Prepare an Autumn Picnic Tea

The weather is often nice in September and October in Northern Virginia. Why not have a picnic? I had first envisioned this as an outdoor tea party — and you could do that if you have your picnic tea on your deck, yard or patio. Hot tea would only be steps away, and you could prepare whatever you like to go with your cuppa.

But what about setting out and having a picnic tea somewhere else? If you trade the hot tea for cool, iced tea or Arnold Palmers, that’s perfectly feasible.

Where to Go

  • Gravelly Point in Arlington.
  • The gardens adjacent to the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley in Winchester.
  • Gunston Hall in Mason Neck.
  • Bon Air Rose Garden in Arlington.
  • Along Skyline Drive in Front Royal.
  • Montpelier near Charlottesville.
  • Green Spring Gardens in Alexandria.
  • Ellanor C. Lawrence Park in Chantilly.
  • The Alexandria waterfront.
  • Sky Meadows State Park in Delaplane.
  • Bartholdi Park in Washington, DC
  • My secret spot! I’ll never tell…

What to Bring

You’ll probably want a picnic hamper (or a sturdy re-usable grocery bag may do), some cups, napkins, plates and utensils, a blanket to sit on, and insect repellent. A couple of pillows or cushions to sit on (or nap on) might also be nice.

What to Make

Here is a suggested fall menu for two people. Increase amounts for more people or more hungry people! Or reduce the amounts if you think it’s more than you’ll need. And don’t hesitate to take yourself on a picnic tea! Tea for one can be delightful and relaxing.


To drink, prepare a container of iced tea with lemon or Arnold Palmers, at least a quart for two people. Also, pack a quart of Fiji water or spring water.


  • Chicken salad sandwiches on Parker House rolls or White House rolls (2 to 4 rolls).
  • Herbed cream cheese sandwiches on wheat bread, cut into triangles (1 to 2 sandwiches).
  • Cucumber sandwiches with mint butter on white bread, cut into fingers (1 to 2 sandwiches).
  • A leak-proof container of bread and butter pickles.
  • A container of grape tomatoes or baby carrots.
  • If you really want to add a prepared salad, Giant makes a good sesame noodle salad that is a little spicy. It might be a nice departure from the more expected potato salad or pasta salad, although it might have too much bite for kids. A half pound container would be plenty for two people.


  • Bartlett pears or gala apples.


  • Pumpkin bread – make your own or buy a delicious loaf at Whole Foods. Bring along about half a loaf for your picnic for two people, and spreadable butter and a plastic knife, if desired.
  • About 6 Pepperidge Farm jam cookies, Fig Newtons or other favorite cookie.


Chicken salad. Mix shredded rotisserie chicken or cooked chicken breast with halved green or red seedless grapes, Hellman’s light mayonnaise, salt and pepper to taste, and a couple of dashes of dried tarragon. Chill. Spoon onto rolls with a green leaf lettuce portion, or use arugula if you prefer. Wrap.

Herbed cream cheese. Mix a bar of softened cream cheese with a tablespoon of lemon juice, a dash of Tabasco sauce, and a 1/2 cup of a mixture of chopped fresh parsley and chives (or your favorite herbs). Alternatively, use Philadelphia light vegetable cream cheese. Spread on wheat bread, cut off crusts, and cut into triangles. Wrap snugly.

Cucumber sandwiches. Peel an English cucumber and slice it thinly. Spread softened butter lightly onto 2 slices of white bread. Lay on the cucumber slices and add chopped mint, if desired. Seal and cut into fingers. Wrap snugly.


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Cast a magical Harvest Moon circle

The Harvest Moon is here! Some believe this Harvest Moon — the closest full moon to the autumnal equinox — has special significance this year because it takes place on Friday the 13th. There are 13 full moons in a year and Friday is associated with the goddess, Venus. The moon is also associated with the Moon Goddess in Asian cultures and some religions, and is in Pisces, so that is a lot of feminine energy to be harnessed!

A Harvest Circle

Harvest rituals expressing thankfulness and celebrating abundance have been performed by numerous cultures for thousands of years. Today, many people are interested in things like circle casting and crystal energy. To celebrate the season, I have adapted and created this Harvest Moon Circle. I drew from several sources on circle casting online and added my own Harvest theme twists. You can make it your own however you like.

The Mindfulness of Casting

In many ways, carefully constructing, casting and deconstructing a circle is a mindfulness activity. Meditation, affirmations, prayer, gratitude, acceptance and creativity are all positive elements that can come into play. In some ways, it may even be considered a form of self care! I intend to use mine to meditate, harvest and send out positive energy, and to give thanks. Hopefully, you will find this activity relaxing and centering, but if you don’t, it’s just not for you, and that’s okay.

Constructing a circle

Casting a circle means creating a space for magic that incorporates four elements: Air, Fire, Water and Earth. You can also make it about prayer and/or meditation, because there are no hard and fast rules. Because it is almost fall, I selected items and crystals that are associated with these elements, and also the beautiful colors of fall. Many of these items can be found around the house, and the crystals can be purchased for a dollar or so from crystal shops and nature centers.

You can cast a circle indoors or outdoors, but I think this one is best conducted outdoors. You will not need much room to work in — maybe 5 or 6 feet. I made mine on my patio! To create your circle, you place items representing the elements at the four points of the compass, making a circle (kind of like a clock – 12, 3, 6, 9). To determine position, you may need a compass or an compass app on your smartphone. Google Maps sometimes works to orient your location, as well.

Start with the East (imagine this like a 12 on a clock) and put your Air element items on the ground there. You can choose a feather (you know, like flight) or a paper fan (because it creates a breeze). Another way to represent air is by using a lit incense stick. I used a cinnamon one. I like how you can kind of “see” the air as the fragrant smoke waves around. Crystals of fall hues associated with the element of Air include citrine, smoky topaz and rock crystal.

Next, go to your South point (imagine this like 3 on the clock). Put your Fire element items here. Easy to remember, right? South = hot. Of course, a lit candle goes here. Green is associated with Venus and with harvests, but if you don’t have a green candle, you could use the traditional fire element colors of red, yellow or gold — or even a pumpkin scented candle! I put a beautiful red carnelian crystal on this spot.

Next turn to the Western point of your circle (imagine this like the 6 on a clock face). This is for the element of water. This is meaningful because the moon tonight is in Pisces, a water sign, and of course, the moon affects the tides.  So easy — a little glass or bowl of water. A seashell is a nice touch. The crystal I select for this point is moonstone. You could also use aquamarine, pearl or the water-loving gem, opal.

Lastly, you will set your Northern point in the circle (the 9 spot on the clock). North is associated with the element of Earth. Here, a crystal can do double duty, since rocks and crystals represent the earth. I suggest black tourmaline, which is grounding and protective, tiger eye, and/or  golden pyrite. Then add, whatever you have: some flowers, an apple, some oats or a pinecone. You can also use a dish of salt, or herbs, leaves or acorns. Earth elements that suggest fall: an ear of corn or a small pumpkin.

Near the center, I like to place an offering. Something to please my ancestors – something to drink and something to eat. Of course, you will have to eat and drink it for them, but the idea is they appreciate the gesture 🙂 To drink, I’m choosing a glass of apple juice. You can choose a pumpkin spice latte, if you want!  To eat, I’m choosing bread, because bread has been put on altars as an offering at harvest time for thousands of years. An Asian moon cake would also be traditional and timely!

Since it was really quite dark, I added more candles so I could see what I was doing! I placed a salt grinder, the candle lighter, my selenite stick and the offering near the middle.

Lastly, when I stepped into the center of circle, I tossed salt around the periphery. It is said to cleanse and protect. Some people put salt around the house or in corners to fend off negative people and energies. I also dash a bit on my offering of bread. Bread and salt have been used in many cultures to convey welcome, gratitude and trust.

Casting the Circle

Protego totalum

So, now your circle is constructed and you are standing in the middle of it, but it is not yet cast. Casting the circle involves calling on benevolent beings or energies to engage and protect you while you are in this magical or spiritual space.

Remember when Hermione created that big protective sphere around the camp site in the last Harry Potter movie? She turned and turned? Imagine doing something like that. You are not really creating a circle so much as this lovely sphere around you, like a safe bubble of positive energy that keeps negative energy out. Or, you know, Death Eaters 🙂

She used a wand but if a wand hasn’t chosen you yet 🙂 you can raise your arms, a branch of fall leaves, a selenite wand, or whatever makes you feel magical.

To begin casting, stand in the center of your circle, facing east. Breathe deeply and embrace the moment. Listen to the sounds of nature all around you. Inhale the aroma of the incense or candles. Feel the cool air on your skin. Sense your most loving, healthy and positive energy inside of you and emanating from you.

Begin at East (Air). Imagine what air means to you — an autumn breeze shaking loose crimson and gold leaves, for example. Say something like: “Spirits of Air, I call on you.”

Next, turn to the South (Fire). You will actually have a flame to look at but you could also picture a crackling fireplace. Say: “Spirits of Fire, I call on you.”

Next, turn to the West (Water). Envision a lake, ringed with bright maples reflected in the water. Or would you rather see the ocean? Say: “Spirits of Water, I call on you.”

Next, turn to the North (Earth). Visualize fields of ripening crops of corn and pumpkins, or trees heavy with ripe apples, or vines of juicy grapes. Conjure up the smells and sounds of walking through crunchy, dry leaves in the woods; the chattering of squirrels and songs of birds. Say: “Spirits of the Earth, I call you.”

Now remain in place at the North because you are also going to call on the Earth and Sky or your divine creator (or both), as you choose.

Feel your feet firmly planted, benevolent energy coming from the ground. Say: “Mother Earth, I call on you for your blessings and protection.”

Next, visualize blessings or energy coming from above. Say: “Father Sky, I call on you on for your blessings and protection.”

Alternatively, you can call on the deity of your choice, or say something like: “Spirit of the Universe, watch over this circle and fill it with peace and love.” Again, make this your own so it is meaningful for you.

Now imagine you are in that beautiful sphere of positive energy, gratitude and wonder. You are loved and protected and part of nature. You may now choose to say: “Thank you. The circle is cast.”

Inside the Circle

What you do inside of this circle is up to you. You can perform magic, pray or meditate. Perhaps you will think about how fall is an opportunity to let go of what no longer serves you to make room for new growth.

I will take some time to reflect on the season of harvest and the concept of abundance, and the gratitude I feel.

Finally, I will honor my ancestors for leading the way for me. I will drink the offering of apple juice and eat the bread.

Finishing and Clearing Up

After you have finished your contemplation, invocation, prayer, meditation or other work, it is time to open the circle back up — basically, to undo it. To do this, you essentially work backwards. But some people do this differently and never go in a counter-clockwise direction. It’s up to you.

Stand and face the West (water) and say, “Spirits of Water, I thank you.” (Or whatever feels right in the moment. I empty the water.

Then, turn to the South (Fire) and say, “Spirits of Fire, I thank you.” I then extinguish the flame.

Next turn to the East (Air) and say, “Spirits of Air, I thank you.” I extinguish my incense.

Finally, turn to the North (Earth) and say, “Spirits of the Earth, I thank you.” I toss a bit of the grain away in the grass.

If you have invoked Mother Earth, Father Sky and/or other spirits, angels, or deities, you would now thank them.

To finish, you can say something positive, like “Go in peace and love” or “Goodbye and farewell” or “I walk in light and love” or whatever feels right. There are many suggestions online.

Collect your items, sweep away the salt, and perhaps leave the crystals outside in the full moon overnight to recharge their energies.

Consider following this ritual by gazing at the full moon in happy contemplation or taking a warm bath with scented epsom salts.

If you try this, I would love to hear about it! It sounds complex, but I think you will find it is rather fun and easy!

Disclaimer. This ritual is combined from several sources, as well as my own spin on the harvest moon theme. I mean no offense or disrespect to Wicca, Paganism or any other religion. I am a Christian, and my personal belief is you can employ creative rituals without compromising religious beliefs and connections as long as they are done in love and not to effect an outcome in other people or events, just as with prayer or affirmations. Some Christians disagree and I intend no disrespect or offense to them. This post and the activity are for entertainment purposes only.

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Tomorrow is the Mid-Autumn Festival

Have you heard of the Mid-Autumn Festival? In Asian cultures, this holiday is second only to the Lunar New Year.

It is a harvest festival, much like the American holiday, Thanksgiving. During this festival, families travel and gather together for a special meal. But instead of a turkey, the main feature of the festival is the moon cake.

Moon cakes are made of many different kinds of ingredients, but the most traditional one have bean paste and an egg yolk baked inside. They are delicious, sweet and rich. One tradition is to divide the moon cake for as many family members as you have, and to eat it with tea. Another is to put out a moon cake, fruit and other foods on an outdoor table or altar for the Moon Goddess.

The characters you see on stamped on the crust of Moon Cakes often indicate the bakery where it was made. You can buy them at most Asian supermarkets and bakeries this time of year.


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Plan Your Fall with These Northern Virginia Events

Fall is my favorite season. So many things are happening in the Northern Virginia area. Check out my listings for 2019 fall events and for 2019 Halloween events in case you see something you would like to add to your calendar.

All events are free, unless otherwise indicated.

Some highlights of my fall include

  • Checking out the many unusual varieties of pumpkins at Merrifield Garden Center.
  • Stopping by The Apple House in Linden for an apple cider donut on the way to see the mountain views on Skyline Drive.
  • Watching the golden yellow Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterflies flit about (they are Virginia’s state insect!)
  • Buying a traditional Vietnamese Moon Cake at Eden Center in Falls Church before the Mid-Autumn Festival.
  • Petting the friendly goats at Cox Farms’ Fall Festival.
  • Cheering on the floats and performers at The Town of Vienna Halloween Parade.

What is your favorite thing to do in fall?

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Fun Fall Looks That Won’t Break the Bank

I substitute teach, so my clothes have to meet a lot of criteria!

  • Affordable and easy-to-wash (no dry cleaning, costs too much!)
  • Versatile and coordinating, so I don’t have to think too much about what I’m going to wear in the morning.
  • Fun colors and accessible styles kids like and also meet the school dress code.
  • Comfortable and movement-friendly (my job involves a lot of kneeling, sitting on the carpet for morning meeting, and sometimes, dancing).
  • Shoes that I can run in (in emergencies) and that I can stand in all day.

And because I’m pumpkin-shaped (which mades me PERFECT for fall), I also need clothes that look good and make me feel confident.

I was so happy to find some solutions for my modest budget so I thought I would share these with you. If you aren’t a teacher, maybe these looks would work for you on casual days or weekends.








All of these clothes are from Walmart. The golden yellow top is in a color called “Apple Juice.” The color reminds me of sunflowers 🙂 It’s flattering if, like me, you are shaped like an apple in the mid-section! I love these stretchy leopard print jeggings. They wear a little looser, like skinny jeans.

You can just see the black “faux suede” boots in the picture. I have size 11, wide feet, and thank goodness, they fit and were comfortable, too!

Everything here was $14.98 – the blouse, the leggings, and the shoes. The matching socks came in a 3-pair bunch for $3.98.

Not shown but also matching these leggings — a fitted, crew neck t-shirt in black (marked down to a dollar!) that I’ll wear with these leopard jeggings and the black cardigan below.

I took a picture of me wearing this outfit — same top but in denim blue, same style of jeggings, but in a color Walmart calls “Spiced Cider.” I love how the socks match! (And fit my large feet).

Can I ask your opinion about something? Do you think the denim top would look okay with the leopard leggings? I tried it and liked it…but I wasn’t sure…







This paisley tunic covers up a multitude of sins but looks cute on. It matches everything else, too – the colors are Apple Juice, Spiced Cider, Purple Pearl and Gem Slate, among others. The top was $14.98. The matching cotton leggings are available online from Walmart and come in a 2-pack pair of your choice of color, plus black, for $8.98. This color is called Purple Pearl. 95% cotton, hard to beat that!

See the cute no-show socks? They came in a pack of 6 marked down to $1! Students, if Ms. Jones has a dollar and she gets SIX pairs of socks, how much does she pay for each pair? Answer: Ms. Jones pays 16.6 cents a pair! Woo hoo!







Walmart has denim jeans to fit just about every body and they are often on sale. At school, I can wear denim during the week (blue on Fridays). I picked up these jeans for $11 a pair, so I bought them in black, tan and regular blue. They fit great and I don’t have to even hem them. They are 95% cotton with a little bit of stretch.

I put this together with a $4.44 v-neck t-shirt in Spiced Cider (I also bought it in Apple Juice). The t-shirt is soft and made out of recycled materials!

Autumn here can be cool in the morning and warm by mid-day, so I am showing this outfit with a black cardigan from Target I got on sale for $15. It fits so well, I got one in cream and gray, too, because I live in cardigans as a layer in the fall and winter.

Check out these llama socks! They came in that $1 on-sale-pack of 6 socks I mentioned above. Aren’t they too much? Little kids are close to your feet so they notice fun socks. I got these comfy leather shoes online from Kmart on sale for about $21.

So, here are the tan jeans, the ones on sale for $11 at Walmart. Very comfy, straight-leg, five-pocket style. I’m sure I’ll be wearing them at least once a week.

I fell in love with this striped knit shirt in Apple Juice, Spiced Cider, Gem Slate, Studio Blue and cream. I think the Gem Slate lettuce trim on the sleeves and hem is a nice touch and it was only $8.98. When my sister saw it, she loved it and said she is getting one, too. To me, this shirt reminds me of that character on the Netflix series, “Dead to Me” who is always wearing striped shirts 🙂 like this one.

I put the cream sweater from Target ($15, on sale) so you could see that as a layer. I had an old Vera Bradley purse that I thought looked well with this. The brown leather shoes were ordered online from K-Mart for about $22 on sale. And of course, “Spiced Cider” socks…

All in all, I got 3 pairs of jeans, two pairs of leggings, two pairs of jeggings, 7 tops, 3 cardigans, 2 camisoles, 14 pairs of socks, 2 pairs of leather shoes, and a pair of suede-like ankle boots for about $200. A whole fall wardrobe, basically! And everything matches and fits!

I’m so happy with my new clothes. I hope you saw something you liked. Happy shopping!

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A Better-for-You Pumpkin Spice Latte

Pumpkin Spice Lattes are back!

That’s the good news. More good news: coffee is really good for you (even decaf)

Photo by Engin Akyurt on

in moderation. It has antioxidants and increases your cognitive ability. People who drink coffee are far less likely to suffer from liver disease than people who do not drink coffee.

The bad news is those coffee store lattes are not really that good for you because they are loaded with fat, sugar (50g) and calories (350). That is way more calories and sugar than a donut. They are also fairly expensive (about $3.75 at the chain that sells donuts and about $5 at the chain that has baristas).

But pumpkin spice lattes are so good! What to do?

Make your own, of course. It’s easy.

A latte is a blend of heated milk and strong coffee or espresso. You can make your own by heating milk and sugar on your stovetop or in the microwave, adding strong brewed coffee or espresso and flavoring. Here’s a delicious sounding recipe from McCormick that sounds easy to make and is only 160 calories, even when made with sugar and whole milk. It only takes 3 minutes to make. And it saves you nearly 200 calories over the barista-made version!

I take an even easier route. I prepare my coffee with instant, freeze-dried granules on the stove top and add pumpkin spice coffee creamer. The brand I use is lactose-free so I don’t get bloating or a stomach ache. And it’s…ta dah! 35 calories. Which is 315 calories LESS and about $4.50 LESS than if I bought it at a coffee place! At 5 grams of sugar per serving, it is really much healthier than the counter kind — which has 45 grams more sugar.

Adding some spray whipped cream and nutmeg on top adds only about another 15 calories.

If you need to take your pumpkin coffee to work, I saw some darling “to go” coffee cups with lids at TJ Maxx yesterday that would be perfect for your healthy homemade pumpkin spice latte. They had watercolor illustrations of people drinking coffee on them. Those illustrations would be pretty on real, permanent mugs. I think there were also some more simple, orange-color ones. I saw those in the seasonal section.

I got a ceramic mug at Dollar Tree for myself. It says “Pumpkin Spice Latte” on it. LOL.

Even if you splurged on some fancy cups, you’d still save money this fall on your favorite coffee drink!

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Pumpkin spice and everything nice – new fall foods

For some, fall begins on September 21st. For others, it feels like fall after the Labor Day holiday. For others, back to school means fall. Heck, we started seeing Halloween decorations in July. Who knows when fall is these days.

Well, for a lot of you, it’s when Starbucks starts making pumpkin spice lattes, shortly before September begins, usually.

I like pumpkin-spicey things — usually in the form of pie or pancakes — how whack-a-doodle-crazy is that? But I’m open-minded! There are lots of new pumpkin flavors out this fall. Or maybe new to you, and certainly new to me. Here are a few…along with my knee-jerk reactions before I have even tasted them.

  • Pumpkin Spice Kit Kat Candy Bars  — PASS
  • Grands Pumpkin Spice Cinnamon Rolls (in the freezer section) — YES
  • Pumpkin Spice varieties of well-known cereals, including Cheerios, Life, Frosted Mini Wheats and Frosted Flakes. — PASS
  • Pumpkin Spice Whipped Cream (the kind in the spray can) — MAYBE
  • Pumpkin Spice Kefir — NO, PLEASE MAKE IT GO AWAY
  • Pumpkin Spice English Muffins — PASS

I guess I was living under a rock when some of these pumpkin spice products came out but I’m…reeling. And a little nauseated. Pumpkin spice Twinkies? Oreos? M&Ms? Pringles? Stop the madness!

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Sauteed Apples

I found this recipe online and served this with roast pork.  It was easy to make and fast to make!  I will probably also make it for Thanksgiving or Christmas.  I recommend the Oxo peeler for peeling apples.

Sauteed Apples

3 tablespoons butter or margarine
6 cups sliced peeled Granny Smith apples (about 2 pounds)
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add apples; saute 6 minutes or until apples are just tender. Stir in sugar and cinnamon. Cook for 1 minute or until sugar melts.

Yield: 8 servings (serving size: 1/2 cup)

CALORIES 137(30% from fat); FAT 4.6g (sat 2.7g,mono 1.3g,poly 0.2g); PROTEIN 0.2g; CHOLESTEROL 12mg; CALCIUM 17mg; SODIUM 49mg; FIBER 1.6g; IRON 0.3mg; CARBOHYDRATE 25.7g

Karen A. Levin
Cooking Light, MARCH 2000


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Day of the Dead Altar at the Mexican Cultural Institute

La Catrina – In Mexican folk culture, the Catr...

Image via Wikipedia

November 1st, the Day of the Dead, is one of the most important traditional holidays in Mexico.  Through November 23rd, the Mexican Cultural Institute will showcase its traditional and impressive Day of the Dead Altar.  Admission is free (street meter parking).

For many celebrants, the offering is the most significant attribute of the commemoration, and is based on the belief that the dead return to enjoy the essence and aroma of gifts of food and drink provided to them by their family members. In this way, the celebration revolves around welcoming and bidding farewell to souls.

Visit the Altar through November 23rd

Monday – Friday 10:00 am to 6:00 pm

Saturdays from November 11th,  12:00 to 4:00 pm


2829 16th Street NW, Washington, DC, 20009

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Comic Epitaphs from the Very Best Old Graveyards

This is a sweet, old slim volume from Peter Pauper Press.  Here are a few selections:

For a dentist:

Stranger tread
This ground with gravity
Dentist Brown is filling
His last cavity

On a music teacher:

Stephen and Time
Are both now even
Stephen beat time
Now Time beat Stephen

A Bedford Tombstone

Here lies my wife
In earthy mould
Who when she lived
Did naught but scold

Good friends go softly
In your walking
Lest she should wake
And rise up talking

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