My Homemade Shea Butter Hair Cream

Folks, I am not a beautician or a magician. Nor do I claim any special expertise or talent in the area of styling natural hair. I am, as I pointed out in “Waste Not, Want Not!” a little careful about what hair products I buy and how much.

Oh, it’s not like I’m indifferent to the prettily colored tubs of styling cremes, gels and lotions that seem to multiply every time I go to the drug store or beauty supply store. Let’s not even mention the butters, meringues, souffles and whips that are so tantalizing they have me thinking about the dessert course, not hair-grooming rituals. These wonderful looking and expertly marketed products are tempting, which is why I need to give myself a few reasons not to give in and buy them. If I did that, I’d have an episode akin to “The Trouble with Tribbles” on my hands.

In any case, I decided to save myself a beauty product junkie meltdown by buying some pure African shea butter (my hoard comes from Ghana), and mixing up a couple of batches for myself and Baby. It saves money. One 8 oz. tub of my favorite Mizani coconut hair souffle costs almost $19, and an 8 oz. tub of the excellent Amla & Olive Heavy Creme from Qhemet Biologics is pricier  at around $32. So I need to pare down costs. Take a look at how I fared in this video, posted to YouTube.

Although I loved the final results, I don’t think I’ll broaden my concoction repertoire to include conditioners, leave-ins, pomades, holding gels or spritzes anytime soon.  I mixed a spritz with some of the whole-leaf aloe vera juice, and I found that after a few days it started to smell poorly on my hair. This still happened after I stored it in the fridge. Maybe I’ll try again with a second batch, and add a few drops of tea tree oil as a preservative, but don’t be surprised if I stop at the hair souffle.

I told Hubby what I was doing one night a few weekends ago, when I was pulling a stand mixer down from its place in our kitchen. He said maybe that’s our road to fame and fortune, to which I rolled my eyes and thought about all the puddings and hair whips that are already crowding store shelves. The farthest that Paige Turner’s Homemade Hair Souffle will go is into Christmas stockings, if that.

And folks, in case you had the misfortune of opening a brokerage or investment account statement in the last week, you’ll know that stock markets everywhere just endured a thrashing. I’m not tempted to think these are the end of days. You won’t find me stocking up on gold bullion, cash or guns, or brushing up on my survival skills. Just give me my tub of African shea butter, my essential oils and my stand mixer, and I’ll plane down a few rough edges in the family budget.

The Upside of Being Different

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Black like Mom?

I was drawing Baby’s bath one tranquil evening this past summer, watching the water pool in the tub, when I glanced at her. She was sitting on a high stool in the bathroom, swinging her chubby legs, and ad libbing the lyrics to ‘ Happy Birthday’. She paused, leaned her head back thoughtfully and said:

“I’m not Black. I’m not white. I’m different.”

I turned the tap to silence the torrent of water, then knelt in front of her.

“Sweet pea, who told you that?” She didn’t answer me. She simply started fiddling with her earlobe, the way she does when she is exhausted, and which is usually a signal for us to ask the waiter for the check, wrap up shopping and drop what we are doing to get her home before her meltdown. She was obviously too tired to explain how she had come up with that. She wanted to sleep. But a throbbing started in my chest and continued for the next couple of days.

Baby’s outbursts became more puzzling. While I was fastening her shoes in the morning, she cheerfully chirped:

“I’m not Black,” she smiled and shook her head. Then she pointed at me and said: “You’re black. I’m white.

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How do I explain myself to the other kids?

 

Baby seemed so pleased with herself, for having sorted out and declared her racial identity. Well, I wasn’t pleased. There was Baby, in the car on the way to daycare, chirping and pointing: “You’re black. I’m white. Daddy’s white.” Over and over. It took me a while to stop fuming to Hubby about it.  He agreed that Baby’s declarations were a little strange.  I was secretly nervous that she would say something like: “I’m white!” at a family cookout or something. People would think we were nuts, and neglecting to teach Baby about who she really is. They’d think we were pouring crazy delusions into her head and setting up Baby for an ugly and painful realization later in life. I just know it!

Someone, some ignorant meddlesome nitwit, was putting all kinds of nonsense into my child’s head, and I needed to find out who. No one else, except maybe her father, I thought, should be telling Baby who she is and what she is not. Certainly, others should not impose their bozo ideas about race on a biracial child. Who in their right mind would look at mixed little girl, whose mother is Black, and tell her, or lead her to believe, that she is white?

Well, I got nowhere. I couldn’t find out where Baby was getting these messages. Luckily, she eventually stopped blurting them out. Thank God! I, however, kept thinking about this whole issue, about how to properly teach Baby about her skin color and where she falls in the whole spectrum. She’ll need to know that so that no on else, whether through ignorant thinking or well-meaning meddling, can persuade her to believe something about herself that is not true.

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With Mom and Dad's help, I can take any plunge!

Personally, I don’t have a problem with Baby seeing herself as different. The term “different” delivered in the right context, can mean special or exceptional. I hope that Baby eventually strives to bring a unique and valuable perspective to the table in most situations in her life.

Meanwhile, I’m going to take some action and help her formulate ideas about race.  I’m not talking about intense, persuasive indoctrination. She’ll be told, gently and occasionally, that Mommy is black and Daddy is white. Baby is learning her colors now, so I know she’s going to process this with some skepticism. (“Okay, Mommy. You just said licorice is black. And now you’re saying we’re black. So…) I’m also going to carefully introduce black children’s books into her daily reading, thus pouring a solid foundation into her mind, which I’ll use to build a nice structure about what being black means and the many complexions represented therein. Including her own.

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Must-See TV: The Good, the Bad, but Never Ugly

Readers will remember that I announced my intention to go natural a couple of weeks ago. I’ve worn natural hair before, after a long stint of texturizing my short hair, which followed braiding my hair, which followed a period of wearing the cutest darn permed boyish haircut you ever did see!

Of all my styles, I got the most compliments and felt the most confident about my texturized hair. After my braiding stint, I reaped a head of thick, black, shoulder-length hair. I loved the length, and the fact that it was all mine! But I didn’t know how to take care of natural hair. I also had a demanding job. Being perpetually short on time, I kept pressing it. Without proper maintenance, it quickly became unhealthy and broke off.

As a matter of fact, the only reason I permed my natural hair  three years ago was because—once again—I had a demanding job, had just had a baby, and couldn’t dedicate the time to reading blogs, forums, watching videos and meandering through the aisles at natural food stores to find the essential oils that my natural roots like so much. As for texturizing and going bone straight, the knowledgeable stylists I relied on to help me maintain strong, thick hair became unavailable to me, either because they moved on, or I moved out of town. Same thing with the braids. My favorite stylist was harder to get to, once I moved out of her town, and I couldn’t find a replacement as talented as her within an easy distance of me.

I was actually inspired to explore natural Black hair care after a white woman told me about naturallycurly.com, which I used as a resource to find out why my biracial daughter’s hair was falling out. Otherwise, I had resigned myself to being one of the unlucky Black women with ‘bad’ hair. Hard to grow, dry like chip, impossible to maintain, just ‘cream it and done’ hair as Jamaicans might say!

It is different now. There is an amazing wealth of natural hair care resources on the Internet, ranging from dark-skinned Black women working it with their teeny weeny pretty Afros to dark-skinned, no-I’m-not-mixed, in fact I’m Nigerian, women with hair past their shoulders and damned near their waists.

Most of them are committed to growing and grooming natural hair for the foreseeable future, even if it requires putting in tons of time and effort. Of course, you have the bandwagon-jumpers on the natural kick, who go grow out their unpermed roots mainly to experiment for a few years. Some are quite enamored with seeing themselves in Web videos, but have little to offer in the way of concise, instructive well-edited videos. They get bored and perm again, and they are perfectly entitled to do that, enough said. I steer toward the women with hair textures in the 4 grouping, because my hair is similar. Not ‘a one’ of them has expressed the slightest intention of going back to perms. JoStylin’ the YouTuber, even posted a clever rant (mild as rants go) about her natural hair fatigue. She’s not about relapse into using the creamy crack, but her admonition that maintaining natural hair—long natural hair—requires a lot of work was refreshing.

So, after a day at work, settling Baby for bed, maybe a little work I’ve brought home, or writing out checks for bills, I click onto my favorite blogs and YouTube pages to see what some of these ingenious women have come up with next. At this point, I am voracious for information, so I check the Internet almost daily to get the tips and information I want to sustain my coming leap back into natural.

One last thing: Big ups to you talented artists, fashion designers, and hair stylists whose information I’ve sopped up with a biscuit these last five months! Not only does your hair look amazing, but your generosity of spirit has vastly expanded my knowledge of and appreciation for holistic and purpose-driven living. TruKinks for instance, has started a charity to help provide easy access to clean potable water to citizens of developing countries. TruWater is a worthy humanitarian cause that I encourage other naturalistas to check it out at: http://www.youtube.com/user/TruKinks#p/u/4/jsLn7zDI0m4

Also, treat your eyes and senses to Fourborne Art’s blog. The link is in my blogroll. I supported TruKinks’ charity, and I’ll support the small Black women-owned businesses I’ve stumbled across as I’ve explored this option for my hair. Some might scoff at the notion that it took something superficial like hair care to enlighten me to all of the small Black businesses out there, but here is my comeback: Our hair, this fine-stranded, thickly cropped fiber we are just coming to fully appreciate is not frivolous. Neither are we. Our hair, like us, been misunderstood, called course and uncivil, enslaved in a Euro-Asian beauty standard, and written off in some cases. Actually, it is as shiny, bright, fine, and delicate as hair—and women—you’ll find anywhere else in the world. Quite natural that it would bind us, too, no?

A World Trade Center Valentine

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For once, I'm happy to be a packrat.

Memorial ribbons outside St. Paul's Chapel

More than 11 years ago, on St. Valentine’s Day, I started my commute home from my magazine job in Manhattan. I headed toward the World Trade Center, marching past the clumps of sleek and fashionably dressed people rushing to their restaurant reservations. Some were headed home to change into even more stylish ensembles for the evening. All the while, I silently ranted about my curmudgeonly boyfriend.

“Everyone else is in the mood for St. Valentine’s Day, but not him,” I mumbled. And then I sank into a miserable reverie. Hubby, then Boyfriend, had effectively driven all hopes of a nice St. Valentine’s Day out of my mind, with his disapproving speeches about what a “marketing vehicle,” St. Valentine’s Day was. Just another excuse for celebrity worship; a chance to foolishly try to emulate them; an occasion to separate people from their hard-earned money. So instead of maybe eating out in the city that evening, I would head back to my little apartment in New Jersey, and he’d go back to his walk-up in Brooklyn. It was just another evening.

There was no doubt about it. My boyfriend was the Grinch of St. Valentine’s Day. Then I savaged the guy in my mind. He’s the biggest grouch who ever lived! Every other lady with a significant other will be getting flowers today. But not me, oh no! I have to be content with a lousy phone call, at 9:30 pm, as usual. And why can’t he ever wait until after “Girlfriends” or “Half & Half” or whatever other Black sitcom that might be on that evening wraps up before calling me? It’s bad enough I get bupkus on St. Valentine’s Day, but to interrupt my Me Time, too?! Ugh!!

I tramped into the station, and practically tore my train pass out of my purse as I headed to the turnstiles. Then I stopped. There he was, standing in front of one of the gates, with gifts for me. He held a bag from Crabtree & Evelyn and a bouquet of the prettiest pale pink French tulips. No one had ever given me presents like those before. People all around us looked as I walked up to him, gave him a kiss, and he gave me my presents. He explained that he really did have a lot of work to do, and needed to go back to Brooklyn, but he wanted to give me something nice for St. Valentine’s Day. In usual Hubby fashion, he went into some detail about conversations with the sales ladies and other patrons at the Crabtree & Evelyn shop, and at the florist. But he didn’t tell me what was in the Crabtree & Evelyn package.

Who cared about them, anyway?!

I was holding the best St. Valentine’s Day present ever. From the world’s nicest boyfriend. He wasn’t a Grinch, he was a prankster, that’s what he was. Had me believing I would go home empty handed while every other sweetheart at least got something. When all along, this was coming. After another long, warm hug and a smooch, I traipsed onto my train. Everything was so pretty around me. People on the train admired the gifts. One woman told me that French tulips are very rare, and told me how to cut, arrange and water them to extend their lives. More than a year after later, the whole place was a massive crime scene, the site of nearly 3,000 murders.

From Canada, a country whose citizens opened their homes and hosted stranded Americans during a no-fly order over U.S. skies after the attacks.

Everyone else is commemorating the World Trade Center today by remembering the victims of the attacks 10 years ago. But none of my friends or relatives died in any of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks anywhere. My way of remembering was to just leave money at St. Paul’s Chapel, across the street from the site. I’ve enjoyed the building and grounds, so why not? When I walk the perimeter of Ground Zero each day during my commute, I remember what the site used to look like, and the role it played in my everyday life. I frequented the concourse shops, covered press conferences and banking conferences on the site, right up until one month before the attacks. Hubby and I once had dinner at the Windows on the World, and I had a job interview at a news service on one of the upper floors of the south tower. As I rode the high-speed elevator to the company’s offices that day, my ears—and everyone else’s—popped as if we were on a jet liner taking flight. Being in the World Trade Center carried that mystique, of being on really important business or mingling with a crowd that seemed to exist on a higher social plane than those in my everyday life.

I heard a commentator say this morning that with the 10th anniversary, Americans will begin to put the memories of that day—the passenger jets striking the buildings, of the streets below being filled with falling buildings and plumes of poisonous smoke—into an historical context, instead of a recent trauma. For me, the attacks 10 years ago have already passed into history; a living, instructive history that admonishes me about monstrous dangers lurking in our world. I watched the remnants of the first plane smolder in the first tower that day, from my workplace in Rockefeller Center, then panicked like everyone else as we watched the second plane strike, only to learn that the Pentagon had been hit, and another airliner had crashed in a field in western Pennsylvania. That transformation started when I stepped onto a ferry with hundreds of other New Jersey commuters, and watched the smoky remains of the north and south towers drift across the harbor as we made our escape from the island. It is hastened by the architecture of the new buildings, whose jagged angles slightly convey shattered glass and splintered lives.

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Waste Not, Want Not!

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Readers I hate to waste time and money on beauty products. Before I try anything new on my hair, I either read up about it on the Web, read labels or ask friends and family for reviews and testimonials. That would be the 4c ladies, because that is where I fall on the hair type spectrum. I visit stores to check out prices, and root around on shelves to find the smallest size before considering spending my hard-earned dollars on something I might not like. For all my visits to beauty salons, I’ve bought a grand total of only two bottles of product from those places. I usually visit outlet malls, or wait for sales at drug stores before committing to those pricey jars and bottles of Aveda and Biolage. Even Giovanni, as divine as it smells and with its endorsements from a number of hair vloggers on YouTube, will only get a second look during a special. And sometimes I write to the company asking for sample sizes. Readers, lest you think I’m cheap about my hair, I’m not. I just hate the thought of pricey jars of products, tried and rejected, collecting dust in my bathroom drawers and cabinets.

So imagine how silly I felt when I went looking for a few small bottles of essential oils to create a mixture for a hot oil treatment the other day. I found what I needed alright. Plus a virtual horde of essential oils stashed in my bathroom cabinet. Can you believe it?

Take a look at all those amber- and indigo-colored bottles.

Go on, zoom in on those little holistic dynamos.

How could I have missed these?

Shocking, isn’t it? I dug up geranium, grape seed, lavender, myrrh, palmarosa, tea tree oil, vitamin E, ylang ylang and peppermint. All of that was in my cabinet, on top of … wait for it … the new supplies of virgin coconut oil and Jamaican Black castor oil (big up!), which I have been using. There is enough here to last me until the end of days.

This was a pleasant surprise and ridiculous at the same time.  I mean, here I am staying up two or three nights a week—four or five, really–to read up, until my eyes water, on ph balances, co-washing, recipes for homemade leave-in treatments and shea-butter based hair-dressing concoctions.  I could have been trying out my own the whole time! So I went on another research bender, looking up all the oils I’ve had in my cabinet for who knows how long. First I had to figure out how long they’ve been there, and whether they had lost their potency.  And I don’t think I can use all of these oils in my hair. I’m a little skeptical about the geranium, for one.

For the most part, though, I think I have enough here to mix some decent batches for soothing everyday scalp moisture (not literally; more like three times a week), and occasional hot-oil treatments.

Sigh. I put it down to sleep-deprived foggy headedness. But I can’t help it. I get so wound up at night after long work days that even after putting Baby to bed, I plop down in front of the computer for a session of fiction writing, filling out bills, laughing at Facebook updates or reading hair blogs. If I get to sleep before midnight, it’s rare. Hubby says I’m a night owl, but readers, it ain’t that glamorous to be a night owl. I’m not exactly sauntering past bridge and tunnel wannabees to get behind the velvet rope at a culturally hip club or restaurant.

Well, reader, no one said every turn on my holistic hair care journey was going to be simple. But I am hoping that they will be mostly smart.

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Update: If anyone has a recipe for an effective hot-oil treatment for 4c hair, or knows of someone who has, please be a gem and leave a comment and a link. Thanks!

To Kevin and the Rest, Thank You

Thursday morning I stepped onto my NYC-bound train feeling lousy. My stomach felt strangely queasy, probably because I had not slept well at all the night before. Baby awoke at minutes past one after a bad dream, Hubby is working around the clock on intense deadlines so he slept downstairs to avoid disturbing us when he got up for a 5 a.m. writing session, and I had congested sinuses.

So when I saw a solid row of guys sitting down, I didn’t like it. One Black gentleman correctly read my face, and gave me his seat. I was soooo grateful to take a load off, and thanked him as I sat down.

Thanks again to that guy and others like him, specifically Black men. I know I’ve come down on the ones who have been prodigious pests, and other bloggers and vloggers have blasted certain Black men for their poor behavior in public. But I have to tell you, after I sat down and my head stopped spinning, I felt like any guy anywhere in the Northeast who gives up his train seat is a local hero.

And there are many more guys like him, if you look closely. I was at the post office last year, sending off some packages, and was in line behind a woman, a sister, who was sticking stamps on a large stack of envelopes. She worked quietly, unfurling a long roll of postage stamps and she peeled them off one by one and stuck them on the envelopes. A Black man named ‘Kevin’ or so his company ID badge said (I wasn’t stalking! LOL.) offered to help her complete the task.  She said “Sure,” and gave him a stack of envelopes to work on. My hands were full of this, that and the other, so I couldn’t join the stamping party. But Kevin cut the stamping time in half for that woman, and helped her stack the enveloped neatly again. It was very pleasant to see people in New York City just being nice to each other, despite all their errands and job responsibilities. Kevin, whoever he is, appears to be a really nice guy, and I hope that he is being treated with the same neighborly generosity he showed that woman.

Now, if only he and that nice guy from the train this morning could influence their peers in a positive way, this whole sharp-elbowed, hard-driving Northeast region would be absolutely sunny and pleasant all the time!

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