Apples and pumpkins and pears, oh my!

At first blush, Fall is not my favorite season. It is probably second only to winter as my least favorite since I’m a warm weather girl at heart. But, trying to find a silver lining, I decided to make a list of all the things I like about Fall, to see where that would take me. It turned out to be a longer list than I thought it would be.

Let’s start with the weather, shall we? Yes, fall brings cooler temperatures and sometimes rain, but it can also be glorious (as it is as I write this). Late September and early October offer us some breathtakingly beautiful days that feel like summer, but are all the more precious because they come as a surprise. As we count down the weeks until the real cold sets in, I have greater appreciation for the gift of these gorgeous days.

Cooler days also give us the opportunity to do more outside. The prospect of hiking or biking, which might have inspired groans on those 90-degree days with 90% humidity during August, is actually pleasant now. This is the time of year to explore and put some serious miles on the shoes before it gets too cold and icy.

It’s also a whole new season of produce at the markets. Yes, I miss the berries and peaches, but the apples right now are amazing. The pick-your-own farms are in full swing as well. What would Fall be without a trip to the apple orchard, the cider mill or the pumpkin patch?New Jersey apple picking (7)

I’m happy not to be a kid starting school in September, but for adults the fall offers rich opportunities for learning and experiencing culture. It’s a new theatre season, the serious fall movies are starting to appear and a new season of adult programming begins at local colleges, museums and art centers.

I can start wearing different clothes! If you’re like me, by the end of a season, you get sick of looking at the same wardrobe choices every day. It’s almost like buying new clothes when I can go into my drawers or closet and pull out a forgotten sweater or a long-sleeved shirt and remember how much I like wearing it. I warm up my feet, which have been in sandals all summer, rediscovering socks and boots.

There are more people around. Some places feel more crowded,  but that’s a good thing in general. It means that people are back from their summer vacations and more available for making plans and getting together. It’s a good time to plan a nice fall dinner party, maybe one featuring squashes and Brussels sprouts.IMG_1043

I can turn off the air conditioning and open my windows. I love the fresh air (well, as fresh as it gets in the city) and even the noise that goes along with it. It makes me feel connected to the outdoors and to the neighborhood.

We can start anticipating and planning for holidays. The sight of the pumpkins and other squashes, the apples and pears, the sweaters and boots, makes me think of Thanksgiving and beyond. What will be on the menu this year? Who will be with us?  What traditions will we keep and how will we celebrate differently?

Anthony Doerr, the author of the acclaimed novel “All the Light We Cannot See”, has said,

The preciousness of life and the changes of weather and the beauty of seasons – all those things have always sort of dazzled me.

I’m setting an intention right now to let Fall dazzle instead of disappoint this year, to look with new eyes on its changing colors, to savor the tastes and textures it offers, and to accept the season in all its unique beauty without wishing I was in any other season.

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Being grateful for January

By the time I was 18, I really hated winter. I spent my last cold season in my home state of Michigan just grumbling about how much I didn’t want to be there. Then I left for good.

Even now that I live in the Mid-Atlantic region, winter is my least-favorite season. By the time January arrives, I know it’s going to be cold for three more months, I’m already sick of my winter clothes, and don’t even get me started about all the kale I see on restaurant menus! (I’m sorry, I just don’t like it.)

But this year, I’m resolved not to be the winter grinch, so I searched for the silver lining and came up with ten things to like about January:

  1. The world didn’t end on 12/21/12. The misinterpretation of the Mayan prediction was not true, and I am grateful to be alive in January 2013. (That “2012” movie was pretty fun, though.)
  2. Inaugurations. Every four years, we have a reason to continue celebrating in January. In Washington, where I live, a party spirit pervades the air this week.IMG_0740
  3. The start of the new semester in my teaching job. I look forward to meeting my new group of students and feeling like I have a clean slate with them.
  4. Eating comfort food is okay. Even the healthy eating columns are full of recipes for stews, soups and pasta. We can enjoy the warmth and savoriness of heavier food and find it richly satisfying.Comfort food_109
  5. Catching up on books and movies. With outdoor activities curtailed, and holiday craziness winding down, it’s a good time to curl up with a novel, or have a marathon viewing of Pride & Prejudice.
  6. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. More than just another day off, this is a day to try to give back and be of service to the community.IMG_2315
  7. Starting my new calendar. I still like to keep a paper engagement calendar where I write with ink or pencil. I love the feel of cracking open the new book each year and starting to enter birthdays and appointments.
  8. There’s no one at the beach. January is great time to walk along the shore and have the entire beach all to yourself. Just bundle up!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  9. The days are getting longer. Yes, the mornings are still pretty dark, but we’ve crossed over the hump of the shortest day and the light will increase bit by bit from now until June.
  10. Snow days. There’s no guarantee of snow days where I live. Sometimes two years can go by without one, but that makes it all the more special to wake up to that awesome quiet that comes with a huge snowstorm. I may not like winter, but I enjoy the way all my neighbors talk and laugh while shoveling snow together. There’s a great feeling of camraderie and community at those times.IMG_1052

The month of January is named for the Roman god, Janus, who had two faces. That way, he could look back to the year just finished, and forward to the year just beginning. “Janus” is actually the Latin word for arch, which makes the month of January a kind of doorway for us. Knowing that, I can begin to appreciate how we need to pass through January if we are going to reach the balmier days of spring.

My Perfect Day

The warm weather this week has everyone excited. Everywhere I go, people have something to say about it (80 degrees in March!) and a smile on their faces when they talk about it. When I wake up in the morning now, I hear the birds chirping through my open window, indicating another glorious day. I get out of bed with a lightness that is missing in the cold, dark days of winter.

All of that leads me to think about my perfect day. This is a tool that I use with students as a starting point to figuring out their values. If you can make a list of things that constitute a good day for you, it gives you an idea of what is most important to you. What I’ve seen this week is that warm, sunny weather is very valuable to me!

Here are some other things that would make up a perfect (or very good) day:

  • Time spent with friends or family. Whether I reach out to someone, or they make contact with me, it feels good to talk (in person or on the phone) with someone I’ve known a long time. It is a reminder that I have a support system out there.
  • A really yummy meal that isn’t too unhealthy. I love to cook and I love to eat, so this is a significant part of the day. Having healthy food is a bonus because I can feel both satisfied and virtuous about the meal.
  • Some work to do, but not too much. I like the challenge of work and feeling like I make a contribution to something bigger than myself. On the other hand, I like to have choices about how I spend my time.
  • Some physical activity that I enjoy. There’s that good feeling of exhaustion that comes with working my body hard, but not too hard. I don’t need to run a marathon, but I like to get out and move. Running, hiking or yoga all fit the bill.
  • A good book to read. I’ve written before about the important role books have played in my life, along with curiosity and learning. Whether I’m reading novels or non-fiction, I always take something from the books I read.
  • Words of love or encouragement. This could be my kids saying, “I love you, Mom”; a student saying he was helped by my class; a co-worker praising my work; or even a stranger complimenting me on what I’m wearing. Affirmation always brightens my day.
  • Physical contact with someone I love. The skin is the body’s largest organ, and the sense of touch an important way to communicate. Hugs and kisses are a necessity on a perfect day!

When I look at my list of “perfect day” requirements, I see that they correspond very closely to the six dimensions of wellnessPhysical (the exercise and eating); Social (time spent with friends); Emotional (physical contact and words of love); Intellectual (reading); Occupational (working a little bit); and Spiritual (appreciating that warm, sunny day with the birds chirping). Without consciously thinking about it, my desires are reflecting my core values.

Do we know the perfect day when we are living it, or does it exist only in retrospect? Can we wake up every morning with the desire to live it well?

The Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore wrote, Do not say, ‘It is morning,’ and dismiss it with a name of yesterday. See it for the first time as a newborn child that has no name.”