Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Tuesday's Time To ... Plan Ahead For Autumn

To Autumn
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
Drows'd with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,--
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

John Keats

It's going to be September soon!

And that means autumn is on its way.  My favourite season of the year is most definitely autumn.  Not just because of all the lovely celebrations and anniversaries we have to look forward to (more about those in a moment) but also because it is, to me, such a beautiful season.  I love to see the trees change from their summer foliage of green to the glorious golds, ambers and russets as they drift slowly to the ground , and to smell the scent of woodsmoke in the misty air.  The birdsong is different, and in the mornings and evenings, where we live we can see the most breathtaking sunrises and sunsets.  One advantage of living in a high rise apartment!  This morning was most definitely a taste of things to come.  As we opened the curtains before beginning our Bible study, Papa Bear and I were treated to the most beautiful of scenes.  High above us in the clouds, a flock of seagulls (we live about 30 miles from the sea - in the summer only the big herring gulls live inland, but one of the first signs of autumn being on its way is the arrival of the smaller black-headed gulls, that spend their summer at the coast.), gliding calmly towards the lake that is just a short distance from our home.  And behind them, setting the most stunning of backdrops, such a beautiful sunrise - the deepest blush pink, edged with gold that smudged the pale sky around it.  We just stared and watched as slowly the sun peeked through the clouds and edged above the rooftops.  Oh so lovely!  Such a beautiful symbol of God's creation.  Later during prayer we thanked Him for starting our day with such a glorious and gorgeous scene.  Oh, I love autumn!

One of the other reasons that I enjoy this coming season so much is that there are several lovely celebrations to enjoy.  Papa Bear and I both celebrate our birthdays in the autumn.  We are separated in age by just 3 weeks - my birthday is first, then his just a matter of days afterwards.  Ever since we have been married, we have celebrated our birthdays together, picking a date (on a weekend) somewhere between the two dates, when we have a very special day.  On that day we open most of our gifts, and enjoy a trip out somewhere and a lovely meal.  It is really great having two birthdays!  Just like royalty we have our real birthday, when we might open just our cards and a few smaller gifts, and then we have our "state" birthday, which the whole family celebrates, and which we enjoy together.  It is just one more way in which we enjoy our very special closeness - a closeness forged by a very special bond that only our family truly understands.

However, autumn isn't just about birthdays!  We also like to celebrate the day that Papa Bear proposed to me, which happens at around the time of our birthdays.  It's also a time that for me is about lovely memories of discovering, just a short and wonderful year later, that we were expecting our first baby!  I always associate the "Indian summer" that we get around this time, with having morning sickness!  Ugh - but I was glad, because it was a wonderful sign!  Of course, there are other lovely celebrations at this time of year too - in England, we have both Halloween (which we don't celebrate, although we have a "Fall Festival" instead that we choose to hold on the same date as Halloween - 31st October, and then just days afterwards, we have Guy Fawkes night - otherwise known as Bonfire Night!  More about that another time.  Both these occasions are lovely opportunities to enjoy good food and family fun outdoors.  Following that, at the end of November, although it isn't the tradition in England, as a family we also like to celebrate Thanksgiving.  For us it is a beautiful opportunity to thank God and each other for all the wonderful things that we have - not just the material ones, but our love for each other, our good health, the opportunities that we have, and the priveliges we enjoy.  We have been celebrating Thanksgiving in a small way for several years now, and although it is in no way done on the grand scale that it is across the sea in America we also remember the true reasons for this special feast day - and our friends who live there too.

There's lots of preparing to do in autumn - for all our special days, and for the special ones to follow in the months after that, coming up tChristmas and then New Year, Burns night, and on the same day, a very important person's birthday!  Yes, there is lots to plan ahead for in autumn too!  At this time of year I like to start thinking about the gifts and cooking that I can prepare in advance for this succession of special days.  It helps to do as much as I can now, whilse I am not so busy, so that when we do get into "party season" I will have got some of the busy things already out of the way. 

Also, we like to give home made gifts at Christmas to friends and family, so I also need to plan ahead for these too.  We give gift baskets that we make ourselves, and this year some of the things I am planning on putting into them include cranberry and white chocolate fudge, home made chutney in pretty jars with home made toppers on them, knitted mittens or scarves, cookie mix with a hand written recipe card and a home made Christmas ornament.  Making baskets is so much fun!  Then there is the Christmas cake, the mincemeat and the Christmas pudding to plan for too.  I usually make these goodies in November some time - in England the day on which you make your Christmas pudding is traditionally called "stir up Sunday" - the last Sunday in the year before Advent begins, four weeks before Christmas Day.  This year apparently it is 25th November.  But I think I shall probably have it done before then!  Little Bear and I love our Christmas food preparations.  It is such a lovely cosy time spent in the kitchen together!

But before all that, we have so many delicious menus to think of!  I really like autumn cooking.  Of course, there's no real reason, these days, why we can't all eat salads and sandwiches all year round.  But I prefer the cosier, more substantial dishes of autumn and winter for the colder months.  Things like stews, casseroles, bakes and soups.  Then there are the crumbles, cobblers, breads and cookies!  Some of our very favourite dishes are traditionally associated with autumn - beef stew, pot roast pheasant, belly pork with crackling, apple crumble and of course, pumpkin pie!  It took a long time for the cubs to decide they liked pumpkin pie.  They prefer it if I make it with a cheesecake base rather than the traditional pastry one.  But this year we are going to try some new recipes - Papa Bear has bought me some new books to try!  (He often buys me cookbooks as gifts - after all we all of us benefit from his generosity then!).  I am so excited to see what everyone thinks - and I shall be sure to share the results with you here!

Now as I write, the sun is shining brightly outside and the seagulls have flown back over our home towards the coast again, so I don't think we'll be enjoying any autumn menus quite yet - but very soon!  And I know when we do, we'll be enjoying the season just as much as ever!