Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Product Talk by Nuffnang: myprosperity

myprosperity - a review

Anyone who knows me well in real life knows that I'm terrible with money. I'm always running out, spending too much and have never been able to get a grasp on how much I can allow myself to spend for fun ensuring all my bills are paid.

When the piggy just isn't enough!

When I got the email from Nuffnang about myprosperity I thought I'd give it a look. I love web based applications like this and I've already tried another budgeting web app so I thought it would be interesting to compare them.

Straight away I liked the look of myprosperity. For starters, it is for free. The other site I trialled charged a monthly subscription. I also love the look of myprosperity. Large font, clear and colourful web design and an interface that is really easy to get around. Even though the website is about finances it doesn't look scary. 

Signing up is easy and clearly secure. You can link up your bank accounts so that any transactions you make are fed directly through to myprosperity. But here's where I hit a stumbling block: I do all my banking with a small credit union and it wasn't included in one of the 200+ financial institutions already linked with the service. 

Fear not, I used "contact us" form and sent myprosperity an email asking if my little credit union could be added. Within 24 hours I had a response and was assured that their team would get right on the job. They were honest that it could take a couple of weeks, depending on my credit union.

So, I'm not fully linked up yet but I have been able to check out a few of the other features. Once my statements are coming through I'll be able to see exactly where all my cash goes and set up categories for my spending. I've got a feeling a lot will be on toys for Noo and clothes for me. And coffee. Probably a bit on chocolate too. Hopefully seeing that in detail on screen might help me to realise where I could be saving money and to maybe even set some goals to save some of it for bigger things, like a holiday school fees.

I don't have a credit card or a mortgage and I don't own my own car. But if you do, you can link up all those loans and assets too. Even if they are with different institutions. What assets I do have are some equities shares. To include these I just had to type in the stock code and the amount of shares I own under 'mywealth' and was surprised to see that it worked out the current price of each share and the total value of my portfolio. Very nice. Maybe I can go on that holiday? (Joking Dad, if you're reading this.)

My overall opinion is that this is a great, free, good looking, easy to use website that could make a difference to how I manage my finances. I'm really looking forward to my little credit union being added so I can use the full features that myprosperity has to offer.

How are you with budgeting? Big spender like me? Or responsible money manager?


Disclaimer: No cash has been paid to me for the publishing of this post. All opinions are my own in accordance with my disclosure policy.

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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Talk to me: What does a contributing life mean to you?

"Check this out", I said to my mum a couple of weeks ago.

I slid the printout of an invitation I'd been emailed across the kitchen table to her.

It was inviting me to a morning tea hosted by the National Mental Health Commissioners Janet Meagher and Jackie Crowe as part of the Commission's Contributing Life Conversations Project.

"We are keen to hear your thoughts on what 'A Contributing Life' means to you..." said the invitation.


"Why the hell would these important people want to hear what I had to say?" I asked mum.

"I haven't had a paid job in nearly six years. How can I talk about a 'contributing life'?"

My initial response was to not accept the invitation. I'd already said yes to another blogger function about working with brands anyway.

Days went by and I checked out the Commission's website again and looked further into the initiative. The more I read the more I realised that I had to go. The fact that my first thought was that I don't contribute anything to life meant it was really important for me to go as a sufferer of a mental illness and as a blogger with a voice.

And there it was: A blogger with a voice. A tiny voice in this massive blogosphere, but a voice nonetheless. Here is where I make a contribution.

Of course I contribute in a lot of other ways too. I am a mum to a beautiful little boy. That's one hell of a contribution right there! And that's what the Contributing Life Project is all about. Getting a group together - family, friends, neighbours, work colleagues - and sitting down to have a chat about how we all want a meaningful life, whether we have mental health issues or not.

The Commission is encouraging people to meet up between 22 July and 11 August to discuss the four following questions:

Question 1: What's important to you in having a meaningful life?

Question 2: What helps you to have a meaningful life?

Question 3: What gets in the way?

Question 4: What would make the biggest difference to your life (top 3 things)?

If you would like to host your own event further details of the initiative and event packs are on the Commission's website but I thought I'd host a "Contributing Life Conversation" right here in my space and you're invited. I'd love to know what gives your life meaning and purpose. I've certainly got a new understanding of my own sense of purpose since thinking about the above questions.

If you feel comfortable answering any or all of these questions, I'd love it if you'd type your answers in the comments section below (or email me if you want to keep them private). I can then collate the answers, anonymously of course, and send them on to the National Mental Health Commission. They will then use the information to gain a better understanding of what can be done to help drive meaningful improvement for the mental health and wellbeing of all Australians.

So will you talk to me?


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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Sole parenting: Mums raising boys without dad around

Being the mum of a son without a dad around is something I have always taken for granted. That is until recently when I started to doubt myself as a parent because of the instability in my mood and the subsequent deterioration of Noo's behaviour. I had this nagging feeling that he needed a father around to help with the discipline and routine in our lives. But is this really true? Have I done my son a disservice by cutting all contact with his biological father?

The short answer to that question is: no, in my heart I believe I did the right thing five years ago.

My little boy is growing up

The long answer is below. I apologise but this post has turned into an essay so if you don't get through it all, I completely understand!

If you've read my story The Dad Question which is part of the series From Rock Bottom to Parenthoodyou'll know my boy was born out of fairly precarious circumstances. Noo's father and I only knew each other for a few short months and in that time I came to the conclusion that it was safer for us both that his father played no role in either of our lives.

I'll never regret that decision because when it came down to it I'm pretty sure the man who got me pregnant would have caused emotional conflict, physical harm or just left anyway. I've dated other men since then but none of the relationships have turned into anything lasting. So right now we are a team of two: mother and son. Followed closely by our immediate family: Noo's grandparents and his two aunts and two uncles.

When I was a younger woman I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would be doing this gig alone. I always dreamt I'd have the husband, the house and at least two kids. But that is not my reality now and I have to make the best of what I've got and really, I've got a lot.

I am so lucky that I have a huge amount of support especially from my parents. Sometimes I doubt I'd survive at all if it wasn't for them. They put a roof over our heads and subsidise our lifestyle. The emotional support I get from my mum and sister is life saving.

But over the last couple of weeks there's been a number of incidents that have made me feel really alone in this parenting business. I'll give you an example of one of the situations we found ourselves in:

We were at a local market and I sat on the grass minding our things and watching as Noo kicked a ball around. The games had been set up for any kids at the markets to play with. A little girl and her dad came to join Noo in kicking the ball into the net. It was all fun and games until the girl wanted to be goalie which was the position Noo was playing. As the father attempted to play on Noo refused to move, getting angrier and angrier, and I nearly burst into tears right then and there with embarrassment. In retrospect Noo probably felt left out, as the father kept high-fiving his daughter, but I saw it as completely rude and unacceptable behaviour.

Maybe I am over analysing the situation, as usual, but now I worry the real reason Noo was angry and behaved really badly was because he didn't have a dad there to play with too. Just a mum on the sidelines nagging him to leave. He kept grabbing the two soccer balls to stop the little girl and her father from playing. I could see the anger and frustration in his eyes. My own anxiety escalated as I made offers of ice cream and face painting as lures to get him away.

Of course it ended in tears. I was humiliated and for the first time ever I told Noo he had embarrassed me with his behaviour, that no one wants to play with little boys that don't share and take turns. I dragged him out of there, past the ice cream and the face painting, back to the car while lecturing him the whole way on how to play nicely.

I couldn't stop thinking about it all as we drove away. That gnawing feeling that I'd behaved just as badly as Noo burned in my chest. Mother's guilt set in and I wondered how I was ever going to do this right. My little boy is growing up! He is turning five in December and he needs a father figure who'll kick the ball around with him on a Saturday morning. And I need to make some adjustments to my parenting style too. I can't just be his friend any more. I have to stand up and be his parent.

I have some idea as to how I hope to guide Noo as he grows from baby through to young man. And while I believe there doesn't have to be the socially accepted norm of mum and dad, as Noo's ever loving mum I know that I can't give all this guidance alone. Recent events gave me more evidence of that. I believe that having strong male role models in his life is essential in helping him develop into a well rounded individual, not just to have a bloke to kick a ball around with.

Of course I know that general society sees our family as being different despite the fact that the single parent household is one of the fastest growing social groups in Australia according to the 2011 Census. In fact a quarter of young Aussie families (those with dependent kids under 15 years of age) have only one parent at its head.

Science says you need a woman and a man to make a baby but it doesn't require a mother and a father to raise one. The solo mum raising a boy(s) is obviously not the only family arrangement where boys are being raised without a dad at home. There are lesbian couples with sons and hetero couples where the father is working in an industry that requires him to be away for long periods of time (eg defence, mining). In this day and age there are so many combinations of what makes up a family, in my view, there's no such thing as a 'normal' family.

According to Bernard Salt, undoubtedly our most well-known demographer here in Australia, "82% of lone parent households are headed by women". What I'd like to know is of the 82% how many are raising sons without a father present in any way? What do those mums do for parental support (and I'm not talking financially) and are there any resources out there for us and our boys? The most recent comprehensive Australian research on fatherlessness was done ten years ago and I've found little else more recent discussing this issue.

I've done a fair bit of my own digging around into this topic for a while now and like all issues there are a lot of differing opinions. I've come across religious websites that think the dissolution of the traditional nuclear family is responsible for the steady breakdown of society and that having a shitty dad around is better than no dad at all (or a shitty mum for that matter). And then I've come across a lot of credible sources that say the opposite.

Dr Michael Flood, in his 2003 article for the Sydney Morning Herald "Positive parenting a key to child's wellbeing, with or without dad", wrote:

"It is not the presence of a father, but the quality of the parenting and family relationships, which makes the most difference to children's wellbeing. Conflict-ridden and unhappy relationships are damaging to children, in both "intact" marriages and between separated parents. If their parents are constantly in conflict, children are actually better off if their parents divorce."

That's not to say dads aren't important in the sole parent family headed by a mum with a son(s). Of course they are and if they can be involved in their son's lives in a harmonious way, then perfect (unless the son has come from donor sperm for solo mothers by choice or lesbian couples and either party has chosen no contact).

This post isn't meant to be about dad bashing or claiming that men are now superfluous when it comes to raising families.  In fact, a growing number of dads (18% of all lone parent households - up 14% over the last five years), are doing the parenting duties on their own too, according to Bernard Salt, which has its own set of questions.

Dr Peggy Drexler, who writes for the Huffington Post and wrote the 2005 book "Raising boys without men: how maverick moms are creating the next generation of exceptional men" agrees with Dr Flood:

"Beyond the specifics of how women are successfully raising sons, I came to see [from her research] that good, loving, growth-encouraging parenting is what sons need. Parenting, moreover, is not anchored to gender. Parenting is either good or deficient, not male or female."


There are some stats out there that say fatherless boys are more likely to do badly at school, become violent, have problems with addiction and join gangs but of course there are other socio-economic factors to take into account when you look into that side of the story. Conversely, there are people who believe that boys that are raised without a father or significant male role model will grow up to be 'mummy's boys' unable to develop their own masculinity. That just sounds stupid to me!

From all the articles and books that I've read, the key message is, boys need positive male role models throughout their life whether the biological dad is around or not.

The teachers at Noo's daycare say that when his little mates ask him why he doesn't have a dad he always answers with pride "I don't have a dad, I have a grandpa" which makes me so proud. Noo loves his grandparents and they love him.

Just a few weeks old: Noo and Grandpa

Dr Drexler wrote for the Huffington Post in 2009 that "boys do find their own role models - coaches, teachers, friends and others in the family". She specifically talks about grandfathers and how they can be the perfect role model for a boy growing up without his dad around. After all, they've done the job before and, if they are retired, they should have more time available to kick a ball around.

I do what I can to do 'boys things' with Noo. And please, don't get all thing about gender specific games, etc. Noo can play with dolls and dress up in girls' clothes if he pleases but that's not his thing. He loves superheroes, modern art, cars and cats. Oh, and playing ball. I've built Lego cars, Thomas track that would rival any father of young boys out there and seen all the Avengers movies tens of times. I am so happy to do boys things and Noo and I love hanging out but I do believe he needs positive male role models in his life.

I will always be Noo's mum but I can't be his a father too.

What I can do is strive to be the best parent I can be.


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Monday, July 15, 2013

I must confess: Blogging is starting to contribute to my anxiety

This is the first time I have participated in the "I must confess" linky hosted over at My Home Truths. After reading Tegan's (Musings of the Misguided) post for "I must confess" regarding her anxiety, it made me think about my own current anxiety and what some of the contributing factors are.

If you read my blog or follow me on Facebook or Twitter you'll know I've been having a rough time with my mental health lately. There's a chemical imbalance going on in that head of mine somewhere but there are a number of triggers that can set me off. One of them has become blogging.

I love writing my blog but I've all of a sudden become a bit paranoid about how much of my life I've published on here. I'm also nervous about being involved in sponsored posts, not publishing frequently enough, and not commenting enough on other blogs.

I worry what readers might think of me, how they judge me or the content that I write. This sort of stuff has never worried me before. Every word I have written has been honest and published with good intentions.

Even as I write this post my typing, which is usually awesome (if I do say so myself - 16 years of secretarial work will do that), is failing. I feel like I'm stuttering with my fingers while I try to identify my fears and articulate them into words.

I have never hidden the fact that I've got a blog and I've used my real name on this blog since Google Authorship began and when readers started complimenting me on my writing. I felt proud and wanted to take open credit for it. Now, oddly, I don't even believe it. The credit that is. The mind plays dirty tricks!

When I was recently named a finalist in the Bupa Health Influencer Blog Awards I didn't believe it. How could my little blog make the cut of 30 finalists out of over 600 entries? I checked and double checked the email I was sent and the Bupa website but true enough, there was my little blog's name:

The brilliant blogger Carly Findlay won my category of "Positive Life Change" and I was honoured to be named alongside her. But still I feel this nagging sense of inferiority and paranoia that my blog is not worth it.

Anyway, I've confessed it now. I'm hoping the feeling is just an illusion; a trick played by my warped brain and that I'll get my blogging confidence back again soon.

Have you got anything to confess?


PS I can barely keep my eyes open as I finish this post off so if there are any glaring errors I've missed forgive me! These meds I'm on make me so sleepy at night!

Linking up at My Home Truths

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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Everyone deserves a little passion

A little while ago I attended a PR event that was organised to promote the tropical fruits papaya and passionfruit. The event was held toward the end of May just as we here in Australia headed into winter. You might be thinking: what the...tropical fruit in winter? But as we in the southern states rug up for chilly days it is still lovely and warm up north.

There's nothing like a little taste of summer to brighten up a cold winter's day!

The venue was set up for a cooking demonstration with TV chefs Alvin Quah from Masterchef and My Kitchen Rules' sister duo, Sammy and Bella Jakubiak up front while the rest of us bloggers and media types stood around benches following each step as it was explained.

Left to right: Representatives from the papaya growers, passionfruit growers, Alvin Quah, Sammy and Bella Jakubiak.

Alvin did a papaya curry which was interesting but my favourite dish was the dessert by Sammy and Bella. Here is their recipe:

Sammy and Bella Jakubiak’s Coconut Cookies and Cream with Passionfruit

Serves 2
© Australian Passionfruit

35g (1/4 cup) icing sugar
75g coconut cream powder*
210ml whipping cream
3 Buttersnap biscuits
3 passionfruits


  • Sift icing sugar and coconut cream powder, place in a bowl and mix thoroughly.
  • Bit by bit add half the whipping cream and using an electric beater whisk on high until light and fluffy. 
  • In a separate clean bowl use an electric beater to whisk remaining cream until soft peaks form. 
  • Using a spatula gently fold the two cream mixtures together until combined. 
  • Crumble the Buttersnap biscuits and evenly distribute between two dessert glasses. 
  • Top with cream mixture, then finish with passionfruit pulp. 

*Coconut cream powder is available at good Asian grocers but I nicked the one I used from the spare supply at the event.

Recipe by Sammy & Bella Jakubiak for Australian Passionfruit. © Australian Passionfruit

Photo taken by Claudia from Little Cottage Big Life of me at the event attempting to cook
while Instagramming at the same time.

My turn at home!

So for the purpose of this post and my never ending desire for all sweet things I gave this recipe a burl last week for my parents and me. I did it slightly differently out of pure laziness and for the love of my stick blender/beater/chopper/shake maker/all round kitchen magic wand.

Make sure you have all the ingredients and the recipe at hand.

Sift icing sugar and coconut powder into a medium sized bowl.

Add cream and whizz with the magic kitchen wand but don't overdo it, the wand is quick!
If the cream is whipped too much add more pouring cream and fold through until you get the right texture.

Add Butternut Snap Cookies to chopping part of magic kitchen wand but once again, go lightly.
You don't want to turn your bickies into tiny crumbs, you want some chunky bits in there too.
The recipe requires three biscuits but I used about eight because I was cooking for three
and I like it crunchy!

Get your classy glasses, like these ones my parents purchased the 1980s (or get really hip and use jars),
and evenly distribute bickie crumbs/chunks among them.
Add a dollops of the cream mixture evenly to each glass.

Tip from the passionfruit farmer: Cut the tops off passionfruit just as you would the top off a boiled egg, rather than in half.
That way less juice is likely to escape. Drizzle passionfruit over each glass of bickies and cream.

Voila! Easy, yummy, impressive looking passionfruit dessert.

How do you get a little taste of summer during winter? 


Disclaimer: I was invited to the cooking demonstration but was under no obligation to blog about it. No money has exchanged hands. All opinions are my own in line with my disclosure policy.

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Sunday, July 7, 2013

Three easy positive changes anyone can make to help themselves (especially me!)

The last two months have been some of the most challenging times for me since The Assault, since I hit Rock Bottom, and since I became a new sole parent with undiagnosed acute postpartum thyroid disease.

I had no idea what was wrong with me when things started to go awry in May earlier this year, and I still don't, but my psychiatrist, who has been trying to label me as having Bipolar II disorder since I started seeing him in early 2012, thinks this recent episode is more evidence of that diagnosis.

As my mood swung from the extremes of happiness to aggressive irritation; high anxiety to full blown tears, everyone around me knew something was very wrong. Sometimes these changes would happen within a day, sometimes within an hour and as each day passed without any emotional stability I began to trust myself less and fear everything more.

I've had nine doctors' appointments and seven different medications to try and sort out my topsy turvy mood. Now, touch wood, I think I can confidently say I'm coming through to the other side of this current episode. It has now been a week since any massive swings have occurred and I really feel like I can see clearly for the first time in two months, possibly longer.

While I was in the grips of the episode doing anything positive to help myself seemed impossible or just didn't come to mind at all. I reached for the easy options like chocolate cake and Valium. Now, as the fog begins to clear, I can see there are some easy changes I can make to my everyday routine to really help make myself feel more in control of my life.

These are the No Shit Sherlock life changes anyone can make to help themselves feel better:

1. Eat well

Never easy for me, being the lover of all things sweet and chocolatey, but if I could just cut down on the sugar and increase the fruit, veggies and protein, I'm sure there would be some impact to my mood. I know there would! When I quit sugar last year I felt on top of the world. Getting started is the hardest part. Letting go of the yummy treats sometimes seems almost unfathomable!

My recent blood tests also show I have Hashimoto's Disease (the autoimmune disease Sarah Wilson has that inspired her quit sugar campaign) as a result of the postpartum thyroid disease I suffered so badly with after Noo was born. I didn't realise this before my recent tests. I knew I had to watch my thyroid levels should I ever plan to have another baby, but I didn't realise that I was living with this condition and will forever. Quitting sugar, if only I could do it, could probably make a big difference to my life.

2. Exercise, even just a tiny bit

Shrink ordered me to walk as fast as I could for half an hour a day no matter what. He said to take the order like a prescription, a tablet that I mustn't miss, but of course I've been slack on this one. Everyone knows that exercise helps with depression. This is a scientific fact! The endorphins exercise produce stimulate the reward centre in the brain which, as a recovering drug and alcohol addict, my brain loves!

I don't know why I can't get off my butt and just do it. What is holding me back? What do I fear? My knees and hips are aching from the massive 8kgs I've put on this year since the depression started and I'm feeling old and weary.

I've got to get moving!

3. See my friends more

I've been avoiding my friends a little lately because I don't want to bore them with my continuous tales of woe. They can come here to read about that shit. I feel like I've had nothing positive to contribute to light conversation and my weight gain has made me feel more self conscious about going out, even though I've spent a small fortune on clothes lately (I blame the impulsivity that comes with my mood swings for this!). But I should see my friends because I have some great mates who make me feel good and who I love being with. For all I know, they might be going through shit and need a shoulder to cry on!

One event that has buoyed my feeling of self worth was my recent naming as a finalist in the Bupa Health Influencer Blog Awards in the Positive Life Change category. There are so many amazing blogs in the finalist lists including Sarah Wilson's I Quit Sugar, Carly Findlay, Easy Peasy KidsRandom Ramblings of a Stay at Home Mum and so many more! I congratulate all the finalists and wish them luck.

It is hard to believe that "positive life change" is something I should be recognised for right now, when I struggle so much with the day to day, when the thought of having a 'real job' still terrifies me, and that looking after kids is something that can cause me enough anxiety to run from the room crying. But I have to remember what I was like six years ago, reread my posts From Rock Bottom to Parenthood and give myself credit for what I have done, not for what I'm still trying to achieve.

Bupa have asked all the finalists to answer a few questions about themselves and one of them was what our favourite quote is. I have a lot of favourite quotes but the one I found and gave them, I thought was particularly apt:

The will to change has to come from the heart, your heart, my heart. Whoever it is that wants to make a big change in their life has to really, really want it. Like Andy Warhol is quoted above, no one can make you do it. Sure you can get all the help in the world if you can afford it, but really it is up to you, me, whoever to turn up everyday and give it our best. It takes audacity and determination and sometimes it even takes the threat of death, like when I was at Rock Bottom, to really find what it takes to make consistent lifestyle changes that stick.

Yes, there are factors in my situation that are beyond my control, or that I am actually helping myself with already (eg medication and therapy) but I believe the above three lifestyle changes could also really assist in giving me a better, more satisfying life.

All I have to do now is decide if I'm ready.

Have you made any major changes in your life recently so you can live a happier,
more satisfying existence?


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Monday, July 1, 2013

Sole parenting: We survived a wet weekend without either of us crying

Where's your MY head at?

I feel like I'm asking myself this question all the time.

Basement Jaxx's song Where's Your Head At? feels totally apt for how I feel right now, because I have no idea. About my head that is.

Noo and I have managed to survive the weekend on our own without either of us crying. There were times where I could feel the anxiety simmering just beneath the surface but, taking a few deep breaths, and some very low dose Valium, I was able to get through.

We even managed to get through all of this:

If I can handle three days of the above surely that means I'm getting better!
From top left to right: Elmo's World Tour (thank you Mummy Hearts Money)
Shopping centre play area, indoor play centre on a rainy sunday
Playing inside all day due to torrential rain on Saturday
Cranky face Noo at the supermarket

As I parked the car I said to Noo: "Well, we've had a pretty good weekend, huh? No screaming or tears from mummy like when we were in Melbourne!"

Noo replied, "you have been good and I have too, Mum".

I asked him why he thought he needed to be especially good. He answered, "because I haven't hit you once all weekend".

What a sweet kid. He was lashing out at me when all this started. It's not a wonder though. How is he meant to understand what has been going on? All he has seen is his mum crying and yelling and not coping. Of course that has got to be frightening for a four year old.

A little later that same evening...

There's a point ever so slightly to the right of my sternum that burns with each inhale and exhale of breath I take. A presence right behind my eyes flutters with an irregularity that bewilders me: Am I anxious? Am I irritated? Am I sad? Am I just tired? Either way, I don't feel good.

Should a person's emotions be this confused?

Everything seemed to being going so well just a few hours ago! Now I feel like I'm slipping again. This instability tires me.

I just want to curl up in bed with my mum and have her stroke my hair and tell me everything will be ok. I feel homesick even though I am at home. That's what I used to call this feeling when I was little. It is that sensation of being lonely when you're not actually alone.

Don't get me wrong, I do still feel better. But now I'm feeling fragile again.

I hate not being able to trust myself, or more so, my emotions.

Oh well, everything has to go back to 'normal' at some stage.

It always does.


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