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Box of Leaves: 10 Years

Our box of Michigan leaves arrived yesterday.

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My cousin Joann has been sending them to us every fall for ten years now. She waits for the perfect conditions–peak colors and dry weather–and always texts me on the day she gathers: “Today’s the day.” Every leaf is hand-picked and vacuum-packed into a box that she pays a pretty penny to ship…just to make us smile. We were expecting the box to arrive Saturday, but it didn’t make it which sent my cousin in a tizzy because she was afraid with the extra day of sitting at the post office, the leaves might lose their color or dry up or get moldy, but they were as perfect as ever.

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What began as a thoughtful gesture to give my kids a taste of a northern fall has turned into a deep-rooted ritual that connects us to home, each other and reminds us how happy something as simple as a box of leaves can make us.

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One of my favorite books I often return to is Simple Abundance, a collection of essays for every day that foster a gratitude practice and celebrate finding sacred in the ordinary from Autumn leaves to an afternoon cup of tea. That book is the foundation of my “Enjoying the Small Things” celebrations, and ever since my sister and I toted copies of it in the 90’s like the dorks we were and consequently started “comfort boxes” to stash our favorite little things that made us happy, I refer back to it often and think of it in moments like geeking out over our box of leaves. I recently bought a follow-up children’s book by the same author, Sara ban Breathnach, called The Best Part of the Day and love this quote in the author’s introduction: “Gratitude is often thought of as an intellectual concept, when really Gratitude is a small seed planted in the heart that is nurtured and nourished through acknowledging all the good that surrounds us. Good that can be discovered through the reassuring comfort of family customs, rituals, and traditions and restoring a sense of rhythm in our daily round and through the changing seasons.”

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This tradition, these leaves, the way we run to the woods to do the same thing we do every year with them–toss them into the air and drink up their earthy scent and pile them up to make little pillows where we lay for pictures…

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The way my kids all look at me while we do this, anticipating my happiness…following my lead…
The way they’ve come to look forward to them and enjoy them as much as I do…

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It’s a small seed of gratitude that has grown into a sturdy ritual that grounds us and reminds us that no matter how challenging life gets, there is an abundance of little pleasures around us that can bring us back home.

My kids may not know a Northern Autumn, but they know the joy that comes from its treasures.

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(Dash copied Lainey in the above picture, said “Look!” and we all lost it.)

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(I didn’t notice until I was editing that Lainey is clutching the Sophie necklace my niece sent her)

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We melted a pan of beeswax and dipped a good 30 leaves or so in it last night so we can enjoy our leaves a little longer and make a garland that will get us through Thanksgiving.

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Until next year’s box…sending vibrant Autumn happies your way today.

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Leave a Comment
  1. Your rituals have become our rituals…I look forward to these posts every year at this time. It makes me look closer at the beautiful leaves that fall all around me at this time of year. It’s been mild up here so the leaves haven’t really changed all that much yet but the leaves on the little maple off my back patio are on their way to a vibrant red. Such a beautiful time of year.

  2. Thank you for a beautiful post, and the reminder to have gratitude for all the small wonders that occur every day.

  3. What a lovely tradition! My husband and I have been married 20 years and are getting ready for our 10th move. I’m getting tired of the nomad’s life, but we have certain traditions we take with us everywhere we live and it makes life so sweet for me.

  4. When I was in Brownies, around age 7, we ironed leaves between pieces of waxed paper. You can cut around them and hang them up in windows like stained glass. Fun project for your littles! Love from British Columbia, Canada, where the leaves are falling…

  5. Laura ortiz says:

    Thank you for sharing this post, my favorite year pic was 2015. Nella is so beautiful. Thumbs up for your cousin who send your family love in the shape of Autumn leaves.

  6. Merri q salazar says:

    I’ve been waiting for your box of leaves also!

  7. I LOVE this idea! This is such a fun and unique tradition y’all started.

  8. Happy 10 year anniversary! I love this tradition you and your family share every year. I’m definitely going to dig out my copy of Simple Abundance.

  9. I could not love this more! My fav line…’anticipating my happiness, following my lead.’ is spot on. What precious children to notice your happiness (how could they not) and treasure it like their own. Do you have photos of the wax dipping? I’m curious about that.

    • I may have some on my phone…if I do, I’ll text them. We used a frying pan to keep the wax shallow. I dropped in about 5 bars at a time, got it completely liquid, slowly skimmed a leaf across the top of the liquid beeswax and then flipped and did again. Just a thin coating is all they need. Then, we dangled the leaf for about 15 seconds to let it set a tiny bit before lying it flat on wax paper to finish drying.

  10. “Simple Abundance” is my bible of daily devotion. Over and over. And this so fits with your beautiful gift of leaves from my own lovely state. (She had to work at that one — our fall has not been its most colorful this year!). A beautiful tradition and I can see from the wonderful smiles it means so much to you all.

  11. I look forward to your Leaves post every year. Right now we are enjoying the peak foliage in Massachusetts (though wind and rain have taken down a lot of the leaves in the last couple of days), but it doesn’t feel quite right – I imagine what it may feel like in Florida at Christmas time – last night it was 76 degrees when I got the kids from soccer practice at 6:15 – it was dark, but warm. We’ve had a couple of frosty mornings, but not enough to actually turn on the heat. People have talked about turning their AC back on, to which I exclaim “I haven’t turned it off yet!” None of us can sleep with humidity, so the AC remains on at least just to make it easier to sleep. The majority of the apples we picked on October 1st (I won’t go apple picking before October!) still remain in the fridge because it just hasn’t felt right to make a lot of my traditional recipes because it just hasn’t been cold enough. But I am making them all this weekend, even thought is still won’t be cold enough, because come November I have a whole ‘nother list of things to do and make. But I keep wondering, is this what the new norm will be? Will we have to adjust our expectations of what fall is like? We are so eager to keep the jackets out, and wear the boots (heck, wear socks!), and I feel weird wearing capris still. But then I remember that we’ve been pretty lucky on Halloween for the 11 years I’ve been a parent – but those have been unusually warm days speckled between all the rest of the cold ones. But come next Wednesday it better get cold – and yes we may complain about the cold. But then that means we can officially start counting the days until spring :)

  12. Kristin A. says:

    Oh my gosh – Simple Abundance! I forgot all about that book (is that bad to admit?!). I, too, got that book as a late teenager/early adult after seeing it on Oprah. I did a daily gratitude journal off and on and still remember adding to my illustrated discovery journal off and on (pictures of lovely, cozy family rooms… happy kids…Winnie and Pooh – all manner of things that made me happy). I never did have a well-stocked comfort box, but loved the idea of one. I requested The Best Part of the Day from the library and am looking forward to reading it with my kids. Thanks for the trip down memory lane and the reminders of things I used to do and the consequent invitation to reconsider them now, 15-20 years later.

  13. I love these posts every year. Thank you for sharing them! I have to ask, where did you get nellas dress?? It’s so precious and perfect for fall!

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