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Pie Four: Apple
Jan 19th, 2016 by alexfaye

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Pie four is classic apple and it featured a delicious flaky crust (that simple butter crust that I’m starting to trust), with an organic Granny Smith apple filling.  It was tart!  I cooked the apples in lemon juice, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg until the apples were soft; then I drained off the juice, and cooked the juice over a low heat with butter, until it reduced and caramelized a bit.  Maybe I was too impatient. Also, I think this pie still looks too light in color.  I want a golden brown, so to my eye this pie looks pale.  Maddy disagrees.  She says it looks right.

Another thing about this pie is that I did not adequately meld the top and the bottom together, so the top sort of lifted off.  And again, the edges…I don’t know how to make that beautiful fluted edge that my mom used to make with her fingers. She just did it, and like any magic trick that you live with day-in and day-out, it just seemed ordinary, so I didn’t pay attention.  SMH.  All those magical things that Evelyn did when I wasn’t looking or paying her any mind.  What I wouldn’t give for another year with my mom.

Pie Three: Chicken Pot Pie
Jan 2nd, 2016 by alexfaye

Pie is all about the crust.  I’m just trying to find the right crust recipe, and I think this may be it — three ingredients: flour, butter and ice water.  And next up in the skill department:  I need to learn to seal and crimp edges.  Still wondering about that uneven color (could it be my oven?), but this crust was flaky, delicious, light, and it did not rip.   I did use an egg wash on top.3843_10208208131942286_6089272668333749183_n

School is getting ready to start up again, and January — the end of first semester — is going to be hairy.  In addition, Erich and I have a writing deadline, and there’s SO MUCH grading to do, so it will be a while before I tackle Pie Four.

But 2016 is the year of many pies. #52pieproject   Tools that I want: interesting cookie cutters for decorative flourishes, and a good quality pastry brush.

Pie Two: Sausage, Kale, Acorn Squash Hand Pies
Jan 1st, 2016 by alexfaye

Happy New Year!

For Pie Two in my #52PieProject, I liberally modified a Martha Stewart recipe for the filling (and never again! Her site is plagued by advertising pop-ups — worse than most! and the recipe called for apples and raisins, which I just am not interested in trying), and then I used the very same recipe for the crust as I used for Pie One.

The result were these lovely little empañada-style pies — delicious and fun to eat.  I’d like to make more and freeze them.  They seem like the perfect lunch.  And I’ve found a new pie crust recipe that I cannot wait to try with tonight’s Chicken Pot Pie! Stay tuned.

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#thestruggleisreal
Nov 18th, 2015 by alexfaye

I always give the finger to anyone who blows their horn at me, even if they have a point.   It just seems like the right thing to do.  Horns lack subtlety of any kind, and even though the guy today may have been justified in blasting his big Dodge Ram horn at my little Toyota Matrix, I still felt I should flip him off, so I did.

The thing about teaching at a large public high school though is that the closer you are in proximity to the school in the morning, the more likely you know the person in the Dodge Ram.  Even more likely: they know you.

Teachers live in a fishbowl, and fish inside fishbowls should not give the finger to anyone. Or fin.  Fin You!

The morning is such a struggle.  I walk Hank, and we don’t even go that far.  I am always trying to leave earlier than I do, but I end up leaving right at 7:00, and even a little later.  That puts so much pressure on my commute up the 605 — nothing can go wrong.  And then I’m driving in with all the parents and kids, and I frequently end up practicing deep breathing to keep from losing my mind.  I walk in with my bags draped across my body (backpack, lunch bag, canvas sack of (untouched) work, purse) and open the door to the kids.  Bell rings, and it’s off to the races.

What would be better:  getting up much earlier, and walking Hank much farther, and leaving earlier, and getting to school earlier.  All of that would be better.

Most people need to sleep more.  I need to sleep more.  And people get better sleep and rest when they go to bed earlier than they do when they sleep in later. Just more time in bed does not necessarily mean more rest or better rest.  And they say that 7 hours of sleep is essential. (Essential.  I think we’re going to find out that all of this sleep deprivation we’ve taught ourselves to live with is just as bad as smoking.)

Here’s another thing they say: we should disconnect from screens at least an hour before bed.  It’s even better to disconnect TWO hours before bed.

So here’s the day as it SHOULD be.  I should hear my alarm at 5am, and get up the first time.

Because the other thing they say is that you should set your alarm a half hour earlier and get up the first time.  With this simple act, you teach yourself to overcome the fat, hairy resistance that sits between you and your higher purpose.  There are so many things that we want to do, but we never get started.  But we teach ourselves to do what is best by getting up the first time the alarm goes off.

So, it goes off at 5:00.

I should be clean already.
My lunch should be made.
My clothes should be pressed and ready to go.
I go out to the kitchen, drink lemon, honey and cayenne pepper on an empty stomach.
Then I should do a 10-minute work out, working towards the day that these are easy, and I need to add more strenuous exercise to that short routine.
By now, it’s 5:30.
Get dressed, pack up my bags, get everything staged for loading, eat oatmeal, and some lean protein. Maybe chop up a hard-boiled egg white and toss it into the oatmeal.
6:00 a.m., walk Hank for 30 minutes.
6:30 a.m. settle Hank in, and then leave.
Arrive at school at 7a.m. at the latest.
Why? No traffic.  No long line at the copy machine.  Quiet time in the classroom with the black journal, plan the day.
7:30 TEACH LIKE A MANIAC ALL DAY
1:00 Lunch.  Get out of the classroom and seek the company of other adults.  Eat a healthy lunch. 
1:30 Drink a big coffee, and work (grading, planning, never ending email) until 4:00  [work hours:  8 hours]
4:00 Come home, drink a big water and eat a gigantic salad.
5:00 Hank time
6:30 Write, read, plan, work until 8:30. [2 hours]
8:30  Yoga mat
9:00  shower, prepare lunch, lay out clothes, journal, meditate.  Bed by 10.

The routine that I always thought to be so rigid, so inflexible, so SQUARE — look.  It’s actually the path to liberation.

Here’s some wisdom I’ve finally earned:  there is no time to waste.  I like to be flexible and you know, take a phone call now and then, but honestly, the day is busy.  The weeks fly by.  There are not enough hours to do everything that I want to do, everything that I should, and get my work done too.  Everything — the food, the exercise, the quiet time, the Hank time, the writing time, and reading time…all of that adds up.  And when I’m into a stack of papers, I can’t stop, can I?  It’s difficult.  When I’ve built up some momentum with a stack, I need to keep going.

If you have an answer, let me know.  Surely this is the path to sanity, but my feet do not seem able to stay upon it for long.

I snapped at that poor kid
Nov 4th, 2013 by alexfaye

It wasn’t terrible, but for me it was out of character.  My excuses are perfectly legitimate — I hate the question, I’m sleep deprived, and I’m defensive about this because the question (no, the answer) seems to imply I’m disinterested or incompetent.

The students turned in essays on Friday, and today is Monday;  the question this unsuspecting student asked was, “Are you finished reading the essays?”

And because I spent so much of my free time this past weekend working on grades — and it was a sunny, crisp fall weekend, perfect for golf, hiking, biking, maybe one of the last nice weekends in a while — and I am cranky from reading student work all of the time, like a martyr or a lunatic, I snapped.

“Are you kidding me!?  Do the math!  That would be impossible.  There are not enough hours in a weekend for me to take home a tall stack on Friday, and be done on Monday, AND get report cards in.”

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He was taken aback by the ferocity of my answer.  (Kids have no idea.)  I turned on him like a cat whose tail has been stepped on.  He was apologetic, which made me see what a jerk I was.  Because what was this kid actually asking?

“Have you read my essay? Is it any good?”

And that, homies, is MY JOB.  My work is to give meaningful feedback so they can grow, and these papers I’ve collected are their personal statements, so they have bared their souls and are feeling nervous about it.  They want and need a gentle and helpful reader.  Someone who takes them seriously as a writer.  And although their peers have been all over those papers, what they really want, and what they really need…is me.

But I think that kid may be a bit wary of me from now on.  I apologized to him twice, but I feel like I damaged something.

This is what I spoke about at the October 10 School Board meeting.  I said to the board, “I have 175 students.  If I assigned one paragraph to all of my students, and if I took 4 minutes for each writing sample — to read it, analyze what’s working and what is not, then to write a terse and directive note, and a note of encouragement — it would take me over 11 hours to work through that stack.  So I can’t give that paragraph 4 minutes.  The best I can do is 40 seconds — and the only thing I can say to a kid in 40 seconds is Check! Plus! Minus!”

Not helpful to the writer.  Not a good use of my time.  Scoring in this way becomes nothing more than a bookkeeping task, when what kids actually need is feedback.  More than a grade, they need to know what to do next to improve.

And when would I put those 11 hours together to read those paragraphs?  During my paid work day?  Not possible.  I take my free time to do that work — time that other people spend doing things like, well, everything else that composes a good life.  Me? I need exercise and rest and time with my loved ones.  I don’t get enough of that vital stuff during the school year.  I also don’t take the 4 minutes that the kids need on that paragraph.  I cannot.  Because the next day, it’s something else.  There’s always something new to do.

And here, we’re talking about essays — not just paragraphs.  On an essay like this, I cannot give any kind of feedback in under 6 minutes.  Six minutes is fast reading, fast writing.  And, of course, I’m a veteran, so I would never assign (rarely assign) every student on my roster a paper that is due on the same day — even the same week!  Even so.  To get through these essays is going to take some time.

It is unreasonable to expect English teachers to see over 150 kids in a day.  It just is.  It’s not this kid’s fault.  And it’s not mine.

to the lady around the corner
Nov 1st, 2013 by alexfaye

I first noticed you maybe two years ago?  Maybe more?  You were so tall, so substantial — so wide!, and when you walked you swayed and swung your arms, sort of stiffly, like a metronome.  There, in the early morning light, as I passed you in the car on my way to work — I saw you that were wearing earbuds, striding down the street to your own private and steady rhythm, in the dark, in the rain, in the early morning — every day.

I saw you every day.

Soon, you were scenery.  I’d note your presence, but you did not occupy my thoughts.  I’d think, “Oh gosh, there’s that lady with the big butt.  Good for her.”

When I see you now, you are still tall, of course, but so slender,  still swaying when you walk but lately mostly running — a testament to patience, persistence and discipline.  Now when I pass you, I reflect on the lessons in your gait.

I often have thought of writing you a letter to tell you this  — I saw you one time, talking on your cell phone and getting out of a car on a driveway, so I’m pretty sure you live right around the corner from me — no more than 10 houses away.  But then I think, “she walks through the neighborhood with such a light step, with no self-consciousness about her.  What if she starts wondering who is watching her, who is writing her letters?  What if she starts peering into passing cars?” and I stop.  I’m sure I’d get the creeps if I thought my daily activities were being observed by a stranger and noted, no matter how benign the intentions.

So I’ll write to you here, on my blog.  You’ll never see it, most likely.  It’s for the best.

But you are one of my heroes, and every day that I pass you, I send out a little puff of love and respect.  Maybe you’ll run through the cloud I send, or maybe its particles will dissipate and float around, and a stray few will eventually settle on the top of your head and shoulders.  I hope so.  I hope when I drive by, you don’t know why, but suddenly your pace feels easy, and a renewed energy floods through you.

Namaste.

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Cormac McCarthy on my mind
Mar 17th, 2013 by alexfaye

I am in the middle of several books, and really, no real reading can go forward until I finish Infinite Jest.  I have nearly every single book possible written by or about David Foster Wallace, and I’m working my way through.  I have a posthumous fangirl thing going on with him.  In addition, I belong to two book clubs.  The 2nd Thursday Book club (I refer to this one as ‘the real book club’) just finished This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz, and has chosen Black Swan Green by David Mitchell for April.  The book club at work (not ‘a fake book club’ by any means, but younger, more fluid in its membership, and less regular in its meetings) is reading Gone Girl by I-don’t-even-know-who.  Welch?  Flynn.  It’s a bestseller.  Look it up.

Yesterday, I went to the 31st annual Literary Women conference in Long Beach.  And I was bowled over.  And I purchased books.  I have new heros:  Dana Spiotta, Megan Mayhew Bergman, Michelle Huneven, Charlotte Rogan, Amy Waldman.  I bought some books.  I downloaded others.

My professional reading is piling up: I’m re-reading Adventures of Huckleberry Finn with my students; I’ve collected essays from kids, and the professional journals and emails pointing to web content are collecting on my actual and virtual desktops; loose pages, like the Fed-Ex packets of draft chapters from my work on the state framework committee, and binders of text to support our school’s accreditation work (WASC).  Did I mention the essays from kids?  Yes.  Those.  Hundreds.

Finally, a dear student from many years gone by has asked me to read her novel.  I read in snatches.  I can’t string together the requisite hours to give it a fair read.

And somehow, Blood Meridian has been speaking to me from the shelf.  Who knows why?  Clearly, I don’t have time to read Cormac McCarthy right now.  My real book club opted to read All the Pretty Horses for July, and not Blood Meridian, despite my suggestion — we have a friend who is a little more sensitive, and some things are just too harsh for her, so we often choose our books with this in mind — for example, The Road exemplified a terrible read for her:  too bleak, too dark, too violent. I wake up from sleep, drawn to Blood Meridian — a book known for its twisted violent vision — a book I’ve never read.

I can’t explain it, so I went and pulled it down from the shelf and opened to the middle.  Look at these sentences:

The judge knelt with his knife and cut the strap of the tigre-skin warbag the man carried and emptied it in the sand. It held an eyeshield made from a raven’s wing, a rosary of fruitseeds, a few gunflints, a handful of lead balls.  It also held a calculus or madstone from the inward parts of some beast and this the judge examined and pocketed.

And these, soon after:

They rode all day upon a pale gastine sparsely grown with saltbush and panicgrass.  In the evening they entrained upon a hollow ground that rang so roundly under the horses’ hooves that they stepped and sidled and rolled their eyes like circus animals and that night as they lay in that ground each heard, all heard, the dull boom of rock falling somewhere far below them in the awful darkness inside the world.

And just a few lines down:

The riders wore masks of boneblack smeared about their eyes and some had blacked the eyes of their horses.

warbag.  madstone. panicgrass.  boneblack.  pouring contents into sand.  the inward parts of a beast.  the awful darkness inside the world.  Holy shit, Cormac McCarthy.  That’s all I can say this morning.  I have things to do.  And I haven’t read your famous book.  Not yet.  But you’re working on me.  I don’t know why or how, but you’ve entered my head.

UPDATE:  Former student Marcus texted from college to tell me about a movie he saw and liked: Sunset Limited — based on a play by Cormac McCarthy.

Meet the Beatles
May 26th, 2012 by alexfaye

 

My first love outside of the tight ring of family was Ringo Starr.

In 1964, I went to first grade at Saint Michael’s Academy, dressed daily in a grey jumper with white blouse, a white undershirt (my Navy dad, out on destroyers for half the year, called them “skivy shirts”), with black and white saddle oxfords on my feet, and clean white socks. My mother held my hand as we walked to school together, and I remember her quick kiss at the gate before she ran back up the hill to catch the bus, headed downtown to her job in a commercial laundry.

So it wasn’t the parish priest, Father Frederick, or my beloved teacher, Mother Conception, or my parents who brought Ringo Starr to my attention.  It was my sister, Vicki, 19 and just graduated from Cathedral High School.  Vicki wore mascara and a bra; Vicki had a boyfriend.  She talked on the phone for hours with her best friend Gloria, and together they played guitar and sang songs by the Kingston Trio, Peter Paul and Mary, and Joan Baez.  It was Vicki who brought the aptly titled LP home:  Meet the Beatles.

The cover art featured stark black and white photography of John, George, Paul and Ringo, dressed in black turtlenecks and with identical mop top haircuts.  They are each lit so that half of their face remains in shadow. My handsome father sneered at their appearance, mocking their long hair and doleful faces.  And the music — it was incomprehensible, silly.  A few months earlier, President Kennedy had been shot right out of his Dallas motorcade.  My father did not approve, and my mother never, ever broke ranks.

It slowly began to dawn on my blooming first-grade mind that liking the Beatles was going to separate me from them, my beloved parents, who knew everything and who ran the world.  To like the Beatles (when they did not) was a small, rebellious act for a Catholic girl in the first grade — a girl just learning to read, learning to add and subtract.  Add the Beatles; subtract my parents.  A tiny equation, secretive, and a little dangerous.  I tried it, and nothing happened.  They didn’t even seem to know that the Beatles were mine, and not theirs.

It was clear, even then, that Paul was the pretty one, and Ringo, not even in line with the others, but positioned below, by himself, was the one with the saddest eyes, and a big and irregular nose — my father had a big nose, too — so it seemed to me that he was not going to be adored, like the others, who sang and played guitars.  On stage too, he was behind the others, alone, keeping the beat.  I don’t remember deciding to love him.  It was more like I had to love him, because if I didn’t, who would? I lit a torch for Ringo Starr and carried it quietly, hot inside my heart.

The Beatles broke up in 1970; I was in junior high.  Love for the now-defunct band matured and ripened through high school, and I plastered my walls with images from their short career, in various incarnations: a painting of the four as members of an ancient British court; the boys joyously leaping in the air in their promo shot for “Help!”; Sergeant Pepper (the band clad in elaborately decorated, neon-colored military jackets with fat brass buttons); the pen and ink artwork from Revolver; the puzzle of the Abbey Road cover (the theory that Paul was dead allegedly confirmed there in the symbolism of that photo); the four glossy head shots from the White Album; the Beatles as desperados from the single release of “Get Back;” and finally, a shot from that final, heartbreaking rooftop concert, Let It Be.  The images surrounded me, entered me somehow as I listened to the albums again and again, and although I’ve been smitten hundreds of times since then, the boys are still there, 48 years since Meet the Beatles, embedded in my psyche, the soundtrack of youth, first rebellion and first love.

Going the Distance
May 19th, 2012 by alexfaye

Rode my bike to school again today — it’s 17.6 miles, round trip — and experienced the same thing I did the other day, my first day: disbelief. At the beginning of the ride, the whole idea seems preposterous, and I start thinking of bail out options, just in case.

The trip can be broken down into chunks; each little leg of the trip is its own small journey. And as I ride, through the neighborhood, and then across big busy Katella, back behind Maddy’s old middle school, over the little footbridge behind the big athletic fields behind Oak, with the 605 freeway just beyond, then south to the beach, over a suspension bridge that dumps me onto the San Gabriel River Bike Path, and then up that long path to South Street, I have nothing but time to think and listen to whatever is burbling up within me. My mind begins to bore me, that yakkity yak Lucy Ricardo stuff, and I want to be at my destination – but at this point, I still have a long way to go. So I have to break into another mind, or go bonkers, watching the tiny hamster run the hamster wheel.

I see that persistence and patience are key. That the end gets here faster than we expect. Alex, the end gets here faster than we expect. Are you getting this down? The end. Gets here. Faster.

The first place I come to that means I am really out of the neighborhood is El Dorado Park. This used to feel like a big fucking deal, but it’s so easy now that I don’t even think it’s all that noteworthy. I drive by it with aplomb. And sure enough, I see people down on the sidewalk with their bikes, sort of cruising along, and little kids wobbling on training wheels, and double-seater strollers with some beleagured mom or dad pushing it along, sometimes walking, sometimes running, sometimes the kids asleep, and sometimes, no kids at all in the stroller. What is that about? That reminds me of Wenzel, pushing the stroller at the AIDS Walk in Hollywood back in 1989, while I walked beside him, carrying Her Highness Miss Madeline the Baby Who Prefers to Go Everywhere Carried by Her Mother, and Wenzel said, “Pushing this empty stoller feels like I’m making a political statement.”

The next part, El Dorado Park, Part 2: I pass by this part of the park with a little sense of longing. I like riding around in there because it is still mysterious to me in many ways, and I remember this is where I got my very first impression of Long Beach, driving up from San Diego to meet my parents who were at a picnic hosted by my dad’s new job at Terminal Island, and my dad got drunk and my mom got mad because my dad appeared to be flirting with some cheesy Filipino woman who was actually throwing her legs around, and gee whiz, it was just like being in high school again, feeling trapped with two drunk people and all kinds of sublimated violence and emotion, and a slight subtext of sexual infidelity. Yay! This is where I meet my friend Erich. He enters the bike path at Wardlow, which is called Ball Road in Cypress, where he lives. I am SO glad I don’t live on Ball Road. I don’t want to live on any street that makes me think of testicles: Ball Road, Nutwood, Gonad Way, Wrinkly Sack Street. This part of the park is still surprising to me, and every Mexican picnic seems to have its own little cadre of Mariachis. And I once confronted an entire pack of geese and ducks that looked like they should have had been wearing little leather jackets, with switchblade knives tucked inside their boots. Except they weren’t wearing boots, but you know what I mean. They stood in the road and stared me down, like Greasers.

The next big street to pass is Carson, and you know you’re there because there’s the big goddamn WalMart, and what is there to say about that, except you can get stuff there very cheap, but I feel it’s necessary to don a simple disguise before entering, lest anyone recognize me, and then upon returning home with sacks of cheap goods, sit down and write a check to some nonprofit working with the indigent. Today as I passed by, I heard something like gunfire. I glanced down at my watch, 10:05, and said to myself, check the internet later, because somebody is getting gunned down there in the Walmart parking lot.

This is what happens when I pass the equestrian center. To get up over that hump beyond Carson Street, I have to climb a brief but steep hill, so I have to ramp it up, stand up in the pedals, so when I hit the top, I am breathing hard, but I’m immediately confronted by the problem of horse shit. And I think of this fact: the little molecules that I am breathing that are giving me the message, “horse shit,” were recently up in some horse’s ass. And I don’t like that idea, so I try to hold my breath, but I’m already out of breath because of that dang little hill, and obviously I have to breathe, so I breathe shallowly and pedal faster, to get beyond the equestrian center faster, and as I start to get dizzy, I think, gosh, this reminds me a lot of teaching.

The Del Amo tunnel comes next, and the whole idea of going down into a tunnel at a pretty good clip without being to see what is INSIDE the tunnel first makes me nervous. Are you thinking “Freud”? Well, stop.

OK I hit my word count, so it’s time to get in the shower, and get to the bar where all of my friends are. Hurry up! It’s past 9 already. And I’m at 997 words, come on! Who needs that many words? Three more: 1000!

My cat, Jeofrey
Sep 26th, 2011 by alexfaye

Of course, you know I don’t have a cat.  Terribly allergic.  I am referring to Christopher Smart’s cat, and the lovely poem he wrote in tribute.

In class the other day, when I was speaking to my students about the writing process, and I told them that although writing is fundamentally a solitary activity, it is also a social activity — that we write in order to share a piece of our inner experience with others.  I think James Baldwin said something like, “You think your pain and suffering is unique in the history of the world, but then you read.”

And when I was telling them this, my eyes welled up, and then my voice cracked, which immediately got everyone’s undivided attention.

Later, a very sweet and concerned student wrote me an email that essentially said, “I read the poem, and I can’t figure out why it made you cry.  Please explain to me what you are seeing.”

So I wrote back.

I found this poem in the most accidental, serendipitous way — in fact, I could not even tell you how I discovered it. It was not in a class or even in a book, or anything. It was just there, somehow in the world, waiting for me to find it. When stuff like that happens, I perk up. My attention is quickened.

I find Smart’s poem charming, and I will be able to read it without growing bored of it for the span of my life; I love the idea that an animal — in expressing its true nature — is expressing God’s will. (Does that mean that when I express my true nature, that I am expressing God’ s will? If so, what is my true nature? And that, my dear, is a question that we can ponder every day: Am I expressing my true nature today? Or am I expressing someone else’s idea for me?)

But what sometimes chokes me up is NOT the poem itself…it’s the knowledge that words live on longer than mortal human being, and that words retain the power to touch us and move us far longer than an ordinary human life span. Of course, we know this any time we pick up the words of any dead author…(I’ve been thinking of this often lately as I read David Foster Wallace, a brilliant writer and compassionate human being who committed suicide in 2008.) Black lines on paper EVOKE MEANING that transcend space and time. This never fails to amaze me.

And then I think of Christopher Smart in the asylum — what must an asylum been like in 16th century England? I ask myself, “Did he imagine that his words would reach a 20th century woman in Southern California?” and of course, the answer is no. What a ridiculous idea that would have been for him.

I wonder if he was cold, or if he was hungry, or if he was lonely.  I know he was alone, writing poetry, with nobody for company but his cat Jeofrey,

a “mixture of gravity and waggery…
For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements.
For, tho he cannot fly, he is an excellent clamberer.
For his motions upon the face of the earth are more than any other quadrupede.
For he can tread to all the measures upon the musick
For he can swim for life.
For he can creep.”

And it GRABS ME RIGHT IN THE HEART.

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