Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Gold Country

The Gold Country of California holds a special place in my heart. Towns like Sonora, Jamestown, Columbia, Angels Camp and Murphys bring the full force of another century crashing into my imagination. There's nothing quite as nostalgic as walking down creaking wooden sidewalks or stepping down onto cobbled streets.

Sonora is a modern city these days. They actually have traffic lights ~ lots of them in the newer side of town. In the spring and summer high season, the streets are packed with bikers and mini vans, limosines and Hummers. The entire south-east side of town is strip malled and chain stores galore. A little too busy for my tastes.

Downtown Columbia is a state park. The streets aren't paved (well, they are paved, just not well, and they're quite lumpy and misshapen), and original 1800's buildings stand fully restored. There's a soap shop in Columbia. Nice soaps, but even nicer candles. I've spent entire weekends playing in Columbia, gold panning and shopping the old time-y stores. There's a great kitchen store called the Pioneer's Emporium in Columbia. And you have to go into the corner cafe for a cold mug of sarsparilla soda.

Angels Camp is a drive-thru town -- for the time being. I have only one, hazy memory of Angels Camp ~ a long-ago spaghetti feed with my mother and father. Dad was a miner. Yeah, it was that long ago.

Murphys, ah. Murphys is special. It's the beating heart of the Calaveras Wine Country. A little bit of Napa in the dust and dogwood. It's a party town with a rough history and a lot of soul. Some might call it charming or sweet ~ I hope to one day call it home.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Hear Those Southern Belles Ringing

A long, long time ago, in an atmosphere that is long past, there was this word being bandied about. This word was being used to describe the magical aspects of essential oils and essential oil blends. This was before most essential oil blending divas had the gonads to call their wares 'perfume'. They were oil blends, aromatherapy blends, scented oils. Etc. Etc. Etc.

The word was 'Vibrational'.

I haven't sniffed a truly vibrational natural perfume (there! I said it) in a very long while. Not since this long-ago time when the claws were less sharp and the words less harsh. Well, until today.

A sweet, former NoCal girl gone Southern Belle has created a beautifully vibrational perfume oil she lovingly, and with a touch of tongue-in-cheek humor, calls 'Lulu Honey Vamp'.

Lulu Honey Vamp opens with a screaming banshee lime note that slowly, and beautifully, tempers to floral notes, and then to honey . . honey . . . honey. The scent is reminiscent of lilies of the valley and summer lilacs, memories of lemonade greedily gulped by young girls on the cusp of womanhood, noisy porch swings swaying lazily under hanging pots of fragrant jasmine, sticky, hot southern evenings, and cicada bugs humming incessently.

Yeah, I got all that from Lulu.

Vibrational ~ I'm bringin' it back.

Dirty Roses

Thursday, January 25, 2007

What's in a Word?

You could be *evil, angry, atrocious, bad, baneful, base, beastly, bitchy, calamitous, corrupt, damnable, depraved, destructive, disastrous, execrable, flagitious, foul, harmful, hateful, heinous, hideous, iniquitous, injurious, loathsome, low, maleficent, malevolent, malicious, malignant, nefarious, no good, obscene, offensive, pernicious, poison, rancorous, reprobate, repugnant, repulsive, revolting, sinful, spiteful, stinking, ugly, unpleasant, unpropitious, vicious, vile, villainous, wicked, wrathful and wrong.

Or you could be *good, moral, righteous, SINLESS, upright and virtuous.

'The coin that buys the exact truth has not been minted.' E.M. Forester ~ Passage to India

So let's move on now, hm'kay?

(*Source: Thesarus.com)

New Beginnings ~ Again

No, this isn't a New Year's Resolution. I stopped doing those many New Years' ago. This is a new life resolution.

I've had a small business of one sort or another since I was a kid. First, there was the obvious lemonade stand, only mine was a juice du jour stand. I 'juiced' whatever I could get my hands on ~ the neighbors' pomegranates, lemons, oranges, grapefruit; the berry man's boysenberries. That lasted as long as my mother would allow. About a week. I was a messy juicer and she quickly became tired of cleaning up the sticky messes.

Anyway, I'd built a little juice stand with an old door laid across a couple of saw horses. My tablecloth was an old sheet, my sign hand-printed. And I'd wait outside for my customers, with my pitcher of juice and bowl of ice and real glass cups. Did I mention we lived on a dead-end street?

My next venture, at 10-years-old, was recycling. Remember when you could take your empty soda bottles and get a nickle for them from the grocer? I was the kid lugging 20 or 30 of those empty bottles across a busy street to get them to the 7-11 for the 'refund' money. This same 7-11 used to give out Monopoly money as change (I don't think it was legal) and you could bring in the Monopoly money and buy, oh, I don't know, cigarettes and beer and sanitary pads. It was weird. Some savvy entrepeneur/con-artist figured out a way to duplicate the rubber stamp on the back of the 7-11 Monopoly money and was robbing them blind. The 7-11 stopped using this means of money exchange within a couple of years.

I then went onto a series of short-term self-employment gigs ~ an autumn leaf raker, a summer weed puller, a dog sitter. I would bake cookies and sell them door-to-door. I attempted baby sitting, but after a close encounter of the perverted kind, I gave that up. In my early teens, I went to help my aunt with her plant nursery. Now that was a job I could really get into. Everything grew in hot houses and I loved the way the hot houses felt inside ~ they were damp and earthy and scented ~ and strangely quiet. I started another little side job there. Plants would drop a leaf or a stem and take root in the floor of the hot house; I'd dig the little plant out, replant it in a tiny pot, and resell the baby begonia or spiderwort or string of pearls or red polka dot at the swap meet, right alongside my aunt, who was selling the big pots of plants. I would give her a cut of my profits, for the potting soil and pot I'd used, and I did this for an entire summer, until I had enough money to buy school clothes. Remember saddleback Dittos? I bought six pair at the end of that first summer.

Then I got pregnant, then married (in that order), and my brain cells started evaporating out through my ears. My world was diapers and formula and part-time j-o-b's and bills ~ and a real prick of a husband. That alone will turn any semi-intelligent woman into a total moron. Besides, I have this theory. I believe that pregnancy, childbirth and child-rearing (and that includes the husband) causes women to lose their short-term memory ~ short-term, long-term, all the terms. That's my theory, and I'm sticking to it.

Whilst living in utter chaos, I still attempted to start a business. I made handbags out of old jeans I'd picked up at the second-hand store, then sold them at the swap meet (thank the powers that be for the ever present swap meet, three days a week, rain or shine). I added to my handbag collection handmade hair bows. This was the late 80's ~ remember the big-ass bows girls wore in their hair? I like to consider myself partially responsible for that fashion fiasco. I sold 30 or 40 each time I went to the swap meet. I even had a wholesale account! During this time, I also wrote a cookbook ~ for wild game. It was never published because Prick thought it would be great fun to use it as kindling.

I left Prick behind and started a new life, only this time I wasn't alone. I had three little boys in tow ~ three half-wild, wicked little boys. So I started another 'business'. This time I went in an easier, less expensive direction ~ I started making bath salts. And, yes, I sold them at the swap meet. I first sold them in plastic bags, then graduated to squares of fabric (I'm a total textile girl). That lead to sachets. That lead to scented dolls. That lead straight back to bath salts.

So there I was again at bath salts, tired of the friggin' swap meet and wanting something more stable. What did I do? I put them in a craft consignment store. Yeah, I paid someone to let me sell my stuff in a building full of stuff just like my stuff. Stupid . . . . stupid, stupid, stupid.

Things really slowed down after that. I got a 'real' job, remarried, went to school part-time, got pregnant -- again -- that meant a few more million brain cells evaporated. Then I found soap making and it opened a whole new way of thinking for me ~ remember, at this point, I'm pretty much mentally crippled from the results of my theory (read above). It took two years of constant trial and error before I got the hang of the soap making gig. Two years of attempting to sell gross, ashy, smelly soap to friends and relatives. Okay, so I gave away a lot of soap back then. I was using whatever scenting materials I could get my hands on (I'm a grabby girl), including fragrance oils of the non-natural variety. But I loved the essential oils best. Before I'd ever even owned a computer or perused a forum or joined a group or thought to brag about how long I'd been on the 'net gathering information or hanging some pretentious credential from an uncredentialed school of aromatherapy on my wall, I was in deep, passionate love with naturals ~ it was just me and patchouli . . . or me and sandalwood . . . or occasionally, me and rose.

And so began a new business ~ natural skincare. I studied and read, I got a computer and joined groups, I started an aromatherapy program, I networked. I had no business plan. I had no plan at all. My plan, if there even was a shadow of a plan, was to do what I loved ~ and I do love this business. I even set up a real, live, physical store. That lasted 11 months ~ because there was no plan. I'll only take half the blame for the store closing since I did have a business partner. Ultimately, what ended the store was the same thing that ended my lovely little juice business ~ location and NO PLAN. We weren't located on a physical dead end, but definitely, firmly situated in a marketing and visiblity dead end. My old store is now a tattoo parlor and they're doing quite nicely.

Now here I am, basically back at square one, except now I've got loads of experience and hands-on education under my belt -- and I have a freakin' plan, man!

It's a new beginning for me ~ again.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Pretty Little Things

My daughter, a full-fledged natural perfume and skincare lover, brought me her empty bottle of facial elixer complaining that her 'face hurt' since she ran out. "Would you make me some more?" she begged. "But let me pick out the smell."

I blended her little bottle of oil ~ a bit of organic olive oil, a splash of organic sunflower oil, a pinch of virgin coconut oil, and then a final drizzle of hazelnut oil.

I pulled out my essential oils and we picked through them.

"Lavender?" I asked.

"Ew! Old lady!" she yelled.

"Ok, how about patchouli?"

"Mom, I'm not a hippy, okay?"


"Are you trying to kill me?" she asked.

"Seriously," I said. "What do you want in here because I'm running out of ideas."

She poked around the blending table a bit, found my little box of pre-blended treasures, and shouted, "This!"

She was holding a roll-on bottle of one of Opus Oils' blends ~ Island ~ loaded with tropical essences.

We blended about 20 drops of Island into her 2 oz bottle of elixer and the result was nirvana ~ well, as close as we're gonna get for now.

Now both of us love smearing on our facial elixer. We have perfumed faces ~ naturally.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Bottles 'n stoppers 'n crimpers, oh my!

There isn't a day that passes in this aromatic journey of mine that I don't think of packaging.

I know.

It's sad.

Finding unique and beautiful perfume bottles for resale is a difficult task. Throw into that squirming basket of doubt the fact that this is an artform ~ a la Artisan Perfumer ~ and you've added to the difficulty.

Oh, I've seen my share of gorgeous bottles. Take Jalaine Fine Fragrances ~ their bottle is spectacular. Can't say anything about the contents as I've never tried it. Probably never will at a hefty price tag of $150 per 6 mls.

Velvet and Sweet Pea's Purrfumery has gorgeous bottles, too.

Ebay has pages and pages of those lovely fragile glass Egyptian handblown jobbers for sale. Why am I not seeing any natural botanical perfumers using those? Dime a dozen, is what they'll tell you. Beautiful, but not special. Besides, how do you keep those stoppers in during shipping? You package the perfume in a separate bottle for shipping, that's how. Make the 'fume truly special by including a tiny brass funnel with the order.

Some people say, "Order from Brosse!" Ok, give me the freakin' web address or link or phone number or something!

Don't even get me started on the crimper thing. They crush your bottles; oh, pooey, they don't crush your bottles ~ well, somebody is getting their perfumes out there intact in crimped bottles. But is that the way to go with Artisan Perfume?

Personally, I love ground glass stoppers, corks, colored screw tops ~ they have personality, they convey the message "I am art." Besides, I love things a little messy. Take this bottle, for instance. Now that's an Artisan Perfume bottle! And believe me, they won't be mass produced in some sweat shop in China for $1.50 a piece!

One of the very best places to find extraordinary bottles for natural botanical perfumes, surprisingly, is lab supply stores. Some of those places buy overstock items from perfume houses and resell the bottles for a fraction of what you'd pay anywhere else. Lab auctions are another source. So, you get a limited number of THAT lot of bottles, and you can't reorder ~ so what? This is original art, remember, not prints.

Yeah, yeah, yeah ~ I hear you ~ marketing consistency is important. I got it. But I'm not marketing a friggin' bottle! I'm marketing an emotion.

But I still obsess about bottles. Gah!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Eat Paste!

No, not that minty, gelatinous gloop you ate off a popsicle stick in kindergarten! I'm talking about vanilla paste.

I just received samples of Bourbon Vanilla paste three-fold, and Tahitian Vanilla paste three-fold from The Vanilla Company in Santa Cruz, CA.

Patricia Rain, the 'Vanilla Queen', offers some spectacular products. The vanilla paste is -- well -- edible.

Pour it into your soap bases and facial scrubs, and whatever else you can think to put it in. Eat it. I'm going to tincture away.

The Vanilla Company.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Scent Perceptions & Dilutions

I find it funny how people perceive scent, including my own ability to correctly perceive scent.

Let's take tuberose, for instance. I describe it as 'meaty' or resembling boiled hot dog water ~ but that's when it isn't diluted down enough. Just like rose otto, tuberose absolute takes on an entirely different character when diluted. Rose becomes effusive, fresh, clean, more truly rose-like when diluted to about 10%. Tuberose becomes more white floral, cloying, sweet, less meaty, when diluted to 10%.

One of my least favorite florals is ylang-ylang. I just can't stand the stuff. But I have used it in a couple of floral perfumed oils with great success because it ceases being just ylang, which to my nose smells like an unused Pampers, and becomes a part of something bigger and better -- and ylang-less.

Davana is another one I have a hard time with. I love davana, but I have difficulty using it because it likes to eat everything else around it until all that's left is big, fat davana! So I dilute, then add, and the result is fabulous. No more Pac Man davana munching on its aromatic cohorts ~ just a lovely layer of green, floral sweetness -- a slipper's kick of davana instead of a boot to the head.

White cognac has come up in conversations and it's another one I struggle with. I smell boiled eggs when I initially sniff white cognac, then, if I allow myself the time, I smell the cognac, all dark and wine~y and mysterious, and it's lovely! But getting past that eggy part just kills me! I hear green cognac is better. Thus far I've not been inspired to try green cognac because of the nature of the white. I should know better by now.

One of my newest discoveries is muhuhu oil. When I first sniffed muhuhu I actually smelled nothing. Then I blew my nose, sniffed again, and smelled ~ leather! Soft, tanned leather as opposed to heavy rawhide (choya loban = rawhide; muhuhu = a brand new pair of leather moccasins).

My son came by last evening and I dragged him into the perfume room to look at my new blending table. He seemed impressed. Since I can't have anyone standing near my blending table who isn't holding a scent strip to their nose, I began the ritual ~ scent strip in this bottle, now sniff. What do you get? We did this for about 20 minutes ~ what a trooper, no? Funny thing is, by the time I was done handing him dipped scent strips, he was actually getting into it. He loved trying to pull out descriptions of the scents, working them around in his mind until he had something he recognized. He smelled pasta in the white cognac dilute, lubricating oil in the muhuhu and 'turds' in the 30% jasmine grandiflorum absolute. Turds. What a horrid word.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Sweeeeet Pea!

Oh. Oh. Oh.

I just blended the sweet pea accord ~ and, oh.

I'm not known to be a sweetie, floral, girlish-type, and certainly not someone who dives headlong into delicate, timid little stinks like sweet pea, but, oh!

At the moment it's overwhelmingly tuberose~y (lush white floral, a squige of ca-ca and a splash of boiled hot dog water), but the energy created by the rose and vanilla and orange blossom chewing on the weiner water over time . . . well, hell, --oh.

Can you say 'potential'?

Accords and Other Useful Things

I've often wondered why there isn't some resourceful natural perfumer 'out there' selling pre-blended accords as a whole product. Like violet, for example. Or gardenia. It can be done. I formulated a violet accord early last year, and it has finally stewed enough to be useful.

There are natural accord formularies for White Rose, Tea Rose, Moss Rose, Clove Pink, Sweet Pea ~ ah, sweet pea, for heaven's sake!

For a beginning natural perfumer, having these accords available would be a boon to their perfumery education. No to mention making some lucky alchemist a little bit wealthier. And if down the line the beginner becomes a pro and wishes to formulate their own accords, let them figure it out for themselves.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

First Review of the New Year

So more or less a pre-view as I refuse to reveal the company name, or the name of its newest line of products because they have not been officially launched for sale.

This is a story of the boudoir, or rather, a tale of luscious aromatics that will titillate and seduce and have you crawling back for more.

What night of aromatic and sensual bliss would be complete without massage oil? What if said massage oil was formulated to enhance, through scent, the romantic ambiance created between lovers? This is what I hold in my hand, dear reader. An aphrodisiac of such rarity and beauty as to leave this writer spellbound. What spices and resins and woods could accomplish such a feat? Well, this one -- that I really can't tell you more about.

Suffice it to say that when this company releases their newest and brightest treasures of essence into the world, I'll be there with my money in hand, and a real review to offer.

Monday, January 08, 2007

How Does This Song Smell?

Remember her?

Someone pushed T-Bone Walker into the CD player and suddenly I'm in two places at once.

My fat bottom is sitting down in front of my workbench, fiddling with Mr. Green, but my spirit is flying off to the Tower District, swigging guinness, macking on fried dill pickles, and listening to a three-piece jazz band banging away in the corner.

Now I want to blend something smokey and dark, with a pinch of cheap, and buckets of desperation and lonliness. Something with a little adultery in it, and some 'over-the-hill'.

I don't know. I think this perfume might make someone suicidal.

Some People Think They're So Clever

Got my first Perfume movie, smart-ass remark from someone when I told them that I make natural perfume.

"So, how many girls do you juice in a typical week? Har har har har!"

I got the same thing when I had the soap store ~ in reference to 'Fight Club'.

Oh, and this one isn't related to perfumery or soapmaking, but thought it merited the 'could you say anything more stupid' medal of honor: Ask the cheese person at Wholefoods to cut a chunk of cheese for you, and every grown adult male within ten feet will grin and say, "Look, she's cutting the cheese." If they don't say it, they're at least grinning and thinking it. These are rolling pin and skillet moments.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Old Musty

"Rawhz-bireez. Rawhz-bireez. Rawhz-bireez."

Books. Musty, dusty, feathery, moldish tendrils of air spin softy off their opened pages.

Words. 'The Art of Growing Old Gracefully.'

'Beauty doth varnish age as if new born, and gives the crutch the cradle's infancy.'

'Retire with dignity from the struggle, and never pose as a rival to your own daughters.'

Here is a recipe for 'Virginal Milk' from an 1892 French beauty book: Powder of benzoin, 50 grammes; alcohol at 90 proof, 1 pint; good Orleans vinegar, 1 pint. Put the ingredients in a bottle and shake each morning. After fifteen days of macerations, filter through paper.

Ok, here's the recipe for Orleans vinegar ~ ha!

One quart vinegar; roses of provins, 50 grammes; hundred-leaves roses, 50 grammes; jasmin flowers, 20 grammes; flowers of fairy queen, 25 grammes; flowers of melilot, 25 grammes; leaves of citronelle, 20 grammes. If dried flowers are used instead of fresh, three pints of vinegar are necessary. Let it infuse for one month, and then filter.

Some day I'll learn to distill the scent of old books.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

About That Vent Vert Stuff

I wore Vent Vert on one wrist yesterday to try to mentally capture its greeniness. My daughter caught a whiff and followed me around like a puppy chasing bologna on a string, muttering, "What's that? What's that? What's that?"

I allowed the little perfumista to sniff my wrist until her sea-blue eyes rolled back into her head.

Fifteen minutes later, she was sniffling and sneezing and damning 'that Vent Vert stuff!'

This is why I work with naturals.

Green Things

I've been toying with a green perfume of late using galbanum, vetiver, clary sage absolute and lavender Seville absolute.

I was inspired by a small bottle of Vent Vert that I received post-holidays. Though my creation in no way resembles Vent Vert (ha! now that would be a trick!), it fulfills its goal as green.

And I've rediscovered the beauty of vetiver. Once one of my very favorite scents with its musky, earthlike, somewhat sharp, grassy essence, it sort of fell from grace the last couple of years.

I used it sparingly in a few oil perfumes during its time as pseudo outcast, but not as a center stage element; more of a backup singer, if you will.

In this newest 'green' perfume incarnation, however, it is a major player. Thankfully, vetiver is one of those elements which becomes more intense in its sweetness, and loses a bit of its bite, as it ages. I've got four aging vetivers, sourced from four separate suppliers ~ each has its own vetiver~y voice, a steady bel canto that raises the hair on my arms.

In a few weeks, my little opera in a bottle will be ready for applause ~ or rotten tomatoes.


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