End of August, 2017

Along the road to Hana, on Maui. Photo by The CEO. Yes, the water really is that shade of blue.

Well, here we are approaching the end of summer (goodbye, good riddance, don’t let the screen door hit ya in the butt on the way out, August), and I’ve been shockingly remiss in not posting for the last, what, 7 weeks.

There will be a little bit of perfume stuff in this post. There will be some family stuff, some vacation stuff, and some maybe-future stuff. Read on. 🙂

So back in the early part of the summer, The CEO was invited to do a seminar through the Extension office of the University of Hawaii on the island of Kauai, in July. We had visited Kauai following his NACTA (National Association of College Teachers of Agriculture) convention in Honolulu last summer, and fell in love with the place.

Beach near our rental condo, Kapaa, Kauai. Photo by The CEO.

We’ve now been to four of the five populated islands of Hawai’i (well, okay, we did actually set foot on Molokai during our recent trip from Oahu to Maui, when our little inter-island plane set down to let a passenger off), and Kauai is the place where we felt most comfortable. It is considerably more rural/small-town than the other islands, even the non-resort area of Big Island, and there is a general friendliness and a regard for island life (culture, ecology, conservation, a spirit of aloha) I didn’t notice elsewhere. There is, I don’t know, a gratitude for Kauai, on Kauai.

Hanalei Bay, Kauai. Photo by The CEO. Beach on one side, beautiful mountain on the other…

In case you are wondering, the perfect fragrances for Hawai’i seem to be Big White Florals such as Frederick Malle Carnal Flower and Byredo Flowerhead — surprise, surprise — and Arielle Shoshana’s delightful passionfruit-focused fragrance, Arielle Shoshana eau de parfum. (Go order a sample here, stat. You won’t be sorry.) I also discovered the wonders of fresh island-grown papaya, and we revisited my favorite Kauai restaurant, Verde, for the best fish tacos I’ve ever had.

That trip took up the last part of July. The day we got home from Hawai’i, Bookworm got home from New Haven, and she’s here for the time being.  She’d still like to go to grad school, I think, but she wants some time away from school and is planning to get a job or long-term internship while she figures out where she’d like to focus her efforts next. I’m just glad to have her home for now.

L-R: Bookworm (22), Ian (13), Ian’s baby brother Erich (9 months), Taz (16), Airin (7), and Gaze (18). Incidentally, this is one of the last pics of Gaze before his hair got buzzed off.

We got to have a little family reunion with my sister and her family, and my brother and his family, at my parents’ house recently. With A in upstate NY and P in Florida, it’s hard to get everyone together. But here are all my parents’ grandchildren in one spot! Mom was thrilled.

New Cadet Gaze at the top of the rappelling tower. This face either means, “I really didn’t want to be up this high,” or maybe, “Get that stupid camera out of my face, I’m doing something here!” Also, notice his distinct lack of hair. Photo via the Commandant’s Facebook page.

Gaze is off to college himself. He is, as I’ve mentioned before, a part of Virginia Tech’s Corps of Cadets program, and he has just completed New Cadet Week, the week-long “boot camp” for incoming freshman. This is the time when new cadets are issued their uniforms, get their hair cut, learn to make their beds military style, learn to march, begin learning rifle drill, do physical training (PT), and become familiar with the training facilities (the rappelling tower and the obstacle course). Other than letters they might receive, there’s no outside contact for the cadets during NCW: no TV, no internet, no phone. Lights out at 10 pm, room inspections at 6:15 am. That will relax at the end of NCW, after the parade demonstration tomorrow.

Gaze at the obstacle course. Photo via the Commandant’s Facebook page.

Fortunately, the Commandant’s office posts photos (many, many photos!) of New Cadet Week on their Facebook page, so that parents can see what’s going on, and hope to pick out their own cadet by playing “where’s Baldo?”

Taz has started school as well, driving himself to and from with, so far, no issue. He’s a junior, which I can hardly believe, and it looks like he’s going to have a good cross-country season based on his times so far.

I am not quite ready to publish my first e-book; I need to do some hole-patching subsequent to a major overhaul of the original draft. However, I created its digital cover last Thursday and I’m ridiculously excited about it. I’d like to be putting it out around December 1. Stand by for further announcements.

Stuff I’ve been wearing this past week:
Chanel 1932. So pretty. Just so gosh-darn pretty! Delightful citrus with jasmine and, I swear, the lightweight version of its fellow Chanel Les Exclusifs 31 Rue Cambon’s beautiful iris-amber drydown.
Parfums de Rosine Rose d’Ete. Fruity yellow rose with a bit of talcum powder. I especially love its gentle simplicity.
Carven Eau de Parfum. I can’t really define it, but this is easily identified as a Francis Kurkdjian composition. I like FK’s stuff. I like this. It’s commercial and contemporary, a pinkish floral with patchouli. I’m not sorry I like it.
DSH Chypre. Mostly to bed, because the labdanum is a little disturbing during the day, but yummy.
Leonard de Leonard. Discontinued aaaages ago; I snagged a decant of it from a friend. Remember how vintage Ivoire de Balmain annoyed me because it was both soapy and mossy? This is soapy, mossy, and floral, and apparently that makes the difference for me. The patchouli in this is aged to almost a candy sweetness next to the dry richness of oakmoss; the orange blossom makes it Dove-soapy; the carnation and rose keep it from having that discord that Ivoire strikes me as having. This thing is very very green and very flowery. I go through occasional stages where nothing else suits me.

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Five Fragrances for Summer, 2017

Summer looks like this.

I don’t always do seasonal-picks posts. Mine kind of get repetitive because I’m a creature of habit who tends to wear the same things over and over, and also because I don’t really care if I’m recommending something discontinued. (I’m sorry about that. Well, a little bit sorry.)

But! I have a New Shiny, so you get a Five for Summer this year.

The New Shiny is something I’ve mentioned before, albeit in the context of, “I want this but I probably won’t buy it,”: Parfums DelRae Wit. Based on the lovely scent of spring-blooming Daphne cnoreum, Wit starts off with a sunshine-bright lemon and continues into a jasmine/neroli heart accented with a beautiful, not-very-clean narcissus. Wit is maybe a bit heavier than my usual floral choices for summer, especially since its heart is lush instead of airy, but it is just so darn pretty that I don’t mind its bigger sillage. I also notice a definitive spicy note that I can’t quite place; it’s not quite clove, not quite pepper, not quite cardamom, but something in the general vicinity. I love that. The narcissus becomes more prominent near the drydown, and then there is a soft woody vanilla musk toward the end.

So how’d I get hold of this beauty? Perfumista RAOK, of course. Waterdragon, who comments frequently on Now Smell This and who lives in New Zealand, was looking to divest herself of a bottle of Wit, a blind buy that didn’t work out for her. She and her partner (whom she calls The Dear Man), recently visited the West Coast of the US, and very kindly braved the USPS in order to send it to me. I don’t know why it didn’t suit her, but I suspect that musk. It doesn’t read as uber-clean boring white laundry musk to me the way that No. 5 L’eau did, but I can see where it might veer in that direction. In any case, I’m glad it didn’t suit her.

Chanel 1932 EdP (Les Exclusifs collection) is becoming my second go-to this summer. I only have a decant, but it’s wonderful. Longer-lived than the effervescent original eau de toilette version, it’s missing the jubilant citrusy sparkle but has a stronger drydown that reminds me of Chanel’s 31 Rue Cambon. I’ve drained two 10ml decants of 31RC over the past 8 years but don’t feel the need to buy a full bottle, and to be honest, sometimes it’s just too darn much for me… but that drydown is so elegant: iris and sandalwood.

Moschino Funny! has been a summer favorite of mine since I bought it some years ago. Cheerful, mischievous, and refreshing, it fills the same sort of niche that Tommy Girl (yeah, yeah, put your snobbery away) does, for a quick pick-me-up. Grapefruit, blackcurrant, jasmine, green tea, cedar, musk. Simple.

Marc Jacobs Daisy was one of the first department-store scents that I smelled after my long hiatus from perfume, and you know what? I still like it. I waited several years and bought it on ebay, slightly used, for a song. It’s a very happy, feminine scent, and easy to enjoy in the air: fruit, a gentle white floral, and a woody-musk base. Complicated, original, unexpected, quirky? Niche quality? Nope. And I don’t care. It’s like cake made from a mix instead of from scratch. You might complain if you’re a serious foodie, but the rest of us perk up, because cake, y’all.

And one more: Hermes Kelly Caleche edp. I did not like the original version of this, in the eau de toilette, which I found unpleasantly vegetal; i.e., it smelled like celery to me. (I eat celery. By itself it’s pretty good, and if you slather it with crunchy peanut butter it’s even better. But I don’t like it in a tossed salad, where it tends to make everything in the salad taste only of celery. And I hate V-8, which combines the gross feeling of thick tomato juice with the oppressive smell of pulped celery, ew.)

Anyway. Kelly Caleche is an airy floral leather that begins in tangy grapefruit and slides its way down to a gentle sueded leather ice cream cone, by way of rose, iris and mimosa. Pretty, refreshing, and unobtrusive.

What’s your summer jam of 2017?

 

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June, 2017

Okay, so here it is:
May was busy. June’s been busy. July is going to be busy. August (despised by me anyway) will be busy.
Lather, rinse and repeat.
You get my point, yes? (Even though no shampoo bottle has included those instructions since, say, 1979.) You also get an apology. I have been neglecting the blog in favor of a) fiction writing, and b) plain, ordinary or garden living.

I will, in this post, catch you up on the family developments. Further catching-up and perfumery bits to follow in posts next week.

Bookworm has graduated from Yale with a BS in Chemistry. She is spending the summer in New Haven, as a dorm counselor for their summer sessions and as a teaching and lab assistant for the Organic Chemistry classes. She gets free room and board as well as tuition for one class as compensation for her dorm counselor duties, and Actual Cash Money as compensation for her TA duties. This is all very, very good. She is planning to apply for a paid internship or an entry-level job in her field, and then eventually to find a graduate program that excites her.

She turned 22 at the end of May, and The CEO and I drove up to CT to spend her one “weekend off” doing some fun stuff with her. We went to Pawtucket, RI, to see the Paw Sox (the Boston Red Sox AAA minor-league affiliate) play. We toured the RI state house in Providence, and visited the Newport mansions and the Submarine Museum before dropping her off at her dorm and driving several hours to my sister-in-law’s house for my nephew’s high school graduation.

Curiosity is a smart, thoughtful, wonderful kid who will be studying Engineering at Virginia Tech come the fall. I’m proud of him. Engineering is possibly the most competitive program at VT, limiting the number of students it accepts for this degree track, and Curiosity will be living in one of the honor dorm communities as well.

In case you hadn’t heard this story, Curiosity’s dad K and The CEO were assigned roommates at Virginia Tech way back in the day. Heaven knows what a farm kid of Scottish extraction from SW VA and a second-generation Chinese-American kid from the suburbs of New Jersey had in common, but they got along fine, and K wound up marrying The CEO’s sister E. Curiosity is just a few months older than Gaze, and Primrose about 6 weeks younger than Taz; they’re all pretty close and I think that’s awesome.

Gaze graduated high school himself just a few days after Bookworm finished up, and he will be joining the Corps of Cadets at Virginia Tech in August. He had a number of dual-enrollment credits transfer, and his adviser suggested that since he’d be entering as a second-semester sophomore, he might consider a double major. He has already declared his primary major as Geography, with possibly a second major in National Security and Foreign Affairs. The Corps functions like a military school inside the larger campus of the university: cadets sleep, drill, and study together as well as eating two meals a day together, but they take classes alongside all the other students. Each cadet can choose an ROTC option (Army, Navy/Marines, or Air Force) OR the Citizen Leader track, which does not lead to an officer commission after graduation. Gaze is still awaiting final word on his Army ROTC scholarship; he needs a waiver for his eyesight.

Shopping for Gaze’s college stuff is turning out to be far more complicated than outfitting Bookworm was; the New Cadet Guide has a very strict packing list, and the cadets are encouraged not to bring anything extra. The list includes items like “2 sets white twin sheets (NOT Twin XL), sets consisting of a fitted sheet, a flat sheet, and a pillowcase each,” and “12 pairs white athletic socks, ankle height, no logo or color visible outside the shoe,” and “12 pairs underwear, at least 3 white or beige in color for wear under white trousers of dress uniform.” Also, “One surge protector, with at least six outlets, incorporating a cord of 8-10 feet long. Extension cords are strictly forbidden.” My sister, the Army wife, tells me to get used to this kind of thing. (I’m still trying to figure out whether he can take a mattress pad or not, because it’s not on the list. Eye roll.)

Taz using the Serious Athlete Pose, while everybody else is just having fun. The youth camp is in Florida.

And Taz? As a rising junior, he’s simply got less bustle and drama going on in his personal life at the moment. I expect that to change this year, as he begins to discover a purpose and is left, gasp, all along with his parents, the only kid in the house! We’ve been trying to work in his behind-the-wheel driver training, and it looks like it will be August before we can do that for him, but he’ll be driving on his own soon. This week he’s been at a church youth camp (Bible study, worship, and service projects), and next month he’ll spend a week at running camp. When he’s home, he’s being Jack-of-all-trades — laundry, house cleaning, minor repairs, cooking, helping on the farm, mowing and weed trimming.

My mother is recovering very well from her spinal surgery. She uses the rolling walker occasionally, for assistance with balance or when she’s tired, but she is standing and walking upright for the first time in years, and the nerve pain in her leg is gone. She is still progressing with her exercises.

My aunt Cindy, the youngest of my father’s three sisters, has recently been diagnosed with multiple myeloma. This is bad stuff; it is terminal but if caught early can be ameliorated to some degree with treatment. She is undergoing chemotherapy right now. If you don’t mind throwing up a prayer (or sending some positive vibes, if that’s more your thing), it would be much appreciated.

 

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Summer Smells

Summer Landscape Nature Wallpaper, from HDWallsize.com
Summer Landscape Nature Wallpaper, from HDWallsize.com

So it’s really summer around here these days. Middle 90s F yesterday, and humid, ugh.  My purple clematis is going crazy right now, and last night after we waved goodnight to our Bible study group members, the fireflies came out.

On clear nights you can see a bazillion stars.

Yesterday I mowed the grass (again). Yesterday I cooked some fresh corn. Yesterday there was a floral sweetness to the air that I couldn’t identify, but it said SUMMER to me, and on top of that was the smashed-green smell of the weeds the boys and I pulled out of the flower bed near the sidewalk. Yesterday I brought the sheets in off the clothesline and buried my nose in their clean dry smell. Yesterday I cut up a watermelon, and a quart of strawberries.

I’ve been hanging my American flag out because I like the way it looks, so crisp and staunch against the softness of the daisies and clematis and butterfly bush blooming near it.  And I’ve been grilling out a lot too – hot dogs and chicken breasts primarily, and it’s about time we made hamburgers again.

Now I only need a few other smells to make it really summer: the smell of a campfire and S’mores made over it, the hot sweet smell of grass drying into hay in the sun, and the smell of the pool: chlorine, Bomb Pops, and old-fashioned suntan oil, which had a different odor than the sunscreen my mother slathered all three of her fair-skinned children (two of them red-headed) with.  Oh, and I haven’t been to a baseball game yet this summer either – I need the air to be full of the waft of beer and popcorn and sausage with peppers at least once, to make it summer.

What does summer smell like for you?

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Getting Up The Cows

The CEO, Bookworm, and I headed out in the Gator so we could get up some cows on Sunday afternoon, about 4:30. It was hot, but not ridiculously hot – 85F, with a little breeze – and the Gator is open, so when you’re going 15mph it feels like you’re speeding, and the wind blows your hair back, even if you are wearing a Virginia Beef hat borrowed from your husband. We went to the barn lot, down the gravel road lined on both sides with fences hung with honeysuckle vines (smelling heavenly on the hot wind!), and in through the Seven-Acre Field, calling the cows and bull that were in that field out of it. The grass was tall and headed out in that field, so that grass seeds kept flying at us, stinging my arms, as the Gator went through it.

Bookworm driving the Gator

What The CEO needed was a particular portion of the herd to move from one field through another to the small field he uses as a staging area for the barn lot. The barn lot is largely dirt, through years of use, and it holds a disused barn and the working pens and headchute. Generally the cows don’t want to go in there, because it’s not full of grass, and of course it probably smells like cow distress. In the same way that it’s difficult to entice the cat to get into the cat carrier when the only place she ever goes in it is to the vet’s office, where someone will poke her and prod her and mess with her teeth and give her shots, it’s hard to coax cows to go through a gate into a dirt field where they’ve been poked and prodded and given shots. They’re not that dumb.

The cows started the afternoon in a small field that’s referred to as “Weston’s,” so called because The CEO’s father’s first cousin Weston used to live in the house that adjoins it. Weston is a Presbyterian minister, he’s 78 years old, and he hasn’t lived in that house for probably 50 years, but it’s Weston’s Field by long habit.

Cows in the Twenty-Acre Field

When we got to Weston’s Field, The CEO started calling the cows to see if he could just call them into the next field without chasing anything. “Whooo, cows, come on. Whooo, cows, come on.” He dropped me off in what’s called the Back Side with a sorting stick (a three-foot length of black plastic pipe) near the gate and told me, “Stand here and don’t let ’em go down the hill. Make ’em go that way,” pointing toward the wooded area at the top of the hill. He and Bookworm went into Weston’s Field in the Gator, making sure that no animal had been left behind, as cows began coming into the Back Side.

Sometimes they’ll come willingly into a new field, because they’ve come to associate the “whooo, cows” call with fresh grass. I like to imagine that they’re thinking, “Hey, they just opened up a new section of the buffet! Come on, girls, let’s go!” In this case, they came happily into the new field and immediately started munching. If you’ve never been close to a group of 60 large animals, all munching at the same time, it’s interesting. It’s loud.

Cows are interesting, anyway: for one thing, they’re big. Most of ours are of mixed breed, what’s called a “commercial herd.” In our area of the country, that generally means a mixture of Angus, Hereford, Simmental, Charolais, and/or Gelbvieh genetics, and we’ve got elements of all those breeds in our herd. Most of our cows are black because the coat color, from Angus genetics, is dominant. However, because Simmentals and Gelbvieh are multicolored, Herefords are red with white faces, and Charolais are white, the dominant black coat doesn’t always win. We’ve got red cows, brown cows, dull yellow cows, white cows, even grayish and orange cows, making up about 25% of the whole herd, as you might expect if you remember your Mendelian genetics from high school: the incidence of dominant phenotype is about 75%, with recessive phenotypes presenting about 25% of the time. The white face of the Hereford breed comes out fairly often, with white patches on the faces of black cows. (My father-in-law had about five color designations for cows: black, brown, red, white, and yaller. Yaller could refer to anything from yellow to beige through gray to that odd orange color.)

This big red cow is one of the Beefmasters.

We also happen to own about 15 Beefmaster cows, purchased secondhand from an enormous ranch facility in the western states that went bankrupt. Beefmaster is an acknowledged breed on its own, consisting of 50% Brahman, 25% Hereford, and 25% Shorthorn and especially well-adapted to the dry, hot conditions in the western US. They’re good big cows that usually have big healthy calves, and they’re good mamas – but they’re flighty and sometimes aggressive. They have independent streaks, which is somewhat contrary to the herd instinct that tends to be pretty strong in domesticated cattle. Cattle are like deer and antelope and wildebeest and all those herd animals that you’ve probably seen documentaries about on Wild Kingdom: wolves or dingoes or cheetahs cutting an animal out of the herd and hounding it until it’s alone and exhausted. Cows are no dummies when it comes to safety, and they like to stay together… unless they’re Beefmasters.

But back to what I was saying: cows are big. A full-grown commercial cow will generally weigh about 1100 to 1400 pounds. They have big liquid eyes and ridiculously long eyelashes and you can see the muscles move in their flanks as they walk, and if a cow managed to bump into you, you’d probably fall down. Our cows tend toward calmness, except for the Beefmasters, and unless they have newborn calves to protect, are not prone to aggressive behavior.  (Of course there’s always a couple of wild, nervous ones, but by and large they tend to be pretty calm.)  They have big teeth and big jaws, and the munching sounds are loud when they eat, whether it’s grass, hay, or silage.

Bulls weigh in at anywhere from 1800 to 2200 pounds, depending on breed, age and condition, and they can be five to six feet tall at the shoulder, making some of them as tall at the head as NBA players. Most of our bulls – we have six on the farm, and two more bull calves that won’t start earning their keep for another year or so – are purebred Angus, and although they’re more aggressive than cows, they are relatively gentle. We don’t have any of those “Beware of the bull” signs posted; they tend to ignore humans unless they think they’re getting access to fresh pasture or hot babes. (True bull factoid that inordinately irritates me, because of the correlation to human male sexuality: Bulls like cows. They really, really like cows – all cows, regardless of the color of their coats or the size of their udders. But they love heifers. We’ve had relatively calm-natured bulls plow right through barbed wire fences to get to a field full of young cows.)

So these cows came into the Back Side and immediately started to munch. They kept grabbing mouthfuls as Bookworm and I walked behind them, calling things like, “Cows, move!” and “Let’s go, ladies!” Then a few of them took off into the pond, and it was a pain to get them out of the water and moving forward again. Then the vanguard got spooked and headed down the hill, away from the gate into the Seven-Acre field, and we had to let them run awhile and get calmed down before getting behind them again and driving them up the hill toward the gate.

Here’s another thing about cows: they may look really slow and stupid, but they can run fast. We’re not talking racehorse fast here, but definitely faster-than-humans fast. Bookworm can almost keep up with them, but then she’s in great shape. A good sprinter, which she’s not, might be able to outmatch a cow over a short distance.

The Seven-Acre Field, seen from the working pens

Eventually we did get the cows into the Seven-Acre field, and The CEO said to us, “I’ve got to go open the gate into the barn lot. I’ll be back.” So Bookworm and I stood on top of the field and swatted at bugs and panted (me more than her), while The CEO wrestled with the gate. We couldn’t quite see what was wrong with it; all we could see was that it wasn’t moving and he was doing something to it. The cattle went through their regular roll call, cows bawling out for their calves and calves bawling, “Mom! Hey, Mom!” and then, once they realized all were present and accounted for and nobody was chasing them, they settled down to munch grass, standing in the small area of shade under a black walnut tree.

The afternoon had slid into early evening, and the sky had gone a softer blue. A breeze stirred the hair about our foreheads, bringing with it the weedy, astringent odor of trampled herbage and a faint whiff of honeysuckle from the fencerow. Bookworm whirred her sorting stick in the air, for something to do, and from the Whittaker Woods field, we could hear a woodpecker absurdly loud in its pursuit of bugs. Birds sang. The breeze blew about us again, this time bearing the animal smell of cattle with the hot-bread smell of grass seeds drying.

Cows munched. We swatted at bugs. Wind blew, birds sang, the woodpecker thocked at his tree again. It was peaceful.

Head chute in the working pens

And then The CEO opened the gate and came back up the hill toward us in the Gator, and it was off to the races again, driving cows along the fence to the corner and then down the hill toward the gate. I’ve done this before when the cattle get to the corner and run down the hill and up the other side, and then they get to the gate corner and sheer off, going the other way. The Seven-Acre field is relatively small, but if you find yourself chasing a couple dozen tons of animal around it, it’s plenty big. However, this time it worked as it was supposed to work, and the cows went through the gate into the barn lot.

So after much congratulatory chatter, we got into the Gator and headed home, down by the Old Homeplace, by the spring, down the gravel lane I am now calling Allée des Chévrefeuilles, and turned the corner for home. The sky had gone periwinkle blue, and my clothes were wet with sweat, and the air-conditioned house felt like a little piece of heaven. We ate dinner very late, after our showers, and stumbled to bed early.

Honeysuckle down the gravel road

The next day there would be another bunch of cattle to move.

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