Sweet as Pie Winner

Congrats to our Pie-in-a-Jar Giveaway drawing winner! Mark Ishman will be enjoying a personal sized Five-Spice Pear-Apple Pie made by “The Peace of Pie” bloggess, Jessica Gelineau. A huge ‘Thank You!’, Jess, for helping us kick off the holidays with sweetness and fun. And thank you to everyone who played along, we’ll do it again soon!

Jess has been years working her way through Ken Haedrich’s pie book and savoring every bite. For the rest of us longing to sample this recipe, we include it here with Jess’ notes sprinkled throughout.

And if you just can’t get enough, visit Ken Haedrich’s Pie Academy website to access how-to videos, recipes, and all of his books. Happy Baking!

Crust: Ken Haedrich’s Basic Flaky Pie Pastry

Single Crust:

Cut up 1/2 stick of cold unsalted butter into small pieces and set aside. Measure out 1/4 cup of cold vegetable shortening and set aside.

Combine 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 1/2 tsp sugar, and 1/2 tsp salt in a large bowl. Toss well, by hand, to mix. Scatter the butter pieces over the dry ingredients and toss to mix. Using your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour until it is broken into pieces the size of small peas.

Add the shortening and pieces and continue to rub in until the fat is all in small pieces and very much incorporated into the dry ingredients.

Fill the 1/4 cup you were using for shortening with cold water. Sprinkle half of the water over the mixture. Toss well with a fork to dampen the mixture.

Add the remaining water, 1 1/2 to 2 tbs. at a time, and continue to toss and mix, pulling the mixture up from the bottom of the bowl on the upstroke and gently pressing down on the downstroke. Add a little more water, 1 tsp at a time, if necessary, until the dough can be packed together in a ball.

Once it is packable, make a ball and press down to flatten it somewhat into a thick disk. Wrap the pastry (I use a piece of wax paper and fold all the corners under) and refrigerate until firm enough to roll.

Filling:
3 and 1/2 cups peeled, cored, and sliced Granny Smith, Cortland, Northern Spy, or other apples
3 and 1/2 cups cored and sliced ripe pears, peeled or unpeeled
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons orange juice
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tsp. Chinese five-spice powder
Cornmeal Streusel Topping:
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup fine yellow cornmeal
2/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
1. If you haven’t already, prepare the pastry and refrigerate until firm enough to roll, about 1 hour.
2. On a sheet of lightly floured waxed paper, roll the pastry into a 13-inch circle with a floured rolling pin. Invert the pastry over a 9 1/2 inch deep-dish pie pan, center, and peel off the paper. Tuck the pastry into the pan, without stretching it, and sculpt the edge into an upstanding ridge. Place in the freezer for 15 minutes.
3. Combine the apples, pears, lemon zest, lemon juice, orange juice, and 1/2 cup of the granulated sugar in a large bowl. Set aside for 10 minutes. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
4. Mix together the remaining 1/4 cup sugar, the cornstarch, and five-spice powder in a small bowl. Stir the mixture into the fruit. Turn the filling into the chilled pie shell and smooth the filling with your hands to even it out. Place the pie on the center oven rack and bake for 30 minutes.
5. Meanwhile, make the topping. Put the flour, cornmeal, brown sugar, and salt in a food processor and pulse several times to mix. Scatter the butter over the mixture and pulse until it resembles fine crumbs. Empty the crumbs into a medium-size bowl and rub them between your fingers to make large, buttery crumbs. Refrigerate until ready to use.
6. Remove the pie from the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 375 F. Carefully dump the crumbs in the center of the pie, spreading them evenly over the surface with your hands. Tamp them down lightly. Return the pie to the oven, placing it so that the part that faced the back of the oven now faces forward. Just in case, slide a large aluminum foil-lined baking sheet onto the rack below to catch any spills. Continue to bake until the juices bubble thickly around the edge, another 30 minutes.
7. Transfer the pie to a wire rack and let cool for at least 1 hour before serving.

In the beginning…

You can almost smell it

Made by hand

Crumble topping

Happy ending!

Pie Giveaway Time!

Thank you everyone for putting up with me last month. NaNoWriMo is no small thing.

To reward your patience, and to celebrate THE END, we’re having a drawing for a giveaway! Pie eating contest Pie throwing contest Pie-in-a-Jar Gifting is a great way to kick off the month of December, and it’s so much better than Figgy Pudding.

By “we”, I mean a collaboration with my favorite pie baker, Jessica Gelineau. Her luscious pie blog, “The Peace of Pie“, has kept me company for years. The stunning visuals are almost as good as tasting, and calorie-free. Jess is a wife, a mom, a math teacher. She wears as many hats as most of us do, but tops it off with a baker’s hat. Read her story here. I’m just saying that if you were born with a “pie thumb”, it’s a sign. And the world is holding their cuppas and waiting. For pies. On your front porch, Jess.

Now, I’ve been known to exploit the mason jar epidemic back in the day, as you recall. I will never eat a salad in a jar. But Pie-in-a-Jar, as she puts it, is as exciting as it sounds:

  • They’re pies. In JARS.
  • They’re so super cute.
  • What’s better than a slice of pie? A whole pie to yourself.
  • What’s more socially acceptable than eating a whole pie? Eating a whole mini pie.
  • What’s easier to transport than a jar with a lid?…Nothing.

To enter your name in the drawing, please make a comment in the Message box, below. You have until Sunday, December 8th, 2019, at midnight to add your comment. On Monday, into the sorting hat you’ll go and the lucky winner will be announced the 10th.

The winning Pie-in-a-Jar will be a Five-Spice Pear-Apple Pie from Ken Haedrich’s pie cookbook, because she just bought a big fresh jar of five spice powder – the one alluded to in the Butternut Squash pie in her latest post, here. This is how the story begins, and this is how the story ends.

You really, really, want to be a part of this story. I mean, these things inspired poetry!

Stay tuned, ya’all. Even if you don’t win, you’ll win. Next week I’ll post the recipe, links, and more festive pie fun so we can all raise a cuppa together.

 

NaNoWriMo Week 4: Sliding Home

Current NaNoWriMo Word Count since November 1: 50,161

Cool, celebration music video for proper writing atmosphere:

I am thankful for: The opportunity to live a well rounded life and appreciate that this day will never repeat, ever, in the history of the universe. So you better fill it to the brim. And I did, in between turkey and pie and maybe some shopping at the mall.

I poured over 50,000 words into a document, one bite at a time, and it even looks like a really fun book. Who knew?

Excerpt from a random bit of writing (with great reservations because we are not allowed to edit until December and you know it’s making me crazy):

He had his stetson in his hand and offered me the other. I smiled and took it, whereupon he gave me a spin right there in front of the hostess. “Oh, my,” he said, “I believe we’d better get the best seat in the house tonight, ma’am.” Then he winked at the hostess and I’m fairly certain she had to hold on to her podium to stay upright.

“Gina, darlin, you can’t be more than knee-high to a grasshopper, but aren’t you just all lady.”

He held me out at arm’s length and I actually couldn’t do anything but let him.

“Not exactly serving the salad tonight,” I said with a smirk. I was half flattered and half annoyed.

“I should say not,” he said as he tucked my hand in his arm and we followed the hostess to our seats. The table was in front of a window wall with a view of the Torrey Pines lagoon and beaches of Del Mar. Below us was the highway and beyond that was a line of train tracks. The sun was at the end of it’s evening rituals and the sky was several shades of blue. Shane held out the chair for me and the hostess added a napkin to my lap.

“Wow,” I said as he took his seat. We enjoyed the scene for a minute in silence. When I looked his way again, he was watching me. It was hard to tell what he was thinking. Maybe that my nose could use some work. His hat was on a corner of the table, and I set my little black clutch next to it, friendly-like, and smiled.

The sommelier arrived with the wine list and Shane gave it a quick look and ordered a bottle for us. I was grateful. I buy my wine by the label and I’m certainly not above two-buck chuck. This date was his idea. But just in case he thought I was a women’s libber, Gramps’ stash was in my little bag. I crossed my toes for luck. Luck that I could return the money to the freezer before anyone noticed.

“How are you, darlin?” he asked and it really looked like he meant it.

“Oh, fine, just great,” I said, with a mental face palm, “How are you, Shane?”

“Never better. It’s been a good week. Thank you,” the sommelier was back and poured him a little taste from a fresh bottle. Shane approved it without the whole swirl, sniff, smack of lips or other antics I’ve seen on TV. Two glasses were poured and the rest left in a bucket at his side. He lifted his for a toast and I raised my glass as he said, “Happy Friday. Here’s to a weekend free of weddings.”

I took a sip and said, “As much as I’d love to applaud that sentiment, I may have to object instead.” He waited politely for the punch line. “I might just have a new job in the industry. Fingers crossed.”

“I knew there was something going on, there. I’m just not sure I understand your interview methods.”

We perused the menu for a minute and I focused on the options, not the price tags.

“I hope you’ll order something more than a salad,” he said, “the filet mignon is first rate and I can speak personally for the prime rib.” He looked my way. “And before we get into the nuts and bolts of sexism and cliche and other weary female adages, let me tell you up front that this evening is on me. My mama raised me right, but I have no problems taking your little bag away from you until you’re on your way home again.”

NaNoWriMo Week 3: Every Word Counts

Current NaNoWriMo Word Count since November 1: 35,201

Cool, procrastination music video for proper writing atmosphere:

I am thankful for: surviving the 70s, the 80s, the 90s, and whatever we are calling the decades after that because everything shrank up then, including the date digits. We can’t be cool again until the 20s. That’s in January, people. Get ready for bigness.

Big hair. Big teeth. Big family. Big attitudes. Well. Some things never change.

Excerpt from a random bit of writing (I missed two days of writing and the pain involved in catching up was unreal):

I was dreaming. Alec Trebeck was looking in the mirror and working a can of mousse through his thick distinguished hair, working it up to epic heights. Ronald Reagan appeared next to him in a robe. “Dude, is that a wig?” he asked. Then he read the back of the can. “Can I borrow some of that?”

“Evacuate immediately,” said Alec.

“Huh?” Ronnie looked confused.

I cracked open an eye and in the pitch darkness, a circle of red danced across my wall and disappeared. I heard a car outside rolling slowly down the street and Dufus started barking in the hallway. I rolled over just enough to wipe the drool from the side of my mouth and sat up and shook the sleep from my head.

“Everyone evacuate immediately. There is a gas leak in the area.”

Are you kidding me? I grabbed my cell phone and read 4:30am before it conked out. I reached the other direction but my sweatshirt wasn’t where it belonged. I slid off the bed, stumbled over the piles on my floor, and slapped at the lightswitch. Nothing. The electricity was out.

“Dufus! Can it!”

“Gina? Gina what’s happening?”

“Hold on, Gramps. Stay where you are, I’m coming.”

My bag was on the peg, thankfully. I hauled it over my shoulder, opened the door and heard Dufus scuttle into the living room. Through the front window, I saw a patrol car going by with all it’s lights on. The megaphone on it’s roof blared across the neighborhood and, although it was dark everywhere, I could see people moving around outside.

“Everyone. Please evacuate the area. There is a gas leak.”

“Gramps, we need to go. Where’s your bathrobe?”

I stepped to his bedroom door, where he stood in his boxers, knobby knees and spindly chest. His robe was on the door where it always went and I helped him into it. My eyes were adjusting to the darkness.

“Gramps, can you get your slippers on?”

“Sure, Gina, where’s the fire?”

“Gramps, that’s not funny. The cops say it’s a gas leak. I wonder where? Grab your teeth and I’ll grab your emergency cash and let’s get to the car.”

I herded him into the living room. My car was parked right outside. I could see other neighbors car lights coming on, as they scurried around. I reached into the freezer, behind the broccoli that had been there for a solid ten years and pulled out a small container of Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia. Inside was Gramps $500. I hoped fervently that he hadn’t dipped into it in his poker enthusiasm. I gave it a quick shake and heard a reassuring thump. Tossing it into my bag, I took Gramps by the hand and we dashed out the front door.

I beeped open the passenger door and got him into a seatbelt.

“Wait here while I get Dufus,” I said, and set my bag on his lap.

“What about my teeth?” He was waving them around.

“Just toss them on the dash.” I slammed the door shut.

NaNoWriMo Week 2: Into the Weeds

Current NaNoWriMo Word Count since November 1: 24,506

Cool, procrastination music video for proper writing atmosphere:

I am thankful for: those moments when inspiration hits and your feet just take over the dance floor. Confetti helps, of course. And screaming.

Excerpt from a random bit of writing (goals achieved for 14 straight days in a row! Woot!):

Meggie was frantically snapping shots, running almost in circles around each couple as the groomsmen escorted family up to their seats, parasols aloft, and then took their place beside the chaplain. There was a pause and then, each bridesmaid, in a delicate swirl of pale green silk, carrying bouquets of cream with arches of greenery and ribbons cascading from the bottom, began their slow procession to the alter. I knew, without a doubt, what those ladies had sacrificed by wearing thongs under Spanx and walking through the sand in high heels. There was sand between their toes and misery in their nether parts right now, all in the name of love. Psh. The fact that they could slap smiles on top of that makes me proud of strong women everywhere. But also shake my head.

I saw a swatch of pale gray pantsuit through the gap. Finally, I’d found her. Then I saw a swatch of black tuxedo and a sinuous slink of white lace pause at the end of the sidewalk. Two things happened at once. Lizzy McEwen turned with her back to me, to let them pass, and a sudden gust of wind came around my corner. The bride shrieked and when the pantsuit moved forward, I saw white flowers flying away on the beach, tumbling down the sandy shore. Someone at Dandelion Daydreams was going to be fired today and it made me happy to think that I wouldn’t be alone on the streets tonight. My hands started moving before I realized that I’d had a thought. Snip, snip, and another snip later, my arm reached out from behind the bushes.

Ms McEwen cocked her head to the side just enough to see the voluptuous cluster of exotic pink flowers in my proffered fist and that it was attached to an arm in black sleeves that extended from nowhere. She seized the hibiscus and with one deft twist, the bridal bouquet was filled with pink. It had taken almost no time at all, and immediately the bride and her father were down the aisle. Ms McEwen waited for a beat, then placed a hand on the corner of the building, the other on her bluetooth, leaned over and made eye contact with me, frowning a real, live frown.

I felt like a mouse caught in a trap, waiting for its fate. She looked at me like I was an alien with two heads. “Eagle has landed, cake in place, Zach no-show with the accordion, and can the florist.”

Now who had two heads?

“Who are you?” she asked.

“I’m Gina,” I said, “I can explain.”

NaNoWriMo Week 1: So It Begins

Current NaNoWriMo Word Count since November 1:  12,391

Cool, procrastination music video for proper writing atmosphere:

I am thankful for: working from home where I can shout, shout, let it all out without coworkers giving me the side-eye or putting customers on hold. I can cough and cough and cough without missing any work days. I am deeply grateful that I am able to spend my time spinning straw into gold. (Watch the whole bit. You’re welcome.)

Excerpt from a random bit of writing (unedited because knickety-knack and we don’t look back, please refer to #1 and #5, above):

Currants and Cream Catering was having none of it. Loretta herself wasn’t here, but it was apparent that she had a bouncer hired as her representative. The catering commando stood squarely in front of the gorgeous Mr O’Donnell and from what I could gather from peering through the window, was calmly informing him of the error of his ways. I was next in line, and I cowered mostly behind the windowsill, watching in mute horror as Shane had a few words with her.

I couldn’t hear a word because the piano man had obviously ignored the fact that everyone else was in the house now, and he put forth an energetic rendition of Elvis’ “I Want to Be Your Teddy Bear”. I thought I could hear him singing along with his tune, softly. Some people really get into their jobs.

When the commandant was finished, Mr O’Donnell began speaking. I could tell by his arm motions and the cock of his head. As he proceeded, Ms Currants and Cream began to thaw. Her shoulders dropped a little. Her face softened. She took her tightly crossed arms down and put a fist on one hip. I shivered a little in the evening breeze. It wasn’t cold, but I was wet in places that had no business being wet. My toes were swimming in little champagne pools.

“Tiny Bubbles,” crooned the piano man.

The catering queen smiled. Who wouldn’t? Just watching Shane – er, O’Donnell – from the backside was a treat. I watched her nod once, say something dismissive, and take the hand that O’Donnell extended. Her smile grew and she said a few more things before releasing his hand but once she did, he marched away and into the house. We both watched him go and she had to bark my name before I turned back to the business at hand.

She never told me what he’d said, but I was to remain a gainful employee of Currants and Cream Catering at least through the next week. This dinner was the prequel to the main event and if O’Donnell had put in a good word for me, it seemed that she was going to at least keep her word and not fire me until their contract was completed. This meant a wedding. A glorious affair next Sunday at the Hotel Del Coronado itself, the crown of San Diego, the historical monarchy of the coast, the next gleaming paycheck with my name on it.

I left with the catering truck and never saw him again, not even when I peeked through several windows while we packed our boxes and stacked leftover trays in their gleaming perfect kitchen. He was taller than a lamppost with a flaming red top. How hard could it be? But there you have it. Story of my life. What are you gonna do? It was really sweet of the guy. If I couldn’t thank him, I could at least pass on his good karma to the next klutz I met.

I passed the piano on my way out with the last box.

“You can stop now. Unless you know anything from the 80s?”

Tiki torches bounced their light off his smile.

I listened to his tune all the way home in my head. A deep rhythmic, rebellious, perfect for a wedding and my new job, rendition of “Another One Bites the Dust”.

****************

When I told Jen the story, she went nuts.

“You did what?” she questioned, “And Loretta took you back?”

She spooned mashed peas into her eleven month old.

“Loretta is pretty tough about her reputation. I can’t believe it.”

“It wasn’t my fault,” I began, “accidents happen, you know.”

When Your Kids Ghost

In Southern California, October is Fire Season. It comes between School Season and Holiday Season, making it the barbecue sauce between two dry pieces of bread from which all your family dollars have been sucked. You can’t even afford a leaf of iceberg lettuce to cheer it up. Basically, the last three months of the year are like a saltine sprinkled with soot.

The multiple fires over the last couple of weeks have me on edge because I’ve got various children lying in their paths and when they bother to respond to my frantic texts, it’s to say, “Chill out mom. I’m fine.”

“Look out the window and tell me what you see!”

“A bunch of ash falling. No big deal.”

“According to the internet, you are in the evacuation zone. Pack your little bags and come stay with me until it’s over.”

“Mom. When pigs fly. Oh hey! Then it would rain bacon, right?”

This is no help at all. I started packing to evacuate on their behalf.

This is why families evolve from Halloween into Oktoberfest. The highlight of the month shifts from Butterfingers bars to beer. We went from sticking candy corn on our front teeth (you know who your are) to watching The Blob while rooting through a bag of mini-Snickers. Those things fly right under the diet radar.

I wandered from the bathroom to the basement, looking for what I will take with me when I go. In the process, I found these. Oh, the good ol’ days when I could make pigs fly.

They are cute little anarchists.

SuperGirl is super unimpressed.

Stinkerbell is also unimpressed.

Where to begin…

Ninja, cowboy, pediatrician, lion…

Red, Snow, Davy, Luke, gator, dragon…

Buzz, Woody, witch, cowboy, clown, pumpkin…

Can’t go wrong with a toga.

A cornfield…

Hope My Sweet Westley doesn’t get hungry.

Bride, clown, Jasmine…and Kung Fu Panda?

NaNoWriMo Because I Hang Out with Crazy People

Lest I feel that dedicating this year to earning a “Novel Writing Certificate” is small potatoes…

Because it’s not enough to spend Tuesday and Saturday mornings driving in traffic for an hour in order to diagram plot points and decide whether my historical protagonist likes her coffee black or with a smidge of stevia…

Because meeting total strangers for the sole purpose of discovering that they are master writers and I am a kindergartner wielding a purple crayon…

They gotta throw “National Novel Writing Month” on top of it.

Did you know that novelists – the guys doing the real deal – have three to four books somewhere in progress while simultaneously coming up with new book ideas to pitch to publishers and they still teach classes, hold workshops, and market like crazy to make the money happen?

Do you know how much work it is to maintain a business social media, website, and amazon presence? No, you don’t, because if you’re smart you’ve hired me to do it for you. I run a freelance writing business on the side to pay for my obsession. That puts me one step closer to crazy town than I thought.

Me: “Don’t you think attempting to write a brand new novel in a single month will distract me from the one I’ve been trying to write for the last three years?”

Teacher/Author: “I highly recommend NaNoWriMo. Especially if you have a hard time with perfectionism.”

Me: “Who, me? Don’t be ridiculous preposterous silly.”

Teacher/Evil Person: “The idea here is that in one month, you sit down and make 50,000 words. That’s only 1,666.66666 words a day. Easy peasy. As long as you don’t edit while you write.”

Me: “But that’s what people love me for pay me to do.”

Teacher/Gastroenterologist: “You can’t keep a good steady outgo if you’re blocking with analytics. You have to relax. Just enjoy the word vomit.”

Me: Simultaneously whimpering and signing up online. My code name is Jolie Guacamole.

If you clean your house before the cleaning lady arrives, you know exactly how I feel.

And if you know how I feel about vomit, you also know exactly how I feel.

Buckle up. You will still get regular blogs in November because I love you, but they will be made ahead of time and auto-post with updates on my progress.

If you have a completely random character, setting, villain, plot twist, vehicle, pet, name, or an especially exciting way to kill off boring side characters, give it to me right here in the comments! Then tune in next month and see how I wrote about it.

Better yet, sign up yourself and join me on the dark side. *evil laughter*

Phobias, Fears, and Flatulence

There are certain October activities that err on the side of dramatic. Anxious, shall we say. I know perfectly normal people who will give up their cold hard cash on purpose to get lost in a dark maze full of professional actors. A pumpkin is inadequate for their anxieties. They need chainsaws. Screaming. Running. And an exit sign.

My idea of a good October activity is to let the house go for the month. I have cobwebs in every corner, dead flies on the window sills, and dust an inch thick everywhere else. Squeaky doors, mysterious footprints down the hall, slimy potions in the fridge. I don’t like to brag, but I have a 3″ slug living in my shower right now. Some people pay good money for this level of authenticity.

But really, what is your idea of scary? What is your worst nightmare? Your darkest fear?

  1. Creepy Crawlers: spiders, mice, rats, bugs, snakes, cockroaches, worms
  2. Pokey Things: needles, vampires, , splinters, dentists, bees, ticks, Inigo Montoya
  3. Squishy Grossness: blood, vomit, gore, germs, full diapers, basically anything involving a toddler
  4. Big Booms: thunder, barking dogs, fireworks, Instant pots, stereo systems commandeered by your teenager
  5. Squeezy Spots: elevators, graveyards, cubicles, holes, slot canyons, Walmart on Black Friday
  6. Stranger Danger: clowns, aliens, mimes, every Disney character in a bobble-head costume even Winnie the Pooh
  7. Location-o-phobia: airplane, ocean, bridges, space, heights, shark-nados, onstage with Dr Phil
  8. Embarrassment: pushing the “Send” button too soon, raising your hand in a meeting, farting in yoga class

And what are your coping mechanisms?

If you’re afraid of the dark (achluophobia) and going to sleep (somniphobia) because there might be a monster under your bed (teraphobia) and the dust bunnies down there are just as scary (amathophobia), you should put the mattress flat on the floor. Where the dolls can find you (pediophobia).

PS: That doll thing is real. Ask me some day about my Grandma’s house.
PPS: And also my adult children just told me that watching Toy Story scarred them for life. Let’s add another phobia:

9. Badmomophobia: the reason your kids need therapy.

Zoppe: What’s in a Circus?

It isn’t every day you see a guy swinging through the air from a cable attached to his man-bun. But if you do, you’re either at a frat party or the Zoppe Circus.

Zoppe Circus, since 1842

In our continued quest to put a dent in our bucket list, Hubbs and I snagged tickets when a small, Italian family-run circus came to town. Believe it or not, neither of us have ever been to a circus before. Maybe it’s the idea of creepy clowns getting up in my personal space, or the sure understanding that, in case of fire, we’d be trapped like rats in a plastic casserole. My cynical side questioned whether a generation of smartphone junkies would be impressed with real-life danger. Or if, in an age where most circus icons have become politically incorrect, there was anything fun or fascinating left in the tent.

We followed the crowds into the bleachers: dubious affairs made of planks strapped together with rope. An elderly couple sat on the top row, the lady holding a balloon animal and the gentleman enjoying his cotton candy, oblivious to their peril. They either knew what they were doing or no longer cared. So we sat at the very top, too. The show began.

Arial acrobatics, cantering horse tricks, jugglers, accordions. And a clown called Nino. He pulled people from the audience with the single purpose of public humiliation. Did you cry in McDonalds when Donald er, Ronald came around handing out hugs? Yeah.

Nino was all fun and games until the intermission. He disappeared into the crowds and I was just starting to relax when he materialized in front of our seats with a tray full of popcorn, frowning right at me. He ascended, speaking clown words, and gesturing wildly.

Who wore heels to the circus? That’s right. I did. I reached down for my secret weapon when the man next to me stood up and reached for Nino. “Get him!” I thought, ducking.

But the man was shaking Nino’s hand and speaking more clown words and I was about to bolt for the exit when he turned to me and said in perfectly good King’s English, “We know him, we follow his act. Want some popcorn?”

Nino smiled and offered me the tray. There was both challenge and laughter in his eyes, and something familiar that I couldn’t quite identify. I thought about it as I munched my way through the rest of the show.

Who runs away and joins the circus? I considered the qualifications:

Can you touch your toes?

Do you look good upside down in spandex and could you shoot a bow and arrow with your toes if you had to?

Are you afraid of heights?

Can you flip a pancake or toss a pizza?

Are you okay with being a human piñata?

Can you balance school, work, home, and clowns on a regular basis while everyone is watching?

It was a startling moment when I realized that all of my answers to these questions were “Yes”! Turns out, I own a circus. I have five monkeys. I still work for peanuts. And Nino knows it.

The evening ended with a standing ovation. The performances were fun, but their demonstration of solid teamwork, cooperative hustle, and unflinching trust earned my respect. It gave me hope that – with a lifetime of practice – even my family circus can do it. Bravissimo!