The Scent of Gratitude

The Scent of Gratitude

by Linda Ryan Now and then there comes a moment when time seems to stop, even for the merest fraction of a second, and in that fraction of a second something becomes so clear that it’s almost heartbreaking. It happened to me the other morning when I went to feed the outside cats. It…

via Speaking to the Soul: The Scent of Gratitude — Episcopal Cafe

I loved this reflection on scents and being thankful for them. As we’ve just passed Easter, I want to add how thankful I am for the abundance of flowers that my fellow parishioners provide every year to celebrate it, and the remarkable skill and love with which they arrange thousands of fragrant lilies, roses, hydrangeas, tulips and flowering branches. To be surrounded by so many gifts is indeed cause for thanks!

My Mother’s Last Perfume

My Mother’s Last Perfume

Re-posting this in honor of National Fragrance Day, as the Fragrance Foundation has suggested sharing one’s most poignant scent memories. My poor mother is still with us and still in her own home, but her condition has declined even further.

My mother is slowly dying. It is sad but acceptable, given that she is in her mid-80s and suffered a major stroke more than two years ago. She has been able to stay in her own home, cared for by a live-in aide who has become a much-appreciated member of the family “team.” Now my mother also gets hospice care in her home and she is bedridden. She is emaciated, as she only drinks protein shakes and water. Most of her medications have been discontinued, because trying to swallow pills came to cause her so much distress. She would be mortified to know her present condition, as she was always a proud woman who valued autonomy above almost anything else. She had always hoped that her unhealthy heart would fell her instantly, without any fuss, after she was no longer able to enjoy what she called her “adventures.” My mother loved to travel to exotic places, with or without my father (who died several years ago).

In her younger days, my mother also loved glamour, and parties, and dressing up. She had an eye for fashion and was a striking woman herself: tall, with white Irish skin and startling blue eyes under dark eyebrows and hair that was such a dark brown it looked black. An early memory of mine is of sitting on my parents’ bed, watching her do her hair and make up at a vanity, or what we called her “dressing table.” It was a ritual; and part of that ritual was the finishing flourish of Chanel No. 5.

Chanel No. 5 perfume ad

My parents’ marriage was not always a happy one, though it lasted more than 50 years and only ended with my father’s death when he was almost 90. My mother was never cut out to be a suburban housewife, yet the part of her that craved security sought out that life and chose to stay in it. She was, indeed, very like the creation of Rudyard Kipling to which she frequently compared herself: The Cat that Walked by Himself, or as she said, “the Cat that walked alone.” She sought out creature comfort and made for herself (and us) a pleasing home, but there was always part of her that withheld itself. As a child, I often tried to make my mother feel happier, though I now realize that much of her unhappiness was due to exaggerated expectations on her part of how her life should have unfolded.

The Cat that Walked by Himself, from the Just-So Stories, text and illustration by Rudyard Kipling

One way I tried to make her happy was to save my small allowance to offer her gifts: special gifts, the kind I thought my father should give her more often. More than once, that gift was some form of Chanel No. 5. I remember offering Chanel talcum powder; and once, the smallest size of spray cologne, as that was all I could afford. She was, in fact, delighted by these offerings and made a point of using them when I was around to see that she loved and appreciated them. My mother was in many ways a self-centered woman but she loved us as much as she was able to, given her own loveless childhood.

So now, as she lies slowly dying — a process that could sadly take many more weeks or even months — I occasionally “borrow” a spritz from her last spray bottle of Chanel No. 5 eau de toilette. I think I may have given it to her some time in the last decade; I just don’t remember. But I do remember the fragrance, and her bottle pre-dates the 2013 reformulation. It hasn’t been carefully preserved — it sat out on a shelf in her sunny bathroom for years. So the top notes are a little “off”, but it quickly settles onto one’s skin with powdery, warm, heady florals. Smelling it, I can recall the vibrant, restless, beautiful woman my mother once was. It really is a lovely scent, though I would never choose to wear it regularly as my own perfume, given its long association with my mother.

Sadly, she no longer enjoys it. On one of my visits during this latest phase of her long decline, I thought she might like to smell it again, as she was always hyper-alert to smells, so I applied a bit to my own wrist and held it close so she could smell it. She wrinkled her nose and said to the room, “What is that awful smell?”. So I haven’t offered it again; instead, I bring her pots of live hyacinths, which she has long loved and still enjoys. My father, an avid amateur gardener, used to please her by potting up dozens of hyacinth bulbs for forcing indoors every winter, when their perfume would fill entire rooms.

Pots of blue hyacinth bulbs in bloom

My mother slips in and out of awareness these days, and I’m not always sure she knows I am there, but when I brought her the latest hyacinths and held the pot of blossoms close to her, she inhaled their fragrance, smiled and said, “Lovely!”. It still matters to me to try to make my mother happy, even at this indeterminate, shadowy end.

Bottle of Chanel No. 5 perfume with pink hyacinths

Postscript: My mother died peacefully on May 30. We are thankful for her release; we believe she no longer walks alone.

It’s Beginning to Smell a Lot Like Christmas …

It’s Beginning to Smell a Lot Like Christmas …

Is there any season to compare with Christmas in the range and variety of lovely fragrances it evokes? From the balsam-scented boughs of wreaths, garlands and decorated trees to the delicious smells emanating from kitchens; from the incense of Midnight Mass to the smoke of fireplaces hung with stockings; from the spiced scents of oranges pierced with cloves and meat roasting with rosemary and garlic, to the narcotic perfume of paperwhite narcissi forced in pots — the fragrances are everywhere.

I make some holiday drinks mostly because of their wonderful smell, although they also taste terrific. One favorite is the Scandinavian mulled wine Glögg, a concoction of red wine, port, aquavit and brandy mixed with fresh ginger, orange zest, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, raisins and almonds. I make it in a slow cooker and let it simmer all day. Heaven! One must approach it with care, though — one mug makes you feel lovely and warm inside, with holiday goodwill toward all coursing through your veins, and a second mug will likely leave you on the floor, relying on others’ goodwill to take you home and put you to bed. There are many variations on recipes for Glögg, easily found online; I encourage you to try it. So easy and festive.

One of my favorite blogs, Bois de Jasmin, has had posts in which readers recommend various perfumes to wear on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and throughout the holiday season. So much fun to read what others recommend and enjoy! I decided to layer the gorgeous attar of Taif Rose that my husband brought me from Dubai with Aramis Calligraphy Rose, for the notes of rose, frankincense and myrrh. Frankincense and myrrh are obvious candidates for Christmas, but rose, you ask? “Lo, How A Rose E’er Blooming” is my response.

On a more serious note, Victoria at Bois de Jasmin is again running an online fundraiser for Doctors Without Borders, an admirable and effective organization that provides medical care to civilians and refugees in some of the most dangerous, war-torn parts of the world. As the Christian world gathers to worship the homeless newborn of a refugee family, born at a time of armed strife and conflict, we should remember the children and families who today find themselves in similar danger. My teenaged son’s Christmas gift to me was an IOU for a gift of fragrance that I could choose; I will ask him to donate to Victoria’s fundraiser and Doctors Without Borders on my behalf — the fragrance connection being that each such gift enters one into a drawing for some marvelous fragrance-related prizes. Check it out! You can enter until January 15, 2017.

Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres), treating refugee mother and baby in Africa

Doctors Without Borders treating mother and child; photo Stephanie Christaki/MSF

The weather here has been so unseasonably warm that we are running around outside doing errands and chores without coats! I plan to do some gardening this week while I am away from my office, which will surely bring more scents to my attention.

What does Christmas smell like to you? Or if you celebrate another holiday at this time of year, what are its most evocative scents?

all-saints-altar-christmas

Christmas altar with Nativity creche and roses

Fragrance Friday: Shampure

This past week, I have needed “comfort smells.” To be honest, the American Presidential election and its outcome were shocking to me and I am downcast, to say the least. I have had trouble sleeping and it took several days for me to stop waking up in the morning thinking the whole thing had been a bad dream. I also had a nasty little virus that stuffed up my nose and kept me coughing uncontrollably. I needed aromatherapy!

And something that I have found comforting is Shampure Composition Oil, made by Aveda. Aveda’s website describes it as a blend of sunflower and meadowfoam oils with 25 different plant and flower essences. It can be used as a massage oil for body and scalp, moisturizer, bath oil, etc. and, in the website’s words: it “calms the senses with an aroma with 25 pure flower and plant essences including certified organic lavender, petitgrain and ylang ylang.” That sounded promising, and I have a small one-ounce bottle of it from the local Aveda boutique, as a birthday freebie.

I have been rubbing it onto the back of my hands when I go to bed, so I can smell it while I read before I sleep. The scent is a pleasant blend of herbal, floral and lightly spicy notes. MakeUp Alley says that some of the 25 essential oils are: Rose, Lavender, Aloe, Rosemary, Orange, Eucalyptus, Patchouli, Ylang Ylang, Anise, Fennel, Licorice, Bergamot, Coriander, Peppermint, Petitgrain, Vanilla. The ones I smell the most, in no particular order, are probably the aloe, eucalyptus, orange, ylang ylang, peppermint, petitgrain and rosemary. It reminds me of Miller Harris’ La Pluie, which shares several of its aromatic notes.

And yes, I am finding its fragrance very soothing at bedtime. I do like to wear fragrance at night sometimes, but it can be challenging to find one that is calming enough to support sleep. The scent of Shampure also wafts up nicely from the back of my hands if I’m up reading, and it is close but not too close when I finally turn out the lights and try to sleep. Added bonus: the oil feels great on my skin and my hands are benefiting from the moisture!

So that’s my current regime of election aftermath aromatherapy. I’m sure I’ll be ready for more resilient fragrances soon, suitable for the long period of resistance I foresee ahead. Something, perhaps, by Boadicea the Victorious.

Queen Boadicea of the Britons, warrior leader against Roman occupation of Britain

Boadicea, Warrior Queen

Image from the Brooklyn Museum.

Fragrance Friday: 6 roses for golden Autumn & rainy Autumn

Fragrance Friday: 6 roses for golden Autumn & rainy Autumn

I love Chemist in the Bottle’s list of rose fragrances for autumn, as rose is one of my favorite fragrance notes. I have put away some of my more summery rose scents in favor of those that have a more autumnal spice to them, such as Jo Malone’s Tudor Rose and Amber and Miller Harris’ Rose En Noir. Any other suggestions for autumn fragrances, with or without rose notes?

Chemist in the Bottle

October has brought golden Autumn filled with colorful leaves in shades of brown, orange, yellow and red that gradually fall from trees turning into vivid and rustling carpets on top of the park pavements. Autumn like that is pretty and can be enjoyable even at times when a chilly wind is blowing behind our backs. On the other hand there are days when the sky is completely grey and it looks as if it was about to start to fall on your heads. Days filled with gloom and rain are definitely less enjoyable but at least they give you a good reason to stay at home as you wrap yourself with a fluffy blanket with a big cup of your favorite tea or coffee in hands, watching some movies.

I bet many of you have already done that or are in the process of deciding if its the high time to…

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Blasted Heath and Blasted Bloom by Penhaligon’s

From Tara at A Bottled Rose — more thoughts on Penhaligon’s Blasted Bloom, which I’ve also reviewed, and its partner Blasted Heath, which I’ve sampled but not reviewed. Enjoy!

A Bottled Rose

There’s nothing like a returning trend which you remember vividly from the first time around to make you feel your age.  It doesn’t seem like five minutes since aquatics fragrances were at high tide before receding from the mainstream market. When they went out of vogue, many of us were relieved to see the back of them.

Really, it’s unfair to tar all watery-themed fragrances with the same brush. For me (and I suspect many others) it was more the ubiquity of the calone-fuelled 1990’s phenomenon L’Eaud’Issey that made me tire of the genre. There’s actually been a number of really great niche oceanic fragrances since then, including Heeley’s Sal Marin and Epice Marine Hermessence.

Last year aquatic fragrances staged a comeback. I was pleasantly surprised by Jo Malone’s Wood Sage and Sea Salt and in September Penhaligon’s launched a duo of scents which were also inspired by…

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Fragrance Friday: Tangerine Vert, and Glow

Fragrance Friday: Tangerine Vert, and Glow

To round out my comments on my Miller Harris Collection Voyage, I’ve been sampling the third fragrance in the coffret: Tangerine Vert. It is really a unisex citrus cologne.Top notes are tangerine, grapefruit and lemon; middle notes are geranium, orange blossom and marjoram; base notes are oakmoss, musk and cedar. I have read that there is an actual fruit that is a green tangerine, very popular in China and Japan, where it is loved as a fruit that signals the end of summer and the start of autumn. It seems right to review its namesake fragrance in September, especially as we are enjoying beautiful Indian Summer weather. The Miller Harris website refers to “Sicilian green tangerine” but I love the imagery of the Asian fruits heralding early autumn.

The opening of Tangerine Vert is marvelous: a burst of citrus, sweet but not too sweet, with an undertone of slightly bitter rind and grapefruit that turns into an aromatic, green herb, nicely balancing the sweet tangerine. The citrus notes do not feel sharp to me; although lemon is listed as a note, I don’t pick that up. The tangerine dominates without being tangy. In the middle, the dominant notes to me are the marjoram and geranium. In the final stage, I cannot say that I smell anything but the lightest oakmoss faintly tinged with cedar. Lyn Harris has declared that “citrus is all about top notes” and Tangerine Vert embodies that principle.

Sadly, this fragrance comes and goes so quickly on me that I would have to spray it every hour to enjoy it the most. I have dry skin, and citrus notes are famously fleeting; the combination probably doomed the longevity. I may have a solution, though, or at least an experiment! I recently bought a bottle of one of Maison Martin Margiela’s new Replica Filters, Glow.  The “filters”, Glow and Blur, are lightly fragranced dry oil sprays that you use like a primer on your skin before spraying on a perfume. They are meant to brighten (Glow) or soften (Blur) your chosen fragrance as well as extend its longevity, and they are especially designed to be layered with other Replica fragrances.

Bottle of fragranced dry oil spray Maison Martin Margiela Replica Filter Glow

Maison Martin Margiela Replica Filter Glow

I tried both of them at Sephora and much preferred Glow, which I could happily wear on its own as a very simple scent, with its notes of neroli, grapefruit blossom, bergamot and rose. It feels lovely on the skin, not oily but like a veil. Blur was pleasant enough, but I felt it was somewhat nondescript on its own; and when layered with a Replica fragrance (Flower Market), it tamped it down too much. So I bought Glow (shoutout to the lovely SA at Sephora, who happily sampled fragrances with me and sent me home with two samples of Flower Market and several more Chanel samples).

I plan to try Tangerine Vert layered over Glow, in the hopes that the “filter” will improve longevity and that its bright solar notes will amplify what I like so much about Tangerine Vert, the citrus opening. I’ll post an update! Have you tried either of the Replica Filters or Tangerine Vert? What did you think?