Totally necessary fall bucket list

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Do I make these every year?

Maybe.

Am I totally, completely OK with that?

Definitely.

Now that Oliver is so fun and aware of the world around him, one of my favorite things to do is to drag him to seemingly “ordinary” activities and watch him just … take it all in.

They say that to live again is to view the world through the eyes of a child. And I can’t think of any better way to describe that. A fallen leaf, a cardboard box, a Target receipt — all items of intense interest to my 17-month-old, and seeing him try to make sense of these things gives me a fresh perspective, too.

Since fall is undoubtedly my favorite season, I’m dreaming of corn mazes and hot apple cider and cozy fleece and pumpkin patches. Last fall I was dealing with some pretty intense anxiety as a first-time parent, and honestly? Autumn was a bit of a blur.

But this year? I am better. Gold feels golden again. I am less the husk of a tired mother and more the somewhat-capable, excited and “normal”-ish woman that I remember from so many years ago.

There are never enough days in October and November, so I’m not going to worry if we can’t get to every single one of these delectably-autumnal activities. But I’m going to make a concentrated push to fill the family calendar with fun (and funnel cake!), and to soak up my favorite of seasons with our family of three before we’re zombie people again next year.

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Johnson Family Fall Bucket List

  1. Visit a pumpkin patch and find the perfect gourds for carving. We always bring pumpkins home, but don’t necessarily carve them for Halloween — definitely want to do that this year. Ollie is going to flip out at the sight of pumpkin guts!
  2. Hit as many craft fairs as humanly possible. I spent several days compiling a master list of all the local shows happening this fall for my magazine at work, and to be honest? That “work” was not work at all. Sometimes I open the link just to salivate at the idea of all the fun shopping we’ll be doing. Craft fairs are an annual tradition with my mom and sister, and I am SO EXCITED about these.
  3. Check out a corn maze. Many farms here in Southern Maryland open their doors for folks wishing to “get lost” in family-friendly mazes, and Spence and I hit a few early in our relationship. Those are happy memories for me, and I can’t wait to take Oliver.
  4. Make hot cider. In a slow cooker. Maybe with this recipe, or this one.
  5. Host a Halloween gathering. This spooky holiday falls on a Monday this year (bleh), but I’m hoping we can convince our family and some friends to swing by while we give out candy. Our neighborhood is pretty quiet, so we don’t get many trick-or-treaters, but we’ll be taking Ollie out to hit a few houses! And definitely watch “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” and “Hocus Pocus.”
  6. Speaking of which… watch “Hocus Pocus”! Tradition. My husband tries to get me to sit down for “The Nightmare Before Christmas” on Halloween, too, but my 31-year-old self still gets spooked by that one. I don’t know how a scaredy cat like me wound up with ardent Tim Burton fan, but … here we are. (Don’t mind me — just hiding behind the couch.)
  7. Rake leaves and jump in the piles. Ah, to be young again.
  8. Roast pumpkin seeds. Our attempt at this last year was a big fail, but I’m convinced we didn’t give the seeds the attention they deserved. This will dovetail nicely with carving our jack-o-lanterns. I’m stoked!

So there you have it, friends — our to-do list for the next few months. Anything on your fall bucket list, too? Any additional suggestions? I’m always up for some new autumn fun.

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A fall Friday

Pumpkin

Despite my static-filled silence, friends, I promise I’m a busy little bee back here in my solitude. Last weekend featured a surprise leopard-themed 75th birthday party for my grandma, who seemed shocked indeed, as well as a visit to one of our favorite local parks. Though the leaves weren’t too impressive, it was nice to walk around and soak up a little nature before winter gets here.

Winter. I shudder.

Saturday will be another fun family day as we celebrate a dear cousin’s baby shower, and I am determined — determined, I tell you! — to get through some of the remaining boxes currently littering our office and basement. One of the spare rooms upstairs has also become a dumping ground for my childhood memorabilia, and I have the sinking suspicion I should, like, do something about that.

I don’t know.

The house has gotten away from me. We stopped by our condo this week to just check things over (still looking for a renter/buyer, God help us), and I swear I wanted to fold myself up into one of its rooms and stay there. I love the house, don’t get me wrong — it’s amazing, and it’s ours — but the condo was cozy and warm. Comfortable. Familiar.

In many ways, I still feel like a kid who somehow wormed her way into owning property . . . it doesn’t seem conceivable that Spencer and I are actual adults with actual bills and an actual house, as opposed to the cute apartment we shared. I feel completely old enough to have an apartment, but a three-story structure I’m responsible for maintaining? All those toilets for the cleaning?

Yeah. No.

But I won’t dwell on that. I certainly have no regrets, and our house is our house. As much as I love the rooms and space and the library, though, sometimes I do get wistful for our first place. I only lived there myself eight months, but Spence was there for years — and we have so, so many memories there.

But, you know. Now I’m depressing myself.


Pumpkin II


Let’s talk about my favorite subject: food! I’ve been prowling Pinterest like a champ, mostly because I totally cheated on Halloween and have just gone straight to Thanksgiving. I have approximately 10 million fall-inspired recipes I want to try, but I won’t torture guests with an exclusively pumpkin buffet. Though we’re still ironing out the details, I believe we’ll be hosting the holiday meal this year — a first! — and I’m not nervous so much as fearful of breaking tradition. Thanksgiving has always been at my grandparents’ house, but sometimes change can be a good thing?

I’m going with that.

Focusing on food gives me purpose. Direction. Hunger. When I get a little antsy, I think about pumpkin cornbread and cheesy artichoke pumpkin dip and frosted apple blondies.

All better.

Happy weekend, friends!


Mum’s the word

Field of mums

This field of mums is on a popular route in Southern Maryland — a corridor that takes you through a neighboring county, a road I’ve driven countless times.

Each October, we pass by in a blur of headlights and coffee headed for an early-morning flea market or photography club meeting — times we are rushed rushed and can’t stop to admire them. And they’re certainly worthy of admiration.

Spencer and I were out and about on Saturday with a few minutes to spare, and I realized this is the first year we have a home of our own — a place with a porch, an entrance, outdoor space — where said mums could be placed. We’ve stopped to photograph the field in previous years with my mom, but never taken anything home.

It was time.

After debating the merits of various colors, we eventually settled on two fat orange ones. I felt like a real homeowner out there, pacing the dusty paths, using flag markers to signal the staff who came to dig up our favorites. Others were choosing four, five, eight, but we figured a pair would suit us fine.

Mums

They make quite a statement on our porch — especially when combined with the trio of pumpkins we picked up at the farmers’ market, probably one of the last of the season. If I’ve dreamed about anything in homeownership, it’s probably decorating for autumn . . . and it’s here!

And then it will be Christmas. We have our holiday decorations organized in a basement corner, red and green boxes clearly marked and ready for Santa. Sparkly ornaments, tinsel, candles and trains . . .

Ahem.

All things in time.

We’ll start mums.


Fall on the desert island

Rainy day


“This is definitely a desert-island album for me.”

Spencer and I were driving along our winding road last night, heading to my parents’ house, rain splattering against my windshield. Earlier in the day I’d dug around in the trunk for my old CD case: a fat compilation of albums, mostly collected a decade ago.

John Mayer’s “Heavier Things” was the first CD I bought with my own money. I was a freshman at a nearby community college, running out on my lunch break to pick up odds and ends at Walmart. It was September 2013, just a week or so into the school year, and I’d just started a job as a cashier at a craft store. My paycheck was paltry, but I didn’t know any different — and it didn’t much matter. I still felt impossibly adult with my brand-new debit card.

I told Spencer this story last night: how, eleven years ago, John Mayer’s “Clarity” and “Something’s Missing” and “Wheel” were the soundtrack to my 18-year-old days. I can close my eyes and be back on campus, climbing into my battered old Corolla, cranking the music up with cool September air pouring through the windows. A love note on my windshield. A scarf around my neck.

Music meant more to me then. I don’t listen to it much these days, preferring news radio or audiobooks on my drives. But when I do? It’s the “old” stuff. My vintage stuff. The songs that comprised my mornings and afternoons and weeks when I was younger and bursting and unsure, but still making progress. Steadily. Grasping.

Does your music change seasonally? Because as soon as the leaves begin to turn and I dig out my boots, I find myself reaching for Ingrid Michaelson, The Fray, Death Cab for Cutie. The softer, subdued stuff. It’s like my mind shrugs into a sweater, too, wrapping up and quieting.

I like that. It’s cyclical.

John may feel that, too.

“When autumn comes, it doesn’t ask. It just walks in where it left you last. You never know when it starts . . . until there’s fog inside the glass around your summer heart.”


“What do you mean — desert island?” my husband asked.

“Desert island. You know. An album you’d take with you if you were trapped on a desert island?”

“I’d bring a satellite phone,” replied my scientist, smiling in the dim evening light. “So I could call for help.”

“That’s not the question!”

But I laughed, anyway.


My reputation precedes me

Walking through the office last night, I ran into a coworker. I was overloaded with bags on my way home, per usual; I seem to carry a rotating set of objects back home each night.

Lunch bag.
Recycling.
Diet soda bottle.
Purse.
Cell phone I’m trying not to drop.

“I thought of you over the weekend,” she said. “I was out . . .”

“And you saw pumpkins?” I finished, laughing.

Indeed.

Pumpkin tablecloths. Table runners. Napkin rings. Pumpkin beverages and dishcloths, candles and body wash.

It’s always the same. As soon as fall rolls around, I get the most delightful messages from friends and family — all related to my favorite gourd.

My reputation as the Pumpkin Lady is well-earned, I’d say. Even folks I don’t get a chance to speak with often drop me little notes with recipes for homemade pumpkin spice lattes or coffee, pies and cookies, unconventional ways to use pumpkin as facial masks or home remedies.

If I’m super lucky, I even get pumpkin-themed gifts. A newspaper reader unexpectedly popped in last year with a set of pumpkin-scented candles — which has to rank up there as one of the nicest things ever. My lovely mother-in-law gave me pumpkin pasta sauce last year (delicious), then surprised us with pumpkin-shaped pasta shells on our last visit to New York.

Almost too cute to eat.

Almost.


Pumpkin pasta


Like the onslaught of Facebook messages on your birthday, hearing from old friends and new celebrating my favorite emblem of autumn never ceases to delight and entertain me. I started a set of bookmarks (plus my fall Pinterest board) with all things pumpkin ‘n’ spice, and I’m pretty sure these creations will keep me busy until Christmas.

And I have zero problem with that.

Pumpkin spice latte cupcakes
Pumpkin coffee in a Crock Pot (thanks, Jill!)
Pumpkin snickerdoodle cookie bars
Pumpkin spice granola
DIY pumpkin spice latte
White chocolate pumpkin snickerdoodles
Easy mini pumpkin cinnamon rolls