the mums had that than the kids….

Borrow a Bouncing Castle!

One of the twins’ friends has a bouncing castle and her dad very kindly offered to lend it to us for the party. It was fantastic! All the kids just loved it and it helped keep them outside in the garden as well as add the party atmosphere.

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Finally add in a load of friends and bake for two hours

All parties need good friends to make it happen. Good friends enjoying themselves and singing happy birthday make it a party. Friends make it exciting and fun and they make you feel special for that day which is what a birthday party is all about.

 

Roll on next year’s party! Not that I want to wish the year away, I really don’t. But this year’s party was so enjoyable that I can’t wait to do it all again. And I’ll try not to forget the bowls of fruit next time!

My Twinterview…

Hi all

Very excited this week to be taking part in the “Twinterview” series over at The Twinkle Diaries. This is a really interesting series of interviews with mums of multiples and a great opportunity to share experiences and talk about what is like with small twins.

If you get a chance do follow the link below to read my interview and maybe take the opportunity to check out a few others while you’re there!

Thank you x

http://www.thetwinklediaries.co.uk/the-twinterview-tracey-from-the-blog-all-about-twins/

Mami2Five

Travelling with twins and the Art of Packing

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Welcome back to my Blog where I will be exploring the world of twins and reassuring you that life with twins will get easier as they get older.

So is packing really an Art? You better believe it. Anyone who has ever travelled anywhere with twins knows that how you pack your car will make or break your arrival at your destination and the start of your holiday. Pack well and your arrival will go really smoothly, the transition from travelling to getting settled made simpler when the twins’ food and nappies can be located easily. Pack badly and you will be on the verge of a nervous breakdown with two screaming babies and a frazzled spouse by the time you have up-ended every bag in search of soothers and baby wipes.

Yes, packing is most certainly an art. We grew up in a house where even packing gifts was, and still is, considered an art. My dad, with my sister following in his footsteps, can wrap gifts so beautifully and with such finesse and precision that they wouldn’t look out of place in Fortnum and Masons Christmas Windows. The paper must be the right size, the folds neat and precise and the ribbon the exact length to yield a perfect bow. These are gifts that deserve to be opened slowly with dignity and appreciation, no ripping off the wrapper at warp-speed here. The same principle of attention and care was given to packing shopping bags, overnight bags, suitcases and car boots. You could say we learned from the best!

Packing is definitely an art and like all of the finest arts and crafts there is a method to the madness. Cramming daft amounts of baby gear into your car boot is a science and, like everything else relating to twins, some simple tricks will help you master the process.

  • Give yourself enough time. This sounds so obvious but no-one does it! We all underestimate how long it will take to get all of this clobber into the boot of the car. Easy mistake to make. But to save yourself having a panic attack and an argument, start much earlier than you think you need to. Plan to finish packing with enough time leftover to have a leisurely lunch and you might just get it done in time.
  • Picture the boot before you choose which suitcase you are going to bring. If the travel cots, potties, travel high chairs and nappies will fill your boot then there isn’t much point in packing a large suitcase, better to pack smaller bags which can be stuffed into gaps instead.
  • Large heavy stuff goes in first.
  • Like goes with like. That phrase gives me déjà-vu for some reason; I think I first heard it in maths class. I’m not suggesting that algebra will help you pack your car better (although I’m sure a maths enthusiast might argue that it could) but the principle of keeping similar things together is certainly an important one. Keep all baby foodstuffs in one bag, all nappy changing gear together, all clothes together etc. It will make life so much easier for you when you arrive if you can easily grab the baby food and nappies in seconds without having to empty out each case to find the baby wipes.
  • Before you pack it – ask yourself what would happen if you left it behind. If the sky wouldn’t fall in then maybe you don’t really need it…
  • Leave a bit of space. You might pack your cases beautifully and carefully before you go with everything folded down to its smallest size in ways that will take up the least amount of room. Rest assured that you will not do this on the way home! Things get shoved into bags and every available space in the car with as much abandon on the way home as the care you took on the way out. There must be a name for that? In the same way that the “Buttered Toast” phenomenon says that your toast will usually fall jam-side down, there must a phenomenon that says that even if you used all of the nappies you packed and didn’t buy anything extra, you will still have less room coming home than you did going.

The great thing is, this phase doesn’t last long. I still laugh when I picture us heading out on that first trip away when our twins were four and half months old. Every inch of space was crammed full with gear, I barely had room for my feet and we could only just about see out of the back window. Our twins are almost five years old now and last summer we started early packing the car for our holidays. In went the suitcases, and that was it! So fast! So easy! And so much room left over. We spent a while going back over everything to see what we could have forgotten and figure out how we could possibly have packed everything and still have so much space leftover. No bags under my feet or potties blocking the rear-view mirror. So if you are still trying to figure out how to go anywhere with your twins without packing up your entire house, take heart, everything gets easier as the years go by, even packing for holidays!

If you have some time to spare and want to read some other blogs there are some great ones posted at the “Multiple Madness” link below:

Mami2Five