How we’re celebrating autumn & reconnecting with nature

In a recent post, I introduced the idea that we’re looking for ways to inject more substance into how we celebrate the holidays and acknowledge seasonal changes within our family.

For many cultures, autumn has historically been a time of harvest, of giving thanks for earth’s bounty and a slowing down as days shortened and nights lengthened. Many cultures also acknowledge the days around All Hallows’ Eve as a time to remember and honor the dead.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with trick-or-treating. In fact, many of the iconic Halloween symbols and traditions of today date back to the Celtics and beyond; however, I am frustrated that our culture is focused almost exclusively on candy and horror movies and has lost its earth-based reverence.

My point is, I believe there’s room for both. Our family has approached Halloween and autumn overall with the intention of bringing our family closer to nature. Here are a few of my favorite activities that we introduced this year:

  1. We visited a nearby farm, White Oak Pastures, and it was one of my favorite experiences of the year. We attended its fall festival, rode horses, stayed in a cabin on the property, saw newborn lambs, watched employees feed their animals as the sun rose, and so much more. It was such a fun way to support a local farm, an incredible way to recharge and a hands-on way for our children to interact with nature and understand where food comes from. I realize we’re incredibly privileged to have access to farms and the experience we had. Alternatively, you could plant your own fall garden which typically includes root vegetables, leafy greens and herbs, depending on your location.
  2. We built a fall altar. I should say, we’re building a fall alter because it’s a work in progress that began about a month ago. We began by collecting acorns, fallen leaves, pieces of bark and anything else that caught our eye during our time outside. We also added a couple of small pumpkins, mementos that remind us of loved ones who have passed, a jar of nuts and a candle. It’s a simple, tangible way to bring the outdoors in and to pay reverence to the changing seasons.
  3. We made a meal to honor an ancestor. I’m lucky enough to have a handwritten recipe for chicken pie from my great grandmother. Making a loved one’s favorite meal is a lovely way to pay tribute to their memory and keep their legacy alive. If you don’t have a specific recipe, you could try one that reflects your heritage instead.

Blessings to you and yours this fall season!

P.S. My children have been reading Strega Nona’s Harvest this season, and the themes of honoring the earth’s rhythms, planting and harvesting, and sharing in the bounty with neighbors have all reinforced our other fall activities.

A controversial take on the holidays

I’ll begin this essay with the disclaimer that it might be a polarizing topic and that I fully support everyone’s right to believe and celebrate whatever they wish. I also support the decision to question beliefs and let go of what’s no longer serving us.

After becoming a parent, I started noticing more and more aspects of holiday traditions in the U.S. that I hadn’t given much thought to before. At first, I became increasingly aware of the overwhelming commercialism. It feels like we’ve lost so much of the substance and connection to these holidays and replaced it with things. I’m by no means a minimalist, but I do believe that material things should support the holiday, not the other way around.

The second and more complicated concern that kept coming up in my quest to find meaning is that actually, I don’t fundamentally agree with most of the holidays I’ve always celebrated.

Thanksgiving is so closely tied to colonialism and white supremacy.

I’m very spiritual, but not religious, calling into question my celebration of Christmas and Easter.

I also have struggled with Halloween, because it’s so much more than dressing up and begging for candy. The origins are rich and fascinating, but you’d never know it based on how we celebrate today. I also don’t see what’s so scary about black cats and witches, but that’s a rant for another day 🙂

I’ve thought a lot about what I want from traditions for our family that I’m not getting under the traditional holiday system:

  • Celebration of seasonal changes and what’s happening in nature
  • Gratitude for the abundance in our lives
  • Acknowledgement of our privilege as a white family living in America
  • A focus on experiences, not things

Most of the Christian holidays we celebrate today are modifications of pagan celebrations and customs, so my research began there. After all, I don’t want to completely throw out our traditions…I want to understand their roots so that I can better honor them and perhaps even bring back some of the original intentions that have been lost.

My goal, beginning with this year’s holiday season, is to try new things to determine what sparks joy for our family and to retire what no longer feels authentic. I’ll cover the autumn equinox/Mabon, Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Halloween/Samhain, Thanksgiving, the winter solstice and Christmas.

I hope you’ll join me as I document our experiences along the way!

Seasonal baskets for kids: Autumn edition

The autumn equinox is just a few days away, and I’m starting to prepare for the shift to a new season. I have a list of fall crafts to do with our toddlers, several new recipes to try and a plan to visit a local farm for its fall festival. With the coming of each new season, my goal is to honor the transformation and energetic shifts happening in nature and acknowledge what each season brings. I love apple picking and pumpkin spice as much as — okay probably more than — the average person, but we can look to Mother Nature for valuable lessons in slowing down, reaping what we sow, nurturing the land and following the natural rhythms around us.

In our family, we are constantly looking for ways to get back to nature, to reconnect with the land, to show our children where food comes from and to encourage them to feel the changing seasons with their bodies.

Below, you’ll find a few ideas for a fall-themed morning basket for toddlers. You can read more about how we use morning baskets here.

The changing seasons are such a sensory experience, and I hope you get to treasure them all!

Fall sensory bins. Busy Toddler introduced me to sensory bins, and I’m so glad I discovered them. With a little practice, they can be perfect for independent play, and I particularly love the seasonally themed options. You can make your own at home by collecting things like leaves, acorns and pinecones or check online retailers like Etsy for creative, ready made kits. This pumpkin sensory kit is fairly basic and looks like it would be good for a younger child who is new to sensory bins. It’s also a great price! This pumpkin patch-themed bin is intricate and more appropriate for an older child.

Fall playdough stamps. How sweet are these woodland creature playdough stamps? They’re handmade with love and so beautifully detailed. My two year old will love them.

Fall stickers. My oldest daughter turned two a few months ago and has been on a major sticker kick ever since. These leaf and mushroom stickers would be perfect for decorating pumpkins or making fall tree crafts. This set of whimsical autumn stickers is so cozy and unique….also perfect for a young baker!

Fall flashcards. I hesitate to use the term “flashcard” because it sounds so…studious. And institutional. But actually, we have a set of touch and feel cards, and my two year old and one year old both adore them. I love this fresh take on flashcards: autumn themed movement cards. They say “stretch like a scarecrow,” “drop like an acorn,” “sway like a tree,” and other movement-related phrases. The designs are beautiful, and the set is only $3! (You print at home.)

Fall books. Of all of the fall books that we own, my favorite by far is I Am Thankful by Sonali Fry. The book is written in rhyme, and each page offers a different set of (seasonal) things to be thankful for, like “crunchy leaves,” “bees that buzz,” “apples we pick,” “grandma’s pies,” etc. The illustrations are so sweet, and the book ends with the question, “What are YOU thankful for?” (There’s no reference to the Thanksgiving holiday for those of you who don’t celebrate it.)

Seasonal baskets for kids: Spring edition

I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to the traditions that I want to instill in our family life. My goal is to be mindful about what we introduce to our children (who are still quite young, under two), adding to, and in some cases, scrapping traditions that were handed down to us by our parents altogether. I’m planning a much more extensive post on the topic soon, but for now let’s suffice to say that I’m looking for ways to add more opportunities for reflection and learning and escape from the endless purchasing cycles (Christmas! Valentine’s Day! Easter! and on and on). I’m by no means a minimalist, but even I have my limits.

One fundamental principle that’s inspiring a lot of the traditions on my mind is observing and honoring nature and the changing of the seasons. With that in mind, I plan to begin each new season with themed baskets filled with items to help us further explore and appreciate the changes happening all around us in nature.

Those items could include craft supplies, toys and tools gathered from around the house, new purchases and homemade items. I like the idea of using the baskets to facilitate activities.

Spring activities for small children

Plant something. What better way to celebrate the new life that spring brings than by watching plants grow? You could plant bulbs outside, a container garden, an herb garden, a terrarium. Gardening tools like this set on Amazon or this more complete kit on Etsy are a good start, along with seed packets, gloves, little bags of potting soil and containers.

Go on a scavenger hunt. Create a DIY scavenger hunt to look for new signs of spring life around you. Supplies include a small net, magnifying glass, a jar and a handwritten list of what to look for (this will vary depending on the climate you live in and the age of your child or children but could include flowers blooming, specific insects, moss, rocks, etc.).

Learn about bugs. These garden bug rollers facilitate fun, hands-on creative play. Kids can use them with playdough or in the dirt outside to play pretend, practice their motor skills and make art. Life cycle figurines are also a very tactile way to teach children about bugs like butterflies and ants.

Ideas for older children

A gorgeous wild hare embroidery kit

A bird-house woodworking kit

For your hot tea lover: a sampler pack of spring flavors

Baskets aren’t your thing?

Alternatively, you could fill a jar with slips of paper; on each paper, write a different activity for spring. When you have downtime throughout the season, select a piece of paper and voila! Endless opportunities for fun.

Holiday gifts for toddlers

My husband and I try to be mindful about the types (and amount) of toys that our daughters have access to at home. We’ve been fairly minimalistic in our approach, particularly regarding how many toys are available at any given time. (I have a toy and book rotation in place so that they only have a few things to focus on.) We’ve favored experiential toys like musical instruments and art supplies, and we make time each day to use them. Our approach might feel a little militaristic — especially to the grandparents 🙂 — but we believe in the importance of using toys to help our children learn new skills, use their imaginations and teach an appreciation for their belongings. This already feels like an uphill battle amidst the commercialism of the U.S., and our oldest is barely a toddler.

With those goals in mind, here are a few things from our 18 month old’s Christmas list that I’m really excited about:

Books about emotions. I’m a believer in the gentle parenting approach, and I’ve seen firsthand that young children have big emotions that they need help processing. The Color Monster by Anna Llenas helps kids identify and categorize their emotions (fear, sadness, joy, etc.) so that they’re better able to recognize and talk about them. Little Monkey Calms Down by Michael Dahl begins with a monkey who’s having a bad day and then offers suggestions for how he/she can calm down (breathing, singing, cuddling, etc.). Both books emphasize that emotions are normal and that it’s okay to cry. I can’t wait to introduce these to Aurelia during calming corner time.

Calming corner. In the spirit of helping children regulate and express their emotions, I’m in the process of creating a calming corner in our nursery. A major feature will be the Generation Mindful Time-In Toolkit. The toolkit includes tools that help teach children lifelong skills about emotions and how to regulate them in the safe space of a calming corner.

As the name implies, a time in is the opposite of a time out — sending a child to be alone as punishment for “bad” behavior. My parents never used time outs with me, so I honestly hadn’t given them much thought in my parenting journey. But after reading Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings by Dr. Laura Markham (CHANGED. MY. LIFE), I was sold on the concept of time ins. Dr. Markham makes an incredibly compelling argument for radical empathy and the vital importance of actively helping your child learn to embrace and regulate their emotions. She explains (and demonstrates through case studies) that children act out due to their inability to manage big emotions on their own. Casting them out away from the family during a time out only further reinforces whatever emotion(s) they’re struggling with and sends the message that emotions are bad. If you’re interested in creating your own calming corner, I highly recommend also reading the book; it will provide a really sold foundation and understanding when it comes time to put the calming corner into practice.

The Time-In Toolkit includes posters that share information about emotions and techniques to help children calm their bodies. It also includes an activity mat and a set of positive affirmation cards which Generation Mindful recommends pulling first thing in the morning . You know I love a daily ritual, and these cards totally sold me on the kit. If the toolkit is above your price point or you’d rather start smaller, this poster set is a great alternative.

Side note: I’m also planning to make a glitter jar — a concept I first heard about on Sesame Street — with Aurelia to include in the space as another calming tool to try.

Cleaning tools. A major tenement of the Montessori approach is to empower kids, respect them, build their confidence and teach life skills by allowing them to become more autonomous. This is reinforced through daily practices like allowing them to set their place at the table, feed themselves, select their outfit for the day and even help with cooking and cleaning from a very young age. At just 15 months, Aurelia started trying to use our hand-held broom and dustpan to clean up after her meals. A couple of months later, she started wiping the table down after she ate. We didn’t teach her to do this; she learned by observation and seems to enjoy being able to contribute to our household.

To help facilitate that interest, we’ve added the Teamson Kids Little Helper Cleaning Set to her wish list. Having access to tools that are her size should really help her learn new skills and curb the frustration that comes with trying to use adult-sized supplies. We’ll keep the set in our kitchen for ease of use. I love this particular product for its pastel colors and the fact that it’s made by a small business.

Cooking tools. My husband recently built a toddler tower to give Aurelia access to our kitchen sink and counters so that she can begin to help with cooking and cleaning up after meals. She’s used it help me make muffins and watch my husband cook on the stove since she’s always intrigued by our meal prep. So far, I’ve only asked her to dump ingredients from measuring cups into a bowl, but I think she’ll be ready to try other skills soon. We’ve added a toddler-sized (and safe) wooden “knife” to her wish list so that we can start to incorporate cutting soft foods into her daily list of activities. Etsy is an incredible resource for wooden cooking utensils for kids like cutting boards, more advanced knives and whisks and scoops, spoons and tongs.

5 festive fall rituals

Fall is one of my absolute favorite times of the year. Sweater weather. Hot apple cider. Pumpkin bread. Fall foliage and that crispness of the air. Cozy socks (who am I kidding?! those are year-round staples). Since we won’t be traveling or going out and about as we normally would because of the pandemic, I’ve been more conscientious than ever of making the little things more special. Here are a few of the fall rituals I have in mind for the season.

Not shown: launching into October with a Harry Potter marathon, reading a book on the Salem Witch Trials, and trying my hand at Spiced Pumpkin Oatmeal with warm applesauce.

The best lemon recipes to try this summer

When I think of summer, I imagine myself rocking on a front porch listening to ocean waves and drinking lemonade. I don’t think that particular fantasy has ever actually happened, but regardless, my association between the long, lazy days of summer and lemons is strong.

Over the past couple of months, I’ve tried all of the lemon recipes I’d been hoarding during the winter months. Because of the pandemic, our local supply of lemons has been limited, which makes me cherish them even more. The following recipes are by far the best I’ve tried this summer…maybe the best I’ve ever tried.

  1. Camille Style’s Lemon Ricotta Poundcake. The presentation of this cake is simple and rustic, but with a little bit of summer flair. Whatever you do, don’t skip the candied lemon slices. They absolutely make the cake. Make this cake as a hostess gift, to welcome new neighbors or to celebrate Mother’s Day.
  2. Yotam Ottolenghi’s Blueberry, Almond and Lemon Cake. Trust me, you will not make this cake just once. It’s incredibly versatile…perfect for brunch, an afternoon snack or after dinner with coffee. If you don’t have almond flour, get creative; I substituted it for cornmeal instead.
  3. Sunday Morning Lemon Poppy Seed Pancakes. The first time I ever heard of lemon poppy seed pancakes was at Saint Michael’s Alley in Palo Alto, Calif. The restaurant offered them as a special breakfast item, and once I tried them, I ordered off menu every time I went for brunch. It dawned on me years later that I’m actually quite capable of making pancakes at home, even flavored ones. Serve these with fresh blueberries and powdered sugar. They’re always a hit.

Summer crafting: lavender wands

I absolutely love a good seasonal craft. A couple of months ago, I happened to run across a reference to “lavender wands.” I immediately Googled the term and read everything I could find about their history and how to make them. That same day, I bought a lavender plant and began patiently waiting to harvest its flowers.

To spare you from having to piece together the History of Lavender Wands from 15 websites, here are the highlights I found:

  1. Lavender wands were made famous by Victorian women who were known for their love of nature, flowers and handicrafts.
  2. They are made by weaving ribbon patterns into long-stemmed, fresh lavender flowers.
  3. Since the wands are aromatic, they can be placed in dresser drawers, closets or cars. They also make lovely hostess gifts, party favors or decoration for wrapped packages.
  4. They’re fun to make with friends and are an easy craft for older children as well.

You can find plenty of descriptions of how to make them online, although this video is my favorite.

Not sure what to plant this spring? Grow your own medicine cabinet!

I love springtime. I love the blooming flowers, warmer temperatures and the collective awakening from winter. I always feel really inspired to grow flowers or put in a window box or over-commit to a high-maintenance house plan (this year it was a Fiddle Fig Tree). But choosing what to plant can be really overwhelming, especially for a novice like me.

Last year, I started researching herbal remedies for common ailments like sore throat and upset stomach. (Confession, this interest was partially encouraged by the show Outlander.) I decided to try a few tinctures and infusions for myself with fresh grocery store herbs, and I was really impressed by their efficacy. So by the time spring rolled around, I knew exactly what to plant!

With just a handful of new additions to your garden (or flower pots) – thyme, sage, calendula, mint and lemon balm – you can treat most typical household ailments, including sore throat, congestion, minor wounds, skin irritations, and upset stomach. I’ve found the following recipes to be very simple and effective. Start planting now, and you should be able to harvest your first batch of ingredients by autumn, just in time for flu season.

(Don’t forget to buy organic plants and potting soil since they’re for medicinal purposes.)

Thyme Cough Syrup

Helps with: thins mucus, acts as an expectorant, and is an antiseptic and antibacterial in the lungs

Ages: children 12 months and older


2-4 tablespoons fresh thyme

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 cup water

¼ cup honey, preferably raw

Pour near-boiling water over thyme and steep, covered, for 15 minutes. Strain. Add honey and lemon juice. Refrigerate for up to 1 week.  For children 12 months and older, give 1-2 teaspoons every 2 to 3 hours, as needed. For teens and adults, give 1-2 tablespoons every 2 to 3 hours, as needed.

Sage Gargle

Helps with: irritation and inflammation of the mouth, throat and tonsils or when fighting off a cold

Ages: appropriate for anyone capable of gargling


1 cup water

1 tablespoon fresh sage leaves or 2 teaspoons dried sage

¼ teaspoon salt

Bring water to a boil, then turn off the heat and add sage. Cover and let steep for 10 minutes, strain, pour into a tea mug, and add salt. Stir it up and gargle with it every 1 to 2 hours, as needed. (Don’t swallow.)

Thyme Honey

Helps with: sore throat, upper respiratory infections, minor wounds

Ages: For children under 12 months, substitute maple syrup for the honey.


½ cup fresh thyme leaves or ¼ cup dried thyme

8 ounces raw honey

Put honey in saucepan and very gently heat. Add the thyme and stir for about 10 minutes. Pour your heated thyme honey into a clean canning jar, put on the lid, and let it sit in a warm place for 2 to 3 weeks. Using a fine-mesh strainer, pour the honey into a clean jar. Label and store it in a cool, dark place. It will stay good for roughly 1 year.

For coughs and colds, put 1 teaspoon thyme honey into 1 cup hot water and stir. Add some fresh lemon if desired. You can also just take 1 teaspoon thyme honey straight off the spoon to stop a cough.

For wounds, spread a thin layer on a bandage or gauze and apply. Change daily.

Calendula Flower Oil

Helps with: minor skin problems, including sore nipples when nursing (calendula, also known as pot marigold, is an edible flower)

Ages: all


Calendula flowers, dried

Olive, grape seed or sunflower seed oil

Fill a jar 2/3 full with calendula flowers and then cover with oil. Put on a lid so that it fits tightly. Let it steep in a paper bag in a warm place for 2 to 4 weeks. Strain, bottle, label and store the oil in a cool, dark place.

To use, apply to affected area as needed, 1 to 4 times per day. Calendula is also a wonderful, safe baby oil; massage a thin layer of oil after bathing.

Gentle Tummy Tea

Helps with: upset stomach

Ages: gentle enough for children


1 cup water

1-2 tablespoons fresh mint leaves

1-2 tablespoons fresh lemon balm (melissa) leaves

½ teaspoon honey, as desired

Pour boiling water over fresh herbs (or use a tea ball). Steep for about five minutes. Strain into a cup. Add honey for flavor. You can serve the tea hot or at room temperature.

Several recipes inspired by National Geographic Healing Remedies issue.