The kids who helped save the kids

The kids who helped save the kids

In recent blog posts, I’ve been documenting the bureaucratic nightmare that ensnared my family as we tried to get home to Canada from Japan.

Trapped in limbo by our own government

Marcie I are one of five Canadian families who are in the process of adopting children from Japan but because the Canadian Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) wouldn’t issue us visas, we became trapped in Tokyo, without a way to get home—unless we abandoned our babies.

After weeks of uncertainty, and being given no clarity or timeline by our own government, we felt like we had been painted into a corner, left with no choice but to tell our story publicly.

Launching a media campaign to save our kids

After five days of intense media, doing interviews with all the major Canadian news outlets, writing blog posts, sharing stories on twitter and facebook, and campaigning for fellow citizens to write to the IRCC, we finally were able to convince the government to take action and bring us home.

It happened on a Saturday—much to our surprise, because this is not a day that the embassies or any government departments are open. But there we were, feeling at one of our lowest moments, when the email from the embassy in Manila, Philippines, came in with our visas (immigration from Japan is handled by the Manila office). Manila coordinated with the local embassy in Tokyo, had them open especially for us, and we charged out into monsoon-like weather to get our paperwork finalized. (I would have trekked through blizzard or hurricane; the weather just seemed to add to the drama).

After receiving our paperwork, we booked the first available flight home—for us, that was Monday, June 25th, nine full weeks after we had first arrived in Japan to receive custody of our son.

Our story ends happily

We arrived home to be greeted at the Vancouver International airport by friends, family, and TV cameras. It was all a little overwhelming but, despite being jetlagged and emotionally exhausted from our ordeal, we were happy to do some last interviews. After all, it was the medai campaign that helped us get home.

Here’s some photos taken by our friend Carrie Bercic of our arrival:

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hiro_arriving_home_marcie

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A big thank you

I really want to thank our friends, family, colleagues, and fellow Canadian citizens who stepped up to help us campaign for a resolution to our case.

The reporters and interviewers who covered our story were sensitive, kind, and squarely on our side.

The Canadian kid-lit community was amazing, with children’s authors coast to coast writing letters on our behalf. I’m so humbled that everyone took the time to help out my family.

The kids who championed kids

One group I especially want to draw attention to is the kids. There were many children who clambered to our cause and wrote letters to the government to help Marcie, Hiro, and I get home.

As a children’s author, I visit a lot of schools and am in contact with a lot of passionate readers. I’m always so humbled when my characters and stories connect with readers—but I never dreamed that these readers would play such an important role in my personal life.

There is a class of grade-one students at Mulgrave School who are enormous fans of my Kendra Kandlestar series. I visited their class earlier this year and got to witness their passion first-hand. At that time, they asked me if I could come back to see their assembly at the end of April—they were putting on a play of Kendra Kandlestar. At that time, I asked their teacher, the amazing Elizabeth Kok, to email me a reminder.

Alas, when I received her email, Marcie and I were already in Japan with Hiro. I explained the reason, and so I had to settle on some photos and video footage of the play. Here’s a photo of the kids in action (check out those costumes!):

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Fast-forward a few weeks. Elizabeth caught wind of our predicament via twitter and immediately launched into action, leading a project in which her class of six- and seven-year-old students wrote letters to the Minister of Immigration, Ahmed Hussen, and telling him to bring us home.

Global News did a story on their letter-writing campaign, which you can view here.

Here are some still frames from the segment, showing their wonderful letters:

globalnews04globalnews03globalnews02globalnews01There were other kids who joined the cause, too. Here’s an illustrated letter written by Joanne, one of the students enrolled in my creative writing classes, to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

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So many people supported us but, if you ask me, it was these letters by kids, in support of the five babies put in jeopardy by the Canadian government, that put us over the top. After all, no one wants to be seen being chastized by six-year-olds.

But whether you are six or sixty, there is zero doubt in mind: your support got us home. If it hadn’t been for people rallying to our cause, writing letters, expressing outrage on social media, we’d still be stuck in an endless cycle of bureaucracy. The support of our fellow citizens got us home. For that, Marcie, Hiro, and I are forever grateful.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Thank you.

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Another week, more uncertainty: 5 Canadian Families with no path home

Another week, more uncertainty: 5 Canadian Families with no path home

Well, we’re at the end of another full week, and we haven’t received any news about our situation. We’re one of five Canadian families in the process of adopting children in Japan, but because the Canadian Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) won’t issue visas for our babies, we’re stuck here.

Our entry into the Land of Limbo began on May 25th
We first arrived in Japan on April 23rd, took custody of our son on April 24th, and then waited for the visa to arrive. We didn’t suspect there was any problem, but when our visa didn’t arrive by our scheduled departure date of May 23rd, we made the decision that I should head back home anyway to work and earn some income for our family. It wasn’t until May 25th, when I was back in Vancouver and separated from my family, that the IRCC announced that it wasn’t a minor delay we were experiencing, but that they were indefinitely suspending our process. What I had thought would only be a few days’ separation turned into several weeks.

Long days and nights
During that time, we hoped for resolution, but when it never arrived, I finally made my way back to Japan on June 15th to rejoin Marcie and our son. Since returning, I’ve been so busy writing government officials, coordinating and conducting media interviews, and in general trying to promote our story that I’ve barely left the hotel.

Trying to find normalcy
Last night, we finally decided to take a few hours off. We met up with one of the other moms stranded here and separated from her husband, who also had to return to Vancouver for work. We took a humble stroll through the grounds of a Japanese garden that is managed by a local hotel. We saw fireflies, sculptures, a beautiful pagoda, and just tried to pretend we were normal people without the weight of uncertainty bearing down us and our children.

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Uncertainty grows
With each week that passes without a resolution, the more in jeopardy we feel—not only emotionally, but financially, and physically. Yes, physically. Weeks of stress and duress can take a toll.

Thankfully, however, our children are babies—they have no idea about the situation. We’ve now had them for more than half their lives and we’re the only parents they’ve ever known. As far as they are concerned, life is normal. They still coo and cough, smile and smirk, naive to the whimsies of the bureaucracies that hold their future in the balance.

Contacting the government helps
We do sincerely believe that everyone’s efforts—writing letters to MPs and the ministers, sharing links on social media, and advocating on our behalf—have made a difference. Our campaign has captured the attention of the decision makers. What decisions they make, or how quickly they make them, is still something we worry about, but at least it seems that THEY are now worrying about us, too.

Thank you
So, this is another heartfelt thank you to everyone for your support. Your letter-writing, your messages of support, your prayers and positive vibes, mean a lot to us and it’s hard to put our gratitude into words. There are a lot of terrible things happening in the world—far more terrible than the situation we are in—and we are so blessed to be offered the care and attention of friends, family, colleagues, and even complete strangers.

Grateful to Japan
We also want to express our gratitude to the country of Japan. The people here have been so welcoming and hospitable. The workers at our agency here have checked in on us, chaperoned us to medical and immunization appointments, and sincerely cared about our well-being.

Help us keep our story alive
If you haven’t yet written a letter to the Minister of Immigration, please consider doing so. There’s a helpful template letter at the bottom of this blog post.

If you’ve already written, and would like to send an additional letter, you can use the template letter that I posted at the bottom of this blog post.

Thank you again. Our uneven path continues, but now we don’t feel quite so lonely.

 

Our family continues to be trapped—as more government rhetoric swirls

Our family continues to be trapped—as more government rhetoric swirls

Earlier this week, I posted the story about five Canadian families—one of which is mine—who are stuck in Japan with the babies we are in the process of adopting. You can read that post here.

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My wife, Marcie, with our baby, in Tokyo. Japan is a beautiful country. We love it here. But it’s not our home.

Yesterday, Canada’s Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), Ahmed Hussen, spoke for the first time publicly on the matter, stating: “There’s a disconnect between what the Japanese government requirements were and what the organizations that were facilitating the adoptions were telling the families.”

We found this response disheartening for several reasons, not the least of which is that what he said IS SIMPLY NOT THE CASE.

So, rather than simply sitting back and taking his comments on the chin, I’ve decided to write another post and make sure OUR message is getting out there, too.

On June 7th, the lawyer for the five families provided three separate legal opinions to the Department of IRCC to explain that we have indeed followed all requirements in Japan, Canada, and the province of BC.

One of these legal opinions is from the former Chief Justice of Japan’s Family Court—in other words, an extremely qualified expert to speak about Japan’s requirements. The legal opinions can be viewed in full on a news article on Global News’s website.

The legal opinions have been in the hands of the IRCC for TWO WEEKS but, to the best of our knowledge, they have not followed up on them.

What is two weeks? Well, to us, stranded in Japan, it’s thousands of dollars in extra expenses, more lost income that can’t be earned at home, and, most importantly, more stress and uncertainty. Three of the ten parents have had to travel back to Canada to fulfil work and family obligations—which means those families have been split asunder. I was one of those parents, and after a three-week separation from my wife and son, was able to fly back to Japan on June 14th (of course, at great expense).

All of this is while we are caring for infant children. They are not a burden—they are a joy. But we are being deprived of all the normal situations that other Canadian families get to experience with new additions to the family. We haven’t been able to introduce our children to friends and family. We haven’t been able to take them to the local park, the community centre, or the library. We haven’t even been able to take them to our family doctors.

If you want to continue supporting us, please consider writing another letter to the Minister of IRCC and to the Primer Minister, Justin Trudeau himself. I have provided another template letter at the bottom of this post.

For social media posts, please tag @JustinTrudeau @HonAhmedHussen @CitImmCanada ‏and include the hashtags #BringBCFamiliesHome #5CanadianFamilies #cdnpoli.

Also, feel free to use the graphic below.

Bring5familieshome

We’ve had many people asking if we have set up a Go Fund Me campaign to financially support the five families. We appreciate everyone’s concern—as a group, we have discussed this as an option to consider if our situation is not resolved in the near future. For now, we want to focus our attention on pressuring the Canadian government to hear our story and make the right decision to bring us home with our babies—and to make that decision SOON.

If you have yet write a letter on our behalf, you can use the template that is at the bottom of my previous post. If this is an additional letter, feel free to use the letter below as a starting point, and customize and personalize it as you see fit.

Email to:
Minister@cic.gc.ca
Ahmed.Hussen@parl.gc.ca
justin.trudeau@parl.gc.ca

You may also want to copy your MP. You can find out your MP’s email with this link.

Correspondence matters. Pressure matters. Even if you receive a stock response from a government official, they take letters from the public seriously—especially letters of outrage.

I want to reiterate the gratitude of the five families. Every letter sent to the government, every note and message on Social Media, buoys us.



Subject Line: Bring the five Canadian families home NOW

To the Honourable Ahmed D. Hussen,

I am writing as a concerned Canadian citizen, frustrated to learn that five Canadian families are STILL stranded in Tokyo, Japan, while bureaucrats in your department continue to deny permanent residence visas to the babies they are in the process of adopting.

I heard you speak on this matter publicly for the first time, in which you stated: “There’s a disconnect between what the Japanese government requirements were and what the organizations that were facilitating the adoptions were telling the families.”

My understanding is that this is simply not true. The legal counsel for the five families is on record stating that he has sent legal opinions from Japanese experts to your ministry. One of these opinions comes from the former Chief Justice of Japan’s Family Court. If you ask me, this is an extremely qualified expert to speak about Japan’s requirements. So, why is your government delaying? This entire matter has now been in your hands for several weeks, and yet Canadian families continue to suffer financially and emotionally, ensnared in your cruel net of bureaucracy.

And all of this because officials in your department have decided to take authority from the US Department of State website and the Trump regime, a regime that has currently been in the news for literally ripping children from parents’ arms and putting them in, for lack of a better word, detention camps. This decision, to take action against Canadian citizens based on US immigration policy, is completely bewildering and fundamentally against the values that I hold dear as a Canadian.

 

These five Canadian families have spent the last several weeks nurturing and bonding with the babies. To continue stranding them in a foreign country without providing any timeline, is absolutely heartless. It also seems completely disingenuous to continue rolling out the standard rhetoric that their situation is a “priority.” How can you say that in good faith when this matter has been in your hands for over a month, and counting?

 

I urge you to find the political will—and a solution—to bring these five families home NOW. Your government is a self-proclaimed champion of families, multiculturalism, and immigration.

Prove it.

Sincerely,

Your name and address

 

5 Canadian families stranded by the federal government—and mine is one of them

5 Canadian families stranded by the federal government—and mine is one of them

I don’t get involved in politics on this blog—this is usually the place where I talk about daydreaming.

But right now Marcie and I find ourselves ensnared in a devastating situation, and it’s time to tell our story.

We are one of five Canadian families that have been stranded  in Japan with the children we are in the process of adopting.

Why?

Because the department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) decided to delay issuance of permanent residence visas to us while they engage in a lengthy investigation that has no defined end date.

Why are they investigating?

Short answer: we’re not sure.

Long answer: we learned on June 15 that what prompted the investigation into Japanese adoptions came from a US State Department notice, which outlines new requirements for the US with regard to inter country adoptions.

So why is the Canadian government deferring to US immigration policy? US immigration laws are starkly different from Canadian immigration laws. The information on the website is merely a change in interpretation of US immigration laws under the current Trump administration.

To date, the IRCC has not provided us, or any of the four other families, or our legal counsel, with any other documents or legal opinions that undermine the process we have taken.

On the contrary, we have provided numerous legal opinions based on Canadian, BC, and Japanese law, which support the rigorous process we have followed. In fact, we have followed the same process that has been in place for ten years. The adoptions are in accordance with BC’s adoption laws and each family received a letter of approval from the British Columbia Adoption Branch before we travelled to Japan.  

We have also met all of the federal requirements in order to be issued the visa. The federal government has stopped issuing the visas, without advance notice to our families, who relied on an approved process.

Simply put, we traveled to Japan with love in our hearts, to give homes to five children. Each of us came to the adoption journey from a different starting point, but we have all arrived at the same destination, not only geographically, but emotionally.

Between the period of late April and mid-May, our five families travelled to Tokyo, Japan, and took care and custody of our children within one day of arriving.

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For us, these are not our children to be adopted: they are simply our children. Like any other Canadian family, we love them deeply. We have spent weeks bonding with them, nurturing them, waking at all hours to feed them, burp them, change them. We have taken them for medical appointments. We have taken them for immunizations. We have taken them for long walks through the park. We have read to them, sang to them, soothed them.

We have done all of these things in Tokyo, Japan. It is a beautiful city in a wonderful, welcoming country. But it is not our home. We want to spend Canada Day with our children in Canada.

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The pressure grows with each day, financially, emotionally, physically, and relationally. Worst of all, there is no end in sight. The IRCC seems content to watch us bleed out, providing us with no timeline for resolution. In their own words, our children are merely “prospective”—it’s as if, from their point of view, as if our babies don’t really exist.

We appreciate everyone’s support during this difficult time. If you want to help us and the four other Canadian families, you can contact the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada with the information that appears below.


Ahmed Hussen
Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON  K1A 0A6

Minister@cic.gc.ca
and
Ahmed.Hussen@parl.gc.ca
Telephone: 613-954-1064

You can use the text below, but please feel free to personalize and customize it, especially to add your own opinions on the matter or if you want to specifically reference us.



Subject Line: Outraged to learn that 5 Canadian families have been stranded in Japan after the IRCC suspends visa issuance in reference to US policy

To the Honourable Ahmed D. Hussen,

I am writing as a concerned Canadian citizen, outraged and alarmed to learn that five Canadian families have been stranded in Tokyo, Japan, while bureaucrats in your department have delayed issuance of permanent residence visas to the babies they are in the process of adopting because of a decision to take authority from the US Department of State website.

Why is the Canadian government looking to the United States for guidance on our own immigration laws and policies? This alarming decision has trapped five Canadian families in a foreign country, casting them into ongoing uncertainty AFTER they have received custody of their children.

I understand that the families have done everything in accordance with Canadian, British Columbia, and Japanese laws. They undertook this journey in good faith and conscience, following a prescribed system that has been in place for 10 years and for dozens of adoptions from Japan into Canada. They completed a rigorous program with a registered BC adoption agency and did not circumvent any system, regulation, or process. Each of the families received a letter of approval from the British Columbia Adoption Branch for their specific child to come to BC before they left for Japan. The only missing piece is their permanent residence visa for their child.

Without the visas, the five families are forced to remain in Tokyo, one of the most expensive cities in the world, being drained financially and emotionally—and there is no end in sight.

These families have spent the last several weeks nurturing and bonding with the babies who would have otherwise ended up in state care. It seems cruel and callous to prevent them from coming home. What should be a joyous time of sharing a new addition to the family with friends and relatives has been inverted into a crisis situation.

There are children involved in this situation—babies all under the age of four months—and yet they are being treated as mere pieces of paper. Case files. The treatment of these five Canadian families—and their babies—seems counter to every value purported to be so important to the Canadian government.

This process had not been in the best interest of the children and I urge you to issue the visas and bring them home.

Sincerely,

Your name and address

 

Welcome to the Crossroads of the Multiverse: cover reveal for The Secret of Zoone

Welcome to the Crossroads of the Multiverse: cover reveal for The Secret of Zoone

After sitting on this beautiful design and artwork for the last couple of months, I’m finally able to officially reveal the cover for THE SECRET OF ZOONE, the first book in a new series I’m writing for HarperCollins Children’s Books, due out in March 2019.

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It was my intention all along to not illustrate this book, and I’m so happy with that decision—because I simply adore the cover, with its beautiful artwork by Evan Monteiro and whimsical hand-lettering by Michelle Taormina. A big thank you to HarperCollins for providing such an awesome team, including my editor, Stephanie Stein, who guided me through the process.

I’m so thankful that Stephanie and her team allowed me and my agent, Rachel Letofsky, to participate in the design of the cover. Even though I am in a unique position, having worked as both a professional graphic designer and illustrator, I knew that didn’t automatically mean that I would be invited to contribute. Which is all to say that I am really grateful—and thrilled—that my ideas and character suggestions were incorporated into the artwork.

In a future post, I’ll show some of those sketches and ideas, but suffice it to say that this cover really matches what was dancing inside my imagination:

Giant winged cat—check!

Boy with a key—check!

Princess with inappropriately purple hair—check!

Doors—check!

Station house in the background—check!

Here’s the official text that will appear on the dust jacket:

WELCOME TO ZOONE, CROSSROADS OF THE MULTIVERSE

When an enormous, winged blue tiger appears on his aunt’s sofa, Ozzie can tell he’s in for an adventure. He’s thrilled to follow Tug, who calls himself a skyger, through a secret door in the basement of his apartment building and into Zoone, the bustling station where hundreds of doors act as gateways to fantastic and wonderful worlds.

But some doors also hide dangers—and when the portal back to Earth collapses behind them, Ozzie gets more than the adventure he bargained for. With the help of a friendly blue skyger, a princess with a peculiar curse, and a bumbling wizard’s apprentice, Ozzie will have to fix his only way home . . . and maybe save the multiverse in the process.

~

I can’t wait to introduce everyone to Ozzie, Fidget, Tug, and the rest of the ZOONE crew in 2019. In the meantime, I’ll continue posting new visuals and background art for the book.

And, hey—the book is already available for preordering. Just sayin’.

 

Propping up our stories: creating characters with prop-building

Propping up our stories: creating characters with prop-building

I’ve been doing a lot of prop-building lately—for example, crafting dragon eggs. Since prop-building is such an important part of my writing process, it’s something I like to bring to my students as well.

Getting away from the screen

One of the great things about prop-building is that it allows me to work on my book without staring at the screen. Let’s face it: Writing is hard and often exhausting. Sometimes, I feel like I have no words left in my brain, but I still have the desire to playin my world.

I’ve found that prop-building is a way to accomplish that. Working with tangible objects, working with my hands, has helped me to sort out plot problems. It’s kind of like doing the dishes and being suddenly struck by a eureka moment. Of course, when you wash dishes, all you get is clean dishes. When you build a prop, you get a tangible item from an imaginary world.

Nightmare Bottles

I’ve been working with a group of tween and teen writers this spring and one of the things I’ve tried to do is bring in the prop-building angle.

One of our first projects was to build “nightmare bottles.” This involves creating a character and metaphorically putting their fears in a bottle. Of course, this could provide fuel for a story in its own right, but the main purpose here was just to coax the kids into some brainstorming time.

Here’s some of their creations . . .

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Character Kits

The main prop-building project I introduced this term was to create a personal kit for each character. This could also be metaphorical or could actually appear in the students’ stories. I’m big on inventing interesting “tools” for my characters and, especially if you are writing a fantasy book, I think you have a lot of opportunities to add extra sizzle to your story.

For this project, the students get to decorate and paint the kits themselves, then fill them with a variety of mini-props that fit their specific characters’ journeys.

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This project has also tasked my students with a different approach to creativity. I’ve been trying to make sure they solve some of the problems they face.For example, one of my students wanted to build a spy kit with a gun. I looked around for toy guns and felt the creativity being sapped right out of me. I decided we could do something more original and unique. So, instead of buying a pre-made toy pistol, I bought tiny water guns and told the student to use it as a base for building something more unique.

He took one look at the brightly colored water guns and scoffed. I couldn’t convince him what a little paint a few cannibalized odds and ends could do. There was nothing I could do to change his mind, so I went home and built my own gun.

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Admittedly, my gadget turned out part steampunk, part alien ray gun, but I hope I’ve made my point! And, now, I have something more unique and interesting that I can use—yep, I decided this can belong to a character who’s currently running around causing havoc in one of my own stories.

That’s the power of prop-building!

A new addition to the dragon’s nest

A new addition to the dragon’s nest

I have been building dragon eggs for a couple of years now, but I recently took on the challenge of crafting a giant one. I originally wanted to build an egg so that I could use it as reference in a book I’m working on (not the MAIN book I’m working on, but a side project).

I realized that my eggs were all too small—I wanted a model that would be the exact same size as the one my characters would have to deal with in the book.

So, I hunkered down over spring break and set to work . . . Here’s all the stages, starting with the raw materials: a giant plastic Easter egg shell, acrylic jewels, and plaster.

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I started by plastering. This is the same type of material that doctors use for casts, but you can buy it at most art stores. I cut the plaster sheets into manageable strips then begin forming designs on the shell.

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The plaster dries quickly, but can snap off if you’re not careful. A coat of mod-podge does wonders to keep it intact.

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Once I was done with the plastering, I began the bejeweling phase, using a variety of different sizes and colors—the color variation doesn’t actually matter, because everything gets painted over at the end.

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I like to start with a black coat of paint, then build up color afterwards.

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I chose metallic greens for the final color, so started dry-brushing over the black undercoat.

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Here’s the final product, sitting in my studio and shown next to an average hen’s egg, to show scale!

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And here’s four of my dragon eggs, showing the different sizes, colors, and patterns.

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