Category Archives: Trying To Eliminate The Bullshit

The Olfactory Thing.


Tony is usually hovering around while I’m in the kitchen dicking around with sugar scrubs, and his reaction brings to mind the reason I don’t use commercial perfumes and only anoint my body with natural substances: Men can’t stand the smell of perfume.

Women often don’t get this.  You walk through a department store — I tend to pass through at more of a trot, when I’m forced to do it — and synthetic scents pelt you from every side. It brings on a faint and instantaneous nausea, and the smells swirling about do not comfort or please.  They are intimidating smells.  They have the smell of ladies, and that is not a good smell.

You know what I mean by ladies, or at least you do if you grew up in the ’50s and ’60s in small-town America.  Ladies were your mother’s friends who came over for bridge or Tupperware or whatever the hell women were gathering to do in those days.  They carried pocketbooks and used hankies; the latter were often embroidered and scented.  And they smelled like . . . ladies.  That confusing smell of aerosol hairspray and Chanel No. 5, with a dash of hairy twat thrown in.  It wasn’t a smell that made you want to come closer.  It was a smell that obfuscated any kind of home truth, if you know what I mean. Those women didn’t smell like women.

The men of my generation remember what those ladies were like, too.  They didn’t represent anything sexual.  If you want to not attract a man, to not arouse him, then go ahead and smell like those ladies.  Douse yourself in artificial scent. He’ll recognize the smell as a signal that you are available, that you are sending out a message.  He will just be confused and disquieted by that particular message.

So what do men want us to smell like?  All available data points to vanilla.  Vanilla, with the boring reputation and the rich lavish bouquet.  Vanilla can come dressed up like a duchess, but she can also roll in the hayfields like a whore.  She’s the smell of the kitchen, of the sugar cookies at Christmas,  of creme brulee and warm sweet things.  And men are drawn to it like bees to honey. Unlike the chemical scent of those ladies, the smell of vanilla makes men feel warm and secure, as if they’ve encountered something familiar and beloved.  Now that is a far better way to kick off a sexual relationship, wouldn’t you say?

There’s more.  Men want us to smell like baked goods! I remember hearing anecdotally that the smell of pumpkin pie trumped out all other scents for male appeal.  I can totally dig that.  It’s why I used to use the Philosophy Pumpkin Pie shower gel back when it still existed, back before I refined my nose to the point where Philosophy products are just too synthetic to bear.  I can still handle their Cinnamon Sugar Icing shower gel, though.  It smells like French toast and syrup! Tony loves it, of course.

So long ago I started tying the things I put on my own body to the natural world.  In winter I smell like cinnamon and vanilla and chocolate.  In summer, when the natural world’s perspective shifts, I smell like coconut, mango and pineapple.  I’ll indulge in a floral or two in the summer, but it has to be of the utmost quality: there is nothing as gag-inducing on earth as a synthetic floral scent.  Annick Goutal’s Gardenia Passion smells exactly like real gardenias, but it comes from Paris and I absolutely cannot afford it.  Jasmine is another candidate, but again only if it’s a true jasmine.  Anoint yourself with cheap jasmine and you’ll smell worse than a French whorehouse: you’ll smell like a Harbor Boulevard whorehouse.  And I am here to tell you that is all kinds of bad.

So that’s why these days I am up to my elbows in vanilla.  Does anyone really remember what vanilla really smells like on a woman?  The market is inundated with synthetic vanilla scents, some of which smell quite nice but none of which approach the actual smell of real vanilla.  So I’ve been making vanilla absolute in my kitchen.  Two beans of Singing Dog vanilla, a little coconut or olive oil, some indirect heat and a few weeks to steep, and I’ve got a gorgeous little vanilla scent that just doesn’t quit.  And me in the kitchen, marrying it off to maple and brown sugar with one hand and to coconut with the other.

And as I walk away, the smell of real vanilla clings to me, as it always does.  It makes my kids hug me and draws a kiss on my cheek from Tony.  You want to be a lady?  Go on down to Bloomies and pick up the latest designer scent with all the other unlaid wallflowers.  But if you want to be an earth angel, a domestic goddess, the source of comfort and good, the sort of girl who gets laid at the drop of a hat — be warm. Be comforting. Be vanilla.



for Behan and Boolie

I want to get Boolie involved with Girl Scouts, if she’s willing; Erika, already very much herself at a very young age, refused to have anything to do with them. But I was a Girl Scout for years and years with my mom often as the troop leader, and those are some of the best memories of my childhood. More importantly, Girl Scouts does a great job teaching girls the practical skills they will need as adult women. When I was a kid, those were things such as sewing, cooking and needlework. Today, they are teaching them such things as financial competence. I’ve been thinking a lot lately that Boolie will inevitably assume the role of female head of Ben’s household — hell, I think in a lot of ways she’s assumed it already. So I’m setting out to teach her practical life skills. I hope the Girl Scouts didn’t go completely insane after Women’s Lib and stop teaching them housewifery.

Looking through the Daisy Scout summary, I noticed a new feature that didn’t exist back in my Scouting days: the girls each choose one of three “journeys” for their Scouting experience. Those are It’s Your Planet — Love It! which involves conservation and animal life; It’s Your Story — Tell It! which explores personal identity along with writing and storytelling;  and It’s Your World — Change It! which is . . . a little scary.

Do I really want my strong, smart, loving daughter to set out to change the world? It paints rather a depressing picture of strident Right to Lifers and sullen Occupiers, people who are perpetually discontented with everything. Oh yes, there are people who have changed the world, but they never do have a very easy time of it and quite frequently end up dead before their time. Not the life I would choose for my beloved girl.

Wouldn’t it be amazing to see a program more like It’s Your World — Live In It? If Boolie’s personal contentment and fulfillment are put first, I’d like to see her learn to live gracefully in the world, to learn to look inside for answers, to accept other people for who and what they are, and to be a responsible and loving citizen of the Universe. Changing the world — well, that’s a tall and rather miserable order. I find more and more that being truly content involves getting your Tao on in a big way.

But then my mind turned to my friend Behan, who played the corporate game and played it well until the day she and her husband and their children chucked it all away to live on a boat sailing around the world. You can read about their life on the Totem here. Isn’t that the most wonderful thing you have ever heard? Everyone has daydreamed about it. Behan, ever the captain of her own ship, said Make it so. This makes her one of my heroes right then and there.

And of course, going from living in suburban consumer heaven to living in the middle of the South Pacific takes a lot of simplification: getting rid of unneeded possessions; learning to economize, improvise, make do, and do without. Behan’s kids are getting a taste of what most American kids could never imagine: a life not informed by consumerism and personal ambition. The way the Gifford kids are learning to live on the Totem will bless them with the twin traits of pragmatism and perspective. That’s an incredible gift to give to anyone’s kids.

Behan didn’t change the world, except for the bit where she totally did: she changed her world. Who doesn’t want to run off and live on a boat instead of in the tedium of everyday American working life? We say it as though it’s an impossible dream. Behan made it happen. She knew what she wanted and what she valued, made an intelligent plan to bring it about, and was strong and true enough to actually follow the plan, make the changes, and grab the dream. Behan isn’t occupying anything other than her body. She’s not protesting anything. She’s not strident. She simply knows that the only way to gracefully change the world is to change oneself.

So that’s what I want for Boolie, and I hope I’m a good enough mom to give her at least some of it; I can’t see doing what Behan did, but the values and lessons Behan is imparting to her kids through her choices and their family life are the ones I want Boolie to have. This doesn’t help me whatsoever with the Girl Scout question, of course, but it surer than hell made me stop and think. And now I think of the Gifford family on the deck of their boat at nights, with fireworks over Sydney Harbour above their heads and the world at their feet, and I wish them the very sweetest of journeys.

Tightwad Goddess of the Kitchen.


One of the changes I’m making in my life, in the face of a science-fiction economy and the dash of perspective that comes with arriving in midlife, is to get back to basics.  This is largely Tony’s influence; one of the first things I noticed, when I began spending a lot of time with him, is his diet.  He subsists on real things, old-fashioned things: real butter, full-fat mayonnaise.  He induced me to chuck the lowfat placebos out the window and get back to real foods, and it’s wonderful.  I’ve actually lost weight.

But it didn’t stop there.  When I moved into this house, I looked about for cleaning products — Tony was, after all, a bachelor for 15 years — and found that there weren’t many at all.  Not with brand names on them, anyway.  What I found was ammonia, bleach, vinegar and dish soap.  And I’ve found you can clean everything in the house with them, very cheaply and much more effectively than you can do with a bunch of specialty brand-label products.  Oh, and baking soda.  Hydrogen peroxide.  Except for the bleach and ammonia, all of these things clean humans fairly well, too.  I’ve started brushing my teeth with hydrogen peroxide every morning, followed by a peroxide rinse.  It kills germs and whitens teeth much better than anything you buy at Target.

So here I was on a roll, and again it didn’t stop there.  Last week I looked sadly at the $25 jar of 100% Pure Vanilla Bean sugar scrub sitting nearly empty in my shower.  I’m addicted to that stuff, and I can’t afford to buy it anymore.  And then I got to thinking:  Wait a minute.  Here I am paying through the nose for pricey “natural” products when I can make this shit!  So I got me some granulated sugar, olive and coconut oils, and some jasmine oil, and for about $2.50 put together a yummy and effective sugar scrub.  That’s a tenth of the price, babies.  So now I’m exploring homemade essential oils and perfumery — if I can develop some blends that are really delicious, this could be a cottage industry.  At the very least, I’ll be soft and smell great without spending $50 a week at Ulta.

And because I cannot afford it, I removed my acrylic fingernails and wiped away the last of the toenail polish.  Sad, but strangely liberating.

It’s a fistful of sacrifices, this frugal living thing, but I think we’re on a roll, and I think we’re going to keep it going.  It’s a more honest way of living on the earth; I hadn’t realized the extent to which I was buying into consumerism despite my general disdain for American pop culture.  Someday soon I will have money coming in again, but this time it’s going into the bank or for school instead of into the pockets of a lot of cosmetic companies and cleaning product manufacturers.

And now off to score some organic shredded coconut.  I have some oils and extracts to make, and I hear homemade coconut milk is wonderful for your hair.