Mindful Autumn

Not very long ago, I lamented our lackluster summer. Well, with recent trips to the zoo and our luck at attempting a beach adventure (on a day when 90 degree weather called for a summer activity rather than the previously planned harvest festival), I can officially say…Mission Summer: Complete and I’M TIRED.

I’ll translate that. Our busiest time of year, like many families, fears up during the entire month of September (or whenever your school year begins), then kind of ebbs and flows until the next high tide at the holiday season. So, when I say that I (and we) are tired? That’s fall, baby.

While the weather is only just beginning to loosen its grip on the thermometer, I am actually more than ready to pull out my leggings, puffy vest, scarf, and boots, and snuggle up with some almond milk cocoa, a roaring fire, a good book, and a cat or two. Yup, I’m a walking cliche.

To paraphrase Captain Kirk, “Hygge me up, Scotty.” It helps counterbalance those nights that are heavy on the activities.

So, just as we made the best of the summer (and didn’t stress stretching our plans a bit in one direction or another – or scrapping them altogether), we don’t have to over-plan or try very hard to make the autumn a special season.

We have things that we’d like to achieve, like our recent comic book convention and visiting with friends who came into town for it, and fall festivals and family nights sponsored at our local school and library, but it’s more about the simple experiences that we undertake during autumn that matter the most. I’m hoping that we can be present and enjoy those moments and activities in a more mindful matter.

One of the ways that we can encourage mindfulness is by using our senses more and actually thinking about how we experience the world. So, here are just some of the ways I’m looking forward to “sense” the new season with our family…

SEE

What’s your favorite sight to view when the weather turns? If you’re like me (a total walking cliche…), it’s the changing colors. Bright rusty reds, mustardy yellows, cheerful oranges…it’s our favorite season for this very reason.

Our favorite way to celebrate our locale is with a road trip to Cooperstown. The rolling hills show off like crazy and it brings me back to my childhood.

Walking our neighborhood will hopefully bring about the same effect, as well, and giving the kids a simple sensory nature walk scavenger hunt (find an orange leaf, a red cardinal, etc) will help them notice more of the world around them. And even shouting out different fall-themed things to look for – a scarecrow, corn stalks, a happy jack o’lantern, a ghost decoration, and so forth – adds to the fun.

SMELL

My absolute favorite sense is smell. I’m one of those people who gets easily transported to another place and time with the whiff of a simple scent. So, this is SUPER important to me for making memories. 

That said, lighting an apple candle, baking some pumpkin muffins, lighting one last chilly night fire in the backyard, and savoring the crisp, sweet smell of decaying leaves will hopefully achieve this goal.

Oh, and popcorn. That’s a must in every season, but only when it’s lovingly prepared by my husband.

TASTE

This is a slightly more challenging sense with the dietary restrictions in our family, but I’m more than up to the challenge.

I can’t have apples (what baby is allergic, I ask you?!), but a dairy-free pumpkin treat like muffins will work in a pinch. Non-dairy buttery popcorn, again, is a must, along with almond milk hot chocolate. Spiced teas and flavored coffees help warm us up, too.

And don’t forget the comfort meals! Chili, stews, and a good roast will fill our bellies (and help the husband feel less deprived, too).

FEEL

This may be a tough one, as well, but I’d like to pose this challenge to the kids. On cooler days, we can feel the chill on our faces and fingers. We can feel the warmth and coziness of a fluffy blanket. We can feel the cold, gooey insides of a perfectly-picked pumpkin or the crunchy leaves after a perfectly timed jump.

And, oftentimes, this word has a dual meaning (especially for kids), so asking how they feel when we’re doing different activities (like walking through a corn maze or riding on a hay wagon) will inevitably help them become more emotionally aware, and attach to the moments they appreciate.

HEAR

Ahh, sound. It’s a great way to calm and quiet your mind by closing your eyes to focus on the world around you. Whether it’s listening to the gentle tapping of a fall rain storm, a fun spooky old radio show (we go between this and old ‘40s music, which somehow seems more appropriate on those dark, dreary days), the pop-pop-pop of popcorn shooting out of the maker, or the crunching leaves as you take a walk on a cool evening, there are plenty of ways to enjoy autumn sounds.

Of course, our absolute favorite sound is the boisterous laughter of our kids enjoying the moment, no matter through what sense.

I’d love to hear what you’re looking forward to most about autumn, and which sense is your favorite for experiencing life! Drop me a line below or stop by my Instagram account (@megactsout) to join in the conversation!

Local, Organic Comfort Food

Sunday was a nice, quasi-typical Sunday for us. It was highly-relaxing (after an uber-busy work week, plus a garage sale thrown in for fun), we got some stuff completed, and while it was still humid, was kind of dreary. If it had been colder, it would have felt like an autumn day — which are our FAVORITE types of days. Dave’s a “drizzly” fan and I’m an autumn fan, which is why we’re risking a possibly rainy wedding day in October.

From workman.com

Regardless, I was going through several of my new “real food” cookbooks and pondering what we had to cook. My decision came down to free-range chicken soup or chili — and the newly-popping jalapenos in my garden helped me to decide.

I used the cookbook Food to Live By by Myra Goodman. It’s an enjoyable book to simply read, given that the author is a mom who raises her kids on a working farm, so I figure “If she can do it, certainly I should be able to.” Here’s my version of her recipe:

“Foggy Day Chili”
2 Tbsp. olive oil
3/4 c. diced yellow onion (for me, it was 1/2 an onion)
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
1-1 1/2 lbs. lean ground beef (mine was from a Herkimer farm)
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
1 Tbsp. chili powder
2 tsp. dried oregano
several good sprinklings of cinnamon (my addition)
1 can (15 oz.) black beans, undrained
1 can (15 oz.) pinto beans, undrained
1 can (28 oz.) crushed or diced tomatoes, with their juices
1 tsp. salt, or more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
Dried red pepper flakes (optional)
1 minced jalapeno pepper, seeds removed (depending on how hot you like it)
A handful or two of semi-sweet chocolate morsels (optional — I added them to my bowl since Dave could “taste chocolate” — if I hadn’t told him he had it in his bowl, he wouldn’t have noticed )

1. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until onion and garlif are soft, not browned, about 1 minute longer. Add the beef, and break up with a wooden spoon.

2. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the spices (except the red pepper flakes). Cook, stirring frequently, until the mean is cooked through; ~7 minutes.

3. Add the beans and tomatoes, with their liquids, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and let the chili simmer, gently stirring occasionally until thickened and the flavors are concentrated, about 45 minutes. (If it’s not thickening to your liking, remove the cover to evaporate some liquid.

4. Add the salt and taste for further seasoning (including the pepper and red pepper flakes). Add minced jalapeno and chocolate (if using) and stir. Serve with cheddar cheese or sour cream, if wanted (we didn’t).

We ate the chili with a simple corn muffin that Dave prepared — his first ever. All we did was add Jiffy corn muffin mix with a handful (give or take) of thawed frozen corn and a diced jalapeno, baked off, and enjoyed with butter. It was the perfect pairing. Delish!

Seriously, this was a pretty easy meal to make. You should try it! It’s my new go-to chili recipe. Oh, and the onion and garlic were from the Herkimer Farmers’ Market, as I said, the beef was local and grass-fed (and the jalapeno was from my backyard), the beans were organic (one wasn’t, but I felt better because it was locally-made), as was the can of tomatoes; pretty much everything except the spices and chocolate were either locally-grown or organic. Not too shabby, I think. At least, it was absolutely delicious. I foresee it being dinner tonight, as well. 😉

*By the way, the picture is a royalty-free image from the Internet, not my stove top. I miss a gas stove, and only wish I had gorgeous pots like that, but I’m lucky to have what I do. 😉