BFFs torn asunder

I had a minor medical procedure today which I had to fast for (what, including chocolate??? Noooooooo!) and it was also Louisette’s last day of holidays before Kindy, which included a special appointment to meet her teacher and look at her new classroom (all very lovely).

I really like the school, the teacher, etc etc and I’m beyond excited that my little distraction is starting a whole new phase of her life.

The epic collages continue…

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(The big photo was taken by http://thorsonphotography.com.au)

But actually right now I’m mama-bear FURIOUS.

You see, the daycare centre next door to the Kindy has been Lizzie’s social hub since she was literally a year old. I actually got to be one of the educators in her room, back when it was just eight kids. There are a small number of kids who’ve gone through the whole daycare centre with Louisette, year by year.

Two, to be exact.

And one of them switched days after that first year, so although the kids still think of each other as best friends, they’ve barely seen each other since then.

Which leaves one. Let’s call her Helen.

Helen is an extremely laid-back individual, who even at the age of one would look at the rest of us dancing with a sweet little smile that said, “I ain’t doing that.” She’s also a freaking genius. When we were gently coaxing our one-year olds to say two-word sentences like “Big Dog”, Helen would say things like, “On the weekend I went swimming with my Daddy.” (Which I remember because I asked her what she did at the pool and she said, “Bubbles.”)

She almost never cried or complained, and I’ve actually never seen her hit another child (I’m sure she has at some point, but rarely). Over the years we became good friends with her whole family, and even coordinated swimming lessons with them.

Helen was having weekly swimming lessons for ages before we joined in (very excited that Louisette could scrape into the same class as Helen). After the lessons, we’d play in the public pool. I’ll never forget the day when Louisette was jumping into the pool from the edge (like usual) and Helen jumped in too. Her parents were over the moon – she’d never jumped in before.

When Louisette is bossy, Helen either wanders elsewhere or goes along with her idea. When Helen is reluctant to do something, Louisette leads the way.

I love both kids so very much.

So of course, being an ex-teacher at the school on top of everything else, I spoke to quite a few people about whether Helen and Louisette (and the other girl) would be placed in the same class. Everyone said that of course close friends would not be separated.

Louisette and Helen have had every adult in their life go ON and ON and ON about Kindergarten for months. They’re both happy and excited about it, but have also shown their nerves in different ways. They’ve both been reassured over and over that they’ll be in the same class.

So we show up today, and HELEN IS IN THE OTHER CLASS.

I’m a (non-practising) teacher, so I do understand that stuff happens, and that every parent is obsessed with their own kid. I’m sure that a lot of thought has gone into the way they divided up the two Kindy classes.

Still.

I cried a bunch, and spoke to the department head (and then also to Louisette’s teacher- not because she decided the classes, but to let her know what was going on). They both assured me that the two Kindy classes will do a bunch of stuff together and blah blah blah. Yes, that’s nice. That will be enough that the girls probably won’t consciously realise that we broke our promise to them. A promise that gave them security for the biggest life change they’ve had so far. But I know that neighbouring classes don’t truly play together; they build different identities around their differing classes. I know that I broke my promise to my daughter, and it isn’t a small matter at all. And I know that these two girls could have complemented each other through the entirety of their school careers, through tricky teenage years (literally the reason we picked this particular school) and beyond. But the colleague of mine who separated them may have put their whole lives on a different track.

So, like I said, I’m furious.

I have told Louisette that she and Helen are “neighbours” (Helen’s mum has told Helen the same thing). Both girls are fine, really.

Helen’s mum is reasonably calm—we both really admire one of the more-recent-but-still-very-familiar girls who is in Helen’s class, so hopefully that girl and Helen will grow closer so Helen can have a same-class BFF who’s worthy of her.

Of course I’ve rambled on too much about this, so I need to start a new entry to actually talk about Louisette.

There’s still a chance that the classes will change and Louisette and Helen will be together. But this is a new phase in these girls’ lives, after all—and the biggest change is that their school will now see more of them than their parents, and make more and more decisions that alter their lives and futures. For better or worse.

 

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Two-fifths of TJ

Sick of excessive scrolling through literally hundreds of pics, I’m gathering some of TJ’s baby pics here. It’s two-fifths of TJ because they’re only from his first year, and he’s now two and a half.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The artist formerly known as Miss Four

Last Sunday, Louisette turned five. She’s about to start Kindy. Today was her party.

Five years. She’s grown all the way from a giddying hypothetical notion to a wrinkly spew machine to a distinct person: smart, focused, creative, affectionate, gentle, passionate, and gorgeous. I took a photo a day for the first year of each of my kids lives, and those daily photos are here (TJ first, since he’s more recent) if you’re in the mood for a lot of scrolling.

Look at that girl!

(This photo and the next were taken on a professional shoot with Thorson Photography.)

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Right now I feel like just plastering every wall of my home with photos of my kids.

All the most horrifying statistics about kids are “this many kids under five die of such-and-such”. Now that Louisette has turned five, I’m pretty sure she’s going to live forever. We made it this far, right? RIGHT???

Kindy. (Note to self: Learn how to spell Kindergarten. GAR-ten. You can’t rely on five attempts and a spell checker every single time…)

Kindy is the beginning of a new era. It’s a relatively easy transition for Louisette since it’s located literally next door to her day care centre (which she’s been attending since she was a year old; at the party today there were three kids she’s been friends with since that time – and a total of six pre-existing friends who will be in Kindy with her).

Louisette is deliriously excited about Kindy as well as being quite nervous (probably because every adult in her life is so obsessed with Kindy that it’s making it seem like a much bigger life event than it is). She’ll wear a uniform and have school holidays (she’s five weeks into the longest holidays of her life right now). It changes the routine of our family – we’re finally taking both kids to the same school (sort of; TJ is in the day care of course), but the kids have significantly different routines now.

TJ has long days Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday, and nothing Thursday-Friday.

Louisette is 9:00am-3:00pm every weekday (I’ll pick her up two hours before TJ) and then has school holidays completely free.

I’m hoping that I can use the syncopated routines to spend a lot of one-on-one time with each kid. They’re different creatures when they’re the only one around (which is part of why siblings are so wonderful; they open up a new part of who your kid is). I’ve had pretty bad anxiety ever since TJ was born, mainly because of health stuff. But a part of that anxiety is the need to divide my attention between them and/or make sure they’re not killing each other every ten seconds or so. Hopefully the one-on-one time will help my brain to stop panicking, and will also give me many of those marvellous, surprising moments when my kids and I are truly connected and I’m suddenly overthrown by awe and happiness and pride and love. I hope there’s a correlation between “time parent spends with little kids” and “time adult kids spend with aged parents” because I don’t want to miss any piece of their lives.

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(ProTip for mothers who feel ugly in pics after pregnancy: Hide behind children. Or, where possible, behind a tree.)

When Louisette was an infant we were at a playgroup for mums with babies all born within about a month of each other (one of those “babies” is the non-TJ gentleman in this picture, who has never missed Louisette’s birthday and who also happens to possess two top-notch parents for myself and Chris to play with while the kids do their thing).

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I noticed that a lot of one-year olds were miserable and/or terrified at their own party. The party wasn’t for them, it was for all the friends and family who loved them. But I decided that although I’d always have a party for my kids, I’d also make sure they did something on their birthday day that was for THEM. In the years since, it’s evolved to “family + activity” on the birthday day; then later a party day (my sister’s kids come to both).

On Louisette’s birthday day we went on a small local waterslide – Chris, TJ, Louisette, myself, my sister, and her two kids. It was great! Then we had lunch with my parents (including my sister and her two kids), and dinner with Chris’s parents, followed by Louisette having a sleepover at their house AND spending the entire next day with them! So THAT worked.

Louisette has been planning her party since her last party and I’ve been actively prepping for months. (Exhibit A: party bag prep)

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Party bags are a blight upon the face of the earth: junk food, noise-makers, choking hazards, and cheap horrors that fall apart (inspiring much weeping) before the guest gets to their car for the ride home. Having said that, Louisette and TJ are obsessed with them, and so is everyone their age. Since I can prep the bags ahead of time, and choose things that aren’t too irritating to me personally, I don’t truly mind the phenomenon.

Kids also loooove pass the parcel. To a kid, pass the parcel means “A PRESENT FOR ME OH AWESOMES” but when it’s actually happening it means “I AM BEING TAUNTED BY EVERYONE ELSE GETTING GIFTS AND WHEN IS IT MY TURN AND WHY DIDN’T *I* GET THE FLASHING EDIBLE BUNNY BECAUSE NOW I’VE SEEN IT I WANTS IT MY PRECIOUS WAAAAAHHH!!”

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a pass the parcel game happen without at least one kid sobbing. (When the kids are older they’ll get better at it and more realistic.) Last year each layer had a bunch of lollies to share with everyone! Yay! It confused and over-sugared the children, but it was a nice idea. This year my sister was moving house literally today so I said she should drop her kids and leave, and could drop them way before the party started. I had the brilliant idea of having a pre-party pass-the-parcel with exactly the right number of layers for just those four kids, and a new pirate paddle pool in the centre (coordinated to make sure one of my kids got it, to avoid confusion). It went great. (Although one of the other kids—who was having a snotty day anyway—was devastated an hour later that the party didn’t appear to include pass the parcel.)

After months of party-oriented discussion Louisette decided to have a pirate and mermaid party (exactly as she did last year—”in case some people are scared of pirates”), and I encouraged her to make it a pool party. Why? Because at this age, popularity is easy, and I can give it to my daughter for a few dollars. Pool = awesome.

We always have lots of water play at Louisette’s party, and it’s always a hit with the kids (plus super easy to clean up, and it means the inside space is quiet and neat). Chalk is also popular and easy (our house is rendered, which makes it fun to draw on), so I put some chalk outside, and a table (with fruit and fairy bread; water and cups; sunscreen and towels). I hired 1.5 babysitters (the .5 had her own kids there too) for water safety and parental freedom, and barely went outside at all. I ran the party as two overlapping parties, making it clear in the invitations that parents of confident swimmers didn’t need to go outside (in the heat and noise) at all. This cunning plan fundamentally worked. I served a fresh Devonshire Tea (chosen for simplicity while sounding fancy and adult) to anyone who wanted it, and actually enjoyed it myself. It was relatively easy to hold a grown-up conversation, which is pretty amazing considering there were twenty children on the premises. I think a few adults were weirded out about my overt enthusiasm for shoving the children outside, but oh well.

Louisette and I made an ice cream cake again, topped with faux water made from desiccated coconut and colouring (I had reports some of the kids were a bit freaked out, wondering what it was), and with lego people swimming in it. I had one friend distract the kids with the Hokey Pokey while another helped me serve up the cake. That lowered the chaos slightly, and was simple, harmless, fun that suited even the two-year olds.

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I always need a massive debrief after Louisette’s party. This blog was it. I really like the kids my kid hangs out with, and I like their parents too. We talked a lot about Kindy, and uniforms, and school stationary, and eccentric in-laws. Grown-up talking! Yay!

Look at these gorgeous kids!

Louisette’s birthday is the social centre of my year (TJ is a winter baby + a more introverted kid + not born in the major school holidays, so I invite a few close friends to his party but invite pretty much everyone Louisette knows to her parties).

See that blond cherub? I invited him and his sister to Louisette’s party last year without realising they were siblings. That day was the beginning of a whole-family friendship which is one of the best things that happened last year. That boy is TJ’s best friend, his sister is Louisette’s best friend, and Chris and I both like hanging out with their mum.

And here’s a pic of Louisette from her first birthday.

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I loved her with my whole heart that day, but I really do love her more and more as each year passes.

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Procrastination Technique #452: Reviews

I’ve written about reviews before, and I’m always fascinated, whether the review is positive or. . . not so much.

The Tin Man Games app “Choices: And The Sun Went Out” (including the second story, my steampunk fantasy, “Choices: And Their Souls Were Eaten”) has just under a hundred reviews (mostly just stars) on itunes and has just passed 600 reviews on Android.

Android apps have a cool feature where they say how many people have installed an app, and this app, our app, has been installed over 50,000 times! It boggles my mind that so many people are reading words that I write, and it makes me evil laugh when I read the desperate pleas of addicted readers hanging out for their weekly story fix:

Mario Zalout wrote:

Love it It’s hard for me to find games like this. I constantly crave the story, wanting more. However, I’ve caught up with And Their Souls Were Eaten about 3 times, and I always hate the break I have to take in between. And The Sun Went Out helps with that though, and since I know it’s considerably longer I work at it whenever Souls needs an update.

Theresa Budd wrote:

Great game but… This is a really great game but I wish they would update the bear version. I was having so much fun playing it and now I’ve got as far as can but they need to update it so I can finish the story please.

Zachery Fitzpatrick wrote:

You’ll love the story …..untill you get a nice distance in…. then the book shuts itself on your fingers and then throws itself into a fire and tells you wait for a update.

Trevor Veltema wrote:

So good Honestly the best game I’ve played, I was on it from 12am to 7 am, it’s very addicting

Johannes Haler wrote:

UPDATE MORE PLEASE The story And The Sun Went Out is easily one of THE best stories I’ve ever read. The plot about how the sun disappesring and stuff is just amazing! Please, I’ve reached the part where update is needed and I NEED MORE! Thank you Tin Man Games, for making reading fun, and making one of the best books I’ve read!

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There’s a whole sub-group who are angry that you have to pay (or watch ads) to read the whole story. Since I know exactly how much I earn (hint: not an enormous amount), I’m not entirely sympathetic to these:

Alper Can Buyuk wrote:

Ad-fest So you need “choice-tickets” to make decisions and progress the story. The only way to get these is either purchasing them, or buying a pass which allows you to progress through the app. The other option is watching a 30 second ad for a measly 3 tickets, completely breaking the immersion. Shouldn’t be a free app in the first place if this is the way the devs are gonna go about it.

Franz Airyl Sapit wrote:

TOO PRICEY. NOT WORTH IT. In my local currency, two Story Pass (needed to play this,”pay to play”) of this game is worth as much as Dragon Age Origins, a PC game. Imagine that.

Kaneki Ken wrote:

Money-grubbing morons. Whoever is the developer(s) of this game is seriously an annoying one. Not only do you deem it, unfavourable to have a narrator. To continue the story, you force us to give you money? How cheap is that of a practice! You don’t deserve money of you’re too lazy to have a voice actor!

In their defence, ebooks are sold in a much simpler system. There’s a big yellow button that says “free sample” and it’s easy to understand that the free sample is specifically designed to suck you into buying the book. These story apps are exactly the same thing, but app stores list them as “free, with in-app purchases” which isn’t deliberately misleading but it feels like it is.

Sadly, there are sometimes bugs and those reviews are always awful. The only up side is that bug-fixing horrors are someone else’s job to fix. Yay?

I love it when reviewers give useful information (and even more when they rebut the “I don’t want to pay/watch ads” reviewers).

DERPING Dubstep wrote:

Worth the read Don’t expect this to be an adventure game with managing inventory and fight enemies. If your looking for that you better off getting something else but don’t let that deter you from this experience. Like it is described by the developers the story is really choice based. I noticed how different the story was when i looked at the screen shots and compared it to mine, i was surprised. (And their souls were eaten seems really interesting hope we get an update soon)

Kat Hargis:

Amazing Currently reading The Sun Went Out- and the story is compelling and leaves me craving more. It is definitely worth to purchase the Story Tickets pass or whatever it’s called. Not only does it support the creative geniuses behind the story, but it also keeps me satisfied with long reads rather than short ones. Compared to other choice-based novels, this one is probably my top pick, beating even TellTale games. Once again, definitely worth that I initially spent. Looking forward to the updates on the story!

krazykidfox wrote:

Fantastic I’ve read both stories up to date. They’re both fantastic, and I’m eagerly waiting for more content. Pick this game up, hands down. While yes, you do have to either watch ads or buy tickets to progress through the stories, it’s honestly a very fair and generous system that stands out from all of the Free-To-Pay mobile games out there. Props to you, devs. Get this, you won’t be let down.

I don’t have a name wrote:

Awesome (Currently reading “And The Sun Went Out”)Intriguing, mysterious, smart and a bit dangerous. I love the fact that, although the choices you have are both natural and logical and not extremely different from each other, any choice you make has a huge impact on the story, changing it in major but still subtle ways. The only downside, in my opinion is the fact that you can’t redo a choice. You have the option to start the whole story from the beginning but I don’t want to repeat everything just for one mistake

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I really love that people are passionate about the stories!

The first story has been running over 14 months and is well over 500,000 words altogether (although each read-through would be about 100,000 words – the length of a regular book). 

The person known as “I don’t have a name” is going to love the stuff that happens towards the end of the first story, when literally hundreds of seemingly insignificant choices have the power to save the world. . . or doom it forever.

The final final final piece of the story will be released roughly on Christmas Day. If you want to read the whole story from beginning to end—possibly several times, so you get different experiences—then this is your moment to jump on board!!

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Getting into the reader’s mind

NB There are structural spoilers ahead for “Choices: And Their Souls Were Eaten”, and more mid-level spoilers in the comments.

Regular readers will know that I live and breathe “Choices: And The Sun Went Out”, a serial interactive story produced by Tin Man Games. (It’s a massive story app available on Android or itunes, with new sections every week and the ability to choose where the protagonist goes and what they do.)

Although the app is called “Choices: And The Sun Went Out”, it contains two stories (so far!)

I was hired as a co-writer on the original story, and I have literally one section left to write. After FIFTEEN MONTHS and SIXTY updates, the story is ending. It’s an amazing feeling for everyone involved. Do buy the app as a Christmas gift from you to you. It’s a lot of fun.

But that’s utterly not what I’m writing about. The second story in the app, “Choices: And Their Souls Were Eaten” is my own project, set in the magical steampunk world of my novel and various other stories.

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Here’s one of the unique things about the entire “Choices: And The Sun Went Out” app: every four weeks there is a super-significant choice, usually a choice of which location to go to next. The reader gets to pick where they go… and then a dial appears to tell them what percentage of readers chose to go to the same place.

The writers can also see what all our readers are choosing.

So. Confession time.

Each super-choice is meant to be equally appealing, but at the end of Arc 1 it became clear to me that almost all of my readers had chosen one particular path. (I’m going to go back and edit the Arc 1 text to make the other choices more appealing.)

Arc 3 has just ended, and I was dying to find out what choices people made there. In Arc 3, the player chooses their animal form. They can shift into their animal form at various times during the rest of the story, and it’s often useful (or just fun and awesome). Certain animals have certain skills (did you know rats have an absolutely amazing sense of smell? Research, baby!)

There are five possible animal forms, but the reader was given a choice of only two animals, based on two of their previous choices. For example, if they had chosen to avoid physical conflict as much as possible, and to stay in the forest rather than seeking out people, they might be a deer. If you email me privately to ask for more detail, I’ll tell you more.

The five animal choices were: Sparrow, Otter, Deer, Greyhound, or Rat.

The statistics were always going to be skewed due to the Arc 1 choice, but here are the results:

Greyhound: 53%

Sparrow: 19%

Rat: 18%

Deer: 9%

Otter: 1%

All I really wanted to say was that if you’re an otter, you have read quite a different story to everyone else. Congratulations.

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Reality

Lately, when I see someone walking, I get panicky.

Each step is so small, and it seems like they probably have a long way to walk. Maybe they’re shopping, maybe they’re walking along the side of the road. Either way, what they’re doing seems to me like an impossible task. The weight of that impossible task feels like an ocean on my back. I have so much to do, and so little strength to do any of it.

I don’t walk much. For various health reasons, a ten-minute walk can leave me crippled for a fortnight. It’s been like this for years now, and I can’t remember what it was like to be healthy.

No, I do.

I remember a family holiday, when I was a teenager. We stayed somewhere with a pool, and I jumped into the delicious clear water almost the second we arrived. I might have still been fully dressed, except for kicking off my shoes. I remember thinking how I was young, and healthy, and how easy it was to move through the water.

I also remember a window of maybe two months, when I was an adult and healthy. Louisette was about six months old, and my back had just stopped hurting from that first pregnancy. I was in love with her, high on hormones, and my body felt strong. For the first time in over ten years, I wasn’t mentally ill. I remember feeling so powerful when I picked her up out of her car seat, and how good that felt. I remember not being afraid of what the day would bring.

That window of good health ended when my hip fell out of joint one day, and it hurt hurt hurt for months. (After that I had bronchitis, and then I hurt my back, and then I realised I wasn’t getting better and I talked Chris into letting me jump into a second pregnancy so I could get the whole pregnancy thing over with.)

I remember changing a pooey nappy in the back of the car as I took myself to a free post-natal physio and rain and hail fell on my back while Louisette screamed at me. I remember applying for a babysitting job and trying desperately to mask the agony as the mother proudly invited me up the stairs to see the rest of their million-dollar house. (I succeeded, too: I got the job and I enjoyed it. Of course my ability to babysit is over now. Just this year I tried to look after my beloved nieces for a few hours while my sister was at my grandfather’s funeral, and I ended the day screaming at strangers and throwing things.)

Today’s a bad day brain-wise. I’m wading through mud and I hate everyone I see.

The up side is that when a day is so moustachio-twirlingly bad, it’s obvious that my brain is messing with me. I can’t delegate everything, but I can delegate some stuff, and I already have. It’s so operatically bad that, for the moment, the fact that I brushed both my hair and teeth today counts as a win.

The down side is that the ocean is still there pressing down on me. It’ll be there tomorrow, and the next day, and if I don’t manage to trick my brain into letting me be semi-functional ASAP there is plenty more for me to lose than just one miserable day.

Merry f*cking Christmas, everyone.

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Honesty

I’ve been thinking about the kind of racism that personally benefits me.

I live in Canberra, Australia. Despite my various health issues (that’s a whole ‘nother story… or is it?) I live in a 4-bedroom house that is “mine” in the sense that the mortgage is mine. I have a car, and two kids, and I never go hungry for lack of money.

Compared to a lot of the world, I’m unimaginably rich. There are two reasons for that:

  1. My ancestors stole Australia from those who lived here. They are still paying for that, and we (white Australia) are still benefiting.
  2. I have chosen to accept my wealth and ignore the fact that other people are going without basic medical care, shelter, transport, and even food.

It’s high time to think carefully about whether I’m responsible for all the people I could help, if I chose to give up some or all that I have.

The thinking process is slow. It has to be, because I’m trying to be honest with myself. That’s not an easy thing to do, especially for a white person. As the most powerful group (by skin colour) in our society, it is both difficult and painful for me to acknowledge that although I think I’m a pretty good person and I think I work super hard, there are plenty of others who work harder than me and gain less from it.

There are a few ameliorating thoughts, which I’m holding on to fiercely: Although it’s been amply proven that trickle-down wealth isn’t a thing, neither is wealth a “zero sum” game. That is, if I lived on the street instead of in a house, that doesn’t mean someone else has gained a house (unless I gave it to them). Eating less here in Canberra is highly unlikely to benefit someone starving in Syria.

Also, I need to work and my partner needs to work. Us not working doesn’t benefit anyone. So we need to be able to shower, wear clean and non-faded clothes, and to get to and from work. There are plenty of other things that are a minimum requirement for living in Canberra, like having electricity and a fridge.

So I’m not sure where I’m heading (if anywhere), but it’s time to listen to my white guilt and see how much of it contains truth or should inspire action.

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