Sunday, September 16, 2012

The List of Awesome Things: Fall Edition, Part 1

I compartmentalize my life by season.  It's not something I started doing intentionally, it just sort of happened over the years.  To a certain extent, everyone does this: we eat different foods at different times based on what's being harvested, and also based on tradition.  The fashion industry changes its colors, Starbucks changes its flavors.  However little we may notice it, the cycles of nature are reflected in many aspects of modern culture and our everyday lives.

Picture by Tami Melissa Photography, caramel apple by Johnson's Corner Farm in Medford, NJ
I found myself starting to practice this in less common areas.  Certain songs, or whole CDs, or everything by a certain band, would start to be associated with a time of year in my mind, and then listening to them out of season would be like Christmas carols in June.  The same came to happen with the movies I'd watch.  The books I'd read and reread. The places I'd want to go.  Just so you know, I'm probably going to change the color scheme of this blog four times a year.  My favorite flower is lilac, but obviously I can't be wearing that perfume or burning those candles in September - that would be crazy.  This is cinnamon and ginger season.  I just used some coconut hand lotion because it was the only kind I had.  It felt so wrong.  I can hear the ice cream truck.  Don't you know your time is done, ice cream truck?!

This mostly unintentional process has had some really great results for me.  When every month has its carols and rituals, I feel more connected to the changes going on in nature, even when I'm stuck in the middle of the city.  I feel a little bit of the festivity of November and December, the rich association of memories with smells and tastes and sounds, at every changing season.  I'm so glad I got married in the fall, because our anniversary feels like a full-blown holiday to me.  Those memories fit so perfectly into the festivities of fall that I recreate each year.  I keep the feeling alive through what I cook, what I see and hear, what I keep on my mind.  It's a great way to keep life feeling like a celebration.

So, I'm going to make a list of stuff that I celebrate each season with, aside from the obvious like Pumpkin Spice Lattes and the Monster Mash.  A lot of this is really personal to my own experiences, so I'll give a little explanation where I can.

I made this post "part 1" just in case I think of enough stuff after the fact for a part 2.

Also I realized about half way through that this was reading a lot like a hippy version of Oprah's favorite things so... sorry about that.  Unlike Oprah's stuff, though, I think the most expensive thing on here is $25, and you can find most of it in the Amazon box at the bottom or linked in the text.

For your listening pleasure, I made you this playlist thing!  It consists of (in order): Espers, Fleet Foxes, Iron & Wine, Loreena McKennitt, and The Village soundtrack.  Starts out with folky, sometimes psychedelicy music with windchimes here and there, just the thing for a drive to the apple orchard or the Ren Faire; a cool, sunny afternoon or a gray autumn storm; a homemade pumpkin pie.  And then there's Loreena McKennitt, of course- she has something for the hippies in every season, including a few Samhain tunes.  And the Middle Eastern stuff?  I don't know what makes it have to do with fall, I just love it and it does somehow.

We'll talk about The Village more later, but even if you hate it, you have to love the soundtrack.  It is amazing atmospheric autumn beauty that will make you want to cry.  James Newton Howard is my favorite composer (Joe Hisaishi, Miyazaki's composer, is a close second.)  I walked down the aisle to the beginning of The Gravel Road, and we walked back up it to the end of Those We Don't Speak Of.

Fall by Christie on Grooveshark

Are you asleep yet?  Sorry, I like my music pretty and chill.  Loud rock is reserved for the summer.  If you need to wake up I also save Kings of Leon for the fall, although I really couldn't say why- probably just cause I heard Sex On Fire so many times the fall it came out.

Many of the above are also acceptable for a summer day, so long as it is below 80 degrees.  Don't try to understand my madness.

Here's some stuff you should get.
1. Cinnamon Broom.  You've probably seen (or smelled) these hanging out in the front of your local chain grocery store at this time of year, sometimes accompanied by clove scented pine cones.  They're awesome!  Makes the house smell wonderful, and if you have any kind of witchy decor going on, so much the better.
2. Cinnamon stick stirrers.  Basically, they are extra long cinnamon sticks.  I bought mine at Costco.  They don't just look cute, they really do add to the flavor of the drink, especially if it's hot.  Masala chai, hot spiced apple cider, maybe with a splash of buttershots in it?  Oh and stay tuned for a delectable autumn cocktail on October 10, which this is also great for.
3. Juniper Ridge Incense.  I mentioned this once before, but can't stress how much I love it.  The smell of woodsmoke, whether from a bonfire or woodstove or real fireplace, is intoxicating to me.  It's one of my favorite things about fall (and winter) and not being able to have any crackling fires of my own is a serious bummer.  This is just like the real thing, cause that's what it is- made of wood, and no fake stuff.  This is actually the only type of incense I can burn because scented kinds make me black out.  I have no idea why, I just know I can't stay in my favorite knicknack shop in Philly Chinatown for more than 4 minutes if I want to remain conscious.

henna puts the highlights where they belong instead of streaky fake ones!
4. Lush Henna.  Put it on your head!  I have a lot of experience with different brands of henna for mehendi - I drew on myself and others a lot in college.  It was good times.  I have somewhat less experience with henna for hair, because Lush is the only brand I've ever used on myself and I see no need to try another.  I use caca rouge (I've always desperately wanted to be a ginger) and I love it.  If you've never henna'd before: It's a process.  Get some plastic gloves, invite some girlfriends over and watch a Bollywood movie while you marinate.  It has a strong herbal smell which some people are put off by, but I like it.  You can also add all kinds of oils and spices to make it smell nice, a quick googling will give you lots of ideas.  When you're done, it takes some work to wash out, two days to finish darkening, and then it fades a lot in the first week- your shampoo lather will be orange.  But what you're left with will be great.  I've never used an artificial dye on my hair and never plan to, because the results from this henna are so natural looking, and my hair feels healthier and shinier afterwards instead of dry and crunchy.  It doesn't completely transform your natural color if you're a brunette like me (if you're blonde, that's probably another story!) but it turns my naturally blonde highlights red so they flash in the sun.  Awesome fall color!  And of course, I support Lush whenever I want to treat myself because they are up there with Mountain Rose in the greatest hippy companies.  Good for the planet, good for their workers, good for the animals who are not tested on, and good for you!  Note: this henna looks like a bar of chocolate. It is not.

5. Burt's Bees medicated lip balm with clove oil.  IT'S THE BEST!  It's supposed to be medicated for cold sores, I don't get those but I do get super chapped lips in the fall and winter and this works like nothing else to soothe them, plus it smells amazing.  It also says not to use it more than 3-4 times a day.  I have not died from blatantly disregarding this warning.

6. Bath & Body Works Candles.  I am all about scented stuff.  Herby, spicy, flowery, fruity, woodsy - if it smells natural and strong, I love it.  B&BW is always coming out with seasonal scents that are really fantastic, and unlike Yankee candles, which I smell when I put my face in the jar but not when they're burning, they fill the house with good smelliness.  They have the big 3-wick jars on sale 2 for $20 a lot.  I haven't been to the store yet to stock up, so I don't know what they've got this year - they seem to tweak them a lot between seasons, but there's usually some form of acorn & fig, all kinds of pumpkin, apple and spice, and some woodsy earthy leafy ones.  Some of those smell like nasty man cologne, but some of them are really nice.  I also buy their foamy hand soaps in seasonal scents, even though I know antibacterial soap is totally unnecessary and bad because it's creating resistant superbugs and apparently the chemicals cause heart failure. BUT THEY SMELL SO GOOD!

Food. Yes, occasionally, I will buy a food that I'm not making from scratch. OCCASIONALLY.
1. Whole Foods Triple Squash Soup.  (Edit: here it is!)  Haven't got any yet this year but I always have in years past, it is delish.
2. Japanese "Vermont" Curry.  Get this from your local Asian mart - if you don't have one of those, you can probably get it on Amazon.  If you have a crock pot, throw in some cubed beef or chicken, chop up a few onions, carrots and potatoes (I also add mushrooms when I have them, but I put them in everything) and you've got a yummy dinner with this cube of curry goodness.  Of course you can make it in a pot on the stovetop too.  It has a little bit of sweet apple flavor (thus the Vermont, I guess?) which, with the spices and warm stewiness, makes it a great fall meal.  I am actually eating some right now, with Kokuho Rose short grain rice.  My other favorite rice brand is Kagayaki.  Note: Like Lush's henna, the curry looks like a bar of chocolate.  It is not.
3. Buttershots. aka butterscotch Schnapps, made by DeKuyper.  Let me tell you how delicious this stuff is.  I am not a drinker.  I don't like wine, I don't like beer, and I don't like anything made at normal strength unless it's a pina colada.  And sometimes those are too strong too.  I've never been buzzed in my life, but I have, on occasion, felt like I was getting a migraine minus the migraine, and if that's what it's supposed to feel like then people who drink must be extremely masochistic.  I'm going to feature two drink recipes using buttershots this year, but I would put this in just about anything.  Any soda.  Any tea.  Apple cider, hot or cold.  It tastes like candy and not at all like booze and it makes all fall flavored things delicious!

4. Do you live near Philadelphia or PA Dutch Country?  If so, LUCKY YOU!  You can drink the best apple cider EVER!!  It is available at Kauffman's Fruit Farm and Market and also at the Reading Terminal Market Wednesday-Friday 8-5.  I no longer live there and so I cannot drink gallons of this delicious ambrosia as I did in college, but if you can, you should!  Also at the Lancaster County location, the BEST apple cider donuts!  Must be made with Amish magic.

1-2. Coraline and The Graveyard Book, both by Neil Gaiman.  When Halloween is coming, you need to read these.  Read them to your kids, read them to yourself, just know that they're amazing and Neil Gaiman can do no wrong.

3. The Hallowed Hunt by Lois McMaster Bujold.  The Chalion series was recommended to me by my awesome friend Ruth of The Five Wits and, short of whoever first told me I should read Lord of the Rings, it's probably the best recommendation I've ever gotten.  The Curse of Chalion is the first book in the series, but you could easily read this one first because it's not set in the same time or with the same characters.  In this world there are five gods, and four of them are based on the seasons: The Son of Autumn, the Father of Winter, the Mother of Summer, and the Daughter of Spring.  The way Bujold writes her characters struggling with their lives and with their faith, and eventually coming face to face with their gods, is incredibly deft and beautiful.  I cried.  And I am eagerly awaiting additions to this series, but I doubt I could love anything as much as this book.  Read it!!!

The Village
There is no other fall movie for me.  I watch this every week.  In fact, I am popping it in as I write this so that I may be inspired to express my undying love for this incredibly underrated film.  I think a lot of the reason that people don't like this and my other Shyamalan favorite, Lady in the Water, has to do with bad advertising and expectations.  Ever since The Sixth Sense, someone has felt the need to make promo trailers and commercials for all of his movies that make them out to be horror flicks or at least suspense thrillers.  This is just not the case.  I was dragged along to see The Village with Jay and some guy friends, and was none too happy about the prospect - I HATE scary movies.  They left the theater tsking and rolling their eyes, I left completely in love.

Now I'm not defending everything Shyamalan has done since.  He killed Avatar so as far as I'm concerned, I'm done with him.  But The Village is a work of art.  Why should you love it?  I'll tell you.  And just to be fair, we'll skip over how I think Bryce Dallas Howard is a beautiful goddess who I collect pictures of to use for illustration reference and I think it's a crime she hasn't been cast as an Elf.  Yes so, skipping that...

Andrew Wyeth, Pennsylvania Land

Art direction.  This movie is an Andrew Wyeth brought to life.  Not only is it filmed near where he lived (if you visit the Brandywine River Museum and the Wyeth house and studio, you can see the beautiful area as well as paintings from three generations of Wyeths, highly recommend it!) everything about the houses and costumes, the amazing attention to color, the whole atmosphere was inspired by Wyeth's work. 
taken by me on the Wyeth estate, 2010

The soundtrack!  As I said above, I used it in my wedding ceremony.  That's how much I love it. Go listen.

The heart.  This movie is not about porcupine monsters, it's not about "the twist!!!1" which I thought was fine, by the way.  It's about love!  "The world moves for love. It kneels before it in awe."  It's about the desire to make a simple, joyful life away from the mess of the modern world.  It's about sacrifice and loss, courage and fear, and the human folly that comes from the best of intentions.  It's about hope, and the potential for innocence and love to triumph over it all.  It's certainly not a "scary movie."  Maybe it's a chick flick.  It's definitely a Hippy Elf Chick flick, and it's my favorite.

Maybe next post I will talk about my favorite places to go in fall, though it may be painful to do so since we're not taking a vacation this year.  Tell me your favorite fall traditions!  And have a happy season!


  1. Yay! I like your fall list. And Hallowed Hunt is my fave of that Bujold series too.
    I think Homestuck is now a part of my fall canon celebration. We had a Homestuck themed party with pumpkins and candy corn and themed martinis and Con Air. (Don't ask.) I may have upgraded a Homestuck Kickstarter pledge just to get the Homestuck Tarot cards. (sigh)
    And I'll stop talking about that now.
    Your fall music is great! I will probably be listening to that for awhile. I've been going with instrumentals from Skyrim, Journey, and uh, Plants vs. Zombies.

    1. That party sounds like lots of fun. I'm thinking of doing a part 2 post mainly on great places to take daytrips or vacations in fall (all mine are going to be in PA or NY so if you have any other suggestions that would be sweet!) and a part 3 on fall parties and Samhain/Halloween stuff. If you felt like doing a little blurb on your awesome party or good fall beers or anything I would love to include it!

      The playlist was being funky this morning while I tried to fix a song that wouldn't play and then made it worse, but I think it is working now- let me know if it dies on you.

      Is plants vs zombies really just what it sounds like? Cause I do love plants, and I do hate zombies...