Simple Autumn Pleasures

by Deborah Taylor-Hough

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The weather is changing here in the Pacific Northwest. Summer is finally over. There's a definite chill in the air many days. Now we can look forward to some of those fun activities that only happen in the autumn: Collecting leaves and pine cones for wreaths and other decorations; heading out to the local pumpkin patch; baking fresh apple and pumpkin pies; brewing hot spiced apple cider (I can smell it simmering just thinking about it).

Later this month, the United States celebrates Thanksgiving Day. One of our family traditions for this particular holiday is making a Thanksgiving Tree. We make a tree trunk with bare branches out of black craft paper and tape the "tree" to the dining room wall. Then we cut out individual autumn-colored leaves (red, orange, yellow, brown) from more craft paper. As someone in the family thinks of something or someone that they're thankful for, they write the item or person's name onto one of the leaves and then tape the leaf to the tree branches.

We try to put the Thanksgiving Tree in place by mid-November so our family has at least a full week to add more leaves to the tree. By Thanksgiving Day, the tree is FULL with the names of people, events and things we're thankful for. This is great fun for the kids and a meaningful addition to our family's holiday traditions.

My recipe for hot spiced cider is one of those throw-it-together-as-you-go recipes, but I'll try to explain the process as best I can. First, I take a large jug of apple cider (a gallon if we're entertaining). Then I pour the cider into a large pot on the stove (or into the crockpot if I don't want to use a burner). Heat to a simmer. Then add the following ingredients to the cider:

  • about one cup of frozen orange juice concentrate (this ingredient is a MUST)
  • approximately two teaspoons (more or less) of EACH of the following: Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Ginger, Cloves (whole or ground)
  • and sometimes I add about one cup (or less) of cranberry juice cocktail

Let it all simmer for awhile (half an hour at least). The smell wafting through the house while the cider is simmering is simply heaven. Mmmmm ... Serve the hot spiced cider in mugs. For a nice touch, add a whole cinnamon stick to each mug. Having a large pot of cider simmering on the stove when company arrives is a sure way to make them very happy that they chose to come over to your house.

Autumn Craft Ideas

Leaf Prints: Make your own cards or gift wrap by using nature's bounty of freshly fallen leaves. Use poster paint for printing on paper (for cards, gift wrap, etc.), or use acrylic paint if you decide to decorate an item that needs a waterproof finish (glassware, clay pots, etc.). Brush a small amount of paint onto the underside of the leaf where the veins are more pronounced. Carefully place the leaf where you want the design printed and cover with a layer of paper towel. Gently roll a rolling pin over the top (or you can use the side of an empty bottle). Remove the paper towel and lift the leaf.

Wheat Weaving: Soak wheat on the stalk (from craft stores or local farmers) in a tub of water for an hour or so. Holding three seed heads together, braid the stems of the wheat stalks. Curve the ends around to make an oval loop, a circle wreath, or even bend it a bit to make a heart shape. Tie with brightly colored ribbon. As the stalks dry, they'll hold their shape. Add to your autumn decorations.

Baked Pumpkin Seeds: After all the pumpkin carving or pie making, don't throw out the seeds. Separate the seeds from the stringy pulp (don't rinse or remove every last bit of the pulp -- the pulp adds flavor). Place the seeds on a cookie sheet, stir in about 1/4 cup of melted butter or margarine, sprinkle with a small amount of salt and then bake in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes until lightly browned. Enjoy!

Simple Decorating Tips

Christmas lights aren't just for the December holidays. I frequently use the strings of tiny white lights around my front door interspersed with autumn leaves, pumpkins, gourds and other autumnal decorations. Rather than giving the house a "spooky" look, the tiny white lights brighten up the decor and make the front door into a welcoming entryway.

To line a festive walkway, make luminarias out of pumpkins or carved gourds. After cleaning out the interior of a pumpkin, you can use drill bits of different sizes to make dots and circles, arranging them in festive designs all over the pumpkins (abstract patterns, bunches of grapes, faces, etc.).

Rather than using candles to light your carved pumpkins or luminarias, thread white Christmas lights into holes carved or drilled into the back of the pumpkins. Consider using carved pumpkins or gourds as autumn centerpieces on your holiday table.

Deborah Taylor-Hough is the author of the bestselling Frozen Assets: Cook for a Day, Eat for a Month and A Simple Choice: a practical guide for saving your time, money and sanity. She also edits the Simple Times email newsletter. To subscribe, visit Debi online at:

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