So dull and dark are the November days.
The lazy mist high up the evening curled,
And now the morn quite hides in smoke and haze;
The place we occupy seems all the world.
~ John Clare, November
November, dull and dark? Why, I won't hear of it!
Well, dark - o.k., yes, November days are dark, indeed. But dull ... ?
Well, quiet, maybe. Somber, peaceful, still, perhaps. But I say November brings a welcome pause in the ongoing rhythm of nature. A time of grey skies, russet leaves, geese overhead and frost underfoot. A time of darkness, yes ~ but a time of light, too. A light we keep burning bright in our hearts as we prepare for the winter ahead.
It is true at this time of year, "the place we occupy seems all the world" ~ for now is when we hunker down and watch the world around us do the same. We might embrace these autumnal blessings of hearth and home, and relish our time spent within. And yet let's not forget to appreciate the world without - the lovely sleeping landscape just outside our frosted windows.
Well, I've been thinking on all this as you can tell, and thought I'd share my late autumn ideas with you here, in hopes of putting us all in a November mood ...
~ Cold weather and early sunsets mean more time spent inside. On days such as these, what could be better than an hour or two spent with a good book? Prepare a special reading nook for afternoon read-aloud time. Fill a basket with lovely picture books that celebrate the season. Add an autumn ribbon for a special touch! Choose a chapter book to read aloud in part every day. Fold a favorite throw blanket over the back of your chair or the arm of your couch. Sit by a window if possible and feel the warmth of your home all around you.
~ Fill your home with light - warm and soft as candles. When the darkness falls outside, nothing warms up the house like soft cozy lights. We love these pinecone lights all around the sliding doors in our family room. They're perfect all winter long!
~ On a brisk day spend some time outside stacking wood for the winter ahead. Our fireplace is gas, but my boys still like to stack wood! It's fun to search the yard, or even the woods, for branches and twigs strewn about. (November's wind is a good help in this.) A bonfire is great fun at this time of year, but if you're not going to burn it, what else can you do with that wood? All this bramble would make a nice brush pile for the birds for the winter. Place it in a corner of your yard, not too far from your feeders and you'll enjoy watching who moves in.
~ A walk through the woods will also provide a basket-ful of natural ingredients to adorn your Thanksgiving table. Or how about a log for Advent? (Rebecca has more here on this lovely tradition.) We found some fallen birch trees last spring and Bill plans to use the wood for a family Advent log. And since we have plenty of wood, we may make some as gifts.
~ Speaking of gifts - now is the time to decide what you'd like to make by hand. Once you have a list of ideas, schedule a trip to the craft store for supplies. You have plenty of time if you work on things a bit at a time over the next several weeks. (And don't forget to send me your entry for Loveliness of Homemade Gifts by November 12th!) The pressure isn't on just yet - and the stores are still fully stocked (and not too crowded).
~ Bed takes on a whole new meaning when it's winter, don't you think? Winter sleep is very sweet- all curled up under our warm covers. I tell the boys, just like the animals, we need to get ready to hibernate! We must prepare our own winter nests - not with feathers and twigs, but with warm flannels and woolens. A thorough room cleaning is in order - and if there's a relatively warm day it's nice to open the windows one last time before spring. We'll freshen the air a bit before the hatches are all battened down. :) We launder all our winter pajamas and perhaps purchase a new set of slippers. A set of white Christmas lights around a window would make a nice winter nightlight.
~ With all that room cleaning, we try to pare down the toys - some to store and some to donate. Martinmas is a good time to make a family donation of toys, clothing and food. (Also to make room for the inevitable Christmas onslaught.)
~ This is also a perfect time to talk about your family's charitable work - donations and volunteering. What services and missions will you support this year? Plan to spend an hour or so after supper one evening talking on this with your children. They might have their own ideas to share. You might consider setting up a Charity Jar: label and decorate a large canning jar with ribbons, stickers and such. Keep it in the kitchen for all to see and encourage everyone to add what they can, when they can. Come New Year's Day, count it up and make out your contributions together.
~ Put up the storms, rake the lawn and put the garden to bed. Throw on a scarf and some gloves and spend a chilly hour or two tending to the last outdoor chores of the season. Come inside to hot soup and sandwiches. :)
~ Make sure you have all you need before the first winter storm hits. Do you know where your snowshovel is? Do you have sand/salt or kitty litter - whatever your chosen de-icer may be? It's a good idea to start up the snowblower and make sure it's all set to run when you need it. And how about your car? Make sure it is stocked with your winter needs - make up a winter car kit before your holiday travels begin. (I personally consider Christmas music and thermoses filled with cocoa essential items on the winter car list!)
~ And speaking of winter preparedness - take stock of the family winter wear while you're at it! It never fails that the first snow day of the year hits and and we're scrambling to find matching gloves and missing boots. Check now and order items you'll need. A nice tradition at Martinmas is to give a gift of warmth. This year I'll be ordering the boys' snowgear at LL Bean online! And while you're at it check on the snow gear status - such as sleds, skis and skates. What needs to be replaced, repaired or reconditioned?
~ Though it pains me to say it, November also ushers in the inevitable cold and flu season. It's a good time to sort through your medicine cabinet and toss what's old and make a note of what you might need (though hopefully not!): fever medication, throat lozenges, decongestent, etc.
~ The holidays bring lots of sweets, extra stress - and sometimes lowered immunity. Make an effort over the next few weeks to include lots of fluids (think hot soups and fresh juices), veggies and fruits in abundance, and whole grains, too. Make space in your schedule for family down time and don't over tax yourselves! Plenty of sleep will also help boost your immune system - at this time of year our bodies naturally crave it! Here is some good information from Dr. Sears on feeding your immune system.
~ Here in the northeast we see some pretty good winter storms. Good meaning powerful (wind), precarious (ice) and plenty (of snow)! Since we often see the first flakes fly around Thanksgiving, now is a good time to give some thought to winter storm preparation.
~ November is also the time to stock up on those most important of winter supplies - your cocoa supply! You could make up a large supply of homemade cocoa mix, or just make sure you have your favorite brand in bulk on the shelf. Don't forget to plan ahead for all kinds of hot drink occasions - the aforementioned skating/sledding/skiing, as well as afternoon tea, dessert by the fire, after-dinner coffee, caroling parties ... any old time, really! Check out this thread at 4Real for lots of yummy ideas! And don't forget the marshmallows!
~ Dark november days just beg a few hours worth of cookie making (and eating)! As with the cocoa, you could go the store-bought route - Pillsbury makes sugar and gingerbread cookie dough that you can just slice, roll, cut and bake. But really, nothing tastes like homemade. Instead of making up a fresh batch of dough each time you go to bake, you could spend a few hours making up some logs of dough to keep in your freezer. And while you're at it make sure you have all your favorite cookie cutters put aside and plenty of baking supplies and decorations as well. You don't want to wait till December to buy your cardamom, ginger and pastry flour when supplies have been picked over and are running low - trust me, I've been there. For inspiration, pour yourself a cup of peppermint tea and pore over the The Baker's Catalog. An afternoon of cookie baking seems so much more do-able when you've prepared ahead for the fun (and the mess)!
~ Try to focus on the natural beauty of late fall, though it might be hard to get all excited about what some might call a rather dreary time of year. Look up poems and quotes about late autumn - check here for a start. As nice as it is to retreat to our dens for hibernation, don't forget to keep in touch with the outdoors! Bundle up and head out when the weather allows, even if only for a ten minute walk - or even just to fill up the feeders! Speaking of feeders, I never tire of plugging for our little feathered friends - come the heart of winter they bring such joyful relief! Set up a basket of bird guides and binoculars - keep them by a favorite window. I also find reading books written by naturalists - especially those that describe the year round - help me to appreciate and look for the nuances of each seasons.
~ The late autumn landscape might be bleak but it has its place in the year just as does the greening of spring. Talk with the children about the cycle of life, how each time that passes is meaningful and serves a purpose. And what about the promise of spring? It seems so far away and yet we know it will return for us once again.
~ On November nights, as you gather your family around the dinner table, take time to count your blessings. What a nice way to head into the holidays with our hearts filled with gratitude, our spirits moved by grace? Before the onslaught of packages, boxes and bags - spend these family moments appreciating what we have right here and right now. If you like, you could make a blessings box in which to store all your thanks. The slips will make cheery decorations come Christmas.
~ I like to prepare a correspondence basket at this time of year - with notecards, greeting cards, pens, stamps, stickers and the like. I tuck in a few favorite holy cards, too. Oh, and the 2006 Christmas stamps are available now! I just picked up my supply this past weekend. They are so beautiful this year!
~ Speaking of correspondence, you might encourage the children to work on some homemade note cards these next few Sunday afternoons. Craft stores carry all kinds of plain notecards, postcards, and stationary as well as envelopes that the kids can decorate to their hearts' content. Let them choose some special colored pencils, stickers and ink pads and rubber stamps ... then set them to work. By the end of the year they will have a ready supply of personalized notes to send out to family and friends.
~ Candles are a beautiful part of our late autumn home, as well as our Catholic traditions. Make sure you have plenty on hand. Tea lights or tapers, they will warm your family heart and soul. In keeping with November's devotion, you might pause over each light and remember a soul who has passed in prayer. Set your table with small glass votives (anchored by river pebbles perhaps) and hold hands while you reflect on the light and the life within us all.
~ What about the hearty foods of late autumn? The roasts, stews and pot pies? Won't they lend a comforting air to your home these next few Sundays? And not to be forgotten are all the late season fruits and vegetables - the last of autumn's bounty - squash, potatoes, pears, cranberries, Brussels sprouts, apples, parsnips, carrots, onions ...
~ And even if you don't have time to cook, you can still fill your home with the delicious smell of late fall. Simply set a pan of cider on the stove to simmer, along with some spices and orange peel wrapped in cheesecloth. Mulled cider captures the essence of November, don't you think?
Once again, I've gotten carried away - thanks for joining me in this post! Before too long we'll be talking about Christmas, so let's savor these lovely days of November.
Blessings to you at this special time of the year!