For many years now I have been obsessed with the sublimely ridiculous cover art for ‘Geisterjäger John Sinclair’ (Ghosthunter John Sinclair), a pulpy German horror detective fiction series wherein Sinclair, a Scotland Yard chief inspector, tirelessly battles all kinds of undead and demonic creatures. Apparently, he is the reborn soul of both King Solomon and Knight Templar Hector de Valois. Wow!
These covers feature all manner of bizarre and tawdry evils, from vampire nightclubs to skydiving ghouls to horror discos–and it turns out that the artist responsible for some of my freaky favorites is Catalan painter and illustrator Vicenç Badalona Ballester (1929-2014.) From 1973 until his retirement in 2007, Ballestar produced an incredible number of covers for these books — nearly 1,000!! — and later went into fine art, where via his published books he became a renowned instructor of watercolor techniques.
“Aesthetically speaking, the world that Ballestar created for the duration of his career belonged to the 1970s and early ’80s. His paintings are populated by figures that could have stepped out of an advertisement from the era, if their faces weren’t etched with fear at the horrors they confront. With his broad palette and use of light, Ballestar derived a garish Pop pleasure from sinister darkness in a way previously found only in Roger Corman’s legendary Edgar Allan Poe films starring Vincent Price, where terror joined forces with Technicolor.”
I’ll confess, I have never read a single John Sinclair story. I almost can’t bear to. What if they are not as much fun as the cover art? But when I am feeling down or bummed out, I treat myself to translations to the various synopses for the stories, and their garbled silliness never fails to make me laugh:
“He was a legend of evil. No one knew if he really died or just lost. Most of Kansas residents just wanted to forget about him anyway. But as twelve tourists simply disappeared, he was remembered again. Suddenly fear passed away, and one sentence went round: ‘Sheriff death is back… “
“When Mike Prentiss and Cindy Mallory are just on their way home from the old castle disco, they pass by a closed cemetery.” Mike finally persuades his girlfriend to follow him to enjoy the togetherness there a little more uninterrupted. But for a long time, the silence on the ancient God’s sucker does not last, because suddenly the two of them are attacked with a sharp knife by a spritual woman… “
Anyway, as usual, this post is just an excuse to show off some favorites from an artist whose works I dig. Enjoy!
On the first day of 2022, we revamped my desk setup, and it’s a pretty exciting thing. This monitor is enormous and yet I have so much more room on my desk! For knitting! Er….I mean… writing, of course!
For our second project, we kept it small. Small wins are great, too! As a matter of fact, I think this was a day full of small wins. I cleaned the bathroom too, and for someone who has been avoiding this task for six months, this is maybe actually a major win.
So, anyway, this second project…
I am very easily influenced and I’ve been seeing these home coffee stations all over TikTok and YouTube. I love the idea of dedicated spaces for things and so I wanted one, too! Often they feature a slew of Torani syrups (blech*) and a Keurig (also blech**) and various trays and baskets and shelves that I’m assuming someone bought specifically for this purpose.
But we decided we’d just make do with what we could find around the house. It’s not a very sophisticated or “aesthetic” display with regard to the elegance of the configuration or the beauty of the containers, but whatever–we didn’t have to spend a cent to do it!
It’s not perfect, but already the area feels less cluttered, and just…more intentional, I guess? While I’m not a “serious” coffee person and don’t know much about coffees or beans or preparation techniques, I suppose you could say I take the enjoyment of my morning coffee somewhat seriously, so this seemed like a really nice thing to do for the new year. Just a little project, with really lovely results.
In this spot, we have our french press, our hand-grinder, a little frother, a Moka pot, a whole bunch of teas and sweeteners, some coffees, and a little matcha bowl and whisk. Also, a Fika book, which I got two years ago and haven’t made a single thing from, so I think that might be my challenge to myself this year. Prepare one fika treat per month!
How do you arrange your various little spaces? What bite-size projects might you work on for substantial results? And do you have a little coffee/tea station? I wanna see!
I went to bed at 9:30 on New Year’s Eve last night. Why not? We had no party, no guests, no one to please but ourselves, and we were sleepy after a few sips of sake and big bowls of sour, spicy kimchi stew.
I awoke in the darkness this morning, unable to sleep any longer. I read some poetry and finished a project. I had intended to finish seaming the toes on a pair of socks that I had been working on (and hoped to finish in the last hours of 2021, but it’s just a few stitches, so whatever.)
We greeted the dawn by the ocean with hot coffees and watched a woman in a long white dress and a guzheng posing for a photographer in the sand as the tide rolled out. Now the day is ours. I am tidying my office and making plans and marveling at my new computer set up, a gift from my sweetie of inconceivable technological magics which allows me to store my work and personal laptops out of sight and switch between the two on this one enormous screen! It’s much bigger than it looks in this photo!
I don’t have any resolutions for 2022. I don’t think I even have any goals. Just keep doing my best, I suppose.
I do have some thoughts on the energy I want to bring with me this year. The gorgeous brilliance of these two paintings, above, is endlessly inspiring to me to live beautifully (I don’t always know what that means, and it’s a sentiment that’s always changing) and I think this beloved and oft-revisited poem by Mary Oliver, below, captures the spirit of wonder and active compassion that I want to wake up and walk with throughout the oncoming days.
I want to continually be dazzled. By the world and the light and the mysteries–and all of the flaws and imperfections, too.
The Ponds (Mary Oliver)
Every year the lilies are so perfect I can hardly believe
their lapped light crowding the black, mid-summer ponds. Nobody could count all of them —
the muskrats swimming among the pads and the grasses can reach out their muscular arms and touch
only so many, they are that rife and wild. But what in this world is perfect?
I bend closer and see how this one is clearly lopsided — and that one wears an orange blight — and this one is a glossy cheek
half nibbled away — and that one is a slumped purse full of its own unstoppable decay.
Still, what I want in my life is to be willing to be dazzled — to cast aside the weight of facts
and maybe even to float a little above this difficult world. I want to believe I am looking
into the white fire of a great mystery. I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing — that the light is everything — that it is more than the sum of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do.
One thing I will never tire of is hearing about people’s favorite things! Hopefully, if you are reading this, you feel the same.
Below are a few things that I have either been enjoying lately or relying on throughout the year. It was a weird year, and I have a feeling that things are only going to get weirder. I’m not sure if I want to say “get weirder before they even out” because most of the time I don’t think that’s possible anymore.
But it was a weird year in good ways, too. I wrote my second book (just working on image permissions at this point!) and I just signed a contract for my third. I was interviewed on four podcasts despite swearing up and down that I was never ever going to be on a podcast! I started a little TikTok account after proclamations that I hated TikTok and that I WOULD NEVER! Chances are, if I say I’m never going to do something, the universe will present me with a reason or an opportunity to do that very thing within the next 24 hours. I never learn my lesson! (According to this logic, all lessons be learned by tomorrow??)
Anyway, 2021 was a mixed bag. I’m still here. I’m glad that you are too. In honor of mixed bags, here’s some stuff. Just a total jumble of things, no theme tying anything together, and everything mixed up in no particular order!
Celestial Seasonings Fast Lane Tea. I haven’t drunk Celestial Seasonings teas since I was a kid. Nothing wrong with them, I guess I was just seduced by the variety of options available nowadays and never bothered to revisit them. But I had several boxes of their Fast Lane tea – a lightly spiced black tea- thrust upon me, and it’s actually very good. I think there may be an extra kick of caffeine in it, and the spices are very subtle, more of a fragrance than a taste, and it’s a really lovely treat in the afternoon with the Silk “oatmeal cookie” Oat Creamer. We’ve taken to having a mid-afternoon tea break and treat around 2-3 pm most days and this is really perfect for that. Serve with a cardamom bun or a slice of lavender tea bread!
Lavido Hand Lotion I already love the thick, nourishing version for feet, and this mildly musky coconut-scented hand cream is perfect to keep at my desk.
Jadeywadey180 I love watching videos where people are pampered. Massages, scalp scratches, even chiropractic videos! And of course, facials and skincare treatments. On Jadeywadey180’s channel, she once mentioned that you really need to massage your cleanser into your skin for at least 30 seconds for it to even begin to be effective. Now I don’t know if that’s true and I am not here to debate anyone, but I did start doing that and it feels amazing, so I think that’s reason enough to continue.
Molton Brown Geranium Nefertum shower gel is not exactly similar to my stupid expensive favorite Oud Wood shower gel from Tom Ford but they’re on similar wavelengths. A sort of rich, woody scent, balanced with moss and fig, perked up with pepper. It’s a dashing ghostly scoundrel of ascent and at $32 it’s still not cheap for a bottle of squirty shower shit, but it’s also not Oud Wood’s $75 price tag.
Some pieces from Universal Standard: these Universal Standard Stephanie wide leg striped pants which are sort of replacing my linen Swayers from STATE the Label because they are falling apart and for some reason, STATE refuses to make more of these plain black pants. Come on, guys! Pretty please!? Also, these bike shorts, which honestly are sort of amazing. From the fit to the feel to the side pocket for my phone, they are excellent. I also picked up this waffle-knit lounge set in a dusty rose-lavender-oatmeal color, and it’s comfy and cozy as heck and I strangely love this light neutral color and am looking for reasons to incorporate more of it into my wardrobe.
Here’s that color again, sort of! I was gifted an older Apple Watch from my BGF after they upgraded to a newer version, and I surprisingly loved it. It was a nice opportunity to try it out before making that sort of investment, and I probably would have just continued using it, but it wasn’t really charging very well, and it wasn’t super responsive after awhile. I purchased a new one and I was going to get a lavender band to accompany it, but somehow I ended up actually liking the band that was included with it. Sarah of 2017 would be aghast. *waves to old-Sarah from across time*
Le Bon socks I first saw these last year in Rachel Symes New Yorker gift guide in 2020 and I pooh-poohed them because I am obsessed with cute socks, and these are … not that cute. But my kawaii animal and anime character socks are often cheaply made and then and fall apart and I’ve been rethinking about what it is exactly that I expect from my cozy foot tubules. The socks from Le Bon are a bit utilitarian-looking in muted colors, no bright novelty prints here. But they do offer an extremely soothing sole swaddle, so I’m sold.
When I walk for exercise my toes flail and flounder aggressively, which results in holes being poked in the top of my shoes. Someone suggested to me that I need sneakers with a wider toe box, and after doing a little research (you know, reading like 2.5 reviews) I decided upon the Topo Athletic Zero Drop Magnifly 3…which I think is actually a running shoe, but that’s fine. Or at least it seems to be fine. I don’t know, I am not a shoe or foot or much-of-anything expert! They’re really comfortable and they’ve held up quite well. I purchased these in June and nary a toe hole in sight! With the previous pair, I’d managed to breach the top of the shoe in less than three months, so this is good news.
This adorable little glass cup is just the sweetest thing and makes me unreasonably happy. I had a tiny matcha latte in it one day and a little whiskey soda the next evening. Wheee!
Then there is this neutral color open-front cardigan from Cotton Emporium that’s getting pretty ratty because I wear it nearly every day. With dresses, with jeans and old metal or horror tees, with my pajamas when I wake up on a chilly morning–I wear it with everything. Does it go with everything? Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves, no one said that. I originally got this one from Stitchfix but I am fairly certain it is no longer available. This is the exact one that someone was selling over on tradesy a while ago. It’s really nothing special, just perfectly worn-in, and somehow both lightweight and cozy. Another piece that has been getting a lot of mileage these past few months is this mustard-colored tunic dress from Toast.
Recipe inspiration from two unlikely places: Nami’s YouTube channel & The Salad Lab on TikTok. Nami is a single woman living in Japan and her 20-30 minute videos often follow her over the course of a weekend while she documents the meals she prepares, tidying her home, small crafts, and occasional peeks at her neighborhood grocery shopping trips or visits to cafes to meet up with local friends. I usually watch this while I am knitting a simple project (it’s subtitled, so I partially need to pay attention!) and I love to see her go about her quiet, creative days. I especially enjoy Nami’s imaginative approach in the kitchen, where she often cooks simple meals using unexpected combinations of ingredients. In The Salad Lab, saladologist (I made that word up) Darlene “creates fabulous salads every day” and it’s exactly what it sounds like. A brief minute or two long video of some disembodied hands making a variety of salads. I love salads! So I get a lot of ideas here, too.
Also, I learned that you can shred chicken in your kitchen aid in less than 30 seconds with the paddle attachment. Now granted, I didn’t spend a lot of time shredding chicken with just two forks and elbow grease–that’s too much work!– but now that I know that I don’t have to do it that way…!
Sopor from Twilight Alchemy Lab is a pillowy sleep blend with notes of lavender, vanilla, chamomile, and blue tansy and its gentle, aromatic lullaby has earned a position of prominence on my nighttime dream shelf.
Ok. So. While these two fragrances I’ve chosen to share here are not exactly my *favorite* scents this year, they are the scents that surprised me the most with how much I’ve enjoyed them. Also, I realize that I often write about perfumes that are not easily accessible; they’ve either been discontinued, or they’re prohibitively expensive, or hard to get one’s hands on, for whatever reason. I thought instead I might mention two fragrances that are fairly easy to find and accessible– in terms of purchasing a bottle, and also that neither of them are really challenging scents. I’ve already written reviews for both Hanae Mori and Glossier’s You, but I will share them both below again, in case you missed them!
I first learned of Hanae Mori on a blog that I was pretty obsessed with, back in the early 2000s. This person wasn’t a perfume enthusiast or fashionista, or even a popular blogger as far as I could tell…she seemed to be a gentle quiet weirdo, like me. She had a goth Betty Page bob and she did something in tech and updated sporadically about her little Seattle apartment. I thought she was the coolest. When I began to really delve into fragrances a few years later, I recall her mentioning this one in passing, and so sought out a sample. I was disappointed at how ordinary it seemed. Twenty years later I quite disagree with past me! Hanae Mori is a perfectly lovely woody vanilla and creamy, milky musk with hints of dusty dried grass and the airy green tang of blackberry leaves. A lot of reviewers mention fruit, but I don’t get any of that at all. If you enjoy the sweet comfort and nostalgic 90’s whispers of Vanilla Fields or the bitter Miss Havisham melancholia of Fleur Cachee, I’d say this scent falls squarely in the middle and I am surprisingly obsessed with it.
Glossier’s You is a scent I really had no intention of ever buying, but then my curiosity got the best of me. A minor point: I hate this bottle, it’s dreadful. It looks like a small pink blandly Cronenbergian lump of quivering flesh. I can, however, get over that, because as it turns out and much to my surprise…I actually really love what’s inside the horrid skin sack of a bottle. It’s possible that I had very low expectations because I don’t like any of Glossier’s other products and also because I am maybe a snob. But I really don’t mind being wrong! Okay, I am a Taurus and I hate being wrong! But I make an exception for perfume. You is a wonderful melding of this chilly, ghostly delicate iris musk and a warm, woody, sturdy peachy amber quietly enveloped in a crystalline psychic glow of pink pepper and you kind of wonder how these notes got together but then you think of Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus and it all just makes perfect sense. Yes, this is a queer classic anime power couple of a scent and I absolutely adore it.
Books. Always. Words have always been my dearest, staunchest companions, and this year I read a lot of good ones! I challenged myself to read 50 books this year, which I realize is not a lot for people who tend to read a lot, but I surpassed my goal at a current number of 55 and if I can finish Stephen Graham Jones’ My Heart Is A Chainsaw by the end of the day, it will be 56! (I probably won’t.) My two favorite from this year are books that I inadvertently read back to back and which have some similar themes in common: death, loss, grief, and food: Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner and The Astonishing Color of Afterby Emily X.R. Pan.
Music: I’ve been remiss in recent years in keeping my ear to the ground for new and incredible music, but I will say I’ve been immensely enjoying Japanese Breakfast, both their newest release, Jubilee and basically everything else, too. And lots of Matt Berry, of course.
Watching: Both the ridiculousness and stunning costumery of The Great and the dreamy absurdity and upsetting realism of Atlanta. We also just binged S2 of The Witcher, which, although I enjoyed it, it kinda seemed like we were playing the video game this season. Do I need to read the books? Hm.
At just 12 hours until 2022, I am attempting to watch a handful of horror/esque/ish/adjacent movies I meant to watch before the end of the year. I have seen In the Earth, Possessor, and Censor(my favorite so far) and I am going to try and fit in Last Night in Soho and Titane before the night is over. Wish me luck!
I have glamorous aspirations, but in reality, I am pretty much the opposite of glamour. Despite all the makeup I have lying around, I barely wear any of it, unless I am going to make a little video for YouTube (which …isn’t that often), or else I have to leave the house for a special occasion. Which is also not often, or ever really, nowadays. On a daily basis, the only thing I do after morning skincare stuff is sunscreen and the most minimal of eyebrow stuff. I basically just want to make sure they are all going in the same direction, to be honest with you. I’ve been using this brow butter and styling gel from Saie, and it’s ok. It does the job. I think I just really like the packaging.
I do try to sneak a little glamour in with some daily jewels and the magics of the Face of the Oracle pendant from Atelier Narcé have been clasped around my neck more often than not throughout the week.
Paintbox Soapworks is a perpetual favorite in our household. Here are some of their wintry offerings that we are currently enjoying…
Honorable mentions include: my library card, which has really gotten a workout this year in accessing their digital collections // Stasher silicone bags which have been great to help with cutting down on plastic baggie usage (and another shoutout to Swedish dishcloths as a paper towel alternative!) // all of the friends, family, and acquaintances who have checked in on me during what I feel have been several near meltdowns over the past few months // finally accepting the idea that at 45 years old I don’t have to suffer unnecessarily, and maybe medication for depression and anxiety is an option worth exploring…I have been on it for 4 days now, go me! Better living through chemistry! // art and poetry, always // Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings which was a perfect superhero movie // on a related note, I am happy to see that Michelle Yeoh is just about everywhere I look nowadays, and I don’t think I have ever been as excited to see a movie as I am Everything Everywhere All At Once
Before the year ends, I thought I’d share one last perfume post! Below are reviews of a few of the things I have been sniffing lately…
In Frederic Malle’s Musc Ravageur there’s a strange, sullen plastic note wrapped around a dark, animalic vanilla that doesn’t care what anyone thinks and laughs at its own jokes and sometimes it laughs so hard it pees itself a little, and yeah, you can actually smell that aspect of Musc Ravageur too, in the form of an almost fermented amber note. It’s both rich and sour in an offbeat way that borders on off-putting…but for all that, it’s not a terribly complicated scent. I think we might consider this a perfume that is hard to get to know, but easy to love. Do I relate to this scent a little too deeply? You could say that, sure.
Tenebrae from L’Artisan’s Natura Fabularis line which I believe is meant to conjure association of ancient forests and sap infused incense and all sorts of evergreen enchantments, but I’m not sure that the promise of those wild, wintry woodlands translate as such for me. Imagine peering at those shadowed and frost-tipped treetops through the glimmer of a crystalline orb; a misty vision initially vaporous and shrouded, coalesces into startling clarity. Tenebrae is the fragrance anointing those liminal moments as they move from uncanny and indistinct to recognizable and unmistakable. The scent of letting your eyes become unfocused as you attempt to discern the pattern of things. And once you think you’ve got it, that you’ve zeroed in on it, that you’ve figured it out, you’ve lost it entirely–because that was never the point. Let slip the glass ball from your fingers, let it smash to the floor in shards. Gather them, crush them, devour them. The blood on your tongue reminds you what you took from the vision was wholly your own. You don’t need anyone to tell you what the forest smells like. Ok, but really: cedary woods and thorns and brambles and the not-greenness and possibly not-quite-wholesomeness of small green berries overlooked by winter birds, and all of the versions of fairytales you’ve pieced together in your imagination to construct what a grand forest must look like, and then you grew up and threw those dreams in the river, but retrieved them later in your cronage and burned them as a sort of frizzled and foggy incense.)
Poudre de Musc from Parfums de Nicolai is all shimmering, gossamer aldehydes and soft, musky rose, and a gorgeous arrangement of sandalwood and orange blossom that a particularly artsy florist composed. It lights up a room with scintillating conversation, it’s both lively and restrained, people would invite it to parties and no one would ever give it funny looks or call it “extra,” or say, “,man you were acting weird last night.” Mothers-in-law would love it. It would never ever forget its mother-in-law’s birthday, as a matter of fact, it probably calls its mother-in-law once a week to say hello. Objectively, it is beautiful. It’s perfect on paper. But it makes me feel awful about myself because those attributes are all of the things I am not.
Fleurs d’Oranger from Serge Lutens is everything lush and lovely and radiant about a little bottle of orange blossom water, right up until the time I add it to a cold drink or a confection, thinking how exquisite it will taste and then realizing, uggghh… this literally tastes like a mouthful of perfume. Fleurs d’Oranger is the extreme version of that ill-fated swallow, all syrupy narcotic, summer damp, fleshy-musked florals, balmy honeyed jasmine, and tuberose, intensified by cumin’s bitter, polarizing pungency.I adore the scent of orange blossoms and enjoy this interpretation more than most. It’s heady and heavy-lidded and hypnotic whereas many others have a lighter, somewhat “clean” aura. I’m fairly certain that the deliciously cunning and charismatic Lady Sylvia Marsh, immortal priestess to an ancient snake god in Ken Russell’s trippy 1988 horror film the Lair of the White Worm, wears this exact scent and as she goes about her days, heartily seducing and eating men, looking fabulous, and enjoying herself tremendously.
I’ve been trying my sample of Squid on and off for the past year, hoping to find something different in it. It still does not wow me. But it’s not terrible, either. I’m typically really impressed with Zoologist’s myriad creations and from this scent I expected something that shares a kinship with the moody, murky, and mysterious nature of this creature, or at least the slithery and inky perceptions of it? But I’m finding it overall an oddly crisp aroma, like freshly snipped sweet green herbs, coupled with a vanilla salt aspect very similar to Tokyo Milk Dark’s Arsenic, and the added subtle floral zest of pink pepper. It’s pleasant enough, but it’s not terribly interesting, and it certainly doesn’t evoke the squidly wizard vibes of the label illustration. Now if that artful cephalopod depicted, say …an executive admin who gets you to sign an office birthday card? I could have tempered my expectations appropriately. This is less marine monstrosity from the deep and more Angela from The Office.
Burberry Hero is marketed as a men’s fragrance in a marvelously ridiculous advertisement with Adam Driver but I try not to think of perfume in terms of gender, so you won’t hear me discussing whether something smells masculine as opposed to feminine. Which I am sure that some people find frustrating and my response to that is “so what?” There’s better and more interesting and exciting ways to think about and talk about the art and application and aesthetics of fragrance than filtered through the construct of gender. Despite all that high-minded talk, I’m not sure that there is actually any sort of exciting way to talk about Hero.
I’m tempted to share my thoughts on the characteristics I find appealing in my platonic ideal of what a hero is supposed to be, but that’s just the thing, isn’t it? Heroes come in all shapes and sizes, and I believe (or at least after school specials and Saturday morning cartoons have taught me) that anyone is capable of rising to the occasion and performing a heroic feat. And maybe that’s the problem here; I feel like this composition while pleasant enough in a crisp-cedary-breeze way and a sunny-sweet-mild-citrus-slice-in-a-glass-of-sparkling-water way, is one of those scents that, in trying to appeal to everyone, becomes awfully bland and nondescript, lacking in any amount of charm or charisma.
I wore it for a few hours and what I am left with is a sour tannic powderiness, with a weirdly aquatic translucence. Like an Arnold Palmer powdered drink mix stirred in with too much water and poured over an excess of ice, and piped in through the vents of a day spa, I guess? This is a fragrance I would prefer as a scented dry shampoo or some form of quick refresh, so I can see it working in certain circumstances. Circumstances being you’re on autopilot and you want to put in the minimum amount of hygiene-related work but you also don’t want to be smelly, so admittedly the bar is really low for this situation. My main stumbling block here is that they went with Adam Driver to market this perfume to us …and I am inclined to imagine Adam Driver as more deliciously, overwhelmingly, bombastically stanky than the milquetoast reality of Hero. (The best thing about Hero is that it inspired THIS! My BGF made marvelously silly video!)
I am having an interesting moment with Bee from Ellis Brooklyn. Which is to say I don’t hate it. I almost even like it? This is strange because typically gourmand scents aren’t my thing. I want to smell like a mossy bog witch or bioluminescent flora on an alien planet, or mottled parchment poetry penned by a lovelorn bookbinder. And honey is such a weird note, with its aromas both attractive and repellent, that ambrosial golden syrupy floral note that eventually devolves to the pungence of a filthy feral flower urinal in the height of August. Bee is not a super realistic honey, which is fine with me, I don’t want realism in my perfume anyway. It’s a floofy, poofy vanilla and sandalwood marshmallow dusted liberally with dehydrated buckwheat honey and clover pollen and layered with this dark, balsamic rich woody rumminess that’s not quite rum and at all, and it took me a few days but I worked it out. At its heart, Bee conjured the sweet, full-bodied warmth and vaguely fruity tobacco notes of a hot cup of rooibos tea. I don’t often want to smell like this, and I don’t even like rooibos tea, so isn’t the sort of thing I could wear every day… but I think I can appreciate that it’s a really lovely offering that gives you something a little different than what you might expect from it.
The copy for The Bewitching Yasmine from Penhaligon’s Portrait collection is kind of silly in a Regency romance sort of way “Yasmine’s sights are set on London – and a suitable match. Her fragrance is a voluptuous affair: jasmine, incense, oud. A celebration of all that is gloriously sensual. Who could resist?” But the musky shadows of this deliriously poisonous confectionery fairy tale floral reads less like a novel of manners and more like a New Wave Czechoslovakian gothic drama through a slightly sleazy and heavily decadent 1970’s lens. And if in that word salad of melodrama you sussed that I am obliquely referring to a gloriously wicked character from the 1972 film Morgiana, then we are obviously besties. If you’re not keeping up, that’s okay, we’ll visit another point of reference. Imagine the vanilla-dusted amaretto-spiked jasmine and sassafras latte of Dior’s Hypnotic Poison and lock it in a psychedelic velvet carpet bag with oud’s bitter earthy fables, and the strange otherworldly poetry of cardamom incense. Bury the satchel for one hundred years in an abandoned cliffside cemetery, dig it up, air it out, and the resulting fragrance is The Bewitching Yasmine. Or, back to Morgiana–although the actress who played the jealous and vindictive Viktoria was singularly, splendidly perfect, and no one could ever replace her…imagine the divine tackiness of Peggy Bundy in that role? That is the very essence of Penhaligon’s The Bewitching Yasmine. This is a fragrance somehow both luxurious and trashy. What do we call the intersection of these things? Self-indulgent? Sinful? None of those really feels right. And there’s something not quite right about this scent, too–maybe that’s why it’s so much evocative fun.
Kenzo Flower is a scent that I’ve never quite understood the fascination with. It’s like someone took a chorus of iris and violet and rose and other cool powdery florals that one might think of as refined and restrained, delicate and graceful, and they said to these bashful blooms–”hey guys, can you tone it down a little? We’re trying to concentrate here!” And they kept toning it down and dialing it back until what is left is the faintest, barest echo of a scent. Kenzo Flower is the olfactory equivalent of white noise. Or walking away from a conversation and realizing that you don’t recall a word that was said…because the person talking to you was just that boring.
Tauer Perfumes’ L’Air du Désert Marocain is a fragrance I have been puzzling over for nearly fifteen years. When I first sampled it, I was very taken with vanillas and gourmands–which seems very unlike me now, but I guess my palate and preferences have changed quite a bit! I liked the sweeter end of the scent spectrum at that moment in time, and so this was much, much too dry for my tastes. Today it is still dry, at least, in the initial moments: a sandstorm of dusty woods and salty winds, swirling with cool, bitter spices and the earthiness of baked clay. Then, a crumbling, vaguely medicinal incense, a strangely smoky and herbaceous amber. And underneath, surfacing at odd intervals only to disappear and reappear as if some hallucinatory mirage, there is a strange sweetness reminiscent of honied rum, delicate white chocolate, and soft nougat studded with rich dried fruits. It is in this space, the me of 2006 inhales a deep, confectionary lungful and finally gets it. The me of today, wrapped in the hazy veil of this cult-favorite composition is finally impressed, too
I was not super consistent in creating videos for my little channel in 2021 so I thought I’d squeak in a quick one before the year ended. This one I call: “look at all my sparkly shit!”
I have such a hard time sitting in front of a camera and thinking up things to talk about, thoughts to share, observations to make. Writing comes much more easily to me than speaking, and so I typically would record a bunch of footage, script out what I’d like to say, and then record some voiceover. But that’s all A LOT of work. And also, typically, a massive amount of overthinking. And while it will naturally end up being more organized and thoughtful and articulate, well…that’s not how I actually sound in conversation, now is it? And I did actually want some of these videos to be chatty and casual like you’re just having a little visit with your friend. So I hope that’s how this one turned out, and I would like very much to just get over myself and my self-consciousness and do more of these in the new year!
In the meantime, I hope you’ll have a watch and like and subscribe and comment and all that other stuff that you’re supposed to say when you make a YouTube video!
In this video, the following jewelers and shops are mentioned…
I have been sleeping a lot lately. This is strange for me. Although I appreciate a good night’s rest, I typically don’t want to spend more time in bed than I absolutely need to. I’ve also noticed a waning interest in cooking and baking, and my inspiration and enthusiasm for culinary adventures seems to have disappeared entirely. These inclinations and lack of, I suppose, started earlier in November and have steadily been growing more intense. I’ve been blaming it on the changing season, the days growing darker, the ending of the year. I’ve been trying to power through.
Yesterday I realized I was just…sad. And missing my mother and my grandparents terribly. I realize it’s not uncommon to be in your mid-40s and have lost all of your elders, but I have been finding myself so resentful of people my age lately (and, well everyone else if I am being honest) who are able to spend time with their mother, or grandmother during the holidays. It makes me so mad! I want that, too! And then I feel awful begrudging people time spent with their loved ones and end up just feeling like a shitty person.
But if I am really being honest, I also felt this way when my mother was alive. I’d see people going to a mimosa brunch with their mothers or road trips or I don’t know, cheesy spa days or whatever, and I’d be resentful then, too. We didn’t have that kind of relationship; she was an animal hoarding hermit-bordering-on-agoraphobe who was a recovering addict and who didn’t drive and who also refused to fly and who canceled more plans than she made (and yes I realize many of those descriptors are traits that I may have inherited or developed myself.) She just…didn’t make it easy. In life, or in death.
But I miss her, anyway.
I admitted this to a friend last night and came to terms that what I have been feeling was less seasonal depression–though I am sure there’s some of that in there, too–and more just…waves and waves of grief. I miss my family. I miss my grandfather’s calm, placid demeanor and his unwavering support. I miss my grandmother’s nosy, gossipy streak and how she remembered the name of every friend I ever had, and would still ask about them, years and years later. I miss telling my mother about some way I screwed something up for someone and how she would predictably remark, “fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke!”
This morning I watched an absolutely benign but very sweet video on TikTok and surprised myself by bursting into tears. It’s not even that this lady reminds me of my grandma or mother. More like…she just reminds me that I don’t have either. And typically if this were to happen, I’d screw up my eyes, clench my jaw, and generally tighten up my face like I was trying to forcefully draw the tears back up into their ducts. Will myself toward composure, force it if I had to.
But I had a passing thought…wouldn’t it be better for me…if I didn’t do this to myself? Does shoring myself up like that do more harm than good? Does it hurt longer in the long run? So. I just cried.
And it hurt A LOT.
And then it hurt less.
My grandparents would have been 100 and 103 last month. Their birthdays usually book-ended Thanksgiving. My mother died on December 16, and I can never remember the year. I eventually have to refer back to a bit of writing I did when it happened so that I can figure it out, but I always forget it as soon as I find it. December 16th, as it happens was yesterday. I had forgotten, or at least intellectually I had forgotten.
But my heart knew. My body remembered. I realized the date as I was messaging my sisters about all of these things earlier this morning. I acknowledged that what I was feeling was a bone-deep sadness and that by recognizing what it is, maybe I can better address it.
But I don’t know what that means, really. To sit with something. I am guilty of taking things literally, but for some reason, that doesn’t apply for me here. It doesn’t make sense. Like, just literally SIT there? And then do what? Think about them? Cry about them? Write about them, maybe? And how I am feeling? I mean… I am sitting while I am writing about this, but it feels like I am cheating. Like, somehow, this is not me sitting with my grief. I just don’t know how to do it or even how to figure it out. Especially since these aren’t fresh losses. My grandmother, the last among them to go, was almost five years ago now.
Or…maybe it is just as simple as sitting there and thinking about things. I don’t know why, but I don’t like the simple answers. I want complicated steps and instructions (that I can summarily ignore because I have a weird contrarian streak.) Maybe I do need to add something else, a little touch, a bit of flair, just so it feels like I am DOING something.
Maybe tonight I will light a candle. Maybe three candles. And just sit in the dark and look into those little flickering flames. And think about those people I love who are gone and how now I just don’t know what to do with that love anymore.
I know that putting these yearly Hexmas lists together is kind of silly, but I have fun with it! I’m not sharing them in the hopes that someone will run out and purchase any of these things for me, and I’m not sharing them as gift guide suggestions; they’re always such a random collection of weird little obsessions, I can’t imagine anyone would have much interest in them other than me! I guess it’s sort of a reminder to myself that I’ve had my eye on these things, and if I wanted to I could treat myself for the holidays and after all…why not? And of course, if you were inspired by any of these things for your own gift-giving purposes, that’s good, too!
Some of these are recent finds or trends that appeal to me, for example, that pinafore a little further down the page just advertised to me by Instagram (but I won’t lie, I’ve always loved a pinafore and you can laugh at me all you like for it It’s the truth!) And some of these items I have been lusting over for quite some time now…like those moody floral pajamas, a version of which has probably shown up on every Hexmas list since I started sharing them here. Anyway, there’s no rhyme or reason to any of this stuff, so don’t even try to figure it out, hee!
…but okay, see, here’s the thing with my gift lists. I’m really not creating them for anyone who isn’t… me?
But if you’ve got someone in your life who is maybe 75%-95% like me in some way or another, then I think you probably can’t go wrong with any of these titles. These books–fiction, short stories, essays, memoirs, poetry, cookbooks, etc.– are all steeped in varying amounts of strangeness or magic and were all enjoyed over the course of the past year, although they weren’t all necessarily published in 2021. Any single one of them would make an excellent Hexmas/holiday gift for a like-minded friend or kindred spirit!
I have already read and written about a majority of these books in the semi-monthly Stacked installments here at Unquiet Things, so in the lists below I won’t be retreading ground I’ve already previously covered. I mean, it’s the holidays! I’m busy! I don’t have time to write that all stuff up again, but differently, so it sounds like you haven’t already read it! But if you’d like to know more, you can use my blog’s search function for reviews and further thoughts. Otherwise, you can judge by the beautiful cover art and trust that they wouldn’t be on this list if I didn’t love them and think they were the best of the best of everything I have read since January of this year. To make it easier, the favorites from each list will be bolded and at the top.
I will note that there are maybe 2-3 books listed below that I haven’t finished, or read the whole way through. They’re either the kind of book that lends to reading between other things, or else they are the pages you dive into at random when the mood strikes, or when you are looking for inspiration.
As a bonus, include a few small gifts with the books you generously gift away, to ensure an even more pleasurable reading experience for your recipient!
Idea one: a reading journal. Something to scribble thoughts or questions in as they read. This can be any blank book that catches your eye or one of which the aesthetic seems a fit for your friend. Here’s mine! I always keep a notebook and a pen nearby when I’m engrossed in a book. Whether it’s to jot down an unfamiliar word or turn of phrase, to capture a phrase or sentiment that particularly ensnared my heart or set my imagination alight, or make notes on this, that or the other interesting tidbit or topic for further research, I have found my book notes absolutely essential to deepening my experience of and engagement a story while I’m reading it.
Idea two: bookmarks! Does your friend have a favorite artist? Sometimes these creators sell miniature versions of their works in the form of bookmarks or postcards. Otherwise, you can find beautiful and unique bookmarks in museum gift shops, or you could even try your hand at watercolors or decoupage or whatever and make one yourself! Me? I’m not super crafty so I just pick up bookmarks from artists when I see that they offer them. Here is a gorgeous one from Caitlin McCarthy that gets quite a bit of us.
All of the above titles are Amazon Associate links. I don’t do ads on my site or make any money from it, but as an Amazon Associate, I earn a tiny bit from qualifying purchases. I just realized that I’m supposed to be putting this disclaimer on posts that contain these links, le whoopsie.
As we ALL know, December is the most Weeniederful time of the year, right? Time being what it is, no one is gonna argue with me on this. And anyway, every day is Halloween over at Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab!
I received BPAL’s 2021 autumnal collection several weeks ago, but then I promptly had to embark on a series of travels, and have only recently returned, so here we are. And anyway, smells smell good whenever you smell them, so there is no problem here! Let’s get into it!
Pumpkinville (a sultry, sweet red musk blend with pumpkin spices and pumpkin pulp) Eye-wateringly indolic, sultry red musk, and a strange spirit of irreverent mischief that really does conjure forth the bottle art by the inimitable Becky Munich: the madcap marvels of a swishy-skirted pumpkin-headed, velvet-choker-that-keeps-their-gourd-on-their-neck-wearing friend who zooms up your driveway in a rickety hearse and a cloud of feral autumnal spice and cackles GET IN LOSER WE’RE GOING WEENIE-ING.
Pandemic Vanitas (fresh baked bread, takeout fries, raw cookie dough, and cotton-blend sweatpants) A salty crispness? But also some sort of chocolate-covered wafers thing? Some Little Debbie Treat? Holy childhood snacks that I never had so I stole them from classmates– this is a Nutty Buddy! This triggers some kind of memory, being packed away to day camp during the summer, and snacks in the afternoon between god’s eye yarn endeavors and popsicle stick craft projects and little hikes to make gravestone rubbings… and now that I am talking about it, wow day camp was wasted on little-me. I’m definitely more into the idea of it as an adult.
Skull With Shell, Books, and a Crumple of Blush-Pink and Night-Blue Silk (creamy yellowed paper, pink tuberose, star jasmine, and blue cypress with incense, eucalyptus leaf, and iridescent sap) Artisinal smoky ylang-ylang-esque, lemony, balsamic-minty cough lozenges! The sort that an apothecary ASMR YouTuber who pays great attention to details would keep on set. These little pastilles would be so unusually delicious that you want to scarf them down like candy, but she sternly looks you in the eye and tells the camera, “NON.”
Paisley Sheet Ghost (weedsmoke-infused white sandalwood, wild oakmoss, cannabis flower accord, hash resin accord, tonka bean, lavender bud, champaca flower, and tolu balsam) This is an alluring musky chypre or a chypre-y musk. Sophisticated and mysterious in the way that your mother’s sister with her flashing rings and her purple-tinted glasses and her swishing caftans always seemed. I’m a square, friends, and I can’t speak much to many of these notes because my only real experience with any of it is a weird evening with a very special brownie, but Paisley Sheet Ghost definitely calls to mind people who are way cooler than me doing things that I’m just not ready to experience. And inexplicably they’ve invited me somewhere, or offered me something, and because I’m too scared or weirded out I say no and then sort of fade into the the woodwork and wish I could die because I’m so embarrassed by my timidness and lack of gumption for new things and new experiences. At almost 45 years old, I am still like this. Plus I don’t like to smoke things. Wow. As always, come for the perfume reviews, stay for the TMI.
Mouse’s Long and Sad Pumpkin (vanilla-infused pumpkin, two ambers, sweet pea and white sandalwood) This is such a pretty scent. It’s vaguely floral and vaguely foody, but not enough of either to be overwhelming in the way that those combinations can sometimes be. The more I sniff it, the more I’m convinced that “pretty” is more apt than “beautiful”…because something beautiful can be a bit stupefying, too. This is a vanilla-specked marshmallow, the homemade sort that you cut into enormous, fluffy squares, dusted generously with powdered sugar, drizzled with dark, musky honey, and –okay, so imagine this–what if pumpkin pie seasoning came from the crumbled petals of the autumn blooms of the pumpkin spice flower? Such a blossom garnishes this confection.
Dead Leaves, Spruce Bough, and Ti Leaf a green tea scent with an extra elven oomph; these types of scents can have a sort of spa-like vibe, but in this instance, the soft, earthy decay of autumn leaves and the balsamic wintriness of the spruce whisks it away it to something different and unexpected.
Still Like With Dooting Skull (bourbon vanilla with wildflower honey, licorice root, coconut milk, and nutmeg) This is one of those scents that has a texture in my mind’s eye, a sort of milky jelly, not sticky or tacky, but like a really nice plumping serum that you might use as part of your nighttime skincare regimen. I think it’s that combination of the lactonic coconut milk and the delicate floral nectar sourness of the honey, combined with a slightly medicinal anise aspect of the licorice, its sharpness muted by the creaminess. It smells…”efficacious”…if that makes sense.
The Harvesters I don’t think this scent is part of the weenie release but there was a bottle of this nestled in with the others in this box o’stinks and it seems seasonally appropriate, so I’m going to include a review anyhow. A quick bit of research shows that this scent was a gift with purchase in 2013 (someone please correct me if I am wrong!) and the notes are “pear trees, boiled oats, and wine beside a ripe field of wheat waving under a late-summer sun.” Before I even knew that though, when I was still trying to figure it out, my first thought was, “wow, this is the scent of a tasty jam sandwich snack!” Now that I’ve got a bit of context for it, I might further add that it’s toasted, fresh-baked bread with the addition of rolled and ground oats, and a gorgeous pear preserve that you made one solitary autumn weekend in November with just-harvested fruit (okay you harvested it from a gift basket, there are no pear trees around you, whatever!) stewed with red wine and a few broken cinnamon sticks. You were going to share a jar with a friend but you ended up eating it all yourself on slice after slice of steaming bread, warming your belly in the chill light of the afternoon.
Pumpkin-Scented Sticky Bat (sticky, lemony, and very pumpkiny) Lemon bars with olive oil and sea salt, fluffy lemon mousse, warm lemon pudding cake, lemon drop tart with a shortbread crust. All of these things at once! I really don’t like the word “yummy”, unless Terri Hatcher is saying it to Cathy Moriarty in Soapdish, but I will admit that its usage is entirely appropriate here.
Floral Sheet Ghost (strawberry-stained rose and peony with squished carnation and sugared pineapple) As a child who loved “all things floweredy” and who has carried that love into adulthood, I am okay with wearing all the florals in waking life, dreaming under them at night, and being garbed in them in my eternal afterlife, as well. Flowers 4ever, please! It would stand to reason, that this was the scent from the Freak In The Sheets collection for which I was most excited. I don’t get any florals from it, though…it smells just like a very specific Japanese candy the name for which I cannot recall, but a certain perfume swapper always used to include some in the packages they sent me. Pineapple, lychee, sweet-tart, sour-bright, syrupy deliciousness.
Dead Leaves on Houseplants The first sniff of this is quite deceptive, so I do hope you will stick around for what comes after because it’s pretty magical. The initial whiff is that of musty celery, a sort of watery, vegetal greenness. But it immediately becomes something bright and lemony, glossy-glowing-green and exuberant, sort of how you feel when you first bring a houseplant home, hope in your heart, swearing this time will be different! You’re not gonna kill this lil greenie no way, no how! This is a scent that calls to mind lists of why you should have green things growing in your house, how they improve the air quality, they raise the vibe, the aesthetic and acoustic benefits, whatever–this is what those emotional and visual improvements smell like in action.
Traditional Sheet Ghost (cool white cotton, marshmallow fluff, and lemony Oman frankincense) I had to check some reviews on this one, which I typically try not to do. I am easily influenced and if you tell me that you smell a specific thing, I might, too! But because my perception of Traditional Sheet Ghost was so unexpected, I just had to see what everyone else said! General consensus points to vanilla floofery, clean cotton sheets, and lemony breezes, but what I smell is a warm orchid-like note (which to my nose is also sort of an oaky vanilla) and …sandalwood? I have revisited this a handful of times and with every sniff it’s this soft, mellow, musky, malty, slightly-tipsy snuggie of a scent.
Dead Leaves and Molasses Pumpkin Cookies sweet loamy decay, browned butter AND pumpkin butter, and chewy, deliciously-spiced soft cookies. Nibbled on a midday forest ramble when the sun is low, the wind is still, and the path is eerily disappearing behind you. When searchers trek through the woods to locate you days later, there is only a sweet dusting of crumbs and maple leaves crunched underfoot where you had once stood.
Her Eyes Have Feasted on the Dead (bruise-purple violet and Spanish moss) This is a sun-bright, chipper, vivacious Rainbow Bright Pollyanna optimist with a secret burning goth black hole at their core! Blithe, beaming florals–I don’t smell violet exactly, but rather a plummy bouquet of glossy blossoms– with a little jumping spider living at the middle. “I am darkness!” they squeak joyously as they breathlessly enthuse about their serial killer obsession, their favorite horror movie, the time they left silken threads as tribute on Jim Morrison’s grave. “I am the wound and the knife! I am the vampire of my own heart!” they warble and bounce as they recite Baudelaire and let loose an adorable powdery fart!
Black Satin Sheet Ghost (black patchouli drenched in mate, clary sage, narcissus, and opium tar) Heady and opulent, the narcissus note smells to me like a creamy jasmine-like floral and pleasantly skanky; there’s a surprising streak of mint running through the scent that pairs interestingly with the earthy patchouli and the bitter astringency of the mate. It somehow all works in a really odd way, and it reminds me of those old ladies (or maybe it’s just the same old lady all the time?) who always show up on fashion blogs and interviews, the ones who have sharp, angular haircuts and big, round sunglasses and wear those white-striped Adidas track pants with, I don’t know, a silk floral Gucci shirt or something.
Ivy Twining Around Discarded Skull (incense, scorched brown sandalwood, drooping petals, noxious English ivy berries, and a tangle of leaves) Impossibly green incense, a smoldering cyan. The cool, creeping, verdant language of crawling greenery set alight, whispering soft variegated ashes skyward.
Innocent Souls Turned Carrion Birds (grey musk, grey sandalwood, and labdanum) This is a beautiful burnished and balsamic sticky-honied tobacco, with a peppery, sparkling citrus aspect that reminds me of voluptuous illustrations of jeweled autumn fruits. I almost want to say it’s gourmand-adjacent;while it’s rich, bordering on decadent, it’s not at all edible–the sort of gorgeousness that beckons from a window display or behind a glass counter and you think to yourself, “no, I could never eat that, it’s just too exquisite!”
Signum Crucis (rosehips, ambrette seed, leather, and mushroom) Ok, I gotta be honest here. I am reviewing this after the actual occurrence of one of my worst nightmares (I have a lot of those, but still. This one is pretty high on the list.) As an anxious, dysthymic people-pleaser this was the sort of thing that bunged all of my triggers and I am still in a state of high whateverness, my face on fire, my heart beating out of my chest, my body wanting to both barf and diarrhea, maybe also out of my ears. I am very keyed up and don’t know what I am smelling, let alone what I am thinking. BUT! As an experiment, I am reviewing this scent as I am all spiked up on adrenaline and then I will come back a few hours later and see if there is any difference. Right now it’s an ashy floral, sort of like flaming blossoms of petaled confetti, fizzling in a misty drizzle. Not fresh roses…not quite incendiary…but maybe a dusty bouquet, post-immolation, a little damp and singed and sheepish. Later it has a subtle, woody aroma, along with a note something very much like dry fall leaves. I don’t spend a lot of time sniffing mushrooms, but this feels like a scent that if I were a Little, or a Borrower or Arietty, and one of my soft, earthy fungi-friends gave me a hug? It might smell just like this. At this point, it’s actually a very comforting sniff and it’s making me feel better? Okay then!
Need more ‘Weenies? Have a peep at my ‘Weenie reviews from the autumns of yesteryear, over at Haute Macabre 2020 // 2019 // 2018 // 2017
New to the massive, immersive aromatic world of Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab? You may want to check out my three-part guide with tips and pointers for getting started on your weird, wild fragrant journey!