Sun Princess

It’s that time of the year when I dress with care before going outside, making sure every square inch of skin is covered by long pants, long sleeves, gloves, hat…

No, I’m not bundling up for sub-zero temperatures; I’m just taking my wimpy skin outside on a sunny day.  I swear I put on more clothes in the summer than I do in the winter.

I’ve always been an ‘outside’ person. If fate was kind, I’d have been blessed with a leathery hide that tanned effortlessly. Instead, I have fairy-princess skin with a little mushroom DNA thrown in:  sickly white, delicate as tissue paper, and just as flammable.

After ten unprotected minutes in the sun I turn a nice shade of parboiled pink. Half an hour and my skin is angry red. If I spend any longer in the sun, it becomes clear why there are legends about vampires combusting in daylight.

I wear an SPF that would allow normal people to bask comfortably on the sunny side of Mercury, but my princess-skin is picky about sunscreen, too. Most sunscreens give me chemical burns, and applying zinc oxide is like rubbing my face with finely-ground glass.

After many trials and errors I’ve found sunscreens my skin can tolerate, and I wear them every day. I’m grateful for them, because I still need their protection even though I wear a hat.  But…

I hate them.

I hate the way they feel on my skin. I hate the way dirt and dust sticks to them. I hate the glowing white trails that show up when titanium dioxide slithers down to collect in my wrinkles. I hate the way avobenzone stains my clothes orange in our iron-rich water, and I especially hate that avobenzone is carcinogenic.  (Yeah, why don’t I just put a cancer-causing substance on my skin… to prevent skin cancer?  WTF?!?)

I especially hate the taste of sunscreen.  I know I’m not supposed to eat it, but I have to apply it right around my lips or risk a sunburn that looks like Bozo the Clown.  Then all it takes is one ill-advised swipe of my tongue to catch the juice from my morning orange, and I’m making a face like a horse with peanut butter stuck to the roof of its mouth.  At least my mother would be pleased to know that I’m finally learning to use a napkin.

Still, I don’t want skin cancer so I keep wearing my icky sunscreen and sweating profusely in my long sleeves, long pants, and hat.  I may or may not live longer, but it’ll certainly feel like it.

But the joy of gardening makes it all worthwhile!  Here’s what’s new in the garden this week (click on the photos to see larger versions):

I’m still rockin’ the garden. Only a few hundred tons of rock and soil to go…

 

The colours and scents are glorious!

 

The big fuzzy bumblebees are out now, and the anemones are heavenly-blue.

 

The lupin leaves are amazing on a misty day.

 

Our earliest rhododendron is just starting to bloom. This is Snow Lady – still tiny, but putting on a show!

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Exercising My Options

First, my triumphant announcement:  Book 14 is finally live, hooray! (Click here for retailer links) Now, as long as there are no SNAFUs with the retailers, I can breathe a sigh of relief.  *crosses fingers*  Maybe I’ll even kick back and relax for a day or two.

Or maybe I should go and work out instead…

I have a love/hate relationship with exercise.  I’ve always been a bit of a jock, but I also have a bad case of inertia:  Bodies at rest want to remain at rest, and mine is no exception.

So I’m working away, planted comfortably in my chair, when I realize it’s mid-afternoon and my butt is putting down permanent roots into the chair cushions.  That’s when my better self murmurs, “You should get up and exercise.”

My lazy self whines, “But I’m busy and I don’t wanna! I’ll have to change my clothes, and exercising takes so much time, and it’s hard…”

This argument goes on for a while, but my better self (usually) prevails and pries me out of the chair.  It helps that I’m eager to get in shape for martial arts again — even though I’m too old and slow to compete, I still love to kick and punch the hell out of something that won’t hit back.

So I get changed and get started. Then there’s another whole round of whining until the endorphins kick in and I really get into my workout.  By the end, I’m frizzy-haired, red-faced, sweat-soaked, and grinning with the knowledge that I’m closer to my goal.  That afterglow carries me for the rest of the day, but the following morning is a different story.

I creak out of bed groaning and swearing and questioning my own sanity.  I mean, seriously, what’s the point? I’m going to die sooner or later anyway, and all the exercise in the world won’t change that. Why am I putting myself through this? I could just schlep around being comfortably weak, and I’d only be sore on the rare occasions when I overdo it.  I wouldn’t be sore every damn day. *whine, whine, grumble*

I was in my ‘cranky’ phase a few weeks ago when I arrived at my painting group. After struggling with my watercolour for a while, I let out a martyred sigh and announced, “I’m tired of trying so hard all the time! Why can’t there be just one thing in life that’s easy?”

One of my painting buddies spoke up immediately. “Gaining weight is easy.”

I stared at her, happily enlightened. “Dang, you’re right! And it’s fun, too!”

“Except for the long-term consequences.”

“Uh, well… yeah…”

*sigh*

So I’m sticking to my exercise program.  It’s slowly getting easier.

And hey, that painting turned out okay, too. After nearly two years of weekly attempts, I’ve finally created something I might just hang on the wall!  But I can’t decide on a mat colour.  Opinions, please?  (Click the thumbnails to enlarge.)

 

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A Day In The Life

People often ask me what it’s like to make a living as a writer.  I tell them I’m living the dream; but I also add that my dream could be their nightmare.  Here’s a peek into my writing life:

The snow is finally almost gone!

(And some outdoor photos, since one of the best parts of my writing life is being able to pop outside for a few minutes whenever I want!  Click on the photos to see larger versions.)

Writing is my favourite thing, but I only get to do it about 16 to 20 hours per week.  The rest of the time I’m bookkeeping, maintaining my web page, marketing, keeping in touch with my readers through my blog and social media, and doing research on  publishing trends, legal and copyright precedents, book design, marketing, and new technologies.

The native ferns are already vibrant.

Weekdays, I usually work from 8 AM until noon, take half an hour for lunch, and work until about 4 PM.  Then I have a snack and hit the gym for a couple of hours (or skip the workout and stay at my desk, but I try to exercise at least 4 or 5 times a week).

I take an hour off for dinner and then I’m back in front of the computer from 7 to 9:30 PM.  I try to knock off at 9:30, but sometimes I work until 10 or 11 PM if I’m really in the flow.

I work 7 days a week, 52 weeks of the year; but I sometimes only work half-days on Saturdays and Sundays.  (I know; I’m such a rebel!)  Even when I’m on ‘vacation’, I work an hour or two per day.

The heather and crocuses are in full bloom!

That may sound gruelling, but it’s flexible — I usually take Friday afternoons off to do some watercolour painting and grocery shopping, and I can make time for friends and family whenever I want.  I don’t watch TV, but if I’m not in the final 25% of writing or buried under a book release, I often read a novel in the evening.  (It’s market research — I love this career!)  I read fast, so I usually finish the book in three or four hours, and then it’s off to bed and on to the next day.

Such is my glamorous life.

The birth of a book is (maybe) a little more interesting: (I won’t include any graphic birth photos, I promise. 😉 )

The first minnow daffodil is blooming!

I decide which events will kick off the book and how I want the characters to develop, but I don’t do a lot of plotting in advance.  Instead I throw my characters into the action and see what they do for the first half of the book.

Every day I re-read and edit my earlier 4 or 5 chapters (by the end I’ll have read the whole manuscript at least 25 times) and then write my new content for the day.  By halfway through the book my characters have gotten themselves into a batch of impossible situations, and then I stop and spend a LOT of time deciding how they’ll get out.

The bees are hard at work already.

That’s when I write a plot outline, which is mostly a waste of time.  I make a “final” decision and write in that direction; and a few chapters later one of my hardheaded characters blows my plot out of the water.  I’ve never actually ended up following my outlines, but at least it gets my brain working.

By the 75% mark, all the plot threads start to come together.  Then I write obsessively while the rest of my schedule falls in tatters.

Tiny anemones, only a few inches tall.

After finally writing “The End” I re-read and edit the entire manuscript a few times to tune up pacing, stakes, and clarity before passing it on to my beta readers/editors.  (Nobody gets to see a single word of the manuscript before I’m completely finished — not even Hubby.)  In between final edits, I choose a title (I never know the title until I’ve written the whole book), do the cover design and photography, and write the cover blurb.

At last I announce a release date — hooray!  Then I assign ISBNs, register copyright, send the new book to Library and Archives Canada, convert the MS Word manuscript into epub, Kindle, and paperback formats,  and upload it to retailers.  When that’s done, I fix typos and update links in my previous books, and upload their new versions, too.

Crocuses, winter aconite, and heather.

After that I switch to my ‘marketing’ persona to develop ads, promotional listings, and social media announcements.

When the release furor dies down, I tackle any major work like updating my website, and finally take a breather for a few days.  But within a week or two (or less) the next book scratches at my mental doors, and next thing I know I’m writing again.  The administration is a slog, but the joy of writing makes it all worthwhile!

So… anybody wanna be a writer…?

I love crocuses!

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When Neurons Misfire

So, the good news is that Book 14: “Friends In Spy Places” is finished and is now available for pre-order at all retailers, hooray! (Click here for retailer links.)

The bad news is that my brain has been sucked dry, wrung out, sent through a vigorous spin-cycle, and finally pinned onto a sagging clothesline in my cranium, where’s flapping uselessly in the breeze that’s whistling through my ears.

And it’s still in better shape than Hubby’s.

Unfortunately, that’s not a joke. He slipped and fell on some ice Sunday afternoon and is now the not-so-proud owner of a concussion, some bruises and sore muscles, and a nasty scalp laceration. Fortunately his CT scan was clear and he’ll be fine, but that little adventure wasn’t kind to his brain or mine.

Spending a tense 23 hours in the emergency room would have been enough excitement for  me, but I also volunteer as the webmaster for our local Rhododendron Society.  So on top of my usual post-book-release brain drain, ER stress, and sleep deprivation, I had a gruelling 4-hour meeting yesterday afternoon.  My poor little neurons aren’t even capable of firing anymore — at this point they’re only twitching feebly.

You’d think that might cause some creative (or at least unusual) thoughts, but the only thing that occurs to me is this:

There must have been a big sale on beans around here, because I’ve never before been subjected to so much of other people’s flatulence. The last four days have been a veritable fartnado.  My nose has been assailed at a lecture, at the hospital, in a grocery store lineup, you name it. It’s been so frequent that I’m seriously beginning to wonder if I’m actually the culprit and I’ve just been too distracted to notice that I’m doing the dastardly deed.

Also, I learned a new technical term this week.  I had attended a lecture on mosses which included a field trip at the park, and someone asked our expert about the finely-textured bright green stuff growing on the trees from about 18″ on down.  When he began, “We call that the ‘DPZ’”, we all leaned in to hear his explanation. “Yes,” he went on sagely. “That’s the Dog Pee Zone, and the green stuff is algae, not moss.”

So apparently toilet humour is the best I can do for this week. Maybe next week will be better…

*strums lips and rocks back and forth, humming quietly*

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Crap-Shooting

The other day I got a letter from my life insurance company, and the first sentence was a friendly “We hope you’re enjoying the benefits of your policy.”

I thought, “Oh, that’s nice…”

Then I realized that in order to ‘enjoy the benefits’ of a life insurance policy, I’d have to die.  Exactly what were they trying to say there?

I’m ambivalent about insurance anyway.  I’ve always considered myself an optimist, but buying insurance means I’m basically betting that something bad is going to happen to me.  The insurance companies (the true optimists, apparently) are betting that everything’s going to be fine.  This completely messes up my worldview.

I won’t get started about how insurance companies stubbornly pretend everything is still fine even after you submit a claim.  That’s a different rant, but I will say this:  If you want the most comprehensive list of weasel-words ever compiled, take a look at the wording of an insurance policy.

But I suppose policy wordings aren’t actually that much different than playing poker:  The rules are set out before the cards are dealt, and you can ante up if you want. I’d just feel better about the whole thing if it wasn’t my own wellbeing in the pot.

If I’d saved up all the money I’d spent (and will spend in the future) on insurance, I wouldn’t need the insurance.  But I don’t dare cancel it, because I haven’t saved up all that money.  And with Murphy and his Law breathing down my neck, I just know that if I cancelled, I’d somehow manage to launch my vehicle into the middle of our living room the very next day, destroying the car and house and leaving myself disabled with huge medical bills.  And I’d probably run over somebody in the process, so I’d get sued into the bargain.

Hmm.  Maybe I’m not as much of an optimist as I thought.

Anyhow, insurance might be a crapshoot, but here’s a sure thing:  We have a cover and release date for Book 14!

The big day is Wednesday, March 27, and pre-orders should be available by this weekend.  (If you’ve signed up for my New Book Notification list, you’ll get an email with all the purchasing links.)

Here’s the big reveal:

Secret agent Aydan Kelly’s supposedly-dead mother Nora has resurfaced after thirty years, and the chain of command assigns Aydan to investigate her for treason.  With only two weeks before Nora leaves the country under diplomatic immunity, Aydan struggles to piece together her mother’s questionable past.

Two days into Aydan’s investigation Nora announces she’s leaving early, and Aydan’s director gives her an ultimatum:  Solve the case before Nora escapes, or face imprisonment for dereliction of duty.  Meanwhile, an unknown enemy is stalking Aydan’s friends and the threats are escalating. 

When time runs out and prison walls loom, claustrophobic Aydan must make an unthinkable choice: Sacrifice her friends, or lose her freedom forever.

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Things Are Getting Hairy

Thanks to @jenny_o at Procrastinating Donkey blog for my topic this week:  Hair.

I’ve had long hair almost all my life, mostly because I’m too lazy to style it and too cheap to pay for regular haircuts.  It’s a practical solution:  I can go camping for days and my hair still looks okay, my head and ears are always toasty warm, and I don’t even notice rain until about ten minutes after it starts.

But there are a few disadvantages:

Shedding:  Studies show that everybody sheds 50 to 100 hairs per day.  If those hairs are only an inch long it’s not too bad; but each of my hairs is at least 24 times that. I’m constantly cleaning hairballs out of the vacuum brush and dragging hair-bunnies out of the corners (and the shower drain).

Safety:  If I’m anywhere near rotating machinery, I’m obsessive about keeping my hair secured up and out of the way.  But even in so-called ‘safe’ environments, whiplash is always a possibility.  I’ve nearly wrenched my own head off by slamming the car door on my hair as I’m getting inside.  (Funny how that only seems to happen when there’s an audience…)

Embarrassment:  I once spent an entire interview secretly battling a chair.  Every time I leaned back, my hair got caught in the chair.  Then I’d try to nod, get jerked to a halt, and have to lean forward to pull my hair free.  I don’t know whether the interviewer thought I was making an embarrassingly awkward attempt at flirting or suffering from some bizarre physical tic; but I didn’t get that job.

The Ick Factor: I’ve had a lot of icky stuff in my hair over the years, from twigs to bugs to random food items.  Forget the old cliché of broccoli in your teeth; you don’t know humiliation until you’ve sat through an entire business dinner-meeting with a stray green bean dangling from your hair.

The Tickle Factor: Long hairs tickle.  Especially after they’ve dropped off your head and lodged in your bra, or worse, your underwear.  Imagine walking in a crowded mall, trying not to squirm while one insanely ticklish hair teases your butt crack.  If you ever catch a long-haired woman frantically groping down the back of her pants, now you’ll know why.  (That’s my best guess.  If it’s not that, we probably don’t want to know.)

And, @jenny_o, your poem inspired my own small attempt at a rhyming haiku:

Hair

I’ve got lots to spare
And yes, I am glad it’s there
But it’s ev’rywhere!

Book 14 update: We’re doing the cover photography this week, so stay tuned for a release date and cover reveal soon!

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Baa-a-a-ad Boy!

The other day we were sitting at the dinner table when Hubby said, “We need a third person in this house.”

Since we’d been talking about eating brownies only seconds earlier, I responded to his non sequitur with a jaw-dangling, “Uh… what?

“Yeah,” he went on, oblivious to the fact that my dirty mind had already zoomed off in a different direction.  “Because then you’d never know for sure that I was the one who’d eaten all the brownies.”

I fell back in my chair, relieved that he was only angling for plausible deniability.

And he’s right:  Our household lacks a scapegoat.

Roommates or kids would work; but we don’t want any of those.  A dog would do, although it might be a little hard to believe that the dog neatly removed the plastic wrap from the brownie pan before devouring the contents.  But that downside is conveniently offset by the fact that dogs can’t protest their innocence.

The only real problem with the ‘scapedog’ scenario is that it’s such a cliché that nobody believes it, even when it’s true.

When I was married to my first husband, we had a dog.  Jet was part black Lab and part blue heeler, so digging and chewing were his favourite things.  After my ex and I separated but before the divorce was final, one of my ex’s friends lent him a book on relationships and he passed it on to me.  (Too little; much too late.)

I’ll never know whether Jet sensed my teeth-gnashing irritation ambivalence about the book or whether it just smelled appetizing, but I came home one day to discover that he’d mauled the book.  Its covers were crushed and torn, its pages crumpled or missing entirely, and the whole pathetic corpse was drenched in dog drool  and patterned with pawprints.

Oh nooooooo!!!

Even though it had annoyed me, it was still a book.  All books are holy and never to be harmed in any way.  Borrowed books are to be handled with reverence and returned in exactly the same condition as they were received.

The guilt was awful.

And even worse was the knowledge that nobody was going to believe I hadn’t trashed the book in a fit of rage and blamed the dog.

I interred the sad remains (of the book, not the dog) in a bag along with a written apology and money for a replacement copy, but twenty-four years later I still cringe every time I think of it.  So… no scapedog for us.

Hubby and I are actually cat people, but cats make lousy scapegoats since it’s pretty easy to determine whether a ten-pound cat has eaten five pounds of brownies.  So I guess Hubby will be our household scapegoat for the foreseeable future.

Too baa-a-a-ad, Hubby!  (But I love you even when you do eat all the brownies.)  🙂

Book 14 update:  Another beta reader has weighed in, and this time there are only minor edits.  Progress!

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Ass-Biting And Embarrassment

I’d like to point out that the title refers to only the metaphorical biting of asses, not the literal sinking of teeth into tushes.

I’d like to point that out; but the embarrassing truth is that bum-biting was a ‘thing’ when I went to university.  For some reason, both the biters and the bitees found the whole exercise hilarious.

It was actually harder than you might think. (It was also more difficult.)  Back in the old days, the average university-student butt cheeks were young and firm; and tight jeans were in style then.  It was tough to sink your teeth into the subject without said teeth slipping off and snapping together hard enough to rattle the remnants of brain bobbing around in a beer-infused cranium.

I had forgotten about the bum-biting fad until this week, when I commented on Jono’s blog and he reminded me that gloating invariably comes around to bite you in the ass.

How right he was.

Only a few short weeks ago, I posted photos of my flowers all happily pretending it was spring.  I tried not to gloat over our warm and beautiful weather, but a tiny gloat (would that be ‘gloatlet’?) just might have slipped through.

I should have bent over and assumed the position right then and there.

Yep, my gloatlet just jumped up and bit me in the ass.  It didn’t have to jump very high, since it was standing on the 18″ of snow we’ve gotten.  And there’s more in the forecast.

Vancouver Island has basically shut down – schools and a lot of businesses have been closed since Monday, and we’ve hunkered down to wait it out since snowplows are few and far between here.  The temperature is hovering around freezing and our power has stayed on (miracle of miracles) so the snow is really only an inconvenience; but it’s also a bit embarrassing after my overly-optimistic ‘It’s Spring!’ post.

But that’s okay.  It’s still not as embarrassing as admitting that I might (or might not; I’m just sayin’) have bitten one or more person(s) on the buttock(s) in the far-distant past.  That was long before cell phones with cameras, so there’s no actual evidence and I may or may not deny the whole thing.

But I can’t deny this:

That’s a full-size 4×4 slowly vanishing in the snow.

 

Flower garden? What flower garden?

The snow is beautiful and it probably won’t stay long (I hope), but that’s okay — go ahead and laugh.  I set myself up for it, after all.

Just remember the dangers of gloating, and don’t forget to cover your ass.  😉

Book 14 update:  It’s lean and mean and 11,000 words lighter after the latest round of edits!  I had to sacrifice a few good scenes, but they’re safely tucked into my files for future use.  And we have a title:  “Friends In Spy Places”.  Stay tuned for a cover reveal!

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Gravy, My Nemesis

The other day we were having supper when Hubby mentioned that the recently revamped Canada Food Guide shows a plate consisting of 1/2 fruits and vegetables, 1/4 protein sources, and 1/4 whole grains.  As we chowed down on a particularly delicious pork roast with gravy, I inquired, “And what about the ‘gravy’ food group?”

“They didn’t mention that,” he said, looking up from his plate, which was neatly divided into half meat and half mashed potatoes drenched in pork-flavoured fatty goodness.

Clearly there’s been a mistake somewhere, because gravy is an essential food group.  But if it isn’t shown on the official Food Guide Plate, that must mean…

Hey, it’s a beverage!

That would work for me.  I eat a healthy diet with lots of whole grains and fruits and vegetables, but gravy is a non-negotiable part of my meals.  And so is ice cream, which is basically just sweet frozen gravy, amIright?

Mmmm, and now I’m imagining porksicles — frozen pops made of pork gravy.  (Not to be confused with cocksicles, which have been a serious risk for the male population during this latest -50C attack of the polar vortex.)

But, see, when temperatures are cold, you need extra calories and hot drinks.  Gravy offers both, in one convenient and delicious serving!

So if the Powers That Be have eliminated gravy from a ‘healthy’ diet, well, too bad.  We’re all going to die sooner or later; so if something has to kill me, it might as well be gravy.

Ah, Gravy, my sweet nemesis.  I know you’ll get me in the end, but you’re so worth it!

Book 14 update:  Hooray for beta readers — this book is getting whipped into shape!  Off to do more revisions now…

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The Haggis of Salads

Last week, Robbie Burns Day got me thinking about another food that, like haggis, drives otherwise-reasonable people into vehement arguments over whether to love it, hate it, or call up the hazmat team to dispose of the toxic waste-on-a-plate.

I’m talking about jellied salad.

Jellied salad was in its heyday when I was a kid.  My Culross Copper Club cookbooks (published in 1954, 1965, and 1978 by the local ladies in the small rural community where I grew up) are packed with recipes containing the almighty Jell-O™.   If they could conceive of a food combination in even the most hallucinatory of dreams, there was a jellied salad recipe for it.

Some were, quite frankly, revolting.  Others sounded revolting, but were actually delicious.  My particular favourites were baby shrimp in tomato aspic (always molded in a fish shape and served on lettuce leaves) and Golden Glo salad:  Lemon jelly, pineapple, grated carrots, and diced celery.

There are cultural and historical reasons why jellied salads got so popular, but the truth is that they were fun and pretty, and usually tasted okay as long as you could put aside your innate objection to odd pieces of food suspended in unnaturally-coloured gelatin.

I know its day is long past, but I still can’t resist serving it every now and then.  Just one brightly-coloured jiggly blob in a cut-glass bowl is enough to bring back happy memories of my grandparents’ big dining table extended to its limits, surrounded by a happy hubbub of family.

It was prettier in the cut-glass bowl…

Anybody who didn’t live through the golden age of jellied salad reacts the same way when I put it on the table.  First there’s a furtive glance:  What is that?  Next, a longer, more incredulous look:  Is that… Jell-O… with STUFF in it?!?  Finally, they avert their eyes in a polite effort to ignore my embarrassing faux pas.

When I explain what it is and that they’re not required to eat it unless they want to, everyone relaxes.  Some even sample it cautiously, but I have yet to hear anybody sing its praises; or, for that matter, say anything at all about it.  They just eat the small portion on their plates and tactfully turn the conversation elsewhere.

So I guess jellied salad is firmly relegated to the same status as haggis:  If you grew up eating it during happy times, you probably still like it; but the rest of the world thinks you’re nuts.

Or maybe everybody has moved on to more sophisticated foods; and I’m the only nutcase left.

It wouldn’t be the first time…

Book 14 update:  Off to the beta readers this week!  Then I’ll be putting on my ‘production manager’ hat, so stay tuned for a title, cover art, and a release date announcement soon!

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