Simplifying Life Step 2: Sell Africa Sleeps

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One night when my daughters were just little pip-squeaks, I ran out of sleep caps. Couldn’t find one anywhere. The lady I had been getting them from appeared out of business, so I decided to order some online. I soon discovered it cost the same to order 4 or 100 caps, so in a burst of creative energy and an all-nighter, Africa Sleeps was born.

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That was 3.5 years ago, and I built my little business with the sweat on my brow and passion in my heart for natural haircare. After a couple of years, the business revenue starting replacing my professor income, eventually allowing me to retire from academia. But at the same time as my sort-of retirement, our family veterinary hospital and pet store launched. We never meant to have two businesses running at the same time – it’s just how it ended up. So this past year I found myself run to the ground, running two businesses, one new and needy and one established and flourishing. I didn’t have much time left over for my charitable work, which I love, and after hyper-prioritizing family time, I had no time left for leisure or sleep.

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Something had to go, and it wasn’t going to be the vet hospital we had put all our investment into. Even though we lived off Africa Sleeps, it was obviously the best solution was to try to sell it, and live off the sales proceeds while getting the hospital off the ground.

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Yesterday, Africa Sleeps officially changed hands, and had a wonderful new owner in Illinois. She’s an adoptive mom too, with a passion for her kids’ hair, and I know she will do amazingly well with the business. I’m of course very relieved to have the business off my plate, but there are twinges of sadness, too. In very emotional ways, my girls are intertwined with this business. It’s not just that they were the models – I started it for them, and it’s been a source of pride for our family, especially in the African and adoptive family communities. I’m happy that it is over, but like all ending of eras, sad to see it go.

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So what are my work plans now? Well, I am planning on spending 3 days a week at the clinic, working 9am-2pm, while the girls are in school. That will leave me one day a week to work on Vulnerable Children Society, and one day a week to run errands and do important cost-saving like meal-planning, still before 2pm. this will be the least amount of work I’ve done in many years, and I so am looking forward to it. I might even discover that elusive thing called free time…

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Simplifying Life Step 1: Buy a tiny house

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Step 1 to simplifying our lives: downsize into a tiny house.

Ok, so it wouldn’t technically qualify as tiny, but Jason and I are contemplating buying pretty durn small 865 sq ft house. Our offer just left out the side door in the realtor’s hand. We actually put an offer on another house that was 950 sq ft last week, although it didn’t go through. Whichever house we end up with, under 1000 sq ft is quite a small space for two adults, two kids and three dogs (including a 150 lb puppy.)

Why the downsizing? As life is messy, so are decisions complicated.

First, it fits with our long term plan. We had planned in the next five years to buy two lots with small houses, move one house to the back of the other lot, and then build on a remaining free lot. I’m a planner, so I even have a good idea what that eventual new house will look like (passive solar, full of windows, a big courtyard…) This realestate shuffle was more in our three or four year plan, but our mental groundwork was already laid out.

The second reason drives the timing. We have a new business that needs a cash injection. Because our current house is in a fantastically walkable, upcoming neighbourhood, it’s worth much more than we owe on it. So getting the cash out of the house and using it to live on, and feed our business until it stand on its own, is a prudent, timely idea.

Thirdly, and most philosophically, we need to simplify our lives. We never planned it this way, but I’ve ended up running three organizations and having no time left over to sleep or play. Leisure time? What is that? Jason is also extremely busy working six days a week at the clinic, and he finds the added responsibility of maintaining our house, in addition to the time we want to spend with the kids, overwhelming. We want to spend more time camping and going on adventures, and less hours burning the midnight oil at the home computer. Freeing up our cash, lessening our expenses, getting rid of half of our stuff (yes, likely more than half,) has a romantic simplistic allure to it.

You’ve likely seen people posting pictures of their tiny houses on Pinterest, and thought like I have, “how lovely! Wouldn’t that be amazing? But I could never do it long term.”

The question challenging us now is how to make 865 sq ft work for our family, for the next two years.

We’ve had some big discussions with the kids about what that kind of downsizing will mean, and their first reactions were ones of panic. “What?!?!? Get rid of some of my stuffies and toys?!?! No way!!!” My children, by the way, have a lot of toys. Not that we have given them a lot, but they thriftily save their allowance, and are two of the few or only grandchildren on both sides of the family. So they get some pretty sweet gifts. And they love their stuff. But as we talk about Mommy spending more time with them, and having less to clean, the proposition is getting more digestible.

We have a lot of pets, so that’s an issue too. The fish will find a new home, and the cats will go to live at our clinic. We will still have three dogs, though, so a big yard is a necessity. The guinea pigs, currently living outside, will find a permanent home outside at the new house. Don’t worry – they won’t freeze – there are heat lamps for that. The chickens, bless their hearts, just stopped laying in the last couple of months. We’ve held onto them for sentimental reasons, but the two hens won’t make the move. [Insert ax chopping sound.] I’ll start with new pullets in the spring, as long as our new neighbours were ok with it.

At the new place, we’d have a big shed outside for storing bikes, camping gear and off-season clothes. But still, probably 2/3 of our furniture won’t fit in the new tiny house. And the last thing I would want would be a crammed 865 sq ft house, full of stuff. So we will move what we really love and need over to the new house, have a huge estate sale at our old house, and then put our lovely English cottage on the market. Right now it pains me to say goodbye to the most comfortable loveseat in the world, but I know that feeling won’t last. After all, it’s just a sofa. I can guarantee that we won’t miss our stuff – it’s simply grown to fit the space we have. The challenge won’t be missing the old stuff – it will be not accumulating more!

Wish us luck in our tiny house quest. This offer may or may not be accepted, but sooner or later, we will find out tiny house, and Step 1 in the simplify our lives plan will begin.

Big changes in the wind

For the last or so, I’ve been running at an unsustainable rate. We never meant for it to end up this way, but somehow I ended up managing two businesses, running a charity and being a mom, all at once. Thank goodness I retired from academia a year ago. But even with dropping my full-time job, I’ve been working 7 days a week with little vacation.

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It’s not a badge of honour, this level of work, but an admission. It’s just dumb. Overwork to this level isn’t diligence, it’s just bad planning. To paraphrase Lao Tzu, if I don’t make some changes I’ll just get what I have right now: a lack of sleep.

So I’ve been making a series of changes in our lives. I’m trying to bring the workload down to a manageable level. We are loosening up some cash, and are likely downsizing our home. If all the balls I am juggling in the air end up right, by September I’ll be working 8:30-2, 4 days a week, with time for my charity work.

I won’t share all the details now, since I’m halfway through these steps and I’m not sure what is going to work out. But if all goes as planned, there will be a lot more blogging come September :-)

Harambee Culture Camp

Harambee African Culture Camp 2015

It was over a month ago now, but better late posting than never!

Every year our family goes to Harambee Camp for families with children of African heritage. Some of our best friends in the world go, and it’s always an amazing time to connect and learn. Sugar and Spice feel so comfortable will a camp filled with over 120 families that look like ours… Transracial adoptive families, as well as a few African families thrown in for good measure. We play drums, dance, go to parenting workshops, play games, do crafts, talk and make memories. There isn’t a lot of relaxing… That’s for the other antidote camp, Mehaber, on the August long weekend. But it’s an intense week of acceptance and celebration.

This year was unusual for a few reasons. It was the camps 20th anniversary, so instead of the kids being in workshops all day long, there were more festival-like big audience shows. There was West African drumming, Capoera and Samba dancing, Haitian dancing, and hip hop singing. We enjoyed it, but I think we’ll also be happy to return to the more learning-focussed format next year.

Jason could only come for a few days out of the week this year, due to being busy at the clinic. This totally stunk for him, and we missed him dearly. The only plus side was that my food organization worked out perfectly, without the interference of the snacking monster!

This year was also Tully’s inaugural camp, and he was a big addition, literally and figuratively. At only 7 months old, Tully behaved beautifully, lying down when small kids were around, and not chewing I the cabin. The only exception to this was when 400 people were drumming 100 metres away. I came back from the drumming workshop and he had moved the double mattress across the room and against the kitchen counter. Oops. When a 130lb puppy gets scared, he can really move the furnture.

The other weird / interesting / occasionally annoying thing about Tully being at camp was how much attention he got. You have to realize, this is a whole camp full of conspicuous families. Most people at the camp share the experience that they get unusual attention because they are a transracial family. What could possibly garner the same level of heightened attention at a camp full of people used to being stopped in the streets? An Irish Wolfhound puppy, that’s what. It was hard to get to the bathroom without being stopped and asked what breed he was and was he getting bigger. Most of the time, I enjoy sharing him with others, but when I had to get somewhere (like the bathroom!) well… Let’s just say it was reminiscent of when the girls were cute Ethiopian twin toddlers at the mall.

There were all the usual activities, like the water fight, crafting, side trips to get icecream, and even a full dinner that all 400 of us ate tougher (thanks to our amazing friend Pam. Served in 45 min, can you believe it?)

Two other notables: first, we had a new lady doing parenting workshops, and she specialized in talking about race. We haven’t focussed on this side of transracial parenting in our workshops for a long time, and it was some awesome discussion and ideas for parents.

The other was one of my daughter’s first mutual crush. What a trainwreck. But I was grateful to know the little boy’s parents well, and we navigated it together. Due to our friendship and trust in each other, we figured it out (more or less) and used village parenting to handle the situation. I go foreshadowing of many camp years to come, though… It won’t be all drumming and dancing one day.

I hope you enjoy the pictures. And if you have children of African heritage through adoption or birth, consider joking the 400 of us next year! We are all one family. Just a really big one!

Adoption post placement report delivery to Ethiopia

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With the closure of Canadian Ethiopian adoption programs, some Canadian adoptive families are lacking a viable way to get post placement reports to Ethiopia. I’m volunteering to deliver post-placement reports to the Ethiopian government from the Canadian families that don’t have another mechanism to send the reports to Ethiopia.

As an adoptive parent myself, I’m keenly aware that these reports are incredibly important: when birth families search at orphanages or the Ministry of Women, children and Youth Affairs (formerly known as MOWA for short) for information about their kids, these reports tell them how they are doing. Many other people, from social workers to orphanage caregivers to government staff, are concerned for the children’s welfare. The post placement reports give these people reassurance about the kids as well. Some adoptive families have the benefit of direct or mediated contact with their children’s birth families, but even those families still have an obligation to the Ethiopian government and other people in the chain of care who need to know about the children.

The format and frequency of reports has changed over the years, and I’m no authority on what the government expects. The last time I heard, post placement reports were due three, six and twelve months after placement, and every yearly anniversary until the children turn 18. All formats I have seen include information about how the children are doing, and photos of the kids. This is a link to one agency’s suggested format. http://www.awaa.org/forms/PostPlacementReq-Ethiopia.pdf

What format you use, who prepares the report and how often you send them is completely up to you. Not my business! I’m just the delivery service.

But whatever format of post placement report you are sending, I’m volunteering to take it to MOWA for you. I will deliver your post placement reports into the hands of government of officials, who will then distribute them to the orphanages and other offices and chains of communication, as they see fit. I will get a delivery signature, and a picture of handing over the reports.

All I ask is this.

First of all, don’t send me heavy stuff. I need to take this on a plane, and squeeze it in amongst donations and medical supplies for Vulnerable Children Society’s Love and Hope Centre, and Teenage Sex Trade Worker Retraining Program. Please send a maximum of two copies (they have photocopiers in Ethiopia,) and staple them together (no binders or duo tangs.) Please keep each report to 8 pictures maximum. Think light!

Secondly, please make a minimum $200 donation to Vulnerable Children Society. The trip I am taking these on is a volunteering trip for Vulnerable Children Society, and if I’m taking volunteering time away from the trip, I’d like this side trip to benefit our work in some way. Of course, if you are so financially strapped that you can’t donate to that amount, we will work something out. But courier costs alone would be close to this amount, so it’s a pretty good deal. https://www.canadahelps.org/dn/15435

Thirdly, you need to send the two paper copies of your post placement reports to Vulnerable Children Society’s office before Labour Day, September 7. Yes, that is just a month away. But I’m leaving shortly after that, and I need to get those reports all packed up safely. Include your return address, as well as your email, so we can stay in touch if necessary. Here is our office address:

Arnica Rowan
Vulnerable Children Society
757 Wardlaw Avenue
Kelowna, BC V1Y5B8 CANADA

Note that if for some reason I can’t deliver your package, I will send it back to you and refund your donation.

I hope this delivery service is of benefit to you and your family. I think it’s a great fundraiser for Vulnerable Children Society and a service to my fellow adoptive families, I’m certainly going to take advantage of the trip to deliver our own family’s post placement report, even though we have direct contact with our children’s Ethiopian family and the orphanage they came from. In my opinion, it’s one of those important connections between our children’s first homes and their second, between their birth country and family, and their Canadian family.

I should point out that Vulnerable Children Society has nothing to do with the process of adoption… Our organization focuses on keeping families together through community foster care and self reliance. But since many of our directors’ lives were touched by adoption, we also acknowledge the importance of the connection between birth and adoptive families.

I hope you will follow us along on our trip mid-September. I will post the pictures of delivering the reports on our blog, as well as accounts of our work at the after school centre and teenage education centre we support. We also have a new Instagram account: I hope you will follow along.

My best,
Arnica
President of Vulnerable Children Society
http://www.VulnerableChildren.ca