July 2006 Archives

Waiting

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The title of this post is relevant to at least two things. The first being how long my Broadripple Socks have been started but remained unfinished. The second being what I will be doing tomorrow morning at 6:30 AM.

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Broadripple Sock #1: Started Circa Spring 2004

I had the first 6" of the cuff of this sock started quite some time ago, during my "socks on 2 circs" era. Originally, the socks were for John (hence the solid somewhat manly color) but then I realized that there was a bit too much lacy-ness for John's tastes and they became socks for me instead. They were probably the first socks I ever worked in that had more texture than a K2P2 ribbing at the top. I'm not so sure why I stalled out so quickly on these. At the time, perhaps, the patterning seemed a little hard to keep track of. It does not seem that way now. On a trip last weekend to Madison to pick up a refridgerator that could store two 5 gallon kegs and to see an old friend I finished the leg and turned the heel and started working down the instep. It took me a while to get back into the socks on 2 circs rhythm (I actually thought about switching the project onto double points, but I didn't have any US size 3 DPs in my collection and I didn't have time to go out and buy any before the trip), but once I did it was smooth sailing.

Which brings me to the second reference for waiting. This morning, at an impossibly early time, I will be sitting in the waiting room of the surgical eye clinic at Illinois Masonic Hospital waiting for John to undergo a procedure to fix and to prevent the further progression of the early stages of a detatched retina. I know, it's not life threatening, the surgery is outpatient, and everything should go just fine. But this is my soulmate and his vision. It may not be life threatening, but it is not trivial, either. We found out on Thursday and the surgery was scheduled for 4 days later. He has been quite calm over the weekend (as is his way, the Tao of John is a patient and accepting one), but I must admit to being both worried and fearful. It's a little bit invasive, this procedure. And John's never had to go through any surgery before. I think you begin to understand the feelings you have for another person when, immediately after you hear that they have to go through something unpleasant, you know that if you could trade with them, you would in a heartbeat. In less than a heartbeat.

So the sock and I will be in the waiting room early on a Monday morning, sending the best possible vibes we can with every new stitch. Very much looking forward to taking him home and helping him heal and get better. It may sound a little silly, but I've made him promise to wear a pair of the socks that I have made for him. If I can't be there with him, at least a little of the magic and love that come from a pair of handknit socks will be there to keep him warm and make him feel more comfortable.

Update: We're home and everything went okay. Apparently he needed a little more cryo/laser work than they thought he would need originally, but now the surgical part is over and the harder part begins: spending the next 1-3 weeks with his head more or less in one position to keep the gas bubble they put in his eye in one place where it can hold the retina where it is supposed to be. So we're not out of the woods quite yet, but we're hoping the healing will go well and he won't need any more invasive procedures in the future. Thank you for everyone's good thoughts. John thanks you all, too. He did wear one of the pairs of socks I knit him (the Trekking XXL pair) but he was so distracted that he actually put on both socks inside out. No matter, the good knitting magick, I think, works no matter what side of the garment faces out. I'll keep y'all posted on how he's doing. Right now he's got a big patch over his left eye (no pictures on this one) and is buried in a big nest of pillows to help him stay in the position he needs to.

New Day

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Deep breath. Long pause.

Well, we made it through the first day. While John was having the follow-up surgical care from the nurse, I got a lecture from the opthamologist about his special needs. Forgive me, as someone who has had many years of scientific training, it's always hard for me to remember that the doctor talking to me for the first time doesn't know that. I get a tad peevish, even though I know the doctor has to communicate in a way that makes important instructions very clear. In order for the procedure to be a success, John needs to keep his head in more or less one position for quite some time. I sat there with my sock in my hands, knowing it was important information, but wishing it was delivered in a way that didn't make me feel like a four year old. It seems a little strange to have your husband referred to as "a real trooper." I chalked one up in the "grown up" category by paying attention to what was important, and not letting my ego get the better of me. At least not too much.

All my personal irritation disappeared, however, watching John come out of the outpatient surgical suite with a big patch on his eye. On our way to the hospital I had joked with him a little bit that I could knit him an eye patch. It didn't seem so funny watching him carefully walk out the door or when I had to sign all his release paperwork. When we came in, he was a little nervous about dealing with the first surgical procedure he's ever had in his life. At the end of it, I could feel this little sad feeling from him. It's hard to explain, but it kind of broke my heart. A routine doctor's visit turns into a surgical procedure in 4 days, the surgical procedure happens and the doctor discovers that he needs to do more work that he originally thought, and the surgical procedure comes with the knowledge that if you don't deal patiently with a whole bunch of restrictions, you could have to go through it again, or worse. John is usually quick to try to make other people smile even when he isn't feeling so good. But that part had receeded into the background for a little while as he took in the magnitude of what is/could be ahead.

We got home at about quarter after nine in the morning. The car ride home in the rain seemed to ease the mood a bit. John touched base with some family members to let them know he was okay and my mom made breakfast. Thank goodness for my parents. They had been planning to spend the weekend with us before we found out that John would need to have surgery, and having them here today was a big help. When you live with someone long enough, you forget all the things that they do regularly. John is restricted to pretty much sitting peacefully in one spot for at least the next few days (he has a nice nest of pillows to help him stay in a comfortable positiion and his home theatre to help entertain him). For the sake of our plants and our cats, I hope I can remember to do all the things that our living things need me to do to keep them alive and healthy.

And now the day is pretty much drawing to a close. It's 11:30 PM, July 3rd. We've made it through the first whole day. John's anaesthesia has worn off and he is beginning to feel some discomfort, but we have some reasonable pharmaceuticals to help with the pain management. In spite of that, his sense of humor has in large part returned. I have always admired the deep well of optimism that always seems to get him through tough things. Now we just have to find some way to help him sleep and keep his head the way it should be. My dad, ever the engineer even in retirement, has helped to rig up a clever "head positioning system". And I have my first night ever of sleeping alone when John is in the house. It is the start of what I hope will be a good healing phase. The last 6 months have been tough for us from a health perspective. I'm hoping this signals the beginning of the end of that bad spell.

So I am doing what I always do whenever I have a situation that makes me nervous or unhappy -- I am looking at events beyond in search of happy milestones. In three weeks it will be time to go to Ann Arbor to a little brewfest. In four weeks we'll be seeing Circque do Soleil. In eight weeks we will be celebrating our 8th wedding anniversary.and sometime in September we are hoping to head back to Hawaii for a restful vacation. Little by little, John's eye will heal and I'll get to share in the joy of watching him get back to feeling better.

Thank you again to everyone who left us a note, shared a story or just thought about us yesterday. It's impossible to really express how much that means to both of us. Please know that we are both deeply touched and deeply grateful. If I could handknit socks for all of you, I most certainly would.

To those of you in the US celebrating the 4th tomorow, may you have a very happy holiday. To everyone else, may you have a most excellent Tuesday. I'm hoping mine will involve giving my WooLee Winder a work out and finding out at John's follow up appointment tomorrow that things are going in the direction they are supposed to go.

Rays of Sunshine

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There are a couple of bright happy things for me to talk about today. The first, because this is, after all, a craft oriented blog, is this lovely 8 ounces of superwash Merino in a colorway called "Hang on Sloopy" from Crown Mountain Farms.

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Hang On Sloopy Superwash Merino

This purchase of this little bale of orangey goodness ultimately had it's roots in two things: 1) the woman I consider to be the muse for all things orange and 2) the fact that this is the fiber that is used to spin up the Sock Hop sock yarns (also from Crown Mountain Farms).

I was not sure what to expect from superwash Merino from a texture perspective. It turns out to be quite soft and luscious. Now I just need to dig out that recent issue of Spin Off that talked about making sock yarns. Methinks that I need some good tight twist to create a nice durable yarn. But the real issue will be 2 ply or 3? Any sock yarn spinners out there want to offer your guidance?

The other little ray of sunshine today was John's first follow up visit to the doctor after his surgery. He woke up this morning with his eye feeling much better. It was such a wonderful moment for me to go to the doctor with him and watch him take off the bandage. He has a lot of bruising around the eye and a good deal of redness in his eye but there's no infection, he's experiencing very little pain and the doctor felt everything looked good for this point in the recovery process. We've both been feeling pretty good all day long. This is still only day 2 and John still has a while to go with sleeping sitting up, but I think both of us are more hopeful and less concerned about more surgery or loss of vision. And John is actually a very good convalescent -- not only did he take care of many of his "big" chores before the surgery to help make my life a bit easier now, he's made the decision in his own mind that he is going to take the time he needs to heal correctly. It may be inconvenient for a little while, but it's far better than the alternative.

And there is a bit of crafting going on, just not as much as usual since I have other higher priorities right now, and there's only so much excitement I can get from posting "oh! I have another half bobbin more of cormo/silk/alpaca single".

Sock Energy

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The First Broadripple Sock in French Navy

Oops! Where did I go yesterday? Actually, I had a post idea and everything. But then I had one glass of homebrew beer and got seriously sleepy. I headed off to bed without even remembering my poor blog.

I did accomplish something today: I finished my first Broadripple sock in Elann Esprit "French Navy" (if you want a pair of socks at a bargain price, this stuff is for you -- $2.75 a ball and one ball makes a standard sized woman's sock... $5.50 and a little time and you've got yourself a pair of socks). I really don't mind knitting with the stuff. I know some out there are not fond of the stretchy quality of the yarn, but I didn't find that it posed a whole lot of problems for me. This is probably a good thing, since I went crazy a few summers back and bought a bunch of the stuff! I'm looking forward to getting the second sock cast on and then thinking about what to do with the rest of my Esprit stash... after all, summer is the time for cotton socks. And the elasticity of these socks guarantees that they won't be saggy socks.

This sock was also the sock that went with me to surgery on Monday morning and that made the trip with me to John's second follow-up appointment (yes, of course, I was trying the thing on for foot length when John's name got called). I started the toe decreases at his appointment and finished it up when we got home. We got more positive news at this appointment. John still is under "house arrest" for the time being (at least until next Tuesday when he has his third follow up appointment), but the doctor told us that the retina has, in fact, re-attached. Now John needs to keep that air bubble working on holding the retina in place while he continues to heal. It made me laugh... after his appointment John asks the doctor er, can I have a beer while I'm recovering? and the doctor smiles and says you can definitely have more than one. John may not be able to roam around yet, but he can drink beer and surf Ebay -- a man has to have his priorities.

Before I get started on my Crown Mountain Farm fiber, I decided that I would test out my WooLee Winder a little more thoroughly. I had a nice, mostly solid blue Cormo/silk/alpaca roving that I purchased from Winterhaven Fiber Farm while at MS&W that seemed like it would be a good starting point since I've spun Cormo/silk blends before and have a good feel for this sort of blend. Since I'm in a three-ply sort of mood these days, I figured I'd work out all three bobbins and then ply it on my Lendrum plying head.

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Two Bobbins Worth of Progress and the Remaining Roving

I'm quite taken with how evenly the WooLee Winder bobbins get wound. They are even enough that, if you are lazy like me, and forget to weigh out your fiber into equal amounts, you can actually just measure the radius of the bobbin relative to the single to get a sense for how much more you need to spin.

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Subtle Variagation

I bought this roving because I love Cormo and because I was looking for fiber that wouldn't give me stripes after it was spun (let me tell you, when you spin variagated rovings, it's a lot harder to prevent stripes than you might think). The singles have nice subtle color changes which should add depth to the plied yarn without creating any crazy striping. I don't know quite what I see this yarn becoming yet, probably some lacy accessory but having it be a mostly solid yarn gives me lots more options.

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Plied Cormo Yarn

Not a stunningly wonderful picture -- I know -- but it does demonstrate how the blues go together. It's also all I had the energy to take a picture of after doing the spinning. The first 3/4 of the plying went fine but the last 1/4 was an exercise in frustration until I gave up my Lendrum lazy kate and resorted to three metal needles spearing a shoebox. When the bobbins were in a vertical orientation, the single seemed to get caught at the "top" once there wasn't much left on the bobbin (I am still not sure I understand why... I don't know if it was the angle I was drawing the single from or something else). This meant that one of the plies would break if I pulled to hard, or I had to stop and manually rotate the bobbin so that it would get past that point, which got to be very unsatisfying. When I switched to my inelegant but functional shoe box, where the bobbins were in a horizontal orientation, everything moved much more smoothly. I've never experienced anything like that with my Lendrum bobbins. I will have to talk to my Dad about helping me to create some kind of box that has a tensioning system so that the bobbins don't roll backwards when the single stops moving.

Other than that, my WooLee Winder performed wonderfully. It made this 6 ounces of fiber just sort of fly by, in spite of the fact that this fiber was a little bit too noil-y for my taste (not as bad as the madder/cochineal Corriedale, but not as smooth as some other fibers I have spun). Now that I've put it through it's paces, I think that I'm ready to give my "Hang On Sloopy" superwash a try.

Handspun Flower Basket

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Flower Basket Shawl in Handspun Corriedale

Lately I've been thinking that if I am going to spin, I'd better find a use for the yarn. Otherwise, all I am doing is building my stash -- which is something I'm trying not to do so much of right now (not that there is anything wrong with building up stash -- I'm just trying to keep mine in a manageable state for me). After finishing the cochineal/madder dyed Corriedale I decided that I just needed to do something with it that I would enjoy and want to wear.

I've always wanted to make the Flower Basket shawl that was published in IK a couple of years ago. But I never quite had the right yarn. I knew my handspun Corriedale yarn wouldn't have the same drape as the alpaca recommended but I thought it would create a comfy, cozy shawl that I could wear over a turtleneck -- my standard winter uniform.

In the picture you can see the beginnings of the shawl. Its taking me a long time to make much progress, because I seem to have difficulty getting the right number of yarn overs in the very first row of the repeat. So there has been much tinking. Even so, I like the results. I'm hoping that I'm going to have enough extra yarn to put in an extra repeat to give the shawl a little extra size, since I don't think it's going to block out quite as much as the laceweight the original pattern uses given the sproingyness of the Corriedale.

I'll tell you something else: it's an awful lot of fun to knit with my own handspun yarn. Enough so that I'm already trying to figure out what I'm going to do with that blue yarn I posted about yesterday.

Karma

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I'm not a terribly religious person but I do believe in the concept of karma. It helps me to think that good, selfless efforts are rewarded while less savory behavior will ultimately lead to some kind of bad fortune.

So, whenever I find myself contemplating something in my life, or the life of a loved one that doesn't make me happy, I look for some way to increase my good karma potential. For instance, right after we found out about John's retinal problems, but before he had surgery, I made a donation to the Heifer International as a part of Cara's fund raising efforts that accompanied her Spin Out project in NYC.

Today we went in for John's third surgical follow up visit. We were really hoping that this visit would bring an easing in what I have come to think of as John's "couch arrest" part of the recovery process. A kind blog reader, Lynette, left a comment on the day of John's surgery wishing us well and mentioning that she was trying to raise money for the American Cancer Society by participating in a local Relay for Life. The ACS is another excellent organization that supports scientific research into cancer at both a national and local level. They provide support for families and people looking for information as well as research fellowships for junior scientists. My doctoral laboratory was supported by a couple of ACS grants. It seemed like a nice way to help build some more good karma and help out a good cause at the same time.

Lynette has the very modest goal of raising $500 for the ACS. She's also a whiz with a sock knitting machine and she's offering anyone who donates a chance to win 2 pairs of custom made socks. So if you feel like you need a little bit of good karma yourself, this is a chance to create a some good karma and have a chance to win some very nifty socks

And I do think that all your good wishes and some of my attempts to create a little bit of better karma have helped. John is still couch restricted, but the retina is still attached and about 85% of the fluid that had built up in his eye has been pushed out. He's still on couch arrest becauase of that last bit of fluid needs to be pushed out, and the best way for that to happen is for him to keep his head in a position that will help the air bubble in his eye push against it and send it packing. But at least much of his bruising is gone and his eye feels much better.

Not being able to go anywhere and having to keep his head at a 45 degree angle is still a bit frustrating, but at least he has a laying on his side position that he can use so that he can have a little more range of motion. We keep reminding ourselves that since a lot of fluid had built up in his eye as a result of the tear not being treated for a while, that we probably couldn't expect everything to go back to normal right away. Healing these eye things just takes time and patience. And we are fortunate that he has a work environment that has been supportive and helpful as he starts his second week away from the office.

For my next acts of good karma, I am working on making sure that everyone who left us a comment gets a personal thank you from me (I am very behind, but I am getting through things slowly but surely). I think I am also going to try to crochet John his very own third eyeball so that we can use it as a way to focus our healing energies. You've got to love the internet. The awesome Lady Linoleum has an awesome eyeball pattern complete with nerve endings. How could I not try one to make one for John?

Am I Blue

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550 Yards of 3-Ply Cormo/Silk/Alpaca

After all was said and done, I ended up with almost 550 yards of three ply yarn from the 6 or so ounces of the Cormo/silk/alpaca singles that I spun. What was particularly satisfying for me after plying this yarn was that when I took it off my niddy noddy, it was almost perfectly balanced. When I hung the skein it hung straight. Once thing that surprised me was that, in spite of all the Cormo in the yarn (80%) it still was drapey and it almost felt like the inelastic silk and alpaca fibers were in control of the yarn, even though I felt like I had gotten a goodly amount of twist into the yarn.

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Close Up, Before Soaking

As per usual, I could not resist using the macro mode on my camera to get a closer look at the yarn before and after a good soaking. In the past, when I've given yarn a bath, I often see a change. The sample above is the shot I took before the yarn got its bath.

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Close Up, After Soaking

The sample in this photo is the shot I took after the yarn got it's bath. After the bath when I hung this skein straight, I still didn't see any over twist. But the proof is in the drying, eh? Well that twist business did't change after the skein dried -- and I didn't try to bias it by weighting it in any way, I just let it hang down. I'm not sure if it shows up in the photos, but after drying, the elasticity and sproingy quality of the Cormo came back after the bath. The yarn has a bit more three dimesional quality. And, consistant with the rather large amount of noils that were in this fiber I was spinning from, you can see that the yarn has little imperfections that I hope will make it interesting rather than unpolished looking when I knit it up.

Weight-wise, I think this yarn is probably in the sport weight category... perhaps another small shawl with a lace pattern? I think the heathering is gorgeous and, lover of blue that I am, I could very much see this wrapped around my neck -- it's definitely soft enough for that.

Eye Believe

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If knitting up some bone could help heal Mr. Etherknitter, then I figured that crocheting an eyeball could provide some good healing mojo for John's eye. Lucky for me, I didn't even have to design an eyeball myself -- the wonder that is the internet provided me with an excellent free pattern for crochet eyeball creation.

The pattern for the crochet eyeball from Monster Crochet called for perle cotton, but since I didn't have any of that around my house and I wasn't sure I could deal with the itty bitty tiny crochet hook I decided to see what my stash held. This is the yarn I selected for the pupil, eyball and iris.

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Fibers for an Eyeball

The pupil is a black merino sock yarn that was in my stash, and came as part of a trade from Emma, a long time blog friend, the white yarn is some left over Phil'Onde from one of my all time favorite sweater projects, and the yarn I selected for the iris is the Trekking XXL that I just recently used for a pair of socks for John. Since this eyeball is meant as something as a healing talisman for my sweetie, I decided that I wanted the color of the iris to be similar to the color of his own eyes, which are a lovely green with bits of brown and I wanted all the yarns to have a special meaning. The last yarn I selected (which didn't make it into the picture here) was for the "optic nerves". For this, I selected some Mountain Colors Bearfoot in reds, blues and browns which some how called out to me as appropriate for this project. This yarn was left over from a pair of socks that I knit for the woman who taught me to knit while I was in grad school.

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Look Into My Eye.... Think Good Healing Thoughts

After a few hours in the afternoon, I had a completed eyeball. It's stuffed with some left over coopworth fuzz that remained after Julie and I put the lovely stuff that Liz sent us on a drum carder. I figured if I was looking for fiber stuffing with good vibes, this last unspinnable remnants of this stuff would be the perfect stuff.

So now as we enter the weekend, John has his own personal eye healing talisman. And when things are hopefully all done and healed, he'll have a funny little reminder of all the positive energy that came his way as he was working on healing.

Finished Flower Basket

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A Finished Flower Basket Shawl in My Garden

In spite of the atrociously hot weather here in Chicago this weekend I finished my Flower Basket Shawl. This project comes from the Fall 2004 issue of Interweave Knits -- yep, I'm a little behind the curve on this one. But sometimes it takes a while to find the perfect yarn.

As it turns out, I never did find the perfect yarn, I had to spin it myself. What I ended up using was a three-ply yarn that I spun from a madder and cochineal dyed Corriedale roving that I bought from Handspun by Stefania while at MS&W in May. I think that the fact that I have gone from purchase to shawl in about 2 and a half months is probably a land speed record I'll have a hard time matching in the future. In the end, it is one of the most satisfying projects that I have worked on. There's nothing quite like being involved in the creation process at multiple levels.

I chose to knit this pattern up on US size 8 needles (5.0 mm). When I knit, it just felt like a good density for the yarn and I didn't think the fuzzy sproingy quality of the yarn would lend itself as well to an airier knit. Probably, if I had thought from the start that I was going to use this fiber to create a yarn to knit lace with, I would have chosen to mak e a two-ply instead of a three-ply. The same 3-dimensionality that is good for textured stitching such as cables is not as good for lace.

Thus, my version of this shawl looks somewhat heavier than was originally intended by the author. It also turned out smaller than the pattern specs, even after I added an additional lace repeat. One nice thing about a shawl with a singular motif (Charlotte's Web was the same way) is that whether you start it at the top (as this one was) or the bottom, it's very easy to increase the size to be where you want it to be without having to worry about gauge too much. If I'd had more yarn, I'd have added another repeat or two. But the size that it reached will still work well for a nice neck and shoulder warmer in the winter, and the fact that it is a little less airy than the pattern calls for will make it just a little cozier.

I was somewhat concerned that the sproingy nature of the Corriedale would mean that after blocking it would try to return to it's original shape. My worry was misplaced. It drapes quite well and is holding it's shape quite well. I think I'll be adding another "C" to my set of favorite sheep breeds: Cormo, CVM and Corriedale.

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Flower Basket at Full Wingspan

I believe that everyone and their dog has long since completed this shawl, but for anyone out there who still hasn't tried it or who wants to have an easy to cope with lace project as their first project, I would highly recommend this one. The lace pattern is easy to see and understand, and it knit up so quickly for me that I'm almost want to cast on another one. I've got some exceptionally yummy Brooks Farm mohair yarn in my stash which has been waiting for a purpose and a shawl like this would suit it well. I think that is another nice thing about this pattern. Whether you pick a yarn with no elasticity or a lot, you will probably end up with a nice result. The only downside of this project for me is that knitting it with a heavier yarn in the summer means that I won't really get to enjoy it until October at the earliest.

Now I'm going to have to spend some time thinking about what my next project should be. Except for socks, I've been feeling a bit uninspired lately. However, I'm getting increasingly curious about the construction of triangular shawls. Or it might be time to start getting to work on my Dad's vest again.

Sampling Sloopy

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About a week ago, Gia asked what had happened to my "Hang on Sloopy" superwash merino from Crown Mountain Farms. At the time, I hadn't gotten started on it yet because I wanted to bond with my WooLee Winder a bit more before taking on spinning a fiber I had never spun before. Believe it or not, I've not actually tried a 100% merino spinning fiber yet, and certainly not one that is prepared to superwash. So I wanted to make sure I understood my equipment well before I dove into all that orangey goodness.

When I first posted about Sloopy, I asked the one burning question I had about making sock yarn from this fiber: 2 ply or 3 ply? The answers I got summed up to "3 ply gives you the best and most durable yarn, but a tightly spun and plied 2 ply can do well under the right circumstances". In fact, I even got some email from Teyani, owner of Crown Mountain Farm. She told me that the Sock Hop yarn that she and her team of spinners create is a two ply. This was confirmed by Cheryl who is one of Teyani's spinners, who also reminded me that with a three ply, my color intervals would be closer together and the defined regions of color that would create stripes would be harder to distinguish. So now I was torn. Which way to go? I even went so far as to deconstruct some of my favorite merino yarns for socks: Koigu is a 2 ply, Socks that Rock yarns are 3 plys.

So that left me really with just one thing to do: spin up some samples for myself. With 8 ounces of Sloopy at my disposal, I didn't need to feel nervous about not having enough for a sock project after the test.

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Hang On Sloopy in 2 Ply Form

This fiber did take a little time for me to get used to spinning. I found that at the drive ratio that I wanted to spin it at (about 10:1) the take up could be a little strong as the first layer of single was wrapped on the bobbin. After a little practice I got something that I liked and that I could maintain relatively easily. This fiber is absolutely fabulous to spin with. Truly and honestly some of the nicest hand-dyed that I have put my hands on. I spun up enough so that I could 2-ply from a center pull ball and ended up with about 29 yards to play with: plenty for swatching.

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Measuring WPI and Looking At Color Variation

My 2 ply turned out to be about 17 WPI -- pretty respectable for a sock yarn. For instance, STR Medium weight is about the same WPI. I like the handle of the yarn and it "feels right" to me. Since I was shooting for reproduceability, I took some notes about this yarn. As an aside, I got to see some real Sock Hop yarn courtesy of Cara, who was visiting Chicago this weekend. My yarn is quite different from the Sock Hop yarn as far as plying goes. I think I ended up with a tighter ply. Both are neat looking yarns. I think that is part of what is great about spinning your own, you can get so many looks from the same starting point.

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Hang on Sloopy, 3-Ply

For my three ply, I started out with the same ratio on my wheel (the 10:1) and spun onto 3 separate bobbins. That was when I realized I had a problem -- I had used all of my WooLee Winder bobbins and now had to go back to one of my Lendrum flyers to do the job, so I wouldn't be able to make the 3 ply using the same drive ratio as I had for the 3 ply. Note to self: 4 bobbins is better than three. So I ended up trying out my Lendrum fast flier to try to get a similar ratio. Not such a good idea because I over plied this poor yarn in a big way. I actually had to do some untwisting afterwards, which is why this yarn looks a little bit iffy.

When I measured the WPI on this yarn, I got 16, which isn't too surprising. I usually find that with the same diameter single, my 2 and 3 ply yarns are very similar at the WPI level, it's just the dimensionality that has changed.

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2 Ply vs. 3 Ply Sloopy Swatches

But the real proof is in the swatch. So I knit up a test swatch from both yarns. The 2 ply swatch I knit on US size 1 needles, the 3 ply I knit on US size 1.5 needles to give the yarn a little more room to be lofty, while still maintaining a fabric similar to the density I would want for socks. I also put the 2 ply sock through a complete wash and dry cycle (standard washing conditions that my socks experience) to see how it held up to being washed.

The striping issue that Cheryl pointed out is absolutely true. The stripes are much more prominent in the 2 ply swatch than the three ply swatch. I also like the feel of the 2 ply yarn better both before and after washing. I've never been one to like really thick socks unless I am wearing big heavy boots and I don't do that very often. And after washing, while the yarn developed an ever-so-slight halo, it really didn't fuzz or felt at all. Nor did I experience a change in the size or gauge of the sample. I am ever so smitten with both the fiber and the resulting yarn. So I think that I will be going with a two ply yarn for this project.

I'm also pretty sure that I will be ordering more of this fiber... this swatch got a thumbs up from the husband as well (although not in such a bright color) so if I can find a colorway that meets his needs, I think he's going to get a pair of handspun, hand knit socks for Christmas.

One other thing came up in my first Sloopy post. Julie (blogless) mentioned that after washing her yarn, the orange bled and the white areas took up the orange dye. Teyani very quickly emailed me, Julie and her spinners to find out more about this since she was very concerned about the potential problem, even though Julie was not unhappy with the fiber at all (three cheers for Teyani for being so concerned about good customer experience!). Teyani is very careful about making sure her dye exhausts correctly and about rinsing carefully to get rid of free dye. As it turns out, Julie was soaking the yarn in hot water and using vinegar in the finish rinse. If you haven't ever done any dyeing yourself, you need to know two things: 1) sometimes hot water can cause dye to leach (it's good to be reasonably gentle with hand-dyed products when it comes to temperatures) and 2) vinegar sets dye. So if you work with hand-dyed fiber that has white intervals, be gentle on your fiber after you finish it and soak in cooler water and leave out that vinegar finish. I know a lot of sources recommend vinegar to help make sure your colors stay color fast, but you might want to save that advice for commercially prepared solid colored yarns.

So now it's time for me to get back to my wheel and let more of this wonderful fiber slip through my fingers!

Happy Dancing

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So today was John's 4th post-operative follow up visit with his doctor. Both of us were a bit nervous about what would happen...the prospect of another week of very restricted activity was not a happy thought for either of us. But we had a beautiful sunny day and a lot of positive thinking as we headed off to the appoinment. All of your continued good thoughts must have paid off, because the doctor decided that John's couch arrest could be lifted and he could "go about his daily business". He still has a little bit of fluid that will continue to be monitored (apparently it can take months for it to go completely away in some people) but the retina has re-attached exactly as it was supposed to and the vision in his left eye is excellent. All of this is most definitely a good thing.

Much happy dancing was done! And John agreed to pose for a picture for me with his "third eye".

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John and His Third Eye

He looks like he's got his eyes closed, but in fact, he's just squinting. They put those dilating drops into his left eye (the one with the tear) to check things out so he was a little sunlight sensitive. John's extra eyeball travelled with us to his doctor's visit (I wasn't brave enough to show it to the doctor, but I did have my hand on it while John was getting his exam, just as a little extra good luck wish!) so that it could be there to provide some extra positive energy and to make us both smile while we were waiting.

Getting that good news was like falling in love all over again -- I think we both felt like we were walking on air. I tell you, this feels so good, that if you were all here in Chicago it would be Fronteral Grill Blue Agave Margaritas (our favorite!) all around to celebrate -- that's where we're going for date night tomorrow.

You see, Fronterra is one of my all time happy places, and it has become a favorite of John's as well. Not too long after I split up from my ex-fiance, after I found an apartment of my own with help from two of my very good friends, I was feeling quite good and very much like there were only good things ahead. To say thank-you for all their support, I decided that a trip to a very special restaurant was in order. Now, bear in mind, when you make the princely sum of $14,500 a year, special does not mean Charlie Trotters. But it could mean Frontera Grill -- the more casual little sister of Topolobampo, Rick Bayless' signature restaurant. It was a wonderful evening. And it started a tradition for me. If I need to be happy, we head to Frontera. If something very good is happening, we head to Frontera. It never fails to make stressful things a little lighter and happy things even brighter. A trip to Frontera for ceviche and Blue Agave Margaritas is my ultimate happy dance.

Since I can't take all of you to Frontera, I figure that I need to find another way to let you happy dance with us. So I've decided to have a little contest! What can you win? Well since I'm a very sock-y girl of late, and since John was accompanied to surgery by some handknit socks, the winner will have their choice of two skeins of Blue Moon Sock Candy or one skein of Blue Moon Socks That Rock, Medium weight (in the color of your choice -- or at least any color that I can find out at The Fold or on the Blue Moon Website). This is enough yarn to make the "Upscaled Dragon Socks" from my "Here There Be Dragons" sock pattern. What? You say you don't have my pattern? Not sure you have the right needles? No problem at all! I'll also make sure you have a copy of the pattern and your choice of a set of bamboo (Chiagu) or nickel plated (Knit Picks) double pointed needles to help get you on your way. Rather spin up that yarn yourself? Well, if you're up for that kind of adventure, I'd be happy to substitute the yarn for some of Crown Mountain Farms supewash merino roving.

How do you win? Well, it's pretty simple! The winner of my contest will be drawn at random from everyone who sends an email containing your personal favorite means of happy dancing to happydance@keyboardbiologist.net by 11:59 pm July 31, 2006. I'll have a drawing during the first week of August to determine the winner and I will also publish everyone's happy dances on a special page on my website for everyone to enjoy. Yes, international folks are elligible! Please be sure to include your name, an email address I can reach you at, where you are from, and your blog URL (if you have one). Once I draw the winner, I will contact them directly to work out the details

And one last thing. Still got some positive energy to spare? Since we've been the beneficiaries of much good energy, I wanted to ask you all to please consider sharing a little of it with Amanda at My Only Sunshine. Amanda is going through testing for something even scarier than torn retinas: unknown areas of high density in her breasts and has been talking about it on her blog. If you have some time, please take a little of it to go and wish her good luck and good health.

Dragon Sightings

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This post is a little late today because I have a new laptop. The first thing John did after we got back from lunch was sit down and do the brain (i.e. hard drive -- yes, I know the CPU would technically be the brain, but in this case, but the hard drive has all my stuff on it, and old drivers that have to be updated, etc., and it's actually probably the more technically difficult part of the upgrade process) transplant between my old laptop and the new one he found for me (it is so wonderful to have a "computer whisperer" in the house... John found a great laptop, a Dell Latitute d810, then upgraded both the CPU and the graphics card so that I would have a very nice system indeed!). Is he not wonderful? But at work yesterday (my laptop is a very multipurpose machine) I started to have some strange problems. So yesterday evening it spent most of the night doing memory tests to see if we could track down some of those pesky problems.

Enough geek stuff, onto the knitting!

I think the best part and most scary part of selling a pattern is seeing the results that other people get from it. It's the scariest part, because you worry a great deal that someone is going to find some terrible "bug" in the pattern, something that you didn't notice even though you knit from it yourself, something that will cause people to have to rip and re-work or just waste a lot of time. Or just something that was difficult to understand, and made people frustrated with the pattern. It's the best part, because there is nothing better than watching something you designed come to life in someone else's hands and finding out that they are happy with the resutls. Seeing new color options, yarn selections and variations on the design excite me no end. I hope all of you who have bought the pattern will consider this an open invitation to send me links to your completed socks or to send me pictures. I'd really like to put together a gallery of Dragon feet!

I'm going to kick it off with a pair that Adrianna sent me pictures of: the "Upscaled" socks knit in Koigu while on vacation in Seattle.

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Adrianna's Seattle Dragon Socks

I really like this Koigu colorway. I think it is complementary to the scale pattern and both yarn and pattern show up well in the sock. Adrianna also did something that I think is a neat little detail if you want your socks to have a lacier quality. It will also give the socks a bit more stretch if you'd like them to have a little more ease.

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Seattle Dragon Heels with Yarn Overs

Adrianna replaced the "make 1" instruction with a "yarn over" . I never thought to try this myself, but I think it's really lovely and almost makes the dragon scales look like dragon wings to me instead.

Want to see more dragon socks?

Maud at the Yarn Nest has finished the socks she made for her son -- another pair in some lovely blue tones made from Novita Nalle Colori.

And Claudia, she of all things orange, took her first dragon sock with her up a mountain! She's knitting with Artyarns Ultramerino 4 in an orange colorway that shows off the scale pattern incredibly well -- and you can also see what the toe looks like if you would prefer to do a short row toe instead of the toe that I describe in the pattern.

One thing I also wanted to mention: in yarns that don't have much cotton in them (i.e. don't have much stiff structure -- the original yarn for the "upscaled sock" was a cotton yarn) you may find that the sock tops want to roll a bit. If you don't like that, then use the instructions for the top of the cuff for the "downscaled" socks and do a few rows of garter stitch at the top (you do this by alternating a row of knitting with a row of purling). You'll get a solid band at the top that will still undulate with the scale pattern but won't be so inclined to roll.

Thinking Out Loud

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Sock Swatch

Just a little scribbling in yarn as I try to work out another sock that is banging around somewhere in my head and wants to make it someone's feet.

Two Orange Plys

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Two Towering Bobbins of Sloopy

I've discovered soemthing I like very much about spinning sock yarn: 4 ounces is not very much to spin. Two ounces on one bobbin, two ounces on the second bobbin and all of a sudden you're ready to ply. If you're guessing that I have a thing for instantaneous gratification, you'd be correct.

Now that I have spun through half of the Hang On Sloopy Superwash Merino that I purchased from Crown Mountain Farms, I can unequivocally and without reservation or hesitation say that this fiber is truly wonderful to spin. When you combine it with a happy wheel with a WooLee Winder, well, it just gets better. I spun it at a 10:1 ratio and that required that I increase my drafting speed a bit to keep up with the twist, but I found it very easy to develop a good rhythm and I think the whole process helped me to improve my drafting technique. In the past I was pulling fiber out and releasing. On this I would pull the fiber out, but slide my finger down the twist to control the twist and pull out the next bit. As a result, I was always able to maintain a pretty nice drafting triangle -- something that I hadn't really been able to do before. It is true: the more you spin, the better you get.

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Shades of Sloopy

A closeup because there can never be enough orange, can there? I can hardly wait to start plying this stuff into its final form. What is it about colors like this that have the power to actually improve my mood when I think about them?

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Curious Yarns: Sprung. The Petunias Approve

And speaking of mood altering experiences, I got a very special little pick-me-up from Emma today. This gift packs mood altering color, texture and just general good friendly feelings all in 415 yards: it's a skein of Curious Yarns Sock yarn in the colorway -- or should I say colourway -- "Sprung". Even my petunias are in awe of it's happy yellows and greens. Certainly this skein is worthy of some sock designing, I think! Thank you so much, Emma!

You Can Never Have Too Many Clamps

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At least that is what my dad is always telling me. And in order to try to create a more peaceful co-existance between my Lendrum lazy kate and WooLee Winder bobbins, I took a brief detour to the Home Depot over the weekend and with the help of my very clamp knowledgeable Dad, selected a couple of cute little guys that could help me get my kate at an angle that might be more conducive to productive plying.

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Clamping Up A Kate

This actually did work pretty well for a little while, but I did have problems with the bobbins moving rightward because I couldn't get it clamped at an angle where the posts were just a little bit vertical. Eventually, I had to switch to moving the Kate onto the floor with the eye that the plys are threaded through being propped on a computer game box so I could get the kate more horizontal. There was definitely still some Kate frustration, but at least there was no ply breakage. So I am still going to have to find a better Kate solution, but this will do in a pinch while I wait for my dad to build me a custom Kate (yes, I know about the Kromski Kate, but I am thinking I might like one that looked more like my wheel. For some reason I feel like I need to be a bit matchy matchy on this issue.

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320 Yards (110g) of 2 Ply Sloopy

While I am utterly satisfied with the incredibleness of this color (yes, it really is as deliciously orange as the picture suggests), I really wish I could offer you squeeze-o-vision so that you could know what this skein feels like. I think one of my favorite parts of spinning is anticipating the magical transformation that occurs between a newly plied yarn getting a final soak and drying into the yarn it will really become. This yarn went from being a little bit lifeless to being sproingy and resiliant. Even a little bit elastic. And balanced. I just hung it outside to dry with no weighting so that it could do its thing. But there was no over or under twist.

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Sloopy Gets a Close Up

It's not perfect, but it's probably one of the best yarns I've spun to date. I love all the different shades and the happy barber-poling that I can see going on.

Some final vital statistics: I spun 320 yards and the skein weighs in at 3.9 oz, which is about 82 yards/ounce (which is almost exactly the same as STR Light, which comes in at 80 yards/ounce). I'm thinking that that should be enough yarn to make a pair of socks for me if I don't get too fancy. But it's kind of neat knowing that I still have a bunch of fiber left.... if I run out of yarn, I can always spin a bit more for myself!

More Dragon Sightings

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Not much time for spinning, knitting or blogging tonight so I thought I would share a few more Dragon Sock sightings. I think I am going to have to start a gallery of finished Dragon socks. So if you finish a pair, please send me a photo (you can use the "email me" link in my side bar) and let me know what yarn you used. And if you made any special modifications to the pattern, let me know about that, too!

This week, the theme is veering towards green dragons. First stop is to Lily of the Cat Mandala blog (at least that's how Google translated her blog name for me). Her socks are made in Fleece Artist Superwash Merino and she refers to them as her "Green Iguana" socks. Be sure to click on the link and check out her socks. I really wish I could read Japanese, but her pictures tell a nice story.

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Mary's Koigu Dragon Socks

Mary (if you have a blog, let me know) sent me this lovely picture of her Koigu Dragon Socks. This pattern introduced her to the twisted German Cast On -- I'm always glad to bring others into the fold where this fabulous cast on is concerned. I use it for almost every sock because it gives the edge a nice elastic quality.

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Kelli's Sleeping Dragon Dragon Socks

Kelli, of Knitter Bunny made her socks out of the very appropriate Sleeping Dragon yarn. She used a slightly larger needle to get a sock with a bigger diameter and also knitted some extra repeats to give her a longer sock. You can see more of her finished pictures and a great closeup that really shows off the how well the yarn goes with the pattern (I wish you could see it better in the picture above, I had to shrink it for my blog, unfortunately reducing some o the detail.) Kelli knit these socks up to be entered in her local State Fair. Good luck Kelli! I'll be rooting for you!

And just a quick reminder. If you're interested in a Dragon Sock knitting kit of your own, please don't forget to send me your "happy dance" (i.e. things you like to do when you celebrate) to me at happydance@keyboardbiologist.net. Oh, and if you send me a happy dance, you have to send it to me in English so that I can make sure that you're sending me something real and not spam.

And thank you everyone for your nice nice comments about my Sloopy yarn. Knitting will commence soon... I just have to figure out how to translate the idea in my head into yarn.

Summer Doldrums

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I am just feeling sort of deflated right now. Perhaps it is the the low barometric pressure brought on by yet another rain storm? While many of you are suffering with really terrible summer temperatures, Chicago is running a bit hot (high 80's/low 90's) and humid. All in all it's been a relatively mild summer except for the almost weekly torrential downpours. Very strange, it is. And not much fun when you have to walk home in one of them, even when you did remember to bring your umbrella. Note to self: wet linen really does not work well in a skirt.

Anyway, with my first batch of Sloopy finished and the idea that I thought would be neat for showing of the stripes not working out the way I want it to, I decided to go back to my WIP pile and see what might make for good, simple summer knitting. The Kaleidoscope vest very politely reminded me that it had been some time since I had picked it up and made any progress. And didn't I have a very nice father who could really use a new fall vest?

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Halfway Up the Back of Kaleidoscope

This picture represents roughly the halfway point up the back of the vest. While I find that it takes me quite some tme to get through 1 twenty row repeat, it is very satisfying to watch the fabric come together. The presence of some garter stitch rows helps to make the fabric lay quite flat and the combination of color and texture are engaging. The knitting is very simple, over all, and even though there is a reasonable amount of color changing, the number of ends that will have to be woven in is not overwhelming because it is possible to carry the colors up the side. And I must say, the thought of not having to deal with knitting a pair of man-sized sleeves is also quite pleasureable.

So I will work on Kaleidoscope while I contemplate socks. Amazing that relatively small sock projects can require so much thinking.

It is, without a doubt, even within the confines of my air conditioned home, too hot to knit. But it is not too hot to contemplate beer. In fact, around my house, we happen to think that a cool frosty beer is a perfect complement to a hot day. So my next two posts are going to be about homebrewing. Specifically, the secondary fermentation and kegging process, demonstrated with the help of our most recent beer, a Trappist Ale.

This post may not make much sense if you haven't seen my Beer, Part 1 post where we set up the primary fermentation. The primary ferment is where most of the alcohol generation process occurs. It's all about yeast chowing down on the malt sugars that are provided for their dining pleasure. Yeast munch on sugar and belch out ethanol and a whole collection of tasty aromatic compounds. Most primary fermentations last for somewhere between 1 and 3 weeks (it really depends on the beer and the yeast involved). We left our IPA in for a week of primary fermentation, but Belgian-style ales prefer to ferment a bit longer. We left ours in the primary fermentation for about 2 weeks, even though the yeast activity had died down after about 5 days.

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The Lid Comes Off the First Fermentation of the Belgian Ale

After we took the lid off, you could see all the hop leaves had floated to the top. One thing we decided that we like about using actual hop cones (as opposed to the hop pellets) is that they form a nice layer and are easy to separate from the beer. John is all about creating clear beer, so this was very cool to him. Apparently when you are choosing between hop cones and pellet hops (which look like little pellets of rabbit food) you are choosing the more "natural" route versus the ability to get a consistant product. Pellet hops have a very reliable amount of bittering qualities while cone hops can be quite variable, as growth conditions vary from year to year, etc.

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Setting Up the Second Fementation: Transfer to the Carbuoy

The next thing that happens is moving the proto-beer (I suspect there is an official term for it, but I haven't learned it yet) into a second fermentation vessel, in this case, a glass carbuoy. My understanding of the second fermentation is that it is mostly about letting the beer "think" and clear. No more sugar is added, so there's nothing really to stir the yeast up again, although plenty of yeast do make it through the transfer. Sometimes it is also a time to add additional flavors. Some IPAs, for instance, are "dry hopped", which means that some additional hops are added when the proto-beer goes into the second fermentation vessel.

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The Second Fermentation In Progress

Apparently, it's best to move the second fermentation to a glass vessel, because you don't have to worry about the beer developing any strange flavors as a result as sitting in a plastic pail for long periods of time. Since this Belgian-style Trappist aie needs another two weeks (at least) to consider its future, we opted for glass, which can't impart any undesireable flavors for the beer.

You can see John checking the temperature in this picture (with the help of a cat). We love our basement because it is just about the perfect temperature for brewing ales (between 68-70 degress Farenheit) and relatively dark. When we weren't checking in on the beer, the carbuoy sat underneath a cardboard box because when beer is thinking, it likes its privacy.

We had to wait two weeks for our beer to be ready for the next phase. But you'll get to find out the results tomorrow!

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