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Why You Don’t Have Your Mitten Yet

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Why You Don’t Have Your Mitten Yet

Writer, illustrator, and knitter Franklin Habit joins us for his monthly column featuring humor and insights into a yarncrafter’s life.

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Chances are I am never going to knit anything for you.

It’s not that I don’t like you. Of course I like you. You’re interested in yarn and you’ve come all this way to read something I’ve written; how could I not think well of such a person?

No, it’s not about you. It’s about time, and having too little of it. There is but one of me, and there are many of you. Even if I should promise to knit each of you a single mitten I couldn’t keep that promise before I drop dead.

And what kind of off-kilter gift is one mitten, anyhow?

You make things, so you know how it goes. You learn to make things and are so excited at having learned to make things that you want to make things for everyone. But you are a novice, and it shows. Your work is earnest, but uneven. The things you make are not much in demand.

“Is that…a hat?” says the person in the next cubicle when she spots you merrily stitching away during your afternoon break.

“Yes!” you cry. “Yes, it’s a hat. I’m making a hat. Would you like a hat? I’ll be happy to make you a hat. What color hat do you want?”

“Uh…” says the person in the next cubicle.

With practice your work grows not only even, but accomplished–and possibly splendid. The person in the next cubicle changes her tune.

“Would you make me a hat?” she says. “I would totally pay you. Ten bucks!”

However, you have come to know well what decent materials cost, why it’s important to use them, and how much time (there’s that word again) it takes to finish a hat. Ten bucks falls shy of the target. You explain this to the first, second, and third persons who ask for a hat. While explaining this to the fourth person, you notice his eyes have gone glassy even before you’ve reached the end of the bullet points on the slide headed “Wool: Nature’s Miracle Fiber.”

You cease to explain yourself, and simply say no.

You evolve criteria which determine who will or will not receive a hand-made gift. This may be as simple as one question (“Are you my mother?”) or may involve spreadsheets, algorithms, and a Magic Eight Ball. Either way, you make selectively and for the chosen few.

That’s where I’m at. Suffice it to say, these days it’s easier to smuggle a Fabergé egg out of the Kremlin Museum than it is to get a knitted gift out of me.

And yet.

Every fortress, every citadel, every heavily-guarded subterranean bulletproof vault has a weak spot. Mine is babies.

If you’re a baby and I am in a certain mood, you are not leaving the room until I have measured you for a sweater. Doesn’t matter if you’re no relation to me, or I’ve just met you, or your father was my secret high school crush who went on to marry the prissy organist at the First Methodist Church who will never, ever make him as happy as I could. Come here and get your sweater, baby.

One such was born about two years ago to a good-friend-of-a-good-friend and ended up (somewhat to the mother’s bewilderment) with a tiny red cardigan I knocked out in five hours. My good friend’s good friend sent me photographs of the wee recipient wearing it and grinning madly. Most gratifying.

Just last week, my good friend’s good friend sent me more photos–of a new baby, aged two months, wearing the sweater. They’d not only used it, they’d saved it, and used it again. Profoundly gratifying.

Of course you can’t have the poor thing sitting around in just hand-me-downs, so I’ve cast on for a new tiny (green) cardigan. It won’t take much time. You don’t mind waiting a little longer for that mitten, do you?

Thank you. I knew you’d understand.
—–
Writer, illustrator, and photographer Franklin Habit is the author of It Itches: A Stash of Knitting Cartoons (Interweave Press, 2008–now in its third printing) and proprietor of The Panopticon (the-panopticon.blogspot.com), one of the most popular knitting blogs on Internet. On an average day, upwards of 2,500 readers worldwide drop in for a mix of essays, cartoons, and the continuing adventures of Dolores the Sheep. Franklin’s other publishing experience in the fiber world includes contributions to Vogue Knitting, Yarn Market News, Interweave Knits, Interweave Crochet, PieceWork, Cast On: A Podcast for Knitters, Twist Collective, and a regular column on historic knitting patterns for Knitty.com.

These days, Franklin knits and spins in Chicago, Illinois, sharing a small city apartment with an Ashford spinning wheel and colony of sock yarn that multiplies alarmingly whenever his back is turned.

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71 Comments

  • My office has 3 babies due Feb 4-6, in an office of about 100! 50% of the time I can’t finish a baby item before the intended recipient grows too big for it. I need to find the time (ha!) to create a baby gift cache.

    • Janet, when no one in the office is pregnant, make a few 5 Hour Baby Sweaters and stash them. Or take all of your swatches and make a baby blanket. I’ve done this for years, in spite of the fact that my DD and one of my two DILs are past the baby stage. Someone, somewhere, in the not to distant future will need an instant baby gift. When you use one, make one to replace it.

      • What a great idea!

      • sure is a good idea you have,I am crocheting and knitting baby stuff this year,I do not have any grand children,so this is what I figure I would do,go ahead and make the stuff for the grandchild,then it’s here in case I am not by the time they decide to have children!! lol

        • Another thing is that baby items are good ways to learn new stitch patterns and things like shaping, joining pieces, and embellishments. They are a good means of learning how to alter a pattern and to wing one on your own.

      • Ahhh but then you get overly confident in the stash of cute baby woollies you’ve amassed and suddenly the demand cannot meet the surplus or the knitting time! I have yet to catch up with my normal cache of a half dozen sweaters/blankets as there has been a boom in babies! I figure sooner or later it WILL slow down and I won’t have to knit to gift anymore! LOL

        • Oh, please, last year it seemed like every other month I had another baby coming, both within the family (including the adjunct kids) and every woman of child-bearing age in my division!. No, once I have a couple of them stashed I go on to other things.

      • Hello there! Where can I find instructions for a 5 hour baby sweater? Thks in advance!

    • Winter is the perfect time to make baby afghans – my husband and daughters were constantly on me to make baby afghans for their friends, so much so that I took to knitting and crocheting baby afghans (which also double as lap afghans!) in solid colors of pink, blue, yellow, green, and white. Suddenly the well of pregnant friends went dry and I ended up with two large Hefty bags of assorted baby/lap afghans (that ended up being donated to charity) but I still had plenty of yarn left for the new friends’ potential gifts, which I still continue to make. (Come here and get your afghan, baby!)

  • Knitting for a knitter is like taking coals to Newcastle, so don’t worry about not knitting for your knitting scene fans, Franklin.

    • Oh, bite your tongue, Orange Swan! Knitting for a knitter is a wonderful gift. Nobody knits for me, except for a pair of slipper-socks my husband made for me. I treasure them. I would treasure anything made especially for me, because I understand the time and energy and love that went into it!

      • I suspect that other knitters and those few non-knitters of discerning palates are the only ones who truly appreciate the gift of a hand-knit item.

  • Yesssss!

  • Absolutely agree! I always say I don’t take commissions, but I am Soooooooooooo tempted by those little cuddly babies who, after all, only need little teeny, tiny knitted things don’t they?

  • If you volunteer to TEACH them how to knit and make their own hats, they probably won’t bother you again because, subconsciously, they know it’s a lot of work!

  • I understand–and add one word–TWINS. It’s hard enough to knit 1 baby blanket–but 2? and 2 new born hats, and 2 boob hats, and 2 little sweaters, and then 2 more, because mama the the little sweaters were 2 big and wanted something that fit perfectly, instead of being almost fits, grow into. Two new hoods for winter time (since new hats can’t have ties, and they pull off hats), and now mittens and booties, and double everything.. The first quarter of this year, it will be 1 project for me, and 1 for the girls (that is 2 of something!)

    • I have one granddaughter to be born in 3 weeks and another in 3 months. I am knitting and crocheting lace christening dresses, hats, booties, afghans and sewing the slips (to be embroidered with the initials and baptism dates) to go under the dresses. I think I’m developing carpal tunnel. But there is no time to let it heal. Maybe I can do just ONE MORE ROW before going to bed! It’s been a long time since I’ve made something for myself. The two older granddaughters are always getting something hand made from Grandma. Now there will be four girls to sew, knit and crochet for.

      • Lucky! No grandkids and my grown child are getting tired of socks and headbands. Made one of them a sweater she “loved so much” and it;s never been worn- NEVER again. Would love to make a baby ANYTHING

  • People are forever asking me to knit them wool socks. I tell them, “Sure! You go to X LYS to buy sock yarn – the staff know me and will help you choose – and I will knit you socks.” No one has ever come back to me with yarn. The staff at the LYS report that only one person ever came looking for yarn and when they found out the price, they left empty handed.

    • That’s my answer now as well! I tell them what type of yarn, where to buy it, and how much of it to get. If they want something with a specific pattern that isn’t owned by me or free, I tell them where they can buy that too. Surprisingly enough, after finding out the cost I put into making things I don’t hear anything more about it.

  • Nailed it. My answer is that I only knit for people I love. Or babies.

  • My reason for knitting for myself is a tad different. I was gung-ho to knit for others until this Christmas. Not that I had any time the past couple of holidays to do such knitting; in fact, I had one scarf in a bag that I’d delivered half-finished to the recipient, then promptly reclaimed it so I could finish it. That was in 2008. I’d foolishly tried to make one in camouflage colors for one nephew-in-law, and one in blues for the other. The camouflage one was finished; the blue, notsomuch. It’s a lovely cabled pattern with a pretty variegate yarn (Lion Brand, ironically). It does not look “homemade”.

    I happened across the long-lost gift this fall and became determined to complete the UFO. I even brought it with me to my family festivities, intending to knit while there. I held up the bag and said to the scarf’s intended recipient, “remember this? The scarf I was making for you? This year, I shall finish it!” Triumph gleamed in my eyes.

    He shifted with discomfort. He looked everywhere but at the scarf. When he mumbled, “I have a better idea–why don’t you *not* finish it, or better yet–give it to someone else”, I was so shocked I blurted out, “Really?” to which he replied, “Really. I think that’d be a good idea”.

    He wasn’t saying it nicely. He said it like receiving that scarf would be the equivalent of a bag full of dog leavings.

    I felt like saying (but bit my tongue), “Well, I’m sorry it didn’t come with a receipt to be returned for something you’d rather have; but I’d picked out the colors with you in mind, dear NIL, and crafted every cable with loving care, imagining it keeping you warm. If that is less meaningful to you than a store-bought name brand, fine. I *will* give it to someone else. I’ll frog it and use the yarn to make hats for people who
    will really appreciate my work–people who don’t have a hat, let alone
    someone to make one for them.And for you, nothing. NO SCARF FOR YOU.”

    And that is why I knit for myself, thankyouverymuch. I have yet to find my Kryptonite, but apparently, Franklin, you’ve found yours, and they are small and smell of powder.

    • Oh, Jeanne, I would have said that to my nephew-in-law, and not bitten my tongue. All of my siblings have received handmade items by me over the years. When the info is leaked back that the gift was re-gifted, I struck them off my recipients list.

      • I’m all for regifting when the item doesn’t suit you, but… hand-crafted items are a different story! I’d have struck them, too. Oh, but I sound so bitter, LOL! I’m not, really. But disgusted, definitely.

    • such a rude person! my grandma used to crochet things for us when I was a kid and we loved getting her Christmas gifts every year, even though my mother made fun of her for being “cheap.” I still remember grandma and her efforts fondly. We were poor and didn’t get a lot of gifts so it was just wonderful having something extra to open, even if the gifts were not expensive or super cool. A friends’ kids that I made house slippers for were super happy that I gave them gifts and said they always need warm things to wear in the winter.

      • Cheap? Yarn isn’t cheap to people who are living hand-to-mouth. Time is even MORE precious to many of us, which is why so many crafters do NOT knit or crochet gifts. There simply isn’t time enough for everybody to get a gift, no matter how small the item or how easy the pattern.

        • my mother said grandma’s gifts were “cheap” – not me! don’t yell at ME for what my mother said! This one appreciated grandma’s gifts and I was impressed that she made time for her 7 grandchildren. My mother’s relatives did not send us anything!

          • I didn’t mean to seem that I was yelling at YOU, sweetie – I’m so sorry! I should have been more clear – and I should have also asked if there was some animosity between your mother and grandma for her to make such a comment. Please forgive my clumsiness?

          • thanks for your apology. my mother dislikes anyone who is not like her and she always put my father’s family down. really, I always wondered why she even married him.

    • Maybe he could have been less awkward, but at least he gave you the chance to waste no more time on him. Better than seeing it in the dog’s bed the next visit.

    • At looked at your story differently………maybe he was hurt that it took you soooo long to try and finish it. Like he was the less loved family member!!! If you had finished it shortly after Christmas….you may have gotten a much different response.

    • The problem of making things for others is their inability to appreciate all the thought & effort involved. I made things for my niece & nephew this year (age 10 & 14)…the nephew turned up his nose, the niece promptly put on her socks and giggled with glee! I attribute this partly to the age of my nephew & the presence of his cocky, haughty best friend when he opened it. The niece has been heavily crafting on her rainbow bands loom…amazing the difference that tiny bit of crafting experience can make.

      Whenever someone rejects my gift I think about Thich Nhat Hanh’s story about the woman who used to bring him jackfruit curry every weekend. He hated jackfruit, so he would graciously accept the gift, but promptly give it to another who loved it. He used this story to convey how one can be completely ignorant of what our loved ones truly enjoy and so fully immersed in what we think they *should* enjoy. He emphasized that it is important to sacrifice our own desires and opinions and give with the sincere wish for the recipient’s joy. So after consideration, I realized my nephew’s age meant that a lime green cowl (although matching his snowboard jacket) may not have been the best choice, and however much I hate to think about it, he would have probably enjoyed socks like I made his sister , but in his snowboarding colours, much better, or something related to his ipad – although not as personal from my perspective – he would have appreciated it more.

  • Oh so true, so many people who want knitted items so little time to knit them. I have mittens, I knitted them but I chose carefully who I knitted a pair of mittens made in alpaca and silk yarn. Once only and never again, that’s it done!

  • The writer is so right about those who ask, without realizing the cost of yarn and my time.
    I knit prayer shawls for a local church, when I want to. I also knit scarves for our neighborhood’s secret santa drive. I have to start early to give myself sufficient time. Otherwise, I would drive myself nuts.
    I don’t give into the pressure of someone wanting some hand knit and ask for it in an ungracious manner. Too busy,

    • I crochet prayer shawls for my church. I found some beautiful alpaca blend wool, in the intended recipient’s favorite color, only to find the alpaca irritated her chemo-sensitive system. The good news? She is recovered, and asked that the shawl be passed along to another in need. Note to self: no more alpaca!

      • I think that this is why LB Homespun is the yarn suggested on so many Prayer Shawl patterns.

        • Thanks, Deebee. I’ve used Homespun, and it has worked out very well.

  • My husband makes things for me, so I knit for him. I don’t woodwork & he doesn’t knit. We stay with our own talents.

  • Last Christmas I crocheted a bowl for a friend; she wore it as a hat. This year, for her birthday, I am sending a cowl, with a definition of what it is, just in case.

  • It is so important that the recipients of my knitted items be knit worthy, not an easy status to acquire.

  • Well said. I am 84 yrs old and knit for most of my extended family. I never have had anytime to do domething for ME. I would love it (whatever it was) if someone would make something for me. I would love it and cherish It for all the time and effort that was put into the project.

  • Babies are my weakness as well. My poor husband is still waiting in his sweater…don’t even mention my own!

  • I knit and crochet for family and select friends. I say no all the time to people that want me to knit, crochet, quilt, tailor for them. No itme and they want it at Walmart-Mart prices.

    However I always make a baby blanket for any co-worker having a baby or grand baby. So this one time a co-worker hounded me until I gave in and agreed to make a baby blanket for her friend who was having a little boy. I picked a complicated pattern to crochet with three different colors of blue in a very nice yarn. When I finished it I took it to work for the coworker. I told her that since I don’t generally do this she could just reimburse me for the cost of the yarn. After all we did have to work together. She was aghast at the cost and said, “I just went to a whole bunch of garage sales this weekend and picked up several afghans for $1 a piece.” It was all I coykd do to keep a lid on it. She paid me for the yarn. I never heard whether the blanket was appreciated or not.

    I resolved right then and there that no one would ever wear me down again. To date I have made nothing for anyone that makes requests. I just say you can’t afford me.

    • I absolutely love that phrase!! “You can’t afford me” is going to be my new response when people ask for things

  • I have a dear friend who gifted me with mohair he brought me back from New Zealand with one caveat – that I make something for myself! That was the best present ever – permission to make myself something beautiful. It’s my favorite sweater.

  • If only my grandchildren would do that, then together we could finish what I want to make for them. My daughter had the audacity to have 3 babies in 3 1/2 years PLUS my primary care doctor had a baby. THEN I had surgery on my back and literally received my life of 15 years ago back. How can you fully thank 2 doctors who take a woman who walks at a right angle and perform a huge and delicate 8h spinal surgery which has allowed me to walk upright again?? And since my health had been so poor that my primary care doctor would not clear me for the surgery (she was afraid I would die on the table) I need to thank my Infectious Disease doc, too, since he cleared me for the surgery! Soooo!!! I have some lovely baby alpaca yarn in 3 different colors and am making each of these wonderful men a hand knit scarf. What else do you give to someone who has performed such a miracle for you??? You knit them something!!!

    • Congratulations, Mary Lou, on your wonderful recovery and on having such amazing doctors! They do deserve hand-crafted items from you! Best of luck and may you have many more years of knitting and walking comfortably!

  • I feel really fortunate. I knit for several family members including my teenage grandson and they love and use the things I make. I usually consult them for color/style before I leap into it so I have some sense of what they like. I’m a retired homebody so I don’t have a large circle of folks asking me for things. If I did, knitting for babies would certainly be my choice!

  • Heartwarming, and all too true.

  • I’d be glad to knit your hat, mitten, or whatever you want. The homes of my friends and family are stuffed with my handmade items. They don’t want any more.

    • P.S. Franklin…Love, Luv, Luuuuuvvvvvvvvv your blog posts!!!!!! THANK YOU!

      • Jean, that is the prettiest doll dress I’ve ever seen. It must have taken a while to make.

        • Thanks, Carol. I found the pattern on Ravelry. It is an easy pattern. It is called, “Katie’s New Dress.”

  • Thank you, Franklin. I have learned that most people who request items do not realize the time involved. I have learned to say I will be happy to give them knitting lessons. So far no one has taken me up on it and they go away. Recently I did succomb. A work colleague said that her mother was unable to finish a coat for her brother’s dog due to arthritis. As if playing the mom, dog, and arthritis cards simultaneiously was not enough, she added that her brother and his wife did not have children so Zoe was their fur baby. They sent pictures of Zoe in her new brown and purple coat. I was gratified that it fit.

  • I currently have 12 projects on my “want to make” list. And that’s only my crochet list- I also “have to” sew, rug hook, paint, and do many other crafts(to keep my sanity!)
    Yes, time is a treasure!

  • I love my “virtual mitten” and the laughs that you gave me. I could relate completely with everything you said, Franklin! You can join my knit group anytime!

  • I learned early not to make handmade gifts for people that don’t do the same type of crafting.I call it Vivian’s law, named after a friend who bought an antique coffee table with a marred leather top under glass. She wanted a giant doily crocheted to put under the glass to cover the leather. I obliged and when it was finished, showed her how to block it to the proper size and it looked great. A year later she inexplicably decided to wash the doily although it was pristine under the glass, neglected to block it and it “grew.” She took the scissors to the excess to trim it to size. Another year passed and it disappeared completely. i”m sure she washed it again and it unraveled. All the gifts I have handmade for other crafters are still intact or were used until they were worn out from years of love.

  • I actually sent a crocheted blanket that was shorter on one side; let’s just say it was Wonky. because i did not have time to rip and star again by the time I found the error.
    You read my mind with this one!

  • I must crow a little about my grandson (11 yrs old now) I made a simple scarf from fleece and embroidered it by machine with his favorite animal, a Hippo! He was so delighted, he kept saying “my first scarf, my very own scarf, my first scarf.” I also knitted him a dinosaur sweater with spines that stood out. Someone teased him about it and he told me he’d always wear it because I made it for him. (He was only about 7 at that time) I nearly cried.

  • I made one mitten for a friend and showed it to her at Christmas. I told her I was just about to start the second. That was 4 years ago.. Recently she said, “Oh, but you made me those mittens!” I didn’t have the heart to remind her that, no, I never finished. But apparently she didn’t know she had never received them.. So..
    Last New Years I made a resolution to make more things for myself because I had given so much of my work away I had barely anything to wear and show off. I’m still working on that goal with a new Tunisian crochet scarf.

  • My neighbor knits the most beautiful things (I’m a lifelong knitter myself, and she puts my work to shame, IMHO). She makes lots of baby and kid things, American Girl doll outfits, and some items for older kids and adults. She uses good-quality yarn, not the $1 a skein stuff, and sets up business at local craft fairs. Buyers are interested until they see the prices. When she explains that the price is for her time and quality materials, they usually wander off muttering something about being able to get a hat or gloves or sweater at Walmart for $5. I run into the same issues with my floral designs and beadwork.

  • very cute story. I love your writing style. 5 of my daughter’s “best friends” were pregnant this year. So I started blankets. 3 babies were born a month early! Yeah, not everyone got a blanket! But hats, that is an evening event…all the mommies were happy!

  • Several years ago, one of my SILs called “just to let me know” that she had already spoken with the rest of my in laws and they had all decided that we shouldn’t all exchange gifts since none of them could “make things cheap” like I did. I was highly insulted and my husband was absolutely livid. He told them that we would certainly not expect gifts from them but told them that since I had been working on their gifts since January and everything (except the baking) was already done and wrapped, we would be giving them their gifts anyway. That particular year I was not knitting or crocheting, but had made sets of 12 matching quilted placemats with coordinating napkins which I had hand hemmed so that they wouldn’t look cheap. None were the same…they were all color coordinated to go with their decor and they were just for the women. Each of the kids got appropriate gift cards, for which I scrimped and saved and bought one or two at the time over the year as I had the time and funds. For the men, I always made huge tins filled with all sorts of homemade cookies and candies. That particular year the materials for each set of placemats and napkins cost more than $60, not to mention everything else I spent on gift cards and baking and candy making materials. I received a flannel granny gown that year from that particular SIL, who failed remove the $6 sale price tag. Now I ask you…who was the cheap one?

  • Before my mother died 13 years ago she crocheted 10 beautiful baby blankets. She had me wrap each one for the future generation of her great-grandchildren she knew she would never see in this life. We sewed labels on them which said “Made with you in mind…love Grandmom Acito”. Her crochet blankets have been gifted to three great-grandchildren so far and are a treasure. Besides making the baby blankets, she kept busy making blankets for most of the family too. When she passed she was covered with one of her beautiful white blankets. She is very missed by all of us but as my brother said, “we have her blankets to give us her hugs.”

    • I’m at best an on again off again knitter & crocheter. My dear aunt taught me when I was a little girl (8yrs). I have afghans from several Women of that generation & I treasure them. I’ve made an afghan each for my son, daughter, husband, & grandson. I’m going to begin one for my new GD. They start out as projects I’d like to make & take years to finish but I know they’ll be used for decades. A handmade afghan by someone who loves you is a gift that is even more appreciated when they’re long gone.

  • I knit for Make A Wish. I’ll make an item and offer it up in exchange for a donation direct to Make A Wish. Those that request items know that’s the way it works and having the “purchase” hanging over my head means the item is priority and WILL get finished. I’m “Made for Wishes” on Facebook and, so far, my process is working out great!

    • Thanks for your post, Leslie. I will check out “Make A Wish.”

  • Oh my I do love you!! I’ve been explaining (actually not really “explaining”, just giving snubs and mysterious looks) to my co-workers for a couple of years how this works and they just don’t get it….. Who gets handknits: the teachers who saw past his quirks and shielded my son from (most of) the trauma of public school, and the teacher who picked my girl up off the ground when she got tackled in football. The girl down the hall who gives great hugs, and the guy in administration who always backs me up in those meetings when a parent goes on attack. The friend’s kid who tells me the socks I made him while he was in the hospital are the best socks he’s ever had (he now has two pair). The fellow Civil War history junkie who needed fingerless mittens in Confederate grey. Who doesn’t get handknits: the guy down the hall who only talks to me when he wants knitting repair work done, wants me to reknit the cuffs and patch the holes in a much loved sweater, but then declines when I said enough good wool would cost about $10 but I’d do the rest for free. He’s done. Forever. And ever.

  • A friend gave me yarn when her Mother couldn’t knit anymore. My friend’s daughter was pregnant, I looked in the bag and discovered a partially made afghan. If figured out what she was doing and finished it as a baby blanket. I gave it to her at her baby shower and not a dry eye in the place. That was worth it…

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