Something in the air

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The one thing I remember most about the south of France is the fragrance of it. Inhaling deeply on a stone terrace in Nice, I discovered the air was scented with lavender and maybe a bit of eucalyptus that grew nearby. It was amazing and left me utterly relaxed! I’ve never found anything like it in a bottle – and I’ve spent a decade searching.

How can simply sniffing something in the air have such an impact?  

As The Mayo Clinic points out, some studies have suggested that aromatherapy can benefit our sleep patterns, help us cope with anxiety and depression, and improve the quality of life for those with chronic health conditions and pain. Avid aromatherapy fans use essential oils for a variety of purposes:

  • Improving mood
  • Providing calmness 
  • Clearing sinuses
  • Reducing stress
  • Setting a tone of a room (think: relaxing or energetic) 
  • Scent diffusion alternative to candle-burning 

According to scientists, when we enjoy what we smell, a domino effect happens because of how the body is wired. Enjoyment of the scent helps the pupils to dilate, and the body will produce chemicals that can encourage the smooth muscle of blood vessels to relax. That’s when your blood pressure lowers, and heart rate slows a little, which is a signal of calmness and relaxation.

A friend (who knows nothing of my quest to duplicate the fragrance of Nice) gave me a candle called RELAX, which is scented with lavender and cedar. I light it while I’m writing and editing. While it may not be identical to the south of France, I’m getting close.

Renee Garrison is the award-winning author of “The Anchor Clankers,” and “Anchored Together.” She is President of the Florida Authors and Publishers Association.

Happy Holidays?

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My early Christmas memories in New England resemble a Norman Rockwell painting, with my aunt and uncle arriving at my grandparents’ house for a lavish holiday meal.  Friends and neighbors dropped in for a sip of eggnog (and some Fanny Farmer chocolates) while we waited for Santa. 

When my children were growing up, we stayed home for the holidays. The menu may have varied, but the essentials stayed the same: watching our favorite holiday movies, friends and family stopping by and spending time together on the couch. Today, my kids live in separate states with families of their own, so our traditions have changed. They usually involve an airport, and sometimes that feels like a loss.

Here’s the truth: our adult holidays may never match the magic of our childhood. And celebrating on Zoom is definitely not the best way to connect with our family.

But instead of scrolling through Instagram and looking at other people’s picture-perfect (and undoubtedly, STAGED) holidays, I am thankful for the holiday I do have — TSA checks, airport food and presents in my purse instead of under the tree. 

It’s not perfect, but it’s enough.

Renee Garrison is the award-winning author of “The Anchor Clankers,” and “Anchored Together.” She is President of the Florida Authors and Publishers Association.

Thanksgiving Trivia

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Felix the Cat, the first character balloon, at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Apart from my Great Aunt Margaret’s stuffing, my favorite part of childhood Thanksgivings in New England was watching the Macy’s parade. My sister and I waited until the end, when Santa Claus arrived to officially open the Christmas season.

In particular, we loved the balloons, but we didn’t know their history. 1927, puppeteer Tony Sarg suggested introducing inflatable balloons to the parade. That year, Macy’s featured Felix the Cat, a 60-foot-tall toy soldier, and a 20-foot-long elephant, all manufactured by the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, in Akron, Ohio. The helium inflatables, a bit more fearsome than those of today, grew larger and more complicated with each passing year. Some contained their own sound effects—like a barking dachshund—and others needed as many as 50 handlers on the ground, with a Pinocchio requiring 20 handlers for his nose alone.

Eventually, the balloons were fitted with slow-release valves so they could be let loose into the sky at the end of the parade, averting a logistical nightmare on the ground and simultaneously creating an airborne sensation.

In another feat of well-calculated promotion, Sarg offered a reward to anyone who returned a wayward balloon to Macy’s. The ensuing races to find and give them back were so heated that they became news in their own right—one woman, trying to catch Felix the Cat on the wing of her biplane while aloft, crash-landed her way onto the front page of the next day’s New York Times.

Thankfully, that tradition ended – like so many others. Today I buy my stuffing at the grocery store, but I make it as I watch the parade. Happy Thanksgiving!

Renee Garrison is the award-winning author of “The Anchor Clankers,” and “Anchored Together.”

Is Your Home Safe During the Holidays?

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While you’re spending the holidays in a tropical locale or in a quaint European town, thieves could be planning to attack your home. Yet a few easy steps can make your home look occupied and protect your property. (If it looks like there are still people at home, you’re much less likely to be robbed.) Do everything you can to make it look like there’s activity both inside and outside the
house.
Up your exterior light game: While you’re automating your lights, make sure you have enough of them on the outside of your home. A well-lit place is less likely to be an attractive target for a thief. And motion-activated lights that pop on when they sense movement outside your home can help protect it every day.
Let your neighbors know: If those who live closest to you know that you’re away, they’re likely to keep a closer eye on your home and be alerted to strange noises or unfamiliar faces.
Consider mail and newspaper delivery: Thieves may notice an overfilled mailbox and take that as a cue to hit your home. A smart robber who is watching will notice that the mail is not being delivered. It might be best to continue with mail delivery and ask a neighbor to collect it for you.
Check your doors and windows before you leave:
You might not realize you have a back door or first-floor window that’s unlocked, but a thief will.
Chill on the social media updates: Just posted a picture on Facebook of the family hanging out on Maui or tweeted about a great restaurant you found near Disney World? You just gave thieves all the info they need to make your home next on their list. If you still want to make sure you’re sharing your good times online, set your profiles to private. Or, wait until you get home to post photos.

Less is more

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Call it the affliction of a former fashion editor, or the result of living in a state with four seasons for a decade, but I had so many articles of clothing that I woke up to a loud crash of my closet rod collapsing because of the weight.

You’d think that would have been my “come-to-Jesus” moment, but it wasn’t. What finally got me to bring garbage bags into my room was a recent move in sunny Florida and the patient support of a friend. It boiled down to guilt: These pieces had designer labels and the cost of each had been ridiculous. (I knew that because the tags were still attached to many of them.)

Still, it makes no sense to keep outdated slacks and dresses that no longer fit my style simply because they were expensive.  If I got rid of all the constantly-ignored-and-skipped-over clothes, the pieces I actually wear wouldn’t look so wrinkled. There would be enough space between the hangers.

Dozens of bags were donated to charities or delivered to consignment stores.

And you know what? I haven’t missed one thing!

Renee Garrison is the award-winning author of The Anchor Clankers and Anchored Together.

Heartbreaking to remember

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Charles Dickens was right: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

Some of the worst occurred on September 12 as I walked along New York City sidewalks, which were plastered with pictures of missing people. I struggled to maintain my composure as I looked at thousands of faces taped to every available inch of fence, lamp post, mailbox and store window. “HAVE YOU SEEN…” was emblazoned across the top of each poster by relatives or friends desperate for news. The never-ending gallery was heartbreaking.

Late in the afternoon my photographer friend cruised past police barricades to shoot Ground Zero. I walked home with her daughter, Shane, when suddenly the unmistakable hum of an airplane engine buzzed overhead. Without thinking, I pushed the child up against a building and shielded her, while staring upward. People around us on the street also stood frozen with fear…each one thinking, “No, not again.” It turned out to be a military plane, our military, but the incident left us shaking and anxious. The horror was still too fresh.

That evening, I joined Barbara and her daughter at a prayer service in their synagogue. I might have been raised as a Roman Catholic, but that night, I understood Hebrew.

When we returned to their apartment, I made the first of many calls to US Airways to see about retrieving my suitcase, which had been impounded at La Guardia. After hours on hold, an airline employee asked for a description of my bag in order to locate it.

“It’s black,” I began.

“And I bet it has wheels and a pull-up handle,” she said.

This didn’t look promising.

She tried another approach. “Okay, if I open your suitcase, what will I see that tells me it’s yours?”

“Well, I have a pair of black slacks, a black turtleneck…and, um, a black skirt.”

I was in New York for Fashion Week, for God’s sake. Editors wear black, not Hawaiian prints. But I learned a valuable lesson: Something in your luggage must be easy to identify.

Miraculously, the airline found my black-wheeled-suitcase-with-handle in the impounded baggage. However, when I returned to Michigan, I marched into “Frederick’s of Hollywood” and bought the loudest leopard bikini panties – with a strategically placed red heart – that I could find. For many years, they were the final item I packed on every trip. I wanted to be sure that if another airline employee ever asked, ‘If I open your suitcase, what will I see?’ I’d have a much better answer.

Renee Garrison is the award-winning author of The Anchor Clankers and Anchored Together.

Don’t forget sunscreen

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Labor Day weekend approaches and a friend of mine expressed a desire to go for a clothing-optional getaway. I, myself, once visited “an adult-only, clothing-optional retreat” north of Tampa – FULLY CLOTHED and carrying a NOTEBOOK – in my role as a reporter for The Tampa Tribune. (I wrote about the clothing store located in the nudist colony.) While there, I discovered most clothes-free destinations have more rules than a boarding school. Here’s the skinny on what you need to know—and what you shouldn’t do—at a nude beach.

  1. It’s not polite to stare.

Once you’re on a nudist beach, don’t stare, gawk, point, or giggle. Obviously, you will be required to look at your fellow sunbathers at some point, whether greeting them or fetching their Frisbee from your beach towel. Hint: Wearing sunglasses helps, but regulars insist that at a certain point, you simply stop noticing all the bare skin.

2. Don’t expect supermodel bodies.

Contrary to popular belief, most nude beaches are not sexy places ripped straight out of the pages of a men’s magazine. Patrons come in all sizes, shapes, and states of physical fitness, and very few look like Liam Hemsworth in the buff. (On my brief visit I noticed a lot of surgical scars, too.)

  3. Put your cell phone away.

Never, ever take anyone’s photo without their permission.  Many nudist beaches even prohibit photography.

4. Look for posted signs regarding clothing-required venues.

Pack a beach tote with readily accessible garments in case you need to suit up to use the facilities. Most nudist beaches and resorts require you use a towel to sit on public chairs as well.

Finally, don’t forget your sunscreen. Areas that are normally protected by swim trunks and bikinis will need a lot of it, preferably one that’s gentle on sensitive skin.

Renee Garrison is the award-winning author of Anchored Together and The Anchor Clankers.

Family reading

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Have you considered a family book club this summer? Even if it’s hard to get your crew motivated, don’t give up. No matter how much they balk, you’ll have a good time discussing the book (and anything else that comes up!)

It’s a great way to spend device-free time together. You don’t have to choose a serious or literary book. (It can even be one of their required reading selections.) Family book clubs have no rules, except read something and have fun. 

Here are a few tips:

  1. Any family member can nominate a book.
  2. The whole family votes on which books to read.
  3. Be realistic regarding the number of books you’ll get through and the length of each. 
  4. Make discussions special. Combine it with something else your family enjoys. Go to a restaurant. Have a picnic. Dress in character.
  5. Mixing reading levels is fine as long as the youngest can listen to audio versions of advanced level books, or an older person reads to a younger. Young readers love when older family members read their picks. Older siblings get a kick out of feeling nostalgic rereading kiddie books.
  6. Naughty words and/or scenes are hits.
  7. Take turns leading the discussions. Be flexible, but prepare questions in case there’s a conversation lull. Many books come with discussion guides.
  8. Be open to unconventional genres and reading tools (like audiobooks or e-books).
  9. Don’t cancel, even if everyone hasn’t finished the book.
  10. KEEP IT FUN!

Award-winning author Renee Garrison has written two books on her life with midshipmen at the Sanford Naval Academy, The Anchor Clankers and Anchored Together.

Getting teens to read

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During the teenage years, enthusiasm for reading can wane. Maybe it has to do with getting smartphones, which provide a different type of entertainment. Or the desire to spend more time with friends. Maybe it’s because they now also have assigned summer reading for school, which sucks a bit of the joy out of this pastime. 

If any of this sounds familiar to you, and you’re wondering how to get your kid’s nose back into a book, you’re not alone. One way to encourage summer reading is to make it relaxing and offer some escape, especially after the challenging year we’ve just had. (We all need a beach read sometimes.) So don’t pressure them into anything too challenging. This is a chance to use their imagination. Or break out the Harry Potter set and let ‘em re-read old favorites. And if your summer plans involve a long car ride, try an audio book to make the trip go faster.

Reading has so many benefits, including increasing language fluency and vocabulary.  But it also helps our kids to empathize with others by learning about unfamiliar experiences. What better way to spend their summer?

Award-winning author Renee Garrison has written two books on her life with midshipmen at the Sanford Naval Academy, The Anchor Clankers and Anchored Together.

Caring for Mom

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She starts each day slamming kitchen cabinet doors, in her never-ending search for a coffee cup, spoon or napkin. She is angry and wants me to know it.

My mother-in-law has dementia and she lives with us, now. We’re trying to keep her safe, out of a facility. She resists our help.

Next month we shall celebrate her 96th birthday. In one brief moment of clarity at the breakfast table, she looked directly at me and said, “You know, there is such a thing as living too long.” I say nothing.

Even though we know Mom’s dementia behaviors are symptoms of a disease and not intentional, dealing with them is often emotionally and physically challenging. We see a range of unpredictable behaviors including aggression, mood swings, and repeated questioning or manipulation.

“Why can’t I live alone? Why did you steal my car? Where are my things?”

Dementia behaviors like aggression peak after a disruption in their routine. (Living with family is a disruption.) She becomes particularly aggressive around sunset.

Still, we persist.

This is Mom, a kind, giving person who would be appalled to see how the end of her life would play out. We remain calm and supportive. We have to.

Renee Garrison is the award-winning author of The Anchor Clankers

and Anchored Together.