Living Seasonally

by Pamela Parks

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It wasn't easy for me to learn to eat seasonally. One winter, when there was two feet of snow outside, a TV ad proclaimed, "Winter is here. That's when fruit from Chile is at its ripest." I scarcely used to notice when I plunked down a dollar for a green pepper in February.

But my concurrent interests in frugality and health pushed me to plan recipes that were more seasonally appropriate. Oh, sure, it took a while to convince my kids that I wasn't going to bake a turkey during July, but now the children have learned to appreciate the seasonal menus. They look forward to it the way they anticipate a holiday. "Oh, boy! It's sukiyaki season!" And once we'd gotten into the swing of things, I began to notice that our frugal lifestyle was changing, too. We started living seasonally as well as eating seasonally.

Life became more dynamic. It's more than eating blueberry soup in the summer and oven-roasted turkey in the winter. It includes experiencing the seasons, and appreciating them for what they are. Winter is cold, so we stoke up the wood stove. It's cheaper than using the forced-air furnace, and the quality of the heat is somehow more pleasant. In the summer, we open the windows and turn on our ceiling fan. While it can get uncomfortably warm for a week or two, it serves as a balm, of sorts, against those winter days that are too cold.

Before I learned to be frugal, our knee-jerk reaction was to retire indoors to air-conditioning in the summer or to bland electrically-regulated heat in the winter. Spring and fall were notable only for their reduced utility bills. We stayed indoors constantly, and the turning of the year became little more than an exercise in calendar maintenance.

Living seasonally is also very compatible with the idea of sequencing. Sequencing means that you can have it all, just not all at once. Want barbecued chicken every Sunday? Great! But only during barbecue season. If it's raining or snowing too hard, it's probably not barbecue season. We now focus on and truly appreciate the foods appropriate for winter. (Care for a good, hearty soup?) And when spring finally does arrive, how much sweeter it seems when it's finally "barbecue season" once more!

Swimming is an example of a seasonal activity. The year-round indoor community pool charges a fee. But in our area, there are plenty of free lakes and beaches. We save on pool fees, have high-quality time with our kids, and I can guarantee you that generic beach toys are cheaper than whatever toys they're advertising on TV this week!

When summer rolls to a close and swimming season ends, it's time for hiking. It gets us out in nature with the fresh air, and it's absolutely free (except for the drive to get there, which may be a consideration these days).

Now that we are conscious of the turning of the seasons, there's a new Christmas around every corner. There are a host of traditions (decorations, rituals, special meals, and unique activities) that make the Christmas season special. Those special elements also apply to so many more events. There's always something to anticipate, so much planning and excitement.

We have discovered our local community. We live a dozen miles from a small farm that has a handful of amusement park rides, but it's only open in the summer. A dozen miles in the other direction is the site for the state fair. That happens at the end of summer and has become a high point of the season for us. In the fall, there are hay rides and pumpkin patches throughout our area. Library story time and puppet shows start up in the fall, too. In the winter, there are "live nativities" (petting zoos and pony rides) and free choirs and outdoor lights to tour. Our town has an April Fools' Day parade and a Fourth of July fireworks show. We drive farther for cultural events like Chinese New Year in February and the Sakura Festival in April. We may have to pay for parking in the big city, but the events themselves are free.

There was a time, not so long ago, when I thought nothing of buying a watermelon in January. Likewise, when we were bored, it took no imagination to say, "Let's do dinner and a movie." Our year had a bland uniformity.

Now, finances have forced us to be more creative. We explore our community and environment. We buy local foods and products. We craft meals and entertainment that is appropriate to the season. In the process, we are having more fun and spending less money. It takes more involvement and a little forethought, but it's worth it! Life is much more dynamic now.

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