That faint semblance

Jeff, Drew, Matt and I enjoyed a picnic at Cal Shakes  before a wonderful production of Arms and the Man, July 2003

Jeff, Drew, Matt and I enjoyed a picnic at Cal Shakes
before a wonderful production of Arms and the Man, July 2003

“That faint semblance of Eden, the picnic in the greenwood.”Herman Melville

If there’s anything more festive than a picnic, it’s a picnic at a fabulous outdoor theater just before a stellar production.  The California Shakespeare Theater in Orinda, California, invites audiences to bring their own feasts (or buy food available there) and enjoy al fresco dining in their picnic areas before curtain time.

The sublime climate proves nature’s own air conditioning is best. Eucalyptus and oak groves, situated against a stunning mountain backdrop and scattered with sculptures, provide an aesthetic experience that surpasses any electronic special effects I’ve ever seen.

I’m not sure how we discovered the theater affectionately known as “Cal Shakes,” but I’ve found that hardly any tourists, and surprisingly few locals, seem to have heard of it.  What this tells me is that there are well-kept secrets everywhere, and I’m challenging you to play detective and scout out a wonderful, perhaps lesser-known spot for a serene springtime picnic.  (Then you can report back to us so we can enjoy it if we are ever in your neck of the woods!)

I’ve noticed picnic tables scattered in unlikely places such as shopping centers, libraries and other non-park settings, but of course, the best place to hunt may be a city, county or regional park that’s not a huge tourist spot.  Or it may be a place that doesn’t have a picnic table at all – but a blanket and perhaps some folding chairs or tables can turn a lovely clearing into an unforgettable luncheon.  The birds and crickets will provide music that’s way better than Muzak.

The next time you have a few hours available on a warm, sunny day, pack some of your very favorite treats and beverages, and head for an outdoor setting.  If you’re like us, you’ll find yourself asking “Why don’t we do this more often?”

One year ago today:

Have a picnic


  1. HarryS

    On yesterday’s post.

    On the loss of our beloved pets:

    Some of the best crying I ever did was when my dog died! 🙂

    • Harry, same here. Matt did his crying shortly before Pasha died, I cried all through his last hour, and Jeff cried afterward. We still get choked up occasionally but always with a feeling of gratitude for having had him in our lives.

  2. Larry

    This picture made Mom real happy to see her three Denton boys. We are praying that Matt had a better night last night. Hope you both were able to get some rest also. Tell Matt Grandmother needs some “sunshine”.

    • Larry, I’m happy she liked the photo. “I got a million of ’em” as Jimmy Durante supposedly said. Matt does seem better today. He is sleeping now, having just gotten his pain meds, so he’s a bit grouchy at this particular hour. Grandmother probably has a better supply of sunshine right now than he does 🙂 but I hope and trust that he will be back in the groove again soon.

  3. Here in this desert region I have seen people enjoying their picnics in unusual spots, say, a green patch among very busy roads, remote parched desert areas, rocky hillsides, and even on the roadside. A mat, a flask of qahwah, and some food will be all they need. I have often wondered if I would be able to enjoy a picnic in such places. Here it seems all they want is a place outside the dull apartments. I can see you all had a great time at Cal Shakes.

    • Bindu, I am among those you describe who loves to brown-bag it (as we say here) and just take a snack and maybe a bottle of water wherever I go, even to places that seem like unlikely picnic spots. I don’t know if it’s my love of eating, my love of saving money, or my ability to be interested in almost everything I see — maybe all three — but I enjoy sitting down for a quick snack almost anywhere. If only I could find a truly portable way to brew tea, all would be perfect! 🙂

  4. singleseatfighterpilot

    “Mayday, Mayday, Mayday!” That truly is an international radio transmission for alarm, and a call for help. I know today will be no picnic for Matt, so please update all blog readers on his condition ASAP.

    • Eric, you must have read my mind. Last night Matt was reminding me that tomorrow would be May 1, and I said “yes, Mayday for sure!” 🙂 – but luckily things are looking calmer and not so scary today. Thanks for caring!

  5. Makes me want to pack a lunch and head to River Park. I can almost hear the birds and crickets chirping away.

    • Patricia, I hope you can grab a picnic soon! I’m sending you a virtual picnic basket complete with the background music:

      • Julia I gained five pounds just looking at all that delicious food, but after listening to the sounds and seeing the beauty of that virtual picnic spot I didn’t give a damn 🙂

        • Hee-hee, that’s the spirit! Pass the chocolate chip cookies!

          • I forgot to add my prayers for Matt and Jeff. I pray for them daily and for you too. Your bravery and love show through you beautiful soul. I don’t know If I could be as strong as you, but you sure do help the rest of us how lucky we are. God Bless you all. I pray the burdens of your family are lifted and the blessings are abound. Keep well and strong.

            • Thanks so much Patricia, we really need and appreciate the prayers. To tell the truth I don’t feel very brave. The other night when Matt was having such pain and was doing so badly I think the nurses were almost as worried about me as him. But actually I just do what most anyone else would do, hang on and try to survive. It sounds like a cliche but we all can bear much more than we think we can. Which reminds me of a quote I’ve seen attributed to Mother Teresa: “I know God will not give me more than I can handle…I just wish He didn’t trust me so much.” 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing this journey with us.

  6. Carolyn Miller

    Sorry that yesterday was a rough day. Pray that today is better and Matt gets stronger each day . Tell Matt, thanks for remembering me in his prayers. Tell that guy he is loved by some many people. Hugs and love to all.

    • Thank you Carolyn, he seems better today, though he still has a long ways to go. But we hope each day will bring a little more improvement. Luckily, we may get to go home a bit earlier simply because the tendency now is to minimize hospital stays as much as possible due to the risks of that environment. I think people generally rest and heal better at home, but of course we don’t want to go until he is in a more stable condition and has had his chest tubes out for awhile. This is the longest he’s ever had any in after an operation. I’m trying not to let that worry me. They can’t very well remove them as long as there’s as much drainage as he’s getting. Thanks so much for your prayers and for being here with us!

  7. Megan

    I love this picture!! Truly makes me want to go on a picnic! And the pollen seems to be dying down enough that it might be a good idea! Praying for you all today. Lots of love.

    • Yes, you would definitely want to wait until the pollen is a bit better. But Atlanta has some wonderful picnic spots, well-known as well as many that are undiscovered. Thanks for your prayers and for sending me those cute photos of Grady. I have now re-tooled his page so everything won’t be on the same page (way too much to load) and I hope to be adding the new photos and videos soon. Our love to all three of you!

  8. When my children were young we had a wonderful few years of enjoying a self-catered al fresco meal amongst the shade trees in a beautiful public garden and being entertained by the local Shakespeare Theatre Company with some of his lighter offerings. It was a wonderful intro to the bard for my girls and a wonderful family and friends evening!

    I am pleased to read in the previous comments that Matt is showing some improvement and things are less scary for you. May this continue to improve! xoxo

    • What a great way to introduce kids to Shakespeare! In San Francisco they had Opera in the Park and Opera in the Gardens (at Yerba Buena) and we took Matt since he was such a big opera fan (Jeff and I are not but it’s grown on us somewhat). I was surprised how much fun it was. We got there early enough set up our picnic blanket right in front of the stage and the performers were wonderful in that casual setting. No costumes or subtitles, but they are so fabulously emotive with their singing that we didn’t miss anything!

      Matt continues to do better. I am hoping we can go home maybe sometime this weekend. I’ll keep you posted!

  9. Julia, hello. Thanks for the wonderful photo. When my children were young, we loved picnics. I would pack a lunch and off we’d go to a river, lake or even under a tree in the back yard!
    I’m so glad to hear of Matt’s improvement. and encourage that he may go home this week-end.
    Happy May Day and world prayer day!

    • Merry, aren’t those wonderful memories for you and your children to have? Thanks so much for your caring and encouragement. I hope I’m not getting my hopes up too high, but if he continues to do well, maybe by Sunday? We’ll let you know.

  10. Larry

    Grandmother’s sunshine is getting to talk to Matt and you all on the phone. She is missing getting to hear your voices. Hopefully, a few more days and she can hear your voices again. I will let her know that he has had a better day. She will be glad to hear. Hope the drainage slows down, we will begin to specifically pray for that as God will to happen and getting to go home to rest and heal when the time is right.. Love you all, Larry

    • Larry, thanks so much for the prayers. Maybe I can email you the room phone number and Grandmother can call him here. He isn’t too keen on talking much, but he probably would not mind taking a few VIP calls 🙂 and we will keep you posted on how it goes. He’s asleep now and hopefully will get a good night’s sleep again. Love to all of you too!

  11. Sheila

    Julia, what wonderful news that Matt may be going home, as early as this weekend. 🙂 I know you must be a combination of weariness and relief. You were never far from my thoughts and prayers today. I so hope that Jeff is doing well, too. We have several parks in our area that are so beautiful in their lowcountry setting that opens their lush forest doors onto the oceanfront. Huntington Beach State Park is in Murrells Inlet and is truly magnificent. Loved the virtual picnic! 🙂 Love to all!

    • Sheila, I couldn’t resist doing a quick image search of that park and WOW, you are right! How gorgeous!! Thanks so much for your kind thoughts and prayers; I feel so much better than I did this time two nights or even one night ago. Matt worked several jigsaw puzzled (small enough to fit on his tray table) before bed tonight, and he was zipping right through them, so that’s a very good sign. Thanks so much for being here with us!

  12. raynard

    Julia did you get the picture of my 2 dogs? Awhile back ( years ago) we were invite to the local drama league. Other than me trying to stay away( when I was working nights) we met some of the actors right after the show in the lobby.These days on our adventures outdoors especially parks find out if they were treated for fleas.(white dogs like might they show up pretty good) be blessed

    • Raynard, I did get the photos and those dogs are adorable. They look almost like stuffed toys. I went back and put a link to their photo in the comments from that post. I tried to embed the photo but somehow I couldn’t get the photo to embed in your comment. I was able to put a link, though. As for fleas, I was always terrified at the thought of Pasha bringing one in and our house getting infested. Once or twice we used Frontline on him if we found a tick, but I didn’t like the idea of putting something that seemed toxic onto his fur so we seldom used it. We were lucky I guess, never any sign of fleas, but it is something to worry about. When we went on walks I’d try to keep him mostly on the pavement, especially during flea and tick season.

  13. Michael

    That might be a good video for folks to relax in the hospital setting. Unless they are afraid of snakes or gators or creatures of the night. They have one at the hospital of a continuous waterfall with rain sounds in the background. It is on something called “Skylight” and it is on the calm menu.

    • Years ago after Matt had been in the hospital we got him a “white noise” machine with sounds of ocean, rain, waterfalls etc. and he liked it so much we ended up using one ourselves. Now we all sleep to the white noise every night. It definitely helps.

  14. MaryAnn

    Thanks for all the updates in the comments. Praising God for Matt’s improvement!
    There are many good picnic memories tucked away, from my boys’ early years. Many times we would just grab whatever was for lunch & walk out the back road or jump in the car & go. Once, it rained, so we parked under a huge tree & had the picnic inside the car! Loads of fun! Thanks for the photos & ideas.
    Love to Matt!

    • MaryAnn

      P.S. Kudos to Jeff for Grady’s dapper, new suit and I love the “Point Guard” outfit!
      Basketball is my game. Jeff looks terrific, HAPPY & handsome as ever!!!

      • Mary Ann, I didn’t even know you were a basketball fan. Or maybe I just forgot. Jeff is really incredible, he has kept going through more than I could have imagined even after he was diagnosed with Stage IV. I am so proud of him and Matt both, and grateful to have them still with us!

    • Thank you Mary Ann! Matt says to tell you he loves you and misses you. He is doing much better tonight and really the only thing standing in the way of his going home is the chest tubes, which appear to be getting somewhat close to tapering off. I’m so happy you have those good memories to treasure with your children. The California climate is the world’s best for picnics, I think – not to mention the gorgeous scenery in so many locations. I join you in thanking God for all the blessings, especially (right now) Matt’s improvement.

  15. Shakespeare outdoors sounds fantastic. We love to eat outside. When we lived at the lake, we’d picnic 4 days out of 7 in the summer. Packing the cooler became an art. We all floated on a big barge, our boats all tied to it and the BBQ going. My other favourite place to picnic used to be the side of a mountain when out skiing. I’d knock my ski’s off, stick them in the snow, crossed behind me. Then unzip my knapsack to find my homemade muffin, bunch, juice box, apple and maybe an snack bar too. While others had to get into giant line-ups for terrible cafeteria food….I’d be sitting in the sun with my iPod, enjoying the great outdoors and stunning views.

    • Truly a woman after my own heart – although I can’t claim to have had barges and ski slopes in the background! That must have been wonderful. I’ve never understood the appeal of waiting in line to pay for overpriced mediocre food when some fruit, cheese, chips, nuts and other goodies are so easy to pack. When I spend a day sightseeing (on vacation or in my own locale) I never want to stop long to eat anyway – so much to see — and why not see some of it while eating? Hooray for portable food!

  16. Many years ago it was called Berkley Shakespeare, or Berkley Shakes for short. I worked on two shows there at a time when things were so lean, that they weren’t sure they could afford to pay us after a poor turn out for one of the shows I worked on. Those were the days. We sewed costumes on the second floor of part of a warehouse in cold conditions. Still….good memories.

    • Wow, you can really say you knew it when! I’m happy they have had such success, although think all art venues struggle mightily these days just to stay afloat – I guess that’s one thing I’ve always had against television and Hollywood; it seems as if they suck all the entertainment dollars into gargantuan profits and salaries for just a few, when there are SO many talented artists out there working for the love of it and very little else. I have seen acting in small theaters that equals or surpasses what is in 90% of films. But don’t get me started…

  17. Michael

    Praise God Matt is doing well tonight.

    • Yes Michael, we are so thankful. If you are over at UR anytime soon please tell everyone hello for me, and that we really appreciate their prayers.

  18. Michael

    Several folks have mentioned you on the site- Sarah,Monte, Christie, Sheila, Ed, Raynard- Thomas.

    • Thanks for letting me know, Michael.

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