Musings, North Dakota Living, Teaching

Waiting on Baby

I’ve written before about the crazy life we’ve built since getting married 14 months ago — and we certainly aren’t slowing down anytime soon with Baby #1 on the way. We found out a few weeks ago that it is a boy, which makes perfect sense in my family. I grew up with 5 brothers and numerous male cousins, and learning that the newest member of my family will be a boy too, well, came as no surprise to me.

Plus in our own little family, considering our dogs Lucy and Scout are both girls, now my husband will be slightly less outnumbered.

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So here we are, waiting for Baby with another four months to go. These are exciting times in our little home on our farmstead — but they are nervewracking too. Worries overwhelm me sometimes: Will I be a good mother? Will I even know how to be a mother? Will our home be a good place to raise a baby? Where is all this baby stuff even going to fit? Our little house already seems packed to the brim! Will I ever sleep again? Everyone tells me no, I will not. And I REALLY like to sleep.

Teaching while pregnant adds a whole new level of interesting. My feet and my back have never hurt so badly — and I’ve got four months to go yet.  At least the emotional turmoil of the first trimester has stabilized; it was pretty rough and I think my students knew something was weird. Sometimes though, even still, I get home and I’m so exhausted from dealing with other humans all day that all I want to do is curl up and stare at the wall. My poor husband, who spends much of the day working in solitude, just wants to have a conversation with someone. He’s very patient, thank goodness!

Then, of course, there is the fact that high school students have no filters:

“Mrs. M, you are HUGE already. You’re only half done?!” (I don’t think some of these kids have ever seen a pregnant woman.)

“Mrs. M, you look like you’re going to pop! Is your baby due soon?” (Um… no. It’s going to get a lot worse, kid.)

“Mrs. M, can you feel your baby kick? Will you let me feel next time he kicks?” (Um… double no. I like my personal space!)

“Mrs. M, can I babysit your kid?” (Well, if you didn’t lose every assignment I give you, I might be less worried about you losing my kid.)

“Mrs. M, you better name your baby after me.” “No, me!” “No, me! I’m your favorite!” “How about Hank?” “At least give him a middle name after me!”

“Mrs. M, you are so cute when you are fat!”

Sigh. And, once again, I’ve got four months to go….

But all of this is okay, because so far Baby is healthy, and deep down I do know that this, our farm, will be a great place to raise him. I can’t wait to buy him a pony when he gets a little older and teach him about country life and working hard and that nothing is owed to anyone for free. I can’t wait to give him some of the life I had growing up, full of family and love and siblings and pets and adventures.

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My husband can’t wait to teach him about music, hunting, and carpentry, and all that other guy stuff. My dad can’t wait to take him out on the tractor. My mom can’t wait to retire from her job and spend more time visiting her grandkids, including this one. The baby’s aunties and uncles and cousins will welcome him with open arms, and my grandma is busy these days making a blue baby quilt, like the pink one I still have today.

And you know, despite all the worries and backaches that come along with waiting for Baby, I think we’ll do alright.

Musings, North Dakota Living

One Year Later

Hubby and I had a whirlwind courtship (can I still use that word?), a whirlwind engagement, and a whirlwind first year as a married couple. We really don’t know anything else but whirlwinds. I keep telling myself that life will slow down, but based on past patterns and future plans I just know that’s not going to happen. Either way, making it through the first year is an accomplishment, and that deserves some reflection.

When we got married last November, we were as happy and hopeful and scared as any couple jumping into the big commitment. We were hoping for a fall day, although in November you never know what you will get. That turned out to be an understatement: What we got was a frigid 5 degrees, freezing wind, and several inches of snow.

On the plus side, the sun was out for most of the day and we managed to get a few decent pictures outdoors before rushing back in to warm up.

 

I was far from a giddy and blushing bride. I was at a new job and had limited time off. To make things worse, the weekend before the wedding, my wedding dress was still too big in places, so I had spent the last of my free time getting it altered. I was short on sleep, and I definitely didn’t like all the pressure of trying to look perfect on my big day (looking perfect has never been my strong suit). Most of all, I was stressed out about being the center of attention for an ENTIRE. DAY. — my worst nightmare.

But despite all of that, it really was the best.

First of all, our wedding party was darn good-looking.

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And I loved how the decor turned out.

 

My grandma made our favorite kind of cake: chocolate with peanut butter frosting.

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The dance rocked.

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I had almost all of the people I love the most surrounding me, and the fact that everyone traveled all that way just to be there made my heart so full that I can’t even really describe it.

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And of course, there was this guy.

 

Since then, things haven’t slowed down at all. We finished out the school year in Bismarck, where I worked at a local middle school and my husband worked for a custom woodworks shop. We moved twice in that time, adopted a dog, and then made the decision to move back to the family farm. We packed up our stuff yet again (though some of our stuff was never even unpacked), put some of it in storage, lugged ourselves and our pup out West, and settled into the same little modular house where I started my crazy oil field life four years ago.

Speaking of that life, when I quit my job here two years ago and went overseas to Asia, I didn’t know if I’d ever live here again. I definitely didn’t think I’d find a guy who wants to live here too. But in a lot of ways, now, it feels like I never even left. I’m back in my old job in my old classroom and even teaching some of my former students. I’m back with my horses and my farm dogs and my brother living down the road.

The only (big) difference is, I have a good man by my side now, and that was definitely worth leaving for. I think back and am sure the Big Man Upstairs whispered to me to leave my old life, just so I could go find Corey and we could start this new one together.

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Yes, it’s been quite a first year. We’ve had some big laughs and nasty fights and I think I can safely say we’ve both had a pretty giant learning curve regarding each other. I wonder why he has so many towels hanging over the door, and he wonders why I leave the cupboard doors open after rummaging through them. I bemoan giving up closet space, and he bemoans the fact that he gets so little of it. He hates doing laundry, and I hate sharing food. (He made the mistake of eating my leftovers from a restaurant once.) Every day, we’re still learning how this whole married thing works.

We’ve got a long way to go.

But one thing I know for sure: I love him more now than I loved him on our wedding day. And I thought I loved him a lot then.

Speaking of whirlwinds and learning curves, things are about to get even crazier…

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North Dakota Living

Farm, Family, Pheasants: The Fifth Season

In my family, the year is broken up into not four seasons, but five: Winter (also known as basketball season), planting season, summer break (pretty much the month of July), harvest, and hunting season. Each year pretty much follows this pattern. If you want to get married in this family, you can choose July, or risk having someone joke that they can’t make it because of harvest, a basketball tournament, or deer hunting. (I had the audacity to get married during deer hunting season, and some of my relatives really didn’t understand.)

Well, anyway, harvest wrapped up over a month ago, and we are officially in the throes of hunting season. I do love pheasant hunting! I love the crisp fall air; I love hiking around outside; I love camouflage and the smell of gunpowder and the crunch of dried grass underfoot. I love the way the last bit of color is stubbornly clinging on before winter rolls around:

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I love those cozy fall nights when everyone piles into the house for dinner, and the sun has gone down, and we cook and eat and laugh together and everyone’s hair is matted to their heads from wearing hunting hats all day.

I love pheasant nuggets, too (I will share a little more about those with you later).

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Just a few minutes ago, the last visiting family members drove away from our annual family pheasant hunting weekend to their other cities and their other lives. This year was a success, like always. Everyone except my oldest brother and his family made it out to the farm, and other than missing them in our big group, it was great: The other little ones had a lot of fun running around outside; we realized our little black lab mix, Scout, just might turn out to be a bird dog after all; and the freezers are now stocked with pheasant to use for some tasty meals over the winter months.

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Tonight I was reflecting on all the memories of countless pheasant hunts I have been on over the years. Several years ago, I quit carrying my little Mossberg shotgun and started carrying my Canon instead, and that suits me just fine. I still get the experience, the exercise, and the fresh air, but none of the guilt because let’s face it, I’m a little too tender (or weenie, however you interpret it) to actually feel good about shooting things myself. Anyway, today during one of our last hunts, I tagged along with my camera as usual. This time, though, I took a few minutes to just listen and observe what was happening around me. We were spread out around an abandoned farm yard close to our own farm. The sky was spread with thin gray clouds, and it was just cool enough to chill the tip of my nose. The air in the farmyard was still — there was no wind and little nearby traffic — but punctuated occasionally by flapping wings or squawks of fleeing pheasants, shouts of “Rooster!” or “Hen!” or “Abby, come! Scout, come!” and sporadic gunshots. A flash of blaze orange through the trees now and then, one of the black dogs bounding through the undergrowth, and pheasants fleeing out of the shelterbelts gave the normally quiet yard an electric feel. I was in the center of it all, just taking it in. I loved it. It reminded me of all those pheasant hunts before, from the time I was a little girl until now: each one with a slightly different group of people and each one in a slightly different time or place.

These same observations inspired a poem that I wrote years ago. I had just left a pheasant hunting weekend like this one and was headed back to college, and the words flooded in. I composed the whole thing in about 20 minutes. It just happens sometimes. Some things in my life just make the words pour out.

Maybe it will bring back memories for some of you, too:

A Gunpowder Morning

This morn to remember dawns cold in November
Far to the east are the lightening skies
And six drowsy hunters arise from their slumbers
To rub all the sleep from their eyes
And give birds unaware a surprise!

Up to the north noble pheasants come forth
Among quiet cattails, feeding their fill
Bold in their splendor, about to surrender
To knowledge that breaking the still
Will be hunters bound fiercely to kill!

The pheasants are snacking and white frost is cracking
Beauty runs deep on this day in the fall
The trees form a cage over green-scented sage
This natural haven is small –
But this day is dearer to all.

For off the horizon the sun’s further rising
Has painted the eastern sky soft glowing red
But then there’s a sound, an approaching dust cloud
And one rooster raises his head
He’s filled with a dull sinking dread!

The truck climbs the hill and moves closer still
Then slams to the stop at the edge of the brush
The men pile out; there’s a point and a shout –
Where moments before it was hush
Now there’s maddening rush!

The pheasants are fleeing; one’s flying, not seeing
His fatal mistake on this mad morning run
A shot, then one louder; the smell of gunpowder –
This pheasant is only but one:
Another fall hunt has begun!

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Musings, North Dakota Living

Not That Good at Juggling

Another harvest has officially come and gone. When harvest is over, summer is over, and we might as well face the facts that fall is pretty much here.

It always starts great – spirits are high, the farmers are excited, and everyone is full of energy and ready to go.

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Then, as the harvest season progresses, energy wanes a bit. It’s imperceptible at first, but it becomes just a little bit harder to stay out combining until dark. Backs start aching and sleep is in short supply. A few weeks before harvest is over, we also begin to lose workers one by one as they pack up and go back to school. It’s always a little sad to see everyone go, but there’s a practical problem too: When school starts, we lose over half of our workers. The students and teachers going back to school — including two of my younger brothers, two young seasonal farmhands, my mom, and myself — also double as combine operators, grain cart drivers, meal wagons, and truck drivers. They leave with the skills and the manpower and the smiles that just make everything go more smoothly around here.

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School started this year for us local teachers on August 17. At that point we were only about half done with harvest. Since then, I have found myself juggling very different roles. Each morning, I’ve tried to make myself presentable and drag myself to school in my heels, clutching my book bag and a jug of iced coffee and scrambling to throw together meaningful lessons for 150-some students in four different English classes. Each evening, I’ve come home and changed into grungy field clothes and work boots and attempted to throw together a passable meal to bring to the field. On a few occasions I’ve taken over for my grandpa after dinner and combined for the rest of the evening. After shutting down for the night, I’ve gone home to rinse off, crash into bed, and do it all over the next day — never mind frivolities such as working out, doing laundry or dishes, or spending time with my husband.

I do love harvest. But I admit that since August 17, I’ve been a little bit anxious for the juggle to be over. Do you know how hard it is to switch from comfy work clothes and ponytails and no makeup, to trying to look like a professional every day? Believe me, it is hard. (For me anyway.) Furthermore, the only things I can think of from my own experience that match the intensity of harvest is 1) planning a wedding in four months and 2) school starting, along with getting classrooms and lessons ready, getting back into a bell schedule, and meeting all those new faces.

As of this last week, however, harvest is finally over after six long weeks, and we can all breathe a little easier now.

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There is a lot to be thankful for here, don’t get me wrong. My family is always thankful to get another harvest into the books. I’m lucky to have a good teaching job. And I’m always grateful for the time spent together and the fact that we’re lucky enough to be a farm family.

But let’s be honest, I’ve never been that good at juggling.

I think I’m ready for fall now.

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North Dakota Living

No Rest for the Wicked

It is officially the last weekend of summer vacation and as usual, summer has flown by in a wink. In my family, however, summer break is technically over at the end of July, because every August means only one thing: Harvest. This is a crazy time for farm families. Crops are ripe and need to get safely into those bins or off to those elevators; all eyes are on the weather every day; and don’t even think about taking a day or even a night off to relax… unless, of course, it rains. But a hard rain can mean disaster if the crops are overripe, so you can’t even be too gleeful about that day off. I learned at an early age to be happy about rain when my dad was happy about rain, and in turn unhappy about it when he was, too.

My dad taught me to drive a combine when I was 12, which means I’ve been doing it  now for 18 years — by far my longest-running job. Now that I’m a teacher, I go through a rather difficult transition every August from throwing on torn work clothes and work boots every morning, whipping my hair into a ponytail, making a lunch, and operating a combine in solitude for 12 hours a day… to trying to look presentable, copying worksheets, confiscating cell phones, and filling the days with lessons and activities in an attempt to correct the wayward grammatical ways of today’s youth.

Believe me, trying to look presentable is not easy for me. Neither is teaching rules of grammar to 125 kids who really don’t want to be there.

Anywho, back to farming. The kids in my family have followed a typical pattern as we’ve grown up:

First and foremost was practice farming with practice machinery. How else would you learn to drive in straight rows?

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Also at this age, it was good to hang out with Dad and Grandpa to learn the ropes of farming.

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Then, around 8 or 10 years old, it was time to get out there and work. Our first “real” harvest job was moving trucks. We were responsible for moving the trucks closer to the edge of the field as the combines cut the field smaller and smaller. The purpose of this was to 1) make the trucks more accessible to the combine operators and 2) prevent laziness in me and my brothers, who, if my dad didn’t make up jobs for us to do all day, might (gasp!) want to stay home and watch TV!

“No rest for the wicked,” as my Grandpa Tim used to say.

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On the positive side, because we learned to drive stick shift trucks at an early age in the safety of a wheat field, shifting and downshifting and braking and turning became second nature by the time we were legally allowed to drive.

At this age, we could also take breaks from moving trucks to do fun but very unsafe things such as playing in the backs of grain trucks while they were unloading.

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Kids, do not try this at home! Times have changed and I’m pretty sure this would now warrant a call from social services.

Next, as little siblings moved up to take our places moving grain trucks, we were upgraded to combine operators. For many, many years we owned two old Case International 1480 combines, known simply as #1 and #2. The nicer of the two was #2, and that’s the one I drove all the time after I learned to combine. (Being the only girl pays off sometimes.) The 1480s rattled faithfully through dozens of harvests, playing crackling AM radio stations and patiently rolling through the fields as we little guys learned to farm.

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Of course, what’s the use of operating a combine all day if you don’t have a little mishap now and then? Nothing builds character quite like digging around to unplug a combine, straw by straw.

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Eventually, we upgraded those two little Case 1480s for a 1680, then a 2188 and 2388 and finally 2588s. Today, we have three pretty nice combines, complete with FM radios, air seats, passenger seats, air conditioning that actually works, and all sorts of other frivolities.

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We stay pretty busy during harvest in our combines and trucks. This is important work, but my mom’s job might be the most important of all: Dinner wagon! During harvest, she goes all out on dinners for those hungry workers, AND she brings them straight to the field. I look forward to these meals all year! We’re talking roast beef, baked chicken, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, glazed carrots, freshly baked bread, brownies and peach cobbler… You name it, my mom can make it. And something about working in a field all day makes those dinners so much more amazing. That, and seeing my mom’s smiling face and sharing a laugh or two about the day’s events.

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As we’ve grown up, we’ve separated into our distinct roles during harvest. My two older brothers have families and full-time jobs and don’t make it back much anymore. I have summers off as a teacher, so I still operate combine until school starts and sometimes fill in as the dinner wagon. (Being the dinner wagon is not a simple task, by the way. Read about my experience here.) Two of my younger brothers are taking over the farm and have gradually taken on more and more responsibility each year. The last brother is in college and drives grain cart until he leaves, and only has a little mishap every now and then. Here he is with just an eensie little crack in the windshield:

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My Grandpa Wayne is in semi-retirement, although I bet he’ll still be up here now and then. My dad, as my brothers learn to take charge, spends less and less time doing the grunt work of harvest, and more and more time in his combine. He’d like to combine until he’s at least in his late 80s, he says. And my mom, bless her heart, still makes us those fabulous dinners.

The newest member of the crew is my husband, who, just like the rest of us, started with trucks and graduated to combine. He pretty much fills in wherever he is needed.

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Sometimes I can’t believe I’ve been lucky enough to grow up like this. We were fortunate enough to learn how to work hard and help each other, that nothing beats a hot meal together in the field or a cold shower after hours of shoveling barley, and that harvest has the power to bring an already close family even closer. I have a feeling that in a few years we will all be sending our kids to help Uncle Dan and Uncle Tom on the farm, so that they can learn a thing or two themselves about a hard day’s work. And they’ll complain, and we’ll just smile and say, “No rest for the wicked!”

Everyone can use a little character building, after all.

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Here is a little treat of a video for you:

North Dakota Living

Boots in the Country

In 2005, a bitty little kitty came home to my mom and dad’s house. We had always had house cats when I was growing up, which were almost always free kittens from someone’s farm. The previous cat Jed had recently passed away, so when my cousins had another litter for giveaway at their house in the country, my parents picked one up to bring home.

She was a little tortoiseshell-colored spitfire. We named her “Boots,” but usually she was simply called “The Cat.” She was a strange one from the get-go. She was fascinated with running water, unlike most cats, and would splash in the faucet whenever we were brushing our teeth. She was a lurker. It seemed every time we walked into a room, she was already there — lurking, looking at us from behind a stack of books, or from behind the bed, or from the top of a shelf. Sometimes, she would lie docilely next to us on the couch, purring and kneading us with her paws, and then suddenly out of the blue, she would shoot up into the air and take off with a screech in a flash of black and orange fur.

She was born to tease. She loved trying to climb onto the counter right in front of us, knowing she wasn’t supposed to; she loved strutting by the dogs with her tail flicking, knowing they weren’t allowed to harm her; she constantly pestered my mom by carrying clean socks from the laundry room all over the house. She had a knack for finding the cleanest clothes in any room and sleeping on them. Every time someone opened the front door, she would bolt outside. I think she just wanted us to chase her. She always escaped to the rock garden, stopped, and let us catch her to bring her back in.

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Crazy Boots got herself into trouble once or twice. There was the infamous laundry incident, for starters. Remember I told you Boots was fascinated with running water? She often tried to jump into the washing machine. My mom was doing laundry late one night and had already pulled Boots out of the washing machine once. While she was switching a new load of laundry, Boots jumped back into washing machine undetected by my mom, who closed the lid, pushed start, and walked away. A few minutes later, she came back upstairs and heard a funny sound from the washing machine. She realized with a sick feeling that she hadn’t seen Boots since she closed the washing machine door.

She raced over to the laundry machine to push stop, but when she saw the soggy state Boots was in, she couldn’t bring herself to deal with the situation. She shook my dad awake. “Mike, I think I killed the cat!”

My dad roused himself from bed to gently lift Boots out of the washing machine while my poor mother fretted in the background. To their surprise, Boots was stunned, but breathing! Luckily, it was a high efficiency washing machine and therefore didn’t use much water. Also luckily, it hadn’t yet started the spin cycle. [There are so many jokes a person could insert here.] Boots was extra crazy after that…

But her fur was also extra soft and fluffy for a long while.

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She and my mom had a funny relationship. Boots knew my mom was the most likely one to feed her and would follow her all over the house. She sat patiently outside my mom’s bedroom door for hours at night, waiting for her chance to bolt inside. She was naughty and exasperating, but I think my mom was secretly pretty attached to her. So when she got the news last year that Boots, at 9 years old, had developed an untreatable medical condition that would not allow her to control her bladder anymore, she had a difficult choice to make. Boots couldn’t remain a house cat; but she was still relatively young and healthy and no one wanted to put her down. Mom decided ultimately to send her to the farm for a new life, but it wasn’t without some concern. Boots had never lived in the country before. Would she survive? Would she make it through the winter? Would she get along with the other farm cats? It seemed better than the alternative, though, so early last fall she was transported up to the farm to begin her second life.

It turns out, all those fears were completely unfounded. Boots has absolutely flourished. Not only did she survive the winter, she did so with style. She is as fit and in shape as ever. Her fur is still soft and fluffy. And she’s still up to all her old tricks:

She lurks- EVERYWHERE. All over the farm yard. It’s pretty creepy, actually.

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She still teases the dogs.

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Who retaliate from time to time. Don’t worry, she isn’t getting hurt. I think she likes it, actually, because shortly after this picture was taken she walked by Scout again, flicking her tail and taunting her:

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Boots also has no fear whatsoever of horses, though she had never seen a horse before in her life. She prowls through their pasture and rubs up on their legs, which they tolerate patiently. She’s probably trying to figure out how to tease them:

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And now, rather than bolting out of the house to the rock garden like she did in her city life, instead she tries to bolt into the farmhouse anytime someone opens the front door. Once she makes it successfully inside, she usually chooses a place to lurk until someone spots her and kicks her back out.

Yes, Boots was made for the country. I like seeing the familiar flash of black and orange fur all over the farmyard. I like the way she is bursting with personality and makes no apologies. She’s always loved action, and the farm is full of it.

Her second life here seems to be right where she belongs.

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