The perfect autumn picnic

Summer may be considered prime picnic season, but Minnesotans know that autumn offers the most glorious opportunity to eat al fresco. 

If you're looking to make a meaningful memory as a family (and snag a gorgeous photo) without much fuss, now is the time to grab a blanket, fill a basket and search for a bright maple. They're at their peak this week! 

You can't go wrong with a big, cozy blanket and a pretty setting. Grab an old quilt or a plaid blanket and you're set! 

Pendleton makes the best wool blankets, and I'm gaga about this National Park Motor Robe With Carrier in Smoky Mountain Brown. 

Combine that with my beloved vintage picnic basket -- a $2 find at a church garage sale -- and I knew we'd have a beautiful set-up. 

It's a Burlington Hawkeye picnic basket, originating from Iowa, I've learned, and is available from multiple sellers on eBay

As to locale, I had my eye on a beautiful maple at a nearby park. We had the place to ourselves the morning we visited. 

Our menu was pretty simple: apple cider (with cinnamon sticks for fanciful effect), Namma's famous pumpkin bread, tomatoes from Grandpa's garden, chex mix, grapes, blueberries and mini apple pies. We used old mason jars and a pie plate to serve up the food but didn't bother with plates. The crumbs made a nice leave-behind for squirrels. 

After filling your basket, grab a few extras for entertainment. We brought a football and a couple corduroy stuffed animals

But to me, the best accessory at a picnic is a book -- preferrably a vintage one. 

I'm so enchanted by these old Johnny Gruelle books, where Raggedy Ann and Andy made their debuts. The first one, "Raggedy Ann Stories," was published in 1918. (I'm eagerly awaiting a 100th-anniversary celebration.)

Talk about an enchanting opening sentence! It immediately captures a little one's imagination. 

Dolls and attic discoveries are among Maria's favorites when it comes to the bedtime stories I try to spin at night.

We also enjoyed "Fletcher and the Falling Leaves," one of our favorite autumn reads

For all the books you've read your little ones, do you have a picture of that precious pasttime? Here's your chance!  

After we ate, the girls ran off to the playground. Jane was ready to go, and I bundled Maria up in an adorable fox hat and gloves from JoJo Maman Bebe, a British company with the most charming children's clothes (and fast shipping). 

By now you know I'm obsessed with all things fox, including the fox dress I recently shared.

Maria approves too: She thinks the gloves, with their open-finger-tip option, are very cool and "grown up." 

I'm also in love with the gray linen dress Maria wore, handcrafted by a talented Etsy artist named Kristine.

There's something so classic about this dress, a quiet beauty in its simplicty. Understated, timeless.

Big buttons run all the way down the back -- can't beat that -- as modeled by this messy-haired tree hugger.  

I knew our blanket and Jane's outfit would bring enough color to the scene that I was going for subdued hues on the rest of us.

Jane's gorgeous cable-knit sweater and hat, I'm sorry to tell you, cannot be ordered online; it came from a little shop somehwere in Ireland, a gift from her godmother. Such a keepsake! 

All in all, it felt like the perfect fall picnic -- sweet and simple, with a luscious view, yummy snacks and the best company I could hope for. 

I'm also thrilled we managed to come home with some special family photos, thanks to the grandpa who joined us. Photographing toddlers can be SO difficult, and I've learned the best approach is to trick them into thinking they're just playing. Setting up a picnic is a great way to do so. 

This week's forecast looks fabulous -- cool and sunny. Now's the time to dig out your favorite sweater, grab a blanket and enjoy a fall picnic of your own. You won't regret it! 


Christina Ries is a freelance writer who lives with her husband and two young girls in Inver Grove Heights. Write her at