Friday, 26 July 2013

"More than a Princess"

"Mom, where's my uterus?"

My six-year-old is very into my pregnancy. She was into the last one too, but, being less than three, her interest showed more through play than questions on human anatomy. I puzzled for weeks over her practice of placing an ornate toy mirror on her mermaid doll's tiny tummy before realizing the mirror was a Doppler and she was listening for the heartbeat.

"Hold on," she says, and runs off to fetch the Bearnstain Bears classic "Too Much Junkfood," a second-hand find from my brother than includes a doctor's explanation of why the Bear family needs good food so their bodies can do all the things they do.

"Show me," she orders, flipping to the page where Dr. Grizzly shows what bears look like "on the inside." Human body systems have been a big interest for her these last couple years. By the time she was five, she would tell you that something had gone down her trachea instead of her esophagus rather than simply saying it "went down the wrong pipe." My precision princess prefers to use accurate vocabulary.

I study the illustration of bones and blood vessels and the large empty space under the intestines; Dr. Grizzly's left out the reproductive system. I can't say I blame her, my grade-six teacher skipped that particular unit in health class as well. The poor man had enough trouble getting through the lower half of digestion (also absent from the Bearnstain bear). No such qualms for my little lady - the details of human excretion are currently an infinite gold mine of mirth. A large amount of our dinner conversations begin with queries about the end result of only eating a certain kind of food. We discuss the problems of vitamin deficiencies, muscular atrophy, and - when I forget to stop myself - constipation and diarrhea. Five years of potty training has taken its toll on my sense of appropriate topics for the dinner table. It's almost a relief when the talk turns to the life cycle of the mosquito, or the location of volcanoes in Alaska, or how long it takes to get from Edmonton to Moscow.

When we're not discussing digestion, or mining my iPhone for pictures of lava, she's searching for deeper meaning in fairy tales, Disney movies, episodes of "Strawberry Shortcake". It's incredible how many themes can pulled from a mere 20 minutes of programming or five pages worth of continuous text. The intent behind the characters actions, the back story that fuels their reactions, the reasons why the character most hungry for power is the one least fit to wield it; between her natural inquisitiveness and my tendency to ramble, there were hours of meaningful literary conversation hidden in such unlikely places as the dance scene in Disney's "Sleeping Beauty" (love-at-first-sight myth, blown) and "Barbie in A Mermaid's Tale 2" (and that was just the book based on the movie neither of us has seen).

I never assumed that my daughter would grow into a princess. I dressed her in pink outfits and frilly little frocks through her babyhood on the assumption she'd shun them eventually and I might as well enjoy her cuteness while I could. She's been picking her own attire for three years now, and it hasn't happened yet. She still likes her Sunday finery, and spent her preschool year in skirts and tights, if not in dresses. She chose pants only twice, and both occasions followed her overhearing me say that she "never" wore them. Compliment her outfit, and she'll gladly go into all its details - after all, she picked it out herself. If you tell her she's a beauty, however, she'll say something along the lines of "I know" or "well, yes", and then return to whatever she was discussing before you interrupted to state the obvious. The princess has heard all that before, but what she really wants to know right now is the science behind the rainbow.

For the first half of her life, her toys were as girly as her outfits. The grand bulk of them were gifts from friends and family, happy to have a baby girl to spoil. The most control I yielded was in making birthday and Christmas wish lists, but, beyond a boycotting Bratz and Barbie (and eventually caving on the latter), I've mostly catered to the interests she'd already shown, and her own requests soon followed suit. She loved the princess dresses and fairies and baby dolls she'd received, so, while the content expanded somewhat as she aged, the themes of her wish-lists remained pretty pink. Beyond a few of her books and some of her stuffed animals, the play kitchen, girly-coloured legos, and arts & crafts were as close as we ever got to unisex.

When she got herself a brother, however, I did ask for some "boy" toys, if for no other reason than to even out the playroom a little. Lo and behold, my dainty daughter took to trains like a duck to water. And emergency vehicles. And construction equipment. When my in-laws passed on my husband's old collection of match-box-size cars and trucks to my son, she dove right in, eventually claiming half of them as her own. In true big-sisterly fashion, she lords over her little brother as they play; whether the medium be dress-up dolls, dinosaurs, or a construction site, she maintains firm control over the storyline, and corrects any errors her minion may utter. A tutu is more than just a skirt, and a bulldozer mustn't be confused for a back-hoe. My princess has grown into a queen of an ever-expanding toy empire: all the better to apply the ever-growing knowledge base stuffed in her inquisitive mind.

I can't say my observations of daughter and son have led to any solid theories on gender development. I'm well aware that my case study of two says as much about their differing ages and personalities as it does about their sexes. It will be interesting to see how their dynamic changes once one of them is outnumbered, and what a baby exposed to equal amounts of "girl" and "boy" toys will chose to play with. I have no doubts, however, that my daughter, while still very much a princess, is also so much more, which is why this video gets me teary every time I watch it.

GoldieBlox, I salute you. But I promise you no engineer. My money's currently on biology, but we'll see what else she gets into.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Belong: Five-Minute Fridays

In The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, long-time maid Aibileen keeps her mind sharp by writing each and every day. It was the advice her teacher had given her when she had left school early in order to help her mother at home. I imaging many of those writing stints might have been like Lisa-Jo Baker's Five Minute Fridays: a few moments of quiet taken for herself after a long day of caring for others, first in her employer's household and then in her own. To keep my own mind from turning to mush, I'm trying this again: writing for five minutes (ish) on a single prompt, no editing, and linking up with all the other brave women writers who took a pause from their own lives to do the same. Care to join in?

Here's what I came up with this week:


I was born to a rooted existence. In spite, or perhaps because, my mother's family had moved often as she grew, my family stayed put. My parents still live in the pre-war home my father bought before their marriage; I and my siblings moved bedrooms throughout our childhood, but never houses, cities, or schools. Naturally, adulthood gave me a longing to leave - to give in to the idea that things would be better if only they were new. Life twists, however, have their wisdom; flying the nest meant leaving the province, but following to a city where I was already known by a few dear transplants who had proceeded me.

I remember that first drive coming into Edmonton. The main highway between it and my long-held home of Saskatoon brings one into the city through the industrial area. My first glimps of my new home came through the smog of refineries, trainyards, mechanic's shops. I couldn't help but wonder just what I'd gotten myself into. Who could live in this ugly place?

The next day, I moved into my own neighbourhood. Like my parents' home, it was near the local university, with pre-war houses, the river valley, and elms that arched over the streets like Ents play "London Bridge". Walking that street, I understood my mother's rootedness: in an unfamiliar city, it was these reminders of home that spoke to me - here, too, could I belong.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Five minute Fridays: Present

I've been aware of Five Minute Fridays for awhile now. I've been tempted to try, but a little leery too.  My posts are usually months in the pondering, hours in the writing, perpetual in the editing. A five-minute deadline sounded more than a little daunting. But when I saw yesterday's prompt (this afternoon), I thought it was finally take the plunge. Surely it's still Friday somewhere, right? Beyond starting way late, I only cheated a little - getting Voskamp's name right wasn't happening in five minutes, let alone the link, but I wanted to include the reference. Do check out Lisa-Jo Baker to find links to all the other wonderful writers who participated this week. Setting the timer:

1. Write for 5 minutes flat – no editing, no over thinking, no backtracking. 2. Link back here and invite others to join in. 3. And then absolutely, no ifs, ands or buts about it, you need to visit the person who linked up before you & encourage them in their comments. Seriously. That is, like, the rule. And the fun. And the heart of this community.. - See more at:
1. Write for 5 minutes flat – no editing, no over thinking, no backtracking. 2. Link back here and invite others to join in. 3. And then absolutely, no ifs, ands or buts about it, you need to visit the person who linked up before you & encourage them in their comments. Seriously. That is, like, the rule. And the fun. And the heart of this community.. - See more at: Write for 5 minutes flat – no editing, no over thinking, no backtracking.
2. Link back here and invite others to join in.
3. And then absolutely, no ifs, ands or buts about it, you need to visit the person who linked up before you & encourage them in their comments. Seriously. That is, like, the rule. And the fun. And the heart of this community..


It's all there is really. This moment, this rhythmic, stilted clicking of keys, birds mixing with traffic noise wafting in the window along with the breeze, giggles trickling down from upstairs (I'm told there's a waterfall for airplanes to climb). Just now. The clutter on my desk beckons to-do lists, past and future, but when I do deal with the mess - the school year's of papers, a stack of day camp art, the pens, the dust, the what-not - it will be a new now. It's funny how easy it is to forget the present, to skim the surface of experience instead of diving deep. To be carried by the currant steals moments away too soon. But by sinking into this gift, this present, as Ann Voskamp tells us, time slows. And like that last lick of icecream, those cake crumbs last savoured, my presence makes the present so sweet.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Sun tea for the Solstice: a Summer Recipe

It was the first day of summer vacation, eight days past the longest of the year. My children had celebrated my daughter's release from the usual rush to the school bus by whiling away the morning hours playing in their bedroom. Rather hurrying downstairs to dress and eat and get out the door, they giggled and jumped and scattered their toys while I dozed in my own room across the hall, thankful that, despite the noise, they weren't clamoring for breakfast just yet.

As the day heated up, they abandoned their newly reclaimed play-space. It was left in disarray until half-past-seven that evening,  when I came in to tidy before creating a "night" with the help of our trusty black-out blinds. As I puttered around, transforming picnic blankets and faerie cushions back into comforters and pillows, I noticed something new: vertical bands of light on the wall, sourced from their north-facing window.  I'd noted some time ago how the light bends south near the winter solstice, changing the angles from which it hits the house, but not the effects of its widening arc at the warmer extreme of the year. My children's bedroom holds the only north window in our compass-house; I suppose I haven't had cause to be in there at the right moments of the day to catch this summer phenomenon. I had wondered why their room heated up so much last July - it appears it doesn't stay quite as shaded as I'd imagined. Yet another mystery is solved through a change in routine and the power of observation.

My favourite solstice has come and gone, and the summer heat is finally upon us. While I'm not the biggest fan of temperatures above 27 C (nevermind the horrors of last Tuesday's 43 degree humidex), I love all the drinks and snacks that come with keeping cool. Due to an ill-timed and persistent cold, I had to postpone consuming many of the sweetest ones, but I'm making up for it now. I have watermelon in my fridge, yogurt pops in my freezer, and most of my coffees are turning Vietnamese. I'm also throwing lime and mint into my ice water, and trying not to covet my husband's mojitos (I'm making up for it by sending him out for smoothies).

Such treats could technically be made in any season, but there are a few that really only work in the summertime. Home-made sun tea is especially seasonal, and rather unique to our climate as well.  I'd posted about making some on Facebook last summer, and was surprised when a friend from Vancouver commented that she'd never heard of the drink. I'd assumed it was a fairly common beverage, but I suppose that the four to six hours of continuous sunlight required to brew it is a little harder to come by on the coast than it is deep within the continent. For my fellow land-locked friends, however, I am more than happy to share, so I present you a recipe for those long summer days.

I believe I got my original recipe off the internet several years ago, but, as I discovered when searching for borscht, one simply cannot re-google a term years later and expect to find the same results. I'm sure I've tweaked it enough by now to claim as my own anyways. If you posted a similar recipe online back in 2008, however, please let me know - I'll gladly give credit where credit is due.

At any rate, here's how I make it:

Summer Sun Tea

6 bags of black tea (I use decaf.)
9 raw sugar cubes
4-5 fresh mint leaves, washed & bruised
7 cups fresh cold water
1 8-cup clear glass container, preferably with a lid (unless you like a little bug protein with your tea)
4-6 hours of direct sunlight

Dissolve sugar cubes in glass container in a bit of boiling water. Add tea bags and mint leaves. Top up to 7 cups with cold tap water, and stir. Put the lid on the container and set out in direct sunlight for 4-6 hours, depending on the heat of the day and desired strength. Tea should turn a rich brown and the container should get warm to the touch. Once desired strength is reached, remove from sun, chill, and enjoy. Tea will keep in the fridge for 2-3 days.

Variations: substitute 2 1/3 Tbsp agave syrup for sugar cubes. Simple syrup would work well too. If no fresh mint is available, I brew my tea with 5 black tea bags and one bag of Celestial Seasonings Candy Cane Lane green tea. It makes for a slightly different flavour, but is still very refreshing. I had high hopes for making a lemon sun tea, but discovered that brewing the lemon rind turned the tea very bitter. Next time, I'll try squeezing lemon juice into the finished product.

There you have it, an iced summer tea to take you through the Dog Days and beyond. Keep cool, my friends.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Room for one more

About six-and-a-half years ago, a peculiar bulge developed around my middle. It was intimately related to my ever-growing baby bump; my first womb resident, already determinedly particular, had decided to renovate. Through a series of pushes and stretches, nudges and shoves -- along with several blows to the navel that had me wishing I'd never seen Alien -- she made herself an addition in my abdomen, visibly to the right of centre, and settled in for the remainder of the pregnancy. Perhaps her placenta was invading her personal space. Maybe she just wanted to nest, Pussyfoot-style, in order to make the place more her own. I'm just glad she found the real exit when the time came to move out.

My abdomen did eventually return to normal, only to round to the right again midway through carrying my boy. Sure enough, my son had found his sister's addition like a butt-groove in a well-worn couch and settled right in. He's been coveting her favourites ever since. Despite her efforts to convince him that certain items/colours are "just for girls", he hasn't bought it. Were the given item/colour not superior, then why would she insist on always having it? Thankfully, my girl has switched tactics: upping her sell-job on second favourites so that they don't sound like second best. It works well enough to convince them to at least take turns until he develops some more preferences of his own. It's bound to happen eventually. In the meantime, sharing is an important skill, especially for one who is moving up the birth order from "baby" to "middle".

It just so happens that my baby bump is back again, and still veering off of centre. It's been a subtle swelling, an asymmetry visible only to myself; and then solely when I'm gazing down my nose towards my navel. It made it's appearance early this time around, making room in anticipation of the littlest Friesen, who's still swimming too low to fill it. Time will tell if this baby will accept the status-quo or go on to carve out another abdominal alcove. I'm not about to make any predictions.

Pregnancy is a curious thing. It's a time of growth and change and adaptation; mentally and emotionally as much as physically.  I'm adjusting my wardrobe and improving my diet while reassigning bedrooms and car seats. My ligaments are loosening, and so are my plans for "once the kids are in school." We've been surprised before, but "looks like we're starting already" does feel a bit different than "looks like we're not quite done." There's a certain amount of hubris involved in family planning: you can try conceive, you can try not to conceive, but there are no guarantees on if - or when - you'll succeed. Babies come early, or late, or not at all, and we're left to swing with the punches. I'm choosing to swing towards wonder.

I'm marvelling at this timing I hadn't chosen. Three children all close enough in age to play well together, but not so close as to have more than one baby at once. After watching friends handle three kids under three years of age, three under the age of seven doesn't seem so scary. I'll admit, the idea of handling January's school mornings after nights of interrupted sleep is looking pretty daunting, but having a first-grader and a preschooler will mean less hours of being outnumbered, and more capable help for the hours when I am. My daughter has mastered pouring dry cereal and is moving on to milk jugs. My son can open the fridge and help himself to a yogurt cup. Breakfast and snacks are no longer all on me. The light is glimmering at the end of the Mommy Tunnel, and my eldest's budding self-reliance is worth the extra mental taxation six-year-olds bring.

The fledgling midwifery program I've been eying has been hit with a curve-ball of government-mandated administrative stream-lining. The re-organization should help with transfer credits in the long-run, but, in the short-term, I'm glad I'll be putting off my formal studies for a few more years. In the meantime, I now have an excellent excuse to do some more informal learning: I have a seasoned midwife's brain to pick at each prenatal appointment, and a built-in excuse to hang out at Edmonton's new, first, and only birth centre. I've only done this route of maternity care once before, and it's wonderful to get to do it all again - and at a location that isn't 30 minutes out of town. One of my midwives was also a late career bloomer; she became a midwife at the age of forty after having seven children of her own. She's been a great encouragement of how dreams can be built on slowly, and excellent proof that a life well-lived doesn't need to be all in order by the age of twenty-five.

What's more, my husband and I were honoured with a baby god-daughter earlier this year. It's a great responsibility in the long run, but for now it mostly means prayers, and presents, and being a baby-hog at Sunday Liturgy. Spending time holding her has reminded me of all the good parts of having a baby: the coos and the cuddles, the wide-eyed fascination with an ever-growing world, the exponential growth and change that happens in terms of days and weeks rather than months and years. It's a good balance for not-so-lovely parts that I'm currently glad not to be doing, and a refresher course in baby-holding and reading baby cues.

Had I managed to plan all this to happen upon the advent of getting pregnant, I'd be pretty impressed with myself. As it is, it helps to see the mountains of blessings surrounding us as we navigate this unexpected bend in the road. I'm enjoying the ride, asymmetrical bump and all. And my heart is expanding along with my middle, as it, too, makes room for one more.

P.S. In case you're wondering, that Alien link doesn't lead to the real thing. It's the Alien spoof scene from Spaceballs, which is about as close and as gross as I want to get right now.  Because I'm pregnant ;)