From the Sketchbook: Men's League Hockey Logo

My brother Eric plays men's league hockey in Chicago, and his team needed a logo. Or at least, a better logo than the one they had. He wanted final artwork in a week, and had a small budget. That meant working quickly.

This was a personal project, but I thought I would share the process with the Kazoo friends and fans out there.

First, Eric sent me a few logos that he liked, particularly hockey jersey designs and badges. It was important to his team that their logo incorporate some symbolism of Chicago. With this in mind, I checked out the Chicago flag design, as well as the Chicago skyline.

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After some exploration and sketching, I sent Eric three different logo options. Since there was such a short turn-around time, these were still in the very rough stages of development, but were fleshed out enough to convey the general idea. After discussing the options with the rest of his hockey team, Eric instructed me to continue working on option #2.


Next, I created the design in Adobe Illustrator. The basic layout was simple to construct, however there were a few details that caused trouble. I spent a lot of time playing with the angle of the hockey stick, and the placement of the 4 stars. Eric and I also went back and forth about what font to use. For color, I used a coral/orange color with gray on a black backdrop. This was something Eric knew he wanted, as he really liked this color combo on both the Flyers and North American Under 23 jerseys (shown above).


Once we finally settled on a design, he sent it off to a company that specializes in designing and printing jerseys (they took care of designing the rest of the jersey). Now, the jerseys are fully printed and in action on the ice. As Eric told me, “The boys are pumped”.


Designing a Sub-Brand

Pay It Forward Fund (PIFF) is a non-profit that helps women who are battling cancer pay their basic living expenses, while they are going through treatment. Kazoo has been been helping them since the beginning, about 13 years ago. We designed their logo and wrote the tagline that created their niche, “Cancer doesn’t care if you can’t pay your bills. We do.” We stayed connected by serving on their board, and periodically helping them with their marketing communications.

In 2017, Pay It Forward Fund understood there were some patient circumstances that required a little extra help. In dealing with hundreds of women, they came to realize the obvious - cancer isn’t any fun. Some are hit harder than others with the disease, and they needed a little extra help. Some days it’s hard to deal with the stress, fear and sadness that even financial help cannot overcome. 

The general idea was to give a patient a fun day off from cancer. They created experiences like a day at the ball park, a limo ride to dinner with the family, or a day at their house planting perennials. 

They needed a sub-brand hat would encompass the idea of giving cancer patients a break from cancer, and some plain old fun. 

We created a name, an upbeat message and a graphic treatment. It was an extension of their brand story. We let the patient know that PIFF wants them to take a day off from cancer, and to enjoy this extra gift. Share it with family and friends, and don’t lose hope.

Pay It Forward Fund color palette

Pay It Forward Fund color palette

Pay It Forward Fund: Extra color palette additions

Pay It Forward Fund: Extra color palette additions


Note: The idea came from two former PIFF board members, Stephanie Messmer, a joyful person who loved to laugh and always seemed to see the brighter side of life; and, JoAnn Simon, whose friends and family made the idea come to life by seeding the fund with a very generous donation. 

Branding a Neighborhood

I moved Kazoo Branding to our current location on East Hennepin in Northeast Minneapolis 13 years ago. I joined the Northeast Business Association (NEBA) to get involved in the neighborhood. Here’s what happened. 

NEBA covers a very specific area from the Mississippi riverfront between the Hennepin Ave and Third Ave Bridges up to point where Central Ave and E. Hennepin come together. It is one of Minneapolis’ oldest neighborhoods, and really quite different from several other northeast spots. It has several significant high-rise residential developments either completed or scheduled to open in 2019.


It has become an area that is a mix of a well-established European walking neighborhood and the new residential developments. 

Our task was to unify this mix through a one-voice, one-source brand that would be the base for all communications. Part of our strategic process was to treat it like a shopping center that has a mix of businesses. Our solution was to brand it The Heart of Northeast℠, “Where it began, and where it’s going”.


The brand gathers all the fabrics of the neighborhood, the established and the new, and sews them into a dressed up platform to promote events that help the businesses draw traffic to the neighborhood. 

Our first priority was to promote the Police Sub Station, established 17 years ago with our own beat officer. Every year, in conjunction with the local neighborhood association, The Heart of Northeast hosts a fundraiser, “Keep The Beat” to raise funds for the substation and provide extra beat patrols during busy retail times and bar closings.


There are several retail events to draw people to the neighborhood. In 2018 we had a spring fashion event, “Ladies Night Out,” in which 21 northeast retailers participated with offers that ranged from discount coupons to drink specials


In July we helped stage the Northeast Dog Parade, an annual event the draws hundreds of pooches and their owners to the Riverfront area, followed by a parade past the northeast businesses, escorted by the police. After the parade there are doggie booths and fun animal tricks with prizes.


One of our most unusual events for any neighborhood is the Northeast Beer Mile, now in its third year. People drink a beer, run quarter of a mile, drink another beer, run another quarter of a mile, and well you get the idea. It is actually a sanctioned race with an official time-keeper. 120 runners competed along with hundreds of friends and spectators who cheered and groaned.


A Different Creative Outlet

We spend most of the day creating solutions for clients with graphic design and copy. Every project and every client represents a unique set of challenges. It goes on every day and honestly, we love it.

However, each of us at Kazoo needs our own, separate and unique way of expressing our inner creative drive outside of what we do at work. Mila Samson has her silk screening.  You’ve seen it a while back on this very blog. Ellen Puls on the other hand skates, as in skateboarding. She’s been working on a tre-flip along with other tricks she already knows, but constantly works on to achieve perfection.

My deal is a combination of what Mila does when she designs and produces her work; and, what Ellen does to achieve new tricks and perfect the ones she already knows. 

It’s fine furniture making. 

I have made lots of things out of wood over the past 20 years – from a simple shelf to an octagon patio table. They were all okay, but there were some maddening flaws, like a joint that doesn’t quite fit right, or finishing that looks just okay.

Octagon patio table.

Octagon patio table.


I want to learn new tricks, and improve on the joinery or machining I already know. So I enrolled in the Fine Furniture Making class at MCAD. The first session was during this past summer. My project was a sideboard for the dining room made out of African mahogany. It was a bigger deal than I expected. I out kicked my coverage as they say. I wasn’t able to finish it. Now I am enrolled in the Fall Semester of Fine Furniture Making. There has been some progress. I plan on finishing it sometime in November.

Building the doors for the sideboard table.

Building the doors for the sideboard table.


Behind the Scenes: Slim's Food Photoshoot

When you are in the restaurant business, there are only two things you can sell on your website: your food, and your restaurant's ambience. At Kazoo Branding we've done both for Slim's in Brooklyn Center. The website conveys the restaurant's urban brand through color, illustration, and typography, creating a fun and casual ambience. Images of Slim's food are also placed strategically throughout the website. In order to entice customers to come on in and get a taste, the images of food have to look so good, so authentic, and so yummy!

Recently, Slim's added some new items to their menu, and wanted photographs to show them off. Cue the Kazooks! (And Maggie the Food Stylist!) Here's a look at what went down behind the scenes, and some of the mouth watering results.

Happy with a hard days work!

Happy with a hard days work!

Photography is a strong tool for communicating your restaurant's brand. And for making your customers drool!

From the Sketchbook: Girls Skate Club

As mentioned in a previous blog post, I do some graphic design work for a local skate shop & skatepark in town, 3rd Lair. This summer, one of the designers there approached me and asked if I could create an illustration and help design a Girls Skate Club t-shirt for the shop.

The copy for the shirt was to say "Support your local Girls Skate Club", and the whole design had to be only one color. As for the illustration, my art director, Oskar Barrett, wanted a girl skateboarding, with sort of a 50's - pin-up - retro vibe. He pointed me towards Glam Doll Donut's aesthetic as a direction.

I started out by creating an inspiration mood board, both to get an idea of what the 50's/retro clothing and hairstyles should look like, and also to give myself some direction for illustration style. Next, I took to Instagram, and began adamantly scrolling through all of my favorite skateboarders' feeds, trying to decide what trick I wanted to depict on the shirt. (See: Lizzie Armanto, Samarria Brevard, Nora Vasconcellos)

As I looked at images of skateboarding, I began sketching. During this process, I filled more than 10 pages of my sketchbook with drawings of women skateboarding- some better, others not so good. Eventually, I narrowed down my sketches to three different directions that I presented to the skate shop. These were still rough, but developed enough to get the general idea across.

Concept 1

Concept 1

Concept 2

Concept 2

Concept 3: the winner!

Concept 3: the winner!

The art director chose one of the directions, and asked for a few tweaks: emphasize the pool coping more, and add “3rd Lair” into the illustration somewhere.

Finally, we discussed shirt choice and color. While the shirt focused on women skateboarding, the audience for it would be men, women, boys, and girls. Both fitted and uni-sex shirts were decided on, so that women could choose a more fitted option if they wanted, but supportive boys and men could still rock the shirt. A white shirt with red ink gave a classic feel, while a light-yellow with blue ink option was a pop of color.

Some of the process work

Some of the process work

The final illustration.

The final illustration.

The final t-shirt design.

The final t-shirt design.

The shirts were sold by 3rd Lair at their Minnesota State Fair booth, and were a hit!

Some of the 3rd Lair employees showing their support.

Some of the 3rd Lair employees showing their support.


From the Sketchbook: Drawing Dogs

Here is a look at the drawing and editing that Ellen put into the creation of the 2018 Northeast Dog Parade marketing materials.

The final poster design for the 2018 Northeast Dog Parade hosted by The Heart of Northeast

The final poster design for the 2018 Northeast Dog Parade hosted by The Heart of Northeast


The creation of the dogs:

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The original dog drawings were done simply with pencil in a sketchbook.

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In order to experiment with color and texture, I printed out several copies of the dog drawings that I could color on.

Eventually I decided to go with a flatter look for the dogs, to keep them from becoming to distracting or eye catching individually. The reduced texture allowed them to work within the greater image of the poster more seamlessly. I also changed the direction the dogs were facing, because rightward facing illustrations tend to be read as more positive, forward moving, and also fit better with text that we read from left to right.

The creation of the buildings:

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For the buildings, I went out with a pencil and notebook and strolled around the neighborhood. My sketches were quick and small, with the goal of conveying the most basic shapes and details that captured the essence of each building.

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Later in the process, I refined the drawings, improved the line quality, and experimented with color and texture.

The layout:

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A print out of the neighborhood with Tom's sketch of what route the parade would be following, which sparked the inspiration for a poster that showed the off the neighborhood and the parade route.

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An early draft of the layout showed sketches of the landmarks and considered options for where to put copy about the event. On the left, an early draft used different fonts, had a map key, and scattered the dogs all around the image frame. We felt that this draft didn't give the viewer enough of a focal point, and there were too many scattered elements making the poster feel out of focus.

The final results of this sketching and editing process were illustrations that could be used together or individually, but retained a common identity that would be recognizable to viewers. This translated well into the different printed materials as well as the digital marketing pieces.


Images that were used to promote the event on Facebook.


Front and back of the final printed postcard, which was left in local shops and hung on bulletins around the Heart of Northeast neighborhood.

The design also adapted well to use on a button, which local businesses handed out to promote the event.

The design also adapted well to use on a button, which local businesses handed out to promote the event.


Illustration adds personality and life to any promotional materials, and also allows the client to have creative imagery that is unique to them and their communication goals. You want an bright red dog with a pointy nose, leading a parade of dogs? No problem, illustration can make that happen. 

Blue Village Grill, Starting from Scratch (part II)

Last week, we covered the beginning of Kazoo's branding journey alongside Blue Village Grill, a new quick-serve restaurant in Blaine, MN. From choosing the location to determining the visual identity, all the way to the interior design, we've been there alongside entrepreneur and owner Rafi as he started this new businesses from scratch.

The website

Once we were down the road with the name, fonts and brand colors identified in the brand standards, website design was a natural extension and the copy was based on the key messaging we developed along with the core brand essence. To assist the SEO we maintain a weekly blog with links, menus and specials. 


Social media

Facebook and Instagram pages were created before the restaurant opened which created interest and a pre-opening buzz. People wanted to know what the menu would be and the overall type of restaurant, in advance. Beside creating some buzz, we were able to learn what people’s expectations would be.


Exterior signage

Hey, what else would it be, except the logo. When we created the logo, we tested the final design against everything from menus and business cards to a sign on a building. We were confident it would work.

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The interior design

This might have been the most fun and satisfying part of this “start-from-scratch” project. We grabbed the brand standards book with all of its design elements and PMS colors, and used them to color block the restaurant with the various sections painted in dramatic blue, soft blue and orange accents, along with design elements, and the mission statement. And for a little Mediterranean nostalgia, a mural of Rafi’s home town was added.

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Blue Village Grill had a soft opening just few weeks ago, and it’s already busy and getting rave reviews. Next time you're in Blaine, make sure to stop in and enjoy a great meal!

Blue Village Grill, Starting From Scratch

Our current restaurant client Eat Slim’s sent a newly minted entrepreneur our way to help him launch a new restaurant. A native of Morocco, Rafi had spent the last few years working in finance in the US but wanted to move on to running his own business, a business that would connect him to serving people. 

He decided owning a restaurant would fill the bill. 

He started with a vague concept, but no menu, location, name or brand; however he was driven to make it a success. He was starting from scratch, as were we, and from day one we were in it together. Here is the progression of what we did together to launch his new restaurant Blue Village Grill, located in Blaine, MN.

The location

After checking out a few sites, to determine if the demographics matched his restaurant concept, he settled on Blaine, a relatively affluent community of young families where mom and dad both worked outside of their homes.

Blue Village Grill is located in the  Village of Blaine  shopping center, off 35W and Lexington Ave.

Blue Village Grill is located in the Village of Blaine shopping center, off 35W and Lexington Ave.


The brand

Because the strongest brand connections are emotional, much of the brand essence revolved around the customers experiencing the spirit of Mediterranean warmth and hospitality in a non-traditional quick-serve restaurant offering foods cooked to order, made with locally sourced fresh ingredients, with beef never frozen, chicken anti-biotic free, delivered to the customers’ table.

Messaging, images, and colors that reinforce the brand are integrated into the restaurant's interior design.

Messaging, images, and colors that reinforce the brand are integrated into the restaurant's interior design.

The name

Blue Village Grill was just a natural extension of Rafi’s origin and his desire to share his Mediterranean hospitality. He was born in Chefchauen, known as the blue pearl of Morocco because the majority of the buildings are painted blue.  

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The logo

The font is reminiscent of the buildings in Chefchauen and the tip of the “I” in green suggests the way all of the food is prepared, which is fresh, never frozen.


Check back in next week to read more about the Blue Village Grill branding process. We'll be covering the website design, social media strategy, the exterior signage, and interior design.


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Summer Kazoo Apparel

The Kazoo team is in full summer mode over here in Northeast Minneapolis. We've been eating lunch in the park, riding bikes to work, and occasionally even sneaking out of the office early to head to the beach or play a round of golf. Maybe I had swallowed a little too much lake water, but when idea came about to make Kazoo shirts for the Northeast Dog Parade, tie-dye struck me as the right solution. 

Tie-dye is a classic summertime activity in the Midwest. It seems almost every summer my friends and I would gather and use the bright dye to revitalize any old white shirts we could find. Afterwords, our hands would be dyed purple and our wardrobes would be slightly more colorful. With Kazoo Branding's bright color palette and summer fever, tie-dye shirts with the Kazoo logo on them were perfectly appropriate for a silly summer event.

So, one Wednesday, Mila and I went out and bought supplies. Blue dye? Check. White shirts? Check. Gloves and rubber bands? Check. We choose to follow a stripe pattern, so that some white fabric would be left on which we could fit our logo. We took over our building's fire escape and created our tie-dye masterpieces. Finally, after the shirts sat overnight and were rinsed out in the office sink, we used transfer paper to iron on the Kazoo logo. Voila! Official, and very professional, Kazoo t-shirts.


The shirts helped Mila and I stand out as we directed vendors in setting up and helped guide the parade route. As we ran around taking photos and managing the chaos, they also served as a reminder that we're part of the team that helps make this fun, hilarious summer event take place. We're so glad we get to work with The Heart of Northeast to put on the Dog Parade, and can't wait until next year!

Ellen and Mila (and Daisy the Golden Retriever puppy) enjoying the chaos of the dog parade.

Ellen and Mila (and Daisy the Golden Retriever puppy) enjoying the chaos of the dog parade.

And now, some more puppy pictures for your viewing pleasure.


Want to read more about the Northeast Dog Parade? Check out the event recap here, or see photos of it here.

Cut and Paste

A few weeks ago, Kazoo began having some computer problems. My laptop was barely functioning, and the available desktop computer was too old to be compatible with necessary software updates. It was time for an upgrade. Tom, Mila and I took a break from the office one day and drove to the Apple store to pick up a new Mac.

Like every Apple store, this one was laid out with a grid of tables, each displaying a small army of shiny, beautiful screens. While each of their products promised an interactive experience that was sure to delight, what really caught my eye were the panels that hung high on the walls that encompass the store. Each panel contained a line of figures doing different activities; dancing, painting, striking a pose, laughing with friends. What made these panels so captivating was that each one was depicted completely different than the others. Some were photographs, some were realistic 3D renderings, others were flat illustration, but they all stood together in one cohesive piece. It was a collage!

Image taken from the Apple website.

Image taken from the Apple website.

Collage, a method of composition that involves combining different materials onto one surface, is something that gets me really excited. There is so much to visually interact with in a collage, and I enjoy examining the individual components while digesting the image as a whole. Collage imagery also has the potential to convey a lot of information. The collaged Apple image above speaks to illustrators, photographers, musicians, artists, doodlers, social media users, fashionistas, selfie-takers. It talks to those who create, and those who consume. It packs a punch.

Apple isn't the only major company that is using collage in their campaigns. Red Bull sponsors a number of musical events around the world, and collage frequently appears in the promotional graphics for these shows:


These Red Bull collages each combine images and graphics to create distinct flyers that reflect the genre of music they are promoting. No collage looks the same as another, and the technique is flexible in a way that allows it to manifest in drastically different ways, depending on who the audience is and what information the collage needs to communicate.

Flyer  created by Kazoo Branding for a  NEBA  event. Different fashion and beauty items were combined with digital type to create this event poster.

Flyer created by Kazoo Branding for a NEBA event. Different fashion and beauty items were combined with digital type to create this event poster.

Recently I had the opportunity to apply collage in a client project. This spring, when 3rd Lair Skate Park & Skate Shop asked me to create promotional materials for their Girls Skate Club, I knew collage was the perfect method. It is a technique that has historically been used in skateboard graphics, and is one that allowed the design to reflect the wide-ranging and often eclectic personalities of the women and girls who participate in the sport.

Graphic used as a flyer for print and digital.

Graphic used as a flyer for print and digital.

Web banner used on the 3rd Lair website.

Web banner used on the 3rd Lair website.


I used to think of collage as something to do as a fun art project, or as a way to flex my design-brain muscle, but seeing it used by such massive companies as Red Bull and Apple shows that it can be utilized on a much grander scale. An entire visual identity can be created through collage, or it can be integrated into a campaign for an established brand. For companies seeking an engaging, flexible, and memorable design solution, collage is a great option.

Silk screen adventures with Mila - Oh la la

Every week I take a Silk Screen print class at MCBA I’m taking Kazoo on my journey

This will be the last blog about silkscreen printing for a while. I’ll probably will be back doing these as soon as winter approaches and I’m spending more time inside.

Let’s go out with a bang!

Group effort, everyone brought something in and one of those somethings was undies! (Can you tell our class was full of ladies?)

We carefully placed the items around the undies and made letters with string

Silk screen adventures with Mila - Goldfish

Every week I take a Silk Screen print class at MCBA I’m taking Kazoo on my journey

Today we are going experimental!
I drew a goldfish and wanted something partly see-through for the fins and the tail.
I’ll be honest, I had no idea if this would work and if it worked, I had no idea how it would show up.

My Screen survived the experiment so lets go straight to the prints!

I used a marbling technique. I dripped yellow, orange and white on the screen,  this way every single print turns out completely unique

Silk screen adventures with Mila - Velo Doggo

Every week I take a Silk Screen print class at MCBA I’m taking Kazoo on my journey

There is a Jenna Marbles video where she invites people to roast her dogs. Someone said the head shape of her Italian Greyhounds look like bicycle seats. That hit me straight in the funny bone and also, now I can not unsee it!
With my grand love of bikes and adorable Iggys I got to work to make a Velo Doggo print!


Iggy head is a bike seat (duh) and the collar is a chain
Iggy body shape and bat ears are hand drawn and background heavily manipulated to get the ragged edges effect

Silk screen adventures with Mila - Buttons

Every week I take a Silk Screen print class at MCBA
I’m taking Kazoo on my journey

This was a collaboration of the students and the teachers

The bright wild background was a group effort. Remember the blog about screen printing with watercolor? Well it also works with crayons!
We all grabbed crayons and attached the screen with random shapes until we filled every corner of the screen. Then we transferred the colors on paper.

While the paper was drying we all came up with illustrations to print on top of the colored paper


The hardest part was operating the button machine. It’s confusing! Luckily one of the other students got the hang of it quickly and made 8 to every 1 button I produced. We ended up with a ton of buttons and my portion ended up on my jean jacket!

Silk screen adventures with Mila - TT

Every week I take a Silk Screen print class at MCBA I’m taking Kazoo on my journey

As the spouse of a Graphic Designer you sometimes get some special perks
Like when I really wanted to print Todd's logo on T-shirts!

Todd has been putting little movies of his students drumming online. This is so the students can brag to their friends and be super proud but also to encourage other kids to take a lesson. How cute would it be if the students are wearing branded shirts with the line: I march to the beat of my own drum? That's right. Very cute!

I’m mixing red and yellow ink to match the colors to one of Todd’s business cards

I’m mixing red and yellow ink to match the colors to one of Todd’s business cards

Ink is on the screen and ready to be transferred on the T-shirts

Ink is on the screen and ready to be transferred on the T-shirts


New Business Model for Chiropractics

You raked your lawn yesterday, and you wake up with a fierce pain in your left shoulder. Maybe you played golf with your pals because you haven’t been able to touch a club for 7 months; and after 18 holes, decide another nine holes wouldn’t hurt. But the next morning it turns out it did hurt. Your back is killing you.

Pure Health Chiropractic has a quick answer to these aches and pains. It’s called Pure Health Quick Fix and it allows patients to go to an app where they can see the wait time for an appointment in real time, and instantly book a same day appointment.

Our job was to create a new name, a sub brand identity that worked with his current brand identity plus had legs of its own; along with this, there was need for posters and post cards and a social media campaign. It’s working. Dr. Mancini sees the patient, diagnoses the problem and treats it safely and efficiently in 30 minutes, and sends the patient on his or her way. It should be a good fit into people’s active life styles.

Business cards created for Pure Health Chiropractic, as well as a peek at some of our process work.

Business cards created for Pure Health Chiropractic, as well as a peek at some of our process work.

A flyer for Pure Health to hand out to customers who come into their office.

A flyer for Pure Health to hand out to customers who come into their office.

Silk screen adventures with Mila - Snowboard Cat

Every week I take a Silk Screen print class at MCBA I’m taking Kazoo on my journey

This winter was brutal… just brutal! Luckily there was a lady this Winter Olympics who inspired a lot of women and girls to pick up snowboarding. Can I say Chloe Kim got me through this winter? I’m just gonna say it, Chloe Kim made me pick up snowboarding again after 10 years and made me wish for lots of snow!

During my class I wanted to put something on a T-shirt that would make me happy and get me through a spring that just wasn’t happening. A naked Cat and a snowboarding Chloe Kim’s reflection in its goggles seemed like the obvious answer!


My teacher recommended glow in the dark ink for the leopard print. GLOW IN THE DARK INK! THERE IS GLOW IN THE DARK INK AND I GET TO USE IT.


It's also nice on paper

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This project was a smashing success. For me personally.