Tuesday, September 27, 2011

And the winner of the EnVoyage Perfumes L’Emblem Rouge drawing is...

Congratulations Candice!

You win sample of  EnVoyage Perfumes L’Emblem Rouge and a mini spray flacon of L’Eau de Emblem Rouge, the accompanying hydrosol spray, as well as a special CD made by me.

Please email feminine(dot)things @ gmail.com with your address!

Thanks to all who entered. Stay tuned: at least THREE more drawings coming in the next two weeks. ZOMG!

Timestamp: 2011-09-28 04:30:44 UTC

Monday, September 26, 2011

And I knew in the crystalline knowledge of you...

Perfume Challenge Week 36: Monday, 9/19/11, to Friday, 9/23/11

Sally Owens: "All I want is a normal life."
Aunt Frances Owens: "My darling girl, when are you going to realize that being normal is not necessarily a virtue? It rather denotes a lack of courage!"
Sally Owens: "Well, it's what I want."

~ "Practical Magic"

This week I focused on five scents from Anya McCoy's perfume line Anya's Garden. My favorite review of her line of 100% all-natural scents is from state of the [car]nation, and begins: "Natural perfumer Anya McCoy is a witch, which obviously should be understood as a compliment." I don't know Anya personally, but it is my understanding from her blog and what I know of her writings that part of her approach to natural perfumery is to reach out and connect to the power of the natural world that surrounds us. There are a lot of approaches to perfumery, and there are a lot of different ways to practice magick, so it is interesting to see the two intertwined in an effort to create wearable scent art for those who aren't necessarily practitioners of the craft, but might enjoy its philosophical approach to scentscaping.

The first, Pan, is described as "[a] romp in the fields of Gods, magnetic and soft, seductive and a day in the sun that goes on forever. Notes: Lotus and lavender in the top notes, and the remaining notes are cedar, ambriene, hay, patchouli and goat hair." The opening on me was a touch of lavender floating on a heady mix of oakmoss, patchouli, and hay. I do not get a lot of cedar, but after about an hour I get an earthiness mixed with an animalic quality. It really reminds me of home, and wore quite lovely on me all the way into the six+ hour drydown.

Next I tried, Kaffir, which is "[l]emon lime with a Thai twist, floral and leather and warm wood. Thai lime leaf, jasmines, yellow aloeswood." This is an intriguing scent. I definitely get Thai lime leaf, warm wood, and leather. It has a sourness to it the I find refreshing in its rarity. After about thirty minutes the sourness weakens so the lime leaf is really the primary note. It really is warm; it sort of glows on the skin. I do necessarily know if it is a great scent on me, but I'm thinking I might put some on David after he falls asleep tonight. (That's not weird, right? <g>)

I was curious about RiverCali because I've traveled all over California, including the Cali desert. The scent is described as "[p]ink pepper and roses float over citrus and musky vanilla that takes you to a lush desert oasis." Pink pepper and citrus bites at my nose before it floats away, leaving a vanilla musky scent behind. The rose is very faint and colludes with the citrus, sharp and yet somehow sticky sweet. It's like finding a vanilla rosewater cupcake with white chocolate frosting covered with a thick coat of dust, topped with chips of polished wood. I know I should not want to lick it, and yet I want to. Wonderful.

Temple seemed like it would be nice to try since we were having what I suspect were some of the last few hot days for a while -- "[o]range juice surprises you, spices warm you and exotic Oud soothes Oud and oranges, just what it says on the label. On me it is more Oud than orange, so if that's what floats your boat give this a go. I'm Oud ambivalent, so I'm not the target audience and freely admit that. The orange part is very nice, though and completely avoids the gross synthetic 'orange' I find in a lot of perfumes. Score one for natural perfumery on that front.

Finally, I chose Starflower, "[c]andy flower, dreamy and steamy, almond cherry and lemon and foodie seeds and chocolate make tuberose the star of Mexico, an edible, sexy delight." Almond cherry, dreamy and steamy, is right. While there are moments the notes blend together in an almost maple syrupy mishmash of sweetness, the next moment they seem to separate out again so you can experience all the different aspects, which keeps this interesting to sniff at for hours.  The chocolate here seems like a by product of the mixture of almonds and cherries, with strips of candied lemon rind on top. It's the foodiest of the five, and of course, deeply enjoyed by me.

On the whole, the five scents are a wonderful example of the depth and breath of natural perfumery. Leaving aside my Oud-y moodiness, I enjoyed the other four enough to think I'd be pretty pleased if any one of them showed up on my doorstep. I wish the top and middle notes stayed with me longer, though the base notes are nice enough and last for hours. If Anya is going for an elemental balance, both in the individual scents themselves, and across the line as a whole, then I think she's probably on the right track. If you've never tried naturals or are interested in experiencing some truly unique creations, I have good news: you can get a set of all five, plus five more lovely scents from Anya's Garden, for $65 right here.

"Drove me through the mountains
through the crystal

like a clear water fountain.
Drove me like a magnet
to the sea...."

~ "Crystal," Stevie Nicks

Images: Witch Time by Helena Maroqui, starflower from from deviantart. Perfume generously provided by the perfumer.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Monthly Spin: The Avett Brothers - I and Love and You

The Monthly Spin is a recurring feature on Feminine Things wherein I talked about an album I'm loving and the perfumes I think go with it.

"I haven't finished a thing since I started my life;
I haven't finished a thing since I started my life..."

I freely admit to having totally avoided the Avett Brothers in general and this album in particular because the song "Head Full of Doubt, Heart Full of Promise" was played approximately every two and half minutes for the entire multiple year run of TNT's Saving Grace which I did not enjoy (ads or show) and I got so sick of it I ran in the opposite direction anytime I heard the words, "And now, the Avett Brothers...."

...which, it turns out, was too bad. Here I am, two years later, finally enjoying the album I and Love and You thanks to "I and Love and You" getting into radio rotation on the PDX alt.station 94.7. Because folks, if someone had played "My Heart like a Kick Drum" or "Ill With Want" for me first, I might have overlooked that painful "Head Full of Doubt" period.

I admit that when I first heard "I and Love and You," my first thought went something like this. "Is that the Counting Crows? No..... Did Jakob Dylan's voice get super gravelly? No....." The Avett Brothers' sound feels comfortable and familiar, like you've heard it before, but I wouldn't necessarily call it derivative. I'd more describe it as filling a mental musical space you didn't realize was empty. It's a little bluesy, a little blue grassy, a lot of introspective navel gazing. ("Oh my favorite!" says my partner with sarcasm as he rolls his eyes.) I find it pretty enjoyable and easy to listen to. It seems like the kind of tunes good for a reflective, solo road trip of self-exploration and discovery. Since I indulge myself in such trips with almost monthly frequency, this works for me.

Also, if you're thinking about giving the Avett Brothers a chance, may I recommend you actually start with the 2007 release Emotionalism? It's terrific and not nearly as overplayed, though you'll probably find yourself thinking, "Hey I recognize this!" on the occasional track. I like that the bluegrass roots of the Avett Brothers is more obvious here, which of course makes it less mainstream radio accessible, but probably the better album. My favs off of Emotionalism are 'The Ballad of Love and Hate," "Will You Return", and "I Would Be Sad".

"Love arrives safely with suitcase in tow,
carrying with her the good things we know --
a reason to live, and a reason to grow,
to trust, to hold, to care..."

Recommended if you like: Counting Crows, Gin Blossoms, Bob Dylan, Jakob Dylan,  Mumford and Sons

While spinning, wear:  Olympic Orchids Arizona, slumberhouse Rume, Bulgari BLV Pour Homme,  Bellatrix Perfumes TitaniaI don't really know what links these scents together with these songs/musical style in my mind.  I guess I think of these scents as being earthy and beautiful without trying too hard, just sort of appearing out of the ether in their beautiful complexity without even a backward glance of acknowledgment that they were really intensely difficult to create. Which is how I find the Avett Brothers' music -- accessible to the point of being deceptive in its complexity.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Recommended Viewing: I Always Thought You Were Cool

This is for all the people I still love that populate the shadowy recess of my adolescent memories.


"This is a song with the same four chords
I use most of the time
when I've got something on my mind
and I don't want to squander the moment
trying to come up with a more complicated riff
to say what I want to say.

People were mean to you
but I always thought you were cool
clicking down the concrete hallways
in your spiked heels
back in high school.

It's good to be young but let's not kid ourselves,
it's better to pass on through those years and come out the other side with our hearts still beating
having stared down demons
come back breathing.

People were mean to you
but I always thought you were cool
clicking down the concrete hallways
in your spiked heels
back in high school.

You deserved better than you got
someone's got to say it sometime because it's true.

People should have told you you were awesome
instead of taking advantage of you
I hope you love you life like I love mine
I hope the painful memories only flex their power over you a little of the time.

We held on to hope of better days coming
and when we did, we were right.
I hope the people who did you wrong
have trouble sleeping at night.

People were mean to you
but I always thought you were cool
clicking down the concrete hallways
in your spiked heels
back in high school."

By the brilliant John Darnielle, who always knows what I want to say and seems to do it better than I ever could.

Monday, September 19, 2011

My derring-do allows me to dance the rigadoon around you.

Perfume Challenge Week 35: Monday, 9/12/11, to Friday, 9/16/11

This week's challenge brought
to you by Papaya Kitteh!
A strange and interesting mix of scents this week, which made for some interesting testing, some much better received by my partner and friends than others. Without further ado...

Monday: Tauer Perfumes Vetiver Dance - A twirling dance, notes revolving joyfully around vetiver. Exploring the dark, raw and almost damp earthiness of vetiver oil you may discover hidden gems; delicate lines of green leaves, clear spices and soft flower petals.Notes: Head - A crisp grapefruit, black pepper seed and clary sage set a green spicy accent. Heart - Bulgarian rose with a hint of clean lily of the valley plays with a rich vetiver. Body - Woody ambergris and cedar wood, with soft Tonka beans and a touch of cistus.

I have a love/hate relationship with vetiver. Sometimes it really lands for me (Dana English Leather) and sometimes it does not (Jo Malone Black Vetiver Café). Here, I am in cedar/vetiver looooooooove. It's so...assertive, but without being harsh. If there's one critique I have English Leather is that sometimes it is so strong an fresh it practically sears the nostrils; Vitver Dance has a softness to it that cleans up those rough edges and makes everything about the scent plush and indulgent and wow. Just completely wow. I find this scent to be a complete turn on! It's so sexy and confident, with a playful hint of sweetness that dares you to come in a little closer. 5 of 5 nods once again for the brilliant Andy Tauer.

Papaya says "The Daily Show"
is  serious business.
Tuesday: slumberhouse Rume - Pralined fur laced in dark red spice. Inspired by a room - the explorer's hideaway. A burgundry/silver cologne with animalic pulse paired alongside a warm hush of clay, cola, filbert, and hay. Rume is an idea, communicated through fragrance, of the desire to constantly seek out, experience, and explore; an idea that contentedness is a poison and regret is the aftermath. Notes: bay, myrrh, labdanum.

Chocolate and spices and rum and...fruitcake? Holy hell this is one confusing but decidedly cool weather scent. It really does smell like a fruitcake liqueur someone distilled down into a gel and then smeared it onto the chest of a chest of a person with a terrible cough trying to sleep. Does it sound disgusting? It isn't. It's awesome. It's the Christmas of vapor rubs. The fall evening aromas of humidifier mist. I am freaking in love with this weirdo scent. 5 of 5 nods.

Wednesday: I did my review of EnVoyage Perfumes L’Emblem Rouge. Don't forget to enter the drawing, which ends this 12:01AM, Friday, September 23, 2011 Pacific Standard Time.

Papaya makes love to the camera!
Thursday: Annick Goutal Encens Flamboyant - Captivated by the Orient and its mysteries, Camille Goutal and Isabelle Doyen wanted to go back to the very source of scents. At the time when incense was lit and burned to perfume clothes with its smoke. When the bark of desert trees was stripped to extract drops of resin. When scents were enigmatic, sensual and assertive. Notes: Fresh, Woody, Spicy (Essence of frankincense, pepper and roseberry - Frankincense resin, cardamom, sage and nutmeg, "Old church" frankincense, lentisque absolute and balsam fir).

Created in 2007, and part of the "Orientalists" Collection, which is tagged by Annick Goutal as a unisex collection. In so far as it is meant for anyone, I suppose it is a unisex scent. The opening is a nose full of black pepper and gunpowder. If there's incense in here, and there is a little, it isn't a church incense. It's more of a pagan ritual room kind of incense. It's....weird. I keep wanting to layer it with something, something gourmand or floral or... something. But maybe that's where I fail the scent, and not the other way around. It's muscular, assertive, and not at all me. Give it a try and see if it is you, though. It's well done for its concept; I just don't like the concept. 2 of 5 nods.

Friday: Lubin Gin Fizz - In 1955, a star captivated the crowds: appearing in films by Alfred Hitchcock and John Ford, playing alongside James Stewart and Cary Grant, Grace Kelly embodied the very elegance of America. Her mysterious charm even captured the heart of a Prince. It was in honour of her extraordinary beauty that Henri Giboulet created a perfume for Lubin which marked the decade, a very chic perfume, sparkling and fresh, evoking the cocktail in fashion that year in the ‘American bars’ of Paris, Gin Fizz. Notes: Bergamot, lemon, mandarin, juniper berry, iris, galbanum, orange blossom, rose absolute, jasmine, lily, benzoin, vetiver, oak moss and white musk

Papaya says, reviewing perfume?
Well, I can't exactly say it smells like a gin fizz tastes, but it is a delightful little scent. Gin Fizz is playfully floral, with a sparkle that is reminiscent of carbonated bubbles fizzing in your nose. I get the impression from the overall sweetness they went with an olfactory cocktail that followed the traditional Old Tom Gin recipe, which is nice. I wish I'd tried this earlier, when the temperature was still in the 80s and almost uncomfortably warm. I'll make a note to retry next summer, since those hot summer nights have passed us, I'd wager. I think I can make it work with a little dress and strappy shoes to great advantage on date night with my gin-loving partner. 3.5 of 5 nods.

Winner of the Week: I'm giving it to Tauer Perfumes Vetiver Dance, though I think I'm more likely to buy slumberhouse Rume. Or both...eventually.

"Please forgive me for my distance.
The pain is the evident in my existence.
Please forgive me for my distance.
The shame is manifest in my resistance
to your love, to your love, to your love..."
~ "To Your Love," Fiona Apple

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Today I weigh less than a shadow on the wall, just one more whisper of a voice unheard.

Scent Spotlight on EnVoyage Perfumes L’Emblem Rouge and Giveaway

Shelley Waddington, perfumer of the EnVoyage Perfumes lines, reached out to me recently with an intriguing new offering. Like any good 'fumie, I jumped at the chance to review it.

EnVoyage Perfumes L’Emblem Rouge is part of the Rubicon Collection. This 100% natural scent is a "Deep, Lightly Spiced Rose Soliflor" and is described as follows:
The many meanings that cluster around rose – friendship, passion, love – are fulfilled in L’Emblem Rouge. It incorporates the full scentual and spiritual significance of the rose. Sensual rose set in soft woods, balsam and amber. A modern classic with a timely message. 
Top Notes: Cassie, Mace, Cinnamon, Bitter Orange, Juicy Grapefruit, Green Pepper, Iranian galbanum, Violet, and Cistus Heart Notes: Organic Iranian Rose Otto, Ylang-Ylang, Heliotrope, French Jasmine sambac, Violet, and Honey Base Notes: Guaiacwood, Sandalwood, Copaiba, Vetiver, Cedarwood Virginia, Tolu Balsam, Benzoin Siam, Tonka, Vanilla and Ambergris.
Did anyone call for a spicy rose? Because here it is with emphasis on the woods and spices. I get a lot of wood in the opening, which is a new aspect of roses for me, and I've got a lot of roses. Tonka and cedarwood provide a strong, gently sweet base that comes immediately upon application and feels almost like a dry chocolate powder dusted over rose petals. After a few minutes I also get some bitter orange and grapefruit, which was a unique twist on spicy rose. Over time, L’Emblem Rouge becomes a gently sweet, slightly edible, spice mix with what feels like a rose base.  Despite being a soliflor, the rose here seems less the focus but more the lead partner in an intricate dance.

I tried it next to Teo Cabanel Oha, Juliette Has a Gun Lady Vengeance, DSH Perfumes Dirty Rose, DSH Perfumes Beach Roses, and DSH Perfumes American Beauty, and it was nothing like those . However, as I dug back through my bag of perfumey tricks, I did find a scent it reminded me of, and I think provides an interesting contrast - Tauer Perfumes Une Rose Chyree.

Une Rose Chypree, on me, is a hot sticky (but lovely) mess of cinnamon, labdanum, and patchouli. L’Emblem Rouge has more sweet foodie citrus and wood. "Lightly spiced" is a good description because the spice aspect is gentle and less aggressive than Une Rose Chypree. Now while I love and admire Une Rose Chypree as I do most Tauer Scents, the truth is the gentleness of L’Emblem Rouge makes it infinitely more wearable by the average person. It's a strong, bold, and yet surprisingly accessible scent. Given my choice between a bottle of the each, I would have a difficult time choosing, but think I'd probably go for L’Emblem Rouge.

For any one who has ever thought all naturals were weak and fleeting, lacking both the oomph and staying power of synthetics and mixed ingredient scents, I offer EnVoyage Perfumes L’Emblem Rouge as counter-exhibit A. Beautiful blooming on the skin, moderate to high sillage, and long lasting, L’Emblem Rouge is proof positive that all natural scents can have long lives; a dose from a wand sample lasted on me in excess of six hours, though it stayed relatively close to the skin after about three and a half. Still, in a sprayer? Probably a scent I'd still be catching hints of after a long day at work.

On the whole, I find L’Emblem Rouge artfully composed, and well worth a try. It can be found here.

A beautiful scent alone is a wonderful thing, but L’Emblem Rouge is particularly special because of the generosity of the fine folks at EnVoyage Perfumes. A lifetime gift of five percent of all L’Emblem Rouge proceeds are donated to Broadway Cares, a leading nonprofit AIDS fundraising and grant-making organization.

I am old enough to remember HIV/AIDS at the height of its prominence in terrorizing the American psyche. I came of age in the late 80s/early 90s, and I have crystal clear memories of the incredible effort put into educating my generation about safer sex practices. I am not HIV+, but I have known and cared greatly for people who were, a few of whom lost their lives to AIDS or AIDS-related complications.

Because of this personal connection, I am incredibly touched by Shelley's efforts. Any time I am having a bad day, it heartens me to be able to look around and think of all the kindnesses we do for one another that aren't necessarily required of us, kindnesses given freely to strangers who will never know us, who will perhaps never meet us, but whose lives are improved by the goodness inherent in our deeds. It is proof that human beings are probably capable of ending most of the strife and pain in the world if we can gather our collective will and marry it to our compassion and ingenuity. In this respect, we are truly and profoundly miraculous.

I can think of a lot of issues that need this kind of collective miracle, but the HIV crisis in Africa would be high on my list of problems that could be solved if we wanted. Yes, there are practical problems: trying to devise distribution chains for medication in remote locations; teaching people all across a continent from a panoply of cultures that are not slaves to time or regiment how to deal with a drug cocktail that requires a consistent routine; overcoming cultural barriers to learning preventative care and safer sex practices; even the basic difficulty of maintaining peace in order to make delivery of materials. These are just a few of the challenges.

Just looking at the meager list I have propounded, I acknowledge: it's a logistical nightmare of epic proportions. But so is the crisis. Too many people -- young and old, men, women, and children -- are dying every day from a disease that the western world has engineered out of terminal status and into a condition treated more as a chronic illness.

Those of us on top have this strange self-delusion that we will always be here. That unearned and unrealistic certainty has been called a lot of things in human history: manifest destiny, American exceptionalism, to name a couple. A good student of history realizes that the circumstances that make up the differences, though, could be reversed on us. Eventually, even Rome fell.  A significant earthquake along the West Coast, a biological agent released widely, or hell, a complete and extended lack of confidence in the market, could cripple an already limping country, and the hysteria and fear that followed could reduce our once great nation, frankly, to so much anarchic dust. In that circumstance, would we really want those with the ability to provide us aid and assistance in our darkest hour to decide that reaching out would be too logistically difficult to bother?

The concept of the veil of ignorance is a simple one: wherever souls come from, the part of you that is your consciousness was born into a particular time and place. That makes some of us inherently safer, healthier, and better off from the moment of inception by sheer dumb luck. That privilege isn't something that was earned, and it could have easily been someone else far less fortunate in your shoes and you in theirs. So imagine, for one moment, that just before your personal die was cast, you had the opportunity to distribute wealth and access and resources and education. Maybe you wouldn't make it exactly equal everywhere, but you'd probably at least ensure that the minimal needs of every person next to be born were met because you could not know which of those people would be you.

Americans are hard-working, but we are also lucky. We have innovated a lot of technology, particularly pharmaceutical advances. We owe it to those born into crippling poverty and resource inequality to meet the challenges that stand between them and basic necessities like food, clean water, shelter, safety, and health care. Not just in this country, but anywhere there are people in the world willing to accept it. I'm not saying we must force other cultures to conform to modernity or western thought to accomplish this; I'm not into naked paternalism or cultural colonization. I am saying, though, that we have a moral obligation to offer some of what we have and to assist those who need and want our help. And that we carry the burnt of that logistical weight, for surely their burden is already more than enough.

But enough politics and philosophy; back to the perfume.

Shelley Waddington has generously provided me a 1ml sample of  L’Emblem Rouge and a mini spray flacon of L’Eau de Emblem Rouge, the hydrosol distilled from the parfum reviewed above, to give away to one lucky winner. I'm adding a CD to the mix to entice you; and this won't be a one of the monthly mixes, but a specially made CD reflecting on the theme of the value and beauty of life and good health we so often take for granted.

Open to all readers anywhere. To enter please post below by: 12:01AM, Friday, September 23, 2011 Pacific Standard Time.

"Tomorrow leave the windows open
As fear grows please hold me in your arms
Won't you help me if you can to shake this anger
I need your gentle hands to keep me calm...
I can't believe you love me
I never thought you'd come
I guess I misjudged love
Between a father and his son.

- "The Last Song," Elton John

Ribbon image courtesy of freizeit.  Chart from the United Nations World Health Organization. Other images from creative commons.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Monthly Spin: The Band Perry - Self-Titled

The Monthly Spin is a recurring feature on Feminine Things wherein I talked about an album I'm loving and the perfumes I think go with it.

I got a little behind in my monthly spin posting, though not in my listening to new music. To make it up to you, lovely reader, I'll be posting one a week for a couple of weeks.

If you listen to any kind of mix station, you've probably already heard the music of three Perry siblings of Greeneville, Tennessee, even though you may not realize it. The remix of their double platinum country single "If I Die Young," which was written by the lead-singing eldest Perry, Kimberly, made it to #4 on the US Charts, while the original country mix was #2 on US Country. Personally I feel like you can't turn on the radio without hearing "If I Die Young," placing it in the category with current radio-ad-naseums like Katy Perry's "Firework" and Lady GaGa's "Edge of Glory." FN1.

As catchy as "If I Die Young" is, I hope those sick of it will look past it to the actual album, which was released way back on October 12, 2010. Setting aside the other two hits, "You Lie" and "Hip to My Heart," the remaining tracks are just as good or better. My personal favs are "Lasso," "Postcard from Paris," and "Walk Me Down the Middle." And, okay, yes, also "You Lie," which is why I got the album in the first place. Because, let's face it, I love wordy cleverness -- and also, she knows there's cheating because she detects foreign perfume! J'accuse!

I think the eponymous album is a great first effort from a relatively young trio. Okay, yes, it's not the Dixie Chicks Wide Open Spaces, but remember that their first charting albums was also their third full length effort. Compared to Thank Heavens for Dale Evans, this is about par, so my hopes are high for future Perry Band developments.

Recommended if you like:  Dixie Chicks, Taylor Swift, Patti Griffin, Sugarland, Thea Gilmore, Lady Antebellum, Bonnie Raitt

While spinning, wear: The album has a youthful naivte about it that I find charming and youthful, if naive. Scents I find charming in their innocence.  For me, that means: Demeter Fragrance Library Fresh Hay, Ava Luxe Milk, DSH Spring Moss, L'Artisan L’Eau de Jatamansi.
FN1. I happen to like all three of these songs, for the record. (Sorry, Jill.) But even I will be the first to admit that they are all severely overplayed.

I'm gonna love you with my hands tied.

Perfume Challenge Week 34: Monday, 9/5/11, to Friday, 9/9/11

Criminy, dear reader! Why is it so fracking hot in the PNW? Seriously...it needs to stop. I honestly can't even sleep before one in the morning.

Quileute performers...
At least I was spared the brunt of the 96+ degrees of Portland this past weekend by heading up to the Olympic Peninsula with my friend Tiffani. What was I doing there, you ask? Engaging in some vampire-related shenanigans, which included a discussion session with Natalie Wilson, professor of literature and Women's studies and author of the ah-mazing feminist work in Seduced by Twilight, which is chock-o-block full of oppression and privilege critique of the book series.

I also got to shake my groove thing with Hilly and Hannah from The Hillywood Show, have a one-on-one chat with York Baur, director of Twilight in Forks, and, oh yeah, I got to meet Veronica Blake, who is SUPER NICE. One of the highlights had to be attending a performance of traditional dance and storytelling by tribal members of the Quileute Nation. And that's not counting the cool people from all over the country who showed up to hang out and do ridiculous things with us (hi peeps!).

So, you know, a typical weekend in the life of your intrepid blogger.

Monday: Penhaligon's Bluebell - Created in 1978, the pure and unadulterated distillation of the scent of bluebell woods. Notes: Citrus, Hyacinth, Lily of the Valley, Cyclamen, Jasmine, Rose, Galbanum, Clove, Cinnamon.

I'm trying this and tomorrow offering back to back because I picked them us specifically to try together. (Though Jessica at NST! already beat me to it.) Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, though, and great minds think alike, yada-yada-yada -- I'm doing it anyway. So here we go.

Olympic Forests.
Will you think I'm crazy if I tell you I've tried Penhaligon's Bluebell three times and I keep getting cinnamon and ground mustard? Or maybe it's mustard greens? I've tried it three full times to be sure. Whatever is happening here for me is a spicy foodie scent, more edible floral than decorative floral. Maybe it's because the opening is very green on me; this is one of the greenest flower scents I've tried. I also pick up a lot of crisp green apple, which must be the galbanum.

I admit to not having a huge amount of experience with bluebells, but I can't describe this as floral. It is all spices and greens on me. Now, having said that, the temperature here is (in my opinion) an inhuman very high eighties/mid-nineties this week, and this scent is excellent for hot weather. While it's pretty and interesting all the time, I took it camping with me this weekend and it bloomed beautifully on my warm skin. If I had a bottle this week I'd throw it in the freezer and spray it on lightly every time the heat was overwhelming.

Unfortunately, it's after about fifteen minutes that I hit a problem. The spicy edges I love up top give way to a gentle close-to-the-skin scent that compared the va-va-va-voom of the initial application seems wimpy by comparison. So much potential comes to nothing in the long run as the scent turns to this polite unassuming flutter. Still true, not overly sweet, but just too damn nice a follow-up to the beginning. 3.5 nods for the fall flat, which hurts after the superb opening.

Tuesday: Jo Malone Wild Bluebell - An imaginative scent, drenched in the delicate sweetness of sapphire blooms. And wild, because it's a pretty quirky take, inspired by a wickedly whimsical, contemporary fairytale starring Wild Bluebell herself. With persimmon, lily of the valley and eglantine, its lush transparency is decidedly naughty...but nice.

First Beach in La Push, WA
Now here is a floral bluebell, and one I would also recommend for particularly warm weather. The word whimsical is a good word -- strong, flirty, floral. Sweet in the floral way, there is nothing particularly spicy or foodie about this. The closest Wild Bluebell gets to foodie is the fruity persimmon notes rounding out the middle and end of the drydown. I know Jessica preferred the Penhaligon's and thought the Jo Malone was not all that distinctive, I really like it. As florals go, this is very pretty, without feeling youthful. 4 of 5 nods.

Wednesday: Parfums de Nicolai Fig Tea - Notes: figs, osmanthus, davana, tea.

Let's talk fig tea, shall we? I have never actually drank a fig tea. To be perfectly honest with you, reader, I'm a hard sell on the tea in general. I am by nature a multiple shots of espresso swilling fool, who is perfectly content to never understand the propriety or civility or comfort to be found in a 'nice cuppa tea.' I have, however, a soft spot in my olfactory heart for tea scents, which I enjoy sniffing significantly more than the prospect of consuming tea. The tea part of Fig-Tea is pret-tay nice.

But is it figgy? (Which was why I got the sample -- a quest for more figs to love!) Yes, it is figgy, but not edibly so. It doesn't feel like biting into the fruit, or eating a piece of toast with fig jam smeared on it. Instead it smells like, well, fig tea. It's got a nice dry aspect that leans toward the sophisticated, it isn't gourmandly sweet, and generally feels like a mature scent. Not grown-up in a sexy way, but grown-up in a "Here's to the Ladies Who Lunch" kind of way. Respectable, poised, put together. It smells like a more put together woman than I will ever be, like that montage of women getting dressed at the beginning of The Devil Wears Prada which made me feel permanently twelve. I just don't feel like I ever project the kind of image this scent does with. I like it; I think it's lovely. Sadly, I just can't see it on me, which is too bad because at $35 for 30ml it is very reasonably priced. 3.5 of 5 nods.

Thursday: Frederic Malle L'Eau d'Hiver - Created by Jean Claude Ellena. Notes: bergamot, angelica, iris, hawthorn, jasmine, honey, carnation, heliotrope, caramel and musk.

Robin at NST! called it a "sheer, understated perfume" and I agree. I actually risked wearing this one to work, feeling it was light enough I could get past the scent inspection. FN1. I get a lot of iris and, yes, I can now also identify the carnation here. For something so floral and decidedly feminine, it is a very light and unassuming scent. Angelica and honey are also super evident on me after about an hour but the musk stays safely buried underneath, which for this scent is a good thing. I never thought I'd say, "This Frederic Malle would be great for a young girl!" but here's one that would, which isn't to say it is only nice for young girls, but I do think it would make a nice high quality gift for a woman of any age, and that's a rare get. 4 of 5 nods.

Threat meter high!
Friday: Le Labo Fleur d'Oranger 27 - Created by creator Françoise Caron. Notes: bergamot, petitgrain, grapefruit, amber, musk and vetiver.

Less edibly orange than Jo Malone Orange Blossom (which I own), less bitter than L'Artisan Fleur d'Oranger (for which I have an unrepentant lack of appreciation), Fleur d'Oranger 27 hits an enjoyable sweet spot between the two thanks to the vetiver base and a sweetness that comes on the form of amber, rather than a foodie vanilla or fruit sweetness. I really enjoy this despite it being almost too polite, perfect for an upstanding, regular Sunday church attendee complete with big hat, white gloves, and pearls. I'd tell you it's pretty, but that's too pedestrian; it's more notable for its elegant propriety. Five hours in and still very apparent on my skin even out of a small wand sampler, this is one orange flower that will definitely stick with you.

 If you like scents of this stripe, I really recommend you try this one. It's a little on the pricey side, but with the staying power being so significant off even a small application, a single bottle would delight you for years. (You could probably also get away with a 10-15ml decant for a good long while.) I'll also say that I appreciate the minimalist packaging of the Le Labo line. What some people might find ugly or frumpy, I find classic and appealing in its simplicity.  4 of 5 nods.

Winner of the Week: This probably won't make any sense to you after the reviews, but the winner is still Penhaligon's Bluebell for the great opening. I'll probably never own it, but those for few moments make it an Icarus in my scent pantheon; it may have landed with a spectacular failure, but for a brief time, the ascent was beautiful to behold.

Twilight CosPlayers -- yes really!
"Got my addictions.
(My addictions.)
And I love to fix 'em.
(And I love to fix 'em.)
No one's perfect."

~ "Teeth," Lady GaGa

FN1. Only half kidding here. One of the bosses gave me a pointed nose crinkle last week when I accident wore some Bond no. 9 New Haarlem in because I had a meeting right after work and sprayed it on before work without thinking. A VISIBLE NOSE CRINKLE at a scent made of patchouli, vanilla, and coffee. Seriously? In Portland!?! You could practically rename the scent Bond no. 9 Portlandia, that is how much those scents are synonymous with our hippie-flailing, coffee-swilling, food-cart-loving town. It is my scent most guaranteed to be liked and complimented here in any weather conditions. I wanted to tell her to GO PUT A BIRD ON IT, which I think, in the right tone and context, is a great hipster euphemism for "f--- off."

All photos taken by the author.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The First Ozarkiana State Fair and Barbed Beecue Competition

Short Fiction Inspired by & Review of Demeter Fragrance Library Mesquite

The First Ozarkiana State Fair and Barbed Beecue Competition was the hot topic of colony discussion for weeks. When first proposed by The Founders Council, the idea seemed absurd. None of the settlers had ever actually been to a State Fair; none of them had even been born on Earth.

After a month of debate, though, most Ozarks were swayed by the members of the Council who spoke with passion and longing for a return to the traditions of their Earth-born forepeoples, who had died on transportation ships over one hundred years earlier, but whose stories had been passed down to the first Ozark settlers through their letters and journals. “This is why they were required to keep journals,” Mr. Poincey said, shaking a weathered elctro-tablet in his hand. “So that we might know what it meant to be citizens of Earth and carry on their traditions in the new world.”

So much had been lost in the efforts to resettle Earth’s population in the face of increasing geothermic instability that little remained of Earthian history. The settlement ships had been packed with essentials for survival. Other than the recollections recorded by that first generation of travelers and the digitized archives of music, art, and literature, not much of original Earthian culture survived.

Complicating things for the descendants who ultimately settled on Ozarkiana was the fact that much of their library and museum records had been lost in entirely when the Alexandria mainframe of their ship was damaged in an asteroid storm, destroying the storage drives intended to provide the surviving humans, now scattered far and wide among the stars and with limited ability to communicate with one another, with a blueprint for human culture.

The Ozarks, as citizens of the newly christened Ozarkiana had come to call themselves, were forced instead to rely on the journals kept by various individuals who made up the first generation on the settlement ship along with stories told and retold as they were passed down through the successive children and grandchildren who spent their entire lives on the ship during the trip, dying before the colonists reached a planet suitable for settlement.

Like the most massive game of telephone in humanity’s history, the stories had been altered and misremembered down through the generations. No one had any certainty the State Fair planned for Ozarkiana would be anything like those of Earth, but they didn’t seem to care. Other than Settlement Day, an annual day of thanksgiving for finally locating a habitable planet, it was the first time the Founders Council agreed on a settlement-wide holiday, to the great relief of Ozarks everywhere.

Plans were made for entertainment and games and other distractions, including consumption-related competitions. Transition off the ships and into settlement had been challenging, but few aspects had tried the patience of Ozarks everywhere as much as efforts to feed themselves. Traditional planet-bound methods of food preparation were lost during the settlers’ travels, everyone subsisting largely on the algae-based nurtino packs grown in large crates on the ship at zero gravity. The algae packs had little variation in consistency or appearance, and a bland taste that was tolerable if nondescript in its lack of discernible flavor. The settlers had come to call the algae packs chexin, which they understood to be the name of an Earth-based food that could be cooked a variety of ways and made to taste like almost anything based on its consistency and lack of individual flavor. Before making its final descent into the planet’s atmosphere, the Council implemented plans to store enough chexin to get the settlement through its first two years if the Ozarks ate only enough to survive. Beyond that, they would have to relearn how to cultivate their own food and hunt the animals native to the planet.

Once the settlers made it onto the surface and secured their needs for basic shelter and safety, cultivating local food stuffs had been the first order of business. Much of the energy of the settlers was poured into determining which native plants and animals could be eaten without detrimental effect, and these explorations were furthered by the seemingly endless search for rediscovering methods of food preparation and the cultivation of what Earthians had called speeces, which were used to flavor and preserve food stuffs. More than one Ozark had fallen into a fitful sleep filled with gastronomical discomfort after second sundown to dream fondly of the days when a belly full of chexin was a foregone conclusion.

The primary focus of the Fair, as everyone understood it, was eating the fair itself. There had been some heated debate on whether that meant all the decorations and structures were required to be edible, but ultimately this was deemed too difficult and time-consuming an Earthian concept to attempt the first year. Instead they turned to one of the things every descendant of Earth, no matter how far flung or temporarily removed, knew to be true of their forepeoples – they loved a competition.

So it was that Mrs. Norlina De’Lanta watched as her husband, Tallenassie, pulled on his finest jumper and headgear in preparation to leave for the Fair. Mr. De’Lanta was a prominent member of the Founders Council and had been selected as one of the judges of the premier consumables competition, which was understood by Ozarks to be known as a “Barbed Beecue.” This Earth tradition seemed to involve capturing and killing a small bird known as a bee, which was then hung on a barbed hook and cooked over a fire made of the large square black seeds of flowering cue plants.

Having none of these original Earthian resources, the Ozarks who made up the Fair Foods Committee had come up with as close an approximation as manageable. Entries were to be made up of the cooked flesh of the various indigenous animals, which had been either rubbed down with a dried mixture of roots or stewed in a plant paste, and cooked in small earthen containers over a fire made of the hard bark of a large native shrub Ozarks called meskit. The bush was so-named because the plant stems were coated with a thick sticky substance that stuck to every stray hair or fiber and required the use of a sterilization kit to remove the mess, but made for a long, slow-burning fire during cold nights.

For many of the dualinal days and unolunars since the announcement of the competition, the residents of Ozarkiana had been out trapping and hunting and cooking, trying to perfect their own receipts and math-oods of Barbed Beecuing. The winner would not only have bragging rights for the whole of a double sun turn, but their entry would be replicated in Aluminal Yurts across the settlement. They would become, overnight, a yurthold name.

“Are you ready to go Nor?” Tallenassie asked as he pulled the door open.

“I’m coming Tallen,” his wife said, hefting a large box over her arm. “I was making sure we didn’t forget any of the ingredients for the ply competition.”

Tallen scratched at his bread, frowning. “I still don’t understand why our ancestors would cook the bulbs of sweet plants and then spread them over flat pieces of wood.”

Norlina shrugged. “Maybe Earthian wood was edible. Either way, I aim to come home with that blue gibbon. I could use a helper monkey around here.” Tallen took the heavy box from his wife and she pulled the thatched door shut behind them.

. . . . . .

Six anxious orals later, when the second sun of Ozarkiana finally sank beyond the jagged-edged muttons of North Horned-Eyes-On, Tallenassie De’Lanta sat in front of the large audience, preparing to taste the maiden entry into the First Ozarkiana State Fair Barbed Beecue competition. Tallen shot a nervous look at Councilors Saffana Tennosey and Coalumbria Districk, his fellow judges, before gamely giving the audience a wide smile and biting into the first dish, a piece of rawlshide that had been prepared in the approved method for competition. Following Tallen’s lead, the other two judges shoveled in a bite of the entry and chewed at it vigorously.

The audience leaned forward, holding their collective breath as they waited for the judges’ pronouncement. Swallowing hard, Tallen and his fellow judges bent their heads together and whispered intently before picking up the small talk-extender to describe the item to the crowd.

“After consulting with my fellow judges, we would describe entry Number One as follows: though the texture is a bit chewy, the overall flavor is a deep smoky one that is not only pleasurable but reminds us, undoubtably…” Tallen looked toward his fellow judges, who nodded in smiling approval. “Of chexin.”

The crowd erupted with wild cheers.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Mrs. LaClette's Roses

Short Fiction Inspired by & Review of Demeter Fragrance Library Pruning Shears 

     “I do not like it.”
     Snick, snick, snick! went the pruning shears in Mrs. Lureen Ann LaClette’s gloved hand. 
     “Well, Momma, you don’t have to like it,” Ruby said with a sigh. “Because it’s happening whether you like it or not.”
     Snick, snick, snick! was the response.
     “I just do not see how he can do this to me,” Lureen heaved dramatically, wiping nonexistent sweat from her brow with the back of her glove.
     “He’s not doing it to you, Momma. He loves her. He wants us to meet her.  I think…,” Ruby hesitated. “I think he’s gonna marry her.”
     Lureen whirled around mid-snick! “He will do no such thing!” She panted.  Turning back to the rose bush, she freed the fallen stem she’d left hanging half-trimmed with another loud snick! and placed it in the top of the large basket on her arm before moving to the next bush. 
     “Momma, what exactly is your objection to her, anyway?” Ruby asked hesitantly, fearing the next thing to get deadheaded in the garden would be her.
     “She’s just…” Lureen spluttered as she went at the next bush with the shears like an angry badger after a piece of good wood.  “She’s not like us.”
      Lureen looked at her daughter in exasperation. “We do not know this girl.  She is not from around her. Who are her parents? What do they do? You know she’s not even Baptist? Your brother is bringing home a Catholic girl, Ruby Mae. A Catholic.” Lureen spit this last bit like the very word left a foul taste in her mouth, attacking the bush renewed vengeance.  
     “First of all, she’s not Catholic.  She’s Lutheran.”
     “As if, that makes a difference,” Lureen muttered.
     “Well,” Ruby said evenly, “I suspect it does to the Lutherans.”  Lureen shot Ruby a traitorous look, but Ruby ignored her. “Secondly, of course she’s not from around here.  He went to school over a thousand miles away.  Did you really expect that when he met someone they would come from a family down the block?”
     “I don’t know what I expected,” her mother huffed, moving across the broad walk to the next section of the garden where she began to maim her fourth flower bed of the afternoon. 
     Lureen Ann LaClette’s prize winning roses were legendary in Meridian, Mississippi, and her garden was her pride and joy, having won every floral and landscaping distinction in the state, including an unprecedented three straight titles as Reine de Roses from the Ladies Auxiliary of the Lauderdale County Beautification Society.  The fact that Lureen had cut more flowers in one afternoon than she probably did in the previous month was a true testament to how much Jonah’s announcement he was bringing a guest home to meet the family had shaken her, and Lureen Ann LaClette was not a woman whose feathers were easily ruffled.  Lureen prided herself on being as perfect a representation of good Southern breeding as her roses, and she’d raised Ruby and Jonah to follow in her elegant footsteps. 

     Ruby suspected she knew what was really bothering her mother, but she didn’t want to be the one to bring it up, so she quietly watch as her mother went on massacring the rose bushes.  Perching primly on the edge of the wrought iron bench nearby, Ruby examined her nails and waited.  She knew eventually Lureen would work herself up into a tizzy and confess all, no matter how indelicate, and it was better that happen before Jonah and his girlfriend arrived. In fact, Ruby felt confident that in approximately three-two-one—
     “And,” her mother spun around to face Ruby, pruning shears waving wildly, “she’s going to be an architect!”
     Ruby stifled a smile. “What’s wrong with that?”
     “What kind of girl wants to be an architect?” Lureen demanded, pointing the shears at Ruby for emphasis. “And not wants, dreams! Jonah said she’d always dreamed of being an architect! What kind of little girl dreams of being an architect instead of a princess or a ballerina?”
     “One that wants to build things?” Ruby asked blandly and her mother narrowed her eyes in response.  “So she wants to be an architect.  Momma, who cares?  She’s educated and she’ll have a good job. “
     “Which means I’ll never get any grandchildren.”
     Ruby rolled her eyes. “Momma, that is the craziest thing you have said yet.”
     “No, it is not,” Lureen threw down the shears in a huff, and they stuck in the ground blade down perilously close to her shoe.  Lureen didn’t notice. “Girls with career don’t want to be mothers. They’re making their husbands stay home. I saw it on The View.”
     “Don’t you think you should wait until you meet her before you decide if she’s good enough to be the mother of your grandchildren?”
     “I don’t have to meet her, Ruby Mae,” Lureen wailed, hand pressed over her heart in true Scarlett O’Hara fashion. “A mother just knows.” 
     Lureen flung herself down on the bench next to Ruby as if the weight of her burden were too much to bear any longer.  “I just don’t know,” she heaved wearily, looking at Ruby from the corner of her eye to make sure her daughter was watching, “what I did to deserve this.”  Lureen rolled her eyes heavenward as if accusing God himself of personal betrayal.
     “Momma,” Ruby said, trying to hide her exasperation, “why don’t you just say what’s really bothering you?” Lureen responded with an innocent, questioning look. “You don’t like where she grew up, do you?”
      “Ruby Mae!” Her mother said, glancing around as if someone might hear them.  “How can you say such a thing?”
     “Because it’s the truth and you know it!” Ruby said pointedly.
     “Alright, fine,” Lureen replied.  “You’re right. I’m sorry. I know it’s old-fashioned, but that is how I was raised.  I just never expected that when your brother finally brought someone home to meet the family he’d be bringing – a Yankee.” Lureen whispered this last bit as though it was a dirty word and deadly disease all in one.
     “Jesus Christ, Momma—"
     “Ruby Mae LaClette!” If Lureen could make herself pass out for dramatic effect, this would have been the moment.
     “I’m sorry, Momma.  I’m sorry.  I apologize, Lord, for taking your name in vein,” Ruby said grumpily, but her mother continued to look thoroughly scandalized. “It is two thousand and eleven.  Two THOUSAND and eleven.  Being born north of the Mason-Dixon line is not a crime.  It never was.  I love you, but if that is what is really bothering you, you have to get over it.” Ruby looked at her watch. “By my count, you’ve got about ten minutes.”
     Ruby stood up to leave, feeling she’d done her part to spare her brother and his girlfriend the brunt of her mother’s theatrics, for which Ruby felt her brother owed her greatly. 
     “That’s not the reason,” her mother said softly, and Ruby looked down in surprise.  Lureen Ann LaClette, who had not cried even at her own mother’s funeral two months earlier, had tears in her eyes. 
     “Then what is it?” Ruby narrowed her eyes, expecting her mother to come up with some last ditch crazy reason to dislike a girl Ruby suspected was probably very nice if Jonah thought enough of her to bring her all the way from Chicago.
     “What did I do wrong?” Her mother sniffed, gazing forlornly at her gloved hands.  “If that’s the kind of girl your brother wants to spend his life with, then what must he think of me?”
     Of all the possible ways Ruby had expected Lureen to make this all about her, this had not been anywhere on the list. “What do you mean, Momma? Jonah loves you. We both do.”
     “I know that, Ruby Mae,” her mother said as Ruby took her seat on the bench again.  “I know you love me.  I just worry your brother may not…like me very much.  Or maybe his friend won’t.” Ruby opened her mouth to protest, and Lureen shook her head as she pulled off her gloves wearily. “I didn’t go to college.  I never worked.  I never left this house, except to take you and Jonah to school and your lessons."
     “And we appreciate it, Momma,” Ruby said, taking her mother’s hand in her smaller ones.
     “I know, Baby,” Lureen patted Ruby’s hand.  “I know you do.  But I’ve spent my whole life being a wife and a mother.  I’m proud of the job I did raising you kids with your daddy gone for work all the time.  But I’m an old woman now.  You kids are grown. And all I’ve got to show for my life is this big empty house and my roses.” Lureen looked down at the basket, only now registering with horror the amount of stems she’d cut. 
     “Momma,” Ruby said, squeezing her mother’s hand to draw her attention away from the flowers.  One crisis at a time, Ruby thought. “Just because Jonah may someday marry a girl who wants to work and have a career doesn’t mean we don’t realize how lucky we are to have had a mother as dedicated as you. And we're not for sure that Jonah’s marrying her.”

     “He’s bringing her home,” Lureen said plaintively and Ruby sighed in response.  “I just don’t know what I could possibly have to say to a girl like that, Ruby Mae.”
     “Just be nice, Momma.” Ruby patted her mother’s hand. “That’s all Jonah wants.”
     “I’ll try,” Lureen said with all the enthusiasm of a kid on the way to the dentist.
     “Momma?” a male voice called from inside the house.  “You out here?”
     “Well, try harder,” Ruby hissed to her mother, standing. “Because here they come.”
     A tall athletic boy strode into the middle of the garden, followed by an equally tall, willowy girl with long brown hair walking uncertainly behind him.  She carried her large purse carefully with both hands, as though trying to protect the contents from being squashed or damaged.
     “Jonah!” Ruby exclaimed, throwing her arms around her brother to cover her mother’s slowness to greet them.  “And you must be Emily. I’m Ruby, Jonah’s beautiful and talented sister. I’m sure he’s told you all about me.”
     Jonah smirked. “About how you can’t carry a tune in a bucket and constantly trip over your own two feet?”
     Ruby slugged him good-naturedly in the shoulder. “Lies,” she whispered to Emily.
     “Hey Momma,” Jonah said, stepping around Emily to hug his mother.
     “Oh, my baby boy’s come home!” Lureen cawed, hugging him tight in her thick arms and swinging them both back and forth. Jonah extracted himself from the prolonged hug, and took a step back.
     “Momma,” he placed a hand on the small of the girl’s back and pushed her forward, “this is Emily Smythe-Owens.”
     “It is nice to meet you, Mrs. LaClette,” Emily said, shyly extending her hand. 
     Lureen hesitated, and Ruby gave her mother a sharp look, then looked pointedly at Emily’s hand.
     Lureen seized it with an energy that was just a little too rich to be genuine. “It’s nice to meet you…Emily.  I hope you’ll enjoy staying with us.” Ruby frowned behind Jonah’s back, but Jonah didn’t seem to notice.
     “Momma, do you have any empty pots?” Jonah asked. “And some soil?”
     Lureen shot him a perplex look. “Of course, Sugar.  What size do you need?” Lureen turned toward the small storage shed in the corner of the sprawling yard where she stored various gardening implements and supplies.
     “Something small,” Emily said, reaching into her large purse and pulling out a crepe myrtle clipping, which had a plastic baggie full of water rubber-banded tightly to the bottom. “I want to pot this clipping and see if I can get it to root.  We don’t have crepe myrtles at home and it’s hard to get it to grow in our climate, but I’m hoping I can get it big enough to transplant in a pot back at school and then give it to my mother for the holidays.”
     If Ruby was stunned, you could have knocked Lureen over with a feather.  “Do you like flowers, Emily?” Ruby asked with eager interest. 
     “Of course she does!”  Jonah hooted.  “What would you expect from someone who’s studying to be a landscape architect?”
     “A landscape architect?” Ruby raised an eyebrow at her mother, who looked equally surprised.
     Emily nodded.  “I've loved plants and flowers since I was a little girl. I’m hoping to design public parks and botanical gardens someday like Beatrix Farrand.” Emily squinted in the direction of one of the rose beds.   “Are those hybrid teas? I don’t think I recognize all these varieties.”
      Jonah smiled at the girl, and his eyes glowed with affection. “My momma has the best roses in all of Mississippi.” He turned toward Lureen, and look he gave her was equally admiring. “Don’t you, Momma?”
      Lureen Ann LeClette glowed positively pink with pride. “I don’t know about all that,” she demurred with obviously false modesty.
      “Would you mind giving me a tour?” Emily asked.
      “Darlin’, it would be my pleasure,” Lureen said sincerely as she took Emily by the arm and began leading her around the enormous backyard.
      Ruby collapsed onto the bench in relief as soon as their backs were turned.
     “What’s your problem?” Jonah inquired, taking the seat next to her.
     “Never mind,” Ruby said to her brother as she threw her arm across her face. Going twelve rounds with her mother always wore Ruby out. “Turned out to be nothing.”
      Jonah chuckled, stretching his arm across the back of the bench behind her, the picture of relaxation. “That’s your problem, Ruby.  You can make a mountain out of a mole hill.”
      Ruby dropped her arm from her face and fumed at Jonah, who took that as the sign to make his exit. “Don’t worry about it.  It’s not your fault.” He said as he headed off toward the corner of the yard where his mother and girlfriend were deep in conversation. “You’re just like Momma.”

Thursday, September 1, 2011


Short Fiction Inspired by & A Review of Demeter Fragrance Library Fresh Hay

I didn’t go with him that night to get lucky.  I wasn’t interested in a hook-up, a one night stand, the potential of a new friend-with-benes.  That Elvis song, “One Night With You”? Never had any appeal to me.  I’d waited much longer than my friends, who had given into to the overload of teenage hormones or the ease and convenience of the college overnight while I was still in the library studying.

After that, the opportunities for getting skin to skin with a stranger declined exponentially. It wasn’t something I was looking for, and definitely wasn’t worth spending my nights getting sweaty in meat market bars. I went to school, I went to synagogue, I went home.  Lather, rinse, repeat, ad nauseum, ad infinitum. Several years out of college and through my first year of law school, I had good grades, lots of friends, and I’d never been kissed.  Not once.  Not ever.  The longer it went on, the worse it got.  How do you tell someone over dinner on a first date that if they expect the night to end on the doorstep in a warm embrace, it will be a new experience for at least one of us?  Take it from me: when you’re twenty-seven, it’s not a conversation that goes well.

 So how did I end up rolling around in a stall full of hay with a man I barely knew? It started with a childhood wish – to have my own horse.

It was stupid, I guess. As a little girl I’d lived in the city in a sixth floor walk-up.  I was raised among concrete and weeds with few friends and absolutely no pets, due to my mother’s alleged allergies. I wasn’t even allowed to have a fish.  Growing up surrounded by giant buildings, I always thought of a horse as the ultimate symbol of everything I didn’t have – a majestic beast to ride over the wide open spaces of the Wild West, where no one’s stereotypically neurotic Jewish mother demanded you keep every piece of clothing pristine, never roll around in the mud (“Germs!”) or run through the rain (“You’ll catch your death out there!”) or sleep outside (“Only homeless people sleep outdoors!”) or keep an pet at all, much less inside the house (“Filthy creatures!”) No, nice Jewish girls did not go on dates with boys their mothers didn't know, did not wear pants when a freshly pressed, modest-length skirt was available, and they did not spend their time with farm animals.

I lived at home when I went to CUNY so the ban of all things that flew, swam, or otherwise moved on four legs continued.  Then when I moved out on my own, I stayed in the city in an even smaller studio than the cramped apartment I’d grown up in where my landlord was even more anti-animal than my mother.  Of all the things denied me as a child and all the 'good' habits encouraged under my mother’s watchful eye to the point that I perpetuated them even after I left her house, the “no animal” mandate seemed the one that made the least sense objectively, and therefore was the one the universe continued conspiring with my mother to keep.

Which I think is how I ended up as an intern on an organic farm in Eastern Oregon after spending a year studying at the only law school in America with a specialty in animal law.  I might not be able to have a pet, but by God I was determined the rest of the world would be welcoming of all things scaled, feathered, and furry.  I committed to my first year of law school and first summer internship with a frenzied energy I was sure would sustain me, and subsequently petered out somewhere around the first July day the temperatures closed in on a hundred and even the air seemed like it was dying of thirst. 

I’d taken the internship on a working farm that was part commercial venture, part co-op, thinking of all the animals I’d be surrounded by and all the different aspects of working and living with animals I’d be able to absorb in three short months, which was one of the weakest parts of my animal law resume.   Too stubborn to quit and too embarrassed to admit  how at completely useless I was at manual labor, I tried and failed each day to be a help to the farm. Overcome by my own ineptitude at last, I sat in one of the clean stalls in the large barn that afternoon, hiding from the heat and the experienced farmhands who endured my feebled attempts with little grace while I cried.

I’d been up since four and it was late into the afternoon when I finally broke down. The string of long days of physically demanding work had worn me down to a pitiful nub. Twenty-seven years old, and I’d never yearned for my overbearing mother more.  I longed for her to swoop down on me, demand to know what on Earth I was doing in my filthy farm clothes, and then drag me back to Brooklyn. I was so absorbed in my Fiddler fairy godmother rescue fantasy, I didn’t hear Cooper until he burst out laughing.

Pulling my pride up around me, I yelled at him, which just made him laugh harder, until he was doubled over and wiping at his eyes.  I tried to get by him, determined to pack my things, sell my car, and be on the first flight back to New York and Brooklyn Law where I belonged, but he kept blocking my exit.  When he finally collected himself, he dragged me through the barn to where the horses were boarded. 

I kept asking myself why I didn’t leave as I watched him lead one horse, then another out of the stables.  Truthfully, I was taken with the horses, and by the way Cooper handled them without a word, using various clucking and shushing noises along with his hands to communicate with them.  The first was a solid black horse with a superior air, and I could tell by the way it snorted and shook its head every time it looked in my direction that it knew I’d never been this close to a horse in my life.  The second, though, was a tall and lean horse the color of dark honey with a long blonde mane.  Cooper saddled both horses as I stood uncertainly near the large open doors of the barn, shifting my weight uneasily from foot to foot in my uncomfortably new boots, trying to decide if I should stay or go.

“Here,” he said finally, drawing the word out in his wide mouth as he gestured for me to come over to the second horse.  I dithered, and he pursed his lips, gesturing again at me insistently.  I stumbled over to him. Cooper grabbed my hand in his and dragged it down the brown horse’s long forehead.  The horse snorted in a friendly way. Taking the cue I kept stroking, and it nudged me with its muzzle encouragingly.

“She likes you,” Cooper said just behind my ear. Any other time I would have been nervous to have a man standing that close, but I was so enamored with the horse I barely acknowledged him.

The horse was beautiful.  She was everything I'd ever wanted in an animal, but I knew immediately she wasn’t a pet.  She was a companion.  You could see it in her eyes, in her movement, in the way she encouraged things she liked and shook off things she didn’t.  Lost in my first genuine interaction with the kind of friend I’d longed for as a little girl, I was more surprised than the horse was when Cooper lifted all hundred and sixty pounds of me like I was a bag of potatoes off the ground and placed me in the saddle.  Throwing my leg over out of instinct more than anything kind of knowledge, I teetered in the seat. Cooper smiled at me and handed me the reins, then walked over and hopped onto the broad back of the black horse like it was as natural as breathing.

Giving his horse a gentle nudge, Cooper headed out of the barn and toward the open land beyond the small paddock nearby.  With only the tiniest bit of encouragement from me, my horse walked smoothly after them, carrying me along as I awkwardly bounced around on her back.  As we reached the edge of the residential portion of the property, Cooper and his horse stopped short and my horse cruised to a stop next to him, as if by silent command.

“You’re having a hard time,” Cooper said unexpectedly.  I turned to look at him, shielding my eyes from the sun which was still bright despite it being close to seven o’clock in the evening.  “But you got a lot of guts for trying this in the first place.  I like a girl with guts.”
I swallowed, too stunned to say anything.  Cooper hadn’t said more than “Morning, Ma’am” and “Evening, ma’am”  to me since I’d arrived.  I knew he’d been working at the farm for about eight years, hoping to save up the money to buy property of his own one day.  People on the farm said he was hard working and had a good head for numbers, so they suspected he’d get there eventually.  Beyond that, I didn’t know anything about him except that his neck had a perpetual sunburn and he didn’t seem to own anything that didn’t look like it had faded from about a hundred washes.  To say I was stunned that this man had taken it upon himself to drag me about five miles on a horse into the middle of East Oregon Nowhere and give me lecture on my character was an understatement.

My horse, apparently, agreed with him, snorting and nodding as he spoke. “You’re working too hard, and you’re not working smart. Every now and then, you need to take a break. I see the way you watch the horses and I figure you’ve probably never touched one, let alone ridden one. I thought, before you bolted back to the city, you should probably try it once.” He turned his head toward me, squinting as if he was waiting for confirmation.

It was presumptuous, arrogant, and condescending.  Unfortunately, it was also true.  I flapped my trap open and shut once or twice, trying to think of a retort.  Finally I gave up.  I’d already made up my mind to leave that night.  What was the point in arguing?

“What’s my horse’s name?” I asked instead.

“That,” he said gesturing in my direction, “is Sweet Pea. She’s a Tennessee Walking Horse. They make better pleasure horses than work horses, but she's a good girl and right now she’s about as much as you can manage.”

Never one to back down from a challenge, I frowned at the characterization, both of me and my horse, who I already felt protective of.  Cooper ignored me. “And this here is Lucky,” he said, patting his own horse, who shook his head in a haughty manner at his name. “He’s an Arabian and little too strong for you to handle.”

“Like you know what I can handle,” I muttered, then felt the color drain from my face as both Cooper and his horse shook with laughter in response.

“We’re gonna keep it pretty slow, but if you get scared, just pull on her reigns,” he said demonstrating. “You don’t have to pull hard. Sweet Pea’s a good listener; she’ll stop right away.”

“What are we doing?” I asked, wondering what I had let this stranger get me into.

“We’re gonna go for a ride,” he said simply.  Then he urged Lucky forward, and took off without so much as a glance back in my direction.  I sat uncertainly in my saddle as I watched his figure growing smaller in the distance. 

Sweet Pea turned her head to eyeball me, and I could see the mixture of excitement to run and disappointment in me as a rider all over her pretty face. “All, right,” I said weakly, gripping the reigns tightly in both hands.  “It’s your show.” Sweet Pea needed no other encouragement, and took off after Lucky and Cooper at a slow gallop.

We spent the next two hours running in circles all over the hills and plains around the farm.  By the time we finally made it back to the barn, my back was aching and I thought I’d never walk right again, but I practically floated above my saddle.  Riding Sweet Pea was by far one of the most exhilarating experiences I’d ever had.  I’d felt completely connected to my environment – to Sweet Pea and the rhythm of our synchronized movements, to the earth underneath us, to the wind flying around us.  The world was brighter, the air smelled richer, and I felt free.  For the first time in my life, I’d been truly alive.

Cooper helped ease me down from the saddle and held me until my wobbly legs found purchase.  I tried to step away from him, but my muscles gave out beneath me, and Cooper grabbed me and held me up. “You’re like a new foal,” he chuckled.

I made my way back over to the empty stall where he’d found me and collapsed onto the large bales of fresh hay as I watched him water and rubdown the horses.  After he’d finished taking care of them and putting our bridles and saddles away, he came over and sat down next to me.

“Thanks,” I said with weary wonder, and he nodded with signature stoicism. Looking at him, I wondered if there was a picture of Cooper in the dictionary under the idiom “strong and silent type.” It was mostly dark in the barn, the only light from a single overhead lamp that threw long shadows in the center of the room but left the corners dark. 

The quiet stretched out around us.  I could sense Cooper getting ready to leave, but I didn’t want the magic of the evening to end.   It was as if every cell in my body still vibrated with the thrumming beat of the horses’ hooves, and that energy was the life force contained in all the atoms of the universe.  It made me feel bold and reckless, as wild and impetuous as the breeze blowing across the valley. 

In the eight years since that night, that’s the only explanation I’ve come up with for what happened next, which was entirely my doing.  I could blame it on the way the light highlighted the blond streaks in his hair or the way the shadows played across the planes of his face. I could blame it on the fact that I hadn’t eaten in fourteen hours and had spent the entire afternoon getting a terrible sunburn and possibly heat stroke.  I could blame it on the music of the night and the sweet smell of the hay clinging to the warm air around us. I could blame it on the fact that I could barely move I was so stiff from riding for the first time, and my legs were made of jelly and every part of me was simply too tired to leave the barn.  But the truth is, I’d had the best time of my life with a man I barely knew to speak to, and I didn’t want it to end.

So I kissed him. 
 . . . . . . 

“And that, my dear,” I said, as I pulled the last cookie sheet from the oven and placed it on the cast iron trivet on the kitchen table, “is how a nice Jewish girl from Brooklyn ended up a part-time country lawyer and mother of three beautiful girls living on a farm in Eastern Oregon.”

June grabbed a cookie off the sheet before I could stop her, juggling it to keep from burning her fingers. “So that’s what Gramma Esther meant? We live here because daddy got you his horse?”

“Yes, Sweet Pea.” I said, trading her a cookie from the cooling rack for the hot one in her hand and kissing my six year-old daughter on the head as she shoved the entire thing in her mouth. “Because I got lucky.”

June scrunched her nose as she thought about it. “I shtill don’t get ith,” she said, crumbs falling out of her mouth.

“Don’t worry, Sweet Pea. Someday, you will,” I replied, laughing to myself as June grabbed another cookie and ran out of the kitchen.