Joining the Ranks of the Two-Wheeled

When my children were small, and I was seriously embracing my inner hippie, I dreamt of owning a bicycle. I wanted one of those three-wheeled cargo bikes. I had visions of riding it to the library and the farmers’ market, my children securely strapped in, the basket overflowing with local produce and library books and fresh baked goods.

I’d had a bike in high school, which I rode a lot. Or, at least, I rode it a lot until I got my driver’s license. Then I moved away to go to university, and my mother moved from her townhouse into a condo, and the bicycle got sold or donated along the way. When I was in university and without a car I used transit pretty much exclusively. At the time, that worked for me. Then I graduated and bought my own car and had two kids and lived the suburban dream.

But I coveted a bicycle. Oh, how I coveted a bicycle.

With babies in tow, however, I saw the many impracticalities of cycling around my very rainy, very hilly, community. Our financial circumstances at the time also presented a challenge. While cycling is undoubtedly cheaper than driving, when faced with the reality that I mostly drive, the bike seemed like an unnecessary expense. And so for years and years my dreams went unrealized.

And then, a few weeks ago, I turned 42. This isn’t a milestone birthday, by any means. But in the past year my life has changed. I went from being a first year teacher, working exclusively as a substitute, to having a part-time contract and health benefits and all that jazz. I’ve managed to pay off the (thankfully modest) line of credit that supplemented our family’s income while I was a full-time student teacher. Our sacrifices to send me back to school have paid off. I could afford a bike.

Bike shopping was, initially, quite frustrating. I visited six different stores, all of which seemed to have very similar bikes at very similar price points. Read: more than I actually wanted to spend. And on top of that all of the salespeople insisted I needed something slightly different. I’m not a shopper at the best of times, and I very quickly became highly frustrated.

In the end, I decided to buy the bike that made me happy. I settled on the Opus Zermatt. I had a bond of affection with the bicycle because I had the pleasure of enjoying a loaner bike from Opus a number of years ago. It gave me the warm fuzzies, and it was pretty, and it came with fenders and reflectors and fancy leather handles on the handlebars. It’s designed as a commuter bike, and for someone like me who’s not racing or riding over roots and rocks it’s perfectly lovely. I splurged on an extra-comfy seat and a bell with an ice cream cone on it. I brought it home and rode it to the library.

bicycle opus zermatt

bike bell bicycle ice cream cone

My dreams have been realized, people. And the best part is that now my kids are old enough to ride with me. Bring on the summer!

Thoughts on a Rainy Sunday

I woke up this morning angry at my alarm clock. It was dark and rainy and extremely Novemberish and on top of that it was Sunday. Who sets an alarm on a Sunday? But I wanted to make it to church today so I heeded its warning cry and pried myself out of bed.

It’s the third day of a four day weekend. I should be happy and relaxed. Other than church I had nothing really to do today. It was my bonus day. My chance to catch up on cleaning and maybe watch some TV. Just hang out inside and hide from the rain. Maybe practice guitar

Oh yes – I started playing guitar last month. I spent October as an elementary school music teacher and I was inspired. Which is another thing I haven’t written about here. The teaching contract ended on October 27 but I kept playing guitar. It’s good. My fingers are frequently sore, but it’s good. It’s one of many good but sort of uncomfortable things in my world right now.


My life has been very hectic since I got back from Burning Man. I arrived home on Friday around dinnertime and on Sunday I got a substitute teaching dispatch to a new class that had just opened at a local school. The classroom had nothing other than desks and chairs. I arrived there the next morning and spent four days there, hoping that I’d get the contract to teach the class for the year. It was interesting setting up a classroom but I didn’t get the job. I was sad for a couple of weeks.

I continued looking for a job and substitute teaching. Finally, on my fifth job interview I got the four week music teaching contract. It was so much fun. I was a total celebrity amongst the kindergartners. We listened to “Puff the Magic Dragon” and danced with scarves. I was sad to leave, but the Monday after I left I got another job offer. Now I teach computers and grade 2/3 three days each week, and substitute teach the other two. This contract lasts until June 30th so I know where I’ll be the rest of the year. It’s good, and a nice balance between feeling settled and having the flexibility to book a Friday off if I want to.

But. There has been a lot of change. A lot of stretching myself and learning and feeling out of my depth. Good but uncomfortable. This weekend was my chance to finally rest. Catch my breath. Clean my extremely messy house.

rainCleaning doesn’t really float my boat though. So I plotted my escape. Yesterday I took the kids shopping on Granville Island. I bought chocolate and a hand-made broom. Such frivolous purchases, but they made me happy. After a couple of hours, though, I was frantic. Completely beside myself. I came home and collapsed. I had no energy left for anything. Which brings me to this morning.

Exhausted. Angry at my alarm clock and the world. Needing something that would actually leave me feeling restored.

Then I remembered: writing. Writing is my refuge. My way to make sense of things. The thing that makes me feel like myself again. And so I made myself a pot of tea and sat down here in this chair. I returned to this place that remains patiently waiting for me in spite of my neglect. This place that is completely and totally my own.

Some days I’m angry at the world. Some days the rain and the dark and the weight of obligation overwhelm me. Some days two months of job hunting and change and adjustment and learning the ropes gets to me. Some days I need to close my eyes to the things I could do or even should do and open them to the thing that will feed my soul.

And so I’m here. And I’m me again.

The Burning Man Recap

It’s been a little more than two weeks since I repacked my minivan and drove away from Burning Man. It’s been a little less than two weeks since I finally pulled back into my driveway, and was thrust back into the mayhem of a new school year as both a teacher and a parent. I’ve been processing, but it has been a struggle to find the time to really write about the grating, transformative and utterly mundane experience I had in the desert.

burning man art

The Amazing Parts

Burning Man is built around 10 principles, two of which are decommodification and gifting. Once you arrive you can’t buy, sell or trade anything (other than a few basic survival items that Burning Man itself sells). Many attendees, including me, join camps that have public areas. If you stop by a camp’s public area you’ll find that many offer some type of gift. For instance, I found one camp that gifts a wide array of hand-blended teas, which you custom order either hot or iced. I found another camp that bakes bread in a wood-fired oven and serves it hot, with jam, every morning. Many camps have bars serving liquor, others give away costumes, and others offer a wide array of workshops. Our camp offered a bike repair shop, and my friend and I served tea and fortune cookies. All you have to do to receive one of these gifts is show up.

burning man fortune cookies gifting

There is a saying that “the playa provides” and I definitely found this to be true. I was wandering around very late on the night that the man burned with a craving for something sweet. I met a guy dressed in a banana costume handing out banana candies, who kept pressing me to take more. And one day when I was overtired and grumpy I came across a camp serving the best freshly ground, French-pressed coffee. All I had to do was hand grind some beans for the next person. These are things that would great at anytime, but when you’re tired and dusty they’re beyond amazing.

The art, though, was really my favourite part. Black Rock City, the name of the city built up for the event, is constructed in a semi-circle with a big empty area in the centre where the man is. On the empty desert north of the man is the temple, and massive art installations are placed between the city and the man and the temple and beyond. It’s really huge, and very difficult to see it all. While there are maps showing where the art pieces are, given that you’re wandering large distances in a barren landscape, sometimes in the dead of night, it takes on a serendipitous quality where you stumble across things and feel the thrill of discovery.

art burning man grammaphone

art burning man

art burning man

art burning man

The art pieces themselves are also different at night than during the day. The big hit this year was the tree, which during the day simply looked like a lovely large tree in the middle of the desert. Even though it was obviously artificial everyone sat under it as if it were real. At night it really came alive, as each leaf was lit and changed colour as if the seasons were shifting, or the wind was rippling through it. I even saw a wedding happen under the tree one night.

burning man art tree

burning man art tree

burning man art

burning man art

burning man art

burning man art

While the art was my favourite part overall, the single event that I enjoyed most was the Playa Choir performance. Attendees can join the choir, and they practice all week. On Sunday they perform twice – once at sunrise at the temple (I wasn’t awake for this one) and once at 11:00am in the choir dome. The performance is like a rousing non-denominational church service, and the music was outstanding. It was all capped off with a “communion” in which attendees shared whatever food they had left with everyone else. I left feeling inspired and transformed and like the whole trip was worth it just for that hour and a half.

And of course, there was the burn, complete with fire dancers and pyrotechnics and a giant celebration.

burning man the burn the man

The Terrible Parts

There are no amenities at Burning Man. The bathroom facilities consist of porta potties, and you have to bring your own food and water and, well, everything. It has all the discomforts of camping in the desert, but it’s happening in the middle of a busy city of 70,000 people, many of whom are constantly partying. I was frequently woken up at night by a passing art car playing booming music. There’s no escaping, no quiet, no solitude. You’re part of a week-long non-stop maelstrom and it’s relentless, right down to the noisy generator running outside my tent all night.

The weather this year was very hot. Not surprising in the desert in Nevada, I know, but apparently it was worse than usual. It didn’t really get cold at night, which was a good thing, and there were few dust storms, which was also a good thing. But the afternoons were scorching, and I spent most of them resting in camp because walking or cycling was out of the question. And the couple of dust storms I did experience were unpleasant, with little or no visibility. Fortunately I carried dust masks around with me, and wore goggles at all times, because not having those things would have made everything that much worse.

Speaking of dust, it’s everywhere. As a first-timer the greeters had me roll around on the ground upon arrival. The idea is that you’re going to be covered in dust all week, so you might as well just embrace it. I did my best, but it was pretty unpleasant. The dust is superfine and alkaline and very drying. This meant that my hair was better than I anticipated, since the information I’d read about the dust basically acting as dry shampoo was true. But it also meant that in spite of using my shower bag every day and being very liberal with handy wipes, I was always covered in a layer of the stuff. And so was the inside of my tent. And every item of clothing I wore. And my food.

burning man dust greeters welcome

burning man dust

As for food, I brought plenty. However, as the week progressed I ate through most of the fresh stuff and some things got ruined, like a loaf of bread that got moldy and another that ended up soaking wet when I put it in a cooler to keep it from molding as well. I was never hungry, but over time I found myself craving more variety. By the time it was Friday and everyone was tired and cranky, and more weekend partiers were arriving, the combination of heat and dust and noise left my resources low and little issues like running out of hummus seemed like Big Hairy Deals.

Most of the people I met were amazing, but a few were just plain inconsiderate. People steal street signs, which makes it difficult to get around. And while there were no majorly gross porta potty disasters that I witnessed, some people left garbage or toilet paper on the floor, and potty locks got broken. Out walking one night I tripped over an open and mostly full can of beer, which I picked up, and since you’re required to cart out all your own waste that meant I was now responsible for someone else’s undrinkable garbage. It happened because at night in the desert it’s very dark and you can’t see, so tripping over waste, riding your bike into people who aren’t wearing lights, or colliding with a bike that’s been left on the ground without lights is a real risk. People get seriously hurt.

All of the terrible parts are why, as we packed up the van at sunrise on the last day, I was eager to leave.

burning man sunrise exodus

That Thing That Happened

The big cloud that hung over Burning Man this year, and the thing everyone has asked me about since I got home, was the man who ran into the fire and later died from his injuries. Something that’s important to understand is that while the giant wooden effigy of the man is burned, we’re all sitting in a giant circle around the whole thing, with a big open empty space between the spectators and the fire. There’s a multi-layer perimeter set up in this empty area to keep us all at a safe distance. I’m bad at estimating distances, but it was far. Like over a hundred feet.

I was near the front of the crowd, and facing me was a perimeter guard who knelt down with his back to the fire during the burn and watched us. And to his right and left all the way around the circle there were other guards, maybe eight feet apart or so. The fire dancers were allowed on the other side of these guards, but a few feet from them was another perimeter with another set of perimeter guards. And further in there were firefighters and so on patrolling the fire.

This means two things:

  1. It is impossible to accidentally end up in the fire. Six separate people attempted to stop the man who ran in, and I understand that he struck one of them to make it into the fire.
  2. For those of us watching, it was difficult or impossible to see the man run in because even if you’re at the right angle (which you probably aren’t) you’re very far away and the fire itself is very bright.

I didn’t see it at all. My friend who was sitting with me noticed a brief commotion, but had no idea what it was. Campmates of ours saw him run but weren’t aware if he actually made it into the fire or just got close, whether or not he was hurt, or how badly he was hurt. While we were sad to hear that it happened, there was very little news at the event itself, and very little discussion. I wouldn’t say that, in general, it ruined the rest of the burn for the people who were there. A group of folks that we sat beside the next night during the temple burn hand’t even heard about it at all until we told them.

I’m thinking about this in the same way that I would think about anyone ending their own life. It’s a tragedy. I wish it hadn’t happened. I mourn for the man and his family. I understand that sometimes darkness takes people. And I still choose to enjoy my life and focus on the amazing experiences that make me who I am. I had a great time at the burn and I carry great memories with me.

What Next?

burning manAs of right now, I don’t plan to go back to Burning Man. I’m hoping that I will have a teaching contract soon, and that I’ll start off the next school year with my own classroom. However, I enjoyed my first burn immensely, and I’m incredibly glad that I got to go to the event. I took a chance, set out on an adventure, and made incredible memories. Now my next adventure is building relationships with students and growing professionally.

Happy burn!

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.

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