lovin' it

her: Are you going to watch a movie?

him: I think so. What are you gonna do?

her: Lay on the bed and think suicidal thoughts.

him: What if we watch a movie about suicide? Then you wouldn't have to do that.

her: Okay but what if it's like how watching Super Size Me just made me want to eat McDonald's?

him: Eating McDonald's is a form of suicide.

her: You got me there.

chicken and jasmine rice

Krista's going through allergy testing which means she's on a restricted diet. She gave me a bunch of food she can't eat, and in return I gave her some of the only thing I could find in my cabinet that she can: jasmine rice.

After our swap, I noticed a recipe on the back of the rice package that called for ingredients I already have. Since I'd never cooked with jasmine rice before, I decided to give it a try last night. Terence and I liked it so much I made it again today, just so I could give Krista some. (She gave me some of an amazing gouda and spiral cut yam dish recently, and I owed her back, plus this seemed simple enough to meet her current diet criteria.)

Well, it was a big hit (I've been shoveling food into my mouth since you left. That's so good, wtf.) and it occurred to me that this is an awesome recipe to keep on hand for winter, since cold and flu season is coming up. It's easy and quick and while it's not bland-toast bland (it's definitely savory and aromatic), it's not overpowering. A good sick or getting-over-being-sick dish.

Note: the original recipe uses chicken thighs but every time I cook with thighs they come out rubbery and awful, because I am clueless. The breast substitution seems just fine.

CHICKEN AND DOUBLE JASMINE RICE

1 bag jasmine tea

1 chicken bullion cube

1 tablespoon butter

2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breast

1/2 cup chopped onion

3/4 cup jasmine rice

Add tea bag to 1-1/2 cups hot water; let stand 1 minute. Remove and discard tea bag. Add bullion to tea to dissolve. Heat large frying pan over high heat. Add butter to melt. Add chicken, cook 3-4 minutes on each side or until browned. Remove from pan. Add onion to same pan. Saute 30 seconds. Mix in rice and tea mixture. Add chicken. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 25 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat. Let stand covered 10 minutes before serving.

reframe

One of the things I love about living downtown is how effectively the constant buzz and bustle of activity keep loneliness at bay. Loneliness and her wretched friend, anxiety. Just the sheer distraction of noise is enough to drown out most of my daily demons. But on shivery, bone-chilled nights like this, it is dangerously silent. No cheerfully drunk revelers trawling the neighborhood in search of last-minute fun. No street traffic; no Ubers or Lyfts coming to scoop those revelers up. No dog walkers; no barking, scuffling dogs. Just stillness and a cold so sharp it keeps me captive, bundled under covers and powerless to stop the vicious assault of self-loathing that comes, I guess, when some part of me thinks I deserve it.

Tonight my mind betrayed me dreadfully. Negative thoughts spiraled, spinning me like a top until I was dizzy with self-recrimination. Every last failure, every disappointment of the past ten years squeezed into the bedroom, petitioning for my attention. I found myself perched at edge of the bed, gasping sobs I kept silent for the sake of my peacefully sleeping roommates. They snored lightly in tandem, and I wished more than anything the sweetness of that sound could be enough to soothe me. Instead all I could think was that sooner or later they'd both be gone.

Set and setting. When you're stuck in a loop, change your set and setting. That's what they say to do, if you find yourself on a bad drug trip. Which is what my depressive dips essentially are: bad trips. Temporary. Forgettable. But brutal while they last. So I stepped into my slippers - which I only wear when the tiled floor feels like ice underfoot - and went into the other room to pace like an animal.

---

Feeling like one of my friends is mad at me is my emotional Achilles heel. I absolutely cannot handle it. I know why, of course; the threat of such a loss is unbearable to me after all the other losses I've tallied up. My friends are my family now. They're all I've got. And if for some reason there's tension between us, I'm besides myself until all is right again. That's what had unleashed all sorts of psychological hell tonight. The fear that I was losing one friend had refreshed the hurt of every other lost, strained, or failed relationship I've ever had. The worst kind of loneliness isn't the pain of feeling alone now; it's feeling the collective heartache of each time you grew a little more alone in this world. It's the fear of that aloneness expanding.

No one hates you, Ellie. A bad day is not a bad life. Don't blow things out of proportion. I dealt myself various reassurances and platitudes, none of which helped much. Irrational, baseless fears tortured me until I was frantic. I hovered silently in the bedroom doorway, desperate for company but too ashamed to wake Terence up.

Then, mercifully, a light broke through: the remembrance that I am in control of my mind. That all psychological pain is rooted in thoughts over which I have power. Even though I didn't feel capable of reprogramming them right at the moment, just the realization that I could reprogram them was empowering. Calming. My suffering is up to me, and I can end it anytime. 

So that's what I did. I tried to put myself in the mindset of my friend, so I could reconsider and reframe the situation. I looked at myself and our interaction through his eyes. I thought about his life right now. His pressures and stresses. His perspective. I considered the possibility that he's not even mad at me at all, that he's just withdrawn temporarily to process things his own way, on his own time.

Not everyone thinks like me, or handles conflict like me. I know that. I just haven't learned it yet.

tidy

The space where she'd been filled in quickly. Empty is not the natural state of things, so life closed around the specter of her memory with ease. That nothing much changed revealed how little of significance she had displaced. Forty-six of the most meaningless chromosomes ever to be paired. Didn't she know it.

The last in a long line of would-be saviors stood stunned, still clutching his fistful of curling, writhing lies. She wouldn't do that. She's not that selfish. But a heart torn by shock can knit itself back together faster than one torn by pain, and the lies didn't have much bite left, anyway. By spring a vigorous program of forgiveness (the self and the other) muscled out her ghost completely. Everyones knows: spring is no time for looking back.

fri ni rant

When I commit my first murder, the victim will be someone who invited me to do something at the beginning of the week, but then when the time came to get together said, "Okay so what do you feel like doing?"

Oh hell no.

If it was YOUR idea to get together, it falls on YOU to know what you want to do.

Hate. That. Shit.

cat sitting live blog

So here's a fun thing that's happening today. I'm cat sitting for Ross and Kerry, not because they're out of town, but because there's a shoot happening in the apartment next door to theirs. When that happens, the film crew needs an overflow space - another apartment, typically, where they can store furniture, props, etc. during the shoot. Production companies pay a lot of money to residents willing to be temporarily displaced for this. And normally, my friends would stash their cats in boarding for the day, collect a check for their trouble, and head to work. Today, however, they were unable to board the cats (long story). And rather than decline the opportunity and miss out on a very nice compensation check, they called me to duty.

I'm pretty sure I'm one of the highest earning cat sitters in the country today. And I know I'm the only one being paid to live blog it.

My job is to make sure the cats stay safe and out of the way and none of my friends' property is damaged in the chaos. And oh wow is it chaotic. And loud. So chaotic and loud I'm not exactly sure what I could get done other than just watch. I brought a book but concentrating on Faulkner would be impossible. So I'm gonna live blog this shit. I've never done a live blog and I'm not really sure how it works other than hitting refresh when I add to the post, but we'll wing it. Yes yes?

8:00 am - The crew is moving, hauling, taping, putting down mats, setting up tables. Ross is getting ready for work and I'm settling into the sofa for the day. Angled to see all the action and keep an eye on the staircase. The cats, Jumper and Gutch, have been shooed upstairs. Gutch is cowering terrified in the closet but Jumper is basically like a dog and will want to mingle with the crew and wander onto the set next door. I meet the location manager, Stacy, who briefs me and invites me to eat lunch with the crew later today. Fun!



8:45 am - Ross leaves for work. I take over.

9:00 am - "Ready to go," I hear someone say into a walkie talkie. A woman grabs a silver tumbler filled with plastic holly berries from a pile of props and heads back next door. It's a Christmas-themed shoot. A promo for The Walking Dead. Apparently there will be zombies on set. Fuck yeah.

9:04 am - Jumper tries to make a break for it down the stairs. Here we go.

9:08 am - There are a lot of men in flannels and puffy vests stomping around this loft. Like, more stomping men in flannels and puffy vests than exist anywhere outside of Alaska, I'd wager.

9:10 am - Oh yeah, Jumper is going to make me earn every cent today. I have to sit on the stairs to block her descent.



9:18 am - Everyone is talking about burritos downstairs. "Did you get a burrito downstairs?" "I had a burrito downstairs. I'm good." No burritos up here, though. I am intrigued by the Myth of the Downstairs Burrito.

9:42 am - A man with an Australian accent is separating threads of tinsel from Christmas ornaments with great frustration. Oi, I feel your pain, mate. Gaffers are wheeling in load after load of equipment. The loft is crammed full of crap. I'd be having an anxiety attack if it was my place. No wonder they pay so much. I'm back to the couch, since even Jumper seems overwhelmed.


9:57 am - I just met Dan, the director. He's like a younger, hipper Bob Balaban. Craft services is setting up a table right in front of where I'm sitting. Location manager Stacy jokes that this is good news. "All kinds of snacks right within reach! Or maybe it's bad news, if you're like me and will eat all day." I don't know what to say to this. The apartment is filled with the smell of pastries. Maybe I should retreat upstairs with my Faulkner. I'm probably creeping the crew out, lol.

10:12 am - I've moved upstairs and am chillin' with Jumps on the bed. A reader just emailed, slightly alarmed by the content of my previous post. Worried I'm going to get myself arrested. It's all good, I wrote back. I'm not going to jail, I promise. And if I do I'll demand wifi so I can keep everyone entertained. A couple of guys downstairs are having a very enthusiastic discussion about tape. "It's the most incredible double stick tape you've ever seen. It's called Killer Red." Ten more hours to go. I wonder if I can take a nap.


10:34 am - I peer over the railing and this is what I see on the tables below. Creepy masks, cupcakes, and enough munchies to feed a zombie army. Lurching around and groaning is apparently hungry work.




10:51 am - People everywhere. I hear snippets of a dozen conversations.

"Someone’s running to Target for it.”

"We should really use the polka dots instead.”

"I understand your point.”

“My mom used to make dinner for us. It was a can of tomato soup, white toast, and Welsh rarebit.”

“Don’t turn it on! Don’t turn it on!”

“Wardrobe might wanna look at his socks."

Every free square inch of space in this home is being used. I can barely get to the bathroom without climbing over stuff. A stocky, mustached security guard ambles in, his thumbs hooked on his waistband. He looks around approvingly. I can’t look around without cringing. Back upstairs I can hear a glass being filled from a water cooler. They brought a water cooler in here??

11:09 am -


11:35 am - Okay yeah the novelty of this experience has about run out. They've propped the doors open so it's freezing in here, I'm too shy to take any food even though I'm starving, and everyone's whispering is making me sleepy.

12:01 pm - The propmaster is doctoring zombie masks according to direction getting relayed from next door. Aussie guy is explaining to her in detail what they want. "Yeah, and if you could just make it hanging askew, with the blood, right? So the skin folds back like this? Gonna take a while though so you'd better get crackin'."

12:19 pm - Director to propmaster: "I wanted to show you that. That is the trajectory we're going for. So my question is, how far can we go with this? Can we have more blood splatter? Again, as far as the blood matching up, my only concern was that I didn't want to be gratuitous about it. But I sort of feel like there should be some blood on the cake. So just a little bit more hair, and we can go further with the airbrushing, okay?"

12:33 pm - "WILL SOMEONE PLEASE PUT SOME SHOES ON THE ACTOR?!? THANK YOUUU!" Sounds like somebody needs a cupcake.

12: 45 pm - Confidential to Tricia: I apologize for the misleading title but does this face look like it could handle Chaucer right now:

"The fuck is happening out here??"

I briefly considered bringing him since film crews always adore him, but he would have been stressed out and in everyone's way. Plus I think he's too big to even go up the spiral staircase, though we've never tried...

1:09 pm - Everyone went to have lunch in the lot downstairs. Doors are still propped open and people are in and out though, so I can't leave the cats. But that's okay because I brought pine nut couscous, which someone just caught me shoveling into my face just now when they crept up the stairs to check out the bedroom and patio above. "Cmmm ahp," I garbled. Gutch was emboldened enough by the relative quiet to go sun herself on the top stair where the light comes in. Jumper is snoozing beside me. I think I'm gonna swipe a cinnamon roll and then start The Reivers.

1:54 pm -

Same.

3:58 pm - Text to Terence: I just realized that whenever I want you to stop talking and shut up immediately all I have to do is yell "Rolling!" Him: LOLOL


6:45 pm - Oh hai. Preceding hours were just more of the same. I got tired of eavesdropping and listened to music, sneezing every thirty-five seconds or so. Cats: my only allergy. Anyway. Gutch is over it. Jumper is over it. Ellie is over it.  Zombieland live blog is over and outttt.

delicately

I can't legitimately call my drug dealer a dealer anymore. But I guess now he can call me one.

When I met him, Pinkman (as he's listed in my contacts) was all business. The first time I made a purchase, he showed up at my apartment with a digital scale and a testing kit in his backpack. He breezed in, played with Chaucer for a minute, measured out my goods, and beat it as quickly as he'd come. I assumed he was off on an evening full of deliveries, a very special Santa for some very bad boys and girls.

But over time, I came to understand that he actually sold to very few people. Friends and their familiars only. I myself had squeezed onto the roster by way of a friend's cousin's old dealer. It was a tenuous connection at best, and by all rights I should have been dropped when that dealer retired. But I guess Pinkman deemed me harmless enough to keep in the loop when he took over.

Eventually, he stopped selling almost completely. He got a job. Then a second job. He moved in with his girlfriend to an adorable little house with walnut floors and a bright red door. I couldn't visit him without looking around, wondering which of the furnishings my cash had provided. When he'd text out of the blue, offering his wares, I'd joke to Terence about it. His girlfriend must need shoes or something. 'Text Ellie. I want to go shopping.'"

Pinkman's suppliers (of which he has a few) don't sell drugs in small batches. They maintain a minimum buy requirement, I assume, to cover their costs, minimize risk, and simplify the operation as much as possible. Makes sense. But because of this, and because the scope of his business grows ever smaller, those of us who buy, have to buy in bulk. It doesn't matter what the drug is - ecstasy, psilocybin, LSD...if I want it, I have to buy a lot of it.

Now, contrary to what these pages might seem to convey, I really don't do drugs that often. And many of the people I used to share my drugs with just aren't around as much as they used to be. So that leaves me with a dilemma: what the hell do I do with a few hundred dollars worth of something I only want $50 worth of?

Yep. You got it. But since I'm passing it along to friends, not strangers, I prefer to think of it as distribution, not sales.

Very few of you would have reason to know this (and for those who feel the need to pat themselves on the back for not knowing, go ahead, we'll wait - just take care not to knock the wine bottle over when you do so), but pressed tabs of ecstasy are exceedingly difficult to come by. Good ones, anyway. The closure of Silk Road and stricter regulation on the importing of precursor ingredients have really put a hurt on the market. Bottom line: if pressed pills become available, you jump.

Pinkman texted me last week, inviting me to jump. He's recently switched to communicating solely through a temporary messaging app. After a certain number of hours, all messages disappear, just like Snapchat. Poof. No proof. No trace. He opened, as always, with an alluring description of the product. The exotic name (all ecstasy tabs are identified by colors and recognizable brands, like "white Versaces" or "pink Pokeballs"). Its reputation. How limited his access to it, and how quickly his supplier's stash was like to sell. What's the minimum buy? I cut to the chase. He gave a number. It was large. Ooof, I thought. No way. But then I thought some more. I know people who were extremely impressed by Pinkman's last batch. People who've in fact made overtures to me about getting more for themselves. People with money to spend. Okay, I answered, doing some quick calculations in my head. Doable. Just gotta spread the goods a little bit.

And that is how I found myself driving, Pinkman in the passenger seat beside me, to the valley a few days ago, to purchase several hundred dollars worth of pressed ecstasy. During rush hour. Then driving back with him again immediately - still during rush hour. All told I spent nearly three hours in the car with my twenty-something drug dealer. This is my life. I recently turned forty. I'm unmarried and living with my ex-boyfriend and a dog named after a bawdy English poet. Sometimes I think I subconsciously steer myself into these absurd situations just to shock my parents back to life. If only.

Now you'll want to know what we talked about, because good grief. Well, what you'd figure. Music. Festivals. Drugs. But in between these topics we talked, in tiny doses, about ourselves. Always minding the boundary line of privacy. Always politely changing the subject when we sensed the other had veered uncomfortably close to The Personal. It's a delicate conversation dance, the one you do with your millennial drug dealer.

But here's where I have to interrupt the story and hark back to the first line of my post: Pinkman isn't really a dealer anymore. He's pared down so much, in fact, that in order to make a purchase for himself, he needs the supporting dollars of a spender such as me. And my spendy friends. That's where things stand at this point. I'm enabling his habit, not the other way around. It's not much of a habit, though, that's the thing. He rarely ever uses drugs anymore. He barely has time to, working two jobs and spending all his free time recording music. Not to mention, he doesn't have a car to go get them. When I asked how he normally obtains stuff from his suppliers in the valley, he explained he has to take the train to go buy it. "The Metrolink?!" I replied, shocked. "You have to take the Metrolink to the valley if you want drugs??"

"Ellie," he said to me, shaking his head. "I've done ecstasy once this year. Once. I just like to have some on hand in case an occasion comes up. But no one will sell me just three or four pills. And if they will, what they're selling is shit. If I want to get good stuff, I have to buy a lot."

And here I thought I was useless.

---

As long as the drive was, I didn't learn that much more about Pinkman than I already knew. Which is probably best for both of us. I did come to like him more, though - and I already liked him a lot. He's a terrifically sweet kid, warmhearted with a great sense of humor. And as dumb as it sounds proclaiming trust for a criminal: I trust him. I knew from how he spoke to me when I was tripping on LSD that he was good people. I knew from his reaction to my elation, and from his agreement afterward that LSD is life-changing, that we'd always get one another. We talked at length about acid during the ride to the valley. He knows I'm keen to try it again; it's the one thing I bug him about. But the other day he made me understand why he's been unable to get it for me: he's unwilling to buy LSD from shady, unfamiliar sources, because he knows firsthand how terrifying a bad trip resulting from a poor product can be. He assured me he knows how important it is to me, to experience acid at least once more, but that he'd rather I go without than go with something bad. "I know who to buy from. I know some real hippies, and they always try their stuff first. When they have it, when I see them again, I'll get you some. I promise. I know you want it. I got you covered."

---

He messaged me about an hour after I dropped him off. It was his one night off from work, and I guess he decided to take it upon himself to test our purchase and report to me the results. The exchange we had was delightfully ridiculous, in the way that sober person-to-high person exchanges always are.

Took one half 35 mins ago...super empathetic also drinking wine lol

Yeah?? So you like em? Thumbs up?

Yes.. I ate a quarter twice in 90 mins. Feelin good

Awesome!!

(fifteen minutes later)

Yesssssss

Hahaha. Enjoy. You're the best for keeping me in the circle. :) Can't wait to try em.

Yeeeeee

Lol I wanna do acid with you you some day

Yessss and go to natural history museum?

OMG yes. 

Ive never been but I love dinosaurs

Dinosaurs *are* pretty bomb.

Do u smoke weed. I sell these prehistoric weed pokers (sends a pic of hilarious/absurd thing I have never seen, something between a skull and a bong)

Yeah when others have it, I just never get it myself

(fifteen minutes later)

Have I sent u my tunes

No! You keep promising to but you never do!

And then he sent a link to his Soundcloud. And I melted a little bit (or should I say dissolved?), because I knew, then, exactly where he was emotionally. A place of utter love for the whole world. Openness of heart and spirit. Vulnerability fortified by the purest optimism. He was in the place I know well, from which I usually fire secret texts to all my best friends, crouched in the bathroom stalls of throbbing night clubs. I love you, I type feverishly, pulsing with gratitude for what I have. I miss you.

And they do the same.

They don't call it ecstasy for nothin'.

Pinkman had been promising to share his music with me for years. It was always him who brought it up, and him who balked, I guess, when he came to his senses and recognized the need for boundaries. But the other day that particular boundary came gently down, lost to the waves of a serotonin flush. And in one fell click I knew Pinkman's last name. But much more interesting than that, I knew his soul. I hit play and a smile cracked my face instantly. It wasn't what I expected; it was much better. I clicked another link and listened, and then another. And then I found myself watching his familiar crooked smile in some years-old homemade video the youthful earnestness of which nearly broke my old, jaded heart. And then I stopped. I closed out the window on my browser. I couldn't erase his newly-learned last name from my memory but I could at least stop looking at it.

Things shared in a delicate moment deserve to be handled delicately.

---

Today he told me he'd found me some LSD. Awesome stuff, from a reliable source. I had to tell him I can't do it right now. I simply cannot justify another huge purchase so soon. I have the money, that's not the issue - but I couldn't look at myself in the mirror, dropping more money on drugs within days of my last buy. Even if it's acid. Even if I'm desperate to get back in touch with the things it showed me last time. Even I could really, really use a dose of that clarity and peace right now.

I'm wiped out, I said. I wish. If it's around in a few weeks, I'd love to. But I know how it goes. I know you can't reserve for me like that. I know it's now or never. 

I got you, he messaged back. It's cool. I know you don't want much. I'll get it for you. It'll be here.

Friends show up in the funniest places sometimes.

How To Simultaneously Create a Great Birthday Gift and Conquer Mild Social Anxiety at a Party

MATERIALS NEEDED

- smart phone 
- alcohol
- more alcohol
- video editing app 
- maybe a little more alcohol?

INSTRUCTIONS

1) While your friend is otherwise occupied, introduce yourself around to his or her guests and quietly explain that you're creating a video as a surprise present. Say you'd be grateful if they'd contribute a few minutes of their time, to record either a best wishes message, share a funny story, relay a favorite memory, or just tell the thing they love most about the birthday guy/girl. Tell them you'll give them some time to think about what they'd like to say, and you'll check back in a little while.

2) If the party is being held in someone's home, find the host and explain what you're up to. Ask if there's a quiet room or hallway that you can use.

3) Make sure everyone you plan on recording is getting good and drunk. 

4) Optional: record footage of the party and the guest of honor with his/her friends, to mix into the video.

5) When the party starts to get loud and raucous, it's time to start collecting messages. Slyly spirit guests - solo or in small groups - off to the quietest, most out of the way spot you can. 

6) See that big red button? Hit it. Repeat as necessary. 

7) Edit your masterpiece. iMovie is perfect for this sort of thing. You can easily import vids, trim and filter them, add titles, transitions and music, etc. 

8) Put the finished movie on a thumb drive for your friend, along with a separate folder containing the unedited clips in case they'd like those, too.

9) Enjoy your friend's delight and pat yourself on the back for putting aside your fears and mingling (sort of, anyway) at a party. 

---

It's Krista's birthday and these are her friends, so it's not my place to share the finished movie. But I'm really pleased with how it came out so I can't resist posting some screenshots. It's the second time I've done this for someone (though this time I got much fancier with it) and while the editing afterward can take some time, trust me it's worth it for the reaction. Krista texted tonight after finding it on her door, and her response made my day: I'd call you but I'm still choking. IDK what to say. I watched it again and cried more. I love it so much. I'll cherish that forever, seriously. 

Notes: I used the option to embed one video on top of another (again, in iMovie, right on my phone) and slowed the speed down on those smaller vids to 1/2. This gave a really cool contrast between the two windows, and the slower motion made the party scenes look extra pretty. I ended with a clip of Krista blowing out her candles and making a speech. Happy to explain anything in more specific steps to anyone who needs it - just email me!

















NBD

Another day, another dose of celebrity for Chaucer...


See his Cute Overload debut here!

PPRL: The Yearling, by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (winner, 1939)

Chaucer and I have been reading The Yearling.

I started it before going to Lake Burton, but Jody hadn't yet found the fawn, so neither Chaucer nor I were hooked yet. But I picked it back up when I got home, and Flag made his appearance soon afterward. It was a cold, bright night, perfect for nestling down under a fleece throw with a good book. Chaucer was stretched out along the end of the bed, warming my feet and keeping me company. When I finished the chapter, I closed my iPad and lay beside him. I stroked his ears and the crown of his head, and told him about the baby deer. He's the same color as you, and just as soft. I understood the boy's delight completely. Any animal lover would. Chaucer could live a hundred years and I'd never get over my joy and wonder at getting to care for him, hold him, play with him. I've been Jody in a million other lifetimes. And in this lifetime, Chaucer is my Flag.

Later, I told Chaucer about the hunts. About Ol' Slewfoot, and the bravery of Julia and Rip, the dogs who would eventually bring him down. He especially liked the parts about the hounds scenting their prey, and Penny's skill at tracking game through the wilderness. I told him about all the animals on Baxter's Island - the varmints and "creeturs", big and small. He blinked at me and I pictured him in another world completely: the scrublands of northern Florida, trusty guard dog of humble country folk some three-quarters of a century ago. Would he love that life more than the one I've given him? Maybe. Would he have been loved more? Impossible.

Tonight Terence and I walked him to Grand Park, which a pretty good trek for him these days. He started to lose steam about where he always does, hanging his head and panting hard. We saw a small black cat on the walk ahead of us, poised to dash off into the bushes. Knowing she'd easily get away, knowing Chaucer can barely catch his own shadow, I unclipped his leash. He tensed up, understanding, waiting for my direction. I knelt down beside him and pointed. "Kitty, Chauc!" I whispered, and he was off like a shot.

The cat was gone in an instant, and Chaucer, as usual, stood helplessly at the edge of the brush she'd disappeared into. Normally at this point he walks back to me, sheepishly defeated, to be clipped back into his leash. But tonight when he heard my laughing "Good boy!" he did something neither Terence nor I expected, nor could believe afterward. He clambered onward, into brambling bushes that came up to his shoulder. Bushes even a true hound dog would have trouble navigating. He scrambled for footing, peering over the top of the greenery as he tried to find the cat. Alarmed he might trip and hurt himself, we quickly called him back.

Terence and I frowned at one another, amazed. So, so unlike him to do that. "He's trying to impress me," I joked. "He knows I'm reading The Yearling with all these hunting dog scenes, and he's trying to prove he's a good hunter, too."

Not five minutes later we were further up in the park, in a wide, grassy area divided by landscaped cement partitions. Terence spotted a small dark shape silhouetted one on of the partitions. At first we thought it was a cat, but it was slinky and crouched-down, and I gaped in horror at what I assumed was a massive rat. "It's a possum!" said Terence, who with better eyes could make it out clearly. Scared Chaucer would give chase and get himself god knows what disease, I handed off the leash so I could inch closer alone. I'd never seen a possum in the wild.

Again, it was like something from The Yearling. Chaucer caught the animal's scent and pulled forward. He sensed my excitement and strained at his leash to see. The possum had crawled along the low wall and frozen. He was playing dead. We snapped a quick, blurry photo more to briefly illuminate it than anything and then moved on, happy that Chaucer got to smell something new and exotic.

About an hour ago, Chaucer long since having ditched me in the chilly living room for the warmth of his bed, I finished the novel. The final twenty pages devastated me; I cried three times. Just as surely as I know some of Updike's passages are the best fiction I've ever read, the final paragraph of The Yearling is the best ending I have ever read. It took my breath away and I had to clasp my hand over my mouth, to stifle the sobs. It's a paragraph to launch the writing careers of a thousand would-be novelists. Raw and unforgettable and perfect.

I don't have any discussion questions this time around. I have only awe. And my Flag to go cuddle.

FriNiJamz Volume I (embedded)

Okay kidlets, we're gonna change up how we do FriNiJamz around here. Apparently, embedded YouTube vids don't come through for anyone subscribed to my blog via email. Boo, hiss. So we're gonna try leveling up to an embedded Spotify playlist and see how that works. Hooray, Spotify!

I know not everyone's on Spotify, so I do apologize if you're not, and therefore unable to see this. But Spotify is free and amazing and I cannot say enough good things about it. And if I understand how this works correctly, as long as you have an account and are signed in, you should be able to listen to / follow the list. (After I hit publish I'll log out and experiment and see what's what, though.)

Since I'm starting from scratch with the embedded version, I've titled it FriNiJamz Volume I. I'll leave it up until next Friday night.

America's Favorite

My mother snuck up on me tonight. She likes to do that, when I make a cup of tea.

Tea was her clock and her comfort. She fixed a cup first thing in the morning, rawboned and pensive in faded flannel pajamas. Thinness kept her girlishly limber into her fifties, and she would sit with her knees drawn tight to her chest like a child at story hour, a faraway look masking her thoughts as she sipped. In those moments it was as if her whole body were wrapped around the mug, pulling heat and strength and reassurance from its steam.

All day. She drank it all day. With meals and afterward. Between chores and before bed. My mother drank tea the way some people smoke tobacco: agreeably and pleasurably chained to it.

She drank cheap American tea, which she prepared the tragically American way: by nuking a single-serve baggie in cold tap water on high for two and a half minutes. As I child I thought microwave ovens worked by conventionally heating their contents, only with greater power. When I learned they actually operate through radiation, I was terrified to think what my mother was ingesting from those little bloated brown bags of leaves. Now I know whatever poisons irradiated Lipton left in her blood were nothing compared to what the alcohol did. But kids aren't always good at recognizing the enemy.

Tonight I wanted to wrench more from the dwindling evening than my brain seemed prepared to give, and past a certain hour coffee just feels obscene - so I made a cup of tea. The cabinet is stocked with Earl Grey, peppermint, and chamomile, not to mention a half-dozen tins of Terence's oolongs and greens and other more exotic blends. But I chose from the bright yellow box with the red and white logo - the one containing several dozen miniature envelopes packed in cheerful uniformity. The cheap stuff. America's Favorite Tea. Well, perhaps. One American's that I can attest to anyway.

I can't drown it without smelling it first. And that smell is everything. Things I've known and things I'll never understand. Things familiar and things forgotten. Things that make sense and things that have no business speaking to me at all, much less from the depths of a delicate paper packet the size of a pocket watch. Orange blossom, pepper, and miscommunication. Timothy hay, chocolate, and blame. That smell is my mother.

A funny thing about tea, though: its scent seems to fade under the kettle's boiling spout. So she comes sometimes, when I reach into the bright yellow box. But she rarely stays longer than two and a half minutes.