Scent Semantics #7: BRILLIANCE

A couple of days behind the schedule (again), presenting the seventh episode of the collaboration of six bloggers: Portia (A Bottled Rose), Elena (The Plum Girl), Sheila (Alembicated Genie), Daisy (eau là là !), Old Herbaceous (Serenity Now Scents and Sensibilities) and Undina (Undina’s Looking Glass). If some of the participating blogs are also running late, please keep checking (or even better – subscribe!): we all are trying not to skip the month.Scent Semantics Project Banner

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This month’s word is: BRILLIANCE

How difficult do you think it would be to persuade an average “civilian” consumer to buy a 50 ml bottle of perfume for $375 or even $195? With Chanel Chance at $90/50 ml and Dior J’adore at $112/50 ml (with 100 ml bottles for both being still under $200), I wouldn’t be too optimistic in my forecasts. And it seems even less probable for the younger generation who just recently graduated from BodyShop or Fresh perfumes.

And yet, they are buying those more expensive Heretic, By Killian and Tom Ford perfumes. Why? Because of the brilliance of the Sephora‘s Merchandising Department (or whatever it’s called there): they were the first who realized that first Millennials and now Generation Z customers, who prefer YouTube to blogs and Instagram and TikTok to YouTube, would rather spend $30-$75 on a 10 ml travel spray from a luxury brand than do research and commit to a larger bottle of perfume that would get a much better “per ml” ratio.

It is not a rant about a younger generation. I actually applaud Sephora for their input into proliferating interest in “used-to-be” niche perfumes in the masses. I know that these days all smart brands and retailers try to follow the suit, and finally, we started seeing more and more of what I for years called “perfumista-size” bottles. But no other single retailer has the same number of “travel” options as Sephora does. They didn’t focus on the sets of either the same perfume or a pre-selected combo (a complete waste of money – unless someone plans to split the set) or gift sets with both a full bottle and its mini travel companion (slightly more interesting if the mini size is added free to the full bottle price, and that full bottle can’t be bought somewhere else at a discounted price). Instead, they went directly to stocking up 200+ single travel bottles of 7.5-10 ml within a price range between $22 and $75. 

Even though I wasn’t their target audience, I benefited from that brilliant marketing plot: even knowing that the brand was leaving the US, I wouldn’t have bought a full bottle of this perfume. But with a cute 10 ml bottle for around $30 – how could I have resisted?

Atelier Cologne Iris Rebelle

Iris Rebelle by Atelier Cologne, created in 2018, with the notes Calabrian bergamot, orange blossom, black pepper, iris, lavender, May rose, white musk, guaiac wood and patchouli, is a nice addition to my collection. It is perfect if I’m in the mood for a short-lived scent (pleasant, mind you!) that I can either discreetly reapply in approximately an hour from that pen-like bottle that fits any purse or replace it with another scent without risking them clashing.

I’m not sure if Iris Rebelle is still available anywhere (other than from discounters), but if you need more information, see the review from Lucas (Chemist in the Bottle) that pushed me to try this perfume. But whatever you do, do not check Sephora’s  “Mini size” section for Fragrances: you might be blinded by the brilliance of the offered selection.

 

Image: my own

Scent Semantics #6: VERNAL

Today is the sixth episode of the collaboration of six bloggers: Portia (A Bottled Rose), Elena (The Plum Girl), Sheila (Alembicated Genie), Daisy (eau là là !), Old Herbaceous (Serenity Now Scents and Sensibilities) and Undina (Undina’s Looking Glass). Because of all the events happening in Ukraine, I missed the fifth episode – even though it was my word, and I have a story to tell! Maybe I’ll do it anyway later. And this month I’m a little late, but I decided to do it. Hopefully, by now you’ve read all other participating blogs (I haven’t yet – will do now) and still don’t mind to check out one more take on the topic.Scent Semantics Project Banner

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This month’s word is: VERNAL

This month’s word surprised me: after more than two decades in the US, I didn’t have it not only in my active vocabulary but even in the passive one. Considering its quite mundane (though poetic) meaning, I’m amazed I haven’t come across it until now. A small consolation: Google search returns 4.6B of results for “spring” and just 15.9M for “vernal.”

As I was thinking about what that word means to me (after checking its meaning), I started thinking of Spring and remembering how it was back when I was experiencing it. I realized that living in an almost unvarying climate, while I do not miss Winter or cold weather, I miss that longing for the end of Winter and happiness from watching the Spring awakening of nature from the frozen sleep.

In my childhood and adolescent years, winter clothes that most of us got to wear were ugly. Those for adults usually weren’t much better, but at least theoretically better choices existed. But for the ages until late teenage years, those clothes weren’t something one would look forward to wearing. So, at first glimpses of Spring sun, we were eager to start taking off at least hats and scarves or maybe even putting on something less bulky and shapeless. And since by that time our immune systems were suffering from the lack of sun (read vitamin D3) and almost complete absence of fruits and vegetables (we won’t count potato, onions and beets, will we?), oftentimes that combination was enough to bring us down with a cold or flu.

Getting outside after a week spent in bed was magical: you could see and feel how Spring had sprung while you weren’t watching. And then, with every next day, Spring was claiming more and more territory with warmer days, longer days, young foliage and of course blossoms and flowers.

And if the early Spring days (those pre-flu ones) mean tender snowdrops, shy mimosa and timid daffodils, real, “full-fledged” Spring came with lavish lilac bushes.

One other drawback of not having cold weather in our area is that lilac grows here very reluctantly. In decades of living here, I saw a couple of sparse bushes in gardens and bought three or four bouquets of lilacs – far more expensive and smaller than what I used to see in my childhood.

Last weekend, while still playing with the word of the month in my head, for the first time while living in the US, I saw a white lilac bouquet. That was my vernal moment! And I immediately thought of a very fitting perfume for it.

Ineke After My Own Heart

After My Own Heart by Ineke is the first perfume in their Alphabet line. Notes: bergamot, raspberry, green leaves, lilac, sandalwood, heliotrope and musk. When I tested it the first time… 11 years ago, I thought it was nice, but I didn’t love it: the lilac seems too simple and soapy. My first discovery set went off at some point, so I had just my memory of how that perfume smelled. But recently I got a fresh sample set (with the purchase of Field Notes From Paris for my father), so I was able to revisit After My Own Heart.

After My Own Heart is a beautiful lilac, still slightly soapy in the opening, but this time it didn’t bother me much. It is a lush, warm, slightly green and quite a realistic lilac. It smells stronger than my small white lilac bouquet in my bedroom. And seeing that bouquet while wearing After My Own Heart conjures that feeling of happiness from the Spring that has finally arrived to stay.

 

Image: my own

An Evacuation Saga: From Kharkov To …

When was the last time that you had an “open-ended” trip where you would leave to somewhere without working out how you’d get there, where you’d stay, and what will happen next? I know that some young and adventurous people would do that. But I’ve never been that adventurous. So, it would be really hard for me to imagine that type of a trip even for myself – leave alone organize it for an elderly person, in another country and during a war.

It took the collective efforts of many people to make it happen. And I’m still amazed that we managed to do that. So many things came together through quick thinking, resourcefulness and sheer luck. And I’m extremely grateful to everyone who took part, directly or indirectly, in helping my friend and my vSO’s mothers to get to safety. The story below has too many details, but I just wanted to document it – probably for myself more than for you. We were “running that show” for several days straight with a couple of hours for sleep (not every night).

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My MIL is pushing 80. She is not in the best health. She hasn’t traveled to anywhere outside her city in the last 30+ years and, being not vaccinated, she spent the last two years mostly in her apartment, not seeing anybody in person (with food delivered to her door and all communications done via phone or computer). Several years earlier, pre-Covid, we couldn’t persuade her to travel to one of the European countries, accompanied by my friend, to spend a week or so there with us since we couldn’t visit Ukraine because of the situation with Crimea. When the war started, our friends had offered to move her in with them into the private house in the suburb thinking that it would be easier for her to stay with someone, and the house had an independent heating system and water supply. She blatantly refused. So, it took several nights with heavy shelling and bombing that she spent sleeping in an armchair in the corridor of her apartment, away from any windows, for her to agree that it was time to leave. Coincidentally, one of our friends “from the previous life”, K., who currently resides in Germany, found herself in the same situation: her mother was stuck in the same city, and K. with her husband Y. were trying everything they could think of to bring her to Germany.

On March 2nd, we combined our efforts and started looking into what could be done. Half-World away and with a 9-10-hours time difference, it wouldn’t have been easy even in better times – let alone during a war. It’s hard to imagine the helplessness one experiences trying to figure out the logistics of what we were trying to accomplish. We needed to get our moms all the way from Kharkiv to Lviv and from there to Poland. It’s more than 1000 km/600 miles.

Map of Ukraine

Trains. They do run, and they are free, but one needs to:

  • get to the train station (public transportation doesn’t work; some taxis theoretically are available but they are hard to get one for when you need them; volunteers who help people to get to the train station can be found online via Telegram chats, again, theoretically, but it feels like there are more people who need a ride than those who can help, so nothing is guaranteed)
  • get through the crowd of other people waiting for the evacuation (the picture below is actually from the train station in Kharkov one of these days)

Kharkov Train Station Evacuation March 2022

  • travel to the border for 15+ hours standing or sitting on the floor, and then somehow get across the border – either on another train or somehow else. We knew our mothers wouldn’t survive that.

Evacuation Train in Ukraine

Private cars. We tried. R., a friend who by that time had left Kharkov but was still in Ukraine helping people, as a volunteer, to move to safety, tried to help. Through his channels, we offered to pay thousands of dollars for the ride from the house to the border. We couldn’t find any takers.

The last option left was a bus. It was still a long trip, and we needed to get both women to that bus, but at least a seat was guaranteed, and buses were supposed to go to the border.

When I say “bus,” I do not mean an organized bus station with a timetable and known routes. You need to find who offers such a bus, get on the list and arrive at the departure location in time. We tried but couldn’t find a bus to Lviv, the city on the border with Poland. Our friends from Germany suggested an alternative plan: to get our mothers to another city, Dnipro, that at least wasn’t being bombed at that time (220 km/137 miles). And from there to the border they hoped to get help from another mutual friend, S.

My close school friend, L., from Hungary to where she had evacuated a week earlier, through the volunteer organization where she used to work helped us to find potential seats on the bus to Dnipro the next morning. Our moms were supposed to be ready but whether they got those seats would have been known just a couple of hours before the departure, and L. was supposed to wait for the call from that organization to coordinate. We agreed to assume that we got those seats, and the same friend helped to find a volunteer who would take both women to the bus.

Since nothing was certain, we kept looking for other options. A friend here, in the US, sent me a FB link for the buss being organized by several guys from Israel. That bus was supposed to go from our city to Lviv and then to the border. I knew nothing about those people, and not too many details were provided (with those buses, you give the name of the passenger and a phone, and at some point someone might call you. Or not), but I signed up both moms for that bus as well, and told my MIL to say “yes” if they call.

At the same time, K. & Y. (a daughter of the second mom and her husband) found co-workers of S. (the friend who was initially supposed to help with the evacuation from Dnipro) who were leaving for Dnipro in a car and agreed to take our moms with them.

It seemed like a better idea than a potential bus ride to the same city, so we agreed to change the plans. I started helping my MIL to pack her things for the trip. Mostly to keep her mind off what was happening and what was coming but also to make sure she wouldn’t forget something essential (like documents, water or toilet paper). While all the people mentioned above were calling each other connecting dots of that trip, my MIL was tasked with writing down a list of things to take with her, I did my own list, then we compared them and figured out what could be left behind. It was good that we had just hours to make those decisions, otherwise, it would have been even more nerve-wracking.

As the morning of the departure was nearing, we discovered that there was no real plan of how S. would actually help our moms once they get to Dnipro (he wasn’t in that city himself). From the vague but comforting initial plan that our moms would be taken care of by those co-workers until S. helps us to transport them further (that was what we got from K. & Y. when we started planning the trip; we were so busy organizing the departure that we haven’t questioned their further plan), it somehow transformed into the idea (coming from S.) that moms would need to get to the railway station in Dnipro and … get on the train to Lviv… My vSO and I realized that the situation would probably be worse, not better: without bombing (as a plus), but not knowing anybody in that city, not having anywhere to go and probably facing the same situation with getting on the train (which was confirmed later by the news) and a similar distance to travel.

As my vSO and I were discussing our options thinking that we would probably have to cancel that trip, the organizers of the Israeli bus to Lviv called my MIL and asked if she was coming. Since at that moment she still thought she was going in a car, she didn’t know what to say, so she told him that she needed to ask us. He promised to call back. She called us, we told her that she should have agreed to it, and we started waiting for the bus people to call. They weren’t calling back.

In a panic, I started looking for people who knew these guys in Israel, found and contacted one of them via WhatsApp, explained that the MIL was confused and that she and her friend did want to go and were ready. It was a one-sided contact, he hadn’t acknowledged the communication there. But within the next hour, he called back to my MIL, confirmed that she and the second mom were on the list, and gave her instructions as to where to be and when.

It took us a while to persuade K. & Y. to abandon the initial car plan and move to this one. Ironically, K.’s mom, when she got a call earlier from the same organizers, immediately told them that she wasn’t going (since she thought that they would be going by that friends’ car) – and hadn’t even mentioned it to her daughter until all that came up. So, for a while, our friends weren’t sure which came last – the confirmation from my MIL for 2 people of the rejection from their mom. But finally, we decided that Lviv was a better option (our friend Y. confessed later that he spent another couple of hours to contact that organizer and get a final confirmation that their mother was on the list before he canceled the car ride).

And then we were waiting for the morning to get a confirmation from the volunteer driver found by my friend L. that he would be there in time to take our moms to the bus. While we waited, we found 2 backup plans from other friends “on the ground” – in case the driver wouldn’t be able to come. But it worked out with that volunteer who was ready to do it completely free of charge. We persuaded him to take money – for gas for future rides. And since it was cold (-1C/+30F), we asked him not to just drop the moms off at the location for the bus but wait until they were safely inside.

That was a lucky idea because one of the two buses suddenly required some repair, and the departure was postponed for almost 3 hours. Most people were waiting on the street or hiding in the nearby subway vestibule (not much warmer), so it was great that the driver stayed, which allowed our moms to sit in a warm car (though, after they got cold having spent some time next to the first bus, hoping that they would be let in).

Evacuation BusIt wasn’t a good start. I tried contacting the organizers to make them let people in the second bus – at least to get warm, rotating people inside and outside. They didn’t want to do it because the two groups were separate, and the list of who goes where was with the second bus. Our driver needed to go (he had the next important trip to make taking someone to a hospital), so he wouldn’t have stayed for money (he was a volunteer). But he took pity on elderly women and waited until, finally, the second bus arrived, and everyone got in. Through my friend L., I sent him twice as much money as we initially planned to donate. We were extremely thankful to him.

And the trip began.

There was a WhatsApp group created for those who traveled on those buses. Since neither of the moms had that app, we persuaded organizers to add us to the group hoping to be getting any updates on their progress. We pleaded with the passengers to periodically publish any updates… Nope. Not a word. During the night, we didn’t want to call – not to disturb anyone. And when my friend K. called her mother in the morning and asked where they were, she got an unexpected response that it was a secret. She decided that her mother wasn’t completely herself because of the stress, and we were joking among ourselves that it was a covert Mossad bus…

For all we know, it was! When we finally learned that they were approaching Lviv and shared it with some of our friends, they couldn’t believe it because they knew people who left a day earlier either by car or by bus and were still on the road. But together with the relief from the long leg of the trip being over, an unpleasant realization dawned on us: the organizers haven’t really worked it out (or properly conveyed to us) how the next, not less important part of crossing the border would happen. Initially, we were told that there will be another bus, local, going across the border. But somehow that part wasn’t happening, and after dropping off some of the travelers in Lviv, the bus was taking the rest of the group to the border crossing point planning to leave them there. At night. With the above-mentioned -1C/+30F. In the queue of 2,000 (TWO THOUSAND!) pedestrians, according to the official FB page (see the screenshot below). On foot, without any heat, cover or restrooms for hours.Ukraine-Poland Border Crossing

We started panicking: we didn’t think our mothers would survive that night. Looking at the same information, we noticed that there were other crossing points with fewer pedestrians. We had no idea if those were real numbers, where those crossing points were or whether those even had a crossing for pedestrians. We did some investigation and figured out that it was likely that the place marked in green on the picture above actually had the necessary crossing with a shorter line.

The organizer from Israel didn’t know the driver’s phone number, so we called my MIL, she gave her phone to the driver – but he didn’t want even to talk to the organizer (or didn’t believe that he was talking to him). Then through the organizer, we connected with a man who was previously traveling on one of these buses but stayed in Lviv (he was too young to be let out of the country) but whose mother was still on that bus. Being one of the more active and personable travelers (he maintained the connection with the organizer), he managed to establish some type of relationship with the driver of the bus during the trip and knew his direct phone number. So, he called the driver and persuaded him to accept financial incentives we were offering (luckily, before the war started, we managed to send enough money to my MIL, and she had them right there – many people hadn’t) and drive everyone on that bus for 3 more hours to that next crossing point (and this active guy’s mom got all the passengers to agree to this new plan).

During those 3 hours, there were several more ups and downs (including those for my blood pressure), but I’ll skip those details because, in the end, it all worked out: the line on that crossing point went through the border much faster, and not counting the first 20-30 minutes, it went inside heated tents.

So, less than 3 hours after being dropped off by the bus, our moms were on the Polish side, where our friend Y. with his brother were already waiting for them after driving all the way from Dusseldorf. The picture below shows people coming out on the Polish side taken from where our friends were waiting. Our moms didn’t even have to walk this part: they got a ride from border guards to where our friends could pick them up with their car.

Smilnizya Crossing Point

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My MIL is now in Germany. We do not know how long she’ll have to stay there. We’re doing everything we can to bring her to the US, but at this point, we found ourselves in legal limbo: to get the US visa (which she could through family-based immigration since my vSO is a US citizen), she would need a valid Ukrainian travel passport, which she doesn’t have; Ukrainian consulates in Germany have officially stopped issuing those because of the war situation; we have no idea how long it might go on. But even after it ends, we don’t think my vSO’s mother would be able to go back, because, as we learned from her neighbor, her flat became uninhabitable the next day after she left: as the result of the shelling, central heating system on the roof was damaged, and all flats underneath got flooded with the hot water. And since she has no other relatives back there, I don’t think it would be possible to restore it for her – with all the destruction that has already happened in the city. So, we’ll just have to keep trying to resolve this conundrum. But at least she’s not being bombed. Yet.

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The regular Saturday Question post will be published later than usual, but it is coming.

Not The Regularly Scheduled Programming

For about a day, I thought that I would still be able to run the regular Saturday Question. Then, as the madness of what is happening in Ukraine increased, for a short period of time I contemplated asking Portia or one of my other guest writers to do it since I just couldn’t bring myself to be chatting about even such a joyful and positive topic as perfumes. And then I decided that since most of my blog’s readers are my friends or people who come here not just to be entertained, I would not pretend that it’s “business as usual”: our family, our friends and co-workers are there; we do not know what happens to them tomorrow… or in the following year, whatever this war results in. I still can’t completely believe that this is happening.

We grew up with a particular war mythology. It doesn’t really matter whether it was a complete truth (it wasn’t), but it had the right connotation and moral. Our country lost dozens of millions of people in the WWII, but it was a just war in which we defended ourselves and didn’t really have a choice.

I cannot believe that the nation that survived that war, lived through and overcame Stalinism and finally disillusioned in socialism, just 30 years later became that World bully who disrespects not only that World or neighboring countries but even its own people who risking their lives protest this abomination.

These are photos of the city where I was born. Kharkov (as I knew it) or Kharkiv (from the Ukrainian spelling). It hasn’t been occupied as of now, but the fight is happening very close to the city limits. Our relatives and friends report explosions. Many spent a night in subway stations or basements sheltering from shelling. I’m so worried about all the people I know… and about those whom I don’t. A war is scary. It kills. It maims. And more than in one sense.

In many situations, there are two (or more) sides to the story. Not for me, not in this case. There will be absolutely no discussion on this blog about any merits for this monster’s actions. So, if anyone feels differently, let’s just calmly part our ways: you are either with me on the issue, or you do not comment.

Scent Semantics #4: TASTE

Today is the forth episode of the collaboration of six bloggers: Portia (A Bottled Rose), Elena (The Plum Girl), Sheila (Alembicated Genie), Daisy (eau là là !), Old Herbaceous (Serenity Now Scents and Sensibilities) and Undina (Undina’s Looking Glass).

Most of you probably already know that, but just a quick explanation for the project: once a month one of us selects a word (any part of speech, no guidelines), and we all try to find and describe a perfume association that we come up with. The initial idea was to choose just one perfume, but it was a guideline, not a strict rule – so, anything goes.Scent Semantics Project Banner

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This month’s word is: TASTE

Finally, we’ve got a word that was along the line of what I expected when we were discussing the collaboration. I mean, not this specific word, but the form. In my mind, the words we would be choosing were nouns, singular. Why? Because that was how it was traditionally done for crossword puzzles in my native language. I’ve never got used to the local way of using different word forms, and The New York Times crosswords have never made sense to me. So, it was a noun! Has it made it easier? Nope. Had I known in advance that we’d have this word, I would have saved Angel Taste of Fragrance for today. And it would have been very fitting both to the topic and the occasion of honoring Mugler‘s memory. But I “used” it up already for one of the previous episodes. (Interestingly, Mugler’s Angel was the first perfume that kept popping up in my head in response to each next word offered for the project. Think of it, isn’t it “brave,” “angelic” and “luscious”? And, as the first gourmand, of course, I could make parallels with “taste.”) So, since the simple route wasn’t available any longer, I kept thinking about it, and as the result, I came up with a story that takes a somewhat unexpected twist on the topic. (And you tell me if reading this month’s word you expected anything like that.)

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I don’t remember exactly how young I was: it was during my middle school, age before any dating started (at least customary for that time and place), but with romantic feelings in their pre-blooming phase and the onset of the relationships building.  When thinking about this time, I imagine characters from the King‘s book It or the recent TV show Stranger Things. While reading the story below, it is important to remember that we were children/pre-teens.

N. was one grade above me. He wasn’t a bad boy (I’ve never been attracted to those) but rather an artistic type. I remember that he had a good voice and impossibly beautiful brown eyes. I wasn’t interested in him (at that time I was still unrequitedly in love with my classmate), but he started demonstrating some interest in me: I would be catching his gaze at me in the school corridors during the breaks.

Back then and there, you would expect a boy to look away once his glance was “caught,” if he was shy, or a girl to avert her eyes pretending not to notice the attention (a ritual of submissive modesty). N. wasn’t shy. And I’ve never been submissive. So, once I realized that he was staring, I took it as a challenge and stared back. It became a game for the next several months. I don’t remember if we had any other communications, but any day when our scheduled classes happen to be on the same floor, we would engage in the eye “sparring.” Additional points went to the one who didn’t blink first during those encounters. I was still sweet on my classmate, but these silent duels became a part of my daily routine boosting my self-confidence and raising my status among my girlfriends.

After the end of the school year, we had a couple of weeks of strange semi-compulsory activities: children from all classes from one or two grades were bussed to a summer camp outside of the city where we would do some agriculture work for several hours in the morning and then have sports, music and other group activities in the evening. My main romantic interest’s parents managed to excuse him from these exercises, but most of my friends were going to be there, so I didn’t mind going. And I was pleased to find out that N. was also on that trip: our silent matches would continue!

But suddenly something unexpected happened: within a day or two, N. joined a small group (6-7 girls and boys, my class-mates) that we formed at the camp (which was quite unusual since he was older – so, the boys from our group were happy to include him and girls didn’t mind either), then he completely lost any interest in me and switched his full attention to another girl from our group, V. I watched him performing the same routine of watching her attentively, catching her eyes and making sure she notices this. And it was all intensified by the fact that we were spending most of the time together.

I was crushed and confused, both by what was happening and my reaction to it. I knew that I wasn’t romantically interested in him, and going out with him wasn’t in my plans or dreams. But he was my admirer! And suddenly he wasn’t. I was hurting. And the worst part was that saving my pride, I had to hide those feelings. I remember that all I wanted was to get back home or at least to spend some time alone to cry. Ironically, I had so many friends in my class, that I just couldn’t get any time on my own: someone would immediately join me. So, I pretended that nothing had happened and kept spending time in that group with my ex-admirer, V. who had quickly fallen for his charm, and the boys who were clearly impressed by his maturity and bravery to express his feelings. Every evening, we would gather on the porch of one of the cabins where we stayed, play some games, laugh and sing. N. had a great voice. And he would sing with us, but you could tell that he was singing for V. while not taking off his beautiful brown eyes of her. And she looked beautiful and happy. If I’m not mistaken, their relationships progressed to the public hand-holding territory.

And then V. got sick, and her parents took her home several days before the end of the camp. That’s where the next chapter started. I did mention that V. was an artistic type, right? He was publicly suffering in such a way that we all, including me who came to terms with his change of heart, my other girlfriends and our boys, were sympathizing with him and trying to cheer him up. He was sighing, singing sad songs (especially the one that, by coincidence, had the name V. in it, which he previously sang to V.) and even holding a scarf she forgot when leaving. And then, as the oldest of us all, one evening he announced that he needs to drink (to drown his sorrows, I think, though don’t remember). Not only at that age, but for several years after that none of us, most likely, drank anything (unless trying something at home from the parents’ glasses). And of course, there was absolutely no alcohol at the camp. But.

In the country where I grew up, there was a well-known phenomenon of drinking surrogate alcohol. Of course, it was something in which people engaged when they didn’t have other choices (e.g., alcoholics or people in incarceration), and not only for us, children from good families, but in general for the majority of the population, it was something from the marginal subculture. But we all knew about it. So, when N. proudly produced a bottle of the aftershave (I’m not sure why he had it with him – I don’t think he was even shaving yet), none of us was really surprised.

Wars AftershaveThis is not the exact bottle of what he had (his one was blue if I’m not mistaken), but it’s the closest I could find online. Back then it was a hard(er) to get aftershave from Poland, so on its own, it was impressive. I don’t remember what was used instead of a shot glass, I just know that we didn’t drink it from the bottle itself.

I was the only girl in our group who made a sip or two of that blue liquid. I’m not sure what I was trying to prove, but for some reason it was important to me not to blink, so to speak, in that strange game. I had nothing less exotic to compare that WARS aftershave to, but it tasted yucky – about which we all agreed. But we all felt a little proud of being such a badass. And I think it did cheer up N a little.

* * *

Over the next two months of the summer break I completely forgot about N. When we came back to school, I noticed that N. and V. did not have any communications any longer, but I’ve never learned what had happened (if anything). And when during one of the bus trips where, for whatever reason, N. was again a part of our group, we started singing that song, I was watching N. and V.: he was completely nonchalant, and she was obviously hurting. His parents moved soon, so he transferred to another school, and I’ve never met him either as a teenager or adult. I wonder who he grew up to be.

* * *

I had never tried to drink another cologne or perfume since, but I think I still can imagine that taste.

Vacation in the Time of COVID-19: Episode IV, Hawaii Big Island – Flowers

This work week was so packed with words (I wrote 17 pages of documentation and edited another 50 written by others) that at this point I’m all “worded out” (I promise to find some for the Saturday Question post tomorrow), but I want to share with you the next set of photos from my becoming more and more distant recent vacation.

Pictures of these beautiful, strange and unusual tropical flowers I collected just in one day (and I’m showing not even all!). I wonder if you can figure out which of them is a torch flower, a rattle snake flower or a cat’s whiskers flower.

 

 

Images: my own

Vacation in the Time of COVID-19: Episode II, Hawaii Big Island – Tropical Leaves

I know that many of the plants you can see in Hawaii and especially at botanical gardens of the islands are not native to Hawaii, and that even those that are or could grow there on their own wouldn’t have been represented that densely in their natural habitat. But that’s the beauty of botanical gardens. The set below are pictures of leaves that I took within a couple of hours of walking in the Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve & Garden – a privately established, created and run non-profit botanical garden.

I have many more pictures from this visit, but I had to stop at some point. I’ll share more in my upcoming posts on other topics.

 

Images: My own

 

Sunday Self-care, Episode 3: Don’t Sweat It

Many years ago, when a multi-level marketing stormed the country where I lived, it could have done much more damage if it weren’t for the fact that many people who would have been gullible just didn’t have enough money to participate in the game.

Most people in my circle proved to be immune to the promises of health/beauty benefits and easy earnings, not in the last place because many of us were bad at selling things. But our close friend’s mother had succumbed to the temptation and, as it often happens with new converts, not only she fully embraced ideas and products offered by the brand but she also energetically started recruiting into the enlightened lifestyle all her friends and relatives, including her son and his wife (who were our friends).

Our friends weren’t really persuaded and took most of the things ironically. I remember how our friend was telling us that after using some either face products or supplements (it was a long time ago, so details are fuzzy), his mom got a skin rash that she was explaining “The body puts up a fight.” My vSO and I still jokingly use this phrase from time to time.

I don’t remember how it happened, but I ended up buying one product from our friend’s mom – a deodorant. And I liked it. So, I bought another one. And another.

* * *

The first year after I moved to the US, to my surprise I discovered that the brand I thought was some shady pyramid scheme was a legitimate brand with a long history, and it was sold in the regular stores. The brand was JĀSÖN.

So, for years I kept buying the same two deodorants by Jason that I liked “in my previous life” – Aloe Vera and Tea Tree. Both my vSO and I went through dozens of those before I realized I didn’t like them any longer. Thinking about it, I suspect that they were just reformulated at some point, without informing consumers, of course. Probably it became even “cleaner” and healthier than it used to be. But it didn’t work for me anymore.

For several years after that I switched to the deodorant that my vSO was using (I’ve chosen it for him): Terre d’Hermes. We both still like it, but it is very expensive, it contains several ingredients that are currently are considered… well, let’s say, they are controversial, and though I do not really subscribe under all the current trends, it is hard to ignore that completely. So, at some point, I decided that I wanted to find an alternative daily deodorant.

Terre d'Hermes Deodorant

What am I looking in a deodorant? I don’t know. I do not use antiperspirants. Not because I think those are unsafe or anything to this effect – I just do not like how it feels. I do not want perfume scent in my deodorant, but I do want a pleasant scent for the scent itself, as I apply but not as much for masking any odors. It needs to work to some extent, though I do not expect miracles. And whatever it does or does not, it should feel nice on my skin.

The first one I went for was from the same brand that started this story – Jason. But I decided to try their newer item – Men’s Forest Fresh. I’m sure that the “men’s” part is a pure marketing shtick, and not just because of the “anybody can wear anything,” but because the most “feminine” aspect of their other deodorants is the packaging, otherwise they are absolutely gender neutral.

Company’s claim: Men’s Forest Fresh contains Zinc Ricinoleate, Corn Starch, Baking Soda, Grapefruit Seed Extract, Cedarwood Pine and Eucalyptus Oils. No Animal Byproducts, No Artificial Colors, No GMO, No Parabens, No Petrolatum, No Phthalates, No Sulfates, Cruelty Free.

It glides on very nicely and smells good. I think it works to some degree, but it sits on my skin slightly sticky contributing to the feeling of being sweaty even if I do not sweat. I will finish it, but most likely I won’t repurchase it.

Jason Forest Fresh Deodorant

The next one that I decided to try was Death By Lavender – Organic Deodorant from North Coast Organics.

Ingredients, according to the brand, (Vegan): 100% organic coconut oil, 100% organic carnauba wax, 100% organic arrowroot powder, 95% organic shea butter, aluminum-free, natural baking soda, & Organic Essential Oils (Lavender, Lemon, Cypress, Rosemary). It is certified organic, certified vegan, certified cruelty-free, certified non-gmo, gluten-free, aluminum-free, soy-free, and handmade.

It was just awful. The scent was fine, but it was so dry and gritty that it felt like I was rubbing a pumice stone over my armpits. My only hope is that the item I bought at the store spent too long on the shelf and that usually it is much better. But I will never know because I won’t be spending $15 more to confirm this hypothesis. Into the bin it went right after I took the picture.

North Coast Organics Death by Lavender

What I liked about (Malin+Goetz) eucalyptus deodorant was that I could get a small version of it. Of course, it is more expensive per gram than the full version and much more than many other full-size deodorants. But I hate wasting products, so after the fiasco with the previous deodorant, I was glad to get a mini.

According to the brand, it is vegan and cruelty-free. Includes eucalyptus extract and citronellyl.

eucalyptus deodorant is smooth in application and has a light, slightly medicinal scent – I wouldn’t have minded a stronger eucalyptus aroma. It absorbs well without an unpleasant residue. Once I finish the mini I have, I might come back to this deodorant if I don’t find anything better. It is good but not ideal.

(Malin+Goetz) Eucalyptus Deodorant

The most recent deodorant I tried is Sweet Pitti Deodorant Cream from Drunk Elephant. I had high hopes for this one: this brand has a good reputation, and I liked a couple of other products they make.

Brand says that Sweet Pitti contains Mandelic Acid, Arrowroot Powder, Shea Butter, Marula Oil, Mongongo Oil, Baobab Seed Oil. It has a pH of 4.0 and is free of baking soda and aluminum-derived ingredients, sulfates, silicones, essential oils, fragrance, dyes, and drying alcohols. Cruelty-free.

I’m not sure if Sweet Pitti works because I really dislike the scent. I’m not sure I care about how efficiently it combats my natural odor since what it replaces it with doesn’t smell much (any?) better. In addition to that, the way it dispenses: you have to turn the pushing mechanism extremely carefully to get just a tad of the content to appear from those four holes – otherwise, you’ll either waste the product or will be covered in it. I will probably finish the one that I have (I’ll use it for when I’m exercising), but under no circumstances will I repurchase it.

Drunk Elephant Sweet Pitti Deodorant Cream

My search continues. Luckily, working from home, I have a luxury of using a wrong deodorant, washing it off and trying another one. But I would love to find one or two deodorants to use for several years until I find something better. And I still plan to replenish my and my vSO’s favorite Terre d’Hersmes.

Do you have any deodorants you would recommend?

Deodorants

Images: my own

Rusty the Cat: On Camouflaging

Of course, I’m not being serious: if anything, it’s not Rusty who has chosen his surroundings (or to live with us, for that matter). But I just want to share some of the pictures I collected for the topic. And I hope you’ll agree: he fits in perfectly, doesn’t he?

In other news, today I got my second vaccine shot. Now I can tell that most people who had their shots and to whom I complained about pain in my shoulder after the first one had no idea what I was talking about! I can feel something in my arm now, and I still might get side-effects in the upcoming days, but it doesn’t come even close to how much my first shot hurt! I’m glad that I’m done for at least 6 months (I really dislike needles).

I do not plan to change how I live even after I’m fully vaccinated: I’ll keep working from home, limit visits to stores and continue to wear masks. We might start seeing more friends, but other than that… Nah. Life has to prove to me that it’s safe on the outside.

2020: What Went Well

For the last probably 5 years, as the next new year celebration was approaching, I kept reading/hearing from people that they were glad “this year” was ending and looking with hope for the next one. And all those years I was thinking – and even using it as a celebratory toast more than once – that I hope that personally for me the next year would be at least not worse than the year we were seeing off.

Several years ago, I came across What Went Well Wednesday series on the Serenity Now Scents and Sensibilities blog. As Old Herbaceous has described, it is a gratitude exercise when you’re on a regular basis list three things that went well and explain why (“Adding “why” allows one to pinpoint times when acts of one’s own or others contributed to what went well”). I mentally played that game for a while, and even contemplated “borrowing” the idea for my blog but had never implemented it.

As challenging as 2020 was for everyone, believe it or not, I still stand by my New Year mantra: I hope that for me and my loved ones the next year will be at least not worse than this awful, strange, “unprecedented” and totally unexpected 2020. And I want to share with you what went well for me this year.

Health

First, nobody from my close circle of family and friends got sick so far. Mostly, it is just luck (though we all are trying to do our part), and I realize that we’re not out of the woods yet. But I’m glad that until now we’ve been lucky.

Second, an unpleasant health issue that started for me last December has finally resolved (at least temporary) without a surgery that seemed inevitable mid-year. I’m so relieved! I did all I could, including some folk remedies and postponing the surgery until I found a surgeon I trusted (we had a hilarious conversation about those folk remedies, none of us really believing in them but not completely dismissing either) and not going with the one who suggested to go ahead with the surgery right there and then. My vSO was so helpful, supportive and patient through the whole ordeal, that whatever role the moral well-being might have played in fighting infection, he deserves all the credit.

Finally, Rusty who had some stomach issues, seems to be better now when he doesn’t shed as much. And his lab work results are all good, which was a huge load off our minds. But it reminds me that I should brush him more regularly.

Rusty on the Bed

Job

We both stayed employed, and our jobs allow us to work remotely. Moreover, though much better than it was the previous year and with a better staffed team, my work kept me so busy, that I barely noticed the “stay at home” part.

Also, this year I got a great performance review from my manager. I’m mentioning it because it was the first time ever in my life. I’m quite used to not getting any feedback or getting (and, frankly, giving) formal and meaningless reviews. The fact that somebody made an effort and expressed in written words what I know I did good was an absolutely new experience. If I ever write a performance review for anyone again, I’ll need to remember how it feels to get a deserved acknowledgement.

And the last in this section, this year we finally were able to take time off during the winter holidays and get some so needed rest.

Family

Our state was partially open just in time for the local trip that my vSO and I planned for our big anniversary this year. Originally, the plan was just for two of us to get away for several days – spas, wineries, eating out. But after four months at home and most places still take-out only or outside seating, it felt less of a getaway. And since the house we rented was big enough for more people, we invited four of our closest friends whom we knew for decades to join us – and they did. It was a very pleasant mini trip. Picture below is taken from the balcony of the rebuilt tasting room of our favorite winery – Paradise Ridge, that burned down three years ago in the first big North Cal fire. They opened earlier this year, which I also write down in the positive column.

Paradise Ridge Winery

Friends and Hobbies

I’m lucky to have friends to talk to, exchange news and share worries. These are people I’m ready to help, and who is ready to help me. I miss seeing many of them, but I hope we’ll have more time to spend together, to travel and celebrate important events next year or the year after that or…

I’m also glad I have my Perfumeland friends. Not only we share our love of perfume, which is even more important now than it ever was, but we also help each other to stay informed about what’s happening in different countries and parts of the World, which allows us to better understand the situation, compare experience and get prospective.

Thanks to Portia who passed on me the APJ’s weekly Saturday Question series, I got what I always wanted for my blog – a continuous conversation with perfumista friends and loyal readers. And thanks to, again, Portia, Narth, hajusuuri and Christine W, my wonderful guest writers, the blog got more inhabited and diverse. I’m also thankful to all who’s reading this and other posts, commenting or not (though, I would prefer to have a chance to talk to everybody, even from time to time).

Thanks to Tara’s (A Bottled Rose) Beauty Reviews, I revisited my skincare routine. I don’t know if I’m getting any results, but at least it’s something new and it’s a pastime that I enjoy. The next thing will be to follow her and Vanessa’s (Bonkers about Perfume) suit and start reading again.

I’m thankful to Lucas (Chemist in the Bottle), my scent twin (well, triplet with hajusuuri, to be precise), who keeps reviewing new perfumes, even in this environment with limited access to new releases, so that I do not have to wonder whether to get samples for any of those: our tastes do not coincide 100%, but they overlap significantly, especially on perfumes that can be qualified as “unisex.”

And I’m grateful to hajusuuri who, in addition to being an inspiration with her daring 8-spray perfume application, just single-handedly provided me with a month-worth daily testing subjects. So, not only I got a wonderful gift under my New Year tree (see the photo below), but I also have something interesting to look forward to every day in January when all the holidays that I love so much are behind us.

NY Tree and samples

Speaking of Christmas/New Year trees. This year, we managed to decorate not only our house outside (seeing decorated houses makes me happy, so I wanted to help brightening this gloomy year to others who also enjoy holiday decorations) and inside (spending that much time at home, I wanted to make it more festive), but in addition to the big tree in the living room (on the postcard below), I decorated a tiny one for the bedroom (that’s where all those samples went to be safe from Rusty). And for the latter I used ornaments that are more than 4 decades old: my grandmother bought them for my tiny plastic tree when I was a child, and I saved them and brought with me when I moved to the US. The wooden decoration with a reindeer is a gift from Lucas, and the orange cat is an ornament that I bought in Hawaii several years ago and painted to resemble Rusty.

And finally, this year allowed me to wear my favorite perfumes more freely, not worrying whether it would bother my co-workers. I re-tested many of the samples I accumulated over the years, finished some, passed on some, got new ones to test, and found new perfume loves. Same as in years before, I haven’t tested enough new releases to do my own top N releases of 2020, but I will be back early next week with my 2020 Year Round-Up Entertaining Statistics post, in which I’ll mention my favorites from this year.

Rusty and New Year Tree 2021

Happy New Year to all my friends and readers! I will take mine 2021 at least not worse than 2020, but to all of you who felt that this year was too much of a leap (pun intended), I wish 2021 to be kinder, calmer and more joyful.

Will you share at least one thing in your life that went well this year? (But you do not have to stop at one)