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Fall Décor and Amateur Mind Control: The Art of Old Fashioned Olfaction Manipulation

It’s a well known fact that scent is the strongest sense tied to memory. I heard that on a commercial so its true for sure. But I think it is true actually. There are several scents that remind me of my childhood. A few weeks ago I strayed from my regular purchase of lemon scented Pinesol and sprang for the original pine scent. I like pine, and as mothers sometimes do, I got semi-excited to try a new (to me) cleaning product. When I opened up the bottle the smell hit me like a ton of bricks. It was the smell of the cleaner that they used at my pre-school. I remember all of the classrooms smelling like it. Pre-school was a particularly tumultuous time for me. My father had just passed away from a work-related accident, and my sister had come down with some kind of very serious virus that the doctors couldn’t identify at that time. Although I don’t think I completely understood all that was involved in either situation back then, I knew that I didn’t want to be away from home. My mom didn’t want me to be away either. She was a woman who had just lost her husband, was trying to determine the best course of care for an unidentified illness in her sick daughter, and had another daughter leaving home for the first time, even if it was just pre-school. Turns out, pine scented Pinesol brought up a lot of stuff I hadn’t thought about in a while. Who knew?

On the other hand, there are some smells that remind me of my childhood in a good way. The smell of fresh cut grass always reminds me of watching my mom or dad on the riding lawnmower, cutting the grass in the yard of our little white house in Tennessee. The house had been in our family for generations. If I’m not mistaken, my great-great grandmother lived in that house. I’m not sure how big the property was, but as a little kid, it felt like our yard went on forever. Even now I can walk through that house in my mind and remember the smell of the rooms.

The smell of gardenias reminds me of the house we lived in when I was a teenager in Safety Harbor. I used to pick new flowers off the bush just about every other day when it was in bloom. I never thought about the fact that gardenias only bloom a few times a year and my mother might not have loved me burglarizing all the new flowers, but she never complained. Its probably less of a coincidence and more of a subconscious urge that led me to plant gardenia bushes all over my yard in our house after we moved. Seriously, I think I have seven gardenia bushes currently, with a whole hedge of gardenias about to go in on the back fence line (about 24 new gardenia plants).

Being fully aware of just how much scents can imprint on your memory, for better or worse, I have taken this knowledge and used it to perform a little bit of mystical, magical, memory implanting voodoo on my children in several different ways.

When we moved into this house two years ago, the yard was almost completely bare. We bought the house when it was just an empty lot. After they built our house on it, landscapers came and planted a few things around the front porch, and several trees in the backyard but not a lot of plants that produced color or scent.

Cosmos (before the fried in the sun) and Dianthus

The landscaping package came with the house so there wasn’t a lot of thought or planning involved in it for us. The first thing I knew I wanted was a gardenia bush near the front door. Pretty soon that one little spot turned into me taking out the landscaping that the developers had put in, and completely redoing the front of the house, sides of the house, and giving the backyard a makeover too.


I planted tons of gardenia, gazillions of bougainvillea in every color, lavender roses, three large jasmine filled trellises, wisteria vines around our pergola, pink powderpuff trees, holly trees, coleus, sweet potato vine, Mexican heather, wispy variegated sinensis bushes, gold mound duranta, night blooming jasmine, a white bird of paradise, creeping fig vine, magnificent crotons, a purple sky flower tree, black diamond crape myrtle, and a plumeria tree from cuttings off of the big plumeria tree in my parent’s yard in Safety Harbor.

Blooms on the Pink Powderpuff Tree

That’s not even including things we’ve put in our planters. Every single thing has been planted by my two, frequently dirty hands. I say that less to toot my own horn and more so to show how high the stakes are for me in growing this garden. When you put in the work to accomplish something, it becomes important to see it succeed. Many of the things we’ve chosen to plant around the doors and windows especially are heavily scented plants. There is nothing like coming home when the gardenia bush by the front door is in bloom. Last year I tried a new fertilizer on our gardenias and jasmine. A few weeks after I applied the fertilizer, we went on a trip to California. We got back a week later and arrived home pretty late at night. As soon as we opened the doors to the truck to get out in our driveway, the smell of the gardenias by the door and on the side of the house FILLED the air. The kids dropped their bags and ran over to the bush to see it packed with white flowers. They picked a few and went inside to put them in a vase. That tiny vase of flowers on the kitchen counter must have accidentally been placed in the most perfect position because the airflow in the house carried the scent of the flowers up the stairs so we could smell them from most places around the house. These are the things I hope the kids will remember.

Coleus are so vibrant and perfect for shady spots

I know they think I’m crazy every time I insist we visit the garden center in Lowe’s or Home Depot. I know because they’ve told me. 😊 They usually get a Gatorade near the register out of the deal so they’ll survive. When the jasmine blooms and they comment on how sweet it smells in the backyard, or when they walk through the front door and get a good whiff of the new blooms on the gardenia bush, even if they don’t realize it, they’ll remember that smell and hopefully associate it with happy times.

I use that same, very scientific, very psychotic, forced memory inducing mother logic in other aspects of our lives as well.

This time of year really ups the ante for me. Its FALL! For me, there is no more magical time of year than the first part of October. Even though the weather hasn’t changed all that much, it’s the anticipation of that change and all the holidays to come that puts almost everyone in a good mood. Up until a few years ago, we didn’t have a lot of fall decorations, but the kids have insisted that we remedy that deficiency. They all love Halloween especially. I have made more of an effort to pick up a few things here and there to make the house more festive for them. The day that we get the storage box of Fall decorations down from the shelf in the garage is always exciting (for Bellamy and I at least). 😊 The boys ooooh and ahhhh at the finished product but don’t really care about the process of decorating. This year, Bellamy has really taken an interest in decorating. She says she wants to be a mama and a decorator when she grows up and has lots of ideas about how things should be. Which is interesting, because I also have a lot of ideas about how things should be. I am trying to be less neurotic and let her do her thing. She really does have some good ideas and I love that its something she and I look forward to doing together.

Once the decorating is done and the fall candles come out, it feels a lot cozier, even though its still roughly 90 degrees outside. Last year we unofficially started a fall movie night. We rented “Double Double, Toil and Trouble” starring Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen, lit all the candles, drank real hot chocolate and ate popcorn. I got this idea from a movie night in my childhood in Murfreesboro, Tennessee when we rented the same movie and filled up on toasted pumpkin seeds and lemonade. That turned out to be a very bad snack combination and I ended up throwing up, but that’s another story for another day. The coziness of that memory from my childhood still lingers and I want to pass down the good juju. This time of year, and this special night calls for a very different memory making scent. Before we start the movie, while the kids are gathering blankets and snacks I boil some water, add some nutmeg, cinnamon and orange peels. I let that boil for a good 20 minutes and it fills the house with the scent of fall as the movie plays.

You try, just TRY to get the memory of that smell, and the feeling of that coziness out of your head. You can’t. Its stuck there forever. Except that’s not the kind of memory you want to forget. It’s the kind you want to remember so accurately that you can close your eyes years and years from now, and it feels so real its almost tangible.

This year we dried oranges for the first time to use as decor. My friend, Ashley decorated her whole Christmas tree last year with dried citrus and it was so beautiful. I thought they would smell up the house pretty good, but they were a lot less potent than I imagined. I suspect that sprinkling them with cinnamon or nutmeg as they dry out would assist in the smell factor. I may try that this week for some added memory voodoo. 😊

Most of our fall décor is made up of things I have around the house already or in my little storage closet, that I bring out and re-purpose. The kids insisted we add some Halloween decorations into our fall décor so we mixed it up a little this year. We found some cool looking eyeballs at Michaels last year, as well as some glass beakers for pretty cheap.

We used those in our dining room table centerpiece along with a Harry Potter wand the kids helped me make using a dowel rod and dried glue from a glue gun. I also had an empty grape vine wreath that we used to mix in some fall colored foliage and air plants. The star of the show was the dried oranges. Even though they weren’t that smelly, they added a splash of color.

Also, let me just interject here among all the pictures of this cute (in my opinion) tablescape…this does not stay out all season. In fact, this did not stay out more than five minutes after I took these photos. I like to have an idea of what kind of fall table I’d put out for guests, and I think its fun to come up with new ideas every year. If I left this out all the time, all of it would be broken or in need of some kind of repair by Christmas. When it’s just us, we’re eating off of melamine Home Goods plates, and drinking out of plastic cups like good people should and do. 😊

I think a few different things inspired this post this week. I have been thinking a lot about a blog I read a few months ago about how its not the parent’s job to make their children’s childhood magical. The point of the post was that we should spend less time planning activities that result in contrived memories and more time living and letting life happen naturally. I agree with the writer, because whether this post suggests it or not, I am not a mother that plans a lot of activities. In fact, I’m somewhat allergic to plans as many of my friends may attest. On the other hand, I think there are ways of making childhood magical without getting crazy. Sometimes I struggle with whether or not I should share these “magical” moments with my family on social media or even this blog for fear that it leads people to think we are a family that has it all together. Let me just fill you in. I finished editing two photo sessions earlier this week, and have spent the last two or three nights trying to write this blog post in the couple of hours I have child free after bedtime. This means I have mounds of clean laundry piled up, waiting for me to fold. My bedroom is a mess as a result. One of the reasons I love having a two story house is because the top floor is like another world entirely. I take the time to reset the ground floor by tidying up, cleaning the kitchen and vacuuming everynight. On the other hand, the top floor looks like it has its own nuclear codes and someone gave the button to a sugared up two year old. Some days, like today, I yell more than I should. When I tucked the kids into bed tonight I said, “You guys know I love you very much even when I yell and am frustrated with you, right?” They all said they knew that, and two out of three even agreed they didn’t hear me yell. Whether that was because they weren’t listening which was the root cause of the yelling to begin with, or because my frustrated tone of voice has become monotone to their ears this week is yet to be determined. My point is, there is a million different ways we fail as parents on any given day throughout the time they are in our homes. I think conjuring up a little bit of magic every once in a while is called for. My idea of magic is an experience for all the senses. Creating coziness is my love language. I want the lights to be twinkly, the scent to be festive and inviting, and the blankets and pillows to be plentiful. If your idea of magic is a really cool scavenger hunt you found on Pinterest, or a list of summer activities you want to tackle before they go back to school, DO THAT! We’re all just trying to do our best and that’s going to look different for everyone. My earnest hope for this blog is that it never makes the reader feel like I’m flaunting a lifestyle. The only lifestyle I want to portray is one of reality. It’s a life of a lot of love, a fair amount of messiness, a majority of tardiness, a handful of chaos, a few splashes of whimsy and hopefully, at least every once in a while, a little magic.

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