By Katia Hetter, CNN
Updated 0910 GMT (1710 HKT) September 22, 2020
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(CNN)As we head into autumn in the Northern Hemisphere and temperatures start to cool down, the pandemic can’t change that it’s still the season of leaves falling and light sweaters and jackets, with the morning and twilight feeling crisp but not too chilly. Not yet.
You can get really amazing ideas of what to do in the new season when you write down your list and ask your family members to do the same. It’s a fun way to see what they’re thinking, especially to see what’s inside kids’ heads — and maybe even try to get to 50 things. You can also be inspired by our list.
Here are 50 things to do in fall regardless of the pandemic.
Celebrate fall outside
1. It’s time to pick apples. Apples are in season over the next few weeks, and there are delicious varieties like Gala and Golden Delicious to be picked. We eat some right out of the bag and make applesauce and apple butter for the year ahead.
2. Get lost in a corn maze. Gather your bubble mates, pack some masks, visit a farm and do a corn maze. Have hot drinks and doughnuts after.
3. Hike through the woods. I know plenty of people have been hiking through the summer, but it can be too hot for that activity in the US South. Fall is the time to put on those hiking pants and explore nature preparing for winter, which leads us to the next fun event.
4. Watch the leaves change color. While New England fall foliage is rightly famous, many leaves all across North America change color, and there is amazing science behind it. Collect some fallen leaves and you’re ready for the next project.
5. Build a bonfire. That way you can roast marshmallows and make s’mores. If your local fire codes don’t allow it, local campsites have been known to rent out their fire pits.
Halloween and Dia de Los Muertos
6. Make your own costume. I usually end up with reindeer horns on my head for Halloween and call it a night. (Kids are much more creative.) This year, I have loads of cardboard in my house, markers, paint and tape and several ideas I am planning to discuss with my crew. (The First Amendment and an absentee ballot are running neck and neck.)
7. Make your own candy. I’m not talking about my usual combination of peanut butter and chocolate chips (highly recommended, however). Make fudge or peanut brittle or caramel apples. If you do it in advance, you can share the treats with neighbors and friends.
8. Halloween at home. Speaking of Halloween, trick-or-treating doesn’t sound so safe this year, which is a huge bummer in my Halloween-destination neighborhood. Why not have a Halloween movie night with popcorn and already-made or purchased candy?
9. Host a best costume contest. Have an extended-family Zoom contest on who can make the best Halloween costume, and get extended family on Facebook to vote for the winner.
10. Honor your relatives. Put together an altar to honor loved ones who have passed during Dia de los Muertos (the Day of Dead) on November 1 and 2.
Look up into the night sky
11. Spot the meteor showers. Three showers will occur when the moon is only a crescent, offering the best chance to view them. The Orionids will peak on the night of Oct 20 into 21, the Northern Taurids on the night of Nov 11 into 12, and the Leonids on the night of Nov 16 into 17.
12. Once in a blue moon! October has two full moons, which makes this the year of 13 full moons. Normally, there are 12 full moons in a year — one each month — but October will have one on October 1 and another on October 31, aka Halloween! Two full moons in the same month is known as a blue moon. But don’t expect the moon to be blue, because it won’t be.
13. Launch into space. Watch NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov launch into space on October 14. They’re headed to the International Space Station.
14. Play tag with an asteroid. For the first time ever, a US mission will return samples from an asteroid to Earth. On October 20, the unmanned NASA OSIRIS-REx mission will use “its sampling arm to touch down for five seconds. It will release a pressurized charge of nitrogen to disturb the surface of the asteroid and collect samples from that material,” NASA said. (The samples won’t be returned to Earth until 2023.)
15. The launch of Crew-1 spacecraft. Crew-1 will launch October 23 to carry four more astronauts to the International Space Station through NASA’s Commercial Crew program, bringing the total number of astronauts on the ISS to seven. You can watch along at Nasa.gov.
17. Make your own bonfire toffee. November 5 is Guy Fawkes Day in the United Kingdom, when people light bonfires and fireworks to celebrate the fact that the Houses of Parliament weren’t burned down by a foiled conspiracy in 1604. This toffee, which is traditionally handed out to children, also marks this day.
18. Have a fall cook fest. Collect recipes that you want to try and dedicate a day or even a weekend to cooking your way through them. CNN’s Ashley Strickland promises there will be fun and mishaps and laughter.
19. Roast a turkey. The time to learn is not Thanksgiving week. It’s now, when you can debate stuffing with sausage or sage or that box still in your cupboard from last year. I trust Food52 or The New York Times. Trust whoever you like. Just try it.
20. Feed people you don’t know. If you have enough to eat, please make giveaway bags with nonperishable foods, masks, adhesive bandages and socks for people on the street, or donate to your local food bank (find it here) or your local school district (many are trying to feed their students).
21. Autumn leaves. Collect the most striking autumn leaves with your kids (see our first section) and help press their treasures in wax paper.
22. Make leaf placemats. They can be for fall or Thanksgiving dinners.
23. Feed the birds. Make a bird feeder and turn your yard into one that’s more bird-friendly. (Note to self: It involves not raking the leaves.)
24. Let there be light. Evoke the warm, savory scents of fall by making DIY candles.
25. Create a fall advent calendar. This calendar is for your family or quaranteam, with one fall-themed activity each day through Thanksgiving: Try a new recipe, read odes to fall, bob for apples or watch a horror movie.
Connect with people you love
26. A weekly Zoom date. Set up a regular video call with friends or family (or both). My partner set up a regular weekly call with her extended family, and I did the same. My setup with my California-based mother is to invite special guests to join us. Last week: my best friend in LA. This week: my cousin in Miami.
27. Set up a regular card game. This may seem like a repeat of the video call, but it’s not. Features Editorial Director David Allan plays Hearts with his dad and siblings every week, and they plan to keep going after the pandemic.
28. Collect recipes. Since the pandemic has likely thrown your Thanksgiving plans up into the air anyway, why not try some new traditions? Ask your friends and family for their favorite holiday recipes, share your own, update your Turkey Day menus and make a family recipe book. Everyone will love that memento.
29. Write a letter. People love getting mail, and letters can be short and include something nice you want to say to them.
30. Send a postcard. It’s easy and it’s short (and you can make them if you want). Postcards always feel sweet to me, mostly because I had a childhood friend who sent them all the time. She passed away a few years ago, and every time I send one, I think of her. It’s a good memory.
Make one healthy change
31. Get more sleep. Easier said than done, I know. But let’s try following the directions in CNN’s “Sleep, But Better” newsletter by going to bed sooner rather than later and banning electronics from our bedrooms.
32. Get more exercise. It doesn’t have to be a huge change. The Mayo Clinic diet suggests starting with any moment 30 minutes a day (bonus points for 60 minutes a day). That’s less time than many people’s commutes.
33. Drink more water. While it’s recommended that women drink 72 ounces of fluids per day and men drink 100 ounces, you can try simply adding one more glass of water per day, and increase that number weekly.
34. Drink less (alcohol). Lots of people have been stress drinking their way through the pandemic, and it’s not a habit you want to turn into an addiction. Don’t wait for Dry January to take a break from drinking. Start with “Sober October,” or even “Soberish October.”
35. Cook one meal a day from scratch. It can be yogurt and homemade granola for breakfast, a carnitas/beans and rice Instant Pot taco bar for lunch and pizza loaded with veggies for dinner. (Pizza crust is shockingly easy to make.) I know processed stuff is easier to make but it’s also harder on our bodies.
36. Gather chestnuts to play Conkers. It’s a seasonal game popular with kids in the UK, Ireland and Canada. It involves making a hole in horse chestnuts and stringing them, and then trying to break each other’s conkers. Watching a video may help.
37. Time for pickleball. For everyone excited about the upcoming French Open who can’t get to a tennis court, try out pickleball, which is a mashup of badminton, table tennis and tennis all in one game that you can play in your backyard.
38. Try family night charades. Even if it requires Zoom to get a big enough group together, you can have junior-level categories for the young ones and separate topics for the adults.
39. Pick a kids’ game. Pick any game your kids love and learn to play it enthusiastically. (Mine has chosen Monopoly — again, Bang, Yahtzee and Clue.)
40. Let’s play chess. There the board sits in our living room, rarely used in the age of electronics. But when one of my kid’s friends taught her how to play, I thought it would be the perfect game over a cuppa tea (made perfectly, per my CNN colleague Katie Hunt) and cookies during the crisp fall nights.
Why is the world blowing up?
41. This isn’t our first pandemic. To learn more about the 1918 flu pandemic, what we’ve learned and what we haven’t, read “The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History” by John M. Barry, “Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How It Changed the World” by Laura Spinney or “Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus That Caused It” by Gina Kolata.
42. This isn’t our last pandemic. David Quammen warned us in his 2012 page-turner, “Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic.” He also covered “Ebola: The Natural and Human History of a Deadly Virus” and “The Chimp and the River: How AIDS Emerged from an African Forest.”
43. These aren’t our first protests. Works by best-selling authors Isabel Wilkerson, Ibram X. Kendi, Ijeoma Oluo and more tackle the insidious racism that infects this country (and others) and give people knowledge and tools to fight against it.
44. Talk to your children about race. Read former Spelman College president Beverly Daniel Tatum’s classic, “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” Want to start early with your child? Try Kendi’s new board book, “Antiracist Baby.” Middle school children may like the young adult version of “Born a Crime,” Comedy Central host Trevor Noah’s memoir of growing up in apartheid South Africa.
45. Why are we arguing about climate change? The West Coast is on fire, hurricanes are soaking the US South and Gulf Coast and pieces of the Arctic ice shelf twice the size of Manhattan have broken off. Try Bill McKibben’s “The End of Nature,” Nathaniel Rich’s “Losing Earth: A Recent History” or the second edition of “What We Know About Climate Change” by MIT atmospheric scientist Kerry Emanuel.
More Netflix, please
46. “Stranger Things.” After all those crises, I won’t avoid the tube. We’re watching more TV this fall, curling up with blankets and popcorn and hot drinks to watch a series described to me as “Stand By Me” meets “E.T.” meets “Poltergeist,” with a “Halloween” feel perpetually around the corner. Seasons one and two are set in the eerie weeks around Halloween.
47. “The Vow.” A filmmaker and former member of the NXIVM cult turns the cameras on charismatic founder Keith Raniere, who charmed his way through the rich and famous before getting caught up in a sex-trafficking case that sent him to prison.
48. “Raised by Wolves.” So we’ve ruined Earth and need to find a new planet. It’s science fiction that doesn’t feel so far-fetched. CNN’s Brian Lowry said it might be this year’s most original series.
49. “The West Wing.” Original fans of this White House dramedy intended to be a star vehicle for Rob Lowe (until Martin Sheen just dazzled as the US President) loved it for its fiction, which they preferred to reality from 1999 to 2006.
50. How you doin’? We don’t care if it’s sunny England masquerading as sunny LA. Matt LeBlanc playing the most Hollywood version of himself with English television writers played by Tasmin Greig and Stephen Mangan in “Episodes” is hilarious.
Contributors: Ashley Strickland, Megan Thomas, David Allan, Faye Chiu, Katie Hunt, Sandee LaMotte, Kristen Rogers, Nicole Chavez, Verlin Henderson, Amanda Jackson and Rachel Rodriguez.