Lavender Cheesecake

Sunset Over Mutiny Bay

Sunset Over Mutiny Bay

Last weekend I went to Whidbey Island for a wine tasting at a friend’s beach house. It was lovely event: amazing food, great wines, fascinating conversations, and some spectacular sunsets.

I promised to bring a dessert since I wanted an excuse to cook with flowers as that is my assignment for this month.  My plan was to make a lavender cheesecake.

I already had a recipe which I adapted from a regular cheesecake recipe and made successfully years ago. I put a few lavender stems into the hot milk mixture as it’s cooking, then remove them after they’ve imparted their flavor. I also sneak lavender into the crust by making a praline: grinding lavender buds and sugar together in the blender, then stirring that into hot water, which I pour onto a pie plate and freeze in the freezer. When I make the crumb crust, I add the lavender praline (ground up) in place of plain sugar.

But this was before the days of the Internet, and this time when I looked for a recipe, I found dozens. I chose the one that was the simplest (no-bake!) and it created such a silky, smooth dream of a cheesecake that half of the guests at the dinner wanted a copy of the recipe. (It was the women who wanted the recipe, not the men, which is odd as lavender is supposedly one of the scents that men find erotic. Maybe men just don’t make cheesecake.)

Here’s my version of the recipe:

1)      Smash 2 cups of shortbread cookies into crumbs. (You could really go for the lavender theme and use lavender shortbread. Or perhaps just toss some ground up lavender buds into the crumb mixture. Not too much! Subtle is the adjective for lavender.)

2)      Melt five tablespoons of butter and mix with the crumbs. Press into the bottom of a springform pan. Put in the refrigerator to chill while you make the filling.

3)      Crush three tablespoons of lavender. Pour two and a half tablespoons of boiling water over them. Let it steep for at least 15 minutes. Then strain out the lavender buds. This is your lavender infusion.

4)      Mix together ¾ cup of honey and one 8 ounce package of cream cheese that you’ve left out to soften. I used an electric beater. You could use a whisk, if you prefer.

5)      Add the lavender infusion, mixing carefully, not too much.

6)      Whip one and a quarter cups of heavy cream. Again I recommend an electric beater. This took a long time even with one.

7)      Fold the whipped cream into the honey/lavender/cream cheese mixture. Then pour it into the crust.

8)      Refrigerate for three to four hours before serving.

You can find the actual recipe here.

The next time I do it, I think I will add a second package of cream cheese as the filling layer was pretty thin, but no one complained about that. The texture was as smooth as silk and the lavender flavor pronounced but subtle.

I thought about garnishing it with lavender stalks dipped in simple syrup and set on tinfoil to dry. I think that would have worked out nicely but I didn’t try it. I also didn’t take a picture of the cheesecake so you’ll have to make do with the sunset.

If you want to serve it with wine, I’d suggest a Muscat (might be too sweet) or an ice wine, maybe a late-harvest Riesling. We tried a regular Riesling at the recommendation of my wine merchant and it didn’t really work, though it was a lovely Riesling (I like the ones that smell like gasoline and this one did).

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Many Moon Names

Photo by Cate Kerr

Photo by Cate Kerr

Wow! Havi Brooks mentioned my book Slow Time on her delightful blog, the Fluent Self, and suggested her readers play with one of the exercises, the one where you get to make up your own names for the moons. I’m reveling in all the creative names people posted as comments. Check it out!

I’m illustrating this blog entry with another one of Cate Kerr’s magnificent moon photos. This one, like the one featured on the Celebrations article, is the August full moon. Cate always provides a long list of traditional names for each full moon as she did in the blog entry that accompanied the photograph.

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Edible Flowers

my first flower salad

my first flower salad

When I decided to get to know the flowers in my neighborhood, I assigned myself different tasks for every month and my task for July was to eat flowers. I’m a little behind on this task, but I’m getting started now.

Flowers are most often used in sweet confections like desserts and drinks. In fact I own a great book, Cathy Barash’s book of Edible Flowers, which focuses on those two food groups. But I wanted to start with something simple. Raw flowers.

Remember when every green salad was garnished with flowers? Whatever happened to that trend? (I was happy to see chef Christopher Émé of Ortolan decorating his plates with flowers on a recent episode of Iron Chef.)

My first experiment involved making a salad and decorating it with fresh flowers from my garden: cornflowers, arugula flowers, chive flowers and some violas. Here’s a photograph I took of my first salad. Obviously, I have a lot to learn as a food stylist and food photographer. Still the flowers looked great. Unfortunately they didn’t add much flavor.

The arugula flowers were best. They had a bit of a kick to them, though not as much as arugula leaves. The chive flowers have a faint oniony flavor, which is odd in a flower, but they taste like paper. The same is true for cornflower petals which have absolutely no flavor as far as I can tell (one web site I visited said they tasted spicy, clove-like flavor—I wish! I notice that they’re an ingredient in many flavored teas. I wonder if they actually impart flavor or if they’re just there for the color). The violas supposedly taste like wintergreen but to me they just tasted green.

After wandering around the web, looking for articles on edible flowers, I realize I have many more flowers in my garden I can try. Borage is next. And the clove pinks. And the hollyhock blossoms. I want to snag a few of the last honeysuckle blossoms from my neighbor’s garden and try them in a fruit salad. I could sprinkle in some rose petals as well. And I’m eager to try calendula petals.

And that’s just the start of this edible flower adventure. In future posts, I’m going to make lavender-flavored desserts, candied flowers, rose honey almond brittle, and feature some vegetables that are actually flowers. Let me know what you make with flowers.

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Summer Slowly

Pepe moving rather quickly

Pepe moving rather quickly

A long-time School of the Seasons reader and contributor, Taffy Hill, sent me a link to a blog entry by Beth Dargis of My Simpler Life about things that should be savored and done slowly.

I loved Beth’s list and was even more delighted to see the thread was started by my friend and colleague, Christine Valters Paintner, at her blog, Abbey of the Arts when she asked her readers to submit ideas for things to do slowly.

Let’s expand this idea here. I’d love to entertain your suggestions for things to do slowly.

My favorite is walking slowly. I find this easiest to do while walking the dog. Right now my walking companion is Pepe, my daughter’s Chihuahua. He likes to go slow, especially in the summer. He often plops down on the grass and refuses to move

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Signs of Summer

Photo by Christine Valters Paintner, www.abbeyofthearts.com

Photograph © Christine Valters Paintner at Abbey of the Arts

From Alyss in Portland, Oregon:

Summer is here!! The Solstice was only a few weeks ago so it is still light late and the warm, dry weather has come into full swing. I’ve been enjoying long evenings with friends on decks and patios all over town since it’s hardly dark at 9pm. The gardens are overflowing with greens still and fruiting trees and vegetables are starting to share their bounty as well. I’ve had three people give me cherries this week because trees are so overloaded! The tomatoes are starting to show green fruit and so are the apple trees.

I started a traditional summer infused alcohol last week called Vin de Noix. It is eau de vie and wine infused with green walnuts, cloves, vanilla and sugar. It is said that it is best made between Saint Jean’s feast day on June 24 and Bastille Day on July 14. I started mine on July 4th, an American high summer tradition. It smells fantastic (anything with cloves, vanilla and sugar will) but needs at least 40 days to fully infuse. By Lammas I will taste it and see how it is doing. I hear it might be a bit bitter from the walnuts, but that will eventually fade into a smooth, thick after dinner sipping alcohol.

Summer is a frantic time too. My friends complain that their weekends are booking up and that there just isn’t enough time to do everything we want to do during this glorious but brief warm, light, dry season. I get to feeling it too. So much to pick, to preserve, to cook, to eat, to see, to do. Last fall I remember feeling such kinship with the trees losing their leaves. That is time for letting go and focusing inward. This time of year though I like to give into the frantic energy. Yes, let’s go out! Yes, let’s go harvesting! Yes, let’s can, let’s play, let’s live while the sun shines and the days are long. There will be time for rest when the year is dark again.

Alyss lives in Portland Oregon and blogs at The Wheel and the Disk.

From Lu in Florida:

(Photo by Lu Merritt)

Hope in Our Hot Season/Moving Toward Fall in Florida

Harvest time comes early here in subtropical paradise, North Central Florida almost to the Georgia state line. Our seasonal shifts are more subtle here than in other parts of the country, but if you know what to look for, there are definite markers.

By mid-July, our local crops—corn, cantaloupe, watermelon—have peaked and been picked. The only things still ripening in the garden are late tomatoes, so thankfully it’s still possible to have one of summer’s perfect joys, a fresh tomato sandwich: Slather mayonnaise on two pieces of your favorite bread, cut slices of a freshly-picked tomato to your preferred thickness, lay the slices on the bread, and season with salt and pepper. Heaven.

Perhaps the most obvious marker of the season’s shift is a change in the quality of light. At the summer solstice, the light has a fierce, bright, almost blinding quality, like a giant searchlight that casts no shadows. Around the first of August, there is a change—the light begins to get noticeably softer, and while the days are still long, the afternoon shadows take on a smokier glow.

Right about now, too, the farmers begin to mow their hay fields, and we begin to see haystacks—or really, big rolls of hay—scattered throughout some of the neighboring fields. “Hay!” we call, and point out the fields to each other as we pass them, happy and excited to be the first to spot this particular universal sign of fall.

The night-blooming jasmine, which grows dormant and gets cut back in the winter, has been growing since springtime and now begins to put out flowers whose fragance will soon become noticeable. The beautyberry bushes, which flowered back in May, start to form little green berries that will turn a beautiful shade of purple a bit later in the season.

Grass and trees, all so verdant green this summer because we have had a lot of rain, begin to take on a yellowish tinge that is a definite harbinger of fall. We begin, eventually, to notice that a few leaves are starting to fall from some of our trees.

Newspapers are filled with flyers advertising back-to-school sales. The local newspaper’s sports section steps up its coverage of the area’s football teams; diehard football fans start counting the days ’til the first big game. And we all begin to keep wary eyes on weather reports about tropical systems and possible hurricanes; it doesn’t do to go into August and September without extra stocks of peanut butter, other canned goods, and water—just in case.

Fall isn’t here yet, by any means, but we definitely have some pointers to let us know it’s on the way­—giving us hope for cooler weather in the middle of our hottest season.

Lu Merritt lives in northern Florida and blogs at A Word Witch.

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Welcome From Waverly – Lammas 2009

It’s been a dream for a long time. The dream of a magazine. I first started writing about it in my newsletters in 2006. And I announced its imminent launch in January of 2009. Yet the time and clarity and resources I needed to produce it were not available until this summer.

I want this to be a place where you feel welcome to contribute your thoughts and experiences with slow time, sacred time and seasonal time. Right now, you can do that in several ways . . .

For the past few months, I’ve been working hard with my brilliant web designer, Joanna Powell Colbert, figuring out the design and features. And grappling continually with the question: What is it? Is it a magazine? A web site? A cluster of blogs? A school?

For right now, I’m calling it a magazine. The current plan is to “publish” four times a year, once for each season, with all new articles. But because it is based on blog software, it can be updated continually, and I suspect I will be tempted to do that.

So it is with great pride and trepidation that I present the inaugural issue of Living in Season. You might notice that most of the articles are written by me. That’s not the ultimate goal. But for right now, think early Martha Stewart Living when all of the articles appeared to be “written” by Martha (at least, there weren’t any bylines). By doing that she established a tone and style for the magazine that continues to make it recognizable today, while gradually opening up to creative input from others.

Ultimately I want this to be a place where you feel welcome to contribute your thoughts and experiences with slow time, sacred time and seasonal time. Right now, you can do that in several ways. The easiest way to participate is to submit a comment on any of the articles posted (I will be moderating these, at least at first, so it may take a day before you see your comments on the site). You can also submit photographs, artwork and articles (see the Guidelines page). And you can also reach out to the community of Living in Season readers and let them know about your work in the world, by placing an ad (see Advertising).

River at Lammas taken by Joanna Powell Colbert

River at Lammas taken by Joanna Powell Colbert

Eventually I hope to expand these offerings. Videos! Podcasts! More columns! For right now I feel like this first issue is a leaf tossed in a rushing stream. (I wish it felt more like a seed planted, but it just doesn’t.) I don’t know where it will end up but I am very happy to be drifting down this river, called the Internet, and I hope that all of you will join me. Grab your inner tubes!

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Spirit of Summer

By Waverly Fitzgerald

Years ago as I was deep in the lore of holidays, I came upon one of those nuggets of information that answer a question you didn’t know you had. The question was: “Why are there so few significant major Christian holidays in summer?” And the answer was that summer was thick with saint’s days, which provided an opportunity for people to gather at the fairs and festivals held in the saint’s names.

For instance, St. Peter’s Day (a sort of midsummer celebration) is widely (and wildly) celebrated on June 29 in Spain and Portugal. And Ellis Peters describes another St. Peter’s Fair in her highly successful series of mysteries about Brother Cadfael. This rights to hold this fair were given to the Benedictine abbey of St. Peter in Shrewsbury by Henry I around 1100. And the fair was held on the 3rd of July (don’t know how they picked that date). The founder of the abbey, Roger de Montgomery, the first Earl of Shrewsbury, also gave the monks of the Abbey the right to hold a Lammas fair on August 12.

Fairs were held throughout the year . . . but obviously summer, with its promise of good weather, is the best time for people to gather outdoors.

Fairs were also held throughout the year. In the same document from which I gleaned the information above, I found references to fairs around Easter and Christmas, but obviously summer, with its promise of good weather is the best time for people to gather outdoors. Country fairs, the descendants of these fairs, are still generally held in the summer, at least they are in Seattle. The Washington State Fair is in Monroe in mid-July. The Puyallup Fair (famous for its scones) is held in mid-September (July and August are usually our sunniest months).

Summer is the time of festivals. Here in Seattle we have outdoor concerts (at the Zoo and at the Pier), outdoor movies (the modern equivalent of drive-ins, where the movie is projected on the wall of a building), and outdoor dances (in the parks). I’m especially fond of the outdoor milonga (tango dance) held in a pavilion on the shores of Lake Washington during our big Tango Magic festival. It feels truly magical to be dancing in the warm night air, while the sun sets over the lake and the people passing by stop to watch for a while.

Summer is the season for camp. I do not have fond memories of my early experiences at Girl Scout camp (Camp Osito in California). I was just was not an outdoor, sleep-in-a-tent, make-friends-with-a-bunch-of -strangers sort of person. When I was in my thirties, I attended a new kind of camp: the Witch Camp in British Columbia sponsored by the Reclaiming community. That was also difficult for a shy person but the size of the camp (around 100 campers) was great. I could find time to be alone and ways to connect with others within the framework of activities (meals, rituals, meetings, workshops) provided.

In Seattle, our summer is book-ended by two big music festivals. Folklife on Memorial Day weekend celebrates the folk arts, and offers opportunities to learn and listen to music from many different cultures, while Bumbershoot on Labor Day features more popular music, and also a smattering of cultural events. And I have many friends who make a pilgrimage every year to the Vancouver Folk Festival in mid-July.

So the spirit of summer to me seems to call for being outgoing, for assembling with others in groups, for finding a place in your tribe.

Summer is the time for family reunions. Four years ago I was in Milwaukee for a family reunion for my mother’s family, the Wittaks. And I have two relatives on the Fitzgerald side who organize gatherings in the Seattle area every summer. Sister Anna Burris gathers together the Burris family for a week at a lake and Roger and Rosemary Enfield usually play host to a whole tribe of Enfields who gather in a nearby park.

And let’s not forget Fourth of July, a holiday which cries out for barbecues, parties, picnics and crowds (not to mention traffic jams). This Fourth of July, as I was heading down my usual lookout, a street above the freeway where I stand with hundreds of strangers to watch the fireworks bursting over Lake Union, I passed a seven story apartment building which was buzzing like a hive of bees. Every balcony that faced the lake was full of onlookers.

So the spirit of summer to me seems to call for being outgoing, for assembling with others in groups, for finding a place in your tribe. Maybe that is why I am launching this magazine now rather than in the spring as I originally planned, as it is my attempt to create a community dedicated to the concepts of slow time, sacred time and seasonal time.

I’m wondering if summer is a time of socializing, of finding community, of gathering your tribe for you. And if so, what experiences and opportunities are the most nourishing?

Photo credits:

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Weaving Wheat

by Waverly Fitzgerald

[Excerpt from the Lammas holiday packet available at our store]

Many years ago I was in Aberystwyth in Wales on Lammas. I hadn’t planned any special activity for this, my favorite seasonal holiday, but I had gleaned some wheat stalks a few weeks earlier from a field near Rose Cottage (the home of my favorite novelist, Elizabeth Goudge, who lived outside Henley-on-Thames).

That primitive wheat weaving came back across the ocean to Seattle and for over a year sat above my stove, my very own harvest spirit, blessing the food I prepared and ate, while reminding me of my pilgrimages in the British Isles.

I didn’t have any instructions for wheat-weaving with me. All I remembered was that I had to soak the wheat, which I did in a bathtub, releasing that wonderful nutty aroma from the stalks. Then I wove it into a simple plait which I tied in a loop with a strand of orange yarn. That primitive wheat weaving came back across the ocean to Seattle and for over a year sat above my stove, my very own harvest spirit, blessing the food I prepared and ate, while reminding me of my pilgrimages in the British Isles.

In earlier times in England, the last sheaf of wheat was cut down with special pomp and ceremony and carried into the house where it was displayed throughout the winter, being returned to the soil when the fields were ploughed in spring. Sometimes the spirit of the grain was invited to inhabit weavings made of wheat stalks interlaced in intricate patterns. These were often called corn dollies, corn being a word for grain and dolly describing the shape.

To make your own wheat weavings, you must first obtain wheat, either from a craft supply store or a field (I have friends who grow a small patch in their garden for harvesting at Lammas and using in wheat-weaving and bread-baking). The excursion to get the wheat could become a part of your holiday rituals. I will never forget my first sight of wheat fields, driving one Fourth of July weekend with my daughter through the wheat country of eastern Washington. For miles and miles as far as the eye could see, for hours we drove among the silent rolling hills of golden wheat.

Maggie Oster in Gifts and Crafts from Your Garden says that wheat for wheat-weaving should be harvested about two weeks before the regular harvest when it is in the “dough stage.” Test it by pinching one of the grains with your thumbnail. If it releases a milky say, it is too green. If it is hard, it is too ripe. It should puncture easily but no sap should appear. Cut the wheat about four or six inches above the soil and bundle in sheaves about four to six inches in diameter. Keeping all the heads of wheat in one direction, bind near the bottom of the stalk and either hang them up or stack them for two weeks.

Wheat weavings were often hung on walls, not just as decorations but as protection, like the charms made in the Scottish Highlands on Lammas by tying red strings around crossed rowan-twigs and hanging them over doors.

Wheat weavings were often hung on walls, not just as decorations but as protection, like the charms made in the Scottish Highlands on Lammas by tying red strings around crossed rowan-twigs and hanging them over doors. In Wales, wheat weaving has become a traditional art form, divorced from harvest customs. Everywhere I went in Wales, I saw beautiful and elaborate wheat weavings for sale. You may be able to find someone in your area who can teach you this traditional art. Like many women’s arts, it’s hard to describe on paper–it cries out for one-to-one instruction and a kinesthetic experience.

Prepare the wheat by cutting off and discarding the second-joint straw and removing the leaf-sheaf. Soak them in warm water for at least 30 minutes. Then drain and wrap in a damp towel so they will stay moist.

Witch’s Mark or Cat’s Paw

The first set of instructions come from Helen Farias’ unpublished book, The Harvest Mysteries. This creates a long flat braid.

Tie three straws together, just below the heads with stout thread (Helen suggests buttonhole twist). Fan them out into north, east and west positions with the heads to the south. Fold the east (right) straw under the north (top) straw just before you fold the north straw over the east straw–in other words, they trade places. Then fold the west (left) straw under the north straw, just before folding the north straw over the west straw–again they trade places. Repeat.

As you work, you may wish to stretch the braid slightly. With your left thumb and forefinger (if you are right-handed) firmly hold the weaving, and move your grip up the weaving as it grows. Stop a few inches from the end and tie off.

Four Straw Plait or North, South, East, West Plait

This creates a plait with a bit more dimension. Tie four straws together under the heads. Hold the heads down (towards the floor) with your left thumb and forefinger, keeping your palm upward. Fan the four straws out in the four directions.

With your right hand (if you’re right-handed), fold the south straw to the north and the north to the south. Put your thumb across the fold. Fold the east straw to the west and the west straw to the east. Secure with your thumb. Repeat, moving your grip slowly upwards as the weaving grows, stretching it when necessary, holding it securely with your thumb. Stop a few inches from the end and tie off.

Shaping the Weaving

These braids can now be twisted into various shapes.

The simplest is a simple loop. Tie the end to the to the neck of the heads and either fan the straw ends out, snipping them at an angle, or hide them behind the heads.

Or loop the braid twice and overlap the loop, creating a vesica pisces or almond shape in the center.

Or make three concentric loops for a miniature “dolly” (with the loops as the head, the sheaves as the skirted body).

Secure the ends again, straighten the weaving and pat it until it is even and pleasing. Mist it once or twice, if it’s dried out, and place under a brick, heavy book (protected with plastic) or some other flat weight. When it has dried, decorate as you like. The traditional decoration is a red ribbon.

Mordiford Wheat Weaving

If you are now ready for a more complicated wheat weaving, try this heart-shaped “corn dolly” associated with the Mordiford district in England. I found directions for it and a picture at www.wheatweaving.com.

References:

Campanelli, Pauline, Ancient Ways, Llewellyn 1991
Farias, Helen, The Harvest Mysteries, 1990, unpublished [copy in my collection] Oster, Maggie, Gifts and Crafts from the Garden, Rodale 1988

Web Links:

American Museum of Straw Art

At this web site, you can take a virtual tour of woven straw art. It’s just like walking through a museum. Great photos and informative captions. I came away with a new appreciation of the marvelous capabilities of woven grain and the spiritual dimensions of this art.

World Wide Wheat Weavers

This association sponsors a web site that features photos of wheat weavings created by members and information on where to buy grains, find classes and buy books on the topic.

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At Home in Summer: Staycation

Shaw & Pepe enjoying their staycation. (Photo by Waverly Fitzgerald)

By Waverly Fitzgerald

At home in the summer seems like an oxymoron. at least in Seattle, where summers are glorious. Most of us spend as much time as possible outside. And even when we stay home, we stay outside our homes: on balconies, on decks, sitting on the front porch.

So I thought instead of writing about projects to do inside the home, I’d write about staycations, a neologism which made it into the 2009 Merriam-Webster dictionary, and other ways of being at home and not at home at the same time.

Staycation

The word is generally used to describe a vacation that you spend staying at home, perhaps doing things you wouldn’t normally have time for, maybe reading, gardening, watching videos, or working on some creative pursuit. One of my co-workers took off a week recently to finish her novel. She didn’t finish it, but she did take it apart, spreading the pages across her living room, and reconstructed it with a better sense of the direction she needed to take to finish it.

This is a slightly different version of a staycation and a game I like to play. You simply visit the places where you would normally take guests. In Seattle, that might be the Pike Place Market, the Ballard locks or the troll under the Fremont Bridge.

This one seems to require a certain amount of self-discipline, that I’m not sure I have. How do you resist the urge to clean out the basement or watch daytime TV? But maybe that is the perfect staycation.

Tourist in my Town

This is a slightly different version of a staycation and a game I like to play. You simply visit the places where you would normally take guests. In Seattle, that might be the Pike Place Market, the Ballard locks or the troll under the Fremont Bridge.

You can also make a hotel or B&B reservation and truly immerse yourself in the vacation experience. One year for my birthday, my friend Kim and I stayed at a boutique hotel in downtown Seattle. Some of the musicians for the Bumbershoot festival were staying there, as well, and we got to talk to them during the wine tasting the hotel sponsored every evening. We ate out every meal and spent a long leisurely afternoon at my favorite book store, Elliott Bay.

You can also play this game by picking a neighborhood or nearby community which you don’t know well. Then spend the day exploring it, just as if you were a tourist. I did this with my friend Michael one Saturday in the then-sleepy (now ultra hip) Seattle neighborhood of Ballard. We wandered down the main street, window-shopping, and found a cool new coffee shop.

The Random Road Trip

Photo by Waverly Fitzgerald

Photo by Waverly Fitzgerald

This reminds me of another game you can play if you want to get a fresh perspective on your life. I’ve never tried this one but I read it a long time ago in a magazine and never forgot it. The author wrote about going on weekend drives with her children where they would flip a coin every time they came to a corner to decide which way to turn.

You could also do the same thing on a walk around your neighborhood, just as a way to break up routine and perhaps find yourself in someplace totally unexpected.

While researching this article, I found a wonderful essay written by Matt Hannafin about exploring his new home, Portland, using a variation of this technique.

Secular Sabbath

You could also just take a vacation from technology which is the idea behind the secular sabbath. Mark Bittman wrote about this in the New York Times in March 2008, and the term has spread rapidly. It refers to unplugging from all sorts of technology: computers, cell phones, laptops, MP3 players, televisions, etc.. My amazing web designer, Joanna Powell Colbert, wrote about the pleasure of unplugging in a recent entry of her blog.

Julia Cameron suggested a version of this in The Artist’s Way when she recommended her readers undertake a week of reading deprivation. I regularly assigned this to students when I was teaching a class based on the book, an assignment that was always greeted with howls of outrage and disbelief. More howls when I said that even listening to NPR was forbidden.

Although this is a difficult exercise, it produces amazing results. Sometimes reading is a way to insulate yourself, to keep your mind occupied with external input. Freed of the constant barrage of other people’s words, you get a chance to find out what you’re thinking or to interact with your environment in a new way. And isn’t that part of the joy of a vacation?

For more information about vacations, consider attending the National Vacation Summit, sponsored by the Take Back Your Time Day movement. John deGraaf, the founder of Take Back Your Time Day, always gathers the most interesting thinkers and activities in the fields of public policy, education, science and art. The conference occurs on August 10 through 12 in Seattle.

Have you ever tried any of these ideas in your life? Or do you have your own ideas about how to take a vacation while staying home?

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Your Turn: Scents of Summer

Margaret Bergen sent this photograph of a Duchesse De Brabant tea rose from her garden in northern Florida; it was taken by her husband, Fred Bergen. She writes: “The fragrance is both reliable and intense. This is a rose you can count on being able to smell at any time of day or night, under any conditions. The scent is the essence of Tea, a strong, dry, slightly acrid sweetness that is very memorable.”

There are many flower scents I enjoy in summer: roses, linden flowers, honeysuckle, jasmine. But if I had to say what is the scent that is most emblematic of summer to me, I think it would be the scent of rain on hot asphalt. Hmmmmm!

What is the emblematic scent of summer for you?

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