Monday, December 31, 2007


This is Dash. He's seven months old, just weaning age, and he went into kidney failure last week. We rushed him to the vet when we noticed him laying down, listless and acting too friendly for an alpaca. Blood tests showed that he had a pretty severe infection--what and where we don't really know--and that his kidneys were shutting down. How can this happen so fast? The day before, Dash was running around the pen with the rest of the herd and eating and drinking.

Happily, Dash is recovering nicely and his body seems to have healed from the infection, thanks to a brilliant vet, some stout antibiotics, 500 units of I.V. fluids a day, and very dedicated intensive care nurse--me.

He's got some ground to make up with putting some weight back on, but he's been out of his warm little sick room and out with the herd in the barn. It's pounding snow outside, so the barn doors will be closed to keep him inside. It's amazing to me how quickly an animal will perk up when he sees his herd. Dash was barely moving around, scooting from place to place because he was too weak to get up on his own, wetting himself for the same reason, and when I took him outside with me while I fed the animals in the barn, he saw his mama and started wobbling around on his feet. Now, three days later, he's getting around so well that I can't catch him, he's eating everything he can get to, and pushing to get to the water. He's not 100% yet, but very nearly. The turning point was getting him back out with his herd mates.

So, 10 days after the initial crisis, Dash is up and seems to be healthy, albeit more than a bit thin for the experience. He hates me now. I think he keeps waiting for me to grab him and poke him with needle or force something down his throat, just like I have for the last 10 days. I'm sure he thinks I caused it all, and who's to say I didn't? I'm responsible for the well being of my herd and if I dropped the ball, I guess he has every right to hate me. He'll be my reminder to remain vigilant and on guard for parasites, infections, and disease. It's my job after all and I'm so thankful that Dash has come through it alive and well. Tragedy averted.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Craftsman, artisan, or hobbyist?

Hooray! The last knitting for money ended today! I feel a little like I'm selling my soul or something when I say it that way, but I'll have a couple of weeks now for my own knitting. I got a last minute order for another pair of mohair slippers and had to spin up two bobbins of mohair to make it work. I read accounts of people who spin as an art form and for the relaxation of it, but that's a pipe dream for me. It seems to me that I spin mostly out of necessity--in short, I need the yarn!

How wonderful to sit and enjoy the colors playing against each other and feel the texture of the fiber as it slips between my fingers. NOT! Lately, when I spin, it's because I have an order for yarn or a project that needs a certain fiber. When the yarn is for felting, I don't even bother to ply or finish the yarn. I just knit it straight off the bobbin and slog on. I'd like to be creative and all that, but business is business, even when it frustrates the creative spirit. My mother once told me that if necessity is the mother of invention, frustration must be the father of progress! Amen to that, sister!

It's wicked cold here. I slept in until 8:00 this morning and it was -3 degrees Fahrenheit when I got up. It only got up to a whopping high of 12 degrees at around 2:00 this afternoon. Wasn't it in the 70's only a few weeks ago when we were trying to sell sweaters and mittens at the show?

I was called crafty at the library a few days ago. I've been called that before and it sets my teeth just slightly on edge. Visions of lunch buckets made out of bleach bottles with crocheted drawstring tops and rugs made out of plastic grocery sacks float before my eyes and I feel a little nauseous. The lady at the library said that she was certainly NOT crafty, but described herself as intellectually creative. I smiled benignly and moved on.

I think I know what she was trying to say, but it made me think about what the term "crafty" really means. To me the word "crafty" conjures images of school children making log cabins out of pop sickle sticks and glue. I think back to making reindeer out of empty thread spools at Christmas time and turkeys out of pine cones and colored paper. Perhaps I need to think differently.

So I looked up the word "craft". My old dictionary from the 70's says that a craft is a "skill or ability in something, especially in handwork or the arts; proficiency; expertise. " I like that. A craftsman is "an artist as considered with regard to technique." I like that, too, but I like the word artisan better for some reason, although the definition is quite the same as all the others. It seems to speak of creating beauty and purpose at the same time, rather than favoring one over the other. It also seems to suggest something greater than a hobbyist mindset.

The biggest problem I have with the word "crafty" is that there's an awful lot of hard work that I have to do before I actually get to be creative. I don't think people realize that when they use a word like "crafty". Daily chores, cleaning pens, hauling hay, shearing, skirting and sorting fiber, running it all through the picker, carding, combing and a host of other tasks take up a lot of time and really make the word craft seem silly and meaningless. If you ask me, it's really more a lifestyle than a craft. It never ends. It's not a hobby and I don't just pop down to the local Hobby Lobby and pick up something to knit with.

OK, so I don't see myself as an artist and I sometimes think that people who elevate their activities to the level of art are a little stuffy and fussy. I don't want to be like that. I guess I just want others to realize that what we do is not just a flash in the pan or a pastime. We're serious about what we do. Maybe too serious. Maybe that's the problem I have with the word "crafty". I probably need to take my own advice, so liberally handed out to my children---"Get over yourself!"

Snowy Days, Books, and General Rambling

I've added music since the last time I posted. I just love bluegrass, (it's kind of who I am, I think) but it's annoying to some people. Please don't leave if you think it's obnoxious. Just go to the bottom and pause it and come on back.

The snow and cold finally arrived. It's been a nice slow gathering, rather than the usual blow in and blow out type of storm that we usually get. The trees were frosted over this morning and the snow has only just stopped after two days.

Lots of time to knit and knit, and oh, did I say knit? We're nearly done with all of our Christmas orders. The list seems small when I look at it, but the time taken for each item was considerable. Four pairs of gloves, three pairs of felted mohair boots, one lace hat with flowers, three sherpas, four pairs of socks, and one sweater--all since the middle of October. Only one pair of felted boots remain and then I can work on my own Christmas list. Yahoo! And it's only the 11th of December!! I've already got two after-Christmas items to work on, but they will have to wait until my own list is finished.

We blocked lace shawls today. My sister made them and neither was blocked when they arrived and didn't get blocked in time to sell. They're both made of our own alpaca and as I'm taking the pictures, I can see places where the circles aren't true and the points are mushy. I'll have to fix that right away.

While those are drying, I'm weaving in the ends of the last pair of gloves (fingerless) and starting on the the felted boots. I sound like I'm so very efficient as I write this, but the truth is, I spend an awful lot of time dreaming about the next project or the next yarn, rather than actually putting feet to my dreams.

I love books, don't you? I could look at pictures of patterns and colors all day long and never really do anything of substance. I really like a good fiction read as well, especially a mystery, but I'm addicted to eye candy. I found a book on snowflakes in the bookstore the other day and stood fascinated for nearly 30 minutes thumbing through the pictures. I looked the Planet Earth book as well and couldn't bear to put it down until I saw the price tag--eegads! That changed my mind right away about how necessary those pictures were.

Is it any wonder that I return to pattern books and magazines over and over in search of the "perfect" look? I can easily spend an entire day in a bookstore searching through knitting books and doing more daydreaming.

I get awfully tired of pattern books that show the same old cell phone covers, wrist warmers (what are they for anyway---to warm your...wrists?) scarves and and ipod cases. There's a lot of them out there, and good for the authors if they can sell books like that, but I'm always on the hunt for something new and different. (Let's not even talk about the unhealthy looking models with bad hair and nasty looks on their faces. That's another whole rant!) I particularly like Nicky Epstein's books because she challenges me to do something different and "out there", even though I continually fall back to Elizabeth Zimmerman and Mary Thomas for the tried and true.

I've ripped out whole projects because I didn't like the results and I've ripped out half finished projects because it wasn't what I envisioned. The thought of wasting huge amounts of yarn on an ugly item is horrific to me. I'd rather start over and get it right, at least in my own estimation, than finish and hate what I made. I guess I consider the old ways my foundation, but I love a challenge, even if it means frustration and failure.

So, we're fully into the cold months of winter now with no outside work to do until the snow goes away. It's a perfect time to make lists and plan the knitting for the year (and to ramble aimlessly on a blog). I'll never stick to the list--I never do--but it's loads of fun to pretend that I will, and pour over the books and pictures and plans. If I can mix in some spinning time and other productive work, all will be well. Maybe the snow will stick around for a while. March? April?

Monday, December 3, 2007

Prairie Beauty

Pink clouds hung over the east fields just at sunset this evening and only for a few minutes, turning everything pink. Even the air turned pink. My goodness, after I said it was sometimes hard to find beauty on the prairie, there is this!

Now, how can I create this in yarn and fibers? That's always the question, isn't it?

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Well, it's been a while since my last installment and I want to start with my youngest daughter's picture of a prairie sunset. Sometimes I envy those who live near green forests and lush meadows, but the prairie has it's own beauty, although it's sometimes a challenge to find the beauty in a raging windy day or dry brown fields in the winter. Wild wide open space, clear blue skies and fresh air is what we do best. This is where I live and work and I adore the life I lead. Have I said that before?

Our best show of the year was a bust. The weather was so warm that people were coming in their shorts and tank tops----and we sell hand knits? A problem. Here are some pictures of our booth. They changed the booth size to 10x8, rather than the 10x10 that we planned for, so some last minute shuffling followed.

We got the last hand painted yarns done the week prior and because of the lack of interest in wool at the show, my trunks are full of gorgeous yarns just waiting to be snatched up and used. (...and the problem with that is...?) My sister took some home to Peru with her, but not nearly enough. She does the most amazing crochet I've ever seen and crochet done in hand painted yarn makes you weep!

I learned some lessons, though. Several, in fact. I learned that I've despised the areas where my strengths lie--gloves, socks, mittens, etc.--and tried to pursue what I consider more artful fiber arts with limited success. I learned that gloves, socks, and mittens can be infused with beauty and can carry an artistic flair nearly as well as the amazing works my sister produces. I learned that I still compare myself to my sister and always come up lacking, at least in my own mind. (When, oh when, will I ever truly grow up?) I learned that people really do want the things that I make well and that less can be more. It takes both craftsmen and artists to make the world go round. Finally, I learned that following your first love is usually the path that brings the greatest satisfaction. (...she says as she looks wise and wonderful...) Will these lessons carry over to life in general? Oh, yeah, there is that. it any surprise that the things that people are ordering for Christmas are socks, gloves, mittens, and hats? I'm nearly done with most of the custom Christmas orders and I'm so pleased with the results. Keeping in mind the lessons above, I put my own sense of taste and design into them, for what it's worth, and I'm really pleased with how it's all turning out. The great part is that I'll only get better! It's just a matter of experimentation and taking risks balanced with doing the old things well day after day. Simple, eh? (...she says doubtfully...) Thank goodness there's nothing new under the sun and I don't really have to reinvent the wheel!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Painting, Dipping and Dyeing

It was a warmish day today with no wind. A perfect day for dyeing yarns. We've put in some lace and fingering weights this year, hoping to move past the current fascination with bulky and chunky yarns. Alpaca and mohair are such dense fibers and are sufficiently expensive that a bulky weight is overkill--like a bulky silk or bulky weight cashmere. We're hoping that knitters will put a strand of our light and vividly colored yarn with their neutral wools and cottons.

We started with our favorites--hand paints. Our challenges this year are to be more organized and specific about how we produce a color combination so we can reproduce it, and to give names to our colorways. (I had to find out what colorway means on Yarnplayer's blog to be able to use that word...I feel kind of smart for using it now.)

In progress is the combo that we're calling "Thistle". It echoes the colors of the Canadian thistles that infest our fields and ditch banks. It's a hideous weed with spikes and stickers, but it's a very pretty weed when in bloom, just before I spray it and kill it with 2-4-D. It's shown hanging to dry alongside some solid colored lilac yarn.

My daughter put together some nice combinations as well, using pinks and raspberry colors along with some yellow and orange here and there. We've named one "Autumn Sunset" and the other "Passion Punch", named after her favorite flavor of sherbet. She made it by splattering the yarn with color. She also splattered the walls, curtains and floor in my wool barn, so "Passion Punch" will be with us for a long, long time.

We also did some solids we named "Bubble Gum" and "Red Hot". My sister Cookie, painted one that we're calling "Tutti Fruitti" by splattering red, orange and teal on white yarn in quite a controlled fashion and completely avoiding the walls. We thought we may have to overdye the batch because it looked a little odd, but after steaming, it turned out really good. We have another day planned tomorrow to work on greens and blues.

I read in a magazine about using a knitting machine to quickly knit a "blank" of undyed yarn and then hand paint it to create a non-repeating yarn. I tried that for the first time last year and liked the results, but I used one color that didn't mesh with the rest of the color progression. I tried a small sample again today and I'm excited to do more. I used a white yarn and progressively dyed from red to orange to yellow. Because the yarn is already knitted, when it's dry, I'll unravel it, skein it and it will be fabulous as a non-repeater against a black or perhaps brown background. The color blocks will be yards long, rather than inches or feet long. I'd like to do some autumn colors this way and knit some garments with leaf patterns and perhaps some twining cables to imitate the fall foliage. Muted greens, oranges, yellows, browns and reds...I'm actually salivating.

The wind has come up since we came in and it's getting cold quickly. We'll see how we fare tomorrow. After I post good pictures of dye lots I'll need loads of help putting names with them.

Just a quick shot at the very end of our little helpers. Mr. Alf, the guard cat turned nurse maid, was looking after the little ones this afternoon. Cheeseman was kicked out of the barn for disturbing the peace. "Passion Punch" footprints tell the tale.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Sweater-in-the-making and the story behind it

Hello! This is Bethy again!
This is a picture of my first sweater-in-progress. Until now I've been to afraid to do anything other than scarves, hats, blankets, and occasionally a single mitten or sock. But suddenly I had the urge to be brave. What I really wanted to do was make the "wrap" in the picture below. But it never worked out that way.

At first it was too thin to be nice looking. So then I had to double the yarn I was knitting with making it twice as thick. After ripping it out a couple times, I finally finished it. It was just me and my mom and both of us were finishing up some projects. When I had finally threaded in the last loose ends, I jumped up, put it on, and displayed it proudly. After wearing it for a while I realized it didn't fit well unless I put my hands behind my back and then it kept riding up. I guess I didn't notice that the form in the picture didn't have any arms and that does make difference in how something fits.

After a few minutes, me and my mom decided we didn't like it. "What are we going to do?!" I asked. "We'll make it into a sweater!" proclaimed Mama (being the practical one). So now it's going to be a ribbed sweater. If you look closer at the half-done sweater, you'll see it sucks in at the bottom. Luckily for me, I makes it perfect for a form-fitting sweater. The top will fit the chest fine and the bottom will form to the waist.
I'm working on the sleeves now, frantically knitting(or am going to be frantically knitting, seeing as I just started the sleeves last night!) to be done for the Christmas Boutique in a town called Windsor close by. I hope it turns out all right! And I sure hope it will sell! I'll get pictures of the thing when I get the sleeves, neck, and edges done! Woohoo! My first ever sweater! My moms been bugging me to knit a sweater for ages, but I've been dragging my feet about it until now I've forced myself into it! Oh well!

For your enjoyment here is a picture of the CheeseMan! Go Chester Cheeto!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Goats, Wooly and Otherwise

It's past time for us to shear our goats. Every spring and fall, we shear our angoras to harvest their mohair. It looks like doll hair, and in fact, many doll manufacturers use mohair for that purpose. As for us, we skirt, wash, and process our mohair into yarn to use for weaving and knitting. Alpaca/mohair blends are some of our favorite yarns to knit with and the colors of each compliment each other nicely. Alpaca is a wool, that carries some luster and takes very little to lend a lot of warmth. Mohair is a hair that carries loads of luster and is known for the halo is produces in finished goods. Both take up dye at different rates and the combination of the two together make for some interesting results.

The animals themselves originate in Turkey. Like most goats, they're social when hand raised and they like people, although they're suspicious of strangers. We leave their horns intact, rather than burn them off as babies. This gives us a nice way to handle them, although they don't like to have their horns messed with. Our angoras have never used their horns as weapons against people, but they can do quite a lot of damage to fences and can put up quite a show of head butting with one another. They're very territorial and will butt a fence when they feel that any other animal is encroaching on their turf or threatening their feed.

They're slop hogs, one and all, and seem to be able to eat constantly without ill effects. There's a myth that circulates out there that goats will eat anything whatsoever, but that's not the case at all. They can be quite picky when food is plentiful. The truth of it is that goats are survivors and will eat whatever they have to eat in order to do so. Our goats have never been in that position and never will be.

There's also an idea circulating that goats are geniuses at getting out of their pens and enclosures. This is, unfortunately, quite true. It's a case of the proverbial grass being greener. Our goats love to push at gates and fences and find a way out, which is immediately followed by frantic calls for help to be rescued from their own sins. They don't really want to be out because it's an unknown and they may be exposed to something apart from their routine--and like all livestock, they're creatures of routines and habit. They love their schedules and are the first to remind the care giver that she's late getting out to the barn. What an amazing sense of time they have!! When they get out, we open the gate and they all run back into the pen in a panic to see who is first.

They're actually a lot like children in the way they scrap and fight, in the way they compete to be first, in the way they hoard their food and in the ultimate sweetness of their temperaments. They're a lovely bunch of bickering ladies.

These are some of our kids from this past spring. We had 12 kids and sold all but 4, keeping two blacks and two whites. We don't really want to grow our herd. We already have more mohair than we can keep up with, but we absolutely adore angora kids. They look and act like puppies. They even chew and nibble like puppies. Bottle feeding can be a feeding frenzy and we just love it.

We don't milk our angoras, although you can. We get the milk to feed our babies, our kittens, our dogs and our family from two dairy goats, Nubians, that we keep for that specific purpose. Pansy, our Grandma goat, is 14 and past her prime. We don't breed her any longer and she'll live here until her life is over. I think she's given enough for one goat. Her picture is the one on our title bar above and in the last picture here. She's the nicest old lady I've ever met, and I've met more than a few!

Saturday, November 3, 2007

The Ranchers at Work

Hi! It's Bethy again! I am posting some pictures of the Ranchers(do you remember the Ranchers?) hard at work picking, carding, dyeing and needle felting. Picking is the process of fluffing the fleece up with the most wicked machine in the world. The machine is basically just combing the fleece out so it's easier to card. Carding is the process of combing it out again but more evenly so it can be spun or felted. The Ranchers are doing needle felt here. You put the fleece on top of a foam something-or-other and gently poking it until it's felted. Then you cut them out in shapes(at least that's what the Rancher's are doing) like angels, bells, and gingerbread men for Christmas tree ornaments. The last process is dyeing the felted shapes into colors. Although I don't have any pictures right now, I'll try my best to get them the next time the Ranchers do this and I can take pictures.
These are hard working people who I just love with all my heart. My mom probably already told you but these are people that are developmentally disabled adults. Some of them were born autistic, some were born retarded, some had accidents that caused brain damage. But no matter what happened to them, I love them so much. They're all as sweet as they can be!
Well that's all for now(from me anyway). Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Purple Dye and Goodbye to the Devil's Socks

You didn't know that the devil wore pink socks, did you? Well, here they are, all finished and ready to leave the premises. Thank goodness! I hope they fit! I like the results, but for heaven's sake, how involved should I get in the life of a pair of socks?! So onward to the next pair--two pairs, actually--of blue men's socks. Simple, straightforward, no extras, so much easier. Right? Right?

Today started with a misty sunrise. I trekked out to the wool barn to start some dyepots and my little companion followed, fearless as ever. His name is Cheeto (CheeseMan to you) and he's one of four kittens from this summer. My husband would like to get rid of all of them, but so far, only one has found a new home. He's a keeper as far as I'm concerned, even though his appearance is common as mud.

I concentrated on purples and blues today. I need a couple of skeins of blue for the rest of the sock order and the purples just struck me as the thing to do, even after that pink sunrise.

I really like this process and some of the surprises that you get when you don't treat it as a science. My challenge this year, however, is to become more scientific and accurate about what I'm doing. I also have to come up with some names for my colorways. Right now, I'm trying to reproduce a hand paint that we did last year that looked like a lilac bush, both in the skein and after it was knit up. This year, I'm trying it as a dip dye. We'll see how that turns out. The few purples and blues drying outside my wool barn are done on white and gray yarns with slightly different results. As soon as my sister arrives, we'll go into production mode, but for now it's a little here and a little there.

Monday, October 29, 2007


Alf, our guard cat. A brilliant mouser, he looks like a million other cats, but his personality is what makes him special. You can tell by the condition of his ears that he's had a fight or two in his lifetime. Alf hangs out with the dogs and comes when you call his name. He rides the hay when we stack it in the truck and jumps in the back of the empty truck to ride with the dogs. He's the first to greet in the morning and the last to say good night. Quite a character, is he. I'm not really a lover of house cats, but if I were to ever move away from the farm, Alf would have to go with me.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Red Lace

The model of this red shawl was oh so pleased to display it. (You can tell by the smug look on her young face.) It started out as a neutral silver gray, but I couldn't leave well enough alone, so I dyed it with a tomato red dye to come up with this cranberry color. It's knit Shetland style with no cast off edge, but in a triangle, rather than the traditional square. It's more than a pretty accessory. Because it's 100% alpaca, it actually quite warm, holes and all. I'm not sure I like the color, but I very much like the design of it--simple Turkish faggoting in the center, plowed acre for the wide border and an eyelet sawtoothed edge--all the easiest of lace stitches, but with a nice effect overall, I think.

Now, how about some help with how to take better pictures?

Yarn, yarn, yarn!!!

The first of my mill processed yarn has arrived. I send in about 80% of my fleeces to a mill for processing because I could never keep up with hand processing and hand spinning all of it. I keep the show fleeces and most of the grays to hand spin. It's also cheaper for a customer to purchase. Mill spun sells for between $12 and $18 per skein and hand spun sells for $25-30 a skein.

This is harvest for me, when I get to see nearly all of my alpaca fleeces in their yarn form. It's an exciting time for us all because the next step is to dye it. We'll do solids, dip dyes, space dyes, hand paints--you name it and we'll do it. We've never been very good at keeping track of our dye lots or our methods. It's just too much fun to apply color and let the chips fall where they may. This year, however, I have some customers who are asking for repeats of previous years, so it's time to start measuring (no! not that!), keeping records and sample cards, and trying to be more consistent.

My blacks, browns, and fawns will come in next week and I'll have close to 100 pounds of yarn to sell. Obviously, we can't dye blacks and darks, but as we found last year, the fawns and light browns dye up with terrific results. The colors are muted and earthy, rather than clear and bright. The grays give us rich jewel colors. Over course, we'll save back some of each natural color to sell as is, but the greatest fun of the season is the dyeing.

For those of us who have a serious yarn addiction, pictures like this can evoke tremors, salivating and even faints as we contemplate the possibilities and future adventures. If you're one of those, just wait until you see the pictures after the lot has been dyed. If you're one whose spouse has put out a cease and desist order on your yarn spending, I'm sorry for you. I'm sure we'll still have yarn left when the order is lifted!

I've requested some lighter weights this year--sport, fingering and lace--as well as some suri yarn. In case you've never heard of suri's, they are the type of alpaca whose fleece grows in twists and lock, rather than perpendicular to the body like wool. The look is kind of a "bed head" look, or somewhat like dread locks. They're amazing animals and there are much fewer of them around than the typical wool alpaca which is called a huacaya. Suri yarn is much more lustrous and behaves more like silk than wool, although it's wonderfully warm and less is more when working with it. A bulky or worsted suri yarn is overkill and the price per ounce for yarn ($15 and up) would break the bank, so we've got fingering and lace weights to work with.

We had three suri's until this year when they were sold to a new home in Pennsylvania earlier this fall. The first was a complete surprise to us when she was born. Her mother was a black huacaya and when her baby popped out, we didn't quite know what to think or what to do with her. She was the strangest baby we'd ever seen. As it turns out, the breeder we bought the mom from didn't realize that either the males got out and an accidental breeding happened or some other mistake happened and we got a half suri baby. I'm not posting a picture of her because she is ghastly looking by breed standards.

The offspring of this first suri became my favorite baby. Her name is Esme and she was born during a cold front, complete with sub-zero temps and driving winds. Her mama had not a drop of milk, so Esme came to live in my laundry room. For 11 days we bottle fed her and took her outside 4-5 times a day (with her little jacket on) to be with the herd and her mama. After 11 days, miracle of miracles, she took to nursing. Our vet was surprised, saying he'd never heard of any animal nursing after that length of time. So, Esme...not a high quality animal, but very sweet. The final suri was a little boy we called Tanner, born this year in June. Thankfully, all three went to the same excellent home and I'm out of the suri business. Whew!

So... I'm looking forward to digging into the dyes, but I'll wait until my sister arrives from Peru. I need her eyes and her judgment because I've put together some awful color combinations and my yarn is precious. I can't really afford to ruin any of it. To be fair, I've done nice combos, too, but two minds are better than one, don't you think?