My essay in Publishers Weekly about Scent in Literature

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I have an essay in Publishers Weekly this week about how writers might go about learning how to incorporate scent details in their writing.

As you can imagine, stinky writing is a topic I feel really strongly about. I’m writing my own memoir of a super sniffer right now and I’m abundantly aware of how many ways you can go wrong with scent cues across all genres.

There are many books about scent on the market, but some of my favorites are simply the writers that use scent as a marker of psychological transformation.

I hope that you’ll read “How to Write about Scent” and share, maybe find it useful in your own projects. At the very least, you’ll never read another scent passage without having it jump off the page at you!

Follow me on Twitter @emilygrosvenor. 

The Scent in Literature Project will make your writing stink

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A couple of years ago I started collecting examples of great scent writing — not writing ABOUT scent, per se, but writing that incorporates scent in a way that works well within the context.

Scent writing is like perfume. It needs to not hit you over the head with itself.

I finally decided that I had enough of just having these examples on my own page as a list and figured that organizing them according to genre on their own page meant the most sense. So I acquired www.scentinliterature.com and got this spiffy logo made for the project.

If you go to the site you will see it is in its infancy but now also has  a section where you can “practice” scent writing. I’ve linked to some of my favorite prompts by fellow scent aficionado, Brian Goetzenleuchter, head of the Olfactory Memoir Project.

My request to you:

If you come across some great passages incorporating scent, please send them to me! I will credit you on the site. It can be as simple as snapping a picture of the book you’re reading and sending it to emilygrosvenor [@] gmail.com. Thank you!

 

OLO: Heather Sielaff’s snapshots in a bottle

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PerfumeEvery scent obsessive has a gateway scent, the one that started it all for them. For me, it was OLO’s Dafne — a scent that found me in the dead of winter, much like the daphne bloom itself — and reminded me that life will return soon.

So it was a special surprise for me to discover last winter that Heather Sielaff, the nose behind OLO, had opened a studio and shop on Belmont, one of my favorite streets in Portland.

Visiting a place like this is a pilgrimage of sorts because the decision itself is a value statement. You are saying: I want to give myself half an hour or even a few hours engaging with my sense of smell and imagination in a place free of distraction. I want to stand in the space with the person who created these scents and open myself up to experiencing this person’s way of ordering the world artistically.

It’s a shame there is no corresponding olfactory word for “artist’s vision” that doesn’t rely on seeing.

OLO’s shop, Milk Milk Lemonade, is artfully laid out to feel like a curated space while appreciating the pleasures of a historic building. There I was able to meet Heather for the first time (we had chatted by phone a few years ago), and smell her growing line of artisan perfumes. Sielaff is an artist through and through, giving considerable attention to each choice in the creation and marketing of her scents. She has no interest in holding classes on how to blend and really, I sense, doesn’t like interacting. I say that because it is refreshing, in an age of forced connection, to meet someone who insists on interacting through the creation. She has a nice story about the time she asked a gaffer to create a perfume bottle shaped like a breast, but which was much to expensive to bring to creation commercially.

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These are some of the standout scents I took home with me that day.

Lightning Paw:

This is a happy blend of floral and citrus that nevertheless feels new and fun, like a polka-dot dress on a bright, sunny day. Bergamot and jasmine almost shake off their connection to their natural origins with the addition of a lightly pungent and sassy patchouli. It dries down sweet and mellow with a vanilla note, but overall the effect is to conjure the same feelings as the Innocence Mission song: Bright As Yellow.

Erastus: Tobacco, Whiskey, Wood

Erastus is a Portland scent if there ever was one. Think: drinking whiskey in a library with ironic taxidermy. My problem with this scent is that the images it conjures feel so well established. The whiskey and tobacco scents are excellent, leather-elbowed colleagues. You can almost sense them shaking each others’ hands in an old library. But like all of her scents, it feels authentic, drawn from reality but at the same time curated for effect. For me, the dark nostalgia of this one would feel compelling on a partner but not for personal use.

Wyeth

So here’s something that concerns me about perfumes. If you seek them out, you experience the name first, which is bound to affect how you experience the scent. Imagine the different between picking up a bottle on a counter or just smelling something amazing off someone’s neck? With Wyeth, I was drawn in by the name — I’m a PA girl at heart and Andrew Wyeth’s stark landscapes that somehow allow us to see our world at the same time as experiencing his reality are tattooed in my brain. But this has nothing to do with that. The pine resin is somewhat strong in this but never feels anything less than the aroma generated when walking through a dried Oregon forest. If you want a true geographic scent this is it, though if you tried to pinpoint its point of collection on a map you’d have to find a campsite, in the Oregon coastal foothills, the fire burned down, and you’re walking a path nearby, morning mist departing. That’s right, it’s the Matt Love of perfumes!

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Pepper and flower notes seem to go so well together, soft and sharp meeting to make a full shape, much as a young lover might fall from someone from the other side of the tracks and realize they fit like puzzle pieces. Here it is instantly intriguing, a reminder of what I am drawn to about independent perfumes in the first place. It confounds expectations, gives you a little razzle dazzle at the beginning before leading you by the hand to a place that is more comforting. There, as the scent develops, it wraps you in something more familiar — floral, warm cinnamon and geranium.

Have you tried these or have another favorite? Please share in the comments! Follow Emily on Twitter @emilygrosvenor

 

What the Perfumed Plume awards have to tell us about scent

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PerfumeI won a fragrance writing award! Well, kind of. Actually, this blog won an honorable mention in the first-ever Perfumed Plume fragrance journalism awards.

The blog post called out as a “top entry” in the awards’ inaugural year was “You’re Doing It All Wrong: 8 Signs You Need to Rethink Perfume.” I wrote this one with the sole purpose of getting non-perfumey people interested in perfume and I am thankful for the honor.

I thought it might be fun to look at some of the winners and what they add to the world of fragrance writing this year.

Scent Stories in Mainstream Media, Digital
“That Unattainable Object of Desire: Avon Deneuve by Catherine Deneuve – the Anti-Avon Lady Perfume”
Written by Mark Behnke for Colognoisseur

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The greatness of this story, a look at Catherine Deneuve’s eponymous floral chypre perfume, comes from the counterintiuitive angle — that even an Avon perfume, one with a nightmarish marketing plan and terrible launch — can become a cultural obsession if the scent is right.

Takeaway: Perfume is not just the marketing.

Visualization of Scent Stories, Magazines/Newspapers/Digital
“Perfume as Opera: Madama Butterfly, Carmen and Turandot
written by Jasia Julia Nielson for Michelyn Camen, CaFleureBon

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This sweet story gets at home much perfume has in common with narrative by looking at a scent inspired by Madama Butterfly.

Takeaway: Perfume people experience scent as narrative, and every bottle is a story unto itself.

Scent Stories in Mainstream Media, Magazines – Print & Digital
“Escape Artists,” written by April Long for Elle Magazine

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This is one of those stories that prompt journalists like me to say: Darn it! I wish I wrote that. It’s a profile of perfumers that are taking their inspiration from travel, including one of my all-time favorites, Juniper Ridge.

Takeaway: The world of DIY scrappy perfumers has hit the mainstream.

Science of Scent Stories in Mainstream Media – Magazines/Newspapers/Digital
“Flower Power: Scent, Identity and Culture in the Middle East,
written by Dana El Masri for Michelyn Camen, CaFleureBon

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I found this one a little difficult to read, but appreciate it for the way it unfolds scent’s place in non-Western culture.

Takeaway: Scent’s mystery lies in how it can be both global and personal, exotic and familiar.

Scent Stories in Mainstream Media, Newspapers – Print & Digital
“Power Perfumes Return to the Scene,” written by Rachel Syme for The New York Times

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I adored this trend story about how making a big impression with perfume is coming back into vogue among millenials.

Takeaway: Everything old is new again. Except for the shoulder pads.

Fragrance Book Award: “Fragrant – The Secret Life of Scent,”
written by Mandy Aftel

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Kudos to Mandy Aftel, my mentor and one of the best creative folk I know. Her book Fragrant: The Secret Life of Scent, took home the Perfumed Plume book award. I love Mandy’s appreciation for the materials she works with and this book is an homage to the journey from the natural world to the perfumer’s studio.

Takeaway: If you want dinner party fodder for the rest of your life, read the section on Ambergris and then whip out the Fragrant companion kit to give everyone a sniff.

Want more smelly writing? I’m collecting great scent writing over at the Scent in Literature Project, where you can add your own!

This chair might be the worst household decision I have ever made

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If you’re anything like me, you see an ad for a funeral parlor estate sale and say: SCORE!

But there is so much wrong with taking dead weight home with you, in furniture or otherwise. So bear with me while I explain how one little orange chair became the bane of my existence and started challenging everything I know about myself.

But first, the estate sale, in Salem, OR, where a century’s worth of death and grief was sold off one day last January to a throng of voracious vulture people. The place was dead by the time we got there around, but I know how these things work. I’m sure the estate sale team was hoping to have everything sold by the next mourning and most of the stuff was gone fast.With any kind of garage sale journey or estate sale hopping, patience and creativity pay off.  You really have to urn it.

The wall-sized tapestries had angry SOLD signs on them, most of the funeral letterpress blocks were already gone, and the light fixtures had already been dismantled from the walls and ceilings. But this chair was still there, over in a corner with some stuff on it, and Adam said I cadaver. I’m sure I know what he was thinking. “If I let her walk away from this tangerine dream I widower, big time!”

But he also warned me:

It’s pretty smelly.

But I must have been in some kind of mood because I had to have it. There was no RIP in sight, and the color. The color! Do they even make that color anymore? The color locked me in, and I didn’t even smell the thing until we were headed back to McMinnville, the chair in the back of our Ford Escape.

From the back it swept towards me, just like in Scooby-Doo, at the point when the ghost is going to appear. How a smell so dead could be so alive in such a small space is a mystery to me. To paraphrase Thomas Hardy:

“The smell in the back was the deadest thing / alive enough to have strength to die.”

Okay, time to break out the Febreeze, I thought.

All puns aside, this has actually been happening a lot to me lately. Wake-the-dead awful smells. In fact, 2016 was the winter of bad smells. Ask me about the time I blamed our neighbor for the rankness in our backyard when it was really coming from our own compost. Or the time when our 6-year-old left a cup of hot chocolate in the backseat of my husband’s car, turning the Subaru into a Turkish bath of slightly sweetened rotten milk.

But while I could easily blame someone else for those particular scents, this chair was something I couldn’t fob off on someone else. I am taking ownership of this one. This is all me. This chair is what happens when, for a moment, you forget who you are and you make a decision based on the old you.

The old me liked watching episodes of Daria, thought dead baby jokes were funny, cried for at least 43 minutes when Nate died in the second-t0-last episode of Six Feet Under, secretly harbored a deep envy while reading Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, her memoir of growing up in a funeral parlor. I liked that person. Even if there was a profound lack of hope in the ideas I aligned myself to.

But there seems to be no room for darkness since I’ve turned 30. Every decision I make seems tailored to surround myself with light, and that includes the objects I have in my home. Since buying my first home and building a life there with my family I’ve started getting rid of everything that smacks of the dark. I want to feel like I am stepping into a pair of cupped hands when I come home.

So, the chair. Josh from Mighty Clean went at it while doing our carpets recently, and it sat in the garage all winter, stinking up my husband’s work space. When the sunny days returned in March we put it outside, where it sat — looking very good I might add — in the yard and aired out. I was able to machine-wash the seat cover. I let the kids attack it with Febreeze. When that didn’t work, we hand-washed it with soap and water and let it air out some more.

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I wonder now, about people who leave couches on their porch. It is as if the feeling that couch engenders is so mixed — not being able to part with it, not willing to let its slow death happen inside.

The kids love the chair, by the way. They want nothing more than to sit on it and eat Popsicles.

The other day my friend Molly came over to visit. Molly’s home feels like cupped hands, mostly because she and her husband built it by hand (that’s so Oregon!). I really wanted to know what she thought, whether she was okay with the chair there in our circle, knowing its past. When I ask for reassurance I am really asking: Am I okay? Or am I nuts? Can you help me decide?

Molly said the chair is magic, that it has held people as they grieved for fifty years. That grief is beautiful, that we go to funeral parlors to honor and remember. I am starting to believe what she said, to think that what she said changed my attitude about the chair. I am questioning how I ever thought a chair this orange could be anything less than uplifting.

I am calling it the Good Grief Chair.

 

Daring greatly on a small project: My Tessalation! Kickstarter just launched

Have you ever struggled to get a creative project out in the world? Have you ever been drawn in five directions and not known where to put your creative energies?

This is the place I found myself in last December. I had been chugging along on five wildly different creative endeavors, waiting for one of them to explode or even just puff out modestly so I could focus on one project entirely.

It was fear holding me back. How do I choose which one will be successful? How do I know that my time will matter if I throw all my irons in one basket? Why can’t I learn how to stop mixing metaphors?

For several weeks I asked every creative I know what to do. Which one should I choose? I asked them all.

Choose the one you love, they said.

I love all of them, I said.

Choose the one that makes you happy, they said.

They all make me happy, I said.

Choose the one you want to work on right now, they said.

But I want to work on all of them! I said.

So there’s the rub. I love my work, and I love it across genres. Ever single minute of it. Even the dental marketing I do. But I had this nagging feeling that any one of these projects could really explode if I could just concentrate on one of them. How to pick?

Then came creative guru Jessica Abel’s post on Idea Debt and The One Goal to Rule Them All. It wasn’t rocket science she put forth in those two posts, but they let me know exactly what I needed to hear.

Just pick one.

Pick one of your ideas.

Pick one and trust you can make it happen (I added that last part).

So I did.

I picked one thing that I know I can make happen and I’m doing it, in a big way. It has nothing to do with anything that has ever earned me a paycheck in the past (fear!) and I can’t be sure if it will ever be any good (loathing!) and it involves more bells and whistles than anything else that I’ve done before (Las Vegas!).

I’m launching a Kickstarter for my children’s book today!

So what is this all about?

Tessalation! is a children’s picture book about wonder, creativity and the great outdoors. It’s stars a little half-Asian 8-year-old named Tessa, who gets sent outside. There, she discovers a thrilling beauty in the patterns of nature.

I hope you’ll check out the Kickstarter and share it with anyone you think will love it! It’s been a passion project for me and I am so thrilled to see it going out into the world!

And if you’re struggling with which of your projects to pursue, I’d to take Ms. Abel’s advice and pick one.

Just one.

And blow it up to the high heavens!

The real reason your essay isn’t ready yet

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HouseA couple of months ago I learned that an essay I had been sending out for over a decade was going to be published in Good Housekeeping. The payment I would receive for it would be the largest single check I’ve gotten for an essay.

It ran in the print version (p. 71 of the March issue in case you’re interested) and online as well.  It tells the story of my mother’s open house obsession — her habit of taking me with her while she dreamed of life in larger, shinier, more beige homes than ours.

I can’t say that I didn’t love touring open houses, too. I love to dream. But for a long time I was angry about it. Angry, because I had this churning need for variety in my surroundings, the kind of wind blowing inside me that made me feel like I would never be able to settle down. I was sure that no box would ever be able to contain me. I was mad at my mom especially, for sending me this tacit message that there was always something better somewhere else.

I started writing my open house essay in 2003. My first reader for it was a man named Dan Fu, who found my book of scribblings when I left it in a San Francisco stairwell. He read the whole thing, all of my interior musings, and sent it back to me (I had smartly including my email address in the book somewhere). He wished me luck, said I had talent. You could say Dan Fu was my first reader.

I went on to sell the essay a few years later,  to a far lesser publication than Good Housekeeping and in a far lesser form. It got killed last-minute, that’s how much the editor loved it. In the years since, I have picked it up from time-to-time, reworked it based on new experiences and information, changed a lot because I’ve changed a lot.

But the essay was not ready for the world, not by a long shot. When I first started writing these kinds of short-form essays/memoir I remember a teacher explaining them as a gyre, that you have to circle circle circle the true meaning until you find the true one. Later, taking classes at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, MD, I remember my work and other writers’ work, right there near the end of the essay. We were all trying to pin our butterflies to the board as best we could, but often there was a comment. You’re close, but the ending needs re-working. Just the ending of course. Just the entire meaning of your suffering.

Here’s the thing we all forget about essays as we’re trying to send them out into the world and move on with our lives. If your ending needs reworking, then you are not close at all. You might be ten years away from being close. You might be waiting for something called grace, to have fought against yourself and your ideas of the world so long until there is an opening to walk through. Your essay isn’t ready yet because you are too young, too angry, your perspective is off by an inch, you haven’t learned anything real yet.

Your essay isn’t ready yet because you are not finished.

My essay will have this one month in the sun and then it will be recycled magazine, but that’s not really why I write these things. I am writing for that moment when I, with my story, have something of lasting meaning to offer the world. I’ll probably never stop the endless re-writing and searching for that feeling the feeling of doneness, but I’m getting a lot more patient, with myself, with the process.

It’s the same story with every new essay. Put it away. Look at it later. Let yourself change and then learn something better from it.

 

Oregon Truffle Festival on Vine

PerfumeI got on Vine this week while at the Oregon Truffle Festival. Just so many little scenes I felt like pictures just wouldn’t do them justice.

The Oregon Truffle Festival, now in its 11th year, is an all-in aromatic adventure, the perfect place for a super-sniffer like me to explore the connection between olfaction and food culture. Please enjoy these! There’s more to come!

 

These are all immature Oregon winter white truffles found in a Douglas fir forest southwest of Eugene.

The moment when truffle dog Mila found her first French truffle on a truffle orchard near Corvallis..

Truffles shaved on top of pasta a a truffle tasting event.

Oregon black truffle-infused foie gras at the Grand Dinner.

If you’re on Vine you can follow me @emilygrosvenor!

Your Blog, Even Better: Take a blogging class with me

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Here’s something you might not know about me. I currently have five blogs. 1. This one. 2. A blog for my children’s book. 3. A blog for my Social Dentist empire. 4.  A blog for our family business 5. A blog for the creative writing festival I help steer.

Is having five blogs crazy?

Yes.

And yes about four more times.

But I adore blogging and each venture has its own pleasurable rewards. I’m unstoppable, really. And that’s a good thing, because if you’re blogging, you can’t really stop, can you?

Last summer a friend and I wrote a grant proposal to get a series of writing workshops of the ground in our rural community in Yamhill County, Oregon.  Our goal was to really offer people classes they wanted, so for the first time ever, I will be offering my blog class to the public.

Well, it worked! We got the grant and now we are launching the workshop series. It’s called WordStudio, and if you’re interested in writing and you live in Yamhill County, you should check out the writers hosting workshops!

I’m hosting the first workshop and I’m calling it Your Blog, Even Better. It’s geared towards people who are either launching a new blog project or are interested in improving their existing blog. Basically, you can come to this course as long as you are not going to ask me how to set up a blog from the technical end. It’s all about content creation, here, folks!

The catch, of course, is that you have to be able to come to McMinnville (poor you, having to visit Oregon wine country!). But the details are thus:

February 29, March 7, 14 and 18 at Flag & Wire Coffeehouse
6:30-8:00 p.m.
Cost: $75

Requirements: We won’t be discussing HOW to set up a blog. We’ll be talking about conceiving blog posts,  building audience, and above all, writing your blog as if you were a magazine editor.

Interested? You can register by downloading the PDF here.

 

The coolest Airbnb in North Portland, Oregon

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We stayed at the most adorable and perfect AirBnB in Northeast Portland. You can pull it up on the Airbnb site as the “Authentic Alberta Arts Abode.” Just $115 a night, this little basement apartment encapsulated everything to me about why short-term rentals of private spaces poses such a challenge for the traditional hospitality industry. That’s just a fancy way of saying I loved it so much I knew as soon as I stepped into the main room that I was never going to want to leave.

Normally the words “basement” and “apartment” don’t go together in my world, but my general attitude about being on the bottom floor doesn’t apply to this place. It’s small — perfect for two people — and the smallness makes it difficult to capture, in photos, the essence of what makes it so wonderful.

So here’s a game I like to play wherever I go. Describe a space in two words. Just two. You have to pick two ideas that work together in a space to make something different.

My husband and I sat each evening just looking around, trying to pinpoint just how one might describe the aesthetic of our Airbnb. It felt so idiosyncratic, so personal and yet professionally done, that we wondered if the owners had hired a Portland stylist to come decorate the place. A quick look at the owner’s house will tell you that they are the kind of enterprising people who believe in doing things themselves, and I was later able to confirm with the owner that styling the space is her art.

The two-word descriptor we came up with was “Pendleton Retro.” “Pendleton” because the objects in the rooms highlighted some of the more iconic motifs of the West, specifically of the Pacific Northwest. “Retro” because the art, appliances and a few objects harken back to the Eisenhower Era.

Maybe we cheated by using a brand name this time (and all of its associations), but I’m sticking with it.

The host owners here go out of their way to make the experience amazing. Every detail has been carefully chosen but feels intimate and gracious.

Ease of Access. It couldn’t be easier that to get a code from a host, drive to the property, punch in the code and walk inside. (Clearly I’m not showing you the outside of this place for privacy’s sake).

Food in the house. We spent our two days eating around Portland, but it was refreshing and comforting to know that we had pancake mix, drinks, a cookie jar filled with Snickers minis, Lucky Charms, and some of those vacuum-sealed Indian foods if we got hungry.

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Welcoming materials. Penelope left us a bottle of wine (which we didn’t drink or take), as well as travel magazines and materials in a piece of vintage luggage.

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Truly stellar books. I’m a former book reviewer, and I was over the moon to see a startlingly well-curated selection of highly readable fiction and nonfiction on all the shelves.

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The comfiest of beds. I was a little concerned that the bed nook might be a little claustrophobia-producing, but it is the opposite: Cozy-as-can-be. We arrived at 1 p.m. and I promptly fell asleep for two hours after reading a few pages. The linens were perfect.

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Sconces galore. I now get the power of the sconce, after being in a place that had (?) eight of them.

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A judging matriarch. There’s this awesome portrait of a woman hung on the wall next to the couch. I named her Betty. Wasn’t everyone named Betty in the mid-20th century? We told some stories about her during our visit.

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Clean clean clean. Old Portland houses can feel a little dirty unless they are cared for properly. No problem here!

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A personal itinerary. The hosts picked out their favorite neighborhood places in this giant list hung near the door. If living like a local is your thing when you travel, I can’t think of a better tool. Again, it’s the personal recommendations. The difference between a brochure rack at a hotel and a good friend texting their faves.

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What a perfect way to spend a 37th birthday!  The trip totally made up for not getting my dream present of a room full of 37 floating Mylar balloons a la that exhibit at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.

I’ll be posting a couple of other highlights from our Portland adventure in the coming weeks. I was able to finally meet one of my perfuming heroes, Heather Siellaff of OLO perfume and had my to-date best meal at a place on Alberta.

Where’s your favorite Airbnb in the world? Please share with me since I’m always planning my next trip!