In Which I Admit to Being Totally Shallow

Confession: I have always been a little vain about my hair. Not that I spend a lot of time on it, or think about it a lot. I don’t. But it’s naturally blonde and straight and for as long as I can remember people have told me I was very lucky to have hair like this.

My hair is also on the greasy side. To keep it under control I’ve been a daily hair washer since junior high. Even when I had newborns and I sometimes struggled to eat regular meals or sleep more than 10 minutes a day, I made showering a priority. Washing my hair was the thing that saved my sanity and made me feel like a human being. This isn’t a big deal most of the time, because I live in a developed country with access to reliable plumbing. But it’s one thing I really dislike about camping – dirty hair.

Now I reveal just how shallow I am. The biggest issue I struggled with when I considered going to Burning Man was my hair. There’s no running water at Burning Man. I bought a shower bag and my camp has a shower stall but showering will be much less frequent and reliable when I’m camping in the desert than it is in my shower at home. Porta potties? No problem. Dirty clothes? No problem. Cooking on a camp stove? No problem. A whole week of greasy, dust-covered hair? Major problem.

I tried googling how to take care of your hair at Burning Man. Here’s a summary of the available advice:

  1. Shave your head and/or get dreadlocks. If you care about something as stupid as hair you don’t belong at Burning Man.
  2. Just put it in a ponytail/wear a hat/ignore it. Everyone else has gross hair, too, so you shouldn’t worry about it.
  3. Condition, condition, condition. The playa dust is alkaline and drying and your hair will need nourishment. In fact, don’t even think about shampooing, just rinse it if you can and add more conditioner. Then condition it some more.

The first piece of advice may be true, but at this point I’m going even if I am way too superficial, so it isn’t helpful.

The second piece of advice also may be true, but if I were able to just put it out of my mind and not think about it I already would have, so it also isn’t helpful.

The third piece of advice, on the other hand? Actually super helpful. If the playa dust really is that drying, then maybe my hair will be dusty but not particularly greasy. In my book this is okay. In fact, this piece of information was actually the thing that finally convinced me I could do this. Because apparently I’m only open to life changing experiences if my hair is manageable (insert eye roll here).

Fast forward to last month. I found myself randomly chatting with an acquaintance at my nephew’s birthday party. I mentioned Burning Man, and my hair fears. We got to talking about hair and she confessed that she rarely washes hers. She does regularly rinse it out in the shower, and she uses powder in her hair as a dry shampoo. She told me that the dry shampoo made a huge difference to her. I realized that it might be time for an experiment.

I have experimented with alternatives to traditional shampoo in the past. I did the shampoo free (“no poo”) thing for a couple of years. It was fine. Using baking soda and apple cider vinegar to wash my hair didn’t really differ at all from shampoo in my experience. It still got my hair clean, and my hair still felt gross if I didn’t wash it again the next day. Which is why, ultimately, I went back to shampoo. It was just easier. What it does demonstrate, though, is that I’m not averse to experimenting.

If my research is accurate, playa dust is essentially dry shampoo. So to see how my own hair would manage I recently made some DIY dry shampoo by adding essential oil to corn starch. The essential oils are mostly just to make my hair smell good. I still shower every day, and rinse out my hair regularly, but I’ve gone a couple of days without washing it. My observations are that after using the corn starch mix my hair looks fine and smells good. It definitely feels different than it does after shampooing. There’s stuff on my head. However, it’s soft and actually has body, probably because of that stuff.

Here’s the photographic evidence. From left to right the photos show my just-washed hair, my hair after one day of the dry shampoo regimen, and my hair after day two of the dry shampoo regimen.

burning man hair dry shampoo

burning man hair dry shampoo

The punch line? Dry shampoo isn’t as great as actual shampoo, but I can handle it. So, if the playa dust really does dry out your hair, I should be fine because it will keep the grease under control. And my hair won’t be as damaged by the dryness because my scalp will be working overtime to produce natural oils to balance things out. If I’m right I have a solution that will work well enough that I won’t be crying about my hair on my camping trip.

I’ll report back afterwards and let you know how it actually works out. Fingers crossed for hair success.

Burning Man Preparations – Not Packing Light

Confession: I do not pack light. Ever. Maybe it’s all those years of Girl Guides and learning to be prepared. Maybe it’s all those times as a mom when I was burned because I only packed two extra outfits for my toddler, or didn’t think to bring along three spare hats, or seven different snack options. Whatever the reason, no matter where I’m going I always, always, always bring a ton of stuff just in case.

In fact, when I was in labour with my second baby and checking into the hospital the triage nurse laughed at the large suitcase I was lugging with me. But (1) I’d ended up in the hospital for four days when Hannah was born due to complications, and (2) I really wanted slippers, and my big terry bathrobe, and magazines, and extra pajamas, and…

On that occasion, first I cried because the nurse laughed and I was going through a lot emotionally, hormonally, and physically at that precise moment. Then I had the baby 45 minutes later and went home four hours after that, so I used none of it. But I viewed that suitcase as my security blanket and was glad I’d brought it. Because what if I’d needed those extra sweaters?

Anyway, now that I’m planning to pack up my minivan to drive to Burning Man in 25 (!!!) days, you can imagine the level of packing that’s going on up in here.

But first things first. Why am I driving? There are two big reasons. The first is that for Burning Man you’re required to bring all of your own gear. There’s no running water, no buildings, no…anything. And no place to buy any of that stuff on site. If you want something, you better pack it in, and there’s no easy way to get all the stuff you need for a week-long camping trip on to a plane. Plus, even if I did that the Black Rock Desert, where Burning Man is held, is super remote. I’d still need to arrange transportation from Reno to the middle of nowhere. So, driving is the best option. Here’s the planned route:

burning man map

Now, what kinds of things am I bringing with me? The most important item is a very fancy shelter called a ShiftPod. It’s designed to be dust proof, and it’s very roomy. In fact, it’s so roomy that these photos don’t do it justice, but here they are, anyway.

shiftpod burning man

burning man shiftpod interior

I’m also bringing a bike, but fortunately that’s being shipped separately. And water and ice are being supplied by my camp, so that’s one less thing I need to bring.

Otherwise, it’s a lot of the stuff you’d expect. Tons of sunscreen. A camp stove, dishes and coolers for the food I’ll buy en route. A collapsible table and chairs. An inflatable mattress and a sleeping bag. Water bottles and goggles. Extension cords and chargers to connect to the camp’s electrical supply. A heater for nighttime. Good boots. Hot weather clothes and cold weather clothes, and some fun stuff like a BB-8 dress and a cowboy hat. LED lights to light up both the camp and myself, which is actually more practical than ornamental since it’s ridiculously dark at night. This belt with pouches, called “Playa Pockets”, which is like a cooler twist on a fanny pack (FYI – the dry lakebed where Burning Man happens is called “the Playa”).

burning man drawer unitMy solution for packing my clothes and toiletries is an old plastic drawer unit that we’re no longer using. I’m finding that this is a really elegant way to go. It’s so easy to throw one or two items in as I think of them. I anticipate it will also be nice to have all my stuff in what amounts to a dresser once I’m in camp. I won’t have to dig through bins or suitcases, which should make it easier to find things and stay organized.

Right now the drawer unit, the ShiftPod, and everything else are in my garage, which has become a staging area. I also have most of my friend’s gear, including his guitar, because we’re driving down together, so all of that stuff will be in the van, too.

I’ve done one trial run and was able to fit everything I had at the time into the minivan without breaking a sweat or removing the second row seats. I have more items now so I’ll need more space, but the plan is to remove the second row seats and leave them behind so that will buy a bunch more room. I haven’t done that yet because it’s kind of a pain and I need those seats for my kids right now. But the punchline is I have verified that I can physically transport this stuff.

burning man staging area

The interesting thing is that “Radical Self-Reliance” is one of the 10 principles on which Burning Man operates. What that means is that, unlike that triage nurse, this is a community that really seems to value overpreparation. After all, if you’re in the middle of the desert without the means for survival, the outcome can be really bad. If you don’t have food or shelter it’s unlikely that the other 70,000 people will abandon you, but it’s far preferable to make sure you’re meeting your own needs and planning for pretty much any outcome.

You guys, I finally found the vacation I’ve been training for my whole life. The vacation where bringing too much stuff is more celebrated than frowned on. Bring it on.

The Soccer Mom Goes to Burning Man

I’ve gone through some big changes in my life in the past few years.

Going back to school.

Applying to, and completing, teacher training.

Getting my minor in environmental education, and re-discovering my love for the outdoors and the good parts of camping.

Working as a substitute teacher.

Watching my own children grow and change and become more and more independent.

Making new friends and building a new social circle.

Taking skiing up again, and getting pretty flipping good at it.

There are things I wouldn’t have dreamed of doing a few years ago, that I now do frequently. My word for 2017 is adventure, and I would say that for the most part I’m living up to it. And now I’m really embracing it, because this summer I’m planning to attend Burning Man.

Burning Man

Aerial view of the festival. Photo credit: Viaggio Routard on Flickr

As in, I have a ticket, and travel plans, and a couple of costumes to wear.

If you’re not familiar, Burning Man is a massive alternative arts festival that takes place each year in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada in the week leading up to Labour Day. The culminating event is when this massive wooden effigy (the “man”) is burned (…as in, “Burning Man”).

The event itself is, well, I don’t really know yet. Everyone says it’s amazing. And terrible. And transformative. And the worst vacation ever. I do know that it’s very dusty, hot during the day, cold at night, and rustic. It’s also massive, with about 70,000 people attending last year. For a week they all build a city from nothing. There’s no running water. No flush toilets. No real amenities of any kind. Amazing art displays. A strong culture of inclusion, self-reliance, participation and communal effort. And did I mention the dust?

Burning Man

Photo credit: Jon Collier on Flickr

I’m going with a friend who’s been twice before. I’m joining a camp that provides some good stuff like water, ice and electricity. I have a very cool, supposedly-guaranteed-dust-proof shelter and a bike. I bought myself new boots and a portable shower. I made myself some hoodies to stay warm and look cute. I’m reading the Survival Guide cover to cover. I’m stocking up on sunscreen and LED lights to wear at night so that no one runs me over in the dark.

I’m doing my very best to prepare. I’m not really sure I can prepare. I sort of wonder if I’ve lost my mind.

Burning Man

Photo credit: dvsross on Flickr

Here’s the thing, though. This is my one shot. If you don’t have a boatload of money you pretty much need to drive in and out of Burning Man, and leaving is not a quick process. There’s this whole “exodus” rigamarole to get your car from your camp to the road that took my friend eight hours last year. That’s eight hours after you’ve packed up and before you actually begin the 15 hour drive back to Vancouver. It would be difficult, if not actually impossible, for me to make it back home in time for the first day of school.

This year? I can do it because I’m a substitute teacher. I can just book the first week of school off when I likely wouldn’t be that busy anyways. But by next year I’m hoping to have my own classroom. I’ll need to spend the last couple of weeks of summer preparing. I’ll need to be there with bells on when school starts.

Maybe I’ll hate Burning Man. Maybe I’ll regret going. But I suspect that I would regret not taking the shot more. I’m old enough to know that time is precious, and you need to seize opportunities as they present themselves. Which is why this summer I’ll be taking out the booster seat, loading up the minivan, kissing the kids good-bye and dancing in the desert.

Bring it on.

My Name is Not Megan

I am not really much of a blogger anymore, but I still get a lot of unsolicited email. I usually ignore it. When people get in touch asking me to cover stories I understand why they’re doing it, and to some extent I’m flattered, but I just really don’t have the time to respond to everyone.

On Wednesday I got an email that at, at first blush, I took for one of those messages. But for whatever reason I took a closer look and quickly realized it was something different. A woman who I’ll call Ms. X was emailing to let me know that my photo was being used in connection with a house for rent in St. Catharines, Ontario. The photo didn’t appear in the rental ad itself, but when she emailed she got a reply that included this:

Thank you for your interest in our 2 bedroom.

About us:

My name is Megan and my husband is Thomas, blessed with 2 Children; Jason and Sara, We have a 2 bedroom house in…St. Catharines, ON

At the bottom of the email was this picture.

Strocel Family Portrait

Clearly, the idea was that “Megan” and “Thom” and “Jason” and “Sara” were the people contained in that photo. A lovely family that moved and now needs renters for their home. Which, no, they’re not. That’s Amber and Jon and Jacob and Hannah. I can offer that on the best authority. And I have never been to St. Catharines, Ontario, nor do I own property there. Although I’m sure it’s lovely.

Ms. X discovered that I used that image in this blog post: A Canadian Family: Heritage and Identity. She surmised, correctly, that I was unaware and sent me the email she had received. So thank you, Ms. X. I really appreciate it. You didn’t have to go out of your way and you did.

After the first vaguely nauseous feeling passed, I got in touch with a close friend of mine who’s a lawyer. He informed me that this wasn’t just bad Internet etiquette, it was out-and-out identity theft. Regardless of how or where I had shared the image, it is unlawful for anyone else to misrepresent my likeness as their own for any purpose. This made me feel better. People have used my images before, sometimes with permission and sometimes without. But they’ve always been properly attributed, and used in ways I was comfortable with. This felt…different. And it turns out that it is different.

Plus, he told me that in all probability this rental ad is fraudulent in and of itself. The spelling mistakes, the religious references, the fact that they’re sharing my photo when I obviously won’t be around to hand over keys – they’re all red flags. This is what makes it particularly gross – my kids were being used in an attempt to dupe people out of their money.

Apparently, this sort of thing is on the rise. Jon and I have a friend who recently rented an apartment. When responding to ads on Craigslist she got a couple of replies that were very fishy. And I read this story about someone who found a whole lot of furniture in his driveway because a fraudster rented his Ottawa house, while he was living in it and had no awareness of the situation. Of course the person who thought they were renting the house was the real victim, but it sucks for everyone. Except, I suppose, whoever made off with the cash. They’re doing fine, other than the bad karma.

Today I got a Facebook message that confirmed my worst suspicions. Someone I’ll call Ms. Y sent me a message letting me know that someone used my photo to scam her out of over $2000 on renting a house that wasn’t really for rent. I’m going to assume it’s the same person. I really hope it’s the same person who emailed Ms. X, because if it isn’t, well, it means things have gone even farther, which makes a gross situation even grosser.

In truth I’m the lucky one here. I might feel icky but I haven’t lost any money. I was not the victim of fraud myself. My lawyer friend drafted a strongly worded letter and I submitted a report to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre so they’re aware of the situation. My hope is that whoever is using my image decides that it’s more trouble than it’s worth and moves on. But much more than that I hope more people become aware of this type of scam, and fewer people fall prey to it.

My name is not Megan. My husband does not work for Canadian Tire. I do not have a house for rent in St. Catharines or anywhere else. And I am now the victim of an identity theft that fraudsters used to scam people out of thousands of dollars.

Some days it’s harder to have faith in people than others. Today is one of the days when it’s harder.

Poem for March: All In

Recently I re-embraced my adolescent love of writing poetry. Many of them are written just for me, but others are for sharing. And so, a blog series is born.

Here is a poem I wrote just now. Today was the first day of Spring Break. In the six months since I shared my last poem I have been busy. I’m working full-time as a substitute teacher. I love it. Every day is an adventure, getting to know new students, learning new things. I teach every subject, from kindergarten to grade 12, depending on where I’m most needed. Spanish. Art. Wood shop. P.E. Math. Science. Social studies. English as an additional language. You get the picture. Some days I go to more than one school, and work with more than one class in each. It’s busy and hectic and amazing.

And then, when I have time off, I do my best to make the most of it. I go skiing. I take my kids on adventures. I spend time with friends. My life feels full. Replete.

Don’t you love that word?

And so I wrote this poem, which is about diving into life head-first and embracing what it holds.

All In

Moderation in all things
Even moderation
Such common advice
It must be true
Just not for me

I do not sip life
I gulp it thirstily
Let its juices dribble
Down my chin
Experience is
Such messy stuff

Coffee, wine, joy
Pain, milkshakes
They sit in my heavy
Stomach filling me
With love and regret

Had I known then
Maybe I would
Have learned a
Different way
Now I am too wise
For actual wisdom

Now I dance under
Wide skies with mages
Abhorring temperance
In a universe of
Utter repleteness

Hannah + 12

My husband Jon and I are both oldest children. All of our parents are oldest children, as well. This means that when our daughter Hannah was born she was not only our first child, she was also the first grandchild and the first great-grandchild on all sides.

She was, in short, The Baby. She immediately became the first direct descendent in a decade or two, and the first niece and nephew for our siblings. Her baby pictures tell the story.

The past 12 years have flown by. The Baby has been joined by one younger brother, five first cousins, and a whole bunch of second cousins (there are at least eight, but I may be forgetting someone). She is not so little anymore. The tiny 5lb 4oz bundle who arrived six weeks ahead of schedule is now a middle schooler with dreams and ambitions and friends and opinions that she can – and does – articulate. She is a tween who has her own Instagram account and communicates with me via text messages. She has grown from The Baby to The Babysitter and she has the Red Cross certificate to prove it.

This feels like a big deal to me. I remember being 12 years old. And not in the way I remember being six years old – with a sort of fuzzy around the edges nostalgia. I remember the angst of being 12, the social drama, the projects I worked on in school, the boys I had crushes on, the sleepovers at my friends’ houses, the bad poetry I wrote, getting my first job as a babysitter, and on and on and on. I was younger and more earnest, but I was me. I really came into myself that year in so many ways, and I see that happening for Hannah right now. And even as I’m tickled pink I’m overcome by the bitter sweetness of parenting.

I’m working myself out of a job. It’s both fantastic and heartbreaking. But it was always meant to be this way, and I knew that, and I can only embrace it. I actually do embrace it. Because this person that my daughter has become is pretty freaking amazing.

Happy birthday to my girl.

Happy birthday Hannah

A Word for 2017: Adventure

For the past number of years I’ve been choosing a word at New Year’s to represent what I wanted to bring into my life in the 12 months ahead. In 2011 that word was space. In 2012 I chose clarity. In 2013 I chose presence. For 2014 my word was forgiveness. For 2015 I chose strength. And for 2016 I chose confidence. For 2017 my choice is a little bit different: adventure.

adventure word of the year creek

Over the course of 2016 I had a number of experiences that stretched me in new ways. I completed my student teaching practicum in a grade 6/7 class. I attended environmental education field school here in the Vancouver area, which involved two overnight retreats (one at the beginning and one at the end), a visit to the landfill, interviewing a rock (for real), mapping an urban neighbourhood, and hanging out with some of the most awesome people I have ever met. Plus a whole lot more. I graduated and earned my teaching certificate. I started substitute teaching. I started skiing again. I turned 40.

And out of all of this came a big shift in my mindset.

I have always been a naturally conservative person. I don’t mean that I am politically conservative, or socially conservative. I mean that I am personally conservative, in that I resist change and upheaval. But what I learned by hanging out around a campfire with a bunch of people I really didn’t know at all, going swimming in an ocean that was cold enough to take my breath away and coming out laughing, and learning to ski on moguls, is that new and different can be good. Very, very good, in fact. Taking a leap and embracing new experiences leads to great things.

In short, I have discovered the wonders of living adventurously. Of accepting physical discomfort in exchange for personal growth. Of waking up to a phone call at 6:00am telling me what I’m going to teach that day and where, but never really knowing what’s in store. Of seeing what the trail holds for me as I whiz down the mountain.

I was recently speaking to a friend about my tendency to want to control everything in life. I love a meticulously crafted plan. I adore knowing what will happen, and when it will happen. My friend said that the trick isn’t giving up control. It’s not trying to control the things you can’t control. And for whatever reason, that hit me like a ton of bricks, the idea of acknowledging that I can’t control everything, and sometimes I shouldn’t even try. It makes logical sense, but it feels like a leap.

It also feels tremendously freeing. Because trying to control the uncontrollable is tiring – intellectually and emotionally. Giving that up would be a whole new way of living for me. A way of living that might just facilitate adventure.

That is exactly what I want more of in my life this year. Adventure.

How about you – are you choosing a word for the year? If so, I’d love to hear what it is, and how you’re setting your intentions for 2017!

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