Coloring Books: Not Just for Preschool Anymore

When I first heard the words “adult coloring books” mentioned on the local news earlier this week, my first thought was, “Oh, great. Another FSoG-inspired gimmick.”

Thankfully, the real story was much less sordid than I had first imagined. Apparently, coloring books are growing in popularity among adults, giving them both a creative outlet and a safe, relatively-inexpensive way to relieve the stresses of work and everyday life.

Really? Some people are just discovering the stress-relieving benefits of coloring? I’ve known about this for years. All through college, and even afterwards, I kept at least one coloring book and a box of crayons, markers, or colored pencils hidden away in a desk drawer. Sometimes when I’d had a tough week of classes, exams, and term papers, or a hard week of processing student loans that had defaulted, I would go off by myself with my crayons and coloring books and spend an hour or so creating something beautiful by filling in lines with Carnation Pink, Periwinkle Blue, or Burnt Sienna. I loved seeing how different colors looked together or how just the right shade of green could make magic of a simple drawing of a tree.

As is the case with most news stories, this one seemed to die out within a couple days’ time, and I forgot about it, only to have it hit my radar again this afternoon in a very unlikely place.

I had a minor surgical procedure at the hospital this morning, and as I lay on my bed in one of the recovery bays, I overheard a lot of conversations from the nurses’ station. My ears perked up when I heard one nurse refer to the news story about coloring books for adults. Another said she loved coloring and often did so in her spare time. The conversation continued for a couple minutes, with other chiming in how much they loved this simple childhood activity.

This seemingly innocuous conversation was not without its heated moments; these nurses take their coloring very seriously! They began discussing the quality of the various brands of crayons on the market. Hands down, they all agreed that Crayola was the best. One nurse said she still got a thrill out of buying a brand new box of sixty-four Crayola crayons (probably the same thrill this writer still gets when she buys a new notebook and pen). None of them liked a lot of the cheap knock-off brands whose sub-par hues and overly-waxy textures made a mess of their pictures. It almost seemed that I was amongst a group of crayon testers instead of in the Post-Op Recovery area of the hospital.

With so much negativity in the news these days, it’s a good feeling to come across a story like this, one that takes us stressed-out, technology-driven adults back to a simpler time in our lives, when a line drawing and a box of crayons (Crayola crayons!) could soothe away a day’s worth of troubles.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go color a picture.

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Fairy Rings and Other Things

I just finished reading a blog post on the subject of fairy rings (or toad stool rings, elf circles, or whatever you may have heard them called), and it got me thinking about some of the little surprises we often find in nature, usually when we’re not looking for them.

Now, I don’t consider myself superstitious—black cats in my path and broken mirrors don’t send me scrambling for a good luck charm to counteract their curses. However, I do seem to have a penchant for seeing things that others don’t, whether it’s some minute detail that escapes someone else’s perception, or seeing connections that others don’t. Most of my family and friends just accept that this quirkiness is part of who I am. Some might say it’s because of my hyperactive imagination; others tell me I’m sensitive, intuitive, or in tune with the world around me. But whatever it is, it often leads to some interesting thought path or becomes the seed for a story I eventually write. Such was the case one warm spring day almost twenty years ago when a mundane walk in the woods suddenly turned magical.

One of my habits at this time was to go on solitary walks a few times a week. I had several routes to choose from, depending on whether I was speed/fitness walking, exploring, or just communing with nature. On this particular day, I was doing a combination of exploring and communing with nature. I left my house and crossed Rising Sun Road, heading for the little country lane that traveled through a small wooded area to a development known as Cloverly Acres. When my family first moved to our house on May Drive, the area across Rising Sun was cornfield and wilderness. The road going back into that wooded area at that time was only partially paved, and my parents wouldn’t allow my brother and me to go very far back that road, which of course only served to make it more enticing.

But by the time I was out of college, the cornfield and a lot of the wilderness were gone, and a new housing development had gone up. Therefore, the road—now paved—lost most of its mystery, and my fear had given way to curiosity. There were still some wooded and wild places back this road, and on this day, I was determined to explore a bit. I headed down the road, past Debb Estates, all the way to the place where the road curved to the left to go towards Cloverly Acres. Instead of following the road, I turned right to follow the stream that meandered back into the woods.

As I began following the stream, I kept my eyes firmly fixed on the grass in front of and beside me, watching for snakes that might be sunning themselves near the stream. This was when I had what I referred to for a long time afterwards as an encounter with something magical, or at least highly unusual. As I stepped very carefully through the ankle-high, unmown grass. A sudden movement to my left caught my eye. I stopped dead in my tracks and turned my head, expecting to see a snake, a rabbit, or some other creature startled by my footsteps; instead I saw…a couple violets peeking through the grass.

I love violets; they are by far my favorite flower, and they are Springtime to me. This was mid-spring, so it wasn’t as though they were the first I had seen that year. What made this unusual to me was the fact that I had not noticed them until I saw whatever movement had drawn my attention in that direction.  white violets

But wait, it gets better.

Smiling to see my favorite flower peeking out of the grass at me, I turned my attention ahead of me once more to continue on my way. Right in front of me were a few yellow violets and a couple purple violets. I turned to the left, more violets, yellow, purple, and white. I turned to the right—violets. Starting to feel a bit strange, I looked behind me. Yep, you guessed it—violets. What on earth was happening here?  yellow violet

For several minutes, I stood, almost afraid to move, not wanting to take a step and crush any violets—or possibly any fairy folk. Was this some kind of fairy ring or something? Wait, what? Did my mind just think fairies? When did my college-educated self start believing in fairies? As I stood there motionless, I tried to come up with logical explanations for what was happening. Obviously the violets had been there all along; I just hadn’t seen them because I had been looking for snakes. Maybe they were just popping up all around me, but that was just because the warm sunshine was making them pop like bean sprouts. Besides even if it were fairies, they only come out at night, right? Oh great, there I go again…

I don’t remember how I got myself out of there. Well, I’m sure I just turned around and walked, but you know what I mean. After such an experience, the rest of that day seemed pretty ordinary and uneventful. I still don’t know what happened that afternoon, but after that, the whole atmosphere of that place changed for me. While I never had such an experience again, every time I went walking back there after that, I was just…aware of that little patch of woods by the stream being something special. I never shared that experience with anyone else, until now.

Sadly, I think the housing developments have spread back very close to that enchanted piece of woodland, or at least, that’s what it looks like when I pull up Google maps. But—and here goes the creative part of my mind—I do find myself wondering, if that little patch of woods is now someone’s back yard, or the foundation of someone’s house, do they ever notice anything happening that’s a bit out of the ordinary, if not magical?

Sounds like seed for a story, doesn’t it?

Finding Magic in Your Local Environment

Haunted by Lyme?

As I read a friend’s Facebook post this morning, I discovered that we had more in common than an alma mater, a college major, and a love for writing; I discovered that we both had Lyme disease.

It was a bit of a shock to both of us, although I suppose it shouldn’t be, given the prevalence of both ticks and tick-borne diseases (TBD’s) in Pennsylvania.

As we shared our stories and our symptoms, she wrote that she was incorporating her experience with Lyme into a fictional work. In turn, I shared that my husband had suggested on numerous occasions that I write about my own Lyme journey. Part of me knows that I should, as it would be both cathartic for me and a chance to increase awareness, yet another part of me balks at the idea of bringing Lyme into the one area of my life that to this point hasn’t been negatively affected by this disease.

For a long time, through many dark days and months, writing was an escape from my illness. The fictional worlds I created were my only way to get away from the physical and mental pain, the crippling fatigue and weakness, the side effects of the antibiotics. No, I argued. I don’t want Lyme invading my safe haven. Maybe someday, but not now. Not for a long time.

Well, this morning, in responding to my friend’s post, I commented that I would write about my experiences someday, but right now, I’m into writing ghost stories.

It was then that my brain jumped the fence and took off running down a rabbit trail. I began recalling some of my truly odd symptoms, ones that made a lot of doctors look askance at me and earned me referrals to more than one psychiatrist. I began asking myself if anyone else had ever experienced these oddball symptoms and thought they were being haunted.

Come, join me down this rabbit trail and see what I’m talking about.

Visual symptoms.  I had a lot of issues with my eyes, mostly floaters and general inability to focus properly, but also things like color distortion—I would see colors sometimes as more vibrant than they really were, and sometimes as duller and dimmer than they really were. There was even one instance in which I seemed to lose all color vision, and the whole world turned into a black and white movie.

Those experiences are unnerving enough in themselves, but I also experienced what some refer to as “after images,” where I would be looking at something—a person, an animal, or even the text in a book—and then look away, only to see the image of what I had been looking at imprinted on whatever I looked at next. That experience is unsettling enough when you know what it is; if you’re unfamiliar with “after images,” it would be very easy to interpret that image as a ghost.

Olfactory Hallucinations. Phantom smells, odors that only you can smell. Most often for me, these came in the form of cigarette smoke. No one in our house smokes, but both my parents were heavy smokers while they were alive, so I am very familiar with the odor of cigarette smoke clinging to my hair or my clothes. Of course, I brushed this one off at first, explaining it away as just catching a whiff of smoke from something I had brought home from my parents’ house. More than once, my husband would catch me walking around the living room, thrusting my nose into afghans, the furniture, anything, like someone from a Febreze commercial. When he asked what I was doing, I would tell him I smelled cigarette smoke. He would half-heartedly join me in trying to find the source, but ultimately, I was the only one who smelled anything. The reason this seemed significant to me was that he was the one who was strongly averse to the smell of smoke. I had grown up with it, so even though I found it unpleasant, it didn’t make me gag the way it did my husband. The fact that he could not detect a smell that seemed to follow me everywhere unnerved me.

I even posted a question on Yahoo! Answers trying to figure out what was going on. I really got no definitive answers, instead collecting dire warnings of brain tumors and epileptic incidents, declarations that my soul was obviously bound for eternal damnation (since I was obviously smelling hellfire), and suggestions that my parents were visiting from beyond the grave.

Auditory Hallucinations. Who among us has not had the experience of “hearing things,” real or imagined? Granted, this was not one of my main sensory symptoms, although I did have instances of thinking I heard whispering next to my bed late at night when everyone was sleeping (although when you have two preschoolers who didn’t always stay in their beds, that’s not always unnerving as much as annoying), and once or twice I distinctly heard a radio playing somewhere in the house when I was here alone.

In doing a bit of research this morning, I found one person who had a rather extreme experience with this particular symptom and actually wrote a story about it. In his experience, he received numerous calls—wrong number calls—from a little girl. When he finally blew a gasket and went off in a rage, his housemate came in to investigate. When the writer explained what had happened, the housemate insisted that the phone hadn’t rung even once. I can only imagine how this poor Lymie felt at that moment.

So, those are some of the symptoms that, in my opinion, might lead someone to believe they are experiencing something paranormal, and I’m sure there are likely others.

I am going to end this post here, but I am by no means finished with this rabbit trail. I still want to explore the question of whether or not having Lyme might make a person more likely to have actual paranormal experiences.

If you or someone you know has Lyme, babesia, or any of the other TBD’s, please feel free to share your experiences with strange, out-of-the-ordinary symptoms, especially the ones that really made you wonder if you were really sick, if it was all in your head, or even if you were being haunted.