I am a freelance, nonfiction writer who cares about the environment, individuality, creative expression, and simplicity. I'm glad you've found my blog, and I hope you'll join in the conversation by leaving a comment. Disagreements are allowed, even encouraged, but cruelty, vulgarity, and slander is not.
Yesterday I cut some hyacinth blooms and brought them inside. Pretty as they looked, my real intention was to enjoy the smell while I worked at my desk. Now, the office is absolutely lovely.
Fragrance is an important part of nature. No matter how good manufacturers have gotten at mixing up concoctions that smell like beautiful things, the fact remains that scents--real, honest, natural scents--are crucial to life.
Flowers are the best example. The purpose of the smell is to attract pollinators; reproduction depends on it. Or in the case of the Venus fly trap, to attract a nutritious meal.
Good scents attract humans, too. Fresh peaches, clean air, a shady pine grove, or our partner's pheromones draw us in.
Bad scents keep us away. Toxic chemicals, moldy cloth, infected bruises, and rotting meat stink because they are dangerous conditions to be avoided or corrected and never inhaled.
Fragrance can also orientate and foretell. Have you ever smelled rain coming? Smelled smoke and discovered fire? Smelled salt and realized you were almost there?
Meanwhile, fragrance has become a serious problem. Its pervasive use to sell products is making us sick and narrowing our quality of life. Not only are the artificial, smell-mimicking mixtures harmful to our skin and lungs, they mask warning signals that would otherwise tell us to stay away, and they rob us of the instinctual attraction to the truth.
I once took the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep® guide into my bathroom as I cleaned out my toiletry closet. Using the database, I searched for the products to see how they stacked up on the EWG's hazard score. Any that raised a red flag did so because of the fragrance-related ingredients in them.
When a manufacturer adds a feature that does nothing to enhance the product's effectiveness or improve its performance, you can bet it's there to increase sales. Consider your favorite moisturizer. Does it work better because it smells nice?
We owe our smelling ability to cells in the nasal cavity. It's always moist there, because chemical receptors can only detect odors that are dissolved in water. Signals are then sent to the brain, where the processed information is stored in memory. When we meet the smell again, it registers as familiar.
The relentless exploitation of the body's remarkable sense not only fools the central nervous system, it dulls it. Who really knows what rain smells like after living with a manipulated alternative day in and day out? Lotions, shampoos, and toothpaste aside, what about candles, air fresheners, room sprays, cleaning products, detergents, and perfumes?
At what point does the brain figure out that the flowery chemical air freshener is bad? Could this have anything to do with why so many people are allergic to the outdoors these days? And what are we missing--what signals do we now overlook--because our sensitivity has been dulled by this hyper-infusion?
Still, the more we buy, the more they add. Meanwhile, fragrance-free products are labeled as being for people with sensitive skin. Don't they know we ALL have sensitive skin?
If you want your laundry to smell like fresh air, hang it outside to dry.
If you want to smell the spring rain, then go get wet.
If you want your house to smell like flowers, grow and clip flowers? Or take advantage of the wealth of organic essential oils on the market today.
If you want your husband to smell like musk, let him get a little sweaty.
If you want your toxic bleach to smell like lemons, well, then you've lost your mind.
I had to figure out what was bothering me so. Why was it that, if I heard the word “snowstorm” one more time, I thought I might explode? Normally I favor snow. I’m one of those people who believes, if it has to be winter, we should get pretty and playful precipitation. I needed a little soul searching. Otherwise I might be cranky until spring.
First, like a nagging blister, the media wouldn’t shut up about it. Okay already; a big snowstorm's coming. I got it. They’d been at it all week. On the seventh day, I was looking for a hole to crawl in. There, I'd cover my ears and wait 'til it was over. It was the only way to escape the chatter. Every public place I went, the small talk was decorated with the clarifying statement, “Before the big storm tomorrow.”
“I’m returning this purchase, before the big storm tomorrow.”
“I’m mailing this letter, before the big storm tomorrow.”
“I’m filling my gas tank, before the big storm tomorrow.”
I’m all for being prepared. What I dislike is hype, worry, and anxiety, all of which lingered in the air like the smell of a chain smoker, to be inhaled by the next person in line.
Second, Nature has the ability to put miraculous kinks in our routine every day. Haven’t we learned by now that we should buy snow shovels in the fall?
Third, why is that, when it comes to a winter storm, the forecasters go from being the target of “they never get it right” remarks to the “word of the lord” Armageddon soldiers who shall be followed with such intensity, hourly updates just aren’t enough? What would we do if we couldn’t charge the devices that keep us tuned in? How else would we find out about the sky falling down?
Like I said, I was aggravated and I knew it, so I stopped to think about it.
That’s when I realized the hype wasn’t about worry and anxiety; it was about hope. Those people were rushing around like shoppers excited for Christmas. They WANTED to be stuck inside. I realized that each big storm holds some measure of promise that we could go back to a time when we adjusted our routines to the weather. Like a schoolchild glued to the five am radio, we all wanted a day off to play.
Finally, the Blizzard of 2016 came. For a few hours I enjoyed a cozy fire and watched the white fluff fall. I cooked lunch and worked on some simple chores and the time flew by. Since it was the weekend, I needn't worry about traveling. It was lovely.
Needn't worry? At middle age, you would think I would remember what it takes to keep a driveway open. After just a few hours, all my snowstorm shut-in plans melted into the endless task of shoveling, a task that had to begin before the storm ended and the sun made it heavy. Plus that was the only way I'd get it done by Monday.
Admittedly, I did find it enjoyable to have an excuse to face the blizzard—to bundle up, trudge through, and simply BE outside—but minutes turned to hours, and before I knew it, the sun had set and my hopes for other things had vanished. It was clear that the entire next day wouldn’t be about snuggling inside, it would be about shoveling a ton of show.
Too exhausted to cook the heartwarming meal I had planned, I ate a microwaved dinner on a tray table in front of the television set. All the major networks were covering the big storm. “Stay home if you can.” “Don’t drive.” “It’s a mess out here.” The only reason I continued to watch was because each alert felt like a new promise: maybe we would have off on Monday.
But no. If there is one thing American society will absolutely NOT tolerate, it's a sputter in the economic engine. By Sunday morning, newscasters had already calculated the estimated revenue losses from the storm. Empty restaurants, empty movie theaters, and empty stores? That simple would not do.
And so we, the employees who turn that wheel worried and fretted and shoveled the day away to ensure arrival at work the moment the morning bell rang. There would be no tardiness, no excuses. Be there or be unemployed.
All our hopes for a cozy, winter holiday then turned into a rage against the plow. For the next week, journalists flipped rocks for stories of side streets that weren’t yet opened. “My street's not done! Where is he!?” Town leaders took heat as if they’d launched a conspiracy to get residents fired. And the ecosystem drank salt, tons and tons of salt. The more the better. Spread it on thick, just to be sure.
It’s the same scenario every time one of these nor-easters comes around, and I'd finally realized this whole emotional roller coaster was what I wanted to avoid: Scurry around before the deadline only to find that on blizzard morning, there’s no time for hot chocolate and movie watching and book reading and game playing and cuddling. All hands must suit up and get the transportation corridors cleared. Free every inch of concrete and macadam from its snowy prison, and be quick about it, before it melts. There’s no time to enjoy it, only time to make it go away.
They're calling for a big storm next week. And the moment I heard about it, my hopes got in line for another ticket to ride.
With the world under attack as it has been, we're rightly worried about stopping the terrorists. We may have different opinions on how to do that, but we're unified in that they must be stopped.
Dissent comes when we start talking about a craftier terrorist. It lives here, at home. It's been living here for ages. And the terrorist is so cunning, we've been funding its endeavor, sending it money ... regularly ... every month for most of us. This terrorist is the Energy Giant.
I'm not just speaking of the BPs, Enrons, and Exxons of the world. I'm talking about every commercial enterprise that has gotten so fat from sucking the insides out of the earth it cannot roll over and see the warning clouds in the sky. I'm talking about the perpetrators of durable pollution who can't tell a rainbow from the steam plume of nuclear reactor. I'm talking about the generators, distributors, regulators, lawyers, marketers, and spin doctors who steal from under the feet of humanity and then sells it back the loot. I'm talking about an industry that brings such things into my world as NOAA's Gulf Oil Slick Forecast or Limerick Nuclear Generating Station's community-preparedness siren that blares so loudly for so long during its six-month test that I'm sure all the birds that nest nearby are deaf.
I'm talking about court cases and backhoes and mudslides and access roads and obliterated mountaintops and wastewater pits and acid mine drainage and exploded bats and cancer clusters. The Giant that covers a desert in mirrors, a vista in turbines, and a riverbank in concrete is the same cold-blooded bully as the one with the fossil straw.
Isis (today's enemy number one) chops heads off in front of the camera.
The Giant hides behind an oversized veil, then administers poison slowly.
Isis radicalizes fearmongers to obtain support for its way of thinking.
The Giant deceives kind people, making them think it keeps them safe.
Isis kills those who might believe differently.
The Giant manipulates what everyone believes.
Isis launches an extremist jihad.
The Giant launches a political career.
Now, be sure, I am not making light of the evil in religious terrorism. What I am doing is poking a hole in the curtain so that we might see the dark warning clouds that the Giant has summoned for us.
Once we realize how manipulated, beaten down, held back, controlled, and walled in we are by the same people who tell us the impact of their work is worth it for the ravishing benefit of more power, how do we change anything? We can unleash our military on Isis, but what can we do about a virus that has infected every corner of our culture and way of life?
What do we do? We make it so that it doesn't matter if the lights go out. We figure out a way -- a dozen, hundred, million ways -- to make it so that it doesn't matter if the lights go out. We build, test, and use every strategy necessary to make it so that it DOESN'T MATTER. Then, we roll up our sleeves and unplug the lights; we tell the Giant to go away. It's not so absurd, you know? Just as unsettled countries have used our military aid, supplies and training against us, colleges and technical school graduates can use their education to pursue a future that deems us independent, not just from foreign oil, but also from The Giant and its Grid lock.
As for tactics the military should use against Isis, as I said, we have different opinions. Most importantly though, the enemy has been clearly identified.
I remember December 26th as one of the worst days of my childhood years. No one sneaks into your living room to hide presents under the tree on that day. All the anticipation and excitement leading up to Christmas suddenly fades into nothing more than a torn-up pile of wrapping paper and instructions to put whatever Santa had brought--whether wished for or not--away. I'd image my parents felt a similar letdown. Plus, not only did they have to contend with my post-holiday whining and my week's-vacation boredom, they had to deal with the leftovers and dusty decorations.
Even today, all the shopping, cooking, decorating, and wrapping seems to culminate into a quick minute followed by a calculation of debt. That's because, when we hinge satisfaction on material things, we set ourselves up to be let down. It's part of the consumer design: to always leave us wanting more.
Looking back on this December, what HAS been satisfying is the fact that I reconnected with friends, reminisced with family, and gathered with others to sing songs, pray for peace, admire decorations, and genuinely wish each other well. Even for those who were lonely on Christmas, satisfaction could be found in the wallowing, for Christmas was one occasion in which they could be free of the facade and simply be truthful to themselves. They were allowed to think of loved ones lost. They were allowed to be sad. Real emotions from real people with no price tag attached.
Yes, we've been setup, but that doesn't mean we have to fall for it. Yes, anticipation is 9/10s of what makes Christmas so fun, but we don't need presents for that. Consider that, for the Christians responsible for this mega-holiday, the whole event was built to commemorate a story of anticipation for the birth of a miraculous child. Correct me if I'm wrong, but as the story goes, on December 26, the manger was not dismantled, the stable mucked out, and the baby savior stored away till next year. The anticipation of a good thing, after it arrived, was met with a deep sense of gratitude for the experience and a promise to be rewarded for doing the right thing.
Obviously worshipers grasp the meaning of Christmas far more easily than those of us who have simply adopted the traditions without the belief. We are left to figure out how we shall accept, be grateful for, and use the non-material gifts we've been given. With must find our own metaphors for that which gives life joy, sorrow, and meaning; how to be kind to each other; how to be true to ourselves; and where the rewards lie in doing the right thing.
And just as there was magic in that birth, there is magic in every moment, Christian and non. Only you won't find it at the mall or any of the things you bring home from there. It's in our experience. With others. In solitude. Outside among the natural wonders. Inside among human creativity and connection. Tomorrow night at midnight we reset the calendar and thus reset our perspective. Fifty-one weeks later, we will scramble to get ready for Christmas morning once again. Do we expect a different result with bigger gifts? A car perhaps? Better start saving now. Or can we commit to finding true pleasure in the experience of winter's day, complete with a reminder that life is good. Flawed maybe. But still, very, very good...even on December 26.
At the risk of beating a sensitive drum, I have to acknowledge an enormous occasion that is happening around me. I would feel foolish if I didn't write about this religious, spiritual, and ceremonial event after focusing on those same topics recently.
I've been watching with distant interest over the past year as authorities have made informative announcements in preparation. The event is so big, regular business in Philadelphia is coming to a temporary halt. Walking on American blacktop for the first time three days ago, Pope Francis, the holiest of all Catholic mortals, landed back on earth in Washington, D.C. after a flight from Cuba. His visit is stirring emotions that run from sheer joy to raging frustration. I think it's all a matter of perspective and is a perfect example of how perception can build up or tear down one's spirit.
For the most part, there are two common opinions around here when it comes to his visit: 1.) This is a life-changing opportunity to bring peace to one’s soul; or 2.) This whole thing is a total pain in the ass.
First, let's start with the reasons for pain.
• There is a disgusting amount of hype in the media, similar to the marketer's exploitation of the Christmas holiday. Many now wish the whole thing was over.
• For the past year, popular television news has been giving updates about the challenge of the Pope’s visit, including major road closures, transportation restrictions, and the towing of residents' cars from the security zone. We’ve heard about requests sent to businesses, asking them to stay open while Catholics hoped Planned Parenthood would close. Tens of thousands of special transit passes were issued by an online lottery in moments, only to be found for resale online by scalpers at ten times the original cost. Controversy. Controversy. Controversy. The words and phrases plucked from the headlines read:
“No Option for Failure”
• Not all of us are Catholic. Many have either never been or no longer practice. For all of its history, the church has divided the world into two parts—Catholic and non-Catholic—while the melting pot of America begs for tolerance, acceptance, and respect for each other no matter what our affiliations. The scale of the event reminds those who are not part of the club that they are outcasts.
• Church rules seem hypocritical in the standards for what constitutes a family, etc. Doubt surrounds the church’s intentions when its walls are painted in gold while its followers are asked to sacrifice in Christ’s name. Even the kindest among its followers tend to question their ability to maintain a seemingly unreasonable doctrine.
• Scandal haunts the Catholic church. There has been wrongdoing so heinous its victims will never recover. It takes resolve to look at a priest without wondering if he might have had any part in breaking the spirit of a young, innocent, male child.
At a party last month, I asked some good friends what they thought was the REAL reason for the Pope’s visit. The common theme among them was, in summary, an attempt to increase the membership and financial wellbeing of the Catholic Church. “They’ve lost a lot of followers,” one person pointed out. I couldn’t argue with that.
Here are reasons for the peace
Determined to obtain the perspective of a devout Catholic, I turned to the closest source I could think of: the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Posted clearly on its Website was the number one reason why the Pope was coming: families. He is here for the World Meeting of Families, an occasion that asks all Catholics to come together, in person or remotely, and pray "to strengthen the sacred bonds of family across the globe and highlight its intrinsic value to the good of society.” The Archdiocese headlines read:
“Eventful Day of Song”
My mind drifted to my experience at a part-time job I hold at a small local library, one that serves a middle class community. I see firsthand the effect of families in my short exchanges with library patrons of all ages.
A child wanders in with a half-hearted parent who gives priority to her phone. The child is anxious, loud, disinterested, and angry.
A child comes in holding hands with a parent who is attentive and present and calm. The child is respectful, curious, and happy.
A mentally challenged adult comes in to read with the compassionate and attentive caregiver assigned to him that day. He remains distant, seemingly sad, as if he wants to be happy but he cannot connect.
A mentally challenged adult comes in with her caring grandmother. She is smiling. She greets us a little too loudly, “Hello ladies,” and spells out reasons to love the day.
The difference between the two is always family.
There are the thoughtful daughters who come to help their elderly mothers carry stacks of books, wise fathers who guide their young sons toward topics of interest, and the sturdy moms who teach their rambunctious toddlers how to be still. This is family on display; imagine their impact in the quiet hours before sleep or the tense moments during a storm. The Pope is here to celebrate that.
His visit comes with an additional, spiritual gift that to a follower is precious. To my knowledge, America’s mass media has never mentioned it. It's not granted lightly. It's called the Gift of Indulgences. No, it doesn’t mean everyone can eat, drink, and indulge in as much merriment as they’d like at this Meeting. Instead, it means they will be freed from the usual punishment for their sins, as long as certain conditions are met. The conditions require a commitment to the Catholic sacraments as well as the Catholic intention of building strong families. It essentially washes a follower’s purgatorial slate so that he or she can move toward peacefully living a family-focused life.
As long as we continue to look with scorn, we will continue to find doubt, hatred, fear, and anger. And if we continue to look with scorn, what becomes of the good of the church? When do we, people of all beliefs dip into our spiritual treasure chest and offer a Gift of Indulgences, one that includes enough acceptance that we may see the positive aspects of the Pope's visit and how it can be beneficial to us all, even if we cannot commit to the Catholic way?
I'm not suggesting we drop to our knees and give in. I am asking that we take this opportunity to intensify the positive vibes of this massive ceremony. Can we not recognize that our DNA eternally connects us to our ancestors, descendants, and siblings? Can we not remember that love attracted us to our spouses or our adopted children? Can we not try to forgive those estranged, honor those respected, and thank those appreciated? Shouldn’t we, together, in unity, uproot our hardships and sufferings and let our families help us get through the nightmares, headaches, and failures?
The arrival of Pope Francis and the ceremony surrounding him has put us on a roller coaster ride, from anticipation to dread, excitement to frustration, and peacefulness to concern. At the end of the day, let him lead our perspectives past temptation and into a stronger connection to that which has delivered every single one of us onto this earth: our families.