All mushrooms are edible, some only once.

Conditions have been just right this autumn for mushrooms to…mushroom. Southwest Virginia has been sauna hot, steam bath humid and deeply rainy.

As far as I know, only one type of the mushrooms pictured below is edible— the Chanterelles, shown at the very bottom. Photogenic as they all are, I wouldn’t touch any of the rest of them with a fork.

What’ll they be when they grow up?

I’m not a mycological expert by any means, but I do trust myself to identify a Morel, wash it, dust it with flour and fry it in butter. Yu-um!  However, Morels are springtime ‘shrooms and I haven’t seen one in the wild for years. A lifetime ago my dad took me along when he searched for them. He told me I should look under May apples’ leaves. I don’t remember if I found any there or if that was a ruse to keep me out of his way.

A few weekends ago Chanterelles were the centerpiece of an evening meal at one of my very favorite places, above a river, in the mountains. We had fresh local tomatoes, local corn, and pie made from local apples. Really, a meal doesn’t get any better. (I must confess I’ve made better crust, but the apples were good.)

The National Audubon Society Field Guide to Mushrooms says, “Mushrooms are among the most mysterious life forms. Ancient Greeks believed they came from Zeus’s lightning because they appeared after rains and reproduced and grew inexplicably.” The Guide goes on, “Though mysterious, mushrooms often appear suddenly and often in places where they’ve never been seen before. They have been out of sight, growing underground or beneath bark.” And they disappear quickly too. Yesterday there were a gang of little ‘uns huddled together under my downspout. They’re gone today.

Indeed, these fantastical-looking life forms are nothing if not bewitching. And their names add to their allure—Big Laughing Gym, White Dunce Cap, Lawn Mower’s Mush, Fading Scarlet Waxy Cap, Sweating Mushroom, Emetic Russula (emetic?!), Pinecone Tooth, Old Man of the Woods, Jack o’Lantern, Hen of the Wood, Saltshaker Earthstar.  If any of these are shown below, I don’t know it. I’m a mushroom admirer, not a mushroom professional.  For the real low down on mushrooms read Gloria’s posts. She writes “Virginia Wildflowers,” a beautiful, informative blog. Mushrooms are included.

Click on photos to enlarge them.


2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

Pies are round like my hometown’s square.

Every time I travel this way, driving north from Columbus…I feel that I’m entering another country…”

I’m an Ohioan, a buckeye, rooted in Mount Vernon just a few miles north of the geographical center of the state. My father never lived anyplace other than Knox County, nor any town other than Mount Vernon, except for the first four months of his life. He was born seven miles northwest in tiny Fredericktown.

Now we come into Mount Vernon … With its cobbled brick streets, Civil War monument town [round] square, block after block of handsome turn-of-the-century housing… And yet, there is something congenial about the place: stately houses, modest bungalows, backyard gardens, quiet streets…” 

That my dad lived such a long life — ninety — is attributable in part to pie. That’s what he would say anyway. In Ohio, pie is a meal, a food group!

The man never met a pie he didn’t like, with the possible exception of coconut crème and butterscotch. Fruit was his filling of choice: apple, cherry, peach, rhubarb, strawberry, blackberry, raspberry, blueberry, elderberry, grape, plum, banana, and even raisin. Now he didn’t bake the pies — women’s work, he said — but he did pick, clean, sort and chop the fruit.

My mother rolled out a pie every few days: flakey, crusty, aromatic, lip-smackingly good. After mom died, dad remarried and Martha rolled out a pie every few days: flakey, crusty, aromatic, lip-smackingly good. I never asked, but I’ll bet in addition to “Love, honor, and obey” there was a clause in their marriage vows that promised, “pies to last you the rest of your days.”

It is difficult to say no to a home baked pie warm from the oven. Dad never even tried to resist as his waistline proved.

When my daughters were small and visited during the summer, their gramps let them have pie and homemade vanilla ice cream for breakfast. “You got your fruit, you got your dairy, perfect breakfast,” he’d say.

I wondered at him letting them eat pie every morning. When I was their ages I had to eat Shredded Wheat, Cheerios or Cornflakes. Sometimes I got a sliced banana.

Last Thanksgiving, our granddaughter Samantha wanted me to show her how to make a pie from scratch. She was a quick learner, and her first pies — apple and pumpkin — were excellent. I’m sorry to say that she’s as messy a baker as I am. Her great-grandmas would be horrified to see the mess she made. But her great-gramps would have loved the results.


Quotes from Alma Mater, A College Homecoming, P.F. Kluge, Addison-Wesley Publishing, 1993.

Over the river and through the woods.

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The kitchen window at the little house in the woods frames this scene.


Screen shot 2014-11-22 at 4.50.20 PMMy very favorite holiday is just five days away. This year Carolynn and Bill will be with us and we’re all going to celebrate in Leslie and Martin’s little house tucked in the woods above a burbling river and within sight of the Blue Ridge Mountains.


It’s mind-boggling to move a feast to a remote site where there’s no easy access to a grocery to get whatever has been left behind. That’s my excuse anyway, and my only duty is pumpkin pies. The brunt of the work has fallen on Leslie, and Carolynn is making the apple pies this year.

But I’ve run out of time, so instead of a new post, here’s a chapter from my second book, That’s all she wrote (2007). 

 ~ Thanksgiving’s just around the corner ~

The first of hundreds of Christmas catalogs begin to arrive just after July 4 and back-to-school displays appear in stores by mid-month. By the time the long Labor Day weekend approaches Halloween displays are in place. This past year, two days before New Year’s, I saw a suspect bright green display at the end of a store aisle and yes it was St. Patrick’s Day merchandise. I asked the clerk why so early and she said, “Oh, this is nothing. At the end of the next aisle we’re doing the Easter display … and Valentine’s have been in for a week!” She was as dismayed as I was.

What is with this season rushing? Why can’t we live in the moment, enjoy the now, take time to smell summer’s roses before we start worrying about mulching them for winter?

I hate to rush the season, any season, but I admit I’m always in a rush towards autumn, a rush to be rid of hot weather, summer and light-colored clothes. I like to be inside, snug and cozy, enjoying summer’s bounty, making pies, quick breads, pickles. I look forward to wearing rich autumn colors, wools, and tweeds. I can’t wait for the leaves to turn so I can emote over the brilliant colors. I’m always anxious for the leaves to start falling because second only to shoveling snow is my passion for raking leaves. I savor Thanksgiving’s approach. …

Thanksgiving … time for pumpkin and squash, gourds and bittersweet, bronze and yellow mums. I always eagerly awaited the first crisp day when Carolynn and I would trek to Hinman’s farm market for autumn’s bounty. But things change. Hinman’s is no longer there, nor are we for that matter. I used to have to skulk off to my secret spot in the park to get my autumnal cascade of bittersweet; now I’m spoiled for choice because bittersweet overruns the woods here.

I do have to admit that there were several years before we moved when Peter and I started thinking Christmas as early as August. That’s when a huge outdoor antique show and sale took place near us. It was a great source for presents, potential presents that is. I’ve always been the “idea” person, so I’d have to start early unearthing treasures for Peter to refurbish in time for Christmas giving. He made my ideas realities. Part of the fun was seeing an old, derelict something-or-other come to life under his skilled hands.

So, as much as I hate the rushing of the seasons, I’ve been guilty too.

One November I clipped one of Ralph Dunagin and Dana Summers’ “The Middletons” cartoons that said it all as far: The couple strolls past a department store decorated for Christmas. Christmas Sale! signs are plastered across the display windows and a Salvation Army Santa stands by the door ringing his bell. Mr. Middleton says to his wife, “Wow! Thanksgiving must be just around the corner.”

The … year … I clipped that cartoon — we were still living up north — it was … another two weeks to Thanksgiving and I was doing my weekly grocery shopping. “Frosty the Snowman” blared on the sound system, but the foot of new snow outside probably justified that. However, when a bona fide Christmas carol started to play I was suspicious.

Then I noticed the deli section was encased in a cardboard candy house igloo, the butchers were hanging fake garland, and Christmas hams were on sale in the big meat case down the center of the area. “Wait a minute,” I yelled. “What happened to Thanksgiving? Where’s the turkey?”

My “bah humbug” was loud and clear as I finished filling my cart and strode out of sight. I was already planning the letter I was going to write, a letter that would not be addressed to Santa Claus.

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