Mind Your Language, Part One

So I’ve been reading Julie and Julia: A Year of Cooking Dangerously, by Julie Powell, lately, and I have this whole gigantor list of things I want to say about it, but it’s difficult to know where to start.  Also, I know that I’m going to tick somebody off, because not everything I have to say is positive.  (No, I haven’t seen the movie yet.  Yes, I know I’m about three years behind everybody else in reading this thing, but – hey, I have a life, you  know.)

I’m going to come at this from an oblique angle and talk about one of the things that bugs me most about the book: the language.  It is, shall we say, Not Suitable For Public Consumption.  Bookworm asked if she could read it, and I had to say no.  (She’s fourteen, and easily shocked.  I’ll never forget the time I picked up The Godfather from my high school library, not knowing what my 16-year-old self was in for, and about six pages into the thing got slapped in the face with a raucous sex scene.  I nearly swallowed my tongue.  Not that Julie and Julia is that bad, but it does have some adult themes.)

And last night, “Four Weddings and a Funeral” was on TCM, so after the kids went to bed, The CEO and I watched the whole movie – straight through, no cuts, no commercial breaks, and definitely no editing-for-TV.  If you’ve ever seen the thing, you’ll know that for the first five minutes or so, nobody says anything other than one swear word, over and over.  Charles (Hugh Grant) wakes up late for his friend’s wedding, says, “BLEEP!”  Shows his housemate Scarlett what time it is, and she says, “BLEEP!”  And of course they’ve got that “the hurrieder I go, the behinder I get” thing going on, where hurrying just makes everything more difficult, so every few minutes something else goes wrong.  Formal clothes are a problem, BLEEP.  The car won’t start, BLEEP.  They take the wrong turn, BLEEP. They get to the church just as the bride’s car drives up, BLEEP.  Charles, the best man, has forgotten the rings, BLEEP.

As much as it embarrasses me to admit this, I find it hysterically funny.

If you’ve ever seen it on network TV, where it’s been edited for language (and some adult content), the word dubbed in for the F-bomb used in the original is “bugger.”  Yep.  Bugger.  A lot of Americans have no idea what that word is, other than it’s something British people swear with and it’s not considered offensive here.  In case you don’t know what it means, I’ll post a link and you can go check it out here.  Go ahead, I’ll wait. 

Is that not worse than the F-word?  I thought so.  I still think it’s bizarre that somehow “bugger” was an acceptable substitute to the FCC.

Back to Julie and Julia: it too is hysterically funny in parts.  I read a bit or two to the kids over the breakfast table, editing on the fly.  They laughed.  Really hard.  Which brings me to my point: if you do a Find and Replace with all the swear words in the book, and it’s still funny, why did it need the swear words? 

If you do the same thing with “Four Weddings,” it’s not funny.  Your exercise is to imagine Charles’ and Scarlett’s dreadful morning with a different word expressing frustration.  I like “blast,” for its plosive and sibilant consonants and quasi-British sound. Or Winnie-the-Pooh’s favorite, “bother.”  Try “dang,” “darn,” or “shoot.”  Here goes:
              Charles, waking, sees his alarm clock.  “BLAST!”
              Scarlett is woken by Charles, and sees how late it is.  “BLAST!”
              Charles’ suspenders won’t cooperate.  “BLAST!”
See?  Not funny.  Okay, maybe the FCC was right.  “Bugger” is funny, and maybe nobody but me cares what it really means.

Julie Powell, at one point in the book, remarks that during her year of blogging about cooking her way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, some of her blog readers complained about the language she used.  Her comment:  “…Somebody I don’t know from Adam takes the trouble to lament the fact that I use the word f**king so much; people who object to my choice of language always use a lot of asterisks.”  Ms. Powell certainly doesn’t use the asterisks.  Oh, no.  And she doesn’t limit herself to the use of “f**king,” either.  If you’re interested, you can go and read her blog.  She began posting Aug. 25, 2002, and by the 29th, there’s the first of the many swear words.

I will use the asterisks.  Call me hypocritical and prissy, call me a right-wingnut, I don’t give a — ahem, I mean, I don’t care.  (Little blogger sarcasm there, please forgive me for that.)  My take on this is that if she feels free to display these offensive, or  potentially offensive, words buck naked on her stage, I can certainly feel free to give them some darn underwear on mine.  Plain white cotton, because it might be boring, but it won’t scare your grandmother.

So why is it that the swear word in “Four Weddings…” makes the difference between Funny and Not Funny, but Julie and Julia is Funny, swear words or no?  My opinion is that spoken swear words seem spontaneous, and written words were chosen consciously.

Okay, okay, I acknowledge that “Four Weddings…” had to have had a written script.  Fine.  But they were going after real-life verisimilitude.  And never mind that for your mouth to shoot off an obscenity, you had at one point have had to learn said obscenity.  The book of James, chapter 3, says that the tongue is a fire, and that no one can tame the tongue (but that we should learn to control it!). 

It’s a far different, and easier, thing to control the words that come from my keyboard.  I’m just sayin’.  I’ll have more to say about Julie and Julia soon.

The image is from a German DVD version of “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” from imdb.com.

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A Dusting of Pepper

Pepper is one of those seasonings everybody always has on hand. It’s a basic – a staple, if you will, although when I label the pantry shelf where I keep things like flour, sugar, and Life cereal “STAPLES,” The CEO is wont to snicker and ask where I keep the rubber bands and copy paper.
Ha ha. Very funny.
I always have pepper in the house, with a backup supply in the pantry.  The reason is my youngest child: Taz, aka The Picky One. Although each one of my children has grown up with the very same parents, the very same parenting style, and the very same on-site sous chef (that would be me, in case you’re wondering), I have one child who will eat practically anything*, one child who is deeply suspicious of new things but can be convinced to try many of them**, and one child who resists any food that isn’t his favorite with the will and cunning and ferocity of the Mossad, less the garroting skill. Which, incidentally, he may decide to pick up on his own, so I’m limiting his TV time to be on the safe side.
At one point, I realized Taz, then a preschooler, was subsisting on a menu that included only the following: Cheerios. American cheese. Goldfish crackers. Chicken breast nuggets. Milk. Red food (Jell-O, ketchup, and red apples, which must nevertheless be peeled and thinly sliced before he ate them).
At later stages, he added foods like plain meats and tilapia baked with parmesan cheese, broccoli, green beans, peas, fries, mandarin oranges, Mini-Wheats, gummy fruit snacks, and quesadillas. Of course, nearly all these foods – bar the fruit and cereal – absolutely must be covered with ketchup.
Or freshly ground black pepper. He’ll settle for the pre-ground cheapie kind if he must, but he really likes the kind that has to be mauled before it can be eaten. (Am I reading too much into that, or is his testosterone level just that high?) Taz adores a buttered roll liberally sprinkled with black pepper – sprinkled, I mean, to the degree that the surface looks a little bit like our gravel road.
I myself love pepper — pepper on salad, on beef, on salmon… One of the single most delicious things I have ever eaten, ever, was fresh ripe strawberries tossed with a little sugar and a profligate dusting of cracked black pepper. Sounds weird, I know, but it’s synergy; the three of them together are amazing. Pepper smells hot and alive, almost like it might be vibrating inside your nasal cavities. Another favorite pepper recipe involves rubbing a mixture of salt, pepper, cinnamon, ginger, and cumin onto a pork tenderloin before roasting. Easy-delicious. Even Taz eats it!
I love pepper in my perfume, too. (Pink pepper is another item entirely, and that’s a subject for a future post.) Two of my favorite scents involve pepper and rose, and I’ve mentioned them before: Ormonde Jayne Ta’if and Caron Parfum Sacré. Another gorgeous rose scent, Maison Francis Kurkdjian’s Lumiere Noire pour femme, has pepper listed in its notes. Other peppery scents I like include Annick Goutal’s odd little scent Mandragore, perfume blog fave and sadly-discontinued Fendi Theorema, Tom Ford Black Orchid Voile de Fleur, and DSH Perfumes’ absolutely-gorgeous, wish-I-could-afford-it Oeillets Rouges. Then there’s Frederick Malle Noir Épices, which I haven’t smelled yet but am hoping to find a sample of in my mailbox sometime in the next month or two.  And the ridiculously-expensive Caron Poivre, which I think I’d looooove but haven’t come across yet.
I’m thinking of doing a side-by-side-by-side comparison with the three peppery rose scents soon: Ta’if, Parfum Sacré, and Lumiere Noire. To be honest, it was only when I went searching through my Excel file looking for any pepper fragrances I might have missed that I realized Lumiere Noire has pepper. That one’s all about rose and narcissus doing their naughty tango, or so I remember, and perhaps I’d better wear it again on its own instead. I don’t think it takes prisoners; it would probably eat Ta’if and PS for breakfast, and I’d be swoony and weak-kneed but no closer to a good compare-and-contrast description.
Coming soon to a blog near you: full-length reviews of the three peppery rose scents.
Top image is Yellow Pepper Mill by deardaisycottage; bottom one is Peppercorns by bazzinator, both at flickr.
*Bookworm will eat just about anything that’s on your standard American menu, particularly vegetables, but doesn’t like beets or brussels sprouts (both of which I really enjoy).
** Gaze tends to turn down sauces, and things cooked in them, unless the sauce is tomato-based, or Rachel Ray’s lovely Orange-Thyme sauce for pork or chicken. He also does not care for beets or brussels sprouts, and, inexplicably, dislikes mashed potatoes and cheese – I’m thinking of having his DNA tested to make sure he’s my kid.
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Winners of Drawing, Dec. 2009

Well, there were four commenters, and I still have a bunchaminis… tell you what: Taz drew names out of his plastic knight’s helmet one by one, and you’ll each get to pick a mini or decant in the order in which your name showed up in his little paw.

1. Odonata9
2. pitbull friend
3. mittens
4. Patty

Please contact me at malsnano86 at gmail dot com with your email address, so I can offer you the list.  And thanks very, very much for commenting!  I may not mail these until after New Year’s, but I promise they’ll be forthcoming.

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Perfume Review: Teo Cabanel Alahine, or A Joyous Christmas Memory

When I was at college, my university chorus group put on a Madrigal Dinner every year. It was a longstanding tradition that our director would prepare us to sing eight or nine madrigals, and the students would be in charge of everything else.

And I do mean everything else, from arranging to rent the ballroom to organizing costumes, meals, publicity and tickets, from creating an original play to obtaining the services of the medieval-music club for instrumental music and the fencing club for demonstrations, from learning medieval dances and extra pieces of music for serenading guests during the meal to preparing decorations, including fabric wall hangings, fresh evergreen garlands, and clove-orange pomanders, and placing the hangings and garlands in the 14-foot-high ballroom. There are 50 students and twelve weeks in which to get everything done – Ready, Set, GO!

We called it Mad Dinner, and those four evenings were some of the happiest of my life. (They were also some of the most stressful, especially the year I was Costume Co-chair. I think I still have a bald patch on the back of my skull from that experience.) I loved it – every Mad minute of it. Pure joy, from wandering minstrels to cloved oranges to funny hats to candlelight to beautiful music.

For me, Teo Cabanel’s Alahine is Mad Dinner.

Notes for Alahine (from mfr sample):
Top: Lavender, bergamot, ylang-ylang
Middle: Jasmine, Bulgarian rose, orange tree, pepper plant
Base: Iris, cistus, patchouli, benzoin, vanilla, sandalwood, musk

I probably wouldn’t have gone after Alahine on my own – I like amber, but if you’ve read my posts about Opium you know how I feel about resiny Orientals (hint: I’d rather slide down razor blades than spend any time cooped up in a room with them). I’d ordered a sample of Julia and one of Oha, a dark spicy rose chypre that I thought I’d adore, and a sample of Alahine arrived with it in that package from The Posh Peasant. Oha I found very beautiful but eclipsed by the stunning L’Arte di Gucci, with which I had already fallen in love; Julia, a soft floral with tangy fruits in the top, is also beautiful in a wistful, innocent way that feels a little naive for me to wear at this stage of my life. I wasn’t expecting to love Alahine, and in fact upon my first test of it, its opening notes skated close enough to “Citrus-aromatic-masculine” that I almost wrote it off then and there. But by the end of an hour, I found it heavenly. Upon second wearing, I knew I wanted a bottle.

If I am paying attention to the notes – to what I actually smell – Alahine opens with a zesty burst of bergamot, which is highly aromatic and therefore difficult for me. Fragrantica and the label on my manufacturer’s sample say there’s lavender too. It doesn’t smell like the lavender I know, but it is sharp and unpleasant. I am coming to expect this opening, and I know all I have to do is wait ten minutes before a lovely, creamy ylang-ylang will appear and soften the aromatics to a level I enjoy. Shortly after that, the curtain rises to reveal a floral heart so well-blended that I can’t tease out any note except rose, and then only because I’ve become familiar with the deep winey rose in Caron Parfum Sacre’ and Ormonde Jayne Ta’if. Spices swirl around these abstract flowers, spinning down into the ambery labdanum that is weighty and smooth as a heavy gold-colored satin shawl. The scent hovers over this rich amber for hours afterward, caressing it with vanilla and patchouli and benzoin, and wrapping it up with a resiny thread. I don’t actually smell any iris, but there is the effect of something cool there that I think must be due to the iris – it does seem like satin, after all, rather than velvet.

If I don’t pay close attention to what my nose tells me, but lift my head and go through my day only registering my impressions, I smell this: pine branches, curried fruit, flowers, mulled cider, cloved oranges, candle wax, vanilla liqueur, and the very faint mustiness from a costume that has been stored in the basement under Old Cabell Hall for several months. I sense candlelight, and laughter, and the faces of friends, voices raised in song, and the excellent feeling of hard work that has paid off handsomely.

When I wear Alahine, I smell joy.

For a few other reviews of Alahine, click on these links:

Image: Natural Christmas decorating! by LDHumes at flickr.

Madrigal Dinners produced by the University Singers of the University of Virginia are no more. When Dr. Donald “Coach” Loach retired in 1994, they went by the wayside – seen, I think, as being too much work. I raise a glass of mulled cider in honor of Coach, who was pictured recently in the alumni magazine, still looking his natty, mustachioed and spectacled self in a pink polo shirt.

(I hereby remind myself to someday post about the Kamikaze Tenors.)

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STUFF. Christmas presents. Perfume divestiture. Giveaway drawing.

Yeah, I know… it’s Christmas, that wonderful time of the year when we give each other STUFF, in honor of the greatest gift ever – which was not, I remind you, wrapped up in paper printed with Santa faces and tied with red sparkly ribbons.

I have way too much STUFF.  (The CEO tells me this all the time.  He’s right, but I hate to admit that to him!)  Probably all of us have too much STUFF, and what we really need are things that can’t be wrapped up in Santa-face paper:  Time.  Family.  Love.  Kindness.  Grace.  Patience.  Contentment.  Forgiveness.  Relief from worry.

How often do I assume that my friends and family members just need another gift card or sweater or jar of homemade raspberry jelly, rather than my love/kindness/forgiveness?  Pretty often.  It’s embarrassing.  It’s easy to spend money and hope that some of the feeling that inspires me to do so comes through, without making sure the gift recipients know that I love them.

I gave up making handmade presents a long time ago.  It was even more stressful than spending money, and difficult to make the right thing for the right person.  Cross-stitch makes my hands hurt these days.  So does crochet, and besides, once you’ve made someone a fuzzy scarf, you really can’t give them another one.  Food gifts are handy, and making them doesn’t induce unpleasant finger tingling – but they’re not very personal.  Once you’ve made twelve jars of mulling spices, for all your aunts and cousins and the newspaper carrier and your hairdresser, one jar isn’t very special, is it?

And if I do nothing, nobody has any fun.  Maybe the way to do this is to spend a small amount of money, and spend some of my personal time as well.  So I’ll go ahead and get my brother that kitchen thingy he wants – and write him a personal note, too.  It’s a plan, people.

As a side note to all these STUFF comments, I looked over my perfume collection and found things that I’ve discovered I just don’t love.  I’d like these scents – they’re mostly miniature bottles, with a few decants – to go to good homes.  So I just posted them on my notepad at makeupalley.com, and will be listing them on my profile at fragrantica.com as well (I’m mals86 at both sites).  There are a few small decants I’d love to swap for, but other than that, I just want these little bottles to go to people who’ll enjoy them. 

If you’re interested in picking out one of the mini bottles for yourself, post a comment.  I’ll get Taz, my nine-year-old, to draw a name out of his bicycle helmet.  Winner gets to choose a prize from my list of Adoptable Minis.  Drawing closes on Thursday 12/10 at 12 midnight.

Image is 3 Presents Waiting by jonmatthew at flickr.

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Perfume Review: Penhaligon’s Amaranthine, or Amaranthigh, or Amaranthingy


Amaranthine by Penhaligon’s London, New for Fall 2009
Amaranthine is a corrupted floral oriental for those private moments when everything is anticipation. It opens with a dramatic flourish of spices and tropical green. This unsettling lick of drama is beautifully ambushed by an unctuous accord of jasmine and ylang-ylang, a heady bloom renowned for its aphrodisiac properties, and clove swathed in spices, tea, musk and the rounded beauty of tonka bean absolute.  The perfume is reportedly “reminiscent of the scent of the inside of a woman’s thigh”. *

Head notes – Green Tea, White Freesia, Banana Tree Leaf, Coriander Seed Oil, Cardamom Absolute  Heart – Rose, Carnation, Clove Oil, Orange Blossom, Ylang Ylang Oil, Egyptian Jasmine Absolute   Base  – Musk, Vanilla, Sandalwood, Condensed Milk, Tonka Bean Absolute

You know what? For once, the ad copy is pretty accurate, although perhaps it overstates the “drama” and “aphrodisiac properties.”  * The hilarious quote about thighs is purportedly from composer Bertrand Duchaufour, from cosmeticsinternational.  It alone made me want to smell this thing, and people seem to be associating the scent with the word “thigh” now.  Maybe it’s just that “thigh” is a funny word, which it is.  Say it six times in a row: thigh thigh thigh thigh thigh thigh.  Kudos to you if you said it without snickering; I couldn’t.

And look at those notes, too – does that sound anything like thighs to you??  The notes say “tropical floral with oriental base” to me, and that’s a category I like in general.  So here it is the beginning of winter, and I’ve spritzed Amaranthine four days in a row, to make sure the experience isn’t a freak occurrence.  I think, honestly, it would be better in warmer weather.  It’s a bit light when one is wearing sweaters and shivering in a cold rain.  But even though it’s been less satisfying in early December than, say, Alahine (about which, more coming next week), I say this:  Amaranthine is beautiful.

It starts out with fresh, dewy florals only lightly dusted with spices.  I get very little tea from it, although other reviewers find it more prominent; I get more general “green” notes.  And yes, there’s a banana hit to it, probably from the ylang, although it’s a green banana thing, not an overripe squishy vibe.  I can’t identify rose in there, but the carnation is prominent, as well as the orange blossom. The jasmine is grassy and fresh, as opposed to that indolic heavy Joy-type jasmine that makes me think of dirty panties, and it doesn’t stand out. 

Eventually I get down to the base, which is soft and clings to the skin, and still retains a veil of freesia and orange blossom.  I was a bit worried about that “condensed milk” note, but although Amaranthine is a little sweet, it reads as floral sweetness to me rather than gourmand.  At this stage, it smells a bit like skin smells if the weather is warm and it’s been most of a day since it’s been showered: not squeaky-clean, but not smelly-sweaty either.  Like, you know, skin, warm and slightly moist.

It may be my nose, but I’m not getting of the weirdness some other reviewers have discovered.  Nor do I get the smuttiness that some people have described.  Is it just too cold and/or dry? Is my brain twisted? I’m not sure.  All I get out of Amaranthine is tropical, relaxed, fresh beauty.  I’ll be putting my decant away for a few months, at least, and wearing things more appropriate to this chilly weather.  When the time is right, I’ll know.

On a related subject (THIGHS!), I’m going to talk about body image.  I have a daughter in her early teens.  She’s healthy and fit; she’s petite; she’s still wearing a few things from the girls’ department, particularly dresses, as she finds the juniors’ department offerings immodest.  (I’m not complaining.)

But she said to me the other day after track practice, “You know, Mom, I have big thighs.” I looked at them and raised my eyebrows.  “They’ve got muscles.  I mean, you can actually see my thigh muscles. They’re runner’s thighs.”  I nodded.  “I think that’s the reason I have trouble finding jeans that fit.”  (Yeah, tell me about it.)  But I’m not going to apologize to my kid for giving her the thunder thighs genes, because – honestly? – she’s got great legs.  She complains that her broad shoulders make her shirts fit funny, and her muscly thighs make her jeans tight, and how her jeans are always too big in the waist if they fit her hips.    

And she’s looking around her high school at all the girls with thin thighs and thinking, How come I don’t look like them?, while I’m looking at her and thinking, Hey, that is my basic body shape, just younger and shorter and much, much thinner, and it’s beautiful.  It’s a swimmer’s body (okay, a short swimmer’s body!), and it’s healthy and athletic and beautiful. 

And I think I want it back.  I’ve been avoiding exercise for way too long.  Time to remedy that.

Ad copy from Penhaligon’s.  Top image: Amaranthine in the limited edition crystal flacon, from Penhaligon’s.
Center image: Shield Bug on Globe Amaranth by innermt at flickr.
Bottom image: 2008 Cross Country by nmhschool at flickr.  No, it’s not Bookworm, but she runs cross-country and distance track.  I’m so proud of her.

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Holy Cow, It’s December!

Wow, I can’t believe it’s the last month of the year.  Time does march on… (duh!)
I have so much to do.  I’m really glad I completed my National Novel Writing Month project a few days ago (yeah, okay, I’ll shut up about it now), but I’m very far behind on the whole Christmas thing.  It’s December 3:  three days before Bookworm marches in the local Christmas parade, ten days before my community chorus concert, twelve days before we’ll go get a Christmas tree, and three weeks before the Small People Living In My House will be pounding down the stairs, demanding to open their stockings and eat homemade cinnamon rolls.
I need a lot more time.  I haven’t bought any gifts; I haven’t baked anything; I haven’t decorated anything.
Next project: Make Christmas happen, simply.  I mean, I need simple and inexpensive and easy ways to make it feel like Christmas around here without doing a lot of the work myself – and I could pick up Better Homes and Gardens or Woman’s Day or some other magazine, but that would feel like wasting time.  (Blogging’s not a waste of time, is it?  Please tell me it ain’t!) Might have to go check out the emergency holiday missions at FlyLady.org, too.

As I’m formulating the Christmas plan, I think I’ll start by cleaning up the joint.  (Eek!)  Get all the fall stuff put away, help the kids pack up anything they won’t need over the winter months, ditch the “I haven’t used this in months” items lying around.  We’ll see how it goes.

As an aside, I smelled the Laura Mercier Minuit Enchante’ parfum that people are raving about on my favorite perfume blogs.  I don’t live anywhere near a Nordstrom’s, but managed to hit the one in Richmond a few days ago, in the course of  attending a farmers’ conference and, incidentally, visiting my brother in order to hold the new baby.  (He’s precious, of course. I got to snuggle him and kiss his little fuzzy head, but not for long enough.)  Anyway, I was expecting a big ol’ dusty resiny Opium-like thing, and instead what I got was a gorgeous spice overload.  It spends about twenty minutes in the too-sweet zone, but then it’s a pileup in the spice aisle, with freshly ground cinnamon tackling clove, and nutmeg jumping on top of vanilla bean.  I thought it was terrific.  Better, I got some on the inside wrist of my jacket sleeve, so my jacket still smells great too.

On the other hand, my brother, when invited to sniff my wrist, jerked his head back as if he’d been slapped and asked what I’d done to tick off the sales assistant.  As if you couldn’t guess, he doesn’t care for perfume. Minuit Enchante’ is a bit linear, and seems more like a Generally Good Smell than a serious perfume.  I’d rather have Teo Cabanel Alahine, otherwise known to me as Happiness In a Bottle, Winter Variation.  But ME is a nice thing to see in a mainstream release.  Bottle’s pretty, too, with that heavy magnetic cap.

Well.  I’d better get cracking on that cleaning-up thing.  I plan to be back tomorrow with a review of Penhaligon’s Amaranthine (better known to my swap buddies as Amaranthigh, or Amaranthingy).

Here are links to a few other reviews of Minuit Enchante’:
Abigail at I Smell Therefore I Am
March at Perfume Posse
Angela at Now Smell This

Image is Advent Calendar by laurasjoquist at flickr.com.

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NaNoWriMo 2009: I DID IT!!!

Okay, so technically it was more like 29 days and 51,094 words… but who’s counting? 
Ha ha.  Me, obviously.  And the nice people at NaNoWriMo, too.  In fact, my OpenOffice document swears on a stack of Bibles that my novel is 51,787 words; I don’t know what the heck the difference is between the two word count widgets, but BOY, am I glad I wrote that extra scene. 
Here’s some more statistics for the month of November:
Extra cups of coffee: 23
Loads of laundry done solo by The CEO, graciously picking up slack: 26
School lunches for Gaze and Taz flung into bags at the Very Last Minute Before We’ll Be Late, because Mom had a hard time dragging herself out of bed: 15

Pounds of food (turkey breast, ham, sweet potatoes, green beans, cranberry gelatin salad, celery sticks, and pumpkin pie) prepared for Thanksgiving, unfinished novel notwithstanding: 29
Blog entries posted, including this one: 8
Late nights: too many to count
Christmas gifts purchased: zero  (Ack, better get crankin’!)

Here’s the kicker: I’m not even finished.  There’s more story… I only got through 68% of the scenes I intended to write.  The ones I did write – well, they need careful editing.  It might be more accurate to say they need lopping with a chain saw, so there’s still a lot of work ahead of me.

But now I know I can do it.  It might take me another month (how’s, oh, February?  February’s pretty quiet), but now I know what I’m capable of.  I’m so proud of me.

NaNoWriMo 2009 Winner’s Badge from nanowrimo.org.  Go check ’em out, seriously.

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Thanksgiving 2009

Happy Thanksgiving! 

My NaNoWriMo word count stands at 45,027.

The turkey breast is in the oven.  The ham and the sweet potato casserole await their turn. Cranberry gelatin salad, green beans, and pies are done.  Guests are bringing rolls, dressing, fruit, and broccoli casserole.  Gravy is a last-minute project.  Floor has been mopped, bathroom has been cleaned.  (Kitchen is still a mess, but there’s time to clean it.)  The house smells good.

My family is all healthy and together.  We have a roof over our heads, clothes on our backs, shoes on our feet.  We’re warm and comfortable and well-fed and we love each other. 

I often forget that many people don’t have those things. 

I will be making time in the next month to do something that makes life a little better for someone.  This month was for me, but it’s time to turn my focus outward and let God love someone through me.  That is, to me, what “giving thanks” should mean – that we not be complacent about what we have or envious of what we don’t have, but that we set our faces toward making things better for everyone.

May your Thanksgiving be so blessed.

Image is Happy Thanksgiving by *Gracie at flickr.

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Week Three, NaNoWriMo 2009

So here’s what’s burning my britches:

Sunday afternoon I’m counting up all my words from all the scenes I’ve written, most of them through the fabulously stern Dr. Wicked’s Write or Die widget, and I’m excited because I’m ahead of schedule now – 38,203 words written, according to my math, and I should be at the 36,674 point. Yay me… so I go and start saving all these scenes into a big long (and I mean long!) document so I can upload it to the NaNoWriMo official word counter.  And then I check the word count for the entire document, and it says, “34,959.”  What?!? Less than 35K? 

Less than 35K?  So where did it go?  Is my math that bad?  You wouldn’t think someone with a degree in accounting would have that much trouble adding stuff…  Oh, okay, forgot this little piece of a scene I wrote and somehow saved in the wrong spot; let’s add that in.  New count: 36,003.  What!?! Where are my other two thousand words?!?

Turns out, see, that the WriteOrDie wordcount works differently than the OpenOfficeDocument wordcount –  WriteOrDie being the cheerful optimist with rose-colored glasses, curse it.  Totally out of character for a program that punishes you for seven seconds of no keystrokes by playing the most heeeedious noises you could imagine (babies crying, air raid sirens, untuned violins, shrieking alarm clocks, you name it).  To get the noise to stop, all you have to do is start typing again.  Simple but brilliant, right?

Actually, it is brilliant, and I’m going to keep using it.  I’ll just be checking word counts very thoroughly in a serious word-processing program from now on.  New word count as of midnight, 11/22: 38,482. So there. 

And the other thing I want to know is, Why is my face all broken out?  Am I that stressed?  It’s not That Time, I haven’t been eating loads of chocolate (all right, fine, I did have a square – ONE square – of NewTree Dark Chocolate with Ginger last week), and I haven’t had any Diet Dr. Pepper, which, although I love it, tends to break me out.  And I have been cleaning my face with the same cleanser and using the same brand of noncomodegenic makeup I always use.  I don’t get it.

Scents worn in Week Three:
Sonoma Scent Studio Tabac Aurea, custom samples of three versions: Zero Patchouli, Half the Patchouli of the Original, and Different Patchouli than the Original. Winner: 50% Patch.  Gorgeous.  Exactly what I wanted – pipe tobacco, dry leaves, grass, spice cookies, damp moss, golden sunshine, leather jacket, warm skin, and stolen kisses. Whoa baby. Laurie Erickson is a genius.
Chanel Bois des Iles, Les Exclusifs, decant: sandalwood, cool iris, warm gingerbread. Why does this seem thinner than my sample?  It smells like the right smell, but disappears faster and has less presence.
Teo Cabanel Alahine sample: a mellow, happy Party In a Bottle, complete with “candles at the window, carols at the spinet.”
Guerlain Chamade parfum de toilette, decant: a green-and-gold springtime.  (Is it sacrilege to say that this is beautiful but not as good as Parfums de Nicolai’s Le Temps d’une Fete?  I’m sayin’ it anyway.  Luca Turin’s right, Guerlain (LVMH) should hire Guerlain granddaughter Patricia de Nicolai as head nose.) In any case, I’ve now written the Chamade scenes into the novel.  Now I can stop feeling so seasonally disoriented – no wonder I’ve been reaching for the cool-weather stuff when I’m not at the laptop. I can’t believe, now, that for so many years I wore one perfume at a time.  Freesia and peony in the winter? Thank goodness I can leave the whole “signature perfume” idea behind.

Top image is wordfind by thinkroni at flickr.com.  Bottom image is Alahine, from fragrantica.com.

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Week Two, NaNoWriMo 2009

I’m a little behind.  (Ba-dum-bum.)

Hindered by feeling yucky, and the fact that people need clothes ironed and lunches packed and bathrooms cleaned, yada yada, and the fact that in all this mess, somehow I’m actually expected to go to work, I haven’t been working as hard as I should.

Not to mention that I got mad at one of my characters and didn’t want to write about him at all, and I got bored with the other major character – she was too nicey-nice.  Well, I fixed that all right, mwah ha ha!  She’s going to do a few questionable things, and that’s fun to write about. And I started fleshing out an uninhibited minor character, so that should help too. Tonight, the 18th, I should be at 30K words, and I’m not – I’m sitting on 29,213.  But it’s still doable.  In fact, if I stop blogging right now, I could probably go write another 1000… okay, probably not. 

Scents worn in week two:
Tom Ford Black Orchid Voile de Fleur – stupid name, lovely scent.  Plum, white flowers, and a milky, ambery base that is sweet and smooth without being sugary. In fact, the drydown reminds me of creme brulee.  One of the few that lasts and lasts on me. Makes my sweaters smell great.

Teo Cabanel Alahine sample – Wow.  This freebie sample is a favorite of Abigail’s – see her review at IsmellthereforeIam blog here.  Smells like, for some reason even I cannot pinpoint, Christmas.  In fact, what it’s reminding me of is the Madrigal Dinners we chorus students produced at college: clove oranges, curried fruit, dusty music books, lit candles, slightly-musty costumes, evergreen branches hiding the Federal style mouldings on the ballroom walls… not that I actually smell all of that, but I think I’m getting olfactory illusion here.  Which is nice, actually.  Mad Dinners were so much fun.

Sonoma Scent Studio Tabac Aurea custom blend – I had this huge, head-over-heels emotional reaction to the standard version, only slightly marred by the patchouli it contains.  It’s nice patch, actually – grassy and fresh-smelling, not dusty and not the synthetic-y “clean” patch that seems to inhabit so many mainstream scents lately.  But patchouli has a way of simply hijacking my nose away from the whole composition, so that all I smell is patchouli.  Laurie Erickson was kind enough to make me a few custom samples to choose from: one with no patchouli, one with 50% patchouli, and one with a different grade of patchouli.  I think the 50% patch is winning, at this stage.  I love it.

Just like last week, I highly recommend that you go smell something good, read something good, and hug someone you love.  And I’ll add one more: eat something good.

Image is Butt by Shooting the Kids at flickr.

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Perfume Reviews: Guerlain Shalimar Light/Eau Legere, or The Story I Really Wanted to Tell You

By the time I came to The Kingdom of Perfumistas, Queen Shalimar had an acclaimed flanker, which was widely praised and subsequently discontinued. This modernized version was known variously as “Shalimar Light,” or “Shalimar Eau Legere Parfumee.” Even more confusing is the fact that the version concocted by Mathilde Laurent was later tweaked by Jean-Paul Gaultier, after Ms. Laurent had a falling-out with her boss and went to work for Cartier.

I have done some research on this phenomenon, which I’ll share briefly with you.  Also, I highly recommend reading yet another one of Helg’s terrific posts on the subject, here.  (One of these days I’ll stop pointing you in the direction of Perfume Shrine, but she’ll have to stop writing so beautifully and thoroughly first.  Like that’s going to happen.)

Shalimar Eau Legere, composed by Mathilde Laurent, was a pale straw-colored liquid, presented in a pale blue bottle with dark blue lettering that brought that distinctive Shalimar bottle to mind, pictured at left. The sprayer mechanism was located in the fluted ventaille top, which does not come off.  This is the version that most perfume-lovers call the better iteration. It’s nearly impossible to find these days.

The second version is generally known as Shalimar Light, although all bottles of SL/SEP bear the same two descriptions (Shalimar Eau Legere Parfumee/Light Fragrance). The second version, with notes similar to the first, is light blue liquid in a clear bottle with gold lettering. This bottle has a removable cap, with spray mechanism underneath.  This version is slightly easier to find, although it’s getting scarce too.  I have a photo of the two bottles side by side, but am experiencing camera problems at the moment.  I’ll post the photo when I can.

Recently, a bottle of SEL (first one) came into my possession, so now I have both it and SL , as well as some vintage Shalimar proper, in the rich parfum de toilette concentration. Of course, I had to test them simultaneously. The review of the newest version, Eau de Shalimar, in the quarterly updates to Perfumes: The Guide seems to indicate that only the top notes were slightly changed for the J-PG version, but I would disagree. These two are definitely versions of the same fragrance, but I smell differences throughout. (Be aware that my bottle of Eau Legere came from someone who had bought it in a duty-free shop several years ago, and I have no idea in what conditions it has been kept in the meantime. My bottle of Shalimar Light, blue juice, came from an online discounter.)

Up top, SEL (Laurent) has a ton of citrusy bergamot. It’s very elegant citrus. But right away I smell the familiar Shalimar TarNilla base, much gentler than in the original, but there in its recognizable ice-cream-on-the-asphalt glory. This glowing bergamot slowly slides into a blended floral heart, a lovely creamy jasmine and ylang mixture that seems augmented by something herbal (rosemary? sage?), and to be honest, this is the very first time I’ve gotten the reference to the Shalimar Gardens. It does make me think of gardens, albeit not fresh dewy gardens. This is a woody garden, with stuff like rosemary and sandalwood underscoring the florals. Eventually this subsides into that smoky-tarry-vanilla base I mentioned. However, the base isn’t strictly vanilla – it’s at least as much about benzoin and tonka bean as it is vanilla. And although it’s very much like original Shalimar, I get no patchouli sticking out to my nose; it’s very smooth. There’s just that hint of tar…

As for the Jean-Paul Guerlain version of Shalimar Light, pictured at right, it’s subtly different. The first five minutes are strongly reminiscent not of bergamot, but of lemon oil furniture polish, intense and inedible. I love the smell of lemon oil, but I’m not enthused about smelling like the maid, so I turn my attention elsewhere for the first five minutes.* After that the strength of the bitter lemon note softens and becomes very enjoyable. This citrusy facet seems to stick around longer than it does in SEL, and is still faintly apparent in the drydown. The florals are less apparent in this version; I do smell jasmine and ylang, but this iteration of Shalimar Light seems more focused on the citrus and vanilla, without the floral focus the first version seems to have. The drydown is far less smoky, but the vanilla is smooth and unsweetened, and augmented by the rich creaminess that tonka bean and benzoin provide. This one is pretty much lemon-vanilla-tonka all the way, delicately garnished with a single jasmine flower. It’s somewhat less complex than the Laurent version, and bears less of a resemblance to classic Shalimar.

I think the first Eau Legere, the Mathilde Laurent composition, is a better fragrance. It’s as detailed as tapestry; it takes the wearer on a scent journey; it keeps surprising with things one might not expect (the 3D florals, the herbs, the smokiness).

BUT. (You knew this was coming, didn’t you?) I actually prefer Shalimar Light, the version tweaked by Jean-Paul Gaultier, or as I like to call it, SL 2.0. I think there are a couple of reasons informing my preference. One, I smelled the blue juice first, and liked it. I didn’t compare it to anything, I just enjoyed it, unburdened by any idea of trying to identify which I liked better. Two, SL 2.0 has become a comfort scent for me in all seasons except summer, when I find it too heavy. It’s one of those wonderful perfumes that just plain smells nice; I don’t have to think about it, or process it emotionally – I just put it on and feel like myself. Three (and Three is actually related to Two), it reminds me somewhat of My Darling Emeraude in feel. It’s a “me” scent. Shalimar Light shares that velvety benzoin-tonka-vanilla base with Emeraude, and with Mariella Burani, another one I feel very comfortable in.

Notes for Shalimar Eau Legere/Shalimar Light:
Orange flower, lemon, bergamot, jasmine, rose de mai, iris, opoponax, tonka bean, vanilla, ambergris, incense
Notes are quite similar to Shalimar (well, duh), but the basenotes have been pared down considerably – no vetiver, no leather, no sandalwood, no civet, no patchouli. No musk is listed, but Shalimar Light can smell fairly “dirty” on me at times, and I think there’s some musk in there.

If you went and checked out the Perfume Shrine post, you probably read that comment from Guerlain’s PR rep stating that Eau de Shalimar is the same as the Jean-Paul Guerlain version of Shalimar Light.  I’d disagree.  I tested a sample vial, and assuming it’s representative, Guerlain has thinned down the Blue Juice even further.  The opening smells like lemon baby wipes, not even as assertive as the lemon oil furniture polish in Shalimar Light v. 2.0.  The florals are thinner, and the base smells more straight-up vanilla than that creamy, deep benzoin-tonka-vanilla thing that I love.  This one’s all watered-down lemon cream soda, too sweet and thin to be worth something.  There’s a good reason it’s clear liquid in clear glass, seems to me, and in my opinion, Eau de Shalimar is a mess to be avoided.

Images are all from ebay and fragrantica.com.  Like I said, I’ll try to post that one I took myself sometime soon.
*And I AM the maid around here. 

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