Another summer winding down without a real vacation. I’ve written many times before about how people who live like me generally don’t have the time (or often the money, either) to take what most people consider a proper vacation. My solution? I try to take a little vacation every day.
In our household, it’s not just the workload of planting, tending, harvesting, and preserving self-reliant food gardens, but also the reality of living in an old house heated exclusively with woodstoves.
If we went away overnight in winter, we’d have to take all the houseplants into the cellar, drain the pipes, and put antifreeze in the traps and toilet tank to prevent burst pipes if the weather turns really cold. After even a night or two away in mid-January, it takes a few hours to bring the heat back to the point where we can take off our parkas and longjohns, then another hour to bring the plants upstairs and get the water running again.
Oh, but you say, “Everybody needs to get away, visit new surroundings, meet new people...”
I agree! My solution is to take time every day to slow down and empty my mind of the "to do" list. Maybe not every single day, but even a few seconds makes a difference.
What to do? I eat my favorite foods, find a couple of favorite things to do, and visit at least one of my favorite places, often interacting with new, or at least colorful people. Assuming I bring the right attitude to the experiences, my mini-vacations often feel like I’m “away.”
Favorite vacation foods
Hmm. Can’t quite decide among many bold contenders. A few:
- Half a ripe cantaloupe, picked in the August sunshine, sliced open and cut up on the spot, eaten sitting on a big rock at the edge of the garden, juice dripping down my chin. (Don’t tell the food-safety people; it’s better to scrub cantaloupe, even homegrown, before cutting them open.)
- Thin, crispy cornmeal pancakes for breakfast, floating in a sea of maple syrup, with a side dish of fresh blackberries. Ten minutes to make the pancakes while my dining partner heads out to harvest the blackberries.
- A tray of Brussels sprouts and small red potatoes, tossed with olive oil and roasted until lightly browned.
- Our traditional Saturday night pizza, baked with homemade tomato sauce, topped with various cheeses and veggies du jour—onion, green or red-roasted peppers, roasted garlic.
- The crusty end of a whole wheat loaf, fresh from the oven, spread with butter and homemade jam.
- A big piece of berry pie. My editor, Catherine Boeckmann, sent me a wonderful recipe that involves preparing a stovetop filling, plopping it into a pre-baked crust to chill. Easy to make, hard to screw up, spectacular to look at, and scrumptious.
But, you say, “there’s so much work involved, growing and/or cooking your favorite foods.” That’s right!
Turns out, gardening and cooking are some of my favorite things to do, despite the stresses involved. Here are a few more of my favorite things to do.
Baths My entire life I’ve loved nothing more than a long, hot (colder months) or tepid (warmer months) bath.
Our only bathroom is small, but lying in our luxuriously deep tub, I can look out the large window onto the field behind the house to the trees at the top of the ridge. If I open the window during haying season, I can breathe in the smell of fresh-cut grass; when the lilacs or the milkweeds bloom, their perfume soothes and intoxicates. On winter evenings, I can enjoy the stars.
Walks Nothing beats a long walk with a friend or two. Our semi-rural area offers many dirt roads, woods trails, and winter snowmobile trails. Depending on my walking partners, long walks give us an opportunity to share information, catch up on the news, vent, rage, laugh, move quietly without speaking much through lovely surroundings, and generally support one another. Our rolling terrain, with many long, steep hills, adds to the fitness benefits of these walks. Read more about slow walking—it's a movement!
Snowshoeing From the moment 20 years ago when I strapped on my new snowshoes, paired them with trekking poles, and headed out to break trail in my own backyard after a two-day blizzard, I’ve loved snowshoeing through the backwoods, alone or with others.
“Walking on water” one forest ranger calls this ancient gift from indigenous peoples of the north.
The woods trails are especially gorgeous after a heavy snowfall before the snow blows or melts off the branches. If I don’t want to break trail (heavy aerobic work), I head for the nearest snowmobile trail. These well-groomed trails crisscross the entire state. I can hit one only a hundred paces from the kitchen door. Plus the trunk of the car easily accommodates one or more pairs of snowshoes, poles and boots, so anywhere I go, I can strap them on and head out.
Going to the dump What? Mini-vacations at the town dump (aka the “transfer station”)? Yup.
As with real vacations, I rarely enjoy packing for the trip and getting there, but I generally have have a great time after I arrive. I usually meet and chat with a few old friends and a couple of new people; I catch up on all the local news (okay, some gossip, too) with the dump workers. During political seasons (ongoing here n New Hampshire), candidates and their surrogates hang out, distribute literature, and engage in civil conversation for those so inclined.
Plus, it’s a great place to shop and scrounge. Our dump has a large building we call the “Free Mall,” a swap shop where people drop off/pick up still-useable items and books. Unlit and messy, it's furnished me with many one-of-a-kind treasures: cast-iron cookware, small appliances, canning jars, gardening boots, tools...
Television You’d think “natural living” would preclude watching television. Not for me!
I’ve already written about my enjoyment at watching reruns of Anthony Bourdain’s ‘Parts Unknown.’ Last winter, we got hooked on the BBC dramatic series ‘Killing Eve,’ and this summer, we’ve watched many episodes of the handsome Aussie veterinarian, Chris Brown in ‘Bondi Vet’ and ‘Vet Gone Wild.’ We always catch ‘Nature’ on PBS and enjoy the reruns of ‘Planet Earth.’ Oh, and some of the cooking shows. Plus, we subscribe to Netflix, mostly for the foreign films.
The movies, the dramas, the cooking, nature, and animal shows help diffuse the strong emotions occasioned by the news and other stresses of the day of the day. They transport me to corners of the world and niches of the human psyche I couldn't’t have imagined. I can watch comfortably in my jammies, stretched out in my recliner.
Yes, I’ve taken several "real" vacations, and I always managed to have a good time. But whether you take a traditional vacation or not, try taking time now and then to empty your mind and stop rushing headlong into your to-do list. Perhaps not every day. Perhaps just for a few seconds. Sit on a bench and stare at the blue sky above with nothing to do. (Do not bring electronics!) Take a bath. Observe the birds. Smell a flower. Watch the moonlight. It's a vacation state of mind.