Archives for September 2011

Chatting with Bobs and LoLo

If you have a three-year-old and you live in the Vancouver area – as I do – you’ve undoubtedly heard of Bobs & LoLo. Their real names are Robyn Hardy and Lorraine Pond, and they’re childhood friends and children’s entertainers with four albums to their credit. My son Jacob is currently playing their latest release, Connecting the Dots, on constant repeat in my living room. I’m not afraid to admit that I find myself humming their songs to myself many, many times every day. What can I say? They’re catchy!

Bobs and LoLoRobyn and Lorraine are dedicated to connecting kids to the natural world with music, movement and make-believe, and they’re very good at it. I definitely would not classify them in the same “truly terrible children’s entertainment” category as that Shrek show I saw this summer. On the contrary, they’re an example of children’s entertainers who are raising the bar and keeping it fun at the same time. My kids love them, and I enjoy them, too.

This has been a big year for the duo. They launched a new album in May and Lorraine gave birth her first baby, Anisa, in June. Having a little one on tour has definitely changed the dynamic. I had the chance to speak with the pair, and Lorraine mentioned breastfeeding during sound checks. I’ve breastfed in a lot of places, but that’s one I have yet to try. They also travel with an entourage now, all to make sure that Anisa is well-fed and cared-for while her mama performs.

Bobs and LoLo treeDuring our interview we talked about how Lorraine and Robyn met, and how they became children’s performers. We discussed the business side of what they do, and how they keep everything running smoothly. I got to ask them some of my burning questions, like whether they ever get sick of singing a certain song, how they still manage to get along after all these years, and what it’s like to run into young fans when they’re just trying to pick up something at the grocery store for a last-minute dinner. You’ll have to listen to hear the answers, but I will say this much here – I really think that these two are doing what they are meant to be doing, and regardless of how you feel about their music, that’s a pretty amazing thing. Here’s our interview for your listening enjoyment:

It was great chatting with Lorraine and Robyn. Next week I’ll be switching gears and sharing an interview with Allie Chee, who wrote a guest post recently about her homebirth experience. She’ll be discussing her journey from living a traditional American lifestyle to becoming a Traditional Chinese Medicine Nutritionist. Subscribe to my podcast in iTunes, and you’ll be sure not to miss a thing!

Becoming Bad Enough: Cutting Back

It’s Thursday, so I’m Crafting my Life! I invite you to join in the fun. If you would like to share a story from your own journey, please drop me a line. If you’d like to find out more about my online class on living with intention and my upcoming e-book, visit craftingmylife.com.

Last week I asked myself a question: am I bad enough? I concluded that I was not. After all, I’ve spent pretty much my entire life trying to be good enough, which seems to stand in direct opposition to being bad enough. Seeing that, I decided that things had to change.

When I say that I want to be bad enough, I don’t mean that I want to go out and break laws and harm others. I mean that I want to give myself the space to consider my own needs and happiness. Is that actually bad? Probably not. But many of us are so trained to ignore our own needs and desires that it can feel bad … or at least overly indulgent. Even if we understand intellectually that we’re not much good to others if we don’t take care of ourselves, we have a very hard time following through with our plans.

When I embarked on my Crafting my Life journey, I realized that this was my life that I was living, and so I wanted to live it (at least in part) for myself. If I compare my life today to my life almost two and a half years ago when I was laid off, I can see that I’ve made some substantial progress. I’ve grown as a writer, and landed some paid freelance gigs. I’ve become more adept at saying “no” and I’ve re-learned the skill of dreaming. And yet, I am still very far from where I would like to be. Maybe I always will be – after all, life is a journey and not a destination. What this means is that there is always room for growth and improvement and advancing self-awareness.

As I’ve taken on more commitments, I’ve had less and less time for myself. This is hardly surprising, and it’s not rocket science. And so, as part of becoming bad enough, I have decided to cut back on some things. The first thing that I am cutting back on is my posting schedule here – I will be going from six days a week down to five. I will not be posting on Saturdays anymore. Is it dramatic enough? Maybe not, but it’s a start. I’m also re-examining some new projects that I had planned to take on, which I realistically now see that I don’t have the room for.

I love this blog, and I love this space. That’s what makes the cutting back so complicated for me. The big upside to this whole business of living with intention is that I’m doing things I love. However, as those things pile up, I have to recognize that I am only one person, and there’s only so much of me to go around. And so I am keeping the things that I love – including Strocel.com – and just tweaking them a little. When you don’t get a post from me this Saturday, now you’ll know why.

I’m taking baby steps, so that when I look back in another two and a half years, I can see how good I’ve become at being bad.

What about you – have you ever found yourself cutting back on something you loved because you had too much on your plate? And how do you give yourself the space you need to take care of yourself, when you have a lot of other responsibilities? I’d love to hear from you!

PS – Every month I do a monthly review of things I learned. Some are serious, some are funny, and all are hard-won. I will be running my September review on Monday, October 3. I’d love it if you played along. Write a post on or before October 3 and come back here to include it in my link-up!

Guest Post: Swimming in the Bliss of Natural Birth

A guest post by Allie Chee on choosing home birth as a first-time 42-year old mother.

I’d always imagined a natural birth. In our 20’s my cousin, Christina, and I would joke and laugh about squatting in the shade of a tree to have our babies – and we were just joking…but not completely.

Allie Chee Guest Post Woman Swimming PaintingThrough my 30’s I watched not one or two, but almost all my friends enthusiastically enter the hospital in labor, having claimed for nine months that they would have a natural birth, and saw them come out 2-10 days later having been induced, forced to labor on their back, drugged, cut, observed by countless strangers, having had their babies taken from them immediately after birth, having nursing problems, and having been given food I would call toxic.

If you’d asked them ahead of time if that would have been their story, none of them would have said yes. And these were fit, health conscious women. I wondered what was going on after they entered those doors of the L&D that all of them were checking out with dramatically changed birth stories. That question led me to do a lot of research and I discovered many things I’d never known.

Growing up in the States, we are hardly surrounded by the images of natural motherhood such as: home birth, breast-only feeding until weaning on homemade solids, mothers cared for and nurtured for a traditional 40 days postpartum. And we definitely don’t see many examples of women over 35 choosing home birth. If we desire to have an experience out of what is now the norm (as outlined above), we have to figure it out for ourselves. And so I did.

I read dozens of books, studied birthing and postpartum care methods from around the world, watched every DVD produced on home birth, went through several doctors and midwives until I found my match, and I came to the conclusion that so many other home birth mothers do:

Birth is completely natural. My body and my baby know what to do. We will do our best to prepare, to have strength, and then we will let nature do her thing!

Ah, Mother Nature. Just because she knows what to do and will take charge doesn’t mean that it won’t be incredibly difficult. My throat (among other things) was so sore from grunting and growling in labor that I could barely speak the next day. However, in the big picture, that was over in the blink of an eye, and the reward for my baby and me will last for a lifetime.

If it had just been for me, perhaps I would have been tempted to use painkillers despite knowing the multiple benefits of natural birth for the mother. But I also wanted my baby to experience her birth and first few days out of the womb with bright eyes and a clear mind.

I’d watched the movie Orgasmic Birth a dozen times for fun and inspiration, and though I did actually believe that it could happen that way, no, crowning did not feel like an orgasm. But I was prepared ahead of time for the fact that it must be incredibly painful – otherwise how could all of my strong friends have chosen drugs and surgery when they were so opposed originally?

There was only one way to make my dream of a blissful, sacred birth happen…and that was to give myself no choice. If I stayed at home, when push came to shove (!), I would have no way to do it but go through it. Just like swimming in the surf.

All lovers of the ocean know that to reach the open water, you need the courage to leave the shore and swim through the breakwater. And in using this metaphor, we should not let our minds drift to the warm ankle-slapping waves of the Caribbean. We’re talking about Mavericks and Waimea Bay here! When the waves between the shore and the open water are huge, you must dive right into them and let them roll over you. It can be terrifying, but with solid resolve, you reap the reward of an experience few people have.

My original reason for pursuing home birth was just to be able to preserve my goal for a natural, drug-free birth. As I studied more and more, I found that a home birth in every way offered the opportunity for a deeply sacred experience, which it was.

When I first spoke to my midwife, I asked if she thought I were “high-risk” for home birth. She looked surprised.

“High-risk? Why? Are you sick? Do you have a problem?”

“No,” I answered. “But I had two first-trimester miscarriages.”

“So?” she replied. “That is a terribly painful experience, but there are millions of miscarriages before babies are born. If it were three or four, we’d have to do further consideration, but two doesn’t necessarily make you high-risk.”

“And I have fibroids, but my OB-GYN said they were small and not positioned in a way that would cause a problem.”

“OK, that’s good. What else?”

“Well, I’m 42 years old.”

“Women have always had babies in their 40s. Nothing new there. Are you fit?”, she asked.

“Yes.”

“Do you eat well?”

“Yes.”

“Is this what you want?”

“Yes.”

“Then of course you can have a home birth,” was her conclusion.

I asked her to explain the differences in experience and risk for a home birth vs. a birthing center.

She said that the only difference was that (given my home was equal distance from an excellent hospital as the birth center) at the birth center, I would not be alone with my husband in my own peaceful environment, and four hours after delivery I would have to pack up, walk to the car with my baby and drive home. If at home, four hours after delivery she and her team would have tucked my husband, baby, and me warmly in our bed, would have fed us, cleaned up , and would leave quietly.

My husband and I looked at each other, smiled, and both shouted, “Home birth!”

And so it happened. Eight hours after we realized I was in labor, my baby was born in a tub in our family room. The lights were dim; the room was warm; my husband had a fire going in our wood burning oven; he put on a traditional Japanese flute CD I love; and he served as my “squat chair” in the tub. Surrounded by our midwife and three doulas who stood back until they knew they were needed, my husband and I joked, kissed, and played together right until the intense pushing started. One hour later my baby was born, and I was lying on my yoga mat, pushing out the placenta while my baby crawled her way from my abdomen to my breast and started nursing.

And just as they’d said, four hours later we were tucked in bed, the midwives had cleaned the house, and the three of us fell asleep in an ocean of bliss.

[This is not intended to encourage women who want a hospital birth to change their minds. Women need to give birth where they feel the most comfortable and safe. This is intended to be a story that a woman committed to her home birth decision can enjoy, as I enjoyed so many home birth stories before my baby arrived.]

Allie Chee is a Certified Traditional Chinese Medicine Nutritionist. Read more about her on her blog at texanesemama.blogspot.com. Listen for her podcast coming up in the next few weeks here on Strocel.com.

Disney Princesses and Tank Engines

When my daughter Hannah was about 18 months old or so she started expressing opinions about her clothing. She preferred pink, sparkly, girly things above all others. At a very young age, she started expressing herself – and her fledgling gender identity – by choosing “pretty” clothes. She didn’t want to wear pants, she didn’t want to wear the colour green and she didn’t want to wear what I chose for her. I had tried to avoid exposing her to stereotypical ideas of what girls wear and what girls do, but she had clearly gotten the message somewhere, and she was lapping it up.

I made my peace with the situation by reminding myself that I had approached parenting with as much gender neutrality as possible. When I did that, my goal was to give Hannah the freedom to express herself in whatever way she saw fit. Now she was doing that, and it just so happened that the identity that she was expressing would have been totally comfortable living in Barbie’s Malibu Dream House. My job now was to accept my daughter for who she was, not to try to convince her that the colour green totally rocks.

Unsurprisingly, my very girly-girl didn’t only gravitate towards aggressively feminine clothing, she also chose aggressively feminine entertainment. She loves the Disney Princesses really quite a lot. I, on the other hand, dislike the Disney Princesses really quite a lot. I think the messages they give to girls are demeaning on many levels. They teach traits like passivity, they create an unrealistic view of love and marriage and they convey the idea that beauty is (almost) everything. Even in stories that try to emphasize work ethic or studiousness, there is a strong correlation between physical attractiveness and good-ness in Disney movies.

The other thing that irks me about the princesses is the way that they appear on everything. They’re on clothing, shoes, backpacks, school supplies, fruit snacks, toothbrushes, water bottles and even perfume. And of course there are also the toys, books and movies featuring them and their continuing adventures. Try as I may to avoid them, the Disney Princesses are everywhere. Since Hannah loves them, this means that we constantly encounter them, and she’s constantly asking for princess-themed gear, as I cringe to myself. I don’t want my daughter to look up to fictional characters with questionable values, and I wish I didn’t see them everywhere I went.

Now Hannah’s little brother Jacob is three years old. He has been known to dress up like a princess (unsurprising, since we have so many frilly, sparkly dress-up clothes in our house and he really looks up to his big sister). But what really makes Jacob’s heart sing are more traditionally masculine characters like Buzz Lightyear and Thomas the Tank Engine. Just like the princesses, Thomas and Buzz are everywhere, but my response to them is different. I don’t particularly like the rampant commercialization they represent, but I like the characters themselves, and so I’m less annoyed by their omnipresence in our modern world.

It’s kind of interesting to me, when I think about it. I was a little girl myself. I loved Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty and Snow White every bit as much as Hannah does now. Of course, this was before they were the Disney Princesses, and before they had their own breakfast cereal, but they were hardly more intellectually inclined back in the day. I can’t imagine that I would have embraced Buzz Lightyear as a child myself. It’s just that, as an adult, I find him funny and I appreciate that his clothes cover him and he’s not in search of another person to complete him.

I did some thinking about this recently. Why am I generally okay with the commercial characters that are marketed towards my son, but not the ones that are marketed towards my daughter? Is there an objective difference between the messages they convey? Or is it just that I have particular personal baggage around the whole princess ethos that leads me to dislike them so?

As I thought about the difference between Thomas and Tiana, and Buzz and Belle, I saw that the gender stereotyping is not limited to the female characters. The traditionally male characters have some serious stereotyping of their own. They’re stoic, and don’t display emotions. They are focused on their mission, and don’t stop to consider its inherent worth. They centre on themes of battle, transportation and technology. Is it really okay to teach our sons to ignore their feelings, if we don’t want to teach our daughters that marriage is their highest goal? When I look at it that way, I have to answer no.

The reality is that even if I decided to forbid any licensed characters or children’s media in my home, I can’t stop the stereotypes from coming at my children. They live in the world, and they’re not immune to its messages. The best that I can do is to provide an alternate viewpoint, and help my children to learn to consume media critically. I can also continue to parent as gender neutrally as possible, while respecting my children’s own expressions of identity. If they want to adhere to stereotypical gender roles, I can’t stop them. But I can give them the space they need to make that decision themselves, and let them know that I will love them either way.

What about you? Do you find that you respond differently to stereotypically male characters than to stereotypically female characters? Are you concerned about the gender messages that children receive? And how do you provide a counterpoint to the princesses or the tank engines? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

In Praise of the Cheap Halloween Costume

So far, I have made most of my daughter Hannah’s Halloween costumes. I’m fairly crafty and I like to sew, so with the exception of the year when I had a two-month-old at Halloween, I was the one who created the costume. I’m building on a family tradition, as my own mother was fairly adept at concocting homemade Halloween costumes for my sister and me. She didn’t sew as much as I sew, but as a matter of principle our costumes never came from a package at the store.

Last year, for my son Jacob’s first Halloween I continued the trend, sewing him a scarecrow costume to match Hannah’s Dorothy. At the risk of bragging, I was quite proud of the results.

Scarecrow and Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in parenting, it’s that you should never say never. Because you, my friend, will find yourself bribing your toddler with candy or pushing your three-year-old in a stroller. I recently had my principles tested yet again and found that I was just not that committed to them after all. I had grand plans once again to sew Halloween costumes for my children. Hannah was going to be Alice from Alice in Wonderland and Jacob was going to be a firefighter. It was going to be great.

When I found myself in Fred Meyer buying groceries for our weekend in the US, I wasn’t looking to buy any Halloween costumes. After all, I had a plan. I love plans, and I avoid deviating from them. But then, a cowboy hat caught my eye. It wasn’t just any cowboy hat, either, it was a cowboy hat very much in the style of Woody from Toy Story. While Jon ran off to find a mat for Jacob to sleep on and the kids waved their hands in front of the spooky decor, I decided to take a look at the cowboy hat. Lo and behold, it was Woody, and right beside it was none other than Buzz Lightyear.

Jacob loves Buzz Lightyear. He had asked to be Buzz Lightyear. I nixed it, because I had no idea how to make a Buzz Lightyear costume. But now here was a costume right in front of me, for the low, low price of $19.99. It was cheaply made, but roomy enough that I could easily layer warm clothing underneath for trick-or-treating. And then Jacob caught wind of what I was doing, and I had no other choice. Even though I didn’t play to buy a costume, even though it will probably fall apart before Halloween gets here, and even though it was undoubtedly made in a sweatshop where workers are subjected to deplorable conditions, I knew I had to shell out.

By the time we left the grocery store we had one sleeping mat, one box of gluten-free cereal, lots of organic fruits and veggies, our fair share of snack food, and one Buzz Lightyear costume that cost us $19.99. It was money well-spent.

Jacob loves his new Buzz Lightyear costume

I believe in buying second hand whenever possible. I believe in taking the time to make things by hand, and I believe that childhood shouldn’t be commercialized. I have serious qualms about buying cheap synthetic clothing made under questionable conditions overseas. But I also believe that sometimes, the pure and unadulterated joy of your three-year-old outweighs all of your crunchy granola principles, and that’s a good thing.

What are your kids dressing as this Halloween? And are you a costume crafter, thrifter or buyer? Tell me all about it!

Talking to Christine Poirier of Momzelle

What I love best about having a podcast is that it gives me the perfect excuse to email someone I think is cool and say, “Hey, I’d love to chat with you!” It adds a certain air of authority that just asking to pick someone’s brain doesn’t. This is how I found myself interview Christine Poirier, the mom behind Momzelle, a Canadian company that makes fabulous breastfeeding apparel.

Christine Poirier of Momzelle Breastfeeding ApparelChristine is a very creative person. Only a few days after her daughter Cécile was born, she made herself a nursing top so that she could breastfeed anywhere comfortably and confidently. Her midwife loved it and her friends loved it, and her brother Vincent saw the business potential. So when Cécile was nine months old, Christine and Vincent joined forces and co-founded Momzelle. They’ve been growing ever since, and so has their line of breastfeeding apparel.

I had lots of questions for Christine. I asked her what it’s like to work with your brother. I wanted to know if all of the babies on her site are actually breastfeeding (they are), and I was curious as to what a photo shoot with nursing moms looks like. I asked what happened to the original nursing top, and what’s coming up next for Momzelle. Christine was a very good sport, and she told me all about what it’s like to be a mom and an entrepreneur. There are highs and lows, of course, but I get the impression that Christine is right where she’s meant to be. I so enjoyed having the chance to speak with her.

Momzelle Breastfeeding Apparel Flamenco nursing dressThere are some exciting things happening with Momzelle right now. They’re growing all the time, launching new lines and tweaking the ones they have. Christine shared an exciting piece of news with me about what they’ll be doing next. So take the time to listen to the podcast, hear Christine’s answers to all of the questions I asked her, and learn about the mom and the breastfeeding apparel company she built:

It was great chatting with Christine, and I really enjoyed the chance to learn more about Momzelle. I’m just as excited to tell you that next week I’ll be sharing an interview with children’s entertainers Bobs and LoLo. Subscribe to my podcast in iTunes, and you’ll be sure not to miss a thing!

Happy Birthday to Jon

I will open this post with a confession – I had no good blog post ideas for today. Some people would say that means I shouldn’t bother posting, but as my posting schedule shows, I am clearly not some people. But then, as if God Himself heard my desperation, a realization washed over my consciousness: today is my husband’s birthday. Cause for celebration and blog fodder, I smell a winner!

I first met Jon in September, 1989, some 22 years ago. He was 12 years old, and his locker was right next to mine, so on our first day of junior high I taught him how to open his locker lock. It was not love at first sight (see: 12 years old), but I liked him well enough. And in fact, when my good friend asked me who I thought I would marry I said, “Someone sort of like Jon Strocel – but cuter.”

A summer day in 1996
Me and Jon, circa 1996

I saw from the beginning, even when I was only 13 years old myself, that Jon was someone special. He was a good listener, and a great conversationalist, which are not necessarily common traits amongst the junior high set. While most of the males at school wanted me to stop talking already, Jon actually seemed to enjoy hearing what I had to say. If only he had been cuter.

Luckily, puberty had its way with Jon, and by the time that he reached the end of grade nine he was several inches taller and his voice was several octaves lower. And so, when he was only 14 and I was only 15, I agreed to be his girlfriend. And, through some twist of fate I never stopped – not through high school, or university, or first jobs, or first apartments, or marriage, or babies. I have bought birthday presents for Jon for two entire decades now, and I hope to do it for many more still. Awwwww.

Self-portrait in Peggy's Cove
Me and Jon, circa 2004

You may have observed that I am older than my husband. It’s true, he’s four and a half months younger than me. While the importance of those four and a half months diminished significantly once Jon could legally drink, every year from May to September I am still keenly aware of the difference. My husband is a charming, lovely, wonderful man. I feel so very lucky to be married to him. But he is also a first rate smart ass. He does not hesitate to tease me about my advanced age, but as of today, the playing field is once again level.

So allow me to extend my warmest birthday wishes to the man in my life, who also happens to be the very best person I know. And allow me to also say, “Welcome to 35, Babe. You aren’t younger than me anymore.”

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