Piddling my way into spooky season

Piddling my way into spooky season

September has risen, the ninth month of the year, the beginning of the slide into — dare we say — fall. Today the air is volatile and humid, thick and heavy. But it begins its descent each evening into imperceptibly cooler temps that tickle the fine hairs on the back of my neck. The urge to bring out my ceramic pumpkins and light a candle inside their depths has become unbearable.

The grass in my lawn feels perfect right now. Despite mowing it weekly, the backyard sank into a nearly impenetrable thickness, and there are spots that retain moisture no matter what. As I look out my kitchen windows to the south, the far-left side of it has deep green thatches that snarl the underside of my lawnmower. I mowed twice last week and finally wrangled the emerald blades into submission, the deep-cut lines giving me satisfaction. It won’t be long until the grass thins into the autumn version of itself.

Thank you to the person who stopped in my driveway as I was mowing just to tell me they love my writings in the paper. I was a sweaty mess, but you lifted me up that day. Thank you.

The pumpkin-scented candles and other spooky paraphernalia I keep in the bottom of Mom’s old cupboard, the one I inherited when she passed, are drumming a beat as they wait. I can hear them asking to be set out and lit up. The past several years I’ve become like my nemeses, the early Christmas decorators (you know who you are), and have begun to drag out everything Halloween just a smidge early. I have a brass hand that holds a votive candle that somehow found its way out of its resting place already. In a week my house will feel like fall despite the temperatures that will inevitably remain hot.

I’ve enjoyed piddling around with my container plantings this year. Do you enjoy piddling? To some it might mean different things, but to me it means meandering around the house, changing vignettes on your table, drinking a third cup of coffee or going through the bookshelf that has begun to bulge with thrifted books. It means not having a purpose for the day and finding meaning inside small tasks.

Every week — sometimes every day — I head outside and deadhead my container plantings, making sure new buds have room to blossom and shine. I didn’t use to love doing this, but I’ve found a lot of peace this summer in letting the sun bronze my shoulders as I pluck and prune my pots. My head feels centered, maybe because summer began with such a stressful start. Maybe I’m more patient as the years thicken the very heart of me. My containers have begun to thin just a bit, the stems turning a lighter shade of transparent green. Soon the carefully tended annuals will bloom their last breath, wilting under the coming cold.

The tomato plant my neighbor gave me yielded enough juicy orbs that I needed to can them. I am not a canner, but all those years under Mom’s tutelage (and her shelves bursting with pickles, tomatoes and beans) allowed me to remember what to do. Cut, cut, cut, boil, boil, boil, wait for the lids to pop. It was satisfying in a way I didn’t know I needed to feel.

The produce is bountiful right now, and if you’re not finding it at small, rural produce stands, you’re missing out. Every day we’ve been eating eggs scrambled with fresh zucchini, jalapeno and tomatoes. I came to this dish as an adult when I sat at an oilcloth-covered table in Mexico, stacks of warm corn tortillas steaming inside a hand-stitched cloth. The flavorful first bite as the freshness and spice hit is unmatched, so I try to recreate it as often as I can.

We’ve also been eating our way through dozens of ears of corn, individual casseroles of scalloped yellow squash, plates of chile rellenos made from local fresh poblanos and cucumber salads interlaced with garbanzos and cherry tomatoes. If every day of the year in Ohio could be as bountiful as it is right this second, cooking would never be a chore.

And if you drive by my house and see a gently glowing ceramic pumpkin smiling at you from the front steps, just smile and drive on by. We each have our season, and mine has finally arrived.

Melissa Herrera is a columnist, published author and drinker of too many coffees based in Holmes County. You can find her book, “TOÑO LIVES,” at or buy one from her in person (because all authors have boxes of their own novel). For inquiries or to purchase, email her at

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