"The Nation's Leading Bi-Regional Knitting Blog" --Ann's husband • "Kay sure is wasting a lot of time on this" --Kay's husband

April 28, 2004

Boo Freakin' Hoo

Dear Kay,

I'm sitting here with my English muffin and coffee, having a moment with the New York Times Book Review. I figure: if I'm reduced to listening to books on tape instead of actually reading, I can sure as heck read a crummy book review.

So here I am, reading about this new biography of Alexander Hamilton, who (for those like me who can't remember why he's on the $20 bill) was the Founding Parent of our country who was really into, you know, economic policy.

I read this:

"While others resented him with a furious passion or gaped at him with amazement--Talleyrand considered him one of the three greatest men of the epoch--Hamilton himself was lacerated with a feeling of 'personal inadequacy that the world seldom saw.' "

And I find myself in tears, boohooing into my cup of Costco Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, imagining the poor guy duking it out with Thomas Jefferson over the future of the American economy. Oh, Al! Lacerated. You poor slob! You must have been working so hard.

Does anyone else out there have this kind of hormonal freakout? It's one thing to see a baby and burst into tears, but really. Alexander Hamilton? Get me a red tent, please. I'm going into hibernation until this passes.

Love,
Ann

Posted by Ann at 09:40 AM | Comments (39)

April 26, 2004

Suburban Hen House

Dear Kay,

Early this morning I opened the back door to bring in the milk,* and about thirty feet back, there he was: a dingy orange brown, the size of a medium dog but not a dog. Pointy nose and a bushy tail. A fox. It was the damndest thing. He froze, looked straight at me, then loped off into the bushes.

It's not like we live in the country. It's pure old suburbia here, so seeing a FOX is purely weird. A couple of miles from here there was a recent coyote scare--coyotes!--in an old neighborhood with sidewalks and bungalows. There were rumors of vicious pet attacks, and vigilante groups of uptight homeowners were agitating to hunt down the marauders. Nothing came of it, of course--some people said the whole thing was a case of coyote hysteria.

Not sure what to make of all this misplaced wildlife.

Monday Weigh-In

keava5.jpg

Just in case anybody thought I was off on a permanent voyage into furniture-related knitting, here's the weigh-in on ye olde Keava. Almost done with the second repeat. The tension is starting to even out, which is a relief. I was beginning to think this was going to be the only three-dimensional Fair Isle sweater in the world. You should see me, pokily making my way: even with my crummy memory, I've got the hang of the 18-stitch repeat.

My question for the moment: what do I do about the ends? Eek!

Love,
Ann

*Kay, I know there is a history of milk deliverers in your family, so I have to tell you: the milk man has saved Hubbo and me from serious marital strife. Early in our marriage, before we had kids and didn't know HOW EASY LIFE WAS, we had constant skirmishes over milk. We were both certain that the other should be the one to buy the milk, with the result that nobody bought the milk. A friend (bless her) said, "Why don't you get it delivered?" Well, I had no idea such an antique service still existed, but sure enough, the Purity Dairy had a fleet of milk trucks painted like spotted cows, and they'd bring you milk and butter and whatever dairy things you needed. I've seen the milk man only a couple of times, around four a.m., but when I do it's with the tenderest affection. I wonder if he knows how many customers appreciate the miraculous appearance of milk at their back doors.

Posted by Ann at 09:50 AM | Comments (32)

April 23, 2004

L'heure de Square Est Arrivee

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Dear Ann,

Salut, cherie! Look what just arrived via Carrier Husband. Michel, the husband of my friend M.J., also known as the Afghanalong's French Mail Drop, is here on a business trip. His valise was stuffed with gorgeous squares from nos amies les belles tricoteuses francaises.

Sacre bleu! In one whompin' parcel, we got 13 squares from Anne and 4 from Marie. Some of the 13 are pictured above, and here is:

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....a clever square done in self-patterning sock wool, and:

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...four in jazzy chromatic stripes.

We also got these two from another French knitter, Florence:

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...which made me think: Lily Pulitzer meets Peppermint Twist!

Meanwhile, M.J. informs me that she just received a luscious shipment of squares from Belgium! Merci mille fois!!!

Since You Asked

Yes, it's true: I have a secret felting habit. (Not that there's anything wrong with it.) I find felting so mysterious, so drippy, so addicting. It all started when I was toying with the idea of making felted Easter Baskets. It was one of those As If I Didn't Have Enough To Do kind of ideas, which was only abandoned when it was too late to act like a normal person and buy the Easter baskets.

Full disclosure: I have a history of excessive craftiness when it comes to Easter Baskets. Years ago, I was sitting in my friend Diana's kitchen, and I noticed that in every direction, as far as the eye could see, there was a charming basket. I asked Di, What's with the baskets? Are you a collector? Di told me that every spring, her mom mailed her an Easter basket filled with treats. This expression of maternal love seemed all the more touching given that Diana was in her 30s at the time. We're talking a lot of Easter Baskets. I had no children then, but I made a mental note: Easter Baskets are important.

Until the recent Felting Incident, my most extreme Easter Basket crafting episode was a few years ago when I stayed up until 2 a.m. to make these:

decoupage2.jpg

Yes, friends, this is what Self-Taught Decoupage looks like. But I achieved my goal of creating a long-lasting Easter basket, as we still use these poignant little containers to hold crayons.

But back to felting. First, like a sensible person, I followed Melissa's instructions to make a
Kureyon bowl:

easterbowl.jpg
Pretty dang Easter baskety, no?

But then I got the idea of making a tray-shaped Easter basket, with slanty corners. (For readers with MDK Sense-Surround, the soundtrack is going: Dum-de-dum-dum.) Unaware of the danger, I knit up a big garter stitch square, and then log cabinned on a mitered border. So far so good. Felted the thing like 8 times in the washing machine, until it was sufficiently boardy. Then came the tricky part. Naturally, being knitted flat, the thing wanted to say flat. Decidedly un-Easter baskety. So I resorted to my Secret Weapon:

feltedbasket.jpg

Yes, the Clothespins Plus Marcal Napkin Package Molding Technique (patent pending).

Unfortunately, even after much spritzing and Rowenta-ing, the thing just did not want to be a basket. It preferred to lie down. I realized that I could solve the problem by simply stitching the corners together, but by this time, I was Sick and Tired. I scrounged around for the store-bought 2001 Easter Baskets, inserted chocolates, and called it a night until next Easter.

The good news is: it looks like just the design for your chair covers, including the flange. The bad news: It's doll-sized. Back to the drawing board! Keep on with your upholstery crusade; I believe in you, babe.

Love, Kay


Posted by Kay at 10:22 AM | Comments (13)

April 22, 2004

Upholstery Workshop

Dear Kay,

I am beginning to think that my Alice Starmore Fair Isle chair slipcover idea is maybe not so great. I mean, I like a nice Fair Isle chair slipcover as much as the next person. But given the engineering required to get it to fit over my office chair (I'm seeing a kind of Kitchener-stitched steek-based flap flange with I-cord somehow involved), I have decided to move on to upholstery on a smaller, two-dimensional scale.

Chair pads. I need chair pads. In my kitchen I have six chairs which are in constant jeopardy of Play-Doh, maple syrup, mustard, applesauce--it's a regular Spray n Wash commercial in there. Short of replacing my chairs with a long, mean, Oliver Twist-looking bench, I need some kind of kidproof cover for those poor old chairs.

It's not a cushion I need: the chairs are upholstered. It's a cover. Something tough yet cheerful, like my second grade teacher Mrs. Champion. On a trip to Angel Hair Yarn Co., I pondered a pair of felted slippers: thick, impenetrable felt. Syrup-proof felt. I thought, what if I could cover my precious upholstered chair seats with felt? What if I used colors that appeared in the Play-Doh shade card? What if I had the chance to mess around with size 11 needles? I could give my Starmore-glazed eyeballs a rest AND actually complete something for a change.

And what if I used yarn that came from the Land o' Kay? Lamb's Pride Bulky, made with pride in Nebraska. Why, it would be poetic! And Lamb's Pride is a member of the Felting Yarn Hall of Fame. It doesn't get any better than this.

I'm off to the races at this point.

chairseats1.jpg

I have no idea whether this will work. I don't know if my idea of a trapezoid is what my washing machine will think is a trapezoid. I don't know how I'm going to hook the pad to the chair. I feel so . . . patternless. Wheeeeeeeeee!

In this unfettered, wanton state, I am desperate for advice and cautionary felting tales.

Love,
Ann

Posted by Ann at 10:38 AM | Comments (17)

April 20, 2004

Lookie Here!

seder.jpg

Dear Ann,

Hey---have you noticed this space over here in the middle? Why, look: it's our blog! Just like I remember it!

Sturm und Drang

Sorry I've been so unreliable in blabbing my every thought. My excuses are mostly in the category of 'The Dog Ate My Blogwork'. I've been overwhelmed by the effort to transform our home of many years into a Dee-Luxe Family Apartment that someone would actually want to buy. This has involved draconian paper-disposal measures, the putting out to pasture of creaky and/or crappy furniture, the borrowing of bodacious furniture, and pretty much hourly vacuuming. My wedding-present vases have been so constantly replenished with spring flowers that they are filing an unfair labor practices complaint. One of them tried to return itself to Bloomingdale's. Overtime was not what they signed up for, 12 years ago. They are accustomed to a quiet life in the back of a kitchen cabinet, working mainly on holidays, or when we have a new baby or a dinner party (equally rare occurrences). Now they know how cushy they've had it all these years.

In addition, I shopped and cooked for two nights worth of Passover short ribs and one afternoon's worth of Easter festivities. (For Cristina--here's a peek at the washi eggs .) In addition, the Teenage Dell Technician paid two visits to fix my busted Blog-o-matic, which I had previously taken apart with my bare hands in a nightmarish 77-minute telephone call with the Dell People. In addition, Carrie became Glassy-Eyed Feverish Waif for a solid 5 days last week. (She's fine now.)

Come what came, I followed Elizabeth Zimmerman's advice to knit on through all crises. Such excellent advice! I would modify it, in my case, to specify that one knit only the most soothing projects. As soon as anything needs to be counted or figured out or sewn up---stop, drop and roll!

Taro's Blankie

Every day, I found some time to work on Baby Taro's stroller blankie:

taroblankie.jpg.

The Taro Blankie is done, and just needs a do-over of the border, which I ripped out because I had done it too tightly on the first try. I'm really happy with it; it's almost as groovy as the borrowed coffee table it's draped over (designed by my friend Rick Shaver)! Here's a close-up . It was pure relaxation to watch the self-striping Noro Silk Garden transform itself into blocks of softly undulating color. I went down two needle sizes to a US 6 to get a properly weathertight fabric. Knitting to this gauge made my wrists ache, so I wouldn't do it again, but I do like the snugness. Little Taro will probably not need such a warm blanket for a while, but when he does, his Bug-A-Boo will be well insulated with toasty silk and mohair.

The Anti-Stitch

This past weekend, I went to the LYS to pick up an extra ball to finish the Taro Blankie, and I fell, hard, for Elsebeth Lavold's new yarn, Cotton Patine (there should be an accent there--pa-tee-NAY), and her book of elegant patterns for it. Feeling like a break before taking a second run at the Taro Blankie border, I made this
lavold.jpg

--for Carrie. It's the Agatha top, designed for both women and girls. In a slightly elongated Size 6, it took just over 2 balls of yarn.

It was a quick and entertaining knit, once I devoted some Scowling and Cussing to Ms. Lavold's chart for the lace motif. I always thought that the chief virtue of charting out a knitting pattern was one-to-one correspondence: each square stands for one stitch. When you are doing something that involves more than one stitch, the symbol covers all pertinent stitches. Not true in Lavold Land. 'Knit 2 together' is indicated by a symbol placed on just one stitch, and you are supposed to just know, I guess, which stitch you are supposed to knit it together with. Same for 'Slip 1 st, k2tog, psso'--a 3-stitch maneuver indicated by a mark on one stitch.

The most mysterious and metaphysical of Ms. Lavold's symbols, to me at least, was the blackened out square. The blackened out square is defined to mean 'no stitch'. Wha..? What is a 'no stitch'? When you get there, what are you supposed to DO? Observe a moment of silence? Drop a stitch? Declare that, despite strong evidence of a stitch, this is 'no stitch'? Gnashing my teeth in existential angst, I wondered: what am I supposed to do to this absence of a stitch, to this negation of all that is stitchy? Please, Ms. Lavold, tell me!

Here's what I figured out, after much cogitation. When you get to the stitch marked 'no stitch', you do to that stitch what it says to do to the NEXT STITCH, which is usually something that you do to MORE THAN ONE STITCH.

Maybe I'm a bit slow. Maybe lots of designers chart this way. I make no claim to experience in lace-knitting. I'm just saying, I think it could be a bit more straightforward. Now that I understand it, it seems obvious. But it took me a while to get there.

It's great to be back. I close with a gratuitous picture documenting that my girl did wear her Lacy sweater on Passover:

carrieron.jpg

Dayenu, y'all!

Love, Kay

Posted by Kay at 06:43 PM | Comments (22)

April 19, 2004

Speaking of Letting Oneself Go

Dear Kay,

A brief note to say that the Parade of Squares is getting to be kind of incredible. Every day (OK, every day except the two MONTHS in there where your computer was bombed) I'm surprised at what has come in. These are going to be beautiful afghans, and I can't wait until we start seeing the squares combined.

Love,
Ann

PS Beauty Korner: In a personal care aside, you know how I feel about the poorly pedicured of the world. For anyone just joining us, I feel the need to reiterate one small, Absolute Rule of Grooming: As the blossom of springtime fades, as the old cat gets kind of smelly, so too does nail polish fail. When it does, one must bid a swift farewell to failed polish. Do not let it linger. Do not think, "Oh, it still looks OK." O no, sister, be not fooled: get thy bottle of Cutex nail polish remover, and go to work.

Well, after about three weeks of procrastination and a moment of inspiration I made a little visit to The Venetian NAILS Salon, home of the Vibratron 2000 Massaging Pedicure Chair With Adjustable Seat And Bubbly Foot Spa, which looks to have all the gizmos and contraptions of the Cat in the Hat's Cleanup Mobile. After getting all tidied up, feeling kind of sassy, I head over to Clif's preschool for the noontime receipt of child. Within exactly one minute he managed to land his grubby little light-up shoe directly on my right foot. Squoosh, just like that. I have my bottle of Cutex right here. Crikey.

Posted by Ann at 02:25 PM | Comments (15)

April 18, 2004

Making Life Worth Living

Dear Kay,

While you're off cleansing your home of an accumulation of paper that would freak out a fire marshall, I've been busy.

Anybody who knits observes a few necessary traditions: the winding o' the yarn. The knitting o' the swatch. The photocopying o' the pattern. Making a copy of the pattern is the only way to keep those pattern books from falling into decay or, worse, actual use.

Well, it looks like Keava is going to be a part of my life longer than a sheet of copy paper can withstand. I've already lost two copies and had a yogurt-related incident with another. I had a moment of inspiration (in a preschool classroom, to be exact). I went to Kinko's and had the dude behind the counter preserve my precious Keava chart between stiff 'n' shiny layers of . . . hi-kwalidy wipe-kleen plastic.

I know--I'm just one step away from decoupage.

Love,
Ann

Posted by Ann at 01:22 PM | Comments (8)

April 14, 2004

New hobby: upholstery

Dear Kay,

I'm feeling so flush and clever about my newfound abilities with two-handed Fair Isle that I have rethought my current project, this Alice Starmore pullover. In a couple of weeks, at this rate, it's going to be a rilly cool

keavaslipcover.jpg

slipcover.

Here's the stunning proof that I have completed one pattern repeat of Keava.

What's great about documenting every four rows of this sweater's progress is that someday I will have a tender and complete record of its birth and early days. I look at it as something similiar to the first month of my firstborn's life. I can pretty much make a flip book of the 4,000 photographs we took of David and relive his every diaper change.

Field Report from the Institute of Yarn Science

You know that friendly email from Nina asking about the Sassy sweater I made for you? Well, her question has been eating at me like a oozing, festering sore.

OK not really. But her question--can she substitute Rowan 4-ply Soft for Fine Cotton Chenille?--is the sort of thing I wonder about in a vague, unanswerable way. How far afield can a person go in substituting yarn? Can a smooth yarn work in a pattern that calls for a furry chenille? What is the meaning of life?

So I got out my Rowan True 4-ply Botany (4-ply Soft's older sister) and had a go at it. And I quickly remembered why I hated chemistry class: accuracy counts! Keep variables to a minimum! If you're comparing swatches, make the swatches the same size! Whatever!

sassy4ply.jpg

These were both done on size 3US needles. They both come out around 26 stitches/4 inches. But they look totally different. The cotton chenille is not resilient at all, making the fabric lay kind of flat. The 4-ply wool is very stretchy, and I think it will block out nicely.

Verdict? I think you could indeed do a substitution here! Sassy would be a different sweater in 4-ply--lacy, more delicate--but I think it would be pretty. I am glad, however, that I did yours in chenille, because chenille disguises the many weirdo parts which I happen to know are lurking in your sweater.

Any other experiments you need me to do? I could see about substituting wood siding for brick on my house if you're curious about that.

Love,
Ann


Posted by Ann at 09:22 AM | Comments (29)

April 10, 2004

Eggzackly

Dear Kay,

As the fellas and I dyed eggs today, I kept feeling a weird sense of deja vu. These colors, I thought. They're so . . . familiar. Where have I seen them?

eastereggs.jpg

Wishing everybody a very Keava Easter.

Love,
Ann

*No chickens were harmed in the production of these eggs.

Posted by Ann at 05:58 PM | Comments (10)

April 08, 2004

"Supper"

Dear Kay,

I'm so distracted with my two-handed Fair Isle practices that tonight I managed to burn a pot of boiling macaroni. Do you know how long a pot of macaroni has to boil before it gets to the burned-on-the-bottom stage?

In other news of my increasing distraction, I bought a chicken the other day, intending to inaugurate the barbecue season with a festive grilled chicken. I am so busy thinking about my knitting that I punted on the "grilled" part of the grilled chicken idea and decided to go for "indoor" "grilling" also known as my oven. None of that pesky charcoal fiddling. And closer to the red-hot center of my universe, the pile of yarn balls that need my utmost attention.

Now. Some of you may have heard of a recent grilling fad. You take a chicken. Open a can of beer. Poke holes in the can. Drink some of the beer. Sit the chicken on the beer can, kind of a standing-up chicken tripod deal. Roast the thing. Drink more beer while you're watching the chicken roast. After two hours you have a tender, beery bird. If it doesn't turn out, well, the beer you drank takes the sting out of your failure.

Of course, if you're distracted like me, you neglect to buy any canned beer for the beer can chicken. So you (desperate to cook the chicken before it starts to smell weird the way that other chicken did last week) dump out a Diet Coke, and fill the can with Amstel Light.

Here is what I ended up with for supper tonight:

dietcokechickekn.jpg

"Indoor" "Grilled" Diet Coke Can Chicken

Love,
Ann

Posted by Ann at 08:10 PM | Comments (23)

April 05, 2004

Slow Knitting 101

Dear Kay,

First of all, Happy Passover! I hope you and the collected fambly folk who land at your house tonight have a splendid evening.

The Monday Weigh-In

Do you remember when you had a very small baby, say five months old? Remember when you'd hold out that tiny spoon of oatmeal, coaxing your darling to open his pink mouth and slurp it up? Remember how you'd open your mouth too, kind of bend your face into weird shapes while you watched that oatmeal find its way? "Yaaaaay! You took a bite!"

Well, that's what's going on with the two-handed Fair Isle lessons here. Weird faces. Sloooooow movements. "Yaaaaay! I made a stitch!"

keava3.jpg

Here are the past week's eight rounds of oatmeal-eating progress. I know at this point you are asking, Why are you doing this? Don't you have squares you should be making?

My answer is, I know. It's kind of torturous to watch such agonized efforts. But it really is getting easier, thanks to all those clever Fair Islers who have made such excellent suggestions. And who knows, someday I might get a sweater out of it.

Love,
Ann

Posted by Ann at 12:50 PM | Comments (22)

April 01, 2004

The News from Afghansquaristan

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Dear Ann,

Well, the mailman has come and gone, and all the March squares are present and accounted for. This month we got an amazing number of amazing squares. Many left me stunned at the skill and imagination it took to make them. (Thing I Like About Knitting No. 1,352: I can be awed by another knitter's artistry, humbled in my very soul by her talent, and still take up my own needles with a happy heart.)

It is intriguing to think about where all these squares are coming from. The Internet is a wonderful thing. We got squares from my very own zip code and squares from Hong Kong, Denmark, and New Mexico. Canada. The U.K. France. So I went to a cool website and cooked up these maps showing Provenance of Squares by:



Country

--and by:




State

Like a 10-year-old collecting State quarters, I'm hell bent on filling in the spaces on this map. What can we do to coax a couple of squares out of Alaska and Hawaii? A Mason-Dixon Knitting Dog Race? A Mason-Dixon Knitting luau, or maybe just cocktails on the lanai? Surely you can get us an Alabama square--just drive over the border and mail me one from there. I'm not a stickler for authenticity. Nobody has to show me a phone bill or anything.

Now what about the Teapot of Destiny? Into the mighty vessel of fate went one of these names for each square:

Jill R., Jessica R., Lisa Kathryn, Melanie W., Molly B., Siow Chin, Patti, Barbara, Cristina, Carolyn M, Amy Cyborgoddess, Lori, Mary Beth I., Louise M., Teep, Melanie H., Mindy, Marnie, Carrie, Mary B., Andrea, Loose Ends Melissa, Nancy D., Evelyn, Mary F., Maggi, Heidi, Debbie L., Julia T., Monica N., Melanie G., Jena, Christy, Sylvia, Rebecca, Larissa, Adrienne, Karen H., Ann M., Donna "Bliss", Ann B., Sylvia B., Pearl B., Dora P., Frances H., Gladys B., Jenny G., Ida D., Mary B., Alexandra, Kim D., Tish, and Denise.

Joseph, the Illiterate (and Therefore Unquestionably Fair and Impartial) Drawer of the Names, stuck in his little fist, fished around suspensefully in search of one that felt really good, and out came Marnie, the lucky winner of this month's bag of Rowan Felted Tweed. Congrats!

And so we enter our third month of collecting squares for Afghans for Afghans (click on the link on the sidebar to find out more about this wonderful organization). Every square we receive between now and then will put its knitter's name in a drawing for a dee-lightful bag of Rowan Magpie, a classic aran-weight wool in Shade 688, Teal. Magpie comes in 100 gram hanks, so this is 1000 grams. In other words, enough to make a poncho for two, or maybe even get down with your Debbie New self and make a boat (she really did knit a boat! it was lace! it floated, with a strapping guy rowing it!). Magpie makes your knitting look perfect, and there is no better yarn to show off those bobbles and cables we occasionally feel a yen for.

It's been a delightful month collecting so many examples of beautiful knitting. Each square embodies a simple wish to help. We do not have to look far to find accounts of destitution in Afghanistan. Our blankets will come, literally, from the hands of friends.

Thanks, everyone.

Love, Kay

Posted by Kay at 10:37 PM | Comments (27)

Knit with Your Feet!

Dear Kay,

A quick note to let you know that I have finished exactly one more row of my Keava Fair Isle sweater.

One row. Three hundred sixty stitches. Two days.

But here's the deal: the Ocean-colored stitches were done with my right hand, [whisper like the Tales from the Crypt guy] but the Chartreuse ones were done with my left hand.

I think I did two-handed Fair Isle. Three-freakin'-hundred-and-freakin'-sixty stitches, knitted from the scratchy essence of the Hebrides, dug from the peat bog of my bad coordination.

Oy! Go try knitting with your left hand. It's like it's somebody else's hand, and they're not even awake. Hello? Hold the yarn?

The thing is, the two-handed way means the yarn never gets tangled. It means that when you finish a round of your sweater, you're really done. And it means that the pattern is easy to follow. It mostly means, though, that I am having to Learn Something New. Which (big group hug) is what this is all about.

I reserve the right at any moment to get the Philosopher's Wool video that Evelyn recommends, to get every single Inox finger thimble/bobbin doohickey that Thomas recommends. I also reserve the right to pack up my yarn and send it to that Quechua lady knitting so cheerfully in our Found Objects.

Thanks for all the encouragement, y'all. I'll shut up once I get the hang of this.

Love,
Ann

Posted by Ann at 04:51 PM | Comments (12)
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