If there is one thing I could obsessively collect (aside from books) it would be scents. I’d bottle up all those amazing scents that have the power to transport me across time and place and I’d sniff them as needed.
You know the scents I’m talking about, right? The ones that make you think of summer afternoons baking apple pie in Grandma’s kitchen. Or the scent of lemony chlorine that reminds you of your elementary school hallway. One sniff and you’re suddenly 8 years old again with knobby knees and Lisa Frank stickers decorating your binder.
It’s amazing how the brain works. Smells enter the nose and pass along the cranial nerve through the olfactory bulb where the brain then processes the smell. The olfactory bulb is part of the limbic system, which is closely associated with memory and feelings.
Sarah Dowdey explains in her article “How Smells Work” that “The olfactory bulb has intimate access to the amygdala, which processes emotion, and the hippocampus, which is responsible for associative learning. Despite the tight wiring, however, smells would not trigger memories if it weren’t for conditioned responses. When you first smell a new scent, you link it to an event, a person, a thing or even a moment. Your brain forges a link between the smell and a memory…”
So there’s actually something to my imagined obsessive collection of smells. They really do elicit an emotional response.
So if I could start a scent collection, there would be a tub of the old Pond’s cold cream that smelled just like the nook on Grandma’s neck where I used to bury my face when I hugged her tightly. I’d open that jar and inhale deeply so I could easily recall summer days spent running around Grandma’s backyard, dashing between vegetable beds, picking raspberries to pop in my mouth. Beside that I’d have a bottle of good ol’ No-Ad sunscreen (the tropical variety) so I could quickly transport myself to the beach. I could imagine myself with sand between my toes, sniffing the salty air, relaxing in the way only a carefree child can. Of course, Vanilla Fields would find a place on my shelf, signifying the leap I took from being a lowly little middle school geek to (what I imagined) an extremely sophisticated freshman. And then there would have to be spices, like cinnamon and nutmeg and cloves reminding me of winter evenings baking cookies with Mom as we prepared for the Christmas season. Apples and pumpkins and sweet candy corn scents would mark the transition from beach weather to crisp cool mornings.
Growing up mostly along the East Coast, I experienced traditional autumn. The weather shifted, the leaves changed, the air felt crisp. Fall hung in the air, literally. It’s not so easy in the deep southern recesses of Texas to feel immersed in the season of autumn. As the calendar shifts to fall, our temperatures still hover in the 90s. My kids still dart past my kitchen window in bathing suits and the thought of bundling up in a warm Halloween costume feels suffocating, to say the least.
Maybe there won’t be timely leaf changing. Nor will there be chilly October mornings with turtlenecks and sweaters. But there will be pumpkin spice and apple cinnamon hovering in the air. So I have to capitalize on our sense of scent to fill my kids’ brains with delightful autumn memories.
To help you forge the path of autumn memories in your children’s brains, here’s a sweet Autumn Play Dough recipe that you will delight in making together…
- 2 cups water
- 2 cups flour
- ½ cup salt
- 4 tablespoons cream of tartar
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 4 seasonal tea bags (we love Republic of Tea’s Hot Apple Cider Tea and their Pumpkin Spice Tea)
Step 1: Boil the water and steep tea bags for 10 minutes, covered.
Step 2: Remove the tea bags but do not discard! Add flour, salt, cream of tartar and oil to the pot. Cook and stir over medium heat for a few minutes until it forms a ball.
Step 3: Take the ball out and knead it on a lightly floured surface. Tear open the tea bags and knead the tea leaves into the dough.