The most wonderful time of the year
By Stephan Drew
Well, it is almost fall and this is my favorite time of year! From now until it starts getting warmer again (usually May or June) this is the season I live for. The cool breezes, the crispness in the air, the changing colors of the leaves, and the smell of wonderful baked goods coming from the kitchen. There’s just something in the air that makes me feel more “alive” than at any other time. I love wearing sweatshirts and sweat pants, sitting on the deck by the water as the evening chill settles in, and drinking hot cocoa with loads of whipped cream on top. I even like the smell of pumpkin. No, I’m not one of those people who goes “Pumpkin Crazy” every year. I don’t have the plates, cups, towels, sheets, throws or any T-shirts with pictures of food on them. I don’t even eat or drink it but I do love the aroma of cooking pumpkin and sweet potatoes in the house. Combine it with the smell of pecans, brown sugar, butter and cinnamon and I think I’ve died and gone to heaven. This is the time of year when my parents and I usually spend a day or two outside under the shed, cracking and shelling pecans for holiday baking. The only part I hate is when my thumbs get sore from the sharp, hard shells. But that’s all part of the process. My Dad says Mom and I are much faster than him at shelling them so he cracks them all for us. We enjoy them so much more because we know how much work went into it. And, there’s also the deep satisfaction and independence you feel when you’ve done all the work yourself. After we finish the pecans, it’s nice to save the shells. If you’re going to barbeque outside, nothing will get your fire hot quicker than a pile of pecan shells. Just make sure you use them to start the fire and don’t put any on after you put the food on the grill. A quick burst of intense heat could ruin whatever you’re cooking. Since it’s not quite time to bake all the cakes, pies and other goodies, we usually spend October gathering our supplies off and on. My family doesn’t like to make last-minute trips for ingredients we forgot to buy. So we do a little planning and, on each trip to the grocery store, we buy a little extra condensed milk, brown sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla to keep in the pantry until needed. Yes, we cook the old-fashioned way. We sift our flour before mixing, grate our coconut and ginger by hand, and we haven’t used margarine in decades. It just doesn’t have the same taste as good ol’ salted sweet cream butter. Afterward, there’s nothing as enjoyable as settling down with a cup of hot chocolate and watching a holiday movie until the baking is finished. That, to me, is pure heaven. I often gain 10 to 15 pounds during this time but I usually lose it pretty quick once summer gets here. And there are a lot of things going on around the county during the fall, too. The haunted houses, fall festivals, special church services and tree-lighting ceremonies are exciting times to gather, enjoy the festivities and catch up with old friends. I love taking part in these events during the cool weather. I’m not a “summer person” at all and I don’t see how anyone has the energy in all that heat. But this year, we are ready to get outside and do things. We’ve had to keep at a distance for too long and it’s time our “normal” lives and activities resume. This is also the time for seasonal house-cleaning. Yes, we still do that twice a year at our home – spring and fall. The windows are opened and all the ceiling fans turned on to “air” the house. All curtains are taken down, washed, ironed and put back up. Carpets are cleaned and shampooed and the mattresses are flipped. Those knick-knacks that sometimes collect dust are cleaned and rearranged on the shelves. All light fixtures are cleaned, globes washed and replaced and, usually, new light bulbs installed. This is not a “maybe,” it’s a “must-do” at our place. Mom is 87 but she won’t allow any Christmas decorations to be put up until the fall cleaning has been completed. Yes, there’s a lot to do but it’s so much fun! And with the wonderful smells of baking food in the house, it really puts you in a better mood. Whenever fall arrives, I smile and notice a certain spring in my step. I cherish every moment of it and constantly wish it would never end. Well, it’s that time of year now and I’m so glad! I can’t wait to get right into it — cleaning, cooking, feasting, decorating and relaxing. Who wouldn’t love that?