Archive | April 2014

Oy, what a day I had!

We had a BIG day on Saturday, and I’m just now recovered enough to write about it. I’m lucky enough to have a daughter in IMPACT, the gifted program here in Missouri. In middle school, the IMPACT classes participate in National History Day, a fantastic program that teaches kids how to create in-depth research projects and relate them to that year’s theme. They spend months working on them in class, then they go to a regional competition. The top three at regionals move on to the state competition, and the top two from state get to travel to DC for the national competition.

My daughter is in eighth grade, so this is her second year competing. Last year, she and a friend created a website and made it as far as the state round. This year she worked alone, building a website about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire to go with the theme of Rights and Responsibilities. She’d forgotten how much work it took, and complained just a bit (i.e. a lot). By the time regionals came around, she said she hoped she didn’t move on, she didn’t want to have to work anymore on it. Regionals were held at the Truman Library, and she dressed up, did her interview and came home. She didn’t even want to go to the award ceremony that afternoon because she was so convinced that she wouldn’t/didn’t want to be selected for state.

We got a call from her teacher that evening: She had come in first in her category. Not surprisingly, she was delighted, and that recognition sparked a desire to work harder. She spent several days after school improving her website and when it came time for state, there was no mistaking: she wanted to win. She wanted to get to nationals.

The state round was held on the campus of the University of Missouri-Columbia. It’s a big campus with lots of history and lovely architecture, and even though we’d been there last year, we knew to get there early to allow for some getting-lost time. Her interview time was 9 a.m., the first of the day, so we were up and on the road by 6:30. We found our way around without too much trouble, and I saw these awesome signs in the Student Unions Center. They made me want to go to college again. I’d have fun at MU!

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We got her registered and had plenty of time to get to her interview.

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While we waited, she got out the iPad and made sure her website was pulled up and ready to go. I was amazed that she showed no indication of nerves. I would have been a wreck, but she’s got composure and confidence to spare.

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She was done by 9:15 but we had to wait three hours until they posted the top six in each category. The judges would review those six and from them, pick the two to go to nationals. We had a lot of time to kill. Our first order of business was to go to the MU store to get her some flip-flops. Silly girl had forgotten to bring comfy clothes and shoes to change into, and her 4-inch heels were killing her feet. $17 later, her feet felt good. A trip to the nearby Old Navy netted her some sweat pants, and she looked like the perfect college student. By then, we had about 30 minutes’ knitting time (I worked on my shawl, she worked on a hat, the hubby napped) and then it was time to check the list.

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This year it was good news: she’d made it to the next round. Whew! After the cheering and hugs were done, we realized that meant we had another three hours to kill. Well, that was easy: lunchtime in Columbia means Shakespeare’s Pizza. The pizza is spicy and delicious and worth every minute of the long wait. It’s a favorite for most of the college students, and the souvenir cups show up at a lot of different campuses.

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I managed to sneak in another short bout of knitting but before I knew it we were in Jesse Hall waiting for the announcement. Of course, the individual website category was next to last so we had to wait…and wait…but at last they got to it. Third place, the alternate to DC if a winner couldn’t go, was announced; it wasn’t her. Second place…she won! As much as we were all hoping, none of us really expected it to happen. Of course she was over the moon; the only downside was that her best friend had competed in the same category and didn’t make it to Nationals. But even that couldn’t quash the glee.

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So now comes the rush to figure out who’s going with her, make travel arrangements, revise the website even more. I’m pretty sure she feels it was worth all the work. It was a fantastic day, even if we were all exhausted. It was an emotional roller coaster. It was a lot of walking, a lot of people and crowds and talking and noise, and more walking. My feet were sore, my legs were tired–and still complaining the next day. I know the DC experience will be even more of all of that…and I can’t wait!

Taking Chances

Somebody told me that today is National Take a Chance day. It’s appropriate timing, because tonight I’m taking a chance on a person. I’m having drinks with someone I haven’t seen in over six months. Someone who used to mean the world to me. Someone who has hurt me, both through actions and inaction. I’m taking a chance on letting her back into my life, into my heart, because she’s already broken it a couple of times.

The first time, I kept it to myself and absorbed the hurt. It took a while to do that, and it never went away completely. And it changed the way I looked at her, the way I viewed our friendship. But I still loved her, I still had fun with her, I accepted her for her flaws as I hope people do for me. But it kept happening, little things that poked at me, making me wonder if I meant as much to her as she did to me.

Then I fell, big-time, and she didn’t catch me. My life turned upside down and I needed help. I resisted it from so many others but asked for it from her, and it didn’t come. It never came and eventually, I found my way to a brighter side of life without her. I didn’t dismiss all the reasons I loved her, but I also couldn’t dismiss the reasons I was hurt and angry. And I moved on. My life is full and happy. I have so many people I am grateful for, so many people who did offer help over and over. People who have been there for me whenever I needed or wanted them. People who act out of kindness and empathy and genuine love.

I got a text from her several days ago. She had a special text-tone that I’d forgotten to change, and just hearing it triggered something in me. It brought me right back to all those years when we were inseparable, when she was one of my favorite people and I (thought I) was one of hers. And to be fair, I think I was. Anyway, hearing that tone made me cry. Seeing her text made me cry. Reading that she missed me, that she was sorry, that she wanted to see me, it all made me cry. Because it made me realize how much I’d missed her company, that as much as I thought I was beyond it, I really wasn’t.

I did tell her that she’d hurt me, that I was afraid to try to be friends again. And she was willing to accept that. But my immediate reaction to her texts made me think that maybe I’d rather have her in my life than not. So I’m meeting her tonight for drinks. I’m giving her a second chance. Again. I have no idea what to expect. I’m kind of looking forward to it and kind of reserving judgment. I’m wary and more cynical now. I’m also stronger now. I’m willing and able to stand up for myself. I speak my mind more than I did a few years ago. But obviously I’m also loyal, maybe to a fault. Maybe I overlook and accept things I shouldn’t.

Are there things that are unforgivable? Is there a limit to the number of times you can forgive one person? I don’t think anyone can truly forgive and forget. The forgive part, yes, but not forget. At least I can’t. I think I know what forgiveness feels like; I’ve forgiven some things completely. But I haven’t forgotten them and don’t think I will. There are also things that I haven’t forgiven. The way I tell the difference is that remembering one doesn’t cause pain, and the other still does.

I don’t know which way it will end up this time. It probably partly depends on what happens tonight. Clearly I haven’t forgiven the way our friendship ended, but the fact that I’m willing to go means I want to try, right? Am I crazy to try?

My puppy training is progressing

This was supposed to be a yarn blog where I talk about my adventures with knitting and crochet, but somehow I’ve gotten off that track. Now it seems to be a life blog, and maybe that’s okay too. In any case, I thought I’d share an update on my crazy dog, Max, since I’ve shared so many of his misadventures.

It’s good news today: Max is doing really well. Or maybe we’re doing really well in learning from him what he needs/wants/likes/eats. After the book-eating fiasco, he gets shut in the kitchen while we’re gone. He has plenty of toys and usually a peanut butter-stuffed ball. He has not scratched or chewed at doors or chairs at all, so thank goodness for that. It’s not perfect; we know that if we’re gone too long, we’ll come home to a smelly puppy present. But that’s not his fault, and he’s getting so much better at going outside when he has the opportunity.

We know that if we leave the bathroom door open, he’ll play with (AKA eat most of) the roll of toilet paper. I’m shopping for a baby gate today. He still destroys toys more quickly than I’d like (watch for my Kickstarter campaign to fund his toy habit, haha) but that’s what they’re for. If he’s chewing those, he’s not chewing bad things.

And he’s so smart: he’s very consistent with the Sit command, and stays so nicely when we’re putting on his harness and leash. He’s at maybe 75% with the Leave It command; it really depends on what he’s found. Some things are more tempting than a treat. We’ve taught him to Shake since we brought him home. Now we have to focus on Come, since that’s the most frustrating thing we’re dealing with. He loves to be outside at night, which I found surprising given his limited vision. But when we let him out before bed, he doesn’t want to come in, and it turns into a battle of wills. I always win, of course, but I want to make it a shorter battle. I’m more optimistic now than I was a few days ago. Puppies sure make life interesting!

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It’s been two long years

Two years ago today, I lost my father. He’d been fighting lung cancer for a year and though he fought hard, the cancer won, as it does too many times. He lived several states away, so I wasn’t there when he died. My last visit had been a couple of weeks prior, and I was making plans to go back for a longer visit. I wanted to be there for him, and my mother. She said he wouldn’t have wanted me to see him that way but I wish I could have. As hard as it is, there’s a small perfect beauty in that journey, in being a part of that moment. 

I guess everyone wants as much time as possible, and I’m no different. I wanted to hug him again, hold his hand again like I hadn’t since I was a child, tell him again and again that I love him. I didn’t care that he was thin, that he was struggling to walk and breathe, that he’d lost most of his hair. I know he cared; he wanted me to remember him the way he was. And I do. But I remember him sick too, because it was such a full time. He and I spoke more candidly and honestly during those months than we ever had. I felt free to hold his hand like I never did, because we both wanted that connection. 

So yes, I remember him sick and well. I remember him every way. I remember him every day. I miss him every day. It’s been a hard two years in many ways. It breaks my heart that there are so many things he doesn’t know, that he’ll never see. He would be happy that I quit my job to stay home with the kids, if for no other reason than because I’m happier. He would love that I sold my boring hybrid to buy a faster muscle car, and he’d want to drive it. He wouldn’t like the purple hair, but he’d grin and shrug and say, “If you like it, it’s okay with me.” He would love my new dog, and have so much fun playing with him. He would love to see how kind and thoughtful my teenage daughter is growing up. He would love to see my son, his namesake, wear his ties with pride.

But I have to find other small comforts. I love to imagine his dog, who died a few months ago, running up to him in the great sunny dog park in the sky. I cherish the dreams he appears in, remembering the almost tangible hugs I’ve gotten in them. I am so grateful that his illness brought our family close again, literally and figuratively, and I try to do for them what I think he would want to do himself if he could. I’m trying to live in a way that would make him proud. Thanks for showing me the way, Daddy.

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Treasures from the bookstore on Easter

I have very fond memories of Easters growing up. Of course we started with baskets, then we’d hunt for jelly beans hidden around the house. After we’d eaten our fill of candy, we’d go out to lunch (Annie’s Santa Fe was a popular choice) and visit a bookstore. For many years, we went to Borders in Overland Park. It was a half-hour drive but that was before we had a stand-alone bookstore any closer, so it was a real treat. It was marvelous to spend the afternoon wandering among the aisles, and I always found way more books than I was allowed to buy.

This year, we resurrected the tradition, albeit with a few changes. My kids are 14 and 10, and the 14yo can’t have jelly beans because of her braces, so we couldn’t do the jelly bean hunt. We also have a new dog who eats a lot of…everything, so I didn’t want to hide anything chocolate and risk it getting eaten by the dog. So in lieu of a candy hunt, we went to visit books. Obviously Borders is gone now (sad panda) so our new favorite is Half Price Books. We just got one in our city recently and we’re loving it! We packed up a small basket with books to sell and set off.

And I’m so glad we did because I scored big time! I found these in the clearance DVD section for $2 each:

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That was just the beginning. As I browsed the fiction section, this was the first book to catch my eye, and yes, it’s a first edition with dust jacket:

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You may remember the title: it’s the book that my dog Max ate a few days ago. I’m so happy I found a replacement. I guess I have to forgive Max now.

But my favorite find of the day was from the clearance fiction section. Jodi Picoult is another of my favorites, and I found a first edition with jacket of Mercy. It’s her fourth book, before she became quite the superstar she is now, so it’s harder to find. It’s a really nice copy, too. And it was only TWO DOLLARS! I love finding treasures like that. It’s one of three I didn’t have, and though it’s not my favorite of hers, I’m a completist. I want to have the full set.

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I wasn’t the only who scored. The girl found three books, the boy found a Big Nate book, and the hubby found a couple of jazz CDs. Good haul all around. And all that shopping made us hungry, so we completed the tradition with lunch out. It was a fun day. I think we may have to do it again next year.

This cut is the deepest

When Max unrolled and ate the toilet paper, I laughed. When he destroyed toy after toy after toy, I smiled, cleaned up the mess and bought new toys. When he chewed up two of my Twilight figurines, I sighed and but again laughed at the sight of headless Bella. When he chewed into my yarn bag and ate part of my shawl, I kept my calm, swept up the mess and moved all knitting and crochet stuff out of his reach. But what we came home to tonight was the worst.

It looked like a battlefield coming in the door. He’d found a bag of dried apricots (kept at the back of the counter); all that was left was bits of the bag. He’d gotten into my daughter’s school bag and tossed her shirt across the room, chewed up part of her gym shorts, and eaten her Pop-tarts. That wasn’t the worst. No, the worst was the … I don’t even want to say it … the books.

I’m a book collector. My mom owned a used-book store when I was growing up and I worked with her for ten years, learning everything about collectible books. I’m also a reader, a fast and voracious reader. Those make for a substantial and really cool book collection. We have four 6′ tall bookcases in our dining room. They’re all hardbacks, and most are first editions with dust jackets. Some are valuable only to me, but many have monetary value too.

Now some of you might be hyperventilating right now (as I was as I came home) but rest assured, it wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been. He only managed to pull out two books, and one is still salvageable.

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See those scratches across the front? Yeah, those weren’t there before. Now granted, this is not my favorite Dean Koontz book. I am a huge fan of Koontz, especially his early books, and I have a pretty thorough collection. The fact that he chose this one and not the signed first of Whispers or Strangers…well, that’s something to be grateful for. I guess. Whatever. But still. This is a pretty unusual title and a first edition. Not cool, Max.

So what was the other one? I couldn’t tell at first: the dust jacket had been torn from its protective plastic cover and both were in shreds. As I got closer, I saw the initials L E on the front of the book. I also love Louise Erdrich. I first read her in college and was obsessed with her books for a long time. One of my most treasured books is a near fine first edition of Love Medicine, her most famous book, and I was sure that was what Max had chewed up.

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Thank goodness, it wasn’t. It was The Blue Jay’s Dance, her memoir of early motherhood. Again, not my favorite of hers, but still, I really enjoyed this book. Not anymore.

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But it wasn’t really even which books got damaged that affected me. It was that they were Books. Books are part of me. They’ve always been a huge part of my life. I treat them with respect and reverence and love. They are vessels of joy and heartache and wonder and imagination. To see one destroyed like this…it hurts more than it should.

So I’m frustrated now. We were gone maybe an hour, and he had a number of toys to entertain him. He’d been fed. He’d already gotten two walks and two playtimes in the backyard. I don’t know what else to do with this dog except to shut him up in the kitchen or crate him when we’re gone. I didn’t want to have to resort to that but I don’t know what else to do. I love him, but I also love my belongings. I want us to be able to coexist peacefully. So how do I make that happen?

Where’d my mojo go?

I seem to have lost some of my knitting motivation. I’ve been so caught up in training the new dog that my focus has shifted. Maybe the fact that I can’t leave current projects out where I can see them prevents them from staying on my mind. Or maybe it’s the fact that I have two bigger projects going, and I really like immediate gratification. The only project I’ve finished recently is this scarf:

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I have several single skeins of mercerized cotton in my stash and couldn’t figure out what to do with them. But with warmer weather supposedly coming, I’ve been wanting to make all kinds of lighter knitwear, and a Spring scarf seemed perfect for this color. It’s a bit shorter than I anticipated but I love the openness of the pattern.

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I have re-started the shawl that Max ate, and it’s almost back where it was before. I did switch to the bigger needles and like it a lot better. So I guess he kind of did me a favor. Except that he killed my momentum and now I’m slower to get back into it.

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The other project on my needles is a cardigan, my first knitted garment. I chose the Lilas Cardigan on Ravelry partly because it looked simple enough for a newbie and partly because I love the big, floppy collar. I’ve had six skeins of Cotton Supreme Splash in my stash for ages, waiting for the right pattern, and I think this is it. I’ve already used up one skein just making the collar.

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But here’s the problem: this is boring. It’s a LOT of stockinette. I make it through one row and reward myself with an email or Twitter check. I know I’ll love it when it’s done, I just have to get there. And I think if I can push through to the point where it actually starts looking like a cardigan, I’ll get excited enough to finish.

So today, I have some knitting time. Hmm, what to work on? I think I’ll make another one of those lacy scarves in this CEY Imagine yarn…

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Oh, I could just cry

My first clue was the yarn label I saw on the floor as I unlocked the back door. A small, intact yarn label…that was in the middle of a ball of yarn when I left the house this morning. As I came inside, I saw a long dark trail along the dining room floor, and I gasped. It was yarn. A long tangled mess of purple yarn. Behind it was a pile of pink yarn. These were neat and tidy balls when I left. After an hour in the house with a bored dog? Not so much.

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Near these travesties was another: my cute new YarnPop Gadgety bag was on the floor, intact but muddy and damp.

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I was trembling with fear by this point because I knew what was coming. I knew what this yarn had been attached to. I had started a spring shawl for myself yesterday with these gorgeous colors, and I was loving how it was turning out. See, I’ll show you. Before:

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Here’s the after:

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Sighhhhhh. I know, I know. It could have been so much worse. If I had been gone any longer, the shawl would probably have been gone too. And I wasn’t too far into it, so I wasn’t losing too much time. As it was, I frogged it all very carefully. The yarn is beautiful Simply Sweet Whipped Cream, a blend of wool, mohair and silk. The mohair, which gives it that fuzzy halo, loves to tangle if you pull too quickly. So I worked slowly, making sure to keep my breathing even and steady. And when I was done, I realized I wasn’t really missing much yarn, though it looked my pink yarn ball had babies.

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So now I get to start all over with my shawl, as soon as my Gadgety bag is dry. The silver lining is that I can switch to a bigger needle size, which I think will make a better shawl anyway. I’ve also learned that absolutely nothing is safe around this dog. Nothing. I’d cry…but he’s eaten all the tissues.

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p.s. for those who are wondering, no, I did not yell at, or punish, the dog since he didn’t know better. It was my mistake to leave it within reach. He got to stay in the kitchen with the door closed while I removed all the evidence.

 

Coldwater Creek is closing, and I have so many feels

I read today that Coldwater Creek has filed for bankruptcy protection and will be closing their stores within the next couple of months. It’s sad because I hate to see any popular retailer like that close, but also because it was my second home for a long time.

I was 29 when I started working part-time at Coldwater Creek. I had been a stay-at-home mom for over four years, and my kids were five and two, and I was itching for more adult social interaction. I was quiet, shy, insecure and timid. Why work retail, then, when I’d have to talk to new people every day? No idea why I latched onto this company, but I was glad I did. When I started with them in 2005, they were passionate about treating people well, both customers and employees. They fostered a warm, close-knit environment. As a result, the team at my first store was very much like my second family. I had more friends, moms and grandmas than I could count.

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I blossomed with their love, support and encouragement. Within a year and a half, I had become an assistant manager. Before I knew it, I was helping lead a team of roughly 20 women. I was interviewing and training new employees, leading store meetings, joining in on conference calls…and I was doing it all with growing confidence. I may have been (may still be!) insecure about some things, but I knew that job inside out, and I felt sure that I was doing it in a way that my team appreciated.

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In 2010, I became the store manager. It was scary, but not because I worried I couldn’t do the job well. My previous store manager and my district manager were convinced I would succeed. Everyone at my store had given me nothing but encouragement about being their leader, and I was excited to be taking the reins. Now I was in charge of interviewing and hiring the leadership team, I often led conference calls. I stood up in front of the team at every meeting; me, the girl who was petrified about public speaking. I was traveling alone cross-country to attend training sessions with groups of complete strangers…and I loved it. I trained other managers on new software. I drove myself six hours to train another manager–and I had always been terrified of highway driving and getting lost. But I did all these things because I had people counting on me, people who had no doubt I could do them. I had a team of women I loved who loved me, and their support meant the world to me. 

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I eventually moved to a bigger store, leaving my original family (which had changed a bit over the years) for a new one. I loved this new team too, even though it took a while to build up the connections I’d had with my first team. Again, they were loving and supportive, doing everything they could to help me, and the store, succeed.

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I left Coldwater Creek in 2012 for a variety of reasons, but none of them were related to these women. The company had changed over the years; different leaders and different visions plus a recession meant more stress and a focus on profit over service and people. My family life was going through some difficult times, which made it harder for me to focus on work. So I’m a stay-at-home mom again, and I love it. You couldn’t pay me enough to go back to retail. But looking back at these pictures and remembering all the fun times I shared with these women, I can’t help but be nostalgic. Creekers, I love you. I miss you. I hate that there won’t *be* any more Creekers. I’m so grateful I had them to help shape me into who I am now: strong, confident, able to speak my mind and follow my instincts. So thank you, Coldwater Creek, for a great seven years. You’ll be missed.

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Today’s Library Books

I love trips to the library. As I kid I’d walk there and come home with armloads of books that would keep me quiet for hours. It’s not always the same now, though it still happens from time to time. Today, I just went to pick up one book I had on hold: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. I’ve been hearing about her and this book for ages, and I’ve been on the waiting list for ages. Can’t wait to start reading it finally!

But then I browsed through the new non-fiction section, and there’s just SO MUCH interesting stuff! This is what I came home with:

Puppy Bible: because I have a new dog and I figured it’d be smart to see what’s coming next.

My Dog is Driving Me Crazy: see above. Plus I won’t always think his quirks are charming, so I might want to help improve his behavior.

The Art of Cartooning & Illustration: my 10yo son loves drawing and thinks he wants to be a cartoonist when he grows up.

Fine Woodworking Turning Techniques & Projects: my husband is an avid and talented woodworker and one of the things he wants to learn is turning. (And I want him to learn so he’ll make me yarn bowls and knitting needles)

Building Classic Arts & Crafts Furniture: kind of for the husband. We own a house that’s almost 100 years old, and we both like the Arts & Crafts look. I like to dream of the furniture he could make for us.

Home Workshop Storage: Storage is an issue for most artists regardless of the medium, I would think. And with two kids and limited workshop space, I thought Alex might find a helpful idea or two.

And now I get to sit in the sun and read!

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