Monday, December 21, 2009

Small surprises

We just received our most recent utility bill, and our efforts to reduce heating costs have succeeded. Our energy usage is down 40% since last year! What's most remarkable about that is that at this time last year, we hadn't yet experienced any freezing temperatures. In contrast, we had a ten-day freeze during the time period covered by our current utility bill.

Another small surprise is that I have hopefully discovered a new local company to purchase products from. Until now, I have done a lot of my shopping for affordable natural products at Trader Joe's, but the store in my area has been slowly reducing the size of their health, beauty and household products sections. A conversation with a store manager confirmed that they, indeed, are downsizing in those areas, based on slower than desired product sales.

One of the products no longer at TJ's is their peppermint castile soap, which they had sold for $3.49 for 16 oz. Dr. Bonner's castile soap is available at other stores, but it's much more expensive.

Today, I stopped at Grocery Outlet, a grocery store that sells overstock items from other stores and producers at discount prices. I spotted a brand of castile soap from a company called Seattle Organics, in a variety of scents including peppermint. A quick glance at the ingredients list showed that it's all natural and is being sold for $3.99 for 16 oz.

As when I discovered the Alaffia shea skin care line, based in Olympia, WA, I got really excited about possibly discovering another company that is local and natural for household products. The only problem is that a google search didn't turn up a company by that name. I had only run into Grocery Outlet for something else quickly today so I didn't purchase the soap, but I will return and buy some and check the label to see if they have a phone number or web url. However, my search did turn up another pleasant surprise: a green directory web site called GoGreenLife that allows you to search for local, sustainable companies.

12/23 Update: I purchased a bottle of the Seattle Organics castile soap today. Unfortunately, the bottle only has a P.O. Box address on it, and no phone number or web url.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A few more thoughts on "Princess and the Frog" (SPOILER ALERT!)

Warning: unlike my last post, which was just a general review, this one contains quite a few spoilers.

These thoughts are about the ongoing discussion of Prince Naveen's race. First, to the objection of some that by making Naveen "other," the movie missed a chance to portray a positive black male: I wholeheartedly disagree. The most important role model in Tiana's life is her father, and although he only appears in the beginning of the movie (he dies in WWI), his memory, his love, his life lessons, and his dreams stay with Tiana throughout her life, motivating her in all she does.

Second, and this came up in a discussion I had on another blog: at the end of the movie, you see Tiana and Naveen, now married, fulfilling her dream of opening a French Quarter restaurant. I think the filmmakers' intent was to once more reverse the "princess" stereotype: instead of Tiana giving up her dreams in order to get married and live happily ever after as simply a princess bride, Naveen instead becomes part of her life, helping her to fulfill her pre-marriage dreams.

Whether or not the filmmakers realized this (and they may have, given that the movie's screenwriter is black), there is something else significant about this ending besides the feminist reversal. By remaining in New Orleans and helping Tiana open her restaurant, Naveen basically made a decision to become a black man. What I mean is, in the eyes of the law and society at the time, once he married Tiana and stayed in NOLA, he would have been considered black. The privileges he had at the beginning of the movie due to his ambiguous ethnicity and royal status would have disappeared. He gave them, for her. And that's romantic!

Update: another blogger discussing this was offended that Tiana and Naveen are shown at the end doing the manual labor to refurbish the building that becomes the restaurant. To her, that showed that Tiana ends up just as poor and struggling as she was at the beginning of the movie, unlike the other Disney princesses, who end up pampered and wealthy beyond dreams.

As you might guess, I disagree with this interpretation, too. First, I think the purpose of showing them doing the labor is to portray how much Naveen had changed from the lazy, spoiled young man he was at the beginning. And second, the manual labor (on a building they own) is just an intermediate step on the way to having a very successful restaurant, as you also see at the end. I suspect that while they'll always have to work hard, Tiana and Naveen would end up making quite a bit of money with their restaurant. (And there is quite a precedence for some hardworking black entrepreneurs becoming very rich and successful, even in the Jim Crow era, despite humble beginnings: Madame C.J. Walker, John H. Johnson, among others). So, being a black woman from that era in American history, Tiana would probably never have the "fairy tale" ending of the typical princess tale (and she didn't expect to), but she wouldn't end up poor and struggling. She'd find herself squarely within the black bourgeoisie.

Update 2: I really liked the fact that the movie showed a little of Tiana and Naveen's married life, with him even having a line where he refers to her as "my wife." I don't think any of the other Disney princess movies show that, even in their direct to DVD sequels, with one exception: The Little Mermaid 2, which is about Ariel and Eric's 12-year-old daughter, who, in a reversal of her mother's story, dreams of being a mermaid.

Yeah, I'm thinking way too hard about this, LOL!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

I loved the Princess and the Frog!

I blogged about this movie when I first learned about it earlier this year, and now I've seen it during its opening weekend. My husband and I took our daughter today as a special treat (she has been to two movies at the theater before today--Madagascar 2 and Charlotte's Web--and wasn't able to sit through either of them in their entirety). But sitting through this movie was no problem; my daughter was enchanted.

I have a standard for evaluating whether or not I love, rather than simply like, a movie: if I immediately want to see the movie again, I loved it. By this standard, I absolutely loved The Princess and the Frog!

So many things were wonderful about it: beautiful animation, somewhat great music (more on that in the next paragraph), a wonderful heroine who is also a role model (I don't consider any of the Disney princesses role models, except for Mulan, and to a lesser degree, Belle; Tiana, however, is a great one), a hero who changes for the better, and a plot that upends the traditional fairy tale story. More on that as well.

One of my only disappointments is the music. It seems weird to write that, because the music was amazing in many ways, filled with the sounds of New Orleans jazz and gospel. And Aniki Noni Rose, who is the voice of Tiana, is an incredible singer. The problem is that the songs weren't memorable, not in the way that "Be Our Guest" from Beauty and the Beast, "Under the Sea" from The Little Mermaid, and "Circle of Life" from The Lion King (and at least one or two other songs from each movie) were. I walked out of the theater and couldn't remember any of the songs, except for "Evangeline," a lovely ballad sung by the Cajun firefly Ray.

I have to add a comment about Ray. I read one review in which the reviewer noted that her biggest concern prior to seeing the movie was that Ray, a snaggled-toothed firefly, would be the worst of stereotypes, and was pleasantly surprised to find that he wasn't. I agree. He was actually one of the movie's sweetest, most endearing characters, and it's fitting that the movie's most romantic song was sung by him.

One other major comment I have is about the ethnicity of the movie's hero, Prince Naveen. I noted in my earlier post about this movie that some were already complaining that he wasn't black (FWIW, it's not a complaint I share), and I've seen several comments since then expressing the wish that Disney, while giving black girls a role model, had also given black boys a role model by making the hero a black prince. Instead, the character is brown-skinned; his name is Sanskrit; the actor voicing him is Brazilian; his accent is Spanish; the character speaks English, French, and something that sounds made up; and his nationality (Maldonian), is also made up.

In other words, the filmmakers deliberately made his ethnicity ambiguous, and having seen the movie, I think they made the right call. This goes back to what I said above about the movie upending traditional fairy tale themes. If you've seen the preview, you know that when Tiana kisses the frog, instead of breaking the spell and having him turn back to a prince, she becomes a frog instead. This is due to the fact that according to the original story, a princess must kiss the frog and Tiana is not a princess; she is a waitress.

The story does have a princess, though; a blond white girl named Lottie who is the daughter of one of New Orleans' richest men and who is also the Mardi Gras princess. And if the story followed a traditional arc, she would be the one to break the spell. Naveen wants her to, and even before he is transformed into a frog, he is trying to woo her. The fact that it's not the actual "princess" who wins the prince, and it's only when it no longer matters to Naveen that Tiana's not that he wins her heart, is part of the movie's charm.

This, then, is the principal reason Naveen could not have been black. Lottie's father accepts Tiana's friendship with his daughter, something not uncommon in the South--white children who were friends with the black children of people who worked for their parents (although having those friendships survive into adulthood was much less likely). Nevertheless, there is no way a wealthy white man in 1920's New Orleans would have accepted a black man wooing his daughter. But a wealthy, foreign prince of indeterminate ethnicity? In that case, I could imagine him overlooking a little brown skin.

It's interesting how Disney kept race in the background. At only one point do they reference it--and then indirectly. Tiana dreams of opening her own restaurant, working two jobs and carefully saving all her tips. When she has enough for the downpayent on a building, the bankers tell her that someone else has outbid her for the structure and only if she pays the full price in cash will they sell it to her. Well, it's bull--the building is in shambles and needs so much work that it's doubtful anyone besides Tiana wants it. But you really know the bankers are lying by what they tell her next: something along the lines of, "A young lady of your background shouldn't think she can have her own restaurant and rise above her station."

One of the most pleasant surprises was how romantic the story was. The movie made me believe that the two principal characters were falling in love, and the ending, with what they are willing to change and sacrifice for each other, cements it. And unlike the typical Disney princess movie, their kisses have chemistry! In addition, the movie had great messages about hard work being necessary to make dreams come true, and love and family being the most important things one can have in their life. This is the type of movie that I think adults would enjoy even without a child accompanying them. It was completely satisfying and I, for one, can't wait to own it and watch it again and again.

Friday, December 11, 2009

One full year of "no more chemicals!"

Last December was the last time I chemically relaxed my hair. I've cut it several times since then, and am pretty sure that most of the hair on my head is now chemical-free.

I have posted several times about the hair care products I've tried to use on my hair in the past year, and some of the stops and starts I've had along the way with finding what works. Anyway, here is what I've settled on:

-- Washing weekly with Trader Joe's TeaTree Conditioner, and once a month with a mixture of 1 TB baking soda in 8 oz. of warm water, and regardless of what I wash with, rinsing with a mixture of 2 TB of apple cider vinegar in 8 oz of cool water.

-- Daily conditioning with a mixture of TJ TeaTree Conditioner, extra virgin olive oil, pure aloe vera gel and vegetable glycerin, with a few drops of essential oil (usually orange or peppermint) added for scent. The mix I make includes 2 TB each of the first three ingredients and 1 TB of the glycerin, and lasts about 2 weeks.

-- Detangling daily with a mixture of 2 oz of the daily conditioner recipe above mixed with 6 oz of filtered water, shaken and applied with a spray bottle. This mixture also lasts about 2 weeks.

--A mixture of 2 TB melted shea butter, 2 TB olive oil and 1 TB aloe used as as a curly pudding applied to the ends of my hair, or brushed throughout my hair (using a soft boar's hair bristle brush) daily. This mixture lasts about a month.

--Styling with flax seed styling gel. Bring one cup of water to boil, add 2 TB whole flax seeds, simmer 10-20 minutes until thickened. Strain out the seeds, stir in 1 TB aloe gel and a few drops essential oil, and store in the refrigerator. I usually get 4 oz. of gel from this recipe, and it lasts about a month.

-- Monthly deep conditioning with a mixture of 1/4 cup mayo, 2 TB olive oil, and 2 TB water, warmed in a microwave, applied to my hair, covered with a shower cap and then a warm towel, and then rinsed out and washed after 30 minutes.

I really am happy with the results! Receding hairline? Gone; hair has grown back. Dry, flyaway frizzies? Gone. Dandruff? Gone. Itchy scalp? Rare, and when it does occur, successfully treated by rubbing the itchy spots on my scalp with vinegar on a cotton ball, and then applying aloe vera gel.

I'm still struggling with coming up with great ways to style my hair, and hope to learn (and post about) new tricks in the coming year. But the improved overall condition of my hair and scalp has been so worth it, and the fact that I am no longer using toxic chemicals on my body or rinsing them away into the environment makes that fact much sweeter.

I'm taking my daughter to see "The Princess and the Frog" tomorrow, and I'll post about it later.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

I know I've been negligent

... in posting. I think I'm finally better. Over the weekend, I remembered that we had a jar of Kwan Loong Oil (a mixture of eucalyptus, menthol, lavender and a few other oils) given to us by a chiropractor friend in Boston (this is the guy who helped save my hubby's life, being the first to notice his heart problems). Anyway, our friend swears by this stuff and I am glad I remembered it. I rubbed it on my chest and throat and applied a heat pack to it, and I could feel my congestion breaking up. Yesterday, I didn't cough at all, and thought I was cured! Of course, today my cough has resumed, but it's still much better than it had been, so hopefully (fingers crossed) it's on its way out of my system.

We had a great Thanksgiving, joining our friends Michelle and Johnny, and several more of their friends, at their place. They served an almost entirely local meal, save for the turkey. They were unable to find any local turkeys starting weeks in advance; all turkeys in the region had been claimed. The bird they bought was from California, but at least was free-range. It was a fun time.

I hope that soon I will have more topics to write about. Today, I am happy that the sun came out for the first time in weeks (the overcast skies of the Pac NW can be depressing!). I am also glad the police found (and lamentably but understandably, shot and killed) the guy who shot and killed four police officers not far from where we live.