Does This Make Scents?

Photo Courtesy of Eddy Boom, Unsplash

What do pumpkin pie and Chanel No5 perfume have in common? According to a recent study comprised of a group of American college students, the aroma/fragrance of those two items are at the top of a list of scents that evoke nostalgia. Also on the list are lavender, roses, baby powder, and apple pie .

Scents really do take us back in time. Anyone possessing a sense of smell likely has his/her own story of a scent that jolts them back to childhood, a first love, a favorite place, or best memory.

My story is the fragrance of fresh lilacs. Until I turned 20, I lived off and on with my grandmother Elizabeth. My bedroom in her home was a wonderfully-filled space of light since it had windows on three sides. The back window overlooked a huge lilac bush. Each spring I looked forward to the scent of the blooms being carried by the air through my open bedroom window.

Even today I can bury my nose in a bouquet of lilacs and vividly recall myself in that bedroom, first playing with dolls and then later playing 45s on a portable record player.

A friend I once worked with is a talented gardener. Until she retired, each spring she brought me a bouquet of her lilacs from her own garden. Those simple bouquets meant more to me than any expensive flower arrangement I’ve ever received. Thank you, Nancy C.

I know that some people suffer terrible reactions to certain fragrances. We DO live in an artificially-smelled-up world! There are a few perfumes and colognes that adversely affect me as well. I’m not sure of the names of the bothersome items, but I think the underlying scent is musk.

And of course, some people wear too darn much fragrance! A  former male colleague wore such a heavy dose of strong cologne that I held my breath as we crossed paths in the hall. The scent of him lingered long after he passed by. People joked about it. They’d sniff the air and say something like, “Oh, I guess Todd is in the office today.”

In coaching people about their image regarding jewelry and fragrance, I remind them of an adage I heard once:  “If you can be heard or smelled before you’re seen, you have on too much.”

Recent studies show that all these artificial smells can pose a danger to us. From creams for our faces, hands and bodies to dish and laundry detergents and everything in between, we’re smelling a lot! And much of it is not good for our health.

The Environmental Working Group is a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment. Much of their work deals with the ingredients in products and the effects those ingredients have on our bodies. You can search for products on their site,

EWG assigns a hazard score for a product. The Chanel No5 perfume ended up a 6 which is on the high end of the moderate risk. The perfume’s slogan is “the now and forever fragrance.” So maybe its scent is such a long-lasting one that you CAN take it with you to whatever forever you go to!

To my readers: What scent or fragrance evokes a special memory for you?




Frank Lloyd Wright, Part II

Photographer: Skitter Photo, from StockSnapIO

My November 1 post talked about Fallingwater, the architectural masterpiece by Frank Lloyd Wright, and the fact that his most famous creation does not have one of his red signature tiles. See below for a reminder:

Most Frank Lloyd Wright homes include his signature on a Cherokee-red tile affixed to the outside. For some reason, Fallingwater does NOT have one. I have someone looking into that. Seriously. You may be one of those people who is aware that my most quoted phrase is: It never hurts to ask.

I’ve heard back from Scott W. Perkins, Director of Preservation at Fallingwater. Here is his response via email:

“The red signature tiles were not added to all of FLW’s buildings. There is a myth that they were a “stamp of approval” or that they somehow marked his “favorite” buildings, but in reality they were added to the buildings after 1951. The tiles were designed by the mother of an apprentice, Aaron Green, and the original order was for 50 tiles. After Wright’s death, homeowners could still get a tile, as was the case for the owners of a Chicago-area prairie house and the First Christian Church in Phoenix, which was completed in 1972. The tiles were designed during the height of the Usonian phase of FLW’s career, so Kentuck Knob has one, and explains why Fallingwater does not.”

If you’ve toured Fallingwater, you know that the main family/living room has LONG, straight built-in seating. I found this really odd, since this style is not conducive to holding productive conversations. The set-up has people sitting in a long row, side-by-side, like the keys on a piano. I asked Mr. Perkins about that as well.

“The banquette seating (which I think you meant by “straight-line” seating) was not unique to Fallingwater, and Wright used it in many houses prior to it. Built-ins were more difficult for clients to move around, Wright felt.”

Although an amazing visionary, Mr. Wright was also known for his stubbornness. If he didn’t want the homeowners to change something that he truly believed in, he had ways to make sure they couldn’t!

I recall on a tour at Kentuck Knob the docent told our group that the owners (I.N. and Bernardine Hagan) wanted more storage space. Mr. Wright disagreed. So they had to wait until the house was finished before they could add it. And according to Kentuck Knob: A True Masterpiece by Ashley Dengler, “There were several debates and arguments between Wright and the Hagans over furnishings.”

So the moral of this post is we need to remember that no matter how smart or talented we are, it’s good to listen to another point of view and consider a mutual compromise. And then still do it your way, if you’re Frank Lloyd Wright.

To my readers: Do you have a story to share about digging in your heels over an issue? How did it end?



Need a hankie?

Part of the historical exhibition at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York City tells the story of the worldwide sympathy and response to our nation’s tragedy. One section contains cards, letters, and gifts sent to NYC, its fire departments, and rescue teams.

One child had sent a hand-drawn card that read, “Maybe you need a friend. Maybe you need a hankie. But there’s no one like you.” The words are all the more profound because of their simplicity.

We don’t use the word hankie much anymore. We keep tissues in boxes or packets. And Kimberly Clark Corporation is thrilled (cha-ching) when we call a tissue a Kleenex™, its brand name of tissue.

The first Kleenex paper tissue was invented in 1926 for the purpose of removing women’s cold cream from faces. That’s where the KLEEN part of the name came from (as in a clean face). About 1926 it was discovered that people were using the tissues to blow their noses.

My sister Barbara wanted to do something to commemorate our mother who died in 1996. She found a craftsperson who creates memory displays in a picture frame. The crafter asked if we had any heritage handkerchiefs from our mom or a grandmother to include. Fortunately my sister Beverly had held onto some of our two grandmothers’ hankies. You can see one in the photo at the top of this post.

In my home I like to create interesting SIMPLE tablescape-type arrangements. I have a large countertop microwave and that bare white metal top is an ideal spot for something interesting.

unadorned microwave top

“tablescaped” microwave top

You can see I used a colorful heritage hankie to place under a simple glass plate and then propped up decorative measuring spoons along the front edge of the plate. This was created using items I already had plus the “new” $2 heritage hankie.

My friend Sonia’s dad died a few months ago. The loss is still heartbreakingly new to her and the family. She and her mom were going through some drawers on Saturday, and they came across her father’s cotton handkerchiefs. “Daddy’s hankies!” She asked her mom if she could have one and placed it in her purse.

On Sunday, Sonia was part of an audience where I told a sad story. Tears filling her eyes, she reached into her purse hoping to find a clean tissue. Instead, her fingers felt the soft material of her dad’s hankie. Just as her father had used one to wipe away her little girl tears, she now wiped her own. What a sense of comfort that simple white handkerchief provided.

As the child’s card said, maybe YOU need a friend (count me as one), or maybe you need a hankie (I wish I could send one to each of you), but remember: There’s no one like YOU.

To my readers: Is there a simple item from your past that brings you comfort?


What Are You Looking At?

Photo courtesy of Gaetano Cessati of Unsplash

Not long ago a magazine solicited its readers for their best single piece of beauty advice. There were the usual responses of never sleep in your make-up and always wear sunscreen, mixed in with suggestions for a specific night cream or moisturizer. My favorite among the submissions made me laugh out loud: Avoid magnification mirrors.

One of my Christmas gifts this year was a hang-on-the-wall, swivel arm, natural daylight lighted make-up mirror. I love it. Thank you, husband and Amazon Prime. I no longer have to guess if my make-up is evenly applied. And the natural daylight surround is so, well, natural.

And yes, the mirror does flip over to become a magnification mirror. As in 10X magnification. Holy Mother of Kim Kardashian, I can see every flaw, blemish, age spot, and pore on my face. NOW I understand why that piece of beauty advice to avoid these things was truly no joke.

There is actually a warning sticker attached to the “bad” side: Warning: Danger of fire if placed in direct sunlight. I am not making this up. It’s reminiscent of when the hoodlums from elementary school would burn ants on the sidewalk using the sun’s rays with a hand-held magnifying glass.

I know some people made New Year resolutions to limit time on Facebook or their smart phones. I had to set a similar limit for Norma 10X. It’s not that I was doing a “Who’s the fairest of them all?” routine; I was simply horribly fascinated by the up-close-and-personal detail I could see. It wasn’t pretty. Trust me; even Jennifer Aniston’s 10X reflection would not be something she would post on Instagram.

As I flipped my mirror back to its Glinda-the-Good-Witch side, I thought about how often we carelessly do a 10X view of other’s faults and annoyances. We let pettiness creep in and what really is a minor flaw suddenly looms large as a VERY BIG DEAL.

And it’s not just with other people; we flagellate ourselves over a minor mistake, fixated at the hideous creature we have turned into for having goofed up.

Let’s agree to flip our brain and heart mirrors back to 1X. Let us be kind and forgiving to others while we share a little of those same niceties with ourselves.

And oh yes, DO stay away from magnification mirrors.

To my readers: What one character flaw will you forgive yourself for today?





Oh! Christmas Tree!

Note: This post is based on my 2011 Christmas letter


The tree in the magazine was quite glamorous. Without any lights at all, it was decked out with peacock feathers and large shiny balls in deep blues, purples, and golds that matched the feathers’ colors. The presents under the tree were foil-wrapped in the very same shades. And of course, the perfectly applied ribbons around each gift were in the same color palette. The tree stylist (yes, apparently such a job title does exist) noted that “the idea is all about exotic, over-the-top-elegance.”

My tree does not look like the magazine tree. Some of the lights have come a little untucked from the live Fraser Fir branches as the tree has settled into being part of our home. Every single ornament I own is on the tree. “It’s not a Christmas tree—it’s our family’s story,” is a phrase I heard once, and it’s true for my tree.

An ornament from 1981 proclaims that to be our first year of marriage. A “Baby’s 1st—one in pink and one in blue—welcomed our new little ones to the family. My step-daughter added her painted ornaments to the tree when she was twelve. There are preschool, elementary school, and Sunday school ornaments made by two sets of tiny hands.

More “kid-made” ornaments were added when our two grandsons came along. A fragile wooden mama bird and two baby birds in a nest were a gift from my mother-in-law who told me it’s good luck to have a bird’s nest in your tree.

We actually have a Sugar Bear ornament that still (amazingly!) plays a tinny medley of the first dozen or so notes of four Christmas songs. Each year when I place him on the tree and press his belly, I hold my breath until the music starts.

In 1962 my parents decided to forego the traditional live tree and surprised me with a silver aluminum tree with purple glass balls. It was hideous. After I threw a hissy fit (as only a twelve-year-old can), I made a promise to myself that I would always have a live tree with ornaments instead of plain balls. But when one of my sisters found those purple balls in an attic in 2011 and gave me a dozen of them, I decided that those too were part of my story. They’re not on the tree, but lovingly displayed in the breakfast room.

So there sits my tree, barely able to hold one more ornament. But it suits me perfectly. I’m not an exotic and elegant peacock-feather-tree type of girl. But that style fits someone else just as well as mine fits me.

I love to hear the Head Start teacher talk about faraway countries and their different styles of dress, buildings, and animals. She asks the children, “Is that how we dress in America?” No.  “Is it different?”  Yes. Is that OK?  Yes.

So whatever your tree looks like, even if it’s done up in peacock feathers, it’s OK!

To my readers: Tell us about your favorite ornament on your tree this year.




WHO knows how to do this?


My husband and I have a complementary relationship in the kitchen. There are some dishes that only he makes for family get-togethers (crab cakes), and there are others that only I make (lasagna).

We compete over just two items, both holiday related: stuffing and pies.

My cornbread stuffing is, of course, vastly superior over my husband’s traditional stuffing. But I’ll give his apple pie dibs over my pumpkin pie. A balanced life is beautiful.

I can’t think about pies without recalling a favorite story about my niece Sandy. She was a teen and had landed her first school’s-out-for-the-summer job. A well-to-do gentleman who had abandoned the city and rented a lodge in the country hired her as a part-time housekeeper and cook.

Sandy came home after the job interview and was excitedly telling her mom about her upcoming duties: vacuum, dust, clean the bathrooms, do laundry, iron, cook one meal a day, and oh yes…bake a fresh pie every other day.

My sister looked at her daughter and said, “Uh, you have never baked a pie.”  My niece’s response was classic for her “can-do” attitude. “Yes, but he doesn’t know that, and I have a week to learn.”

I have told that story many times. It still inspires me.

And it reminds me of a similar lesson I learned from Dr. Julie White when I was in my early 30s. Hers was the very first seminar I ever attended. She was such a vibrant, optimistically challenging, and here’s-another-way-to-look-at-that speaker that I remember not wanting her presentation to end. THAT was a tremendous experience and likely influenced my own speaking style.

Women in the business world in the 80s faced many challenges that young women in today’s American workplace (thankfully) do not. But from listening to both men and women, some career issues remain the same. Many of those have to do with our self-image.

Just what do we believe we are capable of?

Have you ever noticed that some of the wisest advice is spoken in plain English? Here was Julie White’s comment about stepping up to take on the challenge of a new position: “No one knows how to do anything until he’s done it.”

We hold back from taking on a new role because we’ve never been “that” before. Well, guess what? That’s true for each of us!

My young friend didn’t know how to be a mom until she became one. A former co-worker didn’t know how to transition from customer service to become a sales person until he started the sales training class. Every single person who has been elected United States President didn’t know how to be President until he found himself in the role. I didn’t know how to be a blogger until the first time I hit the “publish” button.

So don’t stay inside that very comfortable box if you know you want to do something different. Step outside with that I have a week to learn how to make pies attitude. And oh yes, would that be apple or pumpkin?

To my readers: Share a story of how you stepped outside your comfort zone.





Baking Day


The tradition started eight years ago when my sister Barbara bemoaned that she had never mastered our sister-in-law Ruth’s recipe for pumpkin rolls.

I invited Barbara over for a day and we made ourselves a batch of them. The secret really is just like Julia Child (at least supposedly) said: You can’t let the food know you’re afraid.  So when it comes time to flip those thin spongy cakes from the jelly roll pan to the prepared cloths to cool, you’ve got to show them who’s boss!

Each year our baking day has grown longer. My daughter plus my niece and her wife join my sister and me, so there are five of us in the kitchen. Baking Day had evolved into each of us bringing enough ingredients to make 2-3 batches of some yummy concoction.

So the day truly was a baking day. And doing dishes day. And being very busy day. And at the end, being extremely tired day!

For this year, my niece Allison suggested that we actually bake just one or two items together. And otherwise, everyone would bring fresh, homemade delights to share.

I’ll admit that I was at first secretly a little grumpy about the change in format, but decided to vote yes.

What a good suggestion from Allison! It was wonderful to actually have time to sit and talk with my family! We caught up on each others’ lives, laughed, and had the time to take a walk. And the end result was the same, after all—we each had a nice selection of desserts that freeze well, so that when Christmas company pops in, we’re prepared (just like our Grandma) to serve our guests a treat with their coffee or tea.

And I got to put a personal spin on the day by incorporating aspects to make it a heritage day.

As we tied on our aprons, I told them the story of where each had come from. I made my niece Sandy’s broccoli/potato soup for lunch, and together we baked our sister Beverly’s Texas sheet cake for dessert. I made my mother-in-law Rosalie’s spectacular iced tea.

And I tucked an extra dessert into their tins—our mom Bertie’s chocolate chip cookies. I’ve been baking those cookies since I was 17. They’ve been my contribution to countless parties and work events. I’ve remained close with friends from high school who still remember when my mom made them. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve been asked to share that recipe.

So as much as I truly enjoy keeping up with established rituals, this revised version of Baking Day was our best one yet.

It’s a good reminder to me to not become so entrenched in a specific way of doing something that I don’t see how a change can actually be an improvement.

Because if I had insisted on keeping to the tradition, we would have missed out on the walk down a country road on what is likely the last 70° day full of blue sky and sunshine until next spring. And trust me– that would have been a shame.

Instead of a question, as a Thanksgiving gift to my readers, here is my mom’s cookie recipe.

Bertie Shingler’s Chocolate Chip Cookies  

Preheat oven to 350.

2 sticks of butter (save wrappers)           Combine these three

½ cup granulated white sugar               ingredients in mixer

1 cup brown sugar                                  and cream together. Beat well.


2 eggs – beaten                            Combine to above and mix

1 teas vanilla                                 Combine to above and mix

2 cups and 4 tbls white flour  plus 1 teas baking soda    Combine and then add to above mixture and beat well.

1 bag of semi-sweet choc chips            Add by hand to above (I prefer the mini chips)

Using the butter wrappers from above, grease two cookie sheets.

Place small spoonfuls of batter onto cookie sheets, a couple inches apart.

Bake 9-11 minutes just until lightly browned on top, slightly under-baked.

(Note: I use cookie sheets that are two layers, separated by air, to avoid excessive browning on the bottom of cookies.)

Remove from oven and let cookies sit on the cookie sheet for about a minute.

Carefully remove cookies onto a dish towel covered with two paper towels. Let cookies cool on this—that’s how they stay so soft! (The secret!)

As soon as cool enough to package, put in a ziplock bag.

Freeze whatever you’re not eating the same day to keep them fresh.

What’s on YOUR table?


The magazine article was about a mom around my age who was trying to convince her 30-something daughter to take Great-Grandma’s set of good china that had been packed away in the attic for twenty years. Daughter wasn’t interested; Mom tried to guilt her into taking it.

It’s part of your heritage.

 The daughter responded with something close to, “Mom, it’s been in your attic for twenty years, and before that in Grandma’s basement for fifteen years, ever since Great-Grandma died. I’ve never seen it, let alone had dinner served on it. I have no memories tied to it. So it’s nothing to me.”

Sometimes I feel like that Mom as I try to downsize my belongings. Why aren’t family members interested in having all this stuff?!

I don’t have any kitchen-related heirlooms packed away in an attic or basement. But I do have some in a cabinet that’s inaccessible without a stepstool. So they may as well be in an attic since they are out of sight and out of mind. They haven’t been used in a long time.

I myself have no memory of using the glasses and dishes at either of my grandmothers’ homes. People of that generation and prior SAVED the good stuff. The question begs to be asked: Saved for what?  Or whom? Because it wasn’t as if either set of grandparents ran in affluent social circles or had elaborate dinner parties. I think the good stuff was saved to be passed down so someone else could save them to pass along again.

Recalling that article, I realized I needed to create memories with the heirlooms. That way, in forty years as friends and  family gather to celebrate my life after my funeral, someone in the family will say, “Oh yes! I remember how pretty these glasses looked on Norma’s dinner table. Of course I’d LOVE to have them! Thank you for asking.”

So at today’s family get-together at my home, Grandmother Vera’s gold-rimmed glassed will be part of the table setting. Who cares that they are NOT dishwasher-safe, and so will need to be hand-washed. Not I, surely,  since I’m not on dish detail today!

So here’s my advice: Quit saving dishes and related items for ultra-special occasions. Use them NOW in your daily life. It’s a scientific fact that food tastes better when it’s served on beautiful plates. OK, I made that up, but I say it all the time to my husband when he pulls out a paper plate for his sandwich.

Set a beautiful table, even if you’re having leftovers. Even if you’re eating alone.

Create a memory today.

To my readers:  Tell us what’s going on your table tonight.

Is there a rainbow in the house?

Award prism

I kept just one memento from my former job: a plexiglas award from 2002 for Outstanding Finance Team Member. Wow. I hope you are duly impressed.

At the office, the trophy sat in a large East-facing window. The morning light, having been bent twice by the prism edges, dispersed rainbows in various spots throughout my office on any sunny morning.

When people attended meetings in my office, sometimes a rainbow would appear on a face, as if the grownup involved had just sat for a face-painting session.

I will admit I secretly took great pleasure when my unwitting “victim” was a gentleman who played the office tough-guy role. Tip:  It’s not easy to intimidate a woman who’s watching a rainbow dance across your nose.

If the rainbow showed up on the carpet as someone walked into my office, I shouted, “Don’t step on the rainbow!” They’d jump back, look at the floor, then at me. Some appeared sheepish, as in, “You got me!” But sometimes the look clearly said, “The stress has finally caused her to crack.” Ah yes, I loved to keep them guessing.

At home I already treasured my indoor rainbows cast by a large stained glass piece hanging in an upper hall window. Where they appear depends on the time of day and the season. They are stealth rainbows. I turn the corner and there one is. They last for just a few moments, depending on the angle of the sun and the cloud condition of the sky. The brightness can diminish or intensify quickly as seen in the two photos below taken about ten seconds apart.

rainbow dark                    rainbow faint

So I wasn’t about to dispose of my office rainbow maker. But neither did I want an old award sitting around. I affixed a beautiful card front to each of the two sides. The writing is covered, but the prisms at top and bottom remain open to catch the rays.

Every so often when a rainbow shows its presence, I’ll snap a photo and send to my best friend with a tagline of simply, “Rainbow of the day.” Isn’t it cool that technology enables quick and easy sharing of simple joys?

A rainbow in the sky is a sign marking a covenant God made with us. My house rainbows remind me that God’s blessings are new each day.

Catch the tiny rainbow on the angel’s shadow in the photo below.

perhaps they are not stars

And in case you’re wondering what’s written on the angel’s skirt, it’s this:

Perhaps they are not stars in the sky, but rather openings where our loved ones shine down to let us know they are happy.

I’m counting that as a blessing within a blessing!

To my readers: What simple joy fills you with happiness?






Photo by Norma Thatcher

The most inspiring book I’ve ever read on design is by John Wheatman: “Meditations on Design.” This short (126 pages), stunningly photographed book takes four main ideas

  • Looking Inside
  • Bringing the Outside In
  • Memory and the Things You Love
  • The Poetics of Home

and supports them with chapters that provide ideas and suggestions to help ordinary people assemble a home’s interior that is truly representative of themselves.

One of Mr. Wheatman’s main influences on me was the idea of “borrowing.” What he meant was the concept of bringing outside views to the inside by breaking down the separation of the two. But the photograph used to illustrate the point was of four simple vases on a window sill, each vase holding a single stem. And the vases were positioned to reflect into a mirror so that we saw eight vases. The view was “borrowed” and doubled the beauty. Thus began my collection of mirrors.

I don’t buy just any mirror. They have to be a reflection (no pun intended) of my personal style. My niece Sandy refers to them as “Aunt Norma mirrors.” They are in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, most with a frame representative of nature.

The mirrors are not grouped together so that a stranger entering my home would say, “Holy cow, you have a lot of mirrors!” Instead, they are strategically placed. Some are positioned to give a longer view of a room to make the rooms feel larger than they actually are. One provides a glimpse of a room that you can’t yet actually see from that point. Another catches the evening sunset.

One of the patterns I used in designing my home was to (in the words of Christopher Alexander) “have light on two sides of every room” (provided by windows, naturally). But by using mirrors, there is light on all four sides of each room in my house. By borrowing the natural light, the rooms are brighter and are more welcoming.

Just as mirrors borrow light and reflect back a view, so do our lives. I want to be a beautiful reflection of joy and grace and kindness, and strive to be that each day. Like most people, some days I am more of those qualities than on other days. I will admit that there are days when I feel I need to drape a cloth over what I might be reflecting. And I think that’s how it is for most of us: Imperfect, and still trying to be our best authentic selves.

To my readers:  Think of someone you love or admire. What aspect is being reflected by their lives?