Dreams of Smoke

You know I love writing to you, darlings.  And, most days, I’m not bad at it.  But sometimes….sometimes….well, you know…..sometimes it’s better to just step back a pace and let a story tell itself, just the way it happened.  I’mo let that story tell itself here, lifting conversation whole-hog from emails sent to me.  I hope you enjoy it.

From Amanda Feeley, perfumer and owner at Esscentual Alchemy, asking me if I’d be interested in sniffing her newest creation, Dreams of Smoke:

Back Story of Dreams of Smoke – Last summer, Nava emailed me saying she’d gotten a gift of a bunch of vanilla beans from a friend who was travelling in Madagasgar.  She thought she’d rather have a perfume than creme brulee out of them.  I said, that’s how you can tell a perfumista!  LOL  She said she’d really enjoyed my other compositions, and thought she’d ask me if I was interested.  WELL YEAH!  https://www.facebook.com/esscentualalchemy/photos/a.213461535362837.48543.129770883731903/572974572744863/?type=3&theater
So we chatted, and I asked her to talk to me about her most favorite memories of vanilla.  Along with this came out a memorable trip to Ireland, and lopsang souchong tea.
I suggested perhaps a chai based fragrance, including vanilla.  She liked the sound of that, and then I remembered that I had some lopsang souchong c02, that I had been wanting to use.
Research involved a trip for both of us to Indian restaurants to drink chai 😀  Which was not much of a hardship since we both enjoy Indian food!  I learned from the owners at the one I went to, that each chai recipe is unique to the maker, since it’s what they want to use for spices.  So there’s similarities, but variations depending on who makes it, and where in India they live or are from.  How cool is that?!?

We went back and forth, and also took several trials, but the final version, is I think some of my best work so far 🙂

Note from Musette:  You got that right, Amanda.  It’s freaking STUNNING!

Here is Nava’s copy for the scent – btw for those of you new(er) to the Posse, Nava wrote some gorgeous, evocative posts for us – I still remember her first post, about collecting – and the scarves…..hauntingly lovely prose.  Dreams take you anywhere you want to go. The images of those dreams are fleeting, but they linger in the mind. We remember what we see, what we hear, what we taste, and what we smell. The senses ensure that the memories linger forever, but when the scent reappears, the experiences come rushing back as if we are still living them.

The lingering smell of smoke can be comforting. Whether it comes from a fireplace, a camp fire, or the smoky flavors of some of our favorite foods, smoke elicits a powerful reaction. The unique smokiness of Lapsang Souchong tea evokes comfort, along with soothing memories of the place where I drank it: the sitting room of the Merrion Hotel in Dublin, Ireland, on a cold, rainy November day. Warm tendrils of smoke rose from my porcelain cup, complimented by a splash of cream and a bit of sugar. Every time I drink a cup of Lapsang Souchong, I am transported across the Atlantic, to a room with a roaring fire, a floral chintz sofa, and exquisite dark wood paneling that made me feel warm and safe.

Dreams of Smoke recaptures those memories. Lapsang Souchong is entwined with orange blossom, Rose de Mai, spices, Madagascan vanilla, sandalwood, beeswax and honey. Inhaling the tendrils of smoke brings me back to those chilly days, warming my heart and recreating my dreams. Florals enhance the experience, and the creamy undertones of vanilla and honey bring a smile to my face. Long after I take the last sip from my cup, the lingering scent makes me smile, because the memories are always with me.

Words by: Nava Brahe

Notes: Lopsang Souchong, Spice Accord, Rose de Mai, Orange Blossom, Vanilla Accord, Sandalwood accord, Beeswax, Honey

Then they got to talking about cancer.  Backstory on Amanda.  And Cancer:

The very short version of what I refer to as my “18 month long bad acid trip” is:
Kevin (Amanda’s husband)  was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma on his spine, when I was 2 mo. pregnant with our youngest.  They told us if they’d found it two weeks later, he’d have been completely paralyzed from the chest down.  He did 5 weeks of radiation, during which we stayed in Ames with people from the Unitarian Universalist fellowship.  After that, when we tried to move back into our home, we discovered that it had been taken over completely by toxic black mold.  We moved to Ames, and he was in and out of the hospital for several months with a bout of pneumonia, and blood clots in both lungs.  During this time his largest client (he was self-employed, and I was a stay at home mom) dropped him for being “sick too much.”  As he looked for work, and was about to get an interview with IA State, he collapsed on the floor at home, and after a 911 call, was rushed to the ICU.  They then found the Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in his liver.  He spent the next 8 mo. in the hospital, bed bound, and endured 8 rounds of chemo, and nearly died several times.  We unlike so many others, got a happy ending.  He’s been clean for almost 6 years now, and works for the USDA.  They told him he’d probably never walk again, sent him home in a wheelchair.  He does now walk and he doesn’t need any assistive walking devices.  It’s really a miracle that he is even alive today.  I made the attached photo collage last year – it really shows what he went through, and the amazing regenerative powers of the human body.  kevinfeeley

After Kevin got well, I made a promise, that whenever I could I would pay forward all of the kindnesses that people had shown our family while he was sick.  They brought meals, watched the 3 older children, and had a huge fundraiser for us.  Without the support of family, friends, the UU, and homeschool communities, we really couldn’t have gotten through that time.  I told Nava tonight on the phone, that it would be a gift to do this for her.  Especially since I know what it’s like to be self-employed and dealing with cancer.


I know there’s times during chemo where you don’t feel like or really can’t physically do anything, and being self-employed makes it harder to feel like you can relax and take care of yourself.  Plus cancer is fucking expensive.
Also I spoke with Nava, and she is ok with me donating part of the sales to her personally.  If you don’t mind, please mention that I will be donating 40% of each sale of this fragrance to her.


From Musette:  I love the practicality of this.  I regularly contribute to Modest Needs (Thanks, Patty, for introducing me to that wonderful, logistically-practical charity) because while I guess there is real good that comes from contributing to major charities I ‘know’ there is direct good that comes from helping individuals get through rough times (for an explanation, please click on the MNF link – you’ll see what I’m yammering on about).   I’ve been extremely fortunate to not have to deal with cancer – but I’ve been in some dire financials a time or two – and lemmetellya – having someone help you keep the lights on or get a new battery for your car so you can continue to get to work…well, it can make an immediate, positive impact on someone’s life.  And what Amanda said about being able to relax and take care of yourself is equally important, especially in times of extreme stress – one doesn’t always think about that – but sometimes….sometimes…just being able to splurge on a manicure (yes!) or going out for a nice lunch instead of making the 1,000th baloney sandwich…it gives you the strength to remember that Life doesn’t always have to be a slog – and better times can be ahead.


And I’m going to do my little bit to pay it forward.  Drop Amanda, Kevin or Nava (or all three!) a howdy/wish/whatever and I’ll put you in the Bruno Memorial random.org spin for a sample of this gorgeous scent.    Wishing you all health and happiness!  xoxoxo

  • Eloquaint says:

    Nava, I wish you and yours all the best. I will keep you in my thoughts.



  • jaime says:

    Thanks for sharing such personal stories with us. Memory and scent are so intertwined, aren’t they? And this perfume creation sounds so warming.
    You’re in my thoughts, Nava.

  • Judy Jackson says:

    Total Newby – just found the posse. mmmmm Vanilla, what could be better…. more vanilla. I hope that the trails your living are soon a memory/bad dream aka acid trip. But until then I wish you lots of happy moments, moments in the now, between the heartache, fear and cold medical stuff ,have lots of joy love and laughter 🙂

  • Tiara says:

    Such a touching story, all the way around. Prayers for all for continued good health and healing, especially for Nava through this journey.

  • Elia says:

    I’m glad Kevin pulled through it. I wish Nava well too, all the warmest wishes.
    The fragrance sounds delightful.

  • Dina C. says:

    I had the pleasure of meeting Nava a couple of times at Art with Flowers in Virginia, and I was sad when she moved away from the area. Her writing was always very enjoyable to read and took me on a fragrant journey. I have great sympathy for anyone going through cancer, or helping a loved one through it since my dad had terminal cancer 22 years ago. I wish her the best, and I really appreciated reading about the inspirational story of Amanda and Kevin. So glad to hear that he is well now!

  • Kandice says:

    I don’t know any of the parties involved but my heart goes out to all of you. My aunt fought cancer four times and ultimately lost but not before she got to see two of her kids get married and two grandchildren born. I wish Nava peace and strength and blessings to Amanda for what she’s doing to help.

  • SamanthaL says:

    I’d love to try this one….and I feel I should buy some anyway. Poor Nava! I miss her posts here and hope she’ll be ok.

  • CC ... says:

    I, too, have tears streaming down my face. What a beautiful thing Amanda is doing for Nava. I remember Nava’s posts well and always delighted in reading them. My world was rocked earlier this year with a cancer diagnosis and subsequent surgery. If it weren’t for my wonderful circle of family and friends (and a couple of perfumistas’ kind words and lovely wishes, you know who you are) I don’t how I would have faced this. My heart is full and I am so happy to see and feel such kindness. Wishing all of you much love and light. Xox

  • Tena says:

    My family is currently dealing with advanced cancer, so I understand completely the feeling of anger, fear and confusion that occur at a time like this. I am sending all of the white light thoughts in the world to Nava.

  • Amy says:

    Nava is a very special person and I’m so grateful to call her a friend. Thank you, Amanda, for doing this for her. Very, very glad that your husband came through.

  • Sapphire says:

    What a wonderful story. I do recall Nava’s posts and they always showed her to be such a lovely person (kind of confirms the sad adage that bad things happen to nice people). Best wishes to her during this trial. She should ask her oncologist about the many patient assistance programs that drug companies have. She may be able to get some if her meds for free or a reduced price.

  • Thanks so much Musette for sharing both my work, my story, and the story of Nava with your audience.

    I’m happier than I can say, to know that my story has helped people. And as odd as it sounds, the gift I got from cancer, was to become a better, more compassionate and loving person. Cancer helped me find my inner optimist. It took a while to see it as a gift, but it was.

    As someone mentioned to me, when you’ve come through such a time that is so hard, and been given so much, it helps you find balance to pay it forward.

    We had talked about donating part of the sales to a cancer society, and as I thought about it, it didn’t feel “right” to me. After she was diagnosed last month, I kept trying to figure out what I could do to help. Then this came to me, and it felt “right.” The thing I would really do, is to take Nava’s cancer away, but I can’t. So this is what I can do for a friend, and someone I care about.

    I know someone else mentioned the link: http://bit.ly/esscentualalchemydreamsofsmoke will take you to the fragrance.

    Sending you all a HUG via the internet, and my thanks.


  • anns says:

    I am equally humbled and inspired by these stories from Nava and Amanda and their wonderfully strong families. I often feel that in our modern world people take help and care for granted. Everyone imagines they are so independent and capable which fosters a general kind of judgemental indifference. People should be more compassionate and not wait until something truly awful happens to realize how much we all need each other and how much we should all care for each other. We all need help. Help and kindness are the greatest gifts we all have for each other, and people just forget that too easily. Right now, after reading this post, I am so moved! I just feel like happy-crying and hugging everyone I care about. I feel like shouting that people should stop being so angry and hateful and wasting the time we are given. This fragrance sounds amazing and I want to share in this experience and help out.

    I had a dream many years ago when I was going through a rough patch of my own. In this dream I was in a crowd. This man came up to me and handed me a box and told me it was very special. When I opened the box, there was a perfectly perfect white tulip laying inside. He said it was magic and it was mine to care for now. For a long time, anytime I struggled, I’d remind myself that I was caring for the white tulip. It was symbolic for that indescribably special thing that we all have, that we can’t forget we have as humans, and that we must protect and nuture. I’ve been blessed this past decade, and haven’t thought about my white tulip dream for a long time. Something about this story reminded me. Thank you for reminding me! My best to you all for strenght and health!

  • Michelle says:

    Oh, I’m slow, didn’t connect the dots. Hugs, healing and warm fuzzies to Nava! I don’t need to be entered in the draw.

  • Michelle says:

    Dear A, thank you so much for passing this story on. I love hearing extended periods of catastrophic health referred to as a bad acid trip! And it is so good to hear that a family can go through such hell and come out the other side. And most of all, it is absolutely inspiring that Amanda was able to go through this and now does what she does. It helps to think that the sh!t we have to go through is what prepares us to be who we are meant to be. My partner was very ill in 2012. I’m all too familiar with worst case scenarios and bizarre complications of surgeries. He is currently living with metastatic cancer, which must be what living on an active volcano is like. You know it could blow at anytime, maybe you see smoke every once and a while, but you do your best to live and just try to not let the occasional spews of lava mess you up too much. I know this sounds terrible, but it is also good to know that someone else went through this under even more challenging circumstances. Amanda was pregnant, had 3 older children and was a stay at home mom. I was a grad student and had two teenagers. Amanda’s entire house was toxic, while I had only 3 appliances fail (fridge), need repair (washer) or blow-up (water heater). and after, Amanda has created her own business doing what I consider a dream job, and is actually in a place to pay forward kindnesses to her and her family. I just can’t tell you how touched I am (with tears running down my cheeks). Thank you!!!

  • trickyholly says:

    What a fantastic and inspirational post about kindness and beauty. Thanks!

  • solanace says:

    The perfume sounds delicious. Madagascar vanill in a Lapsang Souchong setting. YUM!
    A big hug to Nava!

  • Julie L says:

    Oh my goodness-what a WONDERFUL story, and the perfume sounds JUST Heavenly!!….. Inspiration comes in so many forms, but what better way than through the beauty of a gorgeous perfume! If only I could get my hands on a sample, I’m SORE I will love this one! Thank you for such a wonderful way to start the day 🙂 , sharing this story.

  • Portia says:

    Wow! I’m on my phone and couldn’t see a link but I’d love to buy some of this fragrance.
    Ill check the computer when I get home
    Portia xx

  • poodle says:

    Stories like these really help a person get some perspective. It seems lots of people have crosses to bear and when I’m going through tough times I try and remember those people and find inspiration in their strength and grace when faced with adversity. I hope things are looking up for all of them.
    The perfume sounds lovely.

  • Donna says:

    Uplifting and lots of Howdy’s to you. I send lots of good thoughts and enjoyed the fragrance background story… THEN I was taken to this place of the human spirit. That is what it’s all about. thank you for sharing.

  • jilliecat says:

    When I first stumbled upon PP all those years ago, Nava was one of the writers and I loved reading her posts. I was so sad when she left and I was touched that she took the time to kindly respond to me when I wrote to tell her that I was thinking of her and wishing her well,.

    So, Nava, if you are reading this, those wishes still hold good! I guess you must be going through a tough time right now and I hope that Amanda and Kevin’s positive story brings as much comfort to you as their kindness must surely do.

    • Nava says:

      Thank you Jillie! When Amanda told me that Musette was going to review “Dreams of Smoke”, I got all nostalgic and pulled up some of my old posts. I remember your comments and still appreciate your kind words. Hopefully, I will get back to writing about perfume one day soon. It’s been too long and I miss it!