Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Breathing In

Even though I wish the weather could be 80 degrees and sunny every single day, there are certain things about fall that make me warm and fuzzy like no other time of year. For me, this season is all about the scents. Sure, I love the mandatory autumn events, like apple and pumpkin picking, hayrides and corn mazes. But after you pick that fruit, what do you do? Come home and bake, of course. And that’s where the smells begin.

So there's the basic, delicious apple pie aroma wafting through the house, and even the roasting of pumpkin seeds. As soon as my kids get wind of those seeds they circle my kitchen like mini-vultures. But that’s just the start of it.

In the fall, I bust out two items that have been put away for the summer. The first things I dust off are my candles. I absolutely love to have candles burning in the house, but for whatever reason, I never think to light them in the warm weather. As soon as the temperature begins to drop, though, out they come. Earthy vanillas and cinnamons are my favorites. When the windows are open and a breeze drifts through, I’m in my happy place.

The second is my slow-cooker. I never owned a slow-cooker until a few years ago, but as soon as I did, it quickly claimed its spot on my counter for the better part of the fall and winter. It’s not even that I love the food prepared in it so much. Some of the meals are very tasty, but it’s more the fact that I throw everything in it in the morning, and then for the rest of the day, the flavors dance around the house. The cooker I have gets plugged in, so I can leave with it on. There’s nothing like coming home from being out for a few hours and smelling that when I walk through the door.

Even the air is different in the fall. It’s evening right now, and I’m sitting by my open sliding doors. (It doesn’t hurt that we’ve also had the most beautiful fall weather in years.) A breeze just came in and I commented about how good it smelled. My husband immediately knew what I meant. No one was barbecuing outside. No one’s fireplace was on. It was just the clean, crisp autumn air.

I think for me, scent is the sense that evokes the most memories. Sometimes, when I’m walking down the street, I’ll stop mid-step because I get a hint of someone’s perfume or shampoo, and I have to take a second to reflect. I might forget someone’s voice over time, and maybe I’ll even lose some of her more subtle facial features. But if I pick up a person’s distinctive scent, it doesn’t matter how much time has passed since I’ve seen her, I’ll think of her. Even smells that wouldn’t necessarily be considered pleasant, like roads being paved or paint drying, bring me back to fond memories.

Interestingly, it’s also the sense that I most readily overlook when I’m writing. Sight and sounds are easy. They come naturally. But I find I really have to concentrate on adding in scents when I’m revising my work. I’m not sure why, because they’re so powerful in my everyday life. And as a reader, I’m easily drawn into a setting where smells are described. So from now on, every so often as I write, I’m going to remind myself to close my eyes, breathe in and just imagine.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Worst Laid Plans

I’m a planner. When I book a trip, I spend weeks looking into all the attractions and plotting out our days. That’s a big part of the fun for me, the planning and anticipation. But last week, when friends asked us to go on a spur-of-the-moment getaway, there was no time for my usual extensive research. We booked it one night, packed up and left for Lake George the next morning.

I hadn’t been there before and didn’t really know what I’d need. Turned out, I didn’t pack quite right and forgot a number of things. I even forgot certain pairs of shoes I wanted to wear. (Usually, the number of shoes well exceeds the number of days I’ll be away, but not this time.) But somehow, miraculously, without my planning and list-making, it was a great time away. My kids had a blast. It didn’t take much. They swam in the lake, ate some seafood, played mini-golf and hung out with wonderful friends. I think part of the excitement for them was taking off at a moment’s notice and having no idea what we’d find when we got there.

Sitting by the lake, it struck me how differently I handle traveling and writing. When I start a story, I have a general idea of what will happen, but I definitely don’t use an outline and, very often, I’m not even sure which characters I’ll meet along the way. That is actually my favorite thing about writing…not having any clue where my book will lead me. My methods may be scattered, but luckily, everything usually works itself out into some semblance of order. Eventually. I love that aahhh moment, when storylines string together. I never stop being shocked by it.

Why, then, do I feel the need to plan my vacations out so meticulously? Don’t get me wrong…I love to explore new areas and go off the beaten path, finding local favorites, as I’ve mentioned before. But when I sketch out my trips, I know I’m going to want to do that, so I leave time for it, essentially planning my non-planned excursions.

I think it’s time the traveling me took some pointers from the writing me. Next time I want to go away, maybe I’ll jot down some general ideas on a scrap of paper, but not schedule my days. Maybe I’ll wake up each day wondering where the day will take us instead of mapping it out. Maybe then I’ll experience a vacation of strung-together surprises that were even better than the activities I would have planned.

Or maybe I’ll just end up sitting on the beach wearing sneakers instead of flip-flops.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Living in Genres

There’s something about spring that lifts my spirits, no matter what else is going on around me. Could it be the fresh smells of nature, the chirping birds or going outside without being weighted down by my bulky winter coat? Well, all of those things are definitely inspirational, but what comes with spring that really gets me excited?

The shoes.

As soon as the weather starts to change, I race to get my first, regularly scheduled, warm-weather pedicure. Not just the, ‘I’ve got a wedding, better get to the salon,’ pedicure. Sorry feet, you do get neglected in the winter.

And then I shop. When there’s even a hint of a budding flower, the stores overflow with open-toed shoes of every kind. From flip-flops to peep-toes, sandals to sling backs, the possibilities are endless.

Last week, I walked into the most heavenly display of new shoes for the new season. With boxes in both arms, under my chin and balanced on my head, I narrowed it down, and chose one pair. Adorable sandals with a zipper up the front and a high heel in the back. When I got home, put them in my closet and welcomed them among all their new shoe friends, I was happy to discover that they were different from anything else I had.

But that’s not always the case.

With shoes, sure, I can pick all different styles and colors. But with a lot of other things in my life, once I find something I’m enjoy, I tend to stick with it for a while.

I even do it with books. Once I find a genre I like, I devour everything within its limits, not acknowledging that there’s anything else out there for a while. I become almost compulsive about it. E-readers feed into my addiction, too. At least when I used to shop for my books in stores, I could browse the shelves, and would pick up whatever caught my eye, no matter what it was about. Now, the second I finish a book I like, I search my e-reader for another in its genre and start it a second later. It’s so easy.

I go through phases. A while back, I was obsessed with historical fiction. If it was a period piece that took place in another country, I was all over it. Then there was the mystery phase, the classics phase (with a sub-phase of Russian authors), the young adult phase and the new adult/romance phase. And for one period of time, I only read picture books – let’s call that the mommy phase. Lately, I’ve been feasting on anything dystopian society related. Give me a dysfunctional, futuristic culture and I’m a happy camper.

I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing to get stuck in genres the way I do. At least if I switch them periodically, I can pretend to be well-rounded. I have to be careful to keep it to books, though. One day, I might wake up, open my closet and find twenty pairs of high-heeled, zippered sandals.

Then I’ll really know it’s spring.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Wondering If I'm Wrong

For years, my husband and I have debated the color of things. He insists our couch is green, while to me it’s obviously a warm chocolate brown. Sometimes he’ll comment on the pretty orange blouse I’m wearing, and I look at him as if he’s got two heads. It’s maroon, of course. I’ve always chalked it up to his being a man, assuming he just didn’t know any better. But now I’m not so sure.

Unless you’re living under a rock, which admittedly, I sometimes am, you’ve probably already decided whether you’re part of the white-gold camp or the blue-black one. To me, the dress is absolutely white and gold, though I can see how it looks blue when the light is dim. But everything I’m reading tells me I’m wrong. That my retinas are less high functioning than those who see it as black and blue or that my eyes aren’t picking up the right pixels or something like that (science is not my strong suit). The problem is, if they’re right but I’m so sure that it’s white, I have to question what else I’m seeing incorrectly. As someone who’s always been called stubborn and taken it as a compliment…because it’s okay to be stubborn if you’re right, isn’t it?…this is a little disconcerting.

Is it just about perspective? Do I see what I want to see, the way I want to see it and even though I can understand that there’s another point of view, I won’t change my opinion? I can make too many leaps here, generalizing this to the way we form opinions about people based on first impressions, how we form political beliefs, the list goes on and on. But hey, we’re not talking about world peace here. This is just a dress, after all.

Or is it?

Right now, I have more pressing matters to deal with. I need to figure out if I’ve been wearing orange for years without realizing it, while sitting on my very green couch.

Monday, February 23, 2015

A Friendly Reminder

This morning I got an email and the subject was “Friendly Reminder.” I immediately knew this was not an email I really wanted to open. Did you ever notice how certain expressions are inherently followed by something annoying or negative?

Really, giving a friendly reminder is not so bad. But it still rubs me wrong, because I know it means the sender is about to nag me to do something I obviously haven’t done yet or don’t feel like doing. Pay a bill maybe, or go to an appointment I would rather have forgotten. I know the intentions are good, but I think I’d prefer it if the sender would just be honest in the subject line…I’m going to tell you this again in case you forgot, or are just plain ignoring me.

My daughter recently picked up the phrase, No offense, but… This one is much worse. Obviously, anything following that is not going to be complimentary. We had a long discussion about how these three words are always followed by an insult. If your sentence starts with that phrase, you probably shouldn’t finish the sentence. What was interesting to me was that she hadn’t even considered that before. It was just a phrase she’d heard and, without thinking, started using herself.

Then she asked, “So I guess that’s the same as when a person says something really nasty, shrugs, and goes, Just saying. Right?” Exactly. Why do we think it’s okay to say anything we want, as long as we attach a disclaimer to it? As if the disclaimer offsets the rest of the comment.

When we write, or read, a character’s words have such definite purpose. When the character is being cutting, we can feel it in his language. There’s no question of whether or not he knows he’s being obnoxious. His intent is clear. But when we speak the same words in day to day conversations, I think we sometimes forget that our words carry the same power as those we read in the books we love.

I know I’m guilty of it. I’ll ramble on and on to my kids and I’m sure not every word I’m saying is exemplary. And then when I hear some of those same expressions come out of my children, it makes me cringe. Since I had that conversation with my daughter, I’ve been trying to be more conscious of the expressions I use. I laughed the other day, because as I was about to tell her something, I asked myself how it would sound coming out of the mouth one of my characters. I stopped myself.

So I’m trying. Trying to give myself friendly reminders not to say something if I wouldn’t like how it sounds when repeated. I think if we all do that a little more often, our children will have fewer comments that follow the words “no offense.”

Just saying.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Difficulties of Hating Winter

There’s a quiz going around on Facebook lately. It’s called something like, Are you a Winter Lover? I took the quiz, assuming my results would confirm that I despise winter, but shockingly, these quizzes are not an exact science. My score was 19% winter lover. I laughed. Even though that seems like a low number, it’s 19% higher than it should have been. I sort of remember answering that I like hot chocolate, so maybe that accounts for it.

I am certainly zero percent winter lover. I can’t stand the cold. I groan when I see snow in the forecast. When people post pictures of their fun winter activities, I say a silent thank you that it wasn’t me. And I actually get angry when snow gets on my wrist in that space between my glove and my sleeve.

There is a problem with this, of course. Since I live in the Northeast, winter and snow are pretty inevitable. And all I want to do during these cold months is hibernate. Turns out, never wanting to leave my house may be good for my writing, but it’s quite bad for everything else. While people flock to the gym, determined to stand by their New Year’s Resolutions, my regular gym routine has been all but obliterated the past few weeks. Even simple errands get put off, because I just don’t want to step out that door.

My friends have been asking me to go skiing or snow tubing with them. This is where I become torn. There is only one single thing I enjoy about spending the weekend skiing…having a drink in the lodge by the fireplace. In the past, I’ve been perfectly content sitting there with a fellow winter hater, while the rest of our crowd enjoys the torture of freezing wind and falling on snow. But now, I do want my kids to have the experience. In truth, I’ve been meaning to expose them to skiing for years. The dilemma becomes, how do I teach them to ski without going outside??

I also don’t want to influence them and make them hate winter, too. As it is, whenever they play out in the snow (after I spend 47 minutes dressing them in snow pants, coats, scarves, hats, gloves and anything else that makes them unable to move a muscle), I try to get away with waving at them through glass doors from the comfort of my warm living room. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done the obligatory building of snowmen and had the competitive snowball fights that every mom has to take part in. And I’ve done it with a smile on my face.

But I’d just so much rather bond with my children in the ocean on an island in the Caribbean.

We’ve actually been lucky so far. Where I live, the winter’s been mild and I’ve appreciated every second of the strange, unseasonable weather. Still, as soon as the cold drifted in, I was the first one running for my boots and counting the days until Spring.

I’m going to have to suck it up. I’ll take my kids skiing and I’ll like it if it kills me. Either that or I’ll have my drink in the lodge while my husband teaches them to ski. More likely. And I will get to the gym again. One of these days. Hopefully it will be before April.