Been Hitting the Bottle Lately

I apologize to anyone who had hoped for a juicier blog post based on the title. But I actually mean this bottle:

 

This mixture of tea tree oil and peppermint is such a treat to my senses. I can’t begin to describe just how soothing it is. I look forward to using it every day. But I had to delve into why it brightens my mood. So, I turned to Google and found this article from Mayo Clinic, which states:

Aromatherapy is thought to work by stimulating smell receptors in the nose, which then send messages through the nervous system to the limbic system — the part of the brain that controls emotions.

Uh okay. But why these particular oils? I wondered. So, I read this article from Hopkinsmedicine.org and this one at Healthline. In a section called, “Which Essential Oils Are Best?” the article at Hopkinsmedicine.org listed the two oils mentioned earlier in this post, plus some others you can note if you click on the above link. Peppermint oil has been used for headaches. It supposedly helps relax the muscles. Tea tree oil, on the other hand, is used for things like acne and dandruff. So I’m still not sure why the combination of tea tree oil and peppermint is so magical.

Don’t worry. This is not a sales pitch for aromatherapy, regardless of the health benefits these article mention. I’m just delighted by the experience of a good smell and how certain scents have an emotional association.

For example, I can’t help recalling Mom’s Chanel N°5, a cologne she wore when I was a kid. The scent of that cologne to this day makes me feel safe and loved. The smell of English Leather—my dad’s after shave—gives me that feeling of consistency. Such a day in day out sort of smell.

What do you look forward to every day? What scents evoke an emotional reaction within you? While you think of that, Charles and Lori, think of what you’re getting at Amazon, ’cause you will each receive and Amazon card! Please comment below to confirm.

English Leather from Etsy. Chanel image from frangrantica. Other photos by L. Marie.

A Birthday in the Age of COVID-19

As I wrote the title of this post, I thought about books like The Diary of Samuel Pepys, excerpts of which I read back in the Dark of Ages in my undergraduate years (Da Vinci was one of my classmates; that guy knew his way around a painting), A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe, which I also read at some point, and Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez which I have not read, but probably will someday. Others have probably mentioned these books lately, particularly those by Pepys and Defoe, who wrote about the Bubonic plague back in the seventeenth century (though Defoe’s book was historical fiction).

So anyway, this is how I celebrated my birthday this past Sunday in these days of social distancing. First, my fellow island villagers threw a surprise birthday party for me in the video game Animal Crossing: New Horizons, which I’m playing on the Nintendo Switch Lite. I just wish my character had been allowed to change out of her night wear before the festivities began. Oh well. Back in college, birthday ambushes with me stuck in pajamas used to happen every year. But in these social distancing days, many people are using the game to have birthday parties, not just with NPCs (non-player characters, if you’re not into gaming but were curious) but with real-life friends who visit their islands to celebrate.

 

That was just one way of celebrating the day. Before I get to the rest of the Sunday festivities, let me add that the day before, friends dropped off breakfast, lunch, and dessert. There’s nothing like someone showing up in a mask to hand you a cup of coffee and a restaurant meal that says, “Celebrate good times, come on!” (By the way, the knight’s helm-looking hat on the sign in the first photo above is one I’ve worn while heading out in the world. The visor fits over my nose and mouth perfectly.)

  

Back to Sunday, I received a phone call from a friend (one of the pastors at church) who instructed me to come outside. Days earlier, she’d told me she wanted to drop something off, so not suspecting anything, I went out, expecting to see her standing by the front door. Instead, I was greeted by a line of people in cars honking their horns and shrieking “Happy birthday!” These are just a few.

 

So that’s how birthdays are celebrated in these virus days. I received some great gifts, part of the tradition of celebrating. Here are a few:

   

 

One of the above books was given by a friend who showed up with dinner on my birthday (not pictured due to having been eaten before I remembered that I needed to take a picture). The other came from my brother and sister-in-law. Speaking of books, one of the gifts I received that was not pictured was an Amazon card which I promptly used to purchase the book below, which is a must-have for the socially conscious person, especially parents looking to enhance their children’s understanding of classroom etiquette.

Why am I telling you all of this? Because you can receive what I received—a tradition around this blog. I can’t show up at your house even with a mask on to hand you a meal. But I can celebrate you, even if it’s not your birthday. So I am giving away TWO $25 Amazon cards or the rough equivalent at Amazon UK (easier to email).

That’s right:

Two $25 Amazon gift cards!

Comment below to be entered in the drawing.

Photos by L. Marie.

Check This Out: WordStirs

With me on the blog today is another of my awesome VCFA classmates, the delightful Laura Byrne, who is here to talk about her news website, WordStirs, which she maintains with her son, Tim.

     

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Laura:
• I’m a former sports editor and writer, whose athletic son had to remind her that there is more at stake in the world than the score of any given football game.
• Tim is a former finance student and current consultant, who plans to drown the world in unbiased, simple news so we can stop beating each other up at family dinners, and get back to arguing about important things, like whether or not ketchup should be refrigerated.
• We are a mother/son partnership that somehow works, despite a few notable differences. Example: Tim lives in Manhattan in an apartment the size of an elevator, with no car, and eats food the names of which most people can’t pronounce, from countries he’s never visited. I live in rural New Jersey, on 25 acres, and make my own bread, which is usually white.
• We bring two worldviews together to model how differences can be valued, and information shared through simple, unbiased articles.

El Space: What’s your process for choosing news stories? How do you keep track of trending news and still sleep and keep your sanity?
Laura: You know how some dogs will chase a ball forever? You toss one down the driveway for my Barney and he won’t stop retrieving it—a thousand throws, some day—until you take that slobbery ball away. That’s Tim and me with news. A thousand stories, and then we take Tim’s slobbery laptop from him. While retrieving all that news, we try to determine, given our readers’ limited time, what single story will help them to understand the world a little better.

Barney and Fred (yes, they are brothers)

El Space: The articles are so engaging! How did you come up the format?
Laura: How WordStirs is organized: Every article set is developed from one topic that is summarized in a paragraph or two in our News Made Simple. Then, that News Made Simple article segues into three additional articles, which continue to explain the topic:
   • The Geek. Want more background on the News Made Simple topic? You can click on the Geek.
   • The Debater. Want to understand two sides of the News Made Simple topic? You can check out the Debater, which is often a discussion between Tim and me.
   • The Runner. In a hurry? The Runner can get you out the door with just enough information about a current event to make you feel informed.

We take a subject, say, the coronavirus relief package, and look at the Fox News perspective. Then, we consider The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal—and more. We also go to original documents, including Congressional records and World Health Organization guidelines. We look at fact-checking sites like PolitiFact, Snopes, and FactCheck.org. If we’ve done our job, somewhere in the article set you should see your perspective. But, if we’ve done our job, somewhere you’ll also discover something that makes you think, that challenges you and your prior beliefs.

  

El Space: How has the advent of COVID-19 affected your news coverage?
Laura: The coronavirus has dominated the news, including our coverage, and it carries with it additional concerns. For example, correct information is critically important and yet harder to get than ever as so many people are armchair-epidemiologist-ing the cures, courses of action, and predictions for the future. We’re trying to be even more critical of our sources and careful with our work.

El Space: Who inspires you?
Laura: The Secret Gardeners, my graduating class from Vermont College, are the most talented writers in the world, and their voices are always in my head, reminding me of the power of words.

El Space: Yay! What’s next for the site? What else are you working on?
Laura: Tim and I are working on a podcast. We’ve tried a few practice recordings and, so far, haven’t gotten past teasing each other. We’ll get it together, hopefully soon.

Thanks, Laura, for being my guest! Click here to access WordStirs or follow on Instagram.

Check out this video at Tim Byrne’s YouTube Channel:

The unicorn helps Henry get the point about social distancing.

P.S. The winners of the next two child Yodas are Charles and Marian. Again, I had to let them know ahead of time because of the fluctuating times we live in. I am working on yet another Yoda, so it’s not too late to put your bid in for one. 😀

Author photos and logo courtesy of Laura Byrne. Breaking news image from freepik. Washington Post logo from Wikimedia. Other logos found at various places on the internet. Other photo by L. Marie.

Resilience

Happy Post Easter/Resurrection Sunday!

Chag Pesach Samech!

See this? This might look like an ordinary budding tree to you, but to me, this is a cavalry charge.

This year, winter seemed to linger like a bad odor. Palm Sunday looked like this.

Winter’s (hopefully) last gasp. But the cavalry is here. Winter is defeated! Don’t let the door hit you on your way out, Winter.

Look at these flowers. They made it through last week’s snowstorm. So did we, like we made it through the Polar Vortex’s visit earlier this winter. (Polar Vortex, you will not be missed. Don’t write and don’t text. I will not accept your calls.)

The Seder I attended on Good Friday was another reminder of resilience, as the story was told of the Exodus led by Moses after the people of Israel were released after hundreds of years of slavery. (Check out Exodus chapters 5—15 in the Bible for that.)

This brings to mind the resilience of many during wars and other horrible events. (Columbine [check out Laura Bruno Lilly’s blog post about that], the Manchester arena bombing in 2017, and the recent fire at Notre Dame come to mind.) Perhaps in events like the above you felt like you survived by the skin of your teeth, barely holding on to hope. Hardly a triumphal march, you think. Yet you’re holding on. That is victory.

With the coming of this Easter, my family is especially grateful for the resilience of one of our own, whose sudden onset of mysterious seizures led to two recent hospital stays. For many days we waited by the bedside, hoping, praying. And now we rejoice at the release from the hospital.

This is sort of an awkward segue to the announcement of the winners of Caroline Carlson’s The Door at the End of the World. (See this post for an interview with Caroline.) But in a way, it isn’t. Caroline’s book is about adventures at the end of something. Easter and Passover are reminders of the adventure at the end of struggle and heartbreak. Reminders of the promise of a new life, a new beginning.

  

So, the first winner, thanks to Random.com, is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Sharon Van Zandt!

The second winner is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Marian Beaman!

Sharon and Marian, I rejoice with you! Please comment below to confirm.

  

Cross image from christianitymalaysia.com. Passover greeting image from americangreetings.com. Other photos by L. Marie.