NPR on Fragrance Bans in the Workplace and Schools

Smell

PerfumeNPR has a great story out today on fragrance bans in the workplace — why some employers are considering them,

According to reporting by Yuki Noguchi, requests for fragrance bans are among the top five for human resources at workplaces around the country.

This isn’t just an imagined concern. Some genuinely have allergies triggered by the ingredients in some commercial fragrances, and some get migraines from exposure to perfume and cologne.

Having a fragrance-free policy can even earn building owners credits towards LEED certification, Noguchi reports.

The layers to this particular issue seem endless. On the one hand, I’ve been that person sitting next to someone whose perfume talks louder than they do. I’ve entered bathrooms where someone must have bathed themselves in cologne and not been able to breathe. Even if fragrance can be a personal mood-lifter, some wearers aren’t considering just how cranky their perfume can make the rest of us.

But I also wonder if the whole issue would be moot if consumers were choosing natural fragrances which are far less off-putting, which don’t carry as far on the air, and which age a little more subtly on the body.

Just how far do fragrance bans extend — to your deodorant? Your personal care items? Body lotions? News like this makes me happy I work from home, where the only rules about environmental sterility are the ones I make myself.

What’s your take on fragrance bans in the workplace?

Perfume Review: Captain Blankenship’s vessels of imagination

A perfumer's head is always close to the ground.

Jana Blankenship, following her nose towards inspiration.

PerfumeThe more I get into natural perfuming the more I come to understand that when I connect with a scent I am connecting with an artist. And just as I have had to read everything Ann Patchett has ever written, or have followed Vermeer across geographies into the golden light of timeless domesticity, I was driven to smell the other fragrances created by perfumer Jana Blankenship to experience how a real scent artist experiences the world. To my great delight, all of the scents in Captain Blankenship scent sample package deliver a revelatory experience.

Based in the Hudson River Valley, Captain Blankenship is a vessel of imagination for artisan perfumer Jana Blankenship, who has been making a whole line of organic beauty products with the alluring tagline: Wild with nature.

If Portland’s OLO’s Dafne was my gateway scent into natural perfuming, Captain Blankenship’s Jaune was the one that tipped me over into obsession. I first came across it at one of those tiny shops on Portland’s East Burnside, Sword + Fern, which carries the loveliest tiny apothecary section of handmade self-care products. I was drawn immediately to the hand-drawn ship of its logo, which feels like a doodle from a daydream.

Jaune

Jaune was a revelation for me — a rose-based scent that smelled fresh and light. Until Jaune, rose perfumes had always seemed plucked from a cake in Miss Havisham’s dining room. But then there was this — cascading roses in the prime of their beauty in a garden with lemons, sweet orange blossoms. And there is someone serving vanilla tea there, not in a frumpy floral teapot but in a glass pot, where you can see the leaves unfolding. When I wore Jaune I felt like I carried this scene with me, and as is changed on my wrist it felt like the sun moving across the sky.

CB2

Scent samples from Captian Blankenship come in tiny vials with a hand-made bag dyed with natural indigo.

Seawolf

You wouldn’t expect a wolf to smell so sweet, but that is the allure of Seawolf, Captain Blankenship’s Seawolf. It’s surprising meeting of earthy forest notes such as pine and fir with lighter florals like ylang ylang cut through with grassy palmarosa and vetiver make it feel very much of nature but not by nature. It has patchouli, myrrh and frankincense, lending it something of an exalting spiritual dimension, but the effect is very cathedral-of-the-forest, not a trip-to-the-altar. I adore this scent for its ability to transcend so many categories to create its own.

Wolf Moon

Wolf Moon is the darker component to Seawolf’s light run through the ancestral forest. It meets you with the light floral of honey blossom which quickly develops into a warm foundation of smoked frankincense, and iris root. It’s the woods that might await you if you stepped off the path, over there where the moonlight is shining through. It gets silkier as it develops. I would want to smell this one on someone but not on myself.

Hiddensea

This scent meets you in a hothouse of citrus made more interesting with blooming florals of jasmine, orange blossom and neroli. It feels like an imagined place, as if it were possible to build a solarium on top of the sea and fill it through with uplifting botanicals, and every now and again this floating greenhouse would tip towards the reeds on the shore. I could see myself sequestering myself from the world and floating around with this one.

Do you have a favorite indie perfumer that I have got to try? Please share in the comments!

In Praise of Nowstalgia: The Sadness in Happiness

A photo to show this actually happened.

A photo to show this actually happened.

airstreamTwo weeks ago, at a tiny, footprint-shaped lake near Mt. Bachelor, we found ourselves picnicking with over 100,000 Cascade frogs. As we stepped near the edge of the water, the pond rolled in a black wave of flapping polliwogs disturbed by our footfall.

You can never feel truly alone in the wilderness.

And then there they were, framed by the deep lines of woods and lake – after three years, eight days, 10 hours and 43 minutes on family rancor (but who’s counting?) – my boys, helping each other. My 5-year-old was showing his brother how to hold a tiny, slippery frog in his hand so he could keep him cupped inside but not crush him. My younger son: listening patiently and following his older brother’s lead. The frogs jumped around their feet in primal flight mode.

My boys crouched down together and snatched two tiny frogs out of the grass. My older son dropped a half-inch long slimy frog into my younger son’s soft palm, and in the crisp sun of an Oregon mountain summer, the world stopped for me.

I got that feeling again. It’s a feeling I can’t help but notice more and more in these hazy, long afternoons of summertime: Nowstalgia.

Nowstalgia is what I call that split second when I can sense that a memory is being created, and instead of being happy for the calamitous beauty of this moment, I’m already nostalgic for how much I’m going to miss it years from now. It’s a truer version of the term bittersweet, an idea far better for capturing how quickly a life passes and how intimately we feel the passing.

Nowstalgia. It is the tinge of melancholy that seems to come along with every moment of joy for me. It’s the part of me that can’t seem to let me get completely swept away in what is happening before my eyes. It’s the sadness in happiness — the knowledge that even though I can tell myself to lock a moment into my long-term memory, the past has shown that I just don’t work like that.

Fact: My memory is the worst kind of paper rubbing of what happened. Even with a photograph I tend to remember only how I felt about things. Every time I tell myself to commit a moment to memory – remember this moment! – it is gone within a week.

If I were chasing happiness I know I could just sit back and relax. Nearly every day there is a new study or book or article confirming that happiness is found in the moment, in accessing the NOW (thank you, Eckhart Tolle), or in reaching the flow state of activity that allows time to slip away and perfect convergence with the presence.

Life is painful enough, you say. You don’t have to go and live  your happy moments as pain, too!

But when you’re someone who feels deeply, it becomes difficult not to see even the brightest moments as some blips within a grander context. The children will grow up, they’ll be fighting again in a minute and we’re all going to die someday.

My husband says I’ve been waxing nowstalgic since he met me in 2001, but I haven’t yet determined how long I’ve been feeling nowstalgia’s tug. I don’t know if it’s something that deepens when you have children, or have read too many books, whether it’s just something you’re born with that gets more prominent with age or whether it’s just a writer thing. But I do know that by identifying the feeling with this very silly word I’ve been able to accept it as something odd and beautiful when it appears.

The Cascade frog is endangered — you can remove them from the lake to the tune of a $1,250 fine. With Nowstalgia, I run the risk of endangering every moment of joy. I’m not going to let it take nowstalgia ruin my days. I’m going to let it roll through me like a tiny wave and then, gosh darn it, I’m going to go catch some frogs.

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Do you have any favorite new words to describe a feeling? 

Follow Emily on Twitter @emilygrosvenor!

Book review: For an anniversary gift, The Picnic beats all else

Excerpted from The Picnic by Marnie Hanel, Andrea Slonecker, and Jen Stevenson (Artisan Books). Copyright (c) 2015. Illustrations by Emily Isabella.

Excerpted from The Picnic by Marnie Hanel, Andrea Slonecker, and Jen Stevenson (Artisan Books). Copyright (c) 2015. Illustrations by Emily Isabella.

GrapesMy husband and I are preparing for our ninth wedding anniversary this week, and since I’ve never been one to go for the traditional gift items (9th is leather? really?), I’ve decided that #9 must be the year of the picnic.

It can’t hurt that I recently got my hands on a copy of one of the most beautiful cookbooks I’ve ever laid my hands on and it is completely devoted to the art and practice of picnicking. I say art because picnicking is one of those things that can be taken to the nth degree — you can do it easy and pick up sandwiches and head to a park or you can create the most exquisite spread possible with the kind of finger foods that make your guests ooh and ahh for hours on end. Either is perfect any time, but for us, this year, we were going for the latter.

The Picnic: Recipes and Inspiration from Basket to Blanket was written by my Portland friend Jen Stevensen (of Under the Table with Jen, food stylist Andrea Slonecker and magazine writer Marnie Hanel, all founding members of the Portland Picnic Society. These women really know how to do it up, and have shared their knowledge from almost half a decade of picnicking through Portland’s long summers in a book of exceptional loveliness with illustrations by Emily Isabella. The book is essentially a how-to on approaching picnicking as a high-style art, but it is approachable and has options for both casual plein air diners and the more practiced picnic style-setter. It’s divided into the categories: 1 From Basket to Blanket, 2. Bites 3. Salads 4. Plates 5. Sweets and 6. Sips.

You can't feel this image, but The Picnic feels like a party invitation made at a letterpress studio.

You can’t feel this image, but The Picnic feels like a party invitation made at a letterpress studio.

The basket

On a recent trip to Pennsylvania, where I grew up, my mother gifted me with my great-grandmother’s actual picnic basket, the same basket that sat on the top of our refrigerator for my entire childhood. I’ve been cleaning it and displaying it on my own fridge for the past month, eager to get it out. It has these gorgeous hand-carved handles that just break my heart.

If you don't have an heirloom picnic basket (I realize this is a high order, Goodwill often has a good selection.

If you don’t have an heirloom picnic basket (I realize this is a high order), Goodwill often has a good selection.

The setting

We had high plans to get to a nearby park and wear seersucker and really do it up, but we found ourselves with a late morning without our two kids in the house and huzzah! a backyard primed for a blanket. For harried parents I can’t think of a lovelies solution than the backyard when the house is empty!

The menu

I could eat from every one of these recipes every day, but I chose a selection of recipes inspired by the book.

Beet hummus with crudite

Beet hummus with crudite.

This shocking pink hummus is a nice alternative (and has even more vitamins).

Classic deviled eggs

Picnic1

Bring the components separately and pipe on site!

This is the point at which I should mention that I could eat a deviled egg every day of my life and still not have enough. This book has not one but 12 different options! for deviled eggs, including eggs with caviar, horseradish and other bitey alternatives. But the big win is the suggestion to fill the eggs ON SITE using a piping bag or simply a twisted sandwich bag. This was the highlight of the picnic — so fun!

Hawaiian poke salad on cucumber

Cucumber rounds with Hawaiian poke salad

Cucumber rounds with Hawaiian poke salad

This is another one you can assemble on site to great effect. The book suggested a smoked salmon on cucumber finger food, but I’m a giant poke salad fan so I decided to try that instead. There’s nothing like eating raw fish out in the open.

Chocolate cakes with bourbon ice cream

Warning: Don't eat marigolds!

Warning: Don’t eat marigolds!

The best part of this book is how it offers simple picnic hacks to elevate the experience. One of my favorites was 99 Uses for a Mason Jar. I decided to bake some small chocolate cakes directly in a Mason jar (using Orangette’s Winning Hearts and Minds Chocolate Cake recipe from A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table. Then I plopped a scoop of Bourbon vanilla ice cream on top.

Excerpted from The Picnic by Marnie Hanel, Andrea Slonecker, and Jen Stevenson (Artisan Books). Copyright (c) 2015. Illustrations by Emily Isabella

Excerpted from The Picnic by Marnie Hanel, Andrea Slonecker, and Jen Stevenson (Artisan Books). Copyright (c) 2015. Illustrations by Emily Isabella

I’m starting to think that with a July anniversary every year should be a picnic year. Now I have the basket, I have the company, I have a killer chenille blanket and have the inspiration for the next one. Next time we might actually make it to the park or to one of wine country’s picnic-worthy vineyards.

If you’d like to meet the creators of The Picnic: Recipes and Inspiration from Basket to Blanket and even picnic with them, the Portland Culinary Alliance is featuring the authors and the book tomorrow night at the Altabira City Tavern. It’s going to be a giant potluck on a stunning 58-acre farm. Read more about the event here.

How about you? What’s your favorite go-to picnic recipe? My plan is to become the Queen of the Deviled Egg.

The Most Fragrant Rose in Portland

The Young Lycidas smells better than it looks.

The Young Lycidas smells better than it looks.

airstreamA rose is a rose is a rose. Unless you are at the Portland International Rose Test Gardens, where every rose is a thing to behold unto itself.

I’m in Portland all week while my eldest son is at Zoo Camp, so I’m taking the time to do a little traveling by nose.

What is traveling by nose you ask? Well, just seeking out the sensual travel experiences that incorporate smelling. It’s a great way to really focus on what you’re doing when you have just a little time to travel.

My first task was to find the most fragrant rose at the International Rose Test Gardens. Now before you go sniffing every bloom in the place (though I recommend that, too), know that the “most fragrant” has already been designated by the American Garden Rose Selections. According to that group, the most fragrant rose in the test gardens is located in section C1 and is the Young Lycidas.

These roses were named after the short poem “Lycidas” by Milton.  They bloom in clusters or alone and tend to droop a bit.

Good luck finding C1, by the way! Not only is it difficult to find in the garden, there is the problem of the roses I met on the way to the Young Lycidas.

In the meantime, I might have gotten a little distracted by some other roses.

057 062 066 073 075 076 080 082 089 097 102Now that you’ve thoroughly geeked out on roses, back to business. The Young Lycidas is actually in the miniature rose testing section. You can find its row by finding this sign.

110Then, I looked for the flowers themselves, which are full and round, large and deeply cupped. Their petals don’t seem to be arranged in any particular order. Kind of like chaos in a little ball.

Indeed, they are not the most beautiful roses in the bunch — but would you expect any different? The world of smells is so divorced from the world of visual beauty. Rank things can smell beautiful, beautiful things can smell awful. You have to go through the world inhaling it all to find out.

Hold on, I’m almost there!

092This is what always happens to me. The closer I get to a goal the more profound my conviction that I’ll never reach it. That last 10%. But then, when I was sure that I’d never ever find the smelliest rose in the garden and of course it doesn’t even matter because yes, they all smell and each is its own and why even pick the most fragrant, I found the Young Lycidas.

The Young Lycidas smells better than it looks.

The Young Lycidas smells better than it looks.

Except that the first one doesn’t even smell that good. Kind of stinky, actually. Like old roses that haven’t been dried properly. And then I smelled the next one and there is only the fairest hint of fragrance. And I started to wonder about these people, these rose people, like what is UP with their sniffers?

But then I happened upon the one that was blooming at the height of its scent. It hasn’t quite opened yet but is no longer in its tight little bud.

So we learn the only rule about the fragrance of the Young Lycidas. It changes right under your nose.

There is a delicious fragrance that changes markedly with the age of the flower; starting as a pure Tea scent and changing to a blend of Tea and Old Rose, with intriguing hints of cedar wood.– David Austin Roses

But isn’t that how real beauty works? Temporal, passing, catch it while it is there and die a little inside when it goes away.

Lavender Week!: How to Cook with Lavender

Lavender is a versatile herb that can perfume many household staples; but use it in moderation.

Lavender is a versatile herb that can perfume many household staples; but use it in moderation.

perfume-1Lavender is one of the most versatile culinary herbs — used correctly, you can take many of the foods you use regularly anyway and perfume them lightly with the herby, floral, slightly astringent smell of one of the world’s most alluring scents.

But be careful. A little lavender goes a long way. Use it too much and it will completely overpower the other flavors in your dishes. The goal is to add subtle lavender fragrance, not a perfume bomb you can smell half a mile away.

If you are using the lavender from your own garden, here are some steps to preparing the flowers for use in cooking:

Dried lavender will retain its oils and freshness for several months if stored properly, in an airtight container.

Dried lavender will retain its oils and freshness for several months if stored properly, in an airtight container.

  • Harvest the lavender. The blossoms are ready when the brilliant purple flowers have emerged and have not yet begun to wilt. If you are cutting lavender yourself, cut the stalks a few inches above the plant’s woody growth and gather the lavender into a bunch. Tie it together.
  •  Dry the lavender. You can always use lavender fresh, or you can hang it up or lay it flat to dry it. Note: If you are cooking with fresh lavender, use three times the number of flowers as in a dried lavender recipe.
  •  De-stem the lavender. You can use the whole stalk in cooking, but many people prefer to remove the flowers from the stalk and store them separately.
  •  Store it well. Store lavender in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. A Mason jar is a good choice.

Buying Lavender

If you don’t know exactly what has been sprayed on your lavender or on the lavender in the field near you, it is a good idea to buy from a reputable lavender farm or from an online lavender dealer. Byrne and Perry’s Chef Products carries a great Culinary French Lavender, harvested in the Provence.

Grow your own lavender and you won't have to worry about what pesticides might be lurking on it.

Grow your own lavender and you won’t have to worry about what pesticides might be lurking on it.

Cooking with lavender

Here are some ideas for perfuming your food with lavender.

Lavender butter

Smeared on fresh baked goods, there is nothing that feels more special than a specialty butter like lavender butter. Take  (½ pound) of room-temperature butter and top it with a tablespoon of dried, ground (if desired) lavender. Mix the lavender and butter together in a mixing bowl. Chill it for two days to let the lavender flavor develop. Use it directly atop your favorite bread, scone or muffin.

Lavender sugar

Lavender sugar can be used in any recipe calling for cane sugar, so the opportunities are limitless! Use about 1 tablespoon dried lavender for every 2 cups of Wholesome Sweeteners Organic Fair Trade Cane Sugar. If you have an Electric Spice and Coffee Grinder with Stainless Steel Blades, or food processor, grind the lavender for about 15 seconds to develop the lavender flavor. Add a cup of granulated sugar to the process and blend well, about three or four quick presses on a Cuisinart. Store the lavender sugar in an airtight container such as a Ball Jar  and use it in all of your favorite sweet baking recipes that call for sugar.

Lavender vodka

Using a funnel, drop about a ¼ cup lavender flowers into a bottle of your favorite vodka. Take out the funnel and close the bottle. Shake, so the flowers mix throughout. Store in the freezer for three days. Strain the vodka into a separate container, using a fine-mesh sieve, a cheesecloth or a paper towel. Squeeze the bundle with the flowers in it to extract as much lavender flavor as possible. Pour the vodka back in the bottle and store in your freezer for use in a lavender vodka tonic with a splash of lime. If you’re inspired to try more botanicals in your cocktails, check out The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World’s Great Drinks.

Lavender balsamic vinaigrette

Lavender can add a quick, floral kick to any basic vinaigrette recipe. In vinaigrette recipes calling for a combination of balsamic vinegar, oil, honey and ground pepper, add 1 tablespoon of fresh lavender (or a third of that of dried) for every 1½ cups of vinaigrette.

Lavender-roasted chicken

Poultry invites new herb combinations, and lavender will be a real surprise to your guests. Create a rub for roasted chicken using about a tablespoon lemon juice, 1 teaspoon lemon zest, 1½ tablespoons dried lavender, 1 teaspoon dried thyme, 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil and 1 tablespoon honey.

Lavender and blueberry anything

Of all the fruits you can perfume with lavender, blueberry is my favorite. And lucky for us, they usually are in season at the same time. Try putting lavender sugar into your favorite blueberry cobbler at the height of the season, bake some lavender directly into blueberry lavender scones, or infuse some milk with lavender and pour it atop fresh blueberries. About half a teaspoon of lavender is usually a good fit with a pint of fruit.

Salmon and lavender

Create a rub of lime zest and lime juice from two limes, ½ teaspoon thyme, ½ teaspoon dried lavender, 1 teaspoon pepper, 1 teaspoon sea salt and 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil. Rub the seasoning mix on salmon fillets and bake as you would in your favorite salmon recipe.

How do you use lavender? If you are inspired to try more recipes with lavender, I highly recommend Sharon Shipley’s The Lavender Cookbook.

How to Make Mint Oil

The mint is going CRAZY in our garden. Here is one of my most popular posts for how to make mint oil.

Mint2

PerfumeI have a problem on my hands and its name is mint.

By now my garden has gone all but fallow and has nothing but a massive cloud of almost invasive mint spewing forth out of its raised bed.

I say almost invasive.

You see, just a few months ago I had transplanted this particular mint plant to another part of the garden. I had been doing the square foot gardening method, and mint was inching its way, like an army, across the lines and into the Swiss Chard. It wasn’t letting up. It was lush and gorgeous and absolutely not where I wanted it. So I pulled it out — or so I thought — and replanted it in another bed, near the squash, where it would bother exactly no one.

Just a few weeks later it rose, Phoenix-like, out of the ashes, to take over its two square…

View original post 620 more words

5-Sensual Life-Hacks for Your Work-At-Home Commute

The Home CommuteMy family once lived 15 minutes away from my husband’s work but moved households to be 10 minutes closer. We just don’t believe in commuting unless we have to. But how do you make the mind/body transition from your home life to your work life if you work from home?

You use Jedi Mind/Body tricks to trigger your work day, that’s how.

1. Cue the Music

I find that starting a work day with a Pump-Me-Up song is just the ticket to get me in the zone. I could wax forever on why listening to ESPN Presents: Jock Jams is perfectly reasonable way to start the day, but really, anything that empowers or sets the mood you need is the right kind of transitional music. By that same token, ending the day with a transition song can cue your mind and body that it’s time to transition to all of the stuff you left behind in the morning — even if your laundry was really just in the next room.

Here’s my favorite Pump Me Up song:

And a good day-ender for a late-afternoon swan song.

2. Cue the Nose

Any number of smelly things can be used to launch your work day, especially any of the essential oils known to be particularly energizing, like Peppermint. Check out Aromaweb’s list of energizing essential oils and blends to explore, OR, simply walk outside to the garden, where the mint is growing like a monster and stuff your face into it for a minute. An olfactory work cue might be just the ticket. And the more you use the same method, the more it becomes habit, the more smelling the thing gets you in the mood to forget the rest.

Mint13. Cue the cameras

I’m not a great fan of the visual — I spend so much time staring at the computer anyway, but if you don’t actually have a commute, and you don’t have the visual transition of having the world fly by you before you start work, consider taking a short walk. Do the same walk every day, just as you would probably take the same route to work. And if you can add in some smells, all the better.

Lavender14. Cue your body

If you would have showered for work at an office you really should be showering for work at home, too. Wash away the rest of yesterday! Or, barring that option, consider simply having a pair of “work shoes” that you wear while working at home. For one thing, feeling “dressed for work” makes you more able to create a barrier to your home life (even if it’s five feet away). Here’s a great blog post from Bridgette Raes about dressing for working at home. Lately I’ve been putting on these shoes to work at my desk. Seasonal? No. I should be wearing flip flops in this weather. But when you’re making business calls, you had best wear shoes!

Taos5. Cue your Tastebuds

Do you really need the caffeine or is it the bitter taste of coffee that you associate with Business Time? Okay, it might be the caffeine, but having a taste cue associated with your work is always a good thing. Especially if it is the taste you associate with getting busy at your desk. And since taste and smell are intimately associated with each other, its best to pick something with an aromatic component — i.e. no icky cheap coffee, but a single varietal, tastes like blueberries awesome single origin coffee. I get mine from Wire and Flag coffee in McMinnville.

ChrysalisI hope that helps you develop a new ritual, incorporating your senses, into your work-at-home commute! Because it’s hard to leave the rest of life behind when you just run to your desk, doesn’t it?

I would love to hear any of your ideas for how to transition from life to desk and back again! Follow me on Twitter @emilygrosvenor.

You’re Doing It All Wrong: 8 Signs You Need to Rethink Perfume

Indie perfumer Jessica Hannah working with a custom client in her perfume studio.

Indie perfumer Jessica Hannah working with a custom client in her perfume studio.

perfume-1I would never be so bold to tell anyone that they’re doing anything wrong — unless they say they don’t like perfume.

I’ve been there myself. I grew up where adults all had a signature scent and they drowned me in it — Anais Anais By Cacharel, Christian Dior Poison, Paco Rabanne – Pour Homme. Great scents unto themselves, sure, but a little in-your-face.

I can still smell us all — sitting up there in the top rows of the balcony with our minds wandering and the scents of the 1980s malingering up into the rafters.

But since I decided to come out as a super sniffer and embark on a scent journey a few years ago, I’ve discovered a few things that have completely changed how I feel about perfume. It’s never been a better time to rethink your thoughts about the world of scent.

8 Signs You Need to Rethink Perfume

1. You never even wear perfume.
If you have labeled yourself a perfume hater than you are missing out on an entire new world of scent that’s been fomenting in the past few decades. You might still be attached to where you were twenty years ago — slow dancing with some Justin Timberlake look-alike and inhaling the Drakkar Noir from every boy in the room. But you’re older now, and your sense of olfaction might actually be better. Now is the time to recalibrate.

2. You wear it for somebody other than yourself.
If you only think perfume is something you wear to attract somebody else, you are ignoring the obvious mood-enhancing benefits for yourself. I have found place-based scents to be a surprising and welcome balm for all kinds of maladies, like homesickness and seasonal affective disorder. If you miss summer, just smell some jasmine!

3. You have no idea what you like.
Perfume has a nomenclature and a culture to itself, so if you haven’t taken any time to learn about the basics, you probably haven’t even given yourself a chance to fall in love with something. Kafkaesque has a great guide on where to start if you’re new to scent.

4. You’re turned off by in-your-face scents.
The days are far gone when all perfumes sprayed on a wrist had to take over your life until your next bath. The new generation of perfumers are actually doing something old — using essential oils and natural ingredients that make them more subtle and more of an artistic product. Sure, they don’t last as long, but you can experience how scent changes on the skin. To me, its a more accurate way to experience how scent puts you in the moment.

5. You don’t have a favorite indie perfumer.
If you think perfume is all department stores and makeup counters, let me introduce you to the world of indie perfumers (post forthcoming). These are professed scent obsessives who have decided to work with oils and tinctures as an artistic pursuit and who are coming up with fragrances to rival the big houses in France. And because they are out there in the world telling the stories of their creations, you can be sure to have a more intimate connection with your perfume blender than when you just order something online. To start, try out some of my favorites, Jessica Hannah (pic above), Captain Blankenship and OLO.

6. You’ve never tried naturals.
If the idea of being bathed in a cloud of suffocating air is your idea of perfume, if you’re a natural person with natural inclinations, then you should be exploring the work of perfume artists who work exclusively with natural-based scents. That way, if your goal is to smell like the last favorite forest you walked through (and not some cheap approximation of it), the option is available to you with naturals. Naturals provide sensual luxury from far-off cultures, travel in a bottle. Here, my favorite is Mandy Aftel, America’s grand dame of natural perfuming.

7. You haven’t explored oils and solids.
Not all scent is delivered the same. If you have never responded to scent in an alcohol spray, there are ample other ways to deliver the experience. I’m a huge fan of scents in a jojoba oil, or a solid scent based in jojoba and beeswax that you can carry around in a gorgeous tin (see Mandy Aftel’s recent release Bergamoss).

8. You’ve let somebody else’s imagination sell you on what perfume is.
I don’t know about you, but I look at fragrance ads and see something other than myself. If ads are meant to be aspirational, then there is rarely anything in a perfume ad to inspire me. It’s all just women dolled up to look like girls.  To me, perfume is about stories the way scent is about memories. So when I want to try a perfume a seek out something that will inspire me by the story and the ingredients.

Carry on, Scent Seeker!

I hope this little post has given you some inspiration to go out in the world and seek out the work of individuals who are experimenting and whose products will blow your mind. As a bonus, there are so many options out there that you’ll never have to smell like anyone else ever again!

What’s your take on perfume? Please share your ideas with me — your preconceived notions, the barriers that keep you from jumping full-bodied into this particular pool.

Notes from a Travel Writer: A DIY Writing Retreat in 6 Steps

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Given a choice, I’d write in this cabin at the Lake of the Woods in Southern Oregon. Given no time and money, I’ll take the backyard.

airstreamI work from home, and it’s a nightmare every day. All around me, my house and family beg to be tended. Dishes call to me from the sink. I’m sure I can smell the decay of laundry piling up from a floor away. The dust gets downright sassy. And yet, I’ve found a way to make it work — to ignore what must (eventually) be done in favor of what must be done right now:

The work of my writing life.

But a writing retreat? In the home? Can’t I just go to the San Juans or something?

My area of the country is home to a ton of writing retreat areas, but it’s not in the cards for me right now. So I thought I’d try to do one at home to see if there is something to be learned from retreating from your daily life while you’re still in it.

The Problem

Information abounds about how to make the most of an at-home writing retreat. The number one approach is to make a solid commitment to yourself and your writing for a specific space of time. Some recommend doing it with a friend. Most everyone says that setting goals for your writing retreat should be the number one priority.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t have any problem  setting goals. I am a goal-setting monster, which is why you could line a marathon route with my list of to-do’s. What I do far less is free-write — simply write in the old-school hand-to-paper method and see what comes up, take these handshakes and mental high-fives happening constantly in my mind and just get them down, see what happens.

For me, this is the goal of a writing retreat. It’s a mind dump of the best sort — a space for free-flowing activity that exists wholly within the structure of a place and a time. The challenge is to come up with that SPACE.

With that in mind, I’d like to offer my tips for an at-home, DIY Writing Retreat.

1.Prepare Your Retreat Kit

Kit

You can have your writing retreat packet ready to go, and because the barrier to entry for writing is so minimal, you don’t need much. But a word about coffee cups. You know how when you arrive at an amazing destination you often find they have the WRONG COFFEE CUPS. Like giant thick-lipped ones, or dainty saucered ones? Pick one of your cups that you don’t like. Remember: You’re on vacation! The goal is to feel different from routine.

2. Disrupt Your Routine

Office

Here’s my normal routine. Not bad, right? But if the goal is to get away…

You really have to be somewhere other than where you normally are for a writing retreat. Otherwise it’s not a retreat, is it?

  • If you write at a desk, try on your lap
  • If you write at a laptop, try by hand
  • If you always write in the same chair, choose a different chair
  • If you write inside, write outside
  • If you write alone, consider inviting a friend

3. Add Sensual Details

Lavender
No surprise here, I find scent particularly transporting. If I can’t travel by foot I can always travel by nose. Here is how.

  • Light a Modern Mint aromatherapy candle.
  • Smell a favorite perfume before you begin.
  • If you have a place you wish you could go (say, Bend, OR), smell something associated with the place (like Pure Organic Ponderosa Pine Essential Oil)
  • If you are working with memory, get an object to smell or touch that evokes the memory

4. Read a Travel Passage (or four)

TravelWriting

A few of my favorite transporting writing, a style for every mood.

If the goal of getting yourself in a different space feels impossible, find some great passages of travel literature that will transport you from your NOW, something from Paul Theroux (The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling the Pacific), or Pico Iyer (The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere), or Alain de Botton (The Art of Travel), or Kaui Hart Hemmings (The Descendants: A Novel), whatever transporting work can take you somewhere else. Basically you need words that feel like a plane ride (or a surf board, or a train trip, whatev).

5. Find Your Blinders

Just try feeling the same with this guy on your hand...

Just try feeling the same with this guy on your hand…

What do I mean by blinders? I mean, some kind of token item you can wear that you wouldn’t wear otherwise, something that would help you feel a little different, more on vacation, more playful. Anything at all that’s different from routine.

Some ideas:

  • A feather boa. Okay, not for me, but maybe for you, or just a killer scarf
  • A cool hat. I’m thinking a sun hat for me since I ended up outside
  • Flip-flops — especially if you don’t wear them normally
  • A puppet — to act out your dialogues that come out
  • A pair of shades

Does this sound silly? It is. But it might work for you. Best to leave judgment at home and see what you like.

6. Work Those Prompts

NatalieI have always loved Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within and was deeply happy when her book Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoircame out a few years ago. It has some truly excellent writing prompts for writers of memoir. Not all will yield something of value for your work, but that’s not the point. It’s about getting in the work flow and seeing what emerges.

Or not. You don’t need writing prompts, but they are there if you do. If you have no time to go to the library, you could always just print out this list.

Best wishes for a happy, productive, or just plain awesome brain dump! If you have any ideas on how to create space for creativity in your own space, I’d love to hear them!