A Perfumed Evening

scentI hosted my neighbourhood book club this month, and my choice was Chandler Burr’s The Perfect Scent.  It’s a wonderful account of his year following a perfumer and a celebrity as they create new fragrances: Claude Ellena, who makes Un Jardin sur le Nil, his first as the in-house perfumer for Hermes, and Sarah Jessica Parker, who embarks on her first fragrance for Coty, Lovely.

We often do food and drink that’s linked to the book in some way, so I got rose Turkish Delight, Chowder’s violet candies, lavender jelly for the cheese board, and I made a cardamom and ginger dressing for the cantaloupe and a rosewater-flavoured yogurt for the strawberries.  Yum!  For drinks, I had spiced rum punch and Elderflower pear cider and Elderflower liqueur.  All highly recommended!

As part of the evening, I got samples of the perfumes Burr discusses in the book, and I asked everyone to bring their favourite perfume: a smell and tell component to the evening.  We had a tour through all the samples, and it was striking how polarized opinion could be on some of the perfumes.  My favourite perfume, Dzing! by l’Artisan Parfumeur, makes me deliriously happy because it smells like hay and animals and, yes, a bit like manure.  Two other women who smelled it smelled, wait for it, electrical fire!!  One of them had had an electrical fire recently and said it smelled exactly like it.  Obviously not a happy connection.  We rounded out the night by discussing the book and told stories about our fragrance memories and about how we came to love our favourites.

imagesUB2XEPSXWe all had our memories of heavy perfumes we left behind with our youth, like Rive Gauche, Poison, Anais Anais, Obsession and Ralph Lauren.  Do you remember those?   We all had memories of women in our lives who are inseparable from their fragrances.  For me, it’s my mother and Youth Dew.  Inseparable.

My fascination with all things perfume truly began about five years ago when I discovered that there exists a perfume called In the Library, made by Christopher Brosius for CB I Hate Perfume.  It turned out that the only woman in Toronto to carry his perfumes was right around the corner.  Sadly, I really did not like the smell of In the Library, but two of the notes in it, Tobacco and Old Leather, were available as individual scents.  I bought them on the spot, and gave them to my husband to wear.  They are simply scrumptious, and it gives me a profound sense of calm and pleasure to smell those scents on him.  I have since bought about six of his perfumes, each with its own wonderful story and unfolding pleasures.

His In the Library started me on a quest to find other perfume that smelled like books.  I’d get very strange looks when I asked about it, but one store owner who really knew his stuff said, “Nothing like books, but what about hay?  Some people think this one smells like paper.”  And he introduced me to my beloved Dzing!  His store has since disappeared, so my favourite scent remains elusive.  All the better to make you yearn, my dear.

What perfumes have you forever left behind?  What are your current favourites?

Socking Stuffers & More: For Her, Him and the Boys

Need some holiday gift-giving inspiration?  Here’s a round-up of some of my favourites.

For Her


Come to Bed Red nail laquer


EOS Pomegranate Raspberry Lip Balm


Compact Mirror from Indigo


Downton Abbey Series 1-3


Personalized locket, holds two-three pictures, from Undine


Gimme Brow by Benefit


Hanky Panky 


Nutella: The 30 Best Recipes


Funny Sticky Notes


Adult-size Onesie



For Him


Where Chef’s Eat


Thumbprint Cufflinks


Slang Flashcards


Anything from The Garlic Box


Anything with the Hudson’s Bay stripes


Men’s work week socks

For The Boys

imgres-4Desktop Hockey


The Olympics are coming up!  Paint your own Babushka dolls.

imgres-6Scrabble Magnet Set


Storm Troopers USB 


Crayon Roll


Support your favourite team with Fan Bands


Make some music and build your own ukulele.


Dragon Hands Temporary Tattoos


Lego Erasers

Thank you, Coffee

1236509_10153254818090014_233808600_nDear Morning Cup Cups of Coffee,

Thank you for being a predictably good thing.  You really have never let me down.

People say I should give you up, Coffee.  They say I should quit you.  I don’t ever want to quit you.

Unlike my other addictions (buying more books, pens, sticky notes and lipsticks than I will ever use; eating too much chocolate; marathon movie watching late into the night), you come with no baggage.  No guilt.  You are pure enjoyment.  You are the engine of my days.  You have gone with me through so many books, so many pages written and read, so many hours of quality time with friends and with myself.  You are the liquid love that My Beloved and I make and pour for each other on weekend mornings.  You are a delicious indulgence after dinner when a long night calls.

Thank you, Coffee, for filling my house with the smell of comfort, for fueling my days and nights, for keeping me happy at home and for taking me out and about with friends.

Love, for now and always,


Book Review: Unbridled: a memoir by Barbara McNally

imgresA copy of Unbridled was sent to 4Mothers a few months back.  The jacket synopsis intrigued me but between the daily chaos of life and a pile of delicious books waiting to be devoured on my night table, Unbridled sat unread.

When packing for my mom conference in Miami, I opted to leave behind the meaty read that I had just started in favour of something lighter and easy to entertain while sunning on the beach.  Unbridled seemed like the perfect choice: betrayal, divorce, sexual awakening, feminist liberation . . .and it’s just over 200 pages.  Perfect for the lazy days ahead.

Barbara McNally was raised with a strict Baptist upbringing and spent her youth engaged in church activities and living a demure life according to her parents’ religious views.  As a young co-ed she met the man of her mother’s dreams and blinded by other people’s expectations she lost herself in a seemingly perfect marriage.  Many years pass and Barbara is unable to squelch her feelings of restlessness and seeks salvation in the arms of another man.

After her divorce Barbara finds herself truly alone for the first time in her life.  No longer under the rule of her father or husband, she is forced to create a life of her own.   Inspired by the memory of her ebullient, free-spirited, Vaudevillian grandmother, Barbara sets off on a wistful journey of self-discovery where she returns to her ancestral roots in Ireland and later to a hedonistic retreat in Jamaica.  In both countries she opens herself to experiences that profoundly change her idea of self.  Finally she is able to shed the expectations of others, push aside the notion of perfection and embrace life’s lessons in the most poignant situations.

Barbara awakened her passion and is now dedicated to empowering women and encouraging others to forge their own life path and create their own destiny.

McNally’s writing is rich with vivid descriptions making the Irish countryside and sun-soaked Jamaica come alive off the page.   Her writing is at times heart-breakingly honest as she bares herself entirely, exposing her nastiness, fragility and ambiguity at the risk of offending her readers but her transparency is genuine and engaged this reader’s encouragement.  Nonetheless there are moments, albeit few, where I wished the author had not been so cursory in describing seemingly intense events, in particular when she learns her father’s rectitude is nothing but a sham.

Unbridled has a familiar tone and message to Eat, Pray, Love  by Elizabeth Gilbert but Barbara McNally’s journey is filled with less navel-gazing and searching for love than her struggle to connect with and liberate herself.  As someone in a fulfilling relationship who has never been divorced, I was skeptical as to whether Barbara’s memoir would keep my attention but the message of her tome is universal: live life fearlessly, embrace experiences as they come and re-connect with your roots to better understand your present.  Husband or no husband, kids or no kids this is a book about being a woman and nurturing the beauty that lies within.

10 Things I Miss About Life Before Kids (Or Maybe Nine)

10.  My breasts.  Victoria Secret would never have come knocking, but I liked them.

9.  Jumping on trampolines.  Okay, I never did that much of this, but I miss taking for granted that my internal machinery could handle this.  I tried joining my son on a trampoline after having two kids, and it was not. a. good. idea.

8.  Saying “Sure, I’d love to go for a drink after work.”  The unbridled freedom of it.

7.  Actually drinking said drink.  I’m on a self-imposed abstinence from alcohol while pregnant and nursing, which means I have been bone dry for five years.  Want to come over and watch me crawl under the table after my first two post-children glasses of wine?

6.  The invisible protective layer that Nathalie once commented about.  The one that made it possible to listen to the news and country songs with a dry eye.

5.  Sleep, and being the boss over my sleep, even if I got too little.  Almost too obvious to mention, but too mammoth not to.

4.  Not being a primary role model to anyone.  Related:  being able to swear without essentially offering a “how to” tutorial to little ears.

3.  Seeing half an hour as 30 minutes, rather than as a significant opportunity.

2.  Looking at random children, without feeling somehow invested in each one.

1.  Not so very much, if I am honest.  Life before kids wasn’t such a cakewalk as I recall, it just had other challenges.  And being a mother (provided I am not on my knees begging for mercy) is the best gig in town.

10 Things We Miss About Life Before Kids

Self-explanatory, isn’t it, that title?  This theme has been peppering the blogosphere lately, and we thought we’d join the online party.

At 4Mothers, we write pretty much all the time about our kids.  This week, we thought we’d write about ourselves before our kids (although perversely, how we can’t even do this without the whole discussion being  informed by our post-children selves…).

What do you miss about your fancy-free non-parent self?  Tell us this week as you hear us tell you.

4Mothers is also delighted to announce that this month’s guest writer is Corinne Simonyi, a Toronto mother of two young children.  Corinne has years of experience writing for many of Toronto’s foremost publications including Neighbour From Hell! that was published in 2Life magazine.

Common Scents

PHOTO-402-GROUP-WEBI once watched a design show in which the host commented to the designer that the front door handle she was suggesting was shockingly expensive.  The designer replied unapologetically, “It’s something you will touch everyday.  This is where to spend the money.”

I’ve never forgotten that: it’s something you will touch every day.  It seems such remarkably simple advice about luxury.

On my recent trip to New York, I took myself off for an afternoon of the height of luxury: a visit to Christopher Brosius’s I Hate Perfume Gallery.  His perfumes have become an obsession of mine, and I could not wait to experience all of his fragrances.

I discovered  C B I Hate Perfume when, quite by chance, I found myself in the only store in Toronto that stocks his perfumes.  He makes a fragrance called In the Library, and I was beside myself with excitement to try it on.  The smell of a library, bottled?  Bring it on!  As it turned out, I did not like it, or it did not like me, but two of the scents that make up this amazing idea are Smoky Tobacco and Old Leather, sold individually.  Those I fell in love with, and I wore Smoky Tobacco and Old Leather while reading Sherlock Holmes and felt myself transported.  It was winter, and curling up with a classic mystery and the smell redolent of a gentleman’s library were absolutely the most luxurious experience for my harried pre-Christmas soul.   I would have similar experiences with Grass in summer (the smell of a freshly-mowed lawn–you wouldn’t think it would work on the skin, but it does, oh it does!), and Burning Leaves in fall.

I came home from New York with a fragrance for spring: Black March, which smells of soaked earth, rain, wet twigs, and the hint of something floral.  It’s nothing short of magic how this man has captured the world in a bottle of perfume, and then made it something wearable, and I revel in his wizardry.  Almost as wonderful as the fragrances are the stories behind them.  (Follow the links to the perfumes and read about what goes into bottling a memory.  Greenbriar is a biography of his grandfather in perfume.  Stunning.)

These are my daily, seasonal luxuries:  common scents from the world outside that I can bring inside and onto me and that have an unfailing ability to lift my spirits.  Every day.

Letters to a Mother

We’ve just come out of Mother’s Day, but 4Mothers we haven’t gotten enough.  Mothers and mothering are still on our minds, and this week we’ll each be writing a letter to a mother – not necessarily our own mother, but a mother of some kind.  We don’t consult each other prior to writing our posts, so I’m quite curious to see who these letters will be written to and what they will say.  Stay tuned and find out!

image credit

Blogosphere Round-Up!

We here at 4mothers1blog like blogs. We like other people’s blogs just about as much as we like our own, which is to say, a whole lot. Here are five posts we think you should be reading:

“God, I love it when your breath smells like Gaviscon” — Porn for Pregnant Ladies (from Pregnant Chicken)

“I get to wear those?!” C.J. said smiling.
“ALL OF THEM?!” he squealed looking at the tub of about 100 pink lost and found ballet shoes.
“No, silly, just two, you only have two feet.” – “My Son, the Dancer” (from Raising My Rainbow)

This post is a couple of years old now, but it about sums it up. Ten Things I Hate About Motherhood (And One That I Love) (from Her Bad Mother)

The Hidden Mother — a practice in photography of old. To ensure that a young child didn’t move during the long exposure, the mother held the child tightly; all the while, she was hidden by a blanket, not being the obvious subject of the photo. Worth a look ( via A Cup of Jo and Retronaut)

And because it’s a new year: well, hello!

Hello from ant1mat3rie on Vimeo.

What is a Weekend?

In the first season of Downton Abbey, the Dowager Countess famously asked, “What is a weekend?”

The weekend, dear lady, is over, but thank you for sending it out in such magnificent style.  It is so much easier to face the lunch boxes when I’ve had a dose of the upstairs downstairs drama. 

And when I face the lunch boxes in the morning, I can just ask, “What would Mrs. Patmore do?”