Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Better Living Through Chemicals

My hair smells like mulch.

Grays are increasingly creeping into my hair. I am but a youthful 33 (almost 34, actually-- June birthday) but my hair is really starting to show some wiry silver strands. The last time I got my hair cut, my stylist said I was about 5% gray right now. I am very ambivalent about covering my gray hair; I vacillate regularly between wanting to embrace the gray and being a silver-haired Emmylou-Harris-type by age 40 or so and wanting to color it. I've done many various things with the color of my hair since I left home for college (highlights! red! blue! pink! really red!) so the idea of swearing off color forever seems challenging/depressing to me. On the other hand, I have never really maintained any one coloring plan for any length of time (I tend to flit from one hair color to another with the attention span of a chicken, with periods of ignoring my hair color between) so the prospect of being forced into regular color maintenance because of encroaching gray roots is also unappealing. Then there are the issues of cost, time, and the horrible horrible chemicals. I don't know what I'm going to do.

In the interest of perhaps avoiding at least the horrible horrible chemicals, I picked up a box of henna at Whole Foods recently and tried it out Sunday night. The particular kind I bought is just ground up henna leaves (the leaves? I think so?), along with gloves and directions and whatnot. You mix the henna with boiling water and let it sit for a long time, then apply it to your hair. I had a hard time getting the consistency right. For most of the time I was trying to use it, it was the consistency and color of poop. It did not smell like poop, fortunately, but it did not have what one would call a pleasant smell-- grassy/earthy, but in a bad way, like composting mulch or something. Applying this poop-like substance to my hair did not go particularly well; I had trouble getting good coverage and saturation. Then it started to dry out before I really had it on my hair, into tiny crumbly brown bits. I ended up with all this stinky organic sludge matted into my hair, crumbling around me in the bathroom. Several days out from the giant mess in my bathroom, I do have a pleasant reddish tone to my hair and the grays are blended away but the application troubles were just too much. Also, it is fading VERY fast so one would have to use the henna quite often to keep the grays blended in. ALSO also, my hair still smells bad, especially when it's wet.

So now I have learned the valuable lesson that if one would like to change the color of one's hair, it's really better to use horrible chemicals. I'm being a bit facetious, of course, and I know there are varying levels of horribleness when it comes to hair dyes. I think I've decided that the MOST natural/safe option does not really work for me. Oh well, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

All my adventures into natural/green/healthy living have shown me that most of those things do really work, often better than the conventional counterparts. AHEM-- cloth diapers, cloth wipes, ditching paper towels in favor of microfiber cleaning cloths, quitting shampoo, cloth menstrual pads (TMI! TMI FOR EVERYONE!), vinegar for cleaning glass, oil-cleansing method for my face, and so on and so forth... There are some horrible chemical habits I haven't quite been able to kick, though. For starters, toilet bowl cleaner with bleach. Yeah, not so good for the environment. Sometimes I read about other people's options and think about trying them. But then I don't.

Another one for me is conventional deodorant. This is one I've really wanted to work and have tried all kinds of options for. I've made my own with coconut oil and baking soda and cornstarch, I've bought stuff on Etsy, I've tried the kinds at Whole Foods... I find that either a) they don't work well for me odor-wise or b) they irritate my underarm skin in a bad way. I think it's the baking soda; it totally works for odor but my skin cannot handle it. I think I'm going back to horrible-chemical-filled deodorant for a while.

Speaking of the word "chemical", Rob and I like to laugh and laugh and laugh when I buy something that claims to not have any chemicals in it. WHAT IS IT THEN? Some kind of existential nothingness? I understand what they are getting at with that as a marketing phrase, but anything made of matter is a chemical. If it is a solid, liquid, or gas, then it is a chemical. Water is a chemical. Baking soda is a chemical. Too many physics and chemistry classes for us, I guess!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Space, the Final Frontier

Signs of spring

With each month that passes since Lewis' birth, I feel like I'm slowly, gradually waking up a little bit and gaining a little more space in my mind and my day and my house. I am somebody who does not do well with clutter and busy-ness and crowdedness, whether that's in my physical surroundings or my schedule or my interior life. For the past several months, my house has been filled with random newborn accoutrements that don't really have a designated space and my daily life has been crowded with needs and demands and the tyranny of the urgent. There hasn't been a lot of space for reflection and processing; one evidence of this is the fact that I've blogged maybe 2-3 times a month for quite a while now. I don't apologize for not blogging (not least because there really is nothing more annoying than a blog post saying, "SO SORRY I HAVEN'T BLOGGED") but I do observe that I feel most satisfied/centered/self-aware when my blogging frequency is more like 6-8 times a month. I am not a scrapbooker, I don't really journal much anymore, but I do really like to write and I benefit from thinking about our life and processing it and getting it down in some way before it evaporates into another moment lost to time. Life has felt a bit more open and spacious lately and less like an impossible obstacle course I am white-knuckling my way through, so hopefully I can return to a habit of writing and  reflection.

It is the season of Lent now, which has helped me carve out some openness and time for contemplation. Although I have spent my entire life within the Christian community, my corner of it is not big into the liturgical calendar and I have never observed Lent in any way before this year. I've felt an interest/attraction toward observing Lent for a couple of years now, mostly because Easter always sneaks up on me. I think that my experience of Christmas is made more meaningful and substantive because we spend the month of Advent getting ready and anticipating it; I mean, even people who don't believe in Jesus at all spend weeks anticipating and celebrating his birth in some ways. Easter is arguably a more important holiday to Christians but I've never spent any appreciable time thinking about it ahead of time or mentally preparing to celebrate it. "Maybe I should," I said to myself. OH WAIT-- THAT'S CALLED LENT. So for my first year of observing Lent, we had pancakes for dinner on Shrove Tuesday, I am reading a daily Lent devotional by one of my favorites, and I am fasting from sugar. Traditionally, one would fast from meat, dairy, eggs, AND sugar during Lent (hence the pancakes, for using up all your dairy and eggs and whatnot before Lent starts) but that seemed a little much for my first time out. I have said "no" to a lot of sugary things in the days since then, only having sugar on Sundays (when it's traditional to break one's fast-- this is how you get 40 days of Lent between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday; the Sundays are sort of not considered Lenten). My American evangelical self understands the value of the devotional reading more than the value of the fasting, but I will admit that every time I say "no, thank you" to a dessert or sweet snack I am reminded that our celebration of resurrection and new life is coming.

I've been opening up some physical space around here as well. Lewis has outgrown the bouncy seats so they've been passed on to people with new babies who can use them, the infant car seat that I never know where to keep is about to be retired in favor of the bigger convertible car seat that always lives in the car, and I've been selling outgrown cloth diapers and our semi-crappy single jogging stroller and the like. (I think that our nice stroller has ruined me for cheap strollers forever; there is such a huge difference in quality and how pleasant it is to use.) Just yesterday I did a big reorganization of my part of the closet. It was a mishmash of clothes both too big and too small for me; I had been adding things willy-nilly and it was just all very confused. I went through and got rid of everything too big, then removed everything too small that I had been thinking, "Oh, I'll just keep this here because I'm sure it will fit soon," and put it out in a bin in the garage. Hopefully, all the smaller things WILL fit soon but I couldn't see what I had to wear right now. I gain a LOT of weight during pregnancy (about 60, 40, and 50 lbs for my 1st, 2nd, and 3rd pregnancies) and that is a LOT of different sizes to shift through (and OH SO MANY BRA SIZES) as I get back to normal. Whatever normal is, at this point. I have been so many different sizes over the past 6-ish years that I sort of don't know. I do know that my closet looks lovely and organized now, if somewhat empty, and that everything in there does fit me right now. One thing I have realized over all these pregnancies and subsequent weight losses is that I don't need as many clothes as I think I do. I aspire to the spare, well-edited, functional wardrobe ideal hanging in a spacious closet in a lovely organized manner. Right now I think I'm only really lacking in "functional".