Normally, autumn brings harvest festivals, apple picking, pumpkin patch activities and an endless parade of pumpkin spice in everything from candles to lattes to doughnuts and Oreos. This autumn, the first three social events are cancelled area-wide, but we will likely see the reign of pumpkin spice extend to masks and hand sanitizer, because, well, pumpkin spice.

We are all holding our collective breath and waiting for the second wave of COVID-19 expected due to spread from school and college students across the country. We are all praying that it will relatively spare us as it did in the spring.

So, what can you do in a quarantined autumn that will not only lift your mood and distract you from these worries, but also give you a measure of fun?

  1. The Great Outdoors isn’t cancelled.

You can still go camping, or glamping. You can still go for drives to see the fall foliage and the natural beauty of Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio. You can still hike and bike and fish. You could rent a cabin or campsite for an overnight. Day trips to Bedford Springs, Ohiopyle, McConnell’s Mills, Presque Isle State Park and more await. When is the last time you just got in the car and drove down a country road to appreciate the scenery and the journey? When was the last time you lay on the grass under a starry sky, far from the city lights?

  1. Our City Parks aren’t cancelled.

Consider exploring the charms of all of our local parks, not simply the one closest to you. Each of our parks has its own character and mood; walk the lake at North Park, the reservoir at Highland Park, South Park, Riverview Park, Frick Park, Boyce Park, Schenley Park and others. A long walk in the crisp fall air will spark some needed joy.

  1. Our Botanical Gardens aren’t cancelled.

Phipps Conservatory and its Fall Flower Show are still accessible in a safe manner; timed tickets and socially distanced visits are in force. Also consider the Pittsburgh Botanical Garden with its rich history and lovely walks.

  1. Your Backyard isn’t cancelled.

Consider a portable fire pit; consider also the merits of the zero-gravity chair and a glass of your favorite hot or cold or adult beverage. If you have a family or others in your bubble, consider the marvelous invention called the S’more. If you are alone, make yourself S’mores; it is unquestionably worth the effort.

  1. Your Kitchen isn’t cancelled.

Cooking is an excellent bonding activity that brings families and couples closer together, gives singletons a sense of satisfaction, and will make your pets happy as well because there are just suddenly so many wonderful smells to smell. Start some autumn traditions. Make pies, cakes, crumbles, biscuits, cookies, breads and pancakes. Let pumpkin spice rule (or don’t.) We may not be able to attend football games this year, but don’t let that stop you from making a fantastic chili or having an intra-bubble tailgate anyway.

Simmer some orange slices studded with cloves and cinnamon on the stove. Let your house smell wonderful. Light some of those pumpkin candles you spend the rest of the year making fun of and hiding. Make hot spiced cider and mulled wine.

Invest in an Instant Pot (electric pressure cooker) and make soups, stews, chili and ribs to your heart’s content. Freeze them so you can come home from work in the dead of winter and defrost a packet for dinner without thought or worry. Maybe now would be a good time to try an air fryer or a sous vide appliance. Have fun with technology.

  1. Your Capacity for Loving Connection isn’t cancelled.

Stay connected with family and friends online via Zoom, FaceTime and other platforms. As the holidays draw near, this will be even more important because the sense of isolation that we all currently feel will be magnified at that time. Start making plans to have Zoom Thanksgivings and Christmases for family and friends who are not in your immediate bubble, so it won’t be a shock or a last-minute stress for any of you.

Consider opening your heart and home to a pet, who will fill your life with added sparkle and comfort.

  1. Your Capacity for the Joy of the Season isn’t cancelled.

Decorate. It reinforces a sense of normalcy as well as the passage of time and seasons. Indulge in some cool-weather self-care. Remember to check in on your friends, even the strong ones. Especially the strong ones, because they will hide their stress and distress better than the others. Get some fresh air to do you good.

Enjoy autumn; take precautions, but resolve to experience the splendor of the season.

Author profile
Deval (Reshma) Paranjpe, MD, FACS

Dr. Paranjpe is an ophthalmologist and medical editor of the ACMS Bulletin.