Our Farmstead Goes Solar

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Our farm began in an old house on two-thirds of an acre backing to the fairgrounds in a small, country town that will remain beloved to us for all time.  There on our rented mini-farm we watched goats, chickens, alpacas, and ducks play in the back yard, grew so many pumpkins in the front yard that people speeding down the street slammed on their brakes to take a better look, and we farmed the rest of the driveway.  We fell in love with oil lamps in that house.  The sweet glow of old fashioned light as we read in the evenings.  The gentle tick-tocking from the cuckoo clock on the wall letting us know the time as the stars came out and the moon rose.

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The landlords were losing the house but we found an amazing farm on ten acres where we would live in a late eighteen-hundred’s homestead on the property near the owner’s own house.  We had a wood cook stove to heat the house and cook on.  For a few months in the warm autumn of that year the world looked enchanted indeed.  We plotted a large garden, and gathered three cords of wood.  The chickens and goats were far from the house and we missed seeing them.  That winter we mastered the art of starting a fire while the house was thirty-seven degrees.  We quickly realized that the small firebox was not going to help and put in a large wood stove with our own money.  Of course, many of you know the ending of that dreadful tale.  We were forced to leave after putting every penny into that farm.

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So from friend’s house to friend’s house we went until we had enough saved to get into a beautiful, decidedly on-grid apartment.  That year was fun using a switch to turn on the fireplace, turning the heat up, basking in a large tub.  But the cement gets to a Farmgirl and it was time to see what was next.  Agricultural land was out of the question with the loan we qualified for.

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We found our homestead on the south side of a big-small town.  It’s big, but everywhere you go you see folks you know and I have never met friendlier people than here in Pueblo.  One third of an acre, an adobe shed with seven foot fencing made a fine chicken yard, wood floors for easy cleanup on what we knew would be our urban farm, and a wood stove held prominent position in the main room.  A root cellar holds hundreds of jars and the climate here allows for prolific gardening.  And dreaming.

The large grandfather clock keeps time, ticking regally and alerting us to each quarter hour and moon cycle.  The wood stove heats the house well, save for the back bedrooms.  We are constantly looking for ways to increase our sustainability.  How can we use less?  How can we spend less?  How can we show the beautiful earth that we are grateful?  And in return for our simplicity we find a peaceful existence of health and quiet joy.

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In the city, it is nearly impossible to be off the grid.  One can easily find one’s home condemned if attempted.  Composting toilets are against code.  City water is a given.  But there are still things we can do.  For us, the next step was solar power.  On that first farm, it would have been impossibly expensive (particularly for a rented home), but here on our very own home and in this time, it is absolutely practical and affordable. In fact, it cost us nothing.

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The solar company comes out and surveys your property, sees about light hitting the roof, and local zoning.  With a credit score of 650+ you get a loan for the amount of the solar panels, which was about $10,000.  $3000 is rebated back to you on your taxes.  We put nothing down.  The loan amount is the very same that we pay for electric every month so there is no change for us.  My neighbor’s electric bill is three times higher than ours, so she would save much, much more.  We pay a slight $8 charge to our utility company to “manage” our electricity.  Once the panels are paid off, we only pay the $8.  Our home value goes up as well.  The solar panels are flat against the roof and hardly noticeable at all.

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I have written many times how all of us really need to use less.  Wind energy is so destructive.  Obviously the power we have been creating with fracking and coal is detrimental.  Solar panels never decompose.  We can’t keep going on about the government and big oil.  We cannot stand around with our “Save the Earth” signs and not do something ourselves.  Solar was a great way for us to use considerably less resources, save thousands of trees, the equivalent of taking thousands of cars off the road, and using Father Sun for our power “needs.”  (I guess refrigeration and internet are fun.)  And it is completely accessible.

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If you are in Colorado, call Peak View Solar.  Everyone was so friendly and easy to work with.  Elisa Harrelson, 719-387-7232.  They have a referral program so mention us when you call!  It will help me get my greenhouse going!

Other things you can do to help save resources:

Eliminate animal products from your diet.

Grow a huge garden, community garden, or support local farmers.

Buy organic.

Drive less- get a bicycle!

Don’t buy crap. You know you don’t need that.  Put it back and save the money for seeds!

A wood stove is carbon neutral.

Preserve your own food.

Go for a walk.  The more you are in nature, the more inclined you will be to not hurt her.

Be grateful for life.  Indeed we are lucky to be alive this day.  Happy farming!

Winter Evenings and What Are You Reading?

These cold days are quiet and sweet.  I am trying this year not to immediately begin pining for spring and planting season.  I figured I won’t even look at seed catalogues (oops) or plan out my garden (weeelll…), but I am enjoying the relaxation.  You know, spring and summer is filled with baby animals, and digging, and planting, and harvesting, and watering every day, and preserving, and weeding, and more!  Winter is for settling in and restoring.  In the spring and summer we get more done because the sun is out.  Right now in the freezing dark of suppertime we stay in.  What do you like to do on winter evenings?

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I am the self proclaimed rummy queen.  It’s probably best because I am terrible sport!  I used to play rummy with glasses of iced tea with my great-grandma.  I remember double decks and a large table of family playing at my grandma’s house.  I remember my cousin, Helen, teaching me how to play when I was eight years old on our way up to a cabin with my grandparents.  Doug grew up playing gin among other games.  Do folks play cards anymore?  After dinner the past several nights the shuffling of cards can be heard from our dimly lit kitchen table.  Laughter, music, and memories.

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Winter is also the time to catch up on books!  We love to read and we end every evening with reading and a cup of steaming tea.  Right now I am reading, Meeting the Medicine Man by Charles Langley.  It is out of print and I highly suggest you try to secure a copy off of Amazon.  It is fabulous.  I last read it ten years ago before I started working with medicine people.  It is a glimpse into the world of the Navajo and medicine people.  Of good and evil and the people that help keep the community safe and bring things back into balance.  What are you reading?

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My television is covered by a painting.  We rarely utilize it but for our favorite show (The Voice) and football and the occasional movie night.  It is more pleasant with it not being the center of attention.  We are able to converse more easily, make more memories, and enjoy the ease of these lovely winter evenings.

 

Making Rosehip Meade- Part 2 (bottling)

Just a sip from atop the dredges.  I sat outside on my front porch in the cool air in my rocking chair, watching the birds in my trees, while smelling the contents of my small glass.  There was a only a few tablespoons in it.  A little rough yet, but the underlying aromas of flowers and apples came dancing up from the honey liqueur.  Ah, yes, this will be quite lovely come June.

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‘Twas time to bottle the meade, my friends.  Meade is a honey wine that can be spelled with or without the e but I do love my words to be pretty so I shall keep the e on the end of my meade.  I knew the gallon jug was ready to be bottled because all the blurping and slight bubbling had ceased and all was calm in the carboy (the twirly thing on top.)  Out came the siphon and the tube.

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I would love to have a system with corks and all that but I can afford jars with stoppers at this point and the bottles are lovely and they do just fine.  They have been in the dusty root cellar so a soapy bath was first on the list.  Make sure everything is super clean.

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Now, remove the carboy and the lid from the wine.  Take the cap off the bottom of the siphon pump.  Warm the end of the tube in tap hot water to loosen and shimmy that thing onto the other end of the siphon.  Place the pump in the wine and the tube in your first jar.  Pump contents in, leaving about an inch or so headspace.  It will continue evolving in the jar.  This is a live product and a lovely one at that!

Try not to pull up the sludge from the very bottom as you siphon.  That is where the yeast and remaining plant matter falls.  I was able to get three 32 ounce bottles filled.  Lid secured, they will set in the root cellar for six months or until a good midsummer party.  Best drunk by moonlight and near an outdoor fire pit.

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Wash everything well and in the spring we will make dandelion wine!

Sunday Morning on the Farm

We need to bring in more wood.  I shall find some more kindling.  Empty the ash into the compost.   A wood fire is far more warming than the furnace.  And delightful as well.

The grandfather clock chimes and the morning is still.  Blue jays call in the distance.  Steam rises from my coffee cup as my husband sips his beside me.  A quiet Sunday morning save for sounds of the homestead.

Blur….upp, the sound the honey wine makes while fermenting.

The busy whir of the sewing machine as I work on Yuletide gifts.

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Gentle snoring from the farm dog who reclines comfortably on the sofa after a cool night outdoors keeping watch over the urban farm.  He loves his work and does it well, coming in to rest then opting to go outside again late morning.

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This life, this home, it balms, sweetens, and simplifies.  This homestead life.

Root vegetables- sunchokes, parsnips, and potatoes- harvested from the garden beds will be roasted for brunch alongside fresh eggs from the coop.

The chickens dig around in the leaves and the golden light of autumn cascades over the sleeping beds.  I jot down ideas for a preservation garden.  I will need more fencing.

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Dreams, and the gentle lilt of every day life pervades me and I smile, and take another sip.

Putting the Garden to Bed (compost, adding new beds, bulbs, and there’s no place like home)

Gardening need not be expensive nor incredibly difficult.  By necessity I have come up with ways to make widespread, prolific gardens quickly and easy on the homestead pocket.

The first thing that is imperative to a great garden is compost.  Compost is one of those things that still baffles folks a little.  You do not need a fancy, turning contraption to make compost.  Doug screwed together five pallets to make two open spaces and it is tucked into a far corner of the yard.

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The chicken coop certainly adds to it.  In the fall the chicken bedding gets changed and the soiled straw goes into compartment one.  For six months I add leaves, coffee grounds, lint from the dryer, food the chickens don’t like, and it builds up.  Repeat in the spring, only use compartment 2.  Put on the garden beds what you began six months ago and do this in the spring and fall.  I do not turn the compost or water it or do anything to it really.  It just does it’s thing.  If it smells, add dry material like straw or newspaper or leaves.  If it is not decomposing at all, add more wet items like food scraps or grass.  Let the chickens play in it, they scratch it up nicely.

Time to clean out the garden beds.  I let the plants go to seed.  Next year Mother Earth will grow dill, basil, carrots, spinach, arugula, and many other plants for me.  Everything is pretty well frozen and quite deceased so out they go and into the compost.  Perennials and winter greens stay put.

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Add a layer of compost.  Then a layer of warm straw.  Not thick enough to suppress weeds (because the water won’t get in) but enough to keep the soil cozy.

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When we first moved in.
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Now

I have a third of an acre here and I am only gardening a quarter of it.  But, we haven’t even been in this house two years; the changes in this property over that time have been impressive.  As always, I want more garden beds!

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These easy beds create abundant crops and very few weeds!

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This is my own design; a very easy gardening bed that combines many great techniques.  Lay out cardboard where you want your bed.  No need to rototill or disturb the beneficial guys underground.  Ring with wood you have on hand, rocks, bricks, anything really, use your imagination!  Then top with a 2 inches of thick straw.  You can add your compost and soil now or wait until spring.

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I am adding a bed that runs alongside the other one and putting an arbor over them.  Next year I will grow pumpkins over them (and will try to outsmart the squash bugs).  It will create an enchanted walk through that leads to the house or the gardens while freeing up space in the garden.  Pumpkin Hollow Farm is moving up!

Plant tulip and daffodil bulbs and lots of garlic cloves.

Everything looks great!  The garden is put to bed, the new spring beds are ready for next year, and the perennials are snug in straw.  Bulbs are planted, muscles are tired, and the farmer is happy.

All this wondering what to do now that I don’t have my businesses.  Should I go to school?  Should I get a job outside my writing?  Should I…?  And as I spent the day hauling compost, designing beds, standing in the next herb garden, dreaming, being present, working hard, I realized that this is what I want to do.  This is where my heart is happy.  At home.  Creating home.

The Yarn Weasel

We walked by the mounds of junk looking for treasure.  Cups of coffee in our hands, my husband and I looked among the stacks of items in the tents.  Broken tools, old dishes, and VHS tapes crowded overpriced lanterns and cast iron.  Then I saw it.  I have never seen one before but I knew it instantly.  I looked sheepishly at the price then let my jaw fall slack.  I picked it up in case anyone else recognized it.  Of course,  it was twenty dollars because no one knew what it was!  A Yarn Weasel.  From the 1700’s.

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One could take their freshly spun yarn and spin it directly onto the yarn weasel from the spinning wheel then pull it off the side, twist, and make a perfectly lovely skein of yarn.  Or spin it onto the weasel and knit from it.

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I tied the end of the skein of yarn to one dowel and spun the contraption to unravel the yarn.  It was easier and much faster than carefully winding a skein into a ball for crocheting.  Once it was on the wheel, I began crocheting a blanket for my granddaughter who is expected to be born next month.  Without stopping to untangle or rewind balls of yarn that have toppled off of my lap, I whipped through the skein quickly and was onto the next.

The wood is very dry so now that I am done with the afghan for Miss Ayla Mae, I will oil the wooden relic with walnut oil to seal the wood so that it won’t crack and will give it a beautiful color.

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Yarn weasels can be found for well over a hundred dollars on Ebay, but look for a good deal online or at flea markets.  A lot of folks don’t know what to do with them, or wouldn’t use them anyway and you may be able to get one for a song.  This yarn weasel does look ever lovely next to the wood stove in our little, old fashioned home on our little, old fashioned homestead.

The Humble Housewife

My mother was a housewife.  It was easier and more affordable for her to stay home with all of us kids.  We started caring for foster babies when I was young so there were no less than five of us at any given time.  The home was her domain and everything was tidy and clean and healthy supper was on the table nearly every night.  In the evenings she and my dad would often escape together to go get a Coke and take a drive with the portable cassette player singing tunes sans children.  I always assumed she would get a job when we all moved out.  But she didn’t.  It took awhile for me to realize, she has a job.  And even though my dad is retired, she still has the job. She is a full-time homemaker.

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Women are brilliant nurturers, mothers, and just asking one’s husband to get something that is clearly right in front of him in the cupboard but he can’t find it is proof that the home is our domain.  Men are our warriors, our providers, our heavy lifters.  There are exceptions, of course, but homesteading on a prairie practically off-grid taught me that our roles are not to “put us in our place” or “keep us in the kitchen,” they were (are) practical ways for survival.  Yes, we can all switch roles, but it took Doug a quarter of the time to chop wood, move hay, or fix something.  And if he goes to clean something, put something away, or heaven forbid, sew something, odds are I am going to have to do it again so we just stuck to our roles!  Men innately take pride in providing for the family.  Women in the past always took care of the children, took care of the home, took pride in their work, and would often make a little extra money for the household by selling hand crafted items.

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We have noticed over the years of raising children, and even as empty nesters, that when I have a job we spend more money.  At that point, I don’t have time to clean the house so we hire a house cleaner.  I don’t have the energy to cook so we go out.  I need a break so we go do something.  We spend a lot of money and eat terribly.

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I always stayed home or had my own business that I could take my kids to when they were growing up, but what about now?  I think about the judgment I passed on my mother in my late teens for staying home and making dad “do all the work.”  Is that how society will view me?  Now that my businesses have closed we have been talking about me being a homemaker.  We are modern homesteaders in the city.  We preserve as much food as possible.  We have chickens.  I crochet and quilt and sew.  We use a wood stove in the evenings.  I write books and this blog and I do get some small royalties.  I teach a few classes in my home and I am an herbalist.  Can I give myself permission to be a homemaker too?

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We purposely chose a city where our mortgage payment can easily be covered by one person.  We don’t have fancy cell phone plans or cable.  We have designed a life where I can be a housewife, which is where I am happiest.  I love nurturing, folding warm clothes, having a hot meal ready when my husband gets home from work, having the errands done so we can relax together on the weekends, hand making Christmas presents, caring for my animals, and being there when my grown children and grandbabies need me.  It is the hardest job I can think of but it suits my busy, independent nature just fine.  Yes, I think I will thrive here.

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If we give ourselves the option to be anything and to do anything, let us also give ourselves the right to be homemakers.  May we all give more respect and honor to the housewives, the homemakers, the stay-at-home Mamas, and the stay-at-home Grammies in our society for they keep the heart of the family and home beating strong.

 

 

Chilies and Adobe; Pueblo’s Fall Festival

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The streets were blocked off and thousands of people descended upon our small city for the Pueblo Chile and Frijoles Festival.  The bright colors of chile ristras create a festive glow and the annual event corresponds with harvest and the autumn.  I brought home a wreath of colorful chilies.

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At the El Pueblo Museum the mercado took place.  The smells of roasting chilies and the sound of Spanish music filled the air.  Dancers that were traveling through for a Folklorico Mexican dance competition stopped and entertained us throughout the day with beautiful dancing and breathtaking attire.

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Inside the adobe house where the market once stood many, many years ago, time stands still.  I memorize pieces and admire the simplicity and homestead life.  I gather ideas and breathe in the history beneath my feet.

Life On An Urban Homestead

20180813_071437The air is cool this morning.  Autumn just whispers.  A  little early, it seems to me.  A lovely few weeks of monsoon broke us out of our months of triple digit drought.  The farms are half fallow for lack of water.  On my little urban farm, the rain has brought forth abundance and we are just nearly tired of zucchini.  Still, fried zucchini and early pumpkin beer sounds good today.  I am grateful we do not rely solely on ourselves for food as I thumb through my depression era cookbook.  We are eating well from our gardens.  The herbs are lovely and fragrant, and though the produce is all slow to mature this year, we are now eating peppers and tomatoes and calabacitas.

The chicken’s yard is filled with birds of all kinds, apparently enjoying the new chicken feed.  The egg eater was discovered and went to a chicken swap where she is going to live in a lovely coop with three other roommates.  We now have eggs again.

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Many years ago I wrote a post about the pros of urban farming.  I think of that post now as I sit on my front porch watching the early morning world go by.  The morning glories have run wild and made the porch art.  Though I do want goats- many cities do allow them, perhaps eventually Pueblo will too- I see the many pros to living here in town.  I have abundant space to garden.  My garden on ten acres was smaller than the space I have here.  I can go up and out and raised and potted and there is much more land to make into gardens and orchards.  One does not need as much space as one might think.  I have the benefit of not having crop dusters flying over my little organic homestead.

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I have chickens and their hilarious antics and fresh eggs.  I have local farmers for milk should I choose.

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Today I am making soap for our new shop and for ourselves.  I canned seven pints of fresh, organic peaches from the farmer’s market and seven jars of spicy pickles from my own garden.  Little by little the root cellar fills.  Soon Doug will be chopping wood for the wood stove.  My favorite reading spot has oil lamps and candles and the power could go out and I would go on reading.

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Homesteading, I have learned over a decade of experience, is not about self sufficiency, but rather it is a village ideal.  One cannot possibly do everything themselves.  I need sweet corn from the local farmer, organic meat from my friends’ ranch if I choose.  They might get medicine or take a canning class from me.

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Here in town, I can ride my bike to the newest coffee shop to pick up fair trade coffee and hit the library for a homesteading book.  I can grow food and have chickens and even a farm dog.  Old arts like quilting and sewing and crocheting are making a comeback.  Homesteading is not insistent on the country, but rather a space in one’s heart for simplicity and old ways.

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Daring to Imagine a Different Life

“You are daring to imagine that you could have a different life!” Birdie says in that delightful movie, You’ve Got Mail.

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I have been a working herbalist for a decade now.  It is day in-day out phone calls, with my entire identity wrapped up in it.  I will still do it on a smaller scale, but it is exhausting full time.  I loved having my identity be a stay-at-home mom, and a dance teacher, and a professional model over my life.  It takes courage to seek out a different life as businesses falter, or the children move out, or new dreams move in.  It is very difficult to close doors on some aspects in life in order to explore new ideas and dreams.  Whispered inspirations nudging us forward.  Ends of eras, sleepless nights, courage that nudges you past the fear of failure and into the unknown where you can fly is all worth it.

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I have a great passion to help people simplify their lives, lessen their bills, get out of debt, live the life they dream of, put down the phones, pick up a child, be in nature, make your own, sit on the front porch and create a grow-your-own kind of life.  My new shop will create inspiration, a place to get supplies and know-how, a place where women can gather to knit and sip on tea, a place where children learn to make cheese and crochet, and young families can get tips on growing in this altitude.  A back to the land or an urban homestead mentality.  A peace of mind, deep satisfaction kind of grin.  This new shop with my daughters will be so fine.

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The key to being brave and changing your life is changing the “what if’s.”  What if we fail?  Then we fail.  I did not take out large commercial loans for this.  What if no one comes?  Then I will have time to catch up on quilting.  What if….what if we succeed?  What if we have this shop in our family for thirty years?  What if we help change the lives of hundreds? or thousands?  What if?

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What if one door isn’t closing, it’s just changing paths and what if it is even better?

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Oh my dear, imagine that you could have a different life!

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What is your dream?