Buying a house -- in town with small lot or further out with larger lot? Help me sort this out...

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Amanda Witman's picture
Amanda Witman
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Posts: 409
Buying a house -- in town with small lot or further out with larger lot? Help me sort this out...

If this has been discussed already, please direct me to it.  

I am in the process of house-hunting for what will undoubtedly be my "forever house."  I'm in the community where I want to stay, where there are many local forms of resiliency already in place.  I also need to move out of my current home fairly soon -- within about a year.

My house-buying budget is limited.  There is no way around it; I can't buy my ideal property (for reasons I won't go into, creative financing ideas aren't going to work here -- this is going to have to be a straightforward bank loan with downpayment).  I feel like the personal and collective real estate clocks are ticking, and I am eager to get this purchase and the resulting transition behind me as soon as possible.

There seem to be two possible categories within my budgetary limits: 

  1. in-town houses, walkable or easily bikeable and on or near bus lines, but on small lots (less than an acre). 
  2. houses further out, somewhat reasonably bikeable (5-6 miles to town), on larger lots (more than an acre, a few acres, etc.)

I feel like I have two conflicting options here:  either live where I can grow food and hopefully fuel for my family (me + four kids ages 8-13), but remain car-dependent (= oil-dependent) or socially isolated, OR reduce my car/oil use potentially to zero, but not have enough land to grow food for my family.  I do not mind biking or having my kids bike, and I'm setting a limit of "no more than 6 miles from town" to keep that option reasonable, but our current level of social and educational engagement would have to change drastically if we switched from driving to biking as a primary form of transportation at that distance.

I am hoping to find a property that would be able to support multiple generations of my family going forward; I think this will be inevitable, whether we plan it that way or not.  I am not sure what minimum acreage we would need for the basics -- garden, fruit trees, chickens, greenhouse, perhaps a few small livestock.  I am not in a position to put money into fixing up a fixer-upper.  Although resources are stretched, or perhaps because they are stretched, I need to position myself as carefully and ideally as possible.  I guess that is the typical modern American dilemma.

What would you do?  How would your priorities shake out under these circumstances?

Keep in mind that I do not have money to invest in the property.  This is a shoestring venture (I promise I will write about my process when the time comes.)  I can't afford major soil amendments, solar panels, property improvements.  I am counting on finding a house and land that are in good enough shape to meet our needs with almost no remodeling or repair, and built thoughtfully so that we can live comfortably without oil or electricity as needed.  (And yet, for the foreseeable future, I need high-speed Internet!)  It is a lot to ask, but I'm asking anyway.

I am generally very quiet in the forums here, but I can think of no better place to  seek the collective wisdom I need to sort out this decision.  Thanks.

Dogs_In_A_Pile's picture
Dogs_In_A_Pile
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It's All Up To You

Amanda -

I think the answer lies with you and depends entirely upon what you think is going to happen.  That sets your priorities and what may be a concern for you may not be for someone else in a different place.

Since coming to this site three plus years ago, we got real busy because the end was near......or so we thought.   What turned out to be true was that the slope of the decay curve was a lot smaller than we thought.  And we spent a lot of time and capital on getting ready for something that was going to happen in two years....that didn't.

So here we are with 3 years under our belts and the system is still plodding along, unquestionably slipping lower, but still plodding along.  Big ginormous systems tend to have big ginormous amounts of inertia I suppose.  Anyway, total worldwide, intergalactic economic collapse didn't happen and now there is some question as to whether or not the lizard aliens are going to show up in the Mayan spaceships in December.......I digress.

So we added a lot of resiliency to our lives, we added skill sets we didn't have, we formed a small community of like minded friends and neighbors that we will be able to count on if things do head south fast.  I look at it as a universal insurance policy. 

In short, we are ready for a sustained interruption in food, energy, water (smart thing to do in a hurricane zone anyway).  We have to a certain degree prepared ourselves from a self defense standpoint to the degree that we think will meet the asocial predatory human threat that MAY occur.  We have also decided that we are going to weather in place.  I still have my eye on two parcels of land in the Shenandoahs, but circumstances aren't pushing us there - yet.  Right now it's still a want vs. need issue.

Given your options, for what I think is going to unfold, I would not hesitate to choose the 5-6 mile bike ride and larger plot of land.  If things do unravel, you won't be the only one riding a bicycle.  And you probably won't have too much trouble finding out that when things do get crappy, we have a tendency to put aside our differences and fighure out how to help each other.

Ready's picture
Ready
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Posts: 917
couple thoughts

Living without electricity (or sketchy service) means that the best refrigeration option is none - have your meals walking or swimming around until you are ready to eat them. This requires more space.

Living in the North without heat would be a real challenge. Are you considering heating with wood? How, and where will you get the firewood?

Older homes tend to lend themselves to no A/C a bit better. You typically get functional porches, larger shade trees, often higher ceilings with windows that allow heat out the top, etc. They also tend to be less expensive up front, but more $ in upkeep going forward.

What about water and sewage? If you are out 5 miles, does that mean well and septic? Those can both be positive and negatives. Generally more positive if you are trying to be self sufficient. How is your aquifer?

If you live in town, is livestock even an option?

Does living further out give you the potential to work as a farm hand with a neighbor? This effectively increases your land without having to pay for it.

What type of soil is in your area? If soil improvements are not an option, buying additional land for the purposes of growing food would be counter productive if you can't get anything to grow.

Could a greenhouse extend your growing season so that less land produces the same amount of calories?

 

Full Moon's picture
Full Moon
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my opinion

   You did not mention  a man  in your story .   Is one of your children a boy ?       I do not mean to sound  biased  but I believe a small town of 35-400   would be your best bet  . They sell Large lots of  a few acres with older established homes that come with  chicken coops , small barns , established  Most even have old wells in the back yard that could be started up .   You  would have  people to help with protecton as well as some of the heavier labor intensive things .  

  Your children would have so fun with a few other children .  

  These little towns are extremely  loyal and protective of women and children  who are respectful and well behaved . Theey will come with grey haired wisdom .  Your children can  make extra money or friendships doing  little things these people can not do for themselves any more  and you yourself might  be of help to organize  runs into the city  for things

  Again  just my opinion .  I will be praying for the decision  you have before you .

 FM 

Full Moon's picture
Full Moon
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sorry

  I poked the post button  befor proof reading .   Hope you can get my drift .

 FM

 

Amanda Witman's picture
Amanda Witman
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Posts: 409
Thanks.  Yes, I'm a single

Thanks.  Yes, I'm a single mom, and I have two boys and two girls.  I'm not looking to leave our established community, and we do have loyal "grey haired wisdom" friends in the area. 

mooselick7's picture
mooselick7
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Posts: 192
My 20 won's worth...

I agree with all of the above with added commentary.  

Dogs - I too thought the end was nigh and have been surprised at the economies ability to plod along.  And have been adding resilience to our lifestyle for seemingly no reason....

Ready - I agree with your point of view.  Location, location, location.  Look at things in terms of the essentials:  water, food, shelter, heat, light, security.   

Looking at my essentials, my property has:

-  Water:  5 sources - gravity fed irrigation, town fed irrigation system, town municipal water supply, rainwater collection and a major stream within 4 city blocks.  We have gravity filter and ways to carry the water around.  

-  Food:  1 1/2 acres in very small mountain town.  Zone 3.  Excellent soil.  Added garden space, a greenhouse, chickens, fruit trees and rabbits.   Confident that I could keep my wife and daughter fed in a crisis and really Im only using about 25% of the total ground.   We could plant about 35% more but, 1) I dont have time with a full time job.  2)  My neighbors would complain.  3)  It would lower my property values.  

During this process, my biggest obstacles have NOT been space but neighbors!  We are surrounded on all sides by neighbors and a town that doesnt want their residents to have anything but dogs, cats and goldfish.  We have had to fight town hall on animal ordinances.  I swear they want to turn a cowboy town into a gated community.  

I have spent hundred of dollars building up fences etc for an overpopulation of deer fed by the neighbors that tear up everything and antagonize me as a walking illegal protein source.   We could have milk goats on our plot but the neighbors wouldnt accept that.   

Also, the neighbors plant trees that shade my property.  They plant them for looks not food production.  

Need to think about food storage, prep and processing.  I am in the process of designing and replacing an old deck that will also serve as a shaded cooking, canning and butcher area complete with a grill, backyard oven/smoker, plenty of counter space and easy hose down cleanup.   I have plans to build a cellar and have learned how to store and pickle vegetables for long term.  

-  Shelter:  a sturdy, well insulated, stickbuilt home that needs more cosmetic work but the structure will easily outlive me.

-  Heat: three sources - Locally available stoker coal or wood pellet and two wood/coal stoves.  Have enough firewood from cutting down old trees on the place for a winter but plenty of firewood within 10 miles of house.  Ability to cook with grid electric, propane or wood.  

-  Light:  grid electricity, propane, very small solar system - enough to charge a laptop, run a small appliance or have some light to work or read by, PTO generator and a couple of white gas lanterns.  All but the solar system was purchased 2nd hand.

-  Security:  My problems with the neighbors are an advantage in this area.  My surrounding neighbors are mostly retired folks (nosey) who are up at all hours of the night and have a sincere fasination with what goes on around our place.   They watch out for us and I watch out for them.  The town has it's share of potential victims if the lights go out but is more full of self reliant folk with kind of a self governing ethic.  

Where Im vulnerable is animal protein and fats.   Altho I live in cattle country,  I would like more land to raise a few livestock for milk and meat.  

I offer this for you to understand the process thus far.  

Here are a few considerations:

-  How is your health?  Are you in shape?  Can you perform manual labor for 8 to 30 hours a week?  My wife can't but I can. Need to be able to till, rake, seed, water, weed, harvest, prep, preserve, store, cook and eat what you grow.   Im the bread winner so our production is based on what I can do in my spare time.  Also, can you handle being outside all day.  Consider the work clothing, etc to adapt to the sun, wind and exposure to the weather in your area.

- Look at your new location in terms of production not consumption.   Will the location produce with as little cheap energy as possible? 

-  Water is key.  Look for water sources - preferrably multiple.  Without water, you will die.  You will be unclean.  You will spend lots of valuable energy to get it, store and conserve.  Without water, there will be no food production.  Use Google Earth to check out land and nearby water sources.  Find land next to water.  If it has a well, find out how you can pump it without power.  There are many sources for this.  I would start searching on the internet for "solar water pumping" , "wind water pumping", "rainwater collection" and "hand water pumps".  They arent cheap but you are dead without it.  There are many site specific considerations here.  PM me if you want some advice.  

-  Food production needs water, soil, light and security first then space.   Also consider your tastes - can you handle a diet that is based on the season and varieties you can grow in your region.   Recently, I toured S. Korea with a group of 30.  Out of the 30, 3 were native Koreans.  Part of the deal was to eat only Korean food out of respect for the culture.  There were fresh, local vegies, rice, fish, meat, fruits, seaweed, mushrooms and even silkworms on the menu.  Out of the Anglos, one other besides myself enjoyed the food. The others did nothing but complain and were appalled that I loved it - despite being Type 2 diabetic, my sugars were normal, ate like a pig 3x a day, had incredible vigor, sat on a bus most of the time and lost 8 lbs - how does that work?

You can grow A LOT in a small space.   Learn about the covents, laws or ordinances for your potential location for keeping animals or landscaping.  Dont assume that you can start planting or raising animals because peak oil is just around the corner - neighbors will likely NOT hold the same opinion.  I agree with the opinion that it takes about 10 years to develop a garden that can feed you with little effort.  

Read "How to Grow more Vegetables"  and "The Resilient Gardener".

http://www.amazon.com/Grow-More-Vegetables-Eighth-Edition/dp/160774189X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1337031684&sr=1-1

http://www.amazon.com/The-Resilient-Gardener-Production-Self-Reliance/dp/160358031X

If in Zone 4 or less, read:   

http://www.amazon.com/Four-Season-Harvest-Organic-Vegetables-Garden/dp/1890132276/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1337031771&sr=1-4

http://www.amazon.com/The-Winter-Harvest-Handbook-Greenhouses/dp/1603580816/ref=pd_bxgy_b_img_b

Soil building is fairly cheap but hard work.  It takes a lot of cheap nitrogen rich organic matter, a lot of shoveling and a lot of digging.   A place where you can keep animals will help greatly.  Chickens, goats, cows, sheep and pigs can be used to clear and enrich soil if managed correctly. Find others in your region who are living off the land.  

Read everything by Joel Salatin.  Research about permaculture techniques.  Read about biodynamics - this is my favorite: http://www.amazon.com/Biodynamic-Farm-Growing-Wholesome-Food/dp/0911311459/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1337031939&sr=1-3 

Read The Good life:  http://www.amazon.com/The-Good-Life-Nearings-Self-Sufficient/dp/0805209700/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1337032047&sr=1-1

Read or listen to the book Farm City for inspiration.  http://www.amazon.com/Farm-City-Education-Urban-Farmer/dp/0143117289/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1337031880&sr=1-1

As far as shelter, it depends on what you are willing to sacrafice.   I can live in a teepee.  Wifey cant.   I would put priority on land, light, soil and water and less priority on a McMansion.   With food production, you will be spending more time outside and less time in the house.   Smaller means less expense for everything from heat to solar electricity.  

Consider the tiny house movement.  Quality of space over quantity.... 

As fuel prices go higher, RVs are getting cheaper:  http://www.amazon.com/Dirt-Cheap-Survival-Retreat-Mans-Solution/dp/1581607474

Or with the global shutdown of imported goods, shipping containers are becoming more and more available:  http://gracie-senseandsimplicity.blogspot.com/2011/05/shipping-container-homes-6-inspiring.html

Heat:  Look for multiple sources of locally available heat.  Wood is obvious but you are going to need all the storage and equipment to take care of it.   Splitting wood is hard work.   Propane can be stored almost indefinitely.  Consider superinsulation, rammed earth or earth shelter homes with solar heating.   A small woodstove can heat an underground house with very little wood.

Light:  Learn about solar photovoltaics.   A $250 system can give you enough light to work or read by at least 4 hours in the evening and charge up radios or laptops.  Look for kerosene lanterns, camping lantern at garage sales.   Safely store the fuel for them.   

Security:  Keep in mind that you can go without all of the above for days to weeks; but, you cant go without security for a second.   

Being remote is a dual edge sword.  Too remote and no one would be there to protect you.  But, it also means there is no one will be there to protect someone threatening you either.  Also under this heading is medical attention.  If you are out splitting wood, the ax slips and hacks into your leg, how far are you from the ER?  How will you get there?

Read Ferfal's blog and book:  http://www.themodernsurvivalist.com/  as well as Dmytri Orlov's blog and book:  http://cluborlov.blogspot.com/.   These guys have seen collapse first hand and talk about the practicalities of security.  Location is key here.  Cheap land prices can mean a destitute and desperate surrounding population.  Cheap land also means low taxes which means less money for law enforcement.   Remote land mean a long response time if you are threatened.

A good guard dog can help but that is easily mitigated.   You may be better off with a nervous pomeranian to warn you and be a smaller target.   Think about what measures and skill you will take if your property or health is threatened - then equip and train yourself accordingly.  Not the other way around...

Do your research.  Save your money and keep your eyes open for deals on all of the above.  Property values are dropping.  Build your resilience.  Build your skills.  Build your strength and stamina.  Plan for hell, enjoy the moment and take advantage of the cheap energy while it is available.

Hope this helps...

 

 

 

 

treemagnet's picture
treemagnet
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my thoughts

I'd get to a county seat in a smaller town near (w/in 20 or 30 miles) of a smallish city of 10-50K.  The county seat is, imho, key.  It gets you a local govt structure run by local folks w/out unlimited means, forcing them to focus on providing what the community at large needs first - wants a distanct second.  County road depts, school systems, grocery store, sheriffs dept., court house - and all that goes with a localized govt structure.  You'll get a decent sized plot of land, relaxed zoning, access to the good bigger communities offer, and a chance to interact with the community around you.  Bicycle, scooter, small cc motorcycle will give you mobility - most small towns allow atv's and side-by-side ranger/razor type vehicles around town - try that in a city of 40K+.  Go where people won't and find answers to why they can't/won't - old quote but so true.....your greatest opportunities lie within the greatest challenges.  The most obvious places to go now  will become quite clear to the masses in time, imho.  Good luck - this is just my opinion, I'm not qualified to opine.  I too have much to do.

Amanda Witman's picture
Amanda Witman
Status: Peak Prosperity Team (Offline)
Joined: Mar 17 2008
Posts: 409
Thanks for the thoughtful

Thanks for the thoughtful responses.  My phone rang this morning, and it was a local CMer reaching out to have a personal conversation based on this thread.  It was wonderful to have his insights and the connection of a local who cares what happens with my family.  It's an example of one of the many reasons I love how the CM community, and my local community, are supporting "the process" for so many people.

Mooselick, I'm "there" in my thinking in many ways already, but appreciate your thoughtful reminders and insights.  The Self-Assessment is an essential tool (scroll down that page for a link to the .pdf) for anyone who hasn't delved deep enough yet or who would like to take their awareness and planning to the next level.

Amanda Witman's picture
Amanda Witman
Status: Peak Prosperity Team (Offline)
Joined: Mar 17 2008
Posts: 409
  Ready wrote: Living

 

Ready wrote:

Living without electricity (or sketchy service) means that the best refrigeration option is none - have your meals walking or swimming around until you are ready to eat them. This requires more space.

Living in the North without heat would be a real challenge. Are you considering heating with wood? How, and where will you get the firewood?

Older homes tend to lend themselves to no A/C a bit better. You typically get functional porches, larger shade trees, often higher ceilings with windows that allow heat out the top, etc. They also tend to be less expensive up front, but more $ in upkeep going forward.

What about water and sewage? If you are out 5 miles, does that mean well and septic? Those can both be positive and negatives. Generally more positive if you are trying to be self sufficient. How is your aquifer?

If you live in town, is livestock even an option?

Does living further out give you the potential to work as a farm hand with a neighbor? This effectively increases your land without having to pay for it.

What type of soil is in your area? If soil improvements are not an option, buying additional land for the purposes of growing food would be counter productive if you can't get anything to grow.

Could a greenhouse extend your growing season so that less land produces the same amount of calories?

 

Yes. 

We would heat with wood, and that is why I think a property with a woodlot is ideal.  But I have friends who have woodlots so my use might be negotiable with them.

We just cope without A/C.  Our current house has ceiling fans but we could live without.  It does get up to 90s here in the summer but we know the nonelectric cooling-off tricks.

Water and sewage - well and (ideally) stream or brook on property, with septic; in-town would be water service and sewer.  Either way I'm comfortable with doing humanure composting if those systems failed.  

We have friends in town who keep chickens.  Our community is pretty open-minded about that sort of thing.  Living in-town would limit us though, if neighbors felt it was a (smelly) nuisance (pig, goat, etc.)

Soil here is clayey.  It is what it is.  We are in zone 5 so relatively mild.  Plenty of people farming here or growing their own food.  Carrots tend to go crooked but many other things do well.

Yes, living further out we'd have farmers for neighbors.

And I would love a greenhouse, and I guess in-town that would be a particularly excellent option, though it would be out of town also.  Sounds like a luxury but when we're settled it will be on the to-do list.

joemanc's picture
joemanc
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Joined: Aug 16 2008
Posts: 834
Lot Size

I prefer the larger lot size if possible, although I ended up settling with 3/4 acre. Land is not cheap here. I remember looking at a house when I was shopping, more for kicks, that was built in 1765. It was only on maybe an acre of land and not exactly in the center of town either. That tells me folks got by back then with a decent plot of land. Granted, I live in a small town that was almost entirely farmland at one time so food was probably not hard to come by. I bought a history book about my town that talked about how it was at one time a part of the present day city next door of 100,000.  Folks would go to church in that city and it was about 5 miles away. And they didn't have bikes back then.

I like your idea about having friends with woodlots for heating. I'm doing the same with some of my neighbors - fresh veggies for firewood. And my trade of the century - I traded my neighbor rocks for acidic compost made from oak leaves for my blueberry bushes.  Unless you have acres and acres of land to be able to be entirely self sufficient, ideally you want to try to pick and choose what you know how or want to learn to do and be able to trade with neighbors for say, firewood.

JAG's picture
JAG
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Joined: Oct 26 2008
Posts: 2492
Neighbors...

Hi Amanda,

I think good neighbors are a most important resource. You could easily make both options work for you with the right neighbors. 

Best of luck to you and your family....Jeff

Doug's picture
Doug
Status: Diamond Member (Online)
Joined: Oct 1 2008
Posts: 3159
firewood

 Don't minimize the amount of work and danger required to reduce a tree to firewood.  I have a woodlot that could provide all the firewood I want, but after a couple years of cutting, hawling, splitting (by hand) and stacking, I decided to cave into the luxury of having logs delivered and buying a splitter.  (The splitter is largely because my son went away to school)  A load of logs runs $700-750 and heats the house for 1 1/2-2 winters.  A lot cheaper than oil, but also a lot more time and labor consuming.  When you figure out your system, reduce the number of times you have to handle the wood to the least possible.

Doug

Amanda Witman's picture
Amanda Witman
Status: Peak Prosperity Team (Offline)
Joined: Mar 17 2008
Posts: 409
Doug wrote:  Don't minimize
Doug wrote:

 Don't minimize the amount of work and danger required to reduce a tree to firewood. 

Thanks, Doug.  You make good points.  I think the point of the woodlot is not necessarily to start harvesting my own wood now...and really, not until I have to.  My plan is to heat with wood purchased from, split, and delivered by others for as long as I can afford it.  But there will come a time when I or my kids or their kids won't have that luxury, and I want the security of knowing the woodlot is ours when we need it.

And of course, wood-management skills will need to be developed before that time, and it's not easy, but the difference between "want to" and "have to" is significant. 

sofistek's picture
sofistek
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Joined: Oct 2 2008
Posts: 818
Slow crash, fast crash

I note what others say about expecting all hell to have broken loose by now, whilst the reality is somewhat different. Of course, for some people, all hell may well have broken loose, but for most people there is at least some semblance of what they think of as normality. I wonder if this bodes well or ill for the future.

There have been a lot of natural disasters recently, and one always hears stories about folks helping each other out, which is great. But is that because a load of people are dumped into the same boat at the same time? With a fast crash, that might be similar to a natural disaster but, with a slow crash, things might be a lot different, as a slowly growing number of people become disenfranchised and unable to live "normal" lives. Is there more likely to be an element of "mad max", in that situation, versus a fast crash?

I envy Dogs_In_A_Pile having managed to build something of a local community of like minded people - I have had no success there, at all. Consequently, I'm not particularly wedded to the notion of sticking with what we have, including current friends, even though we're better prepared than most, at this point. We could do a lot better elsewhere though my preference would be for an intentional community that was organising for a lot of the challenges that we all know are coming.

By the way, any preparations to increase resilience are never wasted, no matter how long it takes for the shit to hit the fan.

Tony

TreeGap's picture
TreeGap
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Posts: 23
I agree with Full Moon

Just chiming in here to agree with Full Moon.  This is very good advice.

I am single-mom in a small town in a rural State of the US.  I moved here in 2009 & know this is the safest, most enjoyable place to ride-out anything that comes.  Small towns are interdependent allready.  We share resources of knowledge and talent allready & everyone knows this is the best way to prosper, survive & thrive.

There is a lot of kindness & wisdom.  I think it is this way because people aren't as materialistic & know that Life can be a struggle.  Everyone goes through hard times.  People lend a hand, 'cause they know their going to need one at some point.

You will need to be independent & self-sufficient.  You will need to add your talents to the mix.  You will need to carry your own weight.

And, you will do well & provide your children with a great childhood.

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