Soul of a Gypsy

Patchouli has a bad rap, it seems, being so firmly tie-dyed to the hippy-dippy flower children of the ’60s and ’70s. Undiluted, this strong fragrance, derived from the Pogostemon cablin plant, can be overwhelming. Some describe it as heavy, dirty, musky or earthy. In small quantities, however, patchouli can anchor a fragrance, give it depth and help it last longer. It’s also a popular ingredient in incense, which of course can aid in meditation and relaxation.

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of books about witches (reviews to come), so I’ve been living in a world of shadows and dusty attics, whispered secrets, rustling parchment, dripping beeswax, fortune tellers and mumbled spells. Then the solstice came and went, and suddenly the summer’s abloom with riotous colours, floaty fabrics, al fresco dining and bare feet. Heart’s Little Queen (with that fabulous album cover) has been in my car’s player of late, and all of a sudden, I’m feeling (feeling, I say … not looking) very bohemian – very gypsy.

Trying to harness my inner Stevie Nicks and capture this mood, I felt the urge to create a new perfume. I wanted something that hinted of dark corners and tattered lace, but with sunshine peeping through the cracks. It would be like emerging bleary-eyed from a curtained bed to sit on laddered steps, nursing strong, smoky tea as the sun kisses awake a peach-coloured dawn. Think: 19th Century Grubby. I call this perfume Gypsy Caravan.

In this rollerball recipe, patchouli essential oil is the base note along with ylang ylang, a floral which is pretty heady stuff, too. (I hate it on its own, but it takes on a new persona when blended with other oils.) Pink grapefruit lends a bright, effervescent top note, almost champagne-like, which prevents the other two from gettin’, like, all heavy, man. (That would totally not be groovy.) I think sweet orange or tangerine would work well, too, if you don’t have or like grapefruit. The apricot oil imbues the liquid with a deep golden glow.

This perfume is strong, so only one swipe is needed. The citrus top note will give graceful way to the exotic blend of patchouli and ylang ylang, which lingers on the skin like an ancient mystery.

Gypsy Caravan essential oil perfume by Gillyflower

  • 5 mL glass rollerball bottle
  • 14 drops patchouli essential oil
  • 12 drops pink grapefruit essential oil
  • 2 drops ylang ylang essential oil
  • apricot kernel oil (or other shelf-stable carrier such as fractionated coconut, sweet almond or jojoba oil)

Add the essential oils to the bottle • Top up with carrier oil, leaving enough room for the rollerball insert • Insert cap and shake thoroughly • Perfume can be used right away, but its full character will be achieved if left to mature for several days • Shake before each use • Do not expose perfumed skin to sun • Keep bottle away from heat and direct sunlight

Dance on, Gypsy Souls!


True Colours

True Colors 2 seed bead & sterling silver rainbow necklace © Gillyflower Faire

Pride Month is in full swing, and today was Toronto’s annual Pride Parade. The colours of the rainbow may not have shown themselves in the day’s grey and drizzly sky, but they were flown proudly everywhere in the city.

This week I had the sudden and shocking news that the facility where I’ve worked for five years – a job I love and a place where I’ve made many friends who’ve become family – has closed its doors. Shock has already given way to a bit of anger, lots of mourning, and a path of slow acceptance. As I learn to deal with what was perhaps an inevitable change, I will take time to understand the situation from as many angles as I can, and ensure that our “family” doesn’t fall apart. On Friday, some of us got together to talk, to reminisce, to mourn (I looked at our gathering as somewhat of a funeral), and just to be with one another. We ended the evening on a positive note and with assurance that each of us, in our own way, will be alright.

The day of the “funeral”, I sat down at my worktable and made a new perfume, just to lift my spirits. It worked out exactly as I’d intended (which is really saying something), and I wore it to the gathering. The fragrance is a balance between grounded earthiness and something uplifting, and was perfect for the mood I was in. I’ll share the recipe soon.

Today, when I’d normally be working all day, I needed to stay creative. Cheerful colours were in order to counteract the rain that fell in a steady, gentle curtain all morning. In celebration of today’s parade, I made a simple beaded necklace (above) in the colours of the rainbow (which correspond with the chakras): red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. A version of this bright, summery necklace will join other rainbow/chakra jewellery in my Etsy shop. Here’s a sampling:

Clockwise from top L: Over the Rainbow Czech glass necklace; Chakra bracelet with quartzite, aventurine & amethyst; anodized aluminum Rainbow Chakra chainmaille bracelet; True Colors seed bead necklace © Gillyflower Faire

I’m proud of what I achieved at the place-that-no-longer-is, through lots of learning, honing skills and hard work, professional development and professionalism. So, this summer and as long as it takes for positive change, I will wear the necklace with pride and remembrance, and hope for a brighter future.

Studies in Structure

My workplace, a heritage-designated Gothic structure built in 1880, is a photographic wellspring. Graceful shapes, time-worn texture, classical details and the charm of a bygone age are all there. Here are some vignettes which I captured recently.

Wrought iron scrollwork with leafy vine pattern and quatrefoils

Corbel with carved palmettes or anthemia, ancient Egyptian and Greek symbols representing welcome and hospitality, victory and peace

Even ordinary objects make an attractive display. It wasn’t until I was editing the photos that I noticed the backrests bear Green Man carvings!

Decorative façade of a Casavant Frères pipe organ; the working pipes are hidden

Scrolled metal bracket

Newel post with quatrefoil, symbol of good tidings

The building boasts many intricate examples of stained glass, but I prefer the muted colours of this simple one

Basket List

Some people, especially as they approach the second half of their lives, make “bucket lists”. I, too, have a running list of aspirations – things I’d like to find, see, experience, accomplish, but they’re not particularly grandiose. No travelling to exotic lands, skydiving or climbing Mount Everest for me, oh no! Instead of a highfalutin bucket list, I keep what I like to call a Basket List (wicker, preferably), brimming with small whimsies, little hopes and dreams which are apt to change frequently. Right now, it goes something like this:

Hag stone from the Sea of Azov, Ukraine / CC BY-SA 3.0

1. Holey Stone
Also known as hag or adder stones, these small river or beach rocks have naturally-occurring holes made by wave action or friction with smaller pebbles. They are considered lucky and can be carried or worn as amulets for protection. A holey stone features in one of my favourite novels, The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley, and ever since I read it, I’ve been on the lookout for one of my own. Sadly, our local waterways don’t seem to produce the kind of motion necessary to create such holes, but every time I’m on a bank or shore, you can be sure I’ll be keeping an eye out!

Witch window in Irasville, Vermont / CC BY-SA 3.0

2. Witch Window
I might have a tough time seeing a witch window, unless I take myself off to New England. Also known as Vermont or coffin windows, these narrow windows are placed on the diagonal in a gabled wall. They are found mostly in 19th century farmhouses, almost exclusively in the state of Vermont. These windows were supposed to protect homes against witches, as it was thought they couldn’t fly their broomsticks through crooked windows. (Because, you know … they couldn’t simply use a doorway!) It’s also believed they may have been used to remove coffins from upper floors, thus avoiding narrow or winding staircases. A more realistic reason for these odd constructions is that they allow light and ventilation in upper storeys where there may not be enough wall space for conventional windows.

French macarons © Nicholas Halftermeyer / CC BY-SA 3.0

3. French Macarons
The sheer elegance of these smooth, delicately-hued meringue and buttercream confections (not to be confused with coconut macaroons) are something to admire, but I’ve yet to taste one. They come in such dreamy pastel colours of sunshine yellow, pink, lavender, pistachio, even chocolate! As soon as someone presents me with a small white box, tied neatly with baker’s twine, I’ll be having one … or two … or three of these for high tea!

4. Join-Up
No, I have no wish to enlist in a society or become an army cadet. What I’m talking about is the technique known as Join-Up®, in which a rider learns the body cues of her horse and teaches it to accept gentle authority, thus establishing a strong trust bond. I first saw it demonstrated by Monty Roberts, who developed this humane “breaking” process, in the television series, Martin Clunes: Horsepower. It was done so sweetly, I was enchanted. There’s just one small problem with this plan: I have to learn how to ride first.

European hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) © Gaudete / CC BY-SA 2.5

5. Hedgehog
These adorable wee creatures aren’t native to North America, so I’d have to get myself to England or Europe to see Mrs. Tiggywinkle in her natural environment. I might even join up with one. And it would give me the opportunity to see #6.

So close, and yet so far! One day, perhaps, I’ll visit Cheat’s Lane, Coffee Yard or Black Horse Passage – just three of the 50+ snickelways of York.

6. Snickelways of York
I’ve been to York, England – once, long ago. My sister, a friend and I had planned our 3-week itinerary, focused mainly on ancient or medieval sites in England and Wales, for months in advance. Our visit to York did include the Jorvik Viking Centre, which was fabulous, and The Shambles, a picturesque medieval street of 14th century buildings. Oh, how I wish I’d known then about snickelways, those narrow passages winding through the city’s heart! Several of them are accessed by The Shambles; we must have walked right by them. If I ever return, I’ll be using my autographed copy of the comprehensive guidebook, The Complete Snickelways of York by Mark W. Jones, who coined the term “snickelway”.

7. Dig It
One of my favourite programs is Time Team. I just love Sir Tony, Phil Harding and his hat, and the sound of trowels scraping against stone. I’ve always wanted to participate in an archaeological dig. My husband has done it – sort of; for a university Physics & Archaeology course, he took some magnetometer and resistivity readings at old Fort York, where they found a buried sewer system. Geo Fizz!

This desire to dig up the past and find stuff is closely related to my fascination with beachcombing and my desire to take up metal detecting.

Fairy ring, Brisbane, Australia / Public Domain

8. Magic Mushrooms
The fairy ring is a circle of mushrooms, sometimes over 10 m (33 ft) across, caused by the underground spreading of their mycelium, the fungus’ vegetative, fibre-like growth. Legend has it that these circles are the site of moonlit elven dances, and that they’re dangerous to enter and thus best avoided. Once inside, mortals will be enthralled by the Wee Folk and transported to their realm, where time passes very slowly. If they escape, they’ll find they have not aged, yet everything and everyone they once knew has long since faded away. I’ve found partial fairy rings but never a complete one. If I do, you betcha I’ll be investigating – but, according to folk wisdom, I must run around it nine times, deosil (clockwise), to make it safe!

I also yearn to find bioluminescent fungi, which means I’ll have to venture out along with hordes of mosquito vampires into the night forest to look for their greenish glow. There are only about 80 known species of these light-emitting wonders, and some of them grow here, such as the bitter oyster (Panellus stipticus) and jack-o’lantern (Omphalotus illudens). Sadly, the glow is usually pretty faint and only happens for a short period of time under the right conditions, so the chances of actually finding one are about as great as being carried off to marry a Fairy King.



June’s prompt for Wild Daffodil’s Photographic Monthly Meet-Up is Sunlight. Let’s start with a sunrise:

A card-carrying night owl, I’m not usually up to catch the sunrise. I hit the jackpot, however, when I got up to see this beauty! Note the crepuscular rays. Lake Muskoka, Ontario • August 2016

Near the same spot on the same lake, this time on an afternoon in May:

Lake Muskoka, Ontario • May 2015

And now for something completely different (not really, I just love trees):

The 500-year-old Comfort Maple near Niagara Falls, believed to be Canada’s oldest sugar maple (Acer saccharum). Its trunk circumference is 6 m (20 ft) • Pelham, Ontario • June 2016

Smell this!

The Fragrant Water-lily (Nymphaea odorata) grows in abundance in the shallow bays of Muskoka. Its golden rays and intoxicating licorice aroma just radiate “summer sunshine” to me. Lake Muskoka, Ontario • July 2008

Odds and Sods

Really bad joke of the day (Mrs. Cobs, are you listening?): What do you call a dinosaur with an extensive vocabulary? A thesaurus.

As an aspiring writer and longtime editor, I own several thesauri. A few years ago, I purchased Roget’s Super Thesaurus (4th Edition), a thick compendium that promised to be the thesaurus-to-end-all-thesauri. It’s okay, but my go-to reference volume is and always has been Webster’s New Thesaurus (Concise Edition), a worn and well-thumbed paperback. (To give you an idea how long I’ve had it, the front cover boasts “New for the 1990’s.”) This beloved volume may not have as many entries, but it always delivers when I’m seeking le mot juste.

I meant to get this post up at the beginning of the month. Regular Gillyflower readers will know that I like to blog according to a monthly theme. June might offer many possibilities theme-wise, but I can’t pick just one. So, let this month’s theme be, well, themeless. Anti-thematic. My posts will be a mishmash of miscellany, a plethora of potpourri, an omnibus of odds and sods.

The novel that I’ve been trying to write since 2010 has been languishing on hiatus for some time now. For the first few years, I worked on it furiously in my spare time, day or night, writing, editing, refining, writing, etc. But then the plot started taking on a life of its own, and I grew increasingly unhappy with the direction it was going. There were also plenty of periods of angst and self-doubt that I’m sure most writers experience: Is it good enough? Do I have the energy to finish this? Will anyone want to read it? I knew I needed to make serious decisions – and major rewrites – but by that time I was paralyzed with writer’s block, and so I put the story away and haven’t worked on it since.

Not long ago, I took it out again and started to read. Just the first few chapters, but I liked it. And I started editing again. I’m still not sure what to do with the problematic remainder, though. Perhaps, like Diana Gabaldon of Outlander fame (not that I’m making any comparisons between that Goddess and me), I might approach this effort as an exercise in how to write (or how not to write), with no other aspirations.

From the start, however, my goal has been to get published, so I’ve always guarded the work-in-progress jealously, not even letting my husband or family read it. I’d like to publish some excerpts on this blog, however – perhaps I’ll create a new blog dedicated solely to the book. But I’m leery of “giving away” this cherished work once it goes online. What assurances do I have that my material – if someone deems it good enough – won’t be stolen?

My sister, an avid nature photographer who posts her clearly-copyrighted, metadata-embedded images frequently on multiple websites, can tell you that she’s been the victim of intellectual/artistic copyright theft several times: by “friends” who’ve claimed her images as their own, by companies for their advertising, and by news outlets who refused to cease and desist or pay her when she complained. (One agency finally backed down and gave her photo credit, thank you so very much.) Signatures, watermarks and statements of copyright should and do protect our property, but of course there are legions of unscrupulous people who don’t give a fig about rules or ethics and take our stuff anyway. And by that time, it’s usually too late.

Perhaps I’m flattering myself when I think anyone would want to plagiarize my work. But I’m a cautious lass. Before I blog parts of my story, I’d like to hear from you. Are you concerned about what happens to your creative efforts once you publish them? What systems of protection have you put in place – and do you feel confident that they do the job?