Senses of Living® Holidays

October 2003
© 2003 by Bret S. Beall

Ah, autumn! Perhaps my favorite season, as it brings relief from the heat of summer (just barely beating out the glory of spring’s warmth after the frozen winter). I consider the entire season a holiday, and therefore, I always bring some of the autumnal beauty indoors to provide a constant reminder of the cycle of life.

Perhaps the thing that most symbolizes autumn to me are the colored leaves. Call me weak, but I simply cannot walk where leaves are falling without snatching some of the most beautiful. I think that this started when I was visiting northern California one September, walking among the redwoods, and was just awestruck by the scented air, the warmth of the sunshine, the softness of the forest floor, the rustle of the leaves in the cool breeze, and the brilliant golden color of the big leaf maples that are native to that area. I wanted to bring part of that forest home with me, so my mind started clicking. Silly as it may sound, I decided to bring home some forest floor, including fallen leaves, redwood cones, redwood twigs, and the odd piece of lichen. Once home, my mind identified a three-tiered redwood canapé tray (bought for $3 at a resale shop in northern California) as the ideal way to display these different forest elements in a colorful, textural, aromatic way. A little artful arrangement, and voilà! I had a centerpiece for my dining room table, or an accent piece for a side table, or something to sit on a shelf for a little natural highlight.

Thus began a tradition of bring the autumnal outdoors inside. Once, while out walking in Chicago, I discovered a gingko tree shedding its brilliant yellow leaves … I found myself unable to resist bringing home a bag of those leaves, and laying them out on a blue and white Italian platter I was using to decorate the table for an upcoming dinner. Later, as those leaves dried and became more golden than yellow, I transferred them to a gingko-leaf-shaped metallic dish, placing a golden pillar candle in the center, to create a perennial decoration for the dining room, bathroom or even bedroom. Another time (or several times), I discovered a variety of brilliant red, and red-infused leaves of several species that also made their way home with me. Once home, some found themselves adorning some shiny black ceramic bowls, while others found homes in wicker baskets, and still others had their petioles (“stems”) stuck into a pierced ceramic candleholder. No cost decorating!

If leaves aren’t you thing, or if you feel you are ready to diversify a bit, consider filling bowls or platters or baskets or reed wreathes or other “holders” with any of the following: apples (red ones, green ones, striped ones, yellow ones), winter squash (some amazing shapes!), gourds (both colorful and textural), pumpkins, and dried corn/maize (get the multi-colored varieties, commonly called “Indian corn” even in these politically correct times; be aware that the cobs come in a variety of shapes, including some tiny little red ears sometimes called “strawberry corn” … who knew?). To add a vertical element to arrangements, add chrysanthemums (available in a wide range of colors), or to get REALLY vertical, put corn stalks, reeds, branches or Equisetum (horsetails) in interesting vases. As I described last month, you’ll also be bringing in outdoor plants to give them life over the winter; for a few months, my pots and flower boxes of impatiens will add splashes of color throughout my home. Lastly, you may want to use some sort of non-Christmassy wreathe(s) to add splashes of color and texture on vertical surfaces; during the autumn, I like wreathes made of tree branches, reeds, hay (essentially, anything non-evergreen), adorned with bittersweet berries and autumn leaves and tiny cones (redwood, spruce, or similar “soft” cones). Last word: please, Please, PLEASE avoid stereotypical commercial decorations (such as those cardboard and plastic things used for Halloween and Thanksgiving in elementary schools); they are NOT attractive (even in elementary schools), and will do nothing to enhance your home. It’s better to not decorate for the season than to use those commercial travesties.

Now that the decorations are done, we can celebrate any of these amazing “holidays”:

Adopt A Dog Month: Animal shelters have millions of loveable dogs (and cats) that need homes. Go in for a consultations to make sure that your lifestyle can accommodate a pet, and then if you get a green light, adopt one (or two or three). You won’t be sorry!

AIDS Awareness Month: In this day and age, I doubt that anyone has not been touched by HIV and AIDS in some capacity. Even with the current medicines that are available, life without AIDS is better than life with it, so be AWARE! No one is immune.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Breast cancer is an international disaster. While the exact causes of the disease are poorly known, environmental and lifestyle factors dominate the explanations. Visit www.nbcam.org for more information.

Car Care Month: If you can get by without it, get rid of your car; I did without a car for thirteen years, thanks to Chicago’s excellent public transportation system. If you have a car, keep it in top running condition to reduce its impact on the environment.

Child Health Month: Children are perhaps our greatest resource: KEEP THEM HEALTHY! That not only means taking them to the doctor and dentist regularly, but also giving them proper lifestyles, which is often undervalued, but about which I am regularly crusading to increase awareness.

Clock Month: I’m not sure what the intent of this is about, but do not take it to justify purchasing additional clocks. I would suggest that this is an opportunity to introduce more mindfulness into your lives, to be aware of the amount of time you are wasting on television, or couch-potatoing, or just being slothful. Time is something you will never get back, so don’t waste it! Plus, remember to turn back your clocks one hour on October 26 if you are currently living with Daylight Saving Time.

Cookie Month: I am the original cookie monster. Especially chocolate chip cookies. Especially MY chocolate chip cookies. I’ll share the recipe eventually.

Cosmetology Month: Ah, just what we need, a month to celebrate superficiality, wasted money, and possible health dangers to humans and to the animals on which cosmetics are tested.

Dental Hygiene Month: We hear lots about brushing and flossing, but not enough about tongue brushing! In my humble opinion, this is the most overlooked aspect of dental hygiene … BRUSH YOUR TONGUE DAILY!

Dessert Month: I’ve never been a big dessert person, but if you are, remember to eat it in moderation. A little bit goes a long way. Contact me if you want some delicious, healthy and easy desserts.

Dinosaur Month: As an ex-paleontologist, I have to acknowledge that it was dinosaurs that got me interested in paleo when I was 4 years old. But, I also have to point out that from an overall perspective of evolutionary paleontology, dinosaurs are rather insignificant. Enjoy them for what they are.

Disability Awareness Month: I always have to be aware of disabilities in my home décor business, but I find too many people take their good health for granted. So, let’s expand Disability Awareness Month to include Healthy Body Awareness.

Domestic Violence Awareness Month: Do not tolerate domestic violence (and violence can be verbal as well as physical). I hereby empower you to escape any domestic violence situation. Visit http://www.ndvh.org/, or call 1.800.799.7233 or 1.800.787.3224 (TTY) for help 24 hours a day/7 days a week.

Eat Country Ham Month: I use a variety of country hams as flavoring components for many recipes. Whether Smithfield, or Serrano, or Prosciutto, or some other country ham, enjoy it, but in small amounts (as flavoring, rather than as the main component).

Energy Awareness Month: If one is aware of energy use, one can free up considerable funds for better use, as well as have a positive impact on the planet. In previous columns, particular my summer Simple! Sensible! Sensational!® food columns, I ranted about turning on the oven when the ambient temperature is high. Now, I’ll also rant about using the oven to cook only one thing; plan a meal to involve cooking most of it in the oven (such energy-conscious planning is one of my specialties). Recently, I encountered a woman wearing a fleece windbreaker indoors, where the air conditioning was turned on, while the temperature outdoors was about 60°F; I pointed out that she only needed to open the windows and turn off the AC! Finally, if one is aware of heating expense, one can plan how to seal windows during winter, or to use the oven more for cooking, to reduce the need for heating.

Family Health Month: Everyone needs good health, and if you have it, be grateful! Don’t take it for granted. Be aware of your body, monitor it, and if something isn’t “right,” fix it, or see a professional about fixing it! Diet is also important for health, as is lifestyle, and that is where I can help you.

Kitchen & Bath Month: Until I wrote this column, I had no idea there was a kitchen and bath month, but I’m glad there is. Of course, in my line of work, EVERY month is kitchen and bath month, because their appearance and functionality are crucial to a well-running home, and my line of work is creating such a home.

Magazine Month: I have found that many people keep the entire magazine when there is only a single article inside that they find interesting. Do yourself a favor by “scavenging” your magazines, ripping out the articles you want, and filing them in subject files. See http://www.god-dess.com/webhintsMay03.html for precise instructions regarding setting up a filing system.

Pasta Month: I do believe that I have included recommendations for pasta preparations in every single Simple! Sensible! Sensational!® column I have written. Celebrate the entire month by clicking through those past recipe columns, and working your way through the thousands of pasta options at your fingertips!

Pickled Pepper Month: I don’t have much experience with pickled peppers, unless you count the Italian peperoncini that adorn antipasti platters, or the brined red peppers favored by many Eastern European cultures (which I have used often to make a tangy pasta sauce). The key point here is that the deliciousness of the peppers has been combined with the health benefits of the vinegar (or is the healthiness of the peppers being combined with the deliciousness of the vinegar? You be the judge!).

Pizza Month: Pizza is one of the most popular foods in America, if not the world. However, to be entirely frank, most pizza that is consumed is crap. Gloppy, gooey, and insipid, made with inferior ingredients. If you are going to enjoy pizza, enjoy a good one! I make a variety of what could be called “flatbread pizzas,” with a variety of superior ingredients (such as pesto, smoked salmon, caramelized onion and fennel, caviar, capers, tapenade, sun-dried tomatoes and gravlax, just to name a few); contact me if you need some help.

Seafood Month: Oh, it was less than 30 years ago when seafood was being promoted as the next health panacea, as well as an environmental panacea, due to the abundant biomass in the earth’s oceans. Well, today much of the world’s seas have been overfished, leading to shocking disruption of food cycles among marine mammals and other species. Essentially, humans are the top predators/ consumers on the planet. We are dependent on prey/food lower on the food chain. However, the bulk of our food comes from only four or five of almost 45 phyla. My project, “Fun with phyla,” (scroll to the bottom of http://www.god-dess.com/services2.html to see my offerings regarding the remaining 40 phyla) deals with eating a variety of tasty foods in other phyla, giving some relief to our seas and the fish, mollusks and arthropods inhabiting it (though I do provide recipes for all of these in my food columns, but I’m stepping away from that at this precise moment).

Spinal Health Month: I have to admit, I have been blessed with excellent spinal health. However, I have had some muscular problems with my back in the past, due to carrying my backpack inappropriately, or due to some macho posturing, or due to careless movement. Some presumed spinal problems can also be due to psychological fragmentation, so consider all possibilities when approaching your spinal health.

Vegetarian [Awareness] Month: I was a strict vegetarian for three years. Even today, my diet is predominantly vegetarian, though I do use meat, fish and poultry in the Japanese style as a flavor element rather than as a primary component of a recipe or a meal. Despite what certain pop diets recommend, we really don’t need much meat, so move your meals into a primarily vegetarian direction (and that means ALL kinds of vegetables, not just the white, starchy ones; I can teach you to create miracles with a variety of greens). Oh, and for the record, humans (and primates in general) are omnivores, so think DIVERSITY when you are dining.

Weekly Celebrations:
First Week of October:

Get Organized Week: Of course I’m going to embrace this celebration, since this is a major aspect of GOD-DESS! If one is organized, one has much more free time to enjoy life! It’s amazing how making only a few changes can free up massive amounts of time to do the things that make life worth living! If you can’t do it, call me.

Customer Service Week: I’m very serious about Customer Service. In fact, I have been called a “Service Animal” (it was meant as a compliment). But I hear you saying, “But I don’t have any customers.” Well, if you shift your perspective just slightly, and start thinking of every human being you encounter as a customer, and that your duty is to provide them with better service, you will make a real difference in the world! Don’t be shy! Do it … today … please!

Second Week of October:

Wildlife Week: It’s hard to describe how I felt when I first saw a bald eagle in the wild. Or my first gray, humpback, minke or fin whales. Or peregrine falcons … in only-semi-wild downtown Chicago. Or key deer in the Florida Keys. Or elk in Northern California. Or bison in Wyoming. Or raccoons and opossums roaming behind my apartment building in Lakeview. Or the golden crowned kinglet, American redstart, purple finches, cardinals and other beautiful birds outside my Edgewater window. Or a Snowy Owl in the Ozarks, blown far outside of its normal range. Or that huge salt and pepper kingsnake sunning itself outside of my parents’ back porch. Open your eyes to wildlife, and do whatever you can to preserve ALL of the species, not just the “pretty” ones.

Third Week of October:

Health Education Week: Sponsored by the National Center for Health Education, (www.nche.org), this week should serve as an impetus to educate ourselves and others regarding our own health, and health issues in general. I am shocked by the amount of misinformation presented as fact, and I am disappointed by the inability of many media and individuals to wrap their minds around the concepts of probability, variability and testability. Celebrate by continuing to adjust your diet and behavior in healthier directions.

Reading Week: As someone who reads at least a couple hundred pages of GOD-DESS related text daily, not to mention significant pleasure reading, I heartily recommend and encourage other to read as much as possible. I do travel-planning, but reading can help us to escape when we don’t have the funds or time to travel. I do my own research, but reading prevents me from reinventing the wheel by being aware of what others have done, so that I can build on it. I do extensive cooking and teaching about cooking/entertaining, and reading helps me to augment my own creativity, and to be more complete in my presentations (but remember: YOU MUST CITE OTHER PEOPLE’S CONTRIBUTIONS … Give credit where credit is due). Read, and support your local library!

Fourth Week of October:

Peace, Friendship & Goodwill Week: I truly believe that we tend to take these things for granted. I wonder if people really understand what being a “friend” is all about; I ask because so many people use “friend” to describe what I would call casual acquaintances, while I hear others say, “I have enough friends already” (somehow, if they say that, I doubt it!). Then, there is “goodwill”: according to dictionary.com, this can mean “benevolence,” or an “attitude of kindness or friendliness”; can there ever be too much kindness in the world? I think not! All of this then leads to “peace,” which to my eye seems to have taken on a meaning of “an interlude between altercations or conflicts” rather than being the goal in and of itself. Clearly, we as a species need an overall shift of perspective outward. We have become cloistered. Break out of those self-imposed boundaries!

Rainforest Week: I love rainforests! That’s probably partially because of my biological, botanical, ecological training, but I had this perspective even before my formal education. I have no doubt that part of this love came from my childhood in northern California, and my parents’ taking me to the coastal redwood forests, some of America’s most precious rainforests (albeit temperate ones). That love has only been reinforced by my visits to the temperate rainforests of Oregon, Washington and British Columbia, as well as to the tropical rainforests of Puerto Rico. Combine this with my education and my love of indoor gardening, and I can’t help but want to celebrate this week. Be mindful of the source of the wood products that you purchase! Has it been sustainably harvested? Has it been reused/recycled from preexisting uses? Just be aware of your potential impact on rainforests!

Patriotism, freedom, independence and national honor are recognized throughout the world on the following days:

October 1 (Founding of the Republic, China; Independence Day, Cyprus; Armed Forces Day, South Korea; Independence Day, Nigeria; Independence Day, Palau; Independence Day, Tuvalu), October 2 (Independence Day, Guinea; Mahatma Gandhi's Birthday, India), October 3 (Reunification Day, Germany; Independence Day, Iraq; National Foundation Day, South Korea), October 4 (Independence Day, Belgium; Independence Day, Lesotho), October 5 (Constitution Day, Liechtenstein; Proclamation of the Republic, Portugal; Constitution Day, Vanuatu), October 6 (Armed Forces Day, Egypt), October 9 (Independence Day, Uganda), October 10 (Double Ten Day, China and Taiwan; Fiji Day, Fiji), October 11 (Thanksgiving, Canada; Revolution Day, Panama; Flag Day, Uzbekistan), October 12 (Dia de la Raza, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Spain, Uruguay, and Venezuela; Discovery Day, Bahamas; Independence Day, Equatorial Guinea; Columbus Day/Native American Day, USA), October 14 (Flag Day, Madagascar; Republic Day, Yemen), October 18 (Persons Day, Canada; Flag Day, Chile), October 20 (Revolution Day, Guatemala), October 21 (Flag Day, Costa Rica; Independence Day, Marshall Islands; Trafalgar Day, UK), October 23 (Revolution Day, Hungary), October 24 (United Nations Day; Suez Day, Egypt; Labor Day, Palau; Independence Day, Zambia), October 25 (Labour Day, New Zealand; Thanksgiving Day, Grenada; National Retrospection Day, Taiwan), October 26 (Independence Day, Austria), October 27 (Discovery Day, Cuba; Independence Day, St. Vincent and the Grenadines; Independence Day, Turkmenistan), October 28 (Independence Day, Czech Republic; Flag Day, Taiwan), October 29 (Republic Day, Turkey), October 31 (Reformation Day, Slovenia).

October 1: World Vegetarian Day: while I am not a vegetarian, and observe the omnivory of humans and other primates, I encourage everyone to eat as close to a vegetarian diet as possible for health, economic and environmental reasons. If you haven’t already done it, try going all day without one bit of meat, fish or poultry. Today is also the Chinese Moon Festival, which has a variety of stories behind it, but which I shall refer to as one of many Harvest Festivals.

October 2: Name Your Car Day: Each of my cars, when I have owned one, has been “the Bretmobile”; so much for creativity!

October 5: Do Something Nice Day: Start by doing something nice today, and then do it the next day, and the next, and the next, until you have habituated “being nice.” It’s soooooo simple.

October 6: Yom Kippur: A “Day of Atonement” for sins between man and God in the Jewish tradition. It is a 25 hour sabbat, where (to varying degrees) work, eating, drinking, wearing cosmetics, wearing leather, even washing/bathing, are forbidden. Meanwhile, because of my own heritage, I shall be celebrating German-American Day by cooking some wonderful wursts (I spent 3 years as a strict vegetarian in the 1980s, and wursts were my weakness!).

October 7: National Frugal Fun Day: Too many people think you need money to have fun. Wrong! “Fun” is in your mind, not your wallet.

October 9: Moldy Cheese Day: Mold is a generic term without much biological meaning. Organisms called “molds” are placed in two kingdoms (Protista and Fungi). However, the mold on cheeses are fungi, and they are [mostly] flavor developers. If, however, you have one of the less desirable molds on your cheddar or swiss, just cut it off! You don’t need to toss an entire piece of cheese just because there is mold on the outside! If you have an interest in non-stereotypical foods, contact me regarding my Fun with Phyla® project.

October 10: National Angel Food Cake Day: Angel Food Cake has never been one of my favorites, but I have had some delicious versions with chocolate and or fruit compote on top … to each his/her own!

October 11: It's My Party Day: Every day should be your party! Go for it!

October 12: Columbus Day/Native American Day/Dia de la Raza: Columbus has been quite a controversial figure. Sometimes he was celebrated for his role in exploring and colonizing Central and South America (for Spain). Sometimes, he has been blamed for introducing slavery to the Caribbean and MesoAmerica, for introducing diseases against which the native peoples had no immunity, and even for stealing credit/”thunder” from the Norse, who traveled the Atlantic 500 years earlier to reach North America (specifically, Newfoundland). Today, we must look at the picture as broadly as possible, and celebrate that we are on our way to One World. We must also celebrate those qualities that make each of us unique, so that we never lose those, for their sum makes us greater. While Columbus Day is usually celebrated on the first Monday after October 12 (in 2003, it is on October 13), Native American Day seems to be celebrated throughout the year, with October 12 being just one such occasion (and since I have Native American blood, I’m for as much recognition as possible). Finally, Dia de la Raza, or Day of the Race, is designed to celebrate the merger of all of the peoples who came together to form the cultures of Central and South America, and the Caribbean. THAT is something worth celebrating.

October 12: Farmer’s Day: Here in the distant North, October 12 is just about the end of the harvest. There are few hangers-on, but you had better believe that I have already celebrated the farmers earlier in the season. Still, it never hurts to be grateful to farmers, as long as they are NOT the sort that use inhumane and earth-harming techniques (and there are a lot of those, who do so purely for greed).

October 13: National Peanut Butter Festival: Just go bake some peanut butter cookies or make a spicy peanut sauce for boiled/steamed veggies [the Indonesian salad known as gado-gado] or pan-seared fish, pork, chicken or beef (if you need recipes, contact me!)

October 14: National Dessert Day: My idea of a great dessert is a cheese platter (see October 9 for some insight into cheese), perhaps with some roasted nuts (October 22), although some might prefer Angel Food Cake (October 10), or maybe some peanut butter cookies (October 13) or chocolate (October 28). Just remember to enjoy your dessert in moderation.

October 17: Wear Something Gaudy Day: While I personally don’t see the need to wear something gaudy, I do think it is a great idea to dress “outside of your comfort zone.” That’s why I wear purple today! I used to be a beige guy!

October 19: Evaluate Your Life Day: We cannot underestimate the value and importance of evaluating your life on an ongoing basis.

October 21: Babbling Day: Sorry, but there is never an excuse for intentional babbling, and if you are unintentionally babbling, just stop it now! Think!

October 22: National Nut Day: Nuts are full of micronutrients as well as LOTS of flavor. I add them for texture to so many dishes, and I’ll do the same thing on this date. If you need help incorporating nuts into your diet, let me know.

October 23: National Mole Day: Geeks and nerds of the world: Arise! This day is not about the soft, furry little burrowing insectivores. Oh, no, it’s about Avogadro’s Number, 6.02x10 to the 23rd particles of anything. I’m going to liberate the day from this, and call it National Molé Day, to celebrate that fabulous blend of ground nuts (see October 22), seeds, chiles, garlic, and other flavorings (such as chocolate; see October 28).

October 26: Make a Difference Day: This day was developed to offer an opportunity for neighbors to help neighbors. Please do so, but don’t stop there. Everyone is your neighbor, different only by degree of geographic closeness. Make a difference to anyone whom you encounter today, and the rest of your life. You can especially make a difference by helping someone for an hour, because you will have an extra hour due to Daylight Saving Time ending (clocks are moved back! “Spring forward, Fall back!).

October 28: National Chocolate Day: Whether you enjoy it for National Dessert Day (October 14) or as part of National Molé Day, or just to nibble a bit now and then, chocolate has antioxidants as well as fabu flavor. Enjoy!

October 31: Halloween/Samhain: Halfway between the Autumnal Equinox and the Winter Solstice, Samhain was observed by the Celts and Norse in various forms as the day when the “veil” between the realms of living and dead was thinnest. It is a time of great reverence and respect for those who passed onto the next realm before us. I don’t know when it became a tribute to commercialism, greedy children and vandalism, and I don’t care. I shall be meditating.

November 1: Dia de los Muertos: Demonstrating the Universality of certain ideas, Hispanic people observed the astronomical events like equinoxes and solstices, and shifted the midpoint one day later than the Celts. Again, this is a day recognizing the thinness of the veil between the realms of life and death, but it is more about those loved ones who have died during the previous 12 months, and who use this day to enter permanently into the realm of the death. Gorgeous luminaria and marigolds brighten what some might consider a dismal day, which it isn’t!

I am ending this on a positive note, as death is just part of the cycle of life (and no, I have NOT seen “The Lion King”). And while you are part of that cycle, there is no reason not to celebrate. So decorate, celebrate, and enjoy life!