This cold is slowing me down

GAH. Woke up with yesterday’s cough turned into a different kind of cough, more phlegmy. I think that’s actually progress, but it feels worse. Also, my head is a ball of snot. I may refrain from trying to do delectable food descriptions for a day or two, as right now, every adjective I come up with is gross.

Plan for today: somehow, clear head enough to finish Wild Cards story revision. That’s basically it, though there are some little e-mails, etc. to process. Oh, and a phone conference with Margaret about our comic, though I think I need to push that off again (gah), as this cold has slowed me down sufficiently that I didn’t do the writing I said I’d do before we met again. SIGH.

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Finding the right help

It’s been an evolution, figuring out how to do at least three different jobs (professor, indie publisher, nonprofit arts director) as one person. Part of that was realizing I needed help, and then it turned out that it took me quite a while to find the right *kind* of help. I think I’m making good progress on that, though, with six (!) part-time people. Some put in 1-2 hrs / week, some put in more like 10, depending on the job. Somehow, it’s all working. (It’s not quite paying for itself yet, but it’s getting there, I think. An investment in the future.)

Heather Rainwater Campbell is remotely working for me from Michigan, doing my social media work, and also some of the Feast production & PR work that can be done remotely. Irene Victoria is doing PR work as well, from New York, primarily for the SLF, but a bit for me as well.

Last night, I took out three of my local team for what was supposed to be an end-of-year thank you — wish I could’ve flown out the remote people too! — which had slipped over into a start of the new year thing, because we’re all just that busy, and our schedules are complicated. All three of the locals are moms, and y’know, holidays can get a little hectic for moms. Just a touch.

Our fourth local, Kirsten Jackson, couldn’t make it, but we’ll get her next time. She’s our hardy financial person, and has relieved so much financial anxiety for me, I can’t even tell you. She makes sure everyone gets paid on time, and the taxes too. 

But Cee Gee (who does development work for the SLF, working on grants and our fund drive) managed to make it, along with Karen Murphy (our managing director at the SLF, helping to keep the schedules and files and volunteers organized), and Stephanie Bailey (who basically organizes me).

We went to Flourish Oak Park, which I haven’t tried before, and it’s really a fun concept for co-working space + cocktail bar (they have a cool mechanism that allows you to sample lots of different beers and such, which is very appealing for a taster like me). And we were lucky enough to be there when pig & fire were doing a Filipino pop-up event, so in addition to the cheese platter and sweets from Flourish, we got to sample more of their yummy Filipino food. Lumpia, YUM. (Their next pop-up will be at Kinslahger 1/25, 5:30 – 8:30! Details on their FB page…)

Thank you all, peeps, for keeping me mostly sane last fall. Looking forward to much brilliant work and fun times in the new year.

(And Kel Bachus, thanks again for telling me at WisCon last year that I needed a tribe to work with me and take care of me. You were absolutely right.)

#serendibkitchen
#serendibwriting

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Knitting as a good ADD hack

I wanted to go to two readings on Wednesday evening (about 4 hours of sitting and listening), but I also knew that ADD makes it really hard for me to even sit still for readings, much less focus and listen to what the readers are saying. I mostly don’t even try to go to readings these days because of that, which I feel quite guilty about when I’m at conventions and all my writer friends are giving readings.

I decided to try something else this time around. I had enough time before the readings to duck into a local textile arts store (Stitches), which happened to be across the street from where I’d been looking at a venue with Nora (Capitol Cider). They’re really mostly a sewing store, but they did have some yarn, hooks, and needles.

I found a nice chunky yarn, Magnum, and bought a skein of it in a blue that I thought would go nicely with the new jacket. I took a photo of the pattern on a sample scarf they had hanging next to it — although it’s barely a pattern, alternating knit and purl stitches. I mostly just wanted to remember how many they’d cast on to start, though any odd number would basically work for this. They wound it up into a ball for me, and off I went, walking to Hugo House for the reading.

It’s a good thing I picked something so simple, because it turned out that it was super-dark in the audience for this reading! I could barely see the yarn. But that meant that I worried less about disturbing anyone else (I deliberately chose a seat far back), and there was just enough light that I could cast on and count stitches. After that, thankfully, the knitting was simple enough that I didn’t really need to see what I was doing. 

And it worked! Over the hours of that reading, and the one that followed (maybe 3.5 hours of total reading time, with transit in between), I knit this much of the scarf, which was satisfying, and more important, was able to basically sit still and even listen to the readers, even though my ADD meds had worn off hours before.

So a good hack, and one that I think I will try to continue. The SF/F world is fairly used to people knitting in the audience at conventions, for exactly this reason, but I may need to explain a bit in other venues, so people don’t take it as me being disrespectful. Honestly, I’m paying MORE attention to you when I knit.

It won’t always be possible, I’m afraid — I did try to do this once when attending an academic talk at UIC, and people were so distracted by watching my knitting that I felt that it was too disruptive, so I stopped. But maybe we can normalize this a little — I know I’m not the only person who has trouble sitting still!

#serendibwriting
#serendibhome

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I fell in love with this fantasy-themed coat

Seattle got much colder than I expected, and by the end of the first day, the light raincoat I’d brought was just not cutting it. I went out to look for a heavier sweater, at least. I didn’t plan to buy a coat, I swear! I’m trying to do something of a buy-nothing January, to recover a little from all the holiday gifting, etc.

I mean, buy groceries and other essentials, yes. (Although I’m also trying to eat down the pantry and the frozen foods, with some success. I just had some frozen curry chicken bao for lunch, that I bought three months ago, and they were delicious.) But mostly, when I feel the urge to buy a book or a game or clothes or whatever non-essential item, I put it in the shopping cart and save it for later. If I still want it in February, I’ll see if we can afford it then.

But sometimes the fates just step in. The Free People store that was literally across the street from my hotel happened to have ONE of these jackets left, in EXACTLY my size, AND it was on clearance, so still pricey, but not quite as outrageous as their normal pricing. I thought, “Well, I’ll just try it on.” Mostly, I admit, sort of thinking that Ellen Kushner would appreciate this coat, which seems sort of Tremontaine-ish, and I should at least try it on and take a photo for her.

Then I fell in love. It’s a great color for me, and I don’t actually own a dashing velvet jacket, and it was actually reasonably warm, and it had good pockets.

Plus, I do budget separately for convention / performance clothes vs. regular clothes, and think of those as part of my professional expenses, even though they’re not actually tax-deductible, which seems a shame and also sexist, given how much more pressure there is on women to spend a lot of money on work clothes / make-up / etc., often with professional consequences if they don’t.

AND, while I have a goodly number of starry dresses and the like at this point, so the SF side is well represented, I am still somewhat lacking on the fantasy side. When I host a SLF Deep Dish reading, I like to look the part, and SF has been much more represented than fantasy so far. So I kind of HAD to buy this jacket, right? (I would also like a dragon dress or several. Must work on that.)

I feel like my decision was validated by the fact that a) I was much less cold when I walked out of the store, and b) no fewer than FOUR South Asian writers in the next two days complimented me on this jacket.  No regrets!

(I did sort of fail to take a selfie that captured the full glory of the jacket, but hopefully you get the idea.)

#serendibwriting
#serendibtravel
#sala2020

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Poetry posting question

Super-random poetry posting question. I just posted a poem a few posts back by a writer friend, which reminded me that I was talking to someone at a con recently who always posts her poems as graphics. More meme-ish that way, I guess? I’m wondering whether I should do that too, on the somewhat rare occasions when I’m posting a poem. (I’m planning to post one later today, which is also why it’s on my mind.)

I don’t really know how one goes about composing the background for such a thing — just use Canva to make an attractive ombre color or some such? Add in a relevant photo image (that you own)? Is that more appealing (or more visible on FB) than just posting the text? What do y’all think?

I know for access, I’d want to post the text itself as well, so it feels a little goofy, posting both text and photo text, but maybe that’s fine. And I suppose that’d make it easier for Heather to cross-post it for me to Instagram…?

Hm.

#serendibwriting

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Tentatively planning a Toronto visit with SJ Sindu

[Note: Toronto visit question following at the end of this.] A highlight of the con was getting to spend a little more time with SJ Sindu, brilliant young Sri Lankan novelist, now a professor at University of Toronto, and they are lucky to have her. I loved her _Marriage of a Thousand Lies_, and you will too — just look at all the accolades it’s gotten!

• Publishing Triangle Award Winner
• Golden Crown Literary Society Award Winner
• American Library Association Stonewall Honor Book
• Lambda Literary Award Finalist
• Independent Publisher Award Silver Medal
• VCU First Novelist Award Finalist
• Longlist for DSC South Asian Literature Prize

I mean wow! And she’s so young too!  V. impressive, thangachi! Exciting to hear that University of Toronto is starting a Tamil Studies program too; looking forward to learning more about that. (Navaratnasingam, you may be interested!)

I’m really hoping we can get together in Toronto sometime in the next year — I was planning to go there at some point for book tour (esp. since I have fabulous cousins in Canada, Loudes Tania and Michele Jayakumar and Rozanne Arulanandam), so it’s mostly a matter of picking dates.

One complicating factor — I’d planned to go out this year, since the book launches in March 2020. But MLA is actually going to be in Toronto next year, so there’s an argument to be made for trying to do something in conjunction with MLA, which wouldn’t be until January 2021?

It’s tempting to say ‘do both!’ of course, but Kevin and I just had the first of a series of serious conversations of how we’re going to manage all our work travel and still be present for each other and for the kids this coming year, so just flitting off constantly on international trips, even if we can find the funds, probably isn’t the wisest move.

So here’s the question — when should I go to Toronto? Which is mostly about what other South Asian / Sri Lankan / science fiction events are happening there in the next year?

It’ll generally work much better if I can pair it with that kind of thing, so I can do joint events with other writers, helping to draw bigger crowds for all of us, and also making it more interesting and fun overall. I don’t just want to be talking about me and the cookbook all the time! 

Also, are there literary venues I should be reaching out to, who might want me to do a reading there? Professors teaching classes who might want me to come as a guest? Etc. and so on. And if any of these opportunities come with a little funding help, even better, though that’s not necessarily a requirement.

Help me brainstorm, Toronto peoples? (Or those knowledgeable in the ways of literary Toronto…)

#serendibkitchen
#serendibwriting
#serendibtravel

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I have a cold now

I am feeling really dense because I offered someone a taste of my fancy drink and she warned me she had a cold and I said oh, I’m not worried, and honestly, I usually DON’T catch colds from that kind of thing, but this time, maybe I did, because I have a cold now and I am super-cranky with myself for not being more careful. GAH.

An hour ago, Kevin came down and kindly brought some DayQuil to my sickbed on the living room couch. He made the mistake of then trying to ask me about groceries for the week, and I said something not helpful, so then he asked me again and I burst into tears. Poor boy. He said he’d take care of the groceries.

The DayQuil has now kicked in sufficiently that I can think again (and in fact, I feel fine now, meds are AMAZING), so I’m going to try to get through the rest of my SALA posting, at least, and then I really do have to do either the Wild Cards revision or my syllabi, because both HAVE to be done for Monday. I have procrastinated them too long. (I kept opening the files all this past week, I swear, but just failed to make myself actually start working. Sigh.)

But I’m afraid all of that will likely have to be interspersed with resting. Sigh. Feel really dumb, since I know travel makes me so much more likely to get sick. Though it easily might not have been the shared drink, of course. Eight hrs in the airplane environment, plus all the airporting, can easily get me sick all on its own.

Maybe I should start wearing a mask if I’m going to fly more often, at least in winter…I wore one a little when I was immunosuppressed during chemo, and felt so self-conscious, but it’s much more prevalent in Japan, I know, so perhaps this is just a matter of cultural norms, and I should get over it. A mask + thin scarf for semi-camouflage? Hm. And if I do it, I help make it easier for other people who need it more to do it…

#serendibwriting
#serendibtravel

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Poetry reading at Hugo House

Wonderful reading at Hugo House during SALA, featuring Shadab Zeest Hashmi, Prageeta Sharma, Dilruba Ahmed, and Kazim Ali. It’s been long time since I went to a dedicated poetry reading, and I really should do more of it; makes me want to write more poetry, which I think can only be a good thing in anyone’s life.

I picked up a copy of Dilruba Ahmed‘s Dhaka Dust, and am looking forward to taking some quiet time to read though it. Her new book, Bring Now the Angels, will be out in 2020; looking forward!

https://www.graywolfpress.org/books/dhaka-dust
https://smile.amazon.com/Bring-Now-Angels-Poems-Poetry/dp/0822966077

***

Snake Oil, Snake Bite

They staunched the wound with a stone.
They drew blue venom from his blood
until there was none.
When his veins ran true his face remained
lifeless and all the mothers of the village
wept and pounded their chests until the sky
had little choice
but to grant their supplications. God made
the boy breathe again.

God breathes life into us, it is said,
only once. But this case was an exception.
God drew back in a giant gust and blew life into the boy
and like a stranded fish, he shuddered, oceanless.

It was true: the boy lived.
He lived for a very long time. The toxins
were an oil slick: contaminated, cleaned.
But just as soon as the women
kissed redness back into his cheeks
the boy began to die again.
He continued to die for the rest of his life.
The dying took place slowly, sweetly.
The dying took a very long time.

***

#sala2020
#serendibtravel
#serendibwriting

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I chose this work

One of the points raised in this conversation, about teaching South Asia in the academy, is that we think a lot about how to create safe spaces for students, where they can productively think and learn and grow, but we don’t have nearly that kind of attention to the safety of faculty.

Someone asked me after the panel, “Where is the duty of care for us?”

It’s a good question. There are days when I’m exhausted by the topics that come up in class, days when I’m driving home with Kevin and I comment enviously that it must be so much easier not having to deal with any of this in a math class. I chose this work, of course.

And I think it’s incredibly valuable having me, in my brown, queer, female body, standing up in the front of the room, for a variety of reasons. But it’s tiring. I’m tired, people. And there are days when I am not sure I have the emotional fortitude to engage as directly with the material as I would like.

(It’s easier on the page sometimes, but even there, especially if you’re active on social media, it can get vicious and frightening. Ref: Meghan Elison‘s recent essay on the topic, that I posted to my wall a few days ago: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/writing-with-my-keys-between-my-fingers/)

At the end of this panel, I ended up standing up and talking about a few incidents I’ve experienced recently, where hostile students were aggressive enough towards me that I was actually a little worried; I ended up talking to both Kevin and my chair about those incidents, documenting them. I don’t think either will turn into anything, but it was unnerving.

As we discussed in the room, every single professor of color there has experienced similar incidents, and it seemed, unsurprisingly, that the women among us had experienced more of them. It’s gotten worse in the last year or two. America under Trump, I suppose, and an emboldening of background racist ideas that live in people’s subconscious.

We talked about strategies for combating it, and I do think some of it can be lessened with appropriate framing of the class in the first days of the semester. Talking about background racism up front, discussing privilege, defining the terms. I already do a lot of that, but one professor said she gives them handouts at the start of the semester, and perhaps I should add that too, just so there’s something authoritative on paper that they can reference, rather than perhaps half-listening to the words I’m saying. It might help.

I particularly want to call out something helpful Rahul K. Gairola offered. I’d said that I found myself wondering if I’d done something differently in my teaching that led to these incidents (been more blunt, let a little more of my frustration show, perhaps?) — and he said that that while he appreciated my self-reflection, that I shouldn’t give in to gaslighting, or as he called it, gas-white-ing.

If I thought I was suddenly getting a lot more hostility from a few of my students, I probably was. And it almost certainly had nothing to do with anything different I’d done. The world has changed a little since Trump’s election. That’s all.

So now we resist, and come together in community to strategize, to seek and give support. Sometimes to grieve. I’m glad I was able to take the time to attend SALA, to attend this panel. It made me feel a little less alone. I hadn’t even realized how much these incidents had bothered me, until I got up and started talking about them.

Documenting this all here, in the hopes it will help someone else. Onward, to another semester on Monday. I’m teaching postcolonial lit., and writers of color in SF/F. Plenty of fraught material to come.

#serendibwriting
#serendibteaching

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Eating well, and healthy food choices

content note: exercise / healthy food choices
also: request for advice / suggestions

So, I’m planning on traveling a lot in 2020, with constructing the book tour for Feast, along with SF convention work for the SLF. Prioritizing health is surprisingly difficult to manage with this much travel. It’s become clear that at 48, my body isn’t as resilient as it used to be. I get sick much more easily, I gain weight more quickly — just maintaining my base health levels become challenging when I add travel.

That said, I also both need to travel for work, and I love traveling. Seeing new places, visiting far-flung friends and making new ones, eating local food — those are great joys in my life.

I’d honestly love to travel more; if I can figure out a way to become more of a travel & food writer, combining that with everything else I do, I’ll be thrilled. I’m also often startlingly productive with my writing while traveling — I’m writing this on the plane right now, and my agent told me that Diana Gabaldon famously writes constantly in taxis while traveling. I *think* this can all go together, and as the kids get older, I’m hoping I can start taking them along on occasion, and Kevin and Jed too.

So I NEED to find a way to travel in a healthy manner. I submit to you a photo of the available options when I arrived at baggage claim. I was feeling snack-ish, and would have been delighted to eat some of the gorgeous persimmon salad pictured on the cover of the Eating Well magazine I was reading at the time, but none of that on offer for me — chips, chips, and more chips. Chips are tasty, of course, but I can’t argue that they’re healthy options.

Once in a while, I’ll see a Farmer’s Fresh in an airport, but their business model depends on high enough traffic that the salad greens and such can turnover quickly; we looked into getting one for our library, but we don’t have enough volume for them. If I want healthy food in transit, I basically have to plan ahead and bring it with me.

Not easy with fresh greens, but not impossible, with a little strategizing. I’m going to be trying to think a lot about this. I can’t remember who it was told me about an author they knew on book tour who would pack and bring coolers of poached chicken breast with her. I’m not quite that committed, I think, but something to think about.

Some of this is money, of course. If I’m willing and able to spend a little more, I can usually find healthier food choices. Sometimes that means going to a sit-down restaurant instead of grabbing snacks from a vending machine. I’m going to try to prioritize budgeting for that whenever possible, because if you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything. My dad the doctor used to say that to me, and more and more, it’s clear that’s more true than I’d like it to be.

I had a lot of conversations at this conventions with other writers about health. Cancer really did give me a kick in the pants, you know. That was when I told Kevin that we needed to prioritize budgeting for health going forward. Physical health, mental health.

I can’t remember exactly when it was that Kev and I had our summer of weight lifting (I think before cancer, actually), where we both somehow ended up committing to it fairly seriously, and would go and workout pretty much every day, passing each other on the way to the basement to trade off time on the weights.

A friend complimented my arm muscles earlier today (thanks, Sugi ), and another told me that I was looking great. I told both of them that it’s all pretty much due to that one summer; it had lasting effects on my body. I didn’t lose pounds, but my body reshaped itself. I dropped two dress sizes, and have basically stayed at that size since, despite not really dieting or exercising steadily.

This is, of course, what all the weight-lifting books and advocates and fitness trainers will tell you — muscle burns more calories, so if you build more muscle, then you can eat more without gaining weight. And once you build it, it tends to stick around, in my experience, unless something like a serious illness lays you out.

I must have done the weight lifting before cancer, maybe the year before? Because I remember, during chemo and its attendant exhaustion, the months laying on the couch, being so frustrated, fretting that all my muscles, all that hard work, would wither away. Thankfully, they didn’t go that fast. And my doctors told me that part of why I handled chemo and surgery and radiation so well was that I was in decent physical shape to begin with.

I’m trying to get back to exercising daily. As I realized recently, I basically stopped exercising last August, when the semester started and I got intensely busy with that and Kickstarter fulfillment. I also, not coincidentally, got sick a lot more last fall than I have in a while — I kept catching colds, one after another, which slowed me down.

It’s hard to make the time to exercise, but if I don’t, I lose at least that much time to sickness, which is even less fun than lifting weights. I actually kind of like lifting weights — it’s just getting myself started again that’s hard. (It’s key that I originally started with a class, and working with a trainer; that gave me the confidence to be able to walk into a weight room and use it without feeling self-conscious, and without worrying that I’d hurt myself. Highly recommended if you’re thinking about starting lifting.)

I have a few sessions left with a personal trainer from last summer; I’m going to schedule them again now, to help myself get started again. If I had the budget, I’d meet with her three times a week; instead, I’m going to rely on tracking again, maybe a workout group or girlfriends or making a deal with Kevin — something to help keep me accountable.

I have a FB group for fitness, actually, Olympians, but it’s been a little quiet lately. Maybe time to start it up again more actively, for myself at least. Make a plan for the semester, a pledge.

Weights at least twice / week, tracking and progressing (I love watching the little numbers climb. “Today I can do 10 deadlifts of 45 pounds. Next week, it’ll be 12. The week after, I’ll bump it to 50 pounds, and drop down to 8 deadlifts, or even 6. And slowly, but steadily, progress.”

Daily cardio of some kind, too, if at all possible. I’m not sure I’m going to manage the cardio today, given travel complexities, but I did go to the hotel gym every day I was here, even when I was feeling tired and a little sick, and I walked around town whenever possible, so I did pretty well overall. And I ALWAYS felt better after exercising. I have to try to remember that.

Maybe I can go to the pool and do some laps tonight, after I get home and see the kids and eat dinner with them. I think the lap lanes are open 9-10 or so. I should check. Hmm… Learning how to swim properly has been a huge boon and a great investment in my long-term health. It took me until age 45 or so, and I still am not quite as confident as I’d like to be, but I’m so much better than I was a few years ago, and swimming is both great exercise and something I can do for the rest of my life.

And then there’s food. A salad daily, if at all possible. Salads rarely excite me as a concept, especially when I’m feeling cold, but I actually usually like them when I’m eating them; I have to try to remember that. I had Asian gingered ground chicken in lettuce wraps at the airport restaurant today, and it was a great choice, tasty and filling, giving me a good boost of energy to carry me through working on the plane back to Chicago (though twice the price of the fried egg roll option, of course).

Beyond that, I’m going to have to just try to be more conscious, and to strategize while traveling. If there’s nothing appealing in the hotel restaurant (and the prices are usually exorbitant anyway), how about walking a few blocks away to get something healthier? What delivery options are there?

That’ll often be less convenient, and if I’m really tightly scheduled with back-to-back panels, it may not be possible, so I need to plan for that too. Kind bars and granola and bison bars? Apples and clementines. Sometimes I’m craving salt — I should have a ‘go bag’ for travel already packed with salted pistachios.

I need to sit down and make a travel packing list anyway, so I don’t forget the swimsuit and sneakers and sports bra and the little cards with the body weight exercises if the hotel doesn’t have a decent gym. And yes, take all of that, even if I’m not sure I’m going to use them, even though they take up room in the suitcase and it means I have to check a bag. It’s worth it. Prioritize the hotel with a pool, even if it’s $10 / night more expensive.

My trainer suggested protein shakes that just need water added. Is there a similar thing with chicken broth? Instant oatmeal and dried fruit and nuts, since the hotel rooms usually have a way of making boiling water? What do athletes do for food on the road? I need to be much more intentional about all of this in advance, because I get anxious if I don’t have sufficient food near me me, and sometimes that leads me to making poor choices.

And of course, as a food writer and a general lover of food, I do eat out a lot, and sometimes that means I’m ordering the fries. Exercising regularly (not excessively) means I can do that on occasion with fewer qualms.

I was troubled by how often when this came up in conversation at the convention this week, people said they didn’t exercise while traveling. Maybe it’s not a big deal — maybe their health is generally good enough that their constitutions can take a few days of sedentary convention sitting at tables without much impact? But my body clearly can’t handle that these days; I start feeling terrible very quickly.

So here’s the thread where I encourage you to take care of yourselves on the road, whatever that looks like for you and your one singular beautiful body.

It’s also the thread where I invite you to give me your exercise / healthy eating while traveling / avoiding getting sick on the road suggestions.

What do you do to take care of yourselves on planes, trains, and automobiles? I’d love to make myself a list!

#serendibtravel
#serendibkitchen
#serendibwriting

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