Best Brownies Ever

After making such a fuss about chocolate the other day, I thought it only right to post my favorite brownie recipe. To me they are the best brownies ever because they are not straight-up brownies. They combine the best, richest, most-perfect-brownie-texture brownie part with two other elements that set them apart: dried cranberries, with their sweetness/zing and oatmeal cookie, with its delicate crunch and isn’t-it-kind-of-good-for-you draw.


Basically you make what seems like a very small amount of oatmeal cookie dough, press it into the bottom of the pan, bake that for ten minutes while (in the meantime) preparing the chocolate part, to which you add the cranberries, pour it over the now-baked-for-ten-minutes cookie base, and bake for another 40 minutes. Done! Chocolate heaven awaits!

This is now the third blog post that expounds on a recipe found in my Williams Sonoma Cookies & Biscotti cookbook,* clearly a favorite from my (2).2mp.jpg

I am old enough to have actual cookbooks on a shelf, and they are dear to me! I copied the recipe into my loose-leaf recipe binder at some point, possibly afraid I’d loan the cookbook to someone and then – horrors!! – not have the recipe on hand when nothing in the world will due except these brownies.

My version, slightly simplified (i.e. this is the way I do it). Note the five stars at the bottom!

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And the book’s version (with metric equivalents, which I know is much appreciated by some of you and I’m sorry I don’t always convert…):

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As noted above, the combined oats, brown sugar, flour, baking soda, salt and melted butter doesn’t seem like much, certainly not in the bowl, and even when you transfer it from the bowl to your buttered, foil-lined pan…

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…but with your fingers you can spread this out to all corners. My pan, by the way, is a wonderful Kaiser springform pan that Claudia gave me years ago and is also perfect for my chocolate cheesecake. But I have not always made this recipe in this pan. An 8” or 9” square pan works just as well. The wonder of the foil lining is that you can just lift the entire thing out when it has finished baking and cooled slightly.

So here is the oat mixture spread out…

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… and here it is after the ten minutes in the oven.

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During the ten minutes that the base is baking, you wouldn’t want to be idle of course, so that’s when you make the chocolate part. A better idea is to melt the ½ cup (one stick) of butter and the two ounces/half package unsweetened chocolate (I use this Baker’s brand) …

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…before you even start with the oatmeal part.

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Do get it all the way melted before you let it cool a bit, and then add it to the rest of the other ingredients. BTW I do not use the espresso powder as the original (note not my copied version) suggests, though you are welcome to.

The combined eggs, sugar, flour, vanilla and salt will cream together beautifully with a whisk – is there anything more basic in baking, anything more sublime? (I do this in the same bowl I mixed up the oatmeal cookie dough in. If a stray, left-behind oat happens to mix with the chocolate part, it is not the end of the world.) Then you add the melted-and-slightly-cooled chocolate/butter followed by the cranberries and bake it 40 minutes longer until it looks about like this.


After ten minutes or so of cooling, I unhinged/took away the side part of the pan (or you can lift it out holding the foil) and peeled the foil back from the sides like this.

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I cut through it right then and there because I wanted you to see the side view.

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And then I cut it into 36 little squares. I am playing with numbers for my own benefit here, you see. If the brownies are smaller, I can have two, but if they are bigger, I will tell myself that one is enough. And you know how it is (or trust me that this is how it will be with these brownies) – you will want more!


Voila! I hope you like them. And even if you don’t, for some reason I cannot fathom, your friends and family will! Being as rich and moist as they are, these brownies also travel well – I sent them on a Thursday a few weeks ago to my friend Fred in Kentucky; they arrived on Saturday and he waited till Sunday to eat them – how a person could wait, I have no idea, but that is another conversation.… He ate them with his coffee for breakfast and called them delicious 😊.


*Some of you might recall the Lemon-Anise-Almond Biscotti and the Chocolate Chip Walnut Biscotti.

Caught in the Good Sense, Caught in the Bad

I didn’t think my iron had a flashing light. You know, the kind that is meant to warn you it’s still on and you haven’t used it for a while and it’s about to automatically shut off. Anyway I was sure I had unplugged it. But as I got into bed last night, I saw the unmistakably repeating on-off-on-off of a small light in the far corner of my room.

Normally the iron lives in my closet in its own place. Telling this story forces me to admit that I didn’t put it away when I was finished with it yesterday. (I wasn’t feeling well, truth be told, and spent a good deal of the afternoon on the couch, blah, blah, blah…) Anyone who’s been here knows I am far from an OCD housekeeper, but I do like things in their place, and I do – 99% of the time – put the iron away. At the very least, I unplug it. You’ll have to take my word on that. Yes, it was still out (wet noodle!), but no way did I leave it plugged in.

What was the light then? I live in the woods and it’s pretty dark outside at night unless there’s a bright moon. No one sees well in the dark, and I see even less well on account of having no glasses on or contacts in at bedtime. But I can see a flashing light, even if it’s very small. My laptop flashes, visible only when the rest of the room is very dark. It’s so incessant and annoying that I will usually put a pillow over it if it’s in my room at night. But my laptop was not in my room last night.

An airplane, I fleetingly thought. Airplanes have small flashing lights, right? But they are not stationary. An airplane would be 1. Much higher in the sky and 2. Moving. Airplane idea quickly dismissed.

I was tired. It was after midnight and I needed to get some sleep. I closed my eyes and tried to forget about the light. But I saw it inside my head. And I saw it when I opened my eyes again to check if it was still there. On. Off. On. Off.

A silent cry for help? A tiny UFO?

I know: A fairy trying to get my attention! Yoo-hoo! Over here! (This is apparently what happens when you are not feeling well and end up on the couch a good part of the day watching a show that’s set in 18th century Scotland! Outlander, do you see what you are doing to me?!)

Finally I couldn’t stand it any more and got out of bed to investigate. I followed the weak but steady flashing light and my heart dropped when I got to it. Some might say it’s ridiculous to feel emotion at seeing a firefly caught in a spider web, still alive, still trying, but I confess – I felt emotion! I wanted to put the poor, struggling thing out of its misery. Alas, this was not in my power. The web was outside and I was inside. I would need a tall ladder and more energy than I had in me at that hour. I had to let it go. A silent cry for help indeed!

My phone camera has a time delay. It doesn’t take the photo the very moment you tap the white dot, so I knew my chances of catching the momentary light of the poor, trapped firefly were super slim. But somehow this worked! I caught it! You can see the light. I caught it on film, we used to say (when film was a thing) – the good sense of caught. The spider caught it in the bad sense.

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Funny how this happened the very day the men came to take down the truncated red oak. It stands about 40 feet up, stripped of all limbs, and has that gaping, splintery wound down its lower half on the side that faces the woods. The climber put on his cleats and used ropes to shimmy up the trunk, intending to buzz-buzz it piece by piece in log length from the top, and lower them one by one to the ground.

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The gaping wound we knew about, but it was not the only weakness. Higher up, he found holes filled with tree fluff, an indication of rot and disease. And the lean was not insignificant. The 140-pound climber with his gear was enough weight to cause considerable swaying. He made the decision that this work was too dangerous and came down.

Is the tree safe enough for now? I asked him. “For at least a year, maybe up to five,” he said. “Without branches, in its present state, it can’t catch wind and likely won’t fall on its own.”

It’s pathetic. Poor tree.

“But it will sprout branches,” he told me. “It wants to save itself and knows it needs the nourishment it gets from having leaves. It will do what it can to maintain its necessary internal circulation. Over time though, the new branches might form a kind of sail. By then the fungus that’s growing on the backside will have weakened it more. Between the sail that could take it down and the fungus that could eat it up, it’s going to die.”

Wouldn’t it be better to put it out of its misery? I asked.

“Yes, that would be better than a slow death.”

Taking the red oak the rest of the way down will require a bucket truck again, he said. This time, I knew, it would be on my nickel, a bigger nickel than the climber would have cost. I’ll have to think about this.

Twice yesterday I wanted to put a living thing out of its misery. Twice it was not within my power. Twice I was reminded that some things we can do, and some things we…just…can’t.

Sunshine Blogger Award

Monday was a milestone day for me, celebrated (in my dreams) with a new pint of Ben & Jerry’s Pfish Food – oh, how wonderful some of that would be right now. It was a good day for a milestone (despite the ice cream remaining a dream) because I was sacked out on the couch most of the day on account of the army of ants that grossed me out on Saturday and made me move all those oak clapboards in the hot sun on Monday. Yes, my heat exhaustion was definitely their fault and the milestone perked me up in a way only Pfish Food would also have had the power to do.


The milestone I celebrated was that the number of views on my blog on June 24, 2019, exceeded the total number in all of 2018, setting me up for a 100% increase by the end of the year. This is more than a little bit surprising to me because I know I’m all over the map with this blog, which I expect is not the smartest way to build and/or keep a following.

But unboring means I can’t write about one thing only, like only chickens or only cooking. Instead I jump all around and have fun with things like skinks, mums, brisket, pink boots, creepy garden statues, silly dogs, puzzles, biscotti, Aquaman (and other superheros), chocolate cheesecake (n.b. chocolate cheesecake), museums, meatloaf, spiders, screwdrivers, monkey bread, quilts, beet salad, girls and aprons, prickles, spaetzle and people who are 100+ years old (“At 100” being my most popular post so far by far, btw! Who would have ever guessed that??). My blog is kind of like coming to dinner at my house – you never know what you’re going to get! A prize to anyone who can tell me which posts all the images in this post come from.

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I mention the milestone only because the exceeding joy of it was today exceeded by Mona of Wayward Sparkles  who nominated me for the Sunshine Blogger Award, which blew my mind. Thank you, Mona!! I am shocked, honored and utterly discombobulated by this news. Mona’s blog is so fun, so real, so interesting, so hilarious – I don’t hold a candle to her! She has a big heart and big talent and I know she, also a recipient of this award, will be hugely, monumentally successful in all of her writing endeavors.


Receiving this nomination comes with some rules (which look more like requirements to me, but what do I know?). No free lunch in blogger-world apparently. I need to

  1. Thank the blogger who nominated me. I already have and evermore will thank Mona. Thank you, Mona!!
  2. Figure out how “Answer the questions” (technically the second requirement) and “Nominate new blogs to receive the award and in this case, ask them to list 5 to 10 random facts about themselves” (technically the third) are two separate things and then do these two things. Writers write, right? They are generally pretty good at it. This is not totally clear writing, just saying. I know Mona didn’t come up with the list of rules, but since she sees these as essentially one rule/requirement, I guess I will too. See my random facts below.
  3. (which is technically 4. but you know how these word programs know better than you do and put the numbers in automatically – it would not let me make this #4) List the rules (which still look like requirements to me) and display the Sunshine Blogger Award. Can do.
  4. (technically 5.) Notify the nominees about it by commenting on their blog post. This I can do too, though if I were in a quabbling mood I would I would make that “… by commenting about their blog post.” Whatever. Good thing I’m not in a quabbling mood.

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Nothing is said about the order in which these things must be done. Therefore allow me to say Thank you, Mona!! again and create an mildly unboring path here by ignoring the given order and jumping to 4/5, i.e. the nomination of other great blogs which I will do in the order in which I started following them. I will return to 2/3, the random tidbits part.

Lisa’s Favorite Places “My Love of…” Lisa loves to travel and has made me aware of so many places in the U.S. that I knew nothing about like naval yards and memorials and wineries and parks and small museums off the beaten track. Her photography is excellent too – how the sky and the water can be that blue or the wooded pathway through the park that serene, I don’t know! Thank you, Lisa!

Fresh Hell Sarah has a way with words that sets her apart and will very likely bring her great fame as a writer. She is not afraid of any topic, even darker ones that are harder to express. In both poems and prose, she hits the nail on the head, leaving me contemplative or assured or intrigued or hysterically laughing! She has also written a wonderful fantasy novel called The Turning (check it out on amazon). Thank you, Sarah!

London Life with Liz Liz takes you on a tour of London: museums, restaurants and tea houses, famous historical sites, etc, making me see what’s special about each one, making me want to go to each one! I have never been to London but when I go there I will follow all of her recommendations. She makes every place sound so interesting. Thank you, Liz!

Rachel Mankowitz Rachel write about her life: her adorable dogs, her clearly terrific mom, her aspirations as a writer, her struggles resulting from a difficult childhood, her career path, etc. She puts gentle and wise words to things like child abuse and drug addiction, helping many readers I’m sure understand these things better than they otherwise would. She has also written a novel called Yeshiva Girl (also amazon), a great read I in turn shared with my fellow CASA volunteers. Thank you, Rachel!

Rob Gradens Rob impresses me with his honesty. Life sucks sometimes and Rob has been dealt some sucky cards. Nonetheless he is embarking not only on a gigantic reconstruction of his house (after a fire) but is also just as determined to reconstruct the rest of his world. He is not afraid to discuss what doesn’t make sense to him, what irritates him, confuses him, helps him. Thank you, Rob!

Mona, I would nominate you too if I could! But River beat me to it…

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Some random things about me:

  1. If there are 31 or 45 or any number of ice cream flavors to choose from, and chocolate is one of the flavors (which it better be, otherwise something is wrong with this picture), I will choose chocolate or something chocolate-based, like Pfish Food. (When I asked Samuel to name a random thing about me, his mother, he said the first thing that came to mind was how I choose chocolate ice cream above all others. Yes! Then I read him this part.)
  2. I find ironing both relaxing and satisfying. I know, I know, most people consider it a chore and avoid it at all costs, including setting multiple timers so they can get to the dryer at the exact right time to be able to take their clothes out in perfect shape. Give me soft and pure cotton, even linen (did you say linen? you never get all the wrinkles out of that stuff!) ANY DAY. I iron my pillowcases.
  3. I remember the first poem I wrote. I was in third grade and my mother read it and handed it back to me and said: You wrote this? (which was the end of any praise on the matter and led me to think it was not a good plan for me to continue along the poetry track, and now you all can agree I was wise to stop at one poem!)

On Turkey Day we eat a lot
Our tummies get so puffed
I thought it was supposed to be
The turkey who got stuffed!

  1. I didn’t like kids when I was a teenager. I found them annoying and un-fun. I babysat only for the money. Then I had five of my own and found more love in my heart than I ever knew was humanly possible. Go figure.
  2. I forget stuff sometimes. Once I forgot that I had placed the most recently dead hamster (probably the one my son Bradley tried to give a bath to), all wrapped up in a paper towel, on the mantle above the wood stove in the winter (when the stove is going constantly), and was puzzled about what that horrible smell was a few days later…
  3. I pronounce marry different than merry and Mary. Do you?
  4. I wrote a book called The Story of Keswick Hall, a hardbound, dust-jacketed, glossy-paged, full color 100-year-old history of a local private home/mansion that became a country club and then, after being practically pulled from the scrap heap, a world-class resort (currently closed for renovations). I am almost completely sold out of the second printing. I also published Vanishing History: Ruins in Virginia and My Dog is a WHAT?
  5. I homeschooled my kids for fifteen years. Our adventures included skinning a raccoon, traveling to national parks in the U.S. and castles and cathedrals in Europe, performing Charlotte’s Web and several Shakespeare plays, skiing and ice skating weekly (Oct-Mar) and building trenches in the backyard snow to simulate WWI battles. We had a blast! I want to write a book about this someday.
  6. I run an Airbnb cottage on my property called Golden Hill. In Virginia people name their properties. It’s a thing. I have 366 reviews so far.

By the way my frozen blueberry/milk/maple syrup concoction stood in nicely for the Pfish Food tonight!

And again, Thank you, Mona!!

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Too Hot, Too Much, Too Oblivious

I did it again. I forgot how strong the sun is. I forgot its power, my own limits, the bigger picture. In my mind was one thing only: Get those clapboards under the tent before it rains.

As if rain was imminent. As if a little rain would have hurt the wood. As if one more day would matter.

I don’t even remember for sure who said it – Lincoln, it had to be, when he was here recently being an amazing porch-roof-framework-builder. It was his first visit since we completed the chicken coop last year.

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We took a little walk one morning to look at it. I must have mentioned that we had been so excited to side the new coop with clapboards made from the oak timbers that his brother Bradley, also an expert builder, had milled with his Alaska saw mill seven or eight years ago, how well they matched the siding of the original coop (on the right), how like a fortress/palace the whole chicken compound is – no predator will get my birds!

We walked around to the back and I offhandedly mentioned that the leftover oak clapboards were resting under that tarp, and yeah, I really needed to move them one of these days. You don’t want to leave them there, Lincoln said. They need to be where they can be stacked right and get air.

See the tarp behind the coop? The clapboards are under it, neatly stacked. I was sure everything was just as we had left it last summer. Unsightly it is anyway though, look at that. Yes, moving those boards moved up the list. Air or no air.

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Air, yes. What happens when there is not much air? In my experience, things either suffocate or thrive. Sometimes, of course, not enough air is deadly. Sometimes, there’s just enough to hold in the moisture and create a fabulous, perfect, life-enhancing environment. Fabulous depending on who or what you are, of course. Hold that thought.

So Lincoln and the girls came and went, and my sister Lynn and her husband Billy came and went, and that’s when you turn your attention to the things you can’t do when you have company. Like moving oak clapboards. Saturday was the day.

I’m the grunt around here. I can screw down the decking boards and occasionally cut one on the chop saw. I can go get things, clean up, hold something in place, ask questions, decide if some element is worth our time or not, and make sure everyone has water to drink. I can also move stuff. I am a happy grunt! Somebody has to move stuff and it might as well be the person who is not so good with heights or has a bum shoulder or doesn’t feel so comfortable with the skillsaw. Or all of the above.

I uncovered the boards (turned out there were three tarps!) and discovered that the thin plastic that was between the boards and the tarp (for some reason I can’t remember) had greatly disintegrated. Shredded is maybe a better word. It was gross but nothing like what was coming. I picked all the plastic off and kept going. We had a trailer full of other construction materials to move as well, so I figured I’d add these boards to the load.

Two or three layers down I saw some ants. Pesky, big black things busy about their business. I kept going. They were not worth a photo. The more boards I uncovered, though, the more ants I saw. And not only ants. Ant eggs! Eight or nine layers down, I’m talking easily thousands! Ugh!!!

We all have triggers, right? Sensors that perk up at different things? Sensitivities that evoke feelings of tenderness or competitiveness or sympathy or DISGUST!!!!! I cannot possibly put into words how my disgust sensors went into overdrive – thus no photos I’m afraid! I had one thought and one thought only: Break up the ant colony or they will destroy the wood! Clearly the moist, safe, climate-controlled environment under the tarp(s) was ant heaven, and these were surely building up their forces and conspiring to eventually eat up my precious boards!

I know, I know, they’re just ants, just going about their business doing what ants do – multiplying copiously! I am sure there are countless similar colonies in my woods, countless such heavenly environments among all the fallen logs out there. These ants had been at it for almost a year — surely a few more minutes (such as a calmer person would have taken) would affect nothing significantly, but they were just too numerous (far too numerous and far too gross!) and too close to my home. They had to go, and they had to go now.

Furiously I moved the boards, uncovering ever more ants. The chickens! I thought. The chickens would have a feast! I went around the front of the coop and opened their door, but no, these chickens who have never been outside the confines of their run/coop were unwilling to come out! Fools – there’s a feast out here!! Sandy (otherwise occupied in skillful work on the porch) had come by this time to help, and together we cornered three of them (one at a time!) and plunked them on the boards among the ants. Away they scampered! Pressed themselves against the outside of the fence as if they could ghost their way back in! Eeks! What are we doing out here?? I guess I have homebody chickens – they just wanted to go home!

(In retrospect I do see that the frenetic activity at that time was hardly conducive for enjoying a feast, but at the time all I could think was: Idiot birds!)

Finally all of the boards were laid out on the mulch surrounding the coops and snow-shovelfuls of ants and ant eggs were brought to the happy, home-again and thank-God-we-avoided-the-scary-outside-world chickens I call my own. Then they feasted, and the boards and I rested. Here are some of them, ant-free, breathing, drying, relieved!


All well and good through the rest of Saturday (my disgust sensitivities calmed down) and through sunny Sunday (one more day in the sun won’t hurt them), all well and good until it’s going to rain on Monday (today). Gotta get those boards under the tent.

Yeah, that’s when I forgot the sun and its power. I forgot that the high 80s (maybe even low 90s it was?) can do a number on you. Before noon the air was still as a stone, not a lick of breeze, no clouds. But the forecast called for rain later. I got my grubby clothes on and determined to get this task done lickity split. I tried loading them on a smallish tarp so I could pull a batch at a time the 50 yards or so to the gigantic tent that serves as a simple shelter for such things (really it’s just a huge tarp stretched over a strong A-shape frame – has served well for years!).

The tarp-pulling method was too heavy for me. One batch at a time then, five or six boards stacked upon each other cradled in my arms, and I walked them down to their new home. At one point during the process, I remember being grateful that a few of the boards were in the shade, wishing I was done already, feeling like it was a bigger job than I had anticipated, oblivious to the effect it all was having on me, but I told myself One armful at a time, and it’ll all be done soon. As you stack the boards, you have to put slats between the layers to allow air movement (if you want to prevent ant colonies), which I can only hope I did correctly. This is what they looked like from inside the tent…

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… and like this from outside – you can see the layers. Clearly I did not take time to make it pretty.

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Doesn’t seem like that much when I look at the photos. How I even got these photos I don’t know because by the time I was done, I didn’t care so much about anything except getting inside. I could barely stand up. I got myself into the house, breathing way too heavy, feeling unsteady, weak, quivery, all manner of unwell. Clearly I had needed someone, sooner, to say Hey, that’s enough, go sit down. I didn’t realize I was pushing too hard in the hot sun.

There’s a name for this I’m sure, maybe heat exhaustion? Whatever it’s called, it took me almost two hours to feel normal again and I accomplished little more the rest of the afternoon. This happened once last summer too when I was raking leaves. Set my goal too high. Raked too many. The sun was too hot and I successfully ignored the increasing danger. Same basic symptoms I think, though maybe it was even worse. How did I let this happen again? At least it wasn’t as bad this time – or maybe I only stopped because there weren’t more boards …

As the afternoon hours passed (and I sat on the couch immobile, grateful for Netflix which I never watch during the day unless I’m like this, unable to do anything else), the wind kicked up, the sky darkened, the rain threatened, the dogs got anxious/nervous – oh, why did the word antsy have to come into my head!!??

The storm passed by. Not a drop fell. The area behind the coop is tidy and uninfested (I hope!). And I am fine.

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Zucchini Surprise Pie

It’s been busy around here: building an extension to the front porch (and dealing with the accompanying mess), preparing for company (another good reason to deal with the construction mess) and enjoying company (how nice to have cleaned up that mess!). With all of this activity, I go inevitably in and out through the front door a lot, meaning recently that I get to see certain precious images over and over – this is one of the notes of greeting that 6-year-old Rise made last week and taped to my front door. How can you see this and not smile??

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When it’s busy I forget about things, but routine is handy for calling us back. I have a garden. I planted stuff. But it’s been so busy I’ve hardly been out there except for a quick oregano-snipping or weed-lamenting visit.

Anyone who has grown zucchini knows what a zucchini surprise is. For those who are unfamiliar with this fast-growing vegetable, it’s when you are casually checking under the leaves of your various, viney garden plants to see what’s hiding, and come upon – Oh, look at that! – a baseball bat of a zucchini that you didn’t see when you were in said garden two days earlier (!). Such a surprise was mine last week when giving a mini-tour of the garden to some recent Airbnb guests.

Carrots, beets, onions, melons, cabbages and almost all herbs will reach their optimal point of harvesting and nicely wait for you to come along and take them to the kitchen. Not zucchini. It is among the most impatient of vegetables. You don’t care enough to look for me when I am in my tender prime? Fine. I will grow bigger, bigger, bigger, past my prime, and you will have a baseball bat on your hands before long!

So, yeah, past their perfect prime were those first two zucchinis, though you couldn’t call them bats yet. I gave the smaller of the two to my guests and put the other in my fridge, after checking to make sure there were no babies hiding there too, looking to expand into zucchini monsters if I were negligent again. I gave them a few days, did remember to go check, and there found four new ones, only one of which was still prime (i.e. three were already bigger than that!).

Guess it’s time to do something with zucchini! Right about then, Claudia sent me a new zucchini pie recipe called Schafskäse Zucchini Quiche. (It’s the zucchini time of year apparently!) I was intrigued by the parmesan in the crust and the goat cheese and sunflower seeds in the mixture. (Never mind that Schafskäse means sheep’s milk cheese, not goat’s milk cheese – this is unimportant.) I asked Mom if she had sunflower seeds; she didn’t, and I didn’t want to go to the store. So in the end the recipe was simply inspiration and I created my own Zucchini Surprise Pie.

For the crust I cut ½ cup cold butter into 1/3 cup finely grated romano cheese mixed with 1 ½ cups flour and ¼ tsp salt (with my pastry blender). It looked like typical pie crust crumbs, but I knew it would have an extra special taste on account of the cheese in there.

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I added ¼ cup of ice cold water (you can make it cold by adding ice cubes to the water, or use water from the fridge, or take your chances that the water coming out of your faucet is cold enough). Mix this quickly (don’t overmix) till it pulls from the sides of the bowl; make a nice ball. Roll this out on a floured surface, big enough to fit your dish – I used an oval dish that’s 12×8 inches. Best way to see if the dough is the right size is by placing your dish on top, as I did (see below). If there is enough to fit in there and come up the sides, you are good to go!

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Fold the dough in half and gently lift it up and into the dish; unfold and drape the edges over the sides. This keeps them out of the way for now. Later, you can be fancy with a scalloped edge or just flop the excess on top.

For the mixture, start by grating your zucchini (not the smallest holes you have on your grater, and not the largest). I used about 2 ½ cups in this recipe, but if you have a little more or a little less, I don’t think it would matter. To this I added 4 eggs, 8 deli slices of genoa salami (cut up), 4 oz crumbled up (by hand) goat cheese…

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… as well as 1 cup grated Jarlsberg (swiss) cheese, ¼ cup flour, 1 tsp salt, a few shakes of pepper, 3 fresh sage leaves (chopped) and the leaves off 2 stems of fresh thyme (which would amount to 2 teaspoons probably, hard to tell when it’s so fresh and not pressed down – again a little more or less won’t hurt anything). These are the herbs I used because they seemed good to me, and you know that Simon and Garfunkel song:

Are you going to Scarborough fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.
Remember me to one who lives there.
She once was a true love of mine.

What parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme have to do with the fair and the love I haven’t a clue (never did). But because of that song I always thought that any/all of these herbs could be used in a recipe that calls for one or another, that they go well together and that various combinations are acceptable. See what you learn from music?? Anyway, the fresher, the better, and mine came straight from the garden into the bowl and that makes me smile. 😊

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Right about at this point I turned on my oven so it would get hot while I finished up. I set it to 375F, then mixed all of this up and poured it into my crust. Normally you put milk or cream in a quiche but the goat cheese is so creamy, you don’t need it.

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I was not in the mood to be fancy with the edges (chomping at the bit, one might say, to go lay more deck boards on the new porch) so I flopped them over and popped it in the oven. Ovens are different and people like different levels of golden-brownness; my pie stayed in my oven about 40 minutes and looked like this.


It smelled so good!! My sister was coming and I knew she would love this, but we had decided to go out to dinner – enjoyed Rhett’s River Grill which, it turns out, is relocating by the end of the year and will be waaaay closer to my house!!

So I let the zucchini pie cool, covered it with plastic before refrigerating it, and reheated it the next day at 300F for half an hour. Delish! I love the cheese in the crust too. Taking leftovers as part of a picnic lunch to the Science Museum in Richmond the next day gave us a chance to try it cold – just as good!!

Not bad for an experiment, I’d say. Thank you, Claudia, for the inspiration! Now whoever among you has too many zucchinis…

A Mighty Oak Meets the Earth

Imagine being a very big tree, a mighty red oak. You have been standing in your same spot on a Virginia hillside for a very long time, say, at least a hundred years. You are part of a forest, not a national park or anything so grand, just a peaceful forest not terribly far from the Blue Ridge Mountains. You grew strong over the years, pushed your way ever higher toward the sun.

Ah, the sun, the seasons. Bask. Bask.

When you were about 50, some humans came to the site to build a house, but you survived this possible demise because of being just far enough away from the spot they decided was best. They put a utility pole fairly near you, but its inanimate state was uninteresting, and you said Paugh, who cares about that?

When you were about 90 and towering proudly among your adjacent tree-fellows, another risk came along, another building project, a cottage this time, but your majestic canopy and the glorious shade it provided these new humans saved you. You said to the young beech trying to grow right next to you, I’m feeling a mite weak in the joints, little fella, but don’t get any ideas about taking this spot. I’ve been here a long time. No offense, but it’s mine.

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Wind. It comes, it blows.

The sound of a tree-fellow nearby crashing to the ground during a storm always adds to the drama of the day, always causes you to ponder your own strength and good fortune. You tell yourself that if you were not meant to become the mightiest grandfather in this neck of the woods, you would have fallen already. Some tree has to become the giant among giants – it might as well be you. Then one spring day that blasting wind comes again, and in one super painful stroke, your hugest north-pointing limb lets go at the joint, its weight bringing it instantly to the forest floor below and leaving a massive, open, splintery wound on your side.


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The humans come and inspect. They bring other humans to come and inspect. They all shake their heads and use words like risky, problem and electrocution. Electrocution? They point to that inanimate pole that’s closer than it used to be… or, oh, maybe you’re just bigger than you used to be. No! you want to say to them. Don’t worry! I am still strong! I can stand another fifty years! You are a little like Mike Mulligan, who used to say about Mary Anne (his steam shovel) that “she could dig as much in a day as a hundred men could dig in a week.” In this classic children’s book, Mike’s assertion is always followed by “but he had never been quite sure that this was true.”

You are not quite sure that you will not fall one day and hit the cable coming off that pole. You cannot be sure. The humans cannot be sure. As they walk away, you want to believe it will all be okay. You settle into your new life, feeling somewhat off balance, slightly less steady, especially when the wind kicks up, now that you have no huge branch on the north side counterweighting all the other branches. Weeks go by. The humans seem to have lost interest. What a relief.

Then one day some big vehicles arrive. They stare and say, “See how it leans?” They curiously turn their attention to a perfectly nice (younger, smaller) oak that stands between you and the biggest vehicle.

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You watch. A man sits in the bucket attached to the vehicle, starts at the top, lops off branch after branch, then sections off the main part of the trunk one piece at a time, letting each one crash. Huh. They cut that poor little fellow down to earth-level for no seemingly good reason. Then they move the truck in closer.


It’s your turn. They start on the side closest to that damn pole. They work carefully to make sure nothing falls near the cable. The 75’ reach of the bucket is barely high enough to get them to the best position. But they manage. Bit by bit, they buzz their tool and drop your limbs. Parts of you that only ever knew sky meet the earth.


Then they move on to the side that hangs over the little cottage. Yeah, you knew that lowest one was perhaps your weakest limb. Maybe they had reason to worry about that one. It didn’t take much for it to break. They were careful on that side, using a rope around it to make sure that when it swung down, it would avoid the cottage roof and land where they wanted.


This is it, you realize. You reached, you grew, you survived. You gave beauty to the forest, shade to the humans, home sites and abundant food to forest creatures for many years. Now you will give warmth by way of firewood. Lots of yourself is already on the ground, the danger of hitting the pole now a thing of the past, but they left some for the next guy to come and fell.

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“Sad,” you hear the lady of the house saying. “Reminds me of The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein,” she says, “a book that’s been called ‘a touching interpretation of the gift of giving.’ Maybe that’s what this tree did. It gave. For many years it gave. As with all of us, its days were numbered – even if none of us ever know the number! But chapters do close….”

Since Micah’s death, there have been two more people that I knew for years, two more I talked with, played with, greatly admired, two more who gave to those around them, who added depth, joy, love, fun and substantial contributions to the circle they walked in, two more whose chapters have closed. To the families of C. Wayne Callaway and Ken Brown, I offer my deepest condolences.

Blueberry Snacktime!

The Ben & Jerry’s Pfish Food is gone. I enjoy it sooooo much every now and then, counting it as very special, meaning I don’t make a habit of having it around because 1. Too much Ben & Jerry’s would make me a whale and 2. I don’t want to be a whale. I’m not too keen on the lowfat or calorically-modified versions of things though because mystery ingredients make me nervous. Within the range of reason, I like to know what I’m eating.

So where does that leave me when I want something like ice cream – cold, sweet and dairy – but have met my quota of fudgy fish mixed in with the richest chocolate ice cream and luscious marshmallowy goo? (Oh, for a free pass on Pfish Food!)

It leaves me with one of my all-time favorite snacks – simple as can be AND cold, sweet and dairy.

“My blueberries,” I call it. “I’m going to have my blueberries.” By this I mean I walk to my freezer, take out the package of frozen wild Maine blueberries (the tiny ones these are, and this concoction works better with the tiny ones as compared to the giant cultivated berries), pour a little maple syrup or honey over them (say, about a tablespoon), making it look like this…


…pour some milk over it, like this…


…and wait five minutes or so for the frozen hardness of the berries to seep into the liquid milk, resulting in softer berries and sweet, slushy milk, which you then mix up and eat with a spoon. Oh yum! Not too heavy, just sweet enough, and I forget all about the Pfish Food!

The berries I use are Wyman’s and you can see I got the 3-pound bag of them this last time because they were on sale. Snacks don’t have to be complicated to be very, very good!


Pfish Food, Cyrus the Great, Heinz Glass and Other Bits of My Day

What an odd-mix of a day so far. I visited an inmate at a local jail, listened to Dan Carlin bringing alive again the Assyrian battles of old and the Persian conquest of Babylon, enjoyed a few bites of Ben & Jerry’s Pfish Food, edited and spoke into a recording device (as articulately as I could) a five-minute oral presentation about Heinz Glass for a German student, meditated on the gorgeous color and superbly graceful flight pattern of a bluebird, let Coco lick off a plate of mine after lunch (not the ice cream, but still, don’t tell Samuel!)…

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It turns out that talking by phone to a person on the other side of the glass in a small room designed solely for such meetings is not as unsettling as it has sometimes been portrayed. Most recently I watched the character of Jon Stern talk to the character of Daniel Holden in Rectify, a Netflix drama about a man who served twenty years in solitary for a crime he didn’t commit. You might have the idea, going into this situation for real, that there will be drama or confession or something shocking, and maybe there sometimes is, but in my case there was eye contact and softly spoken words that seemed (benefit of the doubt) to come straight from the heart.

Maybe listening to Dan Carlin’s intro segment of “King of Kings” on the way to and from the jail mollified my jail impressions. There was no blood or filth at the jail, no yelling, no bars (that I saw), no cruelty. The way Dan paints them, the Assyrians, Medes, Persians and others of the before-common era were as nasty and as bent on conquest and power as any 20th century villains we know much more about. They were not opposed to, say, luring an unlucky thirteen-year-old to a banquet only to cut him up, roast him and serve his parts to his father as a form of punishment. This documented historical fact makes you want to learn more, right?

Yes, I want to learn more, but all that travel and talking through glass by telephone and hearing about the Battle of the Eclipse and the surprising rise of Cyrus the Great made me hungry, so I had lunch when I got home and then treated myself to the most decadent and delicious of treats. When I was a child, Hershey’s had a chocolate and marshmallow swirl ice cream that my father particularly liked. In my decidedly chocolatey way of seeing things, I have decided that with Pfish Food, Ben & Jerry’s took the chocolate-marshmallow idea to its zenith, using the creamiest of ice cream with the richest chocolate flavor and adding not only perfect marshmallowy goo, but also fudgy fishes that have just the right amount of crunchability/meltability in your mouth. For a few minutes (only a few because you can’t eat much of it) I was in Pfishy heaven.

There would be a better segue right now if Pfish Food came in a glass container, but it doesn’t, so bear with me on this pfishy transition here between the ice cream and the speech on the manufacturing process behind Heinz Glass, “one of the world’s leading manufacturers of glass bottles and caps for the perfume and cosmetics industry” (who knew?). My friend Claudia, who lives in Germany, was helping her daughter prepare a school project – a speech in English on this very topic (not the topic of Katja’s choosing, but when in high school, we generally do what our teachers tell us to do). I found out that this company goes back to 1622 (!!) and that glass is made primarily of sand (for strength) with some limestone and soda ash mixed in (to make it all easier to work with) – I think I knew about the components of glass before but how much in the way of random manufacturing trivia can we be expected to keep in our heads anyway?

I also found out that “One position in the manufacturing process doesn’t exist anymore. A woman used to bring a light beer to the workers to quench their thirst and keep them from getting dehydrated due to the heat of the glass-making process.” Why a light beer and not a dark beer or some other kind of beer, I can’t say. Some things you leave alone. My job was simply to help tweak the speech (for grammatical correctness and fluidity) and then speak it into a WhatsApp message so that Katja could use my pronunciation for reference on any troublesome words. A technical topic is not so easy to deliver. She has to say “technical development,” “industrial revolution,” “annealing,” hydraulic,” “pneumatic” and other words that don’t roll off the tongue so easily when English is not your first language.

As I sat typing and recording at my standard spot on the more smooshy end of the couch, as I also mentally processed the jail visit and the beneficent (if you want to believe it) or the just-as-cold-and-conniving-as-the-rest-of-his-ilk version of the Cyrus story, as I looked out the window at green leaves of giant trees speckled with perfect sunshine in my quiet and peaceful (at the moment) world with its little lizards scampering vertically on the red oak, I thought about the bluebird that had crossed my path when I was coming home down the driveway – one of the two, presumably, that have set up house in the birdhouse just for them near my chicken coop.

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The hole in this house is the exact size for a bluebird, small enough so other would-be lodgers don’t even consider trying to squeeze their rounder selves through it. How is it that the blue of a bluebird is so distinctive? That they fairly dance through the air rather than fly? That they found this place to raise their family, come to it again and again, squeeze through that hole?? I hope the day never comes that I don’t find something in the amazing natural world to marvel at.

Ah, something else to marvel at – the love and purity of children. I went out to get a picture of the birdhouse to be able to share and in doing so I passed through the front door, on which Rise and Eppie this past week taped various messages and pictures including the one that says I (red heart) you Come on in. (Dang! The red heart icon I put between the I and the you didn’t transfer to this platform — know I tried!)

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These two girls are precious beyond words to me. Drawing with colored pencils, doing back-porch yoga and spreading straw in the chicken coops occupied them here and there during their visit, as did making “sawdust glitter” (every kid whose dad is currently building their house should make sawdust glitter sooner or later!) and making designs with my colored stones on the coffee table.

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Lastly there’s Coco. There’s still Coco, there’s always Coco. This is zonked Coco, still in recovery mode perhaps, following the week of the Alien Invasion, a.k.a. Pimm and Polly, the Pugs That Went Back.

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Thunder rumbles in the background now. Some time has passed and rain is on the way. I wish I could zonk as easily as Coco does. I’m a bit in recovery mode myself. Maybe a cup of tea and a little more about the Persians…

“Honey, I Need a Real Dog”

Last week I was wrestling fiercely in my head and heart about two sweet, invalid pugs I had tentatively opened my home to. Here are Pimm and Polly on my couch, a favorite spot. All they wanted to do was snuggle close, which is not a bad trait if you spend a lot of time sitting. Coco clearly regarded them as aliens, choosing to keep a distance apart.

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I realized, among other things during this enlightening week, that I do not sit a lot. (My inability to post more often on anunboringpath attests to this!) I sit when I write and I sit when I am tired or eating. Sandy says I have two speeds: Off and high. Maybe he is right? Maybe this is another good reason two very inactive, nearly blind dogs are not the best choice for me?

Almost a week into my attempt to be a rescuer, Friday came around, the fiercest day of all, the day I knew I had to make the yea or nay, stay or go, here or somewhere else decision. Friday is also the day I read to Evelyn, who will be 102 in August and has been completely blind for about eight years. If anyone might be sympathetic toward these needy dogs, I thought it would be Evelyn.

Not even close. She was adamant that I should not keep them. First was the you-should-know-this declarative: “They’re dogs.” Meant, I’m sure, to assuage any lingering emotional connection I might have that would lead me to keep them for the wrong reasons. Meant, I’m sure, to suggest that they would be fine in some other place, such place being, in fact, better on account of no potentially deadly stairs that they might fall down. To top that, she – the blind lady who lives in a nursing home – said with as much vehemence as you can imagine her mustering: “They don’t need your home. They need a nursing home.” I was paying attention. She seldom has this strength of opinion.

That evening I sent the note that resulted in the pugs’ departure on Sunday, back to the foster family that bought them (and sent along to me) a suitcase full of cutesy doggie clothes. Anyone who would buy sailor suits, sundresses, raincoats and parkas for pugs, and mark them with their names in permanent marker along the lining of the collars no less, has fond affection for them. I knew Pimm and Polly would be okay. I did not have to be their savior.

Exactly a week after Evelyn told me in no uncertain terms to send the dogs back, I showed up again with To Kill a Mockingbird (our current read) in hand, and had hardly said hello when she said, “Tell me you sent those blind dogs back.” I wonder if she could have paid attention to the story if I had decided to keep them.

When Mom came for her turn to read, and to give me back Rise and Eppie who had been baking chocolate chip cookies with her during my reading hour, I decided to take a picture. Here are my little sweeties, my wonderful mom and happy, relaxed Evelyn enjoying Coco, who chose this moment to be a lizard with her tongue.

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Pimm and Polly helped me see my doggie needs differently. A week with dogs that couldn’t find their food unless you put it smack in front of them and gently positioned their flat little faces in their bowls, a week picking up dogs who couldn’t do stairs every time it was time for them to get a little outdoor time (and picking them up again after they’d had sufficient time to explore nature and do business), a week stepping over the temporary, please-God-let-them-not-take-a-tumble barriers in front of my open spiral staircase – can anyone blame me if I was right ready for a real dog?

Pre-Pimm-and-Polly, while still in the maybe-they-are-a-good-idea stage about a month or so ago, my son Bradley had said to me, “Mom, you have ten acres. Why do you want a dog that can live in an apartment? Why don’t you get a dog that can enjoy all this space?”

Around the same time, I was in Lowe’s, a store that allows you to bring in your dog(s). From a few aisles away I saw a man with a golden retriever on a leash. I am drawn like a magnet to a beautiful dog, so I approached and he gladly let me pet her. In his shopping cart was another dog, a dachshund I think, something small anyway. “She’s so beautiful,” I said about his golden as I stroked her gorgeous fur, glancing up at the other dog as well, as if some of my praise could waft in that dog’s direction. Nice little dog I’m sure. Fair’s fair after all. Well, sort of fair. I continued petting the golden.

“Thank you,” he said, clearly pleased that his gorgeous animal had been noticed and admired. Motioning to the smaller dog he said, “My wife and I always had big dogs, and then our last one passed and we were without a dog. Some friends of ours were getting one of these and there was one left in the litter and my wife and I said, Okay, sure, let’s get a small dog. About four years later I told her, Honey, I need a real dog.”

Much as Bradley’s advice and this incident might have (should have?) weighed into my initial decision to get Pimm and Polly, neither did. I did recall it all later, however, while trying to fall asleep late at night as the two of them on the floor of my bedroom groomed each other like baboons with incessant licking that sounded like wild, snorting boars foraging for truffles at the roots of giant oaks in an ancient forest.

Right after Pimm and Polly left, Lincoln and the girls had arrived. With them came Willow, their six-month-old golden. She is not exactly a lap dog, though Samuel gave it a try.

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She is however – let there be no doubt about it – a real dog. She was as cute as a golden retriever puppy can be when she was six weeks old and enduring January in Vermont.


She even fit in their (standard size) mailbox!

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By six months old she fetches a tennis ball or a stick over and over again…

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…astonishing me with her grace, speed, energy, stamina and strength. Everything in this young body works! Her fur is soft as silk, her teeth white as snow, her eyes clear and bright and happy. She is picture-perfect and real-life-perfect.

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A dog like this doesn’t come along every day. She brings me the gooky tennis ball with that look that says You know you want to whack it down the driveway! I’ll go get it! I will! I’ll bring it back to you and you can whack it again! You know you want to! And I get to watch her run after that ball. I stare in wonder at her perfect form and perfect face. I think she’s happy to be alive, and I found myself happy to be near her and with her.

I think someday I need a dog that needs and wants to walk and run and play, a dog that follows me to the chicken coop and the garden, that learns to come, sit, stay and heel, that makes me stare in awe. We’ll see. One of these days the right dog for me will come along.


Shakespeare’s Pick Up Lines

It’s funny to me that when we go to a Shakespeare play, we understand at the outset that we will miss a lot of the dialog, we will miss some of the meaning and some innuendos, therefore possibly even some basic elements or twists of the plot. The language is challenging to say the least. Yet we continue to go at least two or three times a year. Last week we saw The Comedy of Errors. Even if some of us didn’t understand about how the gold watch and the money for it fit in till the end, we were still rolling in laughter almost the entire time.

These two “servants” in their matching plaid shirts (shown here during the pre-show, take-photos-now-or-never, come-get-a-drink-on-stage time) and all their compatriots performed hilarious slapstick that needs no words.

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The basic premise of the story involves, according to the American Shakespeare Center’s website, “two long-separated twins, their two tricky servants (also twins), a jealous wife and her lovelorn sister….” You can’t help but enjoy how they find each other, fool each other and ultimately feel great joy together in this all’s-well-in-the-end family drama.

The costuming is from the 1940s. Why not? One actor embellished her role with a heavy Brooklyn accent. Shiny-red-with-big-white-hearts undershorts made a brief appearance, as did fluttering eyelashes, hops onto the laps of those patrons watching from the primo on-stage seats and ouch-didn’t-that-hurt(?!) dives onto the wooden stage.

This troupe of professional actors, performing three or four plays a season, eight or ten shows a week in Staunton, Virginia, has never failed to make me glad we drove the 45 minutes up and over Afton Mountain to get there. They don’t do only Shakespeare. Every year we attend their version of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, which they keep as fresh and enlightening as traditional and heartwarming. Scrooge generally works his way roughly through the audience as, in the script, he is fighting the crowd on the street on Christmas Eve. One year on his trek between rows, he took a cup an audience member was holding, tasted it, made a face and gave it back. We roared.

You can’t get away from funny at this theater. We all know Shakespeare’s material runs from comedy to tragedy, and there is generally some love interest (because in life, there is generally some love interest). This is the theater that boldly boasts (after they explain that the play will be performed in full lighting as it was in Shakespeare’s day), “We do it with the lights on.”

Bravo to the person who decided to put Shakespeare’s top ten pick up lines on a t-shirt. I expect this is a perennial bestseller in their gift shop.

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In case you find them hard to read on the shirt, allow me to make it easier (minus the references). I cannot speak to the order they are in: chronological according to when the play was written? favorites of the t-shirt creator in reverse order? most or least likely to achieve desired outcome?

You can decide which is your favorite, which you wish someone would use on you, which is most romantic, which you would soooo enjoy using one of these days just to see the reaction you’d get, which would warm your heart, which would bring images of intimacy most effectively to mind…

10. If thou hast sinned, teach me.

9. I come to answer thy best pleasure.

8. I thy parts admire.

7. Come sit on me.

6. Madam, my instrument’s in tune.

5. I entreat thee home with me.

4. I’ll do it in my shirt.

3. Make some sign how I may do thee ease.

2. Let me take you a buttonhole lower.

1. With thy lips keep in my soul a while.

There is no way to top the top ten. I leave it right there for you to do with as you please 😊