Thursday, December 27, 2007
What are sweet holiday memories made of?
Well, of course sugar, spice, and everything nice - No, wait, that's little girls! But there is a good deal of sugar and spice during this festive time of year, and actually those few extra pounds we all usually feel afterward say that there might be a bit too much of all that. But there are so many delights besides just the gastric ones, and to overlook them would really be to miss the better part of holiday memories.
When I was a child one of the very special parts of the holiday season was at the beginning of December when my mom would bring our holiday books out of storage. We had a full box of Christmas story books that were saved solely for this time of year. My mom, a reading specialist, was always wild about books and read to us regularly. At Christmas this shared time added to the magic of the season.
Several weeks ago my mom brought a book to my daughter Tru that I recognized immediately. It's called The Sweet Smells of Christmas, and is a story about a little bear that anticipates Christmas through the smells around him: an orange, a pine tree, gingerbread, candy canes... All are depicted in good ol' scratch 'n sniff format so the reader can enjoy the smells of Christmas along with the little bear. More than any other time of year, the holidays are indeed a season defined by smells. The profusion of pumpkin pie and evergreen scented candles at stores everywhere is enough to say that these aromas evoke a lot of sentiment.
This is totally appropriate, since our sense of smell is the strongest sense tied to memory. A brief whiff of a scent from your past can instantly connect you to that time gone by and even make you feel as if you are right there again. Smells are actually tiny airborne molecules - small enough to vaporise in the air and then dissolve into your mucous membrane. From there they travel a path to your brain cortex and also to your limbic system. Your limbic system is a primitive (sometimes called reptilian) part of your brain that controls emotion, memory, and behavior. The cortex is responsible for your conscious thoughts. So smell impacts both of these areas.
Smell is one of our most important senses from a survival standpoint. Smell helps us sense danger in the form of fire or poison and conversely helps us sense security and safety. Mothers and children can recognize the smells of each other, and the smells of our favorite foods will cause us to start salivating in anticipation of a good meal. So in that way it is no wonder that smells of pine trees, spices, fruits, and baking are so forefront when we think about the winter holidays. These experiences are so burned in our collective memories that once the days draw short and the air begins to cool we instinctively begin to crave these quintessential smells of hospitality and celebration.
As a business owner I see sudden telltale spikes in sales of Silver Fir and Wild Orange candles in the fall that tell me that people are hitting the holiday mood. I also built our newest perfumes around themes of spices, citrus, and chocolate - all heady, stimulating scents that warm up the body and have a physiological effect as well as that crucial tie to pleasant memories. I really enjoy that what I am making is going to become an integral part of someone's precious memories.
So, as we enjoy the afterglow of Christmas and the promise of the new year I am hoping that your holidays will be memorable, cozy, and full of delights for your senses. Make it fragrant and you'll remember it always!
Friday, December 14, 2007
Being creative is like a hurricane. Sometimes the hurricane is on the outside and sometimes it is on the inside. When it is on the outside your materials are flying and you are in physical action, possessed by the thought of "getting it done". But to get to this stage you have to channel your energy from the inside, and your inner self may not be so easily disciplined.
I spend a lot of time with my inner hurricane. This might look like doing nothing, but I am actually hard at work processing ideas and working them out. At least half of my creative time is with this inner world. And yes, even I have trouble just getting started on things sometimes. But the key is, well, just do it! Even it if is hard, or slow, or a little rocky. That beginning is the hardest part but the most necessary. I've found that when a creative urge isn't channeled it either disappears forever or turns into confusion and frustration.
People often think it is a dream to be their own boss. Well, sometimes it is not so dreamy - it is downright hard. Self discipline, critical thinking and problem solving, and the ability to take action when needed are all incredibly important traits. Not everyone has these traits, or is ready to use them if they do. With noone to tell me what to do every day I could easily just stay in bed. (Alright, so I have a 3 1/2 year old so I couldn't actually stay in bed, but I could certainly be a lot more lazy.) With no boss and no set schedule many people can lose their direction. I am frequently asked how I do everything I do. My first (and true) answer is: Sleep deprivation! But there is a lot more to it.
1. Brains need feeding!
In order to maintain a creative flow I find I need to spend time doing a lot of different things. Doing one thing too much stagnates your energy, and ideas need fresh input. I am voracious about consuming information, images, sounds, and input - everything I can expose myself to that will spark ideas. Alternating exposure with quiet time is important to being able to process all that new material. I try to choose quality sources of information. After all, junk in equals junk out. Um, I hope this doesn't rock anyone's world, but tabloids may not be the best reading material if you are hoping to achieve brilliance. Surrounding oneself with quality people and quality work will spur you on to do more and better things yourself. Open yourself up to even things that will shock you initially. Getting out of your own head and into someone else's can be a great thing to prompt new thinking.
2. Lack of experience is not an excuse.
I taught ceramics for several years and it was always fun to see new students begin to throw their first pots on the wheel. Like many other activities it looks so easy when done by someone experienced...but then - whoops! Their lump of clay would be flying of the wheel and onto the floor. Not so easy if you don't have skills with the materials.
Everyone starts at nothing, so failing initially is just part of the process. I've had some pretty fantastic failures in my career, in fact I'm pretty sure I learn best when I screw up. When making my first few batches of soap I did OK on the first one or 2, but I think it was the third that really got me. The lye and water didn't get mixed properly and when I added it to the oils everything just curdled and turned into this lumpy mess that looked like pink, oily, cottage cheese. Yum! That batch went straight into the trash can. And that is just one on the list of sculptures that exploded, shirts that didn't fit, and facial creams that wouldn't stay mixed. In fact, I'm happy to say that I truly believe that if you aren't failing at your endeavors a significant percentage of the time then you are really not pushing the envelope at all. Growth requires some screwing up, and am I ever good at screwing up!
If you can ignore your outcome, you'll go far - at least as far as learning is concerned. While you can't disregard your product indefinitely, practicing with an open mind allows you to become familiar with materials, and familiar with yourself. No goal other than practice is even really necessary. Everyone starts somewhere, and you can't get anywhere if you never start. Experimentation and knowledge of your materials will go a long way to help you know which of your ideas is possible, and which is not.
Everyone practices in a different way. I've often heard it said that writers are supposed to sit down and write every single day, even if they think they don't have any ideas. I was forced to keep a sketchbook in art school - something I honestly never really liked doing. I understand the purpose, but it just wasn't my thing. I like to draw, and actually have several sketchbooks but I tend to draw with purpose rather than just for the sake of drawing. I do much better when I am "sketching" with my actual materials. This, I think, is fine too. Anything that keeps you active is good. The idea is to make creative observation and activity part of your everyday life. So this step and your brain food actually are intertwined.
3. Don't think about it too much.
Now you're saying, "What?? She just said to think about it a lot!" Well, the other side to this is that you can't overthink your project or you'll end up psyching yourself out. Thinking too much can make things seem bigger than they really are. I know there are plenty of people out there that just can't get started on something because it seems like too much to handle. Turn off those voices in your head. They are just plain evil, and they will prevent you from doing amazing things.
4. Eat your Fear for breakfast.
We all need to squash whatever is stopping us from going after our dreams, and quickly. The start of every day is the perfect time. Decide what brave, adventuresome thing you want to do and then find some way to start working on it.
Usually when I am afraid of something I find that the reason I'm afraid is because I'm inexperienced, or not knowledgeable in that field or activity. So I take that and flip it around to action. If I'm afraid, that is when I know I need to dive right in! I don't want to be afraid of anything in my life.
There is a big difference between fear, and logically deciding something is not a good idea. I am usually afraid of meeting new people (suprise!) and yet I know for sure this is a good idea. I have the same insecurities as everyone else about how I am perceived, and get terribly nervous about public appearances or sales engagements at trade shows. I am lucky that I get to work with a population in the Natural Products community that is unusually friendly, welcoming, and warm. And I still get afraid! I would never be cut out for "The Apprentice" or any normal business environment - I'd be eaten alive and I know it. I am certainly not your average businessperson. But I make myself get out there and try. I remind myself that I can't run a business in a vacuum, and that gee, people might actually like me. (I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and, gosh darnit, people like me!) Not everyone will, but some. I've found through working on my anxieties I've gotten much better at presenting. I just try to play up my strength - my passion for my materials and products!
I use this same "get over it" attitude with my creative endeavors. Just running my business and being responsible for other people's well being is a pretty scary thing - after all, if I tank they go down with me. But if I do nothing we'll tank for sure. Don't let yourself fear action.
5. The "just one more thing" mentality
I frequently tell people that if I had known just how hard it was going to be to start my own business I am pretty sure I might not have done it. In this case, ignorance may have been my best asset. I was too inexperienced to know the thrashing I was in for. Fortunately I've got a head full of rocks and noone is going to tell me I'm going to fail if I decide otherwise. Stubborn or stupid? Maybe a little of both...
It is a big job to launch an idea. So big that it can seem pretty intimidating. My personal method for attacking big projects is an alternative to the "baby steps" method. First I find little ways to get started. If you have been practicing and working regularly on your creative activities then finding something little to do shouldn't seem too hard. One of my rituals before a big sewing project was to clean up everything in my sewing area that related to previous projects. It seems like procrastination, but really it is an integral part of my process. I can't think about a new project with remnants of the old still sitting there. Then I'd pull out all the materials for the new project. Often this would be all I would do on the first day, just set the stage. Then when I returned the next day I was mentally and environmentally prepared to jump in, and it seemed that much easier.
Once started I look for pieces of the project that I know I can do. Then I can tell myself confidently, "Well, at least I can do that!". Then when I'm done with that piece the voice in me says, "That wasn't so bad. Maybe I could just do one more thing..."
I continue to say that after every little step I finish. Before I know it the project is half done, and by then I'm excited about it! It seems to be a great way to trick myself into getting something done, even when I may have initially been dragging my feet. It seems a lot easier to think about doing just "one more thing" for another 20 minutes than to think about working for another 8 hours.
*Caution - this method works so well, in fact, that you may end up working straight through important events, your dinnertime, and losing a good bit of sleep because you've stayed up 4 hours past your bedtime without even realizing it. If you miss your child's graduation or husband's award dinner because you said "just one more thing" to yourself a few too many times I'm officially not responsible. Use wisely!*So this is pretty much how things work for me. Let's review, and take heart, dear reader, in knowing that:
- I'm scared sometimes.
- It's hard for everyone, not just you.
- I screw up a lot. (no really, a LOT)
And somehow I still have managed to get up every day and work towards keeping my dreams alive. Nearly 5 years in on running Blissoma and while the finances could be prettier I'm pretty pleased with the rest of our progress...Quite frankly I don't know what else I'd be doing.
Now, go do something great!
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
To many people the question of "bath or shower?" is as intimate and particular as preference on underwear. Perhaps it does say something about personality, perhaps it just tells about practicality and your physical environment. Which are you?
Currently I'm a tub gal, as the title of my blog would suggest, but it wasn't always that way.
I had been taking showers since my teen years by choice since showering seemed to be the "adult" thing to do. Through living at the college dorms, and even through having my own apartment for years later I stuck to the shower. Even the occasional romantic interlude with my husband Robert wasn't satisfying, since our tubs were definitely not sized for more than 1 body. The tub just didn't seem to hold much appeal.
That changed a lot several years ago. What happened? I got pregnant, and along with the pregnancy came bouts of insomnia, restless leg syndrome, itchy skin, weight gain, aches and pains, and other general discomfort. At approximately the 5 month mark I just couldn't get to sleep due to all of the above complaints. I was totally miserable. Since medications of any sort were not an option I had to resort to totally holistic methods of soothing my body. Baths were tops on that list.
A 20 minute soak in a tub liberally doused with Dead Sea Salts and essential oils solved nearly all of my problems - at least for long enough that I could head straight to bed and have a reasonable chance of sleeping for a while. It alleviated pressure, eliminated the terrible aches I was experiencing in muscles and bones, and left my stressed-out-skin moisturized and soothed. So my enthusiasm for the bath was "reborn", so to speak.
Even post-baby I continued to use the tub on a regular basis. The winter is when I especially choose a bath over a shower. As the chill hits and the furnace fires up I get terribly itchy. I have a terrible urge to turn the shower up to scorching hot, which not only strips all the oils from my skin but leaves it sensitive and aggravated. I have even woken up scratching in my sleep! Bathing allows me to add salts, herbs, or oils to nourish my skin, and I can usually manage to force myself to stick to lukewarm water. These practices have eliminated most of my winter itch condition without the use of any topical medications.
I also appreciate the quiet of the tub. At our new house (over 100 years old, with similarly ancient plumbing) it takes the tub a while to fill. So I bustle my daughter out the door to school, return home and eat breakfast while the tub fills. Then when I do get to immerse myself the house is totally still... Ah, how I love those moments. If I don't get my bath in the morning I really just don't even feel awake. It is as much a part of starting my day as my cup of coffee (fair trade, by the way). Just the sensation of the suspension in the water, the contrasting warmth of it next to the chill of the air, and the snug, cozy towel afterward create a suite of sensations that gently stimulate my body into functionality.
Clearly I am not alone in my love of my daily ritual. The ancients in Greece and Rome valued their time in the bath, as have many other cultures. I just simply can't even imagine living in an age without access to a daily cleansing. Spoiled? Maybe, but I think this is a pretty basic request, and a "luxury" that even the common man can enjoy. I'm thankful I wasn't born to 18th century Paris...can you say filth? Indoor plumbing didn't even make it to St. Louis until just before the World's Fair in 1904. Evidently our great city decided that we had to upgrade in order to impress the attending masses. Water towers and flush toilets were promptly installed. Two of those water towers, some of only a few left from that age, remain standing in my new neighborhood. Check out some photos here if you want to see them.
So, with that in mind I'd like to say hoorah for the bath! I'm grateful I get to have one every day, and so conveniently. Now if you'll excuse me I'll get back to my bath...