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!

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Capturing the Scent of a Flower

(Photo by Mary Kirman)

By Waverly Fitzgerald

October 2008. Legendary herbalist Jeanne Rose sat perched on a stool in the workroom of a perfume shop in the mid-Wilshire district of Los Angeles on a Sunday morning. In front of her were ten little brown vials full of perfume, concocted by the students in her Natural Perfumery class the day before. She picked them up, one by one, unscrewed the lids, waved them back and forth under her nose, eyes closed.

“Some of these scents are nice,” she said. “Some are good.” She paused. “And some of these scents have the potential to be spectacular.”

I sat with the other nine women in the class, in a semi-circle. Each of us was properly attired, as instructed, in a white shirt or apron.  We ranged in age from early twenties to late fifties and included a script reader for a major studio, an aromatherapy teacher, a physician who specializes in fertility, the editor of a glossy food magazine, a student of acupuncture. I had come the farthest, all the way from Seattle, for this class.

I had not really intended to become a perfumer. This Natural Perfumery class was simply one of the many tasks I tackled in my quest to figure out how to capture the scent of flowers. I was more interested in the materials we had used-the essential oils, the absolutes, the waxes in the glass vials on the shelves around us-and how they were extracted from flowers. But at that moment, as we waited for Jeanne’s opinions, I dared to hope that my perfume was one of the spectacular ones.

I signed up for the class because I wanted to study with Jeanne Rose. She has been one of my heroines ever since I bought her first book, Herbs ‘n Things, shortly after it was published in 1971. Jeanne wrote it in the Sixties when she was a young woman with long dark hair and big dark eyes, living a block off Haight Ashbury in San Francisco, dressing rock stars in fringed suede jackets and bell-bottoms. She had compiled the information in the book from old herbals and some of the information seems unlikely or impossible (fennel seed boiled in wine and drunk for serpent bites?) but fascinating.

By 2008, Jeanne Rose had acquired over forty years of experience, growing, creating and selling herbal products and teaching classes. Her recent books, and the workbooks we purchased as texts for the class, are rich with information, based on her personal experience and her reading of scientific literature.

The other reason I had chosen this class was because I wanted to know how to make perfume from flowers. And a class in Natural Perfumery seemed the obvious place to learn. I was so naive I didn’t realize there is a difference between the scent of flowers and perfumes, which are artfully composed from many different elements including spices, citrus peel, woods, mosses, even seashells. I also didn’t understand the significance of the word Natural or that I had taken sides in a battle I didn’t even know was being waged, a battle between perfumers and natural perfumers.

The front window of Blunda AromaticsThe class was held in a perfume shop, Blunda Aromatics, in the mid-Wilshire district of Los Angeles and the proprietor, Persephenie, is one of the rising stars in the field of natural perfumery. She sponsors events at her store that showcase other natural perfumers and the descriptions of these events make me wish I lived in LA instead of Seattle so I could attend and smell the fragrances.

On the other side are perfumers, like Luca Turin, my favorite perfume writer, who has only contempt for natural perfumers. Like most professionals in the field of perfume, he can’t understand why anyone would limit themselves to scents that can be extracted from natural ingredients, eschewing the marvelous fragrances that can be created in the laboratory. Turin is a chemist, as well as a scientist who has pioneered a new theory about how we smell, and he sometimes works for perfume companies, in the lab, creating new scent molecules or aromachemicals.

The main difference between synthetic perfume molecules and natural scents is that natural scents are more complex. Chandler Burr in his book The Perfect Scent, reproduces the results from a chemical analysis of a Turkish rose absolute (a solid waxy substance in which the flowers have been embedded). He lists 81 molecules, but the total list would contain between 800 and 1,000 different molecules. That’s how complex the scent of a rose is.

Some of the scents in a rose include citronellol, geraniol, nerol, nonadecane, eugenol, PEA, linalool, henicosane, alpha-pinene. You may recognize some of these molecules as they are named after the substances from which they are derived. Citron (think citrus blossom, not the fruit), geranium, neroli (another citrus flower), pine. Some  you might not recognize by name but you would by scent: eugenol is the spicy chemical that is found in basil leaves and cloves; linalool is a major aroma chemical in lavender. And those are just the scents that contribute over 1% of the total odor.

Perfume chemists have isolated some of the aromachemicals that are responsible for the scent of a rose, like damascone and damascenone, named after the aromatic damask rose. Luca Turin, scientist and perfume reviewer, says these molecules remind him of Brahms and autumn. He writes they are “outrageously fruity, and convey the full range of dried-fruit notes, all shades of translucent golden browns.”

Although I was disappointed in my quest to learn how to capture the scent of flowers, I did get plenty of  hands-on experience with a variety of perfume materials. Jeanne brought along 72 essential oils, waxes and absolutes for us to smell.

Workroom at Blunda AromaticsThese were lined up in little bottles and jars along the long wooden workbench on one side of the workroom. In a wavering row, all of the students in the class shuffled along the length of the counter, picking up each bottle and taking a quick sniff. It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences well worth the cost of the whole workshop. Some of those bottles would cost hundreds of dollars to replace. Others were 40 years old, like the styrax resin, and couldn’t be duplicated today.

Each of these materials is created in a different way. And when you learn about the methods of extracting scent from flowers, you realize there is nothing very natural about it.

In steam distillation, steam is driven through the plant materials, which release their aromatic oils. The vapor that ascends contains the essential oil and water. It moved through a cooling tube into another chamber, called the condensing chamber, where the oil, because it is lighter than water will float on the top. It can be skimmed from the surface and bottled.

The vapors from the leaves were released as steam, rose to the top of the pan, condensed when they hit the cold surface of the lid, rolled down to the inverted knob and dripped down into the glass bowl. The kitchen filled with a wonderful fragrance, evoking bay rum and eucalyptus.

The fragrant water can also be collected and saved. For years, the only two flower waters that were precious enough to be bottled and saved were rose water and orange blossom water.  Jeanne Rose was the first to advocate saving this byproduct of the distillation process which she named a hydrosol. Now you can buy hydrosols of lavender, and bay, and oregano. I have all of those in my refrigerator right now.

Jeanne Rose has been distilling her own essential oils for years, using a copper still in her backyard. She also sponsors an Aromatic Plant Project which encourages wine growers in California to grow fragrant plants like lavender alongside their vines and harvest the crop for steam distillation.

I have not yet become enthralled enough to purchase my own still but I did learn how to create a kitchen still in an herbal medicine class and used that to create my first hydrosol.

I used bay leaves from the tree in my garden. I put the leaves in water in a non-reactive pan, put a metal steamer on top of them, and centered a glass bowl in the middle of the steamer. Then I covered the pot with an upside down glass lid and put a plastic bag of ice on top of that. Then I put the pot on the stove and turned up the heat. The vapors from the leaves were released as steam, rose to the top of the pan, condensed when they hit the cold surface of the lid, rolled down to the inverted knob and dripped down into the glass bowl. The kitchen filled with a wonderful fragrance, evoking bay rum and eucalyptus. I removed the glass bowl containing the liquid gingerly after turning off the heat and let everything cool down.

My hydrosol of bay was delightful-spicy and warm. It contains (I learned from Wikipedia) eugenol, the same chemical component I love in cloves (and used to love in clove cigarettes) and eucalyptol, the main ingredient in eucalyptus, the remedy my mother used (a drop of eucalyptus oil on a piece of cotton in a steamer) for childhood coughs.

Flushed with success, I then attempted a rose hydrosol, using petals from the scented rose across the street. It smelled delicious steaming in the pot but the end result was a brownish liquid that smelled nothing like roses. It did, however, smell like Brahms and autumn.

Other methods of extracting scent from flowers are more brutal. Perhaps the earliest method used was to soak flowers in fat. The Egyptians wore cones of perfumed oil on their heads which melted, spreading the perfume through their hair.

Many flowers are too fragile to sustain steam distillation. This includes many of my favorites: wisteria, lilac, lily of the valley, gardenia, jasmine, honeysuckle. The method used to capture the scent of these flowers is called enfleurage, a term much too pretty for the method itself.

chassisIn its most developed form, as practiced in Grasse, the perfume center of France, during the nineteenth century, fresh flower petals are placed on panes of glass which are smeared with purified fat. The fat absorbs the odors of the flowers, which are replenished when they are spent, until the fat is thoroughly imbued with fragrance. Then the scented fat, which is called a pomade, is washed with alcohol which absorbs the scent. The leftover scented fat was often used to make soap. The scented alcohol is called an absolute. If the alcohol is allowed to evaporate, what is left is an essential oil. This old illustration of women working with the chassis (the glass frames) comes from Sacred Earth which also features a great article on methods used to extract scents from plant materials.

There are more primitive ways of creating the same effect, including simply stirring flowers into hot fat until it absorbs their odors. This cheerful article at Mother Earth News explains how to do enfleurage in your kitchen, by placing flowers in fat, then using rubbing alcohol as a solvent to extract the scent from the fat. I’m sure Jeanne Rose would shudder at this suggestion, because rubbing alcohol has a strong odor of its own which would affect your end result.

I have not achieved much success in capturing the scent of the flowers in my neighborhood, but perhaps I was more successful as a perfumer? Alas! My perfume was not one of the spectacular ones created in the Natural Perfumery workshop. But I can’t think of anything really more marvelous than spending two days playing around with scents.

I am currently trying this home version of enfleurage but have not achieved very impressive results. I used Crisco (not being enough of a purist to want to clarify lard as the author of the article suggests) and spread it over the sides of two small tea saucers. I then placed petals of the jasmine that twines around the pillar of my front porch in the fat on both sides and clamped the two saucers together with a rubber band.

I check every few days to see if the flowers are spent (it seems to take about three days before they turn brown), then pluck them off and replace them with fresh flowers. The fat is beginning to take on an odor but it’s not entirely pleasant. I think I left some of the flowers too long and they began to mold.

I was more successful with an even more primitive method I tried when the woodruff was at its peak in late April. I put some sprigs of woodruff in a small bottle of jojoba oil and pulled out the limp stems every week and replaced them for three weeks in a row. The oil now has the marvelous smoky, almost tobacco-like scent of woodruff. I’m not quite sure what I can do with it. I may use it as a base and add an essential oil to make a perfumed cream.

Jeanne Rose in her books mentions several other forms of primitive distillation, for instance, hanging scented flowers in a corked bottle in the sun. She says the oils will drop to the bottom of the bottle and you can collect them. I tried this but my plant materials simply molded.

I have not achieved much success in capturing the scent of the flowers in my neighborhood, but perhaps I was more successful as a perfumer? Alas! My perfume was not one of the spectacular ones created in the Natural Perfumery workshop. But I can’t think of anything really more marvelous than spending two days playing around with scents.

I have come to terms with the idea that fragrance is by its very nature transient. My favorite perfume (Clinique Simply) is no longer available. My new favorite (Mimosa Pour Moi) evaporates from my skin as I wear it. The aroma of roses perfumes the summer air but is gone by autumn. I am learning to enjoy the scents of the moment.

Do you have a method for capturing and preserving the  scent of flowers?

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

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:

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

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.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

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?

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

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?

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

The Path

Photo by Lori DeMarre

Occasionally when I would explain my concept for my year-long flower project, which involves getting to know the plants I encounter in the eight blocks between my apartment and my work, people would say, “Oh, like The Path by Chet Raymo.” And I always replied, “No, not like that.” I thought I had read The Path (I was mixing it up with another book) and my book was nothing like it.

Well, I finally got a copy of The Path and I’m thrilled and enchanted by the comparison. Raymo’s book is similar to mine in that we are both interested in using this device (the daily walk) as a framework on which we can hang all sorts of interesting information (he manages to incorporate architecture, history, botany, astronomy, etc.) His writing style is gorgeous, playful and supple. I hope mine is equally delightful.

One difference is significant. Chet Raymo’s path is linear–he proceeds along the same path every day and his book moves along that path in segments. My path is more like a maze. My work is five blocks south and three blocks west of my house. I haven’t really worked out the math but I figure there are probably at least 45 ways I could walk those blocks, depending on which block I turn at, and that’s not including the occasional alley (I love alleys).

One consequence of this is that I’m always getting lost, a habit praised by another favorite author, Rebecca Solnit in her book A Field Guide to Getting Lost. (She’s also an advocate for walking in the city.) And I lose track of where I saw the plants as well. That’s partly because the landscape is always changing as the seasons pass. And partly because I walk a different way every time.

Last spring I encountered a fragrant rhododendron within blocks of my apartment but I’ve never been able to find it again. And a few weeks ago, the lovely aroma alerted me to a new linden tree, which I then lost for almost a week. This getting lost, and discovering new plants, helps create a sense of mystery and magic in my life. And I hope it adds depth to the stories I am writing about my floral adventures.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Good Enough to Wait

By Sonya Lea

Preserving food is the extended foreplay of the gustatory world.  Especially for city-dwellers, it revives a sense of connection with wild nature, and rejuvenates senses dormant from over-reliance on the fast and the cheap.  If drive-thru is the dining equivalent of the quickie, preserving fresh, seasonal produce for later supping is tantric bliss.

If drive-thru is the dining equivalent of the quickie, preserving fresh, seasonal produce for later supping is tantric bliss.

The last week of summer I drove out to the local farm and purchased boxes of coral peaches, firm pickling cucumbers, banana and pasilla and sweet Anaheim peppers, ripe red and fleshy green tomatoes and plump blackberries.  It didn’t look like promiscuity until the saleswoman sized me up and down behind the mountain of produce stacked in eight large boxes.  “Well, you’re sure going to have your work cut out for you,” she snarked.  And the old man in line in front of me offered a wide grin, as if he knew what I would be up to, and said, in a wistful tone: “Me and the missus used to put up.  Oh, I miss it so.”

By the time I unloaded the car and began washing the long, nubby cuke, I realized I was going to be days in this kitchen – days immersed in the sweet perfume of fervid juice and musky field; days with my fingers in slippery seeds, days nudging the ruby pit from its fleshy center.   I filled the sink with cool water and stripped to my bare feet, and brought a berry to my lips, tracking its nib with my tongue before biting into its succulent drupelets.

Canning, freezing, drying, curing, fermenting, pickling, jam and jelly making – preserving holds the genius of our earliest people.  Preserving developed between 5500 and 3500 BC, creating villages, and vessels, and livestock, perhaps even the very urge to civilize in the way we experience it today.  (Though it seems strange to this acculturated cook, one of the ways historians categorize societies as being ‘civilized’ is when the primary purpose of food gathering, preparation and storing has been diverted to allow the pursuit of other, more ‘complex’ activities, such as war, religion, bureaucracy.)  Homo sapiens found he could manage his stock, and digest proteins better when food went over fire, and intentional cookery followed, leading to food as a social engagement, as taboo arbiter, as identity-maker.  What we keep can communicate our sense of frugal sparseness or our abundant beguilement: the heirloom we shelve can be our strained broth or our rose-drenched honey.  We preserve what we wish to have known as the common good.

It’s possible that salt was the first additive used as a method to preserve food.   Used by ancient communities close to the sea, salt preserves by inhibiting toxin-producing bacteria, making it essential for forms of flesh – meat, fish and the human body, as for mummifying.  Those who wielded the salt wielded the power, as the Emperor Claudius knew when he strolled into the senate one day asking if man could live without salt meat.  Before it was the Eternal City, Rome was a staging post where local marketers exchanged their goods for precious salt.  Leaders and merchants preserved their own futures along the Via Salaria, the salt road; when unforeseen circumstances meant there was little access to fresh food, salt could define a government’s rule.

Even though we now have more sugar than we know what to do with, we continue a romance with the saporous temptress: we call our beloveds ‘sweetie’ and ‘honey’ and ask them to give us some ‘sugar’ when we wish to be kissed.

Indeed, whoever holds the keys to the pantry holds the power.  None knew this better that Mahatma Gandhi, who emerged from his six-year prison confinement to protest the exclusive British licensing of Indian sea salt.  When he marched from the ashram to the beach at Dandi, he placed salt crystals evaporated by the sea into his small palm, enacting a potent ritual that defied the authorities in one simple act.  Indians followed, breaking the law en masse, literally assuming worth of one’s salt, until the Brits relented and asked Gandhi to represent his Indian Congress Party at the 1931 leadership conference.

At Indian rituals, Roman feasts, Athenian festivals, Chinese banquets, Middle Eastern merry-making, and Egyptian sacraments all manner of seeds, plants and flowers were preserved with sugar.  After the fourteenth century, the master confectioners of Paris made their fortunes selling to the aristocracy, and since gifts of preserves were considered luxurious, these sugared treats became a regular expense of anyone who had a role with the law. (Used as chamber spices for ‘dispelling wind and encouraging the seed’ these sweets, often called sweetmeats, were at least poetically-perfect: a candy by any other name would surely not have prefaced lovemaking.)  Sugar was brought to the New World after Columbus’ affair with Canary Island’s Governor, one Beatrice de Bobadilla, who sent him from their month-long tryst with cuttings of sugar cane.  From that sweet union, came America’s love affair with all things candied.  Jams, jellies, syrups, sugared fruits, sugar-wine (rum) – sugar was once an international currency, with labor rewarded in casks of syrup, and millions paid for its becoming a standard with their very lives, including creating a caste of slaves from Africa who would do the back-breaking work of sweetening up the colonist’s diet, and his pockets.  Even though we now have more sugar than we know what to do with, we continue a romance with the saporous temptress: we call our beloveds ‘sweetie’ and ‘honey’ and ask them to give us some ‘sugar’ when we wish to be kissed.  “It must be jelly,” says the blues singer, “Cuz jam don’t shake like that.”

There is no savings in preserving food at home.  The costs of labor and equipment and of what will break or go rotten through experimentation is high compared to what we can stroll down to the store and buy for a dollar or two from Smuckers or Kraft or Heinz.  Still, there is a part of our relationship to food we are buying back when we agree to follow the transformation from field to table.  In grocery shopping there isn’t the kind of bond to the elements, the land, the season, the home, the kitchen; there isn’t the connection to one’s memory, or history or intention; there isn’t seasoning or sensuality or seductive surprise that can come from becoming present to food as it changes, or even likelier, as we are changed by its presence in our midst.

We are preserving passion, which is, I believe, able to be ingested as nourishment, as earth-muse, and for us, as remembrance of a moment’s lovemaking.

This is how it happens in our home – we weave food preparation with the events of the day, with the weather, with the quiet and the conversation, watching movements and mistakes as they assert themselves, upon us and upon our food, asking for our attention.  This is how dried lavender gets shaken into the sugar canister for lavender-scented sugar; this is how the lavender buds get dumped into the peach jam, when the sifter is forgotten; this is how it gets stirred in with a jam-coated spoon; this is how it drips onto my breasts when I lean over to sample it; this is how my lover, walking by, missing no entreaty, turns me around and licks it from my flesh; this is how the fire leaps into me and my peaches while we’re dancing and kissing above the flame; this is perhaps what you also taste when I make you toast from fresh bread and chunky fruit and violet sprigs of calming flower.  We are preserving passion, which is, I believe, able to be ingested as nourishment, as earth-muse, and for us, as remembrance of a moment’s lovemaking.

On the Sunday after I’d been at the farm, a box of enormous tomatoes sat on the kitchen table, their pulp so ready to burst forth they practically split sitting in the afternoon sun.  It was time to get ready for dinner, and my man had lit a fire of mesquite and hickory on the smoker just outside the kitchen door.  As he came and went, smoke infused the house, leading us straight into an ancestral domain.  Before long we had gathered those beefy reds and laid them on the grill and waited until their skins split from heat and flame.  I let them cool on the counter, then quickly cored and peeled them, sliding eighths into a large pot, simmering slowly, before adding grainy salt and a handful of fresh basil.  An hour or so later, I lifted a wooden spoon to my mouth and felt another woman enter from the balls of my feet to the curve of my belly to just below my throat.  And then she was yelling a phrase I knew I’d heard my grandmother say a long time ago, — “Oh. My. Lord!” – a gusty, guttural call of a blues woman, an expression coming more from kinetic core than mental knowing, the smoke-dazed freshness of the fruit a memory of a time I hadn’t had, couldn’t know.  The man looked inside from the fire, smiling.  He didn’t know who this woman was yet, but he was about to taste her.

SEXY RECIPES:

peachesPeach Lavender Jam

Sugar:
4 cups granulated sugar
large bunch lavender buds*
Shake buds into sugar and let rest for two weeks, shaking a few times each week.

Jam:
2 1/2 lb. peaches, peeled and pitted
juice of one lemon
1 cup water

Prepare peaches, cut into chunks, then sprinkle with lemon juice and stir.

Bring the sugar and water to a bowl; sift the lavender out, or not – your choice!  Stir until the sugar is dissolved, and boil rapidly five minutes.  Add the peaches, return to boil, and boil rapidly, stirring often twenty minutes, or until jell stage.

Remove the pot from the heat and let cool for ten minutes.  Skim well.  Ladle into hot sterilized jars and seal.  Process according to recommendations.

Makes three pints.

*(if you don’t grow and dry your own, purchase buds from a botanical store locally)

Smoke-Infused Tomato Sauce

4 lb. beefsteak tomatoes
large bunch basil
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cider vinegar

Prepare a grill or smoker and soak wood chips in water.  A few minutes before placing the tomatoes on the grill, let the chips begin to smoke.  Quickly place the tomatoes, cover and peek every few minutes to see if the skins have burst.  Take them off the flame (use the grill for a kebob or steak to go with the sauce.)

Peel the tomatoes, cut into eighths and if you prefer, remove most of the seeds.  Place in a heavy bottomed pan, and bring to boil.  Add salt.  Simmer 45 minutes, or until the sauce thickens.  Take off the heat and stir in the vinegar.

Add a few basil sprigs to each hot sterilized jar.  Pour the sauce over.  Heat process, cool, and check the seals.  (If you prefer not to heat process, you can refrigerate up to one month, or freeze for two months, but cool the jars first before refrigerating.)

Makes 5 cups

Use in pasta sauces or on pizzas.

Photo Credit:

Judy Maselli

References:

Crumpacker, Bunnym The Sex Life of Food, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2006
Fisher, M.F.K. Fisher, The Art of Eating, Wiley Publishing, Hoboken, New Jersey, 1937
Schwartz, Oded, Preserving, DK Publishing, Inc., 1996.
Toussaint-Samat, Maguelonne, History of Food,  Blackwell Publishers, Oxford, U.K., 1992
Weldon, Amy E.,“The Fruits of Memory,” Corn Bread Nation 2, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, N.C., 2004

Sonya Lea is the author of Wondering Who You Are,  an intensely honest and lyrical memoir,published by Tin House in 2015, about what happened in her marriage after her husband lost his memories, due to a traumatic brain injury. Check out my interview with her here at my writing web site.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

A Rare Conjunction

by Sheila Belanger

This summer brings us a rare and unusual dance of three interesting celestial characters: Jupiter, Neptune and Chiron. All three are turning retrograde during a three week period at the start of the summer: Neptune on May 28, Chiron on May 30 and Jupiter on June 15. They are all in the sign of Aquarius and hovering close to about 26 degrees of Aquarius.

When a planet goes retrograde, it looks like its stopping and backing up. Planets don’t really move backwards, but they seem to stop and hover in a particular place in the star wheel from our perspective on earth. This action calls our attention to the place in the star wheel where they are shifting.

When planets are in Aquarius, they activate the role of the rebel, the one who is authentic, unique, alternative. Aquarius encourages us to think outside of the box. It’s about the collective and the tribe.

When planets are in Aquarius, they activate the role of the rebel, the one who is authentic, unique, alternative. Aquarius encourages us to think outside of the box. It’s about the collective and the tribe. Aquarius is an altruistic sign, in the true meaning of the word altruistic: orienting to others. Yet it also calls us to be true to ourselves as individuals, to be unique members of a collective.

So how do these three planetary characters play with the Aquarius energy?
Jupiter is a big gassy planet: it asks us to expand and open up. Jupiter in Aquarius says “I want to support your expanding your sense of the collective and the community. I want to help you take your place in your tribe.”

Chiron is a comet that represents the shaman or wounded healer. Chiron points out where you need healing. In Aquarius, the wound that needs healing is marginalizing yourself, judging yourself, putting yourself outside of the group because you feel you don’t belong.

Neptune’s gift is the ability to dream and vision. In Aquarius, Neptune can help us envision a new way to work together. The negative side of Neptune is a feeling of helplessness. “I can’t make a difference so why bother?”

The conjunction of these three planets is rare. The last time it happened was in September of 1945, at the end of World War II. Before that, it was in 1881. Chiron has a very unusual orbital period around the sun: sometimes short and sometimes long. Jupiter and Neptune come together every 12 to 13 years. Jupiter and Chiron come together every 13 to 20 years. Chiron and Neptune come together every 57 to 80 years. So this conjunction offers us an amazing opportunity.

It is a call to healing, a chance to change our vision in terms of the collective, to move away from a sense of helplessness.

It is a call to healing, a chance to change our vision in terms of the collective, to move away from a sense of helplessness. We saw this during the campaign and the election of President Obama. In a sense, this was his campaign message: yes we can, we can make a difference. And the economic crisis is encouraging more of the same attitude. We see that we need to make a change. And we understand that we all in this together.

These three celestial characters will go back and forth connecting with each other throughout the whole year. Jupiter (the teacher, the expanded one) conjoins Chiron (the healer) three times on May 23, July 22 and December 7.

Jupiter connects with Neptune, expanding our ability to dream, our intuitive, spiritual and psychic selves (as well as our victim and overwhelmed selves) on May 27, July 10 and December 21.

You may feel the call from your inner teacher (Jupiter) to come out of the fog (Neptune) and attend to some old pattern (Chiron), particularly a wound having to do with dissociation and escapism (Neptune). The healing can come from the positive qualities of Aquarius: staying true to your self, and the unique gifts you bring to the world.

When you feel angst about your addictions, when you feel overwhelmed or victimized, say a prayer for your ancestors who felt the same way. Offer them love. Offer them light. It’s a way you can shift the pattern for yourself.

Chiron has a link with healing the ancestors. So the wound may not be (just) a personal wound.  Many of our ancestors struggled with addiction, found ways to escape from the pain in their lives, had to give up aspects of themselves just to survive.

One way to heal an ancestral pattern is to ask for help. You can call on your healed ancestors, ten, twenty generations back, before there was a wound. Ask them to help you, to stand at your back. You can also use Neptunian tools like prayer, meditation and sending compassion to your ancestors.

When you feel angst about your addictions, when you feel overwhelmed or victimized, say a prayer for your ancestors who felt the same way. Offer them love. Offer them light. It’s a way you can shift the pattern for yourself.

Aquarius is connected with technology because it’s about progressive, alternative ways of doing things. Because of the Internet and television, we are now connected to people all over the world. But the shadow side of technology and Aquarius can be too much information. There’s a psychic, emotional component to all of the information, especially the bad news, we are being bombarded with.

Aquarius tends to be a mental sign and that can lead to dissociation. We just shut down. When Aquarius energy is stressed, it tends to want to escape, to check out, to run away. How the hell to I get out of here?

One solution can be found in the compassionate nature of Neptune. Ask yourself: How do I keep my heart open in a way that doesn’t overwhelm me? How do I stay open and sensitive to the collective without losing myself?

Transcribed from a talk Sheila gave at East/West Bookshop on March 26, 2009. The complete tape which covers many other astrological cycles for Spring and early Summer can be purchased at www.sheilabelanger.net

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

“Living in Season” is for anyone who is weary of the frantic pace of modern life, who wants to slow down, connect with the natural world, and live a life filled with heart and meaning. Each season has its own flavor, captured in the folklore of seasonal holidays, preserved in rituals and recipes, ceremonies and songs.

This quarterly “Living in Season” e-zine helps you connect with the seasons through our articles, online courses (with suggestions on spiritual practices and creative pursuits that match the energy of each season), books and e-books on time management and the seasons. We’re glad you’ve joined us!

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend