The Great Book Sort, Part 6: Disability Representation

January 23, 2023 at 12:44 am (Uncategorized)

Today was exciting. My kindle app has been having issues for a long time; holding blank spots for nonexistent books (that I couldn’t delete); refusing to download certain books that do exist; etc.

I was patient. Until today, when I finished the first book in a rather good series, and couldn’t download the second. Bah!

So I poked through various bits of the app, trying to find a way to fix it. Finally, I did the closest possible thing to, “Have you tried switching it off and on again?”—I logged off. Of course I didn’t have the faintest idea what my password was, or how difficult it would be to reset it. Luckily, it wasn’t difficult at all.

One tiny problem. None of my folders existed any more. Four years of sorting, and all my 700+ books were in one jumbled pile once again. On the up side, I could download the book I wanted to read right now. So I did.

And a few minutes later, all my folders magically reappeared—minus the phantom books that I’ve been trying to delete for a year. I win!

So let’s talk books! There are only 112 left to sort: I’m almost down to double digits.

Chronicles of Egg by Geoff Rodkey

These rollicking adventure tales have lots of piratical injuries—missing limbs, eyes, etc—and one of the key characters has a missing hand as well as neurological issues that make him twitch. As someone with neurological twitches of my own, this is the first time I’ve seen twitching in fiction. Hurrah for variety!

Speaking of things done well, Egg is in love, and not very good at it—but the author is clearly self-aware about the character’s immaturity. Your characters don’t have to understand consent or respect perfectly at the age of thirteen, but you the author need to know when they’re being a creep and/or dumbarse. These books aren’t perfect, but they’re close.

The Arcadia Project by Mishell Baker

These deserve a BIG trigger warning as the viewpoint character attempted suicide before the series begins. It resulted in serious injuries ranging from having significantly less than the usual number of legs to often losing touch with reality.

However, while I almost always end up triggered by any fiction portraying mental illness, this series is like therapy to me. Partly because the main character is trying her best, and improving, and even putting strategies from therapy into practice. And it’s working—sometimes well, sometimes not so well. But she’s smart despite her neurological issues, and she’s alive, and she’s making a difference.

Meanwhile, there’s an excellent fantasy story to be had, which is often horrifically tragic, and sometimes the main character makes awful mistakes. One of the things she knows is that suicide is always a bad plan. Another is that when she’s at her worst, she just needs to keep breathing and a good day will come around again.

The Floating City by, uh, me

This is one of my interactive novels. The viewpoint character’s legs stop just above where her knees would be. Her best friend is Hard of Hearing. I’m really proud of the work I did on this book, even though I know very little about prosthetic limbs or Deaf culture. Yes, I hired sensitivity readers, and of course did research. I chose those disabilities because (a) Prosthetics are cool, and (b) Sign languages are cool. And because I wanted to be a good ally to disabled people, partly through sheer representation and partly by representing a society in which those disabilities are far less difficult to deal with due to the society around them being more adaptive.

It was research for this book that made me realise that I am disabled myself, and that my daughter has ADHD. So it was quite life-changing, and I’m grateful. It’s also a pretty cool climate change fiction story. There’s a shark farm.

Click here. It’s on steam, Googple Play, the App store, Amazon, and your PC.

Oh yeah! The series I’m reading has a couple of minor disabilities too. One of the main characters has periodic bouts of malaria. Another has an eye that gets fatigued, so he sometimes wears a patch.

Veronica Speedwell series by Deanna Raybourn

This is a delightful story of an irrepressible spinster and lepidopterist gallivanting about in steampunk times. They are excellent (although not for a reader averse to a sex-positive heroine).

My apologies for the poor-quality images this entry. I’m having worse neurological problems than usual (current theory is that it’s due to being very low on iron for a year—it’s very much the focus for my doctors and I at present) and I’m severely lacking in even the rudimentary competence required to divvy up the screenshots into individual pictures rather than sets.

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DIY Cat Enclosure, Part 4

January 4, 2023 at 11:01 am (Uncategorized)

Here’s Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

I can’t remember if I blogged about the second small section of mesh that Chris put up. If I didn’t, here’s a pic, featuring a blurry Zoom. As you can see, one of the cat tunnels is incorporated in the mesh.

It is 2023, yay! As a public servant, Chris gets a ‘free’ holiday between Christmas and New Year’s every year. I eyed the coming holiday with a great deal of nervous excitement. This, clearly, was our time to get more of the cat run done!

Amazing, we actually did. Chris put together the greenhouse (bought purely because it was relatively cheap, see-through, and enclosed—ideal for watching cats playing). Here is Buttons investigating it, since he is the only cat currently in our household who doesn’t assume that anything designed for him is clearly some kind of trap.

I’ll put more cat toys and stuff in it soon. The cat tunnel (same one that’s attached to the most recent small mesh segment in the gazebo) is tied into place, and will eventually be tied more securely (and the plastic door of the greenhouse will be closed) but for now it’s open so the cats can explore the greenhouse and get used to it when I’m not looking.

During the same holidays, Chris put a BIG section of mesh up. Here is Zipper pretending to ignore it from one side.

And here she is pretending to ignore it from the other side:

Either brilliantly, lazily, or both, Chris chose not to trim the bottom edge of the netting on this section. The tangled mass of it works as a lower boundary, and some friends have said they have some cat netting that won’t be useful at their place, so hopefully we’ll be able to just leave it like that (and use the new stack of netting for the final gazebo section).

(In other news, Zipper and Zoom are going to be SO ANGRY when the cat run is finished and they’re fully enclosed.)

The original cat tunnel, which is firmly attached to our cat door, has had its loose end flailing about wildly for some months now, and part of the wire has come out. I realised during the holidays that we already had a tarp-covered table that might as well become part of the cat run, so I tied the loose end of that tunnel to the table, and placed the table by the wall. That will hopefully anchor the whole of Cat Tunnel #1 to the wall, making the rest of the yard more convenient for humans.

So here’s the ultimate plan and current status:

Cat door–> Tunnel #1 –> tarp-covered table = Section 1

1.5 metre gap between Section 1 and gazebo (the gap may get filled with the trampoline at some point, or that may be too finicky). This is Gap #1.

Gazebo: It has a shade-cloth roof; more shade-cloth is clipped to the fence to extend the roof on two sides. The small vertical gaps on two sides are both covered in custom mesh panels; one of which has Tunnel #2 leading out of it. One large side is also completely covered in mesh. One large side (the side facing Section #1) is still completely open.

Tunnel #2 leads from the gazebo to the greenhouse, although it is not properly enclosed at the greenhouse end.

There is a large/long gap between the greenhouse and the shed. It will probably take two cat tunnels, at $59 each. This is Gap #2.

The shed aka the cats’ toilet, is set up and in its rightful place, with a cat-sized hole cut in the door. The door is still standing open in order to make it as easy as possible to use.

I’m still liking the (rather expensive and rather large) cat tunnels we bought. I’ve observed both cats relaxing in them, so they clearly like them too.

Gap #1 is by far the most complex, because we need to have some kind of human door to get in and out of the gazebo. I have several pieces of scrap wood that are likely to get involved somehow.

Lizzie’s having her birthday at our house this month, so it’s unlikely we’ll do anything else until after that, because whatever door we end up making for the gazebo won’t be as convenient for a bunch of 11 year-olds as an open side.

Bonus picture of Buttons and Zipper.

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Taming a Feral Kitten: Two Weeks

January 1, 2023 at 6:44 pm (Uncategorized)

Pretty soon this sweet attack-oriented angel will go to a new permanent home.

How’s his socialisation going? Well, it’s a mix of good and bad. . .

Does he sleep at night?

Yes. Every night I put him in my bathroom and turn off the light. The first night he meowed for a little while. Ever since, he’s been cartoonishly obedient—like a pet parrot that immediately goes to sleep if you just put a blanket over his cage.

Now that I don’t lock him in the shower each night, he tries his best to escape the bathroom any time someone actually uses the toilet. Ah well.

Does he use the litter box?

Yes. This was also an instant success… until it wasn’t. He has urinated and defecated in a variety of locations around my house, but every single instance was in my presence—and his clear favourite toileting location was my bed. That strongly suggested he was deliberately mixing our scents.

I’ve started changing his litter every two days instead of once a week (I’ve always removed his poo very quickly). But I think the real breakthrough came because I stopped feeding him in the bathroom (near his litter) and gave him food and water in my bedroom instead. I THINK I’ve solved the problem—but I still don’t let him in my cupboard or in the kids’ rooms (so he’s not tempted to add his scent to other beds or to our nice soft, fragrant clothes).

Does he claw up the carpet and/or couch?

Yes, a little. Couches are my Achilles’ Heel when it comes to training cats. When a kitten is tiny, it is natural for it to climb up beds and couches because it’s too little to jump that distance. And it’s adorable. But by the time the kitten is old enough to jump that high, the bad habit of using claws on the couch is already formed. Buttons definitely much prefers the cat tower, so hopefully his new owners have a couch that’s not too alluring.

Yes, he has a bow on in this picture.

Does he get underfoot?

Uh, yes. I’ve had at least one cat in my life since I was seven years old, and Buttons is by far the worst when it comes to putting himself next to, in front of, and directly below my feet. It’s worst when he thinks I’m about to feed him (naturally) but it’s extremely common and extremely bad. He’ll circle round and round under my skirt—stuff like that. He’s been stepped on three times and kicked across the floor more times than I can count. The only real solution is to pick him up from wherever he is (even when he’s asleep—he’ll come out of a dead sleep just to hurl himself, kamikaze-style, at your path) and put him down only when you stop moving.

How does he feel about getting picked up?

He loves it. Every time. Even if it’s a young child he’s never met before—he’s all for snuggles, all the time. Having said that…

Does he bite and scratch?

This is where he’s shown the most dramatic improvement (not even counting our initial meeting, when he tried to kill me). He wants to snuggle a LOT but he wants to be playing even more. The perfect solution in his mind is to be attacking his human family. Toes and fingers and arms and unprotected bellies, oh my. Warm, loving, AND delicious!

For the first few days with Buttons, we were all covered in scratches. Hands, arms, legs, feet, and necks suffered the most. The deepest cuts were on the legs, as he was a major climber of human legs. Why not? Such a convenient path to snuggly violence in the warm lap of the legs’s owner. He didn’t particularly care if we were wearing pants or just our skin: we were for climbing.

He’s already learned not to climb humans, or to have his claws out at all if he’s playing with us. (From Day 1, he was clearly moderating his violence in order to not harm us, but he was still drawing blood frequently.) It’s not perfect, but he’s well above the usual standard for his age (now seven weeks). Well done Buttons!

But it’s still a good idea, if one wants him in one’s lap, to have a toy within reach. Because he’d love to be in your lap, but he’s especially love it if he could be attacking something at the same time.

And over the last few days, he has learned that we usually pick him up when we’re about to open a Forbidden Door, and he has started deliberately biting us in hopes that we put him down. This is not ideal.

How is he going with the other cats?

My cats are NOT super friendly, even with humans. (Cats always prefer humans to other cats.) They have gone from terrified to angry to merely annoyed—at which point, although we continue to closely supervise their interactions, we don’t need to be within arm’s reach.

At the ‘angry’ stage, Buttons was perfectly meek and mild, keeping his body low to the ground and backing off when the other cats hissed. But now, after many hours spent carefully keeping out of reach of the other cats, he is getting bored. He wants to play. So although he is still definitely putting himself at the bottom of the totem pole, he is now batting at the other cats’ tails and things like that. Which is upping the annoyance factor, but also continuing to prove that he is not out to hurt them.

In this video, you can see that Zoom (the older cat) is curious about Buttons, and is nervous of him but confident enough to do some experimental slow blinks (remember how that was the very first sign that I’d made positive contact with Buttons?) and to look pleadingly at me. If she was still properly afraid of Buttons, she wouldn’t take her eyes off him—and she wouldn’t try to sniff him.

You can also see Buttons thinking about attacking, but definitely not attacking.

In this more recent set of videos, you can see that Buttons is definitely attacking now (but not in the first clip, where Zoom hisses—but softly—and Buttons makes sweet little mews). As of today, the older cats are still curious about him, and about 89% sure he’s not dangerous, but they’re not in the mood to cheerfully coexist just yet, especially when coexisting with Buttons means a guarantee of being adorably attacked. If they’re really had enough of him, though, they leave.

All of this (and there are many many hours now invested in this process) is about establishing who is boss, and what the rules are between them. The older cats would prefer a “Live and let live” approach (now that, “Make it go away” appears to be off the table) but Buttons cannot be awake without attacking something. Thus, negotiations continue.

He is incredibly sweet, and will often burst into purring just to be near one of his pet humans. Or if one of us looks at him. Or when he invites himself into our lap. When I go to the bathroom at night, he pokes up his stoned little face to see if there’s any chance of a cuddle.

He treats anything and everything as the floor under his feet, and has more than once made himself comfortable on my face.

And, unlike our other cats (who were born suspicious), he adored playing in our Christmas tree.

The friend of mine who was going to adopt him has an older cat with fast-declining health so they had to bow out. However, they have cat shelter connections so we know he’ll find a good home.

I’ll most likely ask the friend to contact their animal shelter person on Tuesday aka 3 January, aka the day when dates and days of the week begin to mean something again.

In the meantime, here’s my favourite pic of Buttons again:

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Welp, the good news is that the kitten is well-hydrated

December 27, 2022 at 8:06 pm (Uncategorized)

Trigger warning: Mention of injections, and hard-core depression stuff.

Today’s troubles began in 336 AD, when the Roman church began formally celebrating Christmas on December 25th.

This year, Christmas fell on a Sunday.

Which means that Monday (Boxing Day) is a public holiday—and so is Tuesday 27th December, an otherwise perfectly ordinary day sitting in that weird liminal space between Christmas and the New Year.

This is not a difficult concept to grasp… or is it?

The second major contributor to today’s troubles began in 2013, when Chris and I made Tim (huzzah!), and I started having daily migraines which ultimately led to some very minor brain damage. This brain damage is a lot like a Jack-in-a-Box in that I know it’s there and could pop up at any moment, and I live in constant and increasing fear of the upcoming unpleasant surprise, but there is still absolutely no way to brace myself for the shock and horror when it does, inevitably, pop up.

The third contributor is diabetes. I had gestational diabetes when I was pregnant with Tim, and then a couple of okay years and then was officially diagnosed with fully-grown proper diabetes about six years ago. When combined with fibromyalgia, major food intolerances, and depression, there was never a plausible chance of me being one of those diabetics who can keep their diabetes under control by lifestyle changes.

This year I started on insulin. The body takes a while to get used to insulin, so I started on just 10 units daily, injecting myself first thing in the morning. Each week I call my endocrinologist’s office with my blood sugar readings (up to seven a day, but usually only one/day) and they typically call me back the next day and tell me to increase my dosage. Blood sugar readings also involve a needle. (One of my other conditions also requires injections, so it’s lucky I’m fine with needles.)

The insulin I take comes in a pack of five insulin pens, each of which has 260 units of insulin for me to inject. When I first started on insulin, a single pen lasted aaaagggeeeesss. I was vaguely aware that I was getting through pens a LOT faster these days and was on my final box, so last time I saw my chemist I asked if they were closing during the holiday period.

“No,” they said, “just three days over Christmas and two days over the New Year.”

I was so relieved! In my mind, this was recorded as, “Nope, we’ll stay open every day except Christmas Day.” ie I didn’t need to worry about insulin until after Christmas. Tra la la.

The above picture is Joey (not Buttons), who often travels back and forth from Canberra to Cooma with my mum, who is a priest serving several small towns. Mum has the use of the rectory at Cooma (beside St Paul’s Anglican Church), and we drove up to Cooma on Christmas Eve to spend most of Christmas Day with her.

I realised while packing on Christmas Eve (it was only one night away! Easy peasy, right?) that I had only one full dose of insulin left. Luckily, the rubbish bin beside my bed hadn’t been taken out in a few days, so I figured out that I could use half a dose from the old pen and half a dose from the pen I used on Christmas Day. That would get me through Boxing Day.

So on Boxing Day I dug through my own rubbish bin (mainly tissues as I’m intensely neurotic about noses—I struggle a little just typing the word—which means I blow my nose way too much, which causes it to run, which causes me to blow it more, and so on) and felt moderately clever for still injecting myself with my full dose of 78 units.

Then I drove to my chemist to get more. As I drove in, there was not a single car in the carpark. Sure enough, the entire medical centre was closed. I went up to the outside door of the chemist, and saw “CLOSED CLOSED” towards the bottom of their list of holiday opening hours. Clearly, it was closed for two days, not just Christmas Day. I would have to come past before breakfast the following day.

I go to Capital Chemist at UC, and they are FANTASTIC. I get those old-person Webster Packs from them each month (the ones that have all your meds in little pockets, divided by day and time), and during covid lockdowns they hand-delivered supplies to my house, which isn’t even in Belconnen. I take more than a dozen pills every day, and it is brilliant having the chemist track all those scripts, keep the physical copies, put the right pills in the right place, and even keep an account for me so I can delay payment if it’s a bad week (or month, or year). Which it definitely is.

My normal morning routine is to immediately do a blood test, write down the number, then inject myself with insulin and set a timer for 20 minutes, after which I can eat breakfast. So this morning I measured my blood sugar and headed directly to Capital Chemist UC.

There were very few cars in the carpark. The doctor was open, but the chemist… was not.

When I had looked at the opening hours on Boxing Day, I had looked at the information that the chemist was closed for two days over the New Year—instead of seeing that it was closed for three days over Christmas. Including today. An otherwise ordinary Tuesday. And I was out of insulin. Without insulin, I was in danger of excessively high blood sugar, which can result in a diabetic coma. And I was hungry, and scared, and I already knew I couldn’t trust my brain.

Cool.

Let’s pause to enjoy this picture of Buttons. An excellent representation of my emotional state.

I called Florey Pharmacy, which I know prides itself on being open at odd hours. They were open! And they had insulin! I drove over right away.

This carpark was a buzzing hive of activity, and I was grateful for my disability permit as I was feeling pretty darn shaky. I was still nervous, as I’m on a list of national diabetes people but it’s purely digital and doesn’t always work smoothly. Plus I had absolutely no idea how much insulin costs, as I never pay directly (but through my Capital Chemist UC account)—and it could easily be much more expensive than usual because I wasn’t a regular customer. Insulin is massively subsidised, but would it still be subsidised if I didn’t have the right paperwork? Then I walked into the pharmacy, and they immediately asked me for a prescription.

I was utterly thrown. I didn’t even know insulin had prescriptions, because I’d never seen one. It goes directly from my endocrinologist to my chemist. If I’d thought about it at all, I would have thought it was all approved in advance for those with the national registry. But of course anything valuable is regulated.

They absolutely could not sell me any insulin.

I asked the pharmacist for advice, and she said I could try a different Capital Chemist (Charnwood) but if that didn’t work I’d need to see a doctor. Failing that, I’d have to go to a hospital to get insulin.

I already knew my doctor was busy/unavailable, as I have a life-changing phone appointment with her tomorrow (which I tried to have last week, but couldn’t because she was unavailable). I will find out whether I have Peripheral Vascular Disease or not, which has major implications for my health, for my finances (am I finally sick enough to get a health insurance payout?) and for my ability to continue to be the proud owner of two legs.

If you’ve ever been sick and then tried to park at a hospital, you know it’s a serious ordeal. I SMSed Chris to (hopefully) wake him up, and called the Charnwood Capital Chemist, who said I could get insulin there despite my lack of a prescription. I knew there could still be problems, but I thought I’d try one more place before heading home and throwing the entire tangle at Chris, who would very probably see a simple solution that I was too panicked to figure out.

The Charnwood Capital Chemist was busy, with several people waiting to be seen. There was music playing; a song called “Beautiful Girl” which has the lyrics “Suicidal, suicidal” in the chorus. The songwriter is clearly very proud of using such a triggering word in a pop song, because that word just kept playing—over and over and over. Meanwhile, the chemist prominently displayed a looping video of a man attaching a sleep apnea device to—shudder—his nose. Over and over again.

Cool.

I concentrated on staying calm, and reminding myself not to react badly if the staff were unable to help me. Eventually I saw someone, and she said they’d charge me for a full set of four boxes but give me only one—I’d need to get my prescription sent over from the UC to get the rest.

And how much would that cost?

A fair bit, but little enough that I had the cash and was able to pay.

And so I went home, woke Chris, injected myself with 78 units of insulin, and put my timer on ready for when I could have breakfast.

Crisis over.

While I had breakfast, Lizzie picked up Buttons before/during a massive wee, which spread kitten urine over my chair, the living room, the kitchen, the front entrance, my bedroom, and the ensuite (where Lizzie put him in the litter tray, which was the right thing to do).

So that was my morning.

It’s been a rough year as my health has noticeably worsened—not a surprise, as a diabetic, but still frightening as I don’t know how much more of my health will be chipped away or how bad my life will get as a result. Which is worse—the increasing pain? The increasing dependence on others, who already find me a significant burden? Or not knowing when and where my brain will fail me next?

Cool.

Post Script

While writing this entry, I found the mummified corpse of a lizard on the living room carpet.

Cool.

Post-Post Script

Today a trans friend pointed out that I had outed them, and possibly got them fired. Awesome.

I thought they were already out, and sent them a long, emotional, and public facebook post about how fabulous they are (not just for being trans, but for a bunch of other reasons). If I’d posted it on their timeline, they could have chosen not to display it, but I didn’t—I posted it on mine, and tagged it with their name.

As I’m a writer, facebook is a very public space for me. I have over a thousand “friends”, more than half of whom I have never met in real life. I know some are transphobic, which in my mind was all the more reason to post publicly about how great my friend is.

Naturally, my friend’s employer ended up seeing my post, and that was how they discovered that my actual friend is not the gender that they appear to be at work.

Here’s the best part: The whole reason I posted about my friend at all was because it was their birthday.

So if you were wondering when and where my brain would fail me next… this is it.

Not cool.

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Taming a Feral Kitten: First 24 Hours

December 17, 2022 at 8:08 pm (Uncategorized)

About once a week, I dream that, for some unusual but compelling reason, it is my moral duty to take in a stray kitten.

Last Sunday, in Cooma, my sister was sorting books in the shed of St Paul’s Anglican Church (our mum is the priest there) and she spotted a kitten and its mother. The shed is an old wooden structure with a gap under the floorboards. My sister left food and water and then came back to the rectory and told me about it.

We went back to see if we could catch them, and then stood around in the shed like fools, knowing there was no way we could get under the floorboards. Then she spotted the kitten watching us from behind a piece of wood and, between us, we caught it and put it inside a shopping bag.

Catching A Kitten

Fact #1: Catch a feral kitten, and you will be sliced up and peed on.

Catching the kitten left us bloody and shocked. That tiny little thing was strong, fierce, and startlingly effective at both shredding our flesh and jerking sharply from side to side in an attempt to escape. In its mind, this was a fight to the death—and it very skillfully and wholeheartedly used its millennias’ worth of killer instincts as well as nature’s gifts of needle-sharp teeth and claws.

From beneath the floor there was a long, low growl that lasted several minutes.

There was exactly zero chance that we’d catch the mother. Apart from anything else, we weren’t sure we could win that fight.

Sidebar: I later organised for a humane trap and desexing for the mum. My own mum wants to train her as a barn cat—feeding her etc but not having her in the house. Cats are terrible for native animals, but they’re also terrible for rats and mice so as long as the feral cat population isn’t growing the mum doesn’t have to be euthanised.

We never saw or heard any other kittens, so it looks like there was just one (or that only one survived to this age).

It’s very unlikely the mother cat could ever be tamed—but her kitten is another matter.

Probably.

Does it Need its Mum?

Fact #2: A kitten under three weeks old will probably die if you take it from its mother.

Fact #3: Kittens die a lot even under the best care. The younger they are, the less likely they are to survive. Most are better off left with their mother if they’re under four weeks old.

I have a fair bit of experience with young cats, including kittens under six weeks old (responsible cat breeders will usually insist on keeping kittens with their mother until 12 weeks old these days). I was pretty confident the kitten was at least four weeks old. Here are some signs to look for if you’re ever in a similar position:

If its eyes are closed, it’s under 2 weeks old. It definitely needs its mum.

The ears perk up and look ‘normal’ at about three weeks. It is also walking at that age, and its belly does not drag on the ground any more (as they do for extremely tiny kittens).

If the kitten is beginning to explore its environment, use a toileting area/litter box, and wash itself, it is probably four weeks old. That’s also the age where it will stick its tail up in the air when it feels comfortable or curious. And that’s also the age that it starts to be weaned.

Here are some Ragdoll kittens at four weeks old:

My sister was nice enough (and smart enough, because SHE has a real job) to let me be the kitten’s primary carer, and take it to my home. It was a Sunday so most animal places were closed—plus we were in Cooma, where the RSPCA no longer technically operates. The only advice we got (by phone from a 24/7 emergency vet in Canberra) was, “Don’t touch it, and don’t let any other cats touch it.” This is good advice, as far as it goes.

We let all the kids look at it (from a safe distance of a couple of feet) but not touch it.

Fact #4: A shocking number of kittens are killed by kids under age eight. The tragic fact is that kittens are small and dumb and kids are forgetful and unco. So kittens get stepped on/accidentally kicked/etc and the tiniest mistake kills them.

Food, Water and Temperature: The Keys to Survival

My sister went and bought kitten food. I advised her to get a heat pack as well, and the most expensive kitten food she could find as some cat food is pretty rubbish. She bought “Farmer’s Market” brand kitten food, which was the only one that said “0-12 months”. It had small tins of meat “mousse” (extremely soft, like human baby food). She also bought some kitten milk, which was great as we weren’t sure if it had eaten solid food yet.

I put a shallow dish (actually a plastic lid) of water in a box with the heat pack, plus an especially stinky dress of mine (so it could get used to my scent while staying warm and comfy). I put a quarter teaspoon of the food in another lid which I placed inside the box too, and then got some in its mouth by bringing the spoon close enough that it hissed—and putting the spoon in its mouth with a tiny bit of food on the end. Then I left it alone. When I came back, the food dish was licked clean.

A lot of cats have diarrhea if their food is changed, which can be deadly for a kitten, so I gave it very small portions every 3 hours and usually mixed them with the milk to keep it as similar as possible to what it was used to.

I named it Machiavelli. I’ve thought for a while that Machiavelli was a good cat name, but it’s also not good enough to live with for twenty years, so this was my way to remind myself that it wasn’t going to be MY cat.

Once we were home, I set up my shower with all the basics: A nice thick bath mat, for comfort and warmth; the heat pack; an upturned lid with milk; another lid with food, a makeshift litter box; and a makeshift ‘cave’ for it to hide inside (which it LOVED).

I soon stopped using the heat pad as it didn’t particularly care about it one way or another.

When Zoom was six weeks old, she was still unable to regulate her own body temperature, and needed a hot water bottle or human body warmth basically all the time. She nearly died. Most breeders have an incubator for that reason—the slightest draft can kill kittens. Usually it’s not an issue at six weeks, but Zoom was the runt of her litter and probably didn’t get as much human care as she should have received from her previous owner.

I put food out for Machiavelli about three hours after his first feed, and again used a spoon to make sure it knew what was happening (this time I used a plastic spoon so it didn’t break its teeth with the ferocity of its attack). And… it sat on my lap, unrestrained, and purred.

So we passed our first major training hurdle in a matter of hours: it was no longer trying to kill me. I was shocked at the speed of the change, having expecting to work carefully with him for weeks.

I noticed two white dots on its back and three black dots on the tip of its tail, and changed its name to Buttons.

For some reason he didn’t eat the rest of his food (to be fair, he hadn’t used dishes before), so three hours later I gave him fresh food and milk and hand fed him. Liquid is more important than food, so I gave him the milk first, using a child’s Panadol syringe (he licked it off the end bit by bit). After eating, he even played a little bit—sweet little bops of a sheathed paw, which was QUITE different to our first meeting.

Communication: How To Stop Scaring It To Death And To Become Friends

Step 1: Give it space. When we first caught it we mostly left it alone, in a fairly small box with the lid closed—a similar environment to the shed where we found it, but smaller (which most cats prefer if they’re feeling unsure).

Step 2: I taught it my scent by putting my own sweaty clothing in the box for it to sit on.

Step 3: I gave him slow blinks, as cats do out of respect for one another. This definitely made a difference as he blinked back.

Step 4: I meowed at him. That was when I could see him trying to figure me out—I had become a puzzle, rather than a monster.

Step 5: Food. Yeah, that’s the most important one. By, like, a LOT.

Day 2: Time for the Vet

Now that we were (mostly, arguably) safe from its teeth and claws, we needed to know more about what other threats it might post to me, my kids, and my other cats. And, was it a boy or a girl???

The vet checked it for medical issues and gave it stuff for fleas and worms, then gave it a shot (can’t remember what that was for), and told me it’d be safe for my kids in 24 hours (giving time for the worm tablet to be fully effective, as worms can infect across species—and he was pretty darn safe already, but I might want my family to do a human worms course anyway). But if he has feline AIDS he could pass it to my cats by either blood or saliva—so that’s still a concern.

The vet also said there was no point reuniting him with his mother as he doesn’t need her physically, and psychologically she would only teach him feral behaviour (in fact my own cats might do a better job of helping socialise him).

Did you notice the pronoun? Yes, he’s a boy!

He was perfectly calm with the vet (having apparently decided that all humans are just fine now), and even explored the area.

I told my kids they could now pat him, but would have to wash and sanitise their hands afterwards. Lizzie went for it, and Tim declined. Buttons really wanted to both snuggle and play, so we introduced a cat toy (that I knew my cats loved—so he could start to get used to their scent, and vice versa).

Thus ended Buttons’s first 24 hours in my care.

Here is a very quick (yet long as it’s barely edited) video of Buttons from his first day or so:

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Thank you for being trans

November 23, 2022 at 11:41 am (Uncategorized)

As twitter implodes, I am moving to mastodon. I made this thread by laboriously writing the whole thing, calculating the number of posts it needed, and then replying manually to each post one by one to link them.

It’s possible I should have just been, you know, brief, like twitter/mastodon are meant to be. Too bad.

Here’s the thread, with pictures just for fun (yes I went to the beach last week).

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Felicity’s Gift Guide 2022

November 11, 2022 at 11:16 am (Uncategorized)

It’s time.

This list is all stuff that I either made (wrote/photographed) myself, or was made by someone I know.

For Young Kids

As you can perhaps guess based on the title, this book is designed for refugee and immigrant kids who are new to Australia. It will be published in English, Indonesian, Arabic, Spanish, Mandarin, and Dari Persian. You can see the whole book here.

The English version is JUST about to go to the printer (but in the world of books that could mean anytime from ‘this week’ to ‘sometime in the next twelve months, probably’) and the launch is on February 11 2023 in Canberra.

The other languages are all in different stages, so although we aim to have all of them done by February 11 we may not make it. But if all else fails, I am keeping careful records of pre-orders and would love more as we’re at the expensive end of production.

For Kids

My kids’ magical pirate trilogy is finally complete! Think “Narnia, but with (more) pirates”. They’re suitable for 8+. And yes, I can sign them for your little pirates. I can also gift wrap them, including a tag.

If you buy them through my online store it will automatically charge postage, so if you live in Canberra feel free to just comment on this post or email FBanksBooks@gmail.com to arrange pickup or delivery.

Here’s the book trailer for “The Monster Apprentice”.

Mini Art/Christmas Cards/Bookmarks/Postcards

These are all $1 each. There are lots of great photos taken around Australia (by me), cat photos (also mostly by me) and prints of amazing art by Afghan woman Jahan Ara Rafi. I promised to pay Jahan $1250 by the end of this year so I’m scrambling to sell enough cards to pay her in a timely manner (obviously I will pay her either way, but it was a stupid promise to make—I love giving money to artists and I got carried away).

Please note: Some designs are sold out already but most have at least ten cards left.

A small number of the scenic photos have also been printed out in a large size and framed—so let me know if you’re interested in those, which cost $100 each.

From the Whitsundays in Queensland (the above is Whitehaven Beach, often voted the most beautiful beach in the world; the first two below are taken from Daydream Island):

Kosciuszko National Park (the cave is Jillabenan Cave in the Yarrangobilly Caves area), NSW.

Bateman’s Bay, NSW.

My mother’s garden in Canberra:

Young Adult Magical Steampunk Set in Australia

These books always sell better than anything else. They’re fun, exciting, and suitable for anyone from 12 to 200 years old. Each book has a bonus interactive short story as well. If you buy the whole trilogy, I’ll include “Emmeline’s Empire” for free (valued at $60). It’s the full version of the interactive story in Book 3 including professionally printed art and physical objects (but there are major spoilers if you read it before reading the trilogy).

I can sign them, naturally. I can also gift wrap, including a tag.

If you buy them through my online store it will automatically charge postage, so if you live in Canberra feel free to just comment on this post or email FBanksBooks@gmail.com to arrange pickup or delivery.

And yes of course there are book trailers for all three. Here’s the first one (the couple in the display image are married now):

Magic in the Mail: Feuding Fae

I invented an interactive story system in which stories are told through letters, objects, and artworks. “Magic in the Mail: Emmeline’s Empire” is one of those stories, but “Magic in the Mail: Feuding Fae” can still be bought in its original form—three parcels that arrive one at a time in the reader’s physical mailbox.

Or you can just get all three at once. I won’t mind.

Here’s the trailer for both “Magic in the Mail” stories:

Each “Magic in the Mail” story costs $60 (although if you want “Emmeline’s Empire” you might as well buy the whole steampunk trilogy and get it for free). All the artwork is professionally printed.

“Feuding Fae” is technically all ages, but probably best for 10+.

Murder in the Mail: A Bloody Birthday

The physical, mailed-to-you version of this story is sold out, but you can get it in book form for $23.95.

This story is also told in letters, objects, and artworks—with clues in the art.

It’s a cozy murder mystery (meaning that nothing bad happens… except the murder) suitable for any age not put off by the cover.

I can sign them, naturally. I can also gift wrap, including a tag.

If you buy them through my online store it will automatically charge postage, so if you live in Canberra feel free to just comment on this post or email FBanksBooks@gmail.com to arrange pickup or delivery.

And here’s the trailer for that one:

Very Large Framed Art

The frames are A1 size, which is enormous (approximately 60cm x 85cm). Both photos are by Sujay’s Photography. They cost $200 each, and can be hand delivered in Canberra only. They’re not available outside of Canberra unless you can come and get them from West Belconnen.

Prints by Qusay Fadheel (a refugee from Iraq)

Qusay has been painting for over forty years in a variety of styles from landscapes to surreal.

Each of these prints is available in A4 size for $25 or framed for $50.

Other sizes are possible too and I have several unique frames including a Royal Doulton “Radiance” frame (worth $200 but selling for $100 including an abstract print by Qusay and its original box).

You can see the full range of available prints in the Etsy store I run for him here but I recommend buying them directly from me.

Digital Tales

I write a LOT of interactive fiction, most of which is sold as phone apps. There’s steampunk, piracy, climate fiction, crime, and more. This list has descriptions and links.

Escape Room

The “Madam Alchemist” magical steampunk escape room is up and running again post-covid so if you’re in Canberra you can give it a go. It’s one of the cheapest escape rooms out there; beginner-friendly and accessible to those with chronic illnesses (there are no physical challenges, and plenty of chairs). It takes an hour and is suitable for 10+ (supervised) or 12+. You need at least two players and can have up to six (but I recommend three or four).

There’s some info here but all you really need to do is call or SMS Chief Minion Carol (0404 188 138) and book a time that suits you and her. It’s portable (for $150), but it’s cheaper ($100) to simply use our primary venue in Macgregor (West Belconnen, Canberra).

Yes there are books in the room. No, it’s not a trap designed to keep you in the room forever.

Charities

I run the Castle of Kindness Refugee Sponsorship Group and the West Belco Free Pantry. The West Belco Free Pantry also runs “Homeward Hampers” for Indigenous Detainees who are being released back into the community.

You can donate to the Castle’s perpetual GoFundMe here, or email FBanksBooks@gmail.com for donations to any of these charities. I can hand-write a thank you card if you like (addressed either to you or to someone else).

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DIY Cat Enclosure, Part 3

November 7, 2022 at 7:20 pm (Uncategorized)

Part 1 is here, and Part 2 is here.

We have a gazebo and a quantity of good quality secondhand netting, so obviously we want to enclose the gazebo, making it part of the cat enclosure.

Zipper supervised the work, guarded the tools, and tested the netting.

It actually really sucked. Chris measured the space between the gazebo pole and the fence, cut the netting, and re-threaded the edging before using a range of techniques (mostly zip ties and a piece of wood cut to the right size) to attach it to the four sides of the space. And that was our weekend.

I unpacked the second cat tunnel and put it on the opposite side of the gazebo from where Chris was working. Zipper went through several times.

Chris has ADHD and works best with supervision/company so while he worked I made a ‘nest’ for myself, the kids, and the cats in the trampoline. Tim joined me for quite a while, and I ultimately fell asleep for about two hours. Both cats investigated the new use of the trampoline too.

Lizzie also tried out the ‘nest’.

So that is where cat stuff is up to. There is a long way to go.

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Writing Survey

October 18, 2022 at 11:09 am (Uncategorized)

A small-publisher friend of mine is studying and asked me to fill out this survey, which I thought was moderately interesting so I asked her permission to blog it.

Writing and publishing history:

  1. When did you begin writing speculative fiction (ie science fiction, fantasy and/or horror fiction)? Late Primary School.
  2. When did you begin to submit your work for publication? Late Primary School
  3. How long after you began to submit your work did it take for your first publication? Early High School
  4. Where – which markets, editors and publishers – did/do you submit your work for publication? The Canberra Times had a Junior Poetry section when I was in High School, and every so often English teachers would tell the class about other contests which they helped me enter. In my teens I used the Australian Writers’ Marketplace to submit dozens of stories to contests, magazines, etc. I wrote my first novella age sixteen which did well in a contest, and then I submitted it to various publishers. It was purchased by the (then) Royal Blind Society to be produced as an audio book (although it was never produced). I continued writing roughly one book per year for fifteen years, and had a novel published by a publisher for the first time in 2016 (with five more since then, as well as about ten interactive novels), when I was thirty-four.
  5. Are you still writing now? Yes.
  6. Are you still submitting your work for publication? If no, please discuss.

Yes. I have somewhere between 3 and 5 books in the queue for publication (small publishers are often unreliable) and I’m also working on two interactive novels.

Experiences in publishing:

  • Detail your most memorable experiences in seeking publication – how did you decide where to submit? Briefly detail what those first submissions processes were like.

I was writing and submitting novels from sixteen years of age—long before I knew anything about anything. I looked up publishers online before I started using the Australian Writers’ Marketplace.

One piece of information was so out of date that the publisher’s office had been taken over by some kind of tech company that sent me a bunch of merch. That was a huge thrill.

For about ten years before I was accepted for publication, most publishers would request a full manuscript before rejecting it. On one occasion, one of the ‘big 4’ requested a full manuscript. I followed up once per six months. Altogether, it took them four years to reject that book.

During all that time I continued to write and submit short stories, winning or placing in contests every so often. Something like 1% of my stories would receive some kind of encouragement. The Sisters in Crime Scarlet Stiletto Awards were especially encouraging (more money than others that I won, and with an award ceremony with a well-known guest—meeting Kerry Greenwood the same year I won her ‘Malice Domestic’ award was huge even though I usually write fantasy rather than crime).

Once I paid over $90 (a huge amount for a student) for a pitch session with a publisher who said she thought my opening scene was a dream because “it has pirates in it, and pirates aren’t real”. I had checked that this publisher produced fantasy, but clearly that particular acquisitions editor really didn’t. That was one of the worst moments of my so-called ‘career’—not because I was rejected; I’d had hundreds of rejections—but because I’d wasted a fortnight’s income on someone who was so obviously the wrong person.

That book is “The Monster Apprentice”. The whole trilogy is now published, and you can buy signed copies directly from me here, or get it from all the usual retailers (on or offline).

I also ‘won’ a pitch session with a very well-known Australian fantasy publisher which required that I travel to New Zealand to meet with her. She never did publish any of my books (although I kept in touch with her for years and always sent my books to her first), but I met one of my favourite writer friends during those pitch sessions (SC Green, who is a financially successful full-time NZ author of mainly fantasy romance/erotica—she writes many books every year, and they’re good).

Some years later I pitched another book at another face-to-face session and about a year later they actually said yes. A year after that, and before my book was published, the publisher collapsed. That particular book still isn’t published. I may take another look at it some day, but I’m no longer in any hurry.

Because.

In yet another pitch session, I met Michelle Lovi of Odyssey Press, who eventually published my steampunk trilogy and my kids’ pirate fantasy trilogy (above) as well as two other books.

But I get more money (still peanuts, but to a starving person peanuts are extremely important) from Interactive Fiction (published via game companies even though it’s still up to 400,000 words per story, with little or no sound or images).

  • Have you ever been asked to make changes to your work that felt gendered?

When I was planning “Heart of Brass” (first book in my steampunk trilogy) in 2009 or so, I wanted a bisexual heroine, partly because I love the gays (I didn’t know I was bisexual myself until later), and partly because it gave her more interesting romantic options. I discussed it with several high-profile Australian authors who advised me strongly not to have a non-straight romance as it was far less likely to sell. I ultimately decided that it added enough to the story that it was worth it.

However, one of the ‘big 4’ publishers (one who liked it enough to give comments) compared my writing to the work of Erin Morgenstern. Which is highly complementary, but doesn’t actually make sense. We are both fantasy writers, but the only other thing we have in common is having gay characters.

So.

It does look likely that being gay-friendly was a factor in my rejections. But I’ve had plenty of rejections for books that didn’t have any gay characters, so it’s not the only factor.

  • Were you ever asked to write under a pseudonym or initials?

No. But there wouldn’t be any point, as I write from a first person female perspective anyway. If someone is allergic to female authors, they’ll definitely be allergic to a female perspective.

  1. Did you ever consider writing under a different name? If so, why?

Yes, when I was younger I used a pen-name because I was underage. I gave it up because I could never remember what my own name was from one moment to another.

  1. Have you found interactions with editing staff you’ve worked with to be supportive and positive?

Yes.

I had one extremely patronising female editor who thinks she ‘brought out’ my story (like a sculptor finding a shape within a block of marble). Actually that story was pretty average and derivative and I always found it odd that it was published at all.

Another editor, a male who I knew as a friend, put in about ten semi-colons in a single page of text. I gently pointed out what had happened and he apologised profusely and said he didn’t know what he was thinking when he did that.

  1. Does it affect your submission process if you know the editor/s are male or cis-gendered, or if you have reason to believe that the publication promotes a high proportion of male authors?

No. Partly because I usually have that female first person perspective anyway, so there’s nothing I could do to conceal my femininity. Partly because writing fantasy or writing gay characters has been a noticeable barrier but I’ve never had enough information to blame male editors for my assorted failures.

  1. Does it affect your submission process if you know the editor/s are female, trans or non-binary, or if you have reason to believe that the publication promotes a high proportion of female, trans or non-binary authors?

I’d be a lot more likely to submit, and to submit one of my overtly gay/trans-friendly tales. Mostly so they are likely to find a gay audience, since I do love LGBTIQA+ people and I want them/us to see ourselves in stories.

  1. Have you ever chosen not to put yourself forward for an opportunity, or publication, because of your gender or identity, or for a reason associated with your gender or identity?

No. As a writer of interactive fiction (basically, Choose Your Own Adventure stories, usually released as phone apps) it took me a long while to be comfortable promoting myself among gamers (since I’m really really not into computer games) but I just call myself a “niche gamer” these days.

The interactive fiction field is usually very very welcoming and diverse, making it an oasis among the wider (famously sexist and homophobic) gaming community. I’ll always get some reviews complaining about my ‘woke agenda’ but they’re thoroughly drowned out by others who appreciate the story (including a strong minority saying, “This game developer should totally write novels”, which is always funny).

I particularly enjoyed working at Tin Man Games. I worked mainly with one woman and one man, and the three of us had a male boss. Both men were and are fantastic and respectful.

I did hear, long ago, that books with pictures of Women of Colour on the cover were less likely to sell. So it was a priority for me to have Indonesian-looking women on the cover of my kids’ fantasy pirate trilogy (set in a world based on Indonesia).

  1. Do you have any noteworthy examples of editorial feedback you’ve received on your writing you would like to share with this study – either positive or negative, inspirational or demoralising?

Only the stuff mentioned above.

  1. Do you have any awareness or opinion of your possible exclusion from publications or other writer-related events (such as convention panels, writing groups, writing festival events etc) due to your gender or identity?

It’s possible, but if so I didn’t know about it.

  1. Have opportunities been offered to you because of your gender or identity such as publishing projects, mentoring, financial support, appearances at events, or similar?

Nope. Only based on knowledge eg writing steampunk.

Oh, and the Sisters in Crime Scarlet Stiletto Award is only open to women. That made a real difference to me.

And when I apply to be a panellist at Conflux Speculative Fiction Conference in Canberra each year, I mention any bits of diversity I have (bisexual, Austistic, disabled) so they can put me on relevant panels. But those aren’t paid.

  1. How would you assess how opportunities made or denied to you because of your gender or identity have affected your writing career?

I am not aware of my gender or identity having an effect on my career, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened.

  1. Are there any other experiences you feel are relevant to this research that you would like to share?

I suspect publishing is like education: More women are present in the field, because it pays less than the average job. But the men that are in the field are more likely to have better pay and greater power. (Similar patterns shake out when you look at race.)

There is one piece of the puzzle that definitely has an effect on me. It’s such a large effect I can’t even blame the industry, exactly. My books feature female characters. They’re on the cover, and they’re the ‘voice’ of the stories. So I always, always sell less books to men.

Presumably every editor I’ve ever had contact with has known that they’ll get around 40% less sales than they would with a male protagonist. So I’m sure that was part of the equations that got me 15 years of novel rejections before I had a novel published for the first time.

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The Big4 Adventure Whitsunday Resort

October 11, 2022 at 1:34 am (Uncategorized)

Why yes, I’m still sorting out photos and videos from our Queensland holiday last March. And my computer and phone are very upset about it all.

I like making videos in iMovie but none of the title options do subtitles well, so here’s the full text of the video (so anyone Hard of Hearing can read them here), with some pics so it’s not too boring.

____________

We live in Canberra, so it was always going to be a pretty long day to get all the way to the Whitsundays. But our kids had never been on a plane before, so it was pretty exciting, and as soon as we arrived at Proserpine Airport we were pretty enchanted with the features of the airport. Then off we went to the Big4 Adventure Whitsunday Resort. Not to be confused with the Big4… other place, which is different but in the same area.

Beautiful gardens, barbecue areas, lots of really good facilities including a range of camping/room options, water features, go karts, petting zoo…. But of course the main thing is the water park. There are thirteen slides in the waterpark. It closes … I think about 6:00 or 7:00pm each day, which gives you plenty of time to play, and it was Right On for our kids. We had such a good time—all of us. It also features a huge bucket that occasionally drops water all over you if you’re standing underneath.

And there’s the pool, which has two slides, a spa area, and is huge.

This is our cabin, number two, and our rental car. It’s a relatively long way from the pool but very close to reception which turned out to be really handy. Nice outside light; nice balcony. We had a tree frog juuuust here.

You can see a floor plan on the web site: there’s two very lovely bunks with their own little windows. Top shelf: luggage only… so, this is my daughter ‘Luggage’. Actually she’s very safety conscious and would never go up there.

These chairs are not suitable for adults. I did break one, even though I was very careful, so we had to bring in one of the outside chairs but I really don’t blame myself for that.

Here is the kitchenette, which has basically four knives, spoons, forks, etc. No oven; the electric frypan was our friend. Another window. It’s quite a small space but they managed to have seven windows, a fan, and an air conditioner—which was not quite up to the heat of this week, but it was a lot better being inside than outside.

Basic stuff in the cupboard. Unfortunately not shelves, which I would have liked because a lot of the storage space is down so low it wasn’t useful to me. There’s about…. Well, that’s not a gap I can fit into.

The shower has a water-saving showerhead, which is probably for the best. The door opens this way, which makes it pretty difficult for an overweight person to get in. Basically there’s enough room in the bathroom I would say but you know, it’s tricky. Certainly not a place you could access with a wheelchair but I believe they do have wheelchair specific cabins.

Lizzie loved the Autism Room, even though it was pitched a little young for her. Tim became completely obsessed with Mini Golf, and he and Chris went off to play it pretty much every day. But the best thing of all was night-time swimming, especially with the water slides still open until 9pm each night.

I strongly recommend the Big4 Adventure Whitsunday Resort. It was excellent.

Video link:

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