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How To Do Fall in Florida ( Or Any Other Seasonless, Hot Place)

It’s my second “autumn” in South Florida, and I finally understand that if I want to experience the season I am simply going to have to make it myself. My girlfriend warned me when I moved to be with her in this wild place that’s part of her heart. She said I’d miss seasons. It’s not that seasons don’t exist at all here. They’re just… subtle. (With the obvious exception of hurricane season versus not-hurricane season.) I’m used to big, obvious, in-your-face seasonal shifts: the turning and falling of leaves, descending temperatures, a full swapping out of an entire wardrobe in anticipation of sweater weather.

There are those few breezy days here when it feels like a whisper of a cold front. It’s not the same cool-crisping of the air that happens this time of year in New York, the place I’ve lived where fall was easily my favorite season, or Virginia, where I grew up jumping into leaf piles. But it’s something. And to be honest, I’m adapting quickly. I’ve lived through two polar vortexes in the Midwest, but now I need a cardigan if it dips below sixty-five.

No longer can I be a mere witness of seasonal change. I must make the seasonal change. Here are my tips for bringing fall to your home if you too live in a place where “sweater weather” actually just refers to needing to bring a light jacket to over-air-conditioned restaurants year-round. Or, I suppose, you could still use some of these tips even if you have Autumn Privilege and just want to maximize the season.


Get More Decorative Gourds Than You Think You Could Possibly Ever Need

Never before has the famed McSweeney’s mantra, “it’s decorative gourd season, motherfuckers,” felt more urgent and earnest. It is true that tiny pumpkins and assorted gourds add a certain autumnal panache to any space.

If you think you don’t have the space, think again! There are endless lonely slabs of tabletops, nightstands, kitchen counters, bathroom sinks, bookshelves, etc. on which to perch seasonal decor. Have a fruit bowl or basket? Throw some gourds in there. They’re cheap, and you can pick specific colors to match your space. Target, Michaels, and Jo-Ann sell them by the bagful. In addition to the classic shellacked variety, you can also get knit/ fabric/ felt gourds/pumpkins or ceramic ones if you’re feeling fancy.

a gator skull biting a knit pumpkin on a bar cart

this right here is “florida fall” in a nutshell tbh


Get a Cinnamon Broom

I had simply never heard of a cinnamon broom until the past year, but you can get them at Publix, Trader Joe’s (where they’re fancifully called cinnamon whisks), other grocery stores, and Michaels (tbh almost everything you need for fall decor can probably be found at Michaels). Made from pine straws dipped in cinnamon oil, they will make your home straight up smell like a craft store.

They also lend an undeniable 17th century New England gothic look to any space, so if Fear Street:1666 was your thing, get on the cinnamon broom train. I sent my sister a photo of mine, and she replied “that’s weird,” so it’s a conversation piece for sure! And as an accidental bonus, because of my broom’s close proximity to the hooks where I hang masks, my facemasks all smell vaguely of cinnamon now, and I’m into it.

A cinnamon broom hanging next to a closet

sarah fier vibes


You Only Need One Pumpkin Food/Drink Thing, and It’s Just Plain Ol’ Pumpkin Spice

Okay, if you want more pumpkin things, you do you. I’m not a hater by any means! I have an auntie who buys all the pumpkin stuff at Trader Joe’s every year and tries them, and I love that for her. In fact, I think a TJ’s pumpkin product tasting party would actually be pretty fun. But if you’re overwhelmed by the sheer amount of pumpkin-flavored treats that exist in the world (or are a bit of a pumpkin grinch even though you secretly do like how it tastes — no judgement!) then I say keep it simple and just have a jar of pumpkin spice on hand. You can make it yourself or just get it in the spice aisle of your grocery store. A little sprinkle in some coffee/espresso with milk and boom you have a tasty and considerably cheaper take on a PSL.

It’s also good in cocktails! Here’s a drink I just whipped up the other day after some experimenting:

2 oz spice rum
1 oz vodka
0.5 oz half & half or Irish cream
splash of maple syrup (or more if you like it sweeter)

Add all ingredients to a shaker with ice, shake very hard, and strain into a martini glass. Then just top off with a sprinkle of the pumpkin spice! Drinkable dessert!

On the subject of beverages, apple cider tastes just as good iced as it does hot! I’m going to make “Florida Fall Popsicles” next week that will essentially just be frozen apple cider. I definitely used to partake in the fall apple picking tradition up north, and I miss it!

I’m going to a “pumpkin patch” and “hayride” down here soon, which should be an interesting experience since pumpkins unequivocally do not grow in Florida and it’ll be far too hot for flannel, but I’m embracing the make-believe of it all! And if anyone knows where I can get an apple cider donut in South Florida, pls help. I might have to resort to making my own, which is after all the theme of this entire post.


Make Stews, Curries, Big Warming Bowls of Noodles and Broth, Whatever Your Heart Desires!

Just because it’s not actually cold outside does not mean you cannot make cold weather food. My favorite fall meals are: Japanese curry, chili (especially if you can get your hands on something gamey like venison from a butcher), potato leek soup, garlic soup, fennel dip, broccoli and cheese casserole, sweet and savory galettes, etc. Also, I have made the executive decision that she-crab soup is a fall soup, because sherry has autumnal vibes. And on a similar note, October 1 is the official start of stone crab claw season in Florida, so stone crabs are also barometers of fall.


Turns Out You Can Still Wear Sweaters (Indoors)

As mentioned before, places are air conditioned to the extreme here, and even though that is environmentally alarming, it’s often also something you don’t have a lot of control over here. In every apartment I lived in back in Brooklyn, the heat situation was always like… well it comes on when it wants to. That’s kind of like air conditioning in some places here. No matter what I put the thermostat on, our place is perpetually COLD. So yeah, fuck it, the second September hits I’m wearing wool socks (and/or seasonally thematic socks), cable knit sweaters, and turtlenecks… around the house. Def can’t wear any of this outside.

I did end up giving away the vast majority of my winter wardrobe before moving here, but I’m a turtleneck bitch for life and have to have at least a few cozy pieces on hand!


LET ME TELL YOU HOW TO DO BATH & BODY WORKS THREE-WICK CANDLES THE RIGHT WAY

In honor of three-wick candles everywhere, this is a three-pronged tip:

1. Do not pay full price for Those Candles!

It is truly hard to beat the complex seasonal smells of the coveted three-wicks sold by B&BW, but $25.50 is a hefty price to pay for one (1) candle, and the thing about using scented candles to set the scene for autumn is that you should not feel like you can only light up for special occasions. You want to have scented candles you can burn every damn day. And listen, I know we all have chaotic email inboxes and promotional emails can be overwhelming, but I’m telling you right here, right now: You gotta sign up for the Bath & Body Works emails. They have their annual Candle Day in Decemberish when the three-wicks are indeed at their lowest prices ($9.95 in the past) but EVERYONE is trying to score candles on Candle Day, which usually means site crashes, certain scents selling out, and nightmare shipping schedules. If you sign up for the emails, you will be notified of the smaller scale, random, often one- or two-day-long sales they run on three-wicks, which are sometimes discounted to $11.95, $12.95, $14.95, or are “buy two get one free” which comes out to $17 according to the math I just did so is still on the higher end but look I’m just saying there are ways to pay less than full price year-round — don’t pay full price!!!!!

2. Supplement with cheaper candles

You can stretch out your supply of three-wick wonders by adding some cheaper candles to your arsenal. In my opinion, three-wicks are ideal for when you want layers of scents (think: pumpkin spice donut, which is gonna have pumpkin, vanilla, brown sugar vibes all together at once like a bouquet of smells). But cheaper candles are honestly the way to go if you want a more straightforward scent. Cinnamon, balsam, or apple are good options. I promise this post is not sponsored by Michaels Craft Store, but pls consider the Michaels 16.4 oz jar candles, which are $5.99 but often on sale for $3.33 this time of year. I just got this Autumn Walk one, and I can hear the leaves crunching under my boots when I smell it! Target has good jar candles as well.

3. Two words: crackling wick

Some candles are not merely providers of scents and light. Some candles are a full sensory experience. In lieu of an actual fireplace, a crackling wick candle will provide a cozy fall soundscape. There are a bunch of options on Etsy! Crackling/wood wick candles can also be a fun fall option for folks who might be scent-sensitive, because you can get them unscented. Unscented fall-color tealights or tapers, unscented pumpkin-shaped candles, or flameless pumpkin/ orange tealights are also options!

A towering stack of candles along with decorative gourd

every morning, I wake up and scan my email inbox for “bath & body works”


I’m Sorry2Say: Digital Fireplaces Are Magic

No, a digital simulacrum cannot replace a real, natural experience and tbh I think I maybe laughed at my girlfriend for owning a fireplace DVD, but who’s laughing now! Me, I am, only instead of laughing out of mockery, I am laughing with joy! I love a fake ass fireplace crackling on my television. I know Netflix, Youtube, and other streaming services have fireplace options, but I’m really partial to the DVD/ have convinced myself it somehow makes it more quaint. This is the exact one my girlfriend owns if you’re interested.


Get a New Swimsuit and Call It Your “Fall Swimsuit”

Ah, yes, my most absurd fall tip.

I’m sure cold weather folks think I should not complain about not getting a real fall when I live in a place where I can be outside every day and also go to the beach in December, January, February, etc. And in a way, you’re correct! I fucking love that all months are beach/pool months for me now. I never need to go on a “beach vacation” again because… I’m literally looking at a beach/ocean/palm trees as I write this (sorry!). My past self, who worked-from-home in the bathroom of her Chicago place because it was the warmest part of the house, is shaking (literally, because she’s still cold despite practically making out with the radiator). All summer, I’ve been wearing a very cute hot pink bikini top, but I recently replaced it with a more muted mint green bikini top because, you know, fall vibes! Does “fall swimsuit” make any actual sense as a concept? Not really, but I’m going with it!


Change Out Your Everyday Things/ Choose an Autumnal Color Scheme

The appeal of fall for me really is the idea of change. Shifting. Colors, smells, the air, the light, all of it swirling into something different and soft after the bright heat of summer. Why not bring a little of that home?

It’s possible to add little pops of fall color and imagery without turning your place into a full-on seasonal section of Target. Try autumnal dish towels or bathroom hand towels (I have that exact one). We put a fall wreath on our door, so it’s the first thing I see when I come home. You don’t even have to get explicitly fall-patterned stuff. It can just be a color scheme. If you have a kitchen/dining table, you can get dark orange or brick red placemats for it or warm-colored taper candles. If your couch has throw pillows or blankets on it, consider switching them out seasonally. Like look at this cute ass blanket?! The colors of the leaves won’t really change here, but I can change the colors of other things.

Towels with small embroidered pumpkins

:’)

It means having to find extra storage space, of course. But I’m drawn to the ritual of taking certain things out for certain times of year and then putting them away again. I remember switching out my “summer quilt” for my winter one back in Michigan and the easy comfort of that transition. I remember the box labeled THERMAL that lived under my bed. I remember the thrill of those biannual brief periods in New York (in fall and spring) when the leather jacket comes out to play before being neatly tucked away again. The taking out and stowing away of fall blankets and towels and whatever else will inevitably become another way I mark time.

Homes have seasons, too. And right now, mine feels like Florida fall.


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kaylakumari

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is the managing editor of Autostraddle and a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Miami. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 321 articles for us.

8 Comments

  1. Please be careful with those cinnamon brooms (or other essential/scented oils). They may be unsafe for pets, I think cinnamon is one of those.

    I always store the pumpkins that I’m going to eat in the living room. So they’re both decorative and tasty!

  2. I haven’t been there for a few years now but the west palm beach green market used to have apple cider donuts (another seasonal change for south fl is that fall/winter is farmers market season – weird but fun :) )

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