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Pop culture, entertainment & all things Fresno

The ‘Nutcracker’ tradition

There’s a lot to love about a local “Nutcracker,” from the cute-as-puppies little ones making their debut on the Saroyan stage to the artistry of the guest performers (Ethan and Nikki White offered a stunning rendition of “Arabian Coffee” at Sunday’s matinee). But one of my favorite parts is afterward, when the entire cast surges into the Saroyan lobby to meet family and friends. The smiles are wide and the camera flashes have a paparazzi feel. I grabbed a shot of the inimitable James Mullolly, who plays the coy (and very wide-hipped) Mother Ginger in the Central California Ballet production, greeting two of his Bon-Bons. What a memorable weekend for these enthusiastic dancers.

Pictured: Nozomi Bergstrom, Samantha Bergstrom, James Mullooly and Ena Wang. 

Fresno High neighborhood losing P*DE*Q Corner, Ooh de Lolli Take Away Cafe

People in central Fresno are getting two doses of bad news: P*DE*Q Corner across from Fresno High School is closing and so is the Ooh de Lolli Take Away Cafe.

P*DE*Q Corner will close Dec. 23. The P*DE*Q Gluten Free Bakery at 435 N. Clovis Ave. will remain open. P*DE*Q Corner on Echo Avenue was the launching pad for the brand founded by owner Flavia Takahashi-Flores who transitioned from a home-based business. The delicious little balls of Brazilian cheese bread were made there at first. But the company has grown and she’s since hired Wawona Frozen Foods to make the P*DE*Qs, which are now sold in 23 Costco stores. The P*DE*Q Gluten Free Bakery has become the hub of the company’s gluten-free activity, and can do a lot more, including making and selling cupcakes, pies, cookies, bread and the PIZZA*Q line of gluten-free pizzas and dough. “We want to focus our energy on creating more product and focusing on just one store that we can view as a model store for franchising eventually,” she said.

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Donald’s mailbag: ‘Christmas Pageant’ a joy

Joyce Fitzgerald, who plays Mrs. Armstrong in the Good Company Players production of “The Best Christmas Pageant” ever, writes:

It was a disappointment that you did not review our production of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” at 2nd Space Theatre. We do not need the publicity because nearly every show is sold out. I realize that Good Company has done it several times – this is my 4th time to appear in it since 1990, but every director and cast put a different spin on the production. It truly is the best Christmas show. There are several very young actors who do an outstanding job and deserve to be recognized for their talent.

Eight year old tiny Abby Spain is fabulous as Gladys Herdman/the Angel of the Lord. She hits every mark on time and with vim and vigor. As the script says, “she isn’t big, but she’s mean and she bites”. That she does with her feisty portrayal of the youngest Herdman. She recently appeared in “The King and I” at Roger Rockas Dinner Theatre, as the king’s youngest child.

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‘Tis the season for a Fresno Christmas Light tour

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There is an understanding around the Guerriero household that, come Christmas time, the hair dyer and microwave, pretty much all appliances, really, are off limits after 5:30 p.m. There’s been one too many blown fuses.

Yes, the Guerriero’s home (on Tenaya Avenue, near Van Ness and Sierra) taxes the grid, what with its massive display of holiday lights and decorations.

“Every year we buy more and more,” says Mary Guerriero, who, along with her husband Joe Guerriero, spends a month (or more) each year setting up the display, which is lit from 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. through Christmas.

Even once all the decor is up, there are still small tweaks to be made, Mary says.

“I’m still doing it every day.”

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Fresno family wins ABC ‘Light Fight’ holiday decoration competition

The Alexanders, who live on Fresno’s Christmas Tree Lane, were the big winner in Monday night’s telecast of the ABC competition series, “The Great Christmas Light Fight.” They picked up a trophy and $50,000 for their holiday decorations.

Each of the six episodes (airing back to back for three weeks) looks at four families competing to transform their homes for the holidays. A winner of the $50,000 grand prize will be selected in each episode. The Alexanders were determined to be the winner by judge Sabrina Soto from “Extreme Home Makeover: Home Edition.”

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More on Fresno’s General Plan

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As a follow up to last week’s post on the Fresno General Plan (which may or may not get a vote on Thursday): The Bee ran two commentaries on the subject that are worth reading (though for different reasons).

The first, from Fresno author Mark Arax, is a wonderful piece of prose that takes readers on a trip down Blackstone Avenue, as an example of the consequences of the decision before the city council.

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Where do you shop local?

My buy local gift guide was on the cover of Sunday’s Spotlight section with lots of gift suggestions. These are not just local, but super local: locally grown and locally made. We’re talking purses made in a downtown art gallery, “Fresbro” T-shirts printed in a Tower shop and chocolate-dipped apples rolled in M&Ms at the California Gourmet Co. 

But this is by no means a comprehensive list. Lots of places are selling locally made goods and lots of stores are locally owned. Where do you go to buy local and what do you like to buy there? Tell us in the comments.

Concert Announcement: Iggy Azalea’s ‘The Great Escape’ tour comes to Save Mart Center

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And, just like that, the Save Mart Center lands what may arguably be one of the most-anticipated tours of 2015.

Female rap/pop star Iggy Azalea will stop at the arena April 14 to kick off “The Great Escape” tour, a 24-date North American trek with recording artist/actor Nick Jonas and R&B/hip-hop favorites Tinashe and DJ Wizz Kidd.

Tickets for the Fresno date are $39.50-$69.50 and on sale 9 a.m. Dec. 19 at the arena box office and select Save Mart Supermarkets, online at ticketmaster.com or AEGLive.com or by phone at (800) 745-3000. Platinum and VIP packages, which include premium tickets plus exclusive autographed items, will also be available.

Presale tickets are available for American Express card members 9 a.m. Dec. 15 (through 9 p.m. Dec. 18).

Azalea was easily one of the biggest pop stars of 2014. Her single “Fancy” broke all sorts of airplay records and was the longest-leading No. 1 by a female rapper. It was Billboard’s 2014 Song of the Summer, iTunes Best Song of 2014, the year’s most-streamed song on Spotify and the most-watched video on VEVO (and also a parody hit for Weird Al). Azalea was nominated for four Grammy Awards this year, including best new artist, best rap album, record of the year and best pop duo/group performance. Her latest, “Black Widow,” featuring Rita Ora, also reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Top 40 chart.

You can watch the Tarantino-inspired video for “Black Widow” on the jump (it’s slightly NSFW).

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Vincent D’Onofrio’s punk spoken word project is the best, weirdest thing you’ll hear today

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If you haven’t heard Vincent D’Onofrio’s punk spoken word project, Slim Bone Head Volt, you need to do so now.

The group (actor D’Onofrio and multi-instrumentalist Dana Lyn) released its first single last week and it is glorious (I’ve listened to it no less than 40 times).

Granted, just how glorious you’ll find it depends on how much you enjoy the chaos of experimental noise and free-form meditations on being a hamster.

“I’m a hamster, not a trapeze artist. I’m not a circus act,” D’Onofrio rages. “Let’s not talk about the wheel.”

“Slim Bone Head Volt is a code name for the strange juxtapositions, randomness and incongruity in art,” Lyn says, in a press release for the single. “It is also actually an anagram for the exact opposite idea.”

I’ll have to trust her on that. A full album (which includes track titles like “Super Golden” and “Thank God Birds Can’t Talk”) is due out March 3 on Buddhabug Records and I want it.

The strength of ‘Nutcracker’

Local young men can be hard to find in community “Nutcracker” productions. It’s just a given in the dance world that for every boy who dreams of being a ballet dancer, there are dozens of eager young girls.

That’s why it was fun in my advance for this year’s Central California Ballet production of “The Nutcracker” to put the spotlight on two strong young men with promising ballet futures. We interviewed and photographed Jorge Torrecillas, who plays the Nutcracker General, and William Davis, who plays the Mouse King. (Both also have some pivotal solo moments in the second act.) I like the photo we came up and presentation we came up with in Thursday’s Life section:

The ballet will be performed 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Saroyan.

And don’t forget the Sugar Plum Party after the Sunday matinee. Children will receive party favors, refreshments and a chance to take photos with the production’s principal dancers — all in a lavishly decorated space. Admission is $12, with no charge for accompanying parent. For tickets, call (559) 270-3212.

On the jump, check out a few more of Craig Kohlruss’ pics of these athletic young men.

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Amid a media blitz, T-Pain is just winging it

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T-Pain has given up trying to figure out how people’s minds work.

Like, how anyone would need to be reminded he can actually sing. How, despite the fact that the Florida rapper/singer has been featured on more than 50 chart-topping tracks, to many listeners, he was just the “auto-tune” guy. Even though he didn’t invent the tech and wasn’t the first to use it (or over use it). Or that his biggest hit (Flo Rida’s “Get Low”) is auto-tune free.

“People don’t look into things before they start talking,” says T-Pain, one of featured artists at tonight’s Fresno Holiday Jam at Selland Arena. “Preconception is the evil I deal with all the time.”

He’s not arguing with the massive amounts of press that he’s received since a video of him singing sans auto-tune on NPR went viral. He does find it odd.

“People are like,’I’m sorry. We didn’t know,’ ” he says.
“Really y’all?”

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Five Things You Should Do This Weekend

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Forget playing/singing/jumping in the rain

1. Downtown Christmas Parade
The is the parade’s 85th year. The theme is Candy Canes and Christmas Carols. I’m hoping it’s a sing along.

2. Uppitees’ Holiday Handcraft Boutique
There are only 12 shopping days until Christmas.

3. “A Shot in the Dark
A performance piece from Fresno poet Stephen Mayu Jr.

4. Fresno Holiday Jam
For hip-hop fans young, old and other.

5. Christmas Tree Lane Ride
I’ll always mention a good group bicycle ride.

Here’s a bonus five live-music, concert-type events:

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PCH Subs in Clovis closing Sunday

PCH Subs is closing Sunday after about 13 years in business. The surf-themed sandwich shop — PCH is short for Pacific Coast Highway — at Herndon and Fowler avenues in Clovis just couldn’t make it any longer, says Guy Foell, who runs the shop owned by his parents, Dick and Chic Foell.

The shop’s lease is up and it’s been struggling since the Blockbuster next door closed and people stopped picking up sandwiches to eat during their movie, Guy says. Rising minimum wage and other factors played a part too, he says. “I think it’s just tough for mom and pops to compete and [with] the price of everything going up … it’s just tough,” he says, noting that there’s seven sandwich shops in a two-block radius of his restaurant.

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BANDGEEK: Tribal Seeds, Riders in the Sky and the Fresno Holiday Jam

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Lest you think a little storm should keep you trapped indoors, we have once again collection a week’s worth of musical happenings and present it here as your BANDGEEEEK round up.

TONIGHT:

  • Shannon Ashley.
    W/Lou Umbra and The Tough Love. At Fulton 55. 8:30 p.m. $6-$8. (Flier link)

  • Tribal Seeds.
    W/Hirie and Wheeland Brothers. At Strummer’s. 7 p.m. Online tickets SOLD OUT.

  • Ultrasonic: A Book Launch.
    W/music from Iwanaga and Fatty Cakes & the Puff Pastries. At Peeve’s Public House. 7 p.m. Free. All ages. (Flier link)

  • Paradox.
    W/Mutant Itch, Choas Tribe, Fiend, Inhuman and Battleshok. At CYC. 6 p.m. $5 donation. All ages. (Flier link)

  • Chris Play Guitar.
    Reunion show. W/Constellation Prize. At Audie’s Olympic. 9 p.m. $5. (Flier link)

  • Lee Greenwood.
    W/Crystal Gayle. At Tachi Palace. 6 p.m. Tickets off sale. (Flier link)

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    Here’s one ranking Fresno can be proud of

    All these click-bait Internet rankings have declared that Fresno is among the least-educated cities, is among the top cities with people in need and is the 15th worst city for an active lifestyle.

    Whether you take those seriously or not, here’s one label to be proud of: Fresno’s Vineyard Farmers Market is No. 8 on Buzzfeed’s list of 10 California Farmers’ Markets Worth Traveling The Extra Mile For.

    The piece mentions the “majestic vineyard arbor” at Blackstone and Shaw avenues, and of course, the organic and locally grown produce. The market runs from 7 a.m. to noon on Saturdays and from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesdays. You can see a list of all the area’s farmers markets here. Photo by Fresno Bee photographer Eric Paul Zamora.

    THEATER REVIEW: ‘Cabaret’

    If the musical “Cabaret” today could meet the one from 25 years ago, I’m sure the younger would roll its eyes and (sort of) politely say, “Thanks for being such a legend. But things are different now.”

    If your only exposure to the John Kander/Fred Ebb classic 1966 musical theater piece is from a community theater production from several decades ago — or, perhaps, the 1972 movie adaptation that stripped away characters and offered the title song, belted out by Liza Minnelli, as a jaunty anthem — you’re in for a few surprises. In the new Fresno State production, director J. Daniel Herring hews closely to the 1993 London and 1998 New York revivals starring Alan Cumming, who transformed the character of the Emcee (played by Joel Grey in the movie version) into a highly sexual, provocative and sometimes downright raunchy ambassador to the audience. That characterization fits the tumultuous times: With the crumbling of Germany’s Weimar Republic following World War I, as the Nazi Party assumes power, “Cabaret” captures the anything-goes atmosphere of an on-edge 1931 Berlin.

    Thus, there are some moments in this production I’m fairly certain have never taken place on a Fresno State stage before. If you’re the kind who got upset at the stage version of “Jersey Boys” because of profanity (and I heard from some of you), chances are that the song “Two Ladies” — in which the Emcee gets pretty wild with both a guy and a gal (OK, let me spell it out for you: simulated sexual acts) — will make your head explode.

    I like many of the choices that Herring makes in this challenging title, and the live orchestra, under the able direction of Matthew Wheeler, is first-rate. But there are also some weaknesses in terms of direction, production design and the overall impact of the ensemble. For a college production, this “Cabaret” has moments that soar, though I don’t think it reaches the same overall level of excellence as some previous Fresno State musical offerings I’ve seen.

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    Martin singing praises of job

    One of the big hits from the fall season, “The Flash,” is hiding a secret. If there is ever a musical showdown with other TV programs, the cast would be able to put together an all-star team.

    Series star Grant Gustin has an extensive musical theater background but the heavyweight musical member of the group is Jesse L. Martin. You might not be aware of his singing credentials as Martin has been playing TV detectives – first on “Law & Order” and now on “The Flash.”

    He showed a little of that skill with his guest starring role on “Smash.”

    But, his breakthrough came in Jonathan Larson’s Broadway musical “Rent” in 2005. He reprised the role in the feature film version of the musical.

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    LISTEN: “Dreams,” the first track from Fashawn’s new EP

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    As if waiting for Fashawn‘s Beary Xmas show (happening Dec. 23 at Strummer’s) wasn’t exciting enough, the Fresno rap icon has upped the ante by announcing the release “FASH-ionably Late,” a seven-song EP that drops Dec. 18.

    The EP, is a collaboration with producer The Alchemist and comes in advance of the rapper’s highly-anticipated album “The Ecology,” the follow up (both chronologically and in terms of content) to 2009′s “Boy Meets World.”

    “The Ecology,” will be released by Mass Appeal in early 2015. You may remember Fashawn was signed to Nas’ record label in July.

    “I wanted to give my fans exactly what I wanted to put out, so if that meant waiting to push back the date to clear some records than so be it,” Fashawn says in a release. “Working with Alchemist, I get in another mode creatively that’s different than working with other producers. Just some real rap shit,” he says.

    You can stream the EP’s first single, “Dreams” ft. Evidence, now, or watch a video for the song (directed by Evidence) on the jump. Warning: NSFW.

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    Win tickets to this weekend’s ‘Nutcracker’

    You want “Nutcracker” tickets? I have a bunch of them to give away — a whopping SIXTEEN, in fact. The Central California Ballet production, featuring a cast of 90-plus dancers made up of community members and professionals dancing the leading roles, will be performed three times this weekend at the Saroyan Theatre.

    In this production, the Mouse Queen from the original “Nutcracker” is given a starring role. Here’s how the Lively Arts Foundation describes the show:

    Highlights of this mesmerizing event are Jackie McConnell and Connolly Strombeck, principal dancers of the Oakland Ballet, dancing the roles of the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier. Returning guest artists, Ethan and Nikki White, formerly of TV’s “Live to Dance” will perform the Snow Queen and King Pas de Deux. They will also repeat the stunning Arabian divertissment which they performed in last year’s show. The coveted role of Marie will be shared by Marin Brant and Anna Lippert. Ian McFarland and Tyler Mrkaich will share the role of Fritz, Marie’s brother.

    Tickets for this production normally cost $32.25-$52.25.

    Here’s how the giveaway will work: I have a four-pack of tickets to give away to the 2 p.m. Saturday performance and a four-pack for the 7:30 p.m. Saturday performance. For the 2 p.m. Sunday performance, I have two four-packs — eight total — to give away to two readers.

    To enter, leave a comment on this post telling us if you’ve ever been to “The Nutcracker” and share a memory if you’d like. Or tell us why you’d like to see it for the first time. INCLUDE YOUR PREFERENCE FOR WHICH PERFORMANCE YOU’D LIKE TO ATTEND. Winners will be selected at random. You’ll be able to pick up your tickets at the Will Call window at the box office. Only one entry per person, please.

    Deadline to enter is 9 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 11. I’ll be contacting winners by email, so be sure to check yours on Thursday. If I haven’t heard from a winner by Friday morning, I reserve the right to pick another — we don’t want these tickets to go to waste.

    Rules are on the jump.

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    Fresno general plan update may soon get a vote, but we shouldn’t count on it

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    In advance of Thursday’s public hearing on Fresno’s 2035 general plan update, please grant me this one political post.

    If you care about the future growth and development of the city, you’ve no doubt been following the movement of the city’s 2035 general plan update.

    The plan, which lays out the policies and procedures that will guide the city in the next two decades, went before the planning commission last night. It will get a full-on public hearing 5 p.m. Thursday and the city expects to fill the Exhibit Hall at the convention center with interested parties. If Mayor Ashley Swearengin gets her way, the plan will go before the city council at its Dec. 18 meeting.

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    A poignant ‘In and Out of Shadows’

    The scene: In the musical “In and Out of Shadows,” a Filipino mother (played by Deanne Palaganas) takes a break from her job driving a car-rental shuttle bus at San Francisco International Airport. She is an undocumented immigrant with two teen-age children, who also are undocumented. For a moment, as the mother sings a sweet ballad about how the clouds in the sky have the freedom to go wherever they want, she’s taken away from the reality of a life without “papers” and the constant fear that she and her children (Alexandra Lee and Louel Senores) will be harassed by immigration authorities. The trio’s rendition of “Clouds” is filled with longing and tenacity.  

    The production: Gary Soto, the nationally known poet and author from Fresno, wrote the book and lyrics for “In and Out of Shadows” for a youth theater in San Francisco. He focuses in the musical on “Dreamers,” a term for young people who were brought to the U.S. by their parents (or came by themselves) from such places as Mexico, the Philippines and China at an early age and remain undocumented, stuck in a kind of limbo between two countries. 

    The venue: Soto brought this San Francisco Youth Theatre production to the Fresno City College Theatre, where it played three performances over the weekend.

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    Rockin’ Memorial for Perry Hodge

    As a means of follow up: Audie’s Olympic Tavern will be hosting a memorial for Perry Hodge. The guitarist/song-writer had been well known in the rock scene for decades. He died last week after battling illness.

    The event will run from 4-8 p.m. Saturday and serve as an open memorial for Hodge’s friends and family. From the event Facebook page: “Please come and jam, party, and show Perry Hodge how much he and his indescribable talents were admired and loved by all.”

    Elisabeth Harnois dives into death duties

    There are some actors who just look like they are always having fun. That’s the feeling I get watching Elisabeth Harnois on “CSI.” Even when her character, Morgan Brody, is digging through disgusting remains of a crime scene, it always looks like the actress is enjoying the job.

    “That’s because I am,” Harnois tells me at a CBS/CW/Showtime party. “Part of that is because I have a little bit of a morbid side. I’ve always loved horror.”

    She got to explore that side after being cast. Many of the “CSI” actors have gone to a real morgue to observe an autopsy and Harnois wanted that experience.

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    DIY: Lotion, lip balm & body spray

    I  just might be the most suggestible person on the planet. If I see something or read about something, it will stick in my thinking to the point of obsession. Knowing this, I specifically avoid  stores that cram all those nifty gadgets (that nobody needs) right up against the checkout counter because I am exactly the person that buys those items. (That said, I do not regret buying that microwavable egg poacher. Much.)

    Case in point: In the latest series I’m reading — set in the 1770′s — the main character drinks a lot of tea. I have never been much of a tea drinker but guess who drinks tea regularly now?

    But what really got me was when the character made her own moisturizing lotion. How neat is that? Then, not a day later, I’m on Pinterest and I see some 14-year-old girl touting the benefits and ease of homemade lip balm. How neat is that? 

    So when I ran out of body spray and found a recipe on the Internet, I was done for. My critical-thinking brain (the same one that decided that I would look good with pink hair that one time) was filled with dozens of thoughts, each spinning and landing like cherries a slot machine : if some time-traveling character in a piece of historical fiction  can make moisturizing lotion (clunk!) and an overly-giddy adolescent from the Internet could make lip balm (clunk!) and this recipe for body spray  is so simple (clunk!) — by golly! –I could MAKE THESE THINGS, TOO! (Ding-ding-ding-ding- Jackpot.)

    The truth of the matter is that, surprisingly, my critical-thinking brain was right this time. Homemade lotion, lip balm and body spray are all very easy projects and use natural ingredients.  In fact, I actually had many of the items in my kitchen already. Better? These items would make great gifts.

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    DIY: Body spray

    Just about every female in my family uses body spray — a habit that, with prices ranging from $7 to $20 per bottle, has become a tad expensive. Giving my daughters their own scents was fun, but the discovery that making body spray is really simple AND inexpensive? That was a gift to myself.  

    What you’ll need:

    - 8 oz distilled water (MUST be distilled)
    - 1 Tbsp witch hazel
    - 1/8 tsp citric acid (all natural, granular substance used as a preservative)
    - 30-40 drops essential oil (choose your favorite fragrance)
    - empty travel-sized spray container 

    Boil the water and add the citric acid, stirring occasionally until dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool. Stir in witch hazel and  essential oil. Put in sterilized  spray container. Voila! You have body spray. Shake before each use.