Pumpkins and spice…

Well, good morning, Autumn.  I see Mother Nature has released you from your cage and allowed you to bless us with your presence.  Has she finally forgiven us for whatever transgressions we unknowingly committed against her?  Or has someone at last taken my advise and supplied her with an endless stream of chocolate?

I bet it was the chocolate.  That always fixes what ails me.  I suppose in the grand scheme of things, the reason for her reversal of favor doesn’t matter much, just that you have finally arrived.

And so here we find ourselves in mid-October, in the Lone Star State, with our first noticeable cold front of the season, sweeping down from the Rockies.  The air is cool, crisp and refreshing – the endless brutality of the scorching summer just a distant bad memory.  Everywhere you look, fall festivities are in full swing – haunted houses, pumpkin patches, the State Fair.  It is truly the best time of the year.

Now, I must admit that I’m not real big on the fair.  I understand the draw for people who like that sort of thing, but I don’t find it overly enjoyable.  It’s crowded, expensive and well – did I mention expensive?  The pumpkin patch, on the other hand, is something that I thoroughly enjoy.  The price is right, there’s always fresh kettle corn and who doesn’t dig a good old fashion hay ride? The homey, festive feel of these little tracts of land covered in endless rows of pumpkins, hay bales and corn husks never fail to fill me with the spirit of the season.

The year is filled with lots of holidays – Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas, the New Year.  I don’t get excited about any of them.  My least favorite – Christmas.  I’ve been told that I am a bit of a Scrooge McDuck.  I’ll own it.  I would rather spend Christmas on a remote tropical island sipping fruity, frozen cocktails and watching dolphins frolic in the surf.

What?

Don’t you judge me.

I’m not the first person to think Christmas is a royal pain in the ass.  There I said it.  Christmas is painful – from the blood baths at the mall, to the marathon baking, to the cluttered tree trimming, to the infuriating debate over the origins of the holiday.  By New Year’s Day, the overwhelming pressure of it all turns me into a twitchy basket case, in desperate need of a very big glass of tequila.

In spite of my holiday loathing, I love Halloween.

In stark contrast, Halloween is carefree and simple.  It’s all about fantasy and fun.  Caramel apples and pumpkin spiced lattes. Jack-o-lanterns and spooky stories of headless horsemen.  Costumes and pillowcases full of sweet treats.   The best part – no one demands a damn thing from me.

What’s not to love about that?

Unfortunately, fall will give way to winter.  All too soon I will be consumed with hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, elbow deep in cookie dough and gift wrap.  I will curse the traffic, the shoppers, and anyone else who gets in my way and dream of a beach far, far away.  One with fruity, frozen drinks and frolicking dolphins.

For now, though, in the calm before the storm, I am going sit here in my favorite sweatshirt, sipping a warm pumpkin spice latte, and just relish in the feel of fall.

Things I learned this week (October 8 – October 15)

I learned this week…

…that looking for the perfect pumpkin is serious business in my house.  Last weekend we went to our favorite pumpkin patch.   In a dusty, weed filled field, we searched – row upon neatly constructed row.  There were big ones and small ones, fat ones and skinny ones.  Some that where lopsided, some with twisted and gnarled stems.  The search was exhausting, but finally we spied him – our perfect pumpkin.  His color lovely, his skin roughly textured.  He had character.  We quickly deemed him worthy of the noble position of front porch sentry.  He would guard our door faithfully when the hordes of trick-or-treaters come knocking.  And there he will stay – until he rots or is stolen and murdered by the evil neighborhood teenagers.

…that I still loath Beowulf with every fiber of my being.  While I can appreciate the artistry of the piece, a tale of a heroic warrior’s adventures of dragon slaying just isn’t my thing.  Giovanni Boccaccio, I’ve discovered, is my thing.  It has everything I love in a story – jealousy, betrayal, and murder with a slightly sick twist.  In The Decameron, Boccaccio tells us of a knight whose wife is in love with his best friend.  The knight plots the murder of his friend, cuts his heart out and then instructs his cook to make an elaborate dish out of it.  As his cheating wife cleans her plate and licks her lips, he says:

“What did you think of that, madam?”

“In good faith, my lord,”…”I liked it very much.”

“So help me God,”…”I do believe you did.  But I am not surprised to find that you liked it dead, because when it was alive you liked it better than anything else in the whole world.”

From “The Ninth Story of the Fourth Day” The Decameron, Giovanni Boccaccio.

Yes.  Sick and twisted.  Definitely my thing.

…that I have broken my pledge to avoid the State Fair of Texas at all costs, two years in a row.  Last year my BFF Amy talked me into going.  I was powerless to refuse the only thing she asked to do while she was visiting from Florida.  This year, my resolve was crumbled by the most beautiful pair of blue eyes.

…that (in reference to the above) the Fair is still overpriced and crowded with rude, obnoxious people.  However, I did eat a Fletcher’s corny dog and a fried pumpkin pie.  Both pretty darn good.  Still, I don’t understand why anyone would coat their corn dog with mustard, then walk around trying to eat it.  Totally disgusting.

…that the discovery of the private study rooms at my campus library was a wonderful thing.  Sure, I don’t get to people watch and play my beloved “What if?” game.  I am saddened by that, but it is a small price to pay in order to avoid inconsiderate, germ-invested young people.  Plus, lack of distractions leads to increased productivity. I was able to get an entire blog finished on Tuesday and about 1000 words written in Retribution on Thursday.  Not too shabby.

…that technology is not always my friend.  This is the second time I’ve written this particular blog entry.  Very frustrating, but I am trying to look on the bright side – at least I didn’t accidentally delete the 21,000+ words I have managed to eek out for Retribution thus far.

…that I don’t get this whole Occupy Wall Street thing.  I saw an interview with one protester here in Dallas who boasted of quitting her job at Neiman’s so that she could protest.  Really?  What kind of message does that send?   Look, I’m all for exercising one’s constitutional right to assemble.  I understand that the country is angry, and rightfully so, but these folks need to consolidate their message if they want anyone with any power to incite change to take them serious.  Right now, they look like a bunch of campers making a mess at the local city park.  I feel sorry for the park employees who will have to clean up their mess once they are finally evicted.

…and finally…this week’s awww moment is brought to you by a crazy little squirrel who looks a bit like Einstein to me – well, if Einstein were a Russian squirrel with hairy ears.

Maxim Shipenkov / EPA

Things I learned this week (September 17 – September 23)

I learned this week…

…that the first day of fall is the perfect way to end the week.  It doesn’t matter that there will be no earth shattering kaboom, no fireworks, or fanfare.  The revelation that summer is finally officially over is enough to make it all worth it.

…that when facing a big project for school, with just days to go until its due date, all I want to do is write a scene for my novel.  However, when I have no homework deadlines pending and can write said scene at my leisure, all I want to do is clean toilets.  I suppose I am well versed in the art of avoidance and procrastination.

…that my public speaking anxiety is slowly improving.   This time, I wasn’t plagued with uncontrollable shaking, only pit sweating.  Even that was manageable.  I feel like I am making progress.  Maybe by the time my next one comes along in November, I will be able to forego the extra deodorant.  Yeah…I’m not that hopeful.

…that I am still amazed how good I feel when I don’t let anything interfere with my daily workouts.  I am also amazed that I have taken so well to the elliptical after years of loathing it.  I guess the change just came at the right time.  I have worked my way up to level 8 resistance and I think beginning on Saturday, I’m going to give 9 a go.  Oh, and in addition to feeling revived, both physically and mentally, I have lost that 5 lbs I gained when the semester started and my groove was all screwed up.  That makes it all the more sweeter, I think.

…that four semesters of math + $2,500 on tuition, books and supplies = priceless.  I can sit down with Megan and confidently help her with her PAP math homework.  This week – factoring.  I am a factoring pro!

…that rushing to get a blog posted without thoroughly inspecting it for typos will lead to utter humiliation.  Well, I guess that’s an exaggeration.  It was funny, but my perfectionist troll was not amused.

…that Ovid had an odd sense of humor.  I like it. 

that Hollywood is at it again.  This time the movie to be rebooted – Scarface.  Yes, I understand that the 1983 Pacino film was technically a reboot of a much earlier film, but does that make it okay.  No.  Not okay at all.  This drives me completely batshit crazy. 

…that I don’t like the new Facebook changes.  Clutter is one of the many things in life that makes me twitchy.  I love you all, really I do, but I don’t give a rat’s ass whose status you are commenting on, or what video link you like.  Seriously.  I’m sure you don’t want to see what I’m trolling around doing either.   It certainly isn’t mind blowing or earth shattering.  I suppose we will all get used to it, though.  We are all slaves to social media and will conform accordingly, else risk complete alienation.

…that I was so self-absorbed this week that I failed to learn all that.  There’s always next week.

…this week’s awww moment is brought to you by a funny little snow leopard.  He is a new arrival at the Albuquerque, NM zoo.  I think the verdict is still out on whether he is down with the new crib.

Morgan Petroski / Albuquerque Journal
Morgan Petroski / Albuquerque Journal

Fall Fever

No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace
As I have seen in one autumnal face.   ~John Donne

Every leaf speaks bliss to me, fluttering from the autumn tree.   ~ Emily Bronte

After such a brutal summer here in North Texas, and really, most of the country, we’ve been granted a slight reprieve.  I am sure it will be short-lived. Mother Nature is a fickle bitch.  She would never let us glide into fall without throwing an obstacle or two in our path.  Something to let us know how unworthy of her time we are.  Or perhaps it is her way of keeping us humble and appreciative of her gifts, however scarce they may be.  Whatever, the case, the taste of cooler temperatures have left us – at least me – craving more.   I refer to this insatiable yearning as Fall Fever. 

If I had to pick a season to be my favorite, it would be fall.  There is something about the air, the smells, the sights, that fill me up with all sorts of things.  Things I couldn’t begin to explain.  I feel my most creative during this time, almost like I’ve been reborn.  A strange notion, I know, given that most everything is in a downward cycle.  Trees are going dormant, annuals are shedding the last of their colorful blooms, birds are flocking to warmer shores.  Soon the first arctic blast will come barreling across the plains, rush in uninvited, and leave the landscape barren.  But until then, I am ready for the magic of autumn. 

I’m not a holiday person. 

Show of hands. Who’s shocked by this?  I didn’t think so. 

My distain for Christmas has earned me the title of Scrooge by many a brave person.  I’ll own that.  It doesn’t bother me, in the least.  I think Christmas is an over-commercialized holiday, shoved down our throats under the guise of being something holy.  I could go into a whole history lesson here, but I will refrain.  It will only piss you off and make me feel like I’m beating my head against a brick wall.  Who needs that?  Certainly, not me. 

Fall is different.  Fall is all about Halloween and the harvest.  It’s a time of fun and frolic.  Apples, pumpkins, and spice.  Ghouls and goblins.  There is no pressure, just good clean fun.  Soon front yard haunted houses will take shape and pumpkin patches will begin to pop up, here and there.  For some, the State Fair is the event which ushers in the season.  I don’t go to the fair, if I can help it.  It’s one of those things on my list that I’ve done, didn’t enjoy, and will try to avoid at all costs.     

However, I do enjoy a good pumpkin patch with all the fixings.  To me, those are the reason for the season.  On October 1st every year, along FM 1171, the Flower Mound Pumpkin Patch opens its gates and allows us onto their quaint and festive property.  There is kettle corn, face painting, a maze, a huge haystack, a hay ride and pumpkins – as far as the eye can see  – lots and lots of pumpkins.  Big ones, small ones, and every size in between.  I love it.  Pumpkins make me smile.  Indeed, a  gourd near and dear to my heart.

Cody, Cory, and Megan

I’ve spent many lazy Sunday afternoons at this particular pumpkin patch.  Usually with Megan and the nephews in tow.  We always have a blast.  The price is always right and they never fail to pick me out the best pumpkins in the place.  

My nephews won’t be here this year, but I plan to spend at least one Sunday in October there.  Hopefully, on a crisp day, with just enough breeze that I have to wear a sweater.   Megan and I will traipse through the dry grass and scan the rows of pumpkins, looking for just the right ones.  Pumpkin choosing is serious business.  After all, they are to sit in sentry at the front entrance .  Devotedly keeping watch as the ghouls and goblins darken my door, in search of candy and treats.  They have an important job, indeed.

A thankless job, however, for as November dawns, they will be forgotten – left to rot on the front porch.  Or worse yet, become a victim of the pumpkin kidnappers and murder in the streets. 

Ahhh…fall.  It is the most wonderful time of the year.

The one red leaf, the last of its clan,
That dances as often as dance it can,
Hanging so light, and hanging so high,
On the topmost twig that looks up at the sky.
~Samuel Taylor Coleridge