Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Trials of an Incenseur

The past seven days have been rife with tragedy and confusion. I'm not ready to get into those things right now, but what I will talk about here is the burst of creative energy that the tragedy has inspired. This spark, this fireball of energy to create, dispels the myth I tell myself about being paralyzed by stress and anxiety, because in the past week I have been a knotted ball of stress and anxiety. I was already set on the path before the tragic event took place, and fully expected to be derailed, like, completely, setting back all of forward motion gained. I basically took a vacation from creativity after finishing the book, and I was struggling to relight the spark. Yes, I did a few things here and there, just enough to keep the shop open. I wasn't dedicated to it, though. I wasn't invested as I should have been. That sounds really stupid for a person trying to make a living creating this type of art to admit. Because it is stupid. Foolish. I foolishly believed that the book would be well-received, and it has not been, and that it would generate the kind of income, however small, that might afford some off time from creating scent so that I could work on more books. Like I said, I've been foolish. There would be no books if I didn't work hard at the art. A not-so-vicious circle there, and a valuable lesson.

In the past three weeks I have created five incense compounds; three to completion, two in the works, with more to come.  One of the finished three, a stick Kyphi, won't stay lit and has to be re-lit several times. It smells amazing; a true-to-Kyphi scent. I've been sending a few in each order as free gifts with little notes to re-light, re-light, re-light. Another, the one with an antique (70 yo) Mysore sandalwood oil and hyacinth extrait, burn beautifully -- and expensively. Those dolls go for 3$ a piece because they have to. Anything less would be giving them away. The scent is extraordinarily gorgeous -- pure, sweet, buttery sandalwood with a shimmer of hyacinth. The final finished incense is another stick version, very strongly scented, spicy and warm and dark. Those burn perfectly. The two undone batches are completely different from one another -- and I've just last night worked out on paper the bones of a new incense, loose grains, made with lots of fabulous raw materials that I've been playing around with. Like blue lotus paste, and a refreshing boswellia thurifera frankincense resin, and propolis. Back to the two in the works: one is a Kyphi, which won't be done for months yet, and the other is melding, that magic time when the ingredients sit with each other for a while before moving on to being shaped or whatever. I made a few test cones from the batch of melding powder and sprinkled them with copper-gold frosty glitter.

I haven't decided yet if the final rolling will be cones this large (4 grams), or if they'll be dusted as the test batch has been. The name of this incense is Tents of Kedar. There are all sorts of animalic notes in this blend, lots of dark, smoky tones. It's sexy.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

How Much Wood Could a Wood Chuck Chuck if a Wood Chuck Could Chuck Wood? And if a Wood Chuck Chucked Lots of Wood(s), Which Ones Would Kill Him?

For the past week or so I've been almost literally elbow deep in incense paste. I've got several batches done, with several more in the works. Before I begin any work on an incense, I research the ingredients I plan to use in them for issues of toxicity, and a few of the woods I have, like yew, cannot be used for incense making (or much else except wands) as they are extremely toxic. In the research I found, one source placed a little skull and crossbones next to the yew entry. That should tell you something. Despite this disheartening news (yew is a potent magical wood), I was surprised to learn that there are very few woods that are extremely toxic, and most are simply given the warning of 'irritant', as in breathe enough and it will irritate your lungs. Like smoking tobacco. Or huffing glue. If you're huffing incense, you need to be kicked in the pants. Either side will do.

“Not to omit any one of them, the yew is similar to these other trees in general appearance . . . It is an ascertained fact that travellers’ vessels, made in Gaul of this wood, for the purpose of holding wine, have caused the death of those who used them.”
–Pliny the Elder, from Naturalis Historia, ca. 77 AD

Most of the danger with these various exotic woods I'm using in incense is to me. I'm the one who is daily being bombarded with microscopic dust particles which manage to worm their way under the face mask. I'm the one blowing charcoal and sandalwood out of my nose every night before bed. I'm the one who suffers the low-grade sinus issues that persist. I am trying to remedy this exposure by also daily washing my sinuses, and now wearing a face mask any time I use the spice grinder or when mixing and stirring dry ingredients. The face mask basically hangs off my neck like a scarf all day long until I need it. What the long-term effects of near daily exposure to even the smallest bits of dust are having on my lungs is unknown at this point. I am lately being VERY serious about safety since I don't want what I love doing most in the world to ultimately be the cause of my early demise. In other words, I don't want to die from incense exposure. It seems an awfully silly way to go.

I'm less concerned about the resins since most of those are medicinal, but a mask is worn while grinding those as well. This has been a week of revelation for me. I've learned a few techniques for preparing the raw materials for inclusion into incense which I am not at the moment willing to share. Trade secrets and whatnot. What I will say is that a lot of the techniques I learned and use in perfumery are coming in handy with this current obsession. And I'm taking a lot of chances. My former modus operandi would be to research, research, research, find the most intriguing way to creating, modify it to my tastes, and then grind out the work. Now I'm doing a ton more research, on all varying forms and manner of creating incense, finding rare and unusual ingredients, and adding to my work things which no sane person would add -- like 50 milliliters of evaporated hyacinth extrait. Or a few milliliters of an extremely rare antique Mysore sandalwood, circa 1945. This makes the incense more expensive than your average joss stick, but the payoff -- man, I can't even tell you how gorgeous some of these pastes are turning out. I spent the better part of the early morning burning some of these newly born incense, and I am not disappointed. Someone used to Strawberry Fizz and Fairy Wings & Peaches would be disappointed by the work I'm putting out, but someone who knows oud from a potato peel would appreciate this stuff very much.

I'm off to the grind stone.

Source:The Wood Database, Eric Meier, Wood Allergies and Toxicity

Working Hard, or Hardly Working?

You know you're really working the incense hard when you blow your nose and Kyphi comes out.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Rare Air Natural Incense ~ Coming Soon to the Thurifercorum

Rare Air Natural Incense ~ in no particular order, this incense is made with santal wood, rosa damascena petals, boswellia carterii, boswellia sacra Omani, rose geranium/frankincense hydrosol, hyacinth extrait, 70-year-old sandalwood oil Mysore, infusion of Solstice moonbeams

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Fibbing and Whatnot

Ah, so, maybe I lied a little. F12016~CH wasn't quite done - not to my liking, anyway. That opening kept me awake all night so I got up and got to playing and came up with a fix. Now it's done. For reals this time ~ ha!

I won't tell you what I did, but it's more lovely than it was before. Yesterday I asked my friend John to nose test it for me, before I made the changes. I'm not sending him any information about it at all -- I want a raw reaction. Let's hope for the best.

Still working on some crazy stuff here -- some things that will be ready in the next few days. I'm curious how they will be received as they aren't the normal goods I offer. And there are a lot of experiments on the bench at the moment as well -- stuff I'm not talking too much about because, well, they're experimental. So far one of the experiments exceeded my wildest expectations. A chunk of pine resin with dirt and bugs + a vat of etoh + evaporation = yummmmmm!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

F12016-CH Part Deux, or Trois?

This stuff.

Is done.

It has finally turned the corner in terms of maturation.

In all honesty, this almost got poured down the toilet. There were a few weeks there where I thought it wasn't going well -- at all. For example, when I first returned from the road trip, I had expected it to have changed considerably in those 9 days, but to my disappointment, it hadn't changed a bit. So I've left it alone, continuing to harbor ill-will toward it until this morning when I tested it again (skin) and discovered something different. The opening kills me every time I smell it, and the relationship I was building with this perfume was on very shaky ground because of this. It opens as piercingly berryish with a distinctive violet wash, which under normal circumstances would thrill me, but it seemed this was all there was to the perfume for a long time. Things changed during the weeks it sat unmolested. It turns sweet and almost candied, like someone shook a marshmallow under the nose for, like, 1/10th of a second; then it becomes powdery and almost ambery, and has this amazing Mitsouko-like tonality (just a wisp), and then it begins to settle into delicate mossiness with lots and lots of ribbons of bright leafy greens and soft, powdery violets, and sweet, juicy berries. As it continues to burn off, the mossy aspects show more, and a slight musky, primal note appears. It's all very subtle and sweet, and surprising as hell! It has this lovely vintage feeling to it, which is part of the perfume I love the most.

I'm sure given a few more months, this formulation will improve, as they usually do.

And, sure, this is alchemy too, mostly because what you begin with is not at all what you end with. Remember that, students of natural perfumery. A few months of ageing is often all it takes to make something screechy and full of pointy spines into something soft and warm. What I have discovered about myself and natural perfume 'building' is this: when I feel a formulation isn't doing what I've designed it to do, I lose hope of ever becoming a better perfumer. However, when the formulation turns a corner, like this one has, and I see that all my efforts have paid off (to some extent), I realize that I am learning more about my craft, I am improving, and my instincts and intuition aren't really as fuzzy and as blurred as I had imagined. Crisis of confidence averted.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

House of Voodoo


I'm better now.

It kind of was a sinus/allergy thing, among other things, that had me down in the dumps. I think I'm allergic to California, because ever since we got back from our southern states' trip, the sinuses have flared. My nose loves the humidity, but the rest of me can't hang.

A lot has happened since I posted here last, which wasn't all that long ago -- a few days maybe? Shootings and more politics than can be fit into a moon-sized thimble. Horrifying, all of it. We'd better get our sh*t together, and the only way that's going to happen is to LISTEN to one another. Shut the pie hole and hear what the 'other' side is saying.


I was able to work a little on some projects while I was down for the count. I'm not really going to talk about them except to say that I'm leaning toward alchemy more than toward classical perfumery-type projects. It's an evolution. Going back to the roots of my work circa 1997, now with almost 20 years of experience under my belt, and a lot more finesse in the game. I had believed that my truncated trip to New Orleans was a dud, as in, I didn't learn anything. But I did. I learned something very important whilst rummaging through the goods at Marie Laveau's House of Voodoo on Bourbon Street -- I learned that simple is best. I know, I've said that before, but for some gawdawful reason, I always try to complicate the hell out of stuff in an effort to make the stuff better (there is a life lesson there). Again, simple is best. Some of the things I saw at the voodoo shop were eye popping, like the alters, and the wee museum in the back room, and the sign that basically read, 'laugh all you want, non-believers, but this sh*t is real to us, and you laugh at your own peril', or something like that. It made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, as if there were eyes staring from every corner and shelf. It was somewhat disconcerting, but also very exhilarating, y'know? Like, yeah, I knew that, but damn, now it's for sure . . . and everything. The lesson there, as best as I could discern, is that things don't have to be complicated to be effective. There was stuff in that store that a two-year-old could probably make with some help from a five-year-old, but those things embodied so much more than the wood and reeds and leaves and felt and feathers that it took to put them together. Magic and art don't need to be complicated to be real, or appreciated.

Speaking of art in it's simplest form, I was able to pick up a piece of local art in N'awlins' Jackson Square for a song --

It hangs in the upstairs hallway so it's the first thing I see when I'm coming down the stairs. I interpret it as meaning nobody cares what you want to do because they're too busy figuring out what the heck they want to do. Right? Not like nobody cares about you. Or maybe it just means that cats are a-holes.

A month or so ago I also picked up this little book --

It's a trip. There is sooooooo much information here, but it does, at times, seem a bit jumbled. Then again, lots and lots of great, useful information on perfumery.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Bleakity Bleak Bleakiness

Un. Motiv. Ated.


What to do?

I think this all boils down to the big change with the kids moving and taking the babies (well, they weren't going to leave them here, right?) And my ill-perceived belief that I'm losing it -- it being whatever bit of magic that makes my wares so special to some people. I know this isn't true. It's the allergic reaction to the cat that's talking, or the downswing in sales this past month, or the crappy book review (of my book) that I just read, or -- existential crisis much? I used to get these 'meaning of my life' depressive pits more often when I was younger, say 20 or so years ago; not so much these days, but still often enough that it throws life into chaos with a tailspin imminent, or what passes as a tailspin for me -- lack of motivation, feeling entirely uninspired, wondering what the fck I have to contribute, and why I should even try. I'll get through it. I always do, and then often kick out something from the recesses of my darkened, gelatinous mind that even I wonder at. I must be on the tail end of this 'crisis' or I wouldn't have offered myself that bit of light.

This bleak outlook I'm suffering from might also have to do with the hubs being off work for a month. It's depressing as hell being treated like a five-year-old who can't seem to manage going for a walk without his majesty tagging along to keep me 'safe'; talking non-stop, oohing and ouching, complaining about this or that, and generally making what should be an exhilarating experience of peace and tranquility and 'being one with nature', blah, blah, blah, an experience of -- well, bleakness! Geesh. I'm pretty sure if a bear were to pop out of the woods where I walk, I could outrun hubs fairly easily, so maybe that's how he's planning to keep me safe, acting as bear bait. I just for once would like to go shopping without his majesty breathing down my neck asking if I wouldn't like to buy this brand over that brand, or something else entirely, or maybe come back another day -- a carrot is a carrot, for sh*t's sake!

The bleakness may also be a result of this absurd, ridiculous, criminal, crappy presidential race. That's all I'm going to say about it. Well, one more thing -- BLEAK!

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Out of Lavender Oil!

Continuing on with the tea shop soaps, I discovered as I was gathering everything to create the scent formulation for the Lavender Earl Grey Tea Soap that I am completely out of true lavender oil. I have spike and the absolute of lavandula angustifolia, but no oil to be found (easily). I think somewhere in the Harry Potter Closet is a box of just lavender oils that I received as samples from a grower in Texas, and then more of lavenders I ordered from Samara Botane some years ago, but I can't find them just yet. The best thing about being a perfumer and a soap maker is that when nice oils reach their date of expiration for use in perfumery, they can be tossed into a batch of soap no problem.

The guys are working on the garage to get it organized and situated so that I can make myself a little studio of sorts in there, and then I can get my stuff organized and situated and start on ramping production. Until then, I work with what will fit on the kitchen table, which isn't much. I'm still compounding this damned incense that I can't seem to get where I want it, and I have to get some Kyphi brewing very soon as I'm almost completely out of the stuff. It's not a matter of motivation anymore, but a matter of time and space. I have no time to go digging about for raw materials, and I have no space to put the materials once I get them dug up from whatever never ending pit of aromatics they've been tossed into. Once I get a proper studio -- either in the garage or off site -- all of these issues will be resolved. And, for the record, I'm still keeping my eye on that off site space. So far, no movement. I persist.

This new incense I'm working on is giving me fits. The first compounding session left me with raging sinus inflammation because I forgot to wear my mask while grinding and mixing the powders, and I very nearly blew up my herb grinder by cleaning it with alcohol, as I have always done, except this time I didn't give it the requisite hour or two of drying time after the cleaning, and when I turned it on, a wee explosion shot soot from the inner workings of the grinder. I thought for sure it was a goner. A few hours later, I bravely plugged it into a socket and gently pressed the 'on' button and nothing terrible happened. It whirred away like it never had its a** on fire. The list of ingredients (thus far) for this new incense are, and in no particular order:

Omani frankincense
Makko (Japanese bay)
Balsamo wood (Tolu)
Bois d'Rose wood
Kauri wood
Bergamot peel
Musk sage (Clevelandii)
Hawaiian sandalwood
Bamboo charcoal
Organic Thai Khao Ya (?) oud wood

Hopefully, the new batch will look something like this, only with myrrh resins clinging to the outside

The goal is something soothing and calm (as most of the incenses I create are themed upon -- notice a trend here?) and dark and animalic. There are a few other things I plan to add before either rolling the paste onto sticks, or making cones or incense chips, whichever works out best. I hope that by this evening I have the paste ready to roll, or at least by the end of the week -- incense isn't something that can be rushed or manipulated.

Monday, June 06, 2016

SCOBY and Bergamot Lavender Kombucha

SCOBY is the acronym for Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast -- yeah, fermenting stuff. I purchased a SCOBY from a nice lady on Etsy because it's faster than trying to grow one on your own, and it can be a little bit difficult. I happened to grow one in my apple cider vinegar, though for the whole month it was fermenting, the little SCOBY got no larger than a quarter. So, purchased one online, and made the first batch of kombucha, which turned out perfectly, then started the second fermentation with some bergamot juice I saved from the boxes of bergs from January, and then a fat handful of organically grown lavender buds with some sugar. The secondary fermentation is where the tasty stuff happens; all the little yeasts and bacteria (the good ones) dance around and eat the sugar and mulch the botanicals until it's this big, beautiful feast of tummy goodness. Plus it's a little bit alcoholic, around 1% or less, which makes it more fun to drink even if you're just imagining the buzz.

My fermenting things carried on beautifully while I was away -- the kombucha is semi-filtered and super bubbly and delicious, though next time I think I'll use a little more sugar in the secondary fermentation if I'm planning to use sour citrus for flavor. Has an extra bit of tarty punch. My second batch (first fermentation) of kombucha is ready for filtering and bottling, but I'm saving that for later this week while I make space in the fridge for what appears to be a kombucha hurricane. I think I'll flavor this batch with some rose water, switch things up a big. The apple cider vinegar just got strained and is sitting for another month to bump the vinegary-ness. In a few days I will separate out two pints; one for frankincense resin to be added, the other for myrrh resin to be added. We'll see how much damage these anti-bacterial resins can do to a bacteria rich medium. The point is to infuse the resins into the vinegar to create lovely face washes and toners. It's all experimental at this point. Applied alchemy.

Bergamot & Lavender Kombucha ~ YUM!

Sunday, June 05, 2016

A Word or Two About Soap, and Sage

Coming home to unfinished projects while spending a good deal of time on the road thinking about all of those unfinished projects is probably not the best way to occupy one's mind while traveling. I fretted over the cider vinegar, worried that the kombucha might have blown its top, wrung my hands over the perfume that's ageing and the incense base that's 'becoming'. And I was thinking about all of the projects on the list yet to begin -- the tea shop soaps, the rebatches of perfume, the vinegar infusions, the masses and masses of incense awaiting life. I even toyed with the idea for a bit of using an organic melt and pour soap base to make some of the soap, but then talked myself out of it. It would save me so much time but would probably make for less than my standard of soap. So I'm switching gears to make hot process soap for a while, just to get some good scent results as I'm finding I'm using more and more scenting elements that are, well, painfully expensive. Hot process allows for most of the scent to 'stick' rather than saponify away as scent does in cold process. I just have to be careful not to make rancid butter soap. Plus, I'm not a huge fan of the hot process soap's texture. Sounds like I'm talking myself out of that option as well!

One of the elements used in the incense I'm creating right now is musk sage, or Clevelandii, blue sage -- my friend Shannon has a HUGE musk sage growing at her farm and my hope is to get over there and distill some of it. The leaves are so perfumey-fragrant, like a combination of sweet florals (think alyssum) and musk, very strong, heady, gorgeous. I have a wee baby musk sage that's been living in a small container for two years that I finally put to earth a little over a month ago. It just bloomed with a single lovely blue bud, something it's never done before. It's part of the chaparral, so it thrives in dry, arid regions, which is what California in general is anymore. I water it maybe once every two weeks and it seems to enjoy that arrangement. I wait most impatiently for it to finally do what Shannon's has done -- get enormous and block the sidewalk. The musk sage adds a very distinctive floral/musk tone to the incense overall. It's sweet and warm and makes you want to really dig into the scent.

I debated whether to write more about the NOLA trip and decided probably not so much. I could talk about the food for days, and I could complain about my less-than-adventurous traveling buddies for the rest of my life, but what would be the point? None of it has anything to do with fragrance (except maybe the food).

Saturday, June 04, 2016

New Orleans Post #1

New Orleans was fabulous, what little I got to enjoy of it, because of that schedule, y'know. We were gone over a week and spent probably 6 hours total in NO, with 4 of those hours sitting in restaurants or waiting for a tour guide. So. On day two, I was insistent that there were places I wanted to go in NO that I wasn't going to miss, even if it meant the schedule was shot to shit. I didn't sit in the backseat of a car for three days just to stretch my legs for a minute in NO and then scurry off to somewhere less 'dangerous'. I still didn't get to the French Market, and I didn't get to have beignets at Cafe du Monde, as I had planned. For two days, that's all I asked for -- that and Marie Laveau's House of Voodoo -- everything else was just window dressing. I got one of the three. Am I disappointed? What do you think? Next time -- and there will be a next time -- I'm going without the anxious scheduler and I'm going to explore to my heart's content. Except for Bourbon Street. Once I caught a whiff of vomit on the sticky, humid air, and saw a dead, bloated rat lying next to an ice cream wrapper on the sidewalk, I decided the party street probably wasn't for me. Apparently, that image is what the scheduler based all of his perceptions of New Orleans. He didn't say a word to me, but when we made it back home, he told anyone who would listen that 'New Orleans is filthy' and 'crime ridden', and full of bums and junkies, and stank like puke and rotting garbage, and that he'd seen enough and wouldn't be returning, and kept repeating the phrase, *"Murder Capital of America". Really? All I could think the whole time he was saying those things is did we go to the same place? I mean, yeah, there are elements of that (just like in every large city), but there was also the Garden District, and everywhere else in the French Quarter that wasn't Bourbon Street, and the Mississippi River, and the wonderful food, and the historic shops and houses, the people of NO, and the artists around Jackson Square, and the St. Louis Cathedral, and the history of the place, and did I mention the wonderful food? I saw potential for more exploration, and he'd 'seen enough'. Geesh.

*New Orleans ranked 7th in the nation for murders in 2015, just behind Gary IN, Detroit, and St. Louis. Since 2014, it has fallen on the list from 4th to 7th.


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