Tag Archives: style


by Kate

And suddenly it is Midsummer. My garden is running riot, my fingers are permanently stained with dirt and the nails painted brightly to hide it. My feet are bare, and my third trimester belly is burgeoning. We have been riding bicycles and attending outdoor concerts and playing in public fountains and this week, during a sweltering heat wave, we have been delighting in the glories of the public pool every single day. As a country girl, I am still amazed at the luxury of living five minutes from a city pool. It is a source of great joy- but man, does that chlorine let my many hidden silver strands of hair sparkle in the sun. Thankfully, I have henna to solve that problem.

Women have been using the henna plant for thousands of years to tint and condition hair. Cleopatra used it, as did Napoleon’s Empress Josephine. I haven’t been using it for quite that long, but I have been coating my hair with it regularly since I was 16, and sometimes that seems like a hundred years. I’ve used over a  dozen different varieties sold in natural food stores, beauty supply outlets, and online. For a long time, my favorite was the German brand Logona, which is very high quality. However, these days I am able to pick up inexpensive and high quality Syrian and Indian henna from a tiny Middle Eastern storefront in the Strip District. Yesterday, I drove out to visit my farmer friend Rebecca and we pooled our collective stores of henna and prepared to beautify our long (suffering) locks.

Rebecca has naturally light brown hair, streaked with gold in the sun. When straight red henna is applied to this shade of hair, the result is an incandescent flaming red. She wore her hair red for years, but let it mellow into a lighter strawberry blonde of late. Here is Rebecca’s hair yesterday before we began our henna spree, several months after her last application of a lightly tinted henna treatment… and after many hours slaving away in the hot sun at Sparta Farm.

We gathered our materials, and began. In order to henna your hair, you must have on hand:

-henna powder
-large non metallic bowl (wooden, glass, plastic)
-non metallic spatula or spoon
-pair of gloves
-plastic grocery bag
-lotion, vaseline, or face cream
-paper napkins or rags for cleanup

A heightened sense of courage and lack of fear of mud and messes is extremely helpful. On this note, it is advisable to recruit a friend for help with this project. In an ideal world, henna should always be applied outside, weather permitting. It took years for Rebecca to make this brilliant discovery. A mirror set up against a fence or picnic table on the grass is perfect, and that way any clumps or drips of henna that fall from your shoulders during the application are immediately absorbed into the soil, and a garden hose makes for incredibly easy rinsing. Cleaning a bathroom after henna application is not for the faint of heart, but if you need to do so, remember to wipe up all extraneous henna immediately after the application with a slightly damp rag or towel to prevent stains. Wear an old t shirt, not a white one unless you don’t mind turning some of it orange. And…. we’re off!

Pour the henna powder into a large wooden, glass, or plastic bowl.

The henna powder must be mixed with boiling water to form a paste which can be applied to the hair. I like to save coffee grounds for a few day, mix in leftover coffee and extra water, and then boil this mixture. You can strain out the coffee grounds or include them in the henna mix.

There is a definite element of double double toil and trouble inherent in the henna process.

As the water boils, it’s time to take some lotion or vaseline and apply it along your hairline, making sure to cover the ears and back of the neck, in order to prevent henna from drying and caking on it later. I love Pond’s makeup removing cream, personally. I associate Pond’s with theatre and dancing and the removal of false eyelashes and glitter and stage makeup, and it makes me feel glamorous… which is great, since henna-ing my way is so not glamorous, at all.

All right, we are all greased up and ready to pour some boiling coffee water into the henna powder. Mix it with your non metallic spoon or spatula, add the water a little at a time, and aim for the creation of perfect mud. Not too thick, not clumpy, not too runny, but just right, like Goldilock’s porridge. If the mixture is too dry it will clump up and fall off, and if it is too wet it will run down your neck for hours, which will make you wince and shudder.

Grab the henna, your gloves and plastic grocery bag and head outside if you can, to a sunny spot with a mirror set up to guide you. Pull on your gloves and dip into the muck, applying it liberally to every strand of hair on your head. This is a very tactile process. There is no way to apply it perfectly evenly, but henna coloring is very nuanced and when done well the uneven application can lead to a hundred dollar highlight sort of look with a great depth and variation in the tinting.

After you’ve thoroughly coated your hair with the gook, it’s time to wad it up in a muddy bun on the very top of your head and plaster a bit more henna onto it along with an old stretched out hair-tie to hold it in place. The henna needs heat to process, and it needs to stay wet- so take that plastic grocery bag you have on hand and place it on your head, pretending you are an old lady and it is a stylish scarf. Tie it tightly behind your head, et voila!

Doesn’t Rebecca look startlingly like a grandmother from 60 years ago?

As I mentioned, the process of putting henna in your hair is not a glamorous process- but it can be a lot of fun, particularly if you have a partner in crime. After applying the henna paste and the plastic bag, you should leave it on your hair for at least a couple hours- it won’t hurt your hair, so if you’re patient and willing to put a scarf over the plastic bag and add lipstick and big earrings, you can even go out in public. In olden days with Rebecca, we would open a bottle of wine and watch a movie. This time, we chased children around the back yard with the garden hose. After an hour or two or five has elapsed, it is time to break out the garden hose again, or get ready for a very grainy shower. Spend a good solid five or ten minutes alternately rinsing and squeezing your hair, getting out as much of the henna as you can. You don’t need to use shampoo today, but when most of it is out, take a generous palmful of conditioner and work through your hair from scalp to roots. Finger comb, and then use a comb or brush to work the rest of the henna particles out of your scalp and hair. Rinse once more, and you are finished.

And now, now is the time for glimmer and glamor. Here is Rebecca, looking stylish and spectacular.

I love henna, and Rebecca, and the summertime.

An Unconventional Alphabet

by Kate

No one has ever described my family as conventional. While my parents didn’t believe in television, regular hair brushing, or (to be honest) a great deal of rigorous discipline, my father did teach me that it is totally appropriate to bring a toddler along as an assistant when, say, taking photos of a dancer at a fancy art opening. So last Friday evening I pulled out my trusty pleather leggings, put my toddler on my hip and my camera around my neck….

and headed downtown.

Granted, there was a bit of a tense moment with the security guard when Olympia headed with wide eyes toward some fascinating and fragile paper dancers.

In fact, that moment convinced me that next time I headed to a fancy art gallery, I would do so alone. There are limits to the toddler as photographic assistant. But overall, Olympia was extremely well behaved. She was very interested in the exhibits…

and this view from this corner of the gallery.

It is a great view of the Pittsburgh Downtown.

She hung out with us in the pre-performance backstage glamour familiar to every bellydancer, ie the ladies room….

And watched Janim’s gorgeous performance with wide eyes and complete stillness, crouched on the floor by my feet.

I am totally unfamiliar with shooting dancers, let alone taking photos in dim spaces awash with multimedia art presentations flickering on multiple screens, and I was unable to capture the startling beauty of the veil performance, but I did get this great shot which I think captures some of the great joy my good friend Jen radiates when she dances.

After the performance, we gathered up silk veils and toddler and slipped through the crowds of sophisticates and out the door.  Outside the SPACE gallery, we took time for an impromptu alphabet lesson.

I don’t let Olympia watch television at home, and so far she has missed out on the glories of Sesame Street…

…but we are definitely working on the whole alphabet thing, in our own way.

Fine Feathers at Carnegie Hall

by Kate

I spent yesterday in a red feather headdress and sparkling gold high heels, dancing samba with an orchestra and a full chorus onstage at Carnegie Hall.

Granted, we’re talking the Carnegie Music Hall in Pittsburgh, not the larger and vastly more prestigious Carnegie Hall in New York City.

Of course, if you have ever seen the movie Flashdance you may recognize this as the home of the fictional Pittsburgh Ballet School the heroine is longing to attend… and be even more impressed that I had a chance to perform within this marble temple of the arts.

Although the Carnegie Music Hall itself is tiny inside, it is also a spectacularly opulent space.

I loved this staircase.

And these murals.

The opportunity to dance at the music hall came about due to the  Brazilian dancer and choreographer, Luciana Brussi, who is not only an amazing samba group director, but also a model for how to look amazing while in the middle of the sixth month of pregnancy.

Luciana was approached by the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony, who happened to be performing an entire concert of Latin and South American music, culminating with a samba piece entitled Brazil.

We spent the afternoon watching the Symphony rehearse, and waiting for our turn to take the stage. It was delightful. Sitting in a deep red theatre seat wearing dancing shoes, with a bag of sequined and feathered costuming next to me, is definitely one of my favorite places in the world to be.

On the other hand, I have to admit that being backstage with an entire Youth Symphony is something you MIGHT want to avoid at all costs. The experience brings a new meaning to the term pandemonium.

In our dressing room, the Pittsburgh Samba Group was experiencing pandemonium of a different sort- involving lots of feathers, glitter, and sequins.

Perhaps most dramatically, the zipper on my dress finally broke under the strain of my five month pregnant frame, and I had to be sewn into my dress.

Luckily, Luciana had a needle and stitched me up in no time, so I was ready for our Carnegie Hall debut.

The Youth Symphony was great. I can’t recommend their concerts highly enough. If you live in Pittsburgh, make time to attend one these concerts- especially if you’ve got kids. The concerts are free, there are tons of kids running around, and the atmosphere is simultaneously sophisticated and relaxed enough for toddlers. Also, you never know- you may happen to see an entire samba troupe, with red feather headdresses, front stage and center. I sure hope so.

For more pictures of my Carnegie Hall adventure, click here.

Art All Night

By Kate

Post industrial Pittsburgh is rich in space. There are cavernous warehouses, former steel mills, abandoned houses of man and God, all solidly built in a past full of prosperity and American steel.

Pittsburgh is also rich in possessing a populations of artists and dreamers eager to re-imagine those spaces, and inhabit them in a new way.

Last Saturday we attended Art All Night, a 24 hour celebration of local visual and performing art that takes place at a new location in our neighborhood every year. The event is free, and the entire community is encouraged to attend and to participate in creating art during the event.

Along with a whole host of talented professionals and amateurs from all over the region.

There was a whole section of children’s events, but this year our two year old was more interested in clinging firmly to her father and gazing at wide variety of art on display.

There was live music….

There were massive puppets…

There were robots, fitting enough considering that we were a stones throw away from the Carnegie Robotics Institute…

But Casey’s favorite piece of art was definitely this practical and attractive coffee table with a cribbage table built in.

My favorite art was the juxtaposition of the entire event within the skeleton of the factory.

It is hard to describe the sheer scope of the space that housed the event this year, but wandering through it and gazing up at the massive remnants of industry was extraordinarily interesting- particularly for a girl who spent a couple ill advised years swooning over Ayn Rand.Like the work of Ayn Rand, however, it is clear that working in this factory had a dangerous side. I thought this safety measure was appropriate for an art show.

Luckily, I had no need for an emergency eye bath. I enjoyed the work of the artists, especially those working hard on collaborative immediate pieces.

It was cold on that concrete floor, and I was shivering watching them work.

Of course I have always imagined that being a painter involves a lot of shivering. In garrets, while stained with paint in an aesthetically pleasing manner, and being gaunt and interesting. The artists at work all looked just like the artists in my imagination.

And the outfits and demeanor of the artists seemed to match the paintings, which I found fascinating.

Speaking of outfits, I am thrilled to say that this event, which involved high and low art and frigid temperatures, was a perfect opportunity to pull out the pleather pants. And what five month pregnant woman doesn’t love to wear pleather pants?

Not to mention almost every brightly colored plastic bracelet I own. That was my great contribution to the world of visual art.

Want more? Read about my adventures in post-industrial Pittsburgh here:

Frumpiness and Pleather

After Atlas Shrugged

Painting Pittsburgh

A City Morning

Pittsburgh in my Paris (A Bibliophile’s Dream)

Snowstorm in July

Hot Times, Summer in the City

Fire Knives, Fountains, Steel Mills, and Spectacle

Spring Musings: My Makeshift Gown

The main social event of the year at UD was this past Friday night, Spring Formal, and although it did not go quite as I had planned, I did manage to look quite  pretty, if I do say so myself.

For weeks before the dance, I had been searching for a dress to wear.  There was no way I was going to pay for anything (the dance or the dress).  And a date and a dress were nowhere to be found.  Luckily, one day, as I was rifling through my lovely friend Emma’s closet, I came upon something of a solution for the dress problem.  I am a firm believer in the power of transformation, especially of ugly dresses.  Kate is the best example of that, meaning that she can pull on a paper bag and look beautiful.  With a touch of Kate-like boldness, I tried on what could have been a horrid dress.  Complete with runningback-esque shoulder pads, long sleeves, and a collar up to the chin, the off-white gown did not look promising hanging like an old handkerchief from a metal hanger.

But somehow, with Emma’s expert advice and sewing skills, I managed to be decked out in THIS gorgeous gown all night.

The dress-maker and wearer alike were very pleased.

So, as you can see, the dress problem was easily and cheaply solved.  But the date, you ask?  Well, luckily one of Raph’s friends got by the brother sensors and asked me.  It was a nice and casual date and saved me $25, so what did I care?  I was so busy posing with friends all night that I forgot to get a picture in with him, but neither of us particularly minded.  What can I say?  My face was in high demand!

In all seriousness, though, I really managed to have a good night for the most part.  The music was loud, the brownies were amazing, and my friends all looked stunning.  It’s amazing what a night out, under big ballroom lights, and a formal dress can do to a girl.  Everyone glowed.  And as I watched from the sidelines in my makeshift dress, I realized that my school year has almost come to a close.  The people dancing around me, people I’d never known just 8 months ago, had become a part of my life in a major way.  I’ve laughed with them, cried with them, prayed with them, and studied into the wee hours of the morning with them (well, okay, maybe not just studied!).  And that’s far more beautiful than any dress or dance could ever be.

When Good Shall Triumph Evil

By: Clare

Lice is a bit of a problem. I don’t like lice. I’ve never had lice, and I most certainly do not want lice. Ever. So when I was informed quite abruptly last weekend that my dear nieces and nephew have been dealing with this problem for the last couple of weeks, I was a bit conflicted. I always look forward to spending Sunday afternoon playing with them…but who wants to tell your freshman class you’re out of school because you have…lice? Not me. Thankfully, I was informed that the kids had been treated again, and they should be done with the pesky bugs. But I was still wary. Oh, was I ever.

As I slowly made my way downstairs, I was immediately caught in a circle of possible-lice candidates. And was it just me, or were they being more friendly than usual just to make me uncomfortable? Poor little Antonia wanted desperately for me to pick her up.

All of the kids were enjoying running outside in the semi-warm weather. I say semi because it definitely was not…well, not exactly leotard-wearing weather…as demonstrated by little Adeline.

Adeline has cut her own hair into an expertly styled mullet. She is almost a professional hair stylist at this point. Ask her dolls.

Speaking of hair we had our own little hair cutting party in the front yard. Complete with barking dogs and screaming children.

But when all the madness dies down, and the fear of lice subsides, order and elegance are left. In the form of tea parties.

We’re lucky enough to grown our own lemonbalm in our garden, meaning homemade lemonbalm tea!

So away Little Claire and I went, on our way to the garden to retrieve some fresh lemonbalm. Claire was fully equipped with her vintage white and purple apron to hold the lemonbalm…

Up through the garden path she paraded with her apron full of green..

From there on the lemonbalm was given a place on our long, Amish-made dinner table to be sorted through by a pair of small, determined hands..

while I set out my great-grandmother’s dainty china.

Within 15 minutes our tea was served, along with some raisin bread, and of course, cream and sugar.

Three scoops of sugar? Yes, indeed.

Cheers to elegance overcoming…lice.

See, good always triumphs over evil, sometimes it just takes a bit..

Bright, light.

by Kate

This week marks the midpoint of my pregnancy. I celebrated this milestone with a trip to the thrift store. After a full month of wearing beat up low cut jeans with a rubber band strung through the frayed buttonhole on my more sophisticated days and regularly fighting the temptation to wear pajama pants in public, it was time to admit that I needed maternity jeans. In the dressing room, I pulled on a pair and then threw my arms to the sky in exultation. Why, I wondered, did I hesitate so long? In fact, why does anyone wear anything other than maternity pants with a soft elastic waist, ever?! I will know the answer to this a few months hence, but for now I am reveling in dowdy luxury.

Except on formal occasions, like the Legends of Raq Bellydance show I attended last night with my toddler as my date.  On formal occasions, my current policy is to keep dowdiness at bay with brightly printed dresses and high heels- four inch high orange wedges, in this case. Because every six foot tall pregnant woman lugging a squirming 40 pound toddler to a late night live dance show needs high heels.

I do love those shoes. I saw them at Target last week and reached out for them, powerless to resist. I figured they would elevate my maternity style, both figuratively and literally, and I really think the knowledge that I possessed them gave me the courage to reach for the maternity jeans again. Everything else we are wearing came straight from a long and productive morning at the South Side Salvation Army. My maxi dress was inspired by my gorgeous sister-in-law Nicole, who is also six foot tall and due to have her baby any time in the next two weeks, and the general explosion of color was inspired by my husband, who recently informed me that wearing all black at all public events is not always sophisticated and is often boring, and also by my bright curly haired toddler who is VERY proud of her fingernail polish and was a delightful date at the dance show.

And finally, my recent sartorial brightness is definitely a result of the spring and the flowers and the light pouring into the world. The world is bright, these days.