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Friday, April 27, 2012

Tutu dress

Back in March, I found a super cute tutu dress for my daughter at, of all places, Costco. It was under $14, so I bought the pink one. Does that surprise anyone? However, as I looked at it the second time she wore it, I thought, “I can make this myself!” It wasn’t that I didn’t want to spend $14 on an outfit, but it was the challenge. I figured since tutus are so popular right now that I could easily find instructions online for a dress similar to this, so I headed to I was disappointed to find no DIYs. Instead, I found pictures of dresses you could buy similar to this one. Well, I could easily duplicate it… once I learned how to sew a skirt onto a shirt successfully. My previous projects have taught me that some ideas aren’t as easy as they look. See, I’m learning!

 I did find a very informative blog that taught me how to gather the material, which is critical in making the tutu fluffy. After all, what princess wants a flat tutu?  After reading the instructions, I knew I had better practice on some fabric scraps first because something told me this is one of those activities that looks easy when performed by a professional but will be a challenge for a beginner. Thank you, Ashley, for this wonderful tutorial:

Have you ever gone to the trouble to make fried chicken? (Bear with me, I’m not totally digressing.) Your kitchen gets coated in flour, your countertops smeared with oil and grease, and the finished product still doesn’t taste as good as the local fried chicken joint. Sure, you made enough chicken to serve six for half the price, but it took you several hours of prep work, cooking, and cleaning, so was it really worth it? Well, that’s exactly how I feel. I love that tutu dress I bought for my daughter, and so does she. In fact, she picks it out to wear every time it’s clean. I tried to duplicate it, but right now I feel like the duck in the children’s book Duck for President. I’m beat, and I have a much-less-than-stellar dress to show for it. Meanwhile, I am covered in pins, fabric scraps, and purple tulle. Here are some pictures and what NOT to do:

As you can see, there is simply no room for the tutu to flow. I put the jean leggings on underneath because the skirt fit so tight that it wouldn't stay over her diaper. What went wrong? I found instructions for a similar skirt where you sew fabric to a t-shirt and layer it with several rows of ruffles, but my attempt was a complete failure. I knew I could just go back to Costco and buy another dress because they had them in about half a dozen colors, but I'm stubborn. I knew I could get this right, so back to the fabric store I went though I decided to put this project on hold and create the much easier, much faster no-sew tutu and my fun flowing skirt before returning to this one.  

This time, I decided to attach the tutu skirt to a onesie so I wouldn't have to worry about bloomers. That's one complaint I have about the Costco dress, and I am in no way ready to try to make those myself. I opted for the pink onesie and pink tulle since I had already decided to make the no-sew tutu out of purple tulle. Using my new-found knowledge of circle skirts, I had the idea to make a circle skirt to sew the tulle to.


o     Onesie
o     3/4 yard dark pink tulle
o     3/4 yard light pink tulle
o     ½ yard pink polyester charmuese fabric
Step one: I had to create a pattern for the circle skirt. Using what I learned from my half-circle skirt, I decided to make two half-circles and sew them together. Yes, I could have cut one large circle, but that would have required me to buy a full yard of fabric. Since my daughter’s skirt needed to be much smaller than mine, I got away with using four sheets of paper taped together for her pattern. To determine the radius, I measured her waist, which after a big lunch and with her dress on, came to 21 inches. I then applied the formula: r = c/2pi. R = 3.34. (In other words, 21/ 6.28=3.34) Using my pen and measuring tape, I measured out and marked 3 1/3 inches in about six spots from the lower left hand corner of my paper. Then I connected the dots.
Since I wanted the skirt to be 8 inches long, I added an additional inch for hemming and followed this formula: r + 8 + 1 = 12.34. I then measured that distance from my lower left hand corner about 10 times and connected the dots. 

Step two: I folded the fabric in half and cut it to create two rectangles of fabric. I had to make sure both will be big enough. I then folded them in half once more and pinned to the pattern. This would allow me  to create two half-circle skirts. Then I sewed the two sides together to create a full circle skirt.

Step three: Now I was ready for the tulle. Since I bought the tulle by the yard instead of in spools, I needed to measure and cut it into six-inch wide strips. To do this, I folded up the tulle until it was about two inches wide, measured it, and cut it. This was much easier than trying to cut straight lines across inches of tulle. Next, I headed to the sewing machine to gather those ruffles. Making this was probably my favorite part of the dress.

To gather it, I followed Ashley's directions (see link above), but I didn't even have to pull on the thread to create the ruffle, as I sewed the tulle through the sewing matchine, it naturally drew together to create the best ruffles. I alternated between light and dark pink, making a total of six rows of six inch-long strips. I didn't keep track of the measurements of each strip, but none were long enough to go all the way around the skirt, so I lined up the strips on my pink circle to determine their placement, making sure I had enough tulle to completely encircle each row and keeping the ends along the same side hem lines as the skirt itself.
Step four: Pinning & Sewing... I pinned down the top row and sewed it on, making sure to sew just below the stitching I had that created the ruffle because I knew I'd want to pull that out later. Once I finished the row, making sure to do a back stitch at the beginning and end, I pulled out the thread used to gather the fabric together for the ruffle. This required my seam ripper, scissors, and some careful tugging. Basically, I'd pull on one of the two threads, and the tulle would tighten to make a very tight ruffle. Then I'd snip that piece and straighten the tulle back so the thread would come lose.  I then repeated this process for each row. When I would sew the next row, I'd have to fold back the top row of tulle to keep it out of the way, but this wasn't difficult. I didn't make it all in one day as I never had enough time, but I would do a couple rows here or there. It was a very time-consuming skirt, but I don't know exactly how much time was consumed since I worked a little one day and a little the next.   
 Step five: I was ready to attach the tutu to the onesie. After having my daughter try on the onesie, I determined where I wanted the tutu to go. Since I knew I couldn't try pinning it while a 20-month-old was wearing it, I pulled it off and measured each side of the onesie to ensure a straight tutu. Hers was going to hit 4 1/2 inches from the bottom on each side. After pinning each side, I put in two pins on the front and two more on the back. Then I flipped the tutu up and sewed it on. Once I was finished, I flipped the tutu back down and had a lovely straight and clean line where the tutu attached to the onesie.   

With all the pink, it's hard to tell, but the top is the tutu pinned upside down. The bottom is the actual onesie.

Step five: I let my little princess try on her new dress and asked her to pose even though she was still eating her tortilla, but she didn't mind. The girl loves being photographed. I snapped one of her crawling up the stairs, not because I wanted a booty shot but so you could see the tutu ruffles better.

Was all this work worth it? I can't really say since I still prefer the store-bought one. I doubt I'll make another one since it is so time-consuming and since the store-bought one was so inexpensive and well made. I know because I have to wash it at least once a week. This will make for a fun alternative when the original is in the dirty laundry at least. And in case you want to view more photos, click here: update on tutu dress/onesie.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Chocolate Drizzle Bowls

Years ago, pre-children, my husband and I saw a cooking show with this impressive idea for a creative dessert that looked quite elegant. We wanted to try it, but we ended up having kids instead. Okay, that sounds strange, but basically, once kids came around, our dinner parties got a lot more casual, and this dessert, though very inexpensive, is a bit time consuming, and I just plain forgot about it until recently when I was making cake pops for our dinner club’s dessert. See, I told you our dinner parties have gotten a lot more casual. I had recently bought four packages of chocolate bark when our grocery store inexplicably had them on clearance for $.50 each. I love chocolate dipped strawberries, and my children love chocolate dipped pretzels. Maybe I should have bought more than four packages.

Now that I’ve quenched my chocolate craving with a Reese’s Peanut Butter Easter egg, I can tell you how to make this dessert. (Did I mention my sweet hubby bought us an entire case of those eggs the day after Easter? And, like good parents who put our children’s health as a top priority, we hid them.)

 To make this dessert, you will need the following:

     o     Aluminum foil or wax paper (sprayed with cooking spray)

o     Small bowls

o     Small ice cream scoop

o     Chocolate bark

o     Ice cream

o     Fresh Fruit

It’s really quite simple in theory, but you’ll need to be patient in practice. First, take a square of wax paper and shape it over the outside of a small bowl. Then tuck the leftover sides under. If you don't have wax paper, you can use aluminum foil, but it is a bit more difficult to pull the chocolate bowl from it. Perhaps you can spray it with some baking spray first. Then follow the instructions on the chocolate bark to melt it. I typically microwave mine because it’s so easy, but be careful not to overheat it or it will become lumpy. And never get the chocolate wet, or it will ruin it. I’ve messed up chocolate before that way.
Once the chocolate is fully melted, carefully pour it into a sandwich bag and cut off the tiniest corner. Then drizzle the chocolate all over the aluminum foil or wax paper, going back and forth, up and down, side to side… you get the idea. You want a lot of chocolate because the thicker the chocolate basket, the sturdier the bowl. However, I prefer the look of a small hole to create smaller strips of chocolate. Be sure to drizzle around the edge a lot as that will become the top edges of the bowl, so it needs to be sturdy.

Set your finished bowl in the fridge. Melt another couple squares of chocolate and repeat. It’s best to only work with a small amount of chocolate at a time to avoid it from getting hard since you can’t reheat this type of chocolate.

While the chocolate bowls are setting in the fridge, get out your vanilla ice cream and use a small ice cream scoop to scoop out little balls and set them on a baking sheet or in a flat Tupperware container. Then refreeze. You want the ice cream to be as solid as possible so it won’t melt quickly when it’s time to serve.
Once the chocolate bowls have all fully hardened, take out the glass bowl and carefully peel away the wax paper/ aluminum foil from the chocolate. If a piece of chocolate breaks off, you can mend it by using another bag of melted chocolate like glue and attach the pieces back together. Then re-refrigerate it and repeat the removal process. If you have any leftover chocolate in your measuring cup or bowl, you can save it by pouring it onto a sheet of wax paper and spreading it out thinly. Then, once that is hardened, you can break it into small pieces to sprinkle on ice cream. You can do the same with the chocolate that is left in the bag. Once it has hardened, it can be broken into pieces and pops right off the plastic. Be sure to store the chocolate bowls and leftover pieces in your fridge until it’s time to serve the dessert.
Just before it’s time to serve, set the chocolate bowl on a small plate or small shallow bowl. Put several small ice cream balls in it and garnish with fresh fruit such as sliced strawberries, whole raspberries, or whole blueberries. It will taste like those delicious chocolate dipped cones you loved as a child but will have the elegant flare of a sophisticated dessert.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Fun Flowing Skirt

My current sewing venture is a ½ circle skirt. While searching through my newest addiction (aka, I found some adorable circle skirts, and while I adore the flow of those skirts, I didn’t want to use that much fabric for two reasons: all that extra fabric will most likely make my hips look big and come summer, we like to wear as little fabric as possible in Texas just to avoid passing out. I love the comfort of skirts and sundresses, so I’ve bought several already in preparation for summer flag football season and fall tackle football season (I already mentioned I’m from Texas, so I don’t think I need to explain why I’ll be spending the months of May through November at football games for my three boys). But I love a challenge, and I still need more skirts.

Did I find any cute ½ circle skirt patterns out there? Disappointingly, none that I could follow with my little skills and even littler attention span. Circle skirts require a minute ability to do geometry, but some of those sites were making it all way too complicated for me. If you can remember that pi is equal to 3.14 and know how to divide, you are good to go!

Step 1: Measure your waist and the length you want the skirt to be.

Step 2: Do you remember this from high school geometry? R = c/2pi Well, we are making a half-circle, and we want to know the first radius so we can make our pattern, so all you need to do is take the circumference of your waist (which is simply measuring around your waist) and divide it by 3.14. Then, to allow for some give for when you sew the fabric to the elastic, add an extra inch. For instance, if your waist is 31 inches, you will have a radius of 9.87. Now add that extra inch: 9.87 + 1 = 10.87.

Step 3: I mentioned “first radius” for one reason. That’s for our waist, but seeing that we are making a giant doughnut, or half-eaten doughnut really, we need the second radius, which will create the length of our skirt. Add your first radius to the length of your skirt and add one inch to allow for your seam and another for sewing the skirt to the elastic. In this skirt, I’m exposing my elastic, but if you wanted to create a casing to hide your elastic like I did in my simple spring skirt, you would need to add several more inches, depending on how thick your elastic is. Here’s the formula I used:

R + L + 2 =

This means we add our first radius to the desired length of our skirt and add two inches.

10.87 + 23 +2 = 35.87

I wanted my skirt to flow below my knees this time, so I wanted the length to be 23 inches.  

Step 4: Let’s make a pattern. One blogger suggested using wrapping paper, which I think is a fabulous idea! I remember my mom using newspaper, but I hate the smell of newspaper and don’t want to worry about the print rubbing off. I buy printer paper only when it’s free (yes, printer paper is sold for free more often than you’d think thanks to easy rebates), but an ever more frugal option is to rummage through your recycle bin in by your printer. Please tell me you have a recycle bin. Just grab some of that messed up yet perfectly straight paper you always have left when your printer decides it needs to spit out two pages when the second page only says “page 2 of 2” or a web address at the bottom because, yes, I sometimes forget to make sure I’m not printing those pages. Since I have tons of paper, I decided to grab a handful of sheets and tape them together. How many you might ask? 16 sheets. I did not make four rows of four because I didn’t need it that way. Instead, I made two rows of five, two rows of three, and one row of two. Perhaps this picture will help. I didn’t bother taping any in the upper right side since I didn’t need to make any markings there. Hey, I like to save a tree!

Step 5: Okay, now we really are going to make our pattern. Take your measuring tape and a writing utensil. Place the end of your measuring tape in the lower, left-hand corner. Measure out to the desired number you determined for your first radius (your waist). (I measured 10 7/8.) Keeping your measuring tape in the corner, slowly move your way around to make ¼ circle, drawing a brief line or dot every few inches. Then connect your dots. Do this again using the second radius. (I measured 35 7/8th.) Cut out.

Step 6: Now let’s get our fabric ready. Be sure you’ve already washed it to make it pre-shrunk. Remember, we are making a ½ circle skirt, not a ¼ circle skirt, but we only made 1/4th of a circle to save paper. I bought two yards of fabric, which meant I had just enough fabric for the length of this skirt to work. Did you ever have a preschool teacher instruct you to fold your construction paper like a hamburger or a hot dog? Well, that’s a basic way of telling you to fold it in half so the rectangle either becomes a skinny rectangle with the same width or a fat rectangle with the same height. I need you to fold your skirt into a hamburger.
Step 7: You are ready to pin and cut your fabric.

Step 8:  We are ready to sew the side seam. With the good side of your fabric folded on the inside, sew a straight seem with 3/8” allowance.  

Step 9:  Let’s move on to the waist. Fold down the edge ¼” and iron. Fold it down another ¼” and iron again. Then sew the fold in place.

Step 10: Let’s finish the waist with our elastic. I’ve discovered that it’s best to pull on the elastic a bit to stretch it out first. Otherwise, when you try it on, it will most likely be too big. Measure the elastic around your waist to determine the right fit and cut, giving yourself an extra inch. You can sew a zig zag in the ends if you are concerned that your elastic may fray, but I didn't. With the elastic folded in half, sew it together, using a 1/2 inch seam allowance. Next, fan the seam out and sew down each side so the remaining elastic will lay flat. Try on the waist band to be sure it fits comfortably.  

Step 11: Now let’s assemble our waistband to our skirt. The elastic will be slightly smaller than our fabric hole, which is what we want to allow it to stretch when we put it on. Pin the elastic so it will hang about 3/8” over the top of the fabric. Pin the front and the back; then pin the two sides. Then add a few more pins between those to ensure the elastic stays in place as you sew. If it were a clock, you’d pin 3 and 9 first; 12 and 6 second; 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10, and 11 last. I only used 8 pins, but you may use more or less depending on the size of your waist.

Step 12: Let’s sew. As you sew the fabric to the elastic, you will need to pull it tight to prevent any gaps. Yay! The hard part is over with. 

Step 13: We are ready for the seam. Fold the fabric over 1/4" and iron flat. Repeat. Then go back to your sewing machine to make a clean straight stitch around the entire skirt, and since nobody wants to end with unlucky 13, move to the last step.
Step 14: Congratulate yourself for another sewing accomplishment. Try on, give it a twirl, and pose in the mirror for an indefinite amount of time, knowing you just made a fabulous skirt for the summer for under $10.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Fruit Fly Trap

I almost hate to say it because admitting to having bugs in your house is just icky, but admit I must. My husband and our daughter love bananas, so we always keep them on hand. However, one particular batch of bananas seemed to over ripen much faster than typical. A couple of them split open before they had even turned dark. The end result? Fruit Flies! Those are among the peskiest and dumbest insects ever. They are the indoor version of love bugs if you ask me. (If you aren't from the southern coastal areas, you may not know what a real love bug is. When love bug season comes about soon, I'll be sure to show you.)

Fruit flies also seem to reproduce as quickly as love bugs, so before I knew how to rid the house of them, I had dozens flying around our kitchen sink. I had already gotten rid of the bananas and moved the potted plants outdoors, but the fruit flies wouldn't leave. To make matters worse, there was another infestation in our garage and a third in my mini-van. Seriously! This was awful. The mini-van and garage were easy to take care of once we found the culprits. Someone had left a half-eaten apple in my mini-van. Gross! My husband always re-purposes a shopping bag in the garage for trash, but it's not meant for the kids to toss old juice boxes in it. However, they must have done that, and fruit flies liked it, so after ridding my mini-van and garage of these items, I had an idea. Why not create a lure for these pesky insects and kill them? I did a quick search online and found a handful of suggestions. We decided to try several of them, and here is the winner. However, I must admit that in my picture, I made a second batch with Juicy Juice while I had made my first batch with Welch's. The fruit flies preferred Welch's Grape Juice it seemed. Darn bugs are also quite particular.

Fruit Fly Trap:
In an empty water bottle, pour in grape juice, enough to fill the bottle just a couple of inches. Then pour in about a tablespoon of vegetable oil. Shake it to get the sides good and wet with this sticky and sweet concoction. Set it where the fruit flies are hanging out and wait. (The narrow opening of the bottle helps keep them trapped inside as they fly, and the stickiness created by the oil, helps them to drown.) In a couple of days, our bottle was so full of fruit flies, it was amazing... and gross. However, it worked. We tried orange juice once the kids finished up our Welch's grape juice, but they weren't interested in that at all. Maybe they'd prefer a better brand.

There you have it. My confession and solution. If you ever find yourself swatting at a dozen fruit flies because you left out some fruit a bit too long, give this a try and amaze your friends... or don't. Let's just keep the fruit fly business between us. No one wants to know you had bugs in your house!   

Monday, April 16, 2012

Trail Mix

While driving my youngest son to tae kwon do the other day, I asked him how he liked his snack. It was a package of trail mix with raisins, nuts, and M&Ms. He said it was good except for the raisins. “If I made my own trail mix,” he eagerly announced, “I’d only use M&Ms, those tiny Reese’s, and Hershey’s kisses.” Yes, he’s a kid after my own heart! No matter how yummy his trail mix might be, I think it misses a few key components to really count as a trail mix. However, it reminded me of one I used to make back in my pre-children teaching days. One of my students who was a Boy Scout taught it to me. It’s not necessarily cheaper than buying the packaged stuff, but the benefit was I could make it suit my taste buds.


o     One box of hard granola bars (your favorite flavor)

o     Raisins

o     M&Ms or mini chocolate chips

o     Unsalted Peanuts

o     Almonds

All you have to do is take a meat mallet to the granola bars after putting them all into a freezer bag to create nice bite-sized pieces. Then add the remaining ingredients in fairly equal proportions. Obviously, you can alter the ingredients by adding other dried fruits, yogurt-covered raisins, or mini pretzels. Whatever makes you happy. Well, not exactly or your trail mix might end up tasting a lot like the one my son would love to make!

Friday, April 13, 2012

No-Sew Tutu

I have found many sites on how to make no-sew tutus, so I wanted to try one, but I also thought there would be no need for me to blog about them since one quick search will send you to plenty of blogs. However, I discovered a trick that is worth sharing. You see, I knew I’d have at least a solid hour of watching my youngest son at his baseball practice, and having been to the fabric store that morning, I decided I could start on my tutu while watching his practice. The instructions were easy enough, but after five minutes of measuring and cutting, measuring and cutting… I got bored. Then it hit me. I could save a lot of time if I used a technique I’ve been doing since I was a child to prepare the string for our family’s homemade sausage. My dad’s side of the family has been making its own sausage for generations, way before they traveled to the U.S. from Germany. Since children can’t cut the meat or handle many of the other responsibilities, the parents show us how to cut the string that is used to tie off the sausage so it can hang in the smoke house. Basically, we’d take a kitchen chair and our large spool of string. We’d wrap the string around the back of the chair repeatedly. Then we’d take our scissors and make one massive cut. The string would fall to the ground in a lovely heap of evenly cut strands. Why not do the same with the tulle?

o     Approximately 32 yards of tulle (16 in one color and 16 in another)
o     ½ inch elastic (approximately the length of the waist) OR 1 inch thick ribbon (approximately the length of the waist plus a yard)
o     Approximately 1 yard of 1 inch thick ribbon
o     Scissors
o     Cracker box (trust me)
o     Tape
o     Measuring Tape

First, I had to decide how long I wanted to make my daughter’s tutu. I took a tape measure to her, which is quite the challenge when she’s so very busy climbing up and down the bleachers at her brothers’ practice field. Getting a toddler to stand still long enough to decide on the length can be a challenge. Maybe I should have done it at nap time. Eight inches seemed good, so I doubled that and added another two inches to allow for the length needed to create the loop to attach it to the elastic.


Next, I needed to find a household item that had the same width. After wrapping my tape measure around a few boxes of cereals and crackers, I found one that was 18 inches around! I taped the end of my roll of tulle to the edge of the box and began wrapping the tulle around the box until it seemed like any more would be too difficult to cut. I knew I needed a lot!

I then found the edge where I had taped the tulle and cut through all of it. Viola! I had at least a dozen strips of tulle. I repeated the process until I had enough for my daughter’s tutu. How much was that you ask? I just guessed, but here’s the math you can use to determine how much you’ll need: It takes approximately seven strands for every two inches, so once you know how much elastic you need, you can determine how many strands you’ll need. I measured my daughter’s waist and cut a strip of elastic two inches shorter than her waist, knowing it would stretch. Her waist measured 20 inches, so I cut 18 inches of elastic, so here’s the math for her tutu: 18/2= 9; 9*7= 63. I ended up cutting 32 strips of each color.

I mentioned measuring my daughter’s waist for the elastic, so let’s discuss this crucial step. Once you know how much elastic you’ll need, you will want to stitch it to form the waistband. I guess this is where we lie when we claim this is a “no sew” tutu. You can stitch it easily enough by hand, but I prefer using a sewing machine because it’s faster. If you absolutely refuse to pick up a thread and needle, you have another option what will work. Use a ribbon instead of elastic. However, you’ll want to add an extra yard to the waist measurement to allow room for a lovely bow. Instead of slipping the tutu off and on as you would with an elastic band, you will tie it. You’ll need to be careful to keep the tulle from slipping off whenever the tutu is untied, but this will make it truly a no-sew tutu instead of a little-sew tutu. J 
Something most other blogs seem to leave out besides a clear count of how many strips you’ll need is just how long it will take you to complete this tutu. Grab your pile of tulle, get in a comfy spot, and turn on the TV. It will take you about a television show to construct your tutu! (I actually timed myself, and I could attach three strips of tulle in one minute.

To attach the tulle, you fold it in half long ways and then in half short ways. I think I mentioned the preschool hamburger and hot dog folds before, so for you preschool teachers or preschool moms, fold a hot dog and then fold a hamburger. Everyone else, just look at the picture.

Next, hold the tulle under the elastic or ribbon so the cut side is facing up. Fold the cut side around the elastic or ribbon and pull it through the loop of the tulle. This is easier shown than written, so here are some photos.

Pull the tulle tight, being careful not to let the elastic fold in half. Repeat in whatever pattern you’d prefer; I just alternated between light and dark purple with this tutu. Once you have wrapped all the tulle around the elastic, you can adjust it to space it out evenly.
Now you will be ready to tie on a ribbon. Remember, you’ll need about a yard unless you are using the ribbon method instead of the elastic method. To cut the ribbon, I prefer folding it in half and cutting at an angle to prevent the ribbon from fraying and to create a cute look.  Pick a strand of tulle and loosen it a little, just enough to get the ribbon under it. Tie a tight knot and then tie a pretty bow.
There you have it. Now dress up the little girl in a coordinating onesie and let her dance around like a ballerina. Trust me, I didn’t have to make my daughter pose. She saw my camera and happily gave me these poses all on her own. She just loves her tutu and is actually napping in it as I type. 

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