The Scent of New Beginnings


perfume-1Well, it’s here.

I came home yesterday after a weekend retreat with some friends at Opal Creek ancient heritage forest to discover that Mandy Aftelier’s Workbook One for novice perfumers arrived in the mail on Saturday.

Did you ever order something so completely outside of your realm of expertise off the Internet, have it arrive in a beautiful package and then have an out-of-body experience, where you wonder who you are to have done this and how dare you and what does this mean? And then that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach: What have I gotten myself into?

That is me, holding Workbook One, knowing that the fact that there is a Workbook One means that there is also a Workbook Two out there, and perhaps even more.

I am the last person in the world to be starting a new hobby. I have two kids under the age of three, a husband who is, if you can believe it, even more into cuddling than I am, a writing business, a family business, a part-time volunteering job at my son’s school, a house, two cats, a garden, a quilting obsession, and a strong belief that all of us should be doing less.

I am also, apparently, a crazy person who orders giant at-home perfuming courses.

Something happened to me several months ago. I was shopping in Portland and came across Heather Sielaff’s line of natural perfumes, OLO. The were just lovely, like nothing I’d ever encountered before. I started wearing Dafne, which was mixed to smell like the daphne flower that blooms in this area of the country at the end of February.

I want to bloom in winter, too!

It was something I actually wanted to put on my body — not the overpowering, chemically commercial perfumes, but something that smelled real, didn’t turn me into some kind of Charlie Brown character with wafts of unctuous and jarring scent radiating off my body.

Then, I found more of them. I interviewed Heather Sielaff, and I fell down that journalist’s rabbit hole where you fall in love with the thing you are writing about (natural perfume, though Heather is lovely, too).

Then, I discovered her, the grand dame of American natural perfuming , Mandy Aftelier, who I have been following on Twitter, and whose book Essence & Alchemy I devoured in a single sitting. I started sneaking in to Cacao, our favorite Portland chocolate shop, every chance I could get to get a whiff of her tiny fragrance, Cacao, which is sold there in a bottle about the size of a tiny brandy bottle (if Barbie drank brandy).

You must assume that a chocolate perfume smells like chocolate. Oh no. It’s like you’re floating on a vanilla bean pod down a river of chocolate with orange blossoms and jasmine blooming above you.

So here I am. I’ve got Workbook One, I’ve got some essential oils coming to me in the mail, and I’ve got that tingly new beginning feeling, like I’ve found something I just want to inhale until I can’t hold it anymore.

Wish me luck! I’ve got a new subtitle…

Lessons from a Pick-Your-Own Flower Farm


Bernards’ Farm, south on 99 between McMinnville and Sheridan.

airstreamThe most amazing thing happened the other day. I had one of those moments where everything comes full circle, where your childhood hangups are upended in a way that makes everything seem like it’s going to be okay. Not okay, but better, more awesome, more lovely, more connected, more right.

I took the boys to our first pick-your-own flower farm. You see, I had this idea that I was going to take some pictures of them. I also had this idea that it was going to be pretty arduous — carrying the baby in my back carrier, trying to get Dashiell to pose for the camera, or at least smell the flowers.

Come on, folks, let’s get with the program! For God’s sake, take the time to smell the roses, people!

I know what you’re thinking. Shouldn’t you simply let the children frolic and see what happens? Shouldn’t this simply be one of those experiential days in which you let your children take in the world in all of its sensual pleasure and wonder? Does it really need to also be about the future — about teaching them to pleasing their lovers and loved ones by introducing them to the act of gathering flowers to give as a gift?

Girls (or boys, whatev), you’re gonna LOVE these boys someday!

The farm we went to, Bernards, is located on a long stretch of highway between McMinnville and Sheridan, Ore. It’s a family farm like the best of them, but it also has pick-your-own flowers for 25 cents a pop (thank you, Tai, for telling me about it). I can think of few better things you can get for a quarter. We arrived with both boys almost ready to fall asleep, which is never a good sign. Then we proceeded to clip and pick, watch the bees buzz around, run our fingers along the eucalyptus, and stuff our faces in the dahlias.


Smells like Oregon fall, I’m sure.

We gathered the clipped flowers for a bouquet and I arranged my eldest son, Dashiell, 3, next to this lovely wooden barn, where the produce stand is located.

“Drop the toys and grab this bouquet,” I told him.

He put the toys down on the ground and went to a nearby picnic table.

“No, put the toys on the table and hold this bouquet,” I said.

He picked up the toys, brought them over the me, and then ran back to the table.

“Dashiell, come back here.”

He picked up the toys, ran over to me (have I told you I had a baby on my back and completely full hands?).

“No, take the toys back to the table.”

He took them back to the table. Then he ran, with them, back to me.

This went on for perhaps ten minutes. I probably should have walked him by the hand instead of acting like the director of my children’s lives.

Eventually, I had him, in front of the barn, holding the flowers, set for the big event. And then it happened. He started laughing. Like crazy. This bubbly little laugh that comes from deep inside of him. And the smile he gets on his face? It can sometimes seem like a grimace because he is laughing so hard.


Dashiell, with mama’s bouquet.

I’ve fallen out of the habit of taking photographs of my children. We do it so seldom now because I don’t want them to be used to posing for pictures. How little do I have to photograph my children so they will always think it’s funny, always see it as a special thing?

But in the few moments over the past few weeks where I have taken a picture, Dash has exploded laughing. Here’s another one, when we tried out the, ahem, new Viking hat.


I hope Dashiell always does that — exploding into glorious laughter —  though I imagine, like all good things, it’s ephemeral, gone with yesterday’s dahlias. I know that’s why we take photographs, and write things down that we want to remember, and document document document. But in that instant I realized I don’t want to be that mom, arranging and setting and preparing just so I can have the the evidence of happiness afterward.

I do want to be the mom whose son gathers her flowers, though. No amount of transformation and growth will make me budge on that part.

Alternative Paper, Rock, Scissors


HouseWe’re kind of bored at our house with paper, rock, scissors. It just doesn’t make any sense. Crushing a good pair of scissors with a rock is a terrible idea. How can paper beat rock by covering it? Scissors cuts paper? Okay, I’m on board with that one.

So we’ve started doing an Oregon version that makes so much more sense, and we’re calling it:

Farmer. Goat. Blackberry.

Farmer: You make a pitchfork with three fingers.
Goat: You give’em the goat, like you’re at a righteous metal concert.
Blackberry: You make some monster hands, like you’re trying to prick someone with your crazy, monster blackberry hands (my favorite).

Farmer eats Goat.

Goat eats Blackberry.

Blackberry makes Farmer’s life a living hell.

It’s easy, it’s fun, and it’s totally local. Like the side of the highway I just drove down local.

One problem. If you’ve been doing paper, rock scissors your whole life, it’s kind of difficult to adjust to a new type of game.

Ideally, you’d do sound effects along with the hand gestures. Try it. It’s super fun. Especially Blackberry. Arrrghhh! Blackberry!

In Search of the Best Oregon Smells

perfume-1I’ve been thinking a lot about how much I’ve changed since I’ve moved to Oregon. Or maybe how much has changed me. Some of the changes are easy to pinpoint. I came here a young, self-involved, married almost thirty-something with way too much time on my hands and now I’m a middle thirty-something with two kids, a house, a business, more passions than I can count on both hands and interests that reach way, way beyond me.

You could say some of this transformation has been normal life stage changes. But I really do believe this PLACE has changed me, this fertile swatch reclining on the edge of the Pacific. The air is different here. The light is different. The smells are different.  I feel like living here, breathing this air and this place, has changed me at a cellular level. How long does it take for all of your cells to turn over, anyway?

I’ve been collecting ideas for some of the Pacific Northwest smells that I find so grounding and transforming and am curious as to what smells other people find uplifting, grounding, transformational, sacred, profound or energizing. These are a few of mine:

Juniper is said to gaurd from evil and ghosts, and I admire it for its ability to grow, sculpture-like, in Oregon’s high desert. It is pungent and peppery with a slightly camphorous scent.

Ponderosa pine
This is the real high desert to me — dry and warm and clear-your-nose piney with an uplifting effect. Ponderosa pine, take me away!

I just can’t get enough — sexy, woodsy, dirty, sometimes garlicky, a little musky, like when the best man in your life has been out in the woods all day.

Daphne blooms in winter and lets out a scent that extends reaches far beyond it’s delicate blossoms. I think we can all take a lesson from daphne.

Peonies, to me, are the bloom to be. Tight little balls that unfold in their fabulousness and smell just divinely floral. I think if my husband brought me roses I’d smile and put them in a vase. But if he brought me peonies? I just might take his hand and go upstairs.

Sometimes I take a bunch of dried lavender and throw it in my bathtub. It’s not a good idea. There are a lot of better ways to get the slightly astringent, relaxing backyard buzz without having to clean out your tub. But still. One of my favorites, both clean, herbal and floral.

We have often made pit stops at hops farms just to breathe in the perfume of hops. Its got dry, spicy notes and smells like the best of the ultra hoppy IPAs and has the loveliest green flowers.

Okay, maybe this one sounds like a stretch, but my friend Sam says she can smell sunshine in the forest in August. I think it might have to do with the way the plants are oxidizing and the shafts of sunlight that penetrate the forest canopy.

Fir-scented candles can’t hold a… ahem… candle to the real smell of fir in the Deschutes around Christmas time. In aromatherapy, balsam fir is known as an uplifting scent. Is it any surprise we bring trees into our homes in the darkest evenings of the year? That is, most people do, but not us. That’s another story.

These are some of the scents I’m thinking about investigating as I gather ideas for the Oregon-based perfume I’m making. What are your favorite Pacific Northwest scents?