There’s a First Time in Everything

There is nothing quite like watching your children experience things for the first time… or the first time they remember… or the umpteenth time with the enthusiasm of a first-timer. There is magic in childhood and, if we let it, it rubs off on us. How many times have we been through the same holiday traditions; the same transitions between seasons; the same tasks of everyday life? Too often we let their repetition entrance us into a certain apathy, where we go through the motions because… well… it’s what we do this time of year, and we check them off our to-do lists without ever having really done them in spirit.

But children change all that. They make us see the enchantment in things we’ve done a thousand times. They inspire us to dream up new ways to make old traditions special again. They remind us with wide eyes and huge grins that lighted faces carved out of pumpkins really are amazing.

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That the very first maple leaf to turn red is a treasure worth saving.

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That cupcakes make everything better…

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And a roller coaster conquered is worth every ounce of fear felt along the way.

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That sometimes, the sixteenth trip down the slide really is the BEST one of all.

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That friends and family are always what make any event special.

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And that, no matter how much water life seems to dump on you, sometimes you just need to go with the flow, kick of your shoes, get a little wet!

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Out With the Old, In With the New!

In a season marked by the giving and receiving of gifts, I am overcome today by a need to purge and clean as all the new stuff enters my house with no place to live and every closet and cupboard filled to capacity. Which begs the question – if we have to get rid of old stuff to make room for new stuff, how much stuff do we really need? Are we cultivating an attitude of simplicity and gratitude in ourselves and our children? Or one of excess and extravagance? Now, as I have mentioned before in a couple of posts, I don’t thing that gift giving is purely about satisfying needs. If it was, we would all get Hoovers and underwear for Christmas. Instead, giving gifts is a physical demonstration of the thoughtfulness that emanates from love. If our holiday gifts showed such thoughtfulness and were messages of caring and love, than they were a success and a worthy investment. If, however, they were just an accumulation of things because it’s the time of year to accumulate things, than they were a waste.

All that being said, I am grateful for the motivation and incentive to cleanse my house and my cupboards of unnecessary clutter. It has been a long time in the making. My boss once shared with us at a company luncheon that he and his wife make it a habit to go through their things once a year and get rid of anything that they hadn’t used in the previous year. Having lived in the same place for the last 3.5 years and never purged or rearranged, I’ve been drawn to this idea ever since he shared it. I’m sure my fire is fueled by nesting instincts as well, since Baby No. 2 will be making his début in 4.5 months. But regardless of the reason, nesting or staleness or Christmas, the time for “spring” cleaning has arrived and began today in earnest. I only made it through part of one room but already the pile marked for garage sale is substantial. Although I am exhausted and know I have a LONG way to go, this pile of no longer needed/wanted junk (or treasures to garage sale customers) makes me very happy. It is the beginning of greater order, more space, and enhanced simplicity. It is an opportunity to make some money from things we don’t need and benefit those who do. It is a change, no matter how small, that makes our home more livable. We’ll see how far I get in the coming weeks before the fire dies.

The World’s Rosy Complexion

I’m not sure if it is the gradual change of the weather this year, as opposed to the dramatic drop we usually get from 90° one week to 45° the next, or if it is simply the universe smiling at us poor southerners at a time when the stress of life is getting overwhelming, but I was just commenting to my husband that the fall colors seem more vivid this year and remarkably out of character for our little corner of the world. Of course it helps matters that, due to a temporary change of sitters for my son, I have been driving the Natchez Trace to work every day. It is the most beautiful stretch of road in Mississippi and such a refreshing change of scenery to clear my mind as I drive.

A section of the Natchez Trace near Rocky Springs

I must confess that seeing all of this Autumn grandeur does more to make me miss my Yankee upbringing that it does to help me appreciate my current home. It reminds me so much of the Autumns I remember growing up, surrounded by sugar maples, oaks, elms, and other hardwoods that transform themselves annually with a fiery magic that seizes even the most diehard advocates of summer and captures their hearts and imaginations for Fall. The whole world has a golden, rosy complexion and it is hard to not to look at the rest of life through the same colored lenses.

Another section of the Old Natchez Trace, slightly north of here.

And the colors that seem to be spreading like wildfire over the local foliage are accompanied by the most glorious earthy, musky smell of the fallen leaves and the damp earth that lingers in the cool air instead of being baked away by afternoon heat. It is a smell that inspires us to fill our homes with the other smells of Fall: pumpkin spice muffins, squash casserole, roasted pumpkin seeds, cinnamon apple cider, and zucchini bread. It reminds us to kick on the heat, pull out the afghans and find a good book to wile away the rainy afternoons.

Mmmmm, Yummy!

I am so grateful that Autumn has finally arrived and has decided to grace us with its rather picturesque presence this year. I, and I’m sure many others, definitely needed the change of scenery and the renewal of inspiration.

Spaghetti Squash Discovery

Every now and then I come across something so simple, so fresh, and so healthy, it’s hard to imagine how I could NOT share it. Particularly since I just posted an article about healthy eating and it’s effects on your body and life. This most recent find of mine may be old hat to many of you, but, somehow, in my 30 years of existence, I have only just discovered spaghetti squash! What an incredible and unusual little vegetable. If you, like me, are often prone to have some starchy side dish with many of your meals such as pasta or potatoes, this would be an excellent substitution with the same general aesthetic. And, let me tell you, preparation doesn’t get much easier!

There are a variety of ways to cook and season it, but I opted for the time-saving simplicity of microwave cooking. I cut it in half length-wise, scooped out the soft middle section that contained the seeds, placed it open side down in a baking dish with 1/2 cup of water, and covered it with plastic wrap. I then cooked it on high in the microwave for 10 minutes. When it was finished I let it cool long enough to be handled and then scooped out the spaghetti-like meat with a fork. I mixed it in a bowl with a bit of heart-healthy margarine, garlic salt, pepper, and parmesan cheese. As you’ll quickly discover if you google “Spaghetti Squash,” there are MANY ways to prepare it. You just have to find something that inspires you.  I served it with steamed peas and sautéed mushrooms and onions on the side.  It was a lovely and fresh vegetarian meal requiring VERY little effort.

I highly encourage everyone to give this remarkable little vegetable a try. And let me know how it goes!

Ode to Autumn

There is something magical about the change of seasons. Particularly the change from the oppressive heat of the Summer to the brisk, brightly colored, candle lit feeling of Autumn. The moment the weather turns you feel it. You walk out into the crisp morning air and you know fall has arrived. The multitude and monotony of the many shades of green suddenly transform into every imaginable color of the rainbow – from bright red and orange to yellow, green and plum purple. Temperatures that would have had us excitedly donning shorts at the start of the summer, are suddenly justification for pulling out sweaters and slacks and dreaming of winter coats. It is the start of the season that contains all of the major holidays – Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years. A time for friends and family and sugar cookies.

Even the labor of raking leaves feels like a labor of love the first time you do it, bringing with it a flood of childhood memories. The very smell of the air – wood burning chimney smoke, dead leaves, evergreen sap, pumpkin and zucchini bread – fills your nose with delight like a fine wine or dark chocolate fills your mouth. This is a time for remembering and a time for creating new memories.

What are some of your favorite Autumn memories?