Finding October

Finding October

October — how you get away with anything!

You are equally charming with brilliant sun streaming through leaves of gold, as you are with brooding-grey-black skies and whipping winds. We’re happy to take you in shorts and tees, cherishing the year’s last hurrah of warmth. Or, if you choose — changeable you — to swirl in with chill rain or morning frost, we relish the chance to cocoon {for the first time since March} in jeans and sweaters, or with blankets in front of a freshly laid fire. Coffee, tea, and hot spiced cider, cupped in cool hands, with steam rising, on newly dark mornings — this is something to be savored!

golden leavesYour burgundy, hot-pink, red, salmon, orange, yellow, chestnut, russet raiment strewn over hillsides — and, later, ground — takes our breath away. Last year, we thought your leaf show was the best in a decade, but you’ve done it again, demonstrating our Maker’s artistry in show-stopping fashion.

You can even get away with breaking my heart. So far, you’ve brought me two deaths and a diagnosis. And, still I wait for your color-riotous days and dense velvet nights with anticipation

I am nearly convinced you are going to do it again. As the dog and I walk, my heart feels scraped raw, so tender any slight touch makes tears well.

basket of pumpkinsThe caller ID Friday night puts me on high alert even before I hear the familiar and kindly voice of our pediatric rheumatologist. Yes, we’d had blood drawn the day before to check key inflammation markers for my 10-year-old daughter with a rare autoimmune disease. Yes, she had been steroid-free for almost four months. Yes, she had relapsed last time steroids were withdrawn.

Two numbers come back high. Not alarmingly high, but they signal cause for concern. We schedule another blood draw for 8:30 Monday morning.

After I drop her at school late, I ache inside with uncertainty and worry. She seems tired. That ankle is still hurting. {Knee pain had started this whole thing three Octobers ago.}

She looks so pale. Isn’t she too skinny now that she’s dropped the steroid weight? {She was pale and skinny right before the relapse. It was so obvious from that one photo– we should have known something was going on.

And, that scrape on her knee– it looks like it’s getting infected, and if it does, that in and of itself could start a whole chain reaction and put her already compromised immune system on dreaded hyperdrive.

Yet, as I walk, October, you woo me with your colorful abundance. Even as I struggle to release my worries, I can’t help but be smitten by your vivid intensity.

handful of leavesYou remind me how life persists even in the face of death, how so often beauty and pain mingle.

You make me recall that carefree weekend at the farm last year, right before tragedy struck. On a woods ramble, I noticed an anomaly on a twisted honeysuckle vine — a fresh, nectar-ready blossom side by side with the red berry it should have already become — June on the same branch as October.

But, in a way, doesn’t it make sense? Isn’t October herself a dazzling final display of life before winter’s death? Aren’t the colors her leaves’ last slow, spectacular exhale before expiring?

***

I hear the smile in his voice even before he gives me the good news. Julianne’s numbers have come back into the normal range. It turns out that the same enzymes that mark muscle inflammation due to disease and damage can also be affected by intense physical activity {that old muscle breakdown inherent in building new, stronger muscle}.

If this is it, my reason for false alarm, so be it. If my daughter — who could barely get off the floor three years ago — can now dance now for two days in a row at a recent convention… If she can tap and dance hip hop and jazz, for six hours straight, so much that it raises her CPK, well, glory be.

And just like that, you flaming, fickle, fantastic month, you’ve launched in me a praise stronger than my past October hauntings could ever be.

Late Color

Late Color

The maple in the backyard has exceeded expectations.

The other trees flamed early and subsided in fabulous crunches of gold. But, this late changer — she held her color. In fact, we began to think she’d never turn. We assumed her dull.

Now, in mid-November, our hillsides hold interweavings of branch — finely textured tapestries of brown on brown — with the occasional shaft of sycamore white. Some rich oak leaves still cling. They catch the crisp chill sun, offer their elegant, lacquered, nut-brown gleam.

But, She.

autumn glory 2

Our autumn glory, a sentinel of scarlet.

All the more treasured for her impeccable timing.

singular spire in our landscape, a heart-catch of glory each morning, positioned directly outside our bathroom window upstairs, and our kitchen window downstairs.

She’s holding her leaves longer than her earlier relations, and we awake to her beauty fresh each day — an “oh” of loveliness that  always delights.

My husband’s loaded the feeders again, a small cylinder in autumn glory and a larger wooden feeder and two-ear corn holder in the neighboring maple. Bushy-tailed gray squirrels and bold blue jays arrive daily. Cardinals flash in, their twin red moving along with the scarlet brilliance of the slowly falling leaves.

I’ve been fingering worries like creek-stones in my pockets. Though I’ve been savoring peace and joy after a season of transient sadness, I can’t help but question if I shouldn’t be Doing More or Better.

autumn glory 3

Stillness is a radical calling in this frantic world.

This morning, I let the dart of red and blue take my vision, feed it with pure, saturated color. I give my cluttered mind and heart over to the busy activity and let God’s creatures carry my to-do’s and should-do’s and spool them out into nothing.

I rise from my window-side seat, heart renewed, mind quieted, soul dripping with color.

Pumpkin Spice Syrup and Cinnamon Sweet Potato Chips

Pumpkin Spice Syrup and Cinnamon Sweet Potato Chips

Today, I’m continuing my journey into fall flavors with two more simple, versatile recipes: Pumpkin Spice Syrup and Cinnamon Sweet Potato Chips.

Remember, earlier this fall when the news story came out about Starbucks running out of their pumpkin spice syrup? I thought, how hard could this be? Turns out, it’s not hard at all. And, it’s oh-so-tasty!

This syrup has plenty of yummy applications. I created it with a chai or coffee latte in mind, but you could just spike your morning coffee or tea with this syrup, without bothering to froth milk. You could also use it in combination with maple syrup to give waffles and pancakes a delicious pumpkin-spice makeover.


Pumpkin Spice Syrup

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
2 tbsp. pumpkin (or other winter squash, like acorn or butternut) puree
1 tbsp. pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tbsp. vanilla extract

Simmer sugar and water together to make a simple syrup. Once the sugar is completely dissolved, add the pumpkin puree and spices and simmer over medium to low heat for another 5 minutes or so. Remove from heat, add vanilla, and pour through a mesh strainer to remove any solids. Store in fridge and use for lattes and other autumn goodness!

Here’s an easy latte recipe: Brew a small, very strong cup of tea, coffee or espresso. Fill a mug about a third full of milk and microwave for 1 1/2 minutes. Remove mug and roll a whisk rapidly between your hands to froth milk. Mix 2 tbsp. of the pumpkin spice syrup in your strongly brewed coffee or tea and pour into the mug of frothed milk. Sweeten, if desired, and top with whipped cream and/or a dash of cinnamon.

Next up, we’re making sweet potato chips. I made mine with brown sugar and cinnamon, but these would be lovely with a savory twist, such as a curry spice blend or a chipotle cumin spice mix. You can use whatever appeals to your taste buds!

I wanted these chips as crispy as possible, so I had to get very thin slices. I was able to slice better when I cut my one (very large, 1.5 pound) sweet potato in halves, both lengthwise and crosswise, and cut skinny little half-moons.

Cinnamon Brown Sugar Sweet Potato Chips

1.5 pounds sweet potato, thinly sliced
1.5 tbsp. melted coconut oil
2 tbsp. rapadura, sucanat or other organic brown cane sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon

Toss your sweet potato slices in a large bowl with oil, sugar, and cinnamon. Mix well. Line two large baking sheets with a single layer of slices. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes. Check halfway through the baking time and switch cookie sheets. The chips take a bit of babysitting to get them right. You want them thoroughly cooked and crispy, but they will burn quickly if left unattended. (Trust me, I know!) It may take a bit less or a bit longer, depending on the type of cookie sheet you use and individual oven temps.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to three days. They’re best during the first two days, but I’m guessing they won’t be around that long!

Do you have a creative use for pumpkin pie spice (other than pie!)?
I’d love to hear about it!

Did you miss the first two weeks of Fall Flavors: A Recipe Series?

You can find recipes for Maple Vanilla Coffee Creamer, Pumpkin Spice ButterCurry Butternut Buttermilk DressingSlow Cooker Pumpkin Lasagna, and Harvest Spiced Kettle Corn.

This post is part of:

Grace-Laced Mondays, MercyInk’s Heart+Home Linkupand Live Called’s Thrive at Home Thursday.

The Benefits of Getting Lost … And Other Autumn Adventures

The Benefits of Getting Lost … And Other Autumn Adventures

I wasn’t sure where to go. The once defined path had grown over. I knew the general direction we were heading, and I knew we’d get there. I just wasn’t clear on the details.

We eventually came down farther than we ever had before and were rewarded with a new view of The Cave. First, an impressive facade of rock — majestic among the tall, slender, golden maples, sending gentle leaves spiraling down to the trickling creek bed below. Next, the view off the left, up the valley to the mouth of The Cave, its dark mouth yawning open, mysterious, lovely, beckoning.

At first, I found myself hesitate. Was this it, our Cave? I’d only been coming here for the past 34 years of my life, but I’d never found myself quite so impressed. I usually tried to downplay The Cave for visitors. Well, it’s just an overhang, really, you know, not a cavern or anything.

But, if it wasn’t, well — amazing.

I found my thoughts echoed in the awed and awesome voice of an 11-year-old kid who just possibly found something cooler than getting a high score on a video game.

This is amazing. Wow, this is amazing!

I smiled at Nick. It’s like a postcard, isn’t it?

We took off to catch up with my daughter and Nick’s younger sister, Savannah. My family’s English Springer Spaniel crashed about the foliage, generally getting filthy and sharing the excitement in the way only a dog can.

The kids scrambled throughout the soft grey-brown floor of the cave — sediment from the rock above slowly disintegrating over years and filtering below. It’s kind of like what you’d think the surface of the moon would be, we said.

I sat on a damp rock as they roamed.

Maybe this is a bobcat’s den. Hey, we found a snake… oh, it’s a salamander. Look at this!

****

We’d finally invited our neighbors down to my parents’ rural Ohio farm, about 150 miles away from our cozy little suburban enclave. We were ready to show them a bit of farm life.

While my family knows the annual autumn drill — making cider, taking Gator rides, hiking, fishing in the pond, making a huge bonfire and eating outside in the cold, petting farm cats, talking, laughing, playing — this weekend, it was better. Witnessing the kids’ joy, gathering the beauty close in shutter snaps and oohs and ahhs, seeing it all with them for the first time — well, it made it seem new to us, too.

We made our arms ache turning the cider press while the kids tried to jam us up with handfuls of apples at a time; we ate too many homemade pumpkin desserts; we got whipped in the face with a few tree branches on narrow rides through old trails; we chased farm cats; we tried not to get tipped over in a canoe when the dog swam by and decided to try to claw his way over the edge; and we even got lost on the way to The Cave — well, almost.

When I was a kid, roaming these fields, trust got me by. I could “feel” my way around, confident I wouldn’t get lost. Maybe I’d wander unsure for a while; I simply called it exploring. These days, Lord, I feel I’ve lost my sense of adventure, my knack of trust. Help me plunge into the beauty of the unknown woods, if that’s where You’d take me. 

What about you?

When is the last time you got lost? Did you view it as an adventure or a trial? Are there times you feel you want your journey with God mapped out, instead of relying on faith?

This post is linked up with: In, On, and Around on Mondays at Seedlings in Stone, Playdates with God at The Wellspring,  Graceful: Faith in the Everyday’s Hear it on Sunday, Use It On Monday, and The WIP  Wednesday Linkup at New Life Steward.