This Month On The Homestead: The Rhubarb Jungle

If you’re just tuning in, this is a recurring series in which I document each month of our lives out here on our 66-acre Vermont homestead. After leaving urban Cambridge, MA in May 2016 to chart this wholly different life, we’re experiencing a constant learning curve of exploration (and plenty of stupid novice moments). Check out last month’s installment here and check out the best and worst moments of our first year on the homestead here.

June 2017

June on the homestead

June is like a jungle. Everything is swift and overbearing: the rains are pelting, the plants are riotous, the sun blazes mercilessly. Our summer is brief, but shocking in its severity.

Plants grow so quickly that garden beds are transformed in the span of a day or two. You’ll swear you just weeded a patch that’s now consumed by weeds, utterly incapable of fathoming that a plant can set root, sprout, and flourish under such a time constraint.

We stand open mouthed, gaping at what nature brings forth, wondering how best to insert our ministrations. It’s a miracle we’re not snared in place by a rapid-growing vine wending its way around our boots. The plants seem to know their window of opportunity is short here in Vermont and they’ve all internalized the maxim of seizing the day. Never have I seen so much accomplished in such a short period of time by foliage.

In The Garden

I would say that things appear moderately less dire in our garden than I brooded last month. While it’s true that quite a few of our seeds didn’t germinate–and a number of our starts perished–a good deal appears to be thriving (or at least surviving… ). The kale is coming up in tiny kale-like clusters, the beans are climbing up the beanpole Mr. FW built for them, the sunflowers look hale and hearty, the rainbow chard is chardin’, the cilantro looks bushy, the peas are popping, the dill looks delish, the pumpkins are coming right along, the tomato and pepper plants are dandy, and my miracle arugula continues to sprout. Our asparagus finished its brief season in early June and is now growing into the tremendous miniature trees it puts forth in order to germinate for next year.

“Helping” with the rhubarb harvest

On the negative side, our basil is about the size of the head of a pin… I’ve never seen such miniature basil leaves! I have a feeling we will not be making pesto like we did with our excess basil last year. And the cucumbers seem a bit small for their age, but maybe they’ll catch a second wind and take off before the summer’s out.

Rhubarb-a-palooza

As longtime readers know, we are the proud owners of an egregiously large amount of rhubarb. The previous owners of our homestead must’ve been serious rhubarb aficionados because they planted huge, healthy, plentiful rhubarb plants. Thank you, previous owners! Last summer I scrambled around harvesting rhubarb every few days in little bits.

I made rhubarb compote, I gave a lot of rhubarb away, and I chopped and froze a bunch (not to mention the baking of pies and breads and cakes… ). This summer, not wanting to devote quite so much of my life to rhubarb, I decided to do one HUGE harvest when the plants appeared at their zenith.

You’re only supposed to harvest 2/3 of each plant and so, following that guideline, I picked all my rhubarb in one go. This netted me an enormous pile and we decided to make a compote/jelly to can. This being our first foray into the world of canning, it was an experience that deserves a post all its own… I promise to regale you soon. The spoiler is that it did work and we now have 24 pint-sized mason jars of rhubarb compote in our basement!

Off The Homestead

Babywoods scoping out the State House

Owing to the delightful visit from my in-laws in June, we spent a fair amount of time off the homestead. We took a family trip up to Montpelier–capital of Vermont–and enjoyed a free tour of the State House as well as a stroll around the adorable downtown. Another day trip took us north to Burlington, Vermont, one of the cutest towns in America, I’m sure of it.

We love living in a tiny state where everything is easily accessible and you don’t have to drive far in order to appreciate the charms of different locales. And as previously shared, June was also the scene of our ninth anniversary baby-free trip up to Portland, Maine!

Blooms

In addition to the productions of the vegetable garden, the flowers on our property went wild in June. The yellow globe flowers completed their season and were quickly supplanted by our blooming lilac bushes and, my favorite flower of them all: peonies!

Although the focus of our labors are the vegetables, I do enjoy bringing fresh flowers into the house during these balmy summer months. There’s something to be said for appreciating a flower simply for its remarkable beauty.

Flowers also remind me of how quickly time passes–they bloom for a few weeks and then wither. Their entire purpose is lived out in less than a month. But despite their ephemeral nature, they live fearlessly and fully. A good lesson for me, I think, of how very much can be accomplished in how very little time.

Our apples trees now sport baby apples… as well as a moderate infestation of rose chafer beetles, which we’ll be working to ameliorate. A good reminder of the lack of perfection inherent to, well, life in general.

Hot Days

Bread baking, laundry drying, and a feral baby

June was mostly temperate, as summers are wont to be out here, which means we’re able to skate by without air conditioning in our house. We did, however, have a few soaringly warm days, which sent us all outside in an effort to become the beneficiaries of slightly less hot breezes.

I hung the laundry out to dry and took my bread machine onto the porch in an effort to not heat up the house. We ate homemade hummus and fresh veggies for dinner, Frugal Hound panted incessantly, and Babywoods ran around feral, wearing only a diaper. We survived.

Trail Brush Hoggin’

This month, Mr. FW hooked the brush hog up to our tractor and cleared a few of our trails that’d become overcrowded with entrepreneurial flora. He’s not able to take the tractor up into the woods for our massive loop trail, but it can manage the path to our pond as well as our upper field. Since we hike daily, having these open foot paths through the woods is a high priority. It’s also another example of the benefits of owning one’s own farm equipment.

Mr. FW on tractor detail

I discussed in my homestead one-year-review that we’ve had to spend a fair amount of money this first year in properly equipping our farmstead with the tools and machines we need, but every time we do something ourselves–and don’t have to hire someone–we’re reminded of the compounding gains of frugality and a DIY mentality.

Want More Fotos?!

While I only document homestead life once a month here on the blog, I post photos to Instagram and updates to Facebook with much greater regularity–sometimes daily! Join me there if you want more of our frugal woods.

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Onward to July frugal comrades!

How was June on your own personal homestead?

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53 Responses

  1. Carissa says:

    We have rose chafers on our apples too! Since the vegetables on our farm are our priority (with whivh we’re struggling to keep up), and our couple apple trees are just a nice bonus, I have not given much thought to how to eliminate them. Please do share what you’re doing!

  2. Babywoods is getting so big! That is a beautiful picture of her in the State Capital! And hooray for agricultural success! I’m glad June brought a better bounty for you.

    I think I may need to hide this post from Mr. Adventure Rich… he will see Mr. Frugalwoods on the tractor and have yet another reason for purchasing one 😉 We are currently saving up for a tractor to use on our 10 acres for snow blowing, mowing, managing the fields, maintaining the walking paths we started, etc. We currently piecemeal our solutions with a beater snow plow and a riding lawn mower, but I think a tractor is preferable for the long term and we will likely bite the bullet and buy one in the next few years.

    Have a great July!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      The tractor is pretty great, I have to say. It’s such an all-purpose machine–it’s amazing how many different things it can do!

  3. OMG I love the scenery! I wish I had kale and beans growing abundantly in our garden hehe. Kale is so healthy. My MIL is going to stay with us for a couple of months, so she is growing some edible plants in our backyard. I can’t wait until I can harvest them!

  4. Life continues on here in the Midwest. I saved some money, took a trip to Vegas over 4th of July weekend, am finishing up my exterior project on the house and issued my first 30 days’ notice to a tenant. It’s stressful now, but it will be worth it in the long run.

  5. Kate says:

    Love the rhubarb abundance! We are the happy recipients of other people’s rhubarb – could you share your recipes for compote and jam? Husband loves strawberry/rhubarb, so canned for the first time this year. It actually worked!!!

  6. WOW! Your pictures are awesome! Love that your kale is coming in like “tiny kale-like clusters.” tehe

  7. Janine M says:

    Can you please post some picture of your rhubarb compote in the mason jars. I don’t know anyone who preserves in mason jars. I live in Australia and really enjoy your posts. Thanks.

    • Darcy North says:

      I’m so curious what you preserve in in Australia? Mason jars are the go-to in the States unless you’re fancy and use Le Parfait gasket lid type jars- gorgeous but cost-prohibitive.

      • Petal says:

        We have mason jars here too in Australia. We preserve
        Or can as I think you some call it just about everything.

  8. Oh wowza, I can’t wait to hear about the rhubarb canning! We’ve done canning in the past and it’s a lot of work, but it’s fun. It’s definitely a team effort! I can’t believe how quickly everything has shot up on your homestead. Just a few weeks ago it feels like we were still looking at pictures of snow! Jinkies. 🙂

    Our suburban homestead went pretty well in June. We were over-budget, but we did pay off my $25,000 student loan, so it was overall a great month. 🙂 We were overwhelmed with tomatoes (seriously, I cannot stress HOW MANY tomatoes we had) and cucumbers during June. It was so hard to keep up with the production! The good thing is that it gave us a chance to practice making pickles and other methods of preserving the harvest.

    We want to install more raised beds next year, so we’ll need to get better at this whole “preserving and canning” business before we bring in even more crops!

  9. Laura says:

    We too have very long days in Washington (same latitude as Vermont) and I had to learn to garden a “new” way after gardening in the Midwest. There’s a fantastic “system” developed by a guy near here that would work for you as well. Would you please consider watching this free documentary? https://www.facebook.com/groups/BacktoEdenGardening/ It has really helped us. We have very few weeds any more. We have our gardens set-up on a drip system on a timer with water saved in our rain barrels. We follow Back to Eden soil principles. And we have our soil tested every spring free from the state (you can probably get that as well) and make any necessary amendments (mostly lime, our gorgeous kitchen compost sans any melon seeds (ha! learned that the hard way), and organic meal worm frass. You do have to have a nitrogen source, he uses fermented chicken manure. We’re vegans, so my crazy husband added a few gallons of saved, fermented human urine (yes! ugh!) for nitrogen and it worked! Not my choice, but he researched it. And darn, if those tomatoes don’t look great. Any way, please watch the Back to Eden documentary and check out the Facebook page. The system is natural, easy, and really works. We hardly have to weed any more at all. And you have LOTS of wood for wood chips. Cheers! And thank you for what you do (I’m an older mom with teens, so some of our perspectives are different, but I’ll be following you to see how yours evolve – but I think you’re awesome). Laura

    • Alexandra says:

      Yay Washington! I loved reading this. I’m in Seattle proper with a tiny townhouse yard, but someday I hope to have more land for gardening. I’m going to bookmark this for future. 🙂 Thanks!

  10. JD says:

    When I was young, my mother used to make a sort of “rhubarb sauce” like applesauce, and served it as a side dish at evening meals. I loved it and was always excited when my dad picked rhubarb off the fence line, where folks around home tended to grow it. I never had rhubarb in a pie until I was grown.
    With a short growing season, it means you also have a short preserving season, so I foresee some busy days in the FW kitchen. I use a freezer, dehydrator and my canning pots to put up things, but I confess that I mostly like to can. It’s so rewarding to see the clear jars filled with jewel-toned fruits and veggies, promising their plenty for the winter. I just don’t get the same feeling looking at bags in the freezer, ha, ha.
    Our garden got hit by weather problems again this year, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we’ll still get some things out of it. It’s so nice to pick and eat your own food! We had apple cedar rust on our pear tree, but the tree is slowly fighting it off on its own. I didn’t expect that, but it’s good to see. It may take a couple more years, but the ugly rust is on fewer and fewer pears each crop.

    • Chrissy says:

      I know that Rhubarb sauce. It’s delicious! You can even make a combo rhubarb-applesauce by using frozen rhubarb chunks with fresh apples in the fall, cooking them down together. It’s super tasty!

    • Marion says:

      Stewed rhubarb is an old fashioned food that was considered to be a Spring Tonic. It usually followed the dandelion greens and milkweed greens.
      Life in the country, days of yore.

  11. Robin says:

    SO ENVIOUS of your rhubarb bonanza!
    I grew up in the middle of nowhere Minnesota with a MASSIVE garden. I live in a city in an apartment now, and refuse to pay good money for rhubarb and zucchini. The only time we used to have to lock their car doors in town was during peak harvest season so as not to end up with grocery bags of zucchini, rhubarb, and tomatoes on the front seat.

  12. Justin says:

    The rhubarb caught my eye. I used to have it all the time in jams, jellies, and pies when I would spend weeks at a time at Grandma’s house during the summer. They had a small farm and grew rhubarb among many other things, and canned a good bit of it.

    Haven’t had a taste of it in 25 years probably, until yesterday. I’m here in Slovenia right now and, not speaking Slovenian very well, I bought what I thought was blueberry yogurt from the grocery store (it was $0.18 each!). Turns out it’s blueberry AND rhubarb! How awesome is that? It tastes pretty good as a yogurt flavor.

  13. Tara says:

    What do you all do when you go out of town in regards to your garden? I remember reading in Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, that they had to do some crazy planning to leave their house just for five days because like you said, the plants and weeds will grow out of control after just a few days time.

    In regards to trails, I’m always curious how parks maintain them so they don’t grow over. We have a wildlife preserve near us and I noticed in areas close to a driving path, the park people can dump a bunch of mulch and spread it down the path until they can’t spread anymore. So close to the driving area it stays free of weeds. But further out it definitely becomes a narrow, grass coming in path.

    I’m so very jealous of your garden, I hope you can post more photos of the bounties as they arrive! Also, I’m with you on the nearly-naked baby ness. When it’s hot, you gotta do what you gotta do!

  14. Kayla says:

    I love your comment about the “feral” baby. I’m so going to steal that phrase to describe my own 9 month old! It’s going to be in the upper 90s here in NE Kansas next week so I’m sure she will spend lots of time clad only in her diaper. She’s crawling and *this* close to walking so “feral” is an apt description in ore ways than one…

  15. Shiela says:

    I also can. We can 150 quarts of white half runners ( beans) and about 120 quarts of tomatoes. It’s work, yes. My husband is the best helper. We don’t have a garden, as we live o. A postage stamp with little to no sun. Now this year I’m adding many more sweet pickles! I found my mothers old recipe. I envy you, you get to grow your bounty. We buy it in North CArolina. I’m very picky about what I can and NC just happens to be a very pretty drive into the mountains to get my food. I would love to find a few nice stalks of rhubarb to can. My cousin had a recipe that called for a box of wild strawberry jello in it. It was a nice cobbler or ice cream topping when it was warmed. I’d love to see your jars of delight when you are done.

  16. Wow! You have so many delicious things growing in the garden! We only planted tomatoes and basil this year because of all the rain (and my laziness!!). Looking forward to hearing what July and August’s harvests bring!! 🙂

  17. Nicole says:

    I just read a wonderful book by a local author/suburban homesteader. She came and spoke at our local library. I think Mrs. FW’s and this group would enjoy it: A Thrifty Good Life by Sarah Sailer. It was inspiring. I have no affiliation with her at all. Enjoy!

  18. Mrs.Wow says:

    The Waffle Family spent some time away from the homestead as well. We spent 2 weeks away in Perú and it was amazing how much our garden went crazy. We came back to zucchinis and squash bigger than our arms! We also now have official baby pineapples too!

  19. Chrissy says:

    I got a late start on my tomatoes here in Illinois. I didn’t think a few weeks would matter, but mine are still in the toddler-stage while my industrious neighbors’ have tall, gangly teenage tomato plants. No matter: by late August we will all be begging each other to take some off our hands! Happy summer to all!!

  20. Ava says:

    I have a suggestion you may consider for your basil…while we live in Arkansas and have very hot, humid summers, our early spring was very cold for us. To protect our basil seedlings, I turned a mason jar over onto the plant–to make a sort of baby greenhouse. It worked so well to protect them, I kept them covered for several days and the basil perked up and grew nicely. If you utilize this method, and have an especially hot day (80+), you need to uncover the plant during the brightest sunlight so as not to burn the leaves. I hope you try it and I hope it works! This method also works well for other seedlings.

    I put up a ton of vegetables and fruit in the summer time and really enjoy you are getting into canning! Best wishes to you!

  21. Linda says:

    Rhubarb, you either love it or hate it. I’m a lover of the tart flavor it hosts. I have a single plant that is over 20 yrs old and every yr it faithfully rises to greet my consumption needs. Today I’ll be harvesting blackberries. I just used my last jar of juice from a few yrs ago and it’s time to replenish the stock. I bet your seltzer would love a splash of it.

  22. Ohh, to live somewhere without the need for air conditioning!! I’d save $100 a month right there. Unfortunately, I’d likely also put my pets in danger if I did so. Vermont sounds like a wonderland!
    P.S. You could open an Etsy shop selling that influx of canned rhubarb online 😉

  23. Rhubarb Compote is fantastic!

    My fiance and I just met with some of her family friends who are looking at moving from Boston out to the midwest. They spent the last few days looking at property and are about 90% sure that is what they want. Although they did have some major reservations about all of the work and equipment they would need to buy in order to manage it. It would make a lot of sense for them though since they own three horses.

  24. Erin says:

    Ohhh now I have a craving for rhubarb pie, YUM! I’m jealous of the non-a/c days. Here in DC it’s doing the usual horribly humid thing and even though I’m not a huge fan of a/c in general, there’s no getting around it here.

  25. Fleur says:

    Your garden is dreamy – I hope one day to have one as prolific as yours! Right now Bill and I have a container garden going on our front porch: tomatoes, strawberries, basil, lavender, scallions, mint, quite an array 🙂 Oh, and pumpkins! Though those are in the ground, not containers. Squash bugs devoured two of our pumpkin plants within days, but I’m hopeful that the remaining plants will flourish.

  26. I’m a city girl through and through but your homestead posts (in particular this one) made me yearn for some rural living – for the first time in my 32 years! That picture of the front porch with your laundry hanging and bread baking (and adorable baby!) caused a mini yearning-pang….this has never happened for me as a city girl. The fact you and Mr. FW made this your day-to-day reality while you’re still in your 30’s is impressive beyond words. You two have created a beautiful life! Thank you for giving us readers out there the encouragement and motivation to reach our dreams and proof we can harness frugality as a tool to make those dreams possible.

  27. I never would have thought of flowers that way. They really do live their short life to the fullest! 🙂
    I’ve also never had rhubarb. I always ‘brag’ about how much I love cooking, yet I’ve never even tasted a rhubarb pie! That’t not weird, right? 😀

  28. Jen says:

    So, Mrs. FW, when you say hot, what temperature are we talking about? I live in Austin where at this time of year it regularly hits 100 degrees as the high for the day. Earlier this week it was a soul-crushing 105 degrees. Trying to visualize a climate in which I would choose not to have AC.

  29. Mrs. BITA says:

    Your thumbs grow greener every day! That is a good haul you have going there. Our orange and lemon trees continue to give in abundance, and the apple trees are threatening an outbreak any day now. The grapefruit continues ponderous – slowly producing a single fruit once every 3 weeks or so.

  30. Mr. Tako says:

    mmmm…rhubarb! That stuff grows like a weed here in the PNW, so we always seem to have some around. We usually chop up the excess and put it in the freezer (no need to can it). In the winter it’s perfect for making rhubarb crisps!

    Looks like you’re enjoying summer!

  31. I like the scenery, it’s so great and inspiring.
    Does it take a lot of time to look it nice and clean?

  32. Mrs. Kiwi says:

    I love the photos and tips for staying cool without AC!

  33. I envy your rhubarb! Recently my partner split off two plants and moved them to a sunny corner by the foundation and they’ve gone a little insane. Which is fine with me because I love rhubarb. We cut it into chunks and freeze it to make compote in the winter (for my homemade yogurt) and to mix with raspberries (also from the yard) for pies.

    Last year we put in two apple trees and they’re loaded with fruit, although still relatively young. Planning to take off about half of them so as not to stress out the still-growing tree. We’re looking forward to the day when the trees are sturdy enough to leave ALL the fruit in place.

    One thing that’s good about Alaska is that we have very few insect pests. Our potatoes are great because we don’t have to douse them in chemicals the way they do in the Lower 48.

  34. Mr. TYMP says:

    Flowers are so great to have for attracting pollinators too, pretty and functional.

    Have any fruit trees? Orchards are low maintenance and if you fill the space between trees with woodchips (free from local tree companies if you don’t have a chipper) you can probably get away with never watering.

    One time I added rhubarb to a marinara for pizza, omg it was delish!

  35. Hester Jackson-Scott says:

    A couple of more interesting recipes if you’re ever looking to change things up:
    Dark chocolate rhubarb brownies are surprisingly good 🙂 I use this recipe https://www.theendlessmeal.com/dark-chocolate-rhubarb-brownies/ but only 3/4C sugar, and so far have left the nuts out as my partner doesn’t like nuts. Unfortunately if you have massive rhubarb plants like mine, 1 cup of chopped rhubarb ends up only being about 1 stalk…
    Rhubarb wine! I have yet to try this but found the recipe in my NZ gardener magazine – apparently the author had won awards for it, and it compares favourably with dry rose’ wine.
    Recipe takes 2.3kg rhubarb cut into 4-6mm slices then frozen approx 2w to soften. Place in a 10L bucket with 1 heaped teaspoon metabisulphite and pectolase and cover with 1.5L boiling water, then spread 1kg sugar over the top and leave 3d.
    Strain without squeezing pulp, add 1L hot water to pulp and strain again. Add tannin from 1 teabag soaked in 1C boiling water and 1tsp tartaric acid. Pour liquid into a fresh 10L bucket and top up with enough cooled boiled water to make 5L, then add (pre started) yeast. After 7d rack into a 5L jar, add 100g sugar mixed with enough boiling water to fill jar and fit with airlock. Leave 30d before bottling. Apparently after using the pulp is still quite edible for desserts etc.
    Love what you guys are doing here, have a great summer!

  36. Mable says:

    I dehydrate a lot of my rhubarb. Then, when I make applesauce in the fall/winter, I make some of it with the dried rhubarb thrown in. A little different and healthy.

  37. Jane says:

    Peonies are my favourite, too! I think it has something to do with the book “Sugar Pink Rose” that my mum read to me as a kid.

  38. Eliza says:

    Oh gosh, rhubarb isn’t an easy vegetable to deal with in large quantities. I’ve made jams and jellies before, but we just don’t eat that much of them. I once had a recipe for rhubarb on pizza which was amazing. Also recently tried lemon on pizza which was surprisingly good too.

  39. WantNot, WantNot says:

    What a beautifully written evocation of summer’s bounty—the planned for and the unexpected! For your new garden, I recommend planting purslane, a lovely salad addition that provides Omega 3 (one of the rare plants, like flax seed, that does). Purslane is a small green that grows very quickly from seed in our Northeast climate, can be pinched off and will re-grow, and it often self-seeds to grow back year to year. It’s just delicious, popular in Europe, though not so known here in the US.. For a $1 seed package (sown in May), we have a whole raised bed of delicious salad—we often serve a bowl of purslane with olive oil and lemon. BTW–you are lucky not to have groundhogs or deer bothering your garden; ours is fenced off or we would lose it all in a night!

  40. Hard to beat rhubarb pie! I’ll be heading back to the midwest for a couple weeks this summer so I’ll be sure to have a few slices while I’m there. Life on the homestead looks great as usual!

  41. Jana Colgin says:

    How hot were your hot days? We spent June working outdoors in VA & NC and had several humid 95 degree days out in the sun. We’d like to live/work in Vermont ourselves someday, so I have Rutland and Barre programmed into my weather app and when I’m dripping sweat I like to see how much cooler it is in Vermont. A little motivational self torture.

  42. Wow I’m impressed by the work you guys put in on the homestead! We have an acre+ to manage our in Seattle and just that feels overwhelming at times. Although this year has been extra tough to be motivated with the new kiddo taking up all our waking and sleeping hours.

    Our one success was going to be our blueberry crop but the netting installation got delayed and the birds beat us to the berries 🙁 not an enjoyable lesson but one learned for next year for sure!

  43. Forgot to ask: Have you ever made pickled rhubarb? Really, really good with cheese and crackers. I used a bonehead-simple recipe from:

    http://www.motherearthnews.com/real-food/pickled-rhubarb-refrigerator-quick-pickles-spring-recipe-zb0z11zalt

    Note: Because balsamic vinegar is pricey, I used half that and half white vinegar. Still delicious!

  44. Mikaela says:

    A rhubarb recipe for some of that glut (on a lovely Australian blog, so a tablespoon = 20 grams): http://www.julia-ostro.com/blog/2017/7/17/rhubarb-oat-bars

  45. Living the great life – simple yet majestic. I aspire to get there someday – out in nature, not having to worry too much about money, a big chunk of land, happy family, what more can I ask for…
    Although, that rhubarb pie made me hungry now.

  46. I love your tractor. I’ve been after one for quite some time, but my wife refuses to live in a property that would justify one. The best hope I’ve got is [early] retirement 😀

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