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Cheryl's Parenting Journal


Entry 50 ~ October 3, 2010
~ Apples, Pumpkins, and Scarecrows--Oh My!

Hello to all my StorkNet friends and family. I realize it's been a couple of months stince I've posted in my journal. So much is happening in my life as a mom of eight! I recently started a new, full-time writing job for America Online! I haven't had a full-time job in nearly 15 years, well, not unless you count my job as a domestic engineer and mom of eight for the past 17 years! So I am working out the kinks and finding my way. The good news is that I love the new job. The bad news is that my house has fallen by the wayside, but once I find my groove, I'm sure we'll be overflowing in clean underwear once again! Meanwhile, I'm enjoying my favorite time of the year-fall.

My two favorite months of the year are January and October. Since not many people can comprehend why the post holiday gray and icy month of January would bring me such pleasure, let's skip right to spectacular October.

Once the carefree summer season begins to wind down, we instinctively begin to crave the crisper autumn air and the earthy stillness that envelopes our senses with rich, golden tones, sweet orchard smells and the rustic touches of crunching leaves, glowing jack-o-lanterns and the ultimate taste of a freshly picked tart apple. It's the season to connect more with loved ones around our cozy kitchen tables and to seek out a host of traditional activities such as apple picking, hay rides through the local pumpkin patch and creating the zaniest straw-filled scarecrows we can get our plaid shirts around. Welcome Fall!

By the time we had our seventh child, my husband and I were brave enough to attempt such outings and we decided it was time to create some special annual traditions of our own. I spent most of my early childhood growing up in tropical Puerto Rico. My father was in the Navy and we were stationed there for many years. Instead of gathering juicy red apples and vibrant orange pumpkins we plucked coconuts off the palm trees in our backyard and collected bags of sour lemons, which yes, we did turn into homemade lemonade. My siblings and I still reminisce about spending Halloween on hot sandy beaches and trick-or-treating in the balmiest of conditions where our costumes never needed to be hidden underneath a heavy jacket due to cool October temperatures.

Raising our family in picturesque New England couldn't be any more different than the physical atmosphere I grew up in as a child, but the common thread that my childhood and my children's both share are the seasonal rituals that we have created and look forward to every year. For our family, Fall definitely means several things. 1. Mom (yours truly) survived the summer vacation. 2. Apple picking and a visit to the pumpkin patch happen every Columbus Day weekend. 3. Some version of a scarecrow will be created (and there will be no comments on how it resembles me very early in the morning!). 4. There will be a painful photo-op for our annual family Christmas card. 5. The bushels of apples we pick will be candied, sauced, baked, dried, buttered, crisped and crafted. Oh, and # 6-the fruit flies will move in and drive us all crazy!

I will never forget the first time we took our troops apple picking. It was the quintessential autumn day-crystal clear azure skies laced with a few wispy cotton-like clouds, a cool snap graced the air and the orchard was blazing with succulent apples just begging to be picked. One by one, the seven of them grabbed the large burlap bags provided by the orchard and in less than a 1/2 hour they were all overflowing with delightful balls of red. By the time we checked out of the orchard, my husband's face was that same shade of red-you see, seven full bags of apples isn't exactly cheap. Over $100 later, we loaded our exuberant apple picking clan into our van and drove home just shaking our heads, wondering what in heaven's name we were going to do with nearly 20 lbs of apples!

That was the year I learned just how many wonderful recipes could be created with this magnificent fruit, the apple, and it was also the year our kids really began to understand what it meant to establish such a simple but memorable tradition. We've been apple picking ever since on Columbus Day Weekend, despite the weather, and now that some of our kids are older, they get involved in helping make some of the recipes, their favorite-apple butter and have even taught me a thing or two about keeping fruit flies at bay. If you're looking for a tried and true tip for these unwanted visitors, try pouring cider vinegar into a small bowl and covering it with plastic wrap. Poke a few holes in the top of the wrap and let sit on your countertop. This magic potion will draw the fruit flies to it and they will eventually end up in the bowl and off your fruit and nerves!

One year we visited an orchard that distributed laminated book marks with dozens of fun apple facts. Did you know that:

  • 2500 varieties of apples are grown in the United States.
  • Apples are grown in all 50 states.
  • The top apple producing states are Washington, New York, Michigan, California, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
  • One apple has approximately 5 grams of fiber.
  • The Pilgrims planted the first United States apple trees in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
  • 25 percent of an apple's volume is air. That is why they float.
  • It takes about 36 apples to create one gallon of apple cider.
We don't just bake pies, make apple sauce and melt-in-your-mouth caramel apples with our freshly picked apples either. There are dozens of crafts and activities that center around the versatile apple and you don't need to be Johnny Appleseed to participate. If you have extra apples from your visit to the orchard, thanks to that creative diva, Martha Stewart, you might want to try a few of these ideas.
  • Apple votives-hollow out the center of the apple and place votive candles inside. They look great as a centerpiece or even floating in a steel tub.
  • Apple prints-instead of being a potato head, cut an apple in half instead and dip in colorful paints to use as a festive stamp. Great on canvas aprons, bags, tablecloths and even as a decorative trim around a wooden mirror or picture frame.
  • Shrunken apple heads-take a trip down memory lane. If you ever made shrunken apple head dolls as a kid, you must remember how funky and oddly spooky they looked when done. Let your own kids or grandkids in on the fun and don't forget to take pictures.
For more fun with apple crafts, visit www.marthastewart.com/apple-crafts.

Finally, don't forget one of the simplest pleasures that visiting an apple orchard can offer-picking a ripe apple right off the tree and eating every juicy bite right down to the core.

AnnieOnce we've visited one of our local apple orchards next in line for our Fall family traditions is waiting for a crisp October afternoon where we can throw on our comfiest pair of jeans and a chunky, favorite sweater and head to the pumpkin patch. Linus isn't the only one who wants to believe that the Great Pumpkin is going to pay him a visit-my kids do too! Well, sort of. We've been watching Charlie Brown's Great Pumpkin video since our oldest daughter was just a few months old. Each of our eight children have all enjoyed it and when we do visit the pumpkin patch each year, one of them will always make a snarky remark about whether or not we'll find Linus hiding behind a robust, orange pumpkin clinging to his blanket in hopes that the Great Pumpkin will soon arrive.

Each year I am continually surprised when one of our kids will leave the pumpkin patch with the teeniest, scrawniest pumpkin he/she can find. I never question it-instead, I just inhale the special moment when they show me "the one" they have chosen, and then watch their faces simply basking in pride as they watch it get weighed so that my husband can pay for them (he sure appreciates those scrawny pumpkins at check out!) and then carry them to the car. Once home, they line them up around the fireplace in our living room and look forward to when they will be carved, usually the weekend before Halloween. Last year, I even gave homemade pumpkin pie a whirl, using the insides of everyone's pumpkins to create the filling for pies, breads and muffins.

Finally, in between all that apple picking and pumpkin patch visiting it would not be Fall if we did not gather up a pile of straw, our funkiest shirts and hats and create the most whimsical scarecrows we can to watch over our yard during the magical season of Autumn. I remember being completely intimidated by this project when our first three children were just babies and toddlers, but the looks on their faces when they saw their finely stuffed new friend sitting comfortably amongst the radiant mums surrounding our front door was truly priceless. Now that our kids are older, they enjoy making designer scarecrows that resemble their favorite movie characters, friends or even teachers! For some wonderful scarecrow inspiration, visit www.makescarecrows.com/scarecrow-ideas.html. The straw's the limit!

Bumpy hay rides, sweet apple cider, and salty-baked pumpkin seeds-it wouldn't be Fall without them. Perhaps with this fresh new season upon us, you will turn to your own established family traditions to celebrate this seasonal transition or even start one or two new ones to call your own. Once again, I am leaning on the three symbolic gestures that take my family and I from summer to Fall--apples, pumpkins, and scarecrows-oh my!

Be well!
    ~ Cheryl

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