Best Laid Plans

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I came across this piece I wrote over ten years ago and decided to post it.  Reading through it I thought, oh my, what a difference a decade makes!  I am not as audacious now as then, for sure.  I know I TRULY have no more time to waste, not to mention money to spend!

Since I wrote the following piece,  I have fallen as much in love with jewelry making, acrylic painting, and decorating hat boxes (not at the same time) as with all the other creative endeavors preceding them.  Those things naturally ran their course the same as did the others I wrote about back then.  Always I come back to my writing.  It patiently waits for me, my old, most faithful, long-suffering friend.  I will never say never, but for now, I believe my addiction to dabbling in various distractions and dalliances, has truly lost its passion, I really do.  The years have gotten away from me, and now the time has come to settle down and seriously focus.  I have two books to finish.  But again, the best laid plans. . . . 

You know what they say about the best-laid plans of mice and men. Actually, the saying was adapted from “To a Mouse” where the poet. Robert Burns wrote “the best-laid schemes of mice and men.” However, the implication is the same. No matter how carefully we plan, something may still go wrong, as specifically portrayed in the movie, Of Mice and Men. Of course, men do not have the monopoly on best-laid plans going awry. The same applies to female planning as well, but at this point in this woman’s life, it is anticipated, and with little regret, in most cases. I think of changed plans as one more detour on the journey of life, another revision, an opportunity to move along to the next point of discovery, all the wiser for it. I think of changed plans not as something gone awry, but as everything moving forward.

In college, I entered the teacher’s program, fully intending to become certified to teach high school English. My last year, having completed an eye-opening course in classroom observation the previous semester, I was scheduled to begin practice teaching. My enthusiasm waned to tedium, and then to doubting my decision in the first place. I really could not see myself in a classroom for the next twenty plus years, and after much thought and discussion with others, I went to my career counselor. She made some changes to my degree plan, channeling the courses that I had taken in the teaching program into an interdisciplinary minor. I had accumulated enough credits to graduate. Poof, my teaching plans were gone.

So, there I was, B.A. in hand, writing skills honed and ready. Again, most grateful for my husband’s generosity and encouragement, I headed in another direction. I purchased my first computer, set up an office, and settled into a daily routine of writing. My stories were biographical— histories of ancestors, their experiences, and their failures, and accomplishments— inspiration for many of my early poems. While imaginary tales and fictitious characters emerged occasionally, resulting in several short stories, I concentrated primarily on compiling my family biography. I planned to publish it one day. My Family Tree Maker files by this time numbered in the thousands.

While researching the life styles and traditions of my great, great grandmothers, their chores of soap making, candle making, home remedies, and beauty treatments grabbed my attention. I began collecting old soap recipes. This was before the internet, so information was scarce, limited. I could find no one to advise me, and believe me, I searched. I desired a gentler, more luxurious soap than the old-fashioned lye soap recipes produced, but it seemed those were the only ones available. So, I experimented in isolation.

The only book on soapmaking I could find was one by Ann Bramson, entitled Soap, Making It and Enjoying It, published in 1972, which I happened upon while in The Scent Shop in Dallas one day in the early 90’s, I had never been in a place like that one, it was an apothecary of sensual delight! I purchased several books there, including the Bramsom one, which I now know is a classic in soapmaking. It became my soapmaking bible. But her recipes and instructions were not fool proof, and many a batch curdled and failed. My earliest soapmaking attempts were hit and miss propositions. I wasted many spoonfuls of precious fragrances, and quarts of vegetable oils, including coconut, almond, and olive—a relatively costly experiment.

But when a batch worked, there was nothing more satisfying. I could not sleep at night, after the rich creamy bars had been sliced, like blocks of cheese, and were curing. Thoughts about new and pretty ways to package it, different fragrances to try, were constantly in my mind.

I was especially drawn to all things Victorian and delicately scented. To dried roses and lavender decorated with lace and ribbons. Before long, the relatively vague topic of aromatherapy surfaced, and I could not read enough about the wonderful nature of pure essential oils and aromatic substances, their uses and beneficial qualities, and all the exciting ways to dispense them. As is my nature, I was completely swept off my feet by this latest fascination.

Aromatherapy, every aspect of it, beguiled and consumed me. I acquired a collection of excellent books on the subject, always on the lookout for more. I developed a passion for the subject of exotic fragrances and pure plant oils, all their varied and sensual uses. Finding new recipes obsessed me, and every catalog I could subscribe to began arriving regularly. I poured over their offerings of dried herbs, fruit peels, floral petals, spices, natural oils, and perfumed fragrances, sea salts, fabulous powders and clays, and handmade candles

By this time, I had plans to open my own gift shop, and envisioned shelves of deliciously scented handcrafted soaps, candles, potpourris, pretty sachets, scented bath products of every fragrance imaginable. I envisioned my on Bath and Body Shoppe, before the chain ever existed. I would call my gift shop Ani’s Own Scentful Things.

Soon, shipments of raw products began arriving from wholesale houses in California and New York, and points in between. Boxes of assorted potpourri ingredients, brown bottles of pure essential oils, manufactured scents, waxes, and powders for the recipes I had accumulated on soapmaking and other toiletries. My house never smelled so good. I became a one-woman manufacturing facility, my kitchen a laboratory. I turned out handmade products like a baker making cookies.

Always looking for new recipes for soap, I continued experimenting, hitting and missing. When I had filled a room with enough of every scentful thing I could imagine to sell under the Ani’s Own label, I rented store space on the square of my hometown, and went into business. Soon my daughter joined me, and we became shopkeepers, paying much more attention to displays, to the artistry of presentation and packaging, and to the dispersion of fragrance than to profits. My daughter-in-law became a candle maker, and I proudly offered those along side my soap. I was just happy I could pay the rent every month, and continue to support my addiction for creating sensually appealing products. I realize now it was just another way of achieving artistic expression.

When I connected to the internet and the world wide web, I was astonished by the numbers of others like myself across the country: soap makers and aroma therapists. Numerous cottage industries, marketing a variety of handcrafted bath and body products, appeared in every state. Why, it was as if I had traveled to another universe! In a way, I had. and the new technology produced its own kind of culture shock. When it became possible for me to access all that it had to offer, virtual shopping centers opened up for me, and crafting products, more accommodating suppliers, and much more affordable pricing were now at my fingertips. I was a happy traveler on the new information highway.

One day, while browsing soap making sites, a book by Elaine C. White came to my attention. Soap Recipes, Seventy Tried-and-True Ways to Make Modern Soap, published by Valley Hills Press, 1995, simplified soap making for me in a way no other had. One of her recipes became my basic, foolproof method for making the soap I had imagined in the beginning. It is the perfect book for the beginner, and I recommend it to anyone with a yen for soap making.

By this time, I had closed Ani’s Own Scentful Things in my hometown, opened another one in another town, specializing in gift baskets containing my handmade products. Again, an outlet for creative enterprise. However, the Bath and Body Shoppe chain, and others of like ilk, were opening and flourishing in every mall, and the homespun novelty of my all-natural, handmade scented things faded. Soon, you could find similar products in every gift shop, grocery store, and Wal-Mart, not to mention on-line merchant sites. The uniqueness was gone, the market saturated.

However, my big idea of making and selling my own line of aromatherapy products had been realized. Even though it could only be sustained short term, I find pride in the idea itself, for it was a good one, as proven by the explosion of the aromatherapy industry. I had been on to something! For years, I continued making soap and other scentful things, presenting them in little baskets with artfully designed Ani’s Own labeling, special gifts for special friends. But, increasingly, I found myself up in the middle of the night, writing — awakened by a verse in my head or the moonlight too bright outside my window.

My love for genealogy rekindled with a new fervor, for by then I was online, communicating with others as never before. Connecting with fresh links, hearing more stories, learning new facts reawakened the researcher in me. As expected, my literary nature—sparking the idea to develop my short story, Paper Dolls, into a novel—moved back into the driver’s seat, and everything else fell back into the shadows. Funny how that happens when a new venture seizes my senses.

I like to think of myself as a multi-tasker, capable of doing several things at one time, but when I began work on The Velvet Bridge, I became single-focused. All other interests were put aside, to languish on the sidelines. Until later, perhaps. Or perhaps not. Who knows? But subconsciously, every new experience, the essence of what I learned from it, contributes to the reservoir of information, and remains a vital part of my mental process, surfacing to live again in fiction.

Now, some years later, the book has been written, and published, and plans for others are bubbling. Plans, though, are fickle, and I must remember that when I settle into the writing process again, confident that I have arrived at a good stopping off place in my life. A place where I can while away the hours, making up stories, and figuring out how to sell them. A place off the main road, somewhat solitary and isolated, a fertile gardening spot for big ideas.

I recall being here before. I believe I was in a place much like this when I got the big idea to go to college. No matter how I actually seem to be settling into a planned routine where I have found real contentment, in the back of my mind I worry that is only temporary.  I do not know when, or what, or how, but I know as well as I know how to make soap, that I will again hear the all aboard call in the distance, and off I will be again, on the next jaunt of my travels. For me, there is no destination, only the journey.

I wonder, ten years from now, will I be looking back and thinking, Wow! Or what?  In ten years I will be 84 years old, so I hope it’s Wow!

Published by

Anita Stubbs

I am a private person, but need a place to publish my writings, which have accumulated over the years.   I am in the autumn of my life, and feel the need to preserve some of what I have written in forms of poetry, short stories, and articles.  I have written one novel and now am working on my second one. I live quietly with my husband of 57 years, as of this coming November, in Texas.  My ancestors first came to Texas prior to the Civil War.  Other than the five or so years when we moved out of state, I have lived my life here. Anything more you may wish to know about me, you can hopefully gather from my writings, as far as my values, my character, and my impressions of humanity -- in as much and as far as I have experienced it, or imagined it.

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