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


Brown butter cinnamon apples with walnuts

Cinnamon apples

I don’t always have my stuff together.

As much as I’d love to be the sort of person who preps meals for the week on Sundays, moving deftly through the kitchen wielding a knife and storage containers, it just never seems to happen. I can’t blame being busy for this; I mean, we’re all busy. The truth? I just don’t make the time.

In an effort to attack our grotesque grocery bills, though, I’m trying to get better about meal planning — and limiting the number of dinners and lunches we eat out. I started keeping a budget sheet at the beginning of September just to get an idea of where our funds are going, and it’s definitely been enlightening.

Apples

Where am I going with all this? Using up. Consolidation. Waste not, want not. When Spence grabs the big bag of apples at the grocery store for $5, I look at them warily . . . because until recently, most of them went into the garbage. They’d go bad before we’d have a chance to eat them — and having to toss money (er, food) into the trash feels awful.

I noticed quite a few of the apples on our kitchen table were getting to the end of their shelf life yesterday . . . so I did what any budget-conscious lady would do: I hurried up and cooked them. With a little inspiration from the Food Network, I whipped up some pan-fried apples that tasted delicious and soothed my guilty conscious.

Spencer happily declared that they “taste like fall,” too, so there’s that.

You know I’m all about that.

This dish comes together quickly, uses ingredients you probably already have on hand and would be a great alternative to a more traditionally sugary dessert. The result is a warm, tasty side — but if you’re feeling bold, you could certainly add brown sugar or up the amount of walnuts. Despite all that butter in there, I was trying to err on the side of healthy.

You win some, you lose some.



Brown butter cinnamon apples with walnuts

Ingredients:
Six medium red apples, cored and diced
4 tbsp butter
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
Pinch of salt

In a medium-sized skillet, add butter and cook over medium-high heat until melted. When the butter turns a golden brown (about 5 minutes), add apples, cinnamon and vanilla. Cook apples until softened but still firm, about 10 minutes, and add chopped walnuts. Cook together an additional 3-5 minutes until apples are fork tender. Serve immediately; refrigerate any leftovers. Serves 4.


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Gratitude and gourds

Pumpkins

We know I’m a crazy fall nut.

It’s one of my defining characteristics, I’d say — this obsession with changing leaves, apple cider and my beloved pumpkin spice lattes. When this love affair with autumn began, I really couldn’t say . . . but it only seems to intensify from year to year.

But this year? For as excited as I am about the months to come (read: very excited), this is the first time bidding adieu to summer feels bittersweet. I’ll miss my flip-flops and ice cream, gardening and running out in tank tops, but most of all? I’ll miss the farmers’ markets.

We have quite a few nearby, and our favorite is filled with Amish produce and goods that takes over a library parking lot on Saturday mornings. Spencer and I have driven out for tomatoes, zucchini, onions and breads (delicious, delicious breads) many times since late spring, and I felt the changing tide last weekend.

Gone were the colorful hanging baskets filled with flowers, the watermelon, the cantaloupe . . . in their place were gourds and Indian corn, fat pots of mums and sunflowers. It was a cool, misty morning, and I saw summer slipping away like sand between tanned fingers.

It makes me happy — and it makes me sad. It feels traitorous to autumn to admit that, but here we are.


Corn


This morning it was cool enough to need a jacket — bringing to mind all those early school days when I could finally dig out the sweaters and boots I’d lovingly selected back in the summer. Given it often stays hot here through the end of September, all the back-to-school duds my sister and I would pick out in August couldn’t be worn until October.

We waited and waited, gazing longingly at our cute cardigans and corduroys with their tags in the closet — hoping the temperatures would dip enough to unveil our fall wardrobe. There was nothing as disappointing as wearing old summer tops in a fresh new year — back when each September was a chance to reinvent yourself, begin anew.

September still feels that way for many of us, I think. Though my budget doesn’t allow for a reinvention of the ol’ wardrobe these days, I am looking forward to reorganizing my closet to find beloved pieces packed away since last year.

I want to focus more on what I have instead of seeking more — a feeling I’ve toyed with often since January, when I resolved to use up and make do instead of investing in additional stuff.

Gratitude and gourds . . . that’s what I want fall to be about.

Well, that and corn mazes. And cider. And ghost stories . . .

Who says we can’t have it all?


Five things on Friday

photo

1. Are these or are these not the most adorable stamps you’ve ever seen? We know I’m a mail nerd, so it should come as no surprise that I’m positively geeking out over them — but really. Sunflowers and vegetables and adorable baskets on a stamp. I just sort of look at and pet them, and then I put them on love letters. Or letters to my grandma, ’cause that’s how I roll.

2. I’m in the middle of no less than three books right now (one on Kindle; one print; one audio), but that didn’t stop me from starting Gabrielle Zevin’s The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry because Patti recommended it and y’all gushed about it — and what can I say? The power of persuasion. Though I started my other reads days or weeks ago, I’m almost finished with A.J. — and have thoroughly enjoyed it! Very charming.

3. We haven’t done much cooking lately, but have somehow been feeding ourselves . . . I’m thinking mostly off of frozen skillet meals, leftovers and the occasional dinner out (with more leftovers). But we did make slow cooker beef stew on Tuesday, and it turned out quite delicious. I took zero photos, though, so you’ll have to take my word for it? Sorry about that. #bloggerfail

4. Now that the library is coming along and my books are nestled in their new nook, I’m preoccupied with finding the perfect comfy reading chair. I was standing in the doorway last night, trying to picture this piece of furniture or that while cradling my laptop, and I’m pretty sure this is the one since I keep thinking about it. I want the vibe in there to be fun, funky and colorful — like all the spines of our books — and think it will fit well? But I’m so gun-shy about actually ordering it. Another adult milestone I have yet to cross: buying furniture. (Everything we have was passed along by family or purchased by Spencer pre-marriage.)

5. It’s almost craft fair season, y’all! Is that a thing where you are? Here in Southern Maryland, firehouses, churches and halls will soon fill with crafters selling home decor, jewelry, candles, Christmas stuff . . . and I will love every second of it. Hitting the many craft fairs is a family pastime in the fall, and I actually have a place for my craft fair finds these days. I don’t want to be broke, either, but I’m ridiculously excited about it.

Happy weekend, friends!