Monday: my day off, and a routine has formed. James and I pack up the recycling–a quick and easy job, when done once a week. We stop at the bus station, where the nice young woman at the counter knows Jim by name; she helps him make his curbside pick-up appointments. (I can see the relief sliding over his countenance; now he knows what the week will look like. Each day he will get up at 9:00, do his morning chores, eat a reasonable breakfast, and by the time he’s shaved and refreshed, the van will be at the door to take him to the College. Knowing what lies ahead–two, three, four days into the future,– is a comfort for us all, but especially necessary for Jim’s particular autistic mind.)
We drop off the recycling at the trailer nestled on a driveway very near the animal shelter; we listen to the dogs howling and communicating. But we are a one-dog home, so we gird ourselves not to listen and we go, the amber glass, the newspapers, the number 1 & 2 plastic, properly stowed.
We stop at Starbucks and enjoy the quiet of Monday morning, the privacy of a table with no chatty neighbors. Jim makes a list; he is thinking of Christmas now, trying very hard not to just think of himself. His first list is of the people to whom he’ll give gifts. His second, understandably more intriguing, list, is of the things he hopes to receive.
I sip my dark roast and savor a special treat–a sugar cookie with frosting almost as smooth and rich as white chocolate. Jim’s caramel frappucino arrives; we loiter for a few minutes, then take our drinks and head home.
By the time we arrive, clouds clutter the morning’s perfect blue sky. The wind is whipping lightly, and, as I sit in the dining room, leaves blur past the bay window–it’s a little like the fake snow effect in the snow globes I delighted in as a child. I feel safe and pampered in my cozy house; the weather may threaten to get serious, but I am protected.
Spaghetti sauce simmers on the stove. The dog sighs as she takes her late morning nap (which follows close on the heels of her mid-morning nap; she needs to conserve that energy for barking at the gruesome Halloween display our neighbors across the street have constructed in their yard. The dummy hanging from a tree by its neck, dripping red paint, sneaker feet flopping, particularly agitates Greta, who’ll stand in the picture window and bark and bark.) On the counter, stalks of herbs dry, harvested from our little kitchen garden on the patio. The house is pungent with rosemary and oregano tang.
It is that time of year–the time of harvest and home, and I pull books off my shelves to aid in planning plan comforting rituals.
I take Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food from my cookbooks. This is my go-to book for risotto, that classic Italian dish. Let the wind howl, let the dummy sway; risotto simmering in the cast iron frying pan, creamy and bubbling, promises comfort and well-being. And yesterday, I purchased a plump little chicken to roast; I have tried (and liked) Julia Child’s method; today, I go to Waters to see what method she recommends.
Waters talks about knowing where your chicken originated; I am reassured that mine was free-range and not factory farmed. (I admire my vegetarian and vegan friends, but I know that’s a cuisine not practical for my right-now life; in the meantime, it’s important to me that I know the meat I serve has been raised with respect in healthy conditions.)
Waters tells me to take a couple of days in preparing, in seasoning, the bird; she tells me how to swivel and tuck the wing tips, a trick I am anxious to try. She tells me to take the bird out of the refrigerator at least one hour before roasting. “A cold bird straight from the fridge won’t roast evenly,” writes Waters. “The outside will cook but the interior will be underdone.”
I realize a roasted chicken dinner, although the techniques are simple and wholesome, requires a great deal of time before serving. On week days, when we blow in, tired and hungry at 6:45, waiting two hours for dinner just won’t do. I mentally put the chicken on the menu for next weekend. And I page through The Art of Simple Cooking, thinking about artisan pizzas, hearty soups, and winter squash. I defrost a serving of camper’s stew, heat it piping hot, and eat while poring over the cookbook.
After lunch, I have an hour’s respite before a meeting takes me out again. I pull out a copy of Alexandra Stoddard’s Living Beautifully Together and take it to the comfy chair in the living room. I will nod off before I delve too deeply, but it’s okay: Stoddard’s message of gracious living is one I’ve absorbed hundreds of times. I can’t remember where or when I discovered her books, but Alexandra Stoddard speaks directly to my heart; she speaks of warmth and beauty, sparkling surfaces and clean expanses. She speaks of planning and nurturing, bolstering the ones you love with the thoughtful care of a home.
It’s very odd, I guess, that Stoddard’s work evokes in me such a strong response. She is decidedly upper class, wealthy, privileged; I decidedly am not, and even if I was, would probably opt to clean my own house rather than let a cleaner see my messes. Yet I love Alexandra Stoddard’s books, because they emphasize the importance of creating a home that’s a safe harbor, whoever and however you are.
I believe wholeheartedly in the equality of the sexes and genders; I go out to work my job every day and take pride in my accomplishments, but behind it all is the home and the family that buttress me. Someone has to take responsibility, to know when the linens should change and the wood be polished and the wreath appear on the front door. Stoddard raises that responsibility to an art form, and I luxuriate in reading her thoughts.
By the time I’ve napped for twenty minutes, the sun is out again on this changeable autumn day, and I will professional-up my Monday outfit and head out to my meeting. Then I’ll come home to the sauce that’s simmered all day; we’ll get a big pot of water, oiled and salted, bubbling merrily on the stove and toss in frozen, store bought ravioli, and we’ll come together to share the reports of the day.
The night falls much more swiftly now; I’ll take the dog out for her last foray about 8:00, and come in to my comfort read: Jo-Ann Mapson’s Owen’s Daughter. Reading about smart, sad women who goof up but find their ways back to joy is just the right note for an autumn night. The weather promises change; by tonight, the wind will be whipping the leaves to the ground, and rain may add to the mayhem. With an afghan and my book, I’ll be cocooned in autumnal appreciation of hearth and home.
I know what the days ahead will bring–dinners roasting, wood surfaces gleaming, a special man’s birthday to celebrate. Home at the center…a home created and nurtured with a little research, a little support, from the women whose books I drop into. Let autumn winds blow: we’ll be home and safe and centered, drawing things tight, making things snug, as winter comes.