“Fall”-ing in Love Again

Taking into consideration the troublesome effects of ragweed, autumn is my absolute favorite time of year. The temperature is near perfect on a daily (and nightly) basis. The AC unit finally gets a break. A little WD-40 gets all those creaky windows open wide, and fresh air slowly seeps into all the nooks and crannies of a house that’s been on lock-down all through the hot and humid summer. During the day there’s a beautiful, vividly blue sky, brought about by an atmosphere washed clean of the summer haze. I notice the return of friendly clouds, snowy white and puffier than an old-fashioned, freshly plumped feather pillow. The smaller, wispy clouds drifting by are simply feathers that escaped during the plumping. Pesky bugs are held at bay by the cooling temperatures and brisk winds, and campfires are once again a gathering place for friends. Really, are there things much more satisfying in life than the smell of a fire traveling home with you after a day in the country? Add to that – monarch butterflies on the wing, the beauty of the changing leaves, the delightful sound the dry ones make when you walk through a pile of them, and the heavy blankets back on the bed…AHH! As far as I am concerned, this season is a slice of heaven!

While it is the time for campfires in the country, it is not the time to be in the stores. Walk into any retailer in late August, and you’ll be dragged into a state of depression by premature displays of Halloween candy and over-the-top All Hallow’s Eve décor. You’ll find yourself overwhelmed with pumpkin flavored creamers, snack cakes, coffee beverages, tortilla chips, bagels, toothpaste, and aftershave. And just when you have reached your pumpkin spice limit (usually by about the second week of September), and are longing for life to return to normal, Christmas décor will rear its ugly head in the seasonal aisle. Yes, folks, just a few short weeks ago, it was back-to-school shopping madness, and now, apparently, it’s time to start planning that unsurpassed Christmas display.

What is it with these retailers, rushing us through the year as though our lives depended upon us planning ahead, and having all the latest in holiday displays and gadgets?! Can’t we get through September (at least) without strolling past the in-your-face displays of Christmas ornaments, cookie cutters, and wrapping paper every time we go grocery shopping? No one in their right mind should be thinking of any of these things until December. If you’re the kind of person who shops for Christmas gifts all through the year, more power to you, but I say, boycott the stores and give yourself permission to enjoy the entire season of fall (which, officially speaking, lasts until Dec 20th) on its own merits. Throw out all of those craft and home-decor magazines, walk out of that money-grabbing store, and dive into the great outdoors!

Go straight to a farmers’ market, and buy some pumpkins, apples, and butternut squash. Soups disappear from my meal planning for the entire summer, but the cooler weather has me craving big batches. Come cooler weather, there is nothing quite like soup for a simple meal that warms the belly and the soul. Find a friend with a big back yard and a good view of the skies, to enjoy some campfires and/or star gazing. Find some creative ways to embrace the season.

Besides brewing up big batches of yummy soup, here are some of my favorite fall activities/experiences:

Watching the sunset. Digging out my long-sleeved shirts and sweaters from the back of the cedar closet. Drinking fresh cider, or, even better…hot, spiced cider! Finding piles of crispy leaves on the sidewalk while I’m walking in the neighborhood, and rustling/crunching my way though them. Sitting by a campfire after the sun goes down, watching the flames dance. Cooking hot dogs on a fire. Going exploring in the country. Packing away the bug spray. Feeling a cool breeze filtering in from an open window. Closely examining individual leaves of rich and vibrant colors. Catching sight of fallen leaves caught up in a frolicking whirlwind. Sleeping later than usual in the morning, wrapped in a snug cocoon of blankets. Buying pumpkins, gourds, and ornamental corn for a harvest display. The sound and smell of rain soaking a carpet of autumn leaves.

These are just a few of the delightful adventures I will enjoy, with all the time I am saving by NOT thinking about Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas until I’m good and ready. I will be celebrating the moments, while all the crazy folks are decorating for All Hallow’s Eve, outlining the perfect Thanksgiving dinner meal plan and menu, and designing this year’s perfectly themed Christmas tree. I’ll get around to those other things eventually, maybe not quite so perfectly, but in much better spirits than those who fall victim to the retail industry’s pressure.

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What I Did On My Summer Vacation

It was the summer of superfluity. It started out with too much rain, and when I say too much, I mean, I was on craigslist daily, looking for a good deal on an ark. California is in a severe drought because all of their rain clouds got lost and ended up in Ohio. In our state, the farmers suffered from too much precipitation – they couldn’t get fields planted, and/or, once they did, the plants in low-lying spots were drowned. For the organic farmers, the rain caused a bumper crop of weeds, which quickly overtook the main crops. Local pools were empty, picnics were being endlessly rescheduled, and any events that couldn’t be rearranged required a soggy hopefulness, extensive rain gear, and a generous supply of towels. Somehow, we muddled through.

In the midst of these soggy circumstances, my daughter and her husband returned from their Central America mission adventures and settled into our guest room/computer room. It’s a small room, so the computer table quickly filled up and was hidden for months under piles of make-up, wardrobe accessory items, books, health-food supplements, and other odd, sundry bits and pieces. (I blame my prolonged lack of creative writing accomplishments solely on this unfortunate circumstance.) In addition to the discomfort of the small house/tiny room tight squeeze, there’s also only one full bathroom (i.e., shower!) in our house, and none of us girls like the basement toilet, so that led to some rather indelicate situations, on a daily basis. Not to mention a need to be flexible in attention to one’s own personal hygiene habits. And just when we had come up with a livable working plan, all five of us drove up to Minnesota to converge on another one of my daughters and her family. Eight people, all packed into a cute, but small, house – two bedrooms, with an added bedroom and bathroom in the basement (thank God for those additions!). Toss in three dogs, two cats, a very small kitchen, and no dishwasher, and my house was looking like a palatial estate…well, except for that one full bath issue. Let’s face it, overcrowding was a main theme for us this summer.

Shortly after we returned from that sojourn, it was time for the middle child to move out. Her hubby had been hired as a teacher at a high school not far from here, and it was time to rent a U-Haul and shut down our short-term storage business. Suddenly, the computer reappeared, along with A LOT of space in our storage room upstairs. Honestly, I didn’t even know we could fit that much stuff in that room. We hauled box after box out to the truck, along with some recently purchased thrift store furniture items. Then, my husband and I spent an afternoon helping them move into their apartment, on the top floor, on a hot day. It’s times like these that I am grateful for the affliction of exertion-induced asthma. As soon as a comfortable chair was situated in the apartment, I turned on the AC and supervised.

Just to keep myself from getting bored this summer, I planted a couple of tomato plants. Those cute, innocent little plants that I picked up from a local farmers’ market morphed into stage props from the Little Shop of Horrors! I am talking monster plants! They were pulling down the tomato cages, and I had to resort to tying them to our fence. I was concerned about the neighbors’ children and small pets being sucked into the depths of these bloodthirsty bushes. There was so much foliage on the plants, I had to search carefully for long periods of time to find (and then plot out how to get my arm in for harvesting) the ripening fruit. Luckily for me, they didn’t start to ripen until the local climate returned to it’s normal, hot and humid discomfort, and that was just about the time we got back from our summer travels. Suddenly, I had tomatoes coming out of my ears. I gave a lot away, and still came up with enough to make and can two batches of salsa. And, in case you didn’t know, it takes a lot of tomatoes for a batch of salsa! But I had decided, come hell or high water, that I was going to be a good steward of the harvest, so not a one of those tomatoes went to waste. At this point, my plants (which I eventually trimmed back, like overgrown trees) are still loaded with green tomatoes, which were just starting to get an orange tinge when the cool snap hit. I might end up with enough ripe ones to make one batch of pico de gallo, but after that, I’m thinking I will soon be trying some fried green tomatoes for the first time in my life!

Still in my summer stupor, I went to a market last week and bought a bushel…I said, a BUSHEL…, of apples, “seconds” they’re called, to be used for making applesauce. When you come home with a GIANT pile of gnarly-looking apples, with soft spots here and there, you can’t wait around for a few days before you begin working on them. The bad ones need to be cut up, cooked, and put through a food mill ASAP, before the bruised, rotten spots spread and/or fruit flies take over your house. I did most of the fruit the evening I got home from market, then filled my fridge to overflowing with containers full of the cooked-down remnants, until I could finish up the remainder of the fruit. This weekend I cut up and processed the rest of the apples, then prepared and canned 24 pints of applesauce.

Just as I was completing the final stages of the canning process, something snapped inside my head. I began to babble in unintelligible gibberish, and my cats all ran for cover. I stopped and stared at the calendar for a good, long, while. Suddenly I realized, it’s September, summer has zipped by in a flurry of tightly-packed activity, and I am thoroughly worn out. I decided it was time to write a long-overdue post for my blog, and then settle into my recliner with some chips, salsa, and applesauce. And I might just stay there until I run out of all three.