Chaos On Serenity

Diary Of An Off-Grid Homesteader

Category: Living Off-Grid

Stepping On Moss And Other Springy Things

Hello friends! I hope you all have been having a truly magical spring/summer.  I have thought often about you guys over the past month or so. Nearly everyday, in fact, I have thought: I should really check in with everyone and write a blog post soon. And then I thought: Okay, just as soon as I finish gardening, or making soap, or cleaning, or washing dishes, or some other very important obligation…. but the thing is, those obligations never go away. They are always there. There is ALWAYS something that needs done. So I decided, if we are going to make this thing work, I’m just going to have to do it. Just sit down, open my computer and say hi.

And here I am. Sure, the gardens need mulched, the children washed, the poop buckets dumped. But those things can wait (well, maybe not the poop buckets).

Right now, I am saying hi.

Unfortunately (or fortunately?) I do not have a grand plan for this post, so I am making it up on the fly. I thought I could just update everyone about how things are coming along on the homestead, ramble on a bit, and get reacquainted to this whole blogging thing again. But I promise my next post will be truly epic. Maybe.

Compared to winter, spring and summer on the homestead are ahhhmazing. Everyday we wake up to the birds singing, goats baaing, and not a single creepy neighbor in sight. I love to take advantage of the quiet (cool) morning hours, so I let the family sleep in and slip out to the garden for a bit. This I consider my meditation time.

The gardens are looking good, though maybe not great. I have just recently starting adding a lot more organic material to give the ‘maters and melons a boost, so I am hoping this will help speed things along.

I don’t have a garden fence yet, as Mav is too busy building fences for people that will actually pay him. So the chickens and I have a hate/hate relationship going on right now.

Basically, they like to torture me by eating my cabbage and scratching off all my mulch. Then I come in and spend my time fixing the damage, only to have them come right in after me to damage my fixing. It’s kind of like the groundhogs day of gardening. See why I don’t have the time to blog? Just blame Mav. Or the chickens. Really, anyone but me will do.

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I have also started a Zen garden this year, as I needed an outlet to satisfy my moss obsession. In the spring, I went into the woods and collected a whole bunch of moss. Then, I transplanted it to a shady spot that had a couple of boulders anchoring it to give it that authentic ‘Zen’ feel. Before I put the moss down, I weeded the area really well, made sure the ground was wet and roughed up a bit. I placed the moss on the ground and used little sticks to stake it into the dirt so it would have a chance to attach itself. For the first couple months, I watered it when it wasn’t raining. Once or twice a day, I stepped barefoot on the wet moss to encourage it to attach to the ground. Also, because it feels good on my tootsies (except watch out for the little stakes!). And, surprisingly, it seems to be working. The moss is attaching and spreading slowly, as moss does. A nice, rainy spring has definitely helped.

Of course, I can’t just go around playing with moss all day. Ain’t nobody got time for that. So, I have had to move on for now and put my energy into something that can actually sustain us (like vegetables). But in the fall, I plan to add more moss and make it the most magical Zen garden this side of the Cuyahoga.

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We added two sweet goats to our family recently. Which tripled the size of our herd. We have plans to hire a hunky stud in the fall to service the ladies so that we can have adorable babies in the spring. Oh yeah, and goat milk.

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My sister just came for a visit, bless her delicate soul. It rained the entire time. She’s the best though, I totally appreciate her succumbing to the experience. I expect to see her up here again sometime around never.

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Enjoying an outdoor dinner at the our new table. This was the only 45 minute window of time it wasn’t raining buckets the weekend my sister was here

And just to make you indoor-plumbing people jealous, here is a picture of the enchanted table my love built for me. Hello dinner parties.  

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We are doing the farmer’s market again this year. It’s a lot of work at times, but the kids love it. It also forces me to leave the woods and talk to people at least once a week – so in a way it’s therapy. Because it is such a small little market, I don’t have to worry about being a very good business woman either.  I just sell what I got if I got it, smile, and talk out of my ass for four hours. Good times.

The house and bath house are coming along really well. Not so much physically, as much as in our hearts. Matt is crazy busy at work right now, so the time he has to build me a house is a bit restricted at the moment. However, we are still absolutely planning to be in the house before ‘that season which we do not speak of’ comes again. Or people will die. Mav, are you reading this?

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The bath house. So close, yet so far.

Ok, well this blog post has taken enough of my time today. I really have things to do, like curse the chickens and whine about the mess. It’s been great friends, we really have to do this more often.

How have you guys been doing? I hope you are enjoying the ups and downs of life. No matter how busy you are, be sure to get your nature time in! It makes everything else so much more manageable, don’t you agree sis?

***This was Spring 2017***. Read the update here

Two Sisters, A Comparison

I once joked with my sister that the only thing harder than my life is hers.

The face she made when I said this was one of utter shock.

Apparently, she disagrees with me.

So much so, she actually bet me that if I wrote this blog post, nobody who reads it will agree I have the easier life. ​Nobody.

And so, the challenge is on.

Don’t get me wrong, as mentioned in previous posts, my sister is basically perfect.

She has four, right-in-a-ridiculous-row, cutest-things-you-ever-saw, age-six-and-under, mesmerizingly adorable children.

She married her high school sweetheart at the tender age of 18, has never been in any kind of trouble for anything ever, and mails out thank you cards as religiously as I lose library books.

She has been a maid of honor at more weddings than I have been ​invited  too.

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Yet… yet… I still wouldn’t ​prefer her life.

She definitely wouldn’t prefer mine.

My sister and I are opposites, from our physical appearance to our personalities. We have learned to compliment each other quite nicely over the years. Where I am passionate and impulsive  (irresponsible), she is organized and level-headed (boring).

We are also very competitive. Hence this post.

Now I get it, I am the crazy sister – not exactly a badge of honor, though I wear it proudly.

Still, there has got to be ​someone out there who would rather live in the woods and commune with the trees than be at the beck and call of tiny humans 24 hours a day.

As mentioned, my sister has four young children. She has pretty much been pregnant or nursing for the past seven years, non-stop. She is also a very attentive mother – which translates to very needy children. Stage five clingers, she calls them.

I may live in the middle of the woods with no indoor plumbing, but my youngest child is eight. When my kids get on my nerves, I simply send them away to do chores.

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My sister and I both added new puppies to the family last year. Mine is a little shit, but since he has the run of the woods, who cares?

My sister’s dog is a little shit too. Only they don’t live in the woods, so it matters. She often escapes from their fenced-in backyard and runs straight over to the neighbors. This neighbor is not a nice lady.

Neighbors scare me. The thought of wrangling my wayward dogs out of some crotchety old lady’s yard makes me quiver.

This is why I live in the middle of the woods.

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Also, I do a lot of cooking. As a vegetarian who wants to eat healthy, it’s sort of a must. Plus it’s a very homesteady thing to do.

My sister doesn’t really cook and her kitchen attests to it. She has like, one pan and a whole bunch of upcycled yogurt containers.

With one baby glued to her boob, another poking a finger in the dog’s butt, a third crying because someone looked at her wrong, and the eldest hiding in a closet making silly videos on a stolen phone, I get why my sister doesn’t have time to cook.

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Still, is that really an excuse for not having a decent can opener or a simple lid for steaming rice?

No, no it isn’t.

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But what I really want to know is how she manages to keep her children so clean and coordinated, looking like little baby models, every single day.

Sure, she has indoor plumbing, so that helps.

But still, when it is time to leave the house, she’s like Mary Poppins, all smiles and songs, managing the impossible: four snotless, stainless, adorably dressed children out the door on time with no yelling. Something’s not right people.

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My sister is an extrovert. She never stays home if she can help it. In one day, she can easily handle ballet class, lunch date, park, grocery store, library, another playdate and top it all off with a ladies’ night out.

I am an introvert. I never leave the homestead if I can help it. I get tired just ​thinking about running errands. Socially busy days drain my body of vital life force energy.

Another reason I live in the woods.

You know what else? I have spent the last 20 years coming up with awesome business ideas. A handful of them even made it out of the idea stage, like, to where I actually made business cards and everything. None of them ever amounted to much as I have a tendency to move on to something new as soon as I get bored (usually right after I order business cards).

My sister, though. She sits silently by watching me come up with one hair-brained idea after another. Just minding her own business, changing diapers and such. Then bam! She decides she wants to be a photographer. And after less than a year has a bonafide photography business with actual ​clients.

She doesn’t even have a business card! Something’s not right people, I’m telling you.

So sure, she is organized, efficient, calm, patient, beautiful, joyful, sweet, polite, reliable.

But she doesn’t live in the woods.

Now, who’s with me?

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Everything You Don’t Need To Know About Making A Fire (and a few things you do)

I tend to have very bad timing, people, and today’s post is no exception. Today we will be discussing the finer points of building fires, wood woes and the like. This is a subject I have been meaning to write about since the onset of cold weather four or five months ago. However, the inspiration for writing it never fully hit until now, just as we are moving into spring and no one cares about heating with fire (for the next five months, anyway). 

The good news is that my firewood post would have been just as useless five months ago as it will prove to be today, so you haven’t really missed out. The main focus of this How To Make A Fire tutorial is to throw in as much juvenile humor as I can manage (we are talking about ​wood ​after all) without being too annoying. It’s a delicate balance, my friends – wish me luck. Of course, I do plan to steal a couple of real tips from actual homesteading blogs so it won’t be a complete waste of your time, I promise 🙂

I would just like to say that I have never been officially trained on how to start a fire, and have had to go through some hard knocks to figure it all out. Honestly, what I have found to work the absolute best when starting a fire is to yell out in a whiny, helpless voice “Maaaavv, build me a fire”. Generally, this does not work in and of itself, but when I start threatening to withhold certain pleasures (breakfast, people, geez!), it gets the job done.

Actually, I really don’t mind building fires. In fact, when I get a nice fire going in minutes rather than hours, I feel a huge sense of pride, like I can accomplish anything I put my mind too.

When it comes to building a fire there are two methods that I am aware of (there are actually quite a few more, I just didn’t feel like googling all of them). These two methods are: The Tepee method and the Log Cabin method.

The Tepee Method vs The Log Cabin Method

A few months back, when I was gearing up to get this ​How To Make A Fire tutorial written, I took a series of really terrible pictures (a specialty of mine) while grabbing whatever tinder we had on hand (paper and a cardboard cup holder, in this case) as well as splitting a random mixture of kindling. I crossed my fingers that I had guessed correctly for the purposes of this tutorial as I knew I was unlikely to go through the hassle of staging it all again. Well, we all got lucky as it ended up being the perfect amount for my fire.

Ironically, the very next day, just as I was about to show off my pictures to the boys, they started talking about how much the tepee method sucked. At this point, I backed slowly away, no longer having the heart to show them my awesome work.

However, regardless of what those snotty woods’ boys think, the tepee method is a tried and true method and, besides, I have pictures.

Both the tepee method and the log cabin method start off the same: with tinder and kindling. Tinder is very flammable small material (can range from paper to twigs to dry leaves and pine needles). Kindling is thin pieces of wood. Tinder and kindling must be dry, no exceptions. Unless you have a blow torch. But in that case you don’t need this tutorial or anything other than fuel, logs, and the patience to flame-blast the wood until the cows come home (this is Maverick’s favorite method, by the way.)

Here is what I used to start my fire:

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Side Note: I grabbed that cardboard drink container on a whim but it actually worked out really well as a long-burning tinder. Plus I could stuff the other paper and cardboard into the cracks while allowing for a nice air flow. One of the tricks to getting a fire going is to make sure it can breath.

​Now light that bitch.

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​Okay, now you simply stack up some of the thinnest kindling around the burning tender in the shape of a, you guessed it, tepee. Then shut the door to the wood stove (making sure the flue(s) are open) as this gives it a nice flow of air. Listen for a little woosh, signifying the fire is really catching.

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At this point, you got a good thing going. Open the door and add on thicker and thicker kindling, being careful not to smother the flames. Then shut the door again and let the airflow work its magic.  When I know my baby can handle the big stuff, I throw on the logs and voila, a fire is made.

Easy peasy lemon squeezy. Now, my ADD is kicking in and this tutorial stuff is starting to bore me, so if you want to know how to do the log cabin method (plus a bunch of other cool methods), please click here.

Actually if you want to learn anything of value, leave now and find a real homesteading blog, my friends.

Okay so now the fun stuff:

Mav and I were a little reckless (by reckless I mean totally unprepared) this past year of extreme homesteading and ended up with wet wood (also known as unseasoned wood) to deal with midwinter.  Let me tell you, nothing ruins the homesteading mood quite like wet wood. Coaxing wet wood into performing is a tedious, frustrating task. Wet wood is useless wood. You have to play with it forever to get any kind of reaction out of it. All it can do is smoke and smolder and cause a lot of frustration, for everyone involved.  No matter how hard it tries, it just cannot heat things up.  

So how do you prevent wet wood? You take some time to prepare yourself. Don’t just rush in. Make your game plan early on (like spring or summer), get your wood cut and stacked neatly and securely and then ​always use protection. This is key, gentleman. If you do not remember to cover your wood, you will end up with a very unhappy homesteading woman. She will literally lay in bed all day with layers of layers of clothes on while giving you the stink eye for ruining her life. Sexy? I think not.

Wet wood is no good but dry wood is amazing. Nothing makes a homesteading woman more excited than a huge stack of hard, dry wood. Dry wood can get her so hot and bothered, spontaneous stripping takes place. Sexy? I think so.

Now, I would like to apologize for wasting so much of your time today. Do you have any real tips to share with the rest of us? Please comment below. And remember sharing is caring people. If you like what you read today, don’t be afraid to spread the shame 🙂

How To Wash Your Dishes Without Running Water: Six Steps To Off-Grid Domestic Success

Ok friends here we have quite possibly one of the most important How To tutorials of your off-grid extreme homesteading life… dishes. Yes, that’s right. More important than solar power, more important than growing food, more important than a composting toilet (ok, now I am exaggerating) is doing your dishes.

After all, dishes make the world go ’round and it is nary a homesteading woman who can live without clean dishes. Unfortunately, they have a tendency to multiply right before your very eyes, popping out dirty creations like the gremlin spawn of a mogwai. And, like a gremlin, they sneer and snarl at you from their crusty perch on the counter, daring you to just try and wash them without running water.

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Fear not, my extreme homesteading friends (or weekend campers), as I have found a pretty decent way to wash your dishes without running water. All you need are the right tools and set up and those evil dishes will no longer have you sleeping with one eye open.

Step 1: Get a Gigantic Pot

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There is one key item to doing your dishes without running water quickly and efficiently and that is the Gigantic Pot. The Gigantic Pot is absolutely essential if you don’t want to spend an entire day heating up small batches of water. And believe me, you don’t. I started off with a Small Pot, and I was not happy. The Gigantic Pot brings me much joy.

Step 2: Get a Long, Crappy Table

Okay so you have your Gigantic Pot. Now you need a long, crappy table. I say crappy table because if you can do your dishes outside on a crappy table, you can slosh water all over the place – which tends to make you feel better about having to do your dishes outside on a crappy table. Get it? I have a nice, crappy eight foot long table that is the perfect length for our size family, or for my lazy housekeeping habits, whichever way you want to look at it. So technically you could use a smaller table and you can also use your actual sink and counter area, but that’s a little boring, don’t you think?

Step 3: Set Up Dish Area.

First, there are a few other things you will need:

  1. Two basins, one for washing and one for rinsing. These are what I currently use. I know they don’t match. Don’t judge me.
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2. A cup with a handle for scooping hot water out of the Gigantic Pot into the wash basin. I use this measuring cup which conveniently hooks right on the handle of my pot when not in use. A match made in heaven.

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3. A jug (or two, depending on your dish load) of clean, cool rinse water next to your rinse basin

4. A sponge or rag to wash dishes and some biodegrable dish soap

5. A drying rack and/or large towel

6. A large bucket to dump dirty dish water into (another option is to just dump directly onto the ground if you are outside and it won’t create a mess.)

7. Compost container to scrape your food scraps into.

Step 4: Heat Up Water

Now we are ready to get to work. I will forewarn you, I like my dish water hot and clean, so I refresh often. I use anywhere from 2-4 gallons of hot water, depending on the dish load. I usually heat up more water than I need, because is saves time and hey I can always take a shower after.

Pour water in your pot and heat it up. One of the many blessings in my extreme homesteading life is my (nearly) full-size propane stove. So heating things up is easy peasy (until we run out of propane right in the middle of making dinner. that is). I just put my Gigantic Pot on the stove, turn two burners on and it heats up quick.

If you don’t have stove yet, you might want to look into getting a portable burner used for camping, if you plan on cooking more than once a week. Of course, if you want to (or need to), you can always go to the maximum extreme and heat your water up over an actual fire (technically the maximum extreme would be rubbing two sticks together to start said fire, but I digress). As romantic as it sounds, however, it’s really a pain in the ass to do everyday. But I have done it and so can you.

However your go about it, the important thing is to get your water HOT. That way it stays nice and hot until the last dirty dish has been hunted down. If your water gets too cool, it is a hassle to reheat and you run the chance of loosing motivation and not finishing the dishes, which does not feel nearly as satisfying as finishing the dishes.

Now scoop your hot water into your wash basin and pour cool water in the rinse basin. If the water is too hot (which it should be if you have been following directions) mix it with a little of the cool water until you get the right temperature. As you work your way down the dirty mountain, the water should cool off to a reasonable temperature. Better hot than not, I say.

Step 5: Wash Your Dishes

Now you wash your dishes. I like to move from the left to right, but to each his own. As your wash basin water cools down and gets dirty, dump it into the waiting receptacle or onto the ground if you prefer and refill with fresh hot water. Same with your rinse water, if it gets too soapy. Finish all the dishes. All of them. It feels good, remember?

Step 6: Call In The Troops

This is about the time I start yelling for Maverick and the girls. Maverick, with his strong shapely arms and equally strong stomach, gets to dump the teeming bucket of dirty dish water. We like to dump it right into the garden beds. depending on the chunks. Yum.

Now its the minions’ turn to help. Remember how we were doing the dishes outside? Well they are the lucky ones that get to haul the clean dishes back inside, put them away all nice and neat and then hang the dish towel on the line to dry until we need it again for a new table-load of dirty dishes, usually about ten minutes later I’d say.

Well there really is no glamorous way to end a dish tutorial, so bye!

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Beautiful Farm Girl Seeks Vegetarian Cowboy: A Law Of Attraction Love Story

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Five years ago I met Maverick, my (mostly) vegetarian cowboy; the man who is making my dreams come true by building me an off-grid, sustainable community surrounded by nature with only his bare hands… and a bulldozer.

While many people say our successful union was a stroke of blind luck,  the very fact he isn’t a serial killer (so far…) defying all odds,  I like to believe our meeting each other was a result of one of my more successful incidents of deliberate manifestation. Either way, one thing is for sure,  our ‘how we met’ story is so utterly unromantic and scandalous that it makes the perfect story for today’s blog post.

Before Maverick, I had dated my share of questionable characters (shocking, I know). Some of these guys were pretty terrible, some were just the typical zombie-types, devoid of any meaningful, independent thoughts. To be fair,  it takes one to date one, so I could only describe myself as a zombie as well.  

Anyway, after having an epic awakening followed by the crumbling of my latest  zombie relationship,  I moved north with my girls to explore community farm life and learn to grow my own food. We moved into a tiny primitive cabin (or shack as Mav likes to call it) on a small farm in a quaint country town in mid-west, America.  

It was a bold move to be sure, some would even call it reckless. Yet it remains to be one of the best decisions of my life. 

I spent an idyllic spring and summer pulling weeds and tending seeds (both figuratively and literally), eventually deciding I felt emotionally healthy enough to meet someone great. I had dumped some baggage (though come to find out, not all of it!) and was confident in my newfound creative abilities to attract a great mate into my experience.

So now that I was ready to date, the question was, where would I meet someone? After all, I lived in a tiny cabin on a farm in a city where I did not know anyone. I was not working outside of the farm. My hosts were great and I was quickly becoming best friends with the head lady of the farm. But her husband was oooolllldddd. Like just-suffered-a-heart-attack old. And so were all his friends. (In the interest of full disclosure the odd social structure on the farm consisted of a lot of young, lively, fit farm girls and a handful of really old dudes. It’s no surprise my city friends were convinced I had joined a cult!)

Anyway, back to the love story…

I am not a very patient person. When I make a decision, it pretty much has to happen right now. So once I had decided to meet someone, I was not content to just wait for fate to bring him to me. Taking a proactive approach to dating clearly left me with only one option: Online dating. (This was in 2013, just as dating apps were really gaining in popularity. Good thing I am usually a few years behind the latest trends or Mav and I might have never met seeing as how he still carries a flip phone).

So I crafted a clever profile, with vegetarinism and cowboyism a clear prerequisite, and joined a popular dating site (or two). However,  the selections were very few and far between of people who shared any of my interests (who wants to go roam the woods barefoot? … anyone?)

 I met a few guys that could never be pinned down to an actual date or were, um, a bit different than their pictures. Yet not a single cowboy. Basically, the process was long and drawn out and not worth the money. I felt using the dating sites just served as a buffer to immediate communication and actual interaction. Looking back, I wonder if maybe it also served as some sort of safety feature… hmm…

So, I decided to take matters into my own hands and create a Craigslist Personals Ad.

Now I know you are all gasping in absolute horror.

And I agree, Craigslist personals are teeming with filth and debauchery of all kind. But seriously guys, it is not like I advertised my address or any other personal information. I also did not include a picture or make any references to sexual fetishes. It’s all good, people. Calm down.  

What I did do is remain 100% convinced that I could find an amazing person anywhere I put my mind to, as long as I believed. 

So, yes. Maverick and I met on Craigslist. I put out an add, he ignored my very specific qualifications (vegetarian, yo!)  and responded. I decided to overlook my non-negotiable standards based on the fact that he owned a huge lot of land and seemed willing to let me do whatever I wanted with it. 

From the very beginning, our dates have consisted of wondering aimlessly around the woods. That is literally all we do, other than the whole homesteading thing. He has more patience with me than my own mother. He never yells or demeans me when I lose the car keys, or my driver’s license, or drain the batteries for the millionth time (okay, well, he does lose his patience over that one, but the first 100 times he didn’t even bat an eye). 

Seriously though, Maverick is 100 percent dirty cowboy, 90 percent vegetarian (thanks to my many years of food shaming him), and the sweetest, kindest, safest, calmest, pure-of-heartist man I have ever met. He is so amazingly capable and smart and warrior-minded, I have full confidence we would survive a zombie apocalypse completely unscathed. He is my knight in dirty work boots. 

And there you have the most epic, unromantic love story of all time. Swoon. 

Remember, if you want miracles to happen you have to BELIEVE they can.

P.S. This post is in no way an endorsement for Craigslist Personals or any other form of online dating. It’s just a story, people. Date at your own risk! 

Namaste, my friends 

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