Lessons from the Hankster.

My nephew Hank is seven now and spent the weekend here, and there is no end to the things he taught me during that time.

1. I had been under the impression that the most painful thing a mother can step on (after careful research and years of experience) was a four-hole square lego piece. I was wrong.

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The smallest of these “Star Wars Fighting Guys” hurts so much to step on that you don’t even feel the emotional pain of your nephew screaming “don’t hurt my guys!” while you slowly extract an extremely small lightsaber from the fleshy part of your instep.

2. All finished sweater photo shoots should be managed, art directed and photographed by seven year old boys. When I finished Juno this weekend Hank offered to take pictures of it for me.

Here’s a close up of the button band.

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Hank said I chose good buttons. I am more pleased with the fabulous picking up of stitches. I’ve never had it go better.

Then we did some modelled shots. It took the Hankster a couple to work out how to get me all in….

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Then Hank decided that the shoot needed to be more dynamic.

He suggested I be “LOWER”

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He suggested I be “RUNNING”

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He suggested I be “SCARY”

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and this one, in which I was directed to “TRY AND BE PRETTY”

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(Photo shoots with seven year olds are not for those with low self esteem.)

Details: Juno, from Rowan #40. Yarn: Rowan Scottish Tweed Aran in “storm grey 004” from Magpie Yarns in Lexington Kentucky, held single, 5 balls to make the third size. (I have a 37 inch chest, but wanted only a very little negative ease.) I modified the sweater to make it a little higher in the front, a la Vanessa.

3. When I was taking this picture, to demonstrate exactly how much yarn I had left over when I was done the sweater (such a close finish. I was beside myself.) Hank asked me what I was doing.

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“Taking a picture to show that I only have a little yarn left”.

Hank looked at me like I had three heads, glanced around the living room (where there may be some other sorts of yarn lying around) and then said….

“So….you’re lying to these people?”

Clarity is everything. In the interest of honesty, Hank insists that I tell you that while there is only a little bit of THAT yarn left, there is some other yarn in the house, and even some other grey yarn.

4. Seven year olds learn how to do Dance Dance Revolution much, much faster than 38 year olds.

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I was unprepared for two things here. Firstly, the absolutely crushing defeat I was dealt by those two wee feet and secondly, the very real pain I felt when Hank didn’t know who David Bowie was and said that he looked sort of “Stupid”.

(Am I the only one having a hard time trying to explain the 80’s to the next generation?)

5. There is no charm greater than a seven year old buying flowers for his mum.

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Which would totally explain how he got the money out of me.

At the wheel with mixed veggies

A little while ago, a friend was perusing Abby’s hand painted stuff over on ebay and had a little falling down in the silk department. Since I’m a vegetarian, she thought (and was truly correct) that I would get a kick out of a colourway Abby had called “Mixed Veggies”. When it arrived however, it was quite a bit brighter than she had expected. Beautiful, but bright. She popped it in the mail anyway, and this is what I saw when I opened the box.

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It’s just about fluorescent. Screaming orange, bright green, livid red….Totally carrots, peas and red peppers on acid. I was stunned. Intrigued though. Rovings often do very, very strange things when they are spun up. Things that are bright and jarring are often very different when they have been processed. Things snuggle up, bleed into each other… I was sceptical, but after having read Abby’s tutorial on how to blend fibres to make tweed yarns, and seeing what unlikely colours she put together, and what a beautiful result she got with a little thought, I decided to think about it and trust her obviously intelligent colour sense.

There are a couple of things I know about spinning color. (I admit, almost all of the things I know came from the book Color in Spinning, by the very clever Deb Menz.) The first thing that I know is that spinning tends to intensify the colors in a roving. This was bad news, since if the colours in this roving got any more intense they were likely to blind an nearby innocent. I knew I was going to have to take as many measures as I could to tone down the intensity using spinning techniques so I would get something that I could enjoy, and not just as a safety product during walks in the woods during hunting season with Dick Cheney. Another thing I know is that colors are more likely to be subtle if I spin thin, rather than thick. Ok.

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I spun it sort of thin. (I’m apparently not really, totally on my silk game, since this is only “thinnish” and not entirely predictably so.)

As I began to spin, I discovered that while the colours were very bright, there was way more white in there than I thought. That made a huge difference, washing out a lot of the intensity as I spun. The singles were looking pretty good, green bled into orange, orange was tempered by white…. Should I ply? Back to Deb…

“The colors in singles multicolored yarns are clearer and brighter than in plied yarns.”

Well. If singles are brighter, then I was plying. The more plies the better, but the more plies, obviously the less yardage I would have. (I saw little point in owning 18 metres of a spectacularly blended five ply.) I decided (since I want sanity, as well as good yarn) to go with just two. (I know. A bit of a cop out.) If I had reviewed more of Deb’s book before starting I would have spun even thinner so that I could at least do a three ply and still get decent yardage, but this is a learning curve, and I’m bound to fall off it now and again.

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Two ply. Shoddy, underspun silk two ply, but kindly refer to the above statement about me, silk and the apparently sweaty and steep learning curve. The point is, I think we can agree (besides that I have spun this badly) that this:

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Is an electric mixed veggie that looks like the garden got hit with a radiation gun…. and this:

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Thanks to the spinning genius of Deb Menz and the dying genius of Abby (who turns out to dye brilliantly and not at all like she’s on acid) is very, very nice yarn that is entirely approachable and reasonable. The moral? Just what I had hoped. That rovings and the yarns you make from them are often as related as how Martha Stewart and I prioritize doing a good job of the laundry.

No Pressure

As some of you know (mostly the Canadians, admittedly) it is hard for yours truly to do the tour thing in Canada. I want to do it, I love to do it, it’s easier to do it…BUT…. It’s a very big place, and for reasons that are pretty complex (my publisher is American, I am Canadian, there is a complicated bit of border business in between) the US publisher shouldn’t be the ones booking stuff in Canada. The Canadian distributor is responsible for events here, and for reasons that are similarly complex (bigger country, more kilometres to cover, 1/10th the population, fewer cities to stop in and the fact that they only make a small portion of the profit – a hint is the difference between the Canadian and American prices on the back of all books) it doesn’t make a lot of sense (no matter how much I want them to…) for them to behave and spend money the way the US publisher does.

Understanding all this (or not understanding it, but coming to realize that “cost -efficiency” is everything in business, and while I think of this as knitting, they think of it as business) there have been only as many Canadian dates as they can manage. I did Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Montreal, Ottawa and Kingston…and more Canadian stuff is coming up, as fast as everyone can sort out all the complicated stuff. I decided though, that while everyone was doing the math, that there had to be an event here, at home in Toronto (considering that I live here- it’s not like travel was an issue) and started trying to figure out how to give local Canadians knitters the same chance to gather in an alarming herd of knitterliness that our friends to the south get.

Enter the esteemed Rachel H. the fountain from which all goodness springs. (Ok. Not all goodness, but a whole darned lot of it.) Rachel decided, since she had to go to Ann Arbor for a big knitting party – and since she would really, really like to go to another one, that it was in her own best interest to help me get it together. Since it is pretty much impossible to book anything with a bookstore without a publicist, Rachel decided she would marshal her considerable professional abilities and intellect, and become my personal publicist for the purposes of said event. I was grateful, but worried.

Rachel H. has some mad skills, but she knows not what it is like to try and convince a bookstore that you need chairs. Marketing an – well, marketing anything is easier than selling a bookstore on a “knitting event” but I gave her my blessing and she set off.

After a string of phone calls, emails and persuasion of various sorts, Rachel H. has managed to convince an events guy that if he builds it…we will come. I won’t tell you what she had to say to him about the sub-culture of knitting that runs fiercely through Canada, (nothing dirty) but I assure you, there is nothing I would enjoy more than shocking the daylights out of this store that is worried that a Knitting Event can’t pull enough people for it to be worth their time. (I forgive them everything, even the suggestion – when we asked for a downtown location with space, easy TTC and parking, that we might be happier in a “suburban” location. They just don’t know. We will show them. The scope and diversity of the knitting bookshelf at Indigo should be forever improved by this representation of knitting might.)

Your mission, my fellow Canadians (and any American Comrades who would like to aid in the revolution), should you choose to accept it:

Indigo at Bay & Bloor

(That’s the Manulife Centre)

Friday May 25th

7:00pm

It’s free, as always. Suggestions for a big honking afterparty location gratefully accepted. (It is Canada on a Friday night after all…there must be beer, or our National reputation will be shattered and the Drunken Knitters Club will be devastated.) The Hat lady for Toronto will be, well…me, and I’ll be laying your knitty love on StreetKnit.

Hope you can come, and I hope they have enough chairs.

All hail the mighty Rachel and the Indigo guy who decided to take a shot.

PS. If you were thinking about going to the Webs event (you’ve got to know people are doing it right when there is both associated charity events AND a cash bar) but were worried about space, never fear. The Webs people have your back and have moved the event to The Calvin Theatre. I think the is space for hundreds more knitters, (This threatens to be a very scary event – to say the least. Hundreds of knitters with a cash bar? Be afraid.) but they would still like you to register. I am trying hard not to interpret this move to a larger space as pressure, while being simultaneously giddy about that many knitters in one place.)

PPS. Amy is launching her book tonight at Lettuce Knit. Always a good party. If I can stop hacking up a lung long enough to be there…I will be. I do feel a little better. Though I did have to switch to a nice simple sock for knitting.

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Cold meds and cables DO NOT mix.

Please pass the tissues

Firstly, thank you for the outpouring of well wishes for my friend. Whether it was the strength of all of us lent to her or the miracles of modern medicine, she came through the surgery and this part of her journey very well. Your support was much, much appreciated.

Despite the massive wave of relief I’m feeling, I’m somehow suffering a nasty relapse of whatever cold/flu took me down two weeks ago. I’ve been trying to knit, but whatever congestion is in my lungs and nose seems to have spread to my brain, and I found myself totally unable to follow the written instructions for the cables for the collar of Juno. After two knitting sessions in which I knit, instead of the delicately interwoven cables that Rowan planned for me, some knitterly version of spaghetti, I finally ripped back the whole thing and made myself a cheat sheet.

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It’s been a long time since I tried to knit cables from words instead of a chart and it seems like I’ve totally forgotten how. I kept loosing my place in a line, messing up C4B and C4R and dudes….why can’t the whole world just do it the way I like it and give me charts?

I like to be able to see what I’m knitting, and the beauty of charts is that I can take one look at the chart and one look at my knitting and see that I’m not making anything like the picture and know I’ve arsed it up again. With words I find it hard to see how they stack up. It’s possible of course, with my head less full of the products of a head cold, to read written instructions and “see” what it’s supposed to look like, but wouldn’t the addition of a chart make it way, way easier? Am I in the minority? Do the largest segment of knitters like the words?

Now, I’m not a pattern writer or a designer, just a lowly knitter with a nasty head cold and a slightly negative attitude right this minute (those two things are probably related) and I know that there are die hard “word” knitters who hate charts, but I wonder why the writers, publishers and designers don’t give us both? Is it cultural? Is it more expensive? Prohibitively so? What say you, anybody out there with an answer? Why not provide both words and charts on patterns?

Wings

My friend is not well. She is the worst kind of not well, the sort where she feels fine, but is being told that there is a terrible invader. Her illness was discovered by accident as she was having a test for a pretty normal, benign reason. We had one of those talks. The one where your friend phones you and tells you that “they found something” and then there is much reassuring talk about how it will turn out to be nothing and we will all laugh about this big scare and giggle madly about how it’s just like this friend to have the audacity to worry you. She phoned a few weeks later. It was not nothing. It was something. A bad something.

The irony of having your health at the gravest risk it has ever been, while you feel absolutely terrific is hard to absorb. The idea that she will need surgery to remove something that she cannot feel and isn’t seemingly being injured by….well. She is scheduled for major surgery on this afternoon and I am a knitter. The only thing I could think of was to knit something. I looked up (because I am holistic medecine hippy type) what might help her and discovered that rose quartz (the stone) is good for the kidneys. It stimulates kidney regeneration- that seemed especially good for someone having kidney surgery and it balances anger and tension…which I thought would be fantastic, since if I had kidney cancer, I would be seriously pissed. Rose quartz grounds you, aids in communication and increases creativity. Rose quartz sounded perfect, but I am a knitter….and you can’t knit crystals. Oh…

Wait.

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Sure enough…Blue Moon has a colourway…Rose Quartz. Three skeins of the heavyweight were procured, and knitting commenced…or ..almost commenced. What to knit?

I knew I wanted something big and snuggly. Something she could take to the hospital and wrap herself in. Something she could leave lying around to look at. Something sturdy. Something safe.

A shawl.

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I didn’t want to make her anything fragile. I wanted something that would make her feel tougher…. a really tough bit off knitting that could take whatever heat is headed my friends way. Something to be a barrier between her and some of the hard things she will be doing.

As for pattern, that was easy. Each time my friend has left a doctors appointment of some import, as she makes her way home an eagle has crossed her path. Remarkably, the day she was diagnosed one landed right in front of her, other days they cross her path…wide wings sweeping her way. She felt, as did I, that the eagles were a message. A powerful portent of well being, an omen of good. As she told me of another encounter with an eagle and how strong and safe it made her feel, it came to me.

I would knit wings. Feathers.

I scoured stitch dictionaries. I swatched, I knit, I ripped back. The Rose Quartz dripped off the needles as I worked it out. I chose “alternating lace” (page 58, volume 2 of the Harmony Guides) and knit that for a while. I started at the back neck, increasing four stitches each right side row. One at each end and two either side of a centre stitch. As I had more stitches, I took them into the pattern.

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When I had enough of that pattern I went back to the stitch dictionaries and found “Trellis-Framed Leaf Pattern” – from Barbara Walker 1 (which claims to be leaves but really looks like feathers to me.) I sorted out how best to begin it so the patterns would flow (sort of) from one to the other,

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and I kept knitting.

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The Big Pink Thing got bigger. I knit an edging, one that looked feathery to me. (Adapted from Heirloom Knitting.) I kept knitting.

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I blocked it, and it got bigger. In the end, The Feathers Shawl was about 2.5 metres from tip to tip.

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That’s about 8 feet. (For the record, that’s just three skeins of STR Heavyweight)

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A Rose Quartz heavy weight shawl, with the feathers of her totem eagle knit in, warm and sturdy to wrap around her. I know that really, when your friend is sick and far away, that knitting can really do very little to actually care for them, but since all I can do is knit a big pink thing and mail it, then I sincerely hope it helps. I truly feel she will be fine, but it wouldn’t hurt if she was held for a moment in your thoughts today.

The old switcheroo

Véronik Avery rescued me. I was all torn up, trying to decide between ripping the back of the sweater for a do over and trying to learn to live with imperfection in my knitting. (I accept it in humans, it’s in yarn that I am inflexible.) I was reading the comments from people like Karen (who wrote a brilliant Shakespearean “To rip or not to rip” and Dez (who corrected a pretty significant error in the universe by re-writing the Devo song “Whip it” into “Rip it”) who urged me to not fight the person I am… and I knew it too. I knew that as much as I didn’t want to rip it back, I would have to. I knew that having shoulder seams like this

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would make me nuts. I knew it would be all I could see in the sweater and I knew that considering that my time and yarn is worth something, that I shouldn’t let myself down that way. I knew it needed to be ripped, but I was still trying to find a way out. I kept looking at the cast on edge, wishing that there was something I could do about it, so I could just flip the damn piece over…but my fountain of inspiration was empty. (There is also the fact that all I did was sit and stare at it, drinking coffee morosely instead of hitting a couple of reference books or trying some stuff out on a swatch, but I was pouting, and that’s quite time consuming.) That’s when I get an email from Véronik, with the appealing subject line of “Don’t Rip!” or something equally attention grabbing. Véronik, who understands things like why cast-on edges and seams need to match or madness will ensue, suggested the following.

1. Unpick the cast on edge. This is fiddly and annoying, especially with a sticky yarn like this one. I amused myself with I picked away at it. (Psst. KT? The scotch you gave me finally came in handy.)

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2. Flip the piece over, making the front the back and all the knits – purls.

3. Use Montse Stanley‘s “stem stitch bind-off” with my new right side facing,

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and create a new edge that looks just exactly like the long-tail cast on edge I had before.

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Problem solved – No ripping. Véronik, quand je viens à Montréal, Je vous dois une bière!

The sock gets around

My efforts to show Virginia‘s sock yarn the best possible time continue apace. This weekend I got dancer/choreographer Mojo on it….

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That’s the lovely Andrea Nann, seen looking not at all exhausted after opening night of “The Whole Shebang” . (That’s Josh Finlayson being all quick in the back there. ) I had a very lovely time and everything was beautiful and I managed to hang out with all of the people Joe knows without making a fool of myself, though I did eat an improper number of potstickers at the reception. (I am unclear about what the proper number may be, but I know that I exceeded it.) In case the sock was not impressed enough, Suzie Ungerleider (Oh Susanna)

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took a quick turn. She has a new album just out. (Joe did some of the recording for it.) Impressed? I was, but the sock is getting harder to impress. (The best part of the evening was watching Joe try to explain the sock. Me, I don’t. I just ask them to hold it.)

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Safely in the mail, the Big Pink Thing is out of my life and making it’s way to my friend. (I sort of miss it.) I’m tracking the package online, having paid a rather exorbitant amount of money for speed to make up for how long it took to dry. They are promising it will arrive today by five, but I know Canada Post is a big fat liar and don’t expect much until Monday morning. I took many pictures before it left. When she gets it…you’ll see it.

When I got back from the post office I sat back down with Juno. It’s very simple knitting so far, and after the knitting on Big Pink, pleasantly straightforward and lovely. It’s a pretty big gauge too, so it zooms along.

I’ve got both sleeves done, the back done, the left front done and I’m motoring through the right. I’m knitting quickly since I’ve started to fear I won’t have enough yarn, and there is part of my brain that – even though I know it can’t be true, believes that knitting things quickly uses less yarn. (Oh c’mon. You know you think that sometimes too.)

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The only thing that slowed me down was that after I knit the back, I couldn’t make the fronts work right. I cast on and ripped it out four times before it occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, since I am a pretty solid knitter and this is a pretty simple pattern, that the fault did not lie with me. I checked the Rowan website and sure enough…there’s a mistake in the pattern. Several. Might want to print those out and stick them in your magazine if you think you might have even the vaguest notion of ever knitting this one.

Thing is, while I’m sorting out the fronts, I notice that there are corrections listed for the back as well, except I’ve already knit the back and it knit up just fine, near as I could tell. Fine that is, until I knit the fronts the right way and discovered that the error is that the ribs aren’t going to line up at the shoulder. The correction establishes a completely different order to the back ribbing. Left as it is, the ribbing is going to be entirely offset, rows of knits butting up against rows of purls – there will be no lovely and orderly matching of ribbing at the seam. The side seams will also be not quite right, but there are increases and decreases along them, so I’m not convinced the blunder will be obvious.

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I’m making up my mind now. Considering that the shoulder seams are hidden under the big collar and the sides are perhaps not a glaring botch-up…does it matter that it won’t match? Do I let it go? Do I rip it back and reknit the whole piece on principle? Is it going to bug me forever if I don’t? I could simply flip over the back, making the right side the wrong side, the knits all purls, but then my cast on edge wouldn’t match all the way around the sweater and that would show, and I think that would drive me nuts. Perhaps I could reknit the left front and the half of the right front and make them deliberately wrong to have it match the back? It would be less work than redoing the whole back, since I do have a half a front to go. I keep looking at the whole thing and feeling pissed that the pattern was wrong trying to figure it out. One part of me keeps saying “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right” and the other keeps saying “Perhaps you are a smidge overwrought about this thing.”

How much does perfection and matching matter?

Sigh. To rip, or not to rip. That is the question.

Willing evaporation

The Big Pink Thing is done.

It was actually done yesterday at about 5pm, right before I went to knit-night. I put it in the washer with a little woolwash, soaked it for 10 minutes (I would ususally go longer, but time is not on my side here.) then put it on the spin cycle to get it as dry as possible, spread it on my bed (it did not fit. We have a queen size bed. This should tell you something of the bigness.) and left. I was hoping, for reasons that are too optimistic and stupid to believe now, that it would be dry when I got home. Not so much. Today, after sleeping in a damp, wool smelling bed, I have been drying it with a hair dryer while a fan blows over it. I am very, very open to other ideas – as is Joe…who also slept in a big damp bed.

Send evaporation thoughts. Big Pink Thing needs to make the evening courier run to be in it’s new home on time and I am opposed to mailing damp knitwear.

As for what Big Pink Thing is, or why it has been knit…all will be revealed in the fullness of time. (That’s Monday.)

Showin’ the knitwear a good time

Big Pink Thing and I were not having so much fun last night. Big Pink Thing refused to make progress, and I began to knit with contempt.

It seemed to me that though I had knitted all day, Big Pink Thing was not any bigger. I knit and nothing happened. The ball of yarn was no smaller, the end of it was not even dawning on the horizon. Big Pink Thing was resisting my charms. We needed a change of venue.

I rammed Big Pink Thing into a bag and headed to the pub for a pint.

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In the background is our friend Jeremy Down and his accompanists for the evening, Don Kerr and Jim Bish. (There are too many links for Jim. I can’t pick one.) I sat. I knit. I drank beer. I knit. I listened to music. I saw some other knitters (they shall not reveal the true nature of The Big Pink Thing, although they can tell you it is big.) I knit and knit and I stopped worrying about whether or not I would make the deadline. I ordered another pint. (There’s a fine line here. I’m aiming for just enough beer to take the edge off of The Big Pinkness, but not so much that I make mistakes and incur more Big Pinkness. Skill and Practice my friends, that’s how you do it.) I listened to more music. I knit. I got Jeremy to hold the sock…

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It cracks me up that he did it. Jer doesn’t follow the blog and I know for a fact that he was just holding the sock because he’s a bit of a scenester and totally didn’t want to look like he didn’t know about the sock in case the sock thing was cool and huge.

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He didn’t ask me anything about it. Check him out trying to figure out how to manage the sock and hold onto his cool.

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I didn’t even try to explain that what’s cool about the sock is that the sock isn’t cool. It’s just an ordinary sock out in the world having a good time. You can try all you want and the sock just isn’t going to let you be a scenester.

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The only way to be cool with the sock is to give up. Be one with the sock. Think not of your coolness but only of the presence of the wool.

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Jer’s a great guy, a longtime friend, a fine human and a talented musician, but he might be reaching for the sock scene….you know?

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Little does he know that in his search for ultimate scenester cool, that I have just released his inner dork and whapped it up all over the internet. (That’ll learn him not to pay attention to the sock. If dude is going to have a couple of pints and fall for a sock trick, there’s just nothing I can do to help him. It’s just too easy…ya know?)

In any event, Big Pink and I spent a whole lot of time sitting in the pub together while Jer and Don and Jim made music and Joe ran around doing sound guy things and at the end of the whole night….

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Well. Okay. It looks about the same – but trust me. It’s bigger.

24 hours to go.