Category Archives: beauty

Ask the hippie: Henna

I haven’t done an “Ask the Hippie” in ages, but I’ve gotten several questions about henna lately.

Q. What is henna, and how do you use it?

A. Henna is an exotic plant whose leaves contain a naturally occurring red dye that I’ve used on my hair for the better end of 20 years, because it produces a consistently rich, natural-looking color, doesn’t contain any scary chemicals, and is an excellent conditioner.

Its only drawback is that it’s more labor-intensive than other methods, especially if you don’t have access to commercial salon equipment. If you can find a stylist willing to work with henna, praise God and tip well. If you can’t, here’s a quick DIY lesson:

1. Assemble your ingredients.

At a minimum, you need henna, distilled water, and a non-reactive bowl and spoon. NEVER let henna come into contact with metal, as this can turn it green.

2. Put the henna in your non-reactive mixing bowl.

powdered henna
I use a big Pyrex measuring cup because it can handle boiling liquids and won’t stain.

3. Boil a cup of distilled water, red wine or coffee.

I like to use roughly equal parts red wine and coffee. Whatever you use, make sure it’s boiling when you add it to the henna.

4. Mix it up. I start with a cup of red wine, mix to a thick paste, then add coffee to thin it down to a workable consistency.

Mixed henna
If you use coffee, make it with distilled water. Henna and chlorine do not play well together.

5. Use Vaseline to prevent stains.

Apply to your ears, upper forehead, etc.

6. Guard your silver.

Gray streak
I love my gray streak too much to dye it, so before I apply henna, I coat my streak with Vaseline and mask it off with plastic wrap.

7. Put on gloves.

Medical-type gloves are awesome for this.

8. Make sure your hair is clean, dry and free of styling products. When the henna is cool enough to handle, begin applying it.

Start with the roots and work your way out.

9. Keep applying.

All applied
If you’re just touching up roots, apply most of the henna to the new growth, then coat a few random sections of hair with the rest so the new and old colors will blend nicely. Freshen up the overall color every few months.

10. Cover to hold in heat.

A cheap shower cap works well. If your glasses have metal frames, leave them off.

11. Heat-set.

Heat-set for at least 45 minutes. I put the dryer on the highest setting. You can use a handheld dryer, but a tabletop bonnet dryer (about $60) works better and leaves your hands free to play Angry Birds while you wait.

12. Rinse. This is the worst part, because the henna thickens as it heats. Under running water, comb out the tangles, starting at the ends and literally inching your way up. Don’t worry about getting all the henna out at this point; just detangle. Work in plenty of conditioner, rinse, and repeat until the grit is gone. Conditioner and a comb will save you a good 15 minutes if your hair is long and/or thick.

The finished product
The finished product.

Yes, it really turns out that shiny.


Go listen to this.

This is one of the coolest things I’ve ever heard. It’s crickets. CRICKETS. The sound you hear in that link above is being produced by those nasty little jumping-cockroaches-with-good-press that the cat likes to stalk and eat and then yakk up all over the carpet.

Apparently when crickets chirp at night, they’re actually just having a big ol’ cricket flash mob, like that choir that pops up and performs Handel’s Messiah at shopping malls. We just don’t notice because they’re singing really fast; after all, they only live a few days, so for them, a four-minute song would be the equivalent of a human singing for several weeks. When you slow them down to human-lifespan-pace, you get an angel choir.

I’m gonna have to rethink my position on crickets.

(Just don’t expect me to start tolerating cicadas. I don’t care if those creepy bastards secretly sound like Emmylou Harris and Mary Travers singing backup for Judy Collins on an album of Joan Baez covers; I still don’t want them body-slamming my front door every time I turn on the porch light, because ewww.)


Folk Thursday: Peter, Paul and Mary

I heard this song for the first time a couple of weeks ago, after downloading Peter, Paul and Mary’s Lifelines album at the suggestion of a friend who shares my fondness for folk. I was listening to it as I was driving down Illinois 3 and honestly thought I was going to have to pull over and have a good cry when they got to that last verse.

The version on Lifelines is prettier than this live version, but you get the idea. If you enjoy folk at all, you should probably go download Lifelines when you get done here. It includes a bunch of other artists singing with them, including Ramblin’ Jack Elliott on “Deportee” and Richie Havens on “The Great Mandala,” which might be the most awesome thing I’ve heard since Woodyfest.


Debunking the Beauty Myth

I’m sure by now you’re aware of the latest and most egregious attack on teenage girls’ already fragile self-esteem, but just in case you’re not, click here to find out why you’ll be boycotting Abercrombie & Fitch and its affiliates from now until the Cubs win the Series.

As much as I’d love to believe that the inevitable demise of Mike Jeffries’ career will solve the problem, the sad fact is that it probably won’t; all this hypocritical P.R.-nightmare-in-flip-flops has done for us is put a comically clueless face on a much larger issue.

Jeffries’ tone-deaf misogyny harmonizes perfectly with the other sour notes I’ve heard lately: Disney’s gratuitous attempt to sexualize Merida from Brave; InTouch’s apparent ignorance of biology; the frequent attacks on Hillary Clinton’s appearance; and the ridicule a young friend of mine endures on a daily basis because she is albino and thus has a porcelain complexion, green eyes, and gorgeous golden-red dreadlocks to go with her African-American features.

Jeffries may have articulated it the most brazenly, but his message is no different than the others’: If you are female, your value depends entirely on the extent to which your physical appearance adheres to a narrow set of standards engineered by ad executives for the specific purpose of making the largest possible number of women feel insecure enough about their appearance to want to spend money to change it.

This kind of manipulative marketing is detrimental to women because it seeks to profit at the expense of our self-worth. It’s detrimental to all of us — men and women alike — because it seeks to remove variables such as individual taste and force us to evaluate beauty exclusively on Madison Avenue’s flawed, self-serving rubric.

I remember a comment someone once made about my favorite singer: “Judy Collins isn’t pretty, but she’s striking.”

I disagree with the first half of that assessment, but I think it illustrates the difficulty we have in wrapping our heads around the sort of beauty that doesn’t fit the rubric. If a woman is not conventionally pretty, we don’t know what to do with her. We can’t resist looking at her, but why?

You probably don’t fit the rubric, either. And you’re in awesome company, because you know who else doesn’t fit the rubric? Adele. Queen Latifah. Emmylou Harris. Bonnie Raitt. Jamie Lee Curtis. Helen Mirren. Tina Turner. My albino friend with the stunning African-American features and Irish coloring. Me. Not one of us fits the rubric. We’re all either too old, too heavy, too unconventional, or too all of the above to meet the standards A&F is promoting.

To hell with the rubric. I’d sooner die than swap my tangled curls, gray streak, hips, boobs, laugh lines, bifocals, or self-respect for some manipulative retailer’s approval.

To quote Bette Midler (who doesn’t fit the rubric, either): “Cherish forever what makes you unique, ’cause you’re really a yawn if it goes.”



Today was glorious — chilly and drizzly, but just right for a trip to Makanda to wander through Dave Dardis’ secret garden. Dave has put in a new gallery next to Rainmaker Studio to display his work, and it’s really nice. A precocious fourth-grader named Madison, who apparently is a frequent flyer on the Boardwalk, decided I needed a guided tour.

You have not lived until you have experienced the Makanda Boardwalk through the eyes of a little girl with a big imagination. What an awesome place for a kid to hang out.

Madison and I had a very artsy, creative conversation that I am pretty sure inspired both of us. She has been studying Greek mythology at school, and she thought one of Dave’s sculptures — a woodcarving of a woman’s face with little brass people scurrying over it — represented Mother Earth and her children. Can you imagine? Fourth grade, and she’s already looking at esoteric sculptures and expounding on their underlying symbolism. As an old scholar bowl coach, the first thing I thought was, “Somebody needs to put this kid on a buzzer.” But when I suggested that she try out for her school’s team in a few years, she said she didn’t think she could do something like that, because she was in special ed.

Do I have to tell you what Mama Bear thought about whoever put that idea in this child’s head?

I assured her that I had known some awesome players who were in special ed, and if she thought something sounded like fun, she should go for it and let the chips fall where they may.

It really bugs me that people act as if a learning disability somehow disqualifies a kid from being gifted. Hell, I’m convinced that half the things we classify as “disabilities” are just gifts we don’t know how to use. We don’t know what to do with them, so we slap a negative label on them and try to train or drug them out of kids because it’s easier than trying to figure out how to harness lightning. And in the process, we end up introducing the false god of “I can’t” to a 10-year-old who spontaneously interprets modern art through the lens of ancient literature and articulates her findings to a receptive stranger.

Sometimes I really hate our educational system.


Bless Me, Ultima

During my trip to New Mexico last weekend, I wandered over to Santa Rosa to see the public art installation honoring local author Rudolfo Anaya of Bless Me, Ultima fame. I was aware of the park and the statue of Anaya himself, but last Sunday was the first time I’d noticed the bronze plates embedded in the walkway around the fountain. Each one contains a handwritten quotation from Bless Me, Ultima, which you really must read if you haven’t already.

Here are a few images from the park:


The Anaya statue.


Instagram of the tablet in his hand. The text reads: “Love life, and if despair enters your heart, look for me in the evenings when the wind is gentle and the owls sing in the hills. I shall be with you.” When I die, I don’t want a funeral. I want to be cremated, and I want somebody to stand on Tucumcari Mountain and read this passage to whoever needs to hear it before turning my finely powdered butt loose to ride the New Mexico wind.


Instagram of one of the bronze plates. This one says: “It is because good is always stronger than evil, always remember that, Antonio. The smallest bit of good can stand against all the power of evil in the world and it will emerge triumphant.” At some point in the not-too-distant future, we should probably discuss the metaphysics of that statement.


And this one: “‘Bless me, Ultima–‘ Her hand touched my forehead and her last words were, ‘I bless you in the name of all that is good and strong and beautiful, Antonio. Always have the strength to live.”

I like how the words sort of depend on the dust from the llano to make them legible. I don’t know whether that was intentional, but it really fits, given the importance of setting in Anaya’s work.


I left my heart in Tucumcari


I’ve waited 11 years for this shot. I got it this morning. The snow was probably gone by the time I got to Amarillo, but it was perfect while it lasted — wet, fluffy, and just deep enough to be photogenic without impeding travel.

Here are some of the visual highlights from my weekend trip to New Mexico:


This is the Tucumcari Motel. It’s on old U.S. 54, a few blocks north of the Mother Road. It’s a pretty cool old building.


Here are the motel cabins. I’m a sucker for little adobe buildings….




More shots of the Swallow in the snow this morning. I can think of only once in my entire life when I have been more excited to have a camera in my hand. If every day started like this, I could get the hang of mornings.


Love the fog over Tucumcari Mountain.




A few scenes along Route 66 between Tucumcari and San Jon.



I’ve always loved this old property on the outskirts of San Jon.


tumble2 tumble1

You know I can’t resist any excuse to shoot the Western Motel in San Jon.


While I was getting this shot of the Bent Door in Adrian, a very good-looking firefighter saw my hazard lights on and pulled up to make sure I was OK. Cute Texas firefighter, if you’re reading this, thank you for watching over the travelers when they get to your stretch of 66. You’re one of the reasons Route 66 remains the greatest road trip in America.

I intend to ring in 2013 with a cup of Red Zinger, some ’60s folk on vinyl, and a few hours of work on the novel.

Hope your New Year’s Eve is good, wherever you are.


Folk Thursday: Judy Collins at Woodyfest

God bless the girl who posted this. It’s 14 minutes long, but it’s sooooo worth it. It’s from the concert we saw a couple of weekends ago.

Incidentally, that wobbly note toward the beginning of “Deportee” settled a debate. Ron thought she was Auto-Tuned because there was a slight echo in the mic. I was appalled by the very idea. I hate electronic pitch correction with every fiber of my being, for the same reason I hate performance-enhancing drugs and the designated hitter, and it would destroy my faith in humanity and probably cause a rip in the space-time continuum if Judy Collins cheated and used it.

“Judy Collins,” I assured Ron, “does not need #@$&!*% Auto-Tune.”

“I think she’s Auto-Tuned,” Ron insisted over the roar of the applause at the end of the song.

I glared at him. “No. This is not Cher. This is Judy Friggin’ Collins. I guaran-damn-tee you she is not Auto-Tuned.” (You can tell when I’m getting really wound up about something, because I speak in tmeses.)

And then she started singing again, and she missed that note, and I relaxed, safe in the knowledge that the space-time continuum would continue to operate unmolested for the time being.


Bucket list

Confession: One of my fondest dreams in life involves about 15 minutes with Judy Collins and a Hasselblad under a winter sky just the right shade of February blue-gray to pick up her eyes.

Unfortunately, I think that’s the sort of gift God only hands you if your name is Annie Leibovitz — but failing that, I’ll happily settle for respectable concert photos. Considering the fact that I didn’t have a zoom lens and was sitting on the ground in front of the stage, shooting through the snow fence that separated the real photographers from us mere mortals, I think these turned out pretty well. Behold:

I love how happy she looks here.
Dropping the ISO and the shutter speed would have removed the grain, but I can live with grain if I’ve successfully captured the moment, which I think I did.
Tuning the guitar.
Joking with the audience. She told a lot of funny stories.
The microphone is in the way, but I like the expression here.

There is no way to make this woman look bad. This is the third time I’ve seen her in concert, and this is the third time that I have been so distracted that I have literally forgotten to breathe for a few seconds, because she is so striking. I don’t know how anyone who has ever picked up a camera could look at her and not think: I have to photograph her.

She sounded as great as she looked, too. This was easily the best of the three concerts I’ve seen, and she nearly made me cry a couple of times. Is it hopelessly cheesy to say that I regard her voice as indisputable proof of the existence of a creative and benevolent God? Even Ron was impressed, and he’s never impressed at folk concerts. Great, great show.