This Is Your Hair on Henna

Starting in college, my naturally golden locks started to darken. When I overheard someone describing me as having brown hair (it’s dirty blonde, thank you very much), I finally took the plunge and dyed it red. I look great as a redhead, and at one point had shoulder-length red hair. Unfortunately, chemical dyes are murder on anyone’s hair. Since I’m spoiled with naturally thick and mostly healthy hair, I really noticed the difference when it started to frizz out. Eventually I allowed my natural color to grow back in. Last summer, though, grey hairs started making serious inroads into the faded blonde. When I cut it short, I decided to take the plunge and go red again. Chemical dyes worked okay for a few months, but once again my hair started to frizz, break, and whimper. I wanted to grow my hair long again, but knew that if I kept dying it I’d end up with a full, thick head of damaged, faded red hair and obvious roots.

I’d heard about henna, but had been warned about the difficulty of finding a quality supply. The henna they sell in supermarkets and beauty supply shops isn’t pure henna, and it’s often mixed with unnamed chemicals that can do all sorts of damage to your hair, especially if you’ve already dyed it with something else. Then I discovered that a friend of mine with gorgeous, long, glossy curls uses henna, and I asked her where she gets it.

“I use henna from Yemen,” she said, and sent me a link to Catherine Cartwright-Jones’s online henna empire. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my curly-haired friend sent me to one of the only reliable sources of 100% pure all-natural henna. The website isn’t the easiest thing to navigate, but that’s for the best of reasons: It’s host to a wealth of information about the history and uses of henna. And it’s a home-grown business without the budget to hire an information architect and UX designer.

After a fair amount of perusing, I ordered a 200-gram packet of henna from Pakistan. I opted for the Pakistan henna because it was described as having a lower dye content than the Yemen variety, and I was hoping for a more coppery red.

When I got the package, I was really excited to try it, but also wanted to make sure I paid attention to what I was doing. It’s not difficult to prepare Mehandi henna paste in advance, but it does require some planning. You have to mix the henna powder with a mildly acidic liquid (lemon juice, for instance) and let it sit for at least 12 hours in order for the dye to be fully released. You also have to leave it in for at least twice as long as a standard chemical dye.

My first attempt was less than perfect: I only used about half of a 200-gram packet, mixed with orange juice, and didn’t have quite enough paste to coat my hair in the recommended “mud-mask” fashion. In spite of the shortage, the results were quite impressive.

Here’s my hair before the henna:

Photo of my hair before using henna

And here it is afterward:

Photo of my hair after using henna

This time, inspired by the individual mixes posted by various women, I decided to get more creative. In particular, I wanted something to mellow the smell of uncut henna, which I find vaguely reminiscent of dried blood.

This is what I put in my second batch:
300 grams henna (Lawsonia inermis) (half from the last packet, plus one full packet)
about 20 grams senna (Cassia obovata)
Enough orange juice to give the mix the consistency of stirred-up yogurt
~1/2 C ground cloves
a righteous sprinkle of ground ginger root
cinnamon
frankincense (I’ve always wanted an excuse to put frankincense in my hair!)

I let the mix sit for almost 24 hours, and while the smell of the henna was definitely still there, the other spices masked it well. More than 24 hours after rinsing out the dye, my hair still smells richly of cloves and the other spices I used. It’s a deeper, richer red than the last application. The texture is glossy and smooth, rather than the frizzy, damaged mess that chemical dyes produce.

For my next batch, I’m thinking about reversing the proportion of senna and henna for a more subtle color. I’ll probably use less cloves (they darken the dye) and more cinnamon and ginger root. I may use some cardamom as well, and more frankincense if I have time to replenish my stash (I’ve had a bottle of frankincense on my altar for about 10 years. I don’t think my ancestors mind.)

If you’re interested in learning more about henna, its history and uses, there’s a free e-book on the Henna for Hair website.

I found the historical information fascinating and feel like I’m connecting with an ancient tradition that goes back thousands of years, even while I wrap my head in plastic wrap and watch Netflix videos while the henna sets.

Get To, Not Have To

Woke up only slightly reluctantly this morning, all the alarms blaring and the kitty purring. Thought about a blog entry I might write about the night before.

Army Guy calls just a little after 7:00, and I answer the phone saying, “Just ten minutes!”

“Wake up Frances!” he shouts into the phone. Our own little ritual.

I get up.

I get to get up today.

I get to drive to work — I get to have a job to drive to!

I get to have supportive conversations with my coworkers.

I get to see the beautiful puffy clouds.

I get to do some real work.

I get to enjoy springtime in Boston.

I get to be alive.

The Good, the Bad, and the Roomba

The Good
“Remember how you said that the beef stew was a little thin for your taste? Well, I added some stuff to it and cooked it down, and now it’s nice and thick. Do you want me to save you some?”

“You know, sometimes I think you have the impression I don’t like your cooking. I think you’re a good cook.”

“I know. But it’s not just enough to be good. I’m a perfectionist. It can’t just be good, everything has to be faaaaabulous!”

“Well, you already are fabulous.”

“Awwww! I’m going to eat the last of the stew for lunch.”

The Bad
Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance. My cousin out in California and I had a falling-out because I kept trying to raise his awareness about trans issues. Regardless of what you think about trans genitalia, or whether trans sex is “real sex” (take a wild guess as to where I stand on that issue), I think we can all agree that transfolk have the right to, you know, live. Without being beaten, maimed, or murdered. I think that the ability to walk down the street undisturbed is a basic human right we can all agree on.

More information here: http://gender.org/remember/day/index.html
(and no, visiting the site will not make you queer).

The Roomba
Yet another reason for me to get a Roomba (I need to amass a good amount of them in order to overcome that “but we’re in a recession” voice in the back of my head):

Link in case of embed failure

I can’t imagine my timid kitty would ever actually ride the thing around the room like that. But still, soooo cuuuuuute! Robot friends!

Dear Dad

Dear Dad:

Just a few days after you came to visit, we elected our first black president. Some people call him bi-racial, some people call him African-American, but we all call him Barack Obama. His father was born in Kenya, his mother was born in Kansas, and he was born in Hawaii.

Grandpa told me a story once about a time when you brought one of your college professors home to dinner. He was a black man, and I got the impression that Grandpa and Grandma weren’t too happy to be having a black man over for dinner. Grandpa may have actually called him “colored.”

This is what Grandpa said:

He kept talking about how money would solve everything, money money money. So I turned to him and I said, “I’m going to take this knife and cut your hand with it. Then I’m going to slap a hundred dollar bill on it.”

I never got to talk to you about that story. It’s one of the many things I never got to talk to you about, because you died in 1989. But I’d like think that you’re proud of our country right now. And I’d like to think that you would have voted for Barak Obama, too. And against Proposition 8.

 

I Still Can’t Believe It

In my lifetime…

…a black man became President-Elect of the United States of America.

…same-sex couples are now legally married.

That is all I have to say. I want to just revel in the success for a while.

And both of them gifts. Requiring just the most minor amount of effort on my own part.

Both of them worthy of crying tears of joy.

Neither of them did I expect to see in my lifetime.

All I Want for Christmas Is a Robot Friend

My downstairs neighbor and I hit it off almost as soon as he moved in. Turns out we’re both huge geeks with just enough of an overlap in interests to loan each other books we don’t actually own. Yesterday, he loaned me something way better, though:

Widdershins, the singing, vaccuum-cleaning robot.

I know Roombas aren’t new, but it’s the first time I’ve had one in my own house, merrily chugging away. When you push the little button, it sings a happy little I’m-going-to-clean-your-floors song. When it chokes on an item of clothing you forgot to pick up off the floor, it sings a little HALP! song. When it’s all done making your floors shiny and clean, it sings a happy little I’m-done-cleaning-now song. And when it runs out of juice, it sings a sad little I’m-all-run-down song.

A few months ago, when they installed the new super-duper security gates in the downstairs lobby of my office building, I had an epiphany. We have little robot friends everywhere! The robots in the lobby read my RFID card, think a little while, and then beep and let me in. They’re posh robots, all stainless steel with some wood detailing and frosted-glass gates.

More and more people have little robot friends in their houses, chugging away sucking up dirt, mopping floors, or reading them their email. And the designers have wisely made them as cute as the DRDs from Farscape.

I can has robot frienz?

Ten Moments in Northern California

  1. All alone in San Francisco. In the early morning, the line for the cable cars is much shorter. A family from Ohio sits next to me on the wooden step. I don’t take pictures. I look. At each intersection, the cable car stops for a moment, hovering there on the side of a hill, and you see down a long avenue, past buildings and cars and streets and people. At the end of the street, there’s the bay, and the bridge arcing gracefully between buildings, and little puffy clouds scooting across the sky.
  2. After wandering through Chinatown I return to my hotel room for a nap and wake up at midnight. The cool moist air of the city surrounds me. I roll over and go back to sleep.
  3. In Petaluma we stay at a Sheraton at the edge of a marsh. I walk the path that skirts the dense, low vegetation and the mudflats. Highway 101 roars nearby and the marsh is ringed with litter and office buildings. It’s a long, long walk, and my muscles, complaining after three days of San Francisco hills, soften and then tighten again. At the farthest point, I see three egrets and two herons. This is one of the last wetlands on the California coast.
  4. The Cathedral Grove at Muir Woods has been designated a “quiet zone.” The redwoods stretch up forever, a thousand, two thousand years old. Determined to make it to the grove, I push on ahead of the rest of my family. My six-year-old niece walks with me, and she is so very good about remaining silent in this silent, sacred place. Other tourists blather on, take photos. She shushes them. In spite of the chatter here and there, I can hear and feel the silence, the weight of these old, old beings, here long before the cars and chips and subdivisions.
  5. On the way to Petaluma, we stopped and took in the perfect view of the bay, the city, Oakland, the hills, and the graceful orange curves of the Golden Gate. On the way back, fog envelops the bridge, the thick suspension cables fading into the mist.
  6. The eucalyptus trees, heavy and shaggy and fragrant. Lining the highway, brought here by missionaries one hundred and fifty years ago.
  7. My brother’s house is an Eickler. The facade is a blank wall, softened by native plants artfully placed. Inside, glass walls and the high, sloped ceiling, draw in the greenery of the atrium and the back garden. It’s like being inside a work of art.
  8. At night in Santa Cruz I cross the boardwalk with my family, then leave them behind and greet the ocean. In the dark, seals bark to each other and the sea practices her endless rush. On the boardwalk, roller coasters and ferris wheels sparkle in the darkness, and people scream on the rides. I walk the strand between the two worlds.
  9. The next afternoon I hike from the boardwalk to West Cliff. Signs remind me to keep right. From time to time I stop and listen to the pounding of the surf, a whump I’ve never heard from the Atlantic. Surfers lay atop their boards, and from time to time one pops up and rides the curving white head of a wave to the edge of the rocks.
  10. At the beach below the Surfer’s Museum, I sit on the sand and watch four teenagers talk about their summer jobs. From the cadence of their speech I can tell they are from Northern California. The sun, the blue oceans, the waves, lull me. I roll over on my side. My niece calls to me across the sand. I sit up and she runs to me. I pick her up and swing her around. Her father and my mother trail behind. Her father, my brother, has lived on this coast for 20 years. He’s a different man now than the boy I grew up with on the opposite side of the continent. And still my brother. Still family.

San Francisco, Open Your Golden Gates

Arrived after 1:00 am on Friday night (Saturday morning, I suppose) and stayed at the Mosser Hotel in downtown San Francisco. It’s located in SoMa (South of Market), an area where a lot of multimedia companies set up shop during the heady days of the 1990s dot-com boom.

I’ve come to realize something about Northern California. It’s a very unsettled place. It’s like the hills of San Francisco: sudden upturns and downturns. Nothing seems quite solid here. The excesses of the 1848 Gold Rush still echo in this place. Fortunes made and lost overnight, glittering towers built and then ruined when the earth turns over in her sleep.

It is my homeland; at some deep level, I will always be a California girl. Not the easygoing, bubble-headed beach bunny that most people think of when you say “California girl.” But a California girl nevertheless. The dry, brown hills that bloom emerald in the winter, the live oaks that dot the crevices of those hills, the eucalyptus that towers and sheds its minty bark, the fog that rolls in and out. My heart swells to think of these things. It feels right to me.

But I’ve come to realize I cannot live here. The sun is too hot. The asphalt stretches on for miles. All the evils of the big box sprawl seem that much more apparent to me. The pockets of old California, the marshes and the forested hills, they call to me, but in the same way that the Cape calls to me. I love the fantasy of living in these places, but if I moved to either place, I’d probably go mad.

I am an Easterner, a Yankee, with Yankee sensibilities. I love the crisp air of September, the golden light that fades against the tops of trees in October. I love the smell of apples and the calmer waters of the Atlantic. The sea belongs in the east, not the west.

Besides, I wasn’t born in San Francisco. I was born in the South Bay, in a valley ringed by mountains and filled with asphalt. Back when I was 12 years old, I came to stay with my grandparents for a month. And I hated it, the flatness of the land and the one-story houses, the claustrophobic privacy fences that portioned off one tiny yard from another. The miles and miles of streets and cars. The valley is one big suburb that stretches on for miles and miles, a wasteland of cars and strip malls. Not that we don’t have these things in the East, but they’re tucked away among hills and rivers and trees. I long for the wide vistas of California, but once I’m here I tire of them quickly.

This land is lovely but it is not, in the long run, home. It is the homeland. I visit the homeland. And then I return to my home, in the East.

Love, Logic, Fear, and Investment

“Do you love me?” I asked him. In the dark. Fearful.

“Yes, I love you,” he said, surprised. “Why would you think I didn’t love you?”

I rose up and kissed him. “I just like to hear it,” I said.

If you spend your whole life dealing with mysterious man-disappearances, with a sudden slippage when you least expect it, perhaps it’s logical to expect it to keep happening.

In finance, past performance is no guarantee of future results.

In psychology, past behavior is the most reliable indicator of future response.

Of course, I’ve never invested in Army Guy before. Nor was he one of those other men who mysteriously disappeared.