Archives for February 2013

Adventures in Homemade Deodorant

My One Green Thing for February is trying homemade deodorant. Never one to do today what I can put off ’til tomorrow, I just mixed up my first batch last night. While I experiment with it, I thought I’d share the process with you.

I did my research a few weeks ago, and found two recipes that looked promising: this one and this one. Because I like to complicate things, I combined them and improvised a little bit to create my own recipe. Here’s what I used:

  • 4 Tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 Tbsp beeswax
  • 4 Tbsp arrowroot flour
  • 2 Tbsp baking soda
  • 10 drops tea tree oil
  • 10 drops grapefruit seed extract
  • 10 drops lavender essential oil
  • 5 drops peppermint essential oil
  • 1 old, clean deodorant tube

homemade deodorant diy ingredients

First, I put the coconut oil and beeswax in a small saucepan over low heat to melt. While that did its thing, I combined the arrowroot and baking soda in a glass bowl.

homemade deodorant diy melting

Once the oils were melted and combined, I mixed the whole thing together and added the oils and grapefruit seed extract. Then I mixed it together as well as I could, because lumpy deodorant does not seem like a good thing. Finally, I poured as much as I could into the deodorant tube, which is sitting in my fridge hardening right now. The rest went into a glass jar, that I put upstairs in my room. The theory is that the beeswax should make it hard at room temperature, but we’ll have to see.

homemade deodorant diy results

The whole process took about 10 minutes or so, and the cost of the materials was pretty small. I bought my stick of beeswax at the farmers’ market for $2. I already had the tea tree oil, arrowroot, coconut oil, and baking soda on hand. I bought the grapefruit seed extract and essential oils, and they weren’t cheap, but I used a really small amount. I would say that my DIY deodorant is quite a lot cheaper than the real thing. Now, the only question is: will it work? I’ll report back next week and let you know.

I’m Really Not That Bad, I Swear

When my daughter Hannah was three years old, she was a runner. Whenever we found ourselves in a public place, she’d seize the first opportunity to run off, laughing the whole way. She thought she was hilarious. I thought that she was infuriating. The fact that I was pregnant with my son at the time didn’t help matters, either. On many occasions I found myself yelling at her to Come! Back! Here! Right! Now! as I frantically tried to finish checking out library books or paying for groceries. The stares of all the strangers as she totally ignored me and ran even faster just made it all that much worse.

Upside down girlThese little episodes always ended more or less the same way. Eventually, I would have no choice but to run after her, panting under the weight of the ever-growing baby inside my belly. When I finally caught her, grabbing both arms firmly to keep her from escaping again, she would do two things. The first, which you will be highly familiar with if you’ve ever parented a preschooler, is she would go completely limp. The second, is she would yell loudly, “Ouch, you’re hurting me!” Since all eyes were already on us, anyway, there was no doubt that everyone within earshot heard her clearly. They had no way of knowing that she used the word hurting to mean stopping me from doing what I want to do. At home, she would say I hurt her when I denied her a cookie. They probably thought that I was squeezing her really hard, or pinching her, or something.

Kids have a way of making you look much worse than you really are. There’s a famous story from my own childhood in which I informed my grade one teacher, the delightful Miss Tan, that my daddy hit my mommy. This was patently untrue. What was true was that my parents sometimes play fought in the way that non-abusive couples will, in front of me. It was all very chaste and not at all worth mentioning, unless you were a six-year-old who had just heard an anti-abuse talk and didn’t really understand. Luckily, my teacher knew my mother well, and no one called in the authorities.

Sorry about that, Mom.

Shopping buddyMy son Jacob is a pro at making me look bad in front of other people, too. Like when he tells the doctor that his favourite breakfast is jelly beans, when I have never fed him jelly beans for breakfast. He just doesn’t know the difference between breakfast and lunch and snack and occasional treat. Or when he shows his grandmother the bruise he got when he ran in front of me while I was walking and I tripped and fell on him, saying, “Look, Mommy hurt me here.” He’s not trying to make me look like a bad parent, but he’s doing a pretty stellar job of it.

Fortunately, I think most people understand that this is just the way kids are. They’re like Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, keeping a catalogue of wrongs inside their little heads. When you combine that with developing language skills, sometimes it all comes out sounding much, much worse than it really was. All you can do, really, is laugh it off as best you can, and try not to care too much about what strangers may think of you. That, and hope that their grade one teacher knows you well enough to tell the difference between an abuse allegation and a confused six-year-old.

Or maybe you can wait until your grandchildren are making your kids look bad in front of other people. I’m sure my mother is enjoying that very much right about now.

Have your kids ever said or done anything in public to make you look like a terrible parent? Please share, I could use some commiseration!

Thinking About Roots

I’ve been thinking about roots, lately. Not literal roots, anchoring and nourishing plants, but metaphorical roots. The kind of roots that anchor and nourish people, connecting them to where they live, to the soil they walk on every day (even if it is buried beneath the concrete). I’ve been considering the way that the sights, sound, tastes – the whole feel of a place – can get under your skin and change the way you look at life.

I’ve been thinking about roots for two reasons. The first is that many of my friends are moving away. Some are moving five or six hours down the road, some across oceans, but all of them far enough of that I won’t see them anymore. Oh, maybe there will be a trip or two, and we have the wonders of technology to connect us. But they are leaving this place, and I am staying, and it won’t be the same. They are uprooting themselves, in a way that I never have.

The farm
Plants on Salt Spring, putting down roots

Sometimes I imagine my friends clipping the ties that are keeping them here with a pair of scissors, and floating up, up, up like balloons. They are free, not weighed down by the petty cares and concerns that fill life on earth. Pulling up roots has also removed the obligations that come along with those roots – obligations like remembering to take out the garbage once a week and trying to get along with that cranky neighbour. I imagine myself joining them, floating away, surveying a vivid green landscape below me, looking for a promising spot to land.

The real truth is that I don’t want to fly away from here. This is my home. And that brings me to the second thing that has me thinking about roots – my trip last weekend to Salt Spring Island, a smallish island that’s home to about 10,000 people not too far from me. In recent decades Salt Spring has become something of a hippie mecca. It’s home to artists and artisans, small-scale farmers and people going back to the land. You won’t find a McDonald’s or a Starbucks or an Old Navy there. Many of the houses are nestled amid tall trees, with big wood piles in a shed out front. There are lots of signs advertising pottery and art studios, and many farm stands selling fresh eggs and other farm goods at the side of the road.

goats on salt spring island
Goats enjoying the island vibe

Being on Salt Spring reminded me of my own roots. I was raised by hippies in a semi-rural setting. Cows grazed in fields across the street from my house, and many of my fondest childhood memories involve playing in a little creek beneath the tall trees of the forest. My father was a self-taught goldsmith, an artisan in every sense of the word, and a sign on our front lawn advertised that you could find his jewellery store in the front room of our house. That house was heated with wood, and I remember my parents out chopping up kindling in all weather. Inside our house, the only doors separated the studio and showroom from the rest of the house. Our bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchen – none of these had doors.

Being on Salt Spring was like taking a tour of of my life some 30 years ago. Many of these folks are creative people, moving away from the city, looking for a quieter lifestyle. The graffiti scribbled on the wall at the provincial park spoke of overthrowing our colonial-capitalist system. The children wore hand knits and big gum boots. While this was the first time I set foot on Salt Spring, the homes and the people looked familiar. My roots might not have been in that place, exactly, but they were in a place very much like it. I grew up steeped in the same sort of ethos that I felt as I ate local, free-range, organic eggs served to me by a young woman with henna on her arms and a laid-back sort of approach to waiting tables on Sunday morning.

Enjoying our kid-free weekend

I spent my childhood among people who made similar choices to the people on Salt Spring. The hard-scrabble-ness that comes with those choices is only really visible to me now, as an adult myself. Living in a semi-rural setting presents challenges. Making a living from your art presents challenges. Being a ferry ride away from a bigger community presents challenges. You embrace those challenges, because for you, the upsides outweigh the downsides. With my adult eyes, I saw both the challenges and the innovative solutions. The sacrifices and the gains. I found myself asking the inevitable question: would I choose it, too?

As my husband and I sat in our car for a rain-soaked ferry ride from Salt Spring to Victoria on our trip home, I realized that I have already chosen where to plant myself, right here in suburban Vancouver. I don’t want to leave this place to return to my counter-culture childhood. I don’t want to leave it in search of greener pastures, either. I found clarity as I sat in the passenger seat of my husband’s car, listening to the soft tap-tap-tap of the raindrops, gazing out through blurry, rain-streaked windows. I choose to plant my roots in this wild and rain-soaked country, where fir and cedar trees grow tall and straight, and the ocean is never too far away. I love that, in spite of the wilderness that’s always nearby, I’m 10 minutes from IKEA and within easy walking distance of four Starbucks locations.

Sun, islands and water
Luckily the trip to Salt Spring was nicer than the trip home

My roots are deep in the place I call home, and I’m choosing to stay right here. While my friends fly away, I send good wishes with them, hoping they find the perfect spot to plant themselves. I send good wishes to the potters and painters and artisanal cheese-makers on Salt Spring, too. While I feel a warm sort of familiarity with them, I happily drive away after buying some organic camembert. I’m pushing my roots even further into my thick, damp, suburban soil. I’m feasting on the nourishment that I soak up through them. It’s the best thing ever, this soul food that lets me know that I am just where I should be.

Where do you choose to put down your roots?

Tea Stash Challenge: 2013 Showdown

Last week I issued my second tea stash challenge, asking you to show me your tea stash. Now, the day of reckoning has arrived, and the question of who has the most tea will be answered. If you are a compulsive tea collector as I am, or you just enjoy seeing how much tea a tea hoarder can hoard, you’ll want to follow along closely. And because I am a good sport, whether it measures up or not, I will display my own stash proudly.

So, how does me stash stack up? In 2011 I had 17 kinds of tea in my collection. In 2012 I had 19 different kinds of tea in my collection. As of today I have 30 different kinds of tea. Clearly, my hoarding has only increased in the past year. So have the number of teas other people are gifting me with.

I have 11 herbal teas:

tea stash showdown herbal teas

I have 10 black teas:

tea stash showdown black teas

I have four rooibos teas (the “Herbal Blend” in this photo contains rooibos, so I’m calling it a rooibos):

tea stash showdown rooibos

And I have five “other” – two green, one oolong, one yerba mate and one blend of black, green and mate:

tea stash showdown other teas

That’s a lot of tea. Even I have to admit it. It’s even more when you consider that I am not a hard-core tea drinker. This is why I end up with so many boxes, tins and bags in my cupboard, and it presents something of a conundrum. Last year I worked my way through some of my stash by making iced tea. I think I should try that again. Maybe I should also send herbal tea to school in my kids’ thermoses. That was one of the best parts of my own hippie childhood.

Show me Your Tea Stash at Strocel.comNow I’ve shown you mine, which means it’s time for you to show me yours. What does your stash look like? How many different kinds of tea do you have? I want to know!

If you’ve written a post, please include it in my link-up. Everyone who adds their post before 9:00pm Pacific time on Thursday, February 28, 2013 will be entered into a draw. You don’t have to be a tea hoarder, or have 30 kinds of tea in your cupboard, to join in on the fun. I’ll buy the winner some tea, on me. As I mentioned in my post last week, I’m not being sponsored in any way, I just want to share the tea love. I hope you’ll play along and share the love, too.

Now, what are you waiting for? Show me your (tea) stash!

Repost: Podcast with Singer and Zen Mama Tara MacLean

I’m heading to Salt Spring Island here in British Columbia for the weekend. It’s my first time, and so I decided to re-air my interview with the lovely zen mama and Salt Spring resident Tara MacLean. Happy listening!

The now-defunct website once named me its “Best Teacher of Zen Motherhood”. I should have gotten a screen cap so that I could prove this, but since it’s now gone you’ll have to take my word for it. Since I often feel less-than-zen, I found this both flattering and a little bit surprising. But today on the podcast I’m thrilled to share an interview with one seriously zen mama, Tara MacLean Grand. Tara is most famous as a singer/songwriter. She’s worked as a solo artist and as part of the group “Shaye”. She’s also been part of a Canadian reality TV show. She’s toured internationally, appeared on Conan, and signed with some major record labels. And then she had babies, and she switched gears. Podcast Tara MacLean GrandIn speaking with Tara, I discovered someone who really embraces life, and jumps in to new experiences. In addition to being a singer/songwriter she’s a doula, the prenatal consultant to her husband’s company Moksha Yoga, and an ordained minister. As someone who tends towards being overcautious, I find the way that Tara follows her passions to be inspiring. Former podcast guest Christine Pilkington agrees, which is why Tara MacLean will be a video presenter at the Leading Moms event in Vancouver next week. If you’re in the area, you may want to check it out.

During our conversation Tara and I talked about music, motherhood, yoga, suffering, childbirth and the meaning of life. Tara leaps from profound truths to humour, and I think maybe that really is what makes her a model zen mama. She knows what matters, and she also knows not to take it all too seriously. We could all use a little bit more of that, I think.

Whether you’re a musician, a mom, or you could just use a little inspiration, I encourage you to listen to the podcast:

Next week I’ll be sharing a podcast on body acceptance with Jennifer Rowe, who blogs at Fat and Not Afraid. I’m really looking forward to it. If you’ve ever struggled with your own self-image, you’ll want to tune in. Subscribe to my podcast in iTunes and you won’t miss a minute! Also, if you have a podcast idea, please share it with me. I’d love to hear your suggestions!

Losing My First Name

I was just heading down the hill after dropping my daughter off at school yesterday morning, my umbrella clutched tightly in my hand against the February rain. As I dodged the throngs of people rushing here and there in the moments after the bell rang, I saw the smiling face of a six-year-old emerge from the crowd. She is one year younger than my daughter, and they’re in the same grade one/two split class. When the little girl saw me she paused and called, “Hi, Hannah’s mom!”

This phenomenon started seven years ago for me, when my then-one-year-old started daycare. In the midst of the parental guilt and the new lunch box and the indoor shoes packed carefully in a backpack labelled with my daughter’s name, a subtler transformation took place. No longer did we travel through the world as Amber and her daughter. Once my child started spending time away from me, we became Hannah and her mom. In my 30th year I went from being the person whose full name is written on the invitation to being the plus one. Miss Hannah Strocel and Guest.

The other parents and I joke about the fact we don’t know each other’s names. There are people who I have spent years sitting beside at the playground after school, chatting with, who I identify solely as So-and-So’s Mom. My cell phone contact list is now filled with entries that read something like Jane Doe – John Doe’s Mom. Because if I just listed poor Jane by her own name, I would have no idea who she was. It’s all okay, though, because I am listed in Jane’s phone as Amber – Hannah’s Mom. At some point, you surrender to the inevitable.

Hannah and Jacob's Mom
At school, we’re not Jacob, Amber and Hannah, we’re Jacob, Hannah and their mom

While I have had years of experience as Hannah’s mom, the process took me by surprise again when my son Jacob started daycare at three years old. I remember becoming confused as I filled out his forms. I made several mistakes, accidentally filling in either my own information, or my daughter’s. Once again, a child of mine was entering the world in his own right, and I felt disoriented. I had to shift my mindframe from being the moderator of all my child’s experiences, to being the woman with no name, smiling and nodding at other parents as we drop our children off in the morning.

There was a time when I knew everything that my children did, because I spent almost every waking moment with them – and a good portion of the sleeping ones, too. When I made the decision to send them out into the world on their own, I knew I would lose that. I didn’t expect to lose my own identity in the process. On the contrary, I thought that the separation would allow me to reclaim my identity. Although maybe it’s not really about losing or reclaiming anything. Maybe it’s just about taking on a new identity, that of a parent allowing my child to take first billing. They are becoming their own people, with their own social circles. I am still at the centre of their lives, but it’s right that they’re bringing other people into the mix, as well.

Yesterday morning, as Hannah’s friend waved at me and called, “Hi, Hannah’s mom!” I smiled and waved back. I used her first name, and didn’t bother correcting her and telling her what my first name was. The truth is, it’s not about me. For now, I’m just glad that my children are forming friendships, and that those friends smile when they see me. What they call me doesn’t matter half as much as those two things, so for now I am content to be the woman with no first name.

Musings from a Public Change Room

Public swimming pool change rooms are strange places. In them, you’ll find people of all ages and sizes, in various state of undress, engaged in fairly private acts of grooming. I spend my time in change rooms accidentally seeing things I didn’t mean to see, and then pretending I didn’t see them. It’s both awkward and funny for me.

At the moment both of my kids are doing swimming lessons. The lessons are scheduled back-to-back, two days a week, so I’m heading into the change room with one child or another quite a lot right now.

swimming pool
One of my first experiences swimming with my daughter Hannah

Yesterday, as I tried to get my daughter dressed and kept an eye on which unlocked locker my son was hiding in, I happened to catch a glimpse of a young woman in her bra. Even to my untrained eye, it was obvious that her bra was much too small for her considerable size. It struck me that she would be much more comfortable if she were wearing a well-fitted bra. After my own experience with the Bra Whisperer this summer, in which I realized my bras were two full cup sizes too small for me, I’ve become a convert in the ways of making sure you’re wearing the correct size. However, this young woman was a total stranger to me, and admitting that I’d seen her in her bra just didn’t feel socially acceptable. I left without saying anything, because what could I say?

This situation made me think about other situations in which I form an opinion on something that is, strictly speaking, none of my business. It happens all the time. Often, it’s just so much easier to opine on what other people should or should not do, than it is to decide what I should or should not do in my own life. The fact that I may or may not have all the information, and I may or may not have actually been in that situation myself, doesn’t necessarily stop me. Fortunately, I generally have the good grace to keep those opinions to myself, but I form them all the same.

One of the things that I’ve come to believe strongly as a breastfeeding advocate is that it’s inappropriate to cast judgment on a situation that you don’t fully understand. If someone comes to me seeking support and information, I’m happy to give it. However, the key point is that they have to come to me. And then, I need to get all the information, before I try to wade in. I don’t want to live in a world where we cast judgment on each other, causing each other unnecessary pain, especially when we don’t fully understand the situation at hand. The world needs more compassion and less judgment.

On the other hand, I also don’t want to live in a world where we turn a blind eye and decide that the lives of others are none of our business. I care about other people. If I see a situation I can help with, or a way I can alleviate someone else’s suffering, I like to think that I’d do that. I know that when other people have seen me struggling with my kids and offered their help, for instance, it’s made me feel good. So going through my life in a bubble, believing that no one else’s situation is any of my business, isn’t really a solution.

The problem for me is that it’s not always clear which is which. How do you know when your offer of help will be a lifeline, and how do you know when it will be construed as butting in? How do you know when sharing your own story will let someone else feel better understood, and how do you know when it will fall on deaf and / or annoyed ears? You don’t. This is why we create finely-tuned social conventions, in an effort to understand when and how to act, and when to step away. Those conventions don’t cover every situation, though.

My children don’t have the same discretion that adults do when it comes to sharing their opinions. They’ll share their thoughts or ask uncomfortable questions without batting an eye. They’ll do this with friends, relatives and strangers alike, as they seek to learn about the world and understand why people do what they do. As an adult, I often find this embarrassing, but luckily most people understand. Kids will be kids, and they don’t have the social filter that adults do. As we become more aware of the way other people perceive our actions, these questions of what to say and when become more nuanced and complicated.

I don’t know if I should have offered something to that young woman in the swimming pool change room. Would it have been better to risk embarrassment and say something? Or was it better to concede that she can wear whatever bra she likes, and go on with my day? In the end, I was so busy with my kids that I wouldn’t have had much opportunity to strike up a conversation, in any case. But these are questions I continue to wrestle with, and I’m just not sure I have any good answer for them.

What about you? Are you the sort of person who will offer your opinion to strangers in an effort to help them out? Or do you hold your counsel? And how do you decide when to wade in and when to stay out? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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