The Practical Beauty of Fall
I love fall - its my favorite season.
Sure, I like to extend the life of my lovely summer gardens as long as possible; but, when we get that first cold morning each fall, I rush to the local nursery to start sourcing my winter plantings. I am drawn to the colors and hardy look of cool season plants. Over the years, I have experimented with what grows best in the fall and into the winter and pansies always win the contest. I have been working on layering in herbs and vegetables to my planters. In the planter on my back deck (pictured above), I have pansies mixed with peppermint swiss chard and lemon thyme. I have already plucked sprigs of thyme for a recipe and taken a few stalks of my swiss chard to put in a pasta dish. The more you plant the more you can use it without every ruining your beautiful display!
In my winter boxed garden, I have planted mixed greens, kale, more swiss chard and radishes. I was looking through a great cookbook the other day called "Sheet Pan Suppers" and tried a simple recipe of roasted radishes with brown butter. Trust me, you need to try it. I am also gearing up to plant garlic and cover the rest of my beds (once the frost hits) with clover which will help aerate and replenish nitrogen into the soil. I have a pretty great compost bin in my back yard that my husband built, which has decreased my trash considerably over the years. It is easier than you could imagine and eliminates all the guilt of throwing food away. Mine has a lid so I can put small amounts of animal products in it as well. In the fall we take the rich dark material of finished compost and put it around our gardens, concentrating on our fruits and veggies. It's amazing how much of a difference this makes in the quality and quantity of produce we get as a result.
Yes, I love fall. And I love the invitation of combining the beautiful and the practical. Find a local nursery and see what they have to offer - what is better than looking at your pretty flowers while you pick your produce for the evening's meal?
There is something that draws me to hanging laundry on my clothesline. I can’t help but cart my wet clean clothes outside whenever the sun is out and hang each item up, one by one. I can’t rush the process- it takes as long as it takes to get each piece attached to the line. It is such a satisfying experience to watch a full line of clothes blowing gently in the breeze and secretly hope the sun gets a few of those stubborn stains out. A few weeks ago my sweet little niece Violet was born and I was so happy to pull out some newborn clothes and blankets from storage. I washed them all and then hung each out on the clothesline. I remembered my daughter being in each tiny sleeper and being wrapped in the soft pink blankets. I thought also of my little niece and the memories that would be made for her and her family these first few months of life as she wears these sweet clothes.
Kathleen Norris, a poet and contemplative author, wrote a beautiful little book called "The Quotidian Mysteries". In it she describes how the everyday work of living - laundry, cooking, cleaning, bills....can be seemingly endless and feel like it will never come to completion. We can experience it as drudgery - monotonous and life sucking. Or, as Norris suggests, we can look at it in the same way we look at liturgy. It is an exercise that invites us into being present in the moment and moving through each part of our day with intentionality. When we are present we are in sacred space - it is a gift where we settle down and our true self can show up. It is here where our acts of love can transform us. It is also not by accident that we often find ourselves alone as we do these every day chores. Catherine de Hueck Doherty wrote about “Tiny Pools of Silence” which we can find all around us each day. It is in these tiny pools that we often find silence and solitude. We can use these places to reflect and bring ourselves back into presence.
For me, the exercise of hanging clothes outside to dry is a space that invites me to be present, and notice what’s around me. I look at each item I hang up and the person it belongs to. I am invited to connect with the piece of my heart they hold. I am alone and I am quiet. I slow down. And settle down.
Even though the air may be a little crisper outside as we move through October, there is still a lot of sunshine out there. Take the invitation to find presence in your everyday chores, because of course, there will always be laundry to do.
Summer Garden Farewell
These are among the last tomatoes left on my plants from this summer. Their skins are getting a little thicker but the flavor is still better than you could ever find in a store. And because this is how I seem to roll in life, I'm going to let myself write about these "last" tomatoes. Maybe next year the stars will align to write about the first tomatoes of the season.
Part of our health, a major part in fact, is about what we put into our bodies. As a mother and a therapist, I really focus on how important food is to how we feel. My roots are steeped in gardening and nutrition- my parents had a huge garden and baked quite religiously and my undergraduate degree is in Biology with a minor in Nutrition. So it is not surprising that I tend to get quite excited about finding the most delicious and nutritious ways to eat. A book that I mentioned earlier in the year, "Eating on The Wild Side" by Jo Robinson has sorted through a myriad of nutrition and scientific journals to find the best vegetables and fruit to grow and eat. I summarize some of her findings below. According to the book, red cherry tomatoes are the most flavorful variety and also have the highest amounts of lycopene (a powerful phytonutrient). As tomatoes have been cultivated over time, many varieties have lost their high nutritional content. Jo lists the most nutritious varieties to eat- a few examples are Sun Cherry and Red Pear. Other varieties of tomatoes are also recommended to grow and include San Marzano, Abraham Lincoln, and Giant Belgium. Something that is worth noting is that cooking tomatoes increases the lycopene content by more than double. And adding a bit of tomato paste isn't a bad idea either since it has about 10x as much lycopene as a regular tomato. As I think about these last tomatoes, I am excited to make one last batch of my favorite summer dinner - fresh tomato, garlic and basil pasta.
I was excited to try and begin growing garlic a year ago and it was a total success! Garlic is a highly nutritious allium and is incredibly easy to grow. Two varieties that are known for their flavor and longer storage life are Inchellium Red and Chilean Silver. I grab a few of these garlic cloves that I grew earlier this spring to peel and mince. Here is a tip worth remembering- The secret to optimizing the protective agents contained in garlic is to mince it and let it sit 10 minutes before cooking it. What happens when the garlic is smashed is that the two compounds which are separate in a whole clove, alliin and alliinase, combine and the powerful result is allicin. This compounds need a few minutes to stabilize and if you cook them right away, you'll needlessly lose a lot of extra nutrition .
The last ingredient I use is basil which I grow all summer long. It browns quickly when cut but this also releases more of it phytonutrients. Since the thin skin is less stable, it's best to reserve half the garlic to julienne right before serving. As the weather moves towards colder temperatures, I usually do one big harvest of my basil and make pesto with different types of nuts. I freeze it in ice cube trays and store it for whenever I get an itch for summer freshness in the colder months ahead.
So as I look around my summer garden and pick these last few tomatoes and basil, I say farewell. Its been a good season but I am looking forward to what will come next....salad greens, kale and a lot less weeds!
Research and life experience show that routine in our lives is not only important, it is essential for prioritizing what is most valuable to us and also getting to those things that are most necessary. While I do not naturally seek out routine, I find that I am naturally drawn to it - I tend to do those things in my week that I have on my calendar and set "repeat" for. As a family we do family movie and pizza night on Fridays and my children look forward to it all week long (arguing all the way as to who gets to choose the movie!). But as summer unfolds and we get to sleep and wake with a more relaxed schedule, I notice the relief in just letting it be what it is. Sure, I try and still have a few important things that I get to - like picking blueberries before they are gone and going swimming as much as possible. But it is with repeated consistency that I find all the plans I make for summer break just drop off one by one as we meander through June and finally by July, I just give up. There is no "art project of the week" nor do I make it to yoga more than once the whole summer. But what I find is the freedom of letting the day be what it is. No one is rushed and we get in a lot of playing, random projects and spontaneous dinners with friends. I go outside and pick my hydrangeas and take the time to make a bouquet for the house. I let my children make breakfast....from scratch....and then coerce them to mostly clean up. It is good and I am so glad for this detachment from schedule. But as the end of summer break approaches and we all are getting a little tired of each other, I realize that we are ready for routine again. Where the groceries are purchased regularly, the laundry gets done and there is a clearer rhythm to our days. We all balk at first but my guess is that we are privately happy to have it again, or maybe just I am. And my invitation to you is to be filled with gratitude for the slower paced spontaneity that you've enjoyed all summer long. And now, embrace the rhythm of routine realizing that it too, can fill your life with pleasure.
I have clearly slowed down this summer as it is the second week of August and while I thought of several topics to blog about....I just never was able to get them out. My children have all gone back to school and it's therefore appropriate for me to finally catch up a bit. So as I sit with an iced coffee alone in my home that is blissfully quiet, my thoughts go back to where I was in May at the start of the summer. Our family had come off of a long and busy winter and spring and I was in my mind, feeling quite excited for the travel and visiting we usually do in the summer. However what I noticed in my emotions and body was a very different feeling altogether. I wanted to sleep and I felt more fragile than normal. I found myself wanting to stay home and be with the family and to sleep in and quietly tend to my garden and read my books. Several times I tried to push past this uninvited feeling - it was summer and time for action and adventure. But my body and heart kept wanting me to dial it down and stay in first gear. Finally I gave in and got through only the most important social obligations I had committed to. I cancelled all the other plans I had made in my mind and I just hung out. And it was surprisingly nice! I began to feel calmer and my reality of needing to rest and recuperate from our crazy year was finally coming to the surface. I wasn't stir crazy or bored or lonely. I just let myself be and didn't try to direct myself away from that. Sometimes we are not connected in our 3 different centers of ourselves - our minds, our hearts and our body can be out of balance and we may not even be aware of it. Listening to what is going on inside yourself is an important part of being able to know what you really need. For me it was pushing pause on the fun activities and socializing I had planned. As I allowed myself to let go of what I thought I wanted and let myself move towards what I needed, I literally did "stop and smell the roses" and was able to be with my children by sitting with them. It wasn't perfectly played out but it was enough, and in a few weeks I had adjusted and felt ready in all parts of myself for the next adventure of summer!
Lessons from my 12 Year Old
One afternoon a few weeks ago I was riding in the car and feeling pretty happy to have some alone time with my 12 year old son. I was looking forward to catching up a bit and hearing about how things were going with more than a sound bite answer. I was even hopeful that the conversation would go from there towards other interesting topics and it would be a well spent hour. As we began our drive home I glanced at my son and smiled. And then I began my connecting questions with several cued up in my mind. I waited for an answer or a smile. Maybe he is thinking. Cut to…silence. And one word monosyllabic answers. For each of my thoughtfully constructed questions. What???? I am a therapist and facilitate conversation for a living - I ask good questions and get open and thoughtful answers back. How was it that my son couldn’t see this and follow my caring prompts into these helpful and bonding conversations? So I sat there for a few moments and took a some deep breaths, trying to not let him know that I had some feelings about this. As I sat there contemplating my son said in his quiet nondescript manner - “you know mom, we don’t always have to talk”. Right. Deep breath. He is right. He really is right. I often feel like the best way to be with someone is to talk and ask questions and listen to their answers and just dive deeper in the questions and answers. I love a good conversation with people that I care about. This is good and an essential part of being in a close relationship. But what my son taught me on our car ride is that sometimes we can just be with each other. We can hold the space and experience whatever is happening together - where there is no role of parent or child, therapist or client, old or young. It is where we are just two people together with equal breath and equal worth. Sometimes that truly is more important than the words that we share. But I will keep trying with my son….he wont evade me forever! And hopefully the stars will align soon for when there is time and we both want to talk!
The Might of Kale
I have a winter garden. It is not big or fancy but it does the job of keeping me stocked with fresh greens through most of the winter. To be honest, it's actually my favorite way to garden because the weeds are few and easy to spot. Until recently, we have been in the dead of winter and most of the other greens have signed off for the season. But my Red Russian Kale is still holding on.
My first real introduction to Kale was when one of my best friends from college wrote a cookbook about it "The Kale Effect" (www.eatmorekale.com). I loved how I could make a salad and the leaves would stay firm enough to eat it the next day for lunch. And I found that it really was delicious and that there were so many ways to eat it. A few years ago I came across the book "Eating on the Wild Side" by Jo Robinson. I have a science undergraduate degree and I am fascinated by how the food we eat can bring health or sickness. I tend towards the former much to my children's chagrin. Reading this book is essentially a compilation and summary (aka meta analysis) on the nutritional components of over 100 of the fruits and vegetables we eat and has an impressive reference section at the end of the book. It also shares about the most nutritious species of each fruit or vegetable as well as the best way to store and prepare to preserve the optimal nutrition. I literally read this book cover to cover and will be sharing my favorite highlights as we go! What I learned about Kale though was this: not only does it last through the snow and cold weather of winter, but it actually tastes better as a result of it! It made me love this dark green leafy vegetable even more knowing that it became sweeter after a hard frost.
Maybe you can see where I am going with this....like summer gardens, we expect our best when the conditions are ideal. We want to thrive and we all want to grow and become our best selves. And ideally we would like to do that in a comfortable way that doesn't require too much inconvenience. But it's the challenge, the squeeze, the "I can't do this one more day" feeling that allows for change to happen inside of us at our deepest level. In the moment it feels like death will find us and we will never be the same. And in a way that is true. But what comes from this "death" is a sweeter and more refined self. We are stronger and more resilient than before and that is what makes us mighty.
WINTER AT THE SHORE
One of my favorite singer songwriters, David Wilcox, wrote the song “Winter at the Shore” (Open Hand, 2009). When I first heard it I immediately thought, “No, no! Surely summer at the shore is the time to sing about! Winter is when we go away and wait for summer to return again. Being a native of New Jersey, I grew up going to my grandparent’s beach house at the Jersey Shore each summer. It was filled with sunny days of playing in the sand and surf and these memories still bring a smile to my face. In the fall we would close up the house, bring the toys inside and lock the door until Memorial Day. In his song, David Wilcox sings about his summer love being gone and the lonely feeling of when all that’s left is the cold barren chill of winter. Winter can capture what we feel when we experience a lost love, a lost friend, or a dying loved one. Packing up and moving away from a familiar place can feel like winter – as can any change that requires the closing of a door you prefer would stay open. We all know what this feels like. We all know the chill of winter. But the gift of years is also that our perspective can change and we can see gifts where we may never have looked before. As I reflect on my own experience of the season of winter, I no longer see it as something to get through but rather, a space that has much to offer if only I take the time to look.
Winter a quiet season filled with shorter days. Mittens and fireplaces and heaters keep us warm. It is a season that evokes images of sipping tea and reading books. Sometimes it’s a lonely experience where closed doors and cold weather keep us inside and away from friends, but when we do venture outside it is often a very different experience. Notice the difference between a winter walk and a summer walk. We move quickly with our heads down making sure we are as covered as possible. If we push ourselves just a bit we may allow ourselves some time to linger outside and look around. Though the landscape is void of most of its vivid color and rapid movement, it is filled by quiet and subtler shades of white, grey, black and brown.
But here’s the secret: underneath there is much life and a lot of work being done. The roots and bulbs of flowers, trees, and shrubs are growing stronger by feeding on the nutrients around them and preparing for the first shoots that come with spring. It is slow work but it is necessary work. And so it goes with us if we let ourselves receive the gift of winter and be invited back into ourselves to go deeper. It is not a season of social festivities but individual work. And if we let it, it can be a respite from all the activity from the prior season. It is a time for quiet and reflection to come inside of us to see what is there - both the beauty and the shadows. Now is a time to speak calmly and clearly to what needs replenishment and what needs renovation. We need to be intentional about opening up to receive these gifts because the season of winter will be over before we know it. Inevitably the season does give way to new life and the work of winter has been accomplished for the year. As spring nudges in, the work that’s been done inside of us gets to find its way to the surface. We get to experience others and ourselves in a new way with the new wisdom and strength we’ve learned. It is truly the work that happens in the season of winter that allows us to experience the joy of spring and summer with a greater richness than if we had skipped over it or simply “gotten through”.
So Winter, I am here and open to your gift. I’ll take the winter at the shore.
Kimberly Simpson, a native of New Jersey, graduate of Wheaton College and resident of Nashville. Married and mother of three children. Lover of the ocean, gardens, yoga, cooking and travel.