Friday, April 29, 2011

Bad Juju



I began blogging under the name Green Bean Dreams in 2007.  I've been happy here.  Named after a vegetable, like those I plant, in my yard.  Sharing my dreams.

Until a friend raised the specter of dream interpretation.  It turns out that to dream of green beans conjures up some really bad juju.  Who knew?  And, while I'm not one to bend to every superstition, I'm also not one to flaunt fate.  It was enough to make a girl think of changing her blog name.

It was more than bad mojo though.  I'm at a different point in my life than I was when I began dreaming as a green being.  Back in October 2007, I was beginning my green journey.  Sampling from the eco-pie.  Was I a farmers' market type of girl?  Yes.  Someone to bike on errands?  Not really.  Was I the type of greenie to raise chickens and jimmy up water saving mechanisms?  You betcha!  One to lug around a glass straw and reusable take out containers?  I failed there.

So after being on this road for several years, I feel that I'm in need of a change.  Not a big one because I am, after all, Green Bean, but one that opens up a bit the road I have yet to travel at it.  While I'm at it, I think I'll ditch the black magic.  Today and over the weekend, you'll see a new header,  a new domain name (That's up already!), and a new Facebook page (It's here! Look to your right and sign up!).  Green Bean Dreams will become Green Bean Chronicles.

Supposedly, the links all work.  That is technical wizardry, though.  I'll just resort to crossing my fingers.  I hope you'll stick with me through all the voodoo!


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Thursday, April 28, 2011

In Defense of Yards


Quite the debate has been brewing on the interwebs over cites versus suburbs versus country versus whatever.  Jenn from The Green Phone Booth came out in favor of suburbs and Ruchi at Arduous lobbed back with In Defense of Cities.  I could see all sides.  I've lived in cities and in the burbs and am a country girl at heart.

And then it happened.  Ruchi asked "What does Green Mean?"  Sure, the post covered all kinds of things like growing pot and ritual suicide but the one thing that struck me was the implication that having a yard is not necessarily green.  Urban sprawl has been fueled in part by people looking for more space, more "country-style" living.  And while all those carefully (and not so carefully) yards can be beautiful, they come with the heavy price of freeways, strip malls and pesticide runoff.

I've witnessed sprawl first hand.  My elementary school with its meadowed playground bordered with oak trees is now a Target "Greatland".  My father went to a boarding school down the street when he was young.  Then, it was a dairy farm so I guess I have less to complain about but our societal desire for more land, more space ate up so much of the Southern California that I knew, I headed north when I finished school.  The Bay Area hills stacked with homes, nary a vacant lot between them, called to me.  Living here, I would never feel my heart squeeze as a bulldozer knocked over dozens of trees and pawed up wild land to make room for a chain store or housing development.  There simply wasn't space.  All the development had already happened.

So I get it.  Yards are not green.  Necessarily.  Even though they provide my family with food and my children with a place to dig pools for boats and build miniature tree houses.  But for some of us, yards are necessary.  Hands full of soil, the zoom of a humming bird overheard, the discovery of a ladybug in the cover crop, those things feed our souls.  More than any drug, yards - the right kind of yards - can put a smile on our face and hope in our hearts. 

Yes, my yard sucks up water.  I water judiciously and am building swales to catch winter's runoff.  Yes, my yard once belonged to someone else - someone with wings, someone who walked on four legs and stunk to high heaven.  I share my yard with those who came before me.  A hole dug under the fence, not filled.  A bird house hung on the fence, already occupied.  Seeds and plants selected for native birds and bugs are encouraged to burrow in the sheet mulch.  I never use pesticides or petroleum based fertilizers.

Yes, my yard is not green.  Necessarily.  But it is mine and I love it.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Farms on the Fringe

Visiting California's wine country last week, we drank in the bits and pieces of farm and forest on the edge of the vineyards.


A cute micro-ranch on the edge of town.


It looked to have 2 donkeys, 3 goats, and 1 sheep.


Winery bordering my parents' home.



Vineyard chickens. 


Lovely old water tower.



Birdhouses located around many of the organic vineyards have attracted bluebirds and all but eliminated a vineyard pest.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Tales from the Roost: The Pecking Order



It is just the way nature works.  Or at least the way chickens work.  There is a pecking order, which means someone is at the top and someone is at the bottom.  Unfortunately, that last someone is me.  Gingerbread Baby.  Or Ginger, as the human calls me.

Lowest of the low.  Last to eat.  Last to drink.  Last to be let into the nesting box - even when Puff is having one of her episodes and hogging up the one on the right.  Last for everything.

True, I was late coming to this flock.  I arrived with Minerva Louise on Christmas Eve.  Tucked into a dark box, they brought us here.  Weeks later, we moved to the large red coop on the big back hill.  The other hens had it out for us from the beginning.  Minerva lost it one day, flying at the human and getting herself all bloody and such.  After that, the others gave her a wide berth which left only me to peck.

Puff, whom I gather was lowest before we came, wanted to make darn sure she got out of that position.  She has pecked and prodded me since day one.  Here I am, minding my own business in the far corner of the run when, bam, Puff pokes me in the rear.  There, the human tosses in some scraps.  I know well enough not to go for the cheese or pasta but God forbid I sneak a bit of Swiss chard.  Puff is all over me, pecking and clucking, until I hop onto the roost and wait the whole thing out.

I'd been resigned to being low cluck on the totem pole.  It is just the way of things.  Until that terrible terrible day.  I felt the urge and crept into the nesting box.  Puff was in the right one with that glazed look on her face so I took the left - which we all like better anyway.  Better real estate, really.  Better view through the coop door.  Further from the path and the hooting children.  Quieter.  Safer.

There I crouched, scratching at the shavings and waiting to lay my egg when she came.  Miss Queen Bee.  She chattered about being in "her nesting box".  'Scuse me.  Don't see the name "Serena".  Still, I should have moved.  I usually duck out of the way but my egg was so darn close.  Why didn't she just holler at Puff instead.  I hunkered down, trying to speed things up when Ms. Thang grabbed my comb and ripped and tore.  Dear reader, I don't remember what happened next.  I've blocked it from my brain.  The blood spatter on the nesting boxes, under the roost, along the walls and across the window could tell the story, I'm sure.

I got out of the hen house as fast as I could.  The human found me in the run an hour later with the other ladies, my blond feathers stained brown with blood.  She cornered me.  With nowhere to run and too tired to try, I let the human take me.  She cleaned me with a warm towel, dabbed ointment on my comb, and fed me scrambled eggs, rice and yogurt.  It was almost worth it.  Almost.

The next day, back on the ground, I was a different hen.  I wouldn't mess with Serena again.  I'd give up the nesting box but ain't no way, no how I was going to be at the bottom all of my life.  Minerva popped by to see how I was healing and I took her down.  I don't need to be top hen.  Somewhere in the middle is just fine.


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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Dirty Is as Dirty Does

I'm over at the Green Phone Booth today, getting my hands dirty with a review of Kristin Kimball's city mouse to farm mouse memoir, The Dirty Life.  Short version: I read it in 36 hours.  Long version: See here.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Blossom

It is that time of year when spring's happiness spills out in riotous color against the grey-green background of winter.  And, yes, that dogwood tree really is that pink!







Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tales from the Roost: Warrior Chicken


My destiny was writ before I was hatched.  Long before I was captured, my captor's eldest son foretold of a warrior chicken to be named Minerva Louise.  He wrote a story about me, linking me to a future chicken king named Metal Wing.  Together, he foresaw us leading a revolution.

I am still in the early part of my life.  I've not yet met this Metal Wing but the seeds of rebellion are there. 

It was a cold Christmas Eve day when the captor came to get us from the home where we were hatched.  I squawked and fought but to no avail.  She took me and a blond piece of fluff.  Nice enough but no backbone.


In the beginning, we were sequestered in a small metal cage in the garage.  "Quarantine," the captor called it.  "Solitary confinement," is what I called it.  The captor subsequently released us to a larger pen with a passel of weak beaks.  There was a metal barrier between us and the larger bird brains, who clucked tauntingly but soon forgot us when the captor appeared, offering sunflower seeds or mealworms.  I was not so easily won over.

After a long day in the pen, she came for us again.  Back to the garage cell, I supposed.  Well, I was not going down without a fight.  I flew at her.  You see, I am a Welsummer.  Light boned and a good flyer - not like those porky cochins she's got locked up here.  I'll admit that I may have gone a bit overboard.  I flew at the captor and then against the edges of the cage, desperate to escape.

Escape I did not.  Rather, I cracked my beak.  I fought through the blood but she grabbed me, tamped my wings down, shoved me in a box and drove me to a torturer.  There, I was poked, prodded and a plastic case put over my the top of beak.  They shoved chemicals down my throat to subdue me.  "Pain medicine," they called it.  Like I'd believe that.

I was eventually permitted to wander the larger cage without the metal barrier.  The other clucks saw my epoxy beak and had witnessed my escape attempt and left me alone.

Many months of imprisonment have passed.  My bionic beak has since fallen off but its spirit remains.  The captor lets me out with the other inmates, to peck about in the yard for bugs or worms.  As if I am satisfied by that.

The fences, though, are too high even for my strong wings.  I wait. Bide my time and look to the sky for Metal Wing.  He is coming.  Until then, I swear I will not lay an egg, be pet or give the captor any satisfaction.  I don't care how long it takes!

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Monday, April 18, 2011

Get Eggy with It

It's no secret that I have hens and, well, when one has chickens, one needs to find egg-friendly recipes.  When one belongs to a CSA, one also needs to use up greens. It is just the way of things.  Find a recipe where you use up both and you are golden!

Here is my vegetable heavy frittata.  It is a family favorite good for morning, lunch or dinner, hot or cold.  What are you waiting for?  Getting eggy with it.






Tomato, Chard and Veggie Frittata *modified from a Live Earth Farm CSA recipe

1 tbsp. olive oil or spray a bit of spray on olive oil
1 half bunch of chard, leaves de-stemmed and roughly chopped
Any other season vegetables (e.g., fava beans, summer squash, etc.)
3-4 tomatoes, chopped or 1 15 oz can of chopped or diced tomatoes, drained
1-3 hot peppers, diced or red pepper flakes (depending on taste)
4 cloves garlic, minced
6 eggs, beaten
Salt and pepper to taste
Sprinkling of grated cheese

Directions:

1. Preheat broiler.
2. In a 10 or 12-inch oven-safe pan at medium high heat, heat olive oil and add garlic and peppers or pepper flakes.  Cook for 1 minute.
3. Add tomatoes and cook for a few minutes, until tomatoes (if fresh) become saucey.
4. Add chard, any other vegetables, and saute until chard is wilted down but still bright green.
5. Reduce heat to medium or medium low and add eggs.
6. Cook eggs until mostly set around the edges and towards the middle, and still soft in the center.
7. Add with salt and pepper, to taste, and sprinkle cheese over the top.
8. Set pan under the broiler and cook until eggs are set and cheese is browned.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Tales from the Roost: Puff


I'm one of a band of chickens.  I live in a little red coop atop a little hill in an area that I like to call "the farm."  I've heard the oldest boy call it that too.  It is my understanding that I "belong" to him now instead of to the nice lady with the worms and sunflower seeds.  No matter.  She still comes and -

Wait, a butterfly!  Oh, an orange one.  Dancing just over the flowers over there.

Where was I?  Yes, I'm one of several chickens here.  My name is Puff.  I am a blue cochin and let's be honest.  I'm the prettiest one.

I may not be the best layer.  Sometimes, I get tired of just sitting in the nest and I'll get up before the egg has come out.  It lolls about in the coop then instead of the nesting box but the sunflower seed lady still finds it!  True, sometimes my eggs plop out at night when I'm on the roost and not paying attention.  The worm lady clucks when that happens and then puts in some more of those crushed oyster shells to up our calcium.  None of it really matters though because looks will get you everywhere!  I just strut about with my bouffant blue feathers and all rolled or dropped eggs are forgotten.

Then there are those times, huh - a worm, in the ground, something . . .  No just a twig.  Interesting one though.


Oh yes, there are those times when my maternal instincts kick in.  You see as much as I enjoy my coop-mates, I really would like to be a mother.  I've tried many times before.  Flattening myself to pancake size over a few laid eggs to try and hatch some chicks.  The then not-so-nice lady coos and calls me "broody", right before sticks her cold hand under me and yanks out the eggs I've been keeping warm.  Hey!  How can I hatch them if they aren't there.  She often pulls me out too and makes me walk around the garden.  I show her though.  Spreading my wings and nattering about, I protect the chicks I may never have.  As heartbreaking as it is, it is better not to dwell on -

That is a worm!!  I just know it.  Under the pine needles over there past the baby oak tree.  Oh, you are still here?  Well, gotta run.  There are worms to be gobbled, sun to be soaked in and - there's that butterfly again!

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Downright Seedy


I know what you've been thinking.  What kind of blog is this anyway?  Talk of garden porn, then farmer porn and now this title?  Is she admitting that this "green blog" has gone the way of zucchini and cucumbers?  Well, only if you are talking about gardens!

I think I've established myself as a girl who cannot contain herself in a locally owned nursery.  Same goes with a seed catalog.  Turns out that a couple years ago, as I was "controlling my impulses", well, I wasn't so much.  I was just redirecting them.  I overloaded in the seed department with dreams of an unending garden.  Last year, we moved during planting season and I didn't plant much.  This year, with seeds that are two to three years old, I tamped down my desires for new and more and more seeds, and am using up the packets in my seed box.

Emptying out the seed box, I learned something about myself.  I love to garden.  It is my medication, my yoga, my prozac.  But I'm also a lazy gardener.  I haven't a tomato or pepper seed packet in sight.  Why?  Because I like to plant directly in the ground.  No greenhouses, sunny windows, misting seedlings for me.  I know loads of folks do it successfully but I never seem to.  I forget to water, ahem, mist for a day or two.  I overcompensate by overwatering.  My windows are not sunny enough.  Who knows but my "seeds started indoors" never start.  As a result, I really only grow stuff from seeds that I can plant directly into the soil.

Squash.  Legumes.  Melon.  Some herbs and flowers.  Generally, big seeds or the ones you can broadcast.  This year, I have gotten lettuce to grow directly sowed as well.

Any advice for a lazy seeder?  What luck have you had starting seeds indoors?  Help a bean out so I can get downright seedy.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Happiness Began in a Garden

It is April.  The garden is just beginning - especially my garden, in my new house.  Here are a few things that made me smile this week.


Our peas are sprouting.


Our apple tree is blooming.


The girls are foraging - under close supervision so they stay away from seedlings.


And we are enjoying it all.

Happiness . . .  found in a garden.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tales From the Roost: Serena


I am the last of my kind.  There were five of us originally.  My attendant removed us all from a wire cage in the back of a feed store one cold October day and transported us home, to the little red coop.  All of the others perished or disappeared over the last year and a half.  I alone survived.

Was it my breed that saved my feathery neck?  I am a Barred Rock, otherwise known as a Plymouth Rock.  As in Pilgrims, don't you know?  It wasn't good stock that got me by, though.

No, I beat the odds by sheer wit and a little bit of luck.  You see, dear reader, as sprightly as I am, I've lead a sickly life.  I've been down that oak strewn road to the chicken vet more times than I care to count.  The last time was supposed to be, well, the last.  My attendant was in tears, murmuring about "being put to sleep" after I didn't eat for a week.  That's a story for another time but suffice to say, I'm still here!

If my attendant was a real farmer - instead of the one she pretends to be puffing over her raised beds and raking out wildflowers for a "pollinator garden" - she would have given me the ax in the beginning.  There would have been no chicken vet, no antibiotics, and certainly no buckets full of worms and scrambled eggs to "get my protein in".  But that is the lucky part.

The rest is all brains.  It is important to train an attendant early on.  Greet them at the coop door and give them a good talking to.  When you are out of the coop, free ranging, you need to keep tabs on the attendant as they often come bearing treats, snacks and scraps.  It is important to be the first chicken to them and for that, one must assume the correct aerodynamic posture: head bent low and derriere up.  As a result, you can be hand fed instead of having to peck for the sunflower seeds or scratch off the ground like a common chicken.

Stay close and monitor your attendant while they are working in the garden.  Any sort of digging will unearth worms which will need to be plucked and eaten - off the shovel if necessary.  And, if your attendant forgets about you or seems busy, never hesitate to remind them.  In such times, I march down the patio steps and right up to the window until the attendant recalls her duties and comes out armed with treats.


As important as it is to train one's attendant, it is equally important to monitor one's companions.  Distance yourself from trouble makers.  It is acceptable to peck new girls but not to deprive them of food and water.  Doing the latter earned my former companion, Butterscotch, a new home.  Make sure everyone stays in line though - not too many greens for this one if that one has had none.  And, of course, ensure that all eggs are laid correctly.  Whenever the coop-mates go up to lay, you follow.  Eggs are too be laid in the nesting box but only the one on the left.  The one on the right is haunted and only Puff uses it when the madness touches her and causes her to go "broody".

It is critical to begin all of this training as soon as possible.  It endears you to the attendant and sets you up as Queen of the Roost in preparation for that day we all know is coming - when you stop laying the golden (yolked) eggs!

I've learned a lot in my time at the Green Bean Homestead.  The life of a chicken is a tenuous thing.  There are predators, sickness, screws, and plain bad manners.  The most important lesson I've gleaned, though, is this: If you want to live a long life as a chicken, be a pet.  The livestock thing is for the birds!

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Monday, April 11, 2011

Nursery Rhyme Dinner

That was a green being who kept some hens
She had so many eggs, she was at her wits end.
She made frittata, hard boiled and scrambled away,
Then used up four more for pizza souffle. 


I love me some frittata and quiche and what not but there are times when a mom is looking something that is quick, easy, and will be eaten by everyone in the family.  Putting away the day's collected eggs, it hit me.  Pizza Souffle, also known as the much fancier name Oeuf Cocotte, a delightful recipe I gleaned from a delightful blog, Stitch and Boots, a couple years back.

There are only a handful of ingredients - pasta sauce, eggs, a sprinkling of cheese - and it cooks up in under 30 minutes.  Eat it with toast "fingers" and a fruit plate and call it a healthy Meatless Monday!


Happy Meatless Monday!  Check out Midnight Manic's Meatless Monday for more vegetarian ideas.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Have You Hugged Your Small Farmer Today

Photo courtesy of my CSA farm, Live Earth Farm in Watsonville, California.

I was driving down to the central coast of California when I first spotted them.  Rows upon rows of strawberries, broccoli, cauliflower, pimento peppers.  They spread for miles, from just over the freeway wall over rolling hills, around corners, going on forever it seems.

I've made this drive many times and never thought much of it, other than, oh yeah, farms and farmers.  This is where our food grows.  California has been the "number one food and agricultural producer in the United States for more than 50 years. . . . More than half of the nation's fruits, nuts and vegetables come from here."

Sometimes, the farms are pretty.  Softened by a windmill, a ramshackle barn, a few cows lowing in the pasture.  Most often, the farms are not so pretty.  Little can soften the view of porta-potties and migrant workers' buses.

Still as a Californian, it is a sight I've grown used to.  Until today.  Two hours from our destination, I noticed a row of tree trunks, the tops lopped off, along side one of the fields.  My mom, from the passenger seat, mused that there must have been some disease.

Twenty minutes later, more broken trees.  The last bit of shade on a barren landscape gone.  Maybe they were eucalyptus my sister offered from the back seat.  Those do not live very long.

As the drive through farmland continued though, so too did the groves of broken trees.  There was no disease, I realized.  And not all the cut down trees were eucalyptus.  Anything offering shade, habitat for insect eating birds, aesthetics, was gone.  Only jagged stumps remained.

This is what industrial farming looks like.  Barren.  Miles upon miles of a single crop.  Low flying planes spraying pesticides.  Migrant workers hunched over rows of artichokes or strawberries.  The wildlife is gone.  The land, almost dead, eeks out produce coaxed by petroleum based fertilizers.

I continued driving and thought about Sapphira, my farmers' market friend.  Her farm is small.  Just a few acres, bordered by trees, hedges, a stream.  They grow every kind of vegetable imaginable and a handful of fruits.  The soil is enriched with compost, made on site.  Crops are rotated, interplanted.

I pictured my CSA farm, Live Earth Farm, with its sprawling acres of fruit trees, fields of herbs, strawberries and greens.  Chickens peck through the orchard, devouring bugs and fertilizing the soil.  Empty fields wave with cover crops and they can fill a box full of wholesome vegetables and fruit winter, spring, summer and fall.

When we finally turned off the highway, with big agriculture at my back, I thought of all the small farms out there, struggling to make a living.  Farming according to values and principles and not just dollar signs.  I thought of the difference they make - for us, who eat the food, for animals with whom they share space, and for the earth, whose soil they regenerate year after year.  I don't know about you but I know who I want growing my food!

Have you hugged your small farmer today?


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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Garden Porn

I recently visited the seductive coastal town of Cambria and ogled some bodacious gardens.  Just a few shots for some garden ideas.  Most of these were taken at the fabulous Cambria Nursery and Florist.


Not sure how green the wall is but love reusing an old or broken pot by inserting it into a wall!


Beautiful path in a shade garden.  You could use reclaimed broken concrete instead of stone to eco it up.


Look closely.  There is a living roof on this cute little play house.


Just so purty!


I'm not a gnome person but these, along with the handmade ceramic ladybugs, are pretty cute.


Everything looks sexier along the coast!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

You Can Take the Girl Out of the Mall . . .


It was the first hot day.  After weeks of rain, the sun rose above the back fence in full regalia. Pea shoots sprung up in the raised beds.  Wildflower seeds peeked shyly from under the winter's brown coat.  Bees circled dizzily around the old palm tree, where I'm certain there is a hive.

Spring was here and I had the itch.

Not to spring clean.  Though the kids' closets overflowing with too short pants and cubbies with paper airplanes might scream otherwise.

No, I had the itch to buy.  A shopping spree.

It didn't really start out that way and its not what you think. You see there was this bare spot in the garden.  In January, I'd plugged a bare root grape into the ground in front of my new fence but that was waaaay down there.  Over here, on the walkway, well, there was plenty of room.  When the grape grew, it would just feel so, well, lopsided.

Checking my calender, I realized it was one of those rare free mornings.  Nothing scheduled. Nothing weighing down on me.  The house under reasonable control.  Carpe diem!

I seized the moment and headed out for the locally owned nursery one town over to pick up another grape.  Flame seedless, thank you very much.  Pulling into an empty parking space, I saw it.  Out of the corner of my eye.  A lilac tree.  One of the first blooming plants here in Northern California.  I tamped down the urge.  I've long since gotten over the impulse buys, I told myself.

Instead, I headed toward the edibles section.  Grabbing a red radio flyer wagon, I hoisted it up the ramp and toward the grapes.  Wait!  They'd been moved and now there were only herbs here. Mint for the kids to make tea near their play house might be nice and some oregano.  I missed the oregano I planted out front at our old house.  I tossed both in the wagon and headed down the ramp.

Except that they also had organic strawberries and Annie's Annuals - complete with a sign asking gardeners to plant the starts with the yellow dot to help honey bees  Ha! I have a bee hive.  I care about bees.  I tossed a few orange dot annuals in the wagon.

I finally located the grapes in the back of the nursery, wedged between the fruit trees.  Flame seedless, hello!  Oh, wild red currant?  It needed a home.  That sunny spot in back corner?  I stopped to gaze at an apricot tree but regained control.  Breathe.

Back to the register.  Wait?  California natives.  I do aim to have a wildlife friendly backyard and, after going pesticide free, going native is one of the most important steps to take.  Hmm.  "Tolerates poor soil.  Needs no water once established.  Bright red flowers in summer and fall."  Then . . . hold the phone!  A native grape.  Well, I must have that.  In addition to the flame seedless?  Sure, why not.

I finally made it to the register, averting my eyes from  the seed racks, and a little flushed.  Turns out you can take a girl out of the mall but you cannot take the shopping out of the girl.

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