Monday, June 30, 2014

The Adventures of a Renegade Wildharvester

Canvas tool bag, several pairs of gardening gloves, two shears, bag of gallon zipper bags

This is my wildharvesting kit. Simple enough. It seemed an absolute necessity since prior to putting together 'the kit', I was ripping plants out of the ground with my bare hands, making a complete mess of myself and the plantlife I was disrespectfully harvesting.

Where I live, on the central coast, there's a law on the books wherein you bring your own bags to bag groceries and whatnot -- stores over a certain size no longer provide plastic grocery bags -- and the paper ones, too -- to their customers, which is fine and dandy as far as I'm concerned. However, it creates a deficit in random plastic grocery bags floating around in the trunk of the car when wildharvesting. And not having shears handy was a problem as well. Or gloves. Common sense dictated a kit.

Thar she blows, the official Stealth Wildharvesters Kit. Also works great if you're raiding your neighbors pot farm. I'm kidding. Really. Kidding. Okay.

Who would ever suspect the lady walking around the neighborhood with a little black tool bag? Well, yeah, just about everybody, sure. I promise to ask before I commence snipping.

The town I live in is covered with lavender. Every island in the road, every dr's office garden, every frontage at the strip malls -- covered with blooming lavender -- and me just itching to snip. And it looks to be the good stuff, too, the fine English, sweet and delicate and frickin' blooming! Can you tell this is driving me nuts? All this material and the legal issues of raiding the city's garden looming.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Building Up Dreams...And Oudh

I've been thinking a lot about patchouli lately, and especially that soap I made a while back with the strip of solid patchouli powder running through the center, and how gorgeously intense and truly vibrational it was -- that soap. And tea. I've been thinking a lot about tea since embarking on another project -- me. I've gone raw again, for the second time in my life. Something about eating this way clears the cobwebs from the mind, makes one seem more creative, more in tune with what's going on around them. I desperately need that back. Tea is an approved raw food, not the traditional camellia type, but herbal teas. After a bit of research, I discovered that patchouli makes a fine tea (I know it's delicious in food ~ see my Perfumer's Cookbook for a lovely patchouli spice inspired bread), specific to the spiritual and shamanistic aspects of dreams, a topic in which I am wholeheartedly interested. Patchouli and what? Tulsi, of course. Holy basil. Maybe thinking about adding some tea to the store stock once I've perfected a few blends, get those dreams going everywhere, because sometimes in the confusion of those nonsensical dreams, a wisp of truth is found, a foundation upon which to grow a greater understanding of our situations.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that I'm going to make two types of soap today. The pretty one with lemongrass, nutmeg, vetyver, and Peru balsam, but also a patchouli and holy basil soap. I am inspired.

I've been unpacking more boxes from the old studio and have discovered some things that really sparked the inspiration. Oudh, for example, more fodder for the Chon perfume I'm working on. I found an old oudh tincture I made back in 2004 when I didn't really know quite how to make tinctures and overdid them -- this one is about 40% oudh to 60% alcohol, thick and nearly syrupy. Beautiful. There were also small samples of oudh from Cambodia, Vietnam, a few of undisclosed origins -- all fabulously oudhy in varying degrees of funk and sweetness. This Chon will definitely be a limited release perfume judging by what's going into it -- I could never find an aged tincture or some of these other oudhs that are in my collection anywhere else in the world, and if I could, the cost to procure them would be prohibitive.

So I'm working on the business plan again, this time micro planning each step. I am such a scatterbrain (ADD) most of the time that if I don't have a solid plan, I never reach the goal. Okay, maybe not a solid plan, perhaps a squishy plan, because nothing irks me as much as following rules, even my own, to the letter. I believe in variables. I believe that sometimes the easy way out is the only way out, and because it's the easy way out does not make it an easy decision to make. So there's this plan, subject to the whims of the Universe, that I will adhere to with all the gumption I can muster because this place I have imagined, this shop, this beautiful little store, an amusement park for the grown-ups, part museum, part apothecary, part gathering place, part academy -- a place you will never want to leave, is worth bringing into the world.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Looking Up, Looking Ahead

Earlier this year I came very close to an opportunity to teach a student in a one-on-one situation -- an apprentice of sorts, close enough in physical proximity to schedule in-person meetings and whatnot, but far enough away that daily instruction via computer and phone was required. It fell through within a couple of weeks, once the prospective student came to the realization that becoming a natural perfumer is no walk in the park. It's work. I was so excited, I couldn't wait to get started, and I was sending course layouts and lists to this prospective student, really getting into it, letting my imagination run wild; our first meeting, our first ah-ha moment, our connection through aromatics. It was much like how an expectant parent pictures their future child, a chubby, happy, smiling ball of sweetness, more beautiful and more brilliant than any other baby before it -- until the reality sets in, and instead of that utopian-style baby, a colicky, butt rashy, puking mass of tears and poop and snot that we love with all our hearts and souls shows up. I do tend to glamorize imagined situations so that the reality is either an enormous letdown, or a tremendous surprise. It was neither this time. I had a niggling feeling in the back of my mind that sooner or later (hoping sooner before too much time and effort was spent) the student would come to her senses. I was, however, a bit disappointed. I almost allowed myself to become angry about it, I mean, I'd spent so much time preparing and my initial thought was, does this person think I've nothing better to do but to sit here catering to their wishes, uncompensated? That was the old me thinking, though, and I stopped it right there. It's got nothing to do with me at all. This student made a wise decision to stop when she knew she might be getting in over her head, and I commend her for it. My problem is that I was ill-prepared, and again, not her fault. I should already have this protocol set up, shouldn't I? I mean, that would be the smart thing to do. I've been toying with the idea of starting a small apprenticeship group but I was afraid it might be a conflict of interest with the Academy. Do you see I'm talking myself into this? I am. It's an entirely different animal altogether, what I do with students one-on-one, through workshops, meetings, etc., and what I do online with the Academy. What do you think about this?

Must wait to make any moves on this idea until Mercury is done with its tantrum.

Yesterday's lapsang souchong hydrosol came out well. I'm surprised at how non-offensive it is, given its smoky, leathery, burnt characteristics. I like it. I would recommend its being used as part of a skin care regimen prior to bed since some of the smoky effects might linger into the day if used as part of a morning regimen. Imagine walking into the office and someone asks if you smell barbeque, and then you realize it's your face. Eau de Mo's Deep Pit Pork Barbeque. I'm still gathering lilies in preparation of a distillation -- that may happen either this evening or tomorrow morning, when bag three is filled with sweet smelling lily blossoms. The first run, the test run, I made a few days ago is green with bare hints of sweet floral. I want to intensify that floral bit and I'm hoping these extra three bags will do the trick.

Got off track with the soap yesterday. While I was unpacking even more boxes of aromatics, instead of finding the elements for the soap, I found other things to distract me from my mission, and ended up doing nothing. No soap. A few more bottles crowding up the bench, and a sinking feeling that lack of organization is once again kicking my butt. The storage opportunities here are nonexistent. I did want to tell you about this wonderful vintage, say 1950's or 60's, medical cabinet I found in a sweet little antiques shop in Nipomo a few weeks ago -- good price, and absolutely perfect for storing lots and lots and lots of bottles of raw materials. It's metal with the coated porcelain top, sort of like a tray, on top -- loads of dilution fun to be had there. If it's still available in a few weeks, I'm going to make arrangements to have it delivered. I was fortunate in the last house that it had built-in cabinetry throughout and lots of places to store things so they weren't just hanging about in boxes. Not here. There isn't even a coat closet, or a linen closet. It's as if what little storage there is was an afterthought.

So I'm doing a cleanse, which is why I'm here writing this post and not working on projects. My energy levels are very low. A fair bit of butt draggery is going on. I will do my best, though. I have bags of cedar and juniper and white sage to powder for incense, so I'd best work up the energy to do it.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014


I'm going to make soap today. I keep thinking I want to make something really rich and decadent and lush and whatnot, and my thoughts immediately begin with patchouli because to me, patchouli, especially the aged ones, best represent that idea. But geesh, how many patchouli soaps can I make? So, rethinking the scent combo, maybe something else, maybe some vetyver with rose and some jasmine sambac, a bit of blood orange and something spicy, a touch of cloves perhaps -- ooh, no, nutmeg! Yes, nutmeg, vetyver, rose, jasmine sambac, and blood orange. A year or so ago I made a patchouli soap with a thick ribbon of powdered patchouli leaf running through it -- a layer between the bottom half of the patchouli scented soap, and the top half, which was patchouli and santal and other deliciously scented aromatics. When I first made it, it wasn't all that impressive, I mean, it was nice -- really nice -- but it wasn't spectacular as I'd imagined it would be, BUT -- now a year later, I found an end cut of that soap and man, oh, man, was I wrong. Age turned that little hunk o' soap into this musky, dank, dark, sweet, honied patchouli balm. So I'm wondering if a new line of soaps aren't in order, an overly scented and aged soap, aged like six months, to really set the scent and get that ph balanced out just right.

 Still gathering yellow day lilies for distillation. I have two gallon sized bags full of flowers in the freezer. I suppose that's something else I could work on today. Idle hands and all that.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

New Adventures

The first year's batch of distillation for hydrosol, sea vegetables, a.k.a. seaweed, turned out nice. It was just a test batch, so I didn't put any up for sale. The second, third, and fourth batches, all combinations of white sage with cedar and/or juniper, turned out even better. These were all done in the new glass al embic. Today, however, I changed things up a bit and plucked about a dozen of these lovely yellow daylilies from the garden and distilled them in the copper al embic, utilizing a trick or two to get a true-to-the-flower scent. This will be distilled again with a fresh batch of yellow daylilies day after day until I have something significantly scented to share. I was going to do a co-distillation with honeysuckle, which I'd been plucking and freezing for weeks, but someone, in his infinite wisdom, saw a bag of weeds in the freezer and threw them away while I was out of town. Lesson: Label everything.

As most of you who read this blog know, it's been a rough six or eight months for me. My lovely mum passed in December, then my daughter's friend -- well, it's been truly, truly trying. And to top it all off (and I've been holding this in for some time now) I got a crappy review of -- of me! My products passed muster, even the time in which the order was filled was within the parameters I set for shipping, but I -- me -- myself -- I was a disappointment to this customer. I'm angry at me for not being more attentive and trusting that inkling I had about this customer, though in my defense, I didn't do anything wrong, but I'm also a little unhappy with the customer because, from my point of view, they were just being plain mean. Extenuating circumstances proved they had an axe to grind. The one thing that did kind of tickle me about the review was that I was called a 'hip scent maker' but it was in a condescending way, like I'm too cool to be concerned that I upset this person. I actually laughed out loud (from behind the cringe) when I read it because I'm the last person anybody who knows me would call 'hip', and, dammit, I do care!  That whole situation, I will admit, had me dragging for a while. It was like the icing on a big poop cake -- mum passes, friend of kid passes, another friend of kid passes, step dad passes, someone hates my guts -- ta da! Ain't life grand? Lesson: Don't be sad and 'terse' or people will hate you.

My youngest graduated from high school yesterday, and up until yesterday, I was having a very hard time mustering any excitement for it. But while sitting in the audience, listening to these kids give their speeches, talking about how exciting and adventurous their lives were going to be, I plugged in. Tears started running down my face as I realized that it keeps going on -- hope -- it keeps flowing and raising us up and brings us back from whatever dark place we've been living in. Lesson: There is always hope.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Cedar, White Sage, and Juniper Distillate

I am running around here like a chicken with it's head cut off. There are so many projects I'm working on, packages I'm sending off, busy work -- I'm happy to be working, but, man, my list of things to do never seems to end. Thank the Universe it's all good work, soul-feeding work. I went back home last week and spent some time with my good friend, Shannon Wing, a Native American medicine woman, and one of the finest gardeners I've had the pleasure of knowing. You should see the little food garden that is literally on her back porch. She's got spaghetti squash climbing her front porch trellis, tomatoes, peppers, Mexican squash, and culinary herbs, like, three steps out the back door. It's incredible. The rest of her yard is comprised of medicinal herbs and sacred herbs, like the white sage you see distilling away up there. The hollyhocks growing in her back 40 are as tall as the peak of the roof! And the bees! Bumbles and honeys, just zipping around everywhere. While 'home', we distilled a straight batch of white sage, which I left with Shannon to help her with her work, then we made a sacred blend of cedar, white sage, and juniper. We split that distillate, and Shannon sent me home with bags of fresh cedar, white sage, and more juniper to finish off here. And that's just what I've done. I have a nice, fresh bottle of a sacred blend co-distillate. As you can see from the picture above, there's a wee bit of copper in the retort. Copper is like waving a magic wand over the distillation. I took my copper al embic with me when I went home, but didn't use it. I think the next batches will be done in the copper, especially those tough leafy bits. Flowers and delicate herbs I'll reserve for the glass. The induction heater doesn't work on glass or copper, thus the steel pan. It works beautifully. Heats up in a flash and distills at a consistent temperature for as long as the time programmed into the machine. Very nice when puttering. Before I left, I made a small batch of cocktail grapefruit distillate, but because of the heating element issues, it burned in the still. The resultant oil was orange smoke, and the hydro was gross. But, that's what you do, right? Experiment, play around with stuff, see what works, what doesn't. But, yeah, next time it's copper.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Mmm, I know, it's been a while...

I haven't had much to say lately. Don't really feel like sitting down and trying to be witty or informative or simply spilling my guts. Keeping busy distilling and drying herbs. Getting ready to distill now, hoping to fill a few jars with hydrosol. Until next time.


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