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I went to my first swap this past April. I had heard of swaps but didn’t find one in my area until a friend found this one on a MeetUp page and told me about it.

Swap July 2013

Swap July 2013

The organizer set up a few guidelines and the rest is history. She holds it once a month.

There were a few guidelines to follow:

  • No money was allowed – this is all about the trade and bartering with what you have for what you want/need.
  • Items should be sustainably-minded. Something you have grown in your garden, something you conned/cooked/brewed/baked/preserved/dried, etc. Something your animals made (goat milk, hen eggs, lamb wool, etc.) Something you sewed/knitted/re-purposed, etc. Items to do with sustainable interests are also good (Mother Earth News magazines, cookbooks, cooking/camping gear, etc)
  • The items you should leave at home: this is not a garage sale, items should be about sustainability. Leave the knick-knacks at home.

Once we set up, we were allowed 15 minutes to walk around and check out the items other people brought so we could see what we were interested in.

Lemon pickles, Dill pickles, Homemade Teriyaki sauce

Lemon pickles, Dill pickles, Homemade Teriyaki sauce

Each month I have been posting about the swap over on my personal blog. About a month ago I realized that I hadn’t posted about the July swap and I thought it would be a good topic to post here. I have known the swap and barter system is out there and alive, and I realize that there may be others out there that are interested, but don’t know were to look or even how to get started.

Here are the other swap posts I have done”

Here are a few places to look to find swaps in your area: Note: I will add additional information to this post as I find it or as people comment. (updated 19 Sept 2013)

Would you go to a swap if you had one in your area?
Are you participating in a swap in your area?

Please use the comments to let others know about how to find a swap. If you out there participating in a swap, please comment with the general area you are in and add a link to the swap information.

Sincerely, Emily

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The Skills to Survive

I had an interesting conversation with some friends the other day about the skill set many of us have in our modern world and the skill set people had 200 years ago. Many of us now have skills that aren’t directly linked to our survival. My skills as an business manager earn me a salary of money which I then give to a grocery store to buy food which it purchased from someone else. If something drastic happened in our world and we could no longer earn money, or if we could no longer buy food at a grocery store many people would be in a huge pickle. This is because our skills are no longer directly linked to our survival.

There are many of us that are trying to learn these basic survival skills once again, things like growing food, raising poultry, hunting, eating seasonally, canning, baking, building, sewing, knitting, spinning, etc. Some of us were lucky and grew up with parents that grew food, mom’s that cooked from scratch and dad’s that built furniture in the garage. Others weren’t so lucky. Even if we were lucky enough to have parents that were into that sort of thing, most likely we didn’t pay attention or hated gardening, or perhaps they just didn’t do some things you are now interested in. As a result many of us are now trying to learn these skills through the internet, books, videos and from others.

One of the things I’ve noticed as I strive to learn new skills is that there’s a huge overload of information. It can be difficult to glean the good stuff from the bad. I find it amusing sometimes when I read a book about something like keeping chickens that was written by someone that didn’t grow up with chickens and just learned about them a few years ago. They often say things in the book that seem completely ridiculous and go against the way nature intended things to be. Books can be a good source of info, but they can also be completely wrong or not as in depth as they should be. Sometimes they completely gloss over important information. When researching a new topic I usually read 5-10 books about it and then assimilate all the information from the various sources. Usually I end up with a pretty good idea of how it should be done.

I find a lot of wonderful information on blogs and through internet friends (like all of you). Blogs are a great way to connect with others that are like-minded not only for advice and information, but also to have a support network. The connections I’ve made through blogging are not only a great source of information, but also a wonderful network of support!

I have also been working on building a network of local people that have some of the skills I don’t posses so I can purchase or barter for their goods or services and learn from them. I have yet to be able to raise chickens or keep dairy cows, but I have a small local farm where I get these items. I know that I can rely on them to provide me with quality milk, eggs and meat and I’m so much happier giving them my money. Bartering is also a great option when you have developed a small local network for the things you need. One spring I traded 50 tomato seedlings for a good amount of pastured meat from a local farmer. I have also traded elderberries and other items for items I can’t produce myself.

I am now confident that I have many of the skills needed to survive should I ever need them. Lets hope we never need these skills for some major disaster, but it may well be that they’ll come in handy during a localized natural disaster or even an extended season of unemployment. I’m more comfortable knowing that I have a safety net, beyond our monetary emergency fund, in the skills I’ve taken the time to cultivate over the last 5 years. I would hate to be scrambling to learn these things when I needed them most.

What kinds of survival skills have you been learning over the past couple years? Where do you find the best information?

I can also be found at Chiot’s Run where I blog daily about gardening, cooking, local eating, beekeeping, and all kinds of stuff. You can also find me at Simple, Green, Frugal, Co-op, and you can follow me on Twitter.

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From city mouse to country mouse

I do not have a background in farming or agriculture. I was raised in Vancouver and until I was in my thirties, I had only been once to a farm–when I was 5 years old. That trip was very influential, and I immediately liked the idea of living on a farm. The biggest impression I recall was seeing the ‘Big Red Barn’ all nicely stacked with hay–it was a 5 year old’s dream to play in the barn with the other kids and feral cats.

When I moved to New Zealand, I was in heaven. I never did own a ‘real’ farm there; you don’t have to. There are plenty of opportunities to live vicariously, and so I did. I volunteered on a few farms and soaked up as much as I could. I did eventually buy some land there and together with my husband, we built a house on three acres outside Palmerston North in the Pohangina Valley. Well, not exactly in the valley but up on a hill overlooking the valley. It was there that I got my first chickens and, later, ducks. Our neighbour, Toni-the-Greek, donated a ‘chicken starter kit’, read three hens and a rooster. The chickens did the rest of the work and happily replicated themselves.

The following year, Toni-the-Greek gave us a Muscovy duck ‘starter kit’ which was less successful than the chickens, and I learned what the term ‘like a sitting duck’ meant. Until that point, we were excited about the duck who had gone broody and was sitting on a nice batch of eggs. I don’t remember how far along into the incubation process she was, but one morning when I went out to check on her all that was left, of what had been until that point an idyllic scene, were her feet. We never did successfully hatch baby ducks there. We sold the property and the buyers wrote the chickens and ducks in to the agreement to purchase!

After this experience, I knew I never wanted to live without my own patch of dirt and flock of chickens.

The big move to Bella Coola:

I moved to Bella Coola, on the west coast of BC 6 years ago (2003), and bought a 4.1 acre property there 3 years ago. It had 2 acres of lawn which took more than three hours on a ride on mower to mow; it was, a friend said, a “two beer lawn.” I wanted to establish a food garden.

Why? I had a longstanding dream to be sovereign in my food. I wanted to either grow, raise, hunt or fish for everything I needed. I was also aware of the hypocrisy of being a meat eater: this, I thought Michael Pollan would conclude, is The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Agrobusiness, with its terrible food and animal treatment practices, was not for me.

My first addition was chickens. I had raised them in New Zealand and knew that there were easy: they provide a good source of protein and (a not insignificant consideration) they provide good entertainment. Thanks to a friend’s incubator, we soon had 22.

Suddenly we needed fencing. I returned from the store with fencing materials and a goat. Soon we had 5 goats. Ducks were donated for our pond, and almost instantly we had a farm. Animal accommodations were the next job, followed by fruit trees: apricot, pear, quince, plum, 2 apples, crabapple, peach, 5 cherry trees, 2 gooseberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants, more blueberries, a strawberry patch, huckleberry, saskatoonberry, 4 kiwi fruit.

Once I had my 'Big Red Barn' I felt more like a 'real' farmer!

Once I had my 'Big Red Barn' I felt more like a 'real' farmer!

YEAR ONE (2005)

Having moved in in April, it was all go. With our roto-tiller we turned lawn into garden, around 2000 square feet. We fenced it 6 feet high with old fishing net to leap deer out, and divided it into 3 sections so that the chickens could turn over one area while I planted another. Our property had some well established fruit trees, including 2 cherries, 2 kinds of pears and 2 kinds of apples. A peach tree died in the 2007 winter. It also had 2 high bush cranberries, 3 blueberries, a red grape and a green grape.

We also built my very own big red barn.

YEAR TWO (2006)

More converting of lawn into veggie garden, including a potato patch. We threw in horse manure form down the road, household compost, leaves, hay, and cardboard on top. We enjoyed our own harvest, especially of cauliflower, cabbage (the biggest and best tasting I’d ever experienced), broccoli, zucchini, and blueberries. We made a new berry patch, laid down sawdust paths and made our vege beds permanent: we now had about 3500 square feet under cultivation.

We got 6 broad-breasted turkey chicks from Rochester Hatchery and thoroughly enjoyed raising them; they were polite and curious, and tasted great at Thanksgiving. (My husband brought one out to me via Westjet!) We didn’t have the time to winter them over (the valley requires snow shoveling the paths almost daily), and the ducks were moved into the turkey house.

Veggie garden facing south.

Veggie garden facing south.

YEAR THREE (2007)

In the summer of that year, frustrated at being laid off and wageless, I moved to Regina to a part time job and the prospect of up-skilling. On March 24, 2008 I woke up, looked at my closet for what to wear and thought: “I don’t want to do this any more. My sister enjoys dressing up; I want to be in my gumboots and overalls in my garden. If I continue with my PhD I’ll end up with a good career where I have to dress properly every day!” I was 2 provinces from everything I loved: my garden, my husband, my animals. My life was there. At last I was ready to accept my husband’s offer to support me through his teaching job; this was my chance to indulge myself in the farm. I would attempt food sovereignty—and maybe write a book about it, too. I was apprehensive about this decision, because I didn’t grow up on a family farm and had always thought that this accident of heredity precluded me from being a farmer. But if I could get a PhD, surely that same diligence would help me become a farmer, especially with the resources available to me through neighbour farmers in the valley and the now voluminous resources of the Internet.

YEAR FOUR (2008)

Capital expansions:

This year, we built a new turkey barn, complete with a nursery room to raise hatchlings. On the left hand side will be the home to the 99 chickens as I get the ‘herd’ built up to that number. On the right hand side at the back is the brooder room where I am presently raising 25 turkeys. It is all lined, insulated and cosy warm for the babies and full grown animals.

The new chicken coop complete with feed room and nursery room.

The new chicken coop complete with feed room and nursery room.

We also built a greenhouse. I’m hopeful we’ll actually get some tomatoes and basil this year! We just don’t have the heat units for the tomatoes to be successfully raised outside, and it is simply too wet in general for basil. Of course, a greenhouse will also extend our growing season for greens during the fall.

Year five (2009)

Animal expansions:

I have never managed to be completely self-sufficient in chicken or turkey. In light of the project (and developing way of life), I plan to raise more chickens and turkeys this year than in previous years. I have ordered 50 new day old cornish cross chickens, and have 30 turkeys in the new brooder barn (waiting for the cornish crosses to get butchered so they can move into the real coop!).

This year has been the year of the goat! At the end of hunting season last fall, I looked at the goats and thought, “You’re just small deer. I could shoot you and eat you.” So I borrowed a buck and got two of the three gals pregnant. Together, those two gals doubled my herd! I had five goats (two wethers and three does) and now have five gorgeous kids on the ground.

It was also the year to get rid of the ducks which I did earlier in the year for the following reasons: They are unreliable layers of eggs, not very good mothers, and too cute to kill. Not that the other creatures aren’t also cute, but the ducks take the cake in that department.

I have just ordered a milking machine for the goats and will be venturing into the wide world of goat dairying! This has been my dream since starting on the whole project. I’ve wanted to milk my own goats but needed to wait until I was confident enough to do them in and eat their kids. I’m still not sure I’ll be able to do it; but I’ve got a few more months and another hunting season to muster up the courage again.

What makes a ‘real’ farmer?

It has been a long time for me to get accustomed to the idea that I am farming. I have not considered myself a ‘real’ farmer. For a long time I have wondered what it would take for me to consider myself a ‘real’ farmer. Until recently, I have not really been able to articulate that. I think it will be when I get farm status and actually make the animals pay for themselves. To that end, I have just sent off my application for farm status! I think that getting the status and then the ‘farmer card’ will help me think of myself as a ‘real’ farmer.

I would love to hear from others the answer to this question. What makes a ‘real’ farmer?

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I don’t watch a lot of news.  It is too depressing and this time of year I’m way too busy.  But even as someone who doesn’t watch the news I know about the newest flu scare as well as the economic woes our country is facing.   As I was out planting beans in the garden I was mulling over thoughts as to the plight of my family and of my loved ones if there was ever a reason that we could not or should not go into town.

Sweet Girl and I are also in the middle of  ‘The Long Winter’ by Laura Ingalls Wilder, which as you know will give anyone pause to think about their personal preparedness. 

I know that in this modern age it is hard to imagine having to rely totally on what is in our homes for survival.  But if we had to…could we?  Can the modern family be really prepared to sustain themselves with no outside help…at least for a while?

As a wife and mom what is my personal responsibility to my family in the case of  an emergency?  Could I feed my children in the case of an earthquake, flood, epidemic, or unforeseen tragedy? 

After some serious thought and many rows of beans later I came to the conclusion after doing a mental inventory of my pantry, that yes I could feed my family if I could not run to the local market…in fact I believe that I could feed them for at least a couple of months….but there are some catches!

What I would do if the power was out for a long time and I could not grind the wheat?  I have wondered about this.  I have tinkered with the idea of buying an inexpensive hand grinder but haven’t gotten around to it. 

If the power goes out we are also without water.  I have enough stored for a short time, maybe a week at most.  I need to to something about this….

I could feed my kids but what about my animals?  I usually buy hay and grain every couple of weeks in the winter for the big animals.  We don’t have much hay storage so I would be in a world of hurt if I could not go into town to buy for them.  I also only keep a couple of weeks chicken feed around (mice, bleck!)….another thing to consider!

We heat with wood mainly and cook with propane, but bake with electricity.  Could I learn to bake bread with my wood stove like ma did that long winter?  Another thing to at least do a little research on…

We have oil lamps, but I need more oil, I have candles, but no matches…

The one place that I feel totally prepared is in the garden department, the seeds I bought this year have for the most part a 2 to 3 year shelf life.  I also grow mostly open pollinated so I could do more seed saving than I do.  Being in the Pacific Northwest I could pretty much garden year around with a little protection…at least we could have lots of greens and root veggies all winter.

Then again could I garden without water?

Do I have first aid supplies?  Enough for anything but the big major omgoodness we have go to the hospital situations?  I will have to check on this.

What about personal hygiene supplies…I have too many men in my family to go for months with the deodorant and soap all gone, ughhh!  Toilet paper, I would hate to run out of that!!!

OK…here are my conclusions

  • I need to check to make sure my pantry supplies are adequate for 6 months
  • I need to store more water as well as catch more water into rain barrels (which I have and have not set up yet…bad me!)
  • I need to learn to bake with my wood stove, or at least have some idea of how to.
  • I need to buy a hand-grinder
  • I need to find more storage area for hay and feed for the animals
  • I need to check first-aid supplies and also should take a class to brush up on basic first-aid…its been two years
  • We need an emergency plan since we have kids from 23 to 2…we need to devise a plan of where to meet and how to get a hold of one another.

I am a very optimistic person by nature.  I am not scared by the new flu or the economy.  But I am also prudent enough to realize that unforeseen things can and do happen and I for one am going to do my best to be ready to take care of my family just in case….

I am also going to get my flu shot next fall!!!

 

Just for fun here are my pantry must haves…the bare minimum of items I would need just in case!

  • Wheat for grinding
  • Oats
  • Barley
  • Rice
  • Salt
  • Honey
  • Oil for cooking and baking (vegetable and olive)
  • Canned Tomatoes
  • Whole Wheat Pasta…I need to learn to make this!
  • Dried Beans of all kinds
  • Home Canned Fruit
  • Home Canned Jams and Jellies…ok not a need but a very big want, yum!!!
  • Peanut Butter, crunchy…of course
  • Baking Powder/Soda
  • Yeast…which I actually keep in my freezer but could keep in my pantry if I had to
  • Seeds…actually kept in the garage but I had to include them!

What are the things that you consider your necessities to have on hand at all times? 

What about a generator?  Do you have one?  Then there are those that store fuel, or stockpile guns and ammo, what about having prescription medicine for an extended period of time?  Oh the list could get very long!!!

Are you prepared for the unforeseen?

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It was exactly one year ago this week that I got home from Saskatchewan having quit my job at the University. I wanted to come back to the farm and grow all our own food for the year. I fantasized that I would have SO much time on my hands: I would have time to read a raft of books that I’d wanted to for years, that I would ride my horse every day, and that I would be able to do everything from making our own maple syrup, to milking the goats, to making our own mustard and other condiments–was I ever wrong!

The reality was that I only rode my horse three times last summer, read nary a book, didn’t even get the goats bred (mercifully realizing there was simply no time), and bought mustard and mayonnaise. I did manage to make maple and birch syrup!

While my ‘Year in Provisions’ project has been successful (I have learned a lot of useful skills along the way and I still am living off the bounty of the past summer’s labour), what I was unsuccessful at was letting go of my guilt. I felt guilty that I was no longer earning a wage and I couldn’t let that go. I didn’t consciously realize it at the time, but I was driving myself overly hard in order to ‘make up’ for my lack of cash. I went at the project last year with such a guilty vengeance that I managed to seriously hurt myself.

Despite the fact that my husband was totally supportive of my project (and still is), I created this mindset all on my own. Because of this, I didn’t enjoy the work as much as I had envisioned enjoying it before I left Saskatchewan. Instead of biting off what I could actually manage sensibly, I took on too much. The final straw that broke the camel’s back was when I set to converting an extra 3000 square feet of grass into a vegetable plot, far too late in the season to be realistic. The result was I spent several weeks on crutches having blown both my knees out working up this new garden spot.

Fast forward to this summer and the project is on again. In February we had about a ten day stretch of really nice weather. Suddenly I felt totally behind and stressed right out: I’m not ready, I haven’t gotten my seeds yet, I haven’t set up the tomato beds, I need to plant the green manure crop, sharpen the tools, clean the garage, make labels for the eggs, build a raised strawberry bed, and so on.

After a couple of days (and an exhaustive reverie of unnecessary self inflicted mental anguish) the weather once again returned to its normally frosty late winter state, and I began to relax. As I felt my body unwind I realized what I was doing to myself. I recalled what a friend said to me one day last summer when she looked at my crutches, “You’re too old to be that stupid.” Apparently you can work yourself nearly to death when you are younger than 40, but older than that and, well… She is right. Getting older should mean getting wiser.

One year older and a bit wiser, I recognized that if I didn’t ‘get a grip’ I’d likely hurt myself again this summer. So, I have vowed to not push myself to the brink of disaster. I am going to consciously enjoy the fact that I am living my dream: I’m developing a farm, growing my own food, learning useful skills, and  am surrounded by wilderness and animals.

I finally accept that I can’t do it all. This year my goal is to learn to balance these aspects of my life better and realize that these moments of my life are fringed with joy. Instead of being obsessive about not being normal, I’m beginning to dabble.

My mobile napping unit.

A new found use for my wheelbarrow: it's my mobile napping unit.

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Basic Female Survival

Originally published by emphelan

Sorry boys, I need to talk with the girls today. You men have all kinds of reference material to surf if you want to learn the basic. However the woman out there, after a detailed Internet search, have very few except for forums.

When it comes to woman and survival we are not talking about burying guns and merely storing food. Your basic homesteading skills prepare you for all that. And we are not talking TEOTWAWKI survival either. This is basic female readiness.

Self defense is something I can not spout enough of, learning how to use knives and guns are a great step for any woman. By now you should all know the whole “Don’t let them take you to the second location” spiel. That would be the going limp, the screaming FIRE and every dirty trick you can think of to get rid of your attacker.

But guns and knives are also important for other things, hunting is were my mind first wonders. Knives can be so useful in just about any situation. They can be substitutes for scissors, to spread things, used as a screwdriver, marking paths, and all your other basic knife uses, like scraping, skinning, killing, and jabbing.

One subject that doesn’t come up very often is menses. There are many practical items that are non-disposable that you can purchase before hand. However there might be a time that you will not have those items on hand. Of course rags are the basic of it all. Your knife will now become a big help by cutting up something to use. You want to keep yourself very clean in survival mood. If you are lucky enough to find yourself near running water, take advantage of it to clean yourself and your rags. You do not want to call attention to yourself by leaving the smell around for animals to find. I know it seems like common sense, but have you ever been inside a female locker room? Some of you are nasty! That is not a habit you want to hold onto if you find yourself in the wilderness. Hygiene is also important when it comes to being female, it isn’t about looking good as much as it about keeping infection away. Some of these infection, if untreated, could be deadly.

KEEP YOUR LEGS CLOSED! Another common sense suggestion. However you will find yourself in situations were men will be able to give you something in return for your favor. Pregnancy and STD’s are not something you will want to deal with while in survivalist mood. (we will talk about pregnancy on a later post) The wilderness will find a lack of men wanting to barter, towns however you will find plenty. Female wiles can go a long way if you know how to use them and how to get out of sticky situations. The best bet is to just stay out of those situations and carry a knife.

When it comes down to it, all the basic survival needs are covered for both male and female, however my best advice to you, is to learn knife skills. These can be practiced while you prepare dinner. Be aware of your surroundings, be cautious, find a buddy if you can, keep things clean and simple, and you should be just fine.

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Originally published at Women Not Dabbling by emphelan

On the last episode of the Survivalist series, I was asked to talk a little bit more about the throwing knife. I picked up my first throwing knife when I was 15 years old.
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When I was a young Goth girl, I was fascinated with knives, swords, long bows and the like. My Masquerade character was dressed to the hilt with all odds of weaponry. Yes, I was an RPG geek in the day. I showed up at a Flea Market, dress in combat boots, bright green corduroys, and Cure shirt and purple hair, wondering around looking at the sad state the the majority of booths were in. One vendor had this strange collection of dragon statues, old records and steel weapons. I always thought that he too was a RPG geek like myself, just older. I was fingering one of his expensive knives when he approached me. No doubt thought I was going to pocket it. But I digress, the man approached me and asked if I had knew how to throw. I told him no, and then asked him in my teen angst disgust, does he? He chuckled and held a finger up for me to wait a moment. Then walked away to talk to someone else. He than came back, picked up, not the expensive ones and beckoned me to follow. Ok, we you are surviving on your own, I really don’t suggest following a strange man into an alley that is carrying knives, but, it was a good thing that I did. For this was my first encounter with the art of knife throwing. As soon as we stepped out the back, he threw the knife before my eyes could grasp what was happening and stuck the knife beautifully into a box. He turned and smiled down at me. He walked over, pulled the knife, and handed it to me. Without any instructions, but to throw, the knife slipped sweetly out of my fingertips, and bounced off the box, landing on the concrete.

Of course this was embarrassing, but it was a start, and when you are first learning, knives bouncing off your target will be common place. This man in the Flea Market spent a good hour with me. Showing me and lecturing me in the art of knife throwing. It’s concept is simple, stick the knife into the heart of your target, quickly, smoothly and efficiently.

First we need to talk about weight. I would never buy a knife online, simply because you need to feel the weight. Even machine made knives will have a slight difference in balance. You want to feel that difference. In the beginning you want a knife that weighs about 200g, anything lighter will be hard to control, anything heavier will strain your fingers. Take your knife by the handle, between your thumb and index finger, point the blade toward the ground. Now jerk your arm down in the direction your knife is pointing in, if the handle wobbles or the knife comes out of your fingers, it is too heavy for you. You also need to check the balance of the knife. It should be in its center, or a hair off in either direction. Balance your knife on your index finger, until you find that balance. If the handle is too heavy, you will not get predictable throws. If one side is heavier than the other and you love the knife anyways, always grasp and throw the lightest end. Don’t worry about getting cut. Throwing knives have no sharp sides, only the point. And if you tend to obsess over things, do not buy a knife that allows you to balance it with weights.

As for how to throw, I read a great step by step article this morning. It sums it up and doesn’t take all the space here. How to Throw Knives on Knifethrowinginfo.com

As for my story, I didn’t end up with the, too pricey for a 15 year old, but I did pick up a cheaper set, one that I still have and use today.

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