Tag Archives: Julie Fison

Prize for young writers

To celebrate the National Year of Reading, young writers (under 23) are invited to submit fiction or non-fiction works of 1500-2000 words on any topic for a chance to win $2000 in the Questions Writing Prize. The Award is sponsored by Future Leaders, an Australia- wide project designed to provide young people with inspiration and skill development for effective leadership. Entries close July 1st. More details here: http://www.futureleaders.com.au/reading/index.php

You can find tips for young writers here: http://juliefisonwriter.wordpress.com/top-tips/

Author, Dee White writes a very good blog on writing issues: http://deescribewriting.wordpress.com/

It is also worth signing up to the Sydney Writers’ Centre newsletter for writing tips and other news.

Good luck!

Rewards – you get what you pay for

By Julie Fison.

The night before every school athletics carnival my son asks how he can improve his chances of success. The answer is to invent a time machine, go back 12 months and start training. It’s a bit late to start running around the block on the eve of an event.

This year to preempt this conversation, we encouraged our teen to start training over the summer holidays. ‘I will. Tomorrow,’ was his response. And tomorrow and tomorrow and … you know how that ends.

Three weeks later, with still no running happening, we offered him an incentive –a financial one. I am a little embarrassed to admit that we paid our son to go for a run every morning and offered a bonus for consistency (running five days in a row). I can totally justify this by adding that my teen was going to get holiday money anyway. Instead, we made him run for it. But, it worked. And he’s still training, even though he’s not getting paid.

Research into the teenage brain shows that a teen’s reward centre is much more developed than the consequence centre.  So, it makes sense that an immediate reward motivates a teenager much more than a possible consequence 10 months down the track.

So, are financial rewards part of a clever strategy or do they constitute lazy parenting or worse?  

The subject is a divisive one. Some friends are fiercely against them. But many others quietly admit they use financial incentives – to get their teens involved with sport or to do more training. And they are all happy with the results. My Whatever! colleague, Diane is one. She calls it ‘performance-based compensation’, which she feels fits pretty well with the real world. And don’t get her started on parents who excuse their kids from sport because they don’t have any natural talent. Sport is just too important to let slide. And you don’t have to be a star to benefit from sport. Research backs that up. A study by the West Virginia University found that young teens who play sport benefit physically, socially and mentally.

But teens sometimes need more than just an encouraging word to get into something (and that’s when a reward helps). Yet, once they’re involved – the sport, success or whatever, becomes the reward in itself. And hopefully self-motivation will develop with maturity.

One friend reports that she had to incentivize her teen to exercise, but once she had a reasonable level of fitness, her teen had the confidence to join a sports team. She endures exhausting training sessions without rewards because she loves the team spirit.

Another friend who generally doesn’t approve of financial incentives was so frustrated by her son’s commitment at his weekly rugby match, that one week she offered him a substantial bonus if he scored a try. He did! But the following week, with the same reward offered, he didn’t.

Cash incentives seem to work best if used occasionally rather than as a standard practice. They’re also best kept private – between you and your teen. Other parents aren’t going to thank you when their teen comes home demanding money to train because their friends are being incentivized.

The caveat here is that rewards can be the start of a slippery slope. What starts out as a two dollar incentive can easily turn into a ten dollar reward – until a teen starts acting like a super model and refuses to get out of bed for less than ten grand a day. That would be an extreme case. But that’s what many parents fear. The secret here is to set expectations and stick to the plan. TeenHelp, a US site, sets out some guidelines on the more traditional – pocket money for chores model, that are useful. The warning here, and elsewhere, is that financial rewards shouldn’t be used to manage bad behavior. ‘If you stop beating up your brother, I’ll give you fifty bucks,’ is unlikely to have a long-term positive outcome.

There’s also a big red flag to parents of very defiant teenagers. All rewards can backfire because your troublesome teen will just refuse to do anything without an incentive.  The teen has to learn to do what he or she is told without a reward, according to expert advice. (See more here.) 

There is no doubt that cash incentives shouldn’t be the default parenting technique. They aren’t the answer to everything and they aren’t for everyone, but they seem to help nudge a reluctant teen into something you know they will benefit from.


Treatment for acne

By Julie Fison

Remember the old Clearasil ad – a bunch of skegs deciding if seaweed or saltwater was the best treatment for pimples? Thanks to new developments in skin care – there’s a bit more choice on the market to treat acne these days. In fact, there’s a huge choice out there. So, where do you start when your teen breaks out?

Mothers who have been through this, complain that some of the over-the-counter products can do more harm than good. It’s tempting for teens to try to really scrub their blocked pores, but a harsh cleanser can actually spread bacteria. Common pimple creams tend to dry out the skin as they get rid of the spots. They also treat the symptom rather than the cause – so another pimple pops up where the previous one was.

To get some professional advice on the subject, we have asked Wickham Terrace Skin Clinic Founder, Madelaine Goakes, for some answers.  Madelaine is a therapist (and registered nurse), not a dermatologist, so her expertise is in improving the health of the skin, not prescribing medication for acne.

What is acne?

‘When the teenage years hit, hormones can cause the sebaceous (oil) gland to produce excess oil. This oil can become mixed with flakes of skin and form a plug over the hair follicle, which is from where the oil flows.

With the follicle blocked and the sebaceous gland still producing oil, the oil cannot escape the follicle becomes distended, forming a bump under the skin. This bump can become infected with bacteria that live on the skin resulting in sore inflamed pimples.

Sometimes the blocked follicle presents as a blackhead, the colour is not from dirt. As the oil (sebum) dries it darkens in colour. These blackheads can easily become infected either from attempts to remove them or from the bacteria infiltrating from the surface of the skin.’

What kind of acne conditions can a therapist treat?

‘Acne is given a grading from 1 to 5, 1 is a mild form and 5 (acne conglobata) the most severe but uncommon form. To what level the therapist can treat is probably dependant on the type of treatments they offer and the products they use. Typically a grade1-3 could be tackled by a therapist.

Many people choose to start treatment this way because they want to avoid medication. The best advice I can give is don’t wait until the acne has reached stage 3. Start treatment early. With the correct cleansers and topical Vitamin A, many acne cases can be treated easily.’

What are the treatments?

‘The principles of treating acne are:

  • Reduce the oil production from the sebaceous gland.
  • Reduce the possibility of follicle becoming blocked by removing excess dead skin cells.
  • Remove the blockage of the follicle.
  • Prevent infection by keeping the pH of the skin at the lower end of normal  (4.5- 6.5) this helps to prevent bacteria growth.’

So how do you do this? 

‘There are several options available:

  • Topical Vitamin A has been shown for many years to be effective in improving problem skin. Known as the great cell normaliser, Vitamin A can also help reduce oil flow. Mild forms such as Retinyl Palmitate are very effective in early stages and do not have the risks of sun sensitivity that the stronger forms do.
  • Vitamin A also has a pleasing effect on the dead cells helping them to form a compact and smooth layer on the skin, reducing the possibility of causing blockages.
  • Mild chemical peeling may also be of benefit; this should be undertaken very carefully by an experienced therapist
  • Appropriate cleansers that contain Salicylic Acid can help to dissolve blockages.
  • The cleanser should also have the correct pH towards the lower end of 4.5-6.5, to maintain the delicate layer of oils and bacteria on the skin, this layer is called the acid mantle.  A toner containing Lactic Acid is also helpful.’

What are the side effects of treatment?

‘Some forms of Vitamin A and peeling treatment to reduce blockages can make the skin sun sensitive, but as your teen would be wearing sunscreen and a hat anyway you will probably not need to make any other changes. Yes, I know… what sunscreen and what hat!!!’

Does diet affect acne?

‘I teach skincare at a modeling school and love to tell the models that I have found no conclusive proof that chocolate causes acne. We are at the moment in the clinic researching any papers that make any recommendations based on conclusive trials on nutritional support for acne. However, a healthy balanced diet should always be encouraged.’

Are there other factors that affect acne?

‘There are many triggers for acne: stress, hormones and some medication. Acne can occur at any time in our lives. In our clinic we see quite a few distressed women in their 30s who managed to get through teenage years without acne, suddenly to have their skin out of control.’

‘To sum up, I would say:

  • Treat acne early.
  • The key to effective acne treatment is consistency of application of recommended products.
  • Some popular products used by teenagers can be very damaging to the skin.
  • Moisturising and application of creams can seem counterintuitive, but they are the best way to reduce acne and achieve a well-balanced and nourished skin.

If your skin is not responding to treatment, see your GP who can offer you help or refer you to a Dermatologist.’

Madelaine Goakes is a registered nurse with experience in cosmetic and surgical medicine. Her Wickham Terrace Skin Clinic addresses both the health and appearance of the skin and provides treatment for skins of all ages. See more details here. http://www.wickhamskin.com.au/

Visit Whatever! again soon for professional guidance on using medication for severe acne cases.

See also our recipes for glowing skin here. 


Glowing skin recipes

For glowing skin, nutritionists recommend teens cut down on processed, salty foods and pack in plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts, oily fish and lots of water. Green leafy vegetables, berries, mangoes, papaya, almonds, pumpkin seeds, salmon and tuna are all great for healthy skin – at any age.

Here are a couple of ideas for packing in the essentials.


1 apple

1 beetroot

1 peeled kiwi fruit

1 handful of parsley

4 carrots

Put the ingredients through the juicer.

Note: Parsley and Carrots (and other orange vegetables) contain pro-vitamin A and C, essential for healthy skin. Beetroot is another super ingredient.


1 small paw paw or mango

1 handful of blueberries

2 tablespoons of natural yoghurt

ice or cup of water

And if your teen is really committed to glowing skin and doesn’t mind a green smoothie, add a handful of destemmed baby spinach.

Toss the ingredients into the blender.

Note: drinks are healthier when they aren’t icy cold, but the ice gives a better, fluffier texture. Orange fruits contain pro-vitamin A and berries are high in vitamin C.


A bag of baby spinach leaves or other dark green salad leaves.

1 mango (diced)

1 avocado

I handful of almonds

I handful of pumpkin seeds

Toss with a little balsamic vinegar and olive oil dressing.

Try this salad with a piece of grilled salmon (with the skin on) for a super meal.

Note: Almonds have a natural anti-inflammatory benefit and pumpkin seeds contain zinc, which stimulates the immune system, controls inflammation and helps heal wounds. But an excess of zinc in the diet can be harmful.

I tend to use macadamia nuts, instead of the almonds and pumpkin seeds, and add marinated feta cheese. It’s not as beneficial to the skin, but it sure is a tasty (and popular) combination.

Michael Van Straten’s website is a mine of information on nutrition or check with your nutritionist or GP for professional advice.


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Phuket with teens

By Julie Fison

With cheap international airfares and a strong Aussie dollar, Australian families are flocking to Asia for holidays. Here’s a look at how to enjoy Phuket with your teens.

Teen alert: There are plenty of activities to keep teens busy on Phuket – from kick boxing to white water rafting and snorkeling. Don’t (as I did) show your teens The Beach to set the scene – two guys get mauled by a shark, and Hangover 2 is also a dubious choice!

Our recent holiday to this popular Thai island got off to a bad start when my teenage son’s backpack was stolen. With it went his iPod, phone, etc. It served as a lesson on personal security. On the upside, it also meant we didn’t have to endure gaming at meal times. Instead, we rediscovered the art of conversation and enjoyed a wonderful family holiday.

Stay: We stayed at the JW Marriott Resort and Spa on Mai Khao beach, which is rated the top family hotel on Phuket. It deserves the reputation for its beautiful location, tropical landscaping, amazing facilities, wonderful service and great restaurants. We particularly enjoyed Ginja for Thai meals and Blue Bar for sunset cocktails (half price from 5-6 pm). The resort offers an extensive program of activities. I loved the yoga sessions and our sons (reluctantly) tried salsa dancing and kick boxing. You can get a beach massage for $10 an hour and a cute baby elephant visits the resort daily with his mahout.

The resort is on the northern tip of the island, which makes it quite remote from the main tourist precincts. That’s good if you want a quiet holiday but inconvenient if you’re hoping to do lots of shopping and partying.

See: You’re never far from a beach on Phuket, but for the best snorkelling, take a boat to the surrounding islands. The Phi Phi group was made famous by The Beach, starring Leoardo DiCaprio. Maya Bay, where the movie was filmed, is stunning, but expect to share this piece of paradise with lots of other tourists. About 200 tour companies ply the waterways here. We were looked after by a great crew on the Sea Angel Speedboat.

A trip to the mainland is also a good option for teens. We visited Phang Nga for a short
 elephant trek, ATV ride and some white-water rafting. Rafting through the jungle was definitely the highlight. www.islandsafaritour.com

Tours are a fraction of the listed price if you book them at one of the many tour offices in Patong.

Eat:  Phuket is famous for seafood, but I love the green papaya salad (a specialty of the Thailand’s north). Keep a glass of water handy because salads only come one way – fiery!

 We flew with Air Australia (formerly Strategic), a budget airline with direct services
out of Brisbane and Melbourne (Fares from $429 each way). Beware: you’ll be paying for everything once you get on board – meals, snacks, drinks, blankets. It will also cost extra to reserve your seat in advance. Our flight had no inflight entertainment, so make sure you pack your own. There was nothing Australian about our flight (apart from the passengers). The plane and crew were chartered from Atlas Air.

UPDATE: 17/2/2012 AIR AUSTRALIA has gone into voluntary administration. See details here.

For a complete list of flight and hotel options check out Webjet.

Also check out Trip Advisor for independent hotel reviews.


Julie Fison website

Making a difference to a friend with cancer

It’s always a relief to emerge from a routine breast screening and hear the words “everything looks normal”. But too many of my friends haven’t been that lucky. They’ve faced (and are still facing) the physical and emotional trauma of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation treatment, and much, much more, while still trying to keep the wheels on their families.

So how do we help a friend facing cancer, or any other kind of health crisis, without adding to their burdens – send a card, cook them a meal or pay them a visit?

Here’s some guidance from two inspirational and brave friends, whose battles with cancer have been made just a little bit easier with the support of family, friends, acquaintances and even strangers.

Karen was diagnosed with breast cancer at the end of 2007. She had a bilateral mastectomy, chemo and radiation treatment. Unfortunately the cancer had spread to her spine and brain, so that meant more surgery, more chemotherapy and dreaded brain radiation treatment. Here is her account of how friends made a difference:      

I could not have made it through the tough times without my mates.  So, don’t hesitate to contact a friend, no matter how much time has passed between you. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what to say. “This really sucks” is a good start. It’s just a great feeling to know so many people are cheering you on. Lovely old friendships have been validated, and blasts from the past are welcomed. Surprisingly, new friendships have formed as generous strangers have entered my life. Phone calls are hard, as cancer can make you crazy-tired, and the phone still exhausts me. Texts and emails are brilliant, but cards or notes popped into the letterbox are a tonic. I used a lot of those notes as bookmarks and they made me smile or were a source of inspiration.

Pyjamas were welcome presents. I was the best-dressed in the hospital thanks to my mates, and my favourite was the gift of a cosy dressing gown from a dear friend’s husband. Distraction is essential.  Friends would pop in with a favourite novel, a pile of mags or a DVD.  Body lotion and hand creams are brilliant gifts as the treatments are tough on skin. Always tell tales of people you have heard of who are doing well.  Success stories only please.  It is a battle to keep your head in the right space, so hearing about someone dying, knocks you for six although we will smile bravely. Don’t tell your friend that nothing in life is certain and that any of us could wake up in the morning and get hit by a bus. There are no buses in my bedroom. Invite yourself to a friend’s chemo session.  Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer, your friend will need moral support. Chemo goes on for hours so consider doing shifts with other friends. Take some old photo albums for a laugh, your juiciest gossip and talk about how dreadful your children are.  A lovely reminder of the imperfection of all our lives!

My friends co-ordinated a food roster, but what worked the best was having an off-site central drop-off point and my girlfriend would pop in briefly each afternoon with the dinner of the day.  Sometimes I was just too sick to talk and my darling friend had a key and slipped the food into the fridge.  Kids meals were helpful.  I lost my sense of taste, so loved any textured, crunchy salads, although single-serves of soup were helpful for the days when eating was too hard. There does tend to be an oversupply of one-pot meals.  Try chopping up vegetables for a stir-fry, and present with some marinated meat all ready to get popped into a wok at your friend’s house. My neighbour brought over a roast meal every Tuesday and my mouth still waters four years later.  Baking for school lunch boxes, bagged individually to go into the freezer is great. It is also helpful to write a list of ingredients on the container.  Please try and use disposable containers.  I have a whole cupboard of unclaimed Tupperware that makes me lose sleep at night.

Don’t be fooled when we pretend that we are coping and breezing through the treatment process. The uncertainty is terrifying and everyone’s approach is different.  It is a fact, however, that regular exercise improves survival significantly, so instead of sitting around drinking tea, take your friend for a walk. Encourage your friend to go to the Cancer Council’s ‘Look Good, Feel Better’ programme.  Better still, go with her.  You get to see lots of lovely new products and everyone needs to know how to draw on eyebrows! Don’t forget spouses and partners. Believe me, they are struggling.  If you can’t ring them yourself, get your partner to ring.  He may need to persist, but the benefits of a quiet beer with another bloke, or a noisy curry night with the boys, lightens the load they are carrying around in their head. My mum moved in for a while when I was in hospital.  She was devastated and relied heavily on encouraging words from my friends. Mum drew great strength from the knowledge that my mates had my back.

The greatest challenge for me was how to handle the children, aged six, twelve and thirteen at the time. Their fears ranged from ‘can I catch cancer?’ to the obvious concern about the longevity of their mum. I needed help with this one. My prognosis was grim and I certainly couldn’t find a handbook on how to fight for your life and be a mum at the same time. I sourced a family counsellor and attended an excellent programme run by the Mater Breast Care Unit entitled ‘Mindful Parenting in the Context of Breast Cancer’. I made plenty of mistakes, the biggest being to over-parent and try and create perfect children quickly… just in case. Terrible plan, by the way.  My six year old managed well. His quality of life improved significantly, with prolonged play dates, amazing food and brilliant holidays as I desperately attempted to lay down memories.  My teenaged daughters struggled.  They could smell fear from ten paces, as the house became a pressure cooker. The girls are sixteen and eighteen now and their main request is honesty. They need to know when a scan is coming up, and that often explains why I am anxious. They want to know what the doctors say.  They want to know the good news and the bad.  Fortunately they have a good relationship with my oncologist who will temper reality with great optimism, quoting cutting-edge science. I took the girls to chemo once with the hope of de-mystifying the process.  They hated it – way too confronting.   I maintained regular communication with the schools, and the teachers balanced reassurance with vigilance. Several teachers checked with me that my girls would handle parts of upcoming curriculum containing cancer issues.  If any child was withdrawn, or teary, there was always a phone call to check on what was happening at home. More often than not, the issues were unrelated to my illness, but what a relief to know that their welfare was being monitored.

Luck was on my side in some respects.  I had taken out a trauma insurance policy years ago, that I had almost forgotten about.  It paid for daily cleaning and a night-nanny who came to the house from 5 to 7 pm to do dinner, school lunches, homework, and a quick tidy.  She played endless games with my son and taught my girls dance moves in the kitchen. She brought a lot of laughter to the house. Please, please check your insurance status.  We all need trauma insurance.

I used to worry that my kids missed out on a part of their childhood.  Now I know that no one has a perfect run.  My kids have witnessed first-hand the value of great friendships and how you can survive just about anything when you have your mates. They know the value of good health and being happy. Most of the time. And I reckon they will handle life’s curve balls.

Best of all, they are good at saying ‘I love you’. It takes some people a life-time to learn that.”

Karen has ongoing treatment, but she declares she is extremely well and a triumph of modern medicine. Her friends describe her as an inspiration in every way.

Kim is a mother of three boys, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2010. She had three tumours and after wide excision surgery was told the cancer had been discovered early and hadn’t spread.  She had six courses of chemotherapy over four months, which caused tiredness, nausea, loss of taste, muscle pains, hair loss and menopause (“chemo has a bad rap because it is bad!”). This was followed by six weeks of radiotherapy.

Here, Kim shares her account:

“The generosity of family, friends and work colleagues during the treatment was just amazing. I heard from just about everyone I have ever known and I appreciated everyone’s thoughts and wishes. Some people later said they did not contact me because they did not know what to say or how to help. That didn’t worry me at all, but I know that in the future I will always try to contact anyone affected by illness or trauma- even indirectly with a card, email or text.

The food was FABULOUS! My work colleagues were fantastic. They organized a daily meal drop for the week after each chemo and were co-ordinated so that we didn’t have lasagne every night.  One of the beautiful young admin girls arrived one Saturday evening dressed to the nines, late for a party because she spent all afternoon slaving over a stove for us!  Even people I didn’t know, such as the lovely nurses from Steve’s (Kim’s husband’s) work, brought enough food to feed a small nation. Luckily the teenage boys of the house had no problem polishing it off! Yes we were at risk of injury from frozen food falling from the freezer and the rest of the family probably put on weight! Unfortunately they expect the same gastronomic delights now that I am better- bad luck to them!

I also had help in many other ways, which I really appreciated – from picking up kids from school, taking the boys for haircuts and help with sport on Saturdays. This was fantastic as I was often not up to driving and sitting through my three sons’ long list of sporting fixtures. Company for gentle dog walks, tea and chats was lovely (a call or text beforehand was appreciated). I was also thankful that people were aware when I was flagging and kept visits quite short.

One of my friends who went through this for the second time last year added that it was not helpful to hear stories about how someone else had died from cancer or to have to listen to other people’s petty gripes.

However, being there to listen to our petty gripes was appreciated!

Kim is on medication for the next five years, but her last scans were “all clear” and she feels great!

Kim recommends these sites for information:

Breast Cancer Network Australia  – a good place for information and details of other victims’ experiences. There’s also a good site to chat with women going through the same thing.

Cancer Council has counsellors at the end of the phone and offers resources for teens affected by cancer.

CanTeen also has programs for teens with affected family members.

Thank you to the gorgeous Kim and Karen for sharing their personal experiences. We wish them good health and lots and lots of happiness. You deserve it! Our thoughts are also with others who are battling a serious medical condition.

Game, set, rejection

Phew! What an exhausting weekend of tennis. My legs are still shaking from the epic Djokovic win over Nadal in the Men’s final. And Friday night’s dogfight between Djokovic and Murray left me wheezing. But what’s happened in the Murray camp, we’re wondering? Everyone was talking about Murray’s coach, Ivan Lendl, the stony-faced former number one. But what happened to Andy’s mum, who used to be a fixture in the box? Mrs Murray told reporters she had too many work commitments to be in Melbourne for her boy, but the big question is: was she pushed?

Children normally start rejecting their parents around the onset of adolescence, which means Mrs Murray has been living on borrowed time for 10 years. Lucky her! But getting ditched by your offspring isn’t easy, no matter what the age.

So, what can you do when your teen decides you’re just too embarrassing to be seen with – cry, fight back or accept that it’s just part of life?

Ever feel like you're ready for the scrap heap?
This summer we made our annual family trip to a theme park – Whitewater World, on the Gold Coast. We were all set for a rip-roaring day out, but I could tell as soon as we walked in that things wouldn’t be smooth sailing. The place was dominated by swarms of parentless teenagers. I noticed my teen shrinking as we waded through the park, trying to make himself invisible between his parents and younger brother. After one ride, my husband and I were informed that we were too embarrassing to be with. Our company was no longer required or appreciated. I had screamed too much and my husband had just been too … annoying. 
And so, with a large amount of disappointment, we parted ways.  I retired to a sun lounger to count tattoos, (wondering whether the giant wings on Jonathan Thurston’s back counted as one or two), lick my wounds and consider my new role as a mother of a teenager.
Experts agree that teens reject their parents and their values to gain independence and find their identity. Teenagers (especially girls) will criticise their mother’s clothes, hair, makeup, the way they walk, talk and pretty much everything else in between. But here are some things to remember when your teen gets mean. It’s a compilation of expert opinion and advice from oracles on parenting.

  • Criticism is not pleasant, but it’s not personal.
  • Don’t blow things out of proportion
  • Choose your battles – don’t fight the irrelevant stuff
  • Respect your teen
  • Try to stay positive and don’t badger
  • Don’t forget that you’re a parent (you don’t have to be your teen’s best friend)
  •  Keep open and keep talking

 I also find it is helpful to spend some time well away from my teen’s peer group, to give the family a chance to bond and my son a change to have fun without worrying about what everyone else thinks of him. (Whitewater World was the wrong choice for that!)

Also, check out this factoidz for a good overview of why teens rebel.

And here’s Mark Twain’s advice: “When a boy turns 13, put him in a barrel and feed him through a knot hole. When he turns 16, plug up the hole.”

I hope you don’t have to resort to that technique.


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