Outremer’s Vanille is a profoundly vanilla-y vanilla. It’s nearly a straight-up, high-quality, really lovely vanilla extract, with a rich, balsamic, warmth, and some pleasant plastic butteriness. A little lump of vanilla waffle cone incense stored in an empty tub of vanilla frosting. There aren’t any weird twists or turns, it’s a fairly linear scent from to finish. I think this is the first thing I would recommend to a vanilla fiend who doesn’t want any funny business with their vanilla fragrance.
So, Synthetic Jungle: Imagine a rain-soaked stroll, grey streets, grey sidewalks, grey, colorless people. A flash from the corner of your eye, a vibrant raincoat with an unexpected print featuring the lush, layered exuberance and verdant cacophony of the imaginary jungles of artist Henri Rousseau, an artist who had never left France to see real jungles. His inspiration came from Paris’ botanical gardens, zoological galleries, and from geographic illustrations in prints and books. This is dizzying descent of a scent, an aromatic Stendahl Syndrome, conjured by someone who fully knows this jungle sprung forth from the depths of dreams. It is a clashing, chaotic chypre and white floral canvas, aswirl with sharp, woody oakmoss and the crisp springiness of lily of the valley and the intense, acrid greenery of galbanum. Wrapped in a plastic rain slicker and rubber wellies.
Stella from Tocca is a fragrance that I have probably received about a million samples of over the years and which I have been strangely resistant to trying. I was convinced that it was going to be a really boring, conventional sort of scent, though I’m not really sure what I was basing that on. Probably because the majority of these samples came from Sephora, and on the interesting-o-meter, most perfumes from there score pretty low for me. Stella…is not necessarily bland or boring, but I will say it’s not my thing. It’s very pretty, in a starter-scent way. I don’t mean for young people, necessarily, but I don’t not mean them, either. Maybe just for someone who doesn’t yet know what they like. A sparkling fruity-floral with notes of milky peach Calpico and blood orange San Pellegrino and watery freesia that dries down to the scent of what I recall teenage girls spritzing in the bathroom between classes to freshen up, a sort of citrusy-powdery-soapiness. Before it reaches that point though, it’s got this soft, shimmering watercolor quality that reminds me of certain pieces of contemporary fantasy art: flowers and fairies and young maidens and probably a unicorn just outside the canvas, yet to be coaxed forth by an innocent and guileless hand.
Gris Charnel from BDK Parfums is a scent that I find confusing and disappointing. Mostly, I think I am disappointed in myself, for not having read the perfumer’s inspiration for the fragrance. Some dribble about two tourists whose glances cross paths, they dance until dawn and then slip away for an intimate encounter. Yawn. I got bored and checked out several times just now while trying to sum that up. Now if they slid through a portal into an Edward Allan Poe story while they were making out in a dark alley, then I could forgive myself for getting thrillingly suckered in by the copy (and to a lesser extent, the darkly poetic name, which I feel somehow tricked me into thinking it was something that it was not.) It must have been the notes I was excited for then, which mention black tea, fig, and cardamom essence. That sounds really lovely. But I’ve tried this several times and I don’t sense any of that loveliness. Instead, it’s a bit like a low-end tea sampler that includes selections with various unspecified “fruit flavors” but in reality, no matter which one you brew up, all they taste like hot Kool-Aid water. And there’s a weird, acrid smoky element that hovers unpleasantly, like charcoal heated air…so imagine smoking hot Kool-Aid water in your hookah. Even if I pretend an olde-timey goth poet was smoking that hookah, it’s still a bit of a dud.
Chris Rusak’s Beast Mode is a scent that I don’t hear a lot about from the hoi polloi, but I’ve heard enough from niche bloggers that I consider perfumista royalty to pique my interest. Exactly what I heard about it, I couldn’t tell you. I guess the name itself stuck with me. The site describes this fragrance as a “minimalist weirdo. A creature of deception. Perfume nerdery” and while I don’t actually know anything about this perfumer, I will say that this nondescription captured my imagination and which evolved into a little crush. The sort of obsession that you develop on someone you glimpsed on the subway reading a dog-eared copy of a book by your favorite author, in this case, let’s say creepy Japanese manga artist Junji Ito, and then you had a series of unsettling dreams about them, so you wrote an ode to this stranger in the local alternative paper’s missed connections section. And like Japan’s most successful and lauded horror author, Rusak has injected an extraordinarily potent amount of weirdness into this scent. Beginning with a mundane peek into the spice cabinet, you are subjected to a surreal descent into madness featuring fenugreek’s uncanny curried maple syrup-ness, a dry, itchy tingle of salty musk, an enigmatic spike of aniseed, and an oily conflagration of black pepper. I can’t make heads or tails of this scent, and as a matter of fact, I like to imagine it as a many-headed, rattle-tailed beast, much like its very name. It’s truly one of the most eccentric and singular fragrances I have ever sniffed and I stand in admiration of its sublime strangeness.
I have had so many people ask me about Thin Wild Mercury over the past year that I was starting to think I had been living under a rock or something and somehow some long-standing beloved cult favorite had passed me by. I don’t like to be the last to hear about something good! But here I am and here we are. So I understand this is a line of fragrances telling aromatic fables of the iconic spirit of Los Angeles. I know very little of Los Angeles, other than I traveled there once, and during that time I visited an incredibly bizarre and disturbing cat sanctuary in the middle of the desert. I also had a nervous breakdown in an Air BnB. Believe it or not, those two situations were entirely unrelated. So, Chateau, 1970. A bastion of old Hollywood and notorious celebrity hideaway, this olfactory ode to the Chateau Marmont mentions wilting roses, crisp linens, and vintage wood furniture and I do think all of that comes across. It’s an incredibly languid scent, like Lana del Rey in front of her vanity singing in a sleepy, drunken drawl into her mirror about how her moon is in Leo and her Cancer is sun, which if you ask me is a very weird way to phrase that thought. There’s dreamy indolence to this scent, moments frozen in time, captured in a Polaroid picture, dust motes floating forever above a lone rose in a chipped vase just beyond the mirror’s cloudy reflection, never settling on the bloom. A powdery musk of memory of a night that never really ended, a faded photograph that belongs to no one anymore, wrapped in tattered linen and quietly slipped under a shabby fringe of carpet in a shadowed corner of an old bungalow.
I have some more brief impressions of Thin Wild Mercury’s offerings. And strangely, they’re all food metaphors and comparisons. Classic Taurus vibes, here, always! Whisky, 1969 is a heady combination of woody, musky oakmoss and a smoky sort of umami. Like …spiced loamy lichen wildness and leather and soy sauce that’s also a little nutty and boozy. It’s weird but it works. Laurel Canyon, 1966 with its zesty orange rind and warm, peppery clove and honeyed, almost chewy amber note is on the opposite end of the spectrum, a bit like a spice cake with a thin, sugared citrus glaze. Zuma, 1975 is a salty, grassy, sandy gremolata with bitter citrus and woody herbs served atop some fresh-caught marine delight just outside the sniffing range of this scent. I’m not saying it’s fishy, or seafoody or even …foody, but there’s definitely a sense of an almost palatable salinity
I’ve received so many samples of Andrea Maack’s Coven from Luckyscent over the years and for some reason I can’t recall any of my previous thoughts on it….which I interpret to mean that it never really impressed me as especially good or bad. This time, however, it’s really left an impression. With notes of soil and moss, Coven is meant to embody a shadowy woodland walk, and I think it’s clear the results are pretty divisive. One reviewer notes, and I am paraphrasing here, that it smells like dumpster juice. My own partner thinks it smells like an exploded car battery. I can’t deny that there is a sickly sweet rot at play here, like the dark shadows of Dol Guldur slowly encroaching the Greenwood forest as the feral wizard Radagast the Brown watches in horror while the vegetation blackens and decays before his eyes and many of his beloved animal friends are sick or dying. As it dries, the whiskey becomes apparent, and a strange, sour cumin note emerges to combine with the mossiness and the sense of black mold and mildew and it conjures a sort of hungover Witch-King of Angmar, badly in need of a bath.
Tom Ford’s Ombre Leather is a fragrance I both weirdly like and I don’t like and I can’t make up my mind. The new car leather scent is front and center, like you literally just slid into the seat of some posh, luxury vehicle to take it for a test drive. The smarmy salesperson slithered into the passenger seat next to you and they are wearing that screechy-sweet jasmine scent from Tom Ford that you really despise and at first you want to roll down the windows but you can’t figure out how they work so you just give up. But somehow the syrupy musk of the jasmine alongside the smooth, slightly bright, slightly animalic leather is a striking combination. But the two notes never really meld, they sit separately for the duration of the scent’s journey, and much like that trip twice around the car lot with the stranger that you’re not going to buy the car from anyway, it’s ultimately an awkward ride.
Mizensir’s Celebes Wood is a scent I love, but I think I love it more for someone else. This is a frou-frou boozy woodland party of a fragrance. A dozen rowdy princesses gather in the forest at midnight, all glitter and glamour and flowing hair and dazzling tiaras and ballgown pockets stuffed with cakes and confections and clutching jeweled flasks of sweet, strong liqueurs that cost half a kingdom to procure. There’s gossip and gifts and drinking and dancing and sweet kisses and secrets under the moonlight. And these princesses aren’t sleepwalking or under a spell, they’re alert and more alive than they’ve ever been, women with agency and autonomy and a vision for the future that will shake the very foundations of their world, because it doesn’t involve pleasing parents or marrying princes or making themselves or their dreams small or hiding their hearts’ truest songs. So…yeah. That kind of party. This is a sumptuous ambery scent, opening with a sweet, spiced swirling of almost effervescent sparks, like someone tossed cinnamon and cardamom on a flame, and when the embers die there is a deep, rich heart of tonka bean and resinous labdanum and something a lot like patchouli, but creamier, and less earthy. It’s beautiful and on the right person it could be devastating, but somehow it’s not me.
Dragonfly from Zoologist is a scent that apparently I’ve been sampling for so long I’m left with only fumes. But I’m not sure that I need a full bottle. I don’t own many scents like this…which is not to say it’s incredibly unique, because I’m not sure that’s the case. It’s a sort of gentle, watery floral musk with cherry blossom and peony and sweet, powdery heliotrope. While it’s nice, it’s quite pretty even, I’d definitely put it in the aquatic category… and I don’t love aquatics. Even one as wearable as this. I guess that’s what I mean when I say that I don’t have many like it. I’m sure there are lots of things that smell similar, I just couldn’t tell you what they are because I don’t wear or typically even sample them! I’ve read that dragonflies thrive in fresh, clean water and I think there is something of that purity that comes across in this scent. Purity is such a fraught term and so I hesitate to even use it, but that is the first word that comes to mind, and honestly, now that I have said that, you know who I can imagine wearing this scent? The brave and ridiculously sweet Laura Lee from Yellowjackets. This scent is perfect for this character. [Note in including the link just now, I realize that they have reformulated the fragrance. This review is for the original formulation.]
Maya from Tocca is a scent that I bought on a whim a few months ago when I was grabbing a few travel-sized scents from Sephora. Tocca scents generally don’t work for me and this one is no exception. They are all, or at least the one I’ve tried, these ridiculous fruity-florals that remind me of somehow of Edible Arrangement fruit bouquets. I don’t care for fruity florals but I don’t think this is a bad version of one. With top notes of black currant, violet leaf, and some underlying jasmine and rose, it’s a bombastic burst of jammy, patchouli-cloaked fruit, and musky florals, and it was driving me nuts because it reminds me so much of a scent that I used to wear in my late teens, when I first started taking classes at community college. The reason I remember this is because our cat peed on my bookbag and I tried to cover it up with this particular fragrance and 15 minutes into class I realized with a sinking heart that my solution was not working, so I gathered up my stuff and left and was too embarrassed to ever return. That scent was Tribu by Bennetton. I just checked the scent notes and it also lists black currant and violet leaf, jasmine, and rose. It does not of course list cat pee from one Leroy Parnell, our Siamese cat at the time, but in my memory Tribu and screechy, skanky cat piss are inextricably linked. Maya does not share that aspect with it. It’s just a run-of-the-mill fruity-floral. It’s fine. A touch of cat pee might make it more interesting, though.
Megamare from Orto Parisi is an absolute Atlantean kaiju of a fragrance. A massive, mysterious sea beast, a preternatural creature of divine power, wrapped in radioactive seaweed, rises from the unfathomable depths of an otherworldly ocean trench to surface in the middle of a typhoon. Tsunamis wreak havoc around the globe, saltwater instantaneously soaks every surface, a strange cloud of mossy musk forms, algae blooms, visibility drops to zero within seconds. At the vortex of this calamity is MEGAMARE, a gentle creature cursed with a hulking stature and an immensely briny, brackish odor that can be detected from other planets, other dimensions. It takes in the citizens of the world in a sweeping glance of its kaleidoscopic cyclopean eye and thinks “fucking hell, these humans are garbage” and disappears into the abyss never to be seen again. But its unearthly DNA changed the very essence of the seawater, and from every place a drop fell that day, a strange aromatic blossom appeared. And so history will never forget the vast flowering of judgment, the day of Megamare.
Baccarat Rouge 540 from Maison Francis Kurkdjian is a fragrance that no one ever talks about and that certainly no one’s ever heard of. That’s sarcasm. But I have to pretend that this is a thing that has flown under the radar, or else I’m going to have a hard time reviewing it. I mean how do you talk about a scent like this without saying the same thing a zillion other people have already said? (See that’s a thing about me. You can like my writing. You can love it. You can absolutely despise it. All of those are fine with me. What is *not* fine is when someone says that I sound exactly like someone else. That’s what makes me mad and sad and actually hate myself a little.) What *is* fine, sometimes, is smelling like someone else. Maybe a zillion other someones. This is one of those times. Baccarat Rouge 540 is not a heavy scent, it’s not especially complex or nuanced, and there’s not much in the way of projection. It’s not a masterpiece. It’s not especially unique. Sometimes you don’t want those things, though. You don’t want a weird, challenging, avant-garde artsy scent. Sometimes you want to put on a soft, cozy sweater that has a vague hint of a perfume that you wore last week still clinging to the fuzzed-out neckline. A caramelized spun sugar candy floss half-remembered dream of a scent, with a creamy-clean core of barely detectable cedar and a halo of glimmering jasmine fairy dust. That’s Baccarat Rouge 540. It’s hardly there and there’s not a lot to it. It’s a thoroughly enchanting, and outrageously expensive skin scent, But… it’s good. And sometimes that is good enough.
Zoologist’s Chipmunk is a chipmunk who is a CEO of some mega-corporation that’s actually a front for some shadowy organization that has been around for centuries and whose fanatical leadership is trying to open up a portal to another world and bring forth a demon god whose emergence on earth will usher in the end times. By which I mean it’s a cool, woodsy forest breeze, and something that smells earthy and dry, like the metallic tang of cold rocks, and of the nocturnal furry musk of creatures you wouldn’t want to meet in the dark. There’s nothing warm or sweet or cute or chipmunk-cheeked about it. It smells…ominous, somehow. These are oddly hollow woods, cursed groves, silent and strange, wherein a twitchy-tailed, beady-eyed, rodent cyborg chipmunk is conducting a mandatory board meeting of imminent doom.
October’s Table from Hexennacht is a collaboration with Alyssa Thorne photography and inspired by a piece of moody floral photography of the same name. From the notes listed, what I immediately pick out is the smoked vanilla and caramelized marshmallow, autumnal spices, kindling branches in the form of a sort of apple-y wood, and soft, honied beeswax, which they note is vegan. This is every bit as lovely and cozy and warm as you would expect, there’s the most interesting and delightful aspect of it that I can’t match to any note, but there’s an underlying something that skews it slightly off. Sitting near a chilled window late in the evening as freezing rain ices the streets outside. The lamp casts a soft glow, you’re wrapped in shawls and blankets, you’ve got a steaming mug of something strong and sweet, and a treasured collection of ghost stories in your lap. You’re ensconced in the comfort and safety of your lovely home…and yet. The wind moans softly through the trees, rattling the branches, skittering their skeletal wooden bones across the roof, like clacking dominoes of the dead. The lights buzz and flicker intermittently, and each time they dim, the shadows in the room lengthen and darken and grow. You realize with a feverish swoon and a start that you’ve been holding your breath and your heart is pounding furiously. In between each throb and thrumming beat is where the haunting riddle of this scent lies.
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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!
**sorry! But blech!
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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)
are so perfect
I can hardly believe
their lapped light crowding
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
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
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.
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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!
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.
Christophe Robin Regenerative Hair Mask I love this luxuriously goopy stuff. It makes my hair super soft and it smells like a silent film star’s vanity table.
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 After by 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
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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
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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!
1. Circe bust from Roses and Rue Antiques
2. Victorian Pietra Dura tassel earrings from Winkworth House
3. Meadow tote from Fable England
4. Kombu Sara dress from Suunday
5. Tenebrae eau de parfum from L’Artisan
6. Lila Opera floral-print pajama set from Olivia von Halle
7. Miss Blossom makeup essentials kit from Florasis
8. Floral bomber jacket (looking for one similar to Eva Thörnblad’s in Jordskott!)
9. Midnight garden notecards from The Met Store
10. Jasper Hill Farm Cheese Tasting Box from Food52
11. Mushroom birdbath from Wildlife Wonders
12. Beth pinafore from Little Women Atelier
13. Mary Shelley band tee from Wonder Witch Boutique
14. Studio Ghibli Kiki’s Delivery Service kitchen set
15. Geranium bath salts from Jinen Store
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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!
The Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab Every Day Is Halloween 2021 collection is currently live and available for purchase. As this is a limited edition series, sample sizes imps are not available
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A few weeks ago, over on Twitter, someone replied to me with something that made me feel kinda weird, and not a fun-weird. They probably didn’t think anything of it, and it was probably an innocent comment, but it definitely made me feel some kind of way, and I am still thinking about it.
“How many copies of your book do you have on hand, anyway?” It was something like that. Like maybe it’s odd to have a surplus of something you created? Like it’s somehow…greedy or boastful? I obviously don’t know what the intent or thought was behind the remark, I don’t know what the person’s experience is with such things or why they felt the need to make the observation (and I say “observation” because I don’t think it was a real question that they wanted a real answer for), but I can share why it is that I like to keep so many copies of it around!
When I was younger, I worked for a family-owned business. I suppose it was *my* family, as it was my former stepfather’s business–but it feels a little disingenuous to think of it that way. We sold occult books, of both the contemporary and the very old and very rare variety. When he initially opened the shop, it was mail order only, and that was my very first job when I was 15 years old–folding and stapling those catalogs that we printed at home! In my early twenties, I worked with him in our little warehouse. We had created a website and ran lots of eBay auctions, but we still did not have a brick-and-mortar storefront. I think we both liked it best that way, not having to deal with people in person! I packed and shipped orders, restocked the shelves, replied to emails, fielded phone calls, and tried in my very limited early-2000s way, to create a social media presence. An author of three books himself, I noted that my stepdad never had less than a dozen of his own books on the shelf, and as far as everything else, well, we very rarely had to tell a customer that something was “out of stock.”
What with family dynamics and life choices and such, my former stepfather and I haven’t spoken in many years. But I am very grateful to him for the myriad experience that job afforded me, for the opportunity to have spent a few years with those incredible books, and the profound trust that he had in me to work with everything as closely as I did. Many years later, I am only selling one book–my own. But I’ll always remember how he had a whole shelf dedicated to the copies of the books that he wrote himself, and I found that wonderfully inspiring. To have a thing on hand when someone wants it is a lovely thing to be able to act on! And is it not really awesome to catch a glimpse of a stack of books that you wrote, yourself? Come on–of course it is! I am lucky enough to have the space in my home to do this, so why not?
ANYWAY, if you have made it this far…guess what! I do have a point, and it’s nothing to do with any of that.
Although all of the above is 100% true, I just wanted an excuse to share a stack of books in this post’s featured image. Did you pre-order a copy of my book but wish you could have gotten it signed? Or did you order a copy of it from somewhere other than from me over the past year and wish the same? Send me an email to theartoftheoccult AT gmail dot com with your mailing address and I will send you a signed bookplate for your copy!
Now excuse me while I step away from my desk and immediately trip over the thousands of copies of The Art of the Occult that clog my hallways and jam up every inch of space in my rooms.
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