30 June 2011

Thursday Confession - Shampoo (Or Lack Thereof)

I outed myself on twitter yesterday in front of the whole internet. I saw a conversation about haircare go by in my twitter stream, so I jumped in.

That's not strictly true. Every 6-8 weeks I visit my stylist for a cut and colour, and she uses shampoo. And last September I stayed in a hotel and used the posh shampoo in the room. But at home, none at all since late May of 2010.

And this from someone who used to spend about $200 on professional colouring, and $80 on fancy shampoo and conditioner, every month. I was drawn in by the promises of the latest botanical extracts and bought a lot of different products in search of perfect tv commercial hair.

And still, most of the time I looked like this:

Dark roots, frizzy, and unmanageable. That's about $3500/year. Not very good value for money.

A bunch of different factors led me to change my hair regimen.

When I was pregnant, my sense of smell, mostly absent or defective my entire life prior to that, went crazy. I became really sensitive to chemical smells - the scent of our regular bathroom cleaner sent me running, gagging, out of the apartment as I begged HWSNBN to stop using it. I figured my newfound sense of smell would fade away once the baby was born, but it didn't, so we switched to unscented products, and even they were too strong. Eventually we started using baking soda and vinegar to clean almost everything in the house.

Including my hair.

My new hair regimen: apple cider vinegar, $8. Baking soda $1.

Inspired by the likes of my friend Amber, I'd planned to go "no poo" for a while, but it was seeing my then almost-two-year-old manage to open a shampoo bottle and try to eat its toxic contents that really convinced me to give it a try. (Here's how.) And I haven't looked back.

It was weird, at first, to wash my hair with no suds. It felt like it couldn't possibly be getting clean, but it was - almost too clean. I used to wash my hair every day with shampoo, and adjusting to the baking soda/apple cider vinegar routine took a while to figure out. I fiddled with the amount of baking soda to find what worked for me. At first I was still washing my hair every day, then as my scalp adjusted, every couple of days. A year later, I wash it about once a week, more if I've been swimming in a chlorinated pool or had an evening out where I used lots of product.

I've been asked, "Doesn't it hurt to get it in your eyes?" I imagine it would sting, but after 30+ years of washing my hair with chemical-laden shampoos, I've managed to get pretty good at not getting stuff in my eyes. If I ever do get to experience baking soda in the peepers, I'll update this post. But I can't imagine that it would be any more uncomfortable that getting an eye-full of shampoo.

I've also been asked about odour. To be honest, I haven't noticed any. Neither has my husband, and he would tell me. He thought I was crazy when I started this, but he's begrudgingly come around. It's true, the apple cider vinegar rinse does leave me smelling vaguely like a salad until my hair dries, but after that, no scent to speak of, and certainly not the unpleasant "dirty scalp" smell that I feared would be the result. Just clean. What I do notice, though, is the overpowering smell of regular hair products. The time I used hotel shampoo, I didn't like how I could smell it for hours afterward - well into the next day.

About a week into the baking soda treatment - smelling good enough for Rachael to get close for a photo at a Vancouver Yummy Mummy Club tweetup. (photo credit tjrossignol on flickr)

Sue from Raspberry Kids, unfazed by my hair smell, at the Vancouver Mom Top 30 Mom Bloggers party in May (photo credit Elayne Wandler at Bopomo Pictures)

What does my hair look like now? Well, aside from the grey that insists on sprouting from my scalp despite my best attempts to hide it, I think it looks great.

Here it is a few moments ago, air dried out of the shower, no product, no styling. (I'd usually do something with it, but wanted to give you a "naked" look, direct from my webcam, at my hair as it is right now.)

Straight up
I have a lot of hair, thick and wavy.
My best "Cousin It"
The box of baking soda lasts about 3 months. The 1 litre size apple cider vinegar, about 8 months. Which means my new hair care regimen costs me a grand total of $25/year.*

So what do you think? Are you going to try and smell my hair the next time you see me? And would you give up shampoo?

*Not including professional colouring to hide the grey, which costs about $800/year.

22 June 2011

Wordless Wednesday - Skinned Knees Edition

skinned knees by alexishinde
skinned knees, a photo by alexishinde on Flickr.

Looks like we've officially entered the "bruises, abrasions, and skinned knees" years. Ah, childhood.

19 June 2011

Things That Are True - Stargazing

When I heard the learn'd astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander'd off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars.

Walt Whitman (1819 - 1892)

I cannot read this poem (and I read it often; I adore Whitman) without thinking of my dad.

My father is a gentle man. Thoughtful in his approach to everything, he lives his beliefs and treats everyone he meets, even when he disagrees with them, with respect and dignity. He has taught me much - even though when I was 18 I thought he was kind of an idiot. It's amazing how wise he has grown in the last twenty-odd years.


My dad is both an auto-didact and a raconteur. With no formal education beyond high school, he was the source of all information as I was growing up. There was nothing he couldn't explain, and he treated all my questions - and there were a lot of them; I was the quintessential "but why, Daddy?" child - very seriously, and did his best to answer in a way I could understand. Now that The Imp has reached the "but why, Mommy?" stage, I'm learning first hand how hard this is to do consistently, and my admiration for my dad grows daily.

Dad loves astronomy. In the family library of my childhood, I remember a well-thumbed book of star maps. As a small-town prairie kid, the skies must have been vast indeed for him as he learned the names in the heavens. But for me, as a young child in the Yukon, when it was warm enough to stargaze, there was 24 hour daylight and the stars didn't come out to play. When it was dark enough to ponder the universe, it was mind-numbingly cold.

Me, my Dad, and my sister with the family car parked under the avocado tree, 1979

But then, when I was eight years old, we went on an epic family adventure, and were lucky enough to live on a tropical island for a few years. The switch from day to night at that latitude is instant, there's no twilight. We lived in a tiny village (link in French), so light pollution wasn't a huge concern. And it was warm, gloriously warm. Warm enough for my dad and I to head up the hill behind our house and out into the sugar cane field, and for him to teach me the names of the stars and constellations. It was the southern hemisphere, so everything was different from what he knew. In that pre-internet era, Dad must've had to buy a whole new star maps book for this unknown celestial territory.

We tracked the progress of the Southern Cross together, caught glimpses of Orion's belt (the only constellation in the southern hemisphere that followed us from the north) on the horizon, and learned the names of unfamiliar groupings of twinkling lights. And together we sat, in that "mystical moist night-air", and "look'd up in perfect silence at the stars."

Those evenings are my favourite childhood memories. I only hope I can give The Imp the same appreciation of vastness and wonder that my dad shared with me.

I love you, Dad. Happy Father's Day.

16 June 2011

Things That Make Me Angry

I live in downtown Vancouver. Every day, I cycle the bike paths, walk the streets, and shop in the stores that made headlines and breaking news all over the world last night, as hooligans destroyed my city.

They were mostly young. They were mostly male. They were mostly white.

I don't know what that means, but it means something.

I am devastated. I was in the CBC Fan Zone yesterday afternoon, with The Imp. We've been there for the beginning of every game since they started screening them for the public. "We go to the hockey party!" exclaimed The Imp, every time the Canucks played. Without fail, it was a great experience. Face painting, "Go Canucks Go" signs; fans gathered peacefully to cheer on their team, celebrate their victories, and commiserate when they lost. Beach balls were batted around by the crowds. One afternoon, three separate groups of people noticed that The Imp was desperate to have a turn with the ball, and in front of my eyes, they conspired to make it happen, getting the ball to him so he could bat it back into the crowd. There were countless families there. Canucks fandom seemed to know no age, race, or ethnicity. The enthusiastic singing of O Canada before every game was deafeningly awesome - my voice and The Imp's added lustily into the mix.

The CBC Fan Zone in happier times

We'd watch the opening face-off, the first few minutes of the game, and then make our way, through happy crowds, home for dinner.

Yesterday started out the same. I picked him up early at daycare, we made our way to the fan zone at Robson and Hamilton, and found a patch of pavement to call our own.

But the energy was different yesterday. The makeup of the crowd skewed to young, male, and drunk. I posted on twitter:

"In the #fanzone. Most packed I've ever seen it. The Imp insisted he wanted to be here; I'll be surprised if he makes it to game time. #loud"

I saw an almost-fistfight when a security guard made a simple request of fans to sit down before the game even started. People were on edge.

I wanted to leave right then and there. The Imp wanted to stay. I convinced myself it was a one-off, that people would settle in as the game began and there was a focus for all the pent-up nervous energy. After all, it had been fun every other time.

The anthems were sung. It was loud, but somehow it wasn't the same.

The puck dropped. The game began. The energy in the crowd was intense.

My gut told me it was time to leave. The Imp insisted he wanted to stay. I fought an internal battle. "This could be one of The Imp's earliest memories; watching his beloved Canucks win the Cup!" vs "This crowd makes me anxious. This could get ugly."

I followed my gut; we left halfway through the first period, after the Bruins had drawn first blood. Once home, I tweeted:  

"Home. Fan zone vibe: sketchy. Everyone's wearing a jersey, but spider senses tell me the Ed Hardy factor approaches critical mass."

You know the rest. The Canucks lost. The city erupted in violence.

I am heartbroken. And I am angry.

I love living downtown. I've enjoyed the variety and diversity of urban life. I've loved raising The Imp so that he doesn't blink when he sees a same-sex couple, he's not thrown by different languages being spoken around him, and he's accustomed to lots of different skin colours in his world.

And I've felt safe here. The tremendous success and happy shiny feelings about the Olympics showed, I thought, that Vancouver had grown up. A cosmopolitan city, it could handle huge crowds and public celebrations.

Not so.

I'm absolutely heartsick at how wrong I was, how wrong everyone I know was, and how wrong, it seems, the authorities were about what would happen if and when the Canucks lost.

I hate the fear I feel now. I'm angry because I will now never quite feel safe in a Vancouver crowd again. The Celebration of Light takes place right on my doorstep every summer. A few hundred thousand people crowd into my neighbourhood to watch the fireworks, and I will never feel comfortable taking The Imp out into that crowd again. The veneer of civility is too thin. I'm angry that I can't unsee that now.

And I'm angry that I can't unsee the images of people wantonly destroying my neighbourhood. Setting cars on fire, breaking windows, and looting? Who does that?

I don't understand the people who do that. I just don't. And I don't believe it had anything to do with hockey. I saw footage of a person using a hammer to break the windows of a bank. Who brings a hammer to watch a hockey game? Who comes to a hockey party with gasoline to set things on fire? Who brings a baseball bat to a hockey game, just in case they feel like breaking the windows of an SUV parked blocks away from the arena? People were throwing bricks through store windows. Where are they getting bricks in a city built of concrete? Who brings bricks to a hockey game?

There was premeditation involved here. The loss of the game was just a pretext; the spark that lit a fire long set and stoked.

It's no secret that I am warm and fuzzy about social media. I blog, I'm on flickr, I'm on youtube, I'm on facebook, linkedin, listgeeks, pinterest, and twitter. I've met people I adore through social media. I've learned a tremendous amount, and I've benefited hugely, both personally and professionally, from the connections I've made online. I've been a huge cheerleader in my social circle for the benefits of social media. I love that everyone has a voice, everyone has the opportunity for community, and we become our own content generators and media channels.

Maybe I've been naive, but last night I saw a side of social media I hadn't even known existed.

The violence, the destruction, those were the acts of relatively few people. Out of 100,000, there were maybe a few hundred actively involved in creating the mayhem. But there were thousands of people standing by, watching. Taking pictures to post on facebook. Chanting, clapping, and posing in front of burning cars only feet away, high fiving each other. Jeering and leering gleefully at the damage being done, at the taunting of riot police. Thousands of people who chose not to go home, but to stand by and watch, and laugh at the spectacle. And tweet about it.

For these people, the (in this case mostly young, predominantly male) milling about observers and inciters, is nothing real until it's been on a screen? And being on a screen, is it then not real, but spectacle? Have they been so desensitized to violence that when they see it right in front of them, it's entertainment?

Over and over again, news cameras caught thousands of people taking pictures, getting in the way of emergency responders, making it harder to defuse the madness. There was a self-consciousness to it: I saw people running from looted stores, one hand full of stolen merchandise, the other with a camera phone on, recording the whole thing to relive later on youtube.

Is this online space, where I have found education, community, and solidarity, the same space inhabited by people who actually tag themselves on facebook committing criminal acts?

My son is a digital native, growing up in a post-facebook world. The mere act of me writing this blog is creating a digital footprint for him before he even has a say in what gets shared. His generation will never experience our antiquated concepts of privacy.

How do I raise him, in this oversharey, tweet-happy environment? How do I make sure this lovely little boy, who loves the Canucks as only a three year old can, doesn't become one of these young men, completely unconcerned, gleeful even, about being caught on camera in this appalling behaviour?

The Imp went to sleep last night as the madness was descending. He missed it all - saw no footage, no photos. I've kept it that way this morning. He's staying home from daycare today because I am not prepared to answer his questions. His daycare is in the immediate vicinity of where the violence started last night. The Imp's uncannily observant; he sees everything. He asks questions about everything. And I don't know what to tell a three year old about broken glass on the sidewalk, boarded up windows, and burn marks on the pavement. So I'm postponing the discussion; opting out for 24 hours to sort out my own conflicted feelings and to try and figure out what a three year old needs to know.

But I do know this: "We have met the enemy and he is us."

03 June 2011

Friday Confession - Impostor

I spend a lot of time avoiding doing the very thing that I love most.

I know. It makes no sense.

But it's true. I alphabetize things that don't need it, I cook, I clean, I sleep, I watch tv, I surf the web. I spend too much time on twitter. I do anything but write.

It's ridiculous. I've been writing in journals and notebooks, scribbling on the backs of envelopes and bar napkins, and composing letters in my head for as long as I can remember. (Okay, maybe not the bar napkins. That was a later development.) I started this blog as a place to organize my thoughts, share my ideas, and have a living record of my experiences as a parent. I love the sense of community it gives me, the power inherent in having a voice (whether anyone listens or not) and the thrill of learning from others who've trodden the path before me or are walking by my side.

And yet, I don't write. I avoid it like... I dunno. Laundry? I hate laundry. Avoiding that makes sense.

Fear, friends. Fear is the dream killer.

It's not interested in what makes sense. It doesn't care what's rational, or even what's true. Its only focus is to prevent risk. Any risk, real or perceived. And imaginary risk is its specialty.

Fact: All my life I have longed to be a real writer.

Jebus. Just typing that out loud has made my hands shake.

So yes, I've longed to be a real writer, whatever that is. (Is blogging writing?)

I even managed in second year university to enroll in Creative Writing 100, with the intention of majoring in that or journalism. I went to the first class; it was all about poetry. We were assigned to write an autobiographical poem. The night before the class, drunk in the student pub, I dashed off a few lines of suckage and handed it in at the second class.

The third class, the prof gave a prize (one of her own books of poetry, she probably had a basement full of them) for the best poem. To me. She thought my poem was the best of what had been handed in.

I knew it was a piece of crap.

I never went back to that class again.

I haven't really ever told that story.


The tyranny of the blank page

People I respect and admire have told me they enjoy my blog. Out loud I thank them; inside my head I'm immediately discounting what they say. Based on my twitter stream, I've been told by someone who writes! professionally! that I should write a book. I joke that she's crazy. "From your mouth to a publisher's ear," I grin.

Recently at a party, I was introduced to someone as "Alexis, a very talented writer" and I almost fell out of my shoes. The Fear That Rules Me screamed, "No, no, no. Don't be ridiculous!" I managed to keep my game face on and shake hands like a normal person, but inside I was ramping up all the old arguments for why the person was so wrong.

But that moment made me pause. It's always interesting to catch a glimpse of yourself as others see you, like a reflection in a shop window as you hurry by. And in a heartbeat, I decided to stop discounting what I do and say in this space.

It's not easy.

I feel like a fool most of the time.

But the other day, as I met a friend, a writer friend, for coffee and encountered another friend, another writer friend at the same time, I introduced the two, saying "David, this is Heather. She's a writer too!"

And for a split second, I allowed the "too" to include me.

Then I did a crazy, crazy thing. A few days ago, I submitted one of my own posts for BlogHer's Voices of the Year. This one.

This is progress, yes?